IMPORTANT NOTICE! IMPORTANT NOTICE!
ALL THOSE READING CHAPTER 6 FOR THE FIRST TIME, FEEL FREE TO SKIP THIS NOTE.
All those reading Chapter 6 for the Second or nth time, please read the chapter again. Changes have been made and scenes have been added to provide a more cohesive picture. This is the last change the chapter shall receive. DON'T SKIP THE CHAPTER.
The list of Changes are:
1) Tonks berating Harry in St. Mungo's has been removed.
2) Fleur, Hermione, Neville and Harry scene has received a significant revamp.
3) DMLE Interrogation Sequences have been added
4) Percy and Harry have a full-fledged conversation.
The reason we made the changes is because we read through the reviews and realized we made significant mistakes in this particular chapter. We took your advice to heart and took action. I might not be what you want but we did our best. NO FLAMING OR HIDING BEHIND GUEST REVIEWS TO RANT.
As for those wondering about the length of Transcendence, do not ask. But the events will spruce up within the next two chapters.
June 4 1996
"Harry James Potter!"
"Do you ever think?"
"I resent that!"
"Arry, please don't deny the truth."
"I'm not. Ouch. Stop it with the stinging hexes."
"I am going to keep hexing you until you learn that you are not the center of the universe."
"No, you don't, Harry."
"Ouch. Hey. Watch where you're pointing that wand!"
"The wand's pointed at the right place."
"Fleur, stop embarrassing me."
"But it's so much fun."
"If you need fun, take your wand and point it at this – this – this idiot."
"Guys! I said I was sorry."
"After you nearly blew up the Alley."
"I was trying to save our lives."
"By killing us all?"
"It's not your fault, Arry. Men have always been less intelligent than woman."
"For the last time, I didn't want to put us all in a hospital. Besides, I don't see why you're complaining."
"Arry, do you have any idea how revolting it is to where such drab and disgusting pieces of clothing?"
"Those are hospital gowns, not those fall dresses you guys keep wearing."
"Harry, we were in summer clothing. Honestly, you're just as bad as Ron."
"Oi! Harry's the insane guy! I'm the smart one."
"Really, Ron? What makes you so smart?"
"Unlike Harry, I didn't comment on girly clothing, did I?"
Twin feminine growls caused the boys to cringe.
"Girly…? Ron, are you a five-year-old?"
"Hermione, zis merely proves my theory zat girls are more intelligent."
"Please stop proving them right, Ron."
"Right? Mate, you need to get your head checked again. Looks like a piece or two might be loose."
"Boys! You're not in pre-school."
"Ron, mate, please look at their smiles and shut up."
Nymphadora removed her wand tip away from the door, ending the eavesdropping charm that allowed her to listen to the people on the other side of the silenced piece of wood with an amused smile.
The two aurors posted at the door of the DMLE ward traded glances and rolled their eyes together.
Auror one asked, "Honestly, Ny-Tonks, can you grow up?"
Nymphadora gave auror one a narrow eyed glance before shrugging. "Where's the fun in that?"
Ignoring the sighs from the two aurors standing guard, Nymphadora opened the door and walked in to find the owners of the four voices she was eavesdropping on sitting on their assigned beds in the wards and continuing their argument with even greater vehemence. Save Fleur, the trio of best friends seemed to have completely missed her entry even as she closed the door behind her.
"Harry." Hermione was glaring at the emerald-eyed boy. "You really need to drop this argument."
"You started it." Harry retorted.
Hermione harrumphed. "I do not need to hear this from the boy whose been wearing the same shirt for the past three days."
Fleur's eyes were swimming in mirth. "Hermione's right, Arry. Do you like living like a caveman?"
"What's a caveman?" Ron had never heard the term before.
Hermione gave a long suffering sigh.
Deciding she had heard enough, Nymphadora stepped forward with a shout. "Damn, guys." The three teenagers and Fleur turned towards her. "You really are dumb to argue fashion with a girl."
Harry rolled his eyes. "I did not start the argument."
"Denial, Arry?" Fleur smiled. "You really need to learn how to lie."
Nymphadora chuckled as she grabbed a nearby chair and placed it at the foot of their beds before occupying it. "I don't know about Harry's ability to lie, Fleur, but I sure as hell as he shouldn't be messing around with a wand."
"What's with the girls today?" Harry groaned. "Why is everybody after me?"
Ron smiled in pain as the potion soaked bandages on his chest rose and fell every breath. "Maybe it's because you nearly killed them?"
"Everyone's a critic." Harry grumbled though Nymphadora could hear the self-recrimination in his tone.
Hermione glared at Harry without any heat. "Someone needs to keep you in line, Harry."
Nymphadora wiggled her eyebrows. "Looks like there's a story there, Harry. Care to enlighten us?"
Ron propped himself up on his pillows even as he flinched with every movement. "Let's just say Harry has the worst possible luck you can imagine."
Harry's continued grumbling went ignored by the rest of the room.
Fleur sat up on her bed and dangled her legs over the side. "I'm bored, Tonks. When can we leave?"
Nymphadora gave a look of mock-shock. "You want to shag at three in the afternoon?" She suppressed her amused smile at the trio of teenagers looking like ripe tomatoes. "I know I'm awesome and all but there are kids aro-" She ducked to avoid the stinging hex cast by the Veela.
Fleur gave an exasperated smile. "Can't you ever be normal?"
Nymphadora shrugged. "Normal is seriously overrated."
Fleur gave a teasing smile. "I doubt you were ever sane, Tonks."
Nymphadora opened her mouth to refute the statement, closed it, mulled over his answer for a minute and then shrugged. "My dad says the same thing."
"Tonks." Harry called to the green haired girl in a questioning tone of voice. When she turned to him, he asked, a serious look in his eyes, "When I woke up, the healers told me you were holding onto an item that belongs to me. Can I have it back?"
"Sure. That's half the reason I came here." Nymphadora drew a large shimmering cloak from a disproportionately small pocket of her ripped jeans and handed it over to Harry who received the cloak with a reverence Tonks found to be both nostalgic and rather creepy. "That is one sweet invisibility cloak you have there, Harry."
Holding the shimmering cloak over his lap, Harry smiled. "Thank for picking it up for me." Then frowned. "How did you know the cloak was mine?"
Nymphadora rolled her eyes. "I am an auror, Harry."
Shifting his glance to the auror, Harry gave her a suspicious look. "I never told you I had an invisibility cloak." He swallowed the bile rising in his throat. The thought of him nearly killing his friends had… He did not wish to have a repeat of last night. "Plus, the… explosion last night would have thrown his wide. So, Tonks, how did you know the cloak belonged to me?"
Ron stared at Harry like he gained a second head while Hermione appeared shocked. "Harry, are you sure you're alright?"
Harry scowled at the question. "Of course, I'm alright. The healer said I was fine."
Hermione swallowed. "Because of the stupid question you just asked."
"Hermione's right, mate." Ron added. "You must be wonky. Anybody who sees that cloak of yours knows it's amazing. Normal invisibility cloaks don't look like that."
Hermione tilted her head. "How would you know what one looks like, Ron?"
"Before I came to Hogwarts, Dad would take us to his office to show us some of the stuff he confiscated. Said it was a good habit to learn about the nasty stuff to keep ourselves safe." Realizing there was an auror in the room, Ron froze and turned, slowly, to face Tonks. Eyes widening at the sight, he tried to take back his words. "I mean he showed us pictures. Nothing-"
"Relax, Ron." Nymphadora interrupted with a smile. "I don't really care about harmless rule breaking." Sides, I'm sure the boss knows and she never had a complaint. Turning to Harry, she smiled. "I thought you were supposed to be smart, lover boy. I know you have a cloak. Lupin talked about it. I only found one cloak in that street. Plus, that looks and feels way better than even the disillusionment charms Moody taught me. Ergo, I put two and two together and got four. It looks like an heirloom and I realized it was yours. Not a great deductive leap at all. You sure you're okay?"
Harry blinked at the question, recapped his thought process that led to his question and blushed. "Sorry, Tonks. Must be the meds."
"Whatever you say, varmint." Nymphadora shrugged. "Now for the other half of my reason to be here. Harry, Hermione and Ron, you've been issued formal summons by the DMLE."
Ron felt outraged. "We aren't death eaters." He quickly yelped as a stinging hex struck his left leg and flinched at the pain the movement caused him. He turned his head slightly and fumed at a Hermione who had her wand pointed at him. "What the hell, Hermione?"
"That," Hermione started in a tone that Nymphadora realized this was a common occurrence, "was for opening your mouth without thinking. They aren't arresting us, Ron. They just want to take a statement. It's standard procedure."
Before Ron could retort, Fleur asked, "Tonks, the summons are not about yesterday's battle, are they?"
Nymphadora had to give it to Fleur. That empath ability of hers was a boon in many cases and a serious downer in others. She pouted at her friend in disappointment. "You took away the surprise, Fleur."
Fleur narrowed her gaze. "No jokes, Tonks. Why would the DMLE not take a statement regarding yesterday's… events?"
Should I? The Boss might kill me or Mad-Eye would if I opened my mouth. Nymphadora glanced at the people on the beds, taking notes of Ron's injuries, Hermione's slight tremors, Harry's hard gaze and Fleur's lightly scarred left hand. Why not? Casting a privacy ward that surrounded them all, she said, "Nah. The Boss doesn't care about yesterday. She might not look like it but she does love it when a couple of death eaters get blown up. The summons are about the battle all of us took part in. Except for you, Fleur."
Hermione wore a confused frown. "I thought Dumbledore must have taken care of it because nobody interviewed Ron and I after the… events at the DOM. Neville, Ginny and Luna told us the same thing."
"Who gave the summons?"
Nymphadora stared at Harry with raised eyebrows that quickly morphed into an approving smile even as Ron, Hermione and Fleur gave Harry appraising glances. "Looks like that brain of yours is back in shape, Harry. The DMLE issued the summons but the guys taking your statements will be the DOM."
"Why?" Harry's tone caused Ron and Hermione to put some distance between them and him. That tone usually preceded a massive explosion of emotions from their best friend.
Nymphadora put her hands up in the gesture for 'I have no idea'. "Haven't got a clue. But I suggest you keep up that paranoia, Harry. Mad-Eye would be proud."
Harry stared at Nymphadora causing Hermione and Ron to hold their wands in preparation to petrify Harry in case he lost himself in his anger. A few moments later, he sighed. "Are Luna, Ginny and Neville going to be there too?"
Harry leaned back on his propped bed with a defeated sigh. "When?"
Nymphadora mused what part of the summons put that look on his face. Holding back her questions on the matter, she said, "Eleven o'clock on June Ninth. That's this Sunday, in case you geniuses got no clue."
Relaxed and yet quite confused about Harry not blowing up at what he might have perceived as Ministry injustice before Dumbledore died, Hermione swore to herself she would sit him down and have a talk as soon as possible. Facing Nymphadora, she asked, "Are we in trouble with the DOM?"
"Nope." Nymphadora popped the word. "They don't have the jurisdiction. All you guys have to do is show up at the Auror Office on the Ninth, talk to the guys and leave. You'll have aurors in the room with you in case you're worried about it."
"I think the aurors are going to worry me more than the spooks." Ron lamented with a wail causing Harry to smile.
"Spooks?" Hermione asked.
Ron shrugged with a flinch of pain from his still healing wounds. "That's what Dad calls them."
"If we are not in trouble and they don't have any jurisdiction, why do they want to talk?" Harry's question was pointed.
"Maybe they just want to hear our side of the story?" Hermione suggested.
"More like they were idiots and are trying to cover their asses."
"What? Six of us broke into that place and we're teenagers. From the way Dad talks about them, we shouldn't have even crossed the front door."
Fleur smiled at the statement. "He does have a point, Hermione."
"Do not take his side, Fleur." Hermione chided. "His ego is already big enough."
"Hey!" Ron felt indignant but knew Hermione spoke her words as a simple joke.
"Besides, Ron," Hermione added, "There could have been other reasons they were unable to stop us."
"They were exploding snap?" Ron spoke with a mocking tilt.
Fleur, Tonks and Harry laughed.
"Ronald!" Hermione looked like she wanted to bash Ron over the head. Nevertheless, none of them missed the slight twitch of her lips.
"By the way, Tonks." Harry gazed at the metamorph. "How are Fred and George? The healers haven't told us anything."
Nymphadora smiled brightly. "Having a blast."
Ron groaned while the rest of them blinked.
"Having fun?" Hermione echoed uncertainly.
"Yep." Nymphadora popped the word. "Mostly some bruises and a laceration or two but when the building blew up, they were in their lab which had some… experimental products."
"Are they alright?" Ron was anxious about their fate. The banter had helped him keep the edge of his anxiety but it was slowly starting to creep in.
"They're so fine that I'm pretty sure one or two healers have half a mind to offer them an apprenticeship."
"Apprentice…ship?" Hermione echoed in a voice so full of disbelief that Fred and George might have been insulted or, more likely, teased her for wanting one herself.
Nymphadora nodded. "When their shop blew up, Fred and George survived thanks to staying in their potions lab which was heavily reinforced. The downside was that they drowned in several potions they were experimenting with. Lucky for them, they can still speak and are telling the docs everything they might need to cure them. The docs found their knowledge of potions and charms great enough they are prepared to give the offers in writing."
Ron smiled at the news. Only Fred and George could get themselves into such ridiculous situations. Well, probably not just them. The thought floated through his mind as he sent a glance towards his oldest friend.
Hermione shook her head. "Those two… Honestly, I wonder how they ever managed seven years in school."
Nymphadora watched as Harry released a long breath like he had been praying to whatever deity existed out there and his wish had just come true. A glance to the right revealed Fleur had been observing the reaction too. "Just be careful about throwing your weight around next time, Harry. I really don't want to visit the hospital."
"I doubt I will be throwing around anything for a while, Tonks." Harry spoke in a defeated tone.
"It might happen faster than you think." Nymphadora drew a Daily Prophet from her wizard space pocket and threw it at Harry. "You guys made front page."
Harry picked up the newspaper and held the full front page spread before him allowing Hermione and Ron to take a glimpse. Fleur sat on Hermione's bed to take a better look.
The headline "CHOSEN ONE AND FRIENDS DEFEAT DEATH EATERS IN MORTAL COMBAT" was printed in extremely large font above the picture of a destroyed building and adjoining street with the Dark Mark hovering in the sky. The article on the next page seemed to scream at them all.
BRITAIN REELING FROM DEATH EATER ATTACKS
HAVE OUR AURORS FAILED US?
June 5, 1996.
Muggles are weird. It was the thought that constantly haunted Neville every time he walked through the streets of muggle London. The buildings were too tall, casting long shadows or obscuring most of the sunlight that could reach the ground. The people treading the streets always looked like they were on the verge of either the end of the world or some other apocalyptic event that he could never understand. The constant noise that buzzed from all corners ensured that by the time he returned to his home of Harfang's Lodge, he needed a Draught of Peace and a Migraine Reliever. Vehicles, metal carts that were powered by toxic resources, were a constant presence on the roads, spewing gases that Neville knew were a blight on the earth.
As part of his many, many lessons he received to become an excellent Lord of House Longbottom, Neville had dozens of lectures on the history, culture and lifestyle of muggles. Surprisingly, or perhaps not so surprisingly, he found that most of their greatest inventions or advancements seemed to be centered around or stemmed from wartime or in case of future conflicts.
In fact, Neville wondered for the nth time how any muggles were still living considering the number of conflicts they initiated every time their leaders gathered for a meeting or their version of a Dark Lord decided it was time to overthrow the government or enact some sinister agenda that would not be out of place in a trashy adventure novel. There were moments he mused if Gaia, the spirit of the Earth would simply choose to-
A yank on Neville's left arm had him quickly moving away from the road and further onto the sidewalk, shattering away his line of thought.
"I really don't wish to attend a funeral, Neville."
Neville murmured an apology to the man accompanying him and kept his eyes on the sidewalk. He heard a slurp followed by a sigh.
"I think that cloud above you looks just like that potions professor of yours."
"Very funny." Neville did not wish to talk about anything right now but the man walking beside him had other ideas.
"Stop acting like a pedophile, Neville."
Neville stopped in shock at the comment. A second later, his head whipped around to stare at the man accompanying him. With his thigh length grey overcoat, white shirt, black trousers, oval framed glasses and leather shoes, the man was the picture of professionalism if not for the way he drank his beverage can in an eerie imitation of Seamus drunk with butterbeer.
"I am not a pedophile." Neville hissed the words in case any passersby overheard them. Though judging by the look some of the people on the street were giving him, it appeared to be a lot cause.
"You sure?" Matthias asked with a mock frown.
How he managed to speak with a mouth full of soft drink was a mystery Neville doubted he would ever solve. "Yes!" The word was hissed with all the vehemence he could muster.
"Hmm… Pity." Matthias tilted his head back and poured the last of his beverage can down his throat before throwing it into the nearest bin with an accurate backhand and took stock of his surroundings. "Keep moving." He began walking away from Neville knowing the teenager would keep up with him.
Neville blinked at the sudden change in topic but ran to catch up with the man. "What was that for?"
Matthias threw a glance at the teenager beside him even as he avoided a woman swinging her handbag wildly. "Needed to break you out of that weird introspective mood you enter every time we do this."
Neville looked away in annoyance and embarrassment. "You could have tried something else to get my attention." He knew his tone was petulant.
"Shock and awe work better." Matthias withdrew a beverage can from his overcoat, pushed the stay-on-tab and began drinking.
"You still could have picked something that-" Neville had turned around to look at the man and released a sigh at the sight of the beverage can. "You know you're addicted to those drinks, right?"
Matthias shook the can in response. "My wife keeps complaining about it."
"You do need to get rid of that habit of yours."
"And you need to start showing me you have a brain."
Neville set his jaw in an expression that Matthias recognized as his 'I-will-do-things-my-way-and-damn-everyone-else' look. "You've already lectured me on it."
"And you will not heed my advice."
Neville muttered under his breath.
Matthias glanced at the teenager. "Care to speak a little louder?"
Neville hissed in response.
"Do not take that tone with me, moron." Matthias's voice did not change in tone, pitch or timbre. "It's your fault for behaving the way you did and your grandmother's for actually encouraging the worst traits of a Gryffindor."
"You sound like Snape."
"Your potions professor is an arse of a human being who knows when to fight and when to back down. A skill that would be of great help to you the next time you think of running into a trap made by death eaters."
Neville glared at the man who was, in many ways, worse than his potions professor when it came to denigrating him, his House and the entirety of his lineage. "I'm not going to apologize for something I don't regret."
"Which I why your classes now cover strategic and lateral thinking, critical analysis and common sense."
Neville glared at Matthias and sped up his gait, a movement that was quickly and effortlessly matched by the man even as he vanished his empty beverage can without a thought. "You shouldn't be using magic like that in public. There could be cameras around."
Matthias airily shook his hand in dismissal. "The human mind is wonderful at explaining away such pesky things."
Neville stayed quiet for the remaining minutes of their journey before they arrived in front of the shabby run down department store called Purge and Dowse Ltd. His nerves began acting up as they always did but an application of Occlumency quickly crushed the emotion before it could overwhelm him.
"When Mungo Bonham, Perseus Malfoy and Tiberius Scamander founded the hospital after the Dark Lord Ekrizdis destroyed Diagon Alley, I'm quite sure they expected to inspire confidence in anyone who sought the services here." Matthias commented. "That," He pointed a finger at the glass display, "inspires dread."
Neville contemplated if Matthias had always been such a prick and concluded that he was. Ignoring the man, he looked straight at the ugly female mannequin that served as the door knocker. "Hello. I'm here to-"
"Fuck the resident healers."
Neville whipped around to stare at Matthias in shock even as the mannequin gave a small nod. "What was that?"
"A simple trick I figured out." Matthias gave an appreciative smile to a brunette passing by him on the street and received a wink in return. "It works with the telephone box the Ministry uses as an entrance as well. I'm sure you know that."
Neville was flabbergasted at Matthias's unashamed leering even though he should have been long since inured. Four summers of instruction with the man, no matter how close they became, had not helped Neville in understanding the man's habit of unashamedly leering at other woman despite having a wife who, by his grandmother's account, was half his age and a beauty to boot.
Calling on his Occlumency to gain some control, Neville opened his mouth to try and explain to Matthias that he had a wife and leering at other woman was not a good or chivalrous thing to do – an explanation he repeated every other week – when Matthias simply walked into the glass display of the store and vanished.
Sighing and resolving to try and convince Matthias on his bilious attitude towards marriage later, Neville walked through the glass and stepped into the crowded reception room of the St. Mungo's Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries. Neville looked around the room and found rows of witches and wizards sat upon rickety wooden chairs, some looking perfectly normal and perusing out-of-date copies of Witch Weekly, others sporting gruesome disfigurements, animal bites, stings, smatters of potion liquids and even some who just sat there staring blankly into space. He continued to look around until he finally noticed Matthias talking to a healer holding a clipboard.
Realizing the man had probably used a Notice-Me-Not, Neville tsk'ed in irritation. His tutor always did things like this and then refused to explain why he did them in the first place. He had asked his grandmother several times over the past four years why an individual on par with Snape was his summer tutor only to receive a glib answer before being dismissed from her presence. When he asked Matthias why the man was teaching him, he received the same glib answer.
It was maddening to be the bloke who was important to the plan and yet not know a scrap of said plan. In his more introspective moments, he considered if Harry ever had such feelings.
Before he could begin down that dangerous path of thinking, Neville noticed Matthias wave him over to the stairs leading to the upper floors. He quickly caught up to the man as an odd question floated through his mind. Two flights of stairs and a beverage can later, he gathered his courage to ask the question he wanted to. "Majishanrodo Fernard?"
"Hmm?" Matthias appeared to be lost in thought.
"Do you have any friends?"
Matthias began walking up the last flight of stairs to their destination. "Why the sudden interest in my life?"
Neville crushed his nervousness behind solid Occlumency techniques. "I was just wondering why you never talk about them. It's just you mention your wife six times a day and yet never mention a single friend. You only never talk about acquaintances."
"You've been more irritable and chatty today, Neville." Matthias appeared to have abruptly changed the subject. "Is it because my presence is destabilizing a ritual you normally perform alone?"
"Ritual?" Neville felt wary. Rituals were magic not taken lightly even by the most hardened of magus and were performed under the greatest of discipline.
"Your annual visit to your parents at the beginning of every summer break."
Something about the man's tone put Neville's thoughts off balance but before he could even begin to analyze them, they had passed into the SPELL DAMAGE corridor of the fourth floor and were standing in front of the open door leading into the Janus Thickey ward. To his surprise, there was a plaque he had never seen before – MIND DAMAGE.
"Did they build a new ward in the hospital?" Neville began to turn when Matthias held him by his left hand and dragged him into the ward.
"After a patient died in this ward because of a security breach, St. Mungo's restructured their security protocols… and changed some of the rooms around." And you'd be surprised at how effectively money changes opinions if thrown the correct way.
Before Neville could question Matthias further, he heard a familiar voice call his name.
"Heir Longbottom, you came in at the right moment." Neville looked down the ward towards the section cordoned off by a set of pale blue curtains - the space where he knew his parents were – and found Healer Dunbar walking towards him.
Remembering his etiquette, Neville hastily returned the greeting. "Healer Dunbar, it's been a while."
The middle-aged healer shook Neville's hand in a firm grip. "Have to say, I was not expecting your presence until the end of the week."
Neville tried to return the woman's genial smile. "I was anxious, sir… I hope I have not inconvenienced you."
"You never do." Unlike the other healers in the ward, Dunbar always had a genuine smile on her face. From time to time, Neville contemplated if the woman ran around with a constant cheering charm cast on herself. "In fact, it is a wonderful time. I had just completed my daily checkup on your parents."
"You did?" Realizing the redundancy of his question, Neville blushed but asked his next question without pause. "How are they?"
Dunbar smiled at Neville in that strange look crossed between sympathy and pity that only she could pull off. "Cognitive functions are repairing themselves at a steady pace. Your mother now recognizes four of the healers including myself and has started to draw in her sketchpad. The drawings are crude but long term observation shows a steady increase in fine motor skills. She's even managed to speak a few words on an irregular basis."
"Your father is displaying an unheard of increase in brain function. Reports by our resident mind healer indicate his mind is, in a manner of speaking, repairing itself. Dead neurons are regenerating like a hydra even as his conscious slowly awakens. At the current regimen we are maintaining, we estimate he should regain consciousness in about… ninety days."
Neville felt hope bloom in his chest and a fragile smile rise on his lips. "Does this mean…" He couldn't bring himself to speak the words for fear of asking the wrong question and extinguishing what little hope he gained. Fortunately for him, Dunbar seemed to understand his plight.
"While I doubt they will ever recover complete function, barring any future complications, I am quite sure your parents will return to you by Christmas."
Neville did not realize the bright smile that erupted on his face and not even the not-so-subtle warnings of Healer Dunbar failed to dampen his mood. He knew Dunbar was obligated to warn the families of patients lest they gain too much hope; that was not a problem for him at the moment. Even his grandmother had told him his parents would be home by Christmas and Augusta Longbottom never lied.
"Could you convince your grandmother to arrange a meeting between the St. Mungo's staff and your family healer? It was because of the instructions provided by your healer that we were able to create a successful treatment. Many of my colleagues, including myself, would like to thank the healer in person." Dunbar's smile was enthusiastic. "Many of the treatment techniques provided have helped many of our other patients in the wards."
"I'll pass on the message, Healer Dunbar. Can I see my parents now?" Neville's obvious enthusiasm seemed to deepen Dunbar's smile.
"Of course, Heir Longbottom. If you would follow m-" Dunbar froze for a moment as her smile turned uncertain. "I'm sorry for noticing your companion, Heir Longbottom. I must have been lost in thought."
"It was no issue, Healer Dunbar." Internally, Neville fumed at Matthias. The man used Notice-Me-Not charms far too liberally and drew far too much amusement from putting people off guard even if he did not show his amusement with outward signs. His grandmother's account of Matthias's introduction at Hogwarts was a matter that made Neville laugh his ass off even as he felt a shiver pass at the thought of Matthias in a room full of Hogwarts students. "This is-"
"Matthias Edvards Fernard, Healer Dunbar." Matthias extended his hand with a smile Neville knew Dunbar would recognize was fake.
True to Neville's thoughts, Dunbar shook hands with Matthias, a disturbed smile on her lips. "A… pleasure to meet you, Mister Fernard. I must say I am familiar with the Longbottom family and I am hard pressed to remember if I have ever seen you before."
Matthias waved the question away. "I'm simply a close acquaintance. Neville's grandmother asked me to escort him because of the Dark Lord running around at the moment."
Dunbar looked very uncomfortable as the air around her felt explicably cold.
"I am quite sure you have other cases to deal with, Healer. Why don't you go ahead and get started on them? Neville and I can find our way to the end of the ward."
Dunbar tried to object with a strained smile. "It is not a problem, Mist-"
"I insist." Matthias spoke so softly that Neville thought the Healer might have not have heard them at all. However, Dunbar seemed to have heard them perfectly as she hastily spoke a farewell and walked out of the ward as fast as was politely possible without the appearance of running.
As soon as Healer Dunbar was out the door, Neville rounded on his companion. "What the hell was that?" He rarely displayed his anger as he found nothing was ever achieved using it.
Matthias shrugged. "I don't like junkies."
Neville narrowed his eyes at the term. He did not think it was a polite word. "What does that even mean?"
"It means she's a drug addict. Probably some form of modified euphoria potion to keep herself happy while she works here, in the most depressing ward in the entire hospital."
"I've been coming here for years and so has my grandmother." Neville hissed. "Healer Dunbar has always been a professional."
Matthias's gaze made Neville feel like he was six inches tall and denser than lead. "Your grandmother is the Regent of a Most Ancient House whose Lord is lying at the end of this room. You think your precious Healer Dunbar would want anyone to know about her dirty little habit?" He preempted Neville's next question. "No, I cannot report her because Wizarding Britain's concept of addictive drugs is outdated. Just go talk to your parents. I'll be lying on the bed next to that pile."
Neville glanced in direction of Matthias's pointed finger and found an empty bed next to a blanket pile. A blink focused his thoughts only to realize the mound was probably a patient who had covered himself head to toe in a large blanket.
Nodding in the affirmative to Matthias's question, Neville turned to the end of the ward and began walking, his feet picking up speed even as his mind emptied itself of all thoughts except those of his parents who he hoped would soon be laughing brightly.
Entering past the pale blue curtains, Neville found his father lying on the hospital bed with his eyes open and his mother drawing on her sketchpad. Both of them looked far healthier than they did during his last disastrous visit that nearly ended with him socking Ron for being an oblivious, insensitive git. His mother's skin had regained a great deal of color, her face looked much healthier and her hair fairer. His father was in a similar state of health.
"Mum!" Neville watched as his mother turned around and smile at the sight of him. He let himself get dragged by her onto the bed and into a hug that he felt would break his bones even as he could not stop grinning at the enthusiasm displayed by his mother.
The next two hours were filled with Neville sharing all abridged versions of his adventures over the past year and an extremely censored version of the battle in the Ministry, his father blinking in what Neville guessed was some kind of response to his words and his mother cuddling up to him and feeding him a selection of candy from the drawer next to her bed and showed him all her drawings.
Neville would have left at the end of two hours but his mother pulled on his arm until he stayed for another hour before he – reluctantly - extracted himself from her arms with promises of future visits and exited the curtained section of the wards with an empty Droobles Blowing Gum wrapper in the pocket.
Neville knew he was grinning like a lunatic but did not care. His parents looked healthier, were more active and were far more responsive than he had seen in years. He was going to convince his grandmother to give him the name of the healer responsible for their recovery and was going to repay the person with everything he had at his disposal.
Making up his mind, Neville turned to find Matthias and faltered at the sight of the man manipulating a large globe of water with his bare hands. He watched as the man effortlessly and with nary a thought make the globe dance even as he changed the shape, creating all sorts of creatures and plants and racing them around the room.
The sight of Matthias wandlessly manipulating water and thoughts of his cherry and unicorn hair wand dredged up the most painful memory of his tutoring under Matthias.
"Maybe it's because you do not have an affinity for foci-based magic."
Neville felt flabbergasted by the answer which quickly turned into belligerence. "What do you mean I don't have an affin-"
"Exactly that." Matthias spoke calmly from his seat on the couch in Neville's study inside Harfang's Lodge. "Not every magus is a Transfiguration savant, a prodigious Seeker or a Seer. Similarly, not everyone is suited to using a wand as their focus for magic."
"But… could it just be that my wand is not suited to me?" Neville tried, grasping for any point that might not prove his fears to be true.
Matthias gave a hard glance towards Neville. "Regent Dowager Longbottom is many things, but an old crackpot ignorant of wand-lore she is not. While it is true that often… children are unsuited to the wands utilized by their parents, you do not fall under that category. I can personally vouch that your grandmother consulted with Garrick Ollivander, performed the necessary tests to check if your magic and the wand are in harmony, and then and only then placed that wand in your explosive fingers." He paused for a moment. "I believe she might have expected you to be inspired by holding onto your father's wand."
"But… but I can hardly cast anything with this… stick." Neville looked at the wand in his hand skeptically, wishing that the ground would just open up and swallow him whole.
"Like I said, your magic must simply be unsuited towards a wand. Considering wands are the most efficient foci on the planet and are far less fickle at binding themselves to owners, I doubt other foci would work for you."
"Well, I know people who cannot cast with a wand. They're called squibs." Neville retorted in belligerence.
Matthias simply gave an amused smile. "Observe." He snapped his fingers and Neville was gob smacked at the tiny ball of flame burning on the thumb of the right hand. He closed his fist to extinguish the ball of flame and opened it to reveal a fish made of water crawling around his hand. A moment later, he vanished the water based construct even as Neville continued to stare in awe. "Andros the Invincible could do what I just did. Would you call him a squib as well?"
"Wandless magic?" Neville muttered, his eye all but flying out of their sockets. Wandless magic was extremely difficult to perform for all but the strongest of magus. His tutor must be on the same as Albus Dumbledore. "Can you duel Albus Dumbledore?" His eyes shined with excitement.
Matthias stared at Neville for a long time before he shook his head. "Hogwarts needs a serious overhaul. Look, Wandless magic can only be performed by strong magi is a myth. Nearly everyone can do it once their figure out the right trick that works for them. What Andros the Invincible possessed and I now do is simply an inborn ability to cast magic without the use of a focus."
"There are plenty of magecraft that are studied all over the world and not all of them need a focus. We just need to find the one you're suited to."
After that announcement, Neville had been used a test dummy by Matthias for a variety of foci – staves, staffs, runic tattoos, rice paper, gems, beads and a whole host of other foci that Neville could scarcely remember. Suffice it to say, he had retained the use of his father's wand and was now utilizing his new cherry and unicorn hair wand without showing any improvement in his spellcasting.
Resigning himself to his situation and berating himself for feeling envious of his tutor when his parents would soon be with him, Neville approached Matthias who, upon noticing the teenager, vanished the water with a wrist flick.
"You need more time?"
Neville shook his head and opened his mouth to ask for a favor when his eyes landed on the bed beside Matthias. What was previously a pile of blankets was now a familiar looking mousy haired teenager with some kind of jagged scar on his left arm staring at Matthias with a look that Neville could not describe. It took him a few seconds to place the teenager but when his mind finally caught up his eyes, Neville stared in shock at finding the Gryffindor in the Janus Thickey ward.
The shout was loud enough to wake up Lockhart who lay three beds away. "COLIN!?"
June 7, 1996
The fireplace at Longbottom Manor flared brightly with emerald flames as Harry Peverell fell out of the fireplace on his face. He bit back the instinctive "Damn it!" and moved to stand even as he felt someone tug his left arm.
"You don't need to make an entrance every time you step out of a Floo, Harry." Neville commented in a soft voice.
Harry was stunned for a moment at hearing Neville make a joke but recovered quickly. "I'm still trying to get the trick down. Apparition's easier."
Neville's eyebrows shot up. "You can apparate, Harry?"
"Dumbledore taught me." Harry stepped away from the Floo and stood beside Neville who, wisely, did not reply to that answer.
Looking at the still empty fireplace, Neville asked, "Isn't Hermione coming right behind you?"
"She is." Harry was looking around the large parlor – it was six times the size of its counterpart at Grimmauld – with sharp eyes. "But she will drop in after another… ten seconds. Apparently, Hermione believes I suck at magical travel. No idea where that idea got into her head."
"Well, you did just fall on your face." Neville commented lightly.
Harry mock glared at Neville who returned the look with a small smile. "I just need to learn the trick."
"It's simple, Harry. The moment you know you've arrived, immediately step out with your dominant foot and quickly follow with your other leg." Neville continued to stare at the fireplace. "Practice a few times and you'll get it."
Harry began to wonder what was delaying the arrival of his friends. His mind began conjuring doomsday scenarios of another attack similar to the one three days ago. The time of day – late evening – was not helping matters. Luckily, his autonomous shields – or was that dampeners – slammed down on his emotions causing his face to assume a blank façade for a moment. He had yet to get acclimatized to his own body working without his input. It was not a comfortable thought. "How many times did you have to practice to get it right, Neville?"
Neville frowned. "My tutor spent four days on training me to use the Floo service until I could smoothly step out of it without a hitch."
Harry was shocked at the number of days spent on what he assumed was a simple exercise. "Four days? Did you keep flooing to Diagon Alley or what?"
"Not really." A secretive smile rose on Neville's face. "Turns out, if you try to Floo to your own fireplace, you can step in and the network will spit you out after a second. Makes for good practice but, by Merlin, it's boring. I'm lucky I got it down in four days."
Harry blinked at Neville. He had honestly never seen Neville speak as much as he did at the moment, unless one counted being his partner in Herbology class. He opened his mouth to mention it but quickly snapped shut lest he discourage Neville with the words.
The fireplace roared with green flames as Hermione stepped out of the fireplace without a hitch in her step. "Hey, Neville."
"What took you so long?" asked Harry.
"Girl stuff, Harry."
Harry cocked his head. "That's code for 'It's none of your business', isn't it?" It was not a question.
"Prat." Hermione smiled. "Why did you call us, Neville?"
A second later, Fleur stepped out of the fireplace far more grace than either teenager making Hermione wonder if Fleur was not related to some kind of royalty.
Neville, on the other hand, was quite surprised but recovered quickly. "Heiress Delacour. Welcome to Harfang's Lodge, Ancestral Seat of the House of Longbottom." He extended his right hand.
Fleur's eyebrow rose in surprise but she schooled her expression and placed her right hand in Neville's which he kissed. "It is an honor to be invited into your home, Heir Longbottom."
Hermione blinked at the ceremony before her. "Was that necessary?"
Neville pursed his lips in irritation. "It's a traditional greeting."
Harry cut in before Hermione could start the twenty questions game she so loved. "Your letter said it was an urgent matter, Neville."
Neville suppressed his snort. "My owl certainly took her time to deliver her letter."
Harry muttered something about wards but the words were incomprehensible to the others.
"Ignore him, Neville." Hermione was staring at the parlor in appreciation. "What did you want to talk to us about?"
Neville glanced at Harry for a moment, then at Hermione who looked at him earnestly, and back at Harry. Swallowing, he replied, "Come with me."
Fleur frowned but held back her questions in favor of following the teenager while Harry and Hermione sent apprehensive glances towards each other and she knew what the other was thinking. Neville looked scared.
Neville led the trio through the parlor, into the entrance hall and up the stairs towards the first floor.
Trying to defuse the tense atmosphere permeating the group, Hermione spoke the first words that came to mind. "Your manor looks really bright, Neville." She berated herself for what might have been thoughtless words but decided to plough on, hoping that she would not make things worse. Ever since the attack on Fred and George's shop, Harry had been far too tense and seemed ready to jump at the slightest sound while Fleur looked to be in a similar state of constant worry. "It looks like the French chateau I visited after second year."
"It's actually a mix of several styles, Hermione." Neville answered absently. "The manor's renovated every century and every Lord or Lady likes to add their personal touch to the manor. Gran says it's a family tradition."
Fleur gazed at the architecture with an approving eye. "House Longbottom has excellent taste, Heir Longbottom. The amalgamation of architecture styles is pleasing."
Neville felt self-conscious. "Thanks for the compliment… and you can me Neville. We don't need to stand on ceremony."
Fleur responded in kind. "You may call me Fleur, Neville."
Harry continued to wonder why Neville looked several kinds of tense and the genuine fear he did not mistake for anything else. Deciding to fish for information, he asked, "Did you get a summons from the DMLE, Neville?"
"Ah!" Neville looked like the thought had just occurred to him and was inwardly berating himself for it. "I did. Well, Gran received the letter and told me I had to attend an interview at the DMLE. Are you guys attending on the ninth too?"
"Yes." Harry considered if Neville knew more about the matter than he did. "You have any information about that, Neville?"
"Not really. Gran met Amelia Bones - She's the Director of the DMLE – and asked about it. Madame Bones told her it was simply an interview that was delayed because of other concerns…"
Neville finally stopped in front of a door on the first floor and turned to face the group behind him.
At that moment, Harry knew anybody looking at Neville would see that he was tense and scared, even for a normally oblivious guy like himself. "Neville, you're creeping me out and you still haven't told us why we're here."
Neville wanted to wring his hands but decided not to. His tutor had beat that habit out of him and it would not do to continue it. "Just before you go in there, Harry. I want you to know I found him at the hospital on Wednesday."
Harry gulped in anxiety. "Who is it, Neville?"
Neville, hesitantly, held open the door. "See for yourself, Harry."
The very first thing that Harry Peverell registered once he entered the room was an eleven-inch long piece of wood right between his eyes, and the identity of the person wielding said piece of wood in his trembling hands. For as long as Harry could remember, the teenager before him had always run around Hogwarts with a camera hanging from his neck, taking pictures of anything he could with an infectious grin in his lips alongside the extremely annoying greeting of "Hello Harry" whenever he had the opportunity to meet him.
"Colin." Harry breathed as he stared at the obsessive photographer even as he heard a sharp breath behind him. Colin's eyes were the only nothing stopping him from drawing his wand. They were filled with an inexplicable ra- No, this was not inexplicable. He recognized this. It was exactly how he felt after Sirius had…
"Why are you here?" Colin snarled.
Hermione drew in a sharp breath at the look in the boy's eyes. It was exactly like the way Harry looked when she tried to interrogate him about his feelings on Cedric's death. She discreetly brought her wand out. Just in case.
Fleur could feel the emotions rolling off the boy in waves and had to clamp down on her Occlumency and restrict her empath abilities before the anger overwhelm her.
Seeing Harry stand there like a rock, Colin turned towards Neville who was far too composed for his liking. "Why is he here?" He screamed his lungs out.
"I called him here." Neville replied without any emotional inflection in his voice.
"What happened?" Harry asked, directing the question to Neville and immediately regretted his action as Colin seemed to have understood his intentions.
"I am right here, Potter." Colin sneered and Harry realized the expression was similar to Snape's during their final Occlumency lesson. "Ask me."
Fleur drew her wand and prepared herself to cast a shield or stunner as necessary.
"Colin…" Hermione began, but Colin cut her off.
"I paid the price for being around you, Potter. I saw my entire family butchered to pieces because of you. My mother's dead because of you. My father died because of you… Den- Dennis- Dennis had hi-"
Harry drew in a sharp breath. Riddle's… He's targeting everyone around me. He-
"Where were you?" Colin snarled, breaking Harry out of his thoughts. "Where was the great Boy-Who-Lived when I needed him? WHERE WERE YOU WHEN THOSE- THOSE MONSTERS CAME FOR-" Colin's eye rolled up as he lost consciousness and his knees gave way.
Harry caught Colin before he could collapse to the ground. Hefting the boy up by his waist, he laid him down on the bed and covered him in a blanket as Fleur placed Colin's wand on the table beside the bed.
Harry stood there for a few minutes in silence as everyone in the room tried to digest what they had just witnessed. "What just happened?" He wanted to know why his voice felt so hoarse.
"Overpowered sleeping charm." Neville explained in a quiet tone. "The healer warned me that, under no circumstances, was I to let his anger get the better of him. It was one of the conditions I had to follow to take him home."
"What happened to him?" Hermione asked in a quieter tone of voice.
Neville turned green and was moments away from puking his guts out. Taking great pain to regain his control through Occlumency and breathing exercises, he turned and walked out of the room. "Follow me."
Hermione and Fleur dragged Harry away from the now sleeping Colin before he sunk himself into a quagmire of guilt.
With his guests on his heels, Neville walked over to the east wing of the manor and lead them into his study. Ignoring the mess of notebooks and parchment lying on the couch, he opened the top right drawer of his study desk and pulled out a large saucer of a stone basin etched with runes and filled with a silvery liquid.
"Is that… a pensieve?" Harry asked absently, his mind a million miles away.
Hermione spun towards him. "Where have you seen a pensieve before, Harry?"
"Dumbledore's office." Harry muttered.
"Harry's right." Neville confirmed as he let the pensieve float in the middle of the study at waist height. He began a small explanation on the device, knowing Hermione would appreciate it. "They are made only on request and costs a heavy galleon. Ancient and Most Ancient Houses are known to have one at the very least."
"My father has one in his office as well." Fleur confirmed, still clamping down on her emotions lest she transform. Her empath abilities were a double edged sword because sensing overwhelming emotions could influence her significantly. It was why Veela with extreme aptitude for the ability were trained by Mistresses in the Covens for years with heavy emphasis on the Mind Arts. While her aptitude for empath sensitivity did not rank such training, she could - occasionally - drown in emotion if someone around her allowed their emotions to overwhelm them. The boy – Colin – and Harry were not helping her emotional state at the moment.
"I…" Neville's green pallor returned with a vengeance. "I asked my tutor to help me get the memory of the event from Colin's mind."
"A private tutor, Neville?" Hermione asked and Harry felt his lips twitch slightly. Trust Hermione to focus on studies.
Neville swallowed his anxiety as Hermione appeared to have given him a question to compose himself. Whether she did it for that purpose or not, he was grateful still. "My grandmother hired a private tutor to teach me essential subjects that Hogwarts syllabus does not cover. He's been teaching me every summer since the end of first year."
Neville pointed towards the pensieve. "Colin was more than eager to give that memory. I'm not sure if he did it because he could not speak about it or if he wanted to spread his pain." The three shivered at the latter. "All I know is you will understand why he blames Harry after he sees that. Just put your head in that liquid and it will take you to the memory."
"Just one warning before you enter. My instructor extracted every inch of the memory including the thoughts and emotions that went with them. You will feel them in their entirety."
"I shall sit this one out." Fleur's words shock Harry and Hermione into staring at her with incredulity. She responds with a pained smile. "I am sorry but I cannot watch the memory without… adverse effects." She cannot explain her problems at the moment. Not when Neville has clearly stated what will happen if one enters the pensieve. Harry and Hermione do not seem to understand the full weight of his words and it is not the time to enlighten them. As her father once told her, some things are better experienced than spoken.
Harry wants to rail against Fleur for- for- He is not sure why he wishes to rail against her but he does not like that she wishes to avoid the memory. Deciding that that talk would be better served later, he walks towards the pensieve and dunks his head into the silvery liquid.
A second later, Hermione, fuming because of Fleur's cowardice, repeats Harry's action to enter the memory.
June 5, 1996
Colin had just spent the past two hours trying his best to beat his brother at a pack of Exploding Snap and had failed miserably.
"Give up, brother." Dennis was smiling like a loon for the same hours. "You're never going to beat me at this game."
Colin wanted to wipe that smug look off his face but he could not bring himself to do it. Not when Dennis had been spending his days since Harry Potter and his friends revealed the truth: that the big bad Dark Lord was back.
Honestly, even though he had supported Harry for the past year, Colin had pleaded and hoped and wished to God that Harry and the Headmaster were simply hallucinating or were confounded or anything except that they were telling the truth.
Watching Dennis shuffle the cards for another game that Colin egged him into, he knew that his thoughts were a betrayal to Harry but he could not help it. He had seen how bad some students in his school could be to him simply because he told them he was from the other side of the Leaky Cauldron. How their responses varied from ignoring him to annoyance to being mean to him.
In many ways, Colin believed it was a gift that people considered him too stupid to understand the world. And they would be right in several cases. Sure, he ran around the school without any thoughts except for his camera and magic and friends and family. But he was not daft, and definitely was not blind.
In private, he laughed at all the people who called blind. The biggest thing people ignored when they made that statement was also the one that made him so infamous among them.
Photography was an art that you could only be good at if you were capable of observing things beyond what they looked like. Many of his photos were of moments he knew held a meaning greater than what the picture he took conveyed. It was why he preferred still photographs to the moving pictures that witches and wizards loved so much. A moving picture looked too much like a movie. Lots of action and little meaning. A still photo was so much more.
Plus, the still photos helped him to satisfy his friends in the muggle world without breaking rules that seemed so fragile that Colin wondered how the magical world managed to hide for so long.
Smiling at Dennis as a card exploded in his face, Colin knew he was not the same kid who had entered Hogwarts with the tact of a troll and quickly became one of Gryffindor's biggest chatterbox ranked right after Granger's rants and Patil and Brown's gossip sessions. When he had woken up from what everybody told him was a basilisk petrification, he was horrified when he came home to learn that his parents had no clue about what happened at school. It was the reason he kept a close eye on Dennis and convinced him to join Gryffindor instead of Hufflepuff like he wanted to.
When his brother had first been bullied by a couple of snakes, Colin had complained to McGonagall and she proved to be as useless as his primary school teacher who did not care enough about his missing reels, books and photos that his classmates regularly misplaced. After McGonagall had dismissed their complaint because the snakes had friends who covered their asses, he had given up on teachers being of any possible help.
His last year at school happened to be the worst with that pink coat monster walking the halls it was her own personal kingdom. Subtly rubbing his hand where the words were hidden under foundation makeup he had borrowed from Lavender, he just hoped that their Dark Lord was far, far away and Harry would find a way to lead them out of this mess.
His mother's voice from the downstairs hall shook him out of his thoughts.
"Colin! Dennis! Dinner's ready!"
"Coming, mum!" Colin shouted back as Dennis packed the cards and placed them in the drawer they had allocated for Hogwarts stuff.
Walking into the dining room, Colin gave his father a one-armed hug with a smile and sat down at the table. Feeling odd, he looked around the room and found nothing but his father and brother smiling in their shared banter even as their mom admonished them while serving up a freshly prepared roast chicken.
"Hey dad!" Colin waited until his father gave him his full attention. "Wanna go play a match of cricket tomorrow evening? Me and Dennis are playing with the boys and they wanna know."
"Well…" His father rubbed his chin. "I can finish my work at the site soon… Tell you what, I'll be by the park by, say 5o'clock and have a nice pick up match."
Colin smiled and had his lights knocked out by a red flash.
When he woke up with an aching headache, Colin tried to move only to feel like he was stuck inside ice. A few seconds into his – futile – struggle, the haze over his eyes lifted and he was staring at the middle of his living room, the photos hanging over the wall opposite to his position on the floor and the bodies of his family lying a couple of feet away from him.
Colin tried to scream for help with everything he had but his lips did not part nor did so much as a breath of a letter escape them. He tried to force his muscles to move and failed again. Tried to do anything but stay like a living statue on the floor and failed. He continued to push his body to obey his will when cold breath reminding him of a dementor rattled in his ear.
"Terror…" Colin felt the word reverberate down his spine like the coldest of ice. "…tastes best when fresh, pretty little boy." He felt ice cold fingers stroking his cheek and his innards froze in absolute terror as men in dark robes and silver masks appeared around the room, seated on the couch and chairs in a lazy manner with their wands pointed at his family.
The fingers stroking his cheek stopped and the man behind him stepped over him and approached his parents and brother who were unmoving on the floor.
When the man turned to face him, Colin wanted to retch. Unlike the others, he only wore the robes without a mask but Colin really wished he had. The guy looked like the fleshy version of a freaking dementor.
The man smiled and Colin doubted he had ever seen an uglier face and that included Umbridge. The man levitated Dennis by his legs and moved him to the edge of his vision.
Keeping his brother floating in the air, Ugly turned around and woke up his parents with a wave of his wand. Colin immediately tried to scream as they looked shocked and afraid at the strange man in their home. His body refused to heed his call.
Colin watched as his father tried to run to Dennis only to crash against some invisible wall as his mother kept whipping her head around in fear, trying to keep all the strange and dangerous men in her sight.
Ugly sneered at his parents and cast a spell that broke his father's knee causing him to scream loudly. Colin continued to try and fight the spell that kept him still but nothing was working. He was hoping that some kind of accidental magic might break them like that one time when he was six. The spell did not give.
Ugly continued to sneer at his father. "Yar gonna be the evenin's entertainment. If you say no, your son gets this." He pointed his wand under Dennis's head and spoke some words did not understand.
A pillar of fire rose underneath Dennis's head and Ugly lowered his brother into the fire. His parents began beating at the invisible walls surrounding them I desperation as Colin tried to get free of his bonds. A distant part of his mind reminded him that his parents had yet to call for it but he dismissed it in favor of trying to save his brother.
Colin watched Dennis wake up as the flame flash burned his hair and a piece of the skin underneath and screamed out in agonizing pain even his as little brother tried and failed to move anything beyond the muscles in his face. He watched as Ugly waved his wand to silence his brother and levitate him away from the flames and turned to his parents with a smile that chilled Colin to the core.
"Now, ya lot are going to beat each other!" Ugly ignored the warnings and pleas coming from Colin's parents. "I don't 'are 'ow ya do it. But un'ess ya want yar boy roasted like a troll, ya best get on with it."
Colin had frozen in shock – the spell cast on him ensured that – as his parents stopped shouting and screaming and pleading and were looking at Ugly with a horror that he had never imagined seeing on their faces.
The next ten minutes proved to be the greatest horror of his life as Colin watched the masked men, after his parents begged them for mercy, cast some kind of spell and, forcibly, pour a colorless liquid down their throats that appeared to make his parents angry at each other. After that, his parents had gone at each other like the Blast Ended Skrewts he had handled in Hagrid's class. Fists were thrown, kicks were unleashed, and skins stretched and tore under nails. Colin watched in an almost detached horror as his father gouged out his mother's left eye with a roar while felt odd because his stomach and throat churned with bile that could not progress beyond the back of his throat.
Colin's mind screamed itself hoarse as his mother chewed off his father's right ear even as he kicked her to the ground and pounded her skull in. Part of her skull caved in, his mother swiped the feet from under his father and bashed his face in with both fists. Just before Colin thought they might stop hurting each other, one of the robed men threw a knife inside the invisible arena his parents fought within.
Colin watched his brother, screaming at his parents to stop for the past ten minutes, had lost his voice and was now pleading in whispers. He kept trying to move but the spell seemed it was far too hard to break.
"Looks like your friend Potter isn't here to save you." A rough voice whispered in Colin's ear as he watched his parents break each other's teeth in their bid to take the knife. "Wonder why he spent a year running after our Lord and now hides like a coward while his friends and their parents suffer for his words."
The man continued to whisper words into his ear as Colin tried to ignore him. His parents were his greater concern even as they broke each other's skin and fought over a knife like a pair of ancient enemies he had read about in the fairy tales his father hid from him.
"Did you know Harry is living in a comfortable mansion while your parents are dying? I'm sure he's having a grand old dinner with his friends..."
Colin wanted to scream that Harry did not know what was going on but his mind asked him if Harry was screaming about You-Know-Who and death eaters last year, why did he not know about the attack on his family.
His father had finally retrieved the knife from his mother's mangled hand and began stabbing her anywhere he could. Colin wanted to run and stop his father from hurting his mother but the spell refused to budge and the man whispering in his ear turned more malicious.
"You could have avoided all of this, you know. All you had to do was stay away from lying, scheming Harry Potter who dragged people like you and your parents and your brother and your friends into HIS fight." His mother – blood pouring from her chest and throat – managed to wrangle the knife from his father and tore his stomach apart with a single slash and pulled his intestines out with her empty hand.
"If you had simply stayed away from the fool, none of this would be happening. Your brother would have been playing exploding snap in your room." Colin felt his world slip away from his fingers. "Your mother would be gossiping with the neighbors next door and your poor father would be laughing at the dinner table and sharing new jokes about Kevin."
Colin wanted to cry. He wanted to rage at the bastards and the Ugly around him. He wanted to kill them all and even his parents for hurting each other like monsters. He needed to sink his fingers into their eyes and tear them out. Most of all, he wanted to tear Harry Potter limb from bloody limb as his father tore his mother's jaw out with his bare hands.
"Potter is a bad guy for dragging you against our Lord. He would have left you alone, you know. He would have left poor Colin Creevey all alone but you supported the liar and none of us want him in our midst."
Colin watched as the robed men kill his parents with a shout of "Avada Kedavra" and two bright green spells that reminded him of Harry.
Ugly levitated his brother down and released him and Colin watched as Dennis crawled over to his parents and cried and bawled his eyes out.
The man behind Colin continued to whisper in Colin's ear as a wand touched his head. "This is what Potter does, Colin. He tears families apart. He causes pain to everyone around. He hurts those he cares for. Why, his godfather died because the Great Harry Potter wanted to be a hero."
Colin watched his little brother bawl out his pain in big tears and hated that he was powerless to stop those tears and Harry for not being here to save him and his family like he promised.
Ugly leaned down next to Dennis, caught his brother by the chin and drew him up. "If ya want your ruddy brother to live, ya 'ave ten seconds to run outside."
Colin tried to scream at Dennis to run away but his brother seemed oblivious to anything but Ugly's stare.
Ugly sneered at Dennis and Colin wanted Dennis to close his eyes. "If yar here en I start countin, I'll kill your brother as well. Ten."
Colin tried to do anything he could to signal his brother to take the chance and run. He needed to Dennis to run. He needed somebody in his family to live.
When Ugly reached "SIX!", Dennis snapped out of his crying stupor, pushed the hand holding his chin away and ran to the door only to fall on his face when a tripping jinx – Colin recognized it from the DA and his thoughts darkened at the thought – landed on him.
"THREE!" Ugly sneered at Dennis.
Still sobbing in pain, Dennis got up and ran the last few feet to the door.
Colin felt himself being adjusted to give him a proper view of his brother reaching the door. His heart soared in what little joy it could receive when Dennis put his hand on the door.
Just as Colin begged to God that his little brother would cross the door, Dennis froze on the spot.
"ONE!" Ugly screamed like Gryffindor had won the House cup.
Colin desperately wished Dennis would run out the door and had not noticed something he should when the remainder of his sanity bled away. For once in his life, Colin absolutely wished he had never, ever had magic or learned of the magical world as he watched the frozen body of his little brother slip to the ground while his head slid off the neck with an ease that tore at Colin's mind.
"Greet Harry Potter and tell all your friends that this is what will happen if anyone spreads lies about our Lord." The rough voice whispered in Colin's ear as he felt his pain build to a Crescendo that Colin doubted he would survive.
The last thought that went through Colin when he saw the red flash again was a simple line. I hate you, Harry Potter!
Harry emerged from the pensieve, eyes glinting with sorrow and rage and hatred and emotions he doubted he could name even with a thousand years of experience and the roar of the ocean ringing in his ears. His hands were gripping the rim of the pensieve with so much strength that he pondered why the bones in his fingers had not already cracked.
Distantly, out of the corner of his eye, he registered Neville holding what looked like a conjured bucket with Fleur holding back Hermione's hair as she emptied the contents of her stomach and he felt an irrational level of anger course through his veins at the sight. How could Hermione receive help for simply being unable to withstand a mere memory when Colin received none as his family was butchered before his eyes? The mousy haired teenager with the too bright smile had struggled helplessly against his bonds and found no hand reaching out to help him. On the other hand, Hermione was being assisted by two of his acquaintances because she felt too queasy.
Harry violently turned away from the pensieve and strayed closer to the window as his emotions began to overwhelm him. Colin should not have suffered through that. HE and his family should have had a wonderful dinner followed by those activities families did when they loved each other. He and his brother should be exploding snap and his parents should have been watching them with a smile.
And it was all his fault. He knew Riddle would go after his friends and those close to him just for the sake of depriving him of joy. From the moment Dumbledore died, Harry understood he was fighting a war on both fronts and did nothing to prepare for it, save for running around like an idiot trying to find trinkets when his friends were in danger. Riddle's horcrux must have influenced him to the point that he was now blind to all concerns or did the ritual he aided Dumbledore in performing remove his ability to care for the friends. Was he falling into Dumbledore's mistake of noticing the forest for the trees?
Harry once thought he had known hatred beyond any of his classmates for he had lived in an abusive home for a decade. The moment he had learned of his heritage and of his parents' sacrifice to save his life, there was nothing – absolutely nothing in the world he hated more than the Dursleys. Not even the great Dark Lord Voldemort who had personally killed his parents. Riddle had killed his parents and Harry would not rest until the monster was lying six feet under but the Dursleys were his greatest foes because they fed him lies for ten years and did not even have the decency to understand their mistakes.
A mirthless laugh bubbled out of him as Harry finally understood why Snape hated him. Much like Petunia who hated him because she was unable to possess the magic she claimed to hate and Vernon who despised anything that did not fit his standard of sanity, Snape hated Harry because of what he represented. When people claimed he looked just like his father – a claim Harry knew was not as true as everyone made it out to be – and was the reason Snape singled him out at every chance he got, they had barely scratched the surface.
Snape hated Harry because Harry was the son of Lily who was born as the seventh month died and was therefore the reason why Riddle killed the woman he loved. Harry was the mistake that should never have been born because Lily Evans would have lived and Snape could have tried to repair the friendship he had destroyed and Lily could have been a part of his life once again. Harry's similarity to James Potter gave a plausible reason that Snape knew others would buy and call him a petty bastard without ever once noticing his pain.
Harry could feel Colin's hatred churning through him and knew the boy- the teenager hated him a hundred times more than Snape did or ever could because, unlike his parents, Harry was well and truly responsible for their deaths.
After he had learned of existence of Riddle and his vengeance against all things Potter, Harry should have stayed away from everyone. He should have known better than to drag others into his fight when the Death Eater led Ministry had targeted him in a smear campaign. Instead, he encouraged them to follow him in his self-destructive tendencies and look what came out of that brilliant move. Fred, George, Ron, Hermione and Fleur ended up in the hospital, and Colin… Colin everyone closest to him. Colin was perfectly justified in ki-
Harry felt his head swing around so hard, he felt his neck almost snap. Nearly dazed from the pain in his neck and his cheek burn from the hard slap, he stared at the person who did the deed and snarled. "What was that for?"
"That," Fleur spoke in an eerily calm voice, her chest rising with every breath, "was for sinking into angsty teenager and not realizing that you were damaging the property of your friend."
"What's that supposed to mean, Fleur!?" Hermione scoffed, despite her pale countenance, her eyes angry at the female's unexpected attack on her best friend. She hadn't even realized, but she had had her wand nearly drawn.
Fleur appeared to follow one of the breathing exercises to control one's anger. Relaxing slightly, she stared at Harry with an ice cod gaze. "Have you lost your mind, Harry? You're leaking magic all over the floor. Control yourself!"
Harry wanted to shout at Fleur to shut up when he felt his right hand tighten around a thin stick of wood. Looking down, he narrowed his gaze at the Elder Wand - missing the curious glance Fleur cast at the ancient artefact – and felt shock at the tendril of influence the wand was exerting on his mind. Alarmed at not remembering the warnings presented by Dumbledore, Harry vanished the artefact and immediately felt the influence recede as his emotional dampeners slammed down with such force that, for a few fleeting seconds, he felt nothing.
Once he considered himself sufficiently recovered, Harry drew in the aura he was projecting and looked at his three people in the study to find them staring at him with worry and a hint of wariness.
"You alright now, Harry?" Hermione asked, her tone filled with worry.
Feeling his dampeners recede, Harry winced at letting his emotions and the Elder Wand getting the better off him. "I'm fine, Hermione."
"You are most definitely not." Fleur scoffed, before she turned away from him, walking away to stand beside Neville.
Harry glared at Fleur and found her relaxing by the second. A part of his mind wondered where all the anger went but was not motivated enough to truly bother. "I said I'm fine." He was irritated at her presumption.
"Harry," Hermione began, hoping that her best friend would not rage at her, "When you say 'fine', it means anything but. Don't deny it."
"Fine!" Harry retorted and observed Hermione's posture relax minutely. "But I don't speak about myself."
"You don't have to." Fleur stared at Harry with a knowing gaze. "It's plain as day for anyone to witness. You're angry."
"Of course I'm angry!" Harry shouted. "Those bastards killed Colin's family in front of him. Riddle and his band of bastards need to pay."
"It's the Dark Lord's real name." Hermione answered. "Tom Marvolo Riddle. Head Boy of Hogwarts from 1944-45."
Fleur took a deep breath to calm herself and processed the information, making a mental note to send a letter to her father. "You are correct, Harry. They need to pay. But that is not what I am talking about."
"Are you-?" Fleur interrupted the emerald eyed teenager in irritation. "You're not angry at the death eaters. You're angry at yourself! You hold yourself responsible for what happened to that boy and his family."
Harry balled his hands into fists. "Of course I'm responsible."
"No, Harry, you are not." Neville spoke with such conviction that Harry could almost believe him. "It was You-Know-Who and the death eaters. They and they only are responsible for everything that happened to Colin."
"Don't you get it!?" Harry wanted to shake Neville. "They went after Colin because of me!"
"Harry!" Hermione tasted bile. "They must have attacked Colin on the same day Fred and George were. Remember all those attacks on muggleborns we read in the newspaper."
"Hermione's right, mate!" Neville backed up her bushy haired girl. "Colin was attacked on that night. He was one of several-"
"That makes it alright, is it?" Harry scowled. "Colin was one of many and he doesn't matter. Are you stupid?"
"That's not what he said." Fleur retorted vehemently. "And stop trying to goad us into anger. It will not work."
A part of Harry couldn't help but notice the fact that it was Fleur herself, who was the angriest of the lot, and surprisingly, hadn't even seen the memory for herself, in the first place.
Wonder what makes her so angry.
"Harry, V- You-Know-Who was going to attack muggleborns. Sooner or later, he would have come after me and Colin and Justin and any of the muggle-born in Hogwarts."
"He didn't come after anyone, Hermione." Harry wanted to scream bloody murder at the entire lot, but his involuntary emotional dampeners seemed to pick that very moment to shut his impulses down.
Maybe you ain't looking at either. His mind supplied. Harry ignored it. "He came after Colin because Colin supported me and was part of the DA and because he was close to me."
"You must have known that before last year. So why did you not push him away?"
Harry felt the breath knocked out of him. "Because- because he-"
"Let me tell you why." Fleur ignored Harry's stutters. "You did not push him or Ron or Hermione or any of your other friends away because you needed them and did not want to lose them."
"Fine!" Harry felt that he would hyperventilate. "I made a mistake. I let Colin stay with me and-"
"You really need to learn your history, Harry." Neville interrupted the Boy-Who-Lived. "During the last war, the death eaters attacked many Houses and not all of them were against him or were muggle-born."
Deciding that Neville had a good point, Hermione pressed the argument. "You've seen V- You-Know-Who, Harry. You fought him. DO you think that just because I stop being your friend now, he's going to leave me and mine alone?"
"Hermione, you saw what he did to Colin." Harry gestured towards the pensieve. "He'll do even worse to you."
Hermione went green.
"He attacked the Weasleys and the only reason Fred and George are in the hospital and not in a grave is because the death eaters who attacked them were incompetents. That's the only reason we survived that fight. What happens when we fight someone like Dolohov or Le- Rookwood?" He had avoided that particular trap though judging by Neville's narrowed eyes, he doubted the teenager had missed his slip. "I cannot be responsible for all of yo-"
"Then why do you hold yourself responsible for everything that happens?"
Harry felt his nails dig into his palms. "I do not!"
"You do, Harry." Hermione added. "If something bad happens and Riddle's is involved, it's always your fault. You can't be responsible for everything a madman does."
"You don't get it." Harry wanted to- to- "Argh! I can't protect all of you."
"You shouldn't have to!" Hermione screamed at her best friend. "We're your friends, Harry. We don't need you to protect us. We need you to let us help you."
"I don't need your help."
"Yes, you do." Hermione matched Harry in volume and vehemence. "You keep telling us that you're doing what Dumbledore asked you. How are you supposed to do that with OWL education?"
Harry tightened his hands into fists. "You have no idea what you're getting into. I'm trying to keep you away for your own damned safety."
Hermione looked like she just found the perfect argument. "Like Dumbledore did last year?"
Harry felt his breath hitch. "That-"
"Face it, Harry." Hermione knew this was her shot at taking down his defenses. "You were angry at Ron and I and everyone else for keeping things from you. Dumbledore barely gave you the light of day. You raged at us all for hiding things from you and now you do the same to us. How do you think we feel when you use those words?"
Harry felt the words hit him with the force of a Bombarda as his mind supplied memories of the summer prior to fifth year when everyone kept secrets from him for "your own safety, Harry" and refused to trust him despite his role in the war. He wanted to share so that the burden on his shoulders would lesson but Dumbledore had warned him against sharing information as a secret shared was no secret at all.
And what did that lead him to? His mind supplied in Snape's voice. A life of servitude to higher powers and facing denial and barricades at every turn.
Harry flinched at the voice but could not dispute the truth he had known for a while. Dumbledore had held his secrets so close to his chest that he had lost allies and support in many corners that the British Ministry and the ICW had begun to disregard him.
Neville gripped Harry's shoulders. "You have no right to keep us out of the war, Harry, nor can you made our decisions or opinions for us. It is not your job. Is You-Know-Who after your life? Yes. Will he attack your friends? Definitely. Would he kill them even if they were never close to you? You-Know-Who would because anyone willing to be your friend, Harry, is someone the death eaters will not suffer to live. That's without accounting for all the muggle-born and their parents who will be hunted. So, tell me, Harry, are you going to stop us from fighting to protect our home?"
"That's very mature of you, Neville." Hermione smiled.
Neville blushed at the compliment. "Thanks." He looked Harry in the eye. "With Professor Dumbledore gone, it's not just the DA looking up to you. Most of the school is going to be looking to you for inspiration." He chuckled at a memory of his grandmother. "You should have heard Gran. She said, and I quote, 'Harry Potter has more backbone than half the Ministry put together.'"
Hermione giggled at that. "Should've said that in front of Umbridge. I bet she'd blow a gasket."
"She would, any day." Neville defended. "Gran is not easily swayed by anyone. Even Lucius Malfoy keeps his distance."
"I did not know your grandmother was a politician, Neville." Hermione replied in surprise.
"Dowager Augusta Longbottom. Regent of the Noble and Most Ancient House of Longbottom." Neville spoke with pride. "She's also in the Board of Governors at Hogwarts."
"If your grandmother was on the Board of Governors, how did Umbridge manage to take control of Hogwarts?"
"Let's just say the politics in the past year managed to stall her significantly." Neville with replied with some hesitation. "My point, Harry, is that there are people who look up to you. You are their beacon now, especially since Professor Dumbledore is no longer around."
"Fat lot of good that did to him." Harry muttered, looking away. He alone knew who Albus Dumbledore was and what his life was truly like and doubted he would ever share that information with his friends.
Neville scowled. "My point is, we all look up to you, and you cannot just keep us at an arm's length. You are not a fairytale hero who can speak a few words and end the villain with a Deus Ex Machina. Anyone who expects that of you is deluding themselves. You know as well as I do you cannot win this war on your own. Let us help you."
"Are you even listening, Harry?" Hermione shook her friend. "We want to help you. Ron is asking Fred and George for lessons in magic because he wants to protect his family and friends, including you. Fleur is offering her expertise for that project you're keeping a secret from all of us. I want to help you, Harry. Even Neville does. But we cannot do that if you keep all the information to yourself and don't trust us."
Harry wanted to trust them. He did. He really, really did. But they did not know the extent of the threat on his life. None of them had a clue as to the kind of people going after his head. He did not want to be Dumbledore who held all the cards close to his chest. However, that meant sharing information with his friends that would put them in danger.
More danger!? His mind responded with incredulity. Riddle's already hunting them. What more danger can they get in?
But I can't share everything with them. The Flamels and everyone else on the Council would eat them alive.
Who said anything about sharing everything? His mind returned. Just let them help you with the horcruxes and keep Flamel and everything else to yourself.
The horcruxes are dangerous!
Really!? His mind oozed sarcasm. Of course, they're dangerous, you idiot. But your friends can help you find them and dismantle the wards. You can keep the dirty jobs yourself. Sides, do you think Hermione or Ron would give up if you just said no? They'd do anything they can to know what you're doing – Hermione is smart enough – and interfere without realizing the danger.
Just let them help you to an extent. Hermione and Ron will keep you grounded, and with Fleur's offer of help, you can destroy the horcruxes faster. Which also means your friends will be far less danger. I know it's an oxymoron to involve your friends in danger to remove danger but they will be all the safer for it.
Don't being a daft moron, Harry. His mind screamed at him. Just accept their help. Hide everything else and you'll be fine.
Who the hell are you to tell me how to live my life?
Your conscience. We don't speak too often.
"I think…" Harry finally replied, ignoring the oddly wise and yet outrageous voice in his head, watching the hopeful looks on the three people in the room, "that I've been an idiot. No, Hermione. You don't need to repeat that. Or you, Fleur. I do have a few projects I'm working on – Fleur knows pieces of it – and I could use the help of two of the smartest witches I know." He smiled as Hermione and Fleur beamed at each other and had a sinking feeling that this… intervention was what their 'girl talk' was about. Deciding to ask them later, he faced Neville. "Neville, how long can Colin stay with you?"
Neville shrugged. "As long as he likes. I have asked about other family but he had only had his paternal grandparents and they passed away three years ago. Gran pulled a few strings and he's now a ward of my House."
"Will it be a problem if he stays here for the summer?" Harry asked because he was unaware of the ramifications of Neville's decision. Judging by Fleur's incredulous look, he must be really ignorant about these matters. "I would offer Grimmauld but…"
"I'll face no problems." Neville shrugged. "I'll see about convincing my Gran or tutor to talk to Colin. They might be able to help him. Besides…"
Harry saw Neville hesitate and decided to give him a push. "Go on, Neville."
Neville seemed to gain confidence. "I've been thinking of picking one of our lesser known estates in Ireland and turning it into a safe house for our friends and their families. I still need to discuss the idea with my Gran but I'm sure she'll be supportive of the idea."
Harry smiled and patted Neville on the back in encouragement.
Fleur gave an approving nod. "Excellent idea, Neville."
Hermione beamed. Harry knew it was mostly because Neville was showing initiative, a sight none of them had ever witnessed since before the DA and the battle inside the Department of Mysteries. "That's a really good idea, Neville."
"I'll look over any estates I know." Harry supplied. "All the buildings are gone but I can set some of them up with the necessary protections and a bunch of tents for emergencies. I'll look them over and send you a list, Neville."
"Sure thing, Harry."
"Fleur, Hermione. Once we get back to Grimmauld, I'll give you guys the rundown of what I need your help with and we can get started on work."
"Finally!" Hermione pumped a fist in the air and promptly blushed as the others blinked at her antics. "Stop looking at me like that. It's a miracle we got the prat to accept help. I was worried he was going to grow a beard and live in a white tower."
"Hey!" Harry shouted in indignation as Neville and Fleur laughed.
June 9, 1996.
Ron was not the wittiest wand in the group. He knew that, no matter how stupid Fred, George and Hermione thought him to be. But he could see
"I still think this is a mistake. They should be out there trying to arrest those bastards."
"The Aurors will arrest them, Ron." Hermione reprimanded him. "Our interview is standard procedure for Police, or Aurors in this case. Stop whining about it."
"I'm not whining." Ron felt petulant but he was damn well going to make this word heard. "Harry, mate, you have to agree with me. We really shouldn't be here."
To Ron's dismay, Harry agreed with Hermione "They are not going to abduct us, Ron. Stop worrying about it."
Before Ron could retort, the voice of the Ministry elevator broke it up with a chime and the sound of grills sliding apart.
"Level two, Department of Magical Law Enforcement, including the Improper Use of Magic Office, Auror Headquarters, and Wizengamot Administration Services."
"Alright, Kids. Let's move." Arthur Weasley spoke in a booming voice, pushing Ron, Harry, Hermione and Ginny out the elevator. Turning to his friend, he asked, "You'll be okay there, Bob?"
Bob nodded. "I will." He wrestled a vine creeper that seemed more snake than plant. "I just have to get this upstairs."
Arthur stepped out as several ministry memos flew above his head and into the elevator and the grills closed after that as the elevator rose up. "Keep moving. We've only got fifteen minutes before the meeting starts."
"Relax, dad. We'll be fine." Ginny kept glancing around at the clerks, aurors and other ministry workers that walked past them in the corridors.
The group – Arthur, Ron, Harry, Hermione and Ginny – walked through a pair of large oak doors and stood in the Auror Bullpen.
Ron was looking at the space with a certain level of awe, watching the aurors in the rows of cubicles write in pads, shout to each other or walking between the rows. "This looks wicked."
Ron turned towards the source of that familiar voice and found-
"Tonks!" Ginny said excitedly. "How are you?"
Nymphadora smiled. "Would be better if paperwork didn't exist. How are you guys feeling?"
"Much better if we didn't have be better." Ron complained.
"Be quiet, Ron." Hermione chided. "We're fine. Ron's just nervous and has a big mouth."
Ron harrumphed but kept quiet.
"If it makes any difference, I think this is stupid too." Nymphadora gave a smile which Ron returned. "Hermione, how are the jitters?"
"Much better." Hermione spoke in a matter-of-fact tone that Ron recognized as her 'I'm fine. Don't bother me' voice. "The Healers said my exposure to the curse was too small to cause any damage. I'm only having the occasional flinch or tremor which will go away in another day or two."
"Please duck next time you hear the magic words. I doubt people call you the Brightest Witch of your age for nothing."
Hermione nodded with a slight blush.
Nymphadora glanced at Harry who appeared to be absent and snapped her fingers in his face to gain his attention. "Stop worrying, Harry. There aren't any scheduling fuckups, I mean- muckups like the last time."
Harry gave a slight smile of reassurance. "Thanks for that little tidbit, Tonks."
Xxx shrugged and adopted a stern voice. "Here are the rules. All six of you will be interviewed in separate rooms simultaneously. Since it is an interview and not an interrogation, your guardians need not be present. An auror will be present in the room with the Unspeakable who will be conducting your interview. No, you do not need to answer any question you are uncomfortable with. But don't lie. If you don't want to answer the question, just say so." Her voice quickly turned jovial. "That's that. You guys can wait with the other two over there until the interview starts. Which it will in…" She looked at one of the many bracelets adorning her left hand like a well fitted glove, "ten minutes. I'll come get you."
The group filed in the group pointed towards and found a small waiting area filled with quite uncomfortable looking chairs and couches. Four of the seats were occupied.
Neville noticed them the moment they entered and stood up just as Augusta Longbottom did.
Augusta spoke first. "Arthur Weasley. It's been a while since we've met."
Arthur gave a simple bow and kissed her extended hand. "Quite long, Regent Longbottom."
Ron almost rolled his eyes at the stupid greeting.
Augusta turned towards Harry. "Mister Peverell." She did not extend her hand this time. Ron wondered if it was an insult. "My grandson speaks highly of you."
Harry shrugged. "I'm pretty sure my reputation precedes me."
"Perhaps." Augusta commented as she scrutinized Harry in a manner that reminded Ron of the dragon from the First Task.
"Mister Peverell." Xenophilius Lovegood entered the conversation. "Luna has told me a lot about you. Told me you were responsible for her making friends this year."
Ron really, really wished that the Lovegoods would learn tact one day. Harry was looking really uncomfortable.
"Thanks, sir." was Harry's only reply.
"I hate to interrupt." Everyone turned towards the voice to find Amelia Bones flanked by Rufus Scrimgeour and Gawain Robards. "The interviews will be underway in a few minutes."
"How long will the proceedings take, Madam Bones?" Augusta asked in the tone she reserved for official events.
"No more than three hours, Regent Longbottom."
"Very well." Augusta appeared to lose any interest she had in the matter.
Amelia nodded. Ensuring she had the attention of all three adults in the room, she asked, "As Junior Auror Tonks informed you, this is an interview for the Department of Mysteries to determine the events that occurred within their level of the Ministry on the fifteenth of May, 1996. None of your children are suspects nor will they be interrogated like one. They may answer the questions and leave at the end of the interview without as much as a citation on their record. Any questions?" The adults replied in the negative. "Head Auror Scrimgeour and Master Auror Robards will lead you to the interview rooms. Please follow them."
Augusta gestured for Neville to follow the group. "Go ahead, Neville. You can handle a simple interview, ca-" She stopped herself from uttering the words. "Go, Neville."
Neville simply nodded in a resigned manner and left the waiting area to follow the group of his friends, Arthur Weasley and Xenophilius Lovegood as they were being led by Scrimgeour and Robards.
Augusta watched the lot walk past the cubicles and enter the corridor were she knew the rooms were present. A quick wave of her wand erected an advanced privacy ward encompassing herself and Amelia. "Are you sure Croaker will hold up to his end of the bargain, Amelia?"
"If he knows what is good for him." Amelia growled.
Two hours later…
Harry stared at the Unspeakable seated on the other side of the table. The sole auror in the room, Robards, stood a little to his left and back, just outside the privacy ward erected by the Unspeakable. The Unspeakable wore heavy black robes with a hood that was drawn back to reveal a handsome face.
"I've been sitting here for ten minutes, Mister Croaker, and you've yet to speak one word to me. You already took all our statements half an hour ago. What more do you want?"
"Mister Peverell." Croaker drawled. "I believe you'll appreciate the fact that you were not… interrogated further on the subject of your… dreams, especially it appears that these dreams you receive grant you a certain level of precognition, allowing you glimpses into the Riddle's plans." He smiled at Harry's look of surprise. "Do not look so surprised, Mister Peverell. The Dark Lord's true name is common knowledge in certain circles."
"We digress. I am sure you understand that the DMLE would be… extremely pleased to have such a resource at their beck and call. Especially since the Dark Lord is back. A fact you have been quite outspoken for over the past year."
Harry filed away the fact that there were many people out there who knew Riddle's identity as Voldemort. "I told you already. I used to have those dreams but they stopped after the fight in the Ministry."
Croaker hummed. "From what our informants told us, the Riddle did try to possess you."
"He did." Harry replied in a neutral tone.
"I threw him out."
"You were able to fight off the possession attempt of Riddle himself?" Croaker raised an eyebrow to indicate his disbelief. "Forgive me for being a little… skeptical."
Harry felt his mind drift as memories of the atrium rushed in. It took him a moment to regain control of himself and found Croaker looking at him in extreme curiosity. "I survived the killing curse. I don't see you being skeptical about that."
Croaker's lips twisted into a sadistic grin. "Since you seem to harbor misconceptions on the matter, Mister Peverell, let me clear away your ignorance. There is no definitive proof that would indicate that the killing curse incident of Halloween 1981 occurred at all. The late Chief Warlock and then Supreme Mugwump hid you away from us, the Unspeakables, before we could investigate the matter and Godric's Hollow was put on lockdown against all trespassers." He paused for a moment. "Had the Unspeakables, or worse, the Clock Tower laid their hands on you, you would have been tagged as a Sealing Designate, irrespective of your status as the Boy-Who-Lived."
"Sealing designate?" Harry asked in confusion. Even after learning everything he could about the man, it seemed that Albus Dumbledore had done more for him than he could possibly comprehend.
"I am sorry. I should have you realized you were an ignorant teenager." Croaker replied airily. "The Clock Tower, Mister Peverell, is more than the greatest research institute for magic on the planet. They are also responsible for policing matters involving dangerous magi and thaumaturgical abilities and are especially interested in matters that defy known conventions of magic. In this case, Sealing Designate is a label applied to individuals who possess or have experienced abilities or phenomenon that cannot be learned through study or inherited through blood or have simply never been witnessed before. Any individual affixed with the label no longer have any rights. They are immediately captured, incarcerated and are turned into specimens intended for research by the magi at the Clock Tower."
"Specimens?" Harry understood the meaning of the word. The inflection Croaker put in his explanation sent a chill down his spine.
"Yes." Croaker tilted his head. "These individuals are considered extraordinary, Mister Peverell. It is only right to study them in order that we may harness their ability. It is all for the sake of advancement of the magical community. In some cases, even Dark Lords are labeled as such."
Harry wondered if Croaker was threatening him. "Dark Lords?"
"Surely you agree that even a man like Gellert Grindelwald is a well-spring of knowledge. The man ravaged the magical communities of Europe, North Africa, Eastern Russia and the Middle East for seven years and gave the ICW a run for their galleons."
"Grindelwald is a Sealing Designate? Dark Lord Grindelwald is being used for research?" Harry asked, unable to keep the surprise of his face.
"Mister Peverell, are you really so naïve to believe that the ICW would hold Gellert Grindelwald prisoner inside Nurmengard, a fortress, every brick and piece of magic of which, was laid by his own hands? Surely, you believe that the ICW knows better than to do something so foolish."
Harry opened his mouth and closed it. Deciding to ignore the insult to his intellect, he replied. "Either way, I do not see what that has to do with-"
"I'm not a bard, Mister Peverell. The Clock Tower supersedes the authority of British Government in matters involving magical phenomena and abilities. If a way to block the unblockable Killing Curse is known to an individual, sealing one life to save a thousand is the right thing to do."
"For the Greater good?" Harry retorted, his fists tightening.
Croaker smiled in mocking humor. "Exactly."
Harry focused on his exercises in Occlumency. Croaker was a more experienced individual than him and more cunning. Losing his temper would dig a deeper grave for himself. "Maybe you're right. But you said it yourself… Me surviving the killing curse is purely a matter of public opinion backed by nothing except a scar."
Croaker's lips twisted into a smile. "Which brings us back to the original question. About those… dreams of yours."
Harry considered it for a moment. He was not going to reveal anything about the horcruxes to Croaker. If he did, they would definitely tag him as a Sealing Designate and he had no intentions of becoming a- a- a lab rat. Frowning, he carefully considered his words. "I have an extremely high resistance to the Imperius Curse. I broke Riddle's attempt on me on the night he resurrected."
Croaker simply hummed. Interesting. "Maybe that has something to do with it. Your resistance against the Imperius is easily verified and could provide evidence towards your apparent victory over his attempted possession of your body."
"If you say so." Harry replied neutrally. "I wasn't… informed that this… interrogation was to determine how good I am at fighting Riddle."
"Indeed." Croaker replied sullenly. "However, we are researchers at heart. Surely you would understand our… curiosity on such matters. After all, you are the subject of a Prophecy that pits you against Riddle and apparently… used to share some kind of psychic connection with him as well."
Harry could estimate where it was leading towards, and he sure wasn't liking it. "What is it you want?"
"It is a known fact that Riddle has made use of certain fail safes to ensure his death does not come to pass. A theory easily proven as Riddle resurrected himself into a necromantic construct after staying as a wraith for fourteen years."
"Thirteen." A part of Harry felt sadistic pleasure at proving Croaker's information wrong. "The entirety of my fourth year… he was possessing a hom- a baby."
"Did he now?" Croaker frowned. "How do you know that?"
"From the same dreams that have ceased now, after I fought off his possession." Harry replied in a monotone.
"I assume that you are enacting measures to ensure that the Dark Lord's insurance against Death becomes void."
"Excuse me?" Harry retorted, feeling highly uncomfortable. This was risky ground, and he had to play with great caution.
Croaker smiled at confirming his suspicion. "The Department of Mysteries could be of great help to you, Mr. Peverell, should you be… amenable to quenching our curiosity. It is evident that even high-profile individuals like the Flamels have demonstrated their interest in you."
Harry suppressed the urge to snarl, his mental defenses on full power. Bringing a completely fake frown on his face, he answered. "Why would you think I'd do that? I'm just a teenager who's looking forward to his sixth year of Hogwarts."
"And here we were hoping that the Chosen One would solve our problems for us." Croaker retorted grimly.
"I suppose we are both disappointments, then." Harry returned in a languid tone. If Croaker realized it was fake, he did not reveal it
Croaker relaxed into his chair and stared into the eyes of the young man before him. From his passive abilities, it was clear that Harry Peverell had developed some kind of… passive skills in Occlumency. Based on the information collected on Harry Peverell over the years, those shields had developed very, very recently.
Is it just a coincidence that Peverell demonstrates such a vivid change in his abilities and stance, on the eve of Dumbledore's passing?
"Tell me, Mister Peverell, do you know the contents of the Prophecy that marks you and Riddle as enemies?"
"I have some idea as to the contents but they do not matter. I will have to face Riddle no matter what a prophecy or anyone else says."
Croaker had a tiny grin on his lips. It's almost a misfortune that we must cross each other this way, Harry Peverell. It's been ages that I have had a dance like this.
"Very well, Mister Peverell. You may go."
Ten minutes later.
"Thank you for accepting our request, Miss Granger." Croaker spoke, a smile in his voice, as he raised an advanced privacy ward around the table.
Hermione kept her hands folded close to her chest. Personally, she would have preferred to have a book in her hands. It would have helped her maintain her nerves in her current setting. "I would like to know why I am being interviewed again. I already told you everything and Harry had a second interview."
Croaker smiled. "I do not doubt that. Nevertheless, my colleagues brought your matter to my attention due to an interesting piece of evidence."
"What evidence?" Hermione decided to be defensive. She did not like man's tone nor the insinuations it brought on.
Croaker leaned forward. "Your friend, Harry Peverell, informed us about the dreams he was regularly plagued with from the summer of his fourth year to the end of his fifth year. He claims he stopped being plagued by said dreams since his last confrontation with Riddle."
"How do you know that name!?" Hermione screeched and then winced at her reaction. Croaker merely raised an eyebrow. "Nobody knew that Vold- Riddle was the Dark Lord."
"Miss Granger, I expected better from someone of your intellect." Croaker noticed Hermione's pursed lips. "The Dark Lord's identity, while not public record, is known in the circles that matter. Why, even those who support the Pureblood dogma possess the information. They simply do not care."
"Why not? They are all blood bigots, aren't they?"
Croaker suppressed his need to laugh. "Such naiveté, Miss Granger. Despite all the words one spouts about pureblood or muggle-born or all the blather spouted by those with more muscle than brain, none of them matter in the true scheme of things." He gestured towards Hermione. "Take yourself for example."
"Hermione Jean Granger. Born to non-magical parents and a student of Hogwarts since 1991. Possess an Eidetic memory and the highest overall scores of the Hogwarts '91 batch for the past five years. Oh, don't be like that, Miss Granger. The DOM does keep an eye on Hogwarts for possible recruits. So do the Aurors and other Ministry Departments. As for your memory, it is an easy deduction to make when one holds the transcript of your interview. Your account was simply too vivid and detailed for any other explanation to fit."
Hermione scowled. "I don't see why that has anything to do with your beliefs."
"Never make assumptions in the absence of information. My mentor drilled that statement into my head and I am imparting to you." Croaker gave a disarming smile. "My point, Miss Granger, is that when and where it matters, blood or ancestry or your great aunt's first cousin holds very little value compared to your achievements. Even those you call bigots know this. It is why they follow him despite his muggle father and squib mother." He leaned forward, arms placed on the table, eyes mocking. "I hope you were not expecting the death eaters to bend over backwards to leave Riddle if you publish his name and history as you know it."
Hermione was silent because that was exactly what she was thinking. For the past week, she had been hoping to get that Voldemort's true history published in the Daily Prophet and that the reveal would cause people to leave or, at least, stop joining the death eaters. "How do you know it won't work?"
"Because I am a muggle-born." Croaker revealed with a flair. "The status of my blood did not matter when I was made the Director of the DOM."
Hermione jerked in surprise.
Croaker made a show of relaxing in his chair. "You see the state of Wizarding Britain and made the assumption that the rest of the world is just as foolish. The Clock Tower, the premier institute of research in the world, accepts none but the most exceptional individuals. The International Guilds only extend invitations to prodigies. The most powerful seats of governance on the planet are given to those with the drive and ambition to succeed."
"However, I digress. The reason I asked for this interview is because I wish to extend an offer."
"Offer?" Hermione stiffened, palming her wand. If the man before her noticed the action, he did not comment.
"I wish to offer you an apprenticeship with the Department of Mysteries."
"…Apprentice…ship?" Hermione could honestly say that she was gob smacked. "You want me… as an apprentice?"
"You would be under my personal tutelage with free reign to pursue any field of magic you please. You will have access to some of the most brilliant minds on British soil and cutting edge research unavailable to the public or the Ministry. If you manage to maintain the standard of work I demand, I shall sponsor your application to the Clock Tower. In time, you could even attain a mastery or two and, perhaps, be accept into the International Guilds."
Hermione was highly suspicious. The offer was too good to be true. "What do you get out of this?"
Croaker quirked his lips in a half-smile. "Hopefully, the prestige of teaching an exceptional apprentice."
Hermione shook her head. "What do you want from me?"
"The DOM requires your help in keeping an eye on a certain individual." Croaker replied without hesitation
Hermione's eyes widened for a bare fraction before narrowing in anger. "I don't spy on my friends!" She screeched
Croaker raised an eyebrow. "I have instructed you, Miss Granger. Never make assumptions in the absence of information."
Hermione fumed in her seat in silence.
Croaker drew a plastic file from the wizard spaced pocket of his robe and slid it towards Hermione. "This is the man we need you to keep an eye on."
Hermione's gaze switched between the file and a now silent Croaker for a few minutes before she picked up the file. It was surprising light and containing three sheets. A few minutes of perusal later, she closed the file and placed it on the table with a heavy face. "You must be joking, right?"
"Of course. The Director of the DOM meets with a fifth year student to perform a standup routine, do they not?" Croaker snarked. "You are slow on the uptake, Miss Granger. I suggest you remedy it."
"Why not ask an auror to arrest him? Or ask one of your own people to spy on him?"
"Matthias Fernard is a full-fledged Master of the Artificers Guild. He cannot be arrested unless the warrant is issued by the Guild. As for the latter question, he is not a Master because he can make a few pretty baubles, Miss Granger. Anything less than an extreme measure and he will see through the ruse."
Hermione chewed over the information. "How am I supposed to keep an eye on him if I don't know where he is?"
"That I can help you with." Croaker replied. "Currently, he is tutoring Mister Neville Longbottom for the summer. Come September first, he shall be assuming the position of Hogwarts' History of Magic Professor."
"Binns is gone?" To Hermione, this was in many way more shocking than Voldemort's return.
"Yes. I believe your current Headmistress Minerva McGonagall hired Fernard after he exorcise Binns."
"You're telling me he took the job by performing an exorcism?" Hermione wondered if being around Harry would ensure her life came straight out of a TV show.
"Yes." Croaker was quite amused by her thoughts. Have to remedy those non-existent mental shields.
Hermione took a deep breath to calm her nerves down. Then another. And another. Accepting it would mean acting as a… spy for the Department of Mysteries, the same department she and her friends had destroyed, and keeping an eye on a man who, by the file sitting on the table, looked like someone who was worse than Umbridge. Going by Harry's record with Hogwarts, this year the History Professor could be the one to put Harry and, by proxy, her friends in danger. She would be devastated if she had the chance to stop that and did not act on it. She would also gain an apprenticeship with the DOM, the most research intensive of the Ministry Departments and, if she could take this Croaker at his word, she would be accepted into the Clock Tower in order to obtain her masteries and maybe even become a Mistress of the International Guilds.
The problem was accepting it would be she might have to keep secrets from her friends, a notion that did not sit well with her. Especially after the year they had just gone through where everyone kept secrets from Harry for his own good.
He's keeping secrets from you now. Her mind supplied.
Not anymore. He shared his projects on finding those artefacts that would defeat Voldemort. Fleur and I have been working on it since yesterday.
But he is keeping other secrets, is he not? You know that. Harry could never truly lie to you.
Hermione shook her head. She hated playing devil's advocate to herself. Her mind went on strange tangents when she did that. But it was a fact that Harry was still keeping secrets from her. While she would wear him down soon, the fact that Harry was now keeping secrets from his friends stung.
Looking Croaker in the eye, Hermione spoke in the voice that usually cowed the people around her. Ron called it her 'McGonagall mode'. "IF I accept the offer, will I have to report on my friends?"
Croaker suppressed his smirk. Legilimency was a very useful serious tool. "No. You will not need to, as you so crudely put it, spy on your friends."
"I have to report on Matthias and Matthias alone?"
"And any individuals we find of interest that are of particular danger to Wizarding Britain who are within your sphere."
Hermione scowled. "So, if you considered Harry a danger, I'm supposed to spy on him?"
Croaker interlocked his fingers under his chin. "Miss Granger, the Department of Mysteries does not care about sixth year students, no matter their fame. Your friend has the bare amount of skills necessary to defend himself and an unusually high resistance to spells or abilities affecting the mind. He possesses nothing that interests me." At the moment.
Hermione wanted to refuse but thoughts of having access to more information and magic that would allow her to protect and help her friends swirled in her mind. "When do I become an apprentice?"
Croaker smiled. "The moment you accept my offer. Of course, it is given that you must maintain the grades I have come to expect of you."
"Will you offer everything you have just told me in writing?"
"Master-Apprentice contracts have evolved over the years. Currently, they are enforced by both written contracts and magical oaths in tandem."
"I will not spy on my friends and their families just because you ask me to."
Croaker could read the sheer resolve in those words. Pity. I wish half my staff were as resolved. "Very well, Miss Granger. I accept your conditions. Do you accept the apprenticeship?"
Taking a deep breath, Hermione nodded. "I do."
"Finally! We're done." Ron released a sigh. "I didn't think we'd ever get out of there."
"You are such a drama queen." Ginny said with a smile. "But I have to agree with you. Honestly, those interview chairs were killing my back."
The DOM Six plus Arthur Weasley, Augusta Longbottom and Xenophilius Lovegood were walking out of the oaken doors of the Auror Bullpen.
Ron was just about to comment on Ginny and her age when he felt an elbow dig into his ribs and Harry's voice whispered in his ear. "Let's not get ourselves hexed, Ron."
Wisely, Ron decided to change the subject. "So, Hermione, why did they interview you again?"
"Apparently, I gave the most detailed account-" Hermione trailed off as Arthur froze and Augustus and Xenophilius stop, causing the teenagers to halt abruptly.
Ron looked ahead to see what had caused the commotion and felt his blood boil at the sight.
Ginny whispered her estranged brother's name. "Percy…"
Percy stood in front of them in prim dress robes with a satchel hung diagonally across his left shoulder. He glanced at his family for a second before looking straight at Harry. "Mister Peverell, I need to-"
That was as far as he got before his head whiplashed to the right and he bodily crashed into the wall from the force of Ron's punch.
"Ronald!" Ginny screamed alongside Hermione.
Two hours later…
"It's been two hours." Ron grumbled.
"They'll be out soon." Hermione pointed out.
"You told that an hour ago." Ron pointed out, watching in morbid fascination as Hermione and Fleur alternatively gazed between the pile of parchment spread over the dining table and thick books that he doubted he'd ever read willingly. They had left the DMLE hours ago and were now in the dining room of Grimmauld Place. "He better tell us what's going on though."
"He will, Ron." Hermione answered distractedly as she quickly flipped between pages and consulted with Fleur. "Harry knows better now."
Ron would have nodded but seeing as the two witches were engrossed in their work, he simply relaxed in his chair.
Ron had felt ecstatic when Hermione had Floo-called him the evening they returned from Neville's house and told him that Harry had finally caved and was going to be stop being a prat and let them help. Ignoring his mom's words, he had shown up at Grimmauld Place and found his best friend since the first trip on the Hogwarts Express telling them what he was doing so far and what needed to be done. Sure, Harry only told them they needed to find a set of artefacts and destroy them to stop Voldemort but it was much better than Harry acting like he had no one to help him. Sure, Harry had asked for a set of secrecy vows from them but it was a good way to protect it from some mind reading bastards and ensure Harry and their friends were safe.
After vows were taken and Hermione's rants were cut off as soon as possible, Ron watched the two girls turn the dining room into a makeshift library and study table as they studied parchments filled with diagrams Ron swore looked like the love child of potions and divination. Luckily, he was not hexed for that comment.
Ron had been disappointed when he understood he could not help with whatever Hermione and Fleur but Harry had promised him he would need help soon and needed Ron to keep an eye on his brothers and family for the moment. The treacle tart on top of the cake was that Harry had promised to teach him apparition and a host of other spells soon. He had given Harry grief for keeping his apparition a secret as a joke but spent the past day helping the newly discharged Fred and George clear out their shop and recover anything that could be used again.
"I still don't understand why he have to leave Harry in a room alone with Prefect Perfect Percy." He spoke in a mocking voice.
"Because you socked him in the face before he could get a word out." Hermione responded glibly.
"He got a couple of words out." Ron retorted with a feral smile.
Hermione looked up, glared at Ron and returned to her overly thick book. "You punched your brother, Ron. He did not have the time to even explain himself."
"Git deserved it. And I still don't think it was a good idea for Harry to speak to him."
Hermione deadpanned. "Like we did not know that two hours ago. Got anything original?"
Ron growled. "He did not even speak a word to Dad or Ginny or me. He didn't even visit Fred and George in the hospital. Harry shouldn't have brought him here."
"That's Harry's decision, Ron. Need me to remind you that you stopped objecting when Harry made it loud and clear he would talk to Percy."
Rubbing his arm, Ron stared at the door in impatience to ignore the truth. "How long are the two of them going to take?"
Fleur decided to enlighten Ronald on his mistake. "There are three of them. Harry, your brother and that potions Professor of yours."
"Potions profe- You mean, Snape?" Ron blurted out. "When did Snape arrive here?"
"Half an hour after we entered Grimmauld Place and you cooped up in the dining room like a child." Hermione replied with a frown. "Harry called Snape at Hogwarts to come here and help."
"Wait! Let me get this straight. Harry called Snape? Like our Harry called Snape, the same bloke who did everything to make our lives a living hell since first year? Seriously, what are you talking about, Herm- No. you know what? I'm dreaming. There is no way that Harry would intentionally call- Yes, I am still sleeping at the Burrow and this is all a twisted dream. That's why Percy-"
A single move and Ron felt his shins on fire. "Oww, Oww, Oww! What the hell, Hermione?" He yelped jumping around the room, rubbing his shins.
"Do you feel awake?" Hermione replied darkly. "I can prove it again if you want."
"Shut up." Hermione barked.
"Okay, okay, sheesh!" Ron raised his hands in surrender. "You know you're scary, you know. Intelligent, but scary."
Fleur chortled again as she turned towards the other room, where Harry, Percy and that professor clad in black were having a discussion.
Severus Snape lifted his head out of the pensieve and took a step back from the silvery fluid, his expression grim. "The memory has not been tampered with in any manner. Save for a few memory charms that are commonly associated with secrecy oaths, there was no malicious intent that I could detect."
"So, he's telling the truth." Harry concurred.
"So it would seem, Potter." Snape returned in a neutral tone. "Nevertheless, the Headmaster made no mention of any agreement with Percy Weasley. It would be in your best interests to remain cautious."
Harry stayed silent.
"I showed you the memories. What else do I need to do to show I'm telling the truth?" Percy scowled.
"Silence is a virtue, Mr. Weasley." Snape sneered. "Irrespective of the truth you have shown, you have yet to reveal your agenda in meeting Potter."
"What do you mean?" Percy defended.
"Fudge is going to be thrown out on his arse and all those who worked with him are going to receive a similar reception. It would be in your best interests to ingratiate yourself with the person who will hold influence in the coming government. With the Dark Lord's return confirmed by the Ministry itself, Potter's fame is at an all-time high with every Lord and Lady clamoring for his support and every media and news outlet singing his praises." Snape replied in a silky tone that sent shudders down Percy's spine. "It is possible that Albus Dumbledore and you held a treaty and you were simply playing a role but it is just as likely that you are an ungrateful brat who licked Fudge's arse every time he asked."
"What—you?" Percy growled indignantly.
Snape's lips curled in amusement. "If you were to share the information in front of me, I'd consider changing my opinion."
Percy glared at the man for a moment. "You are free to form your opinions, Professor Snape. I cannot say I was close to Professor Dumbledore. I can say that everything I did I did to honor the life-debt that the House of Weasley owed Harry Potter who is now Harry Peverell of the Most Ancient House of Peverell."
Snape's lips curled further.
"The information I have is for Harry and Harry alone. If Harry wishes to throw me out without listening to me, it is his prerogative."
"Enough of this bickering." Harry replied sternly, making the two of them shut up with Percy shocked by Snape's silence. "Percy, please stay here. I will be back shortly. Professor," He turned to Snape. "Thank you for your help."
Snape stared at the boy silently for a moment. "If that will be all Potter, there are matters I need to attend to at Hogwarts."
Harry nodded. "I'll walk you to the Floo." He walked out of the door with Snape following him, leaving Percy alone to his musings.
"Weasley is speaking the truth, Potter." Snape muttered softly, as he walked beside him. After Harry had risen from his comatose state after his suicide attempt, Dumbledore had explained to him about how Snape had been working as a spy for the Order in an effort to fulfil the life-debt that he owed his father, James Potter, and for the fact that Lily Evans was his best friend a long time ago. It had led to one of the most uncomfortable moments in his life at Hogwarts – having a civil conversation with Snape of all people about his mother, Lily Evans Potter.
"I thought he would." Harry murmured with a chuckle, "Mrs. Weasley would be very happy."
Snape sneered at that, although his expression was not as cold as it had been over the years. As they approached the parlor, he stopped in his tracks. "Potter?"
Harry stopped on his tracks, and without turning behind, muttered softly. "Yes, Professor?"
"You know everything. You know how I have been a slave to two masters in hope of atoning for my sins. What I don't understand is why you are still fighting against the Dark lord?"
Harry chuckled. "What would you have me do, Professor?"
Snape's lips thinned. "Your parents died to save you, and so did your godfather. Leaving this madhouse of a country and living your life would be a good option."
Harry stayed silent for a moment. "The prophecy does mark me as the Dark Lord's equal, Professor. Professor Dumbledore left me certain tasks to accomplish, things I must do for people to have a chance to end Voldemort."
"But why?" Snape nearly snarled. He knew the boy was not sharing the whole truth but understood that he would not gain anything if he pressed the boy. "Screw Albus Dumbledore. He manipulated your entire life, and literally raised you like a pig for slaughter. How in seven hells do you even imagine yourself as the Dark Lord's equal?"
"Maybe it is the Gryffindor bravery in me, Professor." Harry chuckled darkly.
"You?" Snape snarled, his eyes blazing in anger. "Stop behaving like your father,Potter. It'll only lead you to an early grave." He held Harry's shoulder tightly before shoving him, making him almost fall down onto the floor. "In the end, all you're doing is imitating what fools like Albus Dumbledore and James Potter believed. Gryffindor bravery! Don't make me laugh! Just because the idea of the Boy-Who-Lived consumes you does not mean you can be the force opposing the Dark Lord. It is the height of hubris!" He was yelling by the end of his statement.
"Isn't that hypocritical of you, Professor? You're also fighting against-"
"Your parents were consumed by foolish ideals of bravery and honor and were led to their deaths. You are driven by the ridiculous obsession of sacrificing yourself for others, blind to your own value. If that isn't hypocrisy, then what is?" Snape's eyes were literally bulging out of his eye sockets in rage.
"Answer me, Potter!" Snape barked.
"You are right, Professor." Harry replied in a small voice, turning back to face the man. "I'm a Fraud, a hypocrite. I cannot save anyone. How could I when I don't even know whom to save to begin with?"
"What do you-?"
"I never believed myself to be a saviour. How could I, when all my life I hoped for someone to come and save me? And all I received were crushed dreams and tattered hope. All my life, I've fought a losing battle. I've run from it, but it always arrives. Maybe other people aren't important, maybe they don't deserve it. But if I don't fight, I will be dragged down to their level." Harry stared Snape in his eye. "I cannot run, Professor."
Snape glared at him. Harry stared back simply.
With a tumultuous effort, Snape looked away. "I will obliviate myself of this meeting after I reach Hogwarts, for both your and my own safety."
Snape walked up to the Floo. He threw the powder from the pot, as the fireplace burst into emerald flames.
Snape did not turn around.
"You made one mistake in your observation, Professor." Harry replied softly. "At first, it was just admiration. Saving people, just like my parents saved me. Now… it is a dream for me. The unfulfilled dream of a man who was not able to help anyone, no matter how hard he tried, and it cost him everything."
Snape spun around, his eyes bulging in realization as he stared at the boy he loved and hated in equal measure.
"I was there during his final moments. I know who he was, Professor." Harry smiled. "I considered myself honored to have known the man."
Snape stared at him for a moment before he turned away and stepped into the fireplace and vanished in a burst of emerald flames.
Harry entered the small conference room where Percy was bound to his chair by a modified petrification hex and a sticking charm.
"Believe me now, Mister Peverell?" Percy did not sneer but it was close.
Harry stared at the estranged Weasley for a moment before he dispelled the magic holding Percy with a wave of his wand. Picking up Percy's wand from the nearby tea table, he tossed it towards Percy. "Did you really need to fulfill a life debt I did not ask for?"
Percy holstered his wand. "I did not do it for you, Peverell. I did it for the Ancient House of Weasley. I did it for my family."
Harry sighed. "Why do you want to arrange a meeting between me and Lord Greengrass?"
Percy held back words. He really hated it when Harry displayed his ignorance. "Because he promised to protect my family."
Harry tilted his head. "And you believed him?"
"He's a better option than you at the moment."
"What's that supposed to mean?" Harry's narrowed gaze rested on Percy.
Percy looked Harry in the eye. "I do not like you, Harry Peverell, nor your effects on my family."
"Effects?" Harry echoed in confusion.
Percy gave a minute nod. "First year, Ronald was nearly clubbed by a troll, was almost suspended because you tried to smuggle a dragon instead of informing Dumbledore who would have helped and nearly got him killed when you dragged him into an adventure in the forbidden Third Floor corridor."
"Second year, you encouraged him into stealing a flying car, dragged him into a forest of acromantula and almost got him obliviated by a fraud and eaten by a basilisk. Ginny nearly died because You-Know-Who wanted revenge on you."
"Third year, I was lucky that none of my brothers or sister were kissed by dementors. Last year, Umbridge turned him into a target because of you. He did not heed my advice because you were his friend and he followed you into a trap filled with death eaters and You-Know-Who himself because he is that reckless and you are the major cause. My sister followed you. My twin brothers quit school without their NEWT's because of you."
"My father nearly died in hospital because of Dumbledore's need to protect you. Need I to elaborate further?" Percy fumed.
Harry crushed any emotion he felt under extremely powerful dampeners. "Funny. I didn't see you showing up at the hospital to see your father or brothers. And you didn't do anything to Umbridge either."
Percy snorted grimly. "By the end of the year, I had enough evidence on Fudge and Umbridge to crucify the lot of them without the blame being pointed on me. Even if I did nothing, what about you? You could have used your fame to end their slanderous campaign against you. When they broke over thirty rules during your trial, you did not even have the temerity to point it out. Instead, you sat there like a meet little kid."
Harry realized Percy must have been preparing this rant for a long time. Strangely, the snarky part of his mind did not have any smart retorts.
Percy used his Occlumency exercises to bring his anger back under control. "I do not like you, Harry Peverell. People around you have a tendency to get exposed to danger and die. I want my family to live. So, if you care about them, you will attend the meeting with Lord Greengrass and listen to his proposal. After that, I don't care if you accept or reject him."
Standing up, Percy left the room with a terse, "I'll show myself out."
"What was that all about, mate?" Ron asked with his usual bluntness as Harry walked into the dining room and occupied the empty chair at the head of the table. "What's with the deal with Weatherby?"
Harry let out a long-suffering sigh. It felt good that the apple did not fall too far from the tree and everything Percy did was nothing more than an act to protect his family and help Harry. However, the real reason behind the meeting had not been a pleasant matter to hear. Neither where Percy's feelings regarding me and my friendship with his family.
He looked up to find Ron, Hermione and Fleur staring at him in curiosity. He let lose a troubled grunt and lifted his hands up to the heavens in frustration. "It seems everyone wants to have a piece of me."
"Who, mate?" Ron inquired.
"Do you know who Tristan Greengrass is?"
"Greengrass?" Hermione scrunched her face in thought. "There is a Daphne Greengrass in our year."
"That's her." Harry pointed out. "Her father requested a meeting with me-"
"Greengrass's father? Why?" Hermione questioned.
"-on my own terms." Harry finished.
"Well, just say No." Ron declared. "They are Slytherins. Probably trying to capture you for You-know-who."
Hermione rolled her eyes. "Seriously Ron? Harry said they are meeting on his terms. If Harry asks, they have to show here while he have Moody around." She paused for a moment. "Are you going to meet him, Harry?"
"I don't know." Harry confessed. He was going to meet the man but it would be a nice idea to at least pretend to his friends that he had a choice. "Percy mentioned something that makes it difficult to ignore the meeting. On the other hand, this could very well be a trap."
"What did that arse say to you?" Ron inquired.
Harry shook his head. "Never mind what he said. The point is I cannot ignore it. The question is…. What to do now?"
Ron muttered a soft expletive.
"Well Daphne isn't a Malfoy," Hermione pointed out, biting her lip in thought. "She's a bit of introvert-"
"Pot, meet Kettle." Harry smiled and received a swat from Hermione.
"Prat." Hermione shook her head. "As I was saying, Daphne's a studious student and one of the top five on our year. I mostly saw her around the library when I visited the place."
"You practically lived there, Hermione." Ron retorted with a snort.
"Hush you!" Hermione admonished. Turning to Harry, she spoke, "I'll be honest, Harry. I don't really know much about her. She keeps to herself and I don't really know of any friends she has."
"Hey, you aren't talking about the Ice Queen, are you, Hermione?" Ron blurted out.
"The what?" Harry and Fleur asked in unison.
"Seamus told me," Ron clarified. "About some Greengrass girl who's known as the Ice Queen of Slytherin House. Intimidating, intelligent, hot as fuck-?" He stopped in horrified realization. He quickly backpedaled to avoid an angry Hermione. "Seamus's words. Not mine."
"While I would prefer that you not use such language to describe a girl," Hermione glared at Ron, "the Ice Queen is Astoria, Daphne's sister who will enter her fifth year. Daphne is in Ravenclaw."
"Ah, she's gotten an elder sister then." Ron declared.
"Younger. Daphne's in our year, Ron. I'd have thought you'd know her after five years."
"Ravenclaw; and her sister's a Slytherin." Ron shrugged, as if that explained everything.
"You did not even know she had a sister." Hermione deadpanned.
"The Lord of a Noble and Ancient House requested a meeting on your terms, Harry." Fleur replied after ruminating on the matter. "Saying No is political suicide."
"What would you have me do, Fleur?" Harry asked disdainfully.
"Answer them. You can always prefer to meet them at Gringotts, its neutral territory. Alternatively, you could just call them here."
"Wouldn't that be a security risk?" Hermione asked, troubled.
"Considering the state of the wards?" Fleur snorted. "Hardly. The wards are just short of throwing a killing curse to hostile invaders." She snorted again. "Good choice, Harry."
"People hostile to me have no business coming here in the first place." Harry sneered.
"Should've used the wards to fry that leper." Ron muttered, still thinking of Percy. Hermione sent a scowl at him, which he ignored.
"Don't you think you're being a little too…?" Hermione tried.
"Hermione?" Ron defended indignantly. "That ponce said told dad off in his own office and threatened to call the Aurors when Mum was on his doorstep. That ruddy snake attacked Dad, and the git did not even care. Fred and George lost everything and that pompous arse-"
"He did that on Dumbledore's orders." Harry tried to pacify him.
"To hell with that! Dumbledore's dead, isn't he? Couldn't he have visited Fred and George when they almost died at Saint Mungo's?" Ron demanded loudly.
Harry raised his hands in surrender. "I'm not defending him, mate, but it couldn't have been easy for him as well. Saying all those words to your parents. Renouncing his family. He did all of those things because Dumbledore told him. Just like an Order member."
"Harry's right you know," Hermione consoled her second oldest friend. "I'm not saying he wasn't a git, but at least you know that it was all pretending for the sake of helping Professor Dumble-"
"So he should have bloody told us!" Ron retorted hotly.
"Now I understand why Percy looked sickly pale before we left the Ministry." Harry answered with a chuckle.
"I might have thrown a couple of George's prank spells." Ron muttered, his ears growing red with embarrassment.
"Oh Ron," Hermione replied with exasperated fondness. "Never change!"
Holy Shit! Another AN? Didn't we have one already?
P.S. We designed Wilbert Croaker on the character sketch of Arcturus Peverell himself. Anyone who's even remotely disgruntled on the character description can take his/her concerns to him. I'm told he does a good job at replying to PM's.
P.P.S. (From Arcturus Peverell):
This is addressed to one special immature excuse of a human, who loves to antagonize authors simply because he doesn't have anything better to do with his miserable excuse of a life. Yes, Mr. "hump a laurel tree or a flower" guy, I am talking about you.
I and my co-author certainly believe that you should get yourself out of the fanfiction website, for the sake of other readers and yourself. As authors, we expect readers to get us constructive criticism as a review, and not someone who hides behind a GUEST review and spews mindless drivel just because you think it gives some reason to your own meaningless existence. To be honest, we kind of think that you are a right bastard and are the worst kind of individual out there. A negative one.
P.P.P.S. Phew! The postscripts became longer than the main AN. Should have reversed the Order. Oh any way, we are done reworking as is, so we'll just stick with this.