Chapter 5:

Mission Prep

Harry woke up the next day in agony. Every joint screamed at him as he crawled out of bed. A hot soak later barely helped, and his daily intake of supplements and anti-inflammatories barely helped.

Swimming at the beach had been a great idea. Walking to and from said beach? Turns out to have been counterproductive.

When he was showered and in somewhat less pain as the anti-inflammatory kicked in he dried off and dressed, ready for a day of suffering, but opening the door to his bedroom made all of his aches disappear.

"Oh... Hi Gabby." Was all Harry could squeak out at the silver haired beauty waiting just outside his door.

"Good morning 'arry." She said, hands clasped in front of her. "I was asked to bring you down to the meeting room when you were ready."

"Oh." harry said, dumbly, unable to think of anything better. "Well then, lead the way."

And she did. Turning heel, she walked away from him and Harry happily followed. It helped that the loose summer dress she wore swayed with every step she took, so his concentration didn't slip from her for a single second. The flow of blue cotton and silver hair was as easy to follow as the waves of hibiscus and walnut scented perfume. Or lotion. Or shampoo. All of which might as well be perfume in Harry's experience.

Down the stairs they went, and further down still beyond the ground floor to the garage where Harry exited to be confronted by an army.

"Whoa." Harry said, before his brain could catch up to his mouth.

Over a hundred people now filled the garage and stone patio beyond, and each one turned to look him in the eyes as he entered the room.

"Now everyone calm down!" Hermione yelled before anybody could make a fuss. "Give him a moment to recognize you all and take it all in. It's more surprising to him than it is for you."

No chance of that happening. His brain instantly stalled at all of the familiar, but changed, faces. In then started back up again when the two with the least amount of changes walked right up to him.

"Sirius! Professor!" Harry yelled as be bodily flung himself onto the two Marauders in a three-person hug.

Sirius and Remus caught him easily and the laughter they shared filled the room.

"I cannot describe how Happy we all were when he heard you had been rescued." Sirius told Harry. "And with far less damage than we all came to fear."

Harry broke the hug, but not all physical contact as he looked at them both. Healthier and stronger and more well dressed than he remembered. World War Three had been good to them, clearly. And Sirius was right. Underdeveloped cartilage in the joints? After fifteen years under Voldemort's ownership that was a true blessing.

"I'm just happy so many of you are still alive." Harry said. "When I came back, and told the bare bones of what had passed, I feared for the worst. I'm sure you'll all tell me who's died soon, but for now let's keep the good news incoming."

"Well we have a debriefing to do, so I think all of the reintroductions and avalanche of hugs can wait." Draco interrupted.

"All save for one." Harry said back, letting a bit of mock edge seep into his voice.

He turned to the second largest person in the room, second only to a very pregnant Madame Maxime, and walked straight up to the loveable oaf. Clearing his throat in preparation to what he was about to say, Harry raised his arms above his shoulder and did his best baby voice.

"Uppies!" He demanded with a frown.

Hagrid, ever affectionate as he was, lifted Harry with the same ease with which Harry would life an infant and granted him his third, magnificent hug for the day. It would be worth having Penny mend his bones later.

"It's so goo ter see ye Harry." Hagrid whispered.

"You too, Hagrid." Harry whispered back through the layers of leather and fur enveloping his face.

Sadly, Hagrid did put him back down and Sirius pulled him away by the shoulder to stand along the wall with the rest of the army. Draco, still at the center of the room, began to speak again.

"As you an all see, you were not merely brought her for a rundown of the going ons of East Asia, but to share the good news of Harry Potter's return." Draco explained. "And each of you were specifically invited because you are all trustworthy enough to keep it under wraps and have a history enough with him to deserve to hear it."

"Um." said a blonde man with a Scottish accent Harry could only assume was Seamus. "Is that to insinuated that everybody who wasn't invited isn't trustworthy enough not to leak this info to Moldyworts?"

"Yes." Draco deadpanned.

"OR!" Hermione amended with an angry glare to her husband. "Simply have no personal history with Harry, like Mundungus or Tonks."

Harry had no idea who those two were, which went a long way towards confirming Hermione's nicer way of putting things.

"Anyways, the boy who lived continues to do so." Draco said in an uncomfortably similar turn of phrase as Voldemort had said days ago from his perspective. "And the opportunity to induct him into the Marauders has presented itself, as a potential mission has reared its ugly head. Hagrid? If you would be so kind."

Hagrid stepped forward and cleared his throat, before donning his Magical Creatures teacher persona.

"A mutated niffler has been spotted in Hong Kong, last night, and it has already grown to the size of a bear." Hagrid explained. "It has already vanished and needs to be tracked down and eliminated."

"Er..." Harry couldn't stop himself from interrupting.

"Yes, Harry?" Hermione beckoned him for his input.

It was all very uncomfortable to him.

"I have so many questions. That creature I saw last night. How in the world did a niffler become that?" Harry asked. "And why do we need to put it down? Aren't you the CARE for magical creatures professor?"

He got a few chuckled from that one but they were half-hearted and the sad looked on Dean and Lavender's faces in particular told him he'd just hit a sore spot.

"Oh, just tell him!" An older Angelina Johnson demanded. "He can handle things better than you all seem to think."

A series of agreements later and Hagrid once again cleared his throat.

"Alright, well. Harry, I have not been a teacher at Hogwarts for years now. Nobody has been a teacher at Hogwarts for years now. Hogwarts is gone." He explained.

Ouch. Yeah, that was a bit much to take it, but Harry just rolled with the hits as they came.

"And the nifflers?" He pressed forward.

"Ah. Well as I'm sure you recall from my lesson on them, nifflers seek out precious metals and store them in a pouch in their bodies with magically expanded dimensions." Hagrid explained. "What you probably don't know, because few people do, is that nifflers can duplicate precious metals inside those pouches. It's why they were nearly extinct, because aspiring alchemists would kill them and try to extract their components, thinking they were an ingredient for the philosophers stone. Makes sense. Nifflers can duplicate gold, philosophers stone can turn baser metals into gold, maybe there was a connection there?"

Harry nodded with the explanation.

"Well none ever succeeded, but with wizard kind now intermingling with muggle kind nifflers running lose seek out and duplicate the most common sources of precious metals." Hagrid went on. "Electronics. Unfortunately, electricity and magic don get along well, and when such electronics, especially cybernetics or computer components, get duplicated inside of that pouch of theirs it goes all haywire. It leads to gigantism and uncontrollable duplication of electronics that leak into their actual bodies."

Harry shuddered.

"So it's just a cascading effect of them growing larger, making more duplicate electrical components and more of their bodies becoming machine?" Harry asked.

"Not exactly." Said Penny. "The duplicated components are as much a part of their body as a nail driven into your thighbone is part of your body."

"Yup." Said Hagrid. "These poor things are suffering and once the process is started, it can't be stopped. They will keep growing and consuming until they cant no more."

Harry let out a slow breath at this information. That sounded awful. Yeah, killing it did sound like a mercy. Especially if it posed as much of a danger to other people as Harry suspected.

"How big can they get?" Harry asked.

"One destroyed San Francisco." A woman harry was pretty sure was Katie Bell told him.

"Like... All of it?" Harry asked.

"All of it." She confirmed. "Save a few suburbs. It had to be nuked by an aircraft carrier in the bay."

Damn. That's pretty big.

"And nothing of value was lost." Sirius whispered into Harry's ear.

Remus gave him a hard elbow to the ribs for that one.

"Which brings up a good question." One of the Patil Twins added. "Is this a good introductory mission for him? Once a niffler reaches it's cascading point it can get really big and really dangerous really fast."

"Well, it isn't anywhere close to that yet." Hermione told her. "Based on the description Harry and the others gave for it's size, there's still a good month left before it goes critical and Hong Kong goes byebye."

"And he won't be doing it alone." Sirius said. "Hagrid will be leading a team that includes Harry, though it's members have yet to be determined. Do we have any volunteers?"

Hushed conversations broke out amongst all of those gathered. The gist of it all was "Shit, can I make time for a mission with all my other responsibilities?" Being an adult sure sounded miserable, and now Harry was one. Joy.

"I like how everyone just assumes I'll be all over the chance to tackle such a mission." Harry grumbled loud enough for the whole room to hear.

The incredulous snorts and mocking laughter he got as a response from all gathered actually made Harry blush.

"Right, Potter." Draco sneered in his best Snape impression. "Because you'd turn away from the chance to kill a deadly monster and save the lives of strangers. That'll be the day."

Damnit. Draco was right. Harry hated that Draco was right but Draco was right.

"Well, It's as good of a place as any to sharpen my teeth after my coma, and you're right. I do have SOME experience taking down dangerous magical creatures."

Harry stopped shy of asking if anybody else there had ever slayed a basilisk or outflown a dragon, but he felt his head was getting big enough from this room of supporters already so he kept it to himself.

"We should have more people on board than strictly necessary." Hermione decided. "Charlie is a no brainer, but maybe we can get Ron to come back from the ACW to help?"

Hary noted a distinct darkening of Draco's expression at Ron's name, but it passed so quickly he thought he might have imagined it.

"Not likely." Said Percy. "There's no getting him and the twins away from their Quidditch Arena. As useful as his Avada Leviosa is against trolls and the like, I don't think he's willing to make the commute."

Harry facepalmed at the phrase "Avada Leviosa" to hide his smirk. And bit his tongue to stop all of the questions that short sentence brought on. ACW? Quidditch Arena? he needed to know more!

Of course, it was then that the doors burst open and in flooded the group of volunteers Harry was planning to suggest.

"Me!" Said Scorpius.

"Nono, me!" Demanded Monika as she tried to shover past her brother.

"We'll do it! We volunteer!" Said Cedric.

Dudley junior and Norberta just stood there at attention behind the other scrambling teenagers.

"Yeah, that's about what I expected." Harry said, lifting a thumb to indicate them. "I was waiting for them to show up, but I nominate them. They did rescue me from Kaiser gun after all."

"Kasyrgan." Monika corrected.

"Kasyrgan." Harry amended. "If I'm experienced enough to take on a niffler, they sure ash ell are too."

Draco and Hermione glared at the children in question, doubt written all over their faces.

"Hagrid and I will be there." Charlie said. "It need not be their official induction to the order proper, just another Marauder Youth mission. If a little more dangerous."

Way to go Charlie! going to bad for the kinds!

"Hmmm." Draco groaned as he scratched his chin in thought. "If it's going to be a Marauder Youth mission, then Delacour should go to. It can be her official induction to being an order member along with Potter."

Gabby stood up straighter at the suggestion and cowered slightly at the attention.

"Um,.. I... Okay." She said meekly.

That afternoon saw Harry being talked through a stretching routine in the Gymnasium by Penny.

It was something called "Yoga" and it consisted of her instructing him to strike various, ridiculously named poses.

"Okay, now try the downward facing dog and tell me how that makes your lower Achilles tendons feel." Penny instructed.

He didn't know why they went with that name instead of just calling it the triangle pose. Because that's what it was. It was him contorting his body into an upside-down V-shape and it was ridiculous. Still, he definitely DID feel it in his heels.

"Yup. That's hitting it." Harry groaned out in a pained whisper.

He imagines this all would have been going a lot smoother if he wasn't so distracted by Gabrielle who was, at that moment, contorting her own body in similarly bizarre, but somehow delightful, poses on the pommel horse across the room. Today she actually was dressed in a leotard, and she was rapidly confirming his supicions about her early childhood.

"Harry, I'm going to need you to focus on stretching out these joints of yours, you two can flirt later." Penelope pleaded.

"Not gonna flirt with her." Harry said as he layed flat on his stomach. "War going on, dark lord after me, no time for romance when I'm liable to die before anything comes of it."

The stifled snort Penny answered that little deflection made her more red in the face than these exercises had made Harry.

"Really? You think so." Said Penelope. "Because the rest of us have been fighting in wars and risking our lives for the last fifteen, yet somehow found the timeand courage to build loving relationships and beautiful families. Often finding it in very unexpected places. You? You at least have a very obvious place to start searching for it all."

Harry glanced between Penny and Gabrielle. Lifting a thumb to indicate the upside down splitting Veela goddess he glowered at Penny.

"Her? Obvious? Why in the world would she be an obvious pick for me? A woman the entire male population of the planet would want?" He asked incredulously.

"Oh geez, I don't know Harry. Maybe because the memory she uses to fuel her Patronus is waking up in your big.. strong... arms as you rescued her from the lake?" Penny said above a whisper but in a tone reminiscent of an overdramatic Mexican Telenovela. "Or because she grew up as infatuated with you as Ginny had been? Or maybe because both her sister and brother-in-law adore and respect you and are already conspiring with the rest of us to get you two together?"

That last bit threw Harry for a loop more than the rest of it. That seemed somehow indecent, but he couldn't quite place why or how. Wasn't he too old for her? Just a few months, from his perspective, she was a teensy eight year old... or was the age gap reversed now? He had lost fifteen years but she had gained them. Technically wasn't she... wow, nine years his senior, from his six years her senior before. But she still looked younger than Fleur had during the Tournament. How does that work?

He was so confused.

"Well Harry, I'd love to tell you there's no rush, but as you said there is a war going on and either of you could be killed in it any day." Penny said sadly. "Tis better to love now while you have the chance, than lose the chance forever before you ever could."

Harry stared across the gymnasium to where Gabby was now using some kind of stretchy rope for resistance training. His Gryffindor courage did not come to him that day, and Penny didn't push him further.

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