Chapter 2: The Ministry of Magic
The Ministry of Magic had gone through a lot in the past two decades. Each Minister had added their own remodel, and Percy Weasley was no different. His Ministry was designed to reflect his policies, working with the other nations, particularly his sister-in-law in France: Mistress of Magic Fleur Delacour. The entrance hall glowed gold, reflecting off its marble walls which held up the magnificent ceiling. Under Cornelius Fudge the ceiling had sparkled with golden lights which had dimmed under the dark reign of Pius Thicknesse.
Percy had restored the glowing golden lights, but it shined in the muggle flags of the nations which comprised his new United Magical Nations. He had formed the UMN in the aftermath of the near World War which had brought his sister and himself to power. The flags shined down and reflected off the newly reconstructed Fountain of Magical Brethren featuring a witch, wizard, centaur, goblin, werewolf, house elf and giant back-to-back in a circle: all pointing their race's weapon of choice out. The individual statues were ingrained with the names of every member of that race which had died fighting Voldemort.
The fountain reflected the golden light of the ceiling onto a mass of workers and paper airplanes buzzing through the room. No one took notice as Harry Potter appeared in the middle of the crowd and walked toward the fountain. He had to compose himself before going up to his office. There was no need to raise an alarm yet, the boy was still 15. He still had the trace on him. All Harry had to do was wait for Albus to use some magic and the wonderful trace would tell him exactly where Albus was. He might already have a report waiting for him.
A paper airplane flew into Harry's face, poking him in the nose and then unfolding in front of him. Harry thought it wasn't really necessary for these things to poke him and made a mental note to get Percy to do something about that.
Harry Potter needed in the Misuse of Muggle Artifacts office immediately.
"It will have to wait," Harry said, the words magically appearing on the note before it refolded itself and flew back to Mr. Weasley. Harry still thought it was stupid to take a demotion back to his old office, but also very Mr. Weasley. No one was better than him in that office. Harry instinctively looked up at the golden wizard before him. He knew where almost every name was on the statue, but looked at no name more than the one placed two inches left of the wizard's upraised right arm: right over the heart of the wizard. James Potter. His eyes moved and found others, Regulus Black, Sirius Black, Alastor Moody, Fred Weasley. The names went on around the statues, and Harry had known at least one on every statue. They were the reason he went to work every day; to ensure that nothing like that war ever happened again.
He moved on to the lifts, but was interrupted by a memo flying into his face. He really needed to talk to Percy about that.
Harry Potter needed in the Misuse of Muggle Artifacts office immediately.
It will have to wait.
It involves your son Albus.
Harry stood, stunned for about 30 seconds before that line hit him. Then he turned on the spot and was gone, leaving only a memo floating to the ground.
Arthur Weasley did a spit-take as Harry Potter appeared standing in front of his desk.
"What do you know about Albus?" he asked a little too enthusiastically.
"Nothing at the moment," Arthur said, taking out a yellow, pinstripe handkerchief and wiping coffee off his desk. "We confiscated this backpack from young Miss Wright's house and she claims that Albus enchanted it. I believe that investigation is your jurisdiction."
Harry looked around the room for the first time and saw the young woman sitting uncomfortably in the chair next to where he was standing. "Well, I believe enchanting a backpack is a little less of a crime than say enchanting a car, don't you, Mr. Weasley." Arthur stood very slowly. "As such, I do not believe a crime has been committed here. Still, I would like to have a word with Miss Wright in my office please."
Mr. Weasley cautiously sat back down. "Of course, Mr. Potter."
Harry led Ashley though corridors and staircases before arriving at a well lit floor filled with televisions, cubicles and meeting spaces. The two went to a small meeting room which had taken the place of a corner office. The humid smell of rain met them as they opened the door.
"You'll have to excuse the weather, maintenance hasn't been happy that I opened the room for all to enter; and leave their trash behind. Technically, this is my office, but I prefer to be out there. Have a seat," he said, motioning to the head of the table. Ashley sat on the side.
"Am I in trouble?"
"That depends on how you answer my questions." Harry pointed his wand at the door and said, "Muffliato." He moved over and sat across from Ashley. "How long have you been away from home today?"
Ashley sat back, looking a little confused. "Um, Mr. Weasley picked me up about 20 minutes before you showed up in his office. Why?"
Harry smiled. "I don't believe we've ever met. But I do believe you know my son Albus. At least, he has a picture of you in his room." Ashley blushed. "I was kind of curious if he had stopped by recently."
Ashley was definitely confused now, Harry saw the gears moving. "He hadn't when I left." She paused. "Why?" Harry produced a note from his pocket and gave it to Ashley. Her face whitened as she read and re-read Albus' short note. She crumpled the note and threw it across the room. Then she started to sob. Well, at least she loves him, Harry thought.
They sat in silence for what felt like an hour before Ashley composed herself. "I'm sorry."
"You have no reason to apologize. But now would be a good time to tell me what you know."
"I don't know anything. He had talked about 'proving he belonged to the family,' but he never told me details. I kept telling him he had nothing to prove, that he was more a part of the family than James ever was. James kept urging him on. He's the one you should be interrogating."
Harry laughed. "That's what my wife is for."
"I'm sorry, I can't help you."
Harry nodded. He knew she was hiding something, but he decided not to press the matter now. At least not here. "Let me see if there are any unexplained trace hits, then I'll escort you home, just to make sure he hasn't stopped by." Harry stood up and moved to the corner of the room.
"There's no need."
Harry didn't look back around. "I know, but I'll be escorting you back anyway. You'll get there faster if you apparate."
"No, there's no need to check for unexplained traces."
Harry did turn back around this time. "Why is that?"
"Because Albus said he had found a way to remove the trace, even gave me a vial of the potion, in case I wanted to practice over the summer."
There was a long silence before Harry spoke, "You can't remove the trace Miss Wright."
"YOU can't. But don't underestimate what Albus is capable of. If you want to know if it works all you have to do is take me home: I drank the potion."
Harry stood still in shock for the third time this morning. Finally he moved over to Ashley. "Take my arm and hold on tight." He pointed his wand at the door, then turned on a dime. Harry Potter and Ashley Wright vanished.
Martha Johnson was enjoying "The Days of our Lives" when the doorbell rang. Again. "My vacuum cleaner works just fine, I don't need a new encyclopedia set or windows or cookies! And she's not here." she screamed as she stumbled toward the door.
"I know I'm not in there, I'm out here mother."
Martha opened the door to her daughter and an elegant man in a t-shirt and jeans. Ashley and the man stepped into foyer. "I did not say you could come in young man."
"I did mom," Ashley said, a little annoyance in her voice. "Mom, Harry Potter. Mr. Potter, Martha Johnson, my mother."
"Morning," Harry said. Martha didn't reply.
"Mr. Potter, you going to test that trace?"
"Oh, right." Harry stepped into the kitchen and pointed his wand at the sink.
"I'LL NOT HAVE MAGIC IN THIS HOUSE!" Martha ran and attacked Harry, forcing Ashley to attempt to pull her mother off him while avoiding her flailing arms. Thankfully Harry didn't attempt to curse her. Finally Ashley was able to get her mother off the most famous wizard in the world, who now had a bloody nose.
"Ooo, what is this?" Martha Johnson had just noticed that her sink had filled with water and her dishes were now doing themselves. "Did you do this young man?"
"Yes," Harry said as a plate flew from the sink, across the kitchen to the cabinet which opened for it.
"Maybe magic isn't all bad," Martha said, looking at her daughter.
Ashley glided toward Harry and whispered, "Now would be a good time to move somewhere else."
"Yeah," Harry said, dodging a bowl flying across the room. "I'm not that good with this spell." They moved down the hall and into an office space. Clearly the space was Ashley's, there were spell books everywhere and a truck was open in the corner. Harry pulled out a cell phone and dialed a number. "Parker, go check and see if Ashley Wright's trace has been activated."
Ashley turned around. "You can't use a phone in the ministry. There's too much magic around for electronics to work."
Harry smiled, "YOU can't. But don't underestimate what Hermione Weasley is capable of. Parker?" Harry's smile fell. "Understood, thanks." Ashley's question was asked by her look. "No activation. The potion worked."
"Ashley, dear. Where are you?" The door to the office opened. "You know, there was this cute boy who came by earlier, looking for you." Harry and Ashley stiffened.
"Did this boy happen to say his name?" Harry was impressed how calm Ashley kept her voice. She'd make a great Auror.
"Why yes, he did. I think it was Albus something. I can't..."
"Where did he go?" Harry asked, interrupting her.
Martha stiffened, offended. Ashley stepped in quickly, "Mom, where did he go? Please."
Martha looked at her daughter, then said "off into the field, but I'm not sure he made it there. He just disappeared."
It was Harry's turn to ask a question by look. "Could you please show us?"
Martha led them through the kitchen (dodging a set of freshly cleaned knives) and out the back door to a spot in the backyard, about 100 yards from the door.
"Thanks mom," Ashley said. Martha went back inside to catch the end of her show. Harry was looking at the ground, moving in slowly increasing circles. "He apparated. I told you not to underestimate him."
"He's 15, he can't apparate."
"Then how do you explain this?"
Harry had no answer and no lead. It was a dead end. Albus' words flooded back into his mind: I know you will come after me. Don't. You won't find me. Albus was right. Harry couldn't find him. No auror could. Well, no current auror could. "Thanks Ashley. Stay here." Ashley started to protest, but Harry silenced her with a wave of his hand. He pulled out his spare, "witness" phone and handed it to her. "He may come back; I want you to call me if he does. Speed dial 1." And then he turned and was gone.
Ashley returned to the office. She collapsed on her computer chair. Not the morning she had expected. There was a tap on the window. She quickly turned and exclaimed, "Albus!" But it was just an owl attempting to get in. She let it in and it dropped a small letter on her desk.
Ashley, I stopped by, but you weren't home. I couldn't wait. I need your help on this. I am chasing down a grave robber in New York City. I'll explain when you get here. The enclosed pop tab is a portkey, it will bring you here. Don't bring the cell phone my dad gave you, he can trace it.
See you soon,
She threw the letter aside. Stupid boy. Still, he was being stupid and there was no way Harry would find him. She was the only one who could bring him back before something bad happened. She pulled her wand out, said a quick prayer, grabbed the pop tab and vanished.