“I can’t wait to be seventeen!” Harry said as he kicked at a small pebble, watching it skid down the walk and fall into the road.
“Only another week,” Hermione reminded him. “It doesn’t really matter anyway, since the Ministry can’t tell who is performing the -” she lowered her voice to a whisper, “magic.”
Ron nodded, “Yeah, it’s not like we’re going to tell them that we didn’t do any magic. Still, they could figure it out from our wands.”
Harry frowned as a shiver crept up his spine. He looked up and around them, noting with surprise that they had moved several blocks away from his aunt and uncle’s home. “Did it suddenly get cold?”
“That’s odd.” Hermione turned around and then looked up at the sky. “It’s getting dark; we should head back.”
They moved back through the quiet neighborhood as the sky continued to darken and the light faded. “You need to hurry,” came the slow voice of Kingsley Shacklebolt from behind them.
None of them looked back but instead hastened their steps until they were nearly at a run. Moving fast and cutting through lawns, they made it back to the house in less than five minutes but the chill was unmistakable now. They bolted for the door, running inside with Kingsley at their heels. Instantly he sent his Patronus, a large silver eagle, off before slamming the door shut.
“What is it?” Harry demanded, rounding on the tall Auror.
Aunt Petunia’s screech of indignation cut short any further conversation. “Who are you?!”
“Kingsley Shacklebolt, ma’am.” He stuck out his hand but Aunt Petunia refused to take it. “We were about to be attacked.”
“What!?” she bellowed the word at the top of her lungs. “Dudders is out there!” With that proclamation, her face white, she lunged for the door, trying to get outside.
Harry snatched her about the waist and pulled her back, “You can’t go out there! You’ll be killed by… uh…”
“A combination of Lethifolds and Dementors. He’s been using them together over the past week.” Kingsley glanced out the window, obviously searching. “Help should be here soon.”
“We can all do a Patronus,” Hermione told him earnestly.
Kingsley shook his head, “We have to be able to see them or it won’t do any good. If it comes to that then we’ll go out but the creatures can’t enter this house, so we will be safe.”
“What about everyone else?” Harry asked quietly, his blood freezing at the thought of all those who could die.
“Yea, we need to help them!” Ron said forcefully while Aunt Petunia crumpled to the floor, weeping uncontrollably. “We can’t just let them die!”
Kingsley looked between them before settling his steady, calming gaze upon Harry. “Dumbledore’s orders were to see that Harry was safe while at this house. I have every intention of carrying out that last order, which does not involve putting you in unnecessary danger. It is likely that he is trying to draw you out to help the Muggles.”
“But the Patronus will stop both creatures!” Hermione argued instantly. “Harry can protect himself.”
Ron interrupted them, “Wait… what is a Lethifold?”
“They are dangerous beasts that resemble a half-inch thick black cloak which moves along the ground at night hunting prey.” Hermione took in a lung full of air before droning on. “It attacks sleeping humans, smothers them, and then digests them in their bed, leaving no trace at all. The only known defense against a Lethifold is a Patronus Charm.” She frowned over at Kingsley. “I thought they were extremely rare and lived only in the tropics.”
Harry gaped at her, impressed despite himself, that she could recite something exactly like a dictionary under pressure.
“They do, or rather they did. We believe that he has Macnair breeding them with a warm-blooded creature so that they can thrive here.” He glanced out the window again. “The Order is here.” The tall man pulled the door open and walked out after telling them to stay put.
Harry looked over at Ron who seemed to be thinking the same thing he was, while Hermione made a noise of disgust. “Well if we’re going out there, let’s at least not get caught!”
“Right,” Harry agreed easily and went to the door, pulling it partially open and looking out. “They’re just talking! Why aren’t they doing anything?”
“Let me see!” Hermione pushed under his arm and peaked out. “That is odd, but I don’t see anyone being attacked so it is possible that Kingsley was right, and it was an attack meant for you alone.”
“Nah,” Ron said as he looked over Harry’s shoulder. “He wouldn’t just attack Harry! He’d want to cause lots of damage, even if he didn’t get him.”
“Ron’s right,” Harry agreed and pushed the door open, catching Hermione’s arm before she could slip down with it. “Let’s go talk to them.”
The three walked slowly out to the conspicuous Order members, which included Tonks, Hestia Jones and Fred.
“Oy! Get back inside!” Fred called to them right as the Lethifolds struck.
It happened so suddenly that Harry wasn’t sure at first what had happened. An enormous beast leapt from one of the houses across the street and landed at the foot of the Order members. Harry watched in horror as the thing, which barely resembled an animal except in its movements, grabbed hold of Hestia Jones. She screamed and thrashed as several others shot the Patronus Charm at her. The effect was instantaneous. The creature slunk backwards from the silvery animals, emitting a hissing noise like a cat.
“Run!” someone called to them and Harry didn’t need telling twice. He turned to race back to the house, slipping a bit on the grass, when another Lethifold landed between them and the front door. It moved slowly towards them as they backed away.
Harry watched in horrified fascination as the thing slunk along the ground moving like a jaguar, but resembling nothing more than a long cloak. Someone screamed and he looked up to see his aunt, standing in the doorway, staring in horror at the beast. “Go back inside!” he commanded, but it was no use. The Lethifold spun on the spot and took a leap towards her.
Harry didn’t think, he just reacted as he pulled his wand and cried, “Expecto Patronum!” Instantly Prongs shot from the end of his wand and charged, antlers down, straight for the Lethifold. Beside him he heard Ron and Hermione also fire off their own Patronuses but not towards his aunt. He whirled around and saw that Lethifolds and Dementors were everywhere. “Go!” Harry yelled at Prongs after he’d chased off the Lethifold.
Harry raced to the house, and pushed his aunt inside, slamming the door behind her. He came back to Ron and Hermione, both of whom seemed to be weakening under the pressure of the Dementors. “Inside,” he told them, feeling the effects also seeping in.
Hermione fell to her knees before Ron, too, collapsed. Harry looked around, watching the Order members trying to fight off the hundreds of Dementors, but it didn’t seem to matter. “Come on!” He tried to get them to move but found himself covering his ears as the all too familiar sounds of his mother’s last minutes filled his ears.
Not Harry, not Harry, please not Harry!
Stand aside, you silly girl… stand aside, now
Not Harry, please no, take me, kill me instead--- Not Harry! Please… have mercy… have mercy…
He hit the ground and blinked, expecting the world to fade to black as the Dementors closed ranks. Instead a faint glow shot towards him, enveloping him in light. “Wha-?” He looked up into the radiant light, realizing belatedly that Prongs had come back to circle them, keeping them safe. “Thanks Dad,” Harry muttered before letting his cheek drop to the grass, which jabbed him painfully.
He wasn’t sure how long he lay there but eventually a sharp jab in his ribs caused him to sit up. Fred was grinning down at him. “Sleeping on the job then?”
“Not funny,” Harry muttered as he looked over to see Hermione sitting up and Ron already standing and holding out a hand for her. “What happened?”
“Attack, of course,” Fred replied, grabbing Harry under the arm and hoisting him up. “Lucky for us you can cast a powerful Patronus although your faint was rather spectacular.”
“I didn’t faint,” Harry protested and looked around at the scene. Several people, that he did not know, were moving around to each of the houses in the neighborhood. “Who are they?”
“Ministry employees,” Fred answered. “Come on, back in the house you go.”
“We’re coming,” Ron grumbled as he and Hermione stumbled back inside.
Harry walked up behind them only to find his aunt passed out in the front entry. “Oh damn! I forgot about Dudley.”
“Come again?” Fred came in and felt for a pulse. “She’s fine, just out cold.”
“I know, but my cousin was out there somewhere,” Harry replied as he pointed out the door.
Fred nodded and stood up, “I’ll go look. You three need to stay here or you’ll be questioned by the Ministry and we can’t have that.”
This time they did stay in the house, sitting on the floor of the entryway. If Aunt Petunia had been in any condition to scold them she would have shooed them away long before now, but she was still unconscious, and they were still weak from having been surrounded by hundreds of Dementors and Lethifolds. Harry wasn’t sure what would happen if they couldn’t locate his cousin, but he didn’t think it would be good.
A groan from his aunt had Hermione scrambling over to her. “Are you all right, Mrs. Dursley?”
“What happened?” she asked, bringing a hand to her head.
“We were attacked,” Hermione explained gently.
Petunia groaned and Harry saw that her eyes were unfocused. “I think we should move her to the kitchen in case Fred gets back.”
Ron, cottoning on, nodded and helped Harry to raise Aunt Petunia to her feet. Together they steered her into a chair at the square table. Harry got out a glass of water and sat down beside her. Aunt Petunia took a shaky sip and set the glass down, wiping instantly at a drop that had splashed over the rim. “Where is Dudley?”
Here it comes… “We don’t know,” Harry said and waited for some sort of explosion.
“My brother is looking for him,” Ron added, obviously trying to help defuse the older woman.
It didn’t help. Her already thin face became even more pinched as she straightened, her expression agitated. She turned to Harry, glaring at him ferociously. “If my son is hurt-”
Hermione interrupted her, “I’m sure he’s not!”
They were saved by a knock at the front door. All of them approached it, Aunt Petunia more hurriedly, although still unsteady. She pulled it open and began sobbing as Fred pushed a disheveled looking Dudley into the house. The large boy stumbled once before catching himself. Petunia was on him in an instant. “Oh Dudders! I am so glad you’re all right!”
“F-fine, Mum,” Dudley stuttered and squirmed out of his mother’s bony arms, spinning away from her. His face was extremely pale, and he looked as though he’d swallowed a bug.
“We found him in a car, along with a few of his friends,” Fred explained. He looked over at Harry, Ron and Hermione, “I think you’ll be leaving here sooner than expected.”
“Right, we’ll go pack,” Harry agreed. He knew he was only safe inside of his aunt and uncle’s house anyway, and he didn’t want Voldemort bringing down the neighborhood just to get at him. It was safer to go back to the Burrow now.
They turned to leave when Dudley’s voice halted them. Harry looked over at him unsure he’d heard him clearly. “What was that?”
Dudley shook his head and turned away, but not before Harry had seen it… the hangover. Dudley was playing it off well, though… he had his mother convinced that magic, rather than whiskey, had attacked him.
Harry followed Ron up the stairs to pack their belongings. They both found Hermione in her room haphazardly throwing clothing into her trunk.
“What do you reckon he said?” Ron asked as he too bent to retrieve a pile of her books before depositing them into the open trunk.
Harry wasn’t sure, and upon further reflection he didn’t really want to know. His cousin’s drinking had nothing to do with him. “I don’t know,” Harry finally admitted. “I’m going to pack my stuff.”
“Right,” Ron agreed and followed him into his room. Within three minutes, they had everything packed, including Hedwig’s cage.
“Let me see that,” Hermione said, as she pointed her wand at the droppings, vanishing them without a word.
Ron gaped at her. “You’re getting too good at that.”
“Oh honestly, Ron! It’s just a simple cleaning charm,” Hermione said although she gave him a smile that softened her words.
After they had finished packing, and their trunks had been carted down the stairs, Harry went to find his aunt. His heart pounding slightly, he looked into the kitchen to see her sitting at the table, drinking a cup of tea. He didn’t want to expect anything, nor did he really believe she would care that he was leaving, but he did want to say goodbye. “We’re off then,” Harry told her after clearing his throat.
She nodded but did not look up from her cup, “Fine.”
“I… if there is an attack again, stay in the house. I think you’ll be protected in here.” Actually, Harry wasn’t sure of that at all. He had thought about it and discussed it with Hermione who seemed to think that the house’s protection might be tied to his residence in it.
“It won’t matter,” Aunt Petunia said sharply, finally meeting his gaze. Harry’s heart sunk. “Vernon has secured a promotion and we will be moving to the Americas at the end of the summer holidays.” Her eyes narrowed. “I am not a fool. I know what this war will do to everyone… I saw what it did to her, and I won’t have it happen to my family.”
Dipping his head down, he tried to ignore the feeling that settled in his stomach. His relatives had never done anything for him, save house him, so his leaving meant nothing. “Bye,” Harry said, turning to leave and not waiting for a respond in kind.
He didn’t get one anyway.
After a nauseating ride on the Knight Bus they arrived safely at the Burrow. Molly was peaking out the kitchen window and bustled out to greet them, pulling each into a crushing hug. “Oh thank goodness you’re all right! We heard that you were under attack, and didn’t know what had happened!” She rounded on Fred, examining him for injuries. “Are you all right?”
“Fine, Mum,” Fred told her, backing away. “I have to get back to the shop though. It’s busy right now.” He nodded to Harry, Ron and Hermione. “I’ll be seeing you soon I expect.”
Harry understood what he was saying. Fred and George had their tent and Hermione’s journal and they would deliver them at another time… preferably when Mrs. Weasley wasn’t about. “See ya Fred, and thanks for escorting us home.”
Fred winked and with a small turn, vanished.
“Well, who’s hungry?” Mrs. Weasley asked cheerfully before ushering them into the kitchen. “I have cold sandwiches made or I could whip up some soup if you’d like. Where’s Ginny gotten to?”
Harry looked around, not seeing her, but spotted Crookshanks lounging in a bit of sun that streamed through a kitchen window, wearing a rather ugly green collar. He looked up with one eye, yawned and went back to sleep. “I’ll go find her, if you want,” he offered. His stomach knotted at the thought of Ginny, like it always did but he pushed the feelings down. It wouldn’t do either of them any good to dwell on the past.
“Oh yes, thank you dear,” Mrs. Weasley said and Harry ran upstairs to check for her. Not finding her in her room he turned to leave when a noise from the open window caught his attention. He walked over, and peered down spotting Ginny, and to his amazement, Tonks.
“-not a good idea!” Tonks told her, gesticulating wildly with her arms.
“I’m doing this with or without your help!” Ginny informed her.
Tonks shook her bright pink head, “What about Harry?”
Harry blinked in surprise and watched, holding his breath as Ginny contemplated the question. “If he’s worth it then he’ll understand.” She let out an exasperated sound and kicked at a rock, sending it flying into the air. “You know what it’s like, being helpless! I can’t do that Tonks! It’s just not in me.”
“Why not tell-” Tonks began but Ginny cut her off, her face flushed.
“I’m not telling them anything, but if they actually believe it of me then… and anyway, if something happens then nothing happens to me. I have to be careful. My family can’t know anything until it’s over!”
“Your Mum’s not going to let you just go off like that,” Tonks argued.
Ginny was silent for nearly a minute. “She won’t know where I am until it’s too late.”
“What do you mean?”
“It’s unplottable, but I got the location.” Ginny pulled a slip of paper from her pocket and handed it to Tonks. “This is how you will find him.”
“Ginny…” Tonks’ voice trailed off. “I shouldn’t let you do this.”
“But you know we need it,” Ginny finished off. “I can’t just wait here, and I can’t go back to Hogwarts.” She turned suddenly and stared off towards the kitchen. “That’s Mum! I have to go before she notices.” Ginny gave the older woman a hug and ran back towards the house without another word. Harry watched Tonks for a moment, her expression troubled before she turned and vanished.
What had that been about? More importantly, what was Ginny up to? Harry frowned, and turned back towards her door walking through it slowly, and descending the stairs slowly. He entered the kitchen, intending to question Ginny, but her expression froze him. She was studying him carefully, almost calculatingly, before her eyes widened. Damn! She knows I was spying on her!
“Why is Crookshanks wearing a collar?” Hermione asked the room at large, pulling out a chair. Harry winced as it scraped along the floor.
Ginny shrugged nonchalantly and said, “I found it in a closet and thought it looked cute. He seemed to like it anyway.”
“Oh,” Hermione replied, but didn’t say more.
“What would you like to eat, dear?” Mrs. Weasley asked her daughter.
She shook her crimson hair back and pulled it up into a ponytail exposing her neck all the way down to collarbone. Harry tried not to stare, but it always gave him a gnawing ache when he watched her. He missed her… “I don’t want anything,” Ginny finally said in a bored voice.
This time Harry did stare, along with everyone else in the room. “You have to eat something,” Mrs. Weasley countered and went over to the stove to fix something as if her pronouncement ended the argument.
Apparently it didn’t. “I’m not hungry!” Ginny growled before shoving back in her chair with enough force to knock it over and storming up the stairs.
Silence filled the kitchen except for a yawn from the cat. “What the bloody hell was that about?” Ron blurted out, staring after his sister in confusion.
“Never mind,” Mrs. Weasley said stoically, wiping at a stray tear. “Ron, how are your dress robes fitting?”