Ginny Weasley sat looking out of the window of the train compartment, her view of the rolling hills blurred by the rain streaking horizontally across the glass. The rumble of the train’s wheels underneath her seat and the occasional rattle of the lamps accompanied by the patter of rain hitting the windowpanes were together, oddly, soothing.
Fingering the frayed note tucked deep in her pocket, Ginny leaned her head against the cool of the pane, causing a trickle of condensation to pool in the window’s frame. Her friends chatted animatedly on the seats beside her, but she paid no notice.
She was going home, going home for good. She had finally left Hogwarts and would not be returning to school again. The thought of this was bittersweet, but then it had hardly been the same this last year without Harry, Ron and Hermione there—not to mention the numerous changes to the castle since the last battle. The Last Battle. The anniversary of that battle had been the week before and with it had come a barrage of memories that were as vivid as if it had happened only yesterday.
The smell of it…the taste of it…the color of it…they were not easily forgotten.
Shifting away from the window, Ginny closed her eyes. She did not want to relive the battle again for what seemed to be the millionth time that day. It hurt too much, and it made her think of Ron.
Her hand went back to the note in the pocket of her robes; she delicately fingered the folded edge, thinking about its contents. Hermione had sent it two days ago and Ginny had not been without it since...the worn parchment was tattered from the number of times she had opened and refolded it.
As the train hastened them away from the worst of the thunderclouds, Ginny’s attempt to study the sky was hampered by Hermione’s tight and precise handwriting looping through her mind like a relentless scrolling blackboard…Have you heard from Harry?... the last I knew he was in Greece, but that was several months ago…now that you’ve left school I do hope he’ll be coming home soon…do you suppose what we've read in the papers is true?
Ginny bit her lip...in truth, she had no idea. Two recent reports of Death Eater attacks, specifically on Harry, had made the front page, causing panic amongst her family and friends. Ginny picked at the frayed cuff of her robe's sleeve. She hated her addiction to the papers, but she read them anyway. She read them because when she ran across his name—in that instant—the world seemed whole again. Harry was safe. He was alive. She had clung to these flimsy assurances, and wasn’t certain if this made her weak…or strong…or if it was just a way of keeping her sanity when all she really wanted was to be with him and not in a classroom, safe.
Ginny had received a total of four letters from Harry over the last year, and in truth, she considered this a fantastic miracle. He had said that he wouldn’t write her due to risk of owl interception, and she had insisted that he write her anyway. In the end, he had complied—although the letters were so barren of any useful information, not to mention intimacy, that it might have been better not to have written them at all. It was all very discouraging. And even though Ginny suspected that the real reason behind the vagueness was one of fear for her safety, not actual disinterest, she still felt very muddled about the whole thing.
Until she had received his last letter, which was the glaring exception to the rest. It had been unusually short—even by Harry’s standards—and had simply wished her luck for her N.E.W.T.s. The fact that he had even remembered she was facing exams meant that he was thinking of her, and to her that had meant everything.
Her reply to him had been immediate and short. Her words caused her to grimace now, but she knew that they were honest and that he would understand. The anniversary of the battle had been vivid in her mind as she wrote, her brain exhausted from studying, and all she wanted was to see him again...so she had simply written:
Please come home.
She had never asked anything like this from him before, and if there was a way to recall owls mid-flight she might have done so on multiple occasions that same evening. But it was done. And now all she could do was wait and see what would happen.
“Knut for your thoughts,” Colin Creevey quietly asked, tapping her foot with his own.
She blinked, turning from the window to look at him. His long legs sprawled across the carriage, disappearing under the seat beside her. He had that side of the compartment to himself; Amelia Bell had settled herself on the floor with her cat, Katherine Davies sat curled up beside Ginny with a book, and Luna, in the far corner, had vanished behind her Quibbler and was paying no attention to any of the rest of them at all.
Colin idly played with a pack of cards on his stomach and although he continued to shuffle the cards, it was obvious that he was only doing so to pass the time. His hair flopped over one eye as the train lurched, but his gaze never wavered from hers. She had no intention of telling him what she really had been thinking about, but then he probably had an idea anyway. He always seemed to know.
She forced a grin. “Colin! You know that my thoughts are worth much more than that. A Galleon at the very least…”
“A Galleon—Merlin, woman, you’re expensive! I suppose I’ll have to wait until I start at the Prophet in order to afford you, then.” He smiled briefly, and then asked, “Seriously, though...?”
Ginny knew that she hadn’t really been herself for several days—maybe even weeks now, she couldn’t remember—and she was touched by his concern. They had always been close friends, and he was more observant than most. Maybe it was his interest in photography that caused him to be so perceptive, maybe it was because he cared a little more than he should...but regardless of his reason, she shrugged.
“It’s just...you know...hard going home.”
He nodded, and looked out of the window. After a moment he stopped shuffling his cards and glanced back at her. “Are your parents okay with you moving to London?”
The air around Harry Potter was hazy with a thick layer of cigar smoke; it smelled stale, dank, and not at all appealing.
Harry shifted, discretely letting the scratchy wool hood of his cloak fall forward completely obscuring his face.
His voice was barely loud enough to be heard over the din, but the buxom barmaid seemed to have heard it. She plunked his tankard on the table, its golden liquid sloshing over the rim and skimming across the table’s surface. Pushing the tankard towards him, she left one more trail of sticky foam embossed on a tabletop scattered with the dry remains of hundreds.
When he didn’t give her any indication of further interest, she turned with a flounce and retreated through a mass of milling people to her position behind the bar and began to fill more drink orders. He watched as she flirted with other patrons, and once he was certain that she had forgotten he existed, he cast a Confundus Charm to disorient people if they drew too near his corner table and pushed the sweltering hood off his itchy forehead.
His focus shifted to the door of Le Gobelet Graisseux, and he waited for her—the woman he’d been hunting—to appear. He had been trailing her for months. And now, finally, he had been provided with a strong lead indicating that she would be coming to this particular bar in Paris tonight. According to his source, she was to meet with a wizard who specialized in illegal potions and, based on the photo that he had been given, that very individual was currently sitting, hunched in his chair, sipping a blue concoction that exuded curling tendrils of pink smoke. He had arrived shortly after Harry and had hobbled to a small round table on the dimly-lit edge of the room to order his drink.
So Harry waited, scanning the features and faces of the wizards who sat drinking, and occasionally returning his glance to the door, knowing that it was unlikely that he would immediately recognize her when she arrived. None of the remaining Death Eaters was foolish enough to go anywhere undisguised.
Harry absently thumbed a nick along the edge of the table. After trailing her for months, it just didn’t make sense to him that she was choosing to come here. This wasn’t an illegal pub hidden from common wizards; this was a prominent pub in the middle of wizarding Paris. And although Le Gobelet Graisseux was known to attract questionable characters, it was not a place where Harry would expect to see a wanted Death Eater.
The door of the bar swung open, and he watched as another laughing couple clumsily stumbled over the threshold. The Secrecy Sensors positioned around the door tinkled merrily, indicating nothing was amiss—no Polyjuice, Invisibility cloaks, illegal substances, or restricted creatures. Harry’s shoulders fell and he leaned forward resting his elbows on the table; distracted, he took a sip of his mead.
Tonight was different…and that might be why he felt unusually tense…tonight he was hunting.
On previous occasions, using himself as bait had been a particularly effective means of collecting Death Eaters. The papers were very helpful for this. All he had to do was give them a lead, and they would print anything having to do with the ‘Great and Famous Harry Potter’. So Harry would use this ‘leaked’ information as the lure, and the Death Eaters never failed to bite. But for this rendezvous he had not used himself this way, and something about this unfamiliar method left him feeling unusually vulnerable.
The door opened again, and his attention snapped from his drink to the door. A breeze rushed in from the street, stirring a brief flurry of dust, and on its tails a lone cloaked figure entered.
Harry could scarcely breathe. How long had he been waiting for this moment? And here Bellatrix Lestrange stood, the hood of her cloak sagging around her shoulders revealing her long dark hair and gaunt face. A tingle of unease rippled in the pit of his stomach as he studied her, unmoving in the doorway.
Her eyes glinted in the lamp light as she searched the room for the Alchemist, and as she saw him a flicker of recognition swept across her features. Almost instantaneously she pushed her way through the crowds of patrons, making her way toward the hunched-man’s table.
Harry’s earlier unease began to pool as he realized she wasn’t at all wary. She wasn’t delicately trying to avoid the crowds jostling around her. No—her confident stride never broke, and she seemed completely untroubled by the fact that there were others in the room—or that they might be watching her. Reaching her destination, she threw her cloak over the back of a spare chair, pulled up a seat next to the Alchemist, threw back her head and then…amazingly…she laughed.
Completely taken off guard by the haunting sound, Harry’s world tilted, tumbling him into a whirling vortex of painful memories that drowned all rational thought. Fighting against this maddening undercurrent, he pushed away all thoughts of Sirius, all thoughts of Ron, all thoughts of Neville…until he could find his footing again. His muscles ached, his throat tasted of bile, and his head swam. How was it possible that something so simple could throw him headlong? Harry hissed through his teeth…he wouldn’t let her do that to him again.
Drawing a deep and steadying breath, he glanced away from her table. The swelling crowds were now so large that there were no longer enough tables to seat them. People stood clustered, talking and laughing, completely unaware of who was sitting in their midst. Harry bit back his anger. Did no one care?
At a table pushed against the wall there was a cloaked man bent over a newspaper. He appeared to be reading, but something in the way he sat in isolation drew Harry’s attention…it didn’t seem natural. The man wore his hood up obscuring his profile and, from Harry’s vantage point, it was impossible to see if the man was really reading or if it was all just a ruse. Harry frowned. From the man’s position in the room he had a perfect view of Lestrange and the Alchemist…if only Harry could see his face…
Lestrange rose from her seat, startling Harry out of all other thought. The Alchemist soon followed, draining the last of his drink. Harry stood, tugging his hood over his head. Show time. Quickly conjuring his tankard of mead dry, he lowered the Confundus Charm that surrounded his table and edged discretely around the room, heading for the exit. His heart thudded in his ears, dictating the pace of his steps.
Throwing one last look over his shoulder to make certain that they were indeed leaving, Harry slipped out the door. The night air stung, eye-wateringly crisp, against his face. Bracing himself against the shock he took a deep breath, clearing his lungs and his head, before quickly striding into the dark shadows across the street.
They were not long behind him, fastening their cloaks on the top step of the pub. Harry crouched obscured in the shadows, waiting for them to make the first move. Oblivious as they seemed to be to his presence, they were the ones who dictated how this evening would play out—not him. He was at their mercy. Rolling the tip of his wand against his thigh, he looked up the street. No one was in sight. Now would be the perfect time. And amazingly, they complied. Stepping down the stone steps, Lestrange and the Alchemist turned away from him to head up the street, and Harry seized his chance.
A jet of silvery mist shot out the tip of his wand, slicing silently through the night air. A mere second passed before it met its destination. Whipping in fast rotations, the spell circled around Lestrange’s ankles and then disappeared without a sound into her feet. Lestrange and the Alchemist continued walking up the pavement, completely unaware of what had just transpired.
Harry’s shoulders relaxed. The tracking charm had been successful. Finally, his job in Paris was done.
But despite this success, the unease that had surged in his gut was still slowly rising. It was unnerving. Something wasn’t right. It had been all too easy to tag her. Fighting the urge to follow, he planted his feet. It wasn’t his job. His job was to mark the Death Eaters. The Aurors would keep an eye on her, monitoring her movements on a tracking device located in the Department of Magical Law Enforcement. Once they had accumulated all the information that they wanted to gather, they would be the ones to make the arrest. Not him. That had been made clear the last time he had gone off without proper authorization…
Rubbing his face, he willed himself to forget about Lestrange…at least for now.
Ginny shrugged at Colin’s question. Her fingers fumbled their way back to the folded parchment in her pocket and wrapped around it tightly. Shifting her view toward the window again, she noticed that the scenery was no longer green, but dull grey and entirely industrial. The rain had ceased completely.
“I think it was hard for Mum, but she knows that I need to live my own life—and she knows that Hermione could really use my company.”
Hermione was moving out of Harry’s flat, and Ginny wasn’t certain why. Hermione’s letters over the course of the previous year had been relatively light, with very little real substance, little to no mention of Ron, and ample worry about Harry. And although the anxiety regarding Harry was definitely expected, the lack of substance was not—so Ginny worried. She had even started corresponding with Neville Longbottom in hopes that he might have noticed something odd…but he hadn’t, or if he had he hadn’t chosen to share it. So when she received her last letter from Hermione informing Ginny that she had something important that she needed to tell her, Ginny had been relieved. Perhaps now she would finally know what was really going on.
“Imagine that…you and Hermione moving into your own place. Quite the pair of trendies you’ll be, living in the city. I’m jealous you know…I’d love to have a flat in London.” Colin sat up in his seat. “Hey, is anyone moving in with Neville?”
Ginny glanced out the window at the graffiti covered walls flashing by, uncertain if she should put a voice behind something that she knew would happen—yet might not happen—and if she was wrong...if she was wrong...well...what then?
She turned back from the window.
“Harry’s coming home.”
Colin’s face fell ever so slightly, but he quickly recovered. “Oh, I see. Well, that makes sense—it’s his flat and all. Do you know if he plans to stay?”
Ginny shook her head and shrugged. “I don’t know...”
Luna Lovegood peeped over the edge of her Quibbler.
“Daddy thinks all of the press Harry receives is just silly.” She pushed her wand behind her ear at a very odd angle, and hastily marked some of her quiz responses. Looking up again, she continued airily. “I mean, there are so many topics of interest that are much more current. We’re leaving to go to Sweden in search of the Crumple-Horned Snorkack next month. It’s their mating season. Now that is a topic everyone should be interested in—not what trainers Harry currently favors. It’s all so silly, really.”
Ginny smiled. “Yes, I’m certain that Harry would agree.”
Luna’s pale eyes met hers. Ginny thought she detected a hint of laughter in them before she disappeared behind her Quibbler again.
A Ministry owl swooped in through the open compartment door of the train, landing on the knee of Amelia Bell, who was still sitting on the floor. The owl flapped his wings, upsetting Amelia’s orange cat, who up until that point had been napping quite contentedly in the crook of her knee. The cat hissed before displacing himself, and scrambling up, Amelia quickly reached to untie the attached roll of parchment from the owl’s outstretched leg. She scanned the note and tossed it aside, thumping down onto the seat beside Colin with a disgruntled air.
“What is it?” Katherine Davies asked, stirring beside Ginny. She hastily put a bookmark on her page and set her book aside.
Colin snatched up Amelia’s discarded mail and quickly reviewed its contents. His face brightened as he read. “This is brilliant! Listen to this, Amelia’s been made assistant to the Officer of Game Regulation in the Department of Magical Games and Sports—she’ll be testing Quidditch equipment on game days to make sure that it hasn’t been illegally charmed or cursed.”
Ginny was impressed. “How did you wangle that job?”
Amelia sighed, studying her fingernails. “My dad.”
The Bell family were huge Quidditch fanatics. They had been ecstatic when Katie Bell was selected to join Puddlemere United, and had hoped that Amelia would try out for professional Quidditch as well. But Amelia wasn’t interested; she preferred Healing. Ginny felt certain that this job was just a pacifier for her father who also worked in the Magical Games department. Amelia, bless her, just wasn’t sporty.
“Your dad still knows that you plan to start the program at St. Mungo’s next autumn, right?” Katherine asked, a concerned frown creasing her usually pretty face.
“Yes, he knows.” Amelia nodded, finally looking up from her nails. “I suppose it won’t be that bad, I’ll get to see Katie and Oliver more often and go to all the Quidditch games I want. My dad knows that I won’t stay past September—it’ll be okay.”
“Speaking of Quidditch…” Colin prodded Ginny’s foot again. His tone was clearly mischievous…and leading.
Ginny narrowed her eyes at him. The git. She knew what he was really asking. Over the last month he had been pushing her—to the point of extreme annoyance—to try out for the position of Chaser on one of the professional Quidditch teams. She had finally admitted that she might be interested, and now he was hoping that she would ‘confess all’ to her friends—despite the fact that it was an extremely tactless moment to do so.
Katherine cottoned on immediately, looking back and forth between Ginny’s glare and Colin’s amusement. “What? What is it?”
Ginny sighed. She might as well get this over with.
“I’ve decided to try out for one of the professional teams this autumn.”
As she expected, the train compartment was filled with squeals, small screams (really more like screamlets) and excited bouncing. Ginny couldn’t help but smile, despite her annoyance with Colin’s gigantic grin.
“I knew it!” Amelia clapped. “Katie said you would be daft not to try out. You’re such a natural.”
“Well, don’t get too excited. Professional players are really, really good and I don’t know whether I’m at their level. I’m not a natural like some people, you know—I have to work really hard.”
She looked across to find Luna watching her with an unusually astute look. Just as Ginny began to feel annoyed by her penetrating gaze, Luna blinked. “You can’t compare yourself to Harry, you know. He’s a natural at whatever he does.”
Ginny swallowed, fighting down a fierce blush. She glanced down, relieved that her friends knew nothing of her current relationship with Harry. She had been silent on the matter and, thankfully, they hadn’t asked any questions. And she preferred it that way—at least for now. The status of her relationship with Harry, however nebulous and erratic, was private. Intensely private.
“Yes, well,” Ginny insisted, “it’s not that. I’m just not sure if I want to put myself through all those grueling team tryouts, only to find that I really don’t measure up.”
Colin disregarded her last statement with a flap of his hand. “Have you thought about which teams you’d want to be on?”
“Any that’d take me.” Ginny shrugged. “But if I had a choice I’d say the Chudley Cannons or the Holyhead Harpies.”
“The Cannons!” Colin groaned. “But they’re the worst team ever!”
A collective hiss erupted from her friends. Ginny almost smiled despite herself as Colin squirmed, mortified, at his mistake. Girls were so much better at remembering obscure social details. And they all knew that Ron had been intending to try out for the Cannons—even if Colin had conveniently forgotten it at that moment.
“They’re a fine team, Colin Creevey! And if I wanted to try out for a team, I’d choose the Cannons too,” Amelia snapped hotly. Launching off the seat next to Colin, she plunked down beside Katherine and sniffed, adding, “It’s just that I want to help people, and I think I can best do that by being a Healer. That’s all...really.”
“That is so noble.” Katherine sighed wistfully at Amelia’s declaration. “See, that is what I should be doing! Even Roger’s a bloody solicitor, Mum and Dad are so proud of him. I know that my new job at Flourish & Blotts must be such a disappointment for them...”
“But you’re ideal for that kind of thing. Books are who you are,” Ginny insisted. “Plus you’re a natural with people—you’ll be perfect at it.” A sudden thought occurred to her. “Hey, do you know if the shop is looking for any summer help?”
Katherine’s face lit up. “Actually I think Mr. Blott is looking for someone, would you like me to inquire on your behalf?”
“That’s just not fair,” Amelia groaned. “You’ll all be in Diagon Alley while I’m stuck working over at the Ministry.”
Katherine slipped her arm around Amelia and squeezed her shoulder. “You can Apparate over for lunch as often as you like.”
Colin nodded enthusiastically. “You definitely should do that. There’s a café next to the Prophet—Keckilpenny’s Grub & Nosh—it sells the best pasties and chips.”
“Oh look,” Luna said dreamily, pointing out of the window, “King’s Cross...”
In a flurry of movement they all rushed to collect their things. Cats and owls were quickly caged, trunks pulled from the storage racks, and books put away. Students crammed the aisles, poured onto the platform, said tearful goodbyes to each other, and greeted their families. Ginny quickly spotted the Weasley red hair and threw herself into her mother’s arms.
Harry Disapparated to his rented room on the other side of Paris, its tempered silence quickly replaced the muffled clamor of the pub. He took a deep breath, feeling agitated and distracted. Peeling off his heavy cloak, Harry threw it across a spindly chair. He glanced up to find Fawkes quietly observing him from his perch in the corner of the room. Something about this benevolent interest steadied him and, gathering himself, he strode toward the fireplace.
A roaring blaze lit in the grate. Satisfied, he turned to walk toward the windows where Hedwig and Fawkes were perched in opposite corners.
The phoenix tilted his head in anticipation as he drew near and Harry paused, lightly smoothing the crimson feathers along Fawkes’ back before whispering, “Lupin.”
One of the phoenix’s magnificent golden tail feathers instantly disappeared.
Knowing that it might be a moment before Lupin arrived, Harry motioned to Hedwig.
“I’ve a letter for you.”
Hedwig fluttered her wings, following him to a small writing table next to the fire. He opened the drawer, pulled out a slip of paper, and scribbled a long-overdue note to Ginny.
I’ll be there soon.
Harry stared at the piece of parchment and rolled the quill between his fingers. He should write something else—he wanted to write something else—but what? After several minutes of consideration he realized that there was nothing else that he wanted to say worth the risk of interception, so he hastily folded the note and tied it to Hedwig’s outstretched leg. She hooted softly at him, blinking her amber eyes. Harry handed her an owl treat.
“To Ginny, then—and, Hedwig, go to the flat in London afterwards—I’ll join you there.”
She nipped his finger in understanding and Harry moved to the window to open it so that she could take flight. He stood obscured behind the curtain and watched her soar off into the night sky.
He hoped that he was doing the right thing. It was dangerous…incredibly risky…probably daft...but still…
She asked me.
Usually all he had to do was think of that moment in Popplewell’s, and that would instantly quench his desire to see her. The Death Eaters could have easily killed her—and the boy—Harry drew a deep breath, all Eddie had wanted was his autograph. He shouldn’t have bent down to talk to him. He should have shooed him off—or something, but he hadn’t. And the nightmares…the nightmares that had followed...plaguing him for weeks...
What if…what if… what if…
Eddie could have been his nephew…his child…or even Ginny, and he would have been utterly helpless to protect any of them. Harry closed his eyes and pressed his forehead against the cold windowpane.
Just like Ron.
And so later that night, at the Ministry, when Remus Lupin had told them what the Department of Magical Law Enforcement was doing to capture the remaining Death Eaters—and that they still needed help—he hadn’t hesitated. Despite the countless communiqués and offers from the MLE following Voldemort’s downfall, it hadn’t been until that moment in Lupin’s office that he realized what he needed to do. What he had to do in order to feel that Ginny was safe. That Hermione was safe…Neville…the Weasleys…and anyone else that mattered to him.
And now she was asking him to come home.
She had never asked anything of him before…ever. So he was going. And the numb area...right around his heart...began to tingle, awakening to the pull of home...of her...and this tug soon burgeoned into a breathing notion that was impossible to ignore.
“Ginny!” Molly Weasley enveloped her daughter in a tight hug.
When she pulled back Ginny noticed that her mum had tears in her eyes. This did nothing to help Ginny’s fierce resolve not to shed any tears of her own. She smiled, attempting to force back the lump rising in her own throat. “Hullo Mum...Dad.”
She went to hug her father, who looked a little grayer than Ginny remembered, but his face beamed and eyes twinkled just as they always had. Arthur Weasley pulled her into a tight embrace and kissed her firmly on the cheek.
It was then that Ginny noticed the twins’ lime green dragonhide boots. They matched their jackets perfectly. “Look at those! Where on earth did you buy them?”
“Ah, Gin-Gin,” sighed Fred wistfully, “I was once as naive as you—”
Ginny rolled her eyes with a snort. “When were you ever naive?”
George threw his arm around her shoulder, pulled her head to his chest and ruffled her hair into a perfect rat’s nest. “Quite true, sister dear, quite true. If you come and visit us at the shop we’ll show you all the places Mum never let you go in Diagon Alley.”
“Boys!” Molly scolded. “You will do no such thing. Grab Ginny’s things and let’s Disapparate home. I have dinner started...and Bill and Fleur will be there any minute.”
Molly bustled to grab one of Ginny’s smaller bags and shoved it at Fred. Ginny smirked at her brothers, knowing that her mother’s scolding wouldn’t deter them in the least, particularly now that she was almost eighteen. Pigwidgeon was bouncing and zinging around his cage with unbridled energy, so she opened his cage to let him fly home. He quickly zinged past her ear; his rapid flight reminding her instantly of a Snitch.
Ginny looked down the expanse of the train-shed, past the Hogwarts Express and toward the open track. Pig’s small form was already difficult to detect through all the smoke and steam, but she spotted him zipping up into the heights of the large glass and steel structure. It was not much longer before he slipped out into the open sky through a broken glass pane, unnoticed by anyone but herself. Without really meaning to, she quickly scanned the upper expanse of the train-shed in hopes of spotting Hedwig. She wasn’t there, of course. Why would she be? Hedwig was infamous for appearing when Ginny least expected it—not when she was actually looking for her. She closed her eyes.
Gathering herself she returned her focus to the busy train platform. It would be fine…whatever happened would be fine. Her family began to Disapparate one by one and she took a deep breath focusing her mind on The Burrow…home...and with a twist of her wrist she was the last member of her family to vanish from Platform 9 ¾.
The fire hissed and a dull thud sounded on the grate.
Harry turned to find Remus Lupin standing by the fire brushing flecks of ash off his shoulders. Although the lines on his face were as deeply etched as ever, his eyes were youthful, even dancing, in anticipation. He stepped off the hearth, asking at once, without preamble: “It’s done then?”
Harry nodded, a small smile pulling at the corners of his mouth as he watched relief flood over Lupin’s usually reserved face. Yes, he had finally tagged the one Death Eater that both he and Lupin had been eager to find from the very beginning. It was done.
Lupin smiled broadly. “Excellent, Harry, well done.”
It called for celebration, certainly a strong drink, but Harry knew that they had other business to discuss first. He moved toward the kitchenette, offering Lupin what he had on hand. “Tea?”
“Yes, thank you.” Lupin removed his cloak and sat in a comfortable armchair by the fire.
“So, what news do you have?” Harry asked, prodding the teapot with his wand. Pulling up a chair across from Lupin, he poured them each a cup of scalding hot tea.
“Nothing since we last spoke.” Lupin shifted, clearing his perpetually raspy voice. “Of the ten Death Eaters that remain, five have been spotted underground. The rest still remain a mystery. We’re still working on all leads at this point—but there’s nothing new.”
Lupin paused, sitting back in his chair to stir his tea. A glimmer of concern crossed his features, but Harry barely had time to recognize it before he continued, “So tell me—what happened tonight?”
Harry leaned forward, taking a deep breath, and blurted, “I think Lestrange is up to something. I don’t know what it is…but I just…the whole tag was just too easy.”
Lupin stopped stirring his tea. “What do you mean?”
Harry paused, clearing his head; he needed to start at the beginning. He told Lupin every detail of the night’s events as they had unfolded, putting special emphasis on Lestrange’s lack of caution, and Harry’s growing feeling that this was all some sort of elaborate trap. He was also careful to describe the other patrons and paid particular attention to the man reading the newspaper, so that when Harry’s memory of the pub was analyzed in the Department of Magical Law Enforcement’s Pensieve they would be sure to find out the man’s identity.
As Lupin pocketed the small glass vial that contained a copy of his memory, he paused to study Harry’s profile again. “There’s something else, isn’t there?”
“No, I’ve told you everything I know about Lestrange. There’s nothing else.” Harry swallowed; technically speaking, he wasn’t lying. He retrieved the teapot. “More tea?”
“Please.” Lupin nodded, holding his cup toward Harry.
Determined to keep his expression as neutral as possible, Harry focused on pouring the tea.
Lupin leaned toward him, suppressing a smile. “Harry...you can’t fool me, you know. Now, what is it?”
Harry sighed; he was worthless at deception. Studying the threadbare carpet under his feet, he supposed that now was as good a time as any to make his request—even if Lupin wouldn’t like it.
“I need to go home for a while.” Harry said it so quietly that he wasn’t certain that Lupin heard him.
After a long pause Lupin asked, “For how long?”
“I don’t know.”
“There’s nothing that I’d like better to grant you…but you know the risks—”
Harry cut him off with a quick glance. “I know the risks, but I...I need to go anyway.”
Lupin sat back in his chair, calmly watching him for a moment. “All right, then. But you must tell me why first.”
Harry ran a hand through his hair. He respected Lupin greatly, and had even begun to think of him as a surrogate father—certainly a mentor—but Harry couldn’t tell him about Ginny. Past, present or future. Her current request for him to come home was personal, and what it meant—now and in regards to Harry’s future—was too much of an unknown to discuss. It was private.
So he used another excuse that was just as valid.
“Hermione’s moving out.” Harry looked up at Lupin again. “She’s moving into her own flat, and I need to make sure that it’s properly warded.”
Lupin raised an eyebrow. “We have the MLE for that, Harry. I could send a team over there tomorrow to have her flat properly warded—”
“No—please Remus, just…no…” Harry stood abruptly and began pacing in front of the fire. Fawkes let out a low, soft, musical cry and Harry found himself attempting to swallow a very painful lump. Despite every good effort, his voice still rattled as he spoke. “I need to do it…I need to know that she’s safe. I can’t lose anyone else…I just can’t…”
After a long silence, one filled only with the sound of the crackling fire on the grate, Lupin drew a deep and measured breath.
“All right, Harry, you may go home.”
Relieved, Harry turned toward Lupin only to find him raising a cautious hand.
“There will be rules though, Harry, rules that you must follow—no exceptions.” His voice was grim and had an uncharacteristically firm edge. Harry flinched, instinctively bracing for what was to follow.
“You will sleep only at your flat or Grimmauld Place.” Lupin began to tick off the rules one by one on his fingers. “You will report to me every day for latest MLE updates. You will go nowhere in Britain undisguised—Polyjuice or otherwise, and you must, without question, keep what you have been doing over the last year a secret from anyone who will be interested to know.” He paused, looking Harry straight in the eye. “You’re a Special Agent for the MLE, Harry. No one knows this—no one. Do you understand how important this is?”
Harry felt his brows pull together. Of course he did. He had signed the Statutes of Secrecy for Special Agents, hadn’t he? After a moment he realized he hadn’t said anything, but unable to produce any intelligent words, he simply nodded.
Lupin eased back in his chair rubbing his face in a manner that reminded Harry of Sirius. After a moment he continued—his tone controlled. “I’m only letting you go to London because I know that you’d go whether I granted you permission or not, and I’d rather know where you are. Please promise me that you’ll be careful—and try not to do anything rash—I would hate it if—”
“I promise, Remus.” Harry interrupted him, finding his voice at long last. “I promise I’ll stay out of trouble and adhere to the oath that I took for the MLE.”
Reassured, Lupin nodded and stood. “All right, then. Give me two days to have things set up. I’ll notify you via MLE code when everything is arranged and it’s safe to travel.”
“Would you let Neville know when to expect me? I’d send Hedwig, but she’s out and won’t be back with me until I’m in London.”
“Of course.” Lupin swung his cloak over his shoulders and smiled. “Good work with Lestrange, Harry. I’ll pass all of your information on to the team. We’ll analyze your memory and see what else we can learn.” Lupin studied Harry again; the earlier glimmer of concern was back. “In the meantime, get some sleep—you look exhausted. Do you have any Sleeping Potion on hand?”
Lestrange’s mocking face flashed through Harry’s head, before he nodded. A dreamless sleep was not a bad idea given all of the memories her presence had stirred up...not to mention the harsh laugh that kept echoing in his head.
“Good, then.” Lupin moved to the fireplace, and took some Floo powder from the pot on the mantelpiece. “I’ll be in touch in two days. Be prepared to vacate this flat permanently by then. All right?”
Harry nodded, standing. There was nothing that he would be more willing to do, particularly if it meant that he would be going home for the first time in a long while...and seeing Ginny.
The Department of Magical Law Enforcement was bustling and chaotic. This was typical during the day, especially during a tense moment, but not typical for eleven o’clock on a Tuesday night. The distinct tang of adrenaline hung heavy in the air…heavier than normal for after hours. And there was something about the combined odor of adrenaline and sweat that made Remus’s nose itch, try as he might to ignore it.
Remus stretched, rubbing his back, as he walked down the busy corridor. The return Floo from Paris had not been kind. He had already deposited Harry’s memory in the Pensieve Memory Bank, placed a request for analysis, and now all he needed was to find Damian Snothe—and Dora, if she hadn’t already gone home.
“Sir! Mr. Lupin, sir!”
Remus turned to find his assistant sticking his head out of the door that led to the primary Monitoring room. “Ah, Damian, I wondered if you might still be here.”
“Yes, sir—if you don’t mind, sir—I have a file for you—” He ducked back into the room, and Remus followed him, only to wish that he hadn’t.
The Monitoring room was just as busy as the rest of the department, only here people seemed to be flying and the stench of adrenaline was ten times more potent. Remus was nearly bowled over by it, and also by the new recruit, Mullins, whose arms were heavily laden with a teetering stack of files. Mullins spun wildly to avoid a collision.
“Sir, sorry, sir,” he hastily apologized, successfully managing not to drop the files but, in the process, nearly losing his glasses which had slipped even further down his nose.
“Never mind, Mullins—” Remus attempted to reassure him, but then became quickly distracted by the large gathering of people huddled around the Tracking Board. “If you’ll excuse me…”
He made his way to the board, cautiously stopping and starting his way through the number of people rushing about the room. The white outline of a world map illuminated off the black board, and the red dots blinking in random patterns each indicated a Death Eater being tracked. Their names hovered above in mid-air identifying the dot below, each moving only as the wizard moved.
“Ah, Lupin—just the man I wanted to see—” Gawain Robards flashed a toothy grin and skirted the table in order to sidle up to him. He pointed at a distant red dot. “It appears that Nighthawk was successful, eh?”
Lupin nodded, squinting in an attempt to read the city name attached to Lestrange’s blinking dot. He had expected to see her still in Paris, but she wasn’t. She was much further east.
“We’re mobilizing a unit for 24 hour surveillance.” Robards crossed his arms across his chest and rocked on his heels. “By the looks of things she’s going to keep us busy…she’s gone from Paris, to Birmingham, to Moscow all within the course of an hour.”
“Moscow?” Remus blinked, the distant city name on the other side of the map finally registering in his brain. ”What could she possibly be doing there?”
Robards shrugged and clicked his tongue.
“I suppose that’ll be for us to find out now won’t it, eh? It is highly unusual though…well—” he broke off and clapped Lupin squarely on the shoulder before continuing, “let us know if your Agent tags anyone else…although I wouldn’t mind it if you slacked off a bit, I’m running low on Aurors.”
Robards chortled in good humor and swiveled on his heel to leave. Lupin hastily stopped him.
“Be careful, Robards. Lestrange is clever…and devious.”
“Haven’t met one Death Eater who wasn’t,” Robards clipped heartily, but then quickly added, “Don’t worry, we’re prepared.”
Lupin nodded, sincerely hoping that he was. He watched as Robards walked away with a small spring in his step. Lupin suddenly felt extremely old…and tired.
“Don’t worry, sir.”
Lupin started, not realizing that Damian was standing at his elbow. He handed him a file.
“Dora hasn’t been assigned to the Lestrange detail…she’s been assigned to this instead.”
Lupin looked down at the file which had ‘Remus Lupin’ stamped on the tab. The file contained a thick pile of notes for his perusal. Large black letters were stamped across its cover stating the project’s title, and he felt his eyebrows knit together…what on earth was this about?
“The International Confederation of Wizards?”
“Yes, sir, the International Confederation of Wizards.”
He flipped open the file and briefly scanned the cover sheet.
Never mind Lestrange in Moscow…or the sanity of Harry returning to London…the task at hand had suddenly become much more complicated.
A/N: Thank you to Igenlode Wordsmith who saw more versions of this chapter than I will *ever* admit, and to KelleyPen, my resident cheering section, who continues to read even though I killed off one of her favorite characters. And to those of you who love Ron as much as I do—I apologize profusely—but if you can manage it, please stay tuned for chapter three where he will feature prominently.