The Hogwarts Express lumbered on as it continued its journey toward Hogwarts. The snow-covered landscape rushed past under a continually darkening grey sky. Once again, Ginny was sharing the compartment with her roommates and a few extras. Both Luna and Demelza had joined them, and this time, Padma and Parvati Patil had stopped for a visit. The overflowing compartment was filled with chatter and laughter as they shared the details of their various holidays.
Siobhan had regaled them with the tale of her Muggle beau and all her anticipation upon seeing him again only to learn he’d gone to visit his grandparents over the holidays.
“You mean, after all that — he wasn’t even home at all?” Liz asked, outraged. “You waxed on about it for a whole week at the end of term.”
“How was I supposed to know? It’s not like we’d made any promises. I just reckoned we were bound to run into one another once I was home,” Siobhan said, folding her arms sulkily.
“Have your parents seen him?” Demelza asked.
“My mam said she saw him at the mall once, but she didn’t speak to him,” Siobhan said.
“What’s a mall?” Liz asked.
“Muggle shopping centre. Sort of like Diagon Alley, but all in one huge building. Muggle kids tend to hang out there,” Siobhan answered.
“I’d love to go to a mall,” Ginny said wistfully.
Hermione laughed. “I can take you to one, Ginny. You should’ve said before break was over.”
“I didn’t know I wanted to go until now,” Ginny said.
“How was your break, Hermione?” Padma asked. “Did you go to Australia?”
“I did, and I spent a week with Mum and Dad. It was nice just be the three of us on holiday, like old times. They’re doing very well, and the weather was lovely,” Hermione said, her eyes twinkling mischievously. “Still… my break wasn’t nearly as good as Ginny’s. She spent hers shagging.”
Ginny narrowed her eyes at the giggling Hermione whilst the other girls all leaned in closer for what promised to be a juicy story. Hermione had put up with Ginny’s teasing for months, she supposed turnabout was fair play.
“Ooh,” Liz said, holding her hands to her chest and batting her eyes. “You mean you made him The Boy Who Loved.”
“Or The Boy Who Lusted,” Siobhan said, cackling.
“Or The Boy Who Got a Leg Over our Quidditch Queen,” Demelza said, giggling so hard she actually snorted.
“All right, all right,” Ginny said, laughing. “I did have a lovely holiday, but I’m not about to discuss it with you sods.”
“Your party is the talk of the train,” Demelza said. “I heard loads of comments as I walked back here after the prefects’ meeting.”
There had been a write up in the society pages of the Daily Prophet about their New Year’s Eve party, and Ginny had known it would make the Hogwarts gossip train. She’d even received several hostile stares from people who hadn’t been invited. Of course, they hadn’t been invited because she wasn’t all that close to them, but that didn’t seem to make any difference. She couldn’t have invited the whole school. Her little first-year admirers appeared to be looking at her with new zeal, apparently hoping to get some details about the party.
“Yes,” Hermione said. “I had a few questions on my way back from the prefects’ meeting, too. The Hufflepuff fifth years wanted to know if I had any pictures to share.”
“I think most people are wondering why they weren’t invited when Draco Malfoy was,” Luna said without opening her eyes. She’d returned from her Snorkack-hunting journey the previous evening and claimed she was exhausted. She’d proceeded to curl up in the corner seat, and they’d all thought she’d been asleep until she spoke.
“That was me,” Ginny said, slumping back against the seat. “I had a moment of irritation over the rumours the Slytherins spread about me last year, and I wanted to prove that Harry and I were together and happy. It was stupid.”
“You? Acting out in a fit of temper? I have trouble believing that,” Siobhan said, smirking.
A reluctant grin spread across Ginny’s face. “Shocking, I know.”
“Did you get what you wanted?” Liz asked, tilting her head to the side and staring at Ginny appraisingly.
“Pardon?” Ginny asked.
“Did inviting him work?” she asked. “Do you feel vindicated?”
Ginny shrugged. “Honestly, I don’t care. It occurred to me during the party that I’d been battling my own demons, but… I’d already won. I didn’t need to prove anything to him. It wouldn’t matter, anyway, until I was ready to let it go. It made me realize that I’d come through it, and his opinion really didn’t matter.”
“And I think he was more focused on his own problems, anyway. I saw him hob-knobbing with the Minister and several of the Ministry higher-ups. He wasn’t nearly as confrontational as I’d expected him to be,” Hermione said, nodding slowly.
Ginny and Hermione shared a pointed stare. Ginny hadn’t been the only one battling war scars.
“I dunno. I was all prepared to get right in his face, but once the time came, I found I didn’t have to. Screw him if he doesn’t think Harry and I belong together. He doesn’t get to decide,” Ginny said, eyes narrowed.
“And the punch also helped,” Siobhan said, smirking.
“Oh, yeah. Seamus’s punch always makes me happier,” Demelza replied. “I don’t think I’d recommend making any life-altering decisions while drinking it, however.”
“D’you think he adds a love potion?” Parvati asked, leaning against the door.
“What?” Hermione asked, looking up sharply.
“Well, I was feeling really randy after the party that night,” Parvati replied, her cheeks turning pink.
“That’s just New Year’s in general,” Siobhan said, rolling her eyes. “You don’t need a love potion.”
“Nah, that’s just you in general,” Padma said, nudging her sister’s hip.
“Tell us, Parvati — who escorted you home from the party, hmm?” Liz asked, leaning close to the other girl who laughingly pushed her away.
“Oh, I’m so glad the paper didn’t have anything about that,” Ginny said, laughing. “Can you imagine the fuss that Skeeter cow would’ve made?”
“I think it’s odd she didn’t write anything, actually,” Hermione said, her brow crinkled. “I mean, there was that brief mention in the society pages, but I’ve been watching, and there’s been nothing. It was never mentioned again. The party seems like the sort of thing she’d be all over, particularly since the Minister for Magic was there. Never mind the fact a Malfoy was at Harry’s house, and with the way she’s tried to link him with Dark magic, but… there’s been nothing.”
Ginny’s back straightened, feeling slightly alarmed. “I hadn’t given it a thought, but you’re right. She’s always up for having a go at Harry.”
“Who’s having a go at Harry now? Poor thing?”
Another group of girls had stopped outside their compartment, and Ginny was dismayed to see two of her least favourite people — Brynn Dempsey and Romilda Vane — among them. Romilda stared into their compartment beseechingly, apparently overwrought at the idea of someone having a go at Harry. Had she somehow missed the previous several years? Ginny felt peeved simply by the sight of her. Padma and Parvati moved further inside the already crowded compartment as the new girls looked around.
“What do you want, Romilda?” Ginny asked aggressively, having no intention of giving them more fodder for their gossip. They’d make enough up as it was.
“I don’t want anything except to say hello,” Romilda replied huffily, tossing her long mane of dark curls over her shoulder dramatically.
“Oh, right, like you do every journey,” Ginny said. Romilda had never stopped in before.
She ignored Ginny and focused on Hermione. “I read about your party, Hermione. It sounded lovely. You’re living with Harry now, aren’t you?” Romilda asked, her eyes glittering triumphantly.
Hermione glanced at Ginny before replying, “That’s right. Harry, Ron and I all share the house.”
“We’d heard how close you all grew during the war,” Brynn said, watching Ginny’s reaction closely. Brynn had been one of the ones to start the rumours of something more scandalizing going on amongst the trio whilst they were on the run. “It’s only natural, of course.”
“Right, because nothing bonds you together like dodging Killing Curses,” Hermione said, raising her eyebrow and causing Ginny to snort.
Brynn’s eyes darted back to Hermione before lowering them, shoulders hunched. “Of course. I didn’t mean to diminish your efforts, Hermione. No offense intended.”
Brynn always liked to be the lead in her little group, and she knew going up against Hermione, war heroine and the Ministry’s darling, wasn’t going to be good for her own popularity. Ginny sat back to enjoy the show, knowing Hermione wouldn’t let her off so easily.
“If you don’t mean to offend, perhaps you should try being less offensive,” Hermione said coolly. “The house where we’re all living belonged to Harry’s godfather, who also lost his life during the war.”
“Oh, poor Harry,” Romilda said, simpering.
Brynn pursed her lips. “You all lost so much. I suppose that’s why so many were surprised that you invited a Death Eater to your party.”
“I told you that’s what people were wondering,” Luna said, her eyes still closed. “But what they really want to know is why they weren’t there. Of course, I don’t know why people who don’t have Order of Merlin medals think they should’ve been invited, anyway.”
Brynn shot Luna a nasty glare.
“Actually, we had the party to celebrate the fact we’re all ready to move on. It’s time for everyone to let go. We all know there are those who fought on the side of the light that are now trying to take advantage. In turn, there are those who supported the Dark that are trying to turn their lives around. Personally, I know two estranged sisters from opposite sides who are trying to forge a new relationship after all the loss,” Hermione said.
“Of course, there were also those who merely sat on the sidelines and watched and waited while others bore the brunt of making a change. I suspect they’re the ones who are now attempting to bloody up the Death Eaters. They feel the need to prove which side they were actually on now that it’s nice and safe to do so,” Ginny said, staring directly at Brynn, who flushed deeply.
Romilda, another who had tried to stay out of the way during the war, wasn’t as astute and the comment apparently flew right over her head. “I wish there had been more pictures of the party. I only saw the few that were taken at the Ministry,” she said, pouting slightly.
“Harry’s wards wouldn’t allow them inside. It was a private affair,” Ginny said haughtily. There had been a handful of reporters stationed at the Ministry who’d snapped a few pictures of some of the employees who had received the coveted invitations, but otherwise there had been little coverage.
“I hope you feel it was successful,” Brynn said tightly. “Hermione, we have rounds in half an hour.”
She left with her posse following behind her. Romilda kept looking back longingly as if she’d have rather stayed in the compartment.
“Well, that was pleasant,” Siobhan said flippantly.
“Is your compartment always this exciting?” Padma asked, moving back to lean against the compartment door. “I think I’ve been sitting in the wrong place all these years.”
“I suppose we can’t really criticize them for not getting involved. Loads of people tried to keep their heads down for their own safety,” Hermione said, sighing.
“I can,” Ginny said bitterly.
“But it’s like you said — those who are committing the violence now are the ones who didn’t feel they did enough during the war. The more you make them feel that way, the more they’re going to try and prove themselves,” Hermione said, her eyes filled with despair.
“I can’t help how I feel, Hermione,” Ginny replied, knowing Hermione had a point, but unable to simply turn her feelings off.
“Oh, this conversation is way too heavy for me. Let’s talk Quidditch,” Demelza said, her gaze flicking between Ginny and Hermione. “The open try-outs are scheduled for the week we’re on Easter hols. Any interest?”
Ginny dragged her thoughts away from Brynn and stared at Demelza, considering. She’d kept her plans quiet, only sharing them with Harry until this point. Perhaps it was time to fully commit if the goal was moving on.
“A lot of interest,” she said, breathing deeply. “I’ll need to train hard until then. Will you help me?”
“Of course, I’ll help you,” Demelza said excitedly. “We can use the Room of Requirement until the weather gets better. I bet it can accommodate loads of things for practice.”
“You’re right,” Ginny said, feeling a little stunned. Why had they never thought to use it for Quidditch practices before?
“Are you really, Ginny? Good for you,” Siobhan said, gushing.
“What does open try-outs mean, exactly?” Parvati asked.
“It means the whole league will be there watching potential recruits. If they like you, they’ll contact you for a private try-out,” Ginny said. “I’m hoping for the Harpies, but honestly, I’d play for any of them — except maybe the Cannons. Don’t tell Ron I said that.”
“You’re a fantastic flyer, Ginny. I bet you’ll be selected,” Liz said.
“When does training camp begin?” Siobhan asked eagerly.
“I have to be selected first,” Ginny said, laughing,” but it should be over the summer.”
“What about your NEWTs?” Hermione asked, her eyes wide.
Ginny took a deep breath. This was much the same reaction she was expecting from her mum, so she’d best get her answers straight. “I can still take my NEWTs even if I make a team — I just won’t actually need them.”
Hermione’s face fell, her lips pinching. “Oh, but Ginny, after all that work—”
“I’ve put in just as much work honing my Quidditch skills, and this is what I want, Hermione. I realize you have different goals, but that doesn’t lessen mine in any way,” Ginny said, interrupting before Hermione could hit her stride. That’s what she’d have to do with her mum, too.
“I know that, but… after the war, we can all make a difference,” Hermione said, pleading.
Ginny fired up at once, picturing her mum’s face saying the exact same words. “And who says I won’t be? My brother didn’t fight and die in a war so that I’d have to give up my dreams for someone else’s priorities.”
Hermione reared back, stung, “I didn’t mean—”
“Yes, you did, but don’t worry about it. I’m certain I’m going to get the same attitude from my mum. It won’t make a difference, though. Harry supports me, and I know Fred would’ve, too.”
“I need some air,” Ginny said, standing up quickly and leaving her stunned friends staring wide-eyed at one another.
She brushed past the Patil twins and left the compartment, breathing deeply. She strode purposefully down the train’s corridor, ignoring greeting calls along the way. Marks were very important to Hermione, and she’d never understood Quidditch. It wasn’t really Hermione whom she was angry with, anyway.
It was her mum.
During the holidays, Ginny had chaffed under Molly’s renewed overprotectiveness. She’d felt stifled and put-upon at every moment, her mum needing to know where she was even when she was in the same house. The fact her parents seemed to think she needed a chaperone when she visited Grimmauld Place while Hermione actually lived there after returning from Australia drove her mad. She knew her mum had fussed at Ron about it, but she still felt harassed. To top it off, she knew her mum expected her to return home after she left Hogwarts and take a job at the Ministry like a good little girl.
Ginny didn’t plan on doing either of those things. She was a decent student, and had good marks in most of her subjects. She knew Bill was hoping she’d follow his career choice even though she’d never taken Arithmancy. Like Hermione, some of her family would think she was throwing her education away.
Perhaps she was, but did that make her dreams any less important? The Ministry had plenty of Weasley representation with Dad, Percy and Ron. There was nothing there that called to her the way Quidditch did.
Lost in her own thoughts, she hadn’t realized where she was until she’d bumped into someone in front of the toilets.
“Fancy meeting you here, Weasley,” Tim Travers said, his upper lip curling with dislike. She hadn’t been this close to him since he’d been in charge of one of her detentions last year.
Taking quick note of her surroundings, she was dismayed to realize they were quite alone. She’d purposely selected this bathroom at the end of the train since it was easier to find a vacant stall, but now she felt foolish for not remaining vigilant. Surreptitiously, she began reaching around to her back pocket for her wand, but Tim grabbed her arm, holding tightly before she’d reached it. He clutched her other wrist and held her in place, making it impossible for her to grasp it.
“What do you want, Tim?” she asked, struggling to pull her arms free and keep her voice steady. It wouldn’t do to let him see any sign of weakness. “Let go of me,” she shouted, hoping someone would hear her and come to investigate.
“I will, I will. Don’t get your knickers in a twist,” Tim said lazily, his eyes roving over her in a slow, lecherous stare that made Ginny’s skin crawl. “I heard you invited a good friend of mine to a party on New Year’s. I also heard that Potter made a deal with him to get his father out of Azkaban. I thought maybe if you asked him, Potter might be willing to do something for me.”
“Fat chance,” Ginny snarled.
Tim slammed her up against the wall, causing her to see spots as her head connected. She bit her lip in the process, hard enough to split it open. He leaned against her as she struggled to get free, and blew at some stray locks of hair next to her ear. Heart hammering, she struggled to keep her face away from his.
“Play nice, Weasley. I’m not going to hurt you, I just want to have a discussion with your boyfriend,” he said, still uncomfortably close to her ear.
Ginny continued trying to free her arms to no avail. She didn’t grow up with six older brothers and learn nothing about duelling without a wand, however. Feigning defeat, she let the tension leave her body.
Tim, sensing her acquiesce, released his hold just enough for her to rear back, raise her knee, and slam it into his soft, private area.
Tim groaned, slumping to the ground. “You bitch,” he moaned through clenched teeth.
“What’s going on?” Dean asked, coming out of his compartment with Andrew on his heels. “We heard you shout.” His eyes widened at the scene in front of him.
“What did you do to him?” Andrew asked, watching Tim curl into a little ball on the ground. “Never mind, it looks obvious now. What did he do to you? Are you all right?”
Ginny rubbed her wrist which had reddened where Tim and held it. “He was under the mistaken impression that I could be coerced into cooperation,” she spat.
“Idiot,” Dean said, reaching out and putting his arm around her to steer her past the crumpled Travers. “Come on, let’s get you back to your compartment.”
Ginny pulled away, not wanting to be touched. “Thanks, but I don’t need your assistance. I still need to use the loo.” With that, she stepped over Travers and into the toilet, locking the door firmly behind her, and letting out a shaky breath. She stared at her dishevelled appearance in the mirror, and wiped the small bit of blood from her lip. She took a few minutes to steady her breathing and let her heart rate slow. She suspected Dean and Andrew would still be waiting when she’d finished, but she was keeping her wand at the ready, nonetheless. While rattled by the encounter, she also felt a degree of vindication. She’d stood up for herself, and hadn’t allowed Travers to get the upper hand. Last year, the Carrows and their minions had all the power, and the students were mostly powerless to defend themselves. It was no longer the case, and she was determined never to let anyone feel they had the upper hand again.
The cubicles surrounding Harry’s were fairly quiet on this early morning. He could hear Proudfoot grunting over his morning brew, and papers shuffling from Instructor Pierce’s desk, but otherwise, all was still. The distant sound of the lift clanged as other early birds arrived to start their day. Harry had been back to work for several days, but he was still confined to desk duty, and he found it grating.
There had been few leads on the murder of Agnes Heatherton in Knockturn Alley, and the case had gone cold. The increase in attacks on pure-bloods, particularly those with connections to Voldemort — however slim — had been on the rise. Theo Nott was coming in later that day for an interview. He’d been released from St. Mungo’s, but had resisted visiting the Ministry. He’d finally conceded after another attack had left a witch comatose. Something had gone wrong with a spell, and she’d yet to regain consciousness. The Healers had expressed doubt that she ever would.
Ginny had told him about her run-in with Tim Travers on the train. He knew she’d downplayed it in the telling, but since she wasn’t hurt, Harry hadn’t given in to his desire to Apparate to Hogwarts and choke the living daylights out of Travers. Barely. He’d stomped around the house in a towering temper until Ron nicked his walking stick and hit him on the bum with it. When he’d explained why he was so angry, it was his turn to stop Ron from Apparating to the castle in a rage. It was only the threat of McGonagall banning him so that he wouldn’t be able to see Hermione that held him back.
Then, to top it off, Ginny became hacked off with for thinking she needed his help in dealing with a troublesome classmate, which wasn’t the point, at all.
He knew she could take care of herself and wouldn’t appreciate his stepping in, but he hated the thought of anyone hurting her to get to him. He was beginning to think his promise not to be overprotective of her might be impossibly hard to keep — it wasn’t in his nature. Ginny knew this, but she also really resented the implication she couldn’t take care of herself. And she had done just that. He kept having to remind himself of that. Everyone kept telling him that relationships needed work. He supposed this was one of the things they’d have to work on.
He didn’t know what favour it was Travers wanted, but he suspected it had something to do with the hostility toward former Death Eaters. His father was in Azkaban. Perhaps he wanted to strike a deal like the Malfoys.
Harry rubbed his eyes tiredly. The Dementors were still being held in the Forest of Dean, and no brilliant ideas on what to do with them had surfaced. The task force could only work in short shifts because it was so draining, leaving the rest of the department woefully understaffed. The Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures continued to make demands about needing further study of the wretched creatures.
Harry was disgusted by how slow the wheels of government turned.
Sighing, he pulled a stack from his mail tray and an envelope on top caught his attention. It was a Muggle-style envelope with messy handwriting and a postage stamp. Harry picked it up and stared blankly at his name scrawled onto the front, along with a Hogwarts address that his relatives had used when sending him useless Christmas gifts.
He’d never received any other kind of post from them. The Hogwarts address was scratched out, and his name along with ‘Ministry of Magic’ had been written on the front with a quill. Curious, Harry opened the envelope and warily pulled out a single sheet of lined paper.
It was good to see you over Christmas. You said you live in London. I’m at my last year at Smeltings, which is also in London. I’m generally at a pub called ‘The Dirty Bishop’ on Friday nights if you’re ever looking for something to do. Pints are cheap.
Harry sat still, staring at the short note for several moments, his finger running over his lower lip pensively. Was his bully of a cousin actually asking him to join him for a pint? Why? What was he up to? When they were kids, he’d often offered for Harry to tag along with his little gang on some sort of activity, usually only so they’d have a scapegoat to blame, or to just beat him up. Harry hadn’t fallen for that sort of thing in ages, and Dudley knew Harry was very capable of using magic these days. So, what gives?
Harry’s brow crinkled as he reread Dudley’s short note. Putting it aside but not throwing it away, he continued going through his mail tray. Before he’d made it to the bottom, a voice boomed through the department, “Potter, come with me.”
Harry looked up to see Gawain Robards beckoning him as he strode from the department, confident Harry would follow. Harry sighed and rose from his chair. He didn’t think he’d done anything to warrant the attention of his boss, unless it was more reprimands for not following procedure the last time he’d been up with the Dementors. After Owen had dressed him down, he’d had to sit through another lecture from Robards on Harry’s first day back at work.
He followed Robards into the lift and they rode up to the Minister’s office. They found Owen and Hestia Jones in the waiting area, both looking rather harassed. Robards walked over to Owen, and they began conferring in hushed voices, leaving Harry with Hestia.
“How are you, Harry?” the witch asked warmly, kindness emanating from her dark eyes. Harry knew she’d taken the position of Undersecretary to the Minister, a position once held by Dolores Umbridge. Although he didn’t know Hestia very well, he knew she was nothing like her predecessor.
“I’m good, thanks. You?” Harry asked.
“It’s busy, but I like busy,” she said, laughing. “It’s certainly very different from what I was doing last year.”
Hestia had been one of the two members of the Order of the Phoenix assigned to protecting Harry’s relatives after they’d gone into hiding.
“I think that’s true for all of us,” Harry said ruefully, wondering how badly the Dursleys had treated her.
“I left a letter in your mail tray from your cousin. He only had your school address,” Hestia said, tilting her head to the side. She actually sounded as if she cared for Dudley, which Harry found surprising.
“Yeah, I received it this morning. He asked me to meet him for a pint,” Harry said, leaving out any of his reservations. He thought that perhaps Hestia suspected, anyway, because she laid a hand on Harry’s forearm, squeezing gently.
“You should go,” she said softly. “Somewhere away from your aunt and uncle, and just get to know your cousin.”
Harry wasn’t entirely certain he wanted to know anything more about his cousin, but he was saved having to comment when the Minister’s door opened, and Kingsley ushered them all inside. The office was already occupied with several members from the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures, and Harry’s stomach dropped slightly when he recognized Amos Diggory. He hadn’t been face-to-face with the man since after the third task, and somehow, seeing him here made Harry suddenly feel very young.
Diggory looked much older than the last time Harry had seen him. His hair was liberally streaked with grey and receding alarmingly on both sides, leaving a salt and pepper streak down the centre. The part of his face showing above his scraggly beard was lined more heavily than Harry remembered, and he sat slumped with rounded shoulders. His cry upon finding his son’s corpse echoed unrelentingly in Harry’s head.
Amos’ eyes met Harry’s briefly before he looked away. Harry wondered if he was remembering that same fateful night several years ago. He supposed the man had spent a lot of time wishing it had been Cedric who’d survived rather than Harry. Harry couldn’t blame him. Sometimes he’d wished the same thing.
There were a lot of things he wished he’d done differently, but as Dumbledore had once told him, It doesn’t do to dwell on dreams and forget to live.
Harry sat down with the others, keeping his eyes firmly on the carpet, although the prickling feeling on the back of his neck told him Amos was watching him. He shifted uncomfortably. His arms and legs suddenly felt too long for his body, and he struggled to work out what to do with them.
“Thank you all for coming,” Kingsley said, directing everyone’s attention. “Amos is with us to discuss the current Dementor situation.”
As the Minister reviewed events thus far, Harry’s mind drifted toward his own first few encounters with the Dementors whilst at Hogwarts. They’d once caused him to fall from his broom. He’d played against Cedric in that match…
“There is growing evidence that the juvenile Dementors have more intelligence than previous generations. I believe they can be bargained with, perhaps we can even arrange terms to send the new generation back as guards in Azkaban. That would relieve the containment issue, but we need closer observation to determine if this is feasible. Thus far, we’ve received nothing but opposition from the Auror Office,” Amos said heatedly, drawing Harry’s attention back to the meeting.
“And as we’ve repeatedly informed you, we cannot protect you if you insist on getting closer. There are too many of them as it is,” Gawain said, his voice calm and cool despite the grim set of his mouth.
“I haven’t seen more intelligence from them — if anything it’s more determination to get away,” Owen said, scowling.
“There has been a steadily increasing number of incidents between the Dementors and the Aurors,” Hestia said, speaking up before things could get heated between the two department heads. “I fear these occurrences will only grow in severity if other arrangements aren’t made quickly. So far, we’ve been lucky not to lose anyone.”
“We will lose someone if we’re also expected to protect a bunch of humans who want an up close and personal experience with the bloody things,” Owen said, spitting.
The members of the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical creatures all began speaking at once, drowning each other out as they disputed Owen’s claims. Amos made a downward motion with his hand to silence them before turning to Kingsley.
“If it’s possible to reason with these creatures and arrange a new agreement to return them to Azkaban, there will no longer be a need to patrol the Forest of Dean,” he said importantly.
“Putting the Dementors back into Azkaban is not an option,” Kingsley said, his deep voice brooking no argument. “I believe it was a mistake in the first place, and I won’t be a part of repeating past errors.”
Amos’s face coloured, but he schooled his features before making another attempt. “Our data indicates an increased level of intelligence in these juveniles.”
“Harry, the last group you brought in were all juveniles. In your opinion, did they seem more intelligent?” Robards asked, his cool eyes pinning Harry.
Harry wouldn’t forget that day in a hurry, but he took a moment to gather his thoughts before answering. Amos Diggory’s hostile glare was unnerving him. “I wouldn’t say more intelligent, but definitely more dangerous. The juveniles attempt escape far more often than the adults.”
“Yes, but you’ve always had trouble staying on your broom around them, haven’t you?” Amos asked snidely.
“I have had difficulties with them in the past, yes, so I think I’m a good judge of the differences,” Harry replied coolly.
“You always seem to have a closer insight to anything Dark, don’t you, Mr. Potter?” Amos asked, narrowing his eyes.
“Amos!” Hestia repeated.
Harry grit his teeth. He knew Rita’s article would begin influencing people’s opinions sooner rather than later. He released his breath through his nose, clenching his fists. Putting these creatures in Azkaban was folly. They’d abandon their posts as soon as another gave them an option. Didn’t these people ever learn? His mind flashed on the effects they had on Sirius, and he shuddered slightly. Even Hagrid had said they were awful….Hagrid…
Hagrid. Something was tickling the edge of Harry’s consciousness.
“What about the giants?” he asked suddenly, his eyes widening as he recalled the conversation he’d had with Hagrid at Slughorn’s Christmas party.
“Pardon?” Amos asked unpleasantly.
Harry’s heart thudded with excitement, and he leaned forward in his chair, forgetting his unease. “The giants. They’re not affected by the Dementors like humans are. I remember a conversation I had with someone about it. This person told me Dementors affected his human side, but his giant blood is more resilient because of a natural resistance to magic.” Harry didn’t want to use Hagrid’s name, uncertain who still remembered Rita’s long-ago article about Hagrid’s bloodline. Kingsley would certainly know, and that’s all that mattered.
“Yes, we know about giants. What does their resistance have to do with anything? They’re not even in Britain,” Amos said impatiently.
“Perhaps we could enlist the giants to keep the Dementors on their mountain. It would give them a job, yet wouldn’t drain them as it does the Aurors,” Harry said, causing a stunned silence to fall across the room for several moments.
“What do the giants get out of the deal?” Robards asked. “They’re not known for acting out of the goodness of their hearts.”
“I dunno. What do they want?” Harry asked.
All heads turned toward Amos’s people, who suddenly looked trapped. They all shifted uneasily, their eyes darting to one another.
“The giants are dangerous, and we haven’t had a good line of communication since they were driven out of Britain,” Amos said, clearing his throat.
“Hagrid,” the minister said under his breath.
“Pardon?” Amos asked, appearing agitated.
“I know someone who acted as an envoy for Albus Dumbledore before the war. We could enlist his aid in convincing the giants. The Dementors would have targets that aren’t affected, and the giants could compete with one another to be in charge of the operation,” Kingsley said, his enthusiasm growing the more he spoke.
“You can’t encourage violence amongst the giants. The species is already endangered,” a witch who worked with Amos blurted, horrified.
“Isn’t that their culture? Aren’t they doing it anyway? This could slow down their own extinction,” Robards said, cutting across her.
“And what about our initial request to study these juvenile Dementors? That was the point of this meeting,” Amos said, blatantly flustered.
“Our first priority will be making an alliance with the giants. If they accept, you can study two groups while out there,” Kingsley replied.
Amos paled slightly.
“And how many Aurors will be expected to protect them whilst they do that?” Robards asked, still frowning.
“They won’t need Aurors. They can hire guards for their own protection within their department,” Kingsley said.
“If they’re so certain they can reason with the Dementors, they can just instruct them not to hurt them,” Owen said, smirking.
“That will be enough, Auror Savage,” Robards said firmly.
Owen pursed his lips, but remained silent. He couldn’t quite control his smug grin, however. In contrast, Amos and his team looked distinctly uncomfortable.
“If we are successful in making an arrangement with the giants, moving the Dementors up to their mountain retreat will be a challenge. Amos, I trust you can map out a route that avoids the Muggle population as much as feasible?” Kingsley asked.
Amos nodded, now looking positively alarmed. His hand shook slightly as he quickly wrote into a leather-bound notebook.
Hestia smiled warmly at Harry as the meeting dispersed. “You take care, Harry, and say hello to Dudley for me if you decide to see him. I enjoyed getting to know him.”
Harry nodded, still perplexed over the idea of anyone finding Dudley enjoyable.
When he returned to his desk, he found a visitor sitting in the chair opposite it awaiting him. Theo Nott’s leg was bouncing in agitation, and his hazel eyes were shuttered and wary. He scowled as Harry approached him.
“After all your insistence that I had to come in, it’s nice of you to finally make an appearance,” he said, sounding unpleasantly like Draco Malfoy.
“Sorry for the delay — it couldn’t be helped. I’d like to take your statement about the night you were attacked,” Harry said, sitting at his desk and reaching for a quill.
Theo rolled his eyes. “As if you people are going to do anything about it.”
“We’re going to try,” Harry said, certain to make eye contact.
“Why don’t you walk me through it? You were in Knockturn Alley…” Harry prompted.
“No, I was in Somerset. I’d been to Knockturn Alley earlier that day, but I’ve been staying in Somerset. On my way home, I stopped at a pub that a few wizards who I know frequent, and I was attacked before I went inside. I didn’t see anyone — I was grabbed from behind, and it was dark, but it was a male voice who repeatedly called me a Death Eater,” Theo said dully, as if he’d repeated these same words several times already.
“Did you recognize the voice?” Harry asked.
“No. And I’m not a Death Eater — not that it seems to matter to anyone,” Theo said, folding his arms across his chest.
Keeping his cool, Harry said calmly, “I never said you were. Why did your assailant think so?”
“How should I know what he was thinking? Bloke’s a nutter. It’s no secret my father was sent to Azkaban for having the mark,” Theo said, his lip curling in contempt.
“He was sent to his Azkaban for the crimes he committed,” Harry corrected.
“Whatever,” Theo said, rolling his eyes. “Am I done?”
“Do you have any enemies? Anyone that you know is bearing a grudge and wants to hurt you?” Harry asked.
“Are you effing kidding me? Other than half the wizarding population, you mean? In case it’s slipped your notice, even being related to a Death Eater is tricky business these days, Potter.”
“And acting like Death Eaters isn’t the solution to the problem. I need you to tell me anything you can remember about your attack, and I’m going to try and help you get justice,” Harry said.
Theo’s eyes flickered to Harry’s warily as if sizing him up. Finally, he said, “As I said, I didn’t see who grabbed me, but… a few days before it happened, this was on my door.”
He pulled a crumpled-up slip of parchment from his pocket and handed it across the desk to Harry. Harry took it and read the words: You’re next, Death Eater. We know where you live.
The note was unsigned.
“And you didn’t see who left it?” Harry asked.
Theo shook his head.
“I’m going to keep it to test for any spell residue,” Harry said. “We can assign a guard to watch your home.”
“I’m staying with Caden Fawley. The protections on the Fawley home are fine. All the attacks have come when people are out in public,” Theo said.
Harry nodded, knowing this was accurate. “I’d suggest not going anywhere alone as a precaution, at least for the time being.”
Theo smiled tightly. “That’s the hitch, isn’t it? No one wants to be seen with anyone who has ties to Death Eaters these days.”
“Then stick with others also caught in the same situation,” Harry said, aware of the inadequacy of his words.
Theo appropriately rolled his eyes. “Yeah. I wonder what people will think when us Death Eaters start hanging around it groups.”
Harry could appreciate the irony, but he wasn’t about to let things slip backwards now. He’d didn’t choose to come back to see it happen all over again. “We didn’t fight a war to still be fighting amongst one another. We’ll put a stop to it,” he said firmly.
“You go on believing that, but sunshine and daises have never been my thing,” Theo said, pulling himself to his feet.
Harry did the same, nodding grimly. “I’ll be in touch. Stay alive.”
“Yeah. You, too,” Theo said. “You’re not going to have an easy time of it seeing as you appear determined to protect a group of people who most assuredly want you dead anyway.”