CT: Chapter Eighteen: Crack & Bang

A new urgency had been brought to the task force with Moody’s death. Suddenly it was not business as usual anymore. Though it had never been fun and games, investigating and attempting to track down Lestrange and Malfoy, their actions had goaded every Auror on the task force, and many who were not, into redoubling their efforts. This desire to capture those responsible for Moody’s death became all the more apparent two days after the duel when a huge assembly of people crowded into the atrium at the Ministry to say goodbye.

Harry and all the Aurors were seated in the first few rows for the funeral. They were also the first to leave. Everyone including Tougas and Dawlish had ignored Kingsley’s demand to take the two days off and were anxious to get back to work. Harry wanted to discuss Bellatrix Lestrange’s words with them. He’d been turning those words over in his head and was sure there was actual meaning behind them that currently escaped him.

Hermione and Ron had come into the Ministry for the funeral and also so she could get some things from her office, affording the opportunity for Dawlish and Tougas to attend their first meeting in a few days.

“We need to make this even more of a priority,” Dawlish said unnecessarily. “Therefore I propose we divvy up the work more evenly. Tougas and I are going to be on guard duty for who knows how long so we’ll have time to look over our files, perhaps come across patterns or hidden information we missed the last ten times we went over everything. We’ll work in conjunction with Briony, who will remain here. If we find anything we’ll let her know and she can pass it on to you.”

Briony, who had been sitting with her head down, looking like she was ready to drop from exhaustion, looked up. She opened and closed her mouth several times before speaking.

“Thank you,” she said finally. It looked like there was a lot more she wanted to say but couldn’t, or wouldn’t.

Dawlish nodded before turning back to the room at large.

“It looks like Hyde will be out of commission for some time so we’ll do our best without her. Kitson, I’d like you to keep up the interviews. Brazill, Schultz and Potter I want you out in the field. We need to go back to all the places we’ve been. Potter, I’d like you to do the aerial work. This means you’ll all have to work at night.”

“OK,” Harry said. He wasn’t sure what Dawlish hoped to find by doing surveillance from the air. It wasn’t like the Death Eaters had a rooftop marquee that gave away their location.

They started that very night. Dawlish told them to take a more thorough look around Leeds, the last and most recent place they’d found anything. When they had been there several days before they had concerned themselves mainly with the building, missing any potential evidence that might be in the surrounding area.

As he flew over the area immediately surrounding the building looking for anything that seemed out of the ordinary, Harry couldn’t help thinking that they were wasting time, him most especially. From so high up in the air the only good he could do them would be to spot a glaring abnormality. Anything on that large a scale would surely have caught the attention of a Muggle and the Aurors would already know about it.

The night was dark and the stars veiled, making his work that much harder. More than once Harry found he was drifting off course. One time he’d gone so far that it took him a full ten minutes to find his way back. Brazill and Schultz were not impressed with this, particularly because their success rate matched Harry’s.

“I really don’t think this was their base of operation. I think they just looked at a map and picked this place at random,” Brazill said as they all prepared to leave at the first appearance of light.

This sentiment was repeated in dozens of locations over the next seven days. By the seventh night Harry, Brazill and Schultz were completely devoid of any hope. They stood around talking for ten minutes before they set to work and when they did it was with less enthusiasm than previous investigations. Harry flew a safe distance above the buildings so as to be out of the light of the streetlamps, thankful it was cloudy again. He flew at a leisurely pace, keeping an eye out for anything that seemed out of place, but he was thinking about what he was going to get Ginny for her rapidly approaching birthday. It had to be something good, he owed her that for having to work so much lately.

It was precisely because of this lack of concentration that he nearly fell off his broom when a loud crack echoed from a short distance away.

Swearing under his breath, Harry righted himself on his Firebolt and took off in the direction of the noise. It could have been nothing, a car backfiring, or it could have been the sound of someone Apparating.

Brazill and Schultz had heard the noise as well. As Harry flew over alleys and streets, he saw them running in the same general direction. He wondered if they knew anything more, but didn’t dare check with them because it might give away their presence

Nearly a minute after the loud crack had roused him, Harry flew over what he thought was yet another dark, empty alley. At the last second, just before he passed over the building that would block the alley from his view, he caught a glimpse of what could have been a Muggle firework, but Harry knew to be wand sparks. He landed on the roof of the building and crept to the edge, wanting to get a closer look.

The alley contained no lights and the persistent cloud cover didn’t help visibility. The tiny beam of light coming from one of the wands revealed only the barest of details: there was more than one person, in fact, Harry could make out three people for sure. He was also confident that he saw a fourth diminutive figure, but the lighting prevented him from confirming his suspicions. He briefly saw a flash of what looked like glass in the wand light as it was handed from one of the four to another. It could have been a phial, or a number of other things, Harry couldn’t be sure. One thing that he was less doubtful of was that this had to be the same four people Hera Crane had spotted.

Feeling ecstatic and triumphant, Harry stepped back from the edge of the roof and mounted his Firebolt to set off in search of Brazill and Schultz. If he was right maybe they could apprehend Lestrange and Malfoy tonight. Harry found them three alleys away. He landed and hastily explained what he saw and seconds later they were hurrying quietly as they could to the important alley.

Harry barely had time to worry that they might already be too late when they were peering around the corner of a brick building. The four figures stood near the end of the dark alley, but they were much easier to see from the ground.

“We’ll stun on three,” Schultz said quietly. She raised three fingers and lowered each in turn. When the last was down she pointed in the alley and mouthed ‘now.’

“Stupefy,” they said quietly, intent on not making their presence known until absolutely necessary.

Harry watched in shock as all three stunners bounced off an invisible shield. They had to duck around the corner to avoid the spells.

Preparing for a second attempt, Harry looked around the corner. Two of the people had their hoods up, but the other two were easily identified as Malfoy and Lestrange. They grabbed the larger of the two figures and Disapparated. The smaller figure was trying to follow suit but stumbled a few times.

“Don’t let ‘em get away,” Brazill cried. She and Schultz were already casting Anti-Disapparition jinxes, which seemed to be traveling down the alley at one-tenth the speed they should have. The cloaked figure squirmed more anxiously. Only at the very last second did they twist and disappear.

Harry took a few hurried steps down the alley as though it would answer the question he had. He was sure that he had seen a swatch of pink under that cloak. There was only one person who whose wardrobe consisted of only pink: Umbridge.

Harry said nothing, but Brazill and Schultz were cursing over yet another escape.

“What is it?” Brazill asked, meeting Harry halfway down the alley. He told her what he was thinking, along with the information that Umbridge had been known to deal with Malfoy.

“Why would she be meeting with Death Eaters?” Schultz asked. Brazill remained quiet but she looked like she thought Harry had a point.

Harry said nothing but he had a thought. It seemed impossible to think that Umbridge could hold onto a grudge that long, but she had been the one to say Harry would never be an Auror. Could this have anything to do with that? If they were pursuing leads that connected him to Malfoy and Lestrange, Umbridge would be one of them. She was still high up in the Ministry, could she be laying hands on the task force’s reports and relaying them directly to the two senior Death Eaters?

“It’s a good question,” Brazill said, her jaw fixed. Harry thought there wasn’t anyone who could have possibly hated Umbridge more than he did, but he’d apparently been wrong. She clearly didn’t like the woman either. Harry felt an immediately surge of affection for her. “I wouldn’t doubt that she’s helping them. The pure-bloods have to stick together, you know.”

“I’d be careful, Pam,” Schultz advised, a warning in her voice. “Umbridge still has a lot of clout. She’d have Phoebe from you in a minute, you know.”

“Let her try,” Brazill said sharply.

“Phoebe?” Harry asked, trying to understand Brazill’s sudden sense of anger.

“My daughter,” Brazill said through clenched teeth. He still didn’t understand why Umbridge would want Brazill’s daughter, but he thought he could see why she didn’t like the woman.

“C’mon, let’s get out of here,” Schultz said. “I seriously doubt they’re coming back.”

The office was completely deserted at the late hour. Not even Briony was there. Schultz led them into the briefing room, pulling out parchment and slamming it down on the table.

“Let’s get this report written. I’ll drop it off with Dawlish and Tougas before we go home.” Schultz said.

“Why don’t you just go home, Rania?” Brazill asked. “We’ll finish up here.”

Schultz didn’t look as grateful as she should have. She agreed to go, but kept looking back at them.

“What was all that about?” Harry asked as soon as the door had closed behind Schultz.

“She doesn’t think my dislike of Delores Umbridge is healthy,” Brazill answered, not looking up from the parchment.

“Umbridge is toxic.”

Harry leaned back in his chair for a minute. He’d grown to like Schultz, but he wondered if he might need to reconsider. Anyone who had sympathy for Umbridge was probably not someone he would have much in common with after all.

As they worked, Harry once again found his thoughts returning to the evening’s events. He began to consider whether Schultz might be their leak. He had to discount that straightaway. If he was going to question Schultz’s loyalty based on her connection to that evil woman, then he would have to consider Briony too and he knew she had nothing to do with her aunt.

“Hey, Potter, where are you?” Brazill asked wearily.

“Huh?” Harry looked up. He saw that she was staring at his report. He’d stopped writing and was doodling on the corner of his parchment. He scratched that out. “Sorry. I was wondering why Schultz is championing Umbridge, and why she jumped down your throat tonight when you have the more sensible attitude.”

Brazill sighed and put her quill down.

“Schultz’s attitude has less to do with Umbridge than it seems. She thinks that I have a personal vendetta against that woman. In a way I guess I do.”

Harry said nothing. Brazill looked like she was steeling herself to say something important but difficult. He wanted to tell her to forget it, remembering how hard Ginny’s recollection had been, but another part of him wanted to know.

“I’m going to tell you this in the interest of full-disclosure. I don’t want you to think I’m hiding anything, but I’d prefer if you don’t tell anyone, including your girl, all right?”

“Of course,” Harry said at once.

“Umbridge is responsible for my husband’s death,” Brazill stated coldly. “Thanks to her continued association with Malfoy, the Death Eaters got information they shouldn’t have. They captured Cullum — that’s my husband — and killed him.”

“If that’s the case why hasn’t she been arrested?” Harry asked, straining his brain to recall any mention of this in the reports he’d read.

“Not enough evidence. Because of her position in the Ministry I was strongly cautioned not to push it. Some think it’s a crackpot theory.”

“I’m sorry.” He meant it mainly as an apology for her loss, but Harry could tell accepted it for both statements. “How long ago did this happen?”

“It’ll be five years in September. If only that evil bitch could have kept her mouth shut he would still be alive.” She spat the words out. “But she’s not happy with that, Potter, oh no. When I started questioning her, she played dirty. She started making a fuss about Phoebe, about how that poor little girl needed a proper home! Her official line was that I worked too much to properly take care of her, but I know better.

“Cullum was pure-blood, I am Muggle-born. She never said as much, but I know that’s the crux of her problem. She can’t stand half-breeds, right? Apparently that extends to people as well.”

Harry wanted to say something, to offer words of comfort, but none came to him. Instead he felt an overwhelming anger and desire to take down Umbridge for what she had been getting away with. He was sure she was the one meeting with Malfoy and Lestrange — probably to reveal Hermione’s location, or other illegally obtained information.

“We need to question her first thing,” he said. “If she’s been meeting with Death eaters she’s probably the leak. We can’t let her get away with it anymore. You can stay away, that way she can’t do anything to your daughter.”

Brazill smiled weakly and squeezed Harry’s hand.

“She’s still a high ranking official so we’ve got to do our homework. I swear though. If she is still meeting with Death Eaters, we’ll find out and then we’ll have her. C’mon, let’s get this done.”

They worked for a few more minutes before Harry, who had been casting more glances at Brazill than was usual, spoke up.

“You’ve got a ten year old daughter?”

“Yes, why?”

“Nothing. I just . . . you’d have been my age.” The thought had been turning over in his head, for a few minutes. The idea of having kids now was incredible. “That was brave of you.”

“Yeah, well . . . “ Brazill smiled, a glint in her eyes. “Sometimes plans don’t always work out the way we want them to.”

She wouldn’t explain that mysterious grin, insisting they needed to finish their report if they had any chance of leaving that day. It was already daybreak.

“We’re almost done here. Why don’t you go and I’ll run this over to Dawlish,” he said. Upon discovering that Harry was serious, Brazill fixed him with such an unabashed appreciation that Harry had to look away. He kept his head down as she called out her goodbye, glad that he was able to cheer her up.

It was fully light out and sweltering when Harry made his way into the flat. He expected Ginny to be up, preparing breakfast, or unpacking one of the boxes she’d brought over in the last few days. What he did not expect was to see her sitting on the sofa with Dudley, sipping tea and chatting amiably.

“What’s going on here?” he asked, allowing the door to slam shut. Dudley immediately looked down, his teacup a little unsteady in his hand.

“You’re a little later than I thought,” Ginny said, getting up immediately and coming over. She gave him a quick kiss. Dudley kept his head down, but his attempts at covert glances were all too obvious. Harry thought he saw a smirk play across his cousin’s face, but a second later it was gone.

“Well, I’ve got some packing to do, tomorrow being moving day and all.” Dudley drained his tea and stood up. “I’ll see you two later.”

“Seven sharp,” Ginny stated happily.

“What’s at seven?” Harry asked, the minute Dudley’s door closed.

“Dinner,” she replied, picking up the cups and taking them to the sink. “I figured since it is his last night here, maybe the three of us could have one last meal. What do you think?”

Harry scratched the back of his head, contemplating her words. It hadn’t seemed like that long ago that she was all but demanding Dudley get out Now she wanted to have a farewell dinner? Something definitely didn’t tally.

“What was that little scene about?” he asked, choosing not to answer her just yet.” “I thought you couldn’t stand the very sight of Dudley, but I find you two having an intimate conversation.”

“It was hardly intimate,” Ginny said shortly. “But you’re right. It was the weirdest thing. I was up early — because of the – heat, when he strolled in, swaggered is more the term, really. I thought for sure he was going to start up with something so I grabbed my wand, but I didn’t need it. He apologized for what he’s been like lately. I know what you’re thinking —“ she said quickly when Harry started to interrupt “- but I’m sure it was genuine. Then we got to talking about you, about what he wants to do with his life, how he’s liked living here, but he’s happy to move out to give us the place.”

“What a load of rubbish.” Harry rolled his eyes. “Did he jinx you, Gin? Maybe slip something into your tea when you weren’t looking?”

“He wouldn’t dare try to pull that with me.” She was wearing her annoyed expression again.

“I hope you’re right, Gin. I want to believe he’s changed too, but certain things haven’t . . . I dunno if we can fully trust him yet.”

“We’ve only got another twenty-four hours and then he’s gone. I’m not going to rush off and start telling him intimate secrets, but I think I’m capable of handling him, Harry. You’re here almost all that time anyway — assuming you don’t have to work again.”

Harry was immensely thankful he’d called on Dobby to help with the clean up of Grimmauld Place. Dobby had brought Winky with him. They’d only been at it a week and had almost the entire house spotless. Dobby and Winky’s service was well worth the five galleons Harry had forced them into taking (he had to work hard at this, wanting to avoid the wrath of Hermione). Their hard work allowed for Dudley to move days, if not weeks, earlier than he would have otherwise. Like he had said to Ginny, Harry wanted to believe that his cousin had changed but he was having a hard time believing it when Dudley was acting the way he was toward Ginny. No, it was best some distance be placed between the three of them.

“Yeah, I guess dinner’s fine,” he said at last. One more meal with Dudley wouldn’t kill any of them.

Ginny looked relieved.

“Good. He’s probably still going to go out again right after anyway, which is perfect because I wanted some time alone with you. We have to talk.”

“We can talk now.”

Ginny considered this for a minute but finally shook her head.

“You look like you’re about to fall asleep. This is going to be a long conversation. Rest now and we’ll talk later.”

It was hard to get used to sleeping during the day no matter how tired he was. This change in sleeping routine combined with record high temperatures, the abundance of noise in the street and the prospect of some unknown important conversation with Ginny, it made it unsurprising that he got only the very lightest of sleep. This was why he heard the fire come to life in the sitting room, Ginny’s murmured greeting and then her hurried footsteps.

“Harry,” she called quickly. “You have a Floo call.”

“What time is it?” he asked groggily, more from lack of sleep then being suddenly awoken. He was already sitting up.

“Nearly noon.”

It had barely been three hours since he’d come in and tried to get some sleep, but Harry found himself face to face with an exhausted and panic-stricken Briony.

“What is it?” he asked, shaking off the remainder of sleep at once, and immediately beginning to worry about the safety of the Burrow inhabitants.

“I — I think we’ve really got them this time, Malfoy and Lestrange, I mean.”

“What?” he asked, moving closer to the fire. “Where? When? How?”

“We don’t have them in custody, but we’ve just got a tip but this one looks to be the from the same source as the one that led to the discovery in Leeds. I was just told to get everyone back here as soon as possible. Minister Shacklebolt is on his way to relieve Dawlish and Tougas.”

“Right. I’ll be there soon.”

The sense of excitement that was starting to build at the idea that they would finally capture Malfoy and Lestrange was dashed somewhat when Harry turned his back to the fire and saw the disappointed expression on Ginny’s face. When she saw him looking at her she replaced it with a smile, but it was too late.

“I’m so sorry,” he said, going over and giving her a kiss on the forehead. “I know this ruins your plans.”

“Don’t worry about it, just go and get those two off the streets. Maybe it won’t take as long as you think. We’ve still got seven hours.”

If this only took seven hours it would be a miracle. Harry started to tell Ginny that, but judging from her expression she already knew.

“I’ll try to be back on time,” he said, knowing he had to make every effort.

Ginny simply nodded, turning her back to him. Harry put his hand on her shoulder for a second and she tilted her head back to look at him. She was still looking disappointed, but resigned. She turned to face him and ran a hand through his hair.

“You’d better get going.”

Within a minute Harry was on the verge of leaving but he had to say one more thing to Ginny.

“I’d still be careful of Dudley if I were you. I’ve just got this feeling that he’s not being as honest as I thought he was.”

“Don’t worry, I can handle him,” she replied in an odd tone. Was it anger or annoyance?

With the prospect of apprehending Malfoy and Lestrange on the horizon, Harry should have been happier than he’d been in months. Instead he was dismayed by Ginny’s reaction. While he could understand her disappointment, given how little time they’d had together lately, she knew this was not something that he planned on. Was her expression just that of exasperation at always getting interrupted, or was there something more?

Harry had to push all such thoughts away as he stepped off the lifts and onto his floor. The level of activity was higher than he’d ever seen it. People were walking or running around with bright smiles. He had to duck at least two-dozen memos as they rushed into the lift. The atmosphere was such that Harry expected to hear they had already apprehended Malfoy and Lestrange.

“I guess word has spread,” Brazill said, coming up behind Harry. She smiled, a little uncomfortably. In the light of day the history she had divulged made their interactions more awkward. For his part, Harry didn’t want to say or do anything that would betray her confidence in him. Perhaps she was having doubts about telling him in the first place. She certainly seemed to be watching him a lot more than was normal as they made their way down the corridor.

Briony was sitting in the briefing room wit Tougas. He looked the more troubled of the two and kept a close eye on her as she talked. Whatever she was saying appeared not to be to his liking.

“This is good news,” Dawlish said moments later, causing the excited murmurings to die down. “But we can’t get ahead of ourselves. We have a tip, not our suspects. Malfoy and Lestrange have slipped by us before, as recently as last night. We need to make sure they can’t do it again. As I understand it they are to take up residence as of tomorrow, are they not?” He looked at Briony for confirmation.

“Yes, that is my understanding,” she replied.

Tougas’s frown deepened.

“I think we’re finally getting the upper hand here.” Dawlish stated, ignoring Tougas. “Not only have we been forewarned, our suspects are going to take up residence in a building we are already familiar with, a place we just recently discovered has been a Death Eater stronghold for years.”

Dawlish tapped his wand on their rarely used projector and an all-too-familiar picture appeared: Yaxley’s hiding place in Manchester, the building they’d been watching last January.

“What’s that?” Schultz asked.

“Yaxley’s last hidey-hole,” Tougas said, still watching Briony with what Harry considered too much concern given their current subject matter.

“Manchester?” Brazill looked at Harry for confirmation. “It makes sense why they were there last night then. Probably setting up their security spells.”

“I don’t like this,” Tougas said loudly. “I don’t trust this information.”

Everyone in the room turned to look at him exasperatedly, none more so than Briony.

“What’s your problem now?” she asked. “I’ve told you already it came in anonymously, but is from the same source that sent in the information about Leeds.”

“Who could know their movements that well that they’d be able to give us advanced information?” Tougas challenged.

“Narcissa Malfoy,” Harry said at once. He’d been wondering the same thing. A part of him still harbored the idea that Mrs. Malfoy knew exactly what was going on with her husband and her sister.

This suggestion raised debate in the room. Half the people were willing to entertain Harry’s idea while the others were not. Eventually Tougas was able to quiet everyone down.

“This information reeks of a setup. We don’t know where it came from. For all we know it could be coming right from Malfoy and Lestrange and they’re luring us there to pick us off one by one.”

The already quiet group stilled even more as though everyone had been stunned. Briony was the one who broke the silence.

“I may not be an Auror, Bredan, but I think I can be trusted to know when something is legitimate or not.” She didn’t look at him as she talked, which might have been a good thing. Right about then it wasn’t a wholly impossible prospect that she could scorch with the ferocity of her gaze.

“We have to treat it as relevant anyway,” Dawlish interrupted. “We will be there tomorrow morning. Today we will prepare; I don’t want any surprises.”

Floor plans for that building had been obtained. Harry and Tougas’s reports were hauled out and reread. Theories were debated on how best to attack. The benefits versus drawbacks of reinforcements were hashed out — they would have a dozen Aurors on standby, but only use them if needed. Hours after they had arrived, Dawlish waved his wand and erected a scale replica of the Manchester waterfront.

“We can strategize with this. Let me get all the enchantments they are likely to use in place and then we can plan our attack.”

“While you do that we’re going to break for food,” Brazill said. “I’m starving.”

Harry checked his watch as they were leaving and swore loudly.

“What?” Brazill asked.

“Nothing. It’s just . . . its seven-thirty. Ginny had this dinner thing planned because my cousin — never mind. It’s just that I told her I’d be back half an hour ago. I’ve got to go Floo her.”

Harry hurried to the small fireplace the Auror department kept for Floo connections. He was already thinking of what he was going to say and what Ginny’s likely reaction would be when she learned he wasn’t going to be home again.

“You’re late,” she said cheerfully. Her face fell when she looked closer at him. “I guess you’re not going to make it, huh?”

“No. We’ve still got loads of work to do. I’m really, really sorry. I’ll make it up to you, Gin.” He’d been saying that a lot lately and thus was not wholly surprised at her next question.

“When?” She moved a little closer to the fire her expression changing from annoyance to embarassment. “Never mind that question. Just do what you need to do and get back as soon as you can. Wake me if I’m asleep, OK?”

“I will, I’ll be back as soon as I can.”

Harry leaned against the wall for a minute after breaking the connection with Ginny. His head was spinning, not only from the sensation of Floo travel, but also with thoughts of Ginny and what was going on with her. Physically she was back to her normal self, but she’d taken to behaving very odd lately. One minute she wouldn’t leave him alone and the next she almost seemed glad to be rid of him. And why did everyone get an all-knowing look whenever he mentioned her behaviour? They needed to talk, Ginny had the answers and he wanted them, too.

“Your girl doing all right?” Brazill asked, coming by with a coffee in one hand and treacle in the other.

“I’m not sure,” Harry replied truthfully, eyeing the treacle and wishing even more that he wasn’t stuck here.

Dawlish had the miniature Manchester fully operational when they returned. Harry felt like he was staring at a shrunken city, rather than just a replica. He could see people moving about on the streets, and even saw the very street on which he had apprehended Yaxley. He could see miniature versions of Yaxley and Harry flew into the alley, turned and shot out again.

“I’ve put all of us in here, plus Lestrange and Malfoy,” Dawlish said when they all returned. “Our backups will come on only if called, as in real life. Are you ready?”

They nodded and watched as little mini-duels erupted and spells of varying colours flashed down streets and rebounded from buildings. Dawlish would change up the scenario every few minutes. He said it was to provide them with every possible situation that could present itself. Harry couldn’t help feeling this was not as effective as Dawlish wanted it to be. The dozens of tactics they went over started to blur in his mind.

It was nearing midnight when Dawlish, seeing he was losing the attention of everyone in the room, advised all of them to go home and get a few hours sleep.

Harry was the first on his feet, anxious to get back to Ginny.

“Potter, a minute please,” Dawlish called. He waited until everyone was gone before he came right out with the reason he’d detained Harry. “After much consideration, and even more nagging by Hermione, we’ve decided to move Ron and Hermione back to their house in Hogsmeade. Our wards haven’t indicated any attempts at breech since the first night.

“They don’t want to burden Arthur and Molly anymore and seeing as how we’re so close to catching Malfoy and Lestrange to Hermione, we’ve decided to try a few days — with extra security, of course.”

Harry knew Hermione had been making noises about going home but he hadn’t been aware they were actually considering it. When he started to protest, Dawlish held up his hand.

“I know your position and in some ways I agree with it, but they’ve already been moved. Minister Shacklebolt was overseeing the move this afternoon. I suggest you put it out of your mind for now. Go home and get some rest. If our luck holds we won’t have anything to worry about after tomorrow.”

Reluctantly Harry turned to leave. He walked slowly to the Apparition area, wondering if he should quickly stop by Ron and Hermione’s before he went home. He decided against it when he thought about the waiting conversation with Ginny. He was just going to have to trust his colleagues to do their part.

Pubs were starting to eject their more inebriated clientele, several of whom tried to waylay Harry but were too uncoordinated to do much but fall over and laugh loudly and hysterically. They were so loud that Harry could hear them as clearly inside his flat as he had outside. He shook his head as he closed the door.

Ginny wasn’t waiting up, but Harry hadn’t expected her to. He looked around the sitting room and kitchen. It looked like she might have tried to wait up; the cushions on the sofa were the only bit of disarray in the room. The kitchen was another story. Two plates were laid out, containing what probably amounted to half their original proportions. Two bottles sat there too. One was a bottle of Oak matured mead from the Three Broomsticks in Hogsmeade, the second a Butterbeer.

Harry picked up the Butterbeer, which he guessed had been Ginny’s, noticing that the bottle was all sticky, as though she’d spilled it. The table was sticky too, telling him he was probably right. There wasn’t anything odd about what he was seeing here, but it gave Harry an uneasy feeling. Dudley was the least likely person to leave food on his plate and Ginny had become obsessive about cleaning since she’d stopped playing Quidditch.

Feeling an unpleasant prickling on the back of his neck, Harry replaced the Butterbeer bottle and instead closed his fingers around his wand. He slowly crept towards the bedrooms sure he was going to find them empty.

The door to his and Ginny’s room was ajar. Harry pushed it open revealing an empty bed. Knowing that there was no point, he quickly scanned the room to satisfy himself that it was indeed empty. Ginny wasn’t hiding from him in the bedroom, if she was hiding at all.

Harry crossed the hall and repeated the same procedure with the loo. She wasn’t there either.

A banging noise from Dudley’s room made him turn to the closed door. This, too, was out of the ordinary. Dudley never left his door closed when he went out.

Not sure he wanted to see what was on the other side, Harry slowly turned the knob and the door swung inward, revealing Dudley in bed with someone.

Harry quickly turned his head, sure that he was going to go blind at the sight but something caught his eye. The figure beneath Dudley moved and Harry did a double take before freezing mid-step.



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