CT: Chapter Fourteen: The Cursed Tattoo

Harry could see most of the crowd rushing to leave. He thought he also saw people emerging onto the pitch, but his immediate concern was for Ginny. She had been the closest to the action and might have information but extremely unwell, and probably hadn’t seen much She was also completely alone at the moment, something he was not comfortable with.

“Are you OK?” Harry asked her, kneeling on the pitch. Ginny was trying to prop herself up on her elbows. “Maybe you should just lie still.”

Ginny fixed him with her most annoyed expression and continued doing as she was. Harry started to help guide her up.

“Potter?”

Dawlish was approaching them. Reluctantly, Harry turned to see Aurors spilling onto the pitch: in addition to Dawlish were Moody, Kingsley and Tougas, who was followed closely by Briony. As he took an inventory of who was approaching Harry realized something: Hermione had been left completely unguarded.

“I’ll be right back,” he told Ginny before standing up and rushing to where Dawlish was, feeling angry at the senior Auror’s lack of forethought. “What the hell are you doing here? Why aren’t you still with Hermione?”

Before he finished his question Harry knew he was pushing it. Dawlish was the senior Auror and shouldn’t be questioned on his activities by someone seven months out of training. Harry was sure he’d get flack for what he had just done but he could care less. It was irresponsible, not to mention unwise and foolish, to leave Hermione unguarded and he was ready to argue this point.

To Harry’s great surprise Dawlish stopped where he was. His shoulders slumped and he bowed his head, looking ashamed.

“You’re absolutely right, Potter. I have neglected my duties,” he said in a gruff voice that betrayed his disappointment. With a twist and a barely discernible pop Dawlish was gone.

“Sorry,” Harry said, putting a steadying hand on Ginny’s back when she looked like she was going to fall backwards. “Gin, I think you should have someone take a look at you.”

“I’m fine. I don’t need someone fussing over me. I just want to —“ She stopped talking in her raspy voice and stared up at Harry, her eyes wide as saucers. She opened and closed her mouth a few times but said nothing.

“What?” Harry asked, leaning in closer, thinking she had become too weak to speak. Ginny didn’t try to talk again. She brought her hand up and touched his scar. When she lowered it to where he could see, he saw it was spotted with blood. Harry backed away a little so he was balancing on the balls of his feet and touched his own hand to his scar with the same result.

Damn.

His first thought was of how to keep this from Moody. The last time his scar had mysteriously bled Moody had all but removed Harry from the case. After everything he’d been involved in this was the very last thing he wanted.

Several of Ginny’s teammates had migrated back onto the pitch and were looking around cautiously. They’d all been in the changing rooms when everything occurred, but they had to have known something was wrong. It was Gwenog Jones who first spotted Jordana and came running over.

“What happened?” she asked quickly, looking over at Harry who was helping Ginny slowly to her feet. He looked over to see what Gwenog was talking about.

“She was hit with a stunner that missed its target,” Harry said, feeling a slight pang of guilt for forgetting about Jordana until now. She might need medical attention.

Another question occurred to Harry as he watched Gwenog help Jordana up: what happened to the real mediwizards. His answer came almost at once. They had also been stunned but showed no effects of it. They came running out of the changing rooms with Keddle and King. Ikey, the mediwitch with the crazy hair made a beeline for Ginny, who groaned and leaned against Harry.

“Don’t let her touch me.”

“Gin, you need to —“

“No!” she said, forcefully and, with some effort, pulled herself to her feet. Against his better inclination Harry followed her wishes and shielded her from Ikey.

“You need to go and lie down at least,” he amended. Harry expected Ginny to argue but she didn’t, instead using the support of Keddle and King to help her leave the pitch. They seemed to have forgotten their anger with her in light of post-match events. Harry accompanied her as far as the group of Aurors, told her he would see her in a bit, and then made his way over to where Moody, Kingsley, Tougas and Briony were standing.

“What the hell happened here?” Moody asked the minute Harry joined them. “You were closest to the action Potter, explain.”

Harry did. He recounted why he had come down in the first place, his unease at the missing security, the imposter mediwizards, his suspicions about their true identities, and finally, about Colin’s abduction.

“Brilliant,” Kingsley said darkly. He looked thoughtful for a moment and then started speaking, at first as though he was thinking out loud. “Right under our noses and in front of all these people . . . I think you’re right, Potter. Malfoy and Lestrange are crazy enough to do something like this.”

Kingsley turned back to look at the spectators. Half of the crowd was jammed into the first few rows of seats, waiting for something else to happen. The other half couldn’t leave the Quidditch stadium fast enough. There were major and minor skirmishes at the exits, resulting in more than one injury.

“What are you doing here?” Harry asked Briony during a lull, while Moody and Kingsley stared up at the Dark Mark with frowns on their faces. “I thought you were going home to get some sleep.”

Briony chanced a glance at Tougas, looking nervous. “Bredan asked me to come, and after this morning . . . I felt I owed it to him.”

He wasn’t going to get into this conversation right now, given everything else that was going on, but Harry could not understand why Briony even talked to Tougas. This latest lack of consideration was one of the many examples showcasing their differences. He took a moment to look from one to the other, trying to spot the common ground that sustained their friendship. Tougas caught him at it and sneered before speaking.

“I have a question.” Moody, Kingsley, Briony and Harry turned to look at Tougas. “Does anyone else find it suspicious that Potter is once again the first witness to the appearance of dark magic?”

This question prompted several varied reactions. Moody scowled, Briony fidgeted, Harry checked his watch impatiently, and Kingsley watched them all shrewdly.

“Damn it, Tougas. We don’t have time for this tonight,” Moody said angrily. He continued in a warning tone. “We’ve got a lot to do and I don’t want you two at each other’s throats.”

Tougas was adamant about his position. “I don’t mean to take up valuable time here, sir, but don’t you think that ignoring this information is damaging to our case?”

“What are you getting at, Tougas? Why do you think that Potter is linked to this case?” Kingsley asked. He folded his arms and waited for Tougas to expound on his theory, his eyes moving between Harry and his supervisor.

Briony looked away uncomfortably. Harry could understand her position. She’d been spending a lot of time with him, Tougas’s sworn enemy. Tensions had to be running high between the two of them.

Tougas spared a quick glance at Harry before he launched into his list of horrible wrongs committed by the newest Auror. He wasn’t smirking arrogantly as had been the case of late. Perhaps he thought it unbefitting to react so when addressing such a high-ranking Ministry official.

“I don’t say these things because of any great dislike for Potter,” he started, looking sideways at Briony. “Although I do think he tends to take unnecessary risks. I’m sure you remember the Yaxley situation.”

“I do,” Kingsley said shortly, a slight frown on his face. It was clear he was not interested in revisiting that case. If he’d been hoping to score points with Kingsley by bringing up Harry’s capture, Tougas was wrong. He seemed to be the only one fixated on that case.

“Right. It has been ignored by almost everyone in our department but I can’t escape noticing that Potter seems to be around, but out of observation of any of his colleagues whenever dark magic is occurring. It also seems odd to me, Minister that until he joined our task force only two Muggle-borns had gone missing in four years. Two more have disappeared in the last three months and, the thing I think you’ll agree is most curious, sir, is that their relationship to Potter seems to be getting stronger.”

Kingsley looked from Tougas to Harry. He was still frowning but his actual thoughts on Tougas’s theory were veiled. Harry was less torn about the theory, but that did not mean he wasn’t troubled. It was quite true that the last two disappearances could be more directly linked to him. While this was true of a great many things, he had to grudgingly concede the point that Colin, by way of his friendship with Ginny, was a hell of a lot closer to Harry than Justin Finch-Fletchley.

Disturbed by the thought that they might never find Colin, Harry looked up at the Dark Mark still hovering in the sky. He hoped they would not run into the same brick wall in their search for Colin as they had with Justin’s disappearance.

“Now we know your suspicions, what do you think Potter’s involvement is, then?” Kingsley asked, sounding like he was following up on a lead. Harry couldn’t help but stare at him. The Minister could not be taking Tougas seriously.

“I — I don’t really know yet,” Tougas admitted reluctantly. “I haven’t been afforded the opportunity to look into this matter.”

“You’re damn right you haven’t,” Moody said gruffly. He likely would have said more if Kingsley didn’t start talking again.

“I appreciate your thoroughness, Tougas, but I assume you want to pursue a line of inquiry in which Potter has a hand in the execution of these crimes. I cannot allow that at the present time. Potter has given us more than enough reason to trust him in these matters, and I will not have the Auror department thrown into a tailspin because of the far-fetched ideas of one Auror.”

Though it was a favorite pastime of Harry’s to see Tougas getting called out for his ridiculous fixations, he was still too disturbed by the idea that he agreed with his supervisor on anything. If this theory did indeed turn out to be true then he was right to worry about Hermione. This thought left him with a bitter taste in his mouth. It had been ridiculously easy for Malfoy and Lestrange to abduct Colin.

“What are you thinking, Potter?” Kingsley asked. “And what did you do you do to yourself?”

“Nothing.” Harry clapped his hand over his scar. It didn’t hurt at all, but he could feel the warm, sticky blood trickling from it. He would worry about the still unexplained bleeding later. “I was just worried that — that Tougas might be right and that Hermione might be in more danger.”

Harry refused to turn his attention to Tougas. He kept it focused on Moody and Kingsley instead. His statement had made them exchange thoughtful glances. He was sure he had given them something else to worry about as well.

“You may have a point, Potter,” Moody said. “Give us a minute to talk.”

The two men walked away several paces. Kingsley raised his wand, and a second later the pitch was once again its normal colour, the Dark Mark now gone. Harry turned to talk to Briony, but she and Tougas were also a few paces away.

Not knowing how long Kingsley and Moody were going to talk, or how long they’d be here tonight, Harry wanted to use his time to find out how Ginny was doing. He started to do that but hesitated when some of Briony and Tougas’s conversation reached him.

“ . . . Don’t understand why you insisted on coming if you were so tired.” Tougas.

Harry saw, out of the corner of his eye, Briony cast a glance at him. He began to walk again, but a little slower, wanting to hear her answer. Hadn’t she said Tougas asked her to come?

“I just thought . . . after this morning that it would be a good idea if I came. I just wanted you to know I wasn’t mad at you for what you said.” Briony spoke with a particular emphasis, as though she wanted to make sure there was no mistake in what she said. This precise speech was a little too self-assured for the usually timid Briony and made Harry uneasy for the second time that night. He kept walking, determined to check on Ginny.

He wasn’t destined to check on Ginny at that time. Seconds before Harry entered the corridor that led to the changing rooms, the door burst open and Tovah Ikey appeared. She was running and very nearly smashed into Harry. He saw she was agitated, and was clutching a wide phial of a think, glutinous potion in her hand.

“Look at what I found,” she said, shoving the phial at Harry before she had come to a full stop. “Polyjuice potion.”

“Really?” Harry took the phial and looked at it. There was no mistaking the substance. He now held in his hands certain proof that he was at least partly right about what had happened. It could be another clue that it was Lestrange and Malfoy under those disguises. Who else would have been as brazen to leave their method of disguise behind? Yes, they might have forgot it, or dropped it, but he didn’t think so. They had been too careful for that.

“What’s going on?”

Within seconds, Moody, Kingsley, Briony and Tougas were congregated feet from the corridor Harry had walked down not an hour before, and were examining the phial while Harry gave the quick explanation as to how he had acquired it.

“See,” Tougas said when Harry finished. “This is exactly what I’m talking about. Why do all the leads just fall into his lap? I’m telling you, he’s a magnet for dark magic.”

“As seems to be the pattern of his life.” Kingsley said, not smiling.

Tougas scowled. So did Moody. Harry couldn’t say he was impressed either. He was struggling to think of another logical reason for what was happening. He wanted to continue believing that everything that seemed to be connected to him was coincidence, but Kingsley’s statement was too true for him to deny it.

“So what are we going to do now?” Tougas asked. “Do either of you have any ideas about what happened here today?”

Moody and Kingsley said nothing, again exchanging more looks. They seemed to be thinking something that escaped Harry and Tougas. After a second Kingsley must have come to realize that they didn’t know what he and Moody were thinking because he began to enlighten them.

“We’re going to take part of your assumption as true, Tougas.” He turned to Harry. “If he is right then so are you. Miss. Granger is in danger. I’ve asked Moody to take over her guard for now. Dawlish will take over the lead of the task force.”

Harry was grateful. He knew Dawlish to be a capable Auror, but he seemed to be slipping lately. In contrast, Moody was as vigilant as ever. Hermione was going to hate it but at least she would be safe.

Now that Hermione’s safety was nearly guaranteed, Kingsley’s first point was the one troubling Harry more. If they really thought he was involved in all that was going on, he was surely going to be removed from the task force, if not the entire department, indefinitely. The thought was increasing his annoyance and frustration. He had thought he was really part of the team; that people trusted that he wasn’t going around casting, or aiding in the casting, of dark magic. Kingsley was one of the last people he thought would suspect him of such a ludicrous thing, especially since it had been he who asked Harry to join the Auror office in the first place.

Tougas was going to love this, Harry thought bitterly. He had finally got his way. Harry started to walk away. He had been attempting to find out how Ginny was doing; now it appeared he had all the time in the world.

“Where are you going, Potter?” Kingsley called. “I didn’t think we were quite done here.”

Harry turned around, resisting the urge to look surly with all his effort. Why Kingsley wanted him to remain when they were seemingly going to start investigating him was odd.

Kingsley waited for Harry to return to the group before he continued as though nothing had happened. His words surprised Harry.

“While I agree that there is some connection between this case and Potter, I do not think he is aiding, or perpetrating these crimes, as I said earlier. But it seems that someone is trying to set him up, whether to try and bring him down or to force him to do something we don’t yet know. The very fact that he is being targeted gives Potter more reason to solve this case than anyone else, therefore I think it’s a good idea, and Moody concurs, to keep him on the case.”

Harry tried to thank the Minister for this decision, and his words, but Kingsley was already moving on.

“Let us hope you have better luck with this investigation than you’ve been having with the others.” Kingsley was watching the crowd as he talked. “I’ve got to go make an announcement.”

Harry, Moody, Tougas and Briony watched Kingsley as he approached the stands. As he started speaking, Moody turned to Harry.

“Go get your bleeding dealt with. It’s going to be a long night and I don’t want you passing out, or more people than necessary to know what’s happening to you.”

“All right,” Harry said. He might have otherwise been annoyed at the way Moody phrased his demand, but this was a ready-made excuse to check on Ginny. Moody stumped off in the other direction to relieve Dawlish. Before he was out of earshot, Moody turned back, clearly anticipating what Harry was going to do.

“Do what you need to do, Potter, but don’t be gone too long. We need to question everyone who was here – before they forget if they saw anything.”

Harry hastened his stride, not wanting to give Moody any time to change his mind. When he knocked on the changing room door Ikey was the one who answered.

“How is she?” he asked immediately. “Has she finally let you examine her?”

“Yes.” Ikey let Harry in and then closed the door.

“Its not serious, is it?” Harry stopped, feeling his apprehension start to grow again.

“No. She’ll be fine.” Harry thought there was a delighted twinkle in her eye but couldn’t be sure. Tovah Ikey was a woman with a slightly bizarre sense of humor.

“Ah, good. Was it just a touch of the flu, or . . . ?”

“I’m sorry, but diagnoses are confidential. You’ll have to ask Miss. Weasley, Mr. Potter.”

Harry had not really expected that Ikey would answer him; nevertheless he wasn’t impressed with this reaction.

“I’ll do that, thanks,” he said, now itching to be rid of the mediwitch.

Ginny was sitting on the edge of the bed, arguing with Jordana and Gwenog about leaving.

“Ikey said you should be lying down for at least another hour.” Gwenog was pleading. “We don’t want you getting permanently injured.”

“I’ll lie down when I get home, I swear.” Ginny clearly wanted to get out of there as much has Harry did. He was more than willing to accompany her and said as much.

“And I’ll make sure she rests.”

With some reluctance, Jordana and Gwenog agreed to let Ginny leave. They walked away, shaking their heads. Ginny didn’t get up right away as Harry expected she would, so he sat down beside her and tried to catch her eye, but she was avoiding him, examining her fingers intently.

“So,” he said, “Ikey said you’re going to be fine . . . feel like telling me what was wrong in the first place?” She still didn’t look up, but Harry thought Ginny was fighting with herself to raise her eyes. Finally she shook her head.

“Nothing’s wrong. I’ve just been working too hard lately and succumbed to exhaustion. Now we’re out of the running that’s not going to be a problem.”

“No, I guess its not.” Harry put his arm around her and they sat quietly.

The door burst open a moment later and a group of people poured in, Molly Weasley in the lead.

“Oh, Ginny, we’ve been so worried,” she cried, flinging her arms around her daughter. “I knew something like this was going to happen. I just knew it.”

“Mum, I’m fine,” Ginny said trying to push Molly away as she made to give her a hug, but she might as well not have bothered. Molly won and pulled her into a tight embrace.

“You weren’t hurt by those two mediwizards, were you? Did they do something to you? Is that why you were peaky today?” Molly looked around the room, an angry expression on her face. Harry thought she was looking for one of the mediwizards to give them one of her world class reamings. Luckily for them, neither was within Molly’s grasp.

“No, mum. Like I was just telling Harry —“

Molly was fussing over Ginny and not listening to her at all. This never sat well with Ginny, but today she was even less tolerant of it. As Molly started to straighten her hair Ginny shrugged out of her grasp, regained a standing position, and said, “Mum you’re not listening. I said I’m fine, just a little tired is all. I don’t need you fussing over me,” before she walked out of the room a little unsteadily.

“I think she’s just upset about the match, and about Colin,” Harry stated apologetically before he followed Ginny. She still looked quite unwell and he didn’t want her doing anything foolish.

“Where do you think you’re going?”

“I’m not staying in there with her when she’s like that.” Ginny was using the wall as a support.

“Here.” Harry stretched out his arm. Again she hesitated as though she might not take it, but after a few awkward seconds she did.

“She’s just trying to make sure you’re OK, you know,” Harry stated as they headed back out to the pitch.

“But she doesn’t listen. That’s the problem,” Ginny replied. When they reached the edge of the pitch she stopped and looked at Kingsley who was still talking to the crowd. The stadium was much louder than Harry remembered it a few minutes ago. The remaining spectators were muttering amongst themselves, or shouting out questions and worries, prompting Kingsley to stop talking and start addressing questions, very few of which he was answering.

“I see your scar’s stopped bleeding again. How’d you manage that?” Ginny asked. Harry looked away from the pitch and at her instead, his hand automatically going to his scar. She was quite right. It had returned to its normal state.

“I dunno. I didn’t do anything,” he said, only now beginning to wonder why it had started bleeding in the first place. For years his scar had been nothing more than a memento from Voldemort’s first failed attempt to kill him. Then, mysteriously, it had bled the night the Dark Mark appeared in the Ministry, and again when it appeared here. Why?

Harry looked up into the darkening sky, now devoid of any magical blemish, thinking. He needed answers. There were only two people who had been able to consistently give him answers. He’d long ago conceded that the portrait Dumbledore had ceased to be of help to him. That left Hermione.

A tug on his arm made Harry look at Ginny. She was starting to walk again.

“Where are you going?” he questioned.

“To give my statement. I have to do that, don’t I?”

“Yeah, but . . . Gin, are you sure you want to do this now? I mean after everything —“

“I want to get this over with so I can leave,” she interrupted.

They met Kingsley halfway to where Tougas and Briony were standing.

“Miss. Weasley.” Kingsley gave her a slight nod of his head. Usually Ginny had some witty comment ready for when Kingsley addressed her thus. Today, however, she went with a more conventional and somber, “hi, Kingsley.” This change in her usual manner did not go unnoticed by the Minister.

“She wanted to give her statement before she leaves,” Harry explained. He answered Kingsley’s puzzled expression with a “don’t ask” look of his own.

“Right.”

Harry, Ginny and Kingsley walked the rest of the way to where Tougas was standing with Briony. They had both been watching the approach with unreadable expressions. As they neared, Harry wished they could have just given the statement to Kingsley, but he understood why they weren’t. This was a highly important case and Kingsley wanted an impartial person to hear the statement. Whether Tougas could be impartial was another matter entirely.

“What’s she doing here?” she hissed as they drew ever nearer. It was this comment that refreshed Harry’s recollection of Ginny’s suspicions, the ones he still didn’t agree with.

“She’s been working on the case, too. We were following up on some reports this afternoon, in fact.” After the argument they’d had the last time Harry hadn’t told Ginny about Briony, he knew full disclosure was the best way to go, even though her grip on his arm was starting to become painful.

“It’s a mistake,” she said in a warning voice.

“Not now, OK?”

Ginny complied and said nothing more, but her tension was palpable. When the five people met in the centre of the pitch none of the good humor of a wining Quidditch game could ease the tension.

“Miss. Weasley has kindly come to give her statement despite her ill-health,” Kingsley said. Ginny opened her mouth to protest but Kingsley was talking again. “I suggest we record what she has to say quickly and let her get on her way.”

These words, Harry felt, were meant particularly for Tougas’s benefit. He appreciated them all the more because it would make this questioning rapid. Ginny, who had regained some of her normal colour before coming out, was starting to look green again. She needed the rest she was denying herself.

Tougas conjured a quill and some parchment and set them in the air before him.

“Whenever you’re ready,” he said flatly.

Ginny spoke for a few minutes. She hadn’t seen anything out of the ordinary. Harry hadn’t expected she would have, even if something odd had been going on, which he also doubted.

“Both mediwizards were fine when I saw them last so they must have been knocked out and polyjuiced after we came out here,” she said, leaning even more heavily on Harry. He was watching her carefully. If they didn’t get out of here soon she just might collapse again.

“Did you tell her to say that, Potter?” Tougas asked angrily.

Harry snapped his head in Tougas’s direction, prepared to give an angry retort. He wasn’t in the habit of coaching witnesses, even if he happened to have an existing relationship with them.

“What did I just say?” Kingsley asked impatiently.

“I’m sorry, sir, but he was in there with her for minutes on end. Who knows what he could have told her to say. We already know he’s not good at respecting his superiors. Look at how he reacted with Dawlish earlier.”

“Not the time, Tougas,” Kingsley said an even stronger warning in his voice. “Please continue, Ginevra.”

“Ginny,” she corrected quickly. “And, no, he didn’t tell me to say that. I thought even you could get over your preoccupation with Harry to remember that Ikey came out here not twenty minutes ago with the phial of Polyjuice potion.”

Tougas looked taken aback for a minute but quickly recovered himself.

“You’ve taught her well, Potter. I underestimated her, I admit. I thought she was too preoccupied with feigning the loss of a game and doing nothing as two Death Eaters kidnapped her friend.”

Tougas had ignored the warning look that he was getting from both Kingsley and Harry. Before he finished Harry had his wand out and was pointing it at his moronic supervisor. His ridiculous theories about Harry being connected to their suspects were one thing (they had a slight, if unpleasant, plausibility), but he was not going to stand for Ginny being dragged into this feud.

“Too far,” Kingsley said in the closest thing to an angry voice as Harry had ever heard. He pulled both Harry and Ginny away from the other Auror. “I’m sorry about him. He and I are going to have a chat. Thank you for staying Ginny. You can leave almost at once, but one last question, did you notice anything else worth mention?”

Ginny shook her head, glancing angrily at Tougas.

Kingsley excused himself and returned to Tougas and Briony. IN the few seconds they stayed, Harry distinctively heard the words “unprofessional” and “Irresponsible.”

“Are you OK to Apparate?” Harry asked as he looked at how dangerously pale Ginny was.

“Yes. I think I want to go to the Burrow. Is that OK?” she sounded somewhat reluctant to make this statement.

“Sure. Are you sure you want to go there after that row with your mum, Gin? I don’t think you should get all riled up again.”

“I won’t,” she replied quietly.

They were closer to the stands now, which were still surprisingly full. As Harry and Ginny prepared to leave they heard someone call their names from the stand and both turned toward the sound automatically. Before they knew it they were blinded by a bright flash.

“Let’s go,” Harry said immediately through clenched teeth. “Are you ready?”

They disappeared before the purple smoke cleared and revealed the identity of their photographer.

The house was dark when they landed in the back garden.

“I guess they’re not back yet,” Harry said, lighting his wand for easier navigation. It was strange to him to see the house so devoid of life.

They didn’t stop in the kitchen for a cup of tea like normal, but proceeded straight up to Ginny’s room. Only once did she try to protest at his accompanying her.

“I can make it up a couple of flights of stairs,” she said.

“Usually with flying colours, but in your condition I don’t want to chance it.”

Harry lit the lamp with his wand as they entered Ginny’s room. He’d only been in here a few times, usually when her brothers were far away.

“Mum was in here cleaning up again,” Ginny said, shuffling over to the bed and flopping down on her back.

“Don’t you think you should change first?” Harry asked, sitting down beside her.

“No,” she sighed, reaching over and grabbing a plush stuffed lion Harry had never seen before. She set it on her stomach and stared at it with a sad expression. He watched her for a few minutes, wondering what she was thinking and what was so interesting about it.

“Aren’t you a little old for stuffed animals?” he asked, taking it from her and examining it for intriguing characteristics.

“This isn’t any old stuffed animal,” she said with a little more passion. “Its Gryffin, the Gryffindor lion. Dad got it for me when I was a little girl, right around the time Percy first went to Hogwarts. He used to roar, too, but the spell wore off completely a couple of years ago.”

“I didn’t know they had stuffed Gryffindor lions,” Harry said, suddenly a lot more interested. “Do they have stuffed mascots for all the Hogwarts houses?”

Ginny gave him one of those looks that Harry hated so much. It was an “I can’t believe you don’t know this” look.

“Sorry,” she said, upon seeing his scowl. “Its just easy to forget you weren’t raised around all the stuff we take for granted. You know, I sometimes think you don’t realize how big a deal it is to go to Hogwarts. I mean, wizarding kids look forward to it for years.”

Harry knew that. He had seen it in Ginny herself the year before she started at Hogwarts. But he knew there was a big difference between knowing kids got excited and the actual experience. He had been looking forward to attending Hogwarts once he learned he was a wizard, but he only had to wait a month. Years would be excruciating.

“He doesn’t look very brave,” Harry said finally, brandishing the lion and growling pitifully. Ginny laughed and accepted the lion back, where she once again sat it on her stomach but ignored it, instead watching Harry intently.

“What?” he asked, leaning down to hear what it was she had to say. She was hesitating. Harry tried to prompt her again. “What is it, Gin?”

She looked away, and thereafter wouldn’t look at him.

“Thanks for bringing me home,” she said, flatly, and finally, as though he already had his foot out the door.

“D’you want me to stay?” Half of him hoped she would say yes, not because he wanted to get out of work, but because he had a strong feeling that Ginny had something really important that she wanted to tell him. “I can owl Kingsley and —“

“No. You should really be there. They need you, and I need sleep.” She smiled weakly before looking away again.

“What did Ikey say about today, why you fainted? I’ve seen you tired before and you’ve never been like that,” Harry tried again. She’d never before held back information on injuries.

The longest silence yet passed between them, while Ginny was again watching him intently. Harry felt sure there was something she wanted to say. She was going to tell him what was really wrong with her, but —

“Colin said the same thing to me a couple of weeks ago,” she stated quietly.

“Oh?”

They hadn’t talked about Colin at all. The disappearance had to be hard on her, given her close relationship with Colin. Harry wanted to tell her not to worry, but Ginny knew they hadn’t found Justin, and there was nothing to increase their chances of finding Colin either.

“We’re going to do everything we can to find him,” he told her.

“I know you are.” She reached up and touched his cheek, a small smile played across her face.

“See, you have more important things to do than sit here and watch me sleep.”

“Yeah.” Harry checked his watch, knowing he should be back already, but reluctant to leave Ginny here alone. He knew he was being stupid. Bellatrix and Lucius had demonstrated that they were targeting Muggle-borns and Ginny was a pureblood; but if Tougas was right about this connection . . . Death Eaters weren’t known for being the most methodical. He couldn’t go through the fear of her abduction again especially knowing what he now knew about the last time. Ginny didn’t need that again, and he didn’t want her to go through it again.

“Harry, go. I’ll see you later,” Ginny said, already half asleep.

“Yeah.” He gave her a quick kiss, told her to get some rest and then left. With any luck they wouldn’t take too long and he could come back here. It was only nine o’clock after all.

There were far fewer spectators in the Quidditch stadium when Harry returned. He counted three dozen or so standing awkwardly around the edge of the pitch.

“Ah, Potter, you’re here. The Minister wanted to see you straight away when you got back,” Dawlish said, coming up to Harry as he walked to the middle of the pitch himself. He reversed directions and went to see Kingsley, who was talking with Jordana and Gwenog.

“Mind telling me what’s going on with your scar, Potter?” Kingsley asked when they had walked out of earshot of everyone else.

“I’m not sure. It’s the second time it’s bled since Voldemort . . . and the other time was when the Dark Mark was seen on the memorial.”

Kingsley was apparently been the only one who didn’t know this. He did a double take when Harry explained.

“This has happened before? Who else knew of this?”

“I dunno,” Harry said. “Ginny, Ron, Hermione, all of the Weasleys, I guess. This happened at the Ministry . . . so all of the task force, Briony — What?”

“Tougas is onto something, I think,” Kingsley said. “You’ve got some part to play in this whole matter.”

“I’m not working with the Death Eaters,” harry stated loudly, much louder than he had intended.

“I don’t think that, but you’re the connection. Once we figure out exactly what the nature of that connection is we’ll have them.”

Though it was nice to know that someone was taking him seriously, Harry couldn’t say he was impressed with how this investigation was going. Tougas might be right, but he might not be. There was no rule saying that he, Harry, had to be the lynch pin for every bit of Dark Magic in the world, no matter how things appeared.

“So what’d you want me to do then, sir?” he asked, readying again for the polite demand that he remove himself from the case, something Harry was reluctant to do now he had become a fully functioning member of the task force.

“You’ll continue doing as you’re doing. I meant it when I said you have more reason to see this resolved than anyone else.”

“Thanks, I think,” Harry said as Kingsley walked away. He didn’t stand in one place for long. As soon as Dawlish saw Kingsley walk away he called Harry over, pointed out a group of people standing just away from the entrance and told Harry they still needed to be questioned.

The group turned out to be eight girls and four boys, all around Gabrielle Delacour’s age. Silently cursing Dawlish for leaving this particular group of spectators to him, Harry made his way over to them, hoping they would answer his questions quickly. He didn’t want to spend a lot of time with them and have nothing to show for it.

His hopes were dashed as his approach caught the attention of one of the girls who squealed and nudged her friend, who in turn elbowed one of the boys. Within seconds they were all watching him intently. Harry decided that the best way to deal with this behaviour was to dive right into his questions. He did just this as soon as he was close enough.

“Hi. Thanks for waiting.”

No reaction at all.

“Did any of you see anything before or after the Dark Mark appeared?” Harry had emulated Tougas in conjuring quill and parchment. It floated in front of him. When no one said anything the quill began to tap impatiently on the parchment, mimicking his own feelings. Harry was about to separate them to see if they would be less intimidated separately when one of the boys spoke up.

“We didn’t see anything odd. We were just watching the game. When it ended like it did — damn shame that was — we didn’t notice anything odd until the Dark Mark appeared.”

The others were nodding in agreement.

“We were too busy arguing about — “ This was from a second boy, who stopped speaking abruptly. He looked away with a guilty expression on his face.

“Yes?” Harry prompted, with a gut feeling of what they had been talking about.

“Er . . . we were talking about the match,” the first boy spoke again, with a significant glance at his friend.

“They were talking about how bad Ginny Weasley played. He fancies her.” The girl who spoke this pointed at the second boy who spoke. The level of scorn in her voice made Harry think that perhaps that wasn’t the only case of fancy amongst this group.

“Shut up.” The second boy turned to the girl who had spoken and talked to her in an obvious hiss. Despite himself, Harry felt a little amused. He had been right about his suspicions. It wasn’t news to him that other men found Ginny attractive. Normally he didn’t find this amusing, but the reaction of the boy in question was one he had himself around Ginny’s brothers. It was nice to be on the other side of that feeling.

“It’s a shame the Harpies lost,” said a female voice that Harry could not put a face to. “Is she going to be all right?”

“She should be fine,” Harry said. “So . . . no one saw anything suspicious? No one looked out of place? Maybe they seemed nervous, or like they were looking for something? Or —“ he amended, remembering who their two suspects were, “ — maybe overly pushy or arrogant? Cruel?”

Harry kept firing questions at them, hoping they would have seen something, but he was met with nothing but blank stares. Finally he was forced to admit defeat.

The remainder of the task force was waiting for him when Harry returned. In the time he’d been getting no information from the group of teenagers his colleagues had finished questioning the rest of the witnesses. Seeing as how he had missed most of the investigative work when he was gone with Ginny, Harry had hoped he could at least get some useful information. Perhaps twice in the same day was asking too much.

They’d all been working hard that day and thus only gave a quick once over to the stadium before Dawlish told them to give up for the night. They were all glad to leave, not having found anything, but none more so than Harry. As they had been checking for any sign of dark magic usage, he’d decided to go talk to Hermione as soon as he was free to leave.

Knowing that Moody was there guarding Hermione Harry thought it was a good idea to announce his presence, lest he have to dodge the worst of Moody’s jinxes. He sent up his patronus as he walked up their dark street in Hogsmeade.

“What are you doing here?” Moody asked, standing outside a tend that had been erected in Ron and Hermione’s front yard.

“I have to talk to Hermione,” Harry said, not stopping. It was nearing midnight, but hopefully they wouldn’t be too mad at him for waking them up, if they were sleeping. He rang the doorbell and waited.

There was no movement in the house, and all was dark. Harry guessed they were asleep. This was important though, so he rang again, twice in a row.

A light flicked on somewhere in the house and a moment later Ron flung the door open, looking disheveled and a little flushed.

“What?” he barked.

“Er . . . bad time?” Harry asked, feeling himself turn red and looking away quickly. The fact his best made was only clad in the bottom half of his usual attire left little doubt in his mind what Ron and Hermione had been doing. He was dearly wishing he had owled first.

“What is it? What’s wrong?” Ron asked, most of the hardness gone from his voice.

“Nothing’s wrong really. I just wanted to talk to Hermione, but it’s obviously a bad time so I’ll come back later.”

“Its not a bad time anymore,” Ron grumbled, relieved at the news that they weren’t in impending danger. He opened the door fully and let Harry in. “I’ll just go get her.”

“Who was that?” Hermione asked at that moment, tying the belt of a too-short robe. She stopped halfway down the stairs. “Oh. Harry?”

“Yeah. He wants to talk to you,” Ron said, walking over and blocking her way down the stairs.

“Oh?” Hermione asked in a slightly shaky voice as she tried to cover more of herself. “Um . . . OK. Let me just go get —“

She might have finished the entire sentence but she turned and dashed up the stairs so quickly that whatever she might have said was lost.

“I’ll be right back, too.” Ron followed Hermione up the stairs, leaving Harry to take a seat on their sofa, lean back and try to think of something that wasn’t embarrassing. It had been precisely scenes like this that had made him glad he and Ron didn’t live together anymore. Harry had been on both sides of this scene too many times to want a repeat.

Hermione came down first and it could not have been plainer that she was overcompensating for her lack of attire on first appearance. She was now wearing baggy sweat pants and shirt that were going to be uncomfortably warm in just a few minutes.

“So . . . um . . . what was so important that you needed to come over in the middle of the night?” she asked awkwardly.

When she put it like that, Harry felt even worse for coming at all. He really hadn’t thought this over at all, but now that he was here it would be stupid for him to leave without getting the information he’d come here for.

“You and Ginny talked about why my scar has started randomly bleeding, right?”

“We have,” Hermione said warily. “Why the sudden urgency about it?”

“Because it happened again tonight.”

“It did?” Hermione asked, all sense of uneasiness gone. When Harry nodded she stood up and started pacing, a sign she was thinking. In a much shorter time than usual she turned, with a triumphant smile on her face. “Its connected to the Dark Mark, I’m sure of it.”

It wasn’t a wholly novel idea; he’d already considered it himself just that evening, but that didn’t make her idea any less distasteful to Harry.

“What makes you so sure? There had to be a million things that were the same in the two scenes. Maybe,” Harry said, thinking aloud. “Malfoy and Lestrange were there and hit me with some sort of spell.”

Hermione’s smile widened. “You know I had thought of that very thing, too, at first. Even if they did manage to get off a spell without anyone seeing — which is pretty near impossible given how many people watch your every move —“

“Tell me about it,” Harry muttered.

“Yes. Well, even if no one saw, Dittany would have worked.”

“It doesn’t work on dark magic though,” Harry stated, feeling a tiny bubble of hope begin to grow. Maybe this had nothing to do with Voldemort and his scar at all. Perhaps someone just thought it would be funny . . .

“It can’t repair everything, no, but an injury like yours should have been a cinch. It doesn’t take a dark spell to make you bleed, you know.” She looked at Harry pityingly, as though sorry she kept dashing his simple explanations.

“So what d’you think it is then?”

“You’re probably not going to like this.”

“I probably won’t, but tell me anyway.”

“OK. Bear with me, Harry. I need to give you some background or this might not make sense. And remember this is just my theory. I don’t know if I’m anywhere near the truth.”

“I’ll take anything you’ve got,” Harry said truthfully.

“Right. Well it all starts with the Dark Mark. I think that it’s some sort of Protean Charm. Voldemort branded his followers with it so he could summon them to him. My research turned up powers we didn’t know it possessed until after Voldemort was killed.”

She ignored Harry’s flinch, preferring instead to continue talking.

“The Dark Mark, it turns out, could track his supporters. Very few, if any, knew how to stop that. There’s also a theory that it could show loyalties, but I don’t know if I buy that one because he’d have known right away about Wormtail, and Draco Malfoy, and Snape . . . “

“He thought he was the world’s best Legillimens,” Harry said. “That wouldn’t have been very important to him. What does this have to do with my scar though?”

“I’m getting there. Another theory is that the charm, and thus the mark, can also change based on the person’s mood.”

Harry couldn’t stop from laughing out loud. His amusement wasn’t even dampened by the scathing look Hermione fixed him with.

“Oh, come on Hermione. I’ll agree with the tracking aspect, but these theories are bordering on Quibbler material, and we seem to be getting further away from how this relates to me.”

“It all does. The Dark Mark was a dark, and more advanced, form of the protean charm, which can do all of these things. It’s a highly adaptable spell. The caster can easily include certain things while excluding others. A few simple words can change my simple spell into Dark Magic. Voldemort was easily able to create a cursed tattoo for his followers.

“Now, how this relates to you, Harry, goes all the way back to the first time he tried to kill you when you were a baby.”

“Everything does,” Harry said dryly.

“In your case, yes.” Hermione flashed him a sympathetic smile.

“Before you go on with another wild theory, Hermione, remember that I don’t have a Dark Mark.”

She paused before talking, off-put by this comment.

“You and Ginny said the exact same thing,” she said. “You really do think alike.

“You don’t have a Dark Mark, but you do have your scar, which was home to so many of Voldemort’s powers for years. It acted a lot like the Dark Mark branded on the Death Eaters.”

“So are you saying that all the Death Eaters had a little bit of Voldemort’s power?”

“Yes, but not enough to make a difference. They were all sadistic enough to enjoy torturing people on their own,” Hermione wrinkled her face in disgust. “They gravitated towards Voldemort because they were already like that; he just taught them different ways to achieve their ends.”

“Yeah, you’re right about that.” Harry and Hermione were both quiet for a minute. From the look on her face Harry thought she was still thinking about all the horrible crimes that the Death Eaters had perpetrated.

“I still don’t see where you’re going with this. Even if this had something to do with the powers I used to have, I don’t have them anymore. They were gone as soon as Voldemort was.”

“Magic always leaves a trace. Isn’t that what Dumbledore said?” Hermione asked. “I think it’s that trace that keeps flaring up when the Dark Mark appears.”

“But that never —“

“Never happened before he was killed? Here’s my theory on that. You know how things work fine until they break and then they never seem to work quite the same? What if your scar, once the power drained out of you, never really healed properly? It’s sort of unstable now and can be irritated at the slightest connection to Voldemort.”

“I guess,” Harry said slowly. He didn’t want to disappoint Hermione. She’d obviously been thinking about this a lot, and the stranger thing was that it made sense.

“What do you think?” Hermione asked tentatively.

“It makes some sense . . . how would we know for sure?”

“We don’t,” she replied quickly. “There’s no way to test without killing you.”

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