The Burrow was certainly not built to accommodate sixteen people, Harry thought as they all sat down to Christmas dinner. The house had been full to bursting during his years at Hogwarts when only he and Hermione had swelled the already large number of Weasleys. Adding Fleur, Riley and Simon (Bill and Fleur’s twin toddlers), and Mr. and Mrs. Granger seemed unwise in the extreme. As it was December it was too cold to eat out in the garden, so they were all crammed into the sitting room (today serving as a slightly larger dining area). Harry found himself squeezed between Ron and Ginny.
“Sardines have more room,” Ron said grumpily as he reached for a roll and accidentally stuck his elbow in the gravy.
“Stop complaining already,” Hermione said testily from his left.
“Yeah Ronniekins, quit complaining,” Fred said from across the table. He and George each had a twin on their lap and were teaching them the finer art of using utensils to launch food across the table. Both sets of twins were completely ignoring Bill and Fleur’s remonstrations.
“Yes, you know you do seem more on edge today than normal,” Percy commented as he used his wand to clean the mashed potato that Riley had lobbed at him. “Is something the matter?”
“No — nothing,” Ron stated not meeting anyone’s eyes. He hastily looked at Hermione, who looked just as nervous, and then returned to his food, mentioning nothing else about their cramped conditions.
Harry and Ginny exchanged smirks before applying themselves to their own food. They both knew perfectly well that Ron and Hermione were on edge because they planned to announce to the rest of the family that they were moving in together in just over a week and, even more importantly, that they were engaged. Ron had admitted to Harry the previous night that he wasn’t quite sure he was ready to have the mickey taken out of him for this.
No one seemed to notice Ron and Hermione’s glance, or Harry and Ginny’s for that matter because at that precise moment Simon (who had somehow got hold of George’s wand) levitated the large tureen of gravy. It rose up like a cork and hit the ceiling. The force with which it did so caused the dish to crack and nearly everyone was deluged in gravy.
“That’s my boy, Simon. That’s my boy,” George called jovially as he took his wand back.
“George, that’s not funny,” both Mrs. Weasley and Bill yelled as everyone pulled out their own wands to clean up the mess.
“Babies always wear their food, he just wanted to share the experience,” Fred said, also with a huge smirk.
After an uneventful dessert the dishes were cleared away and the sitting room returned to its usual state. In the chaos this transformation caused Ginny leaned over to Ron and Hermione, who were both very green.
“Bill and Fleur are leaving in a few minutes, don’t you think you should make your big announcement?”
Ron and Hermione exchanged another look. They both seemed to be steeling themselves to do it. Then, looking as though they might prefer to Disapparate, they stood up together.
“Er . . . “ Hermione started, but her voice was so quiet that she could not possibly be heard over the din.
“Hey everyone,” Ginny called loudly. “Pipe down, Ron and Hermione have something they want to say.”
The noise died almost at once. Everyone’s attention was now focused on Ron and Hermione. Ron glared at Ginny, who did nothing but smile sweetly at him.
“Er . . . “ Hermione said again and looked at Ron for help. He, however, seemed like he might never speak again. Hermione fixed him with an angry look before taking a deep breath and plowing on. “Well . . . yes . . . Ginny’s quite right. There are a few things that we wanted to let you all know. Um . . . “ She nudged Ron in the ribs.
“Ouch . . . why’d you —“ But with a significant look from Hermione, he raised his gaze to face the fourteen pairs of eyes that were staring at him. “I — I guess she wants me to tell you.” He tried to smile, but it came as more of a grimace. “All right. We’ll here goes . . . “
Ron took a deep breath, glanced around at the eleven other members of his family, at Hermione’s parents, and finally at Harry, who gave him the thumbs up. Taking another deep breath he stood there, on the verge of speech.
“Today, Ron. Some of us have a portkey to catch.” Bill was looking at Ron, not with impatience, but expectantcy.
“Right. OK. Well . . . “ Ron looked at Hermione, who also seemed to be getting a little impatient. “OK, here’s the thing. Everyone here knows that I’m going to be running the shop in Hogsmeade, right?”
“And we couldn’t be more proud,” Mrs. Weasley stated with a huge smile on her face.
“Thanks.” His face a little pink, Ron continued. “Well, as I’m going to be spending a lot of time there. I thought it would make more sense if I got my own place there.”
“’Bout time too,” Harry couldn’t stop himself from saying. Everyone, including Ron and Hermione, laughed. Ron seemed to loosen up just a tad.
“Thanks, mate. Anyway . . . after living here all my life, and then in the icebox that’s Harry’s flat I wouldn’t know what to do with all of the space in a house. I wouldn’t know what to do with myself, mind. So . . . “ He trailed off again and looked down at Hermione. She was still a little green, but smiled up at him happily. Ron put his arm around her before he spoke again “ . . . I asked Hermione to move in with me.”
“And I agreed,” Hermione said, a large grim playing across her face. Even though she was positively beaming, Harry saw her glance nervously at her parents, who were watching her and Ron closely, their expressions unreadable.
“You — you did what?” asked Mrs. Weasley in a soft voice. All eyes turned to her. If there was someone that was going to react badly to this news it was she. And, given her temper, it would be no laughing matter. Seeing this potential problem, Ron spoke up again.
“It just seemed the right thing to do . . . you know, given that we’re also going to — to get married?” He said these last three words quietly. The sitting room was so silent that they could hear a pin drop. Everyone was waiting for Mrs. Weasley’s reaction.
“You’re what?” she asked, a hand over her mouth, her expression still unclear.
“We’re engaged,” Hermione said, her smile faltering a little. She glanced at Ron, possibly trying to determine how they should react.
“You’re engaged?” Mrs. Weasley repeated weakly, her hand now moving to her heart. “You’re getting married. You’re getting married?” She scrutinized the pair of them, as though checking to make sure they weren’t just figments of her imagination. Ron and Hermione nodded uncertainly.
“Arthur, did you hear that?” Mrs. Weasley turned to face her husband. “They’re engaged.”
“Yes, dear,” he said, a smile on his face as he watched his wife’s reaction.
The lack of movement in the room was such that Harry thought they had all somehow been placed under the full body bind curse. Then —
“Oh, this is so wonderful,” Mrs. Weasley cried, running over and pulling Ron and Hermione into a tight embrace. Her reaction seemed to unfreeze everyone. Fred and George wolf whistled. Ron’s five brothers each took it in their turn to come over and clap him on the back, offering their congratulations.
“Listen, Ron, we’ve got to go,” Bill said a few minutes later, nodding to Fleur who was putting on her traveling cloak. “But I just wanted to offer my congratulations to you. Finally got sick of mum’s harping, eh?” He winked at Ron, gave Hermione a quick kiss on the cheek and then snatched up Simon and followed Fleur and Riley out the door.
For the remainder of their visit there was no other topic of conversation, at least among the women. Mrs. Weasley, Ginny, Hermione, and Mrs. Granger were over in their own corner, in full flow about the wedding. Harry, who was clustered over on the other side of the room with the men who were good-naturedly teasing Ron about the engagement, couldn’t help but glance over at Ginny more than was probably normal. Was it just his imagination, or did she not look happy? He thought back to the night he’d asked her to move in.
Harry had difficulty falling asleep after his disastrous attempt at asking Ginny to move in with him. He watched her sleep for two hours, wondering how it was that he could have made such an ass of himself. Yes, he had essentially assumed that she was going to jump at the chance to move in. Yes she was practically living there already . . . but even so, he should have asked in a much better way. It had only been when he’d worked out his apology verbatim that Harry was finally able to get to sleep. He’d planned to tell her in the morning but hadn’t been given that opportunity for when he woke up sue was gone. In her place was a hastily scribbled note saying she’d been neglecting her family spending so much time at Harry’s flat. She was going to go home to the Burrow for a few days.
The fact Ginny hadn’t stayed over since their (for lack of a better word) argument bothered Harry much less than the current state of their relationship. Ginny readily accepted his apology when Harry offered it and was quick to offer her own in return, yet everything was not as it once was. The few times they had seen each other over the past weeks had been punctuated by a tension neither of them had ever experienced in their relationship before. They were being overly polite with each other, something that everyone was quick to notice. Today had been no different.
“Harry, you still with us?” Ron snapped his fingers right in front of Harry’s face. Reluctantly Harry turned his attention away from Ginny.
“You weren’t listening at all were you?”
“Blimey Harry,” said Charlie. “You should at least try to keep your eyes in your head around us.” Everyone except Percy let out a tiny laugh. Percy glanced from Harry to Ginny with a small frown on his face. Ignoring this usual reaction, Harry smiled a little, in spite of the embarrassment he felt.
“Mind you, he’s not as bad as Ron was with Phlegm,” Ginny said, coming over to stand behind Harry.
“Hey,” Ron shouted, “I wasn’t that bad.”
“Yeah, right,” Ginny said as Harry snorted, remembering quite clearly Ron’s reaction to Fleur during their fourth year. “I seem to remember you taking every opportunity to get a simple kiss from her. It was quite pathetic.”
Looking like he wasn’t sure whether he should be embarrassed or angry, Ron left his seat and went to join Hermione. As he sat down beside her he gave Ginny a dirty look and then turned his attention to the discussion occurring between the three women.
“He must really have wanted to get away from us if he’s gone to sit with them and listen to their prattle about wedding plans,” Ginny said. She watched them thoughtfully for a second before seeming to come back to herself. She sat down in Ron’s vacated seat and proceeded to get into an argument with the twins over Quidditch fouls. This was a rare topic with her. Given that Quidditch took up so much of her time none of the family begrudged her desire not to discuss it during her off time.
Mr. and Mrs. Granger had arrived at the Burrow with Ron and Hermione by side-along Apparition and were being returned home in that same manner. Ginny decided to once again remain at the Burrow so Harry was to be found sitting alone in his flat several hours later. He had lit a fire to combat the chill in the air.
As he watched the flames Harry could not help but contemplate what could have been going through Ginny’s mind earlier. What had she been thinking? Her reaction when he asked her to move in with him made Harry quite certain that jealousy was one thing she didn’t feel. But what was going on with her lately? She’d been touchy for ages now. The fact she was unhappy was most troubling especially because, not knowing what was causing her to feel that way, there was nothing Harry could do to help.
Straining to try and recall anything that could give him a clue as to what was causing Ginny’s moodiness, Harry didn’t immediately notice that the flames had turned green. It was only when a rapidly spinning figure appeared in the fire that Harry completely registered someone was there at all. For a split second he thought it was Ron or Hermione returning. He simultaneously realized two things. The first was that Ron and Hermione were going to her parents. Muggle fireplaces could not be connected to the Floo Network so how on earth would Ron and Hermione have Flooed home. At the same time he realized that while the figure did have red hair, it was a lot smaller than Ron.
Ginny stepped out of the fireplace dusting soot off her sweater. She didn’t look up.
“I thought that you were staying home tonight?” Harry asked.
“We have to talk,” she replied negating the need for a more formal greeting. When the last vestige of ash had been brushed away Ginny came and sat down beside Harry on the sofa. “I’ve been spending a great deal of time thinking over the last couple of weeks.”
Not sure that good news was coming Harry simply said, “Oh?”
“Yes. I owe you an apology.”
“You owe me an apology?’
This was unprecedented. Harry could not recall a situation in which Ginny ever had to apologize to him. He wasn’t quite sure how to handle it. His shock must have shown because Ginny let out a small giggle before returning to her serious manner again.
“It was that stupid Rita Skeeter article. I know I shouldn’t let her get to me,“ she added quickly before Harry could say anything. “It was just one too many I guess . . .” She stopped again, now frowning.
“Rita Skeeter isn’t known for spreading cheer for the subjects she writes about,” Harry said.
“Too right. Well, that just put me in a bad mood and that made me a little snippy with you.”
“Its fine.” There had to be more to what she wanted to tell him though. If he remembered correctly that particular article had come out the day before he’d asked Ginny to move in. While he certainly understood Rita Skeeter’s power to rile people, Ginny was not one to let those types of tabloid stories bother her for that long. There was no way that everything could be explained away by that story, particularly when taking into account that Ginny had been snippy before it even came out. He opened his mouth to ask her if it was just that article, but she was speaking again.
“I’m not saying I don’t ever want to move in, but now’s just not the right time.”
“Sure.” It had just been a suggestion after all. While Harry would have liked it very much if Ginny was staying with him permanently, he wasn’t going to stake everything on her answer, especially now. He had more pressing concerns at the moment, chief among them getting to the bottom of why she had been acting so strange as of late.
“Oh, good. I’d been worrying that you would be really mad about this.”
“No. It’ll happen when it’s right. But Gin —“
The opening of the door announced Ron and Hermione’s return.
“What are you doing here?” Ron asked. “I thought you were staying at the Burrow tonight.”
“I changed my mind,” Ginny answered. “I hope you don’t mind, Ron.”
“I suppose not,” he replied.
Ron and Hermione’s return put an end to all seriousness for the rest of the night. Harry did watch Ginny closely and was greatly relieved to see her once again being her cheerful self. She spent the majority of the evening teasing Ron about being in the heart of wedding plans. He took her comments very well indeed, laughing heartily.
As they lay in bed later that night Harry’s mind returned to the question he had been about to ask Ginny before Ron and Hermione returned. He knew he still had to ask her. He wanted to know precisely why she had been acting so strange lately so they could deal with it. But those questions could wait for now. He felt it would be pressing his luck to push Ginny into answering questions that were likely to upset her again.
* * *
The week between Christmas and New Year’s Harry found himself with some unexpected time off, which he put to good use. Ron and Hermione were going to move into their house in Hogsmeade right on New Year’s Day. As Ginny also had the week free of training the four friends were able to spend time together. Now they had dealt with the issues that had plagued them over the last weeks, it was as if that argument had never happened. Ginny had even been staying over again. Things were going so well that Harry had almost completely forgotten that he had not found out the root cause of Ginny’s behaviour. It was only Ron who seemed to have anything to say about their newly mended relationship.
“Let’s be glad we’re getting out of here. We’ll miss the explosion,” he said quietly to Hermione, but was still overheard by Harry and Ginny, who both glared at him wiping the smile off his face.
His stint of living alone had been so short as to be considered nonexistent. It had been just a month after he’d moved in that Ron had come to join him. It wasn’t like Harry was alone now; Ginny had been staying over nearly every night since Christmas. But the fact was that she didn’t live here, and it just wasn’t the same. Once Ron and Hermione small flat somehow seemed overly large, and very empty. Luckily, thanks to work, he didn’t have too much time to dwell on this unhappy thought.
The death of Voldemort created chaos both at the Ministry and amongst the Death Eaters. Once he had confirmed that Voldemort was in fact dead Scrimgeour wasted no time disbanding all of the special departments that had been set up. Those witches and wizards who had been assigned to special departments like the one Mr. Weasley had headed were reassigned to the hunt for Death Eaters. This decision created a fiasco for the Ministry. People were furious that the Minister for Magic, himself a former Auror, thought it wise to allow people from administrative positions to track down dark wizards. It turned out to be another nail in Scrimgeour coffin, particularly with the abundance of injuries sustained. When Kingsley was appointed Minister one of the first things he did was to restrict the tracking and capturing of Death Eaters to law enforcement personnel, a much wiser decision on the whole.
After the death of Dumbledore Voldemort’s self-made claim of being the most powerful wizard in the world was no longer in dispute. His followers took full advantage of their impunity to pursue their favorite activities: torture and murder. With the death of their master it was natural to expect upheaval within their organization. They could no longer count on Voldemort’s protection to keep them from being caught. It took some time for them to realize this though, allowing for quite a few Death Eaters to be caught and imprisoned by the Ministry. Some of the wiser and more future minded of that lot had gone to ground.
Harry was extremely glad Yaxley could be counted among those Death Eaters who had deemed it prudent to lay low. He’d been free for over four years; this was time enough to cause innumerable atrocities. Harry knew they were getting close to making a move on Yaxley. They had a pretty good stack of information that he was hiding in an abandoned building in Manchester, but had not yet made their move. Tougas kept insisting that they were not ready, and he was not going to leave anything to luck like Harry had a tendency to do. Harry couldn’t suppress the feeling that Tougas was just having him sit on his hands, too keen on lording his position to relent. Harry was quite familiar with this tactic, given that it seemed to be a favorite of Snape, and his aunt and uncle before that. Apparently he had been wrong in thinking that the importance of their job would prevent such behaviour.
When Harry returned to work the day after Ron and Hermione’s departure it was with the expectation that nothing would have changed. He’d still be pouring over parchments filled with Yaxley’s crimes and discussing tactics with Tougas. It was the latter that he dreaded the most. Like Snape, Tougas seemed to think any idea that came out of Harry’s mouth was complete rubbish. On more than one occasion Harry had to use a considerable amount of restraint not to jinx the idiot. However when they met for the first time in the New Year Tougas surprised him.
Harry had just sat down in his cubicle and started pouring over a map of the Manchester Waterfront. He was making sure he had it all committed to memory, as Tougas had demanded. He was pleased with himself when he realized he did. That triumphant feeling was short-lived. At that precise moment Tougas put in his first appearance of the day.
“Potter, what are you doing?” he demanded.
“Just going over this,” Harry said, holding up the map.
“I’d have thought you’d know it already. Surely after four weeks —“
“I do,” Harry interrupted. “I was just making sure.” He found it extremely hard to keep his annoyance in check. He hadn’t quite worked out why Tougas seemed to dislike him so much. He tried not to think about it.
“Come with me.” Looking like he still doubted was Harry told him, Tougas beckoned Harry to follow him. Not sure what to expect Harry hastened to follow Tougas. He dearly hoped he wasn’t going to have another ream shoved of parchment at him. He really thought he’d read more in the last four weeks than his entire six years at Hogwarts. Tougas led Harry, not to the file room that held thousands of scrolls (records of centuries worth of cases) but to the Apparition point on their floor.
“Where are we going?”
“Manchester,” Tougas said simply.
“Wha — Oh.” Harry felt excitement and trepidation well up inside him. This was it! After weeks and weeks they were finally going to arrest Yaxley. They were going to capture the scumbag who thought it funny to mercilessly murder Hannah Abbot’s parents, who had been there the night that Dumbledore had been killed, and who had participated in untold numbers of horrors under Voldemort’s reign of terror. Finally, they were going.
“Hold it.” Tougas stuck out his hand to stop Harry entering the Apparition area. “Don’t think, Potter, that we’re running off to pick him up without checking out the area first. We don’t even know for sure he’s still there. One false move and we could lose him again.”
“Of course,” Harry replied, trying to contain his anticipation. “We’ve got to go careful. If we move in —“
“We’re just scouting today. Don’t go getting any ideas about some hotheaded, poorly planned mission. You don’t have Dumbledore to get you out of this mess you know.”
“Especially since he’s been dead for four and a half years,” Harry replied irritably. How out of the blue was that comment” He’d been in plenty of sticky situations and hadn’t had Dumbledore bail him out.
“Good. So we’re clear that this is a covert, surveillance only mission?”
“Yes. But if we get the opportunity —“ Harry started. He could not shake the feeling that if they didn’t act Yaxley would slip through their grasp again.
“No, Potter. Surveillance only!”
“Fine,” Harry said, feeling mutinous. He wasn’t planning on rushing at Yaxley’s hideout without first investigating the protective spells that had surely been set up. It was sheer pig-headedness to refuse the opportunity to apprehend the Death Eater if it should arise. And, he thought trying to clear his mind as they prepared to Apparate, they should have done this weeks ago rather than going over the stack of parchment on the case until every fibre on the paper was emblazoned on their retinas. At least they were finally doing something though.
Not knowing exactly how far Yaxley had extended his protective spells, they Apparated at least a mile away from his hideout then began the painstaking task of finding the spot at which the magical protection began. They would need to know this for when they finally came to make their arrest. It would certainly not do to set off Yaxley’s intruder alerts before they were ready to take him into custody. The caution they needed to employ here meant it was likely to take days to map out his defences, which was precisely the reason Harry felt their time would have been better spent doing this than sitting back at the office. There was no point harping on the matter though. They were here now and there was a great deal of work to be done.
It took three weeks of skulking around the Manchester Waterfront before they were sure they’d mapped out all of Yaxley’s protective spells. During that time they didn’t see so much as a wand tip from that building. If it hadn’t been for the fact that his protective spells were there, they would have thought the building was uninhabited.
By the third week of January a constant rain and chilly north wind were their daily companions, causing Harry’s patience to ebb once again. During the last week they had discovered nothing new of consequence. Why was it Tougas was delaying? Caution was fine, Harry thought, pushing his sodden fringe out of his eyes, but if they didn’t act soon Yaxley was going to find out they were tracking him and he was going to scarper.
Tougas’s need to do everything in triplicate was making Harry very ill tempered indeed. They spent day nineteen lurking outside the magical sensors. They were staring at the building, rechecking for weak areas in which Yaxley could possibly escape. This, too, was something they’d done on several previous occasions. The sheets of icy rain and gale force winds were not making this a pleasant day at all. As dark approached it became harder to stay out of the charmed area (which was already a difficult feat owing to the strong winds). A particularly vicious gust of wind coupled with an uneven stretch of ground caused Harry to overbalance. He managed to prevent himself falling, but he had stumbled right into the boundary of the charmed area.
“You idiot,” Tougas hissed. His words were barely discernable over the howling wind. He pulled out his wand, conjured some canaries and directing them further into the charmed area. Then he grabbed Harry’s arm and twisted away.
Seconds later they were standing in the Apparition area in Auror headquarters, dripping onto the carpet.
“Tell me something Potter, exactly who did you bewitch to let you into this department?”
Harry didn’t answer. He didn’t trust himself not to blow up completely. They’d been wasting time for weeks now, doing their damnedest to catch pneumonia, out on a freezing cold street in the middle of a hurricane, and Tougas was angry at him for nearly getting blown to Azkaban?
“Good way to waste seven weeks worth of work, Potter.” Tougas started to storm away before thinking better of it and spinning around. “Given your supposed skills as a seeker, I’d have thought you’d be a little more coordinated. I suppose that was another of those stories that was blown out of proportion, too?”
The smug look on Tougas’s face, rather than the slight about his seeking skills, is what goaded Harry into retorting, “Yeah, well we wouldn’t have to worry about it if we’d taken Yaxley weeks ago like we should have.”
Tougas had started to walk away again, but at Harry’s words he spun around so fast and pointed his wand at Harry, who was ready for this exact thing, and had his own wand out. It would not be a good thing to attack his supervisor, he didn’t need to be told that. On the other hand, though, Tougas had been goading him for weeks.
“The last time I checked, Potter, I am your superior. We work on my timetable, not yours. I will not have you blundering around and screwing this up. You hear me?”
“Yeah, I do. I don’t think we should sit back and wait until he’s cottoned on to us and fled either though.”
“Which he probably will have done because of your idiocy.”
“We’re not going to get any more information if we watch for another fortnight. Are you scared to take him or something?” That question came out as if Harry was taunting Tougas. He had not intended for it to be so.
“Just covering all my bases, Potter, something you have probably never done.”
Again Harry didn’t comment. He felt he’d already stepped way over the line, even though he knew he had a point.
“Not that it matters now. We’re going to have to move in as soon as possible. We’ve got to take him now before he has a chance to take off. I want you back here at six.”
The weather the following morning was no better than it had been the previous day. Sure that Tougas was going to keep him in an observational position for untold hours, Harry decided he was going to bring his invisibility cloak. If nothing else it would be an additional layer to shield him from the cold. As he was making ready to leave, trying to be quiet so as not to wake Ginny, a small pop announced the appearance of someone’s head in the fire.
“POTTER,” barked Tougas.
“Sssshhh,” Harry hissed, hurrying over to the fire. This guy really had no consideration at all. “My girlfriend’s asleep in the other room.”
“Touching,” Tougas sneered, speaking a little quieter than before. “Bring your broomstick with you.”
“We’re not flying to Manchester?” Harry asked, thinking of how he’d be a solid mass of ice in this weather. Perhaps that was what Tougas was hoping for, so he could drag this case out for several more weeks.
“No. But we’re going to have to Apparate farther away this time. I can almost guarantee that Yaxley’ll have reinforced his wards. If we’re lucky he’ll think those canaries set everything off, but he’s got to be running scared.”
“Yeah, OK.” They’d probably be Apparating into another county if Tougas thought they’d need brooms. Flying in this weather was going to be a nightmare, Harry knew, but he couldn’t help but feel a little upbeat at the idea of being back on his broom. It had been months since he’d taken his Firebolt out.
“Ten minutes then.” With this final order Tougas’s head disappeared.
Clutching his Firebolt under his Invisibility Cloak, Harry exited from the flat to find a safe Apparition point. At five-thirty in the morning this wasn’t a hard task at all. Moments later Harry had left the chill January behind and was walking through the nearly empty Auror headquarters to find Tougas. He wanted to set off right away but knew better than to think that Tougas would stand for this. He was as bad as Oliver Wood had been for long drawn out lectures.
As there were so few employees in at this ungodly hour it didn’t take him long to find his supervisor at all. Tougas was deep in discussion with a tiny witch with mousy brown hair. Harry had seen them talking quite often, but he didn’t know who she was. He’d been spending so much time on this redundant case that he’d had little time for anything else. He stood back, waiting for them to wrap up their conversation. There was something oddly familiar about her, aside from the occasions he’d seen her over the last weeks. As he was trying to place where he had seen this witch before she spotted him watching her. Blushing, she nudged Tougas who turned, frowning. After what appeared to be a quick goodbye, he came over to Harry.
“Well, Potter, your day has come at last,” he said snidely. “Another chance to get yourself in the papers. It’s been a whole week, hasn’t it?”
Harry ignored this. Here again was another tactic he was quite used to from when he was younger. Tougas had adopted it as one of his favorites. It did get to Harry some days, especially when he was tired, but lately he hadn’t been bothered by the remarks. Perhaps he had got used to it after putting up with the reaction for so many years. Tougas pulled him into a room they used for interrogations.
“You do remember everything you’ve been going over?”
“You’d better. One more demonstration like yesterday —“
“I got it,” Harry said quickly.
“Good. Keep it in mind though that you can’t go charging in like an untrained oaf. We’re going to Apparate to Liverpool and fly from there. If we’re lucky the dark and mist will hide us. Let’s go.”
Thirty minutes later, after traveling through some truly frightening winds, Harry and Tougas landed. It was only as he threw the invisibility cloak over himself that Harry realized they were standing in almost exactly the same spot as the day they’d first arrived. He couldn’t even make out the large building Yaxley was (hopefully) still hiding in.
Clutching their brooms, they set off, the howling wind masking the sound of their footsteps and the swishing of their cloaks. Harry had to keep a firm grip on the invisibility cloak to keep it from flying off in the gale. They were moving slowly, looking for the perimeter of Yaxley’s enchantments. Harry agreed with Tougas (much as he didn’t want to admit it) that after their near escape the evening before it was highly likely that he would have fortified his protections, assuming he hadn’t just up and left.
To their surprise, the protective border around that large brick building was exactly the same as it had been the previous evening. Harry was sure this meant Tougas’s attempted diversion didn’t work at all. He was almost completely convinced that Yaxley realized they had caught up with him and had taken off. So strong was his conviction that he had to give himself a shake to stop himself from getting up and leaving.
It was completely light out by the time they’d satisfied themselves that none of the enchantments had changed.
“You know, Potter it would be a hell of a lot smarter if you’d take off that stupid cloak and just Disillusion yourself,” Tougas hissed.
“Not going to do a whole hell of a lot of good once we step inside those barriers though, is it?” Harry asked, looking to his left where he could tell Tougas was standing because of the disruption of the pouring rain. He was reluctant to remove an extra layer of protection from the wind and the rain, but that certainly wasn’t all. Hadn’t it been Tougas who had said they needed to know every possible thing about these protections before they made their move? Now he was forgetting that the minute they stepped inside the boundaries any charms to conceal or disguise would be lifted. They were going to have to act fast.
“Fine,” Tougas barked, clearly annoyed that Harry got one over on him. “Remember though, Potter . . . No unnecessary risks. The last thing we need is Muggle involvement.”
“Understood.” Harry was perched on the very edge of the enchantments.
“On my count then. One . . . Two . . . Three . . . “
They ran into the midst of the batch of protective spells. Nothing happened except Tougas’s Disillusionment charm lifting. Harry did his best to keep the invisibility cloak from flapping and exposing him.
“Alohomora,” Harry said, pointing his wand at the door. He could just make out the sound of the lock clicking. Keeping his wand at the ready he started to ease the door open, unsure of how Yaxley was going to react. He expected to see a jet of light at any time; the Death Eater had certainly been forewarned of their appearance by their breach of his wards. As there was only one door if he wanted to leave this would be the most likely way he would come. They had him trapped. Nothing happened.
“There’s no one in there, Potter.” Tougas had caught up with Harry. He was lowering his wand. “Looks like he’s left. Probably after last night.”
Harry spun to say I told you so, but as he turned, he saw a shadow pass overhead. Both he and Tougas looked up. Someone was speeding away on a broom. He was already over the water, but Harry was ready to bet his firebolt that it was Yaxley. There weren’t that many witches and wizards in Manchester for this to be a coincidence.
“Potter, where are you going?” Tougas shouted. Harry barely heard him. He had hopped onto his broom and took off like a bullet after Yaxley. After four years of unlawful freedom, and nearly two months of Harry’s time, there was no bloody way he was going to let this bastard get away.
Though he had nearly half a mile’s head start Harry was rapidly gaining on Yaxley thanks to his superior broom. He was focusing all his energy on keeping his broom straight in the gale. Thirty seconds after Harry started tailing him that Yaxley looked back to see if he was being followed. Seeing Harry he pointed his wand over his shoulder and aimed a curse. Harry easily avoided the jet of red light by diving low. If he could keep his broom on course he’d be laying hands on the scum in mere moments.
Yaxley seemed to sense this. He shot another jet of red light before making a sharp ninety-degree turn. Harry easily avoided the spell again, but unfortunately was caught in a particularly strong gust of wind and was blown in the exact opposite direction.
“Damn it,” he yelled, regaining control of his broom and flattening himself against it so he could gain optimal speed. He needed to make up the distance he’d lost if he had any chance of catching Yaxley. Too much longer and the idiot might remember that he could Disapparate. Hopefully he didn’t realize that for a little bit longer . . .
Yaxley seemed to also be struggling with the speed of the wind. He hadn’t shot any spells back since making that sharp turn. Much like Harry, it seemed that all of his effort was going into keeping his broom from spinning out of control.
After another vicious wind gust, Harry pulled his broom up sharply to avoid the jet of green light issuing from his pursuit’s wand. It took a second for him to realize that he’d done exactly as Yaxley wanted because the Death eater had dived. Hastening to follow, Harry felt a clenching in his chest.
Yaxley had dived right down to street level, and was speeding through a crowd of Muggles who were darting out of the way.
The buildings acted like a windbreak so Harry was able to use less of his efforts on being blown out to sea. This was good news for him, but potentially bad news for the Muggles. Any one of these people could become victim of a desperate man trying to escape his fate.
“Come on,” Harry bellowed at his broom, urging it faster. He needed to catch this guy before anything happened.
“Expelliarmus,” he yelled, hoping at the very least to disarm Yaxley. His spell just missed. He was able to easily avoid all the spells that Harry sent at him, and Harry was still too far away to grab him, but the gap was closing all the time. Just a few more minutes . . .
As they turned another corner Yaxley aimed another killing curse at Harry. He dodged it, but hoped it didn’t hit any of the stunned Muggles behind him. He kept his concentration on his pursuit though. The street they were speeding down was a dead end. If Yaxley didn’t notice the building straight ahead he’d be sure to crash into it.
Unfortunately he did notice, but too late to fly above it. Instead, he dived down and landed.
“Good,” thought Harry. He’d be much easier to catch on foot (again assuming he didn’t Disapparate). As he too landed, a dozen feet away from Yaxley, his chest clenched even tighter. Yaxley snatched one of the bystanders from the crowd, clearly meant to be a hostage.
“The game’s up,” Harry said, trying not to betray his fear for the safety of the young boy who now had Yaxley’s wand pointed at his throat. Now would be the time to disarm or stun, but one failed attempt and that boy would surely be dead. Harry held off until the exact right moment.
Yaxley was smiling, a cold and calculating expression on him.
“Oh I don’t know, Potter. I seem to be the one with the pwer here. What d’you think about showing all these people a demonstration of real magic?”
Harry tried not to let the murmurings of the bystanders distract him. He was waiting for the exact right moment.
“I don’t think Mad-Eye is going to be too happy you’ve let me get this close to Muggles, Potter. Perhaps the Minister will rethink allowing you to become an Auror once he finds out how many people you’ve got killed. Then again you did manage to get here faster than Tougas did.” Yaxley’s smile increased as he looked at something over Harry’s shoulder.
“Expelliarmus . . . Stupefy,” Harry shouted, taking full advantage of Yaxley’s momentary distraction. Both jets of red light hit their mark. His wand flew high into the air, and a second later he fell over backwards.
Tougas strode past Harry, to the place were Yaxley was lying stupefied. He picked up the wand, and pocketed it, conjured cords out of thin air, which wound themselves tightly around Yaxley, and then cast a spell Harry had seen before. Yaxley bobbed along in mid-air, bound tightly, but still unconscious.
“What did I say, Potter?” Tougas asked, stopping about a foot away, and speaking quietly so as not to be overheard. His eyes were bulging with fury.
It took a minute for Harry to recall what Tougas had said. “Don’t take risks. We don’t need Muggle involvement,” he said finally. “But —“
“And who are all these people?”
“Muggles. But —“
“Tell me something, Potter. Is there an inherent flaw in your genetic code that prevents you from following orders?”
“NO,” Harry said loudly. “But we got him, didn’t we. And there weren’t any injuries, we — were there?” He had hesitated here, remembering his worry that there might have been someone hit by the last killing curse Yaxley had cast.
“Luckily, no. But this little stunt of yours could have cost more than just memory charms. One day that luck of yours is going to run out, and you’ll probably get yourself and a million other people killed on the process. Take him and get back to headquarters.”
It would be a relief to get out of the rain. Harry checked to make sure he still had his invisibility cloak, grabbed his firebolt in one hand, Yaxley’s shoulder in the other, and concentrated on the Apparition area in his own department at the Ministry.
He was halfway to one of the interrogation rooms with his prisoner in tow when Moody called him.
“What’s this?” Moody came closer. It was a minute before he seemed to comprehend what he was seeing. “Nice work. This is the real scum then?”
“He had to stay behind. There was an . . . incident.”
“What sort of incident?” Moody’s real eye narrowed.
“He took off on a broom. We followed . . . but he flew right through a crowd of Muggles.”
Moody did not look pleased. “So I take it he’s overseeing the modification of their memories?”
“Safe assumption,” Harry mumbled. It was hard to tell what Moody’s reaction would be to this situation.
“I look forward to the explanation of this in your report. Get this vermin prepared for transport to Azkaban and then get busy on that report.”
Once he had placed the still unconscious Yaxley into a holding cell and made sure it was secure, Harry returned to his cubicle and started to fill out the requested report. He was about halfway through a detailed retelling of the events that led to Yaxley’s recapture when he was suddenly seized by the back of his robes and yanked out of his chair. Ink spilled onto his report as he dropped his quill and stumbled to find his feet while reaching for his wand.
“Contrary to what you think, Potter, lives really are at stake when you pull idiotic stunts like that,” Tougas said. His voice was shaking slightly, his expression murderous.
“No one got hurt,” Harry said, which seemed to be quite the wrong thing to say.
“Only because I followed behind you to clean up your mess. On that last turn I saved a Muggle woman from getting hit by that Killing Curse, but barely.”
“Thank God for that,” Harry stated truthfully. “I didn’t have control over where he went. I was following him, remember.”
“Who told you to pursue?”
“I — well, no one, but —“
“Exactly. We have protocols for these types of situations. You’re supposed to know them.”
“You think I was just going to stand there and let him leave?”
“You call for reinforcements. Secure the area so that what happened today —“
“No one got hurt,” Harry repeated. “There wasn’t time for — I’m sorry but I saw the chance to catch him and I took it. Waiting for reinforcement would have given Yaxley the chance to Disapparate and then we’d have spent another four years tracking him down.”
“So you prefer to risk innocent lives?”
“No. If it can be avoided — but here —“
“You saw a chance to prove what a hot shot you are, to hell with precautions, or the statute of secrecy?”
“I thought the objective of the mission was to get Yaxley? There were no injuries, and memories can be modified. Isn’t that what we have Obliviators for?”
“If we’d followed protocol they wouldn’t have been needed. The fact there were no injuries was luck. We don’t work on luck, Potter. In case you haven’t already realized it, this job is not about having a chance to show off!”
“We have another Death Eater in custody because I reacted rather than sitting back and allowing him to escape again, like you’ve been doing for four years.” Harry said it out of temper, and immediately wanted to take it back. He knew he’d just stepped way over the line.
“At least I’ve never got someone killed. How many have you got killed? Your godfather, and how many Muggles was it again?”
“Shut the hell up!” Harry felt fury rise up in him. How dare Tougas bring up those deaths? They were accidents. Did he really think that those didn’t still haunt Harry? He raised his wand and pointed it in Tougas’s face.
“You’re dangerous, Potter. Or perhaps inept is a more accurate word.”
“Perhaps I’ve learned more from you than I thought then,” Harry spat.
Tougas raised his wand to perform some sort of spell, but at that minute both his and Harry’s wands flew out of their hands.
“What are you two doing?” Moody demanded loudly, moving over to them as quickly as he could. It was only now that Harry realized the argument between himself and Tougas had attracted the attention of everyone else. They were all standing up in their cubicles and watching the two men face each other, looking ready to attack.
“Potter and I were just having a discussion about the case, sir,” Tougas said, turning at once to face Moody.
“Looked more like you were about to kill each other,” Moody said. “This department does not tolerate such behaviour. Tougas come with me. Potter, go home.”
“But my report —“ Harry started.
“Take it home. I don’t want you anywhere near this building for the rest of the day.” Moody gave Harry back his wand. “And I want to see you first thing tomorrow morning, with that report. The rest of you get back to work.”
The exhilaration Harry had felt at finally apprehending Yaxley was very short-lived indeed. From Moody’s reaction, it sounded like he was in trouble. Tougas was surely going to use this meeting with Moody to vilify Harry. He rolled up the parchment he was writing his report on, grabbed his broom again, and headed for the Apparition point. It was only at the very last minute that he decided to put on his cloak. There was bound to be at least one Muggle who would be startled by his sudden appearance. Feeling that risking the exposure of the wizarding world again today could not do him any good, Harry made absolutely sure he was alone before removing the cloak when he appeared in the alley next to his flat, and also that the cloak completely covered his broom before he entered the building.
t was only as he took the three flights of stairs that led to his flat that Harry realized how exhausted he was. Having been on such high levels of alert for hours, he felt like doing nothing better than dropping into bed and sleeping. With any luck Ginny would be back from practice.
Harry had to wait for one of his neighbors to pass before he could unlock the door. As he waited he thought he heard the television on. Good, that meant Ginny was back.
“Ginny?” he called closing the door behind him.
“You’re early,” she replied, coming around from the kitchen. “I thought you’d be hours.”
“Long story. I — what?”
Ginny was looking slightly apprehensive. She kept glancing from Harry to the sofa. Wondering what the draw was he shifted his gaze there too. What he saw made him sure his luck had finally peaked.
Lounging on his sofa was none other than his only living relative, Dudley Dursley.