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Steward of the House of Black
Chapter the Fourth
Steward of the House of Black
Chapter the Fourth
“So, how do you want to play this?” Remus asked.
“I’m not quite sure,” Frank answered. “I’ve never done reconnaissance in a Muggle estate before.”
“You’re kidding me,” Remus said.
“Nope, Auror training spends more time covering etiquette and deportment than it does working in the Muggle world,” Frank admitted.
“That explains a lot of things,” Remus said.
The two men walked down the shady, tree-lined streets, coming up to Privet Drive.
“That’s the house,” Remus said.
“Garage is open and there’s no car – you suppose that they’re gone?” Frank asked.
“More likely that Vernon is out playing golf,” Remus said.
“He plays the noble sport?” Frank asked.
“Not well, but yes, he plays. He has a membership at a course not too far from here, and when I was sniffing around trying to find out if this ‘Vernon Dursley’ was the Vernon Dursley I was looking for, I ended up chatting with the manager of the shop associated with the course,” Remus explained.
“What did he have to say?”
“Dursley is not well liked – apparently by anyone,” Remus said.
“Yup, plays other player’s balls, doesn’t put the flag back in the hole, all those things that golfers hate. The only good thing the manager had to say was that he was a reliable customer, always stopping in for some sweets after he’s been playing. He also said that on Saturday mornings, Vernon usually shoots at the practice range, and then on Sunday mornings he plays with people from Grunnings.”
“That’s the tool making place?”
“Yeah. Well, here we are. Don’t go any closer – there’s a ward line of some sort on the property. I didn’t investigate the wards because I didn’t want to tip my hand that I’d found the place,” Remus said.
“So, what’s nearby?” Frank asked.
“There’s a park around the corner – the usual playground and then two football fields – one’s booked for children’s league games and the other is usually full with pickup games. I’d stick some sticky tracers on the sidewalk next to the ward line border, and then if anyone leaves the house, I’ll know,” Remus said.
“Sticky tracer?” Frank asked.
“It’s something that my chums invented in school. It’s a little magical construct that sticks to someone who passes by – it can be used to listen in on someone, and also acts like a conventional tracking charm. If it’s in place, we’ll know if anyone goes into or out of the house. Two gentlemen hanging around a residential estate would look odd, but if we know the charm is watching the doors, we can watch the pickup games or the kiddie games without looking out of place,” Remus explained.
“Why did none of you go into Auror work?” Frank asked, watching as Remus laid down the sticky tracers.
“Well, Sirius was from a Dark aligned family and was discouraged from applying for the Aurors; James was so well off he didn’t need to work, and because of my medical history, I was actively encouraged to never consider doing anything with the Magical government,” Remus said mildly. “I’m barred from any number of professions where my monthly problems have absolutely no impact.”
“It’s not right,” Frank said.
“True, but it’s not likely to change any time soon, so either I figure out how to work around it, or I take my wand and leave Britain,” Remus said.
“You seem to be working around it,” Frank said, joining Remus as he walked towards the park.
“There are days I wonder if it’s worth it; academic now, I’ve got to take care of Sirius as best I can,” Remus said.
“And after that?”
“There’s an after?”
“We must hope that there will be an after,” Frank said. “So, kiddie game or pickup game?”
“We’d stand out at the kiddie game – if you notice, all the adult spectators are either couples or women with younger children,” Remus explained.
“Huh, guess I have to brew stronger tea, my powers of observation are lacking this morning,” Frank said.
“If you showed up as a singleton, you’d either get picked up by one of the single moms, or driven off by a pack of them,” Remus said.
“Are you speaking from personal experience?” Frank asked.
“I showed up for one of Julia’s games because we were going to have a tutoring session right afterwards. Two mums were convinced that I was a pedophile, and another mum was convinced that I needed to get to know her better,” Remus said with a smile. He pulled a package from his pocket and with a flourish had a folding spectator chair. He then repeated the process and handed a folding chair to Frank.
“No one’s going to notice that?” Frank asked.
“Notice-me-not charm,” Remus said, “the wizard’s best friend when trolling through the Muggle world.” Remus handed an acorn of blue putty to Frank.
“Put that in your ear and you’ll be able to hear anything from the sticky tracer.”
Frank did so after unfolding his chair and positioning it to watch the pickup game. One team was entirely young men while the other had a rather fierce looking woman as goalie and her opposite, a smiling perky twenty-something playing forward. The goalie was apparently known to all the players as both sides politely applauded when she stopped multiple attempts to score against her goal.
Frank was marveling at the quality of the play when he heard a low chime in his makeshift earpiece.
“What’s that mean?” Frank asked.
“The charm has attached – the low chime means that it’s someone going into the house, probably Vernon,” Remus answered.
“Hello, Pet,” a male voice boomed. There was an accompanying clatter, something being set down on a wood floor.
“Vernon,” a female voice sounded. “I’m glad you’re home. Did you have a good time at the course?”
“I think I’m making progress on correcting my slice,” the male voice said.
“Tea, or something cold?” the female asked.
“Just water, it’s thirsty work out there on the range.”
There was the sound of dishes clattering and shoes clacking on the floor.
“Here you are,” the female voice said. “Vernon, I need to use the car to go to Tesco, Duddikins is out of his favorite cereal.”
“That should be fine, Pet,” the male voice said. There was a sound of creaking springs and then television noise. “You are taking the freak with you.”
“Of course, Vernon,” the voice agreed. “Boys, get your shoes on, we need to go to the store.”
“Sweeties! Sweeties!” a tiny voice called.
“Of course, Duddykins,” the female voice cooed.
The background noise swelled and diminished and then there was a high pitched beep.
“Charm attaching, leaving the house,” Remus explained.
In the earpieces they both heard the sounds of car doors opening and closing, pinging and beeping noises as the car started.
“Are we following them?” Frank asked.
“I know where the nearest Tesco is located. We could Apparate there,” Remus replied. “You have to remember, I’m making all this up as we go along. My sum total of my experience in surveillance consists of watching girls at the beach and pranking classmates at school.”
“Lead on,” Frank said, folding his seat up and handing it to Remus.
Frank was on Harry surveillance until noon, when he had to replace one of the Aurors on the Bagnold protective detail. At the request of the Chief Auror, the detail rotated, with no Aurors spending more than a week on detail at a time.
The shopping trip to Tesco had been a disaster, with Harry’s cousin digging into his diaper and smearing canned goods with fresh feces while Petunia had been looking the other way. Once Petunia caught a whiff of Dudley’s impromptu finger-paint; she inexplicably slapped Harry and then rushed the boys out of the store. The most ominous fact was that Harry seemed unsurprised at the slap and did not cry out.
“What do you suppose she meant by ‘you’re going back to the cupboard when we get home?’” Frank asked.
“I have no clue,” Remus said. “I think I’m going to investigate the wards a bit more and see what I can learn.”
“What exactly does that mean?” Frank said with a curious look.
“I think it means that if you want plausible deniability, you’ll not ask that question again,” Remus said.
Frank didn’t say anything more.
After Frank left for work, Remus took a break from his surveillance, refreshing the sticky tracers at various points around the property. He took his own expedition to a different Tesco, one closer to his flat, shopping for various staples and then a selection of fruit and vegetables. He heard the outbound tracer activate with the sound of an automobile starting. He could pick up the voices that he now knew as Petunia, Vernon and Dudley, but Harry’s voice was not heard, which might or might not mean anything, as he’d not yet heard Harry say anything. Fifteen minutes later, he heard the sounds of a restaurant and figured that the Dursleyfamily, minus Harry, were out to dinner, which meant that this was a fine time to return to Number Four Privet Drive to see what more he could learn. He shrank the groceries down into a very small bundle, which he tucked into his pocket.
He spent nearly a half hour walking slowly around the house as a Disillusioned wraith, carefully plotting the locations of the ward stones around the house. There were three stones, and when he’d interrogated the wards all he detected was a combination of intent and aversion, which he found a curious combination.
“If the wards are there to protect Harry, then it’s probably keyed to magical beings with the intent to harm him – people with such intent would want to be elsewhere,” Remus muttered to himself. “That makes absolutely no sense, but it’s probably combined with some sort of alarm ward that invokes some other protection.”
Feeling particularly reckless he walked to the back door, well out of sight of any of the neighbors, fearing at any moment that he’d trip some sort of defensive mechanism. He felt a tickle as he passed the ward boundary, but nothing happened that he could detect. He then knocked on the door. There was no answer.
“Well, Gryffindors go forward,” he announced to himself before whispering “Alohomora” to unlock the back door. Once inside the house he cancelled the Disillusionment and then cast a revealing charm in the directions of the compass. There were no active magics about on the ground floor of the house, or at least none that he could detect. He then cast a wide area HomenumRevelio, which produced a faint glow by a door near the front entryway. Remus’s heart skipped a beat when he recognized it was a cupboard door. The door had a simple deadbolt lock, which was most unusual for that type of door. He turned the bolt and opened the door.
The cupboard was dark inside. If it had ever had shelves, they’d been removed, leaving just a bare area. An old towel was wadded up on the ground, and curled up in the towel was a small, black haired child.
“Hello, Harry, do you remember me?” he said.
The child stretched and then turned to him, sitting up to regard him with serious eyes.
“Moo’y,” he said, staring at him intently and then said “Moony.”
“That’s right, Harry, I’m Moony,” Remus said. “Are you hungry?”
“Hun'ry,” Harry replied.
Remus thought of what he might have in his pocket among the shrunken groceries that might be suitable for an almost two year old child. According to the little he knew about children who’d advanced to solid foods, they ate almost anything if it were cut into small enough chunks, so he conjured a knife and sliced off hunks of cheese, placing them on the towel next to Harry.
Harry stared seriously at the cheese before grabbing a bit of cheese and moving it to his mouth so fast that Remus wasn’t sure that he saw Harry’s mouth open, although he was obviously chewing. The hand soon was going down to grab another chunk of cheese.
The earpiece announced that the restaurant dinner had concluded and the Dursley family was getting back into their car.
“I’ve got to go now, Harry, but I will be back,” Remus promised.
Harry looked at him with somber, serious eyes. He then held up his arms.
Remus bent forward to hug the son of two of his dearest friends. Harry didn’t move from his towel, slowly grabbing another piece of cheese and bringing it to his mouth.
“B'bye, Moony,” Harry said.
“Goodbye, Harry,” Remus said. “I shall return.”
Remus found himself in the most precarious of situations. He was furious at how Harry was being treated, but he knew that at the moment, he couldn't talk to anyone about what he'd found. Breaking into a Muggle dwelling violated one set of laws, but letting anyone, much less an Auror couple like Frank and Alice know that he’d been successful in bypassing the ridiculous protections installed by the mighty Albus-too-many-names-Dumbledore, Chief Mugwump, et cetera, would certainly be disastrous.
He settled into his most comfortable chair, closing his eyes as he took deep, cleansing breaths. Touching his magical core, he let his consciousness spread out, encompassing the flat, and the row of terrace houses, and then the city, seeing light and darkness, and colors indescribable which swirled and pulsed. Within minutes he was calm again; he hoped he could take that calm with him when he left his meditation.
He made a salad, frying up three rashers of bacon to give it some zest, and then tuned his radio until he heard some soothing music. He returned to his chair after washing up from his meal, resuming his meditations. His conscious mind noted the passage of time, which he ignored until some part of his unconscious mind passed along a signal that whatever he’d been seeking was either found, or was now easily in reach. He left his meditations and went to bed.
Having caught up on his chores, Sunday morning was time for one of his now-neglected pastimes, going for a walk along the riverside until he reached an almost wild area, a feast of sounds and smell. He then walked back into the city, buying a small cup of coffee before browsing in a bookstore that sold both new and used books. The pealing of church bells announced that several congregations had released the faithful back into the world, which was his cue to return to his flat so he could Apparate to the Isle of Man, where he would administer a cluster of OWL exams to his star student.
He appeared near the harbor, walking uphill to the quaint hotel run by Julia’s parents. Julia’s father nodded to him and hooked his thumb towards the dining room, where Julia was waiting for him.
“Good afternoon, Mister Lupin ,” she said with great emphasis.
“To what do I own this enthusiastic greeting?” Remus asked.
“I just thought that I should pay proper homage to such an august greatness ,” Julia said superciliously. “After spending the day shopping with your little blonde stalker, I’m surprised that you didn’t walk here on the water.”
“You’re living uphill from the bay, it’s hardly practical to walk here on water,” Remus said.
“Oh, that’s such a humble thing to say, Mister Lupin ,” Julia said with an exaggerated sigh.
“So, you didn’t get along with my new ward,” Remus stated.
“To the contrary,” Julia said, with a mischievous smile. “Shopping was a lot of fun, it’s just that she’s extremely concentrated, very high energy, and thinks that you are the most perfect of all men.”
“Obviously a very discriminating and insightful individual,” Remus said. “But enough gossip, you have an examination to take.”
“Harsh taskmaster,” Julia said, pulling out her collection of pens. “If only Daisy knew how cruel you can be to women.”
Remus expanded a sealed envelope, setting it in front of Julia. “Your theoretical examination. You have two hours, starting now.”
Julia gave him a conspiratorial wink and then slit the envelope open. He doubted that she would take more than 45 minutes to blast through the examination.
At 40 minutes Julia put down her pen, stretched, and then went back to proof-read what she’d written. She changed one answer, filled in some missing punctuation and added a few words. She then turned her exam over and looked up to make eye contact with Remus. He’d been reading one of the books he’d purchased that morning, and slipped a card into the book to keep his place marked.
“Let’s go for a break, my treat,” Remus announced.
Julia smiled and handed all of her papers to Remus. He pushed them into an envelope, sealing it, and then stuffing it into his portfolio. The two walked wordlessly down the street from the hotel to a small coffee shop that also sold a variety of ice cream made on the premises. Julia ordered a cone with some variety of chocolate in a single scoop, while Remus ordered a bowl of fruit sorbet. They chatted about nothing of significance as they took a long walk back to the hotel.
“Mr. Lupin, may I ask you a question?” Julia said.
“Beyond the question you just asked?” Remus quipped.
“Of course,” Remus answered.
“I know you love chocolate, why do you never buy chocolate ice cream?” Julia asked.
“Never is a very strict word,” Remus advised.
“I’ve neve r seen you eat ice cream,” Julia said.
“Good observation,” Remus said. “I don’t eat much dairy; it interferes with my sense of smell.”
“Is that a wolf thing?” Julia asked.
“I don’t know,” Remus admitted. “I’ve been this way since I was five, I don’t remember much of my life before.”
They walked another block in silence.
“How was the shopping trip?” Remus prompted.
“It was fun, Mrs. Longbottom is nice, Daisy’s… different, but she’s hard to not like.”
“What did you learn about her?”
“She’s living with her grandfather, she’s not sure how old she is, I’m not sure she can read, but she’s pretty smart. She thought it was fun to go shopping for clothes – I don’t think she’s ever worn something new. She didn’t care much for wearing underwear,” Julia observed. “She’s, she’s a wolf, like you, isn’t she?”
“Why do you say that?” Remus asked.
“C’mon, Mr. Lupin, you’re a brilliant tutor, if you’re working with a young person it’s because they’re swimming at the deep-end,” Julia stated. “She’s smart, but she’s not educated, so why would you be asked to be her guardian? You’re not blood kin, not that she mentioned, so it has to be something else you have in common.”
“She’s probably a werewolf,” Remus admitted.
“Probably?” Julia said. “Isn’t that something where you either are or are not?”
“Pretty much,” Remus replied. “Daisy was abandoned by her birth family, possibly when she was four or five, the man she calls ‘Gramps’ is the chieftain of a werewolf pack in Wales. He took her in and raised her.”
“Like Romulus and Remus?” Julia asked.
“After a fashion,” Remus said. “No twin in this instance.”
“Why was she abandoned?” Julia asked solemnly.
“I don’t honestly know. I suspect it was because her family didn’t know how to raise a werewolf,” Remus said.
“Your parents didn’t abandon you,” Julia objected.
“My parents were rather exceptional,” Remus said. “My mother and father paid a pretty steep price for keeping me in their family. A number of their friends and some of their family turned away from them.”
“That’s really sad,” Julia said.
“My parents married late in life, late for wizards, and had children even later,” Remus said. “They died while I was finishing Hogwarts. My father was injured, but not turned, in the attack that made me a wolf. He never completely recovered from the attack. My mother died a year to the day after he died.”
“That’s sad too,” Julia said.
“No, they would have disagreed,” Remus said. “They always said that life was hard, but what mattered was what we did with the hard things. They loved each other, and they loved me.”
“I guess I don’t realize how good I have it,” Julia said. “Wait, why aren’t you certain whether or not she’s a werewolf?”
“Good catch,” Remus said. “She can turn into a wolf when the moon’s not full.”
“So, she’s a wolf animagus?” Julia said.
“Possibly, or maybe a werewolf with amazing control of her abilities,” Remus answered.
“Is that why you’re her new guardian?”
“Not really – her grandfather is old, and he wants to make sure that she has someone to look after her when he’s gone. I’m finding it to be a bit odd, because I figured I would never have anything resembling a family.”
“Mr. Lupin, how can you say that?” Julia protested.
“What witch in their right mind would choose me?” Remus asked.
Julia stopped, arms flailing as she tried to say something. “You… I… I mean,…” she started. She finally threw up her hands. “You stupid, stupid man,” she exclaimed, stomping down the street and up the stairs to the hotel.
“That could have gone better,” Remus said aloud. He circled around the hotel one more time before going in to administer the next test.
He proctored two more tests by the end of the day. Each test was sealed in an envelope that was then sent to the Council of Magic Governance, Magical Protectorate of the Isle of Man, Department of Magical Education. After the written tests were scored, Julia would be invited to appear before an Evaluator who would supervise the practical portion related to each of the exams: Charms, Transfiguration, and Arithmancy. Remus was fairly certain that Julia could pass the equivalent of a NEWT in the latter subject, and was equally certain that with bonus points, she’d scored more than perfect on all three of the exams.
Before he left, Julia surprised him by turning and giving him a fierce hug. “Don’t sell yourself short, Mr. Lupin, I think you’re quite the catch, and you’ll be very good as a father,” she said while her face was buried in his chest. She then bobbed the faintest of curtseys and ran off to somewhere in the hotel.
Julia’s father looked on with some amusement. “Nice to see that she does it to others,” he said dryly.
“Julia’s a good girl, but despite her ferocious intelligence, she’s still a teenage girl,” Remus said.
“Thank you, Remus,” her father said. “Will this be the end of the tutoring?”
“It can be,” Remus said. “Once she has her three OWLs, I suspect she’ll want to test for an Apparation license, which I’m qualified to teach.”
“Very good then, I’d miss not seeing you around twice a month,” the father said.
“As to that,” Remus said. “I’ll be spending the next full moon in Wales; I don’t know what I’ll be doing after that.”
“Just let us know. The island is always available for your use.”
The work of the Protective Service Detail was fairly simple; protect the Minister of Magic and any of the VIP guests of the Minister of Magic at public events or any events where the Chief Auror believed there to be sufficient risk. After the second attempt on her life two years ago, Minister of Magic Millicent Bagnold no longer needed convincing that a protective detail was a good idea.
Saturday’s schedule was fairly light – after a presentation of an award to a local apothecary for contributions to the magical community, there was a fund-raising luncheon near Penzance, and finally, a private dinner with Mr. Fudge and various friends and supporters.
Frank relieved an Auror on the detail, showing up in time to join Minister Bagnold at the award event for Mrs. Holly Belkin, who’d been providing at-cost potions (and some free potions) to a charity clinic on the outskirts of Leeds. Minister Bagnold loved this sort of event, and thankfully was extremely brief in the presentation. She read prepared remarks, handed over the plaque, posed for pictures with Mrs. Belkin, graciously received a hug from Mrs. Belkin, and then moved on to the next event.
The fund-raising luncheon was a posh event; Frank estimated it to be a $500 galleon per plate meal. There was a string trio providing music in the background which was quite nice, Frank loved live music, but he spent most of his time patrolling the perimeter, feeling like an over-dressed bouncer at a night club. This event concluded with another mercifully brief speech by Minister Bagnold, thanking the guests for their contributions for whatever the fundraiser was underwriting, and thanking the hostess who organized the fundraiser. Frank didn’t recognize the hostess, who seemed older than his mother, but he was certain that Augusta would recognize the name and be able to tell interesting anecdotes about the matron. There were very few individuals in Magical high society not well known to Augusta Longbottom.
While leaving the event, a server managed to tip a tray as she was clearing tables. Frank intercepted the tray, insuring that nothing untoward happened to the Minister, but was fairly well drenched in salad dressing, some sort of posh pudding, and the dregs of the light wine that has been served throughout the luncheon. Mr. Crouch looked sympathetically at him, pulling him aside to thank him for protecting the Minister, and suggesting strongly that Frank should change clothes before the next event.
“I’m sure the Minister will be safe until you arrive,” Mr. Crouch said encouragingly. “I’ll fill in for you until you can arrive in a fresh kit.”
Frank went home to change, dropping his robes and shirt into the laundry basket, and putting on a fresh shirt and clean robes. He looked at his detail schedule and then Apparated to Malfoy Manor for the last event of the day.
The VIPs apparated to a clearing across the river from the manor. Frank had been to the manor for various social and official events over the years, and decided to use the lesser known Apparation point, close to the stables. He walked along a path that led to the back of the manor house. He felt a tingle as he passed the perimeter ward, but paid it no attention, as he’d been read into the guestbook for this event. As his hand came close to grasping the massive handle on the back door he heard a crash from inside the house and felt an itching in his ears that he usually associated with raising anti-travel wards. He grasped the handle, receiving a light shock when he did so. The door was locked; the manor was in lock-down. Frank was torn then between calling for help and finding out just what was going on inside.
He disillusioned himself and began a quiet walk around the house, keeping in the shadows when he could, trying to find a window that might show him what was going on. After he’d gone half-way around the house he found a spot where he could view the conservatory, where the guests were supposed to assemble for this event. The dignitaries were all sitting at the table, restrained with what appeared to be conjured ropes. Masked men were at commanding points in the room, with one being occupied by levitating a man Frank recognized as Barty Crouch, while another one flayed him with a silvery whip.
“I hope this convinces you that we’re utterly serious,” said the masked man as he took a break from flaying the now unconscious Barty Crouch.
“What is it you want?” Minister Bagnold asked with great dignity.
“We want the Ministry to return Lord Voldemort to us,” the man said.
“The man you call ‘Lord Voldemort’ is dead,” Minister Bagnold said sternly.
“Oh, really? Then where’s the body?” the man taunted.
“There was no body found at the scene,” Minister Bagnold replied.
“Then how do you know that he’s dead?” the man asked, rolling his neck as if trying to work the stiffness out of it.
“Why are you doing this?” Lucius Malfoy asked, with a slight tone of annoyance in his voice.
“Because, dear brother, the Master’s real disciples know that he cannot die,” the man said with a sneer. “You may find it convenient to have the Master taken off the board, but the real disciples aren’t going to stand for this imprisonment.”
“How did you get in here?” Lucius snarled.
“Did you forget that your dear wife is my sister-in-law, Lucius? Lovely Narcissa added our names to the guestbook,” the man replied with a sneer.
Rodolphus Lestrange, Frank thought to himself. He knew enough now to report the situation in. He carefully stayed in the shadows and made his way to the stables. There was a fireplace there which he dearly hoped was connected to the Floo network. When he arrived he ransacked the tack room until he found an old jar of Floo powder. He threw a pinch into the fireplace, gratified when it burst into a bundle of green flames.
“Ministry of Magic, Magical Law Enforcement, Duty Officer,” he shouted into the flames.
“Duty officer,” a voice replied from the flames.
“This is Auror Frank Longbottom, we have a hostage situation involving the Minister,” Frank said tersely.
“Holy Shite,” the duty officer replied. “This better not be a prank, Frank.”
“Serious as sudden death, Lawrence,” Frank replied, finally recognizing the voice.
“So, where am I sending the response team?” the duty officer asked.
“Malfoy Manor,” Frank replied. “The manor is in lockdown. As far as I can tell, the manor itself has got all means of magical transport blocked at the moment.”
“Can we send the team in by Floo?” the duty officer asked.
“I don’t know if it’s blocked for transport or not. I suggest coming in outside the wards and entering by foot,” Frank said.
“We’ll try the Floo first, and then we’ll try it your way,” the duty officer announced. “Stand by.”
“Standing by,” Frank replied.
After what seemed like a lifetime the duty officer’s voice was heard again. “Frank, the Floo is compromised – we sent a smart box through, but it arrived somewhere else. We’re sending the Green and Gold teams in – it’s all we have on short notice. You’re the on-scene commander until Senior Auror Moody arrives, which should be in about a minute.”
“I’m standing by,” Frank said, knowing that he had to wait, but hating that he couldn’t be doing something more.
Frank then heard a crunch on the gravel; it was either a Death Eater keeping watch on the perimeter, or the Green and Gold teams had arrived. He cast a wide HomenumRevelio spell, stepping sideways after doing so. A red spell came back his way, passing through the space where he’d just been standing.
“Constant Vigilance!” he heard a familiar voice say.
Alice Longbottom was exhausted. Shopping on Saturday had been fun; Julia and Daisy had been chattering non-stop after the initial awkwardness of strangers was overcome by teenage exuberance. Sunday, in contrast, had been spent looking at houses with Augusta. Rebuilding Longbottom Manor was going to take more time and money than was available at the moment, so they needed to secure a flat at a minimum, and preferably a house where Frank, Alice, and Neville could live with an adjoining “granny-flat” for Augusta. Neville had been excited at first, but after viewing three houses, he began to be impatient with the entire endeavor and had a bad case of “I won’t” which was infuriating, as he was usually such an agreeable child.
Alice pondered whether his bad temper was due to an oncoming illness, or the fact that Frank had been gone so much this month. Thankfully Mimsy had dinner waiting when they finished looking at the final house of the day, which had been a big disappointment. Augusta volunteered to bathe Neville and put him down for the night, which left Alice with the luxury of sitting down with a nice cup of tea.
The fireplace flashed blue-green and an ominous voice announced “Priority message for Auror Alice Longbottom.”
“Alice Longbottom here,” Alice said, her heart freezing in anticipation. “Proceed with message.”
“Auror Frank Longbottom critically injured while serving on protective detail. Please proceed to Auror entrance at St. Mungo’s with all possible speed. Do you need a repeat of this message?”
“Thank you, dispatcher, I have received your message and will proceed to St. Mungo’s now,” Alice said in a matter-of-fact tone.
The fireplace went dark.
Alice found Augusta as she was carefully closing the door to Neville’s room.
“Mum, Frank’s at St. Mungo’s – I’ve got to go now,” she said.
“I’ll hold things here, dear,” Augusta said, steeling herself for bad news. “Let me know how Frank is faring as soon as you can, please.”
M-o-M Law Enforcement - FLASH BULLETIN-Begin
HOSTAGE SITUTION INVOLVING MINISTER OF MAGIC RESOLVED 2000 HRS SUNDAY.
Private dinner meeting at residence of LUCIUS MALFOY with MINISTER OF MAGIC in attendance. Estate security breached by NARCISSA MALFOY, admitting RODOLPUS LESTRANGE, BARTIMIUS CROUCH JR, and an unidentified female accomplice who was not apprehended.
Distress call was sent by FRANK LONGBOTTOM, Auror. Green and Gold teams sent in response, led by ALASTOR MOODY, Auror. Green and Gold teams penetrated manor security perimeter from EAST and NORTH. FRANK LONGBOTTOM penetrated manor defenses by unknown means and evacuated MINISTER OF MAGIC and others.
Casualties on scene included LUCIUS MALFOY, BARTIMIUS CROUCH SR, and CORNELIUS FUDGE.
Apprehended on scene were RODOLPHUS LESTRANGE, NARCISSA MALFOY, and BARTIMIUS CROUCH JR. Unidentified female accomplice is believed to be BELLATRIX LESTRANGE, confirmed member of a terrorist organization and known to be extremely dangerous.
ALL UNITS – Be On Lookout for BELLATRIX LESTRANGE. Do not, repeat DO NOT attempt capture without response team.
FRANK LONGBOTTOM, Auror, critically injured and presently in ICU at St. Mungo’s
M-o-M FLASH BULLETIN – End
Millicent Bagnold was tired; it had been months since she’d slept without being woken either by an emergency or the now frequent nightmares about friends she’d lost by violence in the past dozen years. Habit and duty propelled her now as she sought out Alice Longbottom, still sitting in the ICU room where Alice had just recently become a widow. An orderly was moving the body to a gurney. Alice saw her as she looked into the room and began to rise.
“Don’t rise for me, dear,” she said authoritatively.
“Madam Minister,” Alice said reflexively.
“Today, Alice, we’re just a pair of widows,” Millicent said. “I’m so sorry for your loss. If it weren’t for Frank I wouldn’t be here right now.”
“What happened?” Alice asked.
“Party at the Malfoys – Barty Crouch Junior and Mr. and Mrs. Lestrange crashed the party. They had some insane notion that we were holding the man they call Lord Voldemort somewhere in secret,” Millicent explained. “Manor went into lockdown mode. Frank, God bless him, was late and wasn’t there when the manor was locked down. He called for help. The response teams arrived and stormed the place. While the two response teams were assaulting the manor, Frank came down the chimney like Father Christmas. He snatched me and had me out of the building before anyone knew that help had arrived.”
“So, how did Frank get wounded?” Alice asked, a tremor starting in her hands.
“As near as I can tell, Bellatrix shot him in the back as he was stuffing me up the chimney. Did he get a chance to talk to you?”
“Yes,” Alice said quietly. “The healers kept him stable so I could get here before he died.”
“So you got a chance to say ‘goodbye,’ then?” Millicent asked.
“I’m afraid that I was rather shirty with him,” Alice confessed. “He was supposed to grow old with me.” The tears began to flow again; Alice twisted a handkerchief and brought it to her mouth. “And now he never will.”
Millicent sat next to her, folding her arms around Alice as she sobbed.
“He was a good man,” Millicent said.
“His father was an Auror,” Alice said.
“I know, I served with him during the war,” Millicent said.
“You were an Auror?” Alice asked.
“No, I was a technician with the Home Guard. I was a junior member of the crews that responded to the unexploded bombs,” Millicent explained. “When do you go on duty next?”
“I’m supposed to go in tomorrow morning,” Alice sniffed.
“I’ll talk with the Chief Auror,” Millicent said.
“Thank you, Ma’am,” Alice said.
Millicent left the room. Alice remained where she was, trying to gather the strength to go home and tell Frank’s mother that he was dead.
And so, Harry Potter makes his stunning debut in this story. Thanks as always to Tim, who keeps the lights on, and Garden Girl, who so loves the Oxford comma. Harry Potter belongs to JKR, but against all the rest of the world, this is my story.
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