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Author Notes:

Author Note: I typically dislike author’s notes at the beginning of a chapter, but this is the story that just won’t cooperate with me. This is more or less the next installment of a previous chapter in found in the Kokopelli Vault, namely This Changes Everything . In this story we inject Susan Bones who is NOT the character as she’s usually portrayed in Fanon. Instead of a lusty-busty redhead, we have a teen-aged girl who’s pretty normal in most ways, except that she’s a witch, enrolled at Hogwarts, and in the same class as Harry Potter.

Synopsis: In the first installment, Susan Bones’ father is murdered by a prominent Death Eater the evening after Tom Riddle’s resurrection during the Triwizard Tournament.

Amelia Bones is blocked by Minister Fudge from investigating the return of Tom Riddle, but is not blocked from investigating the murder of Susan’s father. To link these seemingly unrelated occurrences, Madame Bones enlists a respected acquaintance to interview Harry Potter.

To keep things on the quiet, the investigator tricks Vernon Dursley into letting Harry Potter work for a lawn service, which actually exists, but also serves as a cover for a private investigation service. This installment runs from June through August of that year.

 

From the very confidential diary of

Susan A. Bones

Very different summer thus far. I’m living with Auntie now. I have gone back to my house, but almost everything reminds me of Da, and how I’ll never see him again.

I’m alternating between paralyzing sadness and berserker level rage at the Pretender. Although I’m living with Auntie, Paxton’s still keeping an eye on me. I make breakfast for Auntie most days, and then Paxton comes by to pick me up, and then at the end of the day, Paxton drops me off, sometimes waiting for Auntie to come home to report.

At the beginning of the summer, I was sitting in on all the interviews with Harry. I guess I’ve gone from being a distant acquaintance to knowing more about him than most of the students at school.

I call the days spent with Paxton, “Paxton Investigation” days in contrast to “Paxton Lawn Service” days. Between the two, I actually prefer Paxton Lawn Service days – I’m really tired by the end of the day and I find it easier to sleep.

I’m very used to sitting in on interviews with Paxton. From the time I was little, I’d sit in the corner, doodling or coloring while keeping my ears on the interview. Paxton says I have a knack, that I almost always know what someone really wants, which helps Paxton with the interview. I’m also pretty good at spotting fibs, half-truths and outright whoppers. Paxton once said that it would make dating later in life difficult for me, but as of yet, that’s been rather theoretical. The boys my age who are interested in dating have been pursuing the prettier girls, leaving me to sit, and listen.

Paxton gave me a Muggle telephone. Harry has one too. When we’re working for Paxton Lawn Service the crew bosses usually will send me a text to let us know that the truck is coming to pick us up, which is a bit of a necessity as neither Harry nor I are of driving age yet.

Well, time to don the fetching tan uniform. Today we’ll be changing some flowers out at a commercial property. When we get there, the kerbside will be looking kind of shabby, and when we’re ready to leave, it’s pretty, so I get a feeling of accomplishment doing it. Cutting grass, however, will always be cutting grass.

#@#

“Good afternoon, Dolores,” Lucius said warmly, as if he were actually glad to see her after leaving the Minister’s chambers.

“Good afternoon to you, Mister Malfoy,” Dolores said, carefully sliding an open book to cover the entries she’d been making in a ledger.

“Would you happen to know if the Unspeakables were still using the Dark Arches to transport Dementors from Azkaban?” Lucius asked.

“Such a curious question, Mister Malfoy,” Dolores said, trying to look knowledgeable. “I haven’t heard that they stopped using it.”

“Thank you, as always,” Lucius said, flicking his hair as he donned his cloak.

=+=

Dawlish still held the origami bird in his hand. He’d been summoned to the Minister’s suite, but instead of finding the Minister, it was only the Under-Secretary.

“Madame Umbridge,” he said, giving the faintest of nods to her.

“Thank you for being prompt,” Dolores said with an overly sweet smile. “What can you tell me about the Dark Arches?”

Dawlish looked surprised for a moment and then stood a bit straighter, hands behind his back.

“There are two arches, made from an unknown metal, which is always cold,” Dawlish began as if reciting in school. “The Unspeakables found them quite some time ago. They seem to be some sort of paired portal – put something through one arch, it comes out the other arch. It doesn’t matter if they’re across the room or across the globe.”

“Most curious,” Dolores said, her head cocked to one side like a dog trying to comprehend a sleight of hand card trick.

“Not very useful,” Dawlish volunteered. “Anything living that goes through either arch comes out dead on the other side. They’ve been used a time or two to transport Dementors from Azkaban, seeing as they’re not really alive, the arches don’t seem to bother them.”

“Where are they now?” Dolores asked.

“Probably Azkaban,” Dawlish replied. “The Warden has them locked up in storage. Division Heads can sign for them, but no one’s bothered with them for years, apart from the time they brought the Dementors to Hogwarts.”

“Thank you, Dawlish” Dolores said, turning back to her ledger. The dismissal was implicit.

Dawlish gave a nod and a nervous grin. Perhaps if he went out the back way he could get home on time for once.

+=+

Wednesday was a Paxton Lawn Service day instead of Paxton Investigations. Harry didn’t mind the work. The tools were top rate, the supervisors made sure that all the workers took breaks and provided a plentiful supply of bottled drinks to keep hydrated on particularly hot days, which had been plentiful that month. Those hot days provided a bonus on the afternoons when Susan would take off her tan Paxton shirt and work in her tan tank top. She wasn’t model perfect by any means, but between her cheerful disposition and hard work ethic, she was usually drenched by the end of the day, making the tank top fetching, to Harry at least, if not the other workers. For reasons he couldn’t quite put his finger on, he found “sweaty Susan” particularly attractive.

Susan had set some boundaries with the other workers early on at Paxton Lawn Service, making very clear that while she was an easy-going, cheerful girl, she was neither interested nor available. A particularly slow-witted worker had given her backside a slap when she was bent over planting some ornamental flowers outside an office. A fuming Susan had hooked his ankle with her hoe and then rested her foot on the inside of the malefactor’s knee as he lay prone on the sidewalk. No one had heard the very low volume dialogue between Susan and her would-be tormentor, but she never faced any harassment after that afternoon.

The morning work had been at yet another office park, mowing lawns, weeding flowerbeds and replacing some spent flowering annuals with newer plants. Lunch was had from a variety of food trucks, and the work teams then broke down into smaller squads to do some work at suburban estates. Susan and Harry, equipped with mowers and trimmers, were dropped off at a particularly large estate.

“I hope there are no dogs” Harry said flatly.

“Better not be,” Susan said without much enthusiasm.

“You okay, Susan?” Harry asked.

“I don’t want to talk about it,” Susan said, bending to pull the starter on the smaller mower.

While they’d never done this estate before, lawn mowing was lawn mowing, and Harry and Susan worked together with familiar efficiency, alternating between the large and small mower, pruning shears and string trimmers until the estate was once again trimmed to perfection, “ready for its glamor shot” Paxton had said one day when he’d picked them up from work.

Harry had parked the large mower at the kerb and then waited under a shade tree for one of the Paxton trucks to collect them and the equipment. He already had a drink open for Susan who came to join him wordlessly.

“Thanks,” Susan said, “for a boy you’re okay.”

“Should I be offended on behalf of Wizards everywhere?” Harry asked, trying to keep things light.

“Nah,” Susan replied, taking a long draw from her drink. “Da’s birthday is on Saturday. I don’t have anything to give him, but he’s not here either,” Susan said, hoping her explanation would suffice.

“Oh,” Harry said. The sky began to get dark as the wind picked up. “Looks like rain.”

“About time,” Susan replied.

“Truck’s late,” Harry said, pulling out the cell phone that Paxton had issued to him a week earlier. “One bar – not enough for a phone call.”

Susan stood up with some effort, dusting off her backside before pulling her own phone out. “I’m going to walk up the hill; I think I saw a tower as we came into the estate.”

“’kay,” Harry said, looking at the storm clouds moving in. While he had no great love for being rained on, it would be a relief from the heat.

Harry walked out from under the shade tree, letting the gentle rain wash away some of the salt and grit on his face. It was pleasant enough, until he felt another sharp drop in temperature that he’d felt once before in a rain storm.

Pulling his wand out from a notice-me-not arm holster, he began looking about, the rain turning to sleet as it began to get dark as night. He heard a screech and then screams.

“Oh, shite!” he exclaimed, sprinting off in the direction he’d last seen Susan walking.

Running was hard. The sleet cut visibility and the feeling halfway between panic and a migraine headache caused by the Dementors didn’t help any.

He had a lock on one of the screams, the one that wasn’t his mum. Susan was up ahead, shrieking “Expecto Patronum” at the top of her lungs, getting only a spray of gray mist out of her wand for her efforts. She’d turned her back against a parked car to keep the pair of Dementors from coming at her from behind.

Harry felt a rage rising. Susan was his friend; they weren’t going to take his friend, not today.

As the rage flared, the pain and noise in his head subsided. He drew his wand, thinking of Prongs and calmly called “Expecto Patronum.”

This Patronus, however, was larger than Prongs, expanding until it was the size of a lorry. Taking shape, it had wings, horns and a spiked tail, presenting a slightly smaller version of the dragon he’d faced in the Triwizard Tournament last year. The dragon Patronus shook its head as if confused and then looked forward, slapping his tail on the pavement as he bellowed platinum fire at the Dementors. One of the Dementors took flight, but the other seemed to be too intent on Susan. The shimmering dragon leaped, bringing a spiked limb down against the Dementor’s back. The Dementor turned in time to get a face full of platinum fire from the dragon Patronus. The Patronus then leaped over Susan and began to run faster than a race horse after the remaining Dementor.

Wand out, Harry looked in all directions as he approached Susan.

“You okay?” he asked.

“No,” she wailed, grabbing onto Harry, burying her face against his neck.

The dragon returned at a brisk trot, snarled something to Harry, gave Susan a nod, and then faded from sight.

“Dragon says they’re gone,” Harry said.

Susan stepped back, giving Harry a curious look. “Was it talking to you?”

“Yeah,” Harry replied. “It was something like ‘they’re all gone, boss, so I’m leaving.’”

“Your Patronus talks?” Susan asked.

“Not before today,” Harry said, “and that’s not my usual Patronus – mine’s usually a stag.”

“Oh,” Susan said. Her phone chirped, the sound indicating an incoming text. Looking down at the phone she said “Arlo’s coming with the truck.”

The two teens began walking back to their equipment. Harry didn’t say anything when Susan grasped his hand. It was cold and she was still shaking.

The truck arrived just as the rain stopped. They wordlessly rolled their mowers onto the trailer, stowed their petrol cans and trimmers along the side, and then climbed into the cab of the truck. Susan scooted along the bench seat, pulling Harry’s arm around her as she got comfortable. Harry dug out his mobile and punched in a text message to Paxton’s number with one hand. “I think Paxton’s going to want to know about this.” Harry thought Susan was being a little odd, but with her having just narrowly survived the plundering of her soul, he decided to let it ride.

+=+

Paxton was waiting at the garage where all the lawn service trucks parked at the end of the day. Harry nudged Susan awake and pointed. She climbed out of the cab and accepted the steaming cup he offered to her.

“Cocoa?” Paxton offered. “I’ve got some bars in my truck if you’d prefer.”

Harry took a cup, sipping it at first before draining the cup at one go. “Susan seems to be pretty shaken up.”

“You seem pretty placid,” Paxton observed.

“Looks are deceiving,” Harry replied. “It made me mad.”

“Hmm?” Paxton muttered.

“Going after Susan, it made me mad,” Harry explained.

Paxton nodded. “We’ll talk some after I take Susan home. You okay with waiting here for a while?”

Harry said nothing, picking up a broom he began to sweep grass out of the trailer, nodding in Paxton’s direction. A few seconds later he heard a muffled crack. Apparently Paxton wasn’t in the mood to drive home. Under the circumstances, Harry agreed.

Harry’s crew chief looked on appreciatively as Harry wiped down the equipment, cleaned the trailers and then swept the garage, starting a blower long enough to blow the dust, clippings and debris out of the garage and towards the kerb.

+=+

Paxton Apparated to the spot across the road from the farm house Amelia called home. Walking resolutely, he passed the ward line, Susan still hanging onto his arm. Once inside the house, he sat her down on a couch, tossed a blanket in her direction and went looking for medicinal chocolate. Once Susan was situated, he lit the miniature Floo connection to Bones’ office in the Ministry.

Bones’ secretary answered the Floo, ever the picture of unflappable efficiency. “Paxton, don’t be such a stranger,” she chirped.

“Good evening, Charlotte, is Madame Bones available?” Paxton asked.

“I’m expecting her back just about now,” Charlotte replied.

“Please tell her that there’s no emergency, but I’d appreciate it if she got home sooner rather than later, Susan’s a bit under the weather,” Paxton reported blandly.

“Thank you, Paxton, I’ll make sure that she gets the message. Changing the subject, are you free for dinner on Saturday? The old Bridge Club is starting up again and you were suggested as being a competent fourth. I’ll even stock some of that gruesome ginger beer from the Bahamas,” Charlotte said, giving him a wink.

“I’ll see what I can do, can I check back with you tomorrow?” Paxton replied.

“Sure thing, Paxton,” Charlotte said as the Floo connection broke.

Paxton looked at Susan, sleeping fitfully on the couch, putting his wrist on her forehead, trying to gauge her temperature. She wasn’t going into shock, thanks to the chocolate she’d imbibed already, but she was colder than he liked. If she weren’t a girl he strip her out of her wet clothes, but he reckoned that Amelia could deal with that. He put a warming charm on the blanket and then wrote a terse note for Amelia.

The note read “Close call with Dementors – I’ve gone to investigate, Potter’s with me. I’ll report when I know more than I do now.”

Adjusting the wards as he left, Paxton walked across the ward line and Disapparated, returning to the Paxton garage to gather Harry and try to figure out just why Dementors were strolling through a suburban, Muggle estate.

+=+

“We’ll top off the tanks in the morning, Harry,” the chief said, giving him a wave as he left the building.

Harry busied himself with closing the garage, cleaning up and putting equipment back in its proper place. He didn’t have long to wait; Paxton was in his investigator mode when he returned, taking Harry back to the estate by side-along Apparation, Paxton asked him to pace out who was where when the Dementors arrived. They then walked up the street where the one Dementor had retreated; finding a strange dark metal arch at a kerb-cut leading to an unpaved road.

“Don’t touch that,” Paxton warned.

Harry stood and watched while Paxton searched the area for any signs, physical or magical, that might shed some light on the what and possibly lead to the why . After conducting his initial scan, he then repeated the process, having Harry do the scans, explaining each step as he went. Pulling a glove onto his hand, Paxton carefully tacked a small adhesive flag to the arch, touching it with his wand. The arch shimmered and then disappeared.

“Let’s go back down the street, I want to see what we can read where Susan was holding them off before your Patronus arrived,” Paxton said.

Harry nodded and the two walked back down the street.

+=+

Later that night, Paxton again Apparated to the Gazebo across the road from the farmhouse. The front of the house was dark, but there were lights on at the back of the house, so Paxton walked slowly towards the entrance by the sun room, towards the rear of the house. He felt the prickle of the wards as they analyzed him, deeming him fit for admittance.

“Come on in, Paxton,” Amelia called to him.

Paxton had realized too late that the mechanical murmuring he heard was that of the jets in the hot tub.

“Care to join me,” Amelia said, raising one eyebrow. The hot tub was a swirling, bubbling mass, with only the top of Amelia’s head above water. He knew from prior visits that the odds of her wearing a bathing suit at the moment were next to nil.

“No,” Paxton said firmly.

“Well then, turn around and I’ll get decent,” Amelia said, the tub jets going quiet as she exited the tub. By the time he turned around, she was wrapping a towel around her hair, her body now safely covered by a drab green terrycloth bathrobe. She pointed towards a pair of chairs where she had a cooler stocked with a variety of drinks, including his favorite ginger beer, a non-alcoholic drink that she stocked exclusively for him.

“Report,” Amelia commanded.

Paxton reported.

“I went to pick up Harry and Susan, but they were late to the garage, which happens at the end of the day. Harry had sent a text mentioning that they’d had a run in with Dementors, so I had a Thermos of cocoa waiting for them, extra dark. When the last truck came in, Susan looked like a sailor at the end of a bender, leaning up against Harry in the back of the cab. While Susan was the worse for wear, Harry just looked tired and wet, and so I brought Susan home and fire-called your office. I tucked her in on the couch, set a warming charm, and adjusted the wards to a higher defensive posture,” Paxton said, getting into the rhythm of his story.

“I returned to the garage to pick up Harry. He’d spent his time waiting by sweeping and tidying the main bay where the trailers are stored. My cousin has already told me that he wants him for next summer, because he’s clean, polite and a hard worker. Score one for the magicals,” Paxton said, fishing a silver can out of the cooler.

“What’s your cousin’s impression of Susan?” Amelia asked.

“He thinks she’s very decorative and was pleasantly surprised to find that she’s such a hard worker. She’s almost always paired with Harry, and after one particular episode, hasn’t has any trouble with the other workers,” Paxton said, pausing to open the can.

“Oh?” Amelia asked.

“Some dim-wit thought that smacking her bum was a form of flirting. Susan tripped him and threatened to remove his knees the old fashioned way,” Paxton said with some satisfaction. “The dim-wit’s now working somewhere else, and the rest of the boys are friendly, but treat her with a bit of respect. Back to the investigation, if I may? Harry and I went back to the estate. There were traces of magic all over the place. Harry said that there were two Dementors, but wasn’t sure if there were more. I found what looked like a scrap of Dementor cloak in the road next to where Harry says Susan was holding two Dementors off until Harry came in response to her screams. Residue says that Susan and Harry were both producing the Patronus charm. Susan was about as far along as your typical Auror apprentice, Harry’s Patronus was corporeal.”

“The stag?”

“The residue doesn’t indicate one way or the other. Harry says the form changed today, it was, quote ‘a big fricken dragon – kind of a surprise’ end of quote. We followed the residue path down the street. Whole lot of nothing down the street, but lo and behold, in a turn-off for a gravel road, there was an occult piece of Ministry property, a Dark Arch,” Paxton said, pausing for effect.

“Oh, please,” Amelia groaned.

“I tagged it, and then sent it to secure storage,” Paxton said.

“Ministry?” Amelia asked.

“No, mine,” Paxton said with a smirk. “I then grabbed a bite with Harry and sent him home with my sincere thanks for keeping our Susan safe. Then I visited the Warden’s office at Azkaban.”

“I can say without fear of contradiction that the place has lost none of its charm. I found the other arch, standing in one of the courtyards, and lying on the ground next to the arch, one somewhat dead employee of the Ministry,” Paxton said, pulling a photograph out of a pocket.

“Humph,” Amelia snorted. “No one should die like that, but in this case, it’s no great loss. Any notion of what happened?”

“Preliminarily, it appears that Madame Umbridge checked the arch out using her Ministry credentials. The clerk on duty has no memory of the event, but the paperwork is in order. Madame Umbridge is missing a fingernail from her left hand. The arch I found in the estate where Susan was attacked had a human fingernail embedded in the frame. I’m no forensic technician, but I think it’s a match. My working theory is that Madame Umbridge was trying to silence Harry. Whether they intended a close call or a permanent solution I’ll leave to someone else to prove. Harry’s Patronus wounded or killed one Dementor, and chased the other Dementor through the arch. Madam Umbridge was either grabbed by the Dementor as it escaped through the arch, or she was bowled over and managed to fall through the arch – either way she’s most sincerely dead. As I’m merely an investigator, I don’t have to worry about how the Ministry is going to spin this, but I suspect something along the line of ‘Ministry employee dead in accident with occult artifact’ is the line that will be taken, if there’s any mention of it at all.”

Amelia blew out her breath, inhaled, and then growled. “The fact remains that someone in the Ministry tried to kill my niece,” she said grimly.

“Oh, I don’t see it that way boss, I think the target was Harry, our Susan was just going to be collateral damage,” Paxton replied, reaching into the cooler for another can.

A gong sounded from the kitchen, signifying an incoming message for Amelia.

“Oh, bother,” Amelia said, pushing up from her chair.

Paxton followed her silently into the kitchen where the miniature Floo fireplace was burning.

Amelia touched the opening of the fireplace with her wand.

“Bones here -- go ahead,” she said.

“Sorry to disturb you, Madam Bones, but the Undersecretary isn’t answering her Floo,” the dispatcher.

“Oh?” Amelia responded, knowing full well why one particular Undersecretary wasn’t communicative.

“AurorDombrowski called in,” the dispatcher said. Amelia racked her memory, coming up only with “Carl” as the dispatcher’s name.

“Dombrowski?” Amelia repeated.

“The Auror formerly known as Jenkins – she got married last weekend,” the dispatcher said.

“Ah,” Amelia replied.

“She’s on the Sirius Black investigation and requested backup. The standing orders were to call you first.”

“Yet you were trying to reach the Undersecretary tonight?” Amelia asked with a hint of irritation in her voice.

“Talk to the shift supervisor, Madam Bones, I just relay messages,” the dispatcher said blandly.

“I will do so,” Amelia replied.

A slip of paper the size of a calling card passed out of the flames and into Amelia’s kitchen.

“Here’s the address, AurorDombrowski would appreciate some backup.”

“I’ll do my best to not disappoint her,” Amelia said. “Thanks for passing this along, Carl.”

“Yes, Madam Bones. Have a good evening, what’s left of it, and try very hard to stay alive.”

“I’ll give it my best.”

The fire surged blue for a moment and then extinguished, leaving a cold, empty hearth.

“Well, Paxton?”

“Yes, Boss, time to go. How long for you to get dressed?”

Amelia looked down at the card.

“Blast, I’m going to have to get dressed up,” she said, passing the card to Paxton.

“Hmm,” Paxton said. “Looks like it. Sirius Black escapes from Azkaban, evades capture for more than a year, and then shows up at a Muggle night club.”

“If it’s Black,” Amelia cautioned.

“Yeah, if it’s Black,” Paxton agreed. “At least we know he’d not the Bogey Man Fudge paints him out to be.”

“He’s still a dangerous wizard who won’t come peaceably,” Amelia said, disappearing into her bedroom.

+=+

+=+

From the very confidential diary of Susan A. Bones

Harry came to the farm for a picnic today; I think it was the first time he got to meet Auntie. It seemed to be part ‘thanks for saving my niece’s soul’ and part ‘thanks for helping the investigation.’

Officially, Paxton’s done with this part of the investigation – Harry’s provided a link between Da’s death and the contested return of the Pretender.

It’s been fun spending time with Paxton and Harry. As to Paxton Lawn Service – I now am fairly proficient with three different models of Muggle lawn mowing machines, along with a trimming machine and a blowing machine. I don’t care much for the blowing machine as it makes too much noise, even with the big ear-muffs we’re required to wear. My hair is lightening up – it’s mainly blonde now with red highlights. I’ve got a bit of a tan too, but mostly only on my arms and face. I’ve got a wicked tan line in the shape of my tank top. Paxton calls it a “farmer’s tan.”

Keeping busy during the day keeps me from thinking about Da, but it’s still painful to think that he’s not working at the office, or if I go back home, he’s not going to be puttering around in the kitchen.

Hannah has been gushing about how lucky I am to ‘have Harry all to myself.’ I haven’t broken her of the notion that this isn’t a torrid summer romance, and that during all of the time together we’re either chaperoned by Paxton, or we’re working alongside some sweaty Muggles.

I’m going to Hannah’s tomorrow for a girl’s day; Paxton’s off to the Ministry with Harry. Hopefully we’ll be able to talk about something other than Harry – unlike Rumplestiltskin I can’t spin straw into gold, and similarly I can’t tell Hannah how Harry burns for me with an undying passion when in reality we’ve spent most of the time either mowing lawns, doing interviews with Paxton, or helping out with his investigations. Ah well, maybe I can come up with a convincing story – or maybe I’ll get her to talk about something else, like her life – who knows!

#@#

Paxton picked Harry up at the usual time on Monday morning and then drove to the Greek’s place for breakfast. Susan was noticeably absent.

“Susan’s off with a girlfriend today,” Paxton said, not volunteering any further information.

Harry sat down in their usual booth and unwrapped his breakfast sandwich.

“So what are we doing today?” he asked.

“Little field trip to the Ministry of Magic,” Paxton said, swirling his cup of coffee before taking a swig. “I want to ask some questions about the arch, after that, we might take a detour through the Hall of Prophesy.”

“Not quite dressed for it, are we?” Harry asked, pointing to his uniform shirt.

“You leave that to me,” Paxton said with a smile.

After breakfast was finished, they got back into the truck and drove into London, parking in a car park in the business district. Before they left the car park Paxton transformed their clothes into blue button down shirts and dark trousers that seemed to be part of the Muggle uniform for this part of town. Paxton pulled Harry into a phone booth which was significantly larger on the inside than it appeared on the outside. Paxton dialed 6-2-4-4-2, listened briefly and then put the phone back on the hook. The floor of the phone booth began to descend like a lift, stopping when they were in what appeared to be a bustling thoroughfare several stories below street level.

“Welcome to the Ministry of Magic,” Paxton said dryly.

“Hmmm,” Harry said noncommittally.

Paxton walked forward to a security kiosk, telling the guard their names.

“Wand please,” the guard said in a perfunctory fashion.

Paxton handed over both of their wands which were inspected and then returned with badges that read “visitor – MoM-DoM – no escort.”

Following Paxton’s lead, Harry clipped the badge onto the pocket of his shirt.

“MoM-DoM?” he whispered to Paxton as they passed the security kiosk.

“Ministry of Magic, Department of Mysteries,” Paxton replied, leading Harry into another lift which began to descend when the doors closed.

The sign on the lift indicated that they were on level nine, the door opening to a stark hallway with a black, unadorned door at the end of the hallway. Paxton walked briskly to the door, which opened before he arrived at the end of the hall. Saying nothing he walked through the door, and once Harry had followed him through, the door closed on its own. They were now in a seemingly identical hallway with another unadorned black door at the end of the hall.

Paxton walked up to the door, rapped on it twice with his knuckles, and then opened it, only to slam it shut again. He then opened it again, slamming it again.

“What the blazes are you doing Paxton?” Harry asked.

“Watch what’s beyond the door,” Paxton explained.

The next time the door was opened; there was blackness, like an open elevator shaft. Paxton closed the door again, opening it to a swamp at midnight. He closed the door yet again and then opened it, finally exposing another blank hallway with another unadorned black door.

“The spooks in the Department of Mysteries do love their little tricks,” Paxton explained.

“So is that like Moody’s trunk?” Harry asked.

“Seven locks, seven separate interiors?”

“Yeah, that one.”

“On a larger scale, yes.”

Paxton was about to knock on this door when a mouth formed on the door. The mouth pursed its lips and then spoke.

“You Paxton?”

“Yes, I’m here to see Augustine,” Paxton answered.

“Augustine got called away, but his Deputy can help you,” the mouth said blandly. “Please stand by.”

Moments later the door was opened by a short woman wearing an apron, goggles and thick gloves. She slid the goggles up with a practiced one handed motion while taking off one glove and then the other. She looked hard at Paxton before recognition slid across her expression.

“Clement? Clement Paxton?” she asked.

“None other,” Paxton replied. “How are you Clarissa?”

“I’m wonderful as usual, but you surely didn’t interrupt me at work to pass the time,” the woman replied. “Introduce me to your companion, Clement.”

“Clarissa, this is Harry Potter. Harry, this is Clarissa – is it Strack now?” Paxton said, seemingly at a loss for words.

“No, that didn’t work out,” the woman replied. “Still a Harrell – possibly the last of my line. Pleased to meet you, Mr. Potter.”

They shook hands in a perfunctory manner. “Well, come on in, if the door is left open too long, the alarm sounds.”

A loud gong began to ring.

“Too late, it seems,” the woman said with a sigh. “Hush, you pernicious machine,” she scolded. “Please come in.”

+=+

Paxton knew that Susan wouldn’t be home, as she was spending the night with the Abbot girl. He Apparated to the gazebo and then walked slowly to the farmhouse, letting the wards do their thorough work, detecting whether he was friend-or-foe and no-doubt announcing him to Amelia within the house.

He walked to the back door and let himself into the house. He was relieved to hear no noise coming from the hot tub. He stopped in the kitchen to liberate a silver can from the refrigerator before walking slowly to Amelia’s study.

“I’d say well met, Paxton, but I doubt that this is a social visit,” Amelia said, looking up from her ever-present satchel of papers from the Ministry.

“Ask me how my day went, boss,” Paxton said.

“Good evening, Clement, how was your day?” Amelia asked.

“Very, very strange,” Paxton replied.

“Report.”

So he did.

+=+

From the very confidential diary of Susan A. Bones

It’s official now; I think I’m losing my mind.

I haven’t been sleeping well this summer, not since Da died. Now it’s worse. Several times a night I’m back at work, it’s raining that cold dark rain, and the Dementors are coming for me. Usually I wake up, screaming, but not always. The dreams where I don’t wake up are really bad.

I spent the night with Hannah. She’s a cuddler, so we slept in the same bed last night. I guess when I have company in bed, I don’t wake up screaming. I could learn to live with that.

When I’m not having nightmares, Harry keeps showing up in my dreams. Not those type of dream, just nonsense that doesn’t particularly make sense – like making sandwiches while standing outside in the rain.

Harry and I aren’t like that – not even close. It’s not that I wouldn’t mind being more than friends – he’s certainly a nice guy, and once he cleans up, half-way fanciable, but we are not-like-that. Friends, maybe, but definitely not not-like-that.

+=+

Amelia was rubbing her temples, eyes closed.

“Let me see if I have this straight,” she began.

“You took Harry to the Department of Mysteries, wanting to get some information on the Dark Arches. You met one of your friends from before the war, and as she brought Harry into the outer lobby of the Department, an alarm sounded.”

“Yeah,” Paxton said. “Clarissa shut it down, tried to play it as a malfunction.”

“She introduced you to some old fossil who didn’t manage to tell you anything about the arches that you didn’t know before, and then the three of you went to the Hall of Prophesies.”

“When Harry excused himself to visit the loo, Clarissa told me that Harry was carrying around something with a powerful Dark Magic signature.”

“Did she ever say what it was?” Amelia asked.

“No, she said she didn’t know,” Paxton replied.

“Then the three of you went to the Hall of Prophesies,” Amelia narrated.

“The four of us, the fossil came too,” Paxton added. “Creepy place, kind of looks like a library – prophecies still active have a light glow, prophecies that are considered fulfilled are dark.”

“What did it say?” Amelia asked.

“I’m getting to that,” Paxton said, wrinkling his nose. “Placard has a bunch of initials – seems it was delivered by SybillTrelawny to Albus-too-many-names Dumbledore concerning our favorite pretender and my cousin’s favorite lawn boy.”

“Details?” Amelia prompted.

“Riddle marks Harry as his equal, Harry has a power Riddle doesn’t know, and only Harry can kill Riddle and vice versa,” Paxton said.

“How did Harry take it?”

“He was pretty quiet at first – then he started muttering about Dumbledore,” Paxton answered.

“Dumbledore?”

“It seems Harry asked Dumbledore why Riddle was after him and Dumbledore refused to answer.”

“No surprise there, Dumbledore isn’t fond of giving information away,” Amelia said.

“That’s not the really weird part,” Paxton explained.

Amelia said nothing, arching an eyebrow.

“The fossil thinks that Harry may be carrying a chunk of Riddle’s soul.”

Amelia was silent for a long while.

“What do we do?” she asked.

We don’t do anything yet, but I am going back for a follow-up visit with the fossil,” Paxton explained.

“Does the fossil have a name?”

“Not that he’s given me,” Paxton replied.

“Typical Department of Mysteries nonsense.”

+=+

The second week in August began with a somewhat belated birthday picnic for Harry and Neville, hosted at The Burrow.

+=+

“What did you say?” Ron asked. It wasn’t loud, but the chill in his voice was unmistakable.

“I’m not playing Quidditch this year,” Harry said.

Ron turned his back to Harry, punching the palm of his left hand.

“How could you be so selfish?” Ron shouted when he turned around.

“I beg your pardon.” Harry replied.

“Selfish – this is the year that I have a shot at getting onto the team, Woods is gone, you’re a shoo-in for Captain, and if Gryffindor wins the cup, scouts from the English teams will be looking at our team for recruits,” Ron said, speaking slowly as if explaining something to a blithering idiot. “You’re as good as handing the Quidditch cup to Slytherin.”

Ron walked over to the broom shed, shoving the door aside and grabbed the first broom he saw in the shed.

“I’m going for a fly,” Ron said. “I need the practice.”

“That went well,” Harry said aloud, hands in his pockets. He looked up. “How much of that did you hear?” he asked Ginny, who had just walked into sight.

“Pretty much all of it,” Ginny said. “There might be some people on the other side of the village who didn’t hear it clearly. Weasleys aren’t much for privacy; or subtlety, or tact for that matter.”

“I’ve kind of figured that out,” Harry replied.

“It’s usually pretty easy to suss out where you stand with a Weasley,” Ginny said sagely. “OWL year stuff?”

“Not really. I can’t say that I’m all that concerned about the OWLs,” Harry explained. “I’ll take the tests; I should pass most of them. I’m not trying to set records, like Hermione.”

“Then what?” Ginny asked.

“I’m dropping Care of Magical Creatures and Divination, I’m doing a double tutorial on Runes and Arithmancy, hoping to catch up with the people who started two years ago,” Harry explained, “plus I’m working out, trying to increase my speed, strength and endurance.”

“I can’t imagine why you’d want to do that,” Ginny said with a smirk.

“You understand,” Harry said.

“Yeah, I understand,” she replied. “That doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy with Ron.”

Harry put his hands in his back pockets while watching Ron fly. He was actually doing a good agility drill, flying a slalom course through the orchard.

“So, you and Susan?” Ginny asked.

“What?” Harry asked, looking confused.

“You…and Su-san,” Ginny said slowly and distinctly.

“We’re working together this summer?” Harry replied. “I was hired by a Muggle lawn service.”

“She seems pretty friendly, in a girl kind of way,” Ginny hinted.

“We were attacked by Dementors a week ago,” Harry explained. “She’s still a bit rattled.”

“Right, of course,” Ginny said.

Stupid hero complex she thought to herself. Another maiden saved by the knight.

“Could I borrow your Firebolt for tryouts?”

“What position?” Harry asked.

“I’d like Chaser,” Ginny answered, “but those positions are filled right now, so I might try out for Seeker if you’re not playing.”

“Sure,” Harry replied. “If you make the team, consider it a long term loan.”

“You are amazing,” Ginny said, flashing a brilliant smile.

“No, just stupidly lucky most days,” Harry said. “Besides, I wouldn’t want to hand the Quidditch Cup to Slytherin, would I?”

+=+

END OF INSTALLMENT

 

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Author Notes:

In the next installment we finish out August, and then return the school aged characters to Hogwarts. As Dolores Umbridge is no longer on the scene, we get a different character for the Defense Against the Dark Arts instructor. I reckoned that Percy Weasley would have received an Outstanding on his DADA NEWT, which wouldn’t qualify him to teach the post-OWL level classes, but would certainly qualify him to teach at the OWL level and below. Instead of an incompetent sadist, we’ll have a type-A, very organized Organization Man in the role of Defense Professor.

There’s foreshadowing of a Ron-Harry cool-down.

The very next scene is a Susan/Hermione scene in which Susan, well, you’ll just have to wait for that, won’t you?

This chapter was posted without beta, although I'm still very thankful for my betas.  I'm also thankful that Tim Joy still operates this web site, and I'm thankful that under American Copyright Law this is deemed to be a Fair Use - Copyright (c) 2019 kokopelli20878@gmail.com - all rights reserved - write to me, I write back (usually).

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