Hogwarts was in a big panic. Despite the Professors' best effort to rectify the situation, there wasn't a single soul left that didn't know about Archer's appearance, or that the infamous vigilante was actually Harry Potter.
Of course, not everyone was that dumb. Many of them had been able to connect Harry's convenient amnesia with the time that his appearance started to change. After only two days, a new wave of rumor appeared, stating that Archer wasn't actually Harry, and that the real one had already been either killed or kidnapped.
If only they knew how close to the truth that was.
On the other hand, not everyone was in the mood for gossips. There were some certain groups within the ancient walls who had been rather subdued after the fiasco.
"Come on. Cheer up, Fleur," Claire patted her best friend's shoulder on their way to the Great Hall for breakfast. "You've been moody for the past days. Staying in the same room when you're like that is a nightmare, you know."
"I'm sorry," Fleur sighed. "It's just…"
"Like I said, forget about that jerk already," Claire said. "Also, he deceived everyone, not just you, you know."
Of course she knew that. Still, Fleur couldn't help but wonder just why Harry, or rather, Archer, did something like that. He deceived everyone to keep his identity hidden, and that was somehow understandable. But for what reason that he kept hanging out with her? All of their spar and practice sessions, there was no way that was his true power. A man who could wandlessly produce a shield charm strong enough to stop dragon flame, and even killed one, surely wouldn't need help from someone of her calibre, no?
My tutelage helped, right, she smiled bitterly, recalling the words that he said in the champion tent. If there was one thing that Fleur hated the most beside being discriminated because of her blood, then that was people lying to get close to her. And here she had hoped that they could become friends.
To sum it up, Fleur's mood had reached a new low during the last days. By the time they reached the Great Hall, the appetite was all but gone, but she knew better than skipping a meal. No matter what the situation, she was still a Triwizard Champion. There were two more task ahead that would be just as, or even more dangerous than the first. It wouldn't do to let her physical body suffer because of some lying bastard.
Unfortunately, Fleur's newfound resolve was mercilessly crushed during breakfast, when the owls that brought newspaper arrived and drop the latest issue of the Daily Prophet in front of her. At first, Fleur ignored it, however, after a second glance, her face went pale after seeing picture of her and Archer sitting together under a big tree near Hogwarts' lake on the night they had their first spar session. That wasn't all, beside that picture, there was also one of the girl called Hermione hugging him inside the champion tent, and the last one was of himself and the Slytherin girl sitting together in a room looked like the library.
"What's wrong, Fleur?" Seeing Fleur unusual reaction, Claire asked before following her gaze. "What the hell is this?"
The girl then picked up the newspaper so that both of them could read the article together.
LOVE TROUBLE AT HOGWARTS!
Good morning, readers!
Your favorite reporter, Rita Skeeter is back with her biggest scoop up to date. I'm sure that all of you have heard about the vigilante Archer being arrested at Hogwarts a few days ago under the guise of our beloved Boy-Who-Lived. I have received many fan mails, asking why there isn't any article about that. While I admit that it was as juicy of a scoop as it gets, my attention was focused on something even bigger, the one that you're reading right now.
Right after the news of the arrest got out, many people have posed the question: How long have Archer impersonated Potter? There are many theories, but the two most popular ones are either from the start of the new term at Hogwarts, or from the end of last term, after Potter's unfortunate accident with the Dementors. Either way, Archer had done a good job at fooling everyone about his real identity. Even after his appearance started to change, very few people had doubted, especially since Harry Potter's closest friends still believed in him.
Of course, I'm not going to deny that it was mostly our fault for being careless. Therefore, I think it's only natural that there are still many young girls out there who are going after 'Harry Potter'. Up until now, three of them appeared to have succeeded to some degree…
The article then went on and on into details of some of their meetings, before going on a series of scandalous suggestion about the three girls, as well as Archer himself. Fleur's face was gradually getting hotter and hotter and her hands started to tremble as she read, both from anger and embarrassment. While she couldn't speak for the two other girls, there was no way that she would purposely get close to someone simply because they were famous or wealthy. She was the one who was deceived here…
Just how did this woman know about something like this? Fleur wondered. She remembered being interviewed by this Rita before the first task. Nasty woman. However, if what Cedric said was true, then Dumbledore had ordered her to keep away from Archer. There was no way that Rita could be close enough to them to take those pictures and even hear what they said without being noticed.
"What a load of crap," Claire growled from her seat before taking the paper from Fleur's hand and burned it with a wave of her wand. She then turned to look at her best friend. "Don't pay any mind to it, Fleur. You know it's not true."
"Yeah, but…" Taking a look around, Fleur grimaced as she felt the gaze of almost every student in the hall on her. The pressure was almost unbearable. "I...I think I should head back. I need some rest."
Standing up on her slightly shaky legs, Fleur then bolted from the Great Hall.
From the Slytherin table, a grim faced Daphne Greengrass barely registered the Beauxbatons' champion leaving the hall. Most of her focus was still on the slander article from Rita Skeeter. That woman, how dare she, Tracey was still unconscious in the Hospital Wing after the Archer fiasco and she had already been accused of being a greedy, fame seeking scarlet woman.
On second thought, maybe her being unconscious was a good thing. According to Madam Pomfrey, there was no permanent danger and Tracey would recover completely. So it was better for her to remain there, not facing the public opinion at the moment while getting some well deserved rest. She would have to know eventually, but Daphne was going to make sure that it was after her friend got healed.
Sighing deeply, she then leaned back on her seat and folded the newspaper, trying her best not to squish it into a ball of paper and feed it to the flame. Doing so wouldn't help her image after all. Her gaze then swept past the Lion's table. Unsurprisingly, Hermione Granger was also absent. That was how it normally was these days. Ever since Archer was arrested, the bushy haired witch had almost disappeared, only showed her face during classes. It surely was a big shock for her, figuring out that her best friend, whom she placed all her trust in, wasn't who she thought he was. The fact that he was also a wanted criminal didn't help at all.
Still, it was a surprise for me as well. That idiot really is Archer… Daphne pondered. She for once, couldn't care less if he was the genuine Harry Potter or an imposter. They hadn't even talked to each other once before the whole Archer thing anyway. But to let a big deception like that went right under her nose was quite a blow to Daphne's pride. She was curious about the mysterious Archer, almost even obsessed at times, only to have the chance to find out about him slipped away.
That was quite careless of me, Daphne sighed. It didn't matter though. Someone with power like Archer wouldn't be held in captive for long. And if he truly worked for her father, which was most likely the case, then they would meet again soon. There was no need to rush.
Patience was a virtue, and the Slytherins had an abundant amount of that. Or at least most of them did.
In the bone chilling darkness of number Twelve, Grimmauld Place, came a series of clanking noise and the creaking of the main door being opened. A moment later, rows of candles running along the hallway lit up, revealing the sorry sight of what was once the luxurious Black Estate. Right now, all that left was a dirty broken house.
"Damn. That sorry excuse of an elf really left this place to rot, huh? Probably on the order of my dear mother," Sirius Black's voice came as he admitted himself into the house. Following him was several other figures, who were also busy gawking at their surrounding.
"It's a ruin, but we can fix it up with a little effort," Molly Weasley spoke up.
"A little?" Came a chuckle from Remus Lupin. "I have to say, Molly, for us normal human, it would be quicker to tear down this house and build a new one."
"Great idea, Moony," Sirius turned back at his old friend and grinned. His eyes shone mischievously, with only the slighted hint of insanity from his long stay at Azkaban. "I've been wondering why we haven't done that already."
"Probably because all of the protection spells surrounding this place," the last person of the group, Arthur Weasley, offered his opinion. "Let's get inside. Professor Dumbledore will come soon."
The others agreed. They then moved cautiously, with Sirius at the front, toward the dining room. While it was true that the house looked abandoned, there might be some nasty traps set up by the insane house elf Kreacher on the order of the late Lady Black, to prevent thieves and other kinds of disgrace from rummaging through what was left.
Once the group finally reached the dining room, the first thing they did was to check for curses and such. When none was found, Molly Weasley, with the help of her husband and Lupin, started to clean the place up. There wasn't much they could do given the small amount of time left until the meeting, but at the very least, they should make this place look livable by human beings.
The moment the old clock told them that it was nine in the evening, Albus Dumbledore, who was also the host of the meeting, stepped into the room, followed by two other Hogwarts professors, Minerva McGonagall and Severus Snape. Sirius instantly stood up and grinned at two of them while exchange greetings, before throwing a look of contempt at the last one. However, he was feeling rather subdued when he saw their solemn faces.
"I don't know what is it, but it's that bad, huh?" Sirius asked, but no one answered him.
"Looks like everybody is here," Dumbledore said as he took the position at the head of the long table, while the rest sat on the sides. "First of all, let me apologize to Sirius, for forcing you out of hiding this early. However, things that are out of my control had happened, and I feel the need for us to gather."
"I understand, but why here?" Sirius asked, giving his arm a wide arc at the room they were in. "There should be plenty of other places that are more… lively, you know."
"I admit that livelihood had slipped from my mind when choosing a meeting place," Dumbledore offered a playful smile. "However, this place is maybe the most secure in the entire English Wizarding community, after only Hogwarts and Gringotts. It's a perfect place to use as our base of operation for what's to come."
"That… doesn't sound too comforting…" Lupin frowned, and Sirius wholeheartedly agreed with his old friend. His personal hatred for this house aside, to hear that Dumbledore needed a base of operation couldn't be a good sign. The last time he'd had witches and wizards together like this was to fight off one of the most dangerous Dark Lord - Lord Voldemort.
"It doesn't," Dumbledore said, offered no attempt to hide the grim expression. "The meeting today is for Sirius and you, Remus. The rest of us are also involved, but not as deeply as you two are."
For some reason, those words send a shiver down Sirius's spine. There weren't many things that concerned both Remus and him at the same time, not during the last fourteen years anyway. And the first thing that came to his mind when hearing of things like that…
"Did...Did something happen to Harry?" Sirius gulped. From the look on his face, Remus had come to the same conclusion. It was made even more evident when he looked at the Weasleys' face. There was something about them when they first met, like they were trying to act cheerful. Sirius noticed that but swept it under the rug, blaming his dulled senses for making him imagine things instead.
"Since Sirius is cut off from most news sources, and Remus was busy with his work in the muggle world until just recently, I think it's better if you two read this first. We will answer your questions and discuss our direction later," Dumbledore pulled a Daily Prophet issue from inside his colorful robe and placed it on the table between them. With trembling fingers, Sirius picked up the paper. The date printed there told him that it was an issue from the previous day.
Next to him, Remus also leaned in to take a closer look. It didn't take them anytime at all to find what Dumbledore was implying, since that article was printed right on the first page, with a picture taken inside the arena of the Triwizard's first task. From what Sirius could see, Madam Pomfrey and several Aurors were carrying a stretcher with a white haired boy on it. It was impossible to judge what kind of wound the boy received, but it was nasty, given the amount of blood splattered around.
The title said: "SHOCKING NEWS: Archer's arrest. Is The-Boy-Who-Lived really the mysterious vigilante?"
"This...This is not true, right?" After finished reading the article, Remus looked at Dumbledore and asked, his faced was now having an ashen color. Sirius, on the other hand, still wasn't able to take his eyes off of the paper, as if he was saying to himself that its content would change if he glared at it long enough.
"Sadly, it's true," Dumbledore said.
"But… No matter how you look at it, that boy isn't Harry," Remus stuttered. His eyes dashed back to the news picture. "White hair. Well… The style is similar, but his build is different too. For all of this happened in four mere months is a little…"
"I'm sorry, but I can't really provide a satisfying answer at this point," Dumbledore sighed. "Myself, Severus, Minerva, and all other Hogwarts staff have been keeping a close eyes on him for awhile. We have had a staff meeting before coming here, and everyone agreed that Archer isn't Harry Potter. The time of the switch is unknown. However, according to Molly and Arthur, he started behaving strangely around the time he was with their family."
"I never really cared about it, but in hindsight, a lot of changes occurred that doesn't fit the Harry we all know," Arthur sighed. Next to him, Molly looked like she was about to cry. "He got rid of the glasses and started reading all kind of books. He also didn't show an interest toward Quidditch anymore. Molly and I discussed about it once, but we just chalked it up as teenage's changes…"
"He...He was such a good boy too," Molly added. "We all know that Archer's dangerous now. But during his stay, if that really was him, he always tried to help with the houseworks and all. We never suspected him in any way."
"Nobody would have suspected anything, dear Molly," Professor McGonagall, patted the Weasley matron on her shoulder.
"Indeed," Dumbledore nodded. "With all the information, we can guess that Harry had been switched out before coming to the Burrow. In addition, we all know that Archer uses strange magic, but I'm confident about my protections around the house of Harry's relatives. He can't be touched there, which makes the most likely timeframe is from the moment he got on the train last term, until before he arrived at Number Four, Privet Drive."
"Sounds probable," Remus sighed. "But what good is that going to do? Harry has been missing for months already. I hope the DMLE will be able to get some words out of him."
"I doubt it," Snape snorted.
"And why is that, Severus?" Remus glared at him.
"Mark my word, that brat isn't going to be in DMLE's hand for long."
"I have to agree," Dumbledore said quickly. Good timing too, since Sirius almost jumped up from where he was sitting toward the greasy haired bat. "Archer wield a power that is unimaginable for us. To make it even worse, he isn't alone. At this point I can conclude that at least Adam Greengrass is working with him."
Arthur and Molly nodded silently.
"Greengrass," Remus frowned. "Flashy fellow, but that's about everything that I can remember about him. Do you think that he has something to do with Harry's disappearance?"
"We don't know," Dumbledore said. "He's rather difficult to catch, so I haven't been able to secure a private conversation with him yet."
"Private?" Sirius had had enough. Apparently staring at the newspaper didn't change anything. He glared at Dumbledore and almost shouted. "He's working with Archer, he must know something about Harry. Why can't you just barge into his house and demand him to spill everything?"
"And how will that achieve anything, you dumb mutt?" Snape sneered. "The DMLE will be all over us if we do something like that. If you want it that much, go there by yourself. I'm sure that Amelia Bones would love to see her ex-lover again."
"Shut up you bastard," Sirius shouted at the man and pulled out his wand. The other party was all too glad to do the same.
"That's quite enough, Severus," Dumbledore, seeing the situation could get out of hand, sent Snape a stern look. "You calm down too, Sirius. While it can be worded better, he has a point. There's no conclusive proof that Mister Greengrass and Archer are working together. Even if there is, we can't really tell if he has any hand in Harry's circumstance."
"But he's our only lead. Push him enough and he will talk," Sirius retorted. He then looked around the table, trying to find some cooperation. However, all he saw were people shaking their heads in silence.
"Fine, fine," finally, he raised his hands. "But how about you, Dumbledore? Why didn't you do anything about Archer when he was in your grasp? Having professors keep an eyes on him is not enough. You're the most powerful wizard of our age. Why didn't you confront him why you still could?"
"Calm down, Sirius," Remus pulled on his sleeve.
"No, Remus, you can't tell me to fucking calm down right now," Sirius grunted. "Harry's my godson. He's your best mate's child. How can you be calm when he's in danger?"
"Pretty words, but aren't you the one who failed to be with him in the first place?" Severus's voice came once again. It struck Sirius hard, that for a moment, all he could see was the blurry image of his surrounding.
"That's…" Sirius's eyes widened. Since those words came from his hated rival, he wanted to retort, but he couldn't. It was painful to admit, but Snape was right. It only served to inflate the guilt in his chest until it became unbearable.
"I...I think I need a rest," he murmured, wiping of the sweats on his forehead. Sirius then unsteadily left the dining room.
"I'll go with him," Remus stood up and followed his best friend. The other people in the room looked at them until they were out of sight.
"That was unnecessary, Severus," McGonagall glared at her colleague.
"I was just telling the truth. It's better than him having his own delusion and started blaming everyone for his own incompetence," Snape shrugged.
"It may be so, but Sirius's mind is not stable. Choose your word more carefully in the future," Dumbledore frowned. "It's better to let him rest for now. Once Remus come back, we will begin with the second part of our meeting."
And so they waited. Around half an hour later, Remus finally returned. The man was clearly depressed and even more exhausted than before.
"Sorry, I had to fix up his room a little," he sighed. "Sirius's resting for now, but he just kept crying and murmuring that it was all his fault on the way up. Maybe we should bring him some Calming Draught and Sleeping potions later."
"I'll see to that," Molly nodded.
"Alright. Now, if you please take a seat, Remus, we will continue the meeting…" Dumbledore started speaking. However, he was interrupted by loud footsteps in the hallway, which finally ended in the sound of the front door being slammed shut.
"What?" Remus quickly turned around and rush out of the room. The others soon followed him after a moment of shock. They reached the front door at the same time Remus walked downstairs again.
"He...He left," the werewolf said with trembling voice. "I should have stayed behind…"
"It's not your fault, Remus," Arthur said. While his voice sounded perfectly calm, it was obvious that he was also shaken by the sudden turn of event.
Auror Nymphadora 'Just' Tonks was standing guard outside of a special holding cell in the Ministry. While the cell itself was nothing remarkable compared to the ones beside it, the person it was holding inside, however, was nothing like she'd seen, or even heard of, before.
Archer - The mysterious vigilante whose first recorded appearance was roughly four months ago. Since then, the rumor, as well as the mist surrounding that man keep getting larger and more ridiculous. Charmed arrows that could petrify people, an inhuman speed and strength enough to go against Daywalkers, Shield Charm that managed to block Dragon's fire. The bloke then even slew said dragon single-handedly, a feat that was never heard of.
If Tonks hadn't been able to witness those feats with her own eyes, she probably would have dismissed them as baseless rumors. For the Aurors to be able to capture someone like Archer, it was thanks to an anonymous tip that they received four days ago.
"Archer will show up at the Triwizard's first task with his guard down. You will be able to get him there."
That was all it said.
Now in hindsight, it was a very vague message, and if it turned out to be false information, the DMLE would no doubt become a joke at the Ministry. Still, the pressure from the top to capture Archer at all cost forced them to take action.
But...What kind of person would put the Imperius on a child to do his bidding? Just the thought of that made Tonks frown in disgust. It didn't take a genius to know that the owner of that message didn't help them out of goodwill, but simply used them to remove Archer from whatever play they were taking part in. It benefited the DMLE, but the method used clearly belonged to a Dark Wizard. It was a vexing feeling, to be indebted to someone like that.
And then there was Archer himself.
No one knew where that name, as well as the man himself came from. According to the reports, he'd never told anyone to call him like that. It all started from a rumor somewhere and just stuck. Though Tonks had to admit, it rather suited him, who prefered to use bow and arrows instead of wands. It was obvious that he had the ability to do wanded magic, so at the moment, it was safe to assume that Archer was human, or at least a mixed blood of some kind.
Who are you? What's your real name? What's your motive? Are you with us or against us? Where in Merlin's name is Harry Potter? Are you him? Those questions keep swirling inside the young Auror's head. Despite what they showed publicity, a lot of people in DMLE were actually sympathetic toward Archer. While according to the law, they couldn't condone the act of vigilante, but at least, they could recognize what he'd done. If Archer hadn't shown up like he did in those occasions…
Tonks shivered as she imagined the result.
It would be nice if the man could actually answer those questions, she sighed. It'd been three days since Archer's arrest at Hogwarts. They'd treated his wounds and transferred him back to this holding cell immediately afterward. However, everything was done while he was still unconscious. While Madam Bones had already ordered to have a pair of magic suppressing handcuffs to be placed on his wrists, there was no guarantee that they would work, seeing how differently Archer used magic. To be safe, her boss also ordered to dose him with sleeping potion, until they could be certain that he was harmless.
Thus, Archer wasn't in a state to answer any question now. It was frustrating, but understandable at the same time. If he unleashed his unknown magic like he did on that dragon, there was no way they could contain him.
"Auror Tonks," the voice of her boss - Amelia Bones - pulled Tonks out of her musing. She looked up and saw the other woman approaching with her ever-present stern expression on her face.
"Boss," Tonks replied, straightening her back.
"How's our prisoner?" Madam Bones gave her a nod.
"As expected, he still hasn't woken up yet. Other than that, everything is fine."
"Good," the other woman said. "Can you please fetch me Shacklebolt and Dawlish? Bring them here. We're going to wake that Archer up."
"Now? Wake him?" Tonks' eyes widened. "Are you sure it's safe to…"
"Even if we let him sleep forever, we can never be sure," Madam Bones shook her head. "From what we've seen of Archer, he's a rather reasonable fellow, or at least I hope so. I've convinced Minister Fudge to let us wake him for questioning."
"Is that so?" Tonks glanced nervously at the cell behind her. "If that's your judgement, boss, then we will trust you. I'll bring Shacklebolt and Dawlish right away."
Giving her boss a nod, Tonks then left as quickly as she could without running. Archer was finally waking up and they would get the answers they wanted. It made her both nervous and excited at the same time.
However, what the young Auror didn't expect was that, the moment the lift that she was inside ascended, Madam Bones opened the cell she had been guarding and stepped inside.
"Hello, Harry," she said in a playful tone that clearly didn't belong to the Head of DMLE. "Not very good weather today, isn't it? The sky is so grey, I hope it wouldn't rain."
"Agreed, I prefer sunny days myself," Archer, who had been lying on the bed snapped his eyes open and sat up, stretching his arms. "What took you so long? Do you know how hard it is to pretend to be asleep for the majority of the day?"
"Be more considerate," the woman chided gently. "Things like these take time to plan. We don't mount a prison break from the heart of the Ministry everyday, you know."
"I know," Archer sighed and stood up. "It's just insanely boring in here. Give her my thanks, won't you?"
"Of course," she nodded. "Let's go. I'll pretend to bring you in for a hearing in 'my' office, so just follow me. I have all of your stuff here, clothes, and a wand. Anything missing?"
"Nothing. After you," Archer shook his head and signaled toward the door.
"And before I forget, how are those cuffs?"
"These?" Archer lifted his cuffed wrists. "'They weaken my magic, but I can still use it."
That was to say 'I'm not helpless, so don't try anything funny'. The woman understood the message clearly. Archer didn't trust her. And while he could escape on his own if he so chose, Archer wanted to keep the commotion down as much as possible until after he was out of sight, which was the only reason for him to accept her proposal.
He dislikes needless bloodshed, she thought. Well, not a bad trait to have.
"Understood," finally she said. "I'll get them off of you once we're outside. There will be a lot of guards along our way, so don't act suspicious."
Around fifteen minutes later, the Ministry was flung into chaos. The moment Auror Tonks found Shacklebolt and Dawlish sitting in the DMLE Head office, with none other than Madam Bones herself, she knew that they'd been tricked. The four of them rushed back to the holding cells only to see the door on Archer's one was hanging wide open.
The vigilante had once again escaped their grasp.
End of Chapter 20.