A/N: Apologies to those readers who haven't quite finished with HBP yet. There is a brief spoiler to which I refer obliquely in one segment. The story is otherwise unaltered from its original course. My apologies that this chapter isn't up to my usual standards.

There and Back Again Lane

Ch. 21 – The Wedding Present, Part Two: Wrong Place, Right Time

Someone must have been telling lies about Joseph K., for he awoke from his bed to find himself arrested one fine morning.

—Franz Kafka, 'The Arrest,' The Trial


England
---(Ginny's POV)---

This day will be the death of me if I'm not careful. At the very least, I'll be sporting a few more blonde locks, if not white ones, before Harry's finally set right. If he can be set right. Ah, the triumph of positive thinking.

As if the day hadn't begun poorly enough, what with Harry's persistent headaches. Either he's not the hardy young man he was at Hogwarts – which, considering the absence of potentially life-threatening lessons in Muggle schools (or so Harry 'remembers'), is entirely probable – or the pain must be excruciating. Unfortunately, I don't think he's simply grimacing with every little twinge. My Harry mightn't be as accustomed to grave injury as ours was, yet his determination to walk in Haseltoun and to delve into as much of his past as he could with Ron evinced my lover's strength, daft sod that he is. Stoic fools of the world, unite, OK. Or something like that.

Yet our troubles couldn't simply end there, could they? No, then I had to suffer my own little accident – all right, blunt force trauma – at the Silver Knut. I quite liked it there, before those berks broke through its lovely window. Then I had to suffer Harry fretting and clucking over me like a mother hen, as if I need another Hermione in my life, thank you. So, it was sort of sweet in a nagging, overly concerned way, and perhaps I did consider receiving some Muggle first aid from him, though maybe that thought was simply due to the pain and my growing confusion. Seeing his face properly again at the Leaky Cauldron was almost my downfall, but eventually he came to his senses and stopped asking, the prat.

I still don't know whether I locked the door. I must have, or else Harry wouldn't have left me alone...

He wouldn't have needed to if Tonks and I hadn't argued about that sodding package. Now I know that it concerns Harry, though what it is precisely Hermione won't say. In any case, Tonks left our room to find him before settling arrangements with Tom, only to find my dear man was in the corridor all ready. I don't believe Harry truly understood what he did as he attempted some inadvertent Legilimency on her. Sleep-deprived, distracted, and unaware of the degree to which Harry's magical nature was reasserting itself, Tonks was caught off guard momentarily. Her reaction shocked him as much as his attack surprised her, allowing her to escape with her secret intact. I was shocked he had done such a thing, though I could fathom why he did it.

My sympathy for my beloved mentor evaporated when she abandoned us without a word on Charing Cross Road. There she was, one second helping me along, and then the next, she was gone, leaving Harry to bear the brunt of my misdirected anger. That's something else about which no one has decided to inform me, although Hermione has intimated that all will soon be revealed. At times I wonder how old she thinks I am, though regarding Tonks's disappearance Hermione might not know the entire story, either.

Then Harry and I had a lovely cab ride through London, right after he unintentionally tormented me when he recognised some Muggle Healer who, for whatever reason, also narrates a television programme. (Maybe there aren't many Galleons in Muggle medicine.) Eerily, he did look like a beardless Dumbledore. Still, that's scarcely an excuse for Harry to terrify me half to death first, but I suppose scowling and snarling at him all the way to Ron and Hermione's flat was sufficient punishment.

And as if the day hadn't been wretched enough, Hermione and I took an edifying journey through the golden years of my life. No need to travel down that path again, thank you very much. Luckily, she had healed my broken ribs beforehand, else the retching might have caused me some serious injury.

One would have thought that was enough to ruin a person's day. Alas, no. Ron and Hermione received a visit from the governor, my governor to be precise. Once I heard his name I scrambled to lift Harry – after I had unceremoniously dropped him upon hearing Kingsley had arrived – and Hermione, clever witch that she is, provided me with the necessary Portkey.

An old saying goes, 'Misery loves company.' Well, Harry and I certainly accompanied each other through misery today, especially after that second Portkey. At least the jaunt remedied his unnatural pallor, unfortunately with an equally unwelcome sickly green. Yet it did not take me long to clear the room and seat him safely and with some comfort until Hermione came to examine him properly.

Despite Ron's bitter defence of their Axminster ('You would have thought differently after your wife and future offspring had plunged to their deaths!' – Hermione always had a find grasp on guilt, not that Ron was ever truly swayed), they arrived in Kingsley's – all right, Mr Shacklebolt's – Ministry car several hours later, due to her understandably cautious driving. I was in the midst of clearing the rest of the wing when I heard Harry's alarmed awakening. Ignoring my Sneakoscope's lack of movement, I catapulted to his rescue only to collide with Ron, thereby succeeding where all of our 'safe-house's' death traps had failed. I emerged with a bloodied nose, and Ron with a bruised chin. We would have laughed if he could without grimacing and I hadn't been bleeding everywhere.

Finally, Ron and I had vetted as much of that building as we dared without either a brief kip or some food before venturing off to collect the other two. Hermione, or so I thought, was about to inform me about her side of our disjointed plan to rid the Ministry of Perkins and to bring our Harry back to us. Instead, just as I'd arrived where I'd left Harry, she barrelled from the room like a scalded kneazle. (Which reminds me, where is Crookshanks?)

Apparently, my dear sister-in-law was equally unsettled by my lover's circumstances. She had surprisingly and impetuously blundered into commenting on Harry's unfortunate familiarity with Destiny. He, understandably, had sought to learn what she had meant, though wisely without attempting further surface Legilimency as he had on Tonks. I wonder if my mentor has recovered by now? His avoidance of that latent skill was probably in deference to her 'fragile' condition, although some residual self-disgust after what had happened in the Leaky Cauldron remained as well. Luck smiled on him then: pregnant or not, Harry or not, she would have blasted him out of that chair had he used that particular talent upon her.

After she had scurried from the room, I restored the situation with a perfunctory reprimand to Harry. (Well, I replied to his statements with sarcasm.) As one might expect, it was incredibly difficult to behave professionally when one's best mate has just been scared off by one's lover, especially since the former was one's sister-in-law who had been harping on about telling him about his past. Despite my barbèd tongue, he tried to elicit further information from me. Those seductively inquisitive green eyes, unsettlingly so at times like those, prompting me to answer, and truthfully at that... Remus had warned me Harry's mother's eyes were equally dangerous to the would-be liar, having the effect on Harry's father Dumbledore had hoped naming Remus as a prefect would achieve.

I assisted Harry up to a large first floor bedroom, avoiding his questions as we went, thereby saving him from an even worse headache and me from questions I might not be able to answer. Once there, a further battle of wills ensued. Both Harry and I wanted me to rest so that I might recuperate properly, yet we wanted to learn precisely what had happened to him five years ago. In the end, Harry resolved that I should rest whilst I decided to badger Ron and Hermione with queries of my own. Since I was still standing, albeit barely, curiosity won out over concern and temptation: Harry would rest whilst the family convened to discuss his past, present, and future.

Ron and Hermione waited for me in a ground floor reading room facing the back garden, clutching hands to ward off some anticipated calamity, seated upon a divan of Welsh Green dragonskin and mahogany, its feet carvered in the likeness of those of the upholstery's former occupant. They obviously expected me to make an explosive entrance. I did toy with the idea... Instead, I toured the room, with its now empty shelves that had once been laden with tomes on the Dark Arts, genealogical studies, Ministry lists, and other such drivel, examined the lecturn facing the door from which chains still dangled before alighting on a tête-à-tête opposite the lovely couple.

What many people over the years had failed to grasp was that Hermione could be quite threatening when riled. She could also be unusually indiscreet. The problem was, and is, dancing upon the very edge of being berated and brow-beaten into submission – particularly with Ron in attendance – or of having her craftily reverse our respective positions. But who would play black?

Ah, well, if needs must, I thought, I'll do the honours. 'Brother, sister,' I began calmly, smoothing my robes over my genteelly crossed my legs to soothe my nerves and unravel theirs. 'What did Mr Shacklebolt have to say?'

Ron reacted as I might have expected. He relaxed when I enquired about my governor using his surname (a sop to Hermione), slumping back a bit in the divan whilst sighing in relief. Hermione, however, exhaled a subtle snort of disbelief as she stared warily into my eyes. Harry has a lot to teach her about amateur Legilimency, I thought, though she has enough skill to make a good mother. Given the situation, I was surprised that my brother answered first.

'He's not very happy,' Ron said with a smirk. 'He's worried that you forced his hand too soon.'

From his jacket, Ron removed two leaves of parchment I recognised instantly: an order of suspension and a summons to a disciplinary hearing. I accepted both without comment, perusing them dispassionately as Hermione intensified her gaze.

What had any of them imagined I would say? Kingsley's words bore some truth in them. Matters had accelerated beyond my personal control, yet I was certain I could arrest them, given time. More troubling were the condemnation hidden within that phrase – 'forcing his hand' – and the two documents held before me.

Indeed, it was infuriating. What had my boss thought I would do when Harry asked for my hand? I wasn't about to refuse him because of politics, particularly not for some damn junior minister with far more ambition and avarice than brains. Perhaps I ought to have told my superiors about having met Harry – the enchantment would have permitted nothing more – but I thought, and think, that events have shown my lover's continued secrecy was the correct course.

How Kingsley could think of blaming me for our troubles with the Perkins's minions in Edinburgh was maddening. Could I have predicted that Fred and Ange's owl, Albus (which, for whatever reason, they insist on calling Bertie), would not only reveal I was under surveillance but that Harry and I knew about it as well? Weasley major and I will have to have a chat about his owl's familial tea-time appetite. According to the Head of the Auror Office, yes. Still, I thought Harry, Tonks, and I did quite well considering, and the goblins must have been distracting Perkins and Babbage somewhat.

Tossing the two pieces of parchment onto the cherry wood coffee table between us, suppressing a childish shudder at its legs eerily shaped like those pillars in the Chamber of Secrets, I peered into their eyes that I knew and, despite our many disagreements, loved so well. 'Who else was with him?' Shacklebolt never travelled by Ministry car except when absolutely necessary, and only if others were accompanying him.

The suddenness of my query dismayed Ron and Hermione. Their responses demonstrated it had been the question they had been dreading. Both of his hands clenched abruptly causing them both to wince as Hermione glanced momentarily out at the hedgerow maze. With his wife feigning distraction, he decided to answer.

'Well, Tonks,' Ron answered, slightly agitated, his free hand now fidgeting. The corners of Hermione's mouth drooped a miniscule distance whilst her eyes conveyed the ardent wish for me not to pressurise either of them for further details. Why could they not tell me, and did they know why my mentor had abandoned us in London? In the end, I resolved to reveal my bosses' fellow travellers first.

'Who else accompanied them?'

'It's of no immediate import,' she retorted conclusively. 'Needless to say, they will all be essential to the plan's success.'

A smirk cracked my otherwise glacial mien. 'Essential but unimportant,' I pondered, turning my head towards the great bay windows offering a gorgeous view of rural Wiltshire whilst my gaze remained intently upon the two. 'How fashionable.'

Puzzled, Ron raised an eyebrow. Hermione's eyes, however, narrowed in irritation. I could tell she was assessing my possible reactions to the truth and felt little comfort in her deductions. It was equally evident to me that neither of them would tell me who had accompanied my superiors without further prodding.

'And what might be this plan of which you have decided to keep me blissfully ignorant?' I enquired, peering at them directly once more. Ron struggled to find the words to dissuade me whilst Hermione had taken to looking bewildered. 'You realise, Ron, that I'm no longer twelve and cannot be shunted from the train compartment.' I paused briefly to allow the memory of that petty humiliation to form in his mind.

'But we are only in the process of devising our scheme,' she admitted, wholly disrupting my line of questioning. 'Ever since we had received our parcels from Remus.'

'Parcels?' I blurted, suspecting Tonks's little secret would finally be revealed. And it was, in the guise of something wrapped in heavy brown paper secured by string.

Tearing it open swiftly like a present, I was as quickly dumbfounded. 'Er...' See?

'Quite,' they parroted whilst I continued to read, my hands beginning to shake and my teeth gnashing in bitter fury. Having been forced to comb through mountains of parchment written in like bureaucratic idiom in my brief career, it wasn't the words themselves that alternately baffled and enraged me, but the thought processes behind them.

At page ten any professional detachment I had left had been cudgelled into submission. I stood and glowered at that maze with such ferocity it might have combusted in the late spring air. If ever I get my hands on those bloody Obliviators...

I caught Hermione staring at me nervously and noticed those very hands balled into fists at my sides. 'How could you let them do that to him?' I demanded, peering into her eyes, searching for any lie though knowing none would be found.

'I doubt even the Obliviators knew how arduous the recovery process would be,' she replied calmly.

'That's because they never expected him to recover!' I growled.

'But we didn't suspect he would have to suffer so, either,' Hermione pleaded, glancing at Ron for further support.

'Harry should hear this,' I muttered, continuing to glower at them. But she didn't relent.

Instead, she took my hand. 'Not this way, Ginny,' she murmured. 'Not now. He should learn what was done to him from all of us.'

'Did you know those bastards,' – she tutted angrily at the word, but I ignored it – 'convinced him that he was responsible for his parents' death?'

Hermione drew back, her face contorted by a sorrowful smile. 'Fred would be pleased.'

'Don't say that.'

She sat beside my brother in that grotesque, green dragonskin divan before me and bade me to take a seat myself. 'Ron told me about what happened when your father was attacked in your fourth year.' It was his turn to look distractedly out of the giant bay windows onto the back garden.

Where was she headed?

'How you and the Twins suspected Harry's involvement from the beginning.'

Ron never seemed that perceptive before. My mouth gaped as I sought the words to defend myself.

'I don't blame you, Ginny,' she interrupted my silent retort. 'I would have felt the same had it been my father lying in hospital.' With a flick from her wand, a chair glided silently from the corner of the room next to where she was sitting. Politely, she motioned me to come closer and grasped my hand. 'And when tragedy struck again...'

Harry ran, he couldn't bear to look me in the eye, until I forced him. The truth is, I did hold him partly responsible for Mum's death. The two of them had been too bloody stubborn for her own good. As Hermione and I are now.

'He was terrified of losing you,' Hermione said, adding, 'and Ron.' I issued a disparaging snort. She continued none the less. 'He cared for you a great deal, then. Thinking he had lost you two as well as your mum drove him mad with despair.'

'You still haven't answered my question,' I finally responded.

She looked at our entwined hands, seemingly amazed by their similarities and differences, carefully concealing her own wedding ring. 'Not until after I had found other records in St Mungo's.'

Ron, who had been strangely silent during that sisterly exchange, gave her other hand a gentle squeeze. With that encouragement, her head rose, cheeks glistening with tears. 'You don't know how truly sorry I am,' she pleaded. Her voice quavered piteously, causing my hand to slip from hers as I stood once more.

I had to get out of that room. No longer was I furious with her about what I had believed she had done to Harry, but sensed her unbearable helplessness and guilt.

Witnessing my growing agitation, a distressed Ron proposed I leave the parcel with them for the moment to rest a bit. He was probably concerned I was seconds away from venturing off to confront Perkins and Babbage, as well as asking my dear sister-in-law herself some fairly searching questions. Grateful for an excuse to avoid a family row at that delicate stage, I complied wearily with his suggestion.

Incensed, I was certain sleep would be a long time coming, yet I marched to where I had left Harry. The injustice of what had been done to him, to us, sank deeper with each footfall. Thankfully, I had sufficient presence of mind not to translate that discomfort physically, my movements remaining silent. Creeping cautiously into the room, I disrobed noiselessly and slid under the bedclothes next to him, determined to strategise better for my next question period.

Of course, I was asleep within seconds.

I had no idea how long I had been asleep when the old nightmare returned to me. The fires were still ablaze, the ground broken, trees shattered and wailing unsubdued as I cautiously advanced through the battlefield. With great reluctance, I avoided Hermione's miserable celebration over Harry's mangled body and went straight for that of our foe. Charred beyond recognition, he lay there with four inches of the shining blade still protruding from his belly, immobile. My peripheral vision caught a sudden movement. Wand drawn, I strode with determination to a shattered tree mere feet away.

'Show yourself, walking corpse!' I commanded, glaring at the humbled pine daring it to grow additional branches.

For a moment all was silent. Then that wretched sniffing and a sibilant sneer emerged from its refuge in the boughs. 'You brought the stench of it with you.' He scrambled down the scorched bark to coil at the bottom. Those beady red eyes narrowed and glared at me. 'And of him.'

'Struggling towards reincarnation now, Tom?' I growled. 'Have prospects to become a Red Cap?'

Wandless, he spat at me.

'Manners, Tom,' I retorted. 'Remember in whose mind you reside?'

He bared his teeth and pointed a sharp claw at me. 'I possessed you once, little one!' Then, to my surprise, his lamentable excuse for a face regained its former smugness. 'Twice, really.'

'More than that, Tom,' I admitted. 'But never again.'

Again with that horrid high-pitched twittering. 'No, Ginevra, only twice,' he hissed. 'Oh dear stupid girl, it wasn't me who saved you, but...'

Suddenly, an odd greenish light distracts us, allowing him to scarper and the dreamscape to shift to something infinitely more mundane.

Whomever tried to wake me will receive such a tongue-lashing.

Yet I fell asleep once more.

Some time later, without even raising an eyelid, I register a pair of green eyes peering at me. Harry has the temerity to give me a sheepish grin, saving me the need to berate him for his earlier misdeed. Behind that grin is a grimace of worry. I suspect what might be the cause. 'Is it what happened with Tonks?'

'And Hermione.'

I assure him he needn't be concerned about either my sister-in-law or my mentor. 'You caught them both off guard,' I conclude soothingly.

'You didn't see Tonks's face,' he mutters.

'Yes, I did.' I might not have caught a complete view of the shock she had undergone, but enough of a glimpse to witness how disorientating Harry's little surprise had been. 'You didn't know what you were doing.'

'But I'd known what I had intended to do,' he grumbles. His eyes are filled with shame, yet stern, unwilling to escape the guilt. After what feels like an eternity, he rolls onto his back, peering at the roof of the four-poster bed. 'There's no way I can be normal again, is there?'

The temptation to say, 'Well, if you're brooding again, you are normal,' is overwhelming, but I ignore it for the moment. Instead, I rest my head on his chest and tell him the truth about what he had done, reassuring him once more Tonks would be all right, and what he was becoming. 'To conclude, Mr Harry bloody Potter, like it or not, you are a sodding wizard and your hair will never stay down again.'

With that last rejoinder, he snickers and embraces me. 'Well, there's one mystery solved.'

'You just need to learn some control,' I whisper. 'And I don't mean that rubbish you sometimes put in your hair. Makes me sneeze.'

He swears off hair gel and glowering intently at friends and family as I curl into him and purr with contentment, revelling in his scent. But question period hasn't ended. He then asks me why I scuttled away from him during our row concerning Draco in Haseltoun. Do I dare tell him the truth? He doesn't seem likely to be dissuaded this time. This time...

'It wasn't Tom you reminded me of that day,' I murmur. 'At least, not directly, but you.' Harry places a hand on my cheek, softly caressing my skin, his thumb erasing the trail of tears winding down my face. I lean into it, not knowing why he is being so patient save that he loves me.

His other hand covers mine. The gesture is both comforting and imposing, telling me he's not afraid of what I might say, but that I'm to stay until I've told him the truth. His eyes implore me not to hide any longer.

'I was reminded of the night you kissed me,' I whisper, staring at our hands entwined on the bedclothes. 'When I told you of my vision of your death.'

Harry is unnerved by that revelation. I can see a host of queries in his eyes, each struggling desperately to be the first. Still, aware of my peculiar vulnerability, he asks only the simplest one. 'Do you regularly have visions?'

'No, I've only ever had the one.' It is something that strikes me as terribly odd as well, particularly since no one else in the family seems, or was, gifted with any insight other than for trouble-making.

His disconcerted expression likely matches my own. 'Isn't that sort of, er, unusual?'

'You obviously have forgotten your divination professor.'

Harry smiles at that, acknowledging that is something else that will be beyond his ken for a while longer. 'So, when does my re-education begin, Professor Weasley?'

Tomorrow, for tonight we play.


Ministry of Magic, London
Corridors between Babbage and Perkins's offices
---(Babbage's POV)---

Elated, I almost glide through the Ministry on the wave of exultation brought by our renewed surveillance about to recommence on the Weasley-Granger flat. Only through sheer experience do I stifle the blissful shout of We have her! – or them, really – and simply march down the corridors to the junior minister's offices with the measured decorum of a high official. Though we have no hard evidence against that wretched Granger (or Weasley, whatever!) harpy, and that harridan Clarke maintains her flobberworm impression, I am certain she is responsible for removing the Potter Order from the Archives. Obtention of that Order is a direct contravention of the Wizarding Official Secrets Act (1942), which, thanks to Emergency Order Number Thirty-five, covers not only Ministry employees, but those employed by attached agencies and their immediate relatives as well. And since the Official Secrets Act is a binding magical contract, whether signed or not (blessed Order Thirty-five!), it will be easy to verify the Weasleys' non-compliance.

There is, perhaps, the threat that Mrs Too-Clever-by-Half will concoct some means by which they could circumvent the contract, thereby enabling her to disclose the thinking of the Minister of State and the Department at the time, and possibly, being the foul little bushy-haired creature she is, uncover the purpose – however veiled – behind Potter's Obliviation. She might even be able to cross-reference to certain texts needed to prove our position on his treatment and that of Miss Weasley, which proved our foresight, in light of hindsight, to be erroneous. But the frighteners, or inspection team, I should say, should be able to find those documents before any such tampering could occur.

When I enter Minister Perkins's main office, she returns my grin with one exuding equivalent joy. She hands me the necessary warrant for their premises, signed in her barely legible scrawl. I am even granted the pleasure of being there personally to witness the Weasleys' embarrassment. Neither of us can await the arrival of the Department's surprise inspection team, bearing with it a reminder of Emergency Order Number Thirty-seven, still in effect after all these years: 'No wizard nor witch may accost or otherwise interfere with Ministry officials and officers in the lawful performance of their duties.' Given what abominably grotesque jinxes the boffins in the Department devised around the Official Secrets Act after those first war years, it is highly unlikely either Mr or Mrs Weasley would be able to refuse our intrusion in any case. Yet the best thing is that Mr Weasley's demonic sister is still trapped in Haseltoun with that imbecile Tonks. It is for days like this I became a Ministry official.

Nearly dancing from my minister's offices, I reflect upon little Miss Weasley's situation. She, and that Tonks woman, had likewise acted against Order Thirty-seven and quite likely the Statute for Secrecy. Furthermore, they had aroused the suspicions of the local populace and the Department has subsequently declared them to be Death Eaters in possession of a Muggle. Then one needs to factor in property damage, damage to public confidence, and, if we can generate enough journalistic outrage, we might even be able to force Shacklebolt to charge them with disobeying orders.

On the negative side, the local plod had managed to aggravate the goblins, which is always very dangerous, and Headmaster Flitwick has regrettably been made aware of Misses Weasley and Tonks's flight. I fear that they may have brought along him as well. Still, once they are ejected from Gringotts of Haseltoun, as they inevitably will be, the Metamorphmagus and her wounded companion, possibly the other one too, will be subdued quickly and brought to trial so swiftly there will be nothing either Shacklebolt or even Minister Bones could do to save them. The two Aurors might be as dangerous as rats trapped in a corner, but the Department has several prides of hit wizards ready to feast upon them. Even so, I can't wait to re-enter my office for a quick run-through of Miss Weasley's file for her upcoming court date.

Oh hell and buggery. It's not there. After fervently hunting around my office for a half-hour, I'm forced to conclude it is one-hundred percent positively not there. Perhaps Mistress Clarke secured it, as she is wont to do at times, considering it was three weeks overdue.

Pell-mell I scurry through the corridors to the lift down to the Ministry Archives, scaring junior and senior officials alike with a scowl unseen since Adalberd Holbourne, or that Rackharrow fellow. My foot taps a nerve-wracking tattoo that frightens even a pair of Unspeakables armed with a small package out into the lobby.

Eventually, I burst into the haven of that desiccated, decrepit raven Elspeth Clarke. Almost breathless from rage and running I demand to see Miss Weasley's file at once.

'You have it, don't you?' the crone cackles, producing the Book of Requests before my eyes. 'Or did you lose that as well, you festering canker.' When I fail to conjure a satisfactory reply, she chortles revealing her remaining repulsively tanned teeth. 'Oh, you are in very serious trouble now, Burblage, especially considering how long ago it was due.'

Flinging myself as quickly as I can from that dimly-lit dungeon back into the lift to avoid hearing that voice any longer, I notify Minister Perkins of that latest disappearance.

At first, the foul little beast is entirely dismissive. 'Well, all it says is that she was mad in her last year at Hogwarts and went mad during Auror training; what harm could that do us?' the fool Hufflepuff declared. Then I explain how thorough that file is, or was. It details not simply those moments that give us justifiable reasonable cause to sack her when taken separately, but the rest of her story as well, with all of the connections and suppositions made my St Mungo's staff before we in the Department had decided upon her treatment, including several damaging documents by sodding St Dumbledore, as he's known in these parts.

'How could you have been so stupid as to lose that!' she exclaims, continuing on with a welter of other nastiness questioning my competence on all matters from tying my shoes to being able to write in cursive letters. When she demands that a detachment from the Magical Law Enforcement Patrol examine my office for the document's whereabout I inform her that she was escaping reason and cavorting with insanity. Failing to bring her back to earth with that comment, I slam my fist on her desk, startling her back into reality.

'Right then, Minister,' I intone. 'Who do we think took the first set of papers?' I say, holding up the warrant to search the Weasleys' flat for the Potter Order. If necessary, I even consider bringing in a pantomime troupe to act our conundrum out for her, yet surprisingly she understands the inference from the beginning. I advise Perkins that I will be gathering the frighteners – the inspection team, that is – for an immediate investigation of that residence. To further bolster her confidence in me, I present to her a list of witnesses to Miss Weasley's episodes of insanity taken from her file, noting that we should provide official summons to all of them as soon as possible, particularly since it will take too long for the surveillance to bear fruit should the frighteners fail to uncover anything.

'Are you certain this will work?' she blethers as I exit her office.

'Of course, Minister.'

My certainty is, needless to say, an act. Presently, I am trying to devise the means by which I can leave the country unobserved should this little foray into Muggle London not succeed. Though it is unusual for officials to take the blame for their minister's mistakes, it is always possible in this dangerous post-War era to be a part of an ever-growing list of exceptions. Even so, I think we will arrive soon enough to catch Mrs Smart-arse and Idiot Husband unawares.

When we arrive outside the flat, its lights are on and people are inside. My operatives, with those wonderful Extendable Ears purchased from another Weasley (I do adore irony), confirm that at least two people, a man and a woman, are within. We stealthily climb the stairs to the door and knock, wands at the ready, only to have the door open and hear an oddly familiar voice welcome us inside. Cautiously following the voice into the sitting room, I am confronted with my worst nightmare.

I splutter uncouthly in recognition of those sitting before me, sipping tea as if it was any afternoon, although their wands are drawn as well. There is Kingsley Shacklebolt, Head of the Auror Office, silly gold earring and all, smiling a goblin before a gold mine. Across from him is Nymphadora Tonks, who is supposed to be in Edinburgh (when I get my hands on that fool in Haseltoun...), feigning surprise. Behind her sits the beetle of doom, Rita Skeeter, scribbling away with her acid green Quick Quotes Quill under the watchful spectacled eyes of the fourth member of that group.

'Weatherby,' I chunter.

'That's Weasley, Babbage,' the fourth man utters as he rises. Now that he mentions it, he does look vaguely familiar. 'And this,' he states flicking open a piece of parchment, 'is an order from the Minister for Magic herself for the immediate release of all documentation on or relating to the Obliviation of Mr Harry James Potter, formerly of Number 4, Privet Drive, Little Whinging, Surrey.'

Bugger.


Borneo, Sarawak
---(Draco's POV)---

Rumours are arriving from abroad. Strange, unbelievable tales come from England about that wretched cow Perkins. Maybe I shall be able to return home one day... I'm almost filled with hope.

One might ask why I, Draco Malfoy, heir to one of the greatest fortunes and most lucrative demesnes in wizarding Britain, betrayer of his father and of the most powerful wizard of this century – Dumbledore be damned – would bother to save some wastrel of a girl from a family of blood-traitors and deliver her into the loving arms of his simple-minded, self-righteous childhood foe. The answer is quite obvious: it was for that very manor and legacy that I devised my own demise and removed myself from the final battle. Pettigrew's experience – though I never befouled myself with the swine's presence – had taught me the invaluable lesson of concealment by faked death. That my father, that beloved hypocrite, hated the Animagus for hiding after the Dark Lord's first reversal spurred me on further. I suppose that was much less dignified than simply lying to that cretin Fudge and plying that witless politician with trinkets and the occasional disbursement of a few thousand Galleons. (Well, Pettigrew did spend twelve likely arduous years as a pet rat at the Weasleys' while we still had comfort and luxury.)

With the Dark Lord's second coming, it looked as if I'd no option left to me. There was either Father's road or Dumbledore's. Doubtless, there were advantages on each side. Had the Dark Lord defeated Potter and I'd remained so serendipitously aligned, the rewards – starting with no more Potter – would have been immeasurable. The celebrations, as debauched as they could possibly become, would have continued for weeks as we imposed our will on the world. Or at least that was what some of us were led to believe.

Doubtless the Dark Lord's need for absolute dominion over his disciples would have reduced our freedoms to those we 'enjoyed' during the Commonwealth. Father's craven submission to our purported deliverer – wizarding society's own Cromwell (that accursèd Muggle) – was something I could no longer stomach. And if our Dark Suzerain faltered and that churlish little half-breed Potter survived – how hard could it truly have been to kill that specky ickle git? – my family would have lost everything we spent centuries to acquire thanks to the Dark Arts Victims Compensation Decree, Perkins's not-so-subtle way of amassing a fortune for the Ministry and herself. Freedoms or wealth; not an easy decision.

The other course was no less hazardous. If I had renounced all that I believed in, even if only for the time being, my father would have excised me from the will immediately. There was no possibility of me becoming a spy; what had happened to Professor Snape is still fresh in my mind. (He may have been a blood traitor, but he was admirable in his way.) Had the Dark Lord been victorious, I would have departed this mortal coil in no less deplorable circumstances. And even though Potter had succeeded, Perkins would have used my disinheritance as sufficient cause to deny me my rightful legacy. The only thing of which I was certain was that Potter would find some way to bugger up everything no matter what decision I made. So charitable of him to oblige by dying then. Why he couldn't have achieved that during a Quidditch match?

That whinging cretin's death along with that of that mad old fool Dumbledore must have simplified Perkins's plans for my family's legacy immeasurably. Though undoubtedly the little one would have told the specky twit, the old duffer, the Weasel, and the Mudblood about my sacrifice, perhaps a few others as well, the Minister of State managed to silence the living. (Gryffindor honour would have demanded they reveal what I had done for them, for their cause despite our mutual enmity.) From what I learned in my hide-out, she had an easy time of it. The girl drugged into oblivion, the doss git kept away from his precious pet, and the rest of that ridiculous cabal of blood traitors preoccupied by Father's compatriots or in hospital, leaving no-one to espouse my case.

Anyway, back to the original question: why did I save the Weasley girl? Well, in the end it was revealed to me – not in so many words, of course – that in all likelihood, the Dark Lord was going to lose the War. It was hard to believe then. Everything was going so well: deaths and manipulations of senior Ministry officials, a few giant rampages, the possibility of gathering a few dark creatures like vampires and lycanthropes under his banner, whilst Dumbledore was still trying to negotiate with the goblins and centaurs. Wasted effort.

The Dark Lord had delegated such duties to a few clever, or equally blood-thirsty, minions so that he could concentrate once more on that prophecy. Finally, in the summer before my sixth year, he had secured it. It's hard to say how he succeeded in convincing that fraud Trelawney to leave the Castle and Grounds, but I suspect it might have had something to do with a diminishing supply of decent sherry in the kitchens. (Someone, I've yet to discover who, had lightly poisoned the kitchen's store, leading to the demise of more than a few house-elves.) This unfortunate lack of her preferred tipple strangely coincided with one of Dumbledore's many absences, obliging the peculiar creature to wander into Hogsmeade and the Dark Lord's awaiting clutches.

Extracting the prophecy took longer than the Dark Lord might have expected and revealed more than he desired. Instead of accepting Trelawney's vision for what it was – a set of possibilities rather than an absolute certainty – he pursued her down one particular course and was alarmed by the outcome. Terrified that he would be unable to escape his fate, he decided once again to cheat against destiny.

From my foolish father, the Dark Lord had learned of the ploy that had cost him his diary. Though our lord and master had been furious at the time, he then found that mistake had an unintended benefit. Since the Weasley girl's mind had been penetrated once before by a shade of the Dark Lord's younger, more inexperienced self, he conjectured his matured power would grant him some measure of control over her. And yet, due to the distance and the many protective measures arrayed around their hovel after our fourth year he succeeded only in transmitting to her tampered images of what Trelawney had Seen. Even that, he suspected, ought to have provoked Dumbledore or even Potter into action. But the Dark Lord had not counted on the stubbornness of the Weasleys, especially that of the youngest of their brood.

In her obstinacy, charming young Miss Weasley did not scarper to her parents or brothers, not to that boy by whom she'd been enraptured as a child, not even to the Headmaster, though he was always interested in what she had to say. No, she kept that bloody vision within her, despite the occasional prompting by the Dark Lord. In the end, once it became evident that she would never reveal what she had supposedly 'Seen', he intimated that we nab her, preferably along with that Granger Mudblood who seemed so annoyingly able to deduce plans. Mother, perhaps to protect me against my father's fate, indiscreetly discussed the Dark Lord's plan in my presence.

It is said that to be forewarned is to be fore-armed. Once the Dark Lord ordered me to abduct Weasley and Granger and told me who would accompany me on that task, I knew that at least one of them would die. On my way back to Hogwarts that year, I seem to have forgotten about the Mudblood well aware that if either the Weasley girl or Granger were seriously injured my chances for a full pardon by the Ministry after the War would be completely dashed. Instead, I informed Crabbe and Goyle, and Bulstrode, Vincent's girlfriend who was eager to plot Miss Weasley's downfall, that we would nab the younger woman and whomever we could. Meanwhile, I proceeded to surreptitiously brew a large batch of Polyjuice Potion in an abandoned girl's lavatory, ably assisted by a rather morose ghost.

Vile though it is to say, it was tremendously good fortune – insofar as I was concerned – that kept Ginny Weasley out of our fiendish grip until that May day she sauntered through the grounds with poor Luna Lovegood. Despite what you might think of me, there isn't a day that I don't regret her passing, though please understand that my reasons are not altogether self-serving. After all, Miss Weasley's survival led to the final defeat of the Dark Lord, as well as that of Harry Potter – an added benefit for the rest of us.

Ah! A disturbingly familiar bird alights before, clucking her beak angrily at me desperate to relieve herself of her burden. After several tries and many nipped fingers, she carefully makes her way home through the trees, abandoning me once more to the jungle. Yet the foul-tempered messenger brings a happy missive:

I have been summoned home.

—14 June 2003