Chapter 9: Cloaked Figures

Kingsley veered directly into the shadows as he and Harry made a rapid b-line away from the Burrow. He seemed very jumpy, jerking his head in the direction of even the most innocent of sounds. His right arm did not swing far from his side and his long fingers continuously brushed over the handle of his wand. A bird warbled a soft tune overhead and Kingsley jumped visibly, relaxing his hold on his wand holster only when he hadlocated the offending creature.

Had the situation not been so serious, Harry might have laughed at the tall Auror's reaction to the bird. In the current circumstances, however, it only served to heighten his own paranoia. He shoved his hands in his pockets and kept his eyes trained ahead, trying not to think about why it was that they had to be so careful. The danger hadn't seemed as real as this in a long while, for the peaceful days of summer with the Weasley's had distorted his pessimistic view of the world. Now he felt as though Voldemort was waiting behind every tree they passed and Death Eaters lay hidden just beyond his sight. He took a deep breath and willed himself to find a distracting thought of a pleasanter nature. Instead, images of the Hogsmeade attack crashed his senses and left him dizzied.

It had been so beautiful that day, surreal in the feeling of safety that the familiar buildings had invoked. Had Ginny not been there to help him and give him courage he couldn't imagine what would have happened. And she had almost killed herself to protect him, wasting her very life force to create a shielding charm. He had thought she had sacrificed herself for him, for she had collapsed on the ground, bleeding from numerous hexes and looking deathly pale. He had dropped his own defenses upon seeing her hit thestone-cobbled roadand he had kneeled beside her, searching for a pulse. The seconds had seemed to stretch, making the moments of uncertainty last an upsettingly long time. He was reminded in the instant of her fall of his second year, venturing into the depths of the school in search of what may have been the corpse of Ginny Weasley. It was in those moments that he felt an unparalleled emotion for her. He had loved her in those moments, a deep love that was awakened only in the most stressful circumstances. A bond too deep to measure.

He had not acknowledged the feelings for what they were, for everything happened in such rapid succession that there was hardly time to understand the inner workings of the human heart and mind.

He remembered being struck immobile at the possibility of losing her, and not just as Ron's younger sister or as the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Weasley, but as a friend. He had grasped her wrist with no uncertain force and had felt relief wash over him at the steady, if slightly faint, pulse beating against his palm. His being preoccupied had, unfortunately afforded the Death Eaters with an opportunity to assault him at will.

A cutting curse had sliced at his left arm, leaving it dangling uselessly at his side. His mind had suddenly sharpened and his persistence redoubled. He had dealt with the remaining threat swiftly and with such force that he was unsure of where the power had come from. It had seemed to erupt from his very being, but had he been asked later to tap into the storage of magic he would have been unable to. Arresting the movement of the last Death Eater had released Hogsmeade from its spell. He could see, as he melted into the comfort of blackness, the witches and wizards in the crowded streets shrug off the drunken state the spell had left them in, the shrieks and trample of feet loud in his ears as the shoppers realized what must have happened and reacted belatedly. Then there had been silence and sleep. He wished he could be so lucky again, though after six years of thwarting the plans of Voldemort he couldn't help but think good fortune had somewhat worn itself out on him.

Gravel crunched under the tired boots of Kingsley as they entered the town, keeping to the shadowy sidewalk as mush as possible. Even with precautions at hiding their true identities they were hardly safe from prying eyes, Muggle or otherwise.

An elderly woman sitting on a bench outside the village general store gave the two companions a suspicious look, but made no move to investigate her misgivings. Perhaps she was used to the Weasley's.

They crossed the street and disappeared behind a clump of trees just to the left of where the old woman sat.

Shacklebolt checked to make sure their curious observer was looking the other direction before he conjured a map of London. He pondered it for a moment before tapping his wand at a specific point and enlarging it.

"This is a safe place to Apparate. We will end up in a small Wizarding market place magically shielded to look like an alley. It is too crowded to try directly for Diagon Alley. It's best to keep our journey as quiet as possible. The fewer who know about it the better." He wiped a trickle of sweat from his brow and tapped the map with his wand, making it shrivel up and disappear with a soft pop.

Harry felt a sweep of apprehension whip through his body. He had yet to Apparate anywhere that he had not before seen first hand. He pushed his glasses nervously up the bridge of his nose and tried not to let his reserves beknown. He would have to do it some time.

"Right then. Ready, Harry?" Kingsley asked, voice tight, head swiveling in all directions.

This was it.

"Er, yes. Ready," he stuttered.

Harry pulled his wand out from his pocket and glanced at the Auror beside him.

"You first." Kingsley said, gaze fixed to the left of Harry on the old woman.

Harry took a deep breath and pointed his wand at his head, turning it in the same motion. There was a split second where he thought it hadn't worked, but a moment later he felt the familiar dizzying sensation as his body jumped from one location to the next in the space of a second. When he opened his eyes, which he had squeezed shut against the slight feeling of nausea that often overcame him in the instant of Apparation, he saw with relief the familiar forms of wizards and witches on their daily business. He had come to the right place.

The next second Kingsley materialized inches from where Harry stood, sending the younger man off balance a little. Kingsley grabbed his arm to steady him and immediately started off down the narrow road. He led Harry to a small alcove between two shops and instructed him to change into some robes, to which Harry obeyed swiftly. The sense of urgency was almost suffocating.

Shacklebolt pulled a plain black robe over his Muggle clothes and waited impatiently for Harry to do the same.

They set off at a brisk pace in the direction of, as far as Harry could tell, what appeared to be a very large dumpster. They left the main hubbub of the small market behind as they picked their way through the alley.

A chill wind frosted Harry's cheek and he started in surprise. It was still, after all, August. Shivering slightly, he tried to fight the feeling that the prickling of his skin had to do with something other than the cold.

Kingsley suddenly stopped and pulled Harry into the shadows along the side of a building. Harry opened his mouth to question the Auror but the look on his companion's face silenced the words on his lips. He followed Kingsley's gaze to a pair of cloaked figures slouched against the wall opposite them.

Harry's heartbeat quickened and bile rose in his throat. He just wasn't up to another encounter with a group of Voldemort's cronies, if that's what they were, which seemed likely.

After a moment, two dark silhouettes slunk from the alley wall and disappeared in the direction from which Harry and Kingsley had come. They wasted no time. The next second Harry was jogging to keep up with the Auror's pace, glances continually venturing behind them to make sure they were not being followed.

Upon reaching the dumpster, Kingsley muttered something under his breath and jabbed his wand at the giant green lid. When he opened it Harry was surprised to see a narrow, dank passageway into the earth below and not a single piece of trash. Kingsley ushered him in and then followed, gently closing the lid behind them.

"Lumos", Harry whispered hoarsely, thankful for the light which now dispelled the shadows from the corners.

They walked in silence for what felt like an hour, though Harry was sure it could only have been fifteen minutes. When they finally reached the end of the tunnel, Kingsley moved to open the door leading back into the sunlight. He cracked it just enough to see into the street outside, waited a moment, then swiftly threw it all the way open and stepped out, closely followed by Harry.

They entered the main road of Diagon Alley and Harry was relieved to see that shoppers were everywhere. The familiarity of the scene relaxed him slightly and allowed him to push aside his apprehension, at least for the moment.

"They should be here by now," Kingsley muttered to himself, checking a very unusual pocket watch and tapping his foot in exasperation.

Harry and the Auror stood there for ten minutes waiting for the rest of his escort. Unfortunately, people began to stare openly at Harry, talking quietly amongst themselves and drawing far too much attention to the vicinity. Try as he might, Harry couldn't make his fringe lie flat over his scar and he began to feel very uncomfortable, as he always did with so many strangers glancing his way.

"Come on, we can't wait any longer," Kingsley said after what felt like a life time of waiting.

"Isn't it dangerous to keep going without the other Aurors?" Harry queried, feeling his uneasiness grow once again.

"It's dangerous to stay here, out in the open like this. You just never know what…" but he trailed off abruptly and Harry never found out exactly what he would never know.

Kingsley had his eyes fixed on a spot down the side street from which they had just exited and his hand had gone for his wand. Harry spun around to see the two cloaked figures that they had noticed before coming to Diagon Alley. They were climbing out of the tunnel, wands drawn, and looking directly back at Harry.

He felt a sharp tug at his arm as he was pulled around by Kingsley, who was now hurrying down the street. Harry followed closely, heart racing. It could just be a coincidence, he kept thinking. But it just didn't seem all that likely. Especially when the sound of pounding feet became distinguishable behind them. Harry and Kingsley began to run.

Curious faces watched the spectacle, but none knew the circumstances under which the events were taking place.

Kingsley and Harry turned a sharp corner and emerged into an isolated area with just a few dilapidated buildings lining the street. Harry could hear the footsteps of their pursuers getting closer and the inevitability of their being caught almost made him choke.

An incantation could be heard being cast behind them and Harry threw himself just in time to avoid being hit with a nasty orange beam of light. Kingsley was not so lucky. He crumpled to the ground mere feet from where Harry lay and let out a low moan.

Alive but unconscious, Harry reasoned. He quickly cast a shielding charm over his fallen companion, knowing that it would not last long but that it would have to suffice for the time being.

Harry crawled behind a crate of what appeared to be baby squid and peaked over the top of it, trying to get a feel for the situation. His two followers had slowed to a walk and were approaching with extreme caution.

"Potter, give up this foolish game," came a deep and cold voice from one of the cloaked Death Eaters. "We will soon be joined by others and I can not guarantee that they will be as fair as we. Surrender your wand and the Auror will be left unharmed."

Knowing full well that this statement was about as true as if it were coming from Voldemort himself, Harry did not even consider the ultimatum.

He knew he had to act quickly, for if more Death Eaters really were on their way then he would have to get out of the alley with Kingsley in a hurry. He knew he could handle two opponents at once, but his position against any more than that was not promising.

In one swift motion, Harry threw himself from behind the crate and into a roll, crying "stupefy" as he did so and coming to land on the opposite side of the street, this time sheltered by a cauldron.

Harsh laughter echoed across the short distance between himself and his attackers and Harry felt his blood run cold.

"Still playing children's games, Potter? I would have expected better from you. I guess fame is not everything, now is it?" The voices were now very close.

Throwing all caution to the wind, Harry followed his instinct and stepped clear of the cauldron, coming to face the two cloaked figures.

"Putting on a brave face, are we, Potter?" sneered the one to his right.

"I wouldn't expect you to understand anything about that," Harry snapped back. "Petrificus totalus," he cried, pointing his wand at the one who had just addressed him.

Caught off guard, the Death Eater only just managed to erect a blocking charm before the spell hit him. He was only able to deflect some of its force, however, for his legs snapped together and he fell flailing to the ground.

In another swift movement Harry disarmed the fallen man and jumped nimbly out of the way of a curse from the remaining opponent.

He sent another spell toward the standing Death Eater, but it was easily blocked. Harry sidestepped a counterattack and shot a binding spell toward the cloaked figure. Sweat began to gather on his brow and he bit his lip in concentration as the curses flew rapidly between the two of them. Time seemed to stand still and he was completely in his element, blocking out all distractions and focusing solely on the duel.

The Death Eater stumbled slightly in an attempt to dodge a hex and in that moment Harry saw his chance. Quickly, he flicked his wand and cried, "Stupify," knowing even before the spell fully left his wand that he had prevailed over the older man.

It was then that he became aware of what was happening around him. From every direction he could hear a popping noise, the distinctive sound of Apparation. He spun around and saw to his horror that Death Eaters were appearing everywhere in the small side-street. A dozen of them at least, each in fighting stance and apparently waiting for some sort of signal to attack him.

A heart-thudding moment later and Harry found out exactly what they were awaiting.

Hey guys (and girls!), I'm really, really sorry I haven't updated in FOREVER! School just got out yesterday for me and these past few months have been extremely hectic. I hope you like this chapter and I promise that I will be better at updating from now on. I will try and get another chapter up before I go on vacation next Thursday, so let me know what you think and that I still have an audience out there. Please forgive me!