The Unbreakable Vow 37
It all belongs to JK Rowling and I thank her for her inspiration – There are no galleons to be made from me or by me. This little story is my first Harry Potter fic. It is AU and of course comments are welcome. I am also grateful for all the people who have read and reviewed this story. I am quite stunned by all the positive comments. I know I do not update as swiftly as everyone would like but life and work and everything that goes with it just slows me down. Thanks again for your patience.
Lucius swallowed nervously, sinking to his knees, knowing that he had to try and justify their latest failure. "It has been accepted, my Lord. It was written in the Magical book of unions at the Ministry. I cannot understand why... we had the best lawyers galleons could bribe. Magic has accepted it – therefore it is legal. The marriage stands."
Potter, with his marriage to Ginevra Weasley, had managed to make Lucius Malfoy look like a fool once more. The expression on Bill Weasley's face as he'd gone to register the marriage in the Ministry chambers had clawed at his pride. The young head of the Weasley family had followed tradition as if the Weasley name still meant something in polite wizarding society.
"What!" Malfoy trembled in his shoes with a combination of fear and rage. This was something his spies at the Ministry hadn't told him. "She has borne Potter an heir?"
Voldemort sat up in his chair and leaned forward. "You did not know?" he asked, his voice silky with menace. "What a pity...for you. Crucio!"
"I did not..." Lucius clenched his teeth over his words as he felt his body turn into an inferno of pain. He collapsed to the floor; his last conscious thought for several long agonising minutes was of the mocking amusement shown on the face of his son who had just appeared in the room accompanied by a frightened-looking Pansy Parkinson.
Voldemort turned and glided from the room. "Nagini! Come!" There was a slithering sound and the snake brushed past, agonisingly close to Lucius's shaking body, and slid after her master. "Ah, Narcissa! See to Lucius, would you?"
Entering the drawing room, Narcissa gasped at the sight of her husband twitching and shaking on the floor. She gave a nervous curtsey to the departing Dark Lord and once he'd vanished up the main staircase, rushed to the crumpled figure on the floor, her hands fumbling for the potions she kept about her person at all times.
"Draco!" she ordered, her voice shaking. "What happened?"
"For how long?" Narcissa smoothed her hands over his hair, murmuring soft reassurances. Too long under the torture curse could drive a man insane. "Narcissa..." Lucius gave an anguished groan of pain. "Draco..." She held out the potions. "Help him."
The mocking amusement faded to be replaced by an expression darker and more bitter than she'd ever seen before on her son's face as he gazed down upon the twitching form of his father. "Why should I?"
"Draco..." Pansy murmured fearfully, kneeling down beside the older witch and aiding her in opening the required potions. "He's your father. You must help."
Draco ignored Pansy, standing stiffly in the middle of the room, his lips twisting. "It's lucky for us that I have a colleague at the Ministry prepared to give me any information on the blood-traitorous family I was to have married into. It was hidden by enchantments but eventually they failed just as the Dark Lord's enemies will fail. Potter has a son."
Narcissa's pale face whitened even further, her hand fluttering to her chest. "You told the Dark Lord?"
"Of course," he spat viciously. "I had to. Father should be proud of me for informing him as soon as I found out. After all, it was his mistaken idea to align myself with the Weasley whore in the first place because he thought our Lord had been vanquished. He was wrong and we are paying for that mistake. No matter. She shall die along with her husband and her spawn." He sneered at the man on the floor. "Too many mistakes, Lucius."
"Draco... Show some respect. He's your father." Narcissa tenderly caressed her husband's face. "The Malfoys are a united family."
"Is that so?" Draco's voice was cool. "But when one of the family makes so many mistakes that he is considered not an asset but a liability? How can that help the family to prosper?"
Narcissa tipped one of the potion vials down her husband's throat, watching anxiously as his trembling stilled and colour began to return to his cheeks. "Our Lord depends on him," she whispered.
"Once," snapped Draco tautly. "No longer."
"He does," Narcissa avowed. "He always will."
"Pah!" Draco moved to gaze unseeingly out of one of the many windows in the drawing room.
"Our Lord depends on me more than you think, Draco. Are you so ready to step into my shoes with all that it entails?" The younger wizard whirled around to find Lucius, pale but steady with his wife's support, standing before him. "Be careful what you say whilst under my roof, Draco."
"How...?" Draco managed to say.
"Our Lord corrects his loyal followers. You are not the only potions expert in the family. Your mother, for example, could rival the best potioneers in the country if she so desired. She has improved many a potion Severus Snape invented and never received the true credit she deserved. I will repeat my earlier words. Be careful what you say. You may be the heir of the Malfoy family but heirs can be replaced."
"Pansy and I will marry."
The grey gaze hardened. Draco marry his mistress? "I forbid it. You have a betrothed..."
"You have no right," sneered Draco. "I would not accept the Weasley whore into my bed even if we killed her husband and her child in front of her eyes and left her broken. She's used goods not fit for the heir of the Malfoy family. No, Pansy and I will marry as we should have done years ago."
"No!" Lucius levelled his wand at the young woman.
Pansy gave a little whimper, her hand splaying over her own abdomen. Draco looked at his mistress and gave his father a calculating smirk, unperturbed at the threat to Pansy's life. "Unless we do, your own grandchild – your heir - will be born a bastard in seven months time. I am of age... I do not need your permission to marry."
"You do if you want to inherit," growled Lucius. Then he froze, his sharp gaze spearing the nervous Pansy. "Grandchild!" This was a surprise.
Draco continued on. "And you'd let the title, the house and the estate fall to a lesser branch of the family? I have sired an heir. Pansy must be cherished and rewarded for her fertility. My dear father, the Cruciatus curse must have left your sanity perilously close to snapping. You'll be accepting mudbloods next."
"Enough Draco!" ordered his mother, with chilly resolve. Many thought that Lucius was the dictator in charge of the Malfoy dynasty and that was indeed the truth but when Narcissa spoke they all listened. Lucius was nothing without his wife. Narcissa walked to where Pansy was wringing her hands worriedly and clasped them in her own stilling the fretful movement. It was time to accept the inevitable. "Welcome to the family, Pansy. Does..." she cast a fearful glance to the door, "...our Lord know of this?"
Pansy's eyes flicked to Draco before giving a shaky nod. She opened her mouth to speak but then closed it again, her lips trembling.
"He was pleased," announced Draco. "He was the first to know of my fiancée's fertility. The next generation of his loyal followers will begin with the birth of a Malfoy. We stand by him and offer him our advice and support. It is a position many will envy."
"Then you marry and soon - before the child is born. I am appalled, Draco, that you and Miss Parkinson were so foolish to behave in such a disrespectful fashion – but an heir is an heir." She held up her hand. "No, Lucius. I was lucky to have Draco. You know the difficulties I had in conceiving and carrying Draco to term. Ginevra Weasley comes from a family noted for their ability to produce large families. That was the only point in her favour. Miss Parkinson...Pansy...will be my daughter-in-law and a much preferred outcome, if I am honest. It is decided." She assessed the seething men in the room and the still frightened looking Pansy and murmured briskly, "Draco, help your father to his room. He needs to sleep to allow the potions to take their full effect."
"I can manage," announced Lucius stiffly, leaning heavily on his polished ebony cane. He was proud of his son but he did not trust him and matters had been taken out of his hands. Still, the Parkinson chit was with child. He'd doubted Draco had the necessary...strength. "But first. It is the season of good will, is it not? Let us offer our congratulations to the Weasley family in our own special way." He whipped out his wand from its concealed place in the cane and sent off a white wisp of a Patronus. "Some of our... special acquaintances will pay The Burrow a little visit. We'll show them that a little thing like the inadequate wards they undoubtedly have on that run down hovel will not be enough to save them."
Draco smiled. "Yes, we should have done this a long time ago. They shall pay. In fact..." He glanced fondly at Pansy. "I might just drop in myself."
Percy Weasley stared at the report and the names inscribed in the heavy book on his desk, his mind almost too numb to comprehend what he was reading. Events were once more spiralling out of his control leaving him even more at odds with a family he never truly understood or who he felt understood him. The report he'd commissioned was comprehensive including the new information which had appeared in the record of wizarding citizens of Great Britain - information that had somehow been withheld by magical means. Whoever had managed to do such a thing had access to powerful old magic.
Ginny was married to Harry Potter despite all the efforts he'd made to protect her. She'd not known that Potter was wrong for her – that he was delusional...and a liar. No, Percy finally and reluctantly admitted to himself – Potter had never deviated from his story. Despite all evidence to the contrary he's stuck to his truth.
Ginny was spoiled...headstrong and determined to do what she wanted. He closed his eyes for a moment and quietly sighed. Potter had been right all along. Percy had wanted to be just as important as Potter and had slaved over his Hogwarts studies to make sure of it. Despite being Head boy, he had always felt that he'd been overlooked and undervalued. His family had believed Potter and not Percy. It had stung. He recalled Dumbledore once said that "it was easier to forgive someone for being wrong than for being right." How Percy wished that he'd been right.
Ginny had not wanted his protection and had looked at him with such hate – they all had. Perhaps he had been foolish to contract her to Draco Malfoy but he'd lost sight of the Malfoy family's dark roots and had embraced their wealthy influential pureblood status with the enthusiasm of one who longed for a better life. He'd always said that he wasn't going to be the failure that his father had been – the laughing stock of the wizarding world. He'd been wrong.
And now, Ginny was married to Harry Potter and the mother of a son. She was too young – only a child. But a small voice inside his head told him that his mother had barely been 19 when she'd had Bill and Ginny was now twenty-two. Bill was now the head of the family and had absorbed their father's mantle with ease. Bill was everything Percy had wanted to and never could be. He had the respect of his peers, the love of his family and a beautiful wife. His fingers trembled as they traced the name of his nephew in the ancient ledger. The child wasn't a newborn – he was almost two. Somehow they'd been protected which was a good thing. The child was a Weasley. He could see his nephew in his mind's eye with the trademark Weasley red hair, resembling a smaller version of his mother.
He didn't want Ginny's or his nephew's life in danger. He would have words with Dumbledore about this. He had to have known and kept it quiet – he had no right. He quashed the little voice that said that keeping it quiet could very well have been the thing that saved their lives. Still – Ginny was his sister.
He pulled off his horn-rimmed spectacles and rubbed his eyes. It was 6pm on Christmas Eve and he decided that probably, he was the only person left working in the ministry. He replaced his spectacles, grabbed his robes and made his way towards the fireplace exits. The Ministry was deserted. Only the surly faces of those few duty bound to work during the holiday met him as he exited the lift into the main atrium and headed toward the row of Floo fireplaces. Even the portraits were empty. Most of their occupants had squeezed themselves into the Bacchanal of the Olympus Gods – any sorry excuse for a party.
He frowned. The fireplaces to his left were all out.
A stooped elderly wizard hurried towards him. "Sorry Mr. Weasley, but we're only running one fireplace tonight."
"One?" queried Percy in surprise, his eyes tracking towards the identity badge. He thought the old wizard looked familiar but didn't know his name.
"No call for more, see. Folks are home with their families – even evil wizards, I would think. Still, just in case they come a-calling, we're down to one floo. Security, you know. Name's Aristotle Peabody." He held out a grubby hand for Percy to shake.
"Y...Yes," breathed Percy, shaking the old man's hand politely, resisting the urge to cast Scourgefy. "It is quiet." I wasn't consulted, he thought irritably, and I am in charge of the Floo details. He would have words with Hermione when she returned from her holiday entitlement. To have so few staff working was a bit of a shock. But it was Christmas and it made sense from a financial viewpoint.
"I was sorry to hear about your father, Mr. Weasley," Peabody said quietly. "Arthur was a good man – one of the best – not like some I could mention. It must be five or six years now since he passed."
Percy pushed away his lingering sense of guilt and grief at the mention of his father. "Yes."
"Terrible business for you all and especially for Molly. I never saw a couple so devoted to one another and the family."
Percy opened and shut his mouth without saying anything. There was nothing he could say. His hand tightened round the handle of his briefcase.
"Well respected around here, Arthur was."
"But..." Percy knew how his family was regarded by the wizarding world, he'd heard it all of his life and he'd hated it.
"Decent wizards, Mr. Weasley..." The old wizard stressed the first word, as if he'd guessed what Percy was going to say. "Decent wizards thought that he was a good man. There are many around here who should be ashamed of what they've done. But they lord it over the rest of us. They're not decent wizards, Mr. Weasley." He wrinkled his forehead and took a good look at Percy's tired face. "What are you still doing here? You should be with your family at Christmas. Get along home now."
"What about you?" a rattled Percy managed to ask. "Your family don't mind you working tonight?"
"All dead," he said briefly, a look of faded pain in his watery blue eyes. "Death Eaters took them all out during the first war. My wife was a muggleborn. Her magic was as good as anyone else's but they don't see it that way. The children didn't have the skills to fight back. All gone. I've nowhere else to be so I might as well let those with family have the day – it's important. Go home to your family while you still got 'em. Things are stirrin' again and my only comfort is that I'm too old to be any use to 'em...nasty buggers. If they go for me I hope I take some of 'em with me. Young Potter'll see us alright, mark my words. He's never let us down. I don't believe any of that rot The Prophet puts out. Always was a polite lad when he came through the floo."
Percy paled. Harry Potter again. What was it about the man that had so many wizards believing that he was the next Merlin?
"You tell Molly that I'm askin' for her."
"I will." It was Christmas, he should visit his mother try and remove the proverbial boggart from the wardrobe. Otherwise, like the old man, he would be alone. He was alone. His flat was empty and soulless and he missed The Burrow - never stopped missing it even while he despised it. He'd nothing to go home for. He'd never made friends easily and the relationship with Penelope Clearwater hadn't lasted beyond school. She'd believed in Potter rather than him. Her last shouted comments as she'd slammed the door of his flat still echoed in his ears.
He dug into the pocket of his robes and, finding some loose change, pressed a couple of galleons into the old wizard's hand. "It's Christmas," he murmured before Peabody could refuse.
"Thank you very much, Mr. Weasley."
Percy gave a thin-lipped smile, his mind already thinking ahead. He would go home first and change, collect the gift he'd bought and wrapped for his mother before heading to The Burrow. He'd bought it months ago but hadn't the nerve to go and see her before now. He knew that he still wasn't welcome at home but he was a Gryffindor, former Head boy of Hogwarts and respected Ministry employee. Yes, he would go home, collect his gift and apparate to The Burrow. It was a delayed epiphany but his mother still loved him and would surely welcome him home. The rest of the family would not be so easy to win over and he wasn't relishing the fight. But perhaps he could protect them from Potter's blandishments by working from within the family. It was a plan of sorts.
"16b Verb Alley," he enunciated clearly as he threw his specially upgraded blend of floo-powder into the grate and disappeared from the Ministry in a whirl of green flames. An hour later he was marching up the lane leading to his family home.
It stood before him, still strange in style and structure as if rooms had been built higgledy-piggledy one on top of the other – all held together by magic. He fancied that it looked in decent enough shape and that the boys must have been maintaining the upkeep on the place. He took a step towards the building noting that it appeared almost deserted. There were no lights shining from the windows.
The next step he took suddenly seemed difficult and he felt as if he was squeezing himself through a substance with the consistency of treacle. He pushed onwards gasping and struggling for breath. What was that? And then he knew what it was. The wards! Bill had had the wards upgraded and by an educated guess had left a message there for Percy. He was still family...just. Anyone else would not have gained access to the house without having a team of curse-breakers with them. It would certainly slow down an attack, hopefully allowing the occupants of The Burrow to escape.
The front door was locked. It was never locked, he thought. He tapped on the door and then found he was pounding at it. All his frustration, anger and feelings of inadequacy went into each stroke.
The door did not open.
Where else could they be? It was Christmas Eve and his mother always wanted the family around her. There was the headquarters of the Order of the Phoenix but Percy had never been there. He knew roughly where it was but it was under a Fidelius and it was too cold, dark and dangerous to be wandering around that area of London in the hope of finding something invisible. He doubted that the family were at Hogwarts – no, it would have to be Grimmauld Place. He hoped wherever they were that they were safe.
"Alohmora," he muttered quietly and the door clicked open. The place was dark and cold. The fire looked as if it had died hours ago. He pulled off his dragonhide gloves and placed a careful finger on the hearthstone – it was cold. There was some evidence of Christmas preparations to be seen but things were strewn around as if the inhabitants of the house had been preparing to go elsewhere. He also noticed that the tin his mother used for her baked goods was missing from its place on the dresser. It was unlikely that someone wishing his family harm would bother to steal a cake tin.
The tree stood in the corner of the room, a lone present underneath it, and something drew him towards it. The single gaily wrapped parcel was lumpy and the tag adorned with his mother's careful copperplate stated the name 'Percy'. He dashed away the tears with a careless hand, knowing that the parcel contained the traditional Weasley jumper hand-knitted by his mother with love. She'd knitted one for him every year since their estrangement and he'd always sent it back, too full of pride and his own importance. What sort of wizard did that make him? He pushed the thought away – it wasn't something he wanted to think about.
Percy shrunk the parcel and placed it in the pocket of his robe. The family were not here. Usually the house was brimming with love, laughter and gaily wrapped gifts struggling to find their place beneath the tree. The smell of his mother's cooking would tantalise his nose until even Percy had given in and sneaked a piece of cake or a mince pie hot from the oven. He placed his own gift in the place where his mother had left his and hoped she would get it soon.
He couldn't stay any longer in the dark silence. It just wasn't home without the family present. Percy slipped from the house, locking the door firmly behind him and added a couple of more security spells that an old unspeakable had once taught him. Getting through the wards proved to be just as difficult as it was the first time – like wading through treacle. Bill had done a good job.
Finally clearing the wards, Percy prepared to apparate home and turned to take a last look at the Burrow. Instinctively, he ducked as a pale blue spell hurtled past him. "What!" he gasped, his wand slipping firmly between his fingers from the concealed arm-holster. He scurried frantically behind a small bush, cowering as several other brightly coloured spells hurtled past the top of his head. He had to apparate now. With a deep breath he tried thinking of the three 'D's' - destination, determination, and deliberation - but the very air seemed to have solidified around him preventing access to the swift, crushing darkness of apparition. Nothing happened.
"Hippogriff dung," he swore, fear coursing through his body. Someone had just raised anti-apparition wards. He looked back towards The Burrow again and knew that he didn't have time to return there.
"Get the bastard," a gruff voice ordered. "It's one of the blood traitors... Can't hide that hair."
Percy risked a glance and froze with terror as he beheld several figures dressed in flowing robes with distinctive Death Eater masks.
"Doesn't matter," a voice drawled in reply. "I object to the hair colour. I consider it to be a blot on the wizarding landscape."
"I am a representative of the Minister for Magic and..." Percy swallowed, the words fading away. He knew that drawling voice. There was only one wizard it could belong to – Draco Malfoy. The thoughts tumbled around his brain. Draco was a Death Eater? He couldn't be. He'd been going to marry Ginny.
But reality had been coming at Percy for months and although he was beginning to acknowledge how wrong he had been, he was still snatching at explanations for the actions of Malfoy. Percy couldn't possibly have been wrong. Lucius had been cleared. He'd been under the Imperious curse. This was a plot to discredit one of the wizarding world's foremost families. Draco must also have been under the curse. Feeling calmer, Percy stood up.
"Draco?" he asked.
"Well, well, well," one of the masked figures drawled. "I don't think I gave you permission to call me 'Draco', Weasley" he murmured. "Shouldn't you be at the Ministry checking over the Floo powder supply?" He gave an unpleasant chuckle. "By the way, the wedding is off."
"She's used goods, Weasley. I wouldn't take Potter's whore. I would kill her and let the boy-wonder, Potter, watch while I did it. In fact, I'm still going to do that."
"Your father was under the Imperious..." Percy managed to stutter, horrified at the younger man's coarseness. Of course he knew that the wedding was off. He'd changed his mind; there was no way that his sister would be allowed near Draco Malfoy. He wasn't under the Imperious? The wizard followed You-know-who – he actually followed V...V... But he couldn't even think the word, let alone say it.
Draco pulled off his mask. "And you believed him? You are a naive fool. Crucio!"
But the spell missed by a hair as Percy dived back behind his insubstantial cover. "Your father donates thousands of galleons to charity and is a major benefactor of the wizarding world. Stop this, Draco. Lucius is a close friend of the Minister and a respectable citizen. You must be under the curse..."
"The Minister is immaterial. He is a blind fool and will not be in office for long." Draco levelled his wand in Percy's direction. "The Dark Lord on the other hand..."
"Finite!" Percy yelled, waving his wand at the blond wizard before scrabbling on his knees behind another clump of foliage.
"Crucio...crucio...crucio!" Draco chuckled, despite his frustration at missing Percy. "You honestly think that will work? You red-haired cretin. I'm no more under the Imperious curse than my father was." His eyes almost glowed with fervour. "We serve the Dark Lord because he is the greatest wizard that ever lived. He will reward me beyond anything your pathetic mind could dream about." Malfoy stepped forwards his wand now firmly fixed on Percy.
Percy, still on his knees, began slowly shuffling away. He had nowhere to hide – the next piece of cover was several metres to his left. This wasn't good at all. He ducked to avoid another spell
"Malfoy! We got incoming..." a wizard shouted. "Kill the blood-traitor and be done with it."
Draco sent an incendio in the direction of the Burrow, looked around him a little wildly. "Why isn't this hovel up in flames?"
"Wards, Malfoy. We can't get through the wards." Draco swore under his breath. "This is the Weasley hovel. They can't afford it." He looked in Percy's direction. "We could use him to get through the wards..."
"We got incoming, Malfoy," screamed the other wizard again. "We'll get the wards another time."
There was the tell-tale sound of several pops of apparition.
"No! Break them now! I want to see them pay!"
"We've not got time, Malfoy. It'll have to wait. The anti-apparition wards are down. They'll get what's coming to them. We need to get out..." And they were gone.
Percy finally found his wits and aimed once more at the blond wizard. "Restricto!"
"But I wanted to..." Malfoy screamed with pain and rage as a jet of orange light slammed into his shoulder.
Percy popped his head over the scrubby piece of shrubbery he was now using as an ill-considered hiding place to see the figures of Kingsley Shacklebolt, his brothers Bill, Ron, Fred and George and what looked like Harry Potter. It couldn't be Harry Potter. Percy's wand went slack in his grasp.
Without knowing who had apparated in, Malfoy took advantage of the distraction and aimed his wand, yelling something that Percy didn't recognise.
Malfoy disappeared as Percy's world went black.
Ginny was tired. It had been a long day with all the emotions that had gone into the complete reunion with her family. She deliberately left Percy out of her thoughts. He had betrayed her and their family. He did not deserve to be a Weasley. To see Harry's face as he was reunited with his greatest friends gladdened her heart. They were not the youthful 'Golden Trio' of their Hogwarts' days as they'd once been but their bond would always be strong. Too many things had happened for Harry to just forgive and slip back into the comfortable friendship they'd enjoyed.
It had been a very long day and Ginny did find that she was more tired than she usually was. She was finding that Orion – she'd not even considered a girl's name – was making her far wearier than his brother ever had. A fleeting but heartfelt wish made her hope that Ori would not take after Fred and George.
"You want to go to bed?" Harry placed his arms around her, nuzzling into the fragrance of her hair. "It's red again, Weasley," he noted appreciatively, dropping a lingering kiss on her soft lips. "Your hair...that is."
"I should hope you're talking about my hair, Mr. Potter."
"I like it better this colour." Harry twirled a shining bronze curl around his finger.
She smiled. "I know you do. Are you coming with me?" she asked. "To bed?"
"Not yet. Thought I might entertain our guests for a bit longer. 'Trouble' is sleeping but the family are not ready to follow. He was completely worn out with all the excitement. Who knew that wrapping paper and empty boxes were as much fun as the actual presents? We could have saved a lot of galleons. You look tired. Still beautiful, but tired."
Her eyes flashed with brief annoyance. "I'll forgive you because you said I was beautiful."
"You are beautiful and I'm glad to see the fire back."
Ginny's lips curved into a warm smile. Her husband was far more adept at romance than he gave himself credit for. "My hair reacts to the magic. "We have a house full of Weasleys."
"And muggle hair dye cannot compete with a house full of red-haired wizards."
Ginny grinned. "Exactly." She reached up and tugged at a strand of Harry's hair. "Nope, still black."
"If that was all it took to have red hair – a house full of Weasleys - I would have been ginger years ago."
"My hair is..."
"Not ginger," he finished. "You know, I was surprised that Jamie..."
"Is too much like you."
"He has your nose and smile."
"I'm lucky the Potter genes allowed me to have that much."
"You're tired," Harry murmured softly, noting the shadows under her eyes. "It's been a long day for all of us. Go and sleep, sweetheart. I know you're normally superwoman but you've another Potter cooking inside and if he's anything like his brother..."
"And his father..."
Harry chuckled. "I'll be up later. Fleur's just about to go, I think." He cast a practised eye at the Veela beauty. His sister-in-law looked as tired as Ginny did.
"Oh well, if Fleur is tired, then..." She let Harry pull her close and nuzzled her head against his shoulder, watching as Bill escorted his wife up the stairs.
"Go, Ginny-love," Harry urged, "I won't be long."
Ginny nodded and, after giving her husband a lingering kiss, slipped up the stairs.
"Harry!" Bill appeared back in the hall, his face worried. "The alarms have gone off at The Burrow." He held up his wrist, where an elaborate watch full of dials and spinning stars was beeping insistently. "I have them keyed to this."
"Bill!" Fred and George came charging out of the lounge, followed by Ron and Hermione. "The ward alarms have gone off. Someone is trying to dismantle the wards on the Burrow."
"I know that," Bill snapped, before looking confused. "How do you know?"
"We tuned our alarms to yours," admitted George, with a smirk.
"Let's go," said Ron. "I know the place is empty but it would be better to stop any destruction before it happens. I don't think Mum would want the Burrow rebuilt for a third time. You coming, Harry?"
Harry nodded. "Sure. Just don't tell my wife."
"Too late," said Ginny appearing at the bottom of the stairs clad in a blue dressing gown and followed closely by a wide-awake Fleur. "No, I'm not coming with you this time. My magic is a little unpredictable at the moment. It settles down once the morning sickness stops but until then, I'd rather be safe than sorry. Be careful," she warned.
"We have to hurry." Harry pulled on a thick jacket and a woolly hat, issuing orders as if he was born to do so. "Get your coats. You'll need to move out of the range of the house before apparating. Bill, send a Patronus to the Order. See if we can get Tonks or Kingsley as back up. Hell, I'll even accept Dumbledore. And I would expect anti-apparition wards to have gone up."
Bill shrugged. "Not a problem. Goblin wards tuned to Weasley blood. I can still apparate into the house and take them down from there. Wait a few moments before following me, Harry." He looked as his brothers. "The rest of you with me now."
The Weasley brothers grabbed their cloaks and headed out the front door almost before Harry and Bill had finished speaking.
Harry turned to Hermione, who was about to pull on her own cloak. "I don't like to ask this of you but Hermione, can you stay here?"
Hermione's eyes flashed dangerously, her hands gripping her cloak. "Women and children, Harry?"
"No," he said firmly. "Ginny and Fleur are both pregnant and we have Jamie and Molly to think about, too. Yes, we're under layers of protections but I'd rather have another reliable wand on hand. I would never do that to you, Hermione. You're too strong a witch and I need you here to..." He glanced quickly at Ginny.
Hermione's lips tightened mutinously for a moment but then she took a deep breath and nodded. "I see your point."
Ginny gave a smile of relief but then faced Harry, her face stern. "Normally I'd hex you for thinking that I needed to be protected, Potter, but..."
Molly, who had been putting Jamie to bed hurried down the stairs, her face anxious. "What's wrong? Where are you going?"
"The wards on the Burrow have been tested," said Hermione carefully. "It's okay, Mum. We're all here but the boys have called in the Order and gone to check."
The older witch wrung her hands. "Oh..."
"It will be fine, Molly. They'll find it difficult – if not impossible - to get through the wards. They are the best that the Goblins could provide. It will slow anyone unwelcome down." Harry reassured Molly. He turned to Ginny, gave her a kiss on the lips and vanished out the door after his brothers-in-law.
Ginny smiled. "I'm not tired anymore." She ruined her words by yawning. "Actually, I'm knackered but I won't sleep until Harry and the boys are home. Fancy a cup of tea?"
"It's the waiting I hate," admitted Fleur.
Hermione shrugged. "As long as they don't do anything more stupid than they usually do."
"Bill has a good head on his shoulders," said Fleur. "Most of the time."
Hermione's smile was wry. "I'm not saying anything about Ron apart from the fact that I love him."
Harry jogged down the drive and ahead, could see his brothers-in-law reach the closest apparition spot and vanish. He stopped running and also disappeared with a faint whisper of sound. Sheilhill was his home, he could go from anywhere within the property – an additional safeguard he had paid the goblins extra to arrange. He arrived in the middle of a small battle; coloured spells flying over his head. Bill had been quick with the apparition wards – but he was one of the top goblin-trained cursebreakers in the country. Ducking, Harry turned to avoid a nasty curse from a masked black-clothed wizard just in time to see Draco Malfoy and Percy Weasley exchange a round of spell fire before the blonde ponce apparated out screaming and clutching his shoulder. His brother-in-law had gazed open-mouthed at Harry before taking a hit to the chest and slumping to the ground.
"Get off our land, you Death Eating bastards!" Bill was screaming obscenities at the disappearing enemy wizards and firing rapid spells.
"Bill!" said Fred quietly. His brother ignored him, still firing spells into the empty spaces. "Bill!" he eventually shouted. "They've gone."
Bill looked over at his family and took a steadying breath of cold, clean air.
George was leaning over Percy. "Guys!" he called anxiously.
"Is he okay?" Harry asked, running over to kneel beside Percy's prone figure.
"He's alive but he's not looking good, Harry. His breathing sounds funny." George's voice shook. "I tired to Ennervate him but nothing happened. What do you think he was hit with, Kingsley?"
Kingsley Shacklebolt turned faintly surprised eyes on Harry before bending over Percy, his wand waving over him. "I don't know. He's barely breathing."
Harry began running some diagnostic spells. "I'll do some basic magic stabilising spells. I'm no Madam Pomfrey but I did learn some healing charms. You didn't hear the hex Malfoy used?"
They all shook their heads.
"Then you'd better get him to St. Mungos," Kingsley ordered. "I agree, Mr. Potter. This looks urgent."
Fred and George nodded, their faces uncharacteristically serious as they picked up Percy and vanished.
"What was he doing here?" wondered Ron.
"It's Christmas Eve," murmured Harry. "Peace and goodwill and all that. Perhaps, he came to make amends."
Ron snorted. "Percy and amends. You have to be kidding...right?"
Bill frowned. "No, I think Harry's right. It's not Percy's usual 'I am important and I want to make an entrance type of thing.' We can see if he made it into the house."
They walked slowly, the wards letting them through like a warm knife through butter. Bill opened the kitchen door and after a quick look around the room pointed to the Christmas tree in the corner. "He's left a parcel..." He picked it up and read the label. "It's for Mum."
Ron opened and closed his mouth. "The prat came to visit and actually left a present for Mum?"
"And took away his own jumper," Bill said. "She'd knits him one every year but he always sends them back. She left it beneath the tree just in case."
Harry put his wand back in his pocket. "So, Percy was in the wrong place at the right time."
Bill nodded. "Looks like it."
"So what prompted the attack?"
Kingsley Shacklebolt sighed. "It could be a number of reasons but recent events..." He gave Harry a hard look. "...could have made Draco Malfoy want to get some revenge. The Weasleys are a high profile family allied to Dumbledore and are firmly against You-know-who. Your marriage, Mr. Potter... It could have been as simple as that."
"Can you arrest Malfoy?" asked Fred.
"I'm not sure," murmured Kingsley. "The Ministry...it's difficult."
"No, then," bit out Harry. "Business as usual at the Ministry.
Kingsley opened his mouth to argue.
"Bet you're glad we paid the goblins extra for those wards, Bill," said Ron quickly. "Harry?"
Harry had whipped something small out of his pocket and was stabbing at it with his fingers.
"What are you doing?" Ron asked. "What's that?"
"It's a phone." Harry grinned, placing the device against his ear. "And I'm phoning the wife. Less conspicuous than a Patronus. You do remember what a phone does, Ron?"
"Hello! Gin? Can you get Hermione to take Molly and Fleur to St. Mungos? No, we're all fine but Percy was here and he's been hurt...possibly seriously. I'll tell you everything when we get home. Yes, I'm on my way."
"Mister Potter..." Kingsley Shacklebolt stepped towards the young wizard. "It's good to know that you are safe and well. Will you wait until Dumbledore arrives?"
Harry shook his head. "No."
"I have an appointment to see the headmaster in ten days or so. He's waited this long. He can wait a bit longer. I'm not under arrest, I've done nothing wrong, and so you can't haul me into the Ministry. Yes, I'm married and you all know who I'm married to. Dumbledore does not control what I do." Harry's face showed no emotion. He wasn't going to let anyone from the Order tell him what to do. He was a grown man and had made his own decisions both good and bad. That was the way it should be.
"Harry...?" Bill murmured. "I'm just going to check the wards and then I need to get to St. Mungos... see about Percy." He began waving his wand in a series of intricate figures.
"They're okay, aren't they?" asked Ron.
"They're intact and very strong," Bill said quietly.
"That's the goblins for you," said Harry. "The goblins and a close family that loves one another."
Bill glanced at his watch. "I'd better get going."
"Do you want me to come?" Harry asked.
"Not at the moment," Bill said thoughtfully. "If Hermione, Ron, Fleur and Molly are there with me, that should be enough."
St. Mungos Hospital
Christmas Eve at St. Mungos Hospital was surprisingly quiet. The wizard that made his way out of the lift onto the fourth floor glanced at the unprepossessing attempt at festive cheer.
"Healer Medway." Albus Dumbledore dipped his head solemnly in greeting as he entered the ward. "I came as soon as I heard."
"About what?" The healer appeared confused.
"Mister Weasley. I am a close friend of the family."
"Oh. Only family are with the young man at present."
"If I could speak to the family?" He enquired politely. "I want to show my support. If there's anything I can do?"
The healer wasn't a Hogwarts' alumni but was still awed by the presence of the great man. "I will go and enquire." Medway gave an awkward cough and vanished through a set of swing doors.
Dumbledore frowned. He'd expected to be met by one of the Weasleys and informed immediately. An attack on the Burrow could have been disastrous for the family but from what Kingsley Shacklebolt had told him, the Burrow had been deserted, the family were not spending Christmas there and Bill Weasley had installed top-of-the-line goblin wards. Percy had decided to visit his estranged family unaware that none were in residence.
He was glad that young Percy had decided to make a rapprochement with his family once more. Dumbledore knew that it had been breaking Molly's heart. He could always use someone in Percy's position at the Ministry. Scrimgeour was a better Minister for Magic than Cornelius Fudge had been but he didn't trust him completely.
But the real fact that had him here at St. Mungos was Harry's appearance at the Burrow with the rest of the Weasley family. He'd long suspected Bill of knowing Harry's whereabouts but it seemed that the rest of the family, including Molly and the twins, did also. That they were keeping quiet gladdened and frustrated him.
The door opened behind him and he was reassured to see the tall figure of Kingsley Shacklebolt enter. "What happened, Kingsley?"
"The wards were attacked but not breached. As far as I can determine, Percy Weasley was visiting the Burrow. He left a gift for his mother."
"I'm glad to hear that Percy is returning to the family."
Kingsley frowned. "We don't know what he was hit with. By all accounts it was a hex from Draco Malfoy. He's never been afraid of using the Dark Arts."
"You have witnesses?"
The Auror nodded. "We do but arresting him could be problematic. We suspect that Malfoy Manor has become a base of operations for those who follow You-know-who."
Dumbledore sighed. He'd tried to reach out to young Malfoy but had been repulsed every time. "And Harry?"
"Appeared with the rest of the Weasley family. He looked well but refused to wait until he could meet with you."
"He did magic?"
"Apparated in and out. Threw a couple of spells at departing Death Eaters but he was one of the last to arrive and only appeared as the action finished..."
The ward door swung open and Healer Medway swept through it followed by Bill Weasley. "Albus."
"How is Percy?"
"Perhaps you should come and see for yourself." Bill's voice was grim. He swivelled abruptly and moved towards the private room his brother was currently occupying.
The rest of the family huddled around the walls. Molly, being comforted by Fleur, was wiping her eyes with a large white handkerchief, Ron and Hermione clung together and the twins stared at Percy with fascination.
Bill threw his arm towards the figure of Percy Weasley sitting stiffly on the bed.
Percy smiled brightly. "Professor Dumbledore! Have you come to give me my duties? Being Head Boy is an honour and I have many responsibilities. I must instruct the prefects in the new rules laid down this year." He produced a quill and a piece of parchment and began writing busily.
Molly gave a quiet sob.
Dumbledore raised astonished eyes to Bill. "He doesn't remember?"
"We don't know what hit him. The medical staff are doing all that they can," said Hermione. Bill could almost see her fingers itch to start researching.
Percy looked up. "What are you all doing in the Head Boy's room? Not that I'm not pleased to see you but...I have important duties to do. Being Head Boy..."
Bill gave a forced laugh. "Of course, Percy. Come on, we'll leave you to it."
"Mr. Weasley..." Healer Medway ushered him from the room. "There is a place in the Janus Thickey Ward available for Percy. Until we discover what the hex was, he isn't safe to be out on his own."
"My mother would probably want him cared for at home but in these uncertain times it would be better if he stayed here. I would worry about her taking on the responsibility of his care."
The healer nodded. "We can make his room look like a Hogwarts dormitory."
"That would be acceptable," agreed Bill. "How can he have lost... nearly ten years?"
"We don't know and we don't know how this curse progresses."
"It could get worse?"
"We have no way of knowing. We will have to wait and see."
The door opened and Dumbledore exited the ward. "Could I have a word, Bill?"
"Certainly, Albus." Bill could almost predict what would be asked and decided to head him away from the subject. "If it's about Harry, I can tell you nothing."
"No. Harry has agreed to meet you. I will not tell you where he is. I think it's in rather bad taste to ask about my brother-in-law when my family has been hit with another tragedy. Good evening, Albus. I hope you have a pleasant Christmas." Bill bowed his head and left Albus to contemplate a limp garland strung across the door.