The Hunt For HMS Cockchafer
"This is the fifth Cockchafer to go down. It's getting ridiculous."
Never before in the field of wizard conflict had so many Aurors fought so hard to keep themselves from laughing at such a little thing.
Ron Weasley was the first to break.
His snigger grew in volume until he had to close his hand over his mouth in a vain attempt to hold it in.
"And Weasley volunteers!"
His laugh dissolved into a whimper.
"She's gonna kill you," Harry muttered at his side. "You are literally going to die."
"Um, sir, this is Monday right? I'm going on Monday?"
"You're going now." Gawain Robards said as he picked up a roll of parchment and waved it at Ron. "Cockchafer went down with all hands and-"
The room exploded with laughter and Robards bellowed at them, furiously.
"Hundereds of men and women dead is funny to you is it?"
The laughter died rapidly.
"Sir," Ron broke the guilty silence, "my sister's getting married this weekend."
"That's nice for her," Robards said as he tossed the scroll in Ron's direction.
He caught it with both scrambling hands and clutched it to his chest.
"But the ship will still be sunk on Monday won't it?" Ron appealed.
"Get...out there...now," Robards growled before turning his head towards Harry, who tried to crouch down behind Ron and hide. "And take your Potter with you."
Harry sprung up and waved his arms in desperation.
"Get the job done fast and you might still be able to make it," the head of the Auror department said before slamming closed his case notes and storming out of the room without another word.
"She'll kill both of us." Ron said, crumpling the roll of parchment in his hands.
"No," Harry said, blankly, "she'll just kill you twice as much."
The tiny vessel, an old Thames barge enchanted with the same magic Durmstrang used for their travels from water to water, broke through the waves and settled upon the surface on the other side of the world.
Harry and Ron wrung out their sopping wet sleeves and staggered to their feet as the barge was tossed on the rolling sea.
"SO," Ron shouted over the waves that broke over their totally non seaworthy vessel, "THIS THING'S GONNA SINK ISN'T IT?"
"WE NEED TO RAISE THE COCKCHAFER AND BOARD THAT." Harry bellowed as he drew his wand and aimed down at the ocean, then fell over backwards, knocking his glasses askew. "SHIT. WE'RE GONNA GO OVER IF WE STAY ON THIS THING."
Ron clung to the side of the barge, an almighty wind filled the blood red sails and began to pitch the flat bottomed vessel, and aimed his wand over the side.
"TOLLO SUSTULI COCKCHAFER!"
The Thames barges were built to sail upon shallow waters, most were manned by a crew of just two hardworking men, and its hull was made of wood. It was toppling to one side and Ron reached out to grab Harry's hand and clamber over onto the side of the hull with him.
"FUCK, HOW DID THEY THINK THIS WAS UP TO THE JOB?" Harry sputtered.
"THOSE MORNONS PUT ME ON THE JOB, THEY'RE NOT TOO BRIGHT!" Ron said with a grin spreading across his drenched face.
Harry looked at Ron angrily and was about to tell him to shut up and do something brilliant when he realised he was grinning for a reason. He turned to look over his shoulder and saw HMS Cockchafer rising up thought the crashing waves.
"I'LL PURGE THE WATER AND YOU REPAIR THE BREECH. WE DON'T WANT IT TO JUST SINK BACK DOWN AGAIN." Ron hollered as he clung to the hull of the barge like a limpet.
Harry spat out a mouthful of salty water and then nodded.
"EXPURGO, CASSUS!" Ron swung his wand arm around as if gathering extra power from the movement and then held his aim as well as he could on the rolling sea while the water was forced out of the surfacing ship.
"OCCLUDO QUOD RESTITUO!" He yelled, flicking his wand at the gaping hole in the side of the old Muggle warship to seal off the hole and prevent more water flooding back in.
A large wave covered the stricken barge and Harry held his wand between his tightly clenched teeth and clung on with both hands. When the sea fell back away and Harry shook his head, black hair plastered to his forehead, he coughed and then looked to either side for Ron.
The barge and Harry rode the next wave up and down as he continued calling for Ron.
"RON! RON WHERE'D YOU GO?"
He realised that Ron must've been washed away and began casting his wand around behind him in readiness to send magical ropes or a summoning charm to him.
"OVER...HERE," a tired voice shouted to him from a little way ahead and Harry saw Ron swimming for the Cockchafer. "SWIM F'IT HARRY!"
They had to give up on the barge and go for it. The Cockchafer was seaworthy and now it was safe to board. They ploughed through the water towards the large chain plunging deep into the sea, weighted down by the anchor, and soon they made their exhausted climb up and out of the water.
"THIS...JOB...IS...SHIT!" Ron grunted and panted all the way up.
" AN' I...THOUGHT...GINNY...WAS...BAD!" Harry dragged himself up behind Ron until they both crawled and fell through an opening into the ship.
They both lay on their backs for some time, panting heavily and creating two pools of water around them on the cold, hard floor.
"Why didn't she hex me to death so I didn't have to do this?" Ron groaned.
"Maybe she knew it would be this bad," Harry offered.
They lay like that for a few minutes more, listening to the clanking and groaning of the empty ship. Eventually they knew they had to get off their backs and get to work finding out what it was that kept downing Cockchafers over the years.
"So we'll start at the top, yeah?" Ron said as he grunted, wearily, into a sitting position. "That way the water left inside can drain down and the pumps in the hull can empty it out by the time we get down there."
"Good plan," Harry nodded, still laying on his back and staring up at a series of pipes above his head, "I'm sick of being wet."
Ron pushed himself onto his feet and then offered Harry his hand.
"Let's get it over with then, we might make it back in time to not be total wedding destroyers."
Harry took Ron's hand and allowed himself to be hauled up.
They'd been investigating the empty ship for half an hour before deciding that the water must have drained enough for them to split up and explore twice as fast, meeting in the middle.
They'd stopped finding the name Cockchafer funny a long time ago and, with nothing better to do as he wandered empty cargo holds and munitions stores, Ron finally pulled the soggy roll of parchment from his back pocket and took the time to read it.
Briefs were usually simply everything Robards said to them at the meeting, only written down in a long-winded way. In this case all he had was an explanation that HMS Cockchafer was one of a fleet of Muggle warships named after insects, called the insect class, and referenced the beetle of the same name.
The Muggles thought the last of the Cockchafer ships was sold and broken up for scrap but it had been taken over by the Ministry of magic. The Ministry had taken on every one of the five Cockchafers and lost every one of them too, all in suspicious circumstances.
The armoured ship, like the hard armour of the insect, would simply disappear with no wreck or debris to be found.
Robards had wanted the rapid deployment of Aurors to get to the ship before whatever happened to the previous four happened to this one.
Well, they'd found it, raised it, and now were aboard it and Ron could find nothing untoward about the vessel at all.
But the crew were all gone. Not even a single poor soul trapped in one of the berths or washed down to the sump area at the bottom of the ship. Ron found that as he went below sea level he had to light his wand as the magical elecktrickery wasn't working any more.
His feet echoed on the metal gantry, the hollow shell of the ship bouncing back every little sound he made, and he was the only thing moving on that whole level.
He was beginning to think he'd gained the wrath of his entire family for a total waste of time and decided to rejoin Harry to finish off a final sweep. Then they could transport HMS Cockchafer back to Dagenham Docks and surround it with Muggle repelling spells until the Ministry could work out what they wanted to do with it.
He swished his wand ahead of him and muttered an incantation to find the nearest life sign, so he could follow it to wherever Harry was.
"Requiro et exhibeo vita!"
A white swirl of mist curled out from the tip of his wand and travelled ahead of him, showing the way to any life signs on board. He followed for a few feet when he stopped in shock as the white vapour trail broke in two and moved down either side of the corridor in the same direction.
"What the...?" he chased the thin path of hovering white mist and then realised that maybe he and Harry weren't as alone as they had thought.
The two parallel paths of mist began to branch off to the sides of the corridor while continuing forward. Every foot the branches would break away and light up a bundle of tangled fishing nets hanging from the wall.
It went on and on all the way down the length of the ship and Ron paused and wondered if maybe the spell had found some fish trapped in the matted nets and was leading him to them instead of Harry.
He approached one of the nets and leaned in close to prod at one with his lit wand tip. It was only this close that he saw that it wasn't a knotted fishing net at all. It was like straw and strands of cotton wool.
No, it was like yellow candy floss. He'd seen the way candy floss was gathered on a stick at the fair and it was just like that. It was as if something had been encased within a huge dirty mass of yellow-y brown candy floss.
He flicked his wand and sent a Patronus message to Harry to come and take a look.
"Tell him I've found whatever we were looking for." Ron instructed the little silver dog without tearing his eyes away from the floor to ceiling diamond of soft but tough organic material.
The dog bounded away.
Ron walked down the row of identical flossy bundles and then turned around to follow those on the other side a little more of the way along before sighing in deep thought and pausing to examine it as he had done with the first one he'd inspected.
It was practically identical.
He poked at the tough yet pliant outer casing with his finger and then wriggled it between the strands and layers until he could form a hock and pull it back a little way. He peered inside, illuminated wad tip directing light down into it, but he couldn't make anything out.
Realising he needed to make a larger opening he held his wand between his teeth and pulled at the small gap with both hands until the cocoon of tough flossy stuff tore open and his wand cast its light upon a face with tennis ball sized black eyes and a pair of pincers set into an onion skin like armoured human head.
"Fucking hell!" Ron exclaimed, wand dropping from his mouth and clattering in the floor, beam spinning and casting lights and shadows all around him just as the man sized beetle thing lunged out of the yellow candy floss shell at him.
He stumbled backwards into the pod behind him, the thing's weight crashing down on him, and suddenly thin yellowy strands of cotton began shooting out of the creature's body and encasing him as the armour plated legs that curled out of the things torso spun him around.
"HARRY!" he shouted at the top of his lungs. "SHIT HARRY, QUCK!"
The legs were moving him so fast he felt like a spinning top and his arms and legs were being bound tightly together with what felt like piano wire.
It looked so fragile but as he struggled against it the strands wouldn't break.
He attempted to throw himself to one side and away from the six foot beetle but the legs formed a cage that held him upright while rotating him like a human bobbin.
"HARRY!" Ron screamed, hoping he was near enough to hear him now.
The strands were massing together, compacting the inner layers into a tougher, stronger shell which hardened against his skin. The strands were ghosting across his face and around his head now and he thrashed as hard as he could to shake them off.
"HAR...HARRY!" He gasped and choked as strands flew into his mouth. "FUCK. PLEASE HELP ME!"
He couldn't see now and felt himself sticking to the wall between two of the other pupating crew members.
Because that's what they were. He knew that now. He understood.
He understood that the 'Insect class' was something so much more than a funny name for a fleet of warships.
"HARRY!" he managed one final muffled scream before his mouth was covered completely and the light from his wand died.
Everything was dark.
He'd heard him screaming.
Not shouting, not calling urgently, but screaming.
Harry ran so fast he overtook the Patronus and ran the length of the darkened corridor until he skidded to a halt and looking left and right for any signs of Ron.
"Ron?" Harry called out, panting hard.
His wand light showed both walkways were empty. He turned around and looked back the way he'd come. Ron's Patronus was waiting in the middle of the long corridor and it cocked its head to one side and then fizzled out into nothing.
"Ron!" Harry called again as he made his way back towards the spot the Patronus had fizzled out.
He could see that the long passageway was lined with bundles of bedding, or maybe fibreglass loft insulation that had been unrolled and then clumsily bound back together again and fixed to the walls.
"Ron, can you make a noise for me to follow? Tap on one of these pipes, mate." Harry made his way along, listening carefully and sweeping his wand light back and forth in an attempt to spot any sign of him.
Something caught his eye, on the floor ahead, and Harry ran forward and then stood over a pool of wand light as his stomach dropped. Ron's wand was laying on the floor. He was unarmed and he was missing.
"RON!" Harry shouted, voice bouncing off the walls away and then back at him.
He let the echo die and then listened, holding his breath and closing his eyes to focus completely on picking up any sound other than his blood pumping in his ears.
Something fell to the floor beside him and his eyes sprung open as he turned his wand on one of the fibreglass bundles beside him.
Only it was nothing but a chunk of the insulating material breaking off from the couple of threads it was dangling from and hitting the floor.
He could see that the loose pieces were hanging from a large tear down the centre of the thing. It was hollow inside and Harry peered inside and then scanned back up and down the row upon row of enclosed organic capsules.
He knew what they looked like to him but he didn't want to jump to that conclusion. That conclusion would mean six foot butterflies and that was ridiculous, even for the magical world.
For a moment he got a lump in his throat as he remembered Ron's screams. The only things he knew that terrified Ron so much he would scream was the torture of a loved one or giant spiders.
Harry tried to think back to his Muggle education, then Care of Magical Creatures lessons, and he couldn't connect spiders and chrysalis' in his vague memories.
Butterflies, moths maybe, but never cocoons this big. He looked back at the open husk and guessed that one of the pupa had been reborn right in front of Ron. Either Ron had been chased by the transformed life form or he had given chase himself.
He stooped to pick up the abandoned wand and felt the sense of dread even more so.
"Ron?" Harry called again.
He looked back along the row of evenly spaced pupal sacks and then turned to survey the identical row of uniform chrysalides opposite.
Only they weren't the same, they weren't evenly spaced, in front of him there were three all crammed together. Harry swallowed and pressed his hand against one of the tightly packed casings and then did the same to the one beside it. It felt slightly softer, as if it hadn't hardened as much as the first one. Then he laid his palm against the third in the compacted group and it was just as the first. Much more rigid and tough.
The one in the middle was new.
The one in the middle was...
"Ron!" Harry began clawing and tearing at the sticky, matted crust. "Oh fuck! Oh god, please...RON! Are you in there?"
He ripped a small opening and then shoved his wand through.
Only it wasn't his wand, it was Ron's wand, and the spell exploded out in all directions due to the unfamiliarity of its holder. He heard a gasp from inside the ruptured chrysalis and ignored the spells bouncing off the walls and striking pupa all around him.
"Ron, say something," Harry began wrestling with the opening he'd made until a hand began desperately scrabbling at it from the inside.
"I'm gonna get you out," Harry called before bracing one foot against the chrysalis beside him and yanking at one side of the rip with his full body weight.
He could hear Ron coughing, muffled but most definitely coughing, and part of the thick casing gave way and swung back as if on a hinge. Harry fell backwards onto his arse and suddenly realised that the other pupa were being woken from their metamorphosis by his wayward spell and fighting their way out all around him.
"Oh God," he said before scurrying to his feet and frantically tearing the chrysalis apart with all his strength.
"Ron, push! We've got to get out of here, come on."
Ron's arm was free now but he was banging at the spot covering his face and Harry realised that Ron couldn't breathe properly.
"Hold on, hold on mate, just...keep holding on..." Harry wanted to cut through the tough shell with a spell but he was terrified of cutting Ron too.
He could hear Ron grunting and gasping deep inside. It sounded as if he was trying to breathe through a wet towel pressed up against his face.
"Fuck it, brace yourself, I'm gonna cut you free. Hold still!" Harry couldn't wait any longer.
He angled his wand as best he could to cut away at the tough stringy material only and hissed the incantation.
A rapier like bolt pierced the cocoon and Harry tried again but with a slicing movement at the same time. A chunk fell away. Harry tried again and again until both Ron's arms pushed through from inside and then ripped at the suffocating gauze moulded to his face.
Harry was clawing at the yellowish mask pressed against Ron's face too and both pairs of hands finally forced it away. Ron gasped in lungful of air as if he'd been held under water for the last few minutes.
"It's okay, you're gonna b-" Harry's relief and reassurance was cut short by a man size cockroach looking thing knocking him off his feet and trying to encase him in the same way Ron had been.
Ron was still desperately pulling air back into his lungs as he tried to break through the last few layers and escape his mummified state.
Harry dug both his and Ron's wands into the underbelly of the thing and yelled a stunning spell.
The massive insect was blasted backwards as if it had been shot from a cannon. It knocked some others flying as it went and Harry pulled himself up on a layer of the fibreglass-like strands still covering Ron's legs. It tore away as he staggered to his feet and Ron fell forward against him.
"Thank...thank...thank...fuck!" Ron panted.
He was shaking all over and Harry supported him by pulling an arm around his shoulders and then pressed Ron's wand back into his hand.
"You got it?"
"Don't drop it, hold tight, right?"
"I got it," Ron said through a dry gulp of air. "Fucking 'ell."
The giant hybrid insects were scuttling after them, walking on powerful hind legs as if they were half human, while the walls burst with more of the things. Antennae and pincers reached out for them while they struggled free from their cocoons. Ron breathless and still shaking, stunned those ahead of them while Harry sent stunners over his shoulder.
Harry reached the end of the narrow passageway and dragged Ron through one of the doorways, propping him against a wall, and then heaving the heavy door closed with a bang.
Ron's knees buckled and he slid down to the cold floor. Harry locked the door and then cast a charm over it on top of that before crouching before Ron and examining him properly.
"Are you all right? How long were you in there?"
Ron grabbed Harry by the forearm and gripped tightly.
"Harry, the crew!"
"I don't think we're gonna find them, Ron." Harry said as he dragged a hand over his hair.
"No Harry, they are the crew! Those things...they're people!"
Harry just stared at Ron's wide blue eyes while banging and scratching sounded on the other side of the door.
"The crew turned into cockchafers, they're...they're beetles!" Ron suddenly began running his hands over himself. "I didn't change did I? I'm not gonna change am I, Harry?"
Harry stilled his hands and looked at him with as much confidence and calm as he could muster.
"You aren't about to pupate, Ron, I swear. You weren't even in there long enough to..." Harry couldn't complete the sentence. "You're still alive aren't you?"
Ron looked to the sealed door.
"So are they."
Harry grabbed Ron's chin and forced him to face him again.
"You didn't change. You're still you. You're still a caterpillar."
Ron didn't look impressed with this.
"I don't want to be a caterpillar."
Harry pulled Ron forward and hugged him.
"You've not changed and you're not going to change okay?" He pushed himself back into a standing position and hauled Ron up with him. "It was a metaphor. You're human and you're and you're perfect."
Ron didn't look convinced.
"Ron, I got you out almost as soon as they put you in there. Those things must have been transforming for ages. You. Are. Still. You."
He took a deep breath in and then nodded.
"Sorry, freaked me out," he muttered. "I woke up in there and..."
"It's okay. I'd be a gibbering wreck if it happened to me."
"I think I'm wrecked enough to gibber."
Another bang against the door made them jump and Harry led Ron away and towards a ladder to the upper decks.
"Well there's no way we're transporting this ship to the Thames with that lot on board," he said as he climbed up and checked the next level was safe before nodding for Ron to follow.
"This is our fault, Harry, magic's fault." Ron said as he climbed.
"How do you work that one out?" Harry waited for him and then set off up the next ladder.
"The Muggles built a ship, we bought it and this happened to the crew. This didn't happen to Muggle crews, just magical crews. Magic did something."
"Are you saying this was done to the crew because of some spell they cast?" Harry waved Ron up to the next level and paused at the next ladder.
"I'm saying that they made everything here magical. Like the Ford Anglia, remember?" Ron's voice was steadier now. "That was charmed so much that it could do things like decide to run away into the forest. Choose to save us from the spiders. Become feral. Living things become feral in the wild Harry, not Muggle modes of transport."
"What are you saying? The ship's alive?" Harry frowned.
"I'm saying that the car answered to the name 'car'. This ship, the ships before, they were called Cockchafer. The cockchafer is a beetle." Ron fumbled for the information he'd been reading before looking back down to where the things were now trapped.
"Paperwork, you'll have to take my word for it," he said with a shrug.
"Your word's always been good enough for me." Harry smiled and slapped Ron on the shoulder.
"The Muggles named a whole group of ships after insects and they built five HMS Cockchafers. After all five went to scrap the Ministry took them. They modified them to magical specifications and the ships all became, well, like the car I s'pose."
From beneath them they heard movement. Harry instructed Ron to climb up onto the next level before they continued and they were now on a lower deck.
"Let's get outside so we can't be taken by surprise," Harry suggested.
As they walked Ron talked out his theory.
"So the ship would have known it was the Cockchafer. It had a name, an identity. The car was called car so it didn't change its behaviour but the ship knew it was part of an insect class. It had enough residual magic to turn at least one crew member into a human-cockchafer hybrid and then that could run riot and do to the crew what it did to me. One by one."
"The ship's magic just made one of those?" Harry said with scepticism.
"Think about it, Harry," Ron said as he tripped on one of the bulkheads, Harry grabbed at his shoulder to steady him. "Thanks. It would only have taken one crew member, just one, to have been in the infirmary."
"The magic spells to monitor a patient and administer treatment. They have charms on the go all the time."
"The ship would be able to manipulate a treatment somehow."
"The ship murdered the crew." Harry said in horror.
"They aren't dead," Ron shook his head, darkly. "It changed the crew to what it thought they should be. Imagine if there was a patient re-growing bones. The background magic of the ship, the charms it could control or had learnt to at least, could all have easily been...manipulated."
"To maybe grow an exoskeleton on the outside instead of human bones on the inside?"
"I don't know what an exmo-skeleton is." Ron said blankly.
"The crunchy bit on the outside of a beetle," Harry explained..
"Oh right, yeah," Ron nodded, "exactly."
They made it onto the outer deck and the wind was just as strong as it was before.
"So we'll make a Portkey back to the Ministry and report back. The ship's anchored and the things are contained for now."
"The ships didn't just sink after turning the crew into beetles the other times did they, Harry?" Ron said as his brain started working overtime.
Harry staggered a little with the bluster of the wind and the pitching of the ship on the waves.
"The ships disappeared all together." Ron said, raising his voice over the howl of the wind and the crash of the waves against the ship.
"The ships made a swarm of beetles and then killed themselves?" Harry said before throwing hi arms up and addressing the heavens. "What am I saying?"
"The ships all had the ability to transform the crew into Cockchafers, just like their misguided consciousness told them they should be. They could instigate a change in the tiny little parasites crawling around inside it."
"So now we're ship lice, great," Harry snorted.
"The ship wanted to change. It felt alive and it became feral and it wanted to change. How do insects change? How to caterpillars change? How do cockchafers change?"
"The ship wanted to turn into a beetle." Harry said the words aloud and then took a moment to listen to himself.
"The ship was in the middle of the sea, if it became a beetle it'd die. More importantly," Ron said as he looked over Harry's shoulder and stared at something, "for the ship to pupate it'd sink to the bottom of the sea. That's why all the Cockchafers go down."
Harry turned to see what Ron was staring at and saw large, man-sized beetles crawling out through the same opening in the side of the ship where he and Ron had crawled on board.
"No time for a Portkey," he said, "we'll have to Apparate to the nearest land mass. D'you know what country's near by?"
"Get in one of the lifeboats," Ron said as he watched the infestation crawl out and all over the stern of the ship.
"What?" Harry doubted Ron's brilliant mind for once. he put it down to the trauma of being attacked and mummified by the very things advancing upon him. "I'm sure they can get to us if we're bobbing around on the sea beside them."
"They don't want us, Harry." Ron flicked his wand at one of the lifeboats and the covering was ripped away, mechanism activated to move it over the side of the ship. "Get in."
"You're bloody coming too!" He said, grabbing Ron by the elbow and dragging him along as Ron's eyes stayed fixed upon the crew of cockchafers.
"The ship needs to pupate too, don't you get it?" Ron said, still awestruck at what he was understanding.
Harry wrestled him into the lifeboat and then flicked his wand to start the lowering apparatus.
"A lifejacket, we'll turn that into a Portkey!" Harry was talking to himself now.
"Look, they're doing it," Ron said as he remained transfixed on the mutants and their behaviour.
Harry concentrated on creating an accurate Portkey. The lifeboat hit the waves and was tossed away from the ship a few feet. Ron set the oars magically rowing and the further away they got the better the view they had of what was happening to the Cockchafer.
"It can't make its own cocoon. It has magic but it doesn't have mobility." Ron said before laughing to himself in disbelief. "That's all it wants, mobility."
The hybrids worked as one to cocoon the ship in the same way they had done to Ron.
"Explain at the office, we're getting out of here!" Harry said as the Portkey glowed and he forcibly pushed Ron's hand against the lifejacket.
Robards had be unceremoniously ordered to wait by Harry, who insisted that Ron be seen by a Healer before he make his report on HMS Cockchafer, and neither man was very impressed with him about it.
"You passed out, you couldn't breathe properly, and you were in shock. You're getting bloody well looked at!" Harry snapped.
"It's because you think I'm gonna do a Gregor Samsa isn't it?" Ron scowled, darkly.
"You are not turning into anything, now shut up and let the healer examine you."
Ron sulked and huffed with impatience until he was cleared to report to Robards. He almost knocked the most senior person in the Auror department off his feet as he bounded out of the room.
"So go for it then, you've got all the answers," Harry said with a nod.
He had to admit he was intrigued to understand what was going on too.
"The ship gets the idea from its namesake," Ron began. "It likes the idea of changing into something different, something better, and it's an armoured warship. It understands a protective outer shell. It makes protective outer shells for all the crew. It changes them for what it thinks is they better. It thinks they should be cockchafers."
"Self aware ship, okay, I'll swallow that for now." Robards nodded.
"It creates an," Ron paused to look at Harry as he went on, "exoskeleton?"
"The crew were changed into half human, half beetle things and the last man or woman standing probably tried to drown the poor souls before they hatched by sinking the ship. The metamorphosis adapts to being above or beneath the water though. This is why we don't end up with a giant warship sized cockchafer...but I'm getting ahead of myself."
"You're definitely beyond me," Robards said as he sat back in his chair.
"So anyway," Ron said, visibly lost in his own explanation.
"The ship was sunk," Harry mumbled to remind him.
"Yeah, right, so the ship is either deliberately sunk to try and kill the plague the last of the crew fear they're going to become or it goes under when the crew re-emerge from their transformation and cocoon it."
"What happens to the beetle people once the ship's cocooned?" Robards questioned.
"Well, they drown," Ron said as if it was obvious. "They are created for that purpose only. They're made to form the chrysalis, the cocoon, the pupal sack, the underwater chamber. Whatever you want to call it, they exist only to encapsulate the entire ship."
"So the ship is cocooned, sinks, and turns into a huge underwater beet- This is that later you were talking about isn't it?" Harry said with a smile.
"Yup." Ron nodded. "Cockchafers aren't equipped to survive at sea. It's a ship, it wants mobility and freedom, but most of all it wants to adapt and change. It needs to fit in with its surroundings and a warship sized beetle doesn't do that."
"So it turns into a whale or something?" Robards brow was furrowed deeply as he tried to keep up.
"A whale means this inanimate object has to grow a whole skeleton, internal organs, it doesn't know how to do that. It was playing with pre-existing bodies when it made the hybrids. This is solid metal being altered by the last remaining magic it had, the magic the mutated crew wrapped it up in, so what option does it have?"
Robards didn't have an answer.
Ron turned to Harry, who simply shrugged.
"Come on, catch up with me," he said, clapping his hands together impatiently. "It's something that has no complex skeleton, inside or out, has no complex internal organs. Something completely magical and not of the Muggles natural world."
They still weren't there yet.
"Something like that," he said slowly, "the size of a battleship."
He waited again. Harry finally rewarded him.
"Oh at last!" Ron groaned as he slumped back in his chair and rubbed his hand over his face.
"What?" Robards demanded.
"Only one more hint and if you still don't get it you're a crap Auror," Ron said insubordinately.
His boss didn't look at all thrilled by this.
"This happened to four other ships before. So what do we know of that are that size, aquatic, magical, boneless, that there are only four of in the world?" Ron waited, eyes wide.
"Not giant squid!" Robards exclaimed in disbelief.
"And there it is," Ron sighed as he looked at Harry and rolled his eyes.
"Now there are five of them." Harry grinned. "Better let Shacklebolt know."
"So the squid in Hogwarts lake...?"
"Is one of the missing HMS Cockchafers," Ron confirmed. "This insanity has been going on for decades."
"So how do we stop this happening again?" Robards hunched across his desk towards Ron.
"Well," Ron mirrored his stance, "I'd stop calling bloody boats Cockchafer for a start!"
"Build your own ship maybe? Not add magic to a Muggle vessel?" Harry offered.
"Or at least do the crew, and me, a favour," Ron said with a wicked glint in his eye, "and call it something like HMS Chocolate Éclair. Have the ship assume its purpose in life is to create giant profiteroles!"
Harry laughed and then stifled it at the furious glare he received from his superior.
"Or what about the Good Ship Liquorice Allsort?" Ron offered up, on a roll now.
He turned to share the laugh with Harry but saw that he looked a little uncomfortable.
"That's enough!" Robards snapped. "File your report first thing on Monday morning. Now get out."
"There's gratitude for you," Ron muttered as he rose from his chair. "Solve an age old mystery and what do you get?"
"Come on," Harry said, still looking uneasy.
When they left Robards' office Ron tugged at Harry's sleeve, preventing him from setting off for the exit.
"You all right?" He asked. "Not still worried about me growing extra legs are you?"
Harry finally smiled, a crinkle still deep between his eyebrows, and he slapped Ron on the back to encourage him to walk with him.
"Well, I was worried but you got the all clear so I'm happy with that."
"So what's troubling you then, mate?"
Harry cringed a little as he glanced up at Ron.
"It's silly really, just a childhood fear, totally irrational but when you said about naming the new ship Liquorice Allsort..."
Ron looked baffled at how an assortment of liquorice based sweets could cause Harry to be so tense.
"Well, just got this vision of you and me being chased by hundreds of six foot five Bertie Bassetts."
Ron almost set snot flying out of his nose with the snort he gave as he held in his laughter.
"Let's just never mention this again, okay?" Harry said, blushing, furiously.
"Only if you tell people I tried to fight those cockchafer things off in a manly way and not mention the terrified girly screaming."
"It's a deal," Harry said as they threw an arm around each other and set off towards the exit, laughing.
Their faces fell at the sight of a furious red haired woman, wearing a long white dress, standing in the doorway with her arms folded, waiting for them.
They gulped and their arms dropped to their sides.
"And we're glad we survived because...?"