Chapter 21 – Christmas
"Ah, there you are Derwent, we have been looking all over the place for you." Aldwick's loud voice echoed in the library, but fortunately for them, there was no one around, not many spent their Christmas holiday in the library after all.
Derwent snapped the school register he had been reading shut and looked up at Aldwick who was striding towards him, poor Davies struggling to keep up with her swift stride while trying to hold on to their Magic Sensing Device.
"You knew perfectly well I was here, it shouldn't have been that hard to find me," he stated, annoyed at being interrupted.
"We've got a new trace."
"Three hours ago this," she indicated at the bronze device, "stopped working, we thought it was just a fluctuation or something but we just got word from the ministry. Apparently the orbs there picked up the trace."
"So where did it originate from this time then?" asked Derwent, who was starting to get really annoyed with this seemingly random trail of magic they were following.
"That's the thing, it originated at the ministry," said Davies.
"At the ministry? But weren't we sure the source of the trail was at Hogwarts." He hated how confused he sounded.
"Well it was, but apparently it has changed location. We are going to check it out, maybe we can find out something more, I'm starting to get sick of this game of hide and seek," said Aldwick. "Mr Tipple will want a report anyway."
"It's the ministry, people are bound to have noticed at least something," said Davies in a hopeful voice. They prepared to leave when they noticed that Derwent had started to fervently go through his papers.
"Are you coming or not?"
"No, you go ahead, I need to check something here first."
They shrugged and left, figuring he would tell them at their weekly group meeting. He opened a file he had managed to compile the last month and opened it quickly and found what he was searching for. Time to check some alibis, he though eagerly and took off heading towards Gryffindor tower. On his way there he ran into the two Weasley twins, who were busy trying to paint a moustache on one of the portraits. Mentally he ticked off them from his list.
Just outside the portrait of The Fat Lady he found two others of his targets. Auror Potter's daughter and another redhead. Mentally grinning he ticked them off the list too.
"I'm so annoyed right now," stated the Potter girl. "I've been looking for Harry all over the place! No one has seen him since breakfast!"
"Have you asked Ron or Hermione? They always hang around together nowadays," answered the redhead.
"What do you think? No one has seen either of them. I bet they're up to no good, they took the m…." Suddenly the two girls noticed him and fell silent before hurrying away. Derwent thought about calling them back but thought better of it. He had heard just what he needed. So Harry Potter, Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley had been missing today. If he only could confirm they had been gone for three hours then…
Meanwhile Aldwick and Davies were trudging down the hill towards the gates so they could call the Nightbus for further transportation to the ministry.
"I don't see why both of us need to go on the buss," grumbled Aldwick. "Don't say you can't hold onto the device by yourself. We could get so much more done if I go ahead and start questioning at the ministry."
"What about solidarity," retorted Davies. "It's not fair that I have to go by the bus, just because I'm the only one who can manage the thing."
"Solidarity," snorted the woman. "What kind of muggle pish posh is that. Anyway I'm your superior, I decide."
"You're only my superior because you are older than me, by five years. And I don't see why you can't hold it on the bus, that doesn't take overly much intelligence."
"I hate sensitive things," grumbled Aldwick, scowling at the device in his hands. "Are you sure it will break if we apparate with it?"
"Yes, and if you feel eager to explain to Mr Tipple how a ten thousand galleon object broke then feel free to…." Davies suddenly interrupted himself as the device had started to glow brightly for a moment before dimming. "What the?" He pointed his wand at the device which was still glowing slightly. The arrow at the top was for a moment pointed towards the Forbidden Forest before it was overcome, yet again, by the static magic in the air and started spinning around confusedly.
"I guess it means that whatever we are following are back at Hogwarts?" said Aldwick.
"It must have emitted a sudden burst of magic for the device to pick it up in this setting." Davies looked towards the Forbidden Forest, which spread out ominously before them, still and quiet under the setting sun.
"You know Derwent's theory, if they are wizards then a portkey or something might have triggered it," mused Aldwick.
"Should we go and check it out?" asked Davies, whilst studying the dark forest with apprehension. True, he was an above average wizard, but even he was cautious about entering that forest in the nightfall, especially while not knowing what might wait in there.
"No, it's no use. The device has gone haywire again, we won't be able to find anything. Better yet to go to the ministry and try to find out what's been going on."
Davies nodded, happy to not be the superior in this case, and together they continued down the path.
Only two hundred metres away, behind a small hill, three beings had appeared in a burning flame and landed in a heap on the snow-covered ground, in less than a second they had disentangled themselves and managed to check on their surroundings.
Harry was the first one up and lent a hand to Hermione who stumbled up. She looked around and noticed they had appeared not far away from Hagrid's hut. The sun was going down and the grounds rapidly became darker and colder.
"Why here?" she asked.
Harry shrugged, "Don't know, just thought to get back, wasn't really focusing on exactly where."
"Lucky we didn't end up in Dumbledore's office or something then," commented Ron.
"We cut this awfully close didn't we," said Harry. "I don't think the aging potions will last much longer."
"I say it was very well planned, just because Umbridge distracted us enough to become discovered, doesn't mean it was a bad plan," sniffed Ron.
"Even the best laid plans are bound to fail at some point, only reason we have survived this far is because we are good at improvising," said Hermione and shivered, it had become rather cold outside. Ron pulled off his cloak and wrapped it over her shoulders and Harry prepared to flame them into their dorm this time.
"Wait," Ron suddenly whispered and halted him from transforming. "Someone's coming!"
They hunched low, well aware of the fact that their dark robes stood in sharp contrast to the white snow. Rounding the hill came two men, the first one; very easy to spot in a flamboyant red dress, was the Durmstrang headmaster. He was talking energetic with a dark cloaked figure who seemed to completely merge with the darkness.
Who is that? wondered Harry for a second before recognizing the person's prowling walk. Ah, Snape then. What are they doing out here? His second question was answered for him when the booming voice of the headmaster carried over to where they hunched.
"I have never seen that particular curse being used in that manner, I think it is rather bothersome to cast."
Snape reply was a soft murmur which Harry couldn't hear, looking at Ron, he saw his boyfriend hadn't heard either.
"Then how do you get down the components? I'd say you need more than three, impossible to cut it down more."
Again Snape replied something unintelligible, and they were forced to rely on the headmaster to try and figure out what they were talking about.
"But you still have the fact it has to be verbal, very disadvantageous in a duel…"
"They are just talking about spells," whispered Hermione. "I say we go back up to our dorm before we freeze our feet off"
"We need to sneak into the forest if I am to flame us."
"Well, let's go now before they see us," whispered Hermione. She and Ron stood up and tried to sneak away. In the grey dusk they weren't completely invisible and Harry concentrated briefly and managed to darken the place a bit more. Shadows crept in from the forest like mist and seemed to swallow Ron and Hermione.
He was sure that neither Snape nor Tokovsky had seen him so therefore he was surprised when he heard a shout.
"Who goes there?" Tokovsky shouted from the path. Harry continued to sneak towards the forest, convinced the headmaster had seen someone else. "Chaos?"
Harry stopped at hearing his name being called. How did he know? He stayed quite still, watching as they walked closer and tried to hear what they were saying.
"It was probably a student," said Snape's voice. "They sneak around all the time, thinking the curfew is only for the teachers' amusement."
"No, I thought it might have been someone else…" said the headmaster and Harry imagined him peering into the darkness.
"Something like...?" asked Snape curious and a bit apprehensively.
"A wizard, who is quite accomplished at sneaking in where he isn't supposed to be," said the headmaster in a thoughtful voice before he called out in the dark again. "Chaos?"
It was quiet for a moment before Snape spoke up. "If it was someone there he is probably gone by now. But maybe we should…" He was cut off though when Harry abruptly stepped out from the shadows, his arms crossed over his chest. In a flash Snape had drawn his wand and trained it at Harry.
"I found it quite impossible to ignore it when my name was shouted all across the grounds," he said in a bland voice and inclined his head towards the two men. "Headmaster Tokovsky, Professor Snape."
"Who are you?" asked Snape in an icy voice.
"I'm Chaos." He couldn't help but to give a toothy grin at Snape's expression.
"The Hogwarts grounds are off limits for the public, but I'm sure you are aware of the fact seeing as you are sneaking inside in the cover of darkness," informed Snape and stared hard at Harry. He could feel the faintest touch of legllimensy against his shields but he easily brushed it away, it wasn't meant to penetrate, merely check if he had any shields.
"Wrong Professor Snape, I am, in fact, sneaking out," he said with a gracious smile. Then he frowned and looked towards the headmaster. "But I must confess I'm curious as to how you discovered I was here. I'm not accustomed to being found out."
"I don't think I will tell you," said the headmaster in a slightly teasing voice.
Snape looked at the headmaster in surprise. "You know this man?"
Tokovsky glanced at Snape, not willing to let Chaos out of his sight for even a second. "Well, know is maybe the wrong word; he appeared in my cabin one night. I've been wondering if I would run into you again."
"Chaos?" A woman suddenly called from the forest, and the two men looked in the direction of the shout in hopes of seeing the person.
"I'm always around but I'm afraid I have to go now." He turned to leave.
"Wait!" called Snape suddenly. "What is your business here?"
"Why would you need to know that?" asked Harry amusedly. "You don't even know who we are." He looked at them for a second before nodding, coming to a decision. "Talk to Headmaster Tokovsky. If you ever need us, one of our associates will get in touch with you."
"And who are these associates? Anyone in this school?"
"You'll know when they contact you. Good evening gentlemen." With that Harry turned around and ran towards the forest, fading into the darkness in a matter of seconds, leaving two wizards to stare bemusedly after him.
When he had found Ron and Hermione, hiding just at the edge of the forest, they flamed back to their dorm, landing right on Harry's bed. Hermione quickly got up and shot a locking spell on the door, not wanting anyone to come in and see them looking as Fire, Ice and Chaos.
"You know the others will be cross with us if they discover we have locked the door again," commented Harry.
"It will be worse if they see us like this," replied Ron as he shrugged off his large robes. He had started to return to his own age and the clothes were getting too big for him. Harry and Hermione had also started to de-age and Harry disappeared into the bathroom to remove his makeup and lenses.
When he came out he found Ron sitting cross-legged on the bed with Hermione tending to his shoulder. A large purple bruise had started to form and Ron grimaced when Hermione massaged some salve on it.
"I still say it went rather good," said Ron. "Us against the whole auror department and only a bruised shoulder."
"I think you sprained it," commented Hermione. "It must have hurt a lot to run around with."
Ron just shrugged, showing it wasn't too bad.
"Well, I'm glad we got out of there alive," said Hermione as she sat down next to Ron and gave him a kiss. Suddenly she turned to Harry, her eyes sharp. "You got it?"
Harry brought out the black diary from his discarded robes and handed it to her and she gently ran her hand over its cover. "It's strange to imagine that a soul rests inside – it looks so insignificant."
"Shall we destroy it now then?" asked Ron. Harry nodded and raised his wand, and just as he had done when he destroyed the diadem, he filled his head with the intent of destroying the Horcrux.
"Fiendfire!" Hot liquid fire seemed to flood out from his wand and headed straight for the diary where it encircled it. It was scorching hot and they had to back away a couple of steps, but the heat was concentrating on the diary. A tortured scream rose up, loud and so alive it felt like a human's dying screams in face of fire. Then the diary fell together in a pile of ashes and the scream silenced abruptly.
Hermione gave a choked gasp and pressed her hand to her mouth, her eyes wide and tortured. Ron looked at her with concern but in the same moment the door handle rattled. Harry quickly looked at the pile of ashes before he unlooked the door. The door slammed open and a bunch of Gryffindors ran inside. Hermione retreated back to the bed and sat down, while breathing heavily. Harry knew she was fighting back tears.
"Excuse me! Let me through, I'm a prefect."
A tall and gangly prefect squeezed her way through the crowd which had stopped just inside the door. The she stopped and took in the scene in the room; Hermione sitting tensely on the bed, Harry and Ron standing over a suspicious looking scorch mark on the floor.
"What's going on here?" she demanded.
"Nothing, we were just trying a new spell, that's all," said Harry, while cursing himself for not having secured the room completely. But he had never thought the diary would scream that much.
"Just trying a spell?" she asked disbelievingly. "Who was screaming? And why is there a pile of ash on the floor?"
"I don't know," lied Harry, while thinking of how to get out of this fix, he couldn't very well obliviate a dozen of people at the same time but he knew she didn't believe him. The oppressive feeling of dark magic still lingered in the room. Not everyone would know it for what it was but everyone could feel it nonetheless.
"Well, you three can follow me to McGonagall straight away!" she said before she turned to the crowd who was still staring at the room, and particularly on the pile of ashes, trying to figure out what had happened.
"Evanesco," muttered Harry and vanished the ashes. No one would find any evidence in this room at least.
Ron had gone over to Hermione and pulled her up, he looked to Harry and the message was clear; Hermione wasn't fit to face an interrogation just now. Harry nodded and turned to the prefect.
"Ron and Hermione had nothing to do with it. I was the one who tried the spell."
Without waiting for the prefect's verdict Ron and Hermione disappeared into the bathroom and closed the door to all inquisitive eyes. "Hermione got frightened and screamed, I think she's still a bit shaken."
"Very well, but you'll be coming to McGonagall right now."
He nodded and after one last glance at the room and the closed bathroom door and walked after the prefect. The students parted before him and whispers started up behind his back. It felt surreal; was he back in the light after having successfully avoided it for so long? Bitterly he wished he had just waited to destroy the Horcrux, but he had wanted to get rid of it as quick as possible.
In the crowd he saw Neville and Ginny who was staring at him with narrowed eyes. Neville looked hesitant but the suspicion was nevertheless there. They would have to talk to him soon; he knew far too much of their doings.
The prefect led the way to the portrait hole and motioned for him to climb out. As he climbed outside he came face to face with Rose.
"Harry, there you are! I've been looking for you all over the place, you had the ma…" she abruptly fell silent when the prefect climbed after Harry.
"Come on Potter, let's go," she ordered.
"What have you done now?" asked Rose curiously.
"Well, don't get into a detention, mum and dad is here."
"Christmas dinner, dad and Sirius got permission form Dumbledore to have their families over. I've been looking for you all day!"
"Potter, come along then," snapped the prefect and Harry followed her automatically, his mind occupied with the exceptional bad timing. Why would his parents come just today and why hadn't he known. What if they had been discovered missing? Would anyone have connected their disappearance to the appearance of Fire, Ice and Chaos?
"Don't get a detention!" called Rose after him before they turned a corner.
What was the prefect going to say? How were they going to explain this away? Maybe it would be better to just memory charm her, but then they would have to have a reason for them to be in McGonagall's office, and that involved a little bit too much tampering with the prefects mind. He didn't mind tampering with people's heads but there was something about doing it to students that left a bad taste in his mouth. He wouldn't go back on his own principles.
Besides their scam would be unearthed with only the smallest amount of digging, and if he knew Hogwarts right, the entire story would be hot gossip before dinner.
So an excuse then.
We had been practising a spell. What spell? The Caterwauling Charm? No, it doesn't leave ashes… what then.
They arrived at their Head's office and the Prefect knocked. They had to wait for a long time before the door was opened.
"Yes? Miss Douglas, Mr Potter, what can I do for you?" By her tone, Harry guessed that she had been interrupted while doing something.
"Professor, can we come in?" asked Miss Douglas.
Wordlessly McGonagall stepped aside to allow them into her office. She closed the door after them and settled down behind her desk, motioning them to sit down the chairs.
"So what is this all about?"
"Um Professor, Potter and his friends did something in the boy's dorm," stated Miss Douglas nervously.
"They did something," repeated McGonagall in a stiff voice watching the prefect impatiently.
Miss Douglas quickly told her about the locked doors, the scream, the ashes, and through it all Harry watched McGonagall narrow her eyes more and more. How am I going to explain this? He wondered despondently.
"… and, I don't know, it felt heavy, I don't know what they did in there but it didn't feel right," finished the prefect with a small blush. Harry watched McGonagall and was sure that she knew exactly what had been going on in that room.
"Thank you Miss Douglas, you did the right thing of coming to me." Then she turned to look at Harry who felt like he just had been nailed down on a lab table. "Mr Potter, would you like to tell me exactly what you and your friends have been doing and why your friends aren't here too?"
"Hermione wasn't feeling too well and neither of them had anything to do with the… experiment."
"Now then, would you like to tell me exactly what you had been doing?" It wasn't a request.
"I was just trying a new spell, professor," he said innocently.
"What kind of a spell," her return was sharp and Harry knew better than to stall.
He sighed and sat up straighter. "It was an illusion charm; it was supposed to create a trick image of something."
"And what was the name of the spell?" When Harry didn't answer she narrowed her eyes and snapped, "Mr Potter!"
"It was called Praestigiae," he answered unwillingly.
McGonagall stilled for a moment and Harry knew why; Praestigiae was an above NEWT level charm, not even taught at Hogwarts. Not to mention; while not Dark it certainly wasn't Light. He doubted even Hermione's reputation as a bookworm would help them out of this one.
"That is a very advanced charm, Mr Potter. Where did you find information of such a spell?"
"Professor Moody told us of it," replied Harry in a low voice, this time not faking how apprehensive he felt. He wasn't too sure if it was a good idea to involve the Death Eater in this.
McGonagall's lips became thin line and she turned to the prefect. "Miss Douglas, would you be so kind to fetch Professor Moody for us?" she asked, still sounding a bit angry.
"If he isn't in his office, look in the teachers' room."
When Douglas had closed the door after her McGonagall turned back to Harry. "Well Mr Potter, I must say I am appalled at the lack of judgement you have shown. Do you know what could have happened?"
Hmm… go for innocent schoolboy or actually look like I knew what I was doing…
"Yes I know what could have happened," he said finally and looked at her.
"Then you know that you used a powerful charm for the first time without supervision in your dorm room? What would you have done if it had failed?"
It wouldn't have failed, Harry wanted to answer but felt that might be pushing it too far. In the end he settled for shrugging. McGonagall wasn't appreciative of the negligent gesture.
"I'd say, never in my life…. What of Mr Weasley and Miss Granger then?"
"They weren't involved, Hermione got frightened by the illusion and screamed."
"What kind of illusion did you conjure?"
"An…" he hesiated for a moment, he was going to say a dementor but wasn't sure if this world's Harry knew of the vile creatures. "…thestral," he replied and immediately regretted it. This world's Harry probably never had seen anyone die. I'll say I saw a picture of them, he thought, well aware of the fact that pictures rarely were enough to sustain an illusion.
McGonagall studied him for a moment but didn't call on his lie. In the end she settled on something else. "I think you are lying to me." Harry remained unmoving, his face betraying nothing, he had after all been expected to be caught in the act. "I find it very hard to believe that Miss Granger and Mr Weasley wouldn't take part in this. You do everything together, no?"
"You actually accuse Ron and Hermione to use dangerous charms? You have no proof!" He felt he had quite overstepped his boundaries but it was difficult arguing with someone he couldn't treat as his equal.
"The only thing I accuse anyone of is this irresponsible use of magic in the dorms and Mr Weasley and Miss Granger is just as responsible for allowing it to happen."
"They didn't know exactly what the spell would do," invented Harry. "I had told them it was a spell I had found in the library. Hermione would never break rules."
"And why didn't you go to one of the teachers to try out the charm, I'm sure Professor Flitwick would have been more than glad to help you. Or Professor Moody, if he indeed gave the charm to you."
"I didn't want to bother anyone, and I thought that… with my grades being as they were no one would believe that I could do it. I wanted to show everyone I could and the charm seemed difficult enough."
"I'm still having difficulties believing you succeed," she said in a slightly disbelieving voice before straightening back on track again. "But that isn't the point, for this irresponsible behaviour I take fifty points from Gryffindor and you'll serve detention for the next fortnight. And I want to know if you have learned any other high level spells?"
"No Professor, no other spells," he said in despondent voice, knowing it was no way of getting her to go back on her punishment, and decided to take it as graciously as he could.
In that moment a knock was heard on the door and Moody came limping in. "I heard Potter was in trouble," he said in his gruff voice as his magical eye first swept the room and then landed on Harry. Harry had a feeling Crouch knew what was going on from the prefect and Harry could see the questions the man had. If only he would consent to play the role Harry now dumped in his lap.
"Thank you Miss Douglas, you may return to the common room now," said McGonagall and motioned for Moody to sit down.
When they were alone again she turned to Moody. "Professor Moody, today Potter attempted a highly advanced Illusion charm in his dorm room."
"Really now," he asked and glanced calculatingly at Harry. "Which one?"
"I was hoping you'd tell me, seeing as according to Mr Potter you were the one to give it to him." She cast a glance at Harry that told him, in no uncertain terms, to shut up.
"Ahh… yes that spell," said Crouch without blinking. "It was a while ago, boy. I thought you had given up on it." He was obviously stalling for time, having no idea what spell she was talking about. Quickly Harry closed his fist and discretely conjured a piece of paper with one word written on it. Then, rather conspicuous, he straightened it out under the table so McGonagall wouldn't see. Moody's magical eye saw straight through the table before smirking, looking at McGonagall.
"Professor Moody! The spell?" said McGonagall impatiently.
"Ah, the spell, Praestigiae, yes I taught it to Potter."
"Why Alastor?" asked McGonagall wearily. "It's is an advanced charm, not even taught at Hogwarts. I hardly think it is a suitable charm to teach three fourteen year olds."
Harry subtly shook his head and Moody frowned thoughtfully. "Three fourteen year olds? I only taught Potter, thought he had an aptitude for the subject."
McGonagall looked at Potter and sighed. "Well Potter, seems like you spoke the truth of your friends, they won't be punished."
"Thank you Professor," said Harry, truly grateful.
"That isn't to say, if this ever happens again the consequences will be more severe and the Headmaster will be notified. As it is now you still have to serve your detentions and I'll notify your parents."
Harry grimaced, he would be hearing that, he had no doubts about it and wondered if she knew they were already in the castle.
"You may go then, Mr Potter," she dismissed him and turned to Moody. "Professor Moody, may I have a word with you?"
With that Harry slipped out of the door. He stood indecisive for a moment, wanting to check on Hermione, he knew what had made her so upset. But he wanted to talk to the fake Moody first.
Fifteen minutes later, during which agitated voices had been heard from McGonagall's office, a rather flustered Moody stepped out from the office. Pausing slightly to collect himself he made his way down the hallway.
"Professor Moody?" Harry asked as he emerged from the shadows in an alcove. "May I speak to you for a moment?"
"You! You gave me problems back there boy!"
"I do apologise," replied Harry in a sarcastic voice as he fell in steps with Crouch.
Crouch glanced sideways at him. "By the way, how could you be so sure that I would be backing your story?"
"And what would McGonagall have said if I were to reveal your true identity?"
"After you had been caught using Dark Arts? Add to your suspicious behaviour…"
"That from the overly paranoid Auror," muttered Harry under his breath.
Crouch ignored him and continued as if nothing, "They would never believe you."
"But then we only would have to stay in her room for little less than an hour and your appearance would be revealed, Bartemius Crouch Jr."
Silence followed that statement and Harry could feel Crouch tensing next to him. They turned a corner and stopped in front of the office door of the Defence of the Dark Arts-professor. Crouch fumbled with the keys before unlocking three different locks. Harry was suddenly reminded of how the real Moody was imprisoned in his own trunk. Their old argument of what to do with Moody returned to him.
Inside the office, safely hidden from prying eyes and ears, both of them allowed themselves to drop their respective masks and they warily regarded each other. Harry remained with his back towards the door, an observer would think it a precaution; to have an escape route nearby, but Harry rather wished to be absolutely sure Crouch wouldn't be able to escape.
"How did you know about my identity?" asked Crouch, both his eyes fixed at Harry.
"I didn't know per say, but my associates knew and they also told me how to deal with you." Harry made a movement with his hand and Crouch snarled and raised his own wand. Harry dodged the first stunner which hit the wall behind him.
"Don't you need to keep up appearances?" asked Harry calmly as he dodged another stunner. Bringing out his own wand he let off a volley of curses. Crouch brought up a powerful shield but Harry had one of the curses ricochet off the wall behind him and hit Crouch in the back. He sagged down but wasn't stunned completely; the curse must have lost power against the wall. "Petrificus Totalus," intoned Harry and Crouch seized up.
For a moment Harry just stared at him, very, unsure of what to do. Ron and Hermione is going to kill me, he thought miserably. I just had to confront Crouch. He would have to fix this mess by himself.
Crouch's bulging eyes followed him when he squatted beside him, having made his decision. "I'm going to take Moody with me, don't worry, I won't free him. We would prefer it if Dumbledore wasn't made aware of our existence. We will supply you with samples of his hair, on the condition that you don't report these happenings to your master. We will have methods to know if you do." That was a blatant lie of course, but Crouch didn't know that. "If you tell him, then we will stop give you hair and your entire scheme will be revealed."
He stood up again and stupefied him. With the keys he found in Crouch's robes he unlocked the seven compartment trunk. It was exactly like he remembered it from his fourth year. Hurrying down the ladder he crouched down next to a sleeping Moody.
The old Auror was skinny, but not as emaciated as he remembered. He had still big patches of missing hair on his head and his eye socket was empty as was his left leg. Moody stirred slightly and Harry cast a sleeping charm on him.
So… where shall I take you then? The cave? Room of Requirements? The Chamber of Secrets? The cave would be cold now in the winter. And he wasn't too fond of having him in a place where he could easily escape from. Right then, Chamber it is.
Transfiguring Moody into a knarl, which he thought was oddly fitting, was easy and he put the snoozing creature in his pocket. He didn't bother with cleaning the office, figuring Crouch could deal with that when he woke up, then he flamed away.
He appeared in the Chamber of Secret and quickly hurried through to the second cavern. There he quickly transfigured a stone into a cage and gently put the knarl inside. He put in a bowl of water, even if he suspected that Moody the paranoid Knarl wouldn't drink a drop of it, and locked the cage. After that he went to check on the basilisk eggs and was surprised to see a small crack had appeared at the largest one. He was tempted to stay a bit longer and inspect them closer but Hermione and Ron was waiting for him. With a silent Wingardium Leviosa he levitated Moody's cage to a safe distance from the eggs. It wouldn't do to have Moody petrified and eaten by Basilisk if they happened to hatch.
He flamed away and appeared in a little used corridor not far from the Gryffindor tower. He didn't want to apparate all the way for he wasn't sure if Ron and Hermione still occupied the bathroom. He thought of Hermione and sped up.
"There you are Harry! I thought Rose had managed to get hold of you by now," called Lily's voice from behind him.
Harry turned around with a smile, wondering if he could simply obliviate her and continue on is way. "Hi mum, she did but I had to talk to Professor McGonagall first, I was just on my way to your quarters."
"Why did you have to talk to Professor McGonagall about, was it your grades? I haven't told you how happy I am they've finally improved."
"Only a dozen times in your letters, mum," he replied exasperated and found himself shepherded along with her.
"Well you deserve it, I knew you could to it, you only needed to make an effort. You have an amazing determination when you want to."
"Thanks mum, but Professor McGonagall wanted to talk about something else, I think she will tell you later on."
"Been up to mischief have you?" asked Lily in a joking voice. "I swear you become more and more like your father everyday." She laughed, showing that she didn't mind too much.
"I don't! I'm not like my father, not at all!" protested Harry stubbornly. He was quiet for a moment before speaking again. "Mum? Did you know about dad and Snape?"
"Professor Snape," corrected Lily out of habit, Harry easily shrugged off the admonition. "But what have they been up to this time?" she questioned in an annoyed voice.
"They were fighting after the Yule ball, dad doesn't seem to trust Professor Snape."
"No he doesn't, but that doesn't mean he is right. Professor Snape is a good person, I would trust him with my life."
Harry stared at her, momentarily baffled with her conviction. To trust someone that much, but then again, he trusted Ron and Hermione that much, if not more.
"Why? He is so…" He couldn't even find a word to use. Ron's epithet of greasy git, wouldn't be received well in present company.
"Unpleasant?" smiled Lily. "He has little patience for most people, but he is trustworthy."
"I still don't understand why you are friends with him," said Harry in a petulant voice, still having difficulties accepting Snape on her words alone.
"Don't worry, James doesn't get it either, all I can say is that we were friends a long time ago and we are mature enough to value that friendship."
Harry just nodded, still not convinced, but he allowed doubts to fill him.
"How about dad then? Do you trust him with your life?"
"What a silly question, of course I do!"
They got up to the sixth floor where James and Sirius' quarters were located. Harry was a bit curious, even though half of the school year was over he had yet to see James and Sirius' guest quarters. It turned out to be a smaller apartment, with two bedrooms one bathroom and in the middle of it all a living room. A living room currently filled with people.
"Harry!" Two voices shouted at the same time and he didn't have time to turn around before two smaller bodies attached themselves to him. He looked down to see Lucinda and Sienna, Sirius' two daughters, clinging to him in the same way they always did when he were within grabbing distance.
"Merry Christmas!" greeted Sienna happily, letting go of him briefly to smile widely at him.
"Merry Christmas," returned Harry, before grinning at her. "You have lost your milky teeth?" he said, nodding towards several gaps between her pearly white teeth.
"Three already!" replied Sienna happily, smiling even wider to show.
"Harry! Do you know where we are?" whispered Lucinda excitedly, giving him no time to reply she continued. "We're at Hogwarts. At Hogwarts!" she giggled uncontrollably. "I will be the only one in my year who has seen Hogwarts before she starts. Could you show me around? I want to see the Great Hall and…"
"But that ruin it for you when you start next year, won't it?" objected Harry.
"That's what mum said, but can't you just show me one thing? I'd be happy with just the corridor outside, just see the portraits? Please."
"No I don't think I will, after all it's only half a year till you'll see it for real."
"Pleeeeease!" her voice had taken on a whiny quality but fortunately he was saved by Remus.
"Harry is right Lucinda, it will be much more fun for you if it's a surprise," Remus said reasonably, coming up behind them.
"Everyone!" shouted Lily and the room quietened down. "Time for dinner! Please sit down, Professor Dumbledore was kind enough to tell the houseelves to make us a Christmas dinner."
They all crowded around a table Lily had just finished enlarging so that it took up almost all space in the cramped room.
"This is wonderful," said Sirius in a happy voice as he pulled his wife into a hug and kissed her. "I thought I would be stuck on duty all Christmas, instead I get to celebrate it with my family and friends. This is brilliant!"
"We'll be sure to thank Professor Dumbledore before we leave tomorrow," said Talia as Sirius pulled out a chair for her and she sat down.
Harry was sure he had never eaten that much food before. He felt uncomfortably full and sat slumped in his chair, playing drowsily with his napkin while paying half hearted attention to the adults talking in the room. Lily and Talia were laughing at something that had happened them in Diagon Alley last week while Sirius and Remus were discussing something heatedly at the other end. James came in through the door, holding the butterbeer he had been set out to get.
"That's my man, Jamsie!" said Sirius enthusiastically. "You didn't forget my little burner did you?" he continued conspiratorially.
James rolled his eyes. "Off course not, Padfoot," he said and brought out a small small bottle from his pockets.
Sirius took it gingerly and looked sceptically at the bottle. "It's shrunken, it has to be, right." He tapped the bottle with his wand but it remained the same. "Prongs, why does my Fire Whiskey not grow to an acceptable size?" he whined and shook his fire whiskey.
"This is the right size Padfoot. I asked them for their smallest bottle and that's what I got."
"It is illegal to make miniaturized fire whiskey bottles," said Sirius, not longer listening to James.
"No it's not Sirius," reminded Remus patiently.
"Just drink it already Sirius," snapped James impatiently. "You know Talia doesn't approve of you drinking anyway."
"But a decent fire whiskey on Christmas…" said Sirius despondently before catching his wife's glare and shutting up.
"It took you long enough to get back," said Remus, when he decided that Sirius had stopped whining.
"I ran into Caleb and Morrison in Hogsmeade, they've been called in for duty."
James lowered his voice, which immediately caught Harry's attention and he started listening more attentively.
"Apparently there has been a break-in at the ministry. They said three people had managed to infiltrate the DMLE and stolen something from the Archive."
"You're kidding!" said Sirius in a loud voice.
"No, no one knows who they are, but according to Caleb they played a game of tag with the whole department."
"Can't have been too difficult," said Remus thoughtfully. "I mean, it's Christmas, the department must have been mostly empty."
"It's got quite tight security still Moony," said Sirius. "I wish I knew how they did it. I mean just to actually steal something from the Archive! Remember when we got lost there, back when we were newbies?"
"Never thought we'd get out. That place didn't make any sense. According to Mad-Eye, only the Minister and the Head of DMLE knows how to get anything out of there."
"Then we better read the Quibbler tomorrow, I bet old Lovegood will have the conspiracy theories going."
"Anyhow, the Department called in all aurors not on duty. We are lucky Sirius, that we are on duty at Hogwarts. I do not fancy being stuck on guard duty in Diagon Alley, it's raining in London."
"Why is it bad guys never seem to celebrate Christmas? Remember that case we had two years ago? I mean why did she have to steal the house away on Christmas day?"
"Wait!" interrupted Remus with a smile. "Was that the time when that woman made her own house walk away?"
"Yeah, James and I tracked it through five counties."
"In a snowstorm too. Lily was so mad at me, I came down with the flu afterwards."
"What are you talking about?" Lily asked, having been roused from her chat with Talia.
"Nothing dear, just talking about when we tracked down that Cornflower woman's house."
Lily muttered something unintelligible about that and turned to Talia and whispered something which had both women giggle.
Dinner seemed to drag on forever for Harry. Lily insisted they sing Christmas carols, something Sirius eagerly supported and then they, to Harry's annoyance insisted on settling down in the sofas with tea. It wasn't until two hours later Harry was able to sneak away with some lame excuse to Lily. As soon he was outside the door he looked around quickly and, assured there were no portrait or witness around, flamed away.
Meanwhile, Ron had followed Hermione into the bathroom locked and warded the door. When he turned around he was not surprised to see Hermione leaning over the sink, her eyes closed and her breathing deep and controlled.
"It's stupid isn't," she said in a self-mocking voice. "And it's just simple things that make me flip." Her voice shook slightly, showing that she still wasn't really recovered and she took a deep steadying breath.
Ron came up behind her and circled his arms around her waist and leaned his cheek over her shoulder. "It's not stupid, love," he said softly. "You have seen a lot of horrible things and some times it just jumps back at you. It's not stupid."
She twisted around and buried her face in his chest, she wasn't crying, but she was still breathing in that deep, even way, that told Ron that she was struggling hard not to.
"Sometimes I wish I could just forget everything," murmured Hermione. "Just Obliviate and starting anew."
Ron sighed and just hugged her closer. He wasn't good at comforting. Hermione was the one who knew what to do and when she needed comforting… well then it was usually Harry and Ron together, making their blundering attempts at comforting. Now it was only Ron but he be damned if he gave up. He was Hermione's lover and he would do anything to see her smile. Or cry, in this case.
"We have started anew, didn't we all agree on that that is what this new world is?"
"It's not the same!" stated Hermione stubbornly. "The memories are still there, the people is still gone."
Ron was silent for a moment, mostly because he knew she was right, and didn't know how he could say anything else. "Hermione…" he started before trailing off, he looked at the door helplessly wishing Harry would come through and complete them. That didn't happen though and Ron just lowered his face in her bushy hair. "Hermione, it's all in the past, it's already happened and nothing will change it or make it undone. We have accepted it and moved on, true we remember it sometimes, but most of the times we are happy, right?"
She didn't answer, but he could tell from her posture that she was listening and continued encouraged. "You got me and Harry who love you more than anything else. We have each other, nothing else matters."
Two hours later the wards fell on the door and Harry slipped in. Ron and Hermione leaned against the cold, hard wall but Hermione seemed rather comfortably where she sat sprawled in Ron's lap. Ron gave him a reproachful look as Harry sat down next to them after he had redone the wards.
"Where have you been?" he asked in a growling voice.
"McGonagall wanted to talk to me and then there was a family dinner with the Potters. How is she?" asked Harry.
Hermione answered for herself, "I'm feeling much better now, honestly, I don't know what came over me."
"As long as you feel better, I'm glad Ron could stay with you," said Harry with a small smile and looked over to Ron seriously. "I came as soon as I could, love," he assured, not wanting Ron to believe anything else.
Ron sighed and reached out with his hand, "I know you did Harry, sorry." Harry caught his hand and gave it a soft kiss before leaning over and planted a kiss on Hermione's cheek.
"It's Christmas Eve," said Harry and sat down comfortably on the bathroom floor, looking intently at his two mates. "I know what we had planned but I wanted to ask… are you really sure you want to do this? We have been noticed a lot today."
The others were quiet for a moment, Hermione playing aimlessly with Ron's sleeve.
"I'm surprised you are the one to say that Harry," said Ron finally. "You're the one who have been climbing the walls from being cooped up in Hogwarts all these months."
"And by Godric I want to get out of here," said Harry with a dramatic sigh but continued in a much more composed voice. "But the Potters have hinted that we will be seeing each other again after breakfast, if I'm not there…"
"So leave a note or pretend to have gotten stuck in the vanishing cabinet or something," suggested Ron dead seriously. Harry glared at him with annoyance but to his surprise Hermione took Ron's stance.
"I agree with Ron. I think we need to get away for awhile, not long, but enough time to be just the three of us. We can deal with the consequences later."
Ron kissed her appreciatingly. "You're unusually blasé over our need to remain hidden."
"I don't want to be a prisoner in Hogwarts," stated Hermione in a firm voice. "We have accepted this self-enforced restriction on ourselves because we didn't really have any choice with the Trace still on us but now…"
"Now we can use our full powers freely, we can erase any traces we might leave and," said Harry with a sudden grin as he realized something. "We don't even have to stay at Hogwarts anymore! We are free to leave if we want to."
The other two smiled at that too, being back at Hogwarts was wonderful, they could experience school life without the life and death situations and just relax after the war. But they had always felt the underlying tension, the caution, the fear of getting caught. Now it wasn't as bad as before, if they were found out now they could just up and leave. Go to the other side of the world and no one could find them. It was a great relief.
"It's settled then? We leave?"
"Just for a day."
They all stood up and exited the bathroom, the dorm room was empty but they could hear a lot of noise from the common room. "They won't miss us," said Ron in a certain voice as Hermione pulled out a small bag from Ron's trunk, she being just as familiar with the boys' dorm and her boys' stuff by now.
"Ready to go," announced Hermione and the three gathered together close to each other and Harry concentrated briefly and flamed them away.
"No!" groaned Davies and looked with devastation at the orbs in the Department of Mysteries. The one covering Hogwarts had gone dark and instead the orb in Northumberland had started to glow. Aldwick came up behind him with a cup of tea and stared with an expressionless face at the orb. "It's Christmas Eve," grouched Davies, "Why do this strange magic have to act up tonight of all nights. I was hoping to go home."
"Magic of Christmas," said Aldwick but she too was completely baffled with the sheer randomness of the magical dissonance that the orbs were still picking up on. They had arrived at the ministry a couple of hours ago to find the place in complete chaos and in a disorderly lock down. When they eventually had been allowed access to the DMLE they had been able to find traces of the magic all over the place. No solid trace but they hadn't expected it since they knew the source had already returned to Hogwarts. Its stay there hadn't been too long though, as it seemed like the magic source had already left Hogwarts and heeded for Northumberland. Why, nobody could tell.
But at least it seemed like Derwent had been right with his theory about it being humans. The three that had broken into the DMLE were definitely wizards and completely soaked in this strange anomalic magic. Who they were and what were they planning no one knew.
"Aldwick!" called suddenly Croaker, boorish man, worked overtime on Christmas Eve, from his own office. "Mrs Bones wants to talk to you about that trace you've found."
Aldwick and Davies looked at each other, thinking exactly the same thing: great, now the aurors were going to butt in.
Meanwhile in a moor in Northumberland the three most sought after people in Britain appeared in a flash of fire. The repercussions from their ministry break-in last on their minds, secure as they were with the knowledge that they had left nothing on the sight that could track them. And they did not have the trace anymore which made them more relaxed than they had been in several months.
Their tracks in the snow trailed desolately after them as Ron quickly took the lead and disappeared behind a shrubbery. Harry and Hermione walked hand in hand, trusting Ron to find the way. Ron went wrong a couple of times. The winding and thorny bushes branched out like a maze around them and he had to backtrack a couple of times before coming upon an old stone wall. Giving a triumphant shout he quickly jumped over the wall like it was nothing. Hermione rolled her eyes, took one look at the wall that went to her shoulder, and promptly transformed into Goldeye. With four heavy beats of her wings she was over the wall and landed on Ron's shoulder. Ron watched her with gleaming eyes and petted her feathers gently when she didn't bother with transforming back. The bag they had brought with them flew over the wall and landed next to them. A second later Traceless leapt over the wall, landing soundlessly and gave them a glance before leaping into the bushes and disappeared, swiftly like a shadow.
Ron smiled and simply picked up the bag and followed him in a fast sprint. Goldeye took flight again and followed him from the air. They came upon a little used path and which led up to a small stone cottage. Traceless was already there and was busy sniffing around by the door and windows. When they approached he transformed back.
"It's empty, don't think anyone's been here for at least two decades.
"Good, would have been silly coming here otherwise," said Hermione. She raised her wand and unlocked the door.
They quickly searched through the house and found it satisfyingly empty. In their old world it had been a Death Eater safe house, a remote cottage no one had claimed with some distant, elusive connection to a pureblood family. Ron had said it was an old Squib House – a house used to house and hide away Squib relatives the family was ashamed off. Understandably not much in use lately.
In no time they had repaired the windows, stopped the draft from the floorboards and lit a fire in the fireplace. Harry and Hermione warded the cottage while Ron cleaned the table and put a new cover on the sofas.
"It's a bit sad that we couldn't come up with a better place to spend Christmas," said Hermione and looked over the small living room.
"I think it is cosy," said Harry and pulled out some puddings and treacle tarts the house elves had given them. Ron, with a look of deep concentration, lit the candles with a snap of his fingers, to the general applause of Harry and Hermione.
Together they burrowed down in the sofa, Hermione in the middle, Harry and Ron by her side. The fire crackled merrily basking the room in a warmth and light. Hermione sighed happily, utterly content at being here and now with her boys next to her. She searched under the blanket and found their hands. Just then both Harry and Ron leaned in at the same time and planted a kiss on her cheeks.
"Merry Christmas!" They all chorused.
After a long long wait it is finally finished. That I finally mustered the energy to finish the last parts (which had been annoying me since Christmas) is all thanks to Emily Redbird who wrote a long message and motivated me enough to finish the chapter. Thank you.