Chapter 42 – For Every Action
When Harry opened his eyes, the very first thing he noticed was the fact that the atrium was still in some chaos. Aurors swarmed the area, some scouring the atrium looking for clues, some investigating the Floo, presumably to try to determine to where Voldemort disappeared, while others came and went, though other doors, the lifts, or other places unknown. It all looked to be orderly, however, a testament to the efficiency of whoever was organizing the investigation which was now clearly under way.
The second thing he noticed was just how much his head throbbed, as though every pixie from his second year had taken up residence in his head, pounding away with tiny hammers. Groaning, Harry sat up, wincing at the increased pounding in his skull as the blood rushed to his head. He sat there for a moment, allowing the pounding to subside and the pain to lessen, feeling grateful for the tender hands which rubbed his back and held him close. When he could finally open his eyes, Harry looked to either side and caught the eyes of both girls, smiling to indicate that he was on the mend.
Fleur and Hermione helped him stand and Harry was better able to take stock of the situation. Dumbledore stood some distance away speaking with a very irate-looking Amelia Bones, while Jean-Sebastian stood to the side interjecting a few comments here and there. In another direction, Sirius was speaking with several Aurors, giving a statement, Harry thought.
As for the room itself, well it was obvious that the atrium had suffered heavy damage as a result of the evening's events. Tiles had been shattered, whipped up by the struggle between Dumbledore and Voldemort, and while the fountain still stood, various parts of it had been smashed, while others melted into puddles of golden slag. The desk which stood at the end of the atrium, where the guards who checked visitors in to the Ministry sat, had been shattered into a pile of kindling. And perhaps most starkly, a black sheet covered what Harry presumed to be the body of the former Minister.
Sighing, Harry glanced at his two companions, receiving commiserating looks in response. Their activity tonight had ultimately been successful, but they had paid a steep price for it. What would happen now? The Minister had died by Voldemort's hand it was true, but the Minister had only been there that evening due to their actions. Would they now in some manner be held accountable for his death?
As Harry stood contemplating what had happened, Dumbledore strode up. Gone was the typically grandfatherly air, which was replaced by the forbidding Headmaster, or perhaps even more accurately, the Chief Warlock, one of the leaders of the nation, and wizard renowned the world over. A glance over his shoulder showed that Jean-Sebastian was now engaged in animated conversation with Madam Bones. Whether he was distracting her to give Dumbledore a few moments to speak with Harry in private, he was not certain, but he rather suspected that might be the case.
"Harry," Dumbledore spoke up without preamble, "remember to stick to your story. Voldemort undoubtedly has eyes and ears in the Ministry and we cannot have the truth of the prophecy get out. We must also protect Professor Snape's cover, so the true sequence of events must not be revealed."
"But the Minister died tonight," replied Harry somewhat despondently.
An expression of compassion fell over Dumbledore's countenance. "It is indeed unfortunate. Minister Fudge was not particularly a good man, nor was he a particularly honest one. Still, the loss of a human life is not a trifle."
"It was my plan that got him killed. I'm to blame."
"You are not to blame," Fleur hissed. "No one could have predicted how Voldemort would react."
"You are correct, Miss Delacour," Dumbledore stated. "I would never have guessed that Voldemort would have lost his composure in such a manner. However, if you look at the matter from Voldemort's perspective, it is clear that he had relatively little use left for the Minister. Once his return was betrayed, Voldemort knew that the Minister's insistence that he had not returned would mean that he would be ousted as soon as may be. Though I cannot state for certain and suspect that Voldemort acted in an impulsive fit of rage, I believe that is how he will eventually view this matter."
Harry did not respond. He was feeling far too despondent to do anything other than accept Dumbledore's words as the truth. Unfortunately, it did not dull the edge of guilt which was threatening to engulf him.
Dumbledore eyed Harry for a few moments before he spoke again in a gentle tone. "Harry, the unfortunate fact is that we are now engulfed in a war, and it is not one of our own choosing. Sometimes there are things which must be done, and they can be distasteful, but they still must be done. As we have been granted knowledge to help make a difference, we must often be the ones to take those actions.
"However, events invariably do not proceed in the fashion we expect, and sometimes, our actions can have consequences which we did not intend or predict. This is one such situation. I understand what you are feeling—trust me, I know the feeling intimately. When there are unexpected consequences for our actions, all we can do is admit our culpability and press on."
"I understand, sir," said Harry after taking a long shuddering breath. And he did understand intellectually. The sense of blame would still take some time to dissipate.
"Good. Now, I believe there are some questions which must be answered tonight. As much as possible I would like to keep the truth to as few as possible, for your own protection and for the protection of the knowledge which gives us an advantage. Answer any questions you are asked as vaguely as possible."
Harry glanced about, taking in the still busy room, and specifically Madam Bones who was still carrying on a conversation with Jean-Sebastian. "I'm betting some of the people here will want more than for me to deflect their questions."
"Undoubtedly you are correct," Dumbledore agreed. "It is unfortunate that the press arrived as quickly as they did, as it will be impossible to keep the existence of the prophecy a secret. Madam Bones specifically will need to be told the exact text of the prophecy. Other than her, however, it is imperative that it still remains a secret. I will intervene with her and with any luck we can move the discussion to a more private location."
As Dumbledore finished speaking, Madam Bones approached and, looking over Harry and the two girls, grimaced with some exasperation. "Mr. Potter. It appears as though you have had a very busy evening indeed."
At the lifts, a commotion began as the combatants from the Time Room began to arrive in the atrium. Most of the Order members arrived on their own strength, though several appeared have some injury or another; Bill Weasley, in particular, sported a deep gash on one of his legs which would require some attention at St. Mungo's. It was another figure covered with a black sheet, levitated between two Aurors which caught Harry's attention. Apparently someone else had paid the ultimate price carrying out a plan which had been his conception.
"Yes, very busy indeed," Madam Bones continued in a very soft voice. She then turned to Dumbledore. "The Death Eaters are being incarcerated in our Auror holding cells in the DMLE—I believe that this will be a much more secure location until we can arrange for their trials. Some of them have already been rescued from Azkaban once."
"A prudent plan," Dumbledore approved.
Madam Bones gazed at Dumbledore for some moments. "Let us finish with the young ones and get them back to Hogwarts. Then we can discuss the disposition of the Death Eaters."
The interrogation was conducted by the Head Auror, Rufus Scrimgeour, and because the Auror department was currently inundated with the Death Eaters and those seeing to their incarceration, they adjourned to some offices in the administrative section of the Ministry for the meeting. Privacy charms were set up to avoid anyone overhearing—which Harry was grateful for, considering the fact that Rita Skeeter was still around—and Harry and the girls were required to relate the events which had led to their arrival at the Ministry.
It was a long hour for Harry and he found himself wishing several times that it was over. An Auror appeared very soon after with a pain relief potion which at least relieved the symptoms of Voldemort's attempted Legilimency attack, but still, as the night was wearing on, Harry felt himself become sluggish as the lack of sleep began to catch up on him.
He stubbornly stuck to the story that they had prepared—he had found out of the existence of a prophecy concerning him and had come to the Ministry, believing that it was his right to have it. He clearly noted that he had disobeyed his guardians in the process, claiming somewhat petulantly that he was no child and had a right to know. He insisted that he had not counted on Voldemort's interest in or knowledge of the prophecy, and had been surprised by the Death Eaters' appearance. Subsequent inquiries into the existence of the prophecy, however, led to nothing, as Harry informed them that he had smashed the orb rather than see Voldemort gain it. Of course, the general destruction in the atrium made identifying the remaining shards problematic at best.
Madam Bones finally sighed and indicated to her Aurors that she was satisfied with Harry's answers, and they were left alone for a few moments. "I suppose we will never know the contents of the prophecy now," she said after a few moments. "We can approach the Unspeakables and ask the Keeper if he remembers anything, but the chances are not good."
"I believe the Keeper specifically is protected by oaths which prevent him from revealing the contents of any of the prophecies," Dumbledore rumbled in response. Harry noted that the Headmaster did not contradict Madam Bones' assumption that the prophecy was lost forever. "However, he may be able to reveal it to Mr. Potter, as he is mentioned in the prophecy. Sadly, since, from Harry's description, it was likely made before his birth, which was some time ago. It is unlikely that the Keeper would remember anything since it has been so long."
Madam Bones turned and gazed expectantly at Dumbledore. "Why would You-Know-Who become interested in this now of all times? And was this why Mr. Potter and his parents were targeted?"
"I am afraid that only Voldemort can answer that question, Madam Bones," was Dumbledore's only reply. "I believe that now the questioning is over, that Mr. Potter and his friends need to return to Hogwarts. You and I should meet later to discuss this matter in greater depth. Perhaps we can discover more of this mystery."
Nodding, Madam Bones stood and smiled at Harry. "I believe that you have caused a certain amount of excitement tonight, Mr. Potter. However, you have done us a service by proving the return of You-Know-Who."
Thanking her, Harry turned away and, in the company of Sirius, made his way toward the Floo. Along the way, of course, he was accosted by a gaggle of reporters who had arrived at the scene almost immediately, the ever-present and always poisonous Rita Skeeter at the forefront. A scowl at the woman prevented her from saying anything, no doubt a reminder of what had happened at the end of the tournament the previous year, but the other reporters had no such qualms. With the assistance of a few Aurors, however, along with the interference of Director Bones and Sirius, Harry was able to make his way to the Floo, and soon they were in the Headmaster's office.
"You did well tonight, Harry," Sirius said with a hug for the tired teen.
Harry gave him a wan smile and thanked him for his help, to which the Marauder grinned. "I'm always here for you, Harry. You know that. Now get back to Gryffindor tower and get yourself some sleep. Dumbledore should be back by the morning. I'll tell you all about what happened after we left as soon as I hear it from him."
Nodding, Harry took the hands of both girls—again eliciting a grin from his irrepressible godfather—and walked from the Headmaster's office.
None of them spoke much on their way back to the tower, and to Harry the girls appeared to be as tired as he was. When they had finally made it to the common room, they paused at the stairs which led up to the dorms, and Harry kissed each of them good night.
"I'm glad you were both there tonight," he said quietly. Then he directed a mock glare at them. "But don't think I've forgotten about the conversation we need to have."
"You're right, Harry," Hermione replied twining her fingers in his. "We do need to speak."
"But we can do that tomorrow," said Fleur. "For now, let's see if we can get a little sleep tonight. Tomorrow will likely be… interesting."
Groaning, Harry nodded his head and, giving each of the girls another quick kiss, he trudged his way up the stairs. It was nearly five in the morning, and his body was crying out for rest. He knew he would need all he could get given the increased attention he was certain to receive in the coming days.
"You tell me this now?" Amelia Bones said with a growl.
Albus said nothing in response, contenting himself with sitting back in his chair and returning her glare evenly. Amelia was notorious for being slow to anger, but when her anger was unleashed, it burned with the force of a tempest. He had known coming into this meeting that she would react this way—but there had been little help for it. It had come to the point that she needed to know, especially if his thoughts regarding her future were to come to fruition.
"Why was I not informed before?" she demanded. "And what was that dog and pony show you engineered out there tonight?"
"The matter of why you were not informed is simple," Dumbledore responded. "At the time you did not need to know and as such, we did not inform you."
Amelia snorted. "Albus, I am responsible for the entire Ministry's efforts against Voldemort. This is not a simple matter of a prophecy—it predicts the one who will be instrumental in his downfall!"
"It does not predict Harry will win," Dumbledore quietly responded.
Throwing her hands up in exasperation, Amelia glared at him even more fiercely. "I am able to interpret the prophecy just as you are, Albus. It is clear that Mr. Potter will have some part to play before this is done, and I needed to know, as this information changes everything."
"Be that as it may, I informed Harry's guardians and, more recently, Harry himself, but as you are not specifically connected to him, we felt that the secret could be better protected if fewer people were aware of it. We could not risk Voldemort obtaining the entire text, nor could we risk Fudge learning of it. If he had, Malfoy would have known within the hour, and even had Fudge somehow not informed the man we both know to have been paying him off, how do you think he would have reacted? I cannot even begin to imagine how difficult Harry's life would have become with the Ministry setting him up as a figurehead against Voldemort. It will be bad enough now without the public being aware of what the prophecy actually says."
Amelia sat back and regarded him, an underlying glimpse of anger still visible upon her countenance. "If Harry already knew of the prophecy, and knew what it contained, then I suppose that tonight was planned? For what purpose, Albus? Two people lost their lives tonight—one a combatant who was associated with your group, and the other the bloody Minister for Magic himself! Was his death part of the plan?"
"Of course it was not," Albus shot back with some indignation. "I certainly did not see eye-to-eye with Minister Fudge and it's no secret that I did not consider him fit to lead us against Voldemort, but the intention was not to have the Minister slain. It was to force him to acknowledge Voldemort's return, and to help us remove him in favor of someone more suited to stand against the darkness."
"You do realize that I could have you all put in chains, Albus," Amelia snarled. "Your actions led to the death of the Minister!"
"Do not be foolish, Amelia!" Dumbledore snapped, just about having had enough of her accusations. "Members of the press were here tonight and word of a prophecy is now out. How do you think they will react to that bit of news, now that Voldemort's return is acknowledged as a matter of fact? Mr. Potter's fame will rise by leaps and bounds. I do not doubt that by morning he will be hailed as the savior of our entire society."
Pulling off her spectacle, Amelia rubbed her eyes, exhaustion visible in her countenance and body language. If Albus was any judge of the matter, he would say that her anger had all but burnt itself out.
"This evening had unintended consequences, Amelia," Albus continued in a more moderate tone of voice. "No one could have predicted that Voldemort would respond in such a manner—indeed, I have never before witnessed him lose control of himself such as he did tonight.
"The fact of the matter is that we conducted an operation tonight in a time of war, and do not ever forget the fact that whether the Ministry has admitted the fact, we are at war! Merlin as my witness, I would save everyone so that there would be no deaths if I could manage it, but death is a part of war, whether we intend them, as we attack an enemy combatant, or if the dead are simply innocent bystanders caught in the crossfire. Those deaths must rest upon our shoulders and consciences, but we must make certain their sacrifices ultimately result in our victory. Hear me, Amelia—if Voldemort controlled Britain, he would not stop here. His canker would spread and, if not stopped, would engulf the entire world, ushering in a dark age the likes of which has never been seen upon this world. We must prevail!"
Amelia watched him as he made his impassioned plea without emotion, and as he concluded his speech, he wondered for a moment if she would continue on her line of attacks. She could be a stubborn woman, especially when she thought herself to be right.
"I don't like it, Albus," she finally responded, "but I can understand why you acted in the manner you did. I do not like the consequences of those actions, however. Minister Fudge needed to be replaced, it is true, but it would have been better had he been tried for his corruption and made to pay his debt in a manner which was fitting the crime, not killed by a madman during an 'operation' as you put it."
Albus inclined his head; he agreed with every word she spoke, to be certain. In fact, Albus had been hoping that once Voldemort was revealed, he could begin an investigation into the Minister, exposing his corruption and removing him from the Minister's seat. A public trial which revealed his deeds, as well as the harm the man had caused by accepting Lucius Malfoy's bribes would very likely turn public opinion such that they would easily elect an Minister on the platform of needing to deal with the threat of Voldemort. The loss of life was always regrettable, even when it was necessary in the case of an enemy who would not lay down his arms. It was doubly unacceptable when the man had been essentially a bystander, and one who needed to face the consequences of his own actions.
"Be that as it may," Amelia continued, "you are completely correct about the consequences of Mr. Potter's actions, and the likely public reaction to the sensational stories I am certain the Daily Prophet and other publications are most likely preparing even as we speak. I just hope that the boy understands what he has gotten himself into."
"I'm certain he can handle it," Dumbledore replied softly. "He dealt with the publicity during the tournament last year."
"I doubt that will hold a candle to what he will be facing now, Albus."
Albus sighed. "Unfortunately, I can only suppose you are correct."
"Very well," Amelia stated. "But if we are to move forward, then I must insist that you share everything with me—movements and activities of your Order, any more adventures Mr. Potter finds himself embroiled in, and anything which may be of use in the defeat of You-Know-Who."
When Albus gave her a tight nod, Amelia raised an eyebrow. "In light of that, is there anything else you would like to share with me at this time?"
Albus hesitated. "There is something else, but I cannot be explicit because it is not my information to impart." When Amelia bristled, Albus raised his hand in a placatory gesture. "I assure you, Amelia, that I will speak with Harry and obtain his permission to inform you. There are certain tasks which must be accomplished before Voldemort can finally be defeated, but some of it directly affects Harry. I believe that you should know and I will tell you as soon as I can."
At that moment a knock sounded on the office door, to which Amelia responded by calling out a terse, "Enter!"
The door opened and the Head Auror, Rufus Scrimgeour entered the room. "Madam Director. Chief Warlock."
Amelia motioned the man to a chair, and Dumbledore turned to greet the man, appreciative of the fact that the tenseness of the atmosphere had been dispelled with his arrival.
"The preliminary questioning of the captured Death Eaters has been completed."
"And?" Amelia prompted. "What did they have to say?"
"In a word: nothing. To a man they have refused to cooperate."
"Now that was not difficult to predict, was it?" Amelia muttered.
"Indeed," Albus interjected.
Amelia turned back to Rufus. "Suggestions?"
"I think we should use Veritaserum," the Head Auror responded. "Some of these men were escapees from Azkaban, so their return is not in question. But most of the rest of them claimed the Imperius during the last war, as you well know. This is our chance to finally tie them to the crimes they have undoubtedly committed."
Nodding, Amelia turned her turned to Albus. "Can you arrange to have the use of Veritaserum released by the Wizengamot?"
"I'm certain I can," Albus responded. "But we must be certain to emphasize the necessity of discovering what they were up to. I believe we will lose support for the measure if certain members of the Wizengamot suspect that we are attempting to delve so far back into the past."
"It should be of no consequence," Madam Bones replied coldly. "I suspect that they have committed many incriminating acts at present which will give us more than an excuse to begin digging into their pasts."
Amelia had never truly gotten past the murder of her brother and most of his family during the last war. Only Susan had survived, and even then it had been a near thing. This was one of the reasons she was well-suited to take a lead role in prosecuting the war against the Death Eaters. She was driven to succeed and possessed a healthy hatred for anyone who followed Voldemort, but was not of a mind to pursue vendettas or break the law in trying to end Voldemort's insurgence.
"In that case, I will ensure our prisoners are secure until we are ready," Scrimgeour said before he stood and left the office.
Amelia peered at him for a few moments before she again spoke. "Now what were we speaking of?"
"I believe that we need to move past that to other matters," Albus replied in a tone which brooked no disagreement. "There is still the matter of a replacement for Minister Fudge. With Voldemort's return now being out in the open, any delay in naming a successor could leave an opening for Voldemort's supporters to potentially push a candidate through. Perhaps we should have a few others join us."
She appeared as though she would prefer to belabor the point further, but Amelia said nothing else. She simply waved her hand in acquiescence. It was twenty minutes before they were all gathered together in her office. In addition to Albus and Amelia, Sirius had returned from Hogwarts, and they had been joined by Arthur Weasley, Amos Diggory, Augusta Longbottom, Alastor Moody, all good and sturdy members of the light, and political allies of the Potters for centuries. In addition, Jean-Sebastian also joined them at Albus's insistence, not only due to his position as representative of the French government, but also as one of Harry's guardians. When they had all settled into their chairs, Albus took the initiative, knowing that time was short and they needed to come to a consensus.
"Thank you all for joining us. I believe that we must begin to plan immediately for the election of the new Minister."
Several of those in the office started at Albus's words, but for the most part, they all quickly appeared to accept that he was correct. Amos Diggory was the only one who did not agree, and he responded accordingly.
"For Merlin's sake, Albus," he protested, "Minister Fudge is not even in his grave yet, and you want to speak of replacing him?"
"We don't have the luxury of time," Alastor said with a grunt. "Voldemort and his lackeys are not about to sit back and allow us time to grieve and plan an elaborate funeral. You can bet your wand that he's already planning to try to get one of his own into the Minister's office."
"Alastor is correct," Albus agreed. "We cannot afford to wait. I suggest we call an urgent meeting of the Wizengamot for the purpose of electing a new Minister."
Amos still appeared to be a little skeptical, but Augusta spoke up. "In a situation as dire as this, I agree with Albus. We must elect someone who will take the fight to You-Know-Who."
A general murmur of agreement arose at Augusta's words. Albus watched them before forging ahead. "Exactly, Augusta. And to that end, I propose that Amelia should be our candidate."
"Bloody good choice," Moody rumbled and there was a general murmur of agreement, though Albus did see a frown or two.
The most prominent of the frowns, perhaps unsurprisingly, was from Amelia herself, Albus thought with some amusement. Amelia was not exactly the ambitious sort—she had risen through the Auror ranks quickly due to her no-nonsense attitude, her extreme competence, and her drive to protect their society and bring criminals to justice, not due to any sort of drive to attain power for herself. She would have been perfectly content to remain where she was for the rest of her career, Albus was certain. However, she was needed for a higher office.
"I have no desire to become Minister, Albus," was her short reply. "I believe it would be better for me to remain where I am."
"Where you are needed is at the top," Moody interjected gruffly, as he peered intently at Amelia. They had a long history with each other, beginning many years earlier when Alastor had taken a new Amelia Bones under his wing and taught her what would be required of her as an Auror. In many ways, the woman she was today was a result of that early tutelage and they still maintained close ties. For once, as Alastor's focus was on the DMLE Director, his magical eye was also still rather than spinning about as it normally did. "You're by far the best choice we have."
"Thank you, Alastor," Albus acknowledged. "And I agree. The ultra-conservative Pureblood block will not accept you, but then they would not accept anyone we put forward. But to all the other factions, I believe you will be an admirable compromise. The other Purebloods will support you because you are a Pureblood yourself, the moderates will because you have a reputation for honesty and fairness, and they know you will not sell them out to Voldemort, as some others might. The neutrals will also, by and large, accept you, though those families who lean toward the supremacists will lean that way regardless. I believe that with you as our candidate, we can assemble a coalition which will elect you. I do not doubt that anyone else we could select would be much more difficult to elect."
Amelia glared at him. The heat emanating from her eyes would undoubtedly have sent a lesser man running for cover. Albus merely gazed back at her pleasantly, waiting for her to bow to the inevitable. He knew that she had no real desire to be Minister, but he was also aware of the fact that she would not shirk from the duty once she was persuaded that it was necessary.
"What about you, Albus?" she finally asked, breaking the silence. "You are the most famous, and most respected wizard in the country—perhaps even in the entire world. Would you not be a more acceptable choice?
"Oh, heavens no," Albus replied with a chuckle. "Not only do I believe that I am much better suited—and better served—in trying to lead the Wizengamot, but I already have enough on my plate now.
"Besides, I am far too polarizing a figure to be considered for the office of Minister. I may have some support in the Wizengamot, but I would think that there would be enough who would oppose me to make my election a chancy prospect at best."
"Amelia, I think you should listen to Albus and Alastor," Arthur spoke up from where he had been listening quietly to the conversation. Amelia turned and stared at him a trifle impatiently.
"Not you too, Arthur."
"I am afraid so," Arthur replied with a soft smile. "I am well aware that your ambitions have never included the Minister's office. But for the sake of us all, I must add my voice to these others and ask you to set that aside. We need a strong Minister who all can follow. And we need someone who understands what it will take to defeat You-Know-Who."
Albus sat back in his seat, regarding Amelia—he could see that she was wavering. Arthur was a good man, he mused. Thought he was often thought of with some scorn in the upper echelons of Pureblood society—due in part to his family's relatively modest means, and in part due to the political views of a part of that society—and was seen as being somewhat eccentric given his fascination for all things Muggle, no one mistook Arthur for a fool. He did not state his opinion often, being far too diffident in character to take the lead. When he did, those with whom he was acquainted took notice and gave his words careful consideration. Amelia, having known him for quite some time, was one of those who valued his opinion and was likely to give heed to it.
"We will, of course, not push you if you are truly unwilling, Amelia," Albus spoke up. "But I truly believe that you are by far our best and most viable candidate."
"I can also offer you French support," Jean-Sebastian spoke up. He then smiled in an amused manner. "At least, I can give you my support, and I believe our Minister will be ecstatic should you choose to pursue the Minister's seat. We may even be able to negotiate a more martial assistance, should you be elected. It may go without saying, but if a Voldemort supporter is elected, it is more likely that my superiors will take an opposing stance against the British Ministry. I might even be called home."
Amelia glared around the room, but it seemed as though there was no fire left in her eyes. "It appears like you have me boxed into a corner."
"You always have a choice, Amelia," Albus replied quietly. "It is just that the choices are not always equal."
"Very well," Amelia acknowledged. "What is your plan?"
Albus glanced around the office. "Speed will be of the essence, as I doubt that Voldemort will allow an opportunity like this to go by the wayside. I will call the Wizengamot into emergency session, but we will need to carefully consider how to push our candidate to the Minister's office."
The ensuing discussion lasted well into the late hours of the morning. By the time they adjourned and Albus was able to return to Hogwarts, he was satisfied with what they had decided. It had been a tragic day, but he was confident that the British Wizarding world would soon be in far better hands than it had been until only a few hours earlier.
Unfortunately, hunting horcrux information had been no more fruitful in the north of Egypt than it had been in the south. In the two weeks since Remus and Tonks had returned north, they had wandered the various communities of the delta, growing increasingly desperate for any hint of success, but so far, nothing had presented itself. And regardless of Remus's statements to Tonks back in Aswan, he doubted the information they sought could be found in Israel, or any of the areas the ancient Egyptians had conquered. Or perhaps more importantly, it would be akin to finding a needle in a haystack if it did exist. It would seem to be found in Egypt, or not at all.
Remus sat in the hotel room, his chin held in one hand, deep in thought as he tried to figure a way through this muddle. Nothing they tried had led them to any information of any use, and the time had almost come for them to take stock and figure out what to do next. The few pieces of information they had managed to gather—such as the few short words from the goblins and what Qareeb had told them—suggested that whoever had erased all reference of horcruxes from Egypt had done a very thorough job of it.
Bill's comments before they left kept drifting back into Remus's consciousness. The fact that curse breakers working for Gringotts had not come into contact with horcruxes in Egypt was telling, and even more importantly, the fact that they had done so in other areas of the world was perhaps worth exploring. The question was exactly when to pull the plug on Egypt—if he thought there was any chance of finding something in Egypt, there was no question but to pursue it. It appeared, however, that they were rapidly coming to a cessation of all hope in that quarter.
Of lesser importance—though of more personal concern—was the situation with Tonks. Sighing, Remus settled back further into his chair and idly glanced at the door separating him from the woman who was causing him untold amounts of discomfort. One consequence of their time in Egypt had been the woman's discovery and delight in the amenities offered in the Muggle world. Though she was a Halfblood and Ted Tonks was a Muggleborn, she had primarily lived her life in the magical world, partially because her mother, though she had been open-minded enough to marry a Muggleborn, was much more comfortable there, and partially because it was extraordinarily difficult to hide a young metamorphmagus in the Muggle world before they gained control over their abilities. Thus, she was not overly familiar with many things in the Muggle world and, as a result, this trip had been somewhat of an eye-opener to her. In the magical world, for example, water was heated through runes on the faucets—which incidentally, also conjured the water in the first place—and it left via banishing runes etched on the drain. She found the fact that the Muggle world accomplished the same thing through ingenuity and mechanical devices to be fascinating, leading Remus to wonder with some amusement if she had thought Muggles still heated their water over open fires and used candles to light their rooms. For some of those in the magical world, his rumination would not have been far off, he knew.
She was on the other side of that door, he mused, taking a shower before they left to begin their day of searching. The heat of the Egyptian spring was such that she often complained of being sweaty and unclean, and had taken to showering at all hours of the day or night. Remus sat thinking about the situation and watching the door, trying not to picture in his mind her exact state at that moment. Tonks was a very attractive woman, after all…
The fact of the matter was that the situation with her was not as simple as it had been when they had begun this wild griffon chase. Remus was not exactly well-versed on an intimate basis with members of the female sex, for the simple fact that he had never wanted to saddle a woman with his affliction. As a young boy and man thereafter, he had had the companionship of his friends and did not particularly feel the need to try to find a girl. His years between the death of James and Lily, and his year of teaching at Hogwarts had largely been spent alone, first because he was too devastated with the destruction of his world to socialize, and since then with the struggle to survive based on the fact that he was unemployable in the Wizarding world, and had no skills to speak of which would enable him to find work in the Muggle.
But though he was not truly familiar with the different ways in which a woman showed a man that she was interested—or the reverse—he would have had to be blind to miss the blatant signals she had been giving him of late, making him wonder if she was acting so now due to the fact that he had missed her signs earlier in their mission. Her constant brushing up against him, her ever more determined flirting, the way she tried to make herself appear as attractive as she could—both with her innate talents and a variety of cosmetics she had found in the Muggle world—not to mention the way that she almost appeared to be devouring him with her eyes at times, would have made a dead man sit up and take notice. Or at least it would if the dead man had any taste to appreciate how wonderful a catch she was.
To be honest, over a decade of being alone had made him long for some human contact. With all due respect to Padfoot, the other Marauder simply did not provide—nor would Remus have wanted him to provide!—the kind of company he longed for. Tonks was bubbly and fun, and she was a good influence on him, as he tended to be somewhat quiet and reserved. He was never truly able to allow himself to get close to her, however, as the moment he began to indulge in any thoughts of her beyond the platonic, the specter of his lycanthropy reared its ugly head, and he found himself pulling away from any hint of such a relationship. He could not saddle any woman—much less one he liked so much—with his affliction.
Groaning, and knowing that he had been around and around this in his head countless times in the past two weeks, Remus leaned his forehead against his hand and thought irritably about the unfairness of life. It did not help that the moon would be full in just three days, which always made him irritable. It did, however, help to remind him of his situation and keep him from acting in a foolish manner.
Turning his attention away from his personal problems, he thought of the upcoming full moon. He had just about decided that that event would be about the limit of this phase of their search. After that they would have to discuss the situation and decide what to do. Though Remus absolutely refused to consider the possibility of abandoning their mission, perhaps it was time to now begin looking in some other place for what they needed. Anything was better than wandering around with no specific foresight or plan.
The door opened and out stepped Tonks, still toweling her hair dry. Blinking in surprise at the sudden interruption of his thoughts, Remus looked about and spied the clock on the wall. He had been sitting there with his thoughts for longer than he had realized, and it was now approaching the time they needed to leave. The day's round of searching and useless questioning was at hand.
"Where to today, oh fearless leader?" Tonks said with a levity that Remus simply could not feel. As she approached, she draped the towel around her shoulders and smiled at him in her ever irrepressible manner.
"The same as we've done since we arrived," Remus said, a trifle gruffly. Acknowledging his thoughts and feelings—specifically with regard to his affliction and his desires and wants—always darkened his mood. The realization that he could not have what he wanted made his mood even more morose. Unfortunately one almost always went with the other.
He turned his attention back to Tonks, apprehending the fact that she had not responded yet. As he looked up at her, he could see an expression of compassion on her countenance, and he wondered what she was thinking.
"And if we can't find anything?"
Her question was blunt, but pertinent to their situation, though Remus did not even like the mere thought of giving up on their search. In that instant he was glad he had considered the situation before she had raised it—knowing that they were not at a complete dead end allowed him to have some hope, whereas he might have snapped at her had he not already prepared all of this in advance.
"Then we will have to look elsewhere."
Tonks nodded briefly before a mischievous expression came over her face and she crossed the room in a few strides and plopped herself down on his lap. Remus stiffened at the sudden contact, wondering at her audacity—touching his hand or face, flirting with him, or throwing an arm around his shoulders she had done. She had never gotten this close before.
"Would you care to elaborate on that cryptic little statement?" she asked, completely oblivious to his discomfort. Or, Remus suspected, she was well aware of it and chose to ignore it. That was certainly something she would do.
Remus forced himself to relax and ignore her proximity. "Bill told me that horcruxes have been found in other parts of the world. Maybe we can look in some of those locations."
"Such as?" Tonks prompted with a raised eyebrow.
"Some of the islands of the South Pacific, and some areas in Central America for starters. We've not found bloody anything in Egypt, and I'm beginning to think we're beating a dead hippocampus."
Tonks regarded him, chewing her lower lip in thought. "Are you sure about this? Dumbledore said to look in Egypt."
"I'm not sure of anything," Remus replied. He was beginning to get used to the close proximity, and to enjoy it. It took a good bit of his willpower to avoid putting his arms around her. "If we had the time to move every rock in Egypt I might suggest we stay here and keep searching. That we have not been able to come up with even a shred of information suggests that there simply isn't anything left here to find. At some point we will need to face the facts.
Nodding absently, Tonks was silent for a moment. Then, seeming to come to a decision, she turned and looked directly in his eyes.
He would never know what she was about to say for at that moment, Remus heard movement out in the hallway and before he could do more than start, the door flew open and several wand wielding people stepped into the room, spells already issuing from their raised wands. Hampered as he was by Tonks sitting on his lap—her wand was likely still in the bathroom—Remus attempted to rise and protect his companion.
Almost literally before he could move he was magically bound, disarmed and silenced while next to him Tonks was in the same straits. It had taken less than a few seconds. They were firmly, though not roughly, taken and seated in two chairs which had been set side by side, and Remus was able to get a closer look at their attackers. They were all locals, most appearing to be regular men that they would not look at twice if they passed them on the street. They did not look disreputable in the slightest. Of course, they had just burst into their room, disarming and incarcerating them without so much as a word, which certainly did not indicate friendly intent.
Once they had been seated—all without any of the men speaking a word to them—a man entered and approached them. He was tall, swarthy in complexion like most of those in Egypt, and carried himself with a hint of arrogance. He was also clearly confident and used to being obeyed, as his hand signal sent all of those who had participated in the assault from the room without protest. He stopped and regarded them for a moment before approaching and, pulling up another chair, sat facing them directly.
"And what do we have here?" he asked, seemingly speaking to himself. His voice held a definite local accent, but he spoke English well enough to be completely understood. He peered at them as though weighing something in his mind, before taking his wand, which was held casually in one hand, and cancelling the silencing charms on them. "Well? What do you have to say for yourselves? Why are you in Egypt?"
"I'm not sure what business it is of yours," Remus replied. "Is this the way you treat visitors to your country?"
"Ah, but you are not ordinary visitors, are you?" the man responded with a pleasant smile. He was acting like they discussing nothing more weighty than the weather. "Two magicals, spending over six weeks in Egypt, travelling from Cairo up the river to Aswan, and then back up to the delta, asking questions the entire way."
"Is it a crime to do so? Or is there some limit on the amount of time we may spend here?"
"That is not my concern. It is the questions you have been asking as you travelled which raised such alarm."
Remus and Tonks exchanged a glance. They had hoped that their inquiries would be subtle enough to be missed by the local authorities. Once they had been in the country for several weeks, thoughts of discovery were, by that time, remote, and though they had still been careful in their activities, that need to remain undiscovered had faded to the background, replaced by the growing desperation to find anything at all which would help them. It appeared that they had neither been as subtle or as unobtrusive as they had thought.
"Soul magic," the man continued. "You have travelled extensively in Egypt, searching for references to soul magic, though in general it is regarded as relatively useless and in many cases quite dark. On occasion, you have actually become more specific, asking direct questions about an ancient magic known as a horcrux, on your tongue."
He was clearly trying to provoke a reaction from them by the utterance of the word, almost as though he was uncertain of what exactly they were doing in the country. This was almost certainly correct, Remus thought, and given the nature of the magic, likely for no good purpose.
"A horcrux?" Remus attempted to obfuscate, but the man's reaction was nothing more than a withering glare.
"Do not attempt to disguise what you have been doing. You have been tracked since you entered this land."
"Then why did you not approach us before?"
"You were deemed an annoyance," the man replied. "There are often treasure hunters of a sort active here, looking for ancient knowledge and treasure. As long as you looked and found nothing, you were not a risk, so the decision was made to leave you alone. That changed with your questions in Aswan, however, and more importantly with the subject matter you are pursuing."
Remus was puzzled. "What happened in Aswan?"
"That is not the issue now. The issue is what we do with you."
"I assure you that we have broken no laws, and have created no problems," Remus replied. "We are looking for information to assist a friend. I was not aware that it is against the law."
"Perhaps you have not. However, searching after such knowledge, you must admit, is extremely suspicious. You say you are trying to help a friend. Who would be assisted by having such knowledge? And for you to be Englishmen seeking it… Well, suffice it to say that it will not go well for you if you are affiliated with the dark lord who plagues your homeland."
"You know of the dark lord?" Remus asked.
A tight nod met his query. "We do."
"Then perhaps you should have merely asked us what we were doing," Tonks broke in. "I was not aware that the Egyptian Ministry was in the habit of firing curses before asking questions."
"The Ministry!" the man said with amusement. "No, I am not affiliated with the Ministry. They see to the common good of the people, while I see to the preservation and protection of knowledge of all kinds."
"Then you know something of horcruxes!" Remus exclaimed, suddenly excited for this encounter.
"Much more than I care to," the man admitted.
"Then we must speak to you about it," Remus said eagerly. "I can't tell you here exactly what we are searching for here, but it is imperative that we discover more information about these horcruxes."
The man looked at them evenly. "I presume that this does have something to do with your current dark lord problem?"
"It does," Remus admitted. "But I can assure you that we are not affiliated with him; quite the opposite in fact. I'm willing to swear a magical oath on it if you would like."
The speculation with which Remus's words were greeted gave him some hope that they would finally be able to find the answers for which they had been searching. At least it was the first ray of light they had managed to find since arriving.
"For now, that will not be necessary," the man replied. "To continue on your quest for knowledge, a magical oath would become required. However, for now, I believe that we need to discuss this in a more secure location. I represent a society which takes an interest in all such things. I believe that you need to be presented to the elders of our society so that we may verify the truth of your statements and decide how to proceed."
"Please," Remus replied most earnestly. "We need this information, not only to help someone very close to me, but also to learn how we may fight the dark lord in our land."
Nodding, the man rose and called out to the men waiting out in the hall. In a quick fashion Remus and Tonks were released and escorted from the premises in the company of the man, though their wands were not returned to them. By this point, Remus truly did not care. They had finally found something after weeks of searching. And while this man might not possess the knowledge of horcruxes they needed, it was a badly needed beginning toward finally finding something of use. It was all Remus could do not to shout in triumph.