Thanks to TheStendanexperience for suggesting I bring Fred and George in more and to southernreader for pointing out that Percy didn't give Scabbers to Ron until later (which prompted me to give an explanation.) Thanks to all my readers and reviewers, particularly those who encouraged me to update!
Fun fact: I tried to write the word "serious" and I unconsciously started typing "Sirius" lol.
"There's something glowing up ahead," said Harry quietly. The forest was spooky and dark, and Fletch had only allowed them a dim lantern to work with. They were very careful to stay near the creek, as Fletch had instructed, but the creek had forked off a while back and they were both beginning to wonder if they'd picked the right path.
"That has a greenish glow," Ron reminded him. "Fletch said we were looking for a bluish glow."
"I thought he said greenish-blue-ish," persisted Harry.
"Let's check it out then."
He moved forward and Harry followed him nervously.
Fletch had been true to his word about not messing around. The very day they'd arrived was the day they'd procured their first assignment. As Fletch had put it "if they wanted beds tonight they had to earn them." The target? Kinder Pilz, a kind of brightly colored mushroom that sunk into the ground whenever adults were present but stayed put when kids were around. The top herbologists were still baffled by this reaction and would pay and arm and a leg for a research sample.
Since the boys had to travel without Mundungus, Fletch gave them each an arsenal of magical devices that would supposedly protect them from the dangers of the forest and placed them under a host of protective spells including the Bread Crumbs Charm, and the mortal peril charm. Ron was familiar with the mortal peril charm, it was what connected him to his family clock, but now it connected him to a watch Mundungus wore, so he would know if they were in any serious danger. He couldn't really explain the Bread Crumbs charm though and supposed he never would until he got lost. The most important device of all though was one that reminded Harry of a muggle grenade.
"If anything happens, throw this. It will knock out anything in the vicinity smaller than a dragon and send up a smoke signal," he'd told them.
"What stops us from getting knocked out?" asked Harry.
"Nothin' the man said. That's why no one ever uses these; they knock out everyone. It's useful for your purposes though. If anything goes wrong, Dung can follow the smoke signal, collect you two before anything wakes up, and get you out of there."
Harry frowned, patting the pocket with the grenade in it.
"You don't think there's dragons in this forest?" he asked nervously. "Fletch said these things can't knock out a dragon."
"Nah, the ministry caught all wild ones in Britain and sent em' to reservations," said Ron reassuringly.
The boys approached the glow, but they didn't find mushrooms, as Fletch had hoped, but little glowing creatures that zoomed around, giggling. They were beautiful, winged, men and women about two inches tall. The males emitted a gentle green glow that radiated around their whole body and grew subtly brighter around the wings. The females gave off a soft blue glow but it had a glitter to it that made Harry think of the pictures of Cinderella from Dudley's old fairytale books. Their giggles were musical and Harry could have sworn he heard one sing a few notes of an unfamiliar song.
"What are they?" breathed Harry.
"Fairies," said Ron, examining them. "They look different from the ones I see at home though."
A couple fairies giggled and approached Harry.
"Are they dangerous?" asked Harry warily.
"They pull your hair if you upset them, but as long as you remind them how PRETTY, they are," said Ron, raising his voice on the word pretty so the fairies could hear, "they're fine."
The fairies giggled and the compliment before gravitating towards Harry curiously.
"Erm, hello," said Harry, tentatively, pushing his—still invisible—glasses up his nose.
The faries suddenly flew forward in unison towards Harry, who flinched.
Ron's eyes widened in shock as the creatures stole Harry's invisible spectacles right off of his nose. The moment they lost contact with his skin they became visible again and the fairies shrieked with glee before taking off with them.
Ron charged after them and Harry blundered along behind, but between the dark and the loss of his glasses he couldn't see a thing. He fell over after a handful of steps, stood up and charged away in completely the wrong direction.
His feet pounded through the forest, following a brilliant glow off in the distance. He ran until he reached a clearing and looked around. The glow was coming from the ground and he reached down, squinting. The glow was too bright to be fairies, but without his glasses he had no was of telling what it was. He looked around for Ron but he saw nothing.
"Ron?" he asked, his voice growing scared.
There was no reply.
"Ron?!" he yelled.
In a different forest clearing Ron was playing pickle in the middle with a bunch of fairies.
"Give me those!" he shouted angrily, but the fairies merely giggled. He cursed, he'd forgotten how much fairies liked to play tricks. Usually the ones at his house sensed kindred spirits in Fred and George and gravitated to them.
When Ron realized he was getting nowhere he huffed and pulled out a fire cracker out of his bag. Fletch had given some to him and Harry to scare off tiny pests, like doxies. Ron only hopes they worked on fairies. He used a small, muggle lighter that Harry had taught him to use earlier and successfully lit the firecracker after three tries. Ron dropped it and took a few steps back before it exploded in a blinding array of red sparks. The fairies dropped Harry's glasses in shock and flew away shrieking as the sparks threatened to singe their wings.
Ron smirked and picked up the glasses off the forest floor.
"Got them, Harry!" Ron called.
There was no response. Ron frowned.
"Harry?" he asked.
He looked around before realizing that he wasn't sure where he'd just come from. Ron began to panic, but before he could really get lost, he remembered something Fletch had told him.
If you get lost, don't panic, Fletch had said. I've placed the Bread Crumbs charm on your shoes. Just say "I'm lost," and it will activate the charm.
"I'm lost," Ron said.
The soles of his shoes glowed and, to his surprise, so did a trail of footprints that led up to the spot he was standing.
"Wicked," Ron whispered. He followed the glow carefully while watching for signs of his missing friend.
"Harry!" he called.
Harry was frantically rummaging through his bag, trying to find the right device to call Mundungus to his position, but he had trouble distinguishing which was which without his glasses.
He was so intent on the task that he didn't notice something enormous step into the clearing until he heard a whinny. Harry looked up, terrified and saw a creature, glowing white. He froze, then he panicked and threw the entire bag at the thing with all his might. A giant plume of smoke exploded from the bag and that was the last thing Harry saw before his vision went black.
Ron heard a bang in the distance and watched as, several yards away, a column of glowing smoke rose from the distance.
He sprinted to the source, tripping on tree roots.
He made it to the clearing at the exact moment that Mundungus apparated in. They both stared at the scene. Harry was curled up on the ground, unconscious in an enormous patch of glowing flowers. On the other side of the clearing was a unicorn, laying elegantly on the forest floor.
"You kids got spooked by a bleedin' unicorn?" snorted Mundungus.
Ron knelt down next to Harry, sliding his glasses back onto his face as soon as Mundungus's back was turned. He then pulled a vial of magical smelling salt out of his own rucksack and held it under Harry's nose.
The boy's eyes opened wide and he sat straight up, panting.
"It's okay, Harry," Ron assured him. "It's just a unicorn.
Harry adjusted his once-more invisible glasses on his face and looked over. His jaw fell open when he saw the beautiful creature.
"Is that a unicorn?" breathed Harry.
"You know about them?" asked Ron.
"They're in muggle stories," Harry breathed as he looked at the radiant being, "I didn't know they were real." There was a sparkle in his eyes similar to that of a smile child who just learned about the tooth fairy.
"This is quite the beauty boys," said Mundungus. "Not what Fletch sent you for but it will make an outstanding profit never the less."
"You're not gonna kill it!" said Ron. " You'll be cursed!"
"Only the blood is cursed," snorted Mundungus. "The hair on the other hand…"
Harry and Ron frowned as they watched Mundungus take out a knife and hack away at the unicorn's tail hair. It was a sad sight and Harry began to feel bad for setting off the smoke signal in the first place.
"I'll get the horn next, that'll be worth quite the bundle of galleons," he muttered.
"You're gonna take it's horn?" asked Harry. "Won't that hurt?"
"It'll grow another one," said the man, dispassionately.
"Now make yourselves useful and start pulling hair from its mane.
Harry looked at Ron, then he looked at the smelling salts in Ron's hand.
Ron looked down at them and them at Harry. Both seemed to get the same idea at the same time. They stood up and walked over to the unicorn. Ron carefully set the smelling salts down in front of the unicorn while Mundungus wasn't looking and stepped back quickly.
The unicorn was still for a moment, then it stretched out a leg and kicked Mundungus in the face. The man roared in pain as the unicorn reared, screeching. It whirled around and charged Mundungus, its sharp horn going straight for the man. Mundungus leapt out of the way and disappearated. The creature stomped its hooves angrily and whirled on the two boys, who were cowering near a tree. Its eyes zeroed in on Ron.
The pair ran, sprinting away from the angry creature. They didn't bother to stop and see if it was chasing them they just ran and ran until Ron's shoulder knocked into something soft but huge. Ron fell painfully onto his knees. When he looked up, he saw a huge, horse-like creature with wings and a beak. Ron took a moment to realize that he was looking at a hippogriff, a real, live, hippogriff. If his brothers could be believed, these things were a lot more dangerous than the toys made them look.
Harry was watching, terrified. He had no idea what animal he was looking at but if he could go by the look on Ron's face, it wasn't friendly. Frantically, he wondered what to do. Neither of them had their bags, they'd left all their weapons in the clearing.
"S—sorry," he said, though he didn't know what good it would do.
The creature looked at him and neither Harry nor Ron dared to move, Ron didn't even dare to blink. Then, it too, got to his knees, on level with Ron. Ron gulped. The creature bucked his beak against Ron's hand and Ron carefully stroked the soft feathers of the creature.
Harry took a step forward and the hippogriff turned its gaze to him. Harry froze.
"I think we should go now, Ron," he said quietly. He took another step forward only to be knocked onto his butt by an enormous wing. The creature made an angry sound.
"Calm down," Ron pleaded, petting the creature and praying that it wouldn't just turn on him and peck his eyes out.
The bird looked at him.
"He—er, didn't mean it?"
Ron got the weird feeling that the bird understood him as it settled down considerably. Harry waited a minute, before shifting to his knees. He moved to stand, but when he was halfway up the hippogriff made an angry sound. Harry froze in an awkward bow, his eyes on the creature. The hippogriff looked into his eyes and Harry looked back, unsure of what to do. After a moment the creature sunk into what looked exactly like a bow. Harry gaped and next thing he knew the creature was nudging him into a standing position and nuzzling him. Harry patted him and shared an incredulous look with Ron.
"We, er, have to go now," said Harry to the creature and, like Ron, he got the strange feeling that it could understand them. The boys backed away slowly.
"I'm lost," Ron muttered when they were far enough away. The glow of his footsteps appeared once more and he and Harry ran away as fast as they could. When they got back to the clearing they found Mundungus.
"There you are! Where did you run off to?!" He demanded.
"Well, seeing as you disappearated and left us with an angry unicorn…" Ron trailed off, giving him a look.
"I jus' wen' to the other side of the clearing," said Mundungus weakly. "I was gonna stun it!"
Ron gave him a look and Mundungus coughed awkwardly.
"Anyway we've got the unicorn tail, and these glowing flowers have got ta be worth something. Let's pick some and get out of here," he said.
They boys readily agreed, and using the gloves from their bags they picked handfuls of the glowing flowers before vanishing into the night.
When they got back to the Inn, Fletch was waiting for them out back.
"Well?" he demanded.
"We got some unicorn hair," said Harry. "And some flowers." He held out a bunch to show Fletch, who glanced at them and scoffed.
"Those are Night Rays, they're used in decorating but they're worthless without the roots because they lose their glow."
"Alright, and where's the unicorn hair?"
"Mundungus has it," said Ron.
Fletch's eyes narrowed.
"Dung!" he hollered.
The man leapt away from the door to the Inn, which he'd just been about to escape through.
"I was jus' gonna take a leak!" he insisted, unconvincingly.
Fletch rolled his eyes.
"The hair, now," he said shortly.
Mundungus grumbled and pulled out the unicorn tail.
Fletch's eyebrow's shot up.
"This is nearly a whole tale. It has to be worth a thousand galleons at least!" He said.
Mundungus got a greedy look in his eye.
"Don't even think about it Dung," said Fletch sharply. "Your share of the profits is going towards your debt to Renette."
"Don't give me that look, you no account scoundrel. I know for a fact that you have a few strands you kept tucked into another pocket," said Fletch irritably.
He looked at Harry and Ron.
"Nice work boys, you've earned yourself a place to live."
The pair nodded. Too tired to really be excited. Fletch disillusioned the boys with his wand and snuck them to the attic of the inn. It was full of boxes but Fletch had placed a couple mattresses on the floor and made them up with bedding. He conjured up two large wooden tubs from some broken crates and filled them up with water.
"You can scrub up in those," he said with a grunt. "If ya need the lou there's one in the hall downstairs. " He looked around the room.
"I know this place ain't much. We can work on fixing it up later, but for now, get some sleep."
The pair nodded and Fletch left. They pair washed up quickly and climbed into bed. They had no energy to reflect on the day, in fact, they were asleep the moment their eyes closed.
It was Monday morning and the twins were at breakfast with Percy, looking up and down the breakfast table for Bill and Charlie. They were due back for classes today, but none of the read heads had been able to locate their kin.
"What if they don't come back?" asked Fred.
"Then we'll ask Mcgonagall to let us use her fireplace to call home," said Percy.
"She'd never let us," said George. "We'd miss classes. If anything she'd make us wait all day."
"Then we'll go to Hogsmede and use their fire place," said Percy, his expression turning dark and determined.
Fred and George looked at each other, then at their brother. Was goody-two-shoes-Percy actually saying what they thought he was?
Percy ignored the shocked looks from his younger siblings and glared at his plate. He couldn't believe Ron had just run away!
His heart broke as he remembered the letter his brother had written. Mr. Weasley had sent a copy to each of his sons in case they picked up anything he and Mrs. Weasley had missed. He had dutifully sat down to dissect the text, looking for any hints, any clues at all. It hadn't done any good. All it had done was etch the words into his memory.
I thought you wanted us all to be good like Percy. Was I doing it wrong? I don't understand why you got so annoyed when I was trying to be like Percy.
The words sickened him. All those times he'd told Ron he was being bad, or that he needed to try harder. He'd always been guilty of reprimanding Ron too much, and he wasn't the only one.
The twins told Ron he couldn't take a joke and should get a sense of humor, Ginny would tell him he was annoying and needed to be cooler, Charlie would say that he needed to conquer his fear of spiders. Even Bill would reprimand him over silly things. Not to mention the fact that his Mum was so busy that she rarely had time to recognize the good deeds of her youngest son, just the things he needed to correct about himself.
We did this, thought Percy. It was an unpleasant realization but it was true. They'd all picked on Ron while coddling Ginny, because Ginny was the baby, Ginny was the girl. They hadn't stopped to think about the fact that little Ron was only a year older than her and that he needed to be the center of attention just as much as she did.
It wasn't right. He knew this; he supposed he'd known it all along and just hadn't thought about it much. Like when his year mates started teasing "Perfect Percy" for having a non-regulation pet and he'd decided he'd have to get rid of Scabbers. He didn't want to risk his chances of becoming prefect on a rat and thought that giving him to one of his youngest siblings would be best. His mind had jumped to Ron, who would absolutely love the idea of having a pet for his very own. He remembered smiling at the idea of doing something that would make Ron feel important.
Looking back, Percy wondered how it hadn't bothered him that Ron didn't already feel important.
P.S. I'm taking Scabbers with me. Percy told me to take good care of him, and I wouldn't be doing that if I left him behind.
Percy wondered how a kid like Ron could take care of a rat and himself while he was alone, with no family or friends.
"Perc!" said Fred.
Percy looked up and saw Bill standing in the entrance to The Great Hall. He waved at his siblings before slipping out the door.
The three boys stood up and went in the direction he'd gone. As soon as the left The Great Hall they saw Bill and Charlie waiting for them.
"Come with us, we'll fill you in," said Charlie, looking tired.
The all proceeded silently to an unused classroom and slipped inside, shutting the door behind them. They all perched on various desks and once they were all settled, Bill spoke.
"Mum didn't want us to say anything, but you're all pretty sharp so you'll find this out eventually."
The brothers tensed and waited for Bill to speak.
"You know how Harry Potter has gone missing recently?" he asked.
Percy, Fred, and George nodded.
"The whole school's been talking about it," mumbled George, "but I don't see—"
"Harry going missing is a high priority case," said Charlie and his brothers could see the anger in his face. "It's so high priority, that they've put many of what they call the "lower priority" cases on hold."
Fred and George looked confused but Percy caught on to what they were saying.
"You're telling me that they're not looking for Ron anymore?" Percy asked quietly.
"On paper they are," said Bill grimly, "bat Dad's heard enough at work to know that they aren't."
Bill and Charlie had expected the twins to get angry and to start ranting, and for Percy to be annoyed, but calm. They thought that, since Percy was so enamored with the idea of working for the Ministry, he would be frustrated but accepting of the fact that that was just the way the government worked sometimes.
That's what they expected, but they received the opposite.
The twins eyes widened and they were stunned speechless and Percy…Percy exploded.
"That's bloody stupid! Just because we're poor and Dad works in a small office does NOT mean that they can just IGNORE Ron! What IDIOT wrote the policy that allows people to shove a case aside just because some famous kid goes missing? I mean, sure he's Harry Potter but MY brother is Ron freaking Weasley, his case should be JUST as important!"
Bill and Charlie looked at each other in surprise while the twins nodded their agreement, their faces growing angrier with every word Percy spoke.
The boys didn't even get a chance to reply because the door flew opened and Professor Mcgonagall entered the room.
"What is all this yelling about?" she demanded angrily, taking in the scene with a glare.
"Those morons at the Ministry aren't looking for Ron anymore," Percy said, trying to control himself in the professor's presence. "Apparently Harry Potter is more important."
Professor Mcgonagall blinked, not at all expecting the sass that she had just received. She shook it off and her sharp look softened slightly with sympathy.
"I'm sorry to hear that," she said softly, trying to soothe the angry boys. "Bear in mind though that it's not only the ministry who is searching. Your family has many friends that are all keeping an eye out. We will find him, in the mean time I must ask that you remain calm—"
"I'll calm down when I have my brother back," Percy snapped. He paused suddenly, looking shocked that he'd actually taken that tone with a teacher.
Professor Mcgonagall looked at him cooly.
"If you'll excuse me, I must prepare for my class. I expect to see you two there," she said pointing at Fred and George.
She strode out of the room and shut the door behind her.
The room was silent for a moment before Fred let out a whistle.
"Didn't know you had it in you, Perce," he said.
The boy grimaced, now feeling sheepish as he came down from his anger.
"I suppose I was sort of channeling mum there for a moment," he admitted.
"That's an understatement," said Bill. "But Mcgonagall was right, there's more than just the Ministry, and you're mad if you think Dad is taking this lying down. He's quit his job at the Misuse of Muggle Artifacts Office so he could be reassigned to Ron's case. Getting support is slow-going, but Moody is working with him because he thinks maybe Ron and Harry's cases are connected."
"Moody, he's the famous auror, right?" asked Percy.
"Yes," said Bill.
Just then the door burst open and Lee Jordan came into the room, clutching a newspaper.
He swallowed as he looked at the boys uneasily.
"What's wrong, Lee?" asked George, his stomach sinking at the look on his friend's face.
"I nicked this paper from the girl next to me," he said. "I'm sorry mate, I just—thought it would be better for you to know—"
Alarm bells went off in Bill's head and he rushed forward and snatched up the paper.
He stared at it and the color slowly left his face. The paleness reminded Charlie of pictures of vampire victims he'd seen in textbooks.
"What is it?"
Fred asked the question none of them were brave enough to speak.
Bill said nothing. Percy and Charlie exchanged looks and went up behind their brother and the second they read the headline, Charlie collapsed into a desk, looking stunned.
"What?!" asked Fred and George together, terrified.
"There was an Azkaban breakout. A man named Sirius Black is on the loose," said Lee. "He's after Harry Potter, so I don't think you need to worry too much about Ron but—"
"Didn't Moody think that Harry and Ron's cases were connected though?" asked Percy, his hands shaking.
Lee's eyes widened.
The kitchen of the burrow was silent. The ministry had told Moody that he did not have permission to tell the Weasley's anything until the daily prophet was sent out. They weren't to know a thing until the rest of the public did. Mad-Eye-Moody didn't believe in the ministry's judgment though, especially when it came to things that truly mattered. He'd slipped away as soon as he could and knocked on the door to the burrow two hours before the prophet went out. Mad-Eye would be willing to lose his other leg before he let a pair of parents find out about a thing like that in a bloody newspaper.
It was early, just after four in the morning but there were lights on in the burrow. Molly opened the door a mere moment after Moody's knock and after a single look at his face she went to the flue and called her husband's office. Arthur stepped through at once and the pair turned to look at Moody.
"What is it?" whispered Arthur, summoning courage.
"There's been a break out from Azkaban," said Moody solemnly.
He proceeded to gravely explain how Sirius Black had escaped and his possible connection to the case. By the time he had finished both of the Weasley's were staring at him blankly. Moody wondered vaguely if he should keep talking or if he should just wait for the inevitable explosion to occur.
"Well," said Mr. Weasley, in a cracked voice. "We'll—we'll—we'll just—" he trailed off then, without warning he reached out towards the kitchen counter and knocked every item on it onto the floor.
"Those bloody pillocks!" he roared as dishes shattered. Tears ran down the man's face as he snatched a teacup and chucked it across the room. "How could they let this happen?!" he demanded, shoving a lamp to the floor. The fire from it spread to the floor, licking at the wooden boards. Moody put it out calmly, waiting patiently for the man to calm down. He was cursing and throwing things around the kitchen, swearing at the top of his lungs..
Molly was simply standing there, in a daze. Moody's gaze shifted and he saw two frightened girls at the bottom of the staircase in the other room. Deciding it was best to leave the couple alone for a moment he approached the girls. Ginny cowered at the sight of him but Luna remained stationary.
"Why is Mr. Weasley so angry?" she asked neutrally.
"Because a bad man got out of jail," said Moody bluntly. He never saw the point in lying to children, no matter how young. After all, how could they remain vigilant if they were kept in the dark?
Ginny's eyes widened.
"Don't worry though, we'll catch him. You girls just go back to bed."
Ginny looked hesitant, but Luna took her hand with a smile.
"Come on, Ginny. I suspect you're dad's got a few extra nargles in his head, you can see him when they leave."
Ginny followed, frowning.
Moody watched the girls leave before reentering the kitchen just in time to see Mr. Weasley shove his fist through a window. The sight of blood as he pulled his fist back seemed to awaken Molly as she moved forward and grabbed her husband's arm.
"Arthur. Arthur! Listen to me," she begged as he struggled against her.
"I'll kill him! If that man touches our baby I'll kill him!" roared Arthur.
"Arthur, look at me!"
Molly took her husband's face between her hands and looked into his eyes intensely.
"We will get him back, Arthur. If it's the last thing we do we will get him back."
Arthur took one more breath before dropping his head onto his wife's shoulder, breathing hard.
Moody glanced at the man's hand.
"Repairo," he said gruffly.
Arthur gave a muffled yelp as glass shards flew from his hand and sealed themselves back into the window frame. Molly led Arthur over to a kitchen chair and sat him down, slowly healing his hand as Moody went around the kitchen muttering various "repairo" and "scourgify" sharms under his breath. Once the kitchen was laid back to rights Moody sat down across from the couple.
"Listen you two," he said grimly. "I won't sugar coat this. This is not a good situation, but it's not as bad as it could be." He adjusted his seat in his chair and looked at them levelly.
"If death eaters do have the boys it's not likely they'll kill them. They are far too valuable. Harry is valuable because he conquered the dark lord, any of Voldemort's supporters that are avid enough to do this probably are operating under the belief that he's coming back. This means that they'll keep him alive so the dark lord may be use of him later," both of Moody's eyes were fixed on the pair and his deformed hands were resting on the counter.
"But our Ronnie, what use is he to the Dark Lord?" asked Molly.
"If my theory is correct, he was used to help kidnap Harry. That alone is enough to earn him safety amongst death eaters, once you add in his affinity for apparition, they'll value him very highly indeed," said Moody.
"We're blood traitors though," mumbled Mr. Weasley as he wiped his eyes.
"You are blood traitors," Moody corrected. "Given his skills and blood status, Ron is probably young enough to be salvaged in their eyes. All is not lost, in fact Sirius's escape will probably make it easier to find the boys."
"How?" asked Molly desperately.
"The more people involved in a covert operation, the more chances of there being a leak somewhere. We just have to wait for them to make a mistake. We will get them, we just need to stay vigilant."
Arthur nodded, wiping his eyes once more before standing up.
"I'm going back to the office then. If what you say is true we need to be ready."
"I'll go with you," said Moody. "I might be able to get more attention back on Ron's case, what with this new development."
Molly stood up too.
"I'll owl Xenophilius. If Marigold is doing better I'll ask him to watch the girls so I can come join the search," she said in determination.
Arthur nodded curtly.
"We'll see you soon, Molly," and with that he vanished into emerald flames.
At another time, in a different place…
Petunia Dursley watched the police drive away with a worried expression. The moment she realized her nephew was missing she'd done the responsible thing and phoned the police. She may have despised her nephew but she knew intellectually that he was only a child and even she wasn't so heartless as to delight in the fact that he was gone. She knew what kind of men were out there and she wouldn't wish for any child to be taken by them, not even freaks.
Petunia sighed and walked into the kitchen, sitting down to think. She'd had to spend all afternoon in the police station after she realized her nephew wasn't at the park or at home, then they came to investigate the house. She'd cried through a lot of it, though more because it was the expected response then because she was actually sad. She felt remorse, yes, but a part of her was hoping that the freak had simply run away and would never be back again.
She'd been very lucky indeed to pass off the cupboard under the stairs as a playhouse. An officer had raised an eyebrow at the lock, but she claimed it was to prevent Dudley and Harry from opening it when they were babies and getting into the cleaning supplies she had once kept there. She had been able to pass herself off as the perfect doting parent, of course she had, she was a wonderful mother…she even cared for stupid freaks, she was a good caretaker.
Petunia squashed the pang of guilt rising within her. She would have never let Dudley play at that park by himself…No! No, it didn't matter. The boy had probably run off and was hiding out in some empty house or building, eating stolen sweets and laughing at all of them as they ran around like frantic mice. Stupid boy.
Petunia sighed wearily as she listened to her son playing video games.
He's really broken up about this…She had told the cops when her nephew showed no concern over his cousin's whereabouts. I think he's just in shock. Harry's like a little brother to him. They've been together since they were babies. She continued repeating this to herself. Dudders was a sweet boy, he cared, really he did. He just didn't understand that Harry was in real danger…
Vernon had gone out for a drive to look for the boy. He hated the kid too but he, like Petunia knew that they couldn't very well leave him outside in the cold.
Petunia was startled out of her thoughts as the doorbell rang.
She opened the door and two of her neighbors were standing there. Linda Polymore and Tillie Duncan were heads of the home owner's association and had great pull in the suburban neighborhood.
"Hello, Petunia, we saw the police cars outside and we just wanted to see if everything was alright," said Linda.
If there was one thing Petunia was good at, it was being dramatic. Even though her feelings over her nephew at the moment ranged from mildly worried to moderately uneasy, she still managed to burst into tears right on cue, just as she had done at the police station.
"Oh, it's dreadful!" she wailed, "dear Harry has gone missing!"
The neighbor's gasped.
"How terrible Petunia! Do let us in, we can fix you a cup of tea and you can tell us all about it."
She allowed the two women to usher her inside and sit her down at the kitchen. It was so organized that Tillie didn't have to search before finding the tea leaves and the kettle. Petunia retold her story, embellishing on it to make herself look as good as possible.
"I was running errands, and Harry needed to use the lou. We were passing a play park and he asked me to drop him off there. I promised him I'd be back in ten minutes and told him to stay at the park, but when I came back, he was gone!" she wept.
"There were other children his age there and plenty of mothers, I thought he would be safe! I was only gone ten minutes!"
"You poor thing," said Linda, "how terrible! Don't worry, I'm sure he'll be alright. He probably got distracted by an ice cream vendor and wandered off."
Petunia continued manufacturing tears as she sucked up the attention and sympathy like a sponge. Petunia loved being the center of attention, even in situations like this.
"Which park did you leave him at?" asked Tillie, and Petunia was grateful that she'd left him at the suburban park, if this had happened in a city park they might blame her for the whole fiasco.
"The one near Wisteria!" said Petunia.
Tillie jumped to her feet with a dramatic gasp.
"Surely not! The one here? Gracious, I must go, my Abigail and Peter went to go play there!" Tillie rushed out the door and Linda got a dark look on her face.
"To think that something like this could happen in our neighborhood. Don't worry Petunia. I'll send out the alert to all association members not to send their children to the play park without one adult minimum and I'll make up some fliers for Harry. Do you have a picture of him?"
"Harry doesn't really like to be photographed," said Petunia, whipping out the excuse she had used on the police when they asked why she only had pictures of Dudley. "Lily, my sister, was like that too so I try and respect his wishes."
"Surely you have at least one," said Linda, frowning.
"Yes, of course," said Petunia with a laugh and she vaguely remembered ordering some school pictures of the boy last year when the teachers at the school began to question Harry's treatment at home.
Where did I put those?
Petunia stood up and rifled through a kitchen drawer until she found them at the bottom.
"Here we are," she said, breathing a sigh of relief.
She took the one where the boy looked most presentable and handed it to Linda.
"Will this do?"
"Yes, that will work just fine," said Linda with a serious nod. "Don't worry, I'll go do those fliers now and inform the neighborhood watch. I'll be back to check on you soon."
"Thank you," said Petunia, stiffly accepting the hug Linda gave her.
The woman left and Petunia got herself some water. Crying was exhausting after all. When she turned around though she screamed and dropped the glass. It shattered across the tiled floor, some of the shards hitting the shoes of a very tall man with a long beard. Petunia froze as he stared down at her, he was wearing purple robes and half moon glasses and was looking very grave.
"You! What are you doing in my house?! How did you get in?"
"Through the front door," said the man. "I have ways of knowing when something is wrong with Harry and I was alerted to the absence of his presence this afternoon. The house was empty when I arrived and I've investigated enough to know that that cupboard is not a clubhouse and Harry has never slept in the spare bedroom as you told the police."
"How did you know that?" demanded Petunia, going pale.
"Come, Petunia, your sister could fly on brooms and change a teapot into a Puffer fish, do you honestly believe that wizards are unable to observe without being seen?"
"Yo—you've been spying?!" demanded Petunia and she found that she was filled with rage at the very concept. How dare he?
She snatched a tea cup from the table and threw the liquid in Dumbledore's face.
Dumbledore allowed it to hit him and gazed levelly at Petunia before he slowly reached for his wand. Petunia gasped and cowered back in fear as he pulled out the long strip of wood. Dumbledore paid her no mind though; he merely used it to clean the tea off of his face and robes. Petunia gaped at him and the old wizard lowered his arm to the side, though he didn't put away his wand. Petunia found her eyes were glued to it as the man spoke.
"Now, you and your son will sit down and tell me exactly what happened today in the park."
"You're not going near my Dudders!" yelled Petunia, coming out of her shock.
"The sooner I talk to him, the sooner I will leave. You don't want me around when your friend returns, do you?"
Petunia blanched at the idea of this wizard staying in her house longer than necessary, but Dudders…
"Only if you put that—that thing away," said Petunia firmly.
"I will not draw my wand if you do not attack," said Dumbledore calmly.
"Fine. But under no circumstances will you use magic on my Dudley!"
"You have my word," said Dumbledore.