Chapter 19: In which the British Ministry of Magic is hit in the collective face with a metaphorical frying pan
Halfway to London, the three Gryffindors remembered that people would probably notice a floating spaceship-car hybrid zooming through the streets of the city. Even though it was a Muggle device, its presence would still raise enough questions ("What are those children wearing? Why are there dozens of unconscious men in robes and masks tied up in the back of your vehicle? Why does this man have no nose?") to invite a break of the International Statute of Secrecy. With that in mind, the Fentons made a detour to the Burrow. They still had to take back roads- no need for the citizens of Ottery-St.-Catchpole to follow them- but this was far less conspicuous than trying to unload dozens of unconscious Death Eaters into a phone booth.
"Can someone else ring the bell?" Ron requested. "I think that if Mum sees me before she hears an explanation, she'd murder me for skipping school."
"I thought you said you were kidnapped?" Maddie said.
"I was," he confirmed. "But Mum doesn't know that."
"Good point," Hermione acknowledged. She trotted up to the door, rang the bell. "Ron, why don't you… er… give Overlord Randall a tour?"
Ron looked at the honey badger, who was staring in fascination at the garden gnomes. "No thanks, Hermione. I think he's good. I'll just hide behind Mr. Fenton here until Mum isn't chomping at the bit anymore." He sidestepped around the Muggle's bulk, hiding himself completely.
Had Ron waited even another second, he might have been noticed, for that was the exact moment that Mrs. Weasley opened the door. She took in Hermione, who was fidgeting, and Harry, who was looking at Jack as though contemplating copying Ron's idea, and finally the three Fentons.
Hermione coughed. "Hi, Mrs. Weasley," she said lamely. "May we use your Floo, please?"
The woman's shock receded. "Not unless you're going back to Hogwarts, young lady. What are you doing here?"
"We've got a busload of captive Death Eaters that we need to drop off at the Ministry," Danny informed her.
Mrs. Weasley jumped. "What?"
Danny jutted his thumb at the Specter Speeder.
Harry, realizing that Danny might not be the best at explaining these things, took over before the older boy could elaborate. "Before I tell you what happened, Mrs. Weasley, I just want you to know that everyone is all right. Everything turned out just wonderfully. Ron's safe."
Molly's gaze sharpened. "What do you mean, Ron's safe? When was he in danger?"
Harry grinned, relieved. She obviously hadn't looked at the famous family clock recently. "The point is, he isn't now."
"Where is he?" she demanded, starting to worry.
"Right here, Mum." Ron stepped out from behind Jack's back. "I'm fine, okay? Gah!" For Molly had swooped down on him and was inspecting him for cuts, bruises, anything. Unfortunately, she found quite a few of those, though none were serious.
"You're hurt!" Horrified, Molly took in the others' appearances. "You're all hurt! Stay right here, I have to get some healing potions-"
It was too late. The witch had already run inside. A minute later, she returned with an armful of vials. "Drink up, all of you."
"Don't bother, Harry," Ron muttered, accepting his potion. "It's useless." He quaffed the brew with a grimace. "Do they have to taste so bad, Mum?"
"Yes," she retorted, watching him with a hawkish gaze. She nodded in satisfaction as his bruises shrank, vanished, cuts closing without even a scar. "Now what happened?"
They told her everything, standing still upon the threshold, words pouring from their mouths. They told her of Ron's disappearance, of the letter from Voldemort (Harry had brought it with. He showed her, let her touch the incontrovertible proof), of their hasty plan to capture Snape and use him to rescue their friend, of the frantic battle in Malfoy Manor, of the Fentons' last-minute appearance. They didn't tell her who Danny was, not out of malice or secrecy, but because they had forgotten she knew nothing about him. He had had such an effect on their lives that they didn't remember they hadn't known him until just a few days ago themselves.
Molly Weasley listened to her son's tale with trembling and sickness. Her baby boy had almost died, almost been tortured to insanity. The thought of what could have happened….
"Geroff me, Mum!"
Molly ignored her son, hugged him even more tightly, rocked him back and forth. "Are you sure you're all right?" she whispered.
"I'm fine, Mum. Harry, Hermione, and Danny got there before anything happened."
Mrs. Weasley loosened her grip just long enough for Ron to draw in a single breath. She looped her arms around Harry and Hermione, drew them into the hug. She would have gotten Danny too, but her arms were too short to embrace them all.
Finally, after the three Gryffindors began to turn blue, the elder witch released them. They fell back, panting and gasping.
Harry was the first to recover. "Er, thanks, Mrs. Weasley. But like we were saying, could we use the Floo, please? We kind of need to get the Death Eaters to the Ministry."
"Of course!" She frowned, shook her head. "No, never mind. It would be easier just to make a Portkey."
Since nobody really wanted to physically carry all those Death Eaters through a fireplace (what if they dropped one?), everyone agreed to let her make Portkey. It took Molly a couple of tries, as she wasn't accustomed to making Portkeys and because she was rather emotional at the moment, but within just a few minutes two Muggles, a ghostly honey badger, a half-ghost superhero, three more Hogwarts students, and a rather irate red-haired witch were standing around the Specter Speeder in the Atrium of the Ministry of Magic.
The Ministry wizards' reaction was predictable. The ones who could see the Specter Speeder stopped what they were doing, halting midstride, jaws sagging almost to the floor. Those who weren't facing the bizarre group noticed their colleagues' reactions and turned. They blinked several times before rubbing their eyes, half-expecting the bizarre apparition to disappear. It didn't.
Harry shattered the silence. "Mrs. Weasley, could you help me find the Auror department? I think we should bring some Aurors up here- the speeder probably can't fit in an elevator."
"Excellent idea, Harry. Will the rest of you be able to guard them?"
Jack's only response was a wicked grin. Maddie hefted her bazooka. Randall chortled. Even Danny was grinning widely, an expression which highlighted his resemblance to his father. "We'll be fine."
"All right then." Harry and Molly approached the stupefied security wizard. "Harry Potter and Molly Weasley, here to drop off some Death Eaters and Lord Voldemort."
The wizards around the room winced.
"Er… what?" The security guard was not entirely certain what to do about that.
"We captured Voldemort and his Death Eaters," Harry explained. He had to fight back and evil cackle; Merlin, he was enjoying this! "Even though you lot don't believe he's back, you are technically the only way to get them all into Azkaban, so we thought we'd bring them by. Now, will you let us through?"
The security wizard recovered enough of his wits to glare. "Listen, boy, don't you think this You-Know-Who mania has gone too far? He's not back, he's-"
Randall dove into the Specter Speeder. He returned moments later with the rather squished-looking, green-goop-covered, completely unconscious, and very recognizable Dark Lord.
The Ministry personnel shrieked, wailed, and generally behaved like frightened little children. Two or three fainted; another curled up in a fetal position.
"Like I said," Harry repeated, "we'd like to get Voldemort here arrested, and we need Aurors for that. So please let us pass."
Harry groaned. "I'll just assume from your incoherent stammering that you're giving us permission to continue."
The guard nodded. The two visitors passed him.
Harry and Molly attracted even more stares as they trotted over to the elevator. These personnel had no idea that Voldemort himself was just a couple hundred feet away; they just wondered why the Boy-Who-Lived was here instead of Hogwarts. The stares followed them as they entered the elevator, pressed the appropriate button, and descended to the Department of Magical Law Enforcement.
Due to the importance of their… acquisition… they went straight to the Department Head, a stern older woman named Amelia Bones. Harry remembered her from his hearing that summer; she was, like Professor McGonagall, strict and fair. She was reading a report when her two guests entered her office, grumbling under her breath. All in all, she looked rather glad for a distraction. "How may I help you?"
"Voldemort is tied up and unconscious in the Atrium."
Amelia choked on her own saliva.
Molly cuffed Harry across the shoulder. The boy grinned unrepentantly. "Well, he is." No wonder Danny was so snarky all the time- this was fun!
"I… I'm afraid I have to see this for myself, Mr. Potter."
"All right. His Death Eaters are there too, just so you know."
Amelia closed her eyes and counted to ten. "All right. I'm coming."
The Golden Trio, the Fentons, Molly, and Randall remained at the Ministry of Magic for most of the rest of the day. They had to give what felt like dozens of interviews to dozens of Aurors, then turn around and tell the rest of the Ministry what had happened. Then the media showed up, just in time to see Amelia Bones learn that Danny was technically in the country illegally ("But it's not my fault, I swear! I was kidnapped!"). And of course no one had any idea how to remove the goop from the Death Eaters. According to Jack and Maddie, it would wear off in time even without the antidote, which they had left at home. Until then, the Death Eaters would just have to deal.
Then Voldemort woke up. He hadn't been Stunned magically, just hit over the head and shot at. This had been enough to keep him out for a while, but the noise at the Ministry was more than enough to wake him up (though Crabbe and Goyle somehow slept through the hubbub. They were evidently very heavy sleepers). This caused a mass panic. Shrieking, the media and Ministry personnel sprinted away.
"Come back, you idiots!" Danny yelled. "He's tied up in goo!" He stepped on the back of the struggling Dark Lord's head. Voldemort's face was rammed into the floor. "And now he's unconscious and therefore even more harmless."
Voldemort groaned, proving Danny a liar.
"Oops." The halfa innocently tapped his wand against the wizard's shoulder. "Okay, now he's out again. You guys can come back now." Just to be safe, he hexed the un-Stunned Death Eaters as well.
The day continued on in that vein. More government officials entered: more Aurors, some of whom had 'met' Danny and Randall at Hogwarts; Hit Wizards acting as bodyguards; secretaries to record their statements; Percy Weasley, who dragged his mother and brother aside for several long minutes and came back utterly shamefaced; Arthur Weasley, who joined his sons and wife in the middle of their conversation; and the Minister of Magic, Cornelius Fudge himself, who took one look at Voldemort and fell over.
By the time their interviews were over, they were all drained. "Let's stay in Britain for the night," Maddie suggested. A yawn forced her mouth open. "Danny, do you think they'd let us stay at Hogwarts with you?"
"Probably not. I… the headmaster doesn't really like me."
"Nonsense, nonsense." Fudge's hands wrung his bowler hat. "I'm sure that Albus would be… very thrilled…." His eyes flickered over to Voldemort. He shivered. "I'll have someone make you a Portkey. Let me… let me write a note- you there!" The lackey he had addressed jumped nearly out of her skin. "Get me a quill, parchment, and an Unspeakable!"
"Yes, Minister." She scurried off, returning moments later with the requested items and person.
"Did you want me to stay too, Ronnie?" Molly asked.
"I'll be fine, Mum," he promised her. "Just go home with Dad, all right?"
Arthur narrowed his eyes. "You're absolutely positive…."
"Yes, Dad, I'm fine. Really."
"You'll see Madame Pomfrey for shock?" His mother was not asking a question or even making a suggestion. She was giving an order, and Ron knew it.
"Okay, Mum. I'll see her before going to bed."
Molly nodded, turned her gaze on the other students. "And you too, Harry, Hermione, Danny."
"Who's Madame Pomfrey?" Jack whispered. His wife shrugged.
The Unspeakable handed over Fudge's note. "Decided just to make his explanation the Portkey," he explained in a rough, guttural voice. It didn't sound as though he spoke much.
"Yes, yes." Fudge's head bobbed up and down, up and down. "The letter will explain everything." He swallowed, Adam's apple bobbing. "You will tell Albus that I did this of my own free will, yes? That I'm doing my best to help?"
"Sure." If he remembered, that is. Harry accepted the Portkey. "Sir, is this powerful enough to take the Specter Speeder as well?"
"That?" The Unspeakable's eyes shifted towards the floating vehicle.
"Yes. I don't think that the Fentons want to leave it." Not to mention that the Ministry would probably confiscate it.
"I'm afraid not," the Unspeakable said. "That is clearly a magical vehicle that violates the International Statute on Secrecy-"
"No it's not," Danny snapped. "This is all Muggle tech. See?" He pointed at it with his wand. "Finite incantatem."
The Specter Speeder continued to float.
The Unspeakable drew his own wand. Danny grabbed his arm. "Why are you aiming that at my family's car?"
"You might not have done it right," he replied. "I just want to cast my own finite."
Danny looked askance at his parents, who nodded their permission. "Nothing'll happen," Jack announced. "We're- what's the word again, Danny?"
"Yeah, those. Muggles. We're Muggles, so we can't have made this with magic."
The Unspeakable's wand shot a stream of light towards the vehicle. He'd already cast the standard finite incantatem and hadn't seen any results. "Incredible," he breathed. "And you're Muggles? Muggles can do this?"
"Of course." Jack's eyes lit up. "Do you wanna hear how?"
"Maybe tomorrow," Danny interrupted. "I'm tired. So are these guys. Right, Harry, Ron, Hermione?" He gave an obviously fake yawn that fooled his parents but not the three Gryffindors.
"But I wanted to blather on about the Specter Speeder," Jack whined.
"I'll owl you with a list of questions," the Unspeakable promised.
"So we'll be pen pals? Sweet! I've always wanted a pen pal."
Hermione gave an equally fake yawn. "I'm quite tuckered out, aren't you, boys?"
"Oh, very," Harry agreed. "Completely pooped." Beside him, Ron made a great show of stretching his arms and rubbing his eyes. "So like Danny was asking, can this take the Specter Speeder?"
"Of course." The Unspeakable lifted his nose into the air. "I have never enchanted a substandard Portkey." Annoyed, he drew Fudge aside for… something.
"Hey, Randall," Danny called. "Did you want to go back to the Stone-Den-of-Bacon-and-Worshippers?"
"Hrurr!" The honey badger flew into the Specter Speeder, claimed the entire backseat for himself. Maddie's eye twitched. She reached automatically for her pistol, but Danny's glare stopped her.
"Mom. He's a friend. And if you're going to stay at Hogwarts, you have to promise not to hurt the ghosts there. Say it with me now: Not. All. Ghosts. Are. Evil."
Jack's face twitched.
Danny folded his arms, unrelenting.
Hermione sucked in a gasp. Her eyes were very wide, filled with sudden understanding.
"Next you'll be saying that Phantom's good, too," Maddie complained.
Danny arched a brow. "I've said that already."
"Why don't you make an informed decision after meeting the Hogwarts ghosts?" Hermione suggested. She was speaking rather quickly, just as she always did when excited. "These ghosts have been in the castle for centuries and they've never hurt anybody. They're almost like mascots, but they're sentient beings with afterlives of their own and not sweaty people in animal suits. Just give them a chance. If they try to kill you- which won't happen, so don't worry about it- then you're right and all ghosts are evil."
"What?" The Unspeakable gawked. He had quit his conversation with the Minister in favor of staring at the Muggles in horror. "You honestly believe that all ghosts are evil? That's simply absurd! They're an integral part of the wizarding world, and I assure you, they are exactly as they were in life: some good, some evil, and most in between."
Jack and Maddie exchanged glances. If they hadn't just been proven so spectacularly wrong about wizards, they might not have listened, but seeing the British Ministry and Voldemort had forced them to admit they weren't experts on the entire paranormal world. If they were wrong about wizards, then maybe, impossibly... It would definitely merit further research. Finally, grudgingly, Maddie shook aside her thoughts and asked, "Do you have proof?"
"Not on me, but the documents do exist. I'll owl them to you with my questions about the Specter Speeder. But for now, the students seem to be exhausted." He nodded at Ron, who had paused in mid-stretch when the Fentons began arguing. Blushing, the boy lowered his arms. "Good night. The pass phrase is 'to Hogwarts we go.'"
The six travelers climbed into the Specter Speeder, crowded around the parchment. Maddie winced when Randall brushed up against her but refrained from commenting, much to Danny's delight. He'd almost given up hope that his former- or perhaps not-so-former- parents would realize ghosts weren't all bad. His protests had become more reflexive than real. But if the magical world had proof to the contrary- even better, proof that they might actually listen to!- then….
Well, maybe his days in Britain weren't a complete waste of time after all. His parents might see reason; he'd befriended a honey badger, a bunch of other badgers, and a trio of lions; he had more experience with fomenting discord and leading revolutions; he had become immune to magic; Voldemort was vanquished along with his Death Eaters…. No, it hadn't been a waste.
Not that that would stop him from going home. He'd already been away far too long.
If the halfa hadn't been immediately distracted upon his arrival at Hogwarts, he would have followed those thoughts for quite a while, reflecting on how one never knows how things would turn out. But distracted he was, and, considering what the distraction was, who could blame him?
So it wasn't until Ron yelped a startled, awed curse that he snapped out of his reverie to see what had happened.
Simply put, Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry was bursting at the seams. Multicolored lights flashed within every window. Fireworks of all shapes and sizes roamed the grounds: wheels and dragons, sparklers that wrote rude words and phrases or C.U.R.E.-related slogans, deafening noisemakers. The earthy odor of Dungbombs permeated the air, making all the newcomers (even Randall, who technically didn't need to breathe) wrinkle their nostrils. Confetti littered the ground. In the distance, a bonfire flickered.
"Is this normal for Hogwarts?" Maddie asked faintly.
Hermione shook her head, mute.
"Is this Operation Tea Party?" Harry asked faintly.
"Well, I think the fire over there might be. The other stuff isn't, though."
"What's Operation Tea Party?" Jack wondered.
Danny flushed. "I was kind of peeved about getting kidnapped, so I started a rebellion. Operation Tea Party is our… um, modern wizardly interpretation of the Boston Tea Party. We were gonna steal the potions professor's potions and ingredients- he's the guy who kidnapped Ron- and dump them into the lake, but apparently someone decided to light them on fire instead."
"Probably because of the merpeople in the lake," Hermione mused.
Danny blanched. "There are merpeople in the lake?" He hoped no one had dumped any potions in there. If his plan ended up poisoning some poor fish person, he'd never forgive himself.
"Yes, but like you said, that bonfire might be potions. Of course, it could also be homework…."
"Let's go check it out," Harry suggested.
It turned out that Hermione was half-right. The students had used their homework assignments to kindle the fire before throwing Snape's potions into the blaze (though they did so under the watchful supervision of Patricia Simmons, who threw up shields whenever necessary). Faces painted with Celtic woad, forty teens surrounded the fire, roasting marshmallows, conspiring, or just resting.
"Hi everyone!" Neville Longbottom, grinning ear to ear, darted up to them. "Want anything? Liz Harper's getting hot dogs." Another firework exploded above his head.
"Hr," Randall answered.
"I'm sure we can get some bacon, but are you sure you don't want to try hot dogs?" It seemed that Neville shared Danny's ability to translate the honey badger's growls.
Randall tilted his head, considering.
"Do you know where Professor Dumbledore is?" Harry asked.
"Last I heard, he was stuck in the Great Toad-Den Swamp."
"By Umbridge's office." Neville grinned. "The Weasley twins have portable swamps. They set off a bunch of them- they set off all their prank stuff. Peeves got a bunch of paint bombs and taught the armor to sing the Voldemort Song-" Harry, Ron, and Hermione gawked. Had Neville really just spoken that name without flinching? "-and they're running around singing in eight-part harmony, but before that, he got the other ghosts involved. Moaning Myrtle somehow convinced the Giant Squid to help her mess up the plumbing, and a seventh year whose name I can't remember found Hagrid's last Blast-Ended Skrewt and a couple nifflers and some gnomes and sent them into the castle, and Luna Lovegood from Ravenclaw found some of her creatures- it's just brilliant!" He laughed. "Did you know that Professor Binns knows how to use a catapult or that we've got a catapult in one of the storage rooms?"
Neville laughed again. "Well, he does, and we do. D'you think we got the point across, Danny?"
The halfa beamed. "I think so, yeah."
Neville's smile was downright devilish. "Good."
Last chapter's meter: 8.65. It would have been higher if I'd included the person who thought it was worth a 50 (15.04, to be exact).
Why is Binns helping the people who are trying to get him kicked out? Suffice to say that Peeves made a deal with him that I will explain next chapter. And speaking of the next chapter, please don't ask when I'll update again. I WILL update, but I rarely know when until I sit down at the computer and start typing my ANs. Therefore, it is a waste of my time and yours to ask when the next chapter will be up, because I NEVER know. I can give blanket estimates- chapter 20 will be up before Halloween- but nothing more specific.