A Difficult Decision
Harry tossed the latest report onto the pile of old files on his desk, causing a small cloud of dust to rise from the stack of parchment. With a frustrated sigh, he leaned back in his chair and ran a hand through his hair. He couldn't believe Robards and Deputy Head Auror Dawlish hadn't seen the correlation between the string of fifteen unsolved murders, disturbances and disappearances that had started back in 1999. Or—and this next thought scared him a little—had Robards turned into another Cornelius Fudge and wilfully ignored the danger signs? Another thought, just as disconcerting as the last, flitted through his mind: were Robards and Dawlish too old and too tired of fighting dark wizards to effectively run the Auror Department? If this were true, something needed to be done and soon… but what?
The report he had just been reading had been written up by one of the older, soon-to-retire, Aurors and although it was correctly filled out according to current requirements, Harry felt there was something wrong with the way it was written. Harry's assignment appertaining to the case was to research other files that might contain clues to the current mystery: the identity of the wizard or witch responsible for yesterday's murder of a political candidate who was challenging Kingsley Shacklebolt for the post of Minister for Magic.
The report stated that after the victim had given his speech at the Bodmin Moore Quidditch stadium, the candidate had taken questions from the audience, as had the other four witches and wizards sharing the platform with him. It was during this question and answer period that the flash of green light had soared over the heads of those in the audience to strike the man squarely in the chest. The Killing Curse had immediately been followed by the appearance of a starry, beetle-like creature in the sky over the stadium, where it hung with frightening resemblance to Voldemort's Dark Mark. The investigating Auror had reported that following the appearance of the creature, half the audience had cheered and then Apparated away.
A note in tiny print at the bottom of the report had caught Harry's attention: The spell producing the beetle sounded similar to that which produced the Dark Mark back in the first and second recent wars. That note had been the clue Harry had needed to gather the very impressive stack of old files containing references to beetles of any sort. It had taken him nearly all morning, but he'd managed to sort the reports mentioning the real insects from those with references to images tattooed or burned onto the skin and cast into the sky. The former stack had been Banished back to the Aurors' Records Office to be re-filed, leaving twenty-five thick reports to go through. Searching spells had helped immensely, and now, an hour after lunch, he was disgusted, disgruntled and ready to write his own report.
With another frustrated sigh, Harry pulled a fresh report parchment from one of his desk drawers and began to write. As he wrote, another idea floated at the back of his brain: was this how Voldemort had begun his ascent to power? He didn't know, but he knew his father-in-law would. He'd have to ask Arthur at dinner tonight.
Harry finished his report just as his wand began to buzz loudly, the alarm he'd set to remind himself to perform his other assigned duty: visit Draco Malfoy at Malfoy Manor and then write up a short description of the prisoner's mental health and physical appearance. Draco and his mother, Narcissa Malfoy, had been put under house arrest after their 1999 trial, and while Harry had been in Auror Training, the two had been visited by a string of Aurors who had nothing good to say about the prisoners. When the responsibility of carrying out the visits had been dumped into Harry's lap late in 2001, he'd grudgingly accepted the assignment and gone to see Malfoy.
To say that first interview had gone well was a joke. The two wizards had sat together in front of the library fire, glaring at each other over cups of tepid tea. Harry had escaped as soon as he could and his report had contained the words hostile, uncooperative, and silent. However, two visits later when he'd taken a portable wizard's chess set, Draco had actually talked a little as they played. Now, as Harry packed up the files and secured them in his file safe, he was looking forward to his weekly visit with his former rival.
"Going on your weekly outing?" a voice behind him asked, making Harry jump.
Turning to the other Auror, Harry smiled and said, "Yes, I am, Auror Savage."
The older wizard shook his head. "For the life of me, Potter, I don't understand why, but you seem to like going there and even look forward to it," he scoffed. "Malfoy's a former Death Eater, a prisoner, for Merlin's sake!"
"It's complicated," Harry said, shrugging. He gathered his cloak and chess set, patted his pocket to make sure he had his Auror badge, and shoved his wand into the holster attached to his right forearm. "Anyway, I need to get going. I don't want to be late."
Auror Savage backed away just enough to let Harry out of his own cubicle. The two nodded curtly to each other and then went their separate ways, Harry seething at the prejudice radiating from his fellow Auror.
Ten minutes later, Harry materialised in front of the gates leading into Malfoy Manor. The lane was still lined with the same high hedges he remembered from his first forced visit back in 1998, but rather than being intimidating as they had been back then, now they represented the freedom he had won by killing Voldemort, simply due to which side he was on. Harry fished his badge from his pocket, held it against one of the bars and watched as two of the ornate pieces of metal melted away, leaving a narrow opening. He stepped through it and then turned to watch the bars shimmer back into place before going up to the house.
"Welcome, Auror Potter," chirped the Malfoy's house-elf, Mabel. "Master Draco is in the library. Shall I announce you?"
Harry smiled at his tiny friend. "That won't be necessary, Mabel," he said. "I can show myself up."
Mabel bowed and scurried away, leaving Harry to climb the steps leading up to the first floor. When he entered the library, he saw that Draco was sitting in his customary chair at the chess table, reading a file of some sort.
"Auror Potter," he said as he closed the file, stood up and met Harry in the middle of the room. He extended his right arm, exposing a thick metal cuff that was attached to his forearm.
Harry flicked his wrist and caught his wand as it emerged from the holster. "Mr Malfoy," he said as he tapped the cuff with it. The metal glowed green for several seconds and Harry couldn't help smiling. Draco hadn't been anywhere other than the warehouse where he now worked as a file clerk—the only place he was allowed to go other than the grounds of the estate.
"How's it going at Importations Magique?" he asked, making a note of his observation in his notebook.
Draco shrugged. "Could be worse. It's more interesting than just sitting around here all day," he answered apathetically. "Can we get this over quickly today? Mr Greengrass wants the files I brought home back by half-four."
"Then we'd best get started," Harry said, and he took his customary seat across the chess table from Draco. When he opened his travelling chess set, the pieces immediately took the places they had been in the week before. "I believe it was your move."
The two played in silence for quite a while before making the small talk that characterised their visits. Over the last few years, Harry had become quite skilled in ferreting out Draco's carefully concealed needs and feelings in his blasé answers to the standard Auror visitation questions. That was how he'd discovered that Draco was ready to be trusted with a limited amount of freedom and had taken on the task of convincing Robards and the Prisoner Review Committee that Draco needed a job to go to. It had taken nearly four months, but Lyndon Greengrass had agreed to take on Draco as a clerk, allowing him to take the Floo Network to work each day. That had been eighteen months ago, and in every way, this part of Draco's imprisonment seemed to be going smoothly. The reports Harry received from Mr Greengrass were positive in nature and Harry carefully added each new report to Draco's file as proof of rehabilitation each month.
At length, Harry sat back, rubbing the back of his neck and wondering whether he should ask Draco about the murdered politician.
"Potter, your move," Draco said, startling Harry out of his contemplation.
Harry studied the board and distractedly moved one of his last pawns. The tiny piece squealed in protest as Draco's next move came almost without thought. "Are you losing deliberately?" he asked.
Harry shook his head. "Sorry. Work's got me distracted," he said. He pulled a copy of the front section of the Daily Prophet from his pocket and handed it to Draco.
"Know anything about that?" he asked.
Draco looked at the paper and then raised an eyebrow. "Don't you know your own wife's retiring?" he asked scathingly.
"Not that," Harry protested, "the murder."
"Why should I know anything about it?" Draco demanded as the cuff on his arm began emitting a shrill beeping noise. Harry reached over with his wand and tapped the device, silencing the alarm and alerting the others back at the office that he wasn't in trouble.
"You are in contact with different people than I am," Harry answered levelly. He moved his remaining bishop. "I just wondered if you'd heard anything from the customers coming into your office today."
"A few have mentioned it," Draco said as he moved his rook. "One bloke even asked if another war was on the horizon and commented that if the Aurors didn't get their heads out of their arses long enough to catch the dark wizard responsible for the latest acts of terrorism, he was packing up and leaving the country."
Harry sucked in a sharp breath, making Draco raise one of his eyebrows. "That's the kind of fear we're trying to avoid," he said tightly, while making another note in his notebook. "Between you, me, and the chess board, I think the Ministry has a bigger mess on its hands than it wants to admit. Thanks for that."
Draco nodded, but didn't say anything more by way of acknowledgment. Within another few minutes, Harry lost the game, causing Draco to smile.
"You're so easily distracted, Harry," he snickered.
Harry ran a hand through his hair. "Yeah, today I am," he said ruefully. "There's a lot going on at work right now. That's all I can say." Draco made a noise of agreement as he looked at his watch. It was nearly four o'clock, so Harry instructed the chess pieces to form up for a new game and then retire to their places for transport.
"Erm, Potter," Draco hedged as they stood up, "is there a special reason why your wife is retiring?"
Harry couldn't help the grin that suddenly threatened to split his face. "You could say that," he said. "She's pregnant. I'm going to be a father!"
Draco smiled for the first time that afternoon. "Congratulations," he said. "When's she due?"
"February," Harry replied. "Thanks." He took several steps towards the door and then stopped and fished inside his Auror robes, pulling out a rolled piece of parchment. "Here, I nearly forgot to give you this." He handed the parchment to Draco.
"Oh, by the way," he said, "I hope you'll be coming to play with Teddy and me this Saturday. Andromeda is expecting you and your mother at her house at one o'clock."
Draco looked up from opening the parchment, clearly surprised. "I—we—I'm a prisoner here, Potter!" he sputtered. "So is my mother. I can't leave except to go to work. What makes you think I can just Disapparate and appear at my aunt's house without five days worth of hassle and parchmentwork?"
"Read the letter, Draco," Harry instructed. "I've convinced the Review Committee that you and your mother should be given more freedom since your house arrest will be up in another eighteen months. The decisions you make now will be reflected in the type of monitoring you'll be subjected to after your imprisonment is up."
Draco tore at the wax seal and quickly scanned the letter. When he looked up, there was a small smile tugging at the edges of his mouth. "Why are the Greengrasses included in the list of people I'm allowed to see?" he asked.
Harry grinned. "The family was approved to associate with you when Lyndon agreed to take you on as his employee. I have it on good authority that you're associating with more than just your employer."
"How? Nobody knows about that except Mr and Mrs Greengrass!" Draco exclaimed as his normally pale complexion took on a decidedly pink hue.
"That cuff you're wearing gathers information. It's up to you how you use the new freedom you've been given," Harry said. "I don't know which sister you're chatting up, but I'd ask her out for lunch in the next day or two, if I were you." Draco just stared at him, so Harry added, "There's an approved Muggle pub two blocks from the warehouse on that list. The food there's pretty good."
With that last bit of wisdom, Harry strode towards the door intent on getting back to the Ministry so that he could complete his report before going to The Burrow.
Two hours later, Harry appeared at The Burrow's gate and strode eagerly to the kitchen door.
"They're up in the attic, Harry," Arthur said from behind his copy of the Prophet.
"Thanks, Arthur," Harry said, and took the stairs two at a time. When he reached the stairs to the attic, he cast Silencing Spells on his shoes and the creaky stairs before tiptoeing just high enough to observe his wife and his mother-in-law as they went through the trunks and boxes holding twenty years' worth of baby clothing and maternity robes. As he stood there, Ginny stood up slowly and walked over to an old full-length mirror that served as one of the barriers between the ghoul's part of the attic and the rest of the space. She held up a comfortable-looking robe and studied herself in the mirror.
"You'll look lovely in that robe, my dear," the mirror said.
"You're just saying that to make me feel better," Ginny countered, sounding grumpy. "I look and feel like a whale."
"Ginny! Don't say that!" Molly exclaimed at the same time as the mirror said calmly, "You might think you're a whale, but you're radiating such love!"
Harry couldn't agree more. These days, Ginny just appeared to glow, even as her perfect figure seemed to disappear by the day as their child grew inside her. His mind flashed to one of the photos in an old album he'd found in his parents' Gringotts vault. In the picture, his mother stood sideways and pointed to the enormous bump that had been him. His mother wore the same expression of self-satisfaction in the photo that Ginny often did now. Unfortunately, she wasn't wearing that expression at the moment.
"But I do!" Ginny sighed as she patted her swollen stomach and then giggled when the baby kicked.
"You can say that all you want," the mirror went on, "but you must remember that you're growing a bonny wee baby inside you. It's a special thing that only happens a few times in one's lifetime."
Molly took the robe from Ginny and hugged her gently. "All women feel this way in their last months, Ginny. It's the feeling that tells you that soon you'll be able to hold the baby."
"And everywhere you go, you're radiating maternal love," the mirror added. "No one can love like a woman with child."
Ginny turned sideways and studied herself in the mirror. "I suppose you're right," she said. "I've loved the idea of becoming a mother ever since the team medi-witch banned me from my broom and Harry… no matter how tired he is at the end of the day, he always tells me I'm beautiful. Sometimes I don't believe him, though."
"You are beautiful, Ginny," Harry said as he ascended the last few steps and crossed the attic. "And I'm one lucky wizard to be married to you," he added as he wrapped his arms around her, his hands resting gently on her abdomen.
Ginny squeaked in surprise and turned her head. "When did you get here?" she asked as Harry kissed her cheek.
"Long enough that you seem to be tired of being pregnant," he chuckled.
"Sometimes, like today, I just want it to be over and other times, I don't mind being this big," she said.
"Do you feel better after your talk?"
Ginny snorted. "The mirror has been talking back to my family for as long as I remember—Mum had Dad take it down when Fred and George started exploding things," she giggled. "I used to come up here when I wanted to be away from my brothers for a bit. I always felt better after talking with it, so yeah, I do feel better now."
Harry kissed the top of Ginny's head. "I'm glad. Are you going to borrow the robe you were looking at? It matches your eyes."
Molly handed her the robe and she wiggled out of Harry's arms to study herself once again in the mirror. At length, she said, "Thank you for saving this for me, Mum."
"I'm glad you want to wear it," Molly said as she closed the last trunk and moved towards the stairs. "Now let's go down and feed Harry. He looks a bit peaky. Long day, love?"
Extending his hand to his wife, Harry agreed, "It's been a long time since lunch and dinner smelled wonderful when I arrived."
Dinner was a relaxing affair after the worries and events of his day with talk centred mostly on Molly and Arthur's impending grandchild and which of Ginny's brothers was coming home for Christmas; it seemed that all five—including Charlie—were coming to meet Ginny's baby. (Harry thought it was amusing that he'd been completely left out of the new family.) After dinner, though, the conversation turned more serious and he was able to ask Arthur about Voldemort's rise to power. The four of them eventually moved into the sitting room for a cup of tea and pudding in front of the fire, but as Ginny's eyes began to droop, he knew he needed to take her home soon. As the last crumbs of the treacle tart disappeared from his plate, he made their excuses and went to get his and Ginny's cloaks. One last round of hugs was passed around and then he and Ginny stepped into the fireplace to take the Floo Network home to their house in Godric's Hollow.
As they emerged from their kitchen fireplace, Harry said, "There's something I want to show you, Ginny."
"All right, but make it quick because our bed is calling me," she yawned.
"It won't take long, love. I'll get the album and bring it upstairs," he told her.
Ginny yawned again and started up the stairs.
Harry walked through the great room and down a short hallway to his study. The album he was looking for lay on an end table near the fireplace. He picked it up and opened it to a page near the back, smiling as he found the picture he wanted. When he entered their bedroom, Ginny was in bed, curled on her side and reading a book. She looked up at him with a smile and sat up.
"Seeing you this afternoon reminded me of this picture," he said as he settled onto his side of the bed and opened the album.
Ginny studied the picture and grinned as Harry's father walked into it and put his arms around Lily just as Harry had done in the attic. "I suppose the mirror was right," she said. "We pregnant ladies do seem to glow, don't we?"
Harry leaned over and kissed his wife. "Yes, you do," he said as Ginny closed the album and handed it to him. He put it on his bedside table and went into their bathroom to get ready for bed. When he came out several minutes later, Ginny was asleep with the lights on, so he turned them off, crawled into bed and closed his eyes, hoping sleep would come soon.
It didn't. Some of the things Arthur had told him after dinner about Voldemort's rise to power had sounded quite familiar and it scared him that history seemed to be repeating itself so soon after the last war. Harry lay beside Ginny wide awake and thinking of how he could change department policy in ways that would hopefully prevent the current dark wizard or witch—or any other future dark entity—from gaining more power and influence over the Wizarding public. Finally unable to stay in bed any longer, Harry slipped down to his study and began writing. He filled page after page with detailed observations and suggestions which he felt would improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the Auror Department: prisoner management—Draco Malfoy was a good example of what could happen when someone wasn't automatically thrown into Azkaban and left to rot; a more advanced file management system—this morning's search was proof enough; in-service classes for field Aurors—new methods, inventions and regulations were vital for keeping up with the business of catching criminals; more modern Auror's uniforms—the current robes weren't practical for the Muggle world; and several other office management concerns. If Robards accepted even a few of his proposals, the Wizarding world would be better for it, a better place in which to raise his son or daughter. If he didn't, Harry decided the changes were important enough to take to higher government officials in order to make them happen. With the proposal complete, Harry copied it and locked the copy in his desk drawer. Then he went up to bed again.
Ginny now lay with her back to the door and his side of the bed. Harry slowly slid under the covers and spooned his body against hers. She sighed contentedly and wrapped her fingers around his hand as Harry finally fell asleep.
The next morning, Harry Apparated to work an hour early, knowing that Robards was usually in his office then. He went straight to his desk, intent on reviewing his proposal before conjuring the courage he'd need to confront his superior. It took only a few minutes to peruse the file and finally confident he was ready, Harry rose from his chair and pulled at his Auror robes to straighten out the wrinkles. It was time to go see Robards. He sighed, picked up the report and his list of suggestions and strode towards the Head Auror's office.