~Chapter Twenty-Five - Aftermath~

Harry, Lupin and Moody reappeared moments later just outside of Hogwarts' magical boundaries. Moody stumped forward toward the main gates, which opened as he approached. The trio made their way swiftly across the empty grounds, the night breeze brushing against their faces, slightly refreshing after the recent battle. The leaves on the trees in the Forbidden forest rustled, the blades of grass swayed gently from side to side, and the surface of the lake rippled, indifferent to the turmoil of the rest of the world.

Once they had reached the main doors, Moody raised his staff, banging it against the wood. The doors swung open, allowing them entrance to the castle. Remembering his backstory, Harry schooled his face into a suitably impressed expression as he looked around at the Entrance Hall, lit by low-burning torches. He made sure to follow Moody, purposefully missing a couple of corners in an attempt to seem completely lost within the castle, having never been there before.

The route Moody took to Dumbledore's office was not the route that Harry would have taken, but he kept his mouth shut.

"Cockroach Cluster." Moody said to the gargoyle. Harry watched with an expression of amusement on his face as the gargoyle revealed the staircase leading to Dumbledore's office, banking the password in his memory for the next school year.

The three wizards ascended the stone steps, coming to a stop outside the door to the office. Moody raised his hand and knocked, pushing the door open as Dumbledore bade them enter.

Dumbledore was sitting behind his desk, watching them as they crossed the room, eyes raking over them, taking in their battered, tired bodies, a slight look of relief crossing his face as he saw Harry, relatively unhurt.

"Ah, Alastor." Dumbledore said, as the trio drew to a halt in front of his desk. "I'm assuming our hunch was correct?"

Moody nodded grimly.

"You got that right."

Dumbledore sighed.

"Very well, give me the details."

"They attacked after the match, while everyone was making their way back to the campsite. They burned tents and attacked the public. We tried to get as many to safety as possible. According to Tonks, Sirius got Potter away safely."

Harry felt his stomach clench slightly at the mention of his name. He noticed Dumbledore's gaze flicked briefly toward him, but made no comment.

"All the Order members are accounted for." Lupin continued. "They're still at the campsite, waiting for the Aurors. We restrained as many Death Eaters as we could, though the majority of them disappeared when the Dark Mark went up."

Dumbledore's eyes narrowed slightly at this revelation.

"The Dark Mark? Did you see who cast it?"

"Unfortunately not." Harry said. "I imagine they fled along with the rest of the Death Eaters."

"If they're still there, though, the Aurors will find them." Moody added confidently.

Dumbledore nodded thoughtfully.

"Well, at least we managed to restrain some Death Eaters. At the very least, this may get the Ministry moving."

"I wouldn't hold your breath, Albus. Fudge'll find some way to sweep this under the rug." Moody growled, his brow furrowing as he spoke.

Silence reigned for a moment. Finally, Dumbledore spoke.

"Well, I had better get a letter off to the Ministry. If there was nothing else, you may take your leave."

They nodded, turning back to the door.

"Just a moment, Harvey." Dumbledore called after them. "I'd like a word."

Harry nodded, hanging back as Moody and Lupin left the office. Dumbledore gestured to the seat in front of his desk. Harry slid into it, letting his Glamour Charms fall as he did so.

"You have no idea how relieved I am to see you unharmed, Harry." Dumbledore said, his eyes full of concern for the young wizard.

"I wouldn't say completely unharmed." Harry said, looking at his bandaged arm.

"I'll heal that for you before I return you to Sirius." Dumbledore promised. "No need to worry him unduly." He regarded Harry for a long moment. "What was it like, Harry?"

Harry thought for a moment, trying to sum up his thoughts into a coherent sentence. He remembered the fear, both his own and of the people around him, the anxiety and foreboding of confronting the Death Eaters, the guilt he felt at having to leave Sirius, the panic of ensuring his companions were all safe.

"Terrifying." he said, feeling that that was the best description of his whirling thoughts. Dumbledore nodded as though he had expected this answer.

"Being afraid is good. It makes you more careful. Be careful that you do not let it consume you."

Harry nodded.

"I won't."

"Good."

"Do you really think Fudge will try to ignore this?" Harry asked.

"I certainly hope he'll take heed of this." Dumbledore said, running a hand over his face. "He would be a fool not to. However, history is not on our side." Dumbledore paused, as though considering something. "Alastor found something rather interesting while doing some research within the Ministry. Are you familiar with the name Bellatrix Lestrange?"

Harry racked his brain. The name certainly sounded familiar, though he couldn't place it.

"I've heard it before, though I can't remember where."

"Probably from Sirius." Dumbledore guessed. "She's his cousin. Anyway, Bellatrix Lestrange was imprisoned in Azkaban several years ago, in a very high profile case. Recently, however, it was discovered that she had escaped, or rather, had been broken out."

"Surely the Prophet would have reported something like this?" Harry asked. "If it was that high profile at the time..."

"Ah, but that's just it." Dumbledore said sadly. "Fudge doesn't want anyone to know. He thinks it'll make him and his administration look bad."

"And the public will love him if this is kept quiet?" Harry asked incredulously.

"I don't presume to know what Fudge's motives are," Dumbledore said. "though it seems that he's of the opinion of out of sight, out of mind."

Harry shook his head.

"He's an idiot."

Dumbledore chuckled.

"A popular opinion." Dumbledore peered over his glasses at Harry. "I should get you back to Sirius. I'm sure he's worried about you." He made his way around his desk as Harry stood. Standing next to Harry, he began undoing the bandages around Harry's arm. The blood had stopped flowing, leaving a long, jagged rift in his skin. Dumbledore's eyes hardened slightly as he looked at it, drawing his wand. He placed the tip at one end of the cut.

"Vulnera Sanentur!"

Harry watched as his skin was knitted back together, leaving no trace of the wound. Dumbledore nodded at his handiwork, stowing his wand away. He then proffered his arm to Harry.

"If you would, Harry?"

Harry reached out, grabbing the headmaster's arm. As soon as he did, he once again experienced the uncomfortable sensation of Apparating, reappearing moments later outside his home. He let go of Dumbledore's arm and walked through the gate, turning back to the headmaster.

"Well, I expect I shall see you soon enough, Harry." Dumbledore said, smiling slightly. He turned and disappeared. Harry gazed at the spot that Dumbledore had disappeared from, then turned, drawing his wand and unlocking the front door.

-x-x-x-x-x-

Sirius was waiting inside, sitting at the bottom of the stairs. He had been sitting there since the Doppel!Harry had melted away, refusing to go to sleep until he was sure that Harry was safe and unharmed.

He looked up as he heard a tapping on the door. As soon as Harry crossed the threshold, he crossed the length of the foyer in five paces, engulfing Harry in a bone-breaking hug. He felt Harry chuckling against his chest.

"Thank Merlin you're ok." he said, releasing his godson, taking a step back to look at him properly. The boy looked tired, certainly, that was to be expected. But there was something different in his eyes. The boy looked older, as though what he had experienced had aged him a great deal in the last few hours.

"Are you hurt?"

Harry's stomach churned as he shook his head.

"Just tired." His hand drifted unconsciously toward his wounded arm before he caught himself, moving his hand to scratch at his chin.

Sirius let out a relieved sigh.

"I can't tell you how glad I am that you're safe. You'd better get to bed. We'll talk more tomorrow."

Harry nodded, accompanying his godfather as they both ascended the stairs. Bed sounded really good right about now.

-x-x-x-x-x-

TERROR AT THE QUIDDITCH WORLD CUP!

By Rita Skeeter

Ireland's World Cup victory should have been a cause for much celebration, but instead it was eclipsed by the horrific events that occurred after the match.

In the early hours of the morning, not long after the culmination of a wonderful and memorable World Cup Final, (for a full report on the match, see page 5), the main campsite, home to thousands of witches and wizards from all over the world, was viciously attacked by a large group of masked assailants. The group marched through the site, setting anything and everything ablaze.

"It was terrifying." Bertie Simpson, 34, said. "My family and I returned to our tent, only to see a smouldering wreckage. Such a travesty should never have occurred."

Indeed, this attack brings into question the reliability of the Ministry of Magic in it's ability to keep the magical population of Britain safe. While Aurors and Hit Wizards were present at the World Cup, they were almost unable to contain the situation.

The situation would have been a lot worse were it not for the assistance of a small group of vigilantes, helping to evacuate civilians as well as round up and restrain the attackers. None of these saviours were available for comment.

A Ministry insider reported that the Dark Mark was cast into the sky, after which those attackers that had not been already restrained fled the scene. It is unknown whether this indicates Death Eater presence, or if it was simply a scare tactic. Either way, no groups have come forward to claim ownership of this heinous attack.

The Minister for Magic was not available for comment at the time of writing.

-x-x-x-x-x-

Fudge was fuming by the time he had finished reading Rita Skeeter's report. He had a good mind to go down to the offices of the Daily Prophet and give the woman a piece of his mind. The problem was, and he was loathe to admit it, the woman did actually have a point in her report. Normally, her reports were full of fabrications or half-truths, but she had hit the nail right on the head with this one.

He had to find out who was leading this vigilante group. They had come out of seemingly nowhere, showing up his Aurors and making him look bad. This wouldn't go over well with the public. His poll figures were already at an all time low. He couldn't afford any more blows to his administration, or he'd be out on his ear.

Breathing heavily, he pulled a piece of parchment towards him, dipping his quill in the small pot of ink on the desk. He considered for a moment, then began to write, the scratching of his quill the only sound in the otherwise graveyard silence.

-x-x-x-x-x-

"All right, I'm coming!" Harry shouted at the insistent knocking on the front door. He jumped the final six steps, landing cat-like on the foyer floor. He sprang forward, crossing the foyer easily, turning the handle and pulling the door open.

As soon as the door was open, Harry found himself engulfed by a mane of bushy brown hair. He wrapped his arms around Hermione as she buried her face in his neck.

"Thank God you're okay." he heard her whisper. With one hand, he reached out, pushing the door closed again. They simply stood there for a long time, Hermione refusing to let go, as though she were scared Harry would disappear if she did.

Sirius poked his head around the corner from the kitchen, presumably to check on who was knocking so insistently at such an early hour. He took one look at the two teenagers, still wrapped in each other's arms, before beating a hasty, silent retreat.

When they finally separated, Harry took Hermione's hand, leading her through the house to the living room. Hermione sat down on the sofa, Harry sitting close next to her.

"I was so scared." Hermione said, her eyes brimming with tears. Harry smiled comfortingly.

"I'm okay. I'm fine."

Hermione nodded, reaching, brushing the tears away from her eyes.

"I thought I might have lost you." Hermione admitted. "The Prophet - "

"Is full of rubbish." Harry said firmly. He and Sirius had both seen the newspaper's report on the events, and while he couldn't fault it for accuracy, for once, he wasn't about to tell Hermione that. "Sirius and I got out almost immediately." His stomach was rolling uncomfortably. He didn't like lying to Hermione, especially about something that was so obviously distressing for her.

It's for her own good, he kept reminding himself. That didn't make liking it any easier.

"Really?" Hermione asked, her tone hopeful. Harry nodded, his insides squirming horribly. "That's good."

Harry put his arm around her, kissing her quickly before fully embracing her, running a hand through her hair.

"Yeah, it is."

-x-x-x-x-x-

"You wished to see me, Minister?"

Fudge looked up to see Rufus Scrimgeour standing in the doorway of his office. His lips pursed as he gestured to the empty seat across from him.

"Yes. Please, sit."

Scrimgeour did so, regarding the Minister carefully. The man didn't look happy, something that was almost a common sight these days.

"I'm assuming you know why I asked to see you today?" Fudge asked, his eyes cold and hard.

Scrimgeour shook his head.

"I'm sorry, Minister, I must admit I don't."

"Really?" Fudge's eyes flashed. "So you know nothing about this!?" He slammed the morning's Daily Prophet down in front of the Head of the Auror Office.

Scrimgeour didn't need to look at the newspaper lying in front of him. He knew what it said. Everyone knew what it said.

"Explain." Fudge hissed.

"I don't know what to tell you, Minister." Scrimgeour said truthfully. "My Aurors did the best they could, as well as the on site security."

"Not enough, evidently!" Fudge roared. "These vigilantes just turned up and basically did ninety percent of your job!"

"And thats a problem?" Scrimgeour asked, unsure if he was overstepping his boundaries here. He knew about the Order's involvement, Kingsley had informed him of such, but he couldn't link it to them. Fudge would have his head on a pike if he thought Scrimgeour couldn't handle his own job. "If they hadn't assisted, the whole debacle would have made this administration look ineffectual."

"This makes my administration look ineffectual!" Fudge cried, throwing his hands in the air, rising out of his seat and pacing around. "The best combat specialists the Ministry has to offer, being shown up by a group of people with their own agendas? I will not let this stand!"

"So what do you intend to do about it?" Scrimgeour asked, trying to keep his voice even. Sometimes, the Minister could be so conceited, it was infuriating.

Fudge stopped his pacing, leaning on his desk to look Scrimgeour straight in the eye.

"I don't intend to do anything. These are your Aurors, which makes them your problem." Scrimgeour repressed an exasperated sigh at Fudge's attempt to once again shift the blame from himself onto someone else. One day, it was coming back to bite the man, hard. "You will run a full retraining of every Auror in the Office."

Scrimgeour's eyes bugged out.

"You have got to be kidding, Fudge?" he asked, rising to his feet as well. "Do you really think we have the luxury of time to retrain every Auror? Going by the events at the World Cup, I think not!"

"The events at the World Cup would never have happened had you trained your Aurors properly!" Fudge retaliated immediately.

Scrimgeour sighed.

"Well, I'm sorry our psychic powers weren't up to par enough to foresee the attack."

Fudge breathed slowly.

"Choose your next words carefully, Scrimgeour." Scrimgeour didn't speak. "Once you have completed the retraining of the Aurors, you will investigate this band of vigilantes. I will not have them bring down this Ministry."

Scrimgeour took in a calming breath.

"As you wish."

Fudge sank back down into his chair.

"Dismissed, Scrimgeour."

Scrimgeour nodded, turning on his heel and striding out of the office.

One thing was for sure, he wouldn't be retraining his Aurors.

-x-x-x-x-x-

"What news?"

Bellatrix knelt by the chair, looking up at her master with fanatical adoration. When she spoke, however, her voice was full of venom and malice.

"They ran, my Lord, like dogs from a whip." Barty nodded his agreement, his face contorted in disgust.

"They will be punished." Voldemort hissed, his voice deadly quiet. "For now, though, we must concentrate on our current objective. Wormtail!"

Pettigrew jumped, appearing from the shadows, cowering in front of the three other people in the room.

"M-my Lord?"

"Have you heard anything yet?"

"Not yet, my Lord." Pettigrew whimpered. "Dumbledore is a private man, but I should find out soon."

Bellatrix fixed him with a look of open contempt, causing the small man to cower back into the shadows.

"You will tell us what you discover immediately, Wormtail." Voldemort said, his voice icy. "We cannot afford to lose any more time."

"O-of course, my Lord."

He retreated back into the shadowy corner as Voldemort addressed Barty.

"What of the Tournament?"

Barty grinned sadistically.

"On that front, my Lord, we may have an opportunity..."