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Fics begun in 2003 (post-OOTP)

Chapter Sixteen

UNCONTROLLED DESCENT

An Auror showed Harry and Lupin to the Grangers’ study. “Madam Bones will meet you here,” he said to them. “She stepped out for a moment.”

To either side, the walls were lined with heavily loaded bookshelves. Harry turned as the door was closed behind him, and saw that there were more shelves to either side of the door. A large desk faced the door. Lupin peered at the computer that sat on the desk. A bay window and pictures – scores of framed pictures, of all shapes and sizes – dominated the wall opposite the door. Harry rounded the desk and began looking at the pictures. They quickly showed Harry two things that he already knew: that Hermione was an only child, and that the Grangers were well travelled. There were few pictures of all three Grangers – most were of Hermione, her mother, or the both of them. A handful of pictures showed a young Hermione with people who Harry presumed were her grandparents. He began to notice other things, like how Hermione was alone in so many of her childhood pictures – there were no signs of friends or schoolmates – or how she seemed terribly serious, even as a small child.

The door creaked open. “Hello, Tom. A computer, isn’t it?” Lupin asked, pointing at the Macintosh.

“It was a Mac, at any rate,” Mr. Granger said. “Arthur tells me that all this magic is rather hard on electronics. We couldn’t raise a thing on the telly, either.”

Harry turned and acknowledged Mr. Granger. “Hello, sir,” he mumbled cautiously.

Mr. Granger’s expression was neither friendly nor unfriendly. It was sad in a way, but not so sad as to mark pity. Harry had seen that same expression on a number of people over the summer, and wished that he could firmly place it. “I favour that picture,” he said, pointing to where Harry had left off. Hermione looked to be a toddler, perhaps three years old. She was holding a worn-looking copy of The House at Pooh Corner, open and propped against her knees. Her eyes were like saucers and her mouth was slightly open, as though she were reading aloud.

“I’ll never forget that moment,” Mr. Granger reminisced. “Out of nowhere, she began to read on her own. At first, I was certain that she simply remembered the stories. Then she picked up that very book – she knew the characters but we’d never read aloud that particular one – opens to the first page, and calls out, ‘In which a house is built for Eeyore at Pooh Corner’! I very nearly fell out of my chair, I can tell you – dashed off for a camera, and there you have it.”

Harry nodded, but was already drawn to another picture. It looked to be very recent. Hermione was in profile, seated at one of the high-backed benches. Her feet were propped on the table between the benches, and she was reading – of course. Her hair was pulled back in a way Harry had never seen before, but windswept wisps fell against her face; orange light – sunset? – lent a slightly reddish cast to her hair and to the rest of the scene.

Mr. Granger said, “That was her first week back – the only evening without rain, as I recall. She didn’t feel well at all, though she was pretending otherwise. I didn’t want to bother; I just wanted to be near, you know? When I developed that shot, I was bowled over… I thought to myself, ‘good Lord, she looks like a grown woman’.”

Harry felt an odd tightness in his chest simply looking at the picture. He felt a desperate urge to talk to her, to explain somehow, so that he could breathe again. She did look terribly grown up. “I never noticed how much she looks like her mother,” he observed.

Mr. Granger smiled wistfully. “In the end, I suppose that’s why I framed it up,” he said. “Would you like to have it?”

Harry reeled for a moment. “I’m sorry?”

“Would you like it?” Mr. Granger asked. “It’s obvious that you fancy the picture. I can always print another. I can always take another.” He hesitated for a moment, and then added in a strained voice, “I still have the genuine article, you see… and… and I have you to thank for that.” He removed the frame from the wall, awkwardly thrust it at Harry, and quickly left the room. Harry stood dumbfounded.

Without looking away from the computer, Lupin said, “I believe that the correct response was ‘you’re welcome’.”

Harry gazed at the picture. “He should hate me. Why doesn’t he hate me?” he asked bitterly.

Lupin appeared stung. “Hate you? Whatever for? You saved his daughter’s life today, and you seem intent upon ignoring that fact.”

Harry dropped heavily into one of the two chairs that faced the desk. “I killed those people, and I didn’t have to kill them. I’m a murderer,” he said flatly.

A hand fell firmly atop his shoulder, and gave what felt like a friendly squeeze. Harry hadn’t heard the door.

“You are not a murderer, Harry – despite anything that Minister Fudge or anyone else may have said or implied,” Madam Bones said. “I think that all of us have a mounting interest in how you did what you did. I haven’t interviewed a single person this evening that failed to understand why you did it. Mr. Lupin, you may sit behind the desk if you like.”

Madam Bones slowly settled into the chair that faced Harry. She carefully adjusted her monocle, and appraised him from head to toe. Harry shrank back slightly – he was left with no doubt about who was in charge at that moment.

“When you took action, was Hermione Granger about to be killed?” she asked abruptly.

“Yes,” Harry answered.

“Why are you so certain?”

“The look on her face.”

“What look was that?”

“She was resigned to it – at peace, in a strange way.”

“I see. Who was going to kill her, then?”

“Wormtail. He was trying to… he was using a spell that Dumbledore had cast on Hermione. He was using it as a weapon against her.”

“Wormtail, you say? That name refers to Peter Pettigrew, does it not?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“You also claim that Peter Pettigrew was actually responsible for the deaths of your parents, and the deaths of twelve Muggles currently attributed to Sirius Black. Is that correct?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“How are you certain that it was Pettigrew?”

“It was his voice – I have no doubt about that. He also has a metal arm, given to him by Voldemort.”

“How would you know that this metal arm came from Voldemort?”

“I was present when it was given, ma’am, after the Triwizard Tournament at Hogwarts.”

“Yes, of course. I am familiar with those events. So… Mr. Pettigrew was about to kill Miss Granger, using the secondary consequences of a curse that Professor Dumbledore had previously cast upon her. Is that correct, Harry?”

Harry began, “Yes, ma’am…” He froze. The rapid-fire pace of Madam Bones’ questions left him unsteady. He carefully added, “I don’t believe that I called it a curse.”

“No, you did not,” Madam Bones confirmed. “Let us continue with the events of the day, shall we? In addition to Mr. Pettigrew, I understand that Voldemort was present. For which other Death Eaters can you directly account?”

Harry recounted, “Another Death Eater called Mulciber also tortured Hermione. Lucius Malfoy was there as well – he spoke to Mr. Weasley, and I know his voice better than I’d like. Mr. Granger knocked Vincent Crabbe unconscious. Voldemort told me that the Death Eater I… the one I threw from the window was called Travers. I took down three of them who had pinned down Tonks in the yard… Ron and I took down three of them upstairs, perhaps more… I knocked two from the roof… another one cast the Dark Mark, but wasn’t supposed to do it –”

Madam Bones cut in, “Ron Weasley believes that may have been Draco Malfoy.”

Harry fought to remain expressionless. “I thought so, at the time. Whoever cast the Mark knew that they would be summoning Aurors, and knew that they weren’t supposed to cast it.”

“You have doubts that it was young Mr. Malfoy?” Madam Bones asked.

“As I’ve thought about it, the voice seemed too high – it could have been a woman,” Harry said.

Madam Bones continued, “You were bound in the dining room. How were you freed?”

“By Dobby – he Apparated into the dining room, or whatever it is that house elves do.”

“Once you were freed, you moved from a seated position at one end of the dining room table to a standing position at the other end. How did you accomplish this?”

“I don’t know. One instant, I was sitting. The next instant, I had my hands on Wormtail’s throat.”

“It seemed like an instant to you?”

“Yes, ma’am. The ropes came off my ankles, and then I was choking Wormtail.”

“I see. You were furious, then?”

“Yes.”

“Wormtail was killing Miss Granger.”

“Yes.”

“She was in terrible pain.”

“Yes – she was…”

“She was screaming.”

“Yes – it was terrible, it was…”

“It was the most terrible thing you’ve ever heard?”

“Yes – she didn’t even sound human.” Harry’s eyes felt moist.

“You had to do something, didn’t you?”

“Yes!”

“You had to save her, didn’t you?”

Yes!

“You had to get to the end of that table, didn’t you? But there wasn’t time, was there?”

No! I… I didn’t have a wand, and there were seven of them besides Wormtail and Voldemort, and everyone else was there, and Voldemort was going to have them all killed if I –”

“If you so much as moved while Wormtail killed Miss Granger, then everyone else would die, wouldn’t they? Isn’t that what Voldemort told you?”

Yes! All the Death Eaters had their wands out and –”

“They were going to kill them all, weren’t they? They were going to do it no matter what you did, weren’t they?”

Harry’s hands shook, and he began to sweat profusely at the temples. “They were going to kill everyone there – the Weasleys, Tonks, Hermione and her parents… I couldn’t let them… I couldn’t… I had to stop them… all of them…”

“Yes, you did. You had to get to Wormtail in an instant, and then get every last one of them before there was a single moment to respond, and you had to do it without a wand. You had to get to Wormtail in an instant, didn’t you? You had to get him, didn’t you?”

Yes, damn it!” Harry shouted as sweat dripped down his nose. “I had to get him! He was hurting her… Voldemort hurt her – he… he forced himself into her mind… I had to get Wormtail… I had to… I had to hurt him! He had to pay for… for everything!” He gripped the arms of his chair, and they fell to pieces in his hands. The glass in the frame on his lap exploded into tiny shards. Madam Bones never flinched.

Lupin put one hand on each of Harry’s shoulders. “It’s over, Harry,” he said soothingly. “It’s over now.”

Madam Bones appraised him again, even more deliberately than before. “I apologise for provoking you. As some of my younger Aurors would say, I was ‘playing a hunch’. You would not be human if you felt no sense of vengeance, given the circumstances. It is also clear that you are not suffering from simple adolescent control problems. Harry, tell me honestly… do you believe that you’re a danger to others?”

Harry picked up the picture frame, cutting his hands in the process. He looked intently at the picture of Hermione, now peppered with small rips and tears. “I don’t know anymore,” he croaked. “I didn’t know that I could become angry enough to kill. Hermione flinched when I… she…” His fingers left droplets of blood on the picture, and he dropped it. “She’s frightened of me,” he whispered, and he began to cry.

He cried for his parents. He cried for Cedric Diggory, and he cried for Sirius. He cried for everyone who had ever been hurt because of being with him or knowing him. He cried for Ron, and for Ginny, and for Luna and Neville. He cried for Hermione, because she had been hurt so badly on his account, and because their friendship seemed lost. He noticed that Lupin repaired the glass and the frame and the picture, and he was glad for it. In the picture, Hermione appeared as she should – in his mind, he still saw her screaming in agony. Lupin handed him a tissue, and wrapped a gentle arm around him.

After a seeming eternity, Madam Bones asked quietly, “Harry, what are we going to do with you?”

Harry looked at her questioningly through a haze of tears. “What’s that supposed to mean?” he spluttered.

Madam Bones explained, “This is the third time in one week that I have been called upon to intercede in your life. First, there was the will. I think that Albus was dead-on in his assessment, though I am increasingly convinced that Sirius Black may have had his heart in the right place. Then, there was the issue of your status at Hogwarts. As a Governor, I found myself in a very awkward position –”

Harry sat bolt upright. He wiped tears from his face with the back of his hand, and asked angrily, “You’re one of the Governors?”

“Yes, I am,” Madam Bones said. “We were left with little choice in the matter. When addressing matters relating to you, I consider six of the thirteen votes to be bought and paid for. If not for public relations considerations, I believe that the Governors would have dismissed you outright. But now… Harry, you’ve been misled enough. I shan’t contribute to that pattern. I believe it is highly likely that the Governors will be called to reconvene. I do not expect that we will be able to hold together all seven of the votes available to us.”

“Are you saying that I’ll be dismissed over this?” Harry asked apprehensively.

“I discussed the possibility a few minutes ago with your Headmaster,” Madam Bones answered. “He asked me to consider possible alternatives, and I will do so. I find that I have mixed feelings about your options, especially where Headmaster Dumbledore is concerned. On the one hand, I believe that there is no one more capable than he to help you understand and harness… well… whatever it is that is happening to you. On the other hand, my confidence in his motives has been shaken of late. There is no secret sufficiently important to warrant what he did to Miss Granger. Rather than concentrating on your needs, he appears to have spent the evening preventing others from revealing the secret that Miss Granger kept.”

“I had to tell everyone, in order to protect Hermione from the curse,” Harry said.

“I don’t suppose that you care to share the same information with me?” Madam Bones asked. “The information might clarify his motives in cursing one of his own students.”

“Dumbledore wouldn’t approve, I’m sure,” Harry groused.

Lupin said to Madam Bones, “I daresay that Albus might feel better about it, were you prepared to join in his efforts to resist Voldemort.”

Madam Bones ignored Lupin’s point. “Harry, I know that there was a prophecy kept in the Department of Mysteries which pertained to you, and that it was destroyed in the fighting,” she said. “I assume that you must have heard the entire prophecy. Its contents, whatever they may have been, are of no material bearing upon the matters at hand. The Headmaster’s first obligation is to the welfare of his pupils. He has violated that obligation in relation to Miss Granger, and to you as well.”

Harry’s eyebrows rose slightly. “I understand that I’m in difficulty with the Governors. Are you hinting that Dumbledore might be…?”

Madam Bones smiled faintly. “The Headmaster is in perpetual difficulty with the Governors. It is very nearly a state of being. You appear concerned, Harry.”

Harry sighed. “He’s done his best, I’m sure.”

Madam Bones regarded him with some sympathy. “The Headmaster’s relationship with Hogwarts extends back into the previous century – you shoulder responsibility far too readily. I know that he takes that into account, as do many of us with a hand in your welfare. We’ll come up with something, Harry.”

“I don’t care anymore, ma’am. I just want to go home,” Harry said dejectedly.

He felt himself being appraised through the monocle yet again, before Madam Bones said, “Very well, then. I presume you are interested to hear my findings?” Harry nodded nervously.

Madam Bones drew up in her chair, and Harry decided that she could easily make Professor McGonagall seem like a cuddly kitten. In a very formal tone, she announced, “Harry James Potter, I find that you bear neither criminal responsibility nor legal liability in the deaths of at least seven and perhaps as many as ten so-called Death Eaters earlier today. Your actions were undertaken principally in the defence of others. I do not believe that you represent any public danger sufficient to warrant action by the Ministry, though I would suggest that you avoid stressful situations until such time as you are able to… er… establish control over your recently manifested abilities. As you are emancipated and you have acted legally in this matter, I am limited in my ability to mandate your future actions. I very strongly recommend that you make arrangements for some type of counselling. Mr. Lupin, you hold a very important place in Mr. Potter’s life, and I fervently hope that you will provide any assistance in this area that Mr. Potter may require. I recognise that such services carry a strong stigma in many segments of the wizarding world, but there are ways around almost everything. As inveterate rule breakers, both of you should know that. Speak to Miss Granger about the events of the past week, at the earliest opportunity – I simply ask that you trust me on this point. Do you have any questions of me?”

“No, ma’am,” Harry said nervously.

“Good,” Madam Bones said. “Minister Fudge is surely skulking about. He is going to be less than satisfied with my findings. I propose that we both see him and address his unhappiness straight away.” She stood, and motioned toward the door.

Madam Bones proved astute; Fudge nearly fell into the room as the door was opened. “Outrageous, Amelia!” he cried. “This is wholly unacceptable. The people shall demand satisfaction!”

Dumbledore closely followed him into the room. “Which people and for what purpose, Cornelius? It may prove personally and politically disadvantageous to consort with those who would demand satisfaction for the loss of a few notable Death Eaters.”

Fudge jabbed his index finger toward Harry. “You are a menace to society, Potter – a grave danger. You endanger anyone with the misfortune to be near you, and you have risked the security of our entire world with this sort of brazen skirmish. Even Amelia admits that you are out of control, and it is my sworn responsibility to maintain control and order. I can very easily have you committed to St. Mungo’s until such time as we sort out these dangerous powers of yours!”

Mrs. Granger pushed past a beefy Auror and into the study, with a dazed-looking Hermione in tow. She spat at Fudge, “We’ve had enough of you! If you represent the best of what wizards have to offer, then it’s little wonder that this Voldemort of yours is running rampant. I demand that you leave this house, sir!”

Fudge quickly recovered from hearing Voldemort’s name spoken aloud, and he attempted something that Harry suspected was supposed to be charm. “Mrs. – ahem – Granger, is it? – I do apologise for the inconvenience all of this has spawned. You’re certainly not the first people who have suffered because of Potter, but I will do my level best to assure that you’re the last. Of course, my earlier offer remains open. Surely, it would be easier for you if today had simply never happened…”

Mr. Granger glowered at Fudge from the doorway. “Cordelia and I want you and your… your henchmen out of here – now,” he warned.

Fudge peered down his nose. “I do hope that was not intended as a threat. My associates do not take kindly to threats.” He motioned at the beefy Auror in the doorway.

Madam Bones moved toward Fudge until he was forced to take a step backward. “I will remind you that the gentleman in the doorway works for me,” she said.

Dumbledore quietly suggested to Fudge and Madam Bones, “Perhaps the three of us can agree upon a solution that would be in Harry’s best interests.” Harry crossed his arms and glared.

Mrs. Granger’s eyes narrowed. “I’ve had my fill of you, as well,” she said to Dumbledore.

Fudge aimed a sugary-sweet glance toward Hermione. “My dear girl, I’m certain that you can explain this situation in a manner that your parents are able to understand. I realise that the Ministry has stumbled in its efforts to protect your kind, but I promise you here and now –”

Harry saw Hermione’s eyes flash at the mention of ‘your kind’. She pulled herself from the daze, and cut off Fudge. “Minister, to what kind do you refer?” she asked acidly.

Fudge stammered, “I’m sorry – I don’t –”

“You suggested that the Ministry has made efforts to protect ‘my kind’, though I rather doubt that,” Hermione continued. “I think that you should specify the kind to which you refer. I believe that everyone here would appreciate a thorough explanation.”

Fudge blustered, “Well, miss, I think that you may be making too much of… it’s common parlance, of course…”

Hermione raised an eyebrow. “It’s common parlance among whom, exactly – certainly not among the Muggle-born? Minister, we await your explanation. In fact, I look forward to reading it in the Daily Prophet tomorrow.”

Fudge looked to Madam Bones, who said flatly, “You ought not to leave Miss Granger waiting, Minister.”

Harry was enjoying the spectacle of Hermione slowly strangling Fudge with his own remark, when he noticed Lupin looking curiously at the carpeting.

“What is it, Remus?” he asked quietly.

Lupin replied, “Blood.”

“Is it mine?” Harry asked.

“No,” Lupin said. He knelt, and cautiously sniffed. “Definitely not yours…”

Fudge turned to watch, clearly relieved by the distraction. Mr. Granger peered over Lupin’s shoulder. “That blood wasn’t here this afternoon,” he said.

“I’ve been in this room for the better part of two hours, and I didn’t see it,” Madam Bones added.

Lupin touched the carpet with his finger. “Damp… fresh,” he muttered. He buried his nose to the carpet, and sniffed again. He growled and crawled along a widely scattered trail of droplets, which led from beneath the desk toward the foot of one of the bookshelves. He began tearing books from the shelves wildly.

“Remus! What’s got into you?” Mr. Granger cried out. He tried vainly to catch books as they flew.

Lupin stopped. There was a small hole behind some of the books, which appeared to lead into the wall. He sniffed again, and whirled to face everyone. He looked wild, and his teeth were bared.

I smell a rat!” he snarled. When he received blank stares, he snapped, “Peter is a rat Animagus! He’s still here!”

Madam Bones’ monocle fell to the end of its chain as her eyebrows shot upward. “Pettigrew is still here!” she exclaimed. She barked to the Auror in the doorway. “Haversham! I want the yard blanketed. Get Arthur Weasley and his sons, and Shacklebolt and Tonks as well – we need everyone looking for a rat. Merlin only knows what he may have heard!”

Harry watched Fudge puff up, in a manner very reminiscent of Uncle Vernon. “Peter – Pettigrew – is – dead,” he firmly insisted.

Dumbledore said calmly, “That statement bears a strong similarity to your attitude regarding Voldemort, prior to recent events. You may wish to exercise some caution in this instance.”

Percy burst into the room and sidled up to Fudge. “Minister, the press are assembled in the front room as you requested. They’re awaiting your statement.”

“In my front room? There are journalists in my front room?” Mr. Granger fumed.

Fudge said hurriedly, “Tell them that I’ll be there presently. We need a moment to tidy some loose ends.” He turned on Madam Bones. “We must reconsider an untenable decision on the part of one of my subordinates.”

Mr. Granger advanced on Percy. They were the same height, but Mr. Granger possessed the presence that Percy lacked. “They will wait outside,” he ordered.

Percy muttered something about mad Muggles, and fled the room. He was rudely bumped by Bill as both passed through the doorway. Bill immediately drew his wand and flicked it toward the far wall. Part of the bookcase became transparent, and the inner workings of the wall behind it were revealed. Shacklebolt peered into the bay window from the outside, and Bill gestured for him to come around the corner of the house.

“What is directly above us?” Lupin demanded, his expression still feral.

“Hermione’s bedroom,” Mrs. Granger answered quickly.

Hermione erupted from the daze to which she had returned. “Ginny’s up there!” she gasped.

Somehow, despite standing several feet farther from the door, Harry beat the others out of the study and up the stairs. Lupin was very close at his heels – a low continuous snarl rumbled from his throat. Harry Disillusioned himself, silenced the floor, and carefully entered Hermione’s bedroom.

Wormtail stood with his back to Hermione’s writing desk, opposite the door and away from the window. His silver fingers were wrapped around Ginny’s neck tightly enough to leave reddening dimples.

“Hello, Harry,” Wormtail said. “I can smell you, just as I can smell Lupin in the hallway. It’s a useful consequence of spending twelve years in my rat form. I congratulate you on your prowess. You truly surprised me earlier – it’s safe to say that you surprised my Lord, as well. I dare say that James and Lily would have been proud.”

Never – say – their – names – again,” Harry warned as he caused himself to appear.

“I’m sorry, Harry,” Wormtail said mournfully. “There’s been enough dying here today. Arrange my passage from this house, and I assure you that your friend will live.”

“You’re pale, Wormtail,” said Harry. “You’ve lost a lot of blood, haven’t you?” Wormtail’s hair was matted with blood, apparently from a head wound. There were deep bruises on each side of his throat, where Harry’s thumbs had dug in.

“I’ll live, Harry, and I do appreciate your concern,” Wormtail mumbled. “Let me repeat… safe passage off this property – in exchange, the girl lives.”

“You won’t be going anywhere, Pettigrew,” Madam Bones called from the hallway, which was rapidly filling with people.

“Hello, Madam Bones,” Pettigrew said. “I truly enjoyed your classes. It’s a shame you’re no longer teaching at Hogwarts. I assume that the Headmaster is here, as well?”

“Mr. Pettigrew, there are no words that adequately express my disappointment in you,” Dumbledore said sadly.

Harry stepped toward Pettigrew. Pettigrew smiled slightly. “Come into my parlour, Harry,” he said. Harry felt his hair crackle with a sudden static charge.

“Did you try to ward against us?” Harry asked.

“I’m rather good with wards,” Pettigrew said. “Not quite as good as Sirius, but better than James was.”

You defile their names,” Lupin growled as he pushed his way into the room.

“It’s not as though I’m speaking ill of them – simply the truth,” Pettigrew said.

“You know that warding won’t keep me out,” Lupin warned.

“You know that my hand is silver,” Pettigrew reminded him. “A standoff, I think.”

“I would be satisfied to take you with me,” Lupin said darkly.

“Ah… but what about young Miss Weasley?” Pettigrew asked. He tightened his grip slightly. Ginny, already mute from the pressure, gagged audibly. “Shall all three of us journey beyond the veil, Remus?” He called out more loudly. “I suggest that you keep any Aurors or Hit Wizards clear, unless you want Miss Weasley’s blood on your hands.”

“Get him a broom,” Fudge called out from the hallway. “There shall be no more killing today. Pettigrew – or whoever you are – we will allow you to leave, provided that you hand over the girl.”

The hallway fell into bedlam, as half a dozen separate arguments broke out. Harry could see Fudge and Madam Bones snarling at one another. Dumbledore appeared impassive, but Harry realised that he was assessing Wormtail’s wards. He decided to do the same. Harry suspected that he could easily pass through, but he was worried about the hand. For all he knew, it might have a mind of its own – perhaps it would crush Ginny’s throat of its own accord, even if Wormtail were taken out. Lupin looked wilder by the minute, but held his ground near the door. Harry wondered how much longer the threat of silver would hold him at bay.

The crowd in the hall parted and Ron entered the room, bearing his Nimbus. “You didn’t think I went anywhere without it, did you?” he said to Harry.

Wormtail lifted his silver index finger from Ginny’s neck, and the Nimbus sailed through the wards into his human hand. No wonder I didn’t see him with a wand, Harry thought. With another waggle of his index finger, the window flung open. He dragged Ginny by the neck toward the window. The ward seemed to move with him; Harry felt a surge of static energy, and took two steps back and one to the side.

“She’ll be dropped off somewhere suitable,” Wormtail said. “After all, my Lord was insistent that her life be spared. I would hate to incur his wrath – though I shall risk it, should any of you interfere.”

Ron spat, “If you harm her, you won’t have to worry about Voldemort. I will find you, and I will kill you very slowly.”

Wormtail said quietly to Ginny, “It’s a rare treasure to have such a loyal family.” He eased up behind her, and managed to settle both of them onto the Nimbus without loosing his grip upon her neck. Through the window, Harry saw a figure sprinting across the yard.

Wormtail laughed. “Ah… I see that Lucius is making his escape!” The hallway erupted, and even Harry was distracted for a moment – just long enough for Wormtail to launch the Nimbus into the darkening sky.

Harry angrily crashed through the lingering ward, which crackled and sizzled before collapsing. The running figure was certainly blond-haired. Madam Bones rushed up behind him. “Merlin!” she shouted. After a quick sonorus, she boomed through the open window, “Stop that man, by any means necessary!” Wormtail continued onward over the neighbouring houses. She cancelled the spell, and turned toward the hallway door. “I want six people in the air after Pettigrew, now! Take shifts – track him, but do nothing to endanger the girl. Kingsley, I hope you’re up to tagging along?”

Fudge said, “I believe the Wizengamot will frown upon the use of suspended personnel, Amelia.”

Madam Bones glared at Fudge. “I believe the Wizengamot will have a number of questions about today’s events, Minister – beginning with Lucius Malfoy and ending with Peter Pettigrew.”

As he strode down the hall toward the stairs, Fudge called out, “Weasley! Inform the members of the press that the next briefing will be held tomorrow at eight o’clock, at the Ministry. Tell them… tell them that two additional Death Eaters have been rooted out, and that I am supervising the pursuit. When you’re finished, get me a car!”

“Why didn’t Wormtail set down and Apparate away?” Harry asked.

Dumbledore stroked his beard. “A fair question, Harry. I don’t recall him as a confident flier – he wasn’t fit for Quidditch. Any wise wizard is apprehensive about Apparating with an untreated head injury, of course.”

Madam Bones nodded. “That certainly does raise the chance of a splinching. There’s another possibility – he may intend to take her to Voldemort.”

Harry thought about Voldemort’s comment in the front room, when he ordered Ginny’s life spared. He thundered, “Accio Triumph!” The Bonneville shot across the yard and bounced through the open window and into the bedroom. Ron and Madam Bones barely stepped back in time to avoid being struck, as the motorbike landed roughly on its side and bounced to a stop at Harry’s feet. He added “Accio helmet” and his helmet struck him in the chest like a medicine ball, sending him reeling.

“What do you think you’re doing?” Madam Bones demanded. “How did you summon that… that thing?”

Lupin snarled, “I’m coming with you.”

Harry snapped, “Not a chance, Remus. You’re not coming anywhere near that hand of his.” Lupin glared at Harry and angrily ran from the room, presumably to join the chase after Lucius Malfoy.

Hermione and her mother remained in the hallway. Hermione said quietly, “Harry, stay away from it. It’s Voldemort’s hand. Do you understand? It’s Voldemort’s hand.” Harry took a step toward her, and she folded against Mrs. Granger.

Mrs. Granger cradled Hermione. She looked at Harry mournfully and said, “Be sure you come back, young man. Be safe.”

“Harry, remove that helmet at once,” Madam Bones ordered.

Ron said nervously, “You can’t chase after them alone. Did you bring your Nimbus?” Harry understood immediately – Ron intended to come, but not on the motorbike.

“No. Were you wearing a helmet?” Harry asked.

Ron goggled at Harry in confusion. “What?” he managed at last.

“In your vision – were you wearing a helmet?” Harry asked again.

Ron thought for a moment and then grinned. Harry fished for the second helmet in the saddlebag, enlarged it, and tossed it to Ron. Madam Bones stared at Harry in disbelief.

Harry gave what little explanation he could. “I don’t understand any of it – the punching, the wandless charms,” he said. “If I think about it, I can’t do it – that’s all I really know.”

“Harry…” Dumbledore began.

“What?” Harry blurted, his jaw set.

Dumbledore smiled slightly. “Ride with care, would you? Mr. Weasley, see that Harry keeps hold of his senses.”

Seconds later, they rocketed across the midnight blue sky after Wormtail and Ginny. They tore past six Aurors and Shacklebolt, giving chase on Nimbus 2000 brooms. Shacklebolt gave a terse wave as they passed.

“Do you have a plan?” Ron called out.

“No,” Harry said. “Any ideas?”

Ron suggested, “You’re looking for the Snitch, right? Start climbing, then.”

“Right,” Harry said. He began climbing higher and higher, to survey the area around them.

“Did you feel that?” Ron asked.

Harry was in Seeker mode, and didn’t welcome the interruption. “Feel what?” he snapped.

“Something happened to my ears – it’s like they popped or something,” Ron said. “I don’t think I’ve ever been this high above the ground before. Do you suppose that has something to do with it?”

“I’ve heard that people’s ears pop on aeroplanes,” Harry said absently.

“You mean those Muggle flying contraptions?” Ron asked. “You haven’t been on one, have you? My dad would go spare over that.”

Harry ignored him, instead concentrating on sorting out the sights before him. He saw a flash of movement that was definitely airborne. He carefully pointed. “What do you think?”

“Moving a bit slow, isn’t it?” Ron pointed out.

“He probably doesn’t think that anyone give chase,” Harry surmised. “Besides, Dumbledore did say he wasn’t a great flier. We’ll stay high and close the distance.”

After a few minutes, both Harry and Ron were certain they had found the Nimbus. Wormtail was flying a few thousand feet above the ground, heading north. He hadn’t yet made good on his promise to drop off Ginny – they could clearly make out two figures.

“How can we sneak up on them?” Harry wondered aloud. “Either he’ll hear us coming, or he’ll have a Perimeter Charm of some kind. If we come up from behind, chances are good that he’ll toss Ginny over the side.”

“That might not be a bad thing,” Ron said nonchalantly.

Harry spluttered, “Do you care to explain that, or should I turn toward St. Mungo’s now?”

“Could you catch a person in mid-air, given a few thousand feet to do it?” Ron asked.

“I expect so. I certainly wouldn’t want to…” Harry mused. “What are you doing?”

Ron turned on the seat until both legs were hanging over the right side of the bike. “I’m going to do Dangerous Dai’s Death Drop, more or less,” he said calmly. “Either Wormtail drops her, or I shove her off. When she falls, you’re going to be below and in position to pick her up.”

Harry shrieked, “Dangerous Dai’s Death Drop? Have – you – gone – barkingmad? You do that with a broom, for Merlin’s sake!”

“I am doing it with a broom – that one,” Ron said, pointing down in the direction of the Nimbus.

Harry began, “Dumbledore said…”

Ron laughed, “Dumbledore told me to be sure that you kept hold of your senses – I was listening, you know. He didn’t say a thing about me. Pity, isn’t it?”

Harry turned at the waist, and frantically grabbed a handful of Ron’s shirt. “We must be two thousand feet above them!” he shouted. “What you’re considering – it’s like diving into a teacup!”

“Didn’t you ever jump off roofs when you were a kid…? Oh! I suppose you didn’t, did you? Trust me – you’d be surprised just how much you can manoeuvre.” Ron tightened the chinstrap on his helmet until it dug into his flesh. “We can talk to one another with these things, right? You spot me, then – make sure I’m heading in the correct direction.”

“The only direction you’d be going is down! How would I spot you, anyway? It’s almost dark!” Harry protested.

Ron stared deeply into Harry’s eyes. His face was etched with anger and pain, and a muscle in his neck twitched. “I’m not losing my sister today,” he snarled through clenched teeth.

Harry shouted, “I will not help you commit suicide! You stay – on – this – bike! Do you understand me?

“If you don’t catch her, you may as well head straight into the pitch. Do you understand ME?” Ron elbowed Harry’s hand free.

Harry quickly reached out, and caught thin air. “Ron! Damn it – RON!”

Ron shouted back, his voice trailing off as he fell away, “Last one down buys the butterbeer!”

The Death Drop was how Dangerous Dai Llewellyn first received his nickname from the Caerphilly fans. In 1956, Caerphilly had been losing to the Karasjok Kites 130-to-nil when Llewellyn spotted the Snitch. Like Harry, Llewellyn liked to search for the Snitch from the highest possible vantage. That particular time, Llewellyn was a solid five hundred feet above the top of the stands. He spotted the Snitch twenty feet behind the Karasjok Seeker. If he made a move, he knew that the other Karasjok players would catch on, alert their Seeker, and the game would be over. So, Llewellyn intentionally fell off his broom. Dangling the broom in one hand by its end, he dove headfirst toward the Karasjok Seeker. Everyone in the stands and everyone on a broom froze in place, certain that Llewellyn would have to be scraped off the pitch. Even the Snitch was fooled. He was less than twenty feet above the opposing Seeker before he hooked his foot around his broom, sat up, and fell hard atop the Snitch. The Karasjok Seeker slipped from his broom, broke his arm, and immediately cried foul. Karasjok didn’t get the foul; Llewellyn never actually touched either the other Seeker or his broom. Llewellyn got the Snitch; the win; two broken ankles from his 30 miles-per-hour impact into the pitch; and worldwide acclaim.

This version of the Death Drop went far beyond dangerous – one broom, two players, in the twilight… in addition to the aerial stunt that Ron was asking of Harry. Harry expected that Wormtail would be unenthusiastic about giving up the Nimbus in mid-flight. He pointed the Bonneville nearly straight down, aiming for a point below and beyond Wormtail and Ginny’s position.

Harry passed Ron and shot wide, to avoid being seen or detected by Wormtail. Ron looked to be head-down, arms out – he was a little off vertical.

The wind tore at Harry. “He’s about five hundred feet down and fifty ahead of you, give or take,” he shouted against the din.

Ron’s voice crackled inside Harry’s helmet. “I see him! This is… urgh… a wild… oof… ride, Harry…”

“You’re too far behind!” Harry gasped. He tried to imagine how he might catch both Ron and Ginny, if it came to that.

Harry could barely hear Ron – he wondered if the helmets had a limited range, or if Ron was actually having difficulty speaking. Ron’s voice was strained and staccato. “Did I ever – tell you that – Charlie – taught me – how dragons – glide?” he managed. Harry saw an iridescent flash, and guessed that Ron was using his jacket as a kind of airfoil.

Wormtail either saw a flash of motion or a Perimeter Charm went off, when Ron was no more than twenty feet away. He looked back, and flung Ginny roughly away – just as Ron had predicted. Ron grabbed the bristles of the Nimbus and pulled, just as Wormtail was pointing his silver hand. Harry was already more than a hundred feet below the Nimbus; he immediately rolled to one side, and set after Ginny. In one of his mirrors he caught a brief glimpse of Ron and Wormtail – both freefalling and grappling for the broomstick, framed against the last glow of sunset against the high clouds. Harry had no options left for helping Ron, and he completely focussed on Ginny.

Harry was grateful that her shirt was white, as it periodically caught the light from the Bonneville’s cat’s-eye. She flailed wildly – the billowing of her shirt in the wind kept her from tumbling out of control, but rocked her from side to side. He could descend far faster than Ginny – he just had to adjust and close in before they both fell too far. He dropped at ever-higher speed, and the motorbike began to shudder from the buffeting of the wind and the uneven drag. He was little more than a thousand feet above the ground when he caught up with her.

Ginny was emitting a continuous guttural howl; her eyes were squeezed shut. She heard the eerie whistle of wind and drag coming from the falling Bonneville, opened her eyes, saw Harry, and stopped flailing – she just stared at him. At the same moment, Harry reached out one arm – nearly losing control of the falling motorbike in the process – and shouted, “Accio Ginny!” She sprung into his grasp, and he tugged back hard in an attempt to slow the bike and level its descent. The handlebars shook so violently that Harry began to wonder if the Bonneville might break apart.

The moment she was in his grasp, Ginny latched on tightly and closed her eyes. Intuitively, she slid around and behind him. She managed to stay more-or-less on the seat as the bike rocked and shook. At some point he assumed that she reopened her eyes, because she resumed howling. Harry considered joining in, if it would help. As they passed the treetops, the bike was still not quite level; Harry hoped they would strike grass rather than pavement. The Bonneville reached level at almost the same moment as it careened off the surface of a local carriageway. Harry was over-eager with the brakes, and the bike spun 180 degrees as it came to a quick stop.

A middle-aged woman walking a small, yapping dog shook her fist at them. “Ruffians!” she shouted. “Can’t be about at night without you biker maniacs racing down this roadway! Dropping from the sky at a hundred miles an hour and skidding along …” She trailed off into a dumb stare, and then promptly fainted dead away. The little dog yapped and pranced and licked at her face.

Harry whipped off his helmet, and turned his head. “Ginny, are you all right?” he shouted.

Ginny rubbed at her bruised throat. Her hair was like tangled red straw from the windy fall, and her eyes seemed permanently wide.

“Ginny, are you all right?” Harry repeated.

She gave a shaky nod and pointed over his shoulder. He whirled around to look. The Nimbus was drifting down the quiet carriageway, its single unsteady rider framed against the ghostly glare of the streetlamps. The broom abruptly nose-dived and the rider bounced and rolled in the thick grass of an unmowed yard. The rider tore his helmet off with one hand, revealing a shock of red hair. Harry and Ginny approached at a dead run.

Ron’s mock turtleneck was torn as though a wild animal had attacked him. The remnants of his jacket were wrapped around the Nimbus, which had come to rest several feet away. His left arm dangled awkwardly at his side, as he staggered to his feet.

“Ron!” Harry shouted excitedly.

Ron returned the greeting with a crooked smile. “I guess the butterbeer’s on me,” he groaned.

“Where is he? What happened?” Harry asked.

Ron took a step and winced. “I snatched away the broom,” he said. “We were falling, and… and he smiled at me – can you believe that? – and then… and then he disappeared. I can’t explain it; he was falling, and then he was just gone.” He reached out to Ginny, and gave her a one-armed hug. “Thank Merlin you’re all right,” he said.

She pulled back, and cleared her throat. Her eyes flared; she managed a few hoarse croaks and pops, frowned, and took a deep breath. With two hands she shoved him at the chest, and squeaked, “Lunatic!”

Wincing, Ron demanded, “What the bloody hell was that for?”

“All your idea,” Ginny squeaked painfully. “Too crazy for Harry.”

“What were we supposed to do – let him carry you off to Voldemort?” Ron asked.

“Could have been killed,” Ginny croaked, jabbing her index finger toward him.

Ron smiled. “Not today,” he said.

“You!” Ginny squealed at Harry.

Harry stepped back, raising his hands in surrender. “Look, I tried to stop him. I mean, you could hardly call it a plan. I –”

Ginny enveloped him in a hug, and buried her head against his shoulder. He awkwardly draped his arms around her. She raised her mouth to his ear, and said in a strangled whisper, “You do know how to sweep a girl off her feet.”

“Thank Merlin you’re all right,” Harry whispered back. “There’s been enough lost today.”

Ginny cleared her throat. “We’re still friends, then,” she said quietly.

Harry pulled away gently, and turned to Ron. “We need to get you some help,” he said. “Is your arm broken?”

“Shoulder, I think,” Ron said. “He squeezed it with that metal hand.”

“That should be a simple fix,” Harry said hopefully.

Ron nodded and winced. “Just a basic Quidditch injury… speaking of which, let me fetch my broom. I’m not about to leave a racing broom lying about. Besides, that jacket had a lifetime guarantee; indestructible, they said. I’m taking it back.”

Ginny exclaimed hoarsely, “You must be joking!”

“Here’s the Nimbus, Ron,” Harry called out. “I don’t see anything left of the jacket, though… hang on – I see some bits over there, under that tree.”

A flurry of broom riders appeared from two directions. Shacklebolt dismounted, nodded in recognition, and quickly Apparated away. Two of the Aurors immediately rushed toward Ron. One called out, “We need a medic!”

The Auror that Madam Bones had called Haversham strolled toward them. “That was the most outlandish thing I’ve ever seen!” he boomed, pointing at Ron. “You should be a stain on this roadway!”

Ron soon found himself seated at kerbside in a conjured chair, attended by three Aurors and a young mediwitch who fawned over him. Harry was suddenly accosted by a gaggle of reporters, who had obviously followed the Aurors. Ginny stayed close to Harry, seemingly frozen by the onslaught.

“Mr. Potter! Mr. Potter! Chazz Barksdale, Daily Prophet!” called a reporter with an accent that Harry couldn’t place. “Can you confirm that you personally eliminated six Death Eaters today?”

“Mr. Potter! Ellen Winslow, Daily Prophet! Sources claim that you demonstrated extraordinary powers in your battle with the Death Eaters, including ward-breaking and some new kind of Apparation. Would you care to comment?” asked another reporter who sounded American to Harry.

A flash went off, and then another. Ginny flinched, and clutched at her neck. Harry began to lead her away, but the cluster of reporters closed tightly.

“Is it true that Voldemort was present in the house?”

“There’s a rumour that Lucius Malfoy may also have been present. Do you have a comment?”

“Do you have any idea why Minister Fudge refused comment this evening?”

“According to a Ministry spokeswizard, two Death Eaters escaped. We presume you were in pursuit. Did you capture one of the remaining Death Eaters? If so, did you kill him, and where is the body?”

“Mr. Potter! Mr. Potter! Dianna Bragg, Teen Witch Weekly! You’re in the company of Ginny Weasley – is this a sign that you’re spoken for, and have we interrupted a secret tryst?”

Harry made an exasperated attempt to answer the hail of questions. “Yes, he was present… I saw and heard Lucius Malfoy, and so did others… talk to the Minister yourself… we were; it was Peter Pettigrew – that’s right, you heard me – and he took Ginny hostage… you must be joking! Did you hear the last answer, for Merlin’s sake? I’m not spoken for, and I won’t be spoken for. It’s not even safe to be around me!” The writer for Teen Witch Weekly madly scribbled notes, muttering something about dark, brooding, and an extra press run.

Shacklebolt appeared in the midst of the crowd of reporters, and glared menacingly. “Miss Weasley’s parents are here,” he said. “You will excuse us now.” He led Ginny away by the hand, and Harry used the distraction as a means to slip away. He hid behind a tree.

More reporters crowded around Ron and his entourage. Two were talking to the Aurors who had witnessed Ron’s drop, and the rest were firing questions at Ron. Bill had arrived, and seemed to provide Ron with some opportunity to breathe between questions.

“What do you think of the Daily Prophet’s new ghouls?” a familiar voice asked from behind him.

Harry didn’t bother to turn around. “I didn’t see any rocks. You must have crawled out from beneath something, Rita.”

“We’re on a first-name basis now? Does that mean you’ll give me another exclusive?” Rita Skeeter cooed.

“What do you mean by ‘new ghouls’?” Harry asked, ignoring her implication.

“Tough times at the Prophet,” Skeeter said sorrowfully. “New management, you know. They sacked nearly everyone yesterday. That’s how Vox operates – bin the old, and bring in the new from their stable. I have it on good authority that the new look starts tomorrow. The old society biddies are in for a shock, I can tell you. You lived with Muggles, Harry – did you ever see a tabloid?”

“So you’re out of a job? What a pity,” Harry deadpanned.

“I’m just a humble free-lancer, Harry – no connection whatever with the former management,” Skeeter insisted. “I admit to being a bit of a fan of Vox. Who knows what may come next? I think that I’d fit rather well. Perhaps you could put in a good word for me?”

Harry’s nose wrinkled. “I’m just happy that I don’t subscribe,” he said.

Skeeter snorted. “Given the size of your investment, I would have assumed that MacLeish threw in free subscriptions.”

Harry stared at her. “Wha…?”

“There he is! Mr. Potter! Mr. Potter – a word, please!” The reporter with the unusual accent waved his arms wildly.

Skeeter crossed her arms. “Give me an exclusive, and I might be able to save you,” she offered.

Harry eyed her dubiously, but the oncoming horde of reporters represented the devil he didn’t know. He nodded in agreement.

Skeeter took out her Quick-Quote Quill. “You say that Weasley was the last to see Pettigrew?” she asked very loudly.

“Erm… I suppose so. He did throw him off the Nimbus,” Harry said. The reporters stopped moving as one.

“I heard something about a Death Drop – I assume that was a reference to Dai Llewellyn?” Skeeter continued.

“It was a Death Drop, all right – without a broom!” Harry responded. “Two thousand feet, in the dark! I tried to stop him, but he had none of it.” The reporters at the back of the group were already rushing madly toward Ron. The reporter with the unusual accent looked at Harry curiously, but eventually followed his colleagues.

“Nicely done,” Harry acknowledged.

Skeeter shrugged. “Your friend looks to be enjoying the attention. I’m very clear about your feelings on that point. You’re almost as clear as Granger.” She looked around nervously. “She didn’t come with you, did she?”

“Hermione wants very little to do with me, at the moment,” Harry said flatly.

Skeeter’s eyes narrowed into slits. “Really? How very interesting –”

Harry cut her off. “Go there, and we’re finished – understood?”

“Fair enough,” Skeeter said. “Your love life’s been overdone of late. Let’s discuss six dead Death Eaters, then.”

Harry gave an emotionless account of the events at the Grangers’ house, omitting any references to the prophecy and downplaying Hermione’s ordeal. Skeeter betrayed little reaction, until Harry described the climactic moments in the dining room. She prodded him for more detail about the scene, and winced when it came.

“I received the strong sense that Fudge didn’t care for Bones’ assessment,” Skeeter said. “He doesn’t walk out on the press unless he failed to get his way.”

Harry shrugged. “Fudge said I’m a menace. He threatened me with a stay at St. Mungo’s.”

Rita Skeeter flashed an evil grin. “I’ll have to use that. It comes from an unidentified Ministry source, of course.”

“Not a fan of Fudge?” Harry asked her.

She sighed. “I bought the Ministry line on you. It was far easier to believe that you were a liar than to believe that You-Know-Who was back. That said, you were in the right, and I’m certainly no fan of Fudge.”

“You’ll love this, then,” Harry said. He recounted in detail Fudge’s exchange with Hermione.

“’Your kind’? He said ‘your kind’?” she gasped. “You’re not paraphrasing – that’s a quote?”

Harry nodded.

Skeeter rubbed her hands together in glee. “I’ll have my own by-line on this one – Lovegood won’t be able to resist me,” she cackled.

A large bird raced out of the darkness toward Harry. As it neared, Harry determined that it was a raven. When it cawed, Harry noticed that some of the new Daily Prophet reporters quickly stopped what they were doing – they watched for its destination with a certain wariness. The raven settled on the ground at Harry’s feet, and deposited a letter. The envelope was addressed:

Harry James Potter, Earl of Bercliffe

Beneath The Large Oak

Grantham Lane

Cottington

Skeeter peered over Harry’s shoulder. “Begging your pardon, milord,” she said sarcastically.

“This must be some kind of joke – one of Ron’s brothers, no doubt,” Harry guessed. He turned over the envelope. The wax seal was ornately stamped with a filigreed “M” and a shield crest. He carefully examined the seal and the remainder of the envelope, before choosing to open it.

The envelope contained a printed card:

You and a guest of your choosing are cordially invited to celebrate

the acquisition of the Daily Prophet

by Vox Populi, Ltd.,

a subsidiary of Vox International, LLC

Saturday, September 21

MacLeish Manor

Pevensey, Sussex

Social hour – 5:00 PM

Dinner – 6:00 PM

Musical performance – 9:00 PM

Vox Humana recording artist Heather Magruder

and the Edinburgh Festival Orchestra,

at Queen’s Hall in Edinburgh

RSVP by August 31 to Catriona Wilton at the Daily Prophet

via owl post, or catriona.wilton@voxpopuli.co.uk

“What’s that babble at the end – some kind of company post, perhaps?” Skeeter wondered aloud.

Harry shrugged, and turned over the card. There was a handwritten note on the back:

Mr. Potter (or Lord Black, if it suits your fancy) –

I am most anxious to meet you. I regret that there is no earlier opportunity. I accept very few business partners, and I am accustomed to cultivating close relationships with those partners. We have much to discuss, you and I. My daughter and I would be pleased to host you for the weekend, if you wish – you may consider it a gesture of thanks for the fine castle. Make your arrangements via Miss Wilton.

Best,

Keith MacLeish

Harry stared at the card, shocked and terribly confused.

“I’d love to be a fly on the wall at that party,” Skeeter mused. When Harry shot her a menacing look, she added in protest, “My Animagus form is not a fly, thank you very much.”

“I’m so tired of all of this… I’m just so tired. Can you understand that?” Harry sighed.

Skeeter looked at him curiously, but nodded. “You held up your end of the bargain,” she said. “We’ll be seeing one another soon, I expect.”

“I doubt that,” Harry said absently. He looked around at the massed crowd, which was chiefly composed of reporters, Aurors and Weasleys. A nondescript car pulled up. Percy dashed out, absently opened the door for Fudge, and quickly sought out Ginny. Mrs. Weasley made her way to Ron, and alternated between hugging him and beating him with a small handbag. Harry took advantage of the confusion by making his way to the abandoned Bonneville. He righted the motorbike and rode quickly through the madding crowd and into the darkness.

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