Under Summer Skies
Luna sighed happily, wriggling her bare toes in the grass as she sat near the lakeshore patiently waiting for Ginny.
Sparrows twittered in the birches and butterflies flitted among the wild primrose and azalea by the lake, the willows whispering in the cool breeze. Several geese flew low above the shimmering surface of the Black Lake. Except for birdsong and the hum of bees, it was quiet on the Hogwarts grounds, and there was something very satisfying about having it nearly all to herself for the summer.
Everything was almost perfect - now all she needed was her girlfriend and their other friends. Luna had arrived the morning after the Order meeting, but the Weasleys had decided to have Ginny and Ron for a few days at home before sending them off to Hogwarts.
Neville was around, but he was a bit mopey as he was missing Hannah Abbott. He was hanging out at the quidditch pitch reading a book while Viktor Krum soared around the castle on a broom. And it would be a few days yet before Harry and Hermione returned from London.
Finally Luna heard someone calling her name; she glanced back and grinned when she saw a beaming face full of freckles and red hair.
“There you are...” said Ginny. “I’ve been looking all over for you.”
“I knew you’d find me here. This is the perfect spot,” said Luna. “How come Ron didn’t come back to Hogwarts with you?”
“Wait... how did you know that?” Ginny looked very puzzled for a moment before she realised that Luna was having one of her intuitive moments.
“I can tell by your face,” Luna replied with a giggle. “You don’t look annoyed.”
“That’s a good point...” Ginny grinned, “Ron convinced Mum and Dad to let him go to Ireland to hang out with Seamus instead.”
“That’s nice,” said Luna, pulling Ginny in for a heated kiss. “Everyone should get to hang out with their best friend for the summer.
“Mmhmm,” Ginny responded, her lips busily engaging with Luna’s.
Luna pulled Ginny closer until they were both rolling around in each other’s arms on the grass together, giggling and kissing with reckless abandon. Ginny ended up on her back with Luna on top of her.
“Mmm...” Luna grinned. “This is much nicer without that creep McLaggen and his obnoxious friend watching. Maybe we can do a bit more this time... There’s no-one else around.”
Ginny’s eyes widened and she nervously licked her lips, smiling shyly back. Nobody else had ever made Ginny feel this way before. She’d been wanting to go further with Luna for a while, but hadn’t been sure how to ask, afraid of scaring her away. Ginny was delighted that Luna had taken the initiative.
“Er... alright then,” she squeaked. “I’d love to...”
Taking Ginny at her word, Luna’s hands began to roam. Ginny trembled at Luna’s touch. Soon Luna had Ginny squirming, gasping at the tingles of pleasure rippling through her. Ginny responded in kind and the fervor took them both by storm.
Grinning with delight at having brought her partner to completion, Luna tugged off her own blouse and tossed it aside before undoing the waist of her skirt.
“What are you doing?” Ginny squeaked anxiously.
“We’re trying that again,” Luna retorted breezily. “But this time without clothes on...”
“But... but we’re outside...”
“So?” said Luna.
“Someone might see us...” Ginny moaned half-heartedly, her pulse racing.
“Trust me, it’ll be even better this way.”
Watching Luna undress, Ginny couldn’t bring herself to disagree. Throwing caution to the wind, Ginny grinned and hurriedly pulled off her own clothes as the squirrels peeked down at them from the branches of the sycamore and the sparrows settled on the bushes to watch. Luna peered at Ginny with as much enthusiasm as Ginny had regarded Luna.
Ginny pounced on Luna, this time taking the initiative. Moments later, they lost themselves to one another once more.
Still in a euphoric haze, Ginny’s eyes widened when she thought she heard footsteps approaching. Luna’s breath caught and she gaped at Ginny in shock when they both heard a voice drawing nearer. Panicking, Ginny quickly grabbed her clothes as Luna snatched at her own.
“I could have sworn I saw them come down this way earlier,” said a voice which they both recognised as they’d met Hestia Jones at the Order meeting. “They’re lovely girls dear. I’m sure they would be happy to keep you company a bit while you’re staying with me at Hogwarts...”
Ginny bit her lip, groaning as she looked around wildly for a place to hide. Luna clapped a hand to her mouth to stifle a giggle and beckoned Ginny, pointing to the bushes nearby. The embarrassed pair of young witches scrambled under the bushes and covered each other’s mouths, both breathing rapidly.
Huddled together, their hearts pounded as one when they spied Hestia’s shoes and the shoes of someone they didn’t know through the leaves only centimetre’s away. Unable to help herself, Ginny let out a little squeak of shock when it appeared that they were drawing nearer to the bush.
“Sssh...” hissed Luna. Ginny squirmed, doing her best to remain quiet.
“Hmmmph... well, never mind dear, I expect we’ll see them at lunchtime. I’ll introduce you then. I see a little boat out on the lake - perhaps they’re out there...” The footsteps and Hestia’s voice faded into the distance as she and the unknown girl traipsed back up to the castle.
Ginny and Luna gasped in relief and burst into giggles at having almost been caught. Luna gave Ginny a kiss.
“How was it then?” asked Luna, grinning, fairly certain that she knew what the answer would be.
“That was amazing - I’ve never felt anything like that...” said Ginny, biting her lip and fluttering her eyelashes. “Did I ever tell you how much I love you Luna?”
“Only about a hundred times,” Luna retorted, beaming happily. “I love you too Ginny.”
As they dusted themselves off and dressed, shaking the twigs from their hair, the pair of them couldn’t help feeling curious about the new girl at Hogwarts. They scurried up to the castle for lunch, hoping to meet her. They arrived just in time to see a girl with long black hair covering her face dart out of the Great Hall with a plate of food.
“I wonder what that’s all about?” Ginny frowned in puzzlement as the girl exited through the front doors of the castle. “She’s a bit too old to be a First Year.”
“She looked sad and frightened,” said Luna, feeling rush of sympathy. “I wonder if she’s only just discovered her magic... She might be a late-bloomer - I’ve heard of them before.”
Seeing Neville sitting near the staff-table with Viktor, Ginny and Luna made their way through the Great Hall to see if they knew anything.
“I dunno,” Neville told them when they asked, looking very perplexed. “Dumbledore only told Viktor and me to leave her alone...”
“I think she might be ill,” Viktor added. “She get food, but looks at no-one.”
Luna furrowed her brow pensively as she put two and two together. She took Ginny aside and whispered in her ear. Ginny gasped in horror, suddenly not feeling quite so hungry.
Over the next few days, Jennifer had no idea yet what to make of Hogwarts. Hestia was really kind, but Jennifer missed her parents and she was still frightened. The old headmaster was nice and talked to her gently, but Jennifer couldn’t bear looking at the male professors, or the two boys who sat near the staff-table.
Sometimes she would glance at them, and she couldn’t help but see Ratface’s head on their shoulders. Jennifer would do a double-take, and see that whoever it was, it wasn’t really him, but it was still terrifying. Jennifer grabbed her food and hid in an empty classroom or outside behind a bush at mealtimes, unable to sit for one minute in the Great Hall with anyone else.
Jennifer had spied the other girls from a distance. They looked nice, but the idea of actually meeting them scared her. Jennifer felt too ashamed and humiliated to be near them, afraid that they would see how worthless she was.
At breakfast on Monday, as she had every day, Jennifer swiped a plate of food and ran outside before anyone could see her, hiding between some bushes and a low stone wall under a balustrade to eat. When she was finished, she began to sob, not knowing what to do next.
Jennifer angrily wiped her tears away. She was tired of crying. Mum and Dad weren’t coming back to make it all better, but she couldn’t help it. The tears kept falling.
She suddenly stopped when a pair of big round silvery-grey eyes peered at Jennifer through the leaves, belonging to a delicately featured face framed by dirty-blonde hair. Jennifer froze, not daring to breathe.
The girl crawled through the bushes and kneeled in the soil, peering sadly at Jennifer. The girl was slight, almost elfin, like a fairy; she didn’t look more than 12 or 13, and she was wearing a sky blue dress with a white pinafore.
“They aren’t all horrible,” the girl said quietly.
Jennifer blinked, swallowing uncomfortably, puzzled.
“Boys I mean,” the girl responded.
“Well, I suppose a lot of them leave much to be desired. I’m not entirely fond of many of them myself. But I know one boy in particular who is really sweet... And there’s a few other nice ones too,” the girl replied. “Viktor and Neville for example... the boys staying here this summer.”
Jennifer thought this was the oddest conversation she had ever had. Odder than the ones with the headmaster, who seemed to know what Jennifer was going to say before she said it. Jennifer wasn’t even talking; she had spoken to the headmaster and to Hestia, but that was only because she knew she was supposed to speak when spoken to by adults who were looking after you. Jennifer couldn't bring herself to speak to anyone else.
But the blonde girl seemed perfectly keen to carry on a conversation with a mute girl as if she understood the words behind every silent gesture. Jennifer pulled up her knees to her chest and hugged her arms around them, casting down her eyes, long strands of ebony hair falling in her face.
“One of my friends’ younger sister was hurt badly by a boy too,” the girl said sadly. “She’s being looked after at home now.”
Jennifer bit her lip, suddenly feeling sorry for someone other than herself.
“It’s alright to feel sad,” the girl sympathetically remarked. “I expect your own circumstances are particularly dreadful. Harry and Hermione were both sad when they first arrived at Hogwarts - at least that’s what Ginny told me.
“Hermione didn’t have any friends at first, and lots of people were mean to her and bullied her - even Ginny’s brother did. Though Ginny’s brother isn’t so bad really, just a bit rude and thoughtless... still, he was quite mean to Hermione at first, but Harry told him off a few times. The last time he yelled at Ron - after the dragon - Ron tried hard to be a bit nicer...
“From what I read in the papers - my father’s newspaper anyway - Harry was treated quite awfully by his relatives for years. They made him sleep under a staircase and didn’t let him have any friends. And his uncle and cousin used to hit him all the time.
“Harry doesn’t like to talk about it much... He was staying with them because when he was a baby, his parents were murdered by Voldemort...”
Unable to help herself, Jennifer gasped, and spoke for the first time - suddenly not feeling quite so alone.
“Snakeface,” Jennifer hissed, feeling a flare of anger - surprised when her misery diminished at the flash of rage. She flicked her hair out of her face and looked at the blonde girl directly.
“Oh... is that what you call Voldemort?” the blonde girl asked.
“Er... y...yes - Voldemort killed my parents too - or rather, Ratface killed them on Snakeface’s... on Voldemort’s orders...”
“I’m very sorry. Do you want me to stop talking?”
Jennifer shook her head. “No... I can manage. So what happened with Harry and Hermione? Did they eventually get over things?” she asked hopefully.
“Oh yes...” the blonde girl smiled for the first time. “...Though he tries not to show it, I think Harry still feels a bit sad on occasion - I don’t know if it ever goes away completely. My own mum died a few years ago, and I still think about her from time to time.
“But it’s not so bad for Harry now - especially since he and Hermione got married...”
“Married, really?” Jennifer asked, letting her curiosity get the better of her, distracted momentarily from her own situation. “How old are they then?”
“Harry’s going to be fifteen in a few weeks,” the girl replied. “Hermione’s already fifteen.”
“Is... is that normal then? ... for wizards to get married so young I mean. I’m fifteen and I can’t imagine being married.”
“Not really - I’m fourteen and I can’t imagine it either. Harry and Hermione eloped... they’re allowed because they’d been emancipated. It was very romantic,” the blonde girl sighed happily, a dreamy expression on her face. But then a puzzled look crossed the girl’s features.
“Aren’t you a wizard too then?” the girl asked. “Ginny and I thought you were just a late bloomer...”
“No...” Jennifer shook her head. “I’m non-magical. I’m just here because... because... er... erm...” Jennifer reddened and trailed off, feeling humiliated and dirty again, unable to say it.
“It’s alright,” the girl said gently. “You don’t have to talk about it... I know things like that take time. But that explains why you didn’t seem to know who Harry was - he’s Harry Potter, and he’s very famous in the wizard world because he survived when his parents were killed by Voldemort.
“I had assumed that you had only learned about Voldemort recently, being new to the wizard world... Still, it’s a bit odd that Dumbledore is letting you stay here - muggles usually aren’t allowed to know about the wizard world... except for immediate relatives of wizards of course.”
“I... er... I’m n...not sure why either r...really...” Her voice began to shake and she trembled as the reason that she was at Hogwarts hit her with full force again.
Tears ran down her flushed cheeks once more. Jennifer hid her face behind her hair and bit her lip uncertainly, feeling miserable, like she’d rather be alone again. But Jennifer felt torn. She missed having friends, and the girl seemed very nice.
If Jennifer didn’t have to talk about Ratface - about the filthy things she had done with Ratface - maybe she could manage to be friends with the girl. Jennifer took a deep breath and tried to finish her thought.
“The headmaster s...said it was b...because Snakeface - Voldemort I mean... The headmaster said that it was because my family had been attacked by Voldemort, but I can tell there’s something a bit more to it... something personal I think.”
The blonde girl nodded and peered at Jennifer perceptively
“My name is Luna by the way... Luna Lovegood. You should meet my girlfriend Ginny - she’s very nice. She won’t try to make you talk about anything you don’t want to - I promise.
“And you don’t have to talk to the boys if you don’t want to... Professor Dumbledore already told them that you might be frightened of them. Though you might like to talk to Harry when he returns from London with Hermione - they’ll be back some time tomorrow. I think you and he might have some things to talk about - and he’s very kind... he won’t pressure you.”
“Al...alright then. I th...think I’d like that. I’m Jennifer.... Jennifer Watts, and... and it’s nice to meet you Luna,” Jennifer sniffled.
“It’s very nice to meet you too Jennifer,” Luna beamed. She stood up, brushed the twigs and dirt from her knees and skirt, then took one of Jennifer’s hands in her own, smiling dreamily. “Come on then - I’ll take you to meet Ginny now...”
Jennifer swallowed anxiously, heart pounding, feeling the warmth of Luna’s soft hand around hers. Taking a deep breath, Jennifer stood up and let the girl in the Alice-dress lead her out of the bushes.
Harry yawned and blearily opened his eyes, glad to be awake, his scar prickling. His dreams had been plagued with what he presumed to be flashbacks to the lurching, grunting horrors emerging from the mist in the labyrinth during the Third Task. He’d also had glimpses of Voldemort and Wormtail in some sort of castle with a witch whom he couldn’t recall seeing before, but somehow seemed vaguely familiar.
Sighing, Harry stroked Hermione’s tawny curls and kissed her forehead. Hermione murmured and pulled Harry closer for a proper kiss. The heat of Hermione’s embrace lessened the pain in his head like it always did. By the time their lips parted, Harry felt much better and Hermione’s hair gleamed golden in the sun streaming through the window.
“Mmm, Harry,” said Hermione, snuggling against him and smiling. “What time is it? I don’t want to ever get up.”
Harry looked at the clock, his eyes widening when he saw the time.
“Blimey, it’s late - almost noon...” he groaned.
“Well yesterday was quite exhausting,” Hermione pointed out. “It’s not really surprising that we slept so late.”
“Yeah... you’re right,” Harry agreed, “I still feel bloody knackered... I need some coffee. How about you?”
“I think I’ll be alright with just tea,” said Hermione.
Everyone seemed to be engaged in some other sort of activity as the Potters made their way down the stairs. On the way down they spotted Susan and Dudley in the parlour watching television. Moody was sitting at the table reading a newspaper. He looked up at Harry and Hermione with an amused expression on his scarred face.
“Woke up late didja?” said Moody. “Can’t imagine why,” he added with a wink. “Anyway, we’re about to have lunch in a bit...”
“Er... just thought we’d start with a bit of coffee...” said Harry.
“...and tea,” Hermione added.
Harry and Hermione both turned a bit pink, wondering if Moody was just referring to the long day yesterday or implying something else. Just as the Potters sat down with their coffee and tea Dudley burst into the kitchen, his eyes wide with fear and excitement.
“Harry, come quick. You’ve got to see the news on the telly. You’re not going to believe this...”
Dudley was right. Harry and Hermione were stunned by the ongoing BBC reports from the MetroCentre Mall in Gateshead, as was Moody. Soon everyone else began arriving, wondering what the commotion was all about. Petunia gasped and fainted. Fleur and Dora arrived just in time to catch her before she hit the floor.
“Bloody Hell!” gasped Dora. “Is that what I think it is?”
“What’s going on?” asked Jean when she arrived with her sister and Abbie Brixton.
“Zombies,” said Dudley breathlessly. “They’re attacking that shopping centre in Gateshead.”
Seeing Petunia passed out, Abbie darted out of the parlour to find some smelling salts. She waved them under Petunia’s nose.
“Come on dear, you don’t need to see any more of this,” said Abbie, leading Petunia back to her room when she came to.
“I can’t believe that Zombies are real,” Dudley gasped as he watched the images on the television of Special Operations forces shooting ineffectually at the mass of lurching corpses surrounding and invading the MetroCentre Mall. The special police units were aiming for the heads, but nothing seemed to stop the “zombies.”
“Yeah... Though technically, wizards call them Inferi,” Harry said. “Apparently Zombies are something a bit different - I’m still not clear on what the difference is though.”
“Inferi are just mindless corpses reanimated and controlled by a spell - like a puppet, or more accurately, like a robot programmed to perform certain tasks,” Hermione explained. “Zombies are magically reanimated corpses too, but somehow, the soul of the person is also resurrected and trapped inside the otherwise still quite dead body.”
“That’s revolting...” Jean looked horrified.
“Voldemort used ‘em in the last war,” Moody growled. “Looks like he’s at it again. Bit odd seeing them still attackin’ in daytime though. They generally avoid the light and retreat when dawn breaks. I suppose Voldy is sending a message...”
“How do you kill them in real life?” Dudley asked excitedly. “Why don’t they die if you shoot them in the head.”
“Well, that’s just it. You can’t kill what’s dead already. They aren’t partially living with minimally functioning brains like the ones in muggle films seem to be,” Mad Eye replied. “Inferi don’t feel pain or fear. Though they don’t like light and heat, and can be repelled by certain Light and Heat spells... but to destroy ‘em completely you have to use some sort of fire spell.
“Confringo can take out a few o’ the buggers at a time, or more depending on how powerful the spell is. A Firestorm spell works even better - takes out loads at a time... Disintegration spells like the Reductor Curse can work on ‘em too, but only the one you’re aiming at. If you’ve got people trapped by a load of the buggers, you’re in trouble...”
“The police could just use flame-throwers then, couldn’t they?” said Dudley.
The grizzled ex-Auror snorted and grimaced. He was starting to like Dudley’s enthusiasm.
“Too dangerous in this sorta situation, unless they wanna torch the whole mall and every living person inside... and you run the risk of flaming Inferi runnin’ around catchin’ everything else on fire before they finally succumb... Really, the only time you want to use a Firestorm spell is when you’ve got a load of ‘em in an enclosed area away from other people and flammable surroundings.”
“What about a Patronus?” Harry asked pensively, glancing at Hermione who was equally curious. Neither of them had thought to mention how their patronuses had affected the Inferi to Dumbledore during their conversation.
“Eh? I suppose it would be quite effective as a shield or repellin’ charm actually,” Moody replied, “but that’s it. A Patronus can’t destroy anything... Still can’t figure out what happened to those Dementors at the maze. Dumbledore doesn’t even seem to know...”
Harry and Hermione shared an awkward look, but nobody caught it. The only other person who knew was Dora. Harry had been wanting to tell Sirius and Remus about it too, but he and Hermione really hadn’t had the opportunity yet.
After a somber breakfast, Harry, Hermione, Dora, and Fleur packed up and readied themselves to return to Hogwarts.
“Look after yourselves, dears.” Jean gave Hermione and Harry both a hug, smiling at Dora and Fleur.
“We will Mum!” Hermione smiled tearfully, giving her mother a kiss on the cheek. “I’ll miss you...”
“Bye Mum!” Harry swallowed and gave Jean one last hug. One by one, the Potters followed Dora and Fleur into the green flames.
The Dark Lord was most pleased. He stroked Nagini’s head absentmindedly as he admired his and Bellatrix’s handiwork on the muggle contraption called television in one of the parlours of the new muggle residence which he and Wormtail had taken after the assault on Azkaban, having killed its inhabitants.
It was perfect. It had specifically been chosen during the planning phase: an old castle in the Scottish headlands big enough to house the Dark Lord’s growing army with an estate large enough for the Trolls and the Giants. And being a muggle dwelling, it was a residence which the Dark Witch and her Death Eaters - the Dark Lord’s treacherous ex-supporters he reminded himself - would not be expecting to find him in.
Voldemort had paid such muggle technologies little heed before, having been more inclined in his previous incarnation to reside in Pureblood wizard homes full of magic, where such technologies didn’t operate properly, if at all. But a number of Snatchers who were involved in the criminal underworld had mentioned the practical utility of the many electronic devices favoured by muggle burglars.
And the Dark Lord was nothing if not pragmatic. He had put the corpses of the muggle residents of the castle to good use as experimental subjects. They had become the first Inferi endowed with new abilities, which - with Wormtail’s skilled assistance - the Dark Lord and Bellatrix had created after the consummation of their union.
Wormtail had then organised the Snatchers into units which had been dispatched to ransack hospitals and police morgues for the Freshly Dead, and to plunder the contents of graveyards. These the Dark Lord would use for phase one of his plan. Bellatrix had ingeniously devised some new rituals and spells giving the Inferi the ability to operate in daylight without retreat.
The Dark Lord knew that this first strike would eventually be brought to an end, but it mattered little. The message for the Dark Witch and the Old Fool had been sent loud and clear. The Dark Witch could have the Dark Lord’s old supporters for now - they would soon beg to return to their True Master’s side when they began to fall before his True Might.
And the Old Fool - he would learn once and for all that Love was a weakness. There was no Good or Evil, no “Light” or “Dark,” only Power; and the Old Fool would bear witness to the Truth that those without magical blood were destined to be ruled by those who were willing to use that Power.
When the first memo hit his desk, Senior Undersecretary Weasley’s eyes bulged and he spat out his tea in horror. He groaned loudly; there was no way the Ministry was going to be able to contain this with a few obliviations. The muggle media were already all over it. Cursing Voldemort under his breath, Senior Undersecretary Weasley hurriedly scribbled a memo and threw some Floo Powder into the fireplace in his office.
Minister Dolores Umbridge had just had a very productive morning conferring with the muggle Prime Minister.
He was under a lot of pressure, despite the economic successes and the positive movement in the Northern Ireland peace process. His party was embroiled in one scandal after another, and his leadership was being challenged right and left. Since Dolores had come to know him shortly after she had taken office, the PM had been more than amenable to the suggestions of the Minister of Magic and they had come to a mutually beneficial arrangement.
She had just sat down with her first cup of tea upon her return to the Ministry when her hearth erupted into green flames and a memo flew out. She pursed her lips and snatched it out of the air. Minister Umbridge read over the short memo twice with a gasp. After the initial flash of anger faded, Dolores’s eyes narrowed and a cruel smile pulled at the corner of her lips.
This couldn’t be more perfect.
She would have to notify the PM immediately and offer the Ministry’s services of course - after all, only wizards could effectively halt an Inferi attack and rescue the muggles trapped inside the mall. But not until after she had arranged the assassination of two of the “wobblies” who had let the Potters off the hook.
Both lived very near Gateshead, and their deaths could easily be made to look like the work of Voldemort’s Inferi.
The rotund wizard with a walrus moustache, wearing a maroon velvet jacket, stepped out of the green flames and peered around the office before acknowledging the wizard with a long silvery beard who was sitting behind the desk. He nodded at Fawkes who fluttered his wings and trilled in recognition.
“Well Albus, it has been quite some time indeed since I have been in this office,” said the pleased looking wizard. “I must say you are looking quite well, all things considered... quite well indeed.”
“Thank you Horace - that is very kind of you to say.” Dumbledore’s clear blue eyes twinkled as he directed the wizard to take a seat in one of the well-cushioned chintz armchairs. “Some tea perhaps? You might also like some biscuits after your journey... or perhaps some crystallised pineapple?” he concluded with a wink.
“Oh, of course Albus...” Horace beamed as the chair creaked heavily under his weight. “I’d be delighted to my dear fellow... delighted.”
“I can’t thank you enough for agreeing to join us Horace,” said Dumbledore after they had both taken a sip of tea, “...and for giving me your memory. That is most helpful, and quite brave of you.”
“Yes, well, seeing that you‘ve managed to keep Karkaroff alive might have something to do with it,” Horace chuckled. “That went a long way to reassuring me regarding your protection... quite persuasive I must say.
“Though, to be perfectly honest Albus, I must say that your enticements were especially convincing... I can’t say how pleased I am to have the chance to teach Harry Potter himself - that will be quite a feather in my cap... quite a feather indeed.
“Severus tells me that Mr Potter is quite the potions prodigy... and that Mr Potter’s wife is one such as well - one who might easily be a match for Lily. Two for the price of one... an offer that simply can’t be beaten Albus... simply marvelous, I must say.”
“Quite!” Dumbledore agreed. “Though there is the small matter of convincing the Potters to both elect to take on an Alchemy course.”
“Oh that shan’t be a problem I don’t doubt... not a problem at all if they are truly as diligent as I have been told.”
“Indeed they are Horace...” Dumbledore regarded keenly the chuffed wizard before him, about to continue when an insistent knocking on his door alerted him. Professor McGonagall burst into his office, her features panic-stricken.
“Oh... good heavens! Horace,” she said, quite surprised to see him in Dumbledore’s office. “It’s very good to see you again... I’m sorry to interrupt but this is quite urgent Albus. You must come at once. A muggle shopping centre in Gateshead is under attack by an Inferi Swarm...”
“In broad daylight?” Dumbledore’s eyebrows shot up in perplex. “That is most unusual, and quite disturbing. Forgive me Horace, but it appears that I am needed. You will be quite safe here in the meantime...”
Head of the Auror Office, Rufus Scrimgeour scowled appraisingly at the chaotic scene at the Metrocentre Mall in Gateshead. He had just arrived, and had been given carte blanche to take over as an “MI5 Counter-terrorist Operations Manager.”
He wished that he had been called in sooner. It was shortly after noon now, and Scrimgeour wondered why it had taken so long for the Minister to call him. He supposed that perhaps it had taken the Minister a few hours to talk the muggle Prime Minister into letting wizards take over.
Scrimgeour also wished that he still had Kingsley Shacklebolt and John Dawlish to work with; they had been his top two agents. But they had been too close to Scrimgeour’s previous boss, Head of the DMLE, Amelia Bones, and she had been too close to the Crafty Old Coot who ran Hogwarts.
Head Auror Scrimgeour wasn’t entirely certain that he trusted Minister Umbridge - which wasn’t saying much, as he didn’t really trust anyone. She wore far too many hats for his liking - she had been Head of the Improper Use of Magic Office when she had also taken on the role of Fudge’s Senior Undersecretary.
Now, Dolores Umbridge was not only the Minister of Magic, but the Acting Head of the DMLE as well. And yet Scrimgeour was almost certain that Umbridge had also at one time been a staffer in the Department of Mysteries - an Unspeakable. Her career path was baffling to say the least.
Still, the Minister certainly had the right idea about Dumbledore. And unlike Fudge, Minister Umbridge was willing to do whatever it took to get the job done properly - no matter how harsh the measures, so Head Auror Scrimgeour had to give her that.
Scrimgeour's features hardened. First things first. It was time to issue a blackout on the muggle media coverage, and to clear all muggles from the area within a few mile radius so that the DMLE’s HIT-Wizards could put down the Inferi quickly with Firestorm spells without being observed.
He would do his best to rescue some of the muggles in the mall of course, but he didn’t want to waste too much time, or put any wizards at risk trying to locate them all. If a few muggles died, that was unfortunate, but so be it.
There was a loud crack and Scrimgeour started.
“Mulligan, what are you doing here?” Scrimgeour noted Auror Mulligan’s sweaty disheveled appearance.
“Saving some muggles sir,” Mulligan responded with heavy breaths, “I got here an hour ago and I decided not to wait for the go ahead. I called in several other aurors too. We’ve just been rescuing and obliviating and staying out of sight of the muggle authorities.”
“Good... that’s good then,” Scrimgeour nodded, frowning, “Don’t worry about acting without orders. You did the right thing. My hands were tied until the Minister got the green-light from the Muggle PM.”
“So what now Sir?”
“You did your bit, let the HIT-Team do theirs. We're going to use Firestorm Spells and let the place burn.”
“Should I have a Magical Repair Team ready Sir?” Mulligan asked, perplexed. Scrimgeour shook his head.
“No, the Minister said not to worry.” Scrimgeour actually looked more than a bit surprised himself. “The muggle Prime Minister told her that the owners have insurance, and that he would be able to sell the cover story better if we just leave it destroyed - the muggle PM was already considering using flamethrowers and other incendiary weapons anyway.
“He is planning to tell the muggle civilians that the Inferi are ‘living dead,’ victims of an escaped, incurable, genetically modified necrotising virus... Apparently the concept of sustained attacks by reanimated corpses has already been widely introduced to muggles through their entertainments, and they will accept it quite readily...”
Albus Dumbledore sighed with distaste as Minerva, Poppy, and Filius obliviated the last few muggles that they had evacuated from the mall and sent them wandering into the crowds beyond the perimeter which the muggle police had created. With the magically implanted memories the muggles had been given, it would just be assumed that they had somehow managed to escape the hordes of Undead who had invaded the Mall.
Severus appeared out of nowhere with a loud pop.
“Auror Mulligan and I have finished with our lot Headmaster,” Snape said. “Scrimgeour finally arrived, and I sent Mulligan to cover for us. He has taken some of the muggles we rescued, so that Scrimgeour can claim a few saves.”
“Well done, Severus.” Dumbledore nodded approvingly. “We shall leave behind the bodies of those already dead for Rufus to find.”
“What on Earth took Scrimgeour so bloody long?” snarled Madam Pomfrey, who was covered in blood from the muggles she had treated.
“That is quite a puzzle indeed Poppy,” the headmaster responded. “However, we should count ourselves quite fortunate that we had the time to rescue those that we could without being harassed or impeded by the Ministry. If I know Rufus, he is no doubt preparing to burn the place to the ground to eliminate the Inferi threat as quickly as possible, with little regard for the lives of non-magical humans.”
“Yes, well, speaking of which, perhaps we should leave before Rufus discovers us here,” Minerva said, glancing around anxiously.
Dora burst out of the green flames into the Hogwarts Staff-room. She tripped over the hearth and fell into Fleur’s arms.
“Every. Bloody. Time...” Dora grumbled after she’d stopped hacking and caught her breath. “Thanks for the save Fleur.”
“I would not be much of a girlfriend if I did not, chérie,” Fleur smiled, trying her hardest not to titter. Harry and Hermione dizzily burst out of the green flames, coughing and wheezing, just in time to see Fleur give Dora a sultry kiss to cheer her up.
“Welcome back Tonks!”
Dora looked up, eyes widening, spying Lupin standing nearby with a wry smile on his face.
“Wotcher Lupin!” Dora turned pink. “Where’s Pomfrey? I thought she was supposed to be greetin’ us.”
“There’s been an Inferi attack...” Lupin began.
“In Gateshead... we know! We were watching it on the BBC news just before we left,” Hermione interjected, her voice slightly shrill with worry.
“Indeed,” Lupin nodded sadly, “Dumbledore took Pomfrey, Flitwick, McGonagall, and a few other professors and Order members to rescue as many muggles as they could. Sirius and I stayed behind with Hagrid to avoid trouble with the Ministry.”
“Of course,” Harry sighed.
“Indeed, it will be problematic enough as it is, if the current administration runs into any of the Order at the scene... Well, let’s just say we don’t want to give them any ideas about trying to pin this on Dumbledore,” Lupin replied.
“But that’s just mad!” gasped Hermione, bristling with outrage. “Everyone knows Dumbledore wouldn’t create Dark Creatures and set them on Muggles...”
“Believe me, that would not stop the Minister from trying anyway.”
“Yeah... we know,” Harry said quietly. “The Minister... She won’t stop at anything to get us. She’s trying to make it look like we’re the bad guys, and she’s been doing a pretty good job of it so far. We were lucky to get Ragnok on our side - he really swung it for us.”
“Yeah... but now that you’ve claimed your Seat on the Wizengamot Harry, you’ve set ‘er back a bit,” Dora said with some pride. “You shoulda seen ‘im Lupin. Harry was amazing - a real hero. The whole Wizengamot was in an uproar when ‘e and Hermione won - between their supporters and their detractors - but he shouted over all of them and shut the lot up.”
“It was fantastic! The look on Percy’s and that Foul Evil Toad’s faces when Harry took his Seat as a Warlock made my day!” Hermione squeaked, her eyes shining.
“That’s excellent Harry!” Lupin beamed. “Sirius will be absolutely thrilled to hear that...”
“Where is he anyway? I can’t wait to see him and tell him all about it,” Harry said with a grin.
“You can visit both of us in the Shrieking Shack after dinner for a bit if you would like,” Lupin replied cheerfully. “But I should think that you would want to spend a bit of time with your friends first.”
The Potters, Fleur, and Dora found Viktor and Neville outside on the lawn, where Viktor was helping Neville improve his broom riding skills. Harry grinned to see Neville actually enjoying himself on a broom for once, and Harry was determined to have a go at getting Hermione on a broom this summer. But Harry was a bit puzzled about one thing.
“Why aren’t you on the quidditch pitch?”
“Ah... zat is because ve give Ginny and Luna time to show ze new girl vot is like riding broom,” Viktor replied.
“New girl?” asked Hermione, looking as perplexed as Harry. Dora and Fleur looked equally bewildered.
“Yeah...” Neville nodded. “There’s a new girl here for the summer - Ginny and Luna are with her. Viktor and I haven’t met her properly yet though, because Dumbledore said we’re to leave her alone until she’s ready to introduce herself.”
Their curiosity piqued, the Potters made their way to the quidditch pitch, followed by Dora and Fleur. Ginny and Luna swooped down to meet them and leapt off their brooms, squealing happily.
“You got off... you got off,” shrieked Ginny as she flung herself on the Potters.
“I knew you would,” said Luna, a bit more sedately but grinning nonetheless.
Harry and Hermione looked up in the stands at the girl Neville and Viktor had told them about to see her watching them. It suddenly occurred to the Potters that it must be the rescued muggle girl when the sunlight caught her black hair and struck their eyes.
Luna had been right. Jennifer liked Ginny a lot. Jennifer felt a bit better hanging out with the girls. They had shown Jennifer how to play wizard chess and exploding snap, and chatted a bit about their lives, and what it was like being witches and going to school at Hogwarts.
Then Luna and Ginny had demonstrated flying on brooms, which Jennifer couldn’t help laughing about at first - despite herself - as it seemed so cliche. She couldn’t believe they really did that sort of thing. Luna invited Jennifer to sit on a broomstick with her while she flew, but Jennifer shook her head. It definitely seemed too scary.
But sitting in the stands and watching the girls swooping and diving, Jennifer had to admit that it looked exciting. A movement on the field caught Jennifer’s eye. Her stomach tied in knots when she spied four people whom she hadn’t met enter the field.
Jennifer relaxed a bit when she realised that they were friends of Luna and Ginny. But Jennifer became alarmed and looked for a place to hide when they spotted her and began to make their way into the stands. Jennifer hugged her knees to her chest and shrank back into her seat, letting her long dark hair hide her face.
Trembling, Jennifer peered between the strands of her ebony hair. Luna approached with the four newcomers. Jennifer’s eyes widened in recognition when they drew closer.
The girl with bushy light-brown hair was obviously Hermione. The older girls must be Dora and Fleur. Then the boy - Jennifer realised that he was the first one who didn’t induce an image of Ratface superimposed on his face. His eyes... they were so green, almost impossibly green, and they seemed too pretty to be a boy’s eyes.
“Hi Jennifer,” Luna said with a serene smile, “this is Harry Potter...”
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