Chapter 33: Rules of Combat (Arc 7)
Harry's Galleon heated in his pocket just as he was reaching the critical point of his stalk. With an effort, he kept himself from jerking around, swearing loudly, or yelping in surprise. Still, he was going to ream out whoever had decided to send a DA message now, that wasn't the sort of thing one did lightly—
But we have good people in the DA. Not perfect, but good. And most of them have seen enough by now to realize this isn't a game.
So what's going on?
Moving with the same slow, endless care he'd used to get himself to this point, hidden in the underbrush on the hillside above the spot where Hermione was coaching Ginny and Luna through the most likely spells to appear on their Charms O.W.L.s, he extracted his Galleon from his pocket and looked at the message.
Then he did swear.
The shrieks and indignant shouts of his name from below him would, in other circumstances, have gratified him extremely, as confirmation he'd made it to this point undetected. At this moment, he didn't much care.
"Trouble," he said shortly, dropping down among his Pridemates. Meghan set aside her copy of Padfoot's latest literary effort, a book of short stories featuring dogs, as Ron and Neville came trotting over from the rough shape of Hogwarts's boundaries they'd sketched into a bare patch of ground across the meadow. "Missing DA members. And they were the last ones seen with little Zach."
Meghan's hands flew to her mouth, muffling what might equally have been a wail or a whimper. Her complexion was ash-gray, but in moments she was on her feet, shoving her book into the pocket of her robes, her expression modulating out of terrified into furiously determined. Clearly she knew what Harry hadn't said, the identities of the people who'd offered to take care of Zachary Davies this afternoon.
"You go back," said Ginny immediately, over Neville's "Start back now, Harry."
"We'll catch you up." Ron arched his back, extending his arms and rotating them in what Harry recognized as his warming-up-for-flight movements. "Luna, coming? We can spy around for any magic that shouldn't be there, if we've got Death Eaters they'll have to disguise themselves somehow…"
"Yes, I think I will." Luna set her book next to Hermione and slid out of the small, cozy nest the Pride-ladies had constructed for more comfortable studying. "And the rest of you should get started right away," she added over her shoulder. "It's slower walking, or running, than it is flying."
"Go without me." Hermione was digging into her pocket, and Harry recognized the rectangular shape of her Zippophone as she brought it out. "I'll tell Professor Black what's happened, they might not have thought of her yet—"
Harry stepped to one side of the nest to catch Ginny in the moment between her lithe vault over its rim and her transformation into Lynx. "Love you," he said under his breath. "Just in case."
"Love you too. And no in case about it." Ginny kissed him briefly, squeezed his hand, and was furred and four-legged almost as soon as she'd let go, streaking off towards Hogsmeade with Pearl galloping beside her, Captain clinging half-visibly to his lady's back. Overhead, Redwing and Starwing circled for height. Hermione was speaking into her Zippo's green flame in brief, urgent sentences, Letha's voice answering in its clipped Healer tones.
Closing his eyes and gathering his concentration, Harry summed up his body and its surrounding necessities, imagined the alley behind Weasley's Wizarding Wheezes (Hogsmeade branch), and stepped forward, into an instant of utter blackness and compression. Then he was there, Lee spinning around in front of him, his wand rising onto target—
"You married Maya on Easter, underneath the castle," Harry said, displaying his hands empty and unthreatening. "Everything red and royal blue, and the Gryffindor crest lit up."
Lee lowered his wand. "It's bad," he said shortly. "Selena and Roger are nearly out of their minds, and Maya's not much better—but how were we supposed to guard against something like this? We can't think of everything—"
"No, but we can fix it now it's happened," interrupted Harry without a qualm. "What do we know?"
"Graham and Natalie were going for a walk out near the forested side of the village." Lee dropped back towards the end of the alley and motioned to someone out of Harry's line of sight, who proved, when she came around the corner, to be Susan Bones. She flicked a hand in greeting to both Gryffindors and took up the post Lee had been holding, as Lee himself headed for the door Harry was holding open into WWW's back room.
"Selena had a note delivered," he said as he ducked past Harry. "It said they'd taken Zach to play with your Pride for a while—" He nodded grimly at Harry's muttered curse. "But that's not all. The note was soaked in something, some kind of Confundus potion, to make whoever held it believe what they were reading. If it hadn't been, it never would have convinced them it was from Graham, because—well, I'll let you see it."
The huddle of fur at the center of the room, tense tan cougar curled around shuddering silver fox, uncoiled briefly at Harry and Lee's arrival, both predator noses rising just long enough to identify the new scents before returning to their former positions. Roger, sitting beside them with one hand resting against fox-Selena's back, extended a piece of parchment to Lee wordlessly. The wave of mingled fear, anger, and shame wafting from the senior members of the second Pride hit Harry like an unexpected Bludger to the middle of the back, and he had to turn away for a second to try and catch his breath from it. Once he had, he took the note from Lee and read it over with care.
The first sentence almost leapt off the page at him. That's not a joke Graham would make, being kidnapped by Death Eaters. Not when it happened to him, and not when he's fought so hard to keep it from happening to anyone else. I can see how someone who doesn't know him well might make the mistake, we have plenty of people in the DA who do use that kind of humor to combat their fears, but Graham isn't one of them…
And talking about the Three Broomsticks means the Floo, but most babies hate to Floo, so Roger wouldn't have used it with Zach when he could come here by the Red Roads. Which Graham would also know. Harry swallowed another curse and a rueful smile together. I suppose we should tell Percy whatever security he's been using about the Roads, it's still holding.
"When were they last seen?" he asked, handing the note back.
"Eleven-thirty." Roger's voice was hoarse, but clear, and Selena shook free of her Animagus form to nod in agreement. "We got the note at noon, they were probably already gone by then, and the potion on the parchment took three hours to wear off—" He grimaced, but held himself under control. "Which means they could be just about anywhere by now, doesn't it?"
"That's not your fault, not anybody's fault," Harry returned, loading his voice with all the certainty and firmness he could muster. "Except for the bastards who took them, and we're going to find out who that was. They have to have had someone here, a plant in the village."
Cougar-Maya growled under her breath, then sat up to take her human shape once more. "Not necessarily," she said, her voice vibrating with barely suppressed rage. "They could have had one at the school. Someone who hates us, who'd want to see us hurt."
"And more than hurt, discredited." Selena's fingers twisted at the edge of her robe, her eyes were distracted and her breathing quick, but her scent told Harry she'd found a moment of clarity in the midst of her terror for her child and her Pridemates. "Because if we can't protect our own, especially the ones who need it most, how can we ask Muggleborns and their families to trust us to protect them?"
"By pointing out," said a woman's calm voice from the door into the front of the shop, making everyone whirl, "that this didn't happen within a protected space like Sanctuary, or even within the castle itself." Letha stepped into the room, Padfoot behind her, his eyes abstracted as he sketched or wrote with his wand on a piece of parchment floating beside him. "And by getting them back, as quickly as we can. To which end, we're rounding up the students—everyone's to return to the castle immediately, no exceptions—and finding out who was with whom, and where, within the times it could have happened."
Thank you, Harry signed to his Pack-mother amid the bustle of the rest of the room getting up to leave.
My job, she signed back with a half-smile. You're not a grown-up quite yet. The smile widened. Married or not.
Harry didn't bother to hide his grimace, the elder members of the second Pride having already vacated the premises. "Who's done what?" he asked, coming to stand beside his godfather and see, as he'd suspected, that the parchment held a rough map of Hogsmeade with several spots marked.
"Order, Shepherds, and teachers locating students and getting statements," said Padfoot abstractedly, most of his attention on the green Zippo flame near his ear, from which Harry could hear Danger's voice. "They know not to hamper your lot or the rest of the older DA, though most of those volunteered to help with making sure everyone was accounted for."
"Because once we work out who couldn't have done it, we're on our way to finding out who did." Harry stepped a little further away from Padfoot, glancing across at Letha (he hardly had to look up to her face at all anymore, and still wasn't sure if that bothered him or not). "This isn't just about hurting us, is it?" he asked quietly. "Or even about discrediting us. There's something else."
"However did you guess?" Letha laughed briefly. "No, don't tell me. It's because there's always something else."
"Seems like it." Harry turned to regard the door by which Roger, Selena, Lee, and Maya had left. "Also because of who we're fighting, and what they want. I'm a little surprised they haven't tried snatching babies before this—"
"They have," said Padfoot without looking up from his busy scribbling on the map. "We stopped them. Extra guards at St. Mungo's, one of the few things we have been able to do." He dotted a final I with a flourish and stepped back, flicking the edge of the parchment so that it rotated to face Harry and Letha. "Got something here. Ron reported in via Galleon, says he and Luna found a spot with enough spell traces they think it was probably the grab site."
"Not much out there." Harry studied the indicated area, translating the markings on the map into images from his weekend wanderings of Hogsmeade and its environs. "Damn. I was hoping someone might have seen it happen."
"Even Death Eaters have to get smart sometime, Greeneyes." Padfoot smiled a little in memory, then allowed it to grow into a grin. "But they probably weren't that smart. Unless they used broomsticks for their getaway, there'll be traces we can follow."
"Assuming those lead anywhere useful," Letha murmured. "All they'd have to do is Portkey to one spot, walk half a mile, and then Apparate elsewhere, and we could be stuck casting about in their first location for days before we find their Apparition point. Or if they decided to fly from that first Portkeyed location, then we're dead in the water there instead of here."
"Thank you for that vote of confidence," said Padfoot dryly. "What happened to thinking positive?"
"Overridden by realism." Letha sighed. "If only there were some way we could zero in on Graham and Natalie themselves, on where they are right now, rather than fumbling around following whatever trail their kidnappers may have left…"
He was sitting in darkness, his back pressed against a stone wall. Nearby, somebody was screaming.
I hope it's not me.
After a moment of remembering how, he sucked in a long, deliberate breath, feeling it scrape against his throat and rattle in his chest. The screaming continued unabated.
Not me, then. Good to know.
At the midpoint of his second breath, it occurred to him that the darkness might be due to his having his eyes closed. With care, he opened them.
He blinked at the girl across the small cavern, the girl who seemed to be addressing him, her eyes enormous in her pale face, strawberry-blonde hair streaked with dirt, the black cloak clutched about her ornamented with the crest of a rampant lion—
"Natalie," he said with a rush of relief, feeling his thoughts snap back into place.
Half a breath behind thought came panic.
We've been taken. We've been taken by Death Eaters. It's happening again, I didn't stop it, and this time it's not just me—
The screaming rose in volume, and Graham turned his head to try to track it, clinging to that need as to a lifeline. Natalie pointed at the wall beside him, then held her arms out like a cradle, her eyes beginning to well up with tears. "It's Zach," she whispered. "They took him away from me, I couldn't stop them—I tried, I tried to fight, but there were so many of them—"
"He might have been hurt if you'd fought too hard." Graham scrubbed the palms of his hands against his robed knees, drying them, and hitched himself across the cavern to Natalie's side. "Besides, it sounds like he's fighting just fine on his own."
He could hear the hitches and snags in his voice, and prayed Natalie couldn't hear them as well. His own fear was shoved back for the moment, obedient to his need, but it might not stay that way for long.
I'm not alone. In that thought he anchored himself, and laid his hand gently across Natalie's, finding hers chilled and shaking but still able to grasp his firmly. We'll keep each other from falling too far, and fight side by side, until we're found. And we will be found. It isn't like last time, no one has any reason to keep this quiet, we won't be trapped here for days and weeks and months and—
Natalie squeezed his hand once, almost to the point of pain, breaking into his thoughts. "You were hurting me," she whispered.
"Sorry." Graham released her immediately, feeling his face heat. How pathetic can I get? I can't even handle this without hurting the one person in the whole world I wish wasn't here…
"No, please." Natalie snatched his hand back. "Don't do that, don't let me go—just…stay with me, Graham. Please. Stay with me. Don't get lost in remembering. When you do, you're not here and now, you're there and then, and I'm alone, and—"
"And the worst part of any of this is being alone." Carefully, with his free hand, Graham unhooked his cloak and pulled it off his shoulders. "Here. If we sit on this, yours should be wide enough to go around us both."
She's more right than she knows. He found a moment, during the awkward gymnastics of adjusting the two cloaks without letting go of one another, to summon up a smile for her, and was rewarded with one recognizably her own, if a bit more wan than usual. If I fall back into my memories, that's giving them power over both of us, because that means we're both alone.
I lived through it once already. I won't let them put me back there now.
And I absolutely won't do that to Natalie.
Casting about for something they could talk about, something that would keep them calm and collected and ready to take advantage of anything which came their way, he found it in another area of his memories.
"Always remember," he began in a conversational tone once they were comfortably situated with the Gryffindor cloak around their shoulders and the Slytherin one folded up beneath them, "to look at the world for a little while through your enemy's eyes."
Natalie made a soft, questioning noise, then let her breath out in a little 'ha!' as she recognized the opening line of one of the lectures Professor Alice Longbottom had given the DA the year before. "Children," she said, drawing up her shoulders and assuming what she probably thought was a haughty, disdainful look.
I don't think I'll tell her what it makes me want to do.
Or maybe I will, but only after we're out of here and safe.
"Foolish children," Graham agreed aloud, forming his own face into his best impression of his uncle Magnus in one of the older wizard's most scornful moments. "Far too young to fight with any effectiveness whatsoever. But will they believe that? Of course not. And with what, pray tell, will they do this fighting? We've removed their wands—" His movement in Natalie's direction had already revealed to him that his arm holster was empty, and he didn't think they'd have neglected such a basic precaution with Natalie either. "—and with what else would a proper witch or wizard fight?"
"With…" Natalie went very stiff for an instant as her free hand dove into her pocket. "Oh, Graham," she breathed, her eyes lighting up. "They didn't take them—they didn't take them!"
"No, they didn't," Graham agreed, lowering the hand holding Natalie's to his side, so they could both feel the holstered shape of his potion piece, riding in its usual place beside his hip. "Their mistake."
In the other room, Zach was still crying, but his original howls of protest had modulated down into the weary weeping of a baby who has accepted, for the time being, that nobody is coming. Natalie cocked her head, listening. "He won't stay like that," she predicted. "He'll start crying even harder as soon as he hears or sees something he wants. And once he is, once he's so upset that none of them can do anything with him…"
Graham nodded. "He's our objective," he said, holding up two fingers. "And we need to keep him alive." One finger folded down. "So that makes him numbers one and two on the list."
"Which means we have to get him out of here." Natalie shivered. "No matter what else happens."
Releasing her hand, Graham slid his arm around her shoulders and drew her against him. She leaned into his hold with a little sigh, pulling the cloak more tightly around them. "It's not just cold here," she murmured. "It's wet. Damp. We're somewhere near water."
"Are you sure?" Graham asked doubtfully. "It just feels normal to me."
Natalie opened one eye and looked up at him. "And the Slytherin dorms are—?"
Against the odds, Graham found himself smiling again. "Under the lake," he finished. "So that would feel normal to me."
Even when nothing else does.
The fear welled up in him again. He held it off with the warmth of his friend against his side, with the sniffling hiccups of the baby in the next room—or cave, it certainly looks like we're in a cave, and that would make sense of being by water, that's how most caves come to be—and with the knowledge that both of them needed him awake, alive, and fighting.
And this time, I have a weapon of my own.
He closed his eyes, the better to remember the feeling of the potion piece as it fit snugly in his hand, the swift contrary motion that armed it, the instant of total concentration required to sight down the barrel and squeeze the trigger. His scores, in the every-other-week war games the DA held in various parts of the castle, were consistently among the highest, not just in his age group but overall, and he knew Natalie's were seldom far behind.
Still, that only takes care of the ones we can see at any one time. If there are more of them in another cave, and they suddenly hear their friends falling over…and that doesn't even take care of how we get out of this cave to begin with…
Impatient with himself, he shook his head. Worry about that in its own time. Run the simplest scenario first. Natalie's right, Zach will start screaming again just as soon as anything reminds him of home, and if they don't think of giving him to us, we'll remind them.
"And after that, escaping enemy territory," he mumbled under his breath, trying to call up the DA lessons on that subject. "What comes after secure your objective?"
"Determine your location," Natalie answered promptly in the same tones, turning herself a little more towards him and angling her face upward, coquettishly.
For an instant, Graham blinked down at her, totally nonplussed. Only when she flicked her gaze towards the blocked-off door and back did he understand.
If any of them come in while we're planning, they'll think we're no threat. That we're not even trying to fight back. That the only thing we're interested in is each other. He adjusted his own pose to compensate for hers. And part of that might even be true.
But first we have to live to find it out.
"Determine your location," he repeated, as though it were an endearment, and saw her eyes warm in appreciation. "If we can't do that, we sit tight and wait for help to come, unless—"
"There's immediate risk where we are," Natalie finished. "And if we can work out our location, we make the decision whether to stop here or try to run for it based on how close to a safe place we are, what we're carrying, and whether or not we're hurt—"
"Which we're not. Or I'm not. I don't think." Graham took a moment to assess his body's state of readiness and was gratified to discover no actual points of pain, though a few muscles protested the way in which he'd been sitting. "You?"
Natalie shifted, rolling her shoulders, flexing her hands and arms. "A little stiff is all," she said. "And I can use my cloak, or yours, to make a sling if we lose Zach's, so I'll have my hands free to fight."
"Good." Graham ran down the list in his head until he found the point where they'd stopped. "All right, so either way, it's stop or go, and if we decide to stop, then we just have to stay quiet and keep our heads down. If we have to run for it, what would be the safest way to go, and the fastest?"
"The Knight Bus, I'd think." Natalie tapped her fingers against her palm. "But they could stop that if they know we got on it, so maybe not. Same goes for Floo. If we can find an entry point for the Roads, though…"
Graham nodded, feeling each possibility settle into his mind as another layer on the shields he'd built against his fear.
Things are going to be different this time, he told it firmly. I'm not alone, and I'm not helpless, and I'm not going to lie down and let you beat me before I even start.
This time, I'm going to fight back.
And this time, I'm going to win.
"Have you ever wondered if we did the right thing for them?"
"Sorry?" Aletha turned to look at Danger. They were standing in one corner of Minerva McGonagall's office, chosen as the temporary headquarters in the search for the three missing children, momentarily separate from the furious, if quiet, activity in the rest of the room. Sirius had gone to the Ministry to see what he could find out through his contacts there, while Remus was bent over a map of Hogsmeade with the majority of both Prides grouped around him, generating a visual track of Graham and Natalie's movements around the village while they awaited the results of the Portkey trace.
"Them." Danger's little swirl of hand indicated the Pack's own cubs, Meghan twisting one of her braids between her fingers, Harry frowning as he sidled a few steps for a better vantage point, Hermione lifting her head to listen to something Ron murmured into her ear. "Think about it, Letha. They've lived their entire lives under the expectation they'd grow up to fight a war. We taught them that, taught them how to hide and sneak, or how to fight back. How to think in ways a lot of adults never even imagine. And how to take orders. We were surprised when they swore as the Pride, but should we have been? They'd never seen anything else, never known it was possible to live without that kind of hierarchy and discipline—"
"Were we wrong?" Aletha broke in smoothly, recognizing the slowly lifting tone in Danger's voice as the product of nerves. Her friend needed to be brought back to earth before she worked herself into a frenzy, and simple truth was usually the best ballast available. "We taught them how to fight a war, and look at that. We're in a war. We gave them discipline, yes, which they in turn taught to their friends. And how many times has it saved their lives by now?"
"But we never gave them a choice." Danger paced a short distance forward, then back, working her fingers restlessly through her hair. "We never taught them anything about living their own lives, plotting their own paths, they think as a group before they think as individuals, and that's not the way I want them to live their lives—"
"Ah-ah." Aletha caught Danger's shoulder as Danger turned for a third round of pacing. "Deep breath and settle. Remus has you blocked out, doesn't he?"
"None of your—" Danger cut herself off, inhaled deeply as instructed, and nodded on the exhale. "Not on purpose," she said, extracting her hands and smoothing her hair, as much as possible. "He's just concentrating so hard, and on spells I'm not very familiar with." She chuckled under her breath. "I suppose this is how he feels when I get into one of my cooking trances. But that doesn't make anything I said wrong, Letha. Are the cubs, the Pride, both Prides, are they going to live their entire lives looking up to authority for permission to do everything?"
"If they do, is that so bad?" Aletha let her eyes rove from one to another of her own cubs' Pride, then to the members of the second one. "No one forced them into this, Danger. They chose it for themselves. And yes, maybe we did only teach our cubs this one way, but I repeat—we weren't wrong. They are fighting a war, and that does require discipline. And maybe the way they act now, the coherency of the Pride, maybe that won't survive the war. Maybe they'll have to find new patterns to walk in, new ways to live. But do you know what that means?"
"No, why don't you tell me what that means?"
"It means they will have lived." Aletha accented the word carefully to give it the meaning she intended, and saw it strike home in Danger's eyes, tinted with only the faintest touch of blue. "I want them to have choices as much as you do, but that requires that they be alive to make them!"
Danger blinked once or twice, then laughed again, this time loudly enough to have a few heads turning, including Remus's. "All right, point taken," she said, flicking her fingers to send the observers back to what they'd been doing. "We gave them the tools to survive the hard times, and they can work the rest out for themselves, the way people have been doing since there were people. And who knows. Maybe they'll be able to make that transition without too much trouble. Maybe Packs and Prides and everything that goes with them, all those traditions we invented as we needed them, are actually going to be the wave of the future."
"Maybe so." Aletha shot an unfriendly glance towards the map of Hogsmeade. "Though I'd take almost anything that didn't sound like some variant on the pureblood ways. What were they thinking, kidnapping these three? Or—" She stopped, seeing the swirls begin in Danger's eyes. "What is it?"
"Were they thinking?" Danger's voice was slightly dreamy, as though she were watching Remus run through a line of thought, or helping him do so. "This doesn't feel like something the Death Eaters would do. Not yet, and not on this small a scale. Snatching children, yes, but if they were going to do it at all, they'd try for a lot more scope. At least they ought to, because…"
"Because they know by now, or they should know, that they'd only get the one shot at it." Aletha felt her fists tighten, and consciously relaxed her hands. "Once we know that they're targeting children, we can help families improve their security, tighten up our watch on the vulnerable moments around coming and going to Hogwarts, possibly even trigger the move into Sanctuary earlier than we'd planned—you're right, Danger. This doesn't make sense. Unless—"
"Unless this wasn't Death Eaters at all," Danger finished. "Not the main body of them, anyway, not the ones Voldemort has under his full control. This has the feel of somebody's side operation, someone moonlighting for a reason of their own. Something personal." Her eyes lingered on Selena. "And who'd have more personal onus against our side's Slytherins, more reason to try to shut them down or punish them for the stance they've taken, than their Housemates of a more traditional bent?"
"Not to mention what they get out of it." This time Aletha didn't try to open her fists, but simply let them clench. "A pureblood wizard, not even a year old yet—young enough to be trained into almost anything, as long as they can keep hold of him—and a boy and girl who are, at least biologically, capable of creating more witches and wizards between them. And what do you get when you cross a Muggleborn with a pureblood?"
Danger paled. "Dear God in heaven, Letha. You're not saying—"
"And why not?" Aletha snorted a bitter laugh, remembering some of the remarks whispered behind her back in her own years at Hogwarts (her prowess as a Beater and her proposed life-path as a Healer had combined to mean very few of her schoolmates ever dared say such things to her face). "It makes perfect sense, if you can bring yourself to think like they do. Muggleborns don't even rate as high as animals in their books, you know. Animals don't try to rise above their destined places. So why, still using their wretched excuse for logic, shouldn't they use time-tested methods for putting Muggleborns back into the places they deign to grant us—and get half-blood children out of the deal, children who'll have the health and the strength of their Muggleborn parents, to raise as princes and princesses of their own twisted little beliefs?"
Maya growled under her breath, her hands crooking into claws. Remus touched her on the shoulder, and looked her directly in the eye when she whipped around to face him. They stared one another down for a long moment, Maya trembling with the force of her suppressed anger, Remus as still and cool as any statue. At last Maya lowered her eyes, and Lee moved quickly to her side, pulling her into his arms.
"They won't do that to him," he murmured into her ear. "They won't get the chance. You'll see. We'll find him, we'll find all of them, and we'll get them back." Shifting Maya slightly to one side, he looked over her shoulder at Remus. "We will get them back," he repeated, the words a clear demand.
"If you can control yourselves well enough to stay within the rules of combat, you will." Remus rose to his feet, his wand held loosely in his hand, his voice soft but filled with the quiet power which had held the Pack together through everything the world could throw at them for fifteen years. "But if you have any doubts, any fears, that you might not be able to do so—that your desire for revenge will pull you out of formation and expose your fellow fighters to injury or capture, or that some garbled story about murder and mayhem committed in the name of the Order of the Phoenix or the Red Shepherds might begin from what you do tonight—then you will be a hindrance instead of a help, and you will stay here. Do you understand?"
"Perfectly." Selena stood very tall, her eyes glittering coolly as she met Remus's gaze without fear. "We will leave no one behind. And there will be no stories."
Danger inhaled sharply through her teeth, but Remus only inclined his head, a motion of respect between equals. "Very well," he said. "As soon as we have information, you will be the first team assigned to this matter. If you will excuse us? We should check on the progress being made."
Now we just have to hope 'as soon as we have information' is soon enough. Aletha held the door for Remus and Danger, then followed them out of the room, waiting until she was around the corner and out of hearing to voice her weary sigh. And that I wasn't hearing what I thought I heard, in the undertones of what Selena was just saying there…
Harry looked around as the door of Professor McGonagall's office opened once more. Neville was on its other side, Hannah Abbott beside him, both of them carrying armfuls of scrolls. "What're those?" he asked, hurrying over to catch a few as they fell from the end of Neville's load. "DA records?"
"Yes. Ones that might help. Roger," Neville called, catching the Ravenclaw's eye. "Can you do a search spell through these? Find Graham and Natalie's names?"
"Put them on the desk?" Roger requested, rolling up the map of Hogsmeade with one brisk flick of his wand and tucking it onto one of Professor McGonagall's bookshelves, freeing the center of her desk for the scrolls. "All right, let me remember how this works… Revelio Graham Pritchard!" A flicker of red light darted from the end of his wand and began to race through the scrolls. "Revelio Natalie Macdonald!" Another flicker, this time in blue. Up and down, back and forth, flitted the lights, until a burst of red, followed an instant later by a flash of blue, announced that both Seeking Spells had found their destination.
"Here we are." Roger reached out and picked up the scroll with the red light clinging to it. "Graham Pritchard," he read aloud, frowning. "Number eighty-four, white, yellow, and blue?"
"Natalie Macdonald," Lee read from the other scroll. "Number eighty-three, white, yellow, and pink. What are these supposed to be?"
Harry glanced back at Neville and Hannah. "Potion pieces," he said as the answer came to him. "It's the records of which potion pieces everyone in the DA has, and what load they carry. White for healing, because they're medics, and yellow for knockout because everyone carries that—how'd you think of it, Captain?"
"I didn't. She did." Neville pointed to Hannah. "I'd mentioned that I wished they were carrying something magical we could track down, and Hannah said, 'What about their potion pieces?'"
Hannah flushed as everyone looked at her, but managed a smile. "We don't think of them as anything special, since we've been training with them for so long," she said diffidently. "But they are magical, and they're all different, even if it's only by what second or third potion people carry in them …"
"And you've kept track of which ones all the DA members, or the Red Shepherds, like best to carry," Ginny finished, grinning at Hannah. "Trust the Hufflepuffs! So Graham carries the Shrinking Solution, then?"
Maya's laugh was shaky, but real. "He thought it was funny," she said. "Because of how you helped him a couple years ago. And Natalie has the Love Potion—"
Hermione gasped. "Love Potion, DA—Romilda Vane! Luna, that prophecy you spoke to us on Easter, the one about the new-wed nymph, this must be it! Romilda Vane, who's been hanging around with—"
"Slytherins. The wrong sort of Slytherins." Harry looked around at his own Pride, at the second Pride, seeing the same fear, the same purpose, in all their eyes. "Find her," he said harshly. "Ask questions, work spells, do what you have to do, but find me Romilda Vane." His eyes met Hermione's. "Except you, Neenie. And Neville, you and Pearl. And Hannah, if you'll give us a hand?"
"With what?" Hannah asked, stepping quickly aside as the rest of the conjoined Prides made for the door all at once. "I'll help if I can, but I'm not the very best at fighting…"
"We don't need someone who's good at fighting." Harry smiled, hooking his hands together in two interlocked circles. "We need someone who's good at spotting details." His smile widened as Meghan squealed under her breath, bouncing in place and clapping her hands. "Can you get me four other pieces out of storage, two with the same load Graham carries and two with Natalie's? If this goes the way we want it to, we might have it narrowed down to two places they could be by the time the rest of the Prides get back with Romilda…"
Well, that certainly took long enough. My apologies, everyone, for the wait. As you can see, things are heating up again, and yes, as of the next chapter you should be on notice to bring tissues. My thanks for everyone who's sticking with me, and if you want to encourage me to keep writing/write more, there are many ways to do that:
1. Review. Always welcome, and it doesn't have to be long. Pick one moment in the chapter you liked, or one question you have, and let me know about it!
2. Leave your comment, question, whatever, on my Facebook page, where you can also connect with other Anne fans.
3. Buy one of my original works, available as e-books through most retailers or as paperbacks through my Etsy site: fantasy novels A Widow in Waiting and Homecoming or short story collection Cat Tales. My third novel, and sci-fi debut, Killdeer, is coming soon, with the first quarter of it already available in Cat Tales!
Thanks again, and see you next time!
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