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Defying the Enemy

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Chapter Ten - Departures

True to Ginny’s guesses, dinner that evening turned into a party in Ron and Hermione’s honour. Harry spent the evening unusually quiet, even after Jen, Remus and Sirius had reminisced about the stick Sirius and James had given Remus when he got the badge in fifth year (conveniently leaving out how Remus got his own back when the badge passed to James in sixth).

As he sat on the side lines, watching Ron talk to Tonks about his new broom, Harry became aware of Mrs Weasley talking to her husband. “Well, I’m going to sort that Boggart out and turn in. Arthur, I don’t want this lot up too late, alright?” She got to her feet and caught Harry’s eye. “Night, Harry, dear.”

Harry lifted a hand in acknowledgement, and was about to follow her example, when Moody sat down next to him. “Alright, Potter?”

“Yeah, I’m fine.”

Moody took a swig from his hipflask, eyeing Harry in a way that clearly stated that he didn’t believe it. “Got something that might interest you here.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out an old photograph, tattered around the edges. “Original Order of the Phoenix,” he explained, as Harry peered at it. “Found it last night when I was looking for my spare Invisibility Cloak – since Podmore hasn’t had the manners to return my best one. Thought people might like to see it.”

“What’s that, Mad-Eye?” Jen asked, wandering over. “Oh, I remember that day. New Year’s, wasn’t it?”

“That’s right.” Moody grunted. “That’s me,” he said unnecessarily. “There’s Dumbledore beside me, Dedalus Diggle on the other side … Hestia Jones, you know her. That’s Frank and Alice Longbottom …”

Jen’s stomach clenched, as the two smiled and waved up at them, Alice’s baby bump only just visible. She still hadn’t gone to St Mungo’s – she wasn’t sure she could face it.

“Neville looks like her.” Harry whispered, just loud enough for her to hear, and her hand found his shoulder and squeezed.

“Poor devils.” Moody growled. “Better dead than what happened to them … and that’s Emmeline Vance, you’ve met her, and that’s Lupin obviously …”

“And me.” Jen added with a smile. “And Mandy and Arabella.”

“Benjy Fenwick,” Moody continued, pointing to the next wizard along, “he copped it – we only ever found bits of him.”

Jen flinched; she remembered finding those bits. “Mad-Eye …”

“That’s Edgar Bones,” Moody said, ignoring her as he prodded the photo with his wand to get its occupants to move around. “Brother of Amelia Bones and Alice Longbottom, they got him and his family too, he was a great wizard … Sturgis Podmore, blimey, he looks young …”

“Yeah, he does.” Jen agreed, squeezing Harry’s shoulder. “Mad-Eye, don’t you think …”

“Caradoc Dearborn,” Moody went on, as though she hadn’t spoken, “vanished six months after this, we never found his body … Hagrid, of course, looks the same as ever … Elphias Doge, you’ve met him – I’d forgotten he used to wear that stupid hat … Fabian and Gideon Prewett, it took ten Death Eaters to kill them, they fought like heroes … Dumbledore’s brother, Aberforth, only time I ever met him, strange bloke … that’s Dorcas Meadowes, Voldemort killed her personally … Sirius, when he still had short hair, and … there you go, thought that would interest you!”

Jen closed her eyes. James and Lily, the latter glowing just as much as Alice, were standing either side of Peter, laughing and joking with him. Her stomach was churning at the sight – she dreaded to think what Harry was feeling.

Before she could ask Moody why he thought that was appropriate topic of discussion, Sirius asked, “What have you got there, Mad-Eye?”

With Moody sufficiently distracted, Harry slipped out of the kitchen.

What was all that about? Remus asked.

Mad-Eye decided that showing Harry a picture of the Order and telling him exactly what happened to them all would cheer him up.

You know what Mad-Eye’s like, love – he doesn’t think the same way the rest of us do.

There’s an understatement. Jen hurried out of the kitchen after Harry, catching up with him outside the living room on the first floor and steering him inside. “You okay?”

Harry shrugged. “I guess. It just took me by surprise, that’s all. I knew the last war was bad, and I knew a lot of people died, but to see them like that …”

Jen sighed. “I know. I don’t know what Mad-Eye was trying to achieve, but …” She broke off, shaking her head. “I was talking about the prefect thing as well, you know.”

Harry walked over to the window, staring out over Grimmauld Place. “If I’m jealous of Ron, does that make me a bad person?”

“No.” Jen answered immediately.

“But …” Harry fidgeted slightly. “It’s always me who gets the attention – shouldn’t I be happy that he’s getting recognised for once?”

“Aren’t you?” Jen asked in response.

“Well, yeah, but …”

“But nothing.” Jen interrupted. “Honey, jealousy is an emotion – and emotions are irrational. They often have no rhyme or reason behind them. And there is nothing wrong with wanting recognition for your own achievements for once.” She leaned against the wall. “Now, Harry, there’s something very important that I need to talk to you about.”

Harry turned quickly to look at her. “Are you going to tell me what’s going on?”

Jen wished she had another answer for him. “No. I’m going to tell you why I can’t.”

“Oh.” Harry wrinkled his nose. “Next best thing, I suppose.”

Jen smiled. “That’s the spirit.” Her smile faded quickly, however. “Harry, we think the reason you keep having strange dreams is that you have a connection with Voldemort – a mental connection.”

Harry turned white. “B-But …”

“Harry, listen to me.” Jen said urgently, crossing the room to take hold of his shoulders. “It does not mean you’re helpless in this, alright? Hermione is going to teach you Occlumency – I need you to promise me that you will do absolutely everything she tells you to do.”

Despite his obvious concern, Harry managed a weak smile. “I do that anyway.”

Jen chuckled. “Smart boy. As far as I know, Voldemort hasn’t figured it out yet, but if he does …”

“He can just find out what the Order knows from my mind, can’t he?” Harry concluded gloomily. “That’s why no one will tell me anything.”

Jen sighed. “I can tell you what he already knows, Harry. There’s something in the Department of Mysteries – that’s the door you keep dreaming about. You’re dreaming about it because Voldemort’s thinking about it.”

“What does he want?” Harry asked in a whisper.

“I can’t tell you, Harry.” Jen admitted. “I don’t know myself. But that’s why you need to tell me if that door opens, because we need to know.”

Harry nodded. “I will, Jen, I promise.”

“I know you will, cub.” Jen said softly. “Listen, can I just take a look? I want to see if I can remove the link – I don’t think I can, but I don’t want to end up kicking myself later.”

“Sure.” Harry agreed easily.

“Thank you.” Jen caught his gaze and held it. “Legilimens.” She plunged into his mind once more.

This time, knowing it was there, it was easy to see the link with Voldemort – like a lightning bolt shaped crack in the wall of his mind, oozing something that looked like black tar.

Jen examined it as closely as she could without actually touching it – the last thing she wanted to do was alert Voldemort to its presence.

It was immediately obvious to her that there was nothing she could do, and she retreated, staying in Harry’s mind just long enough to remove the block preventing him from learning Occlumency.

“Did you get rid of it?” Harry asked, when she blinked and broke eye contact.

Jen frowned. “No. Why, did you feel a difference?”

“I feel more relaxed.” Harry said. “Ever since he came back, I’ve felt really tense and on edge all the time.”

Jen grimaced. “No, cub, it’s still there, I’m afraid. I did remove …” She trailed off. “Can’t tell you that yet. Work on that Occlumency, then we’ll talk.” She hesitated for a second more, before deciding to leave the other block in place for the time being.

James and Lily had both been incredibly powerful and, if Harry had even a fraction of that, the backlash from unleashing it would be bigger than she could deal with right now – at least without blowing Headquarters to smithereens.

The idea itself wasn’t that unappealing to Jen – but she had a feeling that the Muggles either side of them wouldn’t be too happy and it might – might – just be a little difficult to explain to Dumbledore without tipping her hand.

“Alright, kiddo, it’s late and you’ve got school tomorrow.” She said, pulling Harry into a hug.

“Okay, I’ll …” Harry trailed off, lifting his head. “Do you hear that?”

Jen frowned, listening intently. There was a low throbbing sound, almost like someone was crying. “I do.” She left the living room, Harry close behind her, and followed the noise down the stairs to the drawing room.

“Hello?” Harry called, quietly, so as not to wake Mrs Black.

Jen pushed the door open and froze, barely biting back a scream as Harry stiffened beside her. Molly, wand in hand, was cowering against the wall, staring in horror at Ron, who was lying motionless in the middle of the room.

For a second, Jen thought the house had finally done what it had been threatening to do all summer and actually killed someone. Then logic kicked back in. Remus? Is Ron with you?

Yeah, still going on about his broom. Want us to send the kids up to bed then?

Not yet.

Realisation and relief flooded through her, as Molly aimed her wand at Ron and croaked, “R-R-Ridikulus!”

With a crack, Ron turned into Bill, his eyes staring blankly at the ceiling.

Molly’s sobs increased. “R-R-Ridikulus!”

“Mrs Weasley!” Harry called from behind her. “Let someone else handle it.”

Crack. Arthur’s body appeared instead, glasses askew, a trickle of blood slowly making its way down from his forehead.

“No …” Molly whimpered. “Ridikulus! Ridikulus!”

Crack. Dead twins, slumped over each other as though they’d both tried to take a curse for the other. Crack. Dead Percy, with a look of dawning horror in his eyes, as though he’d realised they were right just a little too late.

“Molly!” Jen said loudly, moving forward. “Let me …”

Crack.

Jen stopped dead, this time unable to hold back the scream of horror that escaped her, as Percy became Harry, lying spread-eagled and obviously dead in the moonlight.

“What’s going on?” Remus ran in, closely followed by Sirius and Moody. He took one look at the scene before him, pushed Jen behind him and drew his own wand. “Ridikulus!”

With a crack, the full moon was floating in the air in front of them, and he flicked his wand again, almost lazily. “Ridikulus.”

The Boggart vanished in a puff of smoke, and Molly collapsed, sobbing hysterically.

Alright? Remus asked, as he moved to comfort Molly.

Surprised me. Give me a minute. Look after her.

“Molly, don’t … It was just a Boggart, that’s all.” Remus soothed as Molly began crying into his shoulder. He rubbed her back comfortingly. “Just a Boggart.”

“I s-see them d-dead all the time!” Molly sobbed. “All the t-time! I dream about it!”

“We all do.” Jen said softly, finally forcing her legs to move her over to Molly’s side.

“D-d-don’t tell Arthur.” Molly pleaded. “I d-don’t want him t-to know … being s-silly …”

Remus handed her a handkerchief and she blew her nose loudly. Sirius shook himself out of the trance that seeing Harry’s dead body seemed to have put him in and moved forwards, putting a comforting hand on Molly’s shoulder.

“Harry, I’m so sorry.” She said quietly. “What must you think of me? Not even able to get rid of a Boggart.”

“Don’t be silly.” Harry smiled. “Hermione once panicked that we couldn’t light a fire because we didn’t have any wood.”

Molly attempted a smile, but tears spilled out of her eyes again. “I just s-so worried! H-Half the family’s in the O-Order; it’ll b-be a m-miracle if we all come through this … and P-Percy’s not talking to us … what if something d-dreadful happens and we never m-made it up with him? And what’s g-going to happen if Arthur and I are killed; who’s g-going to look after Ron and G-Ginny?”

“Molly, that’s enough!” Remus told her firmly. “This isn’t like the last time. The Order are better prepared, we’ve got a head start, we know what Voldemort’s up to – come on, it’s time you got used to hearing the name – look, I can’t promise that no one’s going to get hurt, nobody can promise that, but we’re much better off than we were last time. You weren’t in the Order then, you don’t understand. Last time, we were outnumbered twenty-to-one by Death Eaters and they were picking us off one by one …”

“Don’t worry about Percy.” Sirius cut in. “He’ll come around. It’s only a matter of time before Voldemort moves out into the open; once he does, the whole Ministry’s going to be begging us to forgive them. And I’m not sure I’ll be accepting their apology.”

Jen sent him a scolding look, then smiled comfortingly at Molly. “And as for who’s going to look after Ron and Ginny if something happened to you, what do you think we’d do; let them starve?”

Molly smiled shakily. “Being silly.”

“You’re not being silly, Molly.” Jen said firmly. “You’re being a mum.” She looked up at her brother. “Sirius, can you send the kids up to bed …”

“They’ve already gone.” Sirius told her. “We sent them up ahead of us.”

“Alright.” Jen squeezed Molly’s shoulder. “I’ll make sure they’re in bed, Molly. You take your time.” She stood up and ushered Harry out of the room. “Bed, Harry, go on.”

Sirius followed them up the stairs. “Jen, Molly said you disappeared into the Post Office today – who were you writing to?”

Jen paused on the first floor, allowing Harry’s footsteps to fade on his way up to the second. “Narcissa. We’re meeting for lunch tomorrow.”

Sirius frowned. “Why?”

Jen rolled her eyes. “First of all, she’s my cousin, and I want to have lunch with her. Second of all, I want to know if she knows what we’re guarding.” She sighed. “I want to know what Voldemort would know about the Department of Mysteries anyway. He didn’t have any Unspeakables on side last I heard.”

Sirius scowled. “Augustus Rookwood. Outed as a Death Eater after Voldemort fell.”

Rookwood was a Death Eater?

Is. He’s in Azkaban. Doubting your brother?

No. It just explains a lot. We knew that Addie and Leona’s parents were in the Order, right?

Right. Remus agreed. But it didn’t make sense that they were attacked, because the Order was top secret and the McKinnons were generally a neutral family – there were more outspoken families for Voldemort to start with.

Exactly. Marlene McKinnon was an Unspeakable, and Addie mentioned that Rookwood was coming to dinner during the Easter holidays.

You think Marlene was supposed to try to recruit him? Remus guessed. I suppose that would make sense.

“Jen?” Sirius prompted. “You alright?”

“Hmm?” Jen faked a smile. “Yeah. Yeah, I’m fine. I need to check on the kids. I’ll see you later.” She jogged up to the third floor and knocked on the girls’ door, letting herself in.

“Is Mum okay?” Ginny asked immediately, already in bed.

“She’s fine.” Jen assured her. “A bad encounter with a Boggart, that’s all.” Automatically, she tucked the covers around the redhead, before crossing the room and doing the same with Hermione.

“I can’t remember the last time someone tucked me in.” Hermione murmured.

“Sirius, two nights ago, when you fell asleep in the drawing room.” Ginny supplied sleepily.

“Not what I meant, and you know it.” Hermione shot back.

Jen smiled, leaning down to kiss Hermione’s forehead. “Sorry, sweetheart.”

“Not your fault.” Hermione yawned. “Jen, I keep meaning to tell you. Draco Malfoy needs help; he doesn’t want to follow in his father’s footsteps.”

Jen closed her eyes. She had been hoping that Narcissa’s son was more like his mother, but this was the first indication of it – after Harry’s remark a few weeks ago, she’d begun to think it was over. “Alright, leave it to me.” She straightened up. “Night Hermione. Night Ginny.”

“Goodnight, Jen.” They chorused, in near-unison.

Jen paused in the doorway and dimmed the light. “Sweet dreams.” Quietly, she made her way downstairs to the next floor, and stuck her head into the boys’ room as well.

“Is Mum okay?” Ron asked, unknowingly echoing his sister.

“She’s fine.” Jen repeated, as he wriggled down under the covers in a manner that reminded her of a puppy. Ignoring Ron’s slightly-embarrassed sputter, she smoothed his covers down and moved across the room to do the same with Harry. “Now you two need to get some sleep.”

“I can’t sleep now!” Ron protested. “Prefect! Me!”

“Don’t argue.” Harry advised. “She has her ways.”

“Damn right I do.” Jen teased, kissing her godson’s forehead. “Go to sleep.”

“No, I can’t.” Ron insisted.

Jen sighed. “Fine. Suit yourself. Don’t blame me when you get dragged out of bed tomorrow morning.” On her way out of the room, she scooped up the clothes Harry had left on the floor, and perched on the edge of his bed to fold them.

Then, very softly, she began to sing.

Stay awake, don’t rest your head,

Don’t lie down upon your bed,

While the moon drifts in the skies,

Stay awake; don’t close your eyes.

Glancing over Harry’s shirt, Jen’s sharp eyes spotted the yawn that Ron stubbornly tried to hide. Harry’s eyes were already drifting shut – he’d long since given up trying to fight her on this point.

Though the world is fast asleep,

Though your pillow’s soft and deep,

You’re not sleepy as you seem,

Stay awake, don’t nod and dream.”

Harry was completely asleep now, his chest rising and falling in the even rhythm of slumber, and Ron wasn’t far off. She sent the clothes to Harry’s trunk with a silent flick of her wand, and tiptoed to the door.

Stay awake, don’t nod and dream.

As the last note died, she shut the door with a soft snap, and made her way back downstairs.

On the next floor down, she bumped into Kreacher, quite nearly literally, as he shuffled out of the library. He fixed her with a look just short of loathing, but gave a deep bow.

“Mistress Jennifer.”

“Kreacher!” Jen called sharply, as he made to shuffle off again. “Mother always insisted on calling me Guinevere. Why have you started calling me Jennifer?”

“Does Mistress wish me to stop?” Kreacher asked, almost innocently.

“No.” Jen grimaced. “But I doubt Sirius ordered you to call me Jennifer, so who did?”

Kreacher didn’t answer.

“Tell me, Kreacher.” Jen said sternly. “That’s an order.”

“When Mistress’s father died, Master Regulus became Lord Black.” Kreacher croaked. “Master Regulus strived to uphold the noble traditions …”

“I know Regulus was the favourite child, Kreacher.” Jen snapped, rolling her eyes. “Get to the point.”

Kreacher bowed. “After Mistress disappeared, Master Regulus ordered Kreacher to provide him with any news as soon as it arrived. He ordered Kreacher to refer to Mistress as Mistress Jennifer.”

Jen frowned. I supposedly died … and Regulus ordered Kreacher to stop using my birth name? “Did he say why, Kreacher?”

“Master Regulus ordered Kreacher to never speak of this to Mistress.” Kreacher said evasively.

Jen rolled her eyes again. “Was that me or my mother? Why did Regulus give you that order, Kreacher?”

“Master Regulus said that he did not wish to think of how much Mistress Jennifer hated her birth name.” Kreacher answered, almost sulkily.

“Thank you, Kreacher.” Jen said, her heart clenching in her throat. She stepped past the elf and continued downstairs, walking straight into the drawing room, to the tapestry.

Her fingers brushed against Regulus’s name, and she closed her eyes. Oh, Reg … what happened?

“Jen?” Molly asked softly, making her jump slightly.

“Molly.” Jen returned, turning to face her. “I didn’t realise you were still here.”

Molly dabbed at her eyes with a handkerchief. “I wanted to gather myself before going to bed. Are you alright, dear?”

“Molly, what Sirius said earlier,” Jen said in a low voice, “about the Ministry coming crawling back and not forgiving them … don’t listen to him.”

“I wasn’t planning to.” Molly said, sounding confused.

“Because Percy might have made a mistake,” Jen continued, “but it’s so much easier to forgive someone for being wrong than for being right. And if he has the courage to admit to his mistakes …”

“Jen.” Molly interrupted. “What’s really bothering you?”

“Our older brother,” Jen said slowly, “was a Slytherin. I was closer to him than to Sirius when we were children. He was three years older than us. He picked me up when I fell, dried my tears when I cried, fought off whatever imaginary monsters I had concocted … and a few real ones.” She added, her eyes flickering to her parents’ names. “When I went to Hogwarts, he promised me that it wouldn’t matter what house I was in …”

“He broke that promise.” Molly guessed quietly. “Didn’t he?”

“Didn’t even last a day.” Jen confirmed, a little bitterly. “He joined the Death Eaters the next summer and Sirius and I ran away.” She turned away from the tapestry, feeling tears prick at her eyes as Molly approached her.

“He died two days after you disappeared.” She observed.

Jen closed her eyes. “It’s worse than that. Three days before I disappeared, I was in the Leaky Cauldron. I was supposed to be observing the comings and goings of the Alley – we’d had a tip that there was a wanted fugitive sneaking in and out. Regulus came and sat next to me; didn’t say anything, but had a drink and left. When he did, he left a note that said that we needed to talk, with a location to meet him in private.”

“I assume you didn’t go.” Molly said.

Jen shook her head. “No. I didn’t go. He’d never treated me like anything more than another auror … so why should I treat him like anything more than another Death Eater.”

“Jen, you couldn’t have done anything.” Molly told her gently.

“Couldn’t I?” Jen asked, opening her eyes to reveal the tears within them. “He died because he turned his back on Voldemort, Molly – what if he’d been asking me for help? And even if he wasn’t …” She caught Molly’s arm, as she lost her battle with tears. “Don’t give up, Molly, and don’t be stubborn when Percy does come back, because I did and I was, and now I’ll never see my brother again, and I’ll never tell him …”

Molly wrapped her into a hug, even as Remus’s voice chimed into her subconscious.

Are you alright?!

Fine. Jen managed to assure him, sobbing into Molly’s shoulder. This has been coming for a while.

Remus’s voice came again, this time out loud, and she felt a hand touch her shoulder. “I’ve got her, thanks, Molly.”

Molly released her, and Remus pulled her into his arms instead, resting his cheek atop her head. The redhead squeezed her shoulder and slipped out of the room.

“Why didn’t you say something?” Remus murmured into her hair.

I hate it. Jen admitted silently, not trusting her voice. I should be glad that Reg left them, that he turned his back on them, but he died thinking I hated him. If I’d just met him …

“Stop.” Remus said firmly, releasing her just slightly to catch her eye. “You will drive yourself crazy if you keep dwelling on the ‘what ifs’. One of you is quite enough.”

Jen managed a very watery, very weak laugh. “There was just so much I should have told him …” she whispered, resting her head on his shoulder. “That I love him … that I missed him … that I’d forgiven him …”

***

Rather predictably, the morning of September 1st dawned with nothing short of chaos, as the students rushed around, trying to gather everything and indulging in the inevitable last-minute packing.

The general commotion was made worse, when Fred and George, in an effort to save time, bewitched their trunks to fly downstairs, with the unintended result that they flew straight into Ginny and knocked her down two flights of stairs into the entrance hall.

Luckily, Sirius was on hand to catch her, thereby saving her from a broken neck. Molly nearly suffocated him in gratitude, and was now trying to make herself heard above Mrs Black’s yells.

“… FILTHY HALF-BREEDS, BESMIRCHING THE HOUSE OF MY FATHERS …”

“… COULD HAVE DONE HER A SERIOUS INJURY, YOU IDIOTS …”

“If Sirius has any self-preservation, he won’t make that damn pun.” Hermione muttered to herself, up in her room. She finished pulling her hair into a half-controlled ponytail, just as Hedwig swooped through the open window. “Hello, Hedwig. Safe flight?”

Hedwig hooted and held out her leg, allowing Hermione to take the note tied to it.

Keep your hair on – it was an honest mistake. You can have the bloody book back tomorrow – but don’t think this CHANGES ANYTHING.

DM

Hermione glanced at the door to make sure the hallway was deserted, and grabbed her wand and tapped it against the parchment. “Changes anything?”

Nothing happened.

Hermione narrowed her eyes at the note. Maybe it means that the password hasn’t changed. “Mischief.”

This time, the ink sank into the parchment and reformed into different words.

Hermione,

Interesting spell – I don’t think it was the one I used. Thank you for letting me know. I trust you will keep me informed through the year as events develop.

Congratulations on your badge – you may have guessed I have the badge for Slytherin, so believe me when I say that I will match you detention for detention.

Draco Malfoy

Hermione chuckled. “Who knew he had a sense of humour?” Her eyes flickered to the top of the page again. “He called me Hermione.”

Crookshanks let out an irritated meow from his carrier, and she stuck a finger through the wire to scratch his head.

“I know you hate it, sweetie, but we need to catch the train.”

She put the letter in her trunk, closed the lid, and lifted one end, but before she could drag it from the room, James appeared in front of her.

“Don’t bother.” He told her. “Someone’s coming to get it. Hurry up; you’re going to be late. And there was something else …”

“Lily send you?” Hermione asked, abandoning her trunk in favour of carrying Crookshanks’ basket downstairs, Hedwig perched on her shoulder.

“Yeah, she’s outside Hogwarts, making sure that you’re not going to get ambushed when you get there.” James said with a smirk, before smacking his forehead. “Hogwarts! That’s what I needed to tell you. Dumbledore’s upgraded the wards again – we can’t get past the gates.”

Hermione cursed under her breath, as she pushed open the door to Ron and Harry’s room. “That’s not good.”

“What?” Harry asked, fastening his trunk. Ron was nowhere to be seen.

“Well, for one, you’re not going to be able to lift that on your own.” Hermione smirked, as Hedwig flew over to her cage. “Secondly, your parents can’t get into Hogwarts anymore.”

Harry straightened up. “Why not?”

“The wards have been changed.” Hermione answered. “Spirits can’t get through them. I guess Dumbledore’s taking precautions so Voldemort can’t get spirits to spy for him.”

“Right.” Harry frowned. “Forgot he was an empath. So … how are we supposed to know they’re okay?”

Hermione shrugged, a traitorous lump in her throat. “We’re not.”

“Great.” Harry muttered, shoving his glasses on. “Is Ginny alright?”

“Mrs Weasley patched her up.” Hermione answered, waiting a second for James to tell her. “But now Mad-Eye’s complaining that we can’t leave until Sturgis Podmore gets here, otherwise the guard will be one short.”

“Guard?” Harry repeated. “We have to go to Kings Cross with a guard?”

You have to go to Kings Cross with a guard.” Hermione corrected.

“Why?” Harry asked irritably. “I thought Voldemort was supposed to be lying low. Or are you telling me he’s going to jump out from behind a dustbin and try to do me in?”

“I don’t know; it’s just what Mad-Eye says.” Hermione said, not bothering to berate him. She checked her watch. “But your mother’s right. If we don’t leave soon, we’re going to …”

“WILL YOU LOT GET DOWN HERE NOW PLEASE?!”

***

In the hallway, Jen had given up Silencing her mother, when she realised that the charms just weren’t holding. Instead, she had resigned herself to losing a good portion of her hearing, as they tried to gather everything together. She also resigned herself to the fact that she couldn’t Silence Molly either, however tempting that thought was.

Hermione and Harry arrived in the hall, completing the gaggle of students, and they could finally start the process of leaving the house.

“Harry, you’re to come with me, Jen and Tonks!” Molly shouted, over the repeated howls of “MUDBLOODS”, “SCUM”, “CREATURES OF DIRT”, and whatever else Mrs Black was coming up with. “Leave everything here; Alastor’s going to deal with the luggage … oh, for heaven’s sake, Sirius – Dumbledore said no!”

Jen felt her heart drop into her stomach, as a familiar black dog appeared and began clambering over the trunks already in the hall.

Can’t you control him?

He’s your brother. Remus reminded her. Besides, the only people aside from the Order who know he’s an Animagus are Death Eaters – they can’t tell the Ministry without telling them how they know. And all Kingsley has to do then is report a sighting abroad.

“That’s true.” Jen said aloud, but no one paid any attention – Molly was berating Sirius for being reckless, finally giving up and wrenching the door open. Jen ushered Harry out into the sunlight, stepped out behind him, Padfoot at her heels, and pushed the door closed again, abruptly cutting off her mother’s wails.

“Where’s Tonks?” Harry asked, as the house vanished behind them.

“She’s waiting for us just up here.” Molly asked, her lips pursing as Padfoot jumped up at a bird that flittered past them.

“Lighten up, Molly.” Jen said, with a forced grin. “It’s a beautiful day and he’s been cooped up all summer. Besides, do you really think I’d have let him leave the house if I thought something bad was going to happen?”

“Well, no …” Molly admitted.

Jen ignored Padfoot’s bark, which sounded suspiciously like laughter. He was right, admittedly – short of physically restraining him, there wasn’t much she could have done to make him stay in the house. “Look, if we don’t let him do this today, he’s more likely to do something even more stupid tomorrow.” She said, dropping all pretences of humour. “And I’d like to keep my brother alive, thank you very much.”

Molly didn’t respond, but seemed to cheer up considerably, even laughing with Harry, when Jen told Padfoot to settle down because she wasn’t above conjuring a collar.

An elderly woman with tightly curled grey hair and a purple pork-pie hat met them on the corner. “Wotcher all.” She greeted with a wink, identifying herself as Dora. “Better hurry up, hadn’t we?”

“I know.” Molly groaned. “But Alastor wanted to wait for Sturgis … if only Arthur could have got us cars from the Ministry again … but Fudge won’t let him borrow so much as an empty ink bottle these days … how Muggles can stand travelling without magic …”

As it turned out, it only took them about an hour to reach Kings Cross, but it was an uneventful hour, unless you counted Padfoot gambolling about, snapping at pigeons, chasing his own tail, and generally having a good time.

Jen let him bounce off his energy until they reached the station itself, whereupon she grabbed him by the scruff of the neck. “Settle down now, Snuffles; behave.” She cast a quick wandless Confundus Charm on the guard as they went past – she hated doing it, but there was no other way Padfoot would get into the station without her putting him on a lead.

That wouldn’t be too much of a tragedy – if anything, it would give Jen a laugh – but it would result in Sirius sulking for at least a week afterwards.

They reached the barrier without any trouble, and Jen gestured for Harry to copy her, leaning casually against it.

A second later, they had fallen through on to Platform Nine-and-Three-Quarters, and Jen took the opportunity to cast a quick Colour-Changing Charm on Padfoot’s fur to make it brown instead of black – not only would it make him less recognisable to any Death Eaters, but it would also stop any potential suspicious witch or wizard crying Grim and drawing attention to them.

Molly and Tonks appeared behind them, but Jen’s focus was on the smile that lit up Harry’s face – not that she could blame him; a very pleasant wave of nostalgia and fond memories had washed over her as well, and she fleetingly wished she was returning to Hogwarts as well.

Everything had seemed so much simpler back then.

“I hope the others make it in time!” Molly fretted, staring towards the archway.

“Nice dog, Harry!” A seventh year with dreadlocks called over.

“Thanks, Lee!” Harry called back with a grin, as Padfoot’s tail wagged frantically.

“Oh good!” Molly sighed, catching Jen’s attention. “Here’s Alastor with the luggage.”

Sure enough, Mad-Eye was pushing a trolley laden with trunks towards them, Hedwig, Pig, and Crookshanks balanced on top. He had a porter’s hat pulled down over his fake eye. “All clear.” He muttered to them. “Don’t think we were followed.”

Arthur emerged seconds later with Ron and Hermione, and the trio had just extracted their trunks when Remus turned up with Fred, George and Ginny.

“No trouble?” Mad-Eye asked gruffly, as they helped the students get their trunks on to the train, if not into an actual compartment.

“None.” Remus assured him, exchanging a weary smile with Jen. They had both agreed that there was unlikely to be any trouble that morning, but it was better safe than sorry, and arguing with Mad-Eye seldom got anyone anywhere.

“I’ll still be reporting Sturgis to Dumbledore.” Moody informed them gravely. “That’s the second time in a week he’s not turned up. Getting as unreliable as Dung.”

Jen grimaced, but didn’t say anything.

I know that look. What’s your gut telling you?

It’s telling me that it’s really not like Sturgis to be this unreliable.

You think there’s something going on with him?

I think I’m reluctant to brush it off as ‘a lot on his mind’ a second time.

Remus didn’t respond, shaking Fred, George and Ron’s hands, and hugging Ginny, Hermione and Harry. “Well, look after yourselves.” He told them. “Be careful.”

“Yeah, keep your heads down and your eyes peeled.” Moody agreed, shaking everyone’s hands. “And don’t forget – be careful what you put in writing. If in doubt, don’t put it in a letter at all.”

“It’s been great meeting you all!” Dora said brightly, hugging Ginny and Hermione. “We’ll see you soon, I expect.”

The Hogwarts Express whistled loudly, and the remaining students surged for the train. While Molly hugged her brood, Jen embraced Harry tightly. “Be safe; eat properly. Write when you can; try to stay out of trouble.”  She released Harry to hug Hermione as well. “Stay safe.” She repeated. “Keep an eye on Harry for me.”

“Will do.” Hermione assured her. She knelt down to hug Padfoot as well. “We’ll be careful.” She whispered. “Just promise me you won’t do anything stupid.”

Padfoot barked softly, and nudged her cheek with his nose.

“I’d take that as a promise, Hermione.” Jen said with a smile.

Harry knelt to hug Padfoot as well, the other students scratched his head, and they scrambled on to the train, as doors started slamming shut.

Great puffs of steam began emerging from the engine, and the Hogwarts Express slowly began to move. The Weasleys, Harry and Hermione hung out of the windows to wave, while Padfoot chased the train for as far as he could, until the great scarlet locomotive had vanished, leaving behind nothing but a cloud of steam.