… --- …
Aqua Man and the Mermaid
Friday 1 July
Ludo Bagman envisioned a solution to a small problem that he had. He was a player, and generally thought that he was skilled in games of chance. For each of the casino games that he played, or sports that he wagered on, he had worked out a system. His favorite betting strategy was to leave when he was twenty percent up and double up on his bets when he went on a losing streak, with the rationalization that with even-chance games, it was quite unlikely that he would lose as many as five or six times in a row.
Unfortunately, that was exactly what had happened when he had visited the muggle casino in London the last time. Worse yet, he had been playing with large stakes and had borrowed ten thousand galleons from the Gringotts sub-prime lenders to help bankroll the excursion.
His evening there had started out well, and initially he had been ahead several thousand pounds. Things had gone wrong when he decided to make one last bet to really cap off a good evening. He lost, and went into his tried and true strategy. Two thousand pounds, went to four, which went to a wager of eight, and then sixteen. He briefly considered quitting at thirty-two thousand but went for broke at sixty-four thousand.
In the course of the evening, he'd lost the equivalent of twenty thousand galleons and was beyond broke. Fortunately, the goblins believed that he had good credit, and were quite willing to lend him a second ten thousand galleons, though at a higher rate.
Sipping a glass of Chivas, he decided that his next game would be a sure thing. He knew that Ireland would be the sentimental favorite for the upcoming Quidditch World Cup, but having seen both teams play as part of his job, he knew that Bulgaria had the better seeker and was confident that it would be a quick match, allowing Bulgaria the win. He'd take mostly bets from the Irish fans and would easily triple his money when Bulgaria won. There was no need to lay off some of the bets to a Bulgarian based bookmaker to even his action, since he was so sure of the win. By the end of the match, he'd have the goblin bankroll loans paid off and still be six or seven thousand galleons ahead. Not a bad day, considering that his annual salary at the ministry was just under seventy-five hundred galleons a year.
… --- …
Harry looked at Hedwig, noticed that the rat that she'd caught still had all of its toes and he stroked her wing as she dropped the dead rodent onto the bottom of her cage and put her leg out so that Harry could untie the string holding Susan's letter before enjoying her meal. He opened it up and read:
We'll both have to work on improving our communication skills as we get to know each other better. I'll work harder at not jumping to conclusions, and I hope you'll keep telling me what's happening in your life. On a happier subject, I'd like it very much if you'd be able to come over tomorrow morning about ten. Please bring your new swim suit, and also a set of robes. Auntie and I would also enjoy having you stay for dinner. Auntie invited two people from her work, Connie Hammer and Rufus Scrimgeour. They both are heads of their respective auror departments. Connie used to babysit me when I was little, and Rufus worked with Alastor Moody, who I understand you spent time with last week.
See you tomorrow,
Harry read the letter a second time, and silently thanked Hermione for providing him good advice on making things right with Susan. He went to bed considerably happier than the night before.
… --- …
Saturday 2 July
Harry got up early the next morning and trimmed the hedge before breakfast. While they were eating the food that Harry had cooked, Dudley complained bitterly about having to sweep off the driveway. "Have Potter do it," he whined. "He's the know-it-all when it comes to brooms."
Vernon's face turned a deep shade of puce before he realized that it was his son and not the Potter brat who had brought up the unnaturalness. He growled, "Just do your own work, son, and the boy will do his." While Petunia had suggested that both boys should do chores around the house "to build character" she hadn't brought up the Ministry woman's other warnings.
"But…" tried Dudley, who was more than prepared to spend a half hour in order to weasel his way out of a five minute job. His mother gave him "the look," that said his tantrums wouldn't work this time.
As they were getting up from the table and Harry was gathering the dishes, he announced, "I'll be home after dinner tonight."
Vernon was about to say something when Harry commented, "The newspaper mentioned something about my godfather being sighted in Surrey. Apparently Director Bones wanted to talk with me about it."
If the truth were known, Harry was fairly certain that one of the aurors was responsible for occasionally planting those stories. Harry had called Amelia late last night after a large tropical bird flew into his window with the briefest of notes.
I'm fine. I'll write in a few weeks. Thank the girl again for me when you get a chance.
He was grateful for Amelia's co-operation, and smiled to himself as he remembered the colorful green and yellow bird flying back out of his window. She had believed his story without any real proof, and hadn't widened the search for Sirius, like she certainly could have.
Vernon just sputtered about keeping the other freaks away from his home, and walked out the door on his way to the club. He would have to remind the boy that he was a guest in their home, not a family member, and needed to know his place.
An hour later, Harry had finished the rest of his chores while Dudley had spent an equal amount of time leaning on his broom complaining before pushing the broom twice and telling Potter to hang it up. Harry went up to the bathroom to clean up before he gathered his things together for his visit to Susan's home in Welshpool.
… --- …
Susan waited nervously for Harry to arrive. Like most teens just turning fourteen, her body was a work in progress. The clothing that she'd bought over spring break didn't seem to fit correctly anymore… In her mind, there were a million things wrong with her, though she did like her strawberry blonde hair, especially as the sun lightened it up a bit in the summer months.
She didn't know whether to be annoyed or relieved when Hannah announced that she was having lunch and an afternoon outing with her mum, and wouldn't be able to come over for the day. On one hand, it would allow them time to visit together, and she knew that she could be a really good listener if he wanted to talk about anything. On the other hand, if the conversation dragged, Hannah wouldn't be there to tell interesting stories about the smallest things.
She looked through her collection of swimsuits for the day, and decided on a nautical navy colored flyback one-piece. She thought it looked okay on her, and if Harry really had never been swimming, and needed lessons, it might be a bit less distracting than the little bikinis that she usually wore sunning with Hannah.
Armed with two beach towels, and some suntan lotion, she glanced through the Daily Prophet while she waited for Harry to arrive. Hannah's dad, Ben, who was one of the school governors, had announced the hiring of retired Master Auror Alastor Moody for the post of DADA instructor as Hogwarts. She had liked last year's teacher, Professor Lupin, and had hoped that he would stay for a second year, before he left suddenly just before term had ended.
She thought about Harry while she waited. He always seemed to be in the know about what was going on at the school, and was somehow involved with it. The official story first year was that Professor Quirrell had somehow been a victim of spontaneous combustion, but Harry ended up in the hospital wing and Professor Dumbledore had awarded him and his friends over a hundred-fifty points for some very vague reasons at the end of year feast.
Second year was even weirder with Lockhart losing his memory and Ginny Weasley getting taken into the Chamber of Secrets, whatever that was. By the time third year had come around, there were rumors that Harry had fought and killed a ghost and a fifty-foot basilisk that apparently had been roaming the hallways the previous term. The facts were scarce about what had really happened, but everyone had said that Ginny Weasley was practically a different person after whatever had happened to her.
This last year… Even Auntie had admitted that something weird had happened regarding Harry, dementors and Sirius Black. It must have been serious for her to get involved in her official position. Maybe she'd hear something today.
Nothing like that ever happened in Hufflepuff. Stebbins' older sister had gotten pregnant while she was still in school, but that was two years ago. No, what attracted her to Harry were the contrasts about what kind of a person he was. He was sweet and shy, kind and generous, gentle but amazingly quick, soft-spoken but amazingly skilled. For some reason he always ended up in dangerous situations through no fault of his own. Somehow, she felt that he had a greater destiny than many, and that somehow, she didn't know how, but somehow she fit in.
Her thoughts were interrupted by the distinctive bang of the Knight Bus stopping in her front yard. She opened the front door, smiled at him and said, "Good morning, Harry. You can set your stuff down over there."
He smiled back at her, replying, "Hi Susan. Thanks for having me over today."
"It took a while, but I'm glad that you're here. Go get changed in the bathroom, and I'll wait down here." They made eye contact and laughed.
If the truth were told, Harry was a terrible swimmer. Built with about zero body fat, he tended to sink like a rock. What he did seem to enjoy was swimming underwater on the shallow end and standing up when he needed to take a breath.
After paddling around a bit, she had him try and float on his back. Supporting him about mid back she suggested, "Tilt your head back, Harry. Okay take a big breath and hold it in. She tentatively let go and he was just slightly buoyant. Okay, now kick a bit."
After a bit, she saw that he was getting more comfortable in the water and they took turns splashing and chasing each other around the pool. Susan got on her floatie and Harry used his as a kickboard as he went tirelessly up and down the length of the pool until it was time for lunch.
Unasked, Harry had volunteered to make lunch for them, but Susan reminded him that Smidgen would be offended if they were caught doing her job for her. The little elf had prepared a light lunch of ham and turkey sandwiches, crisps and an orange for them. They sat outside under an umbrella picnic table and munched on their lunch while they sipped butterbeers.
The rain came down after lunch, so they went inside. Susan had about a thousand questions that she wanted to ask, but didn't want to appear to be pressing, so she suggested a game that she and Hannah would play occasionally.
"How do we do it?" asked Harry.
Susan explained, "We take turns asking questions. We can pass on any of them that you want, but then the other person gets to ask another question. You can go first."
"Sounds fun," Harry agreed. He took a sip of his butterbeer and asked his first question. "How long have you known Hannah?"
She smiled and replied, "Forever. Our mums were best friends in school. I went to primary school with her by taking the floo and telling the school that I lived at her house." She looked at him to see if he was satisfied with her answer.
Harry nodded and suggested, "Your turn. Ask away."
"All right then." She gave a fake evil laugh and said, "I've got you now, Mr. Harry Potter." She thought for a moment, decided to start slow with easy questions and work her way up to the tricky ones. She asked, "Aside from quidditch, are you good at any other sports?"
Harry shook his head and replied, "The only other sport I've played was being an unwilling participant in my cousin's games of Harry Hunting, where he and his pals would chase me around and beat me up if they caught me. He made sure that I was never allowed to play any of the activity sports at primary school." He thought for a moment and replied, "Probably wasn't the answer that you were looking for, but it's the only one that I have."
Susan felt bad for having asked the question and replied, "I'm sorry about that, Harry. You're too good of a person to have been treated like that. Your turn."
Harry asked, "What's it like living with your aunt?"
Susan smiled and replied, "Pretty nice, actually, though to be honest, I spend nearly as much time with the Abbotts. We each have a bedroom at each others' house." She thought about the other dimensions of his question for a minute and added, "I worry about her work, much more now that I understand a bit more about what she's actually responsible for than when I was a little girl. She's always taken good care of me and helped me make good decisions. She's older than our own parents would be, but she takes the time to talk with me and more importantly, listen to me. All in all, it's pretty nice. Okay, my turn. Why did you buy a Firebolt broom after your other one got smashed by that stupid tree?"
Harry smiled as he recalled Hermione's concern over the origin of his broom and replied, "I didn't. I mean I didn't buy it. My godfather, Sirius bought it for me." He wasn't sure how much she'd heard, and he didn't want to make her uncomfortable, so he let it go. She could always ask another question.
"What did your parents do?"
Susan gave a sad smile and replied, "They were murdered the same week that yours were, Harry. My dad was a newly graduated auror, the same as your dad. My mum worked in her mum's greenhouse, growing and selling magical herbs." Seeing the look of surprise on his face, she asked, "What do you know about your parents, Harry?"
She watched the slightly sad expression on his face as he replied, "Practically nothing, to tell you the truth. Mr. Ollivander told me that my mum was good at charms, Professor Lupin told me that my dad and mum were head boy and girl, and that they sometimes pulled pranks together. You told me that my dad worked as an auror. To be honest, that's about it. I grew up believing that they were drunk and were killed in a car crash."
"That foul bitch," muttered Susan, though a bit louder than she might have intended, as she saw Harry smile at her righteous anger over his aunt and uncle's rude behavior.
Harry decided to go with a safe question and asked, "When's your birthday?"
"July fourth. I'll be fourteen. Yours?"
"July 31. Me too."
She made eye contact, smiled and replied, "We'll have to celebrate together. My turn now – Remember - you don't have to answer if you don't want, okay?"
"What happened at the end of first year?"
Harry scratched his head while he was thinking about what to say, but there was no hesitation or doubt in his mind that he would tell her. He excused himself for a minute to use the bathroom and collect his thoughts.
In the meanwhile, every shred of self-confidence that Susan possessed was melting away like ice on a hot, breezy day. After he returned, she was just about to reach out to hug him and apologize when he began.
"Really, the story began the night Voldemort killed my parents and then tried to kill me. For some reason, his killing curse didn't work, but he didn't quite die either when it rebounded and hit him. He's kind of like a cloud of black specks right now. Somehow he took over Professor Quirrell, sometime the summer before our first year, I'd guess. Anyway, for some reason, he found out about Nicolas Flamel's philosopher stone that apparently could make the elixir of life. Professor Dumbledore decided to hide the stone in the castle…"
Harry went on for another ten minutes, but it was the end of the story that affected Susan so much. "…And then I killed Quirrell, and just as he was dying, Voldemort's spirit left the body and flew off somewhere else."
Susan shook her head and argued, "Harry, regardless of what you think, you didn't kill Professor Quirrell. His fate was probably sealed the moment that he allowed, He Who… You-kno… Voldemort into his body. There I did it. Professor Quirrell killed himself, he just hadn't died yet. The real thing to remember is that, at least for a while, you won another round."
"That's pretty much what Professor Dumbledore told me… except he wasn't holding my hand. He wasn't wearing a pretty swimsuit either."
Susan enjoyed Harry's reply but grimaced at the thought of old Professor Dumbledore in a swimsuit and suggested, "Probably just as well. You're way cuter. She looked at him and they started laughing. She flicked a bottle cap at him playfully and commanded, "Back in the pool, aqua-man."
"Okay, pretty mermaid."
The afternoon passed far too rapidly in their minds.
… --- …
Rufus Scrimgeor had observed two unusual events this week. His direct manager, Bones, had invited him over for dinner, and Bones' dotted line boss, Fudge had made a direct request that he double the on-duty aurors patrolling Diagon alley the night of the Quidditch World Cup.
Neither request made sense. Bones always had everyone over every year in September, ostensibly to celebrate the fall equinox. In reality, it was to celebrate school being back in session, and to take an opportunity to thank each of her people for another year's hard work.
It was Fudge's request that really puzzled the career auror. Staffing up for the World Cup made sense, but as host country, deploying the extra manpower in an area that would most likely be all but deserted at the time didn't make any sense, let alone breaking the chain of command to make the request. Gringotts had their own security, and Scrimgeour really didn't think that a contingent of dark wizards would suddenly pop up and raid Fortescue's supply of double chocolate ice cream when no one was looking.
… --- …
Master investigator Connie Hammer was delighted at the opportunity to see her favorite teenager – little Suzie Bones. A handful of years younger than Amelia, Connie had worked with or for the other woman for forty years. The investigative branch of the DMLE had three major responsibilities - gathering enough evidence in criminal investigations to ensure a high conviction rate, serve as the internal investigation unit, and perform on-going investigations of the so-called cold-cases, which the auror team considered unsolvable.
Like Scrimgeour, she had been somewhat surprised at the invitation for dinner tonight, for two reasons – first, she was already invited over for Susie's birthday celebration in just a few days, secondly, Amelia had said that the dinner was "mostly social" which was an odd choice of words in their line of work.
… --- …
Amelia came home at six and greeted the two teens. "Hello Harry, hi Susie. How was your day?"
"Fantastic," replied Harry for the both of them. "I learned to swim a bit, we had a great lunch, Susan and I talked a bit and we floated in the pool for a while."
"Sounds like you both had fun," she said, noticing Susie nodding in agreement. "Connie and Rufus should be here in a few minutes. Harry, I brought a solicitor pensieve home from work. I was hoping that you would share your memory of that night in the shack."
Harry nodded, but replied, "Okay, but I'd like to leave Hermione and Buckbeak out of this for now if that's alright? Actually, I have three memories that are all related to Pettigrew that I'd like to share, if you have the time to look at them."
"That would be very helpful, Harry. Thank you." replied Amelia.
"What do I need to do?"
"Have your wand out, Think very specifically of them, say duplicata and hold your wand to your temple and slowly draw it away."
Harry did as she had told him and drew the three memories, placing the thin silvery strands into the bowl.
Just as he was finishing, he heard Susie squeal, "Connie!!!"
Connie Hammer gave the happy teen a big hug and said, "I'm so happy to see you, Susie. You look great. Have you been out in the sun?"
Susan replied, "Nearly every day since school let out. Connie, I'd like you to meet a friend of mine from school, Harry Potter."
Surprised at the opportunity to meet the legend in person, she smiled at him and said, "Good evening, Mr. Potter. It's an honor to meet you."
"Harry, Ma'am. Just Harry."
She smiled and replied, "It's an honor to meet you, just Harry. Just Connie."
A thick Scottish voice added, "As long as we're at it, just Harry, I'm just Rufus, Rufus Scrimgeour." It didn't sound especially sincere.
As trusting as ever, Harry replied, "I'm pleased to meet you, sir."
Susan watched her friend meet and greet the two and realized that her aunt hadn't arranged a social visit after all. Scrimgeour was looking at Harry almost as if he were a sack of galleons that he'd just found in the street. It was at that time that she recognized that her friend needed shielding from those witches and wizard who would exploit his kindness and trust to the point that Harry could become a bitter young man. She recognized that to some point Harry's friend Hermione had, consciously or not, served as a buffer between the twittering fan girls and him.
Amelia gathered everyone in the sitting room and Smidgen got them all beverages. Scrimgeour casually mentioned that there had been a credible sighting of Black in Birmingham, and Amelia announced, "It is largely to that end that I've gathered you here tonight. Harry has some information that is highly relevant to Sirius Black. With his permission, I have collected three memories." She looked at Harry who nodded and said, "The first one deserves your open mind and complete attention."
She tapped the bowl and a second later; they were in the Shrieking Shack reliving Pettigrew's confession.
Ten seconds later, it was obvious that she wasn't just showing home movies. Scrimgeour did give the memory his complete attention and tried to notice everything that he could about Black, Potter and Pettigrew.
Ten minutes later, the implication of the shoddy investigative work hit Connie like an ocean wave, she muttered, "He didn't even get a trial."
Amelia wanted to respect Harry's wishes and play the other two memories before they got bogged down in discussion. She asked, "Which one is next, Harry?"
He replied, "The one with the woman."
She tapped the bowl and another image arose like a hologram.
Harry was in the end of year individual divination exam with Sybill Trelawney.
"Well, dear, I think we'll leave it there.... A little disappointing...
but I'm sure you did your best."
Relieved, Harry got up, picked up his bag and turned to go, but then a loud, harsh voice spoke behind him.
"IT WILL HAPPEN TONIGHT."
Harry wheeled around. Professor Trelawney had gone rigid in her armchair; her eyes were unfocused and her mouth sagging.
"S -- sorry?" said Harry.
But Professor Trelawney didn't seem to hear him. Her eyes started to roll. Harry sat there in a panic. She looked as though she was about to have some sort of seizure. He hesitated, thinking of running to the hospital wing -- and then Professor Trelawney spoke again, in the same harsh voice, quite unlike her own:
"THE DARK LORD LIES ALONE AND FRIENDLESS, ABANDONED BY HIS FOLLOWERS.
HIS SERVANT HAS BEEN CHAINED THESE TWELVE YEARS. TONIGHT, BEFORE MIDNIGHT... THE SERVANT WILL BREAK FREE AND SET OUT TO REJOIN HIS
MASTER. THE DARK LORD WILL RISE AGAIN WITH HIS SERVANTS AID, GREATER AND MORE TERRIBLE THAN EVER HE WAS. TONIGHT... BEFORE MIDNIGHT... THE SERVANT... WILL SET OUT... TO REJOIN... HIS MASTER....
Scrimgeour spoke for everyone when he muttered, "Oh shite!" He decided that he was much more interested in the Potter boy than he'd been an hour ago.
Amelia quickly tapped the pensieve again while she considered what she'd just seen.
The third image arose with Harry sitting in Lupin's recently vacated office. Professor Dumbledore walked in.
"Why so miserable, Harry?" he said quietly. "You should be very proud of yourself after last night."
"It didn't make any difference," said Harry bitterly. "Pettigrew got away."
"Didn't make any difference?" said Dumbledore quietly, "It made all the difference in the world, Harry. You helped uncover the truth. You saved an innocent man from a terrible fate."
Terrible. Something stirred in Harry's memory. Greater and more terrible than ever before... Professor Trelawney's prediction!
"Professor Dumbledore -- yesterday, when I was having my Divination exam, Professor Trelawney went very -- very strange."
"Indeed?" said Dumbledore. "Er -- stranger than usual, you mean?"
"Yes... her voice went all deep and her eyes rolled and she said ... she said Voldemort's servant was going to set out to return to him before midnight.... She said the servant would help him come back to power." Harry stared up at Dumbledore. "And then she sort of became normal again, and she couldn't remember anything she'd said. Was it -- was she making a real prediction?"
Dumbledore looked mildly impressed.
"Do you know, Harry, I think she might have been," he said thoughtfully. "Who'd have thought it? That brings her total of real predictions up to two. I should offer her a pay raise...."
Amelia rose and in a grateful voice said, "Thank you, Harry. That gives us a lot to discuss after dinner." They were all wondering what her first prediction had been.
"Wait!" demanded Susan. She leaned over and whispered to Harry, "Would you show them the one from first year with Quirrell and the cloud of Voldemort vanishing?"
"Do you think it's important?"
"Please, Harry." She gave his shoulder a squeeze. "We can go outside after dinner and let them discuss every little detail that they need to."
He walked to the pensieve, drew his wand said, "Duplicata," and a few seconds later withdrew a longer silver strand.
"Use the boy…"
Harry didn't need or want to relive that memory and walked outside for a few minutes while the others watched with rapt attention.
Connie felt sick to her stomach as a single word came to mind – Horcrux.
Smidgen served an outstanding dinner, but the conversation was quiet. Between the battle with Quirrel/Voldemort for the philosopher's stone and the image of Harry's massive patronus charm driving a hundred angry dementors away; there was little doubt amongst the three adults that they had enjoyed a fine dinner with the most powerful and arguably bravest young man of his generation.
There was no doubt in their minds of Black's innocence and that a gross miscarriage of justice had taken place. In the same breath, there was no doubt that Pettigrew was serving the dark lord and that very dark days were just ahead for the wizarding world.
After Harry had left and Susan had gone to bed, the three adults talked long into the night. They concluded that while dark days were indeed ahead, they had been handed an advance warning. Fudge might set the overall budget for DMLE but Amelia was responsible for the allocation and proper execution. They needed to quickly make some changes in how they operated and planned.
Back in the forest, Pettigrew hurried back to his master, as he ignored the screams. "Here's the baby, master. A one year old male, like you asked for."
The cloud emerged form the snake and replied, "Very good, Wormtail. Now add the venom to the potion and place the baby in the cauldron."
Miles away, Harry tossed and turned as the horrible vision went on. An hour later, a scaly, red-faced, creature that only vaguely resembled a baby emerged from the cauldron, and pulled itself up.
Harry Potter staggered out of his bed and lost the contents of his fine dinner onto the floor.
The old scribe waited as McGonagall read his latest report. "More product placements, Mr. Crow? I believe that you agreed to stop that behavior last time."
Again, when she looked up he was gone, on his way to a very long ride through the desert.
He had made a reference to another storyteller, Defender Paladin. She would check her files, as she didn't recall the name.