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SIYE Time:22:06 on 18th November 2017


Homecoming
By Brennus

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Category: Alternate Universe
Characters:Harry/Ginny, Nymphadora Tonks
Genres: Action/Adventure
Warnings: Death, Extreme Language, Intimate Sexual Situations, Negative Alcohol Use, Violence
Story is Complete
Rating: R
Reviews: 219
Summary: After four years working overseas for the shadowy Department M, a world-weary and dispirited Harry Potter returns to the land of his birth. He meets some old friends and makes some new ones, as he learns that much has changed since he left home. AU, a ‘Harry never went to Hogwarts’ story.
Hitcount: Story Total: 43577; Chapter Total: 2385
Awards: View Trophy Room




Author's Notes:
Welcome to the penultimate chapter. I know I said there would be sixteen chapters in total, but I’ve decided to incorporate the epilogue into the finally chapter as it makes a lot more sense that way.

As might be expected, I’m providing some explanation as to what’s been going on here, specifically how the gang are vanishing so easily. The rest will be revealed shortly! Remember to bring your wellies for the final chapter (you’ll see what I mean when you get to the end).

Huge bundles of brightly painted gratitude to Arnel.




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Chapter 14 — Downwards



“Hmm, this doesn’t look like the fancy restaurant that you promised me, Potter. Why are we here?” Ginny asked archly.

“This will just be a quick visit, I promise,” Harry assured her. “I just wanted to have a quick look round this place. Now we know that our mysterious troublemaker is using Muggle technology to communicate with his fellow dissidents, I thought that it would be a good idea to check out exactly what all these clever little tools can do. I’m fairly familiar with electrical goods, but the Muggles seem to be inventing something new every five minutes.”

“Okay, I think that’s a good idea, and I admit I’m quite interested to see what they have, too,” she admitted. “So, what is this place?”

“This, my ravishing red-haired angel, is a mysterious emporium known as ‘Currys’. Seriously, this is a major electrical chain where you can find all sorts of things. I mainly want to check out the computers, though,” he explained.

“Alright, I know I’ll probably regret asking this, but what’s a computer?” she asked warily.

“Come on, I’ll show you,” he grinned and held open the door of the shop for her.

The inside of the shop resembled a warehouse, it was so large. Harry could see all manner of electric goods, from fridge-freezers and washing machines, to vacuum cleaners and televisions. The computer section appeared to be at the far end of the shop and he guided Ginny in that direction.

“So, what do these things do?” Ginny asked as they reached a selection of laptops.

“All sorts of things,” he explained, “from playing games to storing music. What I’m mainly interested in is their ability to communicate with other computers. They can send written messages to each other in seconds, and even send pictures and videos. I think…”

“Anything I can help with?” a voice asked.

Harry turned to see a young salesman standing behind him with a smile on his face. The fact that the youth was smiling enthusiastically at Ginny instantly rubbed Harry up the wrong way.

“Yeah, actually I’m interested in getting a laptop,” Harry said, taking a step to one side so he blocked Ginny from the salesman’s sight.

“Ah, good,” the young man gulped, obviously having not taken a good look at Harry previously. Inwardly, he grinned at the man’s discomfort. Looking like a dangerous mix of a Hells Angel and a pirate did have its advantages.

“I’m not on the internet at the moment,” Harry continued, ignoring salesman’s worried expression. “In fact, the place I’m moving into soon doesn’t even have a phone line at present.”

“That could be a problem with this model,” the man explained, gesturing at the laptop Harry had been looking at, “but we do have other solutions to that problem. Come over here.”

He led them over to another display showing a rather more expensive computer, Harry noticed. The young man than began to explain in great detail what the machine could do, using terms completely alien to Harry such as ‘modems’ and ‘hard drives’. Fortunately, the sales assistant also punctuated his sales patter with practical demonstration of what the computer was capable of. Harry heard Ginny gasp when the youth demonstrated some sort of game which featured some unseen, gun-wielding aggressor blowing the crap out of a seemingly endless supply of monsters and zombies.

Ginny was even more impressed when the young man demonstrated the webcam and she saw her own image suddenly appear on the screen.

“Wow, that’s so cool,” she gushed.

“And with this thing I could talk face to face with anyone in the world?” Harry asked, a little in awe of the devise himself.

“As long as they have the compatible software, then yes,” the salesman grinned.

“Harry, you have to buy this,” Ginny insisted enthusiastically. “If nothing else, I want to kick your arse on that shooting game!”

Harry laughed. “I guess I’ll be taking one of these,” he told the salesman, who must have been working on a commission basis judging by his happy smile. Half-an-hour later, Harry left the shop with a large box under his arm and with a larger dent in his credit card limit.

“That thing is amazing!” Ginny said as they headed back down the street. “I had no idea that Muggle stuff could do all that.”

“They seem to have made a lot of technological advances in recent years,” Harry admitted. “If you don’t mind, can we nip back to Dora’s flat to drop this off? I don’t want to be carrying it around while we find somewhere to eat.”

“Of course,” she nodded. “Can we have a quick play of that game before we go out?”

“I have to set this thing up first,” he pointed out. “Plus, I need to cast a few Charms on it so our magic doesn’t fry the bloody thing. You can play with it at the weekend.”

“Aw, spoilsport,” she pouted and slapped him on the arm. “Seriously, though, do you think your bad guy might be using something like this, too? That could give him a tremendous advantage.”

“It’s possible,” Harry admitted. “It’s ironic, really. After the Dark Lord was defeated, the Ministry cracked down on all the old haunts that his supporters had used, forcing them to hide amongst the Muggles. Now it appears like they’ve absorbed some of the Muggle culture and are using their technology against us. That would never have happened in Voldemort’s time, I can tell you!”

“You would have hoped that after seeing the Muggles up close, these pureblood idiots might have been a bit less against them. I guess that’s too much to hope for,” she sighed.

“Nobody ever could accuse those racist morons of logical thought,” Harry agreed. “Come on, let’s drop this thing off and find a nice place to eat. What do you fancy?”

“Hmm, perhaps Italian?” Ginny pondered.

“Sounds good,” he grinned. “I can romantically roll meatballs to you with my nose.”

“What?” she said in confusion.

“I am so buying you a DVD player for your birthday,” he muttered.

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After what proved to be an extremely nice meal during which Harry’s nose remained mercifully free of tomato sauce, they retired back to Bill’s flat. He was staying at Dora’s place that night, and the Weasley siblings maintained a strict policy of not being in the same location if their respective partners were staying over. Harry had thought the whole issue could be solved with a few Silencing Charms, but he wasn’t going to make an issue out of it.

He and Ginny were currently tucked up in her bed, cuddling. It was little moments like this that made Harry truly appreciate what he’d been missing all this time. While sex with Ginny was great (and it really was spectacularly great) he’d never had a relationship where he could just curl up with his partner and simply enjoy her company. While the sensation of her bare skin against his was wonderful, it was the feelings of affection and closeness that radiated from her that really warmed his heart. He’d only known her for a couple of months, but already Harry knew he never wanted her to leave. He’d fallen hard for his little curse-breaker.

Ginny’s head was currently tucked up under his chin and he could smell the fragrant aroma of her hair, as sweet as a flower-filled meadow. Her fiery locks were spread over his bare chest and her legs were intertwined with his. He was warm and utterly content. Sleep was just about to claim him when he heard a gentle knock on the bedroom door.

“Harry? Are you in there?” he heard Bill’s voice call out.

“Bill?” Harry responded groggily.

“Yeah, it’s me. I’m sorry, but you need to head back to Tonks’s place immediately.”

“Bugger off, Bill,” Ginny called out sleepily.

“You’d better not have had another argument with Dora,” Harry added warningly.

“No, I haven’t,” Bill responded irritably. “An incident has occurred and all of your mob has been ordered to report to the Ministry immediately.”

“What’s happened?” Harry asked, all thoughts of sleep vanishing from his mind.

“Gawain Robards has been murdered,” Bill said soberly.

Harry’s jaw dropped in shock.

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Around an hour later, Harry found himself in the crowded office of the section. Every member was present and all of them wore a grim expression on their faces.

“Settle down, everyone,” Dedalus called to gain their attention. “Right, now you’re all here, let’s begin. At around 5.30pm this evening, Head Auror Gawain Robards was murdered outside his home. It’s an open secret that the man hated Floo travel and nearly always Apparated home. It appears someone was waiting for him and attacked him as soon as he arrived. He was murdered using the Killing Curse.”

“Do we have any clues to the killer? Has anyone claimed responsibility?” someone asked.

“No, we have no clues, at all. We only know as much as we do because his wife was looking out of the window of their house, awaiting his arrival. She reported seeing him arrive and then almost immediately afterwards being hit by a green light. A Healer later confirmed the use of the unforgivable.”

“Who’s taken over the Aurors?” Dora asked.

“Stepson has been appointed as the temporary head, subject to ratification by the Minister. He’s a good man, in my opinion,” Dedalus said approvingly.

“Yeah, he should have got the job in the first place,” Dora agreed. “Bloody hell, the Head Auror cut down in the street. This is going to stir-up a shit-storm!”

“Sadly, I fear you are right,” Dedalus nodded. “Obviously, the press are going to be all over this. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you all that you are not to talk to any of them and all questions should be referred to the Ministry’s Press Office. I understand that Minister Shacklebolt will be making a public statement first thing in the morning.”

“What will we be doing about this?” Harry asked.

“Nothing, apart from increasing security around the Minister even further. As you can imagine, the Aurors are up in arms about this and they’ll be leading the investigation into Robards’ death. We will, of course, offer any assistance required, but this will be their party. We will only be involved if asked, and I doubt we will be.”

A mumble of agreement swept round the office. The Aurors had lost one of their own; it was only right that they should be the ones to catch the killer.

“In the meantime, I want everyone working hard at tracking down the person or persons behind the riot and the campaign against the Minister. You all need to give this your complete attention.”

“Could the murder of Robards be linked to this in some way?” Hestia asked.

“I would not be at all surprised,” Dedalus confirmed, “and if this person has now escalated into assassination, then we need to catch him, or her, immediately.”

Dora caught Harry’s eye and he nodded to her sternly. Things were starting to spiral out of control.

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“Wow, this place is looking great, Harry,” Ron exclaimed, approaching him with a sausage roll in one hand and a glass of red wine in the other.

“It’s pretty good, isn’t it?” Harry agreed, looking around the room with approval. “Your classmate really did a great job.”

“Yeah, Parvati always had an eye for this kind of stuff,” he confirmed, before shoving most of the sausage roll into his mouth in one go, causing his sister to tut in disgust at him.

Harry grinned at Ginny’s indignant expression before taking a slip from his own wine glass. The party looked like it was just starting to get going, and he had to admit he was delighted at the number of people who had accepted his invite to attend the housewarming of 12 Grimmauld Place.

The last few weeks had been difficult ones. The Aurors had virtually torn apart every corner of the Wizarding world in an effort to find the killer of Gawain Robards, without success. In between taking their turn in providing the Minister with protection (not that Kingsley felt he needed it) he and Dora had combed the Wizarding enclaves within the Muggle world, hunting for clues to the murderer’s identity and evidence of insurrection against the Ministry. While there no hard leads, they did find that there was a lot of very frightened people out there.

This housewarming party was a welcome distraction from the pressures and frustrations of the recent weeks. As soon as Ginny had declared Grimmauld Place safe (and presented Harry with a bill from Gringotts that made his eyes water) he’d enlisted the help of the interior designer that his girlfriend had previously recommended. Parvati Patel proved to be a talented individual, not only in the actual decoration of the property but in interpreting Harry’s half-baked ideas about what he wanted. The results were a house that was light, welcoming and mercifully free of the terrible memories the place had previously invoked.

“So, any luck in your investigation?” Harry asked Ron, not needing to spell out exactly what investigation he was referring to.

“Nah, not a bloody thing,” the tall redhead grumbled. “Whoever killed Robards has gone to ground. How about you? Any news on who was behind the riot?”

“Not exactly, but I have a few hunches,” Harry admitted. “There seems to be a climate of fear amongst the underclasses of London at the moment. We’ve had a few problems with ex-members of the Snatcher gangs and such like, stirring up trouble again. The thing is, whenever we’ve dropped the name of this mysterious ‘Mr Winter’ we were investigating previously, everyone goes pale and shuts up. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s the one that’s behind all this. There wasn’t half this trouble before he appeared on the scene.”

“Are you still convinced this bloke was behind the murder of Tonks’s two informers?” Ron asked.

“Yeah, I am,” Harry nodded. “There was no way that Topa was into illegal Potion trading in a big way: he was a user, not a supplier. Like Sudsy, it was just too much of a coincidence that he was killed shortly after he talked to us.”

“Stepson has backed away from the theory that that Topa bloke was a dealer. He hasn’t come out and actually said it, but he’s inferred that he wants us to look for links between the two murders and that of Robards. Let’s face it, there aren’t many people around these days willing to start throwing Killing Curses around, are there? The fact that three people have all been killed using that method in such a short space of time can’t be a coincidence, can it?” Ron said softly.

“No, it can’t,” Harry agreed. “I’m also still worried that there’s been no sign of that plastic explosive that we found the packaging for at Topa’s place. I just have this horrible feeling that it’s going to turn up at the worst time.”

“Is that stuff really as dangerous as it’s made out to be?” Ron asked. “I mean, I asked Hermione about it and she seemed to think it was really bad news, but what would a wizard do with the stuff, exactly?”

“Any number of things,” Harry said. “Besides, using Muggle explosives would fit with the methodology of this person. He’s already used mobile phones to organise that riot, and it seems pretty likely that he’s using the Muggle world to hide in, too. Using a Muggle weapon would be just his style. That’s another reason I think this ‘Mr Winter’ is involved. He clearly has a great deal of familiarity with doing business in the Muggle world. It just all fits perfectly.”

“Perhaps too perfectly,” Ginny, who had been shamelessly eavesdropping, noted.

“Maybe, maybe not; until we find out a bit more about this bloke it’s all guesswork,” Harry shrugged.

Ginny nodded, before turning to her brother with a smug grin. “So, you’ve been talking to Hermione, have you?” she said lightly.

“Only in a professional capacity,” Ron replied stiffly. “She was the best person to answer a question regarding Muggle stuff.”

“It wasn’t so long ago that she wouldn’t speak a word to you,” Ginny continued breezily. “That sounds like progress to me.”

“Leave it out, would ya, sis,” Ron grumbled. “Me and Hermione are a thing of the past.”

“Oh, of course,” Ginny agreed in a distinctly insincere tone. “Still, didn’t you dump that blonde witch you were going out with because you thought she was an airhead? It sound like you need someone with a bit more intelligence to me.”

“Don’t even go there, Ginny,” Ron growled.

“I think you might have hit a tender spot there, Ginny,” Harry grinned.

“She’ll have a bloody tender spot if she doesn’t leave off about me and Hermione,” Ron said warningly.

“Did I hear someone mention me?” a voice asked. They turned and saw the very witch in question approaching with a glass of white wine in her hand.

“I was just explaining to these guys what you said about those Muggle explosives Harry thought might have been at Topa’s place,” Ron said quickly, his ears turning red.

“Oh, yes, the idea that the murderers might have got their hands on something like that is a tremendous worry, isn’t it? Are you certain there was actually explosive in the shop, Harry?” Hermione asked with concern.

“Not one hundred percent, no,” he admitted, “but the packaging was exactly like that I encountered in my old job. It had that distinct marzipan smell to it, too.”

“Great, now I won’t be able to eat a slice of Battenberg cake without worrying it might explode,” Ron grumbled.

Hermione laughed. “You’ll just have to stick to fruitcake, Ron,” she advised.

“Yeah, I guess so,” he agreed with a shy smile.

“Harry, I think Dora needs to talk to you,” Ginny announced suddenly.

“Oh, yeah, I think you’re right. I’ll catch up with you two in a minute,” Harry announced, catching onto Ginny’s plan with surprising speed. They quickly headed across the crowded room, leaving Ron and Hermione alone together.

“That was sneaky,” Harry whispered to his girlfriend as soon as they were out of earshot. “You’re absolutely determined to get the two of them back together, aren’t you?”

“They’d be good for each other,” Ginny said unrepentantly. “Ron would inject a bit of fun into Hermione’s life and help her loosen up a bit, while she’d give him a bit more discipline and focus. He did really well to become an Auror, but with her behind him, who knows how far he could go.”

“Ah, thus your fiendish plan for the world to be taken over by redheads would be further progressed,” Harry grinned.

“Of course, we are nature’s greatest creations, so it’s only right and proper we take over,” she sniffed.

Harry wisely said nothing, but instead guided his girlfriend over to one corner of the room where he’d spotted Dora standing by herself looking a little glum.

“Hey, where’s Bill?” he asked as he approached his friend.

“Oh, just popped off to use the little Wizards room,” Dora replied with a slightly forced smile.

“Are you alright?” Ginny asked in a slightly concerned voice.

“Yeah, it’s just… I think it’s finally hit me that Harry’s moving out of my flat. I’ve just got so used to this big lug being around, you know?”

“You’re just upset that you won’t have the opportunity to barge in on me and Ginny while we’re in bed,” Harry smirked.

“Hey, I was drunk that night, and with good reason,” Dora protested. “Seriously though, I’m really going to miss not having you there.”

“I’m only a Floo trip away, or a half an hour walk if you’re feeling energetic,” he pointed out.

“Or a thirty second car journey,” Ginny said wryly, having witnessed Dora’s driving for herself recently.

“I know, but it still won’t be the same, will it?” Dora replied a little sadly.

Harry just draped his arm around her shoulder and gave her a hug. He sincerely hoped that Dora wouldn’t get upset about this as he was still rather worried about her. While she seemed a lot happier since she’d patched things up with Bill, Harry still took the precaution of having a quick look through their rubbish bin every once in a while, just to check there were no empty vodka bottles in there. So far, he was pleased to see, Dora’s consumption seemed to have been restricted to social drinking.

“I have it on good authority that my brother is extremely pleased Harry’s got his own place,” Ginny told Dora. “There’s much less chance he’ll accidently see his beautiful sister getting down’n’dirty with her hot boyfriend this way.”

“Good point,” Dora sniggered. “Mind you, I doubt you’d want to see what Bill and I get up to when you’re not around.”

“Amen,” Ginny agreed, and clinked her beer bottle with Dora’s.

Bill chose that moment to reappear.

“This is a great party, Harry,” he announced. “I just can’t believe how different this place looks from when I first saw it.”

“Yeah, it looks great, doesn’t it? Actually, I was just glad of the excuse for a party. It feels like everyone’s been working too hard lately, what with everything that’s been going on,” Harry replied.

“Hopefully, things will ease up a bit soon. The last of Kingsley’s garden parties is next week and we won’t have to mount anymore of those huge security operations to cover them,” Dora pointed out.

“Good point,” Harry nodded. “I won’t miss those, definitely. Maybe we’ll actually have the time to get somewhere with our own cases.”

“Ron was saying that the Aurors are no nearer to catching the person who killed Robards,” Bill noted. “I just hope we don’t get a repeat of all that trouble we had in Diagon Alley.”

“I’m still convinced that whoever was behind that has had a hand in the murders, too,” Harry said in frustration. “I just wish I had something to confirm it.”

“Hey, you never did take me to that place your suspect vanished from. I was going to see if I could discover anything, remember?” Ginny pointed out.

“Oh, yeah! I completely forgot about that, what with everything that’s been going on,” Harry said. “I don’t suppose there’s a lot of point going now, having left it so long.”

“It still might be worth having a look,” Bill disagreed. “Remember, us curse-breakers are used to tracing magic that might have been cast hundreds or even thousands of years previously. There might still be some residual traces of something there.”

“We’ve both got the day off tomorrow. It won’t take long to have a look around, at least,” Ginny told him.

“Okay, it’s worth a shot. Merlin knows, we haven’t got much else to go on at the moment,” he agreed.

“Great, we’ll take a look tomorrow morning,” Ginny smiled, “and in the meantime, let’s eat, drink and be merry!”

“I’ll drink to that,” Harry agreed, raising his glass.

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It was a rather drab, overcast morning when Harry and Ginny entered the small alley situated near the ‘Creative Creations’ cake shop. The change in the weather had made Harry feel a little gloomy, and he had little hope of the visit yielding much success, despite his girlfriend’s undoubted skill.

“Whereabouts did this bloke vanish, exactly?” Ginny asked, looking around the dreary alley in distaste.

“A little further up,” Harry directed her. “I didn’t see the exact spot he vanished as I was running flat out at the time. It was definitely somewhere before those bins up there, though.”

“Okay, you keep an eye out for Muggles,” Ginny said, pulling out her wand and giving it a wave. She then backed-up, and began to cast a complex series of spells that Harry could honestly say he had no clue as to their function. Ginny’s brow was creased in concentration as she wove intricate patterns in the air with her wand. After around five minutes, she let her wand arm fall to her side and she turned and looked back at him.

“You say that a couple of Unspeakables found nothing here?” she asked him with a frown.

“Yeah, but as I said, they didn’t appear to have put a lot of effort into it,” he clarified. “You’ve already been here about twice the length of time they were.”

“Well, they’re idiots,” she replied loftily. “There’s a clear magical reading coming from the manhole cover there. It’s pretty weak, but it should have been detectable to anyone half competent.”

“I guess that counts them out, then,” Harry grinned. “So what is this magical manhole cover then? Some sort of Portkey?”

“Nah, there’s not nearly enough magical energy to power something like that,” she disagreed, kneeling beside the round, metal plate. She poked it with her wand. “You know, Harry, I don’t think this cover is real. It’s just a thin sheet of metal fixed to the ground made to look like a manhole.”

Harry came over and knelt beside her. The cover had no obvious means of being lifted and his fingers couldn’t get underneath the edge of it to provide any traction. He had to agree that it was a fake.

“Okay, so what does it do?” he asked.

“Beats the hell out of me,” she admitted. “Due to its low levels of residual magic I would guess that it’s some sort of passive trigger or detection device. It’s too much of a coincidence that your man just vanished in this exact spot, however. I suspect it might need an external energy source to activate it. I couldn’t tell you exactly what it does, though.”

Harry gazed at the cover in frustration, before an idea hit him.

“You know, every time we’ve chased one of this gang, they’ve always been able to vanish into thin air quite without difficulties, so my guess is that whatever this is, they must use it frequently,” he mused. “I think if we could see exactly how this mob uses this plate we could figure out what it is, exactly.”

“That sounds reasonable, but I doubt one of these buggers it just going to conveniently give you a demonstration,” she pointed out.

“True, but I think it’s time to take a leaf out of their book,” Harry announced. “They’re not the only ones who can use Muggle technology.”

Ginny raised an eyebrow.

Several hours later, she asked, “So, are you going to tell me what your great idea is, and where you’ve been all afternoon?” Ginny asked irritably as they made their way back into the alley.

“I had to pop back over to France for a couple of hours,” Harry explained with a calm smile. “I needed to see a contact I have with the DGSE, that’s the French Military Intelligence service. I did this guy a favour a while back and I thought I’d ask him for something in return. He came up trumps, too, and lent me this little baby.”

Harry opened the small bag he was carrying and displayed what looked like a small, black box that had a round, glass lens on one side.

“This,” Harry said triumphantly, “is the latest in Muggle technology. It’s a motion-sensor activated recording device. I’m going to hide it in the alley here, and should anyone approach within ten meters of it, it will start recording. It will also send an electronic signal to my mobile phone every time it’s activated. I’ll just need to come and retrieve the data chip from it and I’ll be able to play back the recording on my laptop. Hopefully, it will capture a one of our mysterious gang members using that manhole to do whatever it does.”

“Sounds good,” Ginny agreed. “This thing won’t be affected by magic, will it?”

“Nah, the necessary protection spells have already been cast on it. The French have had their problems with rogue Dark wizards too, you know.”

“Great! Where are you going to hide it?” she asked looking around the alley.

“I think I’ll magically carve out a small alcove in the brickwork, and then cast an Illusion Charm on it to keep it hidden. I think that should do the trick,” Harry decided.

“Well, aren’t you a clever lad,” she grinned. “Hopefully, if we get a clear recording we can figure out exactly what this metal cover is used for and how it’s activated.”

“Yeah, I hope so,” Harry agreed, before drawing his wand and starting to create an aperture for his recording device.

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In the end, it was another three days before the recorder active and sent a warning message to Harry’s phone. Unfortunately, at the time he was busy undertaking a security task so he had to wait until the evening to recover the data stick from the recorder. After viewing the contents on his computer once, he called Dora, Bill and Ginny over to Grimmauld Place to see the results themselves.

“Recognise that man?” Harry asked Dora, pointing to the image of a man on the computer screen.

“Yep, that’s the bloke who we chased after a while back,” Dora confirmed. “Looks like we were right to go after him.”

“Absolutely, now watch what happens when he approaches that manhole cover Ginny was so suspicious of,” Harry instructed them.

As the recording device had been placed at the back of the alley, they had a clear vision of the man approaching the cover head on. He strode forward confidently until he reached the metal plate, apparently intent on walking straight over it. As soon as he stepped onto the plate, however, he shimmered for a split second before vanishing.

“Whoa! That was nearly instantaneous,” Bill noted. “It couldn’t have been a Portkey; it was too quick.”

“It had totally the wrong magical signature for a Portkey, anyway,” Ginny told her brother. “There was only a minuscule trace of residual energy in it.”

“Hmm, actually that reminds me of something I saw back in Egypt,” Bill pondered. “Harry, can we see the recording again and can you slow it down at all?”

“Yeah, I should be able to do that,” Harry confirmed, playing with the settings on the computer for a second.

Again, they saw the man approaching the manhole cover, but this time in slow motion. The second he vanished from the screen, Bill cried out triumphantly.

“There! Did you see? There was a glow around the man’s neck the moment he stepped onto the cover,” Bill said.

“And…” Dora pressed her boyfriend.

“If the metal plate contains as little magical energy as Ginny says, it means that it must only be a trigger or activation devise for something else. I’ll lay odds that glow around the man’s neck was a magical object being activated or invoked, and that’s what caused him to vanish,” Bill explained. “I encountered a similar arrangement in a tomb in Egypt. A powerful wizard who had established a small cult had wanted to set up a meeting place for him and his followers. Knowing that if he had been discovered by the then Pharaoh’s servants he would have been put to death, he created a secret chamber inside a tomb. The chamber could only be accessed by a person wearing a specially charmed broach. When one of the wizard’s followers stood on a particular stone inside the tomb wearing one of these broaches, it would trigger a Recognition Charm allowing the person to be transported to a designated spot inside the secret chamber.”

“So, that glow is probably something similar to one of those broaches activating as the man stepped on the metal plate?” Harry asked.

“Exactly. The only thing is, because of the relatively low magical power involved in these charms, the person is only transported very short distances. In that tomb, the person was literally only transported to the other side of a wall. Wherever this bloke went, it must have been very near,” Bill confirmed.

“Well, it is a manhole cover, so that would suggest that the direction this man went was downwards,” Dora reasoned.

“The cover was a fake, though,” Ginny pointed out. “It was solid concrete underneath.”

“Yeah, but there’s no saying that there isn’t something underneath that concrete,” Harry suggested. “London has a very extensive sewer network, it’s possible there might be a tunnel or sewer right below the cover.”

“Okay, how do we find out for sure?” Bill asked.

“Why, who do we know that is a genius when it comes to finding out things about the Muggle world?” Harry asked with a grin.

Ginny and Dora took one look at each other and answered as one.

“Hermione!”

“Exactly,” Harry confirmed. “Let’s go and see our favourite Legal Witch.”

HPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHP

“I managed to obtain this plan from Westminster City Council,” Hermione declared triumphantly, as they all gathered around Harry’s kitchen table two days later. “It shows all the sewers and underground tunnels in the area. As you can see, a main sewer runs right under the alley your suspect vanished from.”

“So, it’s a pretty good chance that this bloke just disappeared underground,” Harry pondered. “As an instant means of escape it’s a pretty good idea, I guess. I mean, you can’t disrupt it with a jinx, and unless you know what you’re looking for you’d have no idea where he went.”

“The next question is; what exactly is down there,” Dora said. “Is it just a convenient escape route or is there something more hidden away in those sewers?”

“I guess there’s only one way to find out; we’ll have to go down there,” Harry sighed. “Where’s the nearest entry point to that part of the sewer, Hermione?”

The witch scanned the map for a split second before pointing a spot a few streets over.

“There,” she said. “That’s a main maintenance access point. You’ll just need to follow the sewer to the south and turn at this junction. That should take you directly underneath the fake cover.”

“Okay, I guess Dora and I will be having some fun wading through sewage. We’ll just have to make sure we have some protective clothing with us,” Harry said without enthusiasm.

“I’m coming with you,” Ginny announced in a firm voice. “There’s a good chance that whoever set this up might have left some booby-traps down there.”

“Yeah, and if they have set up a base or supply dump the chances are they will have magically hidden it,” Bill reasoned. “That’s exactly the sort of thing me and Ginny are trained to root out. I’m coming with you, too.”

“More the merrier, I guess,” Dora agreed.

“I volunteer to keep watch on the surface,” Hermione decided. “I can remain at the entrance in case of trouble. Do you know of a way we will be able to communicate once you’re down there?”

Dora tapped the golden earring hanging from her earlobe. “These little babes should do the job,” she confirmed. “They’re Charmed so the wearers can hear each other over a hundred miles away. Harry and I have communicated without problems even when we’ve been on different stations on the Underground. I’ll get a set for each of you three.”

“Great, I guess the only question is when we do this,” Harry said. “The last of Kingsley’s Muggle garden parties is tomorrow afternoon and we’re due to pull security at that. I would like to do this before the party, though. I’ve just got this weird feeling that it’s important.”

“We could do it first thing tomorrow morning if that’s okay with everybody?” Dora suggested.

“Sure, we’ll just log it as a job and send Harry the bill later,” Ginny smirked.

“Yeah, ‘cos I haven’t given the goblins enough of my gold lately,” Harry said, rolling his eyes.

“Hey, you could be pleased that you’re helping your girlfriend’s chosen career,” Ginny said with amusement.

“Oh, I am,” Harry nodded with a perfectly straight face.

“Well, if that’s all agreed, we’d better wrap this up. We’ll all have a busy day tomorrow,” Hermione announced.

Somehow, Harry suspected those words were going to be very true.
















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