All the wrong choices (Ch23 – Polyjuiced)

Harry saw heads turn as he flooed into the ministry and silently thanked his luck for remembering to wear his invisibility cloak. He had been in such a rush to get to the ministry that he had almost forgotten who he was. He held the cloak tightly around him as he exited the floo and passed by the witches still staring at the empty fireplace with its roaring green flames. They turned back to their business shortly after with a shrug. Harry nodded to himself, confirming that the cloak had been a godsend when he spotted Ron waiting anxiously by the lifts.

As Harry neared he could see the smart grey uniform that could’ve been his, had he persevered with the training. The fine brocade at the cuffs and a fine silver cording decorating the shoulders and collar. As he saw the matching silver hairs threading through Ron’s fiery locks and the crow’s feet gathering at the corners of his eyes, he found it difficult to regret his decision.

He felt sick as he passed Ron, whispering to him as he entered the lift.  Ron entering wordlessly behind him. Once inside the lift, Ron closed the golden gate and waited until the lift was in motion before talking.

“He’s gone, mate” Ron looked grimly as his eyes swept the lift looking for him.  Harry felt the floor in his stomach drop as he flung the hood from his head. “Apparently, he left as soon as he saw the paper, after having a run in with Pansy in the atrium” Harry pinched the top of his nose as he turned from Ron for a second, trying to corral his emotions so that he could concentrate. There was a long and pregnant silence until Ron spoke: “What happened?”

“I don’t know” Harry breathed, shaking his head, he didn’t realise that his world could turn upside down so completely in such a short space of time.  This morning, they had been happy together, Harry had felt a peace which he had never known but now it was like his insides were knotted up as he tried to piece everything back together.

He turned around and faced Ron. There was a look on Ron’s face which Harry recognised as being a shadow from their fourth year when Ron didn’t believe that Harry hadn’t put his own name in the goblet.

“You don’t think that was me, do you?” Harry sighed loudly as he began to pace. “I was with you and Hermione at the time this was supposed to have happened.” He swore under his breath.

“Sorry mate just looks so much like you, course you wouldn’t do that” Ron replied sheepishly.

“Yeah, it’s not like the prophet could be lying is it?” Harry replied sarcastically “Or someone got my hair”

“Polyjuice” Ron nodded “Makes sense, but who would do that? For what reason?”

“Maybe someone just trying to sell a story?” Harry turned slowly “Or someone was trying to cause trouble.”

“Who though?” Ron asked. “That doesn’t really narrow it down, I should think most of the wizarding world wanted you to dump the death eater,” Ron said with a shrug. Harry threw an angry glare towards Ron but dropped it when he realised that he was just being the voice of the public. He sighed unhappily as he threw himself back against the lift wall in frustration.

“Maybe we’re looking at this wrong. What if its something about the other man in the photo? What if it was never about me and this was just an unhappy accident?” Ron raised his eyebrow sceptically.

“Mate! You are Harry Bloody Potter! The boy-who-lived- twice, If this isn’t about you and Draco, I’ll…” He looked around the lift for inspiration. He looked down at his robes “I’ll quit” He nodded firmly, confirming his determination, his excitement increasing. “I will, I’ll hang up my robes and tell Shacklebolt where to stick this job”

“Ron,” Harry implored, knowing that his friend was right, the chances of this not being about him or Draco was remote. He crossed his invisible arms over his chest and huffed to himself.

“I’ll get some of the Auror’s to help me look into it. We’ll get to the bottom of it Harry, we’ll find him”

There was another long silence as Harry stared at the floor refusing to look at his friend. He knew if he looked up, the pain would be painted all over his face. “If he’s gone, where would he go next?” Ron asked. Harry could hear Auror Weasley coming to the fore and straightened up.  Moping wouldn’t help, he needed to stay focused.

“He’s got a flat in Horizont Alley. We were there this morning I don’t think he went back cause I was there sometime after he left. There’s Malfoy Manor but he hates it there. I guess he could’ve gone to Diagon Alley as he loves to shop but I don’t think he’d want to be seen after the newspaper article.” Harry found his mind wandering. “I don’t know whether the Malfoys own any other properties, but I guess he could have gone to any of those.” He clamped his mouth shut as he could feel it running away without him.  He looked up at Ron, a quick quotes quill had appeared and was taking notes, standard issue for Aurors now but it seemed to be another hark back to his fourth year.  He wanted to shut himself away, even from Ron.

Seeming to remember this, Ron, wincing apologetically grabbed the quill and notepad.

“Sorry” he muttered as he tried to finish the notes,” He lowered his eyes “can never write things fast enough” Harry nodded, knowing that Ron’s handwriting was also dreadful. The lift suddenly lurched to a stop and the grates slid open noisily.

“Hermione!” Ron called as the mass of bushy brown hair fell into the lift, hugging Harry tightly.

“Oh Harry, we’ll get to the bottom of this!” He stood with her arms around him, pinning him to the spot.

She pulled away suddenly and looked at him. Her worried eyes bore into his as she looked him over. “We’ll find out who did this!” She shook her head and turned to Ron. “Where is he?”

“He left first thing this morning, He was seen talking to Pansy in the atrium” Ron repeated.

“Have you spoken to her yet?”

“Not yet, I wanted to speak to Harry first, though he might have known where Draco would’ve gone.”

“Wherever he went, he would’ve needed to speak to Rolf first. Unless he’s quit his job” Hermione said thoughtfully. “How about we split up, Ron, you go talk to Rolf and we’ll go find Pansy, hopefully between the two of them we’ll work out why someone decided to film Harry snogging Pyrus Horne”

“Who?” Ron and Harry said in unison

“Pyrus Horne? He’s a Mediwizard at St Mungo’s”

“How do you know that?” Ron asked incredulously

“The number of times I have been in the hospital between the pair of you and the children, I’m surprised you didn’t recognise him!” She replied haughtily as she pointed to each other them in turn.

 “I thought he looks familiar,” Said Ron sheepishly.

“I don’t remember him” Harry admitted.

“There are lots of Mediwitches at St Mungo’s Harry, but someone wanted to make it look convincing,” Hermione said as she concentrated. “Someone wanted to make it seem like you were having an affair with someone and everyone knows you don’t really go out anywhere, where best to meet someone than at work?”

“It wasn’t me Hermione!” Harry huffed.

“I know Harry,” She sighed “But imagine what looks more realistic to those who don’t know you”

Harry nodded as he worried at his lip. His mind raced as he began to pace.

“We need to find Draco, I can’t cope with him thinking I did this!”

Hermione looked sympathetic as he placed a hand on his invisible arm.

“Let us go find Pansy” Harry nodded as they left the lift.

“I’ll meet you both in the Atrium,” Ron said as he remained in the lift.  “Harry, your hood”

Harry nodded and pulled the hood back over his head

“Thanks” He called back as they watched the lift close and disappear from view.

~~~~

The offices of the Prophet looked like any other.  It looked dated and old-fashioned. Dark wooden panelling lined the walls and desks filled the spaces in between.

“Why are we here Hermione?” He whispered as they passed through the empty desks.

“Pansy works here. She always did deal in other people’s secrets” Hermione sneered, something which Harry wasn’t used to. “Now I’m going to ask some questions and leave, and you are going to hang around and listen to what’s said afterwards.”  Hermione barely turned her head to talk to him as they navigated the desks. “I’ll put every galleon I own on Pansy being the anonymous source”

Harry rolled this idea around in his head and everything fit together. She hated them both, She knew that a stunt like this would come between them and she was the one that probably called the reporters in the first place. How had she gotten his hair though?  He was about to ask Hermione when he spotted the employees having a meeting huddled in the corner of the office.

“This has been the best day’s sales in 15 years, 15 whole years” A man’s voice rang out over the mass of cheering people. “Only beaten by the death of the dark lord himself” The crowd of people quietened down suddenly. “I want all the dirt on Harry Potter, Potter the Philanderer, The saviour come seducer” Harry felt his stomach knot as his heart raced. He was going to be ripped apart, he had nothing to hide but that wouldn’t stop them making things up.

“Will it matter if the ‘evidence’ is fake?” Hermione shouted over the hushing voices of the crowd. They all turned and now Harry could see Pansy stood next to the man at the front.  Her eyebrows were raised in mild interest as she spotted Hermione.

“Evidence, by its very nature means proof, Madam?” the man asked.

“Mrs Weasley, Hermione”

“Ah Mrs Weasley, I thought I recognised you, and yes proof is needed, why? Do you have some juicy gossip for us?”

“As a matter of fact, I do!” Hermione smiled. “I have proof that Harry wasn’t at that club that night and that the Harry in the photo is an Imposter.”

“Let me guess, Harry was at your house with you and your husband?” The man stepped off the chair and walked closer, the crowd parting for him. Some looked uncomfortable as he passed them. “That would hardly be credible, a friend standing up for a friend, regardless of the truth to it”

“Indeed, it would be just a friend, putting her neck on the line for a friend, unless I had veritaserum.”

Hermione pulled a small vial from her bag. There were a few gasps from some of the reporters. “I would test my whole family and be able to prove he was there”

“Very intriguing, so let’s say what you say is true, are you calling our anonymous source as a liar?” He asked.  His dark hair falling across his glasses. He looked no older than 45 but lines had begun to show on his face and grey in his hair.

“Not only am I calling your source a liar, I am also betting that they set the whole thing up. Polyjuice potion is available from lots of places when you’re not too discerning.” Hermione crossed her arms determined.

“Ah, but aren’t you forgetting a key ingredient?”

“His hair?” Hermione smiled “I had thought of that,” she held up her own hand holding some dark hairs for them all to see. “If I was to put this into a Polyjuice potion, I’d be able to get you to take a good hard look at yourself without the use of a mirror, Mr Hound,”

The editor felt his head before smiling. “How do I know whether those are my hairs or not?”

“I can keep summoning them until you are bald if you like.” She smiled.

Harry had to stifle a laugh as the man grew red and patted down his hair.

“I think you should leave now Mrs Weasley,” He said gruffly.

“And I think you should start reporting actual news with irrefutable proof! I deal with a lot of licences and red tape in my job Mr Hound”

“Is that a threat Mrs Weasley?”

“Oh no, no threat, I believe in the freedom of the press, however, I also believe that you should be held accountable for what you put out there. I want a retraction printing in the paper tomorrow, on the front page and I want you to leave Mr Potter alone, otherwise, things could get rather difficult”

“You drive a hard bargain, Mrs Weasley,” He said through gritted teeth.

“You have no idea. Thank you for your time Mr Hound, I look forward to tomorrows paper” Hermione turned and left without a single backward glance.

Harry watched silently feeling like he had never really seen Hermione before. He heard the distant office door close as the noise level in the room increased.

“Parkinson” Mr Hound called as Pansy ran towards him.

“What do you know of this Weasley woman?”

“Enough sir, We were at school together, used to go by the name of Granger”

“Ah, so that’s the Granger girl. She is indeed a bright witch, Write up the retraction, and find me more dirt on Potter to print right alongside it”

“Sir?” Pansy asked.

“You heard me, Parkinson, I don’t care if you have to kill someone looking like Potter this time, I want sales and I want Granger to go down with him. Two birds one story”

“But sir, I’ll need more hair and Polyjuice.”

“Did I ask for specifics? Mr Stringer’s job may be on the line if you don’t pull your weight.”

“But sir-”

“This conversation is over, don’t you have work to do?”

“Yes, sir.” Pansy left him and walked to a far desk, her puggy face looking as sour as ever. Harry followed and watched as Pansy sat at a desk.  The name tag said Stringer, Harry wondered whether Pansy was writing under the pen name, seemed reasonable to assume. He waited but she was writing notes. It looked like the retraction. He waited a bit longer before leaving the office. He felt sick as he silently descended the stairs and out into Diagon Alley South.

~~~~~

They returned hastily to the ministry where Ron was pacing. When he spotted Hermione, he shook his head and headed for the lifts.  Once again, once the lifts were moving Harry removed his hood

“You are not going to like this Harry,” Ron said first. “I’ve found him-”

“Please tell me he’s still alive?” Harry interrupted.

“Yes he’s still alive, but I’m not sure for how much longer, remember he was asking about the Dragon at Gringotts?”

Harry and Hermione nodded.

“He’s only gone traipsing after it in Scotland.  I spoke to Rolf, there have been sightings of some weird dragons up there and they think that the Gringotts Ironbelly may have bred with the Hebridean’s.” Ron shook his head. “He’s gone up there alone to find them and document them.”

“Oh, Harry” Hermione whispered.

“I need to go and find him,” Harry said through gritted teeth.

“First tell Ron what you heard, then I’ll help you pack” Harry nodded and repeated what he’d heard at the prophet.

“Oh, Shacklebolt has been wanting to get his hands on Hound since he gave away the locations of those witnesses in the Dewalt case a few years back” Ron smiled slyly, “Mione, love, do you have a vial so I can take that memory as evidence? If that’s alright mate?” Harry nodded as he pointed his wand at his temple and pulled out the memory and dangled it into the small vial Hermione had produced from her bag.

“Hermione, Take the kids to shell cottage for a few days, I’ll see you at kings cross Sunday”

Hermione nodded, She turned to Harry. You should fire call Neville and see whether you can stay with him for a few days, save you freezing in a tent. He’d love to hear from you,” She smiled.

“I’ll do that when I get home, I need to let Ted know what’s happened and then I’ll leave to find him.

“I managed to get this for you,” Ron said holding out an electric plug which had been severed from the appliance.

“Thanks?” Harry asked unsurely

“It’s a port key, it should take you within about 50 metres from where Draco should be stationed, its set to transport your in about an hour. Get going”

Harry nodded as the lift doors opened. He and Hermione were halfway across the atrium when the first calls sounded. That was when they realised that Harry had forgotten to replace his hood.  They ran as quickly as they could to the floo and both called out Grimmauld place.

~~~~~

Harry felt nervous as he felt the cold boggy water surround his feet, soaking in his shoes. He didn’t even spare the energy to curse, as he shivered and looked around. The sky looked grey and bleak above the dull landscape, the lower edge of the foothills covered in heather and other bracken. He spun around trying to take everything in, trying to spot Draco or any sign of his camp. He took a few steps before calling his name, then waited for a second for a reply. He tried not to feel disheartened when he didn’t receive a reply.

“Draco!” He called again after taking a few more steps. Again there was no answer, and again came the crushing fear that Draco didn’t want to be found. After a few moments, he took another few steps calling out again.

He ran his fingers through his hair, as he tried to swallow down his panic. What if he never found him. “Where are you?” He muttered to himself before calling again.

Maybe Draco was further back the way he had come. He started to turn back when he thought he caught a hint of Draco. Just a slight scent, as fleeting as the memory of a dream upon waking.

“Draco?” He called. Hoping that he had found him but as soon as he recognised the scent it was gone again

“Please Draco, answer me” Harry muttered again as he felt a slight prickling in his eyes as he turned his face back into the wind. “I miss you”

Accio Next Chapter

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