Hogwarts Castle, Scotland. Several hours after the disappearance of the Boy-Who-Lived.
Minerva McGonagall sat in one of the ornate yet comfortable chairs in Albus Dumbledore’s study and gratefully accepted the glass of brandy that the headmaster handed to her.
“Any news yet?” she asked, before taking a delicate sip from her glass.
Dumbledore shook his head. “I am afraid not,” he said heavily. “Kingsley Shacklebolt and Alastor Moody are checking the street where Harry was when he disappeared. Severus is attempting to scry his whereabouts again and the rest of the Order is doing what they can, but so far there is nothing conclusive.”
Minerva closed her eyes, trying desperately to stop her imagination from providing her with pictures of the horrible fate that James and Lily Potter’s little boy could be suffering even at that moment.
“But I think we should not waste energy distressing ourselves unduly.”
Minerva raised her head at the words and looked at Dumbledore with sudden hope. “Why? I thought- Albus, have you heard something?” she demanded, gripping her glass of brandy very tightly.
Dumbledore raised a hand to forestall her questions. “I have not. But consider, if Voldemort’s followers had Harry and if-“ here Dumbledore paused a moment to gather himself before continuing, “if they have killed him, they would be crowing about it. We would soon find his body. Publicly, no doubt. The Dark Lord always loved making a show of his enemies. His followers are the same. The sheer fact that we have heard nothing yet is reason to hope. Also, from what my sources tell me, what’s left of Voldemort is currently hiding in a forest in eastern Europe.”
Minerva frowned. “You think it’s not him or his followers then? Who else could it be?”
“I think the Death Eaters may not be responsible. And there are others for whom Harry would be a tempting target.” Dumbledore paused again and wiped his spectacles with a blue silk handkerchief. “There is also one other possibility which I pray may be the answer.”
“It is rare, but there have been cases of children whose first indications of their magic involved temporarily making themselves invisible. If Harry’s fight with his uncle was upsetting enough, his own natural desire not to be found may be at the root of his disappearance. If so, we should be able to track him as soon as his subconscious loses focus on the spell.”
“But, shouldn’t that have happened already? It’s been hours. Surely an untrained child couldn’t hold a powerful subconscious spell for that long!”
Dumbledore shrugged. “That would depend on the child. James and Lily were two of the most talented students I ever had. It would not be a complete surprise for their son to be precocious when it comes to strength of magic. It may be that tomorrow morning we will find a perfectly fine ten-year-old who will need nothing more than a few days in bed and some chicken soup to deal with the after-effects of a night exposed to the elements.”
“I hope you’re right,” Minerva replied wearily. “I just wish there was something more we could do now.”
She looked around the study seeking some inspiration, when her eyes fell on the headmaster’s desk. It was a solid piece of furniture, carved out of polished oak. The surface was piled high with books and parchment. A quill with its accompanying inkpot was perched precariously on the edge and a stack of letters looked to be in danger of tipping onto the floor.
The idea struck Minerva McGonagall like a bolt of lightning and she almost choked on her brandy.
“Albus!” she coughed, trying to get her breath back. “The letters!”
Dumbledore looked curiously at her. “What letters?” he enquired.
“The letters, Albus,” she repeated, trying to force her scattered thoughts into words. “The school letters. The letters written by Ravenclaw’s Quill. The letters addressed to every child in this school and every child due to start this year. With their precise address!”
“Ah,” said Dumbledore. He smiled crookedly. “I’m afraid I’m ahead of you there, Minerva. I’ve already attempted to alter Ravenclaw’s Quill and failed. It will not start to produce letters for at least another week, no matter what attempts are made to interfere with it. I suspect the spell on it was designed that way for security reasons when it was originally cast. The muggles were still burning people at that time, I believe.”
The sudden hope which had flickered in Minerva’s chest was doused thoroughly at these words and she took another disconsolate swallow of brandy. “Then there’s nothing we can do.”
“For now,” Dumbledore agreed. He reached out his hand and squeezed Minerva’s shoulder gently “But we must not despair. Things could look much brighter in the morning.”
The Burrow, Ottery St. Catchpole, Devon, England.
Molly Weasley gently eased open the door of her youngest son’s bedroom and looked in. Ron was asleep and snoring, his legs and arms thrown out haphazardly under his duvet. A tiny sliver of moonlight coming in through the curtains illuminated the poster of his favourite quidditch team. Molly nodded to herself and then closed the door quietly. Then she made her way down through the stairs, stopping at each landing to check on her other children, all of whom were fast asleep and snoring quite as loudly as Ron.
Finally Molly padded softly into the kitchen and started to boil the kettle for a cup of tea. A noise from the parlour made her reach for her wand, but after a quick glance at the many-handed clock, she relaxed and fetched a second cup from the cupboard. The hand labelled Arthur had just swung from ‘Work’ to ‘Home’. A few minutes later he joined her in the kitchen and gratefully accepted a hot cup of tea.
“Has there been any news?” Molly asked, as she looked up into her husband’s tired eyes.
Arthur shook his head. “I’m afraid not, Molly. No one at the Ministry even knows that the boy is missing. At least, if they do, then they’re keeping quiet about it. And it was hard enough to make enquiries if anyone had heard anything without accidentally spilling the beans myself.”
“I understand why Professor Dumbledore doesn’t want it public,” Molly said. “People would certainly panic. But surely it would be better to have everyone looking for him. Arthur, when I think of what could be happening to him right now . . . He’s just a child the same age as Ron. Oh, that poor boy,” she finished and wiped her suddenly teary eyes. “His poor aunt and uncle. They must be worried sick.”
Arthur Weasley hugged his wife tightly and kissed the top of her head. “We’ll find him,” he promised her, trying to keep his tone as cheerful as possible. “Who knows, a few months from now, Ron could have Harry Potter as a dorm-mate in Gryffindor tower.”
Auror Kingsley Shacklebolt waved his wand in a complicated spiral movement, watched as the tip glowed momentarily and then nodded in relieved satisfaction. “Moody!” he called to his associate, “I’ve got a trace.”
Alastor Moody was standing at the end of the street, surveying it with his magical eye. He grunted in response and then stumped over to Shacklebolt. “Me too,” he said. “Definitely looks like the boy worked some accidental magic.”
“Invisibility?” Shacklebolt suggested. The wand in his hand shook, indicating a direction. He set off down the street, Moody beside him. “Dumbledore said as much when he briefed me on the situation. Wouldn’t be the first time a runaway wished no one could find him. And when the runaway is a wizard . . .”
Moody frowned, his magical eye revolving wildly. “That wouldn’t explain nobody being able to scry his location. Accidental magic wouldn’t do that. At least,” he conceded thoughtfully, “not for very long. Someone else is involved in this. I can smell it.”
Shacklebolt shuddered inwardly at the implication, despite himself. “I hope you’re wrong, Alastor. If He has returned then we could be looking at a lot more missing people in the future.”
Moody’s frown deepened into a full blown scowl. “I told Dumbledore that one neighbour wasn’t enough to keep an eye on the boy. We’ve should have had him watched ‘round the clock till he was old enough to attend Hogwarts, but Dumbledore insisted that wasn’t necessary. And now look!”
“He couldn’t have known that this would happen,” Shacklebolt said fairly as they turned a corner and followed the faint trace of magic down a side street.
“That,” Moody hissed, “is the point of constant vigilance Shacklebolt!” The older auror’s magical eye spun wildly again before settling and glowing slightly brighter. “That way you don’t get caught flat-footed when the Boy-Who-Lived takes it into his head to run off after a family argument!”
The two men continued following the faint magical trace as the night wore on. It took them through several more side streets and alleyways as well as a brief trip through the Muggle Underground before finally leading them to a particular street in Soho in the early hours of the morning, where it finally petered out.
Moody surveyed the street carefully, his electric blue eye swivelling in all directions. He was silent for a few moments and then growled in frustration. “Trail ‘s gone cold on me. What about you?”
Shacklebolt looked around at the muggle street, noting the different shop fronts. A bar, a few cafés, some clothing stores which probably referred to themselves at boutiques, and a large old bookshop on the corner with the legend ‘A Z Fell & Co Est 1803’ carved into the façade. He gestured with his wand one more time, but the tip stubbornly refused to light up. “Nothing. Dead end,” he replied, and instantly regretted his choice of words. He hoped very fervently that his near-future would not contain the task of informing Harry Potter’s family of the worst possibility.
A Z Fell & Co, Soho, London, England.
“Research?” Crowley complained as Aziraphale placed an old, very ornate and very heavy book in front of him. “At this time of night?”
“That -thing- in Harry’s head is both evil and magical in nature,” Aziraphale said firmly. “I’m not going to risk things going wrong because either of us just used an off-the-cuff miracle when a more detailed delicate approach was needed.”
Crowley nodded slowly. Aziraphale had a point. Miracles were generally more powerful than human magic, but they’d both had a few surprises over the millennia. Better safe than sorry.
“All right, angel. Guess we’d better get to work.”