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Chapter 75 Auld Lang Syne The Room of Requirement was festooned more gaily than the previous year.

. Its high arched ceilings danced in a cacophony of light and sound. The five piece orchestra from the previous year had expanded to a full band, its ghostly instruments pulsing out a melody as the crowd on the packed dance floor whirled to the music. The alumni of Dumbledores Army had expanded the attendance to the second annual New Years soiree. As theyd all grown older, theyd met significant others who, in turn, were introduced to the unique association that was the D.A./P.A. Subconsciously, Harry detested the P.A. designation. Hed never thought that anything should be about him, specifically. At first, hed made attempts to dissuade his friends to stop the practice, but to no avail. As Hermione told him in a matter of fact manner, the D.A. had been as much about Harry as it had been about supporting Dumbledore. Harry gave up on telling them otherwise. A romantic standard was playing and Harry had his arms wrapped around Ginny as they made slow rounds on the dance floor. His chin fit just atop her ahead and they both had their eyes closed as they enjoyed the pleasure of being together. Harry opened his eyes and took in his friends as they enjoyed the party. George and Verity were talking excitedly in the corner of the room. Their story was interesting to say the least. Lee had hired the beautiful blonde bombshell to run his Hogsmeade store. From the start, she and George clashed over every aspect of managing the operation. Without fail, Veritys ideas were proven to be much more on target than Georges and her stores sales were skyrocketing, far surpassing the Diagon Alley location, even with half the traffic. George was many things, but a fool was not among the list. With the agreement of Dudley and Lee, he brought Verity in as a full partner in Weasleys Wizard Wheezes and her ideas had helped launch the brand to greater heights. At first, George and Veritys planning sessions were legendary for their duration, often into the night, and their fireworks, both of the strong-willed egos refusing to give in. What was remarkable to Harry, was for the first time in almost seven years, George had a kindred spirit who was willing to battle with him on equal footing. It was as if hed been able to fill the void that had been created with Freds death. Eventually, George began to realize what role Verity was assuming and he began to allow the walls of sarcasm and jocularity hed built up to mask the pain of Freds loss to crumble. Late one night, during a particularly heated session regarding the future of their mail-order business, something inside George snapped. He no longer wanted to fight with her. He simply stopped talking and kissed her in mid sentence. His heart was racing because up to this point, shed given him absolutely no indication of even a passing interest. Surprisingly, she returned the kiss. Verity was an orphan, whod grown up with her own walls to the rest of the world. In one fell swoop, George broke down her defenses, much like shed done to his. Theyd been inseparable ever since. What hadnt changed was they each were still insistent that their ideas were right. Even now, Harry thought, they were probably arguing about the order that the inventory should be placed on the shelves. Lee and Sarah were latched on to each other. They were planning their wedding and Harry was glad that his good friend and his protg had finally gotten around to getting on with their lives. The Vampire Incident was troubling for many of them. Harry wondered how many lives and relationships were irrevocably damaged by the numbers that had been turned by Kirklees Burke and David Farrant. It was a telling time for Lee Jordan, would he forgive Sarah or would he let her go? In the end, they rediscovered each other and the end result was their fervent planning of the rest of their lives. Harry knew they were perfect for each other. Harrys eyes fell on Dudley. His cousin was an entirely different person from when they grew up together. Often, an experience with a Dementer is unforgettable. For Dudley, it had been life altering. Long gone were his insecurities that had led to his bullying of the weak. Instead, Dudley had grown into a thoughtful, proud man. He dove into a life in the wizarding world, providing both his business partners and others a unique perspective into muggles. For years Dudley had been

envious and afraid of who and what Harry was. Now, that world was embracing him fully and he felt more accepted and loved than in the muggle world. Dudley was standing at the punch bowl. On his arm was a shy but pretty brunette. She was tall, almost as tall as Dudley and her eyes never left him as they made their way through the line. Her name was Beatrice Haggerty and Dudley had met her while walking through the aisles at Flourish and Blotts. She was a clerk at the book store and was immediately taken with the muggle confident enough to walk among the wizards with now trace of awe or fear. She was especially interested in the fact that Dudley was full, participating partner in the most prosperous store in the Alley. She asked him to dinner and he readily accepted. Tonight, he was introducing her to his friends, really, for the very first time. Shed been nervous at meeting Harry, and was genuinely surprised to find out that Harry and Dudley were blood cousins. Finding out that fact impressed her even more, not because she was star struck by Harry, but because Dudley had never boasted about his relations. Other men, she assumed, would have trumpeted their relationships loudly, but Dudley wasnt a braggart, and she felt herself liking him even more. It seemed everyone had decided to move on with their lives. Luna Lovegood had returned from her travels abroad. She was becoming a well-known naturist and her quirky journals were flying off book shelves. She was dancing with a thin, smallish man who looked very familiar to Harry. Then he remembered him as Harry recalled a staff meeting at the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magic Creatures. His name was Nathan Scamander, grandson of the famous Newt Scamander, the author of Famous Beasts and Where to Find Them. Nathan worked in the Department as a member of the Committee for the Disposal of Dangerous Creatures. He was a fiery advocate for magical beasts and was the voice of reason on the committee. More often than not, he was finding unique ways to remove beasts from a situation without necessarily harming them. He had met Luna at a symposium on the merits of preserving dragon scales, and the two had been inseparable ever since. Harry continued his survey of the room. Dean Thomas was busily chatting with a dark-haired girl hed brought to the party with him. Harry had not had the opportunity to meet her yet. Seamus Finnegan was dancing wildly with Parvati Patil who had a bemused grin on her face. Harry laughed at his antics. He continued to search around, but could not find one person in particular. Nearby, Ron and Hermione were whispering to each other, obviously enjoying their pastime of people-watching as Hermione called it. Harry gave a secretive glance at Ron who carefully maneuvered Hermione towards Ginny and Harry. When they were near enough, Harry leaned into Rons ear. Have you seen Neville? Ron shook his head. I hope hes not upset about Luna and Nathan. Rons voice a little more than hed expected. Harry pondered the idea. No, I dont think so. More than likely, hes pinching some tree bark into a vial. Ron snickered. Harry looked at Dean who smiled knowingly. With a quick word to his date, Dean headed for the door, on his mission to find Neville. Dean hurried up the stairs that led him to the tower where Nevilles office was. His date was remarkable. Hed met her in his job at an accounting firm and had spent the past few months preparing her for the wondrous sights of the wizard world. Her name was Isabella Ramirez. She was from Puerto Rico and was an analyst at the firm where he worked. Her skin was a deep olive tone and her hair was jet black and extended down past her shoulders. Her eyes were light brown and glittered with attitude mixed with fun. She spoke a staccato fashion, rapidly with a lot of passion and Dean was mesmerized by her charm and beauty. Dean missed her already, and finished the stairs two at a time. He bounded down the hall to the heavy oak door that marked Nevilles office. Dean saw the flicker of light shimmering from beneat h the door. Smiling to himself, Dean figured that Neville must be playing with his plants again. Dean threw open the door with a loud thud.

Come on, Neville! Your plants can wait until later, the partys started and youre going to miss the main event! Deans voice trailed off. He stood shocked and embarrassed. Nevilles lips were in a firm lock with those of a tall woman. The two quickly separated. The woman had high cheek bones and a small nose. She straightened her horn-rimmed spectacles and made a production of adjusting the hem of her skirt. Her cheeks blazed red almost matching Deans. Oh, um, Im sorry, Neville. Dean stammered a bit. Neville burst out laughing. His humor was soon matched by the womans. Dean stood in the door in considerable puzzlement. Its all right, Dean. Neville stood and offered his hand to the woman. This is Jennifer Crabtree. Shes a visiting professor in Divination from America. Shes learning under Professor Trelawney. Theres a good chance that Sibyll may retire this year to devote more time to writing books. Jennifer has a good shot of taking her place. The statuesque woman offered a hand to Dean. Its very nice to meet you. Im sorry, we seemed to lose track of time. Thats quite all right. Dean chuckled. But wed better hurry, Neville, its almost time. Neville stole a glance at the clock on the wall and started. Blimey, youre right. Come on, Jennifer, we mustnt miss the big moment! The three practically ran down the hall . Harry saw Dean return, a large grin on his face. Upon seeing Harrys puzzled look, Dean shrugged his shoulders and nodded behind him. Harrys, and practically everyone elses, jaw dropped when Neville walked in, Jennifer in tow. At that precise moment, the music stopped almost as if the Room of Requirement had not anticipated Neville having a date. Neville halted for a moment and took a brief look at Jennifer. She smiled encouragingly. Neville straightened his shoulders and gave her a quick kiss on the lips. Everyone, this is Jennifer. Shes my, um, girlfriend. A louder than expected roar danced through the crowd. Harry laughed to himself. They truly had moved on. He felt a tug at his arm, and Ginny gave him a silent prod. It was time. Harry walked up to a raised stage and lifted his arms up for attention. Well, I know its not midnight, but we have a special occasion to celebrate tonight. All around, curious looks were exchanged among the revelers. No one had any idea what was about to happen, save for Ginny, Harry and one other person. Cho Chang, will you come up here please? Cho stood stunned and bewildered. At Dennis encouragement, she walked up to the stage. Harry nodded and a far door opened, revealing Chos parents, who joined Harry and Cho on the stage. Cho, Dennis and I were thinking. We were rudely interrupted at your wedding ceremony. So, we were wondering if you wouldnt mind if we just went ahead and finished it properly? Cho stood with her mouth open, her eyes welling with tears. She gave a slight, imperceptible nod. Dennis raced up the podium and grasped her hands in his. Harry smiled at them and looked out to the crowd. It was eleven oclock; he had more than enough time before the New Year. Ladies and gentlemen, we are gathered here to celebrate the power of two people in love *** Midnight struck and the partygoers celebrated another year together. Lips touched and fireworks rang throughout the hall. Harry kissed Ginny with passion. He ran his fingers through her hair

and soaked up the atmosphere. It was perfect. The crowd around him was moving through the course of their lives. No matter what happened in the future, nothing would deter them from being friends. Hundreds of miles away, a black, rotting hulk of a ship made its way into Portsmouth Harbor. Magically shielded from prying eyes, the ebon hull and tattered sails cut through the calm bay like a knife through butter. On the bow, a dark hooded man watched the approaching shore line. His eyes glowed red and he offered himself a sinister smile. He watched the fireworks bursting ashore. A large, ugly vulture alit on his shoulder. He looked up at the bird. Its almost time. Happy New Year. The bird cackled in response to the mans maniacal laugh.

Chapter 76 The Minister of Magic Arthur Weasley reclined in his seat behind the large desk that sat in the center of the Minister of Magics office. Hed just returned from his courtesy visit to the muggle Prime Minister. The conversation had been bland, but the man was more than polite and seemed particularly amused by Arthurs fascination with the various gadgets that were scattered about the office. Arthur closed his eyes and put his hands behind his head. He reflected on the whirlwind of events over the past two months that brought him to sitting behind this desk. True to his word, Kingsley Shacklebolt had announced his resignation as Minister of Magic and had, in his speech, placed his overwhelming support behind Arthur, much to the chagrin of his party in the Wizengamot. Arthur was swept in by popular acclaim, his candidacy boosted by the fact that a good percentage of the Office of Aurors, including Harry Potter, were behind him, if only from a support standpoint. On his first day in office, Arthur retained Percy as his most senior aide, but was soon buried in a pile of letters of resignation from the host of functionaries whod served in the previous administration. While these were a matter of tradition, Arthur used the opportunity to begin a wholesale housecleaning of the Ministry, the likes of which not seen since the fall of Voldemort. Today, Arthur was going to have to find someone to head the Department of Magical Law Enforcement. Hed run through a very short list of candidates and had settled on someone he thought would do the job well and not just be a political hack. Arthur allowed a smile to creep on this face. His reverie was interrupted by a wrap on the door. Arthur looked up and beckoned the visitor to come ahead in. Sorry to bother you Dad, I mean, Minister, but Mr. Dawlish is here. Percy ushered in the Head of the Office of Aurors. Arthur smiled and shuttled his visitor to a seat. John, its so good to see you. Arthurs eyes gleamed as he took in the nervous countenance of the man seated across from him. As you know, the previous head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement and I were not in complete agreement on policy, so he has decided to seek other employment. Arthur neglected to mention the row that had resulted when hed confronted the man on the amount of graft that had been occurring. Arthur scrutinized Dawlishs face, looking for any sign of weakness or hesitation, but Dawlish had been in government service for decades. Hed seen transitions come and go and easily adapted to the change. This new government, no matter how pleasing, was one that was just like others before and Dawlish would adapt, just like before. Arthur continued. I need someone to lead the Department of Magical Law Enforcement. Id like you to take that job. Dawlishs shock registered on his face. The Department hed been asked to lead was the largest in the Ministry. Many of the other Departments deferred to its strictures by default. In essence, he was being offered the second highest position in the government.

I dont know what to say, Minister. Ive been an Auror for most of my life. I dont know if I could do this. Dawlish began to run his fingers through his hair, his nervous habit caused Arthur to chuckle. John, you are more than capable of handling this job. I need someone that can be trusted to do the right thing. I need someone who will stand up to this office, should they disagree with me. I know that person is you, will you take the job? Dawlish thought carefully, and then squared his shoulders. Carefully, he gave Arthur a nod. Splendid, I knew I could count on you. Arthur rose and came around the desk to shake hands with his new chief of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement. Now, any thoughts as to who youd like to see replace you as Head of the Office of Aurors? *** Percy waited until Dawlish had left and then walked into his fathers office. Percy had never contemplated his father in this position, yet upon reflection, people had always underestimated Arthur, including Percy himself. He walked into the office and found Arthur scribbling away at the myriad of reports. Arthur smiled at his son and nodded to a chair. Howd it go, Dad? Did he take the job? Percy plopped down in the proffered chair. Yes, with the right amount of encouragement, of course. Arthur chuckled, but his face turned downward. Do you think that were doing the right thing here? People might accuse us nepotism. Dad, youve got to stop thinking like that. Youre whole opposition to Kingsley was that hed become a politician. Percy looked at his father seriously. Thats how it began, when he started worrying about what people thought about him. You made a good decision here, now stick to it. Thats all you can do. Arthur nodded, but still felt a twinge of anxiety in his stomach. *** Dawlish walked into the main area that held the Office of Aurors. He strode purposefully past the rows of cubicles and into his own office, without saying a word to anyone. Lachlan and Harry had been discussing some reports and were obviously curious about their boss demeanor. Lachlan looked over at Harry and volunteered to find out. Lachlan knocked at Dawlishs door and entered. A few minutes passed and then Lachlan exited the office, a wide grin on his face. The older man walked over to where Harry was standing. He wants to see you. Harry nodded, puzzled by Lachlans humorous grin. Harry walked over to the Dawlishs door. Cavendish had risen and walked over to Lachlan, her team leader. Whats going on? Is everything all right with John? There was a trace of worry in her amber eyes. No, no, Johns going to be fine. Lachlan looked over at the Dawlishs door. In fact, hes going to be great, but what happens next is going to be interesting. Her befuddled expression gave rise to a bout of laughter from him. Harry knocked and walked into Dawlishs office. You wanted to see me? Dawlish grunted and continued his flurry of movement. Harry watched Dawlish tossing various items into a satchel. Youve been sacked? For a moment, a flicker of anger passed over Harrys face.

No, thats not it at all. Dawlish peered over at Harry and stopped packing for a moment. Ive been promoted. Im the new head of the Department. Thats fantastic, John! Congratulations. You deserve it. Harry shook his friends hand vigorously. Maybe now, you can get off your duff and marry that woman. This drew a sh arp look from Dawlish. Harry laughed and Dawlish joined him. So, is Lachlan going to head our Office? Dawlish stared at Harry seriously. No, its never been his ambition to have this job. He prefers where he is. Than who did they select to lead the Office? Harrys mind went over the list of candidates. Proudfoot? Savage? Williamson? There was an entire roster of senior Aurors whod fit the bill. Harry looked at Dawlish whod gotten extremely quiet. You, Harry. The Minister and I have decided that you should be the new Head of the Office. Dawlish sat back in his chair and crossed his arms in front of him. Me? Thats ridiculous. Im not the most senior Auror here. Its absurd to think that I should head this Office. Harry shook his head in disbelief. Harry, are you saying that the Minister of Magic and myself are absurd? Harry hastily shook his head no. Well brook no argument, as of today, you, Harry Potter, are now the Head of the Office of Aurors. Harry knew he was defeated and slowly nodded his head. *** A few days later, the main area of the Daily Prophet on Diagon Alley was buzzing. Ginny walked into the office and made her way towards her desk. She acknowledged with a smile the various congratulatory hails she received from her colleagues. The goings on at the Ministry had created a buzz among the wizards and witches. Ginnys father was gutting the Ministry, making changes to the personnel and the way they did business. The announcement of Harrys appointm ent as Head of the Office of Aurors had been met with general acclaim. Ginny walked to her desk and began to ply through her correspondence. A bright pair of blue eyes sequestered behind tortoise shell glasses watched Ginnys progress through the news room. The lids in front of the eyes narrowed and their owner subconsciously rubbed a spot on her forehead where the shadow of the acne that had dotted the spot had been. Harrys appointment had been met with general acclaim, not unanimous acclaim. Rita Skeeter had her own doubts as to Arthur Weasleys motivations. The Weasley family in general had made great inroads in assuming a position of power and influence in the past few years. The appointment of an obviously unqualified son-in-law to lead an important position in the government was troubling to Rita, if only for the additional prestige it gave the Weasleys. Ritas brain stewed at the thought. There had to be something nefarious to this family. There was something she was missing. This would take her best investigative talents. She needed to uncover the deep, dark secrets of the Weasley family, but where to start? The days edition of the Prophet was sitting on her desk, and idly she thumbed through the pages. Her eye caught on an advertisement in the corner of the sports section. Weasleys Wizard Wheezes! The Best Gags in Town!

Ritas mouth twisted into a perverted version of a smile. She had the angle shed use to get back. No that wasnt right, not get back. She would uncover the truth about the Weasleys. *** The Minister of Magic arrived home, tired. He walked into his living room and smiled at his wife as he collapsed in his chair. Molly put a gentle hand on his shoulder and gave him a peck on the cheek. Hard day dear? Arthur gave her a baleful look. Well, youll work everything out. By the way, Teddys spending the night. Andromeda had to go out of town for a couple of days. Where is he? Arthur enjoyed the boys attention. It reminded him of when his own ch ildren were that age. Most likely, hes in that tree house you built. Arthur grinned. Over the past summer, Arthur had read about building the perfect tree house in Popular Mechanics. He, Teddy and Dudley had undertaken the project with great amount of energy and a little bit of magic. Theyd built a multiplatform structure that made up the entire upper boughs of a grand oak tree. Whenever Teddy visited, he was sure to be found in his tree house. A loud bang announced the arrival of visitors to the floo. Fleur and Victoire arrived. The precocious blonde girl gave her grandparents very unladylike hugs and smiled broadly. Arthur, ever the diplomat leaned over to his granddaughter, Guess what, princess? Teddy is here. Hes in the tree house. Victoires eyes grew wide and before another word could be said, she disappeared out the door. Really, Arthur. Youre going to drive that boy batty. Molly couldnt help herself, she was laughing. Victoire climbed the ladder up to the main floor of the massive tree house. Teddy? She looked around for him. Where are you? A firm voice came from above her. Im up here, Vee! She looked up and saw a pink -haired boy on the top platform. Come on up! Victoire smiled to herself and climbed up several platforms and rope ladders. Finally, she reached the uppermost level where the object of her affection was staring out across the sky. Only six years old, Victoire was convinced that Teddy was the man of her dreams. Teddy wasnt so sure, but still enjoyed the little girls company. Vee, take a look at this. She enjoyed the way he called her Vee. Teddy was peering through a telescope as it was pointed to the sky. You can see the moon rising over there. Look how close it is! Teddy moved to the side and gave her room to view through the eyehole. She could make out the craters and the features of the moon. Its beautiful! She marveled at the sight. She looked over at Teddy, who shrugged his shoulders. I like the moon. My dad was afraid of the full moon. Sometimes I think that Im looking at the moon for the both of us. Victoire looked over at him. His hair had turned a bright white, almost the color of the moon itself. I think your dad would like the way the moon looked tonight. Teddy smiled at her comment.

Im sure he would. The stars started coming out, twinkling in the clear sky. Victoire looked out as Teddy pointed out constellations to her. They stayed that way until they were called in for dinner. Chapter 77 Weasley-Gate The morning edition of the Daily Prophet sat on Arthur Weasleys kitchen table. Following his usual morning routine, the newly elected Minister of Magic strolled down the stairs to his homes kitchen. He had taken to rising earlier, now that he was the Minister and his responsibility had increased tenfold, Arthur found himself making allowances to be in the office much earlier. He thanked the stars for Percy, whod been guiding him through the morass of bureaucracy that the Ministry had become over the decades. Layer upon layer of inefficiency and some corruption had riddled the various offices with accounting systems that would make the Gordian knot seem easy. With Percys help, Arthur felt that he would be able to unravel the greatest mystery of all, the governments finances. Arthur poured himself a cup of coffee and sat at the table read his morning paper. He sighed to himself, momentarily missing the ado that used to come with mornings in the Burrow. The manic patter of seven children would resonate through the home and even though he seemed oblivious to the sounds, Arthur actually felt that the tumult accompanying the waking habits of his children was more akin to music to his ears and he missed it terribly. He took a sip of his coffee and glanced at the headline. His eyes narrowed decidedly and he calmly placed his mug down on the table. He stared at the paper for a few more minutes then carefully folded it up and put it in his battered attach case. Molly was moving around in one of the bedrooms upstairs, already tidying up for this weekends visit from her grandchildren. Im heading in, dear! He heard her muffled response and headed into the office. Arthur pat the briefcase with the newspaper tucked inside and realized, it was going to be a very long day. *** Blimey! The nerve of that woman! Lee Jordan was sitting at one of the outdoor cafes near Weasleys Wheezes in Diagon Alley. He was reading the Daily Prophet and steam seemed to be flowing from his ears. Sarah Peebles, Auror and fianc to Lee, raised a curious eyebrow. What is it? Skeeter. Shes gone to far, this time. Lee ignored his tea and ruffled the paper violently. He turned the headline for Sarah to see. MINISTERS HANDS IN THE COOKIE JAR: DID THE NEW MINISTER OF MAGIC STEER FUNDS TO FAMILY? Sarah looked at the headline with considerable alarm. The very notion that Arthur Weasley could be remotely corrupt made her shake her head in disbelief. Sarah peered closely at the article and saw Rita Skeeters name on the byline. Sarah immediately began to feel the bile rise in her throat. Whats she saying? Sarahs blood was rising and subconsciously, she began to twirl her wand about in her fingers, her brain roving over a myriad of curses shed like to try on Skeeter. She said that no one knows how Fred and George got the money to start the business. Then she said that in his capacity in the Office for the Misuse of Muggle Artifacts, Mr. Weasley had access to large amounts of discretionary funds. In addition, when Scrimgour and Thicknesse

were in charge, they were too busy with the Dark Lord that no one had been accounting for expenditures in the Ministry. Thats it? Nothing to link all those events together? As an Auror, Sarah had learned to rely on fact, not supposition. She doesnt need to. The innuendo alone is enough to raise a cloud. Lee tossed the paper down on the table. Where did George and Fred get the money to start the business? Sarahs brain was re ady to accept whatever response she got. Lee hesitated for a moment. Frankly, I dont know. His response took Sarah by surprise. But, I dont believe for a moment that Arthur Weasley did something illegal, if thats what you mean. For a second, Sarah had allowed a tinge of doubt to overcome her. It passed quickly. The problem was that the general public who did not know Arthur so well may not be as accepting. Storm clouds were definitely brewing. *** Rita Skeeter sat smugly at her desk at the Daily Prophet. Her story was having the desired effect. Outwardly, she exuded the image of a shocked and disappointed journalist whod uncovered, much to chagrin, evidence that the Minister of Magic was corrupt. Inwardly, she was pleased, because she was going to take down the Weasley family a peg. Arthur Weasley had littered his Ministry with his cronies. His son, Percy, was now the senior aide in the Ministers office. He had another son, Ronald, who was an Auror. Ronalds wife Hermione, had been instrumental in forcing that absurd house-elf emancipation bill through the Wizengamot. Worst of all, Arthurs son in law, Harry Potter, had been appointed to head the Office of Aurors. The Weasleys were establishing a power base in the government that made Ritas skin crawl. Rita saw a flash of red hair by the entrance. She watched as Ginny Potter stalked through the news room. Rita allowed a smile to cross her face. On a personal level, taking the Weasleys down a peg would help wipe away the indignity Rita had suffered at the hands of Ginny a few months before. So lost in her thoughts, Rita failed to notice Ginnys approach. You had better have some proof, Rita. The libel suit alone will destroy you. Skeeter started from her thoughts and found Ginny standing beside her desk, arms folded and eyes searing through into her eyes. Whatever do you mean, Ginny darling? My story is all fact. Ritas voice was syrupy sweet. With an innocuous wave of her hand, a small beetle began to scurry from Ritas handbag to a place near the leg of the desk. If you know otherwise, Id be more than happy to print a clarification, from your point of view. Why dont you tell me where dear brother George got the money to start his quaint little enterprise? Your family is far from wealthy. How do twins drop out of Hogwarts and start the biggest new business in over a decade? Ginnys face turned red. The fact of the matter was she had no idea where Fred and George had gotten the money to start the business. Out of the corner of her eye, Ginny noticed some movement on the floor. Ginnys face darkened and she stared at Ritas face, its holier than thou halo made Ginnys stomach turn. Ginny brought her face closer to Ritas. For her part, Skeeter knew that the inevitable threat was coming. She rubbed her ear, ensuring that shed hear every word through her recording beetles antenna. Before Ginny reached Rita, she raised her foot up and brought it crashing down on the beetles body. The insect screeched loudly which sent a high-pitched shriek into Skeeters ear lobe. Rita

grasped her ear trying to dampen the noise, to no avail. Ginny allowed herself a smile and leaned into Ritas ear. Remember this, Rita. I dont get even, I get ahead. With that, Ginny whirled on her heel and walked out the door. *** What in blazes is this woman doing? George paced through the back room at Weasleys Wizards Wheezes. Verity, Dudley and Lee kept their distance from him as the lanky red head stormed back and forth. Shes saying that my dad stole money from the treasury to finance this? Thats preposterous! We know that, George. Verity looked over at him, her expression pained as she watched George suffering through this. Why dont you tell us where you an d Fred got the seed money to start up and we can shove it down her throat? George looked over at her and then allowed his gaze to shift to the other partners in the room. I cant tell you. I made a promise. Fred and I had a silent partner. Georges face dropped. His heart sank as he watched the others allow a seed of doubt creep into their expressions. They thought that just maybe, there was a kernel of truth to Skeeters rumors. George, go ahead and tell them. When youre done wallowing, we can go about getting even, what say you? George looked over to the doorway. Harry stood in the threshold, his eyes twinkling with a mixture of anger and deviltry. George allowed himself a broad smile and nodded over to Harry, ignoring the confused stares of his friends. Harry walked in and took a seat. It would be to Skeeters benefit to retire, I dont think I have the power to save her from Ginny, and I dont think Id want to if I had. Georges brain began to turn. First things first, he told his partners the story of the creation of Weasleys Wizard Wheezes. When he was done, the others looked at Harry, who nodded and then they got down to the business of plotting their revenge. *** When she wanted to, Rita Skeeter could blend into the background of any public setting. She left the Prophets offices; she strolled down the Alley with a careful gait, blending in with crowd of shoppers and business wizards as they went about their daily routines. Soon she was standing opposite 93 Diagon Alle y, the main office of the Weasleys enterprise. Her best ammunition, this far, had been the reluctance of the founder, George Weasley to admit where hed found the money to start his venture. Perhaps, Rita thought, there was a hint of truth to her story. In her mind, journalism was about thirty percent conjecture and five percent facts. The other sixty five percent was dependent on the imagination of the journalist to fill in the blanks. Thats where exposes came from. Skeeter saw a figure darting down the Alley, making a beeline for the back entrance to the store. She recognized the figure of Percy Weasley casting furtive glances around him before he ducked into the door. She raised her eyebrows and walked from her position into the bustling crowd. She was bumped and knocked to the side as she tried to wade through the tide of humanity walking the Alley. Ginny Weasley had destroyed Ritas last beetle, so the intrepid reporter had to make her way over to the side alley near the service entrance to the store. Rita snickered to herself as she pulled a pair of Extendable Ears from her purse. How appropriate, she thought, shed use one of their own inventions against them. She placed an ear against her own and sent the other end out to the window, just to the side of the door. She recognized the voices of Percy and George Weasley. They seemed to be arguing. Im telling you Percy, I cant keep this secret! Rita heard George pacing about the room. This is ruining my business.

Your business? Come on George, this could take down the government! Is that what you want? Rita held her breath. Maybe, just this once in her career, had she gotten something right? Percy, Ive got to let the world know, I cant live with this on my conscience. Rita sent her hand to her large alligator skin purse. Her Quick Quotes Quill responded to her silent command and began to write feverishly on a piece of parchment suspended in the air. Your conscience? Now you have a conscience? Percys voice became shrill. Laugh all you want, but I have a business to run and employees who rely on our doors being open. I cant cover the truth any longer. Georges voice was firm. Fine, George, but his will be on your head. Rita heard Percys footsteps a pproaching the door. She reeled in her Ears and ran into a doorway, hiding herself from the door. Shed barely gotten to cover when she saw Percy storm away from the store. Watching his retreating back, Rita smiled to herself. If she hurried, she could make the late edition deadline. She disappeared into the crowd, ignoring the elbowing of the close quarters, her story already formed in her head. She began to picture where shed stand when the Minister had to announce his resignation. She hoped she was standing next to Ginny Potter, so she could see the arrogant whelps expression. Harry watched Skeeter move through the crowd. When shed turned the corner, he removed his Invisibility Cloak and stood in the side alley. He heard the door open and saw George emerge from the store. He turned again and saw Percy walking towards him, a smile on his face. Well? George looked over at Harry, expectantly. Did it work? Harry smiled and held up his hand. He was holding Skeeters original Quick Quotes Quill. I hope you made sure Hermione checked the spelling in the Self-Correcting Quill you gave me. Of course she did, you think Im daft? George gave his best who me? look. Percy rolled his eyes, which drew a laugh from Harry. Good, because now I cant wait for the afternoon edition of the Prophet. The other two laughed with him and together, they walked back into the door. *** Rita Skeeter had the same smug look on her face. Shed barely been able to turn in her story for printing. She wrote it as she walked down the Alley and simply turned it over to the copy owl as she entered the offices of the Prophet. Her trusty Quill had never let her down, and proof-reading and fact-checking were activities shed cast aside long ago. She had a juicy story. She had confirmation of government involvement in nepotism and corruption. She would be on top of the world. Her heart raced as the first afternoon edition of the Prophet hit her desk. Her mouth watered, savoring the thrill of what this would do at the Ministry. She pushed her cats eye glasses up on her nose and took in the headline. The blood drained from her face. I MADE IT UP: THE TRUTH BEHIND MY PHONY STORY. By Rita Skeeter She plied through the story. Her eyes widened as she read about Harrys desire to use his winnings from the Triwizard Tournament for anyone but himself, given the pain winning the tournament had caused. She read how Harry had insisted that the Weasley twins use the money to start their business, because he believed it would flourish and he knew that some of their inventions would be helpful in fighting the Dark Lord. Finally, she read about her admission

to having a personal vendetta against the Weasleys and the Potters and that her judgment had been clouded by her personal feelings. She rocked back in her chair, stunned. She reached into her purse and pulled out her Quick Quotes Quill. Nothing seemed different about it. She rolled it through her fingers examining it closely. She didnt hear the figure approach her desk. Id like to see you in my office, Ms. Skeeter. The pug -shaped old mans voice was gruff and low. He had the lit stub of a cigar in his mouth and his face was cross, the age lines running together in a fearsome pose. The publisher of the Prophet was not a happy wizard and he was about to convey his dissatisfaction to Rita. Wearily, she walked into his office. When his office door slammed, everyone in the news room jumped. An hour later, Rita Skeeter walked from his office. Her curly platinum hair was in disarray and her glasses hung limply from their chain around her neck. She walked to her desk as if she was walking through wet cement and her fellow employees studiously ignored her presence. She got to her desk and saw that its top was cleaned off, save for the box that contained all of her personal effects. Her head drooped and she picked up the box and head for the door, before that Ginny Potter could see her leave. Shed been sacked. Even more so, her publisher had pret ty much guaranteed that no magazine or newspaper in the UK would give her a job. Even Xenophilius Lovegood had sent a note indicating that she should not bother sending any material to him. Even the Quibbler wouldnt accept her stories. She was destroye d. She walked out into Diagon Alley and set herself down at a table at a local caf. She ordered a strong drink and looked down at her belongings. She saw the plaque shed received for her story in the Quibbler about Harry Potter. It had been her way to return to credibility. She picked up the plaque and saw a smudge obscuring her name. She licked her finger and rubbed the offending stain off the nameplate. The plaque exploded in her face in a cloud of dark smoke. When the smoke cleared, her face and hands were stained a dark violet, like an ink stain. She made an effort to wipe the dark pigment from her skin to no avail. Her blood stopped and she reached into her purse for a mirror. She looked at her face in horror. Her platinum curls had again receded from her forehead. Her face was stained a deep shade of purple, except for the handwritten letters in white atop her head. The letters formed the single word, LIAR stretching from temple to temple. The mirror dropped to the ground, shattering. Thats another seven years, bad luck, Rita. The reporter turned to look at the source of the voice. Ginny stood near her, a dark look on her face. My brother and my husband may have been satisfied with discrediting you. I, on the other hand, had given you fair warning. Never cross my family. You were warned. Im not as forgiving as my family. Ginny turned away from Rita, who sat agape at the fiery red head. *** Harry, Dudley, George, Lee and Verity sat around the table in the stock room reading the latest edition of the Prophet. They were more relieved than happy with the experience. Soon, their merriment returned. Thanks, Harry, for everything. I dont know how to repay you. George clapped Harry on the back. For starters, They all turned to see Ginny in the doorway, You can start paying out his percentage of his investment. He has a family to feed.

George began to stutter as his brain tried to figure out what he owed Harry. Verity laughed at his predicament. She was joined by the rest. George looked over Ginny, who was trying unsuccessfully, to hide her face which was rippled in laughter. George turned red, and began to plan how to get back at his sister. Of course he wouldnt admit it, but he was frightened of her response, so hed have to come up with something foolproof. Even the great Ginny Potter could be had, and George would find a way. He joined in with the revelry, his mind turning over at the possibilities.

Chapter 78 Blessings of New Beginnings The winter faded to spring which relented to summer. Arthur Weasleys administration began to leave its own stamp on the Ministry. Arthur was not one for the niceties of the office. By sheer force of will, he trimmed the fat of the various bureaucracies and caused a stir by the goings on. The Rita Skeeter article was good, in that, it gave public view to the dire straits that the finances had been in. Dean Thomas had been brought in as Exchequer to the Minister and he set about making practical changes by consulting with Bill and Fleur at Gringotts. Slowly, but surely, sanity began to take hold of the Ministry and its Departments, leading to the highest confidence in government ratings that had been seen in decades. In the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, John Dawlish was a superb administrator. He made wholesale changes in the various Offices, while allowing his Office heads to put their own stamp on their areas of responsibility. Dawlish centralized administrative functions and condensed the Department into two main Offices, Magical Law Enforcement and Improper Use of Magic. Hed promoted James Proudfoot to head the Improper Use of Magic Office, which housed the various smaller offices like the Misuse of Muggle Artifacts and the Underage Use of Magic. Overall, Dawlish set about rebuilding the Enforcement arm of the Ministry to a level of professionalism and quality that had been shattered by the repeated crises over the years. Harry had made the Office of Aurors his own. In reality, he had two responsibilities. First, he headed up the Office of Aurors. The loss of four Aurors to promotion had opened the door to four new trainee openings. Harry felt fortunate because hed been able to use Nevilles position at Hogwarts to identify candidates for the positions. Harry had promoted Williamson to fill his old spot as team leader and had moved Elizabeth Cavendish over to assume Proudfoots team. Harrys second responsibility was to assume control of the Ministrys Hit Team. Harry had tapp ed Dennis Creevey to lead the Hit Team. Dennis had been instrumental in rebuilding the team and had earned the top spot. The hallmark of Harrys leadership style was to stress training. To that end, he was constantly drilling the Auror Teams and the Hit Team in the training arena. On some occasions, hed put one team versus another. In others, hed invite guest lecturers to take their try at some of the teams. During one recent session, Harry and Kingsley Shacklebolt had taken on two full teams of Aurors and had held their own for a while. The repeated training sessions, however, had crafted very competent fighters, and Ron and Lachlans team, in particular, had soon made short work of Harry and Kingsley. Overall, the Office of Aurors was approaching peak efficiency, and Harry was enjoying being back at the teaching helm once more. Today, Harry was perusing an application for Auror training that had raised his eyebrows. Seated in front of him was a recent Hogwarts graduate, a Slytherin, no less. On his desk, Harry scanned a letter of introduction from his friend Neville Longbottom, a professor at the school. Harry,

I know youre going to be surprised, but Id like to recommend Silas Hornsby for entry to Auror training. Youre rehabilitation plan worked splendidly. Ever since his encounter with you and his subsequent punishment, hes been overwhelmingly superb at his studies. Hes scored Outstandings on his NEWTs and hes professed a desire to be an Auror, no doubt because of the impact you had on him three years ago. As a side note, Mr. Hornsby has single-handedly changed the image of the House of Slytherin. Hes been forthright and fair. Hes made a remarkable effort to integrate his House with the rest of Houses of Hogwarts. People can change, Harry. I think youll find that Mr. Hornsby has done that. By the by, you will find an endorsement of this recommendation from Professor Slughorn as well at the bottom of this letter. My warmest regards to the family, Neville. Harry touched a hand to his chin and stared thoughtfully at Silas Hornsby. The boy was growing to manhood and the overweight bully had turned into a leaner, quieter version of the past. Harry stroked his chin and put the paper down. Professor Longbottom seems to think highly of you, Silas. Do you remember our last encounter? It had been on Sarahs first outing as Harrys trainee. Hornsby and his friend, Mortimer Gafney, had been taunting muggles using stolen wands. Instead of sending them straightaway to Azkeban, Harry had given them a second chance to redeem themselves, under the watchful eye of Neville Longbottom. The anxious applicant swallowed and nodded. Whats become of your friend, Mr. Gafney? Harry sat back in his chair and steepled his finger s in thought. Hes well, sir. Hes still got one more year, but hes the head boy for Ravenclaw. Hes feeling kind of left out, but I think he wants to apply as well, when he graduates. Harry made a mental note to send an owl to Kingsley to see if the new Defense Against the Dark Arts professor could make an assessment of young Gafney over the coming year. I see. Why do you want to be an Auror, Silas? The question was simple, but the most telling part of any interrogation is usually the simplest question. Hornsby allowed his eyes to fall, the question had been posed before, but never had it meant so much. He took a deep breath and just let the truth come out. There isnt any one reason, sir. I want my life to mean something. I want to do good, but part of it is shame, if I can be blunt. I wasnt the best person to people, growing up, sir. You can attest to that. I want to make up for those mistakes, as well. Harry nodded and leaned forward. Without a word, he took a parchment and scribbled some lines on it. Harry waved his wand over the paper and it folded itself into a glider and flew out the door. Harry sat for a few moments, pretending to review paperwork on this desk. He watched as Silas stewed a bit, beads of sweat coming off his brow. Soon a knock came at Harrys door. You wanted to see me, Harry? Sarah Peebles walked into Harrys office. Yes, Sarah, you remember Mr. Hornsby, dont you? Sarah took in the youth and her eyes widened in recognition. Good, Mr. Hornsby has applied to be accepted into Auror training. Sarahs eyes grew larger; the implication that Harry was even remotely considering the possibility surprised her.

Ive decided to admit him to the program. Harry turned to Silas, who gulped in astonis hment. Mr. Hornsby, Auror Training is neither easy nor to be taken lightly, however, like Professor Longbottom, I believe in second chances. Everyone can change. Silas nodded gratefully and looked hesitantly over at Sarah, whom he definitely remembered. Ms. Peebles will be your tutor. You will listen to everything she says, and maybe, youll make it through. How well you do all depends on your commitment. Any questions? Hornsby shook his head slightly and rose from his seat. Harry reached out and shook his hand. Good, you start Monday at eight AM. Dont be late. Hornsby gave Sarah a nod and took his leave out the door, his feet barely touching the ground. Sarah watched him leave. I dont understand, Harry, dont you remember what he did? Harry pointed Sarah to a seat. Of course I do, but Neville believes hes changed and thats good enough for me. Everyone deserves a second chance, wouldnt you agree? Sarah face reddened. Once upon a time, Sarah had been branded as unredeemable and Harry had taken on the responsibility as her tutor, offering her a second chance. Harrys face softened, Youll be fine, Sarah. Train Silas as an Auror youd want in your Spear, its as simple as that. Sarah chuckled. How many times has that been used on you? Twice, but Lachlan and Dawlish were great teachers. Harry returned her laugh. Ill do my best, thanks Harry. She rose and left his office. He watched the door as she left; his mind drifting back to the time when he was her tutor. Theyd both come a long way, since then. *** Harry consulted his watch and hurriedly threw his remaining paperwork into its appropriate bins. He grabbed his satchel and a carefully wrapped gift and ran out the door. He grabbed the first available lift and ran to the exit Floo with a quick nod to Eric Munch at his security desk. Harry was immediately transported to the Burrow. His appearance in the Weasleys living room was greeted by a huge roar from the twenty or so people gathered there. Surprise! Harry stood dumbfounded. He was supposed to be running late for James first birthday. Instead, he was greeted by banners and balloons proclaiming his own birthday, which he shared with his son. He scanned the assembled party goers and found his wife, holding James. He gave her a look, but she simply put James down and the newly turned one year olds eyes lit up when he saw his father. Ginny had placed James down on his feet and slowly, the child was determined to make his way to Harry. His first steps were unsteady and he waved his arms to right himself. Slowly, he picked up momentum, and he practically raced the last few paces into his fathers arms. Harry quickly forgot the din of applause around him as he lifted his son up. Happy Birthday, James! Harry smiled and gave his son a hug and a kiss. Da! His sons word was declarative. He knew who held him and that was all that mattered. Harrys heart burst and he turned to greet the well wishers around him, not letting go of James. After a moment, James began to squirm a bit, and Harry put him down on the ground. Freed to meander about, the toddler began to stumble around the living room, his inquisitive hands touching everything in sight. Subtly, Ginny edged her body around the room, strategically redirecting her child away from trouble areas.

The party began in earnest as Harrys friends and family made the occasion a celebration of his birthday, as well as James. Harry spotted Dennis and Cho with their heads together in the corner of the room. Making his rounds to greet the guests, Harry maneuvered his way over to the newlyweds. So, how is married life treating you? Harry shook hands with Dennis and offered a kiss on Chos cheek. Its better than I could ever imagine! Dennis beamed at Harry and Cho face colored visibly at the attention. I knew it would. Thats what weve all found. Harry clapped his large friend on the back. Harry took in the scene. Sarah and Lee were standing with Ginny. The two girls were chatting animatedly about the plans for Sarahs wedding. Lees eyes were drifting, looking for someone to rescue him from the talk of table settings and invitations. Having had to suffer through the same situation before, Harry knew exactly what Lee was going through and decided to leave him to his fate. Harry noticed Ron and Hermione sitting quietly on the sofa. Harry hadnt had a chance to talk to them since hed arrived. He excused himself from Dennis and walked over to where his friends were sitting. There was a kind of tension in the air between them, not necessarily like theyd been fighting, just awkwardness. Happy Birthday, Harry. Hermione was reserved, and a little shy about the greeting. Harry gave her a curious look and then turned to Ron. Yes, Happy Birthday, mate. Rons greeting seemed preoccupied. Something was on his mind. OK, out with it. Whats eating you two? Harrys bluntness caused Hermione to blush deeply, not the reaction that Harry had expected, neither did expect the same result from Ron. Whats going on? Harry put his hands on his hips. Ron gave Hermione a questioning glance and she nodded. Ron turned back to his friend. We didnt think that this was the right time to tell you, being that its your birthday and all. Harry gave Ron a hard look, telling him to get on with it. Well, you see, Hermione and I, well, were going to have a baby. Harrys face lit up in a wave of emotion. Ginny saw his reaction and made her way over to her husband. She gave him a questioning look, especially considering the expressions on Ron and Hermiones faces. Harry put an arm around his wife. Thats amazing! Ron and Hermione are going to have a baby! Ginny couldnt contain herself and flung her arms around the couple. The ado drew stares from their friends and family. Molly Weasley stopped for a moment and then drew near, understanding what would drive her daughter to such hysterics. Molly made her way over. Is it true? The nod from her youngest son caused a wave of emotion to sweep Molly. Oh dears, thats wonderful. Arthur! Get over here! Youre going to be a granddad again! The party became especially festive with the expectant couple becoming the center of attention. Unseen in the corner of the room, little James had been startled by the commotion that surrounded the big people. He quickly recovered and noticed that his watchdog that had been keeping him from feeling the smooth items on a nearby table had disappeared. Pleased with his anonymity, James made his way to an end table and started to reach his hand over to pick up the glass encased heirloom, its sharp and shiny points beckoning his little fingers. Just before he

reached the glass, a hand came and guided his away from the impending accident. Nonplussed, James looked up at the source offending hand, intending to demonstrate his displeasure at being foiled in his quest. Before he could allow himself to be irritated, James was distracted by his savior. A quiet giggle began to turn into a genuine bout of laughter in the boy. He held up his hands to be picked up by his guardian. Ginny stood among the crowd and suddenly felt the quick mothers panic as she realized shed lost track of her son. She glanced around the room and found James. He was sitting on Teddys lap and laughing hysterically as Teddy changed his hair color, much to the little boys delight. Victoire sat to the side, between James and his original object of interest, the table holding the sharp crystal stars that were an affectation of Mollys. Ginny smiled at the scene and then turned to soak in the love of family and friends that were gathered around. Ginny had her own news to share, but shed save it for later. This moment was for Ron and Hermione; shed tell Harry later that he too, would be a father again. Ginny pat her stomach and laughed at some inane joke that George was telling. Chapter 79 The Department of Mysteries Just south of the main shipping terminal in Portsmouth, lies the Royal Garrison Church. Its roof had been laid asunder by a German bombing raid in 1941, so the main sanctuary lay open to the elements. A light drizzle showered the five men meeting in the church. The low cloud cover and the darkness of the night kept their gathering secluded from their surroundings. Four of the men were wearing royal blue robes. Their skin was leathery, the effect of decades exposed to the elements. Their robes were short, revealing matching bloused pantaloons tucked into short, black leather working boots. Their forearms were adorned with various tattoos, testament to their obvious years at sea. Each had an identical tattoo on their right forearm. It was an elongated anchor with a sea serpent intertwined with the shanks of the anchor. When they were in proximity of each other, the tattooed serpent writhed, much like it was doing now. They were the Brotherhood of the Blue Tar, an ancient society of mariners when it began. Over the years, the Brotherhood had transformed itself into practitioners of the Dark Arts who delved into the mysteries of the sea. Fate and ambition had brought them to this place and they faced the fifth man with noticeable interest. The man was garbed in a sea worn pea coat, its wool exterior repelling the collected droplets of precipitation that rolled down his sleeves. He looked somewhere between thirty and fifty years old, the weather beaten features of his face offering wrinkles that the condensation would pool and overflow from. His eyes glowed red, an evil aura punctuated by the large vulture sitting on his shoulder. In the background, Portsmouth Harbor twinkled in a flurry of light and mist and the man strained to find the masts of his vessel, moored to a hidden wooden dock outside the church. Ever since the ship, owned and operated by the four men present, had docked in this busy port on New Years Eve, hed been out and about collecting intelligence on their goal. He smiled and offered his feathered companion a slice of raw meat to gnaw on. He pet the top of the vultures head with his opposite hand. Good boy, Carrion, now make sure were not disturbed. Hed conjured some of the best disguising spells he could muster, ensuring that prying eyes would not see their gathering from the outside. The massive vulture rose into the air and began a slow circle of the area, its keen eyes on the watch for intruders. The object we seek is in the Department of Mysteries. The changes in the administration will make our quest even harder. The Hit Teams guarding the key are much more vigilant than wed thought. He allowed that thought to permeate his followers brains. They were undertaking something completely radical and complications from the Ministrys guardians would pose a significant threat to their success.

The tallest of the blue-clad men was picking at his fingernails with an ancient dirk. So, what does that mean for retrieving the key? Cameron, it means well have to be more effective with our plan. We have to proceed, nonetheless. His crimson orbs took in each of their faces, individually. Its a large risk, but I dont see where we have a choice. This drew a sneer from a hard looking wizard, his smile revealing several gaps in his mouth where time, tide and a hard life at sea had robbed him of s ome of his teeth. If the Dark Lord couldnt find success in the Ministry, what makes you think that we stand a chance? The leader hissed his anger evident. I am not the Dark Lord. He straightened the front of his robe and continued. Our objective has never changed, and the key is vital for our long term goals. Whats the problem, Tyler, do you no longer have the stomach for our quest? The man called Tyler chortled, not obviously afraid of the man. Be that as it may, whether I have the stomach or not, we still have to deal with the guards and recover the key. How do you propose to do that, Reginald? The man called Reginald took a deep breath, his patience thinning, now that he was so close to his goal. Patience, Tyler. If we stick to the original plan, the number of guards will be irrelevant. We have to take the key, which is the most important goal here. Tyler shrugged his shoulders. In addition to the bond he had with the Brotherhood, his thoughts turned to the galleons that were lining his pocket. He had to give it to the old man, he paid well. What about the guards at the Department of Mysteries? Tyler hadnt given up the ghost on his conversation, so he steered the discussion to the plan. As I as saying, we need to strik e fast and get into the Department of Mysteries forthwith. Reginald accepted the nods of his compatriots as acquiescence. Is the ship ready? The man, whod spoken earlier, Cameron, looked over at Reginald with an exasperated smile. Were as ready as well ever be. Just say the word and we can sail. He spoke with an indistinguishable brogue, as if a life at sea had eliminated any traces of his origin or birthplace, which is why hed stayed on as a sea captain. The Malitia will be ready when you are. Reginald nodded and drew the group closer. Well strike in the next two days. When we get the key, be ready to shove off. Were so close; I dont want to make a mistake. You three, he pointed at everyone save for the captain. He laid out a map which held the interior design of the Ministry of Magic. This is the plan. The others moved in to hear their parts of the design. *** Hermione sat at her desk in the near the Wizengamot. Her efforts on behalf of House-Elves and their emancipation had brought about the abolition of the House-Elf Relocation Office. Shed been promoted to the Department of Magical Law Enforcement to oversee the crafting of laws and procedures on handling the day to day interactions between the magic world and its new citizens. The upside was that she had a direct hand in how the law could be applied to HouseElves, plus she had an office that was not to far from Rons. The downside was that her workload increased ten-fold. Shed always wanted to work in the Law Enforcement Department but had no idea how massive the undertaking would be. She gave a sigh and leaned back in her chair. She placed her hand on her stomach and imagined she could feel the life growing within. She allowed herself a smile. The work she did never really overwhelmed her. Now it was even more important to help design a better world for

her and Rons child. Her brain wrangled through the many twists and turns her life had taken and she smiled how all the roads seemed to lead back to Ron. Her husband had taken her announcement very well and she was pleased that Ginny was going through the process at the same time. Harry had regaled Ron about the horror stories of dealing with an expectant mother, and for the first week or so, Ron had walked on eggshells around her. She soon righted his expectations, telling Ron that cravings were only a myth. Still, for some reason, the idea of mixing peanut butter and anchovies seemed to call to her. Galleon for your thoughts? The voice startled her out of her daydreaming. She turned to the door and found her husband standing there, leaning against the jamb. His arms were crossed and he had a small grin on his face. Her heart raced, like the first time she realized that he felt the same way she did about him. Hed lost his insecure expression sometime back, when he realized that he was a fine Auror and he was doing something he was good at. She took in the sight of him as his long, dark red hair contrasted nicely with the ebon robes he wore. She saw his bare forearm which was taut, rippled with a musculature crafted from days and days of hard training. She noticed the twinkle in his eyes; the Weasley trait of irreverence shooting a bolt of electricity across the void to her. What are you doing here? He stood straight and walked in the door. He plopped himself in the chair in front of her desk and rested his feet on the top. Its almost six, were you planning on calling it a day, any time soon? His voice held no trace of bitterness or rebuke. He was toying with her. Maybe. Ive still got loads to do, unless you have a better offer. Hermione was already packing her things in her beaded bag. Ron smiled. Well, I can think of a few things that you could do instead of work. Y ou could go ahead and schedule a root canal with your mum, if you like. She laughed and rose to go. With an offer like that, how can I refuse? He rose with her and grasped her hand. She looked up at him. Maybe, I can think of something that doesnt involve Novocain? Ron laughed and escorted her out the door. Somewhere in the back of his mind, he remembered a conversation hed had with Harry about some interesting changes during a womans pregnancy. Perhaps, this was one of the good ones? They walked out the door and down the hall to the lifts. They talked idly about their day at work and exchanged silent looks as they commented on the people they saw. The climbed aboard a lift and easily exited with the flow of the crowd in the Atrium. Hermione watched as Rons eyes roved the crowd, assessing for danger, while still maintaining solid eye contact with her. He was good at what he did. They walked to the exit floos and departed for their apartment. As Ron and Hermione disappeared into their floo, across the hall, four men appeared in the entry floos. They were wearing blue workmans clothes and looked like ubiquitous maintenance men. A close observer would see that everything was in order, including the official looking tool boxes they carried. Everything was in order, save for the worn black boots on their feet. They were less workmens boots and more warriors boots. In the bustle of the rush hour crowd, no one took notice of the anomaly. Reginald, his eyes hidden behind a dark pair of glasses, led his three cohorts to Eric Munchs security desk. He gracefully placed his took kit down on the floor and faced the bored watch wizard. Magical Maintenance sent us. Reginald nodded to his compatriots. Theres a report of flooding on Level Ten, apparently someone ordered a squall that got messy. Munch barely raised an eyebrow. Theres a trial scheduled for tomorrow morning, and weve got to get the place cleared by then. Munch glared balefully at them for a moment and waved them through. Reginald nodded and led his men to the lifts.

The only way to access Courtroom Ten on the selfsame level was to get off on Level Nine. A door off the hallway led to a stairwell that went to Level Ten. Fortunately for Reginald, Level Nine also held the Department of Mysteries. They exited the lift and surveyed the area while they approached the door to Level Ten. Two members of Dennis Hit Team were patrolling the plain door that led to the Department of Mysteries. Reginald nodded to the men and made for the knob to the Level Ten door. Reginald gave a small wave to the two men behind him and in a flash of light; stunning spells leapt out and hit the two guards. One of the men raised his wand. Avada Ked Reginald pulled down the mans wand arm. No! Jacob, no Unforgiveables! The man called Jacob wheeled on the leader, venom in his eyes. What if theres a jinx on it? Youll have the whole Department of Magical Law Enforcement down on us! The man reluctantly relented, but kept his wand trained on the unconscious men. Incarcerous! Ropes leapt from the air and bound the still forms of the guards. Reginald checked his handiwork and led them to the single door at the end of the hall. They entered a circular room which held twelve doors. As soon as the four of them were fully in the chamber, the door behind them shut with a slam. His three companions jumped and the one called Jacob tried to turn the knob, finding the door locked. Were trapped! Reginald shushed him and conce ntrated on the doors. The walls of the room began to rotate, becoming blindingly rapid as he tried to determine the right door. After a moment, the room stopped spinning and the doors ground to a halt. Reginald smiled to himself and pulled a small black leather bound book from his pocket. He opened the book; its pages were brittle from age. He held up his wand and whispered an incantation in Greek. Apan Diyao. His wand glowed red, matching his own eyes. He approached a door on the wall. As the light touched the top of the doorframe, it revealed letters that seemed to tell the viewer what was behind the door. The first door was labeled The Brain Room. Reginald moved on to the next door, which revealed the words, The Time Room. He shook his head and moved to the next door, The Death Chamber. He continued on to the next door which was labeled, The Ancients. Reginald smiled and returned the book to his pocket. He tried the knob on the door and it opened easily. He stepped into a large, open room. The walls were of dusty stone, much like the interior of a cave or an Egyptian pyramid. There were rows and rows of shelves along the floor of the room. It was dark, save for the light of a lantern at the far end of the room. The lantern was sitting upon a beaten, scratched desk and a small, bookish man sat with his nose in a large ledger, writing on its pages. The man seemed to be cataloguing a nondescript scroll and hadnt noticed their entrance. The four interlopers walked silently down the main passageway, bypassing the thousands of artifacts that dotted the walls. They proceeded apace and finally reached the desk. The shadow they cast drew a questioning glance from the man, who looked up at them. Who are you? Youre not supposed to be here. He rose from the desk and stood defiantly in front of them. Reginald chuckled at the mans moxie, but he did not have time for delays. Well leave soon enough, as soon as you give us Solons Key. The man shuddered. His eyes darted fr om man to man as he contemplated a way out.

I dont know what youre talking about. The man started stepping backwards. He cast an eye at his wand, which was tantalizingly out of reach, resting upon a battered lunch pail. You probably have the wrong room. Reginald was impressed by the mans fortitude, but time was of the essence. With a quick draw of his wand, he made his move. Legilimens! Reginald had asked the question first, bringing the location of the key to the front of the caretakers m ind. It was a simple matter to pull the location from the man, who collapsed in a heap when Reginald lowered his wand. With a smile, Reginald walked the aisles until he found the one he was looking for. He scanned the shelves and pulled down a tight burlap bundle with a catalog number affixed to it. Slowly, he untied the twine holding the bundle together and unrolled the coarse fabric until a glint of gold caught his eye. He was holding an old, golden key. It was large, about the size of his hand and it had letters in ancient Greek and Egyptian hieroglyphics etched in its body. Reginald removed his darkened glasses and his eyes grew a brighter shade of red as he rolled the key in his hand. Giving a triumphant shout, he motioned for his followers to leave, their goal accomplished. Clive Scatterbaugh was not a brave man. For over fifty years, the small, frail wizard had spent his life studying and categorizing the objects in the Ancients Room. Hed never been subject to a mind bending assault like the one that had wrested the location of Solons Key from his head. He felt woozy and through the blurriness, he saw the figures making a dash for the door. He cherished every item in the room, but felt an extraordinary sense of dread about the loss of the key and what it meant for the world. Slowly, he pulled himself to his hands and knees and crawled to a clear glass jar that sat on the edge of his desk. In simple magic marker, the jar had writing on it. It said, In Case of Emergency, Break Glass. Clive raised his arm. His hand shook from the effort. Slowly, he used his fingertips to push the jar over the edge of the desk. Seemingly, as if in slow motion, he watched the glass urn fall to the floor, shattering into thousands of pieces. As he fell back into unconsciousness, he heard the ear-splitting wail of a caterwaul charm echo through the room and out into the Ministry. He allowed the darkness to overtake him with a smile. *** Dennis sat in Harrys office, briefing him on the latest training session for the Hit Team. As they were about to wrap up, the loud alarm of the caterwaul charm assaulted their ears. Dennis stood up immediately and drew his wand. Harry followed him out the door, into the main office area. Several heads popped up over the cubicles, as the on call Hit Team and the night duty Aurors started moving towards the door. Its the Department of Mysteries! Harry shouted and was rewarded by the sight of his Aurors and Hit Team responding automatically. Harry looked over to Dennis who was running with him. Which room? Silently, Harry hoped it wasnt the Death Chamber, the room still haunted him. Dennis looked thoughtful, its the Ancients Room! That was no better, thought Harry. The Ancients Room held items that no one alive had any clue about. Any one of them could mean the end of the world as they knew it. They reached the lifts and tore for several narrow doors to the side which held metal poles in their midst. Harry turned to Dennis. You go for the Atrium and see if you can cut whoever they are off. Ill take the Aurors to Level Nine! Dennis nodded and immediately led his team to the opening labeled Atrium. Without a second thought, he careened down the pole, the chute taking him to the Atrium. Harry jumped down the chute labeled Level Nine and emerged from a corresponding opening near Department of Mysteries almost immediately. He raised his wand and gestured for Williamson to deploy his team. The crimson-clad Auror nodded and spread out his team. Coombs and Burby took the left side of the hall, while Manchester and Sigismund covered the doorway to Level Ten. Sarah hung back with her trainee, Silas Hornsby. Harry noted that the young man looked afraid, yet had his wand out, ready to do battle. Harry raised his

hand and moved to the motionless figures of the guards. They were alive but bound tightly. He severed their bonds and raised one to a seated position. They just came through, sir. You just missed them. Theyre dressed like Magical Ma intenance Workers! Harry nodded and gestured for Burby and Coombs to follow him. Williamson needed no instructions from Harry. He pointed to Sigismund and Manchester, who entered the Department of Mysteries to see if they could find out what had happened to the caretaker. Sarah, Silas and Williamson stayed to care for and interrogate the guards. Harry and his team ran into the opening marked Atrium and shot upwards when they touched the pole. Immediately, they were transported to the Atrium, right into a maelstrom of spells as Dennis team had intercepted the fleeing thieves. Harry took cover behind the fountain and saw Dennis exchanging spells with a pseudo-maintenance man on the far side of the Atrium. Wordlessly, Harry signaled to Dennis that hed take his team around the flank. Harry moved rapidly and got to a good firing position behind a column. He let fly a stunning curse that was blocked by the tall man in the center of the suspects circle. Harry caught sight of the mans eyes, the coursing red aura shocking him, momentarily. Suddenly, caught off guard, the pillar next to Harry exploded, as did the statue that Dennis had been hiding behind. Harry was thrown from his feet and landed awkwardly on the marble floor, the air rushing from his lungs. Dennis rolled to his right and let fly a spell that caught one of the trailing men in the middle of the back, knocking him to the floor senseless. Without hesitating, Dennis ran towards the fleeing men. Reginald saw that time was against them. Without a word, he left Jacob to his fate and leapt into the floo exit, closely trailed by his two remaining men. Dennis ran up to the floos and jumped directly into the residue of the previous transit, closely trailed by Burby and Coombs and three members of his Hit Team. Harry rolled over and tried to rise, but the pain from some obviously cracked ribs stopped his momentum. He surveyed the room and bound the one wizard that had been captured quickly. A lift door opened, and Sarah led Clive Scatterbaugh into the Atrium. She gave a worried look at Harry, who waved her concern away. The caretaker for the Ancients Room was sputtering endlessly. Seeing Harry, he ran over and grabbed the Head of the Office Aurors by the shoulders. Harry winced as the pain of his injuries coursed through his body. Youve got to stop them! Theyve got Solons Key! Harry looked at the man, an uncomprehending look in his face. You dont understand! The exasperated little man allowed the pitch of his voice to rise. Solons Key is the Key to Atlantis! Harry stared at the crazed man, the shock emanating from his green eyes and the fear of understanding weighing on his aching bones.

Chapter 80 Harry Potter and the Argonauts A thunder of smoke and light announced Dennis Creeveys arrival. He barreled out of the giant stone hearth and found himself standing in the ruins of an old church. Panes of stained glass cast a kaleidoscope of color on the rotted pews while the open night sky beckoned through the opening that was the remains of the roof top. Within moments, a corresponding flash announced the disapparatures of Burby, Coombs and three members of his hit team. Dennis gave them a quick nod and they spread out in search of their prey. The smell of salt air overpowered his senses; he was near the sea and he heard the rustle of waves and the distinct sounds of men working. Dennis moved towards the door at the far end of the chapel. He took a peek out the doorway and saw the masts of a sailing vessel out in the open blackness of the night. A heavy mist had fallen and the ship itself was shrouded from his sight.

The six Law Enforcement officers made their way to a long pier. They saw lanterns swaying in the breeze and could barely make out men working aloft in the rigging of the ship at the far end of the pier. The fog seemed to be centered on the quay, hiding the vessel from prying eyes. For a moment, Dennis thought he saw a large shape gliding across the night sky, but then it disappeared into the mist. The menacing shadow sent chills down his spine and caused Dennis to tense, as he led the men down the pier. Reginald Thornton stood near the helm of the Malitia watching her crew scurry to make its preparations to depart. Her captain, Cameron Forsythe, stood next to him, directing the efforts of the thirty or so similarly clad sailors, prodding them to move faster. The large vulture landed on Thorntons shoulder and touched its head to his. Giving the hideous bird a pat on the bill, he turned to the captain. We have visitors, on the pier. Forsythe grimaced and looked over to the thick squat man standing at the top of the gangway. Mr. Cavanaugh, prepare to repel boarders. The threat is approaching down the pier. Gibson Cavanaugh acknowledged his captains orders and pulled ten men out of the ships preparations. Cavanaugh was older, his skin taut against his bones, giving him a skeletal look. His blue robes hung loosely on his shoulder and his face was marked by large scars that terminated in an eye patch covering his left eye. His hair was jet black, cut close to the scalp. He ran down the gangway and positioned his men among the crates and barrels that dotted the pier. Dennis and his team walked through the mist. The outlines of a ship began to form in the distance. It was a ketch rigged sailing vessel, one large single mast in the center and a smaller mizzen mast just in front of the helm. It was roughly sixty meters in length and painted the darkest black. Barnacles dotted the sides, some preventing the various gun ports from closing fully. Its sails were tattered; giving the overall impression of a ghost ship, save for the flurry of activity on its deck. Dennis glanced around the pier and caught a flash of red light in his chest. He was flung to the hard boards of the pier. Coombs immediately returned the fire while Burby pulled Dennis behind a large cast-iron bollard on the edge of the pier. Dennis rubbed his chest and pulled back the tear in his robe, revealing the Weasley Counterspell Shirt hed been wearing. The Defense items that Weasleys Wheezes had produced were lesser known among the general public, but prized among the members of Dennis hit team for their efficacy. This one had saved him from bearing the brunt of the last curse. Dennis gave a reassuring glance to Burby and stood with his wand raised. The air was alive with a myriad of light and sound. The Aurors and the Hit Team were taking fire from the pier and from the ship, including the tops. Dennis heard an explosion as the wood planks of the pier disintegrated under the feet of one his Hit Team. The man fell through the hole into the black water below. Coombs was everywhere at once. The rail thin man was a dynamo, casting a spell, and then moving to another position. He heard the tell tale sound of a body falling as he threw another spell down range. Despite his efforts, they Ministry representatives were barely making headway and Dennis began to realize that the thieves were likely to get away. Dennis reached into his satchel and pulled a silver salad fork out. He smiled and looked over to Burby, who was engaging the sailors directly on the ship. Cover me! Burby nodded and began to fling larger shield and stunning spells out towards the enemy. A loud horn sounded from the ship. Soon the fire from the pier began to slacken, indicating that the men on the pier were embarking and the ship was beginning to get underway. Dennis rushed towards the ship, whose bow was now swinging away from the pier and turning to face towards the sea. As the high walls of the ketch came to an appropriate angle to their position on the pier, Dennis could see the several rusty and decrepit looking cannons being run out their port holes. He ran with a desperation, knowing that time was against him. He saw the barrels of the guns glow red and then a rush of light hit the pier, causing the entire portion where

his men and Dennis had been to explode in a shower of wood and water. Dennis was thrown forward, towards the ship and he landed with a heavy splash in the water, just to its stern. He struggled in the inky blackness of the water and pulled himself towards the ship. Approaching to within a foot or so of the large rudder, he jabbed the fork into the dark wood of the rudder, its tines imbedding deep into its grain. Dennis tread water for a few moments, as the dark ship disappeared into the night. He read the name Malitia on its stern and he watched as the aft lantern disappeared into the night and fog. Dennis turned around and swam back to the remains of the pier to see if any of his colleagues had survived. *** The conference room was full, most of the available Aurors plus Harry, Dawlish and Arthur Weasley were listening intently to the briefing that Clive Scatterbaugh was giving them as to the nature of the purloined key. The aging intellectual was animatedly describing how Plato told the story of a Greek poet and legislator named Solon, whod made his way to Egypt and discovered the story of Atlantis. Atlantis was an island, somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean. It was founded by Poseidon and a mortal woman named Cleito. The woman, Cleito founded a bustling society filled with magic and power centered on her palace which rest on a hill in the center of the island. She and Poseidon had ten sons who became the rulers of Atlantis. They build a seafaring power, which included building a system of canals that connected their mothers palace with the main city of Metropolis. The old man took a deep breath and looked around the room. He continued. Solons key opens the vault in Cleitos Palace. It supposedly holds Poseidons Scepter, which among other things, grants ultimate power to whoever wields it. What do you mean by ultimate power? Harrys question resonated around the room. Immortality, Invincibility, Alchemy. Whoever holds the scepter would hold power over the oceans, they would have the ability to rule the world. A murmur spread through the room. Ron leaned over and whispered to Harry, Great, another Im going to rule the world, plot. Why cant we just chase broom speeders for once? Harry couldnt help himself, he laughed drawing looks from the rest. Harry quickly regained his composure. How does he intend to find Atlantis? He has the key to the palace, but do we know where hes heading? By the way, do we know who he is? Harry looked around to blank stares. A feeling of helplessness was beginning to descend when the door burst open. A rather soaked Dennis Creevey walked in followed closely by Lachlan McCrory. Lachlan spoke first. We just interrogated the prisoner. We used Veritaserum with your permission, Minister. Arthur nodded towards Lachlan, asking him to continue. His name is Jacob Lobo. Hes a member of the Brotherhood of the Blue Tar. Only a few of the people in the room recognized the name. Williamson was one. Thats preposterous. Those blokes were always crack pots. They never struck me as having the brains to do something like this, nor the resources either. Theres never more than one or two of them, trying to work on as day laborers on the docks. They dont even have a ship, much less a Brotherhood. Williamson snorted in contempt. They have a ship now, and Ive got two dead Hit T eam members and two wounded Aurors to attest to the power of it. Its called the Malitia and they sailed from Portsmouth about half an hour ago. Dennis report stunned them. Williamson immediately rose, his concern for Burby and Coombs evident. Theyre soaked, but theyre no worse for the wear, they should be back here within the hour. Relieved, Williamson returned to his seat.

So how did this second-rate yachting club get this idea, much less pull it off? Dawlish looked back over to Lachlan who continued. They found a leader. Hes a man by the name of Reginald Thornton. The name did register to more of the onlookers. Reginald Thornton was once one of the intellectuals tasked with investigating the items in the Department of Mysteries. Along the way, he became infatuated with the Dark Arts and for a time, was the chief Ministry expert on the subject. During the first rise of Voldemort, Thornton watched with disconnected interest how the Dark Lord was initially defeated. While he never became an acolyte of the Dark Lord, Thornton had studied his every move plus the lives of several other practitioners of the Dark Arts. He imbedded himself in the practices and found himself fired from his position at the Ministry as his objectivity was severely compromised. Hed sworn revenge, but had not been heard from in over ten years. Now, according to Lachlan, he was back, planning the ultimate revenge. We still dont know which they are heading. Atlantis could be anywhere from the Atlantic to Timbuktu and anywhere in between. Harry scanned the crowd and saw Dennis grinning. What is it Dennis? I have a way to track them. All eyes centered on the large soggy man in front of them. Carefully, Dennis laid out a thin square of balsa wood, roughly a half inch thick and a foot square. On its surface was painted a circle with the cardinal directions marked with letters. Dennis then laid a silver stirring spoon in the center of the compass rose. The spoon turned on its axis until it stopped on the position labeled SSW. The spoon shone a distinct greenish color, that darkened ever so slightly. Its one of Weasleys Wheezes anti-theft items. Dudley calls it a Forkjack. Its supposed to keep someone from stealing your silver. I put the tracking fork in their ship and we can follow them using this board. The spoon changes color based on distance. The redder it is, the closer you are. Dennis looked around the room. Arthur was beaming, considering that George and his partners had come up with another ingenious invention. It looks like we have a pursuit on our hands. Harry looked over to Dawlish who nodded. Mr. Scatterbaugh, based on the general direction, any hypothesis on where theyre going? The caretaker laid out a chart of the Atlantic Ocean on the table. He took a measurement and followed the track of the Malitias from Portsmouth. After a moment, he nodded. Most likely, hes heading to Bimini Road. Empty faces greeted his announcement. Its near the Bahamas. He hesitated once more. Its in the center of the Bermuda Triangle. Again the temperature in the room dropped, the mission becoming more dangerous by the second. Harry stood and started issuing instructions and questions. Ill lead this one. Ill take a minimal team. Williamson, is your team up for it? The senior Auror nodded, but interjected. Id like to leave Sarah here. Shes got a trainee and I dont think Silas is quite ready for this yet. Sarah wanted to argue, but her leader was right. That makes sense; well take someone from another team. Minister, do we have a ship we can use? Harry turned towards his father-in-law, who was deep in thought. After a moment, he nodded. We have a contract with a brig in Plymouth called the Discooperire. We use her for diplomatic missions and as a revenue cutter from time to time. She should fit the bill. The captain is a bit of a head case, just crazy enough to take this on. Ill have the papers drawn up. Youll have them within the hour.

Excellent. Williamson, tell your team to pack and meet me at the Plymouth docks by dawn. That should put us in a chase position, but itll give everyone the chance to put their affairs in order. Williamson nodded and hurried out the door, his team quickly following. Harry began to gather up the briefing materials. Dennis came up to him. Harry, I should go with you. My team could be of great help. Harry smiled. No, Dennis, your duty is here, guarding the Ministry, should we fail. You did great work, now its time for the Aurors to do ours. Now go home and change, youre starting to smell moldy. Dennis laughed, still disappointed and then head out the door. Harry walked out in the hall and felt a tug on his sleeve. Ron had caught up with hi m. Harry, when are we leaving? Im leaving after I talk to Lachlan. Hes going to take over for me when Im gone. You arent going anywhere. Ron gave his friend a hard look. What do you mean? You have a spot on your team, I should go. Ron pla ced his hands on his hips. Im filling that spot with Aaron Steuben from Cavendishs team. You are not going, Ron, thats final. Harry began to walk towards his office, but Ron stopped him again. But why, Harry? Why would you leave me out of this? Ive proven myself. You dont trust me? Is that it? Rons voice was defensive. Harry sighed and stared his friend in the face. Youre the best Auror I have, Ron. Thats one reason. This is sounding like a one way trip. I want you to stay, in cas e I dont come back, to make sure the Office stays sharp, ready for whatever comes . Whats the other reason, Harry? Whats the real reason? Rons voice was low, somber at his friends frank confession. Ron, youre about to be a father. You need to be here for that time. Hermione needs you. I need to know that James godfather will be here to watch over him, if I dont come back. Your duty and your responsibility is here Ron. Ill feel better if I know youll watch over my family. Can you do that for me? Ron nodded, but he couldnt help but shake the feeling that Harry was telling him goodbye. Harry embraced Ron and then walked down the corridor, on his way home. *** Dawn came sooner than hed wanted. Harry was standing in the doorway of James room watching his sons chest move rhythmically in his slumber. James lay on his back, a broad grin on his face as whatever he dreamt of caused him delight. No doubt, Harry thought, he was dreaming of hair changing colors. Harry felt her arms reach around him and with one last look at James, he turned to face Ginny. She smiled at him, but her eyes filled with worry. I dont know if I can do this, Harry. I dont know if I can go without knowing if youre alright. Her voice trembled. Ive been thinking about that. He reached into a pocket and handed her a cloth -wrapped object. She opened the cloth and saw a shard of broken mirror. Her eyes opened in wonder. Id almost forgotten about this, but Aberforth gave me the other piece a few months back. We can talk every night, if you want.

She smiled and wrapped her arms tight around him. They kissed deeply their hearts beating together in time. He touched a finger to her lips and walked down the stairs. She heard the clap of thunder as he left to catch his ship. Ginny stared at James, but clung tightly to the piece of reflected glass in her hand. *** Harry walked down the long wharf to the spot where a large wooden ship stood with its masts high in the morning sun. It was a brig, highlighted by a broad beam and paired main masts. She was constructed of solid oak planking and her crew seemed to float from place to place, happy in their work. Harry spotted Williamson, who directing the loading of his team and their kit. Harry saw Burby and Coombs, both upright but the tell tale signs of bruises and bumps from the previous evenings adventure still evident. Harry walked up and boarded the ships quarterdeck and was greeted by a tall, tanned woman. Her eyes were light green and her jet black hair was pulled back into a pony tail, the end stretching down to almost the small of her back. She wore loose fitting pants and knee high riding boots with the pants tucked into the edges. Her blouse was starkly white, the top buttons opened down the front, contrasting nicely with her dark skin. Around her waist, she had a red sash, with a long rapier tucked into one side and a vicious dagger on the other. Her smile was radiant and Harry noticed that his male Aurors were having difficulty taking their eyes off her. She reached her hand out and shook his firmly. Ah, Signor Potter. My name is Adelina Herminia Liliana Virginia Barreto. I am the capitan of this vessel. Welcome to the Discooperire! Harry smiled, he didnt believe in coinc idences. Herminia? Liliana? Virginia? This seemed like a good omen, the names of three of the most important women in his life. The captain continued. Please, forgive my English, I am Brazilian. Usually, my first mate handles the communications. Ah, here she is. Signor Potter? This is my first mate. A stunningly gorgeous woman gave a slight bow to Harry. Her hair was a flaming red, the color of the dawn on the horizon. Her face was beautiful, highlighted by freckles and by the bluest of eyes Harry had ever seen. She wore form fitting black riding pants tucked into black leather boots. Her blouse was black, matching her pants, and her porcelain skin contrasted in the opposite way from her captains. Her lips were full and pouty and Harry wonde red what a few weeks at sea would do his Aurors in the presence of these two beauties. Like her captain, she had a red sash tied to her waist with a heavy cutlass tucked into the side. Around her neck, she wore a Bo suns pipe on a lanyard. The first mate offered her hand and spoke in a light Scottish lilt that fluttered around Harrys ears, Im Muireall Innes, first mate. Please let me know if theres anything I can do to make you and your party comfortable, anything at all. She smiled and bat her beautiful eyes at him. Harry gave a shake of his head. He was beginning to wonder what a few weeks at sea would do to him. He cinched up his carry all and walked onto the ship. Captain Barretos voice rang through the ship. Make ready to get underway, Numero One. Harry heard the mates melodic response, Aye, Captain! Prepare to cast off! The voices of the women sounded like those of an angel. Harry smacked himself on the forehead. Right now, those voices were more like a sirens call, than an angels melody. He put his bag down and glanced out towards the southwest. Somewhere out there, his target was making time against him. It was time to go to work. Harry grimly gripped the railing as the Discooperire caught the wind and began to fly across the waves. Chapter 81 Two Weeks The chase across the Atlantic bound apace. On several occasions, the Discooperire caught sight of black sails on the horizon, with the tracking spoon turning bright amber. Captain Barreto

maneuvered her vessel masterfully, but was hindered by passing squalls that interceded between the ships. On their first day out at sea, Harry briefed the lovely captain and her first officer on their mission. The gravity of the impending danger brought a brief moment of solemnity to their faces, however, the radiant smile on Captain Barretos face was not long lost. Gifted with a sense of timing and an inherent ability to focus on the positive, the captain accepted the challenge wholeheartedly. It seems to me, Signor Potter, that we must be ready for anything. The Bermuda Triangle will pose great risks, but this ship will be ready. The captain turned to her alluring first mate. Number One, I believe we need to start up General Quarters drills with the crew. Muireall Innes tossed back her flowing red hair and agreed with the captain, her voice causing Harrys pulse to accelerate. Aye, captain. Well work the gun crews and clear away the peacetime clutter. Mr. Potter, we need to discuss what we expect from your pe ople. Harry smiled and looked over at Williamson, who had remained quiet during the exchange. Were at your disposal, Ms. Innes. Mr. Williamson is in charge of the team. Where do you see us fitting in? Innes paused thoughtfully. From what I can s ee, your team is prepared for combat. I think well use them as a ready force to repel boarders or as a boarding party, depending on the circumstances. Ill work with Mr. Williamson to make sure were all working together, will that work for you Mr. Williamson? Williamson blushed, his face almost matching the fiery red of his robes. The noticeable effect that the first mate had on him made his voice catch in his throat. He simply nodded and gave a baleful glance at Harry. For his part, Harry appreciated his team leaders discomfort, but was exceedingly happy that the tempting first mate seemed to focus her charms on Williamson and not on Harry. Satisfied with their overall plan, Captain Barreto adjourned the meeting. In the time it took the Discooperire to reach the periphery of the Triangle, Harry scoured the scores of tomes that Mr. Scatterbaugh had provided them on both the Triangle and the Atlantis legend. Atlantis had been a mighty sea power whose dominance almost three thousand years ago rivaled that of Athens. The descendants of Cleito had, at first, concentrated on expanding their overall knowledge of science and magic. Somewhere along the line, their pursuits morphed into that of conquest. The Atlanteans had expanded their influence across the whole of North Africa and into the Mediterranean. They overpowered the Phoenician colonies in modern day Morocco and Libya and destroyed the first kingdom in Carthage. They had set their sights on Egypt which brought a direct confrontation with the empire in Athens. For decades, the Athenians got the worst of the fight. In a desperate move, the Athenians rallied the other city states in Greece and fought the Atlanteans to a standstill, culminating in a mighty sea battle near the Straits of Gibraltar. The battle lasted for three weeks and was a touch and go affair. In the end, the Athenians destroyed the flagship of the Atlantean king, Atlas. As a consequence of their defeat, the Atlanteans lost favor with Zeus and the gods of Olympus, including their patron Poseidon. A great cataclysm was visited on their island kingdom and in an orgy of earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, which sent Atlantis to places unknown, taking their riches and power with them. Overjoyed with their deliverance from conquest, Egyptian scholars in the great library of Alexandria shared the history of Atlantis with Solon, a Greek poet and legislator out of Athens. Solon wrote his chronicle and the key, which was taken from the fallen Atlas body. Years later, Plato wrote his own chronicle, but so relieved at their near loss to the Atlanteans, the history of Atlantis was buried, until now. Harry glanced at the spoon on the table near him. It was a canary yellow, indicating that the Malitia was well over the horizon, but still tracking to the Bimini Road. The best case was for

Harry to catch Thornton before they got to the mystical gateway, but he had to be prepared for chasing him up to Atlantis and into its exterior. Harry sat back and listened to the waves against the hull and the shouts of the sailors and Aurors on the main deck as they drilled to prepare for whatever form the confrontation took. Harrys eyes drifted to the small shard of mirror that sat near him. For the past two weeks, hed been getting updates from Ginny as to what was going on back home. Their conversations were about the mundane, which Harry relished because his mind would drift away from the unknown dangers theyd face. He particularly enjoyed hearing about Ron and his adventures as Hermion e dealt with her pregnancy. Ginny regaled him on goings on with the Weasley family: Arthur, George, Bill and of course, the antics of Teddy Lupin. Last nights conversation had been particularly memorable. Andromeda Tonks had taken to allowing Teddy to idle away hours at a time at the Diagon Alley location of Weasleys Wizard Wheezes. The precocious lad wandered the aisles and back store room checking out their wares. He was especially engaged in the product testing side of the business. He appreciated that George, Verity, Lee and Dudley welcomed his input on how humorous (or not) certain product lines would be. Harry was especially taken with how much Teddy had bonded with Dudley. George and Verity were usually swamped with the financial demands of the business and with the personal demands of carrying their relationship forward. Lee and Sarah were immersed in the planning for their upcoming wedding. While Dudley and Beatrice were also moving their relationship onwards, Dudley had taken it upon himself to fill the godfather role that had been lacking with Harrys absence. From Teddys perspective, he adored Dudleys attention. Dudley didnt treat him like a little kid, but more like a brother. Teddy liked Beatrice, especially because she worked at Flourish and Blotts. Teddy was becoming a voracious reader and consumed the books she recommended at a frightful rate. Between Beatrice and Dudley, who was more mechanically minded, Teddys summer was steeped in tinkering and reading. Dudley looked over at Teddy, who was perched on a high stool in the storeroom, watching Lee shoot spells at George, who was wearing a ring-mail vest. The spells were rebounding too sharply and the two were making adjustments to the protective charms. Hey Teddy, I h ave an idea, but Im going to need your help. Teddy jumped off the stool and walked over to Dudley. Every time Dudley had an idea, it usually involved tools and machines, and Teddy was always up for helping. What is it Uncle Dudley? Do we get to take something apart? How about a car? Dudley smiled at his exuberance. Ive been talking to your Uncle Arthur. Harrys motorbike is still sitting in his workshop under a tarp. I was thinking we could help him get in working condition for when Harry gets back. Do you feel like helping? Teddys eyes widened, this was something special. Oh yes, Uncle Dudley. Are we going to make it work better? Dudleys eyes grew excited which told Teddy that better may be an understatement. Oh yes. Tomorrow, were going to go to my apartment. Were going to watch some movies with a character named James Bond in them. We should be able to get some ideas for adding features to the motorbike. That sounds great, Uncle Dudley. Was James Bond a wizard? Teddy began to rub his hands together in anticipation. Dudley laughed out loud. No, but he had one that worked for him. His name was Q and we might learn something from him. Teddys brain began to work a mile a minute, visions of contraptions and apparatus buzzing in his head.

Ginny would share with Harry all the stories of James growth. In two weeks, Harrys son had grown more confident in his walking and was now making brave steps in climbing the stairs. Ginny remarked at how patient Kreacher was with the boy, allowing James to make mistakes while not allowing him to suffer any injury or harm. James vocabulary was growing as he tried to communicate with those around him. One night, Ginny had been able to put the mirror to James eye and the toddler babbled excitedly when he saw Harrys face in the image. Harry chuckled to himself as James mimicked the raspy tone of Kreachers voice and Harry could only imagine the pride that was on the house-elfs face every time his son chatted with him. The Ministry had taken to a more alert status, but Arthur was not one to let impending doom dissuade his efforts at cleaning up the mess, especially in the finances. Dean Thomas had done yeomans work in setting things straight, but momentum had really taken off when he brought Isabella Ramirez in as a consultant. The Puerto Rican beauty was a whirlwind, cutting through the politics and getting directly to the heart of the matter. Dean marveled at her tenacity, but also at how underwhelmed she was at the mystical nature of the people she was serving. To her, they were customers with vast abilities who remarkably inept at keeping track of where galleons went on a day to day business. No, no, no. You can not just purchase items with credit vouchers on a whim. Dawlish looked across the table at the dark-skinned woman, her eyes afire with conviction. Dean offered Dawlish a conciliatory glance, but kept his mouth shut. We need these items, Isabella. Dawlish looked down at an invoice from Weasleys Whee zes for various security and combat purchases. The Department of Magical Law Enforcement was in arrears by almost six months to Georges business. One of these shirts saved Dennis Creeveys life a couple of weeks back. Isabella didnt soften her gaze. I dont doubt that the items are needed. All of these purchases make sense, but you have to budget for them, Mr. Dawlish. They are not free. She uttered a stream of profanities in Spanish under her breath. You need to prioritize these things, ask yourself, what is needed more? Do you really need to buy thirty boxes of Self-correcting Quills at thirty galleons a piece? The store sells them at less than five per box, but you are not soliciting competitive bids and that drives the price up to list. We need to be smart, Dios Mio! In the corner of the room, Percy chuckled to himself. Hed had doubts as whether his father would be up to the challenge, but this aspect of the Ministry restructuring had been a stroke of genius. Dean was capable, but Isabella was a marvel. His mind began to structure the announcement of a tax cut he would implement when the Ministry was working optimally. The political possibilities were endless. Ginny was Harrys anchor to reality. Their conversations held back the anxiety he felt as they neared the Triangle. While no replacement for holding her or touching her, the ability to touch souls through their conversation filled him with joy. He shared with her what was occurring on the ship. He described the interesting nature of the crew in detail. That first mate seems flirty, she half -heartedly warned him. I know what redheads to you. Now she was really giving him the business. Shes alright, in that buxom, alluring way, if thats what you like. Harry smiled. You should see my team. Coombs and Burby are always hanging around the captain, asking inane questions about the day to day operations of the ship. Manchester is quite taken with the ships master at arms, or mistress at arms, and Ive never seen Williamson so flustered before in my life. Muireall has got him wrapped around her finger. Ginny chuckled, and then caught herself. How many women are on that ship?

About a third of the crew is female. The silence from her caused Harry to bite his lip. Hed forgotten how hormonal pregnant women can be. But none are as beautiful as you, love. It was a lame attempt, but Ginny appreciated the effort. Harry made a quick stab at humor. Leonora calls them The Amazons. Ginny was well acquainted with the only female Auror whod made the trip. Leonora could more than hold her own. Most of all, Leonora Sigismund would help bring some sanity to the group, her biting sense of humor was a great antidote to the flood of testosterone in the team. Harry felt the anxiety of his mission returning. I miss you. He missed James too, but right now, he needed her to know how much he missed her. She felt the change in attitude and returned the sentiment. I miss you too. Im glad you found the mirrors, Id be going mad, right about now. She smiled and blew a kiss to him. There was a knock at the door, Harry turned and beckoned the visitor to enter. It was Captain Barreto. Signor Potter, youd better come up on deck. We are about to enter the Triangle. Harry nodded and turned back to the mirror. Did you hear that? Ginny nodded, her eyes showing a trace of worry. Be careful, Harry. I love you. Her face called to him and he gave her a brave smile. I love you, too. Give my best to James and Teddy and the family. Ill talk to you soon. Ginnys image nodded and then disappeared. Harry wrapped the mirror carefully and rose. He grabbed a spyglass off the table and head out the door to see the Bermuda Triangle, the so called Graveyard of Ships, for himself. Chapter 82 The Devils Triangle Harry hurried up to the quarterdeck of the Discooperire to find the crew bustling about stowing articles and running the guns out of the portholes on the main deck. His Aurors were clustered around Williamson on the main deck, dressed in uniforms similar to the crew. The sailors of the Discooperire wore shortened robes tucked into the waist of their three-quarters length white shorts. Each had on rubber-soled canvas sneakers to allow for solid purchase on watery or bloody decks. The ubiquitous red sash was the signature of the Discooperire crew as was a thin leather sheath for their wands on one hip and a large scabbard containing razor sharp cutlasses on the other. Muireall held a firm grip on the helm, keeping the prow of the ship sharply on its course while Captain Barreto held a large spyglass to her eye. The captains lips were pursed into a gesture of intense scrutiny. Harry followed the direction she was peering in and saw a large wall of foam and purplish light in the distance, which extended out of sight into the clear blue sky. Ah, Signor Potter. That is the boundary of the Triangle. Captain Barreto gave him a smile and pointed to the barrier which the Discooperire was traveling towards. The wall can not be seen by the muggles. It is a magical barrier placed there centuries ago by seafaring wizards in Columbus flotilla. It is a warning, no? She laughed and replaced the spyglass to her eye. Harry extended the tube of his own telescope and brought the glass to his eye. He spotted the outline of a black shape that stood in stark contrast to the beauty of the wall. Is that the Malitia? Barreto nodded and Harry felt a tension arise in his chest. Their quarry was fast approaching the barrier, and hed get a first hand visual of what crossing the line would mean. Within moments, the Malitia crossed over the barrier. An explosion of yellow light marked

its passage. Soon, however, the dark ship passed through the barrier, and Harry could see the dim outline of the ship through the translucent wall. Bring us closed hauled to the wind, Number One. Innes grunted an assent to her captains instructions and turned the large wheel half a rotation to bring the nose of the Discooperire tight to the approaching wind. The sails of the brig acted like airplane wings as the wind crossed over their surfaces causing the ship to speed up. Combined with the magical sailing hexes that were in use, the wizard ship was virtually flying across the surface of the ocean. The Malitia seemed to be getting larger in the distance, as if shed been slowed down while the Discooperire had increased her speed. Harry had brought the Forkjack up with him and set by the compass binnacle on the quarterdeck. The spoons color had shifted from yellow to amber and was darkening with each passing moment. The mistress at arms walked up to the bottom of the stairs leading from the main gun deck to the quarterdeck and shouted to the captain. The ship is cleared for action, capn. The crew is standing by! Like the captain and the first mate, the mistress at arms was beautiful, her hair composed of small platinum ringlets. Her tattooed forearms were tanned and the look in her brown eyes spoke of deadly proficiency with the sword and hatchet strapped to her waist. Very well, Ms. Lockley. Our prey seems to be losing headway. Stand by for action! The captains voice was firm, the iron in her resolve combined with years of experience e mboldening her crew. Stand by to cross the barrier! Harry noticed that they were fast approaching the wall separating the real world from the world of the Triangle. The bowsprit of the Discooperire soon made contact with the border towing the rest of the ship with it. A shower of light and sparks crackled across the ship. Despite the lightshow, the Discooperire passed through the wall relatively unscathed. Harry noticed Barretos brow was furrowed. What is it? The captain put her spyglass in its case and drew her rapier from its place on her hip. It would appear, Signor Potter, that our enemy is not having difficulty making way. She has decided to turn and fight us. Harry turned towards the Malitia and saw that the ketchs bow was pointed straight at them. Theyd been waiting for their pursuers to come through the barrier. The Malitia was heeled over slightly to one side as the wind coursed through its black sails. Her guns were run out and Harry could make out the heads of her crew as they leaned over their cannon. Harry noted the ships figurehead. It was that of a large vulture with a skeleton riding it, its arm extended with a wand in its hand. Hold her steady, Number One. The captain kept her ship on a direct course for the bow of the Malitia. Mistress at Arms! Give me a half and half mix, if you please. Barreto acknowledged Lockleys reply and turned to Harry. Were going to have mix it up. We will load half our guns with magical ammunition and half with straight roundshot. If they are rigged like us, they have protective spells around their vitals. Our magic should be able to crack their protection and maybe we can hit something important with the roundshot. Our best chance is to get close enough to board her. Harry nodded and watched as the deadly dance engaged as the distance closed between the ships. The captain shouted to her crew. Stand by for action, port broadside! Harry glanced curiously at the captain. Shed called for her crew to ready for action on the port or left side of the ship. The angle of approach seemed to indicate that the ships would pass on the starboard, or right side. Captain Baretto gave him a large smile, her eyes twinkling at him. Now, Number One, Hard to starboard! The Discoop erire heeled over, its bow passing in front of the Malitia, bringing Barretos ship across the bow of its dark hulled enemy. Fire as your guns bear! Harry mirrored Barreto as she grasped hold of the railing. The roar of the cannon

assaulted Harrys ears as one by one; they discharged their rounds at the Malitia. Captain Forsythe of the Malitia wasnt as surprised by Barretos tactic as shed hoped, but still, the Malitia paid the price for its captains tardiness in recognizing her actions. Harry saw the impacts of their fire on the Malitias shield charms. The crack and the sizzle were like electrical discharges, combined with the rebound of solid shot against the protection. Here and there, a round would slip through a crack in the shield and impact on the hull or the rigging of the black ship. Captain Barreto swore, theyd not been able to damage the Malitia severely. Stand by to receive fire! Her warning came just in time. Forsythe held his fire for a single broadside. The Discooperire was a slightly larger ship, carrying more guns than the Malitia. Forsythe went for a heavier weight of fire, hoping, like Barreto to score a crippling blow on his adversary. He had his gun crews aim high, looking to damage the masts of the larger ship. Harry saw the Malitia disappear in a cloud of smoke, fire and light. Her full broadside impacted heavily against the shield charms of the Discooperire. The air around them became heavy as the shields weakened at points, and soon heavy shot and light began to impact on the sails and hull of the ship. In a manner of seconds, the two ships passed by each other, exchanging fire and landing hits at random. Harry was knocked to his knees by the impact of near miss. The deck was a tangle of rigging and broken timbers as well as broken bodies here and there. Get down! Barretos insistent voice was followed by the pressure of her hand as she shoved Harry to the deck. The Malitia had turned in a one hundred and eighty degree loop to her right, exposing her undamaged broadside to the stern of the Discooperire. The smaller vessel was much more agile and effected the turn before Barreto could counter the move. A wave of thunder and force hit the stern of the ship, shattering glass and planking, but more importantly, Harry heard a loud crack, and the sternward mainmast began to topple over the side. The tip of the mast sunk into the water, pulling the Discooperire to a virtual halt. The Malitia slung past the wounded ship and sped off ahead back on a course for Bimini Road. The Discooperire was crippled and her prey was stalking off ahead of them on the horizon. *** Reginald Thornton tripped across the shattered quarterdeck surveying the damage. Whats our status captain? Forsythes tall figure stooped low to address his master. Five dead and ten wounded. Were hulled pretty good, but the pumps are keeping up. I think we have a crack in the keel, but Ive got the shipwright wizard holding it together. Were making about a third of our top speed. Thornton nodded sagely. How long to effect repairs? Forsythe took another glance around and did some calculations in his head. If we stop somewhere, a day and a half. If we have to keep moving, three days, minimum. We took out one of their masts, so they should be held up for a while. Maintain course, we need to get to Bimini Road. Forsythe nodded and continued directing his crew. *** Harry crawled across the torn rigging and spars of the main deck. Williamsons arm was in a sling, the result of a wayward splinter that tore through his arm. The team leader was in much better straits than Steuben, whod been decapitated by an improbable shot that managed to sneak through their shields. Harry hurried over to Barreto, who was directing the clearing of the debris and the repair of the mast.

How long before we can get underway? Harry met the captains eyes, where were afire with anger. A day, at the least. We have ten dead, including your man and ten wounded. I am such a fool! That captain out dueled me! She spat in disgust, and then her eyes grew deadly. He will not be so fortunate the next time we meet. Harry nodded in agreement and moved back to his team. Harry walked back to where his team stood. Their faces were drawn and taut. Theyd been in battle before, but never had they been so helpless. Manchesters face was tightened into a sneer. Harry, you got to get us closer to those guys. I want a chance to get at them. Somewhere along the line, every member of his team had acquired a cutlass, much like the crew. Harry made a mental note to pick up a weapon for himself. You and the captain are of one mind, Sean. Harry brushed some dust off of his shoulder and looked out across the water as the small speck that was the Malitia disappeared over the horizon. A quick flash of dark green caught his eye on blue water. Harry squinted, unsure if hed seen anything at first. He heard footsteps approaching and turned to see Muireall Innes draw up beside him. The first mate had small abrasions and scratches on her head and shoulders, but seemed none the worse for wear. Harry pointed out across the water at the object holding his attention. What is that? Muireall followed his finger to the spot in the water. At first, it looked like a log, drifting among the kelp on the surface of the water. The log picked up speed and began a circling approach to their location. The log was joined by several other similar objects and as they neared the Discooperire, Harry could make out scales on the logs, which were dipping under the water from time to time. Soon Muireall picked up the image of a large, webbed fin and she stood still; her eyes widening in alarm. General Quarters! All hands take arms! She vaulted to the quarter deck and drew her cutlass. Her captain came on the main deck and looked up at her. What is it, Number One, is the Malitia returning? Muriealls blue eyes were haunted, fear dampening their beauty. No Captain. We have company. Its Ceto! Her announcement was greeted with deathly silence. The majority of the crews faces were ashen as they drew their blades. Harry placed his hands on Muirealls shoulder. Whats Ceto? Muireall allowed her eyes to drop. For the first time since hed met her, she seemed vulnerable. Its an ancient sea serpent. Its the mother of all sea monsters. She paused and tightened the grip on her sword. Its the harbinger of our doom. Harry stared at her blankly as the ocean around them exploded in a wall of water while a piercing roar shattered the silence of their world. Chapter 83 A Hard Day The ocean exploded in a roar of foam and spray as long, scaled tentacles sprung from the waters surface and landed with a crash on the deck of the Discooperire. The crew immediately launched into a spirited defense of their persons and their ship. Flashes of light were punctuated by the meaty slash of blades against the tough hide of the Ceto. The Ceto was a large creature comprised of an elongated and fat serpents body with eight radiating arms. At the end of the arms were twin sets of jaws with razor sharp teeth, that were gnashing and biting at the crew in close proximity. The head was that of a snake, including the dark, soulless eyes much akin to a dolls. The body of the Ceto had broached the water and was floating near enough to allow its tentacles free reign of the deck of the ship. Harry sent a blast towards an approaching limb and

the concussive force knocked the offending sets of jaws back into the deep, only to return at another part of the ship. Harry took a long look at the beast, ignoring the screams and cries of the crew. His face was contorted in concentration and then he took one last long look at the sky. He turned to face his Aurors who were circled up against a bulkhead, fighting with sword and wand. Harry pulled his satchel close to him and drew out his broom. Aurors! Get to your brooms! Attack it from the sky! Without seeing if his team was following, Harry burst into the sky abov e the creature. He swooped up and began pelting the Cetos body with bursts of fire and energy. Soon he began to see indications that his team had joined him in his aerial assault. The Ceto rolled its body to cast one of its eyes at the swooping figures of the Aurors. As it rolled, Harry noticed that at the waterline, there was a flash of white as the scales of the creature ended and the soft belly of its underside was exposed. Carefully, Harry launched a hit at the exposed stomach and the creature reeled in anger, its cries resounding in agony. Keep it up! Harry roared skyward and dug into his bag. Finding what he was looking for, he put his hand to his mouth and gave his broom its head back towards the beast. Harry gave a quick mental command to his broom and without a second thought, dove gracefully into the roiling waters near the Cetos body. Harry! Williamson pointed his broom to the spot where Harry had disappeared. His cries were matched by the cries of consternation from the ship, where Captain Barreto was busily battling the creature, but had noticed Harrys plunge into the deep. Williamson steered his way to avoid a flying tentacle and hurriedly searched the waters for any sign of his leader. It was to no avail. Heavy hearted, Williamson pulled up and resumed his attack on the creature, joined by his heartbroken team. Barreto was fighting one of the Cetos arms single handedly. Muireall lay prone against the base of the mast, having been thrown by the arm while her back had been turned trying to free one of the crew. Barreto jabbed her rapier into open wounds that had been rent open by blasts from her wand. The captain positioned herself between her wounded first mate and the snapping maws of the tentacle. She let out a banshee cry and pressed her attack which rallied her waning crew. Those that could still move rushed to her side and together, they pressed home the attack. Soon, theyd hacked through the sinew of the tentacle and it hung limply, separated from its body. The crew screamed in victory which was soon drowned out by the sight of seven more tentacles arrayed along the ship. With a shout, Barreto led them in a charge to carry on the fight. The water was warm like a drawn bath. Harry felt a momentary sensation of panic as he resisted the urge to take a breath. After a moment, he gave in and drew in the water, momentarily surprised he wasnt drowning. The gillyweed hed consumed had allowed gills to form on his neck and he felt himself freely breathing in the water, filtering oxygen through his new gills. His body warmed as the seawater coursed through the openings and he felt a slight lightheadedness as he allowed himself to grow accustomed to the sensation. He glanced up and saw the soft, pale stomach of the Ceto. He drew his wand and pointed towards the softness. Sectumsempra! A large gash opened in the center of the Cetos stomach. Blood and debris poured incessantly out of the opening. The creature reared back and down as it felt itself bleeding out. It drew its tentacles backward, wrapping around its body in an attempt to seal the rift in its torso. Slowly, as its entrails were pouring out, seawater was pouring in, counteracting the buoyancy that had been keeping it near the Discooperire. Harry began to swim towards the surface, but took a glancing blow from a descending tentacle which knocked him senseless. As the tip of the tentacle passed him, one of the sets of jaws on the end clasped shut on the ankle of his boot. He began to descend with the Ceto as it sank into the depths of the sea. On the surface, the crew had been fighting for their lives. They were shocked by the roar of pain the beast emitted and then even more surprised as the body and then the tentacles began to sink beneath the waves. The ocean turned red as the blood from the Ceto began to boil to the surface and a hew and cry let loose from the sailors. Barreto noticed that Aurors were circling a

spot in the ocean, in an attempt to find their lost leader. The captain raised her sword in salute to Harry Potter, obviously the reason theyd been able to defeat the monster. In all her time at sea, shed never known anyone that could hold their breath for the amount of time that hed been under. She mourned his loss, along with several members of her crew. Captain, out there! Off the starboard bow! On the other side of the ship, Lockley was pointing to a spot on the ocean. The spot was a man, treading water. It was Potter! His face was pale, but his grin was evident to her, even at that distance. Barreto grabbed a semaphore horn and directed Williamson and his team over to where Harry was. Williamson had heard the cheers from the ship and the shout from Barreto. In a flash, he directed Coombs and Burby over to Harrys location and they soon fished him out of the water. The deck was a shambles, but Barreto lost little time in getting the crew back to working on the repairs. Harry sat on a bucket, a coarse wool blanket wrapped around him. Leonora was working on repairing the hideous wound on his ankle as he related the story to those around him. Barreto walked up to Harry and smiled. You are a remarkable man, Signor Potter! No ship has ever survived and encounter with La Ceto. She leaned down and planted a kiss on his cheek. You are the Discooperires good luck charm! With a laugh, she walked off to continue to tend to her ship. Harry blushed at the attention but ignored the snickering of his team at the captains display. Leonora tapped his leg and he rose, attempting to put his weight on the ankle. It was achy and tender, but on the whole, it was better than not having a foot at all. He smiled his thanks and made a circuit of the main deck. They probably wouldnt catch the Malitia before she reached Bimini Road. Even if they could get underway, they were in no shape for a fight. Despite their situation, Barreto had her crew scurrying about, fast at work at repairs. Harry came upon Muireall Innes sitting on a step of the stairs leading to the quarterdeck. Williamson was sitting next to her holding a cold compress to her head. He was whispering in her ear and whatever he was saying had brought a smile to her face. Harry steered away from the scene and ambled up to Captain Barreto. Whats our situation, Captain? Harry watched as a replacement mast was being elevated into position by several of the crew. Most of the blood stains had been cleared and the damage was rapidly being repaired. We should be underway in a couple of hours, Signor Potter. We lost another seven crew and have many injuries. Harry nodded soberly. Based on our position, we should make Bimini Road sometime tomorrow night. I am sorry Signor Potter, but the Malitia will beat us to Atlantis. Her eyes cast downward, and then she raised her head defiantly. When we meet them again, she will not get the better of me, I promise you that. I believe you, Captain Barreto, I believe you. Harry chuckled and left her to her work. Harry walked towards the bow of the ship and stood near over the repaired figurehead. Discooperires figurehead was that of a mermaid holding a spyglass towards the horizon. As a joke, someone had attached a broom to her free hand, a tribute to the aerial attack by the Aurors. Harry smiled inwardly, the feeling of belonging hitting him square in the chest. His team had been accepted wholly by the crew of the Discooperire. Combat tended to bring people together and that was what had happened today. As he gazed towards the horizon, Harry felt the rush of the wind across his face as the Discooperire got under way. They were again making their way west, towards Bimini Road. The sun was setting in the western sky as dusk overtook them. He saw the crew lighting lanterns around the deck in preparation for the evening. Harry sighed heavily. Their first day of action had not gone well. Hopefully, tomorrow would be better. Harry walked down to his cabin and spent some time replacing the fallen and broken furniture. He pulled out the cloth wrapped mirror from its resting place and opened it carefully. The mirror shard was still intact. He stared at the mirror and smiled.

Ginny. He waited and soon her face appeared in the glass. He smiled and kept his reflection from showing how tattered his robe was. Hey there, how are you doing? Hows James? Her voice filled his heart, the losses from the day had been weighing him down. Hes fine. Hes turned in for the night, but hes looking for you. Harry smiled wanly, the darkening night cast heavy shadows in the room. With a quick flick of the wrist, he lit a candle nearby, its light causing his eyes to dance in the image in the mirror. I miss him. I miss you. He sounded wistful and small worry lines had formed at the edge of his eyes. What is it, Harry? Is something wrong? Ginnys voice had a slight tension of worry in it. Harry smiled wider, No, howre things at home? He needed to hear more from home, if only to wash away the memory of the day. Ginny hesitated, but then updated him on the day to day goings on at home. It seemed that Lee and Sarah wanted to hold their wedding on New Years. Harry wondered if Dennis and Chos wedding with the PA/DA gathering would become a tradition. George and Verity were thinking of spinning off the Defense Charms portion of the business into something separate from the gag shop. Dean Thomas was immersing himself in Spanish lessons, a thought that had Harry in stitches given Deans aversion to all things academic. This Isabella woman must have him completely wrapped. Dudley and Beatrice had been over for dinner with Teddy, and Harrys godson couldnt stop gushing about letters of the alphabet. Ginny was curious but had no idea what a Q was and Teddy was constantly humming a bass guitar riff, Dum da, da, da, Dum Dum and introducing himself to James as Lupin, Teddy Lupin. Harry laughed and was glad that Dudley had taken it upon himself to take Teddy under his wing. Finally, Ginny told of Rons introduction to the cravings rage. Last night, Hermione had sent her husband out to find a Chalupa covered in Cadbury chocolate. Ever the connoisseur of sweets, the Cadbury part was fine, but Ron traipsed across town to find out what exactly a Chalupa was. The news from home settled him. Rather than make Harry ache from missing them, Ginnys voice reminded him why he was fighting. It helped keep perspective as to why he chose this life. He felt more resolved to finish the fight, whether at sea or up to the gates of Atlantis itself. Ginny finished her update and stared into his eyes, noticing how much more relaxed he was. So, thats the story from home, how was your day? Did anything interesting happen? He hesitated, then smiled. Not really, it was a pretty routine day. Maybe tomorrow will be more interesting. Ginny smiled knowingly. Ever since shed known him, Harrys idea of routine could only mean his life had been in peril at least once and probably more. If I catch you drooling over some gorgeous captain, first mate or deck scrubber, youll find out what interesting means. He laughed at her humor. At least, he thought she was joking. He looked at her image in the mirror, but she wasnt giving it away. She told him she loved him and he returned the sentiment. After promising to talk the next day and blowing each other kisses, the two Potters signed off. Harry sat back in his chair, the ship had quieted for its evening routine and the sound of the water against the hull calmed him. Tomorrow would be better, he thought. He thought of James and Ginny. Her face flashed vividly in his mind. He sat straight up and one thought kept recurring in his mind. She was joking, wasnt she?

Chapter 84 Bimini Road The Discooperire slid through the ocean during the night. The seas had calmed and the easy motion of the ship was like the rocking of a cradle. Dawn rapidly approached, the sun rising in the east behind them, chasing away the demons of the night. Harry rose early and went out on deck. He caught the first glimpse of the new morning and cast a weary eye westward along their course. He climbed to the quarterdeck and found Captain Barreto pacing behind the large wheel, her arms clasped behind her back. Lockley was at the helm, keeping an eye on their course and the wind direction, keeping the large sails from luffing from lack of air. At various spots on the main deck, crew members set about their morning tasks of a ship underway. The repairs to the ship had been completed rapidly, although she handled a little more difficultly, an indication of further damage yet unseen. Harry stepped beside the dangerous looking mistress at arms who gave him a nod. That was something else. What you did yesterday, Ive never seen that before. Her voice was silky smooth, like the brush of paint on a fine canvas. Theres more to you and your people than meets the eye. Harry laughed. I dont know about all that. Desperation can make a person do extraordinary things. Lockley gave him a grimace which passed for a smile. Despite all that, we werent all that effective. Harrys gaze carried back to the main deck. Several sailors were sewing the dead into canvas bags weighted with round shot. Despite the fact that they were wizards, one and all, the tradition of the sea dictated that their comrades be prepared for their meeting with Davy Jones by hand. Harry watched as Williamson tended to the body of Aaron Steuben, the recent addition to the team in the place of Sarah Peebles. Harry shuddered to think that it might have been Sarah being readied for burial. How would he have explained it to Lee? Williamson took great care in his duties. Harry noticed that Muireall was standing near him, offering advice and probably a shoulder to lean on. Even though his task was regrettable, Williamson seemed to appreciate her presence and Harry was glad at that. Ahem, Signor Potter. Captain Barreto had walked up beside him. The morning sun cast a symphony of reds, oranges and yellows on her face, lighting up the dark tone of her skin. Her light green eyes burned with the weariness of command and the passion of duty. Her jaw was set tight but her face could not communicate fear or hate as her lips still had a smile on them. Harry turned to face the beautiful captain of the Discooperire. Captain, will you please call me Harry? I keep looking for someone older when you call me that. Harry tried to deliver the line half-heartedly, to lighten her mood. It seemed to work. Of course, Signor Harry. Harry shook his head and she laughed at his discomfort. I just wanted to tell you that we are making better time than I thought. We should reach Bimini Road before sunset. Harry nodded and looked carefully at the captain. Her brow was furrowed and she was tensed up. That was a tough day, yesterday. I cant imagine what youre going through. Im sorry for your losses. Captain Barreto snapped her head up, her eyes were narrowed as she took in Harry and thought over what hed just said. Voce esta brincando comigo! Harry looked at her with a puzzled look. You are kidding, right? Yesterday was a good day. We should be dead, were it not for you! If anyone failed, it was I, for letting the Malitia get away! Harry shrugged his shoulders. Thats no ones fault. Were making up the time and soon well be caught up to them. She gave him a disbelieving look. You already told me Captain, that the next time we meet with them, they will not get the best of you. Were you not sincere?

Barretos eyes blazed in anger while her hand reached for the well used pommel of her sword. You are calling me a liar? Harry raised his hands in mock surrender. No, but we dont have time for you to wallow in self pity. Yesterday happened, we cant do much about it. We have a miss ion, and you need to focus on the next meeting, not on what happened before. His tone lowered a bit and grew softer. You did fine, and youll continue to do fine. Im not worried about the next time we fight the Malitia. At least Im not worried about us, because our captain is a fine warrior wholl win the next fight. It was Captain Barretos turn to blush. Her dark skin turned a bright red which only deepened as Lockley failed to stifle a laugh at the helm. Thank you for that, Signor Harry. Ex cuse me; I have to attend to the consignment of the dead to Davy Jones Locker. Would you like to say a few words about your man? Harry nodded and followed the captain to the main deck where seventeen bodies were arrayed in a row, near the rail. The crew had mustered together and was arranged in a semicircle around the bodies. The Aurors were intermixed with them, indistinguishable from the rest of the sailors. Williamson stood next to Muireall and Harry noticed that their hands were at their sides, but their fingers were lightly touching. Something had definitely occurred with them and Harry silently wished them both luck. The captain walked to the front of the crew and pulled a large, tattered leather-bound book from a nearby locker. The ships log in hand, she began the slow and mournful process of bidding her departed crew and the Auror, Aaron Steuben, goodbye. *** I dont want to hear excuses, Captain, we need to beat that ship to Bimini Road. Thornton had pushed a finger in front of Captain Forsythes face. The captains head was bandaged and he was standing in ankle deep water in the hold of the Malitia. We are working as fast as we can, Thornton. You didnt warn us about the danger in the Triangle! Forsythe was trying to get another magical pump online to purge the water that had been pouring into the ships hull, the result of a ramming from a pod of orcas. The Malitia was only a few miles from the rocky formation called Bimini Road and her crew of misfits had thought nothing of the group of killer whales that seemed to be swimming nearby. One of the original raiders whod accompanied Thornton on his visit to the Ministry of Magic, Tyler Crow, was leaning against the railing of the ship and watching their progress. Whether it was boredom or evil, probably a combination of both, Crow launched a spell at one of the whales, killing it instantly. His insane laughter was interrupted when the pod launched itself at the Malitia. Over several hours of battle, theyd lost another five m en and the ship was severely damaged before the whales moved off to mourn their dead. Thornton was livid at the mans stupidity. He paralyzed Lobo and then strung him up from the yardarm and made the crew watch as the life was slowly squeezed from him. It was your mans complete incompetence that cost us this time. Those Ministry fools are not far behind. If you can not get the job done, I can always find another captain among this pathetic collection of fools. Thornton watched the anger rise in the tall captains eyes, but then it subsided almost as quickly as it appeared. The captain simply nodded his head and turned back to the task at hand. Thornton waded from the hold and climbed back onto the deck. He started as a shadow approached him from the quarterdeck. His composure quickly returned as he recognized the eye-patch and tattooed figure of the Master At Arms, Gibson Cavanaugh. The rough man gave a twisted, gapped-tooth grin and leaned into Thorntons face.

Whatever you need, sir. Im with you all the way. Thornton smiled back and nodded. It was always good to have an ace in the hole in an emergency. Leaving the hulking brute behind, Thornton walked back to his cabin. He sat at the table and peered closely at the chart that he had unrolled earlier. It was one of the prizes hed collected from the Ancients Room. So close. He murmured to himself, his anger at the crew of the Malitia rising. So close. *** Sail ho! Harry looked up at the crows nest, the lookouts arm poin ted to the horizon. What? Where? Captain Barreto glanced up at the sailor perched aloft. His voice resounded across the deck. Two points off the starboard bow. He hesitated as he took another look through his glass. It looks like the Malitia, Captain. Shes about five miles out on the horizon. Harry watched as Captain Barretos eyes danced at their fortune. Number One. Muireall gave a beautiful smile, belying her violent intent. Beat to quarters, por favor. Muireall tugged at the bosuns pipe on her neck and placed it between her full lips. A high, shrill tone resounded throughout the ship as her voice carried from stem to stern. General Quarters! The ship became a hive of activity as the crew ran to ready the ship for battle. Barreto smiled wickedly as she took in the Malitia. The dark ketch had a slight list and seemed to be slogging along. Perhaps, the captain thought, theyd had their own encounter with the mysteries of the Triangle. So much the better. Harry heard the captain speaking, This time, you wont get away. This time, I will send you to the bottom. Even with the evil sneer on her face, she was beautiful, and she was deadly. Harry almost felt sorry for the Brotherhood of the Blue Tar, almost. *** Forsythe cursed to himself as the Discooperire was spotted behind them. The Malitia still carried several tons of water in her bilges and she was sluggish at the helm. Thornton was pacing wildly about the ship, exhorting the crew to pump faster to lighten their keel. The lanky captain sighed and walked over to Thornton, immediately regretting what he had to say to him. Orders, sir? Thornton glared at him, unsure of what Forsythe meant. Do we fight them or do we proceed to the Road? The dark wizard pondered for a moment, his red eyes glaring at the ever growing sails of their pursuers. He shook himself and put his finger in the captains chest. You do what ever you can to get us to the Road. I dont care who we lose or what you have to do, enter the Road as soon as you can. Without a word, Forsythe returned to the helm and began to issue a flurry of orders. *** The Bimini Road is a large J-shaped formation of submerged rectangular limestone located off of the Bahamas. Discovered in 1968, speculation as to the nature of the construct has run the gamut from an ancient drydock for wayward Chinese navigators to a mooring point for the ancient sailors of Atlantis. The two ships were closing the distance between them. Both were rapidly approaching the open end of the Road. Within minutes, the Discooperire was close enough for the two forward cannons mounted on her bow, called chasers, to be within range to harry the

fleeing Malitia. Smoke and light emitted from their barrels as Captain Barreto announced her murderous intent to her prey. The Malitia entered the open, seaward end of the Bimini Road and scurried down towards the closed limestone end. The Discooperire was close behind. No one on either ship noticed that the sea began to fall until the rectangular limestone blocks were exposed to the air. Soon, dark clouds filled the sky and began to descend as if a giant hand was pushing them down to the sea. It was dark and the sea began to boil in a torrent of lighting, wind and waves. An eddy began to form in the middle of the rock formation causing the water to whirlpool, carrying both ships in a swirl of the mad ocean. Harry fell to the deck and watched in horror as the Discooperire pitched over to the side, tossing sailors and unsecured articles about. Tie yourselves down! Captain Barretos voice resounded through out the ship and Harry found himself crawling to the rail and grabbing on to a length of rope that was dangling from it. He tied the free end of the line around his wrist and held on as the ship hurtled around in the waterspout. He looked over the rail and saw the Malitia in the same straights, although Harry could make out the images of some of her sailors being thrown off into the maelstrom. Keep the bow into the current! Ride it out! Barreto was clinging to a lifeline while Muireall fought with the wheel, her knuckles turning white from the strength of her grip. The red-headed first mate nodded grimly at her captains orders and brought the nose of the ship i n line with the current of the whirlpool. They gathered speed as the Discooperire rode the eddy all the way around in countless circuits. Harry felt a pressure in his head and looked up as the sky continued to press down on them. He felt the blood rushing from his head as their speed and the pressure from the collapsing sky pressed down on his body. He stole a glance around and started seeing members of the crew passing out around him, their lifelines the only things keeping them attached to the ship. With a mighty effort he turned towards the captain, but her eyes were closed, the gee forces having wrought their vengeance upon her. Harry felt the grip of unconsciousness gripping him. Every second was a struggle to keep his eyes open. He watched as Muireall fought with every ounce of strength and determination she possessed to keep the rudder steady, until she too, gave in to the pressure and fell, lashed to the wheel. Harry sighed, and thought of Ginny. His eyes saw red, and then black as he gave in to the power of the whirlpool. Chapter 85 In the Shadow of Colossus The first sensation he was aware of was stillness. The violently pitching deck was calm and a gentle breeze whistled through his head. Harry opened his eyes and found himself lying on his back, one arm still secured to the rail by its life line. He stared up at the sky, but his brain could not reconcile what his eyes were telling him. There were no clouds, no roiling dark storms pushing down on him. Instead, the sky was light green, almost alien. It was bright, but no sun seemed to dominate the horizon, it was as if the luminescence of the green sky cast a hard light all about them. He raised his chest up and sat upright. He shook some of the cobwebs out of his head and glanced around. The ship seemed no worse for wear, and the crew seemed to be rousing from their trip. Harry dislodged himself from the line and rose to his feet. What he saw over the railing floored him. They were drifting in a large, protected bay. He caught sight of the Malitia in the distance, further away from the shore. The bay was dotted with ships in varied states of repair. Nothing moved on the hulks and the vessels ran the gamut from ancient Greek triremes to modern steel-hulled cargo ships. Looking further to shore, Harry saw a vast city nestled into the rocky shoreline. The inlet that marked the entrance to the citys harbor was dominated by the figure of a statue that rose almost fifty meters into the air. The statue was a man, whose legs were astride the stone

pillars that marked the entrance to the city. One of his massive arms was raised above his head, holding a cauldron where a bright yellow flame blazed into the viridian sky. The Colossus of Rhodes. The voice beside him shocked Harry back into awareness. Captain Barreto had walked up beside him and was surveying the same scene as he. Whats that? Harry turned to the Discooperires engaging captain. What do you mean? Without taking her eyes off the massive figure and the mysterious city, Barreto let out a sigh. It looks, Signor Harry, like the Colossus of Rhodes. Its a lighthouse, which was supposedly destroyed by an earthquake in 226 B.C. Harry returned his gaze back to the city and its massive bronze guardian. The implications of what she said bore into his head. This must be Atlantis. More likely, Signor Potter, that is Metropolis, the capital city of Atlantis. Strange, I dont see any movement over there, it is a ghost city, no? She raised a spyglass to her eyes and scanned the ships nearby. Dios Mio! What is it? Harry brought his own telescope to his face. He scanned the closest ship, a long, gray steel-hulled monstrosity that lay at anchor. Its hull was covered in rust, and it seemed to be settling by the stern. He focused in on the nameplate just below its bridge. U. S. S. Cyclops. He had a sharp intake of breath. The Cyclops was a U.S. Navy collier that had disappeared during the First World War with over three hundred crewman. How had she gotten here? Captain! Over there! Muireall Innes was pointing to a masted ship behind them. It was sleek and long, but with a sharp list to port. One of the main masts was broken in half and what appeared to be smoke stacks were corroded and pitted with rust. Captain Barreto took a long look at the ship. Her eyes read the nameplate. City of Glasgow. Barreto shook her head. She disappeared crossing the Atlantic in 1855. She had four hundred passengers and over eighty crew. By now the crew and the Aurors were fully conscious and were crowding the railing, taking in the sights. Here and there, the names of other ships could be read, all matching lost vessels to the Bermuda Triangle. Sailors were a superstitious lot, especially sailors who were wizards. Silently, well-used good luck charms were brought forward and rubbed with extra effort. Lockley had been a sailor practically all her life. She was as salty as she was beautiful. While the crew went about the discovery of the world around her, Lockley kept her eyes focused on one thing. Her eyes narrowed and she turned to her captain. The Malitia has turned for us, Captain. Her voice caused her captain to shift her scan to her enemy. The black ketch was making for the entrance of the city. Unfortunately for them, the path led them directly for the Discooperire. Harry and Barreto watched as a large winged bird took off from the rigging of the Malitia, soon followed by the figures of several men. Harry zoomed in on the flying figures, who seemed to be perched upon rectangular carpet segments. Flying carpets. Harry grunted as he watched Thornton lead his flying minions towards the landmass, away from the city. The evil wizard was making a run for the island and for his ultimate goal. Harry nodded over to the captain and called for his Aurors. Williamson bounded over to Harry first and took in the fleeing figures on the carpets. I suppose we can bring them in for misuse of magical artifacts. Flying carpets were regulate d by the Department of Magical Law Enforcement. Williamsons comment drew chortles from the Aurors and crew.

Harry laughed and gave Williamson a nod. The Auror team leader gathered his Aurors and they began to pull their brooms out for a pursuit. Satisfied that the Aurors were making preparations, Harry turned to the captain. Were going after Thornton. He hesitated, unsure of what to say to the voluptuous commander. Barretos jaw was set and her hand was idly caressing her sword belted to her hi p. We will handle the Malitia. Just make sure we have a ship to come back to, Captain. Harry took a long look at the approaching ship and then once more at the beautiful captain. She seemed to want to say more to him and he felt a tug at the back of his head. He motioned for her to come closer so that he could speak to her in private. I just wanted to say He hesitated. Im married, Adelina, and I love my wife. If things were different, who knows? There, hed let her down easy. Hopefully the tanned goddess would understand. He looked at her face as she worked through what hed said. It was always so difficult to break a womans heart, Harry thought. Suddenly, the captain let out a howl of laughter, almost to the point of hysterics. Compreendo perfeitamente! Ah Signor Harry, you are a funny man. The puzzled look on his face told her that he was completely lost as to her reaction. Im Brazilian, Im just friendly, not interested in you. I know you are married. I am also married! My husband is a banker at Gringotts! You thought that I was interested in Harrys face flushed a brilliant red, which deepened as she laughed once more. I am very flattered; Signor Harry, but I love my husband very much. If I was not married, who knows? She laughed once more, and Harry could not help but join in. Tension released, Harry grasped his broom and walked back to the main deck. Williamson was sharing a tender moment with Muireall as they both worried for each others circumstances. Manchester gave a nod to Lockley who smiled back at him. Apparently, the rest of Harrys team was having no problems with miscommunication. Harry raised his arm and looked back at the captain. We will be here when you return, Signor Harry. That other ship will not. Harry saw the fierce warrior captain once more, not the teasing and alluring woman of a few minutes before. He believed her. With one more gaze at the Discooperire, Harry led his Aurors into the sky and set a course to intercept the small band of wizards whod left the Malitia. Boa Sorte. Barreto watched Harry and his team zoom off on the horizon, wishing them luck. A small part of her heart felt a heaviness, but she was not one to dwell on what ifs. She was the captain of a ship about to go into battle. She turned her attention to her crews preparations for the fight. Number One, what is our status? Were ship shape and battle ready, captain. In any other location, in any other setting, Muireall Innes voice would sing in the hearts of the those around. Today, in this context, it had a hard edge. They had a score to settle with the Malitia, and the payment was coming due. Barreto nodded at her first mate and walked to the quarterdeck. Lockley was firmly ensconced behind the wheel of the Discooperire, her eyes set on the target ahead. Ready boarders, Number One. Helm, take us point on with her. The two ships approached each other head on, favoring neither one side nor the other. The sky seemed to lighten, but remained a pale shade of green and the sea reflected the tint. No one spoke, yet the tension built as the two ships closed on each other. The distance closed rapidly yet the captain remained calm. She ceased her pacing and watched as Muireall led an armed party to the forward end of the ship. Several of her sailors were carrying ropes with grappling hooks attached. Hold her steady, then scrape her bow when they commit, Lockley. The hard woman at the helm nodded wickedly. The captain was preparing a death embrace. One of these ships was going to die,

today. The captain looked down at the gun deck. Depress guns, aim for her hull! The gun captains acknowledged their captains orders and shoved wedges at the rear of their cannon, effectively dropping their barrels to aim below the waterline. *** Forsythe was seething at Thorntons abandonment of the Malitia. Hed taken five of his best sailors with him. The captain of the Malitia could spare very few men for this fight, but concentrated on the task at hand. Hed used his superior maneuverability before and he figured, based on the way the captain of the other vessel was handling her ship, hed be able to outfox her again. Hed turn at the last minute, exchange one broadside, and be able to t urn into the other ship and rake her stern. Well take her on the port side! The helmsman nodded silently. Forsythe cursed Thornton under his breath. Thornton had taken Cavanaugh with him. The grotesque Master at Arms was the best helmsman he had, and now hed gone off with the others. Forsythe would have to make do with what he had. The vessels neared. Hard a starboard! Forsythes command turned the Malitia to the right at the last possible moment, hoping to expose his port broadside and pass down the left side of the Discooperire. Anticipating the move, Barreto yelled, Hard to port! The Discooperire executed a hard left turn, driving her bow into the side of the Malitia and scraping along the hull of the smaller ship. As the bow of the Discooperire slid along the gun ports of the Malitia, it knocked over the guns that had been run out the side of the ship. Grappling hooks away! The sailors whod been hiding beneath the gunwales with ropes and hooks tossed them over the side to the opposing ship, effectively lashing the two warships together, side to side. Port broadside, fire! Both captains screamed for their gun crews to open fire. Malitias guns had been trained straight out, so their fire hammered the main deck of the Discooperire, dismounting guns and killing many. The Discooperires guns had been trained downward and their shots swept through the Malitias hull, which had already been weakened by the encounter with the orcas. The Malitia began to list to the side, as water filled the voids down below. In a ship to ship fight, when one vessel has a maneuvering advantage over the other, the best tactic of the larger and slower vessel is to lash on to the smaller one and negate their advantage. The two combatants were locked together. Captain Barreto had worked the fight to her advantage. Boarders, away! Her voice rang strong, as she led sailors from the stern of her ship onto the bow of the Malitia. Innes charged forward, leading her own boarding party from the bow to the quarterdeck of the other ship. Damn it! Forsythe had been outmaneuvered. The enemy had a numbers advantage and hed been lulled into thinking that the captain of the other vessel would allow herself to be had by the tactics hed used before. He was wrong. Repel boarders! He drew his sword and wand and turned to face the beautiful red-haired woman who was advancing on him. Smoke and light intermixed with the sound of steel on steel. Everywhere the blue uniformed Brotherhood of the Blue Tar was locked in hand to hand combat with the crew of the Discooperire. No quarter was asked and none given. Forsythe circled around Muireall, as the two felt each other out for weakness. Forsythe towered over Muireall, but she was an expert with a cutlass and she furiously parried and counter attacked every move he made. His superior strength drove her back. With the flick of his wrist, he summoned a piece of flotsam from the deck behind her. Almost too late, she sensed the piece of planking approaching her and she flinched to avoid it, just as Forsythe lunged with his saber. Realizing her mistake, she turned at the last second and took the point of his blade directly into her shoulder. Her scream reached her captains ears as Barreto fought her way through the main deck.

Barreto saw her first mate fall to the deck, Muirealls cutlass dropped as the beautiful Scottish lass clutched the offending sword lodged in her shoulder. Forsythe had a wicked grin on his face. He stopped trying to pull his sword out of his victim and raised his wand to put the woman out of her misery. Captain Barreto drew the wicked looking dagger out of her sash and flipped it in the air to catch it by the blade. For all its adornment, the knife was perfectly weighted and Barreto drew her arm back and let it fly. It spun through the air, tumbling perfectly and evenly, end over end. Muireall looked up at Forsythe and saw his deadly intent. She spat at him and he laughed. He raised his wand and started to speak the killing curse when he stopped, a surprised look on his face. The first mate was puzzled, then she watched the enemy captain pitch over on his chest, her captains prized throwing knife imbedded in his back, directly planted in Forsythes heart. Muireall gave her captain a look of thanks, and then she passed out from her wound. With their captain dead, the surviving members of the Brotherhood of the Blue Tar began to wilt from the superior numbers of their enemy and a lack of heart. The gun deck began to wallow in water as the fatal wounds from the Discooperires broadside began to tell. Some of the evil wizards fought until the death, and Captain Barreto was more than happy to oblige them. Others began to surrender when they felt their vessel begin to succumb to the call of the deep. Return to the Discooperire. Grab the wounded and any prisoners. Lockley, cut us loose! The surviving members of the boarding party collected their dead and wounded and shuttled their prisoners back to their ship. When all were aboard, Lockley and some of her crew cut away the grapnels, allowing the Discooperire to float free of the doomed Malitia. The black ketch slunk beneath the waves, taking its dead and its evil to the depths of the alien sea it had fought so hard to reach. Barreto watched her prey disappear beneath the waves. The Discooperire was in almost as bad shape as the Malitia. The broadside shed taken had opened holes of their own in her hull. Already, the main hold had almost a foot of water while the crew worked furiously to repair the damage. Most of the port side guns were off their mountings and dead and dying crew littered the space. Theyd won, but at a dreadful price. Barreto turned to tend to her gravely wounded first mate. Captain. Barreto stood and went over to Lockley, who was peering towards the shore. Lockley pointed towards the statue of Colossus. A ship was just passing between the statues legs. It was a sleek sloop of war, with a brown hull with a white stripe along the gun ports, a standard paint scheme for US Navy sailing warships. The gunports were open. Barreto picked up her spyglass and peered over at the nameplate on the approaching ship. U.S.S. Wasp. Barreto allowed herself a sharp intake of breath. The Wasp was a twenty-two gun sloop of war, commissioned in 1814. On her maiden voyage, during the War of 1812, shed gone on a cruise patrolling the western approaches of the English Channel, where shed destroyed the HMS Avon and captured fifteen ships including the HMS Reindeer. She disappeared on her way to the Caribbean later that year along with a crew of one hundred seventy three sailors and marines. Now that ship was approaching, coming from some mythical city that was on a mystical continent with her guns run out. I wonder what her intentions are. Lockleys voice echoed Barretos own thoughts. Barreto surveyed the shattered deck around her and the condition of both her crew and vessel. Whatever they are, we are in no condition to fight. Lockley nodded in agreement and watched with her captain as the mysterious ship from the path made its rapid approach. Chapter 86 High Speed Pursuit

Harry leaned down over his broom, coaxing as much velocity as possible. He and his team were flying level, barely skimming the tree tops. The landscape below consisted of a multitude of islands tightly packed together, much like an archipelago. When the cataclysm struck the island of Atlantis, the numerous canals that served as highways to the islands interior also served as fracture points for the earthquakes. The canals widened and became lines of demarcation among the various districts and duchies that made up the Atlantean kingdom. The environment of each island was different, with no discernable reason or pattern to them. In once second, Harry would pass over a heavily forested region then cross a wide canal, and arrive at a barren desert region. Harry swerved to avoid a large, snowcapped peak on one island, only to see a boggy rain forest on another. With no sun to guide him, Harry kept one eye on the terrain and another on his target, the six fast moving figures ahead of him. Thornton left to the sounds of cannon fire. The Ministry vessel had caught up with the Malitia. Making a snap decision, he gathered his five most reliable wizards, including Cavanaugh, and made for the center of Atlantis. His vulture, Carrion, swept ahead of them and made a return circuit. Flying alongside its master, the ugly bird turned its mottled beak toward Thornton and squawked out a pitiful screech. Thornton looked at his pet and then snapped his head back in the direction he came. He could just make out the six pursuing Aurors that were closing the gap on him. He turned to the front and made a quick calculation of the distance to the high mountain in the center of the island and the rate of closure of the Aurors and decided that it was going to be close, barring any unforeseen circumstances. The dark wizards were riding on blackened flying carpets. Each was kneeling on their carpet, towards the front half. Their hands were wrapped tight on the leading edge of the carpet, which they turned by pulling either hand on the edge of the direction they wanted to go. Pushing down on the front caused the carpet to dive and pulling up caused it to climb. Thornton motioned the rest to kneel lower, hoping to get a little more speed out of their conveyances. Up ahead, their destination loomed. The center of Atlantis sat on the largest islet of the group. In the greenish light, Thornton could make out a black cloud shrouding the island. The cloud was seemed to writhe and meander on its own. As he drew nearer, Thornton noticed the cloud seem to turn towards him and his minions. Getting closer still, he saw the cloud break up into smaller and smaller pieces. Pressing on, Thornton dove to skim the wave tops. Harry saw the same cloud that Thornton saw. Seeing his quarry dive, Harry descended to match him. Harry saw the dark cloud dissipate into thousands of individual pieces and as he neared the island, he saw that it wasnt a cloud, but flocks of birds. Harry saw immediately that further flight would be near impossible closer to the island because the sheer numbers and density of the avian fog would hinder their ability to fly. Hating to do so, Harry steered his team away from a direct pursuit of his enemy and made for a stone pier that marked the border of the central island. They would continue on foot. Thornton hazarded a glance back at Harrys team and saw them start to descend, obviously intimidated by the birds in the distance. With a flick of his head, Thornton sent his large vulture ahead, intending for the evil bird to use its size to intimidate the flocks ahead. The gruesome bird swept forward, its mighty beak emitting a horrifying shriek. At first, a small hole developed in the throng of birds. Thornton watched closely as a group of the dark, coppery colored birds swooped down. Several of their feathers seemed to shoot off from their wings. Instead of fluttering down to the ground, the feathers made a straight line for the vulture, like bullets from a gun. They crossed the distance to Thorntons bird and hit it squarely, immediately perforating the birds torso in an explosion of feathers. One of the projectiles hit the hapless bird with such force that it carried through its body and on towards Thornton. The feather imbedded itself in the surface of Thorntons carpet. He reached down and pulled the feather out. It was metallic, made of bronze. Its edges were razor sharp. Thornton looked up sharply, in time to see Carrion give out one last baleful cry and then plunge to the island below. Stymphalian birds, Thornton thought. In flash, he banked his carpet sharply, diving for the relative safety of the ground. His men followed him as rapidly as they could. Unfortunately, they were not as disciplined as the Aurors, so their

formation was ragged and slow. The last blue-clad wizard to respond cried out as thousands of flechette-like feathers slammed into his body and catapulted him from his carpet to fall to earth below. He was dead before he hit the ground. Harrys eyes tracked the fall of the hapless wizards body, and then turned to his team. Williamson had them gathered together under a stone archway at the end of the stone pier. Theyd stowed their brooms and were cinching up satchels and carry-alls for the trek into the islands interior. They were all similarly clothed, still wearing the sailors garb theyd adopted while on the Discooperire. They wore loose black pants tucked into calf-length workmans boots which laced up to the top. The crew of the Discooperire had adopted loose fitting tan half robes which buttoned tightly at the end of the sleeve to allow for freedom of movement. Around their waists were the ubiquitous red sashes where they stowed their wands and borrowed swords. Harry smiled as they reminded him of a pirate band from the stories hed read in his solitary life in the room under the stairs at the Dursleys. What was that all about, Harry? Manchester gave a gruff nod over to where the birds flocked. Stymphalian Birds, Sean. The blank look on all their faces told him he needed to expand on his detail. They were one of the Labors that Heracles had to overcome. Theyre very nasty. Watch them. He pointed to the birds that had killed the Brotherhood wizard. They were swooping down in a frenzy. Theyre flesh eaters. The eat anything they kill. How do we get past them? Leonoras question spoke for them all. Harry turned to Burby, who had a thoughtful expression on his face. Noise. Heracles used noise to scare them off. So did Jason and the Argonauts. Harry nodded and looked at Williamson who had a smile on his face. The Auror Team leader reached into his robe and pulled several canisters out and tossed one to each of the Aurors. Looks like were going to owe your brother-in-law more money, Harry. Williamson looked down at the canister in his hand. In rich writing on the side it said simply: Weasleys Whiz Bang Special: Guaranteed to offer to loudest gong for your galleon! Harry chuckled. He had no idea how hed get this expense chit through the pitbull in accounting that was dating Dean Thomas. He shuddered; hed rather face a million Furies than try to remember his accounting cost code for Isabella Ramirez. She was formidable. Spilt milk, Harry thought, and then he began to walk into the interior of the island, his team following close behind. *** Thornton managed to lead his surviving wizards to an open beach opposite where Harrys team landed on the far side of the island. Ignoring the hateful glares from his men, he pulled a papyrus scroll from the inside pocket of his pea coat and stared at it. In the distance, he saw the high peak that marked the center of the island. An overgrown path led from the beach into the foreboding forest ahead. Come on, this way. Thornton began to walk up the path. Three of the wizards hesitated slightly, but Cavanaugh gave them an evil sneer and they slowly began to trudge behind their leader. They walked for hours, the wood never seeming to thin out. After a while, the green sky began to dim, as if in this world, there was a period of night. As darkness fell, pinpricks of light dotted the dark canopy of the sky. Thornton paused for a moment as a blood red moon rose in the distance and cast an eerie glow on everything around. They could barely make out the ground around them. Thornton called a halt in a clearing and told them to make camp for the night. As his men prepared to settle in, Thornton made a circuit of the open space. The lack of forest sounds was disconcerting for him. There was no rustle of the leaves in the wind, no hoot of

a night owl, no chirping of crickets: there was simply silence. He returned to the comforting crackle of the fire that burned in the center of their camp. Squatting, he read through his scroll in the firelight. One of his men was patrolling the perimeter, the first watch of the night, however long the night lasted. Suddenly the silence was broken by a loud snort and growl. They were not alone. Nothing moved, yet they could all feel the presence of something out there. They sat around the fire, their eyes turned out to the mysterious darkness of the beyond. *** Harry and his team came to an open savannah consisting of rolling hills and tall grass. As the sky darkened, announcing the night, Harry called for a halt and began to assist his team with setting up camp. Harrys exploits had been required study by Aurors for years and so their standard kit consisted of charmed satchels that held a multitude of items which included tents for outdoor excursions. Soon, a circle of tents was arrayed around a blazing fire. Williamson set about setting watches for the night. As soon as he sat next to Harry, a loud roar bellowed in the distance. Best set two man watches. Williamson nodded. Ill go stand one with you. Harry looked around, seeking the source of the roar. An hour went by with no sign of what had been out there. Slowly, the six Aurors stood down, but were unable to fully relax. Harry felt the tension. Look, whatever is out there, is out there. We need to rest. He beckoned the team to sit around the fire. Well be fine. Now, Sean, why dont you tell us about you and Lockley? Sean Manchester blushed noticeably in the orange firelight. The rest of the team chuckled at his discomfort. Harry turned to Williamson. I wouldnt laugh too hard, Eric, Im sure everyone is quite interested in you and the lovely first mate. The tension was released as they shared a laugh at their team leaders expense. Later, Harry sat inside his tent and reached for the mirror shard. He pulled it out gently and called her name. Ginny? He waited for a few moments, but she didnt appear. Ginny? He waited again; still, she was not there. He walked out and glanced at the sky. The star patterns were unrecognizable and the crimson moon was unnerving. Perhaps the mirror did not work in this place. He hoped she wouldnt worry. He returned to his tent and packed the mirror. As he settled into his sleeping bag, the bestial roar penetrated the silence of the camp. This time, it was much, much closer. *** Ginny exited the lift at the second floor. She stepped towards the Office of Aurors and stopped as she heard her name called. She turned to find Sarah exiting the training arena, Silas close behind her looking a little chagrined. Ginny smiled at her friend and exchanged pleasantries with the pair. Sarah looked over at her trainee. Silas, stop taking it so hard. Everyone doesnt win their time in team combat. He glanced at her doubtfully. Besides, Kingsley is as good at they come. Hes been trying to hone his skills before the school term begins. Sarah became a little exasperated. Look, go back to your desk and think about three things you did well and three things you want to improve on. Well compare it to my list in a few minutes. Trouble? Ginny tried her best to hide her grin. No, but I wonder if I as this helpless when I started. Anyhow, what brings you down here? How are you feeling? Sarah cast a quick glance at Ginny, checking for discomfort. Since Harry had gone off chasing Thornton, his friends had taken it upon themselves to constantly hover over Ginny. Many had offered to sit for James, although that task was a duty assumed by Kreacher, several had, in fact, done the job. Sarah and Lee called it their trial run.

Im fine. Im going to see Ron, to check on him. Sarah gave a laugh. What? Nothing really, but for someone who doesnt believe in cravings, Hermione has had Ron chasing all over creation for some strange items. Ginny gave her a what gives look. Hes been running around trying to find lumpia and Tabasco sauce. Whats lumpia? Ginny honestly had no clue. Isabella knew. Ginny grinned again. Lumpia are Filipino egg rolls. Ginny laughed at the thought of her brother scampering about to find the delicacy. Sarah had walked her to the Office and bid her farewell. Ginny walked over to her brothers cubicle. Ron had his head down on his desk. His normally long, straight hair was frazzled and frayed, fighting its pony tail. She laughed, which caused him to raise his head. Dont you dare! You said pregnancy was a wonderful time, filled with joy and beauty! His eyes were bloodshot and lines were multiplying on his face. Thats what I said, Ron. What did Harry tell you? Ron stopped short. He remembered what Harry said and what Harry did during Ginnys first pregnancy. He sighed heavily and dropped his head down once more. Ginny grabbed her brothers arm. Come on, Ron. I asked George to take over on Hermione craving duty for a couple of hours. Lets go get some fresh air and some tea. Howd you manage that with George? Ron relented and allowed his sister to drag him along. Easy, I blackmailed him. Ron looked over at his sister in shock. Maybe not, maybe George volunteered out of the goodness of his heart? Rons glance became even more skeptical. You paid him. Ginny laughed with her brother. I paid him. Harrys office door opened up and the luscious figure of Isabella Ramirez came walking out at a rapid clip. Trailing behind her was Lachlan McCrory, who was having to almost run to keep up with her. Isabella was speaking rapidly, a mixture of English interlaced with Spanish curses underneath her breath. Lachlans reedy, high pitched Scottish brogue became more pronounced. Those were needed! Isabella stopped short and folded her arms in front of her, her weight resting on one leg. Her eyes blazed and Lachlan seemed to cower from her gaze. Fifty bags, maybe I would understand, but five hundred bags? There arent that many owls in the country! Youve got to be smarter than that! Send them back! She turned on her heel and stomped from the room, another flurry of swear words almost turning the air blue. Lachlan saw Ginny and Ron and shrugged his shoulders. Harry better get back soon. I dont seem to have enough backside for this. He glanced at his rear end. She keeps chewing more and more of it off, everyday. What was that about? Ron looked over to where Isabella had stormed off. Owl treats. Savage has a brother who has a friend who could get us a deal on them if we bought five hundred bags. Ron shook his head. Ginny found her respect for Isabella growing every day.

Id stop fighting her, Lachlan. At this rate, youll be standing for the foreseeable future. She gave a playful glance at Lachlans rear end and laughed. He laughed with her. She grabbed Ron by the arm and took him out of the Office. Later that night, after shed put James down for the evening, she lay in her bed. She absently rubbed her stomach and her heart ached for her husband. These were the times she hated the most. She was strong willed and independent. She had a large and supportive circle of family and friends, but these nights alone weighed her down. She looked over to the end table and picked up the mirror piece. Harry? No answer. Shed not heard from him in two days. Perhaps he was busy, or something worse. Harry? She hoped for some response, but none was forthcoming. She sighed and decided to turn in. She lay in bed, staring at the ceiling. It was quite some time before sleep eventually overtook her. *** Harry and his team were circled near the fire. Williamson was lying on the ground; a horrible wound across his chest was bleeding profusely. Leonora was tending to him while the remainder of the team stood with their wands and swords drawn. Everyone had some injury. Burby could barely stand, his thigh punctured with bite marks. Coombs arm hung limply at his side, his shoulder a wreck while he held his wand out with his good hand. Manchester was bleeding from his side, a good sized wound made from a claw swipe. Harry was at the front, blood rushing from wounds on his back, arms and legs. He gripped his weapons tightly as the roar sounded again. Get ready, its coming back! The group tensed, awaiting the next assault. Chapter 87 Herculean Efforts Harry ignored the pain of his injuries. He turned to face the source of the throaty roar that threatened them. Out of the shadows and into the light of the fire, a massive lion paced, circling them with its head down in a feral, stalking posture. Its main was vividly golden and its fangs hung low from its jaws. Thinking back to the encounter with the Stymphalian Birds, Harrys mind began to form a hypothesis about their adversary. The Stymphalian Birds represented one of the Labors of Heracles. Carrying this theme forward, Harry assumed that this was some form of the Nemean Lion. If that were the case, Harry thought, then they were in serious trouble. The Nemean Lion was impervious to weapons, its hide impenetrable. Being a magical beast, their direct magic had little effect on it as well. Its initial assault had been devastating, with the team receiving the bulk of their injuries in the first pass. Now, they were battered and had no means of defending themselves. The hulking feline m ade several snaps of its jaws in Harrys direction, then it stopped. Harry noticed that it was crouching more on its legs, its taloned paws digging in to the ground. Hes getting ready to strike! Harry pulled at Manchester, dragging the Auror away from the scene. Burby and Coombs edged their way in the opposite direction. Williamson was helpless and Leonora refused to budge from his side. Unsteadily, she held her wand up in one last attempt to hold off her inevitable death. Coombs saw what she was doing and stopped. He turned around and jumped in front of the Lion, just as the mighty beast was making its death leap at Leonora. Coombs was an animagus whose form was that of a large ram. He shifted into that form and bucked at the charging Lion with all the effort in his body. His horns met with the breast of the Lion, right at the top of its massive front legs. Remarkably, he stopped the attack in its tracks, as if the rampaging Lion had run solidly into a brick wall. The Coombs Ram was favoring its injured front arm, but gamely stood before the Lion, interceding between the predator and its prey. The Lion let out a tremendous roar and swiped at Coombs with a large paw, its claws extended and

driving a deep gash into the side of Coombs head. The ram was unsteady and then fell in a heap, unable to move. In that fleeting second, Coombs reverted to his human form, a large wound to the side of his head. The Lion turned towards Leonora. She was staring in horror at Coombs form near the fire. She turned and made eye contact with the beast as it prepared to strike once more. Incendio! A large tongue of flame shot from her wand and pressed down on the Lions head. While his hide was impenetrable, like any beast of the wild, fire seemed to be a natural fear. She pressed her attack and the Lion began to fall backwards, retreating from the heat and light of the assault. In desperation, the Lion swiped its paw at a nearby tent pole which brought the fabric of the tent into contact with the flame. The loose material caught quickly and some of the burning embers landed on Leonoras face and arms, causing her to fall to the ground in pain. Seeing its tormentor wounded and vulnerable, the Lion made to attack Leonora. Thats when Harry stepped forward. He saw how the elemental attack had affected the beast. He took a quick look at his surroundings and struck. Aguamenti! A large, high pressure water jet hit the Lion on its flank. Harry kept up the pressure, and pushed the Lion onto its side. Harry never relented, keeping the full force of the spray on the body and face of the Lion. Slowly, the creature began to be pushed backwards, its body trailing on the ground. Harry felt the strain of the sustained spell, his cuts opening anew. Manchester saw where Harry was driving the beast and added a water jet of his own to the battle. The combined efforts drove the Lion several meters towards the sound of surf and waves. The rolling savannah they were on ended abruptly in a large precipice. Burby had almost fallen over during the previous day, because of the suddenness of the drop. Harry and Manchesters combined efforts drove the Lion to edge of the cliff. The mighty beast fought, its claws seeking purchase in the loose soil to no avail. After one last attempt to leap at them, the force of the water jets sent the beast over the edge and down the almost three hundred meter drop to the rocky beach below. Harry was breathing heavily and peered over the edge of the cliff. He could barely make out the angry roars of the animal. Its hide was impervious to harm, but it was trapped below, with no noticeable way to climb back up. Theyd bought themselves s ome time. Harry and Manchester made their way back to the shattered camp. Williamson was sitting upright, but his head was bowed. Leonora was repairing the senior Aurors wounds and struggling to hold back the well of tears that were pent up behind her eyes. Burby knelt over his friend and colleague. The tall, dark-skinned Auror laid a gentle hand down on Coombs lifeless eyes and closed them. He looked over at Harry and shook his head. Hes gone. Burby returned his gaze at the small, thin Auror who was the best fighter of the group. Theyd been working together for countless years and now the weight of the loss played on Burbys shoulders. Added to the shock of the adrenaline that was lessening, he also felt the wound in his thigh began to throb. Harry stood stunned and dismayed. The sky was beginning to lighten, indicating the approach of another day in the green light of this strange land. Mend what we can. Gather up anything you can. We have to get going. No one moved. The team had been together for a long time and the loss of a valued member struck them hard. Harry gave steel to his voice. He died to save us. We cant let it be for nothing. Now, get going. Ill see to him. Manchester, Williamson and Leonora began to stir, helping to heal each other of their physical injuries. Burby remained motionless. He looked at Harry, pleadingly. We cant leave him here to be picked at, Harry. He deserves better. Harry nodded and walked over the lifeless Auror. Carefully, he plucked the silver Aurors shield from his tunic and collected Coombs wand. With a flick of his wand, Harry carefully moved Coombs body into his tent and wrapped the body up in the fabric of the tent. Burby watched carefully as Harry raised his wand once more. Reaching out, Burby grabbed Harrys arm. Ill do it. He was my friend. Harry nodded and stepped away

from Burby as the tall Auror raised his wand. Good bye, Carter. With that, Monroe Burby set fire to the remains of Carter Coombs, Auror, Ministry of Magic. *** Thornton shouted at Cavanaugh, Use your sword! Thats what its there for! The large wizard took a great swipe at the charging boar with his blade, momentarily deflecting the beast from its attack. Thornton looked around wildly. The beast had come at them during the night. It was huge, almost the size of full sized horse. Its tusks were crooked and jagged and it had managed to gore one of his men before they knew what had happened. It had to be an Erythmanthian Boar, another one of the Labors of Heracles. Fire seemed to keep it at bay and it seemed vulnerable to the blades. It was bleeding from over a dozen wounds, which only seemed to enrage the beast. Theyd been fighting it all night and they were weary and tired. The exh austion of their ordeal was tearing at their ability to fight and soon the final charge would be nearing. The sky was fully lit, its eerie green glow reflected menacingly off the black hide of the animal. Its eyes grew wild as the full light of the day caught it. It gave a mighty squeal and attacked with all of its force, ignoring the swipes of the swords to its flank and driving the top of its head into Thorntons chest. Thornton felt the air exit his lungs and expected to feel the tearing of flesh a s the beast drove its tusks into him. When that did not come to pass, Thornton opened his eyes in time to see the Boar running off down the trail towards a hill in the distance. Cavanaugh lent Thornton a hand up. Perhaps its just a night creature. Thornton felt around his body for obvious wounds and winced at the pain in this chest from the blow. He couldnt find fault with his henchmans logic, but it hurt to speak, so he simply nodded. They were down to four and barely half way to their destination. They tended to their wounds and resumed their trek up towards the center of the island. *** Their bodies were repaired, but the remnant aches and pains stayed with them. They ache of their loss wore on them more and Harry felt it as well. They walked in silence, no one wanting to say anything. Slowly, the treacherous terrain made their efforts hard and they were gasping for breath as the team made its way towards the last mountain. Harrys mind turned to what they had faced so far. The thought of mimicking the Labors of Heracles was more than just intimidating, they were horrifying. Theyd only really experienced one labor, and they had lost one Auror. How many more could they overcome? Harry? Williamsons face was pale, but the Auror wa s keeping pace with them. Harry looked over at him. How many labors were there? Twelve, why? Harry stepped over a tiny crevasse in the exceedingly rocky path. I was just thinking, there werent a lot of beasts, really. Most of the labors invol ved retrieving an item or completing a chore, right? Harry nodded. I was just thinking, you killed Cerberus in the Ministry. We left the Lion back there on the beach. What else do you think wed have to face? Harry thought for a moment. There was a boar, a bull, a hind, and some mares. We saw the birds. I think there were some cattle, but Im not sure. Why? Did I miss something? Burby spoke for the first time since the battle. Yes, Harry. You forgot the big one. The thought dawned on Harry and Burby saw the recognition in his leaders eyes. Somewhere down the line, there has to be a hydra out there. Harry shuddered, his mind racing on how to stop a nine-headed dragon.

*** Thornton led his men to one final open meadow before they reached base of the central mountain. They walked gingerly, eyes scanning the horizon. Exhaustion was reflected on all their faces, the lack of sleep burning their eyes. Thornton glanced ahead and saw the entrance to the trail that led up the mountain. He picked up the pace and then halted in his tracks. A large four legged figure strolled out onto the path, snorting madly at them. It was a bull, larger than any Thornton could recall. Its horns stretched over four meters and its eyes were a bright read. Under his breath, Thornton, the former scholar, hissed. The Cretan Bull. Rumored to be the sire of the legendary Minotaur, the bull was massive and renowned for its aggression. The four wizards stopped walking. One of the men at the end of the group began to turn. Dont move. Thornton warned. The man ignored his master. The fear and exhaustion of the journey finally triggered his flight response. He bolted back the way theyd come at a sprint. The bull roared and charged after the m an. Stay still. Thornton chided the other two wizards. They felt the air rush by them as the Bull picked up steam. When it had passed them, Thornton beckoned the other two and the made a mad dash for the entrance to the path. The only question was whether the coward who bolted would last long enough for them to reach the mountain. They ran with all their remaining energy. Within minutes, they heard the screams of their colleague as the Bull tracked him down. Thornton and his two remaining men stretched the limits of their endurance. He could almost imagine hearing the hooves of the Bull reaching them. The sound of gravel hit their feet as they reached the rocky path leading up. They pulled themselves up to the first outcropping cliff and fell in a heap. Thornton looked back to the meadow and saw the Bull standing near the entrance to the path. Its horns and hooves were bloody and a fire burned in its eyes as if to tell them, hed be there waiting when they returned. Thornton shook himself, and led his men up the path. They were on the final stretch that would lead them to the Palace of Cleito and ultimate power. Chapter 88 Homefront Fall arrived at the Burrow, bringing cooler days and chilly nights. Dudley used the portkey that Arthur Weasley had provided him and arrived in the courtyard of Weasley home. Dudley took a quick look around and pulled the strap of the hard metal tool kit up on his shoulder. He walked silently to the front door and placed his tool kit down on the stoop. He depressed a small button on the side of the door jamb and laughed to himself as a symphony of bells announced his visit to the family inside the home. After a few seconds, he heard the light tapping of footsteps followed by the door swinging wide open. Molly Weasley offered him a smiled and beckoned the large man inside. Hello Dudley! Arthur and Teddy are inside. Mollys voice dropped to a whisper. Ginnys here too, with James. Dudley gave her a surprised look, worry immediately clouding his face. Is there word from Harry? No, thats the problem. He hasnt used the mirror in four days. Ginny is starting to get worried. Mollys eyes told Dudley that she was worried for her daughter and her son in law. With a nod, Dudley walked back into the kitchen.

He walked in to find several people seated around the large kitchen table. James was propped up on Andromeda Tonks lap, allowing the doting woman to hand feed him food from a plate in front of them. James eyes widened when he saw Dudley. Duds! The toddler was delighted in getting Dudleys name out while his mouth was full of carrots and mashed potatoes. James was a healthy eater and his natural curiosity caused him to be willing to try something new every day. Dudley smiled at his nephew. How are you doing there, munchkin? Eating again, I see. Dudleys mouth opened into a laugh as he watched Andromeda ignore the wayward food that landed on her lap. Uncle Dudley! Did you bring the tools? Teddy Lupin had been huddled in th e corner with Arthur going over back issues of Popular Mechanics. His hair had been changing colors as the strapping eight year old boy saw idea elements that he wanted to try on Harrys motorbike. When Dudley nodded his head, Teddys hair turned a bright pink, which was indicative of Teddys giddiness over the project. Arthur offered Dudley a wave of the hand, but his attention was soon captured by another choice article which he pointed out to Teddy. Teddy offered a soundless shout while his hair became bright red. Dudleys gaze shifted to the figure seated at the end of the table. Ginny was hunched over a mug of tea, not really noticing what was going on around her. Her eyes were bloodshot, as if shed not slept in days and her hair was a tangle of red curls, more wild than he could remember. Gently, Dudley sat himself beside her and smiled. Whats doing, Ginny? She tried to give him a brave smile, but the effort couldnt overcome her gloomy mood. Dudley gave her a slight pat on the back. Hes fine, you know. She looked at him, part of her desperately needing proof that his words were true. I havent heard from him in days, Dudley. I stay awake at night, so I dont miss him if he calls. Dudley noticed the mirror fragment that was on the table, not far from her reach. Well, thats just silly! Ginnys eyes widened a bit. Everyone had tried to console her, so Dudleys response was unexpected. When he saw that he had her attention, he continued. Harry went off for a year chasing horcruxes or some such and you didnt need a fancy mirror to tell you he was fine. My goodness, Ginny, hes only been gone a month and youre fretting after four days! There was silence around the table, even James, smile intact, seemed to want to hear Dudley talk. You two are connected. You knew when he was hurt or needed help before; do you have that feeling now? Ginny shook her head. Dudleys voice softened a little, but the conviction was strong. We have to assume that everything is fine until we know otherwise. This is Harry Potter were talking about. Dudley puffed up his chest affecting the pose of a pompous aristocrat. He has a certain flair for the dramatic. This brought a smile to Ginnys face. For the first time that night, sh e seemed to take stock of her surroundings. Her gaze settled on James, whose brown eyes twinkled with delight, almost winking at her. She was serious for a moment, her commitment to her son and the life she was growing within anchoring her in the moment. James met her gaze. With a smile, his eyes never leaving his mother, he reached up with his hand, a gob of mashed potatoes in his fingers, and gave Andromeda Tonks a pat on the cheek, smearing the soft, white food on her face. James! Ginnys rebuk e caused her son to giggle uncontrollably. Ginny rose and found a dishtowel, offering Andromeda, who was giggling herself, assistance with cleanup. Despite her melancholy, Ginny found herself laughing with them.

Dudley rose from the table. Molly offered him silent thanks and turned to help her daughter with James. Dudley looked over at Teddy. You ready to get started, Rainbow Head? Teddy looked up from the magazine. Any time you are Ogre Breath, and thats Agent Rainbow Head to you. Dudley sm iled and waited for Teddy to join him. The pair gave Arthur a questioning look. Ill be along shortly. The Minister of Magic was putting the magazines away. I have to review some reports and then Ill be out. Take your time, Uncle Arthur! Teddy gave a chuckle. Wed like to get the motor started this time. Arthur looked at the boy with a quizzical expression. Molly laughed. Why Arthur, I think young Teddy is questioning your mechanical abilities. The elder Weasley laughed. I do believe he is. Just for that, Ill be out sooner than I thought. Teddy looked up at Dudley. Come on, Uncle Dudley; lets see what we can get done before Uncle Arthur gums up the works. The flying biscuit hit Teddy square in the center of the chest. The boy caught the roll and promptly took a large bite out of it. With a laugh, he pulled Dudley out the door towards the barn. *** Theyd given her a much larger office. Isabella Ramirez sat behind a massive desk, parchment and paper scattered among the surface. Every so often, shed scribble something down and hold a scrap of paper in the air. One of the several owls perched on a bar in the corner of the room would swoop down and land on a spot on the desk. Shed roll it up and place the paper in th e owls leg holder and give the bird a destination. Without a second thought, the owl would soar off, bringing her missive to its intended recipient. Dean Thomas stood in the doorway and watched her work. She was flicking her fingers across an abacus and writing her findings into columns in the ledger. He was amazed at how well shed adapted both to the reality of magic and the limitations of working without modern tools. She felt his eyes on her and looked up. Her smile warmed his heart and he felt his cheeks flush with excitement. Her eyes danced merrily and seemed to flutter with a fire that took his breath away. Im sorry. His voice broke the silence. She gave him a questioning look. I didnt expect you to have to work with all these limitations. A good laptop would be indispensable right about now. Her smile widened. Oh no, this is wonderful. Its pure. Its cash in and expenses out. Seriously, how did you people ever get anything done? Dean laughed with her and shrugged her shoulders. Its always been a matter of will. Minister Weasley has the will. Youve done an amazing job! Thirty percent! Can you believe it? Through her efforts, the Ministrys cash flow had increased by thirty percent without raising taxes a single iota. She was ferocious in tracking down waste and overages. Dean continued. Its late. You feel like getting out of here? We could grab dinner. She closed her ledger and shooed the remaining owls off their perches. She grabbed her coat. Where do you want to go? She had fallen in love with Diagon Alley. The wonders of the magic world in a day to day view was something she never tired of.

We could go to Diagon Alley, if you want. Dean was trying to understand her. She smiled wickedly. We could do that. I was thinking of dinner in. Why dont we just go to my apartment and Ill whip something up. We could have breakfast at Diagon Alley, tomorrow. With that, she smiled and slowly walked out the door, leaving him standing there with his mouth agape. She stopped and looked over her shoulder, and gave him a playful wink. Dean shook his head. He suddenly realized hed never really understand his Latin love. He gave a sigh and whispered. Dios Mio! He pulled the door close and ran t o catch up with her. *** Ron Weasley slowly walked into his apartment and tossed his bag down by the door. He was beyond exhaustion. Hermiones first trimester was very difficult. The morning sickness and the cravings encompassed his entire non-working hours and with a quarter of the Aurors off with Harry, his professional workload was burning him out as well. The apartment was quiet and the lights were out, except for a candle near the window. Hermione? He looked around. For half of an instan t, the ghost of anxiety from the vampire episode crossed his mind. Her voice settled that down. In here! Her voice came from the bedroom. He walked into the room and found her reclined on a chaise lounge, several pillows propped behind her back. She was reading an old, leatherbound book. He took in her beauty. She looked happy, for the first time in weeks, she seemed calm. Her eyes glimmered when he walked in and her smile lifted all traces of tiredness and exhaustion from his shoulders. How are you feeling? He leaned down and gave her a kiss on the lips. Very well. It was a good day, finally. She beamed, she was entering her second trimester and had a worry free day. Ron smiled. Oh, so shes decided to settle down, has she? She threw a pillow at him. What makes you say that its a girl? Her voice was playful, teasing. Only a woman could be that much trouble, before they were even born. This time she threw the pillow harder, impacting hard on his head. She was laughing. She moved over to the side of the lounge and invited him to sit with her. He accepted without a second thought and wrapped his arms around her. They sat together enjoying the silence and the closeness. He could feel her heart beating in time with his and imagined the little heart thumping inside her as well. He felt intoxicated by the aroma of her hair as it tickled his nose. She was beautiful and he let her know by kissing her lightly on the back of her neck. She purred gently and ran her hand on his cheek. She turned about gently and kissed him solidly, the first real kiss of passion in some time for the both of them. Suddenly, she rose from the lounge and reached her hand out to him. With a smirk, Ron thought to himself, This is the change that Harry told him about. She waved her hand and the bedroom door closed with enough authority to extinguish the candle in the living room. *** Teddy, can you go fetch us some water from the kitchen? The youth stood up from turning a wrench on the engine of the motorbike. He nodded and bounded off for the kitchen. Dudley watched him go and looked at Arthur.

What do we know about Harry? Is this unusual? Arthur wiped some grease from his face and mopped his brow with an oil stained rag. The truthful answer is that we dont know. This voyage has never been attempted before. The last we heard was that they were pursuing the Malitia towards the Road, after the first battle. Given how ferocious the first fight had been, I just dont know. Arthurs worry for his daughter and son-in-law as well as his anxiety as Minister of Magic had aged him noticeably. Dudley tried to eliminate the thought that was at the forefront of both their minds. He couldnt. What if he fails, Arthur? What then? Im trying to get the Ministry ready to respond. Ive already sent feelers to the Order of the Phoenix in order to supplement our numbers. Truthfully, if Thornton gets his hands on Poseidons Scepter, I dont know if well be able to stop him. Dudley wa tched as the burden of leadership ground down the good man in front of him. I suppose that only leaves one thing, then. Arthur looked over at Dudley, knowing what he was going to say. Harry isnt going to fail. He doesnt know how. Arthur chuckled. Now, pass that gasket over or well be bleeding oil out the back. Thats what its supposed to do. Teddy appeared, holding three mugs and a pitcher of lemonade. Dudley looked over at Teddy. The boys hair was dark black. Its part of the dou bleoh package, instant oil slick. Nothings too good for Potter, Harry Potter. Teddy struck a pose, holding his index finger up in the air like a gun. Dudley laughed and explained. Nothing stops a motorbike like Oil, No Oil. The three broke into guffaws and went back to their work. Chapter 89 The Palace of Cleito The path switch backed up the side of the mountain. Harry and his team negotiated the narrow walkway, often sidestepping precipitous drops to the valley below. The mountain was devoid of vegetation filled with sharp, ebon rock that was smooth on its facets. At certain points of the climb, they had to scale vertical rises, the task made easier by obviously man-made handholds carved into the rock face. The view of Atlantis was breathtaking; the individual islets looked like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle laid out on a board for the eye to see. They began to see the summit ahead. For the most part, they were silent, their energy focused on the grueling climb up the treacherous face of their obstacle. They walked up towards the apex of their climb. At the top, the ground opened up into a large platform. What they saw took their breath away. They were standing on the top rim of a vast crater. The mountain was, in fact, a volcano at the exact center of the continent. The rim was well over ten kilometers wide and the center of the crater contained a lake that stretched from rim edge to rim edge. The water lapped lazily at the edge of their platform. Harry knelt down and touched a finger to its smooth surface. It was ice cold and deep, the water a dark black from the depths in the center of the mountain. A rocky plateau dominated the center of the lake. Amid the center of the plateau was an ancient Doric structure, a perfect replica of the Parthenon in Athens. The difference was that its columns seemed smooth and whole as if it had been built only recently, instead of over ten millennia before. The water was so still, the building held a perfect reflection of itself on the surface. Do we swim for it? Williamsons voice echoed off the cavernous walls of the crater. Manchester gave a sarcastic laugh. Considering what weve run into so far, do you really want to be splashing about in a mysterious dark lake? Williamson laug hed, but Harry felt that Manchesters point was well taken. How should they proceed?

Harry studied their platform and noticed that on the lake side, it was hand carved such that it looked like a man-made pier. Twin posts stretched out from its edge and a bronze gong was suspended between the posts over the water. Looking around, Harry picked up a couple of pieces of loose shale and tested them for weight. With a mighty heave, he threw a fist sized rock at the gong, its chime resounding across the entire area. The surface of the lake rippled from the sound waves. Harry studied the ripples. Instead of dissipating, they grew larger and more violent at a point almost midway between the plateau and their dock. The center of the disturbance began to froth and spray flew into the sky. Six horses heads flew from the water, bits in their mouths towing a small, golden boat behind it. Halfway down the horses body, the equine form gave way to a scaly serpents tail with a broad fin at the end. The reins of their bits were held by a tall, shrouded figure, his hands deftly guiding his charges towards the dock. The hands held no flesh, but were made of bone and scraps of rags. Harry tried to make out the face of the figure under the hood, but the front was masked by black, gauzy material that only shone with twin blue lights where the eyes normally would be. That looks like a Hippocampus! Burbys voice was as excited as hed been since the death of his friend. Theyd all seen pictures of Poseidons watery steeds in Newt Scamanders Fantastic Beasts. None had ever seen one up close. The water horses snorted and tugged at their burden, pulling the bejeweled vessel and its mysterious driver to the edge of the dock. The three hippocampi on the side closest to the pier plopped their front hooves on the dock, holding the boat in place. Their driver seemed to float from his position and up onto the pier. He was almost five meters tall, and his luminescent eyes stared at the five Aurors. When he spoke, his voice was loud and low with a gravelly quality as if running a knife over a whetting stone. Passage to the Palace. They looked at each other. Was it a question or a statement? His inflection left doubt in their minds. Harry stepped forward. Yes, we seek passage to the Palace. The tall figures eyes turned toward Harry. Harry fixed his own eyes on the driver, mustering up all the courage he had to stare down the mysterious man. For a moment, the lights of the covered eyes seemed to dim, as if the weight of Harrys stare made him blink. They quickly returned to their full burn and the man held out his skeletal hand, palm up. Payment. Harry stood dumbfounded for a second. What kind of payment would be required? A sacrifice? A life? Harry stood dumbfounded. Leonora reached into her robe and pulled out five galleons. Without speaking, she placed the gold coins in the drivers hand and stepped back to see his reaction. Holding the coins in his hand, he lifted one up with his free hand and held it to his eyes. He turned the coin to either side and then hefted its weight as if assessing its value. Satisfied, he placed the coins in the opening of a small box just inside the body of the boat. He turned to them and raised an arm, beckoning them to enter the boat. Sit. The five Aurors took slow, hesitant steps. Led by Harry, they filed into the boat and sat on the twin rows of benches on the floor. The driver went to front of the vessel and took up the reins. Given their head, the water steeds let go of the dock and the journey to the Palace began. Harry. Burby whispered into Harrys ear. I think thats Charon, the ferryman who took the dead to Hades across the River Acheron.

I thought he brought them across the River Styx. Manchester was trying to keep up with the conversation. No, silly, the River Acheron. The River Styx is just a myth. Williamson stifled a laugh. Burby gave him a hard look and continued. If I remember correctly, he charged an obolus, a silver coin, for passage. Now youve done it Leonora. The woman looked over at Manchester who was shaking his head. She urged him to continue. You paid him in gold. Therell be an audit with Isabella Ramirez for overpaying the fare. Leonora Sigismund held her stern visage for all of one second, before she joined the rest in laughing at the joke. *** Thornton led his two men to a similar pier on the opposite side of the lake. Like the pier that Harry and the Aurors had found, there was a gong affixed to a stanchion. Unlike Harrys pier, there was a small rowboat lashed to the railing as well. Do we sound the gong or row across? Cavanaugh gave his leader a quick look. Thorntons impatience won out. He pointed at the boat and the three made their way into its bottom. Cavanaugh slipped the wooden oars into their locks and began a steady pace across the lake. The boat caused small ripples in the water, but they didnt radiate away from their position. Thornton watched the water begin to swirl and thought he saw the glint of movement in the darkened waters. He squint his eyes, trying to make out the shape. Suddenly, they felt a sharp bump against the hull of the boat. Thornton looked closer at the water, then drew back. Turn around. Go back. Cavanaugh, already startled by the movement, executed a sharp about face and began rowing swiftly back to their pier. Another bump hammered the side, causing the boat to heel to the side. The rotted planking gave way under the grip of the last wizard in their party. He fell over the side, into the cool, foreboding waters. Dont stop, keep going! Thornton hissed and Cavanaughs fear told him that his henchman would comply. The hapless lackey in the water screamed for them to stop, his terror causing his voice to echo against the vertical crater walls. Thornton watched as the man flailed in the water and saw the approaching shape before the doomed man did. In a flash, the man disappeared in an explosion of water as a long, oversized serpent f lew out of the water into the air. Thorntons man was stuck in the maws of the serpents teeth, screaming in pain. The serpent head disappeared in the water, dragging its prey to the depths below. Ladon. Cavanaugh grunted, willing the final few meters to the pier. Thornton ignored Cavanaugh and leapt onto the pier. The Ladon was a water serpent who guarded the apples of the Hesperides. For his eleventh labor, Heracles had to kill the Ladon to retrieve the apples. Now the serpent was guarding the approach to the Palace. Thornton barely noticed as Cavanaugh joined him on the dock. Instead, the dark wizard picked up a rock and threw it at the gong. After a few moments, a skeletal hand was reaching out to Thornton, the gravelly voice traveling to his ear. Passage to the Palace? *** Harry and his team stood on the quay leading up to the massive building that dominated the center of the plateau. Broad alabaster steps led up to the huge columns of the structure and

Harry led his team up the steep incline. They spread out in a loose spear formation, with Harry at the center. When they topped the steps, they walked between the large columns towards the center of the building. After passing fifteen rows of the columns, the floor opened up into a massive open air chamber. The center of the chamber was depressed into a bowl, almost a kilometer wide. At the center of the bowl was a large square building with a massive four-sided pyramid on its roof. The sides of the bowl were squared off, like seating tiers with rows of steps leading down to the building. With a brief look at his companions, Harry started the long walk down towards the bottom of the bowl. They reached one of the four sides of the building and proceeded to a large archway in the middle of the wall. Peering inside the opening, their eyes could not distinguish any movement inside. Carefully, they proceeded in the opening, lighting their wands to guide them through. The structure was dotted with various columns and rooms. Dead ends and false paths dotted the area, like a large maze, much like the one Harry had entered during the Triwizard Tournament. Carefully, they negotiated the maze, focusing on the destination, a large, well lit opening directly beneath the apex of the pyramid. Slowly, they made their way deeper into the structure. Eventually, the room opened up to a central chamber. That was a simple enough obstacle. That maze would hardly keep anyone out. Manchester clapped Williamson on the back, who returned a weary nod to his Auror. The maze is designed to keep you in, not to keep you out. A tired female voice rang through the room. A steep set of stairs rose from the center of the room rising to a platform at the top. A slim, dark-haired woman, wearing bronze chest armor and greaves stood atop the platform, a circular shield and long spear in her hand. In her spear arm, she held a bronze helm with a long red plume on its top. Her expression was tired and sorrowful. You have another labor to complete, heirs of Heracles. Her tone was beautiful, serene, yet baleful and sad. Pieces of the stairway began to fall away, exposing a large dark hole in the ground. Hissing began to emanate from the hole and the light of nine pairs of glowing red eyes emanated from the dark space. Leonora turned to Manchester. You had to open your mouth! She mimicked Seans previous statement in dripping, sarcastic matter. Oh, that maze was too easy. Manchester looked back at her. Not now, Leonora. Save it for later. Slowly, the hissing became louder and the fiery eyes began to draw out of the hole. Williamson lowered his head and turned to Harry. Hydra. It had to be the hydra. You know, Harry. Its too bad you werent an accountant. Id live to see my pension. Manchester didnt skip a beat. Isabella Ramirez is an accountant. Williamson looked back at Manchester, then over to Harry. Oh, I stand corrected. Harry silenced them as he watched the creature draw itself out of its lair and rise to its full height. Nine heads with razor-sharp teeth snapped at the air and at each other and then focused on the five Aurors all at once. Harry? Burby caught Harrys attention. The Auror pointed to an entry on the other side of the room. Harry saw the figures of Thornton and one of his men, slinking along the wall and making their way towards the steps. Thorntons eyes blazed with glee as he saw the Aurors plight. Harry couldnt blame him. The Aurors would have to defeat the hydra to get to Thornton, an d Thornton knew it.

Williamson looked at Harry. Well do it like we discussed. Harry, leave the beastie to us, you go stop Thornton. Harry nodded. His four Aurors paired up, Williamson with Burby and Leonora with Manchester. The team walked ahead of Harry, interposing themselves between the monster and their leader. A tremendous roar filled the room and the hydra coiled up its nine heads, and leapt to the attack. Chapter 90 The Secret of the Key The hydras serpentine necks snapped out towar ds the five Aurors. Leonora, who was covering Manchester and Burby, who was covering Williamson, released quick shield charms to deflect the physical charge of the heads. When the top of a head reached the shield, the momentum of the charge was deflected to the either side. Six of the nine heads crashed into the floor on either side of the Auror pairs. The remaining three heads held back, attempting to find a way to get to Harry, whod started to slide from behind his embattled team to get to the other side of the chamber. Sectumsempra! Williamson snapped his wand at the head nearest him. The spell sliced through the neck, near where it met its scaled, bulbous body. Incendio! With a quick flick of his wrist, a searing tongue of flame burned into the cavity where the neck had been separated, fusing the open wound shut. Meters away, Manchester executed the same severing spell, causing a nearby head to be severed from the creatures body. One of the other deflected snakes heads turned quickly from where it impacted from the ground and caught Manchester with a glancing blow with its jaws, creating a gash in his calf and throwing his follow-up spell off target. Within seconds, the place where hed decapitated the hydra head began to bubble and sprout out two fully grown appendages. They were back where they started. Manchester felt the wound on his leg begin to burn. The saliva of the beast was poisoned and now the wound was cursed. Despite the agony, the squat Auror turned his attention to another head that was beating its top on the perimeter of Leonoras shield. Harry broke into a run, hugging the wall in order to get around to where Thornton and his minion were climbing the steps to the top of the platform. The three heads that were tracking him hurled themselves at him in the attack. Harry conjured a shield charm which deflected two of the heads behind him. Without stopping his momentum, Harry dove forward and high in the air, narrowly causing the remaining head to graze him in the shoulder with its protruding fangs. Harrys dive propelled him forward and when he hit the floor, he executed a graceful roll to absorb his impact on the rough stone. Sectumsempra! Harry barely hit one of the offending beasts with the severing spell , but the dead neck landed on his wand arm, effectively pinning it to the ground. Harry raised his free hand. Incendio! Flames shout from Harrys finger tips and fused the hydras wound shut. Placing his feet on the dead weight holding his arm down, Harry managed to pull his arm and wand free and rolled away in time to avoid the attack of the remaining two heads. Harrys shoulder burned and he felt his strength waning in that part of his body, the hydras poison working its way through his body. Trying to put the pain out of his mind, Harry blocked another strike by his tormenters and pushed back to the wall. Harry reached into a pocket and tossed a small vial on the floor. A small scattering of Peruvian Blackness Powder shrouded Harry from his att ackers sight. This particular version of the powder was less expansive and only covered a six or seven square meter area. While hidden behind the cloud, Harry mumbled a disillusionment charm and started walking along the wall, hidden from the eyes of his hunters, he hoped. Williamson had managed to sever and neutralize another attacking head, but not without a price. Burby had been bitten in his shoulder by a desperate lunge by a dying head and Williamson had

taken a full bite on the thigh by another. While the creature was clamped down on his leg, Williamson cut and cauterized the head. Manchester was fighting through his own agony and had managed to take out a head and burn it shut himself. Now they were down to six heads and four of the five Aurors had been wounded by the bile-laced bite of the hydra. Williamson looked over at the other pair. Draw in tighter! Were getting separated! Burby grunted and began to shuffle over to where Leonora was standing. Williamson hoped that working together; they could keep the heads near them and away from Harry. Unfortunately, only four of the remaining six heads were paying any attention to them. Where were the other two heads? Harry snuck along the wall, his two attackers milling about the dark cloud behind him. Quickly, one of the heads whirled out of the cloud. Its fiery red eyes seemed to looking right at Harry. The crimson orbs narrowed and focused on the exact spot he was standing. Harrys stomach turned as he realized, the creature could see him. A loud hissing snarl came from the massive mouth, and the second head joined its sister and the pair launched themselves at Harry. The head of the Aurors was barely able to get his shield charm up and the impact of the assault threw Harry back against wall. A little dazed, Harry brought his arm up to keep the creature at bay. One of the heads crunched down on his forearm. Expulso! While his arm was engaged with one head, Harry blasted the other. It exploded in to hundreds of pieces. The pain in his arm was excruciating and the head began to drag him along the floor. Keeping his wits about him, Harry fused the neck cavity of the head hed just destroyed. Whipping around to the head that had its death grip on him, he severed its neck and fused it closed. Even in death, the head kept its hold on his arm, blood flowing freely from its mouth. Harry pried open the jaws; ignoring the agony of the long teeth extracting from his flesh. Soon his arm was free, but now was useless, hanging down at his side. He rose and started up the steps to confront Thornton. The dark wizard and his henchman reached the top of the platform. The warrior at the top donned her helm and stepped to meet him. Behind her was a large door made of gold, bronze and silver with a keyhole in the center. She lowered her spear and aimed its razor-sharp point at Thornton. You have not passed the labors. You may not continue! Her voice was menacing and her intent deadly. Thornton laughed and raised the lanyard on his neck, dangling the key in front of her. I have Solons key. You obey me. His haughtiness and arrogance exuded from his voice. Cavanaugh drew his sword and started to circle around the woman. For her part, her laugh was surprising and welcome. The key holds no sway over me. It is what it is. It is simply a key. You must pass the tests and show that you are worthy. The smile dropped from Thorntons face, the temerity of her challenge causing his face to redden with anger. At that moment, a voice rang through the chamber to Thorntons ears. Reginald Thornton, you are under arrest for the violation of the Dark Arts Protection Acts and Thievery from the Ministry of Magic. Harrys voice was unsteady and when Thornton turned to face him, the dark wizard was delighted by Harrys appearance. Harrys face was ashen from the loss of blood and the poison coursing through his various wounds. His left arm hung limply at his side and Harry had a pronounced limp from being thrown against the floor and wall. Thornton stopped short, because Harrys green eyes burned through him. The dark wizard gave a subtle nod to Cavanaugh, who stalked down to where Harry was standing. Thornton turned back to the guardian of the vault and raised his wand.

Lets see who wields power over whom. Thornton released a blast charm towards her. Rapidly, she raised her shield and the blast impacted on the surface of the golden metal disk. She fell back, but kept her feet under her. She raised the spear and a cool blue light beam shot from the tip and impacted on the barely erected shield Thornton threw up. They circled each other, seeking a weak point to exploit and exchanged spells in a dizzying display of magic. Cavanaugh approached Harry, a sword in one hand and his wand in the other. Harry sighed and holstered his wand and then drew the cutlass from his sash. The beady-eyed, gap-toothed wizard gaped in surprise and raised his wand to cast a stunning spell. He was even more surprised when Harry erected a shield to deflect the spell and even more so when Harry blasted the steps near Cavanaughs feet. Momentarily dazed, Cavanaugh exploded in rage and charged Harry with his sword raised. Harry neatly parried the blow and stepped to the side, allowing the larger mans momentum to carry him past where Harry stood. Expelliarmus! Harry pointed the tip of his sword at Cavanaugh and the mans sword went flying across the room. Harry dropped his cutlass and pulled his wand out. Stupefy! Cavanaugh went flying down the stairs. He pulled himself up and turned back towards Harry. A blast charm reached out from his wand and impacted the wall behind Harry, covering him in rock and debris. Harry ignored his wound and sought a quick finish to the fight. Petrificus Totalus! Not expecting Harrys quick response, Cavanaugh froze in place, unable to move. Harry heard a hiss and one of the embattled heads of the hydra grabbed the paralyzed wizard at mid-torso. Unable to scream and unable to move, Cavanaugh di ed as the hydras bite tightened on his body. Thornton hit the guardian with a blast charm at her feet, causing her to drop her spear. Dazed, she raised her shield to fend off the next curse and felt impact of another blasting charm on the side of her body, away from the shield. She fell unconscious on the ground. Thornton turned and saw Harry staggering on the stairway, trying to reach him. Thorntons curse hit Harry in the chest and drove the wounded Auror down on his back. Thornton began to cackle to himself. Glancing around, he had an inspiration. Thornton picked up the discarded guardians spear and walked down to where Harry lay. Thornton held the spear over his head, point aimed down at Harrys breast. Harry took a glance over to where his team was. Leonora was the only one standing, fending off the last two hydra heads and protecting her prostrate team members. She saw Harrys plight, but could not make a move towards him. His wounds and the poison had sapped Harry totally. His mind wandered back to his wife and son and he smiled. Thornton paused at the grinning visage of his intended victim. You know, Potter. You should feel honored. You will be allowed to die at my hands. Soon, I will have the ultimate power. Thornton raised the spear and stopped. His expression turned to surprise and curiosity. Harry watched as Thorntons body pitched forward and fell next to him. Protruding from his back was a recognizable ornamental dagger that Harry had last seen tucked in the red sash of the captain of the Discooperire. Assist Leonora! Captain Barretos voice echoed across the cavern. He heard footsteps as she approached. Ah, Signor Potter. We are fortunate that these bad men always want to talk too much, eh? Theyve been bitten by the hydra. This is very bad, maam. A deep, rich baritone voice that Harry could not recognize resounded. The wounds are cursed. Harry heard the worry in Barretos response. What do you mean, Commodore Blakely? Her question was interrupted by the dulcet tones of Muireall Innes.

We finished off the hydra, Captain. Leonora is fine, but Muirealls voice choked up. The others are gravely injured. They all have the bites. Silence gripped the room. The strange voice held the timbre of command. It rang out in the room. Lets get them to the Wasp. We dont have much time. Harry could make out a figure dressed in blue, a double row of gold buttons running down his tunic. Gold braided epaulets hung from his shoulders. He was tall, wearing white pants tucked into knee length black leather boots. He had a peaked cap, running front to back and had a thin naval officer sword strapped to his waist. Harry felt the ground begin to rumble. The voice rang out once more. Lets g o now, ladies and gentlemen. The Lord Poseidon knows Solons Key is here. He is going to reclaim the Palace. Harry felt hands tugging at his body. He was being carried. The loss of blood and the poison had begun to take its toll on him. He felt his strength at ebb and saw darkness at the edge of his vision. He turned and saw the beautiful Captain Barreto walking next to him. She saw his gaze and smiled. Do not worry, Signor Harry, you will be fine. Sleep now. Despite her assurance, he could sense the worry in her voice and see the fear in her eyes. He tried to smile at her, but could not find the energy. Instead, he brought Ginnys face to the front of his brain, and allowed that to be his last memory as he faded into unconsciousness. Around him, as his rescuers toted Harry and his team away from the site, the dormant volcano was beginning to waken. Chapter 91 Metropolis A warm breeze passed over his face while the soft hush of surf caressed his ears. Harry allowed himself a brief moan and opened his eyes. He was lying on a large, soft bed covered in silky soft sheets. His shoulder throbbed in pain and he felt a general weariness in his body. He sat up briefly, and his head spun from the effort. He made out the dim outline of his glasses on top of a table to the side of the bed. With great effort, he reached over and grabbed them, and placed them on his face. He was in a magnificent room, lined with marble and tile. The room was circular, with three quarters of the perimeter lined with columns and open to a majestic view of the great harbor. He could see down to the harbor, where a wooden warship was moored against the quay. Directly in front of the ship, Harry could make out the familiar outlines of the Discooperire. The effort to sit up and take the brief survey taxed him. He reached a hand to his shoulder and felt the gauze bandages that were packed against his wounds. With a sigh, he lay back down and took in the fresco that adorned the ceiling of the room. A loud explosion broke the silence. Wearily, he rose back up and searched for his wand. Its all right, Signor Harry. Captain Barretos falsetto echoed from the archway behind him. That is just the mountain reclaiming the Palace of Cleito. The tanned commanding of ficer of the Discooperire entered the room trailed by an extraordinarily beautiful woman garbed in a sheer white toga. She had a medium build with long flowing blonde hair and piercing blue eyes. She carried a silver basin and a towel and walked over to the side of the bed where Harry lay. My name is Diana. Youve sustained some very serious injuries. She made a quick request with her eyes and Harry nodded. She pulled down the sheet and expertly began to remove the bandages covering his wounds. Harry looked over at Barreto. What happened? Where are my people? Harry looked once more at his nurse. Where are we? Barreto gave him a laugh. Everyone is fine. We are in Metropolis, the city we saw from the Discooperire.

Diana gave him a stern look. You and your men are very lucky. The hydras poison curses wounds. Harry got a brief glimpse of the tear in his flesh. The area around the wound was black and shriveled and seemingly unable to close. He remembered Dumbledores hand and how a slow death awaited his mentor had he not been killed by Snape. Diana saw the fear in Harrys eyes. Not to worry. This is Atlantis. She made the statement as if that were enough. She opened the bag shed brought with her and pulled out a mortar and pestle. She also removed a small leather pouch which contained several thin slices of apple. She put one of the apple slices into her mortar and began to grind it into a fine mush. She daubed the edge of the towel into the mixture and rubbed the paste onto Harrys wound. Everywhere she touched ignited a flame of pain in the area. He winced and grit his teeth as she continued to apply the balance of the paste on him. She gave him a stern look. Its better that you feel pain, then feel nothing at all in death. She replaced the bandage and walked out the door, offering him a quick smile on her way out. What was that all about? What did she put on me? Captain, what exactly is going on? Harry dropped back on his pillow, exhausted from his effort. Barreto laughed and drew up a cushioned stool near the bed. Carefully moving her sword edge to the side, she sat down next to the bed. Where do you want me to start, Signor Harry? I guess at the beginning. Harry smiled to himself, still amazed at her ability to remain calm. She smiled, but her eyes were distant as she remembered the events of the past week. We had defeated the Malitia. She was sinking fast. We were in none to good shape ourselves. That ship down there, She pointed to the Wasp. She came out. I thought we were done, but they offered us assistance. Where did she come from? Harrys eyes gazed at the ship, its large American flag fluttered in the breeze. She fell along the Bimini Road in a storm in 1815. Aie! That is the original crew and original captain! An amazed look came over her. What? Harry could scarcely believe his ears. That is Captain Johnston Blakeley, commanding officer of the USS Wasp, schooner of war. Even though she said the words, Harry got the feeling that she could barely believe them. Why did you call him Commodore? Barreto gave him a condescending nod. In the days of sailing ships, any captain who commanded more than one ship was called a commodore, Signor Harry. Commodore Blakely commands over thirteen serviceable vessels here in Metropolis. Harry nodded his understanding. Who are all these women, then? Who was that woman at the Palace? Barretos eyes became excited. They are the original inhabitants of Metr opolis. They are what are left of the Amazons! Harry gave her a doubting look. Verdade! It is true! They have been charged with guarding the vault at the Palace. For centuries, an Amazonian sentinel has been placed at the Palace to watch over Poseidons treasure. Until now, that is. Harry heard the change in her tone. Why until now?

It is very funny, Signor Harry. The objects in the vault belonged to Poseidon, but the door is a magical portal. It can be only opened with a special key. Poseidon was waiting for the key to be returned to open his own safe! She laughed hard at the notion that the god of the sea was hindered, basically, because he didnt know the combination to his safe. Once the key was returned, Poseidon reclaimed his property. The volcano under the Palace erupted and returned the center of Atlantis to the deep. Are we in any danger? Harry felt the rumblings of the volcanic aftershocks vibrating through the floor to his bed. Oh no, Signor Harry. We are very safe. Barreto looked at his pale face, trying to assess his strength. He beckoned her to continue. Any way, the Wasp towed us into the harbor and we met all the lost sailors from the Bermuda Triangle. Some had died during the transit. Dios Mio, remember how we almost died ourselves coming down? He nodded. The Wasp started the movement. Her sailors decided to settle here with the beautiful Amazons and help keep their society thriving. Over the years, theyve been joined by the sailors whove found t hemselves here. The funny thing is, while they are here, no one ages. Harry thought about that fact and a noticeably bigger problem arose. What about us? Will we be able to leave here? He thought of Ginny and James and the idea of being stranded i n this place, no matter how wonderful it was. Barretos eyes narrowed. I do not know. Harry closed his eyes. He would need to meet with Captain Blakeley himself. *** He spent the next couple of days in and out of slumber. His routine became set where he would eat, then sleep, all the while the beautiful Diana would come and tend his wounds. The festering stopped after a while and he could see that the darkened flesh around the cut was beginning to lighten slowly. One morning, he felt strong enough to stand on his own. He rose from the bed and pulled on a pair of trousers that were hanging by the frame. He put on the matching robe and walked out into the greenish light of the day. He walked past the columns in the room and out onto a wide veranda. He spotted a tall, lanky figure dressed in blue military garb. Slowly, Harry walked up to the man and offered his hand to Captain Johnston Blakeley. Harry Potter. Harry took his hand. The grip was firm, but not testing. Blakeley had coarse brown hair and wore a goatee on his chin. His eyes were a russet brown and weather lines accentuated them. He seemed genuinely happy to meet Harry. You gave us quite a scare, there. He invited Harry to sit at a nearby table. Harry gladly accepted the invitation. The effort to walk out had been more tiring than hed expected. I hear we have you to thank for our rescue. Harry accepted the proffered beverage that Blakeley poured. Tosh, think nothing of it. Im more than equally amazed that the five of you were able to get past the hydra. That was some bit of work. He was friendly, and Harry instantly felt like hed known the captain for years. You look pretty spry for someone who is almost two hundred years old. Blakeley laughed at the comment. I suppose I do. Blakeleys gaze grew serious. Captain Barreto says you have some concerns?

Captain... Call me Johnston, please. Johnston, in all the time youve been here, how come you never tried to go home? Harry watched the mans face. A small darkness passed quickly over his eyes and then he reverted to his pleasant face. We did try, but we didnt know how. Now its too late. Blakeley lowered his head. Harrys gaze turned to fear. Were the stranded here? Blakeley saw the consternation in Harrys face. Oh no, no, Mr. Potter. We know how to get back; its just too late for me and my crew, for many reasons. Call me Harry, please. Blakeley nodded his thanks at the gesture. Harry couldnt resist a small dig. Its the least I can do for a man your age. Blakeley laughed and refilled Harrys glass. Then, he reached into his pocket and pulled out a small circular object and placed it on the table. It was round and only four or five centimeters in diameter. It had a glass face and letters inside the face. It was a small compass, its needle pointed off over the horizon. This was brought to us by a traveler almost sixty years ago. It points in the direction to travel to return to the portal. Traveler? Did something happen to him? Why didnt he use it to return? Harry gazed at the small compass, thoughts of returning home dancing in his head. Another voice echoed on the patio, in answer to his question. The traveler was a woman, actually, and she didnt return home because she fell in love with the tall sea captain who plucked her from the water. Harry turned to see a woman enter the patio from a flight of steps near the end. She was athletic and fit. She had sandy-blonde hair trimmed to her neck and large curls. She was blessed with a wide, endearing smile and dancing pale blue eyes. She was wearing a toga, like most of the women in Metropolis. She walked over to their table and kissed Blakeley on the lips when hed risen from his chair to greet her. Harry made an effort to stand. No, please, Mr. Potter. Save your strength. Im married to this big lug of a man. She pointed over her shoulder to Blakeley who was positively beaming. The woman reached out and offered her hand to Harry. My name is Amelia. Amelia Earhart Blakeley. Harry let the air escape from his lips. Amelia Earhart had disappeared in 1937 while trying to circumnavigate the globe. While theories abounded about where shed disappeared to, no one had definitively determined her fate, until now. Harry glanced back at the compass. Forgive me, Amelia, but how do you know this compass works? Whats so special about it? Earhart gave another laugh. Ive been back to the real world, Harry. I went back a few years after I disappeared to set my affairs in order. Unfortunately, the world was at war and I couldnt take the risk of not being able to return. As to your other question, whats special about it? It was given to me by a very dear friend. Nicola Tesla. He said it was special and he was right. Tesla? You know him? Earhart grinned at him. I might have run across him in the past. Harry made a mental note to ask Arthur to convey additional thanks to the diminutive former resident of Azkeban.

Blakeley rose once more. You look exhausted, Harry. Why dont you get more rest and well talk again. Wait, Johnston. Why cant you go back? Blakeley shook his head. We may not age here, Harry, but if I go back, Id be two hundred and forty years old. This body would age immediately and Id wither and die. My fate is here, with Amelia and my crew. Harry nodded and allowed Blakeley to assist him back to his room. Harry allowed sleep to overcome him once again, visions of compasses and Ginny whirling around in his dreams. *** Blakeley escorted Harry to see his Aurors. He found Williamson in bed, with Muireall Innes at his side, carefully watching as the senior Auror went through his regimen of treatment. Harry found Manchester in a similar state, with the exception that Lockley was cuckolding him to take his medicine and to shape up. Harry didnt even attempt to restrain his laughter at Manchesters plight. Leonora met him outside Burbys room. Harry thanked her for her courage, and she smiled at his progress. Entering Burbys room, Harry found the big man sitting with Diana. At first, Harry thought that she was caring for him much in the way shed treated Harry, but they were holding hands and whispering to each other quietly. She jerked back and excused herself as Harry entered. How are you feeling? Harry glanced over his bandages and met Burbys stare. Burby looked like he wanted to say something, to declare something to Harry. Harry knew immediately. Youre not going to return with us, are you. Im sorry, Harry. I love her. She cant come back with us, and well, Coombs was my best friend and only family back home. Ive found peace here, with them and with her. His eyes lowered, the fear of letting Harry down overcoming him. Its all right, Monroe. I understand. I really do wish you well. Harry reached down and shook Monroe Burbys hand. Here, take these. Burby held two Aurors shields in his hands. One was Coombs and the other his own. When an Auror died or left the service, his shield was taken in order to commemorate their service. Harry took up the shields then paused. He handed Burby back his talisman. Youll always be an Auror, Monroe. Take care of yourself. Thanks, Harry. For everything. Harry nodded and left the room. *** The citizens of Metropolis turned out at the docks to wish the crew and passengers of the Discooperire farewell. Over a third of Captain Barretos remaining crew, all men, had decided to stay in Metropolis to start new lives. Captain Blakeley was turned out in his dress uniform and he stood with Amelia by his side to wish them well. Remember, Harry. You and your men will feel the effects of the bites for the next few months. The apple slices will help your recovery, but keep up the treatment. He handed Harry a bag of golden apples. Harry looked them and raised his eyebrow. Blakeley laughed once more. Come

on Harry, everything here was predicated on the Labors of Heracles. Where do you think those apples came from? Theyre the apples of the Hesprides. The ones that the Ladon guarded. Harry rolled his eyes, having missed the obvious answer. Right you are! Blakeleys laugh was shared by the assembled crowd on the dock. Harrys grew serious. What about you? The Palace is gone, what will you do? Harry, the Palace wasnt our only duty. We guard Atlantis. You have no idea whats here. The worlds not ready for its secrets. When it is, Atlantis will rise again. Blakeley gave Harry one last handshake and ushered the ailing Auror up the gangplank. On the quarterdeck, Muireall Innes stood by the wheel, Williamson sat nearby. The ship is ready to get underway, Captain. Barreto looked off at the crew staying behind and waved. She turned to the vivacious first mate. Very well, Number One, lets get under way. Muireall guided the nose of the Discooperire away from the pier. The sails filled as the following gust moved them through the Colossus and out to sea. Course heading, captain? Barreto looked down at the small compass in her hand. Make your course three points off the starboard bow and let the wind take her. The Discooperire left the island of Atlantis behind them. After theyd crossed the horizon, the sky began to darken. An eddy current began to swirl. Knowing what to expect, Barreto prepared her crew. Were going home, everyone! Lash yourselves down! Harry found a spot near the railing and tied a line around his wrist. The wind swirled while the waters caught the ship in its grasp. The centrifugal force began to push down on him . The ships timbers groaned and creaked from the force. Soon, Harry blacked out, followed by the rest of the crew. *** The room was black from the darkness. The night had come, like all the others and she slept alone in the bed. Shed put the baby down and spent hours trying to fall asleep. When her mind finally allowed her to sleep, she didnt dream. She was afraid to dream because of what she might see. So her nights were dreamless, and lonely. Her anxiety was getting worse. It had been almost a month since her last contact with Harry. Everyone was on edge, and even the most optimistic of people were beginning to doubt that the mission had succeeded. She was afraid to dream, because she thought shed see Harry die, and Ginny couldnt bear to see that. She started. Ginny. She heard Harry calling her, like a ghost from the grave. Ginny. She heard his voice again. Ginny. She sat up in her bed. Shed heard it distinc tly. She turned to the end table and saw the mirror. She reached up and grabbed it. Harry? She stared at the glass searching for his image. His green eyes shone through the reflective glass. Her whole body shook as she took in his smile. He looked tired and ill, but his smile made her heart sing. His voice took her breath away and his words assured her that it was all right to dream again.

Harry spoke, his voice the only sound in the room. Everything is taken care of. Were on our way home.