Ben and Harry were lucky enough to find a house for rent in the countryside. The hope was the rural location would make it much more difficult for Dumbledore to find him.
Between Harry’s conversations with Merlin and Ben, he knew he had to build up his physical strength and his cardio before he could even think about expanding into his magical training, so over the last three days, he worked on physical training. The pace he had set for himself was grueling, to say the least, training from sunup to sunset.
He started every morning with a long run, followed by an afternoon of body weight training, hand to hand combat, and a running sprints in the evenings.
It was only possible to maintain the pace because of Merlin’s nutritional potions. They not only made sure he was well rested, but they repaired his sore and strained muscles by morning.
Harry was breathing hard, hands on his knees as he tried to catch his breath after running sprints for the last half hour.
“Getting better Harry,” Ben complement from his seat on the bench.
“That’s easy for you to say,” Harry groused as he walked back over to him.
“You’re the one that said you needed to get in shape,” Ben laughed. “And there’s no better way to do that than the Army Basic Training Program.”
Harry sighed. He knew he couldn’t argue with the results, however much he wanted to. He had achieved a lot over the last few days.
When he first started, he could only run full out for less than five minutes before he was out of breath, but now he could last for almost 10.
The body weight training he did had also improved. He was already doing more pushups, pullups, and sit-ups than before. Ben had warned him against using any weights because he was still growing and it would cause more harm than good at this point.
He still had a long way to go, especially after Merlin’s warning, but now he felt he had made at least some progress.
“Seriously Harry,” Ben complimented. “You’re doing good. I’m proud of you.”
“Thanks Ben,” Harry replied gratefully.
Merlin told him he needed to build himself up physically before they could work on the mental and magical aspects of his training, but wasn’t able to give him very much to go on. Most of the physical training Merlin told him about would have looked strange today. Weighted sword training, horseback riding, and sparring.
This was where Ben’s training really came to the forefront. Even Merlin had grudgingly admitted that Ben’s methods produced better and faster results than his own would have.
If he could maintain his current pace, he could move onto combat training, followed by magical training shortly afterwards.
Albus drummed his finger on his desk impatiently. He had expected to see Harry Potter in his office shortly after he sent the letter, but now, days later, he still had not arrived.
Albus Dumbledore was not accustomed to being made to wait. If anything, it was others the other way around. It annoyed him greatly when people wasted his time.
‘Perhaps Severus was right,’ Albus mused. ‘The apple sometimes does not fall far from the tree.’
He had dedicated far too much time to finding this wayward Potter already. It was time to take care of this directly.
Albus went to the fireplace and dropped in a pinch of floo powder. “The Leaky Cauldron.”
As Albus looked around, he could already see the evening crowd had arrived. After a few moments of searching, he found Tom talking to one of his patrons.
“Hello Tom,” Albus said as he walked up to the man. His grandfatherly persona on full display.
“Hello Professor,” Tom said, turning to face him. He knew with how quickly Harry had taken off, he would get a visit from the Headmaster soon afterwards.
“I sent a letter to one of your patrons, Harry Potter,” Albus explained. “What room is he staying in? There are some things I would like to discuss with him.”
Tom thought about lying to the Headmaster, but dismissed it quickly. The man had a knack for knowing when he was being lied to. “He’s gone.”
“What?” Albus asked in surprise. “When did he leave?”
“A few hours ago, he paid for his room and left,” Tom explained.
“I seem to recall asking you if Harry Potter was staying here, and you said he wasn’t. I’m disappointed that you felt you couldn’t trust me.” Albus replied.
“Look Professor, I got no excuses for ya,” Tom admitted. “The kid didn’t want anyone to know where he was, and I like him, so I didn’t say anything.”
“I see,” Dumbledore replied, projecting a look of sadness and disappointment on his face. He turned to leave, returning to Hogwarts, plans already in mind on how to deal with the owner of the Leaky Cauldron.
In his office, he threw a pinch of floo powder into his fireplace. Albus understood Harry did not want to be found. The only solution left would require more force than he liked to use.
“Hello Allister, I have a job for you,” Albus said.
“I’m listening,” Allister ‘Mad Eye’ Moody replied.
“I need you to find Harry Potter. He has proved less than interested in having a much needed discussion with me,” Albus replied.
“The kid that solved Merlin’s cypher?” Mad Eye asked. “He’s not usually the type I go after. Sounds like something that’s more Dung’s speed.”
“No, the boy has proved to be more resourceful than I expected,” Albus answered. “While I have faith in Mundungus’s abilities, I need him found sooner rather than later.”
“Think he’s going to pull a runner, eh? What kind of condition does he need to be in when I find him?” Mad Eye asked.
“As long as madam Pomfrey can heal him, it doesn’t matter,” Albus replied.
“Where was he last seen?” Mad Eye asked.
“He has been staying in the Leaky Cauldron for the last few days, but he is now hiding out in the muggle world.”
“That’ll make things more difficult,” Mad eye conceded. “I’ll need to search his room.”
“Then I will leave this in your capable hands,” Albus replied as he cut the connection.
On top of everything else he was dealing with, he now had Tom’s behavior to add to the list. If it was anyone else, any other business, the solution would have been obvious.
Arrange for a ‘surprise’ inspection and multiple fines that would put them out of business. But the Leaky Cauldron provided too valuable a resource to just get rid of.
His various less than savory contacts used it for information gathering and a neutral meeting place to air out grievances and come to an agreement.
It would have to stay in operation, perhaps under new ownership. It wouldn’t take much for the pub’s rent to be increased enough that it would force Tom to sell. A new owner that understood how things worked would be useful.
Rita looked through the folder Fudge had given her for the third time now. The recording itself got her attention at first.
It clearly showed a confrontation between Cornelius Fudge and James Potter. There were only clips, not the full conversation, likely because Fudge wanted to keep some aspects of the confrontation out of the story, but it confirmed a few things.
James Potter admitted to using his influence to manipulate the Aurors into attacking Fudge. At best, to turn the election by portraying Fudge as a criminal or, at worst, an outright murder attempt.
She had seen the results for herself when she snuck into the Minister’s home, Isabel Fudge comatose.
There was also the accusation by Fudge of Albus Dumbledore using his influence to cover everything up. The proof for that would be much harder to find, but went a long way to explaining why Potter had never been so much as questioned.
The most pressing concern for her was finding out that he could silence the Daily Prophet in that way. Has it happened before? How did Dumbledore have that kind of pull?
Her meeting with Cuffe hadn’t provided her with very any answers, either. Cuffe said they ordered him not to cover the story, and it was on behalf of a major shareholder, but not who they were, or even why.
So why did Fudge even ask her to write the article? It was not like the Prophet was ever going to publish it. They would kill the story, just like before.
“Oh, very clever,” Rita thought aloud. It was obvious now, the reason Fudge allowed her to stay at the Museum, the reason he got her the exclusive interview with Harry.
He knew they would publish the article in every newspaper in the Wizarding World, well out of the reach of Albus Dumbledore. Because of that article, she now had the connections and the reputation to make sure the story saw the light of day, if not in Britain, then any other newspaper in Europe.
She wanted to be mad at how easily he had manipulated her, but in actuality, she found a grudging respect for him instead.
In the end, she didn’t really have anything to really complain about. She had earned a lot of money and prestige because of that manipulation, and this new article he wanted her to write would be an excellent follow up, undoubtedly leading to even more stories as she dug into the facts.
She already had the basics of the story planned out. Rich pureblood uses his influence and connections to manipulate an election. The story basically wrote itself, and the evidence Fudge provided was just the icing on the cake. She had done far more with far less evidence in the past.
The real question was what newspaper to have it published in. It had to be close enough that the general British public would hear about it, but not so close that Dumbledore’s influence could just crush the story outright.
The story would also have to become popular enough for the other wizarding countries to pick up the story as well.
‘Perhaps a few hints that Potter would have needed help to cover everything up, and avoid prosecution,’ Rita thought.
Moody searched the room Harry Potter had stayed in for the last few days after a reluctant Tom had given him the room number.
He could tell that Snape was right. There were definitely some potions that were brewed in the room, other than that there was very little to go on. Harry had left no possessions behind, not even trash.
He used his eye to track the magical residue of the potions left behind and it led to the muggle world, but that is where the trail ended.
He had clearly got onto some type of muggle transport nearby. It wasn’t a bus, so likely a cab which could have gone anywhere in the city, effectively making it a dead end.
Moody turned on his heel and walked back into the Leaky Cauldron, heading to Diagon Alley. If Harry was using muggle currency, there was one more lead he could try.
He walked into Gringotts, making his way to the office of one of the few human employees of the bank, Mary Willowborough.
“Hello Mary,” Moody said as he sat down in front of her desk.
“Oh no, not again Mad Eye,” Mary said as she shot to her feet. “You need to leave right now! The last time you were here, you nearly got me fired!”
“It couldn’t be helped, Mary. If it’s any consolation, the information you gave me helped me find a very dangerous dark wizard,” he replied.
“The Goblins asked me a lot of uncomfortable questions after that,” Mary replied. “I just can’t take that kind of risk again.”
“But they didn’t find out it was you, did they?” Moody asked. “They probably asked all the human employees.”
“They did,” Marry conceded. “But that doesn’t change anything.”
“There’s a kid that’s in danger,” Moody lied. “If you don’t help me, he could end up dead.”
“… Alright,” Mary finally conceded, “but this is the last time,” she said as she looked around to make sure she wasn’t being watched. “Who are you looking for?”
“I need to find Harry Potter,” Moody revealed. “He’s in the muggle world, so he’s probably converting Galleons into muggle currency. I need to know what he’s spending it on to find him.”
“Harry Potter??!” Marry asked in shock. “You have got to be out of your mind! How am I supposed to look into the most famous boy in the wizarding world without someone noticing?”
“Keep your voice down,” Moody hissed. “Like I said, he’s in danger. Could you live with yourself if he ends up hurt or worse?”
“… Fine,” Mary said with a long sigh. “You better hope I don’t lose my job over this.”
“Wait here,” she said as she left her office and walked behind the counters, getting into the elevator.
She made her way to the top floor of the bank and into the chairman’s office.
“What is Alastor Moody asking for now?” Gringott said as he looked up from his paperwork.
“He wants to know where Harry Potter is,” Mary answered.
“Did he say why?” Gringott asked.
“He said his life was in danger,” Mary answered.
“And you believe him?” Gringott asked with a grin.
“Of course not,” Mary scoffed. “He’s desperate, and likely out of other options.”
“Hmm,” Gringott thought. “Harry Potter hasn’t committed any crimes, certainly nothing to warrant the attention of Alistar Moody… So he must be doing this on behalf of Albus Dumbledore, and I doubt he would want to cause any harm to Harry Potter, at least permanently.”
“Very well,” Gringott said as he jotted down an address on a piece of paper. “Please impress upon Alistar Moody that this is a ‘big risk’ for you, and upon Harry Potter’s next visit, inform Alistar Moody that your supervisor and the security team questioned you extensively.”
“Yes, sir,” Mary asked as she took the paper. “Can I ask, sir, why all the subterfuge?”
“… When someone has to work to get the information they want, and there are consequences to those that help them, they are far more likely to trust the source of that information,” Gringott explained.
“But what does the bank get out of this?” Mary asked. “Harry Potter is perhaps our most well-known client. Giving away his private information hardly seems like a good way to maintain that relationship.”
“Alistar Moody already has a reputation for hunting down dark wizards. Would it be such a stretch to assume he used those same skills to find Harry Potter?” Gringott asked.
“That’s true, sir,” Mary conceded. “But it still doesn’t explain what the bank gets out of this.”
“The bank seeks to have a stronger relationship with Harry Potter,” Gringott explained. “Sometimes that is born through trust, other times through crisis. You have kept Alistar Moody waiting long enough. Deliver the message,” Gringott dismissed her.
Mary nodded as she made her way back downstairs to the lobby. She didn’t quite understand what Gringott hoped to gain from all this, but he clearly had a long-term strategy for Mr. Potter.
“I nearly got caught twice getting this for you, Moody,” Mary said as she handed him the piece of paper. “Don’t make me regret it.”
“Thank you,” Moody smiled, taking the paper from her and walking out quickly.
Harry looked at the potion he had just finished brewing with Merlin. “So it’s called the Oculus Potion?”
“Yes,” Merlin replied. “This will not only fix your eyesight, but also enhance it. You’ll be able to see further, have better night vision, it even enhances your hand eye coordination.”
“Are there any side effects?” Harry asked.
“Aside from the taste and the headache, you’ll be fine,” Merlin assured.
Harry uncorked the vial and gulped down the foul tasting potion.
“That’s not so bad,” Harry said as he felt a slight pain in his temple, before immediately dubbing over and clutching his head in pain.
It wasn’t nearly as bad as when he first found the lake, but it was still an agonizing ten minutes before he came back to his senses.
“Are you alright Harry?” Ben asked in concern as he stood over him. “I heard you screaming from the other room.”
“I’m ok, I’m ok,” Harry assured him as he stood up. “I drank the oculus potion,” Harry explained. “It just hurt more than I expected.”
“So you’re done with these potions now, right?” Ben asked.
“That was the last one,” Harry confirmed.
“Did it at least work?” Ben asked.
Harry took off his glasses and looked around the room. Everything was much clearer than it was before, even with his glasses on.
“Yes,” Harry answered. “I can even see further and pick out more detail than before,” he said as he looked out the window.
“Good. Are you up for taking a trip?” Ben asked.
“Sure, where to?” Harry asked.
“I talked to the family of the bus driver, the one that didn’t make it. They asked me if I wanted to attend the funeral.”
That was a sobering thought for Harry. The bus driver had died when the tunnel collapsed. “Would they even want me there?” Harry asked. “I didn’t even know him.”
“I’d like you to be there, Harry. There’s something important I want to show you,” Ben answered.
“Alright,” Harry agreed.
Harry felt very somber as he walked into the church with Ben. He had never attended a funeral before, and he wasn’t exactly sure about what to do with himself.
When they entered, a woman in her late 50s walked up to them. “Hello,” she smiled. “You must be Ben Parker. I remember you from the news. Thank you for doing what you did.”
“Are you Martha Jenkins?” Ben asked.
“I am,” the woman said with a watery smile.
“I’m sorry for your loss,” Ben said sincerely.
“Thank you,” Martha replied. “And thank you for coming.”
“And who might you be?” Marth asked as she looked down at Harry. “Were you one of the children from the bus?”
“No,” Harry said, shaking his head. “I’m just a friend of Ben’s.”
“Well, any friend of Ben’s is welcome here,” Martha replied. “Please have a seat wherever you would like.”
Harry and Ben moved to one of the back rows. The church was almost completely full, with well over 200 people in attendance.
A few minutes later, a young woman walked up to the pulpit. “Hello everyone, thank you for coming. For those of you that don’t know me, my name is Sally Jenkins. Bill Jenkins was my father.”
“My father married my mother almost thirty years ago, and I was born a couple of years after that. From as far back as I can remember, he was always there for me, with exactly the right thing to say. Whether I wanted to hear it or not. I grew up in a house full of love and support,” Sally said, taking a moment to collect herself.
“Whenever the school needed a chaperone for a field trip, whenever they needed someone to coach the football team, or whenever someone just needed to talk, he was there.”
“He always believed that helping his community wasn’t just an obligation, but a duty, and he instilled those values in me as well,” Sally smiled, remembering all the things he had taught her.
“When I look back at my life, I see how much of his guidance, his advice, his humility, and above all, his kindness shaped the person I am today.”
“When I look at my own children, I see all the things he taught me, that I’ve passed down to them. So, in a way, I will always carry a piece of him with me. Even though he’s not with us now, a part of him will always live on.”
“Thank you,” Sally said as her eyes grew watery.
An older man walked up, hugging Sally before walking up to the pulpit next. “Hello, my name is Frank Ortega. I’m Sally’s godfather, and father-in-law. Bill was my best friend,” Frank said, his voice cracking a little as he spoke.
“We met in grade school, liked the same cartoons and the same toys. We just became best friends and never looked back.”
“It feels like we’ve always been in each other’s lives, part of each other’s families… It’s difficult not having him here to help me get through this,” Frank said, looking down, as tears streamed down his face.
“We were both so happy when Sally and my son Joe started dating,” Frank said, wiping his eyes as he looked up at the crowd again. “When they got married, and when they had their three wonderful children.”
“Bill was everything Sally said and more, but before you all get ready to award him sainthood, I have a story I want to tell you about him.” He laughed lightly.
“When Bill and I were about 12 years old, there was this guy that alway parked on the wrong side of the street. You were only supposed to park on the right, not the left, otherwise there wasn’t enough room to get out,” he explained.
“We must have asked him a dozen times, and he always said he wouldn’t park there next time. But sure enough, every night, there was his car,” Frank shook his head.
“Now Bill hated that because it always made it really hard for Mrs. Smith to get to the grocery store, and one day after a snowstorm, he had enough.”
“He came and got me. We took a pair of snow shovels and heaped as much snow as we could on top of his car before he had to go to work the next morning. By the time we were finished, there must have been six feet of snow covering the car,” Frank laughed.
“The man finally came outside, took one look at his car, his jaw fell open, then he looked at Bill and asked him what happened.”
“And what did Bill do? He looked him right in the eye and said it looks like you parked on the wrong side of the street,” he said to the laughs of the people listening. “And God, as my witness, he never parked on the wrong side of the street again!”
“That was who Bill was. He didn’t care who he had to stand up to. If he saw someone doing something wrong, he made sure they knew about it.”
“I’m going to miss you, buddy,” he said as he walked back down to his family.
There were a lot more people that came up and shared personal stories about Bill, and what he meant to them, and at the end Martha Jenkins spoke.
“Thank you, everyone, for sharing your stories about my husband. Knowing that he’s touched so many of your lives, it helps more than you realize.”
“I remember when we first got married, before Sally was born. We had just bought our first house. It was in such terrible shape, he called it a work in progress, and I called it about to fall down,” she laughed. “But even then, Bill saw the potential in it.”
“He didn’t just see what it was, he saw what it could be, and he made it happen,” she said as her eyes welled up with tears.
“He replaced all the broken floorboards, he fixed the plumbing, the roof, the walls, and before long, it was our home. It was an i-told-you-so he gleefully held over my head for our entire marriage.”
“That was my husband. He never saw the world the way it was. He saw the world the way it was supposed to be. Bill was the father of my daughter, doting grandfather, and love of my life, and I will miss him every day of my life.”
“I also want to thank Ben Parker,” Martha said. “He was the one that got the children out of the bus when no one else could.”
“That day could have been so much worse than it was, and we could have lost much more than we did. I know Bill is resting in peace now because of what you did, Ben. Please don’t doubt yourself, or think about what you could have done differently. I know that my Bill would have wanted you to save the children first.”
There were a few more speeches afterwards, all of Bill’s friends and family sharing their personal stories, and fond moments of their friend. It was a beautiful service for a man that had lived his life to the fullest.
As they were leaving, Ben turned to Harry. “What did you think of the service, Harry?”
“It was… sad, but also happy, and somehow comforting,” Harry replied. “I didn’t think I would feel this was about someone I never met.”
“What you’re feeling right now is empathy, Harry. You don’t need to know someone to understand the hole that’s left in their lives when someone they love is gone,” Ben explained.
“I saw you save him on the news, but I didn’t really think about him much until now. Is that wrong?” Harry asked.
“Not wrong, just human,” Ben replied. “We protect ourselves, sometimes, without even knowing we’re doing it.”
“Why?” Harry asked.
“Because we don’t want to feel the pain of loss,” Ben answered simply. “And it’s all too easy to set aside other people’s pain and loss. That’s why I wanted you to come with me, Harry,” Ben explained. “You’re going down a path now, and it will not be an easy one.”
“You are going to be tempted to make decisions that are easy, or convenient, but those are not always the right decisions.”
“That’s why you need to remember people like Bill Jenkins. Always remember that there are real people your decisions can affect, and you have to use the power you have responsibly.”
“How will I know when I’m making the wrong decisions?” Harry asked.
“When you stop questioning yourself and assume you’re always right,” Ben explained.
“It’s a very slippery slope, compromising your beliefs even once for some nebulous good that could happen in the future.”
Harry and Ben remained in a comfortable silence the rest of the way to the house.
Ben, thinking about the friends he had lost in the army and the people he had helped over the years.
Harry, thinking about his life before the Vault. How different the world was from what he thought it was. There were still so many terrible things, but now he also saw the good that counterbalanced it.
They were both so lost in thought as they walked up to the house that neither one noticed the man walking up to them.
“Harry Potter, you’re going to have to come with me. Albus Dumbledore has been patient enough with you,” the man ordered.
Harry looked up quickly at the man in the trench coat. The magical eye, a dead giveaway that it was a wizard. “I don’t know who you are, but I’m not going anywhere with you, least of all to see Dumbledore.”
“My name is Allister Moody, and that wasn’t a request, kid,” Moody said as he pulled out his wand.