Chasing Shadows

Ethel spent a year in Azakaban for a crime she (sort of, mostly, basically) didn't commit, and now the entire world has taken it upon itself to either gawk at her or try to fix her. More so than anyone, apart from her mother (ugh), the Weasley family are pulling out the big guns to try and plonk her back on track, but she's happy being sad, not that anyone can understand how much that makes sense, and she's not eager to let anyone meddle in her life again.

But then one of the Weasley boys stumbles into her life, and it's all she can do to maintain her customary hatred of the world and everything in it.

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4. The Boy Who Lived

The taxi dropped her just outside the station. It was drizzling, so she had an excuse to pull up her hood. The wand Olivander had been so very reluctant to give her was stuck in her pocket, secured with an immovable charm, and in any case, to the bewildered muggles standing around watching as parents heaved trunks onto trolleys and children discussed Quidditch loudly, it was just a stick of wood. There were far more bizarre things to gawp at. Ethel took a deep breath, and started walking, her boots slapping through puddles, throwing up droplets of black water onto the legs of her jeans.

She followed a man wearing a long cloak with embroidered silver stars into the station scanned the length of the platform, standing still as magical families thundered past her. The train wouldn’t leave for another half-an-hour, but there was an air of panic nonetheless, and the noise level would only increase once she got through the barrier, but first she had to wait for him to arrive.

Harry Potter, The Boy Who Lived, when everyone else had died. No one knew why or how a child could have withstood a killing curse from the most powerful and most twisted wizard to be born for an age. Some people still claimed that Dumbledore had been more powerful, and that eventually the two would have met and that would have been the end of the war, but Ethel couldn’t believe it. She’d been nine when she watched The Dark Lord kill her father.

He’d flung out an arm ropy with veins and in a flash of green light her father was just and empty shell. He’d turned to look at her, staring wide-eyed into the vile, slimy abyss behind his eyes. Then Voldemort had knelt down in front of her and grasped her two skinny arms in his long, pale hands, “My dear”, he whispered, “Some things are necessary, even things like this. Children like you must be protected”. He had wanted her to like him, because she would make up the new generation of young witches to whom he would impart all the dark knowledge a generation needed to enslave millions.

She couldn’t imagine him losing to Dumbledore and if it hadn’t been for Harry Potter he would have continued killing and killing until everyone brave enough to stand against him was dead, except for Dumbledore. He would have been broken, and The Dark Lord would have beaten him. He was too powerful, too great. He’d been unstoppable, until someone had stopped him, and it hadn’t been Dumbledore. It had been Harry Potter.

And he was starting school today. There would be betting, she knew, on what house he would be sorted into. Those Death Eaters still at large and in a mental state to give a damn would be feigning disinterest while secretly hoping for the boy to be put into Slytherin. If he was, people would panic. The rumours had been flying for years, just beneath the surface of mainstream media. A child shouldn’t have been capable of defeating Lord Voldemort and that was a fact, so the question stood. How had Harry Potter managed it?

There were those in the wizarding world who thought that it would take a dark wizard, an innately evil child, to topple something like Lord Voldemort. Ethel sighed and looked around her, and there he was, walking quite slowly along the platform. He was very small and skinny, his hair askew, round glasses perched on his nose. There was a burst of static in her pocket and she fished out the primitive hand-held radio, angling her body away from Harry. “Ethel! Report!”

“I’m here Moody. I’ve got eyes on the target”.

“Finally”, Moody growled, “Could get the blasted thing to work. Observe, protect, you know the drill”.

Ethel nodded, and then remembered that Moody couldn’t see her. Honestly, muggle means of communication were so bloody annoying, “Affirmative”, she said, and slipped it back into her pocket. One of the muggle guards was staring at her suspiciously, so she waved at him, drawing the attention of several other people, but it succeeded in deflecting suspicion, and the guard moved on at a leisurely pace along the platform.

He stopped as Harry Potter made a beeline toward him, panic in his eyes, “Umm, hello”, he said in a very small voice, “Do you know where the train to Hogwarts is?”

“I’m sorry?” The guard peered down at Harry.

“It’s a school”, Harry said helpfully.

The guard frowned, “Never heard of it. What part of the county is it in, eh?”

Harry’s eyes widened. Clearly he didn’t know, “I’m… I’m not sure”, he said.

“You don’t know?” The guard asked incredulously.

Harry showed him a ticket, “It leaves at eleven”.

The guard’s eyes narrowed, “There aren’t any trains leaving at eleven. Look, just get off to wherever you’re supposed to be. I have better things to do with my time”, and he slouched off, muttering furiously, leaving Harry looking quite lost.

Ethel wasn’t a particularly sentimental person, but she felt a twinge of sympathy in her heart looking at that little boy, standing helplessly in the middle of the platform. She found herself debating whether or not to go over to him and show him the way, but there were bound to be Ministry people watching and other interested parties. She couldn’t afford to be seen.

Harry suddenly spun around as a large family moved past him. Ethel looked at them and ducked out of sight, her heart hammering. The Weasleys, of course! “Mad-Eye”, she hissed into the radio, “I can’t do this. The Weasley’s are here!”

“Nonsense”, Moody growled, “You’ll be fine. They won’t think to see you there. The eyes see what the eyes want to see, and I know you know that”. Ethel couldn’t help but smirk. She’d pickpocketed Moody on this very platform a long time ago, simply because he’d thought she was on the other side of the country. He’d looked right at her, but his mind told him that it couldn’t be here, so he’d turned away.

She watched as Harry approached them, looking extremely nervous, but Mrs Weasley turned around and started to explain to him quite kindly how to get onto the platform. Percy went first, running primly, if such a thing were possible. Ethel hadn’t though so, but there he was, a shiny prefect badge pinned to his chest, prancing along. Fred and George, the twins, started up teasing their mother and eventually ran one after the other through the barrier. “Ethel”, Moody’s voice boomed from the radio, “Please, I need you to do this”.

“Fine”, she said, “But I want more than one drink later on”.

Moody didn’t reply, and Ethel watched as Harry Potter ran headlong at the barrier. She’d read up on the barrier to Platform 9 ¾ before going to Hogwarts, but it had still been a little terrifying, running into what essentially was another dimension, if you wanted to phrase it in simple terms. Her future had been so bright back then. They’d been trying to rope her into the Department of Mysteries for years before she threw everything everyone had ever given her back in their respective faces.

A red-haired boy followed Harry. He was Mrs Weasley’s youngest son, Ronald, or something. He’d somehow managed to get a splodge of dirt on his nose. Mrs Weasley looked around the platform and Ethel turned her back and pretended to be scrutinising a map of the British rail system. When she turned back around they were gone, and the train was leaving in five minutes. Five minutes, she thought, I can go in there for five minutes.

She was a minor master at covert activity anyways, a skill earned by necessity and honed through desperation. So she sauntered over to the barrier and slipped through, no running, no leaning, just an unsteady sidestep and she was travelling through darkness for a second. Another step and she was on the platform, narrowly avoiding a projectile which turned out to be a very small owl, twittering excitedly as its owners tried to catch it, sweeping past her in a whirl of brightly coloured robes. “Come back here, Winston”, the wizard in question said angrily.

Ethel moved through the crowd slowly, keeping her eyes on Harry Potter wheeling his trolley through the foray. He walked all the way to the end of the train, past carriages teeming with screaming teenagers gushing over pictures of Quidditch stars and swapping their holiday tales, carefully crafted on the long drive from whatever end of the country they’d had to travel from. There was only one Hogwarts Express.

Eventually Harry came to the end of the train and began to heave his trunk across the platform towards it. There weren’t as many people at this end, so Ethel watched from the edge of the crowd, her fingers wrapped around her wand. If someone was going to do something, they do it now. While he was alone, while no one was watching. She was so fixated on Harry that she didn’t see them coming. The twins, grinning and laughing as they discussed the pranks they could play with ‘Lee’s spider’. They paused when they saw Harry attempting to carry his trunk onto the train. They rushed forward at once to help him, introducing themselves and eyeing him curiously. They disappeared onto the rain and Ethel turned away, relieved. No one would attack a student on the Hogwarts Express. It had protections of its own.

She began to move through the platform and by the time she reached the barrier once again the train was leaving. She watched it go, wishing there was a time turner in the wizarding world that would let her go back far enough to change the choices she’d made, all those years ago.

That was when she heard his voice, floating archly across the platform, “Hiding, as usual, Ethel? Didn’t the Dementors beat that out of you?”

And suddenly the people around her were falling silent, and looking at her, and the radio in her pocket let out a burst of static and she could hear Moody speaking urgently, “Ethel, get out of there”, but it was already too late.

She looked him up and down, running her tongue over her teeth, “Hello Ignis”, she said cheerily, while reaching for her wand.

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