The Cursebreaker and the Goblet of Fire

Chapter 13

Disclaimer: I do not own Harry Potter or its characters

Birds of a Feather

"Talbott, wait!" I cried, grabbing him by the sleeve of his jacket before he could transform or disapparate as we reached the very edge of the Malfoys' estate.

"You shouldn't be here," grunted Talbott, a steely look in his eyes as he shook me off.

"Well neither should you, mate," Charlie pointed out, "Please tell me you weren't planning on barging in on the Malfoys …"

Talbott scowled. "That's none of your business, Weasley."

"We're your friends, Talbott," I replied, "So yes, that does make it our business."
"See? This is exactly why I fly solo," he griped, holding the bridge of his nose as he let out an exasperated sigh.

"And how would storming Malfoy Manor on your own pan out exactly?" asked Charlie.

"I … you guys wouldn't understand. They were there at the World Cup. They're Death Eaters! I … I just know it, alright?"

"I know, but we need proof," I reasoned.

"Yeah, auror or not, you can't just break into somebody's house …"

"Then let me go in and find some!" hissed the auror. "I'll fly in and out before anybody notices."

"And if they do?" I asked, "Is it really worth losing your job or ending up in Azkaban?"

Talbott paused, averting his gaze.

"Look, mate, you're probably right about the Malfoys," said Charlie, "My Dad reckons they were a part of You-Know-Who's inner circle, but without tangible proof, it's your word against theirs, and they have galleons to back them up."

"Or to cover things up," Talbott muttered, his hands trembling as he clenched his wand.

"Talbott, please," I said, folding my hand over his wand-hand and squeezing it tightly. "Don't do this. If not for us then at least for your parents."

He didn't respond.

"Do it for your parents … for me."

"I … fine." Talbott sighed, lowering his wand. "But really; using the friendship and the parent card of all things," the auror drawled, "That's low, Cursebreaker, even for you."

I shrugged, "As long as it keeps you from getting yourself killed, Winger."

Talbott raised an eyebrow, "Oh? And what if I decide that I don't want to be friends?"

"Tough luck."

Charlie shook his head, clapping Talbott on the back.

"Welcome to my world, buddy."

"You realise that I could've handled it on my own," Talbott grumbled as we stepped out into an alleyway by an overflowing dumpster where the old red telephone box stood against the graffitied wall.

"What? And have you disappear on us for another month? Not. A. Chance," replied Charlie, "Though, I do have to admit that I am not a fan of this Visitor's Entrance," he remarked as he kicked at a stray piece of garbage, "I swear to Merlin that I've probably worked in dragon stables that were cleaner than this …"

"Oh, well, in that case, I'll just be on my way then …" started Talbott.

"Not so fast, Winger," I said, pulling him back before he could slip away. "We promised Tonks that we'd bring you back to the office."

"I believe 'drag you back by your bird arse' were the words that she used," nodded Charlie.

"Oh, bloody hell," Talbott blanched slightly before pinching his nose with a semi-exasperated sigh of defeat.

"Alright then. Whatever you say," he relented. "But, just to let you know I really am starting to question being mates with you lot."

Green flames swirled around us as we each stumbled out of one of the many glided fireplaces the dark wooden panelled walls. The peacock blue ceiling above gleamed with inlaid symbols, sparkling golden in celestial flickers of light; constantly moving like some ever-changing heavenly noticeboard. Halfway down the hall was a fountain stood a group of larger than life golden statues at the middle of its rippling pool. The tallest of them was a noble-looking wizard with his wand pointing skywards. Grouped around him were a beautifully slender witch, a muscular centaur, a sharp-eyed goblin and a meek-looking house-elf. Glittering jets of water were flying from the ends of the two wands, the point of the centaur's arrow, the tip of the goblin's hat, and each of the house-elf's ears, so that the tinkling hiss of falling water added to the pops and cracks of Apparators as well as the clatter of footsteps echoing against cool marble as hundreds of witches and wizards, most of whom were wearing sleep-deprived looks, strode towards a set of golden gates at the far end of the hall.

"I'll never get used to that," Talbott shuddered, running his fingers through his slick back hair like a preening bird as he ducked out of a nearby grate.

"Which guy in the Department of Magical Transportation do you reckon figured it'll be a good idea to use public toilets as an entryway of all things?" Charlie mused aloud, shaking his head as he brushed soot off his leather jacket: five years studying dragons in Romania and, out of all the strange (and sometimes downright disturbing) things that he'd, Charlie had never once had to actually step into a toilet bowl before.

Talbott shrugged, "Apparently they thought it'd be a good way to uphold the Statute of Secrecy."

I raised an eyebrow. I honestly didn't see how that upheld anything but raise concerns for public hygiene but I decided not to comment. Every few seconds another witch or wizard would emerge from one of the left-hand fireplaces with a soft whoosh, and, on the right-hand side, short queues were forming before each fireplace, waiting to depart.
"Outta the way! Cauldrons' coming through 'ere!" A lady came through one of the grates behind us carrying a tall load of burnt-out cauldrons, teetering on the edge of falling and we quickly leapt out of the way.

We joined the throng, zigzagging our way between various Ministry workers, some of whom were carrying tottering piles of parchment, others battered briefcases, still, others were reading the Daily Prophet as they walked.

Silver Sickles and bronze Knuts glinted up at us from the bottom of the fountain as we passed, a small smudged sign beside that read:

All proceeds from the fountain of magical brethren will be given to St. Mungo's Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries.

I automatically grabbed for my wallet only to find that I had, of course, left it behind.

Next time, I'll put in ten Galleons. I vowed to myself. Jostled slightly by the crowd, the three of us went through the gates into a slightly smaller (but no less impressive) hall, where at least twenty lifts stood behind wrought golden grilles. "You better not try to fly off without us," I reminded Talbott as we joined the crowd around one of them. Nearby, stood a beer-bellied bearded wizard holding a large cardboard box that was emitting loud rasping noises.

"Is that a dragon in there?" asked Charlie, eyes wide with excitement.

"What? Nah, 'course not," said the wizard before frowning "Have we met before? You look awfully familiar …"

His bushy eyebrows seemed to furrow together as he looked over the Weasley before he grinned. "Ah, I know! You're one of Arthur's boys, aren't you? Orange hair and all … the name's Bob," He tucked the box that was now starting to exude smoke under his arm as he shook Charlie's hand with his other.

"Nice to meet you, Bob, I'm Charlie."

The man's grin only widened, "So you're the one that works with dragons?"

Charlie nodded.

"Brilliant!" beamed the wizard, "Always wanted to work with dragons. Never had the stomach for it though …"

"So, if it's not a dragon, then what is in that box?"

"Not sure yet," replied the wizard seriously. "We thought it was a bog-standard chicken until it started breathing fire of all things. Looks like a serious breach of the Ban on Experimental Breeding to me."

With a great jangling and clattering a lift descended in front of us; the golden grate slid back and we all stepped into the lift with the rest of the crowd and I found myself jammed against between Charlie and the back wall. Several witches and wizards were now looking at us curiously. Charlie joked whether they'd ever seen a dragon-tamer without a dragon but I secretly knew it was because of me. It wasn't every day that people saw the Head Cursebreaker of Gringotts marching into the Ministry of Magic after all. I blushed, pressing my face into the back of Charlie's jacket to avoid catching anyone's eye. The grilles slid shut with a clang before the lift lurched, chains rattling, while a cool female voice rang out overhead:

"Level Seven, Department of Magical Games and Sports, incorporating the British and Irish Quidditch League Headquarters, Official Gobstones Club and Ludicrous Patents Office."

The lift doors opened; I glimpsed an untidy-looking corridor, with various posters of grinning Quidditch teams tacked lopsidedly on the walls. One of the wizards in the lift, who was carrying an armful of broomstick managed to extricate his way out with great difficulty before soon disappearing down the said hallway. The doors closed, the lift juddered upwards again and the woman's voice announced:

"Level Six, Department of Magical Transportation, incorporating the Floo Network Authority, Broom Regulatory Control, Portkey Office and Apparation Test Centre."

Once again the lift doors opened and a gaggle of witches stepped out; at the same time, several paper aeroplanes swooped into the lift. Charlie stared up at them as they flapped idly around above his head; they were a pale violet colour and I could see the MINISTRY OF MAGIC stamped along the folds of their wings.

"Just inter-departmental memos," Talbott explained. "I personally preferred the owls they used to use, but the mess was unbelievable … dropping all over the desks …"

The memos flapped around the lamp swaying from the ceiling as the lift shot to the side.

"Level Five, Department of International Magical Cooperation, incorporating the International Magical Trading Standards Body, the Internal Magical Office of Law and the International Confederation of Wizards; British Seats."

When the doors opened, three of the five memos zoomed out with a few more passengers but even more, memos soon zoomed in, so that the light from the lamp now flickered and flashed overhead as they darted around it like fairies.

"Level Four, Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures, incorporating Beast, Being and Spirit Divisions, Goblin Liaison Office and Pest Advisory Bureau."

"Well that would be me," said the wizard carrying the fire-breathing chicken. "Say hello to your dad when you see him." He left the lift pursued by a little flock of flying memos.

The doors clanged shut yet again.

"Level Three, Department of Magical Accidents and Catastrophes, including the Accidental Magic Reversal Squad, Obliviator Headquarters and Muggle-Worthy Excuse Committee."

Almost everybody left the lift on this floor except me, Charlie, Talbott and a witch who seemed to be thoroughly captivated by the extremely long piece of parchment she was reading that trailed onto the floor. Two remaining memos continued to soar around the lamp as the lift jutted upwards again before the doors opened and the voice made its announcement.

"Level Two, Department of Magical Law Enforcement, including the Improper Use of Magic Office, Auror Headquarters, and Wizengamot Administration Services."

"Finally, it's about time," said Talbott as we followed the witch out of the lift into a long emerald tiled corridor lined with black doors.

"Huh, Dad's office is on the other side of the floor," Charlie said, eyes bright with memories.

"Why don't you guys go see him then?" Talbott suggested, "No need to escort me all the way …"
"Ha-ha, nice try but we're not letting you off," I replied.

We turned a corner, a pair of heavy oak doors opening and emerged into a cluttered open area divided into cubicles, which were buzzing with talk and laughter. Memos zoomed in and out like miniature rockets and a lopsided sign on the nearest cubicle read AUROR HEADQUARTERS.

I looked surreptitiously through the doorways as we passed. The Aurors had covered their cubicle walls with everything, from pictures of wanted wizards and photographs of their families to posters of their favourite Quidditch teams and cut-outs of articles from the Daily Prophet.

"Well, would we look at what the bird dragged in," chirped a vibrant voice. Tonks was sitting with her boots up on her desk, apparently mid dictating a report to her quill.

"Wait, no, don't write that!" she batted the quill away as it crossed out a few sentences before she jumped up to greet us.

"I knew you'd come through!" grinned the witch, her vibrantly purple curls bouncing on end as she squeezed us in a tight embrace. "Six years and you've never once let me down!" She turned to Talbott, "But you, on the other hand, have some nerve, Winger: vanishing like that in the middle of a crisis when you know we've still got a case to finish!"

"I was … following a lead," said Talbott.

"Following a lead for a month? What do you take me for? A Plimpy?" Tonks shook her head. "Really though, next time at least ruddy let me know where you're going before you jet off like that again, yeah? You're lucky that I'm not Mad-Eye."

"Speaking of Mad-Eye, have you heard how he's doing at Hogwarts?" asked Charlie.

"Nah, I've been completely swamped with paperwork that Bird-Brain over here was supposed to sort out."
Talbott blushed, "Yeah, yeah, I already got the lecture …"

Tonks rolled her eyes, smiling despite herself as the other auror went to his cubicle.

"I mean the man hasn't strangled a kid or anything so I'm assuming he's going fine …"

"He performed Unforgivable Curses in front of minors though," said a scarlet-robed man with a long ponytail as he sipped a mug of what was either Butterbeer or Firewhiskey disguised as tea.

"Yeah, but you know Mad-Eye. Always teaching on his toes – constant vigilance and what-not," reasoned Tonks.

"I don't know," replied the wizard, "I certainly wouldn't have hired him to teach a bunch of teenagers if I were Dumbledore …"

"Alastor Moody is one of the most accomplished Aurors of his generation," came a voice that belonged to a burly bronze-skinned middle-aged wizard in purple robes. "We Aurors could learn a few things from the man: he filled most of Azkaban with the dark wizards he's caught, after all."

The other wizard scoffed, "Course you'd be a fan of his, Shacklebolt. You were one of his students."

"And very proud of it," the wizard named Shacklebolt responded smoothly.

"Oi, he trained me too, remember Kingsley?" piped Tonks.

"You must be the Head Cursebreaker at Gringotts," Kingsley Shacklebolt regarded me with an incline of his bald head. "I heard a lot of impressive things about you from when your time at Hogwarts. Your reputation truly precedes you."

"That's one way of looking at it," I nodded as I shook his outstretched hand.

"You staying long?" asked Tonks, "Wanna get lunch? I'm bloody starving, haven't had anything for …" she glanced at her watch. "… Four hours? No wonder I can't concentrate!"

"Tonks, you can't concentrate on anything, Period," Charlie pointed out.

"Hey!" Tonks baulked, "I'll have you know that I am plenty good at concentrating on things …"

"Like food?" drawled Talbott.

"Exactly!" said Tonks, "Like food! Let's go!"

Tonks took us to a small muggle pub a few blocks away.

"Uh, Tonks? Are you sure this is the amazing place that you wanted to take us to?" asked Charlie for the fifth time.

"Yep, this is the place," nodded Tonks, "Trust me, Weasley. This here is one of London's hidden gems."

"Well, it certainly is hidden, that's for sure."

Charlie cast a doubtful look at the weedy looking pub as we shouldered our way through the creaking door.

"Ah, Dora!" a man appeared behind the dingy bar, grinning as soon as he saw us.

"Anatoly!" Tonks grinned. "Is Annika here?"

"Round the back," the man replied, "She's still trying to figure out how you did that last card trick. Annika! She's back!"

"Oh, finally," a girl came out from the kitchen, her black hair tied up in a sleek ponytail. "I was wondering you'd come, and I see you've brought actual friends no less." She seemed to look Charlie up and down.

"Sorry, my mate Charlie here is taken."

"Ah, they together?" she gestured to the two of us. "I should've known. I love the new hair by the way. Where did you get it done?"

"Oi, Nika! I pay you to serve tables not stand around talking about hair products!"

"Yes, Papa," The teenager rolled her eyes, tossing her hair over her shoulder as she gestured for us to sit. "Should I get you the usual then?"

"You know it," grinned Tonks.

"Alright. I'll add an extra serving if you show me that wicked card trick again …"

"Annika, how long it takes to serve table, eh?"

"I'm giving them the menus!" she called back. "Mudak."

She winked at us before she disappeared back behind the bar.

Charlie frowned, "My Russian isn't the best but did she just call her dad a …"

"Shit-head?" asked Tonks, "Yep."

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xoxo - S.G.