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Right In The Thick Of It

Who: The Trio (in disguise)
What: Sneaking around the Ministry
When: Monday, 15 December 1997
Where: The Ministry of Magic
Status: Complete

OK, don't get nervous. Just act like you belong here and no one will be any the wiser.

Easier said than done when you're disguised as your own Dad and sneaking around his office trying to do stuff that was illegal even before this whole mess got started...

Ron took a deep breath and wiped his hands on his robes for what felt like the dozenth time that minute. He turned to look at Harry and Hermione, both of whom had Polyjuiced themselves into a pair of ordinary-looking employees. Harry's name badge read "Melvin Shuffleport, Department of Magical Law Enforcement, Filing Division", while Hermione's identified her as "Bernard Greenflower, Department of Experimental Herbology".

Taking a quick glance around to make sure the hallway was quite deserted, Ron spoke in a low whisper. "All right, looks like the coast is clear. So we'll make a beeline for the Department of Mysteries, and we all know where we're going from there, right?"

Though this is probably the furthest from a sane idea I've ever heard of in my life...


"Beeline?" Harry tried to grin, but it likely came out as more of a pained grimace. He picked up a stack of papers on the desk - any stack would do - and tucked them under the crook of his arm. "We've gotten this far without beelining. Let's see if we can keep it up."

Hopefully the papers made him look important. Or, at the very least, made him look like he was about to go file something, which was apparently Melvin Shuffleport's job.

He turned, headed for the door. Felt like his knees would give out from under him.

Almost there...?
Hermione tried her very best to laugh, wincing as it came out resembling more of a strangled choking noise. She, they, couldn't do this, it was ridiculous. She had been so sure they would be caught on the way in, polyjuiced disguises or not, but this was so much worse. Surely, after the disaster of their 5th year, the Ministry policed the Department of Mysteries far more carefully than they had then?

"We should leave with an interval between us," she said through gritted teeth, trying to get a reign on her panic. She had to be able to think clearly, which would never happen if she kept allowing herself the luxury of sheer and utter terror. Just breathe, she reminded herself, standing straight and ensuring she had her carefully prepare stack of Herbology notes. "I doubt Ron's father has worked with either of these people. It would look suspicious if they were to suddenly be seen together now."
"I'll go first then."

The words were out of his mouth before he even knew he was going to say them. Taking a deep breath, he continued. "I'm the one everyone will know, right? So if I can get in and clear the way for the two of you, y'know, smooth things over so no one's suspicious, that'll be better than having three people show up that have nothing to do with each other."

He nodded towards Hermione. "You ought to go next. After I'm in, wait a couple of minutes and follow me. And then Harry can come in last. We'll meet each other..." He faltered a moment, realizing he had only a very hazy recollection of the layout of the inside of the Department of Mysteries. "...where?"
"In front of the doors," Hermione said tightly, barely resisting her desire to give him a desperate hug before he left. "The black ones, remember? That don't have have labels? We should meet there."

She took a deep breath, trying to force the details into her mind. That had been where they had first gotten into trouble the first time -- none of them had known which door to go through until she had marked them, and even then they hadn't the faintest idea.

"It's right inside the entrance, so it's...it's the best place, really," she faltered, concern creasing her face. "Besides, if we each try a different door, we might get lost, and we don't have that time to spare."
Ron nodded, trying to remember the exact way in which the room was laid out, trying to keep everything straight and orderly in his mind, trying to think of this as just another chess game where the only thing that mattered was strategy, thinking things through properly and not letting your opponent's visible confidence shake you...

But this was no game. Their lives, the lives of so many people, their friends and familes, depended on this. And he knew it.

"All right then," he said a bit too loudly. "I'm off."

And with a reassuring smile he only half-felt, he looked his friends in the eyes and strode away towards the Department of Mysteries.

I'm just Arthur Weasley, just doing my job. Which requires me right now to take a bit of a stroll down to the Department of Mysteries and take a look at a few matters of national security. Just another day at the office...

I hope no one can see how nervous I am...
A few minutes later, Hermione left the room. Harry stared down at the stack of papers as if his life depended on it.

It did depend on it.

Right. He was just Melvin Shuffleport, file clerk for Magical Law Enforcement. He loved his job. Was very happy to file things all day long. Never wanted for anything more.


He swallowed. Now to make everyone else believe it. He stepped outside the office, carefully shutting the door behind him, turned and found himself face to face with...

Someone. The man's badge was covered by the stack of papers in his arms. "Where you off to, Shuffleport?" he asked casually.

Harry cleared his throat, gestured to his paper stack. "Just off to... file... a few things. I've a lot of filing to do today." He forced a grin. "You know how crazy these Mondays can be."

Hopefully he did know that.
Hermione knew the way; she had traced the route a thousand times in her mind before today and a thousand more since they had arrived. She had every step memorised, every corridor and every doorway. Despite this, she could not stop her eyes shifting constantly, examining everything she came across, half afraid that the walls would begin to shift around her like some horrible nightmare.

She passed countless people who ignored her entirely, and the odd one or two who raised a hand in greeting. Each of the latter caused a fresh wave of panic, and a worry that even if she did not get caught, Ron or Harry may have while she was not watching.

One step at a time, she reminded herself sternly, trying to turn her mind away from such horrid thoughts. That's all it takes.

She was at the elevators before she knew it, pressing the button for the Department of Mysteries and rehearsing excuses in case she were caught by someone who knew she wasn't meant to be here. She was almost there...only a few steps more and she should see Ron waiting in front of her.
Being in this room again filled Ron with dread. He didn't remember much of what had happened last time, except that it had been a terrible experience he had been lucky to survive. And now, standing in this room of foreboding black doors, alone, waiting for his friends to arrive and hoping madly that no one came by to inquire why he was simply standing there, he wanted nothing more than to be out of this place.

Maybe that's a spell they put up or something. Make people so hesitant to be here that they won't even think of breaking in...

He shook his head angrily, trying to clear the doubts and fear from his mind. They couldn't afford that now. Especially since none of them knew exactly what they were going to do once they'd gotten into the room they wanted. Or if there were any way to do what they wanted to do and be able to come back afterwards.

The elevator bell rang, a single chime that made his heart pound once, thunderously, like a sledgehammer blow to the center of his chest. Quickly, madly, he dropped his sheaf of papers to the floor and knelt down to pick them up again, thinking to occupy himself and thus avoid any interrogation by whatever official might be in that elevator...

And breathed a sigh of relief that lifted the crushing pressure of panic from his chest when he looked up and saw Hermione. "Oh, thank Merlin it's you. Any trouble on the way down?"
Hermione shook her head wordlessly, collapsing against one of the walls in relief. She looked down at her watch, ridiculously girly against a man's hand, but thankfully mostly hidden by her robes. She wasn't sure how long after her Harry had left, but she knew that her heart would be beating in her throat until she saw him.

"No," she said finally, sneaking another glace at her wrist. It had been mere seconds; she couldn't expect Harry to arrive yet. She had at least five minutes to go before she would allow herself to properly worry, and even then it may be too early. "I don't think anyone saw me. "You?"

It was a silly question, she knew as soon as it left her mouth. He was here, uninjured, and she had not heard any alarm being raised. Of course he had arrived without problem. He would have told her by now if anything had gone wrong.
He shook his head. "No, I think we're pretty much invisible so far." For which he was incredibly thankful; the last thing they needed was to be detained in any way. Their appearances might check out at first glance, but to anyone who knew the people they were impersonating, their stories would disintegrate after a few simple questions.

Ron slipped a hand into the pocket of his robes and gripped the handle of his wand anxiously. "Was Harry all right when you left him?"

He realized as he said it that it was a ridiculous thing to ask, but he was concerned. So may things could potentially go wrong with this endeavor, and he needed to know that things were holding together so far.

No doubt about it, this thing is only going to work if a staggering number of things miraculously fail to go wrong.
The man fell in step beside Harry, walking casually with him down the hall. Well, he was casual. Harry fought the crazy urge to shove the man aside, make a break for the end of the hallway.

Just walk. Walk slowly. Walk like you belong here.

The man was talking about... something. Quidditch. Harry's mind was spinning. How could he talk about Quidditch when there was a world to save and the clock was ticking and his hands felt sweaty and clammy and...


"Well, this is my elevator." Harry cleared his throat. "My stop, I mean, I'm getting on the elevator."


The man raised an eyebrow. "You feeling okay, Shuffleport? You look a little pale."

Don't run.

"Well, it's Monday." Why wasn't the elevator coming any faster? "I'm not a fan of Mondays and I've all this filing to do." He gestured at the papers as if to prove it.

Get lost!

"All right, well... see you around." The man turned to go. "See you at break. Take care, Shuffleport."

Harry muttered something that probably sounded like 'goodbye' then darted into the elevator, slumping against the wall and heaving a sigh of almost-relief.

A few minutes of crazy, half-panicked wandering down the corridors and he found Arthur and Bernard, standing around and looking nervous.

"Hey," he said, his voice sounding oddly strained. "Here I am."
Hermione sighed in relief, peering over Harry's shoulder. She couldn't quite believe that they had made it here without any of them being followed. It seemed entirely to good to be true, she she kept expecting the entire plan to fall down around their ears at any moment.

"Are you all right?" She asked, belatedly registering the strange tone in his voice. She reached for her wand, clutching her hand around it as though it had the ability to save them all from what she could only assume would be certain disaster. "Did something go wrong?"

She took a deep breath, counting to three to stop herself babbling and give him time to answer. She could be calm; the fact that she wanted to let herself collapse into a babbling mess didn't mean that she should let herself do so.
Harry shook his head. "Just a friendly co-worker. I hope. Asking friendly questions."

Or raising the alarm right now. He felt it should be a good sign that no one had come running yet. Then again, how long had he been down here? A few minutes, at best.

"Let's keep going. How long do we have left with the polyjuice?"
As pleased as he was to see Harry, Ron still felt a sickening twist of his stomach at the mention of someone asking questions about any of them. Friendly or not, they didn't need someone getting suspicious and sending someone down to ask after them.

"Around half an hour, I'd say. And we'll need every last second of it if we're going to navigate this place."

And more than that, if we're going to be doing any sort of investigation. Especially in that... room.

He nodded towards the door. "Come on. No time to waste and all that. Hermione -" He turned to face her. "-can you do that thing you did before to mark the door?"
Hermione nodded, the sick feeling that had settled in her throat not allowing her to answer properly. She held out her wand, thanking Merlin that she had learned wordless magic, concentrating of the thought of fire. An X made out of flames appeared on the door, and she gestured for them to open it; she did not think she could make her legs move if she tried.

"Flagrate," she whispered, clearing her throat. "The spell's flagrate. In case we get separated."

Her breath caught. She couldn't think of that now, she wouldn't let herself. The only reason she could think of that any of them would leave the others was...oh god. No. She would not think like that.
Separated? Ron thought with a mental snort. Not bloody likely. No way I'm letting either of you go off on your own, no thank you.

Nevertheless, he nodded his understanding to Hermione and drew his wand. "All right. I'll open the door and see if the coast is clear. You guys follow me in and make sure to stay together. This place is a maze, after all, and the last thing we want is to get lost."

And before he could lose his nerve, he took a deep breath and wrenched open the door.
The room on the other side was mercifully empty. Quiet. Eerie in a way, but Harry didn't want to quibble the huge favour.

They wandered through it and into the next room and then next one after that. All of them quietly empty, as if everyone had gone on their lunch break all at once. Maybe they had.

"We're too lucky so far," Harry muttered, stepping into a corridor bathed in blue light.
"Don't say that," Hermione said in a small voice, every part of her wishing that they could go back. The polyjuice would start wearing off soon, she knew; it would be dangerous for them to be caught here in their disguises. As themselves...she couldn't quite bear to think about what would happen if they were caught like this. "Don't jinx us."

It looked far too empty. The last time they had been here it had been this quiet, but it was also way past the point in the day when people would have left for home. Today, at this time, it should be full of people.

"They wouldn't have abandoned it would they?" She whispered, the larger part of her hoping they had. At the very least they wouldn't need to worry about getting caught.
"Abandoned it? No way. This place is too important to leave unguarded." He considered for a moment. "Which does beg the question, where are all the guards..."

The corridor's apparent emptiness did seem a trifle too quiet for Ron's taste. The doors they had passed should have been guarded. There ought to have been a pair of security wizards on each door, the unsmiling sort who always looked as though they would rather use their perpetually-drawn wands on you than waste time asking you what you were doing there. And some of the spells they purportedly knew and were authorized to use made a shiver run down Ron's spine...

"Wait a minute!" He stopped dead in his tracks. "Spells! There won't be guards, there'll be spells! There aren't enough people on You-Know-Who's side that he'd trust enough to guard a place like this, so he'd use wards instead!" He whirled to face Harry and Hermione. "Keep your eyes open for..."

He never got to finish the sentence. As his foot hit the floor, the flagstone he had stepped on flashed a brilliant blue-green and a halo of the same color appeared around his body. At the same time, a wall of red light erupted in front of and behind them, caging them neatly.

I can't move...!
If Hermione had known any decent swear words, she would have used them now. As it was, she could not help a small shriek as the cage materialised around them. Sucking in her breath, she felt a brief stab of gratitude that she had kept her wand in her hand, making the fact that she could not move largely irrelevant.

Forcing herself to relax, she wracked her memory for caging spells. She hadn't much studied them, but surely she had come across something like this at some point. She had read...that was it. It had a small enough wand movement, which was perfect for this situation. Although, if one was to think about it, the inventor no doubt made it that way in case they were stuck in their own creation at some point.

Reciting the spell over in her head, she concentrated on the counter movement she had learned, sighing in relief as she cage eventually dissipated. Spinning abruptly to face the person responsible, she could not help but jab her wand at his chest. "You had me worried sick!" She snapped, pausing as it occurred to her that was not entirely what she had meant to say. "You - we - could have gotten killed!"

Not that it was entirely his fault, she admitted as she tried to catch her panicked breath. She was the one who should have realised that they were up against, who knew more of the detection spells than either Harry or Ron. She should have been going first, and keeping an eye out for this sort of thing.
He staggered back a step, trying to catch his breath. It was true, he thought ruefully. He'd realized the danger they were in a split-second too late, and then stupidly blundered into the trap that would have gotten them captured had it not been for Hermione's quick action and encyclopedic knowledge of spells.

Sighing with chagrin, he nodded his head. "OK, OK. You're right, I'm sorry." Looking around the hallway quickly, he noticed no signs of further lockdowns or anyone coming to arrest them. "But it looks like we lucked out all the same."

He hoped the apologetic smile he tacked onto the end of that sentence helped, but it didn't seem likely.
The guilt she could see on his face, combined with the half smile was too much for Hermione, and she pulled her wand away so that she could throw her arms around his shoulders.

"Don't scare me like that," she whispered fiercely, blushing as she pulled away. She had forgotten, far too easily, that she looked nothing at all like herself at the moment. She could not imagine it would be pleasant for him to be hugged by someone who looked nothing at all like herself.

It took her a moment to realise that she should be offended by the 'lucked out' comment. They had done nothing of the sort, considering that it had been her own knowledge of the spell that had saved them. Still, it seemed hardly worth worrying about it now. Not when there were countless other spells to try and avoid, just waiting to be activated.
Harry winced as 'Bernard' threw her arms around 'Mr. Weasley.' Too much, too weird to watch Ron's dad... Ron... something... be hugged by some random Ministry employee.

He cleared his throat. "So I wonder what's behind door number two?" he said, striding forward, wand aloft, and yanking said door open.
Ron's arms went instinctively around Hermione before he realized what it must look like for Arthur Weasley to be hugging Bernard Greenflower in the middle of the hallway. In fact, he probably would have laughed hard enough to make his nose bleed had he seen it himself. However, he knew who it was beneath the Polyjuiced exterior, and that was what mattered. That and the fact that he now had an image to make him have to suppress gales of laughter whenever he saw his Dad.

Harry's comment, however, made him let go of Hermione... Bernard... whomever, and whirl around in panic. What was he thinking, after what had just happened? "Harry, no-!"

But nothing did, in fact, happen, and he found himself with a look of panic on his face and his arm outstretched, staring down a confused-looking Melvin Shuffleport.
Hermione had already started to point her wand at the door when she heard Harry start to move. When nothing jumped out at them, cursed them or otherwise caused a large amount of noise, she took a moment to instead mark the door. If it was the wrong one again, they would not have to risk wasting more time by going through their twice.

"Be careful," she said reprovingly, peering after him into the newly revealed room. She knew they were all impatient to get going, but walking directly into a fatal trap would hardly help their cause. "At least let me cast a few detection spells before you go off doing that."

Striding past him, Hermione cast all the spells she could remember, but apart from a few noise hexes and one stinging hex that showed up in a flash of purple light, there was little there that could hurt them. Not, she amended, that that meant they were safe. It only meant that any methods she knew did not detect anything.
Ron held his wand out straight-armed in front of him, running through a list of possible defensive spells in his mind, as he stepped into the room. It seemed nondescript enough, but he didn't remember what the room they were after even looked like.

A few more steps into the room, and after turning a complete circle, he lowered the wand and voiced his concern. "All right, so what are we looking for anyway? I don't remember how we even got to the room last time. Are we going the right way?"
As it turned out, no, they weren't going the right way. At all. They wandered around for ten-fifteen-twenty minutes? Harry wasn't sure. He had lost track a few corridors back and the further they went, the more nervous he became.

Of course he couldn't remember. He grit his teeth. Last time they had been in the area, they had been dealing with pressing business, such as trying to not be killed by Death Eaters.

He didn't want to see the veil again. Not really. But to say so, to really wish it so, was to what? Condemn them to wandering around forever? Or, more likely, to getting captured and murdered.

No good.

With a sigh, he pushed open another door.
"It was just through one of the doors," Hermione said in frustration, closing her eyes as she tried to remember. They had been exploring the doors, they had opened one and the veil had been the first thing they had seen. Since they hadn't been looking for that, they hadn't paid much attention at first.

She gestured back out the way they had came, feeling a slightly tingle in her fingers. The polyjuice would be running out soon, which made it even more important that they find their way to the veil before someone saw them. She was stunned they hadn't come across any Unspeakables as it was.

"Back through here," she said insistently, glad she had marked all the doors they had tried so far. "We have to keep looking. It was straight through one of these doors, we could see it the second we opened it."
And so it was back into the central room once more. Ron anxiously kept his eyes open and his wand leveled in front of him in preparation for some quick spellwork, but the necessity (thankfully) did not arise. He stepped over to an unmarked door, to the left of the one they had just come out of. "I guess this one's next..." He turned back to make sure everyone else was ready-

And saw Hermione and Harry in ill-fitting robes, the Polyjuice almost entirely having run its course.

Ron said a very rude word at as low a volume as he could manage, given his panic, and beckoned frantically to the rest of them. "Come on, come on! If this isn't the right door, we're going to need to get out of here fast!"

Or else we're never getting out of here at all...
Propelled almost entirely by Ron's panic, Harry darted forward, practically bowling Ron over. He nearly fell through the doorway, stumbling on robes that were entirely too long. The Polyjuice had worn off, dammit, why hadn't they planned this better?

He swore, twitched the robes away from his feet, and steadied himself, pressed himself against a cold stone wall to get a better view of the room.

And there it was, fluttering in the room's center.

Harry grimaced.