Nathanael kept his gaze fixed westward as dawn rippled behind him.
Although light didn’t break through the dense forest canopy he heard the
daylight's effects. His keen ears had noted each cracked twig or scurry
in the underbrush while he'd sat vigil, but these nocturnal murmurs
were giving way to the robins awakening for the day.
"It's time,” said a hoarse voice.
A twist of smoke curled from a chimneys on the distant roof. Nathanael’s muscles felt stiff after so many hours keeping watch. Every night for the last month he’d been among the surveillance guard, ready and waiting lest the family make a run for it in the middle of the night. Frankly, he was surprised that they hadn't yet tried.
But this morning the guard would intervene, one way or another. With a steady hand he slid his mask down over his face and signaled that they advance.
Cloaks whispered over dewy grass, sliding like shadows toward the lopsided structure in the valley below. Only one window twinkled yellow—the kitchen, probably. The mother, fussing over breakfast.
Nathanael couldn't imagine what the woman must be thinking, clinging to her normality and her routine. Nor did he understand why they hadn't attempted to escape. France had only just closed its borders but the Netherlands remained obstinately open.
Whatever the reason, he was glad for it. Things would have ended messily had they tried.
Three cloaked figures disappeared around the stone wall to stake out positions along the perimeter while another slipped up the garden path. Nathanael kept watch from a distance as Augustus' fist knocked thrice against the door: boom, boom, boom.
"The house is surrounded," called Augustus' magically amplified voice. Inside, the shattering of china. "Drop your wands and come out with your hands on your heads."
Footsteps fell heavy on the stairs inside the teetering shanty and urgent voices hissed. Then, just above the barn, a faint creaking.
"There." Nathanael pointed up to a window sliding open. Beside him, Walden's breath rattled against his mask. A red head had emerged, catching the first few rays of dawn until it burnt like fire. The girl tossed a rucksack out the window onto the adjacent barn before leaping out after it.
Walden sent a stunning spell after her but she was already making a run for the woods.
"Hold your position." Nathanael threw out an arm to stop Walden from pursuing. "The others will intercept her."
At the front of the house, Augustus had his wand trained on the parents. The mother sobbed as she knelt on the grass, fingers laced together behind her head, while the father just opened and closed his mouth like a fish.
"Your son," Augustus growled. "Where is he?"
"The youngest one—the one who ought to be reporting back to Hogwarts today."
"He's upstairs!" the mother pleaded. "We've told the Ministry! He's very ill!"
Nathanael and Walden shared a nod before advancing to search the house.
"Rowle reckons the son's with Potter," Walden said as they strode, wands raised, through cluttered first floor rooms. "He and Dolohov swear they saw them together at that muggle cafe in London."
"Well we shall see," Nathanael said, peering into the crowded pantry. "I recall Our Lord punishing them for their failure to capture the Undesirables that day. I'm sure you understand if I’m disinclined to believe their accounts after that fact. If the boy is indeed here then it should be easy enough to confirm."
Walden merely grunted as he lumbered up the stairs after Nathanael. Each of the many bedrooms were small and easily searched, and most sported telling carpets of dust.
“Well where is he, then?” Walden sounded satisfied as they scanned the topmost room, scarcely large enough for the both of them to stand in. Quidditch ephemera crusted every surface but the bright oranges were muted by a thin layer of dust.
Before Nathanael could formulate a response, there came a thump and a groan from above. “The parents say it’s Spattergroit,” he said.
“I’ll search the girl’s room again.” Walden nodded before doubling back.
Nathanael followed his wand up the ladder and pushed open the trapdoor. A putrid, rotten smell erupted and he nearly gagged. In the far corner lay a red haired creature in filthy pajamas, its face a topography of angry boils. A string of cloudy drool dripped from its cracked lips. Then, a guttural rumbling from its throat.
The trapdoor snapped shut again as Nathanael retreated.
"This bag looks to have been packed in advance," Augustus' voice grew clear as Nathanael strode back down the twisting stairwell to the garden. "She'd clearly planned to make a run for it."
The sun rose like blood in the east, rendering his companions silhouettes of windblown robes.
"We had no idea!" the mother cried as a wand jabbed against her temple. "Her trunk's all packed for Hogwarts—check her room!"
"My wife and I have been very clear with Ginny about her return to Hogwarts. We had no intention of breaking Ministry rules."
While the father kept a firm but consistent tone Nathanael couldn't help but note the way his jaw tensed at the word 'Ministry.' His disdain for defining the new administration as such was clear. But Nathanael had expected as much from Arthur Weasley. By all accounts, the lowly Muggle Artefacts officer had continued to do his work and toe every line but everyone knew where the family's loyalties lay.
A high shriek pierced the air and everyone tensed, listening. The girl. Her parents’ faces blanched despite the rosy dawn breaking before them.
Nathanael watched as the others dragged young Ginny Weasley across the grass. The child spat and bit at her captors, twisting and pulling against their binding spells.
“Well that’s that sorted.” Augustus’ voice was dry. With a flick of his wand he summoned a black bag, tearing it over her head in one swift motion. Her shouts came to a stop. The silencing charm would leave her deaf to the world outside and muted from within. Even when Walden kicked her to the ground, pushing his boot into her back, she didn’t make a sound. Or at least, they couldn’t hear it.
"The son." Augustus turned toward Nathanael. "Is he here?"
"In the attic.” He waved a hand. “The parents seem to be telling the truth about his being ill with Spattergroit."
Walden looked up from the girl on the grass, seeming dissatisfied. "And you're sure it's Ronald Weasley?"
If the Weasleys were caught lying, they were to be executed.
"Yes," Nathanael lied. "I'm sure."