The Aurors by FloreatCastellum



Summary: The last thing Harry Potter wants is to be lumped with a trainee Auror, especially not one that idolises him. As he guides her through the realities of being an overworked Auror and tentatively settles into adult life with Ginny, a dark plot brews on the horizon...
Rating: PG-13 starstarstarstarstar
Categories: Post-Hogwarts, Post-DH/PM
Characters: None
Genres: None
Warnings: None
Challenges: None
Series: None
Published: 2016.02.28
Updated: 2016.08.29


Index

Chapter 1: Chapter One: The Arrival of Theia Higglesworth
Chapter 2: Chapter Two: Belladonna
Chapter 3: Chapter Three: Azkaban
Chapter 4: Chapter Four: The Death Eater
Chapter 5: Chapter Five: Talkative Tongues
Chapter 6: Chapter Six: The Spy
Chapter 7: Chapter Seven: Intruder
Chapter 8: Chapter Eight: Criminology, Theory and Practice
Chapter 9: Chapter Nine: The Owl and the Pussycat
Chapter 10: Chapter Ten: The Watcher
Chapter 11: Chapter Eleven: The Guardian
Chapter 12: Chapter Twelve: Neville's Leaving Party
Chapter 13: Chapter Thirteen: Dubrow
Chapter 14: Chapter Fourteen: The Ruse
Chapter 15: Chapter Fifteen: Divine Inspiration
Chapter 16: Chapter Sixteen: The Study
Chapter 17: Chapter Seventeen: All The Liars
Chapter 18: Chapter Eighteen: The Dead Phoenix
Chapter 19: Chapter Nineteen: Mayday
Chapter 20: Chapter Twenty: Listening to Dennis
Chapter 21: Chapter 21: Trials and Firewhiskey


Chapter 1: Chapter One: The Arrival of Theia Higglesworth

The rain poured heavily onto the cobbles of Knockturn Alley, the darkness of the evening causing the looming buildings to appear as though they were suffocating the street below. The gas street lamps spluttered, the light they cast dissolving in in the rain, falling hazily onto a skeletal cat that crouched in a doorway, slipping out a tongue to devour a morsel of rotten meat.

A man appeared with a loud crack, like a clap of thunder, and with a painful yowl the cat leapt up and sprinted away, darting through the dark spaces. The man watched it for a second, then, with heavy boots, trudged through the rushing water in the gutter.

His travelling cloak was torn and stained with mud, and he pulled it closer as the rain drenched him. He could see his destination, and as he advanced the lights in the window were snuffed out. The lights in the buildings around him also fell away to darkness, the inhabitants inside recognizing that no man was here at half-past-one for any good reason. There was a scraping and a clattering as they pulled shutters closed and bolted their doors.

He reached the wooden door, above his head the sign creaked in the wind. He did not knock, but instead began to kick at the door, each blow of his boot like the beats of a fatalistic drum, until the wood underneath splintered and fell away. He withdrew a twisted, gnarled wand from his pocket, and entered.

***

It was not a graduation. That had been emphasised to them on multiple occasions, with stern reminders that they had two more years before they were qualified, and that this was only happening because so many people had died and they had a serious staff shortage, so they could wipe those bloody smiles off their faces and show a bit more propriety, thank you very much.

Yet it certainly felt like a graduation, and Theia couldn’t hold back her broad grin as the camera flashed, the lights bouncing off her shining silver buttons and polished shoes, her wispy hair pulled back into a sensible bun. Her father was there, grinning smugly, and after the photos had been taken, he clapped her on the back.

‘My Theia!’ he said loudly. ‘A proper Auror!’

Her heart burst with pride, and she smoothed down her ceremonial robes, almost delirious with excitement. ‘I’m not a proper Auror yet, Dad.’ She began to explain, yet again, that for the rest of her training she would be paired with a senior Auror that had lost their partner, assisting them while continuing her training.

But he was barely listening. He scratched the stubble on his chin, looking around the crowded room. ‘Is there not a caff or something in here? What d’you say we get some lunch and a pint? To celebrate.’

Her face fell slightly. ‘No, Dad, I have to go to work, it’s my first day, that’s what all this-’ she gestured to the photographers, families and fellow trainees, ‘is all about.’

‘You could slip off for a bit though, couldn’t yah?’

She opened her mouth to respond, but Judy Noakes had rushed over, seizing her arm. ‘They’ve put the list up! They’ve put it up!’

Alive with excitement, she joined the crowd of trainees gathered at the noticeboard, craning their necks to see the large list that had just been pinned there, ignoring the flashing cameras.

‘I’ve got someone called Savage,’ said Matthew Strudwick, his eyes widening. ‘Savage! Blimey…’

‘I’ve got someone called Dawlish,’ gabbled Judy, pressing her finger against the name. ‘And Theia, you’ve got… You’ve… Oh…’ Her finger had slid down to Higglesworth and paused.

Gasps and awed silence surrounded her, the cameras clicking madly. She rather thought she’d been hit over the head.

Potter.

***

Harry Potter was running late. Half shouting an apology about paperwork to Susan as he hurried past her, his hot coffee spilled over his fingers as he carried a wad of manila files under his chin, a briefcase floating behind him.
‘Tuesday, Tuesday,’ he called over his shoulder at her.

‘I mean it, Harry,’ Susan yelled back. ‘I need it by the end of the week!’

‘Next Tuesday!’

Interdepartmental memos zoomed overhead, the buzz of morning chatter and yawned greetings following him as he rushed to his cubicle. But there was already someone sitting in it.

He stopped dead in his tracks, his coffee slopping over the mug onto his fingers again, and stared the pale, fragile-looking girl sitting in the spare chair by his desk.

‘Hello, Mr Potter,’ she said breathlessly, leaping up and grinning at him excitably. ‘I’m so excited to be working with you, I can’t wait to get started. Thank you so much for taking me on, it’s such an honour and I really won’t let you down-’

‘Uh-huh,’ he said slowly, edging his way around her to his chair. As he moved, she rotated on the spot, beaming at him and keeping her un-blinking brown eyes fixed on his face.

‘I’m so excited to have been paired with you, I can hardly believe it, I would never in my wildest dreams have expected to be mentored by you, I can’t tell you how much it means, you’re a true inspiration and it was you that made me want to be an Auror-’

Harry lowered his now half-empty coffee onto his desk, watching the girl babble relentlessly. His eyes flicked up to the top of his cubicle, and he could see some of his colleagues sniggering.

‘-And I really think it’s the best start my career could have,’ finished the girl, still smiling elatedly.

‘Right,’ said Harry. ‘Er… What did you say your name was?’

‘Higglesworth, Boss,’ she said. ‘Theia Higglesworth.’

‘You don’t need to call me Boss,’ said Harry, feeling slightly alarmed.

‘We were all told that was the standard when talking to your line manager or mentor, Boss,’ she said, completely unperturbed. ‘That or Sir, or Ma’am.’

‘Right,’ said Harry again, ignoring a snort from Proudfoot, still watching from several cubicles away. ‘You all meaning…?’
‘All the trainees, Boss,’ she said, her grin as wide and delighted as ever. ‘What’s that?’

‘What’s…?’ he followed her gaze to the little cardboard counter that read Days Since Attempt On Life: 63. ‘Er… It’s a joke my- a friend got me… Sorry, did you say you were a trainee?’

‘Yes, Boss. I’ve been partnered with you.’

Harry nodded, a little rapidly, trying not to let his feelings show on his face. ‘OK… All right, Thee, was it?’

‘Theia, Boss.’

‘Right, Theia, could you, er… Could you go through these files and just…’ he stared at the manila files for a second. She wouldn’t have a clue what to do with them. ‘Actually could you just… Watch them, and make sure no one touches them?’

‘Of course, Boss,’ she said happily, sitting back in the spare chair. He dumped them on the desk and she immediately stared at them intently.

Shaking his head slightly, he left the cubicle, throwing a glare at Proudfoot and the others who were silently laughing, and stormed to Robards’ office.

‘In,’ came the gruff voice as Harry knocked.

‘Sir,’ he greeted stiffly. Robards gave a great sigh, but didn’t look up from his memo.

‘I did give you fair warning, Potter,’ he said.

Harry ignored him. ‘Sir, I said I didn’t want to be part of the new recruitment scheme.’

‘I know you did,’ said Robards. ‘And I told you that you didn’t have any bloody choice in the matter.’

‘I don’t need a partner,’ said Harry. ‘And I don’t have time to train anyone up-’

‘None of us have time, that’s not the point,’ said Robards, scowling up at Harry. ‘You haven’t had a partner in nearly a year-’

‘I don’t need one-’

‘Yes you bloody well do,’ snapped Robards. ‘Everyone needs one, it’s standard procedure, it’s dangerous to go off on your own.’ He crumpled the memo and chucked it into a wastepaper basket in the corner, leaning back in his chair grumpily. ‘I don’t know how else I can explain it to you, Potter, we’re seriously understaffed, have more work than ever thanks to you and Shacklebolt’s bright idea of scrapping the Dementors, and we need to get new recruits in the field as quickly as possible-’

‘They’re seriously undertrained,’ said Harry seriously. ‘I doubt any of them have any real experience, it’s a real risk for us to be babysitting while we’re working.’

Robards pointed at him sternly. ‘Don’t give me any of that shit, I know you’d done a lot but you were only seventeen when you started here. You’ve effectively done the same thing as them, at least they’ve had a year in the training centre.’

Harry fell silent as he tried to think of another argument he hadn’t made a hundred times before. Robards rubbed his eyes tiredly. ‘Just be nice to her, Potter, yeah? Start her off with an easy case, bring me some results and I’m sure you’ll get used to it.’

Harry looked at him sourly. ‘With all due respect, Sir, I have to ask if this is punishment for my involvement in the reorganization of the department? The understaffing problem has a lot to do with me, not just the war.’

Robards glared at him. ‘Shut the door,’ he ordered coldly.

Harry reluctantly obeyed, noticing as he did the amount of people suddenly turning away and pretending they hadn’t been listening. He turned back to Robards, his face irritable and gritting his teeth.

‘You and I both know you could be next when I retire,’ said Robards, his voice low. ‘But I need to see mentorship from you. I heard all these great things about you teaching kids defence at school, but since you joined you’ve just worked with friends- I know,’ he interjected loudly, raising a hand. ‘I know you said you could pair with Longbottom instead of helping with the new recruits, but between you and me he’s considering leaving too, something about Herbology, I don’t know.’

Harry’s heart sank. Even Neville was leaving now? Robards leaned across the desk, resting heavily on his elbows. ‘The point is, I need to see you can work together and train someone up, someone you didn’t have in your little club at school.’

Harry nodded. ‘Yes, Sir,’ he said, feeling a little defeated.

‘I know you don’t agree with the new scheme,’ said Robards. ‘But what am I supposed to do? You and your mates were the only ones I could hire after the war, one of you’s left and another’s about to do the same. We need new blood and we need it fast.’ He surveyed Harry’s miserable face, then added, more kindly, ‘your cubicle will be extended to fit the new kid in. I picked one of the more able ones for you, apparently she scores quite highly on stealth exercises, I know that’s your thing. It’s just until she graduates.’

‘Thank you, Sir,’ said Harry grudgingly.

‘Right, well then, sod off,’ said Robards, jerking his head to the door.

Harry returned to his cubicle, ignoring the curious stares from the rest of the department. When he arrived, Theia was standing steadfast in the entrance, one hand grasping each side of the doorway, arguing stubbornly with a wizard from magical maintenance.

‘There is highly sensitive information in here,’ she was saying loudly. ‘I can’t risk anyone touching it.’

‘I’ve just come to expand it,’ insisted the wizard, looking bewildered.

‘Bloody hell,’ muttered Harry. Proudfoot and the others were now laughing hysterically, though Theia appeared not to have noticed. ‘Sorry, Steve. Theia, get out the way, let him do his job-’

‘I protected the files, Boss,’ she said proudly.

‘Well done,’ said Harry irritably. ‘It’s just Steve though. Come out the cube, let me introduce you to people…’
Steve shook his head sympathetically at him, and he shrugged back. Theia followed him, and he made his way around the office, introducing her to the people he worked most with. It was rather like being followed around by an excitable puppy, and whenever they met another mentor and new recruit, she could hardly keep her face from showing her smugness as the recruits stared at Harry.

He was in a decidedly bad mood by the time they got back to the newly expanded cubicle, and he looked despondently at his now cold coffee.

‘I can get you another one, Boss,’ said Theia chirpily.

‘Please don’t call me boss,’ muttered Harry. He sat down, and Theia did the same, though her back was so straight she could hardly have been resting.

Harry rubbed his eyes under his glasses and breathed heavily out through his nose. ‘Right,’ he said. ‘A case, let’s find a case…’ he glanced at the map on the wall. ‘Not that one,’ he said to himself. ‘And not the Zabini case…’

‘I’ve been reading about that one in The Prophet,’ Theia said brightly.

Harry gave her a withering look, and pulled the pile of files towards him. ‘Let’s find a new one,’ he said, flicking through them. ‘Start from scratch.’

Theia looked at the files too, looking tempted but unsure whether or not to touch them. She jumped as Harry spoke to her.

‘Which house were you in at Hogwarts?’

‘Ravenclaw, Sir,’ she replied.

He glanced at her. ‘You don’t need to call me sir, either. Just Harry is fine.’ He cast aside a file and picked up another one. ‘So you’d have been a few years below me?’

‘Two years below you,’ she blurted out, suddenly going very red. ‘I, er… I remember you,’ she added awkwardly.

Harry now felt embarrassed too. He didn’t remember her at all. ‘Oh… Were you in the D.A?’

He winced, she looked horrified. ‘No,’ she said, the wispy tendrils around her face trembling as she shook her head violently. ‘I’m really sorry, I wasn’t, not when you were there, I joined it later but I didn’t really do anything, I was a bit too young, I really wanted to though, I just thought you were all so brave, and it definitely inspired me and I want to make sure I make up for it now-’

‘It’s all right!’ said Harry desperately, hoping his voice sounded reassuring. ‘I was just trying to place you, that’s all, it doesn’t matter. Did we ever speak?’

‘No,’ she said, a little too quickly.

There was an achingly long pause. ‘Let’s do this one,’ Harry said, tapping a file marked Shyverwretch and trying to sound upbeat.

‘Great,’ she said hurriedly, reaching out for it. ‘Shall I read it now then?’

Harry checked his watch. ‘Nah, it’s really late already, let’s just go. Just watch me, you’ll pick it up.’
She spluttered. ‘But the official Auror guidelines state that all officers should be well prepared and knowledgeable, fully reviewing all information in the case file before-’

‘We’ll get the Floo,’ Harry said, grabbing his travelling cloak and heading to the door. ‘Come on.’

They got the Floo to the Leakey Cauldron, Harry giving Tom the barman a friendly wave as they passed through. Over the past few years, he’d mastered the art of walking fast and with purpose, keeping his gaze down and never lingering, thereby discouraging people from recognizing him or trying to stop him for photos. Unfortunately, he had much longer strides than the rather tiny Theia Higglesworth, who had to do an awkward half-jog to keep up.

‘So where are we going?’ she asked eagerly. ‘Is it a murder? Dark magic?’

‘Nope,’ said Harry briskly. ‘Break-in, possibly connected with illegal potion smuggling.’

They turned down Knockturn Alley, the shimmering puddles reflecting the towering grimy buildings either side. Harry was not sure Theia had ever been there before. She glanced around nervously at the shrunken heads in the windows, the trio of rats scuttling ahead of them and vanishing down a drain, the intimidating looking witches and wizards that loitered in the doorways with twisted smiles. A scrawny cat hissed at them from behind a dented dustbin.

A bustle of activity around one shop drew their eye, and Harry passed easily through the shimmering blue line that hovered at waist height. Theia bounced off it.

‘Oh,’ he said, distractedly, aware of the other law enforcement workers watching them. ‘Do you not have permissions yet?’

‘I was meant to go to the Ministry Authorities department,’ she said helplessly. ‘It was in my induction brochure. But there wasn’t time, I didn’t realize we’d be visiting a crime scene so soon-’

Harry felt irritated. This was exactly why he hadn’t wanted to take on a recruit, it just slowed him down. He turned to a nearby Law Enforcement witch. ‘Sandra, could you give her temporary access?

The witch nodded, looking bored, and cast her wand over the line, creating a narrow gap which Theia slipped through quickly.

The shop itself was as grimy and dark looking as all the others, with dusty potion bottles lining the windows. Above them, a creaky sign blew gently in the breeze. Shyverwretch’s Potions and Venoms. The wooden door had been smashed in, the distressed wood lying in splinters all over the flagstone floor.

‘Owner?’ Harry asked Sandra.

‘He’s inside,’ said Sandra. ‘We thought it was just a burglary, but he’s all beaten up as well so thought we’d get you lot in.’ She lowered her voice. ‘Who’s that?’

Harry followed the direction of her head jerk to see Theia, looking very seriously at the window of the shop, rubbing her chin and frowning in concentration.

‘Don’t get me started,’ he muttered.

He called Theia over and together they entered the shop. The place was a mess. The low candle light caught on the shards of glass and colourful liquids all over the floor, a large oak table in the centre of the room seemed to have been hit with a reducto spell on one side, and the walls bore shadowy marks of soot.

In the middle of it all sat a battered looking old man holding a sponge to his face, accompanied by another Law Enforcement wizard.

‘Thanks, Phil,’ said Harry.

Phil nodded. ‘Watch where you step, nasty potions these.’

Theia and Harry carefully dodged the puddles of poisons and made their way over to the old man in the chair, who glared up at them from beneath his sponge. His wrinkled face was heavily bruised, and a trickle of blood worked its way down his face from his wiry grey hairline.

‘Mr Shyverwretch?’ asked Harry pleasantly.

‘Don’t need Aurors,’ growled the man. ‘Least of all you.’

Theia looked shocked, so for her benefit Harry gave her a kindly smile. ‘I’m never particularly popular round here.’
‘I want you to leave,’ said Mr Shyverwretch, his pale blue eyes glinting with fury.

‘Why did you send an owl to the law enforcement department, Mr Shyverwretch?’ asked Harry. Beside him, Theia gave a small ‘ooh’ of recollection and started rustling through her bag, pulling out a self-inking quill and notebook as Mr Shyverwretch began to answer.

‘Insurance,’ he grunted. ‘Need to make an official report to get the insurance.’

‘But you don’t want us to find out who did this?’ asked Harry, looking around the destroyed shop.

‘I don’t give a rats arse, I just want it cleared up, places round here get robbed all the time.’

‘They do,’ admitted Harry, looking back out to the street. ‘Nasty place. This wasn’t a robbery though, was it Mr Shyverwretch?’

Mr Shyverwretch scowled up at him, bruised knuckles gripping his sponge more tightly. Warm water seeped from it. ‘Yes, it was, they took twenty-three galleons and four sickles from the till.’

‘Beat you up, too,’ prompted Harry. ‘That bruise looks nasty. I can heal it if you want?’

‘Sod off.’

‘Come on, Mr Shyverwretch, I’m not stupid. Nobody goes to this much effort for a few galleons. You were being punished.’

‘I don’t want your lot involved,’ growled the man again. ‘Get out of my shop.’

‘The thing is, everything’s pointing to you being in a bit of trouble,’ said Harry. ‘Legitimate business activities don’t usually result in this sort of thing.’

‘It’s nothing to do with my business,’ insisted Shyverwretch.

‘Oh, really?’ asked Harry. He pulled out his wand and conjured up a chair. ‘Theia, go see what the neighbours know. Mr Shyverwretch is bound to have annoyed one of them at some point or another, see if there’s any rumours of him doing things he shouldn’t. Anything anyone says, write it down. When you’re done take it back to the office and see if you can work anything out, I’ll see you there.’ She beamed and nodded, hurrying out the door.

‘Bring Sandra with you,’ Harry called after her. The last thing he wanted was his new recruit getting into a fight on day one. He turned back to Shyverwretch and sat in the chair opposite him, surrounded by the explosion of poisons.

‘Are the fumes dangerous in here?’ he asked lightly.

‘Yes. Get out.’

Harry simply smiled. He waited in silence for a few moments, watching Shyverwretch until he felt uncomfortable.
‘You think you’re a big man now, don’t you?’ sneered Shyverwretch. ‘But you’re still a little boy.’

Harry continued to smile. ‘You frightened, Mr Shyverwretch?’

‘Certainly not.’

‘Why don’t you want to talk to me then?’

‘Because you’re a little shit, that’s why,’ spat Shyverwretch.

Harry yawned and checked his watch. ‘I’ve really got better things to be doing, Mr Shyverwretch. The thing is, now I’ve been called and you’ve refused my help, your insurance can be invalidated anyway, because I can say that you did this yourself.’ He surveyed the potions and venoms on the floor. ‘There’s a lot of stock here, must be quite a blow to the business if you don’t get reimbursed for it.’

Shyverwretch watched him silently, his mouth turned down in disgust.

‘And, forgive me if I’m making assumptions, but given a few of your past convictions I don’t think it’s a great leap of faith to assume that some of these were incorrectly labelled.’ He looked carefully at a pool of sticky black liquid, with a slightly purple sheen. ‘That looks horribly like Black Locust extract, I could always take a sample and check it later, but I’d hate for you to experience the heavy fine that comes with selling that.’

‘This shop sells poisons and venoms,’ said Shyverwretch bitingly. ‘Even someone as slow witted as you cannot really be surprised that I sell dangerous substances.’

‘They’re meant to be for pest control use though, aren’t they?’ said Harry cheerfully. ‘Anything more dangerous for academic interest has to be duly registered with the Ministry. Do you have Black Locust extract registered as stock, Mr Shyverwretch?’

Shyverwretch didn’t answer, but he finally lowered the sponge. His right eye was black and shiny, swelled up so much that it was barely open. Harry hissed.

‘Very nasty. So the intruder came in and did this to you? You must be able to give me a description.’

‘No, he was hooded,’ said Shyverwretch bluntly.

‘Of course he was. Well, hopefully he won’t come back. If that’s all, Mr Shyverwretch, I’ll be off. If a memory stirs-’
‘Dubrow,’ muttered Shyverwretch.

‘I’m sorry?’

‘Dubrow,’ Shyverwretch repeated loudly, great annoyance on his face. ‘He came because a delivery of water hemlock went missing.’

‘And who does he report to?’ Harry asked. Shyverwretch swore at him. ‘Very well. I’ll look into it, Mr Shyverwretch. Perhaps try some purple betony on that bruise. See you later.’

***

Theia was beside herself with joy. She had interviewed what felt like every person on Knockturn Alley, practically alone apart from that Sandra lady, and now here she was, working on her very own case, studying each and every word in her notebook more closely than anything she’d ever read in her N.E.W.Ts. Judy had walked by enviously a few times.

She had apparently mostly been given the role of getting coffee and answering memos, and no other trainees had been trusted with an actual crime scene on their very first day. No, that honour belonged only to Theia.
Harry Potter.

The Harry Potter.

Had he really been truthful when he appeared not to remember her? She felt her blush return. Merlin, she hoped so. A traumatizing memory resurfaced of her twelve-year-old self nervously approaching the Triwizard champion and asking him to the Yule Ball. She hadn’t lived it down for years.

She looked over at his desk. One corner was cluttered with pictures. A blue haired baby, a huge group of red-haired people, and an attractive woman Theia immediately recognized as Ginny Weasley, famous in her own right for her skill on the Quidditch pitch, but also a favourite subject for the Daily Prophet as the girlfriend of Harry Potter.

Theia had admired Ginny too, especially during the war. She had always been at the very edges of the D.A, a little too young to be involved and in a different house, so though she had “joined” in her fifth year, she had never received a coin, never been to more than one meeting, never been able to join in with them as they scrawled graffiti on the walls and plastered pictures on every flat surface they could find.

Ginny Weasley was everything Theia wanted to be. Fierce, exciting, a vibrant life. Considered almost as much of a war hero as Harry Potter. And though Theia had never been any good on the Quidditch field, perhaps her blossoming career as an Auror was the place to begin that sort of brilliance. And who better to guide her than Harry Potter himself?
A familiar cold feeling tugged at her stomach. She was not sure that Harry liked her. He seemed a little irritated, a little badgered. She was probably talking too much, she did that a lot, but every time she saw him the words came tumbling out of her mouth, and she just wanted him to know how much he had inspired her, how much she had looked up to him.

Thankfully, her admiration of him was no longer the schoolgirl crush she’d had at the age of twelve. He was not her type, and even if he had been, she was too much of a fan of Ginny Weasley too to try anything. But even so, she remained star struck, giddy with excitement that she was destined to be his protégé.

Yet another doubt was niggling at her, and though she looked down at her notes with pride, a sense of unease gnawed at her as she remembered the scowling, beaten man, and the words one of the Aurors had said to her when she’d got back…

‘How did your questioning go?’

She turned as Harry strode into the office, and automatically grabbed at the sweet he tossed at her.

‘Oh, thank you… Yes, really good, actually, I gathered plenty, people seem to really hate him, don’t they?’

‘Everyone hates each other there,’ said Harry, unwrapping his own sweet. ‘Any names stick out?’

She hesitated. She didn’t want to sound stupid. ‘I don’t know… What did Shyverwretch say?’

‘No, no,’ said Harry, leaning back on his chair. ‘You tell me what you found first.’

She suddenly felt very nervous, and very aware that she had no idea what she was doing. He was watching her calmly and patiently, like a teacher, but his eyes only made her feel anxious. She stared at her notes. They’d seemed so good before, but now as she read them she realized that most of them were completely useless. Who cared that he came home drunk sometimes? Who cared that the neighbours found him obnoxious and rude? People didn’t get beaten for such petty reasons, surely, and they certainly didn’t have their businesses destroyed for it.

A feeling of defensiveness rose up in her. ‘Why did you send me out when you were questioning him?’ she demanded, startled by her own bravery in confronting him. ‘He’s the one that’s got the most useful information, and I missed all of it.’

He gave a slight smile, his eyebrows raising in surprise. ‘Did it annoy you?’ he asked, chewing on his sweet.

She felt a bit irritated. He was young too. It’s not like he was a wise, battle-hardened veteran of an Auror. Well, he is a battle-hardened veteran, said a mean voice in her head.

‘I just… I’m so grateful that you took me to a crime scene, I really am, the other trainees haven’t really done anything, but I was wondering if you sent me out because you thought it would be dangerous for me to talk to Shyverwretch or something, and what happened to your last partner?’ she blurted out.

Now he really did look surprised. ‘Sorry?’

‘Your last partner. Everyone else has been partnered with old mentors who’ve been Aurors since the first war, and no one was expecting to get you, and then when I got back Williamson saw me and he asked me how I was settling in and I said good thanks, I’ve been partnered with Harry Potter and then he sort of chuckled and made an “ooh” sound and then he said that you’d only been here three years and you needed a new partner already, and in the training centre they kept talking about how dangerous the work was and how you could get seriously injured or die and that’s why they have such a shortage because so many people died and did your partner die?’

She was slightly out of breath when she finished, and he looked a little alarmed. He wasn’t chewing anymore, he seemed to have frozen. Then he smiled. ‘No…’ he said slowly. ‘He went to run a joke shop with his brother.’

‘Oh.’

He seemed to be trying not to laugh. ‘I’ve given you a fairly straight forward case. Shyverwretch is a bit of a coward, we already have a lot of information on him, and a lot of information on the people I think are involved. It will be more of a jigsaw than anything else… Check in with me if you want anything, but otherwise go for it. I’ll be working on other stuff.’

‘Aren’t… Aren’t we supposed to work together?’ she asked, disappointed.

‘We will,’ he said, turning back to his files. ‘But let’s see how you do on your own for a bit. It’ll help you learn the ropes. I’m sure you’ll be great.’

***

The door clattered open, and already Theia could hear the tv. Some audience laughing and shrill American voices.

‘Is that you, love?’ called a voice. ‘How was it?’

Theia dumped her bag and kicked off her boots, heading into the dark and cluttered living room where her mother sat, cigarette in one hand, slippered feet resting on a pouf. ‘Brilliant,’ she said breathlessly. ‘Really good. Mum, I’ve been partnered with Harry Potter!’

‘Ooh! He’s good, is he?’

‘Mum, I told you before, he…’ she sighed. Her mother stared back owlishly, an interested but slightly vacant smile on her face. ‘He’s highly respected,’ she said eventually.

‘Ahh, that’s nice,’ said her mother, tilting her head. ‘I wish I could have seen you off on your first day. Did other mums go to the thing in the morning?’

‘No,’ muttered Theia. ‘You wouldn’t have understood any of it anyway-’

‘It still would have been nice,’ said her mum. ‘There’s a pie in the oven for you, and a good drama’s about to start-’

‘No, I’m going to go look through some of my files,’ said Theia, throwing a disdainful look at the tv.

‘Oh,’ said her mum, her shoulders sinking slightly. ‘Well, you tell me all about it later, then.’

Theia grunted, and headed to her room, her head swirling with thoughts of Knockturn Alley, celebrities and poisons.

Back to index


Chapter 2: Chapter Two: Belladonna

The woman’s fingers were slender in the dragon-hide gloves, and they nimbly plucked the berries from the stalks, an action she had perfected over many years. She loved them, loved how the deathly green ripened to glossy black, so alluring and juicy looking that they were hard to resist, even though she knew she must. She loved the purple bells that accompanied them, and though her hair was now grey, she couldn’t help but pause her activity to weave the most perfect flower into her neat victory roll.

She placed the berries into a mortar, sweeping the leaves to one side. She could have just bought the finished product, she was encouraged to, in fact, but part of the joy was making it. In the dim light by the fire, not to mention her own poor vision, they were covered in shadow, but she felt them crush satisfactorily under the pestle. She smiled.

The room was small, bare, and secret. Not what they had been accustomed to, all those years ago, but better than the alternative.

Behind her, she heard the key in the door, the creak as it opened. She glanced briefly over her shoulder to see her husband’s cloaked back as he turned to close and lock the door again.

‘You’re home late,’ she said, turning back to her work. ‘No one saw you come in?’ She heard him hang up his jacket, and the creak of the stair as he sat down to take off his boots. She was unconcerned when he didn’t respond. He had never been much of a talker.

She was satisfied with the berries; they were now a perfect, sticky black. She knew that if the light were brighter, they would show a rich purple sheen. Her cauldron over the fire was nearly hot enough, it would soon be time to pour it in, but first…

She took a small pipette from the folds of her robes, extracting the tiniest of droplets from the dark mortar. She continued talking to her husband as she leaned back, holding it over her wide open eyes. ‘I thought we could meet up with some of the old crowd tonight,’ she said. The drop of black stung, but she forced herself to keep her head tilted back, blinking rapidly and staring straight at the ceiling. ‘This will take a few hours to become truly potent, so we may as well talk over the plan with someone else, make sure we haven’t missed anything. Did you pick up anything for dinner?’

Her blurry vision was beginning to clear, at least as well as it ever truly would. She took his silence to mean he had forgotten dinner, again. ‘For Merlin’s sake, Augustus–’

She finally turned on her stool and fell silent as she stared at the man sitting perfectly still on the stairs, who stared back. Wearing his clothes, holding his wand. ‘Who are you?’ she asked, trembling. He stood. His eyes were fixed on her. ‘Who are you? Who are you? Where’s my husband?’ She stood too, stumbling backwards as he slowly advanced, her voice slipping into a scream. ‘Who are you–?’

***

Ginny waved the newspaper at him tauntingly. ‘You didn’t tell me about this!’

He spluttered over his cereal, which he was eating over the sink because, yet again, he was running late. ‘Where did you get that? It’s got to be a week old!’

His trainee was on the front cover, jumping and screaming in delight, being hugged and grasped by amazed peers. They were practically sobbing. Ginny grinned wickedly, and, with an uncanny impression of Rita Skeeter, began to read aloud. ‘Yet none of the new starters were more delighted than Ms Higglesworth, who scored every girl’s dream of being partnered with the infamous Harry Potter–’

Harry snorted. ‘I’m infamous now, am I?’

Ginny continued, barely able to control her giggles. ‘“Words cannot express how excited I am,” quotes Ms Higglesworth, “to be mentored by a true hero–?” No, Harry, let me finish, hah!’

Blushing furiously, Harry had lunged forwards and grabbed the paper out of Ginny’s hands, who was unable to fight back on account of her uncontrollable giggling.

‘Oh, the poor girl,’ Ginny said through gasps. ‘I’m surprised she can look you in the face–’

‘Where did you get this?’ asked Harry again. ‘You know I refuse to buy this rag. I thought you did too.’

‘Someone on the team was telling me about it yesterday, she sent it to me this morning,’ said Ginny. ‘Asked if I felt threatened.’ Harry rolled his eyes. ‘Don’t worry, I know you don’t like adoring fans, I learnt that the hard way.’

He looked down into her cheeky expression and found himself reluctantly smiling too. ‘I don’t know,’ he teased back. ‘These child stars, they can go a bit nuts, can’t they? Maybe I’ll end up enjoying the attention. It’s all right if you’re worried, I understand.’

She smacked him lightly. ‘Oh, shut up, you, all you’ve done is moan about her since she started, I’m not worried. I hope you’re not as mean to her in person.’

‘Of course not!’ said Harry, slightly stung. ‘Although I think she might have worked out I’m just dumping all the boring cases on her.’

‘Harry!’

‘What? Better than Dawlish, he’s just got his trainee making coffee.’

‘Well, I think you can aim higher than Dawlish. Aren’t you going to be late?’

He glanced at his watch and swore quietly, before giving her a swift kiss. ‘Right, see you later. When does your practice finish?’

‘Eight. Be nice to the new girl.’

***

‘There’s a lovely boy just moved in next door,’ said her mother through a mouthful of cereal.

‘Hmm.’

‘I told him you were a police officer, I know you have to be secretive about these things and I thought that might have been the closest.’

‘Yeah, I s’pose.’

‘He’s a student, you know, says he’s studying criminology, so he’s very interested in meeting you, and I thought that maybe–’

‘Mum, I’m going to be late for work,’ Theia interrupted, throwing down the last of her toast.

‘Oh, yes…’ Her mother hesitated, watching carefully as she pulled on her coat. ‘I’ll need to get off soon as well, don’t want to miss my train… You… You are all right, aren’t you Theia? You’re still enjoying work?’

‘Yes,’ said Theia bluntly.

‘You just don’t seem as excited about it anymore, it’s only been a few days…’

‘Well, you know what they say,’ muttered Theia, heading to the door. ‘Never meet your heroes.’

Her mother followed her, standing in the doorway with an anxious look on her face. ‘What time d’you want dinner?’ she asked frantically as Theia was stepping into the lift.

‘I’m going to Dad’s!’ Before she could see her mother’s reaction, the doors had closed, and with a lurch the lift began to sink.

She felt reinvigorated when she got to work, walking across the bustling atrium. Not for her the bland, brutalist council flats of Poplar, not when she could be part of a world so alive with colour and curiosities.

Although, her mother was right in identifying a disappointment in her new job. So far, Theia’s work had not been the midnight raids and suspenseful arrests she had dreamed of. She was rather sure that Harry found her an inconvenient nuisance, and that he was, quite deliberately, giving her the dullest and most time-consuming tasks.

She had yet to make any breakthrough on the Shyverwretch case, and, after many hours searching Ministry Birth and Death records, she had found no one by the name of Dubrow.

‘It sounds like it could be a foreign name,’ she had told Harry. ‘German, or maybe Ukrainian? What do you think?’

‘I think he was probably lying so I’d spend ages looking for an imaginary man instead of reporting him for illegal potion trading,’ Harry had said back, frustratingly unconcerned.

The other cases she’d been given that week were equally boring. A drunk wizard who had tried to fly with a kneazle tied to the back of his broom, an angry couple whose fight had turned to rather nasty dueling, and an old warlock who’d been caught trying to pay a group of angry goblins with Leprechaun gold. All very straightforward, all that could really have been dealt with ordinary Law Enforcement.

Her heart sank a little as she arrived at the shared cubicle. Once she was a proper Auror, she’d have her own, and she’d get her own cases too, but in the meantime she was stuck in this tiny box with a man she was sure hated her. She knew exactly why. She could see his annoyance every time she gushed or talked too much, but the alternative was them sitting in silence, and she hated silence. She was just thankful that he’d mentioned he never read The Prophet, because there’d been a positively humiliating photo of her on her second day. She’d caught Proudfoot and Longbottom “accidentally” leaving a copy in the cubicle, and had to chase them out with a rolled-up copy of a wanted poster.

He wasn’t there yet, he was often late in the mornings, but worked long hours after work. Quite how long she wasn’t sure, because he always sent her home when he realized it had gone six. He was polite and kind like that, though on one occasion he’d snapped at her, and she’d been embarrassed to realize that she’d been quite rudely staring at his scar for a good few minutes.

He arrived twenty minutes later, giving her what she perceived to be a rather frosty good morning. Apparently disconnected from her own brain, her mouth immediately leapt into action, telling him as much as she possibly could about her latest theory on who Dubrow could be. He listened politely, but she was sure that he was thinking about something else.

A purple memo flew in, striking Harry sharply on the head. He grabbed it and read with an increasingly serious expression.

‘Right, come on, we’ve got somewhere to be,’ he said, jumping to his feet. ‘Reports of screaming last night in Upper Flagley, no one’s gone in yet and I’ve got a funny feeling…’

‘And I can come?’ she asked hopefully.

‘Absolutely, investigating an unknown, we need to go in a pair.’

‘Why hasn’t anyone gone in yet?’ she asked as they hurried to the Apparition point.

‘Old Arkie Philpott only reported it casually this morning, he thought it was cats having a fight, but couldn’t get it out of his head.’

They arrived in Upper Flagley. Like Knockturn Alley, it was made of cobbles and spindly, narrow streets, but Theia found that it had a much more cheerful air, with sandstone buildings and pots of pansies decorating the doorways and hanging from the walls.

‘Arkie,’ called Harry, waving to an odd little wizard standing by some bins. He reminded Theia of a chimpanzee. Very short yet muscled, with large ears sticking out the side of his head. Despite his rather built up physique, Arkie was clearly getting on a bit; creased eyes looked over at them interestedly, and when he waved, she could see the liver spots from some distance.

‘I was hoping it would be you,’ said Arkie, looking thrilled. ‘How’re you doing, Harry? I still tell the grandkids about when we had that cup of tea.’

‘I’m good, thank you, Arkie. Cats, was it?’

Arkie wobbled his head from side to side, looking both concerned and embarrassed. ‘Probably. I don’t want to cause a fuss. It was quite late so I just closed the window and went back to sleep, I didn’t really think anything of it. But then when I was having my breakfast I just thought… Well, I thought it could have sounded like a woman. Probably not though,’ he added hastily.

‘Can’t hurt to look. Do you know where it came from?’

Arkie pointed to some rusted metal stairs in a side alley, clinging haphazardly to an abandoned-looking building. ‘I think up there, but no one lives there; it’s been abandoned for years.’

‘Why?’ asked Theia. She looked nervously to Harry, but he didn’t seem to mind her talking now.

‘Er…’ Arkie frowned. ‘I… I don’t really know. I knew someone that thought about buying it, but he went a bit funny. I think he was on the firewhiskey a bit too much.’

They climbed the grimy metal stairs and reached a dirty wooden door. Harry raised his wand. ‘ Homenum Revelio.’ Nothing happened.

The door was locked, but only with a key, so with a simple charm they were in. It was dark, and Theia felt something off in the house. Like a presence. Harry was right in front of her, blocking most of her view, but to the side she could see some steep wooden stairs, opposite an open doorway. She could hear Arkie muttering behind her, nervous and afraid.

Harry was suddenly very still. ‘Arkie,’ he said with an oddly cheerful tone. ‘Do me a favour and pop back to the Ministry, ask for Bessie Holmwood and her team.’

‘Why? Is it cats?’

‘I’d really appreciate it, Arkie, quick as you can.’

Arkie stumbled out of the door, and Theia followed Harry as he advanced. The doorway opened into a dark, bare room, the remnants of a fire glowing in the grate. But as her eyes adjusted to the dim light, she could not help the scream that burst unwillingly from her lips.

***

The blood was everywhere. It coated the walls in streaks and pooled on the floor, footprints and the marks of dragged hands staining the floorboards. Amidst it all lay the woman, ripped open from her collarbone to her abdomen, laid out on the floor like a mutilated angel.

Theia was screaming, with whimpering gulping breaths, and as Harry turned to check her he saw that she had stumbled back and was sitting on the stairs, her face deathly pale.

‘Calm down,’ he told her, but she was uncontrollable, her wide eyes fixed on the horror before her. He supposed it was her first time seeing a dead body, and though he knew it must be a shock for her, he still swore quietly, he couldn't help but feel irritated. He did not have time for this.

‘Theia,’ he said loudly, clicking his fingers in front of her face. ‘Theia, I need you to focus.’ Her eyes slid up to meet his, and though she was still hyperventilating, she seemed to listen. He crouched down to be at her level. ‘This will not be the worst thing you see in this job,’ he told her quietly. ‘I need you to calm down, and help me. Can you do that?’

She swallowed, and though her breaths were still deep and heavy, they began to slow, falling into a more natural rhythm. She nodded, and he walked away to examine the body more closely.

The woman was approaching old age, but beneath the blood Harry could see that she had still tried to cling onto beauty and youth, with a face of full make-up and fine, beaded robes. Something was familiar about her… Beyond the huge rip in her torso, stab wounds and cuts coated her body. This had been a frenzied attack. Uncontrolled. Enraged.

He felt revolted, but it was an old, familiar feeling, so he simply frowned in concentration as he crouched over the dead witch.

‘Shit,’ he said he said quietly.

‘What?’ came Theia’s shaky voice. She had composed herself as best she could, and was now loitering in the doorway, staring down at the body.

‘I recognize her. Livia Rookwood,’ he groaned. He stood up, his hands automatically reaching to run through his hair in stress. ‘I’ve been looking for her and her husband for years…’

‘So her husband’s body could be here too?’ asked Theia, looking to the stairs with a horrified expression.

‘Or he did it… He’s a Death Eater.’ He gave a heavy sigh. His stupid map on the wall with the now apparently useless pins in it, he was sure they were out of the country, they must have been laying a false trail. ‘He managed to get away shortly after the Battle of Hogwarts, pick up his wife and they both vanished…’

Theia had finally edged her way to the body and was now examining it more closely, leaning over it. ‘Why has her chest been opened like that?’ she asked, her voice barely more than a whisper.

‘Her heart has been removed.’

She swayed, and he seized her arm to stop her from toppling over. ‘That’s… That’s revolting,’ she said hoarsely. ‘Why? Where is it?’

‘We’ll have to find out,’ said Harry. He surveyed the rest of the room, scratching his jaw absent-mindedly. A small table and stool had been pushed over, and over the dying fire hung a cauldron. With a controlled flick of his wand, he Levitated it over and peered inside.

The potion had congealed, a sticky, tar-like substance, with a nauseating odour. ‘I’ll take a sample back with us,’ he said. ‘It might be nothing, but–’

‘Smells like belladonna,’ said Theia.

He looked at her, surprised. ‘Good at potions, are you?’

Her pale cheeks were suddenly tinged with pink, and with a trembling hand pointed to the body. ‘Her pupils… They’re dilated, I think she must have put a drop or two in them. And then from the smell of that, she was hoping to make a more potent poison with the remainder.’

Harry was flummoxed. ‘Why on earth would anyone put belladonna in their eyes?’

‘Lots of elderly witches do it, it’s meant to make your eyes more seductive. I think it was quite fashionable at one point.’

Harry looked back down at the dead witch, shaking his head. ‘Mental…’

‘Potter?’ A woman’s voice, with a Geordie accent, called from the front door.

‘Morning, Bessie,’ Harry shouted. ‘In here…’

A plump, stern-looking witch with small spectacles on the end of her nose entered, followed by a group of bored-looking wizards carrying cameras. ‘What a mess,’ she said crossly, glaring at the blood.

‘Welcome to the crime scene,’ said Harry casually, but he immediately felt guilty as he saw Theia’s appalled expression. She’d need to be around a little longer before she was desensitized enough, it seemed. ‘I think it’s Livia Rookwood.’

Bessie rolled her eyes, gave a tut and hurried forward to the body. She caught sight of Theia’s pale face, and placed a small, chubby hand on her arm, patting it reassuringly. ‘All right, pet? You’ll get used to it, and never mind, it’s only a Death Eater.’

The wizards began taking photos, and Bessie had pulled out a measuring tape, which measured the body of its own accord as she scribbled notes down in a notebook.

‘We can go now,’ Harry said gently. He’d have liked to have stayed longer, searched the upstairs and poked around the neighbourhood, but he was a little worried that Theia would faint. ‘We’ll head back to the office, Bessie will send through the photos and notes, and we’ll discuss our findings.’

‘All right…’ she said weakly, and allowed him to guide her out.

She blinked as they stepped into the light, and with a lurch of guilt Harry saw how traumatized she looked. ‘That was really good work, back there,’ he said kindly.

She looked bewildered. ‘Huh?’

‘Identifying the potion. Spotting what she’d done to her eyes. It’s important we get a sense of who she was. I never would have noticed that. Well done.’

Unfortunately, she was so delighted, that she didn’t stop thanking him for ten minutes.

Back to index


Chapter 3: Chapter Three: Azkaban

‘…And then she started bloody hyperventilating!’

Ron, Ginny and George cackled with laughter, but Hermione sipped her wine, throwing a disapproving look at Harry.

‘Like, literally hyperventilating?’ asked Angelina, gobsmacked. ‘But…’ She seemed at a loss for words as Harry nodded irritably, shoving a forkful of dauphinoise potato into his mouth.

‘Shaking and crying and everything,’ he mumbled through his food, shaking his head in exasperation. ‘I don’t think she’d ever seen a dead person before, it was ridiculous, I had to take her back to the Ministry. By the time I got back to the crime scene Bessie had photographed everything and her team had started clearing everything up, I might have missed something important!’

‘Hang on,’ said Ginny. ‘You said she spotted the belladonna didn’t you?’

‘All right,’ Harry conceded. ‘I’ll admit she’s an observant girl and she knows her potions and dangerous plants and what not, but I can’t work with her if she’s crying all over the place.’

‘Doesn’t look very professional, does it?’ mused George. ‘You Aurors are meant to be hardened, emotionless super soliders aren’t you? That’s why Ronnie couldn’t hack it.’

‘Oi!’ protested Ron. ‘I was quite good at it, actually! At least I never burst into tears at a little bit of blood.’

Hermione looked furious with them all. ‘The woman’s heart had been removed!’

Harry shrugged, turning back to his food. ‘See?’ said Ron, grinning. ‘Emotionless.’

‘Some might say heartless,’ said George.

Hermione stared at them, appalled, as they sniggered. ‘You are emotionless,’ she accused Harry. ‘She’s, what, eighteen? The poor girl, she’s had barely any training-’

‘But that’s exactly my point!’ said Harry, frustrated. ‘This whole scheme Robards cooked up is nonsense, I said from the start I didn’t want any part in it, didn’t I Ron?’

‘He did,’ nodded Ron, helping himself to more wine. ‘I remember.’

‘I don’t mind helping train people, but this? The moment it was suggested I knew we’d be stuck with sheltered kids who couldn’t hack it, and we’d end up wasting our time babysitting them-’

‘Well any kid is going to look sheltered next to you, Harry,’ said Angelina, looking alarmed.

He ignored her. ‘The whole thing’s been a complete cock-up. I got barely any investigation time, so now the whole thing has to be conducted from photographs, it’s madness. She’s going to see a lot worse than a couple of organs missing. I don’t have time for it.’

‘You’ve thrown her in at the deep end without preparing her,’ said Hermione, though her voice was a little more patient.

‘Well we all got thrown in at the deep end, didn’t we?’ said Ginny. ‘Nobody gave us a year of training before we all got thrown into a war.’

‘Oh, don’t get me started!’ said Harry, throwing his head back. ‘She was the year below you, managed to keep her head down during the Carrow’s regime, but imagines we all went off having some grand old adventure. The way she talks about it, I’m not sure she’s aware it actually happened, we may as well all be characters in a fairytale.’

Ron laughed darkly. ‘So that feature in the paper about her was true, was it? She really is excited to be mentored by a true hero? Overjoyed to learn from the best? Staggered by the powerful struggle you’ve been through?’

‘Sadly not an exaggeration,’ Harry replied grumpily. ‘It’s the worst I’ve seen since Colin Creevy.’

Ginny’s face fell, and she took a large gulp of wine.

‘I’ll have to get you a new gift for your desk,’ said George wistfully. ‘Maybe a nice stand for your Order of Merlin?’

‘Sod off, George.’

‘A self-writing quill to answer your fan mail?’

‘None of this is her fault,’ interrupted Hermione, ignoring the rude hand gesture Harry was giving George. ‘You mustn’t be angry with her, Harry.’

‘I’ve been nice!’ he insisted. ‘I even complimented her on the one good bit of work she did there, didn’t even mention that she was a pain in the arse the rest of the time!’

Hermione remained unconvinced for the rest of the dinner, and as the candles burnt low and the wine bottles emptied, Harry began to feel increasingly guilty. By the time their guests had left and he and Ginny were stumbling haphazardly into bed, his guilt had got so bad that he had become convinced he was the worst person in the world.

‘Don’t be silly,’ Ginny mumbled, nestling her head into his neck. ‘You’re mostly all right, that’s why I stick with you.’

‘D’you think I’m expecting too much of her though?’ he asked. ‘The others just have their trainees doing paperwork.’

‘Well that’s hardly training either, is it?’

‘No, I s’pose not,’ he said. He paused. ‘Angelina might be right, though.’

‘What d’you mean?’ she asked, yawning.

‘I’m getting annoyed at her that she reacted perfectly normally to a horrific scene. I think she’s sheltered, but I don’t know anything about her, I’ve just based it on the fact that she panicked. She was still at school during the Carrows…’

‘Well I barely remember her, so she can’t have put herself in that much danger,’ said Ginny. ‘And I think you’re worrying too much. I’m sure your case will be fine, you’ll figure it out.’

‘You think?’

‘I know. You’re quite brilliant, you know. Almost as brilliant as me.’ With that, she kissed him, and, as always, he felt his stress melt away as he loved her. Every freckle and every sigh and her perfect blazing look once again becoming his greatest source of comfort.

***

‘Dad thinks I should give up,’ she said tearfully, clutching at the hot water bottle. ‘Said it was nice that I’d given it a shot, but clearly it wasn’t for me.’

Her mother pursed her lips, though Theia couldn’t see. ‘Well, that does tend to be your father’s solution to everything…’

‘It was so embarrassing,’ she wailed. ‘I never thought I’d react like that, I always thought I’d be braver than that.’

Her mother rubbed her back soothingly as Theia curled up even tighter on the scruffy old sofa. ‘Never mind, love, I’m sure you’ll get the hang of it. You just need to disconnect. I bet that’s what Harvey did, wasn’t it?’
‘Harry.’

‘Yes, sorry, Harry. But I bet the first time he saw a body he was just as frightened.’

‘No,’ Theia sniffed. ‘I bet he wasn’t, he’s really brave, he just seems to shrug this stuff off, and he’s grown up with it. I told you, he was the one whose parents got murdered.’

‘Well that’s not much to brag about. Before I had you, before I met your father, even, I always wanted to join the army.’
Theia rolled over to stare at her mother. ‘Really?’

‘Mmhmm. Never got to do it, of course, but I was like you, imagined myself the main character, rushing in with incredible bravery… But then of course that time you broke your arm I was in a complete tizzy.’

Theia blinked. ‘No you weren’t.’

‘Yes I was, your Dad was so annoyed with me. You were fine, a bit tearful, but ever so good with the doctors and so calm. But once I’d seen that, once I knew you were a bit more resilient than I’d given you credit for, it was a lot easier to be a bit braver the next time you went climbing up a tree. Maybe I would have been no good in the army, but you never know til you make a good go of it, do you? You haven’t been in the job long, give it another go. You’ll be more prepared next time.’

Theia sniffed again, and wiped her damp cheeks. ‘What if there isn’t a next time? He might fire me. He was really angry, Mum, I know he was. He was nice at first, said really nice things about me, but then I annoyed him by talking too much and when he got back to the office later he kept talking about how he hadn’t had enough time to properly investigate, and I know that’s my fault and-’

‘Sounds like he’s someone who’s been thoroughly miserable their whole life, so don’t you let him offload his issues onto you.’ Theia gave a watery laugh, and her mum smiled warmly. ‘You just march in there tomorrow, all smiles, and do a bloody good job. You’ve always been my hardworking little girl. Now, I’ll put the kettle on. A cuppa before bed will do you a world of good.’

***

When Theia arrived at work the next day, Harry didn’t turn up. She sat awkwardly in their cubicle for a full half an hour, wondering what to do, before finally losing her patience and popping her head over the wall.

‘Er… Mr Williamson?’

‘Hmm?’ The Auror looked up from his notes, vaguely surprised.

‘Erm… Do you know where Mr Potter is?’

‘Hmm…’ His expression of vague surprise turned to one of vague confusion. ‘Maybe he’s been attacked again… OI! Longbottom!’ he yelled to the ceiling.

‘Yeah?’ a voice shouted back from a few cubicles away.

‘Where’s Potter?’

‘Day off, he’s got the Azkaban night shift later!’

Williamson gave her a short nod, as if that cleared everything up, and turned back to his notes. She stared at him, completely bewildered. ‘So… I’m on my own today?’ He simply grunted his response.

She sat down, feeling rather resentful that Harry hadn’t told her that he wouldn’t be in. In fact, now she came to think of it, she was quite resentful of a lot of stuff he didn’t tell her or do for her. Just who did he think he was? Moping about because his mate would rather run a joke shop than be his Auror partner, well, she could certainly see why!

‘Arsehole,’ she muttered to herself. She thought about her mum’s advice, and gritted her teeth. He probably hadn’t expected her to show up. Well sod that.

She leaned over in her chair and checked the to-do list pinned in front of Harry’s desk. As she unpinned it, the blue-haired toddler in the photo below looked at her disapprovingly. ‘Oh, shut-up,’ she hissed at it. ‘I don’t even know who you are, he’s not exactly very chatty.’

She apparated to Upper Flagley, and stared for a few minutes at the metal steps to the wooden door. It was odd that it had been locked, with just a Muggle lock at that. Anyone who would have wanted to hide the body could have done so. Now that she thought of it…

She reached into her pocket and withdrew her notebook and a pencil. Stab wounds — not magical?

She thought about going in, but remembered the blood, and the smell of belladonna, and felt sick. So instead, she peered in the window of the shop below the flat. As Arkie had said, it appeared to be long abandoned. Something that looked horribly like a dead rat lay in one corner, and what little furniture remained had been covered in grubby white sheets.

She continued down the cobbled road, glancing into the mostly Muggle houses. Yet she knew that Upper Flagley was a wizarding village really, like Ottery St Catchpole or Godric’s Hollow, so she was able to spot the odd little quirks that betrayed the village’s magical secret. The shadowy corners perfect for apparating, the poorly disguised Flutterby bushes on a high balcony, the Muggle toy-train shop that shimmered and shifted into a potions shop as she approached…

As she entered, the bell tingled, but the mad looking witch behind the counter barely reacted. Squinting into the flame under a small cauldron on the counter, tongue sticking out the corner of her mouth, the witch shook a vial of dark green. The same colour, oddly, as her coarse and tangled hair. Theia thought she might be part hag.

‘Er… Excuse me…’ said Theia hesitantly.

The witch jumped, placing a hand to her chest. ‘Eee, Merlin girl, ye frightened the bliddy life outta us!’

‘I’m sorry,’ said Theia, trying her best to sound professional. ‘I’m Ms Higglesworth, from the Auror Office-’

‘Tha’ll be here ‘bout that killing, then? Old Arkie told me all about it.’

‘Yes, Ms…?’

‘Mrs Ruggles. Joyce Ruggles.’

Trying very hard not to stare at Mrs Ruggle’s large nose, Theia smiled, and approached the counter. ‘I was wondering if you heard anything suspicious the night before last, Mrs Ruggles? Or noticed any odd activity recently.’

‘Was there really lots of blood?’ asked Mrs Ruggles eagerly.

Theia felt a flicker of annoyance. A woman had died, couldn’t she see that? Instead of treating it like juicy gossip... ‘I’m afraid I can’t discuss the case with you, Mrs Ruggles. But I’d really appreciate any information you have.’

‘Well, I used to go in there now and then as a favour t’landlord, you know, spruce the place up. He had a reet problem letting it, on account of the boggart always moving in. But few months ago I always found I never had the time nor the willingness neither, but that would have been some repelling charms, no doubt?’

Theia was scribbling furiously in her notebook, desperately trying to make sense of the woman’s thick accent. ‘So you never spoke to the people in there?’

‘Nay. Never heard nothing, neither. Who was it in there anyhow?’

‘I can’t discuss that with you, I’m sorry,’ said Theia. She hesitated. ‘Did anyone ever come in here asking for belladonna?’

‘Belladonna? Oh, I don’t bother with the licence for that, you’d have to grow it yoursen. Or go down south for it.’ She scrunched up her gigantic nose. ‘Shyverwretch might sell it.’

***

The office was empty, and uncharacteristically still. Harry gave a great huffing sigh as he walked to his cubicle; Theia must have left the lamp on, it was the only one that still glowed with orange light in the dark and silent room.

As he got closer, he heard a rustling. He froze. Someone had broken into the Ministry. Were they trying to steal something from him? Setting a trap? Checking his schedule? He withdrew his wand, and treaded carefully, setting his feet silently on the carpet as he crept closer…

Stupefy!

Protego!’ Theia blocked his spell just in time, and he stumbled backwards a little. She looked horrified. ‘Sorry! I’m sorry!’

‘What’re you doing? It’s ten to nine!’

‘Williamson said you come to the office before you go to Azkaban to drop off your things and receive any messages, so I waited after work to make sure I caught you and so that you knew I haven’t quit, and I want you to know that I worked really hard today-’

He held up a hand. ‘Slow down, what are you talking about? Why did you need to wait?’

‘I went to Upper Flagley today,’ she blurted out. ‘Spoke to a few people, then came back and checked my notes and the photos, and I think I’ve worked a few things out. But I wanted to make sure you hadn’t fired me.’

He gaped at her. She really was an odd girl. ‘Fired you?’

She nodded miserably. ‘I’m… I’m not a Gryffindor like you. My bravery isn’t… Well, it’s not quite there yet. But, I’ve really been thinking hard, all day, and I think our cases are connected!’

‘The… The Shyverwretch case, you mean?’

Her pale, pointed little face looked exhausted, but gleeful. ‘The belladonna! I think she got it from him, and it seems like a coincidence that-’

‘We’re trying to find the murderer,’ he explained patiently. ‘It doesn’t matter if she bought belladonna from him.’

‘But it does! You said it yourself, it’s important we know about who she was. You said her husband was a Death Eater, and she had dressed up all nice and put belladonna in her eyes, well, was it for him? Or was it for someone else? Did he fly into a fit of rage about it? Not to mention what the rest of the belladonna was for- Look.’ She turned and seized a wad of parchment from the desk. ‘The results of the analysis of the potion. That was some seriously strong stuff she was brewing, much worse than just belladonna extract. Why? And-’

‘Theia,’ Harry interrupted. ‘Theia, I’m really sorry, I honestly want to keep listening, but I’m going to be late-’

‘I’ll come with you!’ she yelped. ‘We can talk about it there!’ Harry wasn’t sure. She looked deranged with exhaustion, her wispy flyaway hair even more uncontrolled than usual. But she was grinning with excitement.

‘It’s… It’s not a great place,’ he said uneasily. ‘Pretty heavy going.’

‘Matthew Strudwick said it was a doss, the inmates just sat around quietly all day.’

‘I doubt Matthew Strudwick was there with someone quite as unpopular as me,’ Harry said. He had awful visions of her crying or looking petrified. They’d eat her alive. But she’d waited, for hours, to tell him this…

‘I can do it,’ she said determinedly. ‘Please, please let me try.’

He sighed, and glanced at his watch. ‘Fine. But I mean it, if you can’t take it, you’ll just have to go home, I won’t be able to help you out, not there.’

‘You won’t have to,’ she said quickly. She grabbed her notebook, and watched him pleadingly.

He gave her a doubtful glance, but he still felt guilty about the things Hermione had said to him, so he jerked his head for her to follow, and they left the office.

***

They had to get a small boat to Azkaban. It magically steered itself through the choppy, black sea, chugging erratically and smelling strongly of petrol. Theia felt a little sick, though she was not sure if it was seasickness or nerves, so she folded her arms against the cold wind and focused on the horizon, determined to ignore it. Helping guard Azkaban was not one of the reasons she had decided to become an Auror, but now that the Dementors had been removed during Shacklebolt and Harry’s rehaul, it was a duty the trainees had been made very clear on. Matthew had said it was fine, boring even, but even Harry seemed reluctant to go…

Soon, a huge, threatening looking building loomed in the distance, almost as dark as the night sky around it.

‘Right,’ shouted Harry above the noise of the boat. ‘Try not to let the prisoners get to you.’

‘What will they do?’ Theia shouted back. She wanted to be prepared this time.

He just shook his head slightly, squinting at the prison. ‘They can’t do anything but shout abuse, really. Just try to remember they’re doing it because they’re powerless.’

They reached the rocky outcrop on which the prison sat, and disembarked on a slippery, unsteady looking pier. ‘It’ll mostly be me they shout at,’ he told her as they walked up a narrow stony path. ‘But it’s still not nice, a lot of people refuse to go on duty with me here.’

‘Is that why you get the graveyard shift?’

He gave a hollow laugh. ‘I guess so.’

The thick stone walls of the fortress were dappled with the effects of the sea spray, and they reached so high into the sky that Theia felt rather dizzy trying to see the top. The entrance was heavily fortified, a huge metal gate lifting with a screech as they approached, and a sour faced man was waiting for them.

‘Where the bloody hell have you been?’ he snapped. ‘I was meant to finish half an hour ago.’

‘Sorry, got held up,’ said Harry. ‘How’ve they been?’

‘The usual. Good luck, Potter.’ He threw Harry a bunch of keys and stormed off.

The place seemed devoid of life. Rusted bars and unplastered walls gave the feeling that it was dark, despite the abundance of torches floating out of reach. There were other, full-time guards there, but as Theia went through the various gates and had her bag checked they did not greet or smile at her. On the contrary, they threw dirty looks at Harry, and one of them demanded to know why they hadn’t been warned he’d be on duty.

‘Sorry, Nigel,’ Harry said sarcastically. ‘I’ll owl you my full timetable next time.’

‘What’s their problem?’ Theia asked quietly. They were walking into a huge chamber, and around the circular walls she could see bars leading into dark pockets that were surely cells, lining the metal walkway that spiraled up like a snake. It must have been expanded magically, for surely no structure could be this tall, the upper cells vanishing into darkness.

‘No one likes working here, especially not when I’m on,’ Harry whispered. ‘I hate it,’ he admitted. It was the first time he had said anything personal to her, and though she also disliked this miserable place, she felt better.

Like the other guards she could see moving in the shadows far above them, Harry led her to begin the rounds, peering into the darkness and checking the sleeping prisoners. Most were bundled up under blankets, a few were staring at walls and didn’t look up as they passed. She wanted to continue their conversation on her ideas, but could see he was keen for the silence to continue, perhaps hoping he wouldn’t be noticed by the inmates, so she willed herself to keep her mouth shut.

‘So,’ he whispered, as though reading her mind. ‘What’s all this work you’ve been doing all day?’

She told him about the conversation she had had with Mrs Ruggles, and how, just it had said on his to-do list, she had checked the records of the flat above the abandoned shop. ‘Her story checks out,’ muttered, awkwardly showing him her notebook. ‘There is a boggart that keeps moving in from the shop downstairs and a few months ago there was a sudden drop in enquiries about letting the place. That must have been the Rookwoods, placing a confundus charm around it or something. You were right, they probably did go abroad, but came back for some reason.’

‘Do we know it was both of them?’ Harry asked in a low voice. ‘Rookwood might have died while they were abroad, and his wife might have just come back-’

‘POTTER! POTTER, POTTER, POTTER!’

He rolled his eyes. A deranged looking man in the cell nearest to him had recognized his voice, and came rushing to the bars, his bony hands clawing at Harry, who stepped lazily out of the way. Now the prisoners had all been alerted to Harry’s presence and they howled and screamed at him, rattling and banging their tin cups against the bars.

‘BASTARD! He’ll come back, Potter! He’ll return!’

‘I’ll kill you, Potter, blood traitor scum!’

They kept walking, acting as though they couldn’t hear the roar of fury around them, but a large, mangy-looking man with grey matted hair stuck his head against the bars as they passed, jeering at them. ‘How’s the godson, Potter?’ Harry barely looked at him, simply kept walking, but the man shouted after him. ‘I’ll get him one day, Potter! I’ll feel him squeal! I’ll rip into him like bread!’

She must have looked shocked, for Harry gave her a reassuring smile, though his shoulders were tense. ‘Greyback is a werewolf, and he has quite the chip on his shoulder about it. Don’t let him trouble you.’

‘Why do they make you come here?’ she asked, looking at the chaos surrounding her. ‘I mean, what’s the point? They were fine before you got here.’

‘There always needs to be at least one Auror on duty, it wouldn’t be fair for me to skip it. And besides,’ he waved a hand to the enraged Death Eaters, ‘look how upset they are! I think it’s worth it.’ He gave a cheerful grin and a wave to a man who was trying to spit at them. ‘Anyway, please continue.’

It was now loud enough to talk normally over the barrage of abuse without being overheard. It felt odd to talk so calmly over threats, but she was surprised at how easy it was. The yells blurred into background noise as she spoke. ‘I thought maybe it was just her too, but then I was looking through the notes and photos Bessie gave us and there’s definitely men’s clothes there too. There wasn’t much food in the cupboards or anything, but there was a man’s razor that looked like it had been used recently. You met Rookwood, searched for him for years… Does he seem like the type to kill his wife?’

‘Yes,’ shrugged Harry. ‘But there’s something off about it. I can’t place my finger on it.’

‘I can,’ said Theia. ‘I hope you don’t mind, I looked through your profile on him. The man hates Muggles.’

‘They all do here,’ said Harry, glaring at a doughy blonde witch who was screaming ‘mudblood’ at the top of her voice.

‘Right, but the murderer didn’t use magic, did they? It was all stab wounds, not the sort you’d get with a cutting curse.’

‘Usually when we see Muggle fighting like that it’s because someone’s lost their temper,’ explained Harry. ‘And judging from the frenzied nature of the attack, that’s exactly what the culprit did. I think you might be on to something when you said she might have been getting dressed up for someone else.’

‘But why wouldn’t he use his wand? And why was she making such a strong poison? I really think there might be a connection there, I checked with loads of potions and herbologists and all of them said to have belladonna you’d need to grow it yourself, or go to somewhere like Shyverwretch’s shop. And he was beaten up the Muggle way too! Seems like quite a coincidence, especially if he gave us a false name.’

‘Well, we’ll need to question him a bit more then, and find Rookwood,’ said Harry. ‘Should be a lot easier if you think he’s back in the- Oh, bloody hell,’ he moaned.

A man was slumped against his bars, reaching out a hand to them and wailing pathetically. ‘I’m sorry!’ he bawled. ‘I really am! Please!’

‘Course you are, Dolohov,’ spat Harry.

‘I want to die! I want to kill myself!’

Harry sighed and leaned against the bars, looking down with a bored, unsympathetic expression. Theia was surprised. Even for a Death Eater, and she had heard all about how evil Dolohov was, Harry’s reaction seemed uncharacteristically callous.

‘Do you mean that, Dolohov? Are you at risk of harming yourself?’

‘Yes!’ insisted the man, his shoulders heaving with dramatic sobs.

‘Right, it’s just last time you said that so I’d take you to the welfare room, you tried to attack me and make a run for it. Same story the time before. So I’ll ask you, only because I have to, are you actually going to harm yourself? Because we both know this is a waste of my time and yours.’

‘Yes! I mean it, I’ll do it!’

Harry rolled his eyes, muttered something under his breath and whistled up at the nearest guards. They turned and began strolling lazily towards him, wands drawn. ‘Wand out,’ he told Theia, and then opened the cell.

Dolohov scrambled up and launched himself at Harry, something sharp glinting in his hand. Theia sent a body-bind curse his way, but he ducked it swiftly, rushing to Harry with bulging eyes. Harry flicked his wand at him and the object went spinning out of his hand, before, with a fluid movement, Harry had used Dolohov’s own momentum to flip him to the ground, ropes erupting from the end of his wand to bind Dolohov’s hands behind his back. Dolohov cursed and spat, but he was unintelligible as Harry knelt on his back.

‘No, don’t worry,’ Harry said to the ambling guards as they finally reached him. ‘Don’t rush yourselves. You guys kick back and relax, I don’t want you getting in the way of Dolohov’s attack, he was doing so well.’

They did not look impressed at Harry’s sarcasm. ‘Honestly, mate, maybe you could just stop opening the sodding cell.’
Harry looked furious. ‘Maybe you two could do your jobs and stop him getting his hands on weapons! Theia, grab whatever it was he had-’

But she’d already picked it up. ‘Homemade knife,’ she said. ‘He managed to get his hands on a razor.’
Harry swore. ‘Right, you two take him to the welfare room- don’t look at me like that, it’s the rules- while we check if he’s managed to hide anything else. I mean, where the hell did he get a razor from, for Merlin’s sake…’

The two lazy guards dragged Dolohov away, his deranged shouts echoing through the hall even over the supportive whoops of the other prisoners. Theia followed Harry into the cell, where she noticed the noise seemed noticeably more muffled, though still present. Harry had already begun tearing the room apart, looking extremely pissed off.

‘This is why we have to have at least one Auror here,’ he ranted to her. ‘When we’ve got enough people I want this whole place to be run by Aurors, not by random people who don’t give a shit, I mean look!’ He held up an empty vial with a suspicious navy stain around it. ‘Merlin knows what he had in here, he’s probably off his face the whole time-’

‘I’m sorry I was so useless,’ she blurted out. ‘I didn’t get him with my curse.’

‘What? Oh, don’t be stupid, you were more helpful than those tossers. Just, in future, remember that these guys can’t
really do a lot. They don’t have wands. If they have a weapon like that the first priority is to non-verbally disarm them, rather than a spell that takes longer. If you miss your curse, they’re still running at you with a weapon, but if you miss disarming them you’ve probably got more time to give it another shot.’

‘Right,’ Theia nodded, running the advice over in her head.

Harry paused. ‘You were nice and quick though, didn’t panic.’ She beamed at him, she wanted to thank him, ask him for more advice, but he hurriedly started lifting up the mattress and continuing the search. She did the same for a few minutes, finding a rather horrible collection of Playwitch magazines hidden amongst a pile of newspapers, but soon she found herself asking the question that had been bothering her since they arrived.

‘How can you stand it? How can you ignore what they say to you? What that werewolf said about your godson?’ She remembered the blue-haired baby in the picture on his desk, and the odd story that floated up in The Prophet now and then when he was photographed on days out with him.

He glanced at her, then turned back to sweeping his hands around the windowsill in a practiced motion. ‘They do it because they’re powerless. It’s the only thing they’ve got against, me, they can’t actually hurt him… I wouldn’t let it happen,’ he said firmly. His cheeks reddened a little. ‘It’s worse when they tell me about things they have done. Two of them in here, the Carrows, they try and taunt me with things they did to my girlfriend.’

‘I remember them,’ said Theia, that old fear stabbing at her stomach again.

‘Of course, I forgot, sorry,’ said Harry. ‘They gave Ginny an awful time and it just makes me feel sick. But you can’t
show it, you can’t let them know they’ve got to you.’ He hesitated. ‘How was your experience of that year? You don’t have to-’

‘It’s what made me want to be an Auror,’ she said. ‘Nobody really escaped it, nobody who wasn’t a Slytherin anyway, but you could mostly keep out of trouble until after Easter, then they just went mad. A week before the battle, they… Well, they were angry with me and I just felt so powerless. And then when the battle came, I wanted to join in, I wanted to help, but I was evacuated and I had to go and stay with my Dad and wait for news.’ Her face was very hot, and she was aware that she was just stood there, holding dirty magazines and probably looking like a right tit, but Harry was looking at her far more kindly than he had done before.

She looked down at the magazine, shaking out the pages as she gabbled. ‘I know I’m not as brave as you, I suppose I didn’t get the practice when I could have done at Hogwarts, but it just seemed like the smarter thing to do was wait it out and just support it when I could. I always wanted to be a Gryffindor, you know, but then that Luna Lovegood girl made me think that I could still be brave, that you could learn it, and then- oh!’ A slip of parchment had fluttered to the floor from the magazine. Harry picked it up, and as he read it, his eyes widened. He grabbed her by the arm, pulled her out of the cell, withdrew his wand from his back pocket, and shot a jet of red into the centre of the chamber, where it formed a sphere, pulsed slightly, and began to wail with deafening ferocity.

Back to index


Chapter 4: Chapter Four: The Death Eater

The entire department was watching him with serious, stressed expressions, a low hum of muttered conversation filling the air. Though Robards was at his side, it was Harry that had placed Azkaban into lockdown, and it was he who would be leading the investigation. Behind him, the wall was covered in photos of various angry Azkaban prisoners, Dolohov included, with magical lines connecting them like a shimmering web.

Theia, looking exhausted but resolute, was handing out notes and instructions. He felt bad for admitting it, but he preferred it when she was tired. Much quieter. Although, he supposed she had been fairly good in Azkaban, immediately assisting him with the lockdown, rushing from room to room with the guards to continue the search with very little fear, despite the wailing siren and the shrieking prisoners.

When she had at last sat down and he was sure everyone was in the room, he got the nod from Robards and cleared his throat.

‘Right, team,’ he announced loudly. Silence fell swiftly, all eyes attentive. ‘A plan of Azkaban was found in Dolohov’s cell, along with a list of names and times. On further searching this lot,’ he jerked his head to the pictures of the incarcerated Death Eaters, ‘also had written maps, lists and times, and combined they start to look like a sophisticated escape plan.’

He paused, glancing at Robards. Robards nodded again, his jaw set in fury, leaning against the wall with his strong arms folded. He turned back to the team, looking directly at the handful of senior guards from Azkaban. ‘I’m not going to pretend that I’m anything less that severely pissed off that this wasn’t spotted earlier. There is a reason weekly cell checks are supposed to go ahead, and there’s a reason they’re supposed to be extremely thorough.’

‘We want the Dementors back,’ said one of the guards abruptly. ‘Since you got rid of them-’

‘You shouldn’t need dark creatures to do your sodding job, and deliberately skipping tasks because you’re annoyed is not going to change that!’ said Harry, his voice raising into a shout. ‘Auror presence is going to be doubled-’

A huge groan rose from the crowd, Aurors and guards alike visibly slumping in their chairs, rolling their heads back.

‘We’re stretched thin as it is,’ complained Dawlish. ‘I’ve got four ongoing cases-’

‘Well maybe you should use your trainee as something other than a PA,’ Harry shot back. Beside Dawlish, a girl blushed furiously.

‘None of you are in any position to complain,’ interjected Robards, his voice a low growl. ‘This is a complete fucking embarrassment. We’ve got to thank Dolohov for not having any self-restraint and trying to kill Potter, or we’d be dealing with a mass breakout.’

‘Well if we can’t have the Dementors back, we want to be able to use Veritaserum again,’ said another guard grumpily.

‘Don’t be a prat, you know why that was banned,’ said Harry sharply. ‘It’s completely bloody unethical and you can never be sure it’s actually worked anyway. Stop acting like it’s a cure-for-all and accept the new laws.’

‘If we had the Dementors back-’ started Dawlish, but Harry’s temper flared.

‘We are NOT getting the Dementors back, or Veritaserum!’ he shouted, pointing a finger at Dawlish angrily. ‘I know it might seem odd to those of you that complied with Voldemort’s regime, but dark creatures, breaching human rights, and corruption have to be eradicated.’

Dawlish glared at Harry with livid resentment, but seemed unwilling to break the uncomfortable silence that had filled the room. Theia was looking rapidly between them both with wide eyes and a slightly open mouth.

‘You’ve all got jobs to do,’ said Robards dangerously. ‘The would-be escapees had outside connections, and helpfully left us a list of names. You’ve all been given information on those that you need to go and arrest, question, and build a case against.’

‘Some of them are missing,’ said Harry. ‘One of them is Livia Rookwood, now deceased, and her husband, Augustus Rookwood, on the run presumably after murdering her, or being chased away by the murderer. Others are people known to have connections to Death Eaters, but never convicted of anything themselves,’ he looked at Neville and Proudfoot. ‘Pansy Parkinson is one of them, and I want you two to question her without alerting her to what’s going on. We’ve got absolutely nothing on her except that Alecto Carrow had her name written down, so we can’t arrest her.’

‘What about the others?’ asked Savage.

‘You can arrest them on suspicion of assisting an offender, most of them have got enough criminal activity in their past for it to be a reasonable assumption.’ He tapped at a picture on the wall behind him. ‘We think this bloke is organizing it, or is at least very aware of everything that’s going on, so Theia and I are going to bring him in. When questioning your suspects, look out for any mentions of Shyverwretch, or reactions to his name. He deals in poisons and venoms, so look out for any connection there. They’d circled the kitchens and staff room, so it’s possible they were planning on poisoning the guards.’

The group of guards shifted uncomfortably, and Robards looked at them sharply. ‘I hope this means you’ll stop slacking off from now on. I’m absolutely disgusted at what I’ve been hearing. If a prisoner threatens suicide, no matter how unconvincingly, you must take him to the welfare room to speak to a trained professional. If a prisoner is found with a weapon, you must do a thorough search, and you must search all rooms weekly. And for the love of Merlin’s bollocks if someone is being attacked you don’t walk, you run. I don’t want any more of this go-slow nonsense. If things don’t improve, I won’t be getting the Dementors back, I’ll just be getting rid of the whole bloody lot of you.’

No doubt their morale was now low, and the looks on their faces certainly suggested that they were thoroughly miserable, but Harry had no sympathy. Every time he thought of the mountain of contraband and plans for escape they had discovered, he practically shook with fury. He’d thought Theia was useless, but at least she had the decency to actually try. ‘This takes priority,’ he told the room. ‘Unless a life is in danger, other cases need to be paused. Get going.’

There was a great scraping of chairs, but the Aurors left the meeting room in silence. When Harry and Theia were walking back to their cubicle, Dawlish was waiting for them, and he hurried over to Harry, pale with rage. ‘You don’t speak to me like that, Potter, I won’t stand for it-’

‘Bugger off, Dawlish,’ snapped Harry, walking past him. ‘You’ve got work to do.’

‘Why do you hate him so much?’ asked Theia in an awed voice once they were at their desks.

‘Either he happily worked with the regime during the war, in which case he shouldn’t be an Auror, or as he claims, he was under the Imperious curse. If he can’t throw off an Imperious curse, he shouldn’t be an Auror. It was only his good pre-war record and the fact that we were desperate that saved his job, I certainly didn’t want him back,’ he said viciously. ‘Either way, I’d trust a hinkypunk before I trusted him.’

He wondered if he had frightened her, she looked taken aback at the very least, but he was in such a foul mood that he couldn’t stand the thought of trying to cheer her up. ‘Did you check Shyverwretch’s licence?’ he demanded.

‘Yes, he does have permission to sell it.’

‘Right then,’ he nodded, grabbing his cloak. ‘Let’s go and get him before he catches wind of everyone getting arrested.’

***

The dark and dingy shop had been tidied up, and the cuts and bruises on Shyverwretch’s face were gone. Yet there was still something odd in the room, something out of place, and Theia had the odd sensation that she was about to stumble upon something.

Harry had smoothly flipped the ‘open’ sign to ‘closed’ upon entering, summoning Shyverwretch’s wand just as the shopkeeper noticed they were there.

‘Don’t get up, Mr Shyverwretch,’ he said as he caught the wand. ‘We’re just here for a chat.’

Shyverwretch bristled, his pale eyes looking them up and down rapidly. ‘What d’you want?’ he demanded.
‘Heard the news about Livia Rookwood?’ Harry asked.

‘Who?’

‘Don’t mess me about, Shyverwretch.’

‘Haven’t seen her in years. What’s going on?’

Theia’s attention drifted from the men, examining the shop more closely. Almost automatically, she began pacing, her feet treading lightly, wandering around the shop as though browsing.

‘Have you sold any belladonna recently?’

‘What’s it to you? I have a licence for it, you know.’ He was watching Theia, she could feel his eyes burning into her back.

‘I know you do, you’re one of the few that does, as it happens. Was any taken from you in the break-in?’
Shyverwretch seemed unsure what to answer with, but Harry continued to watch him expectantly. Theia stopped in her tracks, staring at a dusty looking welsh dresser, cluttered with potion bottles.

‘Unless you have a specific purpose in being here,’ said Shyverwretch coldly, ‘I would like you to leave.’

‘You’ll need to leave with us,’ said Harry. Theia’s eyes were narrowing. One drawer of the welsh dresser was not coated in dust, the brass handle, though dull, as clean as the well-used shop door handle. She pulled it, and inside were piles of parchment, intricate building plans and maps.

‘Excuse me?’

‘Boss,’ Theia called automatically, and soon he was at her side. She held up a large piece of parchment, upon which a drawing of hundreds of cells was, each one labelled with the name of the occupant.

Harry turned just in time, Shyverwretch was bolting towards the door, but he was hit by Harry’s tripping jinx before he reached it, and he landed with an almighty crash. The potion bottles trembled and tinkled from the impact, but Shyverwretch made no sound as Harry bound his hands and hoisted him up. ‘You can do the honours,’ he said to Theia.

She took a breath, excitement coursing through her veins. ‘Oscar Shyverwretch, I am arresting you in connection with the death of Livia Rookwood. You do not have to say anything. But, it may harm your defence if you do not mention when questioned something which you later rely on in court. Anything you do say may be given in evidence.'

She said all of this very fast, and it was so unintelligible that Harry had to repeat it, but nevertheless; she had made her first arrest. She was glowing with pride, and it was with her head held high that they escorted a yelping, confused Shyverwretch to the Ministry.

‘What do you mean she’s dead?’ he was shrieking as they wrestled him into a bare cell. ‘I didn’t have anything to do with it! I had fuck all to do with it!’

‘Both of you go home,’ Robards said to them when they’d finally closed the thick metal door to the man’s yells. ‘You’ve both been working too long to be of any proper use, you especially Higglesworth. Come back when you’ve got some sleep, you can interview him tomorrow. Let him stew for a bit.’

‘I will, I just need to speak to-’

‘Now, Potter.’

There was no arguing with Robards, and Theia was eager to go home and nap for a few hours.

‘Good work,’ Harry said to her as they walked down to the fireplaces. ‘You’ve got a good intuition.’

‘I have?’ she said excitedly, beaming madly at him. ‘You really think so? I just thought it was odd, you know, that the rest of the cupboards were so dusty, now we just have to work out why he got broken into, who he annoyed, how he managed to plan all this with the inmates. I think we’re really close to sorting all this, and I think tomorrow we should-’

‘Yes,’ he said patiently, but something about the tone of his voice made her face fall. ‘You’ve done really well, you’ve definitely got the brains. But we need to figure out how to fix your problem with bloody crime scenes.’ He looked into her dejected expression and winced slightly. ‘We’ve got to sort it, Theia, you’ve done really well but only because there hasn’t been anything very gory. I’ll have a think about how we can fix it.’

Theia felt a little stunned, she opened her mouth but, remarkably, couldn’t find the words. After a few moments, she said slowly, ‘I think I just have to get used to it. It’ll… It’ll come.’

Harry gave a curt nod. ‘Yeah. I shouldn’t have mentioned it. Look, just go get some sleep, we’ll talk about it tomorrow, yeah?’

He left. The pride she’d felt had been replaced with a cold feeling of dread. She gave a heavy sigh and pursed her lips, heading to the nearest fireplace. She’d go to Dad’s for dinner. Dad would understand.

***

Why on earth did you say that? Harry thought bitterly as the green flames of the Floo network surrounded him. She actually did well and you still can’t resist having a go…

He was probably just tired, overworked, the usual… Guilt stabbed at his insides as his living room came into view, and it was with a heavy heart and aching back that he stepped out of the fireplace.

‘Harry!’ A bright-eyed, blue haired toddler was hurrying towards him as fast as his little legs could carry him. Harry bent down and caught Teddy as he leapt into his arms, exaggerating a groan as he lifted him up.

‘Just who I needed to see! Look at you, you’re getting bigger every time I see you.’

The little boy beamed at him, as Ginny’s voice called from the kitchen. ‘You’re back early.’

Harry carried Teddy through to the kitchen, where Ginny and Andromeda were sitting at the table, mugs of tea in front of them.

Andromeda greeted him softly, and though Ginny flashed a look of concern at him, she turned to Andromeda with faux-annoyance. ‘Three in the morning he came back last night, then he was up again for work at seven. I don’t know why he bothers coming home!’

He gave them both a weary smile, and sat down with Teddy, who immediately launched into a babbling and confusing account of helping grandma send an owl. Harry listened patiently, making all the right impressed noises, before carefully distracting him with some bubbles from the tip of his wand.

‘Having a nightmare at work,’ he said lightly to Ginny and Andromeda. ‘A few late nights ahead, I think.’

Ginny’s face fell, and Harry once again felt guilty for how little he had seen of her recently. ‘Will you be able to make the match on Saturday? The whole family’s going, we’re making a day of it-’

‘I’ll try,’ said Harry, but he saw Ginny and Andromeda exchange knowing glances. He wanted them to know how sorry he was, how exhausted he was, but Teddy was bouncing around delighted, grasping at the colourful bubbles that floated lazily in the air.

‘Ginny said that you’ve got a new partner,’ said Andromeda conversationally. ‘And that she’s quite useless.’

Harry gave a brief chuckle. ‘Yeah she’s… A little wet behind the ears. But she did well today, so there’s hope yet.’ He hesitated, but Teddy was still squealing in delight and paying no attention, so in a low voice he quickly told them about the planned breakout at Azkaban.

‘…So that’s why I was back so late last night,’ he said to Ginny lamely. ‘Sorry.’

‘But that’s awful,’ said Ginny, her face shocked. ‘How close were they to actually escaping?’

‘Probably still a couple of weeks away,’ said Harry. ‘But they’d been planning for a long time and it should have been caught earlier. It looks like they were planning on poisoning the guards.’ He paused as Teddy clambered back up onto his lap. ‘Andromeda, have you heard of witches putting belladonna in their eyes?’

She raised an eyebrow. ‘Are you calling me old, Harry?’

‘No,’ he said hurriedly. ‘I just thought that maybe-’

‘It’s all right, it is more my generation than yours, although even when I was a teenager we knew it was bad for us, we just didn’t care. We did all sorts of silly things back then, but I suppose our parents were even worse. My mother used to grow it in the garden to have a constant supply.’

Ginny wrinkled her nose. ‘I’ve never understood why they did that. I’ve heard Muriel talk about it a few times, but I’ve never understood for the life of me what the point was.’

‘It gave you quite an innocent, girlish look,’ said Andromeda. ‘But it distorted your vision, and could kill you if you used just a little too much… My mother was virtually blind by the end of her life.’

Harry frowned to himself, ignoring Teddy tugging on his hair. ‘Why would someone keep putting themselves through that? I can imagine young women doing it-’

Ginny snorted. ‘Erm, excuse me, bit rude.’

He grinned at her apologetically. ‘You know what I mean. When you’re young you might not care if something’s dangerous if it makes you look good. Why would an old woman keep using it?’

‘Who are we talking about?’ asked Andromeda.

‘Livia Rookwood.’

Andromeda rolled her eyes. ‘That old bat.’

‘You know her?’

‘Unfortunately. Very vain woman. Quite friendly with my family, I think she was a Rosier originally. She clung onto youth tighter than a kappa. Why, is she mixed up in this Azkaban nonsense? I thought she was on the run with her awful husband.’

‘They were, but she turned up dead just over a week ago, no sign of Rookwood.’ He nodded at Ginny. ‘The case I was talking about the other night.’

Ginny nodded. ‘Yes, I remember you saying something about belladonna. Are they connected?’

‘Possibly. I’m questioning someone tomorrow about it, but this belladonna thing is bothering me. She had it in her eyes,’ he added to Andromeda. ‘Just before she died. We thought maybe she was getting dressed up for another man and Rookwood flew into a fit of rage.’

‘I doubt it,’ replied Andromeda. ‘Well, I don’t know, it’s a long time since I last spoke to the pair of them, but from what I remember she was completely devoted to him and he enjoyed other men lusting after her.’

‘He…?’

‘Oh, yes. He got quite the kick out of it, used to encourage her to flirt. I think he enjoyed calling men out on it, making them feel uncomfortable and threatened. He never seemed jealous, just smug. Horrible people, certainly, but that must have been quite the relationship of trust.’

Harry was about to ask more, but Teddy had grown impatient at the lack of attention, and was beginning to show the beginnings of a temper tantrum.

‘And on that note, I’ll leave,’ said Andromeda hastily. ‘Thanks for taking him, I’ll pick him up on Sunday.’

‘Oh, I’m sure we’ll have lots of fun,’ said Harry, watching the toddler squirm angrily in his arms. ‘Oh- Andromeda, all the stuff we’ve just been chatting about… I didn’t actually mention any of it, you understand?’

She gave him a wink. ‘Naturally. Be good, Teddy!’

‘No!’

‘See you Sunday, Dromeda,’ said Ginny, kissing the older witch goodbye. ‘Thanks for the chat, you’re right, I was being silly.’

‘Anytime,’ said Andromeda. With a few final waves and one last attempt to say goodbye to her grandson, she left.

‘What were you being silly about?’ yawned Harry.

‘Nothing,’ said Ginny. ‘Now, come on, Ted, enough with that, let’s read you a story.’

***

The echoing drip of water on metal mixed with the man’s fearful, shuddering breaths. He was cold, and drenched, and the heavy chains around his wrists had rubbed his skin raw. Every now and then, he let out a frightened sob, but it had been days now, and he knew no one was coming.

The familiar splash of approaching footsteps made him shudder and groan, his eyes flicked wildly around in the darkness until, at last, a light shone on them. He squinted at the point of light, only just making out the silhouette behind it. He sobbed again.

‘Are you hungry?’ came the voice.

‘P-please…’ said the man. ‘P-please, just tell me what you want.’

‘I have food for you,’ came the voice. ‘Are you hungry, Rookwood?’

‘Please, I’ll g-give you anything, please don’t hurt me again, please just tell me what you want.’

There was a scraping of ceramic on stone, and the beam of light shone down onto the grimy floor. There, on a plate of pristine white, was something lumpy, fleshy. He wasn’t sure if it was red or purple, but the meat had been presented beautifully, with sprigs of rosemary and a purple flower with a burst of yellow. He gasped.

‘Isn’t it a pretty flower?’ came the voice. ‘I found it in her hair.’

Rookwood gave a howl of realization and anguish, and he tried to scramble away from the plate, but he was already pressed against the lattice metal bars. ‘No! Noooo!’

‘I’m sorry it’s not quite fresh,’ came the voice. ‘I had to freeze it, but it’s fully defrosted now, and the fat has been trimmed. I think you will enjoy it. You must be very hungry.’

‘Nooo! Please, WHY? Please, no…’

‘Because you deserve it,’ came the voice. ‘You are a Death Eater, are you not? Eat it.’

And again and again and again the voice came from the darkness, calm and authoritative, while Rookwood wailed and shook and sobbed.

Back to index


Chapter 5: Chapter Five: Talkative Tongues

The room was bare, with only the table and chairs in the middle. Thin windows near the ceiling allowed light in, but gave a suffocating feeling as they cast narrow squares of light over the concrete floor. Theia and Harry sat in silence, their Quick-Quotes-Quill poised in anticipation, staring at the silent and sullen Shyverwretch.

‘Why don’t we start with the plans of Azkaban you had in your shop?’ prompted Harry.

‘No comment,’ Shyverwretch growled back.

Harry tilted his head to the side. ‘Come on now, Shyverwretch… You’re right at the middle of this web. Clearly you’ve got yourself in too deep with something.’

Shyverwretch simply glared at him, hatred etched in his face.

‘You had pages and pages of these plans,’ said Theia calmly. ‘You’re not going to be able to pretend you had nothing to do with it, you didn’t even try to hide them properly. You may as well make this easier for yourself, and work with us.’
Shyverwretch didn’t even look at her, he continued to stare at Harry with the same deep loathing, his fingers curling into fists on the table. Harry stared back, a slight smile on his face. ‘Do I bother you, Shyverwretch? I hope I’m not antagonizing you at all.’

Shyverwretch inhaled deeply through his large nose, his knuckles turning white. ‘You think you know it all, don’t you Potter?’

Harry leaned back casually. ‘Why d’you think that, Shyverwretch?’

‘You think you’ve got it all sorted, your grand plans… You swanned into your role as a war hero and started changing things, making all the decisions, whatever took your fancy, well it’s our bloody country and we were here first!’

‘Who’s “we”?’ asked Harry, his expression still relaxed.

‘You don’t know what the fuck you’re doing,’ jeered Shyverwretch. ‘Both of you, I’m older than both of you put together. Little children playing at politics and war, that’s all you are.’

‘Played at war, did I?’ asked Harry lightly.

‘Played. Played and mimicked and exaggerated your stories, well we see through you, Potter, we see that you hid in the wilderness until it was safe to come out, and we see that you quite happily stepped into the powerful roles thrown at you afterwards. Hypocrite,’ he hissed.

Theia had a million questions, yet no urge to ask them. She knew the answers would come.

Harry scratched at his stubbled jaw. ‘What, so you’re unhappy with my political influence? Understandable, I expect a lot feel the same. And then you and your old mates from Azkaban, you thought you’d break out, yeah? Then what would happen? Would you overthrow me? Hope that I’d resign from the embarrassment of a mass breakout?’

Shyverwretch scoffed. ‘Arrogant child. It’s not just about you.’ He turned his gaze slowly to Theia, who sat with her face as still as stone. ‘You’re tiny,’ he taunted. ‘Still a little girl. You won’t realize what you’re doing. He’ll fill your head with stories about the “regime” and “corruption”. But him and his friends make up the head of government, and one… by… one…’ he walked two fingers across the desk, ‘…they’re crushing anyone they don’t like… Anyone who disagrees with the way they think things should be run… Hypocrite,’ he hissed again.

‘So not just me, then?’ said Harry, who sounded almost cheerful. ‘Me and all my friends? Anyone in the new system? This was meant to be a political break out, was it?’

‘You worked for the previous Ministry, didn’t you, Mr Shyverwetch?’ said Theia. ‘You reopened your shop after losing your job when Minister Shacklebolt came to office.’

There was a long silence. Shyverwretch seemed to have realized he had said too much, and returned to his sulk, staring at the table. But Harry kept his small, knowing smile, and soon Shyverwretch couldn’t resist again, his bitterness and anger burst from him reluctantly.

‘You think you’re noble, and good, but you’re just as shit as the rest of us!’ He looked at Theia again, pointing a finger at her. ‘The sooner you learn that everybody wants something in this world the better. Potter’s no different. He wants his Mudblood friends in high places and his little army painted as angels. Doesn’t matter that he breaks his own rules, that he does things even the Dark Lord himself considered brutal…’

Harry laughed. ‘And what on earth would that be? I’m no saint, but that’s quite the accusation.’

Shyverwretch’s mouth pulled unpleasantly into a smile. He continued to look at Harry, but when he spoke, Theia knew it was directed at her. ‘You know what my job in the Ministry was, don’t you?’

‘You worked in the morgue,’ recalled Theia. She found that although she felt quite calm, she was breathing deeply. ‘Must have been a lot of bodies to deal with.’

‘Hundreds,’ Shyverwretch said, his voice rolling over the word like it was a sweet, delicious thing. ‘That’s why I was hired… There was so many of them we didn’t have time to prepare them all before burial. I would help preserve them. Make sure there was enough time. We treated them with dignity.’

‘Well that’s not true, is it?’ said Harry sharply. ‘The reason there wasn’t time was because you stored them until the morgue was full, then made various communal graves up and down the country. You buried them without their wands, without headstones, their families don’t even know where they are, they can never grieve-’

Shyverwretch slammed a fist on the table, and though she didn’t jump, Theia couldn’t help but blink and breathe in sharply. ‘And you did that to us. When you killed him… Then you burnt him in the Hogwarts grounds in front of a greedy press, with no dignity, never said where the ashes were, you treated him with no respect-’

‘He didn’t deserve respect,’ said Harry coldly. ‘You seem to have him confused with a politician. This was no difference of opinion. He was a murderer. Evil in its purest form.’

‘He offered his opponents at the Battle of Hogwarts the chance to dispose of their dead with dignity,’ said Shyverwretch. ‘Yet noble Harry Potter and the honourable Kingsley Shacklebolt did not offer the same courtesy.’
‘And this was treating a body with dignity, was it?’ asked Harry, pushing a photograph across the table.

Shyverwretch looked down at the body of Livia Rookwood. He did not look repulsed, but there was something Theia could only assume was genuine pain in his eyes and he saw the bloody scene. ‘I did not do this,’ he said softly. ‘I knew Livia…’

‘I know you knew her,’ said Harry loudly. ‘She bought belladonna from you recently, didn’t she? Don’t deny it. She had no garden to buy it herself, and you’re old mates. Looks to me that she was involved in your little plan to help dozens of people escape from Azkaban.’ He pulled out a piece of parchment from the manila file on the table. ‘We found this, in your shop, a potion for a very nasty looking potion which combines concentrated belladonna with nerium oleander. Was my colleague correct when she suggested the fumes themselves would be deadly?’

Shyverwretch said nothing, and Theia felt satisfied.

‘So then I suppose the plan would have been to get these fumes in the staff room and kitchens, knock ‘em all out in one while the prisoners you liked had the antidote and made a break for it, correct?’ Still Shyverwretch said nothing. ‘But Livia Rookwood, she loved belladonna, didn’t she? Did she offer to help brew this potion? It takes a long time to make, and you usually just sell poisons and venoms as they come. I doubt you’re a very talented potion maker.’

Shyverwretch’s jaw was twitching slightly. ‘I wasn’t the ring leader in all of this, you know. But yes, she said she would make the belladonna concentrate.’

‘Who was the ringleader then?’ asked Harry. ‘This Dubrow character you mentioned?’ Shyverwretch stared down at the table again. ‘Because you’re not giving us much help, so we’re having to come up with theories ourselves. I don’t think it’s quite right, but let’s try this out, shall we?’

Shyverwretch leant his elbows on the table, running his hands up over his face and onto his balding head. ‘I had nothing to do with this,’ he said quietly, but Harry ignored him.

‘See, how we’ve worked it out so far is this… Livia Rookwood comes to you to buy this belladonna, or perhaps you come up with this plan together and sell it to her. You have some kind of fall out, maybe you’re a bit pissed off that you’re not getting the shining role in sticking two fingers up to the Ministry that you thought you were getting. You’re not making the potion, after all, and you’re not one of the ones smuggling in the antidote. I’ve got some other Aurors chasing up the common visitors to Azkaban, and your name isn’t in the book. It’s increasingly looking like you’re just there to provide a meeting space and somewhere to hide the plans, isn’t it? That doesn’t seem very fair. A lot of risk and you won’t even have an exciting role to play.’

Shyverwretch was staring at him from underneath a heavy frown, his breaths deep with anger.

‘So maybe you and her have an argument. It gets a bit tense. Her husband comes and beats you up, tells you to back off his wife. Trashes your shop up and what you thought you could pass off as a common-place burglary suddenly has Aurors crawling all over it. Probably a big mistake reporting it in the first place, wouldn’t you agree, Theia?’

‘Most definitely,’ she said coolly.

‘I imagine you were pretty embarrassed and angry. Looks like the only magic he used was a reducto curse on your table, and yet when we examined your wand when you entered it looks like that was actually you. He did it all the Muggle way, and you couldn’t even fight him off?’ Harry gave a low tut. ‘That is embarrassing.’

Shyverwretch was very red, whether from embarrassment or anger of a mixture of both Theia wasn’t sure, but his hands were white-knuckled fists again, and the tenseness in his body made her think of a predator ready to strike.

‘You couldn’t fight us off very easily either,’ she added. ‘You gave up very easily. You’re just a weak old man really, aren’t you? Your bones are frail after so many years handling dangerous substances. Not that great with a wand either, we barely needed to disarm you yesterday.’

‘You don’t want all that getting out, do you?’ said Harry quietly. ‘Not in Knockturn Alley. You’d be eaten alive. So maybe you go and pay the Rookwoods a visit. Maybe your temper gets the better of you.’ He tapped the photo in front of Shyverwretch. ‘You don’t need to be very strong to stab a woman. Especially not if she can’t see very well.’

Shyverwretch’s eyes flicked up from the photo to meet Harry’s.

‘Belladonna in her eyes,’ Harry said softly. ‘You sold it to her. Everyone knew it was a habit of hers. She wouldn’t have been able to see you until you were really close.’

Shyverwretch closed his eyes and gave a long, low sigh. ‘You’re wrong,’ he said. ‘It wasn’t me.’

‘You’ll have to start convincing us then,’ said Theia. ‘Because we can just keep collecting evidence.’

Shyverwretch paused for a long time, staring at the photo. ‘The man who attacked me… Dubrow. He wanted the whereabouts of some of my customers. The Rookwoods were on the list he wanted.’

‘And you gave in to him, did you?’ asked Harry. Shyverwretch nodded. ‘Who else was on the list?’ Shyverwretch was silent.

‘I think, given the circumstances, the decent thing would be to tell us so no one else ends up like Livia,’ said Theia coldly. ‘We still haven’t found Augustus Rookwood, after all. Isn’t he a friend of yours? He could be in danger.’

Shyverwretch remained silent, his expression resentful and unyielding. Harry waited patiently for a good, minute, before saying ruthlessly, ‘whoever did it took her heart. That’s why there’s so much blood.’

Shyverwretch closed his eyes again. He seemed much older when he did so. ‘Both Rookwoods were on the list,’ he said finally, his voice hoarse. ‘And others, I don’t remember them all, I couldn’t answer them all.’

‘Well you better start remembering fast,’ said Harry loudly. ‘Because at the moment it sounds like you’re making it up as you go along.’

‘I don’t remember,’ said Shyverwretch, still staring at the table.

‘You’re lying,’ said Harry. His voice was low and rapid, anger reverberated in his voice like a tremor. ‘I know a liar when I
see one. You might think I know nothing, Shyverwretch, but let me tell you, you’re nothing special. I’ve met a hundred men like you and I’ll meet a hundred more. Each of you desperate to prove yourself, each of you fancying yourself as the next man to step into Voldemort’s shoes but none of you have an ounce of the talent required, none of you can cope when reality comes calling, and all of you, always, prove yourselves to be nothing but self-serving cowards. You think you can wriggle out of this like you did before but the walls are closing in and I know I will find you at the centre of it all.’

He grabbed the quill, which had been scribbling furiously of its own accord, and slammed it onto the desk, before abruptly rising and leaving. Theia hurried after him, feeling just as confused as Shyverwretch looked.

‘Are…Are we done questioning him?’ she asked as the door swung shut behind her.

‘Yeah,’ said Harry casually. ‘Phil,’ he shouted over at a nearby Auror. ‘Could you stick Shyverwretch back in the holding cell for me?’ He turned on his heel, now walking backwards and held up a hand. ‘Good work!’

‘I- Really?’ she asked, awkwardly high-fiving him, slightly concerned she had misinterpreted the gesture. ‘But my ideas about him being angry at the Rookwoods was wrong-’

‘Yes, but we got him talking!’ He looked delighted, buzzing with energy, his rapid change of mood and tone was befuddling. ‘He revealed more than he realizes, and we’re so close to finding the connection, it’s almost in reach… We’ll question him again when we’ve got a bit more evidence, he should be easier next time.’

They had arrived at the case wall, with the various faces and unknown silhouettes looking down at them from behind the magical web of connections. Harry looked very intently at the picture of Shyverwretch. ‘There’s something still not quite right, but the connection’s definitely there.’

‘Do you think he was telling the truth then? About this Dubrow guy?’

‘Yes… But we need to find out where Rookwood is. And who else might be in danger… I’d bet my last galleon the reason Shyverwretch isn’t talking is because he’s protecting someone, it would be good to find out who.’

‘I can start doing that,’ offered Theia. ‘I’ll look into his family and friends and see if there’s anyone in particular that stands out as important to him.’

He nodded and considered her for a moment, then glanced at his watch. ‘Let’s grab some lunch first, you deserve it. I’ll pay.’

‘Really?’ said Theia excitedly.

‘Sure,’ he said, looking a little sheepish. ‘The Leakey Cauldron does good burgers.’

She practically bounced her way to the pub, and as they ordered, she had a sneaking suspicion that he was trying to apologise for the way he had spoken to her the night before, particularly when he assured her that he’d been very impressed in the interview room.

He took a large gulp of his butterbeer, and continued. ‘And I know I’ve been a bit harsh… I was thinking about it last night and I haven’t been very friendly to you.’

Theia felt herself blushing. ‘You’ve been fine-’ she began to insist, but he shook his head.

‘Don’t pretend. Just… Tell me about yourself.’

‘Oh,’ said Theia, feeling flustered. A waitress came over and silently served them their food, and Theia temporarily busied herself moving the napkin out of the way. ‘Erm… Not a lot to tell really…’

‘I don’t remember you from Hogwarts,’ Harry said apologetically. ‘And you were in a different house, I didn’t know may Ravenclaws.’

‘You knew Cho Chang,’ Theia blurted out. Her face was very hot.

Harry gave an awkward cough, and lightly scratched the side of his face. ‘Yeah, I did. I got along better with Luna Lovegood, though, did you know her?’

Something inside of Theia was screaming. This was just too awkward. She wished he would go back to being mean to her. ‘I knew of her,’ she said hesitantly. Luna was weird, and she’d always frightened Theia a bit. But she’d been envious of the girl’s closeness to the glamourous and exciting Gryffindors that had been in the inner circle of the D.A, and so she’d drank up gossip about her just as the others. ‘Didn’t you date her briefly?’

‘Huh? Oh, no. We went to one of Slughorn’s things as friends and I think the gossip took a life of its own. What about you, though, who did you hang out with?’

‘Er… Well, Judy, Dawlish’s trainee.’

‘Poor girl.’

‘And Cora Montgomery.’

Harry frowned. ‘I recognize the name, did she have a sister?’

Theia paused. ‘Yes, the year below me. Josie.’

Something seemed to have clicked in Harry’s mind, and he looked back down at his food. Theia wondered if he knew what had happened to Eugene Montgomery.

‘What about your family?’ he asked distractedly. ‘Any brothers and sisters?’

She shook her head. ‘Just me.’

‘What do your parents do?’ he asked, before taking a large bite of his burger.

Theia sat up a little straighter. She knew Harry had liked Quidditch, she remembered watching him at the matches. ‘Daddy’s a broomstick engineer,’ she said proudly. ‘He works for Cleansweep, he does the suspension charms and cushioning charms and what not.’

Harry raised his eyebrows. ‘That must be interesting,’ he said. ‘Quidditch family then?’

‘Oh, no, Daddy’s rubbish at flying, and I’m not much better.’ Harry looked rather confused, so she hastily continued, waving around a chip to try and make her point. ‘He’s more interested in the mechanics of it all, you know, he’s hoping to come up with something that could revolutionise brooms the way the cushioning charm did. He thinks if he can find a way to improve the safety, reduce the accident and fatality rates, you know, and patent it, it could really put the family name on the map.’

‘The Higglesworth charm?’ Harry asked, amused. ‘Definitely got a quaint ring to it.’

Her stomach lurched a little, and her excitement caught in her throat. ‘Er… Well, it would be Hopkirk, for him.’

‘Oh, sorry, I didn’t-’

‘It’s OK,’ she said quickly.

An awkward silence fell, and they both tried to fill the pause by eating. Finally, just when Theia thought she could stand it no longer, Harry spoke up again. ‘What about your mum then? What does she do?’

‘Nothing very interesting… She’s a Muggle, her job is really boring.’

‘I was raised by Muggles,’ said Harry cheerfully. ‘Her job can’t be duller than my uncle’s, he worked for a company that made drills.’

Theia gave a small giggle, and the humour made her forget that she wasn’t with a friend. ‘Actually I think she spends most of her time trying to set me up,’ she said, as though she were talking to Judy. ‘She’s annoyed I went to Dad’s for dinner last night so tonight I have to go round and meet this Muggle student that’s moved in next door. It’s always Muggles, never a wizard,’ she gave an exasperated huff and a roll of her eyes.

‘Might be quite nice to hitch up with a Muggle,’ said Harry. ‘Get the best of both worlds.’

Theia shrugged. ‘I guess.’ She doubted he’d be saying that if he could see the drab grey estate her mother lived in. ‘I feel like I can probably do a bit better than some random Muggle student though, and I’m not sure how well I can pretend to be a police officer. It’d be a lot easier to date someone in this world.’

Harry chuckled. ‘Not always.’

‘You’re dating Ginny Weasley, aren’t you? I love her, got a big poster of the Holyhead Harpies above my dresser.’

‘I thought you didn’t like Quidditch?’ he asked.

‘I don’t, really, but-’

‘Sorry to interrupt,’ came a deep voice. They both looked up to see Proudfoot and Longbottom looking very serious.
Harry groaned. ‘Please tell me it’s good news, Neville…’

Longbottom smiled. ‘Would I interrupt your lunch to share good news? You’ll want to come and see this.’
Harry sighed and grabbed his jacket. ‘Come on then, lunchtime’s over. This better be important, Nev…’

***

‘Bloody hell…’

The blood drenched the sheets, trickling down and pooling in a deep, dark red on the glossy wooden floor. Like Livia Rookwood had been, the woman in the bed was stretched out with her arms spread like the wings of an angel, staring up at the ceiling with glassy eyes and a horrified, slightly open mouth that looks as though it had poured with blood. Her pug-face was pale under the blood, and her brown hair was so drenched in it that it was a dull burgundy against the pillow. Across her neck was a slash, like a grotesque smile.

‘Don’t come too close, Theia,’ Harry called over his shoulder.

‘I’m all right.’

‘You sure? You can sit outside if you-’

‘I’m fine,’ she said, approaching, and as he looked at her he saw the she was quite calm, although her jaw was tense and her face a pale green pallor.

‘I thought you spoke to her yesterday?’ he asked Neville. ‘You said she was no use.’

‘Yeah, very cagey, knew exactly what we were up to. But we thought we’d come back today and try again, and… Well, this is how we found her.’

‘Have you called Bessie yet?’

‘Yeah,’ said Williamson. ‘But her team’s busy, they can’t come for another hour.’

‘Is that Pansy Parkinson?’ asked Theia abruptly. She pressed her lips together very tightly, staring at the body with a certain hardness.

Harry wondered if she remembered her from school, if she had also been on the receiving end of Pansy’s cutting sneers. ‘Yes,’ he said gently. ‘I find it’s easier to think of them as characters, not people.’

She gave a jerky nod, before turning to Neville and Proudfoot. ‘What did she say yesterday then?’

‘Not much of interest,’ said Proudfoot. ‘Basically told us to get off her property, come back when we had a warrant.’

‘We thought if we came back she might think we had one,’ said Neville. ‘Might give something away. But there was no answer and I just got a funny feeling.’

Harry nodded. He knew it well. That Presence that could be felt, that trace of death in the air. ‘How did she seem? Nervous?’

‘Nah. Same as she always was.’

‘Do you think it was sexual?’ asked Proudfoot, his eyes sliding across Pansy’s blood-soaked nightdress.
Harry sighed, pacing at the base of the bed slightly, his eyes fixed on the body. ‘Normally I’d say yes, but this… This is different.’ He paused. ‘Do we know if she’s been seeing anyone?’

‘No idea,’ said Neville. He scrunched his nose. ‘Didn’t she always have a thing for Malfoy?’

‘He’s engaged to Astoria Greengrass,’ said Theia. ‘She was in my year.’

‘She could have still been having a thing with this Malfoy bloke,’ said Proudfoot.

‘Maybe,’ said Harry doubtfully. ‘Theia, that can be your job, find out if she was seeing anyone. It’s a bit odd that we haven’t heard anything about Rookwood after his wife has turned up murdered, and I’m not sure it was him… If this is connected, which it probably is, whoever’s doing it might be targeting loved ones.’

‘Why d’you think it’s connected?’ asked Proudfoot.

Harry looked at Theia. ‘Theia?’ he prompted.

She looked rather startled, and her pale face regained some colour as she blushed, but she took a deep breath. ‘It’s another Muggle-style murder,’ she said breathlessly. ‘With a knife again, and however they got in there doesn’t seem to have been much magic used. Although the throat has been cut, there’s also stab wounds lower down on the body, I expect they were inflicted after death?’ she said cautiously, looking to Harry for reassurance.

He nodded at her. ‘Maybe. There’s no defensive wounds on her arms, so at least it was quick for her.’

‘That’s why I went and fetched you,’ said Neville. ‘I thought it sounded a lot like your case. Did you notice her tongue’s missing?’

Theia looked revolted, horrified, but apart from a slight tremble of her lip, she remained composed and looked at Harry. ‘Like Livia Rookwood’s heart.’

‘It is very similar,’ said Harry. ‘And odd that she might have been involved in the Azkaban breakout too.’

‘Maybe someone was trying to stop it,’ suggested Proudfoot. ‘Doing our jobs for us.’

‘Bloody hell,’ balked Neville. ‘Vigilantes? That’s all we need.’

‘Well we’ll need to talk to Carrow again then,’ said Theia suddenly. They all stared at her. She blushed furiously, possibly realizing that she’d given an order to three of her superiors, and began to babble an apology, but Harry spoke over her.

‘That’s a good idea, we need to find out exactly why she had her name written down. Right, let’s start digging about, see if we can see anything interesting. Try not to move anything before Bessie gets here though.’

They began to search the room, and then the rest of the house, rifling through the life of Pansy Parkinson. Harry had never cared to get to know the girl at school, swiftly identifying her as a mean Slytherin girl, but it was remarkable how much of her he could read in the place in which she lived.

The flat was small, modern, and very white. At first glance it gave the appearance of luxury, but as he looked closer he could see that the wooden doorknobs were simply painted gold, the paintings were merely prints, and the neat minimalism may have been out of necessity rather than taste.

The books on the shelves were trashy romances, the magazines on the coffee tables were filled with eye-watering priced clothes, and the kitchen cupboards were filled with shelves and shelves of diet books, all with conflicting advice.

‘Two toothbrushes in the bathroom,’ Neville called, and Harry joined him in the cramped, damp little room. ‘She must have been seeing someone.’

‘Hmm… How long term d’you have to be to have your own toothbrush at the other person’s place?’ asked Harry. He had no idea. He and Ginny had been intense, and quick to meld into each other’s lives.

‘Would depend on the couple, I suppose, but… Me and Hannah started leaving stuff at each others after about six months.’

‘Oh yeah,’ said Harry suddenly, feeling rather irritable. ‘I’ve got a bone to pick with you. What’s all this about you leaving? Making me even more short-staffed.’

Neville grinned at him good naturedly. ‘Sorry, mate, I-’

‘Moving to Hogsmeade, getting a job at the school, all getting a bit close, isn’t it?’ His tone was teasing but kind, just enough to make Neville glow with embarrassment and turn to rummage through Pansy’s makeup bag, chuckling slightly.

‘You’re one to talk, carrying that ring about for months-’

‘Sssh, keep your voice down!’ Harry urged, glancing anxiously over his shoulder. ‘It’s just you and Ron I’ve told, anyone else hears about it and it’ll be in the papers before I get the chance to ask her.’

‘Well ask her then!’ said Neville exasperated. ‘Nothing in here…’

He moved to the hair care products on the windowsill as Harry scratched the back of his head awkwardly. ‘I can never decide how to do it. Look at me, I’m standing in a murder scene. It’s hard to find inspiration for romantic plans when all you do all day is find stuff like this.’

‘Exactly why I’m going into teaching,’ said Neville, light-hearted in tone, but seriousness in his frown. He checked the cistern of the toilet, before glancing up at Harry with an honest expression. ‘This job, Harry… It was fine when we were rounding up Death Eaters, fixing things, getting our own back… But, we’ve pretty much finished that now, and… I want a happy life with Hannah. I feel like there’ll be a bit less blood teaching.’ He leaned over to peer down the corridor at Theia, who was digging through a cupboard in the hallway. ‘Speaking of blood… Can she… Can she handle it? She looked like she was going to be sick.’

‘Yes,’ said Harry defensively. ‘She’s getting there.’

‘She better get there quick,’ remarked Neville. ‘Someone running round cutting out hearts and tongues, it’s enough to turn anyone to teaching.’

Back to index


Chapter 6: Chapter Six: The Spy

As soon as her key was in the lock, the door was wrenched open.

‘You’re late!’ her mother hissed, not unkindly, but with a sense of urgency that took Theia rather aback.

‘There was a lot to do at work, a body-’

‘Never mind that,’ she whispered, pulling off Theia’s coat. ‘He’s in the kitchen, dinner’s nearly ready-’

‘Who-?’ Theia began, before sighing. Of course. The Muggle mum was trying to set her up with.

‘Take that look of your face and go and say hello,’ her mum ordered.

Throwing her one last dirty look, Theia dumped her bag and went reluctantly to the kitchen. The young man in there sat with his back to her. ‘Hello,’ she began in a bored voice. ‘I’m Theia-’

He had turned at her entrance. The familiar face, the mousy brown hair and brown eyes… He had recognized her too, and after a second of gaping at one another, they burst into amazed, delighted laughter.

Her mother hurried through, looking bewildered and stressed. ‘Do you two… know each other?’

‘Dennis!’ exclaimed Theia, rushing forward to give his laughing face a kiss on the cheek. ‘I can’t believe it…’

‘What are the chances?’ he said back.

‘Mum,’ said Theia, grinning from ear to ear. ‘Dennis and I went to school together, he was the year below me. How funny!’

‘Primary school?’ she asked hopefully.

‘Hogwarts! We weren’t in the same house, but-’

‘Oh,’ said her mum, sounding rather disappointed. ‘I thought you were… Well, I didn’t realize you were magical too,’ she said accusingly at Dennis.

‘Sorry, Mrs Higglesworth,’ he said apologetically. ‘I honestly am a student though, I have been living as a Muggle for the last few years.’

‘Yes,’ said Theia, sitting at the table. ‘You didn’t come back to Hogwarts after the war…’

‘Lots of people didn’t,’ he said casually, but she noticed a tenseness in his shoulders. ‘I didn’t really want to…’ he chewed his lip slightly. ‘I wasn’t really interested in magic anymore.’

‘But you’re a student now?’ asked Theia, eager to move the conversation away from grim topics.

‘Yes,’ he said distractedly. Dinner was now being served, and he muttered a slightly embarrassed thank you. ‘I went to a Muggle school, pretended I’d been homeschooled… Got my exam results and I’ve just started at Queen Mary.’

‘He’s doing criminology,’ said her mum, who still seemed a little irritated. Dennis looked rather abashed.

‘I… Er, I heard you were a policewoman. I assume you’re in law enforcement at the Ministry, then?’

‘Auror,’ Theia clarified happily. ‘I work directly under Harry Potter.’

‘You’re kidding?’ he said, wide-eyed. ‘That’s incredible! Mrs Higglesworth, you must be so proud.’

‘Call me Betty, Dennis,’ she replied. ‘But yes, of course I am. You know about this Harry Potter bloke too, then?’

Dennis and Theia exchanged amused glances, neither noticing how Betty’s shoulders sank slightly. ‘Everyone knows about Harry Potter, Mum. I told you, he’s very famous.’

‘My brother and I always looked up to him,’ said Dennis excitably, and Theia was struck by how similar he was to the small boy she’d known all those years ago. ‘Growing up, he was my absolute hero.’

‘Theia doesn’t like him much,’ said Betty.

‘I never said that,’ said Theia swiftly.

‘Yes, you did, you said never meet your heroes.’

‘Well, he’s not what I was expecting, I suppose,’ admitted Theia. ‘I don’t think he likes me very much, I talk too much for him, he’s very quiet. But he’s growing on me.’

‘He always was a bit private, now I think about it,’ said Dennis. ‘Colin used to drive him up the wall asking for autographs and stuff.’

‘I was so sorry to hear about Colin, Dennis,’ Theia blurted out. It was the wrong thing to say. Dennis looked down at his food, pushing it around slightly with his fork.

‘What happened?’ asked Betty.

‘It doesn’t matter,’ said Dennis calmly. ‘So what’s your work like? What’s troubling the wizarding world this time? More violence and prejudice?’

His voice was bitter, and before she could stop herself, or think about what she was saying, Theia’s annoyed response was tumbling out of her mouth. ‘Well, it’s not as scary as it used to be, obviously, but criminals are criminals wherever you are, aren’t they? I doubt it’s any worse than the Muggle world, nowadays anyway, and you wouldn’t be studying criminology if there weren’t similar Muggles, would you?’

‘No…’ he said carefully. ‘No, I wouldn’t. I thought it would be interesting. To see what makes people like that tick. But I find Muggle criminals do a little less damage.’

‘So you’re going to stay as a Muggle, then?’ asked Betty.

‘Oh, definitely,’ he said reassuringly. ‘The wand’s up in the attic somewhere, I think…’ He hesitated, and looked at Theia. ‘I didn’t mean to be so… Rude. I haven’t heard anything about the wizarding world since the end of the war. So, catch me up. Harry became and Auror, did he? What about Ginny Weasley, my brother always liked her.’

The conversation lasted hours, and as Theia gave a detailed account of the last three and a half years, she found herself marveling at how so much had changed. Her admiration of Harry seemed reinforced, and pride infused her voice as she spoke of the changes at the Ministry. Even her mother listened with interest, though Theia knew she struggled to keep track of what she was talking about.

‘And I can’t say much about what I’m working on at the moment, of course, but it’s all getting pretty complex. Two different things going on that I’m pretty sure are entwined, but it’s working out how.’ She was struck by an idea, and her eyes lit up as she turned to Dennis. ‘You could help! I’m sure you’ve got lots of insights on psychology and motivation, our department doesn’t have anyone like that-’

‘I don’t want any part of that world,’ he said sharply. ‘Besides, I’ve only just started the course, I’m just a fresher.’

‘Well give it another few years and maybe you’ll change your mind,’ said Betty cheerfully. Dennis looked highly doubtful, but as he left Theia’s mind had already leapt to excited imaginings of having someone who might truly understand behaviour. Even if he refused to come to the department, she thought as she bid him goodbye, knowing that he lived in the building meant that she could always come to him for advice, or to test out theories.

‘He’s lovely, isn’t he?’ said her mother as they closed the door. ‘And ever so smart, I thought you’d get along, I never imagined you might have already met. What ever happened to his brother then?’

Theia told her, and as she did her mother’s face grew more and more still, her lips pursing and her arms folding across her chest.

‘He stayed about for a bit, sent photos to the wizarding newspapers from his Colin’s camera and stuff, he always wanted to be a photojournalist, you see, but Dennis then just never came back to school the next year. Probably didn’t want to carry on living in the place where his brother died. Loads of people didn’t come back, even Harry.’

‘I wish you’d told me more about this when it was happening, Theia,’ she said coldly. ‘I never would have let you go there if I’d known. Thank goodness Dennis is sensible enough to put the past behind him and move on with his life.’

Theia knew what she was getting at. ‘My job isn’t dangerous, Mum,’ she assured her. ‘It’s not like how it used to be. Anyway, Muggles can be just as bad, if not worse. Don’t you ever watch the news?’

Betty sighed, reaching into her pocket and lighting up a cigarette. ‘Magic or not, you can always count on people to be nasty bastards. And these sort of things never really solve themselves after a couple of years. There’s always people that are still angry.’

Theia thought about her mother’s words as she lay in bed. Thought about Azkaban, and the angry, vicious people behind the bars there. The way Dolohov had launched himself at Harry with bulging eyes, how Harry was simply bored of it all, because it happened so often. She wondered how many people the Rookwoods had killed, or hurt, and whether Pansy Parkinson had ever hurt anyone in that way.

Some people, she decided, left their anger up in the attic. Boxed it away and hid from it, kept themselves to a dull, grey world with no magic, forcing unnatural normality and staying safe. Others let their rage course through them, motivating them to relentlessly seek revenge, over and over again, growing ever more extreme in a quest to satisfy the hatred that grew inside them like a weed.

***

Harry could hear the shouting as soon as he walked into the department, and as he came closer to his office, he realized with a lurch of dread that it was coming from his own cubicle. Dawlish, the bloody wanker, was screaming his head off, he could see his arms waving ludicrously above the flimsy wall.

‘-SET US BACK WEEKS OF WORK-’

‘What the hell is going on?’ he snapped. Theia was sitting like a rabbit caught in headlights, gaping up at the fuming Dawlish, who turned to Harry with a face of deep purple.

‘I’ll tell you what the fucking hell is going on! Your moronic girl here has ruined the entire operation! Because of her shoddy paperwork we have to let half the people we’ve brought in go!’

‘What are you talking about?’

‘I forgot to hand in the special circumstances form so they could be remanded in custody for longer than three days-’ squeaked Theia, but her voice had enraged Dawlish again.

‘We’ve effectively dropped the charges against them automatically, we were obligated to let them go so we didn’t break the Wizarding Rights Act, NOW THEY’RE ALL GONE BEFORE WE’VE FOUND ENOUGH EVIDENCE AGAINST THEM, YOU STUPID-’

‘OI! Don’t yell at my trainee!’ shouted Harry. ‘Go yell at your own! This doesn’t have to be a big deal, this could be a good thing.’

‘Could it?’ blinked Theia.

‘Shut up, Theia,’ he hissed at her, before turning back to Dawlish. ‘I’ll handle this, who’s gone?’
‘Warrington, Birch, your man Shyverwretch-’

Fuck.

‘Right, go make sure the paperwork’s all fine for whoever’s left, and then go and find something useful to do, preferably something that doesn’t involve shouting at people that are still learning.’

‘I mean it, Potter, I-’

‘Just go away,’ Harry snarled at him. ‘Go away and have your temper tantrum somewhere else, I don’t have time for this!’

Dawlish left, stomping his feet and barking out swear words as he went, and Harry slumped at his desk, head in his hands, his brain whirring as a control-damage plan began to form.

‘Thank you for sticking up for me, I’m really sorry-’

‘Theia,’ he growled, his eyes closed. ‘I mean, Merlin, Theia, all I want is a fucking competent department, I’m surrounded by lazy, borderline corrupt-’ he began haphazardly going through the pile of parchment on his desk, ‘-idiots, all the decent people are leaving, and I really thought that you would be at least capable of giving Susan a few bits of parchment.’

Her eyes welled with tears, but Harry began searching desperately through his drawers, throwing out files and wads of parchment and chocolate frog wrappers all over the floor.

‘I mean, bloody hell, I don’t know about you, but I’ve got better things to be doing on a Saturday morning, but now it looks like I’ll be here all day cleaning up your mess-’

‘I’m really-’

‘I don’t want to hear your apology, I want to hear solutions,’ he said sharply. His hands pulled out the torn magazine page he’d been searching for. ‘Do you know this spell?’

She took the excerpt of Defensive Digest and scanned it quickly. ‘I- N-no, I don’t think so…’

‘Well learn it. You’re good at stealth, aren’t you? Scored highly on it during training?’

‘Yes-’

‘Right then, learn that now and go do it in as many rooms of Shyverwretch’s place as you can, I don’t even know if he’ll have gone back there but it’s the best chance we’ve got. Don’t get caught.’

‘Where are you going?’ She asked helplessly as he grabbed his bag.

‘Just do it, Theia, now!’

He raced out of the cubicle. Dawlish had clearly done a very good job of spreading the disastrous news, for the entire department was a cacophony of outraged noise. Neville was pouring over files, shaking his head at Williamson. ‘He won’t have gone there, he’ll have ran for it, we won’t find him there again-’

Susan was practically buried under a pile of files and parchment, scribbling so furiously that ink was splattering onto the end of her nose, and Proudfoot was pacing up and down in front of the case wall, mumbling to himself and occasionally shouting for coffee.

The lifts were packed, so Harry hurried up the stairs, two at a time, muttering furiously under his breath. After the chaos of the Auror Department, Hermione’s department seemed eerily calm, like the eye of a storm. Unlike the cubicles downstairs, this office was open plan, and he could spot her bushy hair easily by a large, bright window.

‘Thank Merlin you came in this morning,’ he said as he approached.

She looked up, surprised. ‘Oh! Hello… I’m not here long, I just wanted to write something up before the match later. Did you want to leave together?’

‘Wha-?’ He felt as though a cold bucket of water had been thrown over him, and he swore so loudly that several people turned to stare at him.

Hermione blushed, looking very alarmed. ‘Is everything all right?’

‘No, look I don’t think I’ll be able to make it-’

‘Oh, Harry!’ she said crossly. ‘Ginny’s been reminding you about it for weeks, it’s a big game for her-’

‘I know, I know,’ he said, and he hated himself. ‘Maybe if I get all this sorted quick enough I’ll be able to make the second half, look, there’s been a paperwork problem, do you know the legalities of arresting someone twice under the same charge?’

‘Twice?’

‘Yes, there’s been this whole thing, we didn’t get an extension so we didn’t finish interviewing them, we need to go and find them again and bring them in as soon as possible-’

‘Harry, you can’t! You should know this,’ she looked bewildered, and kept glancing at her interested colleagues who had all frozen to watch.

‘There must be a way,’ he insisted. ‘It’s if I find more evidence, right? But if I can’t, there must be a way for me to arrest them again anyway, seeing as it was human error that they were let go-’

Hermione shook her head, sadly. ‘Harry, I’m sorry, there just isn’t, you’ll have to find more evidence.’

He rubbed his eyes under his glasses and let out a groan of frustration. ‘Right… Right…’

‘So you’re really not coming to the match?’

‘I’ll try,’ he said. ‘I really will, I’ll try my best, I promise.’ He shoved his hands in his pockets, and his fingers brushed against the velvet box.

Hermione looked disappointed. Her neat and tidy desk, so different from Harry’s, sat between them, and Harry stared at it miserably. ‘Tell her I’m sorry,’ he said. Hermione simply nodded.

***

Theia stuck to the shadows. Even though her disillusionment charm was good, the thought of failing yet again was abhorrent. The people of Knockturn Alley were a naturally suspicious lot, and she felt as though they were searching for her, even though she knew it was practically an impossibility. Her feet stepped silently over puddles, sure that any ripple or splash would give her away, and she crept alongside the rough stone walls of the shops.

When she reached Shyverwretch’s shop, she peered through the window to see it empty. About to push open the door, she remembered the tinkling little bell, and slipped down the alleyway to the side. It had an awful, sickly sweet smell of something rotten, and a scrawny ginger cat stared at her from behind a dustbin. She knew that it could see the shimmer of her spell.

Overflowing black bin-bags were piled up beside a side-door, and though it was locked her whispered charm made it swing open silently. She stepped inside, but kept herself low to the ground. Somewhere upstairs, a wireless was playing. She could hear the slightly static hum beneath an old tune.

She pressed her wand against the wall, tucked away behind a dusty looking box. Please work, please…

Audividimus’ she whispered, and something red spilled from the tip of her wand, pooling into a sticky blob the size of a galleon against the wall. It glowed slightly.

She pushed the box back against it, but at the slight, hushing drag it made, the cat behind her meowed. She turned, horrified. It had followed her in, and was staring right at her. ‘Go away!’ she mouthed at it, waving her hand, but it just stared at her. Wincing, she made her way down into the corridor, and through a doorway where she found herself behind the counter of the shop. She could hear the cat meowing after her, but she ignored it as she glanced urgently around, looking for the best place to cast the spell. Yes, most of the walls were covered in vials and bottles, but she doubted any of them would hide the glow, and besides, even if they did, there was always the chance that someone would buy one and it would be moved.

She heard the rumble of footsteps down stairs, and instinctively she dropped, lying flat on the floor behind the counter and rolling onto her side, squashing her thin frame against the underside of the counter as much as possible. She looked up at the underside of the counter, and, without thinking, pressed her wand to it and nonverbally cast the spell. To her astonishment, it worked, just as a pair of heavy booted feet lumbered into view, and Shyverwretch clambered onto the stool just inches from the top of her head.

She was sure she was breathing too loudly. Her heart was beating too loudly. She was blinking too loudly. The cat was sniffing at her knees.

She heard Shyverwretch clucking his tongue, and then his great, pockmarked face came into view as he leant down and pulled the cat up. ‘How did you get in?’ he asked it. ‘Hey? How did you get in? Where are you from, you fuzzy little thing?’

The bell tinkled, and the cat was dropped immediately onto the floor by Theia’s face. It glared up at Shyverwretch and then began to irritably clean itself, while Theia listened silently.

‘Sorry, did I ruin a tender moment?’ came a mocking voice. It was deep, and male, but Theia couldn’t place it.

‘It’s not my cat,’ insisted Shyverwretch. ‘Dunno where it came from.’

The stranger sniggered. ‘Surprised you’re here, Shyverwretch, I didn’t think you’d come straight back here. This is the first place the Aurors will come, you know.’

‘Let them,’ said Shyverwretch. ‘I know my rights, they’ll have to find something else on me first, something big. And they won’t.’

The stranger gave a non-committal hum. ‘They’ve been milling around Pansy’s place, she sent me a message the other day, told me to keep away for a while. I probably shouldn’t even be in here, to be honest.’

Shyverwretch sighed heavily. ‘What, they arrested her, then?’

‘Nah, she said they just turned up asking questions, but she was pretty sure they’d be back, said they were watching her. I reckon they’re watching me too. I just shook someone off, I’m sure they were following me.’

‘The Aurors?’

‘Of course the Aurors, you plonker, who else would it be?’ The voice sounded carefree, bouncy, almost amused. Theia pictured a young man.

‘They showed me these pictures… Someone’s done Livia Rookwood in.’

‘You’re kidding?’

‘Nope.’ Shyverwretch drummed his fingers on the counter. Theia glanced up to see the glowing red splodge wobble, but it stuck fast. ‘That’ll be why she and her husband didn’t show for the last meeting then.’

The stranger swore quietly. ‘What about Augustus, is he dead too?’ There was a silence, Theia supposed Shyverwretch was shrugging his shoulders.

‘I don’t give a shit about him, he was a dickhead. But I reckon it must have been a dirty Auror. Everyone liked Livia. Always had a smile for you, did Livia.’

The stranger snorted. ‘Or a bit more.’ There was a long pause, and Shyverwretch’s knee began to tremble slightly, his foot tapping against the stone floor. ‘You really don’t know who it could be then, Shyverwretch?’

‘Nah.’

‘Could be anyone, I suppose… Pansy might have some idea. D’you reckon it’s safe to carry on with the plan?’

‘It’s blown,’ said Shyverwretch. ‘We’ll have to get them out another way. Don’t look like that! We will get them out.’

‘We better do, and soon,’ said the stranger fiercely. ‘It was hell in there, they shouldn’t have to suffer through that.’

‘Well mind you keep your head down so you don’t end up in there again as well,’ said Shyverwretch sternly. Then, more casually, he added, ‘or like Livia Rookwood.’

‘Yeah, well, I’m sure I’ll be all right. Got any hemlock? I better have a reason for coming in here in case the Aurors get on my back and all.’

Shyverwretch rose, and Theia seized her moment. Rolling onto her front, she crawled silently behind him as he left the counter. She was sure that as she stood she made some noise, but thankfully the two men were talking loudly, so it was only the ginger cat that noticed. She looked over her shoulder as she left the room, desperately trying to see the stranger. He had his back to her, but she could see broad, strong shoulders, dark blonde hair, and a tall stature.

The stairs creaked slightly as she snuck upstairs to plant more bugging charms, but nobody heard a thing.

Back to index


Chapter 7: Chapter Seven: Intruder

Harry fought his way desperately through the crowd, trying not to be recognized while pushing past the scores of people pouring out of the Quidditch stadium. They were loud, and excitable. It must have been an action-packed match, for it had lasted little more than half an hour, and with a growl of frustration he realized that the happiest fans were waving scarves and flags of sky blue, not dark green…

‘TORNADOS ‘TIL I DIE!’ a fat, drunk wizard was singing loudly. ‘TORNADOS TIL- Hey! Harry Po-’

Harry ducked as he sped past him, hoping that the surrounding fans that were rapidly turning in his direction wouldn’t catch glimpse of his face. ‘Fuck,’ he muttered to himself, under his breath. ‘Fuck, fuck…’

He reached the gated entrance of the stadium, and a familiar gaggle of flaming red caught his eye. Most of the Weasley family and associated strays were bunched to the side of one of the stands, and they looked up as he hurried towards them.

‘Oh, here he is,’ announced George scathingly. ‘You’ve got groveling to do, mate…’

‘Where’ve you been?’ demanded Ron.

‘Harry!’ squealed Teddy, reaching out his chubby arms.

Harry looked helplessly at Hermione. ‘I told you-’

‘You said you’d try and make it, I know, I told her you’d be late,’ she said. ‘But it was all over so quickly, you’ve missed the whole thing-’

He groaned. Teddy had wriggled out of Andromeda’s grip and was now clutching Harry’s trouser leg, looking up with bright eyes and gabbling about the match. ‘They flewed fast!’

‘Did they?’ Harry tried to say encouragingly, ruffling Teddy’s hair. He looked back up at the rest of the family. ‘Where’s Ginny?’

‘In ze changing rooms,’ said Fleur, a gurgling Victoire held gracefully against her hip. ‘You ‘ad best get zere quickly.’

‘Yes, and tell her to hurry so we can leave before the press realizes you’re here,’ advised Arthur. ‘We’ve had to shoo them off already.’

He didn’t need telling twice. He distracted Teddy and handed him back to Andromeda, hastily avoiding her stern gaze, and nimbly side-stepped the distracted security wizard at the entrance to the players section.

He could hear Gwenog’s yells from down the corridor, and he loitered outside the locker room, wincing.

‘-THE QUAFFLE MIGHT AS WELL HAVE BEEN MERLIN’S DICK FOR ALL YOU TOUCHED IT, MORGAN-’

Harry could hear a muffled, whimpering response, but Gwenog continued her rant with unbridled fury. After several minutes, and one final swear word, the door burst open with a noise like a canon, and Gwenog Jones stormed past Harry. If looks could kill, he was sure that he would be dust by now.

The subdued Harpies began to filter out, muttering embarrassed greetings at him as they passed, and he slipped into the room. Ginny was stuffing her dark green Quidditch robes unceremoniously into a kit bag, giving him only a filthy glance as he approached. The only other people left in the room, the two beaters, exchanged awkward looks and hurried out.

‘I’m sorry,’ Harry said, breaking the silence. Ginny simply sighed, pursing her lips so much that her usually rounded cheeks were sucked in. ‘I really tried to get here, Ginny, I did-’

‘Okay,’ she said sarcastically.

‘I did, I-’

‘I get it,’ she said bluntly. ‘Work disaster. Hermione mentioned. Paperwork.’

‘It wasn’t just an issue with paperwork,’ Harry said defensively. ‘Half the people in custody were able to walk free, and-’

‘Doesn’t matter anyway,’ Ginny interrupted. ‘I was shit. We were all shit. It was a terrible game.’

‘I’m sure you were-’

She swung her bag over her shoulder, barely looking at him. ‘I wasn’t. If you’d been here, you’d know. But you had loads of paperwork.’

He closed his eyes and ran his hand through his hair as she walked past him. He tried to remind himself that she was likely gutted about losing the game; she’d been hoping that performing well in this match might place her in a good position for captaincy when Gwenog retired. Let her be angry at you, he told himself. Let her vent, and when she’s calmed down, you can explain properly…

Again his hands slipped into his pocket and fumbled the velvet box there. He probably wouldn’t have done it today anyway, not with other people about.

The memory of his first kiss with her danced hazily in the back of his mind as he followed her back out of the locker rooms. Her long ponytail was swinging like the tail of an angry cat as she stomped her way out.
The family gave her bracing yet cautious smiles as she joined them, but it was Teddy who bravely stepped forward and curiously asked why she hadn’t scored as many goals as usual.

‘Why don’t you show me that new hair colour Nana was telling me about?’ said Harry hastily, scooping him up.

But Teddy’s shimmer of mauve was lost in a bright flash of light.

Harry clutched Teddy tighter to him and clumsily grasped at his wand with his left hand, but as he twisted, he saw not a Death Eater, but a scruffy looking photographer, along with…

‘Harry, darling!’ Rita shrilled. Her jeweled glasses glinted irritatingly in the sunlight, and her acid-green Quick Quotes Quill hovered patiently at her side. ‘So nice to see you here — I suppose you’re disappointed with the match? Frustrated? Heart-broken? Would you say that Birch’s performance was fair, or unnecessarily aggressive towards your girlfriend?’

‘Destroy that film now,’ Harry ordered the photographer. ‘You’ve been spoken to before about photographing the children-’

‘Come now, Harry,’ said Rita, with a tinkling laugh. ‘You’re in a public place. Surely you’d rather I ask you about Quidditch than the multiple criminals that you apparently released early this morning?’

‘Let’s go,’ Harry muttered to the others, pulling his cloak over Teddy’s head.

‘What about the recent murder in Upper Flagley?’ Rita called as they walked away though the rapidly flashing light of the camera. ‘Is it true that it was a Death Eater you’ve been searching for? Did you lose control, Harry? Snap? Seek revenge?’

The commotion had attracted more reporters and photographers, as well as some lingering fans, and soon they were surrounded. Harry could hear Molly and Andromeda shouting at the reporters, who were in turn asking intrusive questions and swarming around Ginny, goading and interrogating her about the unsuccessful match.

It was chaos, but Bill, George and Ron were impressive bodyguards, barely hesitating to roughly pull people aside so the family could get through to the Portkey point.

‘Miss Weasley! Do you agree that your goal in the fourth minute could have constituted a haversacking foul? Miss Weasley!’

‘What do you have to say about the Torndados new manager?’

They had reached the designated Portkey Point, and Arthur hurried over to the overwhelmed looking security wizard, quietly giving him their destination instructions while Harry checked the confused and whimpering toddler under his coat.

‘It’s all right,’ he said quietly, but he was not sure Ted could hear him over the noise. He wished they could Apparate, but Fleur was pregnant and Victoire was too young, and Teddy always cried-

There was a large bang, and he whipped round to see Ginny, her furious face glowing red and her wand raised, while a reporter squirmed at her feet. Large bat-bogeys were flapping around his shrieking face.

The reporters paused in stunned silence, before returning to shouting with a renewed ferocity. Harry shook his head despairingly at her, but thankfully Hermione seized her arm before she could attack anyone else, and pulled her to the Portkey the family were now huddling around.

‘Everyone ready?’ shouted Arthur over the calamity. ‘Three, two…’

Finally, quiet. The smell of the orchard, the familiar sight of the Burrow, his ears ringing from the sudden peace that surrounded them. Teddy was wriggling irritably under his cloak, and seemed very relieved when Harry put him down on the soft grass.

Molly had set up the tables in the garden for an early dinner, and as the evenings were beginning to get colder, Andromeda helped her enchant hovering bubbles of embers, which slowly rotated and warmed the air around them.
The food was brought out, and the family took their seats, grumbling about the reports and remarking on the perfection of the leg of lamb that had been placed on the cream table cloth. Andromeda wrestled Teddy into a highchair, and Harry took a seat next to Ginny at the very end of the table, hoping that she’d calmed a little, but opposite her, she and Hermione were squabbling.

‘-Completely uncalled for, Ginny-’

‘Uncalled for? Give me a break, they were like animals, I should have hexed the whole bloody lot of them!’
Harry wearily leaned back in his chair, glancing uneasily at Ginny, who was still pink with anger. ‘What did he do?’ he asked. ‘If you hexed him because he touched you-’

‘He didn’t touch me,’ she muttered, helping herself to carrots. ‘You’ve threatened them enough times with legal action that they know not to touch me.’

He sighed. ‘Well what did you hex him for then, Ginny? It’s going to get us into-’

‘Don’t you start!’ she retorted. ‘I’ll have you know he was asking me why you weren’t there, the cheeky sod!’

‘Look,’ he said, beginning to lose his temper, ‘I had a major crisis at work, I tried to get there Ginny, I really did-’

‘Why don’t you both talk about this tomorrow,’ interrupted Hermione hastily. ‘You can both talk it through when you’re less tired and stressed.’

Harry glared at her, but Ginny nodded. ‘Yeah… Sorry,’ she said, looking sheepishly at Harry. ‘You know I’m a bit of a sore loser. We’ve got all day tomorrow, we can talk about it then.’

He looked down at his plate.

‘Oh, Harry,’ said Hermione, despairingly.

‘You’re joking?’ Ginny growled. ‘You said you had this whole weekend off!’

‘I’m sorry,’ he said unhappily. ‘I’m going to have to go in… I really can’t tell you what a disaster we’ve had. It’s that bloody trainee,’ he muttered bitterly.

‘You can’t dump all the blame on her,’ said Hermione sharply. ‘If the paperwork was that crucial, you shouldn’t have left it with someone so inexperienced.’

‘Didn’t Susan say anything about it not being in on time?’ interjected Ron. Harry hadn’t been aware he was listening - he seemed too busy shoveling roast potatoes into his mouth.

‘No, I don’t think so,’ said Harry slowly. ‘I dunno, she might have done. She’s always on at me for late paperwork.’

‘Well just bloody well do it on time then!’ exclaimed Ginny.

‘Bloody!’ shouted Teddy happily.

After apologizing to Andromeda and explaining to Teddy about grownup words, Harry began aggressively cutting into his lamb. ‘It’s useless,’ he said. ‘Here I am stressing about my incompetent department and I can’t even keep everyone in custody.’

Ginny’s expression softened a little. ‘It’s the people involved in the planned breakout, right? Well, surely you’ve foiled their plans now? You can just keep an eye on them in case they come up with something new.’

‘It’s not that simple… I think it’s all tied up in these murders.’

‘Murders?’ asked Ron. ‘Plural?’

Harry looked anxiously round the busy table, but the rest of the family was busy chatting and laughing, paying little attention to the four of them. He lowered his voice. ‘Pansy Parkinson turned up dead the other day.’

He was lucky the family didn’t hear Hermione and Ginny’s audible gasps, or Ron’s quiet swear word. ‘You’re joking?’ whispered Hermione.

‘No. And we still haven’t found Rookwood either, but I don’t think it was him. I think someone’s after Death Eaters, or there’s in-fighting of some sort.’

‘Oh,’ said Ron, visibly relaxing. ‘Who cares then?’

‘Ron!’

‘What?’ he said, shrugging at Hermione’s appalled expression. ‘If they want to kill each other off that’s fine by me, I don’t know why Harry needs to get his knickers in such a twist about it.’

‘But Pansy Parkinson wasn’t even a Death Eater,’ said Hermione, slowly. ‘I mean, she was still at Hogwarts, wasn’t she?’

Harry gave a hummed response, scratching his jaw. ‘She was almost certainly involved in this Azkaban plot though.’

‘And she was still helping them from Hogwarts,’ said Ginny. Harry looked at her expectantly, so she took a large sip of wine and continued. ‘It all came out the next year, don’t you remember, Hermione?’

‘Oh!’ Hermione’s eyes grew wide. ‘Of course!’

‘She was never prosecuted for anything…’ began Harry.

‘Well, no, she’d didn’t really do anything illegal, and this was all just school gossip,’ said Ginny. ‘You remember my friend Polly? My dorm mate that died?’

‘The one that was passing information about you and the D.A?’

‘Yes. Pansy was acting as the go-between for her and the Carrows, and the outside world really.’

‘She had lots of little spies by the sounds of it,’ added Hermione. ‘She was one of the students that was allowed to receive post, she was in a much better position to communicate than any of the other students.’

‘I only found out about it afterwards. It might not even be true, I suppose, it was just school gossip, Polly never mentioned it when she died.’ Ginny had paled a little, and she was gripping her wine glass quite tightly, but her face stayed relaxed and calm. ‘Anyway, she wasn’t queen bee anymore when we all got back and apparently started bragging. It didn’t last very long, some old D.A members attacked her.’

‘Blimey,’ said Ron. ‘You all toughened up, didn’t you?’

‘Well, yes,’ said Ginny brusquely, staring intently at her wine. ‘Turns out there were a few Muggleborn students that had managed to smuggle themselves in, but she snitched on them. Demelza told me, after the war, that her family were actually tortured for hiding the Creevy brothers, but eventually the Death Eaters gave up trying to find evidence and just accepted that they were cousins. She only found out at Colin’s funeral.’ Her hand delved into her pocket, where Harry knew she kept a bottle cap.

‘Not to mention Kevin Entwhistle,’ said Hermione. ‘No one ever did find out what happened to him, apparently he came in on false papers and then Pansy’s word meant he was dragged off. He’s presumed dead, his whole family disappeared too.’

‘And according to Seamus she was the one who alerted the Carrows when Michael was releasing a first year,’ said Ginny viciously. ‘Can’t say I’m sorry she’s dead at all, to be honest.’

‘A lot of people must hate her then,’ said Harry. ‘On both sides.’

‘Both sides?’

‘She gave evidence against various Death Eaters. Against Amycus Carrow, but defended Alecto Carrow.’

‘Well, she was her favourite,’ said Ginny. ‘I think Pansy admired her a lot.’

‘That settles it then,’ said Ron. ‘She was a horrible busybody who blabbed something about the wrong person. Don’t see why you need to give up your weekends, mate.’

Harry gave a weak smile. ‘As tempting as it can be, you can’t just go round murdering unpleasant busybodies.’

‘That’s a shame,’ said Ron. ‘We’ve got an inspector from the Magical Tax and Business Regulation department coming next week.’

Their chuckles were interrupted by the arrival of a little owl.

***

‘You better have called me in for a good reason, Theia,’ he said to her grumpily, checking his watch. ‘I had to leave a family dinner.’

She was sat in the surveillance room, surrounded by files and feeling exhausted, but with a driven energy that made her tremble with a kind of excitement… Or maybe that was all the coffee.

‘You got my owl, then? I’m sorry,’ she said. ‘I wouldn’t have called you unless it was urgent, but I think someone may be in danger…’

She gave a hurried, breathless account of her morning at Shyverwretch’s shop, showing him the long roll of parchment where a red quill hovered. It had scribbled down every word that was spoken near the magical bugs she had placed, and it stood ready to continue, but Shyverwretch lived alone, so no words had been spoken since the shop had closed at five o’clock.

‘And look,’ she said, pointing to one of the lines. ‘He’s worried that Aurors are following him, but we don’t have any surveillance programs on at the moment, do we? Except for this one, obviously. And look here, he keeps referring to Pansy Parkinson, so I thought maybe he might be the one who was dating her, and I keep thinking about how Rookwood is missing too and-’

‘Did you get a good look at him?’ Harry interrupted. The irritation had left his face, but now he was scanning the parchment with a serious expression.

‘No, just the back of him, enough to see that he was blond, tall, with broad shoulders. But he said here,’ she placed her finger further down the transcript, ‘that “it was hell in there”, so I think he was in Azkaban and then got out. So I’ve spent the rest of the day in the records room trying to find him. Looking for young men who have been in Azkaban for a shorter sentence, are blonde, might have connections to Pansy Parkinson or Oscar Shyverwretch…’

She spread the files out as best she could on the cluttered table. ‘I’m fairly sure he was young, so that discounted a few, but I’m left with these and I don’t know enough about the background-’

‘Did he have an accent?’ Harry asked, staring down at the files.

‘An accent?’

‘Yeah, what did he sound like?’

‘Er… Posh, I suppose.’

Harry nodded, and turned one file over. ‘Well it’s not Stan then, he’s from Dagenham.’

‘What about this guy? He was in Azkaban for four months for illegal potion brewing-’

Harry shook his head, frowning in concentration. ‘I doubt it, he’s related to one of Shyverwretch’s competitors, I think, I doubt they’d be so…’ He trailed off as his eye was caught by one of the other files, and he picked it up, opening it to the photo of the young man inside.

‘Oh, him?’ said Theia. ‘I wasn’t sure, because he looks like it could have been him, but he wasn’t a proper Death Eater really, just in the Muggleborn Registration Committee, and I thought, as his sentence was so short, it was probably because he complied out of fear, not-’

‘No, he had family connections in the Wizengamot, that’s why he only got three months,’ said Harry vaguely. Theia found it very hard to read his expression, but something seemed to be dawning on him. ‘He was more than complicit, he was heavily involved in gathering information from Hogwarts students…’ He closed his eyes suddenly, rubbing a hand against his forehead. ‘It’s him,’ he said firmly.

‘You’re sure?’

He swore quietly under his breath. ‘Broad shoulders, you say?’ She nodded. ‘And a posh voice?’ She nodded again. ‘It’s definitely him, and you’re right, he’s not on our radar. He’s being followed by someone else. We need to find him, now.’

***

Cormac McLaggen frowned. His owl was back, tapping at the window, her letter undelivered. Perhaps Pansy was being watched even more than he realized, he couldn’t understand why she hadn’t spoken to him for several days, and she’d closed off her Floo network.

He’d been tempted, after visiting Shyverwretch’s shop, to drop by, make some excuse, but to his astonishment even as he approached her road, two Aurors were stood on the corner, interviewing a passerby. No doubt they were looking for reasons to arrest her, or him, and he left before they caught sight of him. Bloody Aurors, they were getting more brazen everyday…

He opened the window to let Gertrude in. It was stiff, so he had to lean on it quite heavily to close it again, and the white paint around the metal frame chipped and fell onto the ledge. It wasn’t quite closed properly, but it was closed enough to stop the wind coming through.

He wondered if he had annoyed Pansy in some way. Maybe it was one of those things where girls told you not to talk to them or come and see them, but actually what they wanted was more attention. Maybe he should buy her flowers.
Well she’d just have to tell him straight in the future, he thought irritably. He wasn’t a mind reader, and really, he could understand that they were all being watched, but to make no contact in several days was just rude. She could have been arrested for all he knew.

He strode to the bathroom, stepping over the piles of clothes and wet towels that Pansy always nagged him about, hoping that a hot shower would relax him a little. Being trailed by Aurors was an annoying inconvenience, but it was getting to the point where it was a little unsettling.

Perfectly natural, he assured himself, as the water spluttered out of the old shower head. Nobody liked the feeling they were being watched, and when the Ministry were watching you, you felt it all the time. Even the hot water couldn’t shake the cold prickle he felt at the back of his neck, that sense of unease and paranoia that stayed with him long after he’d shaken off the hooded man that had been following him.

He was rubbing shampoo into his hair when he heard something. A bang, or a clatter, or a scraping, or something. He froze and strained his ears for a second, turning off the shower.

‘Hello?’ he called out, still dripping wet.

He stood awkwardly, naked in his bathroom. After several long minutes, he decided that if there was an intruder, they would have come for him already, he would have been arrested or attacked by now, naked and vulnerable. The thought was ludicrous, and that the complete silence of his flat confirmed his suspicions. He was paranoid.

Bloody Aurors.

He stepped back into the shower to wash out the last of the suds in his hair, assuming that Gertrude had knocked over a lamp or perched on something else unstable. It was getting ridiculous. He even thought, sometimes, that he could hear footsteps in the attic, or scratching on the floorboards. It was an embarrassment to his Gryffindor background that he’d allowed himself to get so jumpy, and for that he placed the blame solely on Azkaban. And the Aurors.

It had been an absolute scandal, the thought, as he toweled himself dry. The same internal monologue he’d thought a million times before ran through his head, growing stronger and more extreme with every recitation. He had been a political prisoner, nothing more. He was simply a minor cog in a very big machine, and it was complete bullshit that he’d been treated as if he’d murdered anyone. Nonsense. He’d abided every law.

But of course they weren’t the right kind of laws, and all of a sudden he wasn't the right kind of person, not when all the political correctness went mad and it practically became a crime to be a pureblood.

He snorted to himself softly as he wrapped the towel around his waist. The air was very cold in the living room, so he hurried quickly to be bedroom, thinking, with great pity, of all the well-respected purebloods that remained in that awful place, put there just to appease Muggleborns that just couldn’t stop playing the victim.

As he dressed into his pyjamas, he heard a thumping. He froze again. His heart began to beat fast, and the familiar rush of adrenaline made his legs prickle.

The thumps were rapid but irregular. Thump thump thump thump… Thump thump…

He took deep, steadying breaths, the kind he’d always done before a Quidditch match, and grabbed his wand. He stepped into the living room. Moonlight now streamed across the floor from the open window, resting on the front door of his flat which shuddered with every thump.

He moved towards it slowly, his wand drawn as he heard his name being called, low and deep with urgency.
He peered through the spyhole, and blinked in mild surprise.

‘McLaggen, open up!’

With a look of immense distrust, he opened the door to Harry Potter and some tiny, bird-like girl. ‘Come to arrest me, have you?’ he jeered at them.

Potter ignored him. ‘May we come in?’

‘No.’

‘McLaggen, I understand you think you’re being followed?’

The bloody cheek of him! ‘Yeah, by your lot,’ he growled. ‘Bugger off and leave me alone.’

‘Please, Mr McLaggen,’ the girl piped up. ‘We’re not following you, we believe you may be in danger. If you come with us, we can place you under protection-’

Cormac resisted the temptation to roll his eyes. ‘I’m not falling for that, I’m not stupid. You’ve lost a load of prisoners and now you’re trying to save face by looking for people to arrest. Well I don’t have to let you onto my property without a warrant, and I don’t have to talk to you either, so-’

‘McLaggen, if someone is following you, we need to know,’ said Potter urgently. ‘Let us in, or come with us and we can-’

Cormac interrupted with a scoff. Harry bloody Potter… He’d tried to get to know him in his final year, he really had. They could have bonded well over Quidditch, given the proper chance, but he was an arrogant little shit who just wanted his friends on the team then, and he was probably the same now. ‘I’m not in any danger, Potter, and if I am, I’m sure I’ll cope. I might not be the battle hardened veteran you are,’ he said with a sneer, ‘but I’ve been in enough scraps to know what I’m doing.’

Potter’s jaw hardened, and his voice was cold when he asked, ‘I assume you’ve heard about the death of Pansy Parkinson?’

The world seemed to drop from underneath Cormac’s feet. ‘What?’

‘Pansy Parkinson. She was found dead in her flat.’

Something in his chest was screaming, but he simply stared at Potter’s calm, collected face. ‘You’re lying.’

‘I’m afraid I’m not. You may be in danger too. If you come with us, we can discuss it, and keep you safe-’

Cormac swore at him. ‘That’s low, Potter, even for you. I’m not falling for it, I’m not!’ He realized he was still pointing his wand at them, and it was trembling, but neither of them flinched. ‘Just get off my property! Get out of my flat!’

‘Please come with us, Mr McLaggen,’ said the girl gently. ‘I promise you, you’re not in any trouble-’

‘GET OUT!’

Potter and the girl exchanged glances. ‘When you’ve calmed down, Mr McLaggen,’ said Potter. ‘Please come and find us in the Ministry at once. We want to find out what happened to Pansy, and we want to make sure you’re safe.’

‘We’ll be there tomorrow,’ the girl added.

Cormac slammed the door in their faces, locking it with shaking hands and breathing heavily. His vision was growing blurry with tears, but he blinked them away. What a cruel lie. And ridiculous, they could only have known what Pansy meant to him if they’d been spying on him anyway.

He watched them walk away through the spyhole, and waited for them to vanish down the stairwell before he turned away and began to pace his living room, muttering swear words under his breath.

It was freezing, and somehow the heavy, stiff window was wide open, the curtains floating gently in the cold breeze. He slammed his wand onto a side table, and pushed it closed, leaning his shoulder against it until it was fully shut properly this time, brushing the flecks of white paint off his shoulder.

He drew the curtains, and now his flat was plunged into almost complete darkness, just the dim light from one lamp making the furniture cast long shadows across the floor. He heard a bumping, quiet crashing, and faintly he felt his paranoia rise again.

He walked steadily towards it, to the closed door of his bathroom. There was definitely someone in there, he could hear them, throwing his stuff around, and he felt such a rage inside him that he would surely beat them to death when he found them.

But underneath the rage was fear, and he was now shaking more than ever as he reached for the door handle.
He could hear them, clattering about, the sound of his glass shattering on the tile floor…

He opened the door.

‘Stupid bird,’ he muttered.

Gertrude was flapping about madly, panicking in the tiny bathroom, knocking over his hair products and becoming entangled in the shower curtain. He reached up and grabbed her, holding her wings close to her body.

She screeched and swiveled her head frantically, nipping at his fingers. ‘Ouch! Stop it! It’s not my fault you managed to get yourself shut in here, you stupid bird…’

He took her out of the bathroom, barely pausing to wonder how he’d managed to shut her in there, but even when he tried to place her on her perch in the living room, she continued to fly erratically around the room, making such a racket he was sure the neighbours would complain.

‘What’s got into you?’ he asked impatiently. His head was too full of thoughts and worries about Pansy to care about what was troubling his owl, so he placed her in her cage and threw a blanket over her, hoping that she’d soon calm down and shut the hell up.

He plodded to his bedroom, his chest faintly aching from something, whether adrenaline or grief he wasn’t sure…

No, he told himself firmly as he got under the covers. It wasn’t grief, she wasn’t dead. It was typical of Potter to lie like that, and tomorrow he’d sneak over to Pansy’s and they’d have a good laugh about it.

He pushed the thoughts out of his mind, and closed his eyes.

Beneath him, a man silently crawled out from underneath the bed.

Back to index


Chapter 8: Chapter Eight: Criminology, Theory and Practice

Theia arrived home late. The cracked pavements were illuminated in the orange street lights, and somewhere far off, above the continuous hum of traffic, a dog was barking.

Her mother would be annoyed at her, for apparating to a dark alley and walking the rest of the way alone, but as she looked up at the tall, grimy estate, she could see lit windows and groups of teenagers loitering on the balconies, despite it being past midnight. She wondered what a hardened London youngster would do if they saw a woman appear out of thin air. Perhaps they would assume that they were tripping, or maybe they would come down and try and attack her. Most likely, they would pretend they hadn’t seen it all, but it was best to be on the safe side.

Someone had pissed in the lift again.

With a scowl, she took the stairs, the thud of her boots echoing and her body aching. She was exhausted. Dead on her feet. She fully intended to spend the whole of tomorrow lying on the sofa.

When she finally reached the seventh floor, the door next to her own was open, and a young man was waiting.
‘I saw you walking in from the window,’ said Dennis. ‘You’re back late.’

She gave him a tired grin. ‘Been up waiting for me? My mother will be delighted.’

He chuckled, and looked awkwardly at his shoes, rubbing the back of his neck. ‘Actually… I, er… I ordered some pizza earlier. I can always reheat it… I thought it might be better than you waking up your mum.’

It was certainly tempting. No doubt her mum had put aside a casserole or something for her, but pizza… And there was something quite endearing about how embarrassed he looked. ‘How’re you planning to reheat it?’ she asked. ‘It always goes soggy when I do it.’

‘I bet you use a microwave, don’t you? Amateur.’

She giggled, and followed him into his flat.

Like the one she shared with her mother, Dennis’s flat was small, and a little damp. But his did not have the years of family life to fill it with warmth, odd little objects and photos, and instead felt truly like a student’s pad. Posters of Muggle bands, a cheap clothes horse with dripping laundry, a criminology book being used as a coaster for an old cup of coffee, and a quietly whirring computer in the corner.

‘Sorry,’ he said, blushing. ‘I could have tidied up a bit.’

‘I’m not the bloody Queen, Dennis, you’re kind enough just letting me in here and allowing me to eat your food.’ He smiled even wider at her response, and grabbed a nearby pizza box, making his way to the kitchen while she made herself comfy on the rather collapsed looking sofa. ‘So where you at university today?’ she called through, eyeing his books eagerly.

She heard him give a small laugh. ‘It’s Sunday! I’ve spent the day watching telly instead of doing my essays, like every other student in the country.’

‘Right, of course,’ she said back, still peering around. ‘I’ve had such a weekend, I’ve completely lost track of the days. I bet it’s easy to do that when you’re a student too, isn’t it? If you miss your lectures or something.’

She babbled until he returned with (oven-heated) pizza, and she grabbed a slice hungrily, groaning as she bit into it. ‘Finally,’ she mumbled. ‘I’m starving.’

‘Been working hard?’

She raised her eyebrows and gave an exasperated nod. ‘I’m shattered. We’ve got so much going on and it’s so confusing. Last night we were trying to get someone to a place of safety, but he refused, and lo and behold, we can’t find him anywhere today. I’ve been apparating up and down the entire country trying to figure out whether he’s done a runner or it’s something more sinister.’

‘That sounds serious,’ said Dennis, sitting cross legged at the end of the sofa to face her. ‘Is he a criminal, then?’

She wobbled her head. ‘Sort of. I dunno. He was quite few years above you, Cormac McLaggen?’

Dennis squinted. ‘Oh! Big guy?’ She nodded, her mouth too full to speak. ‘Yeah, I barely remember him. Got himself into trouble, has he?’

She shrugged. ‘Seems all the old Death Eaters are in-fighting about something, Harry thinks it might be a power struggle over an Azkaban plot. But McLaggen wasn’t a proper Death Eater, really, so we dunno.’

Dennis’s face darkened somewhat. ‘What d’you mean not a proper Death Eater?’

‘He was more of a paperwork guy. Got a position through family connections high up in the Muggleborn Registration Committee, then orchestrated a lot of nasty stuff without really getting his hands dirty, not sure how aware he was of what he was doing but- Oh! Dennis, I’m sorry!’

Dennis had gone pale, and looked highly uncomfortable, like he was about to spring off the sofa and run out of the door. ‘Sorry,’ he muttered. ‘Don’t mind me-’

‘No, I shouldn’t have started blabbing about that! I bet you had an awful time with them!’

Perhaps to give himself time to think, Dennis grabbed a slice of the pizza and chewed on it for a while. ‘It was Colin that dealt with all of that,’ he said finally. ‘Got one of his friends to persuade her parents to take us in as “cousins”. Did most of the talking at our interview. I don’t know that he ever really came across McLaggen.’

Theia hesitated. The words were on the tip of her tongue, she desperately wanted to say them, but she could hear her mother’s voice in her head scolding her for insensitivity. Theia had very poor self-control when it came to asking questions. ‘It said in his file that you were in the public gallery for his trial.’

He looked genuinely surprised. ‘Was I? I went to quite a few with Demelza and Colin’s girlfriend. It’s all a bit of a haze really. I thought maybe if I saw a few people come to justice… But then I just wanted to get out of wizarding society completely.’

‘He had a girlfriend?’ She hadn’t known the Creevey brothers well at Hogwarts by any stretch of the imagination, but she had to admit that she’d been a gossip, and this was completely new information.

‘Yeah, Zaha… I forget her second name. Something Arabic. Very quiet. But she was there when he… Well, I wasn’t at the battle, so everything I heard, I got from her.’ His voice grew quiet and he looked away. ‘I expect you think I’m silly, don’t you? For hiding away, becoming a Muggle? It’s not very Gryffindor of me.’

‘Don’t be stupid!’ She grasped his knee without thinking. ‘I think it’s perfectly reasonable!’ She wanted to change the subject. It was upsetting to see him distressed. ‘Tell me about your degree, what have you been studying?’

He blinked. ‘Oh, well, it’s all quite simple stuff at the moment, you know, I only just started. But we’ve been looking at what motivates people to commit crime.’ He frowned. ‘I was hoping to find out what would motivate someone to… Nothing seems to fit what I’m looking for.’

‘Well, like you said, you’ve only just started,’ said Theia gently. ‘What have you learnt so far? It might come in handy for me!’

A small smile played around his lips. ‘Well… There’s social structure theory. That accounts for the majority of crime. It suggests that those who aren’t privileged in wealth, or class, or status get into crime out of necessity… For financial gain or because they’ve grown up in an environment where it’s normal.’

‘Like the teenagers on the balcony outside,’ said Theia. Colin nodded. ‘But… Rich people commit crimes too. Loads of the Death Eaters were rich. I suppose they might have grown up in environments where it’s normal, but it seems… I don’t know, it seems more suited to petty criminals, doesn’t it?’

‘These are Muggle theories,’ he reminded her gently. ‘I expect some Death Eaters might fit into the anomie theory. It’s usually in regards to social inequity, but any stresses or divisions between groups or classes can make people more likely to commit crime.’

‘You’ve lost me, I’m afraid,’ said Theia, smiling. She could almost hear her mother’s voice marveling at how smart he was, how passionate…

‘So, if you say a pureblood Death Eater, for example, treats Muggleborns with suspicion, or fear, he might believe them to be disgraceful. His feelings might make him more likely to commit a crime against a Muggleborn. He’s even more likely to commit crimes if there’s lots of different problems going on at once, health problems or money problems, or tensions in the family. He might be angry.’

Theia’s brain was whirring. She nodded slowly. ‘There’s this one bloke… Shyverwretch. He’s so angry with Harry and people in charge at the Ministry. He wasn’t a proper Death Eater, but he worked for the regime-’

‘Anyone who worked for that regime is a Death Eater,’ said Dennis abruptly.

‘Sure, but he didn’t wear the robes or anything,’ said Theia, waving a hand dismissively. ‘But he’s angry because this “other group” is in charge, and he’s not well, he’s very frail… And he has to resort to illegal potion smuggling to keep his business open. Not to mention,’ she said suddenly, ‘how desperate he must have been for insurance money to alert the Ministry about the break in!’ She suddenly remembered who she was talking to, and blushed. ‘Sorry. I don’t suppose any of this makes sense to you, and you don’t want to hear it anyway.’

There was an odd look in his eye, something like intrigue. ‘No, it’s quite interesting hearing you talk about the wizarding world… Not that I want to rejoin it or anything!’ he added hastily, spotting her delighted expression.

‘Sure,’ she said teasingly. ‘I’m sure I’ll convince you to come work at the Auror office before long.’ He looked highly uncomfortable at this, so she quickly returned to asking him about more criminology theories.

‘Well, social control says that people will break the law if they have the opportunity to do so and don’t believe there’ll be a negative consequence,’ he babbled, seizing on the conversation. ‘Everyone is capable of crime, and it’s just fear of prison that stops most people doing it. I think that…’

As interested as she was, she zoned out slightly as he spoke. Unlike the others her mum had tried to set her up with, Dennis was… Quite lovely. She’d remembered him as a small, skinny boy the year below her at school, never anyone to take much notice of. But now… Well, he was taller, and he’d broadened out a bit. Certainly not muscly, but lean. He could definitely pick her up if he wanted to.

‘And then of course there’s social process theory,’ he said.

She shook herself a bit. She wondered if she’d been staring. ‘What’s that?’

‘It’s a bit like social control… Anyone can be a criminal. But they don’t act like criminals all the time. But they have a tendency to meet other criminals, and learn from them. A perfectly happy, well-adjusted person could spend some time around criminals, and start to learn deviant behaviour.’

She thought of McLaggen. ‘Like… If they’d been in prison, for something minor? And made friends with worse criminals?’

‘Yes, I suppose. I-’ His eyes had strayed to a clock, and he swore suddenly. ‘It’s nearly three in the morning! I’m so sorry, I completely lost track of the time!’

She giggled, but raised her hands to her mouth in shocked despair. ‘Mum will kill me if I wake her up at this time!’

‘You can stay here,’ he offered. ‘I’ll take the sofa… God, you’ll be exhausted for work tomorrow, won’t you?’

‘Harry insisted I take tomorrow off,’ she replied, yawning. ‘Otherwise I will have worked…’ she scrunched her nose up in concentration. ‘Ten days in a row? I think. Something like that.’

He shook his head in sympathy and helped pull her off the sofa. ‘Come on, I’ll show you to my room.’

‘I don’t mind taking the sofa-’

‘Please, I insist.’

Her heart was beating quite fast as he led her to his room. His flat was the same layout as her own, and he slept in the larger bedroom, like her mother. ‘What do you do with the smaller bedroom?’ she asked as they passed it.

‘It’s a study,’ he said quietly. ‘Here, make yourself comfy. Can I get you anything?’

He had led her into the room, and now she stood at the base of the small double bed, the faint yellow glow of light pollution peeking through the blinds. She looked at him. He had been a Gryffindor. Gryffindors were brave, reckless, wild. She had always wanted to be a Gryffindor.

They were both staring at each other, he looked washed out in the odd light, but she could feel something between them, like the sparking and burning of a match. He took a step closer. His head leaned down slightly.

She met him the rest of the way.

As she kissed him, her arms reached up and looped around his neck, pulling him down, and she trembled with excitement.

***


It was a beautiful area. Quiet, peaceful. From the hill they had apparated to, the valley sloped quickly down to a wide river, bordered by rushes. It was at low tide now, the water sinking down into thick mud and revealing old, sunken row boats, abandoned lobster pots and buoys. On the other side, Harry could see a Muggle boat yard, masts stretching up into the early morning sky. Beyond that, the steeple of a church poked out from behind rooftops, a faint bell clanging.

‘You had a good photo in the Prophet yesterday,’ said Neville teasingly.

Harry groaned. ‘I thought I might. What was the angle?’

‘Well they all worked out you missed the match, and Ginny attacking one of them didn’t help. I reckon they’ll be on your case for a while.’

Harry shook his head. ‘It’s exhausting… At least Rita resisted writing about the missing criminals.’

‘Nah, she didn’t, that was on page six. Less interesting in the potential collapse of the Potter-Weasley power couple though, apparently. Is that it then?’ asked Neville, nodding to the house at the top of the hill.

‘Must be.’

The house was large, but retained an old country charm which seemed to shun the word ‘mansion’. Three stories tall at the back with a balcony over the front door, whitewashed walls and curved bay windows which offered stunning views across the valley. It was exactly the sort of place Harry had pictured; a life of understated wealth tucked away in a quiet corner of Suffolk. Just enough to grow a sense of entitlement, but not grand enough to feel truly privileged.

‘Shouldn’t your trainee be doing this with you?’ said Neville miserably. ‘I hate this part of the job.’

‘I’m not taking her anywhere near something like this until she learns to think before she speaks,’ said Harry. ‘I need someone with tact.’

‘Williamson would have been better then,’ muttered Neville, but he kept pace with Harry as they crunched across the gravel drive, around a delicately sprinkling fountain.

Harry rose the heavy iron knocker and rapped it on the front door. ‘Besides,’ he said quietly as he waited. ‘I told her to take the day off, and I haven’t worked with you in ages.’

Neville grinned at him, but swiftly changed his face to a somber expression as the door opened.

The blonde woman behind it had been smiling pleasantly, but her face fell as soon as she saw their uniforms.

‘Mrs McLaggen?’ said Harry gently.

‘Yes…?’

‘We’re from the Auror department,’ he said unnecessarily. ‘May we come in?’

‘Is it Cormac?’ she whispered, her face paling. ‘What’s happened to him?’

‘Let’s sit down and talk,’ said Neville kindly. ‘Is your husband here?’

‘No, he’s gone fishing… Please, come through.’

She led them to a large sitting room, light and airy with pale yellow walls and antique furniture. Harry sat awkwardly on the chaise longue she gestured to, and she sat by the empty marble grate.

‘Is he dead?’ she squeaked, her voice breaking and eyes welling. ‘Is my boy dead?’

‘Mrs McLaggen, Cormac is missing. He hasn’t been missing for much longer than a day, but we’re concerned about his safety. I’m judging by your reaction that he isn’t here? He hasn’t contacted you?’

She shook her head frantically, and now tears were rolling down her face. She was a well-kept woman, approaching her sixties at least, but with expertly applied makeup that was now beginning to run. ‘He’s gone and done something stupid, hasn’t he?’ she said, her voice straining with despairing anger.

‘What makes you think that?’ asked Neville carefully. ‘Has he been talking about anything unusual lately?’

She sniffed loudly, and summoned a handkerchief. ‘What do you mean, he’s missing?’ she asked haughtily, trying to regain composure. ‘How do you know?’

‘My colleagues and I offered him protection on Saturday night. When we returned on the Sunday morning, his flat was empty, with signs of a struggle. Can you tell us anything that might help us find him? We are trying to find him, Mrs McLaggen, this is a missing persons case, nothing darker.’

She choked back a sob, and turned to him with shrewd eyes. ‘You’re Harry Potter,’ she said. ‘I recognize you, from the paper.’

He was used to this, so he said nothing. He waited patiently.

‘I used to tell him all sorts of stories about you when he was little. He was so excited when you got sorted into the same house as him.’ She paused, and more tears spilled down her cheeks. ‘I just don’t know what to do about him. He’s my little boy! What do you do when your little boy becomes… Dark?’

Harry risked exchanging a glance with Neville, and leaned forward. ‘Mrs McLaggen, we think Cormac may have been involved in a plan to help prisoners escape from Azkaban. Has he spoken to you about this at all?

She let out a small wail, clutching her handkerchief to her chest. ‘Oh, he hasn’t has he? Oh, stupid boy! He’s fallen in with the wrong crowd, he really has!’

‘What happened, Mrs McLaggen?’ asked Neville. ‘We knew Cormac at school, we didn’t expect this. What changed him?’

She sniffed, dabbing at her nose. ‘We didn’t raise him to be like this. He was such a nice, well-mannered boy, he was able to join in with our dinner parties from such a young age, could talk to adults just as easily as he could talk to other children. Of course, he heard a few impolite things about Muggleborns from others here and there, but we always taught him, always made sure to tell him later how very rude it was to talk about other people in that way.’ She gave a watery chuckle, and said, ‘he even tried to argue back a few times, but of course we soon put a stop to that! Guests don’t want to be lectured on ethics, we told him, just let people say their piece, and change the topic of conversation.’

She was reminding Harry of Aunt Petunia. Determined to live in a world of polite pleasantries and chattering conversation, carefully steering the topic to nice, frivolous things rather than risking confrontation or judgement. But, just as the Dursley’s had ignored their son’s bullying, or Marge’s bigotry, the silence was endorsement.

‘And then Donal’s brother Tiberius, Cormac’s uncle, got him a job at the Ministry, working for the Registration Commission. I told him, I said to Donal, I don’t want our son working there, not now, we need to keep our heads down. But Tiberius insisted that this was the way things were now, and the best way of surviving was to work with them, and make the best of it.’ Her lip trembled, and her grey-blue eyes met Harry’s. ‘I suppose you think we’re awful, don’t you? You were out there fighting, and we were working with them.’

‘Not at all,’ Harry lied. ‘I understand it was a scary time.’

‘I just wanted my son to be all right,’ she cried, looking up at Neville for approval. ‘I just wanted him to have a promising future! We didn’t know how long it would go on for… But of course every day he’d come home with these…. These ideas and opinions and we did try to make it better. We tried getting him to do the things he always loved, fishing and hunting and sailing and Quidditch… And he’d do it, but he was always talking about work. He wanted to succeed, we’d always taught him how important it was to be friends with the right people.’ She closed her eyes. ‘But these were the wrong people.’

‘And then he went to Azkaban,’ prompted Harry quietly. ‘For three months.’

She nodded, shame crossing her face as she sobbed. ‘The things that came out in that trial… I didn’t raise him to be like that. But he just didn’t see it. All he was doing was signing papers, writing letters. It was easy for you two,’ she said fiercely. ‘You were free to fight for the right side, you were never going to be welcomed anyway. But for Cormac… I do believe he thought he was making the right choice. He didn’t realize what he was doing. He didn’t. He couldn’t have.’

Harry thought about telling her of how Polly died. How Ginny would sometimes wake in the night, remembering it, how she had sobbed when she’d found out that Polly’s mother had died weeks before the battle, Polly never knowing that her betrayal had been for nothing.

But it was Neville that spoke.

‘Cormac’s sentence was short because so many of the Wizengamot knew him. Others that had less impact had far longer sentences.’

She gave a short, sharp nod. ‘Well of course we know that,’ she said briskly, not meeting his eyes. ‘We never imagined that our position would benefit us that way, but all the same… I won’t pretend that it wasn’t a relief.’ She looked to the window, and her voice became distant. ‘If I thought he’d changed before, it was nothing after he went there. We were happy that he wouldn’t have to suffer the Dementors… Perhaps we dismissed how scared he was. Just three months, and he’d be back here… We didn’t think that was so bad.’

‘A lot of people thought that,’ said Harry. ‘When we got rid of the Dementors, there was outrage. People saw them as a deterrent, wondered what would make the prison something to be dreaded if they weren’t there.’

‘That place never needed them,’ she said coldly. ‘The Dementors were all in his head. He started feeling guilty. We’d visit him, and he’d tell us he spent his days lying on his bed, staring up at the ceiling, thinking about what he did. Thinking about how some of those people must have died.’

‘He felt remorse?’ said Neville, who seemed unable to hide the surprise in his voice.

‘At first,’ she said, looking back at him. ‘For the first month, he was miserable, being around all these Death Eaters, it made him realize what he’d been doing. But then…’ She returned to her sobs. ‘Then he made friends.’

‘Which friends?’ asked Harry. When she shook her head and continued sobbing, he leaned forwards. ‘Please, Mrs McLaggen, I know it’s hard, but this could help us find him.’

‘Dozens of them,’ she wailed. ‘Every time we visited he’d be talking about worse and worse people. Alecto Carrow. Antonin Dolohov. Gilbert Mulciber…’ Her expression turned sour. ‘And of course that Parkinson girl kept visiting him.’

‘You don’t like her?’ asked Neville.

She scowled. ‘Well… He started mentioning her in his last year of school, and I kept telling him that Slytherins weren’t to be trusted, and that he’d end up getting mixed up in dark magic. I know we’re supposed to be tolerant and what not, but I was right, wasn’t I? When he got out, he moved back here for a while, we told him he could keep a low profile, get better… But we kept refusing to have that girl in our house, and he was furious. So he moved to that grotty little flat and got by on the allowance we gave him. He couldn’t find a job, not with his conviction.’

‘This was just so he could keep seeing Pansy?’ questioned Harry. ‘Did he come back much? Visit?’

She burst into tears again, her shaking hands twisting the handkerchief on her lap. ‘He just kept slipping further and further away. So many of his old friends from school were war heroes now, and I think he was ashamed, in a way, that he didn’t have a revolutionary moment. He kept talking about justice and people just being misunderstood. I think he was humiliated,’ she said quietly.

Harry’s eyes found the mantelpiece of the fireplace, where a photo of a small, blonde boy grinned broadly at the camera from a fat little pony. It was easy to see that Cormac had been raised as the hero in his own stories, that he had perhaps once imagined himself to be the dashing, daring, chivalrous Gryffindor he had expected.

‘He just became so angry,’ she said helplessly. ‘Just so angry. All the time.’

‘Did he ever mention a man called Shyverwretch?’ Harry asked her.

Her brows knitted together and she sniffed again. ‘That fellow who owns the shop on Knockturn Alley? Now and then. I don’t think they were friends or anything.’

‘What about someone by the name of Dubrow?’

A few times, I suppose, but-’

The door opened, and a man who looked strikingly like Cormac strode in, dressed head-to-toe in fishing gear. ‘Delia? What’s going on?’ he asked with a soft Irish accent. He stared at Harry and Neville, and his shoulders sank as his eyes traced over their uniforms. ‘Who are…? Are you…?’

‘Mr McLaggen,’ said Harry quietly. ‘Why don’t you sit down?’

But the man went pale, his shoulders shook, and he dropped to his knees in despair, wailing for the son he knew in his heart was gone.

***


When Theia woke, it had gone midday. She had a slight headache from oversleeping, and as she stretched out, her arms brushed against cold sheets. She supposed Dennis had gone to his lectures or something.

She sat up sleepily, pulling on the nearest shirt she could find and yawning widely, feeling rather pleased with herself. She smiled as she plodded across the bedroom, hardly believing that last night had actually happened.

The flat still smelled slightly of pizza, but it only made her smile wider, practically giddy with excitement. Dennis had a small amount of milk left, and she helped herself to cereal and coffee, carrying it through to the small living room to eat it on the squashy sofa.

She hoped she’d been all right. Did he… Like it? Did he like her? Were they boyfriend and girlfriend now? It was probably too early for that… It was quite remarkable that her mother had managed to find someone, finally, that she liked, and for him to like her too! What were the chances?

She pulled one of his criminology books forward as she finished off the cereal, and read it while she drank her coffee. It was very interesting, exactly the sort of thing she should be reading, really. Learning on the job was all well and good, and she was very grateful to Harry, but perhaps she wouldn’t screw things up as much if she was a bit more knowledgeable about it all.

She was so fascinated with the book that her coffee sat cold and forgotten as she flicked through the pages, marvelling at the Muggle techniques that she knew would be so useful if wizards would just accept them. Just imagine, if they had DNA profiling? Incredible.

She felt an odd stab of guilt. She hadn’t realized how far she’d fallen behind with the Muggle world. All this information… Dennis might not think so, but it was useful, she was sure of it.

She wondered if there was anything more specific than the theory book. Anything that focused on just murderers, or war crimes or something.

She went to the room Dennis had said was a study, the one that acted as her bedroom in her own flat, but it was locked. She returned to the bedroom, wondering if maybe he had any in there, but jumped at the scratch of a key in the lock.

Dennis smiled at her as he entered, carrying a small brown bag. ‘You’re up!’

She blushed. ‘Sorry… I was very tired.’

‘Not at all, I’m not surprised. I bought you a Danish.’

She decided not to mention that she’d already had breakfast, and followed him back into the living room, accepting the pastry with a slight embarrassed thanks. ‘Your trousers!’ she exclaimed, noticing them as he sat next to her. ‘You’re all wet, you must be freezing!’

He laughed. ‘What can I say? Van drivers, I swear they speed up to splash you if you’re within three foot of a puddle. Been reading my book?’ he nodded to his criminology textbook, which she had left resting on the arm of the sofa.

‘Oh, yes, I hope you don’t mind. It’s very interesting. All this stuff about us being a product of our experiences and lifestyles, it’s fascinating. I found this bit interesting…’ She opened it up on to a chapter near the back. ‘About people receiving rewards for aggressive behaviour, reinforcing it.’ She paused slightly, the Danish pastry hovering near her lips. ‘I was reading it, and I could sort of see why you… Why you’ve returned to the Muggle world. There’s a whole segment of wizarding society that’s been rewarded for aggressive behaviour, for so much of their lives, isn’t there? So many people that got so much influence from it, so many people that still escaped, because of corruption, and fear.’

He nodded. ‘Yes. It has to be eradicated.’

‘That’s what Harry said,’ she told him. ‘About the Dementors. Darkness and corruption has to be eradicated.’

Dennis smiled. ‘Harry knows what’s up. He was always Colin’s hero. You’re so lucky, Theia. You’re making a real difference.’

Back to index


Chapter 9: Chapter Nine: The Owl and the Pussycat

Even in the daylight, Azkaban was bleak. The sky was grey, and though the sea wasn’t choppy today, the wind skimmed droplets of icy water off the surface, hitting at Harry’s face with a kind of sharpness.

He stepped off the boat and gave a mumbled greeting to the guards at the entrance, holding open his bag to be searched with practiced laziness. ‘Has it been quiet?’ he asked.

The guard shook his head. ‘They’ve all been worked up since the lockdown. Who you heading to?’

‘I need to speak to Alecto Carrow.’

The guard clucked his tongue. ‘Hope you take her down a few pegs, she’s been strutting round like she owns the place. Want any help?’

‘Probably best, just to get her into an interview room,’ said Harry. With that, the guard waved over two others, who looked sheepishly up at Harry and followed him through to the cells. Evidently his angry lecture at the Ministry had motivated them, or scared them, into taking things a little more seriously.

The usual shouts, whistles and jeers erupted from the moment Harry came within sight of the cells. Hands stretched out, grasping, tin cups were banged violently against walls and bars, the calamity was monumental, but Harry was rather bored of it all.

He gave a wink to one of the Death Eaters screaming at him, enjoying the way his face went red with outrage, and climbed the rusted metal stairs to Carrow’s cell. She was waiting for him, leaning casually against the bars and staring out with a smug expression. When she saw him stop, her face pulled into an unpleasant grin.

‘Missed me, have yeh, Potter?’

Harry gave a wry smile. ‘Stand back, please, Carrow, so we can get in.’

She licked her lips and swaggered back, swinging her stubby arms and lolling her head, trying very hard to give an impression of boredom. But Harry could see the glint of excitement in her eye.

Harry stepped into the cell, the guards just behind him, and glanced over at Carrow’s sullen cell mate. ‘Afternoon, Dolores,’ he said cheerfully.

She was laid out on her bed, glaring at him bitterly. Unlike the others, something about her pride never allowed her to try to taunt him, and so she would always pout, like a child having a temper tantrum, whenever she saw him.
Alecto Carrow, on the other hand, seemed thrilled at the attention. She was practically gleeful as Harry bound her hands behind her back, and led her out by the elbow.

‘I ‘aven’t done nothin’,’ she said, almost giggling.

‘We’re just going to have a chat,’ he told her calmly.

She seemed proud as he led her through the atrium. The other prisoners were humming a low “ooh” with amused delight, as though she were a naughty schoolchild being escorted out by a teacher, and she cackled up at them, tripping over herself and deliberately walking as slowly as possible.

‘I’ve got meself a new boyfriend!’ she yelled up at a mad looking woman, before joining her in delirious laughter. ‘Told yeh I’d get one! Reckon he’s got a big cock?’

‘At least take me out to dinner first,’ said Harry, dryly. ‘Becks, open up the interview room for me, please.’

The guard hurried forward, and it was with relief that they entered the bright, silent room. Away from the darkness, Harry could see the extent of Carrow’s downfall. Though she had never been pleasant to look at, prison had not done her any favours. Her pock-marked face was oily looking, greasy strands of hair clinging to her forehead, and she licked her chapped lips again as the guard unbound her wrists.

Harry sat opposite her, drumming his fingers on the table, and she tried to mimic his relaxed body language. But, as always, she overcompensated, and her arrogance and delight at the attention meant that she could barely sit still.

‘How’s it going, Alecto?’ Harry asked lightly. ‘What’s life like in Azkaban?’

‘Lovely,’ she said, grinning nastily. ‘Dolores is making us some curtains for the cell. We’re getting right settled into the community.’

‘Why bother?’ asked Harry. ‘Aren’t you under the impression you’ll be out before long?’

She giggled, clapping her hand over her mouth as though he’d said something shocking, or she was trying to hold back the secrets that threatened to tumble from her mouth. Harry simply stared at her.

‘I’m in here for life, aren’t I?’ she mocked. ‘Yeh found all our plans. But… If I were to get out…’ She giggled again, leaning forward and lowering her voice. ‘If I did get out some day, I’d love a good catch up with yeh girlfriend. ‘How’s she doing? I do miss the way she used to squeal.’

A cold prickle of hatred rose up through Harry, but he willed himself to keep his expression as calm and relaxed as possible. ‘Yes, we found all your plans, Alecto. But we’d still like to know more.’

She snorted. ‘Don’t know no more. All I knows is we got yeh all on edge. Worried, are yeh? When I get out, I’ll find her, yeh know. She was always good fun, put up a fight. Have I told yeh about when we dragged her outta bed? We made her squeal in front of all her friends, and then she talked about how she didn’t love yeh.’

Harry wanted to hurt her. So he smiled slightly. ‘Did you hear that Pansy Parkinson is dead?’

‘What?’ Carrow’s smile slid off her face.

‘Mhmm. Murdered in her bed. She was something of your protégée, wasn’t she? One of your favourites, I’m told.’ He relished in how pale she had grown, the disbelieving horror that haunted her piggy little eyes, the way her lower lip trembled. He leaned forward, unable to resist dropping his voice to a low, taunting whisper. ‘She visited you almost every week, didn’t she?’

He had stunned Carrow into silence. Her shoulders slumped, and she looked away from him, staring vacantly into space. ‘Who-?’ she croaked at last.

‘Well, that’s what we’re trying to find out,’ said Harry cheerfully. ‘Now, I called you in here today, Alecto, because I think you might be able to help me. Do you want to help me find out who killed Pansy Parkinson?’

He had patronized her, and so she scowled in response. ‘Sod off, yeh filthy blood traitor scum,’ she spat. ‘I ain’t helping you, not ever.’

‘I thought you might say something like that,’ said Harry. ‘But, you know, I think you should be aware that someone’s after your friends. It’s not just Pansy that’s been killed. Livia Rookwood too. Augustus Rookwood and Cormac McLaggen are still missing, and I’m afraid I don’t have high hopes for them.’

‘Cormac?’ she spluttered.

‘Know him too, do you?’ She said nothing, and he sighed, leaning back in his chair. ‘It just seems odd, to me, that people involved in your plan to breakout keep vanishing, or turning up dead. Don’t you want to stop that?’

‘Well I don’t know who it is, do I?’ she said accusingly.

‘No, but you can help fill in some gaps in my knowledge. Tell me about this plan. Who’s organizing it? Who’s involved? Who do we need to keep an eye on so that they don’t get murdered?’

‘I’m not telling you shit,’ she said viciously.

‘Fine,’ Harry said, shrugging. ‘More people will die then, and Pansy’s killer will go free.’

She winced. ‘How do I know yeh not making it up?’

Harry rolled his eyes and muttered a swear word under his breath. ‘Someone else accused me of doing that, and now he’s vanished off the face of the earth. I can show you some pictures if you really want, but they’re quite gruesome.’
She considered him with narrowed eyes, chewing on her dirty fingernails. ‘You’ll really find out who did her in?’

‘Yes,’ said Harry.

‘An’ they’ll be sent here?’ Her eyes gleamed with vengeance.

‘They will.’

She chewed on her fingernails a little more, and Harry waited for her conflicted desires to work the way he wanted…

‘All right,’ she said, finally. Her eyes slid to the two guards at the door. ‘People can’t know I’ve helped yeh though.’

‘Of course,’ said Harry. ‘We can pin this chat to the contraband that’s being smuggled in and out.’

‘Not anymore,’ she said sourly. ‘That was Pansy.’

‘Can I assume she was the messenger between the prison and those of you on the outside?’

Carrow nodded, and Harry was surprised to see her eyes were rather watery. ‘She were a good girl, Pansy. Brought in whatever we needed.’

‘Did you make friends with her when you were teaching?’ Harry asked. He tried to keep his voice calm, neutral and professional, but even he could hear the distaste in his tone. Carrow grinned.

‘I were a good teacher, yeh know. The good students loved me. I inspired them.’

‘I’m sure you did,’ said Harry coldly.

‘But Pansy, well, she was my little star. Hardworking, bright, I made her Head Girl. She’d come and have chats with me about her school work, and then later we’d chat about boys.’

Harry felt rather sick. He couldn’t imagine the cruel and vicious Carrow giggling over teenage boys, but then again, she seemed to delight in her highly misguided idea that men were interested in her. ‘Who did you talk about?’ he asked, trying to imagine she was someone else.

‘She’d always liked Malfoy, but he was going a bit funny by then. Didn’t have it in him, I reckon. She was getting cosy with this other lad from the Ministry, but he’d been in Gryffindor, so she wasn’t sure.’

‘McLaggen?’

‘Yeah. Anyways, she wanted special permission to contact him regularly, so I let her.’

‘Which helped you, too,’ Harry noted. ‘She had a whole network of little spies, you were quite happy for her to branch out and help the regime.’

‘Friends,’ corrected Carrow. ‘She had a lot of friends.’

‘Whatever you want to call them,’ said Harry, waving a hand. ‘Were you aware that McLaggen was leading on a sixth year Gryffindor? Using her as a spy by faking a relationship?’

Carrow snorted. ‘Knew? It was Pansy’s idea. She was the one writing the soppy little love notes. Stupid little bimbo fell for it hook, line and sinker. Gave us all sorts of juicy information about yeh little girlfriend… Helped us lock her up in the dungeons… Teach her a lesson…’ The nasty grin had returned. ‘Yeah, she was smart, was our Pansy.’

Harry pushed his hatred aside. ‘She defended you at your trial. But not your brother. Why?’

Carrow’s unpleasant grin slid away, and her expression darkened. ‘Don’t see how that’s relevant.’

Harry raised his eyebrows. ‘Sore spot?’

Carrow seemed to struggle for a few moments, before eventually saying, ‘Pansy and Amycus didn’t really get on. It
doesn’t matter.’

Harry wanted to push it, but he could see Carrow glancing towards the door, ready to stop talking to him. ‘Tell me about this plan then,’ he said quickly. ‘Pansy was smuggling in the potions and the razors?’

‘In her bra,’ said Carrow reluctantly. ‘Messages too.’

‘To who?’

She scowled at him. ‘I’m not snitching on no one. Yeh said this was about who killed Pansy.’

‘It is,’ Harry insisted. ‘Clearly something funny’s going on, maybe one of your friends involved in this plan has decided to start killing the rest of you off. If you don’t want it to happen to more of your friends, I need to know who to keep an eye on.’ She stared resolutely away from him, her face twisted into a furious pout.

‘You don’t have to tell me everyone involved then,’ said Harry. ‘Although the more people you name, the more likely I can keep them safe. But is there anyone you think could be doing this? Passing information, or attacking you all from the inside? Any newcomers or anyone that seems disillusioned?’

She gave a bitter laugh. ‘What would I know? I’ve been holed up in here, haven’t I?’ She scrunched up her nose. ‘They have had a new lad. Some bloke from the continent somewhere. Not a Hogwarts boy, Durmstrang.’

‘Is his name Dubrow?’ asked Harry.

She frowned at him. ‘Yeah. How d’you know that?’

He didn’t answer, simply leaned back and scratched the stubble on his jaw. ‘What does he do, then? What’s his role?’

She shrugged. ‘Not much, ‘cus he’s new. I never met him or nothing. But I dunno… Foreigners, I just don’t trust ‘em.’

He gave a long, low sigh. Pieces were beginning to form into a hazy picture, but still too slowly. He rose, and nodded at the guards who moved forward. ‘You can go back now,’ he said to Carrow as they bound her hands. ‘Thank you for your help.’

‘Did she suffer?’ she blurted out, and he turned back to face her from the doorway. Her face showed genuine grief, and Harry supposed she had seen Pansy as a mixture of a little sister and a daughter. No doubt she would return to her cell, grief-stricken and helpless, staring up at the ceiling wondering how Pansy had spent her last moments, imagining her screams.

He thought of Ginny. ‘Yes,’ he said coldly. ‘Horribly.’

***


‘You’ve got no food in, Dad…’

His kitchen was as grotty as ever. She could barely recognize what was in the old saucepan left on the stove, and the potatoes in the cupboard were growing long white sprouts.

‘Well I wasn’t expecting you, was I?’ he said. ‘I have tidied up a bit if I’d known.’

She sighed, still irritated. Her mother had been furious when she’d gone back home in the early afternoon, and had apparently spent all night lying awake, worrying and wondering where Theia was. That she’d spent the night at Colin’s did not seem to cheer her up.

‘He slept on the sofa!’ Theia had lied frantically. ‘He was a perfect gentleman!’

But Betty Higglesworth was not a stupid woman, and, after significant shouting, Theia thought it was best to escape to her Dad’s while Betty cooled off.

‘We’ll have to go to the pub, then,’ her dad said happily, scratching his protruding stomach.

‘I’ve got work tomorrow…’ Theia began uneasily, but he was already pulling on his cloak.

‘Just a swift one with dinner can’t hurt! Come on, you can pay, that Auror salary’s got to go somewhere, eh?’ He winked at her and waited patiently by the door.

‘All right,’ she muttered. ‘The Leaky Cauldron does good burgers.’

He snorted. ‘That poncey place? Nah, we’ll go somewhere proper. Might not be pretty, but it’s filled with good, down-to-earth people.’

It was because of that proclamation that Theia found herself not heading towards the Leaky Cauldron, but leaving Diagon Alley and following her father down the dark, cobbled street of Knockturn Alley. The pub he stopped in front of, the White Wyvern, might have been a beautiful building at one point, but the gang of pipe-smokers in front of it, the grubby windows, and the ominous dark stain on the front step signified it as the sort of pub to avoid.

‘Evening, Dung,’ her dad said cheerfully as he entered.

The red-eyed wizard under a cloud of foul green spoke mumbled a vague, ‘All right, Ezra?’ in return.

Theia followed her father in with trepidation, trying to look past the sticky floors and the smell of ale to return her father’s grin with enthusiasm. He sat her at a wobbly little table in the corner, looking delighted to be out with his daughter. ‘What d’you want?’ he asked her. ‘I’ll start a tab.’

‘Er…’ She glanced around, but the chalk boards seemed to only advertise drinks. ‘Dad, I don’t think they do food…’
‘They do toasties,’ he said. ‘I’ll get you a ham and cheese toastie. What d’you want to drink? Cider?’

She nodded, thinking glumly of the burgers she’d had in the Leaky Cauldron, and he left to join the murmuring crowd queuing at the bar.

She turned to look out at the darkening street through the grubby window. She couldn’t quite see Shyverwretch’s shop from here, but she could see the rough stone wall that she had crept along, hidden and silent, to place the bugging charms. She wondered if they had recorded any new information, and felt a glimmer of excitement as she imagined herself checking the data first thing tomorrow morning.

A clink and a thud brought her out of her reverie. Her dad had placed a greasy looking toastie and a bottle of Daisyroot Draught in front of her, and he smiled broadly. ‘This is lovely, isn’t it?’ he said. ‘My little girl, a working woman, coming out for dinner with her old dad.’

She smiled back at him. ‘How’s the charm coming along? Any breakthroughs?’

‘Not yet, but I’m so close, Theia. So close. Won’t be long before you and me will be famous. Rolling in it. Household names, the Hopkirks.’ He took a large bite from his toastie.

‘I was telling Harry about your work,’ she told him, choosing not to correct him on her legal name. ‘He likes Quidditch and brooms and things, he’s dating someone in the Harpies.’

He shook his head wondrously. ‘Imagine that. Never thought the likes of us would be mingling with celebrities.’ His eyes widened. ‘I could design a broom for him! That’d be something, wouldn’t it, Theia?’

‘You only do the safety charms, Dad.’

‘Well sure, but you’ve got to have ambition in this world, Theia! That’s what I’ve always taught you, and that’s why you are where you are today, working with Harry Potter himself!’

‘Shh!’ said Theia desperately. Her father’s loud announcement had attracted some filthy looks, and she winced as she remembered how unpopular Harry was in this area. But her father continued, apparently unaware or unconcerned.

‘Who’s he dating then? Don’t know a lot about the Harpies, all that Quidditch business seems a waste of time to be honest, but some of the blokes in the twig department love ‘em…’

‘Ginny Weasley… She’s got ginger hair, and she plays chaser.’

He took a gulp of his cider as he thought, before the realization dawned on him. ‘That one! There’s a big poster of her above Gary’s desk. Great tits, that one.’

‘Dad…’

‘Right, sorry. Work going well then, yeah?’

She nodded. ‘Yeah… I can’t really talk about it here though…’

He tapped the side of his nose knowingly. ‘Got it. So you’re not going to give it up?’

‘No, that was just a wobble. I’m getting better. Mum talked some sense into me, and I’ve been making progress in the office, doing lots of research, you know.’

‘That’s my girl, you always were so clever. Take after your dad,’ he said, winking again. ‘Another drink?’

‘Oh,’ she said, faintly surprised. She’d barely touched hers. ‘No thanks, I’m fine.’

He went back up to the bar to get himself another drink, leaving her to eat her toastie alone. A low voice whispered over her shoulder.

‘Work with Potter, do you?’

The hairs on the back of her neck rose. She turned, even though her woman’s intuition was screaming at her that the person speaking was dangerous, and she was vulnerable.

The man was hooded, but the low candlelight revealed a square shaped face, with a heavy protruding brow. The shadows cast by the hood hid his eyes, but she worked quickly to memorise the wonky nose and heavy stubble.

‘Who are you?’ she asked him, but he ignored her.

‘What is he like? The great Harry Potter?’ His voice was deep, and there was a strong accent, something harsh and throaty. He said his words slowly, carefully.

‘He’s fine,’ she said neutrally. Her eyes flicked to her father at the bar, but he was engrossed in conversation with the squat little wizard they’d seen outside.

‘I have heard that he likes to work alone,’ said the man. ‘His fear is the death of others. Why would he work with you, little girl?’

She felt cold, and her legs tingled with the urge to run. She said nothing.

‘Would he miss you?’ asked the man. ‘Does he fear your death? Or has he overcome his greatest weakness?’

Her hand tightened around the handle of her wand in her pocket, and she stared into the dark shadows where his eyes would be. ‘Who are you?’ she asked again, more bravely than she felt.

She saw his lips form a sinister smile. ‘He’s well known for that weakness. I often wonder how he protects himself against it.’

A thunk startled Theia, and she whipped back round to see her dad, grinning goofily, sitting back in his seat with another pint. ‘Flirting?’ he asked teasingly.

Theia turned back to the man, but he had stood, and was now making his way slowly to the door, his huge frame cutting easily through the crowd.

‘Who was that?’ she asked her dad, her heart still pounding.

‘Haven’t the foggiest. You get all sorts in here,’ he said happily. ‘Real mix. They don’t judge in here. Not like them snobs in the Leaky Cauldron.’

The pub called last orders several hours later at eleven O’clock, and it was a good job Ezra lived so close, because Theia was having to half support him.

‘I’m gonna invent a spell, ‘Seia,’ he slurred. ‘Jus’ you wait and see. A really good one.’

‘I know, Dad,’ she said patiently.

‘We’ll be rich.’

‘Yes. This way, come on, quickly.’

She felt uneasy. She was sure that man had been threatening her, and Knockturn Alley always gave one the sensation of being watched. She felt as though the dark windows of the buildings were following her like eyes, observing their erratic trail over the cobbles.

Her dad had begun to sing Odo the Hero loudly, occasionally pausing to make gasping, groaning noises and leaning over as though he were going to retch. Theia glanced over her shoulder, feeling sick with paranoia. She had never really considered the danger being associated with Harry Potter would put her in, and now more than ever she regretted her picture and interview in The Prophet.

A haunting yowl met Ezra’s slurred singing, and, at the entrance to a dark alleyway, Theia saw that skinny ginger cat, flicking its tail and staring at her intensely. She stared back at it.

‘Come on ‘Seia!’ yelled her Dad, stumbling ahead. ‘I’m freezing my bollocks off!’

The cat continued to yowl at her, standing firm in the alleyway. Somehow Theia knew what it wanted, what it had wanted when she had seen it last, but she had been too distracted to see.

‘This way, Dad,’ she called, and she heard him swear and turn around, stumbling back towards her. ‘We just need to make a detour.’

She raised her wand and shone light down the alleyway. The cat turned, and prowled ahead, leading them behind the shops of Knockturn Alley. She could hear rushing water from the drains below.

‘Why are we going down here?’ asked her dad, confused. ‘I don’t need a wee.’

‘Won’t take long,’ she told him, walking cautiously after the cat. The feeling of paranoia returned again, and a voice in the back of her head warned her that she was walking into a trap, but still she followed the cat, almost entranced, sure that this was important…

The cat lead her to her discovery, and she froze as her father screamed.

***


Ginny was gasping underneath him, her hands on his back, his lips murmuring her name against her neck-

Tap tap. Tap tap.

One of her hands slid up his back and sank into his hair, and he loved her, so much, he felt blinded by her, overwhelmed-

Tap tap tap. Tap tap.

He kissed her, deeply, but at the tapping slyly opened his eyes and looked over to the window. Without his glasses, it was a blur, but he still recognized the fluttering, brown little blob. He closed his eyes to it, returning to Ginny, the feel of her, the softness of her skin, the way she arched her back to press against him-

Tap tap. Tap tap tap tap tap-

He heard Ginny growl in frustration and, with the strength of a chaser, she pushed him over, rolling easily to follow him, sitting up and looking down at him with that blazing look-

Tap tap.

He couldn’t help it, especially now it was so easily in his line of sight, but Ginny’s eyes flashed with fury. ‘Ignore it, Harry, I’m telling you, ignore it-’

‘I’m sorry,’ he mumbled, gently pushing her off and sighing heavily.

‘Don’t you dare, Harry, don’t you dare-’

‘I’ll be one minute,’ he said apologetically.

‘Are you serious?’ she exclaimed. She watched him rise, pull on his discarded jeans, and she threw herself back onto the bed, seething. ‘That owl better be fucking important, Harry,’ she said through gritted teeth.

He strongly agreed with her, and muttered some very choice swear words under his breath as he pushed on his glasses and opened the window.

‘Well?’ demanded Ginny, as he read the note. He swore at the parchment, and crumpled it in his hand before reaching down to do up his belt.

‘I’ve got to go, I’m sorry,’ he said. ‘I’m just as pissed off as you, Ginny!’ he insisted at the sight of her thunderous expression.

‘What is it? Why do you have to go?’

‘They’ve found Rookwood’s body-’

‘Well if he’s dead you don’t have to run off and save anyone, do you?’ she snapped. ‘He’ll still be dead in the morning.’

He shook his head. ‘Ginny, I’m really sorry, you know I don’t want to-’

‘You are so lucky I left my wand downstairs,’ she hissed at him. ‘I can’t believe this, why can’t someone else deal with it until morning?’

‘Ginny, it’s my case, I need to see the body where it was discovered before it’s taken to the morgue-’

She got up too now, swinging her legs off the bed and seizing her dressing gown with a livid expression. ‘How long is this going to go on for, Harry?’

‘I’m trying to solve it as fast as I can, these things take time-’

‘Not the case, this!’ she waved a hand madly around her head. ‘This obsessive, compulsive need to work, you can’t let it go, and I come second, always-’

‘You don’t,’ he said sharply. ‘I put people away that want to harm you, there are people in Azkaban that delight in telling me what they’d do to you, I work this hard because I don’t want anyone-’

Anyone else to get hurt,’ Ginny mimicked. ‘Yes, I’ve heard it all before, Harry, but when Theia’s owl comes tapping-’

‘What’s Theia got to do with it?’ Harry spluttered.

‘Oh, come on, all those hours alone together, and no chemistry?’

He gaped at her. ‘What the hell are you talking about? She drives me up the wall, she’s a star-struck, silly inconvenience-’

‘So was I!’ Ginny shouted. ‘I was like that once! I was like that and then I calmed down and we got to know each other.’

Harry shook his head. ‘You’re being ridiculous, you were eleven years old then and- No, you know what, I don’t have time for this.’

He grabbed a shirt and pulled it on angrily, as Ginny crossed her arms and glared at him. ‘So that’s it, is it? I’m being ridiculous and it’s the end of the conversation? Fine, you run off and have a nice long conversation with Theia about a dead body, clearly it’s urgent.’

‘Bloody hell, it’s like I’m dating Ron,’ Harry said impatiently.

‘WHAT?’ Ginny exploded. ‘Like Ron? No, I am not a jealous person-’

‘Yes, you can be,’ said Harry firmly. ‘Romilda, Cho, even Gabrielle, you can be jealous. I’ve never cared, Ginny, I really don’t, but don’t make out there’s something funny going on, don’t insult me like that.’

‘Don’t insult me by prioritizing a dead Death Eater over our relationship,’ she spat.

He froze, and they stared at each other. ‘That’s not what I’m doing,’ he said quietly.

She shook her head disbelievingly, dropping slowly to sit on the bed, looking utterly defeated.

‘Ginny, that’s not what I’m doing,’ he repeated urgently, kneeling by her side. ‘Please, Ginny…’ He looked to the open window. Theia’s owl had flown off. ‘I’ll stay here,’ he said. ‘I’ll pretend I didn’t see it.’

‘No,’ she said dully. ‘Go do your job. The quicker you get this case over and done with the better. But we do need to talk about this.’

‘We will,’ he promised her. ‘I’ll take some time off as soon as I can.’

She closed her eyes and pressed her forehead against his. ‘It’s not the war anymore, Harry,’ she said sadly, her voice breaking. ‘You can’t keep abandoning me.’

‘I won’t,’ he promised her, kissing her forehead. ‘Ginny, I’m sorry. I am. I’m sorry.’

‘Get back as quick as you can,’ she said, wiping at her eyes. ‘We’ll talk about it later.’

Back to index


Chapter 10: Chapter Ten: The Watcher

He watched them from an arched stone nook on the elaborate roof of Twilfitt and Tattings, hidden in the shadows and high up in the cold night air. He could see the corner of the alley where he had left Rookwood below, and, through omnioculars, he saw the swarm of Aurors, scuttling around the body, cordoning off the alleyway, comforting the terrified, shaking man… He held back a snicker at the pathetic display, remembering how the man had shrieked and stumbled back onto his fat arse…

With remarkable control, he slowly twisted a dial and zoomed in on her. There she was, the idiotic girl. Even in the green hue of the nocturnal vision, he could see that she was pale, a look of disgust on her pinched features. She stood grimly talking to another Auror, shaking her head slightly and pointing back along the alleyway she had walked down, ignoring her shivering father behind her.

She checked her watch and ran a hand through her wispy hair, looking tired and stressed. He smirked. The silly, stupid girl. She couldn’t keep her mouth shut. Loud and proud about working with Harry Potter, with no awareness of her surroundings and her vulnerability. It had been so easy…

He shifted uncomfortably on the hard, cold stone. He felt exposed, but he was certainly not visible. He had picked this place carefully, everything was as it needed to be…

But where was Potter? Where was he? Gritting his teeth in frustration, and carefully twisting the dials with fingers numb with cold, he scanned the Aurors, excitement tingling through him.

He could see the tops of their heads, some hidden by the rough stone wall of the narrow alleyway. They crouched over the body, then conjured a tent around it, the flash of a camera just visible through the thick white canvas thanks the omnioculars. Outside of it, some of them crawled up and down the alleyway like insects, while others crossed their arms and stamped their feet against the cold September air as they stood guard.

Perhaps Harry Potter wouldn’t come. There were already so many Aurors here, and they were sure to move the body soon, perhaps Potter wouldn’t come at all. A childish rage of disappointment swelled in him at the thought. He wanted to see Harry Potter’s reaction, he wanted to see the look on his face when he saw his work, see if there was any recognition

He felt as though he could cry. Why wasn’t he here? Where was he? Perhaps he’d got him all wrong, he was sure that he would come at once, night or day, he would be first on the scene, yet there was that stupid girl and that useless lump Dawlish and Proudfoot staring gormlessly at the slogan on the wall and Jesus fucking Christ where was he?

A faint crack echoed in the air, and he turned his omnioculars back to the edge of the alleyway, his lips bursting into a gleeful grin.

***


Harry appeared in the alleyway between the backs of the shops of Knockturn Alley and Diagon Alley, though his mind was still very much at home with Ginny. There was a great deal of commotion already, and he could see curious shop owners and residents peering out of open windows, trying to catch a glimpse of what had attracted the swarm of Aurors, despite the chill in the air.

‘Potter! Where’ve you been? You were sent for nearly an hour ago!’

‘Fuck off, Dawlish,’ Harry snapped back. ‘Where’s Higglesworth?’

‘I’m here, Boss,’ came a quiet voice. She looked rather alarmed at his anger.

He tried to soften his expression and voice, but the most he could manage was a growl. ‘Right, let’s get this over with, I want to go home. Show me where he is, then.’

She led him down the narrow alley. Aurors were on their hands and knees, searching the ground for clues. The light from everyone’s wands cast a pale blue glow over the gently undulating cobbles, from which weeds were wrestling their way through the cracks. ‘Why were you here?’ he asked her. ‘Your note said you found the body.’
‘Dad and I went to the White Wyvern-’

‘The fuck were you doing in there?’

Even in the pale light, he could see her blush. ‘Dad wanted to. I don’t know. Anyway, there was a cat, I followed it-’

‘Why?’

His scoffing tone displeased her, and she gave a scowl that reminded him of Hermione. ‘I don’t know, I just did, all right? Look, I’m sorry I had to call you out in the middle of the night, but there’s no need to talk to me like that-’

‘All right, all right, sorry,’ he said impatiently. He couldn’t stop thinking about Ginny, and her accusation about Theia, and the mixture of anger and guilt was driving him to a kind of paranoia. He kept glancing over his shoulder, as though expecting to see someone following him, but with the entire department there it was no surprise that he was being looked at. Theia still looked irritated at him, but she nodded ahead.

‘There he is,’ she said quietly, holding open a large white tent for him. As he entered, Bessie glanced over her shoulder, and edged aside to let him see.

Even Harry, who had seen his fair share of gruesome scenes, stopped dead in his tracks, revulsion catching in the back of his throat.

Rookwood was propped up against the wall in a sitting position, his legs stretched out in front of him, his arms dropping down with the palms facing upwards. His head lolled back, his face pointing up at the white canopy. Yet even if he had been alive, he would not have been able to see it, because his eyes had been gouged out.

Dried blood, almost brown from the exposure, stained his waxy skin, but beneath it, Harry could see bruises, burns, cuts, swellings; all the signs of a vicious and relentless attack.

‘How long’s he been here, d’you think?’ he asked Bessie.

She crouched and took another photo before answering him. ‘Not long, I reckon. Rigor mortis has started to set in, but not quite, and who ever put him here must have been able to move his legs into that position. So he can’t have been dead longer than eight hours.’

‘Doesn’t look like he was killed here,’ said Theia. ‘Everything’s too clean, we’ve been going up and down the cobbles but we can’t find any sign of blood or a struggle or anything.’

‘What’s in his mouth?’ Harry said sharply.

‘Huh?’

‘His mouth. He’s got something in his mouth.’ There was a slight bulge in his cheeks. Harry had only noticed it because of the many hours he’d spent over the past three years staring at Rookwood’s mug shot, noting the hollowed cheeks even when he was of a good weight.

Bessie shuffled forward, and, with gloved hands, opened the stiff jaw of Augustus Rookwood.

Something fleshy tumbled out down Rookwood’s tattered robes, something thick and soft looking. Harry assumed it was vomit, but as Theia shone her wand light on it, he saw otherwise.

‘Is that… some kind of meat?’ she asked.

Harry crouched next to Bessie, leaning over Rookwood’s legs, peering at it closely. He slowly turned his head to meet Bessie’s grim expression. Bessie gave a sharp nod.

‘I think we may have found the rest of Livia Rookwood,’ he said. He heard Theia groan, and looked up to see her turning away, a hand thrown over her mouth. ‘Are you going to throw up?’ he demanded. ‘You better not throw up, Theia.’

‘No, I’m not,’ she snapped, turning back. ‘I’m fine. What’s got into you? Get off my back.’

He shook his head, muttering under his breath, but even Bessie raised an eyebrow. ‘Play nice, Mr Potter,’ she said sternly. She looked him up and down shrewdly. ‘Did we interrupt your beauty sleep?’

‘I’m just tired,’ he said, frustrated.

‘We’re all tired, pet,’ scolded Bessie. ‘You’re not the only one who was tucked up in bed, you know, that’s the reality of the job. Unless you’re a big shot like Robards or not committed like Longbottom, you have to be here, and you have to be nice to your trainee. It’s not like you to be such a-’

‘Can we get back to the chunks of human heart?’ he grumbled. He scratched the back of his neck. He wished he could send everyone away. He felt like they were all staring at him, even though they were scouring the scene outside the tent. Something was putting him on edge.

‘It looks like it’s been coated in something,’ said Bessie. ‘I’ll do some tests back in the morgue and get back to you.’
‘I guess we’ll be looking for his eyes now,’ Harry said.

‘Oh, they’re in his pockets,’ said Bessie. ‘Our culprit didn’t fancy taking them, and wasn’t very neat about getting them out.’

‘Charming,’ he said with a sigh. ‘You taken all the pictures you need?’

‘Of course.’

He nodded, and stood, looking down at the body. ‘Poor sod, some of those injuries look old. He’s been alive all this time, we should have been searching harder for him.’ He looked at Theia. ‘So there’s been nothing found on scene?’

‘Well,’ she said hesitantly. ‘There’s this. We don’t know what to make of it though.’

She gestured, and he followed her out of the tent and around the corner, where Proudfoot stood, staring at the wall. There, in red, dripping letters…

STILL RECRUITING

‘Boss?’

He was staring. The world was spinning.

‘Harry?’

Theia’s voice sounded far off. It felt something like sand falling through his fingertips, he stared at each letter, each stroke of paint filling him with dread, taunting him with the horrible suspicion that had played on the edges of his mind.

Still recruiting.

Still recruiting.

Still recruiting.


He raised a hand, ran it into his hair and kept it there, gripping the top of his head as though trying to root himself to the ground. He swore quietly. Dozens of faces were flying through his head, each one less believable and more painful than the last.

‘Harry,’ Theia prompted again. ‘Does it mean something? It seems really familiar to me, but I can’t quite-’

He brought himself back into focus. ‘Yes,’ he said quietly. He lowered his voice so that even Proudfoot couldn’t hear. ‘Has Bessie taken photos of this?’

‘Yes, well, one of her team has-’

‘Good, get rid of it now then,’ he said firmly.

‘Wha-? But shouldn’t we…?’

‘The press can’t see this. Nobody must know.’ He gripped her shoulder. ‘I mean it, Theia, this needs to stay private.’

‘Of course, the whole case stays private, I wouldn’t-’

‘Nobody, Theia,’ he said, and he could hear the authority in his own voice. ‘Not your parents, not your friends, no one. This is crucial. It will make sense to a lot of people.’ She looked completely bewildered, so he glanced around, and leaned closer to her. ‘You remember it from Hogwarts,’ he whispered despairingly. ‘The D.A.’

She pulled back, grim realization crossing her face. ‘I’ll tell Bessie’s crew to get on it.’

Harry looked around as she walked away. He already knew it was hopeless. He could see people leaning out of their windows, craning their necks to try and peer into the tent. No doubt they had all seen the slogan on the wall too. He hoped desperately that he had it wrong, that there was no connection, it couldn’t be anyone he knew, not one of his friends…

He began to pace, trying to get a feel of the place. Why would a body be moved and dumped here? It was rather secluded and compared to the bustle of the streets either side, but the body itself had not been hidden or disguised in anyway. It had been propped up, with the intention of someone seeing it. Perhaps not now, in the middle of the night, but clearly someone was meant to discover it.

He gazed at the tall buildings that loomed over the little alley. Any one of the occupants could have stumbled across it, putting their cats or their bins out. Perhaps it had been one of them?

He thought he saw a glint of something metallic near the domed roof of Twilfit and Tattings, and stared up at it, feeling that same paranoia that had followed him all the way up the street, but as he was about to go and investigate, a drunken shouting caught his attention.

Theia was standing over a pale, distressed man sitting on the floor, wrapped in a blanket. She was gripping his hand and pleading with him to stand, but he trembled and shook his head, babbling incoherently.

‘Is everything all right?’ Harry asked as he approached.

Theia looked horrified, embarrassed, and she tugged on the man harder. ‘Yes, fine, honestly- don’t worry, I’ve spoken to someone about the writing- Come on,’ she hissed at the man. ‘Get up!’

‘All that blood- All the… All the…’

‘Is this your dad?’ The sight of her embarrassment had made him feel guilty for being so rude to her all night, so as she sullenly nodded, he crouched down to the man’s eye level. ‘Mr Hopkirk?’ he said gently.

‘Harry Potter!’ the man blurted out, his eyes growing as wide as saucers.

‘That’s right,’ Harry said cheerfully. ‘You’ve had a bit of a shock, but I’m sure Theia can take you home. Up you get, go and have a nice big glass of water and a good rest.’

‘Nice job on You-Know-Who, mate,’ Mr Hopkirk slurred, looking rather awed.

‘Thank you,’ said Harry politely. ‘Do you need help getting up?’

‘No, no, no,’ mumbled Mr Hopkirk drunkenly, raising a swaying hand. ‘I can look after meself. Don’t trouble yourself, you’re a war hero, you’ve been through enough. Do you miss your parents? I couldn’t stand mine, haha.’

‘Oh, my God, I’m so sorry,’ Theia muttered, hiding her face as her father pulled himself up using the cobwebbed wall.

‘Don’t worry about it,’ said Harry reassuringly, as Mr Hopkirk confusedly alerted those nearest to him that Harry Potter was here.

‘I’d have taken him home earlier, but someone said he’d have to give a statement-’

‘I heard you was doing that bird from the Harpies, the redhead,’ said Mr Hopkirk loudly. ‘Nice one.’

‘Dad!’ Theia looked so humiliated that Harry was faintly surprised she didn’t apparate away on the spot. ‘I’m so sorry, he’s not usually like this, honestly, he’s usually very smart and-’

‘It’s all right, you can’t pick your family,’ said Harry kindly. ‘We’ll take a statement from him tomorrow, when he’s sobered up.’

Mr Hopkirk turned and started to stagger away before Harry could seize him, but he’d gone less than a meter before there was a yowl and he tripped face first onto the cobbles. Harry was still rather annoyed about Hopkirk’s comment, so didn’t rush forward to help him up like the other Aurors, but then neither did Theia.

Under the lights of their wand, the speckled ginger thing Mr Hopkirk had tripped over sauntered casually towards Theia. ‘Is that your Kneazle?’ Harry asked her, as it rubbed against her legs.

‘What? Is that what it is? I thought it was just a weird cat.’

‘Yeah, look at his tail.’ He pointed to the tuft at the end of the cat’s tail, and the Kneazle sat, gazing up at Theia.

‘It’s not mine, I don’t know anything about Kneazles,’ she said. ‘It’s the one I followed down here, I swear it was trying to show me the body. It was following me when I went into Shyverwretch’s shop too. I think it’s a stray.’
Harry raised an eyebrow and smiled wryly. ‘Not any more. You better take him home.’

‘My mum’d kill me,’ she replied, though she had already bent down to pick him up.

‘Well if you don’t show up at work tomorrow, I’ll know why,’ said Harry. He looked back at Mr Hopkirk, who was being heavily supported by an Auror. ‘Look, take your Dad home, get some rest. Come in after lunch. I’m sorry I was a bit…’

‘Rude?’ she prompted.

‘Yeah. My head’s elsewhere… You did well, raising the alarm and everything.’ He nodded to the Kneazle in her arms. ‘And you’ve made a handy friend for life. I’ll hang back here and make up for being so late. See you in a few hours.’

***


Theia had not been expecting it, but she could hear loud, shocked laughter coming from Harry’s cubicle. She hurried towards it through the busy department, ducking out of the way of a speeding memo, to see Longbottom leaning over the back wall of the cubicle, looking down at Harry with a delighted and amazed grin.

‘It’s not funny, Nev,’ she heard Harry groan.

‘Sorry, mate, but it is. It really is. I’m surprised you’ve still got all your bits, she must have been furious. You’ve got greater will power than me anyway.’

‘So that’s it? You’ve got no advice?’ Harry was leaning back on his chair to look up at him, rubbing his head anxiously.

Longbottom shook his head, still fighting back laughter. ‘Nah, why don’t you talk to Ron about it?’

‘Oh, really funny, Neville, thanks, that’s-’

Theia coughed awkwardly, and Harry looked over his shoulder with a relieved expression. Longbottom, still snorting with laughter, ducked back into his own cubicle.

‘Great, you’re here,’ Harry said distractedly. ‘Lots to discuss.’

‘Is everything all right?’ Theia asked cautiously, looking to where Longbottom’s head had just been.

‘Yes, all fine,’ said Harry.

But Longbottom’s teasing voice quickly sounded through the cubicle wall. ‘Have you got any post, Theia?’

Harry didn’t even turn, simply raised a fist and gave the cubicle a loud thump that made the photo frames on his desk rattle.

‘Er… No, was I supposed to get post?’

‘Ignore him, he’s not funny,’ said Harry loudly. ‘He was just dropping off Bessie’s results from the morgue.’

Theia sat as Harry pushed a heavy looking file towards her. As she opened it, she couldn’t help but wince slightly at the photos of the body she had seen just a few hours before. ‘Bessie worked quickly,’ she remarked.

‘Yeah, I owe her, she’s been great. Her and Neville took a closer look at the heart and found that it was coated in belladonna.’

‘Is that what killed him?’

‘Yes… But Bessie found pieces of heart in his stomach that weren’t poisoned,’ he said grimly.

She felt revolted. ‘You’re joking? That’s disgusting!’

Harry nodded despondently. ‘It looks like he was being forced to eat it over a long period of time. It had been frozen, and had preservation spells on it. Not to mention all the injuries…’ He gave a heavy sigh, and took the file back from her. ‘I’m concerned that Cormac McLaggen may be in a similar position. We need to find him before he ends up like Rookwood, but given the escalation I doubt we have as long.’

Theia agreed. She had thought the same. ‘I read a criminology book recently,’ she said hesitantly. ‘It had a part on how it’s almost impossible for humans to be completely random, there’s always a pattern. And I was thinking… There’s very clear patterns here, aren’t there?’

Harry considered her. ‘Yes, there are. What have you noticed?’

He sounded a little like a teacher, and it soothed Theia somewhat. She was in her element here; as a Ravenclaw, the desire to impress with knowledge was almost second nature. ‘Well, we have two couples. The women murdered on scene and body parts taken. The men both vanishing. One of them has now turned up dead, and it looks like he was tortured with the heart of his wife… The women aren’t the targets here, are they?’

‘No,’ said Harry quietly. ‘They’re not. They’re being used to get at others.’ His face darkened, and he took a brief glimpse at the photos of smiling redheads and the chubby toddler. ‘It’s horribly common. Using loved ones. It can be anyone, really, but I’ve found overwhelmingly it’s women and children that are used. They become pawns in bloodthirsty arguments between men.’

‘Why?’ asked Theia. ‘Surely brothers or friends would be-’

‘No,’ said Harry shortly. ‘I mean, sometimes, yeah, but women and children… The sort of men that do this, and it tends to be men, they see it as tapping into a natural, territorial urge to protect. It’s the fastest way to get someone to do what you want, and even criminals love someone. The person doing this knows this. They want to cause the maximum amount of pain possible, so they choose what they believe to be innocent, weak, and precious to the person they want to hurt. The person doing this is angry at the men, not the women.’

His words had sparked a memory in her. ‘When I was at the pub, last night, my Dad mentioned you…’ She told him about the threatening, hooded man, and her gut instinct that had made her want to flee.

Harry listened intently as she rambled, waiting patiently for her to finish. ‘Well, it might be something. There’s plenty of people out there that have less than friendly thoughts about me.’

‘But don’t you think the timing is a bit coincidental?’ insisted Theia.

He paused, scratching at the stubble on his jaw. ‘Potentially. And he had an accent, you say?’

‘Yes… It might have been German? Or Polish?’

‘It may have been our mysterious friend Dubrow,’ Harry said, grabbing a quill and scratching something down in his notebook. ‘I spoke to Carrow in Azkaban, and she said he was a Durmstrang boy, which is why he wouldn’t be in our records.’

‘I’ll make contact with Durmstrang right away then,’ she said quickly. ‘It’d be good to get a profile and see why he’s in the country, at the very least he’s caught up in all of this-’

‘Yeah, but it’s not him,’ Harry said easily. He caught sight of her crestfallen face, and gave a sympathetic smile. ‘Did you see The Prophet this morning?’

‘No?’

‘I usually don’t bother with it, but this morning’s headline was all about our case,’ he said with an exasperated tone. ‘We’ve managed to work under their radar so far because no one really cares about disgraced criminals getting murdered or disappearing. Pansy Parkinson’s death generated some interest, but the more exciting news of the day was Daphne Greengrass’s new lingerie photoshoot. But what’s changed now?’

‘The crime scene was gruesome, and public,’ suggested Theia.

‘Yes, and?’

‘The writing?’

With that, he gave a nod, and reached into his drawer, pulling out a copy of the newspaper. The picture on the front page showed the slogan on the wall, so clear that it could have been taken from the alley itself.

‘But how?’ she exclaimed desperately. ‘I got them to clean it off right away, Harry, I really did!’

He raised a hand to stop her. ‘I know you did. This isn’t your fault. Our perpetrator wanted the slogan to be seen, and it was. Looks like this photo was taken from one of the buildings nearby and sold to the press. It’s to be expected.’

Theia stared at it miserably. It still felt like a failure. When she had been able to think more clearly, after some sleep and away from the hassle of dealing with her father, she had been able to recall the D.A graffiti easily. She had never helped them write it, of course, but she remembered the fury of the Carrows, the dark excitement of seeing the propaganda-fighting photos, the pride and inspiration that had come from spotting new messages on the walls. Seeing it associated with something so awful was crushing, and it was now that she noted how tired Harry looked.

‘You think it must be someone in the D.A then?’ she asked him quietly.

He took a long time to answer. ‘We’ll have to look into it,’ he said at last. ‘Or it could be someone who didn’t like the D.A… Someone who’s unhappy that it’s starting to look like an old boys club. There’s a feeling that to get a good job in the Ministry nowadays you have to have the right connections. They could be trying to discredit it. It could be that.’

She could hear the hope in his voice, and see the torture on his face. She swallowed. She wondered if she was brave enough to ask the question on her lips. ‘What if it’s someone you know?’ It was barely more than a whisper, but she knew he had heard her.

He gave a throat clearing cough, and turned back to his desk, rifling through parchment. ‘Anyway, that’s why I don’t think it’s some random bloke from Durmstrang,’ he said briskly. ‘When you’ve filled in that paperwork, we’d best go get that statement from your Dad. The quicker we are, the more chance we have of finding McLaggen alive.’

***


He was pleased with himself. He had done well. It was all over the press. They were finally taking notice, and soon perhaps more people would join. More people would understand.

Maybe they would find their coins again.

He reached into his pocket and felt it. Cold. As cold as it had been for over three years. But they would start to wonder. They would start to talk. And then he could recruit them. They would understand. They had all lost people too. They couldn’t be happy.

A choked whimpering drew his attention, and he slowly turned his head to the squirming Cormac McLaggen. He was braver than Rookwood had been, but still terribly annoying. ‘I don’t even remember you,’ he said loudly. ‘Let’s talk this through, I’m sure it’s all just a big misunderstanding-’

‘That’s what makes it so much worse, Cormac,’ he replied coldly. He advanced, pulling out his knife, and Cormac flinched. But he stood over him, looking at the chained, wet, pathetic creature before him. Cormac looked up at him, breathing heavily. ‘You don’t even know what happened to some of those people, do you, Cormac?’

Cormac’s expression didn’t change, he still stared up with gritted teeth and an irritating lack of fear. ‘I’ve done my time,’ he said.

‘No,’ he said. ‘You haven’t.’

Cormac’s screams and yells echoed through the tunnels, like a wounded animal, which, he realized with relish, was exactly what he was. Rats scarpered at the sound, the water splashing from their tails, and the knife glinted in the low light beneath Cormac’s crimson blood.

After a few minutes, he stepped away. He cleaned his hands with distaste on a rag. He did not enjoy this part. It wasn’t like him, it wasn’t who he really was. But it was necessary. It was deserved. Someone had to step up and see justice served.

Just as he had done with Rookwood, he would wait a while before the next part of the punishment. He had to be hungry for it to work.

‘I’m going to go now,’ he said calmly to the still howling McLaggen. ‘But I will see you tomorrow.’

He left, splashing through the cold, filthy water to a rusted metal ladder. He ascended into a grey dusk, in the middle of a scrubland littered with rubble, a burnt out car, dumped furniture, and bordered with piles of litter.

He pulled a sheet of corrugated iron back over the entrance to the sewers, and used his wand to clean up the tell-tale signs of blood and water. Then he stashed it in a nearby abandoned fridge, removing has backpack which he swung casually over one shoulder.

It was only a ten minute walk, but the air was cold and he could smell rain on the air. At this time of the year, Hogwarts was warm with cosy fires and squashy armchairs, all the delightfully twee trappings that had once made him believe that it was the best place in the world.

Muscled-looking young men sat in a bright yellow car, which pulsed out a heavy bass line. They stared at him as he walked past, and though he looked down at the pavement to avoid trouble, inside he was not afraid. Their world was laughably safer, vastly more pleasant, than the one that had pretended to welcome him.

The orange street lamps were beginning to light up as he reached the building. A woman was shouting at her kids from a balcony, and someone was standing by the entrance in their pyjamas, smoking.

He entered. Someone had pissed in the lift again.

He climbed the stairs.

There she was, the idiot girl. He’d got here just in time, she was putting her key in the lock.

‘Busy day?’ he asked her.

She turned, and smiled at him. ‘As usual.’

‘Thought of a name for your Kneazle yet?’

‘No, not yet! And I’m so sorry he attacked you like that, I had no idea they were so vicious, I really need to read up on them.’ He laughed, and put his key in the lock too. Gently does it…

‘Want to come to dinner?’ she asked him. ‘Mum’s nearly forgiven me for staying over the other night, and I need you to charm her.’

‘You read my mind,’ Dennis replied with a smile.

Back to index


Chapter 11: Chapter Eleven: The Guardian

Dusk had fallen when Harry arrived home. The warm glow from the kitchen window seemed to both raise and lower his spirits at once. He wanted to see Ginny more than anything else, but the expectation of a difficult conversation weighed heavily on his chest. He had not been home since he had left in the early hours of the morning.

He didn’t call out to greet her as he entered and removed his cloak and boots. He moved silently and slowly, as though she were asleep upstairs, though he could see her sitting sullenly at the table. He finally turned to her, and the silence between them was painful.

‘I don’t have any dinner for you,’ said Ginny without looking up. ‘I wasn’t sure when you’d be back.’

‘Don’t be silly,’ Harry mumbled. ‘You know you don’t have to do that. I’m sorry I was gone for so long.’

‘Well thank you for sending a message at lunch,’ she said, though her voice was cold.

‘I really am sorry… Things got quite serious.’

She gave one slow nod, and her brown eyes met his. In front of her was a mug, a newspaper, and she was playing with something small in one hand, spinning it between her fingers and tapping it lightly against the table. ‘Is this true?’ she said abruptly.

‘Is what true?’ Harry sat at the table too, absent-mindedly pointing his wand at the kettle which began to quietly simmer.

Ginny nodded to the newspaper on the table, with the large picture of the slogan on the wall. ‘This picture… That’s a D.A slogan.’

Harry now saw that the small object in her hand was a coin. ‘It doesn’t necessarily mean that,’ he said softly. ‘You know what the papers are like, exaggerating these sort of things. I’m always telling you not to buy it.’

She looked very pale, she tapped the coin against the table more rapidly, staring into empty space. ‘This is why you had to leave,’ she said, guilt and apology in her voice. ‘Because it’s someone in the D.A, and you had to go and sort it before the press found out, and I tried to stop you going-’

This was it, this was an out, a way for him to remain in her good books and avoid an argument. But she looked so horrified, so distressed, and he had never been able to lie to her anyway. ‘No. The message didn’t say anything about it, just that a body had been found. I didn’t know any more than that, and I could have stayed. Ginny, I’m sorry.’
She shook her head. ‘You’ve been gone all day because this is serious. This is… Oh, Merlin, Harry, what if it’s one of our friends?’

Her voice broke, and, ignoring the whistling kettle, he rushed over to hug her. ‘It’s not,’ he promised, kissing the top of her head. ‘It’s probably not anyone in the D.A, we know all those people, they wouldn’t-’

‘They might, Harry,’ said Ginny. Her voice sounded distant. Her eyes had glazed over. ‘I missed the worst of it, it was only after Easter they started properly torturing people like that and…’ She hesitated. ‘I was thinking about Percy, when I saw him killing that Death Eater during the battle...’

Harry gave a long, low sigh as he rubbed her back. ‘Don’t be silly, it’s not Percy.’

‘I know that. I’m just saying, the things that happened, the people we lost… It’s not hard to imagine people wanting revenge, is it? I’ve felt that way.’

Harry slowly sat next to her, and gently took the coin out of her hand. ‘No, it’s not,’ he said, and he could remember that feeling that well. That bloodthirsty, heartbroken fury that had consumed him in the darkest depths of grief.

They sat in silence for a few moments, Harry still holding her hand to keep it from trembling. ‘I’m sorry I suggested it was to do with your trainee,’ said Ginny.

Harry shook his head. ‘Don’t be silly, it’s understandable. She arrived just before a serious case that’s been taking up more of my time than usual, it’s no wonder you associated her with that. It’s not been fair on you, Ginny, I shouldn’t have missed that match, and I shouldn’t have left like that last night.’

‘Well everyone had to go, didn’t they?’ said Ginny. ‘The paper said the whole department was there.’

‘There were a lot of us, but that’s an exaggeration. It was just the lower ranks, and Neville didn’t show at all. I could have stayed, I should have-’

‘Stop beating yourself up,’ said Ginny. ‘I’m not angry anymore, just… I don’t know, frustrated, I guess. We need to find a balance.’

‘When this case is over, I’ll take a week off,’ said Harry. ‘We’ll go somewhere, just the two of us.’

She smiled sadly. ‘You know that doesn’t really fix it.’

‘I know, but it’s a start, isn’t it?’ He paused, and summoned the kettle over, along with an extra mug and some teabags. ‘There’s always going to be cases like this,’ he said as he poured them tea. ‘Not all the time, but there will always be times when I have… unsociable hours.’

She sighed as she took her tea from him. ‘I know, I just… Would you ever consider…’ She shook her head.

‘What?’

‘No, it’s selfish, it doesn’t matter.’

‘Ginny…’

She closed her eyes. She seemed to hate herself. ‘It’s just… Both Ron and Neville…’ Harry knew what she was about to say, and his shoulders sank. ‘Both of them wanted a better work life balance, and they… Well, they decided to get different jobs.’

The silence stretched. ‘Ginny,’ Harry said, his voice hoarse, ‘I…’

‘I know, I know, I’m sorry! I don’t even want you to really, I just sometimes imagine it… I just keep wondering how often these sort of cases will happen, because I always thought once you rounded up the last of the Death Eaters things would sort of calm down a bit. But they don’t seem to be, and you’re always so tired and overworked, what about… Well, what about the future? You can’t do this forever, not if we want…’

She blushed, and Harry thought fiercely of the box in his pocket and the empty bedrooms upstairs, which they had both agreed would be useful if they “ever needed more space”. ‘I’ll think about it,’ he said. ‘But, Ginny, I love my job. Neville had a different passion, and Ron loves being closer to George and having a slower pace of life. But I don’t know what else I’d do.’ An old grief rose in him. ‘I’ve been doing this sort of thing since I was eleven, and… I don’t know anything else. I thought I’d had enough trouble for a lifetime, but…’ He struggled to admit this, even to himself. It was an awful thing to say. ‘The truth is, I get bored if I’m not doing this sort of thing. It’s not that I miss the war, it’s that I get frustrated if I’m not in the action. That’s terrible, isn’t it? But I love this job. I do.’

She took a sip of her tea before continuing. ‘I know. I know I’m being selfish. I mean, during Quidditch season I can be away for weeks at a time, can’t I? But you bring your work home with you, Harry, sometimes it’s all you talk about and it’s exhausting. It’s not that it’s boring, not like the way Percy drones on, but… I mean, look. I keep tying together this over-the-top article and all the stuff you’ve been telling me about missing hearts and what not, and it’s got me in such a state, it’s like it’s war time again. There’s this constant feeling of danger.’

‘I get obsessed,’ Harry conceded. ‘Hermione’s always said it. I’ll try harder to spare you the gory details and find other stuff to talk about.’ He hesitated. ‘I will have to ask some stuff about the D.A though. Some other time.’

‘Yes, of course, that makes sense.’

‘Is this why you got insecure about Theia? Because I just talk about her and the case all the time?’

‘I suppose so,’ said Ginny. She clutched her mug with both hands, her fingers tapping against it. ‘And she just seemed so fawning over you in that article when she started, and I know you keep talking about how much she irritates you, but even so… Every time I imagine you and her working together, she sort of morphs into Romilda Vane. It’s so silly.’
‘It’s Neville’s leaving drinks tomorrow night,’ said Harry. ‘Why don’t you come? Meet her. See that there’s no particular chemistry between us or anything. I think she has a boyfriend anyway, she’s been talking about her mum setting her up with some Muggle.’

Ginny nodded and gave a watery smile. ‘That sounds good. Yeah.’

‘And if you think she’s too much like Romilda Vane, you can tell her to back off with a well-placed jinx,’ Harry teased lightly.

She playfully shoved his shoulder, then leaned into a hug. They held each other tightly for a few moments, Harry relishing the relief that was now flooding him, before Ginny tentatively spoke again. ‘Harry, I lied. There is dinner for you, Mum brought round a chicken pie. I just didn’t think you deserved it. It’s in the oven.’

***


‘Oh, I don’t like him, Theia, he doesn’t seem like a normal cat…’

‘He is, I promise!’ insisted Theia, trying to wrestle the hissing, spitting cat into another room.

‘He seems very aggressive,’ said Betty uneasily, holding a plastic spatula in defense. ‘Don’t you think, Dennis?’

‘He’s probably just a bit nervous around new people,’ said Dennis easily, watching the cat swiping its claws towards him. ‘He’ll calm down.’

Theia finally managed to shut the cat in her bedroom, and returned to see her mother shaking her head crossly. ‘I don’t know, Theia, fancy bringing home a stray from a crime scene! He’s an outdoor cat, he doesn’t like it in here.’

‘He was fine this morning, he likes me well enough,’ said Theia defensively, ignoring the screeching yowls coming from her bedroom. ‘Anyway, I still need a name for him.’

‘How about Boris?’

‘God, Mum, no.’

Dennis laughed, and Betty began to dish out the rice, shrugging. ‘Well, what’s your owl called?’ he asked.

‘Saga,’ said Theia happily. ‘The Norse goddess of wisdom.’

‘Ah,’ said Dennis knowingly. ‘You want something highbrow, then.’

‘I still think Boris is nice,’ said Betty.

Theia rolled her eyes. ‘I think I’ll stick to the Norse theme, Mum, Boris doesn’t quite have the same gravitas.’

‘What about Váli?’ said Dennis. ‘That’s a pretty cool Norse god.’

‘I haven’t heard of him,’ said Theia. ‘I mostly read about the goddesses. What did he do?’

‘He’s a bit of an obscure one. He became an adult in one day, and slew Hodr for the murder of his brother,’ said Dennis. He scrunched up his nose. ‘Or he turned into a wolf and tore out the throat of his brother. I can’t remember. There might be two with the same name.’

‘Well that’s horribly violent,’ said Betty, alarmed.

‘That might be fitting then,’ said Theia dryly. They could hear her bedroom door thudding as the cat threw itself against it. ‘I never knew you liked Norse mythology, Dennis.’

He shrugged. ‘They’re good stories, aren’t they? A friend of mine gave me a book on them.’ A particularly loud howl from the cat briefly drew his attention. ‘Where did you say you got him again?’

‘Knockturn Alley,’ said Theia with distaste. ‘Poor thing, he’s so skinny.’

‘Is that the good one or the bad one?’ asked Betty.

‘The bad one, Mum.’

‘Well what were you doing down there then? Goodness, Theia-’

Dennis caught her eye as Betty began her lecture, and exchanged an amused smile. Theia’s heart fluttered with pleasure.

That evening, after her mother’s snores began to tremble from her room, Theia crept silently out of bed. Váli, curled up at the foot of her bed, looked up at her with an oddly scolding look, flicking his tufted tail as he watched her slip on some shoes.

She scratched him behind the ears and left, soundlessly slinking through the flat with practiced stealth. The front door gave the smallest of clicks as she closed it behind her.

She barely had to knock before Dennis let her in, pulling her into an excitable hug and enthusiastically kissing her as she tried to hold back giggles. This was very exciting; she had never snuck out of the flat before, even if it was just next door.

He lifted her up as he kissed her, with more strength than she was expecting from such a skinny guy, and he carried her through to the bedroom. They kissed deeply and passionately, she drowned in him, and she felt like the best version of herself, brave and alluring and overwhelmingly, truly, happy.

When it was over, she lay on his chest, shivering as his fingers traced up and down her spine. They spoke softly to one another, and that same distorted light cast dark shadows over his face. She couldn’t help the smile that forced its way onto her face. Who would have ever imagined this would happen?

‘You know, you Gryffindors were the cool kids,’ she told him.

He chuckled. ‘I don’t think I was ever one of the cool kids.’

‘That’s not true, anyone who was involved in the D.A was cool.’

‘Well that was more Colin,’ he said uneasily, and she felt the arm around her tense.

She smiled up at him. ‘I know we didn’t really know each other, but I was quite the gossip, you know. And you went to all the meetings right from the start, didn’t you? You must have had a coin and everything, I always wanted one, but I only joined after Easter in ’98.’

‘I didn’t have a coin,’ he said. His voice sounded distant. ‘I always just shared with my brother, we were inseparable anyway.’

Theia sighed. ‘Did anyone in the D.A ever seem particularly aggressive or anything?’

‘What d’you mean?’

She propped herself up on one elbow to look at him, and his hand moved to caress the dip of her waist, then up and over her hip. ‘I can’t really talk about it, to be honest, but as you have nothing to do with the wizarding world anymore… Someone who was in the D.A might be trying to be a vigilante.’

He grinned. ‘Like Batman?’ he teased.

She laughed, and playfully pinched at his waist. ‘No, not like Batman! Well, hopefully they don’t have a silly costume, but you never know. So come on then, criminology genius. What do your books say about vigilantes?’

He considered her for a few moments, pushing some of her hair back from her face. She supposed she was in the light that broke through the blinds on the window, no doubt he could see her earnest expression, but she still couldn’t see his face in the darkness. ‘You know vigilante is a Spanish word,’ he said. ‘It originally meant watchman, or guardian.’

‘That sounds a lot more heroic than what this person’s actually doing,’ said Theia. ‘But I suppose that’s how they see themselves, isn’t it?’

She saw his shoulders move in a shrug. ‘The only thing that vigilantes have in common is that they think the current system isn’t solving a social problem. It’s not just about revenge.’

‘That makes sense for some of the victims,’ she said, thinking of the Rookwoods. ‘But others had been to Azkaban already.’ She sighed. ‘I feel so sorry for Harry. He’d been looking for some of these people for years. He’s lost people too, he knows how evil the Death Eaters are, and he has to work with them all day. It must be exhausting. And now I suppose someone’s saying his work isn’t good enough and he doesn’t understand how evil these people are.’

‘It’s probably not about lack of recognition and more about lack of action,’ said Dennis. ‘Harry’s a hero, everyone knows that.’ His voice rose in excitability, he spoke fast, returning to the boy she remembered from school. ‘We always looked up to him, me and Colin, and he always just got things done you know? I remember thinking that when I heard he’d killed You-Know-Who, I knew that we could count on him. Colin was right, Harry would sort it out. But then… More news came.’

‘I’m sorry,’ she whispered. Dennis had gone very still. ‘You must miss him very much.’

‘Yes,’ he said slowly. ‘But… It was good, knowing You-Know-Who was dead. And then I spoke to Colin’s girlfriend, and we found his photos, and when we developed them, we saw how brave he was. I mean, it was tough, but… I’m so proud of my big brother.’

Theia felt cold. Like Dennis, she had been evacuated from the castle. But she had never lost anyone. She had learnt about what had happened as though it were merely history, and now she felt as though she could be there, among the bangs and smoke and screams…

‘I suppose,’ said Dennis slowly, ‘that if you’re having a problem with vigilantes, they don’t think Azkaban has worked. Maybe they want to be like Harry. Harry got to avenge the death of his parents, didn’t he?’

‘Yes, I guess he did,’ mused Theia. She rolled over onto her back, staring up at the cracked ceiling. ‘I wonder if it really makes you feel better though? Would a vigilante ever be able to stop?’

‘Is Harry happy?’

‘Yes, he seems to be… Maybe that’s why. But there’s a difference between vengeance in battle and hunting people down like this.’

There was a long pause. ‘I can’t think of anyone, off the top of my head,’ said Dennis. ‘But if you think of anyone from the D.A who seems suspicious… Let me know, I’ll see what I can remember about them. Colin and Zaha practically made a biography of everyone too.’

‘I’ll speak to her first then,’ said Theia sleepily. ‘Hey, I have work drinks tomorrow… Neville Longbottom is leaving. D’you want to come? Harry will be there.’

There was a long silence, Theia had almost assumed he had fallen asleep, before he finally answered. ‘No,’ he said, his voice a hoarse whisper. ‘Sorry, I’d like to see him again, and Neville too. But I’m not ready to go back to that world.’

‘Are you sure? I bet he’d love to see you again, it’d be such a nice surprise.’

‘I’m sure. Someday, maybe, but for now, let’s keep it quiet, yeah? I like being a Muggle as much as possible. Have you told Harry about me already?’

‘No… Don’t you want me to?’

‘Not yet… I’d like to meet him again soon though. And Ginny. I haven’t seen her in a long time. I’d really like to meet her. But not yet.’

He kissed her once again, and then their silence slipped into dreams, some hazy thought at the back of her mind telling her that she had forgotten something important.

***


Harry and Theia walked down a wide, winding lane. Now that autumn was approaching, the leaves were beginning to fall and the light was shifting to grey, but the large ash trees either side of the road were still full enough to hide the large, modern country houses either side.

A large golden Labrador barked at them through a wooden gate as they approached, but it wagged its tail furiously at Harry as he opened it.

‘-Settling in really well, but still a bit nervous around other people, it’s getting harder and harder to convince my mum he’s a normal cat,’ Theia was babbling.

‘Well Kneazles do tend to get attached to one particular person,’ said Harry vaguely, rubbing the dog’s face as it jumped up at him.

‘Oh really? I really should read up on them, I never took Care of Magical Creatures, Dad always said it was a doss subject, but looking back I suppose it would have been useful really-’

She kept talking as they crossed the gravel drive, the dog bounding excitably beside them. When they reached the front door, they found that it was slightly open, perhaps to let the dog in and out, so they stood awkwardly on the front step, calling into the house.

‘Terry?’

A clattering of footsteps, and Terry Boot appeared at the door, smiling jovially. ‘Harry! Come in, I got your message. Sorry about the dog, just push him away.’

They followed him through to a bright, modern looking kitchen, filled with Muggle appliances but with a few tell-tale signs of magic. A pot of Floo powder above a contemporary fireplace, a flitterbloom plant as the centerpiece on a glass table, and a copy of Transformation through the Ages slotted in amongst the cookbooks.

‘How’re you doing, Terry?’ Harry asked. ‘What’s life like with a Muggle?’

‘Every day’s an adventure,’ said Terry cheerfully. ‘Telling her about magic was interesting, not sure I’d want to repeat it though…’ He looked curiously to Theia.

‘Oh, sorry, Terry, this is Theia, she’s a trainee Auror under my supervision. Theia, Terry was in my year-’

‘Yes, I know, you were in Ravenclaw too,’ Theia blurted out. ‘I remember you, you were the one who dated-’

A look of mild horror crossed Terry’s face. ‘Oh, yes, Theia Higglesworth. Yeah, I… I remember you.’ He threw Harry a slightly alarmed look, and hastily offered them tea before Theia could reveal any gossip.

‘The reason I’m here,’ said Harry, adding heaped teaspoons of sugar, ‘is because Ginny told me you did a lot of work with the D.A coins after I left.’

‘Is this about that thing in the paper?’ said Terry. At Harry’s nod, he gave a pained look. ‘Blimey. I even dug my old coin out when I read it, you know, to see if anyone was talking about it, but nothing’s changed.’

‘Ginny did too,’ said Harry. ‘I can’t even find mine anymore, but I think a lot of people will have done the same.’

‘I was the one that adapted the Protean Charm so that everyone could change the messages,’ said Terry. ‘I didn’t mean to, it was a mistake, actually, but it worked out for the best.’

‘Do you have a list of everyone that had coins?’ Harry asked, thinking of the enchanted contract Hermione had made them sign. ‘I thought it might be the quickest way of working out who was actually in it.’

Terry shook his head. ‘We didn’t even think of anything like that. Stupid, looking back, but we were just kids really, weren’t we? I only made a few more after you lot left though, and we didn’t really give them to younger students in case they accidentally spent them or broke under the pressure of the Carrows.’

‘I know it’s dull, but would it be all right if we tried to make a list?’ asked Harry, pulling out a roll of parchment and a quill.
‘Everyone you can think of that had one first, as they were the most involved, and then anyone that joined but never got one.’

Terry hissed through his teeth. ‘Sure, but it’ll be long. I reckon by the battle pretty much everyone who wasn’t in Slytherin had signed up.’

It was long, and slow. It made Harry feel rather guilty for how many names he had forgotten, how many people he hadn’t known at all, and whenever a name was mentioned that Theia knew, she would launch into a detailed description of everything she knew about them.

‘The Creevey brothers shared a coin, I suppose Zaha Alfarsi might have it if Dennis doesn’t,’ said Terry, two hours into the discussion.

‘He doesn’t,’ said Theia.

They stared at her. ‘How d’you know that?’ asked Harry.

A smile threatened to betray her wonderful secret. The thought of him made her want to tell them everything, but she wondered if Harry would want to meet Dennis if he knew, whether it would upset him. It was better, surely, that Dennis was able to take his time returning to the wizarding world. ‘Oh, I heard he’s gone off to live as a Muggle,’ she said. ‘Gave up everything magical.’

‘Hmmm…’ said Harry, looking at the list in front of him. ‘That doesn’t seem healthy. We should try and look him up, if we can.’

Terry raised an eyebrow and smirked. ‘Wasn’t he that weedy little kid that fell in the lake?’

‘Well, yes, when he was eleven, he’d be a lot older now,’ snapped Theia.

Harry gave her an odd look, but wrote down the name. ‘Right, well, it can’t hurt to have a chat with him. Now, who else? What about that weird Hufflepuff kid? The loner?’

‘Oh, Wayne something wasn’t it?’ said Terry. ‘No, he didn’t have a coin… Merlin, what was his surname?’

They continued for several hours, Terry’s Muggle girlfriend returning from work and awkwardly making them all sandwiches, uneasily glancing at Harry’s wand which lay on the table.

As the evening began to fall, Harry checked his watch. ‘We’ve got Neville’s thing,’ he said to Theia. ‘You coming, Terry? I think a few of the old crowd are going.’

‘Nah, you’re all right,’ said Terry. ‘We’re going to a… What did you call it, Dawn?’

‘A roller disco,’ she replied happily.

‘A roller disco,’ he repeated to Theia and Harry. ‘I don’t know what it is, but Dawn reckons I’ll enjoy it.’

They exchanged amused glances. ‘Well, have fun,’ said Harry. ‘We’ll have to meet up again soon, yeah?’

Terry bid them a friendly farewell, holding the dog back to stop it from running after them, and Harry and Theia headed back out of the wooden gate.

‘Shouldn’t we have questioned him a bit?’ asked Theia. ‘Asked him where he was the other night, or whether he knew McLaggen well.’

Harry thought carefully before speaking. ‘The problem is, Theia, most of these people we’ll be speaking to are my friends. We’ll see a lot of them tonight at the pub too.’

‘But that shouldn’t mean-’

‘It doesn’t mean I’ll ignore any warning signs or clues,’ he assured her. ‘But most of them like me. How often does that happen in this job? If I go in all wands blazing, I’ll insult them. They’ll be offended that I would even think that of them. They’ll shut me out, meet up and talk about how horrible I am now, or how fame has changed me or whatever, and before you know it, we’ve lost our advantage.’

‘Which is?’

‘They’ll want to help, they’ll talk freely, but they’ll also defend their friends. They’ll talk about how awful it is and how indefensible it is, but none of them will want to face the fact that it’ll be someone they know. The people we want to talk to are the ones that try to defend or legitimize it, or start throwing around accusations, or admit that they’re pleased about it.’

Theia balked. ‘They’ll act that blatantly guilty? Surely they’ll be a bit smarter than that, around their friends? Won’t those closest to them start to guess, or get suspicious? How can they not know?’

Harry grimaced as they stopped, ready to apparate. ‘Two crucial rules about people, Theia. The first is that I’m yet to come across a serial killer who’s not proud of what they’ve done. They can’t resist bragging about it some way or another, it’s how they’re always caught. The second is that when you love someone, whether a friend or family member or partner, you never see the darkness in them until it’s too late.’

Back to index


Chapter 12: Chapter Twelve: Neville's Leaving Party

The Leaky Cauldron was already packed when they arrived. Although the Auror department had booked the large backroom for privacy, Neville was a popular Auror and extra guests, D.A tagalongs, and people Theia strongly suspected were gatecrashers overflowed into the main bar area. She could taste the excitement in the air. This was her thing. This was brilliant.

She wished she’d had time to change before arriving, but as she followed Harry through the crowd she became so distracted that she didn’t care. As well as all her colleagues, including an enthusiastically waving Judy, there were so many war heroes and famous people in the pub that she thought she might squeal with excitement. A huge gramophone was blasting out swing music, and already tipsy couples were doing their best to dance in the packed room, shouting conversations over stamping feet, clapping hands and shrieking laughter, those that weren’t dancing watching with amusement in small groups clutching pint glasses.

Harry was casually greeting many of them as he passed, but his eyes were searching through the crowd with something akin to anxiety. They reached the busy bar and he waited at it, still glancing over his shoulder. ‘D’you want a drink?’ he called to her over the noise, only half looking at her. She nodded at him (there was little chance of him hearing her over the noise), and looked to find Judy again, but she was dancing vivaciously with Matthew.

Soon a pint was in her hand and Harry was saying something to her, but she couldn’t hear what, so she drank to save herself from having to respond. He suddenly started forward, and looked over his shoulder with a mild panic, but it was just a widely grinning Neville Longbottom clapping him on the back.

‘Here he is,’ she heard Neville shout happily. ‘I was worried you’d both be working all night.’

Harry hugged him, and Theia shook his hand, both of them trying to express their sorrow he was leaving and their congratulations on his new job as best they could through the deafening noise.

‘Where’re the others?’ Harry said loudly in his ear.

Theia couldn’t hear Neville’s response, but he pointed to the back room, and Harry nodded. She turned, ready to join Judy and Matthew, but Harry seized her arm. She looked back at him, surprised, but he simply jerked his head for her to follow. ‘Come meet them,’ he said.

The music was so loud as they approached the giant gramophone that she felt it reverberate in her chest, but once they passed the music became muffled, as though underwater, and now she could hear only the buzz of conversation and laughter as they entered the back room, which was nearly as busy.

‘Harry!’

A small group of people were waving them over to a long table, and, heart thudding, Theia recognized them all. Harry’s expression had broken into grin, and he hurried towards them, leaning down to kiss the redheaded girl and embracing the brunette, offering the redheaded boy a manly slap on the shoulder. As though suddenly remembering her, he turned slightly and pulled Theia forward. ‘Everyone, this is Theia, Theia, this is-’

‘I know who you all are,’ Theia said abruptly, unable to control her grin. ‘Hermione Granger and Ron and Ginny Weasley, it’s such an honour, I’m so excited to meet you, you’re all brilliant, I think you’re all just so brave and you’re all my heroes, especially you Ginny Weasley, you’re such a role model-’

Ginny looked rather taken aback, and she slowly exchanged a glance with an oddly smug looking Harry before returning her brown eyes to meet Theia, who continued talking with the pace of rampaging hippogriff. ‘-The way you led the D.A, I was so sorry to join it so late, but you really were an inspiration and then succeeding so much in Quidditch which I’ve heard is a male dominated industry - I don’t know a lot about it, if I’m honest, the Harpies are the only ones I like, really, but I think you’ve become such a style icon and I have that poster you did for Witch Weekly where you’re wearing that leather jacket and you just look so strong and-’

‘Theia,’ said Harry loudly, and Ron’s shoulders were shaking with laughter.

‘-Because quite honestly, you’re my ultimate girl crush, I just think you’re so beautiful and Harry’s such a lucky guy-’

Now Ron was outright laughing and Hermione was hiding her smile behind her drink. A vague voice in the back of Theia’s head asked her what on earth she was doing and commanded her to calm down, but her excitement was like a drug and the words tumbled from her mouth, she couldn’t believe she was here, talking to them, hanging out with them at a party…

‘It’s lovely to meet you,’ Ginny interrupted firmly, a bemused smile on her face. ‘We’ve heard so much about you.’

‘You have? Oh, I bet it’s all awful, isn’t it? Did he tell you about my problem with blood?’

‘Don’t worry,’ said Ron kindly. ‘I’ve got a similar thing with spiders.’

‘You’re getting a lot better with it too,’ added Harry. ‘I suppose these things are always a shock when you first come across them, but you’ll get used to it with experience, I did. A few more years and murder will become another average day at the office.’

‘Cheerful, mate,’ said Ron, rolling his eyes, and Harry grinned at him.

‘Ron here is the partner you replaced,’ he told her, pointing to him with his pint. ‘The one who left to run a joke shop with his brother.’

‘I thought you might have died, I was so nervous about being paired with the Chosen One,’ blurted out Theia, and Ron laughed even harder.

‘I hope Harry hasn’t been working you too hard,’ said Hermione, casting an accusatory glance to him. ‘He has a habit of working all hours, but you mustn’t let him make you think you have to as well.’

‘Don’t worry,’ said Theia seriously. ‘I’m a Ravenclaw, I enjoy working hard.’

Hermione smiled approvingly at her, but Theia was disappointed to see that Ginny still looked rather uncomfortable. Perhaps, as usual, her blabbermouth had created awkwardness. Nevertheless, more drinks and conversation flowed, and Theia found herself easing more naturally into the group and seeing her boss in a whole new light as they delved into anecdotes and funny stories. Any other night she’d have wanted to go and dance, but sitting with four of the biggest heroes of the modern age was like being let into an exclusive club, and she couldn’t wait to tell Dennis all about it. Soon their table was cluttered with empty glasses, and alcohol empowered them to speak more freely than they might have done.

‘I’d never seen you look so terrified,’ Ron was saying as Hermione howled with laughter. ‘I thought you were going to buy every copy of the Daily Prophet in London.’

‘Not much help when your mum gets it delivered,’ Harry grumbled. ‘I’ve seen her fighting Death Eaters, I had no desire to be on the receiving end of her fury.’

‘Well you can bloody well try keeping your pants on in public in the future, can’t you?’ said Ron.

‘Oi,’ said Ginny. ‘If you must know, Ron, it was my idea-’

He groaned in disgust. ‘No, I didn’t want to know…’

‘-And how were we supposed to know photographers were spying on us? As far as we were aware, it was a perfectly isolated meadow under a romantic sunset-’

‘Merlin, stop,’ he pleaded, while Hermione and Theia laughed. ‘The pictures were bad enough, I don’t need details.’

‘What was the headline again?’ asked Hermione, scrunching her nose.

‘Don’t,’ said Ron quickly.

Potter’s Packing,’ said Ginny smoothly.

‘All right, all right,’ said Harry as they descended into giggles. ‘Thanks for bringing it all up, Ginny…’

‘Well, I’m not ashamed,’ said Ginny, straightening slightly. ‘They shouldn’t have invaded our privacy like that. I suppose you remember it, do you?’ she shot at Theia suddenly.

‘Well, yes,’ replied Theia, flustered. ‘It was all over the news. But in all honesty I’d forgotten about it until now.’

‘Probably don’t want to think of your boss’s bum while you’re at work,’ said Ron fairly.

‘Speak for yourself, I happen to think Robards has a certain allure,’ joked Harry.

‘Do you have a boyfriend, Theia?’ asked Ginny, ignoring the boys.

‘Yes, actually,’ said Theia, beaming. ‘He wants to keep things quiet for now though...’

‘I thought your mum was setting you up with a Muggle?’ asked Harry.

‘Well, yes, but…’ She couldn’t resist. Alcohol and excitement and the desire to shout it from the rooftops bade her to reveal the best secret she’d ever had. ‘Promise you won’t tell anyone?’

They all looked bewildered. She supposed they were wondering if they would even care.

‘Turns out you all know him. Mum thought he was a Muggle, but he’s actually a wizard. He moved in next door.’

A pause, and then a snort of laughter from Ron. ‘Seriously? Out of everyone in this country, your mum managed to accidentally pair you with a wizard without realizing? Where do you live? Upper Flagley or Godric’s Hollow or somewhere?’

‘No, east London.’

Hermione frowned. ‘But that’s just a statistical improbability-’

‘Just one of those things, I suppose,’ said Theia. ‘Fate, or something!’

‘Why do you have to keep it quiet?’ Harry asked. ‘Who is it?’ But the sound of a clinking glass and persistent ‘ssh!’’s hushed him, and they twisted in their seats to the back of the hall.

Someone had helped Neville clamber up onto one of the long wooden tables, and those that had been dancing had crammed themselves into the room to listen to him speak. ‘I want to thank you all for coming,’ he said loudly, ‘I know you only came for Tom’s beer and the dancing, but I appreciate it all the same.’

There was a rumble of laughter and a loud cheer from the doorway. Someone shouted ‘down a pint!’, but Neville dismissed them with a grin and a flash of a rude hand gesture. ‘I’m going to miss being an Auror very much,’ he said, his voice growing more serious. ‘A few of you in here know it was my parent’s profession, and working here has made me proud to follow in their footsteps. I’ve had some scary moments, but there’s very little that’s more satisfying than locking someone away who deserves it, and it’s all been a rather fantastic adventure. But a lot of you also know that I prefer gardening to fighting-’

‘And chopping snakes heads off!’

‘Yes, and killing snakes, thank you, Seamus… But actually that fits quite well, because you can’t really brag about war victories when you work a few yards away from Harry Potter-’ The room laughed again, and Harry gave an amused wave. ‘-So I think it’s better that I go and brag to people who will really appreciate my overblown war stories; children.’

Another ripple of laughter, and a muttered whisper of ‘oh, hasn’t he grown in confidence?’ from Hermione.
‘So starting the day after tomorrow, I’ll be teaching in Hogwarts. I won’t be so foolish as to say it’ll be easy, but hopefully teaching involves a little less blood, a little more sleep, and a welcome escape from Robards’ Wednesday catch up meetings.’

There was an almighty cheer, and Theia was astonished to see the usually grumpy Robards chuckling heartily with them. Neville’s speech continued, but after just a few seconds, she saw many people suddenly reaching for their pockets. Ginny, who was sitting next to her, shifted too, and pulled something small out, staring at it with a grim expression.

‘Harry,’ she whispered.

But Harry was laughing at something else Neville was saying, and as Theia looked around, she saw similar scenarios of people trying to subtly call attention to their friends. Even Neville had touched at his pocket, but continued talking, pointing out certain people, unaware of the slowly igniting panic that was scattered through the large room.

‘Harry,’ Ginny hissed again, and this time he looked, a smile still on his face. His girlfriend held out a golden coin to him, and he frowned as he took it.

His expression snapped to alertness, like a dog that had caught a scent, and his eyes flashed rapidly around the crowd, resting for the briefest moments on old D.A members that were now reading their coins with confusion. Some of them had begun to amble confusedly towards the door.

He rose sharply, turning a few heads nearby and causing Neville to falter slightly. ‘Come on,’ he muttered at Theia as Neville continued. ‘The rest of you stay here, keep an eye out, don’t let anyone leave.’

Theia followed him as he strode through the crowd, gesturing to nearby Aurors that had noticed him rise, and they shadowed him immediately. ‘No, stay in here,’ he said to someone that had reached the door.

‘Are you sure? The coin says-’

‘Stay here Ernie.’

The bar was bizarrely empty after the crowded back room, the dance floor that had seemed so huge when busy now a little pathetic looking. ‘What’s going on?’ asked Savage.

‘Odd message on the old D.A coins telling everyone to go outside,’ said Harry swiftly. ‘Savage, you and Wiggens stay here, don’t let anyone out yet but don’t cause a panic-’

‘How are we meant to not cause a panic?’ spluttered Wiggens, but Harry ignored him.

‘The rest of you follow me.’

The half a dozen Aurors left over went with them to the door on the Diagon Alley side, wands raised. Theia knew that most of them were those that hadn’t been drinking, for security purposes, but though the adrenaline had made her feel sober, her fingers still stumbled a little over her wand as she withdrew it from her robes.

They stepped into the cold evening, the wind tugging at their robes and hair, the thick night unforgiving after the warmth of the candlelit pub.

It was the creaking Theia noticed first. The straining, painful sounding creaking, as though the rope were about to break.

Even in the darkness, they could see that the figure hanging before them was dressed in Death Eater robes. The rope suspended him by the neck, and he swayed slightly in the strong wind, hiding the bricks that needed to be tapped to access Diagon Alley. The light from the Aurors wands fell onto his bare, dirty feet. Behind him, words gleamed red.

FINAL JUSTICE

They should have known, really, that the room full of Aurors and war heroes would not be kept back by Savage and Wiggins. A hushed shuffling behind them, Theia glanced back to see old D.A members, summoned by their coins, staring up at the body with a grim, haunting lack of shock.

***


Harry knew they were behind him, all the people that were meant to see the body. There was no use turning around and telling them to go back inside, they had all seen his failure already.

‘McLaggen, you suppose?’ whispered the Auror to his left.

He nodded his response. It had happened a lot quicker than he was expecting. After Rookwood, he thought he’d have days, maybe weeks to find him. But instead of searching for him properly, he’d sat at Terry’s house and drank in the Leaky Cauldron with his friends. He would have to tell Mrs McLaggen before it was in the papers.

The coin glowed warm again in his fingers, and he looked down at it. The message was too long, they had to read the shifting letters as they were tapped out.

You can join me… Finish the justice that should have been served… Dumbledore’s Army still recruiting… Return to action…

He felt a dullness as the whispers rose around him in waves, he turned to examine the chattering crowd behind him, all staring from their coins to the body. It could have been any of them. It wasn’t hard to write on the coins subtly, without anyone seeing.

He swallowed, and when he spoke to Theia and the other Aurors, his voice came out hoarse. ‘Call out Bessie and the team. Don’t let anyone leave without giving a statement. Take down all their details, check for magical concealment.’
It was not how he imagined the night going, he thought sullenly as he took his own girlfriend’s fingerprints. He had hoped that a night of fun would relax things between them, that he would be on the road to forgiveness and they could laugh at Theia’s star-struck nature together.

‘Why did you have your coin with you tonight?’ he asked robotically.

She stared at him sourly. ‘Are you fucking serious?’

‘I have to ask everyone,’ he said quietly, pressing her fingers onto the parchment.

‘I carry it with me everywhere,’ she said. ‘I thought it would be useful tonight what with the murder I’m planning and everything.’

His shoulders sank in exasperation. ‘Ginny, please, obviously I know it’s not you-’

‘Don’t say that out loud, Harry, you could make the case vulnerable! Now do you need me to provide an alibi or…?’

He glared at her for a moment and sighed. ‘It’s just formalities I have to go through-’

‘You are such a jobsworth,’ she retorted. ‘Some psycho has got his hands on one of our coins, Harry, it doesn’t mean you can start treating us like criminals-’

She stopped abruptly as a nervous looking trainee Auror approached them. ‘What, Pendleton?’ Harry snapped at him.
Pendleton balked a little, then, with a low voice. ‘Boss, it’s… It’s not McLaggen.’

‘What?’

‘It’s not McLaggen, Boss, Proudfoot sent me to tell you. They got him down and took the mask off and it’s not him. They’re examining him under the tent now.’

‘Well who is it?’

‘I don’t know, Boss. He wants you to come and look.’

Harry swore under his breath. ‘Can I go home?’ asked Ginny.

‘No, give Pendleton your statement first,’ he replied, thrusting his clipboard into the trainee’s chest. ‘Try and be nice,’ he said.

‘I will, Boss.’

‘I wasn’t talking to you, Pendleton.’

He left the crowded pub full of his friends being interviewed, photographed and recorded and stepped once again into the cold night air. The familiar white tent had been erected over the body, and the words removed.

‘Who is he then?’ he asked, as he stepped into the tent. Proudfoot, Bessie and Robards were crouched over the body laid out on the grimy cobbles.

‘Not a clue,’ growled Robards. ‘Not someone you’ve ever seen over the years, is it?’

Harry looked at the dead man. His waxy skin featured the splattering of dark brown moles, and his brown hair was balding on top. Apart from that, he looked wholly unremarkable. ‘No,’ he said. ‘Nothing on his person?’

‘Just a newspaper clipping,’ said Proudfoot. ‘But it’s in German. One of the trainees has taken it back to the Ministry, we’ll be able to translate it tomorrow.’

‘I’m not sure it’s the same guy, you know,’ said Bessie. ‘This lad hasn’t been beaten up at all, no organs in his mouth or anything like that.’

Robards gave a grunt of disapproval. ‘It was our bloke’s idea all right, just might not have been him that did it if he’s on a recruitment drive. How are the interviews and statements going, Potter?’

‘Not great,’ said Harry. ‘People are offended we think it’s them. Some are upset. Some are drunk.’

‘Never mind all that, no one’s left, have they? We’ve got everyone’s details?’

‘Yes, Sir,’ said Harry stiffly. ‘And we are taking statements, just trying not to cause any distress, so it’s going quite slowly.’

Robards grunted again. ‘Knew I shouldn’t have put you in charge of that, you’re too bloody soft on them, Potter. Any suspicious activity?’

‘Not that I’ve seen, Sir, but someone else in the team might have spotted something.’ It was true. He hadn’t seen any one acting overly dramatic or strangely cold, nobody had started throwing around accusations or trying to sneak off. A few, like Ginny, had been irritated that they were being questioned as though they were suspects, and some, like Seamus, were so drunk that he was sure they wouldn’t remember anything the next day. But there was nothing unusual.

‘And what about you, Potter?’ said Robards.

‘Sorry?’

‘Well you’ll have one of those silly coins, won’t you? It was your angsty youth group at school, wasn’t it?’ The three of them were now looking at Harry rather coldly.

‘I lost my coin during the war, but I’m happy to give a witness statement,’ said Harry awkwardly. ‘Does this mean I can’t lead the case anymore?’

Robards considered him with a slight frown. ‘No, you don’t have to give a statement, Potter, and you’re still leading the case. What other Senior Auror am I going to have running it? Dawlish? Fuck off.’

Proudfoot looked as though he were unsure whether to be stung or relieved that Robards had forgotten that he was at the same rank as Harry and Dawlish. Harry felt rather unsettled, and was very aware of Bessie watching him out of the corner of her eye as she photographed the body.

When he returned to the pub, Ginny was now standing with Ron and Hermione, her arms folded and deep in serious conversation. ‘Are we all suspects then?’ asked Ron as Harry approached.

Harry thought about lying, but then shrugged. ‘If you are, I am too. Have you all given your statements and everything?’

‘Yes, can we go home now?’ asked Ginny impatiently. ‘I wanted an early night, I’ve got training all day tomorrow.’

‘Yeah, go ahead,’ said Harry heavily, noting that others were now beginning to file out into Muggle London. ‘I’ll be home when I can.’

‘Don’t forget we’re looking after Teddy next weekend,’ she said suddenly. ‘He’ll be crushed if you’re not there.’ Ron and Hermione exchanged a glance and left quickly.

‘I know,’ said Harry. ‘I’m sure I’ll be back by next weekend.’

‘I’m just saying, make sure you book some time off,’ she said. She looked angry, but then immediately unhappy, and hugged him tightly. ‘Do you know who it is?’ she asked, her voice muffled against his chest.

There was a coldness in his lungs as he realized just how unpleasant the sight must have been for her. That her lashing out, her defensiveness, and her yearning for him to ignore the case and come home was borne from a dark fear that she had once fought alongside someone who was now vindictively killing. ‘No,’ he said, though he wasn’t sure if she was referring to the victim or the killer. ‘But I’ll find them, Ginny, I promise, as quick as I can. That’s why I’m working so hard, OK?’

‘Please don’t let it be one of our friends,’ she said. ‘Please let it all be some horrible set up.’

He kissed the top of her head. ‘Go home and have a bath,’ he said quietly. ‘I’ll be home as soon as possible.’ She nodded, and mumbled an apology. ‘It’s all right,’ he assured her. ‘I’ll see you later.’

He watched her leave for a moment, silently praying that he would have at least one day free next weekend. When he turned to continue work, he saw Robards talking with Theia intently. He saw her glance up and give him an oddly furtive look before walking away from Robards quickly. Robards also hurried off in the other direction, but kept his eyes fixed to the ground.

Harry walked over to Theia, who was stacking clipboards stuffed with statements and fingerprints. ‘Is everything all right?’ he asked her.

‘Oh, yes, fine,’ she said, a little breathlessly. ‘No identification for the body yet, then?’

‘Not yet,’ replied Harry slowly. ‘What did Robards want?’

She didn’t meet his eyes. ‘Just what time I’ll be in tomorrow.’

‘It’s your day off tomorrow,’ said Harry.

‘Yes, but, you know…’ she gestured to the organized chaos around them.

He nodded. ‘Well only come in if you want to,’ he said. She finally looked up at him, and she looked very different when she didn’t trust him.

‘Thanks for introducing me to your friends,’ she said. It sounded practiced. ‘We should try and do it again, without finding a body next time.’

He did his best to smile at her. ‘Of course. See you tomorrow then, Theia.’

Back to index


Chapter 13: Chapter Thirteen: Dubrow

Harry crept in quietly, feeling his way up the stairs in the darkness, his feet treading with practiced softness. Ginny had left the bedroom door open (it always woke her when it creaked), and as his eyes adjusted to the whisper of light he saw her, her skin shining white against the dark covers.

He undressed silently, noting the damp towel she had left slung across the laundry basket. She was as bad as he was sometimes. The corners of his lips twitched into half a smile, and though half his mind was still at work he felt a warmth spread through him as he heard her soft, heavy breathing.

He slipped under the covers as carefully as he could, but the weight of him on the mattress made her roll towards him slightly. They were both light sleepers, and she gave a quiet groan, mumbling something unintelligible.

‘Sorry,’ he whispered, kissing her firmly on her temple. She nestled closer to him, and he was sure that she was asleep until she croakily spoke.

‘Did you figure it out?’

‘Not yet,’ he whispered. ‘I’m sorry for taking your fingerprints. I know you’re not a murderer.’

‘Just don’t go digging in the back garden,’ she yawned.

He smiled again, his fingers combing through her hair. ‘Are you at practice all day tomorrow?’ he asked.

‘Yes, why?’

‘When do you stop for lunch?’

She propped herself up on her elbow, squinting at him blearily. ‘At one. Is this because I’ve been throwing strops?’

‘Yes,’ he said honestly. ‘But also because we haven’t had lunch together in ages.’

She rubbed her eyes, yawning again. ‘All right. But only if we go somewhere Muggle. That way neither of us can talk about work.’

He sealed their agreement with a kiss, and she drifted back into heavy sleep. But as Harry stared up at the ceiling, his mind began to return to work again, slowly connecting half sentences, odd expressions and hinted gossip into worrying implications.

***


Theia bustled in the next morning, her arms heavy with manila files and her thick scarf trailing on the floor behind her. It was odd seeing Longbottom’s cubicle empty now, though she had been told that it would become hers soon, yet the Auror department was as chaotic and loud as usual.

‘Does everyone here work on a Saturday?’ she grumbled to Judy as they made their way down the corridor. ‘I knew it wouldn’t be the standard nine to five, but really…’

‘You don’t even have to be here,’ said Judy, scowling. ‘Dawlish says I have to be, and I don’t even do anything exciting, just paperwork and cups of coffee.’

‘Harry hates him,’ said Theia in a low voice. ‘Is he really awful?’

‘He hates Harry,’ Judy sniggered. ‘Says he’s a privileged little shit. When it comes to the Christmas party, I think I’ll sit them together. It’d be a laugh, wouldn’t it?’

‘You’re on the planning committee?’ said Theia jealously.

‘Oh come off it,’ said Judy, leaning against the wall as they reached Harry and Theia’s empty cubicle. ‘You get to do all the exciting stuff. Planning a party’s hardly the same as foiling a breakout.’

‘Foil is a bit of an exaggeration,’ said Theia, plunking the files onto the desk. ‘Stumbled across and then forgotten about is closer to it.’

‘Still…’ said Judy enviously. She glanced at her watch. ‘I’d better get to my own desk, Dawlish says if you’re on time, you’re late.’

‘I wish someone would say that to Harry,’ muttered Theia.

Sure enough, it was another twenty minutes before Harry turned up, with heavy bags under his eyes and looking a little worse for wear. By this time, a memo had arrived for him, but Theia, impatient and frustrated to sit doing nothing, had opened it for him.

‘They got someone in the Department of International Magical Cooperation to translate the newspaper clipping,’ she told him.

He sat, yawning widely. ‘And?’

‘It’s a story from a German newspaper about a wizarding family being found dead on the first of September, 1997.’

Harry frowned, and took the memo from her. His frown deepened, and he suddenly asked for the original clipping. When Theia handed it to him, he swore. ‘Yeah, it was Voldemort,’ he said, rubbing his eyes under his glasses stressfully. He gave a heavy sigh. A woman and two young children?’

Theia nodded. ‘That’s right. The Fischer family.’

‘In the former address of Mykew Gregorovitch?’

‘How did you know?’ asked Theia, surprised.

He looked very unhappy. ‘Doesn’t matter.’ He frowned again. ‘Doesn’t make much sense though. If it’s about justice, this family got theirs. Well, as well as they could. They were just… Unlucky.’

‘Well,’ said Theia hesitantly. ‘Did you notice the name of the town?’

Harry raised an eyebrow, and looked back down at the translation. When he looked back at her, it was with a somber sort of excitement. ‘Dubrow.’

She nodded grimly. ‘I thought I could spend this morning looking up this case. Perhaps the husband of the woman or something is out for more justice, and the man he killed last night is connected somehow-’

Harry nodded. ‘Maybe. Definitely worth looking into. Odd that this Dubrow character is getting mixed up with Shyverwretch and Death Eaters though. Strange choice for a vigilante.’

Theia faltered. She hadn’t even thought of that. ‘I keep forgetting about the break out plan,’ she admitted. ‘I was saying to Judy this morning about it. That is weird… I can’t work out whether he hates Death Eaters or wants to help them.’

‘I’ll go and check the Surveillence Quill we’ve got on Shyverwretch, see if he’s let anything useful slip,’ said Harry. ‘Maybe pay him another visit later too.’

She nodded, and rose to leave, but she had almost made it to the door before he suddenly and uneasily called her back. He watched her for a few seconds, looking uncomfortable and awkward, before finally speaking. ‘I hope you don’t think it’s out of place, but… You were talking about your boyfriend last night, and you said it was someone I knew.’

She blushed, and giddy excitement once again forced her face into a grin. ‘Gosh, I was a bit tipsy, wasn’t I?’ she giggled.

Harry cheeks were pink too, but he held her gaze. ‘I might be leaping to conclusions,’ he said carefully. ‘But you were very quick to defend Dennis Creevey at Terry’s yesterday.’

She laughed. ‘You are good at this, aren’t you? I suppose I was really obvious, was I?’

He winced a little, and absent mindedly rubbed his scar. ‘Let’s find a meeting room,’ he said.

Her excitement was rather deflated as she followed him to a private meeting room. As she had found out rather swiftly after meeting him, he was not the gossipy type, and now suddenly she felt nerves tug at her stomach as she remembered Robards words from the previous night…

Harry closed the meeting room door behind them, waving his wand lazily to cast an Imperturbable charm over it. Theia sat, feeling immediately defensive, and wondering if she should have lied.

He sat too, and there was such a long pause between them that she felt as though she were in detention. ‘You know I wouldn’t usually pry into your personal life,’ he said.

‘It’s all right, I’ve probably pried enough into yours,’ she tried to joke, but he didn’t laugh.

He gave a heavy sigh. ‘I think this is one of those things where you have to be cynical, Theia, and perhaps you should have told me. He just… moved in next door?’

‘Yeah,’ said Theia awkwardly.

‘When?’

‘I don’t know exactly. Around the time I started here I suppose. Look, there are lots of wizards in London, I don’t think it’s that odd-’

‘It is, Theia,’ said Harry, and she felt a rush of resentment.

‘He wasn’t expecting me to be next door either, it was a complete shock when we saw each other. He’s living a completely Muggle life, I know, I would have seen if he had magical things-’ Harry tried to interrupt, but she spoke rapidly over him. ‘But you should see him, any hint of magic and he tenses up, I think he’s genuinely afraid of it, you know, he wants nothing to do with this world at all, not to mention he had no clue over what’s happened these last few years, he had no idea about you being an Auror, or the Dementors leaving Azkaban, and when I told him about Livia Rookwood-’

‘You’ve been speaking to him about work?’ Harry said abruptly, his eyes widening.

‘You speak to your partner about work, I’ve heard you,’ said Theia.

‘Not the same, and you know it,’ he said sharply. ‘Don’t say anything else to him, got it? I’m going to have to talk to him.’

‘Why?’ she said furiously. ‘He wants nothing to do with the wizarding world, it’ll just upset him-’

‘This isn’t just to do with you,’ he said, and though his voice was reassuring she didn’t believe it. ‘I told you at Terry’s that I wanted to speak to him, I want to speak to everyone in the D.A, especially those that didn’t… Didn’t get the closure they needed.’

‘Dennis is finding closure in not being a wizard anymore,’ said Theia. There was a certain bite to her tone, a kind of resentment, and briefly she imagined living a magical life with Dennis, some sort of future where he loved magic once again. She ached for it, and wondered how long she could live with a foot in each world.

There was a silence again, Harry watching her so intently that she wanted to look down at her fingers, but she irritably looked back. ‘You know we never found out who actually killed Colin,’ he said. ‘He took a few photos in his last seconds, but none show the final blow or a clear culprit.’

‘All of the Death Eaters identified in his photos are either dead or in prison though,’ she said coldly. She was not stupid. She had read the news after the battle like everyone else, heard all the stories, listened at the memorial, seen all the photos that Dennis and Colin’s ex-girlfriend had sent into the paper.

Harry nodded. ‘I’d still like to talk to him,’ he said calmly. When she didn’t answer, he sighed. ‘I won’t interrogate him, I’d just like to see how he’s doing.’

Theia considered, drumming her fingers on the table. ‘Fine. He doesn’t have lectures on Wednesday afternoons, you could come round then.’ She pursed her lips. ‘He does want to see you again actually,’ she admitted. ‘He just wanted a bit more time to adjust to the idea.’

Harry smiled slightly. ‘I’d like to see him too. I imagine he’s grown up a lot since I knew him.’

‘Yes, he has,’ said Theia pointedly.

After yet another awkward pause, they rose together, neither meeting the other’s eyes, and began to leave. ‘Perhaps best if you don’t tell him I’m coming,’ Harry said suddenly as he opened the door.

It was manipulative and cold of him, in Theia’s opinion, to spring such a shock on Dennis given all he’d been through. But she gave a grunt of approval, reminding herself that he was her boss, and that the quicker he realized Dennis was still the sweet boy they’d known at school, the better.

Harry left to the surveillance room to check on Shyverwretch’s magical bugs, and Theia went in the opposite direction, to the rattling lifts and then down to records room. She liked it in here. The air felt thick and close, the files and record books were musty and stiff. It was only the Auror department that was busy on a Saturday, and the records room hardly ever had people in it anyway, so it was wonderfully deserted, heavy with peace and quiet.

Others might have seen dull records of births and deaths and crimes, but Theia saw endless secrets and histories, the lives of thousands of witches and wizards arranged into neat forms and sorted into careful categories, laid bare for anyone in the Ministry to examine. But hardly anyone ever did. Gossip is more interesting when one has to work for it.
The records room was huge, larger even than the Great Hall at Hogwarts, and the shelves stretched up, vanishing into the dark ceiling. She had a mad urge to climb one of them. Instead, she continued to the back, to the section she knew held files related to foreign affairs and international crimes.

It took her a long time to find the correct file. There had apparently been a lot of activity in late 90’s Germany relevant to the British Ministry, but clearly it hadn’t been deemed important enough to organize properly. Finally, she found a file where “Fisher” had been scribbled out and corrected to “Fischer”. She sat cross legged on the floor and pulled out an old yellow parchment, which bore the summarized translation of the crime report.

The bodies of Elfriede (36), Gerhild (8) and Bastian (6) Fischer were discovered at Glucklich Haus, on the outskirts of Dubrow, on the evening of 1st September 1997 by Josef Fischer (39) and his son Lars Fischer (16).
The bodies were found to have signifiers of murder by the Avada Kedavra curse. Elfriede Fischer was found in the hallway of the home, beneath her was the body of Gerhild. Bastain Fischer was found in the closest doorway leading to the kitchen, and appeared to be fleeing. Photographs of the crime scene have been provided by the German Ministry and are included in this file.

Sightings of the Dark wizard known as He Who Must Not Be Named in the local area are believed to be associated with this murder. Christoph Kaufer (42), a records keeper in the German Ministry, has claimed that He Who Must Not Be Named approached him looking for the wandmaker M. Gregorovitch (61). In fear, Kaufer revealed Gregorovitch’s address, without realizing that the Fischer family had moved into Glucklich Haus just one month prior.


Theia pulled out the photographs. Her stomach lurched. She hadn’t really considered what it would be like, to see the body of a woman slung over a child, the little girl’s large blue eyes staring up at the camera vacantly. The little boy was on his front, his tiny face against kitchen tiles. She supposed the curse would have hit him in the back.
It was suddenly very cold in the room.

She sniffed, and shook herself slightly, putting the photos back into the file and digging through it further.
‘I thought I’d find you in here.’

She jumped at the low, growling voice, and looked up to see Robards leaning casually against the shelves. He looked sinister in the low light. She swallowed before answering. ‘I’m looking up the case that was described in that newspaper clipping,’ she said, unsure why she sounded so nervous.

He nodded. ‘Potter mentioned.’

He stared at her expectantly, and she found herself feeling anxious as she pushed the file back into its place on the shelf and rose, breathing deeply.

‘Have you put any thought into what I said last night?’ he asked.

She didn’t look at him. ‘You can’t seriously think that,’ she said quietly.

‘Not really,’ he said. ‘But it’s worth considering. I keep an eye on all my staff, Higglesworth. He wouldn’t be the first to snap. And orphans… They’re always funny, orphans. Attachment issues.’

Now she did look at him, and she was sure her expression showed the disgust on her face. ‘He seems fine to me,’ she said loyally.

‘That kid’s been through some messed up stuff,’ said Robards. ‘I admire your faith in him, but good Aurors are always suspicious.’

‘It clearly wasn’t him, I was with him all night,’ she said, her voice trembling. She realized her fists were clenched, and her jaw was jutting out in anger.

‘Yes,’ Robards said. ‘Like I said, I don’t think it’s him. But he could be covering for someone. These are all his mates, and Potter’s always been blind to his friend’s faults.’

Theia said nothing, simply stared into Robard’s pale eyes.

‘He’s too trusting… If you suspect he’s covering for someone, or letting sentimentality get in the way, you are morally and legally obliged to tell me, you hear, Higglesworth?’

‘That I have no objections to,’ said Theia. ‘But asking me to spy on him is something else entirely. It’s immoral.’
Robards leaned forward. ‘Not in this job it isn’t.’

With that, he walked away, leaving her alone in the dark room filled with people’s lives.

***


Harry had been looking forward to lunch all day. Ginny’s training was over running slightly, but he didn’t mind; it was good to sit in the stands of the Holyhead Harpies stadium, watching her weave in and out of the other players, her ginger ponytail streaming behind her.

Finally Gwenog’s whistle shrieked, and Ginny landed not far from him. ‘Sorry,’ she said breathlessly, hurrying towards him. ‘I’ll be two minutes, I promise-’

She gave him a quick peck and ran off in the direction of the changing rooms. Many of the other players were not bothering to change, and instead were summoning packed lunches and sitting on the stands not far from him. It was far too cold to eat outside, in his opinion, but Rhiannon Carmichael kept waving and giggling at him, nudging Abigail Turner excitably.

Finally, after several minutes of him resolutely pretending not to notice the star-struck Harpies, Ginny emerged again, smiling at him brightly. ‘Where’re we off to then?’ she asked.

‘I was thinking the Three Broomsticks, I wanted to update Neville on the case.’

She stared at him, face horrified, before noticing his smile and smacking him lightly on the chest. ‘You arse, that’s not funny.’

He grinned, and pulled her close. ‘I should know better by now, shouldn’t I?’

He apparated them both to a quiet corner of a market town not far from the stadium. The air was still cold here, so it was with great relief that they hurried into a cosy-looking café, where they were able to sit on squashy sofas underneath fairy lights.

A cheerful waitress took their orders, Ginny deliberating for an agonizing amount of time, and Harry leaned back into the cushions, yawning widely. ‘Sorry,’ he mumbled. ‘How’s practice going?’

‘If you’re not allowed to talk about work, I’m not either,’ she said. ‘Anyway, I have something more important to discuss.’

‘More important than Quidditch?’

‘All right, I might be exaggerating. But interesting anyway.’ She shifted in her seat to face him properly. ‘I think Ron might be planning on proposing to Hermione.’

Harry raised an eyebrow. ‘I think he would have told me.’

‘Well, yes, that’s what I said, but George says he keeps saying weird things like they need to do more research into what girls want for the Daydream Charms, and asking Verity about whether public proposals are tacky.’

‘Didn’t Verity get proposed to in the middle of Diagon Alley?’ asked Harry.

‘Yes, she called Ron a cretin and hexed him, but that’s not the point. Why was he asking that stuff in the first place? He must be planning to propose.’

They were momentarily distracted by the arrival of their food, so there was a pause before Harry said, ‘nah, he’d tell me. He’d want advice or something.’

‘Well would you go to him?’ asked Ginny, suddenly turning very red.

‘What?’

‘Would you… Would you go to him? For advice?’ She was blushing like the setting sun now, and sending filo pastry flying as she cut clumsily into her feta and spinach pie.

Harry was rather sure that alarm bells were going off in his head. ‘Well, that’s different,’ he said carefully. ‘You’re his sister.’

Ginny seemed to let out a breath, and flashed him an embarrassed smile. ‘He’d prefer that to us living in sin, wouldn’t he?’ Harry shrugged, too relieved that he’d escaped a dangerous conversation to care. ‘Did he ask you advice about Hermione before then?’

‘No, I suppose not,’ said Harry slowly. ‘But after that whole locket thing during the war I just thought that was because he thought there could be something between us.’

Ginny snorted. ‘You and Hermione? God, he is a muppet, isn’t he?’

‘I still think he’d ask me. He’d ask me before Verity, surely?’

‘Well when was the last time it was just you and him?’ Ginny said gently.

Harry’s shoulders sank. ‘I don’t know… I can’t remember.’ Guilt tugged at his stomach.

‘I know I’ve been on at you,’ said Ginny softly. ‘And it’s not fair of me, not really. I could see that the other night, and I was still kicking up a fuss. But-’

‘We said we weren’t going to talk about work,’ he interrupted. ‘How d’you reckon he’s going to propose anyway? Hermione must have told you what she wants at some point. I can try and drop hints next time I see him, make sure he doesn’t do it in the middle of a Chudley Canons game or something stupid.’

Ginny smiled at him, her eyes shining, and she leaned into him as they talked, whiling away their lunch hour entertaining themselves by coming up with ever more elaborate proposals for Hermione Granger.

***


When he returned to the office, Theia wasn’t there. Impressed and faintly appalled at her work ethic in equal measures, he simply grabbed the files he needed and headed down to the records room. He paced the aisles of the shelves until he spotted her, sat on the floor surrounded by papers and books and files.

She didn’t look up as he approached, but greeted him with a distracted tone, frowning over a photograph.

‘Any luck?’ he asked, sitting opposite her.

‘Yes,’ she said proudly. She explained the information she’d found on the Fischer family, and then pushed a photograph towards him. ‘This is our guy, isn’t it? The one that was hanged outside the pub. I mean, he’s a little younger here, but-’

‘Yeah,’ said Harry slowly. ‘That’s him. How did you find him?’

‘His name is Christoph Kaufer. He worked in the German Ministry in the 90s, and told You-Know-Who where the Fischer’s were. He says he didn’t realize that Gregorovitch didn’t live there anymore, but…’ She pushed forward another piece of parchment, which Harry grabbed and scanned rapidly. ‘…He fled Germany after the war when it was revealed that he happened to be family friends with Gregorovitch, so must have known he had moved. German wizards turned on him when they realized that he sent You-Know-Who to the old house without caring that a new family must have moved in.’

‘Where did he go?’

‘The UK,’ Theia said promptly. She tapped a heavy book. ‘Registered with the Ministry here and told them he didn’t know a new family had moved in, and that he was just absolutely terrified of You-Know-Who and he couldn’t stay in Germany anymore. I don’t know if he was telling the truth or not, but it doesn’t really matter, because…’

‘There were survivors,’ Harry finished for her as she lifted the Fischer file.

She nodded. ‘Sort of. The father and another son came home to find the bodies. The father died not long after from a heart condition.’

Harry winced. ‘How old was the son?’

‘Sixteen at the time of the murders, seventeen when his father died. His name is Lars Fischer. It could be him, couldn’t it? It could be our guy? He could have got his hands on a coin somehow, they’re quite famous now, you know.’

Harry nodded. ‘Makes sense. I checked Shyverwretch’s bugging charms… There’s been conversation about Dubrow in the shop.’

‘There has?’

‘They don’t trust him. He’s a newcomer, he’s from Durmstrang. But he’s getting along with them all, and he came into the shop to talk to Shyverwretch about a new breakout plan. He seems really determined to get the Death Eaters out, even I was convinced, and I was just reading the bare bones of the conversation. It might all be a ruse to trick them and get close to them, or perhaps he really does align with their beliefs, but is just a bit of a loose canon. Death Eaters used to do this stuff all the time — they’re a violent lot, and the smallest arguments could result in death.’

Despite his grim words, she looked delighted. She gripped at her hair, almost delirious with excitement, smiling broadly. ‘This could be it!’ she exclaimed. ‘We just need to find him! It must be him, it must be!’

Harry nodded. ‘We need him to make a mistake. We need to rattle him.’

‘How?’

‘Remember what I said about killers always being proud of what they’d done?’ he said. She nodded. ‘And did you see the Daily Prophet this morning?’

‘Yes,’ she said unhappily. ‘It was all over the front page, the press aren’t going to leave us alone, are they?’

Harry smiled. ‘No,’ he said. ‘But I don’t want them to.’


Back to index


Chapter 14: Chapter Fourteen: The Ruse

The whole place stank. Theia covered her nose in revulsion, trying to breathe through her mouth, but the stench of owl shit permeated everything, the walls and arches bleached white with droppings, the birds squawking noisily from nests.

They had spent the entire previous day organizing this plan, but she had not expected to find the person they needed in an owl breeding centre.

Harry was doing a better job of pretending the smell wasn’t affecting him, but Theia noticed his hand straying subtly to his nose, trying his best to be polite next to the scruffy wizard leading the way.

‘How’s he getting along?’ Harry asked the man. ‘Is he a good worker?’

The scruffy man grunted. ‘He’s better than the usual lot yeh send over from Azkaban, but still as thick as hippogriff shit.’

‘You won’t mind if I borrow him for a couple of days?’ asked Harry.

The man shrugged. ‘Won’t hurt, I s’pose. The owls’ll keep breeding whether he’s here or not, that’s all I care about. Here he is… Shunpike!’

Theia followed the direction of the man’s bark to see a big-eared young man sweeping the filthy floor. His acne-scarred face lit up in a confused but happy smile as he spotted Harry. ‘Mr Potter!’ he said eagerly.

‘Hello Stan,’ said Harry, in a sort of kindly voice Theia usually associated with speaking to children. ‘How’s the work placement going?’

‘Brilliant,’ beamed Stan. ‘I really love it ‘ere, honest.’ Theia glanced dubiously down at the sweepings of owl droppings, mice bones and eggshells.

‘I’ve come to ask for a favour,’ said Harry. ‘I thought you’d be just the man for the job.’

Stan looked beside himself with excitement, and eagerly showed Harry and Theia to a small room where the stench was less pungent. Harry politely introduced Theia as they sat at a rickety desk strewn with invoices for pet shops and magical post offices up and down the country. ‘Stan is here on placement after serving two years in Azkaban,’ he told Theia, though of course she already knew that.

‘I got led down the wrong path,’ Stan recited earnestly. ‘But me an’ ‘Arry met well back, didn’t we, ‘Arry?’

‘We did,’ agreed Harry patiently. ‘When I was thirteen. You helped me get to London, it was very kind.’

‘I didn’t know he was ‘Arry Potter or nuffin’ though,’ Stan told Theia enthusiastically. ‘But it paid off, in the end, ‘cus ‘ee knew I was a decent bloke. An’ then ‘im and ‘is girlfriend ‘elped me out in my trial, they was character witnesses for me, and then when I was in prison I told ‘Arry I liked animals an’ he helped me set up workin’ ‘ere.’

‘That’s lovely,’ she said, smiling at him. It was all part of the plan. Gently remind him of his new loyalties… ‘Sounds like you’ve really turned it all around.’

‘Yeah,’ grinned Stan. ‘Not long left on probation now, an’ I’ll get me wand back an’ all.’

‘Would you like the chance to end your probation a little early, Stan?’ asked Harry. ‘In exchange for a favour.’

Stan scratched the side of his oily nose. ‘Nuffin’ dangerous is it? ‘Cus, it’s not that I can’t cope or nuffin,’ he added hastily, turning pink. ‘I just want a quiet life now…’

‘I understand,’ said Harry. ‘Don’t worry, it’s nothing like that.’ He leaned forward, and Stan seemed to shrink uneasily away as Harry explained the plan in a low voice.

‘What if they fink it’s me though?’ he asked, looking extremely worried. ‘What if someone recognizes me or summat?’

‘They won’t,’ Harry assured him. ‘You have my word.’

‘And then you’ll have a couple of days relaxing out of sight,’ Theia added. ‘We’ll take good care of you.’

Stan considered uneasily, wiping at his nose with the back of his grubby hand. ‘An’ I’ll get me wand back?’ he asked. He sounded very childlike, and Theia felt a stab of pity for the pathetic man before them.

‘Not straight away,’ said Harry apologetically. ‘But I’ve spoken to Auror Robards and some of the Wizengamot, and they’re happy to reduce your probation significantly, maybe by sixth months.’

Hope crossed Stan’s face, he wringed his hands, his eyes moving rapidly as he slowly counted up what was left of his probation. ‘Will I be able to get me old job back?’ he asked. ‘On the bus?’

‘I’m afraid someone else has that job now,’ said Harry gently. ‘Don’t you like this job? We can see about finding something else for you if you want.’

‘No, no,’ said Stan, eyes widening. ‘I like it, I like owls. Just miss the bus, yeh know?’

‘I know,’ said Harry. ‘You made some mistakes, Stan, but you’re a good bloke. You behaved impeccably in Azkaban. You worked with us. It would be a real help if you worked with us again. And then you can come back to this job.’

Stan gave a large gulp. Harry maintained steady eye contact; Theia had to admire how well he’d predicted Stan’s reaction to the plan. He knew exactly how to play him.

‘All right,’ said Stan, his voice breaking scratchily. ‘For you, Harry, because you’re such a top bloke. An’ I’m sorry about being on the wrong side an’ all.’

‘It’s all right, Stan,’ said Harry soothingly. ‘You explained it all in Azkaban. Thank you for helping us. Ready to go?’

‘What, now?’ said Stan, his eyes widening. ‘Can’t I get me fings?’

‘We have plenty for you there,’ said Harry. ‘It’s all been arranged, but we’ve got some time to say goodbye to Mr Chisolm and the owls if you want.’ He looked at Theia. ‘You need to go ahead.’

Theia nodded. ‘Ten minutes should do it.’

‘See you soon.’

She hurried out of the owlry, Disapparating as soon as she stepped outside to Diagon Alley. She ducked behind a large pile of pumpkins by Fairclough and Sons grocers, and pointed her wand to her face. She had been good at concealment and disguise in her year’s training, but nerves were gnawing away at her, and her wand trembled a little as she pointed it at her own face.

She whispered the incantations, but with no mirror she couldn’t tell if they had worked or not. She glanced at her watch. There was no time to fuss, it would have to do.

As she strode down the cobbled street, she stole a glance at her reflection in the window of the broom shop. She couldn’t see detail, but she’d apparently been successful in transforming her wispy brown hair to black, and her nose had grown considerably.

She stopped outside the offices of the Daily Prophet. She rearranged her robes, which were not her usual scarlet Auror robes, but the uniform of a lower ranking member of the Magical Law Enforcement Squad.
She cleared her throat, preparing her change of accent, and stepped in.

The reception was glossy and bright. A blonde, sulky looking witch sat at the front desk, scribbling away at a piece of parchment while a typewriter clacked by itself next to her. ‘Can I help you?’ she said dully, without looking at Theia.

‘Got a tip off, like,’ said Theia, in her best impression of Bessie’s Geordie accent. ‘Was hoping yous’d be interested… Maybe enough to pay a little?’

The witch sighed huffily. Clearly offers like this came in all the time. ‘Well, leave your name and some details and we’ll get back to you-’

‘Haven’t got much time, pet,’ said Theia. ‘It’s literally about to happen up at the Ministry. It concerns Harry Potter. I don’t know who it is, but we’ve all been told he’s made a big arrest, and we’ve gotta get the most secure holding cell ready.’
The witch raised an eyebrow. ‘Hold on,’ she said, and she turned and began to walk down a long corridor.

‘I mean it!’ Theia called after her. ‘Haven’t got much time, I need to be back at work in two minutes!’

But Theia didn’t wait for the witch to return with a reporter. The seeds had been planted, and she hurried out the door again, tapping her wand to her face as she went to reverse the concealment charms.

By the time she had apparated back to the owlry, Harry and Stan were waiting patiently outside. ‘All done?’ asked Harry.

Theia nodded. ‘Do you think the others managed to convince the other newspapers? Matthew and Judy and that lot? Judy’s terrible at lying.’

‘Well, we’ll find out, won’t we?’ said Harry cheerfully. He turned to Stan, pulling a dark material from his pocket. ‘Terribly sorry, Stan, it’s not very dignified, but it’ll keep you secret.’

Stan looked rather unhappy, but obediently allowed Harry to place the dark hood over his head, hiding his face from the world. Harry also bound Stan’s hands behind his back, though loosely.

‘This better not be a trick to send me back to Azkaban,’ said Stan suddenly, his panicked voice muffled through the hood. ‘I’m not going back there, I ain’t done nuffin!’

‘Don’t worry, Stan, you can trust me,’ said Harry. ‘We’re going to Disapparate now, all right? Three, two…’

They appeared in the Atrium of the Ministry, where, thankfully, the plan had worked. A great horde of photographers were waiting for them, and they rushed forward, cameras flashing madly, shouting questions. Theia did her best to adopt a very serious expression, following Harry’s lead by gripping one of Stan’s arms and frog marching him through the mob.

‘Please stand aside, this is none of your business,’ Harry said shortly. ‘Move.’

‘Potter! Is this in connection to the man that was hanged outside the Leakey Cauldron?’

‘Is it a member of the D.A, Potter? Is that why you won’t let us see who it is?’

‘Potter!’

‘Potter, are you upset to lose the title of Most Charming Smile to Myron Wagtail of the Weird Sisters?’

They pushed through them, doing their best to ignore the dazzling flashes, allowing themselves to look stressed and anxious, before they finally reached the lifts. There, Williamson and Savage stood, grim faced, opening the grilled gates smoothly.

Theia stepped into the lift with Stan, but Harry stopped and turned back to the reporters, pausing while he allowed them to take his photo. Even in the short few weeks Theia had known him, she had a deep understanding of how much he despised the press, but here he stood, manipulating them with ease.

‘You all need to leave Ministry premises,’ he said loudly. ‘We have arrested someone in connection with the deaths of Livia and Augustus Rookwood, Pansy Parkinson and Christoph Kaufer, along with the disappearance of Cormac McLaggen. We will release a statement in due course.’

Then he joined them in the lift, and it gave a great shudder before slowly sinking, the flashes and yells evaporating away.

There was a slightly stunned silence in the lift now. Theia could hear Stan breathing heavily, no doubt bewildered and terrified, but Harry, Savage and Williamson stayed quiet. Finally, they reached the Auror office, and Harry removed the hood and binds as Savage pulled open the heavy gate.

‘Sorry about that, Stan,’ said Harry brightly. ‘The worst is over.’

‘Right,’ said Stan shakily, rubbing his wrists, though the binds had been pathetically loose.

‘Tea? Coffee?’ offered Theia, as they led him to the break room. ‘Make yourself at home. You might have to sleep here, I’m afraid, but we’ve turned one of the meeting rooms into a nice little bedroom for you.’

‘Dawlish and Proudfoot have the list of potential targets,’ Savage was saying to Harry. ‘Each one’s got at least two pairs of eyes on them.’

‘Good,’ said Harry. ‘Any problems finding any of them?’

‘Warrington was a bit tricky, but we found him on the Isle of Man. Wigens and Balmer are stationed outside his house.’

Harry yawned as he nodded. ‘OK… Well, this pretty much counts as a stakeout even if it is in the office. Anyone know where the biscuits are? We have a guest, after all.’

Robards appeared as Stan was happily taking biscuits from the plate Judy was offering. ‘All worked out then?’ he asked Harry gruffly.

‘We’ll have to wait and see,’ said Harry lightly, leaning back on the grubby sofa. He seemed relaxed, but Theia could see his fingers tapping nervously on the arm. ‘I’m not expecting anything until it’s in the papers anyway.’

‘You’re still happy to take responsibility for whatever happens?’ said Robards sharply. ‘All well and good trying to poke at his sense of pride, but what if this bloke goes out and kills someone else? What then?’

‘It won’t happen,’ said Harry easily. ‘We’re prepared.’

Robards grunted. ‘It better not, Potter. Not now you’ve drawn the attention of every bloody reporter in the country.’

‘What’s going to happen now?’ asked Dawlish, rudely. Theia felt a burn of resentment. She’d spent several hours writing out a detailed schedule for everyone, which Dawlish had apparently tossed aside like it was nothing…

‘Everyone who’s not monitoring a potential target is on call, if they want to go home they have to check with me,’ said Harry patiently. ‘I’m not expecting anything to happen until the papers come out tomorrow morning, but news could travel quicker than that, and Stan and I in particular need to stay here in case the press are loitering in the atrium. Once someone does spot something happening, they’ll send the signal and we’ll all go straight there.’

‘You think the press have fallen for it?’ sneered Dawlish. ‘We don’t usually hide the faces of suspects when we arrest them-’

‘I know,’ said Harry, looking completely unconcerned as he seized a biscuit. ‘Makes a much juicier story, doesn’t it?’

***


The office was now dark, but the Aurors remained, slumped on sofas and in conjured hammocks, blearily rubbing their eyes as they took turns sleeping or dropping home for a few hours. Every now and then, someone would return from wherever they had been placed, to swap with someone else who would grumpily head downstairs to Apparate. It was boring work. The new recruits in particular looked rather disillusioned. Perhaps the job wasn’t proving to be filled with the raids and duels they had always dreamed of.

With the exception of a brief Floo call with Ginny, Harry hadn’t left the office. Concerned that the papers might not fall for the scheme, Theia had suggested “accidentally” not noticing a reporter sneak into the department, allowing him to briefly hear Harry yelling furiously in the meeting room before swiftly being “discovered” and escorted back downstairs by Proudfoot. It was highly successful, not to mention rather fun, and Harry had to admit that it was a stroke of genius, and certainly broke the monotony of waiting around for something to happen.

But now dull exhaustion had fallen on the office like a thick blanket. Harry had taken the chance to have a couple of hours sleep, but it was his turn to stay up and await news now, not to mention overseeing the shift swapping, and it was approaching midnight. The enthusiasm of the unusual plan and excitement of a sort-of-sleepover in the office had quickly worn off. He’d persuaded Theia to go home and get some sleep and dinner. Even Stan, who had been irritating Harry all evening, had retired to his makeshift room, so the hardest part of staying awake was now the lack of company.

He entertained himself for a while by non-verbally levitating various objects onto Dawlish’s sleeping body across the room, but he was such a heavy sleeper that there was no challenge to it. He was just gently levitating a fanged-geranium close to Dawlish’s nose when Theia sat heavily next to him.

He jerked in surprise slightly, but as she asked what he was doing, dropped the geranium away from Dawlish. ‘Nothing,’ he said. He was rather sure that Theia would disapprove. ‘You didn’t have to come back so soon, I told you that you could wait until 5am, you’ve been working non-stop since Friday night, you must be exhausted.’

‘Oh, I’m fine,’ she said, waving a hand. ‘I had a kip and then Mum made me some sausages and mash. I’ve been desperately trying to explain to her who you are, but she doesn’t really understand it. When we surprise Dennis tomorrow, you should drop round to my Mum’s too. I think I’ve done a poor job of explaining you, and she’s confused about whether you’re a hero or not.’

He laughed. After meeting Theia’s dad, he was sure the mother would be easier. ‘Sure, why not?’ he said. ‘It’s been a long time since I was in a Muggle house, and I’d like to hear what you’ve been saying about me.’ She looked rather guilty about something, but he’d noticed that she generally seemed embarrassed about her Muggle background, so changed the topic.

‘The plan seems to be going smoothly,’ he said. ‘Good job on the schedules, everyone seems to be sticking to them. Well, Alan fell asleep at his post, the lazy arse, but that’s why we stuck him outside Flint’s place, isn’t it?’

‘Do you really think this will work?’ she asked, chewing her lip. ‘What if we missed someone on the list? What if we’re not watching whoever he goes out to kill? What if he just kills McLaggen and doesn’t go out to try and get anyone else at all? What if-’

‘Breathe,’ Harry reminded her firmly.

‘Sorry.’

‘What did I tell you yesterday, when we were planning all this?’ he asked her.

‘Killers are arrogant.’

He nodded. ‘Yeah, they are. They’re so arrogant that they believe their beliefs or their emotions or their desires are more important than someone else’s right to live, or more important than proper and fair justice. This is helpful, because it means we can predict them. No one is truly unpredictable. It’s not in our nature.’

‘But our list of targets,’ Theia said worriedly. ‘What if we’ve missed someone?’

Harry winced. ‘Yeah… I mean, obviously don’t tell Robards, but that is my biggest concern. But look at our victims so far. Death Eaters. People that helped the regime or Voldemort and faced consequences… They’ve all been victims that aren’t exactly sympathized with when they turn up dead. They’re not secretly corrupt or quietly dangerous. They’re public bogeymen, and the killer is trying to recruit support. I went to every trial I could. I receive complaints and pleas to take people back to court every week. I know who isn’t popular. I know the ones who got away. I know who people want dead.’

Theia looked like she was struggling with something. Finally, as Harry yawned widely and summoned a coffee from the kitchen, she seemed unable to keep it in much longer. ‘I’ve been thinking,’ she began to babble. ‘I’m not sure Fischer is our guy. I mean, why would he know about McLaggen or the Rookwoods? It only makes sense for the murder outside the pub, and that one seems so different to the others.’

‘I’ve thought of that too,’ Harry admitted. ‘But the coins, and the writing on the wall… Perhaps he’s being contracted by somebody? Either way, he’s mixed up in it all. At the very least if we find him we’ll be able to break up this ring of criminals smuggling stuff into Azkaban… And trying to smuggle people out,’ he added as an afterthought.

‘I was thinking about the missing organs and stuff too,’ said Theia. ‘Livia Rookwood’s heart was cut out, and we thought that it was maybe because she flirted with people. But then Rookwood was made to eat it, and when you read through his case file… He liked to murder people’s loved ones in front of them, didn’t he? I read sometimes he spared people, after he’d killed someone close to them.’

Harry nodded slowly, looking down into his coffee. A cold grief was sweeping over him. ‘He killed my… My friend Fred. During the battle. One of Fred’s brothers saw him after the wall collapsed, saw that it was Rookwood that had cast the curse and chased after him. I found out later that Rookwood just laughed, wouldn’t engage in a duel with him, just kept blocking him and trying to walk off. Percy would have been easy pickings, but it was funnier to Rookwood to just leave him distraught. Percy ended up attacking a different Death Eater.’

He had forgotten Theia was there. He turned his head to glance at her out of the corner of his eye, and she was looking at him very professionally, nodding seriously. ‘What happened?’ she asked. ‘Did Percy-?’

‘Doesn’t matter,’ said Harry brusquely. He didn’t want to talk about this with Theia. He only talked about the battle with the Weasleys and Hermione. ‘Anyway, yeah, Rookwood liked seeing people emotionally devastated. Ties in with getting his wife to flirt with other blokes as well, I suppose… He worked as an Unspeakable before the war. I don’t know what he did, but there are some dangerous rooms in there. Heavy stuff.’ He was not sure why he was telling her this. It was a rarity that he was talking more than her, and he didn’t like it. He felt almost obligated to tell her things, it wasn’t like talking to Ginny, or Ron.

‘Well,’ said Theia, either not noticing or ignoring his discomfort, ‘perhaps the heart didn’t have anything to do with Livia at all. Perhaps it was about Augustus breaking other people’s hearts. And Pansy Parkinson’s tongue… We thought it was because she was a gossip, but perhaps it was because McLaggen was getting other people to talk, coercing them into being spies for the regime.’

Harry thought for a moment. ‘Could be both,’ said Harry. ‘I bet Fischer felt very smart when he came up with neat little symbols like that.’

‘You think so?’ asked Theia. ‘You’re sure I’m not overthinking it? I thought it was a bit… I don’t know, clichéd to have bizarre metaphors like that in a case.’

‘Murderers love clichés,’ Harry assured her. ‘Every time you think it’s too stereotypical, it turns out that it really was the butler that did it, or you really can buy some time by getting them to talk about how they came up with their evil plans. Like I said, killers are arrogant. They all think their murders are extra special.’

She gave a small grin, and they fell into a long tired pause. ‘No symbol for Kaufer though,’ she said sadly. ‘Blows a bit of a hole in my theory, doesn’t it?’

Harry took a large gulp of his coffee before answering. ‘Well he was hung. Might be something there. Records keeper, death sentence… I dunno, I’m reaching a bit. But I’m sure Fischer will have a long and convoluted way to explain exactly why he killed him the way he did.’ He frowned, and swore under his breath. ‘He’d be the end goal though, wouldn’t he?’ he said.

‘Sorry?’

‘Kaufer. The one that was hung. Yeah, he might be inspired to kill the others out of some big headed vigilante fantasy or something, but to be so sadistic with them, and then so swift and clean with the bloke he must have really wanted to kill all along… You’re right, maybe it’s not him.’

‘Maybe the killer has already started to successfully recruit,’ said Theia quietly.

Dread filled him. They had spent all of Sunday and all of Monday planning this evening. And now it was beginning to sink in that somewhere along the line they had got something very wrong indeed.

***


He climbed up the cold, dark stairs, paying no attention to the vague shouts of an arguing couple echoing down the stairwell. He knew he should be pleased. They were idiots. He was too smart for them. Morons. So why wasn’t he happy?

Past the vulgar graffiti and absent-mindedly stepping over a smashed beer bottle, Dennis was so lost in thought as he made his way through the building that he didn’t notice the woman in front of him until he slammed straight into her back, knocking her forward onto the hard concrete floor.

‘Oh!’

‘Oh, Mrs Higglesworth! I’m so sorry, here, let me help you-’

‘Don’t be silly, dear,’ she said, though she took his hand and he heaved her to her feet, before quickly ducking to help pick up the spilled shopping.

‘How are you?’ he asked. ‘Apart from annoyed at random blokes pushing you over on the stairs, I mean.’

She chuckled. ‘Quite well, thank you, Dennis. You’re up and about early. Shouldn’t you be at university?’

‘Cancelled lecture,’ he said, taking some of her shopping bags. ‘Such a shame, I was looking forward to it. It was going to be on crimes of passion.’

She smiled at him warmly, tucking a loaf of bread under her arm. ‘Fascinating! I’m sure they’ll reschedule it. Speaking of passion… How are you getting along with my daughter? She never tells me anything.’

He laughed nervously, trying his best to look embarrassed. ‘She’s wonderful, Mrs Higglesworth, you’ve raised such a lovely girl. Thank you so much for telling me how much she likes Danish pastries.’

‘Not at all!’ beamed Mrs Higglesworth, as they continued their way up the stairs. ‘I’m just so happy she’s found someone, you make such a sweet pair. I expect you’re looking forward to your dinner tomorrow, are you? It was so good of you to invite him, I know you’ve been nervous.’

‘The… dinner?’

‘Yes, yes, the one she was telling me about last night. You must be so excited to see this Henry Potter or whatever his name is again, I hope you’re planning on cooking him something nice.’

His insides seemed to freeze in panic. ‘Of course, sorry,’ he bluffed. ‘Completely forgot what you were on about. Yes, I’m very excited to… Have Harry drop round.’

‘Harry! That’s his name, I’ll never get it right. I don’t know, I get so confused when Theia tries to explain to me why he’s such a big deal.’

‘Well, you’re welcome to come too, if you want,’ Dennis offered, his fists clenching furiously around the handle of the shopping bag. ‘You mean a lot to Theia, it would be good to have you there too. We could make a nice surprise of it.’

‘Oh no, love, don’t worry, I’m happy enough with our little coffee chats once she’s gone to work! I don’t want to intrude.’

He smiled at her. ‘When’s Theia back from work tonight? I need to talk to her about the dinner, actually, I’ve arranged a meat course for the main, but I’m not sure if Harry will like it…’

‘He’s not a vegetarian is he?’ asked Mrs Higglesworth crossly. ‘That’s the new trend these days, isn’t it? Oh, I don’t understand any of it. But if you need any help with cooking, love, you let me know.’

‘Thank you, that’s very kind,’ he said. They had reached the doors, but he politely declined her offer of a cup of tea. ‘I’ve got lots of tidying up to do,’ he said apologetically. ‘I’ve left preparations for this dinner to rather the last minute.’

‘You poor thing, that’s not how you want to spend your Monday night, is it? As for Theia, I have no idea, I only saw her briefly for dinner last night, something about a stakeout,’ said Mrs Higglesworth. ‘But feel free to come over when you’re done, I’ve got some lamb chops that need eating.’

‘My favourite,’ he said pleasantly.

The smile slid off his face as she went into her flat, and he went into his own, slamming the door behind him and leaning against it. His heart was thudding, the sound of rushing blood in his ears. He thought he’d had her. He thought she would tell him anything. Perhaps it was that sodding kneazle. Did she suspect him? No, she couldn’t do. Not with the news…

He dropped his bag, kicking it aside as he stormed past. Perhaps Mrs Higglesworth had it wrong. Perhaps Harry was actually coming to Theia’s and she was just planning to invite him to join them. But even so…

He rushed to the kitchen, pulling out black bin liners from the cupboard under the sink, shaking them out so they crinkled and whooshed.

This was not according to his plan. He was not meant to meet Harry yet. Harry was certainly not meant to come here. Perhaps he had underestimated that girl. Perhaps she was smarter than he realized. He swore under his breath, and headed towards the study. But he paused in the hallway, looking down at his kicked bag. He couldn’t help himself, he had to read it again. He couldn’t believe he’d managed to outsmart them like this, it was staggering. He pulled the newspaper out of the bag, grimacing with distaste at the moving photograph on the front. Fuck photographs. Fuck photos that moved.

POTTER MAKES MYSTERY ARREST — COULD IT BE A FRIEND?

Law enforcement officials and the general public alike were astounded yesterday morning when Harry Potter arrested an unknown individual in connection with the deaths of the unknown hanging man, Pansy Parkinson, and the Death Eaters Livia and August Rookwood, along with the disappearance of Cormac McLaggen. Rumours that have circulated regarding the possibility that the killer is a friend of Potters will surely not be quelled considering he has gone to great lengths to hide the identity of the suspect. Yet one of our courageous investigative reporters was able to go undercover into the department, where Potter could be heard furiously interrogating the unknown individual. Could he be losing his temper with an old friend who has gone dark? Could he be trying to find a way to cover for them? We analyse the evidence on pages 2 and 3.


He snorted. It was pretty funny. Poor Potter, no wonder he was frustrated, especially if he’d started arresting random friends. Still… Was it disappointment he felt? That unease in the pit of his stomach? He thought Potter was smarter than this. It’s not that he wanted to be caught, of course, but a bit of bloody recognition wouldn’t go amiss.

He chucked the paper in the bin liner, and proceeded to the study, unlocking the creaking door and allowing his anger to rush back. It was still too early to meet Potter, especially if he thought some other random bloke was doing it all. He wouldn’t understand then. He had to understand, and it was still too early for him to understand. There was only one thing for it.

***


Harry was shaken awake at half-past ten in the morning. An alarm was ringing, and Aurors were shouting to each other as they pulled on their boots and grabbed their wands.

‘Something’s happening!’ Theia shouted at him. ‘At Runcorn’s!’

He leapt up. This was it. He withdrew his wand, twisted, and Apparated.

Back to index


Chapter 15: Chapter Fifteen: Divine Inspiration

A rumbling explosion, a woman screaming, flames illuminating the tall trees that surrounded the house. Aurors were rushing towards it, keeping low to the ground, ducking behind any shelter they could find. An anti-apparation charm had been swiftly cast by Dawlish, and Mrs Runcorn had been dragged out, but was now screaming and struggling against Matthew’s grip as she tried to make her way back to the house, from which bolts of fire were being launched from the windows. Theia ran to Harry, who was crouching behind an old car, skidding onto her knees beside him.

‘Proudfoot says our target came in and tried to grab Runcorn’s daughter,’ she roared over the noise. ‘When Savage and Wigens burst in to stop it, Runcorn thought they were part of it and launched his attack!’

‘Are they still in the house?’ Harry shouted back. She nodded, and he pointed his wand to his own throat. ‘Everyone move forward, minimal damage, no attack,’ he said, and though he was speaking normally she heard his voice reverberate through her head. ‘Robards, Higglesworth, Proudfoot, and Williamson in with me, everyone else provide cover, testudo formation.

She knew that this was where her training should be kicking in, that previous Aurors would have had three years of drills so that it became second nature, but at this moment, as flames hit the ground and exploded meters from her, she couldn’t think for the life of her what a testudo formation was.

Deciding to wing it, she followed Harry’s lead, keeping close behind him as he ran out, swiftly met by the others, who stood close by them. From behind, their colleagues advanced too, but more slowly, taking turns to cast Protego charms over the heads and to the sides of of Theia and the small group. In front of her, Harry and Robards cast strong shield charms too, which held fast as they marched forward. The flames hit them with thuds, sliding off the shields like water, and though Theia felt fear, she had also never felt more alive.

The flames were not being cast by Runcorn. As they reached the house, Theia could see dark shapes in the windows, some kind of instruments that shot the flames out like the machines of war her mother watched on the Muggle news, but magical, a special design for the most paranoid of dark wizards. They reached the front door, already blasted open, and could hear furious yelling and screaming.

‘DON’T TOUCH MY DAUGHTER-’

‘GET DOWN! GET DOWN!’

‘DROP YOUR WAND!’

They thundered up the stairs to a scene of confused terror. A little girl was cowering behind the ferocious looking Runcorn, who was attempting to duel the three intruders to his home. Savage and Wigens were blocking his spells, while trying apprehend-

Yes. There he was. The man from the pub. The young man from the photo. The target. Dubrow. Fischer. They had found him. Caught him in the act.

His blonde hair and pale, square-shaped face was covered in soot, his teeth gritted in rage, trapped in a corner like a mad dog, unable to reach either the small girl he’d been trying to kidnap or a window he needed to escape.

Had Runcorn not been there, Theia had no doubt they would have been able to disarm and arrest Fischer easily, but Runcorn was a skilled wizard, and despite the terms of his release, had a wand.

‘Auror department! Calm yourselves,’ boomed Robards, though his wand was raised too. A flicker crossed Runcorn’s face, as though he were about to obey Robards, but the panic was too far set in, and curses and hexes were flying everywhere. The little girl also seemed to be causing accidental magic, the tightly packed landing shook and the lights flickered, a nearby door handle shattered behind Wigens who yelped in pain.

The little girl shrieked as a jet of red from Fischer hit the wall behind her, leaving a burned hole.

‘Get the kid out of here,’ Harry ordered Theia sharply.

She moved forward automatically, her arms outstretched to pick up the child, but suddenly her world was filled with red and she felt more pain than she had ever experienced, unbearable, unyielding-

It was gone as swiftly as it had started, and now she found herself on her hands and knees, panting, while Harry was furiously doing battle with Runcorn. ‘Get her out!’ he shouted again. She had never seen him like this. It was terrifying. Cold rage dominated his expression, so much so that he was virtually unrecognizable. He swiftly glanced over his shoulder as he blocked a curse from Runcorn, no doubt looking to Robards and the others trying to arrest Fischer.

Theia felt separated from her own body. She felt herself rise and grab the sobbing child, no more than seven years old, surely, unnoticed by Runcorn who was roaring at Harry.

The girl didn’t squirm in Theia’s arms, though surely she believed her to be an enemy. She screamed for her daddy but curled an arm around Theia’s neck as she raced down the stairs, terrified that she would fall.

She wondered desperately how she would get across the fiery lawn without the use of her wand arm, but her colleagues had advanced so far forward that they were able to shield her as she ran. She reached the safety of the driveway, out of reach of the flames, and had barely put the girl down before something of inhuman strength barreled into her.

‘Maggie!’ the woman was sobbing clutching her daughter to her, ‘Maggie!’

‘Mrs Runcorn-’ began Theia, but the woman jerked the shrieking child behind her, staring at Theia with wild eyes.

‘Don’t come near my daughter! Don’t you come near us! I won’t let you take her away!’

‘We’re not, Mrs Runcorn, we were trying to protect-’

An almighty crash, different from the low rumble of the flames, caught her attention, and she turned to see a body fly from a window. She didn’t see the landing, for the other Aurors were in the way, but they seemed to suddenly fall like dominoes, and a purple mist covered them. From the unnatural cloud burst a tall figure, who ran for the forest surrounding them.

Theia didn’t think twice. She left the woman and child and followed the fleeing man, running with a fierceness she never knew she had. She could hear shouts and running behind her too, but it was like tunnel vision, her eyes were so fixed on Fischer as they whipped through the bracken, dodging branches that she barely had time to see before they were gone.

He cast spells at her wildly over his shoulder, but his aim was poor and she barely had to dodge as they hit the trees beside her, splintering the bark.

Expelliarmus!’ boomed a voice behind her, and she saw Fischer’s wand fly easily from his hand, yet he didn’t stop pace, and so neither did she.

She pointed her wand, it was like an instinct, she barely thought of the spell-

Fischer fell, flat on his face from the tripping jinx, and Theia caught up to him. She leapt onto his back to pin him down, like she had been shown in training, but he was so much bigger than her that he easily rolled her over. They wrestled for a second, she found herself on her back with his angry face looming over, and then she saw his fist raised, ready to strike, but a blue shimmered over him.

His eyes rolled back and his body stiffened. He had barely begun to slump and roll to the side when Theia saw Harry’s hands grab him roughly.

She gasped as he pulled the heavy man off her, sitting up rather shakily.

Harry was panting too, binding Fischer’s hands as Robards and Proudfoot caught up with them. ‘Nice work, Theia,’ Harry said, as Proudfoot helped him hoist up Fischer. ‘You’re all right, are you?’

‘Fine,’ Theia spluttered. Absurdly, it was only now that the fear was hitting her. She began to shake, but the others hadn’t noticed, or were at least kind enough to ignore it.

‘You two take him back,’ Robards told Harry and Proudfoot gruffly. ‘Stick him in the holding cell, don’t question him until I’m back.’

They did so, and Robards extended a huge, bear-like hand to Theia, who accepted it and was pulled firmly to her feet. Robards eyed her shrewdly. ‘Sure you’re all right? That was a nasty Cruciatus curse you were under.’

‘I was only under it for a second,’ she said. ‘Is the little girl OK?’

Robards gave a non-committal grunt. ‘She’s not hurt,’ he said. ‘We have a man down, though.’

‘W-what?’ she spluttered. ‘Who?’

‘Nigel,’ said Robards. ‘He got a big lungful of that poisonous gas and we weren’t able to revive him.’

‘Gosh,’ said Theia, in a slightly stunned voice as the faces of all her colleagues ran furiously through her mind. She felt incredibly guilty. She had no idea who Nigel was, she mostly knew people by their surnames. But Robards began to walk back through the forest silently, and she followed alongside him, feeling incredibly disconcerted.

It was sort of anti-climactic. Was that really it? They had arrested the culprit and now she supposed it was simply a matter of getting a confession, or enough evidence to convict. So why did it feel uncompleted?

‘What information do you have for me?’ asked Robards abruptly.

‘S-sorry?’

‘On Potter.’

She gaped at him, then looked straight ahead. While she and Robards were ambling along at a relaxed pace, Harry and Proudfoot had rushed ahead, and were now barely visible in the distance. ‘You can’t still think he has something to do with this?’ she said.

‘Perhaps not,’ said Robards. ‘But don’t mistake me. He’s not the only one I keep tabs on.’

There was a long silence. ‘He hasn’t done anything,’ said Theia in a low voice. ‘He’s worked really hard on this case, and not once have I thought he’s had anything to do with it, and now it’s pretty much over, so I don’t see what on earth-’

He gave the lightest of chuckles. ‘Your unwavering loyalty is remarkable to see. Are you in love with him?’

A burst of anger froze her face into a hardened grimace. ‘No. It is possible for women to work in this profession without falling in love at the swish of a wand, you know.’

‘Undoubtedly.’

‘And anyway, I have a boyfriend. And Harry has a girlfriend. All of us are more than happy with our respective partners, thank you very much.’

‘I’m sure,’ said Robards, who seemed completely unperturbed by her offended reaction. Twigs snapped underfoot, and a wood pigeon was cooing somewhere nearby. It was oddly peaceful after such an eventful morning.

‘Besides, Harry isn’t as amazing as most girls think he is,’ said Theia, who now felt desperate to prove her professional worth.

‘How so?’ asked Robards in a controlled sort of voice.

‘Well, he can be pretty moody, he can’t really control his emotions, you know, and-’

You are being manipulated, said a voice in her head.

‘And?’ prompted Robards.

‘And… He’s not that good looking in reality,’ Theia made up wildly. ‘Sort of goofy looking.’

‘I see,’ said Robards. ‘And what does he do when he can’t control his emotions? Lose his temper? Let them stew? Take them out on you?’

‘I didn’t mean it like that,’ Theia said swiftly. ‘I just meant… He has a very expressive face, you can always sort of tell what he’s feeling. Surely you must have noticed that?’

Robards gave her a slight smile, and they stopped at the edge of the forest. The house, now streaked with black beneath the odd looking magical instruments in the windows, looked over the burnt and crowded lawn. A huddle of Aurors stood around a body covered in a white sheet.

‘The thing is, Higglesworth, Bessie came to me the other day. There are inconsistencies in the killings we just can’t ignore. I wouldn’t be surprised if this Fischer bloke is only scratching the surface.’

‘What do you mean?’ she asked, though his statement was not unexpected.

‘I am going to see to my staff,’ he said, looking over at the mourning Aurors. ‘You go back to the office and tell Potter to put the suspect in an interrogation room, but not to question him yet.’

Theia ignored protocol, and only nodded her response.

***


When she arrived back at the office, she paused only to peer through the hatch of holding cell one. Fischer’s head was in his hands. She couldn’t see his face.

She could hear a light giggling from the break room, and as she entered, she saw Mrs Runcorn scowling from the sofa, while the little girl, Maggie, sat on the nearby table wearing a ceremonial Auror’s hat.

Harry leaned against the table too, smiling kindly down at her. ‘Suits you,’ he said. ‘Would you like to be an Auror when you grow up?’

The little girl giggled again. ‘No! I’m going to play Gobstones.’ She peered up at him, chewing on her lips. ‘Are you really Harry Potter?’

‘Yes,’ said Harry. ‘Would you like to see my scar?’

The bloody cheek of it, thought Theia. He hated it whenever she had been caught looking at his scar, but this little seven year old was permitted to reach up and touch where he pulled his hair back. From the sofa, Mrs Runcorn gave an irritated huff.

‘Dad says you made most of it up,’ said Maggie.

‘Well, your Dad and I have a few differences,’ said Harry lightly. He caught sight of Theia standing awkwardly in the doorway, and then pointed Maggie to the direction of Judy, who was standing sternly by the sink. ‘Judy’s going to hang out with you for a bit now,’ he said cheerfully. ‘I’ll talk to you soon.’

Judy looked very unhappy at being asked to babysit, but Harry appeared not to notice as he quietly slipped out of the room with Theia. ‘Shit about Nigel isn’t it?’ said Harry. ‘Didn’t know him very well, but he seemed decent.’

‘Merlin, I’m so embarrassed, this is awful but who on earth is Nigel?’ whispered Theia.

‘You know the one, grey hair, mad grin. Got really drunk at Neville’s leaving do.’

‘Oh! Right… Yeah, such a shame…’ She still had no idea. ‘Anyway, Robards wants you to put Fischer in an interrogation room but wait until he gets here-’

‘Yeah, keep him waiting, Robards’ favourite tactic,’ said Harry unconcernedly. ‘Did he say anything about Runcorn? We’ve got him in a holding cell. I’d like to charge him for use of an Unforgivable on you, but-’

‘Harry, listen,’ she interrupted. ‘Before Robards gets here… He’s been asking me about you.’

Harry seemed to stiffen slightly, but his relaxed expression didn’t change. ‘I know,’ he said calmly. ‘So he still thinks I have something to do with it, does he?’

She glanced nervously over her shoulder. ‘I don’t know. I mean, yeah, maybe. I sort of got that impression… He doesn’t think this is the end of it. I think he thinks there are… Other people involved.’

He shrugged. ‘OK. Well… He’s never properly trusted me. Fair enough, really. I swanned in here without any training after half his department got sacked or demoted, and he was pressured to put me into a senior position after just a couple of years.’ He scratched the back of his neck awkwardly, keeping his voice low. ‘He’s a good guy, really Theia, he’s just… Paranoid. And if he thinks we need to keep looking out for other culprits, that’s what we’ll do. It’s a shame he thinks I might be involved, but that’s the way it is.’

‘He’s asking me to spy on you,’ she hissed. ‘It’s completely unethical-’

Harry laughed dryly. ‘You really remind me of my friend Hermione sometimes… Don’t worry about it, Theia. Just answer his questions fairly and if he manages to stumble across my secret plot to destroy the world, give me a heads up so I can make my getaway.’

She smiled weakly, looking down at the floor as she nodded. She expected to feel more elated after the arrest.
‘Am I still on for meeting Dennis this afternoon?’ he asked lightly. ‘I won’t stay long, because I’m shattered, but it would be good to see him still.’

‘Er…’ She ran a hand through her hair, suddenly feeling her own exhaustion. ‘Sure. He should be in.’

‘Good,’ said Harry reassuringly, patting her on the shoulder. ‘I’ll go stick Fischer in Interrogation then. Would you mind trying to get Mrs Runcorn’s statement? She hates me.’

***


Fischer was odd to look at. He would no doubt grow into an intimidating looking man, but his youthfulness meant that his square jaw was softened by his rounded cheeks, his heavy brow frowned over blue eyes that blinked rapidly as he glanced around the interrogation room.

Harry sat calmly opposite him. He let the silence stretch. His only movement was to gently roll a quill between his fingers.

He heard the door open and close with a quiet click. He didn’t move as Theia took her place beside him, but he knew that he had permission to proceed. Robards would be watching on the other side of the window, disguised from their side as a grey brick wall. He released the quill, which gently floated and poised itself over a roll of parchment ready to record.

‘You are Lars Fischer, are you not?’ asked Harry. Fischer nodded. ‘Aged 19, from Dubrow in Germany?’

‘Yes,’ croaked Fischer.

‘And you’ve made friends here, haven’t you? The Death Eaters all think you’re called Dubrow.’

Fischer’s expression was of blank defeat, and he waited several seconds before responding. ‘I am Dubrow,’ he said at last. ‘That is who I am now.’

His English was very good, but in an effort to control his accent, he spoke slowly. Harry leaned forward with a sigh. ‘Have things got a little out of control, Fischer? You don’t seem proud of what you have done.’

Now Fischer smiled, his shoulders shrugging as he gave a breath of laughter. ‘No, I am very proud,’ he said. ‘I am just disappointed it has ended so fast.’

‘Why don’t you tell us what happened, Fischer?’ asked Theia. ‘Now is the chance to tell your story.’

Fischer bit the nail of his thumb as he considered her. Then his eyes flicked to Harry. ‘You must know how good it is to kill the man who murdered your mother.’

‘I didn’t kill him,’ Harry replied. ‘His own curse rebounded. I was only trying to disarm him.’

‘But you would have killed him.’

‘Yes,’ said Harry. ‘I probably would have, in the end.’

He heard Theia’s sharp intake of breath, and could imagine Robards’ arched eyebrow behind the wall.

‘You see,’ said Fischer, whose accent was growing thicker. ‘You can hardly blame me.’

‘But Kaufer wasn’t the man who murdered your family, was he?’ said Harry. ‘He played a part in it, certainly. But I don’t think the situation is the same.’ Fischer shrugged, and looked away. ‘And what about the others?’ asked Harry. ‘The Rookwoods, Pansy Parkinson… I’m assuming Cormac McLaggen is dead too. They had nothing to do with your family.’
Fischer gave an odd jerk of the head. ‘They all played their parts in deaths and disappearances,’ he said. ‘None of them got what they deserved. None of them saw real justice.’

‘But how did you even know about them?’ asked Theia. ‘Did the families of their victims contact you? Is this why you muscled your way into the old Death Eater crowd? For more information?’

‘Not to mention how you managed to wriggle your way into it,’ said Harry slowly. ‘Your name comes up a lot on our bugging charm, and they seem to trust you, but you beat up Shyverwretch, didn’t you?’

‘He wouldn’t give me some information I needed,’ said Fischer. ‘But such actions are normal among those horrible people.’

‘If they’re so horrible, why did you try and help them break out? Seems to me you were playing Beater for both sides.’

‘Some of the people I need…’ began Fischer hesitantly. ‘They are in Azkaban. I needed to get them out.’

Harry sighed again, leaning back in his chair. ‘I see. Hard to get in, murder someone and get out again, isn’t it? Especially if you have a list. I suppose the poisonous gas you used to kill poor old Nigel today is the same stuff you would have had dropped on the guards, is it?’

Fischer said nothing.

‘But I still don’t understand, Lars. I can see why you’d look for Kaufer. I can see why you’d kill him. But none of the other stuff makes sense. Why don’t you explain it to me?’

”ðr,’ said Fischer.

‘Oh-thur?’ asked Theia, flummoxed.

‘It is a concept,’ Fischer explained patronizingly. ‘One of divine inspiration. A friend opened my eyes to what needed to be done, and I helped him to do it.’

‘Friend?’ said Harry sharply. ‘What friend?’

‘A friend,’ Fischer repeated. ‘A friend who was unhappy that you and your friends got your revenge and moved on, neither worrying nor caring about justice for others.’

‘Ah, I love it when it gets personal,’ said Harry, though he was beginning to feel the prickle of anger. ‘Tell me, what were you planning to do with that little girl? She’s not yet eight years old. She has no idea what her father was responsible for in the war. Were you going to cut a body part off her too? Feed it to Runcorn like you did to Rookwood?’

Fischer seemed startled. He blinked rapidly. ‘No,’ he said, but his voice wobbled.

‘Because it seems to me,’ Harry continued loudly, fuelled by Fischer’s frightened expression. ‘That it’s neither divine nor inspired to hurt a little girl because you have some angry feelings about the criminal justice system, especially as it’s not even the justice system of your own country.’

‘She was never in any danger,’ said Fischer, now speaking so rapidly that it was hard to understand him through his thick accent.

‘She was in danger just in that house!’ shouted Harry, losing his temper. ‘You put her in monumental danger, and I find it hard to believe you were going to treat her kindly considering the injuries we found on your other victims.’

He pushed forward photos of Livia, Augustus and Pansy, and Fischer cried out in disgust and fear, turning away from them. ‘Nein, I did not know-’

‘Didn’t know?’ asked Theia. ‘What do you mean you didn’t know?’

‘Who else is involved in this?’ demanded Harry. ‘Who is your friend? Did you not know about any of this?’

‘They all deserved it,’ Fischer shot back. ‘I’ve been told what they did. Who they hurt. I have no sympathy for them.’

‘But you didn’t do this?’ asked Theia. ‘Is that what you’re saying?’

‘I delivered them,’ said Fischer.

‘To who? Where?’ asked Harry, fists clenched. Fischer looked away again. His face was very white.

‘Lars,’ said Theia, her voice gently and soothing. ‘Why don’t you tell us about this friend? Where did you meet him?’

He seemed to think for a very long time. ‘At school,’ he said at last.

‘Durmstrang?’ prompted Harry.

Another long pause. ‘Yes.’

‘And this… This whole scheme, it was his idea, was it?’ asked Theia.

Fischer chewed on his thumbnail again. ‘We came up with it together. ”ðr.’

‘Well it looks like he goes a bit further than you,’ said Harry quietly. ‘You deliver them, but I suppose you were allowed to kill Kaufman yourself, were you? You gave him a quick death, I’ll give you that. But the others… They suffered, Lars. Why don’t you help us? Why don’t you tell us who your friend is?’

Fischers eyes roved slowly over the photographs, tracing the pools of red, the pale skin, the eyes wide open in horror. ‘They deserved it,’ he said coldly. ‘When will you send me to prison? Others there deserve it too.’

Back to index


Chapter 16: Chapter Sixteen: The Study

Harry was going home. He’d actually begun to physically sway when Robards barked at him to go home and get some fucking rest, because he’d only go and make stupid mistakes like a wanker and then the rest of the department would have to clean up his bloody mess.

Well, that’s how Robards had put it anyway.

‘You should get some sleep too,’ said Harry. ‘Then I’ll meet you at, what, seven did we agree?’

Theia nodded. ‘Yeah, sounds good. You go. I’ll just file the interview transcript before I head off.’

‘It’s nearly over, Theia,’ he called over his shoulder as he left. ‘Done by the weekend I reckon!’

She smiled as he left, reluctantly allowing herself to get excited at the prospect of it all being over. If Fischer wasn’t going to give them a name, he couldn’t blame it on anyone else, and both she and Harry were starting to doubt there even was anyone else involved anyway. Still all avenues had to be thoroughly searched, and they’d drawn up a schedule to interview the list of DA members. She and Harry would be starting with Dennis tonight, to ease themselves in, and moving on to Michael Corner, Zacharias Smith and the Patel twins tomorrow.

She handed the completed transcript to Susan, then, on a spur-of-the-moment decision, took the elevator down to the morgue.

It was cold and white down there. Her breath coiled before her, her clacking shoes echoing against the shiny tiles. Bessie’s team moved through the corridors silently, it would have been ghostly if it hadn’t been so sterile.

‘Bessie?’ she called.

‘Howay pet,’ called a voice. Theia followed it, and found herself in a rather warmer office, though it still gleamed white. Bessie was sat at a desk, holding a probity probe over Fischer’s belongings and frowning intently.

‘I came to ask if you’d found a DA coin,’ Theia asked. ‘If it turns out he just nicked one, it could save us a lot of wasted time interviewing people, Harry’s pretty sure no one in the DA would-’

‘Nothing like that,’ said Bessie impatiently. ‘But what in the bleedin’ hell is this?’ She held up something small and black, like a small brick. ‘It keeps singing. I’ve scanned it for dark magic, but nothing’s come up.’

Theia took a step closer. ‘That’s a mobile phone. Muggles use them to talk to each other.’

Bessie snorted disbelievingly. ‘It’s not doing any talking. I found it in his jacket pocket.’

‘May I?’ asked Theia, holding out her hand. Bessie shrugged and handed it over. It was a Nokia, a similar model to her mum’s, and as Theia pressed a button, the small square screen lit up with a faint green colour.

She tapped the buttons to scroll through the call log, Bessie watching with a distrustful intrigue and wincing at every beep. ‘He just calls one number, over and over again.’

‘What? What do you mean he calls a number? What do numbers have to do with it?’

‘It means he’s only using it to talk to one particular person,’ Theia explained patiently. ‘It’s been ringing, you say? Making noise?’

‘It’s barely shut up, it’s been driving me mad.’

Theia gulped. When her mother watched detective programs on the telly, the Muggle policemen could track phones, figure out who was using them and exactly where they were. But Theia had no idea how to do any of that stuff, and most of the people she worked with were just as clueless as Bessie. There was, in her opinion, only one option.

She rang it, and held it to her ear. A moment of silence, the prospect of the call hung tantalisingly in the air, and then, finally, the whirring beeps of the phone ringing.

Theia waited, her heart thudding, trying to avoid looking at Bessie’s bewildered face. Was Fischer telling the truth? Was she about to speak to the person he had been working with, or possibly for?

The burring tones stopped silently, there was a click and a fuzzy sort of silence. Someone had picked up.

She hadn’t really thought it through this far, she hadn’t expected it to work, so her voice shook as she nervously called, ‘hello?’

They hung up.

Her heart seemed to stop in anxious disappointment, and though she tried twice more, the mysterious person on the other end of the line did not answer again. She looked down at it, frustrated and feeling completely in over her head. She briefly wished she’d been like Judy, stuck making coffee while she learnt how to do stuff like this.

She straightened up, pulling her shoulders back and looking at Bessie with as much professional authority as she could muster. ‘I’ll want to look at this again soon, Bessie, probably tomorrow,’ she said. ‘Could you please, er… Could you make sure it’s properly stored and labelled?’

Bessie raised an eyebrow. ‘Well, I wasn’t going to sling it in the bin, pet.’

Theia flushed. ‘Right, no, of course not, I just-’

‘I’m gan home, kid. You should too, get some sleep, and then you’ll know what you’re doing and stop making a tit out yerself.’

.................................

He felt a small warm hand on his shoulder, achingly familiar, gently shaking him awake. ‘Harry,’ she whispered.

‘Hmmph?’ he mumbled, face pressed into the sofa.

‘You wanted waking up,’ said Ginny. ‘After two hours, you said.’

‘Mmmf.’

Body aching, he forced himself into an almost sitting position, feeling faintly dizzy and yawning widely. He felt something warm being pushed into his hands, and the scent of coffee hit his nostrils. ‘Thanks,’ he mumbled, before taking a sip. It burnt his tongue, but he was too exhausted to react.

He felt Ginny softly push his glasses onto his face, and the world came into view. She was perched on the edge of the sofa, looking down at him sympathetically. ‘Can’t it wait til tomorrow?’ she asked. ‘You’re half dead.’

He shook his head, and spoke through another yawn. ‘It’s go-o-ot to be tonight. It’s the only time she’s sure he’ll be home.’

‘Is it even necessary anymore? You’ve got the guy, haven’t you?’

He gave a non-committal hum. There were moments of feeling overwhelmingly satisfied, but increasingly more where he felt like he was being played for a fool. ‘Well, maybe… Nearly over anyway.’

‘Really?’ she asked, her eyes lighting up.

He smiled sleepily. ‘Course. This is just tying up the loose ends now.’ He yawned again. ‘It’s just Dennis, I don’t need to speak to anyone else tonight, I’ll start on some others tomorrow. Everyone’s going to chip in. Should take no time at all.’

‘Wish I could come and see him,’ she said, her eyes misting over slightly. ‘Bless him, I’ll always remember him coming into the Great Hall wrapped up in Hagrid’s coat. He fell in the lake, d’you remember?’

‘Blimey,’ said Harry. ‘Hard to imagine he’s only a year younger than you.’ He grimaced. ‘And dating Theia.’ He was not sure who he was more protective over; Dennis or Theia.

Ginny laughed. ‘Let’s have them round for dinner this weekend.’

‘Really? You don’t like her very much.’

‘I don’t mind her!’ she protested, but her ears had gone red and she looked down at her knees. ‘I suppose I could try harder though. And Teddy will be round, it’ll be nice, you know he likes showing off his hair colours to new people.’
‘True,’ mumbled Harry, standing and stretching. ‘I better get going, I won’t be long.’

‘You better not be, coming straight from work, having a two hour kip and then going again isn’t healthy.’

‘Pfft,’ said Harry teasingly, waving a casual hand. ‘I can cope. Right, see you later then.’

Say hello to him for me,’ she said, smiling.

......................................................

Theia waited anxiously outside the tower block. She didn’t want to look like she was loitering in case she was approached by someone, but Harry was due any minute now. The air was crisp and cold, occasional bursts of wind sending damp leaves skipping across the cracked grey pavement.

Night was falling, the misty grey dusk of London causing the street lamps to slowly grow in brightness. She felt oddly nervous, but she was sure it was just how tired she was. Fischer’s face was haunting her too, remembering the odd, knowing smile she’d glimpsed on his face just as she closed the cell door on him. He was holding something back, she knew it, but the rest of the department seemed to be under the impression that it was all over and done with. Robards had insisted they interview the rest of the DA members on the list to find out if Fischer really was working with one of them, but there was something unsettling, something that frightened her in a cold sort of way, something she felt she had missed.

There was a loud crack from the nearby alley, and Harry’s shadowy figure appeared, the collar of his coat pulled up against the wind. ‘Evening,’ he called to her. ‘Hope you got some sleep.’

She saw him step carefully over an orange-handled needle. She hoped the streetlights washed her out so much that he couldn’t see her blush as she greeted him. ‘This way,’ she said quietly, leading him into the building. From the stairwell, she could hear a woman yelling at her kids. ‘Er… No, not the lift, let’s take the stairs… Sorry…’

Harry didn’t seem at all fazed, and for that she was grateful, but she still felt guilty as they climbed the cold concrete stairs, their legs heavy with exhaustion. Though she was quite fit, she found herself breathless, and was grateful that Harry didn’t feel the need to talk.

She thought about telling him about the phone, but she still was unsure as to whether or not she had done the right thing. In her eagerness to do something, she hadn’t even considered waiting and giving it to her boss to look at, and she realised now that, having been raised by Muggles, Harry might know how to use it too. He probably wouldn’t have said “hello” like a nervous child either. Then again, if she had left it, perhaps they would have missed their chance anyway. If the person on the other end had been ringing, perhaps they had grown suspicious that they hadn’t heard anything.

They had reached the landing, and she stood outside Dennis’s door, her heart thudding. She felt anxious as she knocked lightly. She wondered if he would be angry with her. Probably not as angry as Harry would be when she told him about the phone.

They waited only a few seconds before his face, bright and cheerful, appeared. ‘Theia! I wondered- Oh!’ His face seemed to fall at the sight of Harry, and he stared, mouth slightly open.

‘Hi Dennis,’ she said, trying to keep her voice light. ‘I invited Harry round, I hope it’s all right… thought the pair of you might like to catch up.’

‘It’s been such a long time, Dennis,’ said Harry, clapping him on the shoulder and smiling warmly. ‘Theia mentioned you, and I thought we could have a chat about what you’ve been up to.’

Dennis looked rather startled, he nodded rapidly. ‘Blimey, yes, er… Wow, all right… Um, why don’t you come in, H-harry?’

They entered, and though Dennis seemed a little taken aback, he very quickly became star-struck by Harry, and within minutes he was handing them both cups of tea while gabbling enthusiastically about being in Gryffindor.

‘It was so exciting, I knew it was a special house, the moment you were pointed out to me, to be in the same house, well, it just filled me with pride, you know? Our house was unbeatable. Fantastic. Nothing could stop us, we had the world at our feet.’

‘Sounds like Slytherin,’ Theia teased, laughing lightly.

Dennis gave an awkward duck of the head and a shifty grin. ‘You know what I mean, in a different way. We were all destined for brilliant adventures.’

Harry smiled at him, and though his voice was kind, Theia watched him carefully. His eyes had been searching the room. ‘Did you have any adventures, Dennis? You never came back to Hogwarts, did you?’

Dennis seemed to freeze for a few seconds, before staring down at his tea. ‘No, I didn’t.’

‘Sorry,’ said Harry casually. ‘I understand it’s tough to talk about. Certainly took me a while. I’m just interested to know what you’ve been up to, Ginny and I were delighted to hear how you were doing.’

Dennis looked up from his mug of tea very slowly. ‘Really?’ he asked. ‘Ginny asked after me?’

‘Of course,’ said Harry. ‘She and Colin were close friends.’

Theia winced. There was a flash of something in Dennis’s eyes, she saw his shoulders stiffen. She knew this was a bad idea. He didn’t like talking about his brother, this was cruel…

‘Yes, I suppose they were,’ said Dennis slowly. ‘Did she ever tell you about the day out we planned?’

‘So she could try Coca Cola?’ asked Harry. ‘Yes, she did. She still carries the bottle cap around with her, you know.’

‘I had the idea of going to the cinema,’ said Dennis. He paused. ‘How’s she been?’ he asked at last, not meeting Harry’s eyes. ‘She was one of the last to talk to Colin, I’ve often thought about her.’

‘It took us all a while to adjust, but things are well now,’ said Harry lightly. ‘But what about you, Dennis? Theia tells me you’re a student at a Muggle University now. I have to admit, the last time I saw you, you were just a kid, it’s so hard for me to imagine you doing adult things.’

‘Yes,’ said Dennis vaguely, who seemed to be thinking about something else. ‘I went back to Muggle school… Just started at university…’

‘Abandoned the wizarding world completely, have you?’ asked Harry.

‘Harry!’ scolded Theia, appalled at his bluntness. ‘I told you about this-’

But Dennis spoke over her, his voice uncharacteristically low and cold. ‘The wizarding world abandoned me. They didn’t want me. They didn’t want a Mudblood.’

‘Not your friends,’ said Harry gently. ‘So many of us cared for you, Dennis, you had the whole DA. Your brother’s friends. I’m sure they’d have wanted to look after you.’

‘Can I get you any more tea?’ Dennis asked abruptly, rising. ‘Biscuits?’

He didn’t wait for an answer, and hurried quickly to the kitchen. Theia turned to Harry, furious, and (without remembering that he was her boss) smacked him on the arm. ‘What are you playing at?’ she hissed. ‘He doesn’t want to talk about that stuff!’

‘It’s why I’m here!’ Harry whispered back frantically, pulling his hands up into a shrug.

‘I didn’t think you’d start interrogating him!’ Their voices were so quiet that they were both relying on exaggerated expressions and some fairly over-the-top mime to understand one another.

‘It’s not an interrogation, it’s an interview-’

‘Interview my arse-’

‘Would you like some dinner?’ Dennis’s voice jolted them, and they both looked up to see him standing awkwardly in the doorway. ‘There won’t be much, but I can stick a pie in, if you’d like, it won’t take long.’

‘That’d be great, thanks,’ said Harry.

‘I’ll get Mum round,’ Theia added brightly, hoping that her presence would take the pressure off Dennis a little. ‘I did tell her she could meet you, Harry.’

She rose and left as Harry asked for directions to the lavatory, giving him a final warning glare as she did. But her mother must have been out, for the flat next door was filled with a cold silence. ‘Mum? Hello?’

An unpacked shopping bag sat on the counter, and Theia absent mindedly put the milk in the fridge, yawning widely and frowning slightly. When she’d got home, she had gone straight to bed without saying hello, she had no idea if her mum had been in then either.

She could hear Váli mewing unhappily from her closed bedroom door. Mum must have shut him in there. She opened it, and let him jump up into her arms, where he continued to chirp in a distressed sort of way. ‘What’s wrong, huh?’ she asked him. ‘What’s got you in such a state?’

She could not place why, but she suddenly felt very uneasy about leaving Harry and Dennis alone together.

After gently dropping Váli onto her bed, she practically ran back to Dennis’s flat, her legs tingling with the same adrenaline she had felt at Runcorn’s house. She burst into Dennis’s living room, hand hovering near her waist ready to pull out her wand, but Dennis was still clattering about in the kitchen, and the sound of rushing water in a sink was coming from the bathroom.

She shook herself slightly, and sat down on the squashy sofa, hands trembling as she entangled them into her hair. What was wrong with her? Was she just tired? Worried about Harry’s reaction to the phone incident?

Harry returned, throwing her a slightly concerned look. ‘All right? Where’s your mum?’

‘What? Oh, she must have nipped out for ciggies or something.’

Harry didn’t respond, or sit, but began to casually walk around the small living room, eyes sliding easily over the Muggle posters and shelf full of criminology books. ‘This where you’ve been getting all your theories then?’ he asked her.

‘I’ve helped,’ said Dennis cheerfully, as he returned into the room. He was carefully balancing three plates, each with a generously portioned piece of pie. ‘Sorry there’s not much, I wasn’t expecting you… We’d eat in the kitchen, but I have uni stuff all over the table, so plates on laps, I’m afraid.’

‘You’ve helped?’ asked Harry, taking the plate Dennis was offering to him.

‘He’s been brilliant,’ interjected Theia fervently. ‘I’ve been picking your brains, haven’t I, Dennis?’

Dennis laughed lightly. ‘I think you’re overselling it somewhat. I just regurgitate theories. You both look shattered, I expect you’ve been out actually getting stuff done, have you?’

Harry seemed to tense, and gave Theia an odd look, but she had no time to entertain his paranoia. ‘We’re exhausted,’ she told Dennis. ‘Worked practically non-stop since Monday.’

‘Oh, dear. How did it go?’ asked Dennis. ‘Any luck?’

‘Luck enough,’ said Harry. ‘That’s a nice picture you’ve got in the windowsill, Dennis.’

Theia craned her neck round to look at it. She had seen it before, but never taken much notice of the generic mountain scene.

‘Thanks,’ said Dennis pleasantly. ‘Did some travelling after the war to take my mind of things, you know.’

‘Did you?’ asked Theia, startled. ‘You never told me about that.’

‘Colin and I always planned to,’ said Dennis. ‘I didn’t really enjoy it much, to be honest, but…’ He shrugged.

‘Where did you go?’ asked Harry. His voice seemed measured and controlled.

‘Lots of places,’ replied Dennis, whose voice was equally tense. ‘Why?’

‘Just curious.’

‘Well I don’t really want to talk about it.’

Harry considered him, and though Theia now knew him quite well, she couldn’t read his expression. The silence stretched and she looked down at her pork pie, feeling a twisted knot of guilt and anxiety in the pit of her stomach.

‘The thing is, Dennis, I’m not sure how much Theia has told you, but there’s been some funny business lately, and everyone who was in the DA could be implicated.’

‘What sort of funny business?’ asked Dennis.

Theia looked at him. He knew what sort of funny business. She had told him. She had told him. Guilt stabbed at her again. Why wasn’t she saying anything? Her mouth felt dry. Why on earth was she so paranoid? She was probably just tired.

‘Whatever happened to your DA coin, Dennis?’ Harry asked.

‘Buried with my brother,’ said Dennis sharply. ‘We shared one, you see.

‘You don’t have it with you?’

‘Didn’t you hear me?’ asked Dennis, his voice rising. ‘It’s buried. With my brother.’ His eyes flashed angrily, and he raised a shaking hand over his mouth. ‘Sorry,’ he said. ‘It’s… It’s hard for me. I thought you would understand.’

‘Of course I do,’ said Harry quietly. ‘My apologies.’ He leaned forward. ‘I’m not trying to upset you. I just have to ask you these questions. To eliminate you from the investigation.’

Dennis stared at him for a very long time. Theia supposed he was insulted. Finally, with a slow glance to her, he spoke. ‘From what I’ve gathered, some Death Eaters are vanishing.’

‘Something like that,’ conceded Harry.

‘And obviously because my brother died, you think I’d have a good motive, correct?’ The bitterness spat from Dennis’s mouth, Theia was now so overwhelmed with guilt and uncomfortableness that she started shovelling forkfuls of pie into her mouth, as though trying to make the situation seem casual.

‘That’s not what we’re saying, Dennis-’ began Harry quietly, but Dennis spoke over him loudly.

‘Plenty of people died in that battle, and plenty of people died before it too. What, are you going round interviewing everyone who lost someone? There must be dozens of people, hundreds, maybe, with good motives. Why do you care so much about Death Eaters anyway?’

‘Let’s just have a chat, Dennis,’ said Harry, who was clearly keen to deescalate the situation. ‘You’re not being held in any sort of suspicion.’

Dennis looked at Theia unhappily. ‘Why have you sprung this on me?’

‘I’m sorry,’ she said, and she meant it. This was humiliating. ‘This is getting a little out of hand-’

‘Let’s not talk about you at all then, Dennis,’ said Harry swiftly, noting Theia’s furious glare. ‘Ginny misses you very much, she’d love to see you.’

Dennis scratched the side of his face, and looked down at his food. ‘I’d like to see her too. Always looked up to the both of you. Theia told me she does Quidditch now.’

‘That’s right. She’s Chaser for the Harpies.’

‘I used to love watching Quidditch,’ said Dennis wistfully.

‘We should go to a match some time,’ Theia tried hesitantly. Dennis actually seemed to consider it, before giving a jerky shake of the head.

‘I’m happier as a Muggle.’

‘You must miss this world a little, Dennis,’ said Harry.

‘No. I don’t, thank you. And anyway, I never finished school. I could never fit in anymore.’

The rest of the dinner continued in awkward silence interspersed with even more awkward chit-chat. Dennis would shut down whenever Harry tried to pry into his past, so before long Theia found herself loudly babbling about whatever inane subject sprang to mind. She was horribly embarrassed and ashamed to have subjected her boyfriend to this; the paranoia that had been left over from the last few days had sunk away, and now she was just keen to get to bed, preferably in Dennis’s arms.

Harry’s eyes continued to rove around the little living room, pointedly ignoring Theia’s scathing looks, but as the dinner ended and he and Dennis rose, he turned to Dennis with a more sympathetic expression. ‘Sorry if I’ve been a bit blunt, mate. Work’s been getting to me, and I’m dead on my feet.’

‘It’s no problem,’ replied Dennis, showing him to the door. ‘We’ll catch up when you’re better rested. Perhaps get in touch first next time so I’m a little better prepared?’

‘Sure, I-’ Harry stopped abruptly. He had glanced over his shoulder in the middle of pulling on his cloak, and was now frowning down the cramped little hallway.

‘Everything all right?’ asked Theia.

‘That little door,’ said Harry, nodding to the study. ‘I thought it was the bathroom earlier, but it’s locked. What is it?’
‘It’s just the study,’ said Dennis.

Harry stared at him. ‘You lock your study?’

‘Yeah, well, it’s a dodgy area round here, isn’t it? I’ve got valuables in there.’ He seemed to now be trying to rush Harry out of the door.

‘But your computer is in your living room… Open it, please.’ Harry’s voice was now sharp and commanding, his heavily bagged eyes narrowing.

‘Harry!’ exclaimed Theia. ‘Stop it!’

‘I’d rather not,’ Dennis was saying uneasily.

‘You don’t have to, Dennis,’ she said furiously. ‘Harry doesn’t have a warrant or anything, he can’t just go poking around people’s homes.’

‘I’d really appreciate it if I could have a look around,’ said Harry, pushing back against Dennis.

‘Harry, stop it! Go home! You’re just being like this because you’re tired-’

But Harry stormed past, drawing his wand and pointing it firmly at the door. ‘Alohamora!

................................................................

The door swung open. Blood was thundering through Harry’s ears, that odd hunch he’d had, here it would be vindicated…

He stepped into the room, ignoring Theia’s shouts behind him.

Fuck.

The room was virtually empty, but for dozens of photos of Colin, unmoving, frozen in their frames. A Gryffindor scarf was pinned above a dusty looking bed, a dented Quaffle and football sat side by side. A few cardboard boxes were piled up beneath a window.

He knew then that he was wrong. He could feel Dennis and Theia standing silently in the doorway, watching him stand there like an idiot.

‘Happy now, are you Harry?’ he heard Theia demanding. ‘People are allowed to have private rooms, you know.’

Perhaps to save face, perhaps because he thought something yet could still be found, he began to sweep the room, as he would a cell in Azkaban, running his hands along the window sill, checking the backs of the photos, peering into the cardboard boxes which were filled with old clothes…

‘Do you mind if I scan the place for traces of magic?’ Harry called over his shoulder, ignoring her.

‘No,’ came Dennis’s heavy reply. ‘You’re just doing your job, I suppose…’

Harry raised his wand and muttered the spell, but he knew as he was casting it that it would return clean. He wasn’t sure what he had been expecting. Was he hoping to find McLaggen? Pictures of murdered victims? A big pile of bloody organs?

‘I just took some of his stuff with me,’ came Dennis’s quiet voice. ‘We never lived here, of course, but I like to imagine it like his bedroom. If… If things get too much, I can come in here and…’

Harry closed his eyes, and ran his hands up into his hair. He gave a small, quiet, disbelieving chuckle, hoping Dennis could neither see nor hear it. He’d broken into someone’s place of grief. ‘Sorry, mate, I…’

‘You were just doing your job,’ said Dennis, though he still looked upset. ‘I understand.’

Harry shook his head, bringing a hand down to rub over his eyes and pinch the bridge of his nose under his glasses. ‘Merlin, no, I shouldn’t have…’

‘You’re very tired,’ said Theia. ‘I felt paranoid earlier too. We just need sleep.’

‘I feel so stupid. I’ve done exactly what I said I wouldn’t do when interviewing people, I’ve come in all wands blazing and leapt to stupid conclusions-’

‘Why don’t you go home and get some rest?’ said Dennis. ‘Don’t worry about this. It is a little unconventional.’

‘Yeah… Yeah…’ He followed them out, feeling as though he were in a sort of daze. Merlin, he didn’t even have a warrant. He’d just broken in for no reason… If Robards found out… His head still felt cloudy with exhaustion, he still felt like he was missing something… Yeah, you’re missing a warrant and a sense of morality, you absolute muppet.

He turned back to face them both at the door. ‘Listen, I’ll understand if you don’t want to after that ridiculous display, but Ginny really would like to see you again. Why don’t you both come to mine on Saturday night?’

‘Really?’

‘Sure, let me make it up to you as best I can. My godson will be there, we’ll have some food, let him show off, send him to bed and then open a bottle, I haven’t had a nice dinner in weeks. We’ll have a proper catch up, not a… Not whatever this was.’

Dennis smiled, the first genuine smile Harry had seen him do all evening. ‘That would be wonderful. Just perfect.’

Theia was yawning so widely that she only nodded her response, but she looked happy too.

‘Great,’ said Harry, still feeling terrible. ‘Right, well… I’ll give you the details at work tomorrow then, Theia.’ He bade them goodnight, and left.

...................................................

‘I didn’t realise Harry had a godson,’ said Dennis, as they lay in bed together.

‘Mmm?’ Theia mumbled into his chest. She could feel sleep descending on her like a heavy weight. ‘Yeah, a little boy, about three, I think, maybe four. I didn’t know much about him either, he puts pressure on the press so he’s not in the papers much.’

‘Does he live with them?’

‘The godson? Only sometimes, I think.’ She yawned again, so widely that her next words were almost unintelligible. ‘Teddy Lupin, he’s called, his parents died in the battle. One of the other Aurors told me.’

‘Lupin?’

‘That’s right.’

‘Does Harry love him?’

‘What?’ Theia’s eyes were closed now, she was so close to sleep that she barely understood the question. ‘Of course. Got a cute picture of him on his desk.’

‘That’s perfect.’


Back to index


Chapter 17: Chapter Seventeen: All The Liars

‘But why? That doesn’t make any sense.’

Dennis shrugged as he took a bite of his toast. ‘I don’t know, it’s just what she said. I really didn’t tell you last night?’

‘No, you didn’t,’ said Theia frowning. ‘I mean, did she really have to leave in such a hurry? Couldn’t she have let me know in person?’

‘Her friend had a heart attack, Theia, I think she left pretty much immediately.’

Theia gave a long, low exhale, and clucked her tongue. ‘And she didn’t say where she was going?’

‘I told you, all she said was that she’d be gone a few days and not to worry.’ He seemed to be growing impatient with her now, but it was so unlike her mum, who worried and fretted and wouldn’t travel anywhere without several weeks of careful planning.

‘I wonder which friend it is,’ she said sadly. ‘I thought all her friends lived locally.’

Dennis shrugged. ‘I’m sure she’ll give you all the details when she’s back. Aren’t you going to be late for work?’

‘Oh, blimey, yes,’ said Theia, glancing at the clock and slurping down the last dregs of her cereal. ‘Will you feed the cat for me?’

‘Mmhmm,’ Dennis mumbled into his coffee mug as she kissed him on the head. ‘Tell Harry it’s fine if he wants to come and rifle through my underwear drawer at lunch!’

She laughed as she left, and headed to work feeling far more refreshed than she had in days. It would be an easy day today, she reckoned, as long as Harry was all right about the whole phone thing.

As usual, she beat Harry to the office. She busied herself with filing and coffee, muttering under her breath as she thought of the best way to explain herself, without making it look like she was all right with the way he’d treated Dennis, because that was bloody well unacceptable and-

‘People will think you’re mad, talking to yourself like that.’

She barely glanced at him as he strode into the cubicle, slinging his cloak on the back of the chair. ‘I’m still annoyed with you,’ she said.

‘Fair enough. Did you make me a coffee?’

‘No, I’m not your house elf.’

He smirked at her. ‘You really are annoyed at me. Just think, you used to call me boss.’

‘Yes, well,’ she spluttered, feeling her cheeks grow warm. ‘I am very annoyed at the way you treated Dennis, but I will forgive you if you promise you won’t be angry with me.’

‘What have you done?’ he asked sharply.

She told him about the phone, and his face relaxed. ‘Oh, well, I wouldn’t have known what to do either,’ he said. ‘I’ve seen them, obviously, but it’s been a few years since I had anything to do with Muggles so anything more complex than a standard house phone and I’m lost, I’m afraid.’

‘The Muggle police can trace people with mobile phones somehow. I don’t know how, something to do with computers.’
Harry grabbed a quill and began scribbling down a note. ‘Right, well I’ll chat to Arthur and see if anything can be done, there must be a way for us to confund a policeman into plugging it into the system for us-’

‘That’s unethical!’

‘Only if it doesn’t help us catch a murderer.’

Good natured bickering continued as they made their way to the elevators, and they were an awkwardly cheerful pair when they entered the morgue.

They found Bessie prodding a waxy looking corpse with her wand, frowning behind a face mask.

‘Oh dear,’ said Harry, looking at the messy body. ‘What happened to this poor bloke?’

‘Well that’s what I’m trying to figure out, Potter,’ she said exasperated. ‘What do you want? You’re such a nuisance.’

He grinned. ‘Ah, Bessie, you used to have time to have little chats with me. You’re only getting grumpier as you get older.’

Bessie gave a playful kick at his shins. ‘What do you want? I’m very busy.’

‘Theia was going to show me that phone you found.’

‘Oh, that,’ said Bessie, turning back to her corpse and running her wand over the gruesome injuries on the stomach.
‘It’s in my filing cabinet, pet, I don’t like it, it’s creepy.’

She said this without a hint of irony, and Theia exchanged an amused glance at Harry as they headed to Bessie’s office.

‘Don’t look through all my drawers, Potter!’ Bessie called after them. ‘Drawer three in the filing cabinet only, the rest is confidential.’

‘What?’ he shouted back teasingly, turning to walk backwards so he could grin at her. ‘Look through all your drawers? All right!’

‘DON’T, POTTER!’

‘Do?’

‘DON’T!’

‘What’s got you in such a good mood?’ Theia asked him as they entered the office, looking at his cheerful expression with suspicion. ‘You’re going round joking with people, smiling… You weren’t even rude to Dawlish in the elevator, it’s not natural.’

‘Just a good night’s sleep, I suppose,’ he said happily. He opened the filing cabinet and began to search through it. ‘Plus, this is rather exciting evidence, isn’t it? I love it when a case is a bit different.’

He did indeed look rather exhilarated as he grabbed the phone and placed it carefully on the desk. He then turned on his heel and looked expectantly at her. ‘What?’ she asked.

‘Well, you should call again. I’ve never used a mobile.’

‘Not even to call your Muggle relatives?’

‘Nope,’ he said swiftly. ‘Besides, it’s your piece of evidence, go on. You’ve got it in you.’

She picked it up, biting her lip. ‘I told you, they just hung up last time. There wasn’t even a personalised voicemail or anything.’

‘They’ll have been thinking on it overnight though,’ said Harry sagely. ‘They won’t be able to resist.’

‘You think?’

He nodded at her encouragingly, and seized a quill and parchment from Bessie’s desk. The quill hovered ready over the parchment after Harry had tapped the phone with his wand, and once again she found herself holding it to her ear.
‘What should I say?’ she asked hurriedly, as it rang.

‘Just keep them talking,’ Harry replied, sitting so he could watch the conversation on the parchment.

She opened her mouth to argue, but there was that familiar low click as someone picked up. She could faintly hear breathing.

‘Hello?’ she tried. ‘Who am I speaking to?’

The voice seemed familiar somehow, but there was an odd distortion to it she couldn’t place, something mechanic sounding. ‘Who am I speaking to?’

Her heart pounded furiously in her chest. ‘This phone was found on the person of a man we wish to identify,’ she said, and out of the corner of her eye she saw Harry give a thumbs up. ‘Do you have any information that could help us with that?’

There was a very long pause, so long that Theia thought the voice on the other end may have hung up without her realising. ‘No,’ it said at last.

Another long pause, which Theia wanted badly to break, but Harry was holding up a finger to her. His sign to keep quiet soon proved wise, for the voice spoke again. ‘Is the… person all right?’

‘Are you next of kin?’ asked Theia.

‘No.’ The breathing seemed to be getting heavier, as though the voice was worried. ‘I’m a friend.’

‘From school?’ she asked, trying to keep her voice light and conversational.

The voice’s pause was almost as long as the last. ‘I suppose.’

Theia saw Harry scribble something furiously on a piece of parchment, and she leant forward to read it. Don’t frighten him off — suggest injured?

She gave the briefest of nods, and tried to keep her voice professional and neutral, as though she were a healer. ‘Well, if you’re a school friend, perhaps you can put us in contact with his next of kin? His injuries are quite significant-’
‘You are lying to me,’ said the voice, colder than ever.

‘Why do you think that?’ she asked. Harry nodded encouragingly at her, but inside she was panicking. Surely the person on the other end would hang up at any moment, surely they wouldn’t be that arrogant to keep talking…
‘Because I know when you are lying to me, Theia Higglesworth,’ said the voice.

The bottom seemed to drop out of her stomach. She stared at Harry, who stared grimly back. ‘Do you know me, then?’ she asked, her voice on the edge of stammering.

‘We have met,’ said the voice robotically.

She felt like her brain was working at a hundred miles per hour. She was running through every person she knew, everyone she’d ever met, trying to hear the hidden familiarity underneath the disguised voice, desperately hoping that the voice was lying to her…

‘Well,’ she said, and though her mouth was dry, she was surprised at her own calmness. ‘If you know who I am, surely it’s only fair that you tell me who you are.’

‘No, I don’t think so,’ said the voice. ‘I assume my friend has been arrested?’

She looked at Harry, who slowly looked up from the parchment and gave a hesitant nod. ‘That is correct,’ she said. Then, feeling bold, she said, ‘you seem to know a lot about it all. Why don’t you come in for a chat? You could help your friend.’

Yet another achingly long pause before the voice spoke again, slowly and carefully. ‘You will understand soon. Very soon. You’ll agree with me.’

‘Oh, will I now?’ Harry was making exasperated faces at her, she knew he wanted her to stay placid, keep the voice talking, but for some reason she felt furious, appalled and offended that someone was pretending to know her, suggesting that she would ever have any sympathy for the awful things they were doing…

‘Yes,’ said the voice. ‘You and Harry Potter. You’ll both understand, you’re just misguided.’

‘Explain,’ said Theia.

But there was a click, and a long, low dial tone.

A moment of silence hung in the air, she stood there in the middle of Bessie’s office feeling oddly frightened and angry.

‘Brilliant, Theia,’ Harry told her quietly.

Her lip trembled a bit. ‘I don’t know him.’

‘Are you sure?’

He was looking at her very intently, his expression serious and his eyes dark. She swallowed. ‘I thought… A few times… I thought the voice sounded a bit familiar, but it had been so manipulated it was barely recognisable. They must have voice changing software or- or used some kind of charm or something, I don’t know-’

‘Why was it familiar?’ asked Harry, his tone coaxing.

‘I don’t know… The inflections… The pattern of it. I don’t know. I can’t know them, can I? They probably just saw me in the paper or something.’

Harry was rubbing along his cheek bone as he thought, his scarred hand hiding his mouth, and she couldn’t read the expression in his eyes. ‘This is all Muggle technology,’ he said.

‘To keep everything undercover, I expect,’ said Theia, though she felt the suggestion like a cold shadow over the room. ‘We must be the only two in the department who know how to work a phone. Anyone else would have thrown it away eventually, I imagine.’

She hadn’t noticed that he was tense, but his shoulders seemed to relax. ‘Good point. We’re probably are looking for someone with a Muggle background or connection though.’ She nodded vaguely, trying to push silly thoughts out of her mind, and Harry began to roll up the parchment. ‘Stick the phone back in the filing cabinet, Theia, I doubt he’ll call again.’

‘Actually,’ she said nervously. ‘Would it, er… Would it be all right if I used it?’

He blinked at her. ‘Used it?’

‘Yeah, it’s just… I want to call my Mum.’ When he continued to stare at her with a dumbfounded expression, she looked down at her feet and continued with breath-taking speed. ‘I know I’m being a bit silly, I suppose I’m being paranoid, but she left suddenly last night without saying goodbye, just left a message with Dennis about a friend having a heart attack or something, but it’s just so unlike her and I wonder if I’ve annoyed or upset her or something by not being around all the time, and that’s why she didn’t say goodbye — sometimes I’m not very nice to her, you know, I find it hard to connect. I mean, Dad’s a bit of a deadbeat, but I can talk to him about things I’m doing and he understands, you know, but I have to explain everything to Mum about fifty times and, oh, I’m babbling, sorry, I just-’

He held up a hand, a smile playing round his lips. ‘It’s all right, I understand. Call your Mum. I mean, don’t tell Robards I let you use evidence, but I doubt he’d understand anyway.’

He rose, and Theia breathed a heavy sigh of relief. ‘You really don’t mind? I’d wait til I got home, but it will bother me all day, I hate thinking I’ve hurt her feelings.’

‘Well you only get one mum,’ said Harry. His cheeks suddenly flushed red and he gave her an awkward pat on the shoulder. ‘Don’t take long, we’ve got lots to do today.’

He left quickly, but as the door was swinging shut Theia briefly heard Bessie demanding to know when she could have her office back. She looked back down at the black Nokia in her hand. It was running low on battery.

She tapped in her mother’s number, panicking a little that she hadn’t remembered it correctly, but it went straight to Betty Higglesworth’s cheerful voicemail.

‘Mum, hi,’ Theia babbled into the phone. ‘I suppose you’re in a hospital, they don’t let phones in there, do they? I don’t know… Anyway, call me when you get this… Actually, no don’t, it’s evidence, don’t call this number-’ She wanted to kick herself. Why couldn’t she leave a simple voicemail? ‘Um, yeah, I’m just… I’m really worried about you, Mum…’ Her voice cracked a little, and she impatiently wiped at her eyes which were becoming increasingly hot and wet. ‘I’m really worried, I don’t know where you are or if you’re upset at me or something… Couldn’t you have left me a proper note? I need you, Mum, I’m starting to think… Oh, it doesn’t matter what I think, really, I could just use some… Some reassurance about something… I think I’m going mad, actually. Call… Call the house phone when you get this and leave me a message, yeah? Love you.’

***


Harry decided not to mention Theia’s red-tinged eyes when she returned. He gave her an awkward glance and neatened up the pile of paperwork he’d been filling out, speaking to her without looking up.
‘I want to get all this wrapped up as soon as possible, so I thought you could go and interview the DA people while I put Fischer through another interrogation.’

‘On my own?’ asked Theia, surprised.

‘Yeah, you know, I know the guys we’ve got today, so it’d probably be unprofessional for me to do it anyway, and they’re a nice lot, they’re not going to cause any trouble.’

‘B-but…’ He swivelled in his chair, to see her looking absolutely overwhelmed. ‘What do I say to them?’

‘Come on, Theia, you’re a bright girl. Just have a chat with them, look out for anything a bit odd. You did very well on the phone.’

‘This is different.’

‘Why?’ She had no answer for him, simply looked at the ground. ‘Look,’ he said kindly, ‘if you’re worried about doing it on your own, you don’t need to be. You’re perfectly capable. Go and see Susan and ask her to put a temporary taboo on you. If you find yourself in danger, just say the word “mayday” and the department will come running. But they’re a nice bunch, you don’t need to worry.’

‘Can’t I come in and interview Fischer as well?’

Harry had a very good reason not to include Theia in Fischer’s interrogation, but kept his expression relaxed and neutral as he lied to her. ‘We’re just too busy. If we split up and cover more ground we might be able to get this over and done with by the weekend.’

‘Right…’ she said vaguely. ‘Yeah…’

‘You all right?’ he finally asked, concerned that she was about to break down in tears.

‘Yes, I…’ Theia’s eyes suddenly watered and she took a deep breath. ‘I’m just… I suppose I’m tired.’

She wasn’t telling him something, that he was certain of, but he had patience. She would come to him eventually, if she needed to. ‘Once you’ve finished your list, go home,’ he said. ‘I promise, they won’t take long, we can pretty much discount them as it is. Just check they’re not sitting in a house made of skulls or something.’

She gave a weak smile, and nodded. ‘I’ll go see Susan then.’

He watched her as she left, wondering if she was beginning to wonder the same thing as him, and having great sympathy for the conflict that must be raging inside her.

He could not sit and sympathise for long, however. The clock on his cubicle wall coughed impatiently at him, and he rolled his eyes at it as he gathered up his files. ‘All right, all right,’ he told it. ‘Can’t a man stare into space for a few moments?’

Not if you want that promotion, shirker!’ trilled the clock, but Harry was already out of the cube.

Someone had already put Fischer in the interrogation room for him, and set up the recording quill, so when he entered, he was able to do so with a relaxed air, smiling slightly in the low light. ‘All right, Fischer?’ he said cheerfully. He sat in the chair opposite. Fischer looked up from under his thick blonde eyebrows, but stayed sullen and silent. ‘I’m a very happy man today,’ Harry told him. ‘Do you know why?’

Fischer shrugged. ‘Defeated another dark wizard?’

‘Not yet,’ said Harry. ‘But I’m well on the way to wrapping this whole mess up. There’s no panic anymore. My holiday request went through for this weekend, so I can have some time off, and I thought I might cook everyone some steaks. What are your plans for the weekend, Fischer?’

Fischer didn’t answer Harry’s taunts, simply continued to sulk, staring down at his fingers, which played with the edge of the table. It suddenly struck Harry how young he was.

‘We’ve just been chatting to your friend on the phone,’ said Harry. Fischer’s eyes flicked up to meet Harry’s, and held his gaze.

‘What do you think we talked about?’ Harry asked him. Fischer shrugged again. ‘Do you think he’s worried about you?’
‘Yes,’ said Fischer, though he didn’t look sure.

‘Why would he be worried about you?’

‘Because we are friends,’ said Fischer. His voice was small and hoarse, his accent stronger than ever, and he looked down again.

‘Well, we did say he could come and see you. We told him he could come and help you. But he said no,’ said Harry. He waited. Fischer said nothing. ‘Why wouldn’t he come and see you, Lars?’

‘There are more important things,’ said Fischer firmly, but then, quietly, ‘I suppose.’

‘Like what?’ asked Harry.

Fischer hesitated. He looked exhausted, afraid… He’d spoken to no one but Theia and Harry since he had been arrested. Alone in his holding cell… Harry was sure that by now doubts would be entering his mind. When he had first interviewed him, the nervous signs of nail biting and hesitation had been there, yes, but he had been proud, disappointed at being caught, sure of his concept of divine inspiration…

‘Like justice,’ he said slowly. ‘Justice, and fairness, and getting rid of evil.’

‘I know what happened to your family,’ said Harry quietly. ‘I know more than you realise. And I know what it’s like, to lose… Everything.’

Fischer suddenly leaned forward with a sort of fervent energy, holding his hands in front of him as though ready to clasp something, staring into Harry’s eyes with a zealous shine. ‘Then you must realise- Out of all the people, you, especially, should realise-’

He suddenly stood, his chair scraping against the rough floor, but Harry didn’t blink, he let Fischer pace the room, looking quite mad, but elated. ‘You got your justice,’ he was saying. ‘I didn’t get mine-’

‘It was Voldemort who killed your family, just as he killed mine,’ said Harry calmly, ignoring Fischer’s twitch at the name. ‘Surely me getting my justice got you yours?’

‘No,’ said Fischer loudly, shaking his head uncontrollably. ‘No. No you- I did not-’

‘Do you feel I took your chance at justice?’

Fischer looked horrified. ‘No, you are hero!’ At Harry’s raised eyebrow, he began to pace again, wringing his hands. ‘Well, you were! You were a hero! But then you’ve become stifled by the Ministry, by others, you weren’t able to continue ridding us of evil people, you’re just misguided now - you won’t do what is necessary anymore. You just took your revenge and moved on, but didn’t finish the job! It was what you were born to do, you did it as a baby and-’ Fischer suddenly launched into rapid German, his hands trembling as he gripped his hair, his eyes wide.

Harry rose and gently guided him back to his seat, where Fischer rocked slightly, still mumbling incomprehensible German. ‘Come on, now… Sit down, Lars, it’s all right… ’

‘It wasn’t meant to get this far, I didn’t realise… He told me you would understand, he said you would approve-’
‘Who did?’ Harry asked calmly. ‘Who said that?’

‘My friend…’ Fischer had his eyes wrenched shut now, his head turned away from Harry, he seemed to be in complete despair.

‘Is this the friend you met at school?’ asked Harry. ‘Because your friend on the phone also said that you met at school, but I don’t believe you.’ Harry said this with no accusation. It was clear now that Lars Fischer was a young man who had got in too deep. His visions of glory and vigilantism had not lived up to the frightening reality of murder and prison. Whereas one man had relished in torturing his victims, Lars had ended it swiftly, but had found that it had bought him no satisfaction.

Fischer was biting his nails again, his eyes looking everywhere but Harry. ‘We met at Durmstrang,’ he said. ‘But they wouldn’t let him join… I heard why… I found him, to apologise…’

‘Why wouldn’t they let him join?’ asked Harry.

Fischer suddenly erupted in anger, slamming his fist onto the desk and glaring at Harry with mad rage. ‘He is my friend! I won’t allow you to do this! I won’t! I will answer no more of your questions!’

Harry wanted to shake him and swear in his face. It had been going so well, he had no idea what he had said to shut Fischer down like this, but he was desperate to claw back some information from him while he was so emotionally fragile. There was no time for gentle eliciting now.

‘Do you know a man called Dennis Creevey, Lars?’

Sohn einer Hündin! Verpiss dich!’ screamed Fischer, his face red with fury. ‘I won’t talk to you, leave me alone!’

‘Lars,’ Harry said warningly, but Fischer stood again, and violently threw his chair across the room.

‘Dead!’ he howled. ‘All of them dead! Gerhild and Bastian were just children! In this country too, so many dead children, so many lost families — it wasn’t all him, it wasn’t all You-Know-Who! So many let it happen, so many pretended not to see! And YOU, you have let them live!’

‘Voldemort is dead now,’ said Harry sharply. ‘And it is not for you and your friend to decide how punishment is handed out.’

‘Send me to prison then,’ spat Fischer. ‘Send me to prison so I can kill them all, if you won’t do it! You work among people who complied with the imprisonment and banishment of Muggleborns, who ignored the bodies piling up in the morgue, who WALKED IN HERE EVERYDAY UNDER BANNERS THAT CALLED FOR YOUR CAPTURE!’

He was breathing heavily now, staring at Harry with a desperation. Harry stared back, his expression neutral and calm.
‘How can you trust them?’ Fischer asked with a quiet grimness.

Harry stayed very silent for a very long time. Eventually he took a long, slow breath. ‘Do you know what your friend has been doing to the people you deliver to him?’ he asked. ‘Do you even know their crimes? Do you ever consider that they don’t fit?’

Disgust crossed Fischer’s face. ‘You must think I’m a fool, Potter. Of course I know what they have done.’

‘Do you think it fits, then?’ asked Harry. ‘Do you think it is fair punishment to be tortured for weeks and force-fed your wife’s decaying heart?’ Fischer didn’t respond, so Harry continued. ‘Do you think it was fair for her, even? She may have supported her Death Eater husband, but she has never been connected to a murder herself, yet she was attacked so brutally that her blood was found on the ceiling.’

Fischer had grown paler, but he gave a half-hearted smirk and began to slowly pace again. ‘You think they would appreciate you? You think they would be grateful for your sympathy? These are people who would have been delighted to hear the same stories about Muggleborns.’

‘You are not a Muggleborn though, are you, Fischer?’ asked Harry. ‘Why have you taken up this challenge?’
‘We owe it to them,’ said Fischer. ‘It is the right thing to do.’

‘Is it?’ asked Harry. ‘Or is that what Dennis Creevey has told you?’

‘I do not know this Dennis Creevey,’ said Fischer. Harry could not read his expression. ‘And I will not betray my friend. He will continue his good work.’

***


Harry arrived home on time for once, before Ginny had returned from practice. The house was warm with quietness; just the steady ticking of the clock on the wall, the crackle of the fire he lit under the oven, the occasional creaks and groans of the old beams and furniture.

He began the dinner, relishing in being able to take his time cooking, chopping the vegetables the Muggle way, drifting away in thought as his knife sliced easily through the onions.

Had Fischer been lying? It was hard to say. He was certainly odd, and emotional. He was a difficult man to read and he spoke so slowly that it was difficult to establish whether he was considering his words or simply letting them tumble out. He couldn’t shake the feeling of unease he had, the way his hackles had been raised when Dennis had sounded so bitter about the wizarding world, the odd series of coincidences that had conveniently led him to live next door to Theia.

She, too, had been odd today. Returning from her interviews with a strange expression and assuring Harry that there was nothing out of the ordinary from any of the old D.A members, but jumping nervously when Susan touched her arm to remove the taboo she had placed on her.

Nifty spell, that one, Harry thought approvingly, pushing the onions into the pan with his knife. It was nice to take something that had been oppressive during the war and make it into something helpful.

Ginny came home as he was giving the Bolognese one last stir, coming up behind him to snake her arms around his waist and kissing him on the back of the neck. ‘You’re home early,’ she said.

‘I told you, it’s all winding up now.’

She made an approving noise, and summoned some plates for them, which floated gently to the kitchen table. ‘I can’t wait for this weekend,’ she said happily. ‘It’ll be so lovely to see Dennis again, I even dug this out, look!’

She handed it to him as they sat at the table. A photograph of her and Demelza hugging, in a room full of coloured banners. ‘He took it right before the battle,’ she said. ‘I actually don’t have any photos of Colin, because he was always the one behind the camera. But, as horrible as that night was, I’ve always thought this photo really shows his talent, you know? All the colours, and he captured it just at the right time, there’s so much emotion… He wanted to be a photo journalist, you know…’

‘It was never magically developed,’ noticed Harry quietly.

‘None of the photos from the battle were,’ said Ginny. ‘Haven’t you seen any of them? They were published in The Prophet still, out of respect, I think. It was Dennis’s choice.’

‘No, I haven’t seen any of them,’ said Harry, feeling an odd lurch in his stomach. ‘I’ve never looked at any of them…’

‘They helped me, for some reason,’ said Ginny. ‘Some I still can’t look at, but others… He had such a talent.’

‘Best not show Dennis these,’ said Harry, dropping the photos and turning to his dinner.

‘What? Why? It was his little project before Colin’s funeral, to remember him. He organised them all and sent them into the papers and-’

‘He’s very sensitive about Colin,’ Harry interjected. ‘And… I’m not sure we should…’ He hesitated, but soon found himself, as always, spilling all his worries and fears and concerns to her, grateful for how patiently she listened, her gentle nods and soothing hums.

‘But it’s all just a hunch?’ she asked when he finished. ‘You checked his flat and there was no evidence?’

‘Nothing. No evidence of magic happening there at all. Just a mildly creepy shrine to his brother.’

‘And this Fischer bloke hasn’t named him?’

‘No.’

Ginny watched him, chewing her spaghetti very slowly.

‘You think I’m insane, don’t you?’

‘No, I don’t think that. You’re usually very good with your hunches. But I wonder if you’re just feeling a bit… I don’t know, tired? Paranoid? Dennis must make you feel a bit uncomfortable.’

‘Uncomfortable?’

‘Sure. You’ve never really got used to how many children were involved, have you?’

Harry shook his head. ‘No… This Fischer bloke… I haven’t told him, but I… I saw the murder of his mother and two siblings. The…’ he gestured to his scar with an irritable, pained expression. ‘They really were very young, and… He was shouting all this stuff today and I kept calm, but I have to admit that inside, I did get a bit riled up. Not about them, specifically, but the Ministry must be full of people who knew what was going on and just kept their heads down. There must have been children, dozens, hundreds maybe…’

‘Well Dennis is a very good example of that,’ said Ginny. ‘He makes you sad and uncomfortable that you could put away the worst criminals but haven’t fully fixed the system yet, and kids like him got… Well, they got traumatised for life, didn’t they?’ Harry nodded slowly, feeling thoroughly miserable. ‘Is, er…’ Ginny cleared her throat awkwardly. ‘Well, it doesn’t mean you’re wrong, obviously. Is it safe to have Dennis round here on Saturday night?’

Harry took a deep breath, staring blankly at the dark window in front of him. Had he become like Mad-Eye Moody? Paranoid and suspicious of everyone around him? Was that why Theia had been so upset today? Why she had that look in her eye again? Had she realised that he was holding her boyfriend in suspicion for no apparent reason?

He didn’t know it, but at that very moment, hundreds of miles away in East London, Theia was tearfully confessing her own silly paranoid fears to Dennis, who was laughing and hugging her, and both of them were, at the precise moment that Harry turned to look at Ginny, confessing their love for one another for the very first time.

‘It’s perfectly safe,’ he said. ‘I’m being ridiculous. Of course it’s not Dennis.’

Back to index


Chapter 18: Chapter Eighteen: The Dead Phoenix

On Saturday morning, Theia had still not heard from her mother.

‘Maybe she forgot to bring a charger for her phone,’ said Dennis. ‘Or she left it behind or lost it, or something.’

‘She could ring from the hospital,’ said Theia, scraping her hair back into an untidy bun with a panicked expression. ‘They have phones there for people to use, don’t they? Are you sure she didn’t say which hospital?’

He shook his head. ‘Look, stop worrying. Just sit down, and we’ll start ringing round some hospitals, if you want.’

‘No, no,’ she said, feeling flustered. ‘I can’t. I’m going to nip into the office-’

‘It’s your day off!’

‘-And finish off reading through those files before Harry notices I didn’t do it yesterday.’

‘He won’t be in either, will he?’ asked Dennis. ‘You said you both have the whole weekend off. The case is over.’

This was true. Robards had decided that, despite the phone call with an unknown accomplice, Fischer was ultimately the culprit and their energies were best spent formally charging him and preparing evidence for trial. Harry was not happy about it. He had insisted, several times, that putting Fischer away was not fixing the problem, that in a few months whoever else was helping him would just start up again, but Robards had insisted.

‘One murderer at a time,’ he had said. ‘Sort this out, find this McLaggen boy, and then worry if there’s anyone else mucking about.’ Theia wasn’t sure who to support. She believed Harry, very strongly, but was also eager to see someone put in prison, keen to at least put a bucket under the leak before calling a plumber.

‘I think Harry thinks that if we keep combing over the evidence we’ll find something we’ve missed. I think his girlfriend would kill him if he came in today though, but I don’t want to face his wrath on Monday if he realises I spent half my time in the records room yesterday gossiping with Judy.’

She had tried to say it casually, but Dennis was watching her very carefully, and perhaps he noticed the way she pressed her lips together or how her eyes welled with tears, for he spoke gently to her. ‘I’m sure your mum is fine, Theia. What did Judy say about it all?’

‘Oh, you know, same as you, really… She’s probably just distracted with other things. I don’t know, it’s all just odd though, I can’t shake this feeling… I’m being silly, aren’t I?’

‘Not at all,’ said Dennis, moving forward to kiss her on the forehead. ‘I know I’d be the same. But I assure you, she’s perfectly safe. This job’s just made you paranoid.’

She gave a sniff and a watery smile. ‘Yes… You’re right. I can’t talk, I’m always going off for hours without telling her where I am.’

‘You’ve been a bit funny for days,’ said Dennis. ‘Fancy getting it into your head that I’m a bad guy just because your cat doesn’t like me.’

Theia laughed. ‘It’s not my fault! One of this D.A lot asked me about pets, and when I told him he mentioned something about kneazles and trust-’

‘And you got ahead of yourself, yes, I know,’ he said, smiling. ‘And like I told you on Thursday night, I love you, and that’s all that matters, isn’t it?’

‘Yes,’ she said softly, allowing him to lean down and kiss her on the lips. She sank into him, and then giggled as he tried to push her onto the kitchen table. ‘Stop, I mean it, I’m going to work!’

‘You don’t have to,’ he murmured, but pulled away all the same.

‘Would you mind ringing round the local hospitals while I’m at work?’ she asked. ‘I’d be really grateful-’

‘Of course I will,’ he assured her. ‘You go. Don’t forget to pick me up so we can go to Harry’s, though, I never learned to Apparate.’

She smiled as she left, but in all honesty she would rather skip the meal tonight and search for her mother. She was beginning to grow quite resentful of her, for worrying her like this, leaving without so much as a note or where exactly in the country she was.

The weather was blustery that day. The brief walk from the Apparation point to the entrance of the Ministry was enough to turn her nose pink from cold and her wispy hair flying madly about her head. They were now well on their way to Christmas, and so a vast Christmas tree was being set up in the atrium of the Ministry by navy-robed wizards. Theia greeted them as she approached, watching them levitate great swathes of glittering tinsel, but then found her eyes drifting to the white marble fountain in the hall.

It must be strange to walk past, she thought, for so many people. She had taken little notice of it herself. She vaguely remembered her first trip to the Ministry, to prove her blood status during the war, and then the room had been dominated by a vast, ugly thing. Her father had hurried her past it, and by the time she had started work as an Auror, she had quite forgotten the horrible details.

She had never stood here, and considered the new statue. There had always been too many people bustling past, too much to do, not enough time. But now, with only a small, distracted, gaggle of the Magical Maintenance crew nearby, she could stand and appreciate it.

A phoenix, carved from white marble, bursting upwards from a round pool of water, which glittered with gold, silver and bronze coins. It was exceedingly beautiful. What she had always assumed were feathers marked onto the body she could now see were names, hundreds of them, their ages too, tiny and cramped, but each and every one carefully carved into the white rock. The water slowly trickled over the statue smoothly, she wasn’t sure where it came from, it seemed to simply glide like glass over every inch so she could read the names quite clearly, dropping into the pool like rain. The sound was like a delicate, hushing song. Her eyes scanned until she found him, tucked away beneath the vast right wing.

Colin Creevey (16)

She stared at it for a few moments, but was disconcerted by the lack of feeling. She had expecting a great sadness to well inside her, but instead they were just cold letters, dancing ever so slightly under the streaming water. She read it over and over again, taking her time over each letter, but soon found herself slowly walking around the fountain, looking for other familiar names. They were not hard to find. The Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher from her first year at Hogwarts, next to his wife, at the base of the neck. Harry’s parents, etched on the back. Sally-Anne Perks, who had been a few years above her in Hufflepuff, along one of the huge tail feathers. One of her father’s friends, who had vanished on his way home from work one day. The man that had owned the ice cream shop on Diagon Alley.
Finally her eyes fell to the bronze plaque at the base of the pool.

WE WILL REMEMBER THEM

This fountain, commissioned by the Minister for Magic, Kingsley Shacklebolt, honours the victims of Tom Riddle and his followers, 1975-1998. Never again will such darkness corrupt these halls.

With thanks to:

Harry Potter

Ron Weasley

Hermione Granger

The Order of the Phoenix

Dumbledore’s Army

(Phoenix Fountain, designed by Dean Thomas, unveiled 2nd May 1999 by Kingsley Shacklebolt and Harry Potter. All proceeds to St Mungos Hospital for Magical Maladies and the War Recovery Fund.)


‘Oi, love!’ called one of the workmen. ‘Giz a hand wi’ this!’

She blinked, and shook herself out of her reverie, hurrying over to the Christmas tree. The wizard wanted assistance with a Norwegian pixie that had managed to hitch a ride on the trunk of the tree, and she banished it easily, though her thoughts were elsewhere.

‘Don’t look at that statue too long, love,’ said the man. ‘You’ll get yerself down. They oughta put something more cheerful, shouldn’t they?’

‘It’s quite nice,’ said Theia. ‘Phoenix… Rebirth, hope and all that.’

Another man snorted in derision. ‘Listen to her, Bob. Sounds like Reg!’

‘Leave it out!’ called a voice from behind the tree, who Theia assumed to be Reg. ‘She’s right, it’s poetic! Them heroes deserve no less.’

‘Ignore ‘im,’ said Bob. ‘Thinks the sun shine outta Harry Potter’s arse, that one.’

‘Doesn’t it?’ Theia asked innocently.

Bob shrugged. ‘I dunno. Never met him. You can think what you like, love. I’m just the man who puts the tree up.’

‘I met him!’ shouted Reg proudly. The other wizards rolled their eyes.

‘We know, Reg…’

‘Me and Mary, we brought the kids to see him, he asked after us, you know, to check we were all right after-’

‘Chuffin’ Nora, Reg, we know…’

Theia smiled her goodbye and walked away, leaving Reg to loudly recount the story his coworkers had heard a hundred times before, his voice echoing around the gleaming white fountain.

As she took the elevator to the records room, she wondered if Dennis had ever seen it. She wondered how he would feel. It seemed incredible to her that just a few days ago, she had begun to doubt him, to see fears and suspicious behaviour where there was none. It was said that Aurors could have no private life, but she had never expected to fall in love, so it had never seemed to matter.

Now, as she pulled back the rattling grill, she realised that her work had consumed her. That her brief but dramatic time here had already changed something in her mind, made her fear the worse for her mother, made her suspect innocent coincidences and the man she loved, made her feel nothing but shame as she looked upon the names of everyone that had died fighting while she kept her head down at school.

Well, perhaps she had missed her opportunity during the war. She had not proved herself then. But now that so many had been lost, it was down to ordinary people of no remarkable bravery to step up and continue, wasn’t it?
She enjoyed being back in the warm, musty records room, that place filled with secrets everyone ignored. It may not be glamourous, or valiant, but here was where she would begin her own quiet revolution. Here she would find that piece of evidence that must exist, surely, that would prove that Fischer was not a lone wolf.

Unfortunately, by lunchtime she was still no closer to finding anything of interest. Even by her standards, the files Harry had asked her to read through were dreary, and she swiftly remembered why she’d been so easily distracted by Judy yesterday. She thought about going down to Bessie’s office and taking the phone, ringing her mother or some hospitals or something, but then she remembered that it had been low on battery on Wednesday, by now it would surely be dead, even if she could get into Bessie’s locked office.

She ate while she worked, brushing the crumbs from her sandwiches off the files and knowing nobody would ever notice if she got one of them messy, because who on earth would read them? At one point, she even felt herself dozing off, and she was quite sure that several times she was reading the same paragraphs over and over again without realising.

Her pile was becoming smaller though, and she began to think wistfully about dinner that night. She couldn’t wait to see Ginny Weasley again. Perhaps she would like her more now, maybe they could even become friends. What if they became best friends, and after her matches, Ginny could meet her in that trendy bar in Hogsmead, and they could talk about Harry and Dennis and get matching best friend tattoos and-

‘Calm down,’ she muttered quietly to herself. ‘You’ve got a problem, Higglesworth.’

She grabbed the file on Runcorn, reading through it with utter boredom. Just as with the others, the connection to the case was very clear. He was a famous criminal who had got away with a reduced sentence thanks to the services of a good lawyer, witnesses too afraid to speak out, and a Wizengamot still rumoured to have a few corrupt weak spots.
And yet, towards the back of the file, well past all the other terrible things Runcorn had done, something caught her eye.

Within his role in the regime as Coordinator of the Muggleborn Registration Committee, Robards actively recruited and legitimised gangs known as ‘Snatchers’, who searched for and captured any wanted persons. On day four of Robards vs Wizengamot (3rd August 1998), multiple Snatchers testified against Runcorn as part of plea deals (detailed on page 63 of this report). Those witnesses were as follows:

K. Bosher

L. Flint

E. Hopkirk

J. Mason

A. Pucey

C. Warrington


She was going to throw up. Heart pounding, hands trembling, she leafed through the thick file, barely looking at where she sent parchment flying, her head thundering with the awful possibilities…

Witness Statement of Ezra Hopkirk, submitted in writing to the Wizengamot:

Though I had little contact with Runcorn personally, it was made clear that our orders came from him. While working professionally in broomstick design, I joined a group of Snatchers for the evenings and weekends, after being heavily pressured by Runcorn himself and suffering financial hardship. Runcorn made direct threats to myself and my family, in particular my daughter, who was at Hogwarts at the time.

We were instructed to track down and arrest those on the most wanted list. On one occasion, we tracked down Ronald Weasley, but due to being unsure of his identity, our hesitation helped him to escape. I urge members of the Wizengamot to remember that our inaction that day saved a great hero of the war. I do not remember all of the individuals we arrested, but they included the Gardener family, Justin Finch-Fletchley, Gerald Manea, and Sandra Doughty. These people we delivered directly to the Muggleborn Registration Commission, where they would be seen to by Runcorn before being placed on trial under Dolores Umbridge. To my knowledge, many of these people were not seen again.

We were also often required to intimidate others into joining the regime, or confessing to perceived crimes. On multiple occasions my group was sent to the homes of witches and wizards believed to be hiding Muggleborns or committing other infractions, including Ha-Jin Chang, Martha and Edward Montgomery, Esme and William Robins, and Algie Longbottom. On these families we were often encouraged to use physical violence, as well as, on occasion, the Unforgivable Cruciatus Curse. On these occasions, Runcorn was often present, or required photographic evidence.

I greatly regret my actions during this dark time, and wish to remind the Wizengamot that I did so out of fear for my own safety, as well as that of my child. I urge the good ladies and gentlemen here today to recognise that Albert Runcorn was the organiser and instigator of these crimes, while I was a wholly unwilling participant. The effect of this psychological trauma has been extremely difficult for me, and I now find myself with a crippling alcohol addiction as a consequence.


Theia stayed silent for a few moments, staring down at the faded parchment with a blank expression. Then, with a great bellow of rage and fear, she stood, sweeping the desk free of the mountain of files, the parchment fell to the floor like leaves.

She was beside herself, completely unconnected from her body which wailed and growled with shame and fury, pulling random files from the shelves and throwing them to the ground, kicking at the shelves, beating her fists against the bookcases. It was like a physical pain, all she could do was remember the way he had once carried her on his shoulders, the way he had beamed with pride when she had got onto the Auror program, the way he had, ashen-faced, hugged her when she had been evacuated from Hogwarts.

She found herself crouched on the floor, sobbing, rocking as she gripped her own hair tightly. Who knew? How public had this been? Did Judy and Matthew know? Did Harry know? Did Dennis know?

How could she not have known?

She remembered now. She remembered clearly, him telling her to stay with her mother for a few weeks. Not to visit. He had claimed that he didn’t know when it could all kick off again. He had said he wanted her safely in the Muggle world.

Another choking sob burst from her lips, she could barely see for crying, it felt as though the entire world was closing in on her. Her shaking hands searched through the explosion of parchment surrounding her. She found it again, that terrible page, and stood with a stumble.

She made her way to the atrium as though in a daze. The Christmas tree glittered in the low light, the Magical Maintenance men must have gone home. Perhaps she was completely alone in the building. One hand crumpling the parchment, the other gripping her wand firmly, she stepped out into the dusk, and Disapparated.

Her father’s flat, looking as run down as always, was oddly foreboding. She knew if she went in, she would know the truth, it would be confirmed, and every shred of hope she had had for him would be gone.

But it was already gone. That she knew. The truth was crumpled in her hand, it was rolling down her cheeks, it was etched on the white marble phoenix.

She knocked. There was a long wait, the quiet evening broken by some early revellers in Diagon Alley below. She muttered ‘please’ under her breath, but she didn’t know if she was hoping he would be there or not.

Finally, there was a click, and his grinning face appeared at the doorway. ‘Theia! My little-’

‘Is this true?’ she demanded, holding up the crumpled parchment.

‘S-sorry? What? Are you all right, poppet?’

She shoved it into his chest, and pushed past him into his flat. She was looking around as though searching for something, pacing back and forth in the grotty kitchen, while her father ambled after her, reading the statement he had made just a few years ago.

‘Well?’ she spat.

He looked up, and he at least had the decency to look ashamed. ‘Yeah, it is, sweetheart…’

She swore, half-sobbing, half-laughing, raising the back of her hand to her mouth.

‘You don’t understand-’

‘Yes I do,’ she shot back. ‘You’re scum. Scum! You should be in Azkaban.’

‘They were going to hurt you, Theia. Your mum-’

‘Don’t give me any of that shit,’ she spat at him. ‘No one threatened me, did they? These are your drinking mates, aren’t they? You met them at the pub. You needed more money for drinking, so you joined the Snatchers with all your mates. What a bloody good laugh that must have been.’

He stood there, looking absolutely pathetic, slack-jawed and pale, staring her with glassy eyes. ‘My… My wife is a Muggle,’ he tried feebly.

She swore at him again. ‘Mum DIVORCED you, Dad. She’s not your wife anymore!’ She seized the parchment from his limp hands, and pointed to his last sentence. ‘You see this, Dad? You see this? This is how I know you’re full of shit. Mum divorced you years ago because of this. For years I thought she let you down! But you’ve been an alcoholic as long as I can remember! Don’t pretend, don’t lie to me-’

‘Theia, listen, you and Mum were-’ he said desperately, but she seized a nearby dirty plate and threw it against the wall with a livid scream.

‘STOP IT! JUST STOP! I’m a Higglesworth, now, all right? Get it into your head that I am NOT Theia Hopkirk anymore, and Mum is NOT Betty Hopkirk. This is how you’ve always been, wriggling out of everything, shifting the blame, pretending to be the victim in all of this. Did you even get a prison sentence for this? Well? Did you?’

He looked away, his shoulders were shaking. ‘I got a fine and a suspended sentence… T-Theia… Please, if I worked with them I knew they wouldn’t look too closely at us, I knew we’d be safer that way-’

‘You see this couple?’ she demanded, shoving the parchment under his nose. ‘This couple right here? Esme and William Robins? They helped two Muggleborn brothers get false papers so they could carry on going to Hogwarts. I’m dating one of them. Did you know that, Dad?’ He kept shaking his head frantically, backing away into a corner like a frightened child, still refusing to look at her, but she continued to advance. ‘They risked their lives for two boys they barely knew. What did you do to them, Dad? What did you do to them?’

‘They were all right,’ he wailed. ‘They were, Theia, they were fine, I promise-’

‘You tortured them, didn’t you, Dad? Didn’t you?’

‘I didn’t want to,’ he said. ‘Please, Theia, I didn’t. I didn’t know what I was doing. I was just trying to keep you and Betty safe.’

‘Was it a public trial?’ she asked, her voice shaking. ‘Do people know about this?’

‘It was public, but no one turned up to see me sentenced,’ he said. ‘There was just a small note in the back of the paper. There were more exciting people being sentenced. Please Theia, I’m not a bad man.’

She laughed. A scoffing, disbelieving laugh that seemed to hurt her chest. ‘Not a bad man? Would you have handed Harry over then? You nearly handed Ron Weasley over. Would you have destroyed all chances of winning the war? Or did you think we’d already lost?’

He didn’t answer, so she threw the parchment at his feet. ‘You should leave,’ she said coldly. ‘Go and hide. Someone’s going round killing people like you.’

He looked at her, eyes wide and wild, cowering from the realities of his life. ‘Where should I go?’ he asked.

‘I don’t care,’ she said. ‘I don’t care where you go. I don’t care what happens to you. Whatever does happen, you probably deserve it.’

Now her heart was pounding with a new fear, the tears no longer came, she had entered the same tunnel vision she had experienced when arresting Runcorn. She left her father’s flat, at once having no idea where to go and yet also knowing exactly what must be done. She had to find her mother. Her need to be close to her was stronger than ever, her childish fear had an icy grip around her heart, and she felt almost light-headed as she ran into the street.

She apparated just outside her building, neither knowing nor caring if Muggles were nearby to see. She took the lift this time, all the way up, but as she stood in it she paced the tiny box, urging it to go faster. She didn’t know exactly what she was doing, what she was hoping would happen, but something innate was pulling her there.

She reached her flat, and burst in yelling for her mother, but as usual there was silence. She stood, frozen for a few moments, her heart felt like it was beating in her throat. She checked the answering machine. Nothing. She searched all the countertops and the table for a note, as she had done dozens of times before, but still nothing, she became frantic, hysterical, scattering anything in her way onto the floor. Plates and glasses shattered, papers flew, she became aware that she was sobbing loudly.

A new sound entered the room. A soft mewing.

She turned. Váli was there. His tufted ears pointed to her, his tail flicking low by the ground. She stared at him, and swallowed. He turned, and began to walk away, and she followed him, as she had done in the alley.

Her hand was gripped around her wand as she followed the kneazle, kept her eyes fixed on him as he led her out of the front door she had left wide open, and sat in front of Dennis’s flat.

She knocked. ‘Dennis?’ she called, her voice trembling. ‘Dennis? Are you there?’ She leant her forehead against the door, closing her eyes as another choking sob bursting from her lips. She felt Váli’s paws against her leg, a soft, warm pressure. Her wand shook in her hand as she pressed it to the door lock. ‘Alohamora,’ she whispered, and there was a click. She breathed in slowly, a great shuddering breath as her hand rested on the door handle. Váli rubbed himself against her legs. She opened her eyes as she opened the door.

Váli led her straight to the study. There was a rushing noise in her head, almost like the hushing trickle of the phoenix fountain. Váli sat by the door. She unlocked it.

Her eyes widened, her face paled. Realisation hit her like a raging torrent.

It was no longer the empty room Harry had searched. Instead, the walls were plastered with papers, photos, newspaper cuttings. Faces of Death Eaters, lists of names, post-it-notes, a blueprint, photographs of women and
children with red circles drawn over them, tiny note cards beneath. On the windowsill were books, accounts of modern wizarding history, Nordic legends, analysis of terrorism. She walked into the room slowly, nausea rising. Her eyes were caught by a large page of The Daily Prophet. She recognised it immediately.

There she was, the black and white photo of her screaming with disbelief and laughter, hugging Judy in front of a noticeboard. Beneath, the interview. Her gushing, rambling, embarrassing speech about how delighted she was to work with Harry Potter. “Words cannot express how excited I am…” Her first day. Just two weeks before Dennis had moved in next door.

‘It’s rude to break into someone’s house.’

She swallowed as she heard his voice. She turned slowly. Even Váli seemed to pause for a second, then he charged at Dennis, yowling and screeching, but Dennis stepped nimbly aside and into the room, shutting the door just as Váli shot through the doorway.

Theia could hear the kneazle battering himself against the door, desperate to get back in, but she kept her eyes fixed on Dennis, her wand hanging loosely in her hand.

Dennis looked around the room with a slightly abashed look, as though Theia had merely stumbled across an embarrassing collection of Veela posters, or a messy kitchen. ‘Sorry about all of this,’ he said cheerfully. ‘I expect you’re a bit shocked.’

But she didn’t feel shocked. She understood completely. ‘Where is my mother, Dennis?’ she asked quietly.

‘Oh, don’t worry, she’s perfectly safe,’ he said pleasantly. ‘I promise.’ He walked over to the dusty camp bed, where three bin bags, apparently half full of yet more plans and photos, had been dumped. He moved one, and sat down.

She stayed standing, watching him with a face of stone, breathing deeply but unmoving, wanting to attack him but rooted to the ground with fear and horror and desperation.

‘I hadn’t finished getting this room back to how it should be,’ he said, gesturing to the bin bags. ‘I’m sorry you’re seeing it in such a mess. It’s just a good thing I had enough warning before Harry came round, isn’t it?’

She ignored him, and now finally pointed her wand at his chest. It no longer trembled. ‘Where is my mother?’

He raised his hands, but there was a confident smile on his face. ‘Calm down. I promise, she’s all right. She’s not like Pansy Parkinson or Livia Rookwood. I know she did nothing wrong, she’s a nice lady, I have no desire to hurt her.’

‘Where is she?’ Theia said louder, and though the rest of her was steady, her voice quivered with desperation.

‘I need her for insurance,’ said Dennis softly. ‘That’s all. I just need to make sure you and Harry will hear me out. You’ll get her back.’ His eyes flicked to the newspaper cutting she was stood near, and his smile grew. ‘You know, when I first met you, I didn’t like you much at all. I thought you were ditzy. I just needed you to get to Harry. But what can I say? I was telling the truth, last night, Theia, I really do love you. I have come to admire you greatly. It’s an inconvenience, really, but it’s true.’

She couldn’t speak, just shook her head slowly at him, her chest heaving with each deep breath she took. He rose, and stepped forward, cupping her face in his hands.

‘I have to admit, Theia, that after getting to know you… After seeing that you, too, could understand… Because you do understand, don’t you, Theia? They have to be eradicated. Law and order just isn’t working anymore.’

She looked up into his face. The face that had been so earnest and excited when she had known him at school, the eyes that had lit up in wonder at magic now lit with something else entirely. Her bottom lip trembled. She understood what had to be done. ‘Yes,’ she said.

He nodded, and now he brushed her wispy hair away from her cheeks lovingly. ‘You understand what those people did. You’ve seen how Harry and the other good Aurors can’t fix things the way they are. You know I am only trying to make things better, don’t you?’

‘Yes,’ she repeated.

‘You’ll get your mum back, of course, but I need you to take me to Harry’s tonight so I can explain things to him too. I need you to make sure that I have my chance to explain. He might not be as understanding as you, at first. But I’ll help him see that this will be better for everyone.’

‘What are you going to do?’ she whispered. ‘Please, Dennis… Please just tell me where my mum is…’

‘I will,’ he said. ‘Once I’m sure you’re on my side. You are on my side, aren’t you, Theia?’

‘Yes.’

‘Good. Let’s go now, then, or we’ll be late. And remember, Theia. If you ruin this for me, you will never find her.’

He gripped her arm tightly. She understood the threat. She understood that she was trapped. She understood that he was prepared to go to terrible lengths to get Harry onside. She had to warn him. But her mother… Oh god, her mother…

‘Theia,’ he prompted, the warning clear behind his smile.

She nodded, and they disappeared with a crack.

Back to index


Chapter 19: Chapter Nineteen: Mayday

They stood on the doorstep of the cottage, Dennis’s knock of the door still echoing through her ears. She could stun him now, she thought, somewhere in the back of her mind. But she knew, as surely as she knew that the sun would rise and that the earth would keep turning, that if she did he would never reveal where her mother was.

It was though he had read her mind. ‘Give me your wand.’

She pressed her lips together to hold back the sob. ‘I don’t want to give you my wand. I’m not giving you my wand.’

‘Do you want to see your mother again? Do you?’

What could she do? She handed it over. She could hear faint laughter from behind the door. She swallowed. Dennis’s grip on her arm was firm. ‘Don’t spoil this for me,’ he whispered. ‘Stay by my side.’

The royal blue door opened, spilling warm light onto their faces. Ginny Weasley appeared, her smile broad and kind. ‘So lovely to see you both,’ she greeted, standing aside to let them through. ‘Oh, Dennis, it’s been such a long time.’

‘It has, hasn’t it?’ he replied, accepting her hug. ‘So kind of you to invite us.’

‘Not at all, come through, we’re delighted. Harry’s just finishing off the dinner- Oh! Let me get your coat.’

She had to do something. She had to warn them somehow. Theia had never been to Harry’s house before, but as she looked around the cosy, photo-filled cottage she felt an overwhelming dread inside her, like the start of grief. It was like a punch in the stomach when a small, blue-haired child came running through from the kitchen, covered in flour.

‘HELLO!’

Ginny bent down and stretched out an arm to stop Teddy leaping onto Dennis, who was laughing softly. ‘Teddy,’ she said, with friendly warning to her voice. ‘What have we told you, we don’t jump-’

‘Hello,’ said Dennis, an amused grin on his face. ‘You’re very excitable, aren’t you?’

‘Sorry,’ apologised Ginny, with a slightly exasperated expression as she picked Teddy up. ‘He does love meeting new people, he gets it from his mum. Teddy, these are our friends we told you about, Dennis and Theia.’

‘I’m Teddy,’ the little boy said proudly. ‘Do you want to see my colours?’

‘You can show them that later,’ said Ginny patiently, holding Teddy on her hip. ‘I thought you were making the pudding with Harry?’

‘Harry let me use the big boy knife,’ said Teddy immediately. ‘He told me not to tell you.’

Dennis burst out laughing as Ginny raised her eyebrows. ‘Oh did he? After I told him you were too small? Interesting.’

‘Teddy, you little grass!’ came Harry’s voice.

Ginny grinned over her shoulder. ‘I think Harry’s a bit overwhelmed in the kitchen to come through, so we’ll have to go to him…’

Theia and Dennis followed her through to a stone walled kitchen, where Harry was busying himself by the stove. ‘Sorry,’ he said hurriedly, only glancing at them with a brief smile. ‘Hello, hello, good to see you both, I’ll be with you soon, I got my timings wrong.’

Theia felt sick. A cold clamminess covered her, her mind was furiously working, desperate to think of a way to tell Harry to get his girlfriend and godchild out of the house, urgently trying to figure out how she could get a message to him without Dennis realising.

Ginny was offering them both wine, which Dennis cheerfully accepted, but as she approached Theia, her face fell slightly. ‘Are you all right, Theia? You look a bit pale.’

‘Yes, sorry,’ she mumbled. ‘Not, er… Not feeling great.’

‘I can get you water if you’d prefer?’ Ginny said, with great concern.

Theia accepted with a nod and her best attempt at a smile. She accidentally caught Dennis’s eye and saw the warning in his expression. Did he have others working with him too? Would he hurt his mother if she didn’t behave the way he wanted? Had he already hurt her?

Ginny was now talking animatedly with Dennis, delighted reminiscing about their Hogwarts days.

‘And how is Demelza?’ Dennis asked. ‘Her family were so good to my brother and me.’

‘She’s good,’ said Ginny. ‘I still see her from time to time, she’s working as a rune translator for a curse breaking company, but she was thinking of moving into something with more human contact…’

Ginny’s voice seemed to fade away as Theia panicked. She wanted to catch Harry’s eye, perhaps if she looked frightened he would guess, but he was too focused on the dinner and his godson tugging at his trouser leg. Perhaps she could go to the bathroom, and leave a note on the mirror with her lipstick? But what if Dennis went in before Harry or Ginny? It was worth a shot surely, but as she began to move away, Dennis held her hand. He did it so casually that she doubted Ginny would have noticed even if she hadn’t been deeply engrossed in conversation with him.
Should she even warn Harry at all? Thoughts of her mother filled her mind, and her eyes stung with tears, but she blinked them back and drank deeply from her glass of water, forcing herself to calm down. There had to be a way to keep everyone safe and get her mother back. There had to be, there had to be…

She blinked and looked down in surprise as she felt a tugging on her skirt. The little boy was gazing up admiringly at her. ‘Hello!’ he said, beaming.

‘Hello, Teddy,’ she replied, trying to keep her voice as positive and natural as she could. ‘I’ve heard a lot about you.’

‘Are you Harry’s friend?’

‘Yes.’

‘From work?’

‘That’s right.’

‘He’s an orr-aah,’ said Teddy knowledgably. ‘He got me an orr-aah costume for my birthday. Do you want to see it?’

‘That would be lovely,’ she said, and he ran like a bludger from the room. They heard something crash and thud as he went.

‘That’ll be the clock again,’ said Harry, who seemed to have finally gained control of the dinner. ‘We really ought to move it when he’s round.’

‘He’s a very confident little boy, Harry,’ said Dennis.

‘Yeah, he’s great,’ grinned Harry proudly, grabbing his own glass of wine. ‘Dinner won’t be long, shall we go through?’

Theia wanted to seize the moment while Teddy was out of reach, wanted to let Harry know now, but how could she with Dennis’s arm wrapped around her, guiding her into the dining room? He leant down, very close to her ear, and whispered. ‘You need to enjoy yourself. Don’t worry. Nothing will happen as long as you enjoy yourself.’

The dining room was more spacious than she had expected, the table far bigger than necessary for a couple living on their own, but as she looked around she could see that it was a room well used for entertaining. Dozens of pictures of the pair of them with other red-headed people, with old D.A members, with the little boy and a dark haired woman lined the cupboards, a battered looking gramophone sat in the corner. The table was already set for their meal, with bowls of olives to nibble on, and they chatted lightly together.

It was very odd seeing Harry in this context. Had Theia not been so terrified, she would have been enjoying herself immensely. He certainly seemed relaxed, but when he pulled out his wand to summon the first course, Dennis flinched.
‘Sorry, d’you… Do you mind if we keep a fairly Muggle night?’

‘My apologies,’ said Harry calmly, tucking his wand back into his robes.

‘I know it’s awfully rude,’ continued Dennis hesitantly, ‘but would it be all right if we didn’t have wands in the same room as me? I know it’s silly, but I just-’

‘Sorry, Dennis,’ said Harry, more firmly. ‘My wand stays with me at all times.’

‘Even in your own home?’

‘You never know who could burst through the door.’

Dennis did not have time to respond, however, as Teddy came rushing back into the room, dressed in a miniature version of the red Auror robes.

‘Wo-o-ow,’ exclaimed Harry. ‘Look at you, Ted!’

Teddy beamed at the adults, who were making all the right impressed expressions and noises. He had even turned his hair black like Harry.

Ginny rose to fetch the first course, while Teddy clambered onto Harry’s lap, kneeing him in the stomach as he did.
‘Quite a handful,’ said Dennis. ‘How did you end up a godfather, Harry? Theia tells me his father was one of your old teachers.’

‘Yes,’ said Harry, slightly distracted by Teddy trying to steal his glasses off him. ‘You won’t remember him, but your brother would have been taught by him. Remus Lupin. He was a member of the Order and a friend of my dad’s at school.’

‘I never knew that,’ blurted out Theia.

Harry nodded, squinting as Teddy successfully pulled his glasses off. ‘Him, my dad, and my own godfather were all best mates. They’ve all passed away now, of course.’

‘He must be very special to you,’ said Dennis. Something crossed Harry’s expression, but Theia couldn’t tell if it was fear or if she was simply projecting her own feelings.

‘Special to everyone, aren’t you, Ted?’ said Harry. ‘Just special in general.’

‘I can count to a hundred,’ said Teddy seriously, trying to balance Harry’s too-big glasses on his nose. Harry gently took them back as Ginny returned with the last of the starters and persuaded Teddy in the seat next to him, where he sat happily, swinging his legs enthusiastically under the chair.

‘I hear you’ve finished your big case, Harry,’ said Dennis pleasantly.

‘Sort of,’ said Harry. He looked at Theia, and she tried to tell him everything through her eyes, wishing that she were telepathic, but he simply nodded sympathetically. ‘I know we could have done more. I’m sure if we’d pulled at the thread a bit more it would have all unravelled, but at least we can put someone in prison.’

‘Are you often disappointed with the outcome of your cases?’ asked Dennis.

‘Well… No, it’s a satisfying job most of the time. Just the usual stuff, clash of work cultures, clumsy mistakes, you know.’

‘I expect there are lots of people out there that should be in prison but got away with it, aren’t there?’ said Dennis sympathetically. ‘Like last time.’

‘We’ve got the worst of them,’ said Harry easily. There was a tenseness in his shoulders, and even Ginny had begun to chew very slowly as she watched them. Perhaps Dennis noticed, for he now turned to Teddy again.

‘That’s a brilliant Auror costume, Teddy. Would you like to be an Auror when you grow up?’

The little boy nodded enthusiastically, and looked up at Harry again. ‘Can I show them my colours now?’

‘Of course you can.’

‘OK, this one… This one’s…. Um… This one’s purple,’ said Teddy, and he scrunched his face up hard. The black of his hair shimmered and rippled into a dark purple, growing lighter as Teddy’s cheeks grew red with the effort. Finally, when it was a bright shade of violet, he opened his eyes to brightly receive their amazement.

This continued for some time, and he was so endearing that despite her terror, Theia at times found her mouth twitching into a smile, before she remembered what a monster she had bought into the house. When Harry rose to get the next course, Teddy jumped down from his seat, keen to show off his Auror costume some more. This time, he changed his hair back to his favoured shade of turquoise blue.

‘That’s brilliant that you can do that,’ said Dennis. ‘Is it just your hair you can change?’

‘No!’ shouted Teddy, who was getting so excited that he could barely stand still. ‘I can do my nose too, and my eyes, anything really!’

‘Your eyes?’ gasped Dennis in mock-amazement, and Ginny laughed warmly. ‘I don’t believe you!’

‘I can, I really can!’

‘No, I don’t think so!’

‘I caaaan!’

Harry returned with steaks just as Teddy ran to Dennis to prove it to him, and Dennis hoisted him up onto his lap. Harry looked uncomfortable, he watched very carefully as he sat down. Ginny was laughing along with Dennis and Teddy as the little boy changed his eyes to various requested colours, joining in, unaware that Harry was now looking at Theia with a serious expression.

Harry’s eyes met Theia’s, and she could see uncertainty, dread.

Theia gave her head the tiniest of shakes.

‘Theia,’ said Dennis suddenly. ‘Have you seen this kid? Isn’t he talented?’

She turned her head to smile at them both. ‘Very talented. How old are you now, Teddy?’

‘Three and three quarters,’ Teddy recited proudly.

‘Gosh, you are getting big,’ she said. ‘You were born just before the battle, weren’t you? On May Day?’

Teddy looked confused, but Ginny spoke up for him. ‘No, he was born a little bit earlier than that, in April.’

‘I see,’ said Theia, and she stole a glance to Harry. He met her eyes again, but his expression didn’t change. Had he heard it? Had he understood? She didn’t have the taboo, sadly no Aurors would come running, but had he heard the meaning of the word? Had he tensed up, or was she merely seeing what she wanted to see?

She couldn’t tell. He looked pale, but he had leaned back in his chair, as though relaxed. ‘Ted!’ he called cheerfully, holding out an arm ready to embrace him. ‘Come here, mate.’

Teddy grinned, and made a movement as though ready to hop down, but Dennis’s arms remained around him. Dennis reached into his pocket.

‘You know, Teddy, I never met your parents, but my brother always said your dad was his favourite teacher.’

‘Really?’ asked Teddy. His smile had lessened slightly, but his eyes had grown wider.

‘Teddy,’ said Harry, more loudly now, still with his arms outstretched.

But Teddy was now entranced by Dennis, who pulled a small paper bag out of his pocket. ‘Yes, he said he was a brilliant teacher. I was so sorry to hear he died. I was even sorrier to hear that the man who killed him is still alive and well.’

‘Ted,’ Harry said again, and now Theia could hear desperate fear in his voice. Next to her, Theia could hear Ginny’s sharp gasp, she sensed a rustling movement.

‘I’d put that down if I were you,’ said Dennis suddenly, eyeing Ginny’s wand. ‘There’s no need to worry as long as everyone sits quietly and listens. Theia understands that, don’t you, Theia? Just put the wand down. There, in the middle, out of reach, please.’

There was a glint of light from the knife Theia hadn’t noticed in Dennis’s other hand, pressed lightly against Teddy’s back. Dennis raised it until Ginny, pale-faced and trembling with fury, placed her wand on the table. Dennis stared at Harry until he did the same, slowly, hesitantly. She could see he was tempted to disarm Dennis, but it was clear that at the slightest hint of a spell, Dennis would need less than half a second to cause untold misery…

‘Edward,’ said Harry, as he placed the wand slowly and carefully on the table, his voice deep, urgent, authoritative. ‘Come here now.’

Teddy looked at his godfather, his expression distressed and confused, he began to wriggle, but Dennis kept a firm grip. ‘You’re not the only one though, Teddy,’ Dennis continued. ‘There’s lots of us who lost people we loved.’ He slowly raised his eyes from the little boy, and looked directly at Ginny. ‘My brother snuck back into the castle. Wasn’t that silly of him? Someone helped him.’

Ginny’s eyes were filled with tears, she was staring at Dennis with disbelief. Theia was shaking, she was desperate to leap forward and grab a wand, thoughts of her mother had flown out of her head now that there was a child involved, but the point of the knife was now at the back of the unknowing child’s neck.

‘Helped him?’ asked Teddy.

‘Yes,’ said Dennis, as though telling a bedtime story. ‘Hid him and some friends in the Room of Requirement so they could join the battle, even though they were still children. If that girl hadn’t done that, I’d still have a brother…’ Now his eyes roved slowly to Harry, who was poised to spring from his seat, his eyes fixed on Teddy, his jaw set in rage. ‘Or perhaps… If others had been quicker…’

‘Come on now, Dennis,’ said Harry, his voice oddly calm compared to the hatred on his face. ‘You know that isn’t fair.’

‘Quite right,’ said Dennis. ‘Quite right. But let’s have a chat, shall we?’

‘Let my godson go, and then we’ll talk,’ said Harry coldly.

Dennis shook his head. ‘You must think I’m stupid. I know you won’t listen otherwise.’ He turned back to Teddy, smiling reassuringly. ‘Would you like a sweetie, Teddy?’

He wriggled the paper bag at Teddy. ‘Don’t eat that, Ted,’ said Harry sharply.

‘You’ve still got your dinner, Teddy,’ said Ginny. ‘No sweets before dinner.’

‘It’s all right,’ said Dennis soothingly. ‘Just one is all right. They’re my favourite.’

Teddy began to cry. He was reaching for Harry now, and Harry was leaning forward, his hands ready to seize him but his eyes flicking from the knife to the bag of sweets. ‘What d’you want, Dennis?’

‘I want you to listen.’

‘I’m listening.’

Dennis licked his lips. He looked nervous too now. ‘I don’t want to hurt him,’ he said. ‘Or Theia’s mum.’ Theia felt Ginny stare at her, surely now the pieces were falling into place. She hated herself. For everything.

‘You don’t have to,’ said Harry. ‘Just hand him over. It’s all right, Dennis, just hand him over-’

‘But if it comes to it, I will,’ said Dennis fiercely. ‘Because you didn’t listen to lots of people. All those people sending you letters, begging, pleading, telling you that the people that had destroyed their lives were walking freely, or enjoying a life of luxury in Azkaban-’

‘I’m not in charge of sentencing, Dennis,’ said Harry softly. ‘You know that-’

‘But they would have listened to you!’ said Dennis, his voice on the edge of strained shouting. Teddy cried even louder now, wriggled in Dennis’s arms. Theia wanted to leap forward and knock the knife out of his hand, and perhaps it showed, for Ginny was holding onto her arm, keeping her back.

‘What do you want me to do, Dennis?’ asked Harry quietly. ‘Kill people? Like you killed Livia and Augustus Rookwood? Like Pansy Parkinson? Like-’

‘You could have,’ said Dennis. ‘You could have and who would have blamed you? You killed Voldemort, why not the other evil people of the world? It’s justified, you know it is.’

‘It’s not,’ said Harry. ‘Not like that. Give me my godson, Dennis.’

‘We’re still at war,’ said Dennis, and now tears were streaming down his face, and the knife was trembling at the nape of Teddy’s neck, aligned with his spine. ‘Maybe not you, maybe you’ve moved on, but some of us are still at war, and killing is necessary in war.’ He looked down at Teddy again, who was sniffling loudly. ‘Don’t cry,’ he told him. ‘Have a sweetie. It will cheer you up.’

‘Teddy,’ said Harry again, his voice cracking, ‘Teddy, look at me, it’s going to be all right, OK? Don’t eat that-’

‘Everything was all right for you,’ continued Dennis. ‘We both got the fairytale beginning, but you were accepted. Me and my brother wanted nothing more than to be part of this world, Colin thought it was the best thing that had ever happened to us. But they didn’t want us there. Do you know what that’s like? To love a world you will never be accepted in? I didn’t choose this.’

‘Dennis,’ said Ginny softly. ‘We accepted you… I loved you and your brother… Please Dennis, put down the knife…’

His eyes flashed with anger. ‘Is that so? You and plenty of others were perfectly happy to be nice to us, but when my brother was murdered and we wanted justice, what then?’

Teddy wriggled more, but now Dennis took a dark purple hardboiled sweet from the bag. Harry leaned further forward, he seemed ready to strike.

‘We’re putting people in prison, Dennis,’ he said. ‘We rounding them up and putting them away so they can’t hurt anyone else.’

Dennis gave a shallow laugh. ‘You know you’re not solving the problem. You know that. You’ve let us down. You’re letting them spend a few months in a cell then letting them out again-’

‘No-’

‘Yes! Yes, you are, when they should be eradicated. When the apple’s rotten, you take it out of the barrel. You will never solve this problem. Not without real action. But you could. People would listen to you.’

Harry was now very pale, his eyes flicking rapidly between Teddy and Dennis, his lips pressed together. Theia had never seen him afraid before, and it frightened her. She was suddenly aware that she was crying, and that Ginny’s hand on her arm was trembling. It was unbearable frustrating, sitting there, letting this happen, but the point of the knife was pressing against the back of Teddy’s neck, and Theia was sure that, like her, Harry and Ginny were frozen with a fear they had not encountered before.

‘That’s what you want to do, is it, Dennis?’ asked Harry. ‘Kill everyone who ever helped Voldemort? That’s a lot of people.’

‘Yes,’ said Dennis. ‘Yes, it is, which is why your method isn’t working. Their prejudice breeds among them, they will never be trustworthy. They might love you now, Harry Potter, but when a new wizard comes they’ll line up to get rid of people like me all over again. You haven’t changed anything.’

‘Dennis,’ said Theia, and she could hardly believe that she was talking. ‘That’s a huge number of people. It’s people like… Like my dad…’ He didn’t look at her. She couldn’t tell if he knew what Ezra Hopkirk had done to the family that had hidden him. ‘People with their own loved ones, their own brothers and children. This isn’t the way, Dennis…’

He looked at her, and his expression was one of utter betrayal. ‘You said it yourself. They have to be eradicated. Sacrifices have to be made for a safer future-’ He looked back to Harry desperately. ‘Don’t make me do this, Harry. You already know what it’s like to lose someone. Imagine not getting justice for them-’

‘We don’t know who killed your brother, Dennis,’ said Harry, his eyes still fixed on Teddy, his voice strained.
‘Exactly, because it wasn’t one person, it was a whole system of people. The entire society is rotten to its core. You understand, don’t you, Harry? You could help me-’

‘Teddy,’ said Harry again, and Theia could now see the tears in his eyes as Dennis lifted the small purple sweet to the little boy’s lips.

‘How can you sit there, and not understand?’ demanded Dennis as he forced the sweet into Teddy’s mouth. ‘How can you look me in the eyes, and say that my brother and I don’t deserve justice? There’s dozens of us, you know-’ Teddy began to make choking noises.

‘Please, Dennis- Teddy! TEDDY!’

‘If you joined our group, you could help finish what you started. You’ve done the worst of it, but we shouldn’t stop now, not when our goal is in sight-’

‘What have you given him? Dennis, what have you given him?’

‘I told you, I told you this is what would happen if you didn’t listen to me. I’m not unreasonable. I gave you enough warning.’

Teddy began to cough and splutter, his head lolling limply back, and now both Harry and Ginny were shouting his name. ‘All of us that agree this is the best way, that saw the potential in Dumbledore’s Army but were disappointed by your lack of action-’

Teddy gave a great, strangled gasp, his lips were turning blue, Harry leapt forward as Ginny reached for her wand. Dennis pushed Teddy to the floor, but Harry half-caught him in his arms, his eyes wide and panicked as he stared at the limp boy.

Ginny ran to them, wand raised, crouching down to help, for Harry was frantically shouting Teddy’s name, trying to open his frothing mouth. ‘Open his airway! Ginny, open his airway! Teddy! TEDDY!’

Dennis could see that it was over, and he began to run from the room, but Theia, enraged and distraught, adamant that she would not let this happen, threw herself at his legs, tackling him to the ground.

She could hear Ginny still shouting for Teddy, heard Harry run from the room, but she remained on the floor, wrestling Dennis with tears in her eyes.

‘How could you?’ she screamed at him. ‘Give me my wand! Give me my wand! I’m placing you under-’

‘Get off me,’ he snarled at her, trying to push her off him by the throat. ‘Don’t make me hurt your mother, Theia-’

She had reached inside his robes, and felt her hand grasp around the handle of her wand, but as she did he hit her across the face with such force that she was spun off him. She lay there, her head ringing, as he scrambled up. She rolled back over to her front, feeling as though she were in slow motion, her head cloudy and filled with the sounds of the ringing and her own heartbeat and her heavy breathing. Her wand was still in her hand, she pulled herself up with the help of the wall, her eyes trained on the back of Dennis, who was now running out of the room.

She followed him, passing Harry as he burst back into the kitchen holding a potions kit, chasing Dennis out into the cold night air, leaving screams behind her.

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Chapter 20: Chapter Twenty: Listening to Dennis

When Teddy was a baby, just a few weeks old, Harry had dreamt that he left him in a cupboard. It hadn’t started as a nightmare, it had just been a dream about trying to stop him crying. Teddy’s cries grew louder and louder and louder until Harry couldn’t stand it anymore, so he put the baby in the cupboard and went about his day. The dream had continued onto other bizarre nonsense, Harry never remembered exactly what, but later in the dream he suddenly realised that it had been several days, and he’d completely forgotten to check on him. He ran to the cupboard, thinking about how angry Remus would be when he came to pick his son up, and opened the door.

He had woken up in a cold sweat, his heart thudding with the same sense of horror and failure as he felt at that very moment.

The Healers had given them a private room, so the only sound in the air was the occasional footsteps of passing nurses beyond the closed door. Teddy lay on the bed, his blue hair even more vivid against the white pillow, his face grey and still. Harry sat beside him, leaning on the bed, one hand wrapped around Teddy’s, softly stroking the little boy’s hand with his thumb, the other balled into a fist, covering his mouth and nose as though trying to trap his grief inside him. He wasn’t looking at Teddy; his eyes stared over the boy’s body into the middle of the room, unseeing and blank.

The door opened quietly, and he dully lifted his eyes to see Ron step in, grim faced and carrying flowers. ‘I came as soon as I got your message,’ he said. ‘How is he?’

‘He’ll be all right,’ said Harry quietly. His voice sounded scratchy. ‘The Healer said he just needs some rest.’

Ron hurried over to the bed, giving Teddy a brief, pitiful look before setting the flowers down on the bedside table. ‘Hermione’s on her way, she’s talking to the Healers about dealing with the press - where’s Ginny?’

‘Gone to tell Andromeda,’ said Harry, and finally his voice broke, he began to tremble.

‘Shit, mate, I’m so sorry,’ said Ron, leaning over the bed to grip his shoulder. ‘He’s all right, you’re quick with your bezoars, aren’t you? The Healer told me. Looks like it’s becoming your thing.’

But Ron could not cheer Harry up. As much as he was fighting them, tears were now falling. ‘I was so blind,’ he told Ron. ‘I knew, in my heart I knew, but I didn’t want to believe it.’

‘I don’t blame you, mate, who would have? Little Dennis Creevey? I mean, fuck.’

Harry sniffed, and looked at Teddy’s face. His breathing was so quiet, he was so still, that each time he did look he had a jolt of panic. The events of the past hour repeated in his mind like an irritating song, he was utterly incapable of thinking of anything else.

Shoving the bezoar in his mouth, apparating to St Mungos, the mad rush and the shouting, the Healers sending a pulsing spell into Teddy’s tiny chest as he was hurried down the corridors, the way they had pushed Harry and Ginny out and drawn a curtain around him…

‘I really thought… For a moment, I thought he wouldn’t…’ he said gruffly, ‘but he’s going to be fine.’ Ron nodded and pulled up another chair, sitting with a heavy sigh. ‘I let him down-’

‘Shut up, Harry, no you didn’t.’

‘I’m meant to protect him, but I couldn’t do anything, I just sat there, I promised Remus I’d…’

‘You saved him,’ Ron reminded him. ‘You can tell me the full details later, but for now just be happy that you saved him.’

Teddy shifted, the movement was such a relief that Harry leaned forward, brushing the soft blue hair back from his forehead, but Teddy simply gave a small yawn and a sigh before sinking back into sleep.

‘I’m going to kill him,’ Harry said abruptly. ‘Dennis. I’ll kill him for this.’

‘Is he arrested then?’

‘I don’t know. I didn’t… I just wanted to get him to hospital.’

Ron looked as though he wasn’t sure whether to say something. ‘I passed your trainee on the way in. That Theia girl.’

‘What?’

‘Yeah, she’s in the waiting room, she looks a bit beaten up.’

Harry was torn. He needed to know where Dennis was, what had happened after he had left the house, but he couldn’t bear to let go of Teddy’s small warm hand, couldn’t stand the thought of him waking up without him there…

The door opened, and a tearful Andromeda rushed in, followed by Ginny and Hermione. Andromeda sobbed as she caressed Teddy’s head, kissing him and whispering incomprehensibly.

Harry looked up at Ginny. They did not have to speak. A simple exchange of looks and a short nod each was all it took for them to understand that Ginny would now take Harry’s seat by Teddy’s side. He kissed Teddy’s hand before he let go, and rose.

He left the room and followed the white corridors of St Mungos, renewed with a kind of furious purpose. The waiting room was busy, but he spotted Theia immediately.

She was sat, staring into space, holding a foil blanket around her, a deep gash across her eye and dark bruising on her jaw. She blinked as he took a chair and sat opposite her, just a few inches away.

‘Is he OK?’ she asked.

‘He will be,’ he said. ‘What happened?’

She looked around at the busy waiting room, and despite the paleness of her face, a faint blush appeared. He nodded, and helped her up, leading her by the elbow to a storage cupboard. Inside, he sat her down on an upturned bucket, and cast silencing and locking charms over the door.

She promptly burst into tears. ‘I’m so sorry, Harry, I’m so sorry…’

‘I know, it’s all right,’ he said, crouching down to meet her eye level. ‘Has he got your mum?’

She nodded, trying to compose herself, wiping impatiently at the tears on her face. She told him everything. She told him about the room, about what he had said to her, how desperately she had been trying to let him know.
‘I didn’t mean to let such a monster in your house, Harry, I really didn’t-’

‘I know. Saying mayday was really clever. I know you tried, I’m not angry, Theia. What happened afterwards? Did he get away?’

She explained to him in a distant, expressionless voice, staring at the dusty floor.

***


She burst from the house, and though the world seemed to be spinning around her she focused her eyes on Dennis’s back. He was quite far ahead of her now, almost vanishing into the darkness, but she had never told Dennis where exactly they had Apparated to; he was just as lost in this wilderness as she was, running blindly into the night in a quiet, forgotten part of the country.

‘DENNIS!’ she screamed. ‘DENNIS!’

Without really thinking about it, she shot balls of fire into the air. They burst above her like exploding suns, and somewhere in her confused mind she was trying to draw attention to them, scare a few Muggles, make as much unusual magic as possible in the hope that someone would be alerted, and the department would come to investigate the dramatic happenings near Harry Potter’s home.

She sent a tripping jinx his way, but it missed widely; she still felt dizzy from Dennis punching her in the head, she felt as though she could throw up. The ground underfoot grew softer, she began to stumble, but soon she heard the babbling, rushing sound of water, and there, ahead of her, was Dennis wading knee deep in a stream. She tried to stun him, but he turned at the sound of her shout, and blocked her spell.

He stood there, panting, wand pointed at her. She stared back for a moment, stunned. After everything, she shouldn’t have been surprised, really, that he had lied about it. But she had truly believed that he no longer had a wand, and something about the fact that he had had it all night, yet still chosen to hold a knife to Teddy Lupin’s back, chilled her to her bones.

Expelliarmus!’ she cried, but he blocked that too. Again and again, every spell she sent he blocked it, or dodged them easily, she still felt as though the world was tilting and she was trying to stay upright. He backed away, and now the stream was between them, the steep hill of the valley at Dennis’s back. He was not good at duelling. He had never completed his education after all. But she saw Harry’s teaching in him, saw the strength of his shield charms, saw his defensive stature, just like Harry had always shown her.

‘How could you?’ she shouted at him. ‘How could you, Dennis? A little boy?’

She saw now that the pale moonlight was catching on the tear tracks on his face. ‘He made me do it, Theia,’ he called back. ‘You all did.’

‘He did nothing wrong! None of us did! You can’t do this, Dennis, you’ve lost yourself!’

‘Join me,’ he pleaded. ‘You could join me, Theia. A new Dumbledore’s Army.’

‘How could you do this to me?’ She shot another stunner at him, but he barely had to move to dodge it. ‘Was it all a lie? Where’s my mother? Where’s my mum, Dennis? I want my mum.’

‘Why are you risking her for the sake of Death Eaters?’ he asked harshly. ‘I told you, didn’t I? I told you everything would be all right if you just listened, and it will, Theia. Help me do this, and we can make a new world. A better world. One where your mum can be a part of it all, respected and admired, not a source of shame.’

‘Why should I believe you?’ she howled. ‘Why should I believe anything you say? Impedimenta! You’re insane!
A little boy, Dennis! Just a tiny little boy! And Cormac McLaggen’s parents — they don’t deserve that! Stupefy! Why should Pansy Parkinson die in that way? She never tortured anyone to death! She never forced someone into cannibalism! But you did! YOU DID, DENNIS!’

She rushed forwards now, giving up entirely on her wand, but there was a bang and a searing heat across her face, she fell into the water and cold wetness mixed with the warm that was now pouring from her, she spluttered and stumbled in the icy water, but rose, again, to chase him once more.

He was yelling, as he scrambled up the steep valley, shouting a long list of names and crimes and words of justice. But she was shouting back, now relishing in telling him what her father had done, allowing her fury and love of him to race through her veins, letting it fuel her language, describing his crimes in detail, demanding to know if he would kill her too, to get back at him.

She tackled at his legs, and together they slid down the valley, scratched and stung by the coarse bushes, screaming at one another, hitting one another. ‘You’ll never see her again, Theia!’ he shouted, wrestling her into a headlock and choking the life out of her. ‘She’s gone! You had your chance!’

‘No!’ she growled, elbowing him sharply in the stomach. She seized the moment he was winded to turn, straddling him, trying to pin his strong arms to the ground. ‘No, I’m arresting you, you’re under-’

‘Go on, then,’ he sneered. ‘You think me and Lars were the only ones? You think that if you bring me in, she’ll be alive for a few days for you to find her? You think you have the chance to save her now?’ He spat in her face.
‘You’re a liar!’ She could hear cracks now, and men shouting. Aurors had arrived. Her hazy idea of drawing attention to them had, by no small miracle, worked.

‘If I don’t come back, someone will kill her for me,’ he said. ‘Let me go if you ever want to see her again.’

She considered it, the grip around his wrists lessening slightly. But Robards had run up behind them, and he pulled her off as Dawlish and Proudfoot grabbed Dennis’s arms.

‘Well done, Higglesworth,’ he said. ‘We’ll take it from here. I can guess what’s happened.’

‘She’s gone forever,’ Dennis shouted at her, as Dawlish bound him. ‘She’s alone in the dark, and that’s where she’ll die.’

***


‘And then I arrested him properly. And I told Robards what had happened. And then I came here, because I thought that’s where you would be.’

Harry listened to her carefully, patiently. When she finished, he gave a slow nod, and spoke quietly. ‘You did really well. I’m sorry this has happened.’

She finally looked at his face, and her deep brown eyes shone with tears. She hugged him, and he was quite startled, but hugged her back, giving the back of her arms a firm and reassuring squeeze. Then, he gently pushed her off, now gripping her shoulders as he looked intensely into her face.

‘Do you think he was telling the truth?’ he asked. ‘Do you think there are others?’

‘I don’t know.’

‘And he’s at the department now?’

‘Yes.’

He nodded again. ‘OK. All right. Get yourself seen by a Healer. You sound like you’ve got concussion and you’re in shock. I’ll go to the department.’ She stared at him dully. ‘Don’t give up, Theia,’ he said. ‘We’ll get your mum back. We will.’

‘Do you promise?’ she whispered.

He looked at her face. Heartbroken, bruised, bleeding. ‘Yes.’

He returned to Teddy’s room, where everyone was gathered round the bed and speaking in quiet, hushed voices. Teddy had woken up.

‘Hey, mate,’ Harry said softly, as Hermione and Ginny moved away to let him through. ‘How’re you feeling?’
Teddy looked blearily up at him, frowning slightly, looking very confused. There was a long pause. ‘Can we go to Scamander’s World of Fantastic Beasts tomorrow?’ he asked.

Harry half-laughed, half-sobbed. ‘You want to go to the zoo? Of course we can.’

Andromeda smiled, though she was still crying silently. ‘As soon as you’re out, Ted. The three of us will go, won’t we, Harry? We’ll go and see the Nifflers. Your favourite.’

Harry leaned down and kissed Teddy on the head. ‘We will. I’ve got to go now, but I’ll be back really soon, Teddy.’

‘Are you going to catch the bad guy? Nana said there was a bad guy, and that’s why I’m here.’

‘Of course I am. I’ll go and sort him out, and then I’ll come straight back to see you, OK? Then we’ll go to the zoo.’

‘We’ll look after him, Harry,’ murmured Ginny. ‘He doesn’t really remember. He’s OK.’

He nodded at her words, gave Teddy and then Ginny one last kiss, and left the room, wiping at his eyes as he went.

***


When he arrived at the department, nobody seemed surprised to see him there, but they stared. They stared knowingly as he stormed past the custody desk, they stared as he yelled for Robards, they muttered quietly together.
They had clearly been called in because of Dennis, by now they would know everything.

‘Harry-’ began Susan, but barely looked at her as he passed.

‘Where is he?’ he called harshly to Robards, as soon as he saw him on the far side of the room. ‘Robards, where is he?’

Robards had been deep in conversation with Dawlish, and he looked up at Harry with an expression of exasperated dread. ‘Now, Potter-’ he began in a placating voice, but Harry continued to march towards him with a powerful rage.

‘Let me talk to him-’

‘I’m not letting you in while you’re like this, let Dawlish-’

‘Fuck Dawlish!’ Harry roared. ‘I need to speak to him, he has a woman captive and she may not have long.’

Clearly ruffled, Dawlish stood straighter and looked at Harry with barely disguised disgust. ‘We are well aware of the disappearance of Mrs Higglesworth, your trainee informed us. As I was saying,’ he said, turning back to Robards, ‘I am best placed to question him, Potter is clearly too emotional-’

Harry called him an extremely rude word that risked him being sacked, but the corner of Robards’ mouth twitched and he simply said, ‘room four, Potter. Behave yourself.’

Harry turned on his heel, blood thundering through his ears. He thought Dawlish might be shouting at him, but he had not felt purpose like this since the war, so he was deaf to it.

He reached the room. It was being guarded by Proudfoot and Williamson, both of whom avoided Harry’s gaze. He was sure that when he went in, they would spy on him. Make sure he stuck to the rules. Protect the suspect. He stopped outside the door for a second, and gave a long, low exhale.

When he entered, Dennis did not look up. His magical binds were attached to the centre of the table, they pulled his hands forward as though he were praying. His eyes only flicked up to meet Harry’s as Harry sat opposite him, and they sat in silence for nearly a full minute, staring at each other. Harry wanted to shout and yell and slam his fist onto the table (or straight into Dennis’s face), but he knew that the only way to get Dennis to reveal the location of Mrs Higglesworth was through a long, slow conversation. One where Dennis felt valued. Listened to. Respected. One where he would soon want to help Harry.

It was Dennis who spoke first. ‘I suppose you want to kill me.’

‘It’s tempting,’ said Harry calmly. Another long, stretching silence, where Harry stared at him with pure hatred. ‘Teddy is not yet four years old,’ Harry said. ‘He’s had a difficult start to life, but you’ll never find a more cheerful little boy. He is full of colour.’

‘I didn’t want to kill him,’ said Dennis.

‘You didn’t,’ said Harry. ‘He’s going to be fine. But you have demonstrated unimaginable cruelty.’

‘To him, maybe,’ admitted Dennis, his expression blank. ‘But the others deserved it. You could have helped me, or turned a blind eye if you were squeamish. Don’t pretend you weren’t relieved inside when you found out the Rookwoods were dead.’

Harry let another silence beat before continuing. ‘Actually, no,’ he said. ‘Not only because I initially assumed they were the victims of other Death Eaters, but also because I have been searching for them for three years to bring them to justice. Proper justice. Fair justice. With a public trial and the defence that every witch and wizard is entitled to, whether we like them or not. To be beaten to the chase by a psychopath was not a relief.’

‘But it didn’t work,’ said Dennis. ‘You never found them. I did. And I was able to bring them to swifter and fairer justice than you ever did.’

‘That’s the disappointing thing with democracy and human rights though, Dennis,’ replied Harry. ‘Sometimes it doesn’t satisfy our bloodlust. I could satisfy my bloodlust now. You nearly took a child I love as my own from me. My only family. I could beat you to a bloody pulp, I could use magic to torture you into insanity, I could watch your life vanish under a flash of green light. Right now, I think I would very much enjoy it.’

‘You see?’ said Dennis. ‘You want to, don’t you? Now you see how important it is to be able to avenge your loved ones. I thought you would remember it from the war, but you needed another reminder. It’s a great shame.’

Harry almost smiled. ‘This is where I see your inexperience, Dennis. I went through that war. I was at the centre of it. You’re right that I did get to avenge the death of my parents in a way, and I saw many others die who deserved to. But I am still an orphan. I still remember my godfather falling through a veil of death. The memory of Dumbledore’s corpse falling from the Astronomy tower still haunts me. I am still visited at night by the shadows of those that fought and died for me at the Battle of Hogwarts. Remus. Tonks. Fred. Colin. Society cannot function on a constant cycle of revenge and bloodlust. Grief and loss is rarely lessened by the death of another. We must strive to be better. When we do nothing but react, we make mistakes. My own godfather was imprisoned unfairly for 12 years, but if you had spoken to anyone then they would have told you he was a Death Eater who didn’t deserve a fair trial. Everyone deserves the chance of a defence.’

Dennis merely blinked at him. A trace of the small, excitable boy Harry had once known was still in his face, somewhere, but it was hidden beneath one of cold stone.

‘You remind me of someone else, you know,’ said Harry. ‘Another young man who struck up a friendship with a troubled stranger, and together they began to do terrible things. But he saw sense quickly, and ended up stopping it. It’s not too late for you, Dennis. You could tell me where Mrs Higglesworth is.’

‘You have to listen to me first,’ said Dennis. ‘And I mean really listen. To everything.’

‘All right. Tell me how all this started, Dennis,’ said Harry. ‘Because I have been there. Truly, I have. I have spent summers lying in bed, staring at the ceiling, plotting how I will kill people. I have pushed away those who love me, and shouted at those trying to care. I have felt that anger. But then grief moves on, life continues, and anger slips away, quite without you realising.’

‘Not for me,’ said Dennis. He swallowed before continuing, his expression almost softening. ‘At first… At first it was fine. I spoke to his friends. I spoke to his girlfriend. I collected his photos and developed them and sent them into the newspaper. I helped carry the coffin.’ He looked down now, at his hands, entangling his fingers in one another.
‘But then… I kept staring at the last picture he took. You will have seen it. It was used as evidence a lot. I suppose he didn’t realise how close they really were, through his lens. All of them running at him. Storming the castle. It could have been any one of them, I thought. I stared at it, trying to work it out. Trying to look at the angles of the wands, where they were looking, who would have been able to see him behind the fountain.’

Harry knew the photo well. He too, had poured over it as evidence, seen it submitted in dozens of trials. In dark, quiet hours he’d listened to Ginny whisper about it, heard her describe how Colin had pursued his dream of being a photojournalist even while the battle raged around him, how he had crouched behind the fountain while the rest of the fighters retreated from the oncoming Death Eater advance.

‘I couldn’t stay there anymore,’ continued Dennis, his voice distant and measured. ‘Not in Hogwarts. I don’t think you know what it was like, you know. I know Hermione Granger was Muggleborn too, but she was protected by you, and her own talent. But me and Colin, we never really fit in. Our childhoods weren’t the same. Our interests weren’t shared by others. Colin really threw himself into it, tried to learn everything about wizarding culture he could, became obsessed. Before I came to the school, he told me so much about it that I’d built it up in my head to perfection. He didn’t warn me that the other students wouldn’t know what to talk to me about. He didn’t warn me that they would call me Mudblood. He didn’t warn me that we had to hold ourselves to a higher standard, always. If a pureblood couldn’t get a spell right, that was just because it was a tricky spell or they hadn’t done their homework, but if I couldn’t do it, well, it’s because I was Muggleborn, wasn’t it? The way the other kids would snigger, or slowly explain things to me. Even when they were well meaning, it was always because they thought I was less magical than them. No matter how much we learnt, we were always outsiders, me and Colin.’ He looked back up at Harry. ‘Do you know what that’s like?’

‘To be an outsider?’ said Harry, arching an eyebrow. ‘Yes. I do.’

Dennis’s face turned sour, and he looked back down. ‘He was all I had, really. And then he died. Died defending this world that had never accepted us. Would never really accept us. Tolerated us at the very most, when surely that should have been the bare minimum. I kept staring at this picture, and I stopped thinking “one of you killed him”, and started thinking that they had all killed him. It didn’t really matter, anymore, who had the final say. It didn’t matter who cast the curse. It ran deeper than that. He was fighting these people for a reason. The same reason he persuaded Demelza’s family to help him falsify papers for us both. The same reason he took me with him to Hogwarts that year. He just wanted to be a part of this place, but it was rotten. Those people in the photo were the worst of it, but they were raised in it, same as all our classmates, and they probably started with those same playground taunts. They probably read The Daily Prophet, and got used to the way it casually used Muggle as an insult. They probably let those things escalate and escalate until they were doing it themselves.’

He had begun to cry now, though his expression did not change, and the tears fell silently. His hands curled into fists. ‘So I couldn’t stay at Hogwarts. Not with all those memories, and not where Colin died. I went to Durmstrang, applied to continue my education there. I speak some German, you know, Mum was from Austria, and I thought I would pick up more. When I went for my interview, the gossip had already started. Someone who was in Dumbledore’s Army, they said, a war hero, starting here! They didn’t know that I never fought. They were very excited. The students watched me as I was led through the school to the Headmaster’s Office for my interview. I can remember how they whispered. The interview went well. I began to fill in the forms. But then it came to my parents occupations. Well, of course, I had to explain what a milkman was, they thought they had mistranslated. But I explained to them, and their faces changed.’

‘They don’t accept Muggleborns, do they?’ said Harry, who could easily imagine the vast stone halls of Durmstrang lined with muttering students.

‘They didn’t even walk me out of the castle,’ said Dennis, his face darkening. ‘Left me to find my own way back. What was the point of Colin dying? It wasn’t just Britain, it was the magical world. They hated me, and people like me, and that wouldn’t change just because Voldemort was dead and some Death Eaters were in jail.’

‘And this is where you met Lars?’ asked Harry, remembering the slow, hesitant way Fischer had said that he had met Dennis at school.

‘Yes. He caught up with me. Said he had heard what had happened. He was disgusted. Angry for me. He agreed with me that the whole world was fucked, and I found myself telling him everything, and he told me everything. I never realised Voldemort had reached that far. He asked me about the DA, and we talked about you. He was so impressed that I knew you. Lots of people are. You’re a hero.’

There was something very odd about Dennis, bouncing between calling Harry a hero and lambasting him for not being good enough. He was certain that Dennis wasn’t sure what he thought himself. So he let him continue, still in that distant, emotionless voice.

‘He walked out of the school with me that day. He’d hated it for a while. Everyone talked about how his family had been murdered, and his dad had died not long after. He hated the attention.’

Harry could empathise. He knew only too well what it was like to have your tragedy used as gossip, entertainment fodder for teenagers, for people to ask for grisly details. Yet now Dennis’s face lit up in an inspired, happy sort of way, his eyes glazing over as his voice grew softer.

‘We travelled. Across all of Scandinavia and down into Bavaria, and we just kept going. We talked about Norse mythology and Muggle history and theories of psychology. We talked about the differences between Muggle culture and wizarding culture. We talked about how angry we were and revolutionising the system. And then in a little town in the Czech Republic we ran into more Muggleborns. All the ones that had been rejected from Durmstrang, or fled the country during Voldemort’s regime. They’d set up their own little commune to learn magic, building their own settlement. All of them angry. All of them inspired by Dumbledore’s Army.’

A coldness was sweeping over Harry. He felt as though he were standing on the precipice, a great abyss below him. He knew in his bones what was ahead now; a vast new challenge borne from the last.

‘So we decided to take action,’ said Dennis softly. ‘Restart Dumbledore’s Army. Make sure that nothing like that would ever happen again.’

‘And so you decided to hunt people down. Even people that had already been prosecuted and sentenced,’ said Harry.

‘We began to talk to people,’ corrected Dennis. ‘There are whispers, you know, people that are unhappy. People that feel they’ve been ignored. There’s a low rumble of anger. People talk. People put each other in touch with a guy they know. Soon I had a list. Soon I had plans. We agreed that Lars and I would go to Britain. To test out some of our ideas.’

‘And the theatrics?’ said Harry. ‘The torture, the symbolic cannibalism-’

‘All necessary,’ said Dennis. ‘All deserved.’ He hesitated, looking down at his fingers which he now steepled. They were so pale and thin that they reminded Harry of a ribcage. ‘I wanted to be recognised. Not out of any desire for fame, you understand, but I wanted rumours to spread. I wanted the people on my list, or any that I had missed, to be afraid. I wanted them to think that their past actions would catch up on them. And I wanted people to see what good work I was doing. For people like you to see that there was another way.’

It occurred to Harry that, despite his speech to Dennis about the virtues of a right to a fair trial and the failings of bloodlust, it was only now that he realised the reason he could still see the excitable child he had once known. Dennis’s actions were that of a young, excitable child. Purely emotional. No thought for the future. Reactionary. Black and white ideas of right or wrong without the capabilities to control his own behaviour to the same moral standard. This was still the boy who fell in the lake, still the boy that had irritated them all with his loud whoops when he won at exploding snap. Only now, instead of happiness or delighted anticipation for the future, he was bitter, angry and rejected.

So he nodded. ‘I understand. You wanted to make it clear that there was a deeper meaning to it all. I see that. So you and Fischer worked together. Did he do most of the spells?’

‘Neither of us are very good at magic,’ said Dennis. ‘We used Muggle methods as much as possible. But he’s better than me. And he can apparate. I never learned. We were a good team. I’d plan things, he’d do them.’

‘You know we have him in custody,’ said Harry.

‘Yes, I know. I spoke to you on the phone.’

‘So there will be no one else with Mrs Higglesworth, or Cormac McLaggen, if he is still alive. There’s still a chance, Dennis. There’s still a chance to make this better. I know in your heart you are a good person, and I don’t think you want to hurt innocent people, do you?’

‘No,’ agreed Dennis.

‘Help me make this better, Dennis. Help me make it better for Theia. I’ve said to her before; you only get one mum. Tell me where she is, because Theia’s been through enough.’

‘I wish I could,’ said Dennis, smiling pleasantly. ‘But you both had your chances. Not to mention, there will be little point by now. If she’s not dead already, she will be soon.’

‘You have others working for you? Is that what you’re saying?’

‘I told Theia that, didn’t?’ said Dennis, with a small laugh. ‘It’s only half true. I have a wider network, yes, but none in this country. I don’t need anyone else though. I’m afraid poor Mrs Higglesworth is on a timer. What time is it right now, anyway? I expect it will be running out if it hasn’t already.’

‘A timer?’ said Harry sharply. ‘A timer for what, exactly?’ But Dennis just smiled. ‘Where is she, Dennis? Tell me where she is.’

‘There’s no point. You’ll never find her. I’m very sorry, she was a kind lady. She’d talk to me about all sorts of things. About how hard she found it to connect with her daughter. How dangerous this wizarding world seemed and how nervous she was for Theia to be a part of it. How she joined the army, for a time, and seemed to be good at it, but then gave it all up for Theia. It showed, really. She was very brave when I took her.’

‘Dennis,’ growled Harry, horror and rage rising once more in his throat. ‘You nearly murdered a small child this evening. Now is your chance to make sure you don’t take someone’s mother. Tell me where she is.’

‘No.’

‘You said if I listened, you would tell me.’

‘I made no such promises.’

Again and again Dennis refused, even beginning to chuckle as Harry grew more and more agitated. ‘You wasted your time listening to me drone on,’ he told Harry. ‘While this whole time she’s been dying. How long does it take for carbon monoxide to choke someone to death?’

Harry lost it. He kicked his chair across the room, roaring in rage while Dennis laughed, and Proudfoot and Williamson burst in, dragging him out.

‘I need more time!’ he yelped at them. ‘He’s hiding her!’

‘Cool it, Potter,’ said Williamson, though he sounded nervous as he took a strong grip on Harry’s arm.

‘Get off me!’ But they had thrown him out of the room, and now they had closed the door and stood in front of the door, refusing him entry. He kicked and slammed his fists against the wall opposite, shouting incomprehensibly. It did not encourage Williamson and Proudfoot to change their minds, so he stormed off, mind racing.

White with rage and fear, he strode back into the main office, aiming to return to the hospital, but by miracle the person he needed to see was there.

Theia’s cut and bruised face had been healed, but she still clutched the foil blanket around her, still pale in her misery and fear. ‘Let me speak to him,’ she said as he approached.

‘No,’ he said bluntly, taking her by the arm. He sat her on the nearest chair, and crouched down, like he had in the cupboard at the hospital, but now more urgent, now more terrified. ‘Theia, think carefully. Have there ever been any signs, any hints, any clues as to where Dennis might have been spending time?’

She looked flustered, overwhelmed; his panic was catching, and she stammered and stumbled. ‘No, nothing, I-I don’t know, er…’ She burst into tears. ‘He’s not a student. I know he must have been lying about that the whole time.’

‘It must be somewhere close to you,’ Harry said rapidly. ‘He doesn’t Apparate. Think, Theia, think…’
‘There… There was… In the room, in the study, there was a blue print on the wall.’

‘Of a building?’

‘No, well, maybe, it just looked like corridors, or tunnels maybe.’

‘All right, good, really good, if we can’t think what it was I’ll go and look there, but Theia, it’s urgent, are you sure he never said-’

Her eyes moved rapidly, she chewed on her own lip, wrung her hands. ‘His… His trousers were wet once. Maybe this is nothing, it’s just I remember thinking it was odd, because he said a van had splashed him, but it hadn’t been raining lately, and it was nearly up to his knees, level on both legs-’

‘That could be,’ Harry said, nodding rapidly. ‘That could be something. OK, round near you, are there any lakes or rivers or-’

‘The nearest would be the Thames, I think, or the River Lea,’ she babbled. ‘I don’t know, the whole area’s being regenerated, it’s mostly council flats and building sites, I don’t think there’s anywhere that would be undisturbed, even the empty buildings have addicts and kids going in them-’

‘There has to be something else, Theia, come on, there must be-’

‘I don’t know, I don’t know where you could go where you wouldn’t come across people, or wouldn’t be heard-’
It hit Harry, very suddenly. A huge leap on very little evidence, but one he knew instinctively was right. He rose, and began to run out of the department, but Theia began to follow.

‘No, stay here,’ he ordered.

‘I’m coming! I need to find mum!’

‘No,’ he pushed her away, suddenly remembering how the Healers had pulled the curtain around Teddy when he had been close to… ‘I’ll call you when I need you, stay here!’

He raced out of the building, ignoring her shouts, and barking an order at Susan not to let her leave. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Susan block Theia’s path, trying to guide her to the break room. Once he was out of the anti-Apparation charms, he twisted on the spot and vanished like a clap of thunder.

Poplar was cold and wet. A far off police-siren and a dog barking breaking the night air, but now Harry’s breathing too, heavy and rapid, his footsteps echoing on the tall brutalist buildings surrounding him. He briefly thought about going up, checking the blueprint, but he had already wasted enough time, and he was sure his hunch was right.
He began to run at random, scanning the cold, wet ground, scattered with broken glass and cigarette butts, punctuated by potholes and valiant weeds, squeezing their way through cracks. Finally, he saw one, the heavy, large circle of metal.

Evanesco,’ he muttered, and the manhole cover vanished, leaving a dark hole and the sound of rushing water.

He breathed heavily as he crouched, and paused for a moment as he sat on the edge. Small, dark spaces were best avoided, in his opinion.

He dropped into the sewers, casting lumos as he did. It stank, and as Theia had suggested, the disconcertingly mild water was knee deep. He made his way down the dark, grimy tunnels, calling for Mrs Higglesworth, praying he had been right. He was allowing his panic to overcome him, so he stopped, trying to calm himself, and raised his wand once again.

Homenum Revelio,’ he said, and though nothing seemed to happen, he waited in the silence. Then he heard it. A heartbeat, like the beating of a fatalistic drum in the darkness. He followed it, the blue light from his wand disturbing the rats, his feet slushing through the thick water, his hand often unconsciously reaching out to touch the slimy walls.

Closer and closer, the thuds growing louder and louder.

It seemed to capture his own dread, mirror his fear, but soon it was the only sound, drowning out even the rushing of the water and the squeaking of the rats. ‘Mrs Higglesworth?’ he called, his voice bouncing off the walls. ‘Hello?’

‘Help!’ came a strangled cry.

With a sharp intake of breath, Harry began to ran, as fast as he could through the water, down the twisting tunnels, the sound of the heartbeat growing to deafening proportions, increasingly rapid.

‘Help!’ came the voice again, but this time Harry’s stomach sank.

He turned the corner, and there he was. Thin, dirty, heavily beaten.
Cormac McLaggen.

He sobbed as he saw Harry, lifting his shackled hands. ‘Help me,’ he moaned, his lips chapped and bloody. ‘Help me.’
Harry crouched and tapped the shackles with his wand. They sprung open. ‘I’ll take you to hospital,’ he said. ‘You’re safe now. Have you seen-?’

But Cormac pointed. It must have been remarkable effort for him, as close to death as he was. His trembling arm pointed to a dark corner, where something was slumped against the wrought iron bars in a smaller alcove.
Harry cast his wand light over it.

She looked very much like Theia. The same wispy brown hair, the same rounded cheeks. But her eyes were closed, a mask, like one that would be used for oxygen in a Muggle hospital, heavily taped over her mouth and nose, her arms bound behind her. From the mask, a tube snaked its way to a large silver gas canister. A timer, run out of time, sat on the valve.

He moved forward, hopeful, despite knowing the spell had revealed just one heartbeat to him. He worked quietly but swiftly, vanishing the tape and murmuring ‘rennervate’ over and over again. Soon he found himself saying ‘no, no, no,’ as he checked for a pulse he knew wasn’t there, softly pleading with her.

‘She stopped moving twenty minutes ago,’ croaked Cormac.

Harry buried his face in one hand. The bitterness of the failure sweeping over him. He began to cry, exhausted and broken-hearted at the thought of telling Theia. How could he tell her? He had failed yet another person.
He looked at Mrs Higglesworth. He didn’t even know her first name. How would he tell Theia? How would he tell her? How would she ever recover from this?

‘Hello?’ came an echoing, distant call. Frightened, but determined. ‘Harry?’

Harry swore. ‘She’s followed me,’ he said to Cormac, though he would have no idea what he was talking about. ‘You don’t say anything. Got it? She’s not seeing that. I’m not telling her in here. You say nothing, or I’ll knock you out. I’m taking you to the hospital. Get up.’

Supporting Cormac with one arm, the wand light jumping erratically, and wiping away his tears with the other, he led them back out through the sewer tunnels, towards the young woman who would surely never be the same again.

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Chapter 21: Chapter 21: Trials and Firewhiskey

It was quite crowded, but Hermione’s voice was the only sound, loudly ringing through the large chamber. She faced the stern Wizengamot, but the busy public gallery lined the circular walls. The audience was stony faced, attentive, neither exhausted nor bored despite the drawn out nature of the trial, which had lasted all week. Dennis Creevey sat in the middle, the magical shackles binding him to his chair. He did not look afraid, or remorseful. The expression on his face was eerily peaceful, with perhaps only the slightest hint of disinterest.

From his own seat, Harry looked calm, but his slightly bouncing leg betrayed his nervousness. He had been staring at Dennis for most of the trial, but Dennis never looked back.

Weeks had dissolved into months. Harry had collected the evidence. Hermione helped him organise it. Theia had not yet returned to work, though he dropped in on her on a weekly basis. The trial was here, and for a week he had fought his way through an excitable press to get to the court, stood nervously on several occasions to give or explain evidence, and returned home to Ginny, exhausted and drained.

‘…Members of the Wizengamot,’ announced Hermione, barely looking at her closing argument. ‘You have heard, over the past week, evidence and testimonies which have established, beyond all reasonable doubt, that the defendant did knowingly and with extreme malice pursue a campaign of violence resulting in the murders of Livia Rookwood, Augustus Rookwood, Pansy Parkinson, and Elizabeth Higglesworth, assisting in the death of German national Christoph Kaufer, the kidnap and torture of Cormac McLaggen, the attempted murder of the four-year-old godson of Harry Potter…’

Harry could feel hundreds of pairs of eyes watching him, a queasy feeling rising from the pit of his stomach to his throat as he tried to keep his expression composed and serious. It became significantly worse as Hermione continued, and he surveyed the crowd in its entirety. The reporters were scribbling eagerly, their eyes flicking between Hermione, Dennis, the Wizengamot judges and himself. Theia, sallow-faced and blank-looking, stood out painfully as she watched Dennis.

When he had told her, she had stared blankly at him. For a while, he was worried that she hadn’t heard him, or had misunderstood, and was close to repeating it. He remembered now, as though it were happening in the next room, the way she had then screamed. He watched Hermione’s lips move as she continued to make her case, but his head was filled with the sounds of Theia’s hoarse wailing.

‘…You have heard, too, the professional opinion of Harry Potter, the lead Auror assigned to this case, and his insight into the mind and motivations of the defendant.’ Here Hermione seemed to stand taller, her voice booming with even more authority. ‘These murders and plots follow convoluted and confused logic. They are not the work of a vigilante with a just cause, but of a traumatised and angry child, seeking justification for his desire to inflict pain and suffering on others. The defence may argue that Dennis Creevey was trying, albeit in a violent way, to right wrongs. They may emphasise the crimes of the Rookwoods, and the information Pansy Parkinson passed to the old regime. To this, I point to the murder of Elizabeth Higglesworth, an entirely innocent Muggle woman, and the attempted murder of Edward Lupin. They were not collateral damage, but targets from the start. Though plans from his study showed the defendant originally intended to murder Ginevra Weasley, his discovery that Harry Potter had a godson meant that, with full soundness of mind, he planned to murder a four-year-old child, even going so far as to spend significant time creating poisoned sweets using the same belladonna he took from Livia Rookwood.’

Harry watched Dennis. He thought there might have been the trace of a smirk. Even now, months later, he still felt a powerful rage. During the trial, Dennis had seemed more childlike than ever. Tiny-looking in the chained chair, his face scrunched in puzzlement at the legal jargon, he reacted with anger and accusations to difficult cross-examinations, confused and babbled his way through contradictory explanations and justifications, recounted his actions with an excited, melodramatic pride. But at no point did he show true remorse. The closest he came to it was expressing regret that no one had listened to him, and he had had to resort to extreme measures. Even during his trial, he had tried to recruit more people to his cause.

‘For Elizabeth Higglesworth, the premeditation was even more sinister. Together with his accomplice, Fischer, he persuaded an unknown Muggle out of his home in order to rent the flat next door to the residence of Harry Potter’s work partner, having identified her from a photograph in The Daily Prophet. From there, he manipulated Elizabeth Higglesworth, the mother of the trainee Auror, Theia Higglesworth, encouraging her to introduce him to her daughter. He then developed a relationship, the aim being…’

Harry saw Theia rise and shuffle awkwardly out of her row, keeping her lips tightly pressed together rather than whispering apologies to the numerous people she was squeezing past. Harry, who thankfully was at the end of a row, followed her as she quietly slipped out of the room, sure that the reporters were eagerly watching them.
‘Theia,’ he called to her, his voice echoing off the tiled walls.

She stopped, but didn’t turn, instead stretching out one arm against the wall to steady herself, the other hand rising to cover her bowed face. He could see her shoulders trembling.

‘I’m sorry,’ she blurted out as he approached, her fingers trembling as she wiped away tears. ‘I know I should stay-’
‘It’s all right,’ he said. ‘You don’t have to. Come on.’ He led her to an empty room, used for less exciting trials and hearings, and sat her down. He pulled out a flask, kindly tucked into his robes by Ginny that morning, and offered it to her. ‘Firewhiskey?’

She gave a short nod and took it, her swig made her wince but the tears seemed to stop falling. They sat silently together for a few moments before she spoke, quite abruptly. ‘I just keep thinking… How could I have not known? How did I not know?’

‘I told you,’ Harry said quietly. ‘The responsibility lies far more with me than-’

‘It doesn’t though, does it?’ she interrupted briskly. ‘You warned me. You tried to tell me how odd it all was. I was stupid. Just a stupid little girl.’

‘You thought you were in love,’ said Harry. ‘The phenomenon can feel quite similar.’

She took another sip of the firewhiskey. ‘The way he sits there… No remorse. Makes me sick. How many tears have I shed for him? For what he did? He seems completely unaffected. And in some ways that hurts the most. Silly, isn’t it?’

Harry could say nothing to this, simply took the flask when she offered it back to him. ‘How’s your godson?’ she asked.

He shrugged. ‘Doesn’t seem to remember it. Seems happy still, but… I don’t know, he’s not the same as he was before. He was always so much like his mother, but now he’s more withdrawn. Less confident around people he doesn’t know well. Won’t take any sweets when offered.’ He sighed and drank from the flask. The burning felt good at the back of his throat. ‘I didn’t even make it five years before I put him in danger… How are things at Judy’s?’

‘As well as they can be. Christmas was grim. Judy and her family didn’t really know what to do around me, I think. Hard to know what to say to someone recently bereaved, isn’t it? Awkward, but there’s no way I’m going back to that flat.’

‘Found your dad yet?’

‘No. He’s vanished off the face of the earth. Maybe if he sees what happened in the press he’ll come find me again. He was always… He never really…’ Her eyes seemed to well with tears again, but she sucked in her cheeks to control herself. ‘Well, he never wanted the divorce. I expect the news will break his heart, if he’s ever sober enough to read it. I’m pretty much an orphan now, really.’

There was a long pause. It was utterly silent in the room, and Harry found himself leaning back in his chair, closing his eyes. He was so tired that his eyelids almost felt as though they were bruised. ‘He’ll go down for life,’ he mumbled. ‘Even the defence knows it. He admitted everything. Didn’t even have to break the Veritaserum laws.’

‘I suppose I should go and see him being sentenced,’ said Theia dully.

‘You don’t have to.’

‘Then I won’t.’

‘Neither will I.’ He didn’t believe he would gain any satisfaction from it. No doubt Dennis would react with anger and be dragged off. He was sick of seeing his face, so simply knowing he was going to be found guilty was enough. He suspected Theia was tired of giving him the satisfaction of seeing her look so broken.

She lay back now too, stretching her legs out while he had swung his own up to rest on a nearby desk. They were leaning away from each other (even Witch Weekly would have struggled to insinuate anything romantic between them), but the comfortable silence between them was one usually attributed to very old friends. Harry opened his eyes, they roved over the cracked ceiling, intricately designed with enchanted, softly shining stars and a firmly printed Latin phrase. Fiat justitia, ne pereat mundus.

‘I will have to see him though, won’t I? When I go on Azkaban duty.’

‘Benefit of my latest promotion,’ said Harry dryly. ‘I’m in charge of scheduling now. I’m sure I’ll be accused of favouritism when you don’t get any Azkaban shifts, but there you go.’

‘I still can’t believe you got promoted to Deputy Head Auror,’ she said, shaking her head in amazement.

‘Yeah, Dawlish’s face when I told him, haha…’

‘I thought Robards hated you. I mean, no offense, but he didn’t seem to trust you enough to make you his right-hand man. He seems to think you’re plotting to be the next dark wizard.’

‘Nah, he doesn’t,’ said Harry, unconcerned. ‘He’s just a paranoid bloke. Too many years in the job. He treats everyone like a potential enemy.’

‘Really?’

‘Sure. I can almost guarantee he’ll try and pressure your friend Judy or Matthew into spying on you for him, if he hasn’t already.’

Theia looked startled. ‘That’s horrible. A complete lack of trust.’

He shrugged. ‘It makes it hard to work sometimes, but it has its uses in a job like this. When I first joined, it was how we found out who had willingly helped the old regime. It’s just the way he is. I don’t think he’s ever trusted anyone in his life.’

‘I could probably do with trusting less,’ said Theia very quietly. She looked disgusted at herself.

A surge of pity swelled inside Harry. ‘Stop blaming yourself. You can’t go through life like him, it’d be horribly lonely. It won’t always be like this. You and me, Theia, we’ll fix the department. We’ll fix the whole system. Then we’ll get the trust back. When you come back to work, we’ll work out our strategy and get started on new hires. Hopefully I’ll be able to recruit more guards this year and soon we won’t have to spend any time at Azkaban at all.’

‘I’ll be back to work soon,’ she assured him.

‘You can take all the time you need.’

‘No, I’ve moped around long enough. I want to get back to work. I want us to start on the next stage. Our work’s not finished.’

He turned his head to look at her. She was staring up at the ceiling too, her eyes fixed on the Latin motto with a ferocious determination. ‘I know we discussed it, but we don’t have to do that yet. Not until you’re ready.’
‘I am ready.’

‘It will be dangerous. And lonely.’

‘Good. I’m in need of a good challenge.’

He nodded. ‘Right then. You’ll need some extra training. We’ll start when you come back.’

‘I’ll be back in on Monday, but you won’t.’ Her tone was very matter-of-fact, almost light. She turned to face him with an expression of stubbornness he was more used to seeing on Hermione.

‘Excuse me?’

‘You said after this case was finished, you would take two weeks holiday.’

‘Well, yeah, but-’ he spluttered.

‘So you take your holiday while I go back, and I’ll get started on the boring part of the training. I can do some of it myself, all the research parts and language stuff. You go on your holiday, you’ve delayed it long enough. I insist.’

He sat up, mildly outraged. ‘I’m your boss,’ he said. ‘You don’t order me to have time off, I order you to take time off.’
She laughed, and he was stunned. It was the first emotion he’d seen from her other than misery and angry resilience in months. ‘Remember how I used to call you boss? You hated it. How the tables have turned.’

‘I’m not going on holiday while you’re like this,’ he said sternly.

‘You once told me you only get one mum,’ she said, and he winced.

‘I didn’t mean… I shouldn’t have said that-’

‘No, it’s true. You only get one mum, and I lost mine. It’s awful. When you told me, it was like the world had crumbled away from beneath my feet. It was like I couldn’t hear you, but I knew what you were saying. I can never stop thinking about it. It’s always there, like a shadow. There’s no relationship like a mother and child, is there? It can’t ever be replaced. I wonder what her last moments were like. What her thoughts were. Whether she thought I was on my way. I wonder how it feels to die that way. Did it hurt as her lungs filled? Did her fear make her breathe more quickly, and shorten her life even more? Was she confused? Did she start to hallucinate? See things that weren’t there?’
She looked back at the ceiling now, her eyes tracing slowly over the Latin. Her voice was rhythmic and slow, almost soothing, quite unlike her usual fast-paced babble. ‘She must have been down there a long time. Did she feel abandoned? Because I do, sometimes. She didn’t like me having this job. She was always worried I’d get hurt. She hated that I was a witch, I think, because it was something between us, and it only got worse as I got older and started a career she couldn’t understand. Perhaps I am not doing the right thing, carrying on. Maybe I should honour her, and go and live a Muggle life. But even though she hated it, she wasn’t like Dad. She never told me to quit. She told me to keep going. She let me grumble and cry and tell her about how much I hated blood, but then she encouraged me to go back and give it another shot. She regretted leaving her career for love, and as much as I love her, I know I will regret it if I don’t finish this. I can’t bring her back or replace her, but I can remember what she valued, and uphold that, can’t I?’

‘That sounds like a good way to look at it,’ said Harry quietly.

She nodded, she looked almost satisfied. ‘It is, isn’t it? It’s a cliché, but Mum wouldn’t have wanted me to mope around imagining how she died all the time. She wouldn’t have wanted me to be an Auror, either, but I think she would rather that than the alternative. She was tough, my mum. I should very much like to be like her, so I’m going to do what I think she would.’

‘You’re tough too,’ said Harry. ‘I know you found it hard at first. I didn’t make it easy for you. I was thrown in at the deep end and sometimes I forget that there are other ways to do it. But you have an enthusiasm for everything, and that’s made you more resilient than you realise. I am very sorry that this has happened, that I couldn’t do better for you. But for the record, you’ve shown yourself to have the makings of a great Auror.’

Harry tended to only speak so emotionally to Ginny, Ron and Hermione. He still couldn’t bring himself to tell anyone but Ginny how he had felt about not being quick enough, or about how Teddy had felt limp in his arms, or even how he felt knowing that perhaps if he had tried to connect with Dennis after the war none of this would have happened. He would never be like Theia. He would never be able to return her gesture of closeness by talking through his feelings like she had. But he strongly believed, having worked with her during what would undoubtedly be the worst case of her career, that he owed her more honesty and openness than most. Dennis Creevey had changed her life irreversibly, but there was something quietly brave in her resolve to continue as planned, to stop any chance of him holding power over her from within the cells of Azkaban.

‘What are you going to do during your time off?’ she asked him.

He thought for a moment, taking another gulp of firewhiskey. ‘Elope.’

‘Really? You’ve asked her? You kept that quiet.’

‘Not yet. But, sod it, it’s our style. I’ll grab Ron, Hermione and her family and let them know, then send a few messages on the day for anyone else who wants to come. Ginny’s not into a big fuss and I don’t want reporters crawling all over it. A week to prepare should give us enough time for her to find a nice dress. Add a couple of rings and a nice place and what more do you need, really?’

‘She has to say yes first,’ Theia reminded him.

‘Pretty sure she knows I’ve been carrying a ring around for nearly a year,’ he admitted. ‘I’m lazy with my laundry.’

‘Typical.’

He grinned, and behind them they heard a great murmuring and shuffle of feet. The trial was over, and the sentence must have been passed. They froze in silence, neither knowing how to react or whether they should go and find out what they missed. The door opened, and Susan popped her head in.

‘Life,’ she said shortly. ‘No chance of parole for twenty-five years, with strong recommendations to never be granted any.’

‘Thanks, Susan,’ said Harry, and she gave a brief smile and a nod before leaving. Now the pair were left in awkward silence, both unsure of how to feel, both feeling rather stunned at the anti-climax.

‘I think you’re mad,’ said Theia suddenly. ‘When I get married, I want a huge party with loads of people to dance with. And a massive cake.’

‘The lack of a proper wedding cake may be something I come to regret,’ said Harry, gratefully seizing on the light hearted conversation. ‘But Mrs Weasley might be able to rustle something up for us. Will you be coming? You can’t miss the chance to go to Ginevra Weasley’s wedding, surely.’

‘Can I be a bridesmaid?’ she asked teasingly, but she gave a soft shake of the head, smiling serenely. ‘You keep your small wedding, just promise me you’ll invite me to the inevitable big party down the line.’

‘Naturally.’

She reached over, and took the firewhiskey from him, drinking the last, and then rose. ‘Well then. I suppose we better go and face all the press and give our statements about justice being served. And then the next time I see you, you’ll be a married man and I’ll be ready to start our next big case. Hopefully I won’t screw this one up.’ Misery returned to her face as she crossed the threshold of the door.

‘You’ll be all right, Theia,’ Harry said. ‘Not yet. And not ever the same as you were before. But we’ll face this new problem head on, and all the other problems after that. We’re made for it, aren’t we?’

Together they walked out of the Ministry and into the horde of press, gazing unflinchingly ahead as they pushed through the blinding, flashing lights.


fin.

Theia will return in Espionage.


A/N: Thank you all for making it to the end of the story! I really hope you enjoyed it. I would love to hear your thoughts and opinions, so please do leave a review or come find me on reddit or tumblr for a chat. I know a few people will be pleased to hear I have edited chapter four with a brief reason a certain potion hasn’t been used. Theia and Harry will indeed return in a new story, Espionage, but probably not until 2017 as I have a new project to write. Until then, watch this space!

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