Hollow Ash by FloreatCastellum
Summary: When a mysterious woman comes to the Auror office claiming to be the victim of a terrible crime, Theia and Harry want to do everything they can to help her. The problem is, she has no memory of what has happened. As they piece together the sinister events, their own troubles and traumas rise to the surface, causing them to question who they really are. Sequel to The Aurors.
Chapter 1: Chapter One
Chapter 2: Chapter Two
Chapter 3: Chapter 3
Chapter 4: Chapter 4
Chapter 5: Chapter 5
Chapter 6: Chapter 6
Chapter 7: Chapter 7
Chapter 8: Chapter 8
Chapter 9: Chapter 9
Chapter 10: Chapter 10
Chapter 11: Chapter 11
Chapter 12: Chapter 12
Chapter 13: Chapter 13
Chapter 14: Chapter 14
Chapter 1: Chapter One
Author's Notes: I know I said I wouldn't, but couldn't get this plot out of my head.
When he went down the steepest hills, he liked to stick his legs out in front of him so it felt like he was flying, though the sensation was far from smooth. His mother was always annoyed at him for this, insisting that he keep his feet on the pedals and his hands on the handlebars at all times. But mum wasn’t here.
The cold wind was strong on his face, the bicycle wheels whirring with monumental speed. The ground was coarse gritstone and lumpy tufts of reddish grass; it made him bounce uncomfortably in the saddle, but still he refused to put his feet on the pedals. The dark shadow of Pendle hill loomed in the distance, but his eyes remained fixed ahead — one hidden stone could send him flying, and his knees were scraped enough, though at this speed and in this light it was unlikely he would see anything anyway.
Soon his bike began to slow and he reached the stream that snaked through the fells. He leapt off the bike without coming to a stop, dumping it unceremoniously on its side, and hurried to his secret place, his excited breath cold in his lungs. The path here was too difficult for his bike — he had to dodge hidden pools of stagnant water and clamber up intimidating crags, and (this was the danger that really thrilled him) be careful that he didn’t stumble into the vertical caves that plunged into the earth, near impossible to get out of. The caves always had brilliant names like Hell Hole and Devil’s Drop, irresistible to nine year old boys, and part of him secretly hoped that he would blindly fall into one, only to heroically clamber back out.
It was not really a secret place, but children often believe that they are the first to discover these things. The stone was ancient and mystical in appearance, at the highest peak he knew of (apart from Pendle), and he had naughtily carved his initials into it. His fingers traced over where he knew the letters were. Panting, he sat against it, broadly grinning at his achievement. But now he was faced with the question of what to do now, because adventures were usually more fun when he planned them. He gradually began to realise how far he was from home, and how very alone he was. He had been here lots of times before, but this time it was different.
He heard a distant voice. Worried for his bike, but too afraid to reveal himself, he crawled along the limestone on his stomach and peered over the crag edge and watched the strange events below unfold.
The atrium of the Ministry was bustling, as usual, but one woman walked more slowly than the rest. She shuffled through, quite unaware that she was in the way of the irritated workers, and every now and then she looked up at the vast ceiling, smiling in a confused, unsure sort of way, her feet clumsily stumbling backwards, circling, staggering.
‘Watch it,’ snapped a moustached man as she backed into him.
She smiled at him vaguely. ‘Can you help-?’ But he was already gone. Her smile faltered slightly, one strand of her dark brown hair clinging slightly to the corner of her mouth. She blinked like an owl and continued to wander to the middle of the busy atrium.
‘Are you all right, Miss?’ The woman turned to see a boyish-looking young man gesturing hesitantly to the visitors badge pinned, upside down, to her chest. ‘Are you here to see someone?’
She smiled widely at him. ‘Yes. I would like to speak to a police officer.’
She frowned and looked down, as though thinking very hard. ‘Sorry, an.... An Auror. Yes.’ Her eyes widened happily as she looked up at him. ‘Can you help me? I think I have been the victim of a terrible crime.’
They ignored the commotion at first. Harry had just made the tea, and Theia was still trying to prise open the biscuit tin while frowning over a heap of paperwork. Dawlish’s raised voice was of very little concern, certainly nothing that warranted abandoning their files. They had made the office their own - cluttered and strewn with parchment and files and old coffee mugs, Theia’s cat lounging on the mantelpiece, a squashy sofa pushed against the wall.
‘I don’t think you’ve filled this in correctly,’ Theia said through a mouthful of biscuit.
‘Shut up, course I have.’
‘Don’t be a dick about it, look, here-’
‘Oh, right, well I did that to test you.’
Judy knocked and entered the office just as Theia was pulling a face at him.
‘Sorry Mr Potter, there’s a crazy in the office and Mr Dawlish can’t get rid of her.’
Harry looked hopefully at Theia, who shrugged and tapped her file. ‘I’m busy correcting your mistakes,’ she said, and he groaned.
‘Don’t know why I ever hired you.’
‘Probably for all the peace and quiet I bring,’ she joked. He rose reluctantly and followed Judy out to the main office, where the rest of his department seemed to be gathered in a nosy looking circle. The office was the same tired old cubicles in neat rows, except for the wide corridors and odd pockets of space, occasionally spruced up with a potted plant. In the centre of it, Dawlish, looking flustered and unkempt, and a woman. Bizarrely, she was sitting cross-legged on the floor.
‘I’m not moving,’ she said. ‘Not until I can speak to a police officer. Or an Auror.’
‘Madam, you need to leave,’ Dawlish said loudly. His hands were folded as he leant back, sneering at her.
‘What’s going on?’ asked Harry. Dawlish spun to face him.
‘She’s mad,’ he said. ‘She says she’s the victim of a crime but she won’t tell us what.’
‘I can’t tell you what,’ said the woman. ‘I told you, I’ve lost my memory.’
‘Then how do you know there was a crime?’ snapped Dawlish. He turned back to Harry. ‘We’ve tried to interview her, she’s not making any sense. She expects us to figure things out on gut feelings, but she’s got no evidence to back anything up. I think she’s just escaped from a looney bin somewhere.’
Harry looked at the woman. She was an odd creature. Her hair was cropped in a short bob, her large nose seemed even larger in comparison to her small eyes and thin lips, and her expression seemed oddly vacant. She was short and youthful looking in her face, but the lines around her eyes meant that Harry guessed she must have been in her thirties at least. ‘What’s your name?’ he asked her.
‘Marcy,’ she said. ‘I think.’
He nodded. ‘Pleased to meet you, Marcy. My name is Harry. Would you like to come and talk to me?’
‘Yes,’ she said happily. Before Dawlish could say anything, Harry said lowly. ‘Arrange for some tea and a healer, please.’
He guided Marcy through the curious crowd and into his office. Theia looked up, but did not seem surprised. ‘Want me out?’ she asked.
‘No, no,’ said Harry. ‘Marcy, this is Theia. Please, have a seat, and tell me what happened.’
‘Well I don’t really know, to be honest,’ said Marcy, sitting on the sofa. Her voice was soft and high; she seemed unable to resist looking around the office. ‘I was hoping to talk to a policeman. Have you seen any?’
‘Are you a Muggle, Marcy?’ asked Harry gently, who crouched beside her. ‘That is to say, do you know about witches and wizards?’
‘Oh, yes, I know all about them,’ she said. ‘Diagon Alley, Hogwarts, and all that.’
‘So why are you asking for a policeman?’ he asked. ‘Do you have magical relatives?’ She frowned, her lips pursed together in upset. ‘Have you been to Hogwarts yourself?’
‘Bad memory charm?’ asked Theia quietly. ‘She wouldn’t have got into the Ministry if she was a Muggle.’
‘I suppose so,’ said Harry, trying to get a good look at Marcy’s eyes to see if her pupils were dilated. ‘Marcy, why did you come here today? Why are you looking for a policeman?’
Her lip wobbled slightly, and now her cheerful voice was a distraught whisper. ‘I think something terrible happened to me.’
‘Why do you think that?’ She shook her head, her lips trembling more than ever. Theia placed a hesitant hand over Marcy’s knee.
‘It’s all right,’ she said. ‘We’re here to help.’
‘I’m not sure,’ said Marcy, her eyes watering now. ‘I just… I just know. I feel it inside me.’
‘Sad. Scared. Angry.’
Harry breathed in and rubbed the end of his nose slightly as he leant slightly closer to Marcy. ‘Take your time,’ he said. ‘A healer is on the way to look after you. But for now anything you can tell me about how your feeling and why your here can help me find out if there has been a crime. Because it might just be that you’re confused. It might be that nothing happened at all.’
‘It has,’ she said adamantly. ‘With dark magic. I remember.’
‘What do you remember?’
‘I don’t know.’
Now he rubbed his jaw, his patience wearing slightly thin.
‘What sort of things are you thinking about?’ asked Theia brightly. ‘I was listening to a new song on the radio this morning and it’s been stuck in my head all day. How about you?’
‘I keep seeing the tree,’ said Marcy.
‘Yes, where it happened.’
‘Where what happened, Marcy?’
‘I don’t know, but it was awful.’
One of the admin assistants burst unceremoniously in with a cup of tea, plonking it clumsily on the side table. Marcy smiled and took it eagerly.
‘Thank you,’ she said, though she seemed to quite terrify the young man, who avoided looking at her.
‘Healer’s on her way,’ he blurted out to Harry.
‘Thanks,’ Harry muttered. Marcy slurped loudly on her tea.
‘I think she’s probably just suffered a really badly done memory charm,’ said Theia lowly. ‘Powerful, but clumsy.’
‘Hmm,’ said Harry, nodding. ‘Someone didn’t want her to remember something then.’
Theia hesitated. ‘Perhaps ask the Healer to… Conduct a full physical test. In case there’s been an assault that’s not visible at the moment.’ He knew what she was implying, and was grateful that if that was the case it was the Law Enforcement department that would take over.
‘Ta ra,’ said Marcy loudly, as the assistant slipped uncomfortably out of the door.
Theia smiled. Harry suspected that she found the woman quite endearing. ‘Where are you from, Marcy? That’s a northern accent, isn’t it?’
‘I got the Knightbus here from Lancashire,’ said Marcy.
‘So you must have a wand, then,’ said Harry. ‘Would you mind if I saw your wand?’
She blinked at him. ‘No, I don’t think so. I’ve never had to use a wand to get the bus, just stick my arm out.’
‘Ah, yes, that’s right,’ said Harry gently. ‘But what I’m saying is, it only comes for witches and wizards. Would you mind if I saw your wand, Marcy?’ Marcy suddenly burst into tears and gave Harry a short, sharp slap.
‘Don’t be cruel!’ she cried. Bewildered, and clutching the side of his face, Harry stared at Theia, who looked just as taken aback.
Thankfully, the door opened once again, and Healer Abasi hurried in with a calming smile. ‘What’s all this then?’ she asked lightly. ‘Marcy, is it?’
‘Yes,’ she replied through sniffs. ‘This man is being awfully cruel to me.’
‘Is that so?’ She threw a false scolding look at Harry. ‘How’s that then?’
‘He knows I can’t have a wand, and he’s teasing me for it.’
‘Why can’t you have a wand, Marcy?’ asked Theia. ‘Are you a squib? Were you expelled from Hogwarts?’
‘I don’t know,’ said Marcy helplessly.
‘Enough questioning, you’re upsetting her,’ said Healer Abasi briskly. ‘I’ll take her to St Mungos and keep you updated.’
‘I don’t want to go to the hospital,’ said Marcy. ‘I need to speak to a policeman.’
Harry couldn’t understand it. The strange leaping between the magical and Muggle worlds, the confusion yet also surety. There was something distinctly wrong here. ‘Marcy,’ he said gently. ‘I would like you to go to the hospital, but before you go, I would like you to tell me why you came here today.’
‘It’s just a hunch, I suppose,’ she said. ‘That’s all right,’ he said reassuringly. ‘Most of my career has been based on hunches, I don’t think they need to be ignored. Why don’t you tell me everything you’re feeling? It doesn’t have to make sense.’
‘Well, there’s the tree, of course, terrible it is, and I can’t get it out of my head. And then I wonder whether I will ever get him back and why they would do that. And I’m not sure where I have been or what I have done or why I keep thinking of this tree, and why I am so afraid of it.’
There was a flutter of paper, and Theia was suddenly placing a piece of parchment and quill in front of Marcy. Without even questioning it, Marcy picked it up, and began to draw. ‘At first it looks like this,’ she said, drawing childish, wobbly lines. ‘All dead and bare. And then it looks like this-’ over the line branches she scribbled great, cloud-like circles, ‘-lots of leaves and thick bark. But I don’t like it like that. It’s terrible. It shouldn’t be like that.’ ‘Why not?’ asked Harry. She looked at him, her expression serious and intense. ‘Because it’s supposed to be dead.’
‘That’s it, she needs to go to the hospital,’ said Healer Abasi. ‘Come on, sweetheart.’
‘I don’t want to.’ She was tugging at the hem of her cardigan. Harry looked at her carefully. The clothes were Muggle, but had to be over a decade out of date, crumbled and faded.
‘Come on, we’ll get you a cup of tea.’
‘I could do with a brew,’ Marcy said, though her hands were still holding onto her mug.
‘That’s right,’ said Healer Abasi reassuringly. She looked at Harry and Theia as she helped Marcy up. ‘I’ll send you the full report, and we should be able to find out who she is-’
‘Will you check for-’
‘We always check for assaults in memory charm cases,’ Healer Abasi replied. ‘I’ll send a message to Law Enforcement so they can pick this up for you.’
‘No,’ said Harry. ‘Just send it directly to us please.’
She gave a short nod as a response, and gently led Marcy away. Harry sighed and flopped onto the sofa. There was a dull ache behind his eyes. Sometimes he wondered if he was too old for all of this. Certainly his wife thought so. ‘Chuck us another file,’ he said. ‘Or a pile of them, I suppose.’
‘What’re you doing?’ asked Theia warily. ‘We’re meant to be focusing on all this muggleborn extremist stuff, not picking up minor cases meant for the LE.’
‘I’m not sure that’s a minor case,’ he mumbled.
‘Why not?’ she asked, lifting a hefty pile of manilla files. ‘These things happen from time to time, and she seems pretty confused. I imagine she’s a muggleborn, or a squib, that’s why she was asking for the police.’
He gave a non committal hum, and was silent for a few moments. ‘Did you ever hear of someone called Bertha Jorkins?’ he asked suddenly.
‘Who?’ He wasn’t surprised at her vague, uninterested response. Bertha had never been a famous case, she had been mostly forgotten about while missing and now, almost a decade later, she was nothing but a dusty cold case deep in the archives of the Ministry.
‘She was someone who had a memory charm placed on her… It made her forgetful and vulnerable and ultimately Voldemort was able to break through using torture, before he ultimately killed her.’
Theia balked. ‘I hope you’re not suggesting torture?’
‘Of course not.’
‘Yes, I thought that was a bit out of character for you,’ she replied, her voice clipped but her expression more interested than it was before.
‘I’m just saying, I think the memories are still there, somewhere. For whatever reason, Marcy’s mind is trying to recall them, and I think, given her determination…’
‘And you think she’s trying to remember a crime serious enough for Aurors, do you?’ She sounded dubious, and Harry could hardly blame her.
‘I don’t know,’ he admitted. ‘Just…’ He sighed, wringing his hands slightly. ‘Just a feeling. I suppose we’ll find out.’
‘What will the Healers do?’ Theia asked. ‘Give her some Veritaserum?’
‘Nah, that won’t do anything, it’s about the perception of the truth. If she can’t remember, she can’t remember. We’ll need to piece things together and work it out, I suppose. We know she’s probably called Marcy and she’s probably from Lancashire, so it’s a start… Where are you going?’
Theia had started pulling on her cloak with a resigned look on her face. ‘Got an appointment, haven’t I? In our favourite place with our favourite person.’
He winced. ‘Don’t know why you do that to yourself.’
‘No, I don’t either, really.’ She gave a great sigh and stood by the door. ‘Don’t forget to feed the cat. Are we still on for dinner later?’
‘Yeah, course. Go on then.’
She left, and Harry’s smile dropped. The guilt was heavy. She wasn’t the same, for all her jokes, and banter and forced chit chat, and there was nothing he could do about it. Their new project that proven just as emotionally straining on them both as he had expected, but despite his constant suggestions to abandon it, still she persisted.
VŠli gave an odd little chirp and jumped down from the mantlepiece to rub against his leg. Harry, who wasn’t particularly fond of cats, ignored him, and pulled the drawing Marcy had done closer to him. She had pressed hard on the parchment, and her hand had moved with urgency. The longer he looked at it, the more horrific it seemed to become - there was something deeply unsettling about it, something in the chaos. He hadn’t told Theia, because he was ashamed, but he had felt afraid of Marcy. The way she had stared at him, and told him that the tree was supposed to be dead. Something Marcy had seen, or experienced had disrupted the natural order of things. He had been on the brink of death himself, and seen what it had done to those who tried to selfishly avoid it. He had seen some kind of hateful intensity in Marcy’s eyes as she had said it. He wondered if, in her confused state, she had known who he was, and whether he disturbed her as much as she disturbed him.
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Chapter 2: Chapter TwoTheia sometimes wondered if she was a sociopath. She was fairly sure other people wondered it too. She would like to be one of those dignified people that didn’t talk about what had happened, bottled it up and kept a stiff upper lip, like Harry. But she had always been a talkative person, that couldn’t change no matter how traumatised she was, so she found herself talking about it all of the time, to anyone, whether they wanted to hear it or not.
Not in an emotional way, which surprised her. She had always been teased at school for her emotions, she would burst into tears at any little thing. Even when she first started the job, she would cry. At any little mistake, or any rude comment. The first time she saw a dead body. Sometimes she would just cry for no apparent reason, so much so that multiple people told her she needed to improve her resilience and advised her very gently to think carefully about becoming an Auror. So she had assumed it would be the same now, with this.
Instead, she would talk about it in a matter of fact way. Drop it into casual conversation with people she didn’t know very well. You didn’t sleep well last night? Oh, yes, well when my mum was murdered I found that I couldn’t sleep very well either. Have you tried lavender oil in your bath?
Then she would be surprised when they became upset, sometimes even irritated when they hugged her and told her that she could talk to them any time she wanted. Couldn’t they see that she was fine talking about it? She wasn’t trying to offload. It was just a fact of her life that she shouldn’t have to hide, and it shaped so much of how she lived that it would have meant that she had to continuously lie if she didn’t talk about it. She had no idea how Harry kept his privacy and avoided talking about it all. Maybe he was more emotional than her, under all that.
But then she would wonder why she could talk about it in such a blasť way. Was there something wrong with her? That couldn’t be normal, could it? Certainly other people’s uncomfortable reactions suggested that they found it weird. So perhaps she was a sociopath, because she didn’t seem to get upset about it. She had even voiced this, her inability to filter anything pouring out to an awkward co-worker in the toilets while they washed their hands.
‘Well,’ she had said uncomfortably. ‘Maybe it just hasn’t sunk in yet.’
‘Oh, it has,’ said Theia. ‘It’s been nearly a year now. Maybe I have just got used to it.’
‘Yes, maybe… I, er… Sorry, you know you can talk to me any time, but, er, I have a meeting…’
Oh cheers for that, Sharon, I can tell you’re really genuine there. Sorry my mum’s murder is an awkward topic for you.
She had even asked Harry about it, who was decidedly more blunt. ‘Theia, I’m just not good at talking about this stuff. Hermione is, why don’t you speak to her about it?’
But every now and then there was a moment that seemed to tell Theia she was not a sociopath. She did feel it. The pain was there. It just came out at odd moments when she wasn’t expecting it. Passing a shop window and thinking about how much Mum would love that sparkly jumper. Imagining what it would have been like to have Mum at her wedding, if she ever got married. Hearing some particularly juicy gossip and looking forward to telling Mum, only to remember she couldn’t and now she lived alone in an empty flat, where the dishes had piled up because no one nagged her anymore. The cat lived at the office because Mum never liked it, and as much as she still loved Vali, he did remind her of Dennis now, so it was better that he stayed at work and she and Harry took turns feeding him. At one point when she overheard some older women in the office moaning about the cost of childcare, she realised she had always assumed that Mum would be there to look after any children she had while she worked, and it had thrown her whole life plan out of whack. Whenever she made a cup of tea, she remembered how Mum liked hers. With milk, but leave the teabag in. No sugar, but there had to be a biscuit to dunk.
Then her eyes would well with tears and she would want to scream and stamp her feet and pull out her hair, but as soon as it came it would be gone again and she could shake it off and get on with whatever it was she was doing. Or it would creep up at night where she would become frustrated to the point of angry sobbing as she tried to figure out a way to solve the problem that her mum was dead and never coming back even though it felt like she would be home soon. Everyone kept telling her that everyone grieves differently, but no one seemed to have had the same grief as her, and they all looked so weirded out when she told them about it. She supposed she should stop telling them about it, but when had she ever been able to control what she blabbered on about?
And of course these meetings were always difficult. But they had a purpose, and if she had learnt anything about being an Auror, it was that she was tenacious to a fault.
She pulled the cloak closer around her. Though it was approaching summer, there was a downpour of rain, which always seemed to find a way to trickle down the back of her collar. The wet shingle crunched underfoot and the air was thick with the smell of seaweed.
As she stepped onto the rumbling, shuddering boat, she felt a bizarre stab of jealousy to the mad but endearing woman that turned up in the office earlier. She wished someone would wipe her memory. If someone had, she could blame her lack of filter on that. Oh, sorry for making you feel uneasy. I have brain damage. The response would surely then be, ‘don’t worry, it’s not your fault,’ rather than thinking she was a sociopath.
The bad weather meant the journey was rough and she wanted to throw up, or sleep. It was looking bizarrely tempting to curl up on the soggy nets and have a nap. But soon the dark tower of Azkaban loomed ahead, swaying on the horizon as the boat rocked dramatically.
The thick, slimy stone walls were just as they always were; cold and unforgiving. Though the Dementors had long gone, it felt as though they had rotted into the place. Theia’s great unhappiness at the sight of the doors felt so inevitable and routine now that she was able to ignore it, no patronus needed. Neither she nor the guard outside greeted one another.
As she entered, and allowed herself to be patted down for security, she could see the guards whispering about her. They, like everyone else, were no doubt bewildered as to why she came here. She wished she could tell them, but it all had to be hush hush, as her Mum would have said.
‘All done?’ she asked impatiently, as her bag was emptied and repacked in front of her.
‘We have to check everyone for contraband.’
‘Yes, I know,’ she said with a great sigh.
‘Right this way.’
Her boots echoed in the vast tower as she walked, the guard accompanying her jangling as a ring of keys swung from his hip. It was better coming here without Harry; the prisoners barely looked up from their cells, there was no jeering or whistling, just bored, cold silence. Occasionally one would shout a request to the guard for some petty thing or other, but he remained stony faced and ignored them.
Up the metal stairs that clanged with every step, along a grubby corridor and then finally a thick metal door, above which a sign reading ‘Visitors’ was in faded white paint.
‘Usual ten,’ said the guard gruffly.
‘Thanks, Gary,’ she said, pulling on the heavy metal handle.
The room was split down the middle with a magical barrier, only visible as a shimmer out of the corner of your eye. As soon as you tried to focus, it cleared as though it weren’t there, though she knew if she tried to cross it, she would drop down unconscious like a ragdoll. The room was bare except for two chairs facing each other, either side of the barrier. On the other side, waiting for her, was Dennis.
He smiled excitedly when she entered, skinnier than he once had been and sporting a black eye. ‘All right?’
‘Hi Dennis,’ she said calmly, sitting opposite him. ‘Another run in?’
He looked briefly confused, but then seem to remember and touched his bruised face. ‘Oh, yeah, I’m still not very popular round here.’
‘No, I imagine not.’
‘It was Crabbe this time,’ he said, with the air of a child who had been in a fight at school. ‘He got me when were out for exercise.’
Theia nodded, but offered no reassurance. She still found it hard to hide her true feelings. ‘How have you been otherwise?’ she asked. ‘Are they looking after you ok?’
He nodded. ‘And you? Are you well? Did you think more about what I said last time?’
‘Yes,’ she said patiently, though she didn’t feel that way at all. ‘May I ask you a question, Dennis?’
‘When Colin died, did you ever talk about it with people?’
He shifted uneasily. ‘Why?’
‘I’m just curious.’
He wouldn’t look her in the eye — instead, he stared down at his knees and picked at his fingernails. ‘Not really.’
‘Do you think you would have felt better if you had?’
‘I feel fine,’ he said sharply, still refusing to look at her. ‘I am sorry about what happened to your mum, it really was tragic, but what works for you didn’t work for me.’
She tried to swallow down the rage that engulfed her, and was grateful that he wasn’t looking at her. ‘Well,’ she said, in a measured voice, staring at him hatefully, ‘I was just interested, that’s all.’
‘I think you would feel better,’ he said, finally looking at her earnestly, ‘if you reconsidered my suggestion.’
‘No, I don’t think so Dennis.’
‘They would welcome you with open arms, I know they would.’
‘How could you possibly know that? You can’t contact them, can you?’
‘No,’ he said, looking away again. ‘But I know they would. I think it would help. It helped me.’
Theia looked at him, beaten and bruised in his grey prison clothes, still madly believing they had a good relationship. ‘Clearly,’ she said.
‘Did you see the Harpies are top of the league?’ he said suddenly. ‘One of the guards gave me his newspaper. I bet Ginny is pleased.’
Theia considered her next words very carefully. ‘Well, she’s not in the Harpies at the moment. She’s going to have a baby.’
Dennis looked delighted. ‘That’s wonderful!’
‘Yes, it is.’
‘Will they bring it in to visit for me?’
She couldn’t help but raise an eyebrow. ‘I don’t think so.’
He nodded. ‘I bet they’re still annoyed at me, aren’t they?’
She wondered who was madder; Marcy or Dennis. Did he not fully remember everything he had done? ‘I’m not sure they will ever visit you, Dennis.’
He seemed to accept this as sensible, but looked a little disappointed. ‘I just wish they had listened to me,’ he said. ‘It all could’ve been so different.’
‘I wish that too,’ said Theia. The words left a bad taste in her mouth. ‘But I will still visit you.’
He smiled, and there was a shadow of the goody child he had once been. ‘That’s why you would be perfect for it, Theia. You’re so loyal, and you understand sacrifice. It’s not too late to change things.’
She was grateful when the guard came back and sharply announced that visiting time was over.
Harry and Ginny were sweet together. Warm. Theia thought that if they were a food, they would be porridge with honey. Or apple crumble and custard. Nothing too sweet or showy. Just naturally good together. Not too coupley or public with their affection, but the way Harry would absentmindedly touch the small of his wife’s back as she passed, and the way Ginny would seem to beam just a little wider when he looked at her.
Since Mum had died, they had welcomed her more than ever, and dinner round their place was routine. Tonight, it was a creamy pasta dish, with crusty garlic bread and mozzarella on the side.
‘Does mozzarella count as a soft cheese?’ asked Ginny, prodding it and frowning. ‘Harry, you never warned me how much delicious food I wouldn’t be able to eat.’
‘Well I didn’t know, did I? You have more experience with babies than me.’
She gaped at him. ‘How on earth-? I’m the youngest! I’ve never been around babies! Do you just assume that because I’m a woman?’’
‘No,’ he said quickly. ‘I just-’
‘You do!’ she exclaimed, her voice verging on a wail.
Theia tried to hide her smile. The hormones seemed to get worse every time she came round. ‘I think it’s fine,’ she told Ginny reassuringly. ‘I think as long as it’s pasteurised.’
Ginny seemed to trust Theia’s intelligence enough, and stuck a fork in a large piece of cheese as Harry went to check the packet. ‘I’m glad someone around here knows about this stuff. I don’t really know what pasteurisation is. I’ll just assume this is and be ready to Floo to St Mungos if I feel a bit iffy.’
Theia thought about explaining, but then decided that it was one of those things that people didn’t want her to actually educate them about. Mum had always told her that - sometimes people don’t want lessons, Theia, sometimes they just want a chat.
‘How did the prison visit go?’ asked Harry, pouring her a generous portion of wine.
‘Oh, you know, the usual. Still not quite revealing any contacts with this mysterious community, but constantly encouraging me to make contact, which isn’t very helpful. I’m sure he’ll crack soon though.’
Harry nodded. ‘He just needs that trust, you’re building it up well. Did you tell him our news?’
‘Yup, he seemed delighted, asked if you would bring the baby in to visit him.’
Ginny snorted dismissively. ‘Bloody cheek of it.’
‘Dunno how you do it, Theia. He would be able to tell I hated him by looking at my face the moment I walked in.’
‘Well, you’ve never been good at keeping a poker face, Harry,’ said Ginny.
‘I never thought I would be any good at it either. I thought I would burst into tears,’ said Theia, twirling the spaghetti around her fork. ‘Mum always said I cried if my emotion was anything other than bored. And even then, I have been known to cry during history of magic class.’
‘Well, that’s true,’ said Harry lightly. ‘But you’re good in a crisis.’
‘You should meet my mum,’ said Ginny warily. ‘She hasn’t stopped crying since I told her I was expecting. I’m getting constant parcels filled with baby clothes and overly emotional letters.’ She looked down at her slightly curved stomach. ‘I can’t believe there’s going to be months of this.’
‘Well that’s a nice thing,’ said Harry, and Theia was grateful that he said it, because she was suddenly imagining the sort of baby clothes her mother would have given her if she had been pregnant. Probably not as homely as Ginny’s mum. Less knitted boots, more sequined onesies.
Ginny smiled at him. ‘It is rather exciting, isn’t it?’
‘Are you going to find out if it will be a boy or a girl soon?’ asked Theia.
‘Nah, we’re keeping it a surprise,’ said Harry. ‘Until the big day.’
Theia scowled at him. ‘I need to know whether to buy you guys pink shit or blue shit.’
‘Yellow shit is fine,’ said Ginny. ‘Better yet, no shit at all, the nursery room is already packed.’
‘I’m going to get both colours,’ threatened Theia. ‘Just to annoy you both.’
Harry laughed, and Ginny pretended to roll her eyes. It was funny how she had settled in, Theia thought mildly as the dinner continued. She had suspected that Ginny had not liked her at first, but perhaps she had been wrong. Maybe Ginny was standoffish at first, or maybe Theia had been difficult to get along with. She had certainly admired her, but she knew that sometimes she could be overbearing and… intense around people she thought were brilliant. She liked to think she was over that now, though every now and then, particularly when she got a glimpse of Harry’s scar or Ginny talked about Quidditch, she still had that secret thrill in her stomach that came with being part of the cool crowd.
‘Did the Healer get back with any news about Mysterious Marcy?’ she asked Harry, as pudding was served.
‘Oh, yeah,’ he said distractedly, spooning chocolate sauce onto his profiteroles. ‘Weird, actually, we are going to have to look into it rather than handing it over to Law Enforcement. She’s, er, already dead.’
‘She’s a squib, but she was reported dead years ago. Her full name is Marcia Ivy Staindrop-’
‘Unfortunate name,’ interjected Ginny quietly.
‘-St Mungo’s had a file on her that said she died in an accident at the age of eleven.’
‘I’ve heard that sort of thing used to happen a lot,’ said Ginny. ‘Families were so embarrassed that they would keep their squib children a complete secret, sometimes pretending they had died when it became clear they weren’t going to Hogwarts.’
‘The Dumbledores sort of did it, I suppose,’ said Harry. ‘Seems a bit old fashioned though. A bit last century.’
‘Who are her family?’ asked Theia. ‘Surely that’s illegal? Can’t we arrest them and find out what’s happened to her?’
‘Yeah, it is, but they died a while back. I mean, actually died, with real evidence and everything. Ellen and Wilford Staindrop. Ellen died in the dragon pox epidemic of the late 70s, and Wilford died a couple of years later in St Mungos after trying to make his own potion for some minor ailment and accidentally poisoning himself.’
‘Well, how old would Marcy have been?’ asked Theia. ‘Has she really lived on her own all this time?’
‘She would have been a teenager when her dad died, so maybe,’ said Harry. ‘At least we have a surname for her now, so we can have another chat with her tomorrow morning then head to Lancashire - Healers think she may have come from a village in the Forest of Bowland.’
‘Something must have happened,’ said Ginny. ‘To make her suddenly come to you after all these years.’
Harry was rubbing his scar absentmindedly. ‘Yeah, that’s what I was thinking… I just have a weird feeling this is all a lot bigger than it seems.’
‘She must have been very lonely,’ said Theia. ‘To have one foot in the wizarding world but not really be a part of it.’ She considered for a moment. ‘I think my mum was like that, she never really knew what to think of me being a witch. I suppose I didn’t really welcome her enough into the world.’
Harry and Ginny glanced at each other, and Theia inwardly kicked herself. She had made them uncomfortable, she knew it. She took a gulp of wine and swallowed it without really tasting it. ‘Anyway, I suppose that’s why she was asking for the police. She must have been living her life as a muggle all these years.’
‘I suppose so,’ said Harry. ‘Perhaps she spoke to the muggle police before us, or they might have come across her before. I can speak to the Muggle Liaison department about getting us covers and we can pose as police officers from another area.’
‘Oh, that will be fun. Can I make up a new name?’
‘I think our own names will be fine.’
‘With exciting backstories.’
‘I doubt anyone will ask.’
‘And an accent.’
Ginny was shaking with laughter as she watched Harry’s increasingly withering expression, and Theia smugly sipped on her wine, pleased that the awkwardness had passed.
‘Harry is just jealous that he can’t do impressions,’ Ginny advised her. ‘I’m the actor round here.’
‘She’s known for her excellent Celestina Warbeck impression,’ Harry said sagely. ‘Especially in the shower, I could swear it was the real thing.’
‘Oh, shut up!’ said Ginny, playfully flicking chocolate sauce at him while Theia laughed. ‘Can I come with you? I think I could be a good muggle policewoman. I’d go with a classic Welsh accent myself, I’ve been working on it.’
‘Nice,’ said Theia. ‘I’d go Saaf Londaan, might as well stick with what you know.’
‘Which accent are you going to do, Harry?’ asked Ginny slyly.
‘Apart from plummy home counties, obviously,’ added Theia.
‘My accent isn’t plummy,’ said Harry, who sounded slightly stung. ‘It’s just… Normal. I don’t like this new thing of you two ganging up on me.’
‘Well someone needs to take you down a peg or two, now that I can’t be top of the league anymore,’ said Ginny, sighing huffily. ‘It’s not fair that you get to carry on with work while I’m in confinement.’
‘You’re not in confinement,’ said Harry patiently. ‘You’re pregnant, and it’s probably not a good idea to be near bludgers.’
Ginny pursed her lips. ‘Fine, but I should be allowed to come with you and figure out with Mad Marcy. Theia, agrees, don’t you, Theia?’
‘Er…’ Stuck between Harry and Ginny, who were both staring at her sternly, and keen to upset neither, Theia’s eyes darted between them. ‘Not my call to make, really…’
‘Not mine either,’ added Harry, who seemed pleased. ‘Kingsley’s. And you’re free to ask the Minister of Magic to hire you if you want, Ginny, but for now I think you’ll just have to be an off the books consultant…’
‘He would hire me if you asked him,’ muttered Ginny into her pumpkin juice, but thankfully that was the end of it.
‘Thanks for that,’ Harry whispered as he showed Theia to the door at the end of the night. ‘Keeping her out of dangerous situations is like stopping a rampaging hippogriff - dangerous in itself.’
‘I’m sure it won’t be that dangerous,’ said Theia. ‘You could let her do something a bit exciting. A couple of duels, maybe a bit of undercover work, stuff like that. You know, just mildly life threatening stuff.’
‘Nope,’ said Harry promptly. ‘This is the first time I will have a blood relative since my parents died, apart from the muggles. I’ll bewitch all the doors locked if I have to.’
Theia laughed, but was rather worried that he wasn’t entirely joking.
Back to index
Chapter 3: Chapter 3Healer Abasi led them down the long white corridor, speaking in a low voice. ‘She’s still very much confused, but feels a lot safer so you may get more out of her today.’
‘Did anything come back on the physical tests?’
‘Yes.’ They came to a halt outside a green door. Healer Abasi’s face was serious; her eyes met Harry’s with great concern. ‘There is no evidence of sexual assault that we can see, but some signs that she may have given birth recently.’
‘Given birth?’ whispered Theia, her eyes wide.
Healer Abasi nodded. ‘I would say it’s vital you find out where she has been living. There may be an infant at risk.’
‘How recently would you say she’s given birth?’ asked Harry.
‘It’s hard to say. She has had time to recover though, so we could be looking at anything between a few days to a couple of weeks.’
He nodded, and with that she pushed open the door.
Marcy was sat up in her bed, but she didn’t look up from her jigsaw puzzle when they entered. Due to the sensitivity of her case, the hospital had given her a private room, and she certainly seemed comfortable in it. The healers had washed her, the scruffy brown bob now glossy and neat, and her skin looked fresher somehow.
Harry and Theia pulled up chairs either side of her bed, with Healer Abasi at the foot, and greeted her softly.
‘All reet, cock?’ she mumbled back, with only the briefest glances. From the look of Theia’s bewildered face, Harry suspected she wasn’t familiar with Lancashire greetings, which made him grin.
‘That’s good,’ he said, pointing to the jigsaw. It was almost complete. Just a few gaps disrupted the shimmering image of a unicorn in a glade.
‘It’s too easy,’ Marcy complained. ‘I’ve gone through six jigsaws already, I wish they would just give me a bleedin’ sudoku.’
Harry laughed. ‘I’ll see what we can do. Do you mind if we have a quick chat, Marcy?’
‘How do you know my name?’ she shot at him, her eyes narrowing.
‘We met yesterday, do you remember, Marcy?’ said Theia kindly.
Marcy leaned her head back and frowned, sticking her tongue into one cheek so it bulged out comically. ‘Mmm, yeah,’ she finally said. ‘Yeah, I remember you now.’
‘Good,’ said Harry with a smile. ‘Marcy, you’re from Lancashire, aren’t you?’
‘Yes, I think so.’
‘Where abouts? Does Bowland ring a bell? That’s where the Healers think you were born.’
Marcy nodded, returning to her jigsaw. Harry glanced uneasily at Theia and the healer. It was hard to tell whether Marcy was being honest or just trying to please them.
‘I drew you some more pictures,’ said Marcy suddenly. Harry raised his eyebrows as she suddenly leant over to her bedside table. With a rustle of papers and a clatter as she knocked the tray holding her jigsaw to the floor, she pulled out a wad of parchment with a flourish.
‘This is home,’ she said, laying down an incomprehensible scribble of dark lines surrounding a childish square house. ‘And this one is the tree again… And this one is the leaf from the tree.’
‘What about this one, Marcy?’ asked Theia, holding up a sheet from the pile that still scattered the bed. ‘Who are these people?’
Marcy frowned at the stick figures. There were six, all of them varying in size, one with a round circle around where the stomach would be.
‘Are they your family?’ asked Harry. He pointed at the one with the circle. ‘Is this you?’
‘Yes, that’s me,’ said Marcy. ‘With my baby.’
‘Where is your baby, Marcy?’ asked Theia.
Marcy burst into tears. Harry left Theia to rub her shoulders and make soothing sounds, while he simply exchanged a worried look with Healer Abasi.
‘I don’t remember,’ Marcy spluttered between sobs. ‘But I miss him.’
‘That’s a good thing, Marcy,’ said Theia, pulling her into a hug. ‘That’s probably why your mind is trying to remember. And we’re going to help you, aren’t we, Harry?’
‘Of course we are,’ said Harry. ‘Marcy, can you remember when you had your baby? Or how big he is? Is it a he?’
‘Yes, a boy,’ said Marcy firmly. Then she seized his sleeve and looked at him intently. ‘You have to rinse it through with cold water first, or it will stay.’
‘Rinse what through, Marcy?’
But she had already turned back to her drawings. ‘This is the tree,’ she repeated. ‘I see it all the time.’
‘What about these people, Marcy? Are they your family?’ Theia asked, slowly drawing her finger over the other stick figures.
Marcy seemed to consider them for a very long time. ‘No,’ she said finally. Then she frowned. ‘I don’t know.’
‘That’s all right,’ said Harry. ‘Would you mind if I took these drawings, Marcy?’
‘Oh,’ she said, her eyes widening in pleasant surprise. ‘Do you like them?’
‘Very much so.’
‘Yes, all right then.’ She smiled, and patted his arm. ‘You’re a fine young man.’
‘Thank you,’ Harry replied, choosing to find amusement in her sudden change of heart about him. He glanced up at the Healer. ‘I suppose we should let her rest?’
Healer Abasi nodded and smiled gratefully. ‘Come back whenever you need to.’
Theia gathered up the drawings, and they left without much fuss. Marcy barely seemed to notice them going, instead demanding that she be given a more interesting jigsaw.
‘Lancashire then,’ said Theia. ‘Any idea where to start?’
‘The Healers gave me the address that was on her birth and death certificate,’ said Harry. ‘We can start there, I suppose.’
‘How on earth is there a death certificate for a living, breathing woman?’ asked Theia, as they entered the lifts. ‘Doesn’t a Healer have to declare it?’
‘I don’t know,’ said Harry. ‘No one ever gave me one.’
‘Ready?’ he said to her, and once she had nodded, they both touched their wands to their heads. Their outfits seem to peel away and float into nothingness, leaving them in perfect replications of police uniforms.
‘Childhood dream, this,’ she joked.
Harry grinned. He had quite forgotten, but a sudden memory of playing in the cramped cupboard under the stairs rushed back to him. He had wanted to be a policeman too, so that he could arrest the Dursleys for being mean, and put them in jail.
He looked around. It seemed to be a forgotten sort of place. Dry stone walls and graffitied bus stops. An odd mix of quaint and unloved. It didn’t help that it was pouring with rain, large heavy raindrops that stung as they hit his head and made a constant noise as they pounded the cobbles. He tapped two nearby damp leaves with his wand, and they were transformed into the finishing touch: police hats.
‘Brilliant,’ said Theia, beaming.
‘Hmm, there’s still a bit of a stalk at the back… Just tuck it into your hair,’ he said as he handed it to her. Now the raindrops seemed to echo as they hit the hats, but Theia, looking rather ridiculous as he had accidentally made hers far too big, seemed delighted.
The police station matched the town. Small and old, the sandstone bricks were idyllic but the windows needed cleaning. The doors were plastered in leaflets for farmers markets and campaigns to pick up litter, as well as cautionary posters about drugs. A piece of laminated paper told people to ring a number if no police were in.
As they entered, a horrible, electronic buzzer made a shrieking noise, but the rest of the building remained quiet, the noise of the rain now muffled in a comforting sort of way. They loitered somewhat awkwardly in the reception area among the grubby chairs, looking hopefully at the tall custody desk.
‘Hello?’ called Harry. Nothing happened. He looked at Theia, then back at the desk. ‘Maybe there’s nobody here.’
Theia gave a huffing sigh. ‘OI!’ she shouted. Then, shaking her head, muttered quietly, ‘muggles.’
There was the sound of hurrying footsteps, and then a man appeared. He was slightly chubby, not enough to be regarded as fat, but enough to round his cheeks and give him a boyish look. Harry might not have even noticed if he hadn’t have been chewing as he rushed in, his hand just touching the tip of his nose has he tried to hide it.
‘Morning,’ he said thickly. ‘Sorry, I was-’ He swallowed, and seemed to think better of explaining. ‘Can I help?’
Harry flashed the ID the Muggle Liaison office had made for him. ‘Inspector Potter, and Sergeant Higglesworth. We’re from the Met in North London.’
‘Oh,’ said the policeman, his eyes widening as he shook Harry’s hand. ‘Er… Were we expecting you? Not that you’re not welcome, of course, it’s just I’m the only one in today-’
‘It’s not a problem,’ said Harry smoothly. ‘And you are?’
‘Ah, sorry, er, Hodges, Inspector. Police Constable Hodges.’
Theia giggled, and Harry and Constable Hodges stared at her. She immediately blushed. ‘Sorry,’ she said. ‘I just… I just thought of a hedgehog and… Sorry, just ignore me.’
Constable Hodges chuckled, and he smiled at her. ‘You can call me Ben, if you like.’
Harry resisted the urge to roll his eyes, and turned back to the muggle. ‘We’re here looking for information on a woman who arrived in London recently, we think she may be from here, but she’s injured and we need to inform her next of kin. Marcia Staindrop.’
Ben looked flummoxed. ‘Can’t say that’s a name I know, I’m afraid. What’s happened?’
‘We believe she may have given birth and become distressed,’ said Harry. ‘She’s arrived in London very confused and obviously we need to find out if she or her child are known to the area.’
‘Got a picture?’
Theia reached into her bag and pulled out a posted. Marcy’s face smiled vaguely out at them, the words ‘DO YOU KNOW THIS WOMAN?’ beneath her.
‘Pop it up, if you want,’ said Ben, reaching for a pin. ‘Here, on this board…’
Theia smiled at Ben as she took the pin, but Harry couldn’t help but feel disappointed.
‘And there’s definitely been no reports of any babies abandoned?’
‘Abandoned?’ asked Ben. ‘Owt like that happens round here. Everyone knows everyone, and we’d notice if some poor lass was struggling with a baby. I expect you get all sorts in London, but this is a quiet place.’
‘We appreciate that,’ said Theia, ‘but we are concerned that Ms Staindrop might have a child that’s so far unaccounted for.’
‘And she definitely lived round here, did she?’
‘We believe she may have.’ Theia reached into a pocket, and pulled out a small notepad. ‘We have the address we think she may have lived in here. Crooked Cottage, The Loney. Where’s that?’
Ben looked puzzled, and Harry thought there was a flicker of discomfort, or possibly even fear on his face. ‘Why don’t you come through? I’ll pop the kettle on.’
He gestured and began to lead them through the door he had hurried out of. Harry and Theia exchanged glances, and followed.
The mess room was cramped and, true to its name, messy, with old coffee mugs and piles of paper littering most available surfaces.
‘Take the weight off your feet,’ said Ben, gesturing to a grubby looking sofa. He made them tea (Harry thought he seemed particularly attentive to making Theia’s the way she liked it), and opened an old Quality Street tin, where a homemade chocolate cake was stored. ‘Old Mrs Debden made this,’ he said cheerfully. ‘Help yourselves, she donates treats to the police station every few days.’
‘Kind of her,’ remarked Theia.
Harry smiled as he took his slice. It seemed odd, to him, in a place like this where everyone knew everyone, so small that the police station was rarely staffed with more than one person at a time, where neighbours regularly made cakes for the local police, that a woman could go missing without any apparent concern. Particularly not after having a baby. Even growing up in Little Whinging, which was far larger than this tiny town, pregnancies and births were common gossip.
‘I’d be careful, going up the Loney,’ said Ben mildly.
Harry raised an eyebrow. ‘You’re not going to tell me anywhere round here is dangerous?’
‘No,’ he said hesitantly. ‘Not dangerous. Just… they’re funny, up there. Bit of an odd lot. It’s so remote they mostly just keep themselves to themselves.’
Harry and Theia looked at each other, and he knew they were thinking the same thing. Wizards.
‘Is that cause for concern?’
Ben chewed his cake slowly. ‘No… You just need a bit of tact around them. They’re not particularly willing to talk.’
‘What is the Loney?’ asked Harry. ‘A village?’
‘More of a hamlet,’ said Ben. ‘Just an area of the Fells, along the river. Pretty, if you like that sort of place.’ From the look on Ben’s face, he didn’t.
‘Where’s the nearest hospital?’ Harry asked. ‘Where might someone have had a baby?’
‘Lancaster, I expect,’ said Ben. He looked at the two of them happily. ‘I’d love to get a transfer to the Met,’ he said suddenly. ‘I bet you get to do real police work there, don’t you?’
Harry wasn’t really sure how to respond, but Theia quickly leapt in, asking Ben how long he had worked in the police (just a few years), how long he had lived in Bowland (his whole life), what sort of police work he would like to be doing (‘Anything but this.’).
‘I expect there must be some troublemakers here, surely?’ Theia asked cheerfully. ‘A few oddballs from the Loney?’
Harry could see what she was doing. It was the benefit of having such a gossipy chatterbox on his team - she could tease out information Ben might have felt was too unprofessional to share.
‘Well, there’s a few little shits up at Botton Head,’ he said. ‘Kids with too much time and too little to do, you know. It’s just farms and the like up there, so they end up coming down here on their bikes and causing havoc.’
‘What sort of havoc?’
Ben shook his head in disgust. ‘You must have managed to miss our bus stop. Usual little boy nonsense. Drawing willies on the timetable, scratching their names into the shelter.’
‘But no serious crime?’ Harry asked.
Ben laughed. ‘Round here? No opportunity for it.’ He considered for a moment. ‘Someone did steal a tractor last year,’ he admitted. ‘But they weren’t local.’
‘Would you say you know most people round here?’ asked Theia.
‘If not by name, then by sight at least.’
‘Would you mind if we went to the Loney and spoke to-?’
Harry’s question was interrupted as the unpleasant electronic buzzer sounded again. ‘Excuse me,’ said Ben, and he left.
Harry looked at Theia. ‘Maybe she hasn’t been living round here,’ he said. ‘If she’s been living a partly Muggle life and wanted a policeman in the first place, surely she’d be known.’
‘Unless there are wizards living at the Loney,’ said Theia. ‘I can check records at the Ministry to see if there are any known to the area, though they might not be up to date.’
Harry nodded. ‘I think that’s probably best before we go poking around, I’d like to be prepared. We do have one more stop to make before we head back though, and we shouldn’t waste anymore time.’
They went back through to the reception, where Ben was talking to a cross looking woman, clasping the arm of a sniffing young boy, who was staring up at the noticeboard fearfully.
‘Go on then,’ she said to him sternly. The boy looked up at her, his lip wobbling, and then at Ben.
‘All right, Simon?’ asked Ben kindly.
‘Have you found my bike, Mr Hodges?’ the boy asked tearfully. ‘It’s red.’
‘Well, where did you lose it?’
But Simon was no longer listening. Instead he had turned back to the noticeboard, now crying loudly.
The woman shook her head irritably. ‘I don’t know what’s got into him. Will you keep an eye out for me, Mr Hodges?’
‘Course I will, Lindsey.’ The woman pulled the boy away and left, and Ben turned back to Harry and Theia.
‘We’d best be off,’ Harry told him. ‘But we’ll probably be back tomorrow. Would you mind if we went up to the Loney and started asking round.’
‘Feel free,’ said Ben. ‘But do keep me updated with anything you find. I need something exciting to happen in this place.’
Despite everything, despite losing so many dear friends and experiencing such horrors, Hogwarts castle still filled Harry with a sense of coming home. In the spitting spring rain the very air around it was grey, but nevertheless it seemed to Harry to be just as captivating as when he first saw it in the little row boat all those years ago.
As they walked through the hog statues, he briefly wondered what the little boy or girl still in Ginny’s stomach would think of it. Would they miss out on the sense of wonder and awe he had had? Or would they instead enjoy months, probably years, of anticipation?
‘I’ve missed this place,’ he said to Theia.
She agreed, and pointed towards a gaggle of first years, cloaks pulled up over their heads in a useless attempt to keep out the rain as they ran for cover. ‘Silly stuff like that always felt like such an adventure, didn’t it?’ she said, grinning at them as they shrieked.
Harry couldn’t say that he agreed, but he supposed his childhood was not one to measure that sort of thing by.
‘He’ll probably still be in the greenhouses,’ he said, veering away from the vast front door.
‘We can’t go inside?’ she said, looking crestfallen.
‘I’ll bring you with me next time they want me to do a careers talk,’ he promised her. ‘You can tell them all what a joy I am to work for.’
‘Oh, definitely,’ she said sarcastically.
As they approached the greenhouse, a skinny looking boy with rather prominent ears did a double take as he passed, then running back to get a good look at Harry.
‘Hullo,’ Harry said, slightly unnerved by the way the boy was walking backwards in order to stare at him.
‘All right, mate?’ the boy said, a little louder than necessary. ‘You’re Harry Potter, innit?’
‘Can you get me Ginny Potter’s autograph?’
Theia let out a mad cackle of laughter, and though Harry tried his best not to, he found himself trying to disguise a laugh too.
‘Finally, eh, boss?’ said Theia, elbowing him. ‘You’ve always wanted that war hero stuff to be forgotten about, haven’t you?’
‘I’ve already got your autograph,’ said the boy. ‘It’s Ginny Potter’s I need.’
‘Yeah, bought it off old Dung Fletcher, innit.’
Theia laughed even harder.
‘I see,’ said Harry. ‘Must be very authentic then. What’s your name?’
‘Right. Well then, Rodney, could you tell me where Professor Longbottom is, please?’
‘Just had a lesson wiv him,’ said Rodney. ‘Greenhouse three.’
Harry thanked him and began to head in that direction. As soon as Rodney realised Harry was not going to arrange the provision of Ginny’s signature, he scampered off, with barely a hint of a goodbye.
‘How does it feel knowing your wife is more popular than you?’ asked Theia, still giggling.
‘She’s always been more popular than me,’ said Harry truthfully. ‘But being seen as more famous I think certainly counts as a first…’
The heat of the greenhouse, after stepping in from the cold, was overwhelming. Sticky and humid, Harry could scarcely understand how Neville could stand it all day. Huge, towering vines and leaves the size of cars seemed piled haphazardly, the great wealth of lush green broken up by a stunning array of colours. Once Harry took a moment to take it all in, he could see that this was surely paradise for his old friend.
‘Well hello, to what do I owe the pleasure? I hear I owe you a congratulations...’
Wiping muddy hands on his overalls and beaming, Neville strode towards them. Harry grinned back; the two men clapped one another on the shoulders and exchanged good natured jabs and greetings.
‘Oh yes, baby on the way, Ginny’s getting bigger every day… So are you, by the look of things, now you’re not chasing Death Eaters...’
‘I’d rather put weight on than gather more scars. How many have you got now? There’ll be nothing left of you soon.’
‘Just met one of your best and brightest,’ said Harry. ‘Rodney,’ he added in a lower voice, and he told Neville what had happened.
Neville closed his eyes in exasperation and shook his head. ‘That boy - I sometimes feel like I should check him for a pulse he’s that clueless. But then, I remember that teachers probably wanted to do that to me now and then so I try and have more patience.’
‘You two shouldn’t be talking about a student like this,’ scolded Theia, her hands on her hips, reminding Harry of Hermione.
‘Oh, they all do it, that’s almost exclusively the reason kids aren’t allowed in the staff room,’ said Neville. ‘Merlin knows what they said about me.’
‘I can imagine quite vividly what some of them said about me,’ said Harry. ‘Glad to see you’re prioritising working with children over working with plants, Neville.’
Neville winked at him. ‘Can we get back to the reason we’re here?’ said Theia impatiently.
‘Right, yeah,’ said Harry, and he reached into his robes. ‘How good are you with shitty drawings of trees?’
Harry pulled out some of Macy’s drawings and laid them on a workbench, explaining, in the briefest, vaguest way he could manage, the problem.
‘Well you haven’t given me much to go on, mate,’ said Neville. ‘This is essentially a child’s drawing.’
‘Yeah, well that’s what I thought, but if you look carefully there is actually consistency to the shape of the tree… Here, see? This branch is always the same and there’s always this fork. And then when you look at them all together and really squint, and look at the colours she’s used… I thought it might be a rowan tree, what do you think?’
‘Hmm... ‘ Neville picked the drawings up and shuffled through them. ‘Nah… I’m guessing this is a drawing of a leaf? I think this is meant to be serrated edges. Probably an ash tree. At a guess, mind. These drawings are really bad.’
‘Right... ‘ said Harry, nodding slowly as he rubbed his chin. ‘And er… Is there anything special about ash trees?’
‘Well…’ Neville sighed and turned, leaning his backside on the workbench and folding his arms. He really did look in his element. ‘I suppose it depends on what you mean by special. All plants are special.’
‘They are! I don’t insult your passions, Harry, I don’t go round saying all Patronuses are essentially the same-’
‘That’s what you think my passion is?’
‘I mean he’s sort of right,’ interjected Theia.
‘-Or that any old muppet can kill big snakes, as you well know I have proved. Do you want me to tell you about ash trees or not?’
‘Of course I do, Neville.’
‘Right then. I can give you a book, if you want. The whole thing isn’t on them, obviously, but I think there’s a pretty good chapter.’
‘That’s it? A book?’
Neville shrugged. ‘I’m not an Auror any more you know. Do you know how much marking I have to do? Lesson planning? I’m half tempted to go back.’
‘Well that can be your job,’ Harry told Theia. ‘You like research, don’t you?’
She pretended to grumble, but Harry could see that she was rather pleased, particularly when Neville wrote them a note and she realised she could return to Hogwarts library.
‘I’ll leave you to do that,’ Harry said. ‘Do your research in there, if it helps. ‘I’ll go back and look up wizarding families in the area.’
‘Surely you’ve got time for a swift pint in the Three Broomsticks?’ said Neville. ‘That was the last lesson of the day, and Hannah wants to hear how Ginny and the baby bump are.’
Harry checked his watch. ‘A swift one,’ he said, though he knew in his heart he would be spending several delightful hours talking about the impending arrival of his new family.
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Chapter 4: Chapter 4
The train rumbled over the bridge above as the sound of her boots echoed off the bricks, her arms wrapped around the books she had borrowed from the library. It had been good to see Madam Pince again. Harry had once said to her that he had always found her stern, but Theia suspected that he simply hadn’t treated books with the sort of respect she and Madam Pince expected.
The street was quiet, but not in a threatening way, and she gave a friendly smile to the security guy at the front gate which was just a short distance from the tracks. She had moved out of the grotty flat she had once shared with Mum, and now that she had passed her training, her auror salary meant she could afford a trendy little flat in a converted factory. The other people that lived here were Muggle professionals, in the media, perhaps, or self-employed lifestyle gurus. The type of people that were rich without Theia quite being able to figure out how. Even with her increased salary, she could only just afford it, but she liked that it was gated. She liked the exposed brick and the history, but also that it had been modernised to include access to a pool and sauna.. It was the sort of place Mum would have hated. Gentrifying. A load of annoying yuppies. Stupidly expensive for East London.
But the lift always worked here and it didn’t smell of piss, and Theia secretly liked being an annoying yuppie.
She wondered, as she entered her flat, whether she should move Vali back in, because as warm and stylish as the flat was, it was very quiet, and she missed the background noise of Mum’s irritating American sitcoms and general clatter. Saga, her little barn owl, gave the odd hoot now and then, but otherwise slept during the day and feasted on London’s rodents at night, so wasn’t as much company as Vali. Certainly the cat would like looking out the huge floor-to-ceiling factory window, but he could be a bit vicious to everyone except Theia, Harry, and a select few in the office, so perhaps it was best for him to avoid being around so many Muggles.
She made herself cosy in the armchair by the tall window, eagerly opening the first of the books (Magic and Trees: What You Need to Know, by Rosemary Hebditch) and flicking through the index. Absent-mindedly, she pointed her wand over her shoulder in the direction of the kettle, and heard the click and gentle whirr, conveniently just as she found the right page. As the tea floated towards her, she tucked the wand behind her ear and settled in for good evening.
The common ash tree boasts many healing properties, from the roots and bark to the leaves and sap, but often requires careful and advanced magic to suitably extract any powerful medicinal benefits. As such, it is usually ignored for anything more serious than minor ailments such as headaches or jinx exhaustion, as other plants offer easier alternatives for more complex cases.
Indeed, prehistoric wizards used ash trees extensively for healing purposes before the discovery of apparition made travel easier. By the middle ages, efforts to use ash for anything more complex than pain relief was given up in favour of acacia trees, where travel to, or imports from, Africa was possible.
Early wizarding fables, now often forgotten, highlight the importance of ash as a healing tree through powerful symbolism and spiritual connections with individual trees.
Theia thought all that sounded rather nice, but had no idea how it would help the case. She jotted down the last line and the page number in her notebook, resolving to find out more about the fables, but wondered how useful ancient text could be in a modern day mystery.
Carefully setting aside the book and pulling the next one towards her, she wondered vaguely whether they had it right. It had been a very rough drawing after all, who was to say Marcy had been trying to draw an ash tree? She knew she wasn’t supposed to research things with preconceptions, but she had expected to find something a bit darker in nature than mild pain relief. After half an hour of reading about the uses of ground ash root, her eyes slid from the text and ended up staring out of the window.
The imposing chimney stack that had once been part of the factory dominated her view, illuminated by lights at the base. Beyond that were specks of light and outlines of tower blocks just visible in the dying light, East London stretching as far as she could see. For some reason she couldn’t explain, she gave a shuddering sob, and realised her cheeks were wet with tears. She wiped them impatiently away, then rose out of her chair and paced until she steadied her breathing. She was just frustrated, she decided, because it was a difficult case. There. She felt fine now.
She picked up different books, checking the index and flicking through while she paced, reading quickly without taking it in.
…Wand makers should take note of the emerald ash borer, a destructive beetle that can weaken the wood of the tree significantly, and is known to attack bowtruckles…
…Ash, when polished, contains superb properties for long-distance brooms. While it lacks the speed of mahogany and birch, it provides a more stable, comfortable ride for endurance…
…While the wood does not burn for long, it catches quickly and is excellent for starting fires. Wands of ash are prone to overheating in duels, but are well-suited for those wishing to pursue healing…
…The sap of the ash tree is well known as an important component of goblin-produced mead, as well as a crucial ingredient in the Greek potioneer Hesiod Tozzi’s Draught of Inspiration…
…Ash leaves have been proven to be effective in healing potions against snake bites, though it is more effective to use…
Theia couldn’t bring herself to throw a book, so she placed it down carefully and then kicked her sofa with a growl of frustration.
This was supposed to be the part of the job she loved, that was why Harry gave her these tasks, but lately she didn’t want to do anything but mundane admin. Her brain felt overloaded and tired, and she felt that she had become lazy. She ran her hands through her wispy hair and looked down at the halo of books around her. Her mother had always told her to make boring tasks a game, but this game was too hard and she wanted to make it as boring and mindless as possible so that she could just get it out the way.
‘Right then,’ she muttered to herself, seizing her notebook. If nothing was going to leap out at her as obviously darkly symbolic or connected to dreams, she would just have to write absolutely everything she could find about ash, because despite being ineffective and slow, she wasn’t going to just give up.
Ineffective and slow. Thank goodness Harry let her take her work home so he couldn’t see how she worked now. Hoping vaguely that tomorrow’s return to the Loney would be more productive, she returned to the sprawl of books and parchment that surrounded her like a crumpled halo.
It had been during one of their earlier visits when he said it. Valentine’s day, in fact, which had delighted Dennis, who read more into it than Theia was wholly comfortable with. Winter was clinging on and even in the depths of Azkaban the noise of the wind faintly reached the visitors room. Theia still thought about it even now, that strange memory that had unsettled her more than she realised, and still felt that icy prickle on the back of her neck whenever it came, uninvited, to mind. ‘I was thinking about when we were neighbours earlier,’ he had told her.
He nodded. ‘In that big tall tower block. During the day, I would look out the window and see people walking. Sometimes I would keep focused on one person, and watch them for as long as possible.’
‘I do that sometimes too,’ said Theia. ‘At first you just look at them because they’re part of the environment, just decoration. But the longer you watch them the more you realise they are their own person with a life as complex as yours. They must have their own hopes and worries. And then you wonder where they’re walking to, and try and guess what they’re going.’
‘That’s not what I do,’ said Dennis.
‘No. I watch them and think to myself “you don’t know I’m watching you. You have no idea. You’re walking along without knowing I could point my wand at you and cast a spell, and no one would ever know who had done it”. And then I think that there could be lots of times when I’m walking, and people are watching me. And I wouldn’t know.’
‘Is that something you worry about, Dennis? Being watched?’
He stared at her, his face blank. ‘Do you worry?’
She stared back.
‘I think everyone should worry,’ he said eventually. ‘Especially in a world like this. The people that don’t worry are the ones that end up dead.’
Back to the blustery late March, and Theia was ready to continue digging through Marcy’s mysterious past, no matter how confusing and seemingly hidden it was. They were back in Bowland, this time venturing to the Loney, the place Ben had looked mildly afraid of.
They had exchanged notes with Susan on the residents and prepared themselves as best they could, but they were armed only with scant knowledge and assumptions. The fells here were dramatic and sweeping, but also seemed sad, at least to Theia. Like a lonely and forgotten place. The hills were brown with coarse grass, and at the tops of the hills and peaks the wind battered them so hard that it was impossible to hear anything, and difficult even to breathe. It was this wind that had reminded her of what Dennis had said in February. The barren gritstone was hard underfoot, and the steep inclines were a battle in of themselves.
Harry pointed to the Loney, a cluster of stone cottages in the shadow of a crag. Ben had been right that it was not a village, and barely a hamlet. Both Harry and Theia had been surprised they had never heard of it, given the number of wizards that lived there, but as Susan had pointed out, why would they? There was nothing but the cottages, no church, no shops, not even a post box. They doubted any Muggles even lived there, yet it seemed to have been forgotten as a rival to Hogsmead’s claim to be the only entirely magical settlement. Maybe it was simply too small to even be regarded as a settlement.
They went first to the cottage that they believed to be Marcy’s home. It was very small, only one storey and a birds nest around the top of the chimney. They peered in through the grimy, cobwebbed windows, and saw the dark shapes of furniture. The front door was sturdy, but the paint was peeling around the aged brass knocker, and there was no need to cast alohamora, because the key was hanging on a rusted nail by the side.
‘Safe,’ remarked Harry, one eyebrow raised in amusement.
‘Probably not much risk of burglaries round here,’ said Theia, taking the key.
It smelt damp and musty inside, and the air was cold. ‘It’s like no one has been living here,’ Theia observed, but Harry didn’t answer as he walked slowly through the cottage.
There was a thin layer of dust on everything, but certain smudges on the tables and arms of chairs showed that someone, at least, had been here recently. The floorboards creaked as they shuffled slowly through the dim cottage — everything seemed so dated. Shabby and unfashionable. No one had bothered to move the curling calendar from two years ago off the kitchen wall, and the blue sofa cover was faded and threadbare. In the bedroom, the blankets were an unmade heap, the mirror was blemished with age, and though there was a laundry basket, it was overflowing.
Theia picked up a photo frame, and saw the stern faces of Mr and Mrs Staindrop. If it hadn’t been for the occasional blinking, she would have thought the black and white photo was muggle. Beneath the frame, a crumpled postcard. The picture was of a long beach with dark sand, shining with stretches of shallow water. In the background, green hills rolled into snow sprinkled mountains. She turned it over, noting the limp, dog-eared corners and faded words.
My darling Marcy,
I’ll always remember our day.
Harry’s footsteps coming to a stop made her turn, and she found him standing in the middle of the bedroom, frowning vaguely.
‘There’s nothing here for a baby.’ Theia looked around, slowly realising that she hadn’t seen any baby stuff either. Not a cot or a Moses basket, no toys, not even a newly bought onesie.
‘Maybe she was planning on getting stuff for it when it arrived,’ she said. ‘Or maybe she couldn’t afford anything.’
Harry shook his head. ‘Our house is full of pointless baby stuff. We went mad when we found out, and then we haven’t been able to stop every man and his dog bringing us bears and socks and books on dealing with magic in infants. But here there’s nothing. It’s weird.’
Privately Theia thought Harry was perhaps unaware of the extent to which he and Ginny, beloved by so many, had been spoiled following the announcement of the pregnancy, but she could certainly see his point. ‘It’s very cold in here for a baby,’ she said. ‘And the grate doesn’t look like it’s been used in months. Are we sure this is her house? Does she definitely live here?’
‘It’s definitely her house, and in the pantry there’s some mouldy bread, but not so rotten that nobody has lived here recently.’ He rubbed his jaw, frowning. ‘Perhaps she didn’t want the baby? Or didn’t know she was pregnant? But she’s so small, how would she-?’
He stopped as Theia’s eyes widened, and impulsively she pointed. ‘Someone’s watching us!’
He spun round. Through the door to the bedroom, across the living room, about half of one of the grimy windows was visible.
‘There, there was someone watching us through the window!’ Theia insisted.
Harry moved quickly, his cloak billowing behind him as he strode to the front door, wand in hand. Theia hurried after him, her heart thudding.
‘There’s no one there,’ he said, looking out the door. ‘No one around.’
‘Perhaps it was a shadow, or I was imagining things,’ said Theia, blushing.
‘Or perhaps they apparated away,’ he said grimly. ‘Don’t doubt yourself. Did you get a good look at them?’
‘No, it was just a figure,’ she said. Though he had told her not to doubt, she was now, not for the first time lately, wondering if she was simply going mad. She looked back at the cottage. ‘Should we get Bessie to come in and photograph everything?’
‘Not sure, it doesn’t look like any crime has been committed here,’ said Harry. ‘But I’ll ask her anyway, see if she has capacity.’
‘Well I found this,’ she said, handing Harry the postcard. ‘Odd, isn’t it? No address on it, and just signed with “a”, which is weird.’
Harry turned the postcard over slowly. ‘Yeah… There’s something off about the message too. Reckon the picture is local?’
‘It looks as bleak as round here, so maybe. Should we go to the next place on the list?’ She was keen not to linger in the place where she was sure someone had been spying on them.
Harry nodded, his eyes still on the postcard. ‘Right, yeah… Good plan.’
They walked down the steep slope to a slightly larger cottage; Theia could see a line of laundry flapping violently in the wind. She tried to look around her, searching for the shadowy figure she had seen peering through the window, but her hair whipped around her face and made her eyes water. Bizarrely, it amused her to think that if someone attacked them now, she would be almost defenceless.
The hill reached a plateau, and the path ran alongside a dry stone wall. They were now a little more sheltered from the wind, and as they approached the cottage Harry spoke to her in a low voice, without looking at her. ‘This family are her closest neighbours. Perhaps they have the baby.’
Theia was glad he couldn’t see the doubtful look that had crossed her face.
There was no gate, but just a gap in the wall which opened onto a scrubby front garden and a heavy but battered looking door. Harry went to go through it, but Theia touched his arm.
‘Harry…’ she said hesitantly. ‘Do you really think we will find her baby… all right? It’s been a few days… And she thinks something awful happened...’
A strange look briefly passed over his face, but he clapped her shoulder and gave a small, kind smile. ‘Let’s not assume the worst. This is a rescue case.’
She nodded without believing him. As they approached the door, Theia was filled with a deep and dark dread and, though he had tried to hide it, she was sure that Harry felt it too.
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Chapter 5: Chapter 5Ginny came with a stack of puzzle books and a tin of her mother’s homemade shortbread biscuits. She had tried to make lemon drizzle cake herself, but it turned out somehow both weirdly wet and dry at the same time, and completely collapsed in the middle, so she had just grabbed the first appropriate thing she had seen in the larder.
‘Morning,’ she said briskly as she entered. The woman in the bed by the window looked up, a bemused yet vacant expression on her face. ‘You must be Marcy. I’ve been bored stiff at home so I thought I’d come and visit you. I believe you know my husband, Harry.’
‘The man with the glasses?’
‘He’s famous, isn’t he?’
Ginny gave the woman a thoughtful smile, and placed the tin of biscuits on Marcy’s bedside table. ‘He is, rather. Do you know what for?’
‘He was meant to die, but he didn’t,’ said Marcy. ‘I find him a bit scary.’
‘No need to find him scary,’ said Ginny brightly, perching on the end of the bed. ‘He’s a big softie really. Do you know, he brings me pastries in bed at the weekends. Gets up early to get them for me and everything.’
Marcy didn’t look convinced. Her expression was downturned and grumpy, and she reached for the biscuit tin without asking Ginny.
‘My name is Ginny,’ Ginny prompted, but still Marcy paid her little attention. ‘You know our friend Theia, too, don’t you?’
‘The girl that was with him?’ Marcy asked, seeming to brighten up. ‘Yes, I liked her.’
Ginny smiled at her. ‘The pair of them have gone to the Loney to see your house. They might talk to your neighbours too.’
Marcy crunched on a biscuit and barely glanced at Ginny. ‘Why?’
‘Well, they want to find out where you live and if anyone is around to look after you. They’d like you to be able to go home, but they want to make sure that nothing bad happened to you.’
‘Something bad did happen to me,’ said Marcy indignantly.
‘Yes, that’s why they’re going to talk to your neighbours. To see if they can find out what happened, to make sure it doesn’t happen again.’
‘Well I don’t want that man doing it,’ said Marcy abruptly. ‘He’s supposed to be dead.’
‘Why do you say that, Marcy?’
‘It’s not natural, is it? Against Mother Nature. Creepy.’
‘So you don’t want him talking to your neighbours?’
Marcy looked confused. ‘Neighbours?’
Ginny tried to explain again, but Marcy reached for the puzzle books, and opened one onto a crossword. She seemed to squint and blink at it several times, gingerly rubbing her right eye.
‘Are you all right?’
‘Can’t see out this eye,’ said Marcy sadly. ‘It goes all blurry and I get all sorts of floaty bits.’
‘Do you wear glasses?’
‘No, haven’t had it for long, duck. Don’t think they’d help anyway.’
She focused on her crossword, so didn’t see the look of concern on Ginny’s face. ‘Would you like to go home, Marcy?’ Ginny asked kindly. ‘Would you feel safe going home, if there was someone there to look after you?’
‘Well I will have to,’ said Marcy casually. ‘They need me at home.’
‘Who does? What for?’
‘To stay alive,’ said Marcy.
‘Are you talking about your baby?’
‘Oh, no,’ said Marcy, and Ginny thought she sounded almost amused. She looked at Ginny, more carefully than she had before.
‘You’re pregnant, aren’t you?’ she asked.
Ginny nodded and patted her stomach. ‘That’s right. A few more months to go though.’
‘Be very careful,’ warned Marcy. ‘You might love it more than you realise.’
‘I hope I do love it,’ said Ginny, and nervous, confused laughter blurred her words.
Marcy looked oddly dubious. ‘You say that now.’ She glanced down. ‘Pent up I become bungling. Inept.’
Marcy tapped her crossword. ‘Seven across. Inept.’
‘Right,’ said Ginny, disconcerted. ‘Yes. Very clever.’ She did not get any further conversation out of Marcy that wasn’t to do with the crossword.
Nothing happened when Harry knocked. They stared at the chipped paint for nearly a minute, occasionally craning their necks to try and peer through the windows, but they were misted over.
‘Maybe no one’s in,’ said Theia.
‘There’s smoke from the chimney,’ said Harry, jerking his head to the roof. The strong wind was whisking the smoke away quickly, but it was still there, leaving the faint scent of coal. He frowned, and in his pocket he rolled his wand through his fingers as the temptation to simply break in rose.
‘What’re you doing?’ came a gruff voice.
They turned to see a tall brute of a man, with a scratchy grey beard and broad shoulders. One large, hairy-knuckled hand rested on a roughly hewn walking stick, but what disconcerted Harry the most was that it was hard to tell if he was a wizard or a Muggle. His long, grubby brown leather coat could easily be the outfit of a weather hardened farmer as much as it could be over robes.
‘Good morning,’ said Harry cheerfully. ‘This is my colleague Theia Higglesworth and I’m-’
‘I know who you are,’ said the man abruptly. ‘Everyone knows who you are, Potter.’
‘Ah, so you are a wizard then, Mr…?’
‘Osman. What are you doing here?’
‘Were you watching us, Mr Osman?’ challenged Theia. ‘Earlier, when we were in the house further up the hill?’
He stared at her, and Harry couldn’t read his hard expression. His grimace seemed almost hateful, but the furrow of his eyebrows seemed to betray a confusion. Osman looked away from Theia, now glaring at Harry.
‘What are you doing here?’ he repeated.
‘We were hoping to talk to the Swindlehurst family about their neighbour, Marcia Staindrop. Do you know her?’ asked Harry.
‘She’s currently in St Mungos and we’re trying to find out more about her. Would you mind-?’
‘Don’t know her that well,’ Osman said brusquely. ‘You’ll want to stay away from the Swindlehursts. And Marcy. The whole lot of ‘em.’
‘Why’s that, Mr Osman?’
Osman didn’t answer. He simply shook his head and grumbled something under his breath, turning on his heel and limping away. Harry watched him go.
‘Mr Osman!’ Theia called. ‘Mr Osman!’
‘Let him go,’ Harry said in a low voice. ‘We’ll talk to him later.’ He had recognised the glint of fear in Mr Osman’s eye, and thought that he might be more open somewhere he felt safer.
‘People are usually a bit more excited to meet you,’ replied Theia. ‘The ones with nothing to hide, anyway.’
Mr Osman’s flatcap disappeared over the arc of the hill, and Harry turned back to the door, thumping it with a little more force.
‘Someone is moving in there, I think,’ said Theia, squinting at the misted window. ‘A woman.’
For a reason he couldn’t explain, Harry was surprised that it wasn’t Bathilda Bagshot that opened the door. He had no idea why the reanimated corpse of the little old lady had entered his mind, nor could he explain why his heart thudded as he remembered Nagini’s muscles squeezing the breath out of him, but he kept his face still and calm as the door opened to reveal a perfectly ordinary looking woman.
‘Yes?’ she answered. Her dark blonde hair was in an unbrushed bob that reached just past her chin, and though her face was wide and friendly, it was weather beaten and wrinkled. ‘Has something happened to Marcy?’
‘May we come in?’ Harry asked gently. ‘We’re from the Auror department.’
‘Youse Harry Potter, ‘ent you? I recognise you from t’paper,’ she said as she led them to a living room. It was cosy, but dark. The fireplace glowed with orange embers, the smell of the coal seemed to have seeped into the very walls, and the stone floor was covered in proggy mats in various states of wear. A small jack russell jumped down from the squashy sofa, yapping incessantly. ‘Ignore ‘im,’ Mrs Swindlehurst said, sitting heavily in the armchair and snapping her fingers at the dog. As it obediently ran and sat at her feet, Harry noticed the forked tail.
Theia introduced herself, and explained Marcy’s unusual appearance and story. Mrs Swindlehurst listened silently, her grey eyes fixed on Theia, stern and unreadable, but apparently relaxed in her armchair. While Theia spoke, Harry thought that underneath the coal dust he could smell sweet peas.
‘Aye, I’ve been worried about ‘er,’ she said finally. ‘I see ‘er most days, and she’s been gone mebbe a week now.’
‘You didn’t want to report her missing?’ asked Harry.
‘She’s a big girl,’ said Mrs Swindlehurst casually. ‘An’ anyway, I thought she mebbe wasn’t talking to me.’
‘Oh, she’s always falling out with us for some reason or t’other. I don’t mind, she comes back eventually. She’s had a tough life, our Marcy.’
‘You’ve known her…?’
‘All ‘er life, yeah. Looked after ‘er when ‘er parents died, and a bit before that to be honest with you. They never did care for ‘er much.’
‘Is that because she’s a squib?’
‘Yeah. And a bit dim at that, bless ‘er. Clingy and immature, but I s’pose that’s no wonder. It’s only us that have shown ‘er any kindness. So she can’t remember anything at all?’ She reached into the pocket of her robes, and pulled out a clay pipe. It seemed to light as soon as it touched her lips.
‘She seems very confused,’ said Harry. ‘Mrs Swindlehurst-’
‘Call me Pauline, duck.’
‘Pauline… Does Marcy have a baby? The Healers believe she may have given birth recently.’
Pauline’s face fell, and she tapped the end of her pipe on her lip. ‘Oh, poor love. I wonder if that’s what’s done it… She wouldn’t even tell us who the father was, and then when it was born it weren’t breathing…’
‘We have no record of a midwitch visiting,’ said Theia. ‘Surely she didn’t give birth alone?’
Pauline shook her head, blowing a steady stream of smoke out of the corner of her mouth. ‘Been trying to get ‘er more settled into the Muggle world, you know, for after I’m gone. She went t’hospital in Lancaster. Some of us went wiv ‘er, but yeah… Poor soul din’t make it.’ She puffed on the pipe again.
There was a brief pause. ‘Sorry,’ said Harry slowly. ‘Who is we? You talk about Marcy as though she’s a child.’
‘Might as well be,’ mumbled Pauline through her pipe. ‘Most of t’Loney’s my family, you know. Our Ella and her bairns are over the road, Mam’s upstairs. Uncle Oeric is just down t’way, and ‘til a few year ago me Dad was knocking about too. We all took care of Marcy.’
‘There’s not many houses here,’ Theia remarked. ‘Are you all related?’
‘In some way or t’other, I suppose,’ Pauline shrugged. ‘We mingle with the muggles in t’village from time to time, not that they like us. I thought that’s where our Marcy musta gone.’ She tapped her pipe on the arm of her chair, and cloud of ash dropped onto the rug. ‘Course, there’s also old Osman.’
‘Yes, we just met him,’ said Harry. ‘He wasn’t very friendly.’
‘Odd bloke,’ said Pauline brusquely. ‘But I likes him well enough.’
‘Funny,’ said Harry slyly. ‘He didn’t seem to like you.’
Pauline gave a snort that turned into a chuckle. ‘Old codger.’
‘Did Marcy have any friends round here?’ asked Harry.
‘Not that I know of. She’s a nervous girl.’
Out of the corner of his eye, Harry saw Theia raise an eyebrow and jot something down. If Pauline had noticed, she didn’t care.
The stairs creaked, and an ancient looking woman was hobbling slowly down them, hunched over with trembling hands against the wall for support.
‘All reet mam?’ Pauline called loudly.
The old woman mumbled something about the laundry, and headed to the back door. Pauline called after her, but soon shook her head and rolled her eyes. ‘I’ll fetch her in a moment, she won’t listen. Mostly deaf, cataracts, the whole lot, but she still thinks she has to do everything.’
Theia gave a small smile. ‘My gran was always like that. Did she look after Marcy too?’
‘Oh, yeah, Marcy knows her as nan. It was me and her what persuaded her folks to let us look after her.’
‘You mean before they died?’ said Harry, surprised.
‘Yeah, I told you. They didn’t much care for her, being a squib an’ all.’
‘That must have been awful for her.’
Pauline made a noise that sounded like agreement, and tilted her head. ‘Better for everyone in the long run.’
Harry wasn’t sure. He found it deeply unsettling, and he felt an urge to shout. ‘We’ll be talking to everyone in the Loney,’ he said. ‘Including your daughter.’
‘Why?’ she said sharply. ‘You’ve found her, can’t you just send her home so we can look after her?’
‘We just need to make sure she’s safe,’ he said placatingly. ‘I’m sure you can understand.’ His eyes flicked down to Pauline’s dog. ‘I assume you have a licence for that crup?’
She stiffened. ‘No need, he never sees Muggles.’
He winked at her. ‘We didn’t see him then. I’ll probably be back over the next few days, is that all right? The quicker we make the welfare checks, the quicker Marcy can come home.’
‘It’s usually Healers that do stuff like that, int it?’ Pauline said, looking puzzled.
‘What can I say?’ said Harry, rising from his seat. ‘I’ve run out of dark wizards. Lovely meeting you, Pauline.’
‘She didn’t seem that concerned about her, did she?’ he said to Theia as soon as they were out of earshot of the cottage.
‘I thought that too,’ she said in a low voice. ‘You’d think she would treat her like a daughter, but she didn’t seem bothered at all.’
‘Well, let’s meet the actual daughter,’ said Harry, pointing to the next cottage. It was on the other side of the dirt road, just slightly further down the valley. ‘The notes Susan gave me say that they’re a similar age, so perhaps they were close.’
The woman who answered the door gave a wicked grin as soon as her eyes rested on Harry. ‘I know who you are,’ she said, her voice low and sultry. She was a unique looking woman, Harry thought. Not necessarily in a bad way, but certainly distinctive. Perhaps even beautiful. Across her nose and cheeks was a thick band of brown freckles, a few shades darker than the wild curls that reached her elbows. Though slender, on her large hips she had perched a toddler, one arm slung around him comfortably.
‘You must be Ornella,’ said Harry politely. ‘Mrs Swindlehurst’s daughter.’
‘Ella is fine,’ she said. Her eyes flicked to Theia, who introduced herself quickly. ‘Charmed,’ Ornella said, ignoring the toddler babbling lightly. ‘Come in, please.’
The followed her in, and she set the toddler into a high chair at a sturdy looking wooden table. ‘You look just like your father,’ she said to Harry, as she strapped the little boy in.
‘You knew him?’
She threw him another wicked grin. ‘Knew him? I was his first girlfriend. I thought he was bloody gorgeous.’
Immediately uncomfortable, Harry ignored Ornella’s glinting eyes and Theia’s poor attempt at hiding her amused smile, and said, ‘we’re here about Marcy.’
‘Yes, I thought you might be.’ It occurred to Harry that Ornella’s voice had only the twinge of the Lancashire accent that he had heard from everyone else in the Loney. ‘I haven’t seen her in a while and Mum did say she was getting worried. She’s all right, I hope?’
‘She seems to have lost her memory, and we think she may have experienced some kind of trauma.’
‘Well of course she has,’ said Ornella casually. ‘That poor girl hasn’t had it easy. Where did you find her?’
‘She came to us,’ said Theia.
Ornella shrugged in mild surprise. ‘Well at least she got somewhere safe.’ She turned away, fetching a small bowl of baby food from the kitchen counter. Like the other houses in the Loney, the cottage was small and dark
Harry gestured his head to the toddler.
‘Who’s this?’ he asked.
‘This is Raffi,’ Ornella said, brushing a hand over his brown curls.
‘Is it just the two of you?’
‘Oh, no, there’s Aesclin too, but he’s just a few months old, he doesn’t come into it.’
Harry and Theia exchanged glances. ‘Do you mind if we see him?’ Theia asked.
Though Ornella kept smiling, a slight frown creased her eyebrows. ‘Well, he’s asleep, and I’d like to keep it that way for now. You’re always welcome to come back, though,’ she said, eyeing Harry.
Harry ignored her again. ‘It’s a personal question, but do you mind if I ask you who the father is? If it’s just the three of you here.’
Ornella didn’t seem uncomfortable at all. ‘A Muggle lad I see now and then who lives in the proper village. I’ll give you his address if you want, but he doesn’t really know about any of this. Best to keep it all separate.’
‘He doesn’t know about his own children?’ Theia asked, her quill pausing over her notebook.
Ornella smiled again. ‘He knows they exist, but not about magic and all of that. We have an understanding. I know it’s unconventional, but so is everything else around here.’
‘How do you mean?’
‘We keep to ourselves,’ she said. ‘Have done for a long time. It was hard enough to persuade Mam to let me go to Hogwarts.’
‘Why’s that?’ asked Harry.
She extended one finger and beckoned him. Again, Harry felt highly uncomfortable with the way she was smiling at him, but as she turned her head to look out of the window over the kitchen sink, he carefully approached.
The view was spectacular. The dark purple fells undulating, with a sliver of a silver stream snaking through the valley, occasionally broken up by large rocky crags and the occasional tree.
‘You see over there?’ she said, pointing to a cluster of rocks on the hill opposite. ‘That used to be the Loney too. It was always a bit isolated anyway, but then some Death Eaters attacked. Way back. Right at the start of it all. Burnt most of the houses down, and most of the survivors were picked off by the dragon pox epidemic. You won’t remember it, you’re too young or maybe even not born. But anyway, it wasn’t easy but our family survived. And we survived everything else that came later, by keeping our heads down. It was better that everyone forgot we existed than risk that sort of loss again.’ She moved away from the window to check that her son was eating his food. ‘I mean, Merlin,’ she said, laughing slightly. ‘We had a squib here and even in ‘97 no one bothered us. Even you had to go on the run, didn’t you?’
‘I did,’ Harry admitted. ‘It’s remarkable you all made it through. Marcy had a death certificate. How did that happen?’
‘Uncle Oeric arranged it, I was just a kid so I don’t know the details,’ she said casually. ‘Thought it was for the best, and he was right, wasn’t he? She probably would have died if it weren’t for us.’
‘You must have been close, growing up,’ said Theia.
Ornella scrunched her nose. ‘I wouldn’t say we were best friends. I got to go to Hogwarts. I was the one with the family, she was just an orphan. No offense,’ she added quickly.
Harry chose to ignore it. ‘What about now? As adults?’
‘Oh, yes, Marcy’s a lifesaver,’ she replied, with a large smile. ‘I don’t know what we would do without her.’
‘How do you mean?’
‘Well, it’s like she’s part of the family, isn’t it?’
Harry smiled. ‘Almost.’
‘It’s just such a depressing landscape,’ said Theia, looking back at the desolate Loney. ‘I have no idea why anyone would choose to live here.’
‘I don’t know,’ said Harry. ‘It’s quite a striking place. Remote and quiet.’
‘You mean boring and cold,’ she replied, and Harry smiled. He supposed that Theia, who had always lived in London, would never understand the appeal of isolation and silence, clear skies and cold winds.
‘Even more than the place, I don’t understand why Marcy would never leave,’ said Theia. ‘Before her parents died, sure, but then there’s nothing for her here.’
‘There was the Swindlehursts,’ said Harry. ‘Sounds like she sees them as family, even if they’re a bit… Uncaring.’
‘It just doesn’t seem like a very warm or loving place,’ she said. ‘All of them seem a bit tough. And who did she have the baby with? Who’s this mystery Mr A? Not exactly the place for grand romantic gestures.’
‘There doesn’t have to be grand dramatic gestures for her to feel love,’ said Harry, and he considered for a moment. ‘I suppose the family doesn’t have to be that outwardly warm either. They just have to be there, and they just have to help her feel safe, which can’t be easy as a squib. That can be hard to leave, even if it doesn’t make sense.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘If she had consistency… Quiet little moments that made her feel secure… After being neglected by her parents why would she ever leave? She would keep hold of that forever.’
Theia looked bewildered. ‘Because she’s an adult. And there’s a whole world out there, even if she is a squib. She hadn’t really seen the muggle or the wizarding world. If it were me living here, I’d go off and find a happier life somewhere else.’
‘Perhaps she was scared,’ Harry suggested. ‘You said it yourself — she hasn’t seen the muggle or wizarding world. Only the Loney. I want to interview everyone here before we let her come back.’
‘There’s something weird about this place,’ Theia said firmly. ‘About all of them.’
Among the sweeping moors and scattering of stars that had emerged above them, he couldn’t help but agree with Theia’s feelings about the Loney.
When he got home, Ginny had already gone to bed. The mattress sank as he lay beside her, and she shifted, rolling her head with a sigh to rest heavily on his shoulder, one arm curling protectively around her stomach. ‘All right?’ she murmured sleepily.
He kissed her on her temple. ‘Did you go to visit Marcy?’
She made a noise that sounded like a yes. ‘Sweet woman… A bit odd. Said something weird about babies.’
But Ginny just yawned and fell back into sleep.
In the morning, he rose first and went down to the village to fetch croissants, pain au chocolat, and cinnamon swirls. He brought them to her on a tray, with a glass of orange juice, climbing the creaky stairs to find her huddled under the covers and smiling sleepily at him. The curtains were drawn, but a slight gap threw a stave of light across the wall. This was what he had been trying to tell Theia, he thought as a talk show on the wireless murmured gently. These quiet moments that were unremarkable and yet more important than anything else. Thoughts of Marcy and the Loney and ash trees were far from his mind as they playfully deliberated on baby names once again. He had never felt more vulnerable or more at peace.
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Chapter 6: Chapter 6‘I actually have a question for you,’ he said one visit. She raised an eyebrow, but said nothing. ‘Did you trust me?’
She lost control of her neutral expression and rolled her eyes. ‘What is this, rubbing it in? Of course I fucking did.’
He ignored the bitterness of her voice. ‘I have to admit it was easier than I thought it would be.’
She tried to ignore the humiliation, but her cheeks grew warm and her eyes wet. ‘I just feel astoundingly naive,’ she said at last.
‘But you understand now?’
‘Of course I do,’ she said quickly. ‘Things have changed now.’
He nodded, looking satisfied. ‘I just wondered why, that was all.’
‘I don’t know. Let it all get to my head, I suppose.’
‘The glamour of it all. Being an auror. Working with Harry Potter. And then you made me feel attractive and that had never happened before. I suppose I thought I had finally transitioned from duckling to swan.’
‘I always liked that story,’ he said brightly.
‘Well I don’t,’ she replied dully. ‘Not everyone becomes a swan, do they? And not everyone has to either.’ She eyed him carefully. ‘What did you think you would grow to be? Not in prison, obviously.’
‘No, not in prison,’ he said, unconcerned. ‘Before Hogwarts I thought a milkman like my dad. And then after… I don’t know. I never knew enough about the world to know what I could be.’ He looked at her. ‘You always worked really hard at school, didn’t you? You were in Ravenclaw.’
‘Yes,’ she said coolly.
‘And did you get to where you imagined?’ he asked.
‘Well I’m visiting my ex in prison,’ she said. ‘So no, not really.’
‘That’s the problem with Ravenclaws,’ he said. ‘Sometimes you do have to listen to your heart instead of your brain.’
She found Harry in the Ministry’s gym that morning, puffing and sweating over a wooden rowing machine. ‘This is unusual,’ she said to him. ‘I didn’t believe Susan when she told me you’d be down here.’
He glanced grumpily up at her. ‘Losing my stamina without Quidditch,’ he said breathlessly. ‘Felt winded chasing Teddy in the garden the other day. Just embarrassing.’ His face screwed up as he pulled at the rower. ‘What are you doing in so early anyway?’
‘I was thinking about what Ornella said.’ She folded her arms and leaned against the wall in front of his machine. ‘When she was talking about her youngest. “He doesn’t come into it”. Bit of an odd thing to say isn’t it? Why would a baby come into anything?’
Harry nodded, though his eyes were fixed on his hands. ‘I thought that too. Especially when she wouldn’t let us see him.’
‘So we should get a warrant,’ said Theia. ‘Get Bessie down there to do her thing and confirm his blood, see if the baby is really Marcy’s.’
Harry panted a few times before answering. ‘I’d love to. And we will. But we need more evidence than that before we can go in and force a birth test.’ He looked back up at her. ‘Can you find confirmation that her baby actually died? That would mean checking Muggle records I think.’
She nodded. ‘Sure.’
The rhythmic whirr of the machine stopped as Harry gave up, letting his feet drop to the floor and resting his elbows on his knees. ‘There’s something else I’d like you to look in to as well - Marcy’s intelligence.’
‘Everyone in the Loney talks about her like she’s a kid, or spectacularly dim. But the woman’s middle aged, and Ginny said she was a bit of a whizz at the cryptic crossword. Something doesn’t sit right. Oh, and you may as well look up any past cases from the Loney.’
‘All right. What are you going to do? You better not interview anyone else without me.’
‘I’m going to speak to the Healers about Marcy. We need to find out when or if she can go home, and there were a few other things Ginny told me that seem a bit unusual. We can interview the others in the Loney tomorrow.’
‘You don’t want to speak to them first? What if they all talk about us, or one of them gets spooked, or-’
‘Don’t worry about it,’ he said, in that breezy way that always irritated her. He had an annoying tendency to only explain his reasoning when he felt like it. ‘Plus, I have a meeting with Robards this afternoon, and loads of paperwork to do, plus arranging the next trainee intake, and Ginny and I have to go to St Mungos for a check on the baby so I don’t really have time.’ He gave a great, exhausted sigh and wiped sweat off his brow.
She looked down at him, smirking. ‘Look how unfit you are.’
‘Forget sitting on a broom, I don’t see how that would ever do anything. You’re clearly just not getting chased by Death Eaters enough anymore That’s what you get for being promoted to a desk job..’
‘I’m still your boss,’ he warned, but she was already walking away.
She shifted uncomfortably in the waiting room of the police station. Her transfiguration was good, so the uniform looked right, but without Harry there she felt rather exposed, and despite her knowledge of muggle society she was nervous about slipping up.
Ben, the friendly police officer that had helped them initially, smiled at her as he entered. ‘Hello again, Theia.’
She smiled back. ‘Ben,’ she said pleasantly. ‘I was hoping you could give me directions to the nearest hospital? Regarding Marcy.’
He beamed at her. ‘I can do better than that. Tony just started his shift, so I can give you a lift if you like-’
‘Oh, there’s no need, just the name of the nearest hospital is fine-
‘It’s no bother, I don’t have anything to do-’
‘Really,’ she said desperately, ‘I don’t want to put you to any trouble, I just-’
But he was making his way around the cluttered reception desk, grabbing his hat off a peg on the wall. ‘It’s no trouble at all,’ he said with a firm smile, patting her on the shoulder.
‘Right,’ said Theia awkwardly. ‘Thanks.’
He walked her out to the carpark and all she could think about was how irritating it was. It would have been far quicker to apparate, and yes, given that she didn’t know this area at all she may have got slightly lost, but they really were in the middle of nowhere. Goodness knows how long it would take.
The police car clicked and whistled as he pointed his keys at it, and Theia opened the passenger door, feeling a little like she wasn’t allowed there. The car smelled like a bakery, and there was a nodding pug on the dashboard.
She looked disdainfully at it, but Ben didn’t seem to notice. He pressed a button on the radio and jazz music blared out, he sang along enthusiastically as he reversed. Fucking hell, she thought with a feeling of resignation.
The quiet village passed quickly, and they were soon trundling along a narrow road, the coarse grass of the fells either side, dotted with sheep and occasional clusters of trees, dry stone walls running alongside them.
‘We got to run to the rock, please hide me, I run to the rock…’ Ben sang, and then he glanced at her. ‘Are you all right? You look a bit pale.’
‘Car sick,’ she muttered. It was true. She couldn’t remember the last time she had been in a car. Being catapulted back into muggle life clearly didn’t agree with her. The feeling was certainly not helped as the car went over a small bridge. Her stomach seemed to leap unpleasantly as they crossed the silvery stream.
As they crossed it, she looked up the slope it trickled down from. In the cool, misty light of the morning, half hidden in the shadow of a crag, an ash tree spread, its roots reaching like fingers for the water.
‘Just look at the horizon and you’ll feel right as rain soon,’ he said kindly. ‘You like Nina Simone?’
He gestured to the radio. So I run to the river, it was bleedin', I run to the sea...
‘Oh,’ she said. ‘Er, yeah. I suppose.’ She hesitated. ‘Not really heard it before.’
‘Nina Simone, Billie Holiday, Aretha Franklin, love ‘em all, I do. I’d love to do a tour of the states, for the music, you know,’ he said happily. ‘What sort of music do you like?’
She racked her brains for anything muggle. ‘All sorts, really,’ she said in the end. ‘This is good,’ she added, so that he didn’t think she was rude.
‘Oh, you’re one of those,’ he said with a grin.
‘One of those people who doesn’t like music much so you just say you like everything.’
‘That’s not what I was doing,’ she lied. ‘I like music.’ She turned away. ‘I’m just no good at remembering song titles or singers and stuff.’
‘That doesn’t make sense to me,’ he said. ‘You seem like the sort of person who remembers everything.’
‘I mostly listen to classical,’ she invented wildly, desperately trying to remember whether the singers she knew were muggles or wizards. Everything was so muddled.
‘You’re just saying that to sound smart,’ he teased.
‘Yes, you should try it sometime,’ she tried to tease back, but she worried that it came out harsher than she meant.
‘Don’t need to, I think you have the brains enough for both of us.’
He slowed the car down, and she saw that it was to pass a dog walker on the narrow lane. Ben and the walker waved at each other as they passed.
‘Do you know everyone round here, then?’ asked Theia.
‘Well, yeah, there’s not that many people here to know.’
‘But not Marcy?’
He took one hand off the wheel to rub his chin. ‘Well, now that you mention it, I was looking at her picture on the noticeboard the other day, and she might ring a bell. Still can’t place her, mind, but I’m sure I’ve seen her before.’
‘We met Pauline Swindlehurst yesterday,’ said Theia. ‘And her daughter Ornella.’
He didn’t say anything, but his face tightened.
‘What?’ she asked.
‘Nothing,’ he said.
Go to the Devil, the Lord said, go to the Devil…
‘There must be something,’ she said, with a slight laugh in the hope it would make him feel comfortable.
‘Did you meet the old lady?’ he asked. ‘Adella Swindlehurst?’
‘Pauline’s mother? Briefly, why?’
He looked almost embarrassed now. ‘She’s one of the ones that gets accused of witchy stuff by the people in the village,’ he said. ‘Can’t pretend she doesn’t give me the creeps either.’
‘Witchy stuff? Like what?’ asked Theia, ignoring the clapping on the song. Outside, though the sky was a bright morning blue, dark grey clouds hung low at the tops of the peaks and crags.
‘Silly, really,’ he said. ‘Just silly stuff. But for such an old woman with joint problems and cataracts she hasn’t half crept up on me sometimes. I could swear she appears out of thin air. Not to mention,’ he added with a darker tone, ‘before he retired, our old Roy Pickering swore he was called out in the middle of the night to find her in the middle of the fells with a sheep, all it’s guts out.’
‘That’s ghastly,’ gasped Theia.
Ben shrugged and gave a shake of the head. ‘That’s what Billy said. She said she heard it screaming and found it like that. But there weren’t any dogs nearby, and there’s nothing else round here that could do that.’
‘Was she covered in blood? Did she have a knife?’
‘No, no, nothing like that. She wasn’t charged with anything. And this was decades ago. Billy might’ve been telling stories.’
Despite his reassurances, Theia felt cold. Although it had apparently been years ago, she could see clearly the old woman, as withered and wrinkled as she was today, standing in the moonlight over a screaming sheep. She couldn’t help but imagine the coarse grass soaked and dark, the wool matted and shuddering, the little old woman staring straight at the person that had come across the gruesome scene.
Soon civilisation started to appear; lamps and paths, a roaring motorway and lorries parked at service stations. Terraced stone cottages eased their way into Lancaster city, but before they reached the river Lune they passed a pleasant green university campus and finally a complex of drab looking buildings.
‘Lancaster Royal Infirmary,’ Ben announced.
‘Thanks,’ she said. As she was about to leave the car, she stopped, turning back to face him. ‘Can we meet up again soon?’ she asked. ‘To disc-’
‘Yes,’ he said immediately. ‘Anytime. Really.’
There was a pause.
‘Great, thanks!’ she half shouted at him, and then she left, her cheeks burning.
She hurried through the large revolving doors, and was hit immediately by the plasticky smell of the hospital. The woman at the reception desk was stern faced, but in a competent sort of way, and Theia tried to approach with authority.
‘Good morning. I’m here as part of an inquiry into a woman we believe may have been a patient at this hospital recently. Marcia Staindrop.’
The receptionists expression didn’t change. ‘Do you have ID?’
Theia handed over the fake police ID that Susan had provided her. The receptionist nodded and picked up a phone, holding it between her ear and shoulder as she continued to type. Theia looked around in the meantime.
The muggles around her were mostly relatives and visitors she imagined, as none of them seemed visibly sick, apart from one bald lady sitting despondently in a wheelchair. Theia wondered if magic would be able to heal her, and if it could, whether she would even be allowed to.
Her mother had always said she didn’t like hospitals, but Theia had always thought that was stupid, because who did like hospitals? ‘Smells of death,’ mum had always said, and Theia had always responded with, ‘well yeah people die in there, and anyway it doesn’t, it smells like bleach.’ What was death even supposed to smell like anyway? She had seen dead bodies before, and been in the morgue, and all she had ever smelt was either decomposition or bleach. Besides, people got born in hospitals too, and had fake boobs put in and casts put round broken legs and things removed from their arse, no one ever mentioned any of that. They just imagined old people slowly succumbing to the inevitable.
‘Madam,’ said the receptionist loudly, and she suddenly realised that the receptionist had been trying to get her attention. ‘The doctor you need to speak to is Dr Lynch. Here’s the ward,’ she scribbled down some directions on a post-it and handed it to her. ‘They know you’re coming.’
Theia thanked her and headed off, squeezing between someone in a wheelchair and someone in crutches on the lift, washing her hands with stinging foam at each doorway.
Dr Lynch was a thin, glum looking man. Theia didn’t have the impression that he was busy when she met him, but he assured her he was. When Theia explained the muggle version of the situation, he turned to a boxy computer in the corner of the office and typed silently.
‘Did you gain consent from the patient?’ he asked dully. ‘For me to break confidentiality?’
‘No,’ said Theia. ‘But under section 29 of the data protection act, if it’s in the public interest you are able to disclose information that may be relevant. As she feels that there has been a crime committed against her and she has been as cooperative as possible, we feel it’s reasonable.’ She rattled off her practice speech smoothly - as Susan had advised, it was more believable than pretending they had full consent. She was almost disappointed that he didn’t seem impressed that she knew about the data protection act.
He sighed.‘Can’t say I remember her, but yes she was a patient of mine.’
‘This isn’t a maternity ward,’ he said stiffly. ‘Didn’t you read the signs?’
‘Neurology,’ said Theia. ‘That’s brains, isn’t it?’
She could tell he wanted to roll his eyes. ‘Yes. Although it is marked down that she was pregnant and was opting for a home birth. Her notes say that she was offered a community midwife but she declined.’
‘Is she allowed to decline that?’
‘Well it’s a free country, isn’t it? You can’t force someone to take medical help unless they’re not of sound mind.’
Theia hesitated. ‘But… this is the neurology-’
‘She has early onset dementia,’ said the doctor. ‘Unusual in such a young age but not completely unheard of.’
‘I see,’ said Theia. ‘That would explain a lot. And there’s nothing that indicates any conditions before the dementia? No learning difficulties or illnesses?’
‘No,’ he said, but his voice slowed. ‘She has been in a lot though, for all sorts of things. She had physical therapy for her hip, treatment for pneumonia, some broken bones....’
‘Nothing about suffering a miscarriage or still birth? Or having a baby at all?’
‘No, although she would have had it by now.’ He hesitated again. ‘I don’t feel comfortable saying any more without the patient’s consent.’
‘I understand. Who brought her in for the dementia?’
‘I don’t know, we didn’t record that. Probably a family member or if it was early enough she might have come in herself. Want me to print this off for you?’
‘Yes please,’ said Theia, pleasantly surprised. ‘That would be really helpful.’
‘Good,’ he said brusquely. ‘Now are we done? I have to deliver some news to a family.’
She suddenly realised how tired he looked. ‘Yes, thank you so much, Dr. You’ve been very helpful.’
He gave a curt nod and walked out, leaving her waiting for the whirring of the printer to stop.
Back at the Ministry, she found herself once again in the records room, though she was unable to find what she was looking for. Her fingers fumbled over the worn edges of the folders, names and places and code words for operations long past filtering past.
One of the Unspeakables was in there too, no doubt looking up something mysterious. A stark raving average looking man that was no doubt intelligent, but she could tell immediately that he had all the personality of a glass of water.
‘Excuse me,’ she said, and he barely glanced at her. ‘Am I missing something? I’m trying to look up past cases in the Loney but there’s nothing under L.’
‘Might be some in the dump room.’
‘They’re still repairing and reorganising files destroyed in the war. In the dump room.’ He pointed to a door she had never noticed before, tucked in a shadowy corner. He turned back to his file and ignored her.
She felt an odd sinking feeling in her chest, maybe because she hated the thought of knowledge being destroyed. The door was too small, so she had to crouch to go through it, straightening up into the most peculiar room she had ever seen.
She thought at first it was snow; the floor was inches deep in tiny shreds and scrunches of parchment. Her feet sank into it, well past her ankles. But rather than parchment-snowflakes falling down, they fell softly up, dancing under the vaulted stone ceiling and occasionally joining one another. With magic, the old documents were slowly healing.
She knew that not all of it would be possible. Documents had been burned. She had seen it. They had made displays of it. Some pieces of parchment here were singed, as if they had been rescued from the bonfires. But perhaps there would be something.
Rather than organised shelves, loose papers and rolls were piled in twisting, haphazard towers of varying heights, many taller than her. Her brow creased in weariness. How on earth would she find anything in here?
But she only needed to think ‘Loney’; the towers seemed to reorganise themselves, shuffling and spitting out papers into a new pile before her.
‘Well why can’t you do that in the normal record room?’ she asked the pile of paper, but as she bent down, she saw why. It had merely piled up everything it thought she might be interested in; anything that was in her mind. No doubt the Unspeakable was clever enough to clear his mind and find what he wanted, but she as she leafed through the documents much of it was irrelevant and confusing, the magic seeming to snatch keywords from her mind and throwing everything it could at her. Every now and then, some pages would leave and some would reshuffle or be added to the pile, and it only seemed to get worse the more frustrated she got. She tried to pick up a chunk and take them out of the door, but as she approached it, they flew out of her hand and back to the pile.
So she sat cross legged and tried to breathe deeply and slowly. There were photos here too, she realised; almost all in black and white and torn up or missing patches or faces burned out. She thought she saw one of her dad when he was young grinning cockily, no doubt a mugshot from some minor trouble when he was young, she knew there had been plenty. Lots of half mugshots and scenes of Azkaban, snippets of dragon-poxed faces slightly stirring, crime scenes that were perfectly, eerily still. Some pieces seemed to show the inside of a house, so normal and still that she stared at them wondering why it was even showing them to her. Then one piece, no bigger than the length of her thumb, showed half a dark-haired figure slumped on the floor and she realised she was looking at a murder scene.
The papers too, endless words and tables and graphs, the faint lines where they had been ripped like cobwebbed veins, the orange and black sears clouding. Diagrams of plants and blueprints of buildings; it was not just the auror department that had lost so much it seemed. She found the HR records of people she knew - she couldn’t resist stopping to read when Dawlish popped up - and some pieces of parchment were in some sort of code she was certain came from the department of mysteries.
‘Loney,’ she muttered to herself. ‘I only want the Loney.’
There was a great noise like a deck of cards being shuffled, and everything was a blur of parchment around her and all the parchment was rearranged again. She sighed, and prepared herself for the most painstaking research of her life.
‘The dump room?’ Harry said, his eyebrows raised. ‘Who sent you in there?’
‘I dunno, some Unspeakable bloke.’
He rolled his eyes. ‘Makes sense. They think everyone can do occlumency. That’s the only way you can get anything out of it that makes any sense.’
‘You can do occlumency, can’t you?’ she said brightening up. ‘I read about it in your biography, the one Rita Skeeter-’
‘George shouldn’t have bought you that, it’s not funny,’ he said warningly. ‘But yeah, I can, but I’m rubbish at it.’ Then he looked awkward. ‘I end up looking for stuff I shouldn’t, too. That’s a room for people with no past.’
‘It was hard to navigate,’ she admitted. ‘But I did find something interesting on the Loney.’ From her robe pocket she pulled out a wad of parchment pieces. ‘It’s not clear, and half of it is missing… But I think there was a disappearance there. In the sixties. Never found.’
‘Er… I don’t really want to open up a cold case right now,’ he replied, looking slightly alarmed. ‘When I asked for pass cases I meant in the last couple of years.’
‘In a tiny little place like that? It could be connected.’
‘To a woman losing her memory?’ He looked dubious, but she stubbornly held out the parchment fragments. ‘All right, I’ll look into it,’ he said. ‘Anything else?’
She told him about her meeting with the doctor, and he listened intently, his brow furrowing. ‘Well that’s a worry… The Healers want her to return home and Robards doesn’t think there’s enough cause to keep her in any sheltered accomodation.’
‘What?’ she said furiously. ‘We’re meant to just send her back?’
‘Well, yes,’ replied Harry. ‘But… I did suggest a bodyguard. To keep an eye on things and continue the investigation… Maybe living with her for a time.’
‘Who would agree to that?’ Theia asked, half laughing. ‘What a drag.’
He stared at her.
‘No,’ she said firmly. ‘I mean it, Harry, I’m not doing it. I won’t. Not a chance.’
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Chapter 7: Chapter 7It was warm in bed, and he was still in those groggy, golden moments before truly awakening. He rolled over and found himself nose to nose with Ginny. He stared for a few moments at her freckles and then moved a slow, heavy hand to her stomach. The baby must have been asleep too, and part of him was almost tempted to make some kind of loud noise so he could feel it kick him again, but he wasn’t sure that it was worth Ginny’s wrath. Instead, he settled for stroking the backs of his fingers just below her belly button.
‘That tickles,’ she mumbled irritably, without opening her eyes.
He stopped but grinned. ‘Sorry.’
‘Go and put the kettle on instead,’ she said, still refusing to open her eyes.
He kissed her on the nose. ‘You’re so grumpy.’
‘Someone slept on my bladder all night.’
‘I said I was sorry,’ Harry joked, but she didn’t find it funny.
He rolled back over, took his wand from under his pillow, and pulled himself out of bed with a yawn, before plodding down to the kitchen. It was a shame Teddy wasn’t staying with them because he was in a good mood and thought dealing with a high energy child would be a good start to the day.
Something blurry in the shape of an owl was waiting for him in the kitchen, sitting patiently on the back of a chair. Harry pointed his wand lazily at the kettle and squinted at the brown blob, holding out a hand carefully.
It was not until he returned to the bedroom with the tea that he could put on his glasses to read the letter.
Dear Mr Potter,
Thank you for your enquiry regarding wizard social and children’s services, and I respect your request to keep this confidential. I can confirm that we are not aware of any past records concerning Marcia Staindrop or any of her dependent’s welfare, including any past adoptions, transfers of custody, or guardianship matters, either from her childhood or more recently.
Furthermore, I thought I would make you aware that legal protections for children, at least in the wizarding world, have only developed recently. The legal matters yourself and Ms Andromeda Tonks pursued some years ago in regards to Edward Lupin were some of the first following new legislation, which we continue to refine. Previously, children at risk fell under Muggle protections and informal adoption was common and rarely monitored by the Ministry. Your own transfer of guardianship from your parents to Ms Petunia Dursley was initiated on an informal basis, and monitored predominantly by Professor Albus Dumbledore. More formal legislation was proposed shortly before the war in mid-1995, and enacted with the support of the Minister for Magic shortly after your defeat of He Who Must Not Be Named. I am unable to help with your second enquiry for this reason; any claims to guardianship or adoption are likely to have been made to Professor Dumbledore. The Ministry itself has no record of any guardianship claims or welfare checks on yourself.
Again, the team thanks you for your support on many of the life-changing policies you helped influence. We hope that you will continue to support us creating a new, robust legislative standard for a fairer, stronger society over the coming years. May I also take the opportunity to congratulate you on the upcoming birth of your first child.
Please do let me know if there are any other matters I can help you with.
Families and Muggleborns Team, Post-war Recovery
Magical Law and Policy
Ministry For Magic
‘What’s that?’ Ginny asked, now sitting up in bed and looking far more cheerful with a cup of tea.
‘Nothing,’ he said. ‘Work stuff.’ His good mood had gone, and he held the letter limply by his knee as he ran a hand through his hair.
‘Work stuff? Why didn’t you get it sent to the office? We’ve been through this…’
‘Yeah, I know, sorry,’ he said heavily. ‘It’s just that Susan checks all my post and I didn’t want anyone reading this one.’
He felt her reach out and touch his arm. ‘Harry…?’
‘Why was the pre-war Ministry so shit?’ he blurted out. ‘They just didn’t seem to bother keeping tabs on anything.’
‘Well, I suppose Fudge-’
‘Not just Fudge. This goes beyond that.’ He turned to look at her. ‘You know what an orphanage is, right?’
She looked bewildered. ‘Of course I do.’
‘But there aren’t any wizarding ones?’
‘Well, no not here, not for a very long time. Not really enough people for orphans to be such a problem.’
‘What about a children’s home? Fostering?’
‘Like a smaller orphanage, for kids that don’t have parents or don’t have good ones. Meant to be temporary until they can go back or find someone else who will care for them. Someone Muggle social services deems good enough.’
‘Is it a Muggle thing?’
‘Apparently,’ he said bitterly, turning back to the letter.
‘What’s going on?’ she asked him. She sounded worried - perhaps, thought Harry, she was worried he wanted to give the baby away, or give Andromeda full custody of Teddy. Muggle social services would have been checking he was fit to be a parent after all, if they had known. Nobody had ever come round to check that he wasn’t hitting him or not feeding him enough or locking him up or getting drunk or any of that.
‘Are you all right?’ Ginny asked again.
‘I’m fine,’ he said. ‘Just trying to find out how Marcy went from being a neglected squib to living with another wizarding family and no one seemed to know about it. And,’ he added grumpily, ‘why no one in the history of wizarding Britain has ever thought there should be policies in place for children who aren’t treated right.’
‘It’s left mostly to Hogwarts, isn’t it? The teachers usually know the children best,’ said Ginny, her voice gentle. ‘Harry, it’s just not like the Muggle world. There really aren’t many of us at all, I think things like that have always been handled on a case by case basis.’
‘Well, they shouldn’t have been,’ said Harry, his voice higher and more rapid than usual. ‘And what about before Hogwarts? Someone should’ve - they should’ve been looking out for- for Marcy.’
‘The Swindlehursts looked after her, didn’t they?’ said Ginny. ‘Like we looked after you-’
He rose. ‘No,’ he said abruptly. ‘It’s not the same. Dumbledore knew about me staying at the Burrow, and anyway I’m not sure the Swindlehursts cared for her.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘There’s something familiar in their utter lack of concern,’ he muttered. He wrenched open the wardrobe. ‘I have to go into work early, I’m sorry.’
‘When will you be back?’
‘I don’t know. Not late,’ he added quickly as he saw her crestfallen face.
‘Good, because don’t forget-’
‘Dinner with George and Angelina, I know.’ He dressed quickly and in silence, but before he left, thought better of it. He turned back to her. ‘I’m sorry. I just never really thought about it.’
‘About why it was Dumbledore. Who left me there.’
She looked at him, her eyes meeting his. ‘Mum tried, you know. The same year I started Hogwarts. And a few times after that. To talk to Dumbledore about it.’
‘I know,’ he said. He hadn’t, not really, but he didn’t feel surprised. His mind was going at a hundred miles an hour and he felt sick. ‘Let’s talk about it later.’
She smiled. ‘Yes. Get yourself to work. I’ll see you at George’s.’
The Loney was as grey and windswept as usual, but this time Harry could hear commotion when he knocked on Marcy’s door. Judy, the trainee he had picked up from the office, shifted uncomfortably - still rather starstruck around him.
‘I’m getting it, I’m getting it!’ he heard Theia screech.
‘There’s someone at the door!’
‘I know, Marcy, I’m getting it!’
Harry couldn’t hide his smile as the door was pulled violently open and a sour-faced Theia appeared. ‘Morning,’ he said, in a comically-cautious voice.
‘She’s driving me mad,’ Theia hissed, but Marcy’s smiling, slightly vacant face appeared over her shoulder.
‘Oh, it’s you. Theia was going to make me some tea.’
Theia closed her eyes and exhaled slowly. ‘I said I will, Marcy.’
‘Actually, I was hoping I could borrow Theia for a while, Marcy,’ said Harry kindly. ‘Judy here could make you a cup of tea, though.’ Judy smiled at Marcy, who seemed to stare right through her.
‘Theia will come back?’ she asked, clutching Theia’s arm.
Marcy looked doubtful, even afraid, but Judy stepped forward with a bright and cheerful tone. ‘How do you take your tea, Marcy? I like sugar in mine.’
Harry walked away with a grateful Theia, leaving Marcy looking a little abandoned behind them.
‘How was your first day with her?’ Harry asked.
Theia sighed. ‘She’s still sweet, it’s just so frustrating. She’s so childlike and confused all the time. I don’t understand how the Healers let her go.’
‘They said she can take care of her basic needs,’ said Harry. ‘Is that not the case?’
‘I suppose she can,’ said Theia uneasily. ‘It’s more like… I don’t know. She asks me to do things about twenty times because she’s forgotten she’s already asked me, even if I’ve done it.’
‘And you haven’t seen the person that was watching us last time we were here?’ he asked in a low voice.
She shook her head subtly. ‘No. Although… You know that little old lady? Pauline’s mum?’
‘The one who could barely see, hear or walk?’
She nodded, and told him the story about the sheep Ben had divulged. ‘Weird, isn’t it?’
‘That doesn’t sound like any magic I’ve ever heard of,’ said Harry darkly.
They had to go further down the valley than before, past Ornella’s house, down a path so steep that they felt the need to outstretch their arms slightly for balance.
‘Keep your wand at hand for this one,’ Harry muttered as they approached the house. The garden was chaotic - tangled weeds and dumped, broken furniture. The windows were so dirty they were almost black, and a thick, soft green moss grew over the slate roof and down the west side of the building.
Harry thumped hard on the door. ‘Mr Swindlehurst,’ he called. ‘Oeric!’
They heard grumbling and curses, a stumbling noise like something being knocked over, and the door opened with a creak.
Oeric Swindlehurst had a red face surrounded by a tangle of long grey hair. His bleary eyes looked over them suspiciously. ‘And what? What have I done now?’
‘We just want a chat,’ said Harry. ‘About Marcy.’
‘That stupid bitch,’ said Oeric, his face contorting into disgust. ‘I want nothing to do with her.’
Harry and Theia glanced at each other. ‘Then I think it would be best if you let us in and told us why, Mr Swindlehurst,’ said Theia.
‘I don’t have to let you in,’ said Oeric. ‘Not without a warrant. I’m not some Muggle-brained halfwit.’
‘Yes, you’re familiar with your rights, aren’t you, Oeric?’ said Harry. ‘You’ve done a few stints in Azkaban for violent crime towards Muggles. Usually women.’
‘Fuckin’ liars,’ said Oeric. He was swaying. ‘And so is Marcy. Don’t believe a word she says.’
‘What do you think she’s said about you, Mr Swindlehurst?’ asked Theia, who was unable to hide the disgust on her face.
‘Don’t know, don’t give a shit,’ he said. ‘Useless girl. My sister should never’ve taken her in.’
‘Why not?’ Harry asked.
‘Constant whining, ungrateful little slut.’
‘What did she whine about?’
‘Just fuck off, will yer? Come back with a warrant or leave me alone.’
He slammed the door in their faces.
‘See if you can-’
‘Ask Marcy about him, got it,’ said Theia smoothly. ‘What were the crimes he was convicted of?’ she asked as they walked away. ‘I didn’t get the file from Susan.’
Harry was silent for a few moments, deciding how to phrase it. He didn’t want to say the actual words himself. ‘He used the Imperius Curse on Muggle women,’ he said finally. He was sure that Theia could fill in the gaps.
‘I’ll ask her about him,’ she said quietly.
‘Make sure you do, carefully,’ he said. ‘She should never have been anywhere near him. She was vulnerable.’
‘I will,’ she said. ‘It might take some time though.’
The air was cold and fresh that day. Harry vaguely thought that it would have made for good Quidditch conditions, were it not for the occasional gust that sent the heather rippling towards them, and Theia’s hair flying wild behind her.
He wondered what it was like for the children that grew up here, muggle and wizarding, so far removed from concrete and bricks and general civilisation. Part of him thought it would have been wonderful; he had hated Surrey, not only because of the Dursleys but also by how everything looked the same, and the constant inability to be truly alone. He and Ginny lived in a similarly remote area not far from the Burrow, but he realised that, like he had assumed when he had first come to the Loney, the fantasy of children delighting in the wilderness and solitude was his own. Perhaps they would be bored. Perhaps they would feel as trapped as he did at Privet Drive. Was he being fair to his unborn child? How could he make sure they were safe?
He felt himself jolting back to earth and glanced down at Theia, who was looking at him uncomfortably.
‘I said, “which house are we going to next?”’
‘Oh, right. Our friend Mr Osman.’ He pointed, at the very flat of the valley, almost hidden in heather, the last cottage. ‘I got his records from Susan. His full name is Ralf Berold Osman, and he doesn’t have any criminal record, though on occasion he has refused to pay taxes. Susan thinks he might be a live off the land, hermit type.’
‘Ah, lovely. I expect he will be just as welcoming as Mr Swindlehurst,’ she said.
But to their surprise, when the reached the cottage, Mr Osman was outside on the front step. Pipe in his mouth, he barely glanced up from the chicken he was plucking, the feathers falling between his worn boots. A labrador lay beside them, thumping his tail lazily at them, and to the side of the door a homemade windchime made out of sea shells swung gently.
‘Good morning, Mr Osman.’
He forcefully blew smoke from his nostrils, his hands still working the chicken roughly. Harry thought the house and surrounding yard was messy, but in a way that suggested it was well-worked rather than neglected. A pile of potatoes, mud still clinging to them, buckets and garden tools - it almost reminded Harry of Hagrid’s hut, were it not for the feeling that guests were very much not welcome.
‘Told you to stay away,’ he mumbled through his pipe.
‘Unfortunately we’re Aurors, we have an annoying habit of sticking our nose in things,’ said Harry pleasantly. ‘Making lunch? Why not use magic to do that?’
‘Just ask me yer soddin’ questions,’ he said, still refusing to look at them.
‘What do you know about Marcy Staindrop?’
He shrugged. ‘What do I know about anyone, really? Keep to meself.’
‘Were you aware she had a baby recently?’
Harry thought one of his hands fumbled over the feathers. ‘Not my concern,’ he said. ‘She mebbe did. I dunno.’
‘Do you know who the father was?’
‘Marcy’s a tramp, couldda been anyone,’ he said brusquely.
Harry looked around the wild landscape. ‘Not many opportunities to be a tramp here, are there?’
Mr Osman didn’t answer; he continued to wrench feathers from the chicken, it’s head wobbling by his knee. He must have wrung its neck.
‘And Ornella, we’re not clear on who the father of her children are either.’
‘Dunno. Don’t care.’
‘Can you tell us why you warned us to stay away from the Swindlehursts?’ Theia asked.
‘Because their affairs is their own,’ he said. ‘Just like mine.’
‘We appreciate that, but-’
‘Look, what is it y’want, eh? What is it yer looking for?’
‘Well, we have a woman who apparently had a baby recently, but there’s no sign of it. She also can’t remember anything.’
‘Good,’ he muttered.
‘Excuse me?’ When Mr Osman shook his head, Harry pressed harder. ‘What do you mean, “good”, Mr Osman?’
‘Nought,’ he snapped. ‘All you need to know is that family is ruthless, and everything has got a price. I’ve got nothing to do with any of it, so leave me alone.’
He rose, and opened his door. Harry craned his neck to peek in, and saw his walking stick in the porch, leaning behind something shiny and red.
‘Mr Osman!’ exclaimed Theia. ‘That bicycle! A little boy in the village is looking for it. Where did you find it?’
‘It’s mine,’ he said dismissively.
‘It’s clearly for a child,’ said Harry. ‘Come on, Mr Osman, where did you get it?’
‘Out on the fells,’ he said. ‘It’s mine now.’
‘Don’t be odd,’ said Theia sharply. ‘It belongs to a little boy. Where on the fells?’
‘On a crag above the creek. It’s mine.’
‘Let me take it, Mr Osman. I’ll return it to the little boy.’
But Mr Osman ignored them and, like Mr Swindlehurst, slammed the door in their face.
‘Well,’ said Theia irritably. ‘At least I can go and tell Ben and he can get it back for the little boy. So odd that a grown man would take a little boy’s bike.’
‘Never mind that,’ said Harry quietly. ‘A few days ago he was hobbling up the road. We just saw him get up off a bottom step and walk into his house - the walking stick was behind the bike.’
‘Why would someone lie about limping?’ asked Theia. ‘Perhaps he was injured and has recovered?’
‘I imagine he’s lying about something bigger,’ said Harry.
‘So,’ said Theia with a heavy sigh. ‘We’ve got three women, all a bit odd, in the same family that on the one hand took her in, but also seemed to neglect her… Which is weird. Why would you agree to take in a child but then not look after her properly?’
‘It’s common,’ said Harry, and Theia made a face that made him think he may have accidentally snapped at her. ‘We also have a man closely related to the family with a violent history and a hatred towards Marcy.’
‘And another man who seems to be hiding something and refuses to talk about any of them - but has still chosen to live near them,’ continued Marcy. ‘That’s a lot of suspects.’
‘But no clear crime yet,’ said Harry. ‘We’ve got everything back to front.’
‘We have a victim though,’ said Theia. ‘I’ll keep chatting with her to see if she remembers anything else. Maybe the familiar surroundings might spark something.’
‘Good,’ said Harry. ‘I’ll be back tomorrow. Let’s go rescue Judy and get you back to your schedule of making tea.’
That evening, his tongue loosened by the wine they had at George’s, Harry apologised to Ginny as they walked back to their cottage.
‘I couldn’t speak to the woman in person, because she sits near Hermione and she might have seen me, and… I don’t know, I just didn’t want her to. But Susan opens all my post, so-’
‘So that’s what you were writing when we got home from St Mungos,’ said Ginny patiently. ‘But what made you ask about yourself? Why didn’t you just ask about the case?’
‘I don’t know. Opportunity? Morbid opportunity? I wish I hadn’t. I don’t know what I expected.’
‘What did you want it to say? You knew it was Dumbledore that arranged it for you, and you knew why.’
He couldn’t think. ‘I don’t know. I just...’ He trailed off. The night was cool and dark, he could only just see Ginny’s silhouette, but he could feel her hand firmly in his. ‘I just can’t believe there was nothing. But I can believe it really, because I’ve seen it, in Snape and Riddle and… There must be others.’ Even to Ginny, he did not want to admit that part of him had hoped there would be some record of someone, anyone, trying to get him out of the Dursley’s home, even though it had not been possible.
‘Things are different now,’ said Ginny.
‘But they could have been different a long time ago. And I don’t know what happened with Marcy, but whether it happened recently or a long time ago, something did.’
‘You’ll figure it out. You always do.’
They were silent for several moments, only their footsteps echoing down the shadowy lane and occasional rustles from the hedgerows. Harry had not expected the letter to shake him so much, and he wished he had the courage to ask Ginny to elaborate on what she had said earlier - that Molly Weasley had tried to speak to Dumbledore.
Back to index
Chapter 8: Chapter 8
Author's Notes: Read this chapter in bed, with the lights off and a window open xx
It was one of their first visits. Before she could stick to the plan and hide her true feelings. Not that he ever seemed to take much note. ‘It’s always cold in here,’ he said. ‘Drives me mad.’
‘I thought you liked the cold,’ she said. ‘You went into all the Nordic countries.’
‘That’s different,’ he said. ‘That’s a warm kind of cold. Cosy. Not like here. This cold is unforgiving.’
‘Well,’ she said, unable to resist, ‘that rather suits a prison, doesn’t it?’
He nodded solemnly. ‘I always thought hell would be hot. All flames and smoke. But actually I think it’s very cold, and damp. Not pretty. Not snowing. Not even big thunderstorms like we get here sometimes. Just biting cold and horrible damp.’
‘You would know all about hell, Dennis,’ she said sourly.
‘Yes, and so would you,’ he replied.
It felt like a constant battle to keep Marcy’s home warm. Though Theia had lit a fire in the grate and placed several jars of magical blue flames around the living room, the hot air seemed to escape through the stone walls quicker than the flames could replenish it. Forget putting another jumper on, Theia was kitted out in a scarf, mittens and woolly hat, with one of Marcy’s many tartan throws wrapped around her.
If Marcy thought it was odd, she didn’t mention it, but she certainly seemed more used to the cold than Theia, with only a bobbly jumper and throw over her knees.
‘How did you like Judy, Marcy?’
‘The young lady who came to visit today.’
‘Hmm? Oh! Yes. Very nice.’ Marcy was knitting, somehow the clacks of the metal needles made Theia feel even colder.
‘Harry and I went for a walk around the village while she was here,’ said Theia conversationally. ‘Down into the valley.’
‘Oh, where Alf lives,’ said Marcey cheerfully.
‘You know, with the short grey beard.’
‘Oh, Ralf Osman. Yes,’ said Theia. ‘But I wanted to ask you about someone else we met. Oeric.’
The knitting seemed to lose its rhythm, and Marcy’s mouth twitched. ‘Oh,’ was all she said.
‘Do you remember him?’
‘Yes, of course,’ she replied, but she didn’t sound certain.
Theia leaned forward, her mittens around her mug of tea. ‘He seemed so angry. Is he a horrible man?’
‘I don’t really remember,’ said Marcy stiffly. She looked at Marcy intently, and for the first time since meeting her, she didn't look like a child at all. Her voice sounded authoritative, even motherly. ‘Don’t go there though, at least not alone.’
‘Why not?’ asked Theia.
‘Just don’t.’ Suddenly she winced, clasping at her leg.
‘Are you all right?’ asked Theia, alarmed.
‘My knee hurts,’ Marcy complained. ‘And I can hardly see this knitting.’
‘Yes,’ said Theia sympathetically. ‘The Healers said you have cataracts, remember? They’ve given you a potion to lessen them a bit, but it won’t get rid of them completely. You’re very young to have cataracts though, Marcy. Do you think someone might have cursed you?’
‘I don’t know,’ said Marcy. Even in the dim light, Theia saw the lips quiver, the hands tremble, and the knitting being slowly placed in her lap. Then, a muffled whimper and Marcy had burst into tears.
‘Oh! Marcy! Don’t cry, it’s okay!’ exclaimed Theia, rushing over to her side.
‘I don’t know what’s wrong,’ said Marcy through heaving sobs. ‘Only that something is. Terribly wrong. And the guilt, oh the tremendous guilt!’
‘Guilt about what, Marcy?’
But Marcy couldn’t stop. She was babbling now, tears streaming down her face. ‘And all these aches and pains what I never had before and all getting worse. And I might have agreed to it all, but it’s not fair, really, when people don’t keep promises. These things round here are dangerous, you know, we were warned not to go to the tree-’
‘What tree, Marcy? Who didn’t keep promises?’
‘-And now Ornella gets what she wants and I’m left with nothing but misery and no memory of what’s behind it all-’
‘The baby, is that what you mean?’ asked Theia, gripping Marcy’s arm without realising. ‘Ornella gets the baby?’
‘Yes, a healthy baby-’
‘This is good, Marcy, you’re really helping, can you remember anything else about the baby-?’
‘And now I can’t see anything and I think it’s only going to get worse only I don’t know why-’
‘The baby, Marcy,’ urged Theia. ‘Tell me more about the baby.’
‘-Or why Alf won’t, and not to mention all these people coming in and out of my house with not so much as a by your leave, and, and…’ Her words became incomprehensible, wracking, heavy sobs. Theia felt a rush of guilt for pushing her too hard.
‘I’m sorry, Marcy,’ she said soothingly. ‘Why don’t I put the soup on, eh? Make us some nice dinner.’
Things calmed as they ate, and soon Marcy was nattering away about her puzzle book as though nothing had happened. Perhaps, thought Theia, she had forgotten that she had said anything at all.
The evening darkened and the wind picked up. Marcy was unfazed, though she tried to tune the old wireless and got nothing but static before giving up and returning to her knitting. Part from boredom, part to keep out the cold, Theia ambled around and around the little living room.
She didn’t like the windows. They were too dirty to see out of clearly, just faint shadows and shapes of the fells outside, and she still felt that she was being watched. Perhaps it was just the memory of when she had been here with Harry, and had briefly seen a pale white face staring at her. She wished she could draw curtains or blinds, but Marcy had none, so before long she was making herself jump when she caught her own reflection in the dark glass.
It was when Theia realised Marcy’s calendar was out of date, and corrected it, that Marcy said anything interesting again.
‘Motherin’ Sunday this weekend,’ she said, nodding at the bright yellow daffodils on the calendar.
‘Yes,’ said Theia distantly. Her chest felt tight. Of course it was. At least she would be stuck here.
‘Got any plans?’
‘No.’ Mothering Sunday always took her by surprise. She was never sure if it was March or April and it would always be a mad dash to the petrol station to buy the least petrol station-looking flowers she could find and a Cadbury’s milk tray. She would try and make it up to her by writing something soppy in the card, but they both knew she had forgotten so it never rang true.
‘I always nip round me mum’s,’ said Marcy cheerfully.
Theia’s heart sank even further. Had Marcy forgotten that her mother had died all those years ago? Could she really tell her? Was it ethical? Maybe she meant she visited her grave.
‘You do?’ she tried hesitantly.
‘Aye, with Ornella.’
‘Oh! Pauline.’ When Marcy nodded, Theia almost laughed with relief. ‘That’s nice. You must get on really well then.’
‘I’d do anything for her,’ said Marcy. ‘She took me in when no one else wanted a squib like me.’
Theia sighed, and went to sit in the armchair opposite Marcy. The lamps weren’t bright enough to light the entire room, so it was hard to see Marcy’s expression when she looked down at her knitting. ‘What do you remember about that, Marcy?’
Marcy’s face fell. She was silent for a long time, then finally, ‘I couldn’t do magic. What a waste.’
‘But you’re not a waste, Marcy,’ said Theia encouragingly. ‘Pauline didn’t think so.’
‘No,’ said Marcy. ‘And Pauline was lovely. We went on trips to the seaside. Morecambe Bay. Collecting seashells. And into the city. One day we even went to London.’
‘That sounds lovely.’
Marcy nodded, but she wasn’t smiling. ‘I’m tired,’ she said at last.
‘All right,’ said Theia. ‘Let’s get you to bed.’
Marcy didn’t need the help, not really, but Theia guided her to her room anyway, lowering her voice to a whisper and dimming the lights.
She went back to the living room, and with a flick of her wand the sofa became a more luxurious bed. It was earlier than she usually slept, so perhaps that was why she stayed awake for several hours, staring at the ceiling.
The little cottage was creepy at night. The dying embers of the fire threw unsettling shadows on the rough stone walls, the wind outside howled and moaned, the old pipework would occasionally make terrifying clunks and screeches. She tried to close her eyes and block it all out, but the noises just seemed to get louder and more frequent, she thought she might be going mad, how could she have forgotten it was mother’s day next weekend-
Her eyes snapped open. She had been drifting in and out of sleep, she was sure of it, but now she thought she may as well do something useful. In the low light, she pulled some parchment and a quill towards her and began to write.
Sorry to send you this at this hour, but I can’t sleep and I want to make sure I don’t forget anything.
The most important thing to note, I think, is that Marcy mentioned Ornella getting what she wanted while she was left with nothing. I am sure this is something to do with the baby. Is this enough evidence to get a test done?
She also seemed unnerved when I mentioned Oeric and warned me to stay away, though she said she couldn't remember anything else. I got the impression she was not scared for herself, but worried for me, or perhaps disgusted? Either way, I think it is worth taking a closer look at.
She spoke about her relationship with Pauline and it sounds very close. Perhaps they didn’t neglect her after all, though I am certain there is tension between her and Ornella.
Will discuss more tomorrow - please could you bring Judy or someone again to give me another break? I want to tell Ben about the bike and would prefer to discuss the case with you out on the fells where we are less likely to be overheard.
Theia had brought her owl to Marcy’s, and though she was out hunting, she had prided herself on her ability to train her little barn owl well. She opened one of the heavy, rusted windows, sending flakes of dried paint everywhere, and raised her wand.
Though she couldn’t see or hear it, her nifty little spell sent out a very high pitched shrill.
Within just a couple of minutes, her owl’s white breast fluttered out of the darkness, and he landed on the sill.
‘Sorry buddy,’ she said. ‘Take this to Harry, would you? I won’t disturb your hunting again.’
He gave her a gentle nip, but took the letter and vanished into the darkness.
Theia watched him go, leaning out of the window to feel the cold air on her skin. Her eyes began to adjust to the moonlight, and she could see the outlines of the rocky hills, the ripple of the heather in the wind, the dirt track-
And a speck of candlelight.
She was alert now, her stealth training kicking in as she ducked below the window frame, just peering over the edge.
But the candlelight wasn’t coming towards her, it ran parallel to the cottage, up the dirt road.
Her heart was thudding, she allowed herself the briefest of glances to the clock - it was three in the morning. Who was outside at this hour, walking so rapidly up the track?
Finally the light was close enough that she could see, and she felt frozen in fear.
The little old lady, Pauline’s mum, her ancient face set in fierce, evil determination. She walked rapidly - her thin white nightdress and wild white hair billowing around her in the cold night wind, her gnarled hand fiercely gripping the bare candle, wax dripping down onto her leathery knuckles. It was the speed with which she was walking that frightened Theia, the unnatural, upright, determined walking from a woman she had only seen before as frail and unable to move. Her bare feet striding over the cold hard ground made Theia think of bird claws.
And her face, oh her face… Theia couldn’t describe the horror. Perhaps it was the candlelight casting low shadows, making the eyes look even more sunken and skull like. Perhaps it was the expression of hatred though there was nothing around her. There was something deeply disturbing about it. Something wholly wrong.
The old woman walked past. Though she realised she was trembling, Theia hurried to the door, forcing her feet into her boots as quickly as she could and throwing on a black cloak.
She went outside, but hadn’t left the tiny front garden when she felt conflicted. Should she leave Marcy alone in the house? Suppose it was a trick? Someone had been watching her before. Or was it simply that she was afraid?
The candlelight was moving so fast that it was nearly over the hill. She had to decide now. What would Harry do? He would follow her, obviously. But what would Robards do? He would say that Theia was there to protect Marcy.
The wind bit at her. She wasn’t sure if she was shaking or shivering. Her teeth gritted, she watched as the speck of yellow and flashes of billowing white around it vanished over the crest of the dark hill, out of the Loney.
She let out a shuddering breath and was ashamed to realise that she was relieved. But rather than going back to hide, she raced around the perimeter of Marcy’s little cottage, checking the windows were closed, throwing her wand’s light into the clumps of heather in case a dark shadow lurked there. She looked up at the roof, because she thought she saw movement, but it must have been a shadow or cloud or whiff of fog passing over the damp slates.
Finally, she returned to the house. She crept in to Marcy’s room to find her sleeping soundly, and then sat in her doorway until sunrise, wand gripped tightly in her hand.
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Chapter 9: Chapter 9Harry had only knocked twice before the door was wrenched open, leaving his fist still hanging in the air. Theia, white faced and messy haired, looked up at him, gripping her wand.
‘Close the door,’ she blurted out in a terrified hiss.
‘What’s going on?’ he asked as he stepped over the threshold. Theia closed and bolted the door behind him. ‘I got your letter. Judy and the others will be here soo-’
‘Something happened,’ she interrupted. ‘After the letter.’ She looked as though she hadn’t slept at all, and she was unable to keep still, frantically pacing up and down Marcy’s living room as she told him about the old woman she had seen.
‘What time was this?’ he asked her, leaning against the back of the dusty sofa. His hands in his pockets suggested casualness, but his brain was whirring.
‘Erm…’ she rubbed at her eyes. ‘About… three? I think.’
‘And you were definitely awake?’ he asked her carefully. ‘It wasn’t a-’
‘No it bloody well was not a dream,’ she snapped. ‘I had just written you that letter.’
‘But… She just walked up the road? You weren’t attacked or anything?’
‘Look, I know it sounds stupid but there was something so wrong about it. I felt terrified and…’ Theia was speechless but her mouth continued to open and close like some kind of shuddering goldfish. ‘There was just something so unnatural about it. So wrong.’
He slowly reached into his bag, eyes still on her, and pulled out a few basic ingredients. ‘Why didn’t you call me? I’ve shown you how to do a Patronus as a message.’
‘I- I don’t know, I suppose I didn’t want to risk her or anyone else seeing any magic and- what are you doing?’ she asked sharply.
‘I’m making you a calming draught,’ he said.
‘I don’t need it,’ she said frantically as he conjured a small cauldron in front of the fire. ‘I just need a coffee or something-’
‘That’s the last thing you need,’ he said, eyeing her quivering hands. ‘Where is Marcy now?’
‘She’s still in bed, I brought her breakfast and a crossword to her.’
‘Right. I’ll send word for a few more people to come and stay here with her, and we’ll see about moving her back somewhere safer. Have you eaten?’
‘I- No, no I haven’t-’
‘Go and eat. I need you to pull yourself together before they get here, and then we’ll get on with the case.’
He knew that Hermione would have said he was being too blunt or harsh with her, that she would have recommended a hug instead. But thankfully Theia gave a shakey little nod and hurried to the bread bin to prepare herself some toast.
Harry vaguely wondered what Snape would have said if he could see him now, snapping porcupine quills into a cauldron while dictating a memo to the Ministry. Perhaps, when he had first imagined being an auror back as a naive fifteen year old, he would have reconsidered if he had known he was expected to carry around potion ingredients with him. The cauldron simmered happily, the glossy surface rippling in a pleasant sort of way. Maybe he wasn’t so bad at it after all, even without Snape’s old textbook.
Marcy came out of her room in a rather grubby white dressing gown, just as Theia was finishing her toast and Harry was sending his paper-airplane shaped memo through the Floo network.
‘Oh, are you making a love potion?’
‘Sorry?’ he asked.
She nodded to the cauldron. ‘I wish I could make potions. I can cook all right and you would think that would be all there was too it, wouldn’t you?’
‘Have you seen a love potion being made before, Marcy?’
‘Oh yes, of course, for Ornella.’
Harry and Theia exchanged glances. Marcy sat in the nearby armchair and immediately picked up her knitting. ‘Theia had a nightmare,’ she said conversationally. ‘Last night.’
‘I didn’t,’ replied Theia through gritted teeth. ‘I told you what I saw.’
‘Does that sound like something Pauline’s mum would do?’ Harry asked Marcy. ‘Has she done that before?’
Marcy did not answer. Simply glanced uneasily at Harry, and returned to her knitting.
‘Marcy?’ he prompted.
‘Nevermind,’ she said. ‘Shall I make you a scarf? Seems silly with summer coming.’
‘Marcy,’ he said again. ‘Tell me about Pauline’s mum. Does she walk around at night?’
Marcy chewed her lip. ‘I’ll make you a throw for your sofa instead.’
Harry could see that he was going to get nothing out of her. He repacked his potions ingredients and banished his cauldron back to his house. Theia simply sipped on her calming draught and gradually began to look less frazzled.
Judy had clearly received Harry’s memo, for she arrived quarter of an hour later with Matt, one of the other trainees, and Dawlish, a man Harry had a very enjoyable grudge against.
‘I don’t know why you didn’t call me in in the first place, Potter,’ said Dawlish. ‘I worked on some of the cases concerning Oeric Swindlehurst. There’s a lot I could tell you.’
‘I didn’t want to feed your delusions of adequacy,’ said Harry, turning quickly to Judy before Dawlish could respond. ‘You know the drill, keep her happy and comfortable and make a note of anything strange or interesting. If you could all take it in turns to patrol outside the cottage to keep an eye out, that would be good too.’
Harry and Theia left, ignoring Dawlish’s indignant splutters, and decided to walk from the Loney to the village in order to discuss further the things Marcy had said the night before.
‘Well that sounds like Ornella’s youngest could actually be Marcy’s,’ said Harry. ‘Though it wasn’t a newborn. Definitely enough to get some blood magic done.’
‘Seems that way,’ Theia agreed. ‘I definitely thought there seemed to be some long running jealousy there too.’
‘And Oeric - you said she seemed unnerved?’
‘Yes, and warned me to stay away but nothing more specific than that.’
‘Dawlish is a dickhead, but he’s probably right. I’ll have to speak to him.’
‘I really think we should be looking into Pauline’s mum more,’ Theia urged. ‘She’s the only one that’s acted suspiciously since we got here.’
‘What are you talking about? They all seem like creepy weirdos to me,’ said Harry. ‘But yes, we’ll go there this afternoon.’ He smirked at her. ‘I can’t believe you’re going to the Muggle police station to help get that kid’s bike back.’
‘You don’t have to come!’ she retorted, a blush spreading over her cheeks.
‘No, I want to as well. My cousin had a shiny red bike like that, I was always jealous of it.’
‘Do you think he was jealous of you?’ asked Theia suddenly.
‘What?’ Harry asked in surprised laughter. ‘My cousin?’
‘Well yeah. Must be hard if someone in your family gets magic and you don’t. I get that feeling with Marcy sometimes. When she talks about Ornella.’
Harry did not want to reveal the details of the Dursleys with Theia. He was a little stuck of what to say, and it wasn’t until he saw Theia looking at him oddly that he blurted out, ‘I think my aunt was jealous of my mum when they were growing up. My mum was muggleborn.’
‘Really?’ asked Theia, sounding interested. ‘I wonder what would have happened if I had had a sibling. It would be really hard, I think, to hear about them going off to a magical castle while you were stuck learning to be a secretary or whatever. But,’ she said, her voice suddenly sounding encouraging and positive, ‘your aunt took you in, so people must come to terms with it eventually. You would just be happy for them eventually, wouldn’t you? And there’s parts of the Muggle world they would never be able to have. So maybe it works out in the end.’
‘Yeah, I s’pose,’ said Harry awkwardly. ‘Might be different as Marcy is a squib though. A whole load of other emotional baggage comes with that.’
‘Doesn’t matter anyway,’ said Theia firmly. ‘It was that old woman.’
‘What was the old woman?’ asked Harry patiently. ‘We still don’t know what “it” is. This is the weirdest case I’ve ever been on.’
‘That stole her baby.’
‘And what? What happened to this baby we’re not sure exists?’
‘I don’t know. Sold it? Keeps it in the attic? Gave it to Ornella? We should get a warrant to search her place and bring her in for questioning. There must be something. The healers said she might have given birth, and that old woman took it from her.’
‘You can’t approach it like that. You saw an old woman acting suspiciously, but that’s it. Marcy hasn’t mentioned her at all. If you go looking for things to pin it on her, you might miss other evidence.’
‘You’re always acting on your hunches!’ Theia accused.
‘Yes, and I need someone more sensible to rein me in sometimes.’ He saw a brief look cross Theia’s face that suggested she was flattered, but she immediately fell back into stony silence. ‘We will look into the old woman,’ hesaid soothingly.
‘We should be going there now!’
‘No, not yet. I’ve got a funny feeling about Osman, and I think it would be good if we went there under the pretense of the bike. I also want to talk to this policeman more.’ He paused. ‘I think you do too.’
The village was crisp and fresh in the spring air - to say there was a hustle and bustle would be an exaggeration for a place so small and remote, but there were definitely people on the move, doing the school run or heading to work, popping into the post office or taking the dog out. It was, in Harry’s eyes, utterly charming.
‘Ugh, I hate places like this,’ said Theia, wrinkling her nose as she watched an old lady picking up after her cocker spaniel.
He stared at her, baffled. ‘What’s wrong with this? Nice little village, it’s lovely.’
‘God, so boring. I think if I lived here I would essentially be giving up on life.’
He couldn’t help but laugh at her, much to her bewilderment, but soon they found themselves at the old muggle police station. Ben was delighted to see them - they had barely finished telling them that they had seen the shiny red bicycle when his face set in ferocious determination, and he darted around the desk, grabbing his hat as he went.
‘Come on,’ he bellowed, ‘I’ll give you a lift.’
It was like living out a childhood dream, Harry thought with slightly embarrassed pleasure, sitting in the back of a police car. Harry well remembered childhood fantasies and games, using the plastic rings from six-packs as handcuffs, the cardboard tube from wrapping paper as a truncheon, a bucket reimagined as a policeman’s helmet, the handle under his chin. He had never had friends to play with, of course, but he had enjoyed it all the same. He had given Teddy a proper Auror uniform to play in, and he was never short of Weasley kids to play with.
Perhaps Ben had also played similar games, for as Theia kept trying to point out, there was no need to hurtle to the Loney with flashing blue lights for a child’s misplaced bike. Harry got the impression that Ben was very excited to do anything remotely like police work at all.
‘Have you come across Osman before?’ Harry asked him.
‘Oh yes,’ replied Ben darkly. ‘Odd fella.’
‘In what way? Does he have a record?’
‘Disturbing the peace, mostly. He gets drunk in the pub and shouts at people. Absolute nuisance.’
‘But not theft before? Or anything more serious?’
‘Er… Punched a guy outside the pub once. He was another weirdo from t’Loney though so we didn’t pay them any mind, they can sort it out between themselves.’
‘That old pervert. Oeric what’s his face.’ Ben finally turned the siren off as they approached the Loney, and Harry heard the music he was playing for the first time.
Here is fruit for the crows to pluck…
The car bumped along the dirt road to Osman’s house; Harry could see the seashell wind chime swinging in the breeze.
‘What were they fighting about?’ Harry asked as Ben parked. ‘Osman and Swindlehurst?’
‘Some girl, I think. Swindlehurst probably tried it on with someone Osman liked. Everyone knows to keep girls away from him.’
When they slammed the car doors closed, they could hear Osman’s dog barking. Ben seemed to hang back with some unease, but a glance at Theia and he puffed up his chest and marched forward, thumping his fist on the thick wooden door.
The door was pulled violently open, Osman’s face contorted in fury, but as soon as he saw Ben he blinked and the rage slid off his face into pure surprise.
‘Morning, Osman,’ said Ben gruffly.
Osman’s eyes flicked to Harry and Theia, and his expression became far more guarded. ‘What d’you want?’
‘I hear you’ve got young Simon Dodd’s bike,’ said Ben. ‘Unless you surrender it at once, it will be considered stole-’
‘I was gonna give it back, weren’t I?’ said Osman furiously. ‘I didn’t know it was his - here-’
He turned, and with a great clatter he pulled out the small red bicycle, holding it by the seat with one strong hand. He threw it at Ben who caught it awkwardly - Harry thought it must have been rather painful.
‘There,’ spat Osman. ‘Now leave me alone.’
‘Hey, now I need to talk to you!’ said Ben angrily.
‘Oh fuck off, Mug-’
‘Mr Osman,’ said Harry quickly. ‘Where did you find the bike?’
‘Dunno. By the creek somewhere.’
‘Well little Simon will be pleased to have it back,’ said Ben.
Osman looked as if he couldn’t care less. ‘Glad the little shit got his toy back.’ He slammed the door behind him.
Ben sighed. ‘I suppose if he gave it back I can’t really arrest him for theft.’
‘Never mind,’ said Theia brightly. ‘At least you got it back.’ She turned to Harry. ‘He was expecting someone different, wasn’t he?’
‘Looked like it,’ agreed Harry.
They returned to the car, but as Ben was loading the bike into the boot, he frowned and gave another heavy sigh. ‘Funny though, where Simon lost it. Middle of nowhere. I suppose he was walking his dog.’
Harry had a funny feeling. There was something wholly wrong for a single man to take a child’s bike, even if he had simply stumbled upon it in the middle of nowhere. ‘Could you show us?’ he asked Ben.
Both Ben and Theia looked at him with utter confusion, glancing each other and then back to him. ‘Show you where he lost the bike?’
‘Er…’ said Theia hesitantly. ‘Sorry, boss, but don’t we have more important things to do? We were going to, you know... ‘ she jerked her head back to the Loney, ‘talk to someone?’
Harry considered for a moment, and looked out across the fells. It was a crisp, clear, beautiful day. The rugged hills and expansive sky seemed to inspire the soul. But he felt a pull - a gut instinct. ‘We can delay that a little,’ he said. ‘I’d like to get to know the area, Ben.’
‘It’s… It’s just a bike, mate,’ said Ben. ‘A kid’s bike an’ all.’
‘Let’s make the most of the day,’ Harry said pleasantly. ‘It’s a nice weather.’
So they bundled back into the car, and were soon zooming down the winding lanes, out of the Loney but also away from the main village - in the direction of Lancaster. Harry sat in the back - he could see Theia’s eyes glancing at him in the rearview mirror. He knew she was frustrated.
Everything they had done had seemed backwards. He knew they should be looking into the mysterious old woman. He knew they should be checking Ornella and her children. He knew that he should be prying into the violent and murky histories of Ralf Osman and Oeric Swindlehurst. But why he should be doing all this he wasn’t sure.
Ben’s music was playing as usual, soft and smooth, American - a coolness that didn’t fit the landscape. Don’t trouble the water...
‘I’m surprised the Met is still happy for you to be all the way up here,’ Harry heard Ben say to Theia.
‘Oh, well, you know…’
‘There must be more important stuff in London to be doing. I bet you see proper action.’
‘Some,’ Theia replied uneasily.
‘Have you ever been in a car chase?’
‘Er… Sure. Yeah. A few.’
Over the little stone bridge that made Harry’s stomach lurch, Ben pulled up onto the verge and switched off the music. ‘It’s just up there,’ he said. ‘I’ll show you - your shoes’ll get muddy, mind.’
‘All good fun,’ said Theia brightly. But as they got out the car, she brushed past Harry and said in a low voice. ‘He’s driven me past here before. I never mentioned because I barely noticed - that’s an ash tree.’
He looked up. Following the silvery stream, a few hundred yards ahead a great ash tree sat in the gap of a broken stone wall, it’s thick roots reaching into the waters. The tree itself was just at the edge of the shadows of the crag behind it, clinging to the sunlight. In the sparse landscape of heather and rocks and yellow grass, such a huge tree stuck out in a beautiful but disturbing way.
They followed Ben along the footpath, their feet sinking and slipping in the wet mud, the bubbling whisper of the creek beside them. As they got closer to the tree, Harry felt that pull again.
The sensation was strange. Almost like an unpleasant thickness in the air that got stronger as Harry walked forwards, a prickle at the back of his neck - a cold embrace. He remembered Dumbledore saying that dark magic leaves traces.
At the base of the tree, the sensation was so strong, that he stopped. Theia was looking at him, alarmed, though he had no idea what his expression was.
Ben stopped too, awkwardly. ‘He left the bike just over there, he said, round the other side of the crag.’
‘Are you all right, Harry?’ Theia asked.
Harry looked up at the branches of the tree. The leaves, serrated like knives, rustled at him, the sunlight falling through to dapple the ground. He looked down the gnarled trunk down to the tangled roots and saw a bundle of white.
A small bouquet of gypsophila. It had been there a while - the stems brown and dry, the flowers still white but shrivelled and fragile looking, like ripped lace. He stared at it, the sensation that had grown so continuously as he came closer overwhelming him.
‘We need to dig here,’ he said, and he realised that his voice sounded hollow, and lost. ‘Theia, get Bessie and her team. It’s here.’
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Chapter 10: Chapter 10Harry followed Death through the Loney. He couldn’t see Death, but he knew that he knew Death well, and that Death’s cloak floated in the air. Death guided him through the mist - Harry could see the shadows of people through it.
‘Harry…’ called a voice. It was high and soft, it echoed through the fells. A woman’s voice. Death.
‘I’m coming,’ he told Death.
‘This way,’ it told him.
Death led him along the footpath, small white flowers scattered the ground, the sun fell golden in the mist. Death pointed to the tree, and Harry looked in the hollow of it-
He woke. He was breathing heavily, and upon his chest he felt a great weight. For a few moments he could not move, his muscles stiff like a corpse, drenched in sweat, with his heart pounding furiously. He realised he was gritting his teeth, and as he relaxed his jaw, so too did his muscles.
He turned his head to see Ginny sleeping soundly, undisturbed, with her belly lifting the duvet like one of the hills in the Loney. He stared at her belly, imagining the baby inside it. The tiny fingers and fragile bones. The Healer said that at this stage it was roughly the size of a butternut squash. Perhaps by now it would have a little patch of black hair.
He found he couldn’t look at it any longer, and swung his legs off the bed, leaning forward onto his knees, pressing his hands over his eyes. All he could see was what they had found at the ash tree in the Loney.
He grabbed his glasses and slipped out of the bedroom, down the corridor and into Teddy’s room. They had him for the next couple of nights, and Harry was glad.
Even in the dim light, Teddy’s shock of blue hair against the white of his pillow was striking. Harry laid on the bed next to him, one arm under his head and the other across Teddy, hugging him as tight as he dared without waking him up. He remembered when he met Teddy for the first time, the day after the battle. He had been a newborn, so tiny that it seemed like he wasn’t quite ready yet - his face still scrunched up and his limbs held like a little frog. Harry had held him awkwardly in the crook of his arm, and thought that he had been speaking quietly, but it was only when Andromeda took him back that he realised he had been shouting ‘I’m sorry!’ at the baby, over and over again through frantic sobs.
For he had realised then, the size of him, how much Teddy had ahead. An entire lifetime of learning and playing and temper tantrums. Detentions and friendships being made and broken. Bad fashion choices and raging hormones. First jobs and bad jobs and falling in love and marriage and his own children, getting a cat and forgetting to water plants and all of it - all of it - he would have to do alone. Teddy held a world of potential in his tiny, newborn body. It was fragile and vulnerable enough, even without the privilege of parents that Harry felt he had snatched away from him.
‘God,’ he muttered quietly, as he realised his eyes were wet. He thought again about what they found. Teddy slept on, blissfully unaware, an entire golden future ahead of him.
‘You look awful,’ Theia said to him as she entered the office. ‘Didn’t sleep much either?’
‘No,’ he replied gruffly. ‘You all right?’
She nodded, but then sighed and said, ‘well no, not really. But determined.’ He nodded too. She seemed to hesitate, her mouth slightly open and a blush spreading across her plump cheeks. ‘I… I wanted to ask you… In regards to the… recent developments…’
‘Well, I was meant to go and visit Dennis in prison today. But that exhausts me at the best of times and I think given yesterday, emotionally I just can’t-’
‘Of course,’ he said quickly. ‘We can put a pause on that case.’
‘Really?’ the relief on her face was marked. ‘You don’t mind? I know you want me to keep getting information out of him but I don’t think I can-’
‘Our focus is on this now,’ he said firmly. ‘Put him and that whole project aside. I’ll send word you’re ill or something so he doesn’t think you have abandoned him.’
She tried to smile at him, but it was more of a grimace. ‘Are you ready?’ she asked.
He rubbed his jaw. He hadn’t shaved. ‘Yeah,’ he said heavily, rising. ‘Is everyone else gathered?’
He smoothed down his robes before leaving the office, though there was little point given the dark circles under his eyes.
The Auror department was gathered in the largest briefing room, sitting on chairs, perched on tables and finally standing at the back. Harry walked to the front as the general chatter trailed off, Theia following but standing off to the side.
‘Morning,’ he said. He glanced at the board behind him. Filled with moving photos and arrows and scrolls of notes that unfurled when you needed them to. The photo of the tree, and what had been found there, was in the centre, and Harry looked back down at his notes.
‘Yesterday morning, the remains of…’ Harry gathered himself, and then continued as matter of factly as he could, ‘...a newborn baby were found inside a hollow in a tree trunk. Myself and trainee Auror Theia Higglesworth found the child, and Bessie’s team excavated the site.’ He paused and looked back at the photo of the baby.
‘The… This little boy is newborn. He is believed to be the son of Marcia Staindrop, who approached us some weeks ago in a very confused state. He is currently unnamed, and he is in the morgue while Bessie looks for a cause of death.’
There was a heavy silence in the room, except for the scratching of quills. Harry gestured to the next photo. ‘When Bessie’s team excavated, they also found the skeletal remains of a young woman, estimated to be between the ages of sixteen and twenty five…’ He held his hand to the photo, pointing at the skull. ‘It’s not yet confirmed, but it is believed that it may be the remains of Connie Dunn, who went missing in the area in the winter of 1961 aged nineteen…’ Harry looked back at his audience. ‘I know that… the death of a newborn baby is the crux of this case. But Connie’s mother is still alive. She has been missing her daughter for forty years.’ He pointed at Connie’s photo from her file - in it, the blonde, cheerful girl with a white head band laughed at the camera, occasionally breaking into winks and air kisses. He then turned back to the gathered crowd of somber faces.
‘Don’t make the mistake of thinking that because it was a long time ago, her death doesn’t matter. The pain of losing someone doesn’t go away, and if this is Connie - which, by the way, I feel very strongly it is - we might be able to give her mother the chance to have a proper resting place for her. One that she can go to and grieve.’ He searched through the crown and gave a nod to one of the junior Aurors. ‘Jerome, among the skeletal remains was a watch. I would like you to take the watch to Connie’s mother and see if she recognises it. I know you’ll have the sensitivity to do it right.’
Jerome, who was among the most diplomatic and emotionally intelligent Aurors in the department, nodded. The scroll from Connie’s file flew towards him, and he caught it smoothly.
Harry turned back to the board, and tapped Marcy’s photo. ‘Marcia Staindrop is back in protective custody. She is confused and vulnerable, and there’s some kind of unhappy past there. Though she was never able to say clearly to us that she had lost a baby, what is clear is that something traumatic happened. And that she misses her son very much, even if she cannot remember him.’
‘Can we be sure that she wasn’t involved?’ asked Judy. ‘It’s not unheard of.’
Harry shook his head. ‘It’s not unheard of at all, you’re right. Judy, as you and Theia know Marcy, I want you to look at her very closely.’ He hesitated. ‘I’ve… I feel that her state of confusion fluctuates. A lot. Whether this is normal or not I have no idea, because we don’t know what caused her memory loss. What I am sure of though is that she has recalled some things that she avoids telling us. I don’t know why. It could be guilt. Shame. Fear. You need to find out.’
Judy looked at Theia and nodded in gritted determination. Harry knew they were close friends, and he thought a woman’s touch might be better at getting more information from Marcy.
He moved on to the next photo. ‘Ralf Osman. I’ll be interviewing him later today, we currently have him in custody. He picked up a child’s bike that was left at the scene some time ago. Theia will be going to see if the child witnessed anything suspicious.’
Osman’s face glared angrily out at him, his grey beard giving him that unkempt, hardened look that Harry thought so fitted the Loney. ‘I think,’ he said slowly, ‘that Osman didn’t want people lurking around the scene, and that’s why he picked up the bike. It’s also why he wouldn’t tell us where it was that he found it. I also think there is animosity between Osman and the Swindlehurst family. He warned us of them on our first meeting, was in a fist fight with Oeric Swindlehurst, and was very dismissive, even insulting towards Marcy. Proudfoot, I want you and your team to conduct a search of his house. Be thorough, tear it apart if you have to. He clearly didn’t want us inside, and I want to know why.’
Next was Pauline’s photo. Her short blonde hair as messy as it was when Harry first met her, her face with an oddly knowing expression, as weathered and hardy as one would expect from a resident of the Loney. ‘This woman I’m not even sure where to begin,’ said Harry, and he couldn’t help the edge in his voice. ‘I don’t like her. There’s something… Off. She gives the impression that she took Marcy in when she was essentially neglected by her parents, becoming a parental figure to her after they died. But I don’t think so. She was totally unconcerned that Marcy was missing, and didn’t seem shocked when we told her about her state of mind. She told us that her baby had died in Lancaster hospital. Perhaps she was deceived herself, but I think it’s more likely that she knew exactly where the baby was.’
He went to the far corner of the board, where a map of the Loney had been pinned. ‘This is her house. Right in the centre. Marcy’s is just up the road and although she seems to live alone we got the impression that she doesn’t spend much time there. Also living with Pauline is her mother, who we now know is called Alma Swindlehurst.’ He paused. The photo of Alma seemed ludicrous - an ancient old woman on her deathbed. ‘She is one hundred and three years old. We have no records of her ever attending Hogwarts, but she is a witch. She seems to be very elderly and fragile, but Auror Higglesworth witnessed her walking through the Loney at some speed at roughly 3 AM, barefoot in just a nightdress.’
There were some whispered mutters from the crowd, and Harry saw Theia take a deep breath, raising her chin in a stubborn sort of way.
‘I shouldn’t have to tell you, but the Loney is cold. Very cold. It’s utterly bizarre that-’
‘Could it have been a dream?’ asked Williamson.
‘No-’ began Harry, but Theia interrupted fiercely.
‘Absolutely not. It sounds bizarre and it was. Oddly disturbing, something almost supernatural about it. I wasn’t dreaming, I know what I saw.’
Everybody looked slightly too scared to whisper any more. Harry nodded, and continued. ‘It’s suspicious behaviour to say the least, not only because it would be odd for anyone to do, but also because when we first met Alma, Pauline went to great lengths to tell us how much caring she needed - talking about her cataracts and arthritis and so on. Given her age, it’s not like we doubted that at all. As Pauline has been arrested under suspicion, we have also been able to take in Alma, under the guise of being able to care for her. It should be noted that we haven’t arrested her because we can’t otherwise see any connection.’
‘Apart from the postcard,’ said Theia quickly.
‘Right, yes, sorry - the postcard. In Marcy’s home there was a postcard signed with the letter ‘A’.’ He tapped the board with his wand, and the postcard appeared, the black and white beach with the mountains in the background.
‘Does anyone recognise the place?’ asked Harry.
There was silence, and then a shaky hand at the back rose into the air. One of Susan’s admin team, who was there only to take notes.
‘I think… I mean I’m not sure or anything, but I think it might be Morecambe Bay.’
‘Thank you. Matt, I’ll give you the full details, but I’ll want you to look into that. See if any handwriting comparisons can be done - in a subtle way. I’m still not sure it is her that wrote it because it seems a bit… Romantic, although I suppose you never know. As it stands she’s the only one we currently have who might sign her name with an A.’
As he said this, he noticed Theia blink several times and frown, as though remembering something. He made a mental note to ask her later.
‘Just down the road from Pauline and Alma is Ornella, and her two children.’ Again, he tapped the photo of the wild but beautiful woman, who blinked slowly out at the room.
‘Beyond being just a bit odd,’ said Harry, deciding to avoid talking about how Ornella had commented on his similarity to his father, ‘it seems like Marcy may have been very jealous of her magical powers, and I didn’t get the feeling that Ornella was particularly keen on her either, despite the impression she tried to give. For a brief time we wondered if the youngest baby was in fact Marcy’s because of an odd comment she made, but he was always just a bit too old. Even so, I’d still like someone from Bessie’s team to go and do a blood test, please as it seems like a weird situation. Her, Pauline and Alma have all kept the name Swindlehurst. I know we’re in a new millenium, and women can keep their maiden names, but apart from Oeric there don’t seem to be any men in this family. Ornella says the children’s father is a Muggle. Again, we’ll want to look into that.
‘Finally, we have Oeric. We’ve got nothing concrete but he has a history of abusing young women, seemed particularly hateful when we mentioned Marcy, and told us not to believe a word she says. He’s a disgusting drunk with a reputation - he’ll be difficult but I think it’s very likely there’ll be something there. Dawlish,’ he said, hoping no one could tell it was through gritted teeth, ‘you’ve dealt with the man before-’
‘That’s right,’ said Dawlish, leaning back with one ankle up on his knee in an irritatingly smug way. ‘I put him away a few years back for some pretty nasty rapes of Muggle women. I would be particularly interested to see if we can find any connection between him and Connie Dunn.’
‘Great, look into that,’ said Harry. ‘I also thi-’
‘Of course,’ continued Dawlish, turning to the room at large, ‘we must remember that just because he has a nasty history, that is not, in of itself, evidence.’
Harry looked up at the ceiling and counted to ten while Dawlish lectured the room about due process.
‘Anyway,’ he said at last. ‘He’s a nasty bastard and I hate him. As for the rest of you, I want someone to go to Muggle Liaison and organise a memory modification. We had some poor Muggle policeman with us and I didn’t want to wipe his memory completely keen as he’s still useful for background info. He’ll just need things tweaked slightly.’
‘I’ll do it,’ said Graham, one of the junior Aurors. ‘Where is the policeman now?’
‘Er… Well he was a bit confused and frightened, so I took him to my house.’
Robbards, who had been staring carefully at the board the entire time, turned so fast to look at Harry that the Aurors around him started. ‘What?’ he barked. ‘Potter, that’s entirely against-’
‘I know, and I’m sorry, but I couldn’t send him home and I couldn’t bring him here, so I thought I would keep him under my wife’s watchful eye-’
‘So you’ve broken the Statute of Secrecy?’
‘I think my wife is breaking it to him as we speak,’ said Harry. He could see some people trying to hold back grins and chuckles, but Robbards looked aghast, and Dawlish looked positively delighted at Harry’s unprofessionalism. ‘We really have built up a good relationship with him,’ said Harry. ‘He knows the area, he knows the people, he has lived there his entire life. More than that, he is a policeman himself so while he might not have experience of the wizarding world he understands the process of an investigation and could be a real insight into things like motivations.’ He had decided not to tell them that Ben thought that the theft of a child’s bike warranted emergency lights.
‘We had to tell him, he was about to call in all sorts of Muggles. It would have been much harder to contain. We can modify his memory after the case is dealt with,’ said Theia. ‘We’ve been able to forge a doctor’s note signing him off for two months, so he won’t be missed at work.’
Harry nodded his gratitude at her. ‘The rest of you I want you searching the houses at the Loney, for anything and everything that could be of interest. Points of note - gypsophila was left at the tree. Common name baby’s breath. Someone feels guilty.
‘Marcy also mentioned seeing love potions being made, apparently “for Ornella”. We don’t know if this was for Ornella to use, perhaps on this Muggle that fathered her children, or someone to use on Ornella. Not to get too personal with you all, but I noticed that Pauline’s home smelled of sweet peas. Theia thought it smelled of candles that have just been blown out. I think it could be quite likely that love potions get made there. Any evidence of that, let me know.’ He surveyed them all. He was never quite sure how to end a briefing. ‘Ok, get on with it,’ he said eventually, and there was a great scraping of chairs.
He loitered, staring at the board, hoping something would click into place.
‘I meant to ask you,’ said Theia, coming to stand beside him, ‘how you knew. Yesterday. How you knew to search there.’
He wasn’t sure how to answer. ‘I don’t know. Dumbledore once told me that dark magic leaves traces, and I think when you’ve been around it enough you start to recognise that.’
‘Dark magic then, that’s what we’re dealing with?’
‘Yeah. This doesn’t feel like your standard murder. There’s magic in this.’ He looked at her. ‘I’m going to start with interviewing Osman. I think you should come too.’
‘Good,’ she said. ‘Because I worked something out, and it could change things.’
‘Who are you?’ Teddy was asking, his legs swinging under the table.
The Muggle opposite blinked in a dazed sort of way. ‘I’m Ben.’
‘Why are you here for breakfast?’ Teddy asked, before shoving a spoonful of sugary cereal into his mouth.
‘I… I don’t know…’
‘Harry brought Ben round to stay last night, Teddy,’ said Ginny smoothly. ‘After you’d gone to bed. He’s going to stay with us for a little while to learn all about magic.’
Ben looked helplessly at Ginny, his own toast and cereal untouched.
‘Why don’t you know about magic?’ asked Teddy through his mouthful of cereal.
‘I don’t know,’ said Ben.
‘He’s a Muggle, Teddy,’ said Ginny. ‘But we have special permission to let him know about magic.’
‘So am I allowed to do this?’ asked Teddy, and he promptly turned his hair from blue to a neon green.
Ben yelped and gave such a start that he knocked over his orange juice.
‘Yes, you are,’ said Ginny calmly. She turned to Ben and said, ‘Teddy can change his appearance at will. He’s special like that. Don’t worry about it.’ She flicked her wand at the spilled orange juice and it vanished. Another flick, and his glass righted itself and refilled.
‘This is mad,’ said Ben, who looked rather pale as he watched. ‘Mad.’
‘Yes, it must all be a bit of a shock,’ said Ginny sympathetically. ‘I am sorry you got dragged into it all, Harry is usually a lot better at keeping things subtle around Muggles. He doesn’t really like to involve people in his work if he can help it.’
‘So he’s not really a policeman?’ Ben said, sounding almost bitterly amused. ‘I thought they were from the Met. God, I’m an idiot.’
‘No, but they do similar sort of work,’ said Ginny pleasantly. ‘More to do with magic.’
‘I still don’t understand how I got here,’ he said.
‘Foo!’ shouted Teddy excitably.
‘Floo,’ Ginny corrected. ‘But no, not the Floo.’ She considered explaining apparition but thought better of it. ‘He brought you here by magic.’
‘Where is here?’
He groaned, and looked faintly green. ‘How much time has passed? Did… Did you put me under a spell?’
Ginny tried not to laugh. ‘Oh, dear, no. I promise, you just fell asleep. No wonder, it must have been such an overwhelming day.’
‘I don’t know where all those people came from,’ he said dumbly. ‘They all just sort of… appeared. Out of nowhere.’
‘Look at this,’ said Teddy, and with a scrunch of his nose, he grew flappy pig ears. Ben’s terrified expression made Teddy squeal with laughter, and Ginny sighed heavily.
‘Ted, stop it-’
‘You said I could!’
‘We also talked, didn’t we, about how not everyone likes things like that? And how you should keep changes natural until you’re sure.’
Ben was furiously rubbing his eyes. ‘I must be dreaming. Or delirious or something.’
‘You’re not,’ said Ginny, trying her best to be soothing. ‘Harry and I tried to explain everything to you yesterday, but I understand that it’s a lot to take in - Ted, I mean it, put your ears back - and I think it’s quite normal to find it all a bit much.’
‘I feel sick,’ he said. He did look a little green.
‘I’m not surprised. Would you like me to make you a potion to settle your stomach?’
‘A- A po… No. No thank you.’ He gulped. ‘How long do I have to stay here? Am I a prisoner?’
‘Oh, mate, no,’ said Ginny, feeling a little alarmed. ‘You’re not a prisoner or anything. I mean,’ she added uneasily. ‘You can’t leave... but you’re not a prisoner.’
He gawped at her.
‘Look, if you want to leave, that’s ok. We can work something out. But we would have to wipe your memory of everything. You wouldn’t remember Harry or Theia or anything since they arrived.’
‘You can do that?’ he asked, horrified. ‘Like in Men in Black?’
‘I… I’m sorry I don’t know what that is,’ she said awkwardly.
He groaned. ‘I mean, I knew there was something off about them, because why would the Met send anyone up to the Loney? But you think you’ve found the perfect girl, and you try to get to know her, and it turns out she’s a magic person.’
‘A witch,’ said Ginny. ‘Men are wizards, women are witches.’
‘I’m not saying that, it’s ridiculous. Next you’ll be telling me about ghouls and goblins.’
She felt sorry for him. She could tell he was trying not to let his lip tremble, and she reminded herself of how traumatised Harry himself had been yesterday - how he had come back with this Muggle stranger and immediately poured them both whiskeys, explaining things in the guarded sort of way he did when he was particularly upset. Then later, when he had told her exactly what had happened, what they had found, he had struggled to keep his voice steady - to deal with that and come home to your family and familiar surroundings was one thing. To deal with it and suddenly find yourself hundreds of miles from home in an instant, followed by breakfast with a boy who was currently turning his skin into leopard spots was quite another.
‘No one at home is going to believe this,’ Ben said.
‘I’m sorry,’ she replied. ‘But you can’t tell them. Ever.’
‘It’s all right,’ he said. ‘Like I said, no one would believe it. They’d cart me off to a padded room somewhere.’
‘That sounds fun,’ said leopard-printed Teddy. ‘You could run into the walls.’
Ben looked at him, and to his credit, he didn’t blink at the bizarre looking boy. ‘I suppose it would be for a bit,’ he said. ‘Like a bouncy castle.’
‘Harry lets me bounce on his bed.’
‘Is that so?’ asked Ben, who seemed grateful to hear about something normal.
‘You can have a go later if you like,’ said Teddy kindly. There was a twitch of a smile around Ben’s mouth.
‘That’s nice of you, Ted, but I think Ben and I will have lots to talk about before Harry gets home from work,’ said Ginny. ‘I expect he has lots of questions.’
‘I do,’ said Ben, who still had the sort of dazed look one would expect from a concussion patient. He turned to Teddy, who was now looking a little forlorn. ‘I think my stomach’s a bit delicate for jumping on the bed just yet. Why don’t we do some baking together instead? Your mum can explain things to me while we make cake, and then we can eat it. It’s relaxing, is baking.’
Teddy blinked. ‘Ginny’s not my mum.’
‘Oh, god, sorry,’ said Ben quickly, turning to Ginny. ‘I just assumed-’
‘It’s all right,’ said Ginny warmly. ‘Teddy’s Harry’s godson. He’s staying with us for a few days, then going back to his gran’s. Baking sounds like a lovely idea. I’ll supervise because I’m terrible.’ She considered filling Ben in on the backstory, but then thought the wizarding world, what with it’s suddenly appearing Aurors, potions and murder in the Loney was probably frightening enough without the story of Harry Potter and the orphaning of Teddy Lupin.
No, she thought, as Teddy clumsily weighed out flour and she filled Ben in on the role of the Ministry of Magic, it was best that Ben knew them as what they were: a perfectly ordinary family.
Back to index
Chapter 11: Chapter 11
Author's Notes: Authors note: I don't usually write author's notes as I feel is disrupts the flow of the story. But I have a few things I would like to say. As many of you are aware, my mum is terminally ill, and seems to be deteriorating rapidly at the moment. Sometimes writing is a great therapy to me, and sometimes it isn't. It is probably why this particular fic is so dark. My updates are going to be irregular - sometimes they will come a day or two later, at other times they may be weeks apart. I really hope you can all be patient with this, and while I am always flattered that you want more, I would like to politely ask that you resist badgering me for updates when there seems to be radio silence. Otherwise, I would like to sincerely thank you all for reading and for all of the lovely comments you have been sending my way. Feel free to follow me on tumblr if you would like advance warning on when the next chapter is coming.
Osman didn’t look comfortable in the interview room. His great, bear-like arms were folded across his chest as he leaned back in the hard, small chair, his expression sour. He didn’t react as Harry and Theia entered, only flicking his grey eyes to them briefly, then back at the bare wall.
‘Hello, Mr Osman,’ said Harry. ‘Auror Higglesworth and I will be conducting your interview. Do you have any questions about the process, and, once again are you sure you wouldn’t like us to request you a lawyer?’
Osman didn’t say anything, simply continued to glare at the wall. Harry and Theia exchanged an exasperated look, then Theia set up her magical pen to record.
‘What about Max?’ Osman said suddenly.
‘My dog. Who’s going to look after him while you’re wasting my time here?’
‘We’ll make sure he’s looked after,’ said Theia. ‘But hopefully you won’t be here too long, especially if you help. Are you happy for us to proceed with the interview?’
He gave a short, sharp nod, still staring at the wall.
‘Can you tell us why you took that bike, Mr Osman?’
Osman took a deep, irritable breath. ‘Fucking hell, if I’d known it would cause this much bother…’ He rubbed his eyes and leaned forward, placing his elbows on the table. ‘You try and do a decent thing… I was going to take it into the main village next time I was there, I just hadn’t got round to it.’
‘Why would you not just leave it where it was, for someone to come back and find it?’ asked Harry.
‘Someone might’ve stole it, some little shit from Botton Head or something.’
‘But you didn’t want to give it to us, or tell us where you found it,’ said Theia. ‘Can you tell us now?’
‘I don’t remember,’ he snapped.
‘Are you sure?’ asked Harry. ‘Seems like a memorable place.’ When Osman said nothing, he continued. ‘It was near an ash tree. Stands out quite a bit.’ Osman still said nothing, so Harry nodded at Theia who reached for the manilla folder at her side, opened it, and slid two photos towards Osman.
‘This is what we found there,’ she said, and she noticed that her voice sounded cold. She stared at him as he gave the briefest glances at the photos and then looked away. ‘The corpse of a newborn baby and the skeletal remains of a young woman.’
Still Osman said nothing, but Theia noticed his eyes flicking to the photo of the baby and away again, like a morbid curiosity. He leaned back and folded his arms again, tapping one finger against his bicep, still looking back and forth between the photo of the baby and the bare wall. His face was perfectly still, but Theia could see a tensness around his jaw.
‘Did you know they were there?’ asked Harry.
‘No,’ said Osman quickly. It was the voice of a man who felt trapped.
‘It just seems like you didn’t want us poking around in the Loney, and you certainly didn’t want us lurking around that tree.’
‘I like my privacy, and that’s all there is to it,’ he growled.
‘It wasn’t just your privacy, Mr Osman, was it?’ asked Harry. ‘You specifically told us to stay away from the Swindlehursts. Why is that?’
Osman looked at Harry, his face contorted into bizzare mix of dark amusement and fury. ‘Because they are all evil. The whole lot of them.’
‘Marcy as well?’ Theia asked coolly.
‘Yes,’ he snapped.
‘And why is that?’
Osman seemed to open his mouth, but then with a heavy sigh pressed his lips together and fell back into a refusal to talk.
She stared at him calmly, and let the silence stretch for a few seconds. ‘Your first name is Ralf, is that correct?’
‘Yes,’ he replied, his eyebrows lowering slightly.
‘Does anyone ever call you by anything else? A nickname, or a shortened version or anything?’ There was a slight movement in his throat, like he had gulped. Theia glanced at Harry, and he gave her the tiniest of nods. She was glad. They had agreed before the interview that this was her wildcard to pull, the tiny jigsaw pieces that had fallen into place during the briefing were hers.
‘You see, I stayed with Marcy for a bit,’ said Theia. ‘And I thought I had misheard her, but at one point she called you Alf.’
He looked away again. ‘Yes, she has called me that before.’
‘I also noticed that outside your house you have a windchime, made from seashells.’
He looked back at her now - bafflement had completely overtaken the anger in his face. ‘What? Yeah? So what?’
‘Probably not a lot of seashells in the forest of Bowland,’ said Theia. ‘I certainly didn’t see any in the Loney. But that was homemade, wasn’t it? Where did you get the shells?’
‘Morecambe Bay,’ he said, still bemused. ‘I take the dog there.’
‘Have you ever taken Marcy there?’ He seemed to freeze. Theia reached into the folder again, and pulled out the postcard they had found in Marcy’s house.
‘This is Morecambe Bay, isn’t it?’ she said, tapping the picture.
‘Yes,’ he said, his voice hoarse. His finger was tapping again, more rapidly this time.
Theia turned the postcard over. ‘And is this message from you? Did you sign it with ‘A’ because she calls you Alf?’
Now it really was visible that he swallowed. ‘I changed my mind,’ he said suddenly. ‘I want a lawyer.’
‘Are you the father of the baby, Mr Osman?’
‘I WANT A LAWYER!’ he bellowed, leaning forward and slamming his palms on the table. ‘I refuse to answer any more!’
They silently stared at him, and he stared back. ‘All right, Mr Osman,’ said Harry. ‘That’s your choice. I’m going to suspend the interview now and we will continue soon.’
He rose, and Theia followed, leaving Mr Osman panting heavily alone in the room.
Harry let out a low exhale as they walked down the corridor. ‘You got him in a knot,’ he said in a low voice, an admiring grin on his face.
Theia felt a smug warmth in her chest. ‘I did, didn’t I? Do you think perhaps he was under a love potion at some point? But why would they do that? Either way, we should include him on the blood test.’
‘As soon as he’s got his lawyer,’ Harry assured her. ‘I’ll go up and see Hermione, see who she can spare to represent him. Robbards and I have to do the press talk first though.’ He turned to her, and though he still looked tired, there was something reassuringly responsible in his face. ‘Are you definitely all right to do this?’
She nodded. ‘Of course.’
‘Because I wouldn’t be.’
‘That’s different, you’ve got a baby on the way,’ she said. ‘Anyway, I kind of want to.’ She paused. ‘Well, I don’t but I feel I should.’
‘I understand,’ he said, and she believed him. ‘I’ll see you later. Don’t push yourself though, if you need a break, take a break.’
He left, and she collected herself for a few moments before walking in the opposite direction.
The room Marcy was in had been made homely for her. Magical maintenance had conjured chairs, leafy plants and squashy cushions, a wireless had been pinched from Dawlish’s office, and the two Aurors that stood outside at all times took it in turns to replenish a substantial selection of snacks and hot drinks.
Judy was waiting for her, carrying a pot of tea ready. Theia could see the notebook and quill under her arm. She gave a small smile as Theia approached, and asked, ‘ready?’
‘As I’ll ever be,’ Theia replied.
When they entered, Marcy was not occupying herself with her usual knitting or crossword, but staring glumly at the false window in the wall, through which shone misty golden light. Judy slipped quietly to the far corner, while Theia approached carefully.
‘Marcy,’ she said gently, and when Marcy looked up Theia could see dread in her expression.
‘Why am I here?’ she asked. ‘Why can’t I go home?’
Theia sat next to her, and Marcy reached out. They clasped hands, and Theia looked into Marcy’s confused and tearful face. She had rehearsed what to say, but now she found herself trying to think if there was a different way to say it.
‘Marcy, Harry and I found the body of a newborn baby yesterday. We think it might be your baby. I’m very sorry.’
Marcy continued to stare at her, her eyes wet and her lips firmly shut. Theia almost wished she would burst into tears. ‘Where?’ Marcy asked.
‘Just outside the Loney. In an ash tree.’
Marcy nodded slightly. Neither shock nor horror crossed her face, it remained perfectly still and sad. ‘And it’s mine? My baby?’
‘We think so. We’ll do a blood test to be sure.’
Marcy’s chin trembled. ‘Was it a boy or a girl?’
Something was tearing painfully in Theia’s test, and her voice shook as she spoke. ‘A little boy, Marcy.’ Marcy nodded again, her eyes becoming shiner. ‘We thought you might want to name him. And then soon we can give him a proper place to rest.’
Now Marcy did cry, the tears sliding down her cheeks and her lips twitching. She gave a shuddering breath and at last said, ‘Asher.’
Theia couldn’t help the shock that crossed her face. ‘Are… Marcy are you sure?’ It seemed so wrong to her. Morbid and inappropriate.
‘It means blessed,’ said Marcy. ‘Blessed and happy.’
‘All right,’ said Theia, though she still felt awkward and, she hated to admit it, a little disturbed.
‘I knew that I was missing a part of me. I wonder what he would have been like,’ Marcy said. Her voice did not sound distant and confused as it usually did. Just sad. ‘I wonder if he might have loved me.’
‘I’m sure he would,’ said Theia. ‘Marcy, is there anyone else we should tell about this? Anyone that you think could be the father?’
Fresh tears fell from Marcy’s eyes, and she seemed to sway slightly, looking into nowhere. ‘We might have been a family,’ she said.
Theia wanted to grasp her by the shoulders and demand to know who, but Marcy felt like she was made of glass, and her own heart was breaking at this woman’s pain. ‘You and the baby?’ she asked gently. ‘Or with the father too?’
‘All of us,’ she said. Then she closed her eyes. ‘Of course, Pauline wouldn’t have allowed it.’
Theia squeezed Marcy’s hands. ‘Pauline wouldn’t have allowed you to be a family? Why? Who is the father?’
‘No,’ Marcy said dully. Her eyes met Theia’s. ‘What did he look like? Asher.’
Theia’s own lips quivered now. She would remember what the baby looked like for the rest of her life, for he had been there in the cold for weeks. ‘He had black hair,’ she said eventually. ‘Black hair, and he was very small.’ She blinked away tears. ‘His eyes were closed, but I think he had your cheeks.’
‘Were they rosy?’ Marcy asked. ‘Did he have rosy cheeks?’
At last Theia cried, Marcy’s face blurring beyond her tears. ‘Yes,’ she lied. ‘Yes, they were.’
‘Can I see him?’
‘Soon,’ Theia promised, though she knew she shouldn’t have done. ‘Not quite yet, but soon.’
‘I just… Hoped that you would find him and that he would be okay,’ said Marcy.
‘I’m sorry. I hoped that too.’
Now Marcy’s shoulders were shaking, and Theia hugged her, her fingers gripping the back of Marcy’s cardigan, her shoulder becoming wet with tears. She supposed this was how Harry had felt telling her about her mother’s death - that unrelenting feeling of failure and shame.
Harry hated doing press talks. Not only because so many more journalists packed in when he was hosting them (which made him feel he was overshadowing whatever tragedy or horror he was talking about), but because the endless flashing and smoke from the fucking cameras put him on edge.
‘...As we locate and inform next of kin,’ he continued, trying to resist blinking away the splotches of vivid green floating in his vision. He felt Robards gently kick his ankle, and he knew it was his cue to occasionally look up at the swarm of press as he spoke. As soon as he did, there was another crescendo of clicks, bangs and flashes, and he continued his statement a little louder, feeling particularly irritated at how close they were all standing and wishing he could at least have his wand in one hand.
‘Anyone with information they believe could help the case should make contact with the Auror office. Thank you,’ he finished at last, immediately trying to walk away.
‘Mr Potter! Who do you think did it, Mr Potter?’
‘Is You Know Who back again, Mr Potter?’
‘How’s the wife and baby Mr Potter?’
‘Who are the multiple people you have arrested?’
‘What kind of condition were the remains in, Mr Potter?’
Robard’s huge size was at least useful in forcing a pathway through the crowd, and Harry, jaw clenched and trying not to directly look at any of the cameras and give them the shot they were so hoping for, followed. Finally they were back in the golden elevators, and the grill was closed on the shouting and flashing, and the silence grew as they sank slowly away from the atrium. Harry released a breath he wasn’t aware he was holding.
‘Good work on all this,’ said Robards suddenly. ‘Case like this could have been ignored.’
Harry wondered if he should point out that Robards had wanted him to ignore it, but he had promised Hermione to try harder to let things go. ‘Thank you,’ he said. ‘Higglesworth should get some credit too, she has worked very hard to create a relationship with Marcy.’
‘I’m still pissed off mind you,’ Robards said abruptly, ignoring Harry’s praise of his trainee, ‘for getting a Muggle involved in all this mess. You should have obliviated him immediately.’
‘I think he could be useful, Sir,’ said Harry. ‘He knows the little boy that left his bike at the scene. I think, once he’s calmed down and adjusted to it all, he could be helpful in interviewing him.’ When Robards still didn’t look impressed, he added, ‘I’m not even sure who the boy is or where he lives, so we definitely need Ben to help us with that.’
‘They’re Muggles, Potter,’ Robards growled. ‘By the time you’re done explaining everything and reassuring them about the fact their world has just been turned upside down, whatever you needed them for is over and done with. Then you have to disappoint them all over again when they try and learn to do magic themselves. You get too attached, and then it’s horrible obliviating them. Waste of bloody time.’
The elevator dinged, and a gaggle of wizards from Magical Maintenance squeezed in. Harry was forced to the back of the elevator, right next to Robards, who hissed in his ear. ‘You will need to obliviate him eventually.’
‘Don’t get attached,’ he repeated.
‘I haven’t even named him yet,’ said Harry shortly. The glare Robards gave him told Harry that he would pay for his insubordination at some point, but thankfully the ding came again, and he was able to squeeze past Reg (who gave him an enthusiastic grin) and step out onto Hermione’s floor.
He kept his head low as he walked through the department. It was eerily quiet compared to the Auror’s floor, but the lawyers and policy advisors seemed more likely to look up and stare at him as he passed. He supposed this was because their work was very dull, but Hermione always insisted that it was interesting and they were focusing. It was open plan, not even with the cubicle walls that the Auror department had, with glass sound-proof pods dotted around for any necessary confidential discussions.
He avoided the intense gaze of the woman he had written to for information on wizarding child welfare, and soon spotted Hermione’s wild hair constrained in a voluminous ponytail, her typewriter clacking. She didn’t hear him as he approached, and started as he called her name quietly.
‘Merlin, Harry…’ She turned and faced him, her eyes narrowed. ‘What d’you want?’
He leaned against her desk and grinned down at her. ‘You sound a bit suspicious.’
‘I feel like you’re here to give me more work, that’s why.’
‘I am,’ he said apologetically. ‘Osman has changed his mind and wants legal representation.’
‘I’ll see who’s available, I’m certainly not,’ she said, sighing heavily.
‘Come on, you thrive on being busy,’ he replied.
‘I’m thriving,’ she assured him. ‘But I really can’t. You probably wouldn’t want me to be the one to represent him anyway, it could cause problems down the line. And,’ she added wrinkling her nose, ‘I don’t really enjoy criminal law.’ She gestured to her typewriter. ‘I’m really getting somewhere with the adjustments to magical beings legislature.’
He looked at her satisfied, excited face, and decided to show some interest. She spoke to him for a few minutes about centaurs, and then eventually glanced at her watch. ‘Gosh, sorry, I’m rambling. I’ll send someone down this afternoon. I’ll see you on Sunday anyway, right?’
‘At the Burrow, the big meal for Mother’s day.’
Harry swore, and some lawyers nearby turned and scowled. ‘I forgot-’
‘Harry,’ she began warningly. ‘Molly will-’
‘I know, I know, I’ll be there, I just don’t know what to do about Ben.’
‘I have a Muggle living with me-’
‘What?’ Her eyes widened. ‘What on earth d’you-?’
‘It’s a long story- Look, d’you reckon Molly will mind if I bring him?’
‘Of course she won’t, and I expect Arthur will be delighted, but-’
‘Great, can you pass on the message? Maybe I’ll have to bring Theia too-’
‘Great, thanks, bye,’ he said hurriedly, leaving before she could say anymore. He was sure he could feel her gaping at him as he left.
A small diversion to drop off some paperwork, a brief smile to Audrey (who still blushed out of sheer awkwardness whenever she saw him), and he was heading back to the lifts again. He thought about finding something else to do, but now he had to do a task he could no longer put off. As the elevator shuddered, he felt nausea build.
Healer Abasi and Bessie met him outside the morgue.
‘All reet, pet?’ Bessie asked quietly. He nodded at her, and together they pushed through the doors and into the shiny corridor their footsteps echoing, their breath coiling in clouds before them.
‘Which first?’ Bessie asked.
‘The young woman,’ Harry said. ‘Jerome is confirming that it’s who we think it is as we speak.’
Bessie nodded, and pulled open the metal drawer.
Harry looked down at her.
The bones lay neatly. Evenly spaced. Carefully straightened and labelled. Harry felt sure, immediately, that each one had been handled with the utmost care. As a child he had imagined skeletons as pure white, but the bones here were more of a mottled yellowish brown, aged by the peat soil in the Loney, fragmented and broken by the passing of time. The skull was blank and hollow, no trace of the girl that had blown kisses in her photos.
Around the bones were other items - scraps of fabric that he thought may have once been red or pink, the curled soles of a pair of shoes, rusted hair slides. A space lay empty where the watch had been, now in Jerome’s possession, in the hopes that Connie’s mother would recognise it as her daughter.
‘It is hard to say, of course,’ began Bessie. ‘Magic doesn’t leave many traces on bones.’
‘I’m surprised there are still bones at all,’ said Harry. ‘After all these years.’
‘Well, it’s all to do with the conditions,’ said Bessie. ‘It’s peat soil up there, which is why we have very little organic matter left - most of the clothes have rotted away - because it’s so acidic. But because she was buried close to the stream, the ground there is quite boggy, so the bones have actually been preserved very well in the peat, even some skin remains around the base of the spine and hips, as well as some hair at the back of the skull. If it had been a little damper we might have even been able to see internal organs, details on the skin like tattoos, even expressions.’
Harry felt revolted. He was sure that would have been more useful to the case for there to have been more, but he preferred to think of bodies quickly but gently crumbling into dust. Dry and clean and peaceful. Sinking back into the earth. But of course he knew it wasn’t like that.
Bessie leaned over and with a gloved hand, rotated the skull. ‘You see?’ she said. ‘Blonde hair.’
‘That would make sense,’ Harry said, giving it only the briefest of glances. ‘Connie was blonde. ‘So you can’t tell a cause of death at all?’
‘No,’ said Bessie. ‘Likely it was done by magic. There’s nothing to suggest any blunt force trauma or strangulation or anything like that. Though of course she could have sustained an injury that didn’t leave a mark on any bones.’
‘But the timeline lines up with what we suspect?’
‘Yes. Burial around the time she went missing and the suspected age lines up too. I would be very surprised if this wasn’t your missing girl. Though something that is interesting...’
She pointed to various bones - joints, mostly, at the knees and hips and elbows, but also the ribs. When Harry looked closer, he could see something he had assumed was the bones rotting away - tiny hollows and holes making the smooth bone rough.
‘This looks to me like the late stages of dragon pox,’ said Bessie. ‘Not always, of course, but it did tend to mostly affect the elderly and very young children. There was a pandemic at the time, but there’s nothing to suggest your missing girl was seriously ill with it when she meant missing. If there’s anything to indicate it isn’t her, this is it.’
‘As there is hair,’ said Healer Abasi, ‘I could take some, and create a potion similar to the blood test. To compare against her mother.’
‘Let’s do that if she doesn’t recognise the watch,’ said Harry, who did not want Bessie to turn the skull over again.’
Bessie nodded, and closed the drawer. Harry knew what was coming now, and tried to keep his face perfectly still as Bessie opened the next drawer.
‘Exposed to the elements a little more, this one,’ said Bessie gently.
‘Yes,’ said Harry, and his voice seemed hoarse. The baby was so tiny.
‘Been through the mill, as well. Derwent’s Disease, very advanced. Seems to have been the cause of death.’
‘Sorry?’ He looked at her, bewildered, and she pointed at the tiny, thin limbs.
‘It was discovered in the 1700s,’ said Healer Abasi. ‘Some children are born with it, though it’s extremely rare. People used to blame Squibs, said they were stealing the magic and life of children, but we now know it’s when something goes wrong with the magic in children. It corrupts their muscles and they waste away. With the treatment Professor Derwent developed they make make it to the age of seven or so, but very rarely do they make Hogwarts age.’
‘That’s awful,’ said Harry, who was now full of fear about his own unborn child. ‘There’s nothing that can be done at all?’
‘No, not yet unfortunately.’
Harry looked down at the corpse of the little baby. ‘So this is how he died?’
‘Well, that’s the odd thing,’ said Bessie. ‘He’s a newborn, but this is very advanced. You don’t usually see any signs until a child starts to walk.’
‘So it might not be Derwent’s Disease,’ said Harry. ‘It could be dark magic?’ As he spoke, Healer Abasi leaned down and took a sample from the baby, for use in a potion to identify parentage.
‘I would say so,’ said Bessie. ‘An unusually cruel way to kill a child though, and for what?’
There was an uncomfortable, hot prickling in Harry’s eyes. Healer Abasi pocketed her vial and took a step back. ‘I’ve seen enough,’ he said gruffly.’
Bessie obediently closed the drawer. ‘I think with both we can start arranging funerals,’ she said carefully. ‘I have documented everything, there’s no need to keep them here any longer.’
Harry nodded. ‘I’ll let you know. Thank you, Bessie.’
‘No problem, pet,’ she led him to the door. ‘I know it’s easier said than done, but don’t let this get to yeh. Your own bairn’ll be coming soon, and I don’t want you thinking about this.’
But Harry knew that this was one of those cases that he would always think about. As Bessie waved them goodbye and he walked Healer Abasi back to the fireplaces in the atrium, he could not forget the tiny body on the cold metal, and his wife at home, her great rounded belly and how it sometimes shifted and moved beneath the surface, tiny, unknown limbs pressing against her.
‘Are there tests you can do?’ he asked Healer Abasi. ‘To know if your kid has it?’
‘Yes, if you suspect it,’ she replied calmly. ‘There is a certain potion that turns a certain colour. But believe me, Mr Potter, it is incredibly rare. I know of only one current case in the world at the moment, out in Sri Lanka, and another suspected case in Argentina.’
‘When my child is born, I’d like you to do the test,’ he said abruptly.
‘Please,’ he said firmly. ‘There’s a whole bunch of them you do at the first weigh-in, isn’t there? And the vaccination for Dragon Pox and what not. Just do it then, if it’s possible.’
‘I’m not your wife’s midwitch-’
‘Well tell her to do it then. If it’s a difficult potion or too expensive to justify or whatever, I’ll pay-’
‘You don’t need to pay, Mr Potter,’ she said soothingly. ‘I’ll speak to the Head of St Mungo’s. I’m sure for you we can pull some strings.’
For once, he was glad that he was the Boy Who Lived.
They reached an empty fireplace, and she was about to step into it when he seized her arm. ‘Before you go,’ he blurted out, ‘has anyone with the disease ever made it to adulthood? Or developed it late? Or had something similar?’
‘I’m not sure,’ she replied. ‘I don’t think so. I’ll look into it for you.’
‘Right. Thanks.’ She nodded and patted him on the arm before stepping forward and vanishing in a whirl of flames. He was left in the busy and noisy atrium, thinking about Osman’s limp.
Back to index
Chapter 12: Chapter 12Theia had still not returned from speaking to Marcy, so Harry went to speak with Pauline alone. He was grateful - he wasn’t sure why, but part of him felt embarrassed at the idea of someone else being there. As though he were confronting an old school bully.
Like Osman, Pauline looked more than put out at being there, chewing on her tongue and rapping her fingers against the bare desk in front of her, throwing a filthy look at Harry when he entered.
‘Mrs Swindlehurst-’ he began.
‘It’s Pauline,’ she said huffily. ‘This is ridiculous. I en’t got nothing to do with any of it.’
Harry raised his eyebrows slight and sat. He tapped his wand against the desk, and the manilla file he had summoned appeared there.
‘I’m sure,’ he said calmly. ‘But you might be able to help us all the same. I’m sure you want that, don’t you?’
She scowled at him. ‘You must think I was born yesterday. You arrested me on suspicion, don’t try and play nice pretending you just want a chat.’
‘Al right,’ he said coldly. ‘I think you do have something to do with this, or at the very least you’ve done something you don’t want us to know about. The more you cooperate, the easier it will be for everyone. So let’s start at the beginning, shall we?’ He opened up the file and pulled out a photo of Marcy. ‘Tell me about your relationship with Marcy.’
‘Eh? What’s that got to do with anything?’
She spoke too quickly for Harry to believe her confusion was genuine. ‘I would like you to tell me about her childhood. How did you come to be looking after her?’
‘Well her parents didn’t want a squib,’ Pauline said, as though it were obvious.
‘But you did?’
‘I felt sorry for the poor mite. Even when they were looking after her she’d come round ours for tea - her’n Ella would play.’
‘Got along, did they?’
‘But then her mum died,’ Harry said. ‘Must have been tough on the family. The whole community.’
Pauline shrugged callously. ‘Everyone was dropping dead of dragon pox then. Sad n’all but we had our own grieving to do.’
‘You lost someone too?’ Harry asked. ‘Your husband?’
‘Yeah,’ she replied, her expression emotionless.
‘We don’t have any record of another wizard living there. I was going to ask-’
‘Well you wouldn’t,’ said Pauline. ‘He weren’t from the country and he never went to Hogwarts. He was a wizard though,’ she added aggressively. ‘He just didn’t see why any of you lot had to know about us. Didn’t want to send our Ella to school, but I said to him the quill would have wrote her name down as soon as she did some magic anyway, so what difference would it make?’
‘Was he trying to hide from anyone?’
‘I dunno, do I? He just liked his privacy, we all does round here. What does it matter? It’s been years.’
‘You didn’t take his name when you married?’
‘Went back to Swindlehurst later, but kept the Mrs for him.’
He surveyed her carefully. She didn’t seem emotionally affected talking about her husband, but he supposed that could well be due to the passing of time. All the same, he thought it was odd for a widow to change her name back.
‘Was Marcy jealous of Ella? For going to Hogwarts.’
‘Course she was.’ A smile twitched over Pauline’s face. ‘Ooh, they used to fight. But kids do, don’t they? They love a good scrap.’
Harry remembered games of Harry Hunting when he was a child. ‘Who won the scraps?’
‘How should I know? You’re talking forty years ago, mate.’
‘At this point, Marcy’s father was still alive, correct?’
‘Yeah, but he didn’t have much to do with her. I looked after her.’
She rolled her eyes. ‘You thick or something? I felt sorry for her.’
‘The thing is, Pauline, I don’t really believe you.’ She stared at him, and he waited a few moments before swallowing slightly and saying, ‘Marcy seems to look up to you a lot, but I’ve not once heard you say anything positive about her.’
‘She’s a sweet girl,’ Pauline said irritably.
‘But she’s not a girl,’ said Harry. ‘She’s a woman. Her and Ornella are roughly the same age.’
‘Well, she’s always not been quite right,’ said Pauline. ‘Mentally, I mean. We all talk about her like she’s a kid, because that’s what she is, really.’
‘Really?’ said Harry mildly, and he pulled a book out of the folder. ‘Look at this. All these crosswords and sudoku squares and word games. She’s smart.’
He flicked through the neatly filled in pages, and watched Pauline’s face. ‘Well yeah, at that stuff,’ she said at last. ‘But she can’t brew a potion, can she?’
‘No, because she’s a squib,’ said Harry impatiently. ‘But she’s smart.’
‘You’ve spoken to her,’ said Pauline. ‘You know she isn’t. Gets confused and babbles on about nothing, she’s never had any sense-’
‘I’ve got no evidence she’s always been like that,’ said Harry. ‘In fact, I think that’s quite new.’
Pauline fell into silence, and Harry thought he saw a faint blush appear over her wide cheeks.
He closed the book and returned it to the folder. ‘Pauline, Marcy said she goes to yours for mother’s day every year. Would you say she sees you as a mother?’
‘Maybe,’ she said. ‘Since her own mam died.’
‘Do you see her as a daughter?’
Pauline stared at him for a long time. Finally, in a clear, cold voice, she said, ‘no.’
‘Ella is my daughter. I carried her for nine months then she came screaming into the world. You can’t describe the love that comes with that. No one else will ever come close.’
‘My godson isn’t my own blood, but I love him just as much,’ Harry said. ‘A wizarding family took me in as a child and treated me as one of their own.’
Pauline gave him a pitying smile. ‘You’ll see what I mean when your baby is born.’
‘Love is a choice,’ Harry said firmly. ‘You choose to love a child, just as Marcy’s parents apparently chose not to.’
Pauline shrugged. ‘I wouldn’t say that. Her dad made sure she was all right.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘Gave us a monthly stipend. Make sure she didn’t go hungry.’
‘Ah,’ said Harry, leaning back in his chair. ‘So now we come to it. There was a financial incentive.’
She tutted. ‘Oh please. It’s not easy adding another kid to the mix when you live off the land and flogging a few potion ingredients here and there. I didn’t get much off him. Just enough to feed and clothe her until she came of age.’
‘He died before then though, didn’t he?’ said Harry. ‘When she was fifteen?’
‘There were provisions in his will,’ Pauline replied smoothly. ‘He didn’t want her, but he didn’t want her to suffer either. He knew I could take better care of her.’
‘And then she inherited the house up the road?’
‘Yeah, not that she ever stayed in it. Always hanging round us and Ella.’
Harry thought that was an odd way to put it. Like a stray cat the mewled outside the door. He was increasingly seeing a picture of neglect and irritation towards Marcy - this burden that needed maintaining.
‘Why didn’t she leave?’ he asked. ‘When she grew up?’
‘And do what? Hadn’t been to school, had she?’
‘She could have got a Muggle job.’
Pauline snorted. ‘She doesn’t know nothing about Muggles. She won’t even go into the village.’
Pauline shrugged. ‘Muggles? Strangers? I don’t know. The Loney was all she knew.’
‘I see. Did she have any relationships?’
‘With men. We heard from someone else that she had a reputation.’
She gave a scathing chuckle. ‘If it was my brother that said that, ignore him. He thinks that about all women except me and mum.’
‘So she didn’t?’
‘Not that I know of.’
‘She must have got pregnant from someone. My colleague and I smelled amortentia in your home. You didn’t have anything to do with it?’
‘Well, I would have liked her to have a relationship,’ she said lightly. ‘Nothing illegal about brewing a love potion.’
‘No,’ Harry admitted. ‘Not yet. But certain use, especially with Muggles, heads into some pretty grey legal areas. I think your daughter may have used it on a Muggle in order to have children.’
‘You’ll have to speak to her about that.’
Harry had heard enough. He pulled out the next piece of evidence from the file, the gruesome picture of what they had found in the tree.
‘God,’ Pauline muttered, looking away with revulsion. ‘What’s wrong with you? Why’re you showing me that?’
‘When I first met you,’ Harry said, ignoring her distress, ‘you told me that Marcy had a stillbirth at the Muggle hospital in Lancaster. Now we find her baby in the Loney, and you’re telling me she’s actually never left the area.’
‘Well that’s what she told me,’ Pauline snapped. ‘I didn’t mean she’s never left the Loney ever, don’t twist my words. She told me she went to hospital and the baby was born dead. She never said she left it anywhere. It’s her you should be questioning not me.’
Harry slid the photo closer to her. ‘The baby is a little boy. Newborn.’
‘Nothing to do with me,’ Pauline said, with a hard edge to her voice. ‘Poor little mite.’ When Harry stayed silent, she suddenly spoke up. ‘What probably happened was Marcy had the baby and it was born dead. She left it in the tree and went mad from grief and thought she went to hospital.’
Harry sighed. He suddenly felt an extreme sort of grief. ‘I’ve got two issues with that, Pauline,’ he said. ‘The first is that I think if Marcy is so unfamiliar with the Muggle world she wouldn’t imagine a hospital at all. And if it was part of some delusion she would have said something along those lines to me or my colleague-’
‘Well she had been to the hospital lots of times-’
‘I’ll get to that,’ said Harry, raising a hand to quieten her interruption. ‘But the biggest issue I have is that I have never mentioned the tree where this baby was found to you.’
The silence was cold and horrified. Pauline’s face betrayed that she knew she had slipped up. ‘I just guessed,’ she said lamely.
‘What a good guess,’ Harry replied dryly. His eyes met her cold grey ones, and for the first time he saw weakness in them.
‘I just know she goes there a lot,’ Pauline said. ‘It’s a pretty place.’
‘Do many of you walk there? For the scenery?’
‘Sure, if you want.’
‘What about your mother?’
‘She can barely walk,’ said Pauline, looking almost bored.
‘My colleague saw her walking, quite rapidly, in the early hours of the morning.’
‘Your colleague should get her head checked.’
Harry almost laughed, the exhale shrugging his shoulders. He pulled back the photo, and replaced it with another.
‘Do you know what this is?’
Pauline did not look surprised. ‘A skeleton.’
‘Do you know who it is?’
She squared her shoulders and looked back up at him. ‘No.’
‘We found these remains under the tree you mentioned.’
‘Things are not looking good for you, Pauline. Are you sure you wouldn’t like a lawyer? Because from where I’m standing you seem to have an odd relationship with the woman whose baby has just turned up dead at a place you suggested without prompting.’
‘Don’t need a lawyer, I’ve done fuck all,’ said Pauline coldly. She leaned forward. ‘And you know what? You thinking I’ve been mean to Marcy isn’t evidence. Neither is me hearing about where you found bodies before you arrested me. You think you’ve been subtle? Everyone in the Loney has known about what you and that girl have been doing every step of the way. Things might not be looking good, but you can’t charge me, can you? I don’t need a lawyer to know that.’
Theia left Marcy with Judy, barely noticing her hunger from skipping lunch. After so much crying, she felt as though she had a head cold, occasionally sniffing and dabbing at her nose as though it were running, but it wasn’t.
She realised that she had missed the scheduled chat with Pauline, so she went straight back up to the office she shared with Harry. As she entered, Vali jumped up onto her shoulders, wrapping himself around her like a scarf.
‘Hello,’ she said thickly, scratching his head and feeling him purr against her neck. ‘Has Harry been feeding you enough?’
She pointed her wand at the kettle and heard it begin to bubble. The cat leapt off her shoulders as she sat heavily on the scruffy leather sofa with a great sigh, putting her wand between her knees as she rubbed her eyes, humming Aretha Franklin’s Son of a Preacher Man under her breath.
The cup of tea floated across the room towards her and she seized it. ‘Thank you,’ she said to the empty air that had handed it to her, then snorted with slightly despairing amusement.
She sat there drinking it quietly, thinking about her mother, and Dennis, letting the passing of time slide over her without awareness, until the door opened again and Harry entered. He looked as tired as she felt.
‘All right? How did it go with Pauline?’
‘I’ll fill you in when I’ve had some food,’ he said grumpily. ‘Nasty bitch.’
Theia blinked. She rarely heard Harry speak so viciously about anyone.
He didn’t bother with magic, just went straight to the kettle and began clattering about with mugs, ignoring the cat that rubbed against his legs. ‘Marcy’s had no one,’ he said shortly. ‘Her whole life. At least I had the Weasleys. I’m sure all those injuries the Muggle doctor mentioned came from Pauline or Ella.’
Theia now felt extremely uncomfortable; Harry’s rage made her feel that she was missing something massive. Before she could tentatively ask anything, he leaned against the tea trolly and violently stirred sugar into his mug, shooting her a look that she couldn’t place. ‘How do you feel about having lunch with the Weasleys on Sunday?’ he asked. ‘Or, actually, now that I think about it, just babysitting Ben?’
‘I can’t,’ she said, and she was honestly sorry. ‘I promised Marcy we would have lunch together then.’ She hesitated. ‘Won’t Ben want to spend Sunday with his own family?’
‘His mum died too,’ Harry said bluntly. ‘When he was quite young, a muggle illness. He told me at mine after some whiskey.’
‘Oh,’ said Theia. She wished Harry hadn’t brought up the thing that united them all. She hated to admit it but she often felt that her own tragedy was hers alone - an outlier, a shocking, terrible thing. When she was reminded that everyone lost their mother at some point or another, all in their own unique and terrible way, it reminded her that her suffering was nothing special. Still though, it was nice to know that she shared something with Ben. ‘Well, maybe he could come with me to-’
‘No, I don’t want to involve him in the case any further than necessary,’ said Harry. ‘We’re going to go ahead with the scheduled chat with that kid, and keep him around to get a sense of the people he knows, then he can go home.’ He was staring into the mid-distance, then he looked down at his tea. ‘I wish this was firewhiskey.’
‘Are you all right?’
‘Yes,’ he said sharply. ‘How was Marcy?’
She told him, and his expression didn’t move, but at one point, eyes still fixed on her, he reached for his notepad and jotted something down. She recounted everything she could remember - every phrase exactly as spoken, every thought that crossed her mind, and he listened without interruption.
‘Harry,’ she said at one point, unable to keep the horror from her voice, ‘she has named the baby Asher!’
‘That’s weird,’ he replied, and she felt relieved that he agreed that it was a strange, morbid choice.
She continued, even begin to pace, hands gesturing, recounting the horrible drama of it all.
‘Right,’ he said when she finished. ‘Want to grab lunch before we go onto the next interview?’
‘Yes,’ she replied, only now realising the dull hunger pangs in her stomach. ‘The cafeteria?’
‘No, I want somewhere quiet, let’s find a Muggle cafe,’ he said, grabbing his coat. ‘And talk about stuff other than the case.’
‘Good idea,’ she said wearily.
They left the Ministry and walked up to Trafalgar square, the rumbling traffic and heaving crowds of tourists and civil servants and school trips wrapping them in swarming anonymity. They headed to the Admiralty pub, where Harry ordered steak and ale pie (along with a pint) and Theia chose a jerk chicken sandwich. They talked quietly about Quidditch, Theia trying to disguise her lack of knowledge, and how much both Harry and Ginny missed playing it.
‘How is she?’ Theia asked. ‘Ginny and the baby.’
‘Good,’ said Harry, and she saw him grin as raised his pint to his lips. He swallowed his ale and she thought that for the first time that day he looked relaxed. ‘Not long now, I’ve nearly got the nursery ready. Well, I say that, but Ginny keeps rearranging all the furniture, then putting it all back.’
‘Apparently it’s called nesting. I’m assured it’s common and it’s also the reason she emptied the kitchen cupboards.’
‘She can come and do mine if she likes,’ said Theia. ‘Mine are an unorganised mess.’ He chuckled, and she was about to move on to talk about something else when Harry suddenly spoke.
‘And of course she’s having lots of tests to make sure the baby is healthy.’
‘Are there concerns?’ she asked, quite taken aback.
‘Oh, no,’ he said distractedly, but she noticed that he was gripping his fork quite tightly. ‘But you can’t be too careful, you know?’
‘Well what will happen if you find out the baby isn’t healthy?’
He hesitated. ‘I… I don’t know. I suppose at least we’ll be prepared. Not likely though, is it?’
‘No, of course not.’
‘No. No reason for it.’ He took another long drink. ‘I dropped Teddy once,’ he blurted out. ‘When he was a baby. But he bounced like rubber back into my arms.’
‘Baby wizards are pretty resilient,’ said Theia laughing.
‘Right. Yeah.’ He drank again. ‘I can’t remember if he had all his vaccinations and protective spells, either,’ he said. ‘I’ll need to talk to Andromeda.’
‘Er… OK,’ said Theia. ‘I’m sure he did, or they can do them now.’
‘Yeah,’ he said vaguely. ‘I’ll just feel bad if I forgot, you know?’
‘Are you all right, Harry?’
‘Yes, of course. Are you?’ he added aggressively.
‘Er… A bit upset after talking with Marcy-’
‘God, yes, obviously. Sorry.’
Theia picked at her chips, feeling highly uncomfortable. Harry also looked awkward, furiously stabbing at a chunk of his pie, his face slightly pink. ‘So you’re going to the Weasleys this weekend?’ she said brightly, desperately hoping that he would cheer up.
‘Yeah, they’ve turned it into a whole thing, it gets bigger every year. It’s more of a spring garden party now. I’m going to have to bring Ben, which will be… interesting.’
‘I’m sure he’ll love it.’
He eyed her. ‘Nice bloke, isn’t he?’
‘Who, Ben? Yeah, I suppose.’
‘Thinks highly of you,’ he said, and she thought she saw a mischievous glint in his eye.
‘Well who wouldn’t?’ she said with an awkward attempt at bravado. ‘Must have been weird telling him. Going to be even weirder to wipe his memory.’
‘Mmm,’ said Harry, tilting his head while he chewed on the last of his lunch. ‘Yeah, we’ll see about that.’
‘I know you’re the boss and everything so I shouldn’t be giving you career advice, but you really ought to do what Robards says once in a while.’
‘Nah,’ he said, leaning back and lazily pushing his cutlery together. ‘I think he enjoys telling me off, don’t want to deprive him of that.’
‘Probably looking forward to telling the grandkids about how he gave a written warning to The Chosen One.’
‘Shut it,’ said Harry, and Theia grinned at him as they rose to leave. ‘You sure you want to be with Marcy on Sunday? It’ll be a bit bleak.’
‘I know it won’t be easy,’ she admitted. ‘But it won’t be easy for either of us, so I’d like to be there.’ She gave him a sideways glance and hesitating before continuing, knowing how much he disliked talking about deeply personal topics. ‘Are you going to be all right? I assume it’s tough for you too.’
‘Not really,’ he said, as they stepped back out into Trafalgar Square. ‘It’s a bit different now I have a mother-in-law I suppose, but I’ve never really thought about it. Ted was sweet about Father’s Day last year though, I think he might be getting to the age where he starts to wonder.’
‘Gave me a card he made, I think he’d been asking Andromeda about who he could give one to.’
‘Yeah,’ said Harry, smiling slightly. ‘I think he’s all right, you know.’
‘Yeah I mean you probably have really good insight on it all as an orphan too,’ Theia blurted out without thinking. ‘You’ll know the right things to say and what to avoid and the feelings he’ll have. He’s really lucky to have you as a godfather.’
There was a long pause. Theia thought her face might be on fire. Harry looked distinctly uncomfortable, but half a smile crossed his face. ‘You’ve never quite mastered thinking before you speak, have you, Higglesworth?’
‘No,’ said Theia apologetically. It was a silent, but not necessarily awkward, walk back down Whitehall to the Ministry.
It was the person she had been desperate to interview - the one she felt should have been interviewed first thing. The anticipation with which her heart thudded did not overwhelm her, but seemed to give her a dark sort of energy. Not quite excitement, and certainly not dread, but something she thought would feel like vengence. It was the same feeling she felt when she returned from Azkaban visits.
Harry led them in, and though he greeted their interviewee, Theia simply sat silently. She stared into the ancient, lined face of the woman that had inexplicably terrified her. Unlike the others, Alma’s health and age had meant that they felt obligated to provide her with a lawyer, and she had not argued. The lawyer, a young, thin man, sat silently next to her, giving only a slight nod to them both as they readied themselves.
Alma Swindlehurst also seemed to be at far more comfort in the interviewing room than Osman or Pauline had been, yawning heavily, her watery eyes opening and closing slowly, the gnarled, claw like hands playing casually with the wooden beads that hung from her neck. ‘Ey up,’ she mumbled, in her thick Lancashire accent.
‘Hello, Mrs Swindlehurst,’ said Harry. ‘I assume Mr Pyke has informed you of your rights and what the process here today is?’
‘Oh yes,’ she said. Theia realised that she was so old she could barely speak, mumbling everything with a vacant expression.
‘Excellent,’ said Harry. ‘My name is Harry Potter and this is my colleague Theia Higglesworth. We met only very briefly before, but we weren’t introduced.’
‘Did we? Oh.’ Her tongue slipped out and she wetted her papery lips. ‘What can I help thee with?’
‘Mrs Swindlehurst, I wonder if you could tell us why you were walking around at 3am earlier this week?’
The beads clinked together, or was it on her boney fingers? Theia wished she would leave them alone.
‘Three ay em?’
‘Three in the morning, yes, or thereabouts.’
‘Don’t know wot yeh were skennin’ at-’
‘Mrs Swindlehurst, I saw you,’ said Theia. ‘I saw you out on the fell. With a candle.’
‘Well, I don’t remember. Me mind en’t what it used to be, duck. I did always like night walks though.’
‘Why?’ Harry asked. ‘Odd time to go for a walk, you can’t see anything.’
‘Eeh, what about the stars, duck? An’ the moon an’ all. The shadows they cast on the fells. Nowt like the night for an old soul.’
‘You have arthritis, is that right, Mrs Swindlehurst?’
‘Oh me old joints? Aye.’
‘I saw you walking at some speed,’ said Theia. ‘It seems you can move far quicker than you let on.’
‘No,’ said the old woman. She looked neither surprised not perturbed, and the flat denial unsettled Theia somewhat.
One of the first pieces of advice she had been given when training to be an Auror was that sometimes it was better to stay silent and let the guilty party slip up for the sheer sake of breaking the awkward tension. But no matter how long she and Harry sat and stared coldly, Alma Swindlehurst seemed to be at no discomfort, her eyes glazing over as though she was allowing her mind to wander, her lips sometimes moving in a slow, bored sort of way, but never opening.
Eventually, Harry showed her the photos.
‘Poor bairns,’ she said.
‘Do you know what happened to either of them?’
‘No,’ she replied. She looked at Theia. ‘Could I get a brew? I’m parched love.’
Fury filled her, she felt her nostrils flare but tried to otherwise remain composed, taking her wand and flicking it in the air. She kept her eyes fixed on the harmless-looking old woman as beside her a cup of tea appeared.
‘Ta,’ Alma said as it floated towards her.
‘Ms Swindlehurst,’ said Harry, his voice measured. ‘Let’s not waste each others time.’ He tapped the photo of the baby. ‘This is Marcy’s baby. He didn’t come from nowhere. Tell me what you know.’
‘Not much, love,’ she replied. ‘I don’t remember much these days.’
‘How old are you exactly?’ Theia blurted out. ‘I couldn’t find records about you.’
‘Old,’ she said vaguely. ‘Didn’t go to school.’
‘Neither did your daughter,’ said Harry. ‘Odd, isn’t it?’
‘Ella only went because she insisted,’ Alma said. ‘I didn’t approve.’
‘Why would you not approve? Why shouldn’t they go to Hogwarts?’
‘Not our way.’ That seemed answer enough, and she fell back into silence without elaborating.
‘Where did you learn magic then?’
‘Me mam,’ she said, then sipped her tea. ‘Old magic’s best anyways.’
‘In what way?’ Theia asked. ‘Why wouldn’t you go and learn all you could at school?’
‘Ms Swindlehurst, did you ever witness Marcy being beaten or mistreated in anyway?’ Harry asked.
‘Everyone beats their bairns when they need it,’ she mumbled. ‘I know it’s not the done thing now, but it was normal in my time.’
‘I’m talking about serious injuries. Broken bones.’
Bizarrely, she clicked her tongue. ‘Rough and tumble mostly,’ she said. ‘Children, you know.’
‘But why, then, was she taken to a Muggle hospital for healing?’ Harry asked. ‘As a squib, she’s entitled to treatment at St Mungos, if no one in the Loney knew the right spells.’
‘Best people stay where they belong,’ Alma said, still with that ancient, croaky voice. ‘Non magic folk with non magic folk, the rest of us to ourselves.’
‘Why do you think that?’
‘Just best that way.’
‘So you don’t mind that Ella’s children have a Muggle father?’
Alma gave a small, creaking shrug, her deep blue eyes rolling to the ceiling. ‘We’re people, not dogs. The lines don’t have to be pure, they’ve just got to be magic.’ Her eyes narrowed. ‘You’ll not be accusing me of being a Death Eater, now will you?’ she said sharply.
‘You cannot accuse my client of crimes that you haven’t-’ began Mr Pryce.
‘I’m not,’ Harry said smoothly. ‘I’m just… I’m very confused about the family dynamics at work here, as I’m sure you can understand.’
‘Of course I can understand,’ said Alma, still in a gentle, grandmotherly voice. ‘You don’t ‘ave a family so it will be harder for you to know. You’ll never understand those things.’
Theia couldn’t help but let her jaw drop, but Harry remained remarkably unfazed. ‘Doesn’t seem fair,’ he said, ‘that you know my family history but I don’t know yours.’
‘Not my fault you’re famous, duck,’ she said. She looked back down at the photos, and blinked. After a few moments, she unfolded her withered hands and gestured, palms to the ceiling. ‘I’m sorry. I wish I could help you. Poor bairns.’
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Chapter 13: Chapter 13He knew that she was irritated with him, and he also knew that she was not yet brave enough to call him up on what was bothering her. She would be wondering, no doubt, why he had avoided asking Alma about the sinister incident with the sheep, but he had his own ideas quietly brewing in the back of his mind. He supposed she thought her fear of the old woman was unfounded or silly. It wasn’t, but rather than waste time trying to put his vague, unconnected hunch into words, he simply allowed Theia to walk sullenly beside him in silence as they went to the next interview.
They peered through a window into one office where some junior Aurors were sitting awkwardly with a crying toddler and squirming baby. One of them looked hopefully up at Harry, expecting to be relieved of her babysitting duties, but he moved on, feeling a stab of guilt as he saw the toddler refusing to be distracted by toys and instead calling for his mother.
They bumped into Proudfoot in the corridor, who informed them that a lawyer had been found for Osman. ‘But he says he needs time to speak to his client and understand the case,’ he said. ‘I’m not sure you’ll have time to go back today.’
‘That’s fine,’ said Harry, still a little distracted as he looked back at the office with children. ‘I don’t think he needs to stay here, but go and see Susan about getting approval for the seizure of his wand and establishing his house arrest. Send one of the law enforcement team home with him too just in case.’
‘Send him home?’ asked Proudfoot blankly.
‘He’s got a dog we forgot about,’ Harry said absent-mindedly as he walked off.
‘Are you sure?’ asked Theia, hurrying to catch up. ‘Osman is still a suspect.’
‘Yeah, he is, but-’ he turned suddenly, and shouted at Proudfoot’s back. ‘Try and subtly mention it was me who said he could go home!’ Without turning, Proudfoot raised a hand and gave him a thumbs up. He turned back to Theia. ‘We’ll need to talk to him again, but he’ll be more use somewhere he’s comfortable, I think.’
‘If you say so,’ she said. ‘You better not send that creepy old woman home though.’
‘No,’ he assured her.
Theia opened the door to the interview room. Like her mother and Osman, Ornella had declined the offer of legal representation, but she had none of the their calmness. She paced, up and down, her shaking hands wringing and jumping to tug at her own wild reddish-brown hair.
‘I want to see my sons,’ she said immediately as they entered. ‘You can’t keep me from them, it’s wrong, totally wrong-’
‘This is ridiculous, you’re corrupt, you-’
‘St down,’ said Harry firmly, taking his own seat. Beside him, Theia set up the quill and paper. Ornella glanced at it, her hands still gripping her hair madly, then pursed her lips and stormed towards them. She pulled her chair out aggressively and slumped into it, holding one clenched hand in front of her mouth as though trying to restrain herself from crying.
‘Your children are fine, they’re well taken care of and hopefully we can get this over with quickly,’ said Harry.’ He hesitated. ‘I should remind you that covering for others, no matter how much you love them, is a crime. Your best chance of going home with them and staying there is by cooperating fully.’
‘Yes,’ she said shakily. ‘I understand.’ She was blinking rapidly, her leg bouncing nervously.
Harry gave a great sigh as he pulled out the manilla file. He was quickly growing tired of seeing the photos. When he closed his eyes he was sure they were burned into his retinas.
‘God,’ Ornella said, looking away sharply.
‘I’m going to cut to the chase, Ornella,’ he said. ‘Because honestly, I’m tired, and I’ve heard enough. Something weird has happened and this is the result.’
Ornella stole a glance at the photos and looked away again.
‘I…’ Harry sighed again. He could feel impatience rising in him. ‘I have talked to your mother. Your grandmother. Mr Osman. A colleague of mine is interviewing your uncle because I don’t have time. Quite frankly I think all of you are shifty bastards, and all of you are hiding something.’
‘Don’t give me that privacy bollocks, I’m sick of it,’ he snapped. He felt Theia’s shocked stare. Ornella faltered. The silence stewed. ‘You never liked Marcy, did you?’ he prompted.
Her expression changed. Softer, more vacant. Some long ago memory was surely stirring behind her eyes. ‘No,’ she said calmly. ‘No I didn’t.’
‘Why not?’ asked Harry. ‘You had everything. You had a loving family, you had magic. She had nothing but abuse, indifference at the very best. No place in either world. A complete outsider.’
‘I wouldn’t say I had a loving family,’ said Ornella, with a sardonic smile. ‘Why do you think I pushed so hard to go to Hogwarts?’
‘Who wouldn’t want to go to Hogwarts?’
‘Plenty of people wouldn’t,’ she replied calmly. ‘I had some wonderful years there, but my place is in the Loney. I was always going to go back.’
‘What for?’ asked Theia. ‘There’s nothing there. If it wasn’t a loving family why would you stay?’
Ornella rolled her eyes, and turned back to Harry. ‘I hated Marcy because at least she had a purpose for my family to keep her there.’ She looked back down at the photos and swallowed as though summoning courage. ‘I…’ She looked back up at him. ‘If I cooperate, I can go home?’
‘It would certainly help.’
She ran her hand through her hair anxiously again, her eyes gazing down at the photos. ‘They’ll kill me if I say.’
‘We can offer you protection,’ said Theia urgently. ‘There’s no need to be afraid.’
She gave a whimper and buried her face in her hands. ‘It was Uncle Oeric,’ she whispered. ‘I didn’t see it. I have no evidence. But I’m telling you. This is his doing.’
She looked back at them through trembling fingers. Harry yawned. ‘Sorry,’ he said, ignoring Theia’s horrified face. ‘I’m not being rude, I’m just shattered.’ He pulled the photos back and scratched his head, yawning again. ‘So, why do you say that, Ornella.’
‘He’s a violent man. Nasty man. We all know that he’s the father of Marcy’s baby.’
‘He abused her?’ asked Theia.
‘He abused every woman he could get his hands on,’ said Ornella. ‘I was protected by Mum, of course, but she always warned me never to be alone with him.’
‘Seems like she could have just moved you away,’ said Harry. ‘Or made sure he went to prison for a long time rather than drifting in and out. As I understand it she often appeared as his defence.’
‘He’s her brother, of course she did,’ said Ornella. ‘Look, the fact is, he was always nasty to Marcy, and he ended up getting her pregnant. He doesn’t want kids, so he killed the baby and I suppose Marcy has memory loss from the trauma. I suppose that skeleton was a woman, was it? I can’t say I know who it is, but there were always rumours he’d killed a girl before.’
Beside him, he spotted Theia trying to stifle a yawn behind her hand. ‘I see,’ he said. ‘But you didn’t see any of this?’
‘Well, no,’ she said, looking surprised. ‘Why would I have done?’
‘Your children,’ he said suddenly. ‘I’ve asked you before, but you didn’t give me a clear answer. Who’s their father?’
‘I told you, some Muggle in the village. I can give you his address if you like, but he doesn’t even know I’m a witch.’
‘Did you use a love potion on him?’
Her expression was frozen, and then slowly she smiled. ‘I haven’t ever had much success with men,’ she said sweetly. ‘Not from lack of trying.’ She leaned forward, the same sultry expression she had used when he had first met her. ‘I told you about your father, didn’t I? Year above me. Quite the Quidditch player.’
‘I’d have thought you’d have been more interested in his friend,’ said Harry smoothly. He yawned again, mumbling ‘excuse me,’ as he did. She ignored it.
‘Sirius, wasn’t it? Oh, god, no, he was too intimidating. Good eye candy but always seemed a bit surly, you know. James Potter was charismatic. I like funny men.’
‘I take after my mum in personality, I’m told,’ said Harry. ‘I’m afraid I’m not funny at all.’
She laughed. ‘Yes, she was always dry too. No, ultimately I found I couldn’t charm James Potter, and nor could I charm any of the other men I took a fancy to. For some of us, love potions are the only way to go.’
‘Why?’ asked Theia. ‘You’re an attractive woman. You seem easy to talk to.’
‘I’m very smart you know,’ she said loftily. ‘I know I don’t look it, I’m just a mum, but I could have done so much more. That intimidates men, you know. So I suppose you could say it’s my personality.’
‘Why didn’t you?’ asked Harry. ‘Do more? Why did you come home to the Loney to the family you don’t believe loves you and the uncle you can’t be left alone with, only to bewitch a muggle and have his children? It’s quite a lifestyle choice.’
‘Yes, I suppose when you put it like that, it is,’ she said. ‘But you’ll never understand the Loney. It’s a different world to the one you know.’
‘We will be doing paternity tests on your children,’ said Theia. ‘Samples have already been taken.’
‘Don’t you need my permission for that?’ she asked.
‘Would you like to withdraw permission?’
‘No, it’s fine. I told you, it’s a Muggle in the village. Do you know, I don’t even know his surname. But I’ll give you his address.’
‘Why not use a love potion on another wizard?’ asked Theia.
‘This Muggle was attractive and I wanted attractive children,’ she said simply. She frowned. ‘What does this have to do with anything?’
‘When we first met you,’ said Harry slowly. ‘You said that your youngest, Ascelin, was only young and didn’t come into it.’
‘Yes, he’s just a few months old,’ she said.
‘Come into what, though, Ornella?’ he asked. ‘It’s such an odd thing to say. Does your oldest come into it then? Raffi?’
She laughed. ‘Oh come on. Really? I don’t know, it’s just awkward phrasing.’
‘I don’t think it is,’ said Theia quietly. Ornella looked coldly at her. ‘I’ve been doing a lot of reading recently, and I came across Ascelin’s name. Tell me, Ornella, what does his name mean?’
The cold expression didn’t shift. ‘I don’t know, it’s just a nice name.’
‘It means ash tree,’ said Theia.
There, again, was that silence, icy and hard.
‘I’m sure you understand why we find that quite a coincidence, Ornella,’ sad Harry.
‘No, not really,’ she snapped. ‘What does my son’s name have to do with anything?’
‘Well, for a while we wondered if your son was actually Marcy’s son. Whether you had stolen him from her. But the ages didn’t seem to match up, and it didn’t quite fit properly. But it was still odd, what you said, and how you avoided letting us see him.’
‘He was sleeping,’ she said fiercely. ‘When your wife finally pops your kid out, you’ll understand why I didn’t want to let strangers parade in and look at him.’
‘But this name,’ continued Harry. ‘It’s a bit weird considering we then found Marcy’s baby hidden inside the hollow of an ash tree.’
‘It is a weird coincidence, but that’s all it is,’ she insisted. ‘I clearly named my son well before Marcy lost her baby, so I really don’t see the relevance of any of this.’
‘But why would you pick that name?’ asked Theia. ‘And why would Marcy also choose a name for her baby that was connected to ash trees?’
‘Because she always wanted to be me,’ she snapped. ‘The stupid girl has never had an original thought in her life. I love that ash tree. There’s something deeply magical about it. Bowtruckles used to live there, and I sent the wood of it off to Gregorovitch to have a wand made when I turned eleven. And now it turns out Oeric buried one of his conquests there and Marcy left her dead baby in it and they’ve desecrated it,’ she spat. ‘It’s ruined forever.’
‘When you had the baby,’ began Harry, ‘was he-?’
The door opened, and, irritated, Harry turned to see Dawlish in the doorframe. ‘What?’ he demanded grumpily. ‘I’m busy.’
‘You need to come and speak to him,’ said Dawlish.
‘I gave you that job because you insisted, I’m busy-’
‘You need to come now,’ Dawlish growled.
Harry sighed. ‘Interview suspended,’ he muttered at the quill. ‘Miss Swindlehurst, please stay here, I’ll be back in a moment.’
They rose, and followed Dawlish out of the interview room. ‘This better be worth it,’ he said as soon as they were out of earshot.
‘Oh, yes it is,’ said Dawlish smugly. ‘I’ve solved your case for you.’
Dawlish opened the door to his own interview room, where a tearful, unshaven Oeric Swindlehurst blinked up at him. ‘I would like… to confess,’ he sobbed. ‘It were me. I done it. I killed that girl, an’ I left that baby in the tree. It were already dead though,’ he added desperately.
Harry sat, slowly, his eyes fixed on the pathetic man in front of him. ‘Go on, Oeric,’ he said gently. ‘Tell me what happened.’
‘Harry!’ A flash of turquoise pelted towards him, and Teddy wrapped himself around Harry’s leg. ‘Do the thing!’ he squealed. ‘Do the thing where you walk!’
‘Hey!’ said Harry, grinning down at him, and he obediently took a large step, swinging his leg out as Teddy clung on like a koala and shrieked with delight.
Ginny was smiling warmly as she watched from her seat at the kitchen table, a cup of tea resting on her bump, and Ben looked up from the potatoes he was peeling.
‘All right?’ Harry said to both of them as he limped over, Teddy still squealing.
‘You’re back earlier than I was expecting,’ said Ginny.
‘Yes, well- Teddy, that’s enough now, off you get - we had an eventful day at work.’
‘We made shortbread biscuits,’ said Teddy.
‘That’s wonderful. Ted, why don’t you go and tidy your room?’
Teddy’s face fell. ‘It’s not that messy.’
‘I’ll give you a galleon when it’s done.’
Teddy’s sudden enthusiasm at this massive advance in pocket money was enough to get him swiftly out of the kitchen; Harry supposed his bribery would give them at least twenty minutes.’
‘So what’s the news?’ Ben asked.
‘Oeric Swindlehurst has confessed to the murder of Connie, and to hiding the body of the baby, but he says it was born dead.’
‘Blimey,’ said Ginny, her eyebrows raised.
‘Why would he hide it then?’ Ben asked. ‘If it was born like that?’
Harry sat with a sigh. ‘He made a full confession. Said he attacked and accidentally killed Connie years ago when she visited the Loney, and buried her by the tree. He also says that he tried to help Marcy when she was in labour, but when the baby was born dead she “went mad”, he panicked and thought people would think he did it, so he hid him in the tree.’
‘Went mad in what way?’ asked Ginny.
He hesitated. ‘Well.. He claims that he thinks the baby might have been his, and that Marcy started saying it was his fault the baby died because he didn’t take her to a hospital, and that as she got more and more distraught started saying that he killed him.’
There was a silence at the table, broken only by the quiet, steady ticking of the clock on the wall.
‘So what happens now?’ asked Ben. ‘You won’t need me anymore, do I go home?’
‘Not yet, I’m afraid,’ said Harry apologetically. ‘We still need to gather evidence for the prosecution, and so I would still like to talk to that little boy. We definitely can’t speak to him and his mum before Monday?’
‘It’s half term,’ Ben replied. ‘She took him on holiday and the flight doesn’t get back til Sunday evening.’
‘I understand,’ said Harry. ‘But I’m afraid that means you’ll have to join us for a family gathering on Sunday, as I can’t leave you on your own.’
‘Well that sounds lovely,’ said Ben.
‘My family’s a lot to deal with,’ said Ginny quickly. ‘And they’ll be very excited to meet a Muggle. But they won’t mean any harm.’
‘Do you really think little Simon will be useful?’ Ben asked. ‘It was Osman that had his bike, wasn’t it?’
‘I think he may have seen Oeric hiding the body, or maybe arguing with Marcy. He certainly saw something that caused him to leave his bike out there. Once we’ve finished chatting with him we can just drop you straight home.’
‘All right,’ said Ben, nodding sagely. He gestured to Ginny. ‘Your lovely wife has explained I can’t tell anyone about all of this. I won’t. They wouldn’t believe me anyway.’
‘That makes it a lot easier, thank you,’ said Harry. There was a creak behind them, and Teddy’s face appeared at the crack in the doorway.
‘I did most of it…’ came his small voice.
‘Hmm, all right then,’ said Harry, with a playfully warning voice. ‘Come collect your wages, and we’ll get the dinner on.’
Later that evening as they lay in bed, Ginny furiously rearranging a mound of pillows to get comfortable, she gave him an inquisitive look and said, ‘come on then, out with it.’
‘You don’t think the confession is right, do you? I can tell. You’re not gathering evidence for the prosecution, you’re still investigating.’
He couldn’t help but laugh. ‘You know me too well.’ She looked at him expectantly. ‘All right, I think his confession is a bit convenient and there are still lots of loose ends. I’m not sure who he’s protecting, or why, but there’s more going on.’
‘Because of the creepy old lady?’
‘Yes, her, and Pauline and Osman are both suspicious too. But…’ he considered her for a moment. ‘If I yawn, what do you do?’
‘When someone yawns.’
‘Politely ignore it? And they’re contagious too, aren’t they, I always end up-’ she broke off into a yawn, and he laughed again.
‘See? Even talking about it or thinking about it too long you end up yawning too.’
‘Theia left a bunch of Muggle psychology textbooks in the office and I’ve been reading them in downtime. One of them talked about how yawning is linked to empathy. Well I interviewed Ornella and thought she was being a bit… Dramatic.’
‘Dramatic? What d’you mean?’
‘Well, she was acting absolutely terrified and frantic about seeing her children. But she’d only been separated from them for ten minutes, and she knew they were just down the corridor. It had been explained to her that she’d go back to that room with them after the interview.’
‘Perhaps she was worried about going to prison and not seeing them at all?’
‘Yeah, maybe. Or maybe she was just acting how she thought a worried mother should act. I yawned a few times in the interview. Theia caught it, and tried to hide it, but Ornella looked me dead in the eyes and there was just… nothing.’
‘So, what, you think she’s a psychopath?’
‘I think she lacks in empathy and was lying about her emotional state at the very least,’ said Harry. ‘Although…’ he rolled onto his back and looked up at the ceiling. ‘Theia told me off for yawning, thought I was being rude. I explained the idea behind it, and she just said I should stop with the armchair psychology. That it didn’t really mean anything and it doesn’t count as evidence of anything.’
Now Ginny laughed. ‘I think she’s getting a bit big for her boots! You’re her boss!’
‘I know, who’d have ever thought she’d stand up to me, eh?’ He stretched, the warm sleepiness of being in bed beginning to take hold. ‘I just think this case is going to be one of those ones where tiny little details matter. It’s so complex.’
‘My god,’ said Ginny seriously. He looked at her, concerned. ‘You’re enjoying this, aren’t you?’
He grinned at her. ‘A little bit. Not what actually happened, obviously, but figuring this one out is going to be satisfying… Is that sick?’
She grinned back. ‘Totally sick. I think you’re the psychopath.’
‘I prefer mysterious.’
‘No, just psychotic.’
‘Mysterious,’ he insisted, leaning over her and kissing her giggling face. ‘And handsome and clever.’
‘Right,’ he growled, and Ginny laughed as she teased him and he kissed her, their playful fighting moving into something else, his happiness unending.
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Chapter 14: Chapter 14As had been the case for the past few days, when he woke up it took Ben a few moments to remember where he was and why he was in a neutrally coloured spare room with dark wood beams running across the ceiling. He could already hear the bright haired little boy running up and down the creaky corridor on the other side of the door, shouting odd Latin-sounding words, and from the fields outside his window he could hear the distant sound of sheep bleating.
He was mostly past the awkwardness of suddenly living with this strange family, but not yet comfortable enough to go downstairs in his pyjamas. As he opened his hastily packed suitcase, it occurred to him that he had not yet seen a washing machine in the cottage, and unless they had one hidden away in a cupboard somewhere he was going to run out of boxer shorts if he stayed just another night longer.
He had to admit that though he was homesick for his own little flat above the opticians in Bowland, he was a little sad to leave this bizarre new world he had discovered. It was like something out of a film - this sort of thing just didn’t happen to people like him. They happened to dark haired, tall, muscular men, not blokes with slightly curly blond hair and silly dimples when they smiled.
He brushed his teeth in the little en suite, no longer surprised that the mirror sternly told him to shave, and peered out the window. There, just the other side of a winding lane, was a little trout lake and beyond that the sheep he had heard bleating. Tiny specks of white bouncing over the grass suggested that lambing season was in full swing. He knew on the other side of the house was a steep bank covered in trees, merging into a forest. He had never been this far south before, barring school trips to France and the odd holiday in Spain. The Potters lived somewhere that he regarded as sickeningly English, without the slightly rough charm of his own Lancashire village. It was pretty, certainly, but he wondered why on earth they lived so far from other people, and what they did to fill their time. There wasn’t even a telly.
If he had his way, he’d live in a big city. Manchester perhaps, or even London. But as he’d inherited the house from his mum and he earned a pittance, without a proper transfer he would never be able to afford city rents, or even the deposits to have the privilege of signing a lease. His applications to more exciting police jobs had been so far unsuccessful. There was no building up experience round where he was.
He went downstairs, and found to his dismay that yet again the heavily pregnant woman had made him breakfast. ‘Are you sure I can’t do anything?’ he asked, his chivalrous pride rather hurt.
Sometimes she gave him a task to do, perhaps because she recognised his feelings of helplessness, but they both knew that she could somehow just wave her stick and do what he could in about half a second.
‘You just sit down,’ she said cheerfully. ‘Not much today as you’ll be properly fed at my mum’s.’
Teddy was sitting at the table, swinging his legs while he munched on his toast and got crumbs everywhere. ‘Did you sleep well?’ he asked politely, and it was so precocious that Ben couldn’t help but laugh.
‘I did, and you?’
‘A full night,’ Teddy replied, in a certain way that Ben was sure he had copied from an adult. He did not seem to go to school, and Ben wondered if that was the reason he was so at ease around him, a strange adult.
Teddy looked up at Ginny, and started asking if various names would be there, to which the answer was invariably, ‘Yes, of course.’
‘And are they all… You know, magical like you?’ Ben asked, still feeling ridiculous every time he said it.
‘Yes,’ she said kindly. ‘I’ve warned them all you’re coming so hopefully they’ll behave themselves, but be prepared for some enthusiastic questioning, especially from my dad.’ She considered for a moment. ‘If you can’t find me or Harry, look out for Hermione. You’ll know who she is, she has mad brown hair. Her parents were Muggles.’
‘Oh,’ said Ben, blinking. ‘That can happen, can it?’
Ginny nodded with a smile, just as there was a rumbling from the stairs and Harry entered the kitchen.
‘Morning,’ he said brightly. ‘Sorry I’m late down, first lie in I’ve been able to have in weeks.’
Ben assured him it wasn’t a problem, and as they sat and ate and gave him a brief and confusing run down of the various characters that would be at lunch, he found himself asking, ‘will, er, your partner be there? Theia?’
They exchanged a glance and an irritatingly smug smile, and Harry said, ‘Unfortunately not. She’s looking after Marcy today.’
‘Oh.’ He hoped the disappointment didn’t show on his face. ‘She must be disappointed not to see her own mother.’
‘The three of us share something in common there,’ said Harry delicately.
‘Ah,’ said Ben, who got the impression that he should not press on the subject. When he had first arrived at the Potters’, confused and overwhelmed, in shock, more or less, he had somehow found himself telling Harry that he had no one. That his dad barely spoke to him and his mum died years ago. Harry had nodded and told him that his mother had died too, and then he had poured him more whiskey. Then, just as now, Ben knew that if Harry had wanted to explain the hows and whys, he would have done so.
‘I’m sure she’ll join you back up in the Loney though,’ said Ginny, a little slyly.
‘Who’s lonely?’ asked Teddy, sounding very concerned.
‘Your suitcase is,’ said Harry. ‘Because it’s not full of your clothes like I asked you.’
‘I’m gonna,’ said Teddy. ‘Later.’
‘Come on, mate, go do it now,’ said Harry. ‘Nana’s taking you straight back after lunch today.’
Teddy huffed, but Harry raised his eyebrows, and the little boy reluctantly shuffled off.
‘I better go and supervise,’ said Ginny. ‘He’ll only get distracted with toys otherwise.’ She briefly caressed Harry’s hair as she passed, and he turned to smile at her as she left the room.
‘Staying at his nan’s is he?’ asked Ben.
‘That’s where he lives,’ said Harry. ‘I only have him for a few days at a time every now and then.’
‘Oh,’ said Ben. ‘I assumed he lived here all the time. I didn’t want to ask why.’
‘His parents passed away not long after he was born,’ said Harry calmly. ‘I was a bit young to raise him full time, and couldn’t have done that to his grandmother anyway.’
‘Bloody hell,’ said Ben. He frowned. ‘That’s you, Theia, and this poor kid that all don’t have mothers. High mortality rate comes with being able to do spells, does it?’
To his surprise, Harry laughed. ‘Sometimes. Depends who you are and the line of work you’re in. This must all be very odd for you, I’m sorry.’
Ben thought about brushing it off, but in the end settled on, ‘it’s fucking mad, mate.’
Harry laughed again, and then seemed to hesitate. ‘I only found out about it all when I was eleven, I wasn’t born into it like Ginny and Teddy. I know what it’s like for you.’
His smile seemed different now, almost wistful. ‘God, I don’t know. Don’t know what I would say to myself if I went back in time.’
‘In a good way or bad way?’ asked Ben uneasily, who was still concerned that Harry had dodged his question about mortality rates.
It was the first time Ben had seen Harry not looking incredibly serious, and he suddenly realised that they were probably similar in age. In fact, Harry looked like he might even be slightly younger. ‘Oh, I don’t know,’ said Harry. ‘Bit of both. I suppose I would encourage myself to really enjoy it all being new and impressive, but to be honest I think I still do that today.’
‘No,’ disagreed Ben, ‘you don’t seem impressed at all when your cup of tea zooms across the room to you.’
‘That’s true,’ said Harry with a frown. ‘I’ve got far too lazy with that kind of thing. But I’ll try and sit you near George and Ron today, they’ll show you the sort of thing that still impresses me… You don’t have a heart condition or anything do you?’
‘No,’ replied Ben, alarmed.
‘Great,’ said Harry cheerfully. ‘Don’t eat anything they give you though.’
With that slightly concerning advice in mind, they began bundling on coats and boots shortly after twelve, Ben feeling rather intrusive.
‘Ted,’ Harry was saying impatiently. ‘Just put them on.’
‘I can’t find the other one,’ Ted was whining.
‘Ginny, where are-’
‘Ted, I put your wellies by the back door-’
‘Only one was there,’ Teddy wailed.
Harry was looking at a clock, which Ben had only just realised showed no numbers but various phrases, and multiple hands with faces on, most of which were bunched together. ‘Look, we’re late again, everyone’s there already.’
‘Accio wellies,’ said Ginny, and from the back door and the cupboard under the stairs came a flurry of rubber boots in a variety of greens and blues. ‘It must be one of these ones, Ted, come and have a look.’
‘Why do we have so many?’ asked Harry exasperated. ‘Where do they all come from?’
‘Here!’ said Ted brightly, holding up a little green boot. ‘Shall I clean it first?’
‘What?’ said Harry, baffled. ‘No, I told you, we’re late. Come on, let’s go.’
Ben, who hadn’t wanted to involve himself in the slightly stressful domestic scene, started heading towards the back door, but to his confusion, the entire family hurried into the living room.
‘Er... ?’ he called after them, following uneasily. Was there a second door he had never seen before?
When he entered, they were stood in front of the fireplace. ‘Oh, we didn’t warn Ben about the floo,’ said Ginny. ‘Maybe you should apparate with him-?’
‘He vomited last time,’ said Harry. He turned to Ben. ‘Are you scared of fire?’
‘I’ll show him,’ said Teddy loudly. He reached up and took a pinch of something from a pot Harry was holding, and stepped into the empty fireplace, kicking the remnants of a charred log out of the way. ‘The Burrow!’ he shouted, as he dropped whatever he was holding.
Ben couldn’t help the scream - how could anyone, when watching a child catch fire? It was the most horrific thing he had ever witnessed. The flames were huge, and green, and they obscured the tiny little boy completely, before suddenly they were gone - and so was he.
‘All right?’ said Ginny brightly, turning to him.
Ben had the feeling he was very pale. Harry and Ginny seemed remarkably unconcerned, but Harry placed a firm hand on his shoulder and gave him a sympathetic smile. ‘Looks horrible, but it’s fine. As you’re a Muggle you can come along with me. More comfortable than apparating.’
Ben watched, slack-jawed, as Ginny took some of the glistening white powder Harry was holding, and copied the young boy. Within seconds she was gone too.
‘No…’ said Ben. ‘No, I’m sorry, I-I can’t…’
‘Course you can,’ said Harry cheerfully. ‘I promise you, it’s perfectly safe.’
‘I… The, the fire…’
‘Would I have sent my godson and pregnant wife in there if there was any danger?’ He felt Harry’s firm hand guide him, and he found himself walking in a bit of a daze, ducking under the mantlepiece and standing upright in the vast chimney, staring at the soot stained walls.
‘I feel sick,’ he blurted out.
‘Not to worry,’ said Harry soothingly. ‘I’ve got a potion for that.’
He dropped the powder, shouted something, and suddenly Ben was in a whirl of colour and sound, Harry’s hand still firmly gripping hold of him, ash and soot filling his lungs, he could feel the flames though they caused him no pain-
Suddenly, it was over. He was looking at more stone, and Harry had let go of him, ducking under to get out again.
Ben followed, and stepped not into the beamed living room of the Potters’ home that he had become so familiar with, but somewhere else entirely. More old fashioned, cluttered with comfortable looking armchairs and sofas as if there was never enough room for all the guests.
‘Hello!’ cried a plump looking woman, hurrying forward. She seized Harry and pulled him down to kiss him on the cheeks - he embraced her back.
‘Happy mothers day,’ he said, and from under his cloak (he supposed they had been up his sleeve or something, that was what magicians did, wasn’t it?) he pulled out a bouquet of sweet peas, pink carnations and hydrangea.
‘Oh!’ cried the woman, patting his cheek and looking quite emotional as she took them. ‘Harry!’
Harry looked as though he were going to say something to her, but thought better of it, and turned to gesture to Ben. ‘This is-’
‘Oh, yes!’ exclaimed the woman, hurrying forward. ‘I’ve heard all about you, Ben, welcome, welcome - I’m Molly, here-’ she produced a small brush, and started running it over his shoulders. Clouds of ash filled the air - Harry didn’t look untidy at all, but somehow Ben was.
Suitably cleaned up, Molly stepped back and beamed at him. ‘I don’t think we’ve ever had a Muggle visit. My husband will be so thrilled.’
‘Are Ron and Hermione here?’ asked Harry.
‘Yes, dear, they’re already outside.’
Harry left, and Molly took Ben by the arm and began to lead him out of the living room, placing the flowers in a vase (which immediately untied them and filled itself with water) as she went. ‘Now,’ she said reassuringly, ‘if it all gets too much, just give me the nod and I’ll make sure they all calm down.’
‘And please don’t eat anything my son George gives you, he’s just trying to be funny, but not everyone gets it, I have told him.’
Harry and Ginny had described it as lunch, but Ben could see now that it was more like a good sized party. Though the day was a little overcast, a long table was set up on the lawn, a hodge-podge of chairs around it, and lanterns, presumably for warmth, hovering just above head height. Dozens of people, at least half with flaming red hair, were there already - their laughter and chatter filled the air, a few holding squirming babies, all of them wearing the long robes Ben had become used to seeing.
A red-haired man in glasses spotted them, and made a beeline, holding out his hand several feet before he reached them. ‘Arthur Weasley,’ he said excitedly. ‘You must be Ben, delighted to have you here, really delighted. Won’t you come and sit by me-’
‘Arthur,’ said Molly sharply. ‘Ginny said Ben needs to sit near them.’
‘That’s all right, they can sit with us too, come on, Ben,’ he said, seizing Ben by the arm and tugging him over to the table.
He saw Harry turn as they passed, and though he was in the middle of laughing over something with a red-haired man and a woman with bushy hair, he seemed to excuse himself and head over in their direction.
‘Everything OK?’ he asked Ben, but before he could answer, Arthur spoke up.
‘We’re fine,’ he said, sitting Ben down. ‘Now, I was hoping you could tell me about airplanes.’
‘Er… Tell you what?’ asked Ben.
‘Well, how do they work? How do they stay up?’
‘Haven’t a clue, mate,’ said Ben. ‘I suppose you’d have to be an engineer to know that sort of thing. Aerodynamics and what not.’
‘And where can I get an aerodynamic?’ asked Arthur.
People took their seats - Harry on one side of him, though currently talking with two of the red-haired men and a black woman, but Ginny was sitting across from him, with Arthur on the other side and Molly opposite of him. He could see Teddy sat at the far end of the table with an older looking woman he presumed was his nan, but after that he recognised no one.
Some stuck out for their unique appearances. The woman with the mad hair Ginny had mentioned earlier was talking earnestly to a freckled man with only one ear. Another red-haired man had a horribly scarred face, and was bouncing a chubby, golden haired toddler on his lap. One woman was perhaps the most beautiful he had ever seen. Blonde, elegant, with delicate features and a willowy body, there was something so refined and graceful about her, he felt as though he were watching a ballet, he thought that perhaps-
There was a kick to his shins, and he jolted, Ginny smiling at him in an oddly warning sort of way. ‘That’s my sister-in-law,’ she said. ‘Fleur. She has magic powers, so it’s not your fault you feel that way, but she is very happily married to my brother.’ She nodded to the horribly scarred man sitting next to her.
‘Bloody hell,’ said Ben quietly. ‘He’s been through the wars hasn’t he?’
Ginny’s smile vanished. ‘Yes.’ She took a breath and shuffled her glass, before turning to her side and saying, ‘this is my brother Ron,’ giving the man Harry was talking to a sharp elbow.
‘Ow! Oh- Hi. You must be Ben. Sorry about all this,’ he waved airily. ‘Must be weird.’
‘A bit, yeah.’
Ron introduced him to Hermione, Angelina, and George, who leaned across Harry and held out a little brown bag. ‘Would you like a pre-dinner sweet? It’s wizarding tradition.’
‘Shut up, George,’ said Ginny sharply. ‘Ben, don’t eat that.’
‘No thank you,’ said Ben nervously.
‘Quite right,’ said Harry. ‘Be nice to Ben,’ he added to George.
‘I am!’ said George, who looked quite affronted. ‘How are you anyway, old boy? How’s my counter doing?’
‘Pretty good, actually, it’s been 83 days.’
George gave a low whistle. ‘That is good for you.’ He looked at Ben. ‘I got him a counter that marks how many days it’s been since someone tried to kill him.’
‘You’re not popular, then?’ asked Ben.
‘Harry’s the worst,’ said Ron.
‘No one likes him,’ said Angelina.
‘I try to kill him on a regular basis,’ said George. ‘Sweet, Harry?’
‘No,’ said Harry with a mock exasperated sigh. ‘It comes with the job,’ he said to Ben.
‘Well,’ said Hermione placatingly. ‘That and the fact that you’ve done more than most. You’re a police officer, Ben, I’m sure you get that.’
‘Haven’t taken down as many gangsters and drug barons as I imagined I would, to be honest,’ said Ben. ‘It’s quiet where I am.’
The ringing of a glass being tapped sounded, and they looked to the other end of the table where the heavily scarred man had risen. ‘Welcome, everyone. We have a few mothers and mothers-to-be here today, but I just wanted to say a few words about a very special one.’
‘Very special!’ said a bespectacled ginger man loudly.
Ben looked to Molly to see her as red as a tomato, smiling tearfully.
‘The number of people there are here today is testament to what an incredible mother she is, not only to her own children, of which there are many, but to all the strays she’s collected along the way. Thank you, mum, I don’t know where we’d be without you. To mum.’
Murmurs of ‘to mum’ or ‘to Molly’ rang out, and she promptly burst into tears.
‘Oh, Bill, all of you - it’s all I wanted, you all here!’ She dabbed at her eyes, and then seemed to remember something. ‘Please! Eat!’ She waved her wand, and dishes floated from the kitchen.
Baskets of warm, crusty bread, expertly minted lamb, dishes of crispy roast potato, mounds of buttered cabbage and honeyed carrots, not to mention the boats of thick homemade gravy - it was the perfect Sunday roast.
‘You’d think by now she’d be used to it,’ muttered George, as the noise around the table rose again and cutlery was picked up with a clatter. ‘Instead of bursting into tears every year.’
‘She’s always been like this,’ said Ron fairly. ‘Surely we’re the ones who should get used to it.’
‘I brought her flowers this year,’ said Harry. ‘I thought the hug would crush me to death.’
‘What did you do that for, you absolute kiss arse?’ asked George.
‘That’s the kind of behaviour I would expect from Percy,’ scolded Ron.
‘Yeah, makes scribbling my name at the bottom of the card look a bit weak,’ said Angelina.
‘Flowers, I ask you.’
‘You can conjure them out of thin air,’ grinned Harry. ‘It’s not exactly much.’
‘Is he this unbearable at home?’ George demanded of Ginny.
She laughed, but said, ‘Stop it, you all gang up on him.’
‘They were nice to me at school,’ said Harry. ‘But now I’m grown up doing well for myself, they think I need a bit more struggle in my life to keep me grounded.’ It was clear that he was fond of them, and Ben could see immediately that the teasing and ribbing meant more to Harry than perhaps any of them realised.
‘Did you all meet at school?’ asked Ben.
‘Yes,’ said Hermione politely. ‘I assume you’ve been told about Hogwarts?’
‘I have. Makes the local comp I went to pretty dull sounding.’
‘Did he tell you about the troll in the bathroom?’ asked Ron.
‘Oh, Ron, please…’
‘It was Halloween of our first year… We were just kids back then, of course, and I’d been, well, a bit of a dick to Hermione here. We were enjoying the feast when a teacher came running in…’
Ben listened, enraptured, to tales from this extraordinary school, well beyond his wildest imaginations, often convinced that he was being taken the mickey out of, as they had teased Harry, until he saw that they could all corroborate with such detail and surety that it became clear that they went beyond script and were real memory. Not only trolls, but moving trees and corridors being turned into swamps, secret passageways to the nearby village, giant sea creatures in the lake, things called ‘hippogriffs’ scratching the school bully…
He had heard briefly about Quidditch when Ginny had explained her job, but now he heard about their school team, the shared camaraderie and bizarre moments - ‘then he essentially swallowed it, the other team was furious, but it counted-’, the wins and losses, the strange injuries and feelings of glory - ‘spent the whole time thinking it was because of the potion, but it turns out I’m naturally brilliant.’
And the pets - it put his old family collie to shame. Harry had just finished reminiscing about his beautiful snowy owl when Ben shook his head in amazement and said to him, ‘what an wonderful childhood you had.’
They all burst out laughing.
‘I did,’ said Harry, grinning. They all laughed even harder. ‘What? I did! At times. It was just also terrible at other times! It was never boring, at least.’
‘You should have seen him when I first met him,’ said Molly, who had apparently been listening fondly. ‘Tiny, skinny thing he was, ever so polite. So sweet. All of you were really. Even you, George.’
‘How dare you, I was always a complete nightmare.’
Molly tutted. ‘Don’t fool yourself, I still remember you coming to me in tears that summer after your first year. You thought you had been so horrible to your Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher that they had left forever.’
‘I had been horrible to him, and he did leave forever,’ said George. ‘Poor old Professor Ely. It wasn’t his fault he was so dull.’
‘Yes, but it was the curse, wasn’t it?’ said Molly, a little impatiently. ‘The Defence teachers never lasted back then.’
‘There still had to be a reason, and it was me and Fred. Just like how there was a reason Lockhart left a few years later, and that was Ron’s fault. It was Harry’s fault the rest of them left, pretty much.’
‘Either way, you were so full of guilt. Quite sweet really. I wish you’d learned something from it.’
They launched into a conversation about detentions, some of which sounded positively medieval to Ben, but Arthur tapped him gently on the arm and whispered, ‘Could you explain to me exactly how muggles “surf the web” and where I can find it to have a go myself?’
The meal was interrupted some time later, when they were tucking into bowls of bread and butter pudding, by a small owl landing in front of Harry, a small note in his beak. Ben had never seen an owl so close up before, but no one else seemed to be surprised, so he tried very hard to look casual.
Harry scanned it quickly, frowning slightly, then gave a small sigh and put it into his pocket.
‘Don’t you dare,’ warned Ron.
‘Harry, you are not to get up from that seat,’ growled Ginny.
‘It’s fine, I’m not,’ said Harry. ‘Just a few things to keep me updated.’
‘Well go on, then,’ said George. ‘We’re all waiting with bated breath.’
‘If you must know, the rest of the suspects have been allowed home, but their wands are confiscated and they’re under house arrest.’
‘I heard from Pete that it was all done and dusted,’ said Ron.
‘Well Pete shouldn’t have told you that; Pete should be focusing on keeping things confidential like I asked him.’
‘Hearing gossip about the department is the only reason I invite Pete out for drinks,’ argued Ron. ‘Don’t ruin that for him, there’s not a lot else to his character.’
Harry ignored him, and poured more custard onto his pudding. ‘It was also the results of the blood magic work I ordered - like a DNA test,’ he added to Ben.
‘Ooh, and?’ asked Hermione. ‘I was going to ask you about that, it’s a very interesting new part of magical law.’
‘It’s a little surprising,’ said Harry vaguely. ‘I need to speak to Theia first though, and probably Bessie.’
He handed a custard covered piece of bread to the owl, who took it gratefully and took off clumsily, knocking Ron’s glass of wine as it went.
‘Oh, Ron!’ cried Hermione huffily. ‘All over my new robes!’
‘How is that my fault? It was the owl.’
‘You put your glass there! Oh, I can never get wine stains out, I’ve never mastered it-’ She dabbed frantically at the stain on her white polka-dot robes.
‘It’s fine, Hermione,’ said Ginny. ‘Just run it through cold water first before you charm it-’
‘No, no,’ said Molly, ‘that’s blood. For wine you need to put salt on first, leave it for a few moments, then do the charm.’
Harry was frowning again, looking carefully at the dark red patch spreading over Hermione’s arm. Ben saw him discreetly take out a notebook, scribble something down, and return it to the inside of his own robes.
While they were still fussing over Hermione, Harry turned to Ben and said in a low voice, ‘It’s definitely not till tomorrow we can talk to Simon?’
‘They won’t have even got on the plane yet,’ sad Ben. ‘Sorry, mate. Everything all right?’
‘Yes,’ said Harry, still sounding vague. ‘How good are you at interrogations?’
‘I don’t think I’ve ever interrogated anyone who wasn’t drunk, to be honest,’ said Ben, whose experience had mostly peaked at dangerous drivers and people that had stolen traffic cones.
‘Reckon you’ve heard enough to pretend to be a wizard?’
He gaped at him, but Harry looked entirely serious. ‘Why?’
‘I don’t want to disturb Theia right now, not when she’s with Marcy. But I want to speak with someone as soon as possible. Will you help me? This evening.’
‘I… Yes. I’ll give it a go.’
Harry smiled at him. ‘I’m more than bending the rules here, you know.’
Ben nodded. ‘I’ve been told that I’m not supposed to know anything. Muggles aren’t allowed.’
‘Unless they marry a witch,’ said Harry casually.
Ben was about to respond, but there was a shout and then a roar of laughter, and George was pulling his sweet bag away from the bespectacled man, whose head was now the size of an orange, though the rest of his body remained normal.
‘I’ve always told you to deflate your head, Perce,’ said George seriously.
Ben couldn’t understand Percy’s angry, high pitched response, but as he looked around the loud, colourful table, he hoped very much that he would be allowed to continue knowing about this world for the rest of his life.
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