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.
Rating: R starstarstarstarstar
Categories: Post-Hogwarts
Characters: None
Genres: None
Warnings: None
Challenges: None
Series: None
Published: 2017.12.30
Updated: 2018.01.18


Index

Chapter 1: Chapter One
Chapter 2: Chapter Two
Chapter 3: Chapter 3


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.’

‘A what?’

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.’

‘Feel what?’

‘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.

‘The tree?’

‘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.

Back to index


Chapter 2: Chapter Two

Theia 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?’

‘Of course.’

‘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.’

‘Right? Psycho.’

‘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.’

‘Eh?’

‘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.’

‘What the…?’

‘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.’

‘Please don’t.’

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 3

Healer 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?’

Harry nodded.

‘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.’

‘Have you?’

‘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?’

‘Rodney.’

‘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?’

‘Eh?’

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.’

‘Seriously, Neville…’

‘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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