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 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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