|SIYE Time:12:32 on 26th September 2017|
The Space Between
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Category: Post-Hogwarts, Post-DH/AB, Post-DH/PM
Genres: Action/Adventure, Drama, Fluff, General, Humor, Tragedy
Warnings: Dark Fiction, Death, Disturbing Imagery, Extreme Language, Intimate Sexual Situations, Mental Abuse, Mild Language, Mild Sexual Situations, Negative Alcohol Use, Rape, Sexual Situations, Spouse/Adult/Child Abuse, Violence, Violence/Physical Abuse
Summary: Harry and Ginny's lives have finally evened out. They've faced trauma, and loss, more than most have, but they've fought hard to find a normal.
If only things could stay that way... Old enemies find new ways to seek revenge.
This story is the sequel to Bound. It would be extremely helpful if you read that first.
Warnings are to be safe. It's probably overkill. Please message me if you have any questions or concerns.
Hitcount: Story Total: 72711; Chapter Total: 1635
Awards: View Trophy Room
Thank you to Arnel for beta'ing, and to Dennis for the prompt for Teddy.
Dear readers, I have to go where the money is and right now the money is flowing my sewing business, and not in writing. I will update as often as I can, but it's likely to be slow for the next few months. As always, you can check out my books by searching out my Author's name, Sarah Jaune, or checking my profile. Also, if you want to see my sewing goods (which are wetbags and snack sacks including Harry Potter themed) shoot me a message.
Otherwise, I will see you when I can! I know it's a long, long story. I appreciate those who take the time to review. I love hearing your feedback. I know there wasn't much of Crabbe in this chapter, but it will ramp back up more and more for a bit.
Okay, I think that's it for me.
Ron woke on his side, facing Hermione as the first feeble hints of light started to poke through the curtains of their bedroom. He didn’t need to see the clock to know it had to be before six in the morning. Hermione was always up at six, come rain or shine. She never slept in on Saturdays anymore, either. Today was an important day. It was the first of September. Today Rose and Hugo would both go to Hogwarts.
He studied his wife’s face, which was aging gracefully, much more so than his own. She was still as beautiful to him today as she had been twenty years before when they’d first been together. Six months ago Ron hadn’t known if he and Hermione would still be sharing a bed, but they had pushed through a lot of difficult conversations to get to where they were now. They were still a unit. Sometimes, maybe often, it felt tentative and fragile. There were days when Ron didn’t know if he had the energy to keep fighting.
His father had told him that bonding his soul to another in a magical marriage was like having half of his heart walking around outside of his body. Arthur had been exactly right. The thought of breaking up his family wasn’t only emotionally painful, it physically felt like someone was ripping his heart out. It tore at him until he wanted to cry. Rose had seen it. She had seen what Hugo hadn’t. His little girl hadn’t even been home two days from her second year at Hogwarts before she’d asked him what was wrong with him.
“Sometimes love isn’t enough,” Ron had admitted.
But sometimes it was. Hermione was a work in progress. Her drive, her intelligence, and her big heart were all things he had fallen in love with. He simply hadn’t loved that she’d started to use those attributes to avoid him. He hadn’t understood why she’d want to be away from him, when all he’d wanted was to draw near. Even after they’d talked at the beach house and spent time trying to reconnect, he still hadn’t found a good answer from her. It wasn’t until a few days before Teddy and Victoire’s wedding that he’d finally figured it out.
Hermione was scared. She’d toughed it out through Voldemort’s rise to power, and Ron had reasoned that she’d done so because she had only herself to lose. Now, though, with their children being effected by Isabella Crabbe, along with everything that had gone on, Hermione had chosen work rather than dealing with her feelings. It wasn’t healthy, or right, but Ron understood exactly why she’d done it.
She was helpless to completely protect their children. It was impossible to promise that they weren’t going to die too early. She’d fled their life rather than risk the hurt of losing it, but it came to the same end. She’d almost lost their life.
It had been the Wednesday before the wedding and Hermione hadn’t made it home before the kids went to bed. She hadn’t even sent an owl to tell Ron that she would be so late. At first, he’d fumed silently as he made dinner and cleaned everything up. Then he’d sat out in their back garden and stared at the stars as he tried to work through what he was going to say to her. When she’d finally come home, he’d very calmly asked her to let him know if she was going to be that late so he wouldn’t worry.
Hermione had blown up. She’d ranted, screamed, thrown something across the room, then slumped to the floor in tears. “I’m afraid.”
That’s it. That’s all she’d said, but it had been enough. Ron had sat with her and held her while she cried and then she had told him everything. That had been almost six weeks ago now.
Ron ran his fingers lightly over Hermione’s cheek. She pulled in a deep breath and turned into his touch. Ron leaned in to kiss first her cheek, then her lips. “So beautiful,” he whispered as he trailed his mouth down to her ear. “My love, my wife.”
He felt her small laugh escape her. “What time is it?”
“Early,” Ron promised as he propped himself up to kiss her again. “We have plenty of time.”
Hermione wrapped her arms around his neck and they deepened the kiss.
No, it wasn’t perfect, and it certainly wasn’t fixed, but now when they parted, Ron was more confident that his heart was safe in her hands.
“I changed my mind,” Lily whispered quietly to Harry as chaos reigned around them. Owls hooted in protest from their cages, socks were flying through the air, and Ginny was running through the house attempting to get everyone packed.
In the midst of it all, his tiny redhead with her big, brown eyes that were exactly like her mother’s, met his imploringly. “Lily, we’ve been over this before,” Harry said as he knelt down and took her hands. “You want to go to Hogwarts. Your kitten, Ducky, will be there to sleep with you tonight and you’ll have your brothers and all of your cousins. Odds are very good you’ll have at least one cousin in your house.”
Lily nodded reluctantly. “I’m not going to Slytherin.”
“Well,” Harry added fairly as he ran a strand of her long, coppery locks through his fingers, “there isn’t much hope that Slytherin would want you. There isn’t a single ruthless bone in your body.”
She giggled then. “Will you plait my hair?”
He didn’t need to glance around to know that Ginny would want him doing anything but plait Lily’s hair, since they were close to running late for the train, but Harry nodded and kissed her brow. “Of course I will.”
Harry took a seat at the table and Lily turned around for him. He started the weaving and knew, immediately, that today was not a good plaiting day for him. “Mummy could do this for you in a snap. I’m messing it up.”
Lily waited until he’d finished and she handed him her hair ribbon. Then she spun and threw her arms around him, kissing his cheek. “I wanted you to do it for me, Daddy.”
Harry held on tight and tried to fight back the tears. He’d half expected to have a girl just like Ginny. It made sense to him that he would be blessed with a wildly independent girl who would be into absolutely everything the boys were into. Instead, he had Lily. His pixie daughter was smart, funny, sweet, loyal, and didn’t have even a hint of rebellion to her. She was light, she was love, and she was basically always good. He grinned and tugged lightly on her plait. “How did I end up with someone like you?”
“Merlin knows,” Lily said sincerely, even as amusement danced in her eyes. “Gran tells me she wished Mum would have a daughter just like her so she’d know what it was like.”
“Lily!” Ginny called down the steps. “Your kitten is refusing to get out from under your bed and we need to leave now!”
Lily jumped, and ran for the stairs while Harry caught the look in his wife’s eye that meant he better load the car.
They were on the road less than five minutes later with James, Nat, Al, and Lily all in the back along with three very annoyed owls, who were all ducking to get away from the kitten that was hopping from one cage to another, swatting at them playfully.
Harry turned in his seat, having asked Ginny to drive, and snatched the kitten mid-leap. Thankfully, his Seeker skills were still excellent. “One of them is going to bite her and you’ll be very upset, Lily-Lu. Put Ducky in her basket until you’re on the train.”
“Okay, Daddy,” Lily agreed as she took the kitten and shut her away.
“You remember about Honor, right?” James asked his sister as he tapped his foot nervously. “They’re going on the train, aren’t they, Dad?”
Harry nodded. He had two Aurors escorting Caroline and Honor Baker, along with their grandparents, to King’s Cross. “It’s all arranged. I’ve already had word that they’re en route.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Lily assured James confidently. “Hugo and I already have a plan and we’ve worked out things to talk about in case she’s shy. We’ll stick with her the whole time.”
James hesitated only a moment, before he wrapped an arm around Lily’s shoulder and pressed a kiss to the top of her head. “Are you okay?”
“I think so,” Lily said quietly. “It helps that you’ll be there. How did you do this by yourself, James?”
“He’s just that brave,” Al replied with a completely straight face. He laughed when James kicked him and almost caught Nat.
“Don’t get me,” Nat said as she scooted closer to the door.
They settled down into chatter and Harry took Ginny’s hand, linking their fingers as the miles rolled by. This was their last time. Ginny was now officially free of homeschooling. Tonight at dinner, for the first time in too many years to count, he would come home to just his wife.
It would be lonely. It would be quiet. It would be…
“Did I forget my broom?” James asked, interrupting a pleasant thought about what their quiet house would mean.
“I stuck it in your trunk,” Nat told him. “I grabbed it when I got Al’s for him.”
James let out a sigh of relief. “Great, thanks Nat.”
Nat fell as they walked to the train. James was used to it by now, and also used to his brother’s uncanny reflexes for catching her. She pushed her strawberry blonde hair back out of her face and scowled at the platform, like it was the platform’s fault that her feet didn’t do a good job of keeping her upright.
“Are you okay?” Ginny asked as she looked Nat over.
“Yeah,” Nat grumbled as they moved towards one of the train cars.
“Let’s get the luggage up,” James told Al. “Then we can come back.”
Al nodded and the two of them worked together to get Al’s and Nat’s trunks onto the train, followed by Lily’s, then Rose and Hugo’s when his Uncle Ron and Aunt Hermione arrived.
“Have you seen Scorpius yet?” Rose asked Nat as they glanced around. James hung back, not only because of saying goodbye, but because he really wanted to see that Lily met Honor.
Or that’s what he told himself.
“There he is,” Al said as he pointed across the station. Scorpius loped over to them, a glum expression over his pointed face, as he pushed his trolley. His parents followed behind him.
James’ mum held out her hand for Mrs. Malfoy. “It’s good to see you again, Astoria.”
“And you,” the beautiful woman smiled at Ginny. “It was good of you to have Scorpius over this summer.”
“It was our pleasure,” Ginny replied as Harry and Draco gave a short nod to each other, but didn’t say anything.
Hermione joined into the women’s conversation while Scorpius stared over everyone’s heads.
Lily broke the tension in a very Lily manner by scampering up to Scorpius’ dad. “Hi!” she said to Draco as she stuck out her hand. “I’m Lily and this is my first year. I’m very nervous to go, but I have a kitten now and her name is Ducky and that helps.”
James tensed, unsure of what Draco would do, but he saw immediately that Draco had no idea what to do with the tiny redhead. Lily had clearly flummoxed the older man. He shook her hand automatically. “Er, hello.”
“Your son is very nice,” Lily promised as she dropped his hand and stared up at him with wide, innocent brown eyes. “He has very good table manners. Mummy says that means a person was raised right. We like having him over to play. He helped me with my Latin lesson this summer, and he climbed a tree for me when my kitten was stuck.”
Draco flicked a look over to Harry. “Is that the kitten?”
Inexplicably, James’ dad replied with, “Seriously, could you have said no?”
A tiny smile cracked over Draco’s mouth. James thought it looked painful and had no idea what they were referring to. “I imagine not,” Draco said quietly.
Then the distraction that James had been waiting for arrived. Caroline, along with her sister Honor, who looked nothing like her, arrived with their grandparents and flanked by two Aurors.
James wanted to say something to Caroline, but found that his vocal cords were frozen shut. She was taller than the last time he’d seen her. They were still eye to eye, even though James had grown as well. Her blue eyes were shadowed, like sleep was something she didn’t know well, and her blonde hair was cut short now, in a bob that ended at her chin. She was thinner than she had been, almost painfully so. Gone was the strong, athletic girl who had first arrived from America. This one appeared to be ready to topple in a light breeze. Next to her was Honor. Honor was also tall, the same size as Hugo, but she was chubby, with coal black hair and deep hazel eyes that were almost brown. Caroline met James’ gaze head on, but Honor wouldn’t look to them.
Lily sprang into action. “Hi,” she said as she bounced over to Honor. “I’m Lily Potter, and this is my first year. Is it your first year? I’m really nervous about going, but my brothers are going, and this is my cousin Hugo,” she pointed to Hugo, who stood just off to the side of them. The sun made his red hair stand out like fire, while it turned Lily’s to pure copper. Both Lily and Hugo had brown eyes, as well, but that was where the resemblances ended. Lily was, there was no other way to say it, already beautiful. She was small and graceful. Hugo, much like himself and Al, was tall, gangling, and with feet that were way too big for their bodies.
“Hi,” Honor said just as a train whistle blew.
There was a rush to get the last trunks on the car. Nat nearly tripped, again, and was saved by Al plucking her up to carry her onto the train. James laughed as Nat said, “No, Al, this isn’t at all embarrassing. Go right ahead.”
“No more broken hips,” Al retorted as a laughing Scorpius and Rose followed them up. James had completely forgotten that Nat had broken her hip on her first train ride to Hogwarts.
They gave out last hugs, and James hopped onto the train just after Caroline, helping her with her trunk. “Where to?” he asked her as he finally unstuck his tongue from the roof of his mouth.
Caroline shrugged. “I dunno.”
“Louis and I are in there,” he pointed over to the door that Louis had propped open. “You can join us if you like. You’ll be close to Honor, since they’re in the next compartment.”
Finally, Caroline nodded and together, James and Louis stored her trunk. They sat awkwardly facing each other all the way until the train started to roll.
“Anyone for Exploding Snap?” Louis asked.
Caroline smiled, the first real smile he’d seen. “Sure.”
Harry waved at the train as it rounded the bend and felt something inside of him let out a howl of protest. Lily… his last…
“So that was your daughter,” Draco said from next to him.
Harry almost jumped. He hadn’t realized his old school mate had come up to him. “That’s Lily Luna.”
Draco was silent for a long beat. “She isn’t what I would have expected.”
Harry grinned as they said goodbye to everyone. No, she absolutely wasn’t.
He’d taken the morning off to get the kids to school, but now he couldn’t bear the thought of going into the office. Harry wrapped an arm around Ginny’s waist and nuzzled his nose into her sweet smelling hair. “Let’s go home.”
Thoughts, wonderful thoughts, naked thoughts, swam through his brain, and frankly through the rest of his body, as he decided not to focus on the kids being off to school. He led Ginny back to the car and let her drive, since she always drove too fast anyway, back home.
The moment she parked the car in their drive, Ginny burst into tears.
“Ah, luv,” Harry pulled her into his arms and stroked a hand up and down her back.
“I’m okay,” she sniffed. “I just needed to get it out.”
He understood that all too well. However…
Harry pressed a lingering kiss to the base of her neck as he let his fingers drift up from her waist. “Let’s go inside.”
They made it to the couch, which was a miracle in itself. Harry pressed her down into the couch cushions as he worked his fingers between them, trying to undo the buttons on her blouse, then down to her jeans.
Ginny wrapped her legs around his waist as she tried to draw him closer. She moaned softly against his lips as his fingers moved over her skin.
There was a stumble, and a crash as Harry jumped off Ginny and spun to see Teddy sprawled on the ground, his hands over his eyes. “What…” Harry couldn’t even finish the question.
“Sorry,” Teddy said as he kept his eyes covered. “Merlin, please wipe my memory! I did not need to see that.”
Harry quirked an eyebrow. “If you weren’t doing the same thing with your wife last night, then I’m a Hippogriff. But you can look now,” he said after he’d verified that Ginny’s had her buttons done up.
Teddy slowly pulled his hands away and Harry smirked at the bright red on his cheeks. “I’m really sorry. I didn’t think you’d be here, Harry.”
“Did you need me for something?” Ginny asked Teddy pushed himself to his feet.
“Just a recipe… I wanted to make a special dinner tonight,” Teddy admitted. “I’m officially done with training as of an hour ago, now, so I wanted to celebrate with Victoire.
Teddy’s commissioning to be a full Auror was a week away. It was amazing how fast those three years had gone.
“I’ll get it for you,” Ginny said as she moved to the kitchen. “Which one?”
“I can’t even remember now,” Teddy sighed as he scrubbed at his brow. “It’s very disconcerting walking in on your parents about to have sex.”
Harry shot him a sideways look.
“Well, it is!” Teddy muttered. “It’s not like I don’t know you two have sex, but damn. I’m being an arse. Okay, I’m over it. Mostly.”
Harry laughed and shook his head. “I need a beer. Want one?”
“Merlin, yes,” Teddy sighed, clearly not bothered by the fact that it wasn’t even noon.
He’d give his godson fifteen minutes, and then kick him out. Harry still had plans for his wife.
“I really thought your father was going to fall over,” Rose told Scorpius. “It’s difficult when one is on the receiving end of Lily’s cuteness.”
Scorpius arched an eyebrow at the expression. “I have never, ever, seen someone disarm my father like that. If I’d had to place a bet, I’d have said he would have swatted any of Harry Potter’s children off. He’s never even spoken to Al.”
“Lily is an experience unto herself,” Al agreed. “If we could bottle that, we could have world peace.”
“And way too many kittens,” Rose added dryly.
Scorpius and Al laughed, but Nat’s expression caught Al’s attention. “You aren’t still mad I carried you on the train, are you?”
“What?” Nat focused on him and blinked, like she was coming back to herself. “No, sorry. I just…” she rubbed hard at her brow and shook her head. “It’s nothing.”
Rose reached over to take her hand. “It isn’t nothing, Nat. What’s up?”
“I…” Nat hesitated as she tapped her foot. “I can’t really talk about it, but something I saw on the platform was difficult. It reminded me of that case with your dad a few weeks ago,” she told Al. “That woman I talked to had some horrific magical injuries, and I’ve been dreaming about them.”
“You need to tell my dad to stuff it the next time he asks for help,” Al told her honestly. “He won’t hold it against you.”
Scorpius nodded. “Mr. Potter is a really decent bloke, Nat. If you told him you couldn’t do it, it would be fine.”
“I know it would,” Nat promised sadly. “I would feel worse if I didn’t help, though.”
Rose scooted over and put her arm around Nat. Nat laid her head on her friend’s shoulder and sighed. “How about,” Rose began, “if you tell us what went on and we swear to never talk about it. You can still help, but you can also share the burden.”
Nat’s reluctance was palpable, but finally she nodded. “The woman spoke an African dialect that I hadn’t heard in years. Honestly, I’d have sworn I’d forgotten it, but it came back as I heard her speak. She was covered in spell injuries.”
“What does that look like to you?” Al wanted to know. Nat’s power for seeing magical signatures completely fascinated him.
“It’s different colors all over her. Sometimes the colors are darker, or layered, but I can see the damage done,” Nat admitted with a shudder. “I know that your namesake, Albus Dumbledore, could do this sort of thing, but I have no idea how he stayed so sane.”
“It’s maybe questionable that he was sane,” Scorpius told her earnestly. “He was brilliant, fair-minded, and always for the Muggleborns, but by all accounts he was very eccentric.”
Nat grinned reluctantly at that. “Maybe that’s how he coped.”
“You’re certainly eccentric,” Rose agreed. “But Dumbledore taught him to do what you do. You do this naturally, without thought or effort.”
“It looks painful,” Nat told them, going back to the original topic. “The wounds, I mean. It’s not painful for me to see them, at least not physically. I heard this woman’s cries, though, and I know she went through something close to hell. It isn’t right that someone was able to steal her from her home and force her here to England where she wouldn’t be missed.”
“That’s awful,” Rose said as her hands flew up to cover her mouth.
Al opened his mouth to tell her not to help his dad again, but Nat held up a hand and he stopped. “I know what you’re thinking, Al,” she said simply. “I get it, but I can’t not help! I see what has been done to people and I have to speak up. If I don’t speak up for them who will? Caroline’s sister, Honor, has a slight limp, which I know is from a badly broken leg early on that was likely never set properly. Certainly, it wasn’t healed with magic because then she wouldn’t limp. Now,” Nat sat up as she folded her hands in her lap. She pinched her fingers so hard that her knuckles turned white, “mostly that’s Honor’s business, and not ours, but if we know then we know to be extra careful with her feelings. That matters.”
“You’re right,” Rose agreed quietly. “I know you’re right.”
Scorpius sighed heavily. “I hate that it’s my great aunt causing all of these problems. It isn’t like my family didn’t have enough nuts already. Did she really have to add to the mess?”
“On the plus side,” Rose said with a small laugh, “you get to improve things as you’re the only heir. It’s up to you to turn around your family’s reputation.”
“But no pressure,” Al told him with a straight face.
Lily grinned at Honor as the kitten, Ducky, scaled up her new friend to nuzzle at her neck. She hadn’t been sure what to expect with Honor, but as soon as the train had been underway, Honor opened up a bit.
“It’s nice with my grandparents,” she told them as they watched the world travel by through the carriage windows. London streets gave way to green fields and gentle, rolling hills dotted with trees. “There are a lot of cows here. I’m still not used to that.”
“Don’t they have cows in America?” Hugo asked her.
“Oh, sure, but not where I was from,” Honor admitted. “We were in the city, and my grandparents live in Sutton, in the town. Then we went to a safe house with the Aurors, but that’s also in London. It’s this creepy old place.”
“Oh!” Lily clapped her hands together. “You’re in Grimmauld Place.”
Honor’s eyes widened in surprise. “You know of it?”
“It’s my dad’s house,” Lily explained. “It’s dreadful, I know, but we’ve actually done it up nicer than it used to be. My Aunt Fleur let me help her when we were redoing the bedrooms to make it nice for anyone who had to stay there.”
“It’s still not all that nice,” Honor told her hesitantly.
Lily nodded in understanding. Many of the furnishings had refused to leave. “I know, it’s dreadful. We weren’t able to do much. The bathrooms were horrible before we fixed them, and we were able to redo some of the bedrooms, but the other rooms were stubborn.”
“My parents lived there for a bit,” Hugo explained. “They tell stories of the things that tried to eat them. Well, Dad does anyway.”
They fell into a silence that wasn’t uncomfortable, but which still left Lily feeling like there were things that were unsaid. She sat back in her seat and tried to make herself relax. “I’ve decided on Gryffindor.”
“Not really a surprise there,” Hugo mused as he pulled a coin from his pocket and began to work it through his fingers. He was attempting to teach himself to shuffle the coin across his knuckles, but it was slow going.
“Can you pick which house you want to be in?” Honor asked Lily.
“The Sorting Hat will take your wishes into account,” Lily confirmed.
“I’m glad of that, then. I want to be with Caroline. Is that a Muggle coin?” Honor asked Hugo as she tilted her head to get a better look.
“I dunno,” Hugo admitted. “My uncle gave it to me the last time we were at his shop. I was playing with it and he said I could have it.”
“That’s Uncle George,” Lily said. “He’s the best uncle, besides Uncle Charlie, although Uncle Bill and Uncle Ron are great, too.”
“Basically the only one we don’t adore is Uncle Percy,” Hugo said matter-of-factly. “But we love his wife, Aunt Audrey.”
Honor held up her hands and Ducky slid down into her lap. “Hold it! How many aunts and uncles do you have?”
“Too many sometimes,” Hugo told her with a laugh. “Except at Christmas when we’re getting presents, then it’s never enough.”
“Hugo!” Lily shook her head in amusement. “There were seven children in my mummy’s family. Our Uncle Fred died in the war, so there were the six. My mum is the only girl and she was the baby of the family.”
“Lily is also the baby,” Hugo told Honor. “It’s very obvious. We have thirteen of us if you include Teddy, which we all do, and Lily is the last.”
“Who is Teddy?” Honor asked him curiously.
Lily stroked a finger over Ducky’s soft fur and said, “He’s my godbrother. His parents died in the war, too, and my dad is his godfather. He’s always been a part of the family, but this summer he married our cousin Victoire, so now he’s officially a member.”
Honor shook her head. “I am officially confused.”
“You sounded very American when you said that,” Hugo said with a grin. “Sometimes you sound British, but sometimes American.”
“Caroline teases me about that a bit,” Honor said as she completely relaxed. Lily saw it happen. She finally let go and started to open up. It made something in Lily’s heart warm to see it. “Just last week she wouldn’t let up when I called potato chips ‘crisps.’”
Hugo shook his head sadly. “My big sister is a pain in the arse sometimes. Most of the time, though, she’s alright.”
“What about your brothers?” Honor asked Lily.
Lily smiled as she thought of them. “Teddy is perfect. He’s lovely. I can always count on him to be there when I need him. James is…” she hesitated as she tried to think of how to say it. “James is a work in progress. He used to be a prat, but he’s getting better. Al is a good brother, too. He doesn’t always have the same patience for me that Teddy does, but I know Al will be there for me if I need him.”
“My sister doesn’t like James so much,” Honor told her.
Lily laughed. “Well, to be fair, none of us liked James all that much before this last year.”
“He was a prat,” Hugo agreed. “He’d be just as likely to crack an egg on your head as say hello.”
“He’d crack an egg on your head?” Honor asked in disbelief.
“I’ve had at least three,” Hugo sighed. “Our Gran keeps chickens. She has a fit every time he does it. He doesn’t do it to Lily, though, because Lily cries.”
Lily felt her cheeks flush. “I can’t help it.”
“Then when she cries, the whole world just stops,” Hugo shook his head at that. “Merlin, the last time she cried I thought Uncle Bill and Uncle George were going to wet themselves. They both just start panicking.”
Honor shot Lily a sideways look. “Do you cry often?”
“No,” Lily assured her, because it was the truth. “It’s just that when I do, it seems to make them panic. I have no idea why.” She’d cut her arm open wide once and had cried then. Her Uncle Charlie, who had been visiting and was covered in his own scars and burns, had turned sheet white and started screaming for a Healer. Lily’s mother had rolled her eyes at him and fixed it with her wand.
Hugo snorted. Lily eyed him curiously, but as was usual, Hugo shook it off. “It’s just that our uncles have a low tolerance for it. They’re just…”
“Men?” Honor said as she ventured a guess.
“Sort of,” Hugo replied as he waggled his hand back and forth and nearly dropped his coin. “My Uncle Bill has Victoire and Dom, neither of whom are overly girly. Uncle George has Roxy, who is definitely not a crier. When faced with one, they don’t seem to know what to do. My dad, who is used to my sister Rose, just shrugs it off.”
“Yes,” Lily pointed to Hugo. She hadn’t thought of it that way. “My dad handles it pretty well, too. He’s used to me.”
Hugo opened his mouth, then shut it and looked pointedly at Ducky.
Lily smiled sheepishly. “I didn’t mean for it to happen like that, you know. Anyway, Daddy would have said yes to the kitten even if I’d not been upset. Mummy would have, too, eventually. They both like cats.”
Before Hugo could retort, the door of the compartment slid open to reveal the lunch trolley. A young woman with curly red hair, and huge, round glasses asked, “Anything off the trolley?”
Harry didn’t make it into the office by lunchtime like he’d planned. Instead, he received an urgent message saying he was needed at a home close to the border with Scotland, close to Hadrian’s Wall. A cold, crisp wind blew hard against Harry’s back as he marched up the hill to a small, beautifully appointed stone home. The stones were almost white, and the roof was recently thatched. It was odd, too, because Harry hadn’t thought there were many thatched homes this far north, but he’d always liked the looks of them. It reminded him of the time he and Ginny had gone to Hawaii and had stayed in a hut with a traditional grass roof. He shook his head as he focused on the Aurors and MLE he who were waiting for him at the entrance of the house.
Gregory, who had his hands shoved deep into the built in pockets of his cloak, nodded to him. “We think we have the way point.”
Harry’s heart sank as he studied the house. “Is there anyone there?”
“No, but we have a local woman who reported suspicious activity to the local police,” Gregory said. His mouth thinned as he surveyed the house. “It was then bumped to us when the Muggle Relations Department noticed the suspicious activity. I don’t know that we’re going to find any clues, but I wanted you to have a look at it as well.”
Harry nodded as his mind instantly replayed through the system that Hermione, along with a few others, had set up. They rented a local office in London, hired the best computer hackers they could find, and set up a network to monitor all Muggle police activity for anything that might be magical. It was a brilliant system, and staffed by mostly Muggleborns. “Do we have any idea how they’re bringing them into the country?”
“There’s a pile of rubbish in the corner, so my guess is Portkey,” Gregory informed him.
“Let’s take a look, then,” Harry said grimly. The house was a house. It was nicely furnished, comfortably appointed, and there wasn’t a speck of dirt anywhere. That was, of course, until he reached the basement. This was clearly where the women were kept. It was dirty, smelled of feces and stale urine, and had piles of trash everywhere. Harry pulled out his wand and began the laborious task of trying to find the magical signatures. It was something that Nat saw with no effort, but for him it was work. The Portkeys were obvious, and easy to detect. It was no work at all to find the places along the walls where manacles had been conjured to hold people hostage. There was a patina of other spell work around the periphery which experience told Harry was likely one of the Unforgivable Curses, most likely the Cruciatus Curse or the Imperius Curse. “It was like someone was living a good, respectable life upstairs,” Harry muttered to himself, “while keeping slaves in the basement.”
Unfortunately, his educated guess was probably not far off.
“Sir,” one of the MLE called down into the basement. “We have the witness who talked to the police if you’d like to question her.”
“I’ll be right up,” Harry said as he took one last walk around the old basement.
Mrs. Agatha Smee was at least eighty years old, if she was a day, and by the way she held tight to her umbrella, Harry was absolutely certain that the old woman with the sharp, intelligent eyes, would beat him senseless if he put one toe out of line. She pursed her lips as her gaze traveled up and down him. Harry, unlike everyone else at the scene, was dressed like a Muggle because he’d been to Kings Cross that morning. He had, however, grabbed his cloak and a cloak over jeans and a jumper was not exactly the look of the professional man in charge. “Mrs. Smee?” Harry asked her with extreme politeness. “I have been told that–”
“You aren’t really a police officer,” Mrs. Smee interrupted him. “I know no one who wears clothes like these,” she told him as she pointed around at everyone assembled.
Mrs. Smee would have her memory modified, Harry knew, but it was still important to be as cordial as possible. He opened his mouth to reply, but she spoke over him.
“You have a look in your eyes, though,” she told him as she inclined her rounded chin. “You have the same look the boys did when they come back from the war.”
Harry scrambled to remember which wars had happened recently and blurted out, “You mean the war in Afghanistan?”
“No,” she scoffed at that. “I meant World War II.”
“Er,” Harry hesitated as he studied her closer. He was not stupid enough to ask her age, but if she could remember World War II then she might be a good bit older than eighty.
“But I suppose you was in Afghanistan? You do have that war worn look about you,” she told him. “You look as though you’ve lived a hundred lifetimes in your short years. That’s tough for a mother to see, you know. Was your mother worried when you went overseas?”
Deciding it was best to just play along, Harry shook his head. “My mother and father were murdered when I was a baby. I never knew her.”
The woman gave a single cluck of sympathy, before plowing on, which he appreciated. Harry didn’t like to dwell on the past. “Do you have kids yourself?”
“I do,” Harry told her and decided to make it even more personal. “I have three sons and two daughters.” He needed to include Hope and Teddy into his count. It never felt right to leave them off.
“Bless your wife,” Mrs. Smee said as she raised a hand to her chest. “Five children? That’s rare in this day, you know. I admire that. Well,” she said and Harry saw her shoulders straighten as she came to a decision. “You wanted to know about the doings of this house. I saw lots of men, rough looking men, coming and going at all hours, you know. There was one man that I thought might be that American bloke, Donald Trump, but his face weren’t orange enough.”
Harry had no idea who Donald Trump was and made a mental note to find out.
“Anyway,” Mrs. Smee went on. “There was an older woman, who appeared to be in charge of the whole operation. When she gave the orders, they all marched. Then just as I was thinking to call the police, they packed up and left. I called anyway, and now I’ve had to talk to six hundred different people and you,” she eyed his jeans with a pointed glare, “need to dress properly, young man. I do not approve of these new codes of dressing casually on Fridays.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Harry agreed with a nod. “I’m afraid that I was called here at the last minute. My children started school today and I was dropping them off. I don’t normally show up like this.”
Mrs. Smee sniffed and waved her umbrella towards the house. “I hope you catch them.”
So did Harry.
He detoured by a Muggle library before heading back to the Ministry to search out who Donald Trump was and saw, immediately, what Mrs. Smee had meant. The man had an uncanny resemblance to Donald Baker, Caroline’s father. They had the same build, the same facial expressions of smug self-importance, and the same smile that didn’t ever reach the eyes. But Dodi was at least twenty years younger than Donald Trump and, as Mrs. Smee had said, he wasn’t quite as orange.
They still had no leads, but they also hadn’t had any more reports of dead women being dropped all over the country. Harry’s mind flashed to Hogwarts where the Sorting would be taking place soon. He squared his shoulders and left the library. He had work to do.
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