|SIYE Time:15:43 on 22nd October 2018|
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: 96463; Chapter Total: 1376
Awards: View Trophy Room
Than you Arnel for Beta'ing!
PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE consider reviewing my young adult series, The Overseerís Son, The Pursuers, and The Big Game. Theyíre magic, mystery, and adventure. I have a couple of friends tell me they love it. Please give it a chance. Buy the book, review, give me a reason to spend more time writing (including Harry Potter!) I need to make a living and right now the thing making me money is my sewing business. If you, my lovely readers, help flip that upside-down then I can justify writing more. Amazon has a code that buries books that donít have enough reviews. Help change that. You can go to my profile (or google Sarah Jaune). If youíll read and review but canít afford the book, Iíll send you a FREE copy for a review on amazon! Email me at sarahjaune03 AT gmail DOT com
The Minister for Magic sat back and regarded him for a long moment. She inclined her head, indicating he should go on and Harry filled her in on the scant details he had about the capture of the escaped Death Eaters. “So,” he let his voice trail off so she could think it through.
“The Americans are asking you to come get them,” Minister Macmillan summarized thoughtfully. Then she sighed and rose to walk calmly to a window and peer out. “It’s been many, many years of work since that time. When was the last time you had a meaningful holiday, Harry?”
Slightly taken aback, Harry stuttered in response. “I-I don’t know, Minister. Ginny and I went away for our anniversary last year.” Was it last year? Harry couldn’t really remember. It might have been two or three years before.
“Please don’t misunderstand,” she said as she turned back to face him, her eyes filled with concern. “You have been a champion for our world most of your life, if not for the whole of it. I know the work and sacrifice you have made. But you’ve stalled on the case with Isabella Crabbe, and because of how she operates, that might go on for the rest of your career.”
Unfortunately, that was probably true. “Minister?”
“Dolohov and Rowle,” Minister Macmillan continued. “It is my official suggestion that you lead a small team to America to recover them. They are dangerous, and we need to send our best to properly thank the Americans for their hard work and dedication.” She took in a deep breath and let it out slowly before she went on. “Then, it is my personal request, that you take a sabbatical and rest with your family. As you will already be in America, I would recommend going there. You have my permission to bring Kingsley back on for a short stay to cover for you.”
Harry’s mind reeled at the possibility. “You… you want me to go to America for a holiday?”
“Not a holiday,” she said evenly. “I want you to take a real break from everything, Auror Potter. This tragedy with your son, as he killed a dangerous man, and the risks to your family… all of it is weighing on you. I have spoken with Ginny a few times.”
That was news to him. “What?”
“We are in the same book club,” Mrs. Macmillan informed him.
And… damn it. Harry hadn’t even known Ginny was in a book club. He hadn’t had a lot of time with her over the last few years. She didn’t complain, especially not now that the children were in school, but that seemed like the sort of thing he should have known. “How long?”
“At least a month,” the minister replied firmly. “I would suggest the entire summer. Everything here can wait, especially as Crabbe has gone to ground again, and as you pointed out to me, your son killed her financial backer. She’s primarily after you and your family. If you go on holiday to America, you’ll be just another Muggle family. You won’t be Harry Potter, not unless someone is really paying attention. Take your kids, your wife, and go. I’ll help you expedite the Portkey for the family, if necessary.”
“I don’t know what to say,” Harry told her honestly. Then, he did, because she was right about something. He was tired. “Thank you, Minister. I appreciate the time off.”
As he left, to hurry back for the first dinner at Teddy and Victoire’s new home, he reflected that it was probably going to be a bit of a challenge setting up a trip to America, but that it would be worth it.
By that evening, with the kids in bed, including Nat who was there with them for the summer, Harry realized the whole thing was going to be a nightmare. “We can’t go,” he said to Ginny, who was pacing their bedroom while Harry watched her from his seat on the trunk at the foot of the large bed. “I wasn’t thinking. You have the World Cup, and Nat’s here. I’d blanked on that since she’s so often around now.”
“Then there’s Teddy and Victoire and the baby,” Ginny reminded him. “My job, your job, our family, Natalie… I just don’t know, Harry.” She turned to him. “Nat can stay with Ron and Hermione, she would be safe enough with them, but that’s asking a lot since there has been more than one attempt on her life.”
“But it’s been awhile,” Harry pointed out, then realized how ridiculous that sounded. He’d been the one to tell the Parkers that they could no longer take their daughter out into the Muggle world. Nat was medically fragile in a way that magic could not fix. She was also someone who understood magic and its effects on the world at an intuitive level that even Dumbledore could not have matched. But Nat was not Dumbledore. She was a tiny imp who was okay at school and not great shakes at magic. “We can’t just leave her.”
“She can be stuck here in England, under guard for the rest of her life,” Ginny pointed out. “Or we check with her parents about taking her along. Both of them are elsewhere, but could maybe come to America to see her there. Can we honestly say that keeping her under lock and key is the best thing for her? She’s changed.”
He shook his head helplessly. “I don’t know what the right answer is, Gin. There’s nothing in the manual of life to give me that answer. But that’s only if we go.”
Ginny stopped her pacing and stared at him, and for the first time in a long time he saw the shadows under her eyes. “Let’s just go.”
Surprised, Harry rose. “What?”
“Screw the consequences,” she told him firmly. “This is the chance to go. If I lose my job, that doesn’t matter. But I can change my focus to writing about America, which could be interesting for the Prophet. But whatever. Let’s go. We’ll go for the whole summer, we’ll take the kids with us.”
“Wait!” Harry shook his head. “All the kids, as in all the kids?”
She smiled then. “We take them with us. We take Polly, find a house on the beach, and we see some of America. We have the money, we have the time, and we should do this.”
“But that’s…” Harry had to pause to add it up. “If we take Nat, we need extra security,”
“Maybe,” Ginny said with a grin, “but I think if we pick a location that’s known to be secure by the American Ministry, we’ll be okay. No one knows about Nat.”
Harry hesitated for another minute. “We have to be near a magical hospital.”
“Leave the planning to me,” his wife laughed. “I am so excited!”
He didn’t want to spoil things, but also wasn’t so sure they could just pack up and leave.
He went to work the next day to run it by the Minister, absolutely convinced she was going to say no, only to have her wish him safe travels.
Lily glanced over to Nat and slapped at her hand, which was tugging at the strap of her bathing costume. “Stop.”
“It feels weird,” Nat told her flatly as she resolutely continued to watch the waves and the boys who were already splashing out in the water off the islands called the Outer Banks in North Carolina. “I’m wearing your old suit.”
“It fits,” Lily pointed out as she studied the navy blue one piece.
“Yeah,” Nat sighed heavily and picked up a handful of sand, letting it drift out the bottom of her fist. The breeze cause the falling grains and sent them sailing out away from them. “You’re two years younger than I am and now you’re taller than I am.”
It had only just happened. Lily was twelve, now, and Nat fourteen, but Nat was right. Lily was still shy of five feet tall, but that was taller than Nat by a good inch. She weighed more, too. It was weird. “It doesn’t mean anything.”
“I think it means I’m not going to go through puberty,” Nat told her flatly. “I might never get a period or any of that other stuff. I still look like I’m ten!”
Lily shifted uncomfortably. “I started my monthly last month.”
Nat groaned and dropped back onto the purple towel that she’d spread out to sit on. “Your aunt says if nothing happens soon I have to take potions to make it happen! I just feel like I’m not really a girl.”
“You are a girl,” Lily pointed out reasonably. “A boy would never worry that he was not really a girl.”
Like she’d hoped she would, Natalie laughed. “God… this is so nice here. I am so happy I was able to come along, but I just… I can’t shake this feeling that everyone is growing up around me and I’m stuck.”
Lily had no idea what to say to that. She’d had the same thought, herself, but it didn’t seem like Nat had really changed except the length of her hair. She’d started out with shorter, strawberry blonde hair, but it was now down to past her shoulder blades. “I wish I had your hair.”
“No you don’t,” Nat assured her flatly. “Your hair is thick and can be styled. Mine’s all thin and stringy.”
“No, it isn’t!” Lily pushed at Nat’s side, really annoyed now. “Don’t be looking for reasons to put yourself down. You have the best color of hair and it’s all light and airy, like those pictures in the story books.”
Nat moved her arm off her face enough to eye Lily skeptically. “Yeah, okay then.”
It was so sarcastic that Lily couldn’t possibly miss it. “You wait and see. Boys will really like it.”
Her friend snorted so loudly that she started coughing madly. “Oh… wow…” Nat’s eyes watered as she tried to pull herself together. “Lily, I am so far from what any boy wants it isn’t even funny. No one is interested in me. Besides, anyone who sees the two of us together is going to think you’re older and you’re beautiful. They’ll flock straight to you.”
She hated what had happened to Nat. The long illness, and her prolonged time spent being guarded had left Nat a little bitter and cynical. Nat used to be upbeat and positive. She didn’t know how to get her old friend back. “Maybe Al likes you.”
“Al has no idea that girls exist yet,” she replied simply. “I expect that to change this coming year.”
Lily didn’t agree with that, at all. She thought she’d seen Al checking out a girl at the market early that day, but she couldn’t be sure. James definitely had, although he only ever looked. Lily knew what was going on there. James was gone over Caroline Baker and he was simply waiting for Caroline to catch up, which Lily wasn’t entirely sure she would.
“What about you?” Lily wanted to know. “Do you have a crush on anyone.”
Natalie didn’t reply for a long time, so long in fact that Lily started to think she’d fallen asleep. She was just about to shake her awake when Nat answered. “I don’t let myself have those feelings.”
Lily felt her eyes well as she took in Nat’s meaning. “But…”
She shook her head. “It hurts too much. I had these thoughts, maybe some plans, and it’s starting to look like none of them will happen.”
“If you close yourself off,” Lily pointed out quickly, “then you’ll be sure they won’t happen! You can’t just give up.”
“I don’t know what else to do,” she answered.
Movement caught Lily’s eye and she saw her brothers racing towards them at full speed. She shrieked and hopped up, but not before James scooped her up over his shoulder and ran back with her towards the water, laughing like a loon. Lily hit the warm water of the Atlantic and came up laughing and sputtering as she splashed water straight in James’ face. She laughed and threw herself up and over a gentle wave as it rolled in. She giggled when Al dropped Nat into the water. Nat took a second to catch her breath and was close to in over her head, but Al held onto her and the two hooted together.
Lily felt a flutter in her heart and wished, not for the first time, that she could make things better for Nat. Although Nat wasn’t willing to see it, Lily knew she was wrong. Al might not be into girls in general, but he was into Nat. A small voice in her heart told her it wasn’t the right time to say or do anything. She turned to stare up at the huge, three story, white beach house with the long, shaded porches and the swing. The place was beautiful, with sea blue trim and shutters. Lily knew that she was going to have the best summer here. She just hoped that everyone would enjoy it.
“We’re doing what?” James asked around a mouthful of eggs.
Harry stared hard at his son across the long, wooden kitchen table in the pristine and bright kitchen, silently scolding the rudeness. James grinned sheepishly, but thankfully didn’t expose them to anymore half-chewed eggs.
“It’s a famous place here in America,” Ginny explained as she finished up her breakfast.
“We went horseback riding on the beach yesterday,” James said in a very matter-of-fact tone, “and I didn’t object because I’m game for new things, even if they’re Muggle things–”
“That was actually fun,” Lily pointed out. “We got to see a lot of the beach that way.”
James let out a bark of a laugh. “The horse tried to throw Nat off!”
That was true. It seemed as though horses, like brooms, knew Nat to be miserably clumsy. She’d ended up riding with Al so he could keep an arm around her, as he often did when they went flying together.
“Yes, but,” James went on patiently, “my backside is still sore from that horse which was not like riding a broom, Mum, no matter what you say.”
Ginny shifted in her seat and winced. “I can’t argue with that, but we’ll be in a car to go see the location, James. It won’t be much of a walk. The Muggles don’t know where it was, but the magical community locally has a brochure to describe where the fort used to be. I think it will be fascinating to hear about it, since the Native Americans were the first magical people here in the Americas.”
They all stared at her. Nat cleared her throat and Harry noted that she was primarily pushing her breakfast around her plate. Again. He sighed. He’d already been in contact with the Healer at the magical hospital in Raleigh, as had Audrey over Nat’s condition. She was simply not herself anymore. She caught his eye and his raised a brow. She grimaced and speared a bite onto the end of her fork before stuffing it in her mouth.
They loaded up in the loaner car, a blue SUV, that was blessedly magically situated to drive itself, even if it appeared that Harry was driving, and made their way to the historical center that Ginny had picked out for the day’s activities. They’d been in North Carolina for almost two weeks, now, and most days they stayed home and played, or went to do a Muggle sport called mini-golf, which Harry found amazingly comical. He’d written down all the details to tell George when he went home. He’d brought a few of George’s gadgets with him, actually.
George had created a magical noisemaker that was remotely activated. A person could sneak the box somewhere in the house or under a seat, and then press the button on a wristwatch type device to set it off. Only Harry had realized that the same thing could be used for his kids if they walked away from the beach house. If something happened, they could press the button and Harry or Ginny would be alerted back at the house.
He’d bought four of them and packed them along. The magical inspectors had had a field day with them. But they were perfect for Harry’s piece of mind, and allowed the kids to wander around a bit on their own, even heading to the Muggle shops that littered the beach up and down from the magically protected house.
No one knew him here in America. A few of the magical folks who hadn’t seen his name seemed to glean who he was, but it didn’t carry the same weight here as it did in England.
It was amazing. If he hadn’t loved England so much, Harry might have been tempted to pack up. But he wouldn’t. His whole family was there. His life was there. His daughter’s grave was there. England was home, but anonymity was not overrated. He had no idea why anyone would want to be famous.
They drove over a bridge that spanned the water between the Outer Banks and Roanoke Island and Harry enjoyed being able to watch the scenery as it sped by. Once on the island, the car slowed automatically to match the leisurely speed of everyone else. They eventually pulled into a large, tree-lined circular drive and parking lot. Everyone piled out to stare around at the brown buildings, but Ginny studied at a map that Harry hadn’t realized she was holding before pointing them off into the woods. “It’s that way.”
“I think the staged fort is over there,” Al told her as he pointed to his right.
“No, that’s the Muggle bit,” Ginny explained absently. “This way.”
She led them between two buildings along the path, then to the right. The day was hot and muggy, as it often was, and Harry kept a close eye on Nat since she tended to tire faster than everyone else. She had along a water bottle and snacks, much like all the other tourists, and he knew she would keep herself hydrated. But that didn’t ease the worry.
The walk was a short one and Harry thought she would stop at an earthen work they passed on the right, but she kept going along a trail that wended down to the water. “Out there,” Ginny pointed to the water. “The first settlement was here,” she explained as she swept her hand around. “Much of it is now in the water of the bay, which is why the Muggles can’t find the evidence, but this is where they landed to start their new life.”
Harry tried to show some enthusiasm, but he couldn’t work up the energy. The beach looked like any other. He’d heard the story of the mysterious disappearing British colonists who left only the word ‘Croatoan’ carved into a tree to signify that anyone had been there, but that tree was long gone, as were any of the people who had lived here. He knew why she was doing this, since Natalie loved history, but he would have rather played another round of mini-golf or lounged with Ginny in their huge bathtub back in their private bathroom.
He glanced over to Nat quickly, then did a double take at the absolute shock on her face, along with the pale skin. “Nat?” he asked as he strode quickly to her and knelt next to her, bringing his face closer to hers. “Are you okay?”
She pointed into the bay. “I s-see it!” she stuttered. “I s-see the building! They u-used magic to keep the water back!” Nat turned and stared around at her. Her hands fluttered up to her mouth in horror. “I see bodies… bodies everywhere.”
“Are they buried here?” Harry asked her quietly as Al came over and put a hand on her shoulder.
She shook her head and her blonde hair came out of its tail. Harry quickly snagged the clip from the ground and pocketed it to give back to her later. “It’s the remnants of them. They didn’t want to die here, so an imprint stayed. It’s less than a ghost, just a… a snap shot, like a Muggle camera would do.”
“What else do you see?” Ginny questioned as she, too, came closer. Her expression had gone from delight at seeing the place, to concern at Nat’s pallor.
Nat took a step forward, then another. Then a few more. She reached absently for Al’s hand, and he took it, holding her steady as they walked to the shore, off the path. She stopped a step from the water and reached out her hand to trace letters that Harry couldn’t interpret. “The tree stood here,” she told them.
“Wow,” James whistled through pursed lips.
“That is amazing,” Lily said in awe. “That’s where the word ‘Croatoan’ was written?”
Nat’s eyes lost all their focus. “It meant so much to them. It was the only hope they had and they poured so many of their hopes into it as they needed to travel with the Croatan people. But that’s… that’s it.”
“Hey,” Al put an arm around her waist and led her back up the slope onto the grass. “Let’s go sit in the shade for a bit.
Harry watched them walk by and couldn’t stop the drop in his stomach. Nat’s powers had grown substantially in the last few years. Her abilities as an Augmentum Imaginari were now surpassing what Harry thought even Dumbledore could have done without significant effort. It was almost divination, except this was real.
And the little girl with her eyes closed, head rested on Al’s shoulder while she tried to find her balance again, had no way to protect herself. He glanced back to the beach and saw nothing but water. He could only see the water. He closed his eyes, waited through the nagging panic, and smiled at Ginny when she took his hand. “Maybe no more magical historical sites, right?”
“Agreed,” Ginny said with a shiver. “That was spooky… and really cool.”
He had to laugh at that and press a kiss to her temple. He felt his love for her spring more sharply into focus and grinned. “Indeed it was.”
“Do you want to go on a walk?” Al asked Nat two afternoons after their trip to the Roanoke settlement. She’d spent much of the last few days either in bed, or on the lounger on the long porch. It was where she was currently sitting, drinking some iced down herbal tea that Al personally thought tasted terrible. She was still pale, and a little out of sorts, but the day had cooled off enough and it was almost pleasant. Clouds had filtered in over the last few hours, and thunderheads were building in the west, which everyone said would mean a big storm, but it wasn’t predicted to hit until after dark.
She glanced out to the sea and her blue eyes tracked the waves. “Okay, just not far.”
He nodded and waited while she stood and set aside her tea cup. Al went to the door and called out to his mum that they were leaving, and then answered, again, that yes they were both wearing the panic watches that they’d brought from Uncle George.
“I swear,” Al said, once they were safely out of his mother’s hearing and walking slowly north along the beach, the ocean to their right, “you’d think I was four the way she treats me.”
“It isn’t you, Al,” Nat sighed and he checked his step so he wouldn’t outpace her.
He didn’t want to go far, just far enough so that she could start to feel more normal. Plus the ocean seemed to have a calming effect on her. “Are you okay?”
She nodded and he watched, a little fascinated as she pulled her hair down and rubbed at her scalp. “My hair gets heavy when it’s up for a while.” Instead it tumbled and floated out behind her in a pale curtain that was getting paler by the day, losing more and more of its strawberry hue. Nat, too, was getting a bit of a tan from their weeks at the beach. Their holiday wasn’t even half over, and Al didn’t know when he’d had as relaxing a trip.
Here, in America, no one knew his father. No one looked at Al and wondered if he was ever going to match up to Harry Potter. There was no pressure here, and Al loved it. He missed his grandparents. He missed his aunts, uncles, and cousins. He missed Teddy and Victoire. But here in America he was just Al, and his dad was just Harry, even among most of the wizards.
“It will be difficult going back to school after all of this,” Nat mused as she turned her face up to the clouds and the breeze which kicked up for a moment. “We’ll be so spoiled. The beaches in England are nothing like this, although I have to say that the Bahamas are my favorite beaches.”
Al asked her about that, about her trips with her father. He liked to hear the stories of her early years with the famous anthologist. “It was a pirate discovery,” Nat explained. “Or so they thought. He was hired by a local museum to authenticate that it was a murdered pirate, which was impossible, of course.”
“Why?” Al wanted to know.
“He could have said a lot of things about the man,” she told him, “including if he was likely a sailor, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t an honest sailor. No one can know, for sure. But it turned out not to matter. The skeleton was at least a hundred years too new to be a pirate. It was old, but not quite old enough. It was more likely from the American Civil War era, or just before that. He did determine that the man had likely died from a bullet. He found a bit of the musket ball still in his spine.”
“Ouch,” Al winced as they rounded a dune. He enjoyed the sand under his feet, and the warmth that built up over the day, that was now releasing into the cooling late afternoon air. “So what did–”
Nat let out a shriek and Al jumped as he spun to her. But she wasn’t looking at him. He glanced over his shoulder and stared at the dune. The sand was mounded in sea grass and had a few dried bits of seaweed clinging to it. “What’s the matter?”
“You don’t see it?!” she demanded, a little hysterically, as she pointed to the dirt.
“No,” Al said slowly, “what…” but he let his voice trail off as he realized what this meant. “You’re seeing a magic thing I can’t, Leah. Tell me what you see.”
Nat pulled in two deep breaths and grabbed his arms, her fingers digging into the flesh as she held herself still. “Okay, sorry… it’s awful, Al! It’s a dead body.”
Al’s stomach gave a very long lurch. He didn’t have to think about it as he reached out his free hand and pressed the alarm buzzer to summon his dad. They didn’t have long to wait until his father came running. His initial relief at seeing them fell away immediately as Nat explained what she was seeing. After the initial shock of seeing the magical concealment, she quickly regained most of her composure, but Al had her sit with him on the sand while his dad went for help from the American Aurors.
“This is the worst kind of luck,” Nat said miserably as she drew shapes in the sand. “How do I explain how I found it?”
“Want me to say I did it?” Al asked her and wished he could do more.
She shook her head. “I don’t even know why I yelled like that, Al! I’ve seen dead bodies before. I’ve seen magic worked like this. It’s just…”
“It’s a shock to your body, still,” he reminded her. “You said it feels like you’re being overwhelmed by all the sensations?”
Nat groaned and leaned against him. “I think I’d like to hand back this particular magical skill.”
“I’m not sure it works like that,” he said and tried not to smile. She didn’t really mean it, but with all of her other challenges, this was just more work on top of it.
They waited almost twenty minutes before a squad of Aurors showed up and tried to send Al and Nat home. Harry wouldn’t budge. “You’ll want her here,” he explained. “Come, now, I’ll show you were I found the magical concealment.”
Nat let out a small sigh of relief. “Okay, that’s better. It makes sense that the Head Auror would spot something like that.”
“Looks like Dad is going to have you look at the body,” Al told her and tried not to cringe at the thought. Nat might be used to corpses, but that didn’t mean he was. “You up for that?”
“I am if they’ll let me,” she replied quickly. “I don’t think they’ll want to take my word for it.”
They didn’t. In fact, after they’d revealed the body, they tried everything to get all three of them out of there.
“No,” Harry told them firmly. “Trust me on this, you want her to look at the skeleton. She’ll be able to give you a good description right here and now.”
The woman in charge, a very tall, solid woman with a short, brown bob shook her head and pointed back towards Nat so that her robes billowed out in the breeze. It appeared that the storm was moving faster than predicted, and Al didn’t think they’d even make it until after dinner before the rain hit.
“She is just a little girl,” the woman said in a clipped, American accent. It wasn’t from the area.
“New York,” Nat piped up. “You have a very Queens accent.”
The woman froze, whatever she was going to say died on her lips. “How…”
Nat climbed to her feet and walked slowly over. Al stood up, as well, and followed behind, but kept his distance.
“Please,” Nat said to the woman quietly. “Let me help. Al, can you go back and get James with a sketch pad, please? He can draw.”
“I can draw,” another man piped in, but this one definitely had the southern drawl. “You actually think you can give me a face?”
“She can,” Harry promised the American Aurors. “I’ve had to rely on her before. Let her help.”
Nat stepped over to the body which was laid out on the sand. Al could see, now, that there had never been a dune. It was just a small amount of sand that had been hastily shoveled over the body before the enchantment had been erected. She knelt and examined the head, first, taking a careful study. “He’s male, which you can see from the pubic bone and the brow ridge. He’s very tall,” Nat said as she gazed down at the legs. “Very tall, at least six foot five.”
When no one moved, she went on. “I can guess at black, but that’s a guess. The jaw and the teeth…” she spent several minutes just on the teeth. “He’s young, no more than fifteen or sixteen. Wow, that’s so tall for that young.”
Al had stopped watching Nat and had turned to the stare at the Aurors, all of whom where horribly still. They all looked sick.
“I can’t…” the one who’d said he could draw told them. He cleared his throat. “I can’t do the sketch.”
“Al,” Harry told him, “go get James.”
Al ran, and by the time he and James made it back with a pad and pencil, Nat was examining something about the ribs. “That one was broken, but looks like it was healed magically. It’s very slight, which is what I’ve seen in those injuries.”
James recoiled at the sight of the body, but he pulled it together enough to sit with Nat to compose a sketch. “I think he was black, James, maybe about sixteen. He had one of those really long, narrow faces that very tall men have, you know?”
All the while his brother sketched through it, and the Aurors stood silent sentinels around them as the sky went darker. “You want to move the body?” Harry asked at one point.
“Almost done,” Nat assured him. “Fill out the brow right there, nose a bit more… yeah. Eyes more almond shape. Yes,” she nodded to James. “That’s good.”
James handed the sketch to the woman, who took it with a trembling hand. “Do you know how long he’s been dead?”
“The magic hid the body even from the bugs,” Nat told her. “Best guess is at least a year.”
“Damn it,” she swore almost under her breath. She studied the sketch, then showed it to her team. “Thoughts?”
“It’s him,” the Auror who had refused to draw it told her. “Oh, Merlin, it’s him, Rhea.”
Rhea gave a grim nod. “We know who this is. We’ve been looking for him for almost fourteen months.”
“What’s his name?” Nat asked her quietly.
“Samuel Kingston,” the Auror told her bitterly. “Only child of my former boss in the Auror Department, Louis Kingston. He’s a good man. He and his wife are going to be devastated.”
Nat shot to her feet and Al watched her sway. He rushed forward and pulled her against him before her knees could buckle. “Too much,” Al told her as he supported her and kept her in close. “She needs to get home and eat, Dad.”
His father inclined his head to the Auror. “You know where we are if you need us.”
“Is she okay?” Rhea asked Harry.
Harry felt at Nat’s forehead. “Clammy. Nat, do we need to head to the hospital.”
“No hospital,” Al said. “Hang on.” He thought of the house-elf and called out, “Polly, I need food for Nat!”
A moment later, a loud pop sounded and the house-elf handed Al some snacks and he sank back to the sand with his dad and James’ help. Nat’s full weight, which wasn’t much admittedly, leaned against him as they worked to get food into her.
“It’s just low blood sugar,” James explained to the Auror. “She had a curse on her for a couple of years; got it in an Egyptian tomb or something. She’s always passing out.”
“Maybe I should call a Healer to come,” Rhea suggested.
“No,” Nat croaked. “‘M fine,” she said firmly, even though her words slurred a bit. “Just need a few minutes.”
“I think we’ll just head back home,” Harry told the Auror. “Please let us know if we can help. We’re really sorry to hear about the boy.”
“I am, too,” Rhea replied with a long sigh. “I appreciate you letting us know you found something.”
Al’s dad bent and picked Nat up like she weighed nothing. “Let’s go before this storm hits.”
“Maybe Polly should take her back,” James suggested as they gazed off towards the sky.
Harry shook his head. “Go ahead home, Polly, thanks. No,” he told James. “The trip would be very stressful and her body can’t take much more.”
“Look at that one!” Lily cried from the bed next to Nat as lightning split the sky. Nat had turned in early, but Lily had come straight in after her and joined her on the bed that faced the ocean through the big windows. The crack came a moment after the strike and Lily jumped, even though she’d known it was coming. “I love this! We don’t get storms like this back home.”
“Not as often,” Nat agreed with a yawn.
Lily watched the sky as the rain pounded on the roof of the house and still couldn’t believe what had happened. “Was it scary?”
Nat was silent for a moment before she answered. “No, actually. I mean, the first part was scary. Seeing the magic is always scary.”
“Why?” Lily asked.
“Because it’s like… it’s like seeing something that shouldn’t be there. It frightens me. I except to see sand, not globs of greenish-gray goop hiding a body from sight.”
Lily shuddered. “Okay, I can understand that. But after that part?”
“It felt like… like I was doing something that was useful and I loved it,” Nat told her on a long sigh. “I have no desire to actually work forensics like my dad does, you know? But I’m so good at it and I was able to help someone today. It isn’t the kind of news the family is going to want, but it’s better than never knowing. I did that for them days earlier than anyone else could because I have this freaky magical gift.”
Lily watched another fork of lightning hit out in the ocean and waited for the crash before she spoke. “It’s like knowing your purpose.”
“Exactly,” Nat agreed. “James is going to play Quidditch. Al will be an Auror. I…”
When she didn’t continue, Lily nudged her with her shoulder. “What do you want?”
“It’s pathetic,” Nat told her flatly. “It’s not going to happen.”
“Why not?” Lily demanded curiously. “Is it something insane to get?”
“I want a family,” her friend said in a small voice.
Lily tried to think that one through, and was lost immediately. “You want a family?”
“I want… I want to get married and have children,” Nat said and Lily heard the tears in her words. She rolled over and hugged her friend’s shoulder, pressing her nose to Nat’s wet cheek. “I want to be settled in one place and know I belong there.”
“Why won’t you get that?” Lily wanted to know.
“Because…” Nat’s voice hitched. “Because I know what I’m going to look like, Lily. I’m not going to be pretty. I’m going to look strange, like a squashed bug. I might not even be able to have children if I don’t start having a cycle. Who would want me?”
Lily felt her own tears fall. “Natalie… you don’t know for sure what will happen.”
Nat sucked in a deep breath and ruthlessly swiped away the tears. “I need to feel useful. I need to help your dad on more cases. I need that. I didn’t even realize how much I needed that. If I can’t have my dream job, well… I can find joy in other areas.”
Lily opened her mouth, then closed it again. “Yeah.”
“What do you want to do, Lily?”
Lily smiled, but could barely put much effort into it. “I want to run a restaurant.”
“You do?” the surprise was genuine.
“We don’t have many magical restaurants in England, you know,” she said. “Daddy and I would go on dates and I loved it! I don’t really want to cook, although I don’t mind that. But I want to open restaurants with good food and I want to be the one who keeps them going. I think that would be my dream job. I want to give people that experience without having to worry about hiding their magic.”
“I like it!” Nat said with real enthusiasm. “I’ll make up the menu for you.”
“It’s a deal,” Lily laughed and then squealed as another crash of thunder ripped through the room.
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