|SIYE Time:15:10 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: 96446; Chapter Total: 1370
Awards: View Trophy Room
Big, massive thank you to Arnel for beta'ing this for me!
First off, everyone, I had to switch over to using a dictation program to record me telling the story. Between my two jobs, my arms are being worked a lot. I'm still learning to use the dictation program, so there were a whole lot of mistakes made. If you find grammar errors, please let me know and please be kind. I'm still new to this way of writing! It's going to get better, and I need this to write. My arms hurt too badly to continue to write quickly without it.
Last, if you would like to be a test reader for my books, please send me a message here or to my gmail account (sarahjaune03 AT gmail DOT com). Free copy of the book for an honest review (even if you hated it!)
Another peal of thunder slipped smoothly through the room rocking the bed with the force of the sound. Lily let out a squeal of laughter as she rolled over to face the storm and Nat couldn’t help but notice just how alive the flashes of lightning made her appear. Lily was bright. She was energy and fire. It almost seemed to Nat that Lily was the lightning. As another flash filled the windows, followed quickly by the boom of thunder, an idea formed fully realized in Nat’s head that Lily was going to make just as bright of an impression on their world. Then, like the lightning, the thought was gone, leaving only an imprint of the light behind her eyes. She tried to hold onto the idea and find the foundation of where it had come from, but it was no use.
It probably should have left her feeling good about Lily’s future, but for some reason it gave her decidedly uncomfortable feeling. Nat didn’t know what to make of it so she didn’t say anything to Lily as they continue to watch the storm. “What do you think about James and Caroline?” Nat asked.
“That’s a really good question,” Lily mulled, “I guess I would have to say that James has a thing for her, and she doesn’t know what to do about it. I feel really bad for her and Honor. They have had a tough life all around.”
Nat’s thoughts were as solid as mist. She knew that Caroline’s little sister was one of Lily’s best friends, but she didn’t know her all that well. It was like Honor hid in the background behind the sunshine that was Lily. For her part, Lily tried to draw her friend out but she never pushed. Nat thought it was possible that Lily understood Honor better than anyone else and knew she couldn’t be pushed out into the spotlight. The next flash lit up the dancing sky and the roll of clouds, but the thunder didn’t boom immediately. Nat’s mind flashed back to what she discovered on the beach and all of her thoughts connected to that. She might be worried about such trivial things as her future plans or who liked who, but there was a boy who didn’t get to grow up. There was a boy who would forever be young and who left behind brokenhearted parents with no one to turn to for comfort in their later years. “I guess it doesn’t really matter,” Nat told Lily quietly. “The truth of the matter is that all of those things are fleeting and trivial and can be gone in a second.”
“I know,” she whispered into the darkened room. “But if we only live where the darkness dwells, and we don’t take time to enjoy the silly parts of life, everything becomes really narrow and depressing.” Lily sighed and rolled until she could stare at the ceiling. “I know you’re thinking about the boy,” she continued. “I have been thinking about him. too. I can’t imagine what his parents are feeling, and I can’t imagine what it was like for you to discover him. I think, as long as were living life to the fullest, we honor his memory.”
“It isn’t that I disagree with that,” Nat told her, “but… never mind. You’re right. We just need to live.”
Nat thought back to her walk with Al, and her face flushed as she remembered how good it had felt to simply be with him. Part of her really wanted Al to notice her, but she knew the odds weren’t in her favor. Al was good-looking and popular. He could have any girl he wanted, and Nat didn’t think it would be her. She forced herself to think of something, anything, else. “Does your Mum have anything else planned for us this week? I know there’s a lot of history around here, but I’m not sure I’m up for seeing any of it.”
“I don’t think so,” Lily replied as another flash of lightning lit up the room. Nat could tell that this one was even further away than the last. The storm was definitely moving out to sea. “I think she’s accepted that it’s not a good idea to take you to historical sites, well, at least magical ones.” The younger girl fell silent for most of a minute before she asked, “If you could give it back would you?”
Natalie didn’t need for her to explain further to know what it was that Lily was asking about. There were so many times when Nat wished that she was just like everyone else. “If I was going to pick which way I was special,” she told her slowly, “it wouldn’t have been this way. But I think that’s why we don’t get to choose our caps. We don’t always know what’s best for ourselves, and I think that I would have been unhappy if I had been given what I wanted.”
“What would you pick?”
“That’s easy,” she snorted. “I would’ve chosen to be pretty, but as you know pretty doesn’t always make things easy.”
Lily hummed in agreement. “Caroline is beautiful, and that’s partly why her father targeted her over her sister, Honor, because he was crazy and that mattered most to him.”
“There is that,” she agreed sadly. “I really hope that–” she cut off as a knock sounded at the door. “Come in.”
Al push the door open a bit and peered in at them. “Dad wanted me to see if you two were okay.”
“We’re fine,” Lily told him. Just as she said it a gale force gust hit the house, rattling the windows.
Al’s brow rose as he looked up windows of their bedroom. “I thought the storm was over, but maybe I’m wrong.”
“Storms can move fast through here,” Nat explained to them. “But odds are good the storm will last for a little while longer. The storm systems here tend to be focused in short bursts of intense rain and thunder.”
Both Lily and Al stared at her in amazement. “I don’t know why you know all of this,” Lily said in bemusement, “but I’m glad you do.”
“James and I are turning in,” Al told the girls. “See you in the morning.”
They both watch the door close quietly behind him and another harsh gust rocks the house. “I guess another storm is coming,” Lily said quietly.
Nat didn’t answer, but she thought about what Lily said as her friend drifted off to sleep next to her. Lily hadn’t meant anything more than the weather outside the room, but Nat’s brain wouldn’t shut off to let her sleep. Her mind kept racing through everything that it happened, to all the things she felt like she should’ve done. There were so many ways that she could’ve handled the day differently. She knew Al was trying hard to get her out of her funk. She hated feeling like this and knew, intellectually, that it was depression brought on by her health. It seemed so unfair that everyone around her could run and play. Everyone around her could eat whatever they wanted, while she was stuck carefully weighing everything that she put in her mouth. Nat knew that Mr. and Mrs. Potter were watching closely to make sure that she was eating enough, and it bothered her.
She had tried so many times to resolve to be better. Nat really wanted to feel better, to feel more like her old self. It was painful to know that she was bringing everyone else down. Logically, Nat knew that she couldn’t help how she felt, and that no one around her resented her for it. She also knew that she couldn’t will herself back to happiness. An old saying flashed into her memory. She thought it might be Buddhist, but couldn’t remember exactly where she’d heard it… she couldn’t even remember what language it had been in. One of the old cooks that her father had hired used to say this to her whenever she started to worry as a child. Depression is living in the past. Anxiety is living in the future. Peace is living in the now. Nat wasn’t entirely sure that she believed it, but she understood the sentiment. If she dwelled on what she lost, she would be depressed. If she dwelt on the mistakes she’d made, she would be depressed. If she worried about the future, she would get bogged down in all the possibilities. If she thought only of the future, she would forget to enjoy the now.
If Nat focus her mind to stay always in the moment, the past couldn’t hold her back, and the future couldn’t overwhelm her. She sighed and pulled the sheet further up as she listened to the wind beating a steady rhythm against the house. It was something that she could do, she knew. That would have to be good enough.
“I don’t think we’re supposed to be in the bathtub, in the middle of a thunderstorm,” Harry drawled lazily as he ran his fingers up and down his wife’s bare, wet arm.
“Why is that?” Ginny wondered, as she raised a foot out of the warm bubble bath to rest it against the side of the tub.
Harry hadn’t known the house would come with a huge Jacuzzi in the master suite, but it was a perk that he was enjoying to the fullest. They’d taken a bath together almost every night, something they hadn’t done in many years. Life had been in the way. They’d let careers and their kids monopolize their relationship. But here they were supposed to be on holiday, and that day hadn’t been a good day. It was all Harry could do not to dwell on the dead teenager and the lies he told the American Aurors. In other words, he wanted to talk to her about work. He’d heard many older married couples say that it was easy to fall into the trap of neglecting their marriage, but if he was honest Harry thought he and Ginny were immune to it. However, he’d come to realize that when they weren’t talking about the kids, or work, they didn’t have much to talk about. The disastrous truth was that for all the ways Harry was the exception to every rule, he was not the exception when it came to his wife.
“What you thinking about?” Ginny asked, breaking into the silence of the room, save for the lapping of the water against the edge of the tub.
Harry pondered for a long moment just how to tell her what he’d been feeling. It wasn’t that he couldn’t share everything with her, but in some ways it felt like admitting their distance was admitting personal failure. “Sometimes it feels like the only thing we discuss is the kids,” he admitted reluctantly. “I know that’s not really the case, but we used to talk about things like politics and sports.”
“We still talk about sports,” Ginny reminded him. “I don’t like talking about politics with you because it always leaves you frustrated. You have to deal with politicians every day with your job. My biggest stressor is my editor. Well, sometimes the players who don’t like to keep their hands to themselves.”
He sat up straighter, trying to get a better look at her face, but she kept her back pressed to his chest and her head on his shoulder. She took one of his hands and laced their fingers. “Relax,” she told him with a snort. “I can handle myself, as I’m sure you will remember.”
Harry did well remember that his wife was a hex first, ask questions later, sort of woman. She didn’t suffer fools lightly, nor would she put up with crap from anyone. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
“Because I handle it,” she retorted with annoyance finally edging her voice. “It was never any of England’s players. They’ve all been very respectful, but sometimes the foreign players would get a little too friendly.”
He didn’t know what to make of that statement, or know exactly how to feel about it. “I just can’t believe anyone would take such liberties with you.”
“No one who knows you’re my husband would,” Ginny sighed, then she let out an amused giggle. “One time one of the players from Morocco was chatting me up, and Timothy Ryan, you remember the Beater for England, right? Anyway, he came up to us. He put his hand on the other player’s shoulder, and I thought for sure he was going to tell him that you were my husband.”
Harry felt his back stiffened as he pictured the scene in his mind eye. “What happened?”
“Well,” she drawled out lazily as she traced the line along thigh that left him shivering, “Tim told the other player he better look out because I have a mean right hook. Unfortunately, the other player didn’t know what he meant by that, but he found out quickly when he wouldn’t back off.”
“You hit him?” Harry gasped in amazement.
She shook her head and stretched her arms up over his head to lace her fingers behind his neck. He wanted to pay attention to what she was saying, but the view was too enticing and he missed the first part of her sentence. “So then he dropped to his knees, cradling his bruised crotch.”
He didn’t wince, but it was close. What Harry really wanted to do was forget about Quidditch players, and how sexy everyone else found his wife. But it wasn’t the thing that was causing them to sit in long silence with nothing to talk about. “Are we just too used to each other?”
“That might be part of it,” she mulled as she lowered her arms. He watched, almost in fascination, as she used her index finger to slowly pop the bubbles that drifted around her stomach. “Honestly, I’d rather be a little bored with you than fighting all the time. Some people enjoy the conflict, but I see what it’s done to Ron and Hermione, and I don’t want to be them.”
He thought about his best friends and all of the counseling they’d had to go through just to salvage some of their marriage. Wizards didn’t get divorced, not in England anyway, so it was prudent to work through anything that came up. When they had been younger, they’d had to learn to live with each other, which was harder than most people would assume. Harry loved being with Ginny, especially after the years of fighting Voldemort, but now that they had their routines, it was easy to take each other for granted. “I don’t really know how to challenge you,” he acknowledged. “I’d like to, but I know you so well that everything is become routine.”
“We could discuss books,” she suggested halfheartedly. “Or we could find a hobby together.”
“You mean like winetasting or golf?” Harry chuckled as he pictured them continuing on with the ridiculous Muggle game. He’d seen a real golf course a few days before as they had driven around the Outer Banks, and he couldn’t imagine anything being more boring. “Why do they consider that exercise? There’s nothing to it that’s exercise. You stand still and hit a ball, then you move to the next hole in a golf cart.” He’d asked one of the local Muggles to explain the game to him, pretending as though they didn’t have golf in England. Actually, when he’d asked about golf in England, he hadn’t realized that the game was played worldwide, but thankfully the teenager who told him about it didn’t know that golf was universal. “I don’t mind the mini-golfing, because at least with that I get to hit the ball into the mouth of the dragon, or over a stream.”
“My favorite was the windmill,” Ginny told him. “Or maybe it was the pirate ship. But that’s not the point,” she reminded him. “The point is that if we find something to do together, just the two of us, we’ll have more to talk about and will build our relationship away from the kids.”
Harry bent to kiss her neck and wound his arms tied around her torso. “That’s a plan, then. But first, I have a different idea, and it definitely involves this bathtub.”
They could’ve had their own bedrooms, James acknowledged himself, but when given the choice he and Al had chosen one of the bedrooms with two twin beds in it. They hadn’t really talked about it, and James knew that a few years ago he wouldn’t have wanted to share with Al. But times were changing, and so was he. He and Al no longer fought like they used to. They no longer tricked or hurt each other as had been the case when they were young. Al was becoming James’s friend, as well as his brother, and James had begun to realize just how much he valued it. The lightning flashed, and the thunder rolled as Al reappeared in their door way. He shut the door quietly and trudged over to his bed.
“What’s up?” James asked him.
“Nothing,” Al denied.
This was the one thing that still annoyed James. If he was going to take the time to notice that his brother was in a funk, he wanted Al to at least admit that something was wrong. “Don’t give me that crap,” he said mildly. “The girls okay?”
“Yeah, they’re fine. Lily is enjoying the storm, and Nat seems good.”
James waited for a moment, wondering if his brother would elaborate. “You have a thing for her.” It wasn’t a question.
Al Huff got annoyed breath. “I do not have a thing for her,” he retorted angrily. “She’s one of my best friends. I’m worried about her. She isn’t the same as she used to be.”
All of that was true, James knew, but it wasn’t the whole of the story. James knew that his brother cared for Nat a great deal, and he maybe even loved her as a friend. James thought that was likely, but there was more to their relationship than Al ever let on. For one thing, Al was always looking after her. His brother sat by her, ate with her, tried to cheer her up, and was an all-around soppy mess. It would be embarrassing if James didn’t pity him, but as James had his own damsel in distress, he knew he couldn’t judge too harshly.
She was his weakness. She was possibly also his biggest strength. When James thought about who he’d been before he’d come to know Caroline, he cringed. It was painful to remember the callous, selfish boy who had tormented his family, and had taken everyone for granted. He hadn’t been a nice person. He hadn’t wanted to think about anyone but himself.
The memory of killing Donald Baker was still fresh in his mind, no matter what James did. He didn’t want to see the dead man above him, or the branch sticking out of his neck. He definitely didn’t want to relive the broken bones, the pain, or just how warm man’s blood had been as it poured down over James’ face. There were some memories that were best left forgotten, as long as he remembered the lessons from the incident. Unfortunately, James was pretty sure that he would not be able to keep fresh in his mind the frailty of life, or the things that were important, if he forgot what it was to end a man’s life.
“I’m worried about her,” Al said as he gave voice to his concerns again. Another flash blossomed from the sky, lighting up the clouds and the beach far below their window. The wind howled and leaves flew by in a tornadic cyclone.
James nodded, and then realized that was stupid because his brother couldn’t see him in the dark. “Are you worried because she’s your friend, or because you like her?”
“Sod off,” Al growled. “Just friends.”
He made a noise that he thought sounded like agreement, but realized from his brother’s annoyed sigh, that he had been completely convincing. “Not arguing with you.”
“You were thinking about it,” his brother said angrily as he rolled to face him. James couldn’t see him, but could imagine that Al was glaring at him. “You think you have it all figured out, don’t you? You think you know everything, just because you’re older than I am. You don’t know anything!”
That took James aback. He had realized he was poking a sore spot when he started the conversation, but he could see now that Al was really sensitive when it came to Nat. “I’m sorry, Al,” he said sincerely. “I didn’t mean anything by it.”
“What about you?”
“What about me?” James retorted, as he felt his face flush. He knew exactly what Al meant, of course, but that didn’t mean he wanted to offer it up. It was too personal. It was too painful. It was too… everything.
Albus didn’t let it drop. “What about you and Caroline?”
It was on the tip of his tongue to lie, because that was the easier answer. But had he just been thinking that his brother was becoming his friend, and it wasn’t as though Al was likely to tease him or to try and ruin things for him. Al wasn’t like that. His brother was a good, decent person, which used to annoy James, but he was starting to appreciate him now. What he saw now in his brother was someone who could be trusted, someone to count on, and a person who he would be lucky to have as a friend. James pulled in a deep breath and slowly let it out as he worked through what to say. He wasn’t going to lie. “Nothing with Caroline is easy,” he explained slowly. “She’s been through so much, and most she won’t talk about. Much of the time I can’t even get her to talk to me, at all.”
“So then why do you bother?” Al asked him. He didn’t say it with any malice or derision, but frank curiosity.
James had an answer for him. “It’s the same reason that you stick by Natalie,” he explained grimly. “I’m drawn to her. Sometimes you just can’t help that.”
Al was silent for a long time, so long in fact that James thought he might’ve fallen asleep. Finally, he asked in a very small voice, “Are you in love with her?”
It left James stunned, and a little lightheaded. He hadn’t thought about it that way, at all. It was scary. It was too much. It was… “Yes.” Oh Merlin, the answer was yes. His brain wanted to argue with his heart. James could feel the need to deny growing strongly in his gut. He was too young for this, and he couldn’t really know himself. But none of that felt right. What felt right inside of him was his feelings for Caroline. It was what drove him, and helped keep him on the straight and narrow. She helped turn him into a better person… no, that wasn’t right. She hadn’t asked him to change, and he didn’t think she’d even thought about it. It was just her, just her being herself that had pushed him to see that he needed to be a better man.
That was too weird to think about.
“Can’t believe you admitted it,” his brother said it with awe.
“Can’t believe I did either,” he told him fully. “But it’s the truth, so I’m not going to deny it to you.”
“What are you going to do about it?”
James would’ve laughed if there’d been any humor to the situation. “Nothing,” he said as another flash of lightning illuminated the room. “She doesn’t want anything to do with me that way. I just have to wait and hope that she changes her mind at some point.”
The mess that littered the beach the next morning was stunning. Harry would’ve thought the bomb gone off, except for the fact that the debris was leaves, driftwood, and tree limbs. By the time they were moving the next morning, many of the locals were out on the beaches gathering up piles of debris. Everyone went out to join in with the Muggles who were cleaning up. It was a good time, too, because the kids could interact with other teenagers who were on the beach for holiday. Harry had a long discussion with the man staying two houses down from them about the hurricanes that plagued the east coast of America every year. The sky overhead was iron gray, and still looked formidable, but he was told by the locals that the worst had passed, at least for now.
Harry turned and spotted a woman with a short mop of brown hair approaching from the street. Her black robes billowed out behind her, and although her shoes had to be sinking in the wet sand, it didn’t slow her down. “Auror West,” he said as he greeted her formally. Thankfully, none of the Muggles were around at that moment. He saw Ginny eye the woman curiously, then shoot him a questioning glance. He motioned to her to come over as he held out a hand to shake the Auror’s hand. “This is my wife, Ginny.”
Ginny held out her hand to the other woman. “Nice to meet you.”
“Likewise,” Rhea West said as she stuck her hand out to shake. She let go quickly, and turned back to Harry. “I know that you’re on vacation, but I was up all last night with the boy’s parents. Mr. Kingston was beside himself at the news of his son’s death, as you can well imagine. After the news sunk in, and I explained about the little girl’s ability to identify the body, he reminded me of a twenty-year-old case that haunted him his entire career.”
Intrigued, despite himself, Harry nodded. He did, however, keep his face neutral as he asked, “What case might that be?”
“It’s the body of a little girl that we found in a dumpster,” she explained in a low voice. “It was one of those cases where we just couldn’t put a name to her because her body was already skeletonized and there was damage. It… I think it would mean a lot to him if Natalie could look at the body. It would give him something else to think on.”
While he could understand why the retired Auror might want to focus on an old, unsolved case, that wasn’t what struck Harry. What caught his attention was where the body was dumped. The implications of what she was saying struck Harry immediately as odd. One did not usually find a skeleton in a dumpster. Dumpsters were emptied regularly, especially in the Muggle world. He had one or two occasions, himself, where he’d been called into examine the body discovered in such a manner. “That is odd,” he spoke the words slowly, deliberately. “Did you ever have any leads on who it might be?”
“No,” the Auror replied with a shake of her head. “We were wondering if the little girl might be up to an examination.”
Harry and Ginny exchanged a look that held an entire conversation without saying a word. He thought back to the night before, when he’d felt like they weren’t challenging each other, or that their relationship was getting stale. He thought about all the times that they’d spent learning each other. He knew, now, that he wouldn’t change it for anything. This ability to look at her and know exactly what she thought was priceless.
“She’s feeling better this morning,” Ginny commented carefully. “I think you could ask her and it would be safe.”
Harry nodded towards the beach to where the kids were collecting debris. Nat been working most of the morning, but she was now sitting on the beach watching everyone else. No one seemed to mind that she’d needed the break, not even the Muggles who didn’t know her. She had the aura of someone who was a little fragile, maybe a little weak. She was so tiny with her wispy strawberry blond hair flying out around her face. She looked a bit like a pixie, but a Muggle pixie like he saw in the shop windows.
As though she sensed their gazes on her, Nat turned her head to meet Harry’s eyes. Her glance flicked to Auror West’s, then back to Harry’s. She nodded and rose to slowly pad towards them.
“I guess we’re a go,” Harry told them. “We’ll need to take the car. She won’t be up to magical travel right now.”
Rhea studied him for a long moment. “I’ll have another Auror drive with you, and I’ll arrange to have the body moved to the local office. It should be done by the time you get there.”
For better or worse, Harry thought grimly, the day had just grown much more interesting.
Nat was quiet as she sat by herself in the back of the car. Harry sat in the driver’s seat, pretending to drive, with the silent Auror next to him. They drove for almost an hour heading into the city of Richmond, Virginia. The drive should have taken four hours, or more, especially in the heavy traffic, but the magical car slipped along unseen by other cars at more than twice the speed of everyone else.
“Where are we going?” Harry asked the silent Auror.
“Just south of the city,” was the clipped answer.
“This is the closest ministry facility… uh, Congress building is I guess what you call it…” Harry let his voice trail off.
When no further explanation was offered, Harry fell silent.
Nat shifted in the backseat. “The main government is housed in New York, right? The Muggles use Washington, D.C. as the base their government, but the magical community does not.”
“It’s No-Maj here,” the Auror reminded her.
“Oh, right,” she agreed quietly.
Harry turned and studied the young men beside him. His hair was light brown and cut close to his head. His eyes were a nondescript blue, and his face was very angular. He had the kind of rangy body that didn’t look intimidating, but in a fight, he would be able to hold his own. He looked poised on the edge, almost like a tightly wound spring. Harry had learned to read people’s bodies in order to find out how they would fight it magical duel. He would bet this man would do well for himself. But he was young, probably no more than twenty-five or twenty-six years old. It was also clear that he was not happy with this assignment. “I appreciate you coming with us,” Harry told him honestly. “Both Natalie and I are happy to help out your ministry in any investigation.”
The man didn’t react as Harry had hoped. Sighing silently Harry focused on the road again.
The car fell silent for another twenty minutes. Finally, Nat spoke up from the backseat. “You’re from California, right?”
The man started and turned to stare at her. “How did you know that?”
Nat cleared her throat. “It’s your accent, and it’s also something about the way you carry yourself. Californians just have a different way of doing things.”
Harry was stunned. He had never seen her do something like that. A New Yorker’s accent was very distinct, just like accent in England could be very distinct. But Harry had been to California, and he hadn’t noticed anything except the typical American accent. “That’s rather remarkable, Nat.”
“Not really,” she murmured as she sank down into her seat. “It’s just a thing.”
The Auror gave her an apprising look, then they fell back into the silence of the tree-lined freeway. Everyone said that England and Ireland were green, but Harry had to admit that drive up to Richmond was much the same. The only difference was that the sun was shining, now the clouds had passed, and the trees were positioned to hide the freeways from the Muggle homes.
“We’re almost there. It’s just up behind that bank over there,” the man told them as he pointed to their right. The roads sloped up an off ramp and the car followed without Harry’s intervention. He didn’t have much call to drive a car back in England, but he was going to have to look into this newer magical modification. He assumed, however, that it was probably illegal anywhere but in America. They drove past a few restaurants and a Muggle filling station before turning left into the bank’s parking lot, and the car drove around the back before it pulled to a stop. Harry pushed open the door before he opened Nat’s and gave her hand to help her out. She stared up at the building with wide-eyed amazement.
He didn’t see, exactly, what she could see. But what he saw was a door in a brick wall with a sign on it that said Magical Congress of the United States of America, and below that Richmond Office.
The younger men led the way through the door which opened at the touch of his wand. Behind the door was a long, narrow darkly lit hallway with doors off each side. He moved through the space until he arrived at the last doorway on the left. The man knocked twice sharply and at a word from inside opened the door to usher them in. It was an exam room, much like Harry would have seen back at St. Mungo’s Hospital. The room was shiny steel and chrome with a large metal table set in the middle. On the table was a body shrouded a white sheet. Behind the table stood Rhea West and one of the other Aurors Harry had met the night before.
“We’re glad you could make it,” Auror West told him. “It was good timing, actually, as we only finished setting up about ten minutes ago.”
Harry opened his mouth to say something but stopped when Nat stepped forward a tentative step, then another until finally she stood right next to the table. She was so small that she could barely see over the edge of it. It was obviously meant for a tall man or woman to use. “Do you have gloves and a stepstool?”
“Yes,” the woman replied simply and she nodded to the other man. Harry realized then that it was the same man who had assured them that he could draw. Harry noted that he had a sketchpad on a table behind him.
The sheet was removed and Harry saw immediately why they needed Nat’s help. The body was not large, may be that of a ten-year-old. Everything about the skeleton from the neck down seemed to be normal, but the face was horribly disfigured. The bones seemed to have melted in on themselves. It was all Harry could do not gasped out loud. It left him sick to think that anybody might do this to a child. He didn’t know how Nat had remained composed, but she had as she pulled on her gloves and began to examine the body.
“She isn’t a very old,” Natalie informed them quietly, with her head bent over the table to examine the bones more closely. “I would say no more than eight or ten years old. Some of the bones show signs of magical remodeling.”
“What are you looking for when you’re seeing magical remodeling?” asked Auror West.
Nat pointed to the right femur and the woman bent to examine it with her. “What I can see is that the bone is nearly perfectly together. Any bone that’s not broken you will never see any kind of stress fractures, or any kind of fissure. When there is a bone that’s magically healed, it’s just slightly off. Any bone that has been set conventionally by a Muggle, sorry No-Maj, doctor there is a very definite line left. You’ll see calcification and remodeling of the bones. In a magical healing the remodeling is so slight that it’s almost always imperceptible. But because I know what I’m looking for, I can spot it.”
“I don’t see it,” Auror West told her. She turned to her colleagues. “Can you see what she’s pointing out?”
First one man, and then the other, stepped up to examine the arm but both shook their heads. “I can’t see anything,” said the younger man who driven with them up to Richmond. He shot Nat skeptical glare. “We only have this child’s word that something is there.”
Nat shrugged her thin shoulders and studied him from head to toe. “I can tell you broke your foot when you were a child. It was set magically, but not until a few days after it happened.”
The man’s jaw dropped in astonishment. “How can you possibly know that?” He demanded angrily.
Natalie’s eyes stayed on the body, but Harry new exactly how she knew the answer. It wasn’t her father’s forensics that told her that. It was her magical skills of spotting the signatures of magic, combined with what she knew of forensics and anthropology. Those two things work together perfectly in her brain, but Harry wished that some of her brain would work towards regulating her health more. While this was a useful skill, and the magical law enforcement appreciated it, if he had a wish for her it would for her to be more normal.
“Can I continue?” she asked them quietly.
Auror West nodded. “Yes, please go on.” She shot the younger Auror a quelling stare, and he slunk back to the edge of the room.
They watched and waited as Nat examined the lower half of the skeleton for almost twenty minutes, before she moved on to the skull. She didn’t react outwardly, but Harry could see that there was strain on her face. He really hoped that she wasn’t going to be ill from this experience. Richmond would have a magical hospital that they could go to, but he knew she wouldn’t be happy about it. She spent almost as long on examining the skull as she did on the rest of the body.
Nat finally sighed and climbed off stepstool and went to sit on one of the few chairs that lined the edge of the room. “I believe her face was melted with a potion. If I had to guess, I would say it was a potion that caused extreme heating. Bones do not melt, though. So, something had to happen that would change the chemical or underlying structure of the bone itself. I think that I can give you a general description of her face.”
“Even with how disfigured it is?” Harry asked her.
She nodded sadly. “Even with it disfigured, I can still see her face. It’s just the thing I do. I’ve seen smashed skulls and sometimes the face just comes to me. Not always, but sometimes. I don’t think you’re going to figure out who she is, exactly, because she was clearly used for experimentation. Many things were done to her, and that her bones were kept for a long time to observe what would happen. Her bones have been cleaned, in a typical Muggle fashion. Unless the American magical community does things differently than the British, then her body was tampered with even after death.”
Horror and discuss flicked across everyone’s face as they took and what Nat said. Auror West cleared her throat. “No, we don’t clean the bones. We preserve the body in the exact state that it is found. It’s standard procedure.”
Harry waited a beat before Ian interjected. “Have you ever seen anything like this before?”
The two older Aurors exchanged and meaningful plants. “Yes,” West told him quietly. “We had a serial killer, but he’s dead now. He didn’t mutilate any of the bodies exactly like this, but he was known for mutilating. This might fit into his profile. It would give us a place to start, in any case.”
Harry moved to the girl and knelt down next to her. He took her hand and squeezed it reassuringly. “Are you going to be okay for a little bit?”
She sighed and gave him a tired smile. “I’ll be fine,” she assured him. “Even if I’m tired, this is really good work to do. I’m glad to help.”
Harry stood and had to hold back from barking out orders, which was his usual wont. “Let’s get started then. We have a long drive back after were finished.”
It took another hour for Nat to get the sketch right, and for them to answer the rest of the questions about the day before, and about the skeleton. They ended up eating dinner in one of the offices before they went back up the car to head back to the Outer Banks. The moment it was just Harry and Nat, he asked her, “Are you sure you’re doing all right?”
“Yes,” she said firmly, in truth rang out in her words. “This is the first time I haven’t felt helpless in almost a year.”
It shouldn’t have stunned Harry hear that from her because he knew what he felt like when he hadn’t had a job. He nodded and let the silence hang between them, but vowed to try to find more opportunities for her to use her particular magical gift for good. Now, however, it was time to get back to his family and to get back to his holiday.
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