|SIYE Time:2:24 on 16th January 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: 78624; Chapter Total: 596
Awards: View Trophy Room
Thank you Arnel for beta'ing!!
Please check out my original works. Sarah Jaune on amazon.
Teddy held up a finger to his lips, just as James started into his plans for the Quidditch team that year. He wasn’t the captain, but he was already acting like it. It amused Teddy to know end, but they had other matters. He pointed down towards the entrance to the tent flap where the Extendable Ears had just crept their way in. James rolled his eyes, but kept up his story on Quidditch.
The girls, it would seem, were spying on them. Teddy thought quickly through what he could say to get back at his wife for spying, but just as quickly he threw that out as an absolutely terrible idea. He hadn’t been married that long, but he’d been married long enough to know that making his pregnant wife mad was the epitome of stupidity. “You know,” he went on as the other boys watched him, waiting to see what he would do. “I have the best wife.”
James rolled his eyes and grinned. “It’s almost like you’re saying that directly to her.”
“She couldn’t hear you,” Fred practically sang the words out. “They could just come over and we could all talk.”
They heard the laughter from the tent next door and not even a minute later, all of them came tromping into the tent. With all of them crammed together on the seats and floor it was too crowded to even breathe, but it felt right. Teddy knew that this was the end for them. This was the last time they would be in the group of kids. The group, however, was made up of adults and kids. Molly and Fred were already eighteen, and Dom was seventeen, heading into her last year. Soon enough they would marry and start having children, and then their child wouldn’t be the only one. But as he watched them laugh and joke, he could still see the childish fun in them. He’d been out in the world working for a while now. He had responsibilities. As he sat with Victoire, his arm around her shoulder, he thought about this time next year when they’d have a baby sitting with them.
Or rather, in this crowd, he doubted the baby would be sitting with them. Lily was likely to snatch the baby up every chance she could. She liked babies. When Luna’s boys were tiny, she was the one on the floor with them, playing with them all the time.
“They thought they were lovers,” Nat said, interrupting his train of thought. The whole group was listening to her, now, although he’d missed the first part and had no idea what she was talking about.
“Come again?” Teddy asked. “I was wool gathering.”
Victoire filled him in. “She’s talking about ancient bodies that her father had examined.”
“Ah,” he nodded, not at all sure he wanted to hear where this was going.
“So,” Nat hesitated only briefly as she tucked a lock of her strawberry blonde hair behind her ear. “My dad thought for sure that’s what we’d find, even though the skeletons were not close in age. The woman was at least a good ten years older than the man’s, but I knew straight away that we were looking at a mother and her son. I could just see it. Dad thought I was crazy, but when the DNA came back, I was proved right. The bones showed signs of burning, so it looks like they might have both died in a fire and then were buried together.”
“Wait,” Roxy shook her head. “They were only about ten years apart in age?”
“Well, it might have been a bit more than that,” Nat said simply. “But it was about that much. It wasn’t uncommon for girls of ten or twelve to have babies hundreds of years ago. They think Mary from the Bible was only twelve or so.”
All of them stared at her blankly. “Who?” Al asked.
She shook her head and laughed. “Never mind, I can’t explain it.”
“As much as I’d like more scary stories,” Fred interjected jovially. “I think we should play midnight hide and go seek! Victoire, you can be the base keeper.”
Victoire opened her mouth to protest, then shut it again. “I guess it is that time, isn’t it,” she laughed as she rubbed at her stomach. “I’m the mum now.”
“That’s totally weird,” Louis told her as his face contorted uncomfortably. “I mean, I get that you’re married and all that, but uh… never mind.”
“Good thinking, so let’s play,” Teddy stood and off they went.
“It’s too hot,” Lily whined as they slowly tromped out of The Leaky Cauldron. “I feel like I’m melting.”
“We’ll get some ice cream,” Ginny promised her. “We’re meeting everyone there, anyway. It is rather hot today.”
Hot was a mild understatement, at least in Al’s mind. He was surprised that his shoes weren’t sticking to the cobbled stones of Diagon Alley. “Trying on new robes will be murder,” he told Nat.
She shrugged. “I don’t need new ones, so that’s mostly your problem.”
“Yeah, yeah, just rub it in,” he said as he ran a hand unconsciously through his newly shorn hair. His mum had hacked it off that morning and he still wasn’t used to it.
“You think I like the fact that I’m not growing any?” Nat demanded sharply.
Al stopped in his tracks and gaped at her as she walked on. After a few steps, she seemed to realize he wasn’t with her, and she stopped to turn back towards him. Her tiny, pixie face was pinched up in what even a blind man could see was annoyance. “What’s up with you?”
Nat threw her hands up in the air and shook her head. “Honestly, Al!”
“No, I’m serious,” he assured her as he closed the gap between them. “What’s wrong?”
She annunciated each word sharply. “I am not growing up.” The extra pop she put on the ‘p’ could have been heard from across the Alley. Nat pointed to her chest. “I still look like a small child.”
“But you aren’t,” Al reminded her dumbly, unsure of what she was talking about. “I mean, youre fourteen."
She let out a long sigh and her whole body deflated with her. “You don’t get it, Al.”
“Does this have something to do with Aunt Audrey? She examined you yesterday.”
Nat’s cheeks flushed pink. “Yeah, well… she gave me something to help me grow up.”
“That’s good, then, right?” Al wondered, unsure of where this was going. Her face went bright red, then bled out until she was white as a ghost. Then, and only then, did he get what she was saying.
Nat glanced away from him, twisting her hands. “I’m just really mad today.”
Al had had this particular talk with his parents a couple of times. Puberty would do that to you. “That means it’s working, yeah?”
“Leah…” he said softly, so no one else would hear. “It’ll be okay.”
She swayed a moment and for a horrible second he thought she might pass out, but instead she stepped into him and pressed her cheek to his chest. She was so small that her head fit under his chin. Al wanted desperately to hold on and make the pain go away, but he caught sight of James watched them and ended up awkwardly patting her back before she let go. “It’s okay if you get upset. We’ll just ignore it. It’s a side effect of the potions.”
Nat gave him a half-hearted shrug and they resumed their walk. “I woke up this morning like everything was just terrible. Is this how you lot have been feeling all along? I mean, I knew how puberty was supposed to change a person, but this just feels dreadful.”
“It comes and goes in stages,” Al told her as they caught up with his family. “You might be getting a concentrated dose.”
“Guh,” was her only response.
They spotted Scorpius and his mum right away, waiting for them outside the ice cream shop. “It’s good to see you again,” Ginny told Astoria as she shook her hand with a smile. “How have you been?”
Al immediately tuned the adults out when he saw Scorpius’ face. “What’s up with you?”
“My aunt showed up last night,” he told them quietly as misery rolled off him. “She was completely drunk and could barely walk. She looks like she’s lost about a stone and she didn’t have much to lose. I checked on her this morning, but she was still passed out.”
Nat took Scorpius’ hand and squeezed it. Her eyes brimmed over as she said, “I’m so sorry, Scorpius! You must have been so scared for her and to have her show up like this…”
He gave her a tight smile, and she let go as he shrugged his shoulders and stuck his hands in pockets. “At least she’s safe right now. Mum called a healer to the house last night and they gave her a sobering up potion. Anyway, what’s up with you lot?”
Before either of them could answer, Lily, whom Al had forgotten was standing there, let out a squeal and bolted for a girl who was walking towards them. If Al hadn’t known it was Honor, based solely on the fact that Caroline was walking right behind her, he wouldn’t have recognized her. He wouldn’t say that Honor had been fat, exactly, but she’d definitely been chubby the year before. Gone was the chubby, tall, awkward girl with her long, coal black hair. In her place was a trimmed down, more athletic girl who walked easier in her body. Her hair was cut short to a bob and Al saw her face, truly, for the first time. Her eyes, which he’d rarely seen because she never looked at anyone, were still the same deep hazel, but now she was smiling all the way up to her eyes. She looked like an entirely different person. Lily threw herself at her friend and the two hugged and laughed as they walked off to the side to catch up.
Caroline stopped short at the sight of her sister, but her grin was genuine as she turned back to see them watching her. “She started running with me,” she told them as she came closer. “I talked her into the haircut.”
“It really suits her,” Nat replied as she considered her. “All of that hair just weighed her down and helped her hide.”
“Exactly,” Caroline agreed. While Honor looked a lot better from the end of the year, Caroline appeared about the same, maybe a little worse. She was still beautiful, that was not likely to change, but her skin appeared pale and maybe a little thinner.
James seemed ready to explode. Al didn’t know if he wanted to talk, hug her, or just run away, but when a moment passed and he’d done nothing, Nat jumped in. “How is cheer going?”
“It’s good,” Caroline answered then a flicked glance towards James, who still stood there, stupidly mute. Al sidestepped to him and, with the cover of Nat’s body, punched his brother’s arm.
“When is your first competition?” James finally managed to ask.
Nat backed up into Al, who grabbed her arms and held her from falling. “Oh sorry, Al. I didn’t realize you were back there.”
“Come here,” he said as he pulled her off away from his useless brother. He nodded to the two. “He’s been wanting to see her all summer and he totally blew it.”
“He’s just nervous,” Nat reminded him. “He really likes her, so it’s scary.”
Al shook his head, unsure of what to make of it. But then he thought about how he felt about Nat and knew exactly how his brother was feeling.
“That girl over there is checking you out,” Nat told him with a prod to his arm. “No, don’t look!”
Al felt his insides squirm as he tried to make sense of what was going on inside him. He glanced briefly at the girl, one of the girls in their year from Hufflepuff, and to his shock he saw that she was indeed staring at him! “Maybe I have something on my face.”
“I’d have told you if you had something on your face,” Nat retorted with a snort. “Do you want to go talk to her?”
He didn’t. He really didn’t. It wasn’t even that he was scared, although that was part of it, but mostly he just wanted to stay with Nat… Nat who didn’t seem to like him like that. If she did like him, she wouldn’t be pushing him towards other girls, right? Didn’t girls get jealous? Nat was different, though, which is partly why he liked her, even as just a friend. She didn’t react the way most people did.
“Uh,” Scorpius cleared his throat and Al jumped. He’d completely tuned his best friend out.
“Sorry, mate,” Al said earnestly. “It’s been a weird summer. I’m glad you’re Aunt Daphne is safe, even if it isn’t the best of circumstances.”
He shrugged a single shoulder, and then grinned as Rose ran up to them. “Hey, Rose.”
“Hey,” she greeted them back as she glanced over her shoulder. “Dad came today. Mum had something come up at work. I’m surprised Uncle Harry didn’t get called in. She said he would be needed.”
“Did she?” Al shot his father a speculative look, but Uncle Ron had his dad deep in conversation away from his mum and Mrs. Malfoy. “Well, he’s not supposed to go back to work until September first.”
“He’s looking serious, though,” Rose commented. “I bet he will go in.”
“Alright you lot,” Ginny called out to all the children. “We need to get moving. We’re going to get books first.”
Rose fell into step with Nat as they followed like ducklings behind the adults. “So how did it go with Aunt Audrey?”
“She gave me the potion,” Nat sighed heavily. “I feel terrible, Rose! I knew that it would rough, but I’m nauseated, exhausted, and I yelled at Al this morning.”
“On the plus side you’ll start growing, now,” Rose reminded her sympathetically. “It’s worth the pain.”
“She’s also put me on this new special diet where I will run on fat and not carbs since I don’t do well with carbs,” Nat informed her. She thought of her breakfast of eggs and avocado with some cheese and salsa. It wasn’t a bad breakfast, all things considered, but it meant she couldn’t eat rice anymore. “She said that it might make me feel bad for a few days while my body adjusts. It’s called ketosis or something.”
“You don’t know what it’s called?” Rose laughed. “You must really be in a foul mood. You always want to know what everything is called.”
“Well, I don’t want to know this,” Nat retorted with a grumble. “I can’t have juice anymore, and I feel like I’m about to explode out of my body.”
Rose gave her a one-armed hug. “Let’s go spend too much money on books. That’ll make us feel better.”
Natalie couldn’t help but laugh. “Yeah, that will.”
Something was up with Harry. Ginny could see how distracted he was, although he was doing his best to hide it from the rest of them. He kept an eye out for security while the kids ate ice cream, all except Nat who was forbidden from it. Ginny didn’t love her sister-in-law’s pronouncement that Nat would have to stop eating all forms of carbs, but she wasn’t the healer and Nat needed some major changes. She felt sorry for the kid. She was going through such a rough year. Ginny shook her head and refocused on Harry, who briefly met her eyes, and then gave a short shake of his head. She forced down her scowl and focused on the kids who were sitting at a table away from the grown ups. They’d bought all of the books the children would need, plus a few extras the girls had wanted. Hermione would have been proud. She was supposed to be here, but from the look on Ron’s face, and her husband’s, she knew that something was up. She’d just have to wait until she could get Harry alone.
“Did you have a good time?” came a voice from her right.
Ginny glanced to Astoria and plastered on an apologetic smile. “I’m sorry, I missed what you asked.”
“Your trip to America,” she repeated quietly. “Did you have a good time?”
“Oh, yes,” Ginny nodded. “We’d needed a chance to get away. I suggest it for anyone. No one knew who we were there, so it was lovely to be an anonymous family.”
Astoria’s beautiful, modeled smile was just a tiny bit wistful. “I’ve suggested getting away, but Draco isn’t sure it’s a good idea. He thinks we should stick close to home.”
Ginny wanted to ask why, but her relationship with Scorpius’ mother was tenuous at best. They’d been in the same year at school, but Ginny hadn’t known her then. “You lived in America during the war, right?”
“Yes, indeed we did,” Astoria’s smile was genuine then, just for a moment, before her expression fell. “I… I’m sorry. That must be a very painful subject for you. We ran.”
She surprised herself by reaching out to take Astoria’s hand. “I know what happened to the pureblood girls who didn’t have families doing what Voldemort wanted. I know that I survived because of my family, but that you wouldn’t have been so lucky.”
“You were kidnapped when you were seventeen,” Astoria said carefully. “You were kidnapped by my Aunt Isabelle.”
Ginny thought about that brief time with the crazy old woman who had been the one to start her down her current path. Isabella Crabbe had been Isabella Greengrass, the youngest child of Oscar and Beatrice Greengrass. Astoria’s father was the oldest, and Fionna Greengrass had been married off to Lucas Goyle. Isabella and Fionna had been young when they’d been kidnapped, raped, and then married off to the men who had fathered their children.
“Your aunt had a terrible life,” Ginny said, which was about all the compassion she could manage for the woman who had poisoned her, which resulted in the death of her baby, Hope. “I don’t hold it against you. You didn’t have anything to do with it. It’s a good thing that your father ran with you.”
“He…” she hesitated, glanced towards the kids who were ignoring them, and then stared down at the table. “He didn’t run before Daphne was… was…”
Ginny’s heart broke as she reached out for the other woman. “Oh no.”
“Daphne came in drunk last night. She’s always drunk, or running away. She had money, Father saw to that, but she comes and goes as the wind with no more thought to anyone than that. It breaks Scorpius’ heart to have her break her word to him. I think he cares for her most of all, but she doesn’t have it in her to be the steady hand he really needs.” Astoria’s lips compressed shut and Ginny knew she was regretting even saying that much.
Ginny reached out a hand and covered Astoria’s thin, pale fingers for just a moment. “Your son is growing into a good man. He’ll have to learn these lessons somehow. It’s giving him strength and a good heart.”
She didn’t cry, but Ginny could see it was a close thing. “I want to thank you for letting him be friends with Al, no, please don’t interrupt. I know you well enough now to know that wasn’t going to ever be a problem, but I need to thank you all the same. My family wanted me married to Draco, because it was a good alliance that insured I would be provided for. Daphne wouldn’t do it, not after everything that she’d been through, and I went along because I didn’t have a good enough reason to say no. But I knew that I was tying myself to a family with a questionable past, one I do not agree with. I’ve had to live with that shadow on us. It doesn’t matter that we’re pureblood, like it does to others, but it does matter that my husband’s family supported the Dark Lord. I can’t make that stain go away. You have lost so much, and you’re married to Harry… you could have let it matter to you.”
“Well,” Ginny began slowly, because she was painfully aware that this good relationship was one she needed to carefully tend. “If I’m honest, making your father-in-law mad about their friendship is a seriously major perk.”
Astoria burst out laughing, and laughed until she had tears in her eyes. She only calmed when she saw all the kids staring at them. “It was just a funny joke, finish your ice cream,” she told them and turned back to Ginny as her expression sobered. “The older he gets, the funnier Draco gets about Scorpius. He’s absolutely determined that he won’t go fully over to the side of the Muggle lovers. He’s been a bit harder on him about his grades this year, and trying out for the Quidditch team. I think Scorpius likes Quidditch, but I’m not sure he cares about making it on the team, at least not now. He makes good marks, but he’s not going to beat Rose in every subject. I wouldn’t expect him to beat Hermione’s child in everything. Last night,” she said as she lowered her voice, “he started to speak to him about arranging a marriage.”
Ginny’s mouth dropped open. “He’s only fourteen!”
“He’ll be fifteen soon,” Daphne said heavily. “He’s just over two years from being an adult. He’ll be encouraged to take over the family matters at that point, but then he’ll be married off. Draco is already planning on who it will be.”
“Oh, dear,” Ginny said, unsure of what else to say. She’d been forced to marry Harry, because she’d been pregnant with Hope, but she’d wanted to marry Harry anyway. That had always been her fondest wish. “You were in this arranged married…”
“I don’t wish it on my son,” she said softly, heavily. “I would like him to be happy, to be loved. It would be nice if he could find someone who is a partner for him. I can see how happy you are, and I’d want that for him.”
Ginny sat back in her seat, stunned at what she was hearing, but not sure why it surprised her so much. “You really were born into the wrong family.”
“It would have been easier in a family like yours,” she agreed. “The Weasleys weren’t always seen as respectable–” She cut herself off and gasped in horror. “Oh, Ginny, I’m sorry! I didn’t mean–”
Ginny held up a hand, only a little stung. “I get what you’re saying. My parents chose to have us rather than things, and that made us look poor. I do get it, but–”
“But you were loved, and you have this big family,” Astoria went on quickly. “That’s what I meant! The older I get, the more I wish for that more than things. I can buy whatever I want, but that doesn’t make me happy and it doesn’t fill my house with love and laughter. Scorpius told me people are always laughing at your house and it sounds magical to him. I can’t give him that.”
“Did… did you want more than one child?” Ginny inquired hesitantly.
She nodded sadly. “I really wanted a girl, but I would only be allowed more than one child if for some reason the first was a girl. Draco, however, took steps to make sure that we only had a son. There’s a potion for that, you know.”
“I didn’t know,” she said, completely horrified. This woman hadn’t been given almost any say in her life. She’d been protected, but only so she could be married off for the right reasons, rather than as a punishment by Voldemort. “Astoria…”
“When we lived in America,” she said as she changed her tone and forced on a bright smile. “We lived in a town called Chicago, and it was wonderful. There were many magical things to do there, as well as Muggle. We lived in a house on their big lake and during the winter there were storms that would blow in and shake the whole building. The house had large windows that looked down on the lake and I would watch it snow and snow and snow. It snows ever so much in Chicago. I… I would love to go back there again this winter.”
“I think you should,” Ginny whispered, her heart breaking for the other woman.
“Mum!” James called out to her. “We’re done.”
“Right,” Ginny agreed as she smiled at her son, and loved him all the more for the surprise that was him… the unplanned, very loved surprise. “Shall we go get robes?”
She spoke for a bit with Caroline and Honor’s grandparents, but spent the remainder of their trip contemplating what Astoria had told her.
Then something caught her eye and stopped her almost in her tracks. James had Caroline’s hand in his. She had to fight hard not to cheer, and she would have failed if she hadn’t then spotted the look on Caroline’s face.
“It’s okay,” James said as quietly as he could in the crowded robe shop. “Breathe, Caroline.”
He’d wanted to hold her hand for years, now, but this was definitely not how he pictured it. She pulled on his fingers and he let go, but he trailed right behind her as she bolted for the door. He had seen the panic attack coming, he’d known she was going to freak in the robe shop, but he’d really hoped that she wouldn’t let it get to her. The second they were out of the door, he pulled her off to a side nook and sat her down on the ground. “Breathe,” he ordered again as he knelt down next to her.
“Go…” wheeze, “away…” gasp.
“Not until you can stand up,” James retorted. He didn’t want to scare her more, but he couldn’t just leave her vulnerable. He reached out and pushed her hair back away from her sweaty face. “What happened?”
He knew what happened, but felt like she should say it herself.
It took her almost a minute, during which his father silently appeared, and then just as silently melted back into the shop to leave him to deal with her. He saw, through the glass on the door, Harry filling in Caroline’s grandparents.
“It… it was th-the man,” she spluttered out while her lips went from blue back to pink and her head dropped onto her raised knees. “Merlin…”
Madam Malkin had a new assistant, apparently, and he was a tall, beefy blond man who bore a remarkable resemblance to Caroline’s abusive father, if her father had had an earring and was flamboyantly gay. “It gave me a jolt, too,” he promised as he sat down across from her and carefully put a hand on her ankle. She didn’t kick him, which he took to be a good sign. “It was a shock.”
“A shock for you since you k-killed him,” she added guiltily. She finally looked up at him as her eyes brimmed with tears. “I’m sorry, James.”
“You don’t have anything to be sorry about,” he reminded her. “None of this was your fault.”
“I sometimes think I’m going to be broken forever,” she went on, ignoring what he’d said.
James thought about the part of the conversation he’d overheard his mother having with Astoria Malfoy and winced. The parallels weren’t lost on him. But… but he couldn’t give up hope. “You can make it through this. Look how well Honor is doing.” He wanted to kick himself for saying it. Honor hadn’t been abused in the way that Caroline had. It was a very different experience.
“Why are you always so nice to me?” Caroline demanded as she first glared past him into the shop across the street, and then back to him.
He waited, keeping his eyes on hers. “You know why.”
“No, I don’t,” she bit back stubbornly. “I’m awful, James! I suck at life. I don’t get why you’re here.”
He lifted his fingers carefully up to her cheek and ran them along her soft skin. “You don’t suck, you’re just a little broken right now, but you’re working on fixing it.”
To his shock, she leaned into his fingers and closed her eyes. “James…” when her blue orbs met his again, he was sunk.
James leaned in and carefully pressed his mouth to hers. He’d kissed other people, but nothing, absolutely nothing prepared him for the soul-rending shock that shot straight through him. He wanted so badly to push in further, but he pulled away instead and rested his forehead against hers. “You know why,” he whispered again as the words caressed her cheek.
“You shouldn’t,” she said with a hitch to her voice. “I’m nothing but trouble.”
He grinned then and kissed her cheek, feeling better than he had in a long time. “I’m nothing but trouble, just ask my mum. We’re a good match that way.” He pulled back enough so he could see her eyes. “Are you okay?”
She considered him carefully, then closed her eyes. “I don’t know. I don’t think I’m ready…”
His heart sunk, but he understood. “There’s no pressure from me. Whatever you need from me, whatever… that’s what I’ll be.”
“I don’t deserve this,” she said again.
“No one deserves what was done to you,” James shot back. “None of that was your fault, just the worst luck of being born when you were. Once you get over that you’ll see it the way I do.”
“It’s cause I’m beautiful, right?”
Fury rocked hard through him, and just as quickly it died to sorrow. He didn’t know how to parse out all he was feeling, but the emotions were there, ready to fire. “You look kinda bad right now, actually.”
Caroline gasped as she stared at him. She gaped, a bit like a fish, and then laughed and playfully slapped at his arm. “You weren’t supposed to say that!”
“Well,” he said as relief washed through him, leaving him exhausted. It had been too many emotions in such a short time. He pushed to his feet and held out a hand to haul her up. The moment she was up, he pressed a kiss to her forehead. “You’re always beautiful to me, but you’re not always at your best. But that doesn’t change anything for me.”
She lifted up a hand and he saw it was shaking a bit. He hated that this scared her so much, but he didn’t know how to change that. He closed his fingers over hers and held them still. “I’m not… you don’t have to stick with me.”
“I’m going to stick with you,” James promised, and knew he meant it more than he’d meant anything else in his life. “However long it takes you to get here. Come on,” he said as he led her back into the shop.
Harry watched his son in wonder and had to marvel at this kid, who had somehow come from him. He hadn’t fumbled when Caroline was down and needed him. He’d been the rock she’d needed.
He had to wonder, quite seriously, who his son had become. The boy, who would be sixteen in less than two weeks, was gone. In his place was a solid young man that he was prouder of than he could express.
He turned to see Ron at his shoulder. Ron glanced down at his watch. “You really have to go. Hermione’s going to hunt you down shortly if you don’t get to the Ministry.”
“We just need to wait for–” he paused as the guard he’d summoned arrived. “Thanks for you, Teddy,” he told his godson as he shook his hand.
“No problem,” Teddy agreed as he took up a position by the door. “Are you taking her with you?”
Harry’s expression spoke the words he didn’t want to say. “I hadn’t planned on it.”
“I think you should,” Teddy said carefully. “I think we might need her.”
It wasn’t what he wanted to hear, but Harry made his way over to Nat and took her arm. “Nat, we need to go to the Ministry if that’s alright with you.”
Her expression didn’t change, but he saw the understanding as it washed over her face. “Alright.”
They had a car waiting for them just outside The Leaky Cauldron and in no time at all the Ministry driver delivered them to St. Mungo’s. Harry didn’t fill Nat in on where they were going, and she didn’t ask. She wasn’t naïve. For a little girl, she had a firm grasp on what she could help him with. “This won’t be pretty,” he told her under his breath.
“It never is,” Nat reminded him sadly. She squared her shoulders. “Let’s go.”
“One moment,” he told her as he pulled out his Invisibility Cloak. He hadn’t known why he’d thrown it in his pocket that morning, but he was heartily glad that he had now. “If you wear the cloak, no one will know you are there. Just stick right next to me at all times.” He made sure she was fully covered as he exited the car, and felt her shoulder against his arm the whole way into the hospital. They made their way down into the morgue, bypassing everyone in line waiting for treatment. The moment they were by themselves down away from the public, Harry halted. “Okay, cloak off.”
Nat pulled it off, sending her wispy hair flying up with static. She handed the cloak over. “It’s hot under there.”
“Are you feeling okay?” Harry asked her quickly.
“I feel pretty good, actually,” she said as she continued down the hall. “I don’t want to admit it, but I think that the new diet is working. I’m not starving or anything.”
“Good,” he agreed as his mind shifted back to what they were about to do. The whole Ministry was in an uproar over this, and it was no wonder. “Are you sure about this, Nat?”
She nodded, and didn’t seem the least bit surprised as they walked into the morgue. Harry held out his hand for Healer Wallace, who still ran the morgue. He was a large, black man with a round face. Harry liked and respected the man immensely. “Wallace, this is Natalie Parker. You met her father, Curtis, I believe a few years ago. Nat, this is Healer Wallace.”
“How do you do,” she said politely as she held out a hand for him.
“I am well, young lady, but I do not know that this is the place for you, no matter who your father is,” Wallace said to Harry, not to Nat.
Harry shook his head. “I have been going over this, Wallace, and I know we’re missing things. Nat is special. We need her.”
Wallace appeared to want to argue, but he took his cue from Harry and handed over gowns. The gowns and gloves were way too large for the little girl, but she put them on like a pro, which Harry realized she was.
They went into another room where the body was laid out on the table… at least, Harry thought it was a body. Nat hesitated for only a moment before heading over to circle around, examining the hunks of meat from every angle. “This is acid burning,” she said quietly.
“Indeed,” Wallace agreed in surprise.
“Do you have a stool I might use?” Nat asked him. “I’m a bit too short to see everything.”
Within a minute the two were discussing the body in detail, including a few things that made Harry’s stomach roll in an extremely alarming way.
“Definitely female,” Nat agreed with him. “I think about twenty. I think she’s magical. She has an injury to this exposed bone that was healed with magic.”
“How can you tell?” Wallace inquired.
That was dangerous territory. Nat had a power called Augmentum Imaginari. It was an innate gift that she was born with and was developing, but others, like Dumbledore, could train themselves to use it. It was a way of identifying magical signatures. If anyone guessed what she could do, she could be targeted. In Dumbledore’s case, he could at least protect himself. Nat wasn’t that great with any other form of magic.
Nat, however, was ready for the question. “You know how many bones I’ve looked at? I’m just getting used to seeing them. It’s not perfect, that healing. It still leaves a tiny dislocation that’s almost imperceptible, but for some reason I can see it.”
That wasn’t the truth. Nat could see the magic in the bone, but it was enough to satisfy Wallace.
“Any idea what happened?” Harry asked her.
“She was burned with the acid, but she wasn’t alive. There is no defensive rigidity to her body,” Nat told him as she hopped down from the stood. She had put on a brave face but something was very, very wrong. “If the acid wasn’t personal, it might have been to cover up anything done to her.”
Wallace nodded sadly. “I completely agree with your young apprentice, Harry.”
“We’ll leave you to your work, then,” Harry said as he held the door open for Nat.
They didn’t take the car back to the Ministry. Harry snuck her up the stairs and used the Floo network via the hospital director’s office. If the director was surprised to see Nat pop out of the cloak, she didn’t let it show.
They didn’t speak until they’d ensconced themselves in Harry’s office. “I have minutes,” he said quickly as he pulled a chair around to sit facing her. “What did you see?”
“She was pregnant,” Nat said as she broke down in tears.
“Oh,” Harry breathed it out as he wrapped her in a gentle hug and held on until she’d calmed.
“I’m sorry!” she said after a minute. Nat swiped at her eyes fiercely. “It’s that stuff that Healer Audrey gave me that’s making me cry, it’s not the case! I’ve seen this sort of thing before. It isn’t easy, but it’s…”
Harry nodded and felt terrible. “I shouldn’t have brought you. It was too much to ask.”
“I want to help!” Nat protested immediately. “I’m sorry I cried. Please don’t stop asking for my help. It’s important work.”
He didn’t want to ask anymore, but he saw the pleading in her eyes and relented. “Alright, Nat. What else should I know?”
“She had magical colors that I don’t think I’ve seen before,” Nat told him as she pulled herself together. “It looks like it was concentrated around her stomach, but I’m not sure why. I think it was a potion. It looks like a potion, but that often goes all through the body and this didn’t. It just sat in her stomach, or rather what was left of it. The magical signature didn’t move, I don’t think. I think the acid was meant to cover up what was done.”
This wasn’t the first time one of Crabbe’s victims had ended up pregnant, but the last few times had been because of rape. Now, though… “Anything else?”
“The baby was magical, but not far along,” she told him quietly. “I could see the magic out of the baby. Teddy and Victoire’s baby has the same glow, but I saw a pregnant Muggle in North Carolina and there was no glow like that, even though I could tell the baby was fine. She was definitely twenty, I can just tell that now, and from her face I think she was from the Ukraine, or maybe Russian, but I think the Ukraine. I sort of sensed radiation on her, which is a Muggle thing, but you might want to look for a place not far from Chernobyl either on the Ukraine or Russian side of the border.”
Harry sat back in his chair and contemplated everything he’d just heard. A knock sounded at the door and Teddy popped his head in. “The family is home safe. I’ve come to fetch Nat if you’re ready.”
“Yes,” Harry nodded to the girl. “It’s an early morning tomorrow, so you need to get some sleep. Thank you for your help.”
He waited a few moments in the silence of his office and then sighed as he pushed himself to go speak to the rest of his team about figuring out who this girl was and hopefully find her family.
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