|SIYE Time:8:20 on 20th July 2018|
Category: Post-Hogwarts, Post-DH/PM
Genres: Action/Adventure, Drama
Warnings: Dark Fiction, Death, Disturbing Imagery, Extreme Language, Mild Language, Mild Sexual Situations, Negative Alcohol Use, Violence
Story is Complete
Summary: The last thing Harry Potter wants is to be lumped with a trainee Auror, especially not one that idolises him. As he guides her through the realities of being an overworked Auror and tentatively settles into adult life with Ginny, a dark plot brews on the horizon...
Hitcount: Story Total: 45338; Chapter Total: 2284
Awards: View Trophy Room
The Leaky Cauldron was already packed when they arrived. Although the Auror department had booked the large backroom for privacy, Neville was a popular Auror and extra guests, D.A tagalongs, and people Theia strongly suspected were gatecrashers overflowed into the main bar area. She could taste the excitement in the air. This was her thing. This was brilliant.
She wished she’d had time to change before arriving, but as she followed Harry through the crowd she became so distracted that she didn’t care. As well as all her colleagues, including an enthusiastically waving Judy, there were so many war heroes and famous people in the pub that she thought she might squeal with excitement. A huge gramophone was blasting out swing music, and already tipsy couples were doing their best to dance in the packed room, shouting conversations over stamping feet, clapping hands and shrieking laughter, those that weren’t dancing watching with amusement in small groups clutching pint glasses.
Harry was casually greeting many of them as he passed, but his eyes were searching through the crowd with something akin to anxiety. They reached the busy bar and he waited at it, still glancing over his shoulder. ‘D’you want a drink?’ he called to her over the noise, only half looking at her. She nodded at him (there was little chance of him hearing her over the noise), and looked to find Judy again, but she was dancing vivaciously with Matthew.
Soon a pint was in her hand and Harry was saying something to her, but she couldn’t hear what, so she drank to save herself from having to respond. He suddenly started forward, and looked over his shoulder with a mild panic, but it was just a widely grinning Neville Longbottom clapping him on the back.
‘Here he is,’ she heard Neville shout happily. ‘I was worried you’d both be working all night.’
Harry hugged him, and Theia shook his hand, both of them trying to express their sorrow he was leaving and their congratulations on his new job as best they could through the deafening noise.
‘Where’re the others?’ Harry said loudly in his ear.
Theia couldn’t hear Neville’s response, but he pointed to the back room, and Harry nodded. She turned, ready to join Judy and Matthew, but Harry seized her arm. She looked back at him, surprised, but he simply jerked his head for her to follow. ‘Come meet them,’ he said.
The music was so loud as they approached the giant gramophone that she felt it reverberate in her chest, but once they passed the music became muffled, as though underwater, and now she could hear only the buzz of conversation and laughter as they entered the back room, which was nearly as busy.
A small group of people were waving them over to a long table, and, heart thudding, Theia recognized them all. Harry’s expression had broken into grin, and he hurried towards them, leaning down to kiss the redheaded girl and embracing the brunette, offering the redheaded boy a manly slap on the shoulder. As though suddenly remembering her, he turned slightly and pulled Theia forward. ‘Everyone, this is Theia, Theia, this is-’
‘I know who you all are,’ Theia said abruptly, unable to control her grin. ‘Hermione Granger and Ron and Ginny Weasley, it’s such an honour, I’m so excited to meet you, you’re all brilliant, I think you’re all just so brave and you’re all my heroes, especially you Ginny Weasley, you’re such a role model-’
Ginny looked rather taken aback, and she slowly exchanged a glance with an oddly smug looking Harry before returning her brown eyes to meet Theia, who continued talking with the pace of rampaging hippogriff. ‘-The way you led the D.A, I was so sorry to join it so late, but you really were an inspiration and then succeeding so much in Quidditch which I’ve heard is a male dominated industry - I don’t know a lot about it, if I’m honest, the Harpies are the only ones I like, really, but I think you’ve become such a style icon and I have that poster you did for Witch Weekly where you’re wearing that leather jacket and you just look so strong and-’
‘Theia,’ said Harry loudly, and Ron’s shoulders were shaking with laughter.
‘-Because quite honestly, you’re my ultimate girl crush, I just think you’re so beautiful and Harry’s such a lucky guy-’
Now Ron was outright laughing and Hermione was hiding her smile behind her drink. A vague voice in the back of Theia’s head asked her what on earth she was doing and commanded her to calm down, but her excitement was like a drug and the words tumbled from her mouth, she couldn’t believe she was here, talking to them, hanging out with them at a party…
‘It’s lovely to meet you,’ Ginny interrupted firmly, a bemused smile on her face. ‘We’ve heard so much about you.’
‘You have? Oh, I bet it’s all awful, isn’t it? Did he tell you about my problem with blood?’
‘Don’t worry,’ said Ron kindly. ‘I’ve got a similar thing with spiders.’
‘You’re getting a lot better with it too,’ added Harry. ‘I suppose these things are always a shock when you first come across them, but you’ll get used to it with experience, I did. A few more years and murder will become another average day at the office.’
‘Cheerful, mate,’ said Ron, rolling his eyes, and Harry grinned at him.
‘Ron here is the partner you replaced,’ he told her, pointing to him with his pint. ‘The one who left to run a joke shop with his brother.’
‘I thought you might have died, I was so nervous about being paired with the Chosen One,’ blurted out Theia, and Ron laughed even harder.
‘I hope Harry hasn’t been working you too hard,’ said Hermione, casting an accusatory glance to him. ‘He has a habit of working all hours, but you mustn’t let him make you think you have to as well.’
‘Don’t worry,’ said Theia seriously. ‘I’m a Ravenclaw, I enjoy working hard.’
Hermione smiled approvingly at her, but Theia was disappointed to see that Ginny still looked rather uncomfortable. Perhaps, as usual, her blabbermouth had created awkwardness. Nevertheless, more drinks and conversation flowed, and Theia found herself easing more naturally into the group and seeing her boss in a whole new light as they delved into anecdotes and funny stories. Any other night she’d have wanted to go and dance, but sitting with four of the biggest heroes of the modern age was like being let into an exclusive club, and she couldn’t wait to tell Dennis all about it. Soon their table was cluttered with empty glasses, and alcohol empowered them to speak more freely than they might have done.
‘I’d never seen you look so terrified,’ Ron was saying as Hermione howled with laughter. ‘I thought you were going to buy every copy of the Daily Prophet in London.’
‘Not much help when your mum gets it delivered,’ Harry grumbled. ‘I’ve seen her fighting Death Eaters, I had no desire to be on the receiving end of her fury.’
‘Well you can bloody well try keeping your pants on in public in the future, can’t you?’ said Ron.
‘Oi,’ said Ginny. ‘If you must know, Ron, it was my idea-’
He groaned in disgust. ‘No, I didn’t want to know…’
‘-And how were we supposed to know photographers were spying on us? As far as we were aware, it was a perfectly isolated meadow under a romantic sunset-’
‘Merlin, stop,’ he pleaded, while Hermione and Theia laughed. ‘The pictures were bad enough, I don’t need details.’
‘What was the headline again?’ asked Hermione, scrunching her nose.
‘Don’t,’ said Ron quickly.
‘Potter’s Packing,’ said Ginny smoothly.
‘All right, all right,’ said Harry as they descended into giggles. ‘Thanks for bringing it all up, Ginny…’
‘Well, I’m not ashamed,’ said Ginny, straightening slightly. ‘They shouldn’t have invaded our privacy like that. I suppose you remember it, do you?’ she shot at Theia suddenly.
‘Well, yes,’ replied Theia, flustered. ‘It was all over the news. But in all honesty I’d forgotten about it until now.’
‘Probably don’t want to think of your boss’s bum while you’re at work,’ said Ron fairly.
‘Speak for yourself, I happen to think Robards has a certain allure,’ joked Harry.
‘Do you have a boyfriend, Theia?’ asked Ginny, ignoring the boys.
‘Yes, actually,’ said Theia, beaming. ‘He wants to keep things quiet for now though...’
‘I thought your mum was setting you up with a Muggle?’ asked Harry.
‘Well, yes, but…’ She couldn’t resist. Alcohol and excitement and the desire to shout it from the rooftops bade her to reveal the best secret she’d ever had. ‘Promise you won’t tell anyone?’
They all looked bewildered. She supposed they were wondering if they would even care.
‘Turns out you all know him. Mum thought he was a Muggle, but he’s actually a wizard. He moved in next door.’
A pause, and then a snort of laughter from Ron. ‘Seriously? Out of everyone in this country, your mum managed to accidentally pair you with a wizard without realizing? Where do you live? Upper Flagley or Godric’s Hollow or somewhere?’
‘No, east London.’
Hermione frowned. ‘But that’s just a statistical improbability-’
‘Just one of those things, I suppose,’ said Theia. ‘Fate, or something!’
‘Why do you have to keep it quiet?’ Harry asked. ‘Who is it?’ But the sound of a clinking glass and persistent ‘ssh!’’s hushed him, and they twisted in their seats to the back of the hall.
Someone had helped Neville clamber up onto one of the long wooden tables, and those that had been dancing had crammed themselves into the room to listen to him speak. ‘I want to thank you all for coming,’ he said loudly, ‘I know you only came for Tom’s beer and the dancing, but I appreciate it all the same.’
There was a rumble of laughter and a loud cheer from the doorway. Someone shouted ‘down a pint!’, but Neville dismissed them with a grin and a flash of a rude hand gesture. ‘I’m going to miss being an Auror very much,’ he said, his voice growing more serious. ‘A few of you in here know it was my parent’s profession, and working here has made me proud to follow in their footsteps. I’ve had some scary moments, but there’s very little that’s more satisfying than locking someone away who deserves it, and it’s all been a rather fantastic adventure. But a lot of you also know that I prefer gardening to fighting-’
‘And chopping snakes heads off!’
‘Yes, and killing snakes, thank you, Seamus… But actually that fits quite well, because you can’t really brag about war victories when you work a few yards away from Harry Potter-’ The room laughed again, and Harry gave an amused wave. ‘-So I think it’s better that I go and brag to people who will really appreciate my overblown war stories; children.’
Another ripple of laughter, and a muttered whisper of ‘oh, hasn’t he grown in confidence?’ from Hermione.
‘So starting the day after tomorrow, I’ll be teaching in Hogwarts. I won’t be so foolish as to say it’ll be easy, but hopefully teaching involves a little less blood, a little more sleep, and a welcome escape from Robards’ Wednesday catch up meetings.’
There was an almighty cheer, and Theia was astonished to see the usually grumpy Robards chuckling heartily with them. Neville’s speech continued, but after just a few seconds, she saw many people suddenly reaching for their pockets. Ginny, who was sitting next to her, shifted too, and pulled something small out, staring at it with a grim expression.
‘Harry,’ she whispered.
But Harry was laughing at something else Neville was saying, and as Theia looked around, she saw similar scenarios of people trying to subtly call attention to their friends. Even Neville had touched at his pocket, but continued talking, pointing out certain people, unaware of the slowly igniting panic that was scattered through the large room.
‘Harry,’ Ginny hissed again, and this time he looked, a smile still on his face. His girlfriend held out a golden coin to him, and he frowned as he took it.
His expression snapped to alertness, like a dog that had caught a scent, and his eyes flashed rapidly around the crowd, resting for the briefest moments on old D.A members that were now reading their coins with confusion. Some of them had begun to amble confusedly towards the door.
He rose sharply, turning a few heads nearby and causing Neville to falter slightly. ‘Come on,’ he muttered at Theia as Neville continued. ‘The rest of you stay here, keep an eye out, don’t let anyone leave.’
Theia followed him as he strode through the crowd, gesturing to nearby Aurors that had noticed him rise, and they shadowed him immediately. ‘No, stay in here,’ he said to someone that had reached the door.
‘Are you sure? The coin says-’
‘Stay here Ernie.’
The bar was bizarrely empty after the crowded back room, the dance floor that had seemed so huge when busy now a little pathetic looking. ‘What’s going on?’ asked Savage.
‘Odd message on the old D.A coins telling everyone to go outside,’ said Harry swiftly. ‘Savage, you and Wiggens stay here, don’t let anyone out yet but don’t cause a panic-’
‘How are we meant to not cause a panic?’ spluttered Wiggens, but Harry ignored him.
‘The rest of you follow me.’
The half a dozen Aurors left over went with them to the door on the Diagon Alley side, wands raised. Theia knew that most of them were those that hadn’t been drinking, for security purposes, but though the adrenaline had made her feel sober, her fingers still stumbled a little over her wand as she withdrew it from her robes.
They stepped into the cold evening, the wind tugging at their robes and hair, the thick night unforgiving after the warmth of the candlelit pub.
It was the creaking Theia noticed first. The straining, painful sounding creaking, as though the rope were about to break.
Even in the darkness, they could see that the figure hanging before them was dressed in Death Eater robes. The rope suspended him by the neck, and he swayed slightly in the strong wind, hiding the bricks that needed to be tapped to access Diagon Alley. The light from the Aurors wands fell onto his bare, dirty feet. Behind him, words gleamed red.
They should have known, really, that the room full of Aurors and war heroes would not be kept back by Savage and Wiggins. A hushed shuffling behind them, Theia glanced back to see old D.A members, summoned by their coins, staring up at the body with a grim, haunting lack of shock.
Harry knew they were behind him, all the people that were meant to see the body. There was no use turning around and telling them to go back inside, they had all seen his failure already.
‘McLaggen, you suppose?’ whispered the Auror to his left.
He nodded his response. It had happened a lot quicker than he was expecting. After Rookwood, he thought he’d have days, maybe weeks to find him. But instead of searching for him properly, he’d sat at Terry’s house and drank in the Leaky Cauldron with his friends. He would have to tell Mrs McLaggen before it was in the papers.
The coin glowed warm again in his fingers, and he looked down at it. The message was too long, they had to read the shifting letters as they were tapped out.
You can join me… Finish the justice that should have been served… Dumbledore’s Army still recruiting… Return to action…
He felt a dullness as the whispers rose around him in waves, he turned to examine the chattering crowd behind him, all staring from their coins to the body. It could have been any of them. It wasn’t hard to write on the coins subtly, without anyone seeing.
He swallowed, and when he spoke to Theia and the other Aurors, his voice came out hoarse. ‘Call out Bessie and the team. Don’t let anyone leave without giving a statement. Take down all their details, check for magical concealment.’
It was not how he imagined the night going, he thought sullenly as he took his own girlfriend’s fingerprints. He had hoped that a night of fun would relax things between them, that he would be on the road to forgiveness and they could laugh at Theia’s star-struck nature together.
‘Why did you have your coin with you tonight?’ he asked robotically.
She stared at him sourly. ‘Are you fucking serious?’
‘I have to ask everyone,’ he said quietly, pressing her fingers onto the parchment.
‘I carry it with me everywhere,’ she said. ‘I thought it would be useful tonight what with the murder I’m planning and everything.’
His shoulders sank in exasperation. ‘Ginny, please, obviously I know it’s not you-’
‘Don’t say that out loud, Harry, you could make the case vulnerable! Now do you need me to provide an alibi or…?’
He glared at her for a moment and sighed. ‘It’s just formalities I have to go through-’
‘You are such a jobsworth,’ she retorted. ‘Some psycho has got his hands on one of our coins, Harry, it doesn’t mean you can start treating us like criminals-’
She stopped abruptly as a nervous looking trainee Auror approached them. ‘What, Pendleton?’ Harry snapped at him.
Pendleton balked a little, then, with a low voice. ‘Boss, it’s… It’s not McLaggen.’
‘It’s not McLaggen, Boss, Proudfoot sent me to tell you. They got him down and took the mask off and it’s not him. They’re examining him under the tent now.’
‘Well who is it?’
‘I don’t know, Boss. He wants you to come and look.’
Harry swore under his breath. ‘Can I go home?’ asked Ginny.
‘No, give Pendleton your statement first,’ he replied, thrusting his clipboard into the trainee’s chest. ‘Try and be nice,’ he said.
‘I will, Boss.’
‘I wasn’t talking to you, Pendleton.’
He left the crowded pub full of his friends being interviewed, photographed and recorded and stepped once again into the cold night air. The familiar white tent had been erected over the body, and the words removed.
‘Who is he then?’ he asked, as he stepped into the tent. Proudfoot, Bessie and Robards were crouched over the body laid out on the grimy cobbles.
‘Not a clue,’ growled Robards. ‘Not someone you’ve ever seen over the years, is it?’
Harry looked at the dead man. His waxy skin featured the splattering of dark brown moles, and his brown hair was balding on top. Apart from that, he looked wholly unremarkable. ‘No,’ he said. ‘Nothing on his person?’
‘Just a newspaper clipping,’ said Proudfoot. ‘But it’s in German. One of the trainees has taken it back to the Ministry, we’ll be able to translate it tomorrow.’
‘I’m not sure it’s the same guy, you know,’ said Bessie. ‘This lad hasn’t been beaten up at all, no organs in his mouth or anything like that.’
Robards gave a grunt of disapproval. ‘It was our bloke’s idea all right, just might not have been him that did it if he’s on a recruitment drive. How are the interviews and statements going, Potter?’
‘Not great,’ said Harry. ‘People are offended we think it’s them. Some are upset. Some are drunk.’
‘Never mind all that, no one’s left, have they? We’ve got everyone’s details?’
‘Yes, Sir,’ said Harry stiffly. ‘And we are taking statements, just trying not to cause any distress, so it’s going quite slowly.’
Robards grunted again. ‘Knew I shouldn’t have put you in charge of that, you’re too bloody soft on them, Potter. Any suspicious activity?’
‘Not that I’ve seen, Sir, but someone else in the team might have spotted something.’ It was true. He hadn’t seen any one acting overly dramatic or strangely cold, nobody had started throwing around accusations or trying to sneak off. A few, like Ginny, had been irritated that they were being questioned as though they were suspects, and some, like Seamus, were so drunk that he was sure they wouldn’t remember anything the next day. But there was nothing unusual.
‘And what about you, Potter?’ said Robards.
‘Well you’ll have one of those silly coins, won’t you? It was your angsty youth group at school, wasn’t it?’ The three of them were now looking at Harry rather coldly.
‘I lost my coin during the war, but I’m happy to give a witness statement,’ said Harry awkwardly. ‘Does this mean I can’t lead the case anymore?’
Robards considered him with a slight frown. ‘No, you don’t have to give a statement, Potter, and you’re still leading the case. What other Senior Auror am I going to have running it? Dawlish? Fuck off.’
Proudfoot looked as though he were unsure whether to be stung or relieved that Robards had forgotten that he was at the same rank as Harry and Dawlish. Harry felt rather unsettled, and was very aware of Bessie watching him out of the corner of her eye as she photographed the body.
When he returned to the pub, Ginny was now standing with Ron and Hermione, her arms folded and deep in serious conversation. ‘Are we all suspects then?’ asked Ron as Harry approached.
Harry thought about lying, but then shrugged. ‘If you are, I am too. Have you all given your statements and everything?’
‘Yes, can we go home now?’ asked Ginny impatiently. ‘I wanted an early night, I’ve got training all day tomorrow.’
‘Yeah, go ahead,’ said Harry heavily, noting that others were now beginning to file out into Muggle London. ‘I’ll be home when I can.’
‘Don’t forget we’re looking after Teddy next weekend,’ she said suddenly. ‘He’ll be crushed if you’re not there.’ Ron and Hermione exchanged a glance and left quickly.
‘I know,’ said Harry. ‘I’m sure I’ll be back by next weekend.’
‘I’m just saying, make sure you book some time off,’ she said. She looked angry, but then immediately unhappy, and hugged him tightly. ‘Do you know who it is?’ she asked, her voice muffled against his chest.
There was a coldness in his lungs as he realized just how unpleasant the sight must have been for her. That her lashing out, her defensiveness, and her yearning for him to ignore the case and come home was borne from a dark fear that she had once fought alongside someone who was now vindictively killing. ‘No,’ he said, though he wasn’t sure if she was referring to the victim or the killer. ‘But I’ll find them, Ginny, I promise, as quick as I can. That’s why I’m working so hard, OK?’
‘Please don’t let it be one of our friends,’ she said. ‘Please let it all be some horrible set up.’
He kissed the top of her head. ‘Go home and have a bath,’ he said quietly. ‘I’ll be home as soon as possible.’ She nodded, and mumbled an apology. ‘It’s all right,’ he assured her. ‘I’ll see you later.’
He watched her leave for a moment, silently praying that he would have at least one day free next weekend. When he turned to continue work, he saw Robards talking with Theia intently. He saw her glance up and give him an oddly furtive look before walking away from Robards quickly. Robards also hurried off in the other direction, but kept his eyes fixed to the ground.
Harry walked over to Theia, who was stacking clipboards stuffed with statements and fingerprints. ‘Is everything all right?’ he asked her.
‘Oh, yes, fine,’ she said, a little breathlessly. ‘No identification for the body yet, then?’
‘Not yet,’ replied Harry slowly. ‘What did Robards want?’
She didn’t meet his eyes. ‘Just what time I’ll be in tomorrow.’
‘It’s your day off tomorrow,’ said Harry.
‘Yes, but, you know…’ she gestured to the organized chaos around them.
He nodded. ‘Well only come in if you want to,’ he said. She finally looked up at him, and she looked very different when she didn’t trust him.
‘Thanks for introducing me to your friends,’ she said. It sounded practiced. ‘We should try and do it again, without finding a body next time.’
He did his best to smile at her. ‘Of course. See you tomorrow then, Theia.’
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