|SIYE Time:8:18 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: 45335; Chapter Total: 2616
Awards: View Trophy Room
The woman’s fingers were slender in the dragon-hide gloves, and they nimbly plucked the berries from the stalks, an action she had perfected over many years. She loved them, loved how the deathly green ripened to glossy black, so alluring and juicy looking that they were hard to resist, even though she knew she must. She loved the purple bells that accompanied them, and though her hair was now grey, she couldn’t help but pause her activity to weave the most perfect flower into her neat victory roll.
She placed the berries into a mortar, sweeping the leaves to one side. She could have just bought the finished product, she was encouraged to, in fact, but part of the joy was making it. In the dim light by the fire, not to mention her own poor vision, they were covered in shadow, but she felt them crush satisfactorily under the pestle. She smiled.
The room was small, bare, and secret. Not what they had been accustomed to, all those years ago, but better than the alternative.
Behind her, she heard the key in the door, the creak as it opened. She glanced briefly over her shoulder to see her husband’s cloaked back as he turned to close and lock the door again.
‘You’re home late,’ she said, turning back to her work. ‘No one saw you come in?’ She heard him hang up his jacket, and the creak of the stair as he sat down to take off his boots. She was unconcerned when he didn’t respond. He had never been much of a talker.
She was satisfied with the berries; they were now a perfect, sticky black. She knew that if the light were brighter, they would show a rich purple sheen. Her cauldron over the fire was nearly hot enough, it would soon be time to pour it in, but first…
She took a small pipette from the folds of her robes, extracting the tiniest of droplets from the dark mortar. She continued talking to her husband as she leaned back, holding it over her wide open eyes. ‘I thought we could meet up with some of the old crowd tonight,’ she said. The drop of black stung, but she forced herself to keep her head tilted back, blinking rapidly and staring straight at the ceiling. ‘This will take a few hours to become truly potent, so we may as well talk over the plan with someone else, make sure we haven’t missed anything. Did you pick up anything for dinner?’
Her blurry vision was beginning to clear, at least as well as it ever truly would. She took his silence to mean he had forgotten dinner, again. ‘For Merlin’s sake, Augustus–’
She finally turned on her stool and fell silent as she stared at the man sitting perfectly still on the stairs, who stared back. Wearing his clothes, holding his wand. ‘Who are you?’ she asked, trembling. He stood. His eyes were fixed on her. ‘Who are you? Who are you? Where’s my husband?’ She stood too, stumbling backwards as he slowly advanced, her voice slipping into a scream. ‘Who are you–?’
Ginny waved the newspaper at him tauntingly. ‘You didn’t tell me about this!’
He spluttered over his cereal, which he was eating over the sink because, yet again, he was running late. ‘Where did you get that? It’s got to be a week old!’
His trainee was on the front cover, jumping and screaming in delight, being hugged and grasped by amazed peers. They were practically sobbing. Ginny grinned wickedly, and, with an uncanny impression of Rita Skeeter, began to read aloud. ‘Yet none of the new starters were more delighted than Ms Higglesworth, who scored every girl’s dream of being partnered with the infamous Harry Potter–’
Harry snorted. ‘I’m infamous now, am I?’
Ginny continued, barely able to control her giggles. ‘“Words cannot express how excited I am,” quotes Ms Higglesworth, “to be mentored by a true hero–?” No, Harry, let me finish, hah!’
Blushing furiously, Harry had lunged forwards and grabbed the paper out of Ginny’s hands, who was unable to fight back on account of her uncontrollable giggling.
‘Oh, the poor girl,’ Ginny said through gasps. ‘I’m surprised she can look you in the face–’
‘Where did you get this?’ asked Harry again. ‘You know I refuse to buy this rag. I thought you did too.’
‘Someone on the team was telling me about it yesterday, she sent it to me this morning,’ said Ginny. ‘Asked if I felt threatened.’ Harry rolled his eyes. ‘Don’t worry, I know you don’t like adoring fans, I learnt that the hard way.’
He looked down into her cheeky expression and found himself reluctantly smiling too. ‘I don’t know,’ he teased back. ‘These child stars, they can go a bit nuts, can’t they? Maybe I’ll end up enjoying the attention. It’s all right if you’re worried, I understand.’
She smacked him lightly. ‘Oh, shut up, you, all you’ve done is moan about her since she started, I’m not worried. I hope you’re not as mean to her in person.’
‘Of course not!’ said Harry, slightly stung. ‘Although I think she might have worked out I’m just dumping all the boring cases on her.’
‘What? Better than Dawlish, he’s just got his trainee making coffee.’
‘Well, I think you can aim higher than Dawlish. Aren’t you going to be late?’
He glanced at his watch and swore quietly, before giving her a swift kiss. ‘Right, see you later. When does your practice finish?’
‘Eight. Be nice to the new girl.’
‘There’s a lovely boy just moved in next door,’ said her mother through a mouthful of cereal.
‘I told him you were a police officer, I know you have to be secretive about these things and I thought that might have been the closest.’
‘Yeah, I s’pose.’
‘He’s a student, you know, says he’s studying criminology, so he’s very interested in meeting you, and I thought that maybe–’
‘Mum, I’m going to be late for work,’ Theia interrupted, throwing down the last of her toast.
‘Oh, yes…’ Her mother hesitated, watching carefully as she pulled on her coat. ‘I’ll need to get off soon as well, don’t want to miss my train… You… You are all right, aren’t you Theia? You’re still enjoying work?’
‘Yes,’ said Theia bluntly.
‘You just don’t seem as excited about it anymore, it’s only been a few days…’
‘Well, you know what they say,’ muttered Theia, heading to the door. ‘Never meet your heroes.’
Her mother followed her, standing in the doorway with an anxious look on her face. ‘What time d’you want dinner?’ she asked frantically as Theia was stepping into the lift.
‘I’m going to Dad’s!’ Before she could see her mother’s reaction, the doors had closed, and with a lurch the lift began to sink.
She felt reinvigorated when she got to work, walking across the bustling atrium. Not for her the bland, brutalist council flats of Poplar, not when she could be part of a world so alive with colour and curiosities.
Although, her mother was right in identifying a disappointment in her new job. So far, Theia’s work had not been the midnight raids and suspenseful arrests she had dreamed of. She was rather sure that Harry found her an inconvenient nuisance, and that he was, quite deliberately, giving her the dullest and most time-consuming tasks.
She had yet to make any breakthrough on the Shyverwretch case, and, after many hours searching Ministry Birth and Death records, she had found no one by the name of Dubrow.
‘It sounds like it could be a foreign name,’ she had told Harry. ‘German, or maybe Ukrainian? What do you think?’
‘I think he was probably lying so I’d spend ages looking for an imaginary man instead of reporting him for illegal potion trading,’ Harry had said back, frustratingly unconcerned.
The other cases she’d been given that week were equally boring. A drunk wizard who had tried to fly with a kneazle tied to the back of his broom, an angry couple whose fight had turned to rather nasty dueling, and an old warlock who’d been caught trying to pay a group of angry goblins with Leprechaun gold. All very straightforward, all that could really have been dealt with ordinary Law Enforcement.
Her heart sank a little as she arrived at the shared cubicle. Once she was a proper Auror, she’d have her own, and she’d get her own cases too, but in the meantime she was stuck in this tiny box with a man she was sure hated her. She knew exactly why. She could see his annoyance every time she gushed or talked too much, but the alternative was them sitting in silence, and she hated silence. She was just thankful that he’d mentioned he never read The Prophet, because there’d been a positively humiliating photo of her on her second day. She’d caught Proudfoot and Longbottom “accidentally” leaving a copy in the cubicle, and had to chase them out with a rolled-up copy of a wanted poster.
He wasn’t there yet, he was often late in the mornings, but worked long hours after work. Quite how long she wasn’t sure, because he always sent her home when he realized it had gone six. He was polite and kind like that, though on one occasion he’d snapped at her, and she’d been embarrassed to realize that she’d been quite rudely staring at his scar for a good few minutes.
He arrived twenty minutes later, giving her what she perceived to be a rather frosty good morning. Apparently disconnected from her own brain, her mouth immediately leapt into action, telling him as much as she possibly could about her latest theory on who Dubrow could be. He listened politely, but she was sure that he was thinking about something else.
A purple memo flew in, striking Harry sharply on the head. He grabbed it and read with an increasingly serious expression.
‘Right, come on, we’ve got somewhere to be,’ he said, jumping to his feet. ‘Reports of screaming last night in Upper Flagley, no one’s gone in yet and I’ve got a funny feeling…’
‘And I can come?’ she asked hopefully.
‘Absolutely, investigating an unknown, we need to go in a pair.’
‘Why hasn’t anyone gone in yet?’ she asked as they hurried to the Apparition point.
‘Old Arkie Philpott only reported it casually this morning, he thought it was cats having a fight, but couldn’t get it out of his head.’
They arrived in Upper Flagley. Like Knockturn Alley, it was made of cobbles and spindly, narrow streets, but Theia found that it had a much more cheerful air, with sandstone buildings and pots of pansies decorating the doorways and hanging from the walls.
‘Arkie,’ called Harry, waving to an odd little wizard standing by some bins. He reminded Theia of a chimpanzee. Very short yet muscled, with large ears sticking out the side of his head. Despite his rather built up physique, Arkie was clearly getting on a bit; creased eyes looked over at them interestedly, and when he waved, she could see the liver spots from some distance.
‘I was hoping it would be you,’ said Arkie, looking thrilled. ‘How’re you doing, Harry? I still tell the grandkids about when we had that cup of tea.’
‘I’m good, thank you, Arkie. Cats, was it?’
Arkie wobbled his head from side to side, looking both concerned and embarrassed. ‘Probably. I don’t want to cause a fuss. It was quite late so I just closed the window and went back to sleep, I didn’t really think anything of it. But then when I was having my breakfast I just thought… Well, I thought it could have sounded like a woman. Probably not though,’ he added hastily.
‘Can’t hurt to look. Do you know where it came from?’
Arkie pointed to some rusted metal stairs in a side alley, clinging haphazardly to an abandoned-looking building. ‘I think up there, but no one lives there; it’s been abandoned for years.’
‘Why?’ asked Theia. She looked nervously to Harry, but he didn’t seem to mind her talking now.
‘Er…’ Arkie frowned. ‘I… I don’t really know. I knew someone that thought about buying it, but he went a bit funny. I think he was on the firewhiskey a bit too much.’
They climbed the grimy metal stairs and reached a dirty wooden door. Harry raised his wand. ‘ Homenum Revelio.’ Nothing happened.
The door was locked, but only with a key, so with a simple charm they were in. It was dark, and Theia felt something off in the house. Like a presence. Harry was right in front of her, blocking most of her view, but to the side she could see some steep wooden stairs, opposite an open doorway. She could hear Arkie muttering behind her, nervous and afraid.
Harry was suddenly very still. ‘Arkie,’ he said with an oddly cheerful tone. ‘Do me a favour and pop back to the Ministry, ask for Bessie Holmwood and her team.’
‘Why? Is it cats?’
‘I’d really appreciate it, Arkie, quick as you can.’
Arkie stumbled out of the door, and Theia followed Harry as he advanced. The doorway opened into a dark, bare room, the remnants of a fire glowing in the grate. But as her eyes adjusted to the dim light, she could not help the scream that burst unwillingly from her lips.
The blood was everywhere. It coated the walls in streaks and pooled on the floor, footprints and the marks of dragged hands staining the floorboards. Amidst it all lay the woman, ripped open from her collarbone to her abdomen, laid out on the floor like a mutilated angel.
Theia was screaming, with whimpering gulping breaths, and as Harry turned to check her he saw that she had stumbled back and was sitting on the stairs, her face deathly pale.
‘Calm down,’ he told her, but she was uncontrollable, her wide eyes fixed on the horror before her. He supposed it was her first time seeing a dead body, and though he knew it must be a shock for her, he still swore quietly, he couldn't help but feel irritated. He did not have time for this.
‘Theia,’ he said loudly, clicking his fingers in front of her face. ‘Theia, I need you to focus.’ Her eyes slid up to meet his, and though she was still hyperventilating, she seemed to listen. He crouched down to be at her level. ‘This will not be the worst thing you see in this job,’ he told her quietly. ‘I need you to calm down, and help me. Can you do that?’
She swallowed, and though her breaths were still deep and heavy, they began to slow, falling into a more natural rhythm. She nodded, and he walked away to examine the body more closely.
The woman was approaching old age, but beneath the blood Harry could see that she had still tried to cling onto beauty and youth, with a face of full make-up and fine, beaded robes. Something was familiar about her… Beyond the huge rip in her torso, stab wounds and cuts coated her body. This had been a frenzied attack. Uncontrolled. Enraged.
He felt revolted, but it was an old, familiar feeling, so he simply frowned in concentration as he crouched over the dead witch.
‘Shit,’ he said he said quietly.
‘What?’ came Theia’s shaky voice. She had composed herself as best she could, and was now loitering in the doorway, staring down at the body.
‘I recognize her. Livia Rookwood,’ he groaned. He stood up, his hands automatically reaching to run through his hair in stress. ‘I’ve been looking for her and her husband for years…’
‘So her husband’s body could be here too?’ asked Theia, looking to the stairs with a horrified expression.
‘Or he did it… He’s a Death Eater.’ He gave a heavy sigh. His stupid map on the wall with the now apparently useless pins in it, he was sure they were out of the country, they must have been laying a false trail. ‘He managed to get away shortly after the Battle of Hogwarts, pick up his wife and they both vanished…’
Theia had finally edged her way to the body and was now examining it more closely, leaning over it. ‘Why has her chest been opened like that?’ she asked, her voice barely more than a whisper.
‘Her heart has been removed.’
She swayed, and he seized her arm to stop her from toppling over. ‘That’s… That’s revolting,’ she said hoarsely. ‘Why? Where is it?’
‘We’ll have to find out,’ said Harry. He surveyed the rest of the room, scratching his jaw absent-mindedly. A small table and stool had been pushed over, and over the dying fire hung a cauldron. With a controlled flick of his wand, he Levitated it over and peered inside.
The potion had congealed, a sticky, tar-like substance, with a nauseating odour. ‘I’ll take a sample back with us,’ he said. ‘It might be nothing, but–’
‘Smells like belladonna,’ said Theia.
He looked at her, surprised. ‘Good at potions, are you?’
Her pale cheeks were suddenly tinged with pink, and with a trembling hand pointed to the body. ‘Her pupils… They’re dilated, I think she must have put a drop or two in them. And then from the smell of that, she was hoping to make a more potent poison with the remainder.’
Harry was flummoxed. ‘Why on earth would anyone put belladonna in their eyes?’
‘Lots of elderly witches do it, it’s meant to make your eyes more seductive. I think it was quite fashionable at one point.’
Harry looked back down at the dead witch, shaking his head. ‘Mental…’
‘Potter?’ A woman’s voice, with a Geordie accent, called from the front door.
‘Morning, Bessie,’ Harry shouted. ‘In here…’
A plump, stern-looking witch with small spectacles on the end of her nose entered, followed by a group of bored-looking wizards carrying cameras. ‘What a mess,’ she said crossly, glaring at the blood.
‘Welcome to the crime scene,’ said Harry casually, but he immediately felt guilty as he saw Theia’s appalled expression. She’d need to be around a little longer before she was desensitized enough, it seemed. ‘I think it’s Livia Rookwood.’
Bessie rolled her eyes, gave a tut and hurried forward to the body. She caught sight of Theia’s pale face, and placed a small, chubby hand on her arm, patting it reassuringly. ‘All right, pet? You’ll get used to it, and never mind, it’s only a Death Eater.’
The wizards began taking photos, and Bessie had pulled out a measuring tape, which measured the body of its own accord as she scribbled notes down in a notebook.
‘We can go now,’ Harry said gently. He’d have liked to have stayed longer, searched the upstairs and poked around the neighbourhood, but he was a little worried that Theia would faint. ‘We’ll head back to the office, Bessie will send through the photos and notes, and we’ll discuss our findings.’
‘All right…’ she said weakly, and allowed him to guide her out.
She blinked as they stepped into the light, and with a lurch of guilt Harry saw how traumatized she looked. ‘That was really good work, back there,’ he said kindly.
She looked bewildered. ‘Huh?’
‘Identifying the potion. Spotting what she’d done to her eyes. It’s important we get a sense of who she was. I never would have noticed that. Well done.’
Unfortunately, she was so delighted, that she didn’t stop thanking him for ten minutes.
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