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SIYE Time:1:17 on 14th December 2017


The Aurors
By FloreatCastellum

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Category: Post-Hogwarts, Post-DH/PM
Characters:Harry/Ginny
Genres: Action/Adventure, Drama
Warnings: Dark Fiction, Death, Disturbing Imagery, Extreme Language, Mild Language, Mild Sexual Situations, Negative Alcohol Use, Violence
Story is Complete
Rating: PG-13
Reviews: 298
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: 39270; Chapter Total: 1744
Awards: View Trophy Room






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When Teddy was a baby, just a few weeks old, Harry had dreamt that he left him in a cupboard. It hadn’t started as a nightmare, it had just been a dream about trying to stop him crying. Teddy’s cries grew louder and louder and louder until Harry couldn’t stand it anymore, so he put the baby in the cupboard and went about his day. The dream had continued onto other bizarre nonsense, Harry never remembered exactly what, but later in the dream he suddenly realised that it had been several days, and he’d completely forgotten to check on him. He ran to the cupboard, thinking about how angry Remus would be when he came to pick his son up, and opened the door.

He had woken up in a cold sweat, his heart thudding with the same sense of horror and failure as he felt at that very moment.

The Healers had given them a private room, so the only sound in the air was the occasional footsteps of passing nurses beyond the closed door. Teddy lay on the bed, his blue hair even more vivid against the white pillow, his face grey and still. Harry sat beside him, leaning on the bed, one hand wrapped around Teddy’s, softly stroking the little boy’s hand with his thumb, the other balled into a fist, covering his mouth and nose as though trying to trap his grief inside him. He wasn’t looking at Teddy; his eyes stared over the boy’s body into the middle of the room, unseeing and blank.

The door opened quietly, and he dully lifted his eyes to see Ron step in, grim faced and carrying flowers. ‘I came as soon as I got your message,’ he said. ‘How is he?’

‘He’ll be all right,’ said Harry quietly. His voice sounded scratchy. ‘The Healer said he just needs some rest.’

Ron hurried over to the bed, giving Teddy a brief, pitiful look before setting the flowers down on the bedside table. ‘Hermione’s on her way, she’s talking to the Healers about dealing with the press - where’s Ginny?’

‘Gone to tell Andromeda,’ said Harry, and finally his voice broke, he began to tremble.

‘Shit, mate, I’m so sorry,’ said Ron, leaning over the bed to grip his shoulder. ‘He’s all right, you’re quick with your bezoars, aren’t you? The Healer told me. Looks like it’s becoming your thing.’

But Ron could not cheer Harry up. As much as he was fighting them, tears were now falling. ‘I was so blind,’ he told Ron. ‘I knew, in my heart I knew, but I didn’t want to believe it.’

‘I don’t blame you, mate, who would have? Little Dennis Creevey? I mean, fuck.’

Harry sniffed, and looked at Teddy’s face. His breathing was so quiet, he was so still, that each time he did look he had a jolt of panic. The events of the past hour repeated in his mind like an irritating song, he was utterly incapable of thinking of anything else.

Shoving the bezoar in his mouth, apparating to St Mungos, the mad rush and the shouting, the Healers sending a pulsing spell into Teddy’s tiny chest as he was hurried down the corridors, the way they had pushed Harry and Ginny out and drawn a curtain around him…

‘I really thought… For a moment, I thought he wouldn’t…’ he said gruffly, ‘but he’s going to be fine.’ Ron nodded and pulled up another chair, sitting with a heavy sigh. ‘I let him down-’

‘Shut up, Harry, no you didn’t.’

‘I’m meant to protect him, but I couldn’t do anything, I just sat there, I promised Remus I’d…’

‘You saved him,’ Ron reminded him. ‘You can tell me the full details later, but for now just be happy that you saved him.’

Teddy shifted, the movement was such a relief that Harry leaned forward, brushing the soft blue hair back from his forehead, but Teddy simply gave a small yawn and a sigh before sinking back into sleep.

‘I’m going to kill him,’ Harry said abruptly. ‘Dennis. I’ll kill him for this.’

‘Is he arrested then?’

‘I don’t know. I didn’t… I just wanted to get him to hospital.’

Ron looked as though he wasn’t sure whether to say something. ‘I passed your trainee on the way in. That Theia girl.’

‘What?’

‘Yeah, she’s in the waiting room, she looks a bit beaten up.’

Harry was torn. He needed to know where Dennis was, what had happened after he had left the house, but he couldn’t bear to let go of Teddy’s small warm hand, couldn’t stand the thought of him waking up without him there…

The door opened, and a tearful Andromeda rushed in, followed by Ginny and Hermione. Andromeda sobbed as she caressed Teddy’s head, kissing him and whispering incomprehensibly.

Harry looked up at Ginny. They did not have to speak. A simple exchange of looks and a short nod each was all it took for them to understand that Ginny would now take Harry’s seat by Teddy’s side. He kissed Teddy’s hand before he let go, and rose.

He left the room and followed the white corridors of St Mungos, renewed with a kind of furious purpose. The waiting room was busy, but he spotted Theia immediately.

She was sat, staring into space, holding a foil blanket around her, a deep gash across her eye and dark bruising on her jaw. She blinked as he took a chair and sat opposite her, just a few inches away.

‘Is he OK?’ she asked.

‘He will be,’ he said. ‘What happened?’

She looked around at the busy waiting room, and despite the paleness of her face, a faint blush appeared. He nodded, and helped her up, leading her by the elbow to a storage cupboard. Inside, he sat her down on an upturned bucket, and cast silencing and locking charms over the door.

She promptly burst into tears. ‘I’m so sorry, Harry, I’m so sorry…’

‘I know, it’s all right,’ he said, crouching down to meet her eye level. ‘Has he got your mum?’

She nodded, trying to compose herself, wiping impatiently at the tears on her face. She told him everything. She told him about the room, about what he had said to her, how desperately she had been trying to let him know.
‘I didn’t mean to let such a monster in your house, Harry, I really didn’t-’

‘I know. Saying mayday was really clever. I know you tried, I’m not angry, Theia. What happened afterwards? Did he get away?’

She explained to him in a distant, expressionless voice, staring at the dusty floor.

***


She burst from the house, and though the world seemed to be spinning around her she focused her eyes on Dennis’s back. He was quite far ahead of her now, almost vanishing into the darkness, but she had never told Dennis where exactly they had Apparated to; he was just as lost in this wilderness as she was, running blindly into the night in a quiet, forgotten part of the country.

‘DENNIS!’ she screamed. ‘DENNIS!’

Without really thinking about it, she shot balls of fire into the air. They burst above her like exploding suns, and somewhere in her confused mind she was trying to draw attention to them, scare a few Muggles, make as much unusual magic as possible in the hope that someone would be alerted, and the department would come to investigate the dramatic happenings near Harry Potter’s home.

She sent a tripping jinx his way, but it missed widely; she still felt dizzy from Dennis punching her in the head, she felt as though she could throw up. The ground underfoot grew softer, she began to stumble, but soon she heard the babbling, rushing sound of water, and there, ahead of her, was Dennis wading knee deep in a stream. She tried to stun him, but he turned at the sound of her shout, and blocked her spell.

He stood there, panting, wand pointed at her. She stared back for a moment, stunned. After everything, she shouldn’t have been surprised, really, that he had lied about it. But she had truly believed that he no longer had a wand, and something about the fact that he had had it all night, yet still chosen to hold a knife to Teddy Lupin’s back, chilled her to her bones.

Expelliarmus!’ she cried, but he blocked that too. Again and again, every spell she sent he blocked it, or dodged them easily, she still felt as though the world was tilting and she was trying to stay upright. He backed away, and now the stream was between them, the steep hill of the valley at Dennis’s back. He was not good at duelling. He had never completed his education after all. But she saw Harry’s teaching in him, saw the strength of his shield charms, saw his defensive stature, just like Harry had always shown her.

‘How could you?’ she shouted at him. ‘How could you, Dennis? A little boy?’

She saw now that the pale moonlight was catching on the tear tracks on his face. ‘He made me do it, Theia,’ he called back. ‘You all did.’

‘He did nothing wrong! None of us did! You can’t do this, Dennis, you’ve lost yourself!’

‘Join me,’ he pleaded. ‘You could join me, Theia. A new Dumbledore’s Army.’

‘How could you do this to me?’ She shot another stunner at him, but he barely had to move to dodge it. ‘Was it all a lie? Where’s my mother? Where’s my mum, Dennis? I want my mum.’

‘Why are you risking her for the sake of Death Eaters?’ he asked harshly. ‘I told you, didn’t I? I told you everything would be all right if you just listened, and it will, Theia. Help me do this, and we can make a new world. A better world. One where your mum can be a part of it all, respected and admired, not a source of shame.’

‘Why should I believe you?’ she howled. ‘Why should I believe anything you say? Impedimenta! You’re insane!
A little boy, Dennis! Just a tiny little boy! And Cormac McLaggen’s parents — they don’t deserve that! Stupefy! Why should Pansy Parkinson die in that way? She never tortured anyone to death! She never forced someone into cannibalism! But you did! YOU DID, DENNIS!’

She rushed forwards now, giving up entirely on her wand, but there was a bang and a searing heat across her face, she fell into the water and cold wetness mixed with the warm that was now pouring from her, she spluttered and stumbled in the icy water, but rose, again, to chase him once more.

He was yelling, as he scrambled up the steep valley, shouting a long list of names and crimes and words of justice. But she was shouting back, now relishing in telling him what her father had done, allowing her fury and love of him to race through her veins, letting it fuel her language, describing his crimes in detail, demanding to know if he would kill her too, to get back at him.

She tackled at his legs, and together they slid down the valley, scratched and stung by the coarse bushes, screaming at one another, hitting one another. ‘You’ll never see her again, Theia!’ he shouted, wrestling her into a headlock and choking the life out of her. ‘She’s gone! You had your chance!’

‘No!’ she growled, elbowing him sharply in the stomach. She seized the moment he was winded to turn, straddling him, trying to pin his strong arms to the ground. ‘No, I’m arresting you, you’re under-’

‘Go on, then,’ he sneered. ‘You think me and Lars were the only ones? You think that if you bring me in, she’ll be alive for a few days for you to find her? You think you have the chance to save her now?’ He spat in her face.
‘You’re a liar!’ She could hear cracks now, and men shouting. Aurors had arrived. Her hazy idea of drawing attention to them had, by no small miracle, worked.

‘If I don’t come back, someone will kill her for me,’ he said. ‘Let me go if you ever want to see her again.’

She considered it, the grip around his wrists lessening slightly. But Robards had run up behind them, and he pulled her off as Dawlish and Proudfoot grabbed Dennis’s arms.

‘Well done, Higglesworth,’ he said. ‘We’ll take it from here. I can guess what’s happened.’

‘She’s gone forever,’ Dennis shouted at her, as Dawlish bound him. ‘She’s alone in the dark, and that’s where she’ll die.’

***


‘And then I arrested him properly. And I told Robards what had happened. And then I came here, because I thought that’s where you would be.’

Harry listened to her carefully, patiently. When she finished, he gave a slow nod, and spoke quietly. ‘You did really well. I’m sorry this has happened.’

She finally looked at his face, and her deep brown eyes shone with tears. She hugged him, and he was quite startled, but hugged her back, giving the back of her arms a firm and reassuring squeeze. Then, he gently pushed her off, now gripping her shoulders as he looked intensely into her face.

‘Do you think he was telling the truth?’ he asked. ‘Do you think there are others?’

‘I don’t know.’

‘And he’s at the department now?’

‘Yes.’

He nodded again. ‘OK. All right. Get yourself seen by a Healer. You sound like you’ve got concussion and you’re in shock. I’ll go to the department.’ She stared at him dully. ‘Don’t give up, Theia,’ he said. ‘We’ll get your mum back. We will.’

‘Do you promise?’ she whispered.

He looked at her face. Heartbroken, bruised, bleeding. ‘Yes.’

He returned to Teddy’s room, where everyone was gathered round the bed and speaking in quiet, hushed voices. Teddy had woken up.

‘Hey, mate,’ Harry said softly, as Hermione and Ginny moved away to let him through. ‘How’re you feeling?’
Teddy looked blearily up at him, frowning slightly, looking very confused. There was a long pause. ‘Can we go to Scamander’s World of Fantastic Beasts tomorrow?’ he asked.

Harry half-laughed, half-sobbed. ‘You want to go to the zoo? Of course we can.’

Andromeda smiled, though she was still crying silently. ‘As soon as you’re out, Ted. The three of us will go, won’t we, Harry? We’ll go and see the Nifflers. Your favourite.’

Harry leaned down and kissed Teddy on the head. ‘We will. I’ve got to go now, but I’ll be back really soon, Teddy.’

‘Are you going to catch the bad guy? Nana said there was a bad guy, and that’s why I’m here.’

‘Of course I am. I’ll go and sort him out, and then I’ll come straight back to see you, OK? Then we’ll go to the zoo.’

‘We’ll look after him, Harry,’ murmured Ginny. ‘He doesn’t really remember. He’s OK.’

He nodded at her words, gave Teddy and then Ginny one last kiss, and left the room, wiping at his eyes as he went.

***


When he arrived at the department, nobody seemed surprised to see him there, but they stared. They stared knowingly as he stormed past the custody desk, they stared as he yelled for Robards, they muttered quietly together.
They had clearly been called in because of Dennis, by now they would know everything.

‘Harry-’ began Susan, but barely looked at her as he passed.

‘Where is he?’ he called harshly to Robards, as soon as he saw him on the far side of the room. ‘Robards, where is he?’

Robards had been deep in conversation with Dawlish, and he looked up at Harry with an expression of exasperated dread. ‘Now, Potter-’ he began in a placating voice, but Harry continued to march towards him with a powerful rage.

‘Let me talk to him-’

‘I’m not letting you in while you’re like this, let Dawlish-’

‘Fuck Dawlish!’ Harry roared. ‘I need to speak to him, he has a woman captive and she may not have long.’

Clearly ruffled, Dawlish stood straighter and looked at Harry with barely disguised disgust. ‘We are well aware of the disappearance of Mrs Higglesworth, your trainee informed us. As I was saying,’ he said, turning back to Robards, ‘I am best placed to question him, Potter is clearly too emotional-’

Harry called him an extremely rude word that risked him being sacked, but the corner of Robards’ mouth twitched and he simply said, ‘room four, Potter. Behave yourself.’

Harry turned on his heel, blood thundering through his ears. He thought Dawlish might be shouting at him, but he had not felt purpose like this since the war, so he was deaf to it.

He reached the room. It was being guarded by Proudfoot and Williamson, both of whom avoided Harry’s gaze. He was sure that when he went in, they would spy on him. Make sure he stuck to the rules. Protect the suspect. He stopped outside the door for a second, and gave a long, low exhale.

When he entered, Dennis did not look up. His magical binds were attached to the centre of the table, they pulled his hands forward as though he were praying. His eyes only flicked up to meet Harry’s as Harry sat opposite him, and they sat in silence for nearly a full minute, staring at each other. Harry wanted to shout and yell and slam his fist onto the table (or straight into Dennis’s face), but he knew that the only way to get Dennis to reveal the location of Mrs Higglesworth was through a long, slow conversation. One where Dennis felt valued. Listened to. Respected. One where he would soon want to help Harry.

It was Dennis who spoke first. ‘I suppose you want to kill me.’

‘It’s tempting,’ said Harry calmly. Another long, stretching silence, where Harry stared at him with pure hatred. ‘Teddy is not yet four years old,’ Harry said. ‘He’s had a difficult start to life, but you’ll never find a more cheerful little boy. He is full of colour.’

‘I didn’t want to kill him,’ said Dennis.

‘You didn’t,’ said Harry. ‘He’s going to be fine. But you have demonstrated unimaginable cruelty.’

‘To him, maybe,’ admitted Dennis, his expression blank. ‘But the others deserved it. You could have helped me, or turned a blind eye if you were squeamish. Don’t pretend you weren’t relieved inside when you found out the Rookwoods were dead.’

Harry let another silence beat before continuing. ‘Actually, no,’ he said. ‘Not only because I initially assumed they were the victims of other Death Eaters, but also because I have been searching for them for three years to bring them to justice. Proper justice. Fair justice. With a public trial and the defence that every witch and wizard is entitled to, whether we like them or not. To be beaten to the chase by a psychopath was not a relief.’

‘But it didn’t work,’ said Dennis. ‘You never found them. I did. And I was able to bring them to swifter and fairer justice than you ever did.’

‘That’s the disappointing thing with democracy and human rights though, Dennis,’ replied Harry. ‘Sometimes it doesn’t satisfy our bloodlust. I could satisfy my bloodlust now. You nearly took a child I love as my own from me. My only family. I could beat you to a bloody pulp, I could use magic to torture you into insanity, I could watch your life vanish under a flash of green light. Right now, I think I would very much enjoy it.’

‘You see?’ said Dennis. ‘You want to, don’t you? Now you see how important it is to be able to avenge your loved ones. I thought you would remember it from the war, but you needed another reminder. It’s a great shame.’

Harry almost smiled. ‘This is where I see your inexperience, Dennis. I went through that war. I was at the centre of it. You’re right that I did get to avenge the death of my parents in a way, and I saw many others die who deserved to. But I am still an orphan. I still remember my godfather falling through a veil of death. The memory of Dumbledore’s corpse falling from the Astronomy tower still haunts me. I am still visited at night by the shadows of those that fought and died for me at the Battle of Hogwarts. Remus. Tonks. Fred. Colin. Society cannot function on a constant cycle of revenge and bloodlust. Grief and loss is rarely lessened by the death of another. We must strive to be better. When we do nothing but react, we make mistakes. My own godfather was imprisoned unfairly for 12 years, but if you had spoken to anyone then they would have told you he was a Death Eater who didn’t deserve a fair trial. Everyone deserves the chance of a defence.’

Dennis merely blinked at him. A trace of the small, excitable boy Harry had once known was still in his face, somewhere, but it was hidden beneath one of cold stone.

‘You remind me of someone else, you know,’ said Harry. ‘Another young man who struck up a friendship with a troubled stranger, and together they began to do terrible things. But he saw sense quickly, and ended up stopping it. It’s not too late for you, Dennis. You could tell me where Mrs Higglesworth is.’

‘You have to listen to me first,’ said Dennis. ‘And I mean really listen. To everything.’

‘All right. Tell me how all this started, Dennis,’ said Harry. ‘Because I have been there. Truly, I have. I have spent summers lying in bed, staring at the ceiling, plotting how I will kill people. I have pushed away those who love me, and shouted at those trying to care. I have felt that anger. But then grief moves on, life continues, and anger slips away, quite without you realising.’

‘Not for me,’ said Dennis. He swallowed before continuing, his expression almost softening. ‘At first… At first it was fine. I spoke to his friends. I spoke to his girlfriend. I collected his photos and developed them and sent them into the newspaper. I helped carry the coffin.’ He looked down now, at his hands, entangling his fingers in one another.
‘But then… I kept staring at the last picture he took. You will have seen it. It was used as evidence a lot. I suppose he didn’t realise how close they really were, through his lens. All of them running at him. Storming the castle. It could have been any one of them, I thought. I stared at it, trying to work it out. Trying to look at the angles of the wands, where they were looking, who would have been able to see him behind the fountain.’

Harry knew the photo well. He too, had poured over it as evidence, seen it submitted in dozens of trials. In dark, quiet hours he’d listened to Ginny whisper about it, heard her describe how Colin had pursued his dream of being a photojournalist even while the battle raged around him, how he had crouched behind the fountain while the rest of the fighters retreated from the oncoming Death Eater advance.

‘I couldn’t stay there anymore,’ continued Dennis, his voice distant and measured. ‘Not in Hogwarts. I don’t think you know what it was like, you know. I know Hermione Granger was Muggleborn too, but she was protected by you, and her own talent. But me and Colin, we never really fit in. Our childhoods weren’t the same. Our interests weren’t shared by others. Colin really threw himself into it, tried to learn everything about wizarding culture he could, became obsessed. Before I came to the school, he told me so much about it that I’d built it up in my head to perfection. He didn’t warn me that the other students wouldn’t know what to talk to me about. He didn’t warn me that they would call me Mudblood. He didn’t warn me that we had to hold ourselves to a higher standard, always. If a pureblood couldn’t get a spell right, that was just because it was a tricky spell or they hadn’t done their homework, but if I couldn’t do it, well, it’s because I was Muggleborn, wasn’t it? The way the other kids would snigger, or slowly explain things to me. Even when they were well meaning, it was always because they thought I was less magical than them. No matter how much we learnt, we were always outsiders, me and Colin.’ He looked back up at Harry. ‘Do you know what that’s like?’

‘To be an outsider?’ said Harry, arching an eyebrow. ‘Yes. I do.’

Dennis’s face turned sour, and he looked back down. ‘He was all I had, really. And then he died. Died defending this world that had never accepted us. Would never really accept us. Tolerated us at the very most, when surely that should have been the bare minimum. I kept staring at this picture, and I stopped thinking “one of you killed him”, and started thinking that they had all killed him. It didn’t really matter, anymore, who had the final say. It didn’t matter who cast the curse. It ran deeper than that. He was fighting these people for a reason. The same reason he persuaded Demelza’s family to help him falsify papers for us both. The same reason he took me with him to Hogwarts that year. He just wanted to be a part of this place, but it was rotten. Those people in the photo were the worst of it, but they were raised in it, same as all our classmates, and they probably started with those same playground taunts. They probably read The Daily Prophet, and got used to the way it casually used Muggle as an insult. They probably let those things escalate and escalate until they were doing it themselves.’

He had begun to cry now, though his expression did not change, and the tears fell silently. His hands curled into fists. ‘So I couldn’t stay at Hogwarts. Not with all those memories, and not where Colin died. I went to Durmstrang, applied to continue my education there. I speak some German, you know, Mum was from Austria, and I thought I would pick up more. When I went for my interview, the gossip had already started. Someone who was in Dumbledore’s Army, they said, a war hero, starting here! They didn’t know that I never fought. They were very excited. The students watched me as I was led through the school to the Headmaster’s Office for my interview. I can remember how they whispered. The interview went well. I began to fill in the forms. But then it came to my parents occupations. Well, of course, I had to explain what a milkman was, they thought they had mistranslated. But I explained to them, and their faces changed.’

‘They don’t accept Muggleborns, do they?’ said Harry, who could easily imagine the vast stone halls of Durmstrang lined with muttering students.

‘They didn’t even walk me out of the castle,’ said Dennis, his face darkening. ‘Left me to find my own way back. What was the point of Colin dying? It wasn’t just Britain, it was the magical world. They hated me, and people like me, and that wouldn’t change just because Voldemort was dead and some Death Eaters were in jail.’

‘And this is where you met Lars?’ asked Harry, remembering the slow, hesitant way Fischer had said that he had met Dennis at school.

‘Yes. He caught up with me. Said he had heard what had happened. He was disgusted. Angry for me. He agreed with me that the whole world was fucked, and I found myself telling him everything, and he told me everything. I never realised Voldemort had reached that far. He asked me about the DA, and we talked about you. He was so impressed that I knew you. Lots of people are. You’re a hero.’

There was something very odd about Dennis, bouncing between calling Harry a hero and lambasting him for not being good enough. He was certain that Dennis wasn’t sure what he thought himself. So he let him continue, still in that distant, emotionless voice.

‘He walked out of the school with me that day. He’d hated it for a while. Everyone talked about how his family had been murdered, and his dad had died not long after. He hated the attention.’

Harry could empathise. He knew only too well what it was like to have your tragedy used as gossip, entertainment fodder for teenagers, for people to ask for grisly details. Yet now Dennis’s face lit up in an inspired, happy sort of way, his eyes glazing over as his voice grew softer.

‘We travelled. Across all of Scandinavia and down into Bavaria, and we just kept going. We talked about Norse mythology and Muggle history and theories of psychology. We talked about the differences between Muggle culture and wizarding culture. We talked about how angry we were and revolutionising the system. And then in a little town in the Czech Republic we ran into more Muggleborns. All the ones that had been rejected from Durmstrang, or fled the country during Voldemort’s regime. They’d set up their own little commune to learn magic, building their own settlement. All of them angry. All of them inspired by Dumbledore’s Army.’

A coldness was sweeping over Harry. He felt as though he were standing on the precipice, a great abyss below him. He knew in his bones what was ahead now; a vast new challenge borne from the last.

‘So we decided to take action,’ said Dennis softly. ‘Restart Dumbledore’s Army. Make sure that nothing like that would ever happen again.’

‘And so you decided to hunt people down. Even people that had already been prosecuted and sentenced,’ said Harry.

‘We began to talk to people,’ corrected Dennis. ‘There are whispers, you know, people that are unhappy. People that feel they’ve been ignored. There’s a low rumble of anger. People talk. People put each other in touch with a guy they know. Soon I had a list. Soon I had plans. We agreed that Lars and I would go to Britain. To test out some of our ideas.’

‘And the theatrics?’ said Harry. ‘The torture, the symbolic cannibalism-’

‘All necessary,’ said Dennis. ‘All deserved.’ He hesitated, looking down at his fingers which he now steepled. They were so pale and thin that they reminded Harry of a ribcage. ‘I wanted to be recognised. Not out of any desire for fame, you understand, but I wanted rumours to spread. I wanted the people on my list, or any that I had missed, to be afraid. I wanted them to think that their past actions would catch up on them. And I wanted people to see what good work I was doing. For people like you to see that there was another way.’

It occurred to Harry that, despite his speech to Dennis about the virtues of a right to a fair trial and the failings of bloodlust, it was only now that he realised the reason he could still see the excitable child he had once known. Dennis’s actions were that of a young, excitable child. Purely emotional. No thought for the future. Reactionary. Black and white ideas of right or wrong without the capabilities to control his own behaviour to the same moral standard. This was still the boy who fell in the lake, still the boy that had irritated them all with his loud whoops when he won at exploding snap. Only now, instead of happiness or delighted anticipation for the future, he was bitter, angry and rejected.

So he nodded. ‘I understand. You wanted to make it clear that there was a deeper meaning to it all. I see that. So you and Fischer worked together. Did he do most of the spells?’

‘Neither of us are very good at magic,’ said Dennis. ‘We used Muggle methods as much as possible. But he’s better than me. And he can apparate. I never learned. We were a good team. I’d plan things, he’d do them.’

‘You know we have him in custody,’ said Harry.

‘Yes, I know. I spoke to you on the phone.’

‘So there will be no one else with Mrs Higglesworth, or Cormac McLaggen, if he is still alive. There’s still a chance, Dennis. There’s still a chance to make this better. I know in your heart you are a good person, and I don’t think you want to hurt innocent people, do you?’

‘No,’ agreed Dennis.

‘Help me make this better, Dennis. Help me make it better for Theia. I’ve said to her before; you only get one mum. Tell me where she is, because Theia’s been through enough.’

‘I wish I could,’ said Dennis, smiling pleasantly. ‘But you both had your chances. Not to mention, there will be little point by now. If she’s not dead already, she will be soon.’

‘You have others working for you? Is that what you’re saying?’

‘I told Theia that, didn’t?’ said Dennis, with a small laugh. ‘It’s only half true. I have a wider network, yes, but none in this country. I don’t need anyone else though. I’m afraid poor Mrs Higglesworth is on a timer. What time is it right now, anyway? I expect it will be running out if it hasn’t already.’

‘A timer?’ said Harry sharply. ‘A timer for what, exactly?’ But Dennis just smiled. ‘Where is she, Dennis? Tell me where she is.’

‘There’s no point. You’ll never find her. I’m very sorry, she was a kind lady. She’d talk to me about all sorts of things. About how hard she found it to connect with her daughter. How dangerous this wizarding world seemed and how nervous she was for Theia to be a part of it. How she joined the army, for a time, and seemed to be good at it, but then gave it all up for Theia. It showed, really. She was very brave when I took her.’

‘Dennis,’ growled Harry, horror and rage rising once more in his throat. ‘You nearly murdered a small child this evening. Now is your chance to make sure you don’t take someone’s mother. Tell me where she is.’

‘No.’

‘You said if I listened, you would tell me.’

‘I made no such promises.’

Again and again Dennis refused, even beginning to chuckle as Harry grew more and more agitated. ‘You wasted your time listening to me drone on,’ he told Harry. ‘While this whole time she’s been dying. How long does it take for carbon monoxide to choke someone to death?’

Harry lost it. He kicked his chair across the room, roaring in rage while Dennis laughed, and Proudfoot and Williamson burst in, dragging him out.

‘I need more time!’ he yelped at them. ‘He’s hiding her!’

‘Cool it, Potter,’ said Williamson, though he sounded nervous as he took a strong grip on Harry’s arm.

‘Get off me!’ But they had thrown him out of the room, and now they had closed the door and stood in front of the door, refusing him entry. He kicked and slammed his fists against the wall opposite, shouting incomprehensibly. It did not encourage Williamson and Proudfoot to change their minds, so he stormed off, mind racing.

White with rage and fear, he strode back into the main office, aiming to return to the hospital, but by miracle the person he needed to see was there.

Theia’s cut and bruised face had been healed, but she still clutched the foil blanket around her, still pale in her misery and fear. ‘Let me speak to him,’ she said as he approached.

‘No,’ he said bluntly, taking her by the arm. He sat her on the nearest chair, and crouched down, like he had in the cupboard at the hospital, but now more urgent, now more terrified. ‘Theia, think carefully. Have there ever been any signs, any hints, any clues as to where Dennis might have been spending time?’

She looked flustered, overwhelmed; his panic was catching, and she stammered and stumbled. ‘No, nothing, I-I don’t know, er…’ She burst into tears. ‘He’s not a student. I know he must have been lying about that the whole time.’

‘It must be somewhere close to you,’ Harry said rapidly. ‘He doesn’t Apparate. Think, Theia, think…’
‘There… There was… In the room, in the study, there was a blue print on the wall.’

‘Of a building?’

‘No, well, maybe, it just looked like corridors, or tunnels maybe.’

‘All right, good, really good, if we can’t think what it was I’ll go and look there, but Theia, it’s urgent, are you sure he never said-’

Her eyes moved rapidly, she chewed on her own lip, wrung her hands. ‘His… His trousers were wet once. Maybe this is nothing, it’s just I remember thinking it was odd, because he said a van had splashed him, but it hadn’t been raining lately, and it was nearly up to his knees, level on both legs-’

‘That could be,’ Harry said, nodding rapidly. ‘That could be something. OK, round near you, are there any lakes or rivers or-’

‘The nearest would be the Thames, I think, or the River Lea,’ she babbled. ‘I don’t know, the whole area’s being regenerated, it’s mostly council flats and building sites, I don’t think there’s anywhere that would be undisturbed, even the empty buildings have addicts and kids going in them-’

‘There has to be something else, Theia, come on, there must be-’

‘I don’t know, I don’t know where you could go where you wouldn’t come across people, or wouldn’t be heard-’
It hit Harry, very suddenly. A huge leap on very little evidence, but one he knew instinctively was right. He rose, and began to run out of the department, but Theia began to follow.

‘No, stay here,’ he ordered.

‘I’m coming! I need to find mum!’

‘No,’ he pushed her away, suddenly remembering how the Healers had pulled the curtain around Teddy when he had been close to… ‘I’ll call you when I need you, stay here!’

He raced out of the building, ignoring her shouts, and barking an order at Susan not to let her leave. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Susan block Theia’s path, trying to guide her to the break room. Once he was out of the anti-Apparation charms, he twisted on the spot and vanished like a clap of thunder.

Poplar was cold and wet. A far off police-siren and a dog barking breaking the night air, but now Harry’s breathing too, heavy and rapid, his footsteps echoing on the tall brutalist buildings surrounding him. He briefly thought about going up, checking the blueprint, but he had already wasted enough time, and he was sure his hunch was right.
He began to run at random, scanning the cold, wet ground, scattered with broken glass and cigarette butts, punctuated by potholes and valiant weeds, squeezing their way through cracks. Finally, he saw one, the heavy, large circle of metal.

Evanesco,’ he muttered, and the manhole cover vanished, leaving a dark hole and the sound of rushing water.

He breathed heavily as he crouched, and paused for a moment as he sat on the edge. Small, dark spaces were best avoided, in his opinion.

He dropped into the sewers, casting lumos as he did. It stank, and as Theia had suggested, the disconcertingly mild water was knee deep. He made his way down the dark, grimy tunnels, calling for Mrs Higglesworth, praying he had been right. He was allowing his panic to overcome him, so he stopped, trying to calm himself, and raised his wand once again.

Homenum Revelio,’ he said, and though nothing seemed to happen, he waited in the silence. Then he heard it. A heartbeat, like the beating of a fatalistic drum in the darkness. He followed it, the blue light from his wand disturbing the rats, his feet slushing through the thick water, his hand often unconsciously reaching out to touch the slimy walls.

Closer and closer, the thuds growing louder and louder.

It seemed to capture his own dread, mirror his fear, but soon it was the only sound, drowning out even the rushing of the water and the squeaking of the rats. ‘Mrs Higglesworth?’ he called, his voice bouncing off the walls. ‘Hello?’

‘Help!’ came a strangled cry.

With a sharp intake of breath, Harry began to ran, as fast as he could through the water, down the twisting tunnels, the sound of the heartbeat growing to deafening proportions, increasingly rapid.

‘Help!’ came the voice again, but this time Harry’s stomach sank.

He turned the corner, and there he was. Thin, dirty, heavily beaten.
Cormac McLaggen.

He sobbed as he saw Harry, lifting his shackled hands. ‘Help me,’ he moaned, his lips chapped and bloody. ‘Help me.’
Harry crouched and tapped the shackles with his wand. They sprung open. ‘I’ll take you to hospital,’ he said. ‘You’re safe now. Have you seen-?’

But Cormac pointed. It must have been remarkable effort for him, as close to death as he was. His trembling arm pointed to a dark corner, where something was slumped against the wrought iron bars in a smaller alcove.
Harry cast his wand light over it.

She looked very much like Theia. The same wispy brown hair, the same rounded cheeks. But her eyes were closed, a mask, like one that would be used for oxygen in a Muggle hospital, heavily taped over her mouth and nose, her arms bound behind her. From the mask, a tube snaked its way to a large silver gas canister. A timer, run out of time, sat on the valve.

He moved forward, hopeful, despite knowing the spell had revealed just one heartbeat to him. He worked quietly but swiftly, vanishing the tape and murmuring ‘rennervate’ over and over again. Soon he found himself saying ‘no, no, no,’ as he checked for a pulse he knew wasn’t there, softly pleading with her.

‘She stopped moving twenty minutes ago,’ croaked Cormac.

Harry buried his face in one hand. The bitterness of the failure sweeping over him. He began to cry, exhausted and broken-hearted at the thought of telling Theia. How could he tell her? He had failed yet another person.
He looked at Mrs Higglesworth. He didn’t even know her first name. How would he tell Theia? How would he tell her? How would she ever recover from this?

‘Hello?’ came an echoing, distant call. Frightened, but determined. ‘Harry?’

Harry swore. ‘She’s followed me,’ he said to Cormac, though he would have no idea what he was talking about. ‘You don’t say anything. Got it? She’s not seeing that. I’m not telling her in here. You say nothing, or I’ll knock you out. I’m taking you to the hospital. Get up.’

Supporting Cormac with one arm, the wand light jumping erratically, and wiping away his tears with the other, he led them back out through the sewer tunnels, towards the young woman who would surely never be the same again.

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