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SIYE Time:21:04 on 20th October 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: 37902; Chapter Total: 1897
Awards: View Trophy Room






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Harry fought his way desperately through the crowd, trying not to be recognized while pushing past the scores of people pouring out of the Quidditch stadium. They were loud, and excitable. It must have been an action-packed match, for it had lasted little more than half an hour, and with a growl of frustration he realized that the happiest fans were waving scarves and flags of sky blue, not dark green…

‘TORNADOS ‘TIL I DIE!’ a fat, drunk wizard was singing loudly. ‘TORNADOS TIL- Hey! Harry Po-’

Harry ducked as he sped past him, hoping that the surrounding fans that were rapidly turning in his direction wouldn’t catch glimpse of his face. ‘Fuck,’ he muttered to himself, under his breath. ‘Fuck, fuck…’

He reached the gated entrance of the stadium, and a familiar gaggle of flaming red caught his eye. Most of the Weasley family and associated strays were bunched to the side of one of the stands, and they looked up as he hurried towards them.

‘Oh, here he is,’ announced George scathingly. ‘You’ve got groveling to do, mate…’

‘Where’ve you been?’ demanded Ron.

‘Harry!’ squealed Teddy, reaching out his chubby arms.

Harry looked helplessly at Hermione. ‘I told you-’

‘You said you’d try and make it, I know, I told her you’d be late,’ she said. ‘But it was all over so quickly, you’ve missed the whole thing-’

He groaned. Teddy had wriggled out of Andromeda’s grip and was now clutching Harry’s trouser leg, looking up with bright eyes and gabbling about the match. ‘They flewed fast!’

‘Did they?’ Harry tried to say encouragingly, ruffling Teddy’s hair. He looked back up at the rest of the family. ‘Where’s Ginny?’

‘In ze changing rooms,’ said Fleur, a gurgling Victoire held gracefully against her hip. ‘You ‘ad best get zere quickly.’

‘Yes, and tell her to hurry so we can leave before the press realizes you’re here,’ advised Arthur. ‘We’ve had to shoo them off already.’

He didn’t need telling twice. He distracted Teddy and handed him back to Andromeda, hastily avoiding her stern gaze, and nimbly side-stepped the distracted security wizard at the entrance to the players section.

He could hear Gwenog’s yells from down the corridor, and he loitered outside the locker room, wincing.

‘-THE QUAFFLE MIGHT AS WELL HAVE BEEN MERLIN’S DICK FOR ALL YOU TOUCHED IT, MORGAN-’

Harry could hear a muffled, whimpering response, but Gwenog continued her rant with unbridled fury. After several minutes, and one final swear word, the door burst open with a noise like a canon, and Gwenog Jones stormed past Harry. If looks could kill, he was sure that he would be dust by now.

The subdued Harpies began to filter out, muttering embarrassed greetings at him as they passed, and he slipped into the room. Ginny was stuffing her dark green Quidditch robes unceremoniously into a kit bag, giving him only a filthy glance as he approached. The only other people left in the room, the two beaters, exchanged awkward looks and hurried out.

‘I’m sorry,’ Harry said, breaking the silence. Ginny simply sighed, pursing her lips so much that her usually rounded cheeks were sucked in. ‘I really tried to get here, Ginny, I did-’

‘Okay,’ she said sarcastically.

‘I did, I-’

‘I get it,’ she said bluntly. ‘Work disaster. Hermione mentioned. Paperwork.’

‘It wasn’t just an issue with paperwork,’ Harry said defensively. ‘Half the people in custody were able to walk free, and-’

‘Doesn’t matter anyway,’ Ginny interrupted. ‘I was shit. We were all shit. It was a terrible game.’

‘I’m sure you were-’

She swung her bag over her shoulder, barely looking at him. ‘I wasn’t. If you’d been here, you’d know. But you had loads of paperwork.’

He closed his eyes and ran his hand through his hair as she walked past him. He tried to remind himself that she was likely gutted about losing the game; she’d been hoping that performing well in this match might place her in a good position for captaincy when Gwenog retired. Let her be angry at you, he told himself. Let her vent, and when she’s calmed down, you can explain properly…

Again his hands slipped into his pocket and fumbled the velvet box there. He probably wouldn’t have done it today anyway, not with other people about.

The memory of his first kiss with her danced hazily in the back of his mind as he followed her back out of the locker rooms. Her long ponytail was swinging like the tail of an angry cat as she stomped her way out.
The family gave her bracing yet cautious smiles as she joined them, but it was Teddy who bravely stepped forward and curiously asked why she hadn’t scored as many goals as usual.

‘Why don’t you show me that new hair colour Nana was telling me about?’ said Harry hastily, scooping him up.

But Teddy’s shimmer of mauve was lost in a bright flash of light.

Harry clutched Teddy tighter to him and clumsily grasped at his wand with his left hand, but as he twisted, he saw not a Death Eater, but a scruffy looking photographer, along with…

‘Harry, darling!’ Rita shrilled. Her jeweled glasses glinted irritatingly in the sunlight, and her acid-green Quick Quotes Quill hovered patiently at her side. ‘So nice to see you here — I suppose you’re disappointed with the match? Frustrated? Heart-broken? Would you say that Birch’s performance was fair, or unnecessarily aggressive towards your girlfriend?’

‘Destroy that film now,’ Harry ordered the photographer. ‘You’ve been spoken to before about photographing the children-’

‘Come now, Harry,’ said Rita, with a tinkling laugh. ‘You’re in a public place. Surely you’d rather I ask you about Quidditch than the multiple criminals that you apparently released early this morning?’

‘Let’s go,’ Harry muttered to the others, pulling his cloak over Teddy’s head.

‘What about the recent murder in Upper Flagley?’ Rita called as they walked away though the rapidly flashing light of the camera. ‘Is it true that it was a Death Eater you’ve been searching for? Did you lose control, Harry? Snap? Seek revenge?’

The commotion had attracted more reporters and photographers, as well as some lingering fans, and soon they were surrounded. Harry could hear Molly and Andromeda shouting at the reporters, who were in turn asking intrusive questions and swarming around Ginny, goading and interrogating her about the unsuccessful match.

It was chaos, but Bill, George and Ron were impressive bodyguards, barely hesitating to roughly pull people aside so the family could get through to the Portkey point.

‘Miss Weasley! Do you agree that your goal in the fourth minute could have constituted a haversacking foul? Miss Weasley!’

‘What do you have to say about the Torndados new manager?’

They had reached the designated Portkey Point, and Arthur hurried over to the overwhelmed looking security wizard, quietly giving him their destination instructions while Harry checked the confused and whimpering toddler under his coat.

‘It’s all right,’ he said quietly, but he was not sure Ted could hear him over the noise. He wished they could Apparate, but Fleur was pregnant and Victoire was too young, and Teddy always cried-

There was a large bang, and he whipped round to see Ginny, her furious face glowing red and her wand raised, while a reporter squirmed at her feet. Large bat-bogeys were flapping around his shrieking face.

The reporters paused in stunned silence, before returning to shouting with a renewed ferocity. Harry shook his head despairingly at her, but thankfully Hermione seized her arm before she could attack anyone else, and pulled her to the Portkey the family were now huddling around.

‘Everyone ready?’ shouted Arthur over the calamity. ‘Three, two…’

Finally, quiet. The smell of the orchard, the familiar sight of the Burrow, his ears ringing from the sudden peace that surrounded them. Teddy was wriggling irritably under his cloak, and seemed very relieved when Harry put him down on the soft grass.

Molly had set up the tables in the garden for an early dinner, and as the evenings were beginning to get colder, Andromeda helped her enchant hovering bubbles of embers, which slowly rotated and warmed the air around them.
The food was brought out, and the family took their seats, grumbling about the reports and remarking on the perfection of the leg of lamb that had been placed on the cream table cloth. Andromeda wrestled Teddy into a highchair, and Harry took a seat next to Ginny at the very end of the table, hoping that she’d calmed a little, but opposite her, she and Hermione were squabbling.

‘-Completely uncalled for, Ginny-’

‘Uncalled for? Give me a break, they were like animals, I should have hexed the whole bloody lot of them!’
Harry wearily leaned back in his chair, glancing uneasily at Ginny, who was still pink with anger. ‘What did he do?’ he asked. ‘If you hexed him because he touched you-’

‘He didn’t touch me,’ she muttered, helping herself to carrots. ‘You’ve threatened them enough times with legal action that they know not to touch me.’

He sighed. ‘Well what did you hex him for then, Ginny? It’s going to get us into-’

‘Don’t you start!’ she retorted. ‘I’ll have you know he was asking me why you weren’t there, the cheeky sod!’

‘Look,’ he said, beginning to lose his temper, ‘I had a major crisis at work, I tried to get there Ginny, I really did-’

‘Why don’t you both talk about this tomorrow,’ interrupted Hermione hastily. ‘You can both talk it through when you’re less tired and stressed.’

Harry glared at her, but Ginny nodded. ‘Yeah… Sorry,’ she said, looking sheepishly at Harry. ‘You know I’m a bit of a sore loser. We’ve got all day tomorrow, we can talk about it then.’

He looked down at his plate.

‘Oh, Harry,’ said Hermione, despairingly.

‘You’re joking?’ Ginny growled. ‘You said you had this whole weekend off!’

‘I’m sorry,’ he said unhappily. ‘I’m going to have to go in… I really can’t tell you what a disaster we’ve had. It’s that bloody trainee,’ he muttered bitterly.

‘You can’t dump all the blame on her,’ said Hermione sharply. ‘If the paperwork was that crucial, you shouldn’t have left it with someone so inexperienced.’

‘Didn’t Susan say anything about it not being in on time?’ interjected Ron. Harry hadn’t been aware he was listening - he seemed too busy shoveling roast potatoes into his mouth.

‘No, I don’t think so,’ said Harry slowly. ‘I dunno, she might have done. She’s always on at me for late paperwork.’

‘Well just bloody well do it on time then!’ exclaimed Ginny.

‘Bloody!’ shouted Teddy happily.

After apologizing to Andromeda and explaining to Teddy about grownup words, Harry began aggressively cutting into his lamb. ‘It’s useless,’ he said. ‘Here I am stressing about my incompetent department and I can’t even keep everyone in custody.’

Ginny’s expression softened a little. ‘It’s the people involved in the planned breakout, right? Well, surely you’ve foiled their plans now? You can just keep an eye on them in case they come up with something new.’

‘It’s not that simple… I think it’s all tied up in these murders.’

‘Murders?’ asked Ron. ‘Plural?’

Harry looked anxiously round the busy table, but the rest of the family was busy chatting and laughing, paying little attention to the four of them. He lowered his voice. ‘Pansy Parkinson turned up dead the other day.’

He was lucky the family didn’t hear Hermione and Ginny’s audible gasps, or Ron’s quiet swear word. ‘You’re joking?’ whispered Hermione.

‘No. And we still haven’t found Rookwood either, but I don’t think it was him. I think someone’s after Death Eaters, or there’s in-fighting of some sort.’

‘Oh,’ said Ron, visibly relaxing. ‘Who cares then?’

‘Ron!’

‘What?’ he said, shrugging at Hermione’s appalled expression. ‘If they want to kill each other off that’s fine by me, I don’t know why Harry needs to get his knickers in such a twist about it.’

‘But Pansy Parkinson wasn’t even a Death Eater,’ said Hermione, slowly. ‘I mean, she was still at Hogwarts, wasn’t she?’

Harry gave a hummed response, scratching his jaw. ‘She was almost certainly involved in this Azkaban plot though.’

‘And she was still helping them from Hogwarts,’ said Ginny. Harry looked at her expectantly, so she took a large sip of wine and continued. ‘It all came out the next year, don’t you remember, Hermione?’

‘Oh!’ Hermione’s eyes grew wide. ‘Of course!’

‘She was never prosecuted for anything…’ began Harry.

‘Well, no, she’d didn’t really do anything illegal, and this was all just school gossip,’ said Ginny. ‘You remember my friend Polly? My dorm mate that died?’

‘The one that was passing information about you and the D.A?’

‘Yes. Pansy was acting as the go-between for her and the Carrows, and the outside world really.’

‘She had lots of little spies by the sounds of it,’ added Hermione. ‘She was one of the students that was allowed to receive post, she was in a much better position to communicate than any of the other students.’

‘I only found out about it afterwards. It might not even be true, I suppose, it was just school gossip, Polly never mentioned it when she died.’ Ginny had paled a little, and she was gripping her wine glass quite tightly, but her face stayed relaxed and calm. ‘Anyway, she wasn’t queen bee anymore when we all got back and apparently started bragging. It didn’t last very long, some old D.A members attacked her.’

‘Blimey,’ said Ron. ‘You all toughened up, didn’t you?’

‘Well, yes,’ said Ginny brusquely, staring intently at her wine. ‘Turns out there were a few Muggleborn students that had managed to smuggle themselves in, but she snitched on them. Demelza told me, after the war, that her family were actually tortured for hiding the Creevy brothers, but eventually the Death Eaters gave up trying to find evidence and just accepted that they were cousins. She only found out at Colin’s funeral.’ Her hand delved into her pocket, where Harry knew she kept a bottle cap.

‘Not to mention Kevin Entwhistle,’ said Hermione. ‘No one ever did find out what happened to him, apparently he came in on false papers and then Pansy’s word meant he was dragged off. He’s presumed dead, his whole family disappeared too.’

‘And according to Seamus she was the one who alerted the Carrows when Michael was releasing a first year,’ said Ginny viciously. ‘Can’t say I’m sorry she’s dead at all, to be honest.’

‘A lot of people must hate her then,’ said Harry. ‘On both sides.’

‘Both sides?’

‘She gave evidence against various Death Eaters. Against Amycus Carrow, but defended Alecto Carrow.’

‘Well, she was her favourite,’ said Ginny. ‘I think Pansy admired her a lot.’

‘That settles it then,’ said Ron. ‘She was a horrible busybody who blabbed something about the wrong person. Don’t see why you need to give up your weekends, mate.’

Harry gave a weak smile. ‘As tempting as it can be, you can’t just go round murdering unpleasant busybodies.’

‘That’s a shame,’ said Ron. ‘We’ve got an inspector from the Magical Tax and Business Regulation department coming next week.’

Their chuckles were interrupted by the arrival of a little owl.

***

‘You better have called me in for a good reason, Theia,’ he said to her grumpily, checking his watch. ‘I had to leave a family dinner.’

She was sat in the surveillance room, surrounded by files and feeling exhausted, but with a driven energy that made her tremble with a kind of excitement… Or maybe that was all the coffee.

‘You got my owl, then? I’m sorry,’ she said. ‘I wouldn’t have called you unless it was urgent, but I think someone may be in danger…’

She gave a hurried, breathless account of her morning at Shyverwretch’s shop, showing him the long roll of parchment where a red quill hovered. It had scribbled down every word that was spoken near the magical bugs she had placed, and it stood ready to continue, but Shyverwretch lived alone, so no words had been spoken since the shop had closed at five o’clock.

‘And look,’ she said, pointing to one of the lines. ‘He’s worried that Aurors are following him, but we don’t have any surveillance programs on at the moment, do we? Except for this one, obviously. And look here, he keeps referring to Pansy Parkinson, so I thought maybe he might be the one who was dating her, and I keep thinking about how Rookwood is missing too and-’

‘Did you get a good look at him?’ Harry interrupted. The irritation had left his face, but now he was scanning the parchment with a serious expression.

‘No, just the back of him, enough to see that he was blond, tall, with broad shoulders. But he said here,’ she placed her finger further down the transcript, ‘that “it was hell in there”, so I think he was in Azkaban and then got out. So I’ve spent the rest of the day in the records room trying to find him. Looking for young men who have been in Azkaban for a shorter sentence, are blonde, might have connections to Pansy Parkinson or Oscar Shyverwretch…’

She spread the files out as best she could on the cluttered table. ‘I’m fairly sure he was young, so that discounted a few, but I’m left with these and I don’t know enough about the background-’

‘Did he have an accent?’ Harry asked, staring down at the files.

‘An accent?’

‘Yeah, what did he sound like?’

‘Er… Posh, I suppose.’

Harry nodded, and turned one file over. ‘Well it’s not Stan then, he’s from Dagenham.’

‘What about this guy? He was in Azkaban for four months for illegal potion brewing-’

Harry shook his head, frowning in concentration. ‘I doubt it, he’s related to one of Shyverwretch’s competitors, I think, I doubt they’d be so…’ He trailed off as his eye was caught by one of the other files, and he picked it up, opening it to the photo of the young man inside.

‘Oh, him?’ said Theia. ‘I wasn’t sure, because he looks like it could have been him, but he wasn’t a proper Death Eater really, just in the Muggleborn Registration Committee, and I thought, as his sentence was so short, it was probably because he complied out of fear, not-’

‘No, he had family connections in the Wizengamot, that’s why he only got three months,’ said Harry vaguely. Theia found it very hard to read his expression, but something seemed to be dawning on him. ‘He was more than complicit, he was heavily involved in gathering information from Hogwarts students…’ He closed his eyes suddenly, rubbing a hand against his forehead. ‘It’s him,’ he said firmly.

‘You’re sure?’

He swore quietly under his breath. ‘Broad shoulders, you say?’ She nodded. ‘And a posh voice?’ She nodded again. ‘It’s definitely him, and you’re right, he’s not on our radar. He’s being followed by someone else. We need to find him, now.’

***

Cormac McLaggen frowned. His owl was back, tapping at the window, her letter undelivered. Perhaps Pansy was being watched even more than he realized, he couldn’t understand why she hadn’t spoken to him for several days, and she’d closed off her Floo network.

He’d been tempted, after visiting Shyverwretch’s shop, to drop by, make some excuse, but to his astonishment even as he approached her road, two Aurors were stood on the corner, interviewing a passerby. No doubt they were looking for reasons to arrest her, or him, and he left before they caught sight of him. Bloody Aurors, they were getting more brazen everyday…

He opened the window to let Gertrude in. It was stiff, so he had to lean on it quite heavily to close it again, and the white paint around the metal frame chipped and fell onto the ledge. It wasn’t quite closed properly, but it was closed enough to stop the wind coming through.

He wondered if he had annoyed Pansy in some way. Maybe it was one of those things where girls told you not to talk to them or come and see them, but actually what they wanted was more attention. Maybe he should buy her flowers.
Well she’d just have to tell him straight in the future, he thought irritably. He wasn’t a mind reader, and really, he could understand that they were all being watched, but to make no contact in several days was just rude. She could have been arrested for all he knew.

He strode to the bathroom, stepping over the piles of clothes and wet towels that Pansy always nagged him about, hoping that a hot shower would relax him a little. Being trailed by Aurors was an annoying inconvenience, but it was getting to the point where it was a little unsettling.

Perfectly natural, he assured himself, as the water spluttered out of the old shower head. Nobody liked the feeling they were being watched, and when the Ministry were watching you, you felt it all the time. Even the hot water couldn’t shake the cold prickle he felt at the back of his neck, that sense of unease and paranoia that stayed with him long after he’d shaken off the hooded man that had been following him.

He was rubbing shampoo into his hair when he heard something. A bang, or a clatter, or a scraping, or something. He froze and strained his ears for a second, turning off the shower.

‘Hello?’ he called out, still dripping wet.

He stood awkwardly, naked in his bathroom. After several long minutes, he decided that if there was an intruder, they would have come for him already, he would have been arrested or attacked by now, naked and vulnerable. The thought was ludicrous, and that the complete silence of his flat confirmed his suspicions. He was paranoid.

Bloody Aurors.

He stepped back into the shower to wash out the last of the suds in his hair, assuming that Gertrude had knocked over a lamp or perched on something else unstable. It was getting ridiculous. He even thought, sometimes, that he could hear footsteps in the attic, or scratching on the floorboards. It was an embarrassment to his Gryffindor background that he’d allowed himself to get so jumpy, and for that he placed the blame solely on Azkaban. And the Aurors.

It had been an absolute scandal, the thought, as he toweled himself dry. The same internal monologue he’d thought a million times before ran through his head, growing stronger and more extreme with every recitation. He had been a political prisoner, nothing more. He was simply a minor cog in a very big machine, and it was complete bullshit that he’d been treated as if he’d murdered anyone. Nonsense. He’d abided every law.

But of course they weren’t the right kind of laws, and all of a sudden he wasn't the right kind of person, not when all the political correctness went mad and it practically became a crime to be a pureblood.

He snorted to himself softly as he wrapped the towel around his waist. The air was very cold in the living room, so he hurried quickly to be bedroom, thinking, with great pity, of all the well-respected purebloods that remained in that awful place, put there just to appease Muggleborns that just couldn’t stop playing the victim.

As he dressed into his pyjamas, he heard a thumping. He froze again. His heart began to beat fast, and the familiar rush of adrenaline made his legs prickle.

The thumps were rapid but irregular. Thump thump thump thump… Thump thump…

He took deep, steadying breaths, the kind he’d always done before a Quidditch match, and grabbed his wand. He stepped into the living room. Moonlight now streamed across the floor from the open window, resting on the front door of his flat which shuddered with every thump.

He moved towards it slowly, his wand drawn as he heard his name being called, low and deep with urgency.
He peered through the spyhole, and blinked in mild surprise.

‘McLaggen, open up!’

With a look of immense distrust, he opened the door to Harry Potter and some tiny, bird-like girl. ‘Come to arrest me, have you?’ he jeered at them.

Potter ignored him. ‘May we come in?’

‘No.’

‘McLaggen, I understand you think you’re being followed?’

The bloody cheek of him! ‘Yeah, by your lot,’ he growled. ‘Bugger off and leave me alone.’

‘Please, Mr McLaggen,’ the girl piped up. ‘We’re not following you, we believe you may be in danger. If you come with us, we can place you under protection-’

Cormac resisted the temptation to roll his eyes. ‘I’m not falling for that, I’m not stupid. You’ve lost a load of prisoners and now you’re trying to save face by looking for people to arrest. Well I don’t have to let you onto my property without a warrant, and I don’t have to talk to you either, so-’

‘McLaggen, if someone is following you, we need to know,’ said Potter urgently. ‘Let us in, or come with us and we can-’

Cormac interrupted with a scoff. Harry bloody Potter… He’d tried to get to know him in his final year, he really had. They could have bonded well over Quidditch, given the proper chance, but he was an arrogant little shit who just wanted his friends on the team then, and he was probably the same now. ‘I’m not in any danger, Potter, and if I am, I’m sure I’ll cope. I might not be the battle hardened veteran you are,’ he said with a sneer, ‘but I’ve been in enough scraps to know what I’m doing.’

Potter’s jaw hardened, and his voice was cold when he asked, ‘I assume you’ve heard about the death of Pansy Parkinson?’

The world seemed to drop from underneath Cormac’s feet. ‘What?’

‘Pansy Parkinson. She was found dead in her flat.’

Something in his chest was screaming, but he simply stared at Potter’s calm, collected face. ‘You’re lying.’

‘I’m afraid I’m not. You may be in danger too. If you come with us, we can discuss it, and keep you safe-’

Cormac swore at him. ‘That’s low, Potter, even for you. I’m not falling for it, I’m not!’ He realized he was still pointing his wand at them, and it was trembling, but neither of them flinched. ‘Just get off my property! Get out of my flat!’

‘Please come with us, Mr McLaggen,’ said the girl gently. ‘I promise you, you’re not in any trouble-’

‘GET OUT!’

Potter and the girl exchanged glances. ‘When you’ve calmed down, Mr McLaggen,’ said Potter. ‘Please come and find us in the Ministry at once. We want to find out what happened to Pansy, and we want to make sure you’re safe.’

‘We’ll be there tomorrow,’ the girl added.

Cormac slammed the door in their faces, locking it with shaking hands and breathing heavily. His vision was growing blurry with tears, but he blinked them away. What a cruel lie. And ridiculous, they could only have known what Pansy meant to him if they’d been spying on him anyway.

He watched them walk away through the spyhole, and waited for them to vanish down the stairwell before he turned away and began to pace his living room, muttering swear words under his breath.

It was freezing, and somehow the heavy, stiff window was wide open, the curtains floating gently in the cold breeze. He slammed his wand onto a side table, and pushed it closed, leaning his shoulder against it until it was fully shut properly this time, brushing the flecks of white paint off his shoulder.

He drew the curtains, and now his flat was plunged into almost complete darkness, just the dim light from one lamp making the furniture cast long shadows across the floor. He heard a bumping, quiet crashing, and faintly he felt his paranoia rise again.

He walked steadily towards it, to the closed door of his bathroom. There was definitely someone in there, he could hear them, throwing his stuff around, and he felt such a rage inside him that he would surely beat them to death when he found them.

But underneath the rage was fear, and he was now shaking more than ever as he reached for the door handle.
He could hear them, clattering about, the sound of his glass shattering on the tile floor…

He opened the door.

‘Stupid bird,’ he muttered.

Gertrude was flapping about madly, panicking in the tiny bathroom, knocking over his hair products and becoming entangled in the shower curtain. He reached up and grabbed her, holding her wings close to her body.

She screeched and swiveled her head frantically, nipping at his fingers. ‘Ouch! Stop it! It’s not my fault you managed to get yourself shut in here, you stupid bird…’

He took her out of the bathroom, barely pausing to wonder how he’d managed to shut her in there, but even when he tried to place her on her perch in the living room, she continued to fly erratically around the room, making such a racket he was sure the neighbours would complain.

‘What’s got into you?’ he asked impatiently. His head was too full of thoughts and worries about Pansy to care about what was troubling his owl, so he placed her in her cage and threw a blanket over her, hoping that she’d soon calm down and shut the hell up.

He plodded to his bedroom, his chest faintly aching from something, whether adrenaline or grief he wasn’t sure…

No, he told himself firmly as he got under the covers. It wasn’t grief, she wasn’t dead. It was typical of Potter to lie like that, and tomorrow he’d sneak over to Pansy’s and they’d have a good laugh about it.

He pushed the thoughts out of his mind, and closed his eyes.

Beneath him, a man silently crawled out from underneath the bed.
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