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SIYE Time:17:53 on 10th December 2018


Hollow Ash
By FloreatCastellum

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Category: Post-Hogwarts
Characters:Harry/Ginny, Neville Longbottom, Other
Genres: Drama
Warnings: Dark Fiction, Death, Disturbing Imagery, Extreme Language, Mild Language, Mild Sexual Situations, Sexual Situations, Spouse/Adult/Child Abuse, Violence, Violence/Physical Abuse
Rating: R
Reviews: 90
Summary: When a mysterious woman comes to the Auror office claiming to be the victim of a terrible crime, Theia and Harry want to do everything they can to help her. The problem is, she has no memory of what has happened. As they piece together the sinister events, their own troubles and traumas rise to the surface, causing them to question who they really are. Sequel to The Aurors.
Hitcount: Story Total: 8313; Chapter Total: 848
Awards: View Trophy Room






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Healer Abasi led them down the long white corridor, speaking in a low voice. ‘She’s still very much confused, but feels a lot safer so you may get more out of her today.’

‘Did anything come back on the physical tests?’

‘Yes.’ They came to a halt outside a green door. Healer Abasi’s face was serious; her eyes met Harry’s with great concern. ‘There is no evidence of sexual assault that we can see, but some signs that she may have given birth recently.’

‘Given birth?’ whispered Theia, her eyes wide.

Healer Abasi nodded. ‘I would say it’s vital you find out where she has been living. There may be an infant at risk.’

‘How recently would you say she’s given birth?’ asked Harry.

‘It’s hard to say. She has had time to recover though, so we could be looking at anything between a few days to a couple of weeks.’

He nodded, and with that she pushed open the door.

Marcy was sat up in her bed, but she didn’t look up from her jigsaw puzzle when they entered. Due to the sensitivity of her case, the hospital had given her a private room, and she certainly seemed comfortable in it. The healers had washed her, the scruffy brown bob now glossy and neat, and her skin looked fresher somehow.
Harry and Theia pulled up chairs either side of her bed, with Healer Abasi at the foot, and greeted her softly.

‘All reet, cock?’ she mumbled back, with only the briefest glances. From the look of Theia’s bewildered face, Harry suspected she wasn’t familiar with Lancashire greetings, which made him grin.

‘That’s good,’ he said, pointing to the jigsaw. It was almost complete. Just a few gaps disrupted the shimmering image of a unicorn in a glade.

‘It’s too easy,’ Marcy complained. ‘I’ve gone through six jigsaws already, I wish they would just give me a bleedin’ sudoku.’

Harry laughed. ‘I’ll see what we can do. Do you mind if we have a quick chat, Marcy?’

‘How do you know my name?’ she shot at him, her eyes narrowing.

‘We met yesterday, do you remember, Marcy?’ said Theia kindly.

Marcy leaned her head back and frowned, sticking her tongue into one cheek so it bulged out comically. ‘Mmm, yeah,’ she finally said. ‘Yeah, I remember you now.’

‘Good,’ said Harry with a smile. ‘Marcy, you’re from Lancashire, aren’t you?’

‘Yes, I think so.’

‘Where abouts? Does Bowland ring a bell? That’s where the Healers think you were born.’

Marcy nodded, returning to her jigsaw. Harry glanced uneasily at Theia and the healer. It was hard to tell whether Marcy was being honest or just trying to please them.

‘I drew you some more pictures,’ said Marcy suddenly. Harry raised his eyebrows as she suddenly leant over to her bedside table. With a rustle of papers and a clatter as she knocked the tray holding her jigsaw to the floor, she pulled out a wad of parchment with a flourish.

‘This is home,’ she said, laying down an incomprehensible scribble of dark lines surrounding a childish square house. ‘And this one is the tree again… And this one is the leaf from the tree.’

‘What about this one, Marcy?’ asked Theia, holding up a sheet from the pile that still scattered the bed. ‘Who are these people?’

Marcy frowned at the stick figures. There were six, all of them varying in size, one with a round circle around where the stomach would be.

‘Are they your family?’ asked Harry. He pointed at the one with the circle. ‘Is this you?’

‘Yes, that’s me,’ said Marcy. ‘With my baby.’

‘Where is your baby, Marcy?’ asked Theia.

Marcy burst into tears. Harry left Theia to rub her shoulders and make soothing sounds, while he simply exchanged a worried look with Healer Abasi.

‘I don’t remember,’ Marcy spluttered between sobs. ‘But I miss him.’

‘That’s a good thing, Marcy,’ said Theia, pulling her into a hug. ‘That’s probably why your mind is trying to remember. And we’re going to help you, aren’t we, Harry?’

‘Of course we are,’ said Harry. ‘Marcy, can you remember when you had your baby? Or how big he is? Is it a he?’

‘Yes, a boy,’ said Marcy firmly. Then she seized his sleeve and looked at him intently. ‘You have to rinse it through with cold water first, or it will stay.’

‘Rinse what through, Marcy?’

But she had already turned back to her drawings. ‘This is the tree,’ she repeated. ‘I see it all the time.’

‘What about these people, Marcy? Are they your family?’ Theia asked, slowly drawing her finger over the other stick figures.

Marcy seemed to consider them for a very long time. ‘No,’ she said finally. Then she frowned. ‘I don’t know.’

‘That’s all right,’ said Harry. ‘Would you mind if I took these drawings, Marcy?’

‘Oh,’ she said, her eyes widening in pleasant surprise. ‘Do you like them?’

‘Very much so.’

‘Yes, all right then.’ She smiled, and patted his arm. ‘You’re a fine young man.’

‘Thank you,’ Harry replied, choosing to find amusement in her sudden change of heart about him. He glanced up at the Healer. ‘I suppose we should let her rest?’

Healer Abasi nodded and smiled gratefully. ‘Come back whenever you need to.’

Theia gathered up the drawings, and they left without much fuss. Marcy barely seemed to notice them going, instead demanding that she be given a more interesting jigsaw.

‘Lancashire then,’ said Theia. ‘Any idea where to start?’

‘The Healers gave me the address that was on her birth and death certificate,’ said Harry. ‘We can start there, I suppose.’

‘How on earth is there a death certificate for a living, breathing woman?’ asked Theia, as they entered the lifts. ‘Doesn’t a Healer have to declare it?’

‘I don’t know,’ said Harry. ‘No one ever gave me one.’

***

‘Ready?’ he said to her, and once she had nodded, they both touched their wands to their heads. Their outfits seem to peel away and float into nothingness, leaving them in perfect replications of police uniforms.

‘Childhood dream, this,’ she joked.

Harry grinned. He had quite forgotten, but a sudden memory of playing in the cramped cupboard under the stairs rushed back to him. He had wanted to be a policeman too, so that he could arrest the Dursleys for being mean, and put them in jail.

He looked around. It seemed to be a forgotten sort of place. Dry stone walls and graffitied bus stops. An odd mix of quaint and unloved. It didn’t help that it was pouring with rain, large heavy raindrops that stung as they hit his head and made a constant noise as they pounded the cobbles. He tapped two nearby damp leaves with his wand, and they were transformed into the finishing touch: police hats.

‘Brilliant,’ said Theia, beaming.

‘Hmm, there’s still a bit of a stalk at the back… Just tuck it into your hair,’ he said as he handed it to her. Now the raindrops seemed to echo as they hit the hats, but Theia, looking rather ridiculous as he had accidentally made hers far too big, seemed delighted.

The police station matched the town. Small and old, the sandstone bricks were idyllic but the windows needed cleaning. The doors were plastered in leaflets for farmers markets and campaigns to pick up litter, as well as cautionary posters about drugs. A piece of laminated paper told people to ring a number if no police were in.

As they entered, a horrible, electronic buzzer made a shrieking noise, but the rest of the building remained quiet, the noise of the rain now muffled in a comforting sort of way. They loitered somewhat awkwardly in the reception area among the grubby chairs, looking hopefully at the tall custody desk.

‘Hello?’ called Harry. Nothing happened. He looked at Theia, then back at the desk. ‘Maybe there’s nobody here.’

Theia gave a huffing sigh. ‘OI!’ she shouted. Then, shaking her head, muttered quietly, ‘muggles.’

There was the sound of hurrying footsteps, and then a man appeared. He was slightly chubby, not enough to be regarded as fat, but enough to round his cheeks and give him a boyish look. Harry might not have even noticed if he hadn’t have been chewing as he rushed in, his hand just touching the tip of his nose has he tried to hide it.

‘Morning,’ he said thickly. ‘Sorry, I was-’ He swallowed, and seemed to think better of explaining. ‘Can I help?’
Harry flashed the ID the Muggle Liaison office had made for him. ‘Inspector Potter, and Sergeant Higglesworth. We’re from the Met in North London.’

‘Oh,’ said the policeman, his eyes widening as he shook Harry’s hand. ‘Er… Were we expecting you? Not that you’re not welcome, of course, it’s just I’m the only one in today-’

‘It’s not a problem,’ said Harry smoothly. ‘And you are?’

‘Ah, sorry, er, Hodges, Inspector. Police Constable Hodges.’

Theia giggled, and Harry and Constable Hodges stared at her. She immediately blushed. ‘Sorry,’ she said. ‘I just… I just thought of a hedgehog and… Sorry, just ignore me.’
Constable Hodges chuckled, and he smiled at her. ‘You can call me Ben, if you like.’

Harry resisted the urge to roll his eyes, and turned back to the muggle. ‘We’re here looking for information on a woman who arrived in London recently, we think she may be from here, but she’s injured and we need to inform her next of kin. Marcia Staindrop.’

Ben looked flummoxed. ‘Can’t say that’s a name I know, I’m afraid. What’s happened?’

‘We believe she may have given birth and become distressed,’ said Harry. ‘She’s arrived in London very confused and obviously we need to find out if she or her child are known to the area.’

‘Got a picture?’

Theia reached into her bag and pulled out a posted. Marcy’s face smiled vaguely out at them, the words ‘DO YOU KNOW THIS WOMAN?’ beneath her.

‘Pop it up, if you want,’ said Ben, reaching for a pin. ‘Here, on this board…’

Theia smiled at Ben as she took the pin, but Harry couldn’t help but feel disappointed.

‘And there’s definitely been no reports of any babies abandoned?’

‘Abandoned?’ asked Ben. ‘Owt like that happens round here. Everyone knows everyone, and we’d notice if some poor lass was struggling with a baby. I expect you get all sorts in London, but this is a quiet place.’

‘We appreciate that,’ said Theia, ‘but we are concerned that Ms Staindrop might have a child that’s so far unaccounted for.’

‘And she definitely lived round here, did she?’

‘We believe she may have.’ Theia reached into a pocket, and pulled out a small notepad. ‘We have the address we think she may have lived in here. Crooked Cottage, The Loney. Where’s that?’

Ben looked puzzled, and Harry thought there was a flicker of discomfort, or possibly even fear on his face. ‘Why don’t you come through? I’ll pop the kettle on.’

He gestured and began to lead them through the door he had hurried out of. Harry and Theia exchanged glances, and followed.

The mess room was cramped and, true to its name, messy, with old coffee mugs and piles of paper littering most available surfaces.

‘Take the weight off your feet,’ said Ben, gesturing to a grubby looking sofa. He made them tea (Harry thought he seemed particularly attentive to making Theia’s the way she liked it), and opened an old Quality Street tin, where a homemade chocolate cake was stored. ‘Old Mrs Debden made this,’ he said cheerfully. ‘Help yourselves, she donates treats to the police station every few days.’

‘Kind of her,’ remarked Theia.

Harry smiled as he took his slice. It seemed odd, to him, in a place like this where everyone knew everyone, so small that the police station was rarely staffed with more than one person at a time, where neighbours regularly made cakes for the local police, that a woman could go missing without any apparent concern. Particularly not after having a baby. Even growing up in Little Whinging, which was far larger than this tiny town, pregnancies and births were common gossip.

‘I’d be careful, going up the Loney,’ said Ben mildly.

Harry raised an eyebrow. ‘You’re not going to tell me anywhere round here is dangerous?’

‘No,’ he said hesitantly. ‘Not dangerous. Just… they’re funny, up there. Bit of an odd lot. It’s so remote they mostly just keep themselves to themselves.’

Harry and Theia looked at each other, and he knew they were thinking the same thing. Wizards.

‘Is that cause for concern?’

Ben chewed his cake slowly. ‘No… You just need a bit of tact around them. They’re not particularly willing to talk.’

‘What is the Loney?’ asked Harry. ‘A village?’

‘More of a hamlet,’ said Ben. ‘Just an area of the Fells, along the river. Pretty, if you like that sort of place.’ From the look on Ben’s face, he didn’t.

‘Where’s the nearest hospital?’ Harry asked. ‘Where might someone have had a baby?’

‘Lancaster, I expect,’ said Ben. He looked at the two of them happily. ‘I’d love to get a transfer to the Met,’ he said suddenly. ‘I bet you get to do real police work there, don’t you?’

Harry wasn’t really sure how to respond, but Theia quickly leapt in, asking Ben how long he had worked in the police (just a few years), how long he had lived in Bowland (his whole life), what sort of police work he would like to be doing (‘Anything but this.’).

‘I expect there must be some troublemakers here, surely?’ Theia asked cheerfully. ‘A few oddballs from the Loney?’

Harry could see what she was doing. It was the benefit of having such a gossipy chatterbox on his team - she could tease out information Ben might have felt was too unprofessional to share.

‘Well, there’s a few little shits up at Botton Head,’ he said. ‘Kids with too much time and too little to do, you know. It’s just farms and the like up there, so they end up coming down here on their bikes and causing havoc.’

‘What sort of havoc?’

Ben shook his head in disgust. ‘You must have managed to miss our bus stop. Usual little boy nonsense. Drawing willies on the timetable, scratching their names into the shelter.’

‘But no serious crime?’ Harry asked.

Ben laughed. ‘Round here? No opportunity for it.’ He considered for a moment. ‘Someone did steal a tractor last year,’ he admitted. ‘But they weren’t local.’

‘Would you say you know most people round here?’ asked Theia.

‘If not by name, then by sight at least.’

‘Would you mind if we went to the Loney and spoke to-?’

Harry’s question was interrupted as the unpleasant electronic buzzer sounded again. ‘Excuse me,’ said Ben, and he left.
Harry looked at Theia. ‘Maybe she hasn’t been living round here,’ he said. ‘If she’s been living a partly Muggle life and wanted a policeman in the first place, surely she’d be known.’

‘Unless there are wizards living at the Loney,’ said Theia. ‘I can check records at the Ministry to see if there are any known to the area, though they might not be up to date.’
Harry nodded. ‘I think that’s probably best before we go poking around, I’d like to be prepared. We do have one more stop to make before we head back though, and we shouldn’t waste anymore time.’

They went back through to the reception, where Ben was talking to a cross looking woman, clasping the arm of a sniffing young boy, who was staring up at the noticeboard fearfully.

‘Go on then,’ she said to him sternly. The boy looked up at her, his lip wobbling, and then at Ben.

‘All right, Simon?’ asked Ben kindly.

‘Have you found my bike, Mr Hodges?’ the boy asked tearfully. ‘It’s red.’

‘Well, where did you lose it?’

But Simon was no longer listening. Instead he had turned back to the noticeboard, now crying loudly.

The woman shook her head irritably. ‘I don’t know what’s got into him. Will you keep an eye out for me, Mr Hodges?’

‘Course I will, Lindsey.’ The woman pulled the boy away and left, and Ben turned back to Harry and Theia.

‘We’d best be off,’ Harry told him. ‘But we’ll probably be back tomorrow. Would you mind if we went up to the Loney and started asking round.’

‘Feel free,’ said Ben. ‘But do keep me updated with anything you find. I need something exciting to happen in this place.’

***

Despite everything, despite losing so many dear friends and experiencing such horrors, Hogwarts castle still filled Harry with a sense of coming home. In the spitting spring rain the very air around it was grey, but nevertheless it seemed to Harry to be just as captivating as when he first saw it in the little row boat all those years ago.

As they walked through the hog statues, he briefly wondered what the little boy or girl still in Ginny’s stomach would think of it. Would they miss out on the sense of wonder and awe he had had? Or would they instead enjoy months, probably years, of anticipation?

‘I’ve missed this place,’ he said to Theia.

She agreed, and pointed towards a gaggle of first years, cloaks pulled up over their heads in a useless attempt to keep out the rain as they ran for cover. ‘Silly stuff like that always felt like such an adventure, didn’t it?’ she said, grinning at them as they shrieked.

Harry couldn’t say that he agreed, but he supposed his childhood was not one to measure that sort of thing by.

‘He’ll probably still be in the greenhouses,’ he said, veering away from the vast front door.

‘We can’t go inside?’ she said, looking crestfallen.

‘I’ll bring you with me next time they want me to do a careers talk,’ he promised her. ‘You can tell them all what a joy I am to work for.’

‘Oh, definitely,’ she said sarcastically.

As they approached the greenhouse, a skinny looking boy with rather prominent ears did a double take as he passed, then running back to get a good look at Harry.

‘Hullo,’ Harry said, slightly unnerved by the way the boy was walking backwards in order to stare at him.

‘All right, mate?’ the boy said, a little louder than necessary. ‘You’re Harry Potter, innit?’

Harry nodded.

‘Can you get me Ginny Potter’s autograph?’

Theia let out a mad cackle of laughter, and though Harry tried his best not to, he found himself trying to disguise a laugh too.

‘Finally, eh, boss?’ said Theia, elbowing him. ‘You’ve always wanted that war hero stuff to be forgotten about, haven’t you?’

‘I’ve already got your autograph,’ said the boy. ‘It’s Ginny Potter’s I need.’

‘Have you?’

‘Yeah, bought it off old Dung Fletcher, innit.’

Theia laughed even harder.

‘I see,’ said Harry. ‘Must be very authentic then. What’s your name?’

‘Rodney.’

‘Right. Well then, Rodney, could you tell me where Professor Longbottom is, please?’

‘Just had a lesson wiv him,’ said Rodney. ‘Greenhouse three.’

Harry thanked him and began to head in that direction. As soon as Rodney realised Harry was not going to arrange the provision of Ginny’s signature, he scampered off, with barely a hint of a goodbye.

‘How does it feel knowing your wife is more popular than you?’ asked Theia, still giggling.

‘She’s always been more popular than me,’ said Harry truthfully. ‘But being seen as more famous I think certainly counts as a first…’

The heat of the greenhouse, after stepping in from the cold, was overwhelming. Sticky and humid, Harry could scarcely understand how Neville could stand it all day. Huge, towering vines and leaves the size of cars seemed piled haphazardly, the great wealth of lush green broken up by a stunning array of colours. Once Harry took a moment to take it all in, he could see that this was surely paradise for his old friend.

‘Well hello, to what do I owe the pleasure? I hear I owe you a congratulations...’

Wiping muddy hands on his overalls and beaming, Neville strode towards them. Harry grinned back; the two men clapped one another on the shoulders and exchanged good natured jabs and greetings.

‘Oh yes, baby on the way, Ginny’s getting bigger every day… So are you, by the look of things, now you’re not chasing Death Eaters...’

‘I’d rather put weight on than gather more scars. How many have you got now? There’ll be nothing left of you soon.’

‘Just met one of your best and brightest,’ said Harry. ‘Rodney,’ he added in a lower voice, and he told Neville what had happened.

Neville closed his eyes in exasperation and shook his head. ‘That boy - I sometimes feel like I should check him for a pulse he’s that clueless. But then, I remember that teachers probably wanted to do that to me now and then so I try and have more patience.’

‘You two shouldn’t be talking about a student like this,’ scolded Theia, her hands on her hips, reminding Harry of Hermione.

‘Oh, they all do it, that’s almost exclusively the reason kids aren’t allowed in the staff room,’ said Neville. ‘Merlin knows what they said about me.’

‘I can imagine quite vividly what some of them said about me,’ said Harry. ‘Glad to see you’re prioritising working with children over working with plants, Neville.’

Neville winked at him. ‘Can we get back to the reason we’re here?’ said Theia impatiently.

‘Right, yeah,’ said Harry, and he reached into his robes. ‘How good are you with shitty drawings of trees?’

‘Eh?’

Harry pulled out some of Macy’s drawings and laid them on a workbench, explaining, in the briefest, vaguest way he could manage, the problem.

‘Well you haven’t given me much to go on, mate,’ said Neville. ‘This is essentially a child’s drawing.’

‘Yeah, well that’s what I thought, but if you look carefully there is actually consistency to the shape of the tree… Here, see? This branch is always the same and there’s always this fork. And then when you look at them all together and really squint, and look at the colours she’s used… I thought it might be a rowan tree, what do you think?’

‘Hmm... ‘ Neville picked the drawings up and shuffled through them. ‘Nah… I’m guessing this is a drawing of a leaf? I think this is meant to be serrated edges. Probably an ash tree. At a guess, mind. These drawings are really bad.’

‘Right... ‘ said Harry, nodding slowly as he rubbed his chin. ‘And er… Is there anything special about ash trees?’

‘Well…’ Neville sighed and turned, leaning his backside on the workbench and folding his arms. He really did look in his element. ‘I suppose it depends on what you mean by special. All plants are special.’

‘Seriously, Neville…’

‘They are! I don’t insult your passions, Harry, I don’t go round saying all Patronuses are essentially the same-’

‘That’s what you think my passion is?’

‘I mean he’s sort of right,’ interjected Theia.

‘-Or that any old muppet can kill big snakes, as you well know I have proved. Do you want me to tell you about ash trees or not?’

‘Of course I do, Neville.’

‘Right then. I can give you a book, if you want. The whole thing isn’t on them, obviously, but I think there’s a pretty good chapter.’

‘That’s it? A book?’

Neville shrugged. ‘I’m not an Auror any more you know. Do you know how much marking I have to do? Lesson planning? I’m half tempted to go back.’

‘Well that can be your job,’ Harry told Theia. ‘You like research, don’t you?’

She pretended to grumble, but Harry could see that she was rather pleased, particularly when Neville wrote them a note and she realised she could return to Hogwarts library.

‘I’ll leave you to do that,’ Harry said. ‘Do your research in there, if it helps. ‘I’ll go back and look up wizarding families in the area.’

‘Surely you’ve got time for a swift pint in the Three Broomsticks?’ said Neville. ‘That was the last lesson of the day, and Hannah wants to hear how Ginny and the baby bump are.’

Harry checked his watch. ‘A swift one,’ he said, though he knew in his heart he would be spending several delightful hours talking about the impending arrival of his new family.
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