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SIYE Time:21:11 on 15th July 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: 37
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: 4274; Chapter Total: 483
Awards: View Trophy Room






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The train rumbled over the bridge above as the sound of her boots echoed off the bricks, her arms wrapped around the books she had borrowed from the library. It had been good to see Madam Pince again. Harry had once said to her that he had always found her stern, but Theia suspected that he simply hadn’t treated books with the sort of respect she and Madam Pince expected.

The street was quiet, but not in a threatening way, and she gave a friendly smile to the security guy at the front gate which was just a short distance from the tracks. She had moved out of the grotty flat she had once shared with Mum, and now that she had passed her training, her auror salary meant she could afford a trendy little flat in a converted factory. The other people that lived here were Muggle professionals, in the media, perhaps, or self-employed lifestyle gurus. The type of people that were rich without Theia quite being able to figure out how. Even with her increased salary, she could only just afford it, but she liked that it was gated. She liked the exposed brick and the history, but also that it had been modernised to include access to a pool and sauna.. It was the sort of place Mum would have hated. Gentrifying. A load of annoying yuppies. Stupidly expensive for East London.

But the lift always worked here and it didn’t smell of piss, and Theia secretly liked being an annoying yuppie.

She wondered, as she entered her flat, whether she should move Vali back in, because as warm and stylish as the flat was, it was very quiet, and she missed the background noise of Mum’s irritating American sitcoms and general clatter. Saga, her little barn owl, gave the odd hoot now and then, but otherwise slept during the day and feasted on London’s rodents at night, so wasn’t as much company as Vali. Certainly the cat would like looking out the huge floor-to-ceiling factory window, but he could be a bit vicious to everyone except Theia, Harry, and a select few in the office, so perhaps it was best for him to avoid being around so many Muggles.

She made herself cosy in the armchair by the tall window, eagerly opening the first of the books (Magic and Trees: What You Need to Know, by Rosemary Hebditch) and flicking through the index. Absent-mindedly, she pointed her wand over her shoulder in the direction of the kettle, and heard the click and gentle whirr, conveniently just as she found the right page. As the tea floated towards her, she tucked the wand behind her ear and settled in for good evening.

The common ash tree boasts many healing properties, from the roots and bark to the leaves and sap, but often requires careful and advanced magic to suitably extract any powerful medicinal benefits. As such, it is usually ignored for anything more serious than minor ailments such as headaches or jinx exhaustion, as other plants offer easier alternatives for more complex cases.

Indeed, prehistoric wizards used ash trees extensively for healing purposes before the discovery of apparition made travel easier. By the middle ages, efforts to use ash for anything more complex than pain relief was given up in favour of acacia trees, where travel to, or imports from, Africa was possible.

Early wizarding fables, now often forgotten, highlight the importance of ash as a healing tree through powerful symbolism and spiritual connections with individual trees.


Theia thought all that sounded rather nice, but had no idea how it would help the case. She jotted down the last line and the page number in her notebook, resolving to find out more about the fables, but wondered how useful ancient text could be in a modern day mystery.

Carefully setting aside the book and pulling the next one towards her, she wondered vaguely whether they had it right. It had been a very rough drawing after all, who was to say Marcy had been trying to draw an ash tree? She knew she wasn’t supposed to research things with preconceptions, but she had expected to find something a bit darker in nature than mild pain relief. After half an hour of reading about the uses of ground ash root, her eyes slid from the text and ended up staring out of the window.

The imposing chimney stack that had once been part of the factory dominated her view, illuminated by lights at the base. Beyond that were specks of light and outlines of tower blocks just visible in the dying light, East London stretching as far as she could see. For some reason she couldn’t explain, she gave a shuddering sob, and realised her cheeks were wet with tears. She wiped them impatiently away, then rose out of her chair and paced until she steadied her breathing. She was just frustrated, she decided, because it was a difficult case. There. She felt fine now.

She picked up different books, checking the index and flicking through while she paced, reading quickly without taking it in.

…Wand makers should take note of the emerald ash borer, a destructive beetle that can weaken the wood of the tree significantly, and is known to attack bowtruckles…

…Ash, when polished, contains superb properties for long-distance brooms. While it lacks the speed of mahogany and birch, it provides a more stable, comfortable ride for endurance…

…While the wood does not burn for long, it catches quickly and is excellent for starting fires. Wands of ash are prone to overheating in duels, but are well-suited for those wishing to pursue healing…

…The sap of the ash tree is well known as an important component of goblin-produced mead, as well as a crucial ingredient in the Greek potioneer Hesiod Tozzi’s Draught of Inspiration…

…Ash leaves have been proven to be effective in healing potions against snake bites, though it is more effective to use…


Theia couldn’t bring herself to throw a book, so she placed it down carefully and then kicked her sofa with a growl of frustration.

This was supposed to be the part of the job she loved, that was why Harry gave her these tasks, but lately she didn’t want to do anything but mundane admin. Her brain felt overloaded and tired, and she felt that she had become lazy. She ran her hands through her wispy hair and looked down at the halo of books around her. Her mother had always told her to make boring tasks a game, but this game was too hard and she wanted to make it as boring and mindless as possible so that she could just get it out the way.

‘Right then,’ she muttered to herself, seizing her notebook. If nothing was going to leap out at her as obviously darkly symbolic or connected to dreams, she would just have to write absolutely everything she could find about ash, because despite being ineffective and slow, she wasn’t going to just give up.

Ineffective and slow. Thank goodness Harry let her take her work home so he couldn’t see how she worked now. Hoping vaguely that tomorrow’s return to the Loney would be more productive, she returned to the sprawl of books and parchment that surrounded her like a crumpled halo.

…………...

It had been during one of their earlier visits when he said it. Valentine’s day, in fact, which had delighted Dennis, who read more into it than Theia was wholly comfortable with. Winter was clinging on and even in the depths of Azkaban the noise of the wind faintly reached the visitors room. Theia still thought about it even now, that strange memory that had unsettled her more than she realised, and still felt that icy prickle on the back of her neck whenever it came, uninvited, to mind. ‘I was thinking about when we were neighbours earlier,’ he had told her.

‘Oh, yes?’

He nodded. ‘In that big tall tower block. During the day, I would look out the window and see people walking. Sometimes I would keep focused on one person, and watch them for as long as possible.’

‘I do that sometimes too,’ said Theia. ‘At first you just look at them because they’re part of the environment, just decoration. But the longer you watch them the more you realise they are their own person with a life as complex as yours. They must have their own hopes and worries. And then you wonder where they’re walking to, and try and guess what they’re going.’

‘That’s not what I do,’ said Dennis.

‘It’s not?’

‘No. I watch them and think to myself “you don’t know I’m watching you. You have no idea. You’re walking along without knowing I could point my wand at you and cast a spell, and no one would ever know who had done it”. And then I think that there could be lots of times when I’m walking, and people are watching me. And I wouldn’t know.’

‘Is that something you worry about, Dennis? Being watched?’

He stared at her, his face blank. ‘Do you worry?’

She stared back.

‘I think everyone should worry,’ he said eventually. ‘Especially in a world like this. The people that don’t worry are the ones that end up dead.’


………………………….


Back to the blustery late March, and Theia was ready to continue digging through Marcy’s mysterious past, no matter how confusing and seemingly hidden it was. They were back in Bowland, this time venturing to the Loney, the place Ben had looked mildly afraid of.


They had exchanged notes with Susan on the residents and prepared themselves as best they could, but they were armed only with scant knowledge and assumptions. The fells here were dramatic and sweeping, but also seemed sad, at least to Theia. Like a lonely and forgotten place. The hills were brown with coarse grass, and at the tops of the hills and peaks the wind battered them so hard that it was impossible to hear anything, and difficult even to breathe. It was this wind that had reminded her of what Dennis had said in February. The barren gritstone was hard underfoot, and the steep inclines were a battle in of themselves.

Harry pointed to the Loney, a cluster of stone cottages in the shadow of a crag. Ben had been right that it was not a village, and barely a hamlet. Both Harry and Theia had been surprised they had never heard of it, given the number of wizards that lived there, but as Susan had pointed out, why would they? There was nothing but the cottages, no church, no shops, not even a post box. They doubted any Muggles even lived there, yet it seemed to have been forgotten as a rival to Hogsmead’s claim to be the only entirely magical settlement. Maybe it was simply too small to even be regarded as a settlement.

They went first to the cottage that they believed to be Marcy’s home. It was very small, only one storey and a birds nest around the top of the chimney. They peered in through the grimy, cobwebbed windows, and saw the dark shapes of furniture. The front door was sturdy, but the paint was peeling around the aged brass knocker, and there was no need to cast alohamora, because the key was hanging on a rusted nail by the side.

‘Safe,’ remarked Harry, one eyebrow raised in amusement.

‘Probably not much risk of burglaries round here,’ said Theia, taking the key.

It smelt damp and musty inside, and the air was cold. ‘It’s like no one has been living here,’ Theia observed, but Harry didn’t answer as he walked slowly through the cottage.

There was a thin layer of dust on everything, but certain smudges on the tables and arms of chairs showed that someone, at least, had been here recently. The floorboards creaked as they shuffled slowly through the dim cottage — everything seemed so dated. Shabby and unfashionable. No one had bothered to move the curling calendar from two years ago off the kitchen wall, and the blue sofa cover was faded and threadbare. In the bedroom, the blankets were an unmade heap, the mirror was blemished with age, and though there was a laundry basket, it was overflowing.

Theia picked up a photo frame, and saw the stern faces of Mr and Mrs Staindrop. If it hadn’t been for the occasional blinking, she would have thought the black and white photo was muggle. Beneath the frame, a crumpled postcard. The picture was of a long beach with dark sand, shining with stretches of shallow water. In the background, green hills rolled into snow sprinkled mountains. She turned it over, noting the limp, dog-eared corners and faded words.

My darling Marcy,

I’ll always remember our day.

Love,

A


Harry’s footsteps coming to a stop made her turn, and she found him standing in the middle of the bedroom, frowning vaguely.

‘What?’

‘There’s nothing here for a baby.’ Theia looked around, slowly realising that she hadn’t seen any baby stuff either. Not a cot or a Moses basket, no toys, not even a newly bought onesie.

‘Maybe she was planning on getting stuff for it when it arrived,’ she said. ‘Or maybe she couldn’t afford anything.’

Harry shook his head. ‘Our house is full of pointless baby stuff. We went mad when we found out, and then we haven’t been able to stop every man and his dog bringing us bears and socks and books on dealing with magic in infants. But here there’s nothing. It’s weird.’

Privately Theia thought Harry was perhaps unaware of the extent to which he and Ginny, beloved by so many, had been spoiled following the announcement of the pregnancy, but she could certainly see his point. ‘It’s very cold in here for a baby,’ she said. ‘And the grate doesn’t look like it’s been used in months. Are we sure this is her house? Does she definitely live here?’

‘It’s definitely her house, and in the pantry there’s some mouldy bread, but not so rotten that nobody has lived here recently.’ He rubbed his jaw, frowning. ‘Perhaps she didn’t want the baby? Or didn’t know she was pregnant? But she’s so small, how would she-?’

He stopped as Theia’s eyes widened, and impulsively she pointed. ‘Someone’s watching us!’

He spun round. Through the door to the bedroom, across the living room, about half of one of the grimy windows was visible.

‘There, there was someone watching us through the window!’ Theia insisted.

Harry moved quickly, his cloak billowing behind him as he strode to the front door, wand in hand. Theia hurried after him, her heart thudding.

‘There’s no one there,’ he said, looking out the door. ‘No one around.’

‘Perhaps it was a shadow, or I was imagining things,’ said Theia, blushing.

‘Or perhaps they apparated away,’ he said grimly. ‘Don’t doubt yourself. Did you get a good look at them?’

‘No, it was just a figure,’ she said. Though he had told her not to doubt, she was now, not for the first time lately, wondering if she was simply going mad. She looked back at the cottage. ‘Should we get Bessie to come in and photograph everything?’

‘Not sure, it doesn’t look like any crime has been committed here,’ said Harry. ‘But I’ll ask her anyway, see if she has capacity.’

‘Well I found this,’ she said, handing Harry the postcard. ‘Odd, isn’t it? No address on it, and just signed with “a”, which is weird.’

Harry turned the postcard over slowly. ‘Yeah… There’s something off about the message too. Reckon the picture is local?’

‘It looks as bleak as round here, so maybe. Should we go to the next place on the list?’ She was keen not to linger in the place where she was sure someone had been spying on them.

Harry nodded, his eyes still on the postcard. ‘Right, yeah… Good plan.’

They walked down the steep slope to a slightly larger cottage; Theia could see a line of laundry flapping violently in the wind. She tried to look around her, searching for the shadowy figure she had seen peering through the window, but her hair whipped around her face and made her eyes water. Bizarrely, it amused her to think that if someone attacked them now, she would be almost defenceless.

The hill reached a plateau, and the path ran alongside a dry stone wall. They were now a little more sheltered from the wind, and as they approached the cottage Harry spoke to her in a low voice, without looking at her. ‘This family are her closest neighbours. Perhaps they have the baby.’

Theia was glad he couldn’t see the doubtful look that had crossed her face.

There was no gate, but just a gap in the wall which opened onto a scrubby front garden and a heavy but battered looking door. Harry went to go through it, but Theia touched his arm.

‘Harry…’ she said hesitantly. ‘Do you really think we will find her baby… all right? It’s been a few days… And she thinks something awful happened...’

A strange look briefly passed over his face, but he clapped her shoulder and gave a small, kind smile. ‘Let’s not assume the worst. This is a rescue case.’

She nodded without believing him. As they approached the door, Theia was filled with a deep and dark dread and, though he had tried to hide it, she was sure that Harry felt it too.
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