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SIYE Time:10:47 on 18th October 2021


Contagion
By melindaleo

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Category: Post-Hogwarts
Characters:None
Genres: Drama
Warnings: Mild Language, Mild Sexual Situations
Story is Complete
Rating: PG-13
Reviews: 205
Summary: Muggle and magical illnesses are separate. Until they’re not. Harry has always had a discernable enemy. This time, he’s fighting an invisible and indiscriminate threat. Part of the Cuts universe.
Hitcount: Story Total: 67507; Chapter Total: 700
Awards: View Trophy Room




Author's Notes:
Author’s Note: Woke up this morning to a foot of snow! Woo Hoo! I love a white Christmas! Many thanks to the lovely Brit Pickers over at the Harry/Ginny Discord for their help with some of Owen’s dialog. I do love Owen. I hope you all do, as well.

As always, thanks to my beta team, Sherylyn, Arnel, and Sue for their time and attention to detail in getting this ready each week. I’m really sorry it’s winding down!




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Chapter Twenty-Four
Release



T he day after Ginny was finally released from lockdown, she and Harry Apparated to Hogwarts for a meeting with Headmistress McGonagall. She was so excited to be free, she felt the need to stop and smell the breeze and the scent of autumn in the air. It had still been summer when she’d first been confined. The school opening had been delayed until the first of October, so they had a small window of time before the students returned. Professor McGonagall and the other teachers were back and preparing for the upcoming belated school year.

The Quidditch League was still working on putting together a revised schedule for their season, and some sort of ceremony to acknowledge the deaths of several of its members. Ginny planned to return to the Harpies’ practice stadium later this week for the first time since the quarantine had begun. It had been thoroughly cleaned and decontaminated, and life was slowly beginning to return to normal.

Harry was back to work full-time and tracking down leads on former Death Eaters with grudges against Muggles. Some things never changed.

The pair had Apparated just outside the village of Hogsmeade on the dusty road leading up to the Hogwarts’ gates. Both of them tended to attract crowds, so they were trying to avoid being recognized. They quickly came upon the large stone memorial to the Fallen Fifty who’d perished at the Battle of Hogwarts. A small crowd lingered around the wall, having hushed conversations or placing flowers beneath names of their loved ones.

Harry put his arm around Ginny’s shoulders, trying to shield her from the stares they were already receiving. Both of them kept their heads down and their wands clutched in their hands, just in case. They paused at Fred’s name where Ginny traced the letters with her finger. Harry hugged her closer, trying to offer silent support. He would’ve liked to visit Lupin’s name, as well, but the pointing and whispering from the scattered onlookers had begun, so he quickly steered Ginny away without making eye contact with anyone.

“It’s so frustrating not to be able to remember in peace,” Ginny growled under her breath, walking away very quickly.

“I’m sorry,” Harry said, sighing. “I should’ve thought of the need for some disguises, but I was more focused on our meeting.”

“It’s not your fault — it’s their fault,” Ginny snapped, jerking her head towards the direction they’d just left. “It’s disrespectful. You have as much right to grieve as any of them.”

“I don’t think they meant it disrespectfully. They didn’t actually approach us, after all,” he said fairly.

“They would’ve had we lingered,” Ginny said. “They don’t seem to adhere to any boundaries where you’re concerned.”

“I’d forgotten about the Memorial,” he said in a low voice. He’d been there when it was unveiled, and at the memorial ceremony this past year, but it wasn’t something he dwelled on when thinking about the Battle.

Ginny grunted noncommittedly.

“Ginny, are you all right with this idea of marrying at Hogwarts?” he asked suddenly, feeling worried. In his mind, he always separated the Battle and the school as two separate things. Yes, it had taken place here, but he somehow didn’t associate Hogwarts with the destruction Voldemort caused. Harry’s memories of Hogwarts were filled with warmth and fond nostalgia. His memories of the Battle were of terror and despair, but he was able to separate them in his mind.

Was that nave of him? What if Ginny didn’t see it that way? Her brother had died here, after all. Perhaps he was asking too much of her to want their married life to begin here.

“What?” Ginny asked, startled. She stepped out from under his arm as they walked so she could peer up into his face. “I wouldn’t be here if I wasn’t. What are you on about, Harry?”

He shrugged. “Well, I know it holds some bad memories, too. Your sixth year here was horrible, and the Battle…” he trailed, unable to find the words to convey what he wanted to say.

“Harry,” Ginny said softly, taking his hand. “I’ll never forget what happened here. Neither of us will, but we can’t let the bad memories win. The good memories are more important, and what we fought for. We started dating here. It seems very fitting that we complete that circle.”

Harry’s eyes widened. “We did start dating here.”

Ginny narrowed her eyes. “You’d best not have forgotten that, or I’m going to be very displeased,” she said, a few gold sparks emitting from the end of her wand.

Harry grinned. “Absolutely not — that was the best thing that ever happened to me, and the highlight of my time at school,” he said, beaming at her as that delicious, warm, bubbly feeling she always brought out inside him filled his chest.

“Good answer,” she said, grinning. They’d left the monument behind now, and strolled hand-in-hand up the lane. “Remember all the startled looks in the common room after you kissed me that first time?” she asked.

“I mostly remember Ron looking as if someone clubbed him over the head with the Quidditch cup,” Harry chuckled.

“Romilda Vane looked rather thunderstruck herself,” Ginny laughed. “You didn’t, though. You looked very confident… and sexy as hell.”

Harry rolled his eyes. “I doubt that. I don’t think I’ve ever looked sexy in my life.”

“Oh, yes, you have. Trust me. Dead sexy,” Ginny said, sounding delighted. She looked even more pleased when he felt his face and neck reddening, and she giggled girlishly.

He cleared his throat. “I think that was the best decision I ever made — even if it was subconsciously. I wish I’d done it so much sooner. It would’ve saved me a lot of Bludger injuries.”

Ginny threw back her head as she laughed. “You were getting really careless there for a bit. Demelza was on to you way before I was.”

“Was she?” Harry asked.

“Definitely. I blew her off, though. I didn’t think you could possibly be interested in me after ignoring me for so long. I didn’t want to dare hope, so I ignored all the signs. It was quite stupid, really. I should’ve just listened to my instincts, grabbed you by the collar, and snogged you senseless.”

“Sort of what I did, you mean?” Harry asked, grinning. “I really wouldn’t have complained if you had. I was battling my attraction for so long. It felt as if I had a monster in my chest clawing its way out, and I’d get so jealous thinking about you with any other bloke.”

“A monster in your chest, or in your trousers?” Ginny asked slyly, giggling when once again she managed to cause his face to color.

“Both,” he agreed, nodding. “I used to have put Silencing Charms around my bed because I was so afraid I’d talk in my sleep and that Ron would work out what I was dreaming about.”

Ginny rolled her eyes. “Ron was as oblivious as you were. Worse, even. You, at least, got a move on far before he managed to recognize his own feelings for Hermione.”

“You’ll have to excuse us for being stupid teenage blokes,” Harry said, grinning as they turned a corner and the gates came into view. They were closed. Harry frowned as they approached. “She knows were coming, yeah? Do you think they’ll just open?” he asked.

Ginny shrugged. “Only one way to find out.”

Harry reached out a hand, pausing before actually touching the wrought iron. He couldn’t detect that familiar humming of a Charm beneath his hand, although there were so many Charms surrounding the castle, the air surrounding it felt alive. Harry wrapped his hand around one of the stakes and pushed. The gate creaked, but opened easily. After he and Ginny had walked thorough, the gate behind them closed on its own, and a clicking sound could be heard.

“I suppose she cast a spell to let just the two of us in,” Harry said, impressed with the magic.

Ginny grinned. “You have a very Hermione-ish expression on your face. You’re trying to work out how she did that.”

“It is clever,” Harry conceded.

“Well, that’s Professor McGonagall in a nutshell, isn’t it?” she asked. “She’s always been rather brilliant. The Carrows never knew what to do with her. She’d insult them so thoroughly, and use such big words, half the time they didn’t even realize they were being insulted.”

“I saw some of that the night of the Battle when she came out to the Ravenclaw common room,” Harry said, nodding.

The castle had come into view in front of them. It was a crisp, clear day with puffy clouds dotting an azure sky. Harry couldn’t keep the smile from his face as memories of running across the blooming grass with Ron and Hermione toward the green-houses, or sitting beneath an old oak tree by the lake with Ginny on a warm afternoon filled his mind. In fact, he squinted toward the lake, trying to pinpoint which tree it was that he and Ginny had carved their initials into that day so long ago.

“What’s making you smile that way?” Ginny asked, her eyes sparkling as her hair fluttered in the light breeze.

Harry happily swung their clasped hands between them. “Just memories,” he said, at a loss to express the torrent of nostalgic thoughts flooding his brain.

“Me, too, and that’s why I think getting married here is perfect. It’ll give us an adult memory to add to all our young ones,” she said.

When they reached the front steps into the castle, Harry stopped, looking her over critically. He knew she’d hate being coddled, but he had to check. “D’you want to sit down for a few minutes before we go in? It’s been a long walk.”

Ginny’s eyes narrowed, and he watched her swell as he knew she would. “I’m not ill, Harry, and I’ve done this walk dozens of times.”

“I know that, but you were bedridden for a long time. They told you to take it easy,” he said, trying not to show his annoyance. Why was she so blas with her own health? She’d nearly died!

“What are you going to do when I go back to practice? They’re not going to let you hover in the changing room with pumpkin juice and Pepper-up Potion, you know,” she said, rolling her eyes.

Harry frowned. “I think you might be better off starting back on half days,” he said, knowing he’d lost before the words were even out of his mouth.

Ginny set her lips in a grim line. “I’m fine. You’re an expert on fine, so you should recognize it. If you don’t want to chat with Professor McGonagall with huge bat-bogeys flying out of all your orifices, I’d suggest you stop this ridiculous overprotectiveness right now. You’re getting worse than my mum.”

Harry scowled. “I don’t think it’s being overprotective to be concerned about your health after all you’ve been through.”

Ginny took a deep breath, obviously attempting to control her ire. “I know I worried you, and I’m sorry, but you’re going to have to find a better way of dealing with it. You, of all people, know how irritating it is to be coddled when you’re feeling better. You have to trust me to know if I’m overdoing anything. The walk didn’t tire me at all.”

“And you’re the one who always tells me I’m the worst judge on the state of my own fineness, so you need to consider that perhaps your judgement is faulty this time,” Harry said, breathing through his nose in an attempt to control his temper. He knew flying off the handle was the surest way to get her to dig her heels in, but she needed to see reason.

Ginny pressed her lips together, pinching the bridge of her nose. “Harry, there is an entire medical staff looking after the team. If they feel I’m not up to playing, I’ll concede, but it’s their call, not yours. Until then, I’m trusting my own judgement, and you’re going to have to accept that.”

Harry let out a long breath and slumped onto the stairs, staring away from the castle and out onto the grounds. His head knew she was right, but his heart still wanted to wrap her in pillows and keep her tucked safely away from the world and all its dangers. This illness that had managed to get to her under his watch had really shaken him, and he was at a loss how to process it all. Usually, Ginny was the one to help him put his thoughts in order, but now, she was the one making them spin out of control.

“I know it’s hard, but you’re going to have to let go of some of that control. It’s only an illusion that you have it anyway,” she said softly.

“How?” Harry asked gruffly.

Ginny put her arm around his shoulders, squeezing lightly. “You know how you think Andromeda tends to smother Teddy, so you like to stretch the boundaries with him once in a while? That’s sort of the same dynamic between you and me.”

Harry lips twitched before a reluctant smile formed. “So, you need to be reckless once in while to show me I’m not in charge? I thought >i>I was supposed to be the reckless one?”

“I like it best when we’re reckless together, actually,” Ginny said, nudging him. “Come on. Let’s go talk with the Headmistress and see if she’ll allow two of her most reckless students to take over the school for a day in order to be married. What could possibly go wrong?”

/* /* /* /*


After their meeting, Harry and Ginny sat in a quiet, out of the way table at the Hog’s Head sharing a couple of Butterbeers and some crisps. Aberforth had been good enough to direct them to this particular table since it was to the side of the bar and not in direct line of sight of the other tables. Ginny couldn’t help but wonder how many illegal deals or exchanges had taken place at this table. She was happier to note the entirety of the bar was much cleaner than she remembered it, and Aberforth seemed to have hired some help.

The pub wasn’t overly crowded, but no place was yet. People were still feeling reluctant to be out and about. Harry wanted to come here since he thought they’d attract less attention than at the Three Broomsticks, but Ginny wasn’t certain there would be much of a crowd there, either. Perhaps once the students returned, things would pick up.

“Well, that went well,” Harry said, stuffing a few crisps into his mouth. “I still feel like an errant schoolboy when McGonagall peers at me over those spectacles.”

Ginny grinned, sipping her Butterbeer. “You did squirm a lot, and when she told you could call her Minerva, I thought your head might explode it turned so red.”

“You’re one to talk,” Harry shot back. “It’s not often I see my chatterbox at such a loss for words.”

Ginny giggled. “All right, then. Somehow, I don’t think I can bring myself to use her first name. I’m certainly going to give it a go, though.”

“I’ll stick with Headmistress, and I’m good,” Harry said, grinning.

“Coward,” Ginny replied. “She did seem pleased with the idea of hosting the wedding, though.”

Harry nodded. “I know. I didn’t mean she had to take on any of the work, but once she started, I felt awkward interrupting her.”

“I think she was pleased to have something to plan. I always had the impression she enjoyed getting the castle all done up for the Yule Ball,” Ginny said.

“I hope that however many students stay behind over the Christmas holidays, they won’t mind being locked in their common rooms while it takes place,” Harry said, frowning.

Ginny shrugged. “Professor McGonagall said she could have the elves bring food up, and I’m certain the adventurous ones will find a way to sneak out. I would’ve done.”

“Me, too — although I probably wouldn’t have cared who was getting married. I’d just want to hear what was going on,” Harry said, laughing at his younger self.

“I’d have wanted to get my hands on some Firewhisky,” Ginny said, unabashed. “It shouldn’t be too hard at a party.”

“How long do you suppose we have until the press gets wind of this?” Harry asked, lowering his voice despite the Muffliato Charm he’d already cast around their table.

“Not long at all. We were seen at the monument today. Even if they don’t know the details, they’ll make something up,” Ginny replied, irritated. She needed to get a move on and let her team know before they were ambushed with it. It somehow seemed disrespectful to bring it up while they were trying to plan a memorial for Theresa and the other three staff members who’d perished from the illness. She hated being pushed into anything, but she supposed she didn’t have a lot of choice if she didn’t want to let them get the upper hand.

“Well, we have the date and the place, and I’ll let the Minister know what we’ve planned when I go to work tomorrow. I’ll call that a win that we managed it without interference,” Harry said, grinning boyishly.

It always brightened his day when he managed to slip one over on the press, and Ginny couldn’t help but feel his good humor was infections. “So, December twenty-ninth is to be our wedding at Hogwarts, and December thirtieth is our Ministry gala. Then we can start our honeymoon on New Year’s Eve,” she said, shivering slightly at the prospect.

“I suppose I should get a move on that before anyone can butt in, as well,” Harry said thoughtfully.

“Why? What do you have in mind?” Ginny asked. He’d told her he was going to surprise her with their honeymoon plans, and it had been driving her barmy ever since. She hated when there was something going on that she didn’t know about.

Harry wagged his finger. “Uh—uh. You’re not going to trip me up on this one. It will be private, romantic, and completely secret. I’m not taking any chances that one of your brothers can get ahead of me and have a bunch of Weasley’s Whiz-Bangs go off the moment we get naked.”

Ginny laughed, picturing it happening just that way. “All right, here’s something we can agree on — no brothers on the honeymoon. But I’m certainly not going to be the one to tell them, so you can tell me where we’re going.”

“You really don’t get the idea of a surprise, do you, Weasley?” he asked, shaking his head.

“That’s soon-to-be-Potter to you, Mister,” she said, looking down her nose but unable to keep a straight face.

Harry beamed at her, as he always did when she mentioned her upcoming change of name. Ginny Potter. That was going to take some getting used to, but she really liked it. Even Ginevra Potter wasn’t that bad, although Ginny was still a lot better.

Before she could respond, Aberforth joined them, placing his own pint on the table and snagging a few of their crisps, scattering crumbs on the table. “That’s a fine-looking rock on your finger there, miss. I don’t recall reading anything about it, so I’m assuming it’s new,” he said gruffly.

Harry and Ginny both glanced at her finger in surprise. They hadn’t done anything to draw attention to it, but they hadn’t concealed it, either. Ginny supposed Aberforth was Professor Dumbledore’s brother, and not much had ever slipped past his notice, either.

“It is fairly new, and we’d appreciate it if it remained between us as long as possible,” Harry said, clinking his bottle to Aberforth’s.

Aberforth shrugged. “Can’t say I was ever much for gossip. Nobody’s business, anyway. I’m glad to see you both out and about. It’s been dead silent around here.”

“And here I thought you liked the quiet life,” Ginny cajoled.

“I like it quiet, not empty. I have a business to run here, and Spattergroit of any kind is definitely bad for business,” he said.

“It looks as if you have a decent crowd today,” Harry said, glancing around at the various tables. Only about half of them were filled, but that had been rather normal back when they’d been at school.

“Things picked up a lot after the war. I even had to hire a couple barmaids to help me keep up. Only one of ‘em came back,” Aberforth said grumpily.

“She’s obviously better than you at wiping down the tables,” Harry said, smirking. “Be glad she came back.”

“Don’t give me any of your cheek, boy.” Aberforth said, glaring at Harry. He turned his attention toward Ginny. “Where’s your brother been? Haven’t seen him in here since the restrictions were lifted.”

“I’m afraid you’re going to have to be more specific than that. I have a lot of brothers,” Ginny said, winking.

“This one here’s partner,” he said, nodding at Harry. “Likes to eat and drink. My kind of bloke.”

“Ron’s been ill, but he’s finally cleared today. I’m certain you’ll see him before too long,” Ginny said, thinking of all Ron’s grumbling and complaining and listing of all the places he wanted to go once he was freed, and exactly what he wanted to eat at each and every one of them.

“I’m sorry to hear that,” Aberforth said, looking startled.

“Don’t worry about it. He’ll be expecting you to have a toast with him to celebrate his good health in no time,” Harry said, smiling fondly. Ginny had no doubt he was thinking about Ron’s lists, as well.

Aberforth finished off his pint and pushed back his chair. “I’ll look forward to it. You two enjoy your day, and save me a dance at that wedding, lass,” he said, rather fondly for Aberforth standards.

“My dance card is filling up fast,” Ginny said once Aberforth had moved away. “You’d best get a move on with those tango lessons.”

Harry’s eyes widened. “Who else have you promised a dance? I should already have most of the slots on your card. I’ll be your husband by then, after all.”

Ginny felt a delicious tingle go down her spine at his words. Her husband. He was going to be her husband. She didn’t think December the twenty-ninth could come soon enough.

“Well, my dad for one. He gets the traditional father/daughter dance, and I think the rest of my brothers will just cut in if I didn’t say yes anyway,” Ginny said grinning.

Harry’s face had taken on a pensive look. Usually Ginny could follow his thoughts, but now she was at a loss. Was he really worried about the tango?

“Harry?” she asked when he remained silent.

“The groom traditionally dances with his mother at weddings, right?” he asked, his voice low.

Ginny’s insides hurt. “Well, yes, but we’ve already decided we don’t have to be traditional about everything. I know it’s important to my dad, but we don’t need to call any special attention to it. As long as I dance with him, he’ll be happy.”

“No, that’s not what I meant. Of course, you should dance with your father. D’you… do you think your mum might want to dance with me?” he asked, ducking his head. She could see the brilliance of his cheeks all the way across the table.

Tears sprang to her eyes, and she swiped at them hastily. “I think she’d be honored if you asked her. Of course, you’ll need to carry an extra towel during the dance, or she’ll drench you with her tears.”

Harry grinned half-heartedly. “So, what’s next then?”

She reached across the table, grasping his hands in her own and squeezing reassuringly. “Enough wedding plans for today, but I definitely don’t want to go back to Grimmauld Place just yet. Let’s go into Muggle London and have a look around. We won’t be harassed, and we can still be outdoors,” she suggested.

Harry nodded, draining the last of his Butterbeer. “How about a stroll along the Thames? Some of the leaves are changing.”

“Harry — what a romantic afternoon. And I can think of the perfect happy ending for afterwards,” she said, winking slyly.

She knew Harry would quickly follow her out the door. And he did.

/* /* /* /*


Harry and Owen went into Knockturn Alley on a Tuesday morning. The shops were all still rather empty on the high street, but even down in the alley, there were still a few shoppers milling about. They wore their full Auror robes this time, and some on the street watched them warily as they strode toward the dark little apothecary.

“We had the ruddy bloke who runs the place under surveillance for a few weeks before we all went into lockdown, and he visited a few remote locations where potions might’ve been being brewed, but we didn’t have enough bloody evidence to search. Once the lockdown happened, everything went underground,” Owen said, speaking out of the side of his mouth as they walked.

“Is he being watched again now?” Harry asked.

“Yeah, but it’s no good. He’s onto us, so he’s pretty much been here in the shop whenever it’s open. Whoever is brewing for him is communicating in some other way,” Owen replied.

“Or he’s hired someone else to be his pigeon,” Harry muttered. “When we were here before, I had the impression Gethin was brewing for him, but that he wasn’t the only one.”

“I wonder what happened to all the purchasers who didn’t get their Wolfsbane on time,” Owen said. “We didn’t have any reports of increased werewolf activity.”

“Someone else must’ve met the demand, or else the poor sods simply had to lock themselves up and suffer the consequences,” Harry said, remembering how Remus had once told him about the painful transformation process. “We have a lot of eyes on us right now. Are you certain you want to go in there?”

“Can’t back down, can we? Now then, my lad, watch and take notes… and if, by some miracle, he gets past me, twat him with a Stunning Spell,” Owen said, pushing open the door of the apothecary.

Harry rolled his eyes, gripped his wand, and followed Owen into the shop. The same shopkeeper who’d been manning the register the last time they’d visited watched them coolly as they moved toward the counter at the back. The shelves were lined with various potions and potion ingredients, and a sign reading, If you don’t see what you want, it can be brewed for a fee.

“What do you want?” the proprietor asked in his deep, gravelly voice. His grey eyes swept over them, and Harry had the feeling there was very little this wizard missed.

“I think we’re going to be asking the questions this time,” Owen said pleasantly, folding his arms across his chest. “We were in here a few weeks ago looking for one of your potion brewers — a Gwilym Gethin. Seen him recently?”

The shopkeeper’s face remained impassive, although Harry thought he saw something flicker behind his eyes. Did he know Gethin was dead?

“I told you, he disappeared. I have a lot of angry clients who had to make other arrangements. He’s no longer welcome here,” he said, sneering.

“And you don’t know anything more? Any idea where we might find him… or anyone who may have worked with him?” Owen asked, staring at his own thumbnail as if disinterested.

“No idea,” the man stated uneasily, glancing out the front window.

As Owen continued to question him, Harry surreptitiously glanced behind him through the window. He didn’t see anything in particular that stood out, although the shop was getting several curious looks from passers-by. The hairs on the back of his neck had begun to stand on end, however, so he angled his body sideways to keep watch on both what was happening inside the shop and on the bit of street he could see outside the window.

“Look, you two are bad for business. I told you I don’t know anything, now unless you’re here to arrest me, I’m going to ask that you move along,” the shopkeeper said, showing uneven yellow teeth.

“So, you’re still brewing off-premises. I suppose you have a license for remote manufacturing?” Owen asked casually.

“Never said I was brewing anything,” the man said calmly, once again glancing at the window. “Do you have any proof that I was?”

Owen scowled, but before he could respond, the glass on the front window shattered as several spells flew through the opening at once. Shards of glass flew inward along with the flashes of light from the incoming spells. Harry felt a searing pain on his left shoulder before throwing himself behind a display stand of potion ingredients. Outside the window, several black-clad figures were firing spells into the now wide-open storefront. From his makeshift cover, Harry returned several Stunning Spells, but knew it was no good. He was too far away. Crouching low, he moved over the glass and debris covering the floor toward the front of the shop.

Owen had ducked behind the register and was casting spells in rapid succession. Harry could hear the low moaning of the shopkeeper in Owen’s vicinity. He hadn’t seen it, but assumed the man had been hit. As Harry crept toward the front of the shop, he had time to note that none of the spells that were being cast inside were lethal.

Harry’s robes were wet with blood from his shoulder, but his wand arm was steady as he aimed another Stunning Spell at the closest figure outside, who crumpled to the ground. Shouts could be heard along the alley, and Harry cast several more spells through the broken glass.

A Blasting Hex tore through the front window, hitting the display stand he’d taken cover behind only moments ago. Fragments and bits of wood splintered the air, and Harry had to use his good arm to cover his head from the falling debris.

Glancing out the window, he saw one of the robed figures grab the arm of the wizard Harry had Stunned, and both of them disappeared before his eyes. The street was filled with several more popping sounds as the others who’d been involved Disapparated. Harry leaned back against the wall, gasping and trying to catch his breath. His shoulder, which hadn’t bothered him at all during the fight, began to throb in earnest as his adrenaline subsided. His bright red Auror robes had a dark stain forming along one side.

“All right, Owen?” he called, his breathing shallow. “They’ve Disapparated.”

Owen’s head appeared above the counter where the register rested. His hair looked wild, and he was bleeding from a cut near his eyebrow. A trickle of blood dribbled toward his eye, and he swiped at it impatiently, smearing it all over the side of his face.

“Bloody hell, I have a load of glass stuck in my hair,” Owen said, grumbling and shaking his head like a dog. “Did you recognize any of them?”

“No,” Harry said, grunting as he pulled himself to his feet. “They wore hoods and were all too far back. I Stunned one of them, but one of his mates Side-Along’d him away. How’s the shopkeeper?”

“He’s all right, just whinging. He was hit with a Cutting Curse. It’s on his chest, but shallow,” Owen said, also standing.

“I’ve been maimed, and it’s all your fault. I’m going to file a report at the Ministry detailing your lack of safety measures,” the man said, remaining on the ground and curled into a ball.

Owen rolled his eyes and cast a Patronus. “I’ve called for some crime scene investigators. They can send this one,” he said, jerking his head toward the floor, “to St. Mungo’s to be looked over.”

Harry peeled his robe away from his shoulder to take a good look at his wound, wincing at the deep gash there.

“You were hit, too?” Owen asked, eyes widening when he saw all the blood.

“Another Cutting Curse,” Harry said, using his wand to repair the damage. He’d learned several basic healing spells as part of his Auror training. It certainly wasn’t up to Madam Pomfrey standards, but it would hold until he could get it treated properly. He lowered his voice so only Owen could hear him. “It’s minor. That was a warning. They weren’t using lethal spells. Someone didn’t want the shopkeeper talking to us.”

“I think you’re right. I wonder what he knows?” Owen said speculatively. “We’ll have someone keep a watch on him while he’s at St. Mungo’s, then we can question him at the Ministry.”

He was poking his finger at the cut along his eyebrow as if trying to feel how big it was.

“Here, I can fix that,” Harry said, pulling Owen’s hand away from the cut so he could see what he was doing.

Owen pulled back. “No, leave it. Another scar will make me more intimidating,” Owen said happily. “Facial scars can be very useful in putting perpetrators on edge.”

Harry raised his eyebrows, and Owen’s brain seemed to catch up to his words. “Oh. Right. I suppose no scar I manage to get is going to outshine yours. All right, fix me up, then,” he said, sighing.

Harry shook his head and cast another spell to heal the damage to Owen’s face. “Well, that escalated more quickly than I’d expected. It’s good to be back, though,” he said, grinning. “Someone is worried what we might learn in here.”

“You think it was related to our case, or just something they’re brewing illegally in here? I don’t have the impression this place is all on the up-and-up,” Owen said.

“You think?” Harry joked. “I’m just glad we didn’t bring Ethan along for this one. It would’ve been a nightmare.”

“He’s such a noob. I don’t think he’s been involved in any actual spell-fire yet. He’d probably pass out at the first sign of blood,” Owen said disparagingly.

“Are either of you idiots going to help me or just leave me here to bleed to death?” the shopkeeper asked. He’d pulled himself onto a stool behind the register and was dabbing at a minor cut on his breastbone with a handkerchief.

Before Owen could insult him, Harry intervened. “I only have minor healing skills. There’s someone coming to collect you and take you into St. Mungo’s where they can tend to you properly,” he said.

The man seemed mollified with the attention. Within a few moments, a team from the Ministry arrived to collect evidence and prepare a report on what had happened. The shopkeeper was taken to St. Mungo’s, and Harry and Owen, after having their own wounds looked at, were able to go outside onto the street to have a look around.

Harry could feel a number of eyes watching him as he perused the street, but no one approached them. In fact, several street vendors went out of their way to avoid speaking with the Aurors.

“I did take a shower this morning,” Harry said, smirking as yet another vendor quickly packed his wares and scurried away from them.

“Yeah, but you do have a huge, garish blood stain smattered across your front. It has to be you, because it’s certainly not me. Criminals find me quite engaging,” Owen said, walking with a swing in his step.

Harry rolled his eyes. “It certainly couldn’t be your ego driving them away. What do you think? Anyone who was involved in that skirmish is long gone now.”

“I agree. Let’s go over to the hospital and question our shopkeeper again. I think he’ll be far more cooperative now that he knows he needs our protection,” Owen said, leering as if looking forward to frightening the man.

“All right. I want to swing by the Ministry first and get some clean robes. My cleaning spells aren’t good enough to get blood stains out,” Harry said ruefully. Perhaps Molly could help him with that.

“Sounds like a plan. Maybe we can grab a bite after we visit St. Mungo’s. A good life-and-death skirmish always gives me an appetite,” Owen said, rubbing his hands together.

“Life and death?” Harry asked scathingly. “You didn’t even get hit with a spell. You just didn’t duck away from falling glass fast enough.”

“Don’t disparage your supervisor, or he can ensure you do nothing but paperwork for many moons to come,” Owen said, nose in the air.

“Or until you get exasperated having to partner Ethan,” Harry said, grinning.

Owen scowled before Disapparating.


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