Chapter 1: Memories
It was The Battle of Hogwarts Memorial Day, and the only remembering I wanted to do was remembering where I threw the file I was looking at last night before I passed out on my desk in an alcohol induced slumber. I’d been at work late, again, looking over my files on recent surges in underage magic usage looking for any explanations, any patterns, for the uptick in reports when Ron Weasley, auror, ass-kicker, and all around my best mate in the world (next to Hermione Granger, of course), had come in and suggested we drink away the blasted ‘memories’ and I had obliged like the daft idiot I was and vaguely remember us shouting ‘screw the memories, screw bloody paperwork’ after our fifth shot and tossing everything off of my desk in a flurry of papers after our seventh. It had seemed logical at the time, but standing in the office looking at the disarray, I wondered why I let him talk me into trashing my desk and not his.
I spotted the edge of a file that read: Malfoy, Draco [ex-Death Eater, Potion Master and Ministry Freelancer] on it under a pile of memos we also decided to toss around. I took it out last week to add in the most recent report he filed on a potion he was creating for the Ministry to make tracing magic simpler.
I picked it up and that gritty face watched me from his trial photo which we kept in the file because the Ministry is nothing if not paperwork obsessed. He was scowling and his face was covered in bruises in various states of healing likely from the beatings he took from corrupt and pissed Aurors who lost someone to Voldemort and the war. Something in my gut twisted at the memory of him beaten up sitting there awaiting the Wizegnmont’s verdict and I scowled back at the picture for making me feel guilty and placed the file on my desk and worked on cleaning up the rest.
Sometimes, I forget that I have magic. It’s like my brain just starts doing things and I have to remind myself that I could just flick my wrist and be done in half the time. A lingering product of my muggle upbringing, so I bent down and started the muggle way while my thoughts trailed off to Draco Malfoy, who I could never manage to be rid of, and started to stack the papers.
While I was bent down behind my desk, I overheard two aurors as they came into the bullpen, Luke Lamont and Angie Reed. They clearly thought they were alone.
“This place is going to hell,” Lamont said. “The edicts going through about the Secrecy Statue are one thing, but I can’t believe he’s just getting a hearing. A hearing, Angie? Anyone else would have been sent to Azkaban if they did what he did.”
Reed scoffed. “Must be nice to be Harry Potter.”
“I swear if everyone stopped kissing his arse for two minutes they’d see the bloke isn’t so special. So what, he killed you-know-who. That was five years ago and other people helped him. Not like he did it on his own.”
“He is pretty good with defensive spells though. Doesn’t even need his wand for most of them anymore,” Reed said sounding half-impressed.
“Whose side are you on?”
“I’m just saying, it’s sort of impressive. How many other wizards do you know that have control of their magic like that? Sure, he’s a tosser, but he is good at what he does.”
“The bloke has always been off his rocker, Reed,” Lamont said. There was some rummaging as if he was going through some papers. “Robards thinks so and this just proves it.”
“When we were rookies, I was teamed up with him, right?” Reed stopped for a moment and then said, “Have I told you this one?”
There was no response, but Lamont must have shook his head because she continued. “We chased down a few of the Death Eaters leftover after, well you know. He didn’t use a spell, a charm, nothing. He walked right up to the guy and sucker punched him. I swear he was smiling when he beat the guy until he was unconscious. So, I’m not surprised he lost it again.”
“See? He’s bonkers, Reed. Who cares if he is good at magic when he’s insane. I bet you-know-who was good at magic, too.”
“Shouldn’t we be able to say his name by now? He’s been dead five years.”
“Oh, shut up, Reed. Let’s hope the ethics board isn’t soft on him like our Minister for Magic,” Lamont said. “He should have fired him, not put him on desk duty looking into the uptick in illegal magical surges. That’s what drove him to kick the guys arse in the first place. Putting him on those cases seems like an odd sort of punishment.”
I coughed, loud enough to let them know they weren’t alone, and then I stood up, stacking the loose files on my desk. I was tired of hearing what they had to say anyway.
Reed at least had the decency to look embarrassed at being caught out. Lamont didn’t. The cock just scowled at me and said, “Morning Auror Potter. Desk duty treating you well?”
“Lamont, Reed, lovely day to you,” I said, doing nothing to mask the animosity in my voice. “Better than your case is treating you, I reckon. According to the reports I’ve filed, you have no leads.” I cocked my head to the side and tried my best to look smug even though the world was spinning around me. Stupid hangovers. “Haven’t gotten any closer to finding your missing kneazle? I hear little Janey is very worried. With such a high profile case, if you need any help…let me know.”
Lamont balled his fists, but ignored my comment. His eyes fell on the disarray at my desk and said, “New filing system there, Auror Potter?” Then he grabbed a folder off of his desk, walked it over to mine and tossed it down on the floor and kicked the papers around for good measure. “What a fun new system you’ve got worked out here.”
I wanted to punch him, but instead I smiled.
Lamont looked down at the file he dropped and laughed. He kicked them one more time and stalked out of the bullpen. He turned back, scowling, and Reed jumped to attention, hustling over to him. It seemed like he had her trained up good. Reed always did strike me as a follower.
The pair of them were among the many Ministry employees calling for my termination after I beat a Ministry official bad enough to land him in St. Mungo’s. I found out he was abusing his son. I’d been there on a routine check-in after clocking a large magical surge. Most underage wizards have them when their powers start to manifest, so it wasn’t irregular. What was irregular were three surges within a month—each one growing in power. His magic kept surging to protect him. I recognized the pattern. I reported my suspicions to Head Auror Robards and he laughed in my face and told me to leave Head of the Improper Use of Magic Office, Daniel J. Riley, alone or suffer the consequences. I don’t respond well to threats. So when it happened a fourth time, I went back. When I saw the bruises on the kid, something in me snapped. It didn’t matter that the guy was guilty. Not to them. Not to Robards. And so I hurt that man so he couldn’t keep hurting his son.
It took me an hour to sort my area out, even with the help of a few cleaning spells Molly Weasley taught me, but finally all the papers were in their proper places and now I was terribly late.
Since I slept in the office, I needed to run home to Grimmauld Place and change. The only thing I had on that didn’t look ruined from sleeping at my desk was my tie and I would have changed that anyway. It had little snitches on it and didn’t feel appropriate for where I was heading. Too whimsical.
I opted for an all black suit over a black shirt with a black tie, as it was a memorial service and black felt right for the day in more ways than one. This time of the year always made me feel anxious like everything was just off center from what it was supposed to be, highlighting all the shitty stuff I tried to ignore year round. It didn’t help that Ron and Hermione’s concerned looks nearly tripled in the last two months leading up to my hearing. It made it difficult to pretend everything was okay when someone watched, or judged, your every step.
Hermione fire-called, her hair half done, to say I needed to look presentable since the papers would be there, so I tried to flatten out my hair a bit, but it was more stubborn than usual, so I gave up and hoped it was good enough.
I grabbed my travel mug Ron got me for my birthday last year, very proud that he went to a muggle store with muggle money and bought me a muggle contraption. It had a lion on it, which he reasoned was close enough to Gryffindor. The coffee only helped so much, but I knew Hermione would have a hangover potion waiting for me when I stepped through her floo.
Through the fireplace, I heard Hermione shouting at Ron to hurry up and Ron shouting back that he would except he couldn’t find his tie. I stared at his tie on the couch and smirked. Even the effort to half smile made my head feel like it was stuffed with cotton balls, so I dropped the smile and grabbed the tie, heading to their bedroom.
“Knock, knock,” I said.
“You have my tie,” Ron said in lieu of any proper greeting. “Bless, you Harry.” He walked across the room and snatched it from my hand and began tying it. “Hermione set out a hangover potion for you. It’s in the kitchen.”
I nodded and headed to the kitchen. There was a small vile on the table and note that said: Had to dash. Helping McGonagall set up. Take this, you’ll feel loads better. -H
I tipped it back and chased it with the coffee, which only made the taste worse somehow, and winced as it went down. Despite the unpleasant taste, I felt better. Less like my head was working to separate from my body.
Ron came into the kitchen holding an issue of the Daily Prophet. “Thought you’d want to see this. I saw it on my desk before I headed out.”
“Yeah,” I scoffed. “Thanks so much for the wake up call. I was nearly late and I had the pleasure of being greeted by Lamont and Reed.”
Ron shrugged. “You weren’t late though and Lamont and Reed are harmless—annoying, but harmless.”
I snatched the paper from his hand and opened it up. Staring up at me was a photo of me outside of the Ministry talking to Shacklebolt. I remember that was the day he told me I was on desk duty until the hearing. I had been shouting about the boys magical surges and accused him of being like Fudge and ignoring something because it didn’t suit him. The headline said: Saviour and Minister Caught Fighting Over Recent Magical Surges: Is There Actually Something to Worry About? A few lines in, it said that a source at the Ministry told them that I was going mad, tossing papers everywhere after my fight with Shacklebolt and that I wouldn’t stop shouting that the recent uptick in illegal magical usage was the result of something insidious. The article, however, assured people that the rest of the Ministry thought I was seeing problems where they weren’t. The article asked the public if I was loosing it. How perfectly ironic.
“It’s not surprising that the Prophet is covering that. We weren’t fighting. I mean, yeah, I shouted a bit about the surges, but mostly it was about the kid and the hearing. Why are you showing me this anyway? There’s at least one article about me in there every week.”
“I know. Last week it was a picture of you punching a perp out in Diagon Alley after he tried to run off with some ladies purse and the week before it was a feature on how Harry Potter doesn’t even need his wand anymore thanks to your drunk boasting at Dean and Seamus’s wedding. And before that, there was a feature on you at a quidditch match getting caught coming out of the locker rooms looking like you fucked the whole Hollyhead lineup. Not to mention their lovely piece about the Boy Who Lived being put on desk duty for ‘reasons unknown.’ They really loved that one.”
“It was only one of the Hollyhead’s by the way,” I said trying to lighten the mood, but Ron shot me a look that screamed ‘that’s not the point’ so I asked, “Is there a point in there somewhere?”
Ron considered me slowly. “Are you trying to get fired, Harry? Because you’ve always been a bit, you know, rash, but lately it seems like you’re more, I don’t know, more something. More careless. Like you’re on a mission to cause trouble for yourself. All these articles read like a man on a mission to ruin his own reputation.”
His accusation shocked me. I almost said ‘yes, I do want to get fired because at least then I won’t have to pretend everything is okay’ but I managed to catch myself and said, “No.”
Ron took the newspaper back and tossed it in the bin. He was quiet for a moment and then turned to me, patting me on the shoulder. “Things just need to calm down a bit. Just a bit fresh in people’s minds. It’s only been two months. Everyone needs time. That’s all.”
“They all act like I got caught fucking Voldemort's corpse or something.”
Ron’s eyes widened. “Merlin, Harry. That was grim.”
“Well, they do.” I shrugged.
Ron just stared at me. “You beat up a Ministry official. Bloody broke his jaw. He still hasn’t woken up. That sort of thing is generally frowned upon. And you’re lucky the Ministry didn’t want that in the papers, or we could add that to the list of reckless things the world knows you’ve done.”
“Et tu, Brutus?”
“No, Merlin, no. I mean, I get why you did it. The guy was hurting his kid. It was madness, but Hermione and I were on it. We were using proper channels to get him out of there.”
I shook my head. Ron had been promoted to Junior Auror in Charge last year and had been sheepish with his new authority around me. He’d felt guilty for beating me out for it and sometimes I could see the guilt written all over his face and it made me want to run away and die in a hole because how did I make him believe me when I said I didn’t want it. I never wanted it. I didn’t want to be further shackled to the Ministry, not now especially since they made sure to cover up the Ministry officials crimes to save face. All that did was prove to me nothing changed since the war. Everyone was still more concerned with how things looked than with justice. The Prophet reported that he took a fall and, surprise-surprise, that if I hadn’t been there, he would have died. Great optics for the Ministry, but no justice for the kid.
Ron never believed me when I told him I was happier as a field auror, even though I told him regularly. He would look guilty and say I was just trying to make the situation less awkward, but I really didn’t want his job. Sometimes, I didn’t even want mine. The look was there now and I felt more hungover than I had when I woke up.
“What happened when your channels went no where?” I asked, ignoring the empty feeling slowly creeping in my stomach. “Was I supposed to let that boy die while we investigated the allegations? Was I supposed to drown him in paperwork?”
“That’s not what I asked you to do. I asked you to wait a day. One day so we could get an emergency removal order.”
“I went there on three separate follow ups to illegal magical usage, Ron. Three. Then I told Robards and he laughed in my face. Every time I showed up to ask what caused the surge, the kid was freshly beaten, but he was too scared to say anything. Just nodded along when his father claimed he got hurt playing. The bastard had obviously abused him for years and knew he could get away with it because no one ever questions the word of a Ministry official. They think they are all above the law. How is that just?”
Ron couldn’t meet my eyes. “The law is the law, Harry. Yes, that particular situation was complicated and I will admit that sometimes people look the other way, but you acted outside of the law when you beat him. How is that any different?”
“What I did, I did to save someone's life, Ron. You don’t know what it’s like to be that kid. I do. His father was a sick bastard who liked hurting him and knew no one was going to step in because he was powerful. Don’t you try to compare the two things. Don’t.”
“You’re right. I don’t know what he was going through. I barely know what you wen’t through because you never talk about it, except to say that it was bad. What I do know is, if we break the law too, how are we any better than the criminals?”
“I don’t understand you sometimes. You never would have said that when we were in school. We broke the laws all the time back then for the same reasons I did what I did now. To save lives.” I grabbed him by the shoulders then and searched his eyes for a hint of the Ron from school, but I didn’t see it. “That used to matter to you above all else. Now all you and Hermione care about is moving up the Ministry ladder and becoming normal married people with kids who go on double dates and discuss the best wizarding vacation spots like the war never happened.”
Ron looked hurt. He bit his bottom lip. “That’s not fair, Harry. You aren’t the only one who is still hurting from the war, but you are the only one who refuses to move on from it.”
I shook my head again, wishing I hadn’t even bothered to come through or agree to speak at the memorial. “I had to do something, so I did. And maybe we shouldn’t be moving on, Ron. Did that ever cross your mind? Maybe we shouldn’t pretend that because Voldemort is dead that all the ugliness in the world died with him.”
Ron ignored my insults and said, “It would help your case if you could even pretend for a second that you were sorry for what you did. Mostly everyone in the Ministry thinks what you did was heroic, in a way, if not a bit reckless. If you made a statement, we would work something else out. Maybe they wouldn’t even need a hearing.”
I laughed. It was a nasty sound, even to my ears. “So you and your just laws can shove another crime under the rug. No, thanks. I’m going to make sure all the officials have to hear about their pal and the bruises he left on his kid. I’m going to make them face it.” It was hard to have this conversation when I knew only part of the reason I beat the man was because I knew it was wrong what he was doing, but the other part of it had been something more selfish.
I raised my hand, cutting him off. “Let’s not have this conversation again. You know where I stand and I know where you stand.” I downed the last of my coffee and stood up.
“Right,” Ron said. He looked like I had told him Santa wasn’t real. I hated when he looked like that. His face all downturned and his long red fringe covering his face as he moped.
I sighed. “Ron, I’m sorry. I don’t want to fight with you. Not today.”
“I don’t want to fight with you either, Harry. I’m just worried about you. We all are. I mean, we expected you to need time after the war to process things, but it’s been five years and sometimes I worry that you’re worse off now then you were five months after the war.”
He was right and I hated him for it in that moment. “You know this time of the year makes it worse for me. Plus, I hate speaking and I am dreading the photos and headlines. It’s just the stress of all that and the stuff with the hearing and desk duty. I’m going a bit stir crazy.” Ron smiled at me sheepishly, wordlessly accepting my apology, and I smiled back. “Let’s go before Hermione thinks up a spell to flay us while also lecturing us on punctuality.”
“Merlin, if anyone could, it would be her,” Ron said with a shiver. He ran his hands over his arms. “What an image.”
“Truly. Now let’s go, I don’t want mess with Hermione Granger-Weasley.”
“She is fearsome,” he said with a tinge of pride and we ignored the small wedge between us because it was easier that way.
Chapter 2: Observances
At the Battle of Hogwarts Memorial, Harry runs into an old friend and an old rival.
I know, I know. Smut in chapter 2? So soon? Yes. Harry uses sex to numb himself. It’s gonna happen more.
Also, I happened to get in a groove and get the second chapter done. :0
At Hogwarts, Ron ran off to find Hermione who was setting up the stage for revealing the memorial structure she had commissioned for the five year anniversary of the Battle of Hogwarts. That left me sitting in the teachers lounge drinking tea at a small circular table with Neville Longbottom, who started on as Herbology Professor when Sprout retired last year.
“You nervous?” Neville asked as he took the free seat next to me, angling it so we could face each other. He looked better than I did. His suit was a deep navy and it fit him well, hugging all the parts of him that should be hugged like his biceps and his broad shoulders. His shirt was a pale blue with little plant patterns in it. He forwent the tie and instead, unbuttoned the top two buttons. Making him look relaxed.
“Just a tad,” I admitted because it was Neville and if anyone outside of Ron and Hermione could fathom why this day made me feel like shit on toast, it was Neville and at least he never asked me if I was okay because he already knew the answer. He had spent the year before the war here, with the Carrows and all the torturing. He’d killed people in the battle, too. Loads of us had. But more than that, Neville had almost been me. Well, the Saviour Boy Who Lived me, not me-me. The prophecy about Voldemort had fit us both. I’d just been lucky. Yay me.
“The students have been talking all week about how the Harry Potter is speaking today. A few students even fainted when we announced it.”
I laughed. It was hard to think of myself as someone worth fainting over, but that had been the trend ever since the Battle and Rita Skeeter’s profiles on the Hero's of Hogwarts which she turned into a book. Most of it was rubbish and made me out to be this perfect hero who never faltered and always had a ‘knowing smile on my face.’ The actuality of me would be a let down for most of London, so I let them all think what they wanted. It was easier that way.
I took a sip of the tea and wished it was whiskey. “I’m sure plenty of students fainted when they saw you in that suit, Mr. Longbottom.” I was flirting and it felt damned good to do it.
I wanted to lose myself for a little while and sex worked for me, well that and alcohol but like an idiot I left that at home. Those were probably a few of the reasons Ginny and I didn’t work out. She wanted a commitment, a life together, and I just wanted someone to fuck the memories of the last seven years out of me. I wanted to forget.
Neville blushed and shook his head. “Still a terrible flirt. I see nothing has changed since eighth year.”
At the mention of eighth year I smiled. He was talking about that time over Christmas when we were the only ones left in the common room after dinner and I let him fuck me over a table. The memory alone was enough to get me hard.
I sipped my tea and purposefully licked my lips as slow as I could mange. “I changed a bit. I think I’m rather a good flirt now.”
Neville smiled. “Is it any wonder Witch Weekly calls you unbelievably tempting?” He brought his fingers up to his collar and tugged on it a bit, undoing a third button.
“They also say I have a devilish smile,” I said, leaning to rest my elbows on my knees. I reached out and placed my hand on Neville’s knee. I stroked my my thumb over the slick fabric of his slacks. “Do you agree?”
Neville let out a half-laugh half-snort. “You’re impossible.” He shook his head and turned his attention to his tea, but I saw the outline of his cock as it grew hard.
“That wasn’t an answer,” I said, pushing my hand up his thigh more.
Neville put his hand over mine and brought it a little higher up his thigh. He closed his eyes and breathed hard once. “Merlin, it’s tempting, but I’m not looking for a quick fuck anymore, Harry. That’s all you’d be offering, right?”
I didn’t have time to answer him. The door opened slowly and a professor I didn’t recognize came in and quietly started making tea. She ignored us, not even turning to nod at Neville and sat at the table furthest from ours.
I sat back in my chair and took another sip, ignoring the arousal tightening in my groin. I nodded toward the professor and Neville mouthed “She’s new. Divination” and then raised his eyebrows.
I nodded in understanding the divination professors were always quirky, if not completely insane. “How’s it been here? I haven’t seen you much since you started teaching.” Changing the subject was the only safe way to avoid having to answer his question.
“It’s good, mostly.” Neville smiled again, but it didn’t quite reach his eyes. He lowered his voice and said, “I get unbearably sad sometimes. Being here, I mean. Where it all—”
I nodded. Coming back for eighth year had seemed like a good idea at the time, but the reality was that Hogwarts wasn’t home anymore. Not after the battle. It was a box for all my bad memories and being trapped in it for a year after the war only made me anxious and a bit moody. But I kept on moving forward, checking off all the boxes that said I was adjusting and never slowing down long enough to realize I hated all of it. I did my NEWTs, I played Quidditch, I made nice with the Slytherins and even managed a mostly civil stalemate with Draco Malfoy. But it all felt…fake. Like I was just doing what I was supposed to do, going through the motions. I hoped it would be different when I was an auror and away from the constant reminders of what happened to me, but even that felt forced after a while. Maybe that explained all my self-destructive behavior. Maybe it didn’t.
The door swung open and Hermione came in. Her hair was pulled back into a low bun and she wore a formal set of robes, giving me horrible flashbacks to Yule ball and that ridiculous frilly thing Ron wore. She looked a right shot better in it than Ron had looked in his.
“Everything is all setup. Just waiting on classes to let out, which should be right about now,” she said as she walked over to the counter where the tea kettle was set up. She started it boiling again and asked, “You fancy another cup?”
“Sure,” Neville said. He eyed me and there was still a hint of a blush in his cheeks, so I winked and he bit his bottom lip to keep from laughing.
“No, thanks,” I added. “If I drink anymore tea I’ll likely have to run out in the middle of my speech to use the loo.”
Hermione and Neville both laughed. It made me feel good for a moment, being with them, being at Hogwarts with my friends. I tried to enjoy it, but it faded just as quickly as it came about. I died here. I literally died out on the spot where the memorial was being held. I think people forget that. They see me standing and smiling and all-around alive and forget that I died in that battle and sometimes, I am not sure if all of me came back.
“You’ll have about three minutes to make your speech,” Hermione said, sitting down at the table with two cups. She slid one over to Neville. “The Prophet is here, so I expect they will want a ton of pictures. I know you hate it, but just think what it will mean to all the people who lost someone at the battle.”
“I’m already here, Hermione. The guilt trip is no longer necessary.”
Hermione had the grace to look ashamed. “Right. Sorry. I just need this to go well. You know I am up for that promotion as Advisor for the Minister for Magic. I’d be the youngest to do it.”
“Oh, that’s wonderful,” Neville said inbetween sips of tea. He looked genuinely pleased. “You’ll be running things in no time.”
Hermione smiled. “That is the plan.”
There was a stifled laugh from the far corner of the room and we all turned to face the divination professor. She still had a smile on her face, unashamed that she was caught laughing at Hermione’s plan. “The Ministry is full of planners, Mrs. Granger-Weasley. What makes you think your plan will be triumphant?”
Hermione rolled her eyes and ignored the professor. “So Neville, how are classes?”
Neville looked uncomfortably back and forth between Hermione and the mystery professor who I decided I liked, if only for the fact that she had some serious knuts to confront Hermione. I admired that.
Finally Neville settled on Hermione and answered. “Cla—classes are good. We are doing mandrakes with the second years. I’m sure you remember that lesson fondly.” He laughed at his own joke and Hermione followed.
But I couldn’t tear my eyes away from the professor. She was small, short and wafer-thin. Her hair was graying and it was loose around her face. Some strands were knotted together in braids and adorned with silver trinkets. She gave Trelawney a run for her money with her thick purple-rimmed glasses and the flowing dress that made her look like an amorphous blob. When I didn’t turn away, she winked at me and then returned to her tea.
“The new edicts sure are something,” Neville was saying when I turned my attention back to them. “Do you think they will really do away with secrecy statutes?”
Hermione considered and then took a sip of her tea. “Yes, I think they might, or they might have before…” She trailed off and her yes slid over to me. We both knew she blamed me for shifting the focus off of her edicts by taking the law into my own hands. I had been one of the head people backing her edicts, but with my reputation at the Ministry a bit…tarnished, she was having trouble moving forward.
“Before?” Neville asked.
I scoffed. “Before I fucked up.”
I had to get some air. All of this planing and future talk and ministry bull shit was making my blood boil and I was really considering flooing home for a stiff drink.
Fuck, when I joined the aurors after school, I expected that I would get to do much of the same stuff I did while fighting Voldemort. Chasing bad guys, keeping people safe, making sure justice was served, dodging curses, surviving. It wasn’t like that though. It was like a walking nightmare. A nightmare filled with inter office memos and paperwork and red tape and stupid, antiquated laws that made no sense. Like leaving a child with his abusive parents because they are the Head of Improper Use of Magic Office and no one wants to deal with the fallout.
I stood up. “I’m going to take a walk. I’ll be back in a few.” When Hermione gave me her panicked ‘but you’ll be late’ look I decided to send her on a guilt trip of my own. “Nerves. It’s my first time back here after finishing. I feel a bit out of sorts.”
Hermione nodded and after one more warning to make sure I wasn’t late, I headed out of the teacher’s lounge and down the long corridors of Hogwarts.
At one point, these halls felt safe. Growing up at the Dursley’s had been hell and this place was my sanctuary, until it wasn’t. I got to be myself here, well, most of myself anyway. It was always easy to hide behind ‘doing the right thing because its the right thing’ excuse since that’s what people expected drove me to fight Voldemort over and over. In the end, it didn’t matter what drove me to do it. All anyone cared was that I did it.
Really, I understood the danger better than anything else. Always have since that first year when Professor Quirrel had Voldemort hitching a ride on his head. I think that was the one thing Dumbledore hadn’t planned on. I liked that feeling in a battle, the one where you weren’t sure you were going to make it out alive. Sometimes when I managed it, I almost felt sad that I didn’t die. It only got worse as I grew older. Throwing myself into danger, never thinking about the consequences, coming out without a scratch. I expect Draco Malfoy, my old rival, had been right about me on some counts. I wasn’t as righteous as I let everyone think.
After the battle, I think I got bored, everything moved too slow. Maybe that’s part of why I imploded my career—just so I had something exciting to do. Something that was as blood-pumping as dueling with Voldemort. Something that made me feel like I was on the edge of destruction. Maybe I really was trying to ruin my own reputation like Ron said. Go figure.
I didn’t pay attention to where I was going, not that it mattered since the castle always managed to get you where you needed to go. Not that I ever quite understood that magic. Hermione might. I never bothered to ask.
Ironically, I ended up in the dungeons. At least the setting matched how I felt. Gloomy. Dark. And a bit unpalatable for most civilized people.
There was a noise behind me. I had my wand in my thigh holster, but I rarely used it anymore. Most of the defensive spells I learned fighting Voldemort, I could do wandless now. Some of them, I could manage wandless and wordless.
It was footsteps. The students had all been shuffled to the memorial, so it was either a house elf or a professor, so I opted for simply turning around instead of hitting them with an expelliarmus that would knock the wind out of them.
“Harry Potter, Saviour of the Universe, fancy seeing you down here of all places,” a drawling voice called to me from the stairs leading down to the dungeons.
It was Draco Malfoy; ex-rival, ex-Death Eater, and current thorn in my side. He wore a beige suit that looked almost white with a white button up underneath. Like Neville, he forwent the tie and went for the whole unbuttoned, casual look. I sort of hated that I didn’t consider that an option. My tie was making me feel claustrophobic.
“Why are you sulking in the dungeons when the Harry Potter parade is about to start? Don’t you know all your adoring fans are waiting?” Malfoy asked. He stayed on the last step, not making any attempt to move closer to me.
“I could ask you the same thing,” I replied. Except I couldn’t. He used to at least live down here, have a connection to the dungeons. Yay for nostalgia. I was just walking around, but I didn’t have a better comeback, so I stood my ground.
“Still clever as whip, I see.”
“Still boring as Hogwarts, A History, I see.” I smirked. Talking to Malfoy felt like being on that edge. He always managed to bring out those nasty bits in me that I worked on hiding from most people. The obsession. The anger. The desire for danger. The overwhelming urge to hurt someone. “Why are you even here?”
“I lost people in the war, too,” Malfoy snapped. His chest was rising and falling with a stained effort like he was working to not lunge at me and take me down in a tornado of punches.
Malfoy had been shown leniency after the war. I’d made sure of it. I spoke at his and his mother’s trial. I let his father rot, the prick. Everyone thought I was mad to speak on their behalf. I did it anyway because I liked that it was the opposite of what everyone expected me to do. He’d gotten off with probation and house arrest for one year. Same for his mother. Now he works at an Apothecary shop in Hogsmeade and freelances with the Ministry creating new potions.
“Do your adoring fans know all the bad, bad stuff you’ve been up to lately, Mr. Golden Boy?” Malfoy asked, his posh voice cutting through my revere. He stepped down off the last stair and smirked. “Nothings popped up in the Prophet yet, but there’s still time for them to see the real Harry Potter, the one who does bad things like beat a man so badly he’s in a coma.”
I felt my pulse quicken at his insinuation. I was already more interested in this conversation than any of the conversations I’d had today. This back and forth with Malfoy had always set my nerves on edge. Fighting with him had been a decent substitute to almost dying at the hands of Voldemort. At least Malfoy didn’t pretend I was perfect, or ask me to be because it fit the fantasy of Harry Potter that he grew up with. Around him, I didn’t have to hide like I did with my friends. Irony of all ironies.
I walked closer, stopping directly in front of him. He stood taller than me even without being a step up, so I had to crane my neck. “If they knew what I was really like, I doubt they would have a parade for me.” I’d meant it to sound defiant, but it sounded self-depreciating.
Malfoy quirked his lip up, clearly amused. “Shame. That Potter is exponentially more intriguing. I could tell them all for you. Though they would hardly believe an ex-Death Eater. No matter how well I managed to restore the Malfoy name, they will always see that first. Who I actually am doesn’t matter.”
Without thinking, I said, “I know the feeling.”
Malfoy considered me for a moment and rolled his eyes. “I guess—I guess you do.” It looked like it took effort for him to give me even that little bit of sympathy. “You stupid prick. Don’t make me feel bad for you.”
“How is the magical traces potion coming?” I asked, abruptly changing the subject. I was getting good at that.
Malfoy’s mouth hung open for a moment and then he snapped, “Are you really asking me about my work like we are friends?”
I shrugged. “Maybe.”
Malfoy bristled. “We are not friends Potter. Just because I was bored at the Ministry Fundraiser and let you suck me off in the coat room does not mean we are anything resembling friends.”
A smile spread across my face and even though I was only mostly sure we were alone, I sank to my knees in front of him. I looked up at him and tasted my pulse in my mouth. I wanted something to distract me from the day and since Neville wasn’t happening, Malfoy’s cock would do just fine.
Malfoy looked over his shoulder. When he was satisfied no one was around he took out his wand, cast a muffliato charm and a notice-me-not and leaned down. “We said it was a fluke, Potter. One time because we were drunk.”
“How about we make it two times then?”
“We aren’t drunk now.”
“So you’re still Harry Potter and whatever civility we’ve managed over the last few years doesn’t erase the rest of it. Sure, you’re attractive—don’t smirk at me, you know you’re attractive, but I can’t stand you. You’re arrogant and insufferable and a pain in the arse.”
I licked my lips. I’d never seen the bashful side of Malfoy. This was getting more and more interesting. “I'm still not hearing a reason why we can’t fool around.”
“This, you—this is…” Malfoy had his hands on his hips now. “This doesn’t mean anything.”
“It’s just a blow job, Malfoy. I’m not proposing marriage.”
“Merlin, you are impossible.” Malfoy rolled his eyes, but there was a fire in them. “Yes.”
I didn’t wait any longer to unzip his pants and found his cock was already half hard. I rubbed my hands up his thighs and kissed the outline of his erection in his pants. I heard him moan and pulled his cock out. It was filling and I wrapped my lips around it and let myself fall into a rhythm. The world melted away, all the responsibility of the day and the shit memories, until all that mattered was Malfoy’s cock in my mouth and his hands pulling my hair and his labored breaths.
I listened to his soft moans echo off the stone walls and slowed my rhythm, stopping at the tip to flick my tongue around the head. I felt his cock twitch and knew he was close, so I took him into my mouth all the way and let him fuck my mouth. His hands found purchase in my hair and he thrusted into me, his breath quickening and his legs tensing until he climaxed.
I stood up, licking the cum off my lips and smiled.
Malfoy zipped up his trousers and pulled out his pocket square to dab away the sweat beading on his brow. “Don’t say anything. You’ll ruin it. Go do your insipid speech. Everyone is waiting on you, oh Saviour of the Universe.”
I smiled again, mostly because I was satiated even though my erection pulsed hungrily in my pants. It was just a bonus that ever since after I sucked him off at the Ministry thing, smiling at Malfoy made him blush. “Bye, Malfoy.”
“Die in a hole, Potter,” Malfoy said in lieu of a goodbye.
I laughed and walked past him, leaving him in the dungeons alone.
The walk back to the Great Hall and the expectant crowd was easier now that I released some of the tension coiling in my gut. I’d been in a right mood ever since the hearing was announced. The news of the trial came two days before the Ministry fundraiser, so I had been deep in the drink and feeling restless. That night when I saw Malfoy leave during in the middle of the fifth speech about how amazing the Ministry was because they raised money for orphans or some other shit, I decided to follow him. At first because I fancied a fight, but when I caught up to him he was getting his coat and before I knew it we were pushing each other against walls and I was sinking to my knees. If Ron knew I hooked up with Malfoy, he would likely commit me to the Mental Ward at St. Mungo’s since our past had been nothing if not toxic and destructive. Not that he didn’t want to already simply for kicking the shit out the Ministry official. But add in Malfoy and he would be sure I was losing my mind. I wasn’t entirely sure if I didn’t belong in St. Mungo’s myself, but I needed someone who didn’t want anything from me except what I was willing to give and Malfoy fit that bill. Probably because he wanted the same thing—a release.
I had about two minutes to collect myself before Hermione was shoving me on a small stage in front of a sea of Hogwarts students, their families, people from Hogsmeade, and who knows how many other people came in from London.
I hadn’t been afraid of crowds until I started at Hogwarts. I couldn’t move anywhere in wizarding communities without people coming up to me, asking about my scar, wanting to touch me for luck, and a plethora of other ridiculous requests. It was worse now, after the battle. Now, I was an adult and apparently hot enough to warrant every inappropriate offer this side of the Atlantic.
I looked out at the crowd now and took a deep breath before casting a wandless Sonorus that elicited some oohs and ahhhs from the crowd. “Thank you everyone for coming out today. It is a sad day for many reasons. We lost loved ones here. We fought tirelessly and came out injured and a bit broken. However, this is also a happy day. It is the day we regained control. The day Voldemort was defeated.” There were gasps at Voldemort’s name, even now, years after his death. Fear was a hard thing to let go of. “I wanted to thank Hermione and the professors at Hogwarts for making sure this day, and the people who sacrificed themselves so we might all see safer times, were remembered properly. So without further adieu, Hermione Granger-Weasley.”
The crowd erupted in applause. She and Ron were nearly as famous as I was, and that was very famous. Their names were household names. Their profiles in Skeeter’s book called them heroes in their own right. It was the one part of her book I didn’t hate.
Ron was standing off to the side, sort of out of sight from the crowd in the makeshift backstage tent area. He watched Hermione on the stage with a smile on his face.
“Hey, mate, good speech,” he said as I approached.
“They love her.”
“What’s not to love?” Ron asked, but it wasn’t the kind of question I needed to answer so I didn’t.
As Hermione made her speech, I search the crowd and spotted Malfoy standing at the edge of the crowd talking to Headmistress McGonagall. They looked like old friends, whispering in each other's ears. I had to admit, it seemed odd that they would get along considering their history. After a moment, Malfoy spotted me watching him and blushed, turning beet red.
I breathed out a small laugh that caught Ron’s attention. Or at least part if it. His eyes were still fixed on Hermione who was boasting about unity or some other crap.
“What ya laughing at mate?” Ron asked.
“Nothing, did you meet the new Divination professor?” I was getting pretty good at changing the subject.
“Oh, Adeline Greyjoy? She's a wild one. Nuttier than Trelawney, but a better seer. Word is she used to be an Unspeakable, but no one can confirm or deny that one for obvious reasons.”
“She challenged Hermione a bit in the teacher’s lounge.”
That drew his attention away from the stage. “Oh, I’d love to have seen that. What did Hermione do?”
Ron burst out laughing. “She hates divination so much. Merlin, I love her but how can she be a muggle who found out about magic and not believe in divination? It’s almost too funny.”
“I wonder…” I started, but trailed off. Ron wasn’t listening anymore anyway and I wasn’t sure he’d like what I was thinking. If Greyjoy had been an Unspeakable, then maybe she could help me understand these magical surges a bit more. It was normal for underage wizards to have occasional burst of magic , but there were almost triple the amount of reports these last five months. It was odd at the least and suspicious at best. I was going to have to talk to her.
The rest of the day went off without a hitch. The crowd loved the memorial which ended up being a wall listing all the names of those who died and those who fought in the battle. There were etchings of wands around the edges that were charmed to move and casts spells from them. It was all very touching, at least, I knew it was supposed to be touching.
Honestly, it just made me feel like running and never looking back.
Chapter 3: Deceptions
Harry is numbing the memories the Battle Memorial brought up with alcohol when he gets an unexpected visitor who has information on the magical surges.
Four in the morning found me alone in my bedroom, drinking a bottle of fire whiskey. I had been pretending to sleep, or at least laying in my pajamas pretending that meant I would sleep. I had a book next to my bed for the eventuality that sleep would elude me yet again. Twenty minutes ago, I admitted defat and had it draped across my chest while I swallowed the dregs at the bottom of the bottle. It was a romance novel called The Wild Hunt written by Pansy Parkinson; Slytherin, Malfoy’s best mate, and all around general annoyance, of all people, and it was quite good. But I’d never freely admit that.
I liked her books because the heroine always got the happy ending I had been promised. The one where all was well and I married Ginny and moved on from the war just like Ron and Hermione did. Unrealistic though it was, in an odd way reading about it brought me comfort and comfort was so rare anymore. I took it when I found it, even if it came from the mind of a woman who used to ensure I had a shitty time in school.
Merlin, everything was so messed up. I was so messed up and I had been since that first fight against Quriell, I just didn’t know it then because I never had time to slow down. There was always another life or death situation waiting around the corner. Another mystery to throw myself into and no one questioned it, no one noticed every little bit of me I sacrifed because I was saving their lives. I was Harry Potter, Saviour of the Wizarding World and no one ever cared that that was killing me way before Voldemort ever actually did.
It was never my choice. That’s the part everyone forgets. I was raised to kill Voldemort. No one asked me if I was capable of it, or if I wanted to do it. Everything was planned, from where and how I was brought up, keeping me unaware of my magical abilities, to how I had to die in order to save everyone. It was just decided before I could even eat solid foods that I would face down the darkest wizard of my time all because he didn’t kill me properly the first time.
Sometimes, I wish I died in Godric’s Hollow that night. At least then, I would have been with my parents and whatever life I lived up until then would have actually been mine.
The thing that pissed me off the most when I let myself get drunk enough to think about all this shit was that it had felt right, like destiny, when I started out, that—that’s what makes me angriest looking back. That first year, I thought I was doing something brave, something noble by facing off Voldemort. That I was finally myself. That all the suffering and loneliness was an obstacle I had to overcome to get here, to become Harry Potter. I thought maybe I was special, or something. But even that battle was planned. Dumbledore, headmaster and all around conniving-dickbag who raised me up just so I could die, had made sure I knew about the Mirror of Erised, ensuring my victory before I even snuck past Fluffy. The conniving old codger. Everything else that came after was much the same. I was a puppet, a cog in a machine. Nothing I had then had been real. None of it was really mine. Not even my choices.
I couldn’t pretend that it all was for the best, that everything had all happened was worth it so we could save everyone. Not the way Ron and Hermione did, but it wasn’t for lack of trying. I told myself over and over that people were safe because of me and that mattered more than my feelings. That if I had to suffer so they could live, that was just fine by me. But Ron and Hermione hadn’t been lied to their whole entire lives. It was different for them after. They had parents who took care of them and identities that expanded beyond The Boy Who Lived. They could move on after the war. All I‘d been to them, to the whole of the wizarding world, was a chess piece. And now that I was living my life the way I wanted to, making choices I thought were best…
Well, no one seemed to like this Harry. Trouble was, I didn’t know if I liked this version of myself either, but I sure as hell won’t go back to being a shell for someone to fill up. If this plane is going down, I’m at least going down sitting in the pilot’s seat.
“Fuck,” I mumbled. The bottle was empty and I needed more if I was ever going to find solace in the pure oblivion that was passing out drunk.
I stumbled out of bed, the alcohol clouding my vision for a moment and made my way into the dark hallway. There was a creak behind me and the hairs on my neck stood up. I tried to steady myself on the wall.
“Someone is here.” It was Kreacher. He apparated in right behind me, the shit. I freed him ages ago, but he refused to leave. He said it gave him joy to serve the house, so I said he could stay. Now the fucker sneaks up on me all the time, snickering when he gets me to jump.
“It’s four in the morning,” I managed to say without slurring. “Who could possibly be here?”
Kreacher smirked. “A woman.” And with that he popped back out of the hallway and up to his room, the attic. I could hear him mumbling something and stomping around the room.
I turned my attention to the stairs and the light coming from my sitting room. Shit on a stick. Will this day never end?
I took a detour to my bathroom and threw open the cabinet. I was stocked up on Pepper-up Potions and hangover cures. I took one of each and waited while the magic washed over me. I felt my vision clearing up and I blinked slowly at my reflection which stared at me blankly. I could see the purple bags under my eyes, permanent fixtures as of late. That paired with the five o’clock shadow, and I looked a right mess. No wonder everyone was worried about me. Seeing this sight, I couldn’t blame them.
“Shut it,” I told my reflection and rubbed the rest of the grogginess from my eyes and headed back to the task of seeing who in the fuck could need to speak to me so badly that they came through at four in the morning.
The light coming from the sitting room was bright as if every candle in every sconce was lit. I knew it wasn’t Hermione or Ron because they would have just come up to my room, so whoever was here was not likely a friend.
I slid open the doors and was faced with none other than Rita Skeeter, journalist for the Daily Prophet and best-selling author of Heroes of Hogwarts.
“What the fuck,” I said as I entered the room. Without thinking, I used my magic to dim the candle light. Even with the potions working, the lights made me feel queasy. “Trying to bring a ship safely into harbor?”
“Sorry?” Skeeter said, her voice still as haughty as I remember it.
“The lights,” I said gesturing around the room. “Too bright.”
Skeeter looked around the sitting room and nodded. “Oh, that was your lovely house elf’s doing. He said you liked it unnaturally bright.”
I sighed. “Course he did.” I made my way across the room, grabbing the decanter of whiskey on my way to the couch and sprawled out across it. I didn’t drink the whiskey, but I knew I was going to need it at some point during this conversation. “Well, get after it then.”
Skeeter sat down on the ottoman, scooting it closer to me. She wore a lime green dress suit. Her blonde hair was pinned back like she was a 1950’s movie star and she wore cherry red lipstick. Her cat eye frames made her look ever the reporter. “Mr. Potter, I have something I would like to discuss with you.”
Rita Skeeter had been a bastard as long as I’d known her. She was the queen of twisting a story around. Nothing was safe around her, at least until Hermione trapped her in her animagus form. She’d lived a while as a beetle in a jar. It hadn’t completely changed her ways, but she knew to lay off us for a while. It pissed Hermione off when Skeeter’s book came out, so she had sent a letter with a picture of a beetle to jog her memory.
Of course, now she only printed fluff pieces about us. I even heard tale of her trying to squash some of the more gossipy articles about me. Not that it changed how I felt about her. She was still a bastard.
We sat in silence for a while. She watched me cautiously, eying the whiskey in my hand. I was getting bored, so I held it out to her and said, “Care for some whiskey?”
Skeeter bit her lip. “No, thank you.”
“So are we going to sit here till the sun comes up or are you going to tell me why you have come to my home at four in the morning? And on that note, how did you get the address anyway?”
“I have some information that I think you might want and I got your address from someone who’s been here.” She waived a hand as if it was no trouble locating my fidelus charm protected address.
I sat up straighter. “Yeah? Who?”
She looked around the room, uncomfortably. Her eyes settled on a portrait of Sirius I had done after the war. He was in his animagus form, curled up and wagging his tail. “A mutual friend.”
“I doubt we have mutual friends.”
“It was someone you…let’s say, it was someone you were involved with. I obliviated the information from her mind once I retrieved it. And I expect you will do the same to me once our meeting is finished.”
I looked directly at her for a moment. Her eyes were a striking green, not unlike my own. She stared back, unwavering. “Are you admitting to illegally obliviating someone to an auror?”
A smile crept across her face, showing her wrinkles. She sat forward a bit, her dress suit rustling against the fabric of the ottoman. “You really should be more careful who you bring home in future.”
“I’ll take it under advisement,” I snapped. She had some serious knuts. “Can you just spit it out already? Why are you here?”
“Well, it’s about the magical surges. Something I believe you have an interest in, if the papers are to be believed.”
I sat up all the way now and set the decanter down on the end table. She had my full attention. “What about them?”
“You’ve been looking into them.”
“You think there is something causing them. Something outside of the normal underage magic issues.”
“How do you know that?”
“I have a source,” she said, her lip quirking into a half-smile. Yep, still a bastard.
“And what else has your source told you about me?”
“That you are on desk duty for nearly killing Daniel J. Riley.” When she saw my expression, which I am sure was not polite, she added, “I’m not telling anyone that. If I was, I would have published it by now.”
“Fair enough,” I said because it was true and if I let on how much I didn’t want it in the papers then maybe she would try and use it against me. I wouldn’t give her any ammo to use against me.
“I have a bit of a lead.”
I watched her for any hint that she was fucking with me, but she looked perfectly serious. “What kind of lead?”
“The kind that tells me it’s more than just kids having magical surges. More than the surges themselves, even. A few graves have been vandalized. Some bones removed from coffins all corresponding with the dates of magical surges.” She stopped for a moment and let it sink in. “I can see from your face, you knew nothing about these other reports.”
“How do I know what you’re saying is true?”
“You don’t, but I expect you can see the truth in what I am saying anyway. You know the Ministry covers things up. The Unspeakables operate outside of the law, always have. What’s stopping them from covering things up to keep the public from panicking about magical surges?”
I gritted my teeth. “Nothing.” She was right and it pissed me off. I never trusted the Unspeakables. The fact that they didn’t have to get Ministry approval for their operations or disclose information to the DMLE always sat wrong with me. “Tell me.”
Skeeter smiled. “There have been reports in Hogsmeade about adults with full control over their magic suddenly exploding bottles and windows. Seemingly out of nowhere. One even manifested a black cloud that looked dangerously like an Obscurus.”
“In an adult?” That couldn’t be true. Obscurials were always kids. Always.
“Yes, in an adult. The caretaker for the cemetery at Hogsmeade. Jared Randall. It wasn’t reported on because the Unspeakables treated him. Didn’t even bring him to St. Mungo’s. Tried to obliviated him after.”
“They didn’t know everything, so they didn’t know what to erase. He apparently had another smaller incident earlier that week. They didn’t take that memory from him and after that, all it took was some serious spell work and a legilimens to restore the ones they managed to obliviate.”
I felt my gut tighten. Of course the Ministry was covering more stuff up, I shouldn’t be surprised when they did the same thing when I told them Voldemort was back. “Run this by me one more time. There are magical surges happening to adults in Hogsmeade and graves being robbed?”
Skeeter nodded. “Your Ministry is covering up the magical surges and I want to know why. Don’t you?”
“Say that I do.”
“Say that whatever you find out, I get to report on exclusively once everyone is safe of course.”
“You’re a bastard, you know that?”
She laughed. “I am what I am, Mr. Potter. I accepted myself long ago. You’ll recall, I had quiet a lot of time for self-reflection.” Of course she was referring to her time trapped as a beetle in a jar.
Skeeter really was something else. Her eyes looked hungry and that worried me, but more than that, I needed to prove that the surges were a problem. If the Ministry wasn’t going to keep people safe, I would.
“So we can work together then?” Skeeter asked.
“I didn’t say that.”
Again a wicked smile spread across her face. “I will get the story one way or the other. At least this way, you also get to save lives. Isn’t that sort of your thing, Mr. Potter?”
I nodded. “You could say that.”
“So, we are agreed then? You and I will share what we gather. I, to help you solve the case and regain some of your tattered reputation and you, to help me get yet another best-selling book.”
“Who said I wanted to repair my reputation?”
Skeeter tilted her head to one side and looked at me the way an owner looks at a puppy who isn’t house trained yet. With a mixture of pity and superiority. “I think we both know you don’t enjoy being like that.” She gestured at my entire person. “The meaningless sex, the drinking, the fighting. It’s a call for help really.”
“You’re on thin ice.” It took everything I had not to hit her with a hex and kick her through the floo.
Skeeter held her hands up innocently. “My apologies, but I think we both know you’re not actually content like this.”
“You don’t know me, Skeeter.”
“I know what it looks like when someone is trying to implode their life. I’ve been on that particular edge myself.”
I was feeling petulant and way too exposed. I couldn’t meet her eyes and I didn’t want to acknowledge that some part of what she said was true. “Shame you didn’t fall off.”
She was frowning at me when I finally looked at her. “Maybe. Either way, I am still here and I want to report this story. It’s the biggest one since Voldemort and I want it.”
I sighed. “Is that all that motivates you? Fame?”
She laughed. “Maybe. I thought saving lives was all that motivated you. At least it used to, but maybe your priorities shifted into brutal assaults and self-destruction? If that’s all you care about, I could be barking up the wrong tree.”
I felt anger like a white hot iron poker in my gut. I may have gotten a little lost since the war, but nothing mattered more to me than putting bad guys where they belonged. Justice mattered. People’s live’s mattered. And the Ministry was slowly becoming the bad guy and I wasn’t letting them get away with it. Not after I died to save them.
I was ready to kick her out but then she said, “You know, if the Ministry and Unspeakables are covering this up, there’s no telling how much else they have lied about. Isn’t it time they were held accountable for their actions?”
She made it a question, so I answered. “Yes.”
In the five years since the war, all the promised changes like harsher punishments for muggle hate crimes, or more humane conditions at Azkaban had been pushed aside or forgotten. The only edict that even saw the light of day was the secrecy statues and that was nearly dead now thanks to me.
All sorts of promises were broken and the Ministry operated the same as it had before Voldemort. Nothing was different and people like Daniel J. Riley still worked above the law. I wasn’t going to let that happen anymore.
Skeeter extended her long boney hand and I took it, hoping I wasn’t making a deal with the devil.
Chapter 4: Bonds
After learning about the leaders Skeeter had, Harry wants to jump right on the case...but life gets in the way again when Hermione calls and reminds him of a party he needs to attend.
I got to see the sun rise thanks to Skeeter’s after hours drop in. Yay for me, except…I hate sunrises. They mean I had another sleepless night and they happen all together too often for my liking. The only good thing was Grimmauld Place looked different in the sunrise light. The oranges and deep pinks shining in through the sheer yellow curtains in my kitchen made the room feel less oppressive. It made the whole house seem less grim, like an actual home and not the coffin of memories it felt like. In the dawn, I could almost admit to myself that I needed help, that maybe I wanted it too. Almost. And that annoyed me. The house looked cheerful with the sunlight dancing across the walls in beams and prisms. The old furniture looked dignified instead of antiquated. The deep blue wall paper seemed bright instead of gloomy.
As I stared out the kitchen window into the back garden, I felt something calcify in my gut. I felt the way I had first year. Like I was doing the right thing and it didn’t matter who agreed. I knew I needed to find out if those surges were being caused by something more insidious than puberty. I needed to know more about the adult incidents. I needed to keep people safe.
I poured myself a cup of coffee and turned my back to the sunlit window. The mug was warm in my hands and the sun was warm on my back. Exhaustion tugged at my eyes and I indulged for a moment, shutting them. A minute later, the floo rang.
I stayed there a moment longer, letting the sun warm me before I headed to the sitting room to answer the call. Part of me wanted to ignore it. Nothing good comes from a fire call at 6:30 in the morning. The face in the fireplace smiled up at me, but it didn’t register who it was at first. “Hello?”
“Harry, did I wake you?”
It was Hermione and she sounded chipper. I really hated people who could be chipper this early in the morning. “No, no. I was up,” I grumbled, blinking the sleep from my eyes. I’d had barely seven hours of sleep in the past forty-eight hours and I wanted to kill Hermione for sounding well rested. If I didn’t get some sleep soon, I might actually act on those impulses.
“I didn’t expect you to answer. I thought I’d call and leave a message with Kreacher.” She said it like I should be thankful that she hadn’t intended to wake me up. She had a contingency plan that rested on the shoulders of my impossibly grumpy house elf who almost never gave me my messages.
“Well, you got me.” I tried to sound pleasant, or at least not unpleasant. I think I ended up closer to sounding unpleasant. Sleep deprivation will do that to you. So will hangovers.
“Oh, well, right. This afternoon is Dean and Seamus’s garden party. For their housewarming.”
I sipped my coffee slowly, letting what she was saying sink in. I was having a hard time focusing on anything but what Skeeter had said. I don’t think well when I’m tired. The pepper-up only lasted so long before exhaustion took the driver’s seat again. Dean and Seamus had been married a few months ago and recently bought a house. Neville had helped them fix up their garden which was likely the reason for the garden party, but for the life of me I couldn’t remember the invitation. “Right, of course it is.” I was sounding nastier by the minute and she sensed it. “I mean, I’m sorry. I was up all night. I feel like the walking dead right now.”
“Harry, you really should have your insomnia looked at. It’s unhealthy and coupled with your drinking habits…”
I coughed loudly so she would stop. “Yes, mom, I know.”
“Sorry, Harry. It’s automatic, you know that. I just worry. I’m not surprised the party slipped your mind. The invites went out around the time you got the news of your hearing.”
I nodded. The memory was coming back to me, just barely. “Shite, I think I remember. Was I supposed to get a gift?”
“Don’t worry about that. I bought an extra one and you can put your name on it.”
The last thing I wanted to do today was mingle at a garden party and pretend that everything was a-okay, but it was Dean and Seamus. “Do I need to dress up?”
“Well, it is sort of a fancy affair, but I’m sure dark pants and a clean shirt will do. I should have reminded you yesterday, but I was swamped with the memorial service stuff. I nearly forgot myself. Ron did.”
That I believed. Hermione got tunnel vision like me. When she was focused on a task, that was the only thing that existed. “Okay, so look presentable. I can manage that.”
“And you don’t have to stay that long, especially if you’re tired, Harry. You should really try to sleep.”
I rubbed my eyes with the back of my hand, pushing my glasses up. The whole thing seemed tedious to me with the magical surges and maybe if I was talking to anyone else, I would have said so, but Hermione wouldn’t let me off that easy. “I’ll catch a nap before the party. What time should I come through? I assume we will head over together.”
“Yes, of course. Come through at eleven. We will head to Hogsmeade by portkey from the Ministry around noon.”
My interest was piqued at the mention of Hogsmeade. That’s where the adult surges and grave vandalizations happened. Maybe I could slip away and look into it. “Hogsmeade, right. I forgot they moved there.”
“Brilliant, Harry. Do you need a wake up call?”
I smiled. “No, I’ll manage.”
“Yes.” I was starting to fall asleep standing there waiting for the conversation to end.
“Ginny will be there. She’s back from America and she’s bringing a date. I just wanted to give you a heads up.”
“It’s been four years, Hermione. Ginny and I are fine. We hashed things out ages ago.”
“Of course. I just didn’t know if the date would…”
“Set me off?”
There was silence on Hermione’s end. I watched her face in the embers. She seemed to be frowning, but you could never really tell with a fire-call.
“Am I really so bad?” I asked, only half sure I wanted an answer.
Another long pause. “No, Harry. I just worry about you. I worry you never properly dealt with things and when you get upset, you drink.”
I nodded. “I won’t drink today, how about that?”
Hermione smiled, I think. Like I said, it’s hard to tell with fire-calls. “See you in a bit, Harry.”
The call went dead and the fireplace went back to being a fireplace. I turned and debated going upstairs to my bed to sleep, but eventually I settled on the couch under Sirius’ portrait. I curled up and placed my half drank mug of coffee on the floor near the couch. Dean and Seamus’s wedding had been fun, that boded well for the garden party. Though I’d drank at the wedding, so maybe that had something to do with it. That thought was frightening. Maybe I did drink too often.
Sleep settled in over me and I let it drag me away. I had the strangest dreams while I slept. Sleeping draught always did that which is why I rarely take them. Too much like the dreams I had when Voldemort was alive. Somehow even without the draught, I had those odd, fragmented dreams. These were all about this huge stone, oozing black sludge. There was a man hunched over in front of it sobbing, but I couldn’t reach him.
Chapter 5: Tensions
Harry meets up with Hermione and Ron so they can all head to the party at Dean and Seamus’s house in Hogsmeade. Harry isn’t too thrilled but thinks that it will give him a good chance to follow up on Skeeter’s lead about magical surges.
Hermione was wearing a tight navy blue dress that was off the shoulder. Her hair was in a complicated looking updo. Ron was wearing gray pants and a soft blue button up. They looked like they were heading out on a fancy date and it made me feel like an interloper. It was not a promising start to the day, but I was on time and I was sober.
The gifts were under Ron’s arms, both wrapped in an off white paper with blue bows. That paired with their outfits should have told me just what kind of party I was heading to, but I couldn’t focus on much of anything except how I could slip away unnoticed to go and speak with the caretaker.
I was wearing my cleanest pair of jeans with a gray t-shirt that had three buttons at the collar. I left them undone, glad that I decided on the cotton shirt instead of the button up. The heat was unbearable today. An unusually hot May day according to the papers. The papers also boasted that there hadn’t been any magical surges in over a week, so maybe Harry Potter was buckling under the pressure of being everyone's Golden Boy. There are reasons why I don’t like the papers and that's one of them.
Like I promised, I didn’t bring any alcohol with me, even though the temptation was there and every part of me felt too awake without it. After moving into Grimmauld Place once school was over, I used alcohol for almost everything. Sad? Drink. Mad? Drink. Lonely? Drink. Anxious about being around people? Drink. Drink. Drink. In fact, I couldn’t remember the last time I wasn’t looking at the world through the haze of alcohol or a hangover.
“You look good, mate. Rested,” Ron said. He handed me one of the gift boxes. The smaller one.
“That’s probably the all the rest,” I said with a smile. I didn’t feel rested. I felt depleted like a used up battery. I placed the present under my arm, mirroring Ron.
He smiled at me and then nudged Hermione. “He’s making jokes. Who is this man?”
Ron gave me a curious look. I gave them a big ‘the prophet is here to take pictures’ smile. Hermione smiled back. Ron laughed.
We headed through the floo to the Ministry lobby. The portkey station was on the ground floor past the main atrium. Hermione headed toward them, ignoring the front desk witch who waved at us. That was odd. Hermione usually said hello to her.
“What's that about?” I whispered to Ron as we fell into step behind Hermione who walked with determination past the large water fountain that replaced the statue that fell during the war with Voldemort.
“Odette apparently leaked the story to the paper about you and Shacklebolt fighting.”
I looked back at Odette who was frowning down at her desk. “Really?”
She was a quiet witch as far as I knew. Not that I spoke to her much. She was one of the many Harry Potter fans who beamed at me regularly when I came through training. Always asking me out. I tended to avoid those people as best I could. They only liked the celebrity of me, not the actuality of me.
Ron sighed. “She was tricked by her boyfriend to give the information to the reporter.”
Hermione snorted from ahead of us. It was clear she could hear our conversation but had nothing to add to it except her contempt.
“Who’s the boyfriend?” I asked.
“Guess.” Ron’s voice reminded me of McGonagall’s when she caught us out after curfew in school and said, ‘of course it’s you three’ like she wasn’t surprised.
I shook my head. “Lamont.”
Ron nodded. “Hermione says she doesn’t care if Odette was tricked. It’s still unprofessional to gossip about coworkers to the papers. Especially about the Minister for Magic.”
“Well, she’s right,” I said. That earned me a smug hrumph from Hermione that seemed to tell me Ron didn’t agree with her.
“I thought you didn’t care about the articles.” Ron shot me an accusatory glance.
“I don’t,” I said but Ron didn’t look convinced.
Ron and Hermione were such different people, sometimes I wondered how they made it work. Ron always saw the best in people. Hermione saw the flaws in them. She was unforgiving and sturdy as a mountain in her beliefs. Ron was accepting and flexible. It really shouldn’t work, but it did. I knew it went deeper than shared trauma because if that was all it took, Ginny and I would have found a way back to each other after the war.
The line in the portkey station was long. It seemed a lot of people were heading out of the city today. We were tucked in line between some family whose kids wouldn't stop staring and pointing at us and an elderly couple who didn’t seem to care who we were. The ropes separating the lines were purple velvet wit gold accents. The sign over the line we were in flashed Hogsmeade Station in bright gold letters.
“These lines are terrible,” Hermione started. “I told Shacklebolt we needed to work on streamlining portkey travel.”
Ron turned to me and smirked. Clearly they had this conversation often. “It’s one of the many things I am sure you will remedy once you are appointed Advisor to the Minister.”
Hermione spun to face us. “You bet your arse.” There was a fierceness in her eyes that reminded me of second year when she convinced us that polyjuice potions were not too advanced for her. Although finding the proper hair had been. I smiled at the memory.
The line moved up slowly. I switched the present to my other arm and hoisted it back into place. “Did they say how many people were coming?”
“No, Harry,” Hermione answered. “I’m sorry. I know you hate crowds.”
Hate didn’t even being to cover it, but it was a start. Crowds made me feel on edge, sure. The claustrophobia, the pressure to be something. Normally I can push it away, usually with the help of alcohol. But more than that, it was all the staring that came with crowds. The watching.
When I first found out who I was that day in Diagon Alley, I thought how nice it was to finally have some attention after the Dursley’s and the small scraps they tossed at me. I’d liked it. Hogwarts was a different story though. I couldn’t even shower without someone coming in to spy on me. To see The Boy Who Lived. No where except my dorm was safe from prying eyes. It grew worse the older I got. Some of the attention was sexual and that made me uncomfortable, but it went deeper than that. It was the eyes. They followed me, always watching. I couldn’t exist without someone looking at me. The worst part was when I realized Voldemort could see me—see through my own eyes. Even alone I was being watched. After that, any attention I got completely soured and all it did was make me taste bile.
People followed me, and I could hear them whispering about how I was shorter than they expected or that I didn’t look tough enough to beat Voldemort. They felt like they had a right to me. A right to discuss everything about me. A right to my body. To my mind. To my life. I can still feel his eyes in my own, watching me in the mirror when I brushed my teeth, combed my hair, shaved. He was in there, watching me. Always.
Ron lowered his voice and touched my forearm gently. “Harry, are you okay?”
I snapped my eyes up to meet his. I felt my pulse in my throat. Ron looked white as a sheet. “I’m fine. Why?”
He looked over at Hermione who also looked like she just saw a ghost for the first time. “You, uh, your face went sort of green then white. I thought you were going to pass out.”
I looked down at my hands and saw them shaking. Sweat beaded at my hair line and I felt a droplet slide down my temple. “I was thinking. Sorry.”
“Thinking about what?” Hermione asked.
I couldn’t make myself say the words. My head was pounding and I felt my magic thrumming under my skin, itching to go somewhere. It felt erratic like it used to when I was still learning control. I tried to breathe through it.
When I didn’t answer, Hermione said, “You’re thinking of Voldemort aren’t you?”
The elderly couple in front of us turned at the mention of his name and the woman shushed us. The man shook his head in disappointment. Hermione gave them a nasty look and they turned back around.
“It’s okay. I think about him sometimes, too. It comes out of nowhere. I’ll be making coffee in the kitchen and hear Ron slam a book shut and suddenly I’m thinking about the basement at Malfoy Manor.”
I took in a shakey breath, but felt a bit better when Ron placed a hand on my back and started to rub back and forth. I cleared my throat and looked around the station. No one seemed to be looking at me which was a small kind of victory. The last thing I needed was an article in the paper about how I had a breakdown in the Ministry.
“I wish you would talk about it, Harry. If not to us, to someone. You’ve spent the last five years holding it in,” Hermione said. “It might have been fine at first to block it out, but that’s not sustainable. Ron and I both go to mind healers.”
I wanted to talk about it, but I couldn’t make myself say the words. I worried that admitting the memory Voldemort still haunted me made me weak. I couldn’t afford to be weak. Not now, not ever. Especially not with people in danger. The magical surges could be nothing. Sure. I could be wrong. But my gut told me there was more to them than we knew. If that were true, then I needed to be strong because the world might need me one more time.
“Next,” the portkey administrator called. The elderly couple ahead of us moved and took hold of an old book and blinked out of existence.
I took another deep breath and felt more in control. “We’ll talk later.” I lied. It was shitty, but I couldn’t take the pity in Hermione’s eyes any longer. She smiled softly, either believing me or deciding not to push it more.
“Next,” the portkey administrator said and we three walked up and took hold of a tarnished silver candelabra.
One of the many reasons I hate portkeys is the feeling. It’s like your insides are being yanked by an invisible hook. Like your physical body hasn’t moved, but your soul or whatever has been dragged all over and then slammed back into your body with the force of a bludger.
When I came to, we were just outside of Hogsmeade. It would be a five minute walk to Seamus and Dean’s cottage which according to Ron sat just on the edge of the village and the Forbidden Forest.
Hermione took off at a brisk pace. She checked her watch. “That took ten minutes longer than it should have. We could have floo’d here faster. Damn them for not setting their floo up. So inconvenient.”
She was right of course, but Seamus and Dean hadn’t set their floo system up yet. They both worked in Hogsmeade; Dean for George, Ron’s brother, at the new Weasley Wizard Wheeze’s location and Seamus at his own Quidditch shop, so they rarely had use for it with everything in walking distance.
At the center of town, Hermione took a sharp left down a cobblestone road and headed to the house at the end of the street. The forest looked lush and green behind the house. It was a small cottage made of gray stone with a dark oak door cut to have a circular top. The front yard was perfectly green with wild growing flowers lining the yard and a few stone statues of mystical creatures in the middle of the flower beds. One a siren sitting on a rock ledge with her mouth hanging open in song and the other a centaur holding a bow and arrow taut as if it were aiming at some unseen foe.
The walkway was also cobblestone with small bright yellow flowers bordering it. We followed it to the wooden door and even on the threshold, I could hear the sounds of conversation that indicated a large group of people in a small space.
The door swung in, revealing Dean who stood tall in the doorway. He was smiling, beaming actually. He couldn’t have known we were there unless they had some kind of charm on the walkway, but I didn’t sense any magic. I could smell alcohol on his breath and noticed a bit of a flush in his cheeks. He looked like he might have started drinking before the party.
“The place looks wonderful,” Ron said.
He grinned. “You haven’t even seen the best part yet.” He moved to the side and ushered us inside. “Everyone is out back in the garden.”
The house was bright and open. The kitchen and living room looked connected and there was evidence of them everywhere. Portraits were hanging over the mantel. One of all the boys from our dorm. Me, Ron, Neville, Dean and Seamus, who had been secretly dating on and off the whole time we were at school. A book lay open on the end table with a book mark placed between the pages. A blanket was haphazardly tossed over the back of the couch. There were dishes drying in the rack next to the sink and a few trays of food on the counter, covered in foil. It looked like a home.
Dean pulled Ron by the arm and ushered him to the outside area where I could see everyone standing near a long white table with food and drinks. There was another table to the right with all the housewarming gifts. Ron placed his on the pile and followed Dean to the small group.
Hermione and I were about to follow when a familiar posh voice came from behind us. “Potter, Hermione, nice to see you.”
It was Malfoy, of course. He and Seamus were friends now thanks to their shops being side by side in Hogsmeade. I forgot and hadn’t counted on seeing him here. Add that to the list of things I couldn’t possibly deal with today.
He looked good as always, which grew easier to admit after our recent encounters. His pale blonde hair was styled back like usual, but with less product, he looked less intentional about it. Like he’d woken up, ran his hands though his hair and walked out. He wore a sheer white button up with a blue-gray shirt underneath that made his eyes look like stormy waters. The shirt hung open a bit at the top, revealing a touch of his lean pale skin. He looked relaxed and formal all at the same time. I wanted to shove him against a wall to release some of the tension I felt mounting after my anxiety attack in the Ministry. Though I wasn’t sure if I wanted to punch him for always showing up when I felt like shit or kiss him until I couldn’t think anymore. Either would suffice really.
“How is the potion working?” Malfoy asked Hermione.
“So far so good,” she answered. Her face perked up. She was clearly interested in this line of conversation. “How you managed to replicate the tracing spells but with a potion that lasts longer and is nearly unnoticeable is astounding. You’ll let me see your notes someday, won’t you?”
“You can come by the shop next week and take a look,” Malfoy said. He smiled politely and I almost believed they were always friendly. If you didn’t know their past, you’d say they’d always gotten along.
I vaguely knew what potion they were talking about. Hermione mentioned it once before. Malfoy freelanced with the Ministry, working on new potions for them. His most recent invention was a magical traces potion that was more consistent and lasted longer than the spells. It also lit the traces up for easier, more discrete tracking. I’m sure once it was out of the testing phase, the DMLE would begin using it.
“Next week is good. I’ll owl with my schedule and we can set something up, yeah?” The excitement in her voice was apparent.
“Sounds like a plan,” Malfoy agreed. He nodded and then walked past us and out into the garden.
I watched him walk away, my eyes taking in the subtle sway of his hips and the tight curve of his arse. He looked back over his shoulder at me. His lips parted slightly and it was obscene how badly I wanted those lips to part around my own.
Hermione sighed at my side. She was looking out at the small gathering of our friends, eyes wide. I touched her arm with my free hand, and she placed her hand over mine. I whispered to her. “Do you happen to hate crowds, too?”
She nodded. There was a hint of anxiety there that I wouldn’t have usually noticed. I assumed Hermione was never affected by this stuff. She sure as hell never let on that she was—or at least, I never noticed if she had. I could probably thank the alcohol for that one.
“Why didn’t I know?” I asked, already knowing the answer.
“You don’t really pay attention much, Harry.” She looked like it hurt her to say the words. “I don’t like to burden you. It was worse for you.”
I brought Hermione’s hand up between us and squeezed. “I’m sorry.” I wasn’t sure if I was apologizing for bringing it up, for never noticing her pain, for accusing her and Ron of moving on without me all the time. Maybe I was apologizing for it all. Merlin knows I had plenty to own up to.
She moved in closer to me, linking our arms and then huffed. I looked down at her and saw on her forearm the fading mudblood scar there. It wasn’t completely legible anymore, but I knew what it said. So did she. She smiled up at me.“Together then?”
Chapter 6: Distractions
At Dean and Seamus’s party, Harry gets distracted from his mission to sneak off and check on his lead about the magical surges by his desire for Malfoy.
Outside in the garden I could see nearly every good friend I ever had standing in small clumps, drinking from champagne flutes and laughing or smiling. It took everything in me not to run the second I stepped out of the house, arm linked with Hermione. There was a layer of pleasantness blanketing the affair. That sort of afterglow feeling you get when you fall asleep outside in the summer and wake up with your eyes bleary and the sun warming your face. A soft comfort that threatened to dissipate the second you opened your eyes too wide. The garden was in full bloom. Fragrent flowers mingled with the smell of the food. Laughter flooded my senses. “You ready to get your mingle on?” Hermione asked with a soft chuckle.
Her face was a mask of happiness suddenly. There was no hint that she was uncomfortable. I envied her ability to do that. I was sure I looked about as happy as someone off to the gallows.
“Harry, Hermione, get over here,” an excited voice came from the small group near the food table. It was Seamus who looked almost as happy as Dean had when he answered the door. Martial bliss, I guess.
Maybe it was the clear head, but I almost felt glad to be there when Seamus called out to me. It felt he was happy to see me. I hadn’t felt like someone was happy to see me in ages. I grew up believing I was a nuisance. The Dursley’s saw to that. And it didn’t disappear as I got older. The setting changed, but there was usually someone who found me bothersome. Even now, Robards made it clear my prescience irritated him. He thought I got through the auror training just on name alone. Most of my coworkers were the same. I even felt like a burden to my friends since most moved on after the war. They were happy and getting married like Ron and Hermione or Dean and Seamus while I seemed stuck in the past. I feared that everyone was bothered by me, so I stoped accepting as many invitations and tended to spend time with strangers and that was only for one thing. I thought I was doing them all a favor by making it so they didn’t have to deal with me, but maybe I was wrong to do that.
“Merlin, it’s good to see you,” Seamus said slapping my shoulder. “It’s been ages. I don’t think you’ve come ‘round since the wedding. And before that it was months since we saw you. How’ve you been?”
I nodded and placed the gift on the table next to the one Ron put down a moment ago. “Work’s been busy. Lots of papers to file.” I added on a sheepish smile so everyone knew it was okay to laugh. My desk duty wasn’t a secret. The reason for it was, but it was common knowledge that I’d been on desk duty for a while.
Everyone laughed, if not genuinely, politely. Standing with Seamus was Malfoy, who looked even more tempting in the soft summer sunlight; Luna Lovegood, who smiled dreamily at me; and Charlie Weasley, who was back from Romania substituting for Hagrid as Care of Magical Creatures professor while he was off doing research. It had been a long time since I’d seen any of them.
“The Ministry works you all too hard,” Charlie said. He was a ruggedly handsome man. His face blanked with freckles like constellations in the night sky. His red hair pulled back in three braids that reminded me of the kind Vikings used to wear. Everything about him screamed outdoorsman. “You guys need more breaks.”
“I like the work,” Hermione said. “I find it rewarding and challenging.”
“Sure, you might, but I bet Harry is bored out his mind doing all the paperwork, eh?” Seamus asked, nudging Charlie who smirked.
“A bit,” I said truthfully. It was more than that, but they didn’t need to know all my issues with the Ministry. Not until I could prove they were hiding something big again. I got enough concerned looks from Hermione and Ron.
“I like paperwork,” Luna chimed in thoughtfully. Her hair was almost as white-blonde as Malfoy’s. I’d often wondered if they were related. “It’s nice to get all tidy, don’t you think?”
“Agreed,” both Hermione and Malfoy answered. They smiled at the coincidence.
“It’s eerie that you two get along so well,” Seamus teased.
Malfoy laughed, throwing his head back to expose the long pale expanse of his neck. “Of course we get along. Hermione likes books. She is the most palatable of all you Gryffindor brutes by far.”
“What’s that about Gryffindor brutes?” Ron called from the other small group which consisted of Dean and George. They were parked near the food table, all with tiny white plates full of finger foods held up to their mouths.
“Just that Hermione is the best of us,” I called back. My eyes met Malfoy’s as I spoke. He smirked at me. It was brief, gone from his face in one breath. It felt like it was only for me.
Ron laughed. “He’s right.”
“I resent that,” Dean added.
“You’re my favorite Gryffindor, darling,” Seamus said with a wink. That seemed to please Dean because he was beaming again and heading over to our group. When he arrived, he wrapped his arm around Seamus’s waist and pulled him in for a soft kiss. Just lips brushing lips.
Watching them, I felt a sort of emptiness tug at my gut like the feeling of free-falling on a broom before swiping back up. I swallowed hard. I wasn’t sure exactly why I felt a sudden urge to cry, but I felt overcome with emotion and not for the last time wished I hadn’t promised Hermione that I’d stay sober.
“Hey, where’s Neville?” I asked just to have something to say. Something else to focus on beside Dean and Seamus smiling dreamily at one another.
Charlie pointed to the back of the garden. “He got here a few minutes before you guys and immediately said he wanted to check on some plants they rooted last week.”
Without looking away from Seamus, Dean added, “He’s a perfectionist. He checks on those plants nearly every day.”
“I think I’ll go say hi to him,” I said. Hermione gave me a worried look, but I smiled at her and that seemed to relax her.
I walked past Ron and George who were still stuffing their faces with small sandwiches. They both waved to me.
In the back of Dean and Seamus’s yard, behind some more mystical creature statues that almost functioned like a wall, there was a miniature hedge maze. The hedges came up to my chest so you couldn’t get lost in there unless you were a small child. I spotted Neville at the back of the maze bending over the hedge with clippers in his hands. I needed to go through the maze to get to him and even though I knew I wouldn’t get lost, all I could think about was fourth year and that maze and Cedric. It took me a full minute to force one foot in front of the other.
“Hello, Mr. Green thumb,” I said when I was right behind him.
Neville spun around. He seemed startled. The clippers in his hands almost caught the side of my face as he steadied himself. “Blimey, Harry. I could have taken an eye out.”
I looked at the clippers and they were long and sharp. Instinctively I touched the side of my face where it almost got me. “Sorry, mate.”
Neville nodded and placed the clippers on the top of the hedge. There were dirt spots on his face and a layer of sweat glistening on his skin. His white button up shirt was untucked and had small patches of sweat at the chest and around the collar. I found his eyes mirrored my own. There were deep purple bags there. I hadn’t noticed them the other day at the memorial, but that kind of exhaustion doesn’t pop up after one night’s sleeplessness.
“I heard this was supposed to be a party,” I teased. “Why are you back here trimming hedges?”
“I just wanted, uh,” Neville looked over his shoulder and I followed his gaze to the tree line of the Forbidden Forest behind us. He quickly looked back at me and finished. “I wanted to check on the hedges and then I got distracted making sure they were all uniform.”
I looked around the hedge maze. They all looked exactly the same height and width. “It all looks great, Nev. The place is like a mystical garden from a storybook.”
He breathed out a laugh. “Thanks, Harry.” He brushed off the dirt on his hands by wiping them down the front of his trousers. “What are you doing back here anyway?”
“Avoiding small talk,” I joked. Well, half joked. Neville smiled at that and shook his head. “Also wanted to come say hi.”
“Well, hello then,” Neville said. He kept looking over his shoulder at the forest like he was waiting for something to happen, but when he caught me watching him, he stopped. “I’ll come back up with you. I think I need some refreshments. Yeah?”
I nodded and we both started working our way back through the maze. There was a clear enough path through, so we didn’t have to do much more than follow back the way I came in.
When we arrived back at the front of the yard, more people had shuffled in and stood in small clumps around the tables. Some of them I recognized from school, some from the Ministry, but there were more people that I didn’t recognize.
My stomach tightened. The instinct to run hitting me harder now than before. I searched the growing crowd for Hermione. She was next to Ron talking to some tall man I didn’t recognize. They looked like they were enjoying the conversation.
At my side Neville snorted. “Huh, how long was I back there? When I got here there were only like five people.”
“They must have all come in after I came to say hi to you,” I answered.
Neville raised his eyebrows. “Sheesh, they are loved aren't they?” He looked around at the crowd. “I doubt I know this many people, let alone that they all like me enough to show up to a party like this.”
I turned to face Neville and saw a little bit of my own feelings reflecting back at me though his eyes. He’d tried to make it a joke, but I could sense the undercurrent of sadness. “Nev, you’re insane if you don’t think this many people love you. You’re one of the best people I know.”
A small smile spread across his face. “Thanks, Harry.” He took one more look at the crowd and then looked down at his clothes and sighed. “I’m going in to clean up a bit. I’ll see you in a bit.”
I nodded in response and he headed toward the house, leaving me on my own. My only advantage was that no one had noticed me yet. If I was going to sneak away from this party to check out Skeeter’s lead at the cemetery, I’d have to go now. I decided to head back toward the maze and the forest. It would be easy enough to hop the hedge and follow the tree-line to the cemetery. We were a three minutes walk from it.
I turned to walk back to the maze and didn’t get further than a few steps before that drawling voice flooded my ears. “And just where are you off to?”
I had been so wrapped up in my escape plan that I hadn’t seen Malfoy heading to me. He was standing a few feet away from me with a champagne flute held delicately in one hand. There was a sheen of sweat on his forehead but it didn’t make him look sweaty. There was a hint of something in the way he watched me; amusement. It was clear in the way his eyes raked across my body.
“I was going to take in more of the garden,” I lied quickly adding on my best ‘Harry Potter’ smile.
Malfoy bit his lower lip to keep from laughing. “Right and I was well loved in school.” He walked closer to me. His eyes catching my gaze. He was close enough to whisper in my ear. “What are you up to, Potter? Something bad?”
His voice was full of lust and it excited me. Promises of a deep pleasure that could only be given by him were laced in between the words like a coded message. I was sweating and it wasn’t the summer heat this time.
“Do you want me to be up to something bad?” I forced myself to look away from his eyes because he was the last distraction I needed today. I spotted Ron looking over at me and Malfoy. He cocked his head to the side in question, likely asking me if I was okay. I gave him a small smile and he turned back to his conversation.
Malfoy laughed and it was intoxicating. I’d been with plenty of people but none of them could send a wave of lust through my body from a mere laugh. I hated that there was something different about him. About my attraction to him. I’d known it after that first time at the fundraiser, but I ignored it. Told myself it was boredom and alcohol. It was harder to ignore after the memorial.
“Say that I do,” Malfoy answered.
I looked at the crowd again. Some of them were looking over at us now. I imagine we made an odd pair. The Boy Who Lived and the son of a convicted Death Eater. I wonder what headline would be in the papers about us tomorrow. Would they claim they saw us fighting? Flirting? Something more insidious?
I turned to face him again. There was a fierceness in his eyes. A determination. He wanted me as badly as I wanted him and I could see it annoyed him. I was about to ask him if he wanted to get out of here when I heard it.
A scream. It was quiet at first. Easy to dismiss as something else, but then it grew louder and I scanned the party to see where it was coming from. A buzz of voices murmured once the scream stopped. Everyone looking panicked as they checked on other people at the party.
There was a pregnant silence and then a dark cloud moved in front of the sun, blanketing the party in darkness. I sensed Malfoy standing to my left, but he wasn’t saying anything. He wasn’t moving. I heard a sharp intake of breath that let me know he was okay. Then another scream ripped through the air; this time so loud it reverberated in my ears, and I looked toward the back of the yard. It was coming from the forest, or at least near the forest.
When I turned back around, Dean and Seamus were holding hands and ushering people inside the house after Ron whispered something in their ear.
Hermione was casting a Patronus. I watched her otter float off, up and away likely to the Ministry.
Ron ran over to me. “Harry, we are the only aurors here. We need to go check that scream out.”
I nodded, unable to form words for some reason. The darkness of the cloud persisted and then rain fell in hot, heavy sheets. I blinked and staggered backward into Malfoy who was still holding his champagne flute. His eyes were wide with fear.
“That scream,” he whispered. “Are they dead?”
Ron took in a deep breath. “Go inside with everyone else.” He took Malfoy by the arm and directed him forward to Hermione who nodded at us. She looked serious and determined.
“Let’s go,” Ron said and headed off to the back of the yard. I took one more look at Malfoy and Hermione and as they entered the house, she began casting some protection spells. Malfoy seemed to wake up at that and began helping her.
I jogged to catch up with Ron as rain matted my clothes to my body. He was nearly at the maze when another scream filled the dark sky. My pulse was in my throat as we hopped the hedge and jogged along the tree-line in pursuit of the screams.
Chapter 7: Mistakes
Harry and Ron arrive at the crime scene and discover some secrets and make an unexpected alliance.
A man lay on his side near a recently disturbed grave. There was a gash across his chest. Dark blood stained his jumper. It was the caretaker for the cemetery, my only lead. His skin was pale and there were purple bags under his eyes. One bloody handprint marred the otherwise clean tombstone of the vandalized grave. It almost looked human, except for the elongated fingers. It reminded me more of a Dementor. Those boney death ghouls. I grabbed for my wand in my thigh holster, even though I didn’t need it to cast a Patronus.
Ron knelt down next to the man to check for a pulse. He looked up at me and shook his head. The man was dead. His eyes were open, empty. I couldn’t look at him. The blood was still seeping out of the gash on his chest. If we’d been just a little faster, we might have made it before he died. If I hadn’t let Malfoy distract me, I would have been here. I could have helped him.
I was glad for the darkness the storm provided. It made it easier to hide my discomfort. Just because I’ve seen my share of dead bodies didn’t mean I wasn’t affected by them.
Ron stood up and there was dirt on his knees and blood on his hands. He looked at them curiously like he couldn’t remember why there was blood there.
“It never gets easier,” he said. “Seeing a dead body. It never gets easier.” He took one more look at his hands and then brushed them off on the front of his trousers.
I couldn’t find any words of comfort to say. He was right. It never got easier. It never would.
Without another word, Ron cast a perimeter spell to see if anyone else was still in the cemetery. It came back negative, lighting up red.
“The grave was disturbed.” He turned away from the victim and took out his wand. He cast a magical traces spell to see if anyone had cast in the vicinity within the last half hour. The spell wasn’t perfect. It often misled us or identified the wrong kind of spell, but it worked well enough and it was our only option, at least until Malfoy perfected his potion.
I watched yellow lines stream out of the end of his wand and circle around the victim and the grave. Normally, a trace spell will hover over a spot where magic was used and change colors to indicate the kind of magic used. Purple for dark magic. Red for defensive. Blue for healing. Green for general magic, but the yellow swirl continued to circle the crime scene, never settling over one spot long enough to change colors.
The rain persisted and I had to cast a goggle charm over my glasses to keep them from fogging up. The humidity in the air rose as the rain pounded agasint the dirt.
I knelt down in front of the upturned earth at the head of the grave. It wasn’t a very deep hole. Whoever was digging this was doing it with their hands and they didn’t make it very far. I saw deep grooves where their fingers dragged the dirt up. I don’t know why but the scene made me think of my dreams. Of the man sobbing in front of the rock.
“Shite,” Ron snapped. “Why won’t this bloody spell work?” He kicked at the earth a few times and then placed his hands on his hips. He looked down at the victim again and shook his head.
I put a hand down on the upturned earth. I can’t say what motivated me to do it, but when I did—I felt a searing pain like a white hot poker to my gut. It took everything in me not to scream.
Flashes of the man lying dead filled my mind. He was screaming. Begging for his life. Then it shifted and I saw him hovering over me, black ooze pouring from his eyes and mouth. His hand outstretched, reaching down to me. He tried to say something but more ooze fell from his mouth like a waterfall.
I felt my breathing quicken. Closed my eyes and begged the vision to go away, to stop. I opened my eyes and the man was still lying in the dirt, blood pooling around him, seeping into the earth.
The rain was turning all the dirt to mud around me and I slipped a bit as I tried to stand. I toppled to my hands and knees. The pain was still there in my gut like a reminder. It was dull, but persistent.
Ron grabbed my arm and dragged me to my feet. “You okay?”
I nodded. “Fine. Just dizzy.”
Before I could decide if I wanted to tell Ron about the visions, I saw the aurors approaching us. Their long black robes flapped in the wind as it kicked up. At the front of the group was Robards. He was tall. At least six-five with broad shoulders and a face that wasn’t unattractive but also wasn’t memorable. His light blonde hair made him more noticeable than most, but it wasn’t striking. It was normal. His gaze landed on me and I could almost feel the disgust in that stare. It wasn’t exactly malicious. More annoyed. Officially, I was on desk duty so being at a crime scene would mean a ton of paperwork and explaining on his part.
With him were Lamont and Reed. Both of them mirroring Robards annoyance. They flanked him like good little minions. Their wands were raised.
“Well,” Robards said when he approached us. He looked down at the body and then at me.
Ron took the lead and began explaining about the screams we heard and how we rushed over but the man was already dead. Robards listened attentively, occasionally tearing his eyes away from Ron to give me a look.
Lamont and Reed began casting the same spells that Ron had. Their perimeter spells came up negative, too, and their trace spells did the same thing Ron’s had. They swirled around the area, never settling, never changing colors.
“You say you cast all the spells, Weasley?” Robards asked when Ron finished recounting what happened.
Ron nodded. “Harry’s on desk duty. He isn’t allowed to cast at an active crime scene.”
Sure that was the official reason, but the real reason was I didn’t even think to cast a spell. I was too busy blaming myself for this mans death. If I hadn’t let Malfoy distract me, I would have been here. I could have protected him.
“I’ll need both your wands to process back at the DMLE.” Robards held out a hand.
I gave him mine without hesitation. I’d barely cast any spells with it in the last few days. Ron hesitated and then handed it over. Robards cast a bubble charm around them to persevere the evidence. It was procedure to exclude the aurors wands, so I wasn’t worried.
Robards stared down at me, not even attempting to hide his disdain. “Potter, if I find out you cast anything at this crime scene, I will report it to the hearing committee.”
I nodded. “Of course, sir.” Fighting with him would get me no where. It was better to let him think he was in control. I could get more done that way. I needed to find out who killed the caretaker. It was connected to the magical surges somehow. Maybe someone killed him to shut him up. Maybe he had another magical surge and was too weak from his previous ones to handle another. And maybe it was something else all together.
“Why won’t the trace spells work?” Read asked after her latest attempt at casting one failed.
“No clue.” Ron shrugged. “Mine went wonky, too. It was like it didn’t know where to focus.”
“We are close to the forest,” Lamont said. “Might be interfering since there is so much magic in there.”
I hated to admit it, but he wasn’t wrong. The Forbidden Forest was the second largest magical forest, only outdone by the Black Forest in Germany for it’s collection of mystical beings and magical creatures. The ambient magic coming out of that forest would be more than enough to make a trace spell go haywire. As much as we knew about the forest and the magic it housed, there was even more that we didn’t know, couldn’t know. I’d been in there a few times myself and still hadn’t seen half of what I knew must lurk in the shadows of the dense forest.
“Inform the Unspeakables,” Robards instructed Reed. She nodded and then headed back to the apparition point. “Maybe those mask-wearing twats have something stronger to trace the magic since they just love hoarding all the good spells for themselves.”
Lamont nodded. “Good idea, sir.”
I had to bite my tongue before I said something that would end in me being punched or detained. If the Unspeakables got their hands on this crime scene, they would make sure it disappeared. They already tried wiping the caretakers memory. There’s no reason to believe they wouldn't do the same thing to all of us if they thought it necessary.
“Reed, wait,” I shouted. She stopped in her tracks and turned back to look over her shoulder. I was taking a gamble, but I needed to solve this and I couldn’t do that with a memory wipe. I turned to face Robards. “Look, I know you have no reason to trust me on this, but if you bring the Unspeakables here, they will cover this up.”
“What?” Lamont asked.
“They already covered up one incident involving this man. And that’s just what I know about. If they did it once, they will do it again.” Ron gave me a look that begged me to shut up. I ignored it. “I know how it sounds, but an informant told me this man experienced a magical surge so large it produced something resembling an Obscurial. The Unspeakables wiped his memory of the event.”
Robards laughed. “Merlin you are something else. You’re on desk duty for beating up a Ministry official thanks your little magical surge theory. Isn’t that enough attention for you?”
“I’m not trying to get attention. I’m trying to save lives. These surges are happening. They are affecting adults as well as children. Don’t you care why?”
Robards shook his head, but I could see a hint of doubt in his eyes. “Your hearing in coming up and you’re scared so you want to invent a cover up to distract from the fact that you broke the law. That’s what this is, right?”
“Sir?” Reed asked, still standing where I’d stopped her.
Robards didn’t turn around. “Go Reed.” He turned to Lamont. “Go with her and make sure the Unspeakables know about the issues with the trace spell.”
Lamont nodded but looked torn about leaving Robards with us. If he was concerned, he didn’t voice it. Instead he jogged to Reed and they both headed out of the cemetery.
When they were out of ear shot, Robards asked, “Weasley, what is your opinion on this matter?”
Ron looked back and forth between me and Robards. “I didn’t know about the other incident, but I trust Harry. If he says something is going on, then there is something going on.”
I felt a tightness in my chest loosen at Ron’s words. I’d been afraid to tell him about Skeeter and her theory. I was worried he would think I was loosing it. I knew how it sounded. Another Ministry cover up so soon after Voldemort. It felt crazy even to me.
“All right, this is what’s going to happen,” Robards took out his wand and pointed at Ron. “I am going to cast two Obliviate’s so when they check my wand it will look like I already wiped your memories. Then if the Unspeakables really do wipe my memory, at least you two will still be cognizant.”
“Sir?” I asked.
“Look, I don’t like you Potter. I think you aren’t cut out for this job with all your reckless behavior, but more importantly, I’ve believed that the Unspeakables have been wiping auror’s memories for a while now. In fact, I am sure they wiped my own memory. Whoever did it was sloppy, or new, or maybe they were in a rush, but they accidentally wiped too much of it. I lost a whole day, one that I spent with my wife and child. One they still talk about often because they had such a good time. I can’t remember one minute of it. And there have been three other cases of aurors loosing time in the last month alone. All responded to an unusual magic use call. I never filed the medical reports because each of them lost that time after a briefing with the Unspeakables on a case. That’s when I started suspecting them.”
I gritted my teeth. “I knew it. They are covering cases up and it has to do with the magical surges.”
“You’re sure about this, sir?” Ron asked.
“I am. You and Potter might be the only people who remember this man is dead and the odd circumstances surrounding it. I’m sure they will send Unspeakables to relieve the aurors at the party to wipe their memories, too. I need you to figure out why the Unspeakables are wiping cases from our minds and if it has anything to do with these so-called magical surges.”
“Thank you,” I said.
Robards scowled. “I’m not doing this for you, Potter. I am doing this for all the auror’s who trusted the DMLE and are being mind wiped without consent.”
“I don’t care why you are doing. I just care that you are.”
“Whatever,” Robards said as he steadied his wand and pointed it between us and at a tree at the forest line. “Now back away and let me cast these spells before Reed and Lamont get back with the Unspeakables.”
Chapter 8: Bygones
Harry and Ron head back to the party where the find their friends have all been obliviated by the Unspeakables.
We arrived back at Dean and Seamus’s party about an hour later. Robards was right. The Unspeakables tested his wand and were satisfied that our memories were wiped. He told them with my upcoming hearing, he didn’t want me getting anymore ammo about magical surges to clear my name over the beating I gave Riley and decided to wipe it from my memory. Ron was collateral. His mind needed to be wiped since we were so close and he would undoubtedly slip up and tell me.
Not exactly standard auror protocol, but Robards cruised to get me sacked was well known. The Unspeakables didn’t even bother questioning it further since they planned to obliviate everyone anyway and Robards’ disdain for me was well known. They sent Ron and I on our way without so much as a sideways glance. As we cleared the cemetery gate, I saw a flash of light that told me Robards had been Obliviated. As far as they knew, the situation was under control.
Hermione noticed us first. “Well, nice of you two to finally show up.” She was drinking champagne. When she caught sight of our wet clothes she added, “Get caught in the rain?”
The party had moved inside since the rain hadn’t relented. I could hear it falling in sheets on the cottage roof.
“Yes,” Ron answered. He looked at me and I could see his concern for Hermione. It couldn’t be helped. She had been obliviated with the rest of the party. She didn’t remember the scream or that we’d run off to investigate it. No one did.
“I, um, I thought we were coming to the party together,” she said. Her voice unsure. “I guess I’m remembering it wrong. You two had stuff to finish up at the Ministry. Silly me.” She smiled weakly and took a long swig of her drink.
“Yes, darling,” Ron answered and then put his arm around her shoulder and kissed her forehead. She smiled up at him and wrapped her hands around his middle.
“You must be starving, the both of you.” She pulled away from Ron and noticed the wet spot on her dress where they touched. “Oh, you need a drying charm.” She cast the hot-air charm on both of us, smiled, and then headed off to the food tables which were now in the living room.
“We need to tell her,” I said.
Ron looked at Hermione gathering a plate full of food for him. “Tonight. We need to behave normally for now. The Unspeakables think we were mind wiped so we need to stay at this party. It’s what they will expect.” He walked over to Hermione and I watched his face shift from a quiet rage to something softer. They began talking animatedly with Seamus and Dean.
I searched the party and spotted Neville with George in a corner. They were leaning in close, whispering to one another. Neville’s clothes were still covered in dirt. I guess he never got around to cleaning himself up with the scream and panic afterward. With the obliviate, I doubt he even remembered why his clothes were dirty.
“Anyone ever tell you lurking is creepy, Potter?” Malfoy asked. His tone was more playful than usual. There was still a hint of that trademark Malfoy snideness, though.
I didn’t want to talk to him. Not now. Not after I’d let my lust, or whatever it was, distract me. A man was dead because I’d been thinking about him. “I’m not in the mood, Malfoy.”
Malfoy smirked, leaned in closer and said very matter of factly, “I could get you in the mood, Potter.”
I just starred at him, not sure if I wanted to give in to him or if I wanted to fight him. Both would serve as a nice distraction from all the thoughts swirling around my head.
Everything about my feeling’s regarding Malfoy was a contradiction. He agitated me. He excited me. He made me angry, but he also made me feel more awake than I had since the war. I was drawn to him. I’d been drawn to him my whole life and somehow those feelings of rage, disgust, had morphed into desire.
Neville and George came over to us before I could figure out what I wanted to do with Malfoy. Neville looked from Malfoy to me and then said, “Lovely party.”
Malfoy asked, “Did you garden before you arrived?” He tilted his head to the side and looked like he was trying to remember something but couldn’t quite place whatever it was he had tried to remember.
Neville’s confusion mirrored Malfoy’s. “No, why?”
Malfoy pointed to the dirt on his clothes and hands. “Just you’re a bit dirty and not the fun kind of dirty either. The dirt kind of dirty.” He ended with a wink and again, I felt my body react to him.
George laughed at Malfoy’s joke and then seemed to realize he was laughing at Malfoy’s joke and stopped mid-laugh. “Oi, no fair. You’re being likable again. When did I start laughing at your jokes?” He shook his head in exasperation but there was a hint of a smile on his face.
A wonderful laugh escaped Malfoy’s mouth. It was practically touchable. “I believe that ship sailed a long time ago, George. Sometime after the owl incident, I think.”
I felt my face get hot. Did George and Malfoy have a secret joke? The possibility made my fists clench at my side. “Owl incident?”
Neville blinked his eyes open a few times like he was waking up from a dream and said, “I think I’ll go clean up.” He looked down at the dirt on his clothes and hands. He couldn’t seem to understand why he was covered in dirt. I wanted to tell him so he didn’t think he was loosing his mind, but I couldn't.
George moved closer to us and placed a hand on Malfoy’s shoulder. “This ponce accidentally got a letter I was sending out to this bloke I’ve been pen pals with for a while now. We send letters and only sign them with our first names, right? And he sends me presents, but that’s not important. He’s a potions master named David from France. Well, the owls must have gotten mixed up because they sent a rather racy letter of mine to Malfoy here who replied back with a very serious rejection of my advances. In fact, he didn’t think the letter sufficed, so he stormed into my shop and quite animatedly told me where I could stick my letter.”
Malfoy blushed. His face a soft pink. “Well, turns out George found my little speech hilarious and won’t let me live it down.”
I nodded, not sure I could speak without sounding jealous.
“Who knew a prat like you could be any fun at all?” George squeezed Malfoy’s shoulder and I felt my magic humming under my skin. It was agitated by their closeness.
I was almost about to say ‘I knew,’ but then Ginny and her date appeared at the front door. Dean was ushering them inside. Her hair was shorter than the last time I saw her. Bobbing just above her shoulders. It made her look older, more mature. Her hand was interlaced with a woman’s, whose back was turned. I could see short cropped jet black hair. She turned around and I recognized Ginny’s date. Pansy Parkinson, author of all those romance novels I read and Malfoy’s best friend. Great. As if today needed anymore surprises.
Ginny starred at me. Her dark eyes, her pale freckled skin, mouth parted like she was in the middle of saying something when her gaze landed on me. She smiled politely and then resumed apologizing for being late to Dean.
“Well, that explains a whole hell of a lot,” George said. “Ginny didn’t want to tell any of us who her date was. Just kept saying it was a famous author. Mum went crazy the other day looking at all the popular wizard authors. Seems she was barking up the wrong bookshelf.”
I turned to Malfoy. His face was impassive. “Did you know?”
Malfoy shook his head. “Pansy said she was dating a Quidditch player. Just not which one.”
I closed my eyes. Some of the only comfort I’d had in the last five years was from reading Parkinson’s books. And now she was here, dating my ex-girlfriend. I really must have pissed off the gods to make my life so complicated. I wonder if I could send them a fruit basket or something so they would lay off me for a while.
I opened my eyes to find Hermione and Ron staring at me. Concern all over their faces. It annoyed me. I glanced back over to Ginny and Parkinson and knew I would have to face them sooner or later, but like any functional adult I had to try avoiding it. “I’m in the mood now, Malfoy.”
George, who was in the middle of sipping his drink, coughed loudly and pounded a fist on his chest at my words. “Merlin, umm, I think I hear Charlie calling my name. Bye.”
Malfoy didn’t move; only his chest rising and falling rhythmically let me know he hadn’t spontaneously turned into a statue. He looked straight ahead at the party. The look on his face was a mixture of pure agony and amusement.
“What ? Suddenly you have no quips for me?”
Malfoy brought a hand up to his throat where the most delicious looking blush was starting to bloom. I could see the pulse in his neck throbbing. He let out a nervous laugh. “You are truly as reckless as everyone says.”
“That’s not a no.”
He laughed again, this time he turned to face me. He looked over my shoulder, down the hallway where Dean and Seamus’s rooms were. “There’s a guest room.”
Without a word, I turned on my heels and headed down the hallway. I leaned against the wall when I was out of sight of the party and waited for Malfoy. It was five minutes before I realized he wasn’t coming. I shook my head. The prick was toying with me and part of me liked it. I decided to go the restroom, splash some cold water on my face and finish up this party as quickly as possible so we could get back on track.
It was a large bathroom with a deep claw-foot tub and white and black checkered tile walls. The medicine cabinet was lined with small, soft lights which made the room look candle lit.
My mouth was dry. I felt my magic agitated under my skin. This was usually about the time I would grab a drink to quiet the magic pulsing throughout my body. To numb the thoughts that always threatened to bring up things best buried.
“Merlin, you are truly a mess.” I looked at my reflection and saw a sheen of sweat across my forehead and the ever-present bags under my eyes.
I turned the faucet on and let the cold water run. The soft flowing sound filled the room and helped calm me down. I leaned over the sink to splash my face. I closed my eyes tight and willed my magic to relax. The water was like ice, but it felt good, so I let the water run down my face, my neck. I splashed my face one more time and then opened my eyes.
There, in the mirror, I saw something standing behind me. It was a dark blur at first. I could feel it’s presence behind me and reached for my wand before I remembered Robards had it. I watched as it moved in closer to me, it’s form becoming clearer with each step closer.
The lights flickered off and the room went suddenly cold. I wrapped my arms around my torso. Fear ran though my veins like ice cold water just like third year the fist time I met a Dementor. I couldn’t think straight. I should have cast a wandless spell, but I just stood there in the dark. I had to remind myself to breathe.
When the lights flicked back on, I was staring in mirror at my mother’s reflection. Her auburn hair flowing around her as if she were underwater. Her eyes were black orbs and a dark ooze flowed out of her mouth. It was just like the dead man in the cemetery. I swirled around but there was nothing behind me and when I looked at the mirror again, she was gone.
My knees buckled under me. I slid to the ground and pulled my knees to my chest leaning my back against the cabinet under the sink. I kept shaking my head, over and over. It was the only thing I could do. No words would form in my mouth. No thoughts. I knew it wasn’t helpful to stay here, but I couldn't make myself move. Sweat soaked through my shirt.
A muffled voice came from the other side of the door. “Harry?”
I was standing suddenly. My legs still shaky, but I managed to make it to the bathroom door. I unlocked it and pulled open the door. I felt lightheaded, so I leaned on the door frame and steadied my gaze. Ginny’s face came into focus.
“Are you okay?” she asked, pushing into the bathroom with me and locking the door behind her. She didn’t wait for an answer before she was holding my head in her hands and looking at my eyes.
I nodded, slowly moving my head up and down. I still felt dizzy, but I felt some semblance of control coming back to me. I pushed thoughts of my mother with black eyes out of my mind.
“You’re not drunk.” It was a statement. It wasn’t the first time she held my face in her hands, checking to see how drunk I was, but it was the first time she did so and I wasn’t drunk, and she seemed shocked. She pushed my hair out of my face and checked for a fever. “Merlin, you’re burning up, Harry.”
“I’m okay,” I lied. I pushed her away. “Just felt a bit under the weather.”
She looked at me and in her eyes I could see every little thing I’d ever done wrong to her looking back at me. Each time I showed up to a date drunk, if at all. Every argument about my behavior, my choices, my rashness. All the times she begged me to get help and I told her she had no right to tell me how to heal. I felt guilt like I’d never felt it before.
“I’m sorry, Gin.” I licked my lips. They were dry. “I’m sorry for everything.”
Ginny sighed. “I already forgave you, Harry, last Christmas when you were a drunk mess and apologized to me for almost an hour.”
I nodded and turned to the sink, bracing myself on the edges. I avoided looking in the mirror. “I never really apologized. How could I if I am only now realizing how shit I was?”
Ginny put her hand on my back. “You weren’t shit. You were in pain. So was I.”
I started to laugh and my body shook with it. “I’m still in pain, Gin. Every day and all I can do is ignore it because if I let myself feel it, I won’t be able to save people.”
“You haven’t changed much have you?”
I didn’t answer.
“Harry, this is the same thing I was talking about in school. You think that you have to suffer so everyone else can be happy and then you get mad that you’re suffering and everyone else is happy. How does that make any kind of sense?”
“I—I don’t know.”
“You had to make terrible choices. You were asked to do things no child should have been asked to do and the world has never really stopped asking things of you, taking them. That is enough to make anyone hurt, Harry.”
“I’m afraid that I’m no good at being any other way, Gin.” Admitting it stung. I’d always worried that having Voldemort's soul attached to mine had corrupted me and that’s why I couldn’t be happy.
She drew a deep breath and moved to stand on the side of sink so she could see my face. “Get help, Harry. You’re no good to anyone like this, especially yourself. I heard what you did. That boy. Sure you got him out of a bad situation, but the way you did it…how did that actually help? That kid is traumatized and you nearly killing his father likely only added more trauma. You let all this rage build up and it has to go somewhere. When you were fighting a war, it went to that, but…now it has nowhere to go but inside.”
My voice came out soft. I felt tears threatening to fall. “I saved him. I did what I did to save him.”
“And in the process got yourself benched and awaiting a hearing to see if you are still allowed to do your job. How many other people do you think you could have saved in the last few months if you’d handled that case differently?”
I stared at the sink, not daring to meet Ginny’s eyes. “I lost it, Gin. When I knew what he was doing to that kid. I lost it.”
“He reminded you of yourself,” she said knowingly. “But do you think you were saving him or saving yourself?”
“Both.” I gritted my teeth. I desperately needed to change the subject, so I asked, “How long have you and Parkinson been together?”
She laughed. “Almost a year. I’m happy, Harry.”
“I read her books, you know?” I tried to smile. “They’re rather good.”
Ginny put her hand under my chin and brought my head up. “Get help, Harry. Please. If not for all the people who need you to be better, then for yourself, for that young Harry who always dreamed of something better.”
I stared at her, and for the first time in a long time, I let myself cry and be held by someone. I felt everything I’d been pushing away rush though me like a flood. It felt terrible, but there was a moment of clarity. No more oblivion. Not if I was going to stop the corruption. I couldn’t muddle my way though this one half-drunk and throwing punches. I needed a clear head for this case.
Chapter 9: Confessions
The trio head back to Harry’s flat to discuss what they know. Harry tells them about his odd visions.
Hermione led us down the deserted roads of Hogsmeade to the portkey station around two in the morning. She staggered a bit and leaned down to take her heels off. She tried to transfigure them, but they ended up looking like her heels only with sneaker soles. She let out a laugh so loud, someone from inside their home shouted, “Quiet!” That only made her laugh harder.
Ron came up behind her and took her heels and transfigured them for her using her wand. He managed to turn them into proper sneakers after two tries and helped her into them. They laughed the whole time.
“You two are lightweights,” I laughed.
I stepped carefully around them and took the lead to the station which was just up ahead. We were some of the last people to leave the party. Dean and Seamus begged us to stay the night, but Ron wouldn’t hear it and made some very risqué comments about just why.
“Pshh, Ron’s a light—” Hermione started and hiccuped. She turned to Ron and smirked. “You’re the lightweight, darling.”
Ron nodded and quickly raised a finger in the air like Sherlock when he found a clue. “Mayhaps.”
Hermione caught up and gripped my arm. “Harry?”
I pulled her fingers loose. Her grip was tight for someone too drunk to walk a straight line. I searched her eyes and saw her pupils reacted normally to stimulus and the dim streetlights as we passed them. I whispered, “You’re sober?”
“Shall we discuss this at yours?” she asked. “Since you have the best security setup.”
“We can side-a-long.”
Ron strolled closer. He had a lopsided grin on his face. He looked properly drunk, but I saw his eyes were clear as day. “I think we should portkey. Looks suspicious if we do anything out of expected. We don’t know who could be watching.” He let out a burst of a laugh and patted me on the back hard enough to make me stagger.
The portkey was an old clock radio situated in the window of the night watches kiosk. The old man behind the window smiled at us and asked for identification.
We all grabbed ahold of it and I felt the terrible tugging sensation yanking me all over until it slammed me back into reality and I was in the Ministry station again. The night administrator scowled at us while we wobbled our way to the floos.
Once we were through the floo, I locked it until morning. I didn’t want any calls or visitors. Especially since the Ministry had clearance to my home and the people who were behind all of this were the exact government for which I worked. And I thought I was collecting ironies before.
“Explain,” I said once the floo was locked and the wards on the house were checked and double-checked. The only other living being that could get in the house was Kreacher and he wasn’t here now.
Hermione flopped down on the sofa and pulled the knitted blanket Molly made me last Christmas over her lap. “I saw the Unspeakables arrive and they started to obliviate people. I got nervous and put up a block in my mind without really thinking. They cast the spell without even checking my mind. Sloppy work really. Most of them are trained Legilimens.”
I marveled at Hermione’s wit, not for the first time. “So you remember the scream?”
She nodded. “I assume you both do, too. Halfway through the party, I noticed Ron very swiftly disappearing his champagne when no one was looking.”
“Apparently someone was,” Ron said. He took a seat next to Hermione on the couch and tugged the blanket over his lap, too. “She’s obsessed with me, Harry. Always watching. It’s creepy really.”
I shook my head. “You both creep me out.”
“You really stayed sober all day,” was Hermione’s response.
“I said I would.”
“What happened with Ginny?” Ron asked. “You guys came out from the bathroom together looking, I don’t know. Looking off.”
“We chatted a bit about her new girlfriend and then, of course, my deplorable behavior.” I shrugged and took the ottoman and slid it closer to the couch so I could look them both in the eyes. “I suppose some things never do change, eh?”
“She cares about you,” Ron said. “We all do.”
I put my hand up to stop him from diving into the ‘we all love you’ lecture deep-end. “I know. I know.”
“Parkinson.” Ron let out a whistle. “Mum’s gonna be so mad that she didn’t think to look at female authors. She spent a whole afternoon dragging me through those bookshelves trying to guess which popular author Ginny was dating. With George, Charlie, and you, well, you think she would have at least looked at the female authors.”
“I like her books,” I admitted.
Hermione laughed. “They are cheesy romance novels.”
“And?” I deadpanned.
Hermione saw she hit a nerve. “And nothing. They are well written. I read one when it first came out. Curiosity. The genre isn’t for me, but the writing is good.”
“Did you talk to her?” Ron asked.
“I said hi and that I just finished The Wild Hunt and really loved her characterization of Thad Greystone. She choked on her cucumber sandwich.”
He shook his head. “I’d have payed to see that.”
“Ginny was laughing for a good two minutes before the death glare Parkinson gave her made her stop.”
“You know, I think they are really happy together,” Hermione added. “Ginny seems better, doesn’t she? More in control. Parkinson is a good match for her temperament.”
“She’s brilliant as always.”
Ron nodded. “It’s your love life we need to worry about now. When are you going to stop hooking up with all of London and settle down with a nice witch or wizard?” He put extra emphasis on wizard which made me worry that he knew about Malfoy somehow.
“That isn’t really our biggest issue right now.”
“Agreed,” Hermione said. “It’s why those Unspeakables just obliviated and entire party.”
Ron’s face was turning red. It did that when he was frustrated. “They obliviated Robards, too. Probably Lamont and Reed, as well as any auror at the party. Would have done us if Robards hadn’t tricked them into thinking he already did us.”
“How did he manage that?”
“He’s vocal about Harry and the hearing. All he had to do was claim he didn’t want Harry knowing about a death linked to a odd magical occurrence becasue that could help him prove his theory.” When Hermione scrunched up her brow, Ron added. “Our trace spells wouldn’t work at the scene. Like not inaccurate or anything. Just nothing. None of us ever saw it react that way. Like there was too much magic to focus on.”
Hermione’s eyes lit up. “The forest.”
“That’s a possibility,” I admitted. “I still think it’s more than that. The forest had always had ambient magic and the school is right near it. So why wasn’t our magic there affected?”
Ron sighed. “You clearly have some kind of theory knocking about up there. Out with it.”
I stiffened. “Skeeter came to see me.” Hermione scowled and Ron looked impassive. Neither said anything. “She is investigating the magical surges, too. Had a source tell her the caretaker that died today experienced multiple magical surges in the last month. Once producing something resembling an Obscurial. She claimed his mind was wiped multiple times by Unspeakables who wanted to cover up the surges.”
Hermione moved to the edge of the couch, leaned her elbows on her knees, and said, “Skeeter is a bug. What makes you think she didn’t lie?”
Ron nodded in agreement. “Bug is putting it nicely.”
I knew it was going to be a hard sell for them. Skeeter was notorious for publishing half-truths and outright lies. Her Heroes of Hogwarts books were only mostly accurate and she hadn’t gotten much better in the years since. The only difference between Skeeter then and Skeeter now was that I agreed with her this time. Maybe that wasn’t enough for them, but it was for me.
Hermione sat back again, letting her hands flop in her lap. “Okay, say what Skeeter says is true. What does that mean?”
“It means the Unspeakables know about the magical surges. They know the frequency of them is increasing and so is the strength of them, just like the boys.” I felt manic as I tried to explain the significance, but I needed to get this off my chest more than I realized. “It means, I’m right and that there is some kind of pattern to the surges, but I only had access to the underage ones—the ones they could pass off as underage magic usage which is normal—so I couldn’t make it out.”
Ron let out a shuddering sigh. “If you’re right, most of the people who could help us have been mind wiped or might be dead like the caretaker. How are we supposed to get access to the adult surges like that? How can we understand the pattern with missing pieces.”
I whispered, “I don’t know, but we need to do something before someone else dies.”
“Why do I get the feeling you are taking the blame for that man’s death today?” Hermione asked.
“Because it was my fault. I planned to sneak away from the party.” Hermione geared up to say something, but before she could I said, “I know, I know— Anyway, I let myself get distracted.”
“By what?” she asked.
Ron raised a brow. “You mean by who.”
Hermione showed great restraint when she didn’t try to correct Ron. “Are you interested in someone? Like as more than a hook up?”
I stared at them. “Not really.”
Ron smirked. “It’s Malfoy.”
Hermione’s jaw dropped. “Oh.”
“I saw them flirting at the party before the scream.” Ron looked like he felt a sense of accomplishment at being in the loop for once when Hermione wasn’t.
“I know. I know. It’s weird. Him. Us. Whatever. I don’t really get it myself. We hooked up twice. It’s not like anything serious.”
“I like the two of you for each other. We spent a lot of time together working on his potion, you know? Lots of lunches. He’s actually quite funny, not to mention absolutely striking.”
“Really?” Ron asked. “More striking than, say, your husband who loves you?”
Hermione laughed. “Of course not.”
Ron smirked. “You filthy liar. We all know Malfoy is like a walking Greek statue. Not enough that he’s bloody rich and talented at his job, he’s got to be good looking too?”
Hermione nodded. “That he is. But I would say, if you aren’t serious about him, don’t lead him on. We all know your, um, patterns with dating. He doesn’t date around. If he is hooking up with you it’s more than sexual for him. He only ever mentioned one boyfriend to me. They dated three years.”
Just what I needed, a lecture about my life choices. “Malfoy isn’t important right now. Leave it be.”
Ron’s eyes widened with shock. “Oh, of course, that’s what George meant by ‘better leave the boys to it,’ after he walked away from you. I didn’t know what he meant then, but…oh Merlin, were you two going to do it at the party?”
I didn’t even pretend to look ashamed. Hooking up at a party was the least terrible placed I’d ever hooked up with someone. The loo at the Leaky Cauldron ranks higher on that list.
“Oh, Malfoy!” Hermione looked newly shocked. “His potion.”
Ron yawned. He stretched out and wrapped an arm around Hermione. “What about it?”
“Traces,” Hermione and I said in unison.
Ron perked up. “Traces.”
We all stared at each other and laughed. It wasn’t that the situation was funny. It wasn’t that we were suddenly insane. It wasn’t even that it was late and we were tired. It was the absolute hilarious conclusion that we all seemed to come to at the same time: one of us would need to ask Malfoy for his potion, even though it hadn’t been tested on humans yet, and one of us would have to ingest it to see if we could follow the magical trail at the crime scene.
I barely managed to stop laughing long enough to breathe. My cheeks burned from smiling too long. Tears streamed down my face. I felt awake despite the exhaustion tugging at my mind.
It hit me then—the coldness I’d felt it at the crime scene and again in the bathroom. The smile disappeared from my face just as the lights flickered. I heard Hermione gasp and then everything went black.
I was in the forest looking at a man hunched over in front of the giant rock. There was black ooze everywhere. The hairs on the back of my neck stood up and I touched them. It felt so real. But I’d just been in my living room, hadn’t I?
I walked closer to the man and saw his body shaking from crying. There was no sound, not even the sound of the earth beneath my feet as I stepped on twigs in the grass.
My heart hammered in my chest. What was this place? What was this ooze? Why was I seeing this man? I stopped walking. There was a noise off to my side. I turned toward it and saw a beast and then a man—no it was all one creature. The body like a stag on it’s hind legs with wings like a Hippogrif and long clawed human fingers. His face was a blur like it couldn’t settle on what the face should look like. There was a humming surrounding him like a swarm of flies. I covered my ears.
The man in front of the rock placed his palm on the smooth part of the stone and when it came away, there was a blood print with elongated fingers just like at the crime scene. The man’s hand shook and I watched it shift like the beasts face. It was a normal sized hand and then it was suddenly the beasts clawed, boney hand.
The beast moved toward the man. Each step turned the ground to rot under his hoof. It spread like a stain across the forest floor. The humming around him grew so loud I could barely think. I couldn’t even think to move further away from the darkness in the earth as it seeped into the ground surrounding me.
Finally, I tried to call out to the man, but nothing came out. I screamed and screamed for him to turn around. Screamed until I felt my throat go raw.
The beast turned just before he reached the man and I saw his face settle for a moment. It was my own face. It smiled at me and then it was gone. Replaced by the blur of facial features arranging and rearranging on his face.
But all I could think about was my face and the insidious smile on it.
“I swear to Merlin, if he doesn’t wake up,” Ron’s voice washed over me like a dream. He tugged at my arm and I felt him sliding my body to lean against the couch.
“He’ll wake up,” Hermione’s voice joined his, but she didn’t sound sure.
I felt my head loll to the side and forced my eyes to open. I couldn’t see anything but a dark figure in front of me. Everything was blurry. I was still there. I was still with that beast. I frantically grabbed at the blurry figure in front of me. I teared at it’s clothes. Scratching it.
“Harry, stop it. Harry,” came Ron’s voice again. He grabbed my wrists and pinned them together.
I hesitated a moment before lowering my hands. He released his grip. I felt drained from the effort it took to stop trying to attack. My voice came out weak and hoarse. “Ron?”
“Are you okay?”
I blinked my eyes open again, slower this time. I still couldn’t see. I touched my face. No glasses. “Blind.” I said.
“Oh, shite,” Hermione cursed and then pressed my glasses to my face. They got caught on my ear and she adjusted them.
Everything came into focus and I felt my heart return to it’s normal speed. I looked around and saw I was in my own sitting room and not the forest. It had felt so real.
“You had some kind of seizure,” Ron answered the question before I could form the words.
“You screamed so loud, you woke up every portrait in the house. Including Walburga who won’t shut up and Sirius who is barking like a maniac. Why won’t he shift back to his human form anyway?” Hermione nodded her head to the hallway where suddenly Walburga’s griping voice filled my head.
I looked at Sirius barking and smiled softly. He calmed down and sat at the front fo the portrait with his tongue hanging out of his mouth. “I—I was somewhere else.”
“What are you leaving out, Harry?” Ron asked.
“Too much, I guess.” I took a deep breath and told them about the visions and the dreams. About the man in the forest. About seeing my mother. And finally about the beast with no face.
Chapter 10: Difficulties
At the cemetery, Harry, Ron and Hermione try to loo for any clues left behind, but realize they still don’t have enough.
It was too quiet, too peaceful, after what happened here yesterday. I tried to ignore the memory of the dead caretaker’s screams. The ground was still wet, but the sun was bright in the sky, warming my back as I stood on the spot where he died.
The grounds were empty. No mourners. Nothing. Not even a sign that aurors or Unspeakables had even been here. Not a footprint in the mud except for our own. The bloody handprint was gone from the gravestone. The only clue that anything happened here was the still upturned dirt in front of the grave. The hole wasn’t far down, maybe a foot. Whoever had been digging it must have been interrupted. The Unspeakables must have missed the hole when they were making sure this crime was swept under the rug with the rest of them. The bastards.
“I can still hear that scream,” Hermione said. She had her wand tucked behind her ear as she crouched down looking at the spot where the body had been. She picked up a clump of dirt and let it sift through her fingers and fall back to the ground.
“I wonder if he will even get a funeral.” The thought had troubled me since I realized the crime was being erased from everyone's mind. We found out his name; Jared Randall. He grew up in Hogsmeade, attended Hogwarts and took over for his father as caretaker of the cemetery. That was all we managed to dig up on him. But who would mourn him? Did he have a family? Would the Ministry make it look like he died accidentally or like he ran away?
“Don’t do that to yourself, Harry,” Ron said. He was attempting to cast another trace spell, just in case, but it behaved the same way. The magic floated around and around, never settling or identifying magic. “His death isn’t on you.”
I stared him down. “Then who is it on, Ron? That man is dead. I could have helped him, but he was killed, most likely by whatever that beast is from my visions.” I was beginning to sweat, so I fanned my face but that didn’t help. Summer was coming early this year. The heat was humid and thick. It was the kind of heat that felt like it rested on your skin like another layer of clothes.
“Well, yeah.” That was Ron’s way of saying ‘you’re right’ without actually having to say the words.
“So the trace spell still wont work. We have no way of studying the body to gauge how he died or what killed him and there is no way to know if the partially dug up hole has anything to do with the crime.” Hermione let out an exasperated laugh that made her sound like she was a mad scientist whose experiment failed…again. “That’s just, well, that’s bad, Harry. It’s pretty bad.”
I shrugged. “We’ve done more with less, haven’t we?”
Hermione rolled her eyes. “I guess so.”
“This cemetery is old, right?” Ron asked.
“It’s one of the oldest wizarding cemeteries in England, Ron. We learned about in Hogwarts, A History.”
Ron laughed. “You might have.”
Hermione shook her head, but she was smiling at her husband. “Madame Eloise Mintumble is buried here, you know?” She pointed to a gravestone a few feet away from where we stood. The stone read Lost in Time, Remembered with Love. “The witch who got stuck in the past. She is one of the main reasons time travel is restricted. One of the anomalies her time travel caused made the Tuesday after her return to her present last for two and a half full days.”
I nodded. “Oh, yeah I remember that sort of. Didn’t she come back like really, really old.”
“Five centuries older, in fact.”
“Wow.” Ron let out a whistle that was so loud and unexpected that both Hermione and I jumped back. I felt my heart jump into my throat. I didn’t normally scare so easy, but between the sobriety, which was still a struggle, and the visions, I was on edge. If it weren’t for the pepper-up potions, I’d be even worse off.
“So what does she have to do with the caretaker?” I asked, willing my heart to cease it’s pounding. If there was a connection, I wasn’t seeing it. All I was seeing was a case that got more an more complicated with every step I took.
“I’m just saying that this place is full of some of histories most powerful and significant wizards. The location could be important somehow. Maybe the caretaker’s death was…collateral damage.”
Ron’s eyes went wide. “You think he just got in the way?” He looked down at the spot where the man had lain bleeding though his jumper. His face paled. “But he was having surges. The rumored obscurial, right? That has to mean something.”
“Unfortunately, there isn’t anything here that can give us answers.” Hermione walked over to Ron and placed a hand on his back. “We need to trace the magic, or at least identify what magic was used. That will narrow things down.”
“We need Malfoy,” Ron admitted. “I sort of hoped we didn’t need him. Is that terrible?”
“A little.” Hermione smiled softly. “He’s not so bad.”
“I know, but he is a bit of a know-it-all. It gets sort of tiring.”
“Some people have said that same thing about me.” Hermione crossed her arms over her chest. “In fact, I seem to remember you saying the same thing about me and look at us now. Married.”
Ron winced. “So who’s going to convince him to give us a potion that is still in it’s testing phase, is strictly for Ministry use only, oh, and also tell him that he doesn’t need to know why we need it?”
I looked down at the upturned dirt again, ignoring Ron’s question. Yesterday when I touched that spot, I saw flashes of that man and the beast. I could still feel that white hot pain. I didn’t want to do it again. The flashes were unsettling and I was afraid of seeing my mother again with those black eyes. Plus there was no guarantee that it would even work a second time. I had felt a pull to the spot before, touched it without even thinking. I felt no pull now, but I had to at least try. With my wand in one hand I knelt down and touched the ground, hoping to see something and hoping just as hard that I didn’t.
Sweat rolled down my neck. I felt my shirt sticking to my chest, but no pain, no flashes. Nothing. I felt guilt wash over me. I hadn’t wanted to see the dead man with black ooze flowing from his mouth like some macabre fountain statue. Maybe my own apprehension was keeping me from accessing whatever visions were there. With Voldemort, the visions mostly came when I was dreaming and always when Voldemort wanted me to see something. He controlled them once he knew about the connection in our minds. This was different somehow, but I didn’t know exactly how I knew that. I controlled the visions this time. I pushed my hand into the dirt covering my hand up to my wrist and focused harder. I cleared my mind of all the doubt and shut out Hermione and Ron’s inane conversation about who should go get Malfoy.
I heard it before I saw anything. The sound of hundreds of flies swarming, buzzing, in my ears. I focused harder. Closed my eyes tight and saw it. The man sobbing in front of the rock. His back hunched and shaking with each new cry. I still heard the buzzing but it was far away, or at least it sounded far away. The rest of the forest was turning to rot. The trees were black with their bark cracking off in patches. The ground under my feet was the only green patch left in this obscene vision. The man slammed his fist on the rock and the sound of his bones crunching against the stone made my stomach turn.
I don’t know why but I knew I had to reach the man and soon. He was running out of time. I looked at the ground and with a deep breath, I stepped outside of my patch of green. My foot hit the ground and I watched green spiderweb out from under my foot, reviving the ground. I took another step and the same thing happened.
The beast had turned the ground to rot the last time I saw him. It looked like I could bring it back to life. Art least temporarily. I didn’t understand it, but I took another step and then another.
The buzzing was still dull in my ears. I looked around and saw nothing except the man, so I jogged toward him. There was no wind. Nothing to tell me I was moving except my feet hitting the ground and the trail of green disappearing behind me. The air suddenly smelled like wet dirt. I swallowed hard and kept my focus on the man, but he was fading away. I reached out to him but felt my body jerk side to side. The last thing I saw before hitting the ground was the man turning slowly. The side of his face was blackened like the rest of the forest.
“He could have just passed out?” Ron’s voice came from directly above my face. I could feel his breath hot on my face. He was shaking my shoulders. “Harry, what the actual fu—”
I blinked my eyes open, thankful that my glasses were still on my face because I got to see the pure and utter shock on Ron’s face as if I had come back from the dead as a zombie. “Hi,” I said weakly.
“Is this going to be a regular thing?” Hermione asked. “Because if it is, I will need to grab some supplies like my bottled bubble charms to cushion your fall for one.”
I sat up and brushed the dirt off my arms. The only thing that really hurt was my back and I was pretty sure that was just from sleeping on the floor of my own living room last night after I told Hermione and Ron all about the visions and seeing my mother at Dean and Seamus’s party.
“I think there’s someone I’m meant to save.”
Hermione’s eyes narrowed. “Of course you are, Harry. There are many people in danger. If these surges keep growing in frequency and size, there’s no telling the kind of lasting damage…”
I shook my head. “No like a specific person. The man sobbing in front of the rock. I almost reached him this time. I just knew I was supposed to get to him, but he is always just out of reach.”
“Maybe we will figure out who he is after we trace the magic.” Ron offered a hand to help me up.
“You’re right. We follow the magic. Track the patterns.” I brushed the rest of the dirt off my pants and picked up my wand which was in the dirt just in front of the tombstone. I don’t know why it didn’t occur to me to read the stone sooner, but I read it now and felt my stomach flip. The name on it was Frank Longbottom Sr.
I touched the stone and felt my magic humming under my skin again. “This is Neville’s granddad.”
“What?” Hermione asked and moved in closer to read the stone. “Why is he buried here? Did we know he was buried here?” She scratched her chin as she examined the stone.
“I agree it’s odd, and we can ask Neville all about it later, but we have more pressing matters,” Ron said. “Like tracing the magic that killed the caretaker. The longer we are here, the more likely it is someone spots us and tells the someone who tells the Unspeakables and then we will be screwed because if they mange to erase out memories of the magical surges, who will figure out why they are happening?”
I tore my eyes away from the stone and nodded. Ron was right. There was a lot we didn’t know and the longer we waited, the more people would be in danger.
Ron smiled at me. It was his ‘you’re not going to like this’ smile. “Yes, indeed. Hence why, when you were having your vision or whatever, we voted, and so, you lost. You get to ask Malfoy for the potion.”
Chapter 11: Misunderstandings
Harry goes to ask for help from Draco Malfoy because Ron and Hermione voted and he lost.
Mordeau’s was tucked back in an alleyway next to Seamus’s quidditch shop, out of sight from the Main Street of Hogsmeade. A rusted iron sign in the shape of a cauldron creaked in the slight breeze. I’d been inside only once before—when I went looking for Malfoy after the ministry function, but he hadn’t been in and it was probably for the best. I remember waking up that morning with a terrible hangover and my first thought was ‘Malfoy.’ I’d rushed to the shop before I even really thought about why. I hesitated at the door now, unsure how to ask him for the potion without telling him why I needed it.
I turned the knob and instantly I was met with the smell of something brewing. It was a sickly sweet smell that made me think of cough syrup. The shop itself was an assortment of shelves in no discernible pattern all strewn with vials and containers that held all manner of petrified body parts. The lighting was dim, as the only visible source was a wooden chandelier hanging from the middle of the shops ceiling.
Toward the back there was a counter of sorts and behind it stood Draco Malfoy who was furiously scribbling on some parchment. He wore a black apron over a short sleeved cotton shirt. It was pale blue and made his platinum blonde hair stand out even more than usual. Beside him was a tiny owl who looked impatiently at Malfoy as if waiting for the response was taking too long.
“Be with you in a moment.” His voice came out pleasant. None of the drawling poshness I was used to. This Malfoy seemed like he was good with customers and genuinely enjoyed his job, which was enough to amuse me by itself, but then I noticed the ink stains on his fingers and the extra quill tucked behind his ear and I felt myself smile.
I coughed to get his attention. He looked up and his eyes darted to the front door of the shop and then back to me. “Hi, Malfoy.”
His voice when it came now was low and touchably sensual. “Potter, this is becoming a daily annoyance, I mean, occurrence. What busines brings you here today?”
“No, that’s not why I’m here,” I whispered. I felt a heat spreading though my body thinking about how he stood me up last night. ‘There's a guest room.’ Merlin, this was embarrassing. He didn’t even speak to me the rest of the party and I hated to admit that it stung.
“Then what brings you here? In need of a potion that you can’t get from the Ministry stores? Something a for the bedroom, perhaps? We all know how you like to sleep around.” Malfoy smirked as he stepped out from behind the counter, his letter forgotten and the owl looking truly aggravated. It ruffled its feathers and swooped away. “We have a wide selection of potions, Potter, but I’m sure we can find one that suits your, uh, needs.”
“I’m in need of one particular potion and it has nothing to do with the bedroom, sorry to disappoint.” I ignored the impulse building in me to ask him why he stood me up yesterday at the party. That was a problem for another day. What I needed was the potion, not another distraction.
His grin wavered. “Shame.”
“Is it?” I scoffed.
“Not if you’re going to be a twat about it, no.” Malfoy stepped in front of me and raked his eyes over my body. His gaze lingered over my groin before he settled on my face.
I could feel the pulse of my magic under my skin again. Seems being sober meant feeling every bit of my magic under my skin like electricity. “You’re the twat.”
“How are you getting worse as this?” Malfoy laughed that touchable laugh. I could feel it sliding along my skin like a lovers caress. “I didn’t think that was possible.”
I frowned. “Shove it.”
Malfoy bit his lip to keep from smirking. “Well, are we going to get to it soon, Potter? I do have other business to attend to. Despite what you think, the world does not stop for you.”
I looked around the shop. We seemed to be alone, but that was not a guarantee in the wizarding world. I knew all too well how easy it was to conceal yourself and eavesdrop. I did my fair share of listening in growing up, and up until I got stuck on desk duty, I got paid to do it. There were at least five legal concealment spells and about a dozen illegal ones. That’s not to say any spells or potions the Unspeakables used and never had to tell the DMLE about since they work outside of the laws.
“Is there somewhere more private we could go?”
“I thought this wasn’t about a bedroom potion?” He titled his head to the side and raked his eyes up and down my body.
I had to shake my head to keep focused. Ron and Hermione were arses for sending me in here alone. “Malfoy, can we be serious for one minute?”
“You’re no fun today,” Malfoy whined. He turned away from me and headed toward the door to the back of the shop. He didn’t turn around or indicate that I should follow him, but I did it anyway.
The back room of the shop looked much the same as the front of the shop. All wooden fixtures. Candles in sconces. Book shelves that went to the ceiling lined one wall. A work table lined another. There were vials and potions brewing in cauldrons. Parchment was spread across every free space of the room.
Malfoy turned abruptly once inside the back room and waved his wand to shut the door behind me. “Well, let’s get whatever all of this is over with.” He held out his hand to me.
“Um, what are you doing?” I looked at his hand confused.
“It’s for the privacy spell, you obtuse door knocker. It requires skin to skin contact. Just take my hand.”
“I’ve never heard of a privacy spell that involves hand holding.”
Malfoy rolled his eyes. “And if you’ve never heard of it then it must not exist, right?”
“Now who’s being the twat?”
His hand hung between us. His long pale fingers outstretched toward me. His hand trembled a bit as he waited for me to take it. “You had no problem touching me the other day, in fact you insisted on it.” Malfoy’s voice lowered to a whisper and if I wasn’t mistaken, he sounded hurt. He was the one that stood me up last night. He had no right sounding hurt.
I took his hand. His long fingers curled around my wrist. He tugged me closer, so we were less than an arms length apart. I could feel his pulse against my fingers. My magic reacted to him. I felt it coursing through me like a river current rushing downstream.
“So, uh, how’s this work?” I asked just to have something to think about that wasn’t how badly I wanted him.
“Like any other spell. I wave this little thing called a wand. You have heard of one of those, haven't you? And then I say some magic words.” Malfoy waggled his eye brows mockingly and then held his wand up between us. “Ready, Potter?”
I nodded. He really could be such a prick.
“Sacramentum verborum.” His voice was steady as he spoke the spell. Almost immediately a white and blue light streamed out from the tip of his wand and circled around our bodies. It swirled all the way from the ground to the tips of our heads. “Okay, so what potion is so secret that you needed privacy just to talk to me about it?”
Best to get right to the point. The longer Ron and Hermione hung around the cemetery, the more likely someone would notice. “I need your magical trace potion.”
He tilted his head to the side and scrunched his brow. “Um, what makes you think I would give you a potion that is still in its testing phase? I mean, even if it wasn’t totally illegal to give you proprietary materials, the potion isn’t fully complete and that means it’s dangerous. I’m not putting my arse on the line for anyone, not even the Golden Boy. Plus, we aren’t friends, so what makes you think I would help you anyway?”
“I need it.” I paused and then added, “We are friendly though, even though you propositioned me yesterday and then left me waiting.” I smiled and watched Malfoy blush, but he scowled almost immediately ruining the effect.
“No way am I giving you the potion.” He rolled his eyes. “And I did not leave you waiting. Ginny followed you down the hall before I could. I figured you would send her away but you didn’t. When you guys came out looking, well, I thought... I don’t know.”
“Is that why you ignored me the rest of the party then?” So much for not getting distracted. “You thought what? Ginny and I hooked up while her girlfriend was in the other room?”
He shrugged. “You’ve done worse. Don’t act like you haven’t. The Prophet has published more than a few stories about your exploits. And you and she have a history.”
Fuck. All my reckless behavior was finally catching up with me. I was too drunk to care what they wrote most of the time. Only about half of it was true, but that didn’t matter. “I wouldn’t do that to her, Pansy, or to you, even though you are the biggest prick I have ever met. I’m not that big of a cock.”
“I don’t see how it’s any worse than sleeping with Carlie Carr, Hollyheads beater, and then sleeping with their seeker a night later? It cost them the championship.”
That one wasn’t true. I only slept with Carlie. The seeker, Janelle, got jealous and threw a fit. “I don’t understand. Sure, I’ve hooked up with a lot of people. You obviously know that. It’s all over the papers and it seems you’ve read all of them.”
“I suppose I did know that. I just didn’t think it bothered me until last night when I thought…well, you know what I thought.” There it was again. He sounded hurt. He was the one who was adamant that the hook up at the ministry event meant nothing.
“Oh, come on. It wasn’t, I wasn’t—” Hermione was right. He was serious. I tried to come up with something to say that didn’t make me sound like the biggest cock to walk the planet, but came up dry.
“As much fun as it’s been, I don’t know if I’m not as okay with being one of many as I thought I would be,” he said. It looked like it too effort, too. He barely made eye contact with me as he spoke. His eyes darted everywhere but my face.
I was feeling defensive now. “You’re talking like I’ve cheated on you. We hooked up twice and you barely act like you enjoy my company when I’m not on my knees.”
Malfoy let out a deep sigh. He looked around again and I didn’t like the look on his face. “I suppose I underestimated my own feelings and overestimated yours.”
“Malfoy, you didn’t. I am interested in you.”
He smiled but it stoped before it reached his eyes. “Sexually, right?”
I licked my lips. “Yes, very interested,” I said but when I saw him, I knew that wasn’t the answer he was hoping for.
“Look, let’s just forget it for now.” Malfoy sighed. “I’m not giving you the potion and whatever was happening between us is, well I don’t know, so if that’s all?” He looked down at our hands and I felt him loosen the grip.
I wanted to make him feel better, reassure him somehow and that was an odd feeling. I had no idea what I could say that might work, so I opted for letting it go. For now. “Malfoy, please. I need that potion. It’s important.”
“For what? If it’s so important, tell me.” His voice was cool and detached now. I hated how sad it made him sound. I hated that somehow I was responsible for that.
I gritted my teeth. “I can’t tell you.”
Malfoy laughed and jerked his hand back like he was trying to break the spell again. I tightened my grip on his hand. His eyes flicked up to meet mine. “Potter, let go of me.”
“People are in danger. I need it to help them. I can’t tell you more than that without putting you in danger, too.”
“Here comes the Saint Potter speech about helping others and saving the world, again. Don’t you ever tire of this whole righteousness act?”
“It’s not an act.”
“Isn’t it though?” Malfoy tugged my hand this time, bringing our faces so close I could feel his breath on my lips. “At least part of you likes the danger or else you wouldn’t throw yourself into it face first every single time.”
I swallowed hard. I could taste him on my tongue.
Malfoy always had a knack for zeroing in on my insecurities and calling me out. It was like he could read my mind. Hell, maybe he could. I heard Snape trained him in Occlumency just like he trained me. I think that’s what drew me to him then and now. I didn’t have to pretend to be Harry Potter for him. That idealized version of me that everyone built up in their heads before they even knew me. There was freedom in the way Malfoy saw me.
“Fine. I like the danger. I understand it better than I understand anything else. I always have. It makes more sense to me than settling down and getting married and having kids and all that stuff people swore to me would feel good after the war. Except none of it felt right. It was boring. But that doesn’t mean I can’t also want to keep people safe.”
I saw a smile spread across his face as he pulled back to look at me. “You are somehow always exactly what I expect you to be like and yet nothing like what I expect at the same time. I hate it and you.” There was no venom in his voice though. He looked at me and I could see a softness in his stare.
I set my jaw. “I need that potion.”
“We just established that isn’t a problem for me.” I smirked, hoping I looked as cocky as I sounded.
Malfoy tightened his grip on my hand. I felt his nails dig into my skin, so I matched his grip and dug my nails in too. “It could kill you if something goes wrong.”
I shook my head. “I don’t care.”
“I still don’t care.”
“I won’t let you just have my potion.” Malfoy crossed his free arm over his chest. The motion jostled me and I stumbled forward into him. I placed my free hand on his chest to steady myself.
“What do you…” I trailed off as understanding hit me. He wanted to come along and I couldn’t let him. He was too much of a distraction.
“I need to be there to monitor your vitals in case something goes wrong. Imagine the headlines if you die with my potion in your system. They would chase me out of England with pitchforks even if you’ve completely decimated your reputation.”
“Hermione can handle it.” I slowly dragged my hand off his chest and my body felt like it was one fire. I swallowed, hard. “She said you guys worked together on it.”
“I’m not doubting her capabilities as weird as that is to admit out loud. Hermione understands the potion better than most, but not better than me. If you want the potion, I come along, too.”
“Malfoy, I appreciate what you’re saying but you don’t even know what we are facing.”
“If you want the potion, then accept that I’m coming or else you can leave empty handed.”
I forced myself to relax my hand in his, letting my fingers soften against his skin. I could hear my heart beating furiously as if I had just pulled a wronski feint to grab the snitch and win the game. I watched Malfoy’s face as we stood there, hands still touching and realized the spell had faded around us. I didn’t pull my hand away and neither did Malfoy. He watched me with those dark-gray eyes that were like standing at the edge of a storm. They were tempting and dangerous and I was afraid I would drown in them if I wasn’t careful.
Chapter 12: Traces
With Malfoy’s potion in hand, Harry begins to find out what is going on.
Maybe it was faith in Malfoy’s potion mastery, maybe it was pure stubbornness, maybe something else all together. Maybe I didn’t really know the risks. Maybe I didn’t care to know them. Either way I found my lips wrapped around the business end of a potion vial with three sets of eyes watching me with apprehension written all over their faces.
We stood at the entrance to the cemetery just in case they needed to get me back to the shop quickly. Malfoy could apparate us, but not from inside the cemetery. It was illegal to appatate in the Hogsmeade Cemetery because of the historical significance and the fact that they often had looters in the late 1800’s trying to make off with family heirlooms. Seems Hogsmeade’s history was a lot more interesting than I was led to believe in Flitwick’s class. Funny how history is just history until it got in the way.
“You have to drink it all,” Malfoy said. He had one hand fanned out across his chest. The other held tight to his wand just in case. “Now, it should work by giving you the ability to see magical traces. You’ll have to differentiate between ambient magic and intentional magic, of course. Ambient magic will look neutral like a grayish white. The other spells will present as different colors just like with the traditional trace spell.”
I raised my gaze to meet Malfoy’s. “How long will it last?”
He shrugged. “It’s supposed to last over an hour. It could last that long or it could last ten minutes. You’re the first person to ingest it.”
Hermione looked a little pale under her expertly guarded ‘scholar’ face that she wore when she was studying. “You swear to tell us if you feel any side effects?”
“Yes,” I said.
Hermione took my wrist. “Harry, we all know you like to be the martyr.” She paused when I opened my mouth to protest, but she shook her head. “I’m not saying that to be an arse. It’s just the truth. You are always willing to suffer so others won’t. But an untested potion could fuck up your magic for the rest of your life if you aren’t careful.”
Ron looked at Hermione and then back to me. “You don’t have to take the potion, Harry. I know we all said it was the only way to trace the magic but maybe we are missing something?” His face was an amalgamation of fear and queasiness. It reminded me of the day in first or second year when he vomited up slugs becasue his curse backfired. He been aiming at Malfoy of all people. Now he stood next to Malfoy hoping his potions didn’t kill me. I guess ironies really are going around.
I shook my head. What could I say to make him understand? I didn’t want anyone else getting hurt when I could have done something to prevent it. That’s what drove me for my entire life. The danger was there and since I could stop it, I had to. It was as simple as that for me. Yes, some darker part of me enjoyed the life and death of it all. Or maybe enjoy isn’t the right word. I belonged to danger and had ever since my parents were taken from me. I understood it and I wasn’t afraid to risk my life. I had to try. End of story. But the fear in Ron’s face did give me a moments pause. He cared about me more than I gave him credit for in the last five years. I’d become so hellbent on numbing out the bad, I’d numbed out the good too.
“Please, Harry, be safe,” Ron asserted. He held out a hand and waited for me to take it. He squeezed hard once and then released.
I tilted the vial back and swallowed. The potion tasted like mulled wine, so it could have been worse. It could have tasted like cherry cough syrup like so many other potions that come out tasting like the worst medicine you’ve ever tasted. So many amazing things about being a wizard, but potion’s almost always tasted bad.
“This is getting out of hand,” Ron added. “We shouldn’t be involving more people in this investigation. Harry should have just gotten the potion. It’s bad enough Skeeter is involved. Now Malfoy is here. If he gets hurt then…”
Hermione turned to Ron and held a finger up to her mouth, shushing him. “I need to concentrate. This is the first human trial of the potion. There’s no telling how Harry will react to it.”
Malfoy turned to face Ron. His voice was matter of fact, clinical. “You wife is quite right. If you want Harry safe then you need to let us concentrate.”
“I don’t feel anything,” I said once the last of the potion was gone from the vial. I held up the empty container to the light to make sure none was left. “How fast is it supposed to—” I stopped mid-sentence because floating around the vial were specs of light like golden dust. It swirled around the vial and I watched it float down and wrap around my wrist and slink all the way up to my neck and then my face. I was seeing the magic of the potion working in real time. It was wrapped around me like golden ivory.
“Is it working?” Malfoy asked all the awkwardness from our conversation was gone and replaced by academic intrigue. I couldn’t even tell he had been annoyed a few minutes ago as we walked here.
“I think so. I see golden dust wrapping itself around me.” I held my hand up experimentally and watched the golden dust move with me. It was like it had attached itself to my person.
Both Hermione and Malfoy looked pleased. They shared a glance that seemed to say ‘this is amazing’ before Malfoy held up his wand. “I’m going to cast a lumos, tell me if you see the traces once I put it out. Lumos.” Malfoy’s wand lit up bright and then he said, “Nox.”
I watched the air near his wand for something like the golden dust I’d seen come from the potion. After a moment, I saw a blueish light lingering in the air around him with a small wisp leading back to his wand. It was more solid-looking than the trace from the potion. Maybe potions and spells present differently because they are different kinds of magic.
“I see it. There’s a blue light in the air where you cast the spell and it leads back to the tip of your wand.” I took a deep breath, and then let it out. I was seeing magic in a way no wizard had before and the gravity of it was not lost on me.
Malfoy’s face lit up. He was smiling and it was so genuine, so completely different from how I’ve seen him, that it made my breath catch in my throat. I wanted to kiss him in that moment. I felt myself moving toward him and stopped myself. Kissing him because I liked the way he smiled after seeing his potion work was definitely not casual hook-up territory. If he had been confused about things with us before, what would my kissing him out in the open mean to him?
He turned to Hermione and said, “I did it. The potion works.”
“It’s brilliant,” Hermione said. “You’re brilliant, Draco.”
“Your suggestion about adjusting the amount of bitter root to snowdrop ratio is what got me into the last phase.” Malfoy extended his hand and Hermione took it. They shook once and then released.
Ron sighed. “Yes, he’s smart and you’re smart, wahoo for new advances in potion making, but can we save the celebrating for later? We need Harry to look for magic in the cemetery before the potion wears off or before someone spots us all out here wandering a cemetery.”
Malfoy was still smiling. “Yes, right. Let’s take a stroll through the cemetery, shall we?”
Inside the cemetery grounds, I was overwhelmed by the scene I saw in front of me, so it was easy to push aside the feeling in my gut at seeing Malfoy smile. There were swirls of magic hovering over almost every grave. Most were different shades of white and blue. There were other smaller patches of color low to the ground. Some traces hung in the air like an awning. In between all the other colors, there was the gray ambient magic Malfoy mentioned. “There’s so much. I don’t know where to look. I see something over every grave. Magic really is everywhere.”
Malfoy looked out at the cemetery. “You’re seeing the protection spells over the graves most likely. Many of these graves are historical and therefore have a lot of value. The Hogsmeade Historical Society had some experts come in during the First World War and add protection charms to the graves to keep looters away. It was a huge problem, so only approved family members are allowed to make changes to the graves. They renew the charms that start to fade out yearly. The ones that look more vibrant are the ones that were most recently renewed.”
I nodded. “Could that be why the trace spells didn’t work here?”
“That’s probable,” Hermione chimed in. “Though if anything the trace spell should have locked onto the most recently casted magic and therefore shown up as a protection charm.”
“Is there anything else?” Ron asked from behind me.
“Yea, loads more.” I walked forward to the grave where the caretaker died. It was at the back of the cemetery, so I couldn’t see it yet. But if the caretaker was killed with magic, I would be able to see it thanks to the potion. Finally, I could get some answers.
I passed by grave after grave. Some presenting as a vibrant blue, others in varying shades of blue and gray. There were a few other traces like a green one at the base of a gravestone where someone had cast a charm around some flowers they planted to keep them fresh longer. I looked carefully at the magic surrounding me. It was beautiful and haunting at the same time. It was like the magic was frozen in time, hovering in place until it dissipated or faded away. I dared to look up toward the forest and found lines of color running though the trees like ultraviolet waves. I stopped dead in my tracks when I saw one of the traces, a black one in the trees, that was tethered to a spot at the back of the cemetery very close to the spot where the caretaker died. It was like a trail of smoke that led from the trees to the grave.
I took off toward it. I didn’t wait for Ron, Hermione, or Malfoy, but I heard them running behind me. Malfoy swearing about improper footwear for a chase.
When I reached the grave, I swallowed, hard, catching my breath. “This is it.”
Malfoy reached me first despite his improper footwear. He always had been fast. “What is it?” He sounded out of breath, too, but he didn’t show any visible signs of being winded.
“Black, like smoke. It starts here and then there is a trail to the forest.” I pointed to the spot in the tree line where the black disappeared behind the foliage.
“Black, are you sure?”
Hermione and Ron arrived a moment later. They did look visibly winded. Ron clutched his side and a gasped for air. “Shite. I need to get back into the training program. Being Junior Auror in Charge has made me soft.”
“What in Merlin’s name was that about anyway?” Hermione asked.
“Black traces leading to the forest.” I started to follow the black tether to the back gate of the cemetery. It was a stone wall that ran the length of the forest. It was up to my waist. Easy to hop, so I did.
Hermione grabbed my arm. She was still standing on the cemetery side of the wall. “Harry, we shouldn’t go in there. You know better than anyone that the forest is dangerous. And a black trace can’t mean anything good.”
“We’ve been in there loads of times.” I yanked my arm free of her grip. “This black smoke looks too much like my visions. It’s hovering over the grave where the caretaker was killed. That scream is still ringing in in my ears. It can’t be a coincidence.”
“Okay, I think maybe now I need to be filled in all the way,” Malfoy asserted. He still had his wand out and ready. He pointed at me. “You said you wanted to find out what magic killed the caretaker, who by all accounts isn’t actually dead according to the Ministry and I definitely don’t remember any screams from the party. I decided to indulge you because you are stubborn and would have likely stolen the potion if I refused to help you, but now you’re telling me you’re having visions?”
“I’ll explain later. I’m not wasting this potion.” I smiled and then began running after the black trial of magic as it began to fade away.
Chapter 13: Connections
Harry and Draco run through the Forbidden Forest and find someone unexpected.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
The humidity was thick and suffocating, like a heavy blanket had been thrown over the forest. I had to follow that trail, had to find out where the magic originated. I jogged, stepping over fallen trees and watching for rocks. There was so much ambient magic around me that I had trouble keeping my focus on the black trail in front of me as it started to fade. It swooped under other traces, over them, moving around trees and through brushes. I turned back and realized I was deep into the forest. I couldn't see the cemetery anymore, but I saw a tuft of white-blond hair bobbing in between the trees. Malfoy followed me in.
“Potter, slow the fuck down, will you?” His voice was shaky and out of breath. He must have sprinted to catch up with me. He’d been on the other side of the cemetery fence when I took off and somehow managed to catch up.
“You followed me?” I asked impressed. From what I remember, Malfoy was scared of these woods. Or he had been when we were in school.
He scowled at me when he reached the clearing where I stood. There was a small opening in the treetops and sunlight floated down into the forest like a spotlight on me.
“I did.” He looked as surprised as I felt. “I cannot believe I fucking followed you into this damned forest. I’ve snapped. That’s it. I have finally lost it.” He was mumbling to himself as he tried to step over a fallen tree, but he lost his footing and stepped on the tree. It was rotted through and covered in moss. His foot went through the rotten bark with a snap.
I ran to him and caught him before he hit the ground. His hands wrapped around my shoulders, gripping hard. A tremor ran down my spine when he touched the skin of my neck and I felt the urge to kiss him again. He yanked his foot out of the rotted tree and we both stumbled a bit from the force. I slipped my hands around his middle tighter, pulling him close. His eyes flicked up from the forest floor to my eyes. I let myself fall into them for a moment, forgetting where we were or why. The muscles of his back were taut and I felt them under my touch as he worked to move back from me. I released him even though my whole body screamed at me to hold him closer.
“Are you okay?” I heard myself ask. I ignored the hum of my magic under my skin that happened whenever he was around.
“Fine. Just peachy,” he said. He looked down at his shoes. Leather oxfords with pointed toes. They looked expensive. They looked uncomfortable. “Can I have a moment to transfigure my shoes before we continue? They are ruined anyway and if you’re going to take off like a banshee out of hell again, I need to be able to keep up.”
I’d forgotten about the magical trace. I spun around trying to find the black smoke again. I saw it in the distance on the other side of the clearing. It was barely visible. Either the potion was fading or the trace was nearly gone. “It’s disappearing.”
Malfoy looked up at me. His wand was pointed at his shoes, ready. He sighed heavily. “Merlin and Morgana.” He put his wand in it’s holster and motioned for me to move.
I started jogging toward the trace and Malfoy kept pace with me. He didn’t complain again. I tore my eyes away from the trace and watched him move, his body toned and steady. There was sweat on his forehead and a small line of sweat around the collar of his shirt.
“You’re in pretty good shape for a potions master,” I huffed between breaths and found the trace again. It sounded like there was a stream nearby and we were heading toward it.
“You’re in pretty good shape for someone whose head is so far up their arse they run into a dangerous forest chasing down what is shaping up to be a murderer, apparently.”
“I like it when you don’t sugarcoat things for me. It’s hot.”
“Are you seriously trying to flirt with me while we run through the fucking Forbidden Forest?” His speech was labored, but he didn’t fall behind me.
“Maybe.” I glanced at him out of the corner of my eye. His jaw was clenched. His eyes were focused ahead of us as if he could see the fading magical trace, too.
“Is the trace still there?” He ignored my answer, but I saw the hint of a smile playing at the corner of his mouth.
After the coat room, he mostly ignored my advances with the exception of the memorial and the party, of course, but that didn’t stop me. I liked the challenge, the back and forth. It was exciting.
“It’s fading,” I said. “I see it heading toward that spot over there.” I pointed to the break in the trees. The sound of rushing water grew clearer.
We moved in silence after that and reached the break in the trees just as the magical trace faded completely. I looked around and saw all the other magical traces fading, too. The potion had run its course.
I stopped at the embankment of the stream and leaned over to catch my breath, resting my hands on my knees. “Potion’s faded.”
Malfoy stood next to me with his hands over his head. He was taking in deep, long breaths. “Fucking bollocks.”
“There’s nothing here.” I stood upright and looked around the stream. The forest was quiet. There was a tinge of evil to the silence in the forest, menacing even, but under that there was something serene. That was magic. That was all of magic as far as I’d seen. The capability for both good and evil, light and dark. It felt fitting that ambient magic was gray since magic wasn’t one thing or the other, it was all in how we used it.
There was a rustling in the bushes down stream. My eyes snapped over to the sound. I had my wand in my hand. I whispered, “Stay here.”
Malfoy scoffed. “Yeah right.”
I rolled my eyes but didn’t argue. If he wanted to put himself in danger, who was I to stop him? I sure as hell would never have let anyone tell me to stay put and neither would he.
We both crouched down low behind the bushes and followed the bank of the stream, careful to avoid twigs or leaves underfoot. There was another rustle and this time I also heard humming and then a voice singing. Someone was out here with us. Out here where the black magical trail led us.
“But one evening, one summer evening, We decided to take too much. Together we opened a door. It was empty, so empty.” The voice sang. The melody was eerie and ancient. It sounded like a warning.
I peered over the bush and saw Adeline Greyjoy, the new Divination professor, holding her hands up in the air. She wore a large flowing dress that billowed out as she spun in circles around a small fire. It crackled as a long snapped under the flames. There was an iron kettle next to the fire along with many glass jars full of herbs. She stoped singing abruptly and turned to me. There was a smile on her face as if she expected to find me here.
“Hello, Harry Potter.” And without waiting for a response, she added. “And Draco Malfoy, too. What a treat.”
She gave me a slight curtesy and lowered her wand. She bent over to pick up another log and tossed it into the fire. The embers and ashes floated up in small orange-black specs. “Won’t you two come join me for some tea? I’ve been foraging for ingredients. The forest has some magnificent plants to help with divination.”
It was too hot for tea. Too hot to be in the forest for any reason other than necessity. Was I really supposed to believe she was just out here gathering leaves for tea? Could I trust this woman I barely knew? How was I supposed to know the trace hadn’t been leading me to her?
“How did you know it was us?” I said standing up in full view now. I stepped around the bush and Malfoy followed suit. He was fanning his face with his hand.
“One moment,” she said and whispered something into the kettle that was sitting near the fire. It was cast iron. She levitated it to hover over the fire. “Tea is on. Come, come.”
Malfoy looked at me and shrugged. He made his way over to the fire and sat down on a tree stump. “Professor Greyjoy, why are you so deep into the forest?”
“Best ingredients are out here, of course,” she said.
I opted for standing even though the effort of running through the forest was catching up to me now that my adrenaline was fading. I wanted to be ready if she tried something. I felt a pain in my right side as I tried to steady my breaths. “I’d still like to know how you knew it was us out here.”
She shook her head. A smile played at the corner of her mouth. “I am a seer, remember?”
“So you knew we would end up out here?” I wiped sweat off my brow. It was stifling hot out and standing next to a fire wasn’t helping. I could feel the heat curling around me like devils snare.
Greyjoy waved a hand arbitrarily. “Ah, not exactly. I have a ward up around my little fire. This forest isn’t exactly safe, you know? It warned me there were two people nearing and then I focused and cast a revelio and it told me who was there.”
Malfoy laughed. “I half expected some contrived seer response like ‘I see all.’ It’s nice to know all you divination types aren’t as obnoxious as Trelawney had been.”
“Tea?” Greyjoy asked. She levitated the kettle and three cups. The kettle tipped itself and poured out three cups. The steam rose from them and I was reminded of the magical trace.
“Don’t drink that,” I snapped at Malfoy just as he was taking the levitated cup and bringing it to his mouth.
He gave me a nasty scowl. “Why not, Potter?”
“How do you know it wasn’t leading here?” I titled my head and raised my eyebrows hoping he would fill in the blanks himself.
Malfoy looked at the tea in his hand. His eyes widened and I watched his normally schooled expression of indifference fade away and be replaced with fear. He looked up at Greyjoy. “Why are you gathering your own ingredients when Hogwarts has a store room?”
“I am after an ingredient called swallow’s wing so I can brew a tea that will help quiet my visions. They have grown too frequent and I require sleep. Without the tea, I do not sleep. Without sleep, I am useless.”
“Again, why not get it from the Hogwarts stores?” Malfoy asked. I had no idea what the ingredient looked like, let alone where it could be found, but he clearly knew. “I’m sure someone in the castle has a bottle for you. Or you could come to Mordeau's. We have a bit in stock.”
“Fresh is best,” she said with a smile. “Plus the forest is so full of magic that it sort of balances out my own magic. My mind is quietest in here.”
Adeline Greyjoy was odd, sure, like any divination professor would be expected to be, but she wasn’t odd the way Trelawney had been. She seemed perfectly in control of her oddness. Nor was she odd in the way Dumbledore had been odd, not that he was a seer as far as I knew. She didn’t speak in riddles or answer questions with more questions. But she was odd and I didn’t trust her. Not when the trace had lead us directly to her.
Malfoy placed the tea cup on the ground in front of him. He stood up and brushed his hands on the front of her trousers. “Well, we should…” he trailed off and nodded his head in the direction we came from.
I didn’t move. I stared at Greyjoy, debating. Her mention of more frequent visions gave me pause. How could it not after all the visions I’d had in the last week? I didn’t trust her, but she was a seer and that meant if anyone could help me understand the visions I was having, it was her. I didn’t have time to overthink what I was about to say. I needed information fast. No one else was going to die because of my inaction.
“I have visions,” I said.
“I know. I have seen you in my own,” she said as if this was a perfectly normal conversation, but she didn’t elaborate. “When did they start?”
“A few days ago.”
She shook her head. “No, when did you begin having visions. Not these specific ones, but in general. How old were you?”
I didn’t know what she meant. These were the first visions I’d had that weren’t planted into my head by Voldemort. She couldn’t mean those could she? Hardly anyone knew about that outside of the Order. “Do you mean the visions Voldemort placed in my mind when he felt like hurting me?”
She smiled. “Yes.”
“I was eleven the first time.”
“And you believe he was the one showing you those terrible things? You think he forced you to see them?” Greyjoy’s voice grew softer as she spoke. She sipped at her own cup of tea and sighed with relief.
I stared at her, frustration building in my gut. “I know he did. He had to. I didn’t chose to see those things. He was inside me, always. He watched me though my own fucking eyes. I had a part of his soul attached to mine and it was like a black rot. He had control over the visions, alright. He toyed with me. Like the time he made me watch his snake devour a man whole, or when he tricked me into thinking Sirius was in trouble so I raced to help, only to insure his death, or when he showed me Arthur almost dying. Voldemort put those visions in my mind. He as good as raped my mind.”
Malfoy, who up until then had been giving me a nasty look, gasped. He sat back on the tree stump and looked everywhere but at me. I watched as his face paled and then he was turning away from the fire and retching.
Most people reacted the same way to Voldemort’s name or any mention of him at all. They mostly flinch. Once, I would have called them cowards, but now I understand the fear better. It freezes you. There’s a moment, just a moment, where your mind forgets he’s dead and suddenly you are back there in the war and Voldemort is alive. He can hurt you again. The body reacts, the mind doesn’t understand right way. Those few seconds feel like dying. The only way out of the feeling, is through it. Fear becomes part of you and the way you think. It makes you anxious, suspicious, but it also makes you safe. Malfoy was familiar with Voldemort’s cruelty and control. I only knew because at his trial they made him take veritaserum and asked him to recount what it was like when Voldemort lived in his home. He had been sobbing by the end of his trial recounting all the ways he was tortured. I remember his face and body were covered in bruises as he leaned over his his chair, shaking. The binds were so tight, he couldn’t even bring his hands up to his face to hide his crying from the Wizengamot.
In truth, I didn’t think that Malfoy would be that affected. He had been Cruicio’d, sure. Many of us had. Not regularly, of course, like he had. But outside of that what he reveled at the trial sounded no worse than what the rest of us faced. And I didn’t really care if it would affect him when I said those things. I only cared about myself and the anger I felt rising in me at Greyjoy’s implication that I had control over those visions the whole time.
“Malfoy…” I reached out and put a hand on his back. I rubbed in circles trying to sooth him. His body was shaking. I felt it tremble under my hand. “Are you okay?”
“I’m fine,” Malfoy said, wiping the vomit from his mouth. “It must be all the running though the forest.” He tried a smile, but his face was still pale and sallow-looking.
Greyjoy huffed. “Will you foolish boys have some tea now?”
Malfoy eyed me carefully. There were tears in his eyes and sweat running down his temples. “I’ll cast to make sure the tea is safe,” he said.
I nodded and he cast a spell I'd never heard of that was probably some potions master spell and seemed satisfied with the results. He stared down at the drink for a moment. “I don’t like thinking about him.” He sounded smaller, less Malfoy-like and it made me uncomfortable.
I knelt down in front of him. I cupped his face and stroked my thumb under his eye, wiping away tears and sweat before I could think about What that might mean. “Neither do I.”
He looked at me. His eyes bloodshot. He pulled away from my touch, then he took a sip of the tea and some color returned to his face. “I didn’t know you had visions back then.”
“I don’t talk about it.”
Greyjoy coughed to remind us she was there. “Harry, I think you are a true seer like me. Those visions felt forced on you because of your age. You weren’t trained to deal with them, so they forced themselves to be seen. I am sure some of them were tricks if what you say is true about his soul attaching to yours, but I think considering the visions you are having now…”
“What do you know about those?”
“I said, I’ve seen you in my own visions. I had hoped to talk to you about them at the memorial, but you were hardly alone that day and I didn’t wish to speak with you in front of Mrs. Granger-Weasley since her disdain for divination is very clear.”
“Do you know what my visions are about?”
She shook her head. “Not exactly. I know you’re having them and they will lead to your death if you are not careful.”
It sounded ridiculous even to me, even though I had focused and made myself have a vision at the cemetery earlier today. I was a seer. I was a seer? How could that be right? “I don’t know. This all sounds crazy.”
“Crazier than any of the rest of your life?” Malfoy asked. His voice was back to normal.
Greyjoy smiled. “He has a point. Why is this any different than discovering you were a wizard?”
“Because if this is true, then that means that beast is real.” I felt the fear rising in me like a tide. It threatened to flood over me, drowning me in my own anxieties.
“The beast?” Malfoy asked.
“I see him in my visions. He has no face. He sounds like a swarm of flies. I’ve never been so afraid of something. He makes dealing with Voldemort feel like first year dueling.”
Malfoy shuddered at Voldemort's name, but he maintained his composure this time. “Is that what you were chasing out here? You were trying to find that thing out here?”
“You are insane.” Malfoy shook his head in disbelief. “Merlin’s tits, I’m the insane one. I just ran after you without thinking. I had no idea what we were chasing, but I ran after you. Merlin, fuck, but I was worried you would get hurt. Gods above and below, Pansy was right. I’m loosing my fucking mind.”
He had a point. I was afraid of this beast in my visions. Any sane person wouldn’t have dashed off into the Forbidden Forest after a beast from their nightmares. Malfoy looked at me, waiting for a response, but I had none. At least none that could satisfy him.
Greyjoy spoke, drawing my attention away from Malfoy who still looked in shock. “Don’t fight the visions, Harry. They will come whether you want them or not. Fighting them will only make them more debilitating when they come. You will pass out or feel ill.”
“That’s been happening already.”
“Because you fight it. The visions are coming because they are trying to tell you something about the beast. It may not always be literal. Sometimes they are pieced together using parts of your own life to help you make sense of it better.”
I remembered the bathroom at Dean and Seamus’s and seeing my mother in the mirror. Had she been trying to tell me something? And then the caretaker at the crime scene. He had definitely been trying to speak.
“I saw my mother,” I said. “Why would I see her when these visions have nothing to do with her? She’s dead.”
“Like I said, it isn’t always clear at first.” Greyjoy moved toward her fire and poured out the rest of the tea over it. Smoke billowed up from the fire as it went out. “Come back to the castle with me. We can discuss it more.”
So school is starting up and I am going to do my darndest to keep up one chapter per week, but I am human and life is busy, so I might have to dial it back to one every two weeks. Who knows? Either way, I will keep you all up to date.