The man waits for Aaron during the morning briefing.
Aaron sees him through the glass while Garcia tells them of the latest country-wide consult requests, while Rossi grabs the cases involving children, tossing the ones with geographical complications to Reid. Morgan frowns at the folder chronicling serial rapes in Philadelphia, not really listening to anyone. Seaver elects to work with Rossi on his files and Aaron can't tell her that she'll burn out before she's thirty if she keeps focusing on the bad cases like this.
(Can't or won't, because of all the things Aaron Hotchner can do, seeing the future isn't on the list.)
The BAU scatters to the wind as soon as Garcia finishes talking, and Aaron doesn't waste any time in walking down the hall to his office. The man stands by the door, waiting.
(It's only because Aaron Hotchner is a very good profiler indeed, that he can tell the man (early to mid thirties, medium build, dark hair, wearing corrective lenses) is:
a) nervous (shifting of the weight on the balls of his feet, glancing around the room in the moments between staring at Aaron);
b) not local (European law enforcement badge hanging from the man's belt)
(on second glance, the badge is from the British Auror's department, and Aaron slows his step because. Really. Today?); and
c) a wizard.
Even if the Auror's badge hadn't given it away, the clothing would. Not quite out of fashion, just different enough, and with materials that no normal person would ever wear.
At no time in his life have British wizards ever meant anything good to Aaron.)
However, Supervisory Special Agent Aaron Hotchner doesn't let his feelings cross his expression. "Can I help you?" he says, stopping with his hand on his office door.
The man nods, all attention on Aaron now. "I was hoping to have a few minutes to discuss some things, Agent Hotchner."
The accent confirm Aaron's impression of the man's origins. And even though he has three cases to work on and paperwork from Florida to complete, he shifts the folders to his left hand and holds out his right for the man to shake, then guides the stranger into his office.
The door closes out the world behind them. Aaron puts the folders on his desk and motions the man to sit.
"Thank you," the man says, fidgeting slightly. Aaron is used to this; most wizards won't look a squib in the face on the best of days.
He's used to this; it makes his blood boil.
"I'm sorry to drop in on you at work like this, but I'm only in America for a short time and this shouldn't wait any longer," the man goes on, finally looking up at Aaron. He looks embarrassed, but for himself and not Aaron, and that's far enough off script for Aaron to raise his eyebrows.
"You are..." Aaron prompts, dropping an obvious glance to the man's Auror badge.
The man's pauses for just a moment. "I'm Harry Potter."
Aaron waits, lets the name and the memories, from childhood and England and (don't say his name don't say his name) Voldemort, hit the walls and drip down like pain, before answering. "What can I do for you, Auror Potter?"
Aaron’s voice is calm, collected, perfect with the Southern manners his mother whipped into him after they landed in Virginia. One thing he leaned growing up: Never let them know anything affects you. Never let them see you care.
The other man clears his throat before continuing. "I'm not sure how much you follow the magical community in England..." He pauses, then goes on. "The Wizengamot has been making a series of changes to inheritance laws, and that includes inheritance by, um..." he falters.
Aaron's not going to help him out.
"By squibs," Auror Potter recovers.
Aaron's used to this; it makes his blood boil. All the time when he was a child, his witch mother was quick to point out what a useless little squib he was, what a disgrace to the name Black. As he grew up, Aaron pushed himself beyond what was expected, beyond what was seen as possible for any child. He was first in his class at school, class president, star athlete. He worked on the police force, ending up on SWAT far sooner than a man of his experience should. He went to law school, became as a lawyer, then a prosecutor, before joining the FBI and clawing his way through the ranks to end up in the Behavioral Analysis Unit before he was thirty.
No one remembers any of this because Spencer Reid turned up on their doorstep at the tender age of twenty-one and still shocks the hell out of them every week. Aaron tells himself it's fine; at least his team knows what he's capable of.
The aurors Aaron meets don't know what he's done, all he's experienced, and it will never matter. They look at him and see squib and that's as much as they need to know about him.
Reaching into an inner pocket in his jacket, Harry Potter pulls out a handful of parchments sealed with red wax. "That's why I'm here," he continues, not noticing as Aaron's jaw clenches.
"I'm afraid I don't follow," Aaron says, making himself lean back in his chair and wishing the pain behind his left eye would go away. Dealing with most wizards always leaves him with a headache.
Potter rubs his hand through his messy black hair. "It's regarding the inheritance of the House of Black."
The magnificent House of Black. "What about it?" Aaron asks, dread growing in his stomach.
"Well, after Sirius Black died," (and the man's voice waivers on the last word) "I inherited all his stuff because I was his godson." He lays the papers on Aaron's desk. "But when the laws changed to allow squibs in the line of inheritance, that makes it all yours."
Somehow, Aaron manages to swallow the lump of panic in his throat (observation: childhood trauma can be stirred up by well-meaning strangers as well as vindictive ones). "I'm afraid you've wasted a trip, Auror Potter," he says. His voice does not waiver.
Potter frowns. "But you were born Aaron Black, weren't you?" he asks. "I've seen the tapestry, you're the oldest living son to the House of Black--"
"That isn't what I mean," Aaron interrupts, suddenly sick of this. He stands, automatically buttoning his suit jacket. "You've wasted a trip because I don't want it. You can keep it."
Potter stands too, his face going slightly pink. "But it's rightfully yours," he insists. "Don't feel like you'd be taking anything from me, I only took it because of Sirius--"
"It's not that," Aaron says, fixing the other man with his best FBI Supervisory Special Agent glare. "I have absolutely no interest in anything from the House of Black, monetary or otherwise."
Potter stares back, meeting Aaron's gaze like an equal, and that's nothing like the other Aurors that Aaron is forced to deal with, and in that, perhaps, there's a measure of acceptance. "That's what you want?"
Like magic, the parchments disappear off Aaron's desk and Potter is reaching out his hand once more. "Like I said before, sorry to drop in on you at the office."
"Don't mention it," Aaron says, slipping back into the culturally accepted small-talk of law enforcement.
They shake, and Aaron sees the man out. He waits until the elevator doors close with Potter on the other side, then turns around and nearly walks into Penelope Garcia.
She's staring at the elevator, folders clutched tightly in her perfectly manicured hands, mouth moving soundlessly and her eyes as wide as saucers.
"Oh, my god," the woman breathes. "Was that... was that him? Harry Potter?"
"Why was he here? Do you think it's too late to get an autograph?"
She blinks, once, twice, and looks at him with star-struck eyes. "Right, sir," she says, drifting off down the hall and bumping into Seaver without noticing.
Aaron rubs his forehead and goes back to his office. He has a lot of work and no time.
Only he can't concentrate. He spends his lunch hour on the firing range and even that doesn't help. Every time his gun goes off, all he can hear is his mother's voice calling him squib and it burns like shame.
Only one other person in the Bureau knows about Aaron's... condition.
While not widely known outside of magical circles, the FBI does have magical agents on staff, called in on cases with a magical element. There's a profiler in New York who handles the magical murders on the Eastern seaboard, and a small team in San Diego who handle the West Coast and most of Mexico. Various FBI offices have the odd witch and wizard scattered around the country, just in case. Quantico has its own share of witches (whom Aaron mostly avoids).
Contrary to popular opinion around the office, Erin Strauss is not a witch.
Penelope Garcia is.
Garcia is one of the new breed of witches, who took the muggle internet and made it their own personal playground, dancing magic amongst the electronics of instantaneous communication all over the world.
Aaron has seen her in action, hands flying over the keyboard with her wand disguised as a sparkling pink pen tucked in between her fingers. She pulls information out of the computer with impossible ease and speed, faster than any muggle could possibly do, and it's only thanks to the fact that the entire BAU is nearly computer illiterate that no one's caught on so far (although it's possible that Gideon suspected.)
As far as he knows, Aaron's kept his background pretty well hidden. None of the other witches and wizards in the Bureau know he's a squib, or his mother was one of those Blacks. He's worked damned hard to keep it like that.
But Penelope Garcia knows he's a squib, and Penelope Garcia doesn't give a dollar-sale hoot.
(There are days when she's the only witch Aaron can stand being around, with her sparkly magic and her determinedly bright outlook on life, surrounded as she is with images of dead bodies, with her hugs and cupcakes and smiles.)
(There are moments when Aaron wishes to whatever damned god exists, that his mother had been like Penelope Garcia. These moments he buries deep in his mind and never lets anybody see. It's inappropriate and unprofessional and there's no profit to a squib making wishes in this world.)
And so if Penelope Garcia has stars in her eyes over the famous Harry Potter showing up in the BAU office, Aaron won't do anything to take her joy away.
Aaron drags himself through the rest of the day, handling Morgan's anger with one hand and Reid's depression with the other, lets Rossi mentor Seaver, and noting with relief that Garcia actually smiles at him as she leaves for the day.
He tidies his muggle desk and goes to the muggle parking lot and gets in his muggle car and drives home the regular way, arriving in this driveway at precisely three minutes past six. There is nothing on the lawn or on the house to indicate that a squib lives there, just the way Aaron wants it.
As far as the world is concerned, Aaron Hotchner is a normal man, with a normal son, trying to carry on after the tragic loss (murder) of his wife.
(His heart skips a beat every time he enters the house, remembering the sound of the gunshots over the phone, finding Haley's body, killing Foyet with his bare hands.)
(He does not let any of these things show. His son needs him to be strong.)
(Because Haley is dead and Aaron could not stop it.)
He unlocks the door and puts his briefcase down, as he does every day, but today there is no pitter-patter of footsteps to greet him. Puzzled (alarmed), Aaron closes the door (and does not pull his sidearm from the holster) and walks into the house.
Haley's sister Jessica looks up from the dinning table "Hi."
"Hi," Aaron responds, looking around. He doesn't relax until he sees his son sitting on the couch. (Jack is safe.) Then he takes in Jack's dejected posture, the very picture of woe. Aaron glances at Jessica. "What's up?"
Jessica stands up, an unspoken request for a grown-up conference. It is something Haley never did, and sometimes Aaron is fiercely glad the sisters are so dissimilar.
"Jack, I need to talk to your aunt in the kitchen, is that okay?" he asks.
The small head nods slightly.
Jessica leads Aaron into the kitchen, where they can speak without Jack hearing. "It happened again today," she whispers. "About an hour ago."
Aaron lets out his breath. He should have been expecting this. Jack is nearly seven years old, after all.
"I'm..." Jessica looks down. "I know what Haley told me, that it might happen, but..." She wrings her hands together. "I know I'm supposed to be supportive, but I just don't understand any of this."
"It's not a bad thing," Aaron says, the same comforting words he used years ago with Haley. "It's nothing to worry about."
"I know that, it's just..." Jessica straightens her shoulders. "You said, a while ago, that if I needed to talk to someone about this..."
"I can get her to call you in the morning," Aaron promises.
Jessica sighs. "Good." She touches Aaron's arm with her fingertips, smiling sadly. "Sorry he's like this, I didn't know what to say, and I think he may have taken it the wrong way."
"I'll take care of it," Aaron tells her. "Can you give me a minute to go up to the gun safe?"
"Sure. I'll pack up."
Aaron doesn't run, but he does move with alacrity in locking up his sidearm and placing his FBI credentials on the dresser next to his wallet, ready for the next day.
Back downstairs, Jessica has gathered up the paperwork for her accounting clients, and is standing by the door when Aaron reappears.
"Jack, your aunt is leaving," Aaron says.
No response for a moment, then a muttered, "So?"
Aaron frowns at Jack's head. "So, your aunt is leaving and you need to come say goodbye."
Jack drags himself off the couch, slouching across the carpet, and flings himself against Jessica's legs with an air worthy of an Oscar performance. "Goodbye, Aunt Jessie," Jack wails against her thigh.
Jessica looks as confused as Aaron feels, but she ducks down to give Jack a hug. "I'll see you next week, okay, Jack?" she says. The boy nods, then lets her go and slumps back over to the couch.
"Good luck," she says under her breath to Aaron, and lets herself out.
Aaron locks the door behind her before walking over to sit on the couch beside Jack. The boy stubbornly refuses to look at Aaron.
"Do you want to tell me what's wrong?" Aaron asks after a few moments.
"No," comes the response.
Aaron resists the urge to sigh. "Not even a little clue?" he prods.
Jack wiggles his legs, then squirms in place on the couch. It takes a minute, but he eventually whispers, "I did a bad thing."
"What kind of thing?"
Jack twists his head to look up at his father, eyes wide and shiny with unshed tears. "I broke mommy's blue vase!" he bursts out.
Aaron looks across the living room, where Haley's blue glass vase sits, perfect and whole, on the table where it belongs. "You did?"
Jack nods, sniffling mightily before rubbing his nose on his shirtsleeve. "But that wasn't the bad part. What I did next was bad," he says, voice going back to a whisper.
"What did you do?" Aaron asks.
Going up on his knees, Jack whispers, "I got scared 'cause it was broke and I wanted it fixed and it got fixed just 'cause I wanted it. I think it was magic." Once the word is out of his mouth, Jack presses his hands over his mouth, looking honestly scared of Aaron's reaction.
Something's wrong, very wrong. Aaron has no idea why Jack is acting as if magic is bad, but his son's reaction is scaring him in a way few things do. "Why makes you think magic is bad, buddy?" Aaron asks seriously.
Jack keeps looking at Aaron with wide eyes. "'Cause I heard you talking to Mommy when I was just a little baby and you said when you were a kid and Uncle Sean did magic, your daddy used to hit you 'cause magic is bad!"
Aaron's stomach lurches into freefall. For a sickening moment, he honestly wonders if he's going to be sick.
(Jack did his first bit of accidental magic when he was four years old, changing his favorite stuffed bear into other animals while Haley watched. Aaron had to explain what was going on, and when Haley freaked out that he hasn't told her before, he told her...
He told her everything. How he couldn't do magic, how he'd watched his mother drink herself to death after his half-brother Sean was born, how his muggle step-father blamed Aaron whenever Sean did any accidental magic, and that blame manifested itself upon Aaron with slaps, fists, and a belt.)
But that pain is decades in the past, and the man who gave Aaron his last name is long dead.
And Jack is alive.
Aaron holds out his arms to Jack, and the boy doesn't hesitate to jump into his father's arms. "Magic isn't bad," Aaron murmurs against Jack's hair. "Magic isn't bad and you are certainly not bad. I love you so much and you are not a bad boy."
Jack squeezes Aaron's neck, his entire body relaxing in relief. After a moment, he pulls back to look Aaron in the face. "But you told mommy that your daddy hit you."
This time, Aaron does sigh. "He was wrong," he says, because how the hell do you explain something like this to your own child? "Jack, he was wrong to hit me, no matter what happened. Not about magic and not about anything." Aaron shifts around on the couch. "And you need to listen very carefully to me. No one will ever hit you if you do something bad. Not me, not Aunt Jessica, not anyone. Do you understand?"
Jack puts his finger in his mouth to digest all of this information. "So you're not mad at me?" he ventures.
Aaron is so happy about the transitional nature of the seven-year-old mind that he drops any lingering thoughts about himself, and focuses on his son. "I'm not mad you broke mommy's vase," he clarifies. "Thank you for telling me what happened."
Jack chews on his finger for a moment as he slips back down to the couch seat. "What if I broke it, and it stayed broke?"
"Broken," Aaron corrects automatically. "Well, let's see." He leans forward, elbows on his knees, and puts on his best special prosecutor expression. Jack copies Aaron's position (and Aaron works very hard to not let his smile show). "I'd be upset that the vase was broken, and we'd talk about how we could get it fixed, and how to prevent breaking anything else next time."
Jack frowns. "What about the magic?"
"What about it?"
"Chad says there's no such thing as magic."
"Do you think that magic exists?" Aaron asks.
Jack's eyes go wide again. "Of course I do! I made the vase better just by wishing really hard. And I think I did other stuff too, but I was just a baby and I don't remember."
"There you go," Aaron says.
"Daddy, are you mad about the magic?"
Aaron thinks about the life he's lived, pushed out of a magical world by the tricks of his own DNA. He thinks about the things he's done without magic, the lives he's saved, and the lives he hasn't.
And now his son, Haley's son, stares up at him with big, innocent eyes. Aaron is reminded that he is not his mother, nor his step-father, nor anyone at all in that magical world. He is Aaron Hotchner, squib, FBI agent, father. That is all he wants to be.
"Jack," Aaron says, "I will never be mad about any magic you do."
Aaron holds out his pinky. "Promise."
Solemnly, father and son pinky-swear, then Jack hugs Aaron again and then leaps to his feet, happy once more. "Do you want to know what happened?" he asks, bouncing on his toes.
"Tell me," Aaron says with a smile, leaning forward to hear Jack's story of the Bouncy Ball and Mommy's Blue Vase and the Magic, as only a seven-year-old boy can tell it.
Tomorrow, Aaron will ask Garcia to talk with Jessica about Jack and magic, and Garcia will get so excited that somewhere in the office, glass will turn into soap bubbles (or cotton candy, or peppermint sticks - Aaron's never sure what sparkly accidental magic his computer analyst will come up with next). He'll have to fend off all her ideas about a magical gift for the "newest little wizard", and all the while be grateful that at least one person in his life has a positive outlook on magic for Jack to see.
Next week, he'll straighten his spine and once more shoulder the burden of squib to register his son for the magical primary school in DC, in case Jack wants to go.
Next month, he will call his half-brother Sean and talk to him about magic for the first time since Aaron left the Hotchner home. It may not be enough to overcome the gulf between them, guilt and pain on both sides, but it will be a start.
But tonight, Aaron will tuck Jack into bed with reassurances and read him stories until the little boy's eyes close, to dream of magic and fairy tales and possibility.
Then Aaron will go downstairs, pour himself an inch of scotch, and wish like hell that Haley were here to watch her little boy growing up.
(One thing that Aaron Hotchner learned a long time ago was that sometimes, magic is useless).