“Harry!” the voice in his earpiece called. “Sorry to bother you; there’re two Aurors here. They say it’s urgent.”
Harry’s annoyance at being disturbed in the middle of the spell-working – he thought he’d made it damn clear to his new assistant, Janine, that he wasn’t to be interrupted under any circumstances, short of the return of Voldemort or one of the kids falling off their brooms - gave way to a sudden and awful rush of fear, pumping adrenalin into his heart and making it kick violently in his chest. Voldemort was dead and gone and dear God, had Lily fallen off her new Phoenix 25? Two Aurors surely meant that something terrible had happened.
“Be right out,” he said back into the speaker. He looked at the spell-weave hovering in the air around him, wondering how he could save some of the work he had done in the last three hours, when suddenly the reality of it really hit him. One of the children might be hurt. Why in hell was he wasting a second? With a slash of his wand, he yanked all the tendrils towards him, pulling them tighter and tighter, and finally, with a twist of his wrist, condensed them all into a ball, took the mass of almost-matter into his hand, and crushed it. His whole body spasmed as the magic jolted up his arm, all the power he’d exerted creating the working trying to leap back into his body, even though it was now twisted and tangled. He breathed in, letting it come, letting it settle and even itself, before clapping his hands together. The last of the energy dissipated in a tremendous thunderclap.
Harry brushed his hands off, a sparkle of dust glittering in the air before disappearing, and stuck his fingers in his ears to clear them.
He pointed his wand up at the lid of the box: it opened silently on its hinges. A narrow face loomed over the edge looking down at him; squinting up, Harry wondered if he knew the Auror, though from the strange angle, and with the light behind the man’s head, he couldn’t really tell.
The Auror said not a word and drew back.
Heart pounding, Harry climbed the ladder quickly and swung his leg over the top of the chest, dropping to his feet in his workroom. Automatically, he shut the lid and sealed it with a spell before turning back to the two Aurors.
Harry took in the tension in their posture, the unsmiling faces. The woman was staring at him, although the man’s eyes dropped as Harry looked at him.
“What is it?” The words sounded deafening despite the thumping of his heartbeat.
Janine was hovering uncertainly. Harry wished his old assistant, Toby, hadn’t retired: he was a master of the discreet exit.
“Perhaps you could go and make some tea?” the female Auror suggested.
“Oh! Er, yes, of course! But – the shop?” Janine looked anxiously at Harry.
“Close it,” the male Auror said firmly.
Harry’s legs suddenly felt like jelly. He could barely wait for the girl to leave the room.
“What’s happened?” He couldn’t control the quaver in his voice.
“Mr Potter. I’m Auror Hencliffe and this is Auror Franklin.”
Harry felt as if he’d fallen into an alternative reality as the young man stepped forward to shake his hand, with just a flicker of his eyes heading to Harry’s forehead. Having put out his hand in automatic courtesy, Harry withdrew it quickly. Fortunately, the woman remained where she was. She was considerably older than Hencliffe, and Harry turned to her.
“Please? What’s this all about? Is one of the children hurt?”
“We’ve just sent Aurors to Hogwarts now, Mr Potter, but we’ve no reason to suspect that your children are not perfectly alright -”
“Oh god. Are you expecting some sort of attack? On Hogwarts? Or – or on my children specifically?” Harry gasped. “But – James and Albus aren’t at Hogwarts anymore. James is working for Doherty’s – you know, the wizarding holiday agency? In Croft Lane, off Diagon Alley. Albus should be at Gringotts - he started there this summer. What – who – why are you thinking that they might be attacked?”
“Please sit down, Mr Potter,” Auror Franklin said, pulling Harry’s chair out from behind his drawing desk.
“Why do I need to sit down?” Harry said. “For Merlin’s sake, tell me what’s wrong!”
Franklin came over to stand facing him. Harry stared at her, and then glanced at Hencliffe, who was a few feet away, with his head turned to the window.
Harry didn’t think he was interested in what was going on outside.
He looked back to Auror Franklin.
“I’m afraid it’s very bad news,” she said gently. “I’m so sorry to have to tell you this, Mr Potter, but Mrs Potter is dead.”
Harry could hear the words but they didn’t seem to make any sense.
“What? No. No, that can’t be right. She wasn’t playing today. You must mean someone else. That new girl was –”
“I’m sorry, Sir,” Hencliffe said firmly.
“But she wasn’t playing!” Harry argued. “How can she be dead?”
“It wasn’t a quidditch accident,” Franklin explained, touching his arm. “I know this must be a terrible shock, but … Mrs Potter was murdered. I’m so sorry,” she said again.
Harry felt a weird sensation, and realised that his legs were actually beginning to give under him. Auror Franklin guided him across the floor towards his chair. Harry grasped the wooden arms and lowered himself down. He felt like his spine, his bones, were dissolving. He tried to speak but words wouldn’t seem to form. The room was distorting – the next moment, he felt a hand pushing his head between his knees. He took great gulping breaths of air. Tears were sprouting in his eyes, weird and hot, scalding his skin and utterly uncontrollable.
“Try breathing slowly,” she said, her hand still resting between his shoulder blades, a steady pressure holding him onto reality.
He was bizarrely aware of the shiny shoes Auror Hencliffe was wearing, just catching the edge of his field of vision, and that one of the laces was coming undone. Hadn’t his mother taught him a ‘Knot-Last’ charm?
Ginny…mother of his children.
He screwed his eyes up, as if he could squeeze himself away from the world, from what was happening, as if it would go away if he didn’t look at it.
His nose was full of snot. He reached into his pocket for his handkerchief, blowing hard, and then scrubbed his cheeks with the back of his hand. The pinprick tears were still threatening and he spoke to drive them away. “Why would anyone… not now…it’s years…”. He went over what had been said. “The children: you said you’ve sent Aurors to check the children? There’s a threat against my whole family? Who from?”
“That’s just a precaution, Sir,” Hencliffe said, in a reassuring tone. “We already have the murderer.”
“We have him in custody,” he said in a satisfied voice.
“I don’t understand.” Harry stood up shakily. “Was this because of me? It can’t have been to do with Voldemort, surely? Not after all this time? Not Death Eaters.”
“It was a Death Eater,” Hencliffe said, and he was unable to keep the hint of excitement out of his voice.
“Then – then Ron – Ron Weasley must be involved. Why – why are you here, and not Ron? His department deals with Death Eater related business, I know it does. God, he hasn’t been hurt too?”
“Not exactly, Sir –”
“Not exactly? What does that mean?” Harry screeched.
“Mr Weasley is not involved in this case - ” Auror Franklin began.
“He’s at St Mungo’s having his knuckles healed –”.
“That is quite enough, thank you, Auror Hencliffe,” Auror Franklin cut him off, her face furious.
The cogs clicked in Harry’s brain. “He punched Ginny’s…Ginny’s murderer, and they’ve taken him off the case?” he summarized wearily.
Auror Franklin drew herself up. “I’m afraid I can’t go into details, Mr Potter,” she said, in a formal tone. “Obviously, it isn’t appropriate for an Auror to be part of an investigation that involves a member of their family.”
Harry couldn’t think whether it was a good idea or not for someone involved to be part of the case. Ron surely had a right to be involved: what was the point of being an Auror if you couldn’t protect your own family? But…but it was too late for protection.
Harry needed to know the children were safe. He needed to see them, hear their voices.
God, he’d have to tell them…
“I need to see the children,” Harry voiced the one thing that seemed to make any sense at the moment. He strode to the floo.
Janine wobbled in bearing a tray overloaded with a steaming tea pot, cups and saucers and a plate of biscuits.
Harry halted as he reached for the floo powder.
“Shall I pour?” she asked.
Harry’s hand, shaking, raked through his hair. “No, thanks Janine. You – you can go home. I – I’ll be in touch. Later. We won’t be open tomorrow. I – “
“Is something wrong?” she asked.
It was a ridiculous question. Of course something was wrong. There were two Aurors here telling him that his wife has been murdered. Harry could hear her curiosity barging its way past her concern, but the absurdity of it was eliciting an appalling and inappropriate desire to laugh. Harry had to fight with his face, which seemed to be writhing in weird motions out of his control.
“Mr Potter has had some bad news,” Franklin said quietly.
“Oh dear –” Janine began to wring her hands. “What can I do? I can run the shop for you –”
Harry moved abruptly, cutting her off.
She looked a little affronted.
“I – I’m sorry,” Harry said. “I can’t think about that now. I – I’ll be in touch,” he said again.
“But – shall I come in tomorrow?”
Harry felt like he’d explode.
Hencliffe walked Janine to the door. “I suggest you come and put a note on the door tomorrow to say that the shop is closed due to a family matter. Mr Potter will owl you to let you know when he needs you back.”
They had reached the shop door. Hencliffe opened it politely.
“Oh! Oh, of course! Is someone ill?” she asked.
“Mr Potter will be in touch,” he said firmly, and pushed her out.
“She’s new,” Harry said, irrelevantly. “I need to talk to the children.”
“I’ve sent two Aurors to Hogwarts,” Franklin said. “I’ll send more to find your sons.”
“They won’t tell them, will they? I need to be there,” Harry said. “Can you take them home? There’ll be safe there; it’s best I tell them there.”
Something flickered across Hencliffe’s face.
“What?” Harry’s eyes darted from one to the other.
They both looked grim.
“I’m afraid that’s not a good idea, Mr Potter. The house is – ” Franklin seemed to steel herself. “Mrs Potter was killed there.”
“At home? No, that’s not possible! The wards there – I strengthened them myself –”
“I’ll explain in a moment. But first, where would you like me to have the children taken? Perhaps you have another house, or…?”
“No. Just Grimmauld Place, and the flat above here.”
“I’ll organise a safe house,” Franklin said quietly. “Just until we finish our investigations. I’m sure the Headmaster won’t mind having your boys at Hogwarts for an hour or two to be with their sister while I get something sorted.”
“I want to see the children. I need to be there,” Harry said again. He felt like a broken record, repeating over and over, but all he could think of was Lily and Albus and James. His mind sheared away from thinking of Ginny.
“And we need to talk to you alone first,” Franklin said firmly.
“That sounds...” Harry drew in a shuddering breath, his eyes looking pleadingly at the Auror.
“It’s not good,” Franklin acknowledged quietly. “Give me two minutes.”
Harry sat in a daze whilst she made arrangements.
When Franklin had finished, Harry took the Aurors upstairs to the flat, leading them into the kitchen. He hadn’t touched the tea downstairs, but now poured them a glass of water, and waited with dread for them to begin.
He watched the look that passed between the two, the agreement that Franklin was going to do the talking. He saw her visibly bracing herself.
“I’m sorry to have to tell you this,” she began, and stopped.
“Yes. But for Merlin’s sake get on with it! I’m imagining something probably much worse –”
“It’s bad.” Franklin took a deep breath and Harry almost wilted at the pity in her eyes. “We believe Mrs Potter was…assaulted…first. And – it wasn’t a clean death. I’m so terribly sorry.”
Harry stiffened, as if a Petrificus Totalis had been performed on him.
“She was …assaulted? What does that mean? Someone hurt her?”
“Our first impressions are that she was severely beaten.” Hencliffe joined in. “And we believe she was sexually assaulted. Of course, we won’t know for sure until – ”
“Are you saying she was – she was - raped? By a Death Eater? In our home?”
“We believe so, Sir,” Franklin said quietly.
Harry walked away to look out of the window; below, shoppers scurried along the street or lingered to look at the displays. It seemed inconceivable that people should be going on with their normal lives.
“And you’ve caught him?”
“We have one man in custody. Don’t worry, we’ll get information out of him on whether he had accomplices,” Hencliffe said confidently.
Harry’s hands, resting on the windowsill, clenched into fists, the knuckles white. “You think there might be others involved? That this wasn’t just a Death Eater with a grudge from the past? Do you think the Death Eaters are re-forming?” Harry asked, still with his back to them.
“As I gather you know, Auror Weasley’s team monitors any activity we think might be suspicious, from those who’ve finished their sentences, of course. There was no warning of anything of this nature. Also,” Franklin paused, and rubbed her cheek.
“It wasn’t – the man we have detained didn’t go to Azkaban.”
Harry’s brows drew together. “But – the papers said – all the Death Eaters were found and –“
“Junior Death Eaters didn’t get sent to Azkaban,” Franklin interrupted. “I believe you yourself suggested that they be put on probation, and instigated the One World education programme, Mr Potter.”
Harry stared at her. “Who was it?” he whispered.
“His guilt is, of course, for the Wizengamot to decide –”
“WHO!” Harry bellowed.
“Malfoy. Draco Malfoy.”