Harry wasn’t sure how he had found himself in Knockturn Alley.
No, that was a lie: he knew precisely how he’d found himself in Knockturn Alley. He’d stumbled into the fireplace as Ginny screeched and chucked various pots and pans at him; grabbed a handful of floopowder, and then hoped for Diagon Alley.
He had not gotten Diagon Alley.
“Why does this always happen?” Harry complained, dusting off his robes and wiping away the soot from his glasses. He’d never been good with Floo powder.
In the corner of the shop, behind a dusty little counter, Mr Borgin muttered something about “using the fireplace without permission. Should bloody well charge him-“
“I wouldn’t try that,” Harry said loudly. “Unless you want to find out just how much of this junk is illegal.” He gestured to his surroundings; the pokey little shop, and all the secret nooks and crannies stuffed full of objects that Harry knew the Department of Magical Artefacts would kill to confiscate.
Mr Borgin bristled, and rose to his full height (which wasn’t very tall). “Excuse me, Mister Potter- first you take my Hand of Glory, and now you come into my shop and threaten me. You Auror thugs are all the same.”
And then he spat, the spittle landing somewhere close to Harry’s shoe.
Harry frowned. He could vaguely remember being part of that raid on Borgin and Burkes now, and seizing a shrivelled hand. (What was he supposed to have done? It’d been a class eight dark object, for Merlin’s sake.)
Harry removed his glasses, rubbing the bridge of his nose. He could feel a headache coming on, and this was not where he’d wanted to end up. He sighed. “Yeah, I’m sorry about that. I’ll just… be going.”
He turned to leave and then paused, remembering Ginny’s screaming, snot-soaked face.
“Er actually,” he said sheepishly, “do you know if there are any flower shops nearby?”
He stepped out into Knockturn Alley, ducking his head and drawing up the collar of his coat. It wasn’t good to be seen coming out of place like that, especially not if you were steadily climbing up the Auror ranks. You never knew what would get back to Kingsley, and Harry didn’t fancy explaining how he’d accidentally fallen into Borgin and Burkes after Ginny threw a saucepan at his head.
He followed Mr Borgin’s instructions, taking a left down a back alley, sidling past a shadowy figure in a heavy cloak and politely waving away a little girl who tried to sell him a ‘magic turtle foot’.
“Aconitum, Aconitum,” he murmured, scanning the dusty shops. “Where are- oh, wow.”
It would have been difficult to miss the flower shop; it was so different from anything else on the street. It looked like a huge greenhouse, stretching and towering above the other shops in a huge edifice of glass. The frames were like burnished copper, twisting in ways that defied gravity. The plants beyond the shimmering glass pushed against the window panes, waving and pulsing in a way that just told you the shop was magic.
“Overcompensating,” Harry muttered to himself, and snorted.
Harry frowned at the sign; the text so swirling and delicate that Harry could barely make out ‘Aconitum’, and ‘flower and herbology shop’ printed beneath.
He managed to contain his snigger- he could just hear Hermione’s disapproving voice asking ‘are you 27 or 2? Honestly.’
However, the shop seemed lighter and more welcoming than the rest of the street, and Harry was fairly sure he was getting odd looks, so he quickly stepped inside.
The jingle that signalled the door opening reminded Harry a little of the Hogwarts’ bell, which meant that he was already smiling as he approached the desk. And it was a good thing too, because the man behind the counter froze the expression on his face.
He was attractive. Very attractive. The kind of attractive that you only saw in Witch Weekly under ‘latest catch’, all dark wavy hair and gleaming eyes. Harry immediately felt more self-conscious of his messy hair and smudged glasses, and tried to casually straighten his robes.
“Hello,” the man said, wearing a polite smile.
Harry meant to say “hello” or “good morning”, but instead an abrupt “is this your shop?” slipped out. In fairness, he was rather confused as to why a man who looked like that was working in some random florists on Knockturn Alley.
“Yes, I own the establishment.” The man’s smile grew more subtly amused now, and he looked Harry up and down like he was noticing him fully for the first time. “Can I help you?”
“Oh, er- flowers!” Harry said quickly. “I need flowers.”
“Well, you’re certainly in the right place,” the man said, raising an eyebrow.
“Yeah,” Harry agreed with embarrassment. “I suppose I am.”
There was a long pause.
“So what do you need the flowers for?” the man asked pointedly, and Harry realised he was probably acting like an idiot.
You’re married, he told himself sternly. Still, he could look.
“Er, for my wife,” Harry explained.
“Did she give you that?”
The man nodded towards Harry’s chest, and he suddenly realised that he’d been playing with the locket again.
“Oh, yeah,” Harry glanced down, pinching the little silver lion between his fingers. “We both have one. Did that romantic thing, put a lock of hair in each- the whole shebang. It’s supposed to remind us that we love each other even when we fight.” Harry winced. “Which we do. A lot.”
The man clearly took note of his reaction. “Trouble in paradise?”
The man’s quietly entertained smirk was doing things to Harry’s insides, and it was rather distracting.
“I forgot our anniversary,” Harry admitted. “Again. I don’t think I’ll be let back into the house without a peace offering.”
“Ah,” the man said, bending to fiddle with something beneath the counter. “’Again’? I sense a story there.”
“I’ve just been distracted by work,” Harry said, guilt growing heavy in the pit of his stomach. “It’s not an excuse, but…”
“I imagine being an Auror is quite time consuming.”
“Yeah, but it’s not just that- hang on, how did you know I was an Auror?” Harry asked suddenly, narrowing his eyes. The shop seemed smaller all of a sudden; more constricting and claustrophobic, and Harry became aware of exactly where he was. Harry glanced back towards the door automatically, ready to run out into Knockturn Alley.
“Your picture was all over the Prophet,” the man said, seemingly oblivious to Harry’s panic. “The youngest Auror to ever reach your position. Your family must be proud.”
“Oh,” Harry said, relaxing. Why was he being so paranoid? “Yeah, they are. Mum nearly shattered my eardrums, and I think Dad cried.”
“It must be nice to have such a supportive family.”
“Yeah, it is. Might be nicer if Ginny didn’t want to curse me, though,” Harry winced.
“I suppose we should find you your flowers then,” the man laughed softly, and Harry swore that he’d never heard a more lovely sound. Merlin, was this man even real?
“I suppose we should.”
Upon Harry’s prompt, the man came out from the counter, coincidentally revealing the rest of his body. Harry’s heart sank.
Great, he thought. He’s physically perfect.
The man crossed the shop to one of the far walls and drew a symbol in the air with his wand, muttering vaguely under his breath. He gestured and a large book flew through the air, settling into his hand. He flicked it open for reference and began casting again.
“You have a nice shop,” Harry said awkwardly, taking his chance to glance around now that he wasn’t being directly confronted by a distractingly beautiful face.
“Thank you. I built it myself.”
“Mmm,” the man hummed. “I used to work in Borgin and Burkes-“
“That’s who recommended this shop to me!” Harry interrupted excitedly.
“Really? How strange.”
“Borgin hates me a little, so I thought he might have been directing me towards some sort of dark wizard headquarters, but apparently I was wrong.”
“Why did you come then, if you thought you were being led to your doom?”
“’Cause it’d be more dangerous to go home without an apology gift,” Harry said grimly. “Ginny threw kitchenware at me until I was able to escape. She’d probably brain me if I went home empty-handed.”
The man laughed softly, turning a page. “Anyway, whilst working at Borgin and Burkes, I quickly discovered that antiques weren’t for me. And so I built this shop.”
“It’s very beautiful,” Harry said- and it was. It conjured memories of the Hogwarts greenhouses; tall ceilings and period elegance. Large leaves and greenery hung from every corner of the shop, but there was none of the humidity that you might have expected from the rainforest-like environment. Instead, it seemed warm and comforting, bright bursts of colours coming from unexpected blossoms scattered around the shop.
“A bit like the Hogwarts greenhouses, don’t you think?”
“That’s the inspiration. There’s nowhere quite like Hogwarts, after all,” the man said, with a wistful sigh that Harry could definitely empathise with.
“No, there’s nowhere quite like Hogwarts.”
Hogwarts had been a welcome escape for Harry during the years of his parents’ separation, becoming more of a home than Godric’s Hollow ever was. Even though his parents had eventually rebuilt their marriage, Hogwarts would always hold a special place in Harry’s heart.
“There!” the man said with satisfaction, and the wall spun to reveal a row of bouquets, all beautifully arranged.
Harry’s eyes widened, there were so many colours and shades- it was almost overwhelming. He was, however, immediately drawn to a single bouquet, coloured in tones of blues and purple. The faces on some of the flowers appeared to be alive, pouting and looking generally apologetic, which Harry thought Ginny would find suitably ridiculous. The rest of the bouquet was rather pretty, particularly the bell-like flowers in a light, baby blue.
“That one,” Harry said, and indicated his choice.
“Good choice,” the man complimented, and picked out the bouquet. “Very appropriate.”
“What were you doing with the wall and the book?” Harry asked curiously, as they headed back to the till.
“I don’t have the same limitations as a muggle florist. It means I can keep my produce in a temperature and humidity regulated area, separate from the shop. This,” he gestured to the greenery around them, “is mostly for show. I keep the interesting plants in a warehouse miles away- I even breed some new species. The book is my log. It’s quite comprehensive.”
“And the wall was you…”
“Yes, summoning the flowers. It’s a good system, and it expands the choices.” The man managed to make even a shrug seem elegant.
“I love magic,” Harry sighed.
He paid quickly, and said reluctantly that he’d better get home quickly. It wouldn’t be a good idea to let Ginny stew- she might go to the Burrow and then he’d have two Weasley women furious at him.
“I was just thinking,” Harry said, pausing with the bouquet held tightly in his arms. “That you know my name and I don’t know yours.”
“Well, we can rectify that quickly enough,” the man said, tilting his head and smiling. “I’m Tom Riddle.”
“Harry Potter,” Harry said, offering his hand. “Though I suppose you knew that already.”
“Always nice to have a formal introduction,” Tom- yes, Harry thought- it suits him- said smoothly, taking Harry’s hand and shaking it. “Can I take this as an indication that you’ll visit my little shop again?”
“Maybe,” Harry grinned. “If I survive.” He indicated slightly to the bouquet.
“I’m sure you will,” Tom said, and opened the door. “Your wife can’t be nearly as fearsome as you make her out to be.”
“You haven’t met her,” Harry grumbled, and shuffled through the doorway, taking care not to squish the blossoms on his way out.
Suddenly, his locket caught on a wall hook and was tugged from his neck, the chain snapping. Before Harry could awkwardly attempt to bend and pick it up, Tom crouched low and whispered a quiet spell, presenting the repaired locket to Harry with an exaggerated flourish.
“Thanks,” Harry said gratefully, slipping it back around his neck.
“I hope to see you again,” Tom said with a slight curl to his lips, indicating Harry’s way out. “And good luck.”
Harry opened the door to their apartment nervously, calling out Ginny’s name. “Er, Gin? Are you still here? Look, I’m sorry about yesterday. I brought flowers?”
Suddenly the bedroom door flew open and Ginny appeared, her eyes burning nearly as bright as her hair. “They’d be pretty damn spectacular-“
She froze, gazing with wide-eyes at the bouquet in Harry’s arms. Her face went curiously blank for a minute.
“Are they alright?” Harry asked tentatively.
“Oh Harry, they’re beautiful,” she gushed, rushing forwards and gathering the flowers into her arms. “I have to find a vase.”
Harry blinked. Usually when they had an argument, Ginny would let Harry suffer for a few days, uncertain of whether she had actually forgiven him. This seemed very out of character.
“I really am sorry,” Harry promised, following her to the kitchen.
“It’s fine. I didn’t actually expect you to remember, and I know you’re busy with work at the moment.”
“Yeah, but so are you. It’s not an excuse,” Harry said, a little unnerved with how calm she was. “I don’t think we should just ignore that this happened… I think we should talk. And really, there are a few things I need to explain.”
Ginny turned to him with an indulgent expression. “Let’s talk then.”
“Oh. Okay then.” Harry frowned, and shuffled awkwardly. Ginny was never this… passive. “I know I’ve been a bit secretive for the past few months, but it’s not just Auror stuff I’ve been doing. I have this project I’m working on- and it could blow the whole Ministry open. I’m so close.”
Ginny opened a cupboard and lifted down a vase, barely glancing at him. “What’s your project on?”
“The Minister- Minister Malfoy- I found something out about him.” Harry’s voice grew faster, and slightly obsessive. He leaned in excitedly. “Three months ago, one of his owls came to me- by accident, I think; they had some sort of virus that week- and it had instructions in it, Gin. Predictions. Every law being proposed in the Wizengamot, then whether it would be passed or blocked… and then, somehow, the next day, it all came true. Malfoy’s dirty, someone’s pulling the strings, and I’m going to prove it.”
“And how are you going to do that?”
“I’ve got someone in his department, they’ve got to find something soon. I’ve been looking through possible bribe donations to the Ministry, but the incoming funds seem pretty legit. I thought that- Ginny, what are you doing? I thought you’d be more, I dunno, interested in this.”
Ginny made a vague sound of interest, busily arranging the flowers and sprucing up the leaves with a quick charm. “I am. I just don’t see how it affects me.”
“Ginny, someone’s controlling the Minister! And worse of all, it’s Malfoy.”
“Politics are always going to be dirty, Harry. It’s not like he’s doing any bad, is it? The Muggleborn Registration’s the only major thing that Malfoy’s implemented, and that’s done a world of good.”
Harry scowled. “What are you talking about? You’ve seen some of the kids that come out of that program. They were better off staying where they were.”
“With the muggles?” Ginny laughed. “And what are the muggles supposed to do when their children start levitating tables and apparating onto roofs? Magical children aren’t safe with the muggles, Harry, everyone knows that. Even Malfoy.”
“What’s wrong with you?” Harry said, shaking his head in confusion. “You hate the Muggleborn Registration, you told me-“
“No, Harry, you hate the Muggleborn Registration, and so I said that I do too, because I love you. Look, I know you have issues with children feeling abandoned after your parents’ split-“
“-That has nothing to do with it-“
“-But your parents are happy now, aren’t they? And so are the children from the Registration. Hermione’s fine, isn’t she?”
“Hermione got lucky,” Harry grumbled.
“And so did thousands of other children. You’re looking for fault with Malfoy, but you shouldn’t. Focus on us. Maybe then you won’t miss our anniversary, and I won’t be left sobbing my eyes out until 2 in the morning with a chicken going cold in the oven.” Ginny said this all very cheerfully, cooing and waving at one of the pouting flower faces.
Harry bit his lip, feeling rather disheartened. “Are you sure you’re okay, Gin? You’re acting… very happy, about all this.”
Ginny stopped humming and raised an eyebrow, suddenly going very still. “And is that a problem?”
“Nope,” Harry squeaked. “Definitely not.”
“Good,” Ginny said contently, and turned her attention back to the bouquet.
“You know how I mentioned visiting my parents?” Harry said uncomfortably, glancing towards the fireplace. “I’m going to do that. Right now.”
“Have fun, dear.”
And Harry fled into green flames for the second time in 24 hours. This was turning into rather an odd day.
“…And then she just said ‘have fun, dear’, as if she hadn’t shattered my whole world,” Harry announced, letting his head drop onto the table.
“I think you’re being a bit dramatic,” his mother said, sharing an amused look with his father. “It’s sounds like she was just being honest.”
“She told me she approves of the Muggleborn Registration. A shared hatred of Malfoy’s policies is literally what brought us together!”
“Well, I hope it isn’t the only thing that you like about her,” Lily said with a snort. “People change, Harry. And whilst you know that you’d never catch me promoting Lucius Malfoy, he isn’t exactly Mordred incarnate. It’s not a crime to support him.”
“But she hasn’t seen some of the kids that come out of that program. I know that Colin Creevey never recovered. He killed himself last year, and the Averys didn’t even come to his funeral.”
“And I’m not saying that it’s flawless, but it has done some good. Hermione did well, didn’t she?”
“Hermione’s a genius,” Harry dismissed. “She’d ‘do well’ raised in a cave. And Malfoy’s done other stuff too. He hates the Weasleys- Ron had real trouble finding a job in the Ministry after Hogwarts.”
“That’s because he failed his OWLs, dear,” Lily reminded him.
“But he really pulled it together for NEWTs!”
“Look, son,” James said soothingly, “neither I nor your mother are defending Lucius Malfoy. He’s why I left the Auror department, after all- so I wouldn’t be tempted to punch him in the face. And that’s turned out alright, hasn’t it? I got out, and got myself a serious job.”
Lily snorted. “You run a joke shop with your best friends.”
“We pay taxes!” James said defensively.
“I just can’t believe it was all a lie,” Harry grumbled, taking a gloomy sip of tea.
Lily sighed. “Sweetie, I’m sure it wasn’t. I know you have… issues with Malfoy, not least because of mine and your father’s brief separation-“
“It was nine years. And why does everyone think I’m traumatised?!”
“-But don’t let it ruin you and Ginny, yeah?” James finished. “You have a good thing going.” He grinned and wound an arm around Lily. “Just like a Potter to snatch himself a hot redhead.”
Lily shot her husband a glare. “I wasn’t snatched from anyone, James Potter, you begged me to have you. Twice.”
“It’s true,” James shrugged.
“She was acting so happy,” Harry said glumly. “All calm and content. She’s never like that. She was like a whole other person.”
His parents exchanged a Look, and Harry felt a shiver go down his spine.
“Well, Harry,” Lily started cautiously. “Have you considered that she might be- well, I’m not sure it’s my place- but that she might be…”
“That she might be what?”
Harry blinked. “Huh?”
“Preggers,” James said helpfully. “Bun in the oven. Eating for two. In the family way-“
“Yes, thank you, James,” Lily said sharply. She softened her voice as she took Harry’s hand. “All I’m saying, dear, is that I remember acting very oddly when I was pregnant-“
“Total monster,” James said confidingly, ducking the fork that Lily threw at him.
“-And Ginny might be experiencing the same thing.”
“But- but we used contraceptive charms,” Harry said slowly. “And we were careful-“
“Things happen,” James shrugged. “Mistakes get made. Eggs get fertilised. Wives get knocked up-”
“Thank you, James! The important thing, Harry sweetheart, is that Ginny is probably going through ten times more than you are. And, as the father, it’s your job to support her. Unless you both decide to terminate the pregnancy, of course,” Lily added.
“Just talk to each other,” James suggested.
“I don’t know if I want to do any more ‘talking’. It just seems to make everything worse,” Harry mumbled, but nodded obediently. If Ginny was pregnant, he was going to be the best damn father to ever exist.
Ginny, as it turned out, was not pregnant.
“I can’t believe you’d think that!” she complained, pressing a hand to her stomach and staring intently at the mirror. “Am I looking fat?”
“No,” Harry rushed off of the bed to console her. “You were just acting weirdly yesterday-“
“I was on my period,” she growled. “Because I’m not pregnant.”
“Okay!” Harry said loudly. “So you’re not pregnant. Great. Glad we sorted that out.”
It still didn’t answer the question of why she’d been acting so oddly yesterday, because Harry had yet to see a period that made Ginny happier.
He continued on. “But about the other day, when you said you were supportive of the Registration-”
“That’s how I feel,” Ginny said very sharply. “I’m not taking it back. And I think Dumbledore was a naïve attention-seeker with no realistic goals. But of course, maybe I’m just pregnant.”
She marched out of the bedroom, shooting Harry a triumphant, dangerous glare.
Harry almost wished he hadn’t spoken.
The next few weeks were fraught. The reveal of Ginny’s feelings about the Muggleborn Registration had pushed their already unsteady relationship to the brink. The momentary calm that Ginny had appeared to experience that day was gone, and now she was brutal, revealing lie after lie as a kind of trump card. Harry wasn’t entirely innocent either, and they got into hideous arguments, screaming abuse.
Their poor neighbours must have been terrified.
It was like that one evening had ripped away their safety net; where before, after arguments, they had retreated to their safe bubble of ‘it’s fine, he/she loves me’; now there was just an inherent sense of betrayal and long silences.
Harry had to know why.
Perhaps, Harry thought, he should return to Aconitum. This had all started when Harry got the flowers, after all. Maybe Tom had some answers.
“Hello?” Harry called out, pushing open the door to the flower shop. He peered around the interior and was once again amazed- he wondered how long it long it took Tom to build it. It was almost exactly like being back at Hogwarts. He took an uncertain step into the shop, unsure if he was allowed to. For a moment, he couldn’t remember if you were allowed into shops with no one behind the counter. For Merlin’s sake, why he was he nervous-
“Merlin!” Harry gasped, spinning around pressing a hand to his hammering heart. “Bloody hell, Tom! You don’t half like making an entrance.”
Tom smiled wryly, closing the door. “I’ve been told I have a dramatic flair.”
Harry could imagine that. Tom was the only florist Harry had ever seen in well-cut, carefully pressed robes- he looked more like a politician than a flower-seller. Tom’s robes wouldn’t be out of place on Lucius Malfoy.
“So what brings you back to my humble store? Did your wife enjoy the flowers?”
“Er, that’s what I wanted to talk to you about,” Harry said uncomfortably, running a harried hand through his hair. “That day, when I went home, Ginny was… really calm.”
Tom raised an eyebrow. “And that’s bad because…”
“Unnaturally calm. And then she said some stuff that she definitely wouldn’t normally say which was a bit shocking- but, anyway, that’s not the point.” Harry took a deep breath. “The point is: was there something up with the flowers? Did you do something to them? Is that why? She’s never reacted like that before.”
Harry thought the fact that Tom didn’t immediately curse him was a good sign, instead clasping his hands in front of him, considering Harry’s question.
“Yes,” Tom said finally, “and no.”
Harry rolled his eyes. “That’s not vague at all.”
“The bouquet is in the apologies range. The flowers have charms and associations that encourage a calm mentality and honesty between a couple, but they in no way create emotions or responses that aren’t there. It just leads to transparency.”
“And you didn’t think to tell me this before I bought it?”
Tom shrugged. “The charms are weak. They last barely a few hours, and they don’t usually have a noticeable effect unless the couple already have serious communication issues.” He paused, and offered a faint smile. “No offence.”
Harry tried for half-hearted disapproval and the patented ‘Auror scowl’. “Selling someone an item without informing them of any emotion-effecting charms is illegal. I could arrest you.”
At least now he knew why Tom’s shop was on Knockturn Alley.
Tom looked at him closely, tilting his head to one side. Harry wondered when Dumbledore found the time to pass on his ‘x-ray look’ before he died.
“You won’t,” Tom said with certainty. “You’re just struggling to process everything you’ve learnt.”
There was a moment of tension, where they were both aware of the very different directions that this conversation could take.
Suddenly, Harry sighed and collapsed into a convenient chair. “I knew we had issues, but I didn’t know they were that drastic.”
“I just can’t believe she agrees with him!” Harry cried out. “And worse of all, she lied about it. I hate being lied to,” he muttered angrily, glaring down at his hands.
“Whom does she agree with?” Tom asked curiously, leaning against the counter and looking effortlessly casual.
“Malfoy,” Harry said disgustedly. “I think he’s an arse.”
Harry had never been shy about his political beliefs, and didn’t honestly care if Tom disagreed with him. Besides, there was no way that Harry didn’t currently have the moral high ground.
Tom, however, defied expectation and merely said: “That’s an interesting opinion to have on our Minister,” in a mild voice.
“I didn’t vote for him,” Harry muttered mutinously. “I disagree with everything he stands for.”
“I thought the Muggleborn Registration was a resounding success.”
Harry glowered. “Some of it is- it’s alright for the muggleborns who get placed with decent purebloods, like my friend, Hermione- she got the Longbottoms. But some of the others-“ Harry shuddered. “The Daily Prophet doesn’t like to advertise it, seeing as we’re living in a ‘new age of magical co-operation and equality’, but most traditionalists still hate muggleborns. It doesn’t matter if they’re raised by the Muggle Queen of England or Godric Gryffindor himself- they’re still ‘dirty’. They’re still lesser. Putting a muggleborn with a family like the Averys- it’s like throwing a lamb to the lions.”
“But the muggles aren’t always the safer option, either,” Tom said, his face neutral. “I lived in the wizarding world with my mother until she died, and then I was sent to a muggle orphanage. I would have done anything to stay with a magical family.”
“I’m sorry,” Harry said hesitantly, unsure if he should pat Tom’s arm or something.
“It’s quite alright- I’ve moved on. I can’t help thinking, however, that the Muggleborn Registration could have saved me as a child.”
Harry glanced up at Tom, expecting to see disgust or anger, but Tom merely watched him curiously, as if he’d only said that to observe Harry’s reaction.
“Well, why didn’t it?”
Tom looked taken aback. “What?”
“Well, Lucius Malfoy and his idiots have been in office for nearly 18 years, and the Muggleborn Registration act was introduced less than a year into his term. I was 9, and-” Harry judged roughly, “you can’t be that much older than me. You should have been one of the first to be ‘rehoused’.”
“It missed me.” Tom said slowly, seeming to look at Harry with more interest than ever.
Harry did the maths quickly, and his eyes widened in shock. “You’re 35? Bloody hell, you look like you just got out of Hogwarts!”
“I age well.”
“You age like a vampire.” Harry snorted, and then narrowed his eyes in suspicion. “You’re not a vampire, are you?”
“I vant to drink your blood,” Tom intoned in a low Transylvanian accent, and the following chuckle sent a warm shiver down the back of Harry’s spine.
“Alright, so you’re not,” Harry rolled his eyes, his cheeks glowing red. “I just…” He sighed. “Sometimes I realise that if my parents had been non-magical, I wouldn’t have gotten the chance to know them. Not properly. I’d have been torn away from them and placed with some random stranger. No one should go through that.”
“If your parents had been non-magical,” Tom pointed out, “they might not have wanted to get to know you.”
“No,” Harry denied. “My parents wouldn’t be different people if they didn’t have magic. And that’s just the point! All this Muggleborn Registration bullshit just means that we get more and more isolated from the muggles, and we forget that they’re not monsters- they’re people, like us. They don’t deserve to have their families torn apart.”
“That’s a dangerous opinion to have.”
“Exactly. So-called ’New age of equality’ my arse,” Harry snorted.
“You’re very passionate about this,” Tom observed, the look in his eye indecipherable.
“My mum’s a muggleborn, and my grandparents are muggles. Fighting against Malfoy values was my whole Hogwarts career,” Harry snorted. “We had a club and everything- Dumbledore’s Army, fighting for muggle and muggleborn rights ‘til the end. We read his speech transcripts almost religiously.” Harry shrugged. “But then Dumbledore died, and we got smaller and smaller- you know how it goes. Rebellion’s only exciting for most people whilst they have time and teenage angst to spend. Eventually they have to grow up.”
“But not you.”
“Not me,” Harry said resolutely. “Never.”
“I take it your wife doesn’t share the same views?”
Harry stood suddenly as a wave of anxious energy hit him, and he ran a hand through his hair. “I thought she did. She was one of the first members of the DA, even. But I guess not.”
“Lucius Malfoy has a high approval rating,” Tom suggested. “At one point, it’s easier to go with the flow. Sometimes people drift in different directions. And, if you don’t mind my saying so, it doesn’t sound like you and your wife are very good at talking to one another.”
“I thought we were,” Harry said helplessly, and then slumped. “No, that’s a lie. To be honest, I love her, but she intimidates me sometimes. And I guess I intimidate her too,” He gave a wry and slightly bitter smile. “I would never want her to pretend to believe in a cause-“ a broken breath- “I just can’t believe she lied. If it hadn’t been for your truth flower things… I’d never have known her.”
“It’s strange how little we often know those we love,” Tom agreed.
Harry grinned. “Are you sure you don’t have any of those truth flower things hidden around here? This is some pretty heavy stuff for relative strangers to talk about.”
“I’ve been told I have an approachable face.” Tom smiled. “And nothing lets a person’s guard down like floristry.”
Harry chuckled. “Sounds almost devious.”
“All part of my master plan to take over the wizarding world,” Tom said very seriously, and Harry let out a delighted laugh.
“Ruling the wizarding world from a little flower shop on Knockturn Alley.”
Tom smiled. “Quite.”
“Well, I’d better go,” Harry said, checking his watch. “I wanted to head into work and get some paperwork done- and then make sure those flowers are gone, no offence. Ginny acting calm is creepier than Kreacher. He’s the Black family house elf,” Harry explained, seeing Tom’s confusion. “He used to bring me a rat whenever I visited as a child.”
“That’s quite sweet.”
“It would have been sweeter if we could find the other half of it.”
“Probably,” Tom agreed. He began to wander around the counter, crouching down behind it. “Before you go, would you be interested in a new bouquet to replace the last one? Free of charge- and no ‘truth flowers’ this time, I promise.”
Harry paused, eyeing Tom with slight suspicion. Tom probably wouldn’t try the same thing twice. “Sure.”
Tom rose, holding a bouquet made of a vibrant mix of reds and oranges; its very presence seemed to light up the room. One of the flowers looked the exact colour of Ginny’s hair.
“Be careful with that one.” Tom indicated to the same flower that Harry had noticed, whilst handing the arrangement over. “The pollen gets everywhere.”
“Thanks,” Harry nodded, shrinking the bouquet so he could slip it into his bag. “And thanks for the impromptu therapy session.”
“I was partially the trigger after all, the least I could do was listen to the aftermath,” Tom admitted. “Although I’m glad you found some comfort in it.”
“Yeah. Well, I’d better get going now,” Harry said, inching towards the door, but strangely reluctant to leave. “The Ministry waits for no wizard, and all that.”
Tom nodded and held out his hand. “Will you be coming back? I’ve rather enjoyed our chat. I feel like this could be the start of a wonderful friendship.”
Harry considered the hand and took it, shaking firmly. “Yeah. Me too.”
And then Harry took the opportunity to hurry out of the door, forcing himself not to look back as he walked away, down the street. Why was he so easily distracted? He had a beautiful wife waiting for him at home. Of course, Harry would never do anything… but the stone of guilt weighted heavily in his stomach. And he and Ginny should probably talk tonight too… urgh, he wasn’t looking forwards to that.
As soon as Harry’s head felt a little clearer, he gripped his wand tightly, turned on his heel, and disapparated.
Harry was making his way to his desk when he caught Zacharias Smith’s eye. Smith was a lower-level Auror, brilliant at herbology but with an attitude that meant he’d have been fired if he wasn’t very good at what he did. He and Harry tended to get along reasonably well.
Harry made a decision.
“Hey Smith,” Harry said, approaching the Auror’s desk.
“Potter,” Zacharias nodded cordially, his usual sneer in place.
“I was wondering if you could check something out for me.” Harry dug into his bag and pulled out the bouquet, unshrinking it. “Could you see if this has any charms on it? Or anything, y’know, odd? Just quickly, yeah?”
Zacharias rolled his eyes, but took the bouquet nonetheless, and muttered for Harry to wait a minute. And then he went through a door, yelling out that he needed one of the potions in the storeroom.
Harry waited obligingly, nodding to Gregory Goyle as he walked past.
Finally, Zacharias emerged, looked as disinterested as usual although- Harry thought- perhaps a little pale.
“They’re fine,” Zacharias drawled. “Nothing odd about them. These for Ginny?”
“That’s the plan,” Harry said, taking the bouquet back gratefully. There was a burst of warmth within him, as he realised that Tom hadn’t lied. It was just a normal, beautiful bouquet.
“You know, I heard your wife interviewing for the Quidditch World Cup on the radio yesterday,” Zacharias mentioned, oddly chatty.
“Yeah,” Harry agreed with a proud smile. “She’s been trying to get that job for ages.”
“She seemed awfully friendly with Viktor Krum in her last interview. One could even… suspect something.”
Harry laughed, though he didn’t feel as certain as he would have a month ago. “Ginny wouldn’t do that.”
Zacharias raised an eyebrow smugly. “Oh yeah?” He waved his wand at a nearby radio, and Ginny’s crackling voice emerged.
“So here I am with Quidditch World Champion, Viktor Krum, who’s been having an almost unbelievable run this season. How are you feeling, Viktor?”
“I, er, am feeling good. It will be hard, but we believe we will defeat the Portuguese team.”
“I’m sure you will- those shoulders can’t all be for show.” Followed by a girlish giggle the likes of which Harry didn’t even know Ginny could make. “But tell us a little about your workout routine.”
“Well, for being the seeker it is important that I do not keep much weight, so I do not much, er- how you say?- hard training, but much running instead.”
“I’ve always thought runners have amazing legs- wouldn’t you agree, Viktor?”
“I am not sure I can be commenting, Mrs Potter, but my legs do the work that they are supposed to do.”
“Please, call me Ginny- I’m sure Harry wouldn’t mind.”
As the sentence hovered in the air (everyone in the office looked distinctly uncomfortable), Harry was already grabbing his bag and marching out the door. Ginny had some explaining to do.
Harry shut the front door behind him, bouquet clutched tightly in his hand. He saw Ginny leaning against the kitchen counter, reading a newspaper with a slight frown on her face. A sudden pain had him wince and glance down. A prick of blood. The thorn had pierced his skin.
“Hey Gin,” Harry said, faux-casually. He had to try and keep calm, otherwise this conversation would go nowhere.
“You’re home early. What’s this about?” Ginny asked icily, turning the page of a Daily Prophet.
“Whilst I was in the office, I, er, caught your latest sports broadcast.”
“Mm. That’s a good one.”
Harry gritted his teeth. “…You were pretty friendly with Viktor Krum.”
“Yes, I wondered if you’d pick up on that,” Ginny said, keeping her eyes fixed on the newspaper.
“What do you mean ‘if I’d ‘pick up on it’?” Harry exploded, striding towards her. He’d never been very good at 'calm'. “It wasn’t exactly subtle!”
“You never listen to my broadcast-“
“You know I’m busy. But that doesn’t give you the right to throw yourself at Viktor bloody Krum!”
Ginny rolled her eyes, finally turning to face him. Harry noticed her cheeks were very red. “I wasn’t ‘throwing myself’ at anyone. Viktor knew perfectly well what was going on.”
“And what was going on, then?”
“No, you listen,” Ginny said fiercely. “Lockhart called me into his office the other week, told me that they only hired a woman for sexual chemistry. Apparently I wasn’t ‘bringing enough heat’. They’d have fired me if I didn’t turn it up a notch, Harry- and don’t worry, I told Viktor exactly why I was suddenly complimenting his ‘magnificently broad shoulders’- he looks like a bowtruckle, for Morgana’s sake.”
“I’m sure he didn’t mind the compliments,” Harry said acidly.
“No he didn’t, but you don’t mind it when I tell you that your hair looks ‘windswept’-“
“We’re married, Gin! There’s a fucking difference!” he bellowed, fingernails digging into the wound on his palm. “And why didn’t you tell me about this? It’s not right- you know that. You shouldn’t have to flirt with anyone anyway, you’re a professional, for Merlin’s sake-“
“You think I don’t know that?!” Ginny screamed, finally losing control. “You think it’s not bloody humiliating to be told that my voice isn’t ‘lusty’ enough? But everyone does it, Harry! Hermione put on lipstick to get her internship, Luna’s always at some godforsaken premiere answering question after question on ‘who are you wearing’, and I had to pretend I was attracted to Viktor Krum’s abnormally large nose. It’s called ‘earning a living’.”
“The old Ginny wouldn’t have said this,” Harry said firmly. “She’d have never given in like that. She’d have told them to ‘fuck off-”
“The ‘old Ginny’ didn’t have to think about how she could raise children on a Ministry wage,” Ginny gestured furiously. “I know you don’t like to admit it, Harry, but you earn sickles. That’s if you ever decide to bother with kids or me.” Ginny turned away from Harry and started pacing furiously. “And so perhaps I liked the flirting. Perhaps I liked feeling wanted for once. We haven’t had sex in months, Harry! Months!”
“I tried to start something last week!” Harry protested.
“As an apology! I don’t want apology sex! I want you to want me. Do you want me?” Ginny had her hands tangled in her hair, she looked at him almost desperately.
There was a long pause between them, and for some reason, Tom’s face flashed through Harry’s mind. But that was different, Harry hadn’t actually done anything. He hadn’t even flirted.
Tom was just a florist.
“I just want you to care,” Ginny said very quietly.
“Of course I care,” Harry insisted. “If you’d just told me about this before, if you’d said what they were asking you to do, I could’ve-“
“What?” Ginny threw her hands in the air. “You could’ve done what, exactly? Stormed in and lost me my job? I didn’t want you going all ‘full might of the Ministry’ on them, Harry, and that’s precisely what you would’ve done. Besides,” she shifted uncomfortably, “he told me not to tell anyone.”
“And if Lucius Malfoy told you to jump off a cliff, you’d do it, would you?”
“Oh, for Morgana’s sake,” Ginny hissed, growling in frustration. “Why does it always come back to Lucius Malfoy-“
“Because he’s evil. And you always agreed with me, I still don’t understand why you’ve suddenly-”
“Well, there’s no point keeping the charade up now, is there?” Ginny said grimly. “The cat’s out of the cauldron.”
“I just wanted some honesty.”
“You want honesty?” Ginny hissed. “Fine. Here’s what I think about Lucius Malfoy. He’s just a politician, Harry! He’s not good, he’s not bad, and he’s certainly not evil. Sometimes, I swear to Merlin, I could just strangle you-” And she clenched her hands, and if she were just picturing wrapping them around Harry’s neck.
“At least then I wouldn’t have to live with a liar-“
“You’re so paranoid!” she snarled. “You’re crazy and paranoid, and I hate you! Why do you care so much about Lucius Malfoy? You’re fighting a war that doesn’t exist. No one is fighting back!”
“His campaign slogan was ‘keeping magic pure’,” Harry spat. “I can’t condone that.”
“He said what we wanted to hear to get elected, and now he’s in power, he’ll do what needs to be done. And I don’t have a problem with that. We’ve seen a reduction in muggle hate crimes-“
“No,” Harry said stonily. “I think you’ll find, Gin, that we’ve seen a reduction in muggle hate crime investigations. It’s still happening; no one’s safer; the world hasn’t gotten better- it’s just that no one cares anymore.”
“I care,” Ginny said, very small.
Harry couldn’t stop a sneer from spreading over his features. “Not enough.”
There was a moment of silence that stretched between them, and Harry and Ginny stared at one another, separated by a doorway that seemed like billions of years. The truth was out, and it hurt.
“We got married too young,” Ginny said finally, shakily. “We should’ve seen what it did to your parents.” She reached up to her neck and pulled off her locket, letting the chain trail loosely from her clenched fist.
“Leave my parents out of this,” Harry said, but his voice sounded weak. “You lied to me for 11 years. You pretended to be a different person for 11 years. You trapped me in a relationship with someone who isn’t even real.”
“I’m real, Harry,” Ginny said stubbornly, and she let the locket fall to the floor. “I’m just not who you thought I was. It’s not my fault if you’re so bloody passionate that I can’t talk to you-“
“You never tried.” Then Harry lifted the bouquet, placed it on the counter, said coldly, “I brought you these,” and left.
He sat on the doorstep, raised his face to the heavens, and wept.
“Ginny moved back in with her parents. She even took the bloody flowers- said they made Molly smile,” Harry told Tom, sat in what had become ‘his chair’.
After Ginny and he broke up, Harry had needed someone to spend his time with and, somehow, he found himself returning to Aconitum. And so he visited the shop nearly every day, sat with Tom, and just talked. It was an odd place- Tom never seemed to have any customers, but Harry was grateful for the friendship anyway.
Tom was very easy to talk to: he didn’t fly off the broomstick like Ginny did when she heard something she didn’t like. Tom was calculating, strategic, measured- Harry found it overwhelmingly comforting. He needed to talk to someone who wasn’t a mutual friend; someone who didn’t offer Ginny’s side of the argument, or look away guiltily when Harry said something uncomplimentary of her; someone who knew Harry as his own person, and not HarryandGinny. He needed someone to be completely, solely, unabashedly his.
“Are you keeping the apartment, then?” Tom asked, glancing up at Harry as he polished the counter. Tom preferred doing chores the muggle way, and Harry wondered if it was a result of his muggle upbringing.
“Yeah. Ginny said she’d find a new place. She earns more than me anyway. That was just one of… one of the reasons for the break up.” Harry gazed down at his hands, a sick feeling of anger rising within him.
Tom frowned, pausing in his cleaning. “What’s the matter?”
“She said I don’t want children,” Harry burst out. The accusation had stuck with him, burrowed deep into his heart. “I do want children, I do. I just… have other things to focus on. Work things.” Harry leaned back abruptly, tensing his jaw. “She knows that I want kids, we talked about that. I said that I want to be a… a…”
“A better father,” Tom finished quietly.
“Yeah,” Harry agreed. “I mean, don’t get me wrong, my dad is great and I love him, but… I want to always be there for my kids- they’re gonna be able to talk to me about everything. I was always closer with my mum.”
“My father abandoned my mother when he found out she was pregnant,” Tom said, quite calmly. “I’ve never met him.”
“Oh Merlin, Tom, I’m sorry,” Harry realised, wincing sympathetically. “I always forget about, y’know, your past. You just seem so well adjusted-“
“It’s fine,” Tom replied nonchalantly. “My mother told me about him whilst I was still young. From what she said of him, it’s no great loss. I don’t entirely blame him for leaving, anyway. My mother’s actions were quite unforgiveable.”
“They were?” Harry asked hesitantly.
“She used a love potion.”
Love potions were heavily policed in wizarding society, and had, in fact, been the first magical items to be illegalised by Minister Malfoy. It was also one of the only Malfoy policies Harry agreed with. Harry knew that opinion on love potions used to be different: they were a joke product, sold openly in shops and treated like a bit of a laugh on Valentine’s Day. But Lucius Malfoy had changed that: the first to compare them to the Imperius curse.
Now, things were very different. It was almost a symbol of the ‘old generation’ to treat love potions in a more blasé manner. Harry had once spent an uncomfortable afternoon with Mrs Weasley, listening as she discussed dosing one of her classmates in her youth. No one at the table quite had the heart to remind her how illegal they were.
“That’s awful,” Harry breathed.
“Yes. She was quite hopeless and relentlessly abused, but it doesn’t really excuse her actions,” Tom said flatly. “She told me that every day, right up until the day she died. She was quite repentant.” His lip twisted.
“How, er, did your mum pass, if you don’t mind me asking?”
“Pneumonia,” Tom said, returning to polishing. “It was quite awful.”
“Oh,” Harry blinked, shrinking back slightly. “Right.”
“I nursed her until she died, and then the Ministry came, took our house, and left me at a muggle orphanage. It was Professor Dumbledore who left me there, actually.” Tom smiled coldly. “When he came a year later with my Hogwarts letter, he was the first wizard I’d seen since she passed.”
“I remember the day that Dumbledore died,” Harry mused. The newspapers had run the story for weeks: outspoken politician found mysteriously murdered in his bed, frozen like he’d been chiselled out of marble. And one of the only leading political figures opposing Lucius Malfoy and his separationist campaign, too. The DA had been inconsolable. “It was so sad. He should have been around for at least another twenty years.”
“Yes,” Tom agreed. “Tragic.”
Harry watched as Tom’s face twisted oddly, and remembered how he had mentioned knowing Dumbledore personally. Perhaps Tom had gone to the funeral.
“Molly thinks Ginny and I should try marriage counselling,” Harry mentioned, trying to alleviate the silence. “She thinks we’ve just gotten a bit distant. Apparently she and Arthur went through exactly the same thing.”
“I imagine Arthur and Molly never lied to each other about their political beliefs throughout the entirety of their relationship,” Tom remarked. “But I wouldn’t know- I’ve never met them.”
“No,” Harry agreed. “I imagine they didn’t. Molly and Arthur are both staunchly anti-Malfoy, which is why I don’t understand…” he trailed off, grumbling bad-temperedly under his breath.
“Children don’t always share the same political views as their parents.”
“Yeah, but usually they go more liberal, not less.”
“Malfoy’s not entirely without his liberalisms,” Tom pointed out. “He was all for the marriage equality act.”
“But that’s because he’s gay,” Harry snorted.
Tom raised his eyebrows.
“Oh sorry,” Harry corrected sarcastically, sneering slightly. “I completely forgot that he’s happily married with a kid. Doesn’t stop him from hitting on me whenever he’s in the office,” he mumbled bitterly.
“He flirts with you?” Tom looked surprised, which meant ‘utterly shocked’ in Tom-expressions. “But that’s completely unprofessional. And inappropriate.”
Harry chuckled grimly. “Lucius Malfoy doesn’t care about appropriateness.”
“Well, he should,” Tom hissed, looking almost- dare Harry say it?- murderous.
“It doesn’t matter,” Harry shrugged. “I’ve gotten pretty good with my stinging hexes. Anyway, Ginny doesn’t want marriage counselling either- at least we agree on one thing. I think she’s pushing for a divorce- Molly’s horrified.”
“And what do you want?”
“I dunno,” Harry said morosely. “I don’t want to stay together- but I never imagined I’d be getting a divorce at 27, y’know? We were supposed to be endgame. It just feels a bit like giving up.”
“And you’ve never given up at anything before, have you?” Tom mused with a wry smile.
“No. And I’m quite proud of that. Gryffindor stubbornness always pulls through in the end.”
“Perhaps you should think of it more like completing a chapter of your life,” Tom suggested. “Finishing something you started, and moving on.”
“That’s a good way of looking at it,” Harry admitted, and rolled his eyes. “We’ve agreed to a few counselling sessions, just for Molly’s sake but-“ Harry shrugged helplessly “-I don’t think it’s going to change anything.”
“If the relationship is the issue, no amount of counselling will fix it.”
“I haven’t said it to Molly,” Harry said quietly, guiltily, barely above a whisper. “But I don’t think I want the relationship fixed. I don’t think I can live with Ginny anymore.”
It wasn’t as simple as that. Ginny had been a part of his life for almost 11 years- they’d been dating since Hogwarts. Harry didn’t know how to function without her. He didn’t know what he was supposed to do, or say, or feel. He kept making two slices of toast in the morning, leaving a space beside his shoes- he went to kiss the air goodnight yesterday evening. Sometimes he laid in his empty bed and cried.
“Yeah,” Harry agreed softly, twisting the fabric of his robes between his fingers. “Maybe. It’s just… I don’t know who I am without her.”
“Well, don’t you think it’s time to find out?”
(A few days later, Lucius Malfoy offered Harry a formal apology and a promise to respect professional boundaries. Very weird.)
Harry reluctantly turned up to the marriage counselling sessions a few weeks later, after assuring Mrs Weasley that he’d definitely be there- no, he didn’t need to come over for lunch, he thought it would be rather awkward, yes he knew he was always welcome at their home, no matter whether he and Ginny were together, no he still wouldn’t be coming for lunch-
The conversation between Harry and Mrs Weasley about the marriage counselling session lasted longer than the actual session did.
Their therapist (or ‘marriage healer’, as she liked to call herself) was a ‘cool’ and ‘hip’ young witch, very fond of using phrases like ‘crossing emotional distance’ and ‘communication participation’; where Harry and Ginny would take turns to tell each other how they really felt. All it seemed to do was make the distance between them more obvious and gaping, but at least they were united in their hatred of the therapist.
“Do it for Mum,” Ginny would mutter out of the corner of her mouth, before telling Harry that he’d always been overly jealous of her past boyfriends. Harry would reply that he wouldn’t need to be jealous if they didn’t send her flowers every Valentine’s Day, and Ginny would accuse him of seeing her as undesirable.
The arguments spiralled from there.
He often felt the therapist didn’t understand that truth was what tore their relationship apart. They didn’t need more of it.
This time, however, Ginny was much more subdued. She answered the questions quietly and let Harry lead most of the conversation, which was very unusual. Even their therapist noticed (a small miracle), and asked Ginny if she was okay.
“I’ve just been a bit ill these past days,” Ginny said, waving a hand dismissively (although Harry swore that the movement was slower than usual). “Ignore me.”
“We can’t really do that, dear,” the therapist said, her Irish accent sounding stupendously patronising. “A marriage is between two people, after all.”
“We don’t have a marriage anymore,” Ginny grumbled, irritated, and rubbed her head.
“But that’s what we’re trying to fix, now isn’t it?”
“Sure,” Ginny replied, and groaned. “I’m going to the loo.” She got to her feet, a little unsteadily, and began tottering towards the door. Harry couldn’t understand why she’d chosen to wear heels.
Before she could reach for the door handle, she stumbled. And then it was like watching in slow motion as Ginny sank into a dead faint, her head crunching on the corner of a side table, slammed against the floor as her body crumpled.
Harry rushed to her side, kneeling down and checking for a pulse. Upon finding one, even if the heartbeat was fainter than usual, he unbuttoned her collar to let her breathe. It was there that he found a rash, an angry red mark spreading across her chest. Beneath her head, a red pool of blood spread like a grim halo. Harry didn’t want to know how deep the wound was.
“Merlin’s sake, Gin,” he muttered wretchedly, turning to the therapist. “Call St Mungo’s.”
“I- I don’t-“ the therapist stuttered, looking shell-shocked.
“Call the damn hospital!”
The therapist fled into another room, presumably heading for a fireplace. Harry turned back to the body, taking off his cloak and folding it to rest beneath her head. “Don’t worry, Gin. You’re gonna be fine.”
As he clutched her hand- so cold, why hadn’t he noticed how cold she was?- he desperately hoped that he was right.