A few weeks before
Harry’s had moments before where he’s looked into Robards’ eyes and honestly felt with his whole being that his superior is actually, absolutely, wholeheartedly insane. It’s not like it’s a bad thing - far from it, actually. Gawain Robards might be insane, but he was insane and mother-like, overly protective of the Aurors in his force, and Harry admired his internal strength.
The only down part of Robards’ insanity, Harry thinks, is that sometimes his superior can be a little...intense. And that intensity usually led to overly-complicated schemes and missions that he’d send Harry on, thinking that Harry’s Chosen One senses would be the saving grace for them all.
And sometimes, only sometimes, it gets on Harry’s nerves. Right now? Right now is one of those moments in which he personally wants to buy Robards a one-way ticket to the Janus Thickey ward - isn’t it his time to retire, already?
“You’re telling me there's a new branch of Death Eaters that call themselves the bloody Rotten Fangs, and they’re sacrificing Hogwarts kids?” Harry’s voice cracks mid the word ‘Hogwarts’, and it doesn’t even matter that it’s been 10 years since he was genuinely 17, his heart aches for one of the only places he’s ever called home.
Robards purses his lips and leans back in his fancy new leather chair - the one Ron got for him on his birthday. At first, when Ron had shown Harry the night before the party, Harry had taken one look at the Muggle chair meant for spas in the dim light of the Burrow’s living room and laughed his firewhiskey out his nose.
Now, however, seeing how obviously Robards feels at home in the massage chair, something flares up in his chest at Ron. Harry pushes the feeling away and glances back to his superior, who regards him through narrowed eyes.
“Well, when you put it like that, it sounds a tad more urgent.” Robards frowns, half to himself. “I’m going to need you on your guard, Auror Potter, be ready to answer a call to action any moment now.”
Harry, all wound up and strung tight like a violin string, forces a nod, his brain already working overdrive. If he could just wait for the go-ahead, he’d make sure these Rotten Fangs regretted ever touching kids that don’t belong to them.
Robards flings him a tentative smile and adjusts his Auror robes - purple for the Head Auror - before he turns around to face the large window behind him. Harry, no matter what Ginny says, isn’t an idiot, he knows when he’s been dismissed.
He runs a hand through his dark curls, slicked back into something resembling neatness, and exits Robards’ office. Merlin, he needs a cuppa.
Harry stops by the cramped Auror kitchen on his way to Ron’s office, inhales 2 large mugs of coffee and mixes one for his best mate before he heads off.
Ron’s door is closed, so Harry presses his ear to the wood, the aroma of coffee surrounding him and fogging up his glasses. He hears voices, soft and obviously trying to be discreet, but Harry doesn’t want to be that friend.
You know, the one that has no respect for boundaries and decides that mi casa, su casa. But, at this point, he’s bored, and all that’s waiting for him back at his own cubicle - not even an office, which he’s still pissed about - is a pile of teetering paperwork.
So, you can’t really blame him, can you? Harry casts a charm on the door Hermione helped him develop that turns the desired object translucent on your end while simultaneously allowing you to hear what’s happening inside the room.
It was really Hermione’s work, Harry isn’t smart enough for all the fancy magic that goes into creating a spell. He was really just there to help out her power factor - he was like the brawns, while ‘Mione was the brains. Harry shakes his head and forces himself to listen back into the office.
“You know I’m serious about this, Ron. I don’t know if he even likes taking me out, ever mind getting married to me and living next to me for however long.”
Harry’s breath hitches in his throat. It’s Ginny - his Ginny, with her fire-plated hair and her radiant smile - sitting on the edge of Ron’s desk, looking all wrong. Usually, his Ginny is all business-like and confident and taking charge.
This...this broken side of her is something Harry’s never seen before. It makes his hackles rise. Why did Ginny never bother to show how she really felt? Merlin. Harry closes his eyes, takes a deep, calming breath, and opens them again.
“Look, Gin, I don’t know what you want me to say. I’m his best mate, not a seer. Just talk to him, I’m sure he’ll understand.”
Ginny sighs, and looks around the office, seeming to search for an answer. Her eyes linger on the door that Harry stands behind, and he shifts awkwardly, hoping to Merlin that the charm isn’t malfunctioning and that somehow Ginny can see him.
But then her eyes glance away and she shoots a tired smile at Ron. “Yeah, I know. I’ll try, but he’s always neck deep in work, you know? I’m not that good myself, with the Harpies needing me each season, but at least I don’t mope about the house.”
What the fuck? How come Ginny’s never mentioned that to Harry before? A chill runs down his spine as he watches the grimace float over Ron’s face like a shadow. What the bloody hell?
Harry’s about to cancel the charm and leave Ron his coffee by the door when he hears the tell-tale sound of Robards’ boots as he marches up the hallway. Harry downs the coffee, cancels the charm and leans against the wall, hoping he doesn’t look the absolute stalker that he is.
“Auror Potter! It’s go time, I can’t have you walking around looking listless. Take your post, sharpish.”
Robards rounds the corner, face flushed red and mouth open, clearly ready to be giving another order when he spots Harry, looking most likely like a knob just leaning against a wall. He raises an eyebrow.
“Don’t say a word.” Harry sighs, “I’ll head off now, shall I?”
His superior nods, his stern face melting into an expression that Harry’s seen far too many times, both on Robards’ face and Molly Weasley’s. He sometimes wonders if they’re related, but then he gets scared and decides to stop thinking about it.
“Just be careful Harry. Remember, anything goes even remotely wrong, you call for backup and you get your sorry arse out of there. Do you understand? And keep an eye on that arm of yours.” Robards folds his arms, mouth set in a hard line as if he’s daring Harry to contradict him.
Obviously, Harry doesn’t. He likes his job, and subsequently, his life, far too much to disagree. He flexes the fingers on his right arm - the one that’s been spell-damaged for 3 odd years now. The one that’s cost him any more missions out on the field.
The only reason Robards is letting him out on this one is because it’s a simple status Yellow stakeout post. Nothing more to it.
Instead of letting his thoughts out, though, Harry mumbles a “Yes, sir,” and watches the way Robards visibly relaxes. Harry shakes his head, smiling fondly, and when he walks out of the Ministry to Apparate in a dark alleyway, he almost forgets Ginny’s conversation with Ron.
Harry arrives at his stake outpost 10 minutes early. Early for what, he doesn’t know, but it’s bloody freezing in this part of London and Harry just wants to take his position and settle down.
The sky overhead is cast a tired grey, but at least it’s not raining. This would be a hell of a lot worse had it been raining, Harry’s sure. He takes one glance at the old Victorian house he has to keep an eye on and huffs out a breath.
“Of course that’s where they’d be sacrificing children.” He mutters to himself as he slips through the open wrought-iron gates and up the gravel driveway. “Fuckin’ Malfoy Manor look-a-like.”
He pauses, not sure where that even came from. Harry blinks the unwarranted thought away, shaking his shoulder to get rid of the odd feelings it brought. He’s just tired, that’s all. On a good day, he’d never think about...about all of that. The past. It hurts too much if he does. His arm starts aching, too.
He’s just had too much coffee, gotten too into his own head, and with the wedding around the corner...Harry’s just in a worse place than normal. Come tomorrow, he’ll be right as rain.
So Harry tucks a stray curl behind his ear and slips in underneath a window ledge on the side of the mansion. A rose bush grows there, wild and unwavering, daring Harry to enter its space and initiate a war. Harry just settles himself behind it and casts a quick Warming charm.
Obviously, he should be doing this with a partner, but Robards understands Harry’s need to protect everyone if he can, his need to help. This stakeout mission...it’s not on a Red priority, so most of his friends hadn’t wanted to chip in, but Harry doesn’t like not doing as much as he can.
He took the position and was shocked to realise that this is actually a big deal, despite not being a Red.
Plus, the more Harry can do to rid the world of Death Eater wannabes, the better.
It’s not even 10 minutes of Harry sitting still and waiting for a Rotten Fang to appear before he starts to get restless. Every 20 seconds he jiggles his thigh and reaches up to peek through the window. And every 20 seconds, the curtains are still drawn, and he can’t see shit.
But he’s not one to give up, as literally everyone knows by now, so Harry keeps on checking. Surely one of the kids would start screeching, right? The moment Harry hears a scream, he’s going to rush in there, grab any child he can see and Apparate all of them out of there.
Unless the building is blocked against Apparition. Oh, shit. What if there are Wards across the whole entirety of the grounds just inside the gates to stop intruders - like Harry himself - unless they’re a member of the Rotten Fangs?
And that’s when Harry hears it - a high pitched, strangled wail coming from right within the walls of the mansion. Harry strains his ears, fingers tightening around the handle of his wand as he tries to place a voice to the sound of terror.
It sounds like a male, around 15-17 years of age. A kid, from Hogwarts, maybe? Harry doesn’t waste any more time into thinking about the details - he’s already got all the information he needs. Adrenalin sweeps up and over him like a wave, drowning Robards’ words in the back of Harry’s mind.
He doesn’t need backup; he’ll be fine. He’s Harry bloody Potter, for Merlin’s sake. He was born to fight the bad guys - it was the only thing that calmed the raging siege inside his head.
Harry jams his glasses firmly on his nose as he stands, his defensive guard on as he quickly assesses his surroundings. He glances at the window and flicks his wand at it. The latch jiggles, making a startling rattling noise that makes Harry cringe.
Fuck, he hopes that the screams of the kid cover the noises up. He flicks his wand again, and this time the old window draws all the way up with a scratching sound. Harry has no time to waste. He flings himself through the opening, glad for once in his life he’s not as tall as Ron is, and lands on the other side behind the long, silk curtain.
Voices float through from the room next to him, sounding hushed, like they’re trying to listen in for sounds.
“- you sure you heard nothing, Doug?”
“Swear boss, din’ ‘ear a thing.”
“Doug, go check what the fuck’s the problem then get back here. Swore I heard somethin’. Yale, Stun this snivelling twerp on the ground.”
“Sure thing, boss.”
“Right on it, sir.”
Harry curses softly before he takes a deep breath. He can do this, he has 10 years of Auror experiences under his belt - surely he can take on some middle-aged, slow member of an off-brand Death Eater group?
Doug makes it no secret that he’s coming into the room, his steps heavy and deep like he’s wearing large work boots made for Muggle builders. He whistles a soft tune to himself, something by Christina Warbeck. Harry knows that one, himself.
What a shame, if he wasn’t here on a mission, he might’ve been friends with Doug. You know, if the other man hadn’t been an extremist, and all.
“...boss is crazy, I din’ hear nobody.”
Harry sucks in a deep breath and counts to ten. He casts Hermione’s charm and takes inventory of what Doug looks like, for the Pensieve later on. The man is short and stocky, a little plump around the middle, his stomach bulging through the lines of his Wizarding robes.
His dark hair has been shaved into a buzz cut, and unruly stubble grazes his chin, nothing like Harry’s fully grown beard. Doug looks like nothing but a Muggle comic villain, but Harry’s learned not to underestimate the enemy over the years.
Quick as a flash, Harry Vanishes the curtain and shoots a Stunner at Doug while he’s bent over to check underneath a coffee table lying in the corner.
Look, Harry knows it’s cowardly to only face your opponent when their back is turned, but he’s on his own here, and as an Auror, this counts as him having the ‘element of surprise’ on his side. Morals be damned, he’s not dying a second time.
Doug lets out a yelp, but before whoever else is there can rush in, Harry sets a quick trapping charm over the door, as well as a Silencio to stop anyone else hearing them. Then, Harry glances at Doug - it’s only two of them left.
A flash of fear crosses Doug’s face when the confusion in his eyes clears and gives way to recognition. He lifts his wand, but Harry’s not bothered because it’s shaking and dipping wildly.
“You’re...you’re Harry Potter, ain’t you?”
Harry shrugs. “Depends on who’s asking. You’re Doug, member of the Rotten Fangs, aren’t you?”
Doug blinks, clearly shaken. Harry’s heart almost turns for this guy - he looks so lost - as if he didn’t choose the Rotten Fang life, but the Rotten Fang life chose him.
“I ain’t gonna tell you nothin’.” Doug says, his voice wavering slightly, “I’m gonna...I’m gonna AK you, mate, if you don’t get outta the way.”
Harry suppresses a snort. He sends a burst of blue at Doug, who leaps out of the way. Harry springs up a Shield charm at the curse his opponent sends, and soon Harry is engaged in a battle of spells - one he hasn’t had in a long time.
Doug is quick with his spells, which is both surprising and unsurprising to Harry. They shoot spell after spell, Doug sweaty and red, Harry breathing heavily, his eyes wild. His faulty arm, his fucking wand arm, nonetheless, is quivering, but Harry holds on to his wand.
He needs to win this, it’s only one guy, how hard could it actually be?
As if right on cue, Harry’s arm buckles in on itself, twisting painfully from the magical energy he’s expending, and Harry knows he’s done for. Doug takes his chance.The man locks his legs in a jinx, but before Harry can scream the counterspell Doug shoots a ball of lime coloured light at Harry’s forehead, where his scar is.
Harry’s breath catches in his chest as pain - all-consuming pain - travels from his scar to all his nerve endings in hot flashes. His body, still tied up, convulses like he’s an animal with rabies.
He’s dealt with more than this, but for some reason, whatever spell Doug’s cast on him makes Harry want to kill himself with his own ‘AK.’ The pain is...fuck.
Harry’s sure he’s foaming at the mouth, but before his vision goes, he struggles to unjinx himself, grips his wand tightly and Apparates to St Mungos.
No anti-Apparition wards, then, Harry thinks as he collapses on the bleached ground before the receptionist’s desk. Merlin, I’m getting too old for this.
His vision stutters, before the pain wrenches him into darkness.