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Tell Me the End at the Beginning

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Harry never sleeps well, exactly. So there’s always a disorienting moment just as he’s waking, when his pulse starts to race and his body tries to decide if he’s in danger. Even ten years after the war he can still jerk upright convinced he’s in the Forest of Dean trying to pull together some final strands of hope. It always takes a moment to recognise the thick blackout curtains of his own bedroom at Grimmauld Place, or to rub the crick out of his neck and find he’s fallen asleep at his desk. Or, like now, to breath in a deep lungful of antiseptic potion, feel the stiff institutional sheets, and realise he’s in St Mungo’s. Again.

“Harry?”

He blinks slowly, taking an inventory of his body. A twinge in his lower calf. A vile taste in the back of his throat that suggests he’s had a broad-spectrum anti-curse potion fed to him at some point. Sight’s a little blurry, but that’s probably…

“Here. Your glasses.”

Hermione passes him the frames and he slips them on, watching her weary expression sharpen into focus. Her hair is escaping its elastic. She’s still in uniform, one shoulder of her Auror robes singed black and ragged. Gladys in Requisitions is going to be so mad.

The raid.

It comes back to him in flashes. His own deeply-held conviction that he knew exactly what the suspect was going to do. Hermione’s furious shout. The spelled tripwire. The blinding glare of the explosion.

“The hostage?” he asks, panicked.

“Alive, but critically wounded. They have her in a spell-induced coma.”

Alive is something. Alive he can work with.

Hermione’s whole face is a mask of tired disapproval. In the years they’ve been Auror partners, it’s a look that’s become all too familiar.

“You’re suspended, of course. Robards doesn’t want you back until the new year.”

That almost feels like a relief, though he tries not to let it show. The idea of fronting up on Monday for a bollocking from Robards is not exactly appealing. “Only a month. That’s not so bad,” he says tentatively, steeling himself for Hermione’s reaction.

“For you, maybe! It’s December, Harry. On top of my already frankly ridiculous workload, I’m supposed to be getting ready to host the Weasley family Christmas, because for reasons passing understanding, Ron thought Molly needed a year off. As if that woman has ever enjoyed someone else hosting her for anything.”

Hermione’s really gearing up, now. If Harry squints he can almost see the steam coming out of her ears.

“Ron works half the hours that I do in the shop, but I’m the one who’s been receiving “helpful” recipe suggestions since August. And now, in addition to cooking practice turkeys on the weekends so we don’t poison the entire extended family at the end of the month, I’m lumped with your paperwork and covering your arse! Again!”

Harry sinks back into his pillow, looking up at the ceiling guiltily.

“I thought Marsden was going to—”

“That’s the point, Harry! You always think you know what you’re doing. But protocol is there for a sodding reason. So that you don’t get injured, hostages don’t get knocked out, and suspects we’ve been tracking for six months don’t escape!”

Harry bristles. That feels a bit unfair. It’s true that he hates the rules and the procedures and all the nonsense they’re supposed to go through. Regulations are no substitute for what it's like in the field. Being an Auror should be instinctive.

Though it’s also true his instincts have been a little off lately.

“What’s her prognosis?” Harry asks. The furious energy leaks out of Hermione and she slumps back in her seat, frowning at him.

“The curse damage was extensive, and reacted poorly with that case of potions that exploded when you fired at the suspect. They need a specialist. But fortunately someone is starting here in the morning who has the right experience. A transfer from the wizarding wing of Hôpital Saint-Louis in Paris. She’ll be his first case.”

Harry nods. At least the young woman will be getting the best care. Hard enough to learn that your fiancé was a dangerous sociopath bent on poisoning wizarding Britain’s supply of Pepper-Up just in time for the Christmas holidays. Maybe she’s better off asleep for a while.

“You need to stay overnight for observation. Luna said she’d be back to check on you soon.”

At least she’ll be a friendly face. Hermione’s pinched expression is making Harry feel tired.

“I have to go.” Hermione gets to her feet with a sigh. She glances at her watch. “Fuck practice turkeys. I’m buying everything from the Harrods Food Hall on Christmas Eve, Muggle crowds be damned. And I guarantee she doesn’t even notice. She’ll be too busy rearranging the way I’ve set the table.”

“Send my love to the kids,” he mumbles.

“As if I’ll get to see them for the next month. The presents better be good this year, Harry. I’m serious.” She stalks from the room letting the door clang shut behind her with a bang.

One time, he thinks with a scowl. Just one year when he’d been a bit distracted and only remembered he needed to buy gifts at the eleventh hour and everyone had gotten something from the sale table at the local Muggle shop. He’s sure Ron’s used that souvenir mug in the shape of Big Ben at least once. Probably.

The door opens again more gently and Luna comes in, the hideous lime green of her Healer’s robes somehow made worse by having been edged in red tinsel.

“Welcome back, Harry,” she says with a broad smile, as if finding oneself in hospital again is something to be genuinely delighted about.

“You look very festive,” he manages. He suspects her earrings might be actual Christmas tree baubles. They cycle through a series of different coloured lights in a way that is already starting to give him a headache.

“Thank you! Christmas is one of my favourite holidays. Everything is very colourful and sparkles. And I just take down mistletoe whenever anyone is foolish enough to hang it up. We have enough on our plate this time of year without adding Nargles into the mix.” She casts a series of diagnostic charms.

“You’re in good shape. We’ll keep you here ‘til the morning because you lost consciousness briefly when you hit your head, but you should be fine to go then.”

“Have you seen her? The woman who came in with me?”

Luna’s smile flickers and fades.

“She’s young and healthy. That’s a good start. And Hermione got you both here very quickly.”

Not exactly encouraging answers, Harry thinks morosely.

“She’ll be in good hands,” Luna continues, jotting some notes on the parchment charmed to the end of Harry’s bed. “Draco will look after her.”

“Draco … Malfoy?!”

There’s a name he hasn’t thought about in a long time. He knew Malfoy had left the country straight after the trials, but in truth the only time he’s crossed Harry’s mind since has been when he’s woken with the sulphuric scent of Fiendfyre still in his nostrils.

“You remember my cousin Draco, Harry,” Luna chides gently, patting his hand like a senile patient destined for the Janus Thickey Ward. “We all went to school together.”

Harry snorts in disbelief. “Of course I remember him. He’s the specialist?”

“Oh, yes,” she says, straightening the cover on his bed, and tucking her quill into her hair, where it joins another knot of tinsel and something that might be a candy cane. “He’s been working in France, but Narcissa needs him home now. He’ll be here tomorrow.”

What a confusing thought. Draco Malfoy, a French-trained Healer. On his way here.

“Sleep well, Harry. If you’re up early enough you might get to open one of the Advent calendar doors.”

Harry’s pretty sure that’s not the reward Luna thinks it is, but nods as she drifts from the room humming Deck The Halls under her breath.

He tries to shape the thin pillow into a more comfortable position, flexing his leg and feeling the calf muscle twinge again.

He’ll get some sleep, check on the victim, and then maybe he’ll try and make it up to Hermione by doing some of their paperwork at home.

Maybe he’ll even volunteer to get her her Harrods turkeys. Harry thinks about the claustrophobic press of Muggle crowds on an ordinary shopping day and tries to imagine what it would be like at the end of December.

Maybe he’ll leave that one to her.

 


Prompt One:

a picture of Harrods decorated for Christmas