Everything hurt. The pain was so intense he had trouble making sense of it. Slowly, his surroundings filtered past. Rain pounded onto him where he lay, sprawled out in the mud. All of him was soaking wet, but the moisture on his stomach was warm and thick. He pressed his hand to it, gritting his teeth and forcing himself to his feet. As he tried to sit up, things only got worse. Dizzy nausea joined the sharp pain.
It was dark. Near pitch-black, but the sounds around him were vaguely…forest-like. The sound of rain was muted and echoed, like a barrier of canopy gently broke its fall. Standing up straight made it too hard to breath. He bent forward, sucking in air against the agony.
Nothing was broken, it seemed. Nothing important enough to keep him from walking. He took a step forward, then another. A persistent, nagging thought that made him stop. It was important, for some reason, that he make sure no one was around.
So he stopped, listening intently without knowing why. Calling out for help would have made more sense, but he didn’t. It felt…dangerous. Someone must have done this to him, and left him there.
Mud had filled his shoes, so his feet squicked and squished when he started walking. Every few meters, he would run into a tree trunk. The wet, rough bark cut at his hands when he reached out, leaning heavily against it. He had to get help. Losing blood was bad. He should…he should do something…
Several minutes later, the darkness let up. Just slightly. The thick cloud cover revealed, briefly, a full moon. He saw with gasping relief that there was a structure rising up in the near distance. Indistinct, but it definitely man-made. People. There’d be people in there.
The rain came to a slow stop, the quiet absolute. Despite the looming structure in front of him, he knew that this must be the absolute middle of nowhere. No halo of light pollution marred the sky. The air smelled too…clean. His brain was processing all of this in ways he didn’t understand. It was clinical and sharp, but like a jigsaw puzzle with pieces that kept changing shape. He couldn’t quite put it together.
Dread almost overpowered the pain as he drew closer to the building. The moon was out again, enough for him to see the glint of it off dark, empty windows. Thick brush grew along and up the sides of what looked to be a manor. The brick, even in night, was discolored. Aged. Filthy.
There was no one here.
Any strength the possibility of help had given him seeped away. Walking this far had taken all he had. He wasn’t going to make it. He was going to die alone and injured, with no idea of how he’d come to be here, or who he even was.
He came an abrupt stop at the edge of the trees, where thick underbrush turned to untamed bushes. This could have been a garden, once, but it wasn’t what had caught his attention. It must have been his imagination, but something appeared to have moved in one of the windows. A flash of white.
He searched it out, but whatever it was had drew further inside. Suddenly, he very much did not want to go into that house. Something in the air seemed wrong. Evil. There was no way for him to know that, but his gut advised strongly in walking the exact opposite direction.
It was getting harder to breathe. He wouldn’t be walking anywhere for much longer.
Just as he was considering lying on the wet ground and giving up, the hair on the back of his neck stood up.
Terror spiked through his chest, but it was nothing next to the utter agony in his abdomen as his hands were drawn sharply behind his back by thick cords. The momentum of it pushed him onto his back, his tied hands pinned under his spine and forcing his stomach to bend upwards. Whatever scream he produced was drowned out by the pounding blood in his hears.
A boot kicked sharply at his thigh, and then there was light. It was blinding at first. He had to blink tears away before he could make out the ghostly face bending over him. It was a man. He looked surprised (which seemed quite ironic), then angry.
“Who the fuck are you?”
Speaking took a while, the pain was so intense. A wand jabbed into his throat impatiently.
“I asked you a question.”
“P-please.” His own voice was hoarse and ragged. “Please – you have to help me.”
A hand dragged roughly along his sides. Searching. He sucked in a breath as the movement irritated the wound. “Please don’t hurt me – “
“Shut. Up.” The stranger growled. The wand was pulled back a few inches, pointing at his face. The stranger seemed to think hard about something, eyes wide and staring. Then, “Legilimens.”
The white light flashed brighter, and a strange, floating feeling pulsed through his head.
“Tell me who you are,” the stranger said in a hard voice.
“I don’t know.”
The feeling faded, and the man’s eyes went even wider. “Jesus, Potter. It’s really you, isn’t it?”
His voice wasn’t any kinder, but the tone had turned familiar. “Y – you know who I am?”
“Fuck,” the man said. “What are you doing here?”
Potter. Was that his name? It didn’t sound familiar. “I w-woke up in the forest. Someone must’ve attacked me.”
It didn’t look like the man was really listening to him. He’d turned his gaze up, looking around them into the darkness.
“Get up.” He stood, still looking around.
“I’ve lifted the curse, dullard.”
“I can’t!” Potter yelled, frustrated. The stranger looked down at him, then for the first time noticed his stomach. Potter looked down, too, pulling his hands out from under him and gasping with pain. It was worse than he would have even guessed. Blood pulsed through his fingers, soaking into the torn fabric of a sweater.
“No,” the stranger breathed, dropping to his knees. “Don’t touch it.” He knocked Potter’s hand away, pressing down with his own. “What have you done?”
Potter didn’t exactly think he’d done it to himself, but he didn’t say that. The stranger waved his wand, and in an instant the trickling rain ceased to hit them. An umbrella charm. Then a blue ball of fire burst into being over his body, giving the whole scene a sickly glow.
“Are they looking for you?”
The words shot fear up Potter’s chest, through the encroaching numbness. “Who?”
“Where’s your wand?”
His wand. How had he not thought to look for it where he’d woken up? His wand was…important. Or something. “Don’t…remember…”
A sharp slap across his face woke him. The stranger shook him by the shoulder.
“None of that, now. Stay awake.” He muttered something quietly into the tip of his wand, then pointed it at the sky. Bright white light. A vague, birdlike shape shot up and away, flashing over the treetops.
It was cold. Too cold. Bit at his face, his feet. Gnawed at his stomach. “Inside…house…”
“You can’t go in there. It’s cursed,” the stranger said tersely. Panicked. Afraid. His lit wand waved around a bit. Some of the worst cold went away. When he leaned in, his breath was sweet. Minty. “Listen to me, Potter. They’re going to think I did this to you. You must tell them the truth. Do not fall asleep, do you hear me?”
“Who…who’s coming?” Potter asked. The fear brought him back to his body, a little. “Don’t leave me. You’re the only one who knows who I…”
A short, incredulous laugh escaped the stranger. “I swear, if you’re somehow taking the piss – “
Potter reached up, gripping the man’s shoulder with every ounce of strength he had. Shadowed eyes narrowed. “Don’t let them take me.”
The man moved like he was going to push Potter’s grip away, but he didn’t.
“The Ministry won’t harm a hair on your head, Potter.”
Potter’s hand slid back into the mud. The next slap didn’t even register.
Potter looked up at him through heavy eyes. His last moments on Earth might be with this person. This person who knew him. “Who are you?” He asked. The words didn’t sound right. They were warbled, thick.
The stranger laughed again, humourlessly. “I’m someone in deep shit, that’s who.”
In the clutches of death, Potter took a strange comfort from this man’s smile. It was unhappy, turned down at the corners, but it wasn’t unwelcome. “Potter…isn’t a very good name, is it? What…”
Everything was spinning and slowing and pressing his eyelids shut. The man hit him again, this time in the stomach. Potter screamed, the force of it tearing at his throat.
“Harry,” the man said, putting his hand over the wound and pressing gently. Like an apology. “Your name is Harry Potter.”
“Harry,” he croaked, trying it. “I don’t like that one, either.”
The man opened his mouth, and then there were five loud cracks. Running footsteps sounded somewhere beyond Harry’s field of vision. The man didn’t look up. He gazed at Harry with a strange, panicked intensity.
“Get away from him!”
“Is it really Harry? How the fuck - ?”
The stranger finally broke his stare. “It took you quite long enough.”
His voice had changed. It was blithe, uncaring.
“Step back, Malfoy. I’ll curse your ears clean off – “
“Ron, calm down. He’s Ministry – “ Someone tried.
“He’s a fucking Death Eater!” There was a flash of light, and what looked like a stinging hex flashed across the stranger’s face. He flinched back from Harry. The flame went out, leaving him blind as rain once again fell into his eyes.
“Wait…” Harry tried, reaching. The last thing he heard were the sounds of a scuffle. Someone was hit.
Then a deeper, more absolute darkness washed over him, and he knew no more.
The pain was gone. That was relief. He was comfortable, warm and dry instead of freezing, muddy, and wet. There was light beyond his eyelids. It didn’t seem too incredibly bright, so he tried opening them.
Things swam into focus, through…glasses? He hadn’t been wearing them before, he was sure. The room was small, sparse.
His first impression was that it was medical. There weren’t any machines or beeping, and it took him a second of looking around to realize that he was in a wizarding hospital. That must be it.
None of that interested him so much as the woman sitting next to him. She was small and smartly dressed. A burgundy tweed suit jacket hung off the back of her chair as she leaned forward, peering down at a stack of papers in her lap. Curly hair dripped from a large bun. One dark brown hand rested idly on the blankets near his. There was a ring on it.
The next time she shifted the papers, she glanced over. Her eyes went wide when she saw he was awake. The papers slid off her lap and into the floor with a great rustling.
“Harry! You’re – oh, bother!” She took her wand from where it was stuck through the center of her bun and waved them back into order, levitating them to a table.
“How do you feel?” She asked, leaning forward to grasp his hand with both of hers.
“I’m fine,” he said. “Well, erm – I think I am.”
She leaned in closer, setting a hand on his cheek. The soft gesture didn’t match the way her eyes moved over him, like she was the scientist and he the specimen.
“Are we married?” He blurted.
She stared at him for a long moment, cheeks darkening. He looked away guiltily. Oh, God, this must be horrible for her. Clearly, they were something, and he had absolutely no recollection.
When he found it in himself to look up again, there were tears in her eyes.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered, squeezing her hand. “I don’t – I can’t – “
“No, don’t apologize.” She wiped quickly at her eyes, sniffing. “We weren’t certain if…if he was telling the truth. I’ll go get Ron.”
He let her go, sensing she needed a minute. She stopped before opening the door.
“We aren’t married,” she said quickly, then strode out.
Harry caught sight of a few women in Healer’s robes walking past before the door closed again, leaving him alone. That had been awkward. He got the feeling there was a lot more of it coming. Surely his family would be here, soon. Maybe that’s who she was? A sister, or a sister-in-law.
Ron. He’d heard that name. Just before he’d passed out. Back at that abandoned house, Ron had been one of the people Harry was afraid of. That seemed almost silly, now, because clearly he wasn’t in danger.
When the door opened again, it was to admit a very large, very orange person. He was nearly the height of the frame. Almost wiry, but with enough muscle to be noticeable. His short hair was bright ginger, and his t-shirt was an even brighter orange with a broomstick across the chest. Chudley Cannons was printed in curly letters. It all made quite the impression.
Harry only had a moment to take it in before he was being…mauled? No – hugged. Or at least what this person understood as a hug. He jerked Harry up by the shoulder and crushed him between two strong arms.
“Harry!” He said, letting him slump back into the mattress after a long moment. His face was freckled and handsome. “Merlin, it’s good to see you awake.”
The woman who’d held his hand gave Harry a chagrined look from behind Ron’s back. He was relieved to see that the tears were gone.
Ron’s face lit up. “You remember!”
“I just told him your name,” the woman said tiredly. “He has no idea who we are.”
“Fuck. I thought you were just being pessimistic.”
Harry sat up, waving Ron away when he tried to help, or maybe stop him. No pain came from his abdomen. He pushed the thin blankets away and pulled up the pale blue shirt he’d been dressed in.
The scar was thin, but long. It traveled from almost his hip up to his ribs, a light beige that stood out against the deeper brown of his skin. He exhaled a shaky, relieved breath. There had been so much blood before.
“A curse scar,” Ron said sympathetically. “Sorry, mate.”
He let the shirt fall and made to get out of the bed, but this time Ron did stop him, setting a large hand on his shoulder. Harry pushed it away roughly, noting both of their shocked expressions.
“Where is he?”
The woman stepped forward anxiously. “Who, Harry?”
“The man who saved me. He was…” Harry collected his memories, looking at Ron. “You attacked him.”
Ron’s mouth fell open. “I’m the one who saved you. Let’s make that clear.”
“Ron,” the woman said quietly.
“And I didn’t attack Malfoy. Merlin-knows-what he did to you, or how he arranged any of it with Dolohov – “
“Ronald,” she snapped.
“Is that his name? Malfoy?” Harry looked to the woman, now. She was much more agreeable.
“Yes. Draco Malfoy.”
They’re going to think I did this to you.
Harry started to panic. “Where is he? What have you done with him?”
Ron’s face was turning red. The woman patted his arm consolingly. “He’s here. They’re holding him for questioning, but he’s…fine.”
“I have to talk to whoever’s in charge of – “
“I am,” Ron snapped. “I’m Head Auror while you’re here.”
“Oh.” Harry faltered. He was an Auror. It felt strange to think it. “Why are you keeping him, then?”
The woman looked between the two of them with increasing concern. Ron’s face was nearing purple, and Harry was really getting tired of this.
“I want to see him,” he said. He had to make sure…of what, he had no clue. When these people looked at him, it was like they expected something. It was bloody terrifying, frankly. He’d feel better if he could just see that Draco was okay. It was the least he could do.
“I can’t do this right now,” Ron said tersely, turning on his heel. “Sorry, Hermione.”
She watched him storm out, lips pursed.
“So he’s a…coworker?” Harry asked tentatively. Hermione looked heartbroken for a second, then seemed to collect herself.
“He’s your best friend, Harry.” She waved her ring finger. “And my husband. So I feel I have the authority to apologize for his behavior.”
That was his best friend? He rather seemed like an arse.
He turned to let his bare feet sit on the cold floor, not quite ready to stand. Falling over seemed like quite the possibility. “How long have I been here?”
“Two days.” She was hanging back, but it was clear that took some effort. “Are you hungry?”
As if on cue, his stomach grumbled. Hermione smiled.
“Hello,” someone said softly, knocking on the door as they opened it. A witch in pastel pink robes stepped in, long blonde hair hanging in a ponytail. “Ron said he’s awake?”
Hermione nodded, moving further away from his bed. “Harry, this is Hannah Abbot. She’s a Healer.”
“Hey, Harry,” Hannah said, giving him a careful smile before casting a slurry of spells from the foot of his bed. Diagnostics, it looked like. Vague, uncomfortable feelings prodded along his body in time with her wand jabs. Words scribbled themselves across the air, darting down to the blank clipboard under her arm as she read them.
Hermione fiddled with her own wand. “Hannah went to school with us. She’s a friend.”
“Ah,” Harry said, intelligently.
“Physically,” Hannah handed the clipboard over to Hermione. Harry frowned, wondering why she was allowed to see his business like that. “You’re perfect. The curse was a hybrid. The Aurors think Dolohov was – “
“Hannah,” Hermione said quickly, shaking her head.
“Right. Erm, well, what we don’t understand.” Hannah nodded to Hermione. “What the Unspeakables are interested in, is how exactly you lost your memory. How it happened, but also the extent of it. Do you understand?”
Harry nodded. “If I was cursed – ?”
“Whatever the curse was, there’s no visible reason it should have affected you this much. No head trauma, no degeneration.”
“But if he obliviated me…” Harry trailed off as Hermione started scribbling on the clipboard with a pen she’d produced. “What are you writing? Are you a doctor?”
She looked up, biting her lip. “I’m an Unspeakable.”
“Right.” He found he had no idea what that meant.
“She’s also your emergency contact,” Hannah supplied. “We’ll be releasing you into her care. Are you alright with that, Harry?”
He nodded, and after a few more general questions about his health, Hannah left. The way she looked at Hermione was odd. Harry got the sense she was deferring to her.
He stood, walking slowly to the other end of the room. His legs felt fine, not at all wobbly. “So I’m free to go?” His arms had old, faded scars dotted across them. Made sense for an Auror.
“We can, if you feel ready. I’ll take you to your place first, to get anything you need. Then you can stay at ours.”
“I need to find Draco first.”
Hermione took a deep breath, gripping the clipboard. “It’s quite a lot to explain, Harry, but we need to keep you out of the public eye right now.”
“What?” He stopped. That seemed serious. “Why?”
“Mal – “ She bit her lip again. “Draco is being held at the Ministry.”
“No,” Hermione said firmly. “No. They’re just trying to get the story straight.”
“I can help with that.”
“Yes, you can.” She gestured to the clipboard. “I’ll take your statement, of course. Should we do that now, or would you rather have your own clothes on, first?”
He was reluctant to let it go, even for the amount of time it would take to go to his apartment, wherever that was. The room outside was large, bustling with people in pink and blue robes. Words and memos moved quickly overhead to their various destinations.
Oh, and everyone looked at him.
It wasn’t a total standstill, everyone stopping to stare sort of thing. It was more subtle than that. There was Hannah, who smiled and waved a goodbye to him. But everyone else, as he and Hermione passed, looked up.
The looks were lingering. Some glanced away after meeting his eyes, abashed. Others didn’t look away quickly enough. It was like they all knew exactly who he was.
Hermione stopped in front of a large fireplace. The flames inside were very low, not producing any smoke. He guessed a huge bonfire would be unwise in a place like this. She took a pinch of green powder from a sconce on the wall, and looked over.
“This is a – “
“Floo,” he finished, grimacing. “I know.”
Something in his tone made her smile. “Do you, now? And I’m sure I don’t need to tell you your address?”
He didn’t have a reply to that. Her smile widened and she stood on tiptoe to whisper it in his ear. Then she threw the powder into the flame and gestured for Harry to step inside.
It was unpleasant, which he expected. Everything spun, but it was a closed network so he didn’t see any other fireplaces. There was nowhere to get lost, and it was simple enough to step out of his own. The halt of momentum sent him stumbling, and he fell forward as his foot caught on something.
Hermione giggled behind him, stepping over the hump in the rug and flattening it out with her heel before helping him up. “I’ve been telling you to get rid of this thing.”
The rug was hideous, and very obviously ancient. Dark, aged spots discolored the oriental patterns. The other furnishings were nicer. A couch, a few comfortable-looking chairs, and a television set. It looked less lived in than he would have hoped. There was no glaring, blinking neon sign that told him anything significant about the person he was.
At least, not until he stepped into the kitchen. It wasn’t a pleasant picture – the sink was full of dishes, and take out containers littered the countertops. Half empty mugs of tea sat on the little brunch table by the dark window. Among them were two large, empty bottles of firewhisky.
“Jesus,” he said. “I don’t guess I had a party here?”
Hermione didn’t say anything. He moved closer to the table, curious and repulsed. A picture frame was turned face-down. When he picked it up, he saw a large crack across the glass. Like someone had slammed it down in a drunken rage.
The photo was nice, though. It was a man and a young boy sat on a beach, wearing swimming trunks and squinting against the sun. The boy noticed the person taking the picture first, and tugged on the man’s arm until he too turned and smiled at the camera. They waved.
The man was good-looking. His skin was a familiar shade of brown. Dark, wild hair tumbled to muscular shoulders. Harry idly touched his own hair, finding it to be roughly the same length.
The boy was white. Thin and knobby in his youth, with the appearance of someone growing fast. Like his body was perpetually trying to catch up to too-long arms and legs. Hazel eyes were crinkled in laughter, lips pulled wide to show a gap-tooth set of teeth. Deep blue hair stuck up around his ears. His eyebrows matched.
In question, he looked up. Hermione’s lip trembled.
“What is it?” He turned his gaze down, curiosity turning to a vague dread. Something in that smile was so…innocent. “Did something happen to him?”
“No,” she breathed. “He’s at Hogwarts right now. Just left two weeks ago, actually.”
It took her a moment to respond. Her arms had wrapped themselves tightly around her torso. “Wizarding school. It’s where we all went.”
“And he’s my…my…”
“He’s your godson. Your son. Teddy.”
So Harry was a father. An Auror, a father…and a drunk, evidently.
“He doesn’t know,” she went on. “We were waiting for you to wake up. I thought it wouldn’t be necessary to worry him.”
He heard it clearly in her voice – if Harry had woken up as himself, then it wouldn’t have mattered. But he hadn’t. Did that mean he was going to have to tell this boy that his own father didn’t remember him?
“Harry,” Hermione said gently. “Harry, it’s not all bad. We’ll try to recover your memories. It’s…entirely possible your amnesia will wear off on its own.”
Again, he heard what went unsaid. Possible…but unlikely. If he could be fixed with magic, the Healers would have done it already.
He set the frame back down, leaving it face up this time. Hermione’s next breath shook.
On instinct alone, Harry walked over and pulled her into his arms. She clutched his shirt and pressed her forehead to his shoulder. It was a bit awkward, holding this stranger. But she clearly needed it, and this was the most he could give her right now.
Her laugh was wet. “It’s not your fault.”
“I’d be the last to know.” He tried for a joke. “Whatever happened to me, I could’ve walked right into it. Tell me – am I the type?”
When she pulled away, she was smiling again. “You…are exactly the type.”
He smiled back without thinking, and her shoulders relaxed a bit.
“Come on, I’ll show you to your room.”
They walked up the steps. Harry looked around, trying to take in as much detail as he could. There weren’t many pictures around. The ones he did see didn’t give him anything new. It was mostly Hermione, Ron or Teddy.
The next landing had three doors. Hermione stopped at the first and opened it without going in.
“I’ll give you a moment.”
“Thanks.” He went in and turned on the light, shutting the door softly behind himself. This was his bedroom. This was where he slept every night. Of course, he didn’t recognize it, but the state of things didn’t make him feel any better.
The bed was unmade, sheets twisted like he’d just climbed out and left after a night of tossing and turning. Forgotten, the duvet sagged to the floor. Its deep red matched the scarf thrown over the bed post. The closet door hung open, half-covering the window.
The only decoration was another bottle of whisky. It sat empty on the night table, pinning under it a folded sheet of parchment. He picked it up.
Harry, it read. The script was childlike, looping and halting. There’s so much to do here! I thought I’d miss London, but I’ve been so busy I forgot to miss the curry at Sindoor. They have curry here. It’s not as good but I’m always so hungry it doesn’t even matter.
I tried going to see the house elves, like you said. Headmistress McGonagall caught me and Reena, and I thought she’d be cross, but she just said I’d need an Invisibility Cloak to get past her. I know you said I couldn’t have it, but maybe you could just bring it up for a visit? Reena doesn’t believe it’s real.
There was more, but he stopped reading. It felt like an intrusion. These words were meant for someone else.
He hoped Teddy wasn’t waiting on a response.
The bathroom was messy, too, but not unclean. He stepped over a pair of jeans and a crumpled shirt, almost surprised to see his reflection in the mirror. A floating cloud of confused mist would have been more appropriate, but, alas, he was a man.
In the photograph, he’d been wearing sun shades. Now, through the round, thin framed glasses he wore he could see that his eyes were a deep green, slightly too bright against his darker coloring. The beard and moustache were new, as well. Too much of it for only three days – he must have been growing it out.
What stood out even more than his eyes was the strange, jagged scar across his forehead. It started at his hair line and zagged down to his eyebrow. A scar, not a disfigurement. Was that what all those people had seen fit to stare at, then?
The sink was lined with hair product, toothpaste, face wash, and other miscellanea. He picked up a stray elastic and used it to tie his hair back.
Back in the bedroom, he dug through the chest of drawers. Everything looked the same. All the underwear was black, and the most colorful socks were pushed beneath the rest. In that same drawer were a number of medals. He picked one up, turning the gold medallion so it caught the light. Order of Merlin, First Class.
First Class. That was quite important, wasn’t it? Perhaps not, if he’d pushed it in here. He ran his fingers absently through the hair on his chest as he walked into the closet. The robes were disappointingly dark.
As he pulled a maroon sweater over his head, he looked through the window. It was dark out, the street lit by yellow lamps. They were in the city, as evidenced by the glowing sky and nearby towers, but the closely packed townhouses were serene and quiet. A black cat trotted leisurely down the pavement.
The next room over very clearly belonged to a young boy. The walls were plastered with posters of smiling faces or dancing cartoons. One had a flame-haired woman, posing confidently and spinning a broomstick over her shoulder. She winked at him cockily, pointing to the words over her head. Holyhead Harpies.
He closed it back up and tried the third door. This room was messier than anything yet. A desk took up half of it, but the floor was covered with piles of paper and books. The nearest binder he could read was intimidatingly large.
Maximizing Defensive Properties While Minimizing Time Elapsed: Or, Flourishing Your Wand About Will Get You Killed. You’re Aurors, Not David Bloody Bowie.
He smiled to himself and shut the door, finding Hermione in the kitchen. She had gotten the dishes to start cleaning themselves, and looked a little guilty when he walked in.
“Sorry, I – “ Her lips tilted in a nervous smile. “You don’t like it when I tidy up in here.”
“Oh. I, erm, don’t mind.” Was he always such a slob? With a kid living here?
Another Floo trip, and he was standing in a much more welcoming space. Fat brown chairs, a long sofa. A furry gray cat that looked balefully up from its spot on a chess board.
“Make yourself at home,” Hermione encouraged, shrugging out of her blazer and throwing it over a kitchen chair. Harry took his boots off as she started the kettle. Pictures hung on the wall in a nicely arranged collage of bold frames. Her and Ron. Ron and Harry. The three of them. Ron and four other men that were clearly family members. Only some of them moved. The rest were muggle pictures, still and staring.
“You must have a lot of questions.”
Harry shoved his hands in his pockets. “I don’t even know where to start.”
“If you don’t mind, I’d like to ask you some things.”
She had the clipboard again. He turned away from the pictures, raising an eyebrow and following her back into the sitting room. A tall lamp near the couch lit up on its own, casting a warm glow over the room. A glance through the window told him they were high up over a busy street. A flat, then.
Hermione sat on the edge of a chair, crossing her legs and looking at him expectantly. Her posture was stiff, formal.
“I’m not sure I have any answers.”
She shook her head. “Well, it’s strange. When you woke up, you didn’t know who I was. You knew about curses, and obliviating, yet you asked if I was a ‘doctor’. Not ‘Healer’.”
“Hm,” he said, sitting. “And you’re using a pen instead of a quill.”
Her eyebrows shot up. “What is your name?”
“How do you know this?”
“Draco told me.”
When he said that, something disrupted the studious calm over her face. But she schooled it quickly away. “Middle name?”
“I’ve no clue.” He looked at the cat. It blinked at him and abruptly ran out of the room, disappearing through a cracked door.
“Don’t mind him,” Hermione said offhandedly. “It’s James, by the way. Your middle name. How old are you?”
“Twenty-seven,” she supplied, frowning. “Who is the Prime Minister?”
“And the Minister for Magic?”
He shook his head. She didn’t supply an answer this time, writing for a few moments.
“Who was the primary instigator of the Giant Wars?”
He blinked, having to think about that one. Didn’t seem exactly relevant. “…Prong the Pugnacious?”
“Pronk, actually. But I’m impressed.”
Her voice was tight, clipped. Deep brown eyes stared straight through him as her brain worked. When she set the clipboard on the table and leaned forward seriously, he was almost afraid.
“Who is Tom Riddle?”
Clearly, this was a serious question. But the name sparked absolutely nothing in him. When he shook his head, a little line started forming between her eyebrows. He shifted uncomfortably, feeling like a very disappointing student.
“What is an Auror?”
“Ministry officials trained to investigate and apprehend Dark wizards.” The words sprang forth without too much thought. He just knew, even if he didn’t remember when he’d learned it.
“Someone who can turn into an animal at will.”
Her eyes narrowed. “Are you an Animagus?”
The possibility shocked him a bit. “I dunno. Am I?”
Her bun wobbled as she shook her head. “Doesn’t matter.”
She stood, gesturing for him to do the same. Then she handed him her wand. He took it hesitantly. A warm buzz of magic settled over his right arm. It didn’t feel strange at all. He must have used it before.
“Where is my wand?” He hadn’t wanted to ask before, worried it was lost somewhere in a patch of mud.
“Ron has it. He’ll be here, soon. For now, we’ll use mine.” She walked to the center of the room and squared her shoulders. “Disarm me.”
“You’re not holding anything,” he said, incredulous.
She held out her hand, and the pen flew into it. Wandless, wordless magic. He knew that should impress him. Brandishing it like a wand, she asked him again to disarm her.
He lifted her wand and opened his mouth. Every part of him seemed to know exactly what to do, except there was no word. There was a spell, he knew, but he couldn’t recall it. To cover for the err in memory, he tried the next thing he could think of.
Hermione’s hand spasmed, releasing the pen as the Stinging Hex zapped over her wrist. She gasped.
“Sorry,” he said quickly.
“Don’t be silly. I asked you to,” she muttered, rubbing the spot. “You stung me. That was an…odd choice.”
“I know. I couldn’t remember…”
“I know there’s a spell for it. A painless one.”
She picked up the pen and started scribbling on the paper. He peered down, but the words slipped away as soon as she wrote them. Concealed.
“Simple logic. You know there must be a spell because I asked you to do it. It’s not a real memory, is it?”
“No,” he admitted. “But I know it.”
“How do you mean?” She asked, pen poised over the paper as she waited.
“I just…feel like I’ve used it. Quite often, in fact.”
That made her smile, for some reason.
“Could you levitate a pillow for me?”
Relieved he knew this one, Harry pointed the wand at a throw pillow embroidered with a large black W. “Wingardium Leviosa.”
It floated up. Hermione glanced over, nodding like she knew he’d be able to do it. “Good.”
“Thanks,” he said drily, setting it back down. Hermione set the pen between her teeth and straightened up, thinking.
“Produce a Patronus.”
He chewed his tongue for a second, then raised the wand. “Expecto Patronum.”
Nothing happened. No great shock.
“It didn’t work,” Hermione said pointedly. “Why?”
He sighed. “Happy memories. I don’t exactly have an abundance of those right now.”
They went on like that for a while. She rotated questions about history, basic magical facts, and simple displays of magic. There weren’t any other spells he couldn’t do, but she did ask him to name the three Unforgivables.
“Cruciatus,” he answered promptly. “Imperius, and…and…”
If they weren’t standing so close, he wouldn’t have seen her eyes flick up to stare at his scar for the briefest of moments. “If you can’t name it, tell me what it does.”
“It kills,” he said uncertainly. It was more a guess than a fact. But Hermione nodded, and she didn’t tell him what it was.
The questioning ended when the lock to the front door turned. Harry paused in his attempt of drawing a Hodag in the air.
Ron had on a thick black sweater and rain jacket, two plastic take-out bags balanced in his arms. His hair was wet, evidence of the rain that had struck up a while earlier.
“Can’t even use a damn umbrella charm,” he muttered, kicking off his shoes. “Why we ever decided to live in a muggle neighborhood is beyond me.”
He looked up at Harry. Then he looked at the drawing.
“Are you actually playing Draw-em-ups?”
Harry waved it away, feeling stupid, and handed Hermione her wand. Seeing Ron reminded him of what he’d forgotten.
“Are you still holding Draco?”
Ron stared at him. Hermione sighed and took the bags from his arms, leaving them to go rustle around in the kitchen. Harry stood there, tense and uncomfortable.
“We’re not…holding him. Anymore. He’s just to stay in the city until we’ve got your side of the story.”
“But I’ve been with Hermione for hours! Why wasn’t I pulled in for questioning? Wouldn’t that have saved some time?”
Ron made a face. “He’s Malfoy. We’ve been waiting for him to step out of line for years. And no one wanted to bother you with it. It’s trouble enough trying to keep the press from finding out you were in Mungo’s – “
“Why? Why does it matter?”
“B-Because you’re Harry Potter!”
Harry threw his hands up. “That doesn’t mean anything to me!”
“Well, that’s a bloody first!” Ron yelled. Harry bristled, clenching his fists. There was a short, tense silence while they glared at each other. No sound came from the kitchen.
Abruptly, Ron’s shoulders drooped. He scrubbed a hand through his hair, taking a step closer and holding his hands up in surrender.
“I’m – I’m sorry, mate. I’m really mucking up my first impression, yeah?”
Harry shrugged. Ron rocked back onto his heels, sucking his teeth.
“We haven’t fought like that since…” he laughed to himself, shaking his head. “What’s ‘Mione told you? Anything?”
“I know about Teddy. That’s all.”
Ron grimaced. “No need to worry. Yet. I think you wrote him the day of the mission. He won’t know anything’s amiss.”
In spite of himself, Harry relaxed, relieved Ron had thought to tell him that.
“Mum’s flipped, though,” he muttered, gazing into the distance. “She’s owled me five times today, wanting to come see you. She doesn’t know…well, if you get a Howler about it, I’m sorry.”
Ron glanced up, troubled. “Yeah, it’s…”
He fell quiet, and Harry somehow knew. No one had mentioned his own parents, nor had any family come to see him. He must not have any. Neither must Teddy, if he was living with his godfather.
“Here.” Ron lifted his sweater and pulled a wand from the two stuck in his waistband. Harry took it eagerly. Strong, familiar heat spread under his skin.
The base of it was etched into the shape of a tree trunk, blending into honey-colored wood. When he adjusted his grip, a miniscule shower of red sparks shot from the end. Ron smiled a lopsided smile.
The smell of food had been spreading through the flat as they spoke, and Harry tried not to run when Hermione called for them to come eat. He was starved.
She’d set the take away out on plates. Harry took one of the four chairs, waiting as politely as possible for Ron and Hermione to join him. Ron went to the fridge first, taking two beers and setting one down in front of Harry.
He frowned at it, taking a drink of water instead. “I’m an alcoholic, aren’t I?”
Ron paused in his swigging of his own. “I…wouldn’t go that far. Though, since Teddy left, you…”
He looked at Hermione for help.
“It’s yellow curry,” she said, nodding to the bowl. The sudden change in subject was the first tactless thing he’d seen her do. “Your favorite.”
They both looked shocked. He almost laughed.
“It was in a letter. From Teddy. I found it in my room.”
“Oh.” Ron sounded disappointed. “Yeah, he loves that place.”
“So…” Harry glanced at the clipboard Hermione had surreptitiously positioned next to her plate. “I get to ask questions, now?”
She nodded. Harry took a second to think, very aware of their eyes locked on him. “You both make it seem like…like I’m an important person.”
Ron looked away, blowing out a breath.
“You’re extremely important.” Hermione’s eyes were more pained than her voice let on. “You’ve always hated the word, but you’re something of a…celebrity.”
“More like…war hero,” Ron corrected.
“War?” Harry repeated. “What war would that be, exactly?”
This silence was loaded. Ron gripped his fork without actually using it. “We’ll have to start from the beginning,” he realized, sounding baffled. His freckles stood out as he went pale. “We have to tell him everything.”
Hermione took a deep breath, staring at her food. “From what I can tell, Harry has forgotten only what directly concerns him. History – muggle and wizarding – he seems fine with. Magic…he knows it. Everything we learned in school, everything he learned as an Auror. He couldn’t produce a Patronus, but I suppose that’s to be expected. There were only two spells he couldn’t name.”
She looked at Ron meaningfully. “Expelliarmus and…the killing curse.”
Ron looked at Harry’s forehead.
“The war…” Harry touched his fingers to the scar. “Is that where I got this?”
Silence. He frowned at them.
“What? Why do you keep looking at me like that?”
With absolutely no warning whatsoever, Hermione burst into tears. Quite violently. Her chair screeched back and she fled the room. Ron’s eyes went very wide.
“Be right back,” he said, squeezing Harry’s shoulder as he ran after her.
Horribly guilty for whatever he’d said to cause that, he found he wasn’t hungry anymore. He paced around the sitting room, trying and failing to catch any conversation from behind the formerly open door.
He turned over the two scraps of information he’d been given – he was in a war, and he was some sort of hero because of it. A celebrity, even. But he was so young.
That explained some of the staring at the hospital, at least. It also explained why Hermione hadn’t wanted him out and about. This wouldn’t be easy to hide…especially from Ron’s mum, who already knew something was wrong.
He thought again about Draco. It was clear he wouldn’t be seeing him tonight. Ron was dead set against it – he hated Draco. And if Ron was Harry’s friend, did that mean he was meant to hate him, too?
It was just that last, lingering look. Just before Harry passed out. It wasn’t a look of hate, or even of malice. Harsh words, yes, but with meaning. Meaning that Harry couldn’t grasp. Meaning that his mind had been stripped of.
“Sorry about that.”
Harry turned. “Is she alright?”
“Erm. No.” Ron didn’t seem to know what to do with his hands. He crossed them, then held them at his sides before settling on pockets.
Ron’s mouth opened, then shut. He pulled his hands from his pockets and gestured to the table. “You remember chess?”
Harry nodded, sitting opposite Ron on the plush carpet. Neither of them spoke while Ron set up the board. He was working himself up to something, Harry knew. His eyebrows kept drawing tightly together, then he’d sigh and shake his head.
“You first,” he prodded. Harry set a pawn forward. After two more moves, Ron cleared his throat.
“I don’t even know…” he sighed, staring at the board like he was seeing something else entirely. His bright blue eyes had gone dark. “The war. Right. Well, it was…a war. No one gets out of something like that without being completely fucked in the head.”
One of his pawns met Harry’s. He took it. “I…lost my brother. Fred.”
Harry exhaled, meeting his eyes. “That’s horrible. I’m so sorry.”
Ron laughed shortly, dropping his head to his hand. “You lost him, too. He was your friend. You – “ He stopped, breathing unevenly. Harry didn’t know what to do. He just sat, knotting his fingers together.
“My point, I guess, is that yeah, it took a long time for any of us to recover. But you never have. Not really, I don’t think. It took three years for you to even start laughing again. It was so scary to look at you sometimes, Harry. It’s like there was nothing there. Like I’d lost you, too.”
His words shook Harry to the core, even if he didn’t have enough context to make a real connection. To him, this was just a very sad story. To Ron, it was real trauma.
And Harry was forcing him to relive the worst of it.
“You started trying, for Teddy.” Ron sat up, not meeting his eyes. “You’re a great dad. Really. You give him everything. Everything. I’ve never seen a happier kid.”
Harry was relieved to hear that. The empty bottles had been haunting him. “His parents?”
“Dead.” Ron said flatly. “In the war. He was just a baby. Tonks’ – erm – his grandmum looked after him until you were…better. Old enough, I guess. She passed away a few years ago. Natural causes.”
Ron sighed. “It’s so complicated, mate. Your parents…they died in the first war.”
“The first one?”
“Yeah. Two wars. The same mad prick, both times. You-Know-Who.”
Harry raised his eyebrows. “I don’t know who, actually.”
“No, it’s what we call – “ Ron stopped, laughing suddenly and loudly. He laughed so hard he fell back, laying on the floor with a hand on his stomach. The sound of it warmed something in Harry’s stomach, even if it seemed incongruous. It made him smile, too.
“I can’t bloody believe,” Ron said between gasps of laughter. “I’m telling you about old Moldy himself. Fuck, this is a day.”
Harry leaned forward on his elbows, watching him. “This is really difficult for you.”
“Yeah.” Ron pushed up on his elbows. “Maybe George snuck a Giggle Gummy into my tea this morning.”
Ron sobered immediately, and Harry feared he’d touched upon another sore spot.
“He’s my brother. I’ve got four. George, Percy, Bill, Charlie, and one sister. Ginny.” He looked at Harry in a lost, sad way. “I count you as the fifth.”
“I must be very lucky, then.”
Ron nodded slowly, sniffing hard. They kept playing. Ron didn’t talk again, and Harry knew he wouldn’t. Not tonight. Not about the war and what had happened. Harry wouldn’t make him.
Hermione re-emerged a while later, just as Harry surrendered his king. She was wearing sweats, her hair down and clouded around her head and shoulders. Ron wrapped an arm around her shoulder, pressing his lips to her temple.
“What if you can’t fix me?” Harry asked compulsively. She closed her eyes for a moment.
“I will fix it, Harry. I always do.”
He believed her.
“But. In the meantime…” She chewed her lip. “In the meantime, you need to show up. Be seen. People will start to talk if you just disappear. The amnesia story is contained.” She ticked off with her fingers. “The Healers know. They won’t talk. The other Unspeakables obviously won’t.”
“The team knows,” Ron said. “That’ll be fine. And Shacklebolt. We have to tell mum, though. He’ll never get it past her. Or Ginny.”
“It’s not your mum I’m worried about,” Hermione muttered, ignoring him.
“You mean Fleur,” Ron accused. “She’s not stupid. She wouldn’t tell.”
Hermione frowned dubiously. “Teddy…we have to put that off. I can’t…We can’t do this to him.”
“He deserves to know,” Ron argued quietly.
“He’s eleven, Ron. No. Harry, if you have to write to him, we’ll help you. Tomorrow I’ll take you to the Ministry. Let the other Unspeakables have a look at you. You’ll be seen, and everyone who knew you were in St. Mungo’s will know you’re alright.”
“How,” Harry said, interrupting her rapid flow of words. “Will I carry on a conversation with anyone without them realizing something’s not on?”
Ron smiled wryly. “It won’t be as hard as you think. You’re kind of a massive arse as it is.”
Hermione elbowed him in the ribs. “He means…It’s not your fault, Harry. The papers have terrorized you for years. You don’t like the attention, and it shows. Outside of us, your image is sort of…standoffish.”
Ron snorted. “You hexed a Prophet reporter that found your house. He didn’t have a mouth for three days, it was so strong.”
Whatever expression Harry had on made Hermione smile.
“If I’m so horrible, why do they bother?”
“Because you’re – “ Ron started, then caught himself, smiling sheepishly. “It’s the witch magazines more than anything. The day you find a girl will be a day of national mourning. Molly’ll keel over from happiness, though.”
Harry found that bothered him. Ron had said it so certainly, but Harry wouldn’t have thought witches were his type. Then again, he didn’t know himself very well. “Molly?”
“What’s she like?”
Ron started laughing again, and after that the mood stayed light. They seemed to actually enjoy telling him about the nice, normal things. Every now and again, though, something innocuous would make them both clam up. Harry’s dating life, or lack of one, made them sad. He guessed it had something do to with his prolonged depression.
He’d dated Ron’s sister Ginny in school, he found out. Ron found a photo of her on the mantle, and Harry was shocked to recognize the woman from Teddy’s poster.
“She’s famous, too,” he guessed, looking at her in a new light. She was very beautiful. Eye catching in the same ways Ron was. Bright orange hair, a wide, easy smile. But Harry wasn’t particularly attracted to her. He didn’t let on his confusion about his sexuality, keeping that deep inside. It didn’t really matter, anyway.
“She’s the Seeker for the Harpies,” Ron said. Harry nodded benignly.
Ron sat up suddenly, completely serious. “Please tell me you know what that means.”
“I guess you’re talking about sports,” Harry frowned.
Explaining Quidditch took a while. Ron was almost in tears, but Hermione seemed to find some humor in it. Harry had been a Seeker, he learned. First year, too. Like his father. They talked about it for a long time, eating their reheated curry on the floor.
It was…nice. More than nice. Ron and Hermione clearly loved him. He found himself wondering if he deserved it.
The conversation turned to Hogwarts. The way they talked about it, it was quite literally the best place on earth. They kept saying it, and they kept saying that Harry had been happy there. The silent but went unsaid. There was something horrible they still weren’t broaching.
There were new names thrown in here and there. A Neville, a Luna, a Michael. Dean and Seamus and Cho. And Malfoy, too. He was Malfoy, never Draco, and Ron only ever spat his name like it was something dirty. To hear him tell it, Draco had…bullied them? Antagonized, anyway. It sounded like Harry had given as good as he’d gotten.
“So I take it we’re not on the best terms?” He asked, thinking back to that night, recalculating. No. It still didn’t quite add up.
“No!” Ron cried. “He’s a complete git! He’s evil.”
Hermione sighed. “It’s complicated, Harry. In the war…”
Her face turned very vacant for a second, and Ron’s face went hard. He pressed a rough kiss to her head and glanced at the clock. It was three in the morning.
“We’ll carry on tomorrow, yeah?” He said quietly. She nodded.
Ron showed Harry to a room further into the flat, buzzing with nervous energy. “Who knows, maybe you’ll wake up normal and we won’t have to…”
“Yeah,” Harry said.
“This is the guest room, but it’s really just yours,” he said anxiously. “I mean, you stay here a lot. So does Teddy.”
Harry smiled. “That sounds nice. Does he call you Uncle?”
“Yeah,” Ron said eagerly, nodding. “Yeah, he does.”
Silence. Ron’s smile faded.
“Whatever happened to me,” Harry started, wishing he’d thought to ask a little more about the mission. “Dra – Malfoy didn’t do it. If my word means as much as you say it does, he won’t be in any trouble, right?”
Ron hesitated, looking suddenly uncomfortable. “He’s a Death Eater, Harry.”
The words were like a curse. Ron’s whole face darkened when he spoke them.
“I know. I know you don’t know.” He stepped very close, lowering his voice so Hermione wouldn’t hear. He was very tall, Harry realized. And, right then, looked every bit like the acting Head Auror.
“Death Eaters were the followers of He-Who-Must-Not - of Voldemort. The bad guys. They took over the government, and Hogwarts, and tried to round up every muggleborn into these camps….they killed muggles for fun, and Malfoy was one of them.” He was begging Harry to understand.
“His dad was Voldemort’s right-hand man! Malfoy was the one who let Death Eaters into the school. His aunt – “ Ron’s nostrils flared, white hot fury transforming is genial face into something stark. “Hermione was tortured. In Malfoy’s house.”
Harry felt his eyes go wide.
“Fuck,” Ron breathed, rubbing his eyes. “It’s not your fault. It’s really not. It’s just so fucking wrong to hear you defending him like this.”
“I understand,” Harry whispered. Little Hermione, being tortured. It was so horribly wrong. “And this is… I mean, it’s common knowledge?”
“Yeah? Of course.”
“How could he work for the Ministry, then? Why isn’t he in prison?”
“Azkaban,” Ron corrected. “He should be. It – you – “
He gave Harry a weird look, then shook his head. “Dolohov is the one who did this to you…we think. He escaped, after the war. Another Death Eater. We’ve been tracking him for months, and we finally found him in one of their old safehouses. I lost you for a second, a second, and then I heard you scream, and you were gone. We couldn’t find either one of you.
“Don’t you think it’s a bit strange, Harry, that Dolohov somehow sent you straight to another safehouse? One that Malfoy just happened to be cursebreaking?”
Harry thought it over very carefully, needing to get his words right. “Okay. Yes, obviously it’s very weird… So why would he have told you where I was? Why bother, if he was going to kill me?”
Ron looked at his scar. “He could have done something to your head.”
“He didn’t – “
“Are you absolutely sure, Harry? Can you say with a hundred percent certainty that you were in your right mind, with your memories gone and your stomach sliced open?”
“Yes,” Harry hissed. Ron clenched his jaw. “He was so shocked to see me. It just doesn’t make sense.”
“Respectfully, mate, I disagree. And if you were yourself – “
“Fine,” Harry snapped. He didn’t need another reminder that he wasn’t who he was supposed to be.
Ron opened his mouth, but Hermione walked out of the kitchen, looking at them curiously. Ron straightened up guiltily. Their whispered fight seemed to be over.
“I haven’t seen you two go at it like this in quite some time,” she said miserably, crossing her arms. Harry and Ron looked at each other, then away.
“It’s my fault,” Ron said. “I’m sorry.”
Harry didn’t feel like that was aimed at him, so he didn’t answer. Hermione walked over and hugged Harry tightly. He hugged back automatically. When she reached over and sharply tugged at Ron’s arm, he reluctantly stepped forward and put an awkward arm around Harry, too.
“We’re going to be fine,” Hermione said from between them. Her tone brooked no argument. “It’s hardly the worst thing that could have happened. You need to remember that.”
“Right,” Ron whispered.
Harry stepped back as soon as it seemed appropriate, bidding them goodnight. Hermione’s lip was trembling again as he shut the door, and he felt bad about it, but he needed to be alone.
The room was sparse. There was a rather hideous painting of a unicorn hanging over the bed, made up of garishly bright blues and greens. A peek at the flourish of a signature in the lower corner showed the name ‘Fleur’, which he knew he’d heard that night but couldn’t remember when.
The shower was stocked with the basics – he even thought he recognized some of the labels from his own place. So he started the water and took his clothes off. He was clean already, but it was the false clean of charms and magic. Not water and soap.
Looking at his nude body was strange. He must work out quite a lot to be so lean. The suggestion of abdominals lined his stomach. As did the suggestion of a lot of violence. He had scars all over, including the newest one. Some were so small they had to have been acquired without magic. And he hadn’t had them magically healed, either. It was the one on his forehead that puzzled him. The scar tissue was too bright, the lines too jagged. Was it a curse?
He stepped under the water, letting the steam fill his lungs and force his body to relax. It was a relief to be by himself, but it was also uncomfortable. Well and truly alone, without even the company of his memories or a good sense of personality.
All he knew about himself was what he’d been told. He played Quidditch. He’d fought in a war. He was an Auror. He was quite bad at Potions. Repeating those facts to himself didn’t make them feel any more real.
He didn’t feel depressed, but clearly that had been a long struggle. Overwhelmed and anxious, yes. Not quite…depressed.
The other two felt much more concrete as people. Ron seemed very opinionated. Harry liked him just fine, though, he decided. Hermione was harder to read. He’d seen glimpses of someone clinical, calculating. Not at all like a person who broke down crying all the time. It must just be the situation at hand.
He didn’t bother with a drying charm on his hair. The water soaked into his pillow as he drew the blankets up, holding his wand tightly. This wand knew him very well. It anchored him. In the darkness, he murmured lumosand nox over and over, watching the shadows burst against the faint white light.
He wondered what Teddy was doing. Then he fell asleep.
When he next snapped awake, it was without any apparent provocation. There was a vague panic in the back of his head. It slipped away as soon as he noticed it.
In the air before him, golden numbers shimmered and disappeared. Six in the morning. The room didn’t have windows, so he almost didn’t believe it. His sleep had been deep and dreamless. It wasn’t until he fished his wand out from under the pillow that he realized he’d cast the spell without it.
The bed was comfortable enough, but he wouldn’t be going back to sleep. He pulled on the same clothes from before and left the room. Dishes clinked in the kitchen, and the smell of coffee drew him in. Early morning light filtered in through the curtains.
“Morning,” he said, trying not to startle Hermione. She stood over the stove, already dressed for the day in black robes. The fabric was interesting, catching purple in the light. “You look nice.”
“Oh!” She looked down at herself. “Thank you. Please, sit.”
When he pulled out a chair, the cat jumped off and darted away, making him jump.
“Don’t mind him,” she said again. “Buck only really likes Teddy and George.” She set a mug down in front of him. Black coffee. “Eggs?”
“That’d be great.”
“Ron’s gone already. We’ll meet him after going to Mysteries. Did you sleep well?”
They ate their toast in silence. Hermione watched him. He didn’t see the clipboard, but she was clearly taking notes in her head.
“I thought you might have shaved.”
He ran his hand over the scruff on his chin. “I took a trimming spell to it. Does it…is it – ?”
“It’s very handsome,” she assured him, cheeks darkening.
She transfigured his jeans into black trousers – remarkably well. One leg was just slightly shorter than the other, but he didn’t say anything. He pulled his robes on and tied his hair back. At Hermione’s nod, he stepped into the fireplace.
Everything he knew still wasn’t enough to prepare him for arriving at the Ministry. He managed not to trip this time, but people still stared. It was reflexive, like their necks turned automatically when he entered the room. He met eyes with one short, squirrely man who visibly jumped and scurried away.
The room was huge. Golden arches spanned over his head, and above them a series of glass lifts rose and fell leisurely. People and creatures alike moved past windows overlooking for at least twelve levels. At the center of the large space was a fountain. Clear spouts of water shot out of a golden statue. He wasn’t sure what it was meant to be. Amorphous limbs and curves stuck out of a central blob.
Despite the looks, no one approached him. Hermione wound her arm through his and directed them subtly toward a series of lifts.
“Is that normal?” He asked when the doors shut, skin prickling. Was that his mind playing tricks, or had several people just stopped in their tracks to wait for the next one?
“That was tame,” she pointed her wand at the panel of numbers. The number nine glowed, but the lift moved down instead of up. “Do you know anything about the Department of Mysteries?”
He shook his head. “Nothing.”
“I didn’t expect so.” She tapped her wand to her nose absentmindedly. “I’ve thought about it, and it’s strange. I can’t tell you a single thing, even what you already knew.”
“It’s a long story – “
“Summarize,” he said, beyond tired of the long story excuse. Hermione raised an eyebrow.
“We broke into it, during the war. It was…just, ask Ron. As an Unspeakable, I’ve taken an oath of silence regarding any and all research conducted inside.” He nodded. “I’ll have to obliviate you when we leave.”
“Okay – wait, what?”
The lift doors slid open. He wasn’t sure how far they’d traveled, but this floor was dark. The walls were literal black stone, and there was only one door at the end of a short hall. It was black as well, silver script shining in the center.
To those that seek forbidden knowledge; don’t.
There was no handle.
“I’m not going in there.”
“You don’t have to.” Her heels clicked loudly on the floor. It was so clear Harry saw his reflection as he looked down. “Really, you don’t.”
She stopped in front of the door, watching him.
“You think taking more of my memories away is a good move?”
“You come down here with me quite often, Harry.”
Her brown eyes glowed in the faint light. No visible source for it, he noticed. No torches or lamps. “I ask your advice on things, now and then. You helped us with…research. Regarding Parseltongue.”
“One, I don’t know what that means. And two, I let you obliviate me on a regular basis?”
“I’m quite good at it,” she sounded a little defensive. “No lasting damage. And I always get your informed consent.”
She pointed her wand at the wall, and a roll of parchment unrolled itself from thin air, a quill appearing in Harry’s hand. Throwing her a doubtful look, he stepped toward it, squinting in the low light.
“I, Harry James Potter, Order of Merlin, First Class, Head Auror of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, and Third Chair to the Hogwarts Board of Governors…” He looked over his shoulder, grimacing. “That’s quite a mouthful.”
“I’m Second Chair,” she said proudly. He turned back to the scroll.
“…Hereby release all possession of any memories and experiences gained while visiting the Department of Mysteries. Such memories and experiences are limited to questioning, consumption of food and non-food materials, relinquishing of personal fluids and epithelial cell samples. Cell samples?”
“That’s just left over from last time. Don’t worry – you agreed to it. Today will just be…oh, I suppose questioning. Diagnostic magic. That sort of thing.”
The words on the parchment changed as she spoke. He didn’t like the look of ‘that sort of thing’ as something he’d be signing himself over to.
“You can say no to anything you like, Harry. At any time. This is just giving me the right to obliviate you after.”
She seemed quite confident, which made him feel like he was overreacting. Before he could think too hard, he signed his name. The parchment vanished the instant he lifted the quill – which also disappeared – and the door swung open.
He took a step toward it, then stopped. It was closed again. Hermione had moved – she now stood closer to him, in the process of sticking her wand in her robes.
“Wait – “
“It’s over.” She looked up, smiling sympathetically. “We were in there for three hours.”
“No,” Harry blinked, astonished. He looked down at himself. Nothing had changed…but then, he wouldn’t exactly know if he was missing epithelial cells, would he? “What did we do?”
“Can’t say.” She took his arm again, pulling him back toward the lift he’d just gotten off of. “You had a pleasant time, I think. Do you feel dizzy? Nauseous?”
“…No?” Just a vague disorientation.
“Good.” She pointed them to level two. The lift started a slow rise. “I think we made some real progress.”
Her smile wavered. “I’ll know more after further testing.”
“I have to do that again?”
“I’m afraid so.”
The doors slid open, onto a well-lit, normal looking reception area. Hermione didn’t follow him.
“I’ll see you tonight. Down the hall, take a left.”
He nodded, hiding his uncertainty as he stepped off. She still had a smile plastered over her face, but just before the doors shut it dropped away. For a brief second, she looked distraught.
A small elderly woman smiled at him as he walked past, going down the only hall available.
He nodded, setting his shoulders in a way he hoped looked normal. “How are you?”
Her head shot up from where she’d already looked down at her stack of papers. “Pardon?”
Harry faltered. “I said how are you?”
“Oh.” She placed her hand over her heart. “Oh, quite well, thank you.”
“Have I never asked you that before?” He blurted before he could stop himself. There was no other explanation for her apparent shock.
“Well, not in so many words, I – I suppose.”
“Ah.” This didn’t bode well. “Well, I’d better be off.”
She looked at him over her glasses, eyes wide. He fled.
The hall was long, lined with closed doors. A memo darted past his ear and zoomed through a gap at the top of Wizengamot Administration Services. Misuse of Muggle Artefacts had a Jack-O-Lantern wreath stuck to its door. As he walked past, a pumpkin pasty shot out of the crooked mouth, hitting him in the chest. He picked it up, moving past Hit Wizard Subdivison and Department of Intoxicating Substances before reaching the end. To his direct left was Auror Office. The voices were loudest just behind it, and he stopped to listen.
“ – to find him. It’s completely useless if we can’t veritaserum. And he’s an Occlumens – “
“But Shacklebolt said – “
“I know what Shacklebolt said.” That sounded like Ron. “So we can’t veritaserum. We can keep him in London, monitor his communications – “
Another voice started to interrupt him, but everything went quiet as Harry opened the door, walking inside with more confidence than he felt. The room was cramped, with four cubicles taking up the corners and a central, long table covered in filing folders and papers.
“Harry.” Ron shot up from his chair, robes billowing. “Hey.”
There were four other people. Two men and two women. All staring, naturally.
Ron cleared his throat. “I suppose some…introductions are in order.”
The woman that appeared the oldest went first. Dark hair was pulled back into a severe bun, making her sharp features all the more intimidating. She said her name was Debra. The other woman, Élise, wore a black hijab. A good looking black guy was named Dean, and the man next to him was Seamus. He remembered those names.
Harry nodded to each of them as they went, noticing that they all wore robes that matched Ron’s. Black with red stripes around the collar. Was he meant to be wearing those? Hermione hadn’t said anything.
“So you all know?” He asked, just to break the quiet. They nodded solemnly. He couldn’t look anywhere without meeting a wide pair of eyes.
“We’re glad you’re okay,” Seamus offered. Dean shifted uncomfortably.
“You’re all unbelievable,” Ron snapped, rather harshly. “I said act natural when he got here.”
“This is natural,” Debra droned, arms crossed. Ron rolled his eyes.
“C’mon, Harry. This was – is – your office.”
The one other door entered them into an office almost identical to the one at Harry’s house. Smaller, but just as messy.
“I haven’t touched anything,” Ron said, shutting the door behind them. “Muffliato.”
Harry stepped around a pile of binders and sat in the rolling chair. Beyond the papers and quills – one half-chewed – were three photo frames hung on the wooden desk. One was of him and Teddy, sitting in his living room. Teddy stretched a roll of parchment, brandishing it toward the camera proudly. The text was blurry, but Harry saw the word Hogwarts.
The second was him, Ron and Hermione. Their wedding day, it looked like. Ron tried to coax a shorter-haired Harry into the frame. It looked like he was politely refusing. Hermione gestured, too, but still he tried to ease himself away.
It wasn’t a nice photo. Why would he display it?
The third was a couple. He didn’t recognize them, but he knew exactly who they were. The man looked like him, and the woman had bright green eyes.
“Let’s see,” Ron was saying, half-sat on the one spot of paper-less desk. “Dean and Seamus are our mates from school. We do pub nights most weekends. Élise will tag alone every now and then, but she’s a lightweight so it’s touch and go. And Gallahey – that’s Debra – she thinks were all idiots, I expect. Not you, so much. At least, I’ve never heard her call you a moon-faced skrewt.”
“Ron.” Harry looked away from the wedding photo. “Am I a total dick?”
That stopped him short. Then he shrugged. “Honestly? A bit.”
“Why are you friends with me?”
“It’s an act. With ‘Mione and me – and Ted – you’re just Harry. The rest…” Again, with the bloody scar. “Well, no one holds it against you. Much.”
“What gives me the right to act like this? Do you?”
Ron snorted. “I wouldn’t get away with it.”
“I know.” He nodded his head at the door. “We’re gonna give you a…crash course. On the war.”
Finally. “Okay,” he nodded. “Now?”
“I was just about to go gather some lunch. Thought you could use a look around in here. Maybe it’ll jog something, eh?”
That seemed unlikely. What information he could see already meant very little. “What exactly is the plan, here, Ron? I can’t be Head Auror. Not like this.”
Ron nodded once. “I thought…”
Harry raised an eyebrow, waiting. Ron hemmed and hawed about something, visibly nervous. Again, Harry wondered just how much of an arse he’d been, before.
“I thought I’d take over. Unofficially. Just until you’re better. You can still help out around here, or not. I guess it’s up to you. “
“I…I don’t see how I can be of much help.”
“One step at a time, I suppose,” Ron said evasively. “Did Hermione say anything?”
“Nothing at all.”
Ron laughed. “Sounds about right. Okay.” He clapped his hands together, standing. “Be back in ten.”
Alone again, Harry looked around. The papers were mostly reports from subsections of the Auror office. He swiveled, sighing at the mass of information. Most piles must have had balancing charms attached. It felt like he’d been trying to brick himself in.
There was one shelf, up high against the wall, that burst with color. He stood, peering up at the strange packaging. There were several boxes of sweets with names that he didn’t…remember, exactly, but recognized. Even more alarming were the names he didn’t understand. Puking Pastilles, Hair of the Wolf, and Umbridge; the Scent for Supremely Sinister Spinsters. That was only to name a few.
A card had been strategically placed over the Ravish-me-Red Re-Upping Potion artwork of a cartoon man looking down at his crotch in surprise. Harry reached up to look at what it said. As his hand entered the line of sight of a rubber chicken, though, it sprang to life, dancing across the shelf and squawking what sounded like the Irish national anthem.
“Gah!” Harry said in surprise, yanking his hand away. “Silencio!”
It didn’t work. The chicken actually got louder.
He flinched when his office door opened. Seamus stuck his head in, grinning.
“Something wrong, boss?”
“I can’t turn it off,” Harry blustered, humiliated. Seamus waved him out, shutting the door against the onslaught and casting a muffliato maxima.
“It’ll go on like that until someone sings all of Weasley is Our King,” Dean said, also smiling.
“It’s awful,” Harry summed up, sinking into an empty chair.
“That’s George for you.”
“Ron’s brother,” Harry remembered. Seamus nodded, sitting next to Élise. “Charming.”
“Yeah,” Seamus chortled. “I will never forget the look on your face when he sent those shield amulets that turned us all deaf for an hour.”
“He what? Isn’t that some sort of crime?”
“Should be,” Debra muttered.
“He’s not allowed to owl us directly anymore.” Élise’s deep red-painted lips pulled into an admiring smile. “That’s when the chicken showed up.”
Harry glanced at his office door warily, somewhat glad he hadn’t actually touched anything on that shelf. It must be up high for good reason. “Does he hate me?”
“On the contrary.” Dean said, glancing at Seamus. “It means he likes you.”
“No one ever said you were lucky.”
Élise gave Debra a reproachful look, but Harry decided he liked her deadpan. It didn’t necessitate a response.
“Do I get along with all of you? I mean, as a boss.”
There was a short, awkward silence. Dean flinched like someone had kicked him under the table. “Yeah! Yeah. You’re the best Auror the Ministry’s seen in years.”
Best Auror. Not best boss. Not even good boss.
“Ron said we went to school together? What was that like?”
Élise rolled her eyes. “I went to Beauxbatons, but you lot talk about Hogwarts constantly.”
“And I’m too old to have known any of you in school,” Debra added. “Knew Bill and Charlie.”
Dean crossed his arms on the table, scratching at his close-cropped black hair. “We all met first year. You, me, Seamus, Ron and Neville shared a dormitory. Proper fun, that was.”
He gazed at Seamus as he said it, and winked.
Ron returned with an armful of paper-wrapped sandwiches. Harry’s was ham and cheese, and he wasn’t at all hungry for it. There was scattered conversation, mostly about people and things Harry didn’t know, but everyone seemed sort of distracted.
Finally, Ron crumpled his wrapper up into a ball, wiping a spare bit of crumb from his mouth. “Alright, I suppose I’ll start us off.”
Harry wound his fingers together in his lap so he wouldn’t tap them against the wood. He understood that the war had been bad, but did it really need so much ceremony? It had been ten years!
“Blood purity,” Ron said, watching him. At Harry’s lack of a response, he went on. “I’m a pure-blood. That means I don’t have any muggles in my ancestry. Hermione’s parents are both muggles. That makes her a muggleborn. Anyone in-between is a half-blood. Got it?”
Harry nodded, wondering which of those he was.
“We talked about Hogwarts last night. You remember how the houses were named after the founders? Well, Salazar Slytherin was obsessed with blood purity. Muggleborns almost never get sorted into Slytherin house. Most pureblood families always do. Like Malfoy.”
Harry thought he’d emphasized that name a little too hard, but he just nodded.
“Flash-forward to the 1970’s, and this…man…comes to power. Only he’s not quite a man, but I’ll get to that. He and a load of his followers – Death Eaters – start trying to spread this pureblood-supremacy shite. It was horrible. They infiltrated the Ministry, used Imperious on the most influential people…you can imagine.
“When it was getting really bad, Dumbledore started gathering everyone he thought he could trust. They called themselves the Order of the Phoenix.”
“Dumbledore was the Headmaster of Hogwarts,” Seamus cut in. Harry nodded, doing his best to keep up as, over the next hour, his team told him about the war. Some of it, Élise and Debra could tell. Logistics, public opinion. But it was Ron, Dean and Seamus that had been at Hogwarts with him.
Sometimes Ron would cut one of them off if a tangent grew too long or Harry had a question. There was just so much. He’d been thinking of it as a story, the night before. Now he realized it was more like an epic.
The prophecy, the murder of his parents, growing up with his extended – apparently horrible – muggle family. Being terrorized every year by Dark Wizards and somehow escaping. It seemed really unlikely that it was a lie, but he found it all a bit too fantastical to believe.
He’d lost his godfather in the second war, he learned. Ron almost completely skipped over it, just as he did when he got the part where his brother was killed. Then Teddy’s parents – Tonks and Lupin, he called them. Tonks was a metamorphagus. It explained Teddy’s blue hair in the photos.
When they got to the end of the war, and Harry’s extremely heroic defeat of Voldemort, he almost couldn’t take in any more information. He got the gist – he wasn’t in the war. He was the war.
“So that’s why we got to be Aurors without our N.E.W.T.S.. And that’s why you basically do whatever you want. No one in their right mind would tell you otherwise.”
Clearly, they all were waiting for him to have some sort of reaction. He just didn’t know what to say.
“Keep going,” he said, glancing around. “What happened after I killed him?”
Ron frowned at Debra, who leaned around Dean to address Harry.
“After the war, which was your fight, the Ministry went through…serious reform. Very few of us kept our jobs, or even wanted to stay.” Her face darkened. “Our fight was with the Dementors. They were a big problem. They stopped attacking civilians, but no one was going to forget what they did. So, we corralled them in Azkaban, while it was empty. No one knew how to…kill them. Not permanently.”
“It was Unspeakable Granger,” Élise said excitedly. “Only their department knows the specifics, of course, but it was…revolutionary. They told our team the incantation, and it discorporated the Dementors.”
Debra sounded even more stoic after Élise’s quick, Belgian accent. “She makes it sound easier than it was. One spell alone took everything out of you, and then you had to do it again. For hours. Surrounded by those…” She shuddered.
Ron nodded, his orange eyebrows drawn together. “While they were doing that, we were tracking down every escaped Death Eater we could find. Numbers weren’t a problem – nearly every person who’d fought at Hogwarts offered to help.
“You-Know-Who’s main men were our biggest concern. Avery, Nott, Malfoy, Crabbe, Goyle…they’re all dead or in Azkaban, now. Except for Dolohov and Macnair.”
“And Draco,” Harry added, deciding not to admit he had no idea what a Dementor was. Dean and Seamus both looked up sharply at him.
“What did you call him?”
“Draco was pardoned,” Ron said tightly, staring at the table. “So was his mother.”
Harry ignored their continued startled looks. Even Élise’s eyes were wide. “But you said he was a Death Eater.”
Ron glared at him, and Harry had to bite back an irritated outburst. What was his deal?
“Erm.” Dean looked between them warily. “You testified. At his trial.”
Harry forced his eyes away from Ron’s. “Did I?”
“Yeah. I think we were all a bit…surprised. Anyway, he went off the grid for a while. The next time anyone saw him, he was cursebreaking the old Death Eater safehouses. Shacklebolt’s idea.”
He was relieved. He’d testified for Draco – that had to count for something. Defending him now wasn’t completely out of character, like Ron made it seem.
“I assume he’s given us information about the men we’re looking for.”
Ron shook his head. “You had that idea before, but we decided against working with him. He already told everything he’s willing to tell. Just after the trial.”
“And since I was attacked?” He recalled the conversation he’d walked in on. “You think he was involved, don’t you?”
“We did,” Debra said. “We do. But Shacklebolt put the kibosh on any magical interrogation, so…we wait. We watch.”
It didn’t sit right with Harry. Everything he knew about himself told him to trust his gut. “That’s what he was doing the night he found me? Cursebreaking in that old house?”
“Yep.” Seamus cast his eyes up, thinking. “That would have been his…fourteenth? It’s a big help, actually, as it’ll be one less place for them to hide. We think Dolohov must have Apparated there, with you, but got spooked before he could…well.”
“Finish the job,” Debra said for him.
“I understand.” Harry chewed the inside of his cheek, hesitating. It was silly to feel like he was overstepping, right? He was their boss until recently. “Only I woke up totally alone, maybe a half a mile from the house. It’s only chance I found it at all.”
Ron straightened. “You never said that.”
“You didn’t ask! I’ve been trying to tell – “
“You didn’t think it was important?” Ron cried, matching his volume. Debra put a hand on his shoulder, forcing him back into his seat.
“Stop yelling at him! Christ, are we back in second year?”
“More like fourth,” Dean said under his breath. Ron shot him a very dark look.
“If he was alone with Harry, what scared him off?” Élise scribbled something out with a quill, oblivious to the tension. “Maybe he was hurt, too. Disoriented.”
“Maybe it was a rendezvous.”
Now it was Harry’s turn to glare at Ron. “I think you’re wrong about him.”
“Yeah? What do you know? You don’t even remember your own mum’s name – “
“Hey!” Dean said sharply. Élise gasped. “Merlin, Weasley, what the hell?”
Ron looked shocked, like even he couldn’t believe what he’d said.
“It’s fine.” Harry stood, needing some air. “He’s right. I don’t.”
He was halfway down the hall when Ron caught up.
“Obviously, I’m not doing anyone any good here,” Harry said quickly. Ron came to a stop in front of him, apology written all over his face. “I’ll just go home, yeah? Let you all do your jobs.”
“Harry, I’m sorry,” Ron said, sounding genuine. “I shouldn’t get – I shouldn’t’ve said that. If you really want to…we can ask Malfoy for help.”
He spat the words, almost. Like they stuck in his throat. But it was clearly an effort. “It’s not up to me. I don’t know what to do, I just have this…feeling.”
Blue eyes moved over his face, anger turning soft. “The last time you had a feeling about Malfoy, you thought he might be becoming a Death Eater. And you were right.”
Harry opened his mouth to ask about that, but the memo that had just fluttered past them had turned in its path, instead stopping over Ron’s head and gently falling. He caught it, eyes going wide.
Ron dropped it like he was burned, then started pushing him. Harry looked over his shoulder at the crimson red envelope flying madly after them. It was smoking. He knew it was a Howler.
Ron cast a slowing hex at it, which only barely worked. The black smoke grew thicker as he all but dragged Harry into the slowly opening lift door.
“I’m sorry, Madame Rashida!” Ron cried, pressing the wand madly against the number two. “Protego!”
The envelope hit the shield hard, bursting into flame. The doors slid shut just as a shrill voice boomed through reception. They flinched against the sheer volume of it, backs hitting the wall.
“RONALD WEASLEY, YOU WILL ANSWER MY OWL THIS INSTANT – “
“Silencio,” Ron gasped. The voice cut off.
“What the bloody hell was that?” Harry asked, bewildered and a little afraid. Ron took a deep breath and stowed his wand with a trembling hand.