It was darker than the night, wherever he was, of that Spencer was certain. At least at night you had stars or the moon to show shadows and shades of grey. Here, in this place, there was nothing, no point of light to show anything other than the all encompassing dread this blackness elicited from his heart. Exactly where this place was, Spencer did not know, it was obviously meant to be a secret known only to the creator as he was certain he was alone and the weight of the unknown started to shred his nerves more than anything else. The silence was also cloying. It felt like a presence. The only sound was his ragged breathing and the beating of his overworked heart. He knew that if he didn’t get himself in check he would have a full blown panic attack and that would not help in the slightest. So he thought about the events that happened prior to him waking up in this place, if he was in fact asleep to begin with, he wasn’t sure. It didn’t feel like waking, it felt more like arriving. The last thing he remembered was stocking the shelves with his new purchases from the auction last week. He had just pulled the silver snuff box out of his box of treasures and was about to lift the lid when a gust of wind came out of nowhere and everything went black. Now he had no idea where he was but it certainly wasn’t his store as it never got this dark and it was too large to be the back storeroom. Spencer wasn’t sure how he knew it was a large room, but he sensed that he was indoors and he didn’t feel claustrophobic, which being in tight spaces usually made him feel to some degree. As he couldn’t see anything he started to shuffle forward hoping to find a wall or better yet, a light switch or a door. He counted off his steps and when he reached ten his fingers brushed something solid. Sighing with relief he felt his way along what he determined was a wall. “Where the hell am ?I” he wondered. He reached the corner of the wall and continued. He again counted his steps to determine the length of the wall. He came to a second corner after fifteen steps. He then counted to the next corner. Another fifteen. He felt sure the next wall would contain a door so as he reached the seventh and eighth step his hoped flared. When he reached ten he started to get anxious. When he reached fifteen his hope failed. He was almost back to where he had started and yet there was no door. How could there be a room with no door? He tried to quell his panic but his breathing was starting to pick up and his chest began to tighten. He reached the first corner again and slid down to the floor. “Okay” he said aloud, “Don’t panic. Maybe this is a crawl space and the door is near the floor or there’s a trap door in the floor, or the ceiling. Just breathe and keep looking. There has to be a way out.” He took two calming breaths and started crawling along the wall feeling for anything other than the smooth walls. “I will find a way out. I have to” he declared with false certainty.
“You will never escape! You belong to the realm of the dead!” A voice suddenly called through the darkness.
“Who are you and where am I?” Spencer replied unsteadily.
“You are beyond the veil. There is no escape.” The voice replied and its pronouncement was followed by another gust of wind and Spencer knew no more.
Patrick Stone sat in his cluttered office reviewing a case that had grown increasingly more and more bizarre the further into the file he read. Bizarre cases were not unusual for the head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement Liaison Office at Scotland Yard. The office consisted of one person, Patrick, and while it may get lonely at times it was a critical position even though he couldn’t tell anyone what his real job was. His colleagues believed that he was part of a Special Forces division and so they learned not to ask too many questions as all he ever said was he couldn’t comment on any of his cases. When he came across a very blatant magical case he would immediately inform his contact at the DMLE, who just so happened to be his sister, and she would send “obliviators” to “take care” of the investigating officers and then take over the case. He knew about the Magical World, even though he was not a part of it himself, because Charlotte, his sister, was a Muggle-born witch. Pat loved his sister and finding out she was a witch came as a bit of a shock to him when an owl had delivered her acceptance letter to Hogwarts some 30 years ago. He had been jealous at the time, but Charlotte had told him all about the things she was learning so he could live vicariously through her. He graduated from the local secondary school and went into the academy to become a “proper Copper” as Charlotte liked to tease. He enjoyed his work but when he was injured in the line of duty, Charlotte approached him with the offer to be a part of the Wizarding World even though he couldn’t do magic himself. He quickly accepted and now enjoyed understanding more about the world he had not been really a part of. His days could go from downright dull to extremely dangerous in a matter of moments. He mostly got reports of accidental magic that were witnessed by Muggles, but sometimes the cases would be more sinister in nature and then the whole thing would become much more complicated.
The file he was perusing was a case that began with a call into the local police office in Oxted a week ago. A shop owner had called in saying that weird things were happening at his shop. Objects would be moved overnight, lights and electricity would flicker and fail in spots but not in others, and customers would report feeling cold suddenly while shopping. Possible “Paranormal activity” is what it said in the file, and the investigating officer had come to the conclusion that there was nothing that could be done and had shelved the file. Then something had occurred that had made Scotland Yard sit up and take notice. The shop owner had gone missing in the middle of the day and his wife stated that he had not left on his own volition because he would never do that without informing her, and she was convinced that something horrible had happened to him.
The local police had called in The Yard to help out, as the municipal police force in Oxted was small and not equipped to handle a missing person case let alone anything bigger. Stone now read the initial reports from The Yard’s investigative team and they had determined that there were signs of a struggle inside the shop, the door had been locked and the money in the cash register as well as the safe in the back were untouched. It looked like someone had thrown a few things about and then stopped. Was it a confrontation between the shopkeeper and a disgruntled customer or between a husband and wife? If that was the case, where was the shopkeeper?
This wasn’t what made Pat contact Charlotte though, it was the last paragraph in the report that stated that when the officers arrived to investigate the shop they were blasted back from the door as they tried to enter by what they could only describe as a strong gust of wind. They were shaken up but when they tried to enter a second time, nothing happened and they were able to enter. They noted however that as they looked around the shop they felt an overwhelming sense that they should leave and not return. They finished searching for clues quickly and left for the night. A blast of wind strong enough to knock grown men off their feet? Professional investigators feeling uneasy enough to want to leave a potential crime scene even though there wasn’t anything really wrong? It was bizarre for sure, so Pat decided to get his sister to send one of her officers to rule out the possibility of magic, just to be safe.
He rang her mobile and after giving her the run down of the case, she told him to send the file to her and she would look into it. Charlotte was a no nonsense Ravenclaw and when given the facts she made a decision quickly. She had risen through the ranks of the DMLE and after 15 years of service she was well respected and everyone trusted her instincts. She had still been quite surprised when she heard that the Savior of the Wizarding World had requested to work in her department instead of in the Auror department as had been the assumption of everyone when he had applied to work at the DMLE. She had talked to Harry after his first year of training and asked him why he had refused to become an Auror. He told her it was because he was tired of fighting and while he wanted to help the Wizarding World even after all he had already done, he wanted to find a different way to help that satisfied him and did not constantly bring the past back to the forefront of his mind. He also loved to solve mysteries and his childhood proved that once he got a hint of something amiss he would doggedly pursue it until he figured it out. He also didn’t want to be stuck behind a desk all day or in a library researching, so most jobs in the Department of Mysteries were out. The next logical place for the Boy Who Lived was in the DMLE Unsolved Mysteries Department. Charlotte was skeptical of his abilities at first despite his track record, but when Harry was able to solve a case that had stumped more seasoned officers, he was solidified in Charlotte’s mind as an equal and someone she could see working closely with, so she had asked her superiors to allow Harry to be her partner and they had agreed.
She knew she had a reputation for not being a people person, but that was not completely accurate. She did not suffer fools gladly and had a hard time not rolling her eyes when the conversation around the lunch table revolved around drunken escapades or the latest gossip of the newest relationships in the Ministry of Magic. That’s why she got on with Harry so well. He stayed out of the limelight and hated being the center of attention. Not that he didn’t get pulled into that light from time to time, being who he was it was inevitable, but he did not seek it out and he did not revel in it. He usually ran away from it, to the chagrin of his superiors and his fame loving admirers. He could usually be found sitting by himself or with a few close friends that worked in different departments at lunch and you could tell he was trying not to call attention to himself.
At the moment Harry was in his paper strewn office finishing up some paperwork that he had not had time to finish the day before. He was in between cases at the moment and had time to finish up some of the case files that had been on the back burner while the more pressing matters took his focus. He loved the ebb and flow of his work. It was calming to know that while he was on a case he could get the rush of solving a complex puzzle that made work exciting, but then he could have the moments of rest that his life had lacked for most of his school career. He enjoyed the cases that did not have an obvious solution and felt immense satisfaction closing cases that others couldn’t.
His life after Hogwarts couldn’t be more different than he would ever have imagined it could be. He had returned to Hogwarts after the war to complete his NEWTS and to regain some of the normalcy his life lacked after the final Battle. Going to classes and socializing with friends was just what he needed and it allowed him to really figure out who he was a person and not be the pawn he had been forced to be. That was a pivotal year for his friends as well. Without the threat of death hanging over their heads they were able to heal and figure out who the heck they actually were and what they wanted. Hermione continued to excel in academia so she became a professor at Hogwarts and a guest lecturer at the Ministry Training Academy on how she changed outdated and prejudiced policies within the ministry to better the lives of the marginalized like house elves and werewolves. Ron decided to work with George in Diagon Alley and took care of the business and development side of the joke shop. It now had three locations around the UK and they were thinking of expanding to the continent and the Americas. What Harry had wanted was to join the DMLE in some capacity and for some unknown and bizarre reason, find out what it was like to kiss a boy. This last revelation was not as big of a shock to Hermione as it was to Harry and Ron, after all she said, “you were very interested in Draco for most of our school life, I just thought that maybe you weren’t ready to be open to the possibility that your animosity was a mask for something deeper”.
Well when put like that, Harry lost no time coming to terms with his attraction to boys and Draco Malfoy in particular and as the year went on they became friends and then over Easter Break, they started dating. Draco was strong and determined, but also caring and soft when he felt safe. It had taken a bit for him to trust Harry’s intentions, but once Harry had broken through that particular wall, Draco had become one of Harry’s best friends. They had helped each other heal and learn to be more open with their emotions. They still drove each other mad, but with an underlying fondness that tempered the frustration. Now after 10 years, they were madly in love and their friends were often mocking them for being too affectionate in public.
Draco had pursued his love of Potions and Herbology and he had become a Potions Master and opened his own apothecary in Hogsmeade. It hadn’t been easy, as many in the Wizarding World still hated him and the mark on his arm, but with the support of Harry and his friends, and the quality of his potions and ingredients, his shop had been the best place for Hogwarts students and professors to go, as well as the inhabitants of the village. Madame Promfrey and Professor Sprout were often seen chatting with Draco in his shop or around the village asking his opinion on a new treatment for a common illness or about a new subspecies of plant he was trying to grow. Then one day Draco had a paper published on how he had successfully reinvented the Dreamless Sleep potion so that it was no longer addictive when taken more frequently than usually recommended. Those that suffered from PTSD from the war were able to cope with the nightmares more easily because of his discovery and Draco felt like he had started to make amends for all the horrible choices he and his family had made during the war. The research team at St. Mungos had read his paper and sent a letter with an offer to hire Draco on as one of their medical potions researchers. They had tested his new potion rigorously and were completely impressed with the results. Harry had found Draco crying in the sitting room the day that letter from St. Mungos had come, and Harry had held Draco whispering words of encouragement and pride after determining that Draco was not hurt or in distress but overwhelmed by how far he had come. He had applied for that job after graduating Hogwarts but was told that his “Death Eater status” was too much of a “liability” and that he would have to try elsewhere for employment. Now they were begging him to come and work for them full time. He politely declined but made the counter offer to work on projects that interested him at his discretion. They were more than happy to make that accommodation and now he was one of the go to lead researchers for hospitals all over the UK and France. Harry was so proud of his husband and told him so repeatedly.
He and Draco had had a bonding ceremony three years after they graduated from Hogwarts and then two years later Luna Lovegood had agreed to be their surrogate when Harry and Draco had started asking their friends whether they should adopt or have children through a surrogate. She had moved in with them for the duration of her pregnancy so they had been able to go through the whole pregnancy with her. James Sirus and Scorpius John Malfoy-Potter were born on a cold October night and their fathers wept like babies when they were able to hold their sons for the first time. James resembled his name sake as well as his Daddy, except for his grey-blue eyes that matched his Papa’s. Scorpius resembled his Papa but had Harry and Lily’s brilliant green eyes. Their fathers were so humbled that day by their two little miracles and even three years later, Harry and Draco still had trouble believing that they were fathers but wouldn’t trade their crazy life for anything. They were able to give their boys the childhood that both of them never had. A childhood filled with unconditional love, support and fun. Not that they let their boys run wild, they made sure that their boys knew that there were limits and that Daddy’s or Papa’s word was the final answer. The boys flourished and blended in with the rest of Harry’s adopted family, to the mock horror of Draco, and Harry could not have been happier.
Harry smiled to himself as he sat at his desk reminiscing and looking at the photograph of the boys in the frame Draco had given him for his birthday this past July. It was a picture of James and Scorpius flying around the grounds of their Brighton summer cottage on the practice brooms that Ron and George had bought them for Christmas last year. It reminded Harry of the torn photograph he had of himself on the broom Sirius had bought him. They joy on his sons’ faces made even the toughest days at work more tolerable as it was a reminder of why he was doing what he was doing. He was looking forward to finishing his paperwork and maybe skiving off a bit early to surprise the boys and Draco with a home cooked meal. He was just about to put the final touches on his last report when Charlotte knocked on his door.
“Hey Harry, do you have a second?”
“For you Charlotte, two seconds” Harry joked
“Very funny, I’m rolling on the floor laughing” Charlotte deadpanned. “I got a call from my brother and he told me about a very bizarre case that has been going through the Oxted police department and then The Yard this week.”
She gave Harry the run down of the case and when she got to the powerful gust of wind and the feeling of unease at the potential crime scene, Harry was frowning slightly. Charlotte knew that that facial expression meant Harry was putting the pieces together to see what the possibilities were, so she waited as Harry seemed to zone out for a moment. Then with a small shake of his head, he looked at her and replied, “That sounds odd, but I’m not sure it’s DMLE worthy”
Charlotte smiled and said, “Maybe not, but if it is, how would you feel if you had given up the chance to solve another interesting mystery because your inner skeptic was so loud? Besides, a man is missing and there are no leads. At the very least we can try to give an answer to a distraught wife who has no idea where her husband is”
Harry sighed and Charlotte knew she had won the argument. She held out the case file to Harry and he sighed again. “You know me too well Charlotte, I think I may need to put in for a new partner, one who doesn’t know what buttons to press to get me to go along with whatever they want to do”
“I am hurt Harry James Malfoy-Potter. Wounded in body and spirit that you would even entertain such a thing” Charlotte clutched her chest in an over dramatic way that got Harry chuckling.
“All right, let’s go take a look, and when we discover that there is nothing magical about this case I can go home with a self satisfied look on my face and tell Draco I was right again.” Harry got up from his chair and made his way to the coat rack in the corner and shrugged on his coat.
“Again? When have you ever been right about these things?” Charlotte mocked
“I’ll have you know I am right at least 1 time out of 10. Those are better odds than any of your other partners!” Harry answered in mock indignation.
“That’s not high praise Harry. My other partners were no better than trolls” Charlotte tossed behind her as she led them down the hallway to the lifts. Harry grinned and joined her in the lift with a playful flick on her arm.
Once they reached the atrium, Harry texted Draco that he had a new case and wasn’t sure when he’d be home. Draco texted back with a “No problem. Text me when you know for sure. ILY” Harry grinned at his phone. He was always so tickled to see Draco using text speak and marveled at how far he had come from his pureblood upbringing.
“Stop grinning like a love sick loon and let’s go” Charlotte barked and Harry gave her the finger but put the phone in his pocket.
“I am not grinning like a love sick loon, my husband just happens to be the cutest man in the whole world and I cannot help my reactions to that.” Harry sassily replied
“Whatever, the faster we get there the faster you can get home and be all disgustingly in love on your own time” Charlotte snarked back. She held out her arm for him and aparated them to a discrete location not far from the shop. They checked that there were no witnesses around and made their way to the shop front. The sign above the store read, “Anderson Antiques and Collectables.” Harry stepped closer to the building and began surreptitiously casting notice me not spells and other wards to keep curious muggle onlookers from disturbing them. Once he was satisfied that the wards would do what they needed them to do, he began casting revealing spells and other spells that could detect dark magic. He also cast spells to look for magical signatures that may have been left behind. Charlotte watched and recorded the findings of the spells. They came back negative and there were no traces of magical signatures outside the shop. They approached the door and as nothing happened to prevent them from grasping the handle except to find that it was locked, they decided to go and talk to Mrs. Anderson and maybe have a look around inside the shop.
Harry and Charlotte walked to the side of the building and knocked on the door that the file indicated lead to the apartment above the shop where the shopkeeper and his wife lived. After a few moments, they heard someone walking down the creaky stairs and then the deadbolt slid home. The door opened to reveal a face Harry hadn’t seen in almost 10 years.
“Potter?! What are you doing here?”