"And the contents of the bottles?" said Harry.
Penelope Clearwater tapped a finger, thoughtfully, on the table they were sitting at. The bottles in question were lined up at one end, dirty chipped glass each half-filled with liquid in various shades of reddish-brown.
"Blood," she said.
Ron propped his elbow on the table and put his chin in his hand. "Really?" he asked, mock-astounded.
Penny glared at him.
"Blood," she repeated, and pointed them out one by one. "Dragon's. Goblin. House-elf. Giant. Human."
There followed a brief silence. Outside Penny's dungeon - rather nicer than Snape's had once been, but still very definitely a dungeon - there was a footstep, a rustle of robes passing. The fire crackled, the cauldron bubbled; Harry and Ron looked at each other.
"Even just one of those would be bad enough," said Ron slowly.
"Dark Magic," said Harry. "Very Dark Magic." He realised he was pressing two fingers into the elbow that had once been cut into while he lay tied to Tom Riddle's headstone. "And if they were good enough to acquire that blood in the first place -"
"Unsubwhatsited conclusion," said Ron immediately. "Dragon and giant at least you could fork out for on the black market. Cost you a fortune, but you could."
"Goblin and house-elf wouldn't necessarily be easy to come by, either."
"You're determined to make the worst of this, aren't you?" said Penny. "It's not the first time stuff like this has come through this office, and you know it."
"When was the last time, though?" Harry wanted to know. "And all of it from the same raid? I don't want to do a Fudge and underestimate this, Pen."
Penny sighed. "Yeah. OK. I take your point."
"Hmm," said Ron, watching him as they stood up. "Oh, what about that plant?"
"Deadly Nightshade, perfectly ordinary stuff," said Penny. "Well, poisonous, you know, but perfectly ordinary."
"We'll say hi to Percy for you..."
"One day you're going to forget to make that joke," Penny called after them. Ron grinned.
"Not as long as it still makes Percy jump," he said to Harry, who wasn't really listening.
"Goblins and house-elves," he said. "Hermione might know something."
"We can ask her at lunch."
"Or, you know, we can fill out the official interdepartmental assistance request form and not have to scramble around backdating the things three months from now when we've closed the case and the paperwork wants doing."
Ron gave him a sideways look. "Or us three best friends could skip over to the Leaky Cauldron for baked potatoes and a pint and put the lot on the expenses afterwards."
Harry threw his hands up and grinned. Who was he to argue with baked potatoes and a pint with his best friends?
Hermione swallowed a forkful of potato and bacon and said, "Not officially - not on my desk or in the department - but there was something in the Prophet, some silly rumour."
"The Prophet?" Harry said.
Ron grinned. "I see backdating in your future, mate."
"I might have known you wouldn't have ulterior motives," said Ginny.
"But I do have ulterior motives," said Harry, perched on the edge of her desk. "I want you to snoop for me, how is that not ulterior?"
"It's not the kind of ulterior I was hoping for," said Ginny.
"I'll take you out and make it up to you," he promised.
"Any time you're ready to stop flirting with each other in public," said Ron, five feet away and looking disgusted.
Later on, sprawled on the sofa in the study together with a bottle of wine, Ginny said, "I asked Merriam - she wrote the piece. Said she'd had an anonymous tip-off and looked at me funny when I kept talking about it."
Harry hmmed, too tired to do any real thinking. "It was an anonymous tip-off that led to the raid in Winchester. Cellar of a shop not far from the cathedral, it was packed with mouldering boxes full of stuff like that - cursed objects and whatever. The owners were Muggles, said the cellar had been sealed off since before they bought the place, they'd never been down there in seventeen years."
Ginny drummed her fingers on his knee. "That they remember," she said.
"That they remember. Yes. No signs of a Memory Charm. According to Ron they didn't question them too closely, it was more important to get that stuff out of there once it had been disturbed. There were some filthy vicious curses on a good few things, necklaces, a wristwatch."
"Fancy a day trip tomorrow? Winchester's nice, apparently."
She laughed. "Shouldn't you take Ron?"
"Probably," said Harry. "But I promised I'd make my lack of inappropriate ulterior motives up to you."
Ginny twisted round and raised her face to his, eyes slightly narrowed. There was something of that blazing look of hers in the corner of them, but it hadn't got very far just yet. Harry thought he might be able to help it along.
"Better get on with it, then," she said.
"Isn't it a blessing," he said reflectively, "to have the house to ourselves?"
She was laughing when he kissed her.
Winchester was lovely, no question. The sun was out, and there was a brisk, cheerful breeze rushing through the streets. Ginny had let her hair hang loose, and every so often, Harry reached out and wrapped a waving strand of it around his fingers. His wedding ring glinted gold between the red.
"So the question is, if that cellar has been sealed off for fifteen years, who might have known it was actually there?" said Ginny, looking up at the shop windows of the little bookshop.
"Well, the previous owners," said Harry. "Builders, renovators..."
"Only one way to find out," said Ginny and marched into the shop.
"Oh yes, we did a renovation," said Jack Walter cheerfully, waving at his wife across the shop. "Ten years ago - did the whole thing ourselves. Lot of fun. This close to bankruptcy, to tell you the truth, it was sort of a last-ditch attempt."
"It's obviously worked," said Harry encouragingly.
"Thank you, yes. Started up a reading group, had a kid's morning, that sort of thing..."
But the Potters weren't all that interested in his business plan.
"So what was here before?"
Walter laughed. "Strange old shop - full of peculiar curios, very dark and dusty. The owner was murdered, you know."
Harry's breath caught. "Murdered..." he repeated softly. Ginny's fingers clenched briefly and then opened again.
"That's right. Horrible. Probably one of the reasons we didn't get much business in the first couple years."
"What happened, exactly?" asked Ginny.
"Mugging, very nasty - heard a rumour he had his throat cut, but I don't know if that was true. The shop sat here closed up for a good few years before the heirs sold it to us."
Harry looked at him. "How many years?"
"Hmm. Maybe five?"
They had midmorning tea in a quiet Muggle cafe, and then ordered scones as an afterthought. Harry wrapped cold fingers around his tea cup and watched his wife's hands on butter knife and cup and packet of sugar in silence.
Finally, Ginny said, "That puts the previous owner's murder around the time of the war."
"Yes," said Harry. He'd grown to hate the ones that harked back to that time specifically. It had been easier to face them before twenty years had got between him and it - twenty years, the love of his life, three brilliant children, a home, peace and sunshine.
He sighed. "I'm all right. Gin, really. They just - they sneak up on you a bit, these ones. Are you -"
"I am," she said, calm as calm could be, and Harry drew on that, shamelessly, for his own comfort.
"Sometimes I wonder what it was that possessed me to do this job," he said ruefully.
"Your saving-people-thing," said Ginny, straight-faced. "Can't really complain about that, personally."
Harry took her hand in his and laced their fingers together, smiling. "All right. The previous owner was likely murdered during the war."
"I don't see why they'd kill him if he had a shop full of Dark objects," said Ginny. "I mean, Borgin and Burkes was never broken in to."
"Maybe it was our side," Harry said slowly.
"Who slit his throat and did a runner? That's a bit despicable."
"If they were being hunted - you know, a Muggle-born."
"Yes. Hmm. There might have been something in the Prophet about it, I'll check on Monday."
"Ministry records of witches and wizards who lived here during that time - and of the shop itself, I guess."
"I wonder," said Ginny slowly, "why, when the tip came in about the raid, it didn't ring any alarm bells?"
"You mean, that the premises had once been a wizarding shop?"
"Didn't cross anybody's desk who might have known about it."
"I know. Makes you want a magic computer, especially judging by what James' mates say they can do now."
Ginny snorted. "I'll get Dad on it."
"As long as your Mum never finds out it was us!"
She smiled. "Is there, perhaps, a more sinister explanation?"
"What, for your Mum?"
Harry got kicked in the shins for that one. He laughed aloud and pushed his glasses up his nose; they fell silent when the girl came by to clear their scone plates away.
"Anything else I can get you?"
"No thanks," said Ginny. "We're getting a divorce in a minute, he's insulted my mother."
"I did not," said Harry, scandalised. "I adore your Mum. She's knitted me a jumper for Christmas every year since I was eleven."
"Whereas I can beat you at Quidditch."
"I was drunk, it barely counts."
"A win," Ginny said dangerously, "is a win, Potter."
Back in London, they stopped outside the Prophet's offices to say goodbye.
"A more sinister explanation for what?" Harry asked suddenly.
"Hmm? Oh, for why no one at the Ministry knew that the shop had once belonged to a wizard."
It was still sunny; a car rumbled past, someone shouted, a phone rang. The Prophet was hidden in an ordinary-looking sidestreet with ordinary-looking houses that no Muggle had ever set foot in; the brickwork was red and the windows were narrow. A smell of fish and chips came wafting down the lane. Ginny was standing on the pavement, Harry on the road with one boot heel on the curb in front of him, leg outstretched and straight, hands in his pockets. He never had overcome his fondness for Muggle clothes; they were a habit too deeply ingrained from childhood. Ginny was wearing a dark green dress and boots, and Harry could remember when she'd used to wear Fred's old dragonhide jacket over the top of things like that. Now it was a woollen wrap.
"Governmental conspiracies?" he said.
She laughed. "You haven't brought down any Ministers for Magic in quite a while now."
"I've had better things to do," he said, watching her lips curve.
She tilted her head so her hair fell away from her face. "Still having the funny mood," she said.
Harry supposed he might be waiting for the other shoe to drop. Just a bit.
Ginny saw it in his face, of course, and shook her head at him. "Just be careful if it is a conspiracy," she said. "I'll check the Prophet archives."
"You be careful too."
They kissed; she went inside, he Apparated back to work and found Ron was out, chasing a lead on another case in Birmingham. Harry cleaned his desk of paperwork and settled in to search old records and growl at anyone who came looking for him with anything that wasn't important, urgent, or both.
"The McAllister family," said Ginny triumphantly.
"Pure-bloods, very respectable, two small sons at the time the father was killed in the war," said Harry promptly.
Ginny put her hands on her hips. "The mother fled the country -"
"After her late husband was accused of being a supplier of Dark artefacts to Voldemort's supporters by Kingsley's government after the war -"
"And her sons reportedly went to school at Durmstrang rather than Hogwarts and took their grandmother's maiden name of Greengrass when they did so."
"Huh," said Harry. "Didn't know that."
"I Floo'd Nev and asked him to find out for me," said Ginny with a grin.
"Oh, well, when you've got contacts at Hogwarts...."
She dropped into the chair opposite his at the dinner table and tossed the pile of parchment she'd collected onto the wood between them. The wrap had gone; her dress was slightly scoop-necked and Harry could see her navy bra strap on her right shoulder. She was smiling: at him, at them, at this work they were doing together. It had happend before - there had been that memorable business with Ludo Bagman and the goblins, and the time Oliver Wood had brought charges against half the Department of Magical Sports and Games for corruption and Dark Magic, and Gwenog Jones being falsely accused of throwing Quidditch games for money - but it got to be more fun every time it happened.
Harry produced his own stack of parchment and settled in. They had leads, they had information, they had a trail to follow and work to do. He remembered, now, what had possessed him to take this job.
He was bloody good at it, was what.
"Hang on," he said, feeling his face light up, "Greengrass, that's -"
"A distant cousin, no real connection to her, you will not be able to draw Malfoy into this," said Ginny.
Harry would have felt like sulking if there hadn't been more interesting things to do. "Oh well. Hope springs eternal. So the mother disappears, and the investigation -" he waved a yellowed parchment over the table - "was shut down, there being more important things going on at the time than trying to discover if a dead bloke had been hawking Dark Magic wares to the Death Eaters. Specifically, catching the actual Death Eaters."
"Right," said Ginny. "And the investigation into his death?"
"Appears never to have been one," said Harry. "They weren't interested in law and order - just in people doing as they were told. What's the Prophet say?"
Ginny looked awkward. "Um. Well. You've got to remember who was in charge of the thing at that point."
She passed him the article.
HARRY POTTER SUSPECTED KILLER OF INNOCENT WINCHESTER SHOPKEEPER - WIFE AND CHILDREN DEVASTATED.
"Rita," said Harry. "Good old Rita." He grinned. "And now I've got the authority to actually prosecute her myself for being an unregistered Animagus if she refuses to tell me what she knows."
"Take Hermione with you," Ginny said. "She'll never forgive you if you don't."
"Don't even think about pretending this is a social visit and take your claws off that quill," said Harry when Rita opened her front door. "I'm here because you are about to give me some information; if you do not, or if you so much as contemplate recording a single word I say, I will arrest you for an unregistered Animagus and incidentally bring several libel charges against you as well as a claim for lasting emotional damage done me as an underage schoolboy by your articles - not to mention that harassment charge for when you turned up at King's Cross on my son's first day of school."
Rita Skeeter opened her mouth, paused, tapped a talon on the door handle, and then sighed dramatically.
"I can see there's no arguing with the Head of the Auror Department," she said.
"There's all sorts of arguing with me," said Harry. "I just don't care to take it from scum like you. After you, Hermione."
Who had been smirking on the bottom step, and swept inside Rita's house like a queen into her throne room.
"So Rita said..."
They were in the study again, although not alone this time; Ron and Hermione had come over for dinner and drinks, it being a Friday and none of them having to get up in the morning. In the firelit dimness, against the dark paneling and the worn leather sofas, they could have all been, to Harry's eyes, the same war-scarred teenagers who'd lived in this house together all those years ago, putting their lives back together in the same way as they'd rebuilt this home together.
"Rita said there was nothing to say," he answered Ron's questions. "That she barely remembered it and that she'd been forced to print all sorts of pro-Voldemort propaganda in those years."
"Nobody had to force her to do anything, I'll lay money on it," said Hermione. "Mind you, I think I believe that she doesn't know much about it. It was a long time ago, and it wasn't a huge story even then."
"Much as I hate to say it of Rita Skeeter," said Ginny, "I believe her too."
"Hang on," said Ron. "Are you three sure we're not off on a wild duck -"
"Goose," Harry and Hermione chorused -
"- goose chase here? I mean, we've found the owners of the confiscated property. We're as certain as we can be that no one's been down there for years and hasn't used any of it. Why are we investigating the twenty-year-old murder of a Death Eater?"
This being the family it was, there was only one answer.
"Because it's fun!"
"Nonsense," said Hermione. "Ron's right. Much as I enjoyed watching Rita squirm..."
"You have no sense of adventure," said Ginny accusingly.
"Are you bored?" said Ron. "Because if you're bored, you can have this Birmingham vampire thing. Horrible place, horrible people, could get killed at any second. Or worse."
"Except according to Smithson's report it wasn't a vampire, it was a bloodsucking tenta-whatsit plant," said Harry. "Which you would know if you'd read it instead of bouncing around Wiltshire chasing up that house-elf thing."
"While you were misusing your position to bully Rita Skeeter," said Ron.
"There's a baseball saying of Teddy's that applies in this situation," said Harry. "Three strikes and I'm out. This was one."
"Blimey, is that all..."
Hermione cleared her throat loudly. "The point was that there isn't a point to what you're up to right now."
"I object to that," said Harry.
"So do I," Ginny agreed.
"Aww," said Ron. "They just really like investigating things together, look at their faces. Like Rosie and Hugo on their way to the sweetshop."
The Potters exchanged a long look. "I think it's time we threw you two out," Ginny said.
Hermione laughed. "Goodness knows, we're not ones to stay where we're not wanted."
"Unlike, say, Auntie Muriel," said Ginny.
"Don't say her name!" Harry and Ron shouted simultaneously, and all four of them collapsed into giggles.
Ginny spent most of Sunday writing up Saturday's Quidditch match in bed - a choice of location to which she knew perfectly well Harry would have no objection whatsoever - and sneaking glances at the threads of grey in the dark mop of Harry's hair. Intellectually, she'd known they were there for a while now. But that morning she'd woken up and felt as if she were looking at them for the first time.
"We're a bloody long way away from sixteen," she said suddenly, putting her quill down.
Harry looked up from his book in surprise.
"I've noticed," he said, sprawled comfortably out beside her. It was raining, and the wind was hissing and rattling at the windows and the corners of the house. They'd lit a fire, which was crackling cheerfully and casting a golden glow over the room. Socks raised her head off her paws at the sound of their voices and thumped her tail on the hearthrug, plainly hoping for a walk. "I'm thankful for it every day anew," he added.
Monday dawned, damp but just as crisp and windy as the day of the Winchester trip. Ginny handed her article in and wrangled the afternoon off from Una, citing a possible story and a need to clear her head for a bit, and then went home and changed. Probably the pure-blood McAllister brothers would be more impressed by full wizarding regalia, but Ginny had got up with a yen to wear boots and jeans and Fred's dragonhide jacket. It made her feel both more competent and more confident, for reasons she knew she wasn't up to even trying to work out.
They lived in Cardiff. Floo'ing in to the Prophet's local offices provided her with an opportunity to acquire a Muggle street map, and after that it was just a question of walking. Their flat wasn't large, and it wasn't in a particularly nice neighbourhood; the block was grimy, grim and graffitied, the lift was out of order, everyone who passed her looked at her as though she were an enemy. A group of boys of about Jim's age were clustered around a red car in the car park, perched on the hood like a flock of vultures.
McAllister opened the door to her with a sharp jerk, and she got another shock. He was maybe two years older than Teddy; no more.
"Mr McAllister," she said. "I'm Ginny Weasley. May I speak to you about your father?"
He frowned. "Why?"
"The Aurors have been... looking into his death."
It wasn't exactly a lie, she told herself.
"Now?" said McAllister sharply. "After all this time, they've suddenly become interested?"
Ginny shifted from one foot to the other. "I'm with the Prophet," she said bluntly. "Wouldn't mind knowing what they think they're up to meself."
Snort. Watched her for a moment. Then he said, "Well, if it'll annoy them," and motioned her inside. The flat was cramped and sparse; the mirror in the hallway wolf-whistled when she passed it, and the wireless was on, tuned to a channel in a language she didn't speak but thought was German. McAllister turned it off with a flick of his wand.
"M'brother's in Hogsmeade," he said. "Business."
"I hope it goes well," said Ginny.
"Me too." He sat down heavily, pointed to the sofa at her left. Ginny assumed it was an invitation to sit, and did so.
"Can't tell you much," he said abruptly. His hands were lying on the arms of the chair, palms down, fingers spread; he had dirty fingernails and a burn on his left arm. Lank dark hair that shadowed his face. "Don't remember him, you see. At least, not very well."
Ginny clutched at the cuff of her jacket, thinking of the way the sound of Fred's laugh slid in and out of her memory, insubstantial as mist; Tonks' smile, Remus' face. That was a problem Harry did not have. The faces of the people he had loved and lost were stamped on his memory as deeply as the faces of their children. "I understand."
"Forgive me," she said, "but are you Seth or Adam?"
He smirked. "Seth. Sorry I didn't introduce myself. My Dad," he added, watching her with narrowed eyes, "was Cain."
Ginny felt lost. "I saw the records."
"You don't know the story?"
"It's a Muggle fable. Cain killed his brother Abel. Adam was their father. Banished Cain and put a mark on his forehead so that all the world would see he was a murderer. Seth was the son he had to replace the one he'd lost. At Durmstrang they used to say that Cain was the first wizard, that it was his mark that gave us magic."
"Got any brothers?"
"Six," she said without thinking. Then, carefully, "Five. We - he died. In the war."
Ginny saw him lick his lips. There was a question hovering between them - the question - which side - but he didn't dare ask it.
This was not quite how she'd pictured the conversation going.
"Did your mother ever talk about why she left the country with you?"
Seth McAllister shifted in his seat for the first time. "Afraid, I think," he said. "The old Prophet records say it was Potter who killed him. Head Auror!"
There was something bitter in his tone. Ginny licked her lips.
"At the time the Prophet was being controlled by people with... with very specific agendas," she said.
He shrugged. "Don't make much difference if he did it personally or not. It was still his fault."
Or maybe if your father had not been a Death Eater's lapdog and a trader in Dark Magic, it wouldn't have happend, she thought.
"They never had any leads?"
"M'mother used to talk about a bint who'd come into the shop - you know he was a shopkeeper?"
"Hysterical, this bird was. Smashed up a good bit of the stock. Screaming about how it was m'father's fault her filthy husband had been killed, that he'd set him up for it, that he'd paid someone. Name of - Lint? Lynd?"
"Her husband?" she asked quietly.
He looked at her full on for the first time, or so it seemed to her at that moment, and under that lank fringe his eyes glittered unpleasantly and his dirty fingernails dug, ever so briefly, into the arms of the chair.
"Her Mudblood husband," he said.
Even the concrete dirty-washing smell of the stairwell was a relief to Ginny after that flat. She breathed in a gulp of it and realised her hand was shaking; it had been a long time since she'd last sat and listened to someone use that word of anyone - stranger, friend, husband - without either hexing them or punching them or both; it took her straight back to the Carrow woman and the burning coils around her wrists do it now raise your wand don't you disobey me you filthy blood traitor
But Ginny had looked her in the eye then and said no and she clenched her fingers around the iron bannister now and got herself back under control.
When she emerged from the stairwell the vulture-boys were gone, and her husband was coming towards her across the car park, head tilted back to look up at the flats above him. She felt as if she hadn't seen him in five weeks instead of five hours; the quaking lonely eleven year old in her wanted to run across the tarmac and fling herself into his arms and never let go.
Well, the last one was all right, provided it was all figurative, but she wasn't about to do either of the other two, especially not in public.
She threaded her way between two parked cars and sauntered towards him. The movement caught his eye, as she'd known it would, and she remembered all over again what a gorgeous smile he had.
"Great minds think alike," he said.
"Well, this great mind can take me to lunch," she said. "Our boy McAllister's been reading Rita Skeeter. As well as other more unsavoury opinions."
Harry's look sharpened. "The lying kind of unsavoury?"
"No," said Ginny. "The Death Eater kind."
Bathoria Lynd was dead, just as her husband was. Harry's stomach was turning over as he fingered the faded records. Below the Ministry seal, traced into the official parchment, securly tucked away in the Records Room of his own fucking department, Richard Lynd's death was described as Mudblood, disposed of. Bathoria's suicide six months later was recorded as blood traitor, honourable death. Apart from their address in Winchester, there was no sign whatsoever of a connection to the McAllisters.
But Richard Lynd had had a sister, and she was living in Hogsmeade.
that he'd set him up for it, that he'd paid someone...
Harry pressed his fingertips to his elbow again. Blood of the enemy, forcibly taken...
"Pen," he said ten minutes later, crashing into the dungeon. "Which is the bottle with the human blood?"
She'd jumped, startled, when he flung open the door, and must then have seen something in his face. "There. Why?"
"Is there any way to tell whose blood it is?"
Harry rubbed a hand through his hair. "The Muggles have a way of comparing blood and finding out that way if two people are related," he said. "Can we do that?"
Penelope put her hands flat on the desk top and frowned speculatively down at her spread fingers. "Ye-ees, there might - there might be a potion we could adapt, the magical residue one, we'd be checking for commonality in the blood instead of letting the magic in the potion bring out the magic residue in the object... the potion would be a sort of binding agent... but Harry, you'd have to mingle the blood being compared, in a bowl for example, and pour the potion in - you know, the way you'd pour it over an object to check for a curse - I don't think using the spell would work, not for blood."
Harry leaned forwards. "Can you adapt it for me?"
"I. Yes. I think so. But I'll need at least two days. Harry, what is this about?"
Fingertips to elbow, that long white hand coming closer and closer to his face, red eyes gleaming and the laughter in the background.
"I think the owner of the shop we raided had a Muggle-born wizard named Richard Lynd killed," said Harry. "I think he drugged him with deadly nightshade and caught his blood in that bottle. And I think Lynd's pureblood wife slit his throat in revenge; she was the one the owner's wife was afraid of, that's why she left the country. Perhaps Bathoria Lynd threatened her. In fact, I'll wager she did."
He couldn't not think about it: the woman hysterical with grief, the satisfaction of watching her husband's killer die at her feet, the slow realisation: what now...
"But after the McAllisters fled, Bathoria killed herself."
It was three a.m. the next morning that Harry was woken by Smithson's chaffinch Patronus.
"Better come in, boss," was all she said.
Harry scrambled out of bed, swore when he couldn't find his trousers at first try, got lucky with the boots he grabbed - they were the slip on ones - and kissed his wife before he left. Ginny growled at him.
"When you come back, do it quietly," she said.
He arrived at the Ministry just seconds after Ron, as it turned out.
"... break into the Confiscations Room," Smithson was telling him. "Shrieked about it being rightfully his property, which wasn't exactly a recommendation around these parts. Seemed to be going for the stuff from the Winchester raid."
Harry clapped Ron on the shoulder; they went down to the holding cells together. Lank-haired and shaking with impotent fury, Seth McAllister strained desperately at his bonds when he saw Harry. "You! You did it! You killed him!" His fingers kept twitching inwards, flicking out, and his eyes burned.
"In my entire life, Mr McAllister, I have only ever killed one man," Harry said quietly. "And his name was not Cain."
McAllister spat at him.
"Tip-offs came from him, didn't they?" asked Ron. "Both ours and the Prophet's."
"Yes," said Smithson. "As far as we can tell, he and his brother tried to get into their family's old home and retrieve their father's merchandise, but they don't seem to have inherited his talent. They couldn't open it."
"So they got us to do it," said Harry.
"And then?" Ron wanted to know. "Did they think stealing from the Ministry would be easier than stealing from their Dad?"
She swallowed. "Honestly? I think... I think they would have been happy with any excuse to get close enough to you to do you some kind of harm. They, the Healers, they say - he won't ever... be well."
Harry could feel her eyes on him. He was watching the dawn crawl across the sky through his office window, listening but not hearing. Ron poked at his knee with his own.
"We could still arrest Rita for that article," he said.
Harry smiled sadly. "You think?"
Sigh. "No. They chose. Everybody chooses."
"I don't think they ever got a chance to see any other options."
"That might be a reason, but it's not an excuse."
The Prophet exploded with excitement the next morning - BUNGLED BREAK-IN AT MINISTRY - and in retrospect, that was probably what did for poor Adam. Younger than his brother, equally as unintelligent, impulsive and indoctrinated by a mother who had spent her life steeped in hatred and fear, he made the only move he thought he still could.
Harry didn't learn about it until it was all over another day later; by then he was sitting in Eleanor Lynd's kitchen and watching the potion Penelope had made for him turn the mingled blood blue.
"It means yes," he said quietly. "Ms Lynd, I am so very sorry. That is your brother's blood."
She pressed her hand over the bandage around her forearm and started to cry, very quietly. "I've never - been sure, not completely I always hoped - and that - that fool boy - he could have been - been anything - everything his father wasn't -"
"Who was Abel?" Ginny asked.
Seth McAllister watched her sullenly. "What?"
"In your family." She brandished the Muggle Bible in her left hand. Hermione had found it for her. "Who was Abel, the victim, the poor murdered innocent boy?"
He snarled, animal-like, twisting with an anger he had not earned and a hatred that was not his own. "No one! We're no victims. We're never victims."
Ginny's fingers felt like ice. "I think you're wrong," she said. "I think you're very wrong, Seth. You see, Bathoria Lynd - the woman who killed your father, the widow whose husband he sacrificed and whose blood he sold - was born your father's sister."
It's Bellatrix Lestrange's face she sees when she leaves him in his detention cell. Round a corner, up the staircase: turn left, Ron is waiting for her. Turn right: Sirius died here...
"Message from Harry," he said. "They've caught the younger McAllister - at Hogwarts."
Neville was waiting for him in the Entrance Hall.
"McAllister," he said dryly.
"Yeah," said Harry. He sighed. "Last week it was a lark."
Neville shifted his weight from foot to foot. "I've got to tell you something."
"Hmm? Do we know what McAllister wanted here?"
"Not what, I think," said Neville.
Harry could feel the blood draining out of his face.
"Merlin, don't look like that!" Neville exclaimed, catching hold of his elbow. "They're fine - they're all fine. No one's been hurt. I'm sorry for shocking you. But it is the only logical explanation for what he was doing up here, you know. They found a student down by the castle gates, Stunned - McAllister's not talking, but he obviously got the boy to let him in somehow, and he just as obviously wasn't interested in him. We caught him halfway up the path to the castle, near that copse right opposite Hagrid's."
Neville was right. It was the only logical explanation.
"I want to see them."
"In my office."
Harry barely had eyes for a one of the students they passed, or any of the familiar sights and sounds that he had lived among once for six years. He was interested in one thing - well, three - and nothing else. Fortunately, Neville knew it. He didn't even try to make conversation, simply hurrying Harry upstairs and pushing him through the office door. It shut firmly behind him.
They were there - they were all there, and perfectly unhurt. Jim was bruised and tired-looking, but Jim was always bruised; he was constantly running and jumping and climbing and getting into scrapes. Al looked amused and annoyed at once - not torn between the two, the way Hermione so often was, but both simultaneously. And Lily, his gorgeous daughter, was - yawning her head off.
Al saw him first, and his thin face broke into a wide grin.
"They said you were coming, but I didn't believe it!"
"Jim's in trouble," said Lily, running to hug him.
"Lily-bean and Hugo saved the day," said Jim, grinning.
Harry kissed his daughter's head and smiled at them. "Better start at the beginning," he said.
"Well, Lexie King..."
"Don't forget the bit where you forgot your homework..."
"Shut up, Al!"
They were safe and they were well; Ginny, Ron and Hermione were all on their way; McAllister was securely under arrest. Everything else could wait.