August 20th, 2002: Westminster, London
Harry began his research at the best library in London. A library he happened to know needed caffeine to function.
He purchased his offerings of espresso and raspberry scones at the little coffee shop in Trafalgar Square. Charming them to stay warm, he walked the five minutes to Great Scotland Yard. Checking that all was clear, Harry slid into the red telephone booth, careful not to spill hot coffee on himself.
Moving everything to his left hand, he dialed "62442."
The operator answered. He had actually met her once. It was at a Ministry gala he couldn't avoid, and she had found him hiding in the coat room. She'd given him her name, Rhonda, and a key to her hotel room, which he slid back into her pocket as she sashayed away.
"Welcome to the Ministry of Magic," Rhonda greeted in an even, practiced tone. "Please state your name and business."
"Dudley Dursley, here to see Hermione Granger at the Magical Creatures' Consulate."
"Thank you. Visitor, please take the badge and attach it to the front of your robes."
"Yes, thank you," Harry replied. The silver badge clattered from the coin slot. The words "Dudley Dursley, Creature," were inscribed on it. Shrugging, he tried a few times to hook the badge onto his sweater one-handed. Eventually, he opted to stick it to the paper bag full of scones.
The box jolted as it began its descent. His knees nearly buckled. Harry rarely came to the Ministry if he could help it, and hoped to never get used to the ride down.
He stepped out into the Ministry atrium. Checking in with security at the front desk, Harry smiled blandly at the man's blatant suspicion. The older wizard squinted at his face, glamoured to be plain and unmemorable. He then squinted at his badge, saw the title "Creature," and with a descriptive scowl, gave him back his wand and waved him to the lifts.
"Level 4," the guard instructed Harry. There was no "Have a nice day," to follow. The guard just crossed his arms and watched him until he called the lift and stepped inside. Harry waved back with his free hand. The wave morphed into a bird proudly flipped once the lobby rose out of sight.
"Arsehole," he muttered, readjusting his grip on the coffee.
A few minutes in the Ministry already had him drained. It was like the building was a Dementor, sucking up any bit of happiness. Figuring Hermione wouldn't mind, Harry popped the lid off the espresso and stole a sip.
Just as he put the cup to his mouth, the lift jerked to a stop. He swore, as hot liquid splashed onto his chin. Not wanting to risk dropping the whole cup, he shoved the lid back on and hopped out onto Level 4. His lip burned. He ran a tongue over it, convinced the Ministry was out to get him. It obviously wouldn't have been the first, second, or even third time.
"It's a bloody conspiracy," he shared with the echoing corridor.
He looked around then, surprised to see it was empty. Since the war, Hermione had a hell of a time convincing anyone to make use of the junior embassy. Beings persecuted by the government since well before its fascist regime simply refused to believe a human could mean them any good. Even the plaque that hung above him still read, "Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures."
I'll bring that up to Kingsley later, Harry mused. Hermione must be livid about that.
And Harry couldn't blame them for staying away. If he had been a creature, as his badge proclaimed, he would never step foot in this building. He was bloody human and wouldn't be there if not for his friend.
That being said, he knew that Hermione's schedule these days was bursting at the seams. According to Ron, the last couple of years were like third year all over again. She power-walked everywhere, always either writing a letter or reading one. She ran about day and night in a tornado of owls and Howlers. When touched, she practically vibrated with energy. Once, Harry swore she left a room so fast, she Splinched.
"She doesn't even sleep like a real person," Ron had bemoaned, worried and a mite impressed, "she just falls over on the couch, dead to the world. Uses the memos like a blanket.
"Harry, I came in the other night, and she was on the floor! 'Course I thought she'd really died this time, until I realized she was snoring. I screamed like a girl anyway and scared the shite out of both of us!"
"Excuse me, sir! Do you have an appointment?"
Harry walked up to the battered receptionist's desk, confused. This was new. Last time he'd came, there were only piles of books in the hallway, not the stone-faced brunette currently staring him down. But there she sat, in pleated, tan robes with a lavender, silk cravat tucked into the collar.
She had an American accent, and sat pin-straight with a phone to her ear. When did the Ministry start keeping phones? The voice on the other end didn't speak so much as buzz indecipherably.
He opened his mouth to speak and the woman glared. Her perfectly made-up face didn't change a bit, but Harry knew when he was being glared at. He sensed her biting displeasure
He swallowed and stepped back, shaking his head meekly. It suddenly felt like a rather bad idea to tell this woman that he was a walk-in. But he a walk-in he was.
She looked him up and down, then indicated a vacant chair with her eyes. They were a strange violet, brought out by the lavender silk, and jumped out from beneath her curled, chocolate bangs. She re-focused on him and Harry felt like the mouse reckoning the owl.
"If you don't have an appointment to see Miss Granger," she said as if cataloging a grave sin, "then you will have to wait until she is available. Please sit, Mr…"
"Dursley," Harry supplied, holding aloft his badged scones. "Dudley." As he spoke, he shuffled over to the empty chair, preparing to wait.
"Oh." Harry froze mid-squat. The space around receptionist lightened considerably. He dragged in a breath, not having realized the heaviness of the air until it was gone. It had felt like being buried alive.
"Yes, Dudley Dursley, that's me," he repeated, rambling. "I'm sorry, I should've made an appointment-"
"Yes, please keep that in mind for the future."
The receptionist then motioned to the door behind her with the phone's handset. On the door's window was printed, "Hermione Granger, Ministry Ambassador to Magical Residents, U.K."
"I have a standing instruction that should a Mister Dudley Dursley call on Miss Granger while she is away, that you be allowed to wait in Miss Granger's office for her return." The receptionist explained this like a warden might explain a governor's pardon. Harry nodded to show he understood.
"Please, while you wait, refrain from touching any books, objects, or documents, sentient or otherwise. If you require anything, such as food, water, blood, grave soil, or natural sunlight, please let me know and I will have it delivered to you."
"Thank you," he murmured, collecting himself and walking past. He was ignored in favor of the one-sided phone conversation.
While the woman listened silently at the receiver, he scanned the desk for a nameplate. All he found was a scrap of parchment with, "Do Not Eat: One (1) Dudley Dursley," penned in Hermione's rushed handwriting.
Harry hurried into Hermione's office and locked the door behind him.
He waited for nearly half an hour. The bored wizard slid down into one the armchairs across her wide, oak desk. Her office doubled as a library, with books stacked to the ceiling. He gave up trying to count the shelves, opting to twirl his wand in between his fingers, watching paper airplanes zoom in and out of the room.
Finally, the stout brick fireplace chimed and flashed bright green. He stood to greet his friend, hearing half a conversation tumble through the flames.
"Well, yes, I see your point, Mosag, truly, but-but, yes, alright, see eating people is the problem, you see, so I can hardly imagine it being the solution as well."
What the hell is this job, Harry thought, eyes wide. Why is everybody so hungry?
Hermione's voice became clearer, and with a cough of smoke and sparks, she came backing out of the fireplace, rump first. He stepped up to help her and yelped, leaping away as she walked through.
Nested in her familiar bush of brown curls was a baby Acromantula the size of a small dog. It peered at him with eight, round button eyes, and might've been less terrifying if not riding the back of his friend's head.
"Of course. I'll come back around next week to discuss our options," finished Hermione, spinning around with a dizzy gasp. Harry surged forward, grabbing for her head. "Oh my-Harry! I didn't know you were coming, I would've been here sooner!"
She lit up and dove into his arms. He grunted as her forehead hit his chin and, using one hand to pat her back, plunged the other into her hair. He pulled off the hairy hitchhiker, all of its many legs scrambling for purchase. Spinning them back toward the fire, he hurled the spiderling into the Floo before it went out.
Heaving a sigh, he wrapped the oblivious witch into the tightest hug he could manage.
"How does Ron do it?," he panted, propping his chin on her head. "Hullo, Hermione, you bleeding maniac."
"What?" She pulled away, searching for the problem. She just saw the banked fire and her memos, swooping about, hoping to be acknowledged. "Oh, yes, I should've asked Janice to clean up. I could do it myself, but we've been so busy lately, what with the peace negotiations in the Forbidden Forest, and then the giants' federation-"
"That's the scary secretary's name? Janice?"
Hermione paused, smiled, and pat his cheek dearly.
"Harry, I love you like the brother I never had, but Janice is a treasure and I won't stand for you bad-mouthing her in my presence."
Harry jumped at the very distinct 'clack' of a phone being slammed onto its cradle. It was the only noise he'd heard come from the hallway in the half-hour he'd been waiting. He couldn't stifle his curiosity. Exactly what kind of phone call was fifty percent wordless vigilance?
A chill of awareness ran through him. He felt her through the door, daring him to speak poorly. His childhood with Aunt Petunia, school days under McGonagall, and animosity with Snape ingrained in him a sense for when to cast someone from his mind, lest he open the way to punishment.
"Lovely woman, Janice," he agreed. "Very professional, very keen dresser. Kind eyes."
Hermione suppressed a giggle and nudged him in the ribs. "Thank you, that's quite enough. What can I help you with?"
"Erm, just a bit of research, really. There's something I want to know more about, but am not too sure how to go about it."
Harry walked back to his chair and took a seat. He pointed to the desk, where he'd placed the coffee and scones. She perked up, making grabby hands at the paper bag. He leaned forward to grab it, affectionate as he handed it to her.
"Alright, Harry Potter," hummed the witch, "you've won yourself ten minutes of my time."
"Eat first, I'm not in a big rush." Harry may have cared a great deal about his new project, but he could see that Hermione wasn't kidding. She really only had ten minutes to spare for herself, nevermind him.
Instead of receiving him at her official-seeming desk, Hermione took the chair next to him. She scooted closer to eat, so much so that he could pick the forgotten quills and leaves from her hair while she chewed. The junior ambassador's desk became a perch for a rainbow of paper airplanes. The memos twitched antsily. He gave them the stink eye.
He let his best friend finish her raspberry scone and handed her another one. She scarfed it down and waved a wand for the espresso. It floated into her butter-slick hands.
"This is wonderful, Harry, thank you," she gushed, washing down the pastries with the coffee. Between the sugar and the caffeine, she would tear through the next few hours. Harry sent a silent apology to Ron for the possibly literal crash she'd suffer later tonight.
"So, first thing's first: what is it you want to research? And have you tried the Black libraries? I know they're kind of spooky, but the private archives of an old family like the Blacks are a great start."
Harry felt a twinge of guilt for not thinking to check Grimmauld Place. Seeing the bags under Hermione's eyes, he figured he should've tried to research on his own first, before running to her. Unlike him, she didn't spend her days at home, avoiding the world. She had things that needed doing.
He decided to just ask for research tips and nothing more.
"Well, I, er. I'll try there next, although I don't know if it'll help. I want to look up my family tree."
"Oh, Harry, of course! Oh, now I feel terrible for brushing you off. This is obviously worth more than ten minutes!" Her face turned soft and sympathetic, which made him a little sick. He hated when she did that. He wiped a smear of raspberry from her cheek with his sleeve.
"Yeah, it's not that big of a deal. I just figured it was about time, and I'm not doing anything else, so. If you have any tips for research, like the Black library thing, that's all I need. I know you're busy."
"Never too busy for this! Harry, it's your family! This matters! I'll clear my afternoon-"
"No," he cringed, holding her wrists. She flew out of her chair, about to call to Janice. Harry had so many objections to that. "No, Hermione, really, please don't make a huge fuss. I only need some book recommendations, or...like, if there's a Hogwarts: A History for magical families or something, that'd be great."
"So, you're not planning to look into any Muggle family?," she asked, tilting her head. "I mean, besides the Dursleys?"
Harry shrugged, letting her wrists go. "I'm not Muggle, why would I? I mean, if there are more Muggle relatives than the Dursleys, I'd gladly take them. But...okay, sit back down. Here's the thing.
"Yesterday, Ginny and I were in the kitchen, chatting, when Ginny caught a nosebleed-"
"Ron gets those all the time! I had no idea until we started living together that it was so common. I suppose it's genetic, if Ginny gets them, too."
"Yes! That! Exactly!"
Now Harry stood up, gesturing wildly. "Ginny said it was a family thing, from her mum's side! That they're all tall and thin and get nosebleeds because there are so many of them and they have to, like, ration parts or something. I want that—well, I mean," he flagged, embarrassed by his own enthusiasm, "I want to know if I can have that."
"Yes, what? No, but kind of. Genetics, inherited family...stuff."
Well, now he felt like a kid asking for a hug. He wandered over to the desk and flicked the wing of an airplane. It flapped at him and took off.
"I want to see if I can fit in like that, with someone else. A lot of someones, even. That's all." He gave up fiddling with the memos. "There's a way to look into that, right?"
Hermione whirled past him. He turned, stunned, just in time to see her zip up a metal, spiral staircase behind him. It lead up a short way to a balcony of more leather-spined books.
Imagining she had a text in mind for him, it baffled Harry to see her forego the shelves for the wall behind them. She tapped on the wood paneling beside them. To his shock, the paneling slid open and let her in. Craning his neck to see, Harry glimpsed a scarred hand welcome her before the panel swung shut.
"Okay…," he said, wandering to the stairs himself. "The hell…?"
The door to the secret room cracked open again, this time revealing Hermione. The witch looked down at him with painful excitement. Her eyes were glossy from unshed tears as she waved him up.
He sighed and nearly told her to forget the whole thing. This was more hassle than it was worth if it made her cry.
"Honestly, Hermione, now it feels kinda-"
"Come on up, Harry, he can help you," Hermione said over him, then slipping away again.
"Who?," Harry asked the air.
He climbed the stairs and walked up to the secret panel. The door was left ajar for him to step through. Harry did so reluctantly, and entered an extension of the office.
More books, these bound in fabric, reached up to the ceiling. They fluttered from shelf to shelf like flocking birds, some diving to bother scrolls rolling across the floor. Instead of a large oak desk, there were two smaller desks of lighter wood. Both were painted with stains from exploded ink bottles and plastered with memos, spelled to stick to the tops and sides like post-its. The memos fluttered like pinned butterflies but seemed otherwise not to mind.
Above both desks hung a copper plaque, reading "Creature Heritage Office" in large, block letters. Under that seemed to be the same line in different languages, including one that just resembled claw marks. As he got closer, the sign dinged and announced, "Welcome to the Creature Heritage Office," in Hermione's brightest chirrup. He could hear the smile in her recorded voice and immediately felt more at ease.
Run ragged as she was, the witch obviously loved her job.
Harry swung around, recognizing the genial voice, "Remus!"
Remus Lupin stood smiling by Hermione, next to the open door. He had a book under his arm and both hands in the pockets of his nut-brown robes. Except for a noticeable lack of patches and frays, and hair that was now more grey than brown, he looked just as he had teaching at Hogwarts.
Actually, it seemed as though life hadn't treated the battered werewolf this well since then. His cheeks were flush and and full, his complexion healthy.
The last Harry saw him, several months ago now, he lived with Teddy and his grandmother. He did little apart from mind his son and offer Harry watered down welcomes when he came to visit. The widower mostly stayed in his rooms, refusing food, mourning his late wife. The Tonks household was such a grim place without Ted or Tonks to bring out its good nature. Harry assumed years ago that he'd never see Remus recover.
And yet, here the man was, a little beaten but working and strong with purpose. Harry looked from his old professor to his best friend, and back, suddenly very proud of them both. Hermione accused him of having a "saving people thing," but she wasn't a stitch different.
Harry came forward and accepted Remus' one-armed embrace. They were now a comparable height. Harry was possibly even a bit taller. As they parted, Remus seemed abashed but beaming. He let the book he held fly off to frame Harry's face in his hands.
It was a move he'd expect from Molly Weasley, but Harry supposed having a four year old would change some things. Remus' fear of breaking people simply didn't apply to his child. Teddy Lupin was made of rubber and a cuddle bug at that. One couldn't care for him without losing some of his hesitation to touch.
"Goodness, look how you've grown! You look so much like James now, Harry, Sirius would've, ugh. Merlin, look at me..." the werewolf huffed, blinking something away.
Harry choked up a little himself. Remus felt solid against him, nothing like the ghost of a man haunting Teddy's play room. His eyes were bright and alert. He had gained weight about his middle and the hands holding Harry's face were warm and dry. It all loosened a knot in his chest, one that hurt when he thought about broken things. The relief was a bit overwhelming.
"It's good to see you," he grinned self-consciously. Remus pat his cheek, eyes wet, and let him go, suggesting they sit. With a sniffle, the younger wizard took a seat by the nearest desk. The copper nameplate said it belonged to Remus. Harry stroked it, emotional all over again.
God, I'm turning into Hermione, he thought. He then figured that was far from a bad thing to be.
"Yes, you too, Harry. Of course, you too," replied Remus, summoning a tea service for everyone. Harry declined, far from hungry. Hermione scrubbed at her eyes with a handkerchief and shoved a crustless cheese sandwich in his hand anyway.
"So, Hermione says I might be of some service?" This was after a few minutes of hydrating and catching up.
"Harry," the aforementioned witch explained, "Remus works a lot with creature-human families. It's not quite what you're asking for, unless the Potters have some creature heritage you wish to look into? But it's not terribly far off. He specializes in family trees."
"You want to look into your own heritage?," Remus asked, taken aback. "Hermione didn't say, I'm sorry if I'm behind. Of course, I'll do what I can to help."
Harry shook his head, taking a bite of the cheese sandwich. He then realized he was ravenous, and ended up eating the whole thing. Hermione handed him another with a self-satisfied smirk.
"It's fine. It's just this whim that got ahold of me out of nowhere," Harry swallowed his second sandwich and was handed a cup of breakfast blend. "Well—er, cheers—well, maybe not out of nowhere. I've always wanted to know more about my parents. I grew up without them so I suppose I always will.
"I know now that most of what I was told by the Dursleys were lies, and I've gotten a bit more clued in since then. But, things feel like they've settled and are coming together, you know? It feels like the time to really get into it. I want to know more about who I am."
Hermione grabbed his leg in a show of support. He smiled indulgently when he saw more tears streaming down her face. "Goodness, girl, control yourself!"
"I can't h-help it!," she hiccupped, wiping her face. "I'm just s-s-so glad things are okay a-again! Ignore me!"
Remus chuckled and rubbed her shoulder. "You're a good person, Hermione."
She sobbed her thanks and excused herself from the room. Harry watched her go with amused empathy. The witch probably needed a good cry.
Remus addressed Harry, smiling fondly, "She does a lot for other people. I keep trying to convince her to take time off, but there's always someone needing something. Between Ministry officials and the influx of new cases, if not for Janice, she'd never take a breath."
"Is that why you started working here?"
The werewolf affirmed, "Yes, the reworking of this department is still in progress, but it's too huge a project for one person. And of course, support for the program is limited. After all the abuses in the last war, Kingsley fired the entire department and opened a bid for the funding. Hermione stepped in and suggested a consulate for the magical residents who've been victimized. To access their legal rights."
"The Wizengamot couldn't have liked that."
"They were extremely opposed. I believe the alternative was to funnel the extra money into the DMLE to hunt down creatures sympathetic to Voldemort's cause."
Harry blanched at Remus' knowing look. "The werewolves…"
Remus hmmed. "And the giants, but yes. That's actually how I got involved. I'd come to the Ministry to ask after Teddy's legal situation, given that he was born with a werewolf parent. Kingsley pointed me to Level 4," the older man grimaced, "after convincing me that no, he wasn't sending me to be arrested. That Magical Control had been gutted, and it was just one witch now, one Hermione Granger.
"Hells, she was buried under inquiries. I think she had a cry next to the arrest records as there was a bit of mascara on my file. I offered to help her organize, of course, and mentioned Teddy. She then goes 'you would know, wouldn't you!' and dashes off to write a letter. Next thing I know, I work for the Ministry."
Harry looked around again. He took in the books, the plaque, the sounds of Hermione happy-crying downstairs. The young wizard was glad to start his family search here, among friends.
"So, you can help me," he said. This wasn't a question. He felt the rightness in his bones. "Where do we start?"
"It depends a bit on how prepared you are. The vast majority of family research is documentation and, unfortunately, you might be at a disadvantage."
Harry balked. "How come? The Potters are old, aren't they? There should be plenty of documents."
"Yes, yes, let me rephrase: you, personally, may be at a disadvantage, Harry. Have you ever seen your birth certificate?"
He doubted Aunt Petunia took care of it, if it was in her care. He wouldn't be surprised if she'd put it through a shredder. "No, not really."
"See, James and Lily were already in hiding when you were born. It was an at-home birth that neither Sirius nor myself were present to witness. Many children born during the First War, and even the Second are born without Ministry registered certificates," Remus gave him a raised eyebrow, "I'm sure you can imagine why."
"The Ministry couldn't be trusted. So, what about everyone in my year? It can't be that none of them have birth certificates. That'd be ridiculous."
"I'm sure most do. Muggleborn and halfblood children would have the benefit of Muggle birth certificates, which are recognized by the Ministry of Magic as its beholden to the Muggle British government. We aren't completely sovereign in that way."
"And pureblood babies would be fine under Voldemort's Ministry," Harry concluded, "so there's no need to hide the births. So what, I'm just the odd one out?"
"I believe Augusta Longbottom applied for Neville's birth certificate after the war, since his parents were in hiding as well."
Good old Neville, always looking out for the team.
"It's another tragedy of war," Lupin continues. "Everyone is in fear for their lives, so there isn't time to write things down. And what is recorded is often destroyed, in an effort to either to help or hurt. I see cases where people lose their childhood homes because it was once too dangerous to prove it was rightfully theirs. You're not alone in this, Harry. It's woefully common."
Harry understood what Remus was saying, but it did nothing to soothe the ache of disappointment.
"The good news being that you're not a total loss. Far from it, in fact."
"How do you mean?"
Remus smiled. "Harry, the Potter vaults. There must exist enough proof of your birth to satisfy the bank, or else you wouldn't have access to them."
Harry grew hopeful, and then lost his steam. "Dumbledore probably vouched for me. He had my vault key for years. He probably convinced Gringotts to give me a pass."
"No, Harry." Remus said this with such deadpan certainty, it wrestled a small smile from the dejected wizard. "No wizard, not even one as influential as Albus Dumbledore, can convince the goblins to overlook proof of inheritance.
"It's what wizarding property culture is based on. New structures are rarely built or new land acquired, so everything owned must be either bought or inherited. If a person was simply given an ancient family's estate, without a proven right, on the word of a politician, pureblood society would collapse."
"Huh, sounds like the bank is stronger than the Ministry."
Remus winked conspiratorially. "Don't tell the Wizengamot. We'll be in the next Goblin War by dawn."
Harry finally felt as if he'd gotten somewhere. His project had taken a blow, but he was back on track. "So my next stop is Gringotts."
"Yes," Remus said with a clap. It reminded Harry of tutoring under him as a teenager. For the first time in a while, those memories didn't smart.
"Remus," said Harry.
"Would you mind coming with me? To Gringotts? I feel like I could use your advice, since I'm clearly not sure what I'm doing."
The man's face warmed. The scars crisscrossing it curved to accommodate his smile.