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Vanishing Act

Chapter Text

July 1994

The Burrow sat in a dark clearing with a single light emanating from the kitchen window.  Charlie Weasley leaned over the sink, rolled up his sleeve, and unwrapped the bandage covering his arm.  Blood and plasma stuck to the fabric and leaked from his blistered flesh.  He winced and scraped off layers of dead skin.  The Romanian Longhorn had gotten him good, but the antibiotic potion he had taken every six hours was working.  There were no signs of infection.

Then why do I feel sick?

It was the house.  Charlie had missed his family, but he shouldn't have come back to The Burrow.  His thoughts took a dark turn whenever he was here, slipping into a forlorn state of grief and fueling an overwhelming desire to run away, like he had when he left for Romania at nineteen.

Charlie walked away from the sink and reached into the high cabinet where Molly kept her potions.  He moved the vials around, found what he was looking for,  unscrewed the lid, and stuck his fingers into the salve.  He winced as he rubbed it on his arm, but it didn't sting as much as he had expected it to.  

Fucking great.  Nerve damage.

He should sleep.  It would help him heal.  But the thought of sleeping in his old room unnerved him.  He should have gotten rid of the box he had left in the corner with his old broom, or had one of the twins move it someplace where he wouldn't have to look at it.  He couldn’t face the contents of the box: letters, photographs, cassette tapes, and six worn muggle books that had never belonged to him.

Charlie took out his wand and used the bandaging charm to re-wrap his arm. 

The air in front of the sink tore apart.  Blood sprayed over the cabinets, counter tops, and floor.  Three figures collapsed on the tile - covered in blood.  A woman.  A man.  And –

Merlin fucking Christ.  "AARON?!"

The woman shoved herself away from Aaron on her hands and knees, screaming at him.  She hit the cabinets behind her hard and clawed at her face.  Her tangled hair obscured her features.

The man had a vise grip on Aaron's arm; his long nails had broken the skin.  Blood covered his face, chest, and arms.

Aaron choked.  Blood ran out of the corners of his mouth.

Where the fuck is all of it coming from?

Charlie helped Aaron roll onto his stomach and got his answer.  Aaron's right arm, most of his shoulder, and what looked like portions of his rib cage, were gone; a mangled distortion of flesh, fragmented bone, and blood was all that remained.

Aaron struggled on the floor, trying to pull air into his lungs.  His right lung was torn open, filling with blood, and collapsing.

Charlie pulled the man off Aaron's arm and pushed him away from them.  Aaron's blood ran down Charlie's arms, chest, and legs.  Charlie pushed his hands into Aaron's body, trying to apply pressure.  It was useless.  There was nothing left to hold together.

The rest of the kitchen lights came on.  Arthur and Molly saw the carnage on the floor. 

Molly raised her wand and screamed, "Ferula!"

Aaron choked, "Charlie."

"Don't try to talk," Charlie said.  His voice was broken and frantic.  "Just hold the fuck still, alright?"

The fragments of summoned gauze from Molly's bandaging spell were soaked with blood faster than they could be applied.

Charlie screamed, cradling Aaron against his body, "He needs a fucking healer!"

"If we move him, it could kill him," Molly said.  "I'll bring one back."

Molly ran for the fireplace.

Ginny, Ron, and Fred came down the stairs.  Molly raised her wand and cast a ward, sealing off the first floor.

Fred pushed against the boundary of the ward and yelled, "Do you mind telling us what the hell is happening?"

Molly grabbed a handful of floo powder.  "Take your siblings upstairs and do not, for the love of Merlin's fucking mother, let them come downstairs."

"We heard-"

"Take them upstairs now, Fred!"

Molly stepped into the fireplace.

Arthur leaned over Aaron and Charlie.

Aaron saw him and struggled, trying to turn his body.  "Arthur, you have to tell The Ministry."  He choked on his own blood.  "They're going to attack the Council of Magic in Paris."

"Aaron, stop.  Hold the fuck still-"

"Who is?" Arthur asked.

"The fucking Death Eaters.  You have to tell the Aurors now."

"Aaron, stop moving-"

Aaron's lips and tongue were covered with blood.  "Paris.  The council building is rigged with explosives; not fucking spells, actual fucking muggle explosives.  As soon as they start their morning session, they will all die like the  assembly in Prague.  You have to tell them."

Arthur dissipated.

Aaron shook.  Charlie held him.  Aaron formed a weak smile.  "Charlie, I tried to-"

"Don't talk, just look at me, alright?"

Molly and Madam Pomfrey ran into the kitchen, covered in soot.  Before Pomfrey could get on the floor, and get to Aaron, the air compressed and expanded.  Albus Dumbledore appeared. 

Aaron leaned into Charlie.  "Don't fucking trust Dumbledore."

Dumbledore stepped over Aaron's splayed legs and looked at Charlie.  "Did you check him?"

"What?"

"Did you check him for the dark mark?  Did you check his fucking arm?"  Dumbledore leaned down and pulled on Aaron's left arm.  Aaron choked, trying to talk, but there was too much blood in his throat.  Dumbledore pulled back his sleeve.

"Where is it?  Did you have them put it on your right arm?  Is that why your fucking arm is gone?"

Pomfrey stepped in with her hands raised.  She siphoned blood out of Aaron's mouth and throat.  Aaron gasped and pulled air into his lungs.  Pomfrey started to knit his flesh back together.  Charlie helped her lean Aaron back on the floor, where Molly stacked towels under his head.

"Check his neck," Dumbledore said.  "Sometimes they put it on their necks."

Dumbledore reached for Aaron again.  Charlie aimed his wand at Dumbledore.  "Stay the fuck away from him."

"He's a Death Eater," Dumbledore said.  "He's one of them.  He has always been one of them."

"You knew he was alive," Charlie said.

"You don't know how dangerous he is."

Realization spread through Charlie.  "He was with you the day he went missing.”

"He left to join the-"

Aaron's blood dripped off Charlie's raised wand.  "Get.  The fuck.  Away from him."

"Check his neck."

"Get the fuck out of our house," Charlie said.

Dumbledore reached into his robes and took out a vial.  He handed it to Charlie.

"What is this?"

"Phoenix tears," Dumbledore said, "he will die without them."

Charlie kept his wand raised.  "Get out."

Dumbledore vanished.

Charlie knelt down next to Aaron and held the vial to his lips.  Aaron swallowed.  He reached for Charlie, but his arm fell and his eyes rolled to the back of his head.

Molly had to pull Charlie away from Aaron.

 


 

Molly used cleaning spells, but the tile floor's grout and the undersides of the kitchen cabinets held onto Aaron's blood for hours.  The smell of it permeated The Burrow; heavy, wet iron and copper.  She told everyone to stay out of the kitchen.  It didn't matter.  No one went near it.  They could all still hear the screaming.

Charlie held a hand over his mouth and looked out the living room window at the dark pond.

The Blood-Replenishing Potion and Phoenix tears are working.  You have to calm down.

Molly stood next to him.  "All those things you said.  I never knew."

"I never would have said any of it until now," Charlie said.  "It took me too bloody long to realize what happened, but I saw it in his fucking eyes.  He knew Aaron was alive.  He always did."

Charlie turned away from the window and stood over the makeshift bed in the living room.  It had been three hours.  They had debated taking Aaron to St. Mungo's with Alice and Frank Longbottom, but Pomfrey didn't want to arrive with a corpse.  It had taken her long enough just to stabilize him so he could breathe on his own.

"You think Dumbledore is the reason Aaron disappeared," Molly said.

"I know he is."

Molly sat down on the edge of the sofa bed and touched Aaron's forehead.  He still felt cold from the blood loss.  His shoulders were broader, and he was taller than he had been the last time Molly had seen him, but he was too thin.  Wherever Aaron had been, he hadn't been eating enough.

Charlie looked at the sofa bed.  "I can't believe Dad got himself one of these."

"You should have seen him.  You know how your father gets.  We were driving up to Bristol in that old muggle car of his a few years ago and there it was; in a ditch.  It was filthy.  The upholstery was in tatters.  I told him to leave it, but he pulled over and we got it in the car."

"How did you manage it?"

"Shrinking charm," Molly said.  "Honestly, Charlie, did you not learn anything at Hogwarts?"

"I learned the important things.  You can't Reducio a dragon."

The dying embers in the fireplace ignited and green flames poured over the hearth.  Madam Pomfrey emerged, carrying a case of vials filled with red liquid.

"I've made more Blood-Replenishing Potion.  How is he?"

"No change from when you left," Molly said.

Pomfrey un-corked one of the vials.  With care, Molly took Aaron's jaw, opened his lips, and tilted his head back.  Pomfrey poured the potion down his throat.  Aaron's neck convulsed while Pomfrey covered his mouth with her palm.  She removed her hand a moment later and checked to make sure he had swallowed all of it, then she turned her attention to the right side of Aaron's body.  She peeled back the bandages, careful to go slow.

"He's still losing blood," Pomfrey said, "though not nearly as much.  The Phoenix tears are doing their job.  His right lung has stitched itself closed and his ribs are starting to mend, thanks to the Skele-Gro."

"What about his arm?" Charlie asked.

"Skele-Gro only re-grows bones," Pomfrey said, without looking up.  "It won't do him any good to have arm bones without any muscles, nerves, blood vessels, or connective tissue."

"So, what, he's lost it?"

"He knew the risks associated with apparition," Pomfrey said.  "He's lucky the arm is all he lost."

"Aaron isn't an amateur at apparition," Charlie said.  "He's bloody brilliant with it."

Aaron wouldn't have splinched off his own fucking arm unless he wanted to.  It wasn't an accident.

"Brilliant or not," Pomfrey said, "botching apparition is common when a person's mental state is . . . unsound."

"What is that supposed to mean?"

"When Aaron can be moved, I will take him to St. Mungo's for an evaluation, assuming the Aurors don't take him elsewhere."

"Aaron isn't crazy," Charlie said.  "He knew who I was.  He knew he was at The Burrow.  He wasn't screaming and drooling in a corner like fucking Alice Longbottom."

Pomfrey looked at Charlie.  "What I am seeing - Aaron's emaciated condition and the marks on his body – he was tortured.  There's no telling for how long or what kind of condition his mind is in.  He will require rehabilitation."

The air by the window compressed and expanded with a loud crack.  Alastor Moody appeared next to Charlie.

Charlie said, "I take it The Ministry knows about Paris."

"Your father informed the necessary contacts, including myself," Moody said.  "The Department of Magical Law Enforcement has notified the Council of Magic and dispatched multiple Aurors."

"Do they know where the information came from?"

Moody's blue eye swiveled.  "They don't know Aaron is alive yet, if that's what you're asking."

"You can question him all you like," Pomfrey said, "but you'll have to do it here.  He can't be moved."

Moody seemed to test the air.

"He wasn't followed," Charlie said.

"No," Moody said, "he wasn't."

Moody took out his wand and stood over Aaron.  "Rennervate."

Aaron's eyes opened and he sat up, coughing up clots of red too dark to be the potion.  He gasped and fought to catch his breath.  Pomfrey helped him lean forward.

"It's alright," she said, "get it out."

Aaron struggled and coughed more blood clots into his palm.  Bubbled strings of dark blood hung between his mouth and his hand.  Pomfrey grabbed the mess with a towel.

The room shifted.  Aaron saw cobblestone streets and the Charles Bridge layering over the living room.  He closed his eyes and forced the movement to stop.  He couldn't tell if he was shaking because he was cold and had lost a lot of blood, or because he was shifting through space too fast to perceive.  It had happened before. 

Aaron looked at Charlie.  "Frank and Alice?"

"They're at St. Mungo's," Charlie said.  "They're safe."

"I should have jumped there," Aaron said.  "There wasn't time to think."

"It's alright," Molly said.  "You brought them back."

"What was left of them," Moody said.

A wave of nausea made Aaron sweat.  His ears rang and the edges of his vision went dark.

The park.  Milk bread with honey.  Staying awake with the dragon.

Pomfrey watched his eyes.  "Are you in pain?  You shouldn't be feeling much with the strong cocktail of pain management potions I have you on."

"No," Aaron said.  It wasn't the pain.

The park.  Milk bread with honey.  Staying awake with the dragon.

Yesterday, I was at Nighford.

He couldn't remember the other two keys.  His thoughts were difficult to catch and his awareness of time was nonexistent. 

Aaron didn't want them to know how fragmented his mind was, but he had to know.  "How long was I gone?"

"Three years," Charlie said.

"They told us you were dead," Molly said.

"I never fucking believed Dumbledore.  I tried to find you," Charlie said, seeing what Pomfrey had.  Aaron's face was gaunt and unshaven; he was exhausted.  Charlie had never seen him with hair this short.  It looked like someone had taken a knife to it.  There were dark welts on his face from repeated bruising.  There was a scar on Aaron's neck where the skin was worn and red from long-term abrasion. 

He was tortured.

Moody leaned over Aaron.  "I need to hear you say it."

Molly said, "You can't believe-"

"Say it, Aaron."

"I'm not a Death Eater," Aaron said.  He coughed and wiped blood off his mouth with the towel.  He felt more trickle down his side, spilling out of whatever was left of his right shoulder.

"A team of Aurors is in Paris now, working off the details you gave Arthur," Moody said.  "Do you have anything else?"

So much.  "Yes."

"Tell me about London and Prague," Moody said.

The park.  Milk bread with honey.  Staying awake with the dragon.

"You were seen in Prague seven months ago," Moody said.  "And you were in London last summer."

Yesterday, I was at Nighford.

"Both dates coincide with attacks made by Death Eaters," Moody continued.  "They were able to access areas of the cities that normally would have been inaccessible by apparition; areas protected by wards.  Were you aware of the attacks?"

"Yes, I was," Aaron said.

"Of course you were," Moody said, "you were fucking involved with the attacks."

Moody pulled fragmented pieces of ebony out of his coat.  A worn heartstring protruded from the splinters in his hand.  "You'd think as long as it took you to get this that you would have taken it when you left Hogwarts."

Aaron said, "Moody, I didn’t-"

Moody looked at Pomfrey.  "When can he be moved?"

Chapter Text

September 1984

Minerva McGonagall had the only key to the tower.  As she approached the door, she whispered under her breath.  With a flick of her wand, the wards and enchantments slipped enough to let her pass.  She turned the key, pushed the door open, and ascended the stone staircase, holding onto the wall as she went.  Torch light cast shadows across her body.  The heavy door closed behind her.

A moment later, Minerva walked into the room at the top of the staircase and took a quill and a folded piece of parchment out of her robe.  With fifteen minutes left on August 31st, she sat down in front of a book covered with deteriorated dragon hide.  The pages were yellow and brittle.  Her name was somewhere inside, but she didn't know where.  She avoided touching the delicate pages more than she had to.

The last few names in the book were the same ones she had seen during her last trip to the tower.  Minerva folded her parchment and tucked it back into her robe.

We will only have thirteen First Years.

Minerva stood and turned her back on the book.  It was a mistake.  She heard movement and turned in time to see the tattered quill lift into the air.  She sat back down.  She had never seen the quill write a name; few had.  The quill dipped into the ink pot and shot back into the air.  It hovered over the book for a moment before touching the open page.

A late name.

Minerva waited until the quill finished writing before she took out her own quill and copied the name, birth date, and location of the fourteenth child onto her parchment.

Aaron Stone.  The 11th of November, 1972.  Glasgow, United Kingdom.

A late name, indeed.  He turned eleven nearly a year ago.

Minerva didn't recognize the name.  He had to be another muggle-born.  She waited to see if the quill would add anyone else, but nothing happened.  When it was officially September 1st, Minerva picked up her parchment and walked out of the room.

 


 

Arthur Weasley flipped through the sheets of parchment on the desk between him and Dumbledore, holding a glass of pumpkin juice.  It was after midnight.  He had been in Dumbledore's office for seven hours.  He had sent an owl to Molly, letting her know he would be home late, but he didn't like coming home after the boys and Ginny were asleep.

Dumbledore sat back in his chair.  "It won't pass."

"I still can't believe it was written," Arthur said.  "The fact that the Wizengamot is taking it this seriously and will consider enacting it infuriates me."

"There are many who support the establishment of a commission," Dumbledore said, "but this isn't their time."

"This act won't go away," Arthur said.  "If it doesn't pass now, those who support the legislation will keep it tucked in their back pockets to use in the future."

There was a knock on the door.  Professor McGonagall came in without waiting for a response.  She walked fast and handed the list to Dumbledore.

"We have a late name," she said.  There was no hiding the excitement in her voice.

Dumbledore looked over the top of his glasses, amused.  "Did you see the quill in action?"

"I did," Minerva said.  "I thought we would only have thirteen names.  I was about to leave the tower when the quill shot up out of the ink pot."

"You have witnessed something remarkable," Dumbledore said.

"Sorry, did you say thirteen?" Arthur asked.

"Fourteen now," Minerva corrected.

"That seems a bit low.  Why so few?"

"I don't know," Minerva said.  "Every so often, there is a slow year."

Dumbledore read through the names.  "Interesting timing, the distribution of this class.  It is the first time, to my memory, that we have had more muggle-born than wizard-born First Years."

"What happens with the muggle-born students?  You couldn't send an owl.  They would have no idea what to do."

"We insist on recruiting them in person," Minerva said.  "Even then, it isn't easy to explain our world to the parents.  Often times, we have to use a bit of charm work to help them understand.  However, the final decision to send, or to not send, their child to Hogwarts must be made without magical intervention."

"They can't all just agree to send their children off to be taught by strangers who sound like mental cases," Arthur said.

"Oh, some don't," Minerva said.  "There are always the parents who refuse to acknowledge their child's abilities and laugh in our faces."

"What happens then?"

Dumbledore said, "After a few years of living with a child with magical abilities, and having no idea what to do with them, the parents usually come around."

Minerva said, "Or, they don't, and the child runs away."

"We have had many runaways over the years," Dumbledore confessed.  He handed the list back to Minerva.  "Can any of the faculty arrive in Glasgow by morning?"

Minerva shook her head.  "With all of the muggle-born First Years, I've already deployed Professor Snape, Madam Hooch, Professor Sprout, and Hagrid.  I would like to collect Mister Stone, as he is here in Scotland; however, I am heading to Manchester in the morning to escort Miss Thomas."

Arthur said, "Does it have to be a faculty member?  I could go get him."

Chapter Text

September 1984

The bell above the convenience store door rang as Arthur walked inside.  He smiled at the attendant and walked towards the coffee pots.  Despite the early hour, he felt elated every time he was out in the muggle world.  He had spent the last two hours on the road blasting the EurythmicsDuran Duran, and Toyah on the radio; muggle music he had never convinced Molly to enjoy.  He had driven with the windows rolled down, singing along and drumming his fingers on the steering wheel.

Arthur filled a cup and added sugar.  He walked up to the magazines and selected a few, covered with a variety of strange faces, vehicles, and foods.  Molly would never try the recipes, but he always caught her reading the gossip articles when she thought he wasn't looking.

Arthur grabbed a package of biscuits to go with the coffee and set everything on the counter.

The attendant scanned the magazines.

"If you don't mind," Arthur said, "what is that in your shirt?"

"In my shirt?"

"Yes, in your pocket.  With the pens."

The attendant looked down and pulled his shirt away from his chest.

"I hope you don't mind, it is just that I have never seen one before."

"My pocket protector?"

"A pocket protector!  No doubt to protect your shirt from ink should your pens leak!"

"Are you taking the piss with me?"

Arthur tried to remember what this meant.  "Excuse me?"

"Have you lost the plot?"

"I didn't mean to offend, I just have never seen a pocket protector is all."

The attendant glared and rang up the rest of Arthur's things.

Arthur would hate himself later if he didn't at least ask.  "Do you know where I could get one?  Could I, perhaps, buy yours?"

"Oh, for the love of-"

"Again, I don't mean to offend.  I genuinely want to buy it off of you."

The attendant pulled the pocket protector off his shirt and set it on the counter.  "You know what?  If it gets you out of here, take it.  Take the bloody thing.  Take the pens, too!"

Arthur tried to hide his excitement as the attendant handed him blue and red pens.  

Wonderful!

Arthur paid for his things and slipped the man an extra thirty pounds, having no idea what pocket protectors cost. 

He remembered the telephone number written down on the parchment in his pocket.  The sun was coming up.  It would be alright to call now.  "Is there a payphone I can use?"

"If you drive down a ways to the grocer, there's one out front."

"Much appreciated."

Arthur picked up his bag and left the store.  He whistled and opened the biscuits when he got to the car.

The attendant watched him.

"Nutter," he muttered, as the red-haired man pulled out of the station.

Chapter Text

September 1984

The house Arthur drove past was small and the narrow street was crowded.  Arthur had to park two blocks away.  Unexpected roadway construction after his stop at the petrol station had made the drive from Hogwarts to Glasgow take five hours instead of three and a half, and his legs were stiff.  He stretched and yawned as he got out of the car.  He had slept for a few hours at Hogwarts before getting on the road, but it hadn't been enough and the coffee was long gone.

Arthur checked the address again and walked up to the front door.  He rang the bell and took a step back.  A man opened the door.

"Good morning," Arthur said.  "Are you Mr. Lewis?"

"I am, yes."

"I'm Arthur Weasley.  We spoke on the phone."

"Come in."

Arthur followed the man inside.

"Can I get you some tea?"

"That would be lovely," Arthur said.

"Alright then, have a seat."

Arthur sat down on the couch in the living room.  He made a mental list of everything around him.  There were books stacked on a table by the staircase and terrycloth rugs spread over the hardwood floors.  There was some type of battery-powered device and thin plastic bricks with circular holes on the coffee table.  A television set, he knew that one at least, was inside a cabinet in the corner of the room.  If only he had brought his camera.

Mr. Lewis came back into the room and handed Arthur a mug.  "I still don't understand why you're here, or how the school you represent knew about Aaron.  He hasn't applied to any scholarship programs that I am aware of, especially not at a private school."

"Perhaps a teacher recommended him?"

"Not likely.  Aaron hasn't had the luxury of getting to know many of his teachers.  They've moved him around so often.  We took him on so he could stay in one place for the school year."

"Took him on?  Are you not his family?  I realize you don't share a surname, but I thought perhaps you were a relative."

"No, my wife and I foster children," Mr. Lewis said.  "Aaron is a ward of the court."

"Oh," Arthur said.  "I see."  He didn't.

"Don't get me wrong, the school you represent sounds excellent.  I think Aaron would really benefit from going someplace where he could get more attention.  But my wife and I can't make those types of decisions.  It would be up to the court."

This complicates things.

"Would it be alright if I met the boy?  I would very much like to interview him in person."

"Can I see some sort of identification or proof that you are from the school?  I always hesitate to introduce any of the children in my care to strangers, especially when there has been a history of mental illness in the family."

Arthur took two pieces of parchment out of his pocket.  The first had been enchanted to appear as a driver's license and the second was a certification from Dumbledore.

Mr. Lewis studied the documents.  "I've never heard of Hogwarts."

"Not many people have.  The school is highly selective."

"And you think Aaron qualifies?"

"We do, yes."

"Do you mind if I write down your information?"

"Not at all," Arthur said.  He handed Mr. Lewis one of his newly acquired blue pens and a sheet of parchment.  "Tell me about Aaron."

"Aaron has only been with us for two months," Mr. Lewis said.  "He is a good boy, but he isn't exceptional.  If anything, his academics have suffered because of all the times he has been moved around."

Arthur heard footsteps at the top of the stairs.  He leaned closer to Mr. Lewis.

"Has he really got no one?"

"I'm afraid not."

"His parents, what, are they dead?"

"We don't know.  His mother was a mental case.  Probably an addict.  She surrendered the boy when he was seven months old, before she was admitted to an institution.  She might still be there, for all I know.  She gave up her parental rights."

"What about his father?"

"His father could be anyone."

"What happened last night?" Arthur asked.

"I don't understand."

"Just before midnight, did something strange happen here?  With Aaron?"

"No," Mr. Lewis said, "not at all."

"Has anything strange ever happened around Aaron?"

"I'm afraid I don't know what you mean by strange."

"Objects moving on their own?  Things disappearing?  Anything exploding or shrinking?  Is he talking to animals?"

"No, no, nothing like that," Mr. Lewis said.  "He isn't a delinquent.  And he isn't a nutter like his mum.  Mr. Weasley, are you sure you've got the right child?"

"I would like to meet him in order to make sure," Arthur said.

Mr. Lewis stood and walked toward the stairs.  "Wait one moment."

Mr. Lewis came back downstairs with a dark haired boy Charlie's age.

"Hello, Aaron.  I'm Arthur Weasley.  Did Mr. Lewis tell you about the school I came from?"

Aaron's hair fell into his eyes.  He pushed it back and looked at Arthur with suspicion.

"It's alright," Arthur said.  "I just want to talk to you."

Aaron didn't move.

"Mr. Lewis, could I get more tea?"

"Right," Mr. Lewis said.  He took Arthur's mug and left the room.

Arthur looked at Aaron.  "Can I show you something?"

Arthur took out his wand.  He held it up between him and the boy. 

"Lumos."

A light pulsed from the end of his wand.  He handed it to Aaron.  Aaron took the wand and stared at the light.  He turned it over in his hands, examining it. 

Arthur touched his wand.  The light faded out.

Mr. Lewis was still in the kitchen.  "Do you want to see more?"

Aaron nodded.

Arthur pointed the wand at the books.  "Accio The Count of Monte Cristo."

The heavy book lifted off the top of the stack and floated across the room.  It hovered between Arthur and Aaron.

"Go ahead and take it," Arthur said.

Aaron took the book out of the air.  "How did you do that?"

"Magic," Arthur said.

"There's no such thing," Aaron said.

"Who told you that?"

"There just isn't."

"Aaron," Arthur said.  "If you come to Hogwarts, we can teach you how to use magic."

"Magic isn't real."

"Has anything strange ever happened to you before?  Did you ever notice things falling off shelves or doors slamming around you?  When you got angry, did it feel like you could make the room shake?"

Aaron didn't know what to say.  Nothing like that had ever happened to him.

"Aaron, if I can get permission for you to come with me, would you?  Would you let me take you to a school where you can learn how to use magic?"

Mr. Lewis came back into the room and handed Arthur his mug.

Arthur took it.  "Who would I need to speak with to get permission to take Aaron to-"

Something hit the window.  Arthur and Mr. Lewis turned.

"It's an owl," Aaron said.

"So it is," Arthur said.  He opened the front door and the owl flew from the window sill to his arm.  Arthur took a stack of papers out of its beak, gave the owl a crumbled biscuit from his pocket, and tossed it back into the air.

"What the hell was that?" Mr. Lewis asked.

Arthur looked through the documents and smiled.  He handed the papers to Mr. Lewis.

"What is it?" Aaron asked.

"Your guardianship papers from the court.  They've been signed by your social worker.  She's transferred your guardianship to someone named Albus Dumbledore."

"That's the headmaster at Hogwarts," Arthur said.  "He must have met with her before I arrived."

"This isn't the usual procedure.  I need to call her," Mr. Lewis said.  He went back into the kitchen, picked up the telephone, and dialed.  It rang twice before she answered.

"Hello, Rachel?  This is Peter Lewis."

"Good morning," Rachel Adams said.  "I was just about to call you."

"Did you release Aaron Stone from my care?  There's a man here who says he wants to take him to a school in the Highlands.  He says the headmaster is Aaron's guardian now."

"That's correct, yes.  Professor Dumbledore was waiting at my office when I arrived this morning.  I reviewed his credentials.  Aaron will be well taken care of."

"It's just such short notice," Peter said.

"There was a last minute opening, as I understand it.  Aaron would benefit a lot from this school.  And he could get a ride from the man at your house."  He heard her look through papers.  "A Mr. Weasley?"

"Yes, that's him."

"I am sorry about the short notice.  I will try to avoid moving a child out of your care so suddenly in the future."

"I would like that," Peter said, "seeing as you didn't this time."

"Again, I apologize.  But this is in Aaron's best interest.  The school is paying for everything."

"Right, then," said Peter.  "I will tell Aaron."

Mr. Lewis hung up the telephone and went back into the living room.

"Aaron, do you want to go to Hogwarts?"

"Yes."

"Very well," Mr. Lewis said.  "It looks like everything is in order.  Mr. Weasley has permission to take you with him.  I'll help you pack, if you want."

"No, I can do it."

Aaron grabbed his books off the table and ran up the stairs.

Peter Lewis turned to Arthur.  "You'll take care of him?"

"Yes," Arthur said, "you have my word."

Chapter Text

July 1994

Moody fastened an iron shackle around Aaron's wrist and attached the short chain to a ring anchored into a concrete wall.  Aaron hadn't stood this long since before he jumped to the The Burrow two days ago.  He realized how weak he was and leaned against the wall.  He didn't know where Moody had taken him, but it didn't matter.  He knew an interrogation room when he saw one.  More rings, like the one that secured him, were bolted to the floor.  Some were silver, others were iron.  The concrete beneath his feet was stained with dark, uneven circles.  A drain was in the middle of the room.

Moody took a vial out of his coat and poured three drops down Aaron's throat.  Aaron didn't fight him.

"Say it again."

"I'm not a Death Eater."

"Tell me what you did in London."

"I moved Death Eaters into and out of the city during the attack," Aaron said.  "I was inside the city when the explosives went off, because I jumped the explosives into London."

"Was it the same in Prague?"

"Yes," Aaron said, "and it would have been the same in Paris."

Moody grabbed Aaron's right shoulder and dug his fingers into his still healing skin.  Aaron grimaced and dropped to his knees.  "Tell me right now why I shouldn't take you to Azkaban."

"I didn't have a choice," Aaron winced.  "I wasn't in control."

"Don't give me that Imperius Curse bullshit," Moody said.  "You were trained to defend against the Imperius Curse."

"They are using the Imperius Curse in ways that you and Juliet never could have taught me to-"

"Did you want that to be your excuse?  Like so many other Death Eaters?"

"It's not an excuse," Aaron said.  Moody's fingers were still in his shoulder.  The pain made him nauseous.

"What made you defect?"

"I didn't fucking defect."

"Did I not do enough for you?"

Moody pushed him away.  Aaron made himself stand up.

"When did they break you, Aaron?"

"They didn't.”

"Stop fighting the truth potion."

"I'm not.  I'm not a fucking Death Eater."

"You tried to kill me in London, Aaron."

Aaron backed against the wall.  "I don't remember that."

"You had a chain around my neck."

"Moody, I don't remember most of London," Aaron said.

The park.  Staying awake with the dragon.  Yesterday, I was at The Burrow.

The hit came fast.  Moody almost broke his nose. 

"I saw your eyes.  You're weren't under the fucking Imperius Curse."

Aaron spit blood on the floor and grabbed his bleeding face.

Moody took out his wand and held it to Aaron's neck. 

"Moody, don't," Aaron said.  "Take my memories."

"When did they break you?"

"They never-"

"Crucio!"

Aaron's body went ridgid; seized with burning pain in his nerves.  He felt for the wall, but he was already on the floor.  His arm pulled hard in its socket, straining against the short chain and the shackle secured above his head.

"When did they break you?!"

Aaron couldn't respond.

Moody stopped the curse.  Aaron shook.  He caught his breath and tried to stand, but didn't get farther than his knees.

"Moody," Aaron said.  His mind couldn't take anymore.  "Just take my fucking memories."

Moody raised his wand.  Aaron flinched, but Moody went for his ear.  He extracted long coils of white silk from Aaron's head.  Aaron surrendered everything from the day he jumped from Dumbledore's office to when he appeared on the Weasleys’ kitchen floor.   Moody went to a corner on the far side of the room.  A pensieve materialized from the wall.  Moody dropped the tangled strands of Aaron's memories into the bowl, stirred them until they unraveled, and submerged his head.

Chapter Text

September 1984

Aaron didn't want to tell Mr. Weasley, but riding in cars made him sick.  It usually took an hour or so for him to feel nauseous, but today he felt like he was going to throw up before they left Glasgow.  He rolled down his window.  It was cloudy, but the air was warm and the breeze helped.  He tried not to look as sick as he felt when Mr. Weasley asked him what kind of music he liked.

The music and the motion of the car made Aaron's eyes heavy.

When Aaron woke up, they were in a grocery store parking lot.  Mr. Weasley was using the payphone.  With the car windows open, Aaron heard everything.

"I know," Arthur said.  "Tell Charlie I will meet him at Hogwarts.  I will be there when he gets off the train."

Now that they weren't moving, Aaron felt better.  He unscrewed the cap on a bottle of water and took a few sips, seeing how his stomach felt.

"Send everything you can with Charlie.  This kid doesn't have anything; no robes, no books, no parchment, nothing.  I'm sure the school will give him some things, but I don't want him showing up with nothing, not on his first day."

Did he say robes?

"He's muggle-born, Molly.  I didn't want to throw everything at him at once."

Mr. Weasley had left the key in the ignition and the radio was on.  Aaron turned the dial, but none of the other stations came in clearly.  It looked like they were in the middle of nowhere.  There wasn't much around apart from the grocery store and a bus station.

"I love you, too.  I will see you tonight."

Mr. Weasley hung up and got back in the car.

"What's muggle-born?"

"It means your parents weren't magical.  Muggle is wizard slang for someone who can't use magic."

Arthur started the car and pulled out of the parking lot.

"What if I can't use magic?"

"You can," Arthur said.

"I've never used magic before."

"You probably have and just didn't realize it," Arthur said.  "Did anything happen last night?  Something strange?"

“No.” 

The strangest thing that had happened in the past twenty-four hours was Mr. Weasley and the tame owl.  

Arthur said, "Don't worry about it.  When you get to Hogwarts, everything will make sense."

"But if I'm a muggle-"

"You're not a muggle.  You're muggle-born.  Sometimes children who can use magic are born into non-magical families, like you.  It doesn't mean you can't use magic.  If anything, it means you should get the best magical-based education you can, so you know what you are capable of and trained to use magic properly.  The professors at Hogwarts will teach you," Arthur said.  "It is critical that you learn how to control your abilities.  And how to defend yourself."

Aaron felt sick again.  He hated cars.

"Defend myself?"

Mr. Weasley turned the radio down.  "Not all wizards are good people, Aaron.  There are a lot of magical people who use magic to hurt people.  Now that you are in our world, you have to learn how to protect yourself from them, because they will try to hurt you."

Aaron looked pale.

"Do you understand?"

Aaron nodded.

"Are you alright?"

Aaron leaned against the passenger-side door.  "Sometimes riding in cars makes me sick."

"Oh!  I wish I had known."

Arthur pulled out his wand and pointed it at Aaron.  "Tarda Nauseam."

"I'm afraid it won't get rid of your car sickness completely, but it will dampen the nausea enough to make it bearable," Arthur said.  He passed Aaron another bottle of water.  "Here, drink this, too."

Aaron took the bottle and sipped.  The sick feeling in his stomach started to fade.  His headache drifted to the back of his neck.

Clouds blocked the top of the mountains from sight.  The radio station faded in and out as they drove around corners and gained elevation.  Aaron tried to get it back, but everything on the dial was static.  He turned the radio off.

Arthur turned down a gravel road.  After a few miles, they came to what looked like a road block with a sign that said the bridge was out ahead.

"I'm going to drive through.  Don't worry," Arthur said.  He didn't slow down.

Aaron braced himself for some kind of impact, but nothing happened.  They drove through the sign and the wooden boards like a mirage.

"Bit of concealment spell work," Arthur said.

Trees grew close to the road.  The sky was blocked out and the road was dark.  Mr. Weasley turned on the headlights.  Roots broke through the dirt and gravel, making for a bumpy ride.

Light filtered onto the road ahead where the trees receded.  They drove around a long curve and came out on the far side of a mountain.  The sun broke through the clouds.  In the valley beneath them, next to a lake, stood a massive medieval castle.  The slate on the turrets shimmered in the sunlight.  Lights glowed from the windows.  A train steamed across the far side of the valley.

Arthur watched Aaron.  "Can you see it?"

"Is it real?"

"What does it look like?"

"It looks like something from The Lord of the Rings," Aaron said.

"Do you see a train?"

"The red one?"

Arthur laughed.  "I told you - you aren't a muggle!  Hogwarts is bewitched and protected by spells that prevent muggles from being able to see it for what it really is.  If you see the castle, and you see the train, you aren't a muggle."

Chapter Text

September 1984

The platform at the train station in Hogsmeade was crowded.  Arthur walked through groups of students with Aaron on his heels, carrying his duffel bag.  He saw Bill first.

"Where's your brother?"

"On the train," Bill said.  "I told him to get off, but he was looking under the seats."

Arthur said, "Tell me he didn't bring the lizard."

"He did," Bill said, "and it got loose.  He wouldn't listen when I told him to leave it.  There's no way they'll let him keep it anyway."

Arthur was tired.  He walked down the platform and got on the train.  Aaron followed him.

Arthur walked down the aisles, checking the compartments as he went.  The cleaning brooms had already started to come through. 

Charlie was in the center compartment in the third to last car, standing on the seat and trying to reach the shelf above his head.

"What are you doing, Charlie?  Your classmates are all on the platform."

"I can't leave him," Charlie said.  He jumped to see on top of the shelf.  It was empty.

"They won't let you keep a lizard at Hogwarts, Charlie."

"He's a moke, not a lizard, Dad."

"They still won't let you keep him."

"I can't leave him on the train," Charlie said.  "He needs food."

Arthur was too tired to argue and, besides, it was Charlie's first day.  Best not to say goodbye on a bad note.  He started checking shelves.

Aaron was on the floor, looking under the seats.  "What are we looking for?"

"A moke," Charlie said.  "It looks like a lizard, only it can shrink, so it may have wedged itself in somewhere."

After they searched three compartments, Arthur checked the trim pieces above the windows.  Hagrid walked by outside.  He had to get Charlie and Aaron off the train.  Arthur couldn't see above the windows, so he slid his hands along the trim.  After a minute, something pinched beneath his index finger and he heard a hiss.  The moke expanded and fell into Arthur's hands.

"Got him!"

He handed the moke to Charlie.

"You sure I can't keep him?  He won't bother anyone."

"No," Arthur said, "give him to Hagrid.  Do not keep the lizard, Charlie.  Now, let's get you boys to the boats."

Charlie tucked the moke into his robe.

Aaron and Charlie followed Arthur off the train.  They walked to the stacks of suitcases and bags.  Arthur spotted the trunk Molly had sent with Charlie and pulled it out.  Molly had it well organized and Bill's old robes were on the top.  Arthur grabbed one.

"Here you go, Aaron.  Put this on over your clothes.  You can leave your bag with the others."

"But my name's not on it."

"It doesn't matter," Arthur said, "they will get it all sorted.  It will be waiting for you on your bed, I promise."

Aaron set his bag on top of Charlie's trunk.  He pulled the robe over his head.  It was too long and dragged on the ground.  Arthur helped him roll up the sleeves.

"You'll grow into it," Arthur said, trying to hide his smile.

He knelt down so he was at eye level with his son.  "I mean it.  Give the lizard, moke, whatever it is, to Hagrid before you get inside."

"I will," Charlie said.

"You're going to have a great year.  If you need anything, send an owl and your mother and I will do what we can.  Or, talk to Bill."

"I will."

"Aaron is muggle-born, so explain things to him when he has questions."

Arthur hugged Charlie.  "I'll see you at Christmas."

Arthur looked at Aaron.  "If you need anything, you can talk to Bill, too, or send an owl to me and my wife.  Charlie can show you how."

Aaron followed Charlie down the platform, leaving Mr. Weasley behind.

"Do you want to hold him?"

"The lizard?"

"Moke, yeah," Charlie said, "if you want to.  I'll have to give him up in a few minutes.  Hagrid is the man with the lantern."

Aaron put out his hands and Charlie handed him the moke.  "It's not a lizard?  It feels like a lizard."

Charlie said, "No, it's a moke.  They are a little different.  I found him in the meadow by our house at the beginning of the summer.  It was scared at first.  I think someone tried to kill it.  They are killed all the time because the hides are used to make bags."

"I can't believe anyone could make a bag out of him," Aaron said.  There didn't seem to be enough moke in his hands to make anything.

"It's an awful practice," Charlie said.

Aaron passed the moke back to Charlie.

Hagrid looked back at them.  "Catch up!  I'm not waiting on ya all night."

Charlie and Aaron ran to meet up with the rest of the First Years.  They stood at the back of the group and got on the last boat.

They were halfway across the lake when Charlie moved past Aaron and leaned over the edge of the boat with the moke in his hands.

"Hagrid!"

"What you got there, Charlie?"

Charlie passed him the moke, which shrank mid-transfer.  Hagrid swore and brought his lantern down to the hull of his boat.  Aaron saw a flash of green before Hagrid scooped the moke up.  He whispered to the creature and ran a finger along its back.  The moke grew back to its full size.

"Where'd ya find him?"

"The Burrow," Charlie said.  "Mum and Dad let me keep him all summer, but Dad said I had to give him to you."

"Your Dad is a smart man.  This little guy wouldn't be happy hiding in your pocket all year."

"Can you set him free someplace?  I don't want anyone to turn him into a bag," Charlie said.

Hagrid laughed.  "Of course I can.”

Hagrid tucked the moke into his shirt pocket and looked at Aaron.  "This a friend of yours, Charlie?

"Yes," Charlie said.  "This is Aaron.  He's muggle-born."

Hagrid smiled at Aaron.  "Some of the greatest wizards and witches of all time have been muggle-born.  Don't let anyone tell you differently.  Whoever does don't know nothing."

Chapter Text

September 1984

The First Years stared at the candles floating over their heads while the older students watched them.  An old man with a beard walked up to the podium and adjusted his glasses.

"For those of you who don't know me, I'm Professor Albus Dumbledore.  I am the headmaster here at Hogwarts.  This year, things will be a little different.  More than half of our First Years come from non-magical families."

Dumbledore looked down at the First Years.  "In the end, you'll find it doesn't matter where you all came from.  You are now a part of the magical community.  If you're feeling out of place, that is normal.  I promise that you soon won't."

"If you all look around you, you'll see four tables," Dumbledore continued.  "There is a table for each one of the houses: Ravenclaw, Hufflepuff, Gryffindor, and Slytherin.  You will now be sorted into the house that will be your family for as long as you remain at Hogwarts."

A girl with black hair asked Charlie, "How do they sort us?"

"A hat," Charlie said.

"Like, they draw our names?"

Charlie laughed.  "No, you'll see."

Professor McGonagall walked out and placed the Sorting Hat on a stool in front of Dumbledore.

"Let's begin with Mister Rhodus Carrow," Dumbledore said.

Rhodus walked up to the stool.  He was taller than the rest of the First Years and looked older than eleven.  He sat down and Professor McGonagall placed the hat on his head.

The girl with black hair asked, "What's happening?  Is the hat . . . moving?"

"It talks, too," Charlie said.

The hat opened its . . . mouth?  "Slytherin!"

Aaron and the black-haired girl jumped.

A cheer went up from one of the tables.  Rhodus got off the stool and walked to the Slytherin table, where he was greeted with high-fives.

The next First Year, a girl whose robe was also too big on her, was placed in Hufflepuff.

The next girl was placed in Slytherin, followed by a boy who was placed in Gryffindor. 

"Eni Iro," Dumbledore said.

The girl with black hair walked forward.  Instead of waiting for Professor McGonagall, Eni picked up the hat and put it on before she sat down.  The hat seemed to find this amusing and laughed.

Ten minutes passed.  The hat was silent.  Eni looked uneasy.

McGonagall was excited.  "We have a hat stall!"

The hat didn't like that.  It tilted toward Minerva.  "Sometimes, it take a few more minutes.  You, of all witches, should know that."

Aaron leaned into Charlie.  "What's a hat stall?"

"Dad told me it's rare," Charlie said.  "It's when the hat can't figure out where to put you.  Each house is known for certain traits, and some students don't fit the molds."

Another five minutes passed.  Eni fidgeted.

The hat finally declared, "Ravenclaw!"

Eni leaped off the stool and walked fast to her table.

The next boy was also placed in Ravenclaw, followed by a girl who was sorted into Gryffindor, and another boy who was placed in Slytherin. 

"Aaron Stone," Dumbledore said.

Aaron walked forward.  Dumbledore stared down at him.  The hall was silent.

The hat started talking as soon as Professor McGonagall placed it on his head.

"Well," the hat said, "aren't you a surprise?  Every year I meet more and more fascinating students.  You're going to be a surprise to yourself."

Whatever that meant.

"You don't seem to know who you are."

Aaron wished the hat would get on with it.

"Oh, is that what you want?  You want me to rush you?  Are you in such a hurry?"

Was it listening to him?

"I certainly am.  What's the matter?  Don't want to talk to me directly?"

"You can read my mind?"

"Well, of course I can.  How else am I supposed to know where to put you?  Your unsorted hair isn't a trait.  It does bollocks for my conclusion."

Aaron tried to remember the names of the houses so when the hat decided he would know which table to walk towards.

"Oh, they'll cheer.  They always cheer.  Do you really not know the houses?"

Aaron shook his head.

"You don't."

The hat sighed.

"I don't get treated well enough for all this work.  Very well.  Gryffindor favors bravery and some say honor, but they can be rather reckless.  Hufflepuffs are dedicated and loyal, but they tend to drift around in the middle of the pack.  Slytherins are ambitious and cunning, but they are the first to look out for themselves.  Ravenclaw houses the anoraks, though they prefer to be called clever and creative."

"Are you going to stall?"

"Oh no, you were easy," the hat said.  "You can't hide that recklessness.  You certainly won't try to in the future.  Gryffindor!"

McGonagall pulled the hat off Aaron's head.  Charlie high-fived him and turned him toward the Gryffindor table.  Bill moved and made room for him.  Students he didn't know slapped him on the back and ruffled his hair.

"Maddison Thomas," Dumbledore said.

The tall black girl was placed in Slytherin. 

Dumbledore looked down to see who was left.  "Nymphadora Tonks."

A brown-haired girl walked forward too fast and almost tripped into the stool.

"Hufflepuff!"

Donaghan Tremlett, a boy with long, messy hair, was also placed in Hufflepuff.

The hat barely touched Charlie's head before it yelled, "Gryffindor!"

Bill hollered and made room for his brother.

The last student, Peter Weston, was placed in Ravenclaw.

Chapter Text

October 1984

Aaron sat on the ground next to a lifeless broomstick.  His classmates were in the air above him, chasing each other in a game of tag supervised by Madam Hooch.  The instructor had enchanted the brooms so they couldn't fly past certain boundaries, but Aaron's had never gotten off the ground.  After more than a month of Aaron doing everything but sticking it in a wood chipper, Madam Hooch had taken him by the shoulder and told him not everyone was meant for flight.

It wasn't just flying.  Aaron hadn't been able to do magic in any of his classes.

Madam Hooch blew her whistle and the students stopped chasing each other.  She lined them up in the air and sent Peter and Rhodus down to the ground.  

Peter landed, dropped his broom, and walked fast away from Rhodus. 

"That's right, keep walking," Rhodus yelled.  "Go sit on the sidelines with the other mudblood."

Peter ran up the hill.

Aaron stood up.  "Peter, are you alright?"

"No," Peter said, out of breath, "I want to go home.  I hate it here.  I hate Rhodus."

"He's an arsehole."

"I hate him, Aaron."

Rhodus came up the hill with his wand out.  He pointed it at Peter.  Aaron stepped between them.

"Put it away," Aaron said.

Rhodus laughed and stuck his wand in Aaron's face.  He was a lot taller than he had looked at the sorting ceremony.

"What's wrong, mudblood?  Scared of magic?" Rhodus asked.  "You're not even a mudblood.  You're a muggle who got lost."

Aaron didn't know what mudblood meant, but the last thing he needed was for someone to call him a muggle.  He already felt like one and rumors wouldn't help him stay at Hogwarts.

Aaron grabbed the wand and tore it out of Rhodus' hand.  He threw it on the ground.

"I don't need magic to kick your arse," Aaron said.  Neither did Rhodus.  He swung at Aaron, who took a step back.

Charlie and Eni landed.  Charlie ran up the hill.

"Rhodus!" Charlie yelled.  He pulled out his wand.  "If you keep picking fights, I'm going to cover your face with warts!"

He meant it.  Bill had taught him the spell over the summer.

Rhodus laughed, "You're all pathetic."

None of them had seen Madam Hooch land.  She grabbed Rhodus.  "What's pathetic is starting fights in the middle of my class!  Get your broom, leave it in my shed, and report to Professor Snape.  Honestly, you know better.  No flying until after Christmas."

Rhodus picked up his wand as Hooch pushed him up the hill.

Aaron asked Charlie, "What the hell is a mudblood?"

"Did he call you that?"

Peter said, "He called us both that."

Aaron asked again, "What is it?"

"A wizard born to non-magical parents," Charlie said.  "It means dirty blood."

Chapter Text

November 1984

He got out of bed at eight o'clock every morning, whether he was awake or not.  He walked down the hallway and watched himself turn on the cold water.  He stood under the spray in the dark, unable to wince or reach for the light switch.  Hot water and light cost money that was better spent not keeping him comfortable.  It didn't matter that he was comfortable, only that he was alive and out of sight.

His hands scrubbed his skin and pulled too hard at his hair.  Soap ran into his eyes and he couldn't blink or wipe it away.  He turned off the water and reached for the towel.  He dressed, pulling on clothes he hadn't selected.  None of it mattered, not the cold water or the darkness or the clothes that were too tight, because this was alright and he was NO happy.  This was all NO fine and he NO was FUCKING NO happy.

He saw himself in the mirror and couldn't DO YOU SEE ME TOO FUCKING LOOK AT ME look away.  He lathered and spread the shaving cream on his face, even though he liked himself better with some hair on his chin.  He raised the blade MOVE IT JUST FUCKING MOVE IT and cut the hair off his MOVE IT TO THE NECK CUT THE NECK cheek.

This was all fine.  And he was happy.

He tried to imagine blood running down his throat.  No, he was FUCKING NO happy.

He was in the kitchen making coffee.  He hadn't noticed.  He had put on a record and sliced MY THROAT OPEN bread, toasted it, and spread BLOOD strawberry jam.  He set it out on a plate.  His body stood in the corner, facing a wall.  Sometimes, he stood in the corner for hours.  He had memorized the lines PRISON BARS of the wallpaper.  An hour passed.  The FUCKING PUPPET MASTER DROPPED THE STRINGS toast was cold.  The coffee was cold.  With a sudden motion that startled him, he dumped out the coffee and made more toast.  He took TAKE the knife AND FUCKING END IT and spread more jam.  He watched himself rinse the knife clean, dry it with a towel, and put it away.  The puppet master didn't make mistakes.  His marionette never tripped or fell or drowned or slit his throat.

Because this was all fine.  And he NO NO NO NO was I'M FUCKING NOT happy.

He heard footsteps.  His body turned and faced the corner again.  The puppet master didn't like looking him in the eyes.  He heard him eat his toast NO and drink his coffee and then he was alone.  He stood in the corner, away from the windows, where he couldn't hurt himself NO or FUCKING NO anyone else.

Chapter Text

December 1984

Aaron couldn't sleep.  He laid in the dark and listened to his classmates' steady breathing and the rain outside the windows. 

McGonagall had taken him out of Transfiguration, and Professor Flitwick told him he should take a break from Charms.  Without magic, he couldn't keep up, and he failed all of his practical application assignments.  He tried to stay ahead with the reading and reports, but he couldn't take exams that were entirely based on him being able to perform spells.  He had stopped showing up for flying lessons in November.  No one noticed.

"It's alright, dear," McGonagall had told him.  "You're just off to a slow start.  Happens more often than you'd think.  I will put you right back in Transfiguration as soon as you get a feel for the spell work."

By 'get a feel for it', McGonagall meant show any sign whatsoever that he was capable of using magic.

"Isn't there something else I can take?"

"You're doing excellent in Herbology, so I can duel enroll you in the Second Year class," McGonagall said.  Of course he was doing well in Herbology.  Plants didn't exactly require a lot of charm and spell work.  "I can also place you in Second Year History of Magic.  That way, when you are ready, we can add Charms and Transfiguration back to your schedule."

MUGGLE MUGGLE MUGGLE MUGGLE MUGGLE 

If I don't do something with magic soon, they are going to kick me out.  I HAVE to use magic somehow.

Aaron sat up and pulled the blankets over his head.  He leaned over the side of his bed and dug through his books and papers.  He felt for his wand in the dark.  Well, it wasn't his, not really.  It was a training wand McGonagall had given him the first morning in Transfiguration.  Mahogany with a unicorn hair core.  It made for consistent magic, she had told him.  She was right.  It had consistently done nothing.

In the bed next to his, Charlie rolled on his back and snored.  Aaron wished his Walkman worked, but it had been useless since he arrived.  Eni hadn't been able to get hers to work either.  She said it had something to do with all of the wards and spells around Hogwarts.  Magic and electronics were not well matched.  It was why the wizarding world relied so heavily on medieval technology and why sending an owl was the best way to communicate.  Charlie said the telephone his father had installed at their house was always shorting out.

Aaron put the headphones on anyway.  He held the wand tight. 

"Lumos," he whispered.

Nothing happened.

"Lumos."

He sat in the dark, breathing warm air.

"Lumos."

He shook the wand.

"LUMOS."

Aaron pulled the blankets off and got out of bed.  He grabbed Charlie's spell book from Charms and went to the common room.

The fireplace was dark and the room was cold.  He wished he had put on his sweatshirt.

Aaron reached up on the mantle.  There had to be a way to start the fire without using magic, but there weren't any matches.  There weren't any switches or knobs on the fireplace either.  He gave up and took out the training wand.  Maybe the dark and the cold would force him to do something.

"LUMOS!"

MUGGLE MUGGLE MUGGLE MUGGLE MUGGLE

He opened the spell book and looked for anything familiar, reading by the low light coming from the windows.

"Alright," Aaron said.  He aimed the wand at a throw pillow.  "Wingardium Leviosa.”

The pillow didn’t move.

"WINGARDIUM LEVIOSA.”

When nothing happened, Aaron threw the training wand in the fireplace.  At least he made something fly.

From behind him, Charlie asked, "What are you doing, mate?"

Aaron didn't do a good job of hiding his frustration.  "Trying not to get kicked out."

"They won't kick you out," Charlie said.

"Rhodus is wrong about a lot of things, Charlie, but I am a muggle who got lost."

Charlie looked at Aaron's scuffed trainers and his shirt with the name of some muggle band he had never heard of.  He should have paid more attention when his dad talked about work.  Aaron didn't know much about magic, but Charlie didn't know anything about the muggle world.

"Do you want to go back?"

"No," Aaron said.  "I want to stay here."

Charlie asked, "When you try to use magic, what do you feel?"

"Feel?  Nothing.  Am I supposed to be feeling something?  It seems like all of you just pull some invisible power out of the air and I am clutching at handfuls of nothing."

"Let's try something," Charlie said, "hold up your hand."

Aaron did.

Charlie took out his wand.  "Sentire Idem."

A fog formed at the end of Charlie's wand. He raised his palm and pressed the fog into Aaron's hand.  It hovered between them.

The mist felt cold and Aaron tasted citrus on his tongue.

"What is it?"

"It's used to share sensations and ideas," Charlie said, "as long as the other person is in contact with the cloud."

"Is that why I taste orange juice?"

Charlie laughed.  "It's supposed to be lemonade."

Aaron raised an eyebrow.  "This is weird."

"Maybe that's your problem, mate," Charlie said.  "You have to embrace it."

"I don't think it's embracing me, either."

"Here," Charlie said.  "Lumos."

The mist brightened, almost glowed, and Aaron felt a current.  He felt wind, sun, and long, tall grass against his body.

"That's what it feels like when I use magic," Charlie said.  "It feels different for everyone, but this way, you know it's real and not just some invisible power."

Aaron watched the cloud dissipate between their palms.

Chapter Text

February 1985

Dumbledore heard the shouts as soon as he arrived at The Ministry of Magic, appariating into a room filled with chaos.  Wizards and witches carried signs and shot sparks out of their wands.  Dumbledore walked forward.  He waved his hand to clear the words of protest and support for the Muggle-Born Registration Commission Act that drifted in the air around him.

RETURN TO BLOOD PURITY 

THIS TIME THE WITCHES WILL DO THE HUNTING

STOP THE HATE 

THE DEATH EATERS SUPPORTED BLOOD PURITY, TOO

A witch carrying a VXMORT WAS HALF MUGGLE sign lunged at a wizard who shot peace symbol sparks at her face.  Two Ministry security agents pulled them apart and took them away while the crowd cheered and threw trashed copies of The Daily Prophet at their backs.

The first hearing started in ten minutes.

Dumbledore headed for the dungeon.  He walked through the corridors and lost the crowds.  

He entered the room where Millicent Bagnold, the Minister for Magic, stood before the rest of the Wizengamot.  Dumbledore took his assigned seat.

"We will now begin the first hearing for the Muggle-Born Registration Commission Act.  If made law, the act would call for the creation of a commission to register and monitor muggle-born witches and wizards.  The act also calls for the commission to be allowed to capture and detain muggle-born witches and wizards at their discretion, should circumstances ever call for it," Millicent said.  "First, we will hear from the author of the proposed act, Mister Marcus Carrow."

Millicent stepped down and Marcus walked up to the podium.  "Thank you, Minister.  Members of the Wizengamot, you've seen the protests in our halls and streets.  For centuries, magic was passed through generations of pure blood witches and wizards, down to the last of the sacred twenty-eight families, including my own.  When the blood lines were pure, we were strong and able to ward off outside influences.  However, over the last several decades, our lines have weakened.  We have lost the strength critical to keeping our way of life intact.  This truth was revealed in all of its horror during the Wizarding War and Lord Voldemort's rise to power.  If we want to prevent another Voldemort, we need to stand strong against the rise of muggle-borns in our world."

Millicent said, "You understand, Mister Carrow, that over half of the witches and wizards you see before you are half-bloods.  Others are married to muggles."

"Yes, I do," Carrow said, "but none of them, to my knowledge, are muggle-born.  I am not calling for a return to complete separation of ourselves from muggles, but I do believe we should register and monitor all muggle-born witches and wizards.  We don't know who these people are.  Many of them enter our world knowing nothing about our history or customs.  This makes them easy targets for recruitment to the likes of the Death Eaters.  There must be a process for controlling and regulating muggle-borns, and the commission would be the answer."

"Your act will tear our world apart from the inside, Mister Carrow," Dumbledore said.  "At one time or another, back to the age of Merlin, all of our ancestors were born as the first witch or wizard in their line.  If you go back far enough, we are all muggle-born."

"I disagree, Dumbledore.  Many of us are the results of hundreds, in some cases thousands, of years of select magical heritage.  We must remain the caretakers of these gifts.  We can't afford to go into the future unaware of if the witch or wizard sitting next to us knows anything about our history, or even how to properly use magic."

"I don't think I have to remind you that schools, such as Hogwarts, exist for the very purpose of training children, both muggle-born and wizard-born, to use and control magic.  Our way of life is taught.  The children are trained."

"The schools are not perfect," Carrow said.  "I was told you have at least one muggle-born student who can’t even use magic.  Why did you bring him into our world?"

"We are getting off topic," Millicent said.  "That is enough for now, Mister Carrow."

Carrow took his seat.

"I know you have all had time to read through the legislation.  This is the first of multiple hearings that will take place until the facts are in order and a vote can be made.  We will meet again in April, at which time I would like all members of the Wizengamot to prepare comments.  Keep in mind the events of recent years, and the delicate nature of handling muggle-born witches and wizards," Millicent said.  She picked up the parchments on the podium.  "Until April."

"Until April," the rest of the Wizengamot responded.

Dumbledore walked out of the dungeon without saying another word.

Chapter Text

April 1985

The protesters and supporters crowded between the fireplaces that lined the arrivals lobby.  Dumbledore tried to push his way through a group of wizards who held signs indicating that they supported the registration act, but they pushed back against him once they realized who he was.

"Do you really think you know what's best for the muggle-borns, Dumbledore?" 

One of the men spat at him.  "That's what I think of your muggle-born students."

He had to stay in control.  This wasn't the time or the place for a confrontation.

Dumbledore saw Arthur and appariated to the far end of the lobby.

The wizards he left in his wake yelled after him.  "You think you're better than us, Dumbledore?  You're nothing but a half-blood!"

Arthur took Dumbledore by the shoulder and led him out of the lobby.  "They are really at it again today."

"How have you managed with all of them?"

"The Ministry has been allowing us to apparate directly into our offices, so we don't have to walk through them every morning.  The hallways have also been enchanted with additional noise-blocking charms."

Dumbledore enjoyed the quiet that followed them as they left the lobby and walked down a hallway.

"I've made more comments on the act; just some more things I've thought about," Arthur said.  "I've sent a scribe to leave them at your seat in the dungeon.  If you see him, please shake his hand.  He's muggle-born and is very excited that you are against the legislation.  His name is Bill, like my son."

"I would be honored," Dumbledore said.

They reached the end of the hallway and passed through a section of staff offices.  Dumbledore headed downstairs. 

A few moments later, Dumbledore walked up to Barty Crouch and Cornelius Fudge.

"You're early, Albus," Fudge said.

"Today, yes," Dumbledore said, "but I would hate to make it a habit expected of me, so don't let on."

Barty smiled and clapped him on the shoulder.  "We wouldn't dream of it."

"How are you both?"

"I had The Prophet thrown at my head on the way in this morning, so I must be doing something right," Fudge said.  He pushed open the doors of the dungeon.

And screamed.

Dumbledore and Crouch drew their wands. 

Four bodies hung in the air.  The head of each one had been removed, but floated, with gruesome magical assistance, above the associated blood-covered neck.  The blood ran down the torsos, along the legs, and dripped off the ends of the victims' shoes.  The forehead of each body had a crude M carved into it.  Blood from the mark ran across the victims' open, dead eyes.

Based on the clothing, one of the bodies belonged to Bill, the muggle-born scribe.

Dumbledore screamed, "Get them down!"

He raised his hands and used magic to pull the body of the scribe toward the ground.  When it was close enough to reach, he lowered the body to the floor in his arms.

Dumbledore had spent the past four years trying to escape from the lingering effects of the war.  Holding the body of the dead scribe against him broke loose the despair and the rage he had worked hard to suppress.  The force built inside of him and shook the room.  Dumbledore released a fraction of the energy.  The glass covering the lit torches mounted around the room shattered.  The dungeon doors blew apart and came off their hinges.  The iron cage at the center of the room, used to hold witches and wizards tried before the Wizengamot, exploded.  Fudge and Crouch covered the corpses with their bodies to protect them from the flying debris.

Dumbledore exhaled and slammed his palms against the stone floor. 

Cornelius and Barty stared at him, but only for a moment.  They understood.

Barty closed the eyes of the woman he had pulled out of the air.  "Should we have waited for the others to see?"

"No," Dumbledore said.  He made himself breathe.  If he didn't, he wouldn't be able to control what he did next.  "No one should have ever had to see this."

Chapter Text

June 1985

Dumbledore could still see the body of the muggle-born scribe dangling in the air; a hanging without a rope, performed inside the dungeon of the Wizengamot despite the heavy veil of wards.  He thought of blood dripping from dead feet.

After the bodies of the muggle-born witches and wizards were removed from the Wizengamot dungeon, the second hearing was postponed to the first week of June.  Dumbledore had not expected Millicent to give Marcus Carrow more time to talk, but she allotted twenty minutes.  Dumbledore was ready to counter Carrow's arguments, but Millicent refused to let him speak.  At the end of the hearing, Adelaide Burke, the director of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, informed them that Aurors were working to determine who had killed the four muggle-borns.

Dumbledore was on his third bourbon when Aaron knocked on his door.  He poured the rest of the alcohol into his mostly-empty mug of English Breakfast and told the boy to come in.

"Have a seat," Dumbledore said.

Dumbledore looked at Aaron and felt cold.  Was it the bourbon?  He saw TOM RIDDLE another black-haired TOM RIDDLE orphan sitting before him; the years between now and 1939 blurred to non-existence.

No, stop this now.  The boy is not Tom.

"You'll have to forgive me," Dumbledore said.  He took a long drink and made himself grab onto whatever steady energy was left inside of him, willing his hands to stop shaking.  "It has been a busy year and I haven't had time to check-in and see how you were getting along.  Have you enjoyed your classes?"

The old man looked unsteady.  Aaron could smell the alcohol on his breath.

"Yes," Aaron said.  The classes I am able to stay in at least.

"I have heard from your professors that you are not able to use magic, is that true?"

Ashamed, Aaron said, "Yes, it's true."

Dumbledore didn't seem concerned.  He barely seemed to hear him.  The old man took a long drink from his cup.  "Would you care for some tea?"

"No."

"You can't do any magic?  Nothing at all?"

Aaron shook his head.

"Tell me what you've tried," Dumbledore said.

"Levitation, transfiguration, and hundreds of charms.  I can't make anything levitate, or change, or disappear.  I can't even shoot sparks out of my wand.  I can't use magic," Aaron said.

"It sounds like you're giving up."

Aaron didn't know what to say.  No, but what choice do I have?  No, but you're going to kick me out soon enough anyway?

If only it were as easy as letting the boy give up.  This was the wrong time to send a twelve year old muggle-born wizard back out into the world alone.  No matter how limited his abilities, the boy wasn't a muggle.  Left to his own devices, he would be a danger to himself and others whenever he was able to use magic.

If he isn't killed first, with an M carved into his forehead.

"Not every student who walks through these halls is immediately blessed with the gift of total control of their abilities.  Many aren't capable of that even after they graduate.  Magic is powerful, but it can be fickle.  When you are young, it may come and go.  It isn't rare to have a slow start."

Aaron said, "I think I'm just a muggle.  I'm not supposed to be here."

"You're not a muggle, Aaron," Dumbledore said.  "You're going to have to be patient and keep trying."

Dumbledore looked over Aaron's class list.  “Now, what do we do with you in the meantime?”

The boy had done well in Herbology and History of Magic, enough that he was duel-enrolled in First and Second Year classes, at the expense of Transfiguration and Charms.  He hadn't officially dropped flying, but Dumbledore heard from Madam Hooch that he had stopped showing up for classes last semester.  She couldn't fail him either, because he had tried.  And, for a while, he had kept trying.  In Astronomy, another class that didn't require practical use of magic, Aaron's marks were at the top of the class.  Snape had told Dumbledore that any part of Potions that required magic wasn't a problem for Aaron, because his classmates helped him with whatever came up.  Defense against the Dark Arts, he had heard, was limited to theory this year.

Aaron wasn't stupid and he wasn't failing, he just couldn't use magic yet.

"Aaron, do you like it here?"

More than anything.  "Yes."

"The magic will come.  Until it does, we will keep you moving forward and duel-enrolled in the classes you don't need it for."

There was a note at the bottom of Aaron's class list, underlined twice.

NEEDS HIS OWN PROPER WAND

"Professor McGonagall tells me you don't have your own wand yet, is that true?  Did Arthur not take you to buy one?"

Buy one where?  With what money? 

"I've been using one of the training wands."

"Having your own wand will not be the difference between your ability or inability to use magic.  However, your lack of a wand does tie into another point I wanted to bring up," Dumbledore said.  "You don't come from a family that can provide for you, like the majority of the students at Hogwarts.  Legally, you belong to myself and the school.  We will continue to provide you with books, food, and supplies to live and attend your classes, but it would be most helpful if you started to pay your own way."

Dumbledore was right.  Besides the school supplies, Aaron needed things that he hadn't wanted to ask anyone for.  He had grown into the robes the Weasleys had given him, but his shoes were worn out and too tight.  He kicked them off whenever he could to avoid more blisters.  All of his socks had holes and his shirts had tears along the stitching.  He needed money. 

"Aside from getting you what you need to succeed at school, I don't want you graduating and leaving here in six years with nothing to your name.  So, I will make you a deal.  If you work for the school over the summers, during holidays, and on the weekends, I will put money into an account for you.  One day, you'll have enough, not just for a wand of your own, but to start a life for yourself, if that is what you want.  You're young, but we could use the help, and the magical community is not one for labor laws preventing us from employing you.  It would be a lot of work, mostly maintaining the grounds and working in the kitchen, but I wouldn't have you working while classes are in session, so there shouldn't be any worry about keeping up with your assignments.  Would you like that?"

"Yes," Aaron said, "I would."

"Very well, I will arrange for you to start once the school year has finished," Dumbledore said.  "You are dismissed."

Aaron stood up.  He walked toward the door and turned back to Dumbledore.  "Do you really think I'll be able to use magic one day?  You don't think I can't because I'm muggle-born?"

Dumbledore took a drink from his mug.  "Your being muggle-born has nothing to do with your lack of magical ability, Aaron.  I've watched a lot of students struggle with magic, muggle-born and wizard-born.  Be patient.  The magic will come."

Aaron nodded and left his office.

Dumbledore drained the rest of his mug, still trying to get the image of Tom Riddle out of his head.

Chapter Text

August 1985

Eni Iro stood in front of a stained mirror, leaning over a cracked pedestal sink with no hot water.  She wiped her eyes and grabbed a handful of hair, raised the scissors she took from her father's front counter drawer, and cut the strands until the ends stuck out beneath her ear.  She took the hair that hung past her shoulders and cut again.  She cut more, trying to match the back to the side as much as she could.  She wiped her eyes again to see what she was doing.

Stop crying.

She took the last long pieces between her fingers and cut them off as her father pounded on the bathroom door.

"Get back out here!  Not done with you!"

The sink was full of dark pieces of hair.  She picked up clumps of it and stuffed it in the rubbish bin.  She turned on the faucet and watched the rest wash down the drain.  She collected a handful of water, poured it over her face, and used more to rinse her eyes.  She didn't let go of the scissors.

Her father pulled on the door handle, but it didn't give.  She heard him walk away and felt relief, then panicked, realizing she forgot to grab the set of utility keys when she had taken the scissors.

No no no no no no no

Her father came back.  He unlocked the bathroom door and pulled it open.  Eni stood against the far bathroom wall with pieces of cut hair stuck to her shirt and apron, and the scissors raised over her head.  Her lip twitched, but she didn't cry.

Her father blocked the doorway.  "What have you done?"

"Leave me alone."

He grabbed her arm and pulled her out of the bathroom.  Eni clutched the scissors.  Her father dragged her out of the back room and threw her on the floor in front of the last row of shelves.

"What have you done?!"

Eni stood and braced herself against a stack of boxes.  No one was in the bakery and the lights at the front were off.  The bakery was supposed to be open for another hour, but her father had locked the door.  He didn't want anyone to walk into this.  He charged her, grabbed her arms, and pulled them behind her back.  Eni winced.  Her father tore the scissors out of her hands and slapped her across the face.  He shoved her back on the vinyl floor.

My wand . . . where did I leave my wand?

"Where did you get them?"

He meant the magazines she had nicked from the convenience store three blocks away.

"Did someone at your school give them to you?  Another yariman?  Is all they taught you to like women?"

He grabbed her shoulders and pulled her toward him.  He grabbed her arms and held her wrists.  He raised the scissors with his free hand.  "I think you did not finish."

Eni twisted in his grasp and tried to pull herself free, but he was twice her size.  "No! Papa, no!"

"Damare!"

The hair Eni had carefully evened-out fell in front of her face as her father took random pieces between the blades.

No no no no no no no

He removed chunks of her short hair.  He cut against her scalp until blood ran across her forehead, then he threw her back on the floor.

"Not enough for you to be a possessed witch, now you are a sexual deviant?!  What has happened to you?!"

"I'm not a deviant!"

He grabbed her and pulled her off the floor.  He held her against him with the blades of the scissors pressed into her throat and dragged her to the front door.  He opened the door and pushed her outside.  Eni fell and scraped her hands on the sidewalk.  She scrambled away from her father.

"Do not come back," her father said, "you are no longer my child."

"Papa!"

"Damare yariman!"

Eni ran.

At first, she ran from the adrenaline with no destination, beneath street lamps and past store fronts and office buildings.  She had to get away from him.  Her lungs burned.  What was she doing?  Everything she owned was in the apartment above the bakery.  She didn't have anything.  Blood ran from the lesions her father had left on her scalp and she wiped it away with the back of her bleeding hand.

Eni ran almost two miles before she stopped.  She stood against a brick wall, panting.  People walked by but they didn't pay her any attention.  She was glad it was dark.

Chikusho.

She shouldn’t have left her wand behind.  She should have kept it on her, but Professor Flitwick had told them if they used magic outside of Hogwarts they would be expelled.  Of all the things she didn't have a chance to grab, she needed her wand the most.  She could have used it.  Would they have understood if she did?  Would they have let her come back to Hogwarts?

She walked now, tired.  Her mind cleared.  She couldn't stay out all night and she couldn't go back home, not while her father was there.  She had seen something in his eyes when he called her possessed; his own churning demons.  Would he have killed her?  Or just kept hurting her?  It didn't matter.  She couldn't go back to him.  She needed somewhere else to go.

Eni crossed the street to a payphone and pulled change out of her pocket.  She dropped the coins in the slot and dialed the only number she had memorized.

It rang.

"Hello?"

"Is Maddison there?"

"This is her mother.  Who is calling?"

"Eni Iro.  I'm a friend from school."

She heard Mrs. Thomas put the phone down and call for her daughter.  Eni waited, starting to feel cold with the sweat from the run drying on her body.

"Eni?"

"Maddison," she said.  "I need help."

"What happened?"

"My father," Eni said.  "I told you he hated my being a witch."

She couldn't tell her the rest.

"Are you alright?"

"No," Eni said.  "He threw me out.  I know Liverpool isn't close to you, but I'm in trouble.  I've got nowhere to go."

She heard Maddison cover the phone with her hand and talk to someone.

"Eni, I'm telling my mum.  We are going to come get you, alright?"

"Maddison all my stuff, my wand-"

"Hello?  This is Maddison's mum again.  Where are you, dear?  We are coming to get you."

Chapter Text

September 1985

Eni ran through the rain with Maddison, holding her coat over her head.  The girls stepped off the sidewalk, leaped to avoid a puddle, and crossed the street.  Eni's socks were wet and rain ran down her arms.  She had given up trying to cover both her backpack and her body with the coat.

"It isn't much further," Maddison said, "see the brick wall?"

"The one covered in barbed-wire?"

"That's the one.  The entrance is in the building behind the wall."

"How do we get in?"

"There's a lock on the door next to the main gate that keeps out muggles who aren't supposed to go inside, but it will open for us.  Once we are past the wall and inside the building, there's an old lift we can take.  The train station is off a tunnel."

"I thought Manchester didn't have an underground," Eni said.

"Not officially," Maddison said.

They stopped at the door in front of the brick wall.  A car passed and Eni felt nervous.  She held her coat over her head and over Maddison, who pulled on the door handle.  The door opened and they hurried inside.  The yard around them looked abandoned.  The brick building wasn't any different.  There weren't any windows at the ground floor and the windows at the second floor were dark.  The only entrance appeared to be a roll-up door, but Maddison walked past it.

"How do we get inside?" Eni asked. 

Maddison counted bricks.  She counted off ten from the edge of the building and felt the wall with her fingers.  At what would have been eye-level for an adult, Eni saw a brick that appeared like all the others, but turned silver when Maddison's fingers touched it.  Maddison tapped the brick three times, and the wall moved, creating an opening that was barely large enough for someone to pass through.  Eni followed Maddison inside.

Utility lights flickered above their heads.  Eni shook the rainwater off her coat.  She followed Maddison down a concrete staircase.  A sign read PLEASE KEEP GUARDIAN TIDY.  PUT RUBBISH INCLUDING CIGARETTE ENDS IN THE RECEPTACLES.

At the bottom of the staircase, Maddison turned around.  "Sort of fun, right?  Like we are some type of urban explorers?"

"Sure, yeah, as long as you know where we are going."

"Don't worry, Eni.  McGonagall took me this way last year."

In front of Maddison, Eni saw an elevator cage.  She leaned over the railing and looked down the shaft.  "Shite, it's deep.  How far down does it go?"

"A few stories.  Are you alright?"

"It feels like we shouldn't be here."

"We shouldn't, not if we weren't witches," Maddison said.  She called the elevator.

Eni heard the elevator move from deep inside the shaft.  When it arrived, Maddison opened the cage doors and stepped inside.  She closed the doors behind them and pushed one of the buttons on the elevator panel.  A red sign said DO NOT PUT ARMS THROUGH GATES.  Eni braced herself in case the elevator descended fast, but it went down just as slow as it had ascended. 

The elevator stopped at the bottom of the shaft.  Maddison opened the cage doors.

"Stay close.  I know where we are going, but the tunnels are confusing.  If you wonder off, it may take me awhile to find you, and we've got to make sure we are on the platform right at noon."

They walked through rooms filled with equipment; past cabinets, panel boxes, and black cables.

"What is this place?"

"It was a telecommunications bunker built during the Cold War, when everyone was worried about nuclear bombs.  I've lived in Manchester all my life and never knew it was here until McGonagall brought me."

They walked down a long, circular tunnel, turned, and headed down another tunnel.  Water covered portions of the concrete floors and Eni realized one of the sounds she heard was a water pump.  Halfway down the second tunnel was a maintenance door, or, at least, that was what it looked like.  Maddison pulled on the handle and they walked inside.

As soon as they were inside, Eni felt fresh air.  There was light at the end of a short tunnel.  They walked out onto a train platform.

In contrast to the rest of the tunnels, the train platform appeared well-maintained, with white and red paint on the walls.  The lights were bright and the tracks were clean.  There were rubbish bins and polished wooden benches.  Far above them, sunlight filtered in from a row of skylights.

"Feel better about it now?  Make sure you have your backpack and coat.  When the train arrives, we won't have much time.  You'll see why I packed so light and why my mum got you the backpack.  We'll have to jump aboard."

"The train doesn't stop?"

"No, but we'll be alright.  More magic.  There's a sort of time warp that happens at the station when the Hogwarts Express arrives.  The Hogwarts Express slows down while station time runs as usual.  While the time is slowed down, we can get on the train.  We just have to be quick and make sure we jump aboard all at once," Maddison said. "As soon as your feet are on the train, you'll be back on the train's relative time and it moves fast.  There's handlebars, so make sure to hold on tight when you land so you don't fall."

Right at noon, Eni heard the Hogwarts Express whistle.

"That's the signal," Maddison said, "here we go!"

At first, Eni didn't notice anything, until the train came out of the tunnel and the sound of the whistle stretched.  Time warped inside the station and the Hogwarts Express slowed to a crawl.  Eni saw the train conductor as the engine passed, then she saw students through the windows.  Everyone on board appeared frozen.  Some students had their eyes closed mid-blink.  Eni followed Maddison toward a platform between two of the train cars.  She looked for the handlebars to grab once she was on board.

Maddison jumped first.  As soon as Maddison landed, she froze in-place.  Eni jumped and grabbed onto a handlebar.  The end of the whistle sounded loud in her ear.  The fast movement of the train knocked her back, but she held on tight.

"I don't know what they do in London," Maddison said, "but I like the way we board the train in Manchester."

Chapter Text

September 1985

In the pace of one stride, Dumbledore stepped from his office onto a gravel-covered rooftop in Edinburgh, appearing twenty-eight stories above the city with a loud crack.  The wind cut into his beard and he hadn't expected the rain.  He wasn't alone.  Alastor Moody waited for him, standing on an abandoned equipment curb with his hands shoved into his coat pockets.  Moody was surrounded by a shield spell that blocked the wind and rain.  Dumbledore stepped inside.

Moody passed Dumbledore an envelope.  He removed a stack of documents and photographs.  No matter how often he saw them, Dumbledore never got used to the motionless photographs muggle authorities took of dead bodies.  

Three more muggle-borns.  He recognized one as Samantha Jones, a student who had graduated from Hogwarts six years ago.  She had returned to the muggle world to attend college, discouraged by the state of the wizarding world during the war.  Samantha had written Dumbledore last year, asking him to be a reference for an accounting job she applied for.

What the hell is she doing in this stack with the others?  She LEFT the wizarding world.  She never should have been a target.

He could see her sitting across from him, arguing for the merits of attending college in the muggle world.

"Tell me the Aurors have something."

"They have fuck all on the killings at The Ministry and they aren't doing a fucking thing about the three muggle-born deaths in that envelope.  The killings took place outside of our world, and Adelaide doesn't want the Aurors involved."

"The cuts on the foreheads and the way the heads are detached and left atop the bodies is the same as it was in April," Dumbledore said.

"And the same as it was in July.  They don't give a fuck, Albus.  The Aurors can't solve the murders right in front of them, let alone the ones across the rest of the United Kingdom."

Dumbledore thumbed through the autopsy reports, but they didn't tell him anything he didn't know from the pictures.  The foreheads had been mutilated while the victims were alive and the heads had been removed as a final step.  The muggle authority-authored autopsies left out the magical element, and were vague in regard to how the heads were aligned, and almost re-attached, to the associated bodies.  Dumbledore shoved the documents back into the envelope.  He kept the photographs.

"With the four at The Ministry and the two from July, the count is at nine," Moody said.

They are being hunted and slaughtered.

"If you want muggle-borns to have more protection, than maybe getting them all registered isn't the worst idea."

Dumbledore had to stop himself from grabbing Moody.  "Never say anything like that again."

"What the fuck else do you suggest?  You haven't been attending any of the Wizengamot meetings outside of the bloody hearings."

"I've been preparing for the school year."

"Bollocks.  You haven't even been doing that.  There's word you weren't at the sorting ceremony last week."

"That isn't anyone's concern but my own," Dumbledore said.

"You're wrong," Moody said.  "Whenever you contact me, what you do is exactly my concern."

Dumbledore shoved past Moody and left the shield.  Moody let it dissolve and rain fell on both of them.

"I need you to hold yourself together, Albus," Moody said.  "How much are you drinking?"

"Not enough," Dumbledore said.  "How much are you?"

"As much as I want.  I am, technically, retired."

Moody took a flask out of his pocket, unscrewed the cap, and took a drink.  He passed it to Dumbledore, who did the same.  Dumbledore tasted a strong, smooth scotch and held it on his tongue for a second before he swallowed.

"The war depleted the Aurors, Albus.  We have a starved group of fifteen, ten of whom are too old for this shite.  The other five are too young and dependent.  Every great Auror we had, every damn one of them, died in the war or ended up like Frank and Alice Longbottom."

"You are one of the great ones."

"I'm one of the fucking too old ones.  I can't keep doing this forever.  I am trying to train the ones they've got, but I'm only one man.  If you want more Aurors around to solve these killings and protect muggle-borns, do your fucking job and teach the students.  I don't have to tell you where the fuck Aurors come from."

Dumbledore handed the flask back to Moody.

"You'll tell me when there are more killings?"  It wasn't a question of if anymore.

"I'll keep you informed as best I can," Moody said.  "Like I said, I'm supposed to be retired."

"Thank Merlin you aren't," Dumbledore said.

"Be seeing you, Albus."

Moody vanished.  Dumbledore was left standing alone in the rain.

Chapter Text

September 1985

The world had layers.  In the dark, at the edges of sleep, Aaron saw the outline of a classroom and a dark pond superimposed.  His body contracted in a hypnagogic jerk and he sat up in bed, sick.  The inside of his mouth was coated in saliva.  Aaron got out of bed and headed for the bathroom.  He got as far as the stairwell before he threw up.

He retched onto the stone steps and leaned against the wall, drooling.  The stairwell doubled in his vision and he closed his eyes.

Why does this keep happening?  What is wrong with me?

He needed water.

Aaron held onto the wall and walked down the stairwell.  He went to the bathroom, took a glass out of the cupboard, and filled it with water.  He dry-heaved over the sink.  He had felt too nauseous to eat dinner, or there would have been more actual vomit.  He drank slow and grabbed a towel.

Aaron's hands shook.  He turned the water back on and washed his face.  He wiped his mouth and nose with the towel and walked back to the stairwell.  He bent down and cleaned the steps.  He tossed the towel in a rubbish bin and leaned against the common room wall.

It took thirty minutes for the room to stop spinning, but it did stop.

Aaron looked at the clock.  Five fifteen in the morning.  He wouldn't be able to go back to sleep, not if it was like last time.  Now that his stomach was empty and the nausea passed, he was starving.  The kitchen staff would have breakfast started.  If he helped with the preparation, they would feed him.  He left the common room and stepped through the portrait of the fat lady.

Aaron had spent the last few months working in the kitchen early in the mornings, so Filch didn't stop him when he walked past.  Aaron took the staircase adjacent to The Great Hall and went down.  He smelled baking bread and grilled meat.  He grabbed his apron from a peg on the wall and walked through the double doors.  Lara, one of the kitchen porters, walked over to him.

"You're not supposed to work today," she said, "you've got classes."

Aaron shrugged.  "I couldn't sleep.  And I was hungry."

"I suppose we could use the help.  We've got fruit salad this morning.  If you cut up the fruit, I'll get you some ham and eggs."

"Thanks," Aaron said.

"I want you gone before we start the service, so you can go back and get your books and robe," Lara said.

He followed her to a table where apples, oranges, bananas, and melons were stacked in baskets.  She took out cutting boards, large metal bowls, and a knife.  Aaron washed his hands.

"Your hair, too."

Aaron tied his hair back and Lara left him to work.

Fifteen minutes later, the timer went off on an oven behind him.  For a minute, no one came.  Aaron was about to drop the fruit and check it himself, when Eni walked into the room.

"Aaron?  What are you doing here?"

"I work here.  What are you doing here?"

Eni's hair was cut shorter than his and she wore a blue apron that said Iro Pan.  She stopped the timer on the oven and opened the door, put on an oven mitt, and took out a pan filled with large, fluffy rolls.  She set them on a cooling rack and went to the pantry.  She came back with honey and drizzled it over the top of the rolls.

"I bake when I can't sleep," Eni said.  “Do you like milk bread?”

"I've never had it before," Aaron said.

Eni tore off a roll and handed it to Aaron, who took it and had a bite.  And another.  He finished the roll and licked the honey off his fingers.

Eni handed him another roll.  Then she walked to the coat rack and opened her book bag.  She took out the Walkman Maddison’s mother had gotten her over the summer.

"I forgot to tell you," she said.  "I figured out how to get this thing to run on magic."

She turned up the volume.  Music came from the headphones.  She put them over Aaron's ears.

"Twenty, twenty, twenty four hours to go, I wanna be sedated.  Nothing to do, nowhere to go, oh, I wanna be sedated . . . "

Aaron laughed.  He couldn't help it.  He hadn't heard muggle music since he left Glasgow.

"How did you get it to work?"

"I had to modify the whole thing.  It's working off an animation charm now instead of batteries.  I stripped the wiring and added gears."

"You're brilliant, you know that?"

"Twenty, twenty, twenty four hours to go, I wanna be sedated.  Nothing to do, nowhere to go, oh, I wanna be sedated . . . "

"I could modify yours, too, if you want."

"That would be great," Aaron said.  "I'll give it to you in Potions.  I've got a bunch of tapes you can borrow, too.”

"As soon as I get a wand, I'll get on it.  I used Maddison's to modify mine."

Aaron reached into his apron pocket and took out the training wand.  He ran it under the faucet and wiped it clean.  He had used it to stir a soup he made for himself a few weeks ago and hadn't touched it since.  He handed it to Eni.

"Are you sure?  I can ask McGonagall for one."

"Take it," Aaron said, "it's not like I'm going to use it."

Chapter Text

December 1985

Dumbledore pushed open the dungeon doors and walked into the Wizengamot.  Marcus Carrow stood at the podium.

"Don't stop on my account, Mister Carrow," Dumbledore said.

"You haven't been in attendance since June," Millicent said, "and now you walk in twenty minutes late?"

"I doubt I missed anything myself and everyone else in this room haven't already heard," Dumbledore said.  He looked at the wizards and witches around him.  "Am I wrong?  Aren't you all tired of the way this has gone on?  We have met like this for over a year to talk about legislation that should have been voted on months after its conception."

"If you want to take the podium," Millicent said, "you'll have to wait until Marcus has finished."

"I don't need a podium," Dumbledore said.

Dumbledore reached into his robe and took out the photographs.  He threw them on the stone floor at Millicent's feet.  Before she could reach down and take them, Dumbledore pointed his index finger and the photographs lifted into the air.  Another turn of his wrist, and the photographs collected in a circle, facing the members of the Wizengamot.  He pulled at the air with his hands and the photographs enlarged. 

Dumbledore shouted, "How many more deaths will it take for us to vote?"

Crouch covered his mouth with his hand as an image of a ten year old boy floated in front of him.  He looked at Dumbledore.  "How many more have been killed since we found the four in this room?"

They don't know.  The Ministry hasn't told them anything.

"Ten," Dumbledore said, "all muggle-born and all killed the same way.  Don't look away.  Make sure you all see what these, and let's call them what they are, terrorists have done; the way they carved up the foreheads of their victims and cut off their heads before stringing them up like marionettes."

The photographs drifted around room.  Millicent took a photograph out of the air.

"This Wizengamot has failed," Dumbledore said.  "While we argued, muggle-born children, witches, and wizards have died."

Millicent shook her head.  "We have to follow protocol and-"

"Did you not hear me, Madam Minister?  Our people are dying."

"We can't vote on this yet," Adelaide Burke said.  "We haven't even heard from the other side."

"Well," Dumbledore said, "then aren't you glad I've prepared remarks?"

Dumbledore moved the photographs overhead, where the eyes of the dead could look down on them.  He didn't want anyone to forget why they were here.

"Anonymity is powerful," Dumbledore said.  "We all benefit from it, as we sit in our dungeon, protected from the outside world.  We have avoided every aspect of the muggle world for centuries.  We haven't interfered in their wars and we haven't come to their aid when natural disasters have threatened them.  We have hid on the fringes of their lives and kept to ourselves.  We have gone through great lengths to hide magic from the rest of the world.  And yet, here we are, entertaining an act that would remove the protection of anonymity from members of our world; an act whose very conception has caused muggle-born witches and wizards to be slaughtered."

"We don't know what the motive of the killers is at this time," Adelaide said.

"No.  How could you?  No one in this room has done a damn thing to stop the killings or find the murders," Dumbledore said.  "Maybe you want to help these terrorists and give them a list of victims?  Because that is what the Registration Act will do."

"The registry would never be available to the public," Millicent said.

"That doesn't mean anything," Dumbledore said, "except that it will be leaked.  Minister, you can't tell me that no one who works at The Ministry harbors ill will against muggle-borns."

"The commission would work directly with the Department of Magical Law Enforcement to ensure-"

"The Department of Magical Law Enforcement hasn't been able to do a damn thing to stop these murders," Dumbledore said. "You haven't cared enough to make it a priority."

"Leave this chamber," Millicent said.

"I'm not finished," Dumbledore said.  "Keeping a record of people and monitoring their movements is barbaric.  We watched, from a distance, while millions of Jews were registered, monitored, and taken to death camps during the Second World War."

"It won't be that way," Millicent said.  "We aren't them."

"We are," Dumbledore said, "and your refusal to see that is why this act is so dangerous and why you see muggle-born witches and wizards as second-class citizens."

"It would be for their safety," Adelaide said.

"If you put them on a list," Dumbledore said, "they will be slaughtered."

"We can't protect them if we don't know who they are or where they are," Adelaide said.

Dumbledore walked over to her.  "Do you really think your depleted Aurors can provide enough protection?"

"We will recruit more," Adelaide said.

"You can't train the Aurors you have," Dumbledore said.

"You've said enough, Dumbledore," Millicent said.

"I haven't," Dumbledore said, "but my talking more won't change the opinions of anyone in this room who supports the act."

Dumbledore waved his hand and the photographs fell on the floor.

Chapter Text

December 1985

Aaron sat at his usual preparation station in the kitchen with a bowl of squash soup and a mug of hot cider.  A History of Magic was open on the table in front of him.  Lara sat on the pantry floor with sheets of parchment and a quill, surrounded by baskets and crates of food, taking inventory and preparing order lists for the remainder of the school year.  The pantry door was small, but the spells used during the room's construction made it stretch far behind the adjacent walls.  The shelves inside towered six stories into the air.  There were wooden ladders, platforms, and pulleys, but Lara didn't need them.  She used her wand to take down inventory she couldn't reach, whispering Wingardium Leviosa and Accio as she worked.

The cider was still too hot to drink.  Aaron pushed it to the side and highlighted a passage in his textbook.

"Escalation of attempts by muggles to force wizards and witches to perform acts of magic for muggle ends; muggle-led torture and killing of wizards and witches, including burning hundreds of witches at the stake; and, widespread persecution of wizarding children by muggles, drove members of the magical community to call for total seclusion from the non-magical world and the majority of the population.  Upon the signature of the International Stature of Secrecy in 1689, wizards [and witches] went into hiding for good."

A small gray owl flew down the stairwell and into the pantry.  Lara took The Daily Prophet off its leg and gave it a carrot.  The owl flew past Aaron and back out of the kitchen.

Lara stood up.  Her right leg had fallen asleep.  She read while she walked on needles, waiting for the feeling to return.  She left the pantry and tossed the paper on the table next to Aaron.

"You said to tell you when the act was back in the news," Lara said.  "It's on the front page."

Aaron picked up the paper and read the headline.  Interruptions and Threats Mar Third Muggle-Born Registration Commission Act Hearing.

"Chief Warlock and Grand Sorcerer Albus Dumbledore arrived late to the third hearing for the Muggle-Born Registration Commission Act, interrupting fellow Wizengamot member Marcus Carrow.  Dumbledore spoke about a series of muggle-born killings, which have not been confirmed by The Daily Prophet at this time, and blamed the Wizengamot for failing to act.”

”They’ve failed, alright,” Lara said.  “Fucking useless old cunts.”

After threatening the Minister for Magic, Dumbledore was asked to leave the chamber.  At this time, it is unclear when the Wizengamot will vote, but the Minister for Magic stated that she would not be persuaded to rush a decision on legislation as explosive as the Muggle-Born Registration Commission Act, especially not when members of her own Wizengamot are unable to behave accordingly.”

They’re still moving ahead.

”Polls conducted by The Daily Prophet, included on page six, indicate that support for the act is high, with over half of the Wizengamot saying they would support its enactment.”

Lara used a charm to cool down Aaron's steaming mug of cider and handed it back to him.  "Don't worry.  The Prophet doesn’t know shite.  Our names aren't going on any list."

Lara walked back into the pantry.

Aaron crumbled The Daily Prophet and threw it against a wall.  It bounced off and rolled beneath a cabinet filled with baking sheets and trays.

It doesn't matter what I do, or can't do.  I'll always be a second-class citizen in this stupid world.  I wish I was back in Glasgow.  Mr. Weasley should have left me there when I told him I couldn't use magic.  Now, they want to register and monitor what I do and where I am?  Like the Gestapo?  Because I don't come from magic?  I hate it here.  I hate this world.  I HATE magic.  I never should have-

A stack of crates on one of the top shelves in the pantry collapsed and fell.

Lara yelled, "Fuck!", and pulled out her wand.  "Fucking Wingardium Leviosa!"

There was a loud crash as the crates broke apart and the glass contents shattered on the stone floor.

Aaron ran to help.  Lara had caught most of the crates in the air with the levitation charm and avoided being crushed, but they had held heavy jars of tomato sauce and the floor around her was covered in red paste, glass, and broken shards of wood.

"Shite," Lara said, looking at the mess.

"Are you alright?"

"Yeah, fine.  I heard it all fall in time to do something.  I stacked those crates too fucking high."

Aaron's hands shook.  He tasted something bitter in the back of his throat.  "I'll get a mop."

"No, I can clean this up with a few charms.  Don't worry about it."

Lot of good I can do.

Aaron heard movement and turned to see two large barn owls fly into the kitchen.  They landed on the table next to his open textbook.  Aaron untied the packages from their legs and took a letter from the one on the left.  The owl tilted its head and pecked the closest package.

"Right," Aaron said, "that was a lot of work."

He went to the bread box and took out two muffins Eni had given him before she left for the holidays.  He held the muffins out to the owls, who devoured them and left the room.

Aaron opened the letter.

Happy Christmas, Aaron!  We hope you are doing well.  Molly and I were disappointed when Dumbledore didn't let you join us for the holidays, but I suppose it is nice to have an income.  We didn't know if you were allowed to spend much of it, or what all of it goes toward school, but Charlie said you had about grown out of the robes from last year, so Bill found another set and some of his other old clothes this morning.  If you don't need them, just give them back to Charlie, but we thought maybe it would give you something to open today.  I hope all is well and you are enjoying yourself.  Write back when you get a chance.  I would love to hear about Hogwarts from your perspective.

It was signed, Arthur Weasley and Family.

P.S. Molly made the cookies.  They are quite good.

Aaron smiled and tore open the first package.  A paper bag filled with cinnamon chocolate chip cookies was stacked on top a set of robes.  The second package contained a few shirts, jeans, and shoes.  Aaron pulled off his worn-out trainers and tried on Bill's.  He walked around the kitchen.  They were a little big, but they didn't hurt his feet.

Aaron ate one of the cookies and took out another one for Lara.  He threw his old trainers, and the crumbled Prophet, into the rubbish bin.

Chapter Text

June 1986

Eni leaned against the window, trying to use the motion of the train to fall asleep.  Across from her, Peter and Maddison leaned against each other with their heads back.  They had been that way since the train left Hogsmeade over an hour ago.  All of them had been in the Hufflepuff common room until five in the morning, drinking pumpkin juice, eating a cake Eni had made to celebrate the end of the school year, and passing around a bottle of bourbon Aaron had smuggled out of the kitchen.

None of them had ever drank before.  After they all had a taste, and spit some of it out, Maddison said, "How about a game of dare?"

"Fine," Peter said.  He passed her the bottle.  "I dare you to stand on your head."

Maddison smiled and drank from the bottle.  She took out her wand, flipped herself upside-down, and used the levitation charm to float above Peter.

"That's cheating," Peter said.  "Magic makes it too easy."

Maddison floated back to the ground.  "I disagree."

She handed the bottle to Aaron.  "I dare you to do some magic."

Aaron grabbed the bottle.  He took a long drink and looked at Maddison.  "Go fuck yourself."

Charlie choked on his pumpkin juice.  "What did you tell her to go do?"

"Fuck myself," Maddison said, laughing.

"Fuck . . . yourself?  Is that a muggle swear?"

"Teach us more!" Tonks said.  "You know all ours."

Aaron passed the bottle back to Peter.  "I dare you to teach these sheltered wizard-borns a muggle swear."

Peter upended the bottle.  "Jesus fucking Christ, Aaron, you bloody bastard.  I don't know any minging muggle swears."

Eni erupted in laughter and grabbed her stomach.  Tonks and Charlie, who had never heard half the words that came out of Peter's mouth, rolled on the floor until Tonks hiccuped.

They had gone on like that for hours, until Nancy Irvine, one of the Hufflepuff prefects, had enough and sent them back to their own dormitories.

Maddison stirred and opened her eyes.

"Did you sleep?" She mouthed to Eni, trying not to wake Peter.

Eni shook her head no.

The compartment door opened and Tonks came in with a sandwich.

Maddison asked, "Does she have any of the meat pies?"

Tonks nodded with her mouth full.  "Lots of 'em.  Roast beef, liver, chicken . . . whatever you want.  She's right in the car ahead of ours."

Maddison eased her body away from Peter and stood up.  "Right.  Anyone else hungry?"

She looked at Eni and Charlie.  "I can buy."

"No, I'm fine," Charlie said.  "I'm sure Bill's going to bring me something."

Maddison took out two handfuls of sickles and set them on the seat between Charlie and Eni.  "Come on, I'm starving.  Just come with me."

"Maddison, I don't need-"

"My mum keeps sending me wizard money.  She set up a whole account for me.  She thinks we use it every day or something.  Let me share, alright?"

Charlie's stomach hurt from the lack of food and too much bourbon, but Eni stood up first.

"Fine," she said, "but I want mincemeat."

The three of them left the compartment and walked down the aisle of the train car.

It started to rain.  Drops of water hit the windows and rolled down the panes.  Eni felt cold.  She held back for a second and watched the clouds.  Lightning struck somewhere out of sight but the clap of thunder sounded close.

When did it get so dark outside?

They got to the end of the car and stepped out to cross to the next one.  The rain hit their bodies and they hurried to close the door behind them.

The aisle was empty.

"Where is the trolley witch?  Didn't Tonks say she was this way?"

The lights flickered.  The next bolt of lightning struck outside the windows and thunder rattled the panes.  The wind howled and the train swayed.

Charlie forgot about his hunger.  "Where did this come from?"

The lights went out.  Charlie, Maddison, and Eni stopped.  Lightning lit up the aisle and the train creaked against the tracks.  The wind was loud.  The rain hit the windows hard.

It looks . . . black.  Black rain?

The windows along the aisle shattered.  The black rain pelted the inside of the train.  Eni, Charlie, and Maddison jumped back against the partition wall, but it hit their arms and legs.  Eni's body was covered.  She reached down to wipe off her arm and pulled her fingers back in front of her face, trying to see in the dark.

"It's not rain," she said, "it's mud."

The mud pelted the train.  The car shook and they heard the sound of metal giving way and glass shattering.  The train lost speed.  The mud collected on the walls and floor around them.

"It's alright," Charlie said.  "We haven't stopped.  The conductor is probably using a spell to get us through it.  He'll get us out the other end."

"The other end of what, Charlie?  This is mud.  Where the hell did it come from?"

The train car shook.  None of them had their wands.  Charlie and Maddison had tossed them in their bags, and Eni had given the training wand back to Aaron before she left Hogwarts.

The train slowed.  And stopped.  Eni saw flashes of light.  The mud filled the train car up to their knees.  It was in the air around them.  It dripped from the ceiling and down the walls.  They faced the partition wall, covering their faces so they could breathe.  

Maddison gasped, choked, and grabbed Eni's arm.

There was too much mud.  It hit their backs and poured over their heads.  The force of it pulled them down.  Eni kept her mouth shut, trying to keep it from going down her throat.  Maddison dug her fingers into Eni.

Eni gasped.  She couldn't breathe.  She kept her hand over her mouth, but it was no use.  There wasn't any air.  Eni lurched, choked, and realized she was suffocating.

the

shield

spell

She tried to cough out the mud in her mouth, but more came in through her nostrils.

Protego

it's Protego

She couldn't open her mouth to say it.

PROTEGO PROTEGO PROTEGO

Eni started PROTEGO to lose consciousness.  Before she suffocated, she felt the train shake.  Her hands shook, too, and a current built inside of her body.  She turned away from the wall and stretched out her hands, through the waterfall of mud. 

PROTEGO

A shield tore out of Eni's palms and wrapped around her.  She pushed against it and covered Maddison and Charlie.  The mud pelted the shield, but they could breathe.  The three of them gasped.  Eni spit out a mouthful of mud.  Maddison choked and wiped mud off her face.  Charlie did the same.  Eni was afraid to lower her palms.  The mud on her forehead slid into her eyes, but it didn't matter.  None of them could see anything.

"We have to get out of this train car!"

Maddison yelled over the howl of the wind and the churning mud.  "There's nowhere to go, Charlie!"

"We have to go back to the compartment!  Tonks is-"

Eni shoved with the shield and pushed, but nothing gave.  They were stuck.  There was too much mud.

Chikusho.

Adrenaline surged inside her body.

"Hold on!"

Maddison was about to ask, "To What?", when a concussive wave shot out from Eni's palms.  The train car rocked from the force of it and the mud flew back.  The door at the end of the aisle detached and crashed into the door of the next car.

"Fucking yes!" Charlie yelled.

Eni's hands shook.  She ran forward, holding the shield around them, and deflecting the mud.  They ran to the train compartment where they had left Peter and Tonks.  Maddison pulled on the door.

"Tonks! Let us in!"

Charlie pulled on the door with Maddison and yelled, "Tonks! Come on!"

Eni tried to send out another wave, but nothing happened.  She was exhausted.  She sank to the floor, keeping her hands raised, holding the shield over them.  Charlie and Maddison pulled on the door.

Charlie broke the glass with his fist and reached for the handle inside, digging through the mud, more of which poured out through the shattered pane.  Blood ran down his hand and arm.  He grabbed the handle, released it, and pulled his hand free while Maddison yanked the door open.  Mud poured out of the car and against the shield, knocking the three of them back.  Charlie saw a hand, an arm, and a neck.

Eni pushed with the shield, sweating and shaking.

Maddison and Charlie pulled at the body parts until they pulled Tonks out.  Charlie wiped off her face.  Tonks gasped and coughed up mud and blood from her scoured throat.

Eni bit through her bottom lip.  Tears of exertion ran down her face and mixed with the mud.

As fast as it had come on, as Eni lost the shield and collapsed, the mud stopped.  Maddison caught Eni in her arms.  Mud from the ceiling and walls fell on them.  Charlie held Tonks.

Tonks spit out more mud and gasped, "Charlie!  Peter is still in there!"

The compartment was filled with a hill of mud higher than their heads.  Nothing moved.

No no no no no no

Charlie dug through the mud.  He didn't see anything.  He didn't see any more body parts.  He kept digging.  Tonks and Maddison were next to him, reaching into the mud, trying to find Peter.

Charlie stuck his arms into the mud the pulled his hands through.  He felt skin.  He pulled.  Tonks and Maddison pulled with him, but they couldn't get Peter out.

Charlie kept digging.  He didn't stop.  He didn't stop when they pulled out Peter's legs, or his torso, or his swollen purple face.  He didn't stop when he saw Peter's bulging eyes, when Maddison screamed and cried, or when Bill was suddenly there, pulling him away from the dead boy's body.

Chapter Text

June 1986

The Hogwarts Express sat abandoned in the silence of a dark meadow.  The train was no longer red; it was black and gray, covered in thick layers of mud from the assault.  Mud surrounded the train and covered four miles of the tracks that lead back to Hogsmeade.  Mud hung from the undersides of the train cars and coated the wheels, axles, and bearings.  Pieces of shattered glass were mixed in the mud and scattered through the grass around the train.  The roof of one of the train cars had collapsed from the weight of the mud during the attack.  Two students had died inside.  One had been crushed.  The other had suffocated.

The wind howled across the meadow and pulled at the curtains that hung inside the compartments.  Light came from Dumbledore and Moody's wands.  The train conductor and Hagrid walked ahead of them, carrying lanterns.

Abandoned luggage, covered in mud, spilled out of the train cars.  Hagrid bent down and picked up a crushed container of Bertie Bott's Every Flavour Beams.  He wiped off the mud covering the label and swore.  When he had arrived to help recover the bodies of the five students killed in the attack, he cried.  One of the students had been a First Year, a small girl named Raye.  He had carried her on his shoulder once, when she was lost on the grounds after a flying lesson.  Hours ago, he had carried her lifeless body into Hogsmeade.

The conductor pointed beneath a train car.  "See this here?  The way the wheels and axles are warped?  It almost overturned."

Moody walked between two train cars and stepped over the coupling.  Juliet, a young Auror who was working on the muggle-born killings, had already examined the conductor's memories.  The trolley witch was still missing.  The conductor had last seen her on top one of the train cars during the attack, casting shields and screaming Confringo at the sky.

"At some point," the conductor had told Moody, "she must have been knocked off."

And dragged beneath the train.

Moody pulled an arm and part of a shoulder out from beneath the train car.  There wasn't any sign of the head, or the rest of the body.  Dried blood covered the side of the train car, illuminated in the light from Moody's wand.  He used the levitation charm to raise the arm and shoulder over the coupling and dropped the body parts at the conductor's feet.

"That her?"

The train conductor leaned over and retched on the ground.  Once he emptied his stomach, he dry heaved a few times before he said, "That's her.  All the bracelets."

The conductor hadn't seen what, or who, the trolley witch had been screaming at.  Her cast spells were blocked from view by the torrential mud.  The conductor had focused on keeping the train upright and intact, casting his own shields and tearing through the onslaught.

Moody walked alongside the train.  He had expected to find more, but whoever attacked the train hadn't left anything behind apart from train cars filled with mud and death.

Hagrid collected the abandoned luggage.  The conductor joined him.  Hagrid would take the luggage home, clean it, and get it back to the students.  They should have their things.  When he found the luggage that belonged to the dead, he would use extra care to clean it and return it to the families.

Dumbledore reached down and collected a handful of dried mud.  He squeezed it in his palm until it disintegrated and spilled out through his fingers.

No one is safe.  And you can't protect your own students.

Moody joined Dumbledore. "It doesn't fit the pattern of the muggle-born killings."

"Is that all you got from this?" Dumbledore asked.  The rage built inside of him like it had in the Wizengamot dungeon.  "You're no better than the rest of the fucking Ministry."

Dumbledore didn't have time to react.  Moody grabbed him and pulled hard.  He was on the ground, choking, with Moody's wand pressed into his throat.  

"Don't make me your fucking enemy, Albus."

Dumbledore stuck out his hand and hit Moody with a concussive wave of force.

"Stupefy!" Moody said as he flew backwards, but Dumbledore had already torn his wand out of his hand.

Moody landed hard.

"This is what they want, Albus!  For us to be fucking divided!"

Dumbledore let the rage build inside his body.  The force of it traveled down his arms until his hands blazed white and red.  The ground beneath him shook.

"You were right, Alastor," Dumbledore said.  "You are one of the fucking too old ones.  You can't do a damn thing to stop the killings."

Moody stood and looked at the energy collected in Dumbledore's fists.  "They won't need to attack if we kill each other."

Dumbledore released whatever held his mind together and embraced madness.  Bright flames erupted from his hands.  He turned and ignited the closet train car.

Moody rushed him, but he couldn't break through whatever force field surrounded Dumbledore.

He's got my fucking wand.

Hagrid and the conductor forgot the luggage and ran toward Dumbledore and Moody.

Dumbledore turned and set the next car on fire, his eyes filled with flames.  "Did you collect enough evidence, Alastor?!  Did you see enough to satisfy your curiosity?!"

"Albus, stop!"

"Five students died on this fucking train," Dumbledore said.  "I'm not stopping."

Flames poured between Dumbledore and the train.  The cars heaved and twisted from the heat.  Metal gave way.

The fire spread through the cars.  The engine exploded.

The blast knocked Moody unconscious.

When he woke up, Hagrid supported his head and Dumbledore was gone.

Chapter Text

June 1986

Break Carrow and you'll break the truth of the muggle-born killings wide open.

Break Carrow and end all of this.

Dumbledore stood over the unconscious body of Marcus Carrow.  Blood covered the back of Carrow's head.  When Dumbledore had found Carrow inside his house in London, sleeping in his bed two doors away from his son, he took Carrow by the neck, slammed his head into a wall, and apparated him to a closed-off Underground tunnel that had been used as an air raid shelter during World War II.

"Rennervate," Dumbledore said.

Carrow opened his eyes, gasped, and struggled against the iron chains Dumbledore had used to restrain him.

"Dumbledore," Carrow spat, "you half-blood maniac!"

"I see you slept well," Dumbledore said, "after you picked Rhodus up from Hogwarts.  It is strange.  He usually takes the train home, doesn't he?"

"You're out of your mind."

Dumbledore yanked on the chain draped around Carrow's neck.  Carrow choked.  Dumbledore pulled tighter.  Carrow's lips went purple and his feet hammered against the floor, trying to propel him away from Dumbledore and the lack of oxygen.  He wasn't going anywhere.  Dumbledore waited, saw the panic in his face, and watched him fight for air.  He pulled on the chain until Carrow passed out, then he stood over him again.

"Rennervate."

Carrow gasped and coughed.

"I wanted you to know what suffocation feels like.  Because that is how three of the students on the train died.  They couldn't breathe.  They gasped and struggled, much like you did now, and all they managed was to pull more mud down their throats."

Carrow gasped.  "You're demented, Dumbledore.  What in the name of Merlin are you on about?"

Dumbledore pulled on the chains.  "The train, Carrow, your fucking attack on the train!"

Carrow laughed, as though it were all a misunderstanding; a sick joke.  "You mental maniac.  It wasn't me.  I didn't touch those kids."

Dumbledore had poured Veritaserum down Carrow's throat before he chained him to the concrete column.

Does he know how to fight it?

"This is because I wrote the act, right?  You think I hate them, so I must be killing children on their way home from school?"

Dumbledore leaned over Carrow with the chain pulled tight in his grasp.  "If it wasn't you, then who did you get to do it?  Who attacked the train?"

"I don't know."

"You were sloppy.  Two wizard-born children were killed on the train along with the muggle-borns.  You didn't want that, did you?"

"I didn't attack the train!"

Dumbledore tightened the chain.

"I didn't kill those kids!"

Break Carrow and end all of this.

"Crucio!"

Carrow screamed.  His body twisted against the chains and his head thrashed against the column.

Dumbledore kept his fists clenched.

Carrow bit through his tongue.  Blood ran down the corners of his mouth.

Dumbledore released the curse and Carrow fell forward, panting and bleeding.  His body shook.

"I didn't kill anyone!"

"Who attacked the train?  Who did you send?"

"You're insane, Albus.  Let me go!"

"Who did you send?"

"Let me go!"

"Aren't you glad you picked Rhodus up instead of sending him on the train to watch his classmates die?  You protected him, and now you're protecting whoever you sent after the train."

"I didn't send anyone!"

How is he fighting the Veritaserum?  Did he get an Auror to teach him how to do it?

"Crucio!"

Carrow screamed.

He knows.  Make him talk.

Four bodies floating in the air.

Samantha Jones dead in her own flat.

Five bodies laid on the ground next to the train.

He fucking knows.

Dumbledore stopped the curse and let Carrow breathe.

Carrow's nerves burned.  He watched Dumbledore.  The old man wasn't stable.  Dumbledore's hands glowed and the tunnel shook.  Carrow felt the chain tighten around his neck.  If he wasn't careful, Dumbledore would lose control.

"Albus, let me go," Carrow said.  "If you let me go, we can handle the rest of this without The Ministry.  I will tell them this was a misunderstanding and we will solve the murders and the train attack together."

The chain tightened around his neck.

"Albus! Stop!"

Dumbledore pulled at the air and the chain dug deeper into Carrow's neck.

"Tell me who you sent!"

Carrow gasped and couldn't catch his breath.

The chain tightened.

Carrow's lips turned purple.  Dumbledore slowed the movement of the chain.  He wanted Carrow to understand the pain his students had felt.

I'll choke him and bring him back as many times as it takes.  If he won't tell me, I'll take the fucking memories out of his head.  All his hate and his fucking Registration Commission Act.  Let him panic.  Let him struggle.  Let him choke.

Carrow's legs pounded on the concrete.  The walls of the tunnel shook.  Tiles and pieces of concrete came loose.

The chain tightened.

Let him know what it feels like to be afraid.  Let him know what it feels like to be at someone's mercy.

Carrow's eyes protruded from his face.  His bleeding tongue rolled to the back of his mouth and lodged in his windpipe.

Let him die.

Dumbledore pulled hard.  The links of the chain met and looped over each other.

Carrow's severed head fell onto the concrete.

Chapter Text

July 1986

Tonks,

What the hell happened on the train?!  No one will tell me a fucking thing.  Eni, Charlie, and Maddison won't respond to my letters.  I just want to make sure they are alright.  Are you alright?  The Prophet is shite at reporting and I can't leave this fucking castle.

Aaron

 


 

Hiya Aaron,

The Daily Prophet is fucking shite.  Did I use those words right together?  Sorry the others won't respond and you're left with me.  I know we don't talk as much.  The others were really bad off after the attack.  I was, too.  I think I was in shock for a few days.

The Prophet was right about the mud.  It was heavy and it just kept hitting the train.  It COVERED everything.  It came at us like a downpour.  I wasn't worried until the windows broke.  Then the mud flooded our compartment.  Peter was inside with me.  I was closer to the door.  The mud hit fast.  I tried to open the door.  I kept pulling, but there was already too much mud.  I closed my mouth to keep it from going down my throat, but I gasped for air and sucked a bunch in anyway.  Peter was under the seat.  I think he was trying to get his wand out of his bag.  I don't know if he ever found it.  I lost sight of him when I was buried.  If Charlie and Maddison didn't pull me out, I would have died with Peter. 

I had a lot of mud go down my throat, but I got it all coughed out alright.  Eni was unconscious when I last saw her.  Maddison and a Sixth Year student carried her off the train.  Maddison was all cut up and crying from seeing Peter.  Charlie was bad, Aaron.  He wasn't hurt much, but he was the one who kept digging and trying to find Peter.  We helped him pull out most of Peter's body, but he didn't stop, even after Maddison and I realized Peter was dead.  Charlie just kept digging.  His hands were all torn up from it.  Bill had to pull him away from Peter's body.

I don't think I am alright.  When my mum got me back home, I stood under the water in the shower for hours.  She had to pull me out.  The mud was long gone.  I just kept crying.  It really messed me up, you know?

Write back.  Writing this all down seems to help.

Tonks

 


 

Tonks,

What you wrote was so much worse than anything I've heard from the people here or read in The Prophet.  I'm glad you weren't killed in that compartment.  I would have been in shock, too.  Write me as much as you need to.

It's not fucking fair.  Peter was finally hanging out with us outside of classes and giving us shite.  He even told Rhodus off a few weeks ago.  It was great.  I can't believe he's dead.

Thanks for responding.  I'm glad you're alive.  We should talk more.

Aaron

P.S. Your muggle swearing is FUCKING excellent.

 


 

Charlie,

You don't have to respond.  Tonks told me what happened on the train.  I'm really fucking sorry.

Aaron

 


 

Aaron,

Sorry it took me so long to respond.  I have felt really awful since the train.  Maddison's family has been taking us out to the movies and shops, trying to show us a good time, but neither of us are enjoying it.  I keep thinking, what's the point?  Why the fuck did Peter have to die on the train?  Who the hell wanted us all dead so bad?  Should we even go back to school?  Is it safe?

Maddison says hi.  She says she'll try to write before the summer is over.  I wouldn't hold your breath.  She's trying not to think about Hogwarts or magic or anything until we have to go back in September.

I have to tell you something that happened on the train.  Charlie, Maddison, and I were pinned down in one of the aisles during the attack.  We were going to die, Aaron.  There was so much mud and we couldn't breathe.  So, I reached out, thought PROTEGO, and projected a shield WITHOUT A WAND.  It must have been the fear or the adrenaline.  I was able to keep the shield up long enough to get us back to the compartment where the others were trapped.  It took so much out of me.  I collapsed.  I never even saw Peter's body.  Maybe that's for the best.

I wish you were here.  I can't always talk to Maddison.  It makes me feel alone.

Eni

 


 

Eni,

YOU USED NON-VERBAL HAND MAGIC?!  That's brilliant!  They say that's really hard to do.  Few witches and wizards can even manage it.  Even if it was the fear and the adrenaline, that's amazing.

I haven't felt right after I heard about what happened to all of you and saw that Peter was killed.  I keep thinking the same things you do.  Who would have done this?  What the fuck kind of people kill kids on a train? 

I haven't been through what the rest of you went through, but I feel so angry about all of it.  No one is around to talk to here, either.  Filch put me to work cleaning the classrooms and organizing the storage closets.  It distracts me, so I work late to keep my mind off the train.

I wish I was there, too.  You're not the only one who feels alone.

Aaron

 


 

Hiya Aaron,

Have you heard from Charlie?  He still won't write me back.  I know he's blaming himself for what happened to Peter, but there's nothing more he could have done.  

I'm still not alright myself.  I keep having dreams where I feel like I can't breathe and there's mud in my throat.  I try to reach for Peter across the compartment and wake up grasping at the air.  I feel so terrible about all of it.  My dad wants to take me to see a therapist and my mum keeps slipping Draught of Peace into my tea.  Nothing helps.

I'm glad you like my fucking muggle swearing.  Teach me more when we are back in school, alright?

Tonks

 


 

Aaron,

I'm sorry, too.

Charlie

Chapter Text

August 1986

Charlie clutched the handle of his broom and plummeted beneath a layer of altocumulus clouds.  The drop sent his stomach into his chest and he smiled from the rush.  Griffins weren't supposed to be this fast.  Especially not a young one crippled by what Charlie suspected was a broken basal phalanx.

Where the hell did it go?

Charlie emerged beneath the clouds and hit turbulence.  The broom and his body shook as he surged upward, riding the uneven pockets of air.  The wind whipped at his skin until his face went numb and his scarf tangled around his neck.  It was hot on the ground, but it was much colder at his current elevation.  His gloves, sweater, and scarf kept off the cold, and his goggles kept his eyes from shutting against the sting of the wind.

Charlie had first spotted the griffin six days ago, while he was out flying.  He had seen its erratic movements and had spent the last week wondering how to capture the cub without hurting it more.  His worn copy of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them only documented how to capture flying creatures with the use of magic.

Scamander wasn't underage when he did most of his work.  He wasn't out here doing this without magic.

Charlie scanned the sky as he tore through the air.  He heard a cry and turned fast, sliding down the handle of his broom until his feet came out of the stirrups.  He pushed himself back into place, trying not to fall off.  The sun was in his eyes and he didn't see the griffin until it flew under him.  Charlie felt the waves of air displaced by its wings.

At least he didn't have to chase it anymore.  The griffin cub attacked him.  It dove at his back and pecked his shoulder.  Its tail hit Charlie in the face.  Its talons ripped through his sweater and drew blood.  Charlie winced, but didn't let go of his broom or close his eyes.  He accelerated and pulled away from the griffin.  It chased him.

I have to do this quick.

Charlie took one hand off his broom and released the net tied across his back.  He pulled it into his lap and made sure the handline was secured to the broom handle.  The griffin cub caught up to him with its talons outstretched.  Charlie threw up his arms to protect his face.  The griffin cried loud in his ear; in pain and agitated.

"Easy, easy," Charlie said, more to himself than the griffin.  The cub couldn't hear him over the wind and its own shrieks.

The griffin's broken wing made it spin in erratic circles.  Charlie held the net tight.  He had to get the cub in the net without hurting it more than it already was.  He wrapped the emergency release cord around his wrist.  He had modified the net so that if he got tangled, or the griffin struggled too hard, he could pull the cord and the net would unravel.

This would be so much easier with magic.

The griffin circled back toward him.  Charlie jumped up and stood on the broom.  The griffin charged him and Charlie tossed the net over the cub.  The net wrapped around the griffin.  Charlie pulled the lead line and cinched the net closed.

Yes!

The griffin hated the net.  It struggled.  The weight of the griffin pulled on the broom and Charlie fell.  He caught the handle and pulled himself back into the stirrups, but the broom couldn't take the force of the griffin's weight, not with it struggling.  Charlie let the broom fall with the weight of the netted griffin.  The cub cried but couldn't struggle as much as they fell at the speed of gravity.  Charlie pulled the headline and brought the net into his lap, still plummeting toward the ground.  He was gentle as he wrapped his arm around the net and pulled the cub against his chest.  With its wings pressed against its sides and its talons beneath its body, the griffin looked small and young.  It couldn't have been out of the nest long.

Charlie pulled out of the dive and slowed his broom.  The griffin stopped fighting the net, though it still tried to peck his body, its beak protruding between the cords.  Charlie maintained a low speed and flew just above the trees.  He navigated to the forest outside Ottery St. Catchpole and headed for his camp.

Molly sat on a wooden stool in front of the entrance to his tent.

Charlie circled twice, trying to decide what to tell her about the griffin.  If she had already looked inside his tent, it didn't matter.

Charlie landed by the fire pit and got off his broom, cradling the entangled griffin against his chest.

He walked past Molly.  Neither of them said anything.

Molly followed Charlie into the tent.  Inside, three mokes watched them from a large cage, a flightless golden snidget sat perched on a lantern, and a blind knarl slept in a nest made of leaves, dirt, and tree roots.

Charlie knelt down and untied the net.  The griffin chirped and pecked at his fingers.  Charlie took a dead mouse out of a basket and fed it to the griffin.  While the griffin ate, he pet its back and checked its injured right wing.  The end of it turned down at a sharp angle.  As bad as it was, he was surprised the cub had been able to fly at all.

Charlie used another dead mouse to lure the griffin into a large cage lined with straw and blankets.  Once the griffin was inside, he closed the door.  He filled a bowl with water from a jug and placed it inside.

Without turning to look at Molly, he said, "I'll release all of them before school starts, I swear.  They just need time to heal.  I couldn't leave them out there on their own."

"It's alright, Charlie."

The griffin chirped and tilted its head sideways.  Charlie reached into the cage and stroked its head until he heard what sounded like purring.

"Is that a griffin?"

"Yes."

"What's wrong with it?" Molly asked.

"Broken wing," Charlie said.  "I'll have to bandage it and stabilize the broken bone so it can heal."

At least the cub had stopped assaulting him.

Molly took out her wand.  "Ferula." 

Bandages appeared and wrapped around the griffin's wing. 

"Thanks," Charlie said.

"It will be a lot easier when you can use magic outside of school," Molly said.

Charlie went back to the basket and took out a handful of dead crickets.  He fed them to the mokes.

"Charlie, I came here to talk to you about the train."

"I don't want to talk about the train."

Molly said, "This isn't about what you want.  Look at me."

Charlie turned around.  The snidget hopped from the lantern, across the table, and walked up Charlie's arm.  He scooped up the bird and set it back on the lantern.

"Your father and I have given you time to stay in the woods and grieve, but you can only get so far on your own," Molly said.

"I'm fine."

Molly looked at the stack of unopened letters covering the end of the table.  "No, you're isolating yourself.  You haven't spent any time with your siblings and you won't even talk to your friends."

"I just want to be left alone."

"You've been alone for almost two months," Molly said.

"I like being alone.  And I said I was fine."

"Charlie, you saw one of your friends die.  You're not fine."

"I didn’t see him die.  He was already dead by the time I got to him.  I should have kept digging after we pulled Tonks out, but I stopped.  I forgot about Peter, don't you get it?  I forgot he was there and he died while I stopped digging."

"It wasn't your fault, Charlie."

"It is my fault," Charlie said.

Molly stood, raised her wand, and reached for Charlie's shoulder, where blood mixed with torn wool.

"Episkey," Molly said.

Charlie's shoulder burned as the skin mended.  Once the gashes closed, his skin turned cold.

"I'll fix your sweater tonight," Molly said.  "Right now, I need to fix your perceptions of guilt and loss."

"I don't need you to-"

"You're shaking, Charlie.  You do need to hear what I have to say, or you won't recover from what happened."

"I don't want to recover.  I want to go back and make myself dig faster.  Peter died because I didn't dig fast enough."

"Peter died because a bunch of, pardon my muggle, fucking terrorists attacked the train, Charlie.  There wasn't anything more you could have done.  Peter may have died before you and the others even got back to the compartment.  It wasn't your fault."

"Yes, it was."

"You're thirteen, Charlie.  Nothing that happened on that train was your fault."

Charlie didn't respond.

"I don't talk much about my brothers," Molly said.  "You were too young when they died.  I didn't want you growing up scared of Death Eaters, or the war."

"You're old enough now," Molly continued.  "You remember your Uncle Gideon and your Uncle Fabian.  Gideon never married.  He was always at The Burrow, playing with you and Bill.  He was there when Fred and George were born.  My brothers loved all of you like you were their own.  After they were killed, I wanted to remember how they were when we were all together and how happy we all were, but all I could think about was when they were tortured and killed by Death Eaters.  I am still dealing with the pain of losing them and the guilt that I wasn't there to save them, even though I know I would have been tortured and killed, too."

Charlie put a hand on his mother's shoulder.  "Mum, I'm sorry."

"Losing someone takes a part out of you, Charlie.  Even after time dulls the wounds, the pain sits in your mind and reminds you it's there every time you think you're past it.  I don't expect you to not feel pain from losing Peter, but I don't want you to carry the guilt.  Because guilt spreads through you like poison," Molly said.  "I want to tell you this is the last time you will see death or lose someone you care about, but you're a wizard and our lives are filled with struggle and loss.  If you let the guilt build inside of you, the weight of it will kill you, Charlie."

"I don't know how to stop it."

"You forgive yourself.  Because you won't survive in our world if you don't."

Charlie shook and Molly pulled him against her.

Chapter Text

MUGGLE-BORN REGISTRATION COMMISSION ACT PROVES DEADLY.  VOTE ON HOLD.

The Muggle-Born Registration Commission Act has been controversial since its conception two years ago, surrounded by heated protests from opponents and counter-protests from supporters.  Those who oppose the legislation have frequently spoken out about the ability of the act to turn the magical community against itself and encourage violence, and now they have the Minister for Magic on their side.  This morning, Millicent Bagnold confirmed that the rumored killings of four muggle-borns inside the Wizengamot dungeon did, in fact, occur.  Aurors have been dispatched to solve the killings, which are believed to have been committed by proponents of the act. 

While it is unknown who is responsible for the attack made on the Hogwarts Express in June, resulting in the deaths of five students, three of whom were muggle-born, the Minister for Magic had this to say:

"We hesitate to assign blame to either side until we have more facts.  Ultimately, the side responsible for the attack does not matter.  Whether the mud was used as a symbol by those who are called by the derogatory term associated with it, or whether it was intended, instead, as a means to an ends for proponents of the act, the children remain dead.  I can't promise justice for the families of those killed, but I can stop providing the kindling stroking the fires of hate."

Millicent Bagnold then announced that the Muggle-Born Registration Commission Act will be shelved and the vote will be put on hold for as long as it takes for the violence to end.  When asked what measures will be taken to ensure the safety of the students as they return to Hogwarts next week, the Minister for Magic explained that multiple Aurors will be on the train to escort and protect the children.   

On top of the controversies, violence, and killings associated with the act, Marcus Carrow, the primary author of the Muggle-Born Registration Commission Act, remains missing.

Chapter Text

October 1986

Charlie sat at a round wooden table at the back of the Three Broomsticks Inn, leaning over The Monster Book of Monsters.  His battered copy of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them was on the empty chair next to him.  Charlie had secured the worn pages with an adhesive over the summer, and a binding charm once he arrived at Hogwarts, but pages kept tearing and falling out anyway.  He used a piece of twine, wrapped twice around the book, to keep it intact when he wasn't reading it.

The parchment on the table in front of him was blank.  He hadn't even taken his quill or ink pot out of his satchel.  He should have started his essay about the use of the oculus potion for Snape, but he got distracted when he found a recipe for dragon tonic and now he was reading about the Antipodean Opaleye.

Tonks picked up Fantastic Beasts, set it on the table, and sat down next to Charlie.  Her hair was purple.

"Have you seen the others?  They were supposed to meet me here to critique a presentation I have to give for Muggle Studies on Monday."

"No," Charlie said.  He had avoided the others on purpose all day.  He hadn't spoken to any of his classmates in over a week.  He looked back at The Monster Book of Monsters.

Eni and Maddison walked through the front door of the inn, laughing and leaning on each other.  Tonks waved them over.  Eni and Maddison grabbed two empty chairs and dragged them over to the table.

"Charlie!  We didn't know you'd be here, too," Maddison said.  "You'll be good at critiquing whatever Tonks has to say."

"Why would I be good at it?"

Maddison shot a look at Tonks.  What the hell did I walk into?

"Because of what your dad does."

"I don't pay attention when he talks about work."

"You must've picked up a few things.  Doesn't your family have a telephone?  I know your dad has a car."

"He doesn't drive it much.  And I've never used the telephone."

Eni stood back up.  "Right then, I'm getting tea.  Anyone want anything?"

"I'll take tea," Tonks said.

"Me too," Maddison said.  "Put them all on my tab."

Tonks took out her notes.  "Can we start with microwave ovens?  My dad has never used one, so he wasn't much help.  They seem like the closest thing to magic muggles have devised."

Charlie slammed his book shut.  It didn't like the rough treatment and snapped at him.

Maddison threw up her hands.  "Fuck, Charlie, what?"

Charlie pulled his hand away from the book that was still trying to bite him.  "I'm not in the mood."

He opened his satchel and shoved the book inside.  The book growled.

"You weren't the only one on that train, you know," Maddison said.  "We were all there, too.  I was right there with you, trying to dig Peter out.  There wasn't anything more we could have done."

Charlie shoved his blank parchment into his satchel, tearing it.

"Charlie," Maddison said, "stop running off.  You need to deal with what happened in some kind of healthy way."

"You can't tell me how to deal with this, Maddison," Charlie said.

Eni came back to the table with Aaron, who had joined her at the bar.  He held two mugs.  He passed one of them to Maddison and handed the other one to Tonks.

Charlie stood up and grabbed his satchel.  "Peter is dead, alright?  And it's my fault."

"You're full of shite if you think his death was your fault.  If it was your fault, then it's my fault.  It's Eni's fault and Tonks' fault, too."

"It's not any of your faults," Aaron said.

Charlie picked up Fantastic Beasts and pointed it at Aaron.  "Stay out of this.  You weren't even on the train."

"No, but I lost Peter, too," Aaron said, "and I was really fucking worried about the rest of you."

"Really fucking worried, huh?"

"Charlie, stop," Eni said.

"Yeah, fucking worried," Aaron said.  "Do you know how I found out about the attack?  I was in Hogsmeade when Hagrid and the others brought the bodies back here.  I saw Peter's body when Hagrid carried him past me, and no one could tell me if you or anyone else was alive."

Charlie pushed past Tonks and Maddison.  His satchel brushed the table and knocked Tonks' notes on the floor.  He stepped on them as he walked up to Aaron.

"Do you think you could have done any better?  Do you think you could have saved Peter?"

"No," Aaron said.

"Do you think I could have done more?"

"None of you could have done more," Aaron said.  "Even with magic, Eni almost killed herself trying to keep you all alive."

"You don't know anything about using magic, Aaron," Charlie said, "so don't pretend like you do."

Aaron clenched his fist.  Charlie shoved past Aaron and left.

Chapter Text

November 1986

He walked into the kitchen and faced a corner he didn't frequent.  It was the one where the calendar hung.  Another year had gone by and he realized he hadn't paid it any attention.  It had passed while he was FUCKING TRAPPED IN THIS FUCKING BODY making toast, coffee, and taking cold showers.

He heard music.  He didn't remember going to the record player, but that didn't mean it wasn't his hands that had taken the album, removed the vinyl from its sleeve, and adjusted the needle.  It only meant he had more blank spaces in his memory.  It was hard to record memories when you weren't the one creating them.

It had become easier NO to give in NO to his puppeteer.

His feet turned and he shuffled across the room and stood in his AH I SEE YOU RECOGNIZED YOUR MISTAKE usual corner.

This is all NOT AGAIN fine.  And you are NO I'M FUCKING NOT happy.

He felt his father inside his head; looking out through his eyes, controlling when he blinked and swallowed, and implanting feelings that weren't his own.  When the old man wanted to, when he pushed hard enough, he could send his son to a dark corner of his mind where there wasn't any sight or feeling, where he was completely detached from his body and his conscious mind flickered like a dying flame.  Doing so often enough caused damage, however, and his father was careful to only damage him when he deemed it necessary.

FIGHT IT FIGHT IT FIGHT IT 

The darkness THAT'S IT FIGHT IT HE'S NOT PAYING ATTENTION HE ALREADY MESSED UP AND LEFT YOU IN THE WRONG CORNER didn't come.  He felt for the corner of his mind THAT'S IT and found FUCKING YES KEEP AT IT an edge where the fabric of the curse had DON'T LOSE IT FUCKING KEEP HOLD OF IT delaminated and the KEEP HOLD OF IT top layer, just the slightest fragment of the edge, had lost its adhesion.

MOVE

FUCKING MOVE

His index finger twitched.

The room went dark and he was sent to the corner of his mind where he wasn't sure if he was alive or dead.

Chapter Text

November 1986

Aaron sat with Tonks, using her copy of Ancient Runes Made Easy.  Madam Pince walked out from an aisle of bookshelves and Tonks shot Aaron a look.  Pince had pulled Tonks aside last week and had a long talk with her after she laughed too loud at a joke Eni made.  Aaron turned down the volume on his Walkman until the sound no longer drifted past the headphones.  Pince walked past them.

Aaron couldn't focus on the homework much longer.  He had stayed in the kitchen too late last night, cleaning with Lara and the house elves after dinner, and he was tired.  He had to work again tonight.

Tonks wasn't feeling it either.  She sighed and leaned over the textbook, pressing her forehead against the table.  Her hair changed from red to purple.

"It's been three hours. We should have just taken Care of Magical Creatures so we wouldn't be stuck in the library all Saturday."

Aaron took off his headphones.  "I don't think taking Kettleburn's class would have saved us.  Charlie walked in about an hour ago.  He's been reading in the corner behind you."

Tonks turned around and looked at Charlie.  "I bet he isn't even doing homework.  He's probably reading more about dragons for fun.  That's all he does now."

Aaron put his headphones back on and looked at his parchment.  He got three translations further into the assignment before Maddison snuck up behind him and pulled the headphones off his head.

"Did you bring it?"

"It's in my bag," Aaron said.

Maddison looked around to make sure no one was watching, pulled the bottle of bourbon out of Aaron's bag, and slipped it into hers.

"Eleven o'clock in the Slytherin common room," she said.

"Sounds great," Tonks said.

"I can't anymore," Aaron said.  "I have to work."

"What do they have you doing now?" Maddison asked.

"Something with Hagrid."

"You can't stop by after?"

"I don't know how long it will take," Aaron said.

"Damn, alright."

Aaron handed Tonks his parchment.  "Here's the first part.  Well, most of it.  I'll finish the last part tomorrow."

"I'll get the second half done and swap you back," Tonks said.

"Where are you going?" Maddison asked.

"To do something I'll probably regret," Aaron said, and nodded toward Charlie.

"Don't fucking invite him to hang out with us tonight," Maddison said.  "He still hasn't apologized for what he said at the Three Broomsticks."

"I won't," Aaron said.  He pushed the rest of his stuff into his bag and walked over to Charlie before he could talk himself out of it.

Charlie didn't look up.

Aaron pulled out the empty chair and sat down.  "Look, I don't exactly want to talk to you, either, but there's an old dragon in the forest."

"What's that word you and Eni like to use?  Oh yeah.  Bullshit."

"Hagrid was the one who wanted me to tell you.  Go ask him about it."

Charlie looked up.  "Are you serious?"

"Yes," Aaron said.  "Look, I'm going out there tonight because Hagrid and Kettleburn need an extra hand and I need money, but you actually care about dragons, so you should be there."

Charlie didn't say anything.

"If you want to go, but you don't want me there, that's fine.  Meet Hagrid at the edge of the forest after sundown.  Just tell me if you go so I don't show up, too, alright?  Pass the word to me through Donaghan or whoever you still talk to."

"I don't talk to Donaghan either," Charlie said.  "What are they doing with a dragon?"

"Hagrid wouldn't tell me much, but it didn't sound like anything good.  The dragon is old.  I think it's dying."

"They really want help?"

"Yes, and it should be you, not me," Aaron said.

"Are you saying you don't want to see a dragon?"

"Not as much as you do, Charlie," Aaron said.  "You're the one who wants to study them."

"You don't have to stay back if I go."

"Can you really stand to look at my non-magical mudblood face all night?"

Charlie closed his book.  "I shouldn't have said what I did at the Three Broomsticks."

"No, you shouldn't have," Aaron said.

"I want to see the dragon," Charlie said.  "I can help Kettleburn and Hagrid if you don't mind me going with you."

"Alright," Aaron said.  "Bring a lantern."

Chapter Text

November 1986

The sky was ignited with streaks of orange and red when Charlie left the castle.  He walked across the grounds and down the hill towards Hagrid's hut, carrying a lantern he had taken from the supply closet in the Gryffindor common room.  It was cold and the wind had picked up.  He should have borrowed Bill's coat.

The hut was dark.  Charlie walked past the garden and took the path toward the Forbidden Forest.  He saw Hagrid at the edge of the trees, holding a crossbow and a lantern.  Aaron stood next to him with a weighed-down pack and a canvass roll over his shoulder.

Fang barked and ran up to Charlie, panting and drooling.  He jumped on Charlie's shoulders and knocked him down, licking his face and neck.  Charlie laughed and tried to stand up, but Fang was too heavy.

Hagrid whistled.  Fang left Charlie on the ground and bounded back to Hagrid.

"Sorry 'bout that, Charlie," Hagrid said.  "He's still got a lot to learn."

"He's fine, Hagrid," Charlie said.  He stood up, wiped drool off his face, adjusted his satchel, and picked up the lantern.

"It was fine when he was a hundred pounds lighter," Hagrid said.  "Now, it's just bad manners."

Hagrid glared at Fang, who lowered his head and tucked his tail.

"Professor Kettleburn is already in the forest with the dragon," Hagrid said.  "We should get going."

"What are we doing with the dragon, Hagrid?" Charlie asked.

"I thought you should see a dragon in real life," Hagrid said, "since you want to study them and all."

Hagrid hesitated.  "But, you should know that tonight isn't just for seeing a live dragon.  The dragon is dying.  Have you read anything about what happens to a dragon when it dies?  What we have to do?"

Charlie had read about dragon poachers; people who hunted dragons and killed them for their hides, horns, scales, and blood.  Dragon blood was expensive and in high demand.  But there were more humane ways to get dragon blood.  When a dragon died, especially one that allowed humans to care for it near the end, it was generally acceptable to collect its blood and other parts after it passed.  Humane harvesting of dragons lowered the prices the poachers got and saved dragon lives.  It had to be done.

"We have to harvest it," Charlie said.

Hagrid nodded.  "We are gonna stay with the dragon until it dies, then we'll collect its blood along with everything else.  You are both old enough to know where dragon heartstrings come from.  You aren't First Years anymore.  I think you can handle what we have to do.  But, it's gonna be messy.  Dragons are amazing creatures.  But watching one die is hard, and cutting it open afterwards is worse.  If you don't want to do this, I understand.  But we really could use the help."

"It's something that has to be done," Charlie said.  "I'll do it."

"This is the right way to get dragon blood," Hagrid said.  "Not like the way the poachers do it."

"I read about it," Charlie said.  "I understand."

"Reading about it and doing it are two different things."  Hagrid looked at Aaron.  "I won't tell Dumbledore if you want to bail."

"No," Aaron said.  "I'm still going."

"Alright," Hagrid said.  "Stay close and follow me.  You've probably heard bad things about the forest.  Some of them are true, but nothing will hurt you if you're with me and Fang."

Charlie and Aaron followed Hagrid into the forest.  It didn't take long to lose what was left of the light.  The wind howled through the trees and shook the branches.  Hagrid and Charlie's lanterns swung as they walked, casting the only light around the three of them and sending long shadows over the ground.

Charlie walked next to Aaron.  "I can carry the roll or the bag."

Aaron didn't look at him.  "Just hold the lantern."

Hagrid turned.  "I told you two to stay close!  Catch up!"

Charlie and Aaron walked faster.

"How old is the dragon?" Charlie asked.

"We don't know exactly," Hagrid said.  "Kettleburn thinks it's around 1,250 years old based on its physical condition.  The only other clue we have is that it is actually in the forest.  When dragons die of old age, they usually return to where they were born.  There's some notes about a Welsh Green that had a few chicks in the forest around 1,300 years ago.  It's probably from that litter.  The notes are old and smeared though, so we don't know for sure.  They were written long before most dragons were moved to sanctuaries.  There haven't been any dragons in the forest, or anywhere near Hogwarts, in centuries."

"I read it's rare for dragons to die of old age," Charlie said, walking fast to keep up with Hagrid's long strides.  "They usually die fighting other dragons, or people kill them for sport, or to harvest them.  Or they get sick."

"That's right," Hagrid said.  "It makes tonight even more important."

Charlie and Aaron followed Hagrid off the trail.  Hagrid pushed back vegetation and the terrain changed.  The ground was covered in tree roots and rocks.  They climbed over it and headed uphill.  Charlie kept the lantern in front of him and Aaron.  Every so often, Fang's head shot up at noises that came from somewhere around them, but they kept moving.  If something was following them, they never saw it.

It took almost an hour for them to get through the forest.  Charlie saw a clearing ahead and light from a fire.  When they stepped out of the trees, Charlie saw the dragon.  It was a Welsh Green, like Hagrid had said, though its coloring was faded and its features were pallid.  The dragon laid on its stomach with its legs pulled close.  Its wings were folded against its body.  Its head laid on the ground, cradled by a bed of straw.

Professor Kettleburn sat by the fire, stirring a pot.  He had lost an arm, and one of his legs, to some creature years prior and his prosthetic limbs rested on a bedroll by the fire.

The dragon turned its head toward them.  Its breathing was slow and labored.  The dragon's eyes were clear and they watched Charlie as he approached.  Scars and wrinkled hide covered its face.  More scars covered its neck, back, and wings; long gashes and irregular-shaped gouges where the hide was thin.

How many times has it fought other dragons?  Or escaped from hunters?

Charlie realized the dragon had about half the scales it should have, based on what he had seen in his textbooks.  He had never seen pictures of a dragon this old though.

Do they loose their scales as they age?

Aaron waved a hand in front of Charlie's face.  He held two bowls of what smelled like beef stew.

"What?"

"I asked if you wanted dinner."

"Yeah, thanks," Charlie said and took one of the bowls.  He downed the stew and set the empty bowl on the ground.

The dragon exhaled hard and smoke came out of its nostrils.  Aaron jumped back.

Kettleburn walked up to them, his prosthetic leg thumping on the ground.  "Don't worry!  She can't breathe fire anymore.  She's far too old for that.  Based on the research I've studied, the Welsh Green loses its ability to breathe fire around the age of 1,100 or so, though I imagine she was still a fierce fighter until the last few years when time got the best of her."

Kettleburn took a bowl of water and brought it to the dragon, but she turned away from him.

"She stopped eating three days ago," Kettleburn said.

"What can we do?" Charlie asked.

"Keep her comfortable," Kettleburn said.  "I'd give her Draught of Peace, but, based on her size, she needs a lot more than what we have available.  Here, Charlie, come see this."

Charlie walked up to the dragon, slow and careful.  Kettleburn gently removed one of her scales and handed it to Charlie.

"She's shedding her scales," Charlie said.  The scale was bigger than his hand, hard, and made of transparent green layers, like Muscovite or gypsum.

Kettleburn nodded.  "Many species of dragons molt and grow new scales beneath the old ones as the seasons change.  But look."

"There aren't any new scales coming in," Charlie said.

"Correct," Kettleburn said.  "It looks like she has been losing them for years, based on the wear patterns of her hide.  But, in the last few days, she has lost a high percentage of the remaining scales.  It is her significant age, and her proximity to death."

The dragon turned back to look at them.  She looked exhausted.

"I'm not sure how much time she has left," Kettleburn said.  "This will likely take most of the night and possibly into the morning.  I've told Hagrid we can sleep in shifts.  Whoever is awake can alert the others when the dragon passes."

Hagrid waved Aaron over to the fire.  He handed him the crossbow, showed him how to load it, and how to hold it, with his shoulder back and his arm level.  Charlie watched Aaron fire a few arrows into the woods and turned back to the dragon.  He reached out and rubbed the dragon's head.  She closed her eyes and pushed her snout against his chest.  She smelled like sulfur.

I'm not sleeping tonight.

"Will she be in pain?"

"She should go peacefully," Kettleburn said.  "I expect her to drift into sleep, stop breathing, and never wake up.  We will have to work quickly once she passes.  Her blood will start to solidify within thirty minutes, and that is the thing we need the most.  The scales, claws, hide, teeth, and horns can be removed much later, but we will have to drain her blood and get to her heartstrings right away."

Charlie tried not to think about what they would have to do to drain her blood that fast, or how they would get to the heartstrings.  He had seen the handles of the knives poking out from the canvass roll Aaron had carried through the forest.

If I want to study dragons, I have to do this.  If I can't, then I need to find something else I'm good at.

Kettleburn walked back to the fire for more stew.  Charlie grabbed his satchel, took out a sheet of parchment, his quill, and his ink pot, and started to sketch the dragon.  He started with her head, her eyes, and her snout.  He made sure to duplicate the way her hide wrinkled around her eyes.  He added the horns and started on her neck.  He wanted to capture every detail so he could study his drawing in the future.  This way, he would always know what an ancient dragon looked like.  He drew the curve of her back, the folds of her wings, and carefully replicated the pattern of her remaining scales, noticing she had lost the most where her wings folded and rubbed against her side.  More scales detached and fell on the ground around her as he sketched.  They sounded like pieces of glass when they hit each other.

His hands were cold and cramping when Aaron sat down next to him, holding Hagrid's crossbow.  Charlie realized he was hungry again.

"Does Kettleburn have more stew?"

"Kettleburn put the stew away two hours ago," Aaron said.  "He's asleep.  So is Hagrid."

"What?" Charlie looked up at the fire.  The pot was gone and the flames were low.  Kettleburn was asleep on his bedroll.  Hagrid leaned against a tree with Fang in his lap, snoring with his mouth open.

"I didn't realize how late it was," Charlie said.

"I figured," Aaron said.  He looked at Charlie's drawing.  "You're really into the dragon."

"I can't believe we got to come out here and see her," Charlie said.  "She's amazing."

"I'm glad you're happy," Aaron said.  "I started to wonder if you would be again."

"So did I," Charlie said.

"I'm sorry about what happened on the train," Aaron said.  "I know I wasn't there and I'll never understand what it was like.  I didn't handle it well, either.  I kept sending letters when maybe I should have just left you alone so you could forget about it."

"No, I needed the letters.  I should have responded more," Charlie said.  "Maddison's right.  I don't know how to get past what happened in any kind of healthy way.  I thought it would be easier once I was back here, but it made it worse.  Taking the train back was hard.  I should have let Dad drive me back like he wanted to, and I shouldn't have isolated myself from all of you."

"You have to stop thinking that what happened was your fault."

"I should have kept digging, Aaron.  I forgot Peter was there."

"You were trying to survive," Aaron said.  "All of you almost died."

Charlie didn't hear him.  "I forgot him."

Aaron put his hand on Charlie’s shoulder.  "Stop blaming yourself.  It's making everything worse."

"I can't," Charlie said.

"You have to," Aaron said.  "The train attack wasn't your fault, but you took all the trauma and grief and made it your fault, like there was more you could have done.  There wasn't, alright?"

Charlie kept his eyes on the dragon.

"I wasn't on the train.  I didn't dig Peter's body out like you did," Aaron said.  "But I've blamed myself for things before."

Charlie looked at Aaron.

"I've never talked about it.  I've never wanted to talk about it," Aaron said.  His breath fogged in the air between them.  "I don't like what my life was like before your dad came and got me."

"What happened?"

"It was more what didn't happen," Aaron said.  "They moved me around a lot, Charlie.  I never knew where they were going to take me next or when I would have to leave somewhere I liked.  People kept telling me they wanted me, or that the next people would want me, but no one did.  I'd get excited and hopeful.  When I was moved again and I had to start over, I blamed myself.  Why didn't anyone want me?  What the fuck was I doing wrong?  It wasn't healthy.  But I couldn't stop doing it."

Aaron exhaled and continued. "I don't know, it's not like the train.  I'm not trying to make it seem like I understand.  I guess I'm just trying to say I've blamed myself for things outside of my control before and it doesn't help.  It took me to this dark corner of my mind and I hated it."

It was really cold.  Charlie had worn a few layers, and the sweater was warm, but it was late now and the air had a deep chill.  He couldn't feel his fingers.  He rubbed his hands together.  Aaron stood, grabbed two blankets from the unused bedrolls, and walked back over to Charlie.

"Let me see them," Charlie said.  He took out his wand and waved it over the blankets.  "Focillo."

The blankets began to radiate heat.  Charlie wrapped his around his shoulders.  Aaron did the same and sat down next to him.

Aaron said, "That's a good charm."

"I'm sorry about what I said at the Three Broomsticks," Charlie said.  "It wasn't right.  I didn't want to hurt you."

"I'm over it," Aaron said.  "You should apologize to the others, though, or at least start talking to them again."

"I'll try," Charlie said.  "I just feel so . . . detached.  I always thought I was well held together, you know?  Life seemed easy. I had magic.  But everything changed on the train.  I actually had to do something without magic and I realized I couldn't."

Aaron smiled.  "It's kind of shite, right?"

 


 

Charlie finished the drawing.  He tucked it back into his satchel along with the scale Kettleburn had given him.  The dragon's breathing had slowed again.  Its eyes were closed and it hadn't stirred for the past three hours.  It wouldn't be long now.

The sky turned a lighter shade of black.  Aaron was wrapped under his blanket, asleep against the dragon.  Charlie nudged him.

Aaron pushed the blanket back.  "Is it time?"

"Yes," Charlie said.  "It will be soon."

"I'll wake up Kettleburn and Hagrid."

Charlie pet the dragon's head, not sure that she could even feel anything anymore.  He counted the rise and fall of her body.  She barely moved.  After a few minutes, the dragon's mouth opened and it pushed out its last breath.  Everything went still.  Kettleburn leaned down and checked the dragon.  He nodded at Charlie.  She was dead.

Hagrid had a knife in his hand.  He leaned over the dragon, picked up its head, and opened its throat.  Kettleburn had a wide-mouth bottle ready beneath Hagrid.  The dragon's blood poured into the bottle.  It should have filled it quickly, but the vessel was enchanted with some type of space manipulation charm.  Kettleburn handed the bottle to Aaron.  Hagrid held the dragon's head while thick, dark green blood poured into the bottle.  Some of it overran and trickled down Aaron's arm, but he didn't move.  Kettleburn moved the dragon's wing away from its abdomen and handed Charlie a knife.

"This is where I really need your help," Kettleburn said.  "We're going to cut through the dragon's hide and into its chest.  The hide is thick and tough, but I've enchanted the knives to make it easier.  Cut parallel to my incision and you'll be fine.  You might want to take off your sweater though."

Charlie pulled his sweater over his head, tossed it on top of his blanket, and took the knife.  Kettleburn stabbed the dragon's side and pulled the knife down.  Charlie took a deep breath and did the same.  Even with the enchantment, they had to pull hard to get through the hide.  They cut parallel incisions.  Kettleburn cut perpendicular to their lines and Charlie helped him pull back the hide, his fingers and arms covered in dragon blood.

Charlie saw muscles and tendons.  He cut through them, mirroring Kettleburn's movements.  Blood ran down the dragon's side and covered the ground.  It soaked Charlie's trainers.  He kept going, moving the sharp knife through the muscle fibers.  They cut through the muscle and Kettleburn started to pull apart the dragon's rib cage.   Charlie winced, but made himself grab the bones and break them.   Once they were past the ribs and another layer of tissue, Charlie saw the lungs and the heart.  The heart was a lot bigger than he thought it would be.  It was wet, dark green, and looked alive.

"We'll have to cut it out to get to the chordae tendineae, or the heartstrings.  They are tendons linking the muscles of the heart to the valves in the ventricles," Kettleburn said.

Kettleburn and Charlie cut out the heart.  Kettleburn used a levitation charm to raise it in the air between them.  He guided Charlie's hand to the first heartstring and showed him where to cut.  It was like cutting through rope.  Charlie separated the first heartstring.  Kettleburn handed him a piece of canvass and he wrapped it inside.

They cut out the rest of the heartstrings and wrapped them carefully.

"So many of the potions and things we use come from these animals," Kettleburn said.  "Few witches and wizards ever realize what it meant for the animal to die and what it took to cut out the heartstrings and drain its blood.  It's gruesome.  It is hard to do.  They all buy vials of dragon blood off the shelves and get their heartstring-cored wands from Ollivander's and never think about it.  It means so much that you were here."

When it was over, after they bottled all of the dragon blood and cast charms to clean up the mess, Hagrid put his massive hand on Charlie's shoulder.  "I'm really proud of you, Charlie.  That wasn't easy.  You're going to do great work with dragons."

Hagrid cut off a piece of the dragon and fed it to Fang.

"Kettleburn and I can finish up," Hagrid said.  "You can both head back to the castle.  I imagine you'll want a shower and breakfast.  Take Fang with you, too, in case you run into any trouble.  Stick to the path and leave everything at my hut."

Charlie and Aaron walked back through the Forbidden Forest with Fang, carrying the canvas roll filled with knives and dragon heartstrings, and the bottle of dragon blood.

Chapter Text

March 1987

Passersby heard the air split.  The CRACK echoed down the alleyway, but no one cared enough to stop and investigate.  It was probably an old car backfiring or someone throwing furniture into a dumpster.

A young witch walked a few paces from where she had appeared and flattened her back against the brick wall.  She watched cars drive past the end of the alleyway and headlights reflecting in shop windows.  The air next to her compressed and expanded as a wizard appeared.  He walked up to her and the two of them left the alleyway and turned right, dodging people on their way to the Underground.

The witch and wizard held their wands in their palms, pressed up against their arms and covered by their coats.  When they arrived at the turnstiles, they muttered under their breaths and went through without paying.  They walked down the stairs and onto the platform as the train arrived.  They stepped over the gap and followed the crowds onto the train.

The witch moved further into the car and held onto the bar above her head.  She leaned with the train as it pulled away from the platform and into the darkness of the tunnel.  The car swayed.  She looked ahead and watched the train curve in and out, losing sight of the adjacent cars and gaining it back as they hit a straightaway.

"Two stops, Cass?"

"Three.”

"Three?"

"Kennington is closer, Jules," Cassio said.

"We should have left sooner."

They got off at Kennington Station and took the stairs out of the Underground.

Cassio checked the street name as they walked outside.  He turned left and Juliet followed him.

"Number seventeen is just ahead," Cassio said.

When they arrived at the building, Juliet used the same charm on the front door that she had used on the turnstiles and pushed it open.  The apartments were old and there wasn't an elevator.  They took the stairs.  When they got to the fourth floor, they left the stairwell and walked down the hallway.

"Four-oh-five is ahead on the right," Cassio said.  "That'll be Albert Daven."

Juliet raised her hand and knocked on the door.  No answer.

She knocked again.  "Mister Daven?  Are you in?"

Juliet heard movement on the other side of the door.  Something heavy fell on the floor.  There were muffled voices.  A man and a woman.  Juliet caught pieces of their conversation.

". . . don't . . . "

". . . hold . . . "

". . . stop . . . "

Juliet pulled on the doorknob.

"There's a ward," Cassio said.

"Shite," Juliet said, "we're too fucking late."

Juliet raised her wand and chanted, trying to break the ward.

"It's not working!"

"It's a gate ward," Cassio said, "we can unlock it if we keep-"

"There isn't time!"

Juliet waved her wand and unlocked the door of the adjacent flat.  She ran inside.  A woman screamed.  Juliet hit her with a stunning charm and knocked her unconscious.

"Confringo!"

Part of the wall between the two flats exploded.  Insulation and fractured wood framing hung around Juliet as she stepped through the opening with Cassio behind her.

A man was on the floor in the dark, choking and holding his neck.

"Lumos!"

Juliet's glowing wand revealed the man on the floor.  A crudely cut M dripped from his forehead.  Blood covered the front of his body and the floor.  His throat was half open.

Cassio grabbed the man and raised him to a sitting position.  The man's hands fell to his sides.

Juliet yelled, "Who did this?!" 

The man's vocal cords were cut and his eyes weren't responsive.  His blood poured down Cassio's arms and chest.

Juliet bent down and put her hands on the man's temples.

There was a flash and a bright light came at them.

Juliet raised her wand.  "Protego!"

The shield projected itself around Cassio, Juliet, and the dying man.

Juliet pulled her hands off the man's head and ran across the room, breaking out of the shield.  She broke the window with a spell and dove, tumbling out onto the fire escape.  Two dark figures were three stories above her.  Juliet chased them up the fire escape, wand out.  She apparaited upward to get ahead of them, but whoever it was had the same idea and she appeared, hitting the air with a loud crack, right as they dissipated.  She did the same two more times, until she could pull herself over the parapet wall and onto the roof.  The figures ran ahead of her.

"Stupefy!"

They were already gone; dissipating off the roof.

Shite.

Juliet stopped and listened.  She heard duel cracks from her right and spun around to see the figures on the adjacent roof.  She apparaited and landed behind them.  They dissipated again.  Another series of cracks and she was on the street, running after them, shoving past people on their way home from work.

They apparaited again.  Juliet did the same.  She appeared in the middle of the street.  A car hit her legs and she fell back on the ground, scraping her hands, back, and legs. 

Shite.  More memories for Cass to alter.

Fuck that hurt.

She stood up and ran.

Where are they?!

She listened, but she didn't hear anything.  She ran down the sidewalk, disoriented.

I fucking lost them. 

She ran for another ten minutes.

Shite.  Fucking shite.

There was no sign of them.

Juliet dissipated and appeared back at the flat.

"God fucking damn it!" Juliet said.  "I fucking lost them!"

Juliet grabbed the dying man's head.  She closed her eyes and pulled herself inside his consciousness.  Fading light encroached on her.  She saw dark figures wearing cloaks and masks; the same ones she had seen on the fire escape.  The fading light turned to darkness and picked at the edges of her vision.  If it caught her, it would pull her into death with the man. 

Just another second.

She saw a stove and a counter top.  The man had been in the kitchen when they grabbed him.  All she saw was the masks and cloaks.  She heard the voices again, but they distorted as the darkness pulled at her mind.

Juliet opened her eyes and pulled her hands off the man's head.

"Anything?"

"Nothing," Juliet said.  "Just the same two people I saw on the roof with the cloaks and masks.  Their voices were right there.  Shite, I lost them."

We need Moody.

Juliet dissipated and appeared in Moody's flat in Edinburgh, tripping over the table in his kitchen.  She collapsed on the floor, exhausted from all of the apparition.  She was covered with the dead man's blood and dirt from the street.  Her palms, legs, and clothes were torn from her collision with the asphalt.

Moody helped her stand.  "What happened?"

"Another killing," Juliet panted.

"Where?"

"London," she said.  "Not far from Kennington Station."

"Don't move," Moody said, holding her arm.

They appeared in a park.

"Which way?"

"I don't know," she said, "where are we?"

"Burgess Park."

"I can apparate us."  Juliet grabbed Moody's arm before he could protest.

They appeared in the flat.  Juliet fell on the floor.

Moody looked at the body and Cassio.

"When?"

"Fifteen minutes ago," Cassio said.  "We interrupted the killers.  Juliet chased them."

"We were so fucking close!  I lost them."  

"Did you see their faces?  Hear them?"

Juliet shook her head, now laying on the floor.  "They wore cloaks and masks.  We heard pieces of their conversation before we entered, but they were muffled and distorted on the other side of the door."

"Did you excavate his mind?"

"Yes," Juliet said.  "He didn't see their faces either.  I heard their voices right before I lost him.  It was a man and a woman."

Cassio looked out the window.  "How many people saw you?"

"Maybe a two block radius?"

"I'll start altering memories," Cassio said and disappeared with a loud crack.

Moody checked the body.  "You arrived mid-kill.  How did you know?"

"Cass and I have been monitoring police reports and scanners.  The man told them he was being followed last night."

"The fucking muggle police."

"He called the police so he actually had a chance of someone taking him seriously."

Moody stood over Juliet.  She wasn't wrong.  "How did you know he was one of ours?"

Juliet pulled herself up to a sitting position.  "We've been tracking muggle-borns."

"You fucking what?"

"Just Cass and me," Juliet said.  "I swear, Moody, no one else knows.  We're the only ones who can pick up the trace.  Cass came up with the spell."

"That was reckless with the Commission Act," Moody said.  He smiled.  "But it fucking almost worked."

"Until I lost them."

"How did you find muggle-borns to trace?"

"Cass came up with the spell so we could track our sister, Rosalind.  She's been living back in the muggle world with her husband and we were worried, with her pregnant and all.  So, we put a trace on her.  Cass thought, why not do it for more muggle-borns?  So, we started casting the trace on any muggle-borns we encountered.  The trace doesn't work on wizard-borns or half-bloods.  It made it easy to isolate them.  Then, we decided to cast the trace spell over Diagon Alley a few times a week and pick up whoever we could.  That's how we found this man.  All we had to do next was identify him and cross-check police reports."

Juliet's hair was knotted, loose, and hung in her face.

"It's a brilliant strategy," Moody said, "but if anyone finds out what you've done-"

"I know," Juliet said.  "We're careful.  We haven't told anyone, not even Burke.  We had to do something, Moody.  They are fucking slaughtering us out here."

"I know," Moody said.  He helped her stand.  "When you can walk, start altering muggle memories with Cassio.  I'll clean up here and inform Burke."

"No," Juliet said.  "I want to report it.  I don't want Burke thinking I just keep running to you, even though I do.  I won't tell her about the trace.  I'll just say we've been listening to police reports and following leads.  It's the truth."

"Good fucking work."

Moody waved his wand and cleaned up the blood on the floor.

Juliet walked through the hole in the wall, slow and careful not to fall, and waved her wand.

"Reparo."

The fractured wood framing collected itself and fused back together.  The plaster and insulation multiplied like bacteria.

Juliet stood over the woman on the floor.

"Rennervate."

The woman sat up and opened her eyes.  "Don't hurt me!  For the love of-"

"Obliviate."  The woman's face went blank.

"Now, you were just about to make dinner.  And you never saw me.  In fact, the last thirty minutes passed without you realizing it," Juliet said.  She went to the television and turned it on.  "You were just watching the news here on the telly."

Juliet closed the woman's door behind her and walked down the hallway, heading to the street.

Chapter Text

May 1987

Dumbledore avoided the students mingling in the hallways before the evening curfew.  He tripped over a house elf when he got to the kitchen and swore.  The elf apologized and scampered out of the way.

Dumbledore opened the pantry door and looked up.  He kept the bourbon on a shelf above the door, near the center of the sixty foot tall wall.  He raised his hand and an unopened bottle came floating toward him.  He opened it, walked out of the pantry, and sat at the closest table.  He didn't bother getting a glass.  He upended the bottle.

Killing Carrow didn't stop the killings.  The terrorists are still out there, and neither I nor the Aurors can stop them.

He took another long drink.  There were shadows in his mind he wanted to forget.  He saw a dark-haired boy who admitted he could hurt people and get them to do whatever he wanted; corpses of former students, like James and Lily Potter; Frank and Alice Longbottom screaming, insane; and a young wizard in the woods who spoke about the greater good.

He hadn't thought of Gellert in years.

Was there ever anything I have done right?

He took another drink and saw the bodies of five students on the ground by the train.

More, and he saw the four muggle-borns floating in the air above his head with blood running down their chests and legs.

Dumbledore's mind was a dangerous place and he didn't want to be there anymore.

He drank more.  The bottle was half gone now.

Dumbledore's foot nudged something under the table.  He leaned down and grabbed Defense Against the Dark Arts and Magical Droughts and Potions.  He opened the first book and scanned the pages, but the words blurred together.  He tried anyway and kept re-reading the same sentence, having no idea what it said.

He looked up.  Tom Riddle stood in the doorway.

Dumbledore's hand shot forward.  The bright flash of light and force knocked the dark-haired boy on his back.

"I should have killed you myself, Tom!"

Dumbledore stood up with energy collected in his fists.  He walked across the room and stood over the boy, who had gotten the air knocked out of him.  The boy's features blurred.

Aaron threw his arms in front of his face as Dumbledore raised his hands.  "I'm not Tom!"

Dumbledore tried to make the room stop spinning.  The boy's long hair stuck to his forehead.  His eyes were different.

It's not Riddle.

What have I done?

Dumbledore lowered his hands.  Aaron coughed and rolled on his side.

Dumbledore reached down to help the boy up.  He took his arm.  Aaron pulled away from him.

"Don't fucking touch me," Aaron said, his hands still raised.

What have I done?

"I am so very sorry."

Aaron stood up and backed away from Dumbledore.

"I thought I saw someone else," Dumbledore said.

He was too drunk to stand.  He grabbed onto the doorway for support.

When he looked back at the hallway, the boy was gone.

What have I done?

Chapter Text

July 1987

With the students gone for the summer, the Three Broomsticks was empty.  Aaron sat at the bar with a butterbeer, reading The Island of Doctor Moreau for the fifth time.  It was one of four muggle books he had taken with him when he left Glasgow three years ago.  The book was worn and the edges were curled.  Pages fifty-three to sixty-four were stained with what Aaron hoped was tea.  He had gotten the book from the library at a school he had attended for five months when he was ten.  His social worker had moved him mid-week and he had never had a chance to return it.

A borrowing card was still affixed to the inside of the back cover.  Aaron had memorized the names and dates.  Like him, the book had been in the possession of a lot of people.  John Jones, 11 DEC 61.  Emily Robinson, 9 MAR 63.  D. Lee, 17 MAY 67.  Mary Baker, 5 OCT 73.  S. Brown, 18 OCT 75.  William Jones, 27 MAR 78.  A. Walker, 9 JUN 79.  B. White, 7 JAN 81.  All muggle names.  Like his.

What would my borrowing card look like?

Sometimes he tried to remember all the people he had lived with; the houses and flats with different dishes, furniture, pets, rules, and smells.  He had even been placed in a group home for a few months when a teacher told his social worker he wasn't talking.  Of course he wasn't talking.  He was seven years old and he had hated the school.

His social worker had been the one constant in his life.  She had worked hard to find Aaron people to stay with and had done a decent job of making sure they took care of him.  Most of the people he had stayed with had been good people.  There were a lot of times Aaron hoped they would keep him.  He tried not to be upset whenever he had to move again, but he always was.

He tried to forget the rest of the people he had lived with.  His social worker had gotten him out of situations fast the few times people he was left with turned out to be abusive.  She always apologized, got him help, made sure he was safe the next time, and took people to court for what they had done.  But it wasn't like it had never happened, and it made it harder to forget.  He still had a scar on his left arm from a couple he had spent three weeks with when he was eight.  And riding in cars would always make him sick.

Whatever spell Dumbledore had used on him two months ago, it wasn't the first time Aaron had been thrown on the ground.

But it was the fucking last time.

He turned to the Table of Contents, where he had written his social worker's telephone number before he left Glasgow.

I could find a way to call her and get out of here.  I could send an owl.  She could come get me.

Then what?  Wait to be placed with more people who don't want me?

"You're not doing school work now are ya?"

Aaron hadn't seen Hagrid come in.  The half-giant man ordered an ale and sat down next to him.

"No," Aaron said.  He handed Hagrid the book.  "I needed a break from magic."

Hagrid flipped through the book and checked the back cover.  He mouthed the words while he read the summary.  "Sounds like a good one.  It's good to see ya doing something for fun."

Hagrid handed the book back to Aaron and the bartender handed Hagrid his ale.

"Thanks, Aleus," Hagrid said.  He took out a few sickles and set them on the bar.  "Ya don't have any more of that summer punch do ya?"

"I've got a whole barrel of it under the bar," the bartender said.  "No one's been here to drink it."

"I'll take a mug of that too, then," Hagrid said.  He turned to Aaron.  "You want to try it?  It's a little strong, but no one's here to care if you do.  And it's good.  You've been working hard all summer, too.  Might as well have some, if it's alright with Aleus."

Aleus set three mugs on the bar.  "I won't tell."

"Sure," Aaron said.

Aleus set the barrel on the bar and filled the mugs.  He put one in front of Hagrid, handed one to Aaron, and drank from the third.  Aaron took a drink and coughed.

Hagrid smiled.  "Good, right?"

Aaron nodded and took another drink.  It was strong.

Thirty minutes later, Hagrid's ale was gone and Aleus poured him a second mug of summer punch.

"Have ya heard from Charlie since school got out?"

"A few times," Aaron said.

"Charlie's a good kid.  Great with animals."  Hagrid turned to Aleus.  "Did I tell you Aaron here helped us harvest a dragon?"

"That's messy work," Aleus said.  "Well done."

"I don't think I'll ever do it again," Aaron said.  Aleus laughed.

"Nonsense," Hagrid said.  "You and Charlie were great at it.  I was really proud of you."

"At least I did something right," Aaron said and took another drink.

"None of that," Hagrid said.  "I've told you before, it's alright that you can't use magic.  I can't either."

Aaron took a long drink and finished his first mug of punch.  "I know."  He nodded toward Hogwarts.  "I'll just never belong in there with the rest of them."

"Of course you belong," Hagrid said.

Aleus filled Aaron's mug.  He took another drink.  "Why?  Because I can see the castle for what it is?  Like that proves something?"

"It proves everything," Hagrid said.  "Hogwarts is covered in wards.  You have to be magical just to see past them.  Same goes for the train."

"No," Aaron said, "someone made a mistake.  I shouldn't be here."

"No student comes to Hogwarts by mistake, especially not you," Hagrid said.  "Didn't anyone ever tell ya about what happened with the book?"

"The book?"

"There's a book in one of the towers and an old quill.  Whenever a child here in the United Kingdom does something magical, the quill tries to write their name.  If the book doesn't think they're magical enough, it won't let the quill write the name, and the child never gets into Hogwarts.  But if the book agrees, then the quill can write the name and the child is invited to attend Hogwarts.  It's a perfect system."

"So, my name is in the book?"

"Of course it is," Hagrid said.

"Have you seen it in the book?"

"Don't need to," Hagrid said.  "It was all McGonagall could talk about your First Year."

"What?"

"Yeah, how she'd seen the quill write your name in the book.  She was excited because it's rare to see the quill write a name.  You have to catch it at the exact moment a child does something magical for the first time.  She actually saw your name get written down.  You're in the book alright."

"Did anything happen last night?  Something strange?"

"You're not a muggle, Aaron."

"Maybe that's your problem, mate.  You have to embrace it."

"They never told you?  I would have thought McGonagall would have told you.  Maybe they try to keep it a secret.  You didn't hear anything from me."

Three hours later, Hagrid and Aleus had finished off most of the summer punch with help from Aaron.  Hagrid laughed and told a story about a talking spider.  Aleus claimed to be half-goblin and Aaron could see it now; his ears, his nose, and even his eyes.  He was tall, but then Hagrid was short compared to a full-blood giant.

Hagrid drained his mug and stood up.  "It's late.  We should get going and let Aleus here close up."

Aaron didn't realize how drunk he was until he stood up.  He reached for his book, dropped it on the ground, and laughed.

Aleus smiled and said, "I see you liked the punch."

"It," it was hard to form words, "it was . . . a perfect system.  Like the damn book."

Aleus looked at Hagrid.  Hagrid laughed.  "He's fine.  I'll take him home with me tonight.  Won't let anyone else at Hogwarts know, will we, Aaron?"

"Not a chance," Aaron said.  He felt . . . light.  He couldn't feel his face or his fingers.

He followed Hagrid outside.  It was dark, but there was light from the town and the castle in the distance.  The air was humid and the clouds hung low.

"Hagrid, who's Tom?"

"What?"

"Tom," Aaron said.  "And why does Dumbledore think he should have killed him?"

Hagrid stopped.  He didn't say anything at first, then he turned and looked down at Aaron.  "Dumbledore talked about Tom?"

"He . . . brought him up."

"I forget you're muggle-born sometimes.  And it's not like anyone talks about him.  Aaron, you know about You-Know-Who, right?"

"Yeah," he tried not to slur his words, "the dark wizard."

"That was Tom," Hagrid said.  "Tom Riddle.  He was here when I was a student at Hogwarts, before he became You-Know-Who.  If Dumbledore talked about him like that-"

Aaron said, "I don't . . . I don't think he . . . realized I was there."

"He shouldn't be talking about You-Know-Who, not like that.  He hasn't been Tom in . . . long before your time."

"You knew him?  When he was here?  When he was Tom?"

"I try not to think about him," Hagrid said and walked ahead.

Aaron followed him to the hut.  In the darkness, for a second, he saw a platform and abandoned train tracks layer over the road, but the illusion vanished as fast as it had appeared.

Chapter Text

July 1987

Aaron woke up on a pile of blankets on the floor in Hagrid's hut.  Fang was asleep next to him; warm and heavy.  Aaron choked.  There was bile at the back of his throat.  His head pounded and the room tilted.  The summer punch had been strong and he'd had a lot of it.

But that wasn't the problem.  The world had layers again.

He could see the Gryffindor common room; a vague outline superimposed with the inside of Hagrid's hut.  Aaron closed his eyes.  And shook.  Not just his hands this time, but his whole body.

Fang stirred and licked his face.  Aaron kept his eyes closed and leaned against the dog.

Just breathe.  You had way too much to drink last night.

He opened his eyes, but the layers didn't go away.  He still saw the Gryffindor common room and now there was . . . a park?  He saw trees, cut grass, a parking lot, and a footpath.  He saw people walking through the room, like he could reach out and touch them.

He closed his eyes again.  Fang whined, concerned.

Me too.

His ears rang with the sounds of voices.  And traffic.  Then he heard Fang again.  The noises came fast; quick pieces of sound, like audio clips that had been cut into microseconds and strung together.

His mouth filled with saliva.  Fang barked.  It was abrasive against the split-second sounds of the cars and people.

A car horn blared and Aaron opened his eyes.  He saw pavement.  He felt it against his palms.  Then it was gone.

He saw a classroom, but it wasn't any of the ones at Hogwarts.  Then he saw the park again.

He heard Fang bark and saw the hut.  He grabbed onto Fang and tried to steady himself, but Fang barked and ran into Hagrid's room.

Hagrid's hut, the park, a classroom, and a city street superimposed.  He heard Hagrid's voice and could almost see him, but he was lost in the crescendo.  Aaron doubled over on the floor, on the grass, on the pavement, and the blurred fragments of everything around him.  He covered his ears with his hands.

Hagrid reached out and grabbed his shoulders.  The layers doubled and Hagrid was too . . . heavy.  He shoved himself away from Hagrid.  He saw the hut around them, a bed he'd slept in five years ago, and a red-haired man in a kitchen.

It's Arthur.  Arthur Weasley.

Then Arthur was gone.  He saw Hagrid again.  And the bed.  And a part of the Forbidden Forest he'd never been in.  Pavement and a car coming at him.  A park with people walking.  A dark platform at a train station.

Arthur was there again.  He knelt down in front of Aaron.

"Aaron, let go," Arthur said.

"Of what?!"

"Whatever you're holding onto," Arthur said, but he was gone again.

Hagrid.  Fang.  The park.  The Gryffindor common room.  The forest.  The city street.

It was all so loud.

". . . hear me?  Let go."

Hagrid.  "Don't fight . . . "

Arthur.  ". . . you'll tear apart if you . . ."

The park.  The piercing sound of traffic.  Fang barking.

"Aaron, let go."

The world folded in on itself and the air cracked.

Aaron appeared at The Burrow.  He collapsed and retched on the tile floor, gasping.

What the fuck just happened?

Aaron dry heaved.  Shaking, he held onto the tile floor.

The layers were gone.  The sounds stopped.

Arthur reached for him, but Aaron shoved himself away.  He didn't want it to start again, and Hagrid touching him had made it worse.

"It's alright, Aaron," Arthur said.

"What's alright?  What the fuck just happened to me?!"

"The first time you use a portkey is always the worst, especially," he didn't want to say it, "if you're not very magical.  And you held on too long.  You were in both places at once.  That is incredibly dangerous."

No, I was in a lot more than two places.

Aaron shook his head.  "I . . . I didn't use a portkey."

A woman came into the kitchen.  She looked at Aaron and Arthur on the floor, grabbed a bucket from beneath the sink, and ran a washcloth under the faucet.  She bent down to hold the washcloth to Aaron's forehead, but he pulled away.

"It's alright, dear," Molly said.  "You're safe here with us."

Molly put the bucket on the floor in front of Aaron and held out the washcloth.  He took it, wiped his mouth, folded it over, and held it to his forehead, leaning back against the cabinets.

"I'm sorry," he said.  "I . . . I don’t know what happened.  I don't even know where I am."  

He looked at Arthur.  "Is this your house?"

"Yes," Arthur said.  "This is Molly, my wife."

How the fuck did I get here?

"You probably found a portkey and didn't realize it," Arthur said.

"Don't be ridiculous, Arthur.  There's not a portkey to our house at Hogwarts," Molly said.  "He apparaited."

"From Hogwarts?  He couldn't have," Arthur said, "not with the wards."

Aaron threw up in the bucket.  His vomit was the same color as the summer punch.  He closed his eyes.  His heart pounded in his ears.

Bill came into the kitchen.  "Aaron?  What are you doing here?"

He wished he knew.

"He apparaited," Molly said.

"But he's never been here," Bill said.

"I know," Molly said, "but he did it all the same."

"He couldn't have," Bill said, "not with the wards.  Had to be a portkey."

"That's what I said," Arthur said.

He opened his eyes.  Arthur and Molly sat on the floor across from him.  Bill leaned on the counter.

"There wasn't a portkey.  I was at Hagrid's," Aaron said.  "I woke up sick.  I . . . saw layers, like the world was lapped over itself.  It kept getting worse.  I kept seeing all of these places.  I was in all of these places.  At the same time.  I could hear people and cars and Fang barking, all at once.  Some of the places I recognized, but I have no idea what else I was even seeing."

"You saw places before you appariated here?  Places you've never been to?"

Aaron nodded.

"That's not a portkey," Arthur said.

"That doesn't even sound like apparition," Bill said.

The Weasleys doubled in his vision.

No, shite, there's the bloody park again.  And the street with the cars.

Aaron said, "It's happening again."

"You see the . . . layers?"

Aaron nodded.

"Focus, Aaron," Arthur said.  "You have to be deliberate.  If you apparate without control, you could kill yourself."

"Or lose a leg," Bill said.

"I'm not trying to apparate," Aaron said.  "I'm deliberately trying not to."

"But you still see the places?"

The park.  The Gryffindor common room.  The kitchen and the Weasleys.  Hagrid's hut.  A sink and a stained mirror.  A tent in the woods.  A dark train platform.

Aaron nodded.  His body shook again; pulled between multiple places.  His fingers blurred as he pulled them to his ears to muffle the abrasive sounds.

The city street.  Dumbledore's office.  A bakery.

He closed his eyes and grabbed the floor.  It took everything he had to hold onto the tile.  He was determined not to move and he couldn't even manage that.  It was overwhelming.  And exhausting.  Whatever he was doing, it was draining his energy.

The Weasleys were yelling and reaching for him, but he couldn't see them anymore.  And he couldn't fight it anymore.  Space folded and pulled him forward.

He appeared in the Gryffindor common room and collapsed on the floor.

It wasn't over.  He shifted again and fell onto a sidewalk in front of a brick wall topped with barbed wire.  He leaned against the wall and dry heaved.

He vanished and appeared in the woods.  He saw a tent, a fire, and Charlie, but then he was gone.  He appeared in a library.  It wasn't the one at Hogwarts.  Another jump and he appeared at a flat he had stayed at when he was nine.  Another jump and he appeared at the payphone where Arthur had called his wife three years ago.

When the fuck is it going to stop?

Be deliberate.  Be determined.

But I can't pick my fucking destination.

There were too many of them.  He deliberately tried to see the Weasleys' kitchen again, but he couldn't hold onto it.  He didn't know where it was and he wasn't familiar enough with it to keep the image in his mind.  He couldn't even find Hagrid's hut or the Gryffindor common room anymore.

Aaron fell onto a train platform and rolled onto his stomach, shaking and exhausted.  It was the same platform he had seen last night.  Two faded utility lights flickered above the abandoned tracks.

Focus.

He felt the concrete under his palms.  He looked at the train tracks.

Where the fuck am I now?

The air was stale, and it smelled like a dead animal.

Aaron rolled on his back.  And saw a severed, decomposed head.

Aaron screamed and pushed himself away, but there was more.  A decomposed body was chained to a column.  The blood had congealed a long time ago.  The flesh had rotted.  It looked like something had chewed on the legs and torso.  Aaron dry heaved and covered his mouth and nose with his arm.

Layered over the dead body, he finally saw the Weasleys’ kitchen.  He shifted into the illusion.

And appeared in front of Arthur, Molly, and Bill.  He grabbed onto the tile floor.

"Make it stop!" He yelled, his body a blur.

Molly raised her wand.  "Stupefy!"

Aaron collapsed.

Chapter Text

July 1987

The air compressed and expanded as Alastor Moody appeared at The Ministry of Magic.  He walked through the empty arrivals lobby and took a staircase down to the second floor.  With the majority of the Aurors in the field, the rows of cubicles were empty and the desks were too clean.  One wall was covered with the details of the four muggle-borns that had been killed in the Wizengamot dungeon.  Another corner of the room was devoted to the attack on the train.  Dust covered the photographs and handwritten notes.

When he reached Adelaide Burke's office, he shoved the door open and tossed the summons she had sent him on her desk.

"What's so fucking urgent?"

"Nice to see you, too, Alastor," she said.

"Don't waste my time," Moody said.  "You wanted me, so here I am."

Adelaide stood.  She raised her wand and a map of the United Kingdom lifted off her desk and floated in the air between them.  She rotated the map so it faced Moody.  Red lights spread across the country like a virus.

"If you made me come all the way here to talk about a bunch of underage wizarding law violators-"

"It isn't that simple," Adelaide said.

"Yes, it is," Moody said.  "Send out the fucking owls, expel them, and summon them all before the Wizengamot.  It's the same every fucking summer.  More instances don't change that."

"These aren't instances from multiple underage wizards over the summer," Adelaide said.  "They are all from the same trace signature this morning over a period of less than thirty minutes."

Moody raised his wand.  "Tunc Marcam."

Time stamps appeared next to each of the red lights.  Some were blurred and he couldn't read them.  His blue eye swiveled, focused, and looked closer.

No, not blurred.  Multiple instances layered over each other.  Whoever it was used magic in the same places multiple times within microseconds.

They had appariated.  It was the only way to cover the map that fast.

Hundreds of times.  In front of muggles.  Fucking Christ.

"Whoever this is," Moody said, "they are begging for expulsion."

"The trace signature belongs to Aaron Stone," Adelaide said.  "He just finished his third year at Hogwarts.  I'm past the point of expelling him and sending an owl.  I want him arrested.  I've sent Cassio and Edward to check the locations and wipe memories.  It will take all day."

"So, go arrest him."

Adelaide said, "All of his jumping around interfered with his trace.  We don't know where he is.  And I'm not pulling any more Aurors off their assignments to find a kid."

"What exactly do you think I do all day?"

"Maybe if you reported to me with any regularity, I would know," Adelaide said.

"Have you told Dumbledore about this?  It's one of his fucking students."

Adelaide laughed.  "No one knows where Dumbledore is.  He hasn't been at Hogwarts since May.  He hasn't shown up at the Wizengamot since long before that."

Moody looked at the map.  The underage trace was flawed.  It had been since they started using it on students centuries ago.  It didn't detect instances when an underage witch or wizard used magic in a magical home, or within the limits of a registered magical town.  It only activated when magic was used in muggle areas.  It made it harder to track the use of underage magic than The Ministry wanted to admit.

Especially if this kid is appariting.  He could be anywhere.

He scanned over the locations, waved his wand, and sorted them by time.  The first one was a park in Glasgow.  The last was what looked like an Underground station in London.

Shite.  He covered a lot of distance.

"How far have Edward and Cassio gotten on this list?"

"By now, they are probably in Manchester."

"I'll start with the last location and work backwards," Moody said.

"I appreciate your help," Adelaide said.  "Bring him in when you find him.  If he can apparate like this without killing himself, I don't want to take any chances and lose him again."

Moody pushed the map back at her face.  "I'll get Cassio or Edward to come collect him.  I'm not your fucking retriever."

Moody left Adelaide's office.  He walked down the hall to the armory and bypassed the wards.  He walked past the battle cloaks, a cabinet filled with potions, and grabbed a pair of heavy iron shackles and a chain from a shelf.

 


 

The abandoned Underground station had been closed off for years.  Both sides of the tunnel were encased in concrete.  Moody had to break into a utility tunnel and walk a quarter mile underground to get to the right access door.

How the hell did he get down here?

The smell of decay hit Moody as soon as he walked onto the platform.  He covered his mouth and nose with his arm.

"Lumos."

It didn't take him long to find Carrow's body.

Chapter Text

July 1987

Moody stepped through the window of Purge and Dowse, LTD, and into the lobby of St. Mungo's Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries.  He walked past reception and the Welcome Witch, who yelled at him to stop.  He ignored her and met Hagrid by the elevator.

Hagrid looked at the shackles and the chain Moody carried and grabbed him.  "Now, wait a damn minute.  When I told ya he was here, you said he wouldn't be arrested.  He can't control his appariting."

"It's a precaution," Moody said.  "Where the hell is he?"

"I'm not taking you to see him 'til ya tell me you won't arrest him."

"I won't fucking arrest him, Hagrid.  Let go of me."

Hagrid released Moody.  "He's a kid, not a criminal."

"Where is he?"

"It's not like he-"

"Where is he?  I can find him with or without you."

Hagrid called the lift.  "At first, they thought he'd been jinxed, so they put him on the fourth floor."

"He wasn't, was he?"

"No," Hagrid said.  They got on the lift before the Welcome Witch could stop Moody.  "It's not right.  After all this time where he couldn't do no magic at all and now his first time he can't control it."

"First time?  Adelaide said he was a damn third year."

"Aaron's never been able ta do magic," Hagrid said.

"And now, what, he can't stop doing it?"

"Doesn't seem he can, no, at least not the appariting.  Haven't tried getting him to do anything else," Hagrid said.  "Not like anyone ever taught him how to apparate either.  He can't get a hold on it."

"Of course not.  He's a damn third year."

"I felt terrible, seeing him on my floor like that.  I thought I gave him too much to drink.  It took me a few minutes to realize he was appariting."

"He was at your hut?"

Hagrid nodded.  "That's where it all started.  I thought he was going to kill himself the way his body was-"

"He apparaited from Hogwarts?"

"He did, yeah."

"He shouldn't have been able to, not with the wards," Moody said.

The lift doors opened.  Arthur and Molly Weasley stood in the hallway.

Molly walked up to him.  "Don't you dare arrest him, Alastor.  They finally got him sedated again."

"I won't arrest him," Moody said, but he didn't let go of the shackles or the chain.

"Honest to Merlin," Arthur said.  "The boy couldn't control it.  It was like in 1978, when Ezra McCallen couldn't stop levitating.  It's not a criminal act, it's a magical aliment."

"What room is he in?"

"You're not seeing him until they figure out what's causing it," Molly said.

"Molly, if you don't show me where he is, I'll walk into every damn room on this floor until I find him."

"You won't take him to The Ministry until he's got it under control?"

"I won't," Moody said.  "It's not like that would be good for The Ministry, either."

Molly didn't move.

"I'm not going to arrest him, Molly," Moody said.  "I'm going to teach him to apparate."

"We've already tried that," Arthur said.  "The healers tried that.  This isn't like normal apparition.  It's . . . "

"Aggressive," Molly said.

"I have a lot of experience with unstable young wizards," Moody said.  “I want a few minutes alone with him.  That’s all.”

Arthur said, "Room 408."

"If he apparates," Molly said, "he won't have any control over where he ends up.  It could be hours before we find him again.  And he could kill himself doing it the way he is."

Moody held up the shackles and the chain.  "That's why I brought these."

He walked past Molly and took the left hallway to Room 408.

There were two beds.  A woman in her sixties was in the one by the door.  Her face was covered with green boils that leaked puss.  She snored through her open mouth.  In the bed by the window was a dark-haired boy.

Moody stopped.  He had seen the boy's face before.

Where?

He walked forward and stood over the bed.  "Rennervate."

The boy opened his eyes.

"Aaron Stone?"

"Yes?"

The boy was exhausted.  He didn't lift his head.

He is just a kid.

"I'm Alastor Moody.  I'm an Auror with The Ministry of Magic.  You've been appariting all over the United Kingdom.  You know about the underage wizarding laws, I assume."

"I know," Aaron said.  "I can't-"

"How did you dissipate from Hogwarts?"

"I don't know," Aaron said.

"I know you didn't break the fucking wards," Moody said.

"No," Aaron said.

"But here you are," Moody said.

"The wards didn't stop me," Aaron said.

"So, what, you just started appariting once you realized the wards were down?  Did you figure out you could dissipate from Hogwarts and then decide to have some fun while everyone was gone for the summer?  Did you think no one would notice?"

"No," Aaron said.  He pushed himself up.  "I can't control it."

"That part's true enough," Moody said.  "You lost control all over fucking England and Scotland.  You lit up The Ministry trace alerts like a fucking Christmas tree.  How long did it take you to realize you're shite at apparition before you stopped trying to get back inside Hogwarts?"

Aaron said, "I wasn't trying to get back inside Hogwarts.  I was trying to stop appariting.  I was seeing all these places and my damn body was being torn apart.  If I didn't apparate-"

"What?  You'd die?"

Aaron looked at the shackles.  Moody set them on an empty chair with the chain.

"That's what apparition does when you use it like you did," Moody said.  "The farther you go, the more energy it takes.  And you were jumping clear across the country."

Aaron said, "I kept trying to stop."

Where the hell have I seen him before?

"How did you get to the Underground station?"

The boy's hands shook.  "I don't know."

"Had you been there before?"

"No," Aaron said.

"That's not how apparition works."

"I know," Aaron said.  "I wrote a fucking report on it."

"Tell me about the Underground station."

"Did you go there?"

"I did," Moody said.  "I found the body."

"I don't know how it got there.  I have no idea who it was."

"That body was all that was left of an execution," Moody said.

"I didn't kill anyone," Aaron said.

"No, you didn't," Moody said.  "Not recently.  The body was far too decomposed for that.  Did you apparate it there?"

"What?  No," Aaron said.

The boy's whole body shook.  It was subtle, like his skin vibrated.

He's not shaking.  He's appariting.

Shite.

"It's happening again, isn't it?"

Aaron nodded and closed his eyes. 

"When you did your report on apparition, do you remember what you're supposed to do?"

"None of it fucking works.  All the destinations layer over each other and I'm pulled into whatever one decides to grab me."

"All the destinations?"

"I see everything at once, in layers, like every place I've ever been, and some I haven't," Aaron said.  "It's happening now.  I hear traffic and voices, like I'm already there.  I can't pick a destination when they are all forcing their way down my throat."

"Then worry about the other two," Moody said.  "Be determined.  Deliberate."

"Be determined to what?  To make it stop?"

Aaron's entire body shook.  Moody grabbed his shoulders.  Aaron winced, lost his grip on the room, and vanished, pulling Moody with him.

They appeared in Dumbledore's office.  Aaron shoved Moody off of him.

The air twitched.

"No, you don't."  Moody grabbed Aaron again.

They appeared in the Gryffindor common room, disappeared again and landed on the floor in the Three Broomsticks.  Another jump and they appeared in a park.  Before Moody could worry about who saw them, they vanished.

They appeared in Moody's flat.  Aaron held on to the kitchen table to keep himself upright.

"What the hell are we doing here?"

"I don't know," Aaron said.  "I don't know where the hell here is."

"We're in my fucking flat.  In Edinburgh."

"It was one of the layers," Aaron said.

"Get us back to Hogwarts," Moody said.  "I need to make sure the fucking wards aren't compromised."

"I can't-"

"Yes, you can.  Fucking focus.  Think of the details.  Think of the way the fucking hallways smell after Filch walks by."

"It's lost in all the other-"

"Think of the house elves and the ghosts.  Think of the Potions classroom.  Think of the fucking dust all over the-"

The air collapsed around them.  They appeared in the library at Hogwarts.

Moody laughed.  "You fucking did it."

Moody let go of Aaron and took out his wand.  He checked the wards.  They were still in-place.

How the fuck is he doing it?

Aaron collapsed.  Moody grabbed him before he hit the floor.

Moody tired, but he couldn't apparate.  The wards stopped him.

"Aaron?  Get us back to St. Mungo's."

Aaron's eyes rolled to the back of his head.

Fuck. 

Now he'd have to find a fireplace.

Chapter Text

July 1994

The iron shackle around his wrist pulled hard on his arm and shoulder, but Aaron was in too much pain to stay on his feet or lean against the wall anymore.  Whatever potion Pomfrey had given him that morning had worn off and Moody's head was still submerged in the pensieve.  His body would have to cope.  At least the smell of rot was no longer attached to him.  He had made sure of that.

The first time Moody had secured an iron shackle around his wrist, he had at least left him with the key.

Was that five years ago?

The park.  Milk bread with honey.  Staying awake with the dragon.

No, it was SEVEN years ago.

Moody had stood over his bed at St. Mungo's.  Aaron wasn't sure how he had gotten back to the hospital after Hogwarts, but his body started shaking again and he was too exhausted to survive more apparition.  Moody knew that.  He had taken an iron shackle and clasped it over Aaron's wrist.

"This will stop your body from going anywhere," Moody said.  "We use iron when we arrest witches and wizards to keep them from appariting.  It will ground you.  You won't be able to apparate while that's on."

Moody was right.  His body had stopped shaking and the layers vanished.

Moody handed Aaron the key.  "But you can't live like this.  You have to learn how to control it and we need to figure out why the fuck your body won't stay in one damned place."

They had figured it out, and he had learned to control it, but not for a while.

Moody's head shot out of the pensieve.

"He's fucking alive?"

Aaron didn't have to ask who he was talking about.  "Yes."

"How long does this go on?  Where he has you in the cell?"

"I don't know," Aaron said, trying to keep his voice level.  The right side of his body felt like someone had taken a sledgehammer to it.  So did his nose.  "Maybe a year."

"If I knew he was fucking alive-"

Moody didn't finish.  He submerged his head again.

Aaron leaned back against the wall and tried to keep himself from passing out.

Chapter Text

BODY FOUND CONFIRMED TO BE CARROW'S.  KILLER REMAINS UNKNOWN.

The Department of Magical Law Enforcement has confirmed that the body removed from an abandoned Underground station in London last week was that of Marcus Carrow.  The decomposed state of the body indicated that Carrow's death occurred some time ago, likely when he went missing from his home last summer.  Similar to the string of now confirmed muggle-born killings, and last summer's attack on the Hogwarts' Express, Aurors are not believed to have any strong leads.  

Carrow is survived by his wife, Emily, and their two children, Rhodus and Amelia.

Chapter Text

August 1987

The aromas of popcorn, candy floss, and fried foods mixed with the smells of brake dust and grease from the ride tracks.  Music from the carousel, shouts, and laughter drifted through the summer air.

Eni reached up and handed the woman inside the food stall a five pound note.  The woman took the money and gave her two candied apples, a box of popcorn, and change.  Maddison took one of the candied apples, grabbed Eni's hand, and pulled her down the midway.  Light bulbs hung from wires over their heads.

They walked down the midway and dodged crowds of people standing in line to play ring toss or throw balls at milk bottles.  Young kids ran past them.

Maddison took a bite of her apple.  "Look at all of them."

"Yeah," Eni said, "it's crowded."

"That's not what I mean, though," Maddison said.  "They have no idea that there's another world out there.  All these signs and posters for the sideshow magicians; they're just muggles trying to make a fast pound."

"We didn't know magic was real, either," Eni said.

Maddison shrugged.  "Well, it is, and we do.  If I could use magic now I would, just to see the looks on people's faces."

"It doesn't matter how old you are, if you use magic in front of muggles like that-"

"I'd erase their memories and they would never know," Maddison said.

They walked past a petting zoo.  Eni watched a toddler feed candy floss to a goat before his dad stopped him.

A poster advertised for a fire show, whatever that was.  What caught Eni's eye was the beautiful woman surrounded by flames.  She looked like a Vila.

Eni followed Maddison to the Ferris wheel.  They stood in front of the sign stating the height requirement.  Eni and Maddison had been the same height last summer, but Maddison had grown four inches since they left Hogwarts.  Eni hadn't gotten any taller.  Her mother had been short.  So had her father.

Eni smelled sugar and dough.

What did he do after he kicked me out?  Did he ever try to find me?

Maddison reached down and took a handful of popcorn.  Some of it fell on the ground between them, mixing with trampled grass, cigarette ends, and chewing gum wrappers.

"Blow me down!" Maddison said and left the line.  She ran up to a boy on the midway, threw her arms around him, and laughed.  A few minutes later, she remembered Eni and waved her over.

"Eni, this is David!  His dad works with my dad!"

Eni left the Ferris wheel line and walked over to where they stood.  Another boy joined them.

"We used to be neighbors, too, before Maddison's family moved."

"Great," Eni said.  She didn't like the way David looked at Maddison.

"Were you ladies in line for the Ferris wheel?"

"We were, yeah," Maddison said.

"James and I were going to have a go at some of the games, but the Ferris wheel could be fun," David said.

"Come with us!  We can all share a car."

Maddison linked arms with David and walked back to the Ferris wheel line.  Eni followed.  She ate another handful of popcorn and avoided looking at James, who moved to stand closer to her.  Maddison giggled and smiled at David.  She leaned on his shoulder and touched his arm.  David's hand drifted to Maddison's waist, then lower.

James tried to put his arm around Eni.  She shoved him away.  "Don't touch me."

"Eni, what the hell?"

"I don't know him," Eni said.  "I don't want him touching me."

"It's alright," James said.  "I just thought you looked cold is all."

"It's twenty-six degrees," Eni said.

"Eni, calm down," Maddison said.

"No," Eni said.  "Tonight was supposed to be fun.  It wasn't supposed to be about getting felt up by some arseholes."

David stepped in.  "We're not arseholes, alright?  We just want to have some fun, too."

"Come on, Eni," Maddison said, "relax."

Eni shoved the rest of the popcorn at Maddison and left the line.

"Eni!  Come back!"

Eni walked down the midway, dodging the crowds and stepping over the large black cables that laid on the ground between the rides.  She ignored the hawkers and the gypsy boys selling flowers.

Maddison will realize those boys are arseholes and come find me.

She saw movement next to her and turned around.  It was an owl.  She looked away and kept walking, but it followed her.  And something was tied to its leg.

Eni ducked behind a game booth and the owl landed on the ground.  She untied the letter and the owl flew away.

She unwrapped the letter and saw Aaron's handwriting.

I should have wrote you back sooner, but I left Hogwarts . . . suddenly, and I forgot.  You did leave your Clash cassette tape and your apron in the kitchen.  I've got them both in the trunk by my bed.  If you need them, I can get Hagrid to send them to you in Manchester.

Don't worry when I tell you this, but I'm at St. Mungo's.  I'm sick, or at least that's what they keep telling me.  I went out with Hagrid one night and had a lot to drink.  When I woke up, my body shook.  And I could . . . see places.  I thought I was losing my mind.  Maybe I am.  They say my mum had some kind of mental problems, so maybe I just inherited them.  I don't know.  But it finally happened.  I used magic.  I apparaited.  Multiple times.  I couldn't STOP appariting.  I ended up at Charlie's house and his mum knocked me out to make it stop before I killed myself.  I've been in the hospital for almost a month.  I don't know when they'll let me go.  An Auror even came because I apparaited to all these muggle places and, of course, I'm underage.  They had to alter memories.  It's a mess.  They don't want me killing myself or scaring muggles, so I'm stuck here for a while until they figure it out, or until I learn how to make it stop.  I'm alright, just tired of sitting in a fucking hospital, taking potions that don't do anything to help, and having healers stand around me.

I hope your summer is going better than mine.  I'll see you when school starts, if they let me out of here.

I'll be fine.  Don't worry.

Aaron

Eni read the letter again.  He said not to worry, but she did.  And she was tired of waiting for Maddison.

Eni had gotten turned around on the midway.  She realized she had to walk past the Ferris wheel to leave.  She saw Maddison, David, and James getting off the ride.  They stepped behind the fun house.  When Eni turned the corner, David was lighting a cigarette for Maddison.  Maddison inhaled, coughed, and laughed.

Eni walked up to her.  "I'm going home."

"I figured," Maddison said.  "Do you need more money or something?"

"No," Eni said.  "I just wanted to make sure you're alright."

"I'm fine," Maddison said.  She eyed the letter in Eni's hand.  "Did an owl find you here?  Who wrote you?"

"Aaron," Eni said, "he's sick."

"Aaron's sick?"

"He's in the hospital," Eni said.

"Is he dying?"

"No, but-"

"Then I don't care."

"You don't care?  How can you say that?"

"I want to have one night where I don't have to worry about anything related to fucking Hogwarts."

James laughed.  "What the fuck is Hogwarts?"

Maddison glared at him.  "It doesn't matter."

"Fine, enjoy your normal fucking night," Eni said.

"If you stay, David has a car.  He can give us both a ride home."

James looked at Eni again.  He stood too close to her.  "I've got a car, too."

Eni grabbed Maddison's arm and pulled her away from the boys.  "Come with me, alright?  I'm trying to keep you safe."

"Safe from what?  David?  Our parents know each other, alright?  And I can handle myself."

Eni looked away.

"Are you jealous?"

"What?  No."

"That's what it is," Maddison said.  "You're jealous that I like David."

"No, I'm not."

"Yes, you are," Maddison said.

Eni took the cigarette out of Maddison's mouth, held it to her lips, and inhaled.  "The hat was right about you.  You are a fucking Slytherin, just watching out for yourself."

She coughed on the smoke and left Maddison alone with the boys.

It took her two hours to walk back to Maddison's house.

Chapter Text

October 1987

No one was in the Gryffindor common room when Aaron arrived at Hogwarts, tripping out of the fireplace and landing hard on the hearth.  He had never consciously traveled by floo powder before and he was not prepared for the abrasive end to his journey.  He pushed himself off the floor, wiped the soot off his face, and headed for the stone steps.  When he was upstairs, he walked through the empty dormitory and opened the trunk by his bed.  He grabbed the first clean shirt he found and took off the one that was covered in soot and smelled like whatever detergent or cleaning spells they used at St. Mungo's.  He pulled the clean shirt on over his head.

Aaron walked back downstairs.  He was starving.  He hadn't been able to stomach the lunch they had at St. Mungo's that afternoon and he had missed dinner when Dumbledore showed up without warning and sent him back to Hogwarts.  He thought about just going to the kitchen and avoiding everyone until tomorrow, but then he'd have to see them all at breakfast or walk into a full classroom.  Better to just get it over with.  At least he would see his friends.

He headed to The Great Hall.  His stomach made so much noise he was worried one of the people in the portraits would say something.

The Great Hall went quiet as he walked inside.  Students turned to look and watched him walk to the Gryffindor table, the noise ascending as they whispered and pointed.  He saw Charlie and walked towards him.  Charlie grabbed Aaron's shoulder as soon as he was close enough to reach and pulled him between him and Bill.

"Bloody hell," Charlie said, "I didn't know you were coming back tonight."

"I didn't either," Aaron said, "until Dumbledore showed up at St. Mungo's an hour ago."

"Dumbledore got you out?"

Aaron nodded.  "He told the healers it was a waste of time to keep me there.  It's not like my condition has improved.  He told me I could go back to school if I kept the shackle on.  Then he signed me out and gave me a handful of floo powder."

"Are you alright?"

"I'm glad I'm not stuck in that hospital anymore."

Aaron jumped as someone threw their arms around his neck.  He turned to see Eni.

"I didn't think they'd ever let you out," she said.

"They didn't want to.  They still can't figure out what's wrong with me."

Eni sat down between Bill and Aaron.

"Are you alright?"

"I don't know yet," Aaron said.  "Thanks for the cupcakes you sent."

"Of course."

"I saw you got your stuff back."

"Yeah," Eni said, "Charlie got it to me.  How did you get out?"

"Dumbledore showed up and told them I was missing too much of the school year."

"He should have done that weeks ago," Charlie said.  "Mum and Dad wanted to check you out of there, but they wouldn't let them.  They told them it had to be your legal guardian or some rubbish like that.  Dad almost altered some papers he said he still had for you."

"I really appreciate that they tried," Aaron said.  He'd have to send Arthur and Molly another letter.

Aaron reached for a platter of roast beef.  Bill handed it to him, along with a bowl of potatoes.  Aaron loaded up his plate.  He took large bites while he grabbed a piece of bread from a basket.

The healers had filed down the hook on the shackle until it was just a large, heavy bracelet.  They were having something more practical cast, or so they kept telling him.  He reached for his mug too fast and the damn thing clanged against his plate.  If his friends noticed, they didn't say anything, and he was grateful.

"Aaron!"  Tonks hugged him while he shoveled food into his mouth, pushed her way between him and Charlie, and sat down.

It felt good to be back.

The noise in the hall went back to normal levels as the other students went back to their food and ignored the Gryffindor boy who had missed the first two months of the term. 

Aaron saw Maddison at the Slytherin table.  She waved at him, but didn't come over.

"So, if Dumbledore broke you out, does that mean he's back?"

"He hasn't been here?"

"No," Charlie said.

"He didn't come back with me," Aaron said, his mouth half full.  "He literally just handed me floo powder and pushed me toward a fireplace."

"He's been acting strange for a while now," Tonks said.

"That's an understatement," Aaron said.  He had never told them about what had happened last year when he had encountered Dumbledore drunk in the kitchen.  Dumbledore seemed to have forgotten what he had done.  When the old man walked up to him in the halls at St. Mungo's, Aaron had almost ripped off the shackle and taken his chances with uncontrolled apparition to get away from him.

A rat ran across the table.  A young Gryffindor girl screamed.  Charlie grabbed the rat and tucked it into his robe.

Aaron stared at him.  "Did you just stuff a rat into your robe, or have I actually gone mental?"

"It's Percy's," Charlie said.  "I told Mum and Dad not to get him a pet, especially not a rat.  Percy has never been good with animals.  He's not taking care of it."

Percy was at the far end of the table, checking beneath the benches.  Charlie waved him over.  He took the rat out of his pocket and held it in his hands, careful not to squeeze it too hard.

"Give me Scabbers," Percy said.

"You named him Scabbers?"

"What of it?"

"I just can't believe you cared enough to name him," Charlie said.  "This is the third time I've grabbed him for you.  You have to be more careful."

"You're not Dad, Charlie.  Stop telling me what to do."

"Stop losing your rat."

Scabbers went limp.  Charlie softened his grip.  "What in the name of Merlin-"

"He's always doing that," Percy said.

"Randomly falling asleep?"

"Yeah," Percy said.

Charlie looked at the rat.  Its little stomach moved up and down in a slow rhythm.  Either it was asleep, or about to die.  "I'm going to keep him for a few days and make sure you haven't jinxed or cursed him."

"I didn't curse him!  He just keeps falling asleep."

Charlie tucked Scabbers back into his robe.  "Sure, because that's normal."

Charlie turned away from Percy.

"I'm writing Mum about this," Percy said.

"Go ahead," Charlie said.

Percy walked off, heading back to the far end of the table.

Charlie turned to Bill.  "Was I that bad as a First Year?"

"No," Bill said.  "Percy's always been a right dolt.  Makes you wish the twins were here instead."

"Let's not get crazy," Charlie said.

Aaron reached over him and took more roast beef.

Chapter Text

January 1988

Maddison was bored.  She leaned over A History of Magic and underlined letters until she had a string of words.  It was all she could do to keep herself awake as the old ghost at the front of the room droned on without so much as looking up.

"Before the Goblin Rebellion, members of various magical communities sent ambassadors to navigate old world customs within foreign territories and land owned by . . ."

Satisfied, Maddison slid the book over to Rhodus Carrow.

B in n s   i s   a n   old   fo o l

Rhodus smiled and handed the book back to her.

Maddison leaned against his shoulder, letting her hair fall in front of him.  "Want to skip Herbology and find something fun to do?"

Rhodus shrugged.

"Or not," Maddison said.

Rhodus was tired.  "I would, just, I found Amelia crying in the common room in the middle of the night."

"I knew I heard her get out of bed," Maddison said.

"I don't know what to do anymore.  I made it worse," Rhodus said.  "I yelled at her."

"What the hell is wrong with you?"

"I don't know," Rhodus said.  "I have to stop.  It's not helping me or Amelia."

Maddison said, "Skip Herbology with me."

"I have to check on Amelia."

Binns fell asleep mid-sentence and didn't wake up until the end of class.

Maddison stood up too fast and shoved her chair into Eni.

"Shite," Maddison said, "you alright?"

"I'm fine," Eni said.

"I didn't mean to, you know."

Eni didn't say anything.  Her foot throbbed where Maddison's chair had crushed it.  She waited for Maddison and Rhodus to walk ahead before she left the classroom.  Maddison had spent the year hanging out with the rest of her house, ignoring Eni, Charlie, Aaron, and Tonks.  Eni had heard about weekend parties in the Slytherin common room, but she had never been invited.  None of them had.  Maddison seemed happy enough without them.

Eni hadn't gone home with Maddison for Christmas, and she didn't think she would for the summer either.  That was fine.  She needed to stop relying on Maddison and her family for support.

Eni dodged students in the hallways.  Aaron stood outside the Charms classroom.  She took the training wand out of her bag and handed it to him.  "You should just keep this."

"You need it, too," Aaron said, taking the wand, "at least until McGonagall finds another one for us to use."

"Or, until I get a better handle on hand magic," Eni said.  Her foot still hurt.  She bet it would be bruised when she took off her shoes later.

"I have enough to buy one now," Aaron said, "I was just making sure I actually needed to, you know?"

"You've been a lot more consistent."

Aaron shrugged.  "It still comes and goes."

"If I start working like you, I can save for one, too."

"You should talk to McGonagall about it," Aaron said.  "There's plenty of work."

The rest of the students had filed into the Charms classroom and the hallway was empty.  Eni had to get to Herbology.  "See you in Potions."

Aaron walked into First Year Charms and took his usual seat in the last row.  It had felt better when he was a First Year taking Second Year classes or a Second Year taking Third and Fourth Year classes, even if it had just been Herbology and History of Magic.  Now he felt out of place.  And too tall.  The First Year students around him looked small, nervous, and over eager.

Flitwick closed the door and started his lecture.  Aaron opened his textbook.  He had marked the page where Flitwick had left off on Tuesday, right after a noise reducing charm.  Aaron hadn't gotten the hang of it in class and realized he hadn't tried it after class either.  He'd have to work on it tonight.

The boy next to him dug through his satchel, frantic.

What's his name?  David?  Dean?

The boy had never talked to him, so he could only remember what Flitwick called him.

The boy's quill and parchment were out, but not his ink pot.  Aaron slid his across the desk.  "Use mine."

"Thanks."

Shite, no, his name's Daniel.

Daniel dipped his quill in Aaron's ink pot.  He pulled it out too fast and droplets of ink rained onto the desk between them.  Daniel started to blot at the spilled ink with his robes.

Aaron took out the training wand.

Let's see if today is better than yesterday.

"Tergeo," Aaron said.  About half of the spilled ink siphoned itself into the air and dissolved.  Not bad.

Daniel spent the next twenty minutes glancing nervously at Aaron.

"What?"

"Can . . . can you really apparate wherever you want?"

"No."

"I heard that you can-"

"People talk a lot."

"Do you think you could teach me how to-"

Flitwick eyed them.  Aaron actually had to pay attention, but he didn't want a First Year knowing that.  "If you keep talking through class, I'll apparate you to the middle of the Forbidden Forest and leave you there."

The boy turned back to his parchment.

Flitwick had gotten to the practical part of the class.

"Everyone take a block of wood from the basket.  There, you got it, pass it around.  Everyone got one?  Good.  Now raise your wands and repeat after me.  Colovaria!"

The First Years yelled the charm back with enthusiasm.  Aaron muttered it under his breath and flicked his wand.  He shouldn't have been surprised when nothing happened.  All around the room First Years were yelling the incantation and flicking their wands.

Embrace it, Charlie had said.  Fucking embrace it.

"Colovaria!"  Aaron said, so loud that Daniel jumped.  But he felt something; a pulse of cold energy mixed with broken glass and the taste of something bitter in the back of his throat, his cue that he was tapping into magic.  The block of wood turned a darker shade of brown, barely enough to see.  Then, it turned black.

Professor Flitwick walked around the room.  He saw Aaron's block.

"Well done!  Well done!"

I am actually getting this.

Aaron was so excited he did it again.  "Colovaria!"

The block took its time, but it turned blue.  Aaron laughed.  He wanted to run down the halls and turn every fucking thing a different color.

When he left Charms, Tonks waved him over.

"Hey! Have you got a partner for the sparing practical in Defense Against the Dark Arts yet?"

"No," Aaron said.  "Why?  Do you want to do it with me?"

"Of course I do."

"I don't know," Aaron said.  “I still can’t cast most of the dueling spells.”

"So you’ll learn.  Come on, it will be fun," Tonks said.

"Until you maim me."

"I'm not going to maim you."

Charlie walked up to them.  "Have either of you seen Percy?"

"Thankfully, we share a Transfiguration class," Aaron said.  "How lucky am I?"

"Has his rat gotten loose again?" Tonks asked.

"No," Charlie said.  "I told him he could use my broom for flying lessons if he put it back where it goes.  He hasn't been putting it back.  I'm gonna kill him if he does it again.  I've got Quidditch practice later and I can't fucking find it."

"He was in class this morning," Aaron said.  "He should have Potions now, right?"

Rhodus came around the corner.  Aaron stiffened.  He hadn't told anyone that he was the one who found Marcus Carrow's body.  He couldn't if he wanted to.  Moody had used a gag charm to keep him from talking about it.  But the rotted corpse that had been Marcus Carrow was all he thought of when he saw Rhodus or Amelia in the hallways.  He had woken up a few times from dreams featuring a decomposed head and a distorted corpse that sometimes came alive.  Even after the dreams stopped, he would never shake the way Carrow's decomposing body had smelled on the train station platform.

Rhodus walked past them.  He had always been tall and broad.  Like his father.

Chapter Text

February 1988

Frank Longbottom recognized Dumbledore all at once, and then not at all, his fragmented mind lost in the pieces.  He repeated himself.  He forgot where he was.  Dumbledore watched his face drift from awareness to uncertainty.  Each change of expression broke his heart.

Alice sat on the other side of the room, in a large chair by the window.  She was silent.  The healers had given her something to keep her from screaming.

"I have a son," Frank said, suddenly.  "Have I told you about my son?"

Dumbledore smiled.  The shy seven year old boy had been there an hour ago with his grandmother.  Seeing his son had awakened something in Frank, once he realized who he was and wrapped his mind around the concept that his toddler had transformed into the nervous boy standing in front of him.  When he realized the child was his son, and saw his own features reflected back at him, his face filled with joy.  In the time it took him to embrace the boy, confusion forced its way into his mind and consumed him.  Dumbledore watched as Frank forgot who the child in his arms was.

Frank didn't panic.  This had happened before.  He rode through the confusion and clung to Neville.  When the confusion passed, and he remembered the child he held was his son, he sobbed.

Alice stood and took a few steps toward them.  She looked at the child and Frank with curiosity.  There was no recognition on her face.  She backed away and returned to the chair by the window.

Once, Frank and Alice had been whole.  The people in the room with him now were remnants; shadows of their past selves.

What more could I have done?

Frank stared back at him.

"Tell me about your son," Dumbledore said.

"He is a good boy," Frank said.  "I carry him with me around the house.  How he smiles!  He calls for me, too.  His mother-"

Frank looked at the woman by the window.  "Is that . . . do I know her?"

Dumbledore waited.

"I . . . I can't always remember."                 

"Tell me more about your son."

But Frank didn't see him anymore.  He stood up and paced, wandering near Alice and then away from her, expecting to see the woman he loved and finding only a shell.  Alice didn’t even look at him.

Frank noticed Dumbledore.  "How did you get in here?  Do I know you?"

"I am a friend," Dumbledore said.

"I feel like we have met before."

"We have met many times."

Frank stood in front of Dumbledore.  His eyes scanned the old man's face.  "I know your eyes, but they are lost beneath the layers of years."

Dumbledore smiled.  "As are we all."

A healer assistant came into the room.  She waited until Frank sat down.  When he did, Dumbledore nodded at her.

He held Frank's shoulder for a second while the assistant walked up behind him.

My dear friend.  How did I let this happen to you?

He would say it one more time to see his friend smile.  "Please, tell me about your son."

Frank smiled.  "I have a son.  He is a good boy."

The assistant took Frank's hand and led him to a chair on the far side of the room.

Dumbledore stood.  He looked at Frank and Alice – at their lost faces – and left the room.

He promised himself he would come whenever he could, but it had been five years since he had last seen them.  He had promised himself so many things.

He found his way to the lobby and walked around in a daze, expecting to wake up from this world where those he loved were all gone or ruined.

A young witch sat in a chair, reading The Daily Prophet.  Carrow was on the front page again, along with Adelaide Burke.  From his glance, it appeared as though the Aurors still had no leads.

Then why am I living like a fugitive?

Because he had killed Carrow in cold blood. 

How did they find his body?

He should have burned it.  He should have destroyed it.  He had been sloppy in his haste and rage.  And it had all been for nothing.

If not Marcus Carrow, who should I have chained to that column?

Chapter Text

March 1988

Nick sucked on the fag between his fingers until the flame caught the end.  He inhaled hard, held the smoke in his lungs, and exhaled slow.  He shoved the lighter back in his pocket and took a few steps around the enclosed back lot.  It had been a long set and, on his way out the back door, James had told him they weren't getting paid.

Fuck this whole night.

He inhaled again.  It was three in the morning.  James was still inside, listening to the next set and nodding his head like a fucking idiot.  James didn't care if they didn't get paid.  He had family money.  It wasn't the same for Nick.  He was starving.  He hadn't eaten in two days, waiting to get paid for tonight's show.  This wasn't a fucking game for him.  If he didn't get paid, he didn't eat.

They all told me to get a real fucking job.  He flicked the end of his fag.  They were all right.

This had been a fucking job, a fucking steady job that had gone on for almost two years.  But the gigs had dropped off.  The venues had stopped calling.  He should have seen it coming, but he kept riding the high of the few shows they got, lying to himself about how good they were.

Nick's ears still rang from their set and mixed with the sound from the next band.  They sounded like shite.  The crowd yelled and cheered and fucking sang along.  He didn't see what the fuss was about.  But he bet they were getting paid.

Whatever.  This whole fucking warehouse is a shite place to play anyhow.  Shite lighting.  Shite acoustics.  Shite underage kids with fake IDs pushing each other in the crowd, trying to prove something after their fucking parents dropped them off.  Little shites.

Nick finished the cigarette and flicked it against a brick wall.  It was cold for March.  The thought of walking back through the warehouse and back to the Underground made him sick.  He didn't want to see James and he didn't want to push his way through the crowds. 

And he didn't have to.  Nick dissipated and appeared four miles away inside a tunnel covered with graffiti.  The sound of the air he displaced made the ringing in his ears worse. 

Shite, too loud.

He didn't think anyone saw him.  The tunnel was empty. 

Nick walked to the flat he was calling home tonight.  He didn't have much further to go.  He would have apparaited into the flat, but his friend Lane might still be awake and he didn't want to scare him.  He was a muggle, but he was a good muggle.  A muggle who had given him a place to crash.

At least magic got me this far.

He laughed at the joke.  This was exactly where magic had gotten him.  Broke, homeless, and starving, living on sofas and floors.  All the professors at Hogwarts had never told him the truth; that the magical world was filled with shite.  After seven fucking years at Hogwarts, Professor McGonagall had looked at his marks and told him if he worked a little harder he could get hired to do inventory at one of the shops or make brooms for one of the major brands or clean owl shite for a delivery service.  Wasn't that great?  He could make ten sickles an hour, maybe more.  Ten fucking sickles.

Every student at Hogwarts thinks they are going to be an Auror or play Quidditch professionally or breed dragons.  The reality was that it took a lot of fucking work to be an Auror, you didn't breed dragons unless you were born into a family that did, and professional Quidditch teams started scouting at the Third Year level, two years before he even started playing.  He wasn't born into magic and he had never cared about his grades, he had never thought they were that important.

Out in the real world, after seven years of nothing but classes involving spells, plants, stars, and potions, he was shite at anything that would have made him money.  He had no practical life skills.  His parents had tried to warn him.  His father had hated Hogwarts and told him that magic was a waste of time.  He hated that he had been right.

His parents had taken him back for a little while after he graduated.  Aren't you a wizard now?  Can't you make money appear?  Can't you use magic to get yourself a flat?  Can't you control someone's mind and make them give you a job?  Can't you make potions that make people fall in love and sell them for a profit?  No, he couldn't do any of those fucking things.  That wasn't how magic worked and it wasn't how the real world worked.  There wasn't any money in magic if you weren't a part of the magical community.  If you weren't born into magic, you had to fight your way through the magical world until you made connections or gave up and went back to the muggle world.

Fuck everything about that.

Thank Christ James had called and Nick had kept up with the drums while he was at Hogwarts.  It had kept him sane and given him some money for the last few years.

He took out another cigarette.  It was his last one.  And his lighter was out of fluid.

Fuck everything about today.

Nick stopped on a street corner.  A woman stood next to him.  He noticed her arse first.  It was a great arse.  She had long legs and wore stockings filled with holes.  Her top was loose.  She probably wasn't wearing a bra.

The woman looked at his chewed fag.  She took out a flip lighter and flicked the flame.  She held it up between them.  "Need a light?"

Nick wanted more than a light.  He moved his head and leaned into the flame.

The woman smiled.  "Do you live around here?"

"Sometimes," Nick said.

She looked him up and down.  "So, fancy a night back at mine then?"

Holy fuck.  Nick shrugged.  "If you want."

The woman leaned into him and bit his ear.  "I want."

Holy fuck.  This was happening.  Maybe she even had food at her place.

Nick laughed and threw his arm around the woman.  "Where do you live, love?"

"Two blocks up," she said.  "Are you clean?"

"Very," Nick said, though he couldn't imagine what he smelled like after sweating through the show and chain smoking for two days to stop his stomach from cramping.

She laughed.  It was nice.

Is she working?  Will I have to pay after?  He didn't even care.  He'd work it out later.  If she asked him for money, he'd call James.  James could spot him.  It was the least he could do.

The woman pulled him close and teased her tongue along his lips.  He opened his mouth and her tongue pressed against his tongue and the inside of his lips.  He couldn't wait for it to press against something else.

Nick lost all track of time or where they walked.  When they stopped in front of a locked door, the woman opened it and led him into a dark hallway.  Her wandering hands were on the buttons on the front of his jeans.  She pushed him into a stairwell.  Instead of going up, she pulled him down two flights of stairs.  Then she pulled down his jeans and knickers.  Her mouth was around him before he could say anything.  He held her head in the dark stairwell as it bobbed up and down.

Sweet holy fuck.

He grabbed onto her long, silky hair; his fingers entwined.  In the dim light, he wasn't even sure what color it was.  He had thought black but now it looked brown.  Who gave a fuck?  His dick was down her throat. 

He leaned back and moaned.  He reached for a conduit attached to the concrete wall next to him and held on.  He closed his eyes.  This wasn't going to take long.  If she wanted some, he should pull her back up.  But why?  He deserved something like this.  He fucking needed something like this.

Just focus on the feeling.

Her hair felt different.  Had he dropped the strands?  It was short now, he was sure of it, but CHRIST it felt too good to care or stop.

A male voice said, "You feeling good, love?"

Nick's eyes shot open.

The woman was gone.  His dick hung down next to the face of a man his age.  The man smiled and pushed him against the wall of the stairwell.

"What?  You don't like me anymore?"

"What the fuck is this?  Where the fuck is she?"

"Who?"

"The fucking woman I came down here with!"

The man's face changed back to the face of the woman from the street.  "She's right here, love.  She never left you."

A fucking metamorphmagus.

"Look, I'm not a-"

The face changed back to the face of the man, the hair short against his scalp.

"Not a what?"

"I'm not a-"

The man shoved him against the wall and pulled out a wand.  "How about you shut your fucking mouth?  Unappreciative arsehole."

The man flicked the wand and mumbled a charm under his breath.  Nick couldn't talk.

The man raised the wand again.  "Petrificus Totalus."

Nick couldn't move.  He couldn't fucking move.  The man muttered again, too low for Nick to hear.  His paralyzed body floated in the air.  The man positioned himself a few steps above Nick and took out a knife.

Holy fuck.  Holy fuck CHRIST this is bad.

"The real bitch of it all is that we could have had such a good time if you would have let me keep going.  I would have treated you so well before I had to do this.”

The man raised the knife and pressed it into Nick's forehead.  He cut a long slanted line.  Blood ran down into Nick's open eyes.  He couldn't even scream. 

The man carved another slanted line.  And another.

The man carved a fourth line.  "I know what you're thinking.  Why you?  Well, why not?  Though I am sorry to leave your attractive body in such a manner."

There was so much blood in his eyes now that Nick couldn’t see.  His body lifted into the air.

The man took the knife and slit Nick's throat.  Nick choked.  It was all he could do.

Chapter Text

March 1988

It took five days for someone to find the body in the stairwell.  London police got the tip from a homeless man who broke into the abandoned office building to hole up and shoot heroin.  His plans changed when he pushed open an unlocked door and saw a corpse that he swore to Christ was floating in the air.

The report came across the police scanner in Juliet's flat at three in the morning.

"Possible homicide in Tottenham near White Hart Lane.  Body found reported to be decapitated and mutilated."

Juliet grabbed her coat and wand, pulled on boots, and dissipated.  She appeared in Cassio's flat.

Cassio turned to face her, lacing up his second shoe.  He held his wand.  "I can get us as far as Noel Park."

Juliet shook her head.  "I've got this.  I met Bev two blocks from that building for coffee last summer."

She grabbed Cassio's arm and pulled him with her.  They appeared inside a dark coffee shop and knocked over two chairs.  An alarm sounded.

Cassio raised his wand to stop the piercing sound.  "Quietus."

"Let's get out of here before we become the next police report," Juliet said.

She went for the front door.  "Alohomora."

They headed for the office building.  They could already hear the sirens.

Shite.  Just once I want to beat the fucking London police to the scene after a call.

Blue and white lights reflected off the shops and apartment buildings ahead.  There were three police cars and what looked like four or five officers standing out front.  One of them stretched yellow tape between the cars and the building.

"Quick," Juliet said, "let's try the back."

They took the long way around to the back alley and kept to the shadows.  One officer walked with his back to them.  Another stood by the back door.

Juliet walked forward with her wand raised.  "Stupefy."

She hit the first officer in the neck.  The officer at the door had all of two seconds to see her before he shared a similar fate.  Cassio bent down and touched the man's forehead to keep him from remembering the two seconds.

Once they were through the back door, they followed the sound of voices to a hallway outside of a stairwell.  There were three more officers and a homicide detective.

Juliet raised her wand.  "Stupefy!"

Two officers fell.  The third raised his gun.

"Stupefy!" Cassio and Juliet yelled.

The third officer fell.  The detective looked out of the stairwell in time to get hit in the face with Juliet's last stunning spell.  Cassio started touching foreheads to erase memories and implant new ones.  Juliet stepped over the unconscious detective, ducked under police tape, and walked down one flight of stairs.  The landing and the stairs ahead of her were slick; covered with dark congealed blood.  More of it was streaked across the painted concrete masonry unit walls.

The dead man wasn't hanging in the air anymore.  The levitation spell had worn off and the corpse had fallen onto the landing.  The body was a deformed mess covered in its own blood.  The legs were mangled and twisted at an unnatural angle.  The detached head, however, still hovered above what Juliet assumed had once been the man's neck.  The corpse was naked from the waist down.  That was different.  The man's pants were around his ankles; a clump of fabric, denim, and blood.  More blood coated the course hair that covered the man's legs and stuck out over his limp dick.

There were no markings on the stairs or the walls; no chalk or numbers near the corpse.  Juliet and Cassio had beat the forensics team, but they would be here soon enough.  They'd have to work fast if they didn't want to spend the entire night assaulting muggle government employees and wiping memories.

Cassio took out his camera.  The flash lit up the shadowed stairwell as he took pictures.  After he captured what he could from the stairs, he levitated over the body and the landing to avoid contaminating the scene.  He marked the body with a neon 1, cast from the end of his wand.

Cassio landed on the stairs eight feet below Juliet, where the blood had poured over the surfaces of the stairs, dripped off the noses, and ran down the risers. 

Juliet took off her long coat and laid it on a clean step.  She waved her wand and levitated a few inches off the stairs.  She walked through the air and took a knee, leaning down over the body and the landing.  Cassio took out a sheet of parchment and let the camera hang on the strap around his neck.

"The M on the forehead was carved with a sharp, blunt instrument," Juliet said, "same as all the others."

She used her wand to move the head.  "The neck was removed with a similar sharp, blunt instrument, possibly the same one.  The spinal cord is fragmented; the wind pipe is shredded.  Whoever removed the head took their time and had to use a lot of force."

Cassio took more pictures.

Let's find out who you are.

"Accio wallet."

The legs twisted at a gruesome angle as the wallet pulled itself free of the wet clump that was the man's pants.  Blood leaked out from between the folds of denim and fabric, where it had been trapped.

Cassio cast a neon 2 and took another picture while the wallet floated between them in the air.  Juliet took the wallet, wiped it off, and removed the man's driver's license.  She wiped it clean.

"Nicholas Conner.  Twenty-one years old."

Another number, another picture.  There was nothing else in the wallet except an expired library card and a used Underground ticket.  Juliet sent it back to the dead man's pocket.

Juliet heard someone in the hallway.  She stood in the air and turned toward the landing above them with her wand raised.  Cassio pointed his wand up the side of the stairwell at the door.

"Put your fucking wands down."

Juliet and Cassio lowered their wands as Moody entered the stairwell.

"How did you-"

"You're not the only ones with a fucking police scanner," Moody said.  He stopped two steps before where the blood started.

Juliet still hovered above the body.  "Do you want to take over?"

"No," Moody said.  He waved at the body.  "Continue."

Juliet knelt back down, her boots hovering a foot over the dead man's torso.  She checked the man's arms, back, legs, and chest.  "Apart from the forehead and the neck, there are no other wounds on the body.  It appears . . . wait."

She muttered, flicked her wand, and raised the man's right arm.  A long hair was wrapped around his middle and index fingers.  "Cass, get this."

She leaned back so Cass could take his picture.  Juliet pulled the hair free of the hand with a spell.  It hung in the air in front of her face, suspended and covered in blood.  She reached into her pocket and took out a vial.  Once the hair was inside, she capped it with a cork and stuffed it back in her pocket.  She used another vial to collect a sample of the congealed blood.

She studied the body for another fifteen minutes, looking in silence as Moody watched.  Cassio took a few more pictures as she moved and re-positioned the corpse.

There wasn't anything else.  At least, nothing visible.

Juliet stood up, stepped back, and raised her wand.  "Geneticae mater collectio non mortuus est."

She waited.  If there was anything else, anything that didn't belong to the dead man, that would do it.

She shouldn't have been surprised when a sticky substance separated from the blood on the man's dick and collected in the air.

At least he had one last moment of pleasure.  Or this is a kink gone terribly wrong.

She siphoned the substance out of the air and into the vial.

"Crime scene investigation complete.  Three samples collected.  Remains will be left behind, as found, for a second investigation to presumably be conducted by the muggle authorities."

Moody nodded.  "The report has already gone out.  We'll let the muggles have him.  This will be the tenth body they have found before we did.  They'll be looking for a serial killer, or at least copy cats, by now.  If they find anything that will help us, so be it."

Juliet walked through the air until she made contact with the staircase.

"Well done," Moody said.

"What are you doing in London?"

"I've been here a few days, following up with a lead for the Underground station where Carrow's body was found.  There's an engineer who can tell me exactly when they encased that tunnel in concrete.  That will limit the access timeline."

"I thought that kid had never been down there before," Juliet said.

"Not as far as he remembers," Moody said, "but that's not how apparition works and that body didn't walk down there on its own."

He had questioned Aaron two times while he had been at St. Mungo's, one of which was under the influence of Veritaserum.  Aaron still claimed he had never been on the train platform before he apparaited there.  He hadn't been jinxed, he hadn't been cursed, and there wasn't any evidence that someone had been controlling him or tampering with his memory.

They walked up the staircase.  It was time to leave.

"I'll get what I can off these samples right away," Juliet said, grabbing her coat.  "I'll dig into his background and contact people he knew once his name is released to the public.  I'll keep an eye on the muggle police, too, and see what they come up with."

Moody stepped over the unconscious bodies on the ground.  "Did any of these muggles see you?"

"Yes," Juliet said, "but Cass already grabbed foreheads and altered memories."

Moody froze.  Even his blue eye didn't move.

"Moody?"

"I'll be fucked by a boggart," Moody said.  I am one of the fucking too old ones.

"What?"

"I know how that kid got inside the Underground station."

Chapter Text

March 1988

It was one of those nights, Aaron realized, where magic wasn't going to be there for him.  He stuffed the training wand back into his apron and plunged his hands into dirty dish water.  The house elves were on the other side of the room, using magic to clean the serving platters and utensils.  He'd just have to deal with the plates, mugs, and silverware from the students' Friday night dinner.  His own dishes were in the stack somewhere.

Lara came into the room.  She stood behind Aaron and watched him toss uneaten food into the rubbish bin and slide plates into the sink.  "Want me to-"

"No," Aaron said, "it builds character or some shite, right?"

"If by build character you mean punishing yourself for not being able to use magic, then sure," Lara said.

"I got along fine before," Aaron said.  "It's not like I had anything else to do tonight."

Lara leaned against the counter next to him.  "You don't want to smuggle more of Dumbledore's bourbon up to one of the common rooms with your friends?"

Aaron used a washrag to scrub at something stuck to a plate.  "Did you always know I did that?"

"I know exactly what is, and what is not, in this kitchen at all times," Lara said.

"I can get some money out of my account to pay for what I took."

"You didn't drink all that alcohol by yourself.  It's fine, Aaron," Lara said.  "I take a bottle every now and again.  You haven't taken any in a while though, have you?"

"Not since my body decided to try to tear itself apart, no."

"How's that going?"

"About the same," Aaron said.

"You'll get it," Lara said.

Or, I won't.  It isn't like I ever had much control over magic anyway.

"I need to get started on the ovens," Lara said.  "Come find me in an hour when you decide you're tired of doing this by hand."

Aaron picked up the next stack of plates and moved it next to the sink.  He tossed more uneaten food and turned on the faucet.  He used the sprayer to power wash the plates and watched whatever was left of the food wash down the drain.

When he was done with the plates and the mugs, he drained one side of the sink and filled it with more soap and hot water to soak the silverware.  The room was quiet now, apart from the water he ran and the clanks of forks hitting knives.  The house elves had finished up their part of the dishes and left the other side of the room scrubbed and clean.

"When Minerva said I could find you in the kitchen, I didn't think it was because you were working down here."

Aaron hadn't seen Moody since his last week at St. Mungo's.  Moody had woken him up, poured Veritaserum down his throat, and made him write down every place he could ever remember having been.  At four in the morning.  It had taken three hours and a lot of pulling apart memories of his time spent in the great foster care system of the United Kingdom.  He didn't have a choice.  Under the influence of the Veritaserum, everything had spilled out of him.  He had told Moody too much about the places on his list; things he had never talked about to anyone and had never wanted to talk about.

He was not excited that Moody was at Hogwarts.

"Dry off your hands and come with me," Moody said.

Aaron took the dish towel off his shoulder and put it on the counter by the sink.  He leaned back against the counter and looked at Moody, folding his arms over his chest.

"I'm not going to make you drink anymore potions, I promise."

"I still don't know anything about the Underground station or Carrow's body, alright?  I don't know what his body was doing down there.  And I don't know how I got down there."

"I do," Moody said.

"Bullshit."

Moody looked around the kitchen.  "This isn't the best place to talk."

"Fine," Aaron said.  He dried his hands and pulled off his apron.  He left the silverware to soak in the sink and followed Moody.

They took the stone steps and walked past The Great Hall.

Moody looked down at his arm.  "When was the last time you took that thing off?"

"I mean, I don't shower with it."

"Are you still feeling sick and seeing the layers when it's off?"

Aaron nodded.  "Not every time, but often enough that I don’t like removing it.”

"No one's teaching you how to control it, are they," Moody said.

"They're scared," Aaron said.  "They don't want to watch me kill myself or deal with the consequences of The Ministry watching me appear and disappear in front of muggles all over the United Kingdom again."

Moody and Aaron walked down to the dungeons.  When they were inside the Potions classroom, Moody closed the door, enchanted it to stay locked, and added a noise blocking charm.

"I need another list," Moody said.

"Everything I said at St. Mungo's is still the truth," Aaron said.  "I had never been to that fucking train station before I found Carrow's body.  I've gone through all the places in my head.  I can't think of any more that I haven't already given you, alright?  I had never even been to London.  They always moved me around between Glasgow and Edinburgh.  I don't know where I was born.  There wasn't a birth certificate.  And I don't know where the hell I was for the first like seven months of my life before my social worker started keeping track-"

"It doesn't matter," Moody said.  "You're right.  You had never been in that Underground station before.  How could you have?  It was encased in concrete ten years before you were born.  You didn't kill Carrow."

Moody kept his eyes on Aaron.  He was sure now.  "But you touched whoever did."

"What the hell does that mean?"

"I've seen it before," Moody said.  "I've got two young Aurors who have what I have started to think of as amplified magical abilities."

Aaron laughed.  It came out like a sudden, choking sound.  "Now I know you're full of shite.  I am the least magical student at this school.  Didn't you just see me doing the dishes with my hands?"

Moody didn't say anything.  He just kept his eyes on Aaron.

"I'm rubbish at magic, alright?  I've spent the last four years at this school trying not to get kicked out for not being able to use magic.  I'm still trying to get the hang of fucking Wingardium Leviosa.  In my fourth year.  I'm shite at magic."

"You're not shite at apparition, or whatever it is you're doing," Moody said.  "My two young Aurors have touch-related abilities, too.  One of them is a walking pensieve.  She can pull herself right into peoples' thoughts and memories just by touching their heads.  Her twin can erase and alter memories just by touching people.  I think you're apparition works the same way.  I think you can apparate to wherever you have been, and to wherever people you've touched have been."

Aaron leaned against a desk.  He thought about what happened the day he was on the floor at Hagrid's hut, how the layers and the nausea had gotten worse when Hagrid touched him.  He had seen parts of the Forbidden Forest that he had never been to.  He had never been to The Burrow until he jumped there.  But obviously Charlie had.  He tried to remember the rest.  The bakery could have been Eni's family bakery.  And-

"When you grabbed me," Aaron said, "we ended up at your flat."

"Still think I'm full of shite?"

Aaron grabbed a piece of parchment off a desk.  Moody handed him a quill and an ink pot.

"Write down anyone you've had physical contact with in the past two years."

That's most of Hogwarts.

Aaron wrote fast, starting with the names of his friends.  He added Hagrid and Aleus, Professor McGonagall and Professor Flitwick.  Had Arthur touched him when he was at The Burrow?  Did they move him when he was unconscious?

Shite.  He didn't even know the names of most of the healers at St. Mungo's.  He wrote Hospital Healers and moved on.

He hesitated on the last name, but wrote it down anyway.  Moody wasn't here to dig into why he had physical contact with someone.  And Aaron would be lying if he told himself he didn't think the man was capable of killing Carrow, not after he had seen how unhinged he was.

Aaron handed the list to Moody.  "That's everyone, except maybe a few people I've jostled in the hallways.  At that point, just go get the entire student roster."

Moody looked at the list.  "I won't need that."

Aaron watched Moody's face.  There weren't any expressions of surprise.

"I have to finish in the kitchen," Aaron said.  "If you're going to gag me again-"

"Can I trust you?”  Moody said, "If we're going to work together, I can't gag you every time something happens.  Either I trust you, and you make us both regret it, or we start making progress.  One of the people on this list killed Carrow.  I don't think I need to tell you how critical it is that no one knows where I got these names."

"You can trust me," Aaron said.  "I won't talk."

"Good.  How are your grades?"

"My grades?"

"You've got O.W.L.s next year, right?"

"Yeah," Aaron said.  "If I can get a handle on the spell and charm work maybe I can squeeze by with-"

"I need you to do a lot more than squeeze by," Moody said.

"I'll try," Aaron said.  "The magic isn't always there, but I do fine with the rest."

"Good," Moody said.  "Keep working at it."

Moody folded the list and stuffed it into his coat.

"Aaron," Moody said, "with what you can do, it isn't an option for you to learn how to control it.  You have to learn how to control it.  And how to use it.  If that means I come out here a few times a month to figure it out with you, so be it."

"What if I just can't control it?"  

"Let's not entertain that," Moody said.  "I am going to find out how to get you to control exactly where you apparate, no matter how hard we have to work."

"You're going to help me?"

"I don't think you realize how rare whatever you can do is," Moody said.  "I've never seen anything like it.  If you can really pull locations off of people just by touching them, it changes everything.  The whole damn way we do things.  Especially with how you bypass wards.  It's too fucking important to ignore, or have you walking around for years cutting off your ability with an iron shackle."

"So, I don't get a say in whether or not you help me."

"Do you really want to keep drooling and hearing what you described to me as ear destroying noise every time you take the iron off?"

"Is that even a question?"

"Admittedly, you wanting to do this is somewhat irrelevant at this point," Moody said, "but do you?"

"Yes," Aaron said, "I want to learn how to control my apparition."

"Well, yes, that," Moody said, "for starters."

Chapter Text

March 1988

The walls in Juliet's living room and kitchen were covered with photographs, articles from The Daily Prophet, and handwritten notes.  Some of the parchment was worn and the ink was faded from the sunlight that came through her windows.  She'd have to cast another anti-aging charm or re-write them herself.  The oldest notes were transcripts from April 19, 1985, the day she had excavated the minds of Albus Dumbledore, Bartemius Crouch, and Cornelius Fudge.  Four days after the murder of the four muggle-borns inside the Wizengamot dungeon, she had placed her hands on the temples of each man and found similar memories.  Bodies hanging in the air.  Mutilated foreheads.  Screaming.

On April 19, 1985, Juliet had been an Auror for all of ten months.  She had completed three years of training, passed her final tests, and immediately been given the mind-numbing task of reviewing and sorting vials of memories stored in a dust-covered cabinet inside a storage room at The Ministry.  She had spent weeks in that fucking room, pouring strands of memories into a pensieve, making notes, and re-shelving them in some kind of order.  The majority of the memories were worthless, in Juliet's opinion.  One vial contained the memory of a witch making some type of stew.  Another was from a wizard who had crashed his broom into a high-rise.  And those were the exciting ones.  Vial after vial were filled with memories of witches and wizards grocery shopping, cleaning kitchens, and casting levitation charms on household objects.  Burke told her the memories were significant, and that sorting them was important work.  It had all been a load of shite.  Juliet was just the youngest, least experienced Auror and, before the murders started, Burke hadn't known what else to do with her.

All of that changed on April 15, 1985.  Here was something, fucking finally.  A quadruple homicide.  A real, honest to Merlin crime, committed right beneath the Auror office, despite the presence of heavy wards that should have prevented anyone from being able to get inside the dungeon.  This would be it; the case that defined who she was as an Auror.  She was going to solve this mother fucker alright.

I was so goddamn young.  And so fucking naivete.

Three years later, Juliet's face had aged ten years and she wasn't sleeping.  The list of victims she had affixed to the center of her largest living room wall was still there, with the word victims underlined three times.  She had made that list with so much excitement and vigor, making broad strokes with her quill.  It had started with four names.  Then it had become nine.  Then nineteen.  Now, after Nicholas Conner, there were thirty-one names.  Thirty-one muggle-borns killed in three years, with crime scenes from London to Liverpool, and from Oxford to Glasgow.  Three years, thirty-one bodies, and the most she had was her own fucking memories from the night Cassio and her had almost caught the man and the woman at the flat in London where Albert Daven was killed.

Until now.

Juliet turned on the lights and made space on her desk.  She took a cauldron out of her kitchen cabinet and set it on the desk, next to two of the vials from yesterday's crime scene.  She stood on a chair and yanked the smoke detector off the ceiling, then she opened a window and started a fire beneath the cauldron.

The fucking killer had gotten sloppy, or the killer had interrupted Nicholas as he was getting head in the stairwell.  Either way, she would have another face to go with the crime scene and someone to find and question.

Juliet took a handful of Angel's Trumpet and dropped it in the cauldron.  She cracked an Ashwinder egg in next, careful to include all the fragments of the shell.  She stirred for four minutes and added dragon's blood.  She reached into her satchel and pulled out a jar of fireflies she had collected in the park two blocks from her flat.  She unscrewed the lid, grabbed a handful of insects, and crushed them in her fist.  She scraped the neon guts, broken wings, and tiny legs off her palm and into the cauldron.  Juliet stirred until the mixture turned from dragon blood red and orange to purple and dark blue; a sunset that faded into twilight.  The twilight glimmered into a starry night sky.  That would be the fireflies.

Juliet pulled on gloves and opened the first vial.  She pulled out the strand of curled, brown hair, removed the crusted blood, and dropped it in the cauldron.  She waited.  It didn't take long for steam to rise from the liquid night sky.  The steam thickened and collected above the cauldron, dancing in the air.

Come on, come on.

The steam coalesced, forming into the shape of a woman's body.

Yes, I fucking knew that much.  Come on, show me more.

The woman's features settled and colors appeared.  Long brown hair, light skin, and blue eyes.  Juliet held up a piece of parchment and raised her wand.

"Captis."

The ghost of the woman collected itself on the parchment and turned to colored lines of charcoal, producing what the muggles called a facial composite; a police sketch.  Juliet stared at it.  She had never seen the woman before.  Had this woman killed Conner?  Or had they both been in the wrong place at the wrong time?  If so, where was her body?

Juliet dumped the ingredients in the cauldron and started over for the next sample, not wanting to contaminate her next batch of evidence.  When the potion was completed, she added the vaguely clear substance she had pulled of Nicholas Conner's flaccid penis.

The steam again formed into the shape of a woman.  Juliet watched the same hair, eyes, and facial structure appear in the air.

But then, the shape twisted.  It curled in on itself until there was another face.  A man's face.

Holy shite.  Were they both giving this fucker head?  Is this the same man and woman I chased across the roof?  What kind of sick fucks are killing these people?

Something was wrong.  The steam didn't settle.  It didn't break off into multiple figures like it typically did when a cluster of collected DNA belonged to more than one person.  The steam danced in a constant state of flexion, so much that it took Juliet a few tries to capture the man's face onto its own sheet of parchment.  The steam morphed from the woman to the man and back to the woman, with some hybrid face in-between that was neither.

Oh fuck.

Juliet dropped her wand.  This wasn't going to solve the fucking crime; it was going to make everything more complicated.  Because whoever had sucked Nicholas Conner's dick was a metamorphmagus.

Chapter Text

April 1988

The woman with long brown hair took the stairs from the street down to the pub.  The noise assaulted her as she pulled the front door open; voices at different pitches, tones, and volumes.  The Clash, or maybe it was the Ramones, played over the speakers behind the bar.  Glass shattered – someone dropped their pint and the people around them clapped.  The bartender tossed a dirty towel in the direction of the applause.

She shouldered her way through a crowd of men who laughed near the bar.  The men looked her up and down as she cut through them.  She elbowed them more than was necessary, smiling as they covered their glasses with their hands and tried not to spill their beers.  She smelled an overabundance of cologne and sweat.

One of the men tapped her shoulder.  "Want we should buy you a pint, love?"

Oh, how she wanted them to, but there wasn't enough time.  She reached out and grabbed his glass.  She raised it to her lips.  "It seems you already did."

The man smiled.  His friends laughed.  She kept walking, taking a few sips from the glass as she dodged more people.  Her heels stuck to the floor.

She walked to the back of the pub and went into the women's bathroom.  She locked the door behind her and chugged the beer.  When she slammed the glass on the sink, her hair shortened and turned black.  She reached into her pocket, took out a vial, and upended the last few drops of the contents into her palm.  She rubbed the potion down her left arm, leaned into the dirty mirror, and gave her reflection a wet kiss as her features rippled and pulsed.

When she was a woman, she gave her name as Roxanne or Ellen, depending on her mood.  When he was a man, it was Richard or Marcus, or something a little more regal.  But right now, they wanted to be somewhere in-between.  They relaxed and let their features blur and shift, refusing to settle on a final form.  If Kayal Rowle was honest with themselves, they had forgotten there was a line to cross years ago, and why bother fucking looking for one.

Kayal took a robe out of the satchel they carried and pulled the hood over their face.  They raised their wand.  A few flicks, a few words, and the wall shimmered and disappeared, revealing another staircase.  Kayal headed down.  The wall closed behind them.  Now came the fun part.  The tunnel ahead curved and diverted as Kayal walked; matching the pace of their own transformations.  Six tunnels crossed over each other, growing and moving.  Kayal ducked as the ceiling lowered and stayed against the wall when the path narrowed.  Some of the passageways sealed themselves off and others opened.  Slamming the beer had been a bad idea.

Hands grabbed Kayal's shoulders and pulled them hard to the left.  Startled, Kayal's hair shot out in thick, black waves over shoulders that widened in preparation for a fight.

Kayal recognized the face.  "Fuck, Nott, you can't just grab me like-"

"The labyrinth key's been changed."

"Someone could have told me," Kayal said.

"I just changed it," Theshan Nott said, and pulled Kayal down the tunnel.

A staircase appeared.  They walked up until the staircase shifted, then they walked down.  Theshan turned fast into another corridor, his hand still on Kayal's shoulder, pushing them forward.  The floor moved independent of the walls and Kayal struggled to keep their balance.  Kayal didn't know if they were going up or down anymore, or if they were even still in fucking London anymore.  For all they knew, Nott could have taken them through one of his fucking mirror portals.

Kayal's heels dug into their feet as they changed size and width, trying to find the best form for balance.

Fuck it.

Kayal used Nott for balance and reached down and pulled off the heels.  Nott grabbed Kayal's shoulders again and pinned them against the wall.  He shoved his wand into Kayal's throat.

"What the fuck is wrong with you?"

"My feet are killing-"

Nott slammed Kayal's head into the wall.  "You left your fucking DNA at your last kill site.  The fucking Aurors made two of your forms, maybe a few in-between.  You fucking sloppy cunt."

Kayal shoved Nott back.  "Then I won't use those fucking forms anymore, alright?  It doesn't matter.  The Aurors don't know shite.  They still think we did the fucking train attack-"

"You got comfortable," Nott said, "like a fucking amateur."

Nott was right.  Kayal had wanted a lot more than blood from Nicholas Conner.  But, Christ, if they couldn't have some fun, than what was the fucking point?

Nott pulled a hood over his head, raised his wand, flicked it, and the concrete walls fell away.  They stood in a circular room filled with figures in dark robes; witches and wizards determined to remain unseen, though Kayal knew all of their names.  No one else moved or spoke.  They waited and watched Nott and Kayal.  Kayal pulled on their own hood, reached into the satchel, and took out a blood-covered knife wrapped in canvas.  They handed it to Nott.  And turned their head.

Theshan leaned into Kayal with his wand, and Kayal let him.  Kayal surrendered their memories from the kill, starting a few seconds after his male form had gotten off his knees.  The coils wrapped themselves around Theshan's wand.

Theshan pulled the last threads out of Kayal's head and walked to the center of the room.  A large pensieve raised from the floor.  Theshan submerged the end of his wand.  As Kayal's memories unraveled, the dark figures surrounded the bowl.  Before they submerged their covered heads, they whispered the names under their breath.  Kayal joined them.

Abbott.  Avery.  Black.  Bulstrode.  Burke.  Carrow.  Crouch.  Fawley.  Flint.  Gaunt.  Greengrass.  Lestrange.  Longbottom.  Macmillan.  Malfoy.  Nott.  Ollivander.  Parkinson.  Prewett.  Rosier.  Rowle.  Selwyn.  Shacklebolt.  Shafig.  Slughorn.  Travers.  Weasley.  Yaxley.

An old witch who stood across the pensieve from Kayal spoke.  "Before we celebrate the removal of another impostor, we must remember why we are here.  We must remember our ancestors; all of those who were tortured, imprisoned, and killed."

Everyone was silent.

"Where is the knife?"

Nott levitated Kayal's knife into the air.  It floated above the pensieve.

"Who removed the impostor?"

"I did," Kayal said.

"Very well," the witch said, "let us watch and witness what you have done."

Kayal was the only one who didn't submerge their head.

After they watched Kayal kill Nicholas Conner, the collective raised their heads.  The witch raised her wand and collected the blood off the floating knife.  She siphoned it through the air, into a vial waiting in her hand.  The blood mixed with the gold and black fluid that tossed in the vial.

Theshan grabbed Kayal's shoulder.  "If you are so fucking incompetent again next time, I swear to Christ and Merlin I will kill you myself.  None of them will fucking miss you."

The old witch sent the vial across the pensieve.  It hovered in the air.  Kayal took it, nodded to the witch, and slipped it into their robes, making sure it was secure.

The ritual was complete.

"Thirty-one," the old witch said.  "How many of our kind were killed?"

"Thousands more," the room responded.

"When will we stop?"

Theshan and Kayal spoke the words with the rest, "We will never stop."

Chapter Text

May 1988

Aaron,

Forbidden Forest.  6 AM.

Tell no one.

M

 


 

It was dark when Aaron left the castle.  Eni had the training wand and he didn't want to wake Bill or Charlie up to borrow one, so he took a lantern from the storage closet and headed for the forest.

Aaron walked with the lantern swinging in front of him.  When he entered the forest, he ignored what sounded like something moving in the branches above his head.  The sound stayed with him until he found Moody standing in a clearing half a mile into the woods.  Aaron set the lantern on the ground between them.  Even after sunrise, there wouldn't be much more light this far into the forest.

Moody took a vial out of his coat and handed it to Aaron.  "Drink this.  The taste leaves a lot to be desired, but it will remove your trace for a few hours so The Ministry doesn't lose their shite."

Aaron removed the cork and upended the vial.  The flavor was battery acid mixed with milk that had turned.  It smelled worse.  He gagged twice, but he got it down.

"Good," Moody said, "now we can get some work done."

Aaron reached for the shackle and Moody stopped him, covering Aaron's hand with his own.

"When I met you, I planned on giving you the same speech I give all the young Aurors who think they can apparate all over the goddamn place without consequences," Moody said.  "You've experienced some of the consequences, so I don't think I need to go into detail about apparition killing wizards and witches and splinching off body parts."

"No," Aaron said, "you don't."

"Then we'll move on to control and endurance," Moody said.  "From what I saw last time, your constant state of flux between locations drains your energy fast.  You're making hundreds, maybe thousands, of micro-jumps."

"It's exhausting," Aaron agreed.

"Endurance comes from magic and your physical fitness.  Since your magical abilities leave something to be desired, you're going to spend a lot of time running.  Whenever you have time, and even when you don't, I want you pounding the gravel or whatever is around the castle.  Got it?"

"Yeah, ok, I'll run."

"And eat," Moody said.  Aaron's last growth spurt had left him skinny.  "A lot."

"Fine, yeah," Aaron said.

"Alright," Moody said.  "I want you to keep yourself here as long as you can.  Let yourself see the . . . what did you call them?"

"Layers," Aaron said.  He took off the shackle.  "It's just the way the locations look when they're superimposed."

"Right.  Let yourself see the layers," Moody said.  "When you reach the point where you can't control it anymore, and you're going to either apparate or pass out, put that back on."

 


 

Almost an hour later, nothing had happened.  Aaron started pacing around the clearing, his shadow moving across the trees around them and flickering over the ground.  Moody stood with his arms folded over his chest, watching him.

"Do you think all the moving will help or something?"

"I told you I'm shite at magic," Aaron said, walking.  "You shouldn't have come all the way out here."

"What?  You want to try this again when I'm not here?  So they can send you back to St. Mungo's or you can lose a body part?"

"I know," Aaron said.  "I'm trying.  I've never been able to just pull magic out of the air like everyone else."

Moody stepped in front of Aaron.  "Do you think you're the only wizard who has ever struggled with accessing magic?  Magic is its own monster, Aaron.  It's erratic.  It's not always going to let you reach out and grab it; you have to make it work for you.  Sometimes, you have to force it to respond and do what you want it to do."

“What's wrong, mudblood?  Scared of magic?”

Am I?

"Every time I use magic, it feels like I'm grasping at the edges of a fog that dissolves as soon as I try to take more," Aaron said.

"It doesn't dissolve when you fucking apparate," Moody said.  "That's no small amount of magic that you're playing with.  Stop trying to grab for something that isn't there and tap into whatever it is you feel when your body is trying to tear itself apart."

"How exactly do I do that?"

"You stop waiting for magic to like you and start making it your bitch."

It was the first time Moody saw Aaron smile.  It was a refreshing change from the serious looks of frustration.

"Hogwarts is a good school," Moody said, "but they don't teach enough real-world magic.  It's why The Ministry has a fucking shortage of Aurors.  Most of the students who end up here can just pull out a wand and turn tricks the first day on the fucking train.  The basics come easy and they don't spend a lot of time struggling with magic, or learning how to mutate it into something that works for them instead of the other way around.  The professors aren't any better.  They've all gotten too fucking comfortable.  They forgot how to teach students the side of magic that takes grit."

Moody continued, "They sure as shite didn't know what to do with you."

"Yeah, they did," Aaron said.  "They took me out of classes that required me to use magic.  It was easier.  For them and for me."

"Like I said, too fucking comfortable.  Are you ready to get uncomfortable?"

"Yes."

"I know you are," Moody said.  He took a few steps back.  "Now, make it do what you want.  Fucking summon it."

Aaron stood still.  The first thing he thought of was broken glass.  He fixated on it until he could feel a shard tearing through the skin on his arm.  He un-clenched the part of his stomach he held in a knot and let himself get a little dizzy, and a little nauseous, until the back of his throat tasted bitter.

He didn't wait for the layers to surprise him.  He summoned the Gryffindor common room, pulling at the parts of his brain where the strongest memories of it were stored; where the smell of fireplace soot mixed with parchment and spilled ink and the sound of Charlie's laugh.  It took its time and faded into his vision, lapping over the trees, the lantern, and Moody.  He heard the fire crackle.  The common room pulled on him, but he pushed back against it, feeling for the forest and making his hold there stronger.

The city street Is it Glasgow?  Is it even a street I've been on before or is it from someone else?  Does it fucking matter?  came without being summoned.  He saw the pavement that had torn his palms apart last summer.  He heard traffic and saw cars just ahead of where he stood a few steps off a curb.  The street threatened and pulled on him.

The familiar cold energy shot up his spine.  Fine, magic, you want to play?  I can fucking play, too.

Aaron summoned the dark library from a school that wasn't Hogwarts.  He summoned the hallway outside his hospital room at St. Mungo's.  The sounds overlapped; voices, traffic, the fireplace, and dead silence.  The traffic was sharp; the voices rose and fell.  He made himself take his hands off his ears.  He hadn't even noticed he was using them to block the noise.

The common room, street, and the library pulled at his skin.

The park came out of nowhere.  The sudden, crushing pull of it shook him.  Seeing the park made bile rise in the back of his throat.  He shifted toward it, stopped, and made himself look for the crushed leaves and dirt that was the forest floor.  He pulled on the forest as hard as the park and the rest of the locations pulled on him, shifting somewhere between all of them.

Moody watched Aaron's body blur.

Aaron shook, from the micro-jumps and, now, exhaustion.

"How many . . . you see?" Moody asked, the man's voice cutting through the traffic and the rest of the noise.

"Five," Aaron said, his voice fading in and out.

"Try for more."

Aaron wiped sweat off his forehead.  He was dizzy and sick.  He didn't know if he could pull in any more layers, but he had gotten this far.  It was the first time he felt like he was in control, and he wanted to get drunk on the sensation.

He summoned one of his grade school classrooms, picturing it before another layer had a chance to take over on its own.  When it was there, bleeding into the others, he summoned the Charms classroom.  He summoned Moody's flat. And the clearing where the dragon had died.  The last one pulled hard, but he pulled harder.

"Nine now," Aaron said, "ten including the forest."

Moody raised his wand and cast what looked like a shield.  He projected it over Aaron.  The edges of the shield disintegrated on impact; the rest warped, tangled, and tore apart.

Aaron collapsed on his hands and knees, dripping sweat.  His arms shook from exertion.  He grabbed the iron shackle and clasped it around his wrist.  Everything stopped.

Aaron fell forward.  He choked and coughed, dry heaving while saliva dripped from the corners of his mouth.

Moody stood over him.  "That was fucking good work."

Aaron nodded and spit on the ground.

"You summoned magic like the fucking wizard you are."

Aaron wiped sweat off his face with his shirt.

"The Archimedes Field worked, too," Moody said, "for a second."

"Was that the shield?"

"Yes," Moody said.  "We use Archimedes Fields to locate illegal portkeys and mirror portals.  They are used to detect curves and displacements in space.  And you tore it apart."

Aaron wiped his mouth.  "I'm displacing space."

"You're directly manipulating space; warping and layering it over itself; folding it until it pulls you through."

Aaron had a book like that. The shortest distance between two points is not a straight line.  He wasn't folding time, but it was the closest analogy he could think of.  "Like a tesseract?"

"Call it whatever you want," Moody said.  "It explains why wards do fuck all to stop you.  The wards are either bypassed or torn apart at the interface of your body and the layers."

"It's not apparition, then," Aaron said, "not technically."

"No, it isn't," Moody said.  "But let's not tell anyone that."

Chapter Text

September 1988

Percy didn't know it, but his rat was missing again.

Scabbers had waited until the boy was asleep and crept across the dormitory floor, his long nails scratching the stone.  Instead of taking the stairs, he crawled into a hole where the floor met a wall and scurried through the voids in the masonry.  The grout was uneven, and he had to watch where he crawled.  There were openings that dropped down ten or twenty feet into crevices.  The only thing worse than living as a rat would be getting trapped like one and starving to death in the walls of the castle.

Scabbers' excursion through the walls sent him downward.  He slipped a few times and scratched at the stone and mortar to regain his footing.  He came out at an opening where a stone had fallen out of the wall decades ago and never been replaced.  Scabbers looked out and twitched his nose, smelling for the cat.  When he didn't see her, he hopped down and landed in the hallway.  He'd have to scuttle out in the open for a few hundred feet and it made him nervous.  But the voice in his head told him to keep moving, so he did.

His nose twitched and his tail moved back and forth behind him.  He ran now, hating how exposed he felt.  He saw the torch ahead.  There was still no sign, or smell, of the cat.

Scabbers climbed up the tapestry next to the torch and pulled himself into the space between the mounting plate and the wall.  The next series of inner wall crevices would take him halfway down the One-Eyed Witch Passage.

It took him almost another hour to get to the Hog's Head.  Being a rat was fucking exhausting.

He made sure no one was in the inn and scurried to the fireplace.

Do it now, the voice said.

Scabbers stood on his hind legs and transformed, ripping out of his rat form and landing on the stone floor as Peter Pettigrew.

"Thank Merlin's sweet mother fucking father," he said, rolling on the floor and feeling his own arms and legs.  It didn't bother him that he was naked.  He was relieved to see that all of his human parts were still functional.

Get off the floor.  Stop wasting time.  The way is unguarded tonight.  This will prove to be one of the most important missions I have sent you on thus far.

Peter froze.  He stood up and grabbed a handful of floo powder from a dish on the top of the mantel.

"Crouch residence," he said, and was pulled into the fireplace.

He tumbled out over a dark hearth.  Soot stuck to places he rather it hadn't.

Transform back NOW.

"But I just-"

NOW, YOU USELESS FUCKING DOLT.

Peter rubbed his arms one more time, and shrunk back into his rat form.

He's in the kitchen.

Scabbers scurried across the floor.  A moldy piece of bread was on the floor beneath the kitchen cabinet.  He approached it, sniffed it, and ate it.  Then he saw the man standing in the dark, facing a wall.  He got closer, staying under the edge of the cabinets.

There were dark circles under the man's eyes.  Scabbers shrank back against the cabinet when he realized who it was.  But it couldn't be.  Barty Crouch Jr. was dead.  He had died in Azkaban after he'd tortured Frank and Alice Longbottom into insanity with Bellatrix, Rodolphus, and Rabastan Lestrange.  

But there he was.

I wanted you to see that you weren't the only one.  Crouch is alive, as are you.

Scabbers twitched and watched Crouch.

Now isn't the time, Wormtail.  I am not strong enough, and neither is he.  But he will be.

Scabbers sat under the cabinets for hours, watching Crouch stand motionless, and waiting to hear the voice again.  He chewed on his own tail.  He didn't hear anything.  The voice had abandoned him.

The sun was rising outside the windows when Scabbers crawled back into Percy's bed.

Chapter Text

October 1988

"The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death."

Dumbledore studied the inscription on the headstone and touched the words with shaking fingers.  He raised the bottle to his lips and took another drink.  The deaths of Lily and James Potter haunted him.  To the day, it had been seven years since they were killed.

If the fragile lives of his former students and their children had ever been his concern, then he could have hoped to find something resembling humanity inside of himself and use it to secure his unhinged mind.  But it had never been about them. And now, two of his students were dead, two of them had been driven insane, and the children would never know their parents.

If they knew the kind of man I am, and the kind of man that I have always been, they would never let me near students again.

I damage them.

He raised the bottle again, but it was empty.  He threw it across the graveyard and heard it shatter against a tree.

Not all of them. 

He ran his fingers over the words one more time.

I still have the boy who lived.

Dumbledore dissipated from the graveyard and appeared on a sidewalk.  He tried to steady himself.  If there were muggles about, he couldn't draw their attention.  If they saw him like this, he'd be arrested for public intoxication.

He almost fell off the curb a few times, and walked into the street, but he stopped himself.  He came to a crosswalk.  The street names blurred, but he knew where he was.  He walked until he stood across the street from Number 4 Privet Drive.

He watched the children in the front yard; a fat boy, and one with glasses and dark hair.  The fat boy pushed the child with dark hair on the ground.  He landed hard.  The fat boy smacked his face.  Dumbledore raised his hand.  The fat boy fell backward and cut his arm on the sidewalk.  He ran to the front door and cried until a woman came out, cradled him in her arms, and took him inside.

Harry stood up.  He wiped blood off his lower lip, but more came.

Even from this distance, Dumbledore could see Lily and James in Harry.  They were all over his features and expressions.  Dumbledore wanted to run across the street, pick the boy up, and save him from this place.  He hadn't loved the others, he knew that, but he would love Harry.  He wouldn't make the same mistakes with Harry.  Loving Lily and James' son would be his redemption.  The boy would save him, as he was unable to save himself.

Dumbledore stepped off the curb, overcome.  And stopped in the middle of the street.  He couldn't approach the boy, not in this state.  He stank of alcohol.  He hadn't slept in a bed for weeks. 

I would only do more damage.

What made him think it would be any different with Harry? 

I damage them.  I neglect them.  I use them for my own ends and outright abuse them.

He thought of the other dark-haired boy; the late name student who had startled him that night in the kitchen; the one who reminded him of Tom Riddle. 

And why do I see Tom in him?  Why can't I get past that?

The spell he had used on the boy would have done more damage if he wouldn't have been so drunk when he had cast it.  The force of it may have broken his neck.  He couldn't trust himself not to make that mistake again.  He didn't even know if he could be trusted to never attack a student again, not as he was now.

And if he ever hurt Harry, there would be no saving himself. No, he couldn’t go to Harry now.

Dumbledore took one last look across the street, and vanished.

Chapter Text

November 1988

"Hogsmeade!  How's everyone doing tonight?"

The crowd hollered and yelled. 

"This is a bit different, yeah?  Well, we decided to finally take our little show on the road, even if the road was a short one."  Kirley laughed behind him.  Myron took the microphone out of the stand and walked across the stage.  "To commemorate our first show off school property, I'd like to introduce the newest member of our group.  You all know him as Donaghan Tremlett of Hufflepuff, but you'll soon find out why we call him Tremble Fingers."

The crowd laughed.  Donaghan shook his head and kept his eyes on his bass guitar.

"He doesn't like the attention," Myron said.  He walked back to the front of the stage.  "So, let's make this as uncomfortable for him as we can, yeah?  Donny, this one's for you.  Wrote it myself last night.  Calling it Badger's First Time."

A sharp rift came from Kirley's guitar.  Myron yelled into the microphone.

Eni pushed through the crowd.  This would be easier if she were a little taller.  Students she knew, and more she didn't, stood close to each other, yelling into each other's faces over the music and waving their hands in the air.  There were a lot of short skirts and tight shirts.  The floor beneath her was covered with damp straw.  The building behind the Hog's Head had sat abandoned for years before tonight.  It had been built as a horse stable and at one time had been used to store what smelled like radishes.  People stood in the loft and leaned down over the railing.  More stood on wooden barrels and crates inside the stalls, trying to see over the mass of bodies in front of the stage.

Eni passed a girl with a pierced lip and nose, jostling her with her shoulder and arm.  The music was too loud for the girl to hear Eni apologize,  but the girl's face was right next to hers so she mouthed the words anyway.  The girl smiled at Eni, her pointed ears sticking out from a head of shagged blonde hair. 

Fuck, she's gorgeous.

Eni thought she saw the girl's eyes wander across her body, and almost leaned closer to her, but a boy with a Mohawk stepped between them as the stage lights changed.  The song ended.  Myron went into another song, one the crowd recognized.  The boy with the Mohawk and the girl with pointed ears hollered the lyrics.

"This is the night!  This is the fucking night!  So, take your hands off me, tonight I'm breaking free.  This is the fucking night!"

Eni lost her nerve.  She saw Tonks a few rows back from the front and walked up to her.

Tonks turned toward her and yelled into her ear.  "Aren't they great?"

Eni responded that they were, but Tonks couldn't hear her over the music, and besides, she was screaming out lyrics Eni didn't know.

"You still look good to me, oh, but you're no good for me."

Eni slipped into the music.  She closed her eyes and felt the bass pound against her chest as Donaghan worked his instrument, but there was more.  The instruments, Myron's microphone, and speakers setup throughout the old barn, ran on magic and gave the crowd another level of involvement.  The amplification sent sensations through Eni.  She felt Myron's frustration and power as he yelled.  She understood why he had written the song, and it startled her to think of the night she had ran from her father, with her hands and scalp bleeding.  There was pain in this song.

"I close my eyes and squeeze you from my consciousness.  And in the morning when I wake, the line I walk is straight.  But the morning is so many miles away and, good God, now take your hands off me."

Eni was upset she had missed the nights the Weird Sisters had played in the Hufflepuff common room.  She wanted more of this.  She should have gone last year when Tonks invited her.  When the song was over, she yelled with the rest of the crowd. 

Eni looked around for the girl with pointed ears as another song started and saw Aaron instead, leaning against a column to the left of the stage.  He watched the band alone, with his arms crossed over his chest and headphones around his neck.

Eni left Tonks and walked up to Aaron.  She yelled in his ear.  "You missed the first two songs."

Aaron's hair was pulled back and his face was red.  He had been running again.  He leaned into Eni.  "I lost track of time.  How are they?  They seem alright."

"They're not the Sex Pistols, but they're pretty damn good."

Eni took out her pack of cigarettes and handed one to Aaron.  He took it between his fingers, his shackle showing beneath the edge of his coat.  Eni touched the end of hers and lit it with an incinerating charm.  She inhaled and held the cigarette out to Aaron, who held the end of his cigarette against hers and inhaled until it caught.  Smoking wouldn't help his lung capacity, but he and Eni had picked up the habit over the summer and he didn't want to quit yet.

Eni exhaled smoke through her nostrils and nodded her head with the next song.  She saw the girl again, walking through the crowd behind Tonks.  The girl looked around, saw Eni, and waved at her.  Eni waved back, awkwardly holding her cigarette.

Aaron elbowed her.  "Go on, she likes you."

"She does not," Eni said.  "She's here with someone.  Some bloke with a Mohawk."

"That's her cousin," Aaron said.

"Oh, like you know."

"She's Aleus Zyc's niece.  Don't tell me you haven't seen her working at the Three Broomsticks all summer."

"I haven't been to Hogsmeade since February."  Eni would have remembered the pierced lip and the emerald green eyes.  "What else do you know about her?"

Aaron shrugged and took a long drag.  "Not much.  Aleus has been trying to get her to go to college in the muggle world."

"What's her name?"

"Annie?  Amy?"

"Goddamn it, Aaron," Eni said, "I need help here."

"I don’t remember her name, but I know she's some percent goblin, if that does anything more for you," Aaron said.

Eni's hands were sweating and the music didn't help.  Myron had started singing a love song.  She could feel its meaning between her legs.

"So, believe that magic works and don't be afraid of being hurt."

Thanks, Weird Sisters.

She wiped her hands on her pants and crushed out her cigarette on the column.  Aaron laughed at her.  She barely heard him over the music.

Aaron crushed his cigarette under his shoe and walked toward the stage.  By the time Eni noticed he had left her and went to stand with Tonks, she was by herself, sweating and trying to avoid the emerald eyes in front of her.  But why?  What did she have to lose?

Aaron looked back at her and nodded toward the girl.  He mouthed, Fucking say hi.

Eni ran her fingers through her hair, feeling short and nervous.  She made herself walk through the crowd until she stood behind the girl. 

What now, dumbass?

The girl turned and leaned into Eni's ear.  "Ey, mind if I bum a cigarette?"

Eni fumbled for her pack and dropped it.  Chikusho.

The girl smiled and bent down, grabbing it off the floor.  She handed the pack back to Eni.  Eni took a cigarette out and handed it to the girl, her hands shaking.  Emerald Eyes reached for her wand, but Eni touched the tip of the girl's cigarette and sparked a flame.

The girl took a long drag and leaned back into her.  "What's your name, Hand Magic?"

"Eni."

"I'm Amilee, but call me Lee."

The music was loud, but Lee stayed close against her neck.

"You know the new guy?  The bass guitarist?"

"A bit, yeah," Eni said, hoping her yelling wasn't further destroying Lee's eardrums.  "He's in my year.  But he mostly hangs with Myron's class; the Seventh Years."

"Right," Lee said, exhaling smoke.  "I heard they're lining up gigs across the UK."

Eni nodded.  "Donaghan wants to join them.  He says he'll drop out, if that's what it takes."

"I think they have a good shot," Lee said.  She was so close.  Eni smelled whatever perfume she wore; plums and lavender.  Lee said, "Do you like Joan Jett?  You look kind of like her, you know."

Eni was glad the lights were dim as heat rushed to her face.  She whispered back to Lee.  "You could be Debbie Harry."

Lee reached for Eni's hand and pulled it up to her face, where she held Eni's fingers between her lips.  "Is this alright?"

The dense crowd pushed them away from the stage, but Eni didn't care.  She led Lee back to the column where she had stood with Aaron.  What am I doing?  Before she could get over her own fucking excitement and do more, Lee reached for her neck and pulled her into a kiss.  Holy shite.  Eni's lips parted and Lee's tongue entered her mouth.  Lee tasted like the spiked punch she'd drank before the show.  Eni pushed her own tongue over Lee's.  Lee giggled and held Eni's waist.  She spun her around and pushed Eni playfully against the column. 

As the bass pounded through Eni's body, Lee's lips and tongue worked their way down her neck.

Chapter Text

MUGGLE-BORN REGISTRATION BACK ON THE TABLE

After the reports of last week's double homicide in Bristol, the count of muggle-borns killed in the on-going attacks stands at forty.  Apart from the two facial composites released by the Department of Magical Law Enforcement last spring, and warnings that a metamorphmagus is involved, the hunt for the killers has been nothing but a series of dead ends.

Muggle-borns were dealt another blow on Friday, when Adelaide Burke announced that, although the Muggle-Born Registration Act remains on hold, muggle-born registration and tracking will move forward in an attempt to protect the vulnerable members of the wizarding community.

"If we register muggle-borns, we can protect them," Adelaide Burke said on Friday, "and hopefully catch whoever has been slaughtering them."

Burke was vague in regard to how muggle-borns will be registered and monitored, stating only that it would be done through The Department of Magical Law Enforcement and that the registration list would not be shared with the remainder of The Ministry.

"The registry will be kept entirely confidential.  This is not the registration act – this is being done only for the purpose of saving muggle-born lives, not for keeping tabs on them."

Burke went on to say that a trial run of the muggle-born tracking and registration process is underway and will remain ongoing until late June, at which time The Department of Magical Law Enforcement intends to fully register all muggle-born wizards and witches over the age of eleven.

Muggle-born wizards and witches have already taken to the streets, and to The Ministry of Magic, in protest of what they believe is a clear attack on their personal freedoms; however, Burke stated that the danger to muggle-born lives is greater.  Burke also stated that the registry will be destroyed once the killers are caught and the safety of the muggle-born community can be assured.

If you are muggle-born and fearing for your life, Burke encourages you to send an owl, including the details of your concerns, and any threats you may have received, directly to her desk.

 


 

DUMBLEDORE REMAINS MISSING

Albus Dumbledore has not been seen at Hogwarts since he abandoned his post at the end of the 1987 school year.  At this time, the position of headmaster is still being held by Professor Minerva McGonagall.  When asked if she would be sitting as headmaster on a more permanent basis, Professor McGonagall had this to say:

"Merlin's beard, no!  Professor Dumbledore's leave of absence is entirely that – a leave, not an abandonment of his post.  Professor Dumbledore has been stricken with issues of a personal nature.  He will deal with those issues in his own time and his own way.  After he has done so, he will return."

When asked if she had heard from Dumbledore, or if she knows when he will return, Professor McGonagall said, and we quote, "As I said, in his own damn time.  Stop concerning yourselves with the affairs of higher order wizards and digging up shite to throw at them, like you always do.  Now, get the hell out of my office.  And take the damn floating quill with you."

The Daily Prophet can only speculate if the students at Hogwarts are still being properly taken care of and what else has gone on while Dumbledore has been absent.  However, with Dumbledore, a staunch opponent of muggle-born registration, still missing, we must wonder who, if anyone, will take up his mantle and defend muggle-borns.

Chapter Text

December 1977

An enchanted shroud that had nothing to do with magic descended over the city of Edinburgh every time it snowed.  The effect was amplified two days before Christmas, when string lights hung over the streets and light posts were decorated with wreaths that smelled of pine and holly.  The two young women who walked together were no strangers to magic; and yet, there was no pretending they weren't excited by the world created by the falling snow.

They walked past lit store fronts and people shopping.  There was something so perfectly muggle about all of it; a different kind of magic that reminded them of years spent together building snowmen, snow forts, and sledding down the ice-covered streets in front of their houses.  Their mothers had been best friends, and so they were destined to follow suit.  They had shared everything for as long as either of them could remember.  Even magic.  They had laughed together on a playground when they were seven years old, making flowers levitate and dance in the air when no one was watching.

Lara passed a thermos full of spiked apple cider to Samantha Jones and shoved her hands into her coat pocket.  Even with the charm she had placed on her gloves, it was cold and the gloves were damp from the fallen snow that had melted as they walked.

Samantha took a drink.  "How's Adam?"

Adam was a townie who worked at Dervish and Banges.  Lara had been dating him for three years.

"He's alright," Lara said.  "I invited him to Edinburgh, but you know how he is.  He wasn't ready to meet mum.  He doesn't have much experience with muggles.  What about Ernas?"

Ernas Travers was a pure-blood who had never worked a day in his life.  Samantha had been dating him for just over a year.

Samantha took another drink and shook her head.  "I'm going to break it off with him when we get back to Hogwarts."

"You are not.  I mean, I'm elated," Lara said, taking the thermos back and taking a drink, "but he's gonna be crushed.  He fucking loves you, Sam."

"I know," Samantha said, "there's just too much else I want to do.  His parents would never approve anyway, not that I would care if they did.  We are never going to end up together."

Lara caught a snowflake on her tongue, feeling alcohol-induced warmth spreading through her face.  The flask was mostly bourbon.

"Have you thought about it more?  About leaving?"

Samantha was quiet.  They walked past three shops, leaving footprints in the snow.  "I found out I was accepted to The University of Edinburgh two weeks ago as part of their early acceptance program.  I'm going to go, Lara."

Lara nodded and took another drink.  "I knew you would.  You've always wanted to come back here, to the real world."

"And you've always wanted to stay," Samantha said.

Lara laughed and pulled Samantha against her.  "Christ, yeah.  I just . . . I love it.  I always will."

"What will you do?"

"I don't know.  Marry my townie.  Live a life of poverty as a muggle-born in the magical world."

"No, really.  Do you want to come with me?  Go to college?"

Lara shook her head.  "This is where our paths finally diverge in the woods, Sammy."

"Shite, I am not completely alright with this."

"Sure you are," Lara said.  "You'll get your muggle-born arse right back into the real world and be so damn successful that I won't be able to get close to you."

Samantha pulled Lara close.  "There's no chance of that.  We mudbloods have to stick together."

"Mud now and forever," Lara said.

"You should think about getting out for a little while, though," Samantha said, "there is a war on and no one knows what the fuck You-Know-the-Fuck-Who will do."

Lara smiled.  "I'll be alright, I swear.  But, fuck, will I miss you."

They stepped off the curb and stood on the edge of the street.  Lara pulled Samantha into a close embrace.  She didn't want to let go.  They held each other tight, ignoring the honks from cars that passed them.

In eight years, one of them would be dead.

Chapter Text

January 1989

It didn't snow often in London and, when it did, it never stuck; it drifted through the air and melted as soon as it hit the pavement, leaving puddles coated with dirt and oil.  The snow looked better in the parks, where it lingered on the grass and leaves before dissolving.  The fading snow held onto things like footprints, but not long enough for anyone to notice the set that started in the middle of the lawn and continued to the south side of Kennington Park.

Juliet walked past three teenagers who stood near a bench, laughing, leaning on each other, and smoking.  If they felt the cold pockets of dead air, they didn't show it.  But the longer she walked, and the less muggles she saw, the more certain she was. 

She had picked up a ghost.

Juliet slowed her pace.  A man wearing a gas mark walked behind her with his arms hanging limp at his sides.  He had the look of a ghost who hadn't yet realized he was dead; still caught in the trauma and the initial throes of what had happened, though it would be years before he stopped reliving it and started asking questions.  If he asked her what had happened to him, she would tell him.  Kennington Park had trench-style air raid shelters during the Second World War.  The trenches took a direct hit in 1940, killing over a hundred people.  Only forty-eight bodies had been recovered.

Juliet walked with the man until he disappeared.

Something hung off her now that hadn't been there in November; an apathy and despondency ghosts gravitated towards.  Burke had pulled Juliet into her office on the second of December and threatened to take her off the muggle-born murders if she didn't make some more progress.  Juliet told her to go fuck herself.  Burke and the rest of them wouldn't have shite if it wasn't for her and Cassio.  They had gotten the voices of the man and woman during the interrupted, but successful, killing of Albert Daven.  They had pulled the DNA off Nicholas Conner.  Juliet had given Burke the two facial composites that were on her fucking office wall and she had confirmed that at least one of the killers was a metamorphmagus.  If Burke wanted more fucking progress, she should assign more Aurors to work on the killings.

It wouldn't have been so bad if that was all that had happened in Burke's office, a reprimand and a reminder to fucking improve herself.  Then, Burke had said, "There would be more progress if you shared your resources.  Cassio told me he has developed a trace."

He fucking what?

"Cassio said you've been testing his trace for almost two years," Burke said.  "He said it works; that he can isolate muggle-borns, something about an ancestry sub-enchantment."

He fucking what?

"You've been building a registry and comparing the names to muggle police reports.  It's brilliant.  I won't pretend that it's not.  But you and Cassio should have told me, and you need to take this further; I want a map similar to the trace map we use for underage witches and wizards.  And I want your list of names."

At least he didn't fucking give her that.

"We're not giving you our fucking list," Juliet said.  "The trace was never supposed to be used by anyone except Cassio and me.  We're muggle-born and we're the ones trying to find the fucking killers."

"The list won't leave my desk," Adelaide said.

"No," Juliet said, "that's my fucking line in the sand.  No one else gets the names.  They don't need them for anything.  An actual physical list would only create more problems for muggle-borns.  If it gets out, the killings will escalate.  I've seen enough fucking bodies."

Cassio tried to stop her when she left Burke's office, but she shoved him against a wall and kept walking.  They hadn't spoken since.

Three days later, the trace was in the fucking Prophet.  Burke couldn't keep her goddamn mouth shut. 

Juliet pulled a folded sheet of parchment out of her pocket and read the directions beneath a street lamp.  It wasn't much farther now that she was out of the park.  She walked another three blocks and turned down a side street.  The neon sign was enchanted with a concealment spell.  At first glance, it read Martin's Dry Cleaning, but another flicker revealed what Juliet was looking for: The Changeling.  When she approached the front door, a ward flickered and checked her.  There was a noise-blocking charm, too, but the blacked-out windows still shook from heavy bass. 

The ward decided she was magical enough and let her push the door open.  The music inside was loud and the patrons were louder, yelling over each other and laughing.  A crowd danced at the far end of the underground club, where Depeche Mode mixed with Renegade Soundwave and shook the walls.  The people were clustered tight, dancing and hanging off of each other.  Juliet watched them change beneath the flashing lights; long-haired men became long-haired women.  Women morphed until their tits were gone and pulled off their shirts.  Some didn't bother morphing first.  No one was static.  Their clothes were just as ambiguous; dresses pulled over tight pants, long over-sized tops, and short skirts without accompanying shirts.  Juliet was jostled by the crowd and swept into the mass of movement.

Someone grabbed her.  Juliet turned to see a face she couldn't place as male or female.  The metamorphmagus pulled her over to a drink rail.

"Did you have to come so . . . overdressed?  Now the whole fucking lot of them will know we've got an interloper."

"Enir?"

They smiled. 

Another metamorphmagus came up behind Enir, kissed them, and disappeared back into the crowd.

Juliet yelled, "Should we go somewhere more private?"

"No one can hear us over the music," Enir shouted.  "This is where I feel safe, at least safe enough to talk to a fucking Auror."

"In your letters, you told me you recognized the faces from my facial composites.  You said you had a name."

"If I give you the name, what assurances do I have that my name isn't going on some fucking list like the mudbloods you've helped so much?"

Juliet resisted the urge to grab him.  "I'm a fucking mudblood, too.  My name's on that registry list.  Of all people, I know how important it is to maintain your anonymity and autonomy.  You don't exist."

"Kayal," Enir said.

"Kayal?"

"Kayal Rowle," Enir said.  "Fucking pure-blood."

Juliet recognized the last name, at least.  "What more can you give me on her?"

"Them, sunshine," Enir said.  "I slept with them two years ago.  Best fucking sex of my life; worst fucking hangover and regret.  It was a night much like this.  Loud music, dark corners, and too much whiskey.  Neither of us talked much.  Kayal didn't want anything to do with me after.  They snuck out before I woke up.  I saw them a few times since, in here and about, but not since you made two of their forms."

"Would you recognize any more of their forms?"

"It's wrapped in a haze of alcohol and sex," Enir said.  "But, like I said in my letters, you're looking for a fucking metamorphmagus – Merlin and Christ help you.  Kayal could be here now and neither of us would fucking know it."

"Would you let me pull the haze and sex out of your head?"

"I don't know how I feel about The Ministry having access to replays of my sex life."

"I won't pull anything out of your head that can be kept in a vial."

Enir's face became more masculine before drifting back to feminine and pausing at various stages between.  "How do you plan on doing that, love?"

"Trade secret, but it involves me touching your head," Juliet said. 

Enir laughed.  "What the hell, have a go, as long as you're not shy about seeing me and Kayal doing questionable things to each other."

"It won't be anything I haven't seen before, despite how vanilla I appear," Juliet said.  "Now, focus on your night with Kayal.  Start as far back as you can."

Juliet touched Enir's head and pulled herself inside.

Fuck he was intoxicated.

The recall was distorted and disorienting.  Juliet watched through Enir’s eyes; a first person vision quest of loud music, flashing lights, shots at the bar, and dancing in the same club they stood in now.  Just before the drunken movements of Enir's body made her throw up, Enir was grabbed from behind and pulled into the arms of another shifting figure, who then took him to a corner where they fingered and stroked each other's morphing genitals.  A subsequent foray out the back door resulted in both participates bringing each other to the point of release, while Enir was pressed up against a wall.  The night continued.  Juliet watched the face of the other metamorphmagus change through what had to be ten or twelve forms.  She would have to excavate her own memories of this memory just to get a handle on all of them. 

That will be a fucking headache, but, holy Christ, I've got so many of this fucker's forms.  And their fucking name.

Juliet pulled out just after Enir did, right after they had collapsed into sleep.

"See anything you like?"

"Everything I wanted, and then some," Juliet said.  She reached into her coat and pulled out a pouch of sickles and knuts.  It wasn't much, just her own money, but Enir had given her valuable information. 

Enir pushed the pouch back at her.  "Did you know that two of the slaughtered muggle-borns were metamorphmagi?  I didn’t see it in the papers, so I figured The Ministry didn't know, what with us not changing forms after death and all."

"I didn't know," Juliet said.  "I thought it was only passed on through half and pure-blood lines."

"Not always," Enir said.  "If Kayal is involved, like you say they are, it means they went after their own fucking kind."

"If you see any of Kayal's forms-"

"You'll be the first to know," Enir said.  "If I don't kill the fucker myself."

 


 

Juliet's ears rang while she walked, taking the long way home, or so she told herself until she stood across the street from Rosalind's flat.  Her sister had hung up on all of her telephone calls since the trace became public knowledge.  And she hadn't responded to any of Juliet's owls.  Juliet didn't blame her.  Rosalind had been on the front lines of the protests when the Registration Act hearings were taking place inside the Wizengamot.

The light was on in Rosalind's living room.  Juliet's breath fogged and mixed with the still falling snow.  Juliet let herself in the front door of the building before she could talk herself out of it, slipping past wards she had set to alert her whenever someone who didn't live in her sister's building came inside.  She took the stairs to the third floor.  When she got to the end of the hallway, she knocked softly on Number 319.  Rosalind’s infant daughter Anna would be asleep. 

No one came.  She knocked again, louder, and heard movement and whispered voices.  Her sister wasn't alone.  The strange voice was muffled, but it didn't sound like her husband Tom.

Rosalind opened the door, saw Juliet, and shoved it closed. 

Juliet stuck her foot in the door.  "Ros!  Wait!"

Rosalind pushed the door against her foot.  "Go the fuck away.  I can't even look at you, don't you get that?  You're one of them."

"Ros, I didn't know."  It was almost the truth.  "If I did, I would have warned you.  I would have stopped it." 

It IS almost the truth.

"This is the fucking shite I stake my life on, Juliet; the importance of muggle-born autonomy in this shite wizard-born world."

Rosalind never called her Juliet.  It was an indication of how betrayed she felt.

"I know, Ros, fucking believe that I know," Juliet said.

Rosalind used a charm to shut the door.

"Ros, I had to see you," Juliet said, trying to keep her voice level.  First Cass, now Ros.  "I'm so fucking alone out here."

"Alone enough to stop working for the fucking Ministry?"

Juliet shook her head against the closed door.  "I can't.  I have to find whoever is killing us, Ros."

No response.

"Ros, please," Juliet said.

The door opened.  "They'll turn on you, too, one day, your fucking Ministry."

"I don't have any illusions that they won't.  My name is already on their list, right there with you and Cassio."

Rosalind's eyes narrowed and she looked past Juliet, confused and trying to remember something.  When she did, she said, "Cassio and you can both fuck off.  You're shite Aurors.  If you can't solve the murders, then what is the fucking point?"

Rosalind slammed the door.  This time, Juliet didn't wait or try again.

Rosalind waited, but she didn't hear any sounds from her bedroom, where Tom was asleep, or from Anna's room.  She slid the bolt and enchanted the door to stay locked.

Fuck Juliet.  Fuck all of them.

Rosalind walked back into the living room.  "She's gone."

"Did she hear us?" Lara asked.

"I didn't break the noise-blocking charm until I stood to get the door," Rosalind said.  "She could come back though.  Nothing is stopping her from appariting right into my kitchen, apart from her fleeting respect for my privacy."

"I'll leave soon."

"I want to fight, Lara, I do," Rosalind said, "but last time we did the rest of the fucking resistance killed five kids.  I won't get involved again."

"I wasn't in charge last time.  Things are different now that Heston and Wright are dead, as they should be for what they did.  What happened with the train was a fucking nightmare.  No one had control over the fucking mud summoning spells."

"Five kids died.  I won't do this again."

"Dead kids or not," Lara said, "the attack worked.  They shelved the act."

No," Rosalind said, "they just brought it back under a different pretense."

"Ros, our people are dying, and your sister is proof that The Ministry can't stop it.  Our people are dying with their throats torn open and no one is doing anything, so we have to."

"I will not go after children again."

"I don't intend to," Lara said.  "I intend for us to go right for the source."

Chapter Text

April 1989

Loud, distorted music came from Aaron's headphone speakers; guitar riffs, fast drumming, and repetitive, screamed lyrics – a crescendo of anti-fascist noise.  He worked better with the chaos; thriving with the shouting voices and blaring instruments that made the ear destroying noise of folding space irrelevant.  Moody told him to pay attention, take off the damn headphones, and focus on stopping the shards of sound that cut through his tesseract, but loud music worked too well, and it let him focus on controlling the actual space bending.

Aaron stood at the edge of the lake and watched The Great Hall, library, hallways, Hagrid's hut, common rooms, and a room inside one of the towers that he had pulled off of Filch, layer over each other.  He saw students from First Years to Seventh Years talking and mingling, laughing with each other and shouting, but the music drowned out their voices and the sharp fragments of sound from their conversations and movements.

The running had helped; maybe the magic did too.  Aaron could hold onto the layers for a lot longer, especially when the layers only consisted of places that were nearby.  He could feel the other places, but he pushed them to the back of his mind and lost them in the screams of his music.  They were there, but they weren't in control anymore.  He was.

At least, most of the time.

Aaron clasped the shackle over his wrist.  He wiped sweat off his face as the layers vanished.  He raised the training wand and muttered Tarda Nauseum.  The bile in his throat receded and his head stopped throbbing.  At least he didn't have to drop to his knees or throw up.  It was progress.

Aaron had managed to work his way through First and Second Year Charms, and First Year Transfiguration, last year.  Thanks to Flitwick and McGonagall, prodding from Moody, and help from Eni, he had gotten through Third Year Charms and Second and Third Year Transfiguration over the summer.  Since September, he had spent almost all of his time catching up in classes, running, or working in the forest with Moody.  He had managed to get through Fourth Year Charms before Christmas and started Fifth Year Charms in January, fighting hard to catch up with his classmates.  He had tested out of Fourth Year Transfiguration over the spring holiday.  If he didn't stop working at it, he would be ready for the O.W.L. Charms examination in two months.  Transfiguration was the problem.  He had just started Fifth Year Transfiguration in February and he was shite at it. 

When the dizziness faded, Aaron took off the shackle and dropped it on the ground.  This wasn't going to be easy, if he managed it at all.  He'd have to maintain the chemical composition of the iron while simultaneously turning it into what would ideally be something easier to remove and pocket when he needed to; a ring.  

He wasn't an idiot though.  He had brought an extra pair of iron shackles in case it all went wrong.  They were on the ground next to A Beginner's Guide to Transfiguration.

Now, he did take off the headphones.  He knelt down near the shackle and raised the training wand.

Fucking summon it.

He spoke the incantation.  Nothing happened.  He pulled harder on the seams of magic at the edge of his awareness; shards of broken glass and nausea.  He said it again.

The shackle changed form; shrinking and warping on the ground.  Aaron worked the spell until a ring was in front of him.  He slid it on and summoned the layers before they hit him first.  He didn't see any of them.

It worked.

Aaron laughed and stared at the ring.  He put the headphones back over his head and turned up the volume, laying on the ground with his textbook.

He read through four spells, testing out the movements with the training wand, before Eni found him.  Aaron pulled off the headphones.

"Did it work?"

Aaron raised his hand.

"Told you, you could do it," Eni said.  "Now, if you’re still up to spar a bit, get on your feet and prove that transfiguration isn't the only thing you can manage."

Aaron stood up.  "Are you sure you want to have a go, Hand Magic?"

Eni blushed.

"What?  Is Lee the only one who can call you that?"

Eni shoved him.  "I'm going to stop sharing details of my love life with you, arsehole."

"No, don't," Aaron said.  "If I don't live vicariously through you, I've got nothing."

"You could find someone of your own."

"Yes, with all of my free time."

Eni took out two cigarettes, lit them both, and passed one to Aaron.  She inhaled.  "Lee wants me to go to London with her for the muggle-born protest in May."

"I told you she has a fetish."

"Her mum is muggle-born, too, dipshit."

"Are you going to go with her?  It would be nice to get away from here for a weekend, I bet."

Eni nodded.  "You should come, too.  We can both see what our kind are doing, before our names are on that damned list."

"I'll see if Lara will let me leave, but I think she's going to the protest, too, so no promises.  Someone needs to run the kitchen if you’re both gone."

Aaron stomped out his cigarette and passed Eni the training wand.  "Are you ready?"

Eni tucked the wand into her pocket.  "I don't need this."

"Neither do I for what I’m planning.”

Eni shrugged, her hands already glowing, “If you don’t think so.”

Aaron slid off the ring and tucked it in his back pocket.  "I don't even think you can hit me."

 


 

Charlie was on his second helping when Aaron sat down, grabbed a dinner roll, filled it with roast chicken, and shoved it in his mouth.

Bill looked at him across the table.  "Hungry much?"

"Missed lunch," Aaron said, mouth full.

Charlie asked, "How’d it go with the shackle?"

Aaron showed him the ring.

"Well done!  Huge improvement over your ‘just crawled out of Azkaban’ look," Charlie said.  "It works?"

"So far," Aaron said.  "If I start looking unsteady, Stupefy me."

Minerva McGonagall scanned the Gryffindor table until she saw Aaron.  She walked up behind him, holding a letter.  Aaron turned around. 

"This came for you," McGonagall said.  "It was delivered to the school's address in Hogsmeade by muggle post."

Aaron took the letter.  It had actual postage.

McGonagall walked away.

There wasn't a name, but he recognized the return address.  It was burned into his memory along with the phone number and the names on the borrowing card inside The Island of Doctor Moreau.  Aaron tore the letter open and leaned over it, facing away from Charlie and the rest of his house.

Aaron,

It has been awhile, hasn't it?  Almost five years?  I hope all is well.  I never heard back from you after I sent the package in October.  I thought maybe it upset you, or you were happy enough in your new life to not care about responding, but then I was told one of the interns addressed it to Albus Dumbledore, not to you.  You may want to check with him if you never got it.  It's not much, but it may mean a lot to you.  I found a book I should have given back to you years ago, but I recovered it the week after you got the stitches in your arm and I forgot about it.  I also included two photographs; tucked into the book.  One is of you.  The other is of your mum.  A colleague sent it to me last summer.

He lowered the letter.

Charlie looked at him.  "Everything alright?"

Aaron’s heart was in his throat.

I never heard from you after you went to Hogwarts, so I assume all is well.  I wish you had written.  You were always one of my favorites.  I wish I had done more for you when you were younger.  You deserved that.  Nothing that happened was your fault.  If you have any resentment toward me, I understand.  I was young and naiveté myself, though that's no excuse.  If you ever care to, write me back sometime.

The letter was signed by Rachel Adams.

Aaron stood up.  He walked across the hall with the letter in his hand.  McGonagall sat at the staff table at the front of the hall, talking to Snape and Flitwick.

"Was there anything else?"

McGonagall turned to him.  "It was just the letter, dear."

"There wasn't a package sent by muggle post?  It would have arrived back in October.  It was addressed to Dumbledore, but it was for me."

"If there was, whoever collected it in Hogsmeade may have left it in Dumbledore's office."

"Can you check?"

"Dumbledore's office has been blocked off with wards since the end of November.  Even I haven't been able to get inside, and there are things I need in there."

Aaron held the letter.

"I'm sorry," McGonagall said.  "I realize it is important to you for whatever reason, but it will have to wait until Dumbledore returns."

Aaron walked back to the Gryffindor table and sat down.

"What was in the letter?"

"It's not important."  But it was.  What was he afraid of?  If there was anyone he should be able to tell, it was Charlie. 

Aaron handed Charlie the letter.  "Read it, if you want.  Some of my stuff from . . . before got sent to Dumbledore.  It's probably in his office."

"That's no sweat for you," Charlie said.  "Are you going for it?"

Aaron nodded.

"Want me to cover for you?"

"No," Aaron said.  "Everyone's in here.  They won't notice if I go."

"Do it then," Charlie said, "but watch yourself, yeah?"

"I will."

Aaron left The Great Hall and ducked into the first empty room he came to.  He closed the door, took off the ring, and pulled himself into Dumbledore's office.

The Phoenix startled him.  And it was dark.  He tripped into a chair.  Aaron wished he hadn't left the training wand with Eni after they sparred by the lake.  Moonlight came from the windows and his eyes adjusted.

Dumbledore's desk was a mess of parchment, books, and unopened letters, most of it coated with layers of dust.  Aaron went through the stacks, careful not to disturb any of it more than he had to.  He didn't like being in here.  Not with the fucking bird watching him.

He turned in the dark and knocked an envelope on the floor.  Sounds of distant sirens and dripping fluid came off the photographs; images of the slain muggle-borns.  Aaron picked up the pictures.  There had to be more than twenty of them.  And beneath them were cutout articles from The Daily Prophet.  The themes were clear.  The Muggle-Born Registration Act, the muggle-born murders, and the train attack.  There was another envelope where the last one had been.  Aaron opened it and pulled out articles about Marcus Carrow; Carrow authoring the act, Carrow going missing, and Carrow's body being removed from the train station.  Aaron put the ring back on, suddenly sick, remembering the smell of rot and decay.

“One of the people on this list killed Carrow.“

Not one of them.  Dumbledore. 

But no one knows where he is, not even the Aurors.

Aaron shoved the newspaper clippings back into the envelope.

It took him another fifteen minutes to find it; a book-shaped package.  Aaron looked at it in the moonlight.  Different handwriting from the letter; same return address.

He tore it open.  Orwell's 1984.

He checked the inside of the front cover.  It was his.  His name was there in messy eight year old handwriting.  The book had been too hard for him when he got it from an older kid at one of the places where he had lived for a while, and he had never read it.

Aaron sank down with his back against Dumbledore's desk.  He opened the pages carefully, taking out the photographs tucked inside.  The first one was of him, on a swing in a school yard.  He turned it over.  Aaron.  1977.  The second was a photograph of a woman with long, tangled blonde hair.  It was the first time he ever saw his mother.  He held it up to the moonlight.  She looked Sad so fucking sad away from the camera. 

Did no one take care of her either?  Where was our fucking family?

He turned the photograph over.  Abigail Laurent.  1973.

What?

Not Stone?

He felt the air move, but not in time to get out.  Dumbledore appeared with a crack that made his ears ring.  Aaron stood up, clutching the photographs and the book.  Dumbledore leaned over him, but the height difference between them wasn't as significant as it had been two years ago.

"Did you think I wasn't watching my own office?  How did you break my wards?"

"I didn't," Aaron said.

Dumbledore grabbed his wrist and bent it at an unnatural angle.  Aaron dropped the book and the photographs, but he didn't let himself make any noise to indicate that he was in pain.  He wasn’t going to give fucking Dumbledore the satisfaction.

"You did," Dumbledore said.  "What dark magic have you been experimenting with?"

"It’s not dark magic.  Check the wards," Aaron said.  "They're still where you left them."

Dumbledore's grip tightened.  And now Aaron did yell.

Dumbledore shoved Aaron against the desk.  His wrist burned. 

Aaron pulled off the ring.  "Touch me again and I'll fucking-"

Dumbledore hit him in the face.  Aaron’s nose broke.

He gasped and reached up.  Blood ran down his fingers and onto his lips.

"Did you think you belonged here?  With the rest of them?  The boy who couldn't use magic?"

Before Dumbledore could touch him again, Aaron pulled himself through space into the hallway outside The Great Hall.  He held his bleeding nose.

I have to-

What?  Stop Dumbledore?

I have to at least try.

He stood in sight of the Ravenclaw table, got Eni's attention, and waved at her to come out.

"Chikusho," Eni said.  "What happened to your face?"

Aaron wiped his nose with his sleeve.  "Where's the wand?"

Eni took it out but didn't hand it over.  "I'm going with you, wherever that is."

Aaron took her arm and pulled them both back into Dumbledore's office.  They appeared in time to watch Dumbledore dissipate.

"Fuck," Aaron said.

"What happened?"

Aaron picked up his book and the photographs.  "I was in here trying to find this when Dumbledore appeared.  I should have known he would have some kind of alarm enchantment on this room."

"Did he . . . break your nose?"

Aaron nodded and wiped more blood off his face. 

"Fuck him," Eni said.

Aaron tore off the bottom of his frayed shirt and held it against his nose.  He felt sick.  The layers were forming.  He reached for the ring.  It hurt to move his wrist.

No, wait.

He could see Dumbledore.  In some dark room.  He could jump there right now and – what?  Confront Albus FUCKING Dumbledore with a training wand and a piece of t-shirt shoved up his nose?  The Ministry would see his trace right away if he wasn't on school property.

But it doesn't matter.  He can't hide from me now.

He jumped Eni with him to the owlery.  He went to the desk in the corner, grabbed a quill, and wrote fast.  At least Dumbledore hadn’t grabbed his left wrist. 

 

Moody,

Are you still looking for Dumbledore?

I fucking got him.

Aaron

Chapter Text

April 1989

The house in the forest outside of Godrich's Hollow had been abandoned for over a century.  It was empty when Gellert Grindelwald took Dumbledore inside for the first time and showed him a curated collection of books hidden beneath the floorboards.  Dumbledore had never read such detailed descriptions, instructions, and accounts on the use of dark magic before, and he was fascinated.  He stayed in the house for hours, reading by candlelight on the floor next to Grindelwald.  Years later, after Grindelwald fled the country, Dumbledore took the books to Hogwarts, where they now resided in his office.

Dumbledore looked at the removed floorboards and the empty space below; dirt, cobwebs, and decayed joists were all that remained.

Was that why he was in my office?  Was he looking for the books like Tom did?

He grabbed the bottle of bourbon he had left on a dust-covered table.

And how did he bypass my wards?  For the longest time, the boy couldn't even use magic.

Dumbledore drank.

Unless he hid his abilities and taught himself magic in private, at least until it got out of his control that first summer I was gone.

Tom had done that.  He had kept everything hidden.  Especially when he had started experimenting with dark magic.

Is Aaron doing the same thing?

Dumbledore's mind had never been able to ignore the similarities.  It blurred Aaron Stone with Tom Riddle until their edges disappeared, and all he was left with was a dark haired orphan with hidden intentions; a boy he had taken into the wizarding world before he knew anything about him, apart from the presence of his name in The Book of Admittance.  He should have found out more about Tom Riddle before he approached him.  He should have put more effort into getting to the core of Tom and destroying the sadist that was there.  If he had, maybe he could have saved them all.  Or he could have killed the boy before he became Voldemort.

Have I done it again?

Dumbledore took another drink.

They're not the same, Aaron and Tom.

No.  I don't know that.

I have to make sure.

Dumbledore finished the bottle.  He dissipated from the abandoned house and appeared in a hallway inside a government office building in Glasgow.  The hallway was dark, but a light was on in the office to his left. 

He didn't knock, and startled the woman inside.

Rachel Adams stood and opened the top drawer of her desk, where she kept her pistol.  "Who let you in here?"

"You don't seem to remember me, Rachel."

"I remember you," Rachel said.  "Albus Dumbledore.  Headmaster at Hogwarts.  I still want to know who let you inside the building."

"I let myself in," Dumbledore said. 

Rachel wasn't sure if that made her feel better or worse.  "Look, it's late, and you frightened me.  We've had some trouble with vagrants breaking in after hours and trashing the place."

"I apologize," Dumbledore said.

"What do you want?"

"I want to talk to you about Aaron Stone."

"Is he alright?  I just sent him a letter.  Did something happen?  I sent him a package several months ago and I never heard from him.  I assumed all was well, as I hadn't heard otherwise from you-"

"The boy is fine," Dumbledore said, "but I have started to observe . . . concerning traits in him.  I was hoping you could tell me more about his background and his parentage, things I should have asked you about five years ago."

"What happened?"

"You told me Aaron's mother was mentally unwell."

"Yes, that's right," Rachel said.  Not Aaron.  Not after all of this. 

"What, exactly, was wrong with her?"

"She heard voices," Rachel said, "and she had delusions.  Paranoid schizophrenia, they thought it was.  They told me it could be genetic, I just always hoped he wouldn't get it.  There was a chance he wouldn't get it.  If Aaron is showing any signs of what his mother had-"

"What about his father?"

"I never knew who he was, and I'm sure Abigail didn't either."

"But the boy's name isn't Laurent."

"No, but the name Stone had nothing to do with a potential father, either," Rachel said.  "As I understood it, Abigail changed Aaron's last name to that of a long dead family member when she gave him up.  She didn't want Aaron to try to find her."

Rachel walked past Dumbledore and opened one of the filing cabinets in the corner of her office.  She looked through a drawer, closed it and looked through another.  She took out a folder secured with two dried out rubber bands. 

She handed it to Dumbledore.  "This is everything I have on Aaron Stone."

Dumbledore pulled off the rubber bands and opened the folder.  The documents spilled over Rachel's desk.  On top, he saw the originals of Aaron's guardianship papers he had signed five years ago.  He had barely read them in 1984.  Next came a list of schools thirteen names long.  Another list had over thirty addresses from Glasgow to Edinburgh.  Some had been crossed out violently with a red marker, others had notes in pen.  There were medical records.  A hospital stay in the summer of 1976 for severe dehydration.  An emergency room visit in 1981 for a lacerated arm.  Pictures of stitches, bruises on Aaron's arms, and a summary of trial proceedings.  At the bottom of the stack were the papers Abigail Laurent had signed to give up her parental rights.  A newer-appearing handwritten note on lined paper had the name of a mental hospital in-

"Is this right?  His mother was admitted to a mental hospital in France?"

"Yes," Rachel said.  "I was just given that information last summer from one of my colleagues.  For the longest time, I never knew where she was sent."

Rachel smelled alcohol on Dumbledore's breath.  "Is Aaron alright?"

Dumbledore didn't look up.

"I am releasing Aaron from your care," Rachel said.  "I will come collect him tomorrow."

"There will be no need for that."

"This isn't your decision," Rachel said.  "I will call the courts in the morning and inform them that you are no longer his legal guardian.  I will take him for an evaluation myself."

Dumbledore had to stop himself from strangling her the way he had Carrow.  There were other ways to get rid of her.

"Obliviate," Dumbledore said, with a sharp turn of his hand.  "Forget about Aaron Stone.  As far as you are concerned, he never existed.  Neither did Abigail Laurent.  And I was never here, not now, and not in 1984."

Dumbledore took the folder.  When he was in the hallway, he set it on fire.

 


 

Dumbledore apparaited to Nantes, France, and took an early morning train to Lormont.  He found the mental hospital where Abigail Laurent was admitted in 1973, and let himself inside.

Chapter Text

April 1989

The tastes of battery acid and spoiled milk lingered in Aaron's mouth as he pulled himself through folded space between the empty Gryffindor common room and the rooftop in Edinburgh.  Moody wasn't there yet.  Aaron walked across the gravel ballast and took out a cigarette.  He held it between his lips and took out the training wand, muttering a charm until the end ignited.  He inhaled and leaned against a parapet wall.

Aaron hadn't slept.  After he'd sent the letter to Moody, and waited for five hours with no response, Eni made him go to the hospital wing, where they had to wake up Madam Pomfrey.  Aaron's wrist was swollen and painful, and his nose wasn't any better.  Pomfrey asked him what happened and Eni made fun of him for tripping up the moving stairs.  The healer looked at them skeptically while she set Aaron's broken nose and wrist.  She re-aligned the shattered bones and fused them back together.  It had hurt – almost as bad as when they had been broken.

Aaron spent the rest of the night, and most of the morning, alone in the common room with the ring off, pulling at space and watching layers superimpose.  He used to think the layers were random, but they weren't.  He never pulled locations from others that they had passed through without incidence.  The strongest pulls came from places that held vast emotional significance to whoever they belonged to; Eni's bakery where her father had attacked her; the clearing where he and Charlie had harvested the dragon; the street he had pulled off of someone; and the park.  Aaron suspected that one was his, but he didn't want to face the sick feeling he got whenever he saw it.

The layers had the strongest pull immediately after he had physical contact with someone, so he stood in the common room and held onto the layers that seemed to be connected to Dumbledore.  A graveyard.  An abandoned house.  A house on a muggle street.  The train station where he'd found Carrow's body.  Dumbledore's office.  A visiting room at St. Mungo's.  The Wizengamot dungeon.  Another house.  A meadow with the charred remains of the former Hogwart's Express.  Aaron studied them until he threw up, and slid the ring back on.

The air cracked.  Aaron flicked his cigarette on the gravel and stomped it out.

Moody wasn't alone.  A young witch was with him.

Moody looked at Aaron's bruised face.  "What happened?"

"Dumbledore was at Hogwarts," Aaron said.

"Did he-"

"I've got his locations now," Aaron said.  "There's more than when I pulled the train station off of him two years ago.  I can't not see them.  They're strong."

"Good work," Moody said.

"He was drunk," Aaron said.  "He's really fucking unhinged, Moody."

"I just need you to get us to Dumbledore," Moody said.  "Juliet and I can do the rest."

"No," Juliet said.  Moody shot her a warning look, which Juliet ignored.  She turned to Aaron.  "Moody doesn't want to risk your neck.  I don't either.  But, if Dumbledore runs, if he apparates, we need you to help us chase him.  If you can really do what Moody says you can, it's the only way we'll have a chance."

"No, he'll get us to Dumbledore and get out," Moody said.  "He's not a fucking Auror, Juliet."

"I wasn't either," Juliet said, "but here we are.  We need this, Moody."

"He hasn't been trained for-"

"I'll do it," Aaron said. 

"This isn't just trying shite out in the woods, Aaron," Moody said.  "We don't know what Dumbledore will do when we confront him.  He might get violent."

"I've seen him get violent," Aaron said.  "You need me."

Moody pulled Juliet to the side.  Aaron couldn't make out their words.  He watched the train station layer over the gravel-covered roof.  The graveyard and the Wizengamot dungeon followed.  He'd kept the ring off too long and the layers were making him sick.  He swallowed the saliva coating his mouth and made himself push back against them.

Moody and Juliet walked back up to him.

"Stay behind us and do not engage him," Moody told Aaron.  "Defensive spells only, or jump yourself the fuck away from him."

"I understand," Aaron said.

The layers shifted and he saw Dumbledore.

"I've got him," Aaron said.

"Where?"

"I don't know," Aaron said.  "He's in a dark room.  The house is falling apart."

Moody and Juliet drew their wands.  Aaron did the same.

"Let's go," Moody said.

Aaron took Moody's shoulder, and Juliet's arm, and pulled them into the abandoned house.

It was dark, even with the noon sun outside.  The windows were coated with dust and grime.  More debris coated the walls and the edges of the floors, which were littered with empty, broken bottles.

Dumbledore was too drunk to be startled.  He sat in a chair by the fireplace with his wand raised.  "Get out."

Moody stepped forward, keeping himself between Dumbledore and his protégés.  "You've been gone a long time, Albus."

"Leave me to my own devices, Alastor.  And get these children out of here."

"The last time we were together, you set a train on fire and knocked me unconscious," Moody said.  "The same night, Marcus Carrow went missing from his home."

Dumbledore lowered his wind.  "Is that all this is?  You came to confront me about the death of an anti-muggle-born bigot?"

"Is that why you killed him?"

"How did you ever find his body?"

"You did kill Carrow."

Dumbledore laughed.  The unsettling, twisted sound wasn't quite human.  "You don't have any proof, do you?  You've got nothing to tie me to Carrow's death."

"I'll have your memories for that," Moody said.

"Of course you will," Dumbledore said.  He looked past Moody.  "You brought the girl with the magic touch."

"Albus, you're not well," Moody said.  "You haven't been well in a long time.  Don't turn this into another battle."

Dumbledore ignored Moody and kept his eyes on Juliet.  "You've come such a long way from Hogwarts, from being the girl who screamed at her classmates to stop touching her in the hallways and used peoples' memories to torment them.  Tell me, Juliet, is your sister still afraid of you?  Does Rosalind keep you away from her daughter?"

Juliet didn't respond.  She kept her wand raised.

"And you, Aaron," Dumbledore said.  "I see Pomfrey fixed your nose.  Merlin knows you couldn't have managed the spell work alone.  Did you tell these Aurors who used you to bypass my wards that you can't actually use magic?  That you inherited some dark magic you have no control over?"

Aaron took a step forward.

"Don't," Juliet whispered to him.

Dumbledore smiled.  "Do you want to tell them who you are, Aaron?  Or should I?  There's no secrets between us anymore.  I went and found out everything."

"Leave them out of this," Moody said.

"Why don't you tell your charges here how often you used unforgivable curses in the war, long before they were approved for use by The Ministry?  It would have been understandable if you had only used them on the Death Eaters, but when you wanted information, when you swore you were right, you used them against whoever you felt like, even if it meant using them on your friends."

Juliet stepped to the side and walked closer to Dumbledore.

"Albus," Moody said.  "Let me bring you in.  I can get you help."

"The time for that has passed," Dumbledore said.  "Where was the help for my students who died on the train?  What is the count of the dead muggle-borns now, Alastor?  Is it at fifty yet?  How much has The Ministry skewed the numbers to hide those that have been slaughtered?  Why did you come for me when there are far more dangerous people cutting open the throats of muggle-borns?"

"Because you can't fucking execute people, Albus."

"You did."

Juliet was behind Dumbledore now.  She held her wand against his neck with one hand and reached for his head with the other.  Dumbledore hit her with a concussive blast Aaron recognized from the night in the kitchen.  Juliet hit the wall, got the air knocked out of her, and sent another concussive blast right back at Dumbledore.  Moody did the same.  Dumbledore blocked the onslaught, deflecting the spells with his hand like an afterthought.

Juliet yelled, "Expelliarmus!"

Dumbledore lost his wand, but raised his hands.  He sent waves of hot energy at Moody and Juliet; lighting cracked in the air and shook the house.  Juliet cast a shield, but not before Dumbledore singed her arm.

"I don't want to kill you, Alastor, or the children you brought with you, but now you've interfered when you should have let things go."

Electricity jumped off Dumbledore's fingers and tore at the shield covering Juliet and Moody.  

Aaron grabbed him.  "My turn."

Aaron pulled Dumbledore into the clearing where the dragon had died, then he let the layers pull them wherever they wanted, so long as it was away from Moody and Juliet.  They jumped to the kitchen at Hogwarts.  To the park.  The street.  He saw Dumbledore wince from the sharp sounds of shattered dishes, voices, and traffic.  He had to jump faster, before the old man recovered and killed him.  He pulled at the layers until they tore free, traveling between a dozen places at once.  A house he'd lived in at some point.  Hagrid's hut.  Charlie's tent in the woods.  A stairwell.  A library.  An apartment with walls covered in photographs, newspaper articles, and handwritten notes.

Faster.  Make him as sick as you feel.

Aaron choked back saliva and vomit.  His hospital room at St. Mungo's.  The Potions classroom.  The roof in Edinburgh.  The dark store that had been Eni's family bakery.  The old building behind The Three Broomsticks.  The apartment where he'd had his arm sliced open. 

They landed by the side of the road, next to a telephone booth in front of a grocery store.  Aaron threw up . . . but so did Dumbledore.  The old man shook. 

Disoriented, Dumbledore shoved himself away from Aaron, across the gravel parking lot.  Aaron still had the training wand.  He raised it as Dumbledore vanished.  Aaron summoned the layers and watched Dumbledore appear in his office.  He stepped through, grabbed Dumbledore, and pulled him back to the rooftop.

Dumbledore pushed him off and raised his hand.  Aaron cast the shield spell, yelling Protego through a mouthful of spit and bile.  He held onto the training wand with both hands, straining against the force of Dumbledore's attack.

Fuck.

The force of Dumbledore's onslaught pushed Aaron back across the roof.  His body scraped across the gravel until he was shoved into the parapet wall.

"You fucking boy," Dumbledore said.

Aaron jumped and appeared behind Dumbledore.  He grabbed the old man and pulled them into the Forbidden Forest.  He hadn't meant to do that.  He was fatigued and losing control.  Where was the fucking abandoned house?

Dumbledore threw him on the ground and dissipated.  Aaron exhaled hard, pushed, and broke space apart.  He saw Dumbledore somewhere between the forest and wherever he was headed.  Aaron grabbed Dumbledore mid-dissipation and re-directed him back to the abandoned house. 

Aaron collapsed on the floor.

Moody hit Dumbledore with Petrificus Totalus.  And Juliet grabbed his head.

Chapter Text

April 1989

The burning pain in Juliet's arm had simmered at a low intensity for seventeen hours and she couldn't ignore it anymore.  She walked past the armory and turned on the lights inside the room that served as the infirmary for The Department of Magical Law Enforcement.  There weren't any healers on staff.  Aurors were expected to do their own healing for anything that wasn't severe enough to warrant St. Mungo's.

Juliet opened three cabinets before she found what she was looking for.  She took out a bottle of salve and leaned over the counter.  She ignited on an overhead surgical light.  The blistered skin on her arm had fused to the fabric of her shirt and jacket.  Juliet winced and pulled the material away from her damaged flesh.  She'd need a scalpel to remove all of it. 

Fucking Dumbledore. 

But we got him.

Cassio walked into the infirmary.  Juliet ignored him and sterilized a scalpel.

Cassio opened another cabinet and took out a vial.  He handed it to Juliet.

"For the pain," he said.

Juliet took the vial, uncorked it, and downed the potion.

"Burke told me you and Moody arrested Dumbledore," Cassio said.

Juliet cut charred fabric away from her skin.

"Jules," Cassio said, "it's been months.  Will you still not talk to me?"

"Fuck no." 

"What happened?  Why did you and Moody arrest Dumbledore?  How did you even find him?"

"That’s classified," Juliet said, applying the salve and trying not to wince.

"Jules-"

"If I tell you," Juliet said, "Burke and the rest of the fucking wizarding world will know by noon."

She used the bandaging charm on her arm.

"It was my trace spell, Juliet," Cassio said.  "Burke was going to pull us off the muggle-born murders if I didn't give her something."

"So you fucking told her about it without consulting me or warning me first?  We agreed that we'd never tell anyone about the trace.  Now it's been weaponized against muggle-borns, against our people, and they're infuriated."

"Good," Cassio said.  "Then something will come of it this time."

"All that has come of it is every muggle-born feeling like a second-class citizen and a future obituary."

"No one else will ever use the trace or get the registry list, Jules.  That stays between me and you."

Juliet shook her head.  "You figured out how to trace muggle-borns.  Someone else will.  It's only a matter of time.  Now that they know doing so is possible."

"I fucked up, is that what you want me to say?"

Juliet had never heard Cassio swear.  In her memories, he'd always been so fucking proper.

Juliet turned off the surgical light.  "I just want this to be over, Cass.  I want to stop these mother fuckers."

"We will," Cassio said.  "You did well getting all the forms for the metamorphmagus.  How did you manage it?"

"Someone they knew came forward," Juliet said. 

"Who?"

"Another metamorphmagus."

"I think it's time we started working together again, don't you?  We can't solve these murders working them from two different angles."

Juliet smiled, "What?  You don't like working with Edward?"

"Edward is . . . sloppy," Cassio said.  A fucking sloppy cunt.  "I don't have the patience for his mistakes."

Juliet stood and put the salve back in the cabinet.  "Alright, I'll give you what I have on the muggle-born murders and we can start working together again tomorrow.  But I'm going home now.  I haven't slept."

Cassio said, "Let me know if you need anything else."

"I need you to keep our means and methods away from Burke," Juliet said.  "If I can't trust my own fucking twin, I will lose my goddamn mind."

 


 

Aaron woke up on a couch, surrounded by stacks of books and magical artifacts; a room he recognized from one of his jumps in the summer of 1987.  He was in Moody's apartment.  An empty bucket was on the floor next to the couch.  He had a vague memory of waking up sick, throwing up in the bucket, and pulling the blanket back over his head. 

He sat up.

Moody stood in the doorway, eating a plate of ham and eggs.  "How do you feel?"

Aaron said, "Alright."

"There's toast and beans on the stove.  I figured that would be easier on your stomach."

Aaron stood up.  "What happened?"

"You took Albus Dumbledore on what, I assume, was the ride of his life.  Then you passed out and slept for eighteen hours."

"Where's Dumbledore?"

"Azkaban."

"Azkaban?  I thought he had to be brought before the Wizengamot before they sent him there."

"Azkaban is the only place that will hold a wizard as powerful as Albus Dumbledore.  He will be brought before the Wizengamot as soon as they figure out how to try one of their own for the murder of a fellow Wizengamot member.  It's unprecedented."

Moody told him, “You should eat.”

Aaron shook his head.  "I have to get back to Hogwarts.  I already missed all my classes yesterday."

"I sent Minerva an owl," Moody said.  "I told her you were doing long-distance apparition training with me.  She seemed alright with that."

Moody walked back into the kitchen.  "Here, I want to show you something."

Aaron followed him.

The far kitchen wall was covered with photographs, maps, and handwritten notes.  The photographs were graphic.  Aaron realized the noise he heard was blood dripping from the victims' open necks.  There had to be more than thirty of them.  The pictures were tacked over maps exhibiting locations circled in dark ink.  Crime scenes; kill sites.  From Edinburgh to Bristol and Oxford to London.  There were lists of dates, locations, and the names of the victims, some of which appeared to still be unknown.

Moody took two pieces of toast and covered them with beans.  He handed the plate to Aaron.  "You'll never see any of this in The Prophet.  I wanted you to know what you're getting involved with, assuming you still want to do this.  We need you.  You'll be seventeen this year and we won't have to worry about your fucking underage trace."

Aaron ate the toast and beans and walked to the corner of the kitchen.  Sun-bleached photographs of the train attack were tacked to the end of the wall, next to the cabinets.

"Now that you've been out there, I'll ask you again.  Do you want to do this?  I can train you to be an Auror after you pass your damn O.W.L.s.  After you graduate, you'd only have a year left to train under someone before you could work on your own.  But once we start, once I pull you in, everything changes."

Aaron set the plate on the counter.  He took a picture of the collapsed train car off the wall and looked at the piles of mud.  "One of my friends died in the train attack.  The rest of my friends, and me . . . it fucked us all up for a while.  Maybe we're still fucked up from it."

"Being an Auror won't fuck you up any less, I can promise you that," Moody said.  "It's a lot of fucking work.  Fucking dangerous work.  You don't have to do this, as much as I want you to.”

Aaron looked at the photographs of the muggle-borns who had their throats torn open and foreheads mutilated.  "I'm one of them.  I'm fucking muggle-born, so are most of my friends.  Train me.  I’ll be an Auror.  I want to stop all of this."

Moody finished his plate and left it in the sink.  "Come on, then.  I can apparate us this time.”

"Where are we going?"

"Diagon Alley," Moody said.  "If you're going to be an Auror, you need a real fucking wand."

Chapter Text

May 1989

Shouts and chants echoed off the walls of Diagon Alley.  Lee's fingers entwined with Eni's and guided her through the dense crowd.  People were pressed up against each other to fit in the narrow passageways; it was the same once they reached the main thoroughfare.  Together, they stepped between protesters, dodging elbows, feet, and signs.

WE ARE THE NEW MAGIC

HUNT THE KILLERS, NOT THE WITCHES

WITHOUT US, MAGIC DIES

I'LL SEND BURKE A BIRD ALRIGHT

The people Eni and Lee ducked between wore muggle clothes – shirts with the names of muggle brands, cities, and bands – beneath torn and modified robes.  They wore pointed hats and baseball caps – a hybrid fusion of cultures – witch, wizard, and muggle.  They raised wands in the air and sent up sparks with messages and peace symbols.  Others carried boom boxes on their shoulders, blaring hip hop, punk, and electronic music; loud, disruptive, and entirely muggle.

Eni bent down and picked up a flier.  The head shot changed, shifting through the known forms of the killer metamorphmagus.  It ended with the face of Adelaide Burke and the words MAKE HER RESPONSIBLE.

One witch stood on an overturned cart, using a spell to amplify her voice.  "WE ARE BEING TRACKED AND REGISTERED . . . BUT WHERE IS OUR REPRESENTATION?  WHERE IS OUR VOICE?  NO MUGGLE-BORNS SIT ON THE WIZENGAMOT.  WE ARE BEING SHUT OUT.  IF WE DON'T HAVE REPRESENTATION AND A SAY IN WHAT BECOMES OF OUR LIVES, THEN WE CAN'T STAND FOR THIS FUCKING MINISTRY SHITE!"

Eni followed Lee.  A wizard younger than her handed her another flier as she walked past him.  This time, the photographs shifted between the faces of the muggle-born victims.  Some had names.  Others still hadn't been identified.

Some of the protesters used spells and markers to inscribe red M's on their foreheads – mimicking the way the victims had been marked.  Others had slogans on their bodies – WHAT'S THE REAL BODY COUNT, BURKE?  Eni walked past people whose faces and arms were covered with mud.  The sight of it made Eni uncomfortable and she turned away.  It was too similar to how her arms and face had looked during the attack on the train.  Had these people forgotten?  Eni sucked her bottom lip into her mouth and rubbed her tongue over the scar there – her reminder of just how real the train attack had been.

Lee pulled Eni in front of Ollivander's.  A witch stood on a stack of crates near the front door, holding up a sign I AM A FUTURE MINISTRY COVER-UP with both arms and screaming.  She was a Seventh Year, but Eni couldn't remember her name.  Lee climbed on top the crates and reached down to help Eni up.  The Seventh Year smiled and made room for them.  Lee put a gentle arm around Eni's waist and held her close.  Eni held Lee's hand.

From their new vantage point, Eni saw how many people there were, pressed up against each other from one side of Diagon Alley to the other.  A group of young witches danced with each other in front of Flourish and Blotts, spinning each other in circles and chanting Witch, old witch, what do you drink?  Apple Cider vinegar and midnight ink.  Two older wizards embraced and held onto each other, raising a sign together.  After a moment passed, the taller one touched the other's face, and pulled him close for a kiss.

Yariman, her Japanese father had called her – slut.  Damare yariman – shut up, slut.

What would he think if he saw her, now?  Standing on crates in the middle of a protest, surrounded by other possessed witches and wizards, with her girlfriend's arm wrapped around her body?

He never will.  He's a muggle and he never will.

She watched the witches dance with each other, and the older wizards embrace.  There were no deviants here.

This is my world now.

Buckets of mud were passed through the crowd; any contents that spilled on the street were quickly replaced with mud summoning spells.  The muggle-born Seventh Year lowered her sign and reached for a passing bucket.  She hoisted it up and set it on the crate between her and Eni.  She smiled at Eni, reached into the bucket, and coated her skin.

They haven’t forgotten; they are reclaiming it.

Eni remembered what it had felt like when the mud poured down her throat on the train, but seeing it used this way, seeing the Seventh Year girl smile – she was using the mud on her terms and taking it back.  Eni wanted that type of control.  She had survived the mud on the train; it was hers to use as she wanted.

Eni shoved her hands into the bucket and rubbed the mud over her arms.  She took a handful and spread it over her face.  She faced Lee, wiped the mud off her lips, and kissed her.

 


 

Emily Carrow still reached for her husband in the middle of the night – grabbing for his absent body when she felt alone.  She woke up believing he was just down the hall, that he would come back into their bedroom and kiss her on the forehead.  The illusion faded in the daylight and disappeared completely each afternoon. 

She walked to her chest of drawers.  Marcus's wand sat on top, next to the necklace he had given her when she was fifteen.  Emily had found his wand the morning after he had gone missing, when she came home and found their ransacked bedroom, Amelia crying in the corner that she had heard her father scream, and Rhodus yelling at his sister to calm down.  He's fine, he's coming back – but there was his wand, untouched on his nightstand.

He had come back.  Two years ago.  Emily hadn't recognized the mutilated body they showed her; the rotted, decomposed corpse was not her husband. 

The Aurors wouldn't tell her anything, but she had seen the way they tried to re-attach his head and hide the way he'd bitten through his tongue.  He had been executed in a fucking muggle Underground station and left to rot.  The Aurors said they didn't have any leads, but she knew who had killed him.  Muggle-borns had executed him, thinking that he was behind the killings.  Those muggle-born fucks.

Marcus had never had the stomach to kill anyone.  He didn't have the stomach for it in 1984 when he gave Emily the counter spells to break the wards on the Wizengamot dungeon.  He had told her he would never get involved.  He was too close to the act, he said.  But the truth, she knew, was that Marcus had never been the type to get his hands dirty.

Emily Carrow, formerly Emily Bulstrode, had never shared his reluctance.  She had grabbed the scribe herself, scattering the stack of parchment he carried across the floor.  She got Theshan and Adesh past the wards, so they could bring in the woman and the two men they had grabbed.  Where had they even found them?  It hadn't mattered then, only that they had found muggle-borns.  Everything had been more complicated before the trace.

Emily had carved up the foreheads of the scribe and the woman, taunted them, and cut their throats.  She levitated their bodies into the air while Theshan and Adesh tore through the throats of the two men.

Marcus had believed in his act, but he never would have been able to do what needed to be done, Merlin help him.

Emily Carrow touched her husband's wand and put on the necklace.  She opened the top drawer and selected a knife from her collection, then she slid it into the sheath she wore over her shoulder.  She raised the vial of gold and black fluid flecked with blood, took a drop, and wiped it across her forehead.  

Emily dissipated from her bedroom – and appeared on a roof four stories above Diagon Alley, stepping into Theshan Nott's wards and concealment spells.

Theshan stood at the edge of the roof, watching the crowds below.  The sun was setting, but they were still screaming, chanting, and dancing; writhing together like disobedient children.

"How many?"

Theshan kept his eyes on the alley and took out a roll of parchment.  He enlarged it and levitated it in the air between them.  Lights spread across the map – multiplying bacteria.  "The whole fucking muggle-born community came out for this protest; and I've set the trace on them all, adding hundreds to the map."

"I admit that I doubted your means and methods," Emily said.  "It is good to know you did the right thing."

Theshan compressed the map and tucked it back into his coat.  "I just want them dead.  This made it easy, having most of them in one place."

The crowds dispersed as the sun disappeared.  They left the alley laughing and cheering.  They'd go to their muggle pubs and keep the celebration going late into the night.

Theshan watched the protesters leave.  "The locations of the new muggle-borns will already be on all the maps, including your own."

"Should I give the order to begin?"

Theshan shook his head.  "I'll give the order myself tonight, after I've selected a target.  I want this coordinated.  Watch for the signal on your map."

Theshan dissipated.

Emily whispered to herself after he left, standing over the alley with her knife against her chest.  "We will never stop."

Chapter Text

May 1989

The sound of the train changed as it left the station and picked up speed, sealing itself in the darkness of a tunnel.  Eni and Lee shouldered past people and moved through the cars until they found one that wasn't as crowded.  The end of the protest had sent a lot of the muggle-borns into the Underground, as if in another show of their ability to exist in two worlds.  Eni and Lee followed the crowd, but they didn't have a choice.  Eni was underage and Lee had never learned to apparate.

The florescent lights at the far end of the car flickered until one of them died.  Eni had gotten most of the mud off her arms and face, but it had stained her arms and dried pieces were still stuck to her skin.  She rubbed her arms, shedding dirt onto the floor of the train car.

Lee looked around the car.  Two wizards their age were still covered in their own dried mud; a witch took off her pointed had and stuffed it in her bag; and another group of muggle-borns talked about the protest at the other side of the car, loud and excited, laughing with each other.  She didn't see any muggles, so she pulled out her wand.

"Here," Lee laughed at Eni's mud-covered face, "hold still."

Lee waved her wand over Eni and said a cleaning charm.  The remnants of the dried mud dissolved into the air, leaving Eni's skin and clothes clean.

"Do you have any charms to change my clothes?  I'm not sure they'll let me in without something nicer," Eni said.

"You'll be fine," Lee said.  She pulled a flier with the changing faces of the metamorphmagus out of her back pocket, waved her wand, and handed the altered document to Eni.  "Almost forgot.  That will get you through the front door."

Eni took the fake ID.  "This is brilliant."

Lee tucked her wand into her jacket.  "It's nothing, really.  My cousin taught me the charm last year so I could go to shows with him when I was still seventeen."

"I would love to go to a show," Eni said.

"They'll be a lot of good bands in London over the summer," Lee said.  "I can get us tickets for one sometime when neither of us have work."

"I would love to go with you," Eni said, "if you get us tickets, I'll pay you back."

"No, no," Lee said, and kissed her quick on the forehead, "I'd like to treat you to something."

"I really don't deserve you," Eni said.

"Oh, rubbish," Lee said.  "I'm the one snogging a Hogwarts girl.  You're out here slumming it with the London public school girl who had to get her father to put a transfiguration charm on her goblin ears every time she left the house."

The train came to a station.  Eni and Lee held onto the railings above their head.  A mixture of muggle-borns and muggles stepped into the car.  A woman with long hair wore open robes over a tight, low cut dress.  Eni couldn't help but look at her.  Lee did the same.

The woman saw them and walked to the far end of the train car.

"You alright?"

"Yeah, fine," Eni said.  "Why do you ask?"

"Just the train and all the mud," Lee said.  "I didn't want you to feel uncomfortable."

"It's alright," Eni said.

"It's alright if it's not, too."

"No, it helped, to be honest.  And it's been so long since the attack.  It's nice to know that kind of thing can fade with time and not hurt so damn much."

Lee smiled, "That's good to hear."

They rode the Underground for four more stops.

When they walked up to the warehouse, there was a line, but it moved fast.  Eni could already feel the bass pound against her throat.

Lee paid the cover for the two of them while Eni handed the bouncer her modified protest flier.  He glanced at it and waved her inside.  He did the same for Lee.

Electronic music shook their bodies as they walked down the narrow hallway to the vast dance floor.  It was loud, and dark except for the red, green, and blue lights that flashed from the walls, the stage, and the open truss ceiling two stories above their heads.  Lee had been right, it didn't matter what they wore.  Eni watched women in short skirts and dresses, tight leather pants, and distressed jeans, dancing with each other and with men who wore blazers and loose ties over tight t-shirts.  There were Mohawks, side parts, feathered bangs, headbands, and teased out waves full of volume.

"Do you want a drink?" Lee yelled into Eni's ear.

Eni nodded.  Lee took her hand and they stepped through the crowds to a bar setup on the far side of the warehouse. 

"What do you want?"

Eni yelled back to Lee, "I've never ordered a muggle drink before.  Can you pick one for me?"

Lee nodded and leaned over the bar until she got someone's attention.  She leaned further over the bar to yell her request into the woman's ear.  The woman nodded.  She made two gin and tonics and set them on the bar.  Lee handed her a ten pound note, took the drinks, and passed one to Eni.

Eni took a sip and made a face.  Lee said, "Here, squeeze the lime and stir it up a bit."

Eni did and tried again.  It was much better.

They stood at the end of the dance floor and drank.  They hadn't bothered to eat since they left Lee's mother's flat that morning and Eni felt the alcohol induced numbness work its way through her face.  She nodded her head to the music and started to move her hips, careful not to spill the last of her drink.

The woman from the train was on the dance floor, dancing close against a man with white trainers.  Eni watched them until her drink was gone, then she sucked on a piece of ice.

Lee set her empty glass on a stack of crates, and took Eni's hand.  Eni left her glass with Lee's and followed her onto the dance floor.  They went deep into the crowd, toward the center of the dance floor.  The house music pounded; heavy bass shook her chest, along with her heartbeat, as Lee pressed close against her, moving her hands along her waist and shoulders.  Eni put her arms over Lee's shoulders, but Lee turned her around and pulled Eni's hips back against her waist.  Lee grinded against Eni, who followed her rhythm with the music until they moved together without any space between them.

The crowd pressed in tighter and it was dark.  Lee's right hand wandered from Eni's stomach to her upper thighs and brushed against the front of her skirt.  Eni reached behind her back until her hand was on the zipper of Lee's shorts.  Lee kissed her neck and Eni tilted her head back.  They were pressed too close for Eni to manipulate Lee's zipper, but Lee had bypassed the buttons on Eni's skirt and stuck her hand down her waist band. 

Fuckkkkk

Eni moaned, bouncing with the music, and desperately trying to get her hand past the front of Lee's shorts. 

Lee slipped her hand out and led Eni to the edge of the dance floor, then down a hallway towards the women's toilets.  They stopped before the line, in a dark area midway down the hall.  Lee backed into the wall and pulled Eni against her, pulling her bottom lip into her mouth.  Eni tugged down Lee's zipper and reached between her legs.  Lee pushed her hand beneath Eni's shirt and bra. 

Lee whispered, "Here, I like it more like this," and moved Eni's fingers together.  Lee leaned her head back against the wall and kept her hand on Eni's.

Whoever saw them didn't care.

There was nowhere to stand when they made it back out to the dance floor.  Eni's face was entirely numb now – with satisfaction, two shots of cheap whiskey, and absolute bliss.  This time, she pulled Lee through the crowds to the middle of the dance floor, where they danced against strangers. 

Eni writhed and bounced with the crowd as the disc jockey added a brand new Madonna song to the pulse of his house mix.  She closed her eyes, smiled, and moved with the music, feeling Lee dance somewhere off to her left. 

Someone danced against her right.  Eni opened her eyes to see the woman from the train.  The woman leaned into her.  "Fancy a dance, love?  I saw you watching me before."

Eni looked at Lee, but Lee just smiled and shrugged.  Eni danced with the woman and Lee.

Until she looked up a half hour later and realized she had lost Lee in the crowd.

Eni stopped dancing and stood on her tip toes, but she couldn't see over anyone's head.

The woman leaned down, "You alright, love?"

"My girlfriend, I don't see-"

The woman took her hand.  "It's alright.  Let's find her, yeah?"

Eni looked through the crowd as they pushed their way through, but she didn't see Lee.  Had the charm on her ears faded?  Had she ran to the ladies to re-cast it?  The woman guided Eni toward a hallway.  But it wasn't the same one where she had been with Lee earlier.

Eni stopped.  "No, wait, I don't think she went-" but the woman grabbed her wrist and pulled hard.

Eni thought she saw the woman's eyes change shape, but it could have been the lighting.

"No, this way," Eni said, but the woman wouldn't release her wrist.  She pulled Eni down the hallway.  Eni started to pull back, but the woman was strong.

No.

Fuck.

The woman had changed into a man twice her size, tearing the tight dress apart.  Eni screamed and pulled on her own arm, trying to tear free, but it was too fucking loud for anyone to hear her.

The man pulled her out the back door, into an empty alleyway.  Eni screamed.  The man covered her mouth with his other hand.  "You're making this harder than it has to be, little mudblood.  We had a nice dance, didn't we?  Now, if you stop fighting me, I'll be quick about it."

Eni writhed and kicked.  Her ears rang from the loud music.  The man reached into her boot and pulled out the protruding training wand.  He broke it in half and threw it down the alley.  His face remained in a constant state of flux, moving between masculine forms.

Stop panicking and FUCKING FIGHT HIM.

Eni sent burning heat into her forearms, through her palms, and into each finger.  The force of it shook her body.

She didn't even think of a spell this time; she released pure, unrestrained energy.

The force sent the metamorphmagus flying across the alleyway into a wall.  He pulled out his wand.  And a knife.

Eni sent another wave of force, and lighting bolts of energy, out from her hands.  She pushed until he was up against the wall with his arms pressed into the brick, until the brick separated and fractured and he screamed.  She twisted her hand, faced her palm toward the sky, and raised his body into the air.  If he was trying to raise his wand, she couldn’t tell, and she didn't drop her hands to find out.  Pieces of brick broke off under the man's body and fell.  The man screamed.  She could feel him at the end of her energy, where it forced its way against his body.  She pushed until she felt his rib cage break.

She raised the broken metamorphmagus higher, until his body crashed over the rooftop of the adjacent building.

Then, Eni ran back into the club; back to find Lee. 

Chapter Text

May 1989

A fourteen year old wizard from the Durmstrang Institute attended the protest with his older brother and his sister in law.  After he said goodnight to his family, the boy made the mistake of walking alone from the Kenton Underground station to his muggle friend's house.  He didn't start out alone.  He walked with groups of muggle-borns for a few blocks, until the crowds faded into a single old woman who walked behind him.  She appeared haggard, with thin grey hair and wrinkled skin, but she walked fast.  When the boy turned a corner, the old woman appeared in front of him with a loud CRACK and pushed him against the wall with skeletal arms, her strength amplified by a muscle augmentation charm.  The boy screamed, but no one heard him.  The old witch hit him with Petrificus Totalus and carved up his forehead.  As she rent the knife through his throat, his last thought was that his muggle friend would never know what had happened to him.

 


 

Adelaide Burke didn't walk home.  She apparaited from her office into her living room, where her seven year old son embraced her.  She dismissed the boy's nanny and promised to pay her tomorrow.  Adelaide forgot to stop by Gringott's and she was too tired to go downstairs and open the safe.  Her son pulled on her arm until she sat at the edge of his bed and read to him from Grimm's Fairy Tales.

 


 

Adelaide Burke's nanny, a forty-seven year old witch with three sons and two daughters of her own, walked home alone every night.  She didn't mind; the streets in Burke's neighborhood were well lit and filled with muggles.  She forgot about the protest until she arrived at the Underground, rode the line for three stops, and watched mud-covered bodies squeeze into the train car with her.  She had wanted to go, but she needed the money more than she felt the need to stand in Diagon Alley with a cardboard sign and her worn out wand. 

She rode the Underground for two hours and fell asleep in her seat, leaning against the window, until familiarity shot her awake.  By then, the train car was empty.  She didn't notice the man who followed her, and didn't know his name was Adesh Selwyn.  He paralyzed her body in the empty Underground station, in a dark walkway between the platform and the exit.

Her oldest daughter identified her five days later, sobbing while her father drank himself into the hospital.

 


 

After her son was asleep, Adelaide made tea and walked into her library, where she skimmed the Evening Prophet, filled with dozens of articles about the day's protest.  She crumbled it and tossed it in a rubbish bin after she saw photographs of mud-covered muggle-borns burning an effigy of her.

I am doing all I can, she promised herself.

She drank more tea and flipped through a magazine filled with muggle clothes, purses, and shoes.

 


 

Theshan Nott altered his appearance with a transfiguration charm, giving himself a beard and changing the shape of his nose, before he followed a nine year old girl into a convenience store.  Her older brother waited for her on the curb across the street, lighting a cigarette.  He didn't want her to go to the protest with him, but he wasn't home from Hogwarts often, and his parents told him to spend some time with her and show her his world.  It would become her world soon, too.  She had started to exhibit the same abilities he had at her age, nine years ago – making things float in the air, and opening locked doors.

The girl opened the freezer and reached for two soda pops.  Theshan used Stupefy on the attendant and grabbed the girl.  He slit her throat inside the walk-in freezer.

The girl's brother saw her dangling feet through the rows of cans and bottles when he reached into the freezer fifteen minutes later for a drink, thinking his kid sister had gone home without him after she didn't come back.

 


 

It took her longer than she thought it would, but Lara broke the ward on Adelaide Burke's house.  She made sure the iron chain was in her satchel and pulled a mask over her face.  Rosalind did the same and walked ahead of her, unlocking the front door with a flick of her wand.  They entered the house without making noise, and walked through the dark foyer.  Light came from the kitchen and the second floor hallway, where Burke had left a lit lamp on the table outside of her son's bedroom.

Rosalind went upstairs.  She made sure Burke's son was asleep, cast a noise-blocking charm over his room, and enchanted the door to remain locked from the outside.

Burke was pouring herself a third cup of tea when Lara walked into the kitchen.  Burke dropped her cup - it shattered on the floor - and raised her wand.

Lara yelled, "Expelliarmus!

Burke's wand landed on top the shards of her broken mug.  Lara hit her with a spell that pushed her back into the cabinets.  Burke's head cracked against one of the panels.  Lara lifted Burke's body into the air and brought her down into a kitchen chair.  Burke tried to grab her, but Lara paralyzed Burke's arms with an incapacitation charm and lashed her to the chair with the iron chain.

Lara's voice came out distorted from the voice altering charm her and Rosalind had used.  "What was it you encouraged us to do?  Send a fucking owl if we were concerned or fearing for our lives?"

She pushed her wand into Burke's neck.  "Isn't this better?"

Burke didn't say anything.

"That's right," Lara said, "silence is The Ministry's best policy on the muggle-born killings, after all."

"I am doing everything in my power to stop the killings," Burke said.  "I understand your frustrations."

Rosalind walked into the kitchen.

"We are past the point of frustration," Lara said.  "We are here for resolution.  Do you have any idea what it is like to be muggle-born right now?"

Burke was silent.

"No," Lara said.  "How could you?  You live here behind your wards, inside the house passed down to you through generations of your pure-blood family.  You think you understand, because you married a muggle when you were younger, but you divorced him, cut him off from the magical world, and kept his child from him.  You don't want muggle-borns to be a part of this world any more than you wanted your muggle husband to be a part of yours after you decided you were done with him."

"You are all a part of this world," Burke said.

"No, Madam Director," Lara said, "muggle-borns exist on the edges of this world.  When we're children, and our abilities manifest with no warning, we are left to conclude that we are crazy, possessed, or, at least, odd.  Then, you barge in and take us away from our families, show us a wonderful alternate universe of wonder and power, and spit us back out after you've brainwashed us all into being good little citizens."

"What else do you expect us to-"

"I wasn't finished," Lara said.  "Tell us about the trace and the registry."

"I am not directly involved with the tracking and registration of muggle-borns."

Rosalind stepped in.  "This isn't the time for bullshit.  You're the head of The Department of Magical Law Enforcement."

"Yes," Burke said, "but I'm not the one writing your names down in a ledger."

"You are the one with the authority to stop the trace and destroy the registry."

"That won't happen," Burke said, "not until the killers are caught.  It is for your own protection."

"It is giving the killers a list of targets."  Lara pressed her wand into Burke's neck.  "Destroy the trace and the registry, if you want us to leave your house."

"It is out of my hands," Burke said.

Lara thought of Sam, spiked apple cider, and a snow covered street in Edinburgh.  "Let's see if all that Auror training does anything to help you better withstand unforgivable curses.  Crucio!"

Burke's body twisted against the iron chain and the kitchen chair, but she didn't scream.  She had experienced the Cruciatus Curse often when she had worked as an Auror during the war.

Lara thought of the playground where her and Sam had raised their palms over their heads and made flowers dance through the air.  She kept her wand raised until Burke bit through her tongue.

"Destroy the trace and the registry of muggle-born names, and I will stop."

"It is out of my hands," Burke said.  Blood ran from her mouth.

"Crucio!"

Burke writhed and thrashed until the chair fell over, leaving the side of her body and face pressed against the tile floor.

Lara stopped the curse.

Rosalind touched Lara’s shoulder and kept her raised wand trained on Burke.  “We can’t kill her.”

"Get out of my house, if you're not going to kill me," Burke said.

"Destroy the registry.  Remove the trace."

"The trace isn't my creation," Burke said.  "It is the trade secret of one of my Aurors.  Even I don't know how it works.  The list of names is also kept from me, by the Aurors who are tasked with finding the killers."

"What kind of fucking Aurors do you have on staff that you don’t know what they are doing?"

"Muggle-born ones," Burke spat.

Rosalind's raised hand wavered.  When her sister was accepted, she had been so excited to become an Auror - one of the first muggle-born Aurors to work for The Ministry in a decade.

Juliet.  It's Juliet's trace.

"I know you have the authority to destroy the trace," Lara said.  "But God and Merlin forbid you do anything that us common mudbloods ask of you."

Lara thought of the day Sam's mother called her - the day Sam was found dead inside of her apartment.  The Ministry hadn't done a fucking thing; no Aurors had investigated her friend's murder, even though it was identical to those committed inside the Wizengamot dungeon a few months earlier.  Instead, The Ministry pretended it never happened.  Samantha had died outside of the wizarding world, as a muggle-born who had escaped her stationed second-class life.  No one at The Ministry gave a shite.  

Sam's casket had been closed at her funeral, her body too mangled to display.

Lara unleashed the Cruciatus Curse again.  She kept her wand raised, even after Burke broke, screamed, and swore to end the trace. Lara was surprised that Burke’s surrender didn’t give her any satisfaction.  It was about more than the trace for her, she realized - it was about the way Burke and The Ministry had handled the muggle-born murders since the beginning.  Not prioritizing them, because it didn’t affect them.  People like Burke were the reason they had to march in the streets - the reason they were dying - and Lara wanted her to be affected.

She let the Cruciatus Curse run rampant and warp Burke’s mind.  Rosalind didn’t stop her.  She remembered Sam, too, and her daughter and husband asleep in their flat.

Let her know what it feels like to be left on the outside; living on the edges of this world.  Make her wish we had been a priority.

Two hours later, Burke was found catatonic, wondering the street in front of Purge and Dowse, LTD.

Chapter Text

May 1989

Encroaching fog and darkness bisected the hallway before the world skipped forward, leaving Juliet staring out through the eyes of a three year old in a sandbox.  Disoriented, she looked down at a colorless pail and shovel; toys stripped of their details thanks to time.  A small hand reached forward and pushed at two dolls laying on the sand.  The dolls vibrated as though they were attached to strings, and drifted up into the air, where they floated around her head.  The child laughed.

Where are we?  Juliet asked.

The child didn't understand.

Who are you?  Juliet asked.

She heard, ADI.  I'M ADI.

Where are you, Adi?

Adi laughed.

Adi, show me more.  Show me your son.  Show me your house.

It was useless.  There was nothing except dark hallways, the sandbox, and a dense fog floating behind the dolls; a distant storm threatening to overwhelm the child.

Inside the mind, fog indicated distortion, suppression, and memory loss.  Fog was where whatever had been conscious thought existed in a fragmented state, often damaged beyond repair.

Juliet left the girl in the sandbox and stepped into the fog.  It pressed against her mind.  She had to work fast.  If she spent too much time prying at the fog, it would distort and erase her own memories.

Juliet didn't waste time pulling out images, she looked for the gateways to memory – sounds, tastes, and smells.  The most recent would be in the upper atmosphere.  Juliet lifted herself through the fog and caught the odors of chamomile and mint.  Tea.  Burke always took her tea the same way at work, but she saved chamomile for nights at home.  Juliet followed the smell until it merged with a strong taste.  Blood.  In Burke's mouth.  The fog pushed at Juliet's mind; humid and hot. 

Burke's voice said, "This woman was no woman at all – she was an evil witch!"

What?

"Hansel sat anxiously thinking of a way to escape."

It was Hansel and Gretel.  Burke was reading Hansel and Gretel to her son.

Fuck, come on, Burke.  Give me something.

The next voice was distorted.  "Destroy the registry."

Juliet reached for more, but the fog became a sludge against her mind.

"Destroy . . . registry."

". . . regis . . . try."

Fuck.  No.

The odors of chamomile and mint faded; the taste of blood dissolved.  The sludge of Burke's broken mind seeped into Juliet's head.

Juliet tried to pull free, but her mind was overwhelmed.  She grasped for her own memories; the six she used as anchors to ground her reality. 

Reaching for Rosalind's hand in the back yard.  Saying goodbye to mum.  Learning to drive with Dad.  Laughing in Rosalind's bedroom.

Two more.  Ignore the fog, remember the last two.  Keep your thoughts intact.

Becoming an Auror.

Yesterday, I was in my flat in London.

Juliet pulled her hands off Burke's head and retched on the floor.  She coughed until a healing assistant touched her back.

For a second, she didn't remember where she was.  The fog had torn at her brain, maybe damaged its edges, but the six memory key assured her that the essential parts were intact.

Juliet wiped her mouth.

"Are you alright?  I can call for-"

Juliet stood up.  She was at St. Mungo’s.  Adelaide Burke sat in a chair by the window, staring vacantly at the ceiling, and moving her hands as if making dolls fly.

"I'm fine," Juliet said.  "You can place her back under the calming spells."

The healing assistant nodded and raised his wand. 

Juliet left the room.  She held onto the walls until her head cleared.

That was too fucking close.

Juliet dissipated and appeared on the second level of The Ministry of Magic.  She staggered and grabbed for the wall.  Appariting hadn't done anything to improve the lingering sickness from spending too much time in Burke's fractured mind.

She heard, "Are you alright?"

Juliet leaned back from the wall.  A red haired man walked toward her.

"You seem a bit out of sorts," he said.  "You should sit down if you're not feeling well."

"I'm fine," Juliet said.

"Here," the man opened a door, "my office is right here."

Juliet looked at the name on the door and shook her head.  "Thanks, Arthur, but I'll be alright."

Arthur went into his office, took the pitcher from the end of his desk, and poured her a glass of water anyway.

He passed it to Juliet.  "Even so.  Here."

"Thank you," Juliet said.  She took the glass and downed the contents.

"You're an Auror," Arthur said.  "I've seen you around."

Juliet handed the glass back to Arthur.  She had never noticed him before.

"Do you know when Burke will be back?"

At least what happened to Burke isn't common knowledge yet.

"She will be gone for the foreseeable future," Juliet said.  "Do you need something?"

"I've just left two young women in her office," Arthur said.  "I didn't know where else to bring them.  There wasn't anyone around and I thought Burke would be back soon, or I could find someone else, but Burke's usually here on Sundays for a while in the morning."

"What do the young women want?"

"They said they were attacked by the metamorphmagus you lot have been looking for."

Holy shite.

Juliet walked past Arthur.  "Thank you.  I'll talk to them."

"They seemed upset.  If I can help-"

"You already have," Juliet yelled back to him down the hallway.

Juliet walked into Burke's office.  She walked past the girls and reached for the pitcher of water on the table in the corner.  She could still taste bile in the back of her mouth.

One of the girls, the short one with black hair, said, "Excuse me.  Are you Adelaide Burke?"

Juliet shook her head and finished the glass of water.  "I'm not.  I'm Juliet Walker.  I'm an Auror overseeing the muggle-born murder cases.  What are your names?"

"Eni Iro."

"Lee Zyc."

"You were attacked by the metamorphmagus?  The one we're looking for?"

"Yes," Eni said.  "At least, we think so.  They tried to kill me."

Juliet set the glass on the table.  "Where?"

Lee said, "The Warehouse.  It's a dance club out in-"

"I know it," Juliet said.  "Tell me what happened."

Lee and Eni recounted everything from the protest to the Underground and trying to find each other again inside the crowded club.

Juliet nodded, taking mental notes.  She'd have to check the club, the alleyway, and the roof of the adjacent building right away. 

"I know I'm not supposed to use magic outside of school," Eni said.  "I know you'll want to reprimand me, but I don't care.  They were going to kill me."

Juliet poured another glass of water.  “I don’t care, kid.  You were defending yourself.  It's not my job to lecture you, and you won't hear about it from anyone else."

Christ.  I sound like Moody.

Juliet drank the water and leaned against Burke's desk.  "You both did the right thing, at the club and by coming here."

She looked at Eni.  "I'll need your memories so I can get the forms the metamorphmagus took when they were with you.  I can do it by touching your head.  I won't need to extract anything that can be kept in a vial and reviewed by The Ministry, so your privacy will remain somewhat intact.  I'll need you to focus on what happened as clearly as you can.  Don't leave anything out."

Eni bit her lip.

"Whatever is in your head is yours, not mine.  I won't keep anything that isn't related to the metamorphmagus."

"I don't know," Eni said.

"I've seen a lot of things in peoples' heads.  Nothing in your mind will surprise me.  And I won't hold anything against you.  Who you are is no one's business but your own."

Eni glanced at Lee, who nodded.

"Alright," Eni said.

Juliet set the glass down, not caring much if her mind was or wasn’t ready for another excavation.  She raised her hands and pulled herself into Eni's head.

The girl's thoughts were saturated with saccharin and alcohol; happiness and excitement.  Juliet went along for the ride, through the pulse of music, the heat of the crowds, the taste of gin and tonic, and an intimate moment in a dark hallway. 

Juliet watched until-

FUCK.

She forced Eni's memory back, to when the metamorphmagus broke the girl's wand.  The face changed through a quick series of masculine forms.  For just a second, she saw a face she recognized, if only in passing.  It was enough.

If they have been using his form, then they have been watching us since the beginning.  They could have walked through the front door of The Ministry anytime they wanted.

The face she saw belonged to Edward Burton; the Auror Cassio had worked with when Juliet had stopped talking to him.  

How often has Edward not been Edward?  

Is Edward even alive?

Juliet pulled herself out of Eni's head.  She had to find Cassio.

Chapter Text

Edward Michael Burton said all of seven words to his fellow muggle-born classmates, Samantha Jones, Lara Evans, and Rosalind Walker, during the seven years the four of them spent at Hogwarts.  He spent most of his time alone in the library, or up in the owlery, researching wizarding law and smuggling muggle true crime books and newspaper articles into the school.

When Edward left Hogwarts in 1978 to become an Auror, the wizarding world was torn apart and covered with blood; consumed by a war that had raged since the beginning of the decade.  Being muggle-born in 1978 was dangerous, but it was worse to be a blood traitor, or to directly oppose the dark wizard who imprisoned, tortured, and killed the people who stood in his way.  Edward wasn't afraid.  He had spent a lot of time reading about dictators; Hitler, Stalin, and Zedong.  Voldemort didn't seem to be much different.

After passing the Auror qualifying exams with some of the highest marks ever recorded, Edward spent three years training under Alice Longbottom.  He started to work on his own in 1981, two weeks before his mentor was tortured to the point of insanity.  Edward wasn't supposed to be a part of the team that hunted down the Death Eaters who had been responsible for the permanent incapacitation of Alice and Frank Longbottom, but he argued with Alastor Moody until the old Auror gave in.  When the team found Crouch, Bellatrix, Rodolphus, and Rabastan, two of the five Aurors were maimed in the ensuing battle.  Moody captured Crouch and Rabastan.  Another Auror captured Bellatrix.  Edward tackled Rodolphus Lestrange after a bloody chase that left them both exhausted, and used a charm to secure iron shackles around the Death Eater's wrists.  Edward then helped Moody bring the four Death Eaters to Azkaban.

After the war, Edward met a muggle woman in a cafe in London in 1982 and married her in 1984.  He never told her about the wizarding world, not wanting to endanger her or pull her into the carnage that tended to follow his profession.  He told The Ministry to never contract him by owl – use a muggle telephone, or nothing at all.  Ring twice.  Hang up.  I will come in immediately.

In the summer of 1987, Edward was called into The Ministry on a Saturday morning to find another muggle-born Hogwarts student – a Third Year who had apparaited all over the damn country.  Edward spent the day working with Cassio.  They started at a park in Glasgow, where an empty parking lot overlooked a lawn, walking paths, a pond, and new rubbish bins and metal benches.  In 1976, when three and a half year old Aaron Stone was trapped in a hot car in the parking lot, the park had been a much different place; a dangerous park frequented by desperate people, trashed and vandalized by the same.

After Cassio and Edward completed the list of places where the boy's trace had been picked up, and after they heard from Moody that the boy was at St. Mungo's, Edward went back to London.  He phoned home and asked his wife if she needed anything from the grocer.  Coffee beans.  And, could he get milk, too? 

Edward stopped at the grocer, but he never made it home.  Someone at The Ministry had told Kayal Rowle where he lived.  Kayal had followed Edward for two weeks.  Kayal knew the grocer Edward frequented and the streets he took home.  Kayal hit Edward with Petrificus Totalus, dragged him into the dark doorway of a tailor shop, and strangled him.  Kayal tore apart Edward's body and used the blasting curse in ways it never should have been used.  Four months after Edward was dead, the tailor found pieces of flesh that he never suspected were human.

Kayal copied Edward's form, picked up the paper bag filled with milk and coffee beans, and walked through the front door of Edward's house.  Kayal had dinner with Edward's wife, and slept with her for three days before she became suspicious.  Then, Kayal killed her, too.

Chapter Text

June 1989

The ninety-four year old woman who sat across the desk from Juliet looked delicate; made of glass bones, paper-thin tissue, fraying ligaments, and protruding veins.  Her hands shook as she lowered the cup, filled with Earl Grey and two lumps of sugar, from her mouth.  Juliet resisted the urge to cast a steadying charm on the ancient witch as the ceramic cup rattled against its saucer.

"You're muggle-born, aren't you, dear?"

"I am."

"Isn't that something?  When I was your age, muggle-borns weren't allowed to work for The Ministry in any capacity.  It is good to see signs of progress."

Progress was precisely what Juliet wanted from the old woman.  The name Enir had given her in January – Kayal Rowle – had been a dead end.  Juliet had spent the past five months tracking down and speaking with members of the Rowle family.  None of them knew who Kayal Rowle was.  They showed her family records, marriage licenses ensuring the pure-blood status of various unions, and obituaries saved from The Daily Prophet.  When the family's documentation failed her, and when certain family members refused to talk to a muggle-born Auror, Juliet went through the pure-blood lineage records maintained by The Ministry.  When those didn't yield any results either, she looked through wizarding school records.  And found nothing.  Who the fuck was Kayal Rowle?

And, how long had Kayal Rowle been taking the form of Edward Burton? 

After Edward failed to respond to Juliet's telephone call signals, and hadn't shown up at The Ministry for more than three days, Juliet decided to disregard Edward's instructions to never blur the boundaries he had maintained between his Auror life and his personal life, and went to his house with Cassio.  As soon as they were inside, it was clear that no one had lived there for a long time; a pile of unopened mail covered the front entryway floor; dust coated the walls and light fixtures; and, the rancid odor of rotten food assaulted them from the kitchen.  They didn't find Edward, but they found the decomposed body of Edward's wife, Anna, shoved inside a locked freezer in the basement.  The freezer had lost power in the fall of 1987, when the electric company had stopped service due to a lack of payment.  The smell of the corpse combined with the smells from the kitchen and made Juliet and Cassio sick.

Edward hadn't been Edward in a long time.

And Kayal Rowle didn't seem to exist.

At least, not until Constance Rowle walked into The Ministry of Magic and asked for Juliet by name.

"It is lovely that a young muggle-born witch, such as yourself, has choices these days," Constance said.  "I never had choices, even as a pure-blood.  My family made me marry Jacob Rowle to preserve the pure-blood lines, even though Jacob was my first cousin and we shared a grandfather.  I had seven children with him.  And, not a damn one of them, or any of their damn children, ever come to see me anymore."

Juliet said, "Mrs. Rowle, you said you recognized the name on the wanted posters?"

"Yes, I recognized the name," Constance said.  "Only, when I saw the posters, I thought you lot had gotten it wrong.  Your metamorphmagus and the Kayal Rowle I knew cannot be the same person."

"Why is that?"

"Because Kayal Rowle was my grandfather's sister.  She died almost a century ago."

"Is there a death certificate?"  Or, a corpse?

"Not as far as I am aware," Constance said.

"Was your Kayal Rowle a metamorphmagus?"

"If she was, I was not aware of it.  There was a stigma back then, you know, even in the wizarding community.  Everyone said metamorphmagi were unnatural."

"Are metamorphmagi common in the Rowle family?"

"I am not aware of any metamorphmagi in the Rowle family."

"Are there any more family records I could look through to try to find more information about Kayal Rowle?  I've already been through the records kept by The Ministry, and all the family documentation your grandniece, Weatherly, had collected."

"If there are any more records, they would be at the estate."

"I've already been to the estate.  I spoke to Weatherly in Brighton."

"Oh, no, no, not the estate in Brighton," Constance said.  "I'm talking about the estate in Dover."

Juliet hadn't been aware of another Rowle estate.  "Could I speak with someone there and get the records?"

"No one is there, dear.  The house has sat abandoned since my late husband got drunk and fired the staff in 1937.  It is in a decrepit state, I'm afraid."

Juliet took out a sheet of parchment.  "Do you mind writing down the address?"

 


 

Cassio wasn't at The Ministry, or at his flat.  Juliet left a note on his kitchen table (I've got a solid lead on the metamorphmagus.  Taking Tom's car to Dover.  Pick up all these fucking vials and robes, you're no slob.  Love, Jules) and got back in the Ford Escort she had left parked on the curb.

The drive to Dover took Juliet just over two hours, after she stopped for a sandwich and petrol.  She had been so focused on the wizarding world, and the fucked up nature of it, that the news on the radio shocked her – there had been a massacre in China.  Hundreds of protesters at Tiananmen Square had been killed by the Chinese military, who fired live rounds into the crowd.  Juliet listened to the reports until a series of audio clips from the slaughter made her turn off the radio. 

The Rowle estate sat at the end of an overgrown dirt road that wound over the surrounding meadows and hills; a three-story compound whose deteriorated stone walls revealed portions of the interior.  A tree grew through the open front doors.  The branches reached into the house and had torn apart the porte cochère.  There were several outbuildings – stables and servants quarters.  Six deteriorated rings, two of which exhibited vegetation and animal nests, stood watch over a field to the northwest – an overgrown Quidditch pitch.

Juliet stopped the car in the tall grass and gravel in front of the house.  She set the parking brake, turned the engine off, and left the keys in the ignition.  She grabbed her jacket off the seat – the wind was strong and cold for June.

Instead of going around the invasive tree, Juliet climbed into the house through a broken window.  She ignited the end of her wand and walked forward into the dark estate.  The plaster-covered walls and ceilings were stained with rings of dried rainwater; the estate had leaked for years after its human inhabitants vacated the grounds.  Tapestries, oriental rugs, books, and paintings were soaked and deteriorated beyond recognition.

Juliet walked through what had once been the formal dining room.  Plates, silverware, and candelabras sat covered in dust, like a scene from Great Expectations.  A draft came from the fireplace.  Juliet stepped over broken furniture and the skeleton of some long dead animal.

Three vials sat on a table by the fireplace, next to a wooden chair that, unlike the others around the table, was not coated in dust.  Footprints covered the floor; areas where the dirt, dust, and grime had stuck to someone's shoes and peeled off the hardwood.  Juliet picked up the vials and checked them.  Two vials of Blood-Replenishing Potion, and a third she didn't recognize.  Only a few drops of the black and gold substance were left.

Juliet extinguished the light on her wand and listened, but she didn't hear anything.  She kept her wand raised and walked through the dining room, into a sitting room.  More footprints.  When she reached the front hallway, the footprints were everywhere.  Someone had been here a lot, and recently.

Juliet walked into the front entryway.  The massive room towered over her; a wide expanse made more impressive by two overhanging floors of staircases and balconies.  Juliet looked up through the railings, and stepped on something that snapped beneath her boot.

Juliet leaned down.  And smelled blood.

"Lumos."

The dead face of Kayal Rowle stared back at her, caught between masculine and feminine forms.  Her footfalls had crushed the bones in their right wrist, which lay splayed across the floor.  The skin covering the shoulders, arms, and legs was torn open, but Kayal hadn't died from the wounds given to them by Eni Iro. 

As the splattered condition of the torso and head indicated, being pushed from the third floor balcony above is what sealed Kayal Rowle’s fate.

Chapter Text

July 1989

Dear Professor Minerva McGonagall

(Acting Headmistress at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry),

Thank you for your hospitality last month when I spent three days at your school, speaking with your students and casting my trace spell.  I have since cross-referenced the results of my trace with the list of names you provided, indicating which of your students are muggle-born.  Before I go into the details, and the discrepancies I found in your list, I wanted to thank you, again, for your cooperation, as I know you are strongly against the means and methods being used by The Ministry of Magic at this time.  As I assured you last month, myself, and the other Auror involved with the trace and the registry, are both muggle-born.  We will not share the list of names, or the spell used to cast the trace, with anyone else, including other Aurors.  The Daily Prophet gets a lot of things wrong, but it is true that we intend to destroy the registry and the trace once the muggle-born murderers are found and the safety of muggle-borns can be assured.

At this time, there shouldn't be any reason to believe that the students will be in any danger upon their return to Hogwarts in September, so long as they remain on school property.  The Ministry does, however, recommend ceasing all trips to Hogsmeade during the coming year.

While the list you provided me with is, I am sure, complete to the best of your knowledge, I encountered a few discrepancies subsequent to the casting of my trace.  Three students were incorrectly categorized.  I am sure you know that Edith Travers is a pure-blood.  It is likely that her name was added to your list by mistake.  The second student, Lucas Flint, was picked up when I set the trace.  I did some research and found out that the boy's mother is a muggle.  As my trace indicates, Atticus Flint is not the boy's biological father.  I doubt that Atticus is aware of this information.  The third student is Aaron Stone; the child who was previously investigated by The Ministry for the use of underage apparition.  While the boy was listed as muggle-born, my trace did not affix to him, therefore, he is not muggle-born and will not be included in the registry.

I understand the delicate nature of family genetics, and I am sure you do as well.  Should you choose to disclose this information to the associated students and their families, I recommend extreme discretion.

Please update your records, as necessary, and provide a list of the muggle-born First Years upon the beginning of the school year.

Sincerely,

Cassio

The Department of Magical Law Enforcement

Chapter Text

August 1989

Lightning cut through the dark sky, igniting the face of the cliff above Charlie's tent.  The storm had blown in at sundown and kept him awake past midnight.  The lightning was close this high in the mountains and strong winds forced horizontal rain to assault the shield he had cast over his camp.  It was loud.  He had pulled his tent as close to the rocks as he could without losing sight of the three dragons perched beneath a rock overhang fifty feet below him. 

Charlie walked to the edge of his ledge and looked down.  The next flash of lightning revealed the clan of Peruvian Vipertooths he had followed and documented since mid-July.  Their migratory route had taken Charlie and the rest of the research team through Peru, Brazil, Uruguay, and into Argentina. 

The smaller female shifted in her sleep and laid her head on her brother's back.  Charlie climbed back into his tent and opened the flask of fire whiskey Bennett had given him.  The only light came from the end of his wand.  He had tied it over his head with a chord when he made dinner.  Thankfully, he had been granted the temporary removal of his underage trace for the summer, after the research team that had taken him on had told The Ministry it would be impossible for him to do the job without magic.

He hadn't seen Bennett or Mia in three days, not since the clan of seven dragons they were tracking had fought and broken off from each other.  The dragons were territorial and didn't travel in groups larger than two or three for very long.  Charlie's dragons had separated from the others after his larger female had attacked, and maimed, Bennett's youngest male.  Bennett had stayed behind to help the dragon and Mia had followed the other three on her own.  They kept in contact by owl, but Charlie hadn't heard from Mia or Bennett since yesterday afternoon.  Based on the last known locations of Mia's dragons, it looked like their clans would arrive at the same nesting ground in another day or so, if the storm didn't keep them out of the skies.

Charlie took another drink from the flask.  He had set charms on his sweater and bedroll to keep off the chill, but he wouldn't mind having someone to curl up next to and drink fire whiskey with right about now.  Seeing Bennett and Mia together all summer made him want what they had; someone else to rely on, and sleep next to.  When the three of them were in camp together, Bennett and Mia had tried to remain professional, but they were twenty-six years old and had been married for two years.  They wanted each other.  Charlie gave them as much privacy as he could.

Thunder woke Charlie up two hours later.  He had fallen asleep leaning against the cliff face, pressed against the back of his tent with the empty flask in his lap.

No, not thunder.

It sounded again.  It was the roar of one of his dragons.

Charlie unzipped his tent and leaned over the edge of the cliff.  Before the next flash of lighting revealed that the dragons were gone, a torrent of fire shot across the sky, mixing with the rain and the lightning.  Another torrent followed with another roar. 

Something had pissed them the fuck off.  Had the other clan come back into the territory?

Charlie waited for lightning or flames to reveal the locations of the rest of the dragons.  Instead he saw FUCK an airship.

Mother fuckers.

Charlie reached into the tent.  He grabbed his wand, goggles, and pulled on his rain coat.  He jumped on his broom and flew up into the clouds.  The rain tore at him and he had to cast a shield charm to keep it from soaking him through and making his broom too wet to hold onto.  Charlie dove into the clouds, sealing himself in darkness.  He didn't have a choice.  There wasn't any light apart from the flashes of lightning and the lights on the airship.  He surged upward through the rain, looking for dragon fire, trying to stay out of sight of the zeppelin.

Charlie heard the loud sound of a harpoon firing.  Shite.  Fucking shite.

Charlie shot out of the clouds high above the zeppelin.  He used the light from their lanterns and searchlights to scan the sky.  He didn't hear any of his dragons scream.  The harpoon had missed its target.

I have to get them out of here.

The poachers scrambled across the deck of the airship, yelling at each other in Portuguese.

Mother fuckers have been on the dragons since Brazil, then.  How the fuck did we not see them?

Charlie looked up and saw two blurred flashes of copper fly over his head; the smaller female and her brother.  Lightning cut between them and the zeppelin, making Charlie's hair stand on end.  The instantaneous thunder rang in his ears.

The poachers had seen the dragons.  They aimed their harpoons and fired into the night.  Charlie dove to get out of the path of one.  His dragons roared and exhaled flames at the airship, but its fire shield held.

Two poachers mounted brooms modified with nets and took off from the zeppelin.  Bennett and Mia had told Charlie stories about the brooms poachers used.  The nets could be fired from the brooms like a sling-shot; capable of hitting dragons fast, and packing enough impact energy to entangle them and knock them out of the sky.

Fuck.

The poachers fired another harpoon into the air.  Charlie didn't have time to see what happened.  The poachers on the brooms tore after the smaller dragons and he chased them.  The handle of his broom shook against the pockets of air.  Charlie flew so fast that he outpaced his shield charm and caught a face full of rain.  More of it poured over his body, but he didn't have time to adjust his speed or cast a better charm. 

The poacher ahead on his left fired their net at the male.  Charlie took a hand off of his broom and raised his wand.  He yelled Confringo  through the torrent of rain.  The net exploded.  The poacher turned and chased Charlie while the other kept chasing the dragons.  Charlie shot straight up into the clouds.  He slid down the handle of his broom and stood up in the stirrups; completely vertical.  He raised his wand at the poacher.  He fired the blasting charm into the sky six, seven, eight times.  Flashes of green light came back at him.  The poacher was not messing around.

Fine.  Let's see you try this, you fuck.

Charlie plummeted out of the sky.  He twisted, got back onto the top of his broom, and shot beneath the poacher.  A roar sounded in his ear as the alpha female joined him.  She flew between him and the poacher.  The second poacher came out of the clouds with their net aimed at the dragon.  Charlie charged the poachers.  He flew between them, casting a shield charm to push them apart.  The alpha followed him, exhaling fire.  She hit one of the poachers dead on.  The poacher threw up his hands to cast what Charlie assumed would have been a fire resistant shield, but Charlie's flyby had knocked him off balance.  As he tried to cast the shield, he fell off his broom.  The other poacher raised her wand, but Charlie flew into her face and hit her with the stunning spell. 

Both poachers fell through the sky without their brooms.

Charlie dove after them, meaning to catch them, but the airship fired a harpoon into the alpha.  She screamed – a horrible sound - as it went through her torso and left shoulder.  She fell.  Charlie plummeted into the darkness after her.  He stretched out his wand

"Wingardium Leviosa!"  But, of course, like all dragons, she was spell resistant and the charm did nothing

She beat the air with her right wing, trying to regain her flight, but the harpoon paralyzed her.  She fell out of the sky and collided with the side of a mountain.  She screamed, tumbled, and rolled down the cliff face, clawing against the rocks.  Charlie screamed; helpless and losing her in the dark.

Two figures shot past Charlie.  He aimed his wand, but he recognized the brooms and the figures against the next flash of lightning.  Bennett and Mia.  And – roaring, breathing fire, and assaulting the airship – the rest of the dragons.

Bennett wore a headlamp with light amplified by magic.  It shone down the cliff face to where the alpha thrashed, in pain. 

"I'll help her," Bennett said.  "Where are the other two?"

"Still in the air, like the fucking airship," Charlie said.

"We have to take it out of the sky.  If we can take out their shield, the dragons will do the rest.  Can you break a fire shield?"

In response, Charlie surged upward toward the airship, where Mia and the rest of the dragons circled.  Mia cast shields and screamed spells, protecting the dragons.

Charlie soared over the airship and cast a revealing spell to make the fire shield visible.  He followed the shield across the gas-containing envelope.  It wasn't a custom shield, just a generic fire-resistant shield.  He could break this, but he'd have to do it from the underside.  Charlie dove beneath the balloon and soared over the main deck of the airship.  The poachers assaulted him with spells but his shield held.  Mia soared in to keep them off his back, blasting poachers into the deck of their ship.

Charlie cracked the fire shield, exposing the airship.  Three dragons opened their mouths and breathed fire over the airship.  Charlie was too close.  He screamed as the flames burned his left leg; making it useless.  He slipped off his broom, but Mia grabbed him, pulled him onto her broom, and tore away from the airship.  Charlie held onto his broom, and Mia, as the airship erupted in flames.

Chapter Text

August 1989

Aaron stood three stories in the air, balancing on the wood framing with his right arm wrapped around a diagonal brace for support.  He beat the rusted nail plate above his head with a hammer until it came free.  The framing supporting the grandstands surrounding the Hogwarts Quidditch pitch was deteriorated; rotted, stained, and full of termites.  Most of the corroded nails and plates had disintegrated centuries ago, leaving the framing floating in-place; suspended with spells and charms, and no longer physically attached.  If Aaron had to guess, less than thirty percent of the grandstand he stood inside of was held up by the laws of physics.  Once he had seen the shite conditions, the thought of all the times he had ran up the grandstand stairs to watch Charlie's matches unnerved him.  It was a wonder nothing had collapsed yet.

Replacing and securing all of the deteriorated framing had taken Aaron and Filch the better part of the summer.  Most of his classmates didn't think about how much work went into the upkeep of Hogwarts.  It wasn't all house elves, charms, and spells.  There was a lot of maintenance that took actual, physical labor. 

WHOMP

What was that? 

WHOMP

It sounded like someone had been hit with a bludger.  Aaron made sure the framing was stable and pulled himself through space.  He appeared at the top of the grandstand, in the row between the bleachers.

Someone had been hit with a bludger, but it hadn't slowed them down.  They cut across the sky, dodging through the continuing assault.  Aaron walked to the railing and leaned down, watching the figure on the broom.  It was Charlie.

Fuck, he's fast.

Charlie flew past the grandstands and soared straight up into the air.  He dodged a bludger and grabbed a snitch.  He saw Aaron as he passed the north grandstand and waved.  Once he sent the bludgers back to their restraints, he circled back and landed in the grandstand where Aaron stood.

Charlie pulled off his goggles.  His freckled face broke out in a contagious smile.  "I looked for you all over the castle!  Damn, it's good to see you."

"You too," Aaron said, smiling.  "What are you doing at Hogwarts so early?"

Charlie leaned his broom against one of the bleachers.  "Bill dropped me off this morning.  We took Dad's car up from The Burrow.  Bill and I didn't see each other all summer, so we decided to make a road trip out of it, since I wanted to get in some practice before the season starts and he has to report to Gringotts tomorrow."

Charlie looked taller, and stronger.  All the time in the sun and the wind had exacerbated his freckles, making him look tan.  But he couldn't hide his limp.

"What happened to your leg?"

Charlie shrugged.  "Some dragons got me good two weeks ago, right after we made it into Argentina.  It was my fault.  I was in their way."

"You didn’t mention that in your last letter," Aaron said. 

"I didn't think much of it," Charlie said.  "The healer in Buenos Aires said I'll make a full recovery.  What are you doing out here?"

"Re-building the grandstands with Filch," Aaron said.  “It’s . . . been a long summer.”

"Do you have to work all afternoon, or can you take a break and practice with me?  There are some spare brooms in the equipment shed at the south end of the pitch."

"I don't know," Aaron said.

"Come on, I need the company.  I'm out of practice, and I'm supposed to be the damn captain this year.  I can teach you to play beater and go after me with the bludgers."

"I've still never flown on a broom, Charlie."

"What?  After all this time?  Never?"

Aaron shook his head.

"How is that possible?"

"I just . . . never tried again after our first year."

"Well, fuck, Aaron.  I'm going to correct this awful situation."  He grabbed his broom.

"I've gotten along fine without-"

"You're missing out, mate.  Flying is the best thing in the world."

Aaron doubted he would feel that way.  All he felt was nervous.

"We'll start easy," Charlie said.  "Hold your hand out and get it to meet you in the air, just like Hooch used to teach us in class.  That way, you can jump right on."

Aaron stretched his hand over the broom.  The grandstand suddenly seemed too high.  Standing on the wood framing had been fine, but he didn't know if he could ride a broom right over the edge of the fucking-

Charlie touched his hand.  Aaron was assaulted with mountains, rivers, fields, and dragons soaring through the air above his head, with South America and everything that had been Charlie's summer.  He pulled away from Charlie and shut his eyes, unprepared for the onslaught of layers.

"Shite," Charlie said.  "That's right.  I'm sorry, Aaron.  I'm a fucking idiot."

Aaron opened his eyes and pushed back against the superimposed locations.  He made himself focus, and saw the bright colors of the sky and terrain.  He felt warm sun and wind on his arms.  He wanted to see more of it, but the distance of the locations pounded against his body and burned through his energy.  It was too far, and too strong, to pretend he had any type of control over these places.  His head pounded and he choked back bile.  Aaron pulled his ring on before one of the layers pulled him into South America and killed him.

"Aaron?  I shouldn't have touched you.  I wasn't thinking."

Aaron wiped his mouth.

Do not fucking throw up in front of Charlie.

"It's fine," Aaron said, leaning against one of the bleachers.  Get it under control.  "Really.  Apart from the head rush.  I saw all the places you described in your letters; the mountains and the dragons."

"You saw the dragons?  Are they alright?"

Aaron laughed.  Of course.  "They're fine, Charlie.  Here, let me try this again."

He held his hand back out.

"Not quite," Charlie said.  "Is it alright if I-"

"Yeah, it's fine," Aaron said.  He held up his hand with the ring.  "I've got it under control now."

Charlie took Aaron's hand and re-positioned it.  "More like this; like you're trying to catch it, not bat it out of the air.  Got it?"

Aaron nodded, nauseous all over again from the distance of South America, the thought of getting on the broom and diving off the edge of the grandstand, and Charlie Weasley's cut and calloused hand on his.

Charlie watched his face and smiled.  "I won't kill you.  I promise."

Aaron was relieved to hear Hagrid coming up the stairs.  "Here you are.  And . . . Charlie!"

Hagrid swept Charlie into his arms and smothered him in a long embrace.  Aaron winced, watching Hagrid's heavy footfalls and feeling the grandstand shake.

"Good to see you, too, Hagrid," Charlie said.

"How was South America?  How were the dragons?  You've gotta tell me all about it."

"I'll come by tonight and tell you everything," Charlie said.  "I've got pictures, too."

"I've got a keg of summer ale from Aleus we can share."

"I'd like that," Charlie said.

Hagrid looked at Aaron.  "Anyway, I came up here to find you.  Professor McGonagall wants to see you."

Aaron tried to remember what he had forgotten to do.

Oh, shite.  "Did I fail my O.W.L.s?"

Moody would kill him.  He had no idea how the exams had gone.  He thought he had done well enough, but he had fucked up the transfiguration practical.  He had gone back over the exams in his head all summer, until the stress of doing so made him stop.

"No, no," Hagrid said.  "You'll get your grades directly from The Ministry.  But it did seem like it might be important."

Charlie said, "Come back after, yeah?  I can have you flying by the end of the day."

Aaron pulled off his ring.

Hagrid took a step and the wood board beneath his foot snapped.  His leg went through the floor, but he pulled it out fast, leaving a hole over the expanse of the stories below.  "Merlin's saggy left tit.  What is even holding these damn things together?"

"Magic and luck," Aaron said.  He summoned the hallway outside McGonagall's office and jumped through space.

Chapter Text

October 1989

Thick layers of dust covered the bookshelves in the Cleaning Spells and Charms section of the Hogwarts library.  The last time anyone had touched the books was in 1923, when Richard Shacklebolt spilled a bottle of self-writing ink all over his robes at breakfast.  He had planned on using the ink to cheat on his end of term exams, instead, after none of the cleaning spells or charms worked, one of his professors recognized the tint of the ink and dragged him into Phineas Nigellus Black's office.  The headmaster expelled Richard on the spot.

Two sets of eyes peered over Ten Charms for Degreasing Your Cauldron, Floor Cleaning Made Easy, and Mildew Removal for Witches and Wizards, which was somehow on its sixty-third printing.  Fred and George Weasley sat on the floor with their legs crossed, watching Madam Pince scold two Fifth Year students who had been snogging in the Herbology section.

"Well, there's the distraction we needed," Fred said.

George took a handful of dung bombs out of his satchel.  "How many should we use?"

"Eight, at least," Fred said.  "I don't want anyone going near the library until after Christmas."

"I agree," George said, passing Fred half of the dung bombs.  "If we hit the books hard now, the professors will have to stop assigning reports that are twelve sheets of parchment long.  There won't be any other way for us to do research."

"Really, they brought this on themselves," Fred said.  "If we don't do something now, they'll think they can always load us up with work like this."

George winced and covered his ears.  "She's so shrill.”

"She's all about being quiet until she goes after one of us," Fred said, eyeing Madam Pince over the books. 

"She's had this coming, too."

"Right," Fred said.  "Let's do this before she finishes with them."

Fred and George walked down the aisle, leaving a trail of dung bombs on the shelves behind them.  They walked past a table where a group of Seventh Years sat, then spotted Percy reading alone in a corner.

Fred walked up to him.  "I'd get out of here if I were you."

Percy ignored him.

Fred and George walked out of the library, then leaned back around the doorway.  They raised their wands and recited a charm.  The dung bombs detonated; eight miniature explosions released clouds of foul-smelling smoke into the air.  The smoke poured out of the aisles and permeated the books.

The twins should have run.  Instead, they erupted in laughter.

Students ran from the library, coughing and yelling, covering their noses and mouths.  Madam Pince covered her nose and screamed for someone to help her contain the spreading fumes and save her books.  Percy staggered, lost in the smoke and looking entirely perplexed.

Fred and George only laughed more.  Seeing Percy disoriented and Pince screaming – it was better than they ever could have hoped.  They leaned on each other to keep from falling over, gasping in air between loud chuckles.

Filch grabbed them.  "You stupid little twits."

Fred feigned surprise.  "What?"

"You did this."

"No, no," George said.  "We were just standing here, honest."

Filch dragged them down the hallway.  "I'm going to tan your hides."

"You've got it all wrong," Fred said.  "We're Weasleys, don't you know?  Of prefect, Quidditch captain, and Head Boy fame?"

George said, "Do you really think we would do something like this?"

"Hush, both of you," Filch said.

He pulled them into his office, threw them onto a bench, and slammed the door.

George said, "Shouldn't you be saving the books or something?"

"I've heard dung bomb odor is almost impossible to remove from parchment," Fred added.

"It was you!  The two of you have been nothing but trouble since you got off the damn train.  I am sick and tired of making sure that you-"

While Filch ranted, Fred elbowed George.

"What?"

"Look," Fred whispered, "at that drawer."

"-I have much better things to do with my time.  Two First Years shouldn't be able to give me so many headaches, and it is only the fifth week of term.  I am going to take you right to Professor McGonagall's office as soon as she gets back from-"

The drawer Fred directed George's attention to was labeled Confiscated and Highly Dangerous.

George smiled.  "I knew there was a reason I kept you around.  Should we?"

"It would be a crime not to."

"-every time I turn my back, you've gone and done something even more moronic than the last time.  Why couldn't you be more like the rest of your family?  I've never had to watch Percy, Charlie, or even Bill this closely to make sure the school doesn't burn down-"

George took out another dung bomb and tossed it on the floor.  The cloud of ensuing smoke surrounded Filch.  The drawer wasn't even locked.  Fred pulled it open.  There was nothing inside, except for a folded sheet of parchment.  Fred took it anyway.

By the time Professor McGonagall and Filch let them go to bed, dinner was over, their robes reeked of dung, and they had a month of detention to look forward to.

George asked, "What was in the drawer?"

"Just some parchment."  Fred handed it to George.

"You've got to be kidding me.  There's not even anything written on this.  We really messed up today."

"Next time we'll do better," Fred said.  "We should have found out where Filch was first."

"It's no use," George said, turning the parchment over.  "I swear he follows us."

"Filch is a dolt," Fred said.  "He always assumes we're up to no good."

The map flickered.  George thought he saw No, couldn't be footprints.

"Say that again."

"Filch is a dolt."

"No, the other part."

"We're up to no good?"

The map flickered again.  Those are footprints!

"Fred, I don't think this is just some parchment."

Chapter Text

November 1981

The cottage was located off a seldom-used road leading out of Godric's Hollow – separated from the rest of the town.  At first glance, it looked like every other old English country house, with cobblestone walls, wood window frames, and hedges bordering the road.  Most people had always driven, or walked, by without giving it a second thought.

Until two days ago.  Now, no one from Godric's Hollow went near it.

The cottage's second floor smoldered and shifted.  A partially unsupported roof joist collapsed into the nursery and sent up a cloud of debris.  Alice Longbottom could see the crib from the road, before she stepped through the front gate.

How did the child survive this?

Two hours after James and Lily were killed, Alice, Frank, Alastor Moody, and Albus Dumbledore arrived at the cottage, after reports of an explosion in Godric's Hollow reached The Ministry and The Order of the Phoenix.  Alice ran into the house; she heard an infant.  Frank, Alastor, and Dumbledore came up the stairs after her.  They found Harry in his crib – cold and hungry.  His face was swollen and red from screaming.

It had taken them more than an hour to pull James and Lily's bodies out of the rubble – they had been crushed by falling debris after their house exploded.  Moody said a killing curse had backfired, and Alice and Frank agreed with him.  It was the only thing that could have resulted in this kind of damage; an explosion that had poisoned the structure and made it resistant to any type of magic.  They had to use their own strength, and muscle augmentation charms, to lift crumbled stones and collapsed beams off the corpses of Harry's parents.  

Now, James and Lily had been buried in the graveyard in town, and Harry had been left in the care of his muggle aunt and uncle.  All that was left was to figure out how Voldemort had found the Potter's cottage.  The dwelling had been protected by a Fidelius Charm, a powerful spell that should have rendered it invisible, intangible, and unplottable.  And, there was another matter to solve.  If Voldemort's killing curse had backfired on him when he went to kill Harry – where the hell was his body?

Alice walked through the front gate.  The air beside her CRACK compressed and expanded as Frank appeared.

"Is he alright?"

"He's fine," Frank said.  "I just put him down and left my mother with his extra blanket."

The thought of her mother-in-law watching her child all night made Alice uneasy for no particular reason.  The woman did fine with Neville.  Alice just wanted to be there instead.  Frank was right.  They should have retired when Neville was born.  If Voldemort was really dead, and they finished rounding up the Death Eaters, then maybe retirement was still an option.

Alice and Frank walked into the house.  The temperature dropped from the poison of the dark magic that had infected its walls.

Alice's breath fogged in the air.  She took out her wand and ignited the end.

If Voldemort's body was anywhere near the cottage, they would find it.

"Do you think he could have apparaited out of the way of the backfiring curse?  He's powerful enough, with all his dark magic."

"Doubtful," Frank said.  "But we should check to make sure he didn't set a mirror portal or something that would have pulled him out of here when everything went wrong."

Alice raised her wand.  The Archimedes Field spread over the interior of the cottage and shimmered against the walls and ceilings.  Alice followed it up the stairs.  She didn't see any distortions or anything to indicate-

"Avada Kedavra!"

Alice dove on the floor as green flames poured over her head. 

Bellatrix Lestrange screamed and lunged at her.  Alice raised her wand and thought Confringo!

The blasting curse missed Bellatrix and the wall behind her exploded.  Alice heard Frank run up the stairs as someone grabbed her from behind . . . and pulled her into the woods.  Alice hit her assailant with a concussive force that knocked him into a tree.  She recognized the Death Eater on sight - Rodolphus Lestrange.  Alice hit him with another wave of force and ran into the woods.  The air split and Rodolphus appeared in front of her.  Alice's next spell singed the air and collided with the spell cast by Rodolphus.  The electric waves cracked against each other. 

A third spell broke them apart, and sent Alice flying back into a tree.  The air was forced out of her lungs and she doubled over on the ground.

The third spell had been cast by Barty Crouch Jr., a skinny kid who became obsessed with Voldemort's rise to power while he was still a student at Hogwarts.  His next spell tore Alice's wand out of her hand.

Alice charged Crouch, but Rodolphus raised his wand.  He pulled her into his grasp, grabbed her neck, and threw her on the ground.  He stomped on her legs until the bones in her knee caps fractured.  Alice screamed.  Rodolphus wrapped his fingers around her neck and dissipated.  They appeared in an empty warehouse.  Rodolphus dragged her across the floor and lashed her to a column with a waiting iron chain.  Alice screamed from the pain.

Rodolphus leaned over her; his dark hair fell over the scars on his forehead.  "I knew you'd come back."

Alice spit in his face.

The air split.  Bellatrix and Crouch appeared.

Bellatrix danced around Alice.  "You were trying to find our master, weren't you?  You were looking for his body, but there is no body.  Our master is not dead!"

Rodolphus said, "Where's Rabastan, Bella?"

"Chasing the other Auror," she said.

No.  No.

Alice strained against the links of chain that cut into her skin.

Rodolphus said, "I know you're in pain, so let's make this easy.  Where is the headquarters of The Order of the Phoenix?"

Alice didn't say anything.

"We don't have time for this," Bellatrix said.  She raised her wand.  "Crucio!"

It wasn't the first time Alice had writhed under the Cruciatus Curse.  She shut her eyes and focused on the column behind her head, on the thought of Frank, of Neville, of anything except the pain surging through her body.  Her legs pounded against the concrete floor.  She couldn't keep herself from biting through her bottom lip.

Bellatrix stopped the curse, laughing and dancing around Alice.

"Where is it, Alice?"

Blood ran down Alice's chin.

"Crucio!"

Alice screamed.

Her body thrashed against the column.  Rabastan appeared with Frank.  Alice saw her husband through the tears in her eyes.  His body was limp.

NO.  NO.

She waited for Bellatrix to stop the curse.

Two hours later, when her body still thrashed against the chain, Alice realized they weren't going to stop.

Playing by the stream.  The Quidditch match against Gryffindor.

Come on.  You have to remember the rest.

Meeting Frank.  Sleeping next to Frank beneath the stars.

There were two more keys.  Her skin burned as her nerves were flayed alive.

Someone . . . was . . .

WHEN NEVILLE WAS BORN.

But, she couldn't remember where she had been yesterday, or where she had been before the warehouse.

Three hours later, she no longer recognized the screams she heard as her own.

Just before sunrise, Alice looked across the warehouse and saw Frank, screaming.  It was the last time she would recognize him as Frank, as her husband.  She had forgotten her son hours ago.

The only faces Alice Longbottom would ever recognize again were those of the Death Eaters who had torn her mind apart – for she would see them in her waking nightmares.

Chapter Text

November 1989

There were seventy-eight cans of molasses, nine-thousand pounds of beans, and eight-hundred and fifty pounds of sugar left in the pantry.  Aaron knew.  He had counted all of it and updated the inventory list Lara had left on his work station.  He stared at the next group of shelves, filled with sacks of flour, cornmeal, and lentils.  There wasn't a spell for counting an amount of something, or for weighing raw goods. 

Someone really fucking needs to come up with one.

By the time he finished, there wouldn't be anything left to do except go to sleep.  It was already after ten.  He had to meet Juliet at St. Mungo's in nine hours.

It had been a long day.  Aaron had spent the morning – before the sun came up and before classes started – at Moody's flat, sitting on the floor surrounded by photographs, maps, and documents from the muggle-born murder scenes that he had pulled off Moody's kitchen wall.  He wanted to see if he recognized any of the locations in his layers.  With a mixtape of Minor Threat, Black Flag, and The Exploited blasting in his ears, Aaron shifted between Moody's living room and as many layers as he could hold onto at one time, sifting through the locations while he choked back saliva, bile, and vertigo.  He pulled himself into the illusions, watched the wood floor disappear, and existed in the unstable in-between – pulling himself through ten to fifteen coinciding places at a time, until exhaustion made him lose control and convinced him to take a break.

Even with the break, he still fell asleep in two of his afternoon classes.

Going through the layers at this point in his exploration of the wizarding world beyond Hogwarts was a longshot, he knew.  The fucking truth of the problem was that he still hadn't touched enough people, or, at least, he hadn't touched the right people, even after following Moody and Juliet around the United Kingdom for almost seven months.  Aaron had shouldered through crowds in Diagon Alley, at professional Quidditch matches, and inside the Underground, and he had shaken the hands of people who worked at Gringott's, The Ministry of Magic, and The Daily Prophet.  The only crime scenes in the layers were still just the ones he had pulled off of Moody and Juliet.  The places he was looking for – locations from the murders that had taken place outside of the wizarding world between 1985 and 1987; the ones the muggle police had beaten Juliet to and that weren't places she or Moody had been to – weren't in his layers.

Juliet appeared in Moody's apartment right before Aaron left for Hogwarts.  Juliet told Moody and Aaron that a woman who worked for The Ministry had brain damage from a memory charm, and she was ranting incoherently about Death Eaters.  Juliet hadn't been able to get anything useful from the woman's mind with her excavation method, but she wanted to see if Aaron could pull any locations off of her.  Aaron had never tried to pull locations off of someone with brain damage.  He wasn't sure what would happen when the person didn't remember where the fuck they had been.

Tomorrow morning, he would find out.

Aaron was halfway through the sacks of flour – keeping track on spare parchment as his tired mind faded – when Lara walked into the pantry and yelled up to him.  "I'm back from Hogsmeade.  I found that book you wanted."

Aaron leaned over the railing.  "Thanks.  I'll pay you back."

"Don't worry about it.  They had a used copy on the shelf.  It didn't cost me much.  How's it going in here?"

"We're finally going to burn through our supply of those weird radishes in another few weeks.  Also . . . we don't need to order any more baking soda.  Possibly ever again."

Lara laughed.  "Right, well, it's late.  I'm going home.  You should call it a night, too, or at least come down here and help Eni with whatever the hell she is making."

Aaron finished counting the flour, added the total to the list, and climbed down the platforms.

Eni set large mixing bowls and ingredients on the table near the ovens.

"Can't sleep again?"

"Something like that," Eni said.  "Here."  She handed him a clean apron.  Aaron washed his hands and joined her at the table.

"I've already made the tangzhong – the starter for the dough.  I can write up the steps for making it so you can make it yourself next time."

Eni handed him a bowl filled with a thick substance.  "That's the tangzhong – water, milk, and flour.  I'll write down the ratios for you, too.  I'm not used to measuring any of this out."

Aaron looked at the bottle of honey to his left.  "Are you teaching me your family's milk bread recipe?"

"Yes."

"Eni that's . . . I feel honored."

"As you should."  She pointed to the ingredients on the table.  "You're going to combine all of this – flour, milk, sugar, salt, yeast, eggs, and butter – with the tangzhong to make the dough.  I've already portioned it all out.  Then I can help you knead."

Aaron added the ingredients to the bowl, scraped in the tangzhong, and started mixing.  Once the dough was ready, they broke it apart and rolled it into balls.

"It's supposed to set for over an hour but," Eni waved her hand and recited a charm, "if you use this rising charm, it's instant."

The dough balls expanded and filled with air.  Eni stuck her fist into the center of the first ball.  "Now, we deflate them, re-shape them, and go through another round of rising and re-shaping."

Aaron followed Eni's lead.

"Right, then, excellent.  Here, cover the top with this egg wash before we bake them."

Aaron did.  Then, they loaded six trays of milk bread dough into the oven.  Aaron felt like they had made more than they would ever eat themselves.

"They'll need to bake for twenty-five minutes, at least."

Aaron loaded their dishes into the sink.  Eni helped him.

"That meant a lot - you teaching me your recipe.  You know I’ve never had anything like that; something passed down."

"That's exactly what I wanted to give you," Eni said. 

Aaron picked up the book Lara had gotten him – The Hound of the Baskervilles.  He grabbed a quill and ink from his work station and handed it all to Eni.  "Can you write it down in here somewhere?  I save things in my books, so I don't lose them."

Eni opened the book and leaned over a page near the front.  "That's a good idea."

Aaron shrugged.  "It was always easy to grab the books whenever I left places suddenly."

"You still do that, you know."

Eni wrote Milk Bread with Honey, and underlined it.  She added a paragraph about her mother baking, holidays when they used to eat baked goods together, and silly details she knew Aaron would appreciate later.  Beneath it, she listed the ingredients, amounts, and steps.  She blew on the ink and handed the book back to Aaron.

They washed the dishes and cleaned the kitchen while the milk bread finished baking.  It was after midnight when they pulled the rolls out of the oven.

Eni handed Aaron honey and showed him how much to dibble over the tops.  After they cooled, she took one and broke it in half.  "Here, try your creation."

Aaron did.  The flaky layers – sweet from the honey and savory from the butter – fell apart in his mouth.  He licked his fingers, thinking he would always remember what this felt like - being in the kitchen with Eni, having the run of the pantry, giving each other shite, and eating together.  But, in three years, Aaron would struggle to remember why milk bread with honey was one of his memory keys.  The flavors and ingredients, and the way Eni's neat, compact handwriting looked on the pages of his book, would be gone.

Eni placed the rolls in baskets.  "Grab a few bottles of bourbon, would you?"

"What are you doing with all of this?"

"Come with me and find out."

Aaron grabbed four bottles of bourbon and followed Eni out of the kitchen.

Eni turned down a hallway and took the stairs up three floors, then she turned down another hallway.  She walked toward what Aaron swore to God had always been a blank wall, and opened a door in-between two portraits.

Music – good, fucking muggle music – and loud voices spilled out of the room.  They walked down a concrete hallway lined with graffiti and walked into what the fuck a basement party.  There were high windows, old couches, band posters covering the walls, a jukebox, and almost everyone from his fucking year - standing in groups, talking loud over the music, and laughing with each other.  He saw Tonks, Donaghan, and Maddison.  Lara, her husband Adam, and Lee stood with Aleus, who waved at Aaron from behind barrels of ale.  Hagrid walked toward him, but Fang reached him first and licked his hand.

Eni left the baskets of milk bread on a table and turned back to Aaron, unable to hide her smile anymore and waiting for him to fucking say something already.

"Eni . . . what is this?"

Eni stood on her tip toes and kissed his chin.  "Happy fucking birthday, dipshit."

 


 

Aaron lost track of how much he had to drink, not because he was drunk, but because people kept handing him ale and bourbon, and he only drank about a quarter of each one, leaving a trail of discarded glassware around the Room of Requirement.  Every time he raised a glass, he saw the ring, and thought about the summer of 1987.  He still didn't know if the summer punch had made his body so aggressively rip through space, but he knew he didn't need any kind of amplifications tonight.  The night, in itself, was more than enough – a blur of faces, shite talking, and music.  He laughed with Eni and Lee; told Tonks he actually had not fucked up the Transfiguration O.W.L. exam as much as he had thought; and talked music with Donaghan.  Hagrid was drunk and kept slapping him on the back.  Fang jumped on the couches and licked peoples' faces. 

This was, no shite, the happiest night of his life.

Aaron leaned against a wall and watched his friends.  As much as he tried not to think about it, he couldn't get Moody's photographs out of his head.  He looked for Eni and found her on a couch with Lee, with her legs in her girlfriend's lap, waving her arms through the air as she told Lee a story.  He had almost lost her – when the fucking metamorphmagus had found her in the club in London.  He should have gone to the protest, he could have done something.  Maybe she wouldn't have had to face the killer alone. 

We have to stop the killings.

The song changed and Lee pulled Eni into the middle of the room, where they danced together.  Aaron felt sudden detachment as he watched them.  He had felt the sensation on and off since the end of August, when Professor McGonagall told him there had been a mistake.  He wasn't muggle-born.  He had to ask her to repeat herself.  What she said left him adrift and disconnected from everything he thought he understood, his whole damn place in the wizarding world.  He never realized how much of an identity it had become for him, how close he had gotten to Eni because they were muggle-borns trying to figure out the fucking wizarding world together.  Now, what, he was supposed to just forget about all of that?

Does any of that shite matter anyway? 

Whoever his family had been, magical or muggle, they still had never wanted him. 

So, what am I now?  Am I supposed to pretend I know anything different from being muggle-born in this world?  From being the kid who is still kind of fucking shite at magic?  Muggle-raised?  Wizard-born? 

Am I just somewhere in-between?

He hadn't told anyone what McGonagall had told him.  He needed to figure out what the hell it meant for him first.

Charlie leaned against the wall next to him.  "Some party, yeah?"

Aaron took a long drink, a breath, and upended the rest of his glass.  Anything to kill the nervous feeling of not knowing what the fuck he was feeling for Charlie, and worse, having no idea what to do about it.

Aaron said, "I'm still kind of in shock."

"It was all Eni.  She planned the whole damn thing, found out about this room, and got people to bring stuff in from Hogsmeade.  She made invitations and passed them to us in classes when you weren't looking.  You almost caught me telling Hagrid about tonight when you walked by us in the courtyard two days ago.  I thought for sure you were onto us."

Aaron shook his head.  "I never suspected a thing."

Charlie reached into his coat and handed Aaron a wrapped gift.  "Here.  It's from all of us – Bill, Mum, Dad, and me."

Aaron took off the wrapping paper.  There was an envelope with his name on it in Molly's handwriting.  He tucked it into his pocket to read later, and unwrapped the gift.

"It's not fancy, really.  You know where I come from.  But it's well made.  And, getting a watch on your seventeenth birthday is something of a tradition in our world."

Aaron put the leather band around his wrist and watched the sweeping second hand.  It wasn't fancy; it was a simple watch, but it made his breath catch in his throat.  Eni's recipe, the party, drinking with everyone, laughing, and a watch from the family that had always made sure he had what he needed.

Fuck your blood family.  These are the people that care about you, you dumb fuck.

"Charlie," Aaron said.  "It’s perfect."

 


 

Aaron didn't feel tired again until almost three in the morning, when the bottles of bourbon were gone and Aleus and Hagrid took the empty barrels back to Hogsmeade.  Eni had left with Lee almost an hour ago, laughing, excited, and slurring her words.  She told him to enjoy the jukebox.  Apparently, the room had provided it?  Anyway, it would disappear whenever they all left.

Aaron looked through the music.  Maddison walked up to him and handed him a glass.

"I feel like you should have the last pint, seeing as it's your birthday and all."

The frayed edges of her denim shorts were in sharp contrast to her dark skin.  Aaron was a little shocked when his first reaction was a desire to slide his hand beneath the fabric.

He took another long drink.

"I can't remember the last time we talked, can you?"

"It's been awhile," Aaron said.

"It's my fault.  I fell in more with Rhodus and my housemates.  They are not that bad, for all the shite we used to talk behind their backs.  I never meant to abandon the rest of you lot; I just wanted a change."

Maddison took the glass from his hand, took a drink, and handed it back to him.  She stood closer.  He would be lying to himself if he said he didn't like it.  She took his hands and placed them on her hips, leaned into his neck, and whispered in his ear.

"Want to celebrate the end of your underage trace?"

"I thought you spent the summer with Rhodus."

Maddison shook her head.  "We're over.  That's all over.  His mum made sure of that, once she found out I'm muggle-born."

"His mum sounds like a right twat."

Maddison laughed.  "She is.  I'd rather like to forget about all of that though."

She kissed Aaron.  Her tongue slid between his lips and prodded against the inside of his mouth.

"Take us somewhere," Maddison said.  "I know you can."

She tilted his head back and kissed his neck.  She had a lot more experience with this kind of thing than he did, and Aaron just hoped he didn't fuck it up.

He stepped back from her and took the ring off his finger.  "Where do you want to go?"

"You'll have to pick, since you're the one doing the appariting."

"Not exactly."

Aaron kissed Maddison.  His vision cascaded into a rush of her most memorable locations.  A flower shop.  Her dormitory.  A garage with four sports cars and a dust-covered bicycle.  He sucked on her bottom lip and forced himself not to pull her through the layers as his body shifted through them in microsecond bursts.  An elevator surrounded by a gate.  A massive room filled with decapitated dragon heads mounted on a wall what the fuck.  A dark Ferris wheel.  Maddison pushed him back onto a couch.  She crawled on top of him, took his hand, and slid it beneath her shirt.  Aaron’s shifting body shook against her.  A concrete room filled with conduit and transformers.  The brick wall covered with barbed wire.  A dark courtyard with lawns and glass statues.  Maddison grabbed his left arm and traced her fingers over his scar.  She tried to pull his shirt over his head.  

"Hold on," Aaron said.  "Grab my arm again."

Aaron pulled them both into the courtyard.

Maddison gasped from the jump.  She took a few steps and looked up at a statue of cut pieces of colored glass.  "How did you apparate us here?"

"Where is here?" 

"It's . . . an art museum in London.  You probably don't want to hear this, but Rhodus took me here once, when his mum had a charity event."

She was right, he didn't want to hear it.  He pulled Maddison onto the lawn across the courtyard, where it was dark and further away from the building.  Maddison pushed him back on the grass and pulled his shirt over his head.  Aaron ran his hands over the curves of her body.

It would take Aaron a few weeks to realize he had seen the statue before; a strange formation of glass and metal.  Because, the last time he saw it, the statue hadn't been in the courtyard.

Chapter Text

November 1989

He stood in the dark, surrounded by discarded furniture and stagnant air.  The attic hadn't changed since his FUCKING PUPPET MASTER father had brought him home from Azkaban in 1982; emaciated, unable to stand on his own, and rendered near catatonic by the dementors who had spent months feeding on him.  The chains his old man had attached to his shackles still hung from the rafters, rusted and covered with dust.  Blood stained the floor boards beneath them.  The attic was where his father had broken him.

It had taken months for him to realize he was home; for the shock to lift enough for him to comprehend that the man spooning food into his mouth, cleaning him, and giving him water, was his father.  When he did, he sobbed and shook.  He threw his arms around his father and YOU FUCKING IDIOT YOU FUCKING WEAK IDIOT thanked YOU FUCKING THANKED him.

His father had not saved him.  As soon as his son was strong enough – when he was eating on his own and speaking in full sentences – Barty Crouch Senior paralyzed the boy from the waist down.  He took a knife and tried to carve the Dark Mark out of his arm.  The boy screamed.  The mark could not be removed. 

Barty Crouch Senior held his wand to his son's throat.  The spells he used in his attempts to alter his son's mind, to remove his obsession with serving the Dark Lord, left the boy screaming, shaking, and damaged far beyond what the dementors had ever done to him.  However, even when his body collapsed and his mind lost its hold on reality, his son's devotion did not falter.  Every time his father lowered his wand, Crouch spat back at him – he would never KILL ME FIRST I TOLD HIM HE'D HAVE TO FUCKING KILL ME FIRST forsake Voldemort.

Crouch spent two years in the attic before his father damaged and distorted his mind enough to use the Imperius Curse.  If he could turn his head and look down, he would see the scars his father had left on his wrists and arms.

He couldn't CAN'T EVEN TWITCH MY FUCKING INDEX FINGER move.  But maybe SHE SAW ME THE FUCKING OLD BITCH SAW ME he didn't have to.

His lips moved as the puppet master spoke for him, "Shut up."

NO NO NO NO NO

YOU CAN'T SHUT ME UP.  SHE SAW ME.  YOU KNOW SHE FUCKING SAW ME.

His voice said, "SHUT UP."

THAT'S WHY YOU HAD TO USE THE MEMORY CHARM.  SHE FUCKING SAW ME, YOU FUCK.  I HOPE YOU FUCKED IT UP.  I HOPE YOU MISSED SOMETHING.  I HOPE SHE COMES BACK HERE WITH ALL THE DAMN AURORS AND KILLS ME.

"If you don't shut up," his own voice said, in the rise and fall of his puppet master's strings, "I will kill you myself."

DO IT YOU-

The darkness collapsed around his consciousness as his father determined that damaging him was necessary today.

 


 

Aaron appeared in the hallway outside his old room at St. Mungo's hospital, and ran his fingers over the numbers four, zero, and eight.  Nothing had changed.  The building still smelled like dried vomit, dead flowers, and cleaning charms that did nothing to get rid of the other two.  He stopped in front of a painting he used to sit beneath when he was a patient, on the floor with a book and his back pressed against the wall.  It was one of the places he had gone to get out of his room and away from the visiting rooms and lobbies.  Whenever he had sat in the hallways, the healers left him alone, patients walked past him, and visitors ignored him.

He walked to the lobby by the elevator.  Juliet stood with her arms crossed over her chest, leaning against the windows.  A man stood next to her.

Juliet saw him.  "You look tired."

"I'm fine," Aaron said.  After he had jumped Maddison back to Hogwarts with him, he had showered and managed to get a few hours of sleep.  He still needed more.

"This is my brother, Cassio.  He's the one who developed the muggle-born trace."

"Juliet told me you're like us," Cassio said.  "She said you can pull locations off of people just by touching them.  If that's true, and if you can still apparate as frequently as you did in the summer of 1987, it's invaluable."

"It only seems to be worth anything when I manage to touch the right people," Aaron said.

"It's not any different from what we can do, in that way," Cassio said.  "If you'd let me sometime, I'd really like to see what you are capable of.  I know you've been working with Moody, but I think there's a lot more . . . potential for your abilities."

Juliet elbowed Cassio.  "Right, play mad scientist later, Cass.  Let's find out if Aaron can get anything off Bertha Jorkins.  They moved her into one of the visiting rooms inside the long-term residents ward."

Aaron and Cassio followed Juliet to the Janus Thickey Ward.  A healer at the front desk recognized Juliet, opened the gate securing the wing, and let them inside.

They found Bertha Jorkins in a visiting room, sitting by a window with a healer.

Juliet stepped between the woman and Aaron.  "When I was in her head, it was . . . distorted.  I almost lost my own fucking mind trying to get anything out of hers.  There's a lot missing, and more that is warped and bent from whatever it used to be.  I don't know how what you do works, but get the hell away from her and protect yourself if anything feels wrong, alright?  I don't need you losing your mind."

Aaron nodded.

Juliet walked up to Bertha.  "Mrs. Jorkins?  Do you remember me?  I was here yesterday."

The woman grabbed Juliet.  "He's here."

"Who's here Mrs. Jorkins?"

"My father.  He will-"

But her face went blank.  She tried to stand up.  Aaron took her hand.

Nothing happened.  He helped her stand and let her guide him through the room, past patients in various stages of brain damage. 

A stone fireplace appeared over the tables, chairs, and patients.  He would have missed it if he blinked.  It happened again.  A fireplace.  In fragments.  A disembodied mantel.  Stones.  A hearth.  The illusions appeared and vanished like camera flashes.

Aaron pulled on them.

They pulled back.  Hard.

Aaron let go of Bertha and stumbled back into a chair.  He fell and stretched out his hands, trying to physically stop the fireplace from pulling him through the inside of its rigid stones.  He tried to pull at the space around the fireplace, but nothing was there.  This wasn't a location.  It was just a fucking fireplace; a distorted fragment of a location.

Aaron's body was split between the limits of the fireplace and the visiting room; caught in-between and unable to stabilize in either place.  

Fuck.

Aaron couldn't push the fireplace away from him.  It collided with the visiting room until neither place looked real.

He heard a scream.  Someone else had grabbed him.  A woman with long, tangled hair. 

Is she real?

Aaron couldn't stop himself from pulling her into the distorted in-between space with him.  She was real – and she was trying to kill him.  Her fingers wrapped around his throat.  Aaron choked.  The woman did not stop screaming; the sound came out of her mouth laced with strings of saliva.  More disembodied objects without space around them assaulted him - hedges, a broken tea kettle, and a crib.

Aaron summoned the only place strong enough to stop this fucking nightmare – the park.  He pulled on the walking paths and lawns until they pulled back on him hard enough to shatter the illusions of the objects.  He appeared in the grass and forced his hands between the woman's fingers and his neck.  He gasped for air – and pulled them both back into the visiting room.

It took two healers to pull Alice Longbottom off of Aaron.

Chapter Text

December 1976

The rope she had used to bind the boy's hands was still tied around his wrists, floating over his head in the dark water.  His dead body drifted in front of her, suspended beneath the surface of the lake.  His mouth was open in a scream, and his lips were cut and torn.  When he realized the charm he had placed on his restraints didn't work, he panicked and pulled water down his throat, gasping and trying to untie the rope with his teeth.

Juliet screamed and shoved herself away from her sister.  She was thirteen, and it was the first time she had ever pulled a memory off of someone.  She had been braiding Rosalind’s hair in the Ravenclaw common room before class.

Rosalind leaned over her.  "Jules, what's wrong?"

Juliet couldn’t get the memory out of her head; she was submerged and pulled back beneath the lake.  She reached for the drowned boy's body and realized the hands weren't hers.  The scar that ran from the back of the thumb to the wrist, caused by a fall from a bicycle, belonged to Rosalind.

Her sister had bound the boy's hands, and watched him jump into the lake.  Her sister had reached through the water.

"Jules, shite, what's wrong?"

It wasn't Rosalind's fault.  They were First Years playing a game.  By the time she realized her friend David his name was David had been under the water for too long, it was too late. 

Juliet crawled away from her sister.

"Jules, please, what's wrong?"

"You tied his hands, Ros."

Rosalind backed away from Juliet.

"You tied his hands together."

"Juliet, what are you-"

"The boy in the lake.  David."

Rosalind shook.  "You can't know that.  How the fuck do you know that?"

"It wasn't your fault."

Rosalind didn't care.  She wasn't scared of the boy in the lake anymore.  She was scared of Juliet.

Chapter Text

December 1989

Harriet stood at the end of an elevated platform, holding a paper bag and waiting for the 2:15 train.  The timetable above her head informed her that it was running as scheduled.  She unrolled the end of the bag, took out a piece of licorice, and held it between her lips.  The candy was for her boys, Robert and Michael, but she couldn't help herself.

Harriet chewed on the end of the licorice and watched people; three women her age and a man with a dog.  She had to tell John tonight.  There wasn't any more hiding what was going on with Robert, not after that morning.  Her seven year old had broken another plate.  He hadn't meant to, God knows he hadn't meant to – he hadn't even been anywhere near it – but the plate hurled itself from the counter to the floor with the same motion Robert had used to push his little brother away from his paper airplane.  John came in and yelled at both boys.  Harriet took Robert by the hand and led him into the hallway while her husband cleaned up the broken dish.  She told him it was alright.  It wasn't his fault.  The same kind of things had happened to her when she was seven.

John was a muggle, and Harriet had never told him about her abilities or the wizarding world.  She almost had once, after they had first moved in together, when John found two of her old Hogwarts textbooks.

"I never knew you were into Dungeons and Dragons," he had said.

"For a bit, in college," she had lied.

She threw out Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and Magical Draughts and Potions the next morning.  She realized now that she should have saved her books.  Robert would need them in a few years.

A fourth woman walked onto the platform.  She wore a fur coat and boots that looked like they were made out of some type of reptile.  The woman looked at the timetable, then walked up to Harriet.

"Did I miss the 2:15 train?"

"No, you've still got a few minutes."

The woman stepped closer.  Harriet could smell her perfume, and see the delicate necklace that hung around her neck.  Something was on the woman's forehead.  A smear of black and gold.

"You weren't here yesterday," the woman said.

"I beg your pardon?"

"You must have taken a different route home for once."

"I'm sorry," Harriet said, still chewing on the candy.  "I don't understand.  Have we met before?"

Emily Carrow raised her wand and hit Harriet with Petrificus Totalus.

"No, nothing like that," Emily said.  "You're just so damn predictable.  Your trace has been dancing across my map, following the same streets and rail lines almost every day.  It's like you have been begging me to come after you."

The licorice fell out of Harriet's open mouth.

Emily cast a shield over herself and Harriet, rendering them invisible to the rest of the people on the platform.  The muggles didn't notice.  Emily laced the shield with a noise-blocking charm, took out her knife, and carved the first line in Harriet's forehead.

"You stupid little twat.  You made this too easy."

She carved the second line, and the third, leaving a bleeding sideways Z on Harriet's forehead.

Tears came from Harriet's eyes.  It was all she could do.  Her paralyzed hand still held the bag of licorice.

Emily Carrow carved the last line as the 2:15 train arrived.  A man ran up the stairs and across the platform to catch the train.  Others disembarked, and walked right past the limits of the shield and Harriet's maimed face.  Harriet watched the people – she heard them and saw their breaths fog in the air.  They passed her – inches from her motionless body – unable to save her, or even know that she was there.

Emily rent the knife through Harriet's neck.

By the time the shield faded, Harriet had been dead for three hours.

 


 

The sound of a ringing telephone had become foreign to Aaron, and it took him a second to realize where the noise was coming from.  The woman at the front desk turned her back on him to answer it.  Aaron took the document she left on the counter.  He walked through the museum lobby and into the first exhibit hall.  When he was sure no one could see him, he summoned a yard in front of a brick building in Edinburgh and pulled himself through.

The building wasn't from Moody, Juliet, or anyone else.  This location belonged to him.  The curtains in the windows had faded, but they were the same color they had been when he was seven years old.  He had lived on the third floor for four months, until a teacher told his social worker he had stopped talking.  He hated the group home she moved him to more than he had hated the school down the street.  Aaron touched the building to make sure it was real – to make sure his life before Hogwarts was real – before he left the yard and headed for Moody's flat.

Aaron took out a cigarette and held it between his lips.  He struck his lighter three times before the flame caught the end and he inhaled.  He read over the document again as he walked.

It's not a coincidence. 

Twenty minutes later, he took his wand and let himself in the front door of Moody's building.  He took the stairs and knocked when he reached Moody's door.  No answer.  Aaron knocked again.  Nothing.  He pulled himself into Moody's living room and appeared in front of the fireplace.  Moody wasn't home.

Aaron picked up the photographs he had left stacked on the kitchen table.  He looked through the images until he found what he was looking for – a muggle photograph; one of the ones that didn't move or make noise.  At the edge of the photograph, he saw purple and blue fragments of cut glass, held together by a metal frame.  The statue was partially obscured by the surrounding foliage, and out of focus.  Aaron flipped the photograph over and read Moody's handwriting.  Ethan Reynolds.  1986.  Cannon Hill Park.  Ethan Reynolds had been killed in front of the statue from the courtyard.

Without taking his eyes off the photograph, Aaron summoned a hallway in London and pulled himself through.  He knocked on Juliet's door.

When she answered, he held up the photograph.

Juliet glanced at it.  "Ethan Reynolds.  Birmingham, United Kingdom.  Cannon Hill Park.  February 17, 1986."

Aaron walked inside and closed the door behind him.  "You've never been to this murder scene, right?"

"No," Juliet said.  "That's one of the ones the muggle police investigated, before The Ministry was putting any real effort into the murders.  By the time the news of the killing reached me, it was three days later and the body was already in a morgue, so I went there to confirm it was one of ours." 

She stopped and grabbed the photograph.  "Did you pull this location off of someone?"

"Not exactly," Aaron said.  "Do you see the colors here on the side?  In the background?  It's a statue.  I found the same one in a courtyard at a museum in London that I pulled off one of my classmates."

"Show me," Juliet said.

Aaron took Juliet's arm and pulled them both into the courtyard.  Juliet looked at the statue, then back at the photograph.

"I thought it was nothing," Aaron said.  "But it can't be a coincidence.  This fucking world is too small.  Here."

He handed Juliet the document he had nicked from the lady at the front desk.

"What is this?"

"The provenance for the statue.  It's part of a private collection.  There's four total, all here in the courtyard.  The statues have been moved all over the United Kingdom for exhibitions and charity events."

Juliet read through the dates and locations on the provenance, then she saw the documentation of ownership.

"Fuck me sideways."

The statue belonged to Emily Carrow.

 


 

The Carrow residence was in Chelsea; a four-story townhouse located within walking distance of the Thames.  The family's aversion to muggles and muggle-borns had never stopped them from enjoying the finer things the muggle world had to offer.

Juliet knocked on the door.  A nervous looking house elf answered.

"My mistress is not home," he said.  "Please call again another time."

"When will your mistress return?  I'm an Auror with The Department of Magical Law Enforcement."

"Mistress may be out for many more hours."

"My assistant and I are willing to wait."

A voice from inside made the house elf jump.  "Lazarus, let them in.  Show them to the trophy room and make tea.  I've just returned.  I will be with them in a moment."

They followed the house elf inside.

The spells used to modify the townhouse made the inside much larger than the home had appeared to be from the street.  Staircases moved through the foyer above their heads, shifting and swinging between balconies and open hallways.  A moving, two-story tall portrait of Marcus Carrow made Aaron uneasy.  He choked back the memory of the man's corpse and the smell of rot.

The sick feeling intensified when Lazarus opened a set of double doors and Aaron realized what the fuck Emily Carrow had meant by trophy room.  He recognized it immediately from the locations he had pulled off of Maddison.  Charlie had told Aaron about people like this; people who killed dragons for sport.  Five decapitated dragon heads were mounted on a wall above a long fireplace; grotesque, and screaming fuck they're screaming posed with their mouths open.  Two stuffed griffins were on a balcony to the right, and Aaron counted eight more dragon heads on the remainder of the walls.  The furniture Lazarus lead them to was upholstered with green a Welsh Green dragon hide.

Aaron didn't sit down.

Juliet walked to a wall covered with weapons dating back to the medieval era – maces, harpoons, curved swords, and serrated knives.

Aaron looked up.  The full body of a dragon floated in the air above them with gruesome magical assistance.  It had a small head and short baby teeth fangs.  It had been too young.

Lazarus came back with tea.  He left the tray on a round table by the furniture and walked back out of the room.

Emily Carrow appeared at the railing between the griffins.  She looked down at her guests.  "Do you like what you see?"

Juliet and Aaron turned around.

"You'll have to excuse me," Emily said.  "I've had a long day and I was not expecting company.  What do you want?"

"We were just at the museum in Whitechapel, admiring a statue of yours," Juliet said.  "I have some questions about a few of the places you've selected to showcase your collection."

"You'll have to be more specific.  I have art pieces all over the country."

"The purple and blue glass statue.  It's part of a collection of four pieces.  I believe it is called Cascading Twilight?"

"Ah, yes.  Honestly, I've been thinking of selling it, if The Ministry is looking to improve its décor.  I tired of it years ago.  I so hate keeping useless things around for too long.  What's your name, Auror?"

"Juliet Walker."

"Walker is a muggle name, Juliet."

"I sure as fuck hope so," Juliet said, "seeing as I'm muggle-born."

Emily looked at Aaron.  "And who's this?"

"My assistant, Aaron Stone."

"Are you the Aaron Stone from my son's class?  The one who can't use magic?"

I met your husband once, too, you sociopath.  "That would be me."

"Well, Juliet and Aaron, feel free to stay and enjoy the tea, but I can't entertain you.  I have a previous appointment and I must leave."

Juliet said, "If you come down here for a minute and speak with me, this won't take long."

"Anything you want to talk to me about, you can say from down there.  After the way your people handled my husband's murder, which is to say you didn't, I am not trusting of Aurors in any capacity."

Juliet looked closer at Emily.  Something was on her forehead.  It looked . . . like a black smear of makeup, flecked with gold.  It looked like the potion Juliet had found in the vial at the Rowle estate, the one she had left sitting on the desk in her flat.

It can't be a coincidence.  Enough of her fucking games.

Juliet mouthed GRAB HER to Aaron.

Aaron appeared behind Emily Carrow.  And took her arm.

Aaron lost the balcony in the resulting crescendo of Emily Carrow's locations, but he pulled her through the micro shift of layers with him, keeping his grip tight on her arm.  He saw a bedroom with a wand on top a chest of drawers.  A fire escape on the side of the apartment building where Albert Daven had died.  The Great Hall.  An empty elevated platform at a train station.  He held on while Emily screamed at him.  He saw the lawn of the park where Ethan Reynolds had been killed.  A house where Carrow had opened the throat of a sixteen year old girl.  The Wizengamot dungeon.  A flat that belonged to Samantha Jones.  And a dark, circular room with stone walls.

Emily shoved her knife, still covered with Harriet's blood, into Aaron's stomach.

Aaron screamed.  He lost control of Emily’s layers and they tumbled into the first one of his he saw - the Weasleys' kitchen.

Fuck, no.  Get her out of here.

Aaron pulled them back into the trophy room.  He held his bleeding abdomen.  Juliet raised her wand and hit Emily - disoriented and stumbling - with a concussive wave of force.  Emily was knocked into the furniture.  The force fractured three of her ribs.  She apparaited back to the balcony.  Aaron appeared in front of her.  Emily Carrow dissipated.  Aaron watched her move through the layers, grabbed her, and pulled her back into the trophy room. 

Juliet grabbed the woman by the neck, and shoved her on the ground.

She held her wand to the Emily Carrow’s forehead.  "Petrificus Totalus, you fucking cunt."

Chapter Text

January 1990

The fire was dying; reduced to smoldering embers and charred kindling.  George took two logs off the rack next to the hearth and set them on the wrought iron andirons.

He pointed his wand at the fireplace.  "Incendio."

The cast flames caught the wood, and the common room filled with firelight. 

George laid back on the rug and leaned over the parchment with Fred.

"Try it with 'I' again," George said, "'I' seemed to do something."

"I am up to no good," Fred said.

The parchment flickered, revealing broken lines of random letters and the same footprints they had watched it produce for the past few months, before it went blank again.

"I am really up to no good," George said.

Nothing happened.

"I am really tired of talking to parchment," Fred said, and rolled on his back.  He threw an arm over his face.

George rubbed his eyes.  "Maybe we should stop.  I can only sleep through so much of Charms."

"We should," Fred said.  "I just felt like we were getting somewhere.  I hope the whole point of this parchment isn't to keep us too distracted to do anything fun."

"That would at least make it highly dangerous, as implied by the drawer," George said.

"I swear that I will-"

"It flickered again!"

"I swear that I?" Fred said, rolling back onto his stomach and watching the parchment.

"I swear that I am up to no good."

The parchment flickered.  The random letters shuffled until it said, YOU SWEAR, DO YOU?

"YES!"

BUT HOW BADLY DO YOU SWEAR?  HOW MUCH NO GOOD DO YOU WANT TO GET UP TO?

"All of it," Fred said.

The words faded.

"I swear that I am up to no good."

YOU ALREADY TRIED THAT, TROUBLE MAKERS.

"The bloody thing's alive," George said.

"And it's trying to help us," Fred said.

"I really swear that I am up to no good."

THE ENTHUSIASM IS NOT GOING UNNOTICED.  NOW, HOW HONESTLY DO YOU SWEAR IT?

"I honestly swear that I am up to no good."

TRY AGAIN.

"I seriously swear that I am up to no good."

DON'T GET US WRONG, WE LOVE THE REFERENCE YOU JUST MADE, SIRIUSLY WE DO.  BUT YOU'RE STILL NOT THERE.

"Us?"

US.

"Who are you?"

WOULDN'T YOU LIKE TO KNOW?  NOW, IF YOU WANT TO STAY A STEP AHEAD OF FILCH AND THE REST OF THEM, HOW SINCERELY DO YOU SWEAR IT?  THIS MAP WON'T OPEN FOR JUST ANY TROUBLE MAKING, ONLY THE MOST WELL INTENTIONED.

"A map?  A map of what?"

But the parchment didn't respond.

George wrote a word down on a spare sheet of parchment and slid it across the rug.  Fred read it.

"Right, together then?"

George nodded.

"I SOLEMNLY SWEAR THAT I AM UP TO NO GOOD."

The parchment came alive.  Ink spread across the folded front and sketched itself into the Hogwarts castle.

George read, "Messrs Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot, and Prongs, Purveyors of Aids to Magical Mischief-Makers, are proud to present-"

Fred read the words in the middle.  "The Marauder's Map."

They opened the parchment, and watched footprints move through the kitchen – house elves and staff preparing for breakfast.  They watched footprints move in the dormitories as students woke up early to shower and study.

In the center of another hallway, they watched footprints marked Argus Filch.

"How accurate do you think this thing is?"

COMPLETELY, AND ENTIRELY ACCURATE.  GO ON AND TRY IT OUT, IF YOU DON’T TRUST US.

Fred and George ran through the portrait of the fat lady.  They stopped dead in their tracks when they saw Filch in the hallway, right where his footprints said he would be.

George said, "Merlin's beard."

Fred smiled.  "They'll be no stopping us now."

Chapter Text

CARROW ARRESTED IN CONNECTION WITH THE MUGGLE-BORN MURDERS

Information regarding the breakthrough made in the muggle-born serial murders has finally surfaced from The Department of Magical Law Enforcement.  The arrest of Emily Carrow, made three days before Christmas, has been confirmed to be the result of her established involvement with the murders.  Carrow is believed to have murdered more than twenty of the eighty-seven victims, including two of the muggle-borns killed inside the Wizengamot dungeon in April of 1985.  At this time, Carrow is being held in Azkaban, and is awaiting trial before the Wizengamot.

The arrest and subsequent questioning of Carrow has also resulted in the names of the remainder of those involved with the murders.  The murderers, all believed to be pure-bloods are as follows:

Kayal Rowle (the metamorphmagus - confirmed to be deceased)

Adesh Selwyn

Madelyn Bulstrode

Samson Black

Joseph Flint

Renee Gaunt

Theshan Nott

Facial composites of each of the killers are included herein and can be found on the remaining pages of this printing.  Aurors are actively hunting for the killers, and for any information leading to their arrests.

The ritualistic killing of the muggle-born victims has also been confirmed to have been conducted as a means of, in Carrow's words, ". . . restoring the blood lines that have been tainted by impostors . . . " and ". . . removing impostors from our world . . ." 

A search of the Carrow residence resulted in the removal of multiple knives believed to have been used to kill Carrow's muggle-born victims, along with several illegally obtained cloaking masks and robes, believed to have been stolen from the armory of The Department of Magical Law Enforcement.  The remains of dozens of illegally hunted dragons were also found within the home, and are in the process of being removed.  There is evidence that, similar to Carrow's muggle-born victims, many of the dragons were maimed before they were slaughtered.

Chapter Text

January 1990

Charlie crushed The Daily Prophet.  His hands shook.

He walked across the courtyard and grabbed Rhodus Carrow.

"You fucking monster."

Charlie punched Rhodus in the face.  Blood shot out of his nose.

Rhodus shoved Charlie against the stone wall, and hit him until two of his teeth shattered.  He saw the paper Charlie dropped on the ground.

"I knew you'd get your fucking ballsack in a knot over the damn dragons, Weasley."

Rhodus was still taller, and broader, than the rest of the class of 1984, but Charlie was a close second.  Charlie spit out a broken piece of molar and grabbed Rhodus by the front of his robe.  He hurled him to the ground and jumped on his chest, crushing Carrow's arms beneath his knees and shoes.  Charlie hit Carrow in the nose again.  This time, he heard it crack.

He hit him again.

"Charlie!  Stop!"  Charlie barely heard Tonks.  He shoved her back when she grabbed his shoulder.

Rhodus tried to pull his arms free, but Charlie had them pinned against the cobblestone.  Blood covered Carrow's mouth and ran from his broken nose.

Tonks grabbed him again.  "Charlie!"

"How many of those dragons did you kill, Carrow?  Was it practice for all the muggle-borns you were going to massacre as soon as your mother passed you her fucking knife?"

"I never hunted dragons you fucking blood traitor-"

Charlie hit him again.

Carrow's face was covered in blood.  He choked.

"Charlie, stop," Tonks said.  "You'll kill him."

"There is evidence that, similar to Carrow's muggle-born victims, many of the dragons were maimed before they were slaughtered."

He didn't care if he did.

Tonks pressed her wand into Charlie's back. 

"Fuck, Charlie, get off him," Aaron said from somewhere behind him.

Charlie hit the bloody mess that was Carrow's face.

Aaron grabbed Charlie, opened space, and pulled him into the forest.

Charlie shoved himself away from Aaron.  "You fucking-"

"Yeah, I'm a real fucking arsehole, stopping you from killing someone in the damn Hogwarts courtyard."

Charlie's hands shook; his knuckles were split open.  "I wasn't going to kill him."

"That's not what it looked like to me and Tonks.  What the fuck happened?"

He’s right. You have to calm down.

Charlie spit out a mouthful of blood.  "He's the same as his fucking mother.  They're all sadist fucks."

"I should have warned you about what we found in Carrow's house," Aaron said.  "You shouldn't have had to read about it in the Prophet."

"I still would have broken his face." 

Charlie saw something.  He walked across the clearing, bent down, and dug through the leaves, realizing where Aaron had taken him.  He picked up a dragon scale.

The first one.  The ancient Welsh Green.

Charlie ran his fingers over the scale.  "I've never dealt with things in the healthiest of ways, have I?"

"No, you really never have."

"I know what everyone says, that I'm too obsessed with animals; with dragons."

"Fuck them," Aaron said.  "Charlie, I knew you all of ten minutes before you handed me a lizard you saved from being turned into a bag.  It's who you are."

"It was a moke,” Charlie said, still looking at the dragon scale.  He pocketed it.  “You’re right.  I attacked Carrow because of the article.  I read the Prophet, what it said about the dragon remains, and that's what made me go after him.  He was standing there, laughing about something.  Fucking laughing.  I wanted to maim him like his family maimed the dragons they slaughtered."

"Well, you maimed his nose and jaw all over the fucking cobblestone.  Ten points to Gryffindor."

Charlie spit out more blood.

Aaron vanished.  He came back with a towel wrapped around ice, and handed it to Charlie.

"If you saw the . . . remains, do you think you could identify where the dragons came from?  Where sick fucks like Emily Carrow have gone to hunt them?"

Charlie held the towel against his mouth.  "If I can't, I know people who can.  If I could talk to The Ministry about seeing the-"

Aaron shook his head.  "The Ministry won't do shite.  They'll destroy the remains.  I can get you there, before they clean out the rest of that house."

Aaron stuck out his hand.

"It won't make you sick?  If you touch me?"

"No," Aaron said, "not when I'm prepared for it."

"Alright," Charlie said. 

He took Aaron's hand, and the forest disappeared.

The air cracked, and they appeared in the trophy room.

Charlie walked through the room.  His hand hovered over the furniture, then over the weapons on the wall.  There were knives made for the sole purpose of removing dragon hide, and heavy battering clubs for breaking bone.

Sadist fucks.

Charlie looked up, and saw the young dragon hovering above the room.  He took out his wand, and pulled the dragon's body down.  As it descended, he aimed his wand at the furniture and moved it against a wall, clearing space.  The dragon's body settled on the floor in front of the fireplace, beneath the watching screaming heads of the others.  Charlie ran his hands over the preserved corpse, looking for marks.  Beneath the dragon's left wing, he found the Carrow house sigil, carved into the animal's flesh.  There were more scars – made by blades, not from fights with other dragons – all over the back and neck.  The scales had been removed in diamond patterns.

I should have killed the fucker.

Chapter Text

January 1990

A subtle light emanated from the walls of the circular stone room at the center of the labyrinth.  The effect was generated by an illumination charm bound to the mortar.  The slanted angle of the resulting light kept Juliet and Aaron's faces covered in shadows, and made it hard to see the boundaries of the room.

This was where the members of the death cult – the muggle-born killers – had met to review their kills, recite their fucking chants, and reward each other.

Juliet ran her hands over the walls, looking for breaks in the mortar, separations, openings, or, fuck, even a misaligned stone.  The entrances to the network of diverging passageways and staircases she had seen in Carrow's memories – the entrances to the rest of the labyrinth – did not appear to exist anymore.

Juliet looked at Aaron.  "Did you pull any tunnels or corridors off of Carrow?  Anything like what I described?"

"No, just this room," Aaron said.  "Do you still think it's part of a labyrinth?"

"Yes," Juliet said, "and a damn good one."

"Shouldn't there be a Minotaur or something coming after us then?"

"Not coming after us, but its entrails and blood are probably lining the walls.  Labyrinths use ancient blood magic.  Minotaurs were never the guardians so much as the required sacrifices.  Here, step back."

Juliet raised her wand and cast an Archimedes Field.  It shimmered against the stone floor, ceiling, and walls.  She followed the field to the opposite side of the room, where the edges pulled against the stone walls in defined, rectangular shapes.  Juliet waved her wand and pulled at the air until three broken mirrors materialized.  Fragments of fractured glass hung at the edges of the frames.

"Fuck.  These weren't in Carrow's memories.  She always used the damn passageways."

"Are these . . . mirror portals?"

Juliet nodded.  "Useless ones, now that they've been shattered.  Whoever used them last didn't want anyone to follow them."

Aaron leaned closer.

"Don't touch them.  They're unstable.  They're hard enough to control when they're intact.  There's a reason they're so damn illegal."

"How do they work?"

"Much like a portkey – only, instead of transporting you to one specific place, whoever is controlling them can change the destination at will.  When you step into a mirror portal controlled by another witch or wizard, your life is in their hands.  Whoever created this labyrinth, and whoever was controlling these mirror portals, has a good fucking handle on ancient dark magic."

Juliet caught her reflection in one of the shards left hanging on the edge of the center mirror.  She had avoided mirrors – she was tired of her exhausted expression and the dark circles beneath her eyes.  The tired eyes and swollen blood vessels were still there, along with something else.

What is that?

There was something on her neck.

Juliet pulled back her coat.  She leaned close to the mirror.  A faint line originated from the front of her throat and wrapped around the right side of her neck.  It was a scar.

She felt the raised skin, and remembered the feeling of blood between her fingers.

What the fuck. 

"I'll keep watching the layer for this room to see if any of them come back here."

How long has this been on my neck?

"Juliet?"

Juliet stepped back from the mirrors.  "Right, well, we've gotten what we could for now.  Let's get the fuck out of here."

She pulled her coat back over her neck.

 


 

Juliet opened the mailbox in the lobby of her apartment building and removed the contents.  Bills.  Rubbish.  And a letter from Beverly.

Juliet got in the lift, hit the button for her floor, and opened the letter.

Jules!

I'll be back in London this summer.  We should meet up again.  Maybe for another coffee or dinner?  I need updates from the non-muggle world - maybe some more good news about the killings?  I read in The Prophet that you've got all the killers' names now.  I know it was you, even though they didn't print that.  Well done.

I thought you would like this photograph I found from our school days.  I can't remember where I took it?  Maybe somewhere in Hogsmeade?  Anyway, enjoy it.

I'm staying safe, watching where I go; not taking the same routes home and all that, like you told me to do.  I know you worry.  I've got my wand and pepper spray on me at all times.

Stay safe yourself, you fabulous Auror, you.  See you in March?

Bev

The photograph was taken in Hogsmeade with what must have been Beverly's muggle camera.  Juliet was small; a First Year.  Rosalind carried her on her shoulders, and both of them were laughing.

Juliet flipped the photograph over.  Beverly had written, Walker siblings, 1973.

Something about the photograph felt wrong.

Juliet slipped past her wards and opened her front door.

The letter and photograph fell out of her hands as she tore her wand out of her coat.

Four mutilated bodies with detached heads floated inside her living room.  Blood covered her furniture and floors.  The killer had used a knife from her kitchen drawer, and left it embedded in the chest of one of the victims.  A single word was carved into the left arm of each victim.

Shaking, Juliet read the dripping blood and put the words together.

WE.  AREN'T. FINISHED.  JULIET.

Chapter Text

Blackout Tuesday.

 

Black Lives Matter.

 

Today, please donate, protest, sign a petition, educate yourself about the horrific problems black people face in America, support black people, and stay informed.  People are dying from systematic racism and police brutality.  I never post anything like this, but I can’t ignore what is happening.

 

As always, thanks for reading.

Chapter Text

February 1990

The words on the folded piece of paper – muggle paper, not parchment – were typed and impersonal.  Eni had to read them again.

I am writing to inform you that your father passed away from complications related to a heart valve replacement procedure on the ninth of December . . .

Eni couldn't focus; she read the estate lawyer's letter in fragments.

. . . it took me a long time to locate you, or even to confirm that you were still alive . . .

. . . as his only living relative, and his only child, the bakery and the associated flat located above are now yours, should you choose to claim them.  If not, the properties can be sold and the . . .

"Eni, dear, is everything alright?"

Right.  That's the end of it.  No reunion; no reconciliation.

"Eni?"

Did I ever even want to see him again?

Now, I don't get a choice.  I waited too long.  I waited for him to come after me, to ACCEPT me, and he never did.

Minerva McGonagall leaned down in front of Eni, and placed her hand on the girl's shoulder.

"It's my papa," Eni managed.  She let the letter fall out of her hands and into her lap.  "He's dead."

Minerva hugged Eni.

Eni felt numb.  She didn't move.

When McGonagall pulled away, she did it slow and careful, trying to read the girl's face.  "I can make arrangements for you to attend his funeral; to go be with the rest of your family."

Eni shook her head.  "No, he died in December.  If there was a funeral, I missed it."

And I don't have any other family.

Eni took the letter and stood.

"If you need-"

"I . . . I don’t know what I need."

McGonagall's hand was still on her shoulder.  "I am so very sorry, dear.  Do whatever you feel you need to do.  Please talk to me, if you find you want to talk about him.  I don't want you to feel like you are going through this alone."

Eni closed the door of McGonagall's office behind her.  She walked down the hallway, not caring where she was going – not paying attention.

She walked past her classmates, past The Great Hall, and through the courtyard.  It was cold and she didn't have her coat.  She crossed her arms over her chest and walked to the lake with her skin prickling and her breath fogging in the air.

Her father was dead.

I waited too long.  And he never came after me.

 


 

It took Eni three hours to figure out what she wanted to do, and it took her another hour to find Aaron.  Tonks hadn't seen him since breakfast.  He wasn't in the kitchen, the library, or at Hagrid's.  He wasn't working with Filch.  He wasn't in any of the classrooms or corridors.

"He's not in our common room or dormitory.  If he's working with Moody and the other Aurors," Charlie told her, "he could be gone all day."

She asked Maddison.

Maddison laughed.  "I don't know what you think I do with Aaron, but it isn't talking."

"Can't say I'm surprised," Eni said. 

"Eni," Maddison said.  "If Aaron doesn't want to be found, you won't find him.  I don't have to tell you that."

But she did find Aaron – at the top of the staircase inside the north tower.  Eni only went up there when it was the last place left she hadn't looked.

Aaron sat on the landing at the top of the stairs with his back against the wall, leaning over a book bound in deteriorated black leather.

He didn't hear her, and she startled him.  Aaron closed the book.  "What are you doing up here?"

"Looking for you," Eni said.  "What is that?"

For a second, she thought he wasn't going to tell her, then he held out the book.  She took it.

Eni opened Secrets of the Darkest Art to the dog-eared page where Aaron had stopped reading.  She turned the pages to the beginning of the chapter.

Chapter Nine – Unbound – Space Distortion, Control, and Mirror Portals

"Aaron, this book is restricted," Eni said.  "Where did you get it?"

"Where do you think."

She stared at him.

"I nicked it from Dumbledore's office," Aaron said.

Eni looked through the pages, and closed the book when she saw the chapters on blood spells.  "You're not-"

"I just want to know what the fuck is going on; what I'm doing, what I'm up against, all of it.  I'm not up here casting dark spells for the fuck of it."

"I didn't think you were," Eni said.  She handed the book back to Aaron.  "I was more concerned that the Aurors have you involved in some of this shite.  It's dangerous."

Aaron ignored her statement.  He moved a loose stone, placed the book inside the top step, and covered it.

"What did you want me for?" 

Eni looked upset.

"I wasn't trying to scare you with that book, Eni.  There's a reason I came up here alone."

"It's not that."

Aaron watched her lip quiver.  "What happened?"

She handed him the letter.

Aaron unfolded the paper and read it.

Eni tried not to cry, but everything she had held inside broke when Aaron finished reading and looked back at her. 

Aaron pulled Eni against him and wrapped his arms around her.  Her breath came in sharp gasps between sobs that shook her body as she cried against his chest. 

"I thought he would come after me," she sobbed.  "I was so fucking stupid, thinking that he would."

Aaron held her.

She didn't know how long they stood there.

When she pulled back, Aaron's shirt was soaked and snot ran from her nose.  She wiped at her face with her sleeve.  "I have to get to Liverpool.  Can you get me anywhere near it?  Lee's in London with her mum.  I have to see the bakery.  It's all I have left."

"Forget near it," Aaron said.  "I can take you right to the bakery, if that's where you want to go."

"You can?"

"I never told you what I can do, not really.  It's not typical apparition.  I can pull locations off of people when I touch them; places I haven't been myself.  The first time I saw your bakery was the day I ended up at St. Mungo's.  I didn't know what I was seeing for a long time, but the bakery I see looks just the way you always described yours.  I can take you there."

"That's not-"

"Not how apparition works?  Believe me, I know.  Do you still want me to take you?"

Eni nodded.

Aaron took off his ring.  "Here, you can hold my arm."

She took Aaron's arm.  The stairwell pitched forward.  The bakery hurled at them as the air tore apart.  She felt nauseous from the movement and disorientated from the distance.  She didn't let go of Aaron until the floor beneath her seemed stable and solid again.

Eni walked through the bakery.  Someone had cleaned it out.  The shelves were empty, as were the coolers where they had always kept the cakes people ordered before they picked them up.  Eni ran her fingers over the counter and pulled back a handful of dust.

"My parents bought this bakery right after they got married; after they moved from Japan.  I lived here my entire life, before Hogwarts."

But no one would ever know that – the pictures of her and her mother that had always been taped to the wall behind the register were gone, along with the torn out pages of coloring books she had filled in and given to her father as gifts when she was little.  Gorgeous, like you, he'd say, and lift her up onto the counter for a kiss.

Aaron looked around the bakery, trying to imagine a younger version of Eni and realizing how much they had both grown up.  "When did you know?  That you could use magic?"

Eni smiled.  "It was definitely different than what happened the first time you appariated.  Not that I knew what had happened either.  Neither did my mum.  I was six.  We were in the back kitchen, mixing flour into a bowl.  I got excited for some reason and all the ingredients just . . . exploded.  It was a mess.  It took a few more incidents like that before I realized something was going on with me, that I was causing things like that to happen.  When Professor Sprout came here to find me, everything made sense."

Eni walked into the back room and turned on the lights.  Aaron followed her.  Everything looked so much smaller than it was in her memories.  She looked in the bathroom, and half expected to see clumps of black hair in the rubbish bin, but all she saw was how tiny the bathroom was.

He never came after me, but maybe I never needed him to.  Maybe it is better this way.

Aaron looked at the stained mirror and the broken sink.  "I saw this room, too, in the layers of places.  I didn't know it was yours."

Eni looked in the mirror.  She didn't see a scared little girl anymore.

"It was," Eni said.  "And it is again."

Chapter Text

February 1990

The Department of Magical Law Enforcement was deserted and dark at five o'clock in the morning.  Alastor Moody walked toward the only lit room – a converted storage closet located at the far end of the hallway leading to the armory and the infirmary.  Access to the hallway, and the former storage closet, was restricted with wards, but the precautionary barriers recognized Moody and allowed him to pass.

Ten maps floated through the air inside the room, ranging in sizes and layouts.  Each map was filled with trails of flickering lights moving over streets, rail lines, and through buildings – the much debated muggle-born trace.  Moody watched the lights strung across the drifting maps.  There were thousands of them now – muggle-born witches and wizards – spread out from London to Glasgow and Oxford to Liverpool.  His protégés had been busy.

The boxes that had once littered the storage closet had been stacked and moved into the hallway, and a desk had been shoved against one of the walls inside the room.  The size of the desk, and the relatively diminutive size of the doorway, indicated that a reduction charm had been involved in the process.

Cassio watched the patterns of moving lights and made notes on parchment.  He didn't look up when Moody came in.

"So, you're back," he said, writing.

"I'd like to think I was missed," Moody said, "but you seem to have more than held your own while I was away."

"You can thank Juliet for the progress we've made.  She's the one who linked Emily Carrow to the murders, her and that appariting kid of yours."

"And you?"

Cassio stopped writing and looked up.  "I've been living in this room; finding patterns in all of the data we have collected on muggle-borns.  And realizing that this controversial trace of mine is no longer a relevant tool for The Ministry."

Moody watched the lights move across the maps.  "I doubt that.  Whatever happened to cross-referencing the muggle-born signatures with police reports?"

"That stopped working when the killers stopped tailing muggle-borns before killing them.  They used to follow targets around until they confirmed that their victims were, in fact, muggle-born before opening their necks.  Now that they've got the trace, they just kill their victims upon the first encounter."

"That's bad fucking news."

Moody's blue eye looked down at the sheets of parchment on the table around Cassio.  There were lists of names and clusters of locations, lines linking some of the names and crossing over each other; data arranged in patterns Cassio had decided were useful.  Moody's eye shifted and focused on the sheets of parchment buried beneath the top layers; notes he could only see because of his eye.  He saw paragraphs crossed out and re-written, more names, and words that didn't mean anything to him – spell embedment theory, tissue disease clustering, and check for patterns of permanence should this ever prove useful, included with diagrams of-

Cassio stood up and picked up the sheets of parchment.  "Juliet isn't here, if that's who you're looking for."

"I had hoped to meet with both of you and get myself up to speed," Moody said.  "I've been gone too long."

"Juliet hasn't been to The Ministry in three weeks, not since before what happened at her flat.  Did you hear?  Four muggle-borns were executed inside of her flat and left for her to find.  It . . . did something to her.  I'm concerned about her mental state.  Bones told her to take some time off."

He meant Madam Amelia Bones, the new director of The Department of Magical Law Enforcement; Adelaide Burke's replacement, and, in Moody's opinion, a much better choice for the position.

"I hadn't heard about that," Moody said.  What the fuck.  That was fucking personal.  They know who's after them and they want to hurt her.  "Where is she?"

Cassio took his wand and aimed it at one of the maps of London.  All of the lights flashed out – except for one.  He enlarged the remaining trace.  Moody recognized the intersecting streets of Juliet's building.

"At the scene of the crime – drinking and sleeping on her living room floor.  Not talking to me or Rosalind.  The last time I checked on her, she was solidly pissed, and can you blame her?"

Moody couldn't.

Cassio raised his wand and re-lit the map.  Moody kept his eye on the spark that was Juliet.

"Bones is considering taking her off the case," Cassio said.

"You're her fucking twin, what do you think?  Does she need time away from this to let herself recover?"

"She needs to see this through.  We all do.  We are close to the end."

"Then go grab some of those pastries she likes from The Old Post Office Bakery and let's get her the fuck back on her feet."

 


 

Thirty minutes later, Moody knocked on Juliet's door.  He listened to three locks slide while Cassio walked toward him with a brown paper bag.  Juliet opened the door, wearing the same sweatpants and tank top she had on the last time Cassio had stood at her door. 

Juliet left the door open and walked back inside.  She picked two empty bottles off the floor of her living room and brought them into the kitchen.

"Am I that fucked that you went and got Moody and croissants?" she said over her shoulder.

"He came back all on his own," Cassio said.

Moody followed Cassio inside.  Juliet's living room had been stripped of all furniture.  The expanse of remaining space made their footfalls echo.  The walls, and part of the floors, were covered with parchment and overlapping pieces of string comprising various collages.  The names of the six known killers were at the epicenters.  Moody looked at the notes and saw an overabundance of ??? and WT ABSOLUTE F in Juliet's blunt handwriting.

She's not holed up in here to recover.  She's secluding herself to find these sick fucks.

Juliet watched Moody read her notes and follow her pieces of twine.  "Pretty shite, right?  How six people can disappear off the face of the goddamn planet without a trace?  All these names are like alternate versions of Kayal fucking Rowle.  In some cases, their names were literally burned out of The Ministry's records and records kept by their families."

Juliet took the paper bag from Cassio.  She opened it and pulled out an apple turnover.

Cassio watched her.  "Are you still drunk?"

Juliet took a bite.  "Stick to the topic at hand, alright, Cass?"

She handed him a muffin and looked back at Moody.  "There's been eight killings since the four in my flat.  Printing the names of the killers accelerated their pace."

"Because you fucking scared them," Moody said. 

"I did," Juliet said, "until I started going mental."

"You're not going mental," Moody said.  "You've put your fucking life into this case for five years.  You're allowed to not always have your shite together."

"No, I'm going mental," Juliet said.  She walked up to Cassio and pulled back her hair.  "Tell me you can see this."

"See what?"

"The scar on my neck.  Do you remember me having this?  Because I don't.  I'm mental and imagining things."

Cassio touched Juliet's neck and ran his fingers along the raised line.  "You aren't imagining anything."

"You're not mental," Moody said.  He looked back over Juliet's notes and facial composites.  "And you've got these fucks running.  We are going to go after them like we went after the fucking Death Eaters during the war."

Chapter Text

March 1975

A strip of worn parchment clung to the blown-glass vial with the assistance of an adhesion charm.  The handwriting on the label had been set with anti-aging spells; preserved through the centuries by those tasked with passing the memory through the generations.  Re-living the past kept the present in perspective, his father told him.  There were wrongs that should never be forgotten.

Let him show you.  He thinks you haven't gotten it yet.

Theshan Nott glanced at the handwriting.

Natasha Rosier Nott.  1643.

Theshan emptied the contents of the vial into the pensieve on his father's desk and submerged his head.

The girl wasn't much older than he was – seventeen or eighteen – with bright eyes and tangled hair.  She knelt on a floor covered with dirt and straw, with her legs tucked beneath her.  A chain secured the iron shackle around her neck to a post.  Her bare feet were stained black.  Jagged W’s had been cut into the backs of her hands.

Natasha stretched out her maimed hands in a desperate attempt to conjure something from nothing.  There wasn't anything she could do.

The barn door opened and a man walked inside.  Natasha shrank back against the post.

"Where is it?  After all of this time, have you still not completed the task?"

Natasha said nothing.

"I paid a fair amount for you, and each day you prove how foolish I was to do so."

"I cannot summon provisions where none exist."

The man slapped her.  "You useless witch."

Natasha held her cheek.  "If you allowed me a wand or perhaps-"

"Do you take me for a fool?"

Natasha threw up her hands to protect her face.  The man grabbed her shoulders and shoved her onto the floor.  He got on top of her and held her down.  Natasha thrashed against him.  She pulled one of her arms free, and reached up and pulled a knife out of the sheath at the man's waist.

The man tried to grab the knife.  She pulled it across his throat.  Blood ran from the man's neck.  Natasha pushed him off of her.

The man choked.

When he stopped moving, Natasha looked through his pockets.  She used the key she found in his vest to unlock the iron shackle.  She rubbed her bruised neck, took the knife, and ran from the barn.

Theshan pulled his head out of the pensieve.

Mordecai Nott looked at his son.  "Natasha was held captive by muggles and made to perform magic against her will.  Her parents, brothers, and sister were beheaded in 1635, after attempts to burn them at the stake were unsuccessful.  Natasha was only saved because she was too young to display any magical abilities.  She was kept under lock and key for eight years of her life."

Mordecai lowered the vial into the pensieve and collected the memory.  He pushed the cork into place and watched the strands shift behind the blown-glass.  "These were the last moments of her oppression."

Theshan braced his arms on either side of the pensieve and kept his head level.

Mordecai took another vial out of his cabinet and set it on the desk.

"If you need to take a moment to collect yourself-"

"I don't need a moment," Theshan said.

"You seem fatigued," Mordecai said.

"I'm not," Theshan said.  "I'm just starting to find all of this unnecessary."

"You find re-living your ancestors' pain bores you?"

"I didn't mean any disrespect."

"You're impatient."

No, I've moved onto the next logical step. 

"You think memories are not relevant, and so you won't value them when you tamper with them."

On the contrary, memory is everything.  I know that, more than you ever will.

"Are you listening to me, Theshan?"

"I am."

While you've had me leaning into your fucking bowl every night, I've looked into solutions for making sure none of this ever happens again.

Mordecai pointed to the vial on his desk.  "Again."

Why, father, do you make everything take so long?

"How many more were you going to show me tonight?"

His father took two more vials out of the cabinet.  Theshan didn't bother reading the names.  He removed the corks and poured all three memories into the bowl.

"You can't-"

Theshan raised his wand and muttered a spell.  "I can, if I keep them from congealing."

"Where did you learn that?"

In my bedroom, while you were in here re-living the past instead of doing something about it.

"Advanced Recollection Methods.  You were the one who gave it to me."

Theshan stuck his head in the pensieve and watched the memories in rapid succession.

A wizard chained to a wall, screaming, surrounded by muggles holding swords to his neck.

A witch chained to the bow of a ship, choking on seawater and holding her arms above her head, trying to keep her cast shield in-place through a storm.

An old wizard appariting knights across a battlefield, back and forth, back and forth, back and forth, until he collapsed from exhaustion and was trampled.

Theshan raised his head. 

"I know you're tired of my pensieve," Mordecai said.  "But the struggles of our ancestors and the atrocities committed against them cannot be forgotten."

Theshan collected the memories and made sure each one went back into its respective vial, then he set them on the desk in front of his father.

"Every time you pass a muggle on the streets, I want you to remember what they have done.  When you see muggle-borns using our spells and living in our world, I want you to remember what their ancestors did to ours.  I want you to feel anger at seeing them live among us unaware of the blood on their hands."

Don’t worry.  I will.

Chapter Text

March 1990

The courtyard was deserted when Aaron came back from his run, breathing hard and covered in sweat.  He hadn't made it as far as he wanted to.  Somewhere in the forest, not even to the second clearing yet, he had to stop.  Nothing felt right, he had a headache, and Tarda Nauseam wasn't helping.

He sat on a bench and leaned back against the wall.  He pulled off the ring and watched his hand until his fingers shook.  It didn't take long for the rest of his body to do the same.

Micro jumps.

He was shifting too fast to perceive the damn layers.

Focus and make it stop.

He looked at his watch.  He had to meet Moody in London in two hours.

He winced, hit with abrasive fragments of sound – traffic, voices, and dishes clanging in the Hogwarts kitchen.

Aaron turned up the volume on his Walkman and closed his eyes. 

" . . .  it's always tease, tease, tease . . . "

I'm tired, that's what this is.  I can still control this.  I stayed up too late in the tower all week and jumped too far taking Moody and Juliet back and forth across the country.

He pulled the ring back on to stop the noise and the shaking.

". . . one day it's fine and next it's black, so if you want-" 

Maddison pulled the headphones off Aaron's head, leaned over him, and sucked on his bottom lip.  Aaron opened his eyes and stopped the tape.

"Take me somewhere," she said.

"I was trying to save energy.  I have to-"

Maddison touched his chest.  "You're soaked."

"I was running."

She ran her fingers over his shoulder, where the fabric of his shirt had frayed and torn open.  "Is this another one of Bill Weasley's old shirts?"

Aaron's head still pounded.  "So, what if it is?"

"Calm down, Aaron, I didn't mean anything by it."

"Yes, you did."

Her hand was still on his body.  "Are you going to take me somewhere or what?"

"You mean before anyone sees you out here slumming it with the kitchen staff?"

Maddison removed her hand.  "If you want to keep taking my clothes off, I need you to take the fucking chip off your shoulder."

"I don't have a fucking-"

"You really do."

"Fine," he pulled the ring off, "you want to go somewhere?"

Aaron summoned the layers but nothing happened – fuck – not even the damn crescendo of noise.  He pulled harder until he forced space apart and found what he was looking for – an abandoned house in Glasgow with dust-covered furniture and dirty floors.  He took Maddison's arm and pulled her through. 

"Here, Maddison, no one will see us now, happy?"

He was surprised how much effort it took, but he was too frustrated to care if he couldn't get them back to Hogwarts.

Let her figure out how to get us somewhere for once.

"Where did you take me?"

"To see the damn chip on my shoulder or whatever you think it is," Aaron said.  "I know where you come from, so you should see where I lived for once."

He watched her look at the deteriorated wallpaper, the old furniture, and the stains on the kitchen counters.  The couple who had fostered him here for a few months had moved on for whatever reason, and left the things they didn't want behind.

"You lived here?"

"For a bit," Aaron said.  "Here, and a lot of places like it.  I didn't grow up with a garage full of whatever the fuck kind of cars your father collects."

"Do you want me to feel sorry for you or something, Aaron?"

"No," Aaron said.  I want you to stop using me and fucking relate to me for a goddamn minute.  "I want you to realize I'm not one of your trust fund friends."

"I just wanted to have fun with you, for fuck's sake."

"Right.  I'm good enough to fuck, but not good enough for you to actually be seen anywhere near me."

Maddison didn't respond for a minute.

"What do you want from me, Aaron?"

I don't fucking know.  I wanted you to fucking care, or some shite.  Why did I think you were capable of that?

"I want you to give a shite about anything but yourself."

"You don't make it fucking easy.  You didn't even tell me you were at St. Mungo's over Christmas.  I didn't know until I reached under your shirt and felt your stomach.  You still won't tell me what happened.  You blame me for not caring more, but, fuck, you don't tell me anything."

"Would you listen if I did?"

"Honestly?  I don't fucking know."

Aaron walked across the empty living room.  What the fuck am I doing.

Maddison watched him.  "What do you want, Aaron?  For this to be more than what it is?  For me to hold your fucking hand, sit next to you at breakfast, and write you love notes like a Third Year?"

"I never wanted you to love me, Maddison.  I never had any illusions about what we were doing.  I just wanted you to be fucking human toward me.  Toward anyone.  I should have known nothing would change.  You're so detached from the rest of us."

"All you lot ever wanted to do was live in the Hogwarts bubble and pretend there wasn't anything outside of the damn wizarding world."

"There isn't for us, don't you get that?  Look around.  I've got nothing outside of the life I fucking built at Hogwarts and in the wizarding world.  I don't have anything to fall back on."

"I did, and I didn't want to pretend I didn't anymore.  Not one of you cared when I stopped coming around."

"Eni did.  You hurt her, you know."

"Of course this is about Eni."

"Fuck," Aaron said, "no it isn't.  You’re not getting it.”

"I get it.  All you lot ever wanted was my open tab at The Three Broomsticks-"

"We never gave a shite that you had money, and you know it.  Guess what?  Even with all your money, you're still not one of those arseholes you left us for.  I bet they still all look down on you."

"You're right.  I'm still just a fucking mudblood like you."

Aaron didn't say anything.

"If you wanted me to relate to something, Aaron, it won't be to all of this shite you came from.  I relate to those arseholes more than you will ever understand.  I relate to the cars, art shows, clothes that don't have holes, and whatever the fuck else you want to judge me for.  You're the same as me, judging me for doing what I want, for making the friends I want - you just think you're morally superior for some reason.  But, you know what?  All those people at my table?  The ones you lot talk shite about?  They make me feel like I belong, even as a fucking mudblood.  That should tell you everything you need to know about how much I don't want to go back to dealing with the rest of you."

”Good,” Aaron said.  “You never have to again.”

Maddison folded her arms across her chest.  "Take me back."

Aaron's hands still shook, but none of the layers were responding to him.  He pulled the ring back on.  He should have done it sooner to save energy, he was just so damn angry.

"I don't want to be here with you anymore, Aaron.  Get me the fuck out of wherever this is."

"Glasgow."

She grabbed his arm.  Aaron shook her off of him.  "I physically cannot jump us back yet.  So, wait, or apparate yourself."

"I can't fucking apparate."

Aaron knew that.  He just wanted to make the point.  "Then pay someone to drive you or send an owl or call one of your friends to come get you.  I'm not your transportation service any more."

Maddison shoved past him.  ”Aaron, I hope this sounds familiar.  Go fuck yourself.”

He heard the front door open and slam.

Fuck.

That was just . . . fuck.

He looked at his wrist.  One hour until he had to be in London.

He pulled his headphones back on.

" . . . come on and let me know, should I stay or should I go . . . "

The real bitch of it was that he didn't have a choice at the moment.

Aaron looked out the window at the residential street.  Maddison had pulled out a cigarette and sat on the curb, smoking.

Shite.  I'm the one who brought her here.  I can’t leave her.

I just need a minute.  Then, I'll fucking jump us back.

Aaron leaned against the dirty living room wall and waited for something to go right for once.

Chapter Text

March 1990

The pain in Aaron's head hadn't subsided much twenty minutes later when he left the abandoned house and closed the door behind him.  He looked back at it from the curb.  The house was smaller than he remembered – shoved inside a cluster of similar residences that didn't have yards or driveways, just short sidewalks leading to the street.  He couldn't remember much about living here, only that his fosters had made a lot of porridge and a kid a few years older than him had made fun of him for not sounding like he was from Scotland.  His social worker was English – that was what stuck.

The setting sun cast long shadows over the pavement.  Aaron walked past a man with a leashed dog, two kids on bikes, and an old woman walking slowly in the same direction.  A car horn honked on the next cross street.

Maddison still sat on the cracked concrete curb.  Three crushed cigarettes were on the sidewalk next to her.

Aaron stopped behind her.  "I thought you wanted to get out of here."

"It turns out, sitting on a curb in the real world and watching people live their non-magical lives isn't all that bad."

Aaron sat down a few feet away from her and leaned against a splintered telephone pole covered in torn flyers and staples.

Maddison watched a woman walk past them.  "You can't tell me you don't miss this; the rest of the world."

Aaron shrugged.  He didn't.

"All these muggles living without magic.  I used to wonder how they got along, until I realized they had what I wanted – a life without all of the bullshit of the wizarding world."

Aaron didn't say anything.  He was still mad at her, and trying to figure out how to spend less energy without laying down on the sidewalk.

Maddison turned to face him.  "You look like shite."

"That's helpful."

"What, exactly, is wrong with you?  Did you reach some . . . apparition limit?"

"It takes a lot of energy to-"

"Apparate long distances, I know.  I wrote the same reports you did.  It's never been a problem for you before."

"I'm just spent.  And it doesn't help that magic has never played nice with me."

"Some things never change," Maddison said.  She brushed ashes off her jeans and stood up.  "Right, then.  Let's see if our muggle heritage can get us the fuck out of this city.  Any chance you remember what is around here?  Or which direction we should even walk?"

Aaron pointed over his shoulder.  "There's a convenience store two blocks over with a payphone, or there was in 1983."

"That will do.  If I call my father, he can drive up from Manchester, or wire me money for bus tickets - something to get us back to Hogwarts before class in the morning."

Aaron stood up and followed Maddison.  He didn't even bother to look at his watch.  He was never going to make it to London in time to meet Moody, and it wasn't like he could call and tell him.  Juliet had a phone in her kitchen, he had seen it, but he didn't know her number or if it even worked.

The payphone was right where Aaron remembered it was – on the curb in front of the SPAR convenience store.  Maddison walked up to it and reached into her pockets.  She turned one inside-out before shoving it back into place.

"Shite.  I don't have muggle change."

Two men came out of the store, and a woman walked inside.

Maddison reached inside her boot, where her wand was tucked.  "Cover for me, yeah?"

Aaron moved to stand between her and the rest of the street.

Maddison flicked the wand.  "Accio coins."

It was good thinking, Aaron thought.  Lost change pulled itself out of a storm drain and off the sidewalk.  One pence even floated out of the open window of a parked Astra.  The coins drifted into Maddison's open hand.  Aaron looked around.  He didn't think anyone had noticed.

Except an old woman across the street.  Aaron stared at her.  A scarf covered most of her face, but he was sure it was the same old woman he had walked past a minute ago.

Maddison slid a few of the coins into the payphone.

She's following us.

Maddison dialed her home telephone number.  The phone rang.  No one answered.

The old woman crossed the street and walked toward them.

The phone kept ringing.

"We have to go," Aaron said.

"Give it a minute.  He'll answer.  He's probably just-"

Aaron grabbed her arm.  "Now."

Maddison shoved him off.  "Let go of me, Aaron."

Aaron looked past the old woman, across the street, and down the other way.  A man came at them.  Aaron recognized his face - from Juliet's living room wall.

Samson Black.

Then the old woman is Madelyn Bulstrode.

Aaron yanked Maddison into the convenience store.  The dropped receiver kept ringing.

"We're being followed.  By two of the fucking killers."

"Shite, are you sure?"

"Pretty fucking sure."

Aaron pulled Maddison through the store, past a man taking a soda pop out of a refrigerator and the woman who had just walked in.  She was checking oranges to see how long they had been sitting out.

"They can't know we're muggle-born.  We haven't even been outside of Hogwarts for that long."

Fuck.  This is my fault.  "They knew as soon as we left Hogwarts.  They're using a trace like the one The Ministry has."

And Maddison is just a light on a map to them; just the target they felt like going after today.

Aaron looked through the shelves.  Madelyn Bulstrode walked through the front door and hit the man behind the counter with the stunning spell before he could turn around to greet her.  Samson Black hit the man with the soda pop and the woman.  Her chosen oranges rolled on the floor.

"We should run for it."

"Running won't stop the trace," Aaron said.  He pulled out his wand – 7" of ebony with a dragon heartstring core.  Compact, for travel, Ollivander had told him last year.  Great, except he couldn't travel anywhere right now.  "We have to stop them."

The shelves between them and the killers exploded.  Canned goods, boxes of cereal, and pieces of the shelving came down on top of them. 

Maddison shoved through the debris and raised her wand.  "Stupefy!"

Her blast missed Samson Black.

Aaron yelled, "Stupefy!" and nothing happened.

Fuck me.

"Protego!"  Maddison's shield blocked whatever spell Samson Black shot at them.

Aaron grabbed Maddison's arm and pulled her through the door to the back of the store.  They tripped over cardboard boxes, crates covered in saran wrap, and cleaning supplies.

Fucking summon it.

They found the back door and shoved it open.

Make it your bitch.

Aaron pulled at the exhaustion and prodded it until it became bile that rose in the back of his throat.  He pulled off the ring and grabbed Maddison.  The air split-

-and they appeared ten feet from the door, inside the alleyway.

"Fuck," Aaron said. 

"Now what?"

"We can't run and I can't do shite, so listen.  They'll use Petrificus Totalus first to immobilize us."

"You don't know that."

"I do.  If they hit me, use Finite Incantatem to break it, or leave me and stay out of their range.  If they hit you-"

"I'm fucked."

Maddison got between Aaron and the back door of the store and raised her wand.

CRACK

Samson Black appeared next to Aaron, grabbed him, and dissipated.  They appeared inside a dark stairwell.

Fuck.  That's what that feels like.

Black hit Aaron with a blast that knocked him against the stairs.  Before Aaron could recover, Samson grabbed him and yanked him to his feet.  His Walkman tumbled out of his pocket and fell down the staircase, breaking apart.  "What are you doing with a mudblood, you little shite?"

Aaron punched Black in the jaw.  He twisted out of Black's grip and ran up the staircase.

A blast from behind missed him, but it made the next flight of stairs explode.  Aaron threw up his hands as pieces of concrete turned into projectiles.  And felt broken glass.

It's coming back.

With nowhere to go, Aaron faced Black and raised his wand.  "Diffindo!"

The skin on Samson's face and hands shredded.  He screamed.

Aaron saw a flicker.  It was enough.  He jumped back into the alleyway behind the convenience store, glad it wasn’t far from wherever the stairwell was.  It was empty.

Black appeared in front of him, his face covered in blood.  Black hit Aaron with a concussive blast laced with blood from his torn hands.  Aaron was thrown into the back wall of the store. 

Aaron gasped, got on his knees, and screamed, "Stupefy!"

Samson dodged the spell.

Of course he did.  Stop saying them out loud.

Aaron raised his wand, thought Stupefy, and nothing happened.

Samson charged Aaron and hit him with-

Aaron screamed.  And now he felt broken glass laced with razor wire and fire – like glass scraping down his arm again, down his legs, and inside of his chest, like fire forcing its way FUCK between his FUCK MAKE IT STOP ribs and prying them STOP STOP apart.  He didn't realize he was STOP FUCK PLEASE FUCK STOP screaming all the words out loud.

Samson cast a spell to shut Aaron up – he was too loud.  The muggles would come.  Aaron didn't notice.

Aaron pulled FUCK OH HOLY FUCKING CHRIST PLEASE STOP at space, for any layer.  He pulled himself through, back into the abandoned house, but the unforgiveable curse was still on him.  He writhed and summoned Samson's layers, looking WHERE IS SHE for Maddison.

Aaron FUCK STOP HAVE TO MAKE HIM STOP IT pulled himself back into the alleyway.

Samson decided Aaron had enough and released the curses.  "You can't apparate away from it, you fucking boy.  And screaming won't help you."

Aaron shook and spit blood on the pavement.  He had bitten through the inside of his mouth.

"You didn't have to help her.  You should have just let us take her."

WHERE IS MY WAND?  He had lost it when Samson hit him with-

Black stepped on his hand.  Aaron kicked him.  Hard.  He hoped he broke his knee cap.

Aaron ran back to where he had been thrown against the wall, and saw his wand.  He grabbed it, raised it, turned, and thought CONFRINGO.

Black's body exploded.

Aaron didn't have time to think about what he had done, or the pieces of flesh and bone now covering the wall behind him.  He summoned the layers, desperately looking for Maddison, trying to feel for her.  He thought of her passing him a bottle of bourbon when they were thirteen years old, pulling headphones off his head, the way her legs had looked at his birthday party, her expressions of pleasure when he touched her like she wanted, and her angry voice echoing in the empty house.  It worked.  She wasn't in Black's layers, she was THANK FUCK back inside NO SHE'S the convenience store.

Aaron appeared between Maddison's paralyzed body and Madelyn Bulstrode.  He hit Bulstrode with Stupefy before she could hit him with Petrificus Totalus.

He faced Maddison.  "Finite Incantatem."

Maddison fell on the floor and coughed.  A single line had been carved into her forehead.

She's fine.  She's alive.

I killed Black.  I just-

Aaron staggered.

Sirens came from the street.  Someone had seen the unconscious body of the convenience store attendant through the window.  Flashing, bright red and blue lights filled the store and reflected off the refrigerators.

They had disturbed the muggles.

Aaron grabbed Bulstrode's unconscious body, Maddison's shoulder, and pulled them into the alleyway.  It was as far as he could get.  He fell against the wall.  The sirens were loud.  It wouldn't take them long to check the alley.

One more jump.  Just one more.

Aaron pulled them as far away as he could - into the abandoned house.  He collapsed on the floor, pulled the ring back on, and threw up.

Maddison looked at Bulstrode's unconscious body.  She kicked her. 

"Where's the other one?  The man?"

Aaron didn't respond.

She's alive; we're alive. 

Because I killed someone.

A horn honked outside. 

Aaron and Maddison looked at each other.  The horn sounded again.

Aaron wiped blood and vomit off his mouth.  "What now?"

Maddison went to the window.  "There's . . . a bus."

"What?"  Aaron pulled himself off the floor.

There was.  A purple bus.

A young man, not much older than they were, stepped out, straightened his hat, and waved.

What the fuck.

The young man yelled toward the house.  "Are you in there?  Hello?"

Maddison walked through the house and opened the front door.  "What do you want?"

"I heard the commotion.  You're lucky I was in the area and feeling generous, seeing as you didn't bother to try hailing me the customary way.  After I saw a few flashes coming from the alleyway though, I got the message.  I had seen you sitting back out here earlier and wondered then if I should collect you.  Glad you came back here.  You looked a bit forlorn with your cigarettes and sour expression last time I passed through."

"Excuse me, who are you?"

"Stan Shunpike."  He bowed.  "Knight Bus Conductor, at your service."

Maddison left the door open behind her and walked down the front steps.  She wiped the trail of blood off her forehead.  "Is that . . . what this is?  What is a night bus?"

"Knight Bus.  Look, love, are you a stranded witch, or not?"

"So, what if I am?"

"Do you want a ride, or not?"

"A ride to where?"

"Anywhere you need to go.  Why, I could take you from here to London and back, or to-"

"Fuck, yes.  We want the damn ride."

Maddison looked back at the house and motioned for Aaron to come outside.  Aaron staggered out of the house with Bulstrode over his shoulder. 

Stan looked at the limp body. 

Aaron said, "Still want to give us that ride?"

Chapter Text

July 1994

A ringing phone receiver dangling from its cord, a shattered and crushed Walkman lost in a dark stairwell, cigarette ends on a sidewalk and the smell of ashes-

" . . . it's always tease, tease, tease . . . "

The taste of blood coating the inside of his mouth, the convenience store where someone had taken him as a kid to buy oats and milk, coins floating through the air into an open palm-

" . . . you're happy when I'm on my knees . . . "

Frustrated and angry young voices echoing off empty walls, an old woman with a scarf, a bus horn-

"Go fuck yourself."

Aaron's eyes shot open.

GLASGOW WITH MADDISON.

His fourth memory key.

It wasn't all there.  It was distorted and out of order; fragmented and damaged.  But if pieces of it were there, if he could get the rest back and he hadn't lost all of his mind-

It meant everything right now.  It meant he was still him.

GLASGOW WITH MADDISON.

Was there that much emotion attached to it?  Why had it been a memory key if it was just-

Because Maddison almost died.  And I-

I killed someone.

He was sure of it.

Of my own free will?  Why? 

Because he attacked us.  The man with the shredded face.

"It doesn't have to be a good memory, just a strong one.  Something you can use to orient yourself in your own head and not lose your fucking mind."

Juliet had told him that.

She was right.  The keys worked.  If he could remember the last one, and if remains of the rest of the keys returned, maybe he could patch together his broken mind.

Moody pulled his head out of the pensieve.  Aaron tried to read his face.

Shock?  Anger?  How far has he-

"You killed her."

Heartbreak.

Aaron didn't say anything.  He couldn't.  He still remembered the sound when he had crushed her wind pipe, and it made him sick.

"I would have done the same thing.  I just fucking thought," Moody started.  He turned away from Aaron, pulled out his flask, and drank.  "I hoped that-"

"It was quick," Aaron said.

"What the fuck was that?  I've never seen anything like it.  What it did to-" Moody took another drink.  "Tell me what I saw isn't why you-"

Aaron said, "It was the only way I could get out."

Moody walked across the room.  He moved the chain securing Aaron's iron shackle to a lower ring to stop his arm from pulling on his shoulder. 

The slack in his restraints let Aaron reach for his own side.  He pulled back his shirt to see what it looked like.  It looked – FUCK like I mutilated my body.

"We're going to stop him,” Moody said.  “We're going to kill that fucking bastard."

Moody handed him the flask.  Aaron took a long drink.

Moody pulled a vial out of his coat and held it out to Aaron.  "I should have left this with you before I started on your memories."

Aaron passed the flask back to Moody and took the vial.  He removed the cork with his teeth, spit it on the floor, and upended the pain management potion.

You wouldn't have left me with it.  You were still trying to break me and make sure I wasn't lying to you.  You had to make damn sure. 

Moody watched him.

You still do.  You're not damn sure that you can trust me yet.  And for good reason.

Even I don't know what all I did.

Moody left the flask on the concrete floor next to Aaron and walked back to the pensieve.  He looked tired.  His hair had thinned and his face was worn in a way it hadn’t been three years ago.

Aaron said, "Moody?"

The old Auror looked back at him.  Aaron had spent a lot of time wondering if he would ever see the man again.

"You always did more than enough for me," Aaron told him.

Moody stuck his head back in the bowl.

Chapter Text

March 1990

The enchantments set at The Ministry of Magic detected the facial features of Madelyn Bulstrode as soon as Aaron stepped out of a fireplace in the arrivals lobby.  Alarms sounded while he struggled with the dead weight of the killer's unconscious body.  For a woman who had to be in her late nineties and appeared frail, Bulstrode was heavy, and Aaron was spent.

A late-night security agent ran up to him with his wand raised.

"You!  Don't move!"

Aaron had already stopped.  He bent down and laid Bulstrode on the tile floor.

The agent looked at him, then at the limp woman.  "Merlin's beard.  Is that-"

"Madelyn Bulstrode.  One of the muggle-born killers."

Bulstrode's face was flashing on a wanted poster not fifteen feet from where they stood.

The agent stuck his wand in Aaron's face.  "What are you doing with her?"

"She attacked me and my friend."

"What's your name?"

"Aaron Stone.  I'm working with the Aurors; Alastor Moody and Juliet Walker."

"Alastor Moody is retired."

This fuck's useless.

"Look, can you just restrain her before she wakes up, and contact Alastor Moody or someone in the Department of Magical Law Enforcement?"

Two more security agents walked up to them.  Now Aaron had three wands in his face.  He looked down at Bulstrode and wondered how long it would be until Maddison's last Stupefy blast wore off. 

"They'll want you for questioning."

"I know,” Aaron said.  It hurt to talk.  “I'm not going anywhere."

The agents knelt over Bulstrode, took off her scarf, and pulled on her arms.  They decided it was, in fact, the old woman from the posters and restrained her with iron shackles.

"She's stronger than she looks," Aaron warned them.  "She was using some type of muscle augmentation charm."

One of the agents used a levitation spell to lift Bulstrode into the air.

The first agent looked back at Aaron.  "Come with me."

Aaron followed him through the lobby while the other two agents escorted Bulstrode to what Aaron hoped was a sturdy holding cell.  The agent led him down the familiar stone steps to the second floor.  Wards flickered and adjusted to let them pass.  It was late, and no one was there.  The hallways, cubicles, and offices were deserted.

The agent looked at Aaron like he was wondering if he should put the black-haired, bleeding kid in a holding cell, too.  Aaron couldn't blame him.  His arrival was suspicious and it wasn't like he had proof that he was working for The Ministry.

"The empty room two doors from Madam Bones' office has one-way enchantments to secure me once I'm inside," Aaron said.  They didn't technically work on him, but the agent looked out of his element and Aaron didn't want to end up in a cell next to Bulstrode tonight on top of everything else.  "You can leave me in there until someone shows up, or watch me.  Your call.  I'm not leaving until I talk to an Auror."

Aaron walked to the room with the agent following behind him, opened the door, and stepped through, making sure the agent stayed in the hallway.  The agent raised his wand and tested the wards.

When he was satisfied, he said, "I'll have to send an owl to Madam Bones.  It's late though.  I can't guarantee-"

Aaron leaned against the back wall of the small room.  "No, send an owl to Alastor Moody.  He's here in London.  I'm not sharing information with anyone except Moody or Walker."

The agent glared at him, checked the wards again, and shut the door.

Aaron slid down the wall and sat on the floor.  He looked at his watch.  It was after midnight.  This had been the longest fucking day.

The left side of his face felt like it was twice the size it usually was.  He tonged at his swollen cheek, took out his wand, and pointed it back at his face.

"Episkey."

Nothing happened.

Why should it.

He should have asked Maddison to help him on the bus, but he hadn't wanted to ask her for any favors.  She would find a way to use it against him sooner or later.  Sure, he was glad she wasn't dead - he couldn't stop himself from giving a shite about her - but he didn't want her sucking on his lip or anything else anytime soon, and she sure as fuck didn't want anything to do with him anymore. 

When they had gotten on the Knight Bus, Maddison had looked at Stan Shunpike and said, "Hogwarts first."

"You should come to The Ministry with me," Aaron said.  "You can tell them what happened to you."

"What happened to us.  You tell them."

"So, what, you're going to be selfish about this, too?  Not going to go out of your way to share details that could stop other people from dying?"

"What details do I have that you don't?  You're the fucking Auror in training, apparently."

On the floor of the bus, Bulstrode opened her eyes.  Maddison hit her with Stupefy and then used her shirt sleeve to wipe blood off the single slash of an M that marred her own forehead.

It was close.  It was closer than either of us want to admit.

And it was my fault.  I never should have jumped her out of Hogwarts when I felt like shite.

Aaron stood in the aisle next to her, holding onto the bar above his head for support as the Knight Bus took off with a lurch.

"If you feel like you need to talk about what happened-"

"Not to you I don’t.  This wasn't my first time being attacked and thinking I would die, Aaron.  It seems to be a normal occurrence in this fucked up magical world."

"I don't want you to-"

"I'm no worse now than you are after what Black did.  And I'm no worse than I was when I pulled Peter out of the mud on the train.  You weren't there for that, so don't worry about staying around for the aftermath of this either.  We both need to move on."

They hadn't said anything else to each other.

The door to the enchanted room opened. 

Moody looked inside.  "What the fuck happened?"

Aaron looked up at him from the floor.  "My friend and I were attacked in Glasgow."

"I saw Bulstrode before I came up here.  Good fucking work."

Moody waved his wand and removed the wards on the room.  Aaron stood up.

"Fuck, did you bite through your mouth?”  Moody reached for his face and Aaron pulled away.  "Let me see it, Aaron."

Aaron did.  He winced when Moody touched his jaw.

"You bit through your tongue, too.  Fuck.  Come on."

Aaron followed Moody to the infirmary.  Moody ignited the overhead surgical lamp and pointed his wand at Aaron's face.  Warmth spread through his flesh as it healed. 

"Now, what the fuck happened in Glasgow?"

Aaron told Moody everything – Bulstrode following them on the street, the convenience store, and how he had shredded Black's skin in the stairwell – while Moody used the bandaging charm on his lacerated right shoulder and back.  Aaron hadn't realized how torn up he was.

"Where is Black now?  Did he run?"

Aaron said, "He's dead."

Moody stopped.

"I killed him," Aaron said.

"If you killed him, where's his body?"

It took Aaron a minute to say, "In pieces."

"What the fuck did you do?"

"He was going to kill me, Moody.  And Bulstrode had my friend.  I couldn't fucking jump anywhere, I was too exhausted, and he used the Cruciatus Curse on me.  I just wanted it to stop, and fucking Stupefy wasn't doing anything because I'm still shite at actual magic, and Black dodged everything I sent at him.  I didn't think anything would happen when I thought Confringo, but I must have meant it.  Because it worked."

Moody reached into a cabinet and took out two vials – one to prevent infection and one for the pain.  He handed both of them to Aaron.

"This is my fault.  I relied too heavily on your ability to pull yourself through space and away from your problems.  I'm going to teach you how to fucking duel, and not any of that shite they teach you at Hogwarts, so next time you can fucking defend yourself without a body count.  We might have been able to get more information off Black if you had left him alive."

Aaron nodded.  Saying it all out loud had made it real.

I stopped Charlie from fighting Carrow, and then I went and fucking killed someone.

His voice shook a little when he asked, "Are you going to try me?"

"Before the Wizengamot?  For defending yourself against a mass murderer?  No, Aaron.  Drink the potions."

"I killed someone."

"Do you know how many people I've killed?  In self-defense, duels, or just plain doing this fucking job?"

Aaron took the potions, one right after the other.

"Look," Moody said.  "After the shock wears off, and you're not so fucking angry and exhausted, what you feel won't have anything to do with Black.  He was going to kill you.  And your friend.  Black and Bulstrode killed dozens of muggle-borns.  He tortured you, Aaron.  He deserved what you did.  The Wizengamot would have executed him.  But you'll have to contend with the knowledge that you are capable of killing someone."

Moody watched him.  "Your reaction – it's healthy.  You should feel bad about taking a life.  Even the life of a killer.  You're no sociopath.  You're no dark wizard."

"Tell that to fucking Dumbledore."

"Albus has lost his mind.  There's a reason he's still sitting in Azkaban."

"What if he was right?  What he said . . . what if I did inherit some dark magic I have no control over?"

"What you can do isn't dark magic.  You aren't sacrificing people or animals every time you pull yourself through space.  You are feeding off your own energy; we've proven that.  Time and space manipulation are aspects of our world that The Ministry would rather pretend didn't exist and avoid educating people about.  The Ministry wants full control over the use of space and time magic - like port keys and time turners - and for good reason.  It's powerful, dangerous stuff that isn't easily defined in a textbook, or controlled.  You know that.  Don't let Albus Dumbledore get in your head."

"But if he's right-"

"Then what the fuck changes?  Say he does know something about you, or your fucking blood family - the people who abandoned you.  What would you do differently?"

Aaron said, "Nothing."

"Then don't let him bait you.  Where he is, he has a lot more to worry about than trying to manipulate someone into becoming the next fucking Tom Riddle."

Moody blew out the surgical lamp and left the infirmary.  Aaron followed him.

"Now, you said you couldn't jump?"

"I could just . . . not far.  And not often."

"Are you sleeping?"

Aaron didn't respond.

"No, you're in classes all day and working with Juliet at night.  I can see it in your eyes.  I want to catch these fucks, too, but even Juliet took time off to hole up in her flat and cut herself off from a lot of this shite for a while."

"What if I can't manipulate space anymore?  What if I'm losing it and I'm back at square fucking one?"

"You're not losing it – you're depleted.  I've kept a close eye on you.  Your abilities aren't going away.  If anything, they are getting stronger as you get used to them and grow.  But now that you can push yourself farther without consequences, you end up at the brink of your physical limits.  You used to just collapse, pass out, and make yourself sick."

Aaron said, "I still get sick."

"But when was the last time you passed out after a series of jumps?  Your exhausted body is trying to find new ways to stop you from pushing yourself too far.  So, take the hint.  Take a fucking break."

Aaron didn't protest.  Moody was right.

Moody walked to a cabinet, took out a jar of floo powder, and handed it to Aaron.

"Here, get yourself back to Hogwarts the way everyone else does.  Then, rest and go see Pomfrey for something that will keep your back from getting infected, or get her to stitch you up more.  I don't want to see you again until I come collect you myself.  Go be seventeen for a goddamn minute."

Chapter Text

April 1990

A violent storm tore through the North Sea, agitating the waters and sending them reeling into the unplottable island.  The walls of Azkaban shook as sea spray shot into the darkness.  Lighting and screams of anguish were constant.

They have forgotten me.

And left me to rot.

Albus Dumbledore sat on the floor of a stone-lined cell that wasn't long enough for him to lie down inside of.  Long iron chains and tight shackles on his wrists and ankles secured him to the walls.  He hadn't eaten in three days.  No one had brought him food.  He pulled the thin sheet they had left him with tighter around his emaciated body and covered his ears against the screams that sounded from a nearby cell, waiting for them to stop.

Do you feel forgotten, too, Gellert?  Abandoned to your fate at Nurmengard?

Dumbledore had thought so often of Grindelwald during the past year.

If only I could tell you how very sorry I am to see what both of our lives have become - how we sit in similar places, entirely alone. 

More screams.

It turns out that you were right.  In my heart, I was no better than you; doing what I thought I had to for some greater good.

Dumbledore exhaled a mouthful of condensation as a deep chill spread toward his cell, coating the space between the door and its frame in hoar frost.  He dropped the sheet, got to his feet, and positioned himself against the farthest wall, raising his hands between him and the impending despair.

The wooden, outer door of his cell opened.  A dementor leered at him through the bared, inner door.  Frost spread across Dumbledore's arms and forehead.

The creature fed off of him.  For just a moment, he let it.

Take what you will.  Make me feel what others have felt at my hands.

His face distorted into a scream without sound.

Make me pay for what I have done.

He didn't think there was any happiness left for the dementor to take from him, but he was wrong.  The wraith prodded his mind and went after a part of him he hadn't realized was still there.  The memory hovered in his head before it was forced out of him; bled out through his consciousness.

Gellert.

Gellert standing in the sun-filled house in the woods, leaning into Dumbledore, touching his lover's face with tender fingers, and kissing him.

Dumbledore screamed out, "Expecto Patronum!"

A phoenix made of pure, white energy shot out from his hands and shoved the dementor into the wall across from his cell.  The wraith screamed.  The outer door slammed shut.

Dumbledore gasped and doubled over – shaking and sobbing against the stones.

It wasn't supposed to be this way.  We were supposed to change the world.

We were supposed to fight for each other.

The dementor had taken the bright sunlight filtering through the windows of the house in the woods and the way Gellert felt pressed against him.  Dumbledore was left with the sensation of touch - with knowing Gellert had cared for him when they were seventeen - before they had raised their wands and destroyed each other's lives.

Chapter Text

May 1990

It was after four o'clock in the morning when Charlie reached beneath his bed.  He grabbed his broom and the satchel he had packed after dinner, pulled a sweater over his head, and took a scarf out of his trunk, moving slow so he wouldn't make noise and wake the rest of the Sixth and Seventh Years who shared the room.  He didn't have to leave for another hour, but he kept waking up and going over the plan in his head.  If he left now, he would have time to stop in Ballycastle for something to eat after he crossed the North Channel.

Aaron moved in his sleep on the bed next to Charlie, tangled in red sheets with an arm thrown over his face.  Charlie stopped and waited to see if he would wake up, but he didn't.  He should have told Aaron what he was doing.  He wouldn't be leaving for Ireland now if Aaron hadn't taken him to the Carrow house and helped him remove and catalog the dragon remains with Bennett and Mia.  Charlie wanted-

To wake him up, and take him with me.

But Aaron had still never flown on a broom, and Charlie didn't think he would go for riding with him while he dove through the air and shot over pockets of turbulence.  Aaron was a lot of things, but he wasn't comfortable with flying or heights, not with his inexperience and vertigo.

If he was, I wonder what would happen if he apparaited us on a broom – could he do that?  Say if we were flying at top speed and wanted to surprise the hell out of these sick dragon hunting fucks? 

He wasn't sure if it would work or how hard it would be for Aaron to control appariting both of them at the same time while traveling at a high speed with a magical object.  Charlie didn't know what all was involved – he had botched his own apparition test twice now and he didn't think he would try again.  He didn't want another five mile walk back to the castle, and he didn't want to lose any body parts.  Still, if he had Aaron-

Could we do it without breaking our necks?

They should try it – but not tonight.  Not until Aaron was comfortable in the air.

But when will that be?

Charlie wrapped the scarf around his neck and left the room.

We don't have a lot of time left to live together like this.

Charlie walked down the stone steps, through the common room, and stepped through the portrait of the fat lady.  The castle doors would all be locked and secured until sunrise, but he could get out through the owlery.  He took a moving staircase to the fourth floor corridor and headed for the West Tower.

The floor of the owlery was covered with straw, feathers, and owl droppings.  Most of the owls were asleep in their roosts, with their heads tucked against their bodies.  Charlie stepped over regurgitated pieces of dead rodents, reached into his satchel, and took out his goggles and worn leather gloves.  He pulled them on and walked to an open window.

Charlie stepped on the window sill and balanced nine stories above the ground, with his toes on the edge of the stone.  He pulled his broom under him and jumped out of the window.

Charlie let himself free fall for a few seconds before he pulled up and shot into the air.  He flew between the turrets and watched reflected moonlight dart across the slate tiles and the distant lake.  The Forbidden Forest stretched over the hills and covered thousands of acres to the north.  At this height and speed, everything looked distant and small.  Charlie circled the castle one more time and oriented himself, then he flew southwest and left Hogwarts behind. 

A dread that had nothing to do with where he was headed came over him, fueled by his flight around the castle and Aaron's steady breathing in the darkness of their dorm room – the familiar sound that had been there almost every time he had woken up in the middle of the night since he was eleven years old.

This was home.  But not for much longer.

Charlie didn't know where he would end up after Hogwarts.  The way his chosen profession – dragonology – worked, he could end up anywhere, and he likely wouldn't even stay in one place.  Even if he worked for one of the sanctuaries, there were migration routes and flight paths to monitor and direct.  The clans had to be allowed their territories and kept away from muggles.  He would have to follow the dragons.  Nothing would be like it was now, with Hogwarts and friends to come home to.  Sure, there would be people like Bennett and Mia, but there would also be a lot more nights alone in a tent and the rain.

You'll be fine.  You like being alone.

Not always.  Not forever.

It was forever that unnerved the shite out of him.

What's the alternative?  I don't want what everyone else does.  I don't want what Dad and Mum have, and I fucking know it. 

Does that mean I don't have a choice?  I just have to go through the rest of my life without anyone there to care about me or share things with me?

The cold wind had turned his face numb and he shivered.

Fuck me.  I am going to end up alone.

 


 

Charlie didn't stop in Ballycastle.  He had lost his appetite and realized he had forgotten to stuff a few sickles in his satchel.  He kept flying and soared over Belfast in the dark – over lights and buildings, cars and muggles, too high in the air – and moving too fast through the clouds – to be seen. 

He was almost to the coast when the sun rose over Ireland.  The twilight ahead of him collided with the breaking daylight at his back, creating a surreal zone of illuminated darkness across the horizon.  The clouds had broken – leaving him exposed.  He avoided roads and towns and increased his speed, soaring toward the Cliffs of Moher.

When he arrived, he saw movement over the ocean and long brown hair swept back in the wind – Mia.

He flew toward her.  Mia saw him and sped in his direction.  They met in the air above the edge of the cliffs and the ocean breaking hundreds of feet below.

"I'm so glad you're early," Mia said.  "We have to head south right away.  Bennett is already with the dragons."

They had planned on meeting at the cliffs and following the dragons south along the coast, protecting them in case the hunters set upon them before they were within range of the open hills and lakes of a secluded section of a national park.

Charlie flew besides Mia.  "What happened?"

"The clans headed down the coast earlier than we thought they would.  They will be in Killarney soon."

Killarney National Park was located along the very precise migration route of multiple clans of Hebridean Blacks that had the same markings and coloration of the young dragon that had been floating above the Carrow's trophy room.  Hebridean Blacks rarely deviated from their flight paths by more than a quarter of a mile.  It made them far too easy to track, locate, and hunt.  Based on the skeletons and mutilated dragon carcasses Bennett and Mia had found in an area of the park kept hidden from muggles, hunters had used the area to attack the dragons.  The ages of the remains had exhibited clear cycles – a hunting party preyed on the dragons in the same place at the same time every other month.

Mia reached into her satchel, took out something wrapped in cloth, and handed it to him.  Charlie unwrapped a knife with a polished, white eight inch blade – dragon bone - and a sturdy handle.

"Sustainably sourced from my first harvest," Mia told him.  "I was a few years younger than you at the time."

"I can't take this."

Mia smiled.  "I have fifteen other ones.  You can tear through anything with that, enchanted or not.  There's not much that can stand up to dragon bone."

Charlie tucked the knife into his belt.

They stayed in the upper layers of the atmosphere and flew into the clouds when they could.  The morning sun made Charlie hot.  He pulled off his scarf and sweater and shoved them into his satchel.

"We're working on the rest of the remains," Mia told him.  "We've almost matched one of the heads, we're just narrowing it down between three potential clans in Germany.  When we do, we will let you know."

Charlie had contacted Bennett and Mia while he and Aaron were still at the Carrow house.  When they arrived, the four of them had stood in the trophy room, appalled and horrified by everything they found.  Mia kept wiping her eyes and holding her hand over her mouth.  Bennett swore and flipped over the dragon hide covered furniture.  Charlie thought he was accepting all of it, and coming to terms with what the Carrows had done, until he realized the floor throughout the trophy room and the surfacing on the balcony wasn't made of ceramic tiles – it was all cut dragon scales.  He wanted to burn the whole fucking house down, but they couldn't do that.  They needed the evidence to stop more people like Emily and Marcus fucking Carrow.  They decided to remove everything – the heads on the walls, the griffins on the balcony, and the young Hebridean Black – and take it – well, ok, Aaron had apparaited all of it – to Bennett and Mia's house.  They lived on forty acres of farmland with a barn large enough to keep the remains intact and organized.

They hit turbulence and moved to a higher altitude where the air was smoother.

"How many hunters do you think there will be?"

Mia shook her head.  "Anywhere between ten and fifteen based on the remains we found in the park.  It depends on how much they want to pay and what kind of experience they want.  And we'll have to contend with a few Sherpas – those will be the people to watch out for."

"Sherpas?"

"Guides.  The real hunters.  All these rich witches and wizards, sure, they kill the dragons and keep the trophies, but the Sherpas are the ones who track the migration routes, study the best way to kill specific breeds of dragons, and show high paying clients how to ambush and slaughter them."

"If they want to kill a Hebridean Black, they'll have to go for the stomach," Charlie said.  Hebridean Blacks were covered with hard, uneven scales, ridges of sharp cartilage along their backs, and spiked arrow-shaped tails.  "We have to keep them from doing that."

Mia nodded.  "Yes.  And without killing them."

"They're going to try and fucking kill us."

"I don't doubt it," Mia said.  "But we're not here to execute anyone.  If you can get in range, use a binding spell to tie them to their brooms and direct them toward the ground, or leave them suspended in the air.  If we don't take them alive, we're no better than they are."

They flew through a layer of clouds.  When they broke out, Charlie saw the dragons ahead of them, and Bennett soaring between the clans.  There were three of them – two groups of four and a clan of three, keeping just enough distance between them to avoid encroaching on each other's space.

Charlie and Mia increased their speed and caught up to Bennett.

Mia flew up next to Bennett and matched his speed.  She leaned over and kissed him.  "No hunters yet?"

Bennett took Mia's hand, squeezed it, and let it go.  "No, but Killarney is just ahead.  If we estimated the day correctly, they will be on us soon."

As soon as they crossed into the park, the hunters came down on them out of the sky.

"I'll stay with the clan in front," Bennett yelled over the wind.  "Charlie, take the group of three.  Mia, if you can, take the other group of four.  We can't herd them together – the females will go after each other and the hunters will use that to their advantage."

Charlie raced after his clan – an alpha female and her two offspring - and tried to get between them and the hunters, but they came after his dragons from two different directions.  Some of their brooms had sling-shot nets like the ones the poachers in Argentina had used.

Fuck.

Charlie raised his wand.  One of the hunters came right at him, swinging a mace in the air.  Charlie charged him, but another hunter OR MAYBE ITS ONE OF THE DAMN SHERPAS I DON'T KNOW THEY ALL FUCKING ARE THE SAME UP HERE fired a flash of red at his head.  Charlie dropped beneath the stunning spell, but the hunter with the mace hit him in the back – hard.  Bone fractured and split apart.  Charlie lost the air in his lungs and almost fell off his broom.  He caught the end and dangled in the sky.  He gasped, too stunned to see the hunter with the mace coming for his head.

Right before he hit Charlie again, the hunter was engulfed in fire.  The dragon roared and tore through the air a few feet to the left of Charlie.  Charlie winced and pulled himself back on his broom.  The charred remains of the hunter plummeted to the earth.  It was hard to breathe; he pulled air into his throat in rasps.  It felt like something sharp was stabbing him in the side.

Fucker broke my ribs.

A dragon roared above him.  Charlie looked up to see one of the young dragons swinging its tail at a hunter.  The hunter dove under the dragon, took his spear and-

NO, YOU FUCKING CUNT.

-tore a gash in the dragon's stomach.  The dragon screamed.  

Charlie charged the hunter, grabbed the man's broom, and pulled him straight down, using the weight of his own body and broom as he dove into a free fall.  The man swung his spear at Charlie, but the awkward angle and the plummeting speed handicapped him.  Charlie raised his wand with his free hand and held onto his broom with his legs.  He didn't have to say anything out loud – he hit the man with a binding spell and lashed him to his broom.  The man struggled with the spear still clutched in his hand, falling out of the sky.

Charlie let them drop until they were just above the ground – he wanted this fucker to think he was going to kill him – then he halted in the air and caught the hunter in a levitation charm.  Charlie used a concussive blast to send the man to the ground, where he hit the dirt and rolled with his broom, still bound to its handle.  Charlie jumped off his broom and stood over the man with his wand raised.

"Did you fucking think no one was paying attention?  That no one would miss a few dragons?"

"You fucking-"

Charlie flicked his wand and shut him up.  He had to get back in the air.  He hit the man with Stupefy and got back on his broom, rushing back up into the clouds where fire and screams collided.  The dragons were putting up a fight, too.

A hunter ahead of him released a sling-shot net.  It wrapped around one of the young dragons, forcing it to drop out of the sky.  Charlie screamed, left the hunter in the air, and dove after the falling dragon.  He grabbed the net, still fighting to catch his own breath.  Charlie pulled out Mia's knife and started to cut through the net.  The ground got closer.  He looked for the lead line – at the dragon's head – and cut through it – inches from the creature's purple eyes.

The dragon soared free.  Charlie coughed up blood.

He looked for the hunter with the sling-shot net, but he didn't see her.  He didn't see Bennett or Mia, either.  Charlie flew faster and looked for his dragons, for the one with the gashed stomach.  They were there, flying ahead of him, incinerating sling-shot hunter.  She raised a fire shield, but it was too late to be effective.

Fucking yes.  Get them.

He saw the other two clans; he hadn't been looking high enough.  They were above him.  Charlie dodged dragon fire and looked for Bennett and Mia. 

Was that all of them?  Where are the rest of the hunters?

Mia plummeted through the air in front of him, dragging a witch lashed to her broom.

Good.  How many are left?

Charlie saw a hunter on a broom to his left, but the man was already fleeing.  Charlie chased him anyway.

Until a flash of green light ignited the sky.  Charlie looked up, where the killing curse had come from.  A body fell out of the sky.

NO.

It was Bennett.

Charlie cut through the sky and plunged after Bennett's falling body.  He matched the speed of the young man's lifeless form and pulled him onto his broom. 

Charlie landed and laid Bennett on the ground.  He leaned over his body and clutched his shoulders.  He touched Bennett's neck, looking for a pulse.

The curse might have missed him, what if they just hit him with-

But, no.  Bennett was dead.

Mia left her bound witch on the ground, and ran toward him across the meadow – screaming.

Chapter Text

May 1990

A steady, warm breeze drifted across the hillside overlooking the farm, bending the tall grass and creating air currents for a flock – a murder – of soaring crows.  It had rained the night before and the ground was saturated.  The small crowd avoided the worst of the mud as they walked up the hill, carrying branches cut from the elm tree in front of the house a hundred yards to the west.

Charlie walked alone at the back of the group, behind Bennett's muggle parents; his sister and brother; an aunt and an uncle; and friends who had known Bennett since he was four years old.  He followed Mia's muggle sister, her cousins, and people who had stood with Bennett and Mia on their wedding day.  These people – these muggles – were close to Mia.  They had been close to Bennett.  And they had all been lied to.  Mia and Bennett's parents were the only muggles present who knew the truth of how Bennett had died.  They were the only ones who knew Bennett had been a wizard, and that Mia was a witch.  Mia had to tell the rest of them that Bennett had a heart condition; she told them she found him alone, on the ground, in one of their barley fields.  They would never know Bennett had died flying across the sky, standing between a clan of dragons and death.

Charlie heard Mia sobbing before he got to the top of the hill.  She leaned over the pyre where Bennett's body lay, with her mother holding her.  Two torches were embedded in the ground, one on either side of them.

"Losing someone takes a part out of you, Charlie.  The pain sits in your mind and reminds you it's there every time you think you're past it."

The crowd gathered around the pyre.  Charlie stood at the back with a branch clutched in his hand.  His still-healing ribs ached.  A man with a scar across his face watched Charlie from the other side of the hill.  It made him uncomfortable, and he moved to stand behind three of Bennett's friends.

"I want to tell you this is the last time you will see death or lose someone you care about, but you're a wizard, and our lives are filled with struggle and loss."

The flock of crows circled the hill.  A pair of them landed between Bennett's siblings and the pyre.  Mia's youngest cousin threw a rock at them.  The birds cried and scattered.

Mia's mum spoke into her ear and Mia nodded.  She leaned over and kissed Bennett's cold forehead for the last time.  With her mum holding her, she laid the first branch on top of the pyre.

Charlie watched the people around him walk forward to say goodbye to Bennett, moving in groups.  They leaned over his body, touched his lifeless chest, and added their branches to the stack.  Some were quiet, others cried, leaned against each other, and held each other. 

They'll never know who Bennett really was; what he could do.  They'll never know he died saving dragons.  They all think he just collapsed in a fucking field.

Bennett's mother and father walked forward.  His mother had to hand her branch to her husband.  She couldn't look at her son's corpse again.

Charlie felt sick, remembering the dead weight of Bennett's body as he caught it in the air and carried it to the ground; that minute where he thought Bennett might still be alive.  He didn't know if he could step forward in front of these people alone; if he could say goodbye to Bennett without losing whatever was holding him together. 

Charlie heard someone behind him.  Before he could turn around, Bill placed a hand on his shoulder.

Charlie felt numb.  "What are you doing here?"

"Did you really think we'd let you do this alone?"

Charlie turned around.  Tonks, Eni, and Aaron stood at the edge of the hill.

They all came.  To help me.

The man with the scared face left his branch on top of the pyre, and hugged Mia. 

Charlie walked forward with his brother.

He looked down at Bennett, covered in elm branches.  His face was the only part of him that was still visible and – with closed eyes and pale lips – it didn't even look like him.  But seeing what had once been his friend's face still made Charlie's breath catch in his throat.  Bill kept his hand on his brother's shoulder.

Charlie placed his branch on the pyre, looked at Bennett one more time, and followed his brother back to the edge of the crowd.  Tonks, Eni, and Aaron moved to stand on either side of him.

Mia wiped her eyes and faced the crowd of people she loved – people Bennett had loved.  "I won't be able to get through this without crying, but it wouldn't be right if I didn't speak for Bennett today.  He would have hated to see us all so damn upset over him like this."

Mia shook her head and bit her lip, then continued.  "Bennett cared about all of you.  It means everything that you're here.  Bennett worked hard and gave so much of himself for the things and people that meant the most to him.  He was my husband, my best friend, and I'm not sure I'm ever going to be alright without him.  I don't think any of us will be, not for a long time.  In the first few seconds of the last three days, I've woken up wanting nothing more than for losing Bennett to be a bad dream.  I've waited for him to come back through the front door and make me read one of his stupid cricket articles, or tell me we have to go to another football match – you all know how I feel about sports.  But he won't, and I'll spend the rest of my life wishing he would drag me back to the pitch."

Mia nodded at Bennett's father.  He joined her.  Each of them grabbed one of the torches.

"I'll end with one of Bennett's favorite quotes from Charles Bukowski – What matters most is how well you walk through fire."

Charlie recognized the words.  He had seen them carved into Bennett's broom.

Mia and Bennett's father took their torches, and ignited the pyre.  Mia cried, and Bennett's father took the torches, threw them on the fire, and held her.

Charlie watched Bennett's body burn with Bill, Aaron, Eni, and Tonks leaning against him.  Eni took his hand in hers and squeezed it tight.

When the pyre was gone, Mia's family walked her down the hill.  Charlie left Bill and his friends and walked up to Mia.  He hugged her, and she whispered in his ear.  "Now, more than ever, we have to stop them.  He would have wanted us to keep going."

He held her.  "Tell me when you're ready, and I will be there."

Mia nodded against him, pulled away, and walked down the hill with her mum and Bennett's parents.  Charlie watched them, until the man with the scared face stood next to him.

"Charles Weasley?"

"Just Charlie."

"Bennett told me a lot about you, so did Mia."

"I'm sorry," Charlie said, "who are you?"

"Edison Abbott.  I oversee a dragon sanctuary in Romania.  Bennett and Mia used to work with me, before they started conducting their own research."

Edison handed Charlie a folded piece of parchment.  "Now isn't the time, but, if you ever want a job, contact me.  Bennett said he's never seen anyone as good with dragons – and as fast on a broom – as you are.  We could use you."

Charlie tucked the parchment into his pocket.  "I'll keep you in mind."

Edison Abbott clapped him on the back and walked down the hill, into the crowd of muggles.

Charlie turned back to Bill and his friends.  They stood together at the edge of the hill, quiet and watching him.

Tonks hugged him as soon as he was in range.  "Whatcha need, Charlie?"

"I don't know.  To not be here anymore."

"Just tell me where," Aaron said.

"Not Hogwarts.  Not The Burrow.  I don't know.  I'm alright.  I just want to go someplace where I can stop fucking thinking about how unfair all of this is."

Bill said, "Well, we're not letting you isolate yourself in the woods for two months.  That approach was shite."

Charlie shook his head, and managed a smile.  "No, no.  I'm ready for something a lot less toxic.  Can we go . . . I don't know . . . somewhere more muggle?  I need a break from the fucking magical world."

They all did.

Eni said, "I know a place."

Chapter Text

May 1972

Number Twelve Grimmauld Place – four stories, an attic, and a cellar – brick, stone, and a wrought iron gate - was hidden in plain sight in the Islington borough of London.  The unplottable residence shared its west and east exterior walls with identical homes, occupied by oblivious muggles.  The muggles had long forgotten that there was another dwelling wedged between Number Thirteen and Number Eleven, and that the out-of-order addresses weren't the result of a numbering error.  They had no memories of the family that had been driven from their home at the turn of the twentieth century, and left homeless and destitute, by the pure-blood witches and wizards of the house of Black.

Andromeda stood across the street with her wand clutched in her hand.  Blood ran down her wrist.

She stepped off the curb in the streetlight, deciding not to bother with the wards on the front door and the windows.  She walked to the cellar door.  Her aunt never bothered to secure it.  The modest entrance was for house elves and hired servants.  No Black – apart from her kid cousin Sirius - would ever think to use it, or to remember often enough that it existed. 

Andromeda pulled the door open and climbed into the cellar.  She ignited the end of her wand to see in the darkness and took the narrow staircase to the first floor.

She could still feel her mother inside of her head.  The bitch – the coward – had come here to hide.

Did you think you would be safe here, Mother?

Did you think this house would scare me away?

Andromeda stepped into the hallway.  She looked for her Aunt Walburga's house elf – Kreacher – and didn't see him.

The whispered voices of her aunt and mother came from the library.

Andromeda kicked the library door open and hit her aunt with Petrificus Totalus.  Walburga's scream was trapped in her crippled vocal cords.

Andromeda hit her mother with a binding spell and pushed her against the far wall before her mother could raise her wand.  The impact broke apart frames on the wall that held muggle art pieces, sending their contents and broken shards of glass to the floor.  Druella struggled against the chords wrapped around her body and screamed.

Andromeda pushed with the force at the end of her wand until the wall fractured against her mother's shoulders, arms, and rib cage.

"I told you that if you ever interfered with my life – if you ever threatened me or my husband – that I would find you and end you."

"You disobedient child-"

Andromeda pulled back her sleeve and held her bleeding wrist in her mother's face.

"I felt you in my head, Mother.  I heard your voice, telling me to kill myself.  I had to watch myself take a letter opener off my hallway table and force it into my flesh, knowing my unborn child would die with me, and my husband would come home from work and find me where I had bled out on the floor."

Andromeda had struggled against her mother's Imperius Curse, kneeling on the wood floor and forcing herself to overpower the woman in her head.  The thought of her husband, their child, and her limited resistance training from Defense Against the Dark Arts was all she had.  Her mother should have chosen a time when she was weak, or when she had nothing to fight for. 

After Andromeda forced the voice out of her head, she laid exhausted on the floor, shaking and sobbing.

Druella glared at her second child.  "I would rather kill you than have you taint our bloodline with that muggle-born's mud."

"You used an unforgiveable curse against your daughter."

"Do you think you're the first Black or Rosier to stray?  To have a child with one of them?  I do what is necessary to maintain the purity of all the bloodlines connected to our house, as my mother did before me."

Andromeda pressed her wand into her mother's throat.

"Do it, Andromeda.  Kill your mother."

Andromeda took the letter opener out of her pocket.  She cut her mother's palm open, then she sliced through her own.  She pressed their hands together, and entwined her fingers with her mother's.

"Swear, Mother, that you will never come near me, my husband, or our child.  Swear that you will never raise your hand, your wand, or an unforgiveable curse against us.  Swear that what you did today was the last time I will ever feel you in my head."

Druella was silent.

"Swear it, Mother."

"I would rather see my house burned to the ground."

Andromeda raised her wand and sent flames erupting from its end.  She pointed the wand in the direction of the Black family records – leather bound books and vials filled with the memories of her ancestors.  "I am willing to accept that term."

Her paralyzed aunt watched all of this from ten feet away – unable to scream or move.

Andromeda squeezed her mother's fingers.  Their mingled blood ran down their arms.

"Swear it."

Druella spat, "I swear it."

The flames danced off the end of Andromeda's wand.  "Repeat it.  Seal the pact."

"I swear to never come near you, your husband, or your child.  I swear to never raise anything against you.  I swear you will never feel me inside your head again.  And I swear, now and always, that I have no second daughter."

Andromeda left her mother bound, bleeding, and pinned against the wall. 

As she walked through the front hallway of Number 12 Grimmauld Place for the last time, she raised her wand, and burned her own face off the family tree.

Nymphadora Tonks was born eight months later.

Ten months after her disowned granddaughter came into the world, Druella Black used the Imperius Curse to do what she deemed necessary, and took another life.

Chapter Text

May 1990

"Never again is what you swore the time before . . . Never again is what you swore the time before . . . "

The last lines of the fading song drifted through the open windows of a crowded London flat.  BBC Radio 1 played off the Sony cassette player on the kitchen counter.  The sound was turned up loud enough for the teenagers and twenty-somethings gathered in the living room, dining room, and on the fire escape to hear it.

"That was Policy of Truth, the brand new single from Depeche Mode that literally dropped on Monday.  You know it from their March album – Violator.  If not, kindly turn off your radio and take yourself down to the store to buy a copy.  It's that important."

A nineteen year old boy walked into the kitchen with his hands full and added another six pack to the refrigerator.  In the living room, an excited young woman shouted as her friend walked through the front door.  While everyone was distracted by the arrival, a couple who had been drinking since before the sun went down fumbled their way down the hallway with their bodies and faces pressed against each other.  They pulled each other into the first bedroom they came to and locked the door.

"This next one – a request from Soho - needs no introduction.  It's a few years old, but I'm going to play it anyway so everyone can get the 80's out of their systems already.  It's a new decade, you nutters.  But here, have your Tears for Fears."

Eni mixed vodka into a glass of ice and soda water and stirred it with a butter knife. 

Lee walked back into the kitchen.  "Right, what were we talking about?"

"Liverpool," Eni said.  "Did you appease the angry horde?"

Three of Lee's downstairs neighbors, and two of the neighbors on her hall, had banged on the front door and complained about the noise coming through their walls and ceilings.  Lee had talked to them and followed them down the hallway with a few cans of beer to make up for the disturbance.

Lee leaned down and kissed Eni's forehead.  "At least until midnight, then I said we'd kick everyone out."

"Right, then.  So, you said you heard back from the University of Liverpool?"

Lee took a beer out of the fridge, and looked back at Eni.  "I got in."

"Lee!  That's excellent, holy shite, congratulations."

"It means I can live with you in your flat above the bakery after you graduate.  I can delay my acceptance another year and keep working in Hogsmeade in the meantime." Lee said.  She took a bottle opener, removed the cap on her beer, and took a drink.  "If you still want me to, anyway."

Eni hugged Lee, jostling the drinks in both of their hands.  "It's all I want."

" . . . we will find you acting on your best behavior, turn your back on mother nature . . . "

"Eni, you should apply, too."

"I want to," Eni said.  "I'll need to get my GED first.  I'm so far behind, thanks to Hogwarts.  I'll have to start studying so I can take the exam next year.  Your mum did the right thing by making you stay in muggle school and learning," Eni eyed Lee's muggle friends standing on the other side of the kitchen, "the rest at home.  Why don't places like Hogwarts teach maths and social studies?"

Lee pushed her crimped hair out of her face.  "Because they don't want you going to college and coming back to this world.  They want you to waste your life working at Borgin and Burkes."

Eni laughed and took a drink.  "It is going to take me forever to get through uni.  I'll be useless for a few years until I get through my generals."

"Not useless," Lee said.  "If Death Eaters ever break in, it will be you saving us, Hogwarts girl."

Lee set her beer on the counter and reached for Eni's face.  She hesitated.

She's nervous.  What's she got to be nervous about?

"Eni," Lee said.  She IS nervous.  "Since we're going to be living together in almost a year, I have to make sure you know."

"Know what?"

"I don't want this – us – to just be something fun the two of us did for a little while to pass the time during school and uni.  I want you for a lot longer than that, Eni.  This isn't just making out at shows and dancing together anymore for me."

Eni set her drink next to Lee's and wrapped her arms around her girlfriend.  "It was always more than that for me, too.  I never just wanted you for a little while."

Lee hoped up and sat on the counter.  Eni kissed her, and Lee wrapped her legs around Eni’s waist.

A young man with a shaved head walked into the kitchen.  "Can you two maybe go into one of the bedrooms first?"

Lee flipped off her cousin.  Eni didn't recognize Oliver without the Mohawk.  He looked naked with it shaved off.

"Right, make an obscene gesture at the man who went back to Hogsmeade to grab this for you."  Oliver handed Lee her Polaroid camera.

"Fine, fine, you are the best," Lee said, taking the camera and kissing Oliver on the cheek.

Oliver reached into the refrigerator.  "I want you to remember that about an hour from now when I'm good and pissed."

 


 

" . . . there's a room where the light won't find you, holding hands while the walls come tumbling down, when they do, I'll be right behind you . . . "

"Wait a damn minute," Bill said.  "You're telling me I could have saved my bloody wrists and fingers from cramping every night if we had one of these . . . these . . . "

"Typewriters," Aaron said.

" . . . if we had a typewriter like this at Hogwarts?"

"This one wouldn't work at Hogwarts," Aaron said, "since it runs off electricity.  But yes, typewriters would be an improvement."

"Fuck me," Bill said.  "I wasted so much damn time writing everything out with a quill and ink.  Don't tell my dad I admitted it, but maybe he's been onto something all of these years.  Damn muggles and their innovations."

"They can keep their typewriters and pry my broom out of my cold, dead hands," Charlie said.

Lee, Eni, and Oliver came out of the kitchen. 

Lee walked up to Bill, Charlie, and Aaron.  "Hey, you lot, take a picture with Eni and me.  Where's Tonks?"

Lee handed her camera to Oliver and looked around the living room.  Tonks was talking to one of Lee’s muggle friends in the corner, waving her arms through the air in some excited conversation.  Lee got her attention and Tonks jumped between Bill and Charlie.  Eni pulled Aaron between her and Lee.  Her girlfriend and Aaron had to duck so they didn't block Tonks and Charlie.  Oliver took a picture, shook it, and looked at it.

"Stop moving!  These aren't fucking magic pictures.  Your faces are blurred."  He raised the camera.  "Here, try again."  He took another picture.  And another one, setting each developing Polaroid on an end table.

Eni and Lee took the pictures, shook them, and made sure everyone got one.

One of the Polaroids would end up tucked between the worn pages of 1984, inside a cardboard box left untouched in the corner of Charlie's childhood room from 1991 to 1994.

Eni and Lee ran back into the kitchen, pulling Tonks with them.

Bill looked at Charlie.  "I forgot to ask.  Who was that man at the funeral?  The one with the face torn to ribbons?"

"He runs the dragon sanctuary in Romania."

Aaron asked, "Was he recruiting you?"

Charlie nodded.  "He pretty much offered me a job."

"That's brilliant," Bill said.  "Are you going to take him up on it?"

Charlie shrugged.  "They do really good work out there.  Bennett and Mia used to talk about it all the time.  There's a sanctuary here in Britain, but it isn't anything like the one in Romania.  They have so many more resources."

Bill said, "Don't try to play it off, you're excited."

Charlie smiled.  "I am, yeah."

" . . . so glad we've almost made it, so sad they had to fade it . . . "

"Good," Aaron said, looking away from Charlie.  "It's what you've always wanted."

"It will be great to finally be out there all the time with dragons instead of this every once in a while shite."

Aaron still didn't look at Charlie.  He took a pack of cigarettes out of his blazer and walked toward one of the three open windows at the other end of the living room.

Bill asked, "Do you want company?"

Aaron shook his head, stuck a cigarette between his lips, and stepped through an open window onto the fire escape.

 


 

He’s going to leave.

Two of Lee's muggle friends stood on the fire escape.  The young woman's mouth was open in a moan.  Her partner had his hand down the front of her open denim shorts and his hand beneath her shirt.

" . . . I can't stand this indecision, married with a lack of vision . . . "

Aaron gabbed a rung and climbed the ladder.  Lee's mother's flat was on the top floor.  He stopped at the landing below the edge of the roof and lit the cigarette with his lighter.  He leaned over the railing, glad he couldn't hear the couple beneath him over the noise of the city and the music coming from Lee's radio.  He was high enough where they wouldn't be able to see him either, unless they felt like straining their necks.  He exhaled smoke over London, watching the traffic and people walking ten stories beneath him.

Fuck.

This wasn't going away.

I have to stop. 

Stop fucking thinking about Charlie.

Aaron pushed his hair out of his face.  He took off his blazer and draped it over the railing, rolled up his sleeves, and loosened his tie, uncomfortable and hot.

" . . . say that you'll never, never, never, need it . . . "

He's going to take that job in Romania next year and that will be it.  He's not going to care what I do.  He's not going to come back, and he'll be happy.

So, get over it.  Let him be happy.

Stop fucking thinking about Charlie like this and get over it.

Filch appeared on the ladder in front of Aaron, wearing a long black dress.

Aaron jumped, and swore.

Filch's face changed into Tonks, who laughed.

"Fucking Christ.  You unnerved the shite out of me."

"That was my plan!"

Tonks leaned against the railing next to him.  Aaron exhaled smoke in the opposite direction, laughing, coughing, and recovering from the shock.

"Can I try one?"

"If you want," Aaron said.  He took the pack out of the pocket of his folded blazer and took a cigarette out for Tonks.  "I have to warn you, it's a dirty muggle habit and I've unsuccessfully tried to quit three times."

Tonks took the cigarette.  "How do I-"

"Here," Aaron said, lighting it for her, "now just inhale."

Tonks did, and coughed.

"That's about right," Aaron said.

"It tastes like shite."

"I tried to tell you."

Tonks laughed.

"Your Filch form is dead on.  All your forms are, really.  You're fucking brilliant with them now, even more than last year."

Tonks shrugged.  "I don't know.  I could be better.  I kind of stopped shifting for a bit."

"I noticed your hair was brown a lot this year.  Are you alright?"

He should have checked on her.  He'd been so busy with all the Auror shite and the murders. 

Tonks coughed again.  "I don't know.  When everything came out about one of the killers being a metamorphmagus, I didn't want to be one anymore.  Everyone was saying all of this shite – that we're deviants, that we're deceptive and immoral.  It hurt a lot."

"Kayal Rowle was a deranged psychopath, not a reflection of who you are, or of who any metamorphmagus is."

"I try to tell myself that, but it doesn't matter.  I'm just different enough to make everyone uncomfortable, myself included."

"That's shite they made you feel that way.  It's all bullshit, Tonks."

"But I am uncomfortable with it, Aaron.  I'm loud and I joke around and it's all fine and fun, but I'm uncomfortable.  I'm not one of those metamorphmagi who can just shift through forms at will and still feel like myself, no matter what body I'm in.  I don't know if I just don't have enough experience or what.  It's not me, and I'm torn between feeling like it should be, and feeling like I want to give up shifting.  So, I change my face every so often, or I change my hair color, because that's fun, and it's easy."

"If you think changing forms like you do is easy, you should be an Auror."

Tonks elbowed him.  "Come off it!"

"I know you've got the grades for it," Aaron said.  Tonks was the only one in their year besides Eni who had outscored him on the O.W.L.s.

"So, I can read and write papers, Aaron.  That's not as helpful as you think."

"You kick my arse every time we duel."

"Because you're shite at it!”

"Yes, I am, and I'm still training to be an Auror.  I'm not wrong about how good you are.  The concealment and disguise part of training would be a joke to you."

"I'm just not Auror material, Aaron."

"You're exactly what the Aurors need.  Why do you think the muggle-born killings are still ongoing?  Or why the train attack was never solved?  There aren't enough Aurors.  The old ones never do shite.  I've never even seen them, apart from Alastor Moody.  I'm not even sure they do anything besides sit on their arses and collect galleons.  The rest are overworked.  I'm getting overworked just trying to keep up with them.  They need help.  They need people like you who give a shite and want to stop all of this."

"You're serious."

Aaron crushed out his cigarette.  "Dead."

"Where would I even start?"

"You apply."

"I'll feel out of place with all those serious spooks."

"I'll be right there with you.  I'll still have a full year to train after we graduate, maybe more based on what I've seen.  It's a lot of fucking work, but we can do it together.  It's not like you'll have to go through it alone."

Tonks had gotten to the end of her cigarette and wasn’t sure what to do with it.

"Here, just smash it against the brick."

"Like this?"

Aaron smiled as she awkwardly rolled the filter against the wall.  "Close enough."

Tonks laughed.  "And you think I'm Auror material."

"You'd be fucking brilliant at it."

Tonks stood and headed for the ladder.  "Fine, I'll think about it.  Do you want a drink?"

"No, I'm alright.  I'll be down in a minute."

Tonks climbed down the ladder and left Aaron alone.

Aaron stepped away from the railing.  He leaned back against the brick wall and closed his eyes, listening to the traffic, music, distant voices, and barking dogs.  For once, the sounds weren't segments coming from multiple places – it was all just noise from the dark city in front of him.

He opened his eyes when he heard someone on the ladder.  He thought it was Tonks coming back, but Lee's cousin appeared instead.

"Eni says you're the one with the cigarettes, now that she's quit."

Aaron handed Oliver the pack and his lighter.  Oliver took one, lit it, and handed Aaron's stuff back to him.  He leaned against the railing, blocking Aaron's view of the city.

"It's fine, you know."

"What is?"

"To be confused."

"I don't know what you mean."

Oliver looked back at him.  "Yes, you do.  You were fucking drooling over your redheaded friend in the living room, who, by the way, is oblivious."

"No, I wasn't.  I'm not a fucking-"

"Fag?  Like me?"

"That's not what I was going to say."

"I don't care if you were or not.  Do you really think you're not?"

"I'm not . . . like that."

"You're not . . . gay?  You can say it.  It won't bite you."

"I like women."

"It's fine to like both, you know.  That is an option.  You don't have to just be gay, you can be a whole mess of queer."

Aaron shook his head and leaned over the railing on Oliver's right, avoiding his eyes.

"You remind me of how I was before I was honest with myself.  I see it in your face.  You're up here trying to tell yourself you're not feeling what you are, that you can suppress it and it will go away or some shite.  That's not how any of this works."

"My life is complicated enough already.  I don't want this to be complicated, too.  I wanted to have one fucking part of my life that wasn't a shite show."

"I felt the same way.  So did Lee.  You know Eni did after what happened with her father."

The charm on Oliver's ears faded and they turned goblin – pointed and pierced, like his cousin's.  His eyes were green like hers, too. 

"Aaron, I've been hiding all my life.  You're a fucking wizard, too, you know what it's like.  Your sexuality is just one more thing you get to decide whether or not, and how much, to show to people.  If you learn to be honest with yourself, at least, it does get better."

Aaron didn't say anything.  He didn't know what to feel anymore.

Oliver crushed out his cigarette.  "Do you want to know for sure?"

"Know what?"

Oliver reached his hands on either side of Aaron's head – where his head and neck met beneath his hair - pulled him forward and kissed him.  Before Aaron could react, Oliver pulled away.

Oliver watched Aaron's face.  "Was that ok?"

Aaron kissed Oliver.  He held Oliver's face and pressed his tongue between Oliver's lips, letting his bottom lip slide over Oliver's.

Oliver loosened the rest of Aaron's tie and unbuttoned his shirt while Aaron reached for Oliver's shirt and tried to pull it over his head.  Oliver ran his hands over Aaron's chest, and stepped back long enough to pull his own shirt off – revealing two tattoos.  He tossed his shirt on the grated landing beneath them and wrapped his arms around Aaron.  Oliver's body was warm, and strong.

Aaron - with his lips on Oliver's neck - felt Oliver run his fingers over the scar tissue on his stomach.  Aaron pressed against Oliver's chest and felt like I'm too fucking skinny or some shite, and I have no idea what I'm doing, he's going to stop and-

Oliver unbuttoned Aaron's pants and tugged his zipper down.  Then he stuck his hand inside and grabbed him.

"Still ok?"

Aaron managed, "Yes.  Fuck."

Oliver pushed Aaron against the railing, careful and gentle.  Aaron held onto the ladder with one hand fuck that feels good and unbuttoned Oliver's jeans with the other.  When they were open, Oliver pulled his own jeans down and guided Aaron's hand in the dark.

" . . . help me make the most of freedom and of pleasure, nothing ever lasts forever . . . "

" . . . everybody wants to rule the world . . . "

Chapter Text

July 1990

Madelyn Bulstrode's hands – gnarled and inflamed by rheumatoid arthritis – rested on the arms of a metal chair that floated above a white, tiled floor.  Her restrained wrists and ankles burned.  The Aurors had denied her the potions and charms she often used to lessen the swelling and the pain.  It didn't matter.  It wouldn't be long now.  All that was left for her to do was wait, and listen to the obstructed sound of corrosive liquid filling an unseen pool.

Juliet's initial excavation of Bulstrode's mind had revealed the ninety-seven year old woman killing thirteen muggle-borns, and attempting to kill a fourteenth – a seventeen year old girl fighting back inside a convenience store in Glasgow.  Bulstrode's first kill had taken place in Cambridge in July of 1985, during the time before the Aurors had officially been allowed to investigate the killings occurring outside of the wizarding world.  A motionless photograph of her victim was taken by the muggle authorities and acquired soon thereafter by Alastor Moody.

Bulstrode killed eight more muggle-borns between the fall of 1985 and the spring of 1988.  She had opened the throats of one of the double homicide victims in Bristol on December 1, 1988, and taken three more lives in 1989, including attacking and killing a fourteen year old boy walking alone after leaving the Kenton Underground station.

When she had seen everything, Juliet extracted Bulstrode's memories the old fashioned way - by forcibly siphoning them out of the woman's head as coils of white silk wrapped around her wand.  Juliet duplicated the memories, divided them into vials, and made sure every standing member of the Wizengamot reviewed them before Bulstrode's trial.

After the outrage that had resulted from Emily Carrow's trial in June, when the Wizengamot sentenced Carrow to life in Azkaban instead of executing her, Bulstrode's trial was a quick affair.  Her memories spoke for themselves.  The decision was made to execute Bulstrode on the hour, to the delight of the crowds of protestors who had stood in the arrivals lobby for three days, calling for retribution.  When the announcement was made inside of the dungeon, Bulstrode twisted inside the iron cage, screaming that she would have killed thirteen more mudbloods.  As she was escorted out of the room to the awaiting Death Cell, she strained against her iron chains and shackles.

"You're all mudblood loving cowards who will never do what needs to be done to restore order and purify our world," Bulstrode spat.  "You send me to my death while the descendants of those who caused generations of witches and wizards to be chained, used, tortured, and killed – who showed us nothing but brutality – walk free.  All of you, every goddamned one of you, should be burned at the stake."

The door to the Death Cell opened, and Juliet walked inside.  Bulstrode could already feel the mudblood whore young witch in her mind.  She pushed against her restraints, despite the pain.

"Mudblood whore.  You goddamn mudblood whore."

Juliet grabbed Bulstrode's head, and pulled herself inside.

The edges of Bulstrode's mind were coated with the debris of advanced age.  Her memories were intact, but corroded with the early stages of Alzheimer's, something the woman likely didn't even know she had.  Juliet forced her way through.  The unfortunate result was something Juliet called time slippage.  Bulstrode's mind assaulted her with random, out-of-order fragments of memories, and she found herself walking through a garden with the mud of aged recall sticking to her and making forward motion difficult. 

Through a cluster of white rose bushes, Juliet saw a seven year old Madelyn in the Victorian era, oblivious to her presence.  The child Madelyn raised her hands and pulled water out of a fountain in controlled eddies, twisting it into shapes and making herself laugh.

Juliet watched her for a moment.  We all start in such similar ways – levitation, transfiguration, manipulation, or pure energy manifesting as broken glass, slammed doors, and items hurled off shelves.

How did this child go from laughing in a garden to killing people by tearing open their necks?

Juliet didn't stay around to find out.  She had told the executioner she only needed fifteen minutes with Bulstrode, so she left the garden and bypassed the years and random memories until she was standing inside the circular stone room of the labyrinth.

Juliet watched Bulstrode raise her wand, collect blood off a floating knife, and siphon it into a vial of gold and black fluid.  It was the same potion Juliet had found at the Rowle estate; the same potion Emily Carrow had smeared across her forehead before each of her kills.  Madelyn was the one who made the potion.  Juliet had watched Bulstrode work during previous excavations of the woman's mind, mixing carbon, snake bile, blatta pulvereus, ground dragon horn, nightshade, and one golden snidget into a cauldron.  The bird had to be de-feathered alive and crushed into the mixture alongside its removed plumage with bare hands in order to obtain the distinct golden flecks.  Juliet knew.  She had re-created it inside of her flat, adding drops of her own dirty blood taken from her palm.

Juliet was sure the potion was the key to accessing the rest of the labyrinth and ambushing the remaining killers.  She had taken her concoction, and the last of the potion from the Rowle estate, and smeared both of them across her face.  Then, she had apparaited herself back into the circular stone room.

Nothing had happened.

Juliet thought, Tell me how the potion works.

Bulstrode responded.  It won't work for you, mudblood whore.

Why?

Because the blood on your skin, and mixed with my potion, has to belong to a mudblood you killed yourself, you stupid cunt.  Would you kill to get inside the labyrinth and past our wards, you mudblood whore?

Juliet didn't respond.  What kind of fucking question was that?

No.  Even if you did, what good would it do?  You'd never find your way through the labyrinth.

Who controls the labyrinth?  Who controls the mirror portals?

The same man who will kill you.  Theshan Nott.

WHERE IS HE?

Theshan Nott will kill you.

WHERE THE FUCK IS HE?

Theshan Nott will twist your mind.

Fuck this.

Juliet tore through Bulstrode's mind, pulling every piece of Theshan Nott from its crevices, and realizing, after now having gone through both Carrow and Bulstrode's minds, that her facial composite of Theshan Nott was worthless.  Each woman had seen a different version of Theshan fucking Nott, when he wasn't hiding behind hoods and masks.  Theshan Nott was no metamorphmagus – she had seen enough to know that – but the man did utilize transfiguration and voice altering charms as often as possible.  It was going to make him a pain in the ass to locate.

And why shouldn't he?  Why not use the charms and enchantments of this world to keep yourself hidden?  There's nothing to stop any of these fucking killers from keeping their real faces disguised, short of a lack of magical talent and forethought.  

Theshan Nott will kill you, Bulstrode said again.

Juliet made damn sure she had watched every memory Bulstrode had involving Theshan Nott and the rest of the killers, then she released her hold on Bulstrode's head.  The woman laughed while Juliet raised her wand and extracted one final memory from the old witch's head, siphoning it into a vial.

"Theshan Nott will kill you.  Theshan Nott will kill you."

Madelyn had turned the words into a sing song.

Be damn glad I'm a fucking Auror and I have to leave you with something pleasant, because God fucking knows you don't deserve it, you old cunt.

"Theshan Nott will kill you.  Theshan Nott will kill you."

Juliet left the Death Cell.  She walked up to the executioner and handed him the vial.  The man opened the cover on a pipe and poured the memory inside.  The white coils traveled through the conduit until they emptied into the film coating the corrosive liquid beneath Madelyn Bulstrode's chair.

Juliet watched, through one-way glass, as the white, tiled floor disappeared.  The corrosive liquid rose as the chair lowered.  On the surface, the memory of seven year old Bulstrode manipulating water to her heart's content played out for its owner to watch – a calming memory to hypnotize the old witch while her body was destroyed by the liquid that lapped at the bottom of the chair.

Bulstrode smiled, watching herself, up until the end – when the corrosive liquid ate its way through her vital organs.

Chapter Text

BAGNOLD ANNOUNCES RETIREMENT

At precisely two o'clock yesterday afternoon, Millicent Bagnold, who has held the position of Minister for Magic since 1980, announced her plans to retire this coming November.  Bagnold's proclamation comes on the heels of Monday's statement released by The Department of Magical Law Enforcement, wherein Madam Amelia Bones confirmed that one-hundred and thirty muggle-borns have now been killed by members of what has come to be known as the "Death Cult", with twenty of the killings occurring within the past two months.  Minister Bagnold stated that her decision to retire is not based on the spike in killings, however, and instead informed all present that it is nothing more than the culmination of her long-term plan to concede her position after a set period of time, and to allow the democratic process to again reign supreme.

Despite the ongoing muggle-born murders, and the high levels of anti-muggle-born sentiment that have plagued the last six years of Bagnold's career, the Minister has presided over many critical events, and has seen great successes, during her tenure, including the capture and sentencing of countless Death Eaters, the end of the Wizarding War, and the death of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named.  The void left in Bagnold's wake will be felt by all members of the wizarding world.

The wizarding world will now enter the next phase of its political process – public democratic elections, wherein every member of the community aged seventeen and above may vote for the next Minister for Magic.  Such a vote has not taken place since Bagnold was elected ten years ago.  At this time, three candidates for the positon will be included on the ballot.  While the whereabouts of Albus Dumbledore remain unknown (Dumbledore has not been seen in public since the spring of 1987), the Grand Sorcerer remains a popular figure in the magical community, and there is hope that his inclusion as a candidate will draw him out of seclusion.  The second candidate, Bartemius Crouch Senior, who served as the director of The Department of Magical Law Enforcement during the wizarding war, and prior to Adelaide Burke, is more controversial.  Despite his experience serving on the Wizengamot, Crouch, it should be remembered, tried his own son and condemned him to life in Azkaban after the boy was confirmed to be a Death Eater.  The last candidate, and the one this newspaper strongly supports, as do the majority of the members of the wizarding community, is Cornelius Fudge.  Fudge has long held a positon on the Wizengamot and is exceedingly familiar with the heated political atmosphere of the past six years.  Additionally, Fudge's time spent overseeing the Department of Magical Accidents and Catastrophes has put him in a good position to interface with the muggle world, and keep our way of life away from their prying eyes.

The announcement of the candidates has already resulted in muggle-born outrage.  After a relatively quiet month of little-to-no protests following the execution of Madelyn Bulstrode, muggle-borns again mobbed the arrivals lobby at The Ministry of Magic this morning, claiming that their demands are still not being taken into consideration or addressed.  Such claims are not entirely unfounded, as the majority of Aurors, officials, and department heads at The Ministry are not muggle-born, and no muggle-born has ever sat on the Wizengamot.

Several muggle-born protesters were interviewed this morning, and their statements have been included herein.  The Daily Prophet would like to remind everyone that the following quotes do not constitute the opinions of this newspaper.  The names of the protesters have not been included, and all muggle expletives used by the protesters have been censored.

The muggle-born protesters had this to say:

"The Ministry has never listened to our pleas, despite what has now been years of protesting and watching our people have their necks torn open on the streets.  These so-called candidate "options" are an insult.  Where is our representation?  We don't want f#@$ing Dumbledore.  We want our own candidate, and we are being denied that."

"Burn the mother f#@$ing Ministry to the ground."

"Where are our candidates?  Where are our options?  Where is our voice?  As always, we are being silenced."

"Print the g@#damn truth for once, you anti-muggle-born f#@%s."

"DESTROY THE F#@$ING TRACE.  BURN THE G@#DAMN REGISTRY LIST."

Despite these feelings of injustice, previous statements made by The Ministry indicate that they do not believe the wizarding world is ready for a muggle-born minister at this time; however, they have conceded that some consideration may be given for a muggle-born to sit on the Wizengamot at some time in the future, should a proper candidate come forward and if an open position were to become available.  The Ministry would like to remind the community that the requirements to sit on the Wizengamot make the appointment of a muggle-born to the court of law challenging, as candidates must have a significant presence within the wizarding world and have connections with top magical political figures who can vouch for them.

 

Lara crumbled The Daily Prophet, and tossed it into the rubbish bin in the corner of the pantry. 

Fuck you all. 

Since you aren't getting the message, we will take this battle back to your doorstep, you bigot fucks.

Chapter Text

August 1981

The extensive remains of a castle lay buried beneath six hundred years of undergrowth and rock fall, but the stone keep was anything but abandoned.  Enchantments laced with blood rendered the underground halls, towers, and chambers soundproof, intangible, and unplottable.  In the fall of 1348, the Black Death laid siege to the stronghold and wiped out the entire population in three days.  Words found carved into the stone wall of a passageway by one of the infected – struggling to breathe with a swollen throat and failing organs – gave the fortress its current name.

Here, nigh the ford, we sheltered from death – until death came for us.

Shouts echoed through the crowded great hall.  Barty Crouch Junior leaned against the back wall, away from the tables and benches.  His left forearm burned.

Two drunk wizards stood to his left, laughing.  "Those Phoenix Order fucks.  Every damn one of them thinks they won't die here."

"They think the war will be over soon, too."

More laughter.

Theshan Nott walked up to Crouch, holding a half-empty goblet.  "Well, let's see it."

Crouch rolled up his sleeve.  Theshan grabbed Crouch's wrist and held his arm up to the light coming from the torches mounted on the wall above their heads.  He stared at the fresh red lines of the brand.

"I told you not to go through with it."

"He invited me to," Crouch said.  "And it's what I wanted."

Theshan shook his head and took a drink.  "You're his now.  He'll always know where you are, and he'll be able to use that fucking thing to summon you."

Crouch pulled his arm away from Theshan.

"There's no way to remove it," Theshan said.

"I don't want to remove it.  It makes me his, and that is what I want."

"You're naïve."

"And you're a coward, not taking the Dark Mark yourself."

Theshan laughed.  "Let me know how losing your autonomy works out for you.  All he will ever do is manipulate you and use you for his own ends."

"If anyone hears you talk like that-"

"What, I'll be screaming in the catacombs with the fucking Aurors?  Do you want to chain me up yourself now that you're part of the inner circle?  Want to torture me until I prove my devotion?  I don't need to maim my fucking body to prove myself to anyone."

Crouch grabbed a goblet off a tray floating near them and took a drink.  "He will never trust you."

"I don't need him to," Theshan said.  "And, if he trusts you so much now, why aren't you with him tonight?"

"He'll summon me when I am needed.  Not before."

"You're brainwashed, Crouch.  You sound like the fucking Lestrange clan."

"No.  I sound like everyone who has woken up to the corruption of The Ministry and realized the Dark Lord is putting an end to all of it.  This isn't just about killing muggle-borns and torturing muggles who get in the way, as much as you'd like that.  He is reviving our world.  He's teaching us everything The Ministry has kept under lock and key for centuries – arts we should have had access to long before now.  We won't be denied anymore.  We will be free to practice whatever magic we want."

Cheers erupted from the opposite end of the hall as the heavy oak doors were thrown open.  Two chained and paralyzed Aurors – a witch and a wizard - floated through the doorway, controlled and levitated by Bellatrix Lestrange.  The crowds stepped back, making room for the procession.  Bellatrix cackled and thrusted her wand forward.  The bodies of the incapacitated Aurors dropped onto a table, shattering dishes and glassware. 

Crouch and Theshan walked through the crowd until they stood ten feet from Bellatrix.

The witch and the wizard were broken and bleeding, with their mouths frozen in screams of pain.  Bellatrix jumped on the table and leaned over them.

"These Aurors tried to kill me," she laughed.  "They thought they could drag me to Azkaban."

Bellatrix shoved the end of her wand into the torn skin on the witch's arm.  "What do you think?  Should we take them to the catacombs, or deal with them here and now?"

The hall erupted in shouts for blood.

Bellatrix raised her wand and lifted the Aurors into the air.  Their blood ran down their arms and backs, and dripped onto the table.

A wizard in the crowd handed Bellatrix a knife.  She took it, and tore through the wizard's throat.  She used her wand to siphon his blood into the air above the hall, arranging it in flowing streams.  The rest of the hall raised their wands with Bellatrix and chanted.  Flashes of energy collided with the blood and sent it through the air in ancient lines, circles, and patterns.  The resulting ward expanded and tore its way out of the hall – through the walls and into the foundations – bolstering the protections on the fortress.

Bellatrix looked at the crowd while Nighford shook.  "Would anyone else like to participate?"

The hall erupted again.  Witches and wizards stepped forward, but Bellatrix pointed her wand at Crouch.  "Why don't you prove that you're ready to get your hands dirty, young one?"

Crouch drained his goblet and climbed up on the table.  Bellatrix handed him the knife.

The paralyzed witch looked Crouch in the eyes while he pulled the blade across her neck.

Chapter Text

September 1990

Crouch heard the sounds of the front door closing and two locks sliding into place through the dense fog of his unutilized mind.  He hadn't realized that his father finished eating, much less that the old man had grabbed his hat, coat, and left the house.

Crouch's body turned away from the corner and walked past the shuttered kitchen windows to the table.  He reached for the remains of his father's breakfast – dirty utensils, an empty mug with coffee grounds stuck to the bottom, and a porcelain plate covered with toast crumbs and pieces of dried eggs – and carried them to the sink.  He turned on the faucet and watched the hot water run until steam formed and rose into the air.

This was leave me alone for once fine.  And he was stop just stop happy.

He was even fuck you docile this morning.

Crouch's right hand grabbed the dish rag as his lips moved.  "Are you done fighting me?"

no

leave me alone

"You've been quiet."

try being made a prisoner in your own head for YEARS and see how you handle it, father

"Your condition is your fault, not mine.  It will end when you stop fighting me and go back to being who you were before all of the Death Eater nonsense."

no

it will end when I'm dead

when you kill me

A delay, then, "No."

why won't you just kill me and end this

"Because," his own voice told him, "you are my son."

that isn't your reason

you won't kill me because of your GUILT

I'm alive, she isn't, and you let it happen

you let your sick wife die in Azkaban in my place

"That is not-"

STOP BEING A FUCKING COWARD AND KILL ME

Crouch – through clouded eyes he couldn't control - saw the butter knife half-submerged in the sink.

OR LET ME KILL MYSELF

LET ME TAKE THAT KNIFE AND END THIS FUCKING NIGHTMARE

"No.  You are still my boy."

I HAVEN'T BEEN YOUR BOY IN OVER A DECADE.  YOUR BOY DIED YEARS BEFORE YOU SENT ME TO AZKABAN.

NOW KILL ME

Five minutes passed.  The water kept running.  Crouch's body didn't move.

FINE.  IGNORE ME YOU FUCKING COWARD.

IT'S ALL YOU'VE EVER DONE

"Finish the dishes," his voice ordered, "and go to the attic."

DO YOU STILL THINK THE ATTIC SCARES ME? 

Crouch watched himself wash the plate, mug, knife, and fork, and set them all on the dish rack next to the sink. 

He walked out of the kitchen, down the hallway, and up the staircase.

YOU FUCKING COWARD

YOU SHOULD HAVE LEFT ME TO ROT IN AZKABAN

There was no response from his own voice, or from the unwanted presence inside of his head.

Crouch reached the first floor landing, turned, and continued toward the attic.  He was on the second flight of stairs when he felt his arm-

NO

IT'S NOT POSSIBLE

But he felt it all the same. 

don't focus on it

don't think about it

He was on the third floor now.  He walked down the hallway and opened the attic door.

BUT I'M NOT IMAGINING IT

stop thinking about it or he'll notice and force his way back inside

. . . father? 

No response.

Crouch walked through the attic.  He stood beneath the rafters, took the chains, and secured the rusted shackles over his wrists, all while the brand on his forearm burned.

 


 

Barty Crouch Senior leaned against a lamppost three blocks from his house with his eyes closed, watching his son chain himself in-place through the perspective of the young man's sight.  He felt a vague sensation of radiating heat, but he couldn't determine where it was coming from at this level of control.  Maybe he had kept his son's hands beneath the hot dish water for too long.

When the shackles were secure, Barty made his son stand motionless on the wooden attic floorboards.  Then he shut down all of his son's motor functions apart from his breathing, heartbeat, and the cyclical motions of his eyelids.  If his son didn't blink – Barty had learned early on – his eyes would dry out and his corneas would be damaged.

Controlling another person took concentrated effort.  Barty had spent the last eight years connected to his son through the Imperius Curse.  He was subject to the constraints of the unforgiveable spell as much as his son was a slave to his commands.  It had taken Barty the better half of the first year to get a handle on managing, and transitioning between, the levels of control the curse allowed without encountering problems. 

At its most basic, the Imperius Curse controlled motor functions.  Barty said jump, and told his son's body how high, like a puppet on strings.  His son couldn't take a breath he didn't first allow him to take.  At this initial level, his son was also susceptible to suggestions and influence.  It made it easy for Barty to tell him to shower, shave, get dressed, prepare meals, and stand in a corner where no one could see him.  His son didn't even have to be aware that he was doing as he was told; his body reacted appropriately regardless.

The problem with the introductory level of the Imperius Curse was that it was often ineffective.  A witch or wizard who had taken even one year of Defense Against the Dark Arts, and who had decent control of their thoughts and magical abilities, could fight, and often break, the hold of the curse.  Full integration of the higher levels of the curse was required to permanently trap someone inside their own body and mind, and casting an effective Imperius Curse that operated at the higher levels was difficult to achieve.  It had taken Barty months to attempt it, even on his weakened son.  But, once it was in-place, it kept a firm hold on the mind and ran as a background subroutine that could be accessed at will by the person who had cast the curse.

When effectively cast, the higher levels of the Imperius Curse also provided control of a person's senses, thoughts, and magical abilities.  Advanced defensive training was the only means of fighting against this stage of the curse, and the average witch or wizard couldn't do much to stop it from taking over their mind.  When he accessed the curse at this level, Barty experienced everything his son saw, heard, felt, tasted, and smelled, or, he could also chose to deprive him of the sensations.  He could shut down his son's mind and stop his thoughts.  Unfortunately, operating the curse in such a manner for too long damaged the victim, and sometimes left his son in a comatose state that was difficult to pull him out of.  If Barty didn't want to cause permanent brain damage, he had to allow his son his thoughts.

When Barty had been the director of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement during the Wizarding War, he had proceeded over the trials of hundreds of witches and wizards who claimed to have been under the influence of the Imperius Curse.  They said the curse was the only reason they had served Lord Voldemort, and why they had hunted, tortured, and killed people in his name.  What most of the terrorists hadn't been aware of – perhaps a failure of the magical education system – was that living under the influence of the Imperius Curse for an extended period of time scarred the mind.  Memories and thoughts, when examined, were often found to be damaged, distorted, or missing entirely.  Extensive brain damage was often a good indicator of innocence; however, its absence made for a fast trip to Azkaban.

Barty left the lamppost and walked until he was sure no muggles were around, then he dissipated, and appeared inside the arrivals lobby at The Ministry of Magic.  He walked past posters declaring his candidacy for Minister for Magic, took a lift down to the Department of International Magical Cooperation, and walked into his dark office.

Before he could raise his wand and ignite the lamps on his desk, the door slammed behind him – trapping him inside.  Barty grabbed the handle and pulled, but the door was immovable.  He took out his wand and attempted a spell to wedge it open, but it did nothing.

Behind him, a wand ignited.  A shadowed face said, "You won't be able to leave until I've gotten what I came here for."

The intruder leaned against the edge of his desk and glared at him. 

Barty asked, "Who are you?"

"You don't recognize me?  How disappointing.  I even made sure my features matched the posters hanging in the hallways."

Barty walked forward, ignited the end of his wand, and saw his intruder - Theshan Nott.  Theshan grabbed Barty's wand and yanked it out of his hand.  Barty yelled and pounded on the door.

"If you think I didn't soundproof your office when I jinxed your door, you're even more of a fucking idiot than I thought."

Barty pushed his back against the door, trying to get as far away from Theshan as he could.  "Are you here to kill me?"

"I don’t kill pure-bloods."

How did you get inside The Ministry?"

"I appeared in the arrivals lobby twenty minutes ago."

"But we have spells and alarms set to-"

Theshan walked forward with his wand raised.  "Yes, you lot cast spells to detect certain facial features in a world where some of us can use transfiguration to change aspects of our appearance at will, and where we can use charms to modify the pitch and tone of our voices.  Not a foolproof anti-criminal system you have here, is it?"

"When I tell the Aurors you were here-"

"I will be long gone by the time you speak with the Aurors," Theshan said.  "Now, let's talk about your son."

"My son died in Azkaban in 1982."

"That is what everyone believes, isn't it?  I believed it, too, until very recently, when I was informed otherwise.  How did you manage to keep him under the Imperius Curse for so long?  I suppose all your time with the Department of Magical Law Enforcement taught you a thing or two about unforgivable curses and the dark arts."

"You won't be able to leave The Ministry without-"

"I'm going to walk right out of your office, head down the hallway, and leave this building whenever I fucking feel like it," Theshan said, keeping his wand trained on Barty.  "No one will even notice.  Your best chance of maintaining your knowledge of who you are, and of me not carving a letter into your forehead, is to release the Imperius Curse on your son."

"I can't-"

Theshan shoved his wand into Barty's throat and grabbed his shoulders.  He shoved the man against the door.  "I was hoping to leave you more intact, but I also assumed you wouldn't want to give up your imprisoned child, so I am willing to force your hand."  

"I will never-"

"Oh, you will," Theshan said, "and it won't even take me very long to make you."

 


 

it IS burning

not so loud he will hear

Crouch's eyes looked ahead and his arms were restrained out of his line of sight, but he was certain now.

if it is burning, it means HE-

not so loud

it means HE is ALIVE

He heard a noise from behind him.  A scratching sound.  Nails on wood.

A second later, a rat scurried across the floor, stopped, and-

is it watching me

-watched him.

As the rat faced him, Crouch looked at the creature and realized the pattern of his own blinking eyes had changed.  It was-

sporadic

I can-

He could make himself blink. 

Crouch's body – free of the Imperius Curse – collapsed.  He was on the floor with his arms straining above his head, restrained by the shackles and chains.  He gasped for air, remembering how to breathe on his own.

He opened his mouth to scream, and found he had forgotten how to use his tongue to form words.  He released a guttural sound instead – pure elation, helplessness, and relief.

He didn't see the rat transform, all he knew was that he was on the floor, drooling, screaming, and shaking when Peter Pettigrew stood over him.  He didn't care that the man was naked.  Crouch grabbed him and leaned against him for support.

"He told us you were alive," Pettigrew said.  "He told us the time was now.  You have been faithful."

Crouch coughed.  His throat was dry.  "Wh . . . where . . . isHe?"

"He is in hiding.  He was almost destroyed, as were we.  I have heard him speak to me these past few years as his strength has grown.  If you were not under the Imperius Curse, you may have been able to hear him, too."

Crouch managed, "He's alive?"

"He is not dead."

Crouch shook.  "Our master is alive?"

"You're weak," Pettigrew said.  "I need to get you out of here.  Where does your father keep the key to these shackles?"

"I . . . " he felt so pathetic, but so elated.  "In the cabinet by the door."

Pettigrew went to the cabinet, found the key, and released Crouch. 

Crouch's arms fell against his sides, heavy and foreign.  He managed to pull back his left sleeve and reveal his burning, darkening brand.

Crouch sobbed when he saw it, then he started laughing. 

DO YOU SEE ME NOW, FATHER?  FUCKING LOOK AT ME NOW, YOU FUCKING COWARD.

There was no response.

There never would be again.

Crouch screamed and laughed.

Pettigrew took his arm, and they dissipated.