This one’s a commission for Darkened Void, so thank him if you like it! I hope you enjoy it as much as I did writing it!
Ring-a-Ring of Rosies
A wreath of red roses sagged in the rain, stray crimson petals tumbled down onto pale marble and wilted beneath the downpour.
Beloved in memory.
Stark, dark letters ran across the white headstone. Harry stared into the black of them, watched it swallow up all the colour, watched the world shrink back from it and slide away until the cold sting of the rain on his skin seemed as distant as the stolen moments and snatched smiles.
A ring of red-haired Weasley’s stood over the marble slab with wan, sombre faces. Molly sobbed into Arthur’s shoulder, clutching at the front of his soaked robes. Ron stood on the far side beside the pale headstone, ignoring the trickle of blood leaking from the twisted, purple curse scar stretching down the centre of his face. He murmured in Hermione’s ear, tugging the dark strip of cloth covering her eyes back up to hide the milk-white cloud in them.
I walked off to die, but somehow, everyone else paid the price instead. Harry’s stomach twisted into a hot, bitter knot and he edged back to the outside of the ring of Weasley’s. I shouldn’t be here.
A loud wail cut through the drumming of the rain. Teddy Lupin squirmed and flailed in Tonks’s arms at the back of the black-robed huddle, his hair flashing bright red. Andromeda whispered in Tonks’s ear, stepping across to shield her from the hard eyes of the Weasley family.
Bellatrix knew just how to leave us all hurting, didn’t she?
Tonks stepped through the ranks of white and grey headstones to pause before a small vase of violet, bell-shaped flowers. Andromeda glared back at the Weasley family, cradling a wriggling Teddy to her chest, then the three of them vanished with a loud crack.
‘Harry.’ Bill strode ‘round the back of the Weasley huddle. ‘We’re going to head back to the Burrow.’
‘Sorry to hear about Ginny, Harry.’ Susan Bones sashayed through the crowd in a tight, dark dress, glancing at Bill and resting a hand on Harry’s arm. ‘If you want someone to talk to, just give me a Floo. I’m always available for you.’
Harry smothered a hot flash of rage. ‘Thanks, Susan.’
‘See you soon.’ She drifted back into the crowd with a sway of her hips and the click of her six inch heels.
Bill’s face tightened and he touched his fingertips to the three ragged, raw, red lines stretching across his cheek. ‘Guess you’re a luckier man than me.’ He sighed. ‘Beautiful enough for the both of us, but not so patient.’
‘I heard,’ Harry muttered, grimacing. ‘Sorry, mate. Didn’t expect her to take off, seemed like you were happy when we came by.’
‘Yeah, I thought the same thing.’ Bill’s expression sharpened and his eyes turned hard. ‘We’re headed back. Going to have a little time together as a family. No hard feelings, mate.’
‘Sure.’ Harry felt the knot wrench itself tighter in his stomach. ‘No hard feelings. I understand. I’m not a Weasley.’
Ron took Hermione’s arm and led her across the ground, murmuring in her ear as they wove through the stones. He spared a long look for Harry, swiping the blood from the scar down his face, and apparated them both away with a sharp snap.
Of course, Hermione’s not a Weasley, either. Harry waited as the cracks echoed over the graveyard until he stood alone amongst the rows of pale headstones. But unlike me, she didn’t come out unscathed and rich.
‘Guess I’ll say goodbye alone, Gin.’ He stepped forward through the wet grass, ignoring the chill of the rain as it soaked through his robes and trickled down the back of his neck, and stared at the stark letters beneath the ring of red roses. ‘I’m really going to miss you.’ Tears sprang to his eyes and slid down his cheeks, leaving hot trails through the cold specks of rain, and his heart clenched. ‘I’m going to miss you a lot.’
Harry closed his eyes and sank down into the grass, letting the tears run. Rose petals fell from the wreath into the puddles on the marble slab. He watched them drown in the rain, staring as the curling petals were plastered flat to the white stone beneath the downpour, and cried until the sharp tangle of grief in his heart faded to a thick numb fog.
Can’t stay here. He dragged himself out of the grass on stiff limbs. And there’s only one place to go.
Harry apparated back into the dark, must-filled entrance hall. ‘Home sweet home.’
‘You don’t belong here,’ Walburga’s portrait hissed. ‘You’re not one of us. You’re a half-blooded mongrel, a stain on the House of Black and a spectre of death and ill-fate to all those around you. Begone!’
Harry strode past the painting into the sitting room and shoved a stack of opened letters off one of the chairs. Reporters and Ministry officials’ words swirled across the mahogany floor into a thin film of dust.
Tell your story. Explain how you survived. He shook his head. Have lunch with me. Have dinner with me. Come to my party. He scooped them all up and hurled them into the cold ashes of the fire grate. Sycophants and vultures.
The golden hands of the carven clock aligned over the elegant numerals at the summit of its face and a soft chime echoed from the marble mantle piece.
It was meant to be me. Harry buried his face in his hands. I was ready. I was prepared. I was fine. He let the low, dull ache tear through him, throbbing with every beat of his heart. Maybe I should’ve got on that train instead of coming back.
A Pocket Full of Posies
‘Freak!’ Walburga screeched, her tattered curtains flapping like the robes of a dementor. ‘You couldn’t even die properly and you’re still here haunting my home!’
True enough. Harry patted down his pockets for his wand, but found nothing. Where is it? He rummaged through piles of letters, crumpled newspapers and tea-stained mugs until his fingers found smooth wood. Got it.
He strode back out into the hall and thrust his magic through his wand at the portrait, tearing at the canvas. His power washed back off the picture like waves off rocks.
Walburga cackled. ‘You can’t get rid of me, mongrel,’ she cried. ‘I’m part of this house. I’ll be here when your bones are dust and your name’s forgotten. My words will echo through these halls for centuries!’
Harry wrenched the curtains closed and stuck them shut, turning his back on her and stomping back through into the sitting room.
‘Half-breed.’ Walburga shrieked with laughter. ‘Look at you, the slayer of the Dark Lord. Pathetic. No visitors. No callers. No well-wishers. Nothing. You’re going to rot here alone, just like my blood-traitor of a son.’
Harry slashed his wand at the door, slamming it shut. Bitch. He crushed newspapers into balls and hurled them onto a growing heap in the fireplace, glowering at the mahogany floor. If I’d anywhere else to go, I’d burn this whole place down and see if she’s still screaming then.
‘Fuck her.’ He jammed his wand into his pocket and sliced his thumb on the edge of a piece of parchment. ‘Bugger.’ Harry sucked the bead of blood away and tugged the folded page out.
His blotched, dirt-smudged handwriting scrawled across the page in a series of scattered little poems, surrounded by rough-sketched rings. Forever yours. Harry stared at the words and the uneven ring drawn beside it. The wreath of red roses filled in the sketch, hovering before his eyes, and the yellow-ed parchment blurred with stark, white marble as he read the next. ‘Til Death do we part. A bitter flood of feeling swamped him and he squeezed his eyes shut, letting tears slip down his cheeks and stifling his sobs into his sleeve. What a waste of time. No need for inscriptions on engagement rings now.
Walburga cackled in the corridor beyond. ‘I know she died. I know. I know. Bellatrix got her. You might have killed the Dark Lord, but Bellatrix made sure it all turned to ashes in your mouth.’
Black fury bubbled up beneath Harry’s ribs and he snatched his wand from his pocket, kicking the door back open. ‘You want to gloat?!’ he hissed. ‘Gloat as if you won? You’re paint and canvas, wallpaper, and the only members of your precious family left are half-bloods like me. The rest are dead. Your toxic bigotry is finished!’
She shrieked with laughter and bared her teeth. ‘How does your victory taste, mongrel? How was the blood traitor whore’s funeral? Did you see the blind mudblood and the scarred blood traitor? Did they even speak to you after you got them cursed and their precious sister killed?’
Harry drove his magic into the wall, clawing at the magic shielding the portrait. The wallpaper peeled and flaked, plaster crumbled, and mortar shattered. Wallburga’s laughter echoed through the shaking house and her dark curtains flapped and slapped against stone. He pushed it further, until dust rained down from the ceiling and the building groaned.
‘You’re never going to get rid of me, freak!’ Walburga crowed. ‘You lack the power.’
Power. Harry glared at the woman’s mad grin, gripped by searing fury, then forced himself through the void to Dumbledore’s grave with a loud crack. I can be more powerful, if I must be.
He shoved the marble top aside, spilling dead pine needles to the dirt, and grabbed the pale, long wand from within. ‘I’ll rip her from the wall.’ Harry dragged the slab back and took ragged, sharp breaths, tasting the copper tang of anger on his tongue. ‘I’ll rip the whole damn house down.’
The Elder Wand thrummed in his hand, singing in time with the pounding of his heart and roar of the rage in his chest. He apparated back into the dark hall, the snap echoing over the crumbling, dust-veiled grandeur of Robert Adam’s black-stained neo-classical plaster ceiling.
‘Did you try and visit them?’ Walburga sneered, a vicious gleam in her eye. ‘They won’t want to see you, freak. You got their precious daughter killed, not that she was really worth more than dirt. A filthy traitor to her kind, a disgusting, tainted sow. I hope she screamed before Bellatrix killed her. I hope—’
‘Shut up,’ Harry hissed, spearing his magic through her protections.
The Elder Wand sang in his fingers; its hum thundered in his ears like the rattle of a thousand war drums, and the house shuddered and groaned.
‘No!’ She shrieked as the wards trembled. ‘How?!’
The curtains burst into flames, spewing thick acrid smoke through the hall, and the gold-leafed frame withered, crumbling to brown dust and trickling to the floor.
‘Freak!’ Walburga screeched as the paint of her peeled and split. ‘Mongrel! I curse you! The House of Black curses you! May misery swallow every second of your pathetic existence!’
Harry clenched his jaw and forced more power through the wards, gripped by a vicious satisfaction. The protections wavered and burst like a bubble. His magic seared the paint from the canvas with a screech like steel across glass, scouring the wall back to bare stone and scoring deep, jagged scratches into the brick.
‘Good riddance.’ Harry watched the ashes of the curtains drift to the floor with a small smile. ‘Good fucking riddance.’
He staggered to his chair in the sitting room and slumped into it, dropping the Elder Wand onto the table beside the stained tea mugs and the stack of soup-crusted bowls. But now what? Harry buried his face in his hands. Everything I wanted to do, I wanted to do with you, Gin.
His eyes slid to the long, pale wand. A small, dark stone gleamed before the eye of his mind, shining on his palm, and silver ghosts smiled from all around him. A terrible temptation gripped him with just the faintest touch of soft hope.
‘Just once can’t hurt, can it?’ Harry picked up the wand and glanced at the open window. ‘It’s just the one time.’
The Elder Wand hummed in his palm and little jolts of warmth caressed his skin.
He sucked in a deep breath. ‘Accio.’
Grey clouds drifted across the sky and spots of rain flecked upon the grime-smeared glass. The spider’s web in the top corner fluttered in the breeze and the small, brown spider shrank back into the crevice in the peeling, white frame.
Am I too far away? Is it unsummonable?
A small, dark stone zipped through and smacked into his palm.
Harry turned it over three times with trembling fingers. ‘Gin,’ he whispered.
A swirl of grey mist swirled together.
Gin shook her hair out and stared at her hands as they rose from the thick pool of fog curling along the floor. ‘You’re such an idiot,’ she snapped.
Tears sprang to his eyes and a choked laugh burst through his lips. Warmth flooded through him and sent his heart soaring.
‘Don’t laugh,’ she hissed. ‘If I wasn’t a ghost I’d slap some sense into you!’
He shrugged and gave her a shaky smile. ‘I missed you, Gin.’
‘Those — those things were better off left where you left them.’ Gin levelled him with a hot stare and swiped up at him with a fist of mist, glowering as it sailed through his shoulder. ‘You’re lucky! Oh, how I’d get stuck into you if I could. And my family. They’d get it even worse! Leaving you all by yourself…’ She shook her head and pounded her fist into her palm. ‘I’d give Ron another concussion!’
‘Another one?’ Harry stepped close. ‘You have before?’
‘Bludgered him in the orchard.’ Gin beamed. ‘Right in the face. Girls can’t play well. He hasn’t said that again, I bet.’
Harry laughed. ‘I don’t think he has, actually.’
She scowled. ‘And Susan Bones! Oh, I’d bloody kill her. Hit on you at my fucking funeral, will she! I’d break every bone in that bitch’s face, sticking her tits out at you and waving her arse around in that tight little dress.’
‘She’s not my type,’ Harry promised.
‘Er, yes she bloody is, Harry.’ Gin tossed her hair over her shoulder. ‘Red hair. Check. Slight figure. Check.’ She cupped her boobs and winked. ‘Great rack. Definitely check. Shame Bonesy’s such a downgrade on your first girl.’
‘I’m not going to touch her,’ Harry whispered. ‘She’s not… She’s not you.’
Gin grinned. ‘Of course she’s not. I’d’ve been way more fun. Oh, the things I was planning to do to you when I saw you again.’ A brief scowl passed across her face. ‘Oh, I was going to slap you so hard you saw stars for breaking my heart, but the moment we got some time alone, I was going to make you feel so good you regretted every wasted second.’
A faint, bitter taste curdled on Harry’s tongue. ‘I already do,’ he murmured, touching his fingertips to the cool fog of her cheek. ‘God, I missed you so bloody much, Gin.’
‘I know.’ Gin cupped his hand with hers, but her fingers slipped right through. ‘I know, Harry. But… I’m dead.’ She twirled in a swirl of grey mist. ‘And as great as I look, I’m gone.’
‘Not… completely gone,’ Harry whispered, clutching the stone tight.
‘Don’t even finish that stupid thought,’ she snapped. ‘This is a one time deal, Harry. I don’t care how many times you call, I don’t care how much it hurts to ignore the pull, I’m not letting you summon me again.’
His breath caught. ‘But—’
‘You’ll just mope,’ Gin scolded. ‘Look at this room! When was the last time you washed anything up?! Or talked to someone besides yourself?!’
‘I spoke to Walburga,’ Harry said.
She glared at him. ‘And how’d that go?’
‘We’re down a painting.’ Harry grinned. ‘Burnt her right off the wall with the Elder Wand.’
Gin’s eyes drifted to the wand in his hand and her brow creased. ‘This is the deal, Harry. I came this once, because — because I really wanted to see you again. I’m not coming again. You’re going to sort out this awful mess you’re living in. You’re going to burn that pocket full of little poems. You’re going to remember you have a godson.’
‘They won’t want to see me,’ Harry said. ‘I’m just a bad reminder.’
She scoffed. ‘You’re hopeless. How do you know they don’t want to see you and are just thinking the same stupid nonsense you are?’
‘They haven’t visited.’ Harry wilted from Gin’s glare. ‘If they wanted to see me and weren’t sure, they could’ve just written?’
‘Like you have?’ She folded her arms. ‘Well?!’
He grimaced. ‘I suppose I could write.’
‘I suppose you could. Yes.’ Gin thrust a finger at him. ‘So do it. Stop sitting here drowning yourself and do something. I died. You didn’t. So stop acting like you’re already in the ground with me.’
‘I’ll write,’ he promised. ‘If they want to see me, I’ll go.’
‘Of course they’ll want to see you.’
She snorted. ‘I’m not arguing over it. They will. End of story.’ Gin’s eyes softened and she cupped his face between her cool, grey fingers. ‘I’m going to go now, Harry, and you’re going to live your life. Remember, you’re not alone just because I’m gone.’ She collapsed into the thick mist curling around his feet and the fog faded away.
‘Yes I am,’ he whispered, staring at the dark stone on his palm. ‘Yes I am.’
A small, brown owl swept in through the window and hopped across the table, scattering tea mugs and unopened post. It dropped a letter into his lap.
‘Another one?’ Harry balanced it on his palm and eyed the fireplace, but caught a note of familiarity from the handwritten address. He slid a finger through the flap and ripped it open. ‘Dear Harry. Thank you for writing. You’re welcome to come and visit whenever you like, just drop by.’ He studied the shift in handwriting between the two lines, then continued reading. ‘I’m sure my daughter and grandson would very much like to see you. Andromeda.’
They’re probably just being polite. He rose to his feet and lit the grate with a flick of the Elder Wand, dropping it back onto the table. But Gin said I should and I am Teddy’s godfather.
He sucked in a deep breath and pulled out the folded scrap of parchment from his pocket. ‘‘Til Death do we part.’ Harry forced his feet across to the fire and tilted his hand, watching the sketch of a ring curl and crumble to ash in the flames. A raw, dull ache throbbed in his chest. ‘Bye, Gin.’
I guess I should really sort out this mess, too. He snatched up letters and crumpled newspaper, tossing them into the fire one by one, and grabbed an armful of mugs, carrying them through to the kitchen and dumping them in the sink.
Harry twisted the tap open and tugged open the fridge, staring at the empty shelves. He slammed it shut and rummaged through the cupboards, sweeping the can-opener back into the drawer and tossing the collection of empty soup cans into the bin.
The tap sputtered, steamed, then warmed up.
He sighed and scrubbed the tea-stains off the mugs one by one, stacking them on the draining board to dry, then moved on to the leaning tower of regency era soup bowls and various silver spoons.
‘Done.’ He poked at the water blotches on his t-shirt. ‘But I really should get changed, too.’ Harry tugged it off and strode up the creaking stair running a hand along the Chippendale banister and taking a sniff of his armpit. ‘And I should shower.’
He tugged off his clothes and dropped them atop the overflowing basket, stepping under the luke-warm trickle of the shower and slathering himself in soap.
Harry caught a glimpse of his ragged beard in the polished silver finish of the shower door. And I should shave. He grabbed the light, plastic razor off the shelf and dragged it through his stubble, tearing patches away with little winces until his skin was smooth and blood welled up from a dozen small scratches.
‘That’ll do.’ He forced himself to smile and watched the strain in his eyes. ‘I’m not winning any prizes anyway.’ Harry patted himself dry and tugged on clean underwear, jeans, one of Sirius’ old shirts, and his trainers.
Time to leave. He took a deep breath and pictured the blue front door at the base of the block of flats.
A loud crack echoed down the empty street and a cold breeze swept through his damp hair. Pigeons strutted over cracked tarmac between parked cars and lyme trees and grey clouds drifted overhead, spotting him with rain as he stepped in front of the door.
Shit. What number is Tonks’s flat? Harry ran his finger over the numbers and squinted at the names.
A scrawled Tonks stood out between neatly written family names. He pushed the button for number thirteen and waited. Footsteps thudded down the stairs and something crashed over. Muffled swearing neared the door until it creaked open.
Tonks stuck her head out at him. Flat brown hair dangled in short bangs over her grey eyes and the deep, dark bags beneath them. ‘Wotcher, Harry,’ she said, dragging half a smile onto her lips. ‘Wasn’t sure you’d want to come.’
Gin was right.
‘Wasn’t sure you’d want me to come,’ he replied. ‘Been a quiet few weeks since the funeral.’
‘Weasleys aren’t talking to you, either?’ Tonks scowled. ‘That’s not okay. Us, well, we make sense, with Bellatrix being a close blood relation and all. But you.’
‘I came away unscathed and rich.’ Harry glanced up and down the street. ‘Probably isn’t the place for this, though.’
‘True.’ Tonks stepped back and pulled the door open, catching the handle on her loose white t-shirt. ‘Come on up. Place’s a mess, I’m afraid. Teddy’s having a rough week.’
‘Is he okay?’ Harry asked.
‘Full moon.’ Tonks shut the door and pulled the chain across, tugging her jeans up by the belt loops. ‘He gets mood swings. Absolute little terror to deal with. Runs me and Mum ragged.’
Harry trudged up the stairs after her, the weight of Remus’ name hanging on his tongue.
Tonks pushed the door to number thirteen open with her foot and tumbled to the floor. ‘Bloody hell, Mum,’ she grumbled, picking herself up and shoving a pair of blue heels to one side. ‘Why’re your shoes right by the door?’
‘Would you rather I wore them all over the flat, darling?’ Andromeda’s voice drifted from the kitchen. ‘Teddy’s just finishing his tea.’
‘He eaten any of his vegetables?’
Harry slipped off his shoes and tucked them up against the wall, glancing into a small, white-tiled bathroom and a bedroom heaped with piles of clothes, shoes, and toys.
Tonks snorted. ‘It won’t save me, Harry, but I appreciate it.’ She ushered him through into a room half-kitchen, with blue-painted cupboards and a small hob, and half-living room, with a faded navy sofa opposite a lopsided flat screen and a small, drooping house plant.
‘Not having much luck with these, are we, Teddy?’ Andromeda sat at the breakfast bar beside a red-haired Teddy, poking broccoli across to the front of his plate with pursed lips.
Teddy squeezed his eyes shut and screwed up his face. ‘No!’
‘Eat them, Teddy.’ Tonks plucked the spoon from Andromeda’s fingers and scooped up the broccoli. ‘Because if you don’t eat them today, you’re not going to have anything but broccoli to eat tomorrow.’
Teddy’s hair brightened to crimson and he snapped the broccoli off the spoon.
‘I never much cared for broccoli, either,’ Harry said. ‘Could be worse, though. My aunt used to cook courgette. She boiled it until it was a soggy mush and then salted it to death. Adding insult to injury, I suppose.’
Teddy peered at him and the red faded from his hair. He swallowed his mouth of broccoli and waved a chubby hand at Harry.
‘This is Harry, Teddy,’ Andromeda said. ‘He’s your godfather.’
‘Da?’ Teddy clamped his mouth shut as Tonks scooped a second piece of broccoli up.
Harry winced and his gut writhed. ‘Sorry.’
Andromeda smiled. ‘It’s fine. We’ve had a few of those, haven’t we, sweetheart?’
Tonks nodded, trying to slip the spoonful of broccoli through Teddy’s windmilling arms. ‘Not sure if he’s asking for his Dad or just mimicking. He calls Mum Da, too.’
‘He’s too young to really manage more than a few sounds,’ Andromeda said. ‘You were the same at that age.’
‘Picked up no pretty quick,’ Tonks muttered as her hair flared red. ‘Hands down!’
Teddy slumped in his chair and let Tonks feed him the broccoli, chomping on it with a furious glower. Harry stifled a laugh as Teddy balled his little fists and his tear-filled eyes turned deep blue.
‘Finally.’ Tonks sighed. ‘You need to be more firm, Mum.’
Andromeda smiled, and swept a grey-streaked curl of dark hair away from her grey eyes. ‘I think he just uses your hair as a warning system, darling. Red means real trouble.’
‘I’ll give him real trouble.’ Tonks scooped more vegetables into a squirming Teddy’s mouth. ‘I bet he ate all the meat and pasta without any fuss.’
‘It’s that time of the month.’ Andromeda laughed and stood. ‘When he’s done, I’ll take him back to mine, Nym. You take an evening off with Harry to unwind.’
‘You sure, mum?’ Tonks shovelled the rest of the broccoli into Teddy’s mouth with a long warning look. ‘We’re not out of the woods with this one, yet.’
‘I can handle him for an evening, darling. He can’t be any worse than you aged fourteen and at least he won’t break all my furniture.’
Tonks flushed. ‘He will when he’s older.’
Andromeda sighed. ‘Yes. I suppose he’s going to be an awful lot like a worse-tempered version of you. I shudder to think how he’ll be around the full moon in his teens. He’s going to need a positive male influence.’
‘Mum…’ Tonks took Teddy’s plate and spoon away, dropping them into the sink. ‘He’ll be fine.’
Andromeda’s lips pursed. ‘Let’s not do this again now, sweetheart. We can argue when you don’t have a friend visiting.’
‘Right.’ Tonks flicked the tap on and wiped down Teddy’s plate, stacking it in the metal rack. ‘It’s basically bath and bedtime for Teddy.’ She turned ‘round. ‘Sorry, Harry, all hands on deck with this little imp at the moment.’
‘It’s okay.’ Harry smiled. ‘I’m just happy to be out of the house, and I can help if you want.’
‘No, Harry.’ Andromeda lifted Teddy from his chair and rested him over her shoulder. ‘I’ve signed myself up to look after this one for a bit. You and Nym catch up and have a nice evening.’ She waved Teddy’s hand at them. ‘Say goodbye, Teddy. We’re off to Grandma’s for tonight.’
Teddy scrunched up his face and waved his hand. His hair shivered dark as Harry’s and his eyes brightened to a familiar shade of emerald.
Tonks snorted and kissed Teddy on the top of his head. ‘Little charmer. He tries that with every new person. Don’t fall for it.’
Harry laughed. ‘Weird, seeing a baby version of myself.’
A deep pang twisted in his heart. And I won’t get to have one myself now.
‘It is a bit.’ Andromeda smiled. ‘I remember when Nym started, and, of course, we were taken completely by surprise, since there’s not been a metamorph in the family for generations. I nearly had a heart attack thinking we’d picked up someone else’s child and lost our own.’
‘Dad fainted.’ A brief grin passed across Tonks’s face. ‘Not sure if he hated it as much as what I did in my teens, though.’
Andromeda wrinkled her nose. ‘Your teenage years were hard on your father. You were his little princess one day and the next you went full for rebellion. The less said about that little phase, the better.’
‘Go away, Mum,’ Tonks grumbled. ‘I’m sure you were as bad, just, in your day rebellion meant marrying a muggleborn and stealing your favourite set of silver forks from the family collection.’
‘Goodnight, darling.’ Andromeda smiled at Harry. ‘It was lovely to see you, Harry. Do come by whenever you can. Nym needs someone around to help her open jars and get things off the top shelf in the bathroom cupboard, and we promise not to rope you into babysitting every time.’ She disapparated with a loud crack.
Tonks pushed Teddy’s chair under the table and slumped into the sofa with a long sigh. ‘How’s things been?’
Harry shrugged and glanced around the kitchen. ‘Not so bad, all things considered. How about you?’
She cocked her head at him and her hair shifted through several shades of brown. ‘You’re a really bad liar, you know.’
‘I know.’ He held up his hands. ‘It’s not been great. It’s not been great for anyone.’
‘You miss her?’ Tonks swung her feet onto the arm. ‘Come take a seat, Harry. There’s plenty of room for two and I don’t bite.’
He dropped in beside her and studied the navy sofa cover. ‘I miss her every second of every day.’
Tonks sighed. ‘I can’t decide if I miss Remus or hate him. He ran off, you know. He’d get his head all twisted up about the werewolf thing and lose all his self-esteem, we had a huge fight about it. Part of me wonders if he meant to die, because he stupidly thought we’d be better off without a werewolf as a husband and father.’
Harry held his breath and stared at their reflections in the flatscreen. ‘If you want… I can give you the stone for a bit. You can ask him?’
‘The Resurrection Stone.’ He slipped his hand into his pocket, brushing his fingers against the Elder Wand, letting the thrill of its song wash through him. ‘I went back for it. I know it was stupid, but I had to see her. Gin’s ghost yelled at me, of course.’
‘It was stupid.’ Tonks shook her head. ‘You shouldn’t mess around with that thing. I won’t. You have to deal with things and move on. I’ve got Mum and Teddy, and you’re more than welcome to be part of our little family, you know.’
A hot lump choked Harry’s words. ‘Really?’
‘Of course you are.’ Tonks bounced off the sofa and plastered a smile on her face. ‘Fancy a drink?’
‘Sure. Why not.’ He watched her stretch onto her tiptoes and pluck a bottle of wine from the highest shelf.
Her t-shirt slipped up to show a thin, red scar stretching up her spine from the curve of her hip.
Bellatrix nearly got Tonks, too. Harry’s lips twisted and the faint drumming of the Elder Wand echoed in time with his heart. Maybe I should’ve killed Bellatrix in the Ministry of Magic way back. Everyone would’ve been better off.
‘This isn’t the sort of thing you’ll have got used to if you’ve been drinking anything in Grimmauld Place, but it’s not bad.’ Tonks wrestled with the bottle opener and yelped as she stabbed herself in the thumb. ‘Harry, come and open this, please. I’m not having a good day with sharp things.’
A smile crept onto his lips and he picked the opener off the side, ripping the foil cover off the top and twisting the screw into the cork. ‘I’ve not actually been down to the wine cellar in Grimmauld Place. It just didn’t seem like a smart thing to do.’
Tonks plucked a couple of wine glasses out of another cupboard and rinsed the dust off them under the tap. ‘That was probably a good idea. Drinking alone isn’t clever.’
Harry paused with one hand wrapped around the corkscrew. ‘We can stop now, if you like. It’s not too late to save this bottle.’
‘Open it.’ Tonks set the glasses down on the side. ‘You’re not alone.’
He shot her a smile and twisted the cork free. ‘Here.’ Harry poured her glass up to where the curve narrowed, then poured himself a second. ‘I’ll bring you a bottle from Grimmauld next time.’
‘You better.’ Tonks plucked her glass off the side and took a long sip. ‘This is the only wine in the flat. Everything else is firewhiskey.’
She led him back to the sofa, bringing the bottle with her and setting her glass down on the small coffee table. Harry took a sip of wine, letting the full, fruity flavour wash over his tongue.
That’s much better than tomato soup. He took another sip and set the glass down. I should really buy some food at some point today.
‘You know, Remus has never been here,’ Tonks said. ‘Not once.’
‘I’m sorry,’ Harry murmured. ‘He should be here now. Instead of me.’
Tonks shook her head. ‘Don’t apologise for Bellatrix’s handiwork. I’m not going to. Mum’s not going to. She did what she did and it had nothing to do with us.’ She took a long sip of wine. ‘And also, I’m sorry, but fuck the Weasley family. Did they think we helped Bellatrix or something?’
Harry shrugged. ‘I’m—’
‘Don’t apologise,’ Tonks snapped, her hair flashing red. ‘They were just as bad to you. Sure, they sat you a bit closer than us, but they barely spoke to you. The boys I can understand, Charlie was always slow on stuff like that, but Molly and Arthur?’
‘They just lost their daughter,’ Harry said. ‘It’s fine. They need time to grieve as a family and I’m not really part of that.’
‘Why not?’ Tonks demanded. ‘You’re not just going to get magically better by yourself.’
‘Apparently, I have a cellar of wine to help me get better.’
Tonks snorted. ‘And Susan Bones from what I heard. Not very classy of her.’
‘Yeah.’ Harry grimaced. ‘Don’t think that went down well with Bill.’
No, can’t imagine it did.’ She spun her wine glass ‘round by the stem. ‘You know what. Let’s set some rules. No more miserable talk, that way I’m not allowed to talk about how I feel like I’m just enduring for Teddy and Mum and you won’t feel all uncomfortable.’
‘I guess that means I can’t talk about Gin,’ Harry said.
‘Not unless we’re drinking it.’ Tonks winced. ‘Sorry, that was insensitive.’
‘It’s fine.’ He stared into the navy sofa cover. ‘What’re the other rules?’
‘Hadn’t got that far,’ she said. ‘But we should do something fun.’ Tonks cocked her head. ‘You never got much of a sixth or seventh year, did you? You ever played twenty questions in the common room?’
‘No.’ Harry took a sip of wine. ‘Is it fun?’
‘Can be.’ Tonks twisted around to face him. ‘First rule is our no sad talk rule. Second rule is if you ask something personal, that means it’s fair game to get asked something personal.’
‘No.’ She scowled at him. ‘I’m thinking.’ She drummed her fingers on the rim of her glass. ‘Okay. Last rule. Let’s give it a real dorm party vibe. If you don’t want to answer a question, you have to finish your drink instead!’
Harry measured the height of the wine glass with his fingers. ‘I don’t think too many passes are a good idea.’
‘Do you want to go first?’ Tonks asked.
‘What do I ask?’
‘Anything.’ A fleeting grin passed over her face. ‘But be warned, little cousin, things go both ways.’
Harry took a drink of wine. ‘What’s your favourite drink?’
‘Easy. I’m a whiskey and coke girl.’
‘Guess that explains the one bottle of wine and all the whiskey,’ Harry said.
‘What’s your favourite thing to have for breakfast?’ Tonks asked.
‘Pancakes.’ Harry smiled. ‘The thin French kind. Fleur made them at Shell Cottage once, before, you know. With lemon juice and sugar.’
‘Huh,’ Tonks muttered. ‘Most guys go for bacon or something, but I guess if Fleur batted her eyelashes that made up for it.’
‘She didn’t bat her eyelashes. They’re just good. I never had anything sweet for breakfast before and I’m not all that fond of bacon.’
‘Not fond of bacon?’ Tonks’ eyebrows rose up into her hairline. ‘Really?’
‘Can’t say. Rule one.’ He took a small gulp of wine. ‘Where’s your favourite place?’
‘Shrieking Shack, probably.’ Tonks shrugged. ‘Had some fun times there when I was younger. After that it was all auror training and you-know-what.’
‘Rule one.’ Tonks wagged her finger. ‘But also no.’ She swirled her glass and finished the last of the wine. ‘Okay, let’s make this more interesting. First girl you ever thought was hot?’
‘Cho Chang, I guess.’ Harry felt a little heat creep onto his face. ‘It was a weird year.’
‘Not Daphne Greengrass? I heard loads of boys had a huge crush on her in your year.’
‘Who?’ Harry ran through the faces of the girls he recalled. ‘I’ve no idea what she even looks like?’
‘Blonde, I think. Blue eyes.’ Tonks closed her eyes, then reopened them to show off ice blue irises, shaking her hair out until it turned bright blonde. ‘Like this.’
‘So like Fleur, but British?’ Harry wrinkled his nose. ‘I’m not really into blondes.’
‘I figured that from the Cho Chang answer,’ Tonks said. ‘Your turn!’
‘First boy you thought was hot?’
Tonks hair turned pink and a blush rose on her cheeks. ‘Er…’ She poured herself a glass of wine and frowned. ‘Poor timing.’ She drained the whole thing and her hair faded back to dark brown. ‘I pass.’
‘Well, that’s suspicious.’ Harry finished his glass.
‘It’s not you, if that’s what you’re worrying about, it’s just very embarrassing.’
‘You’re just making me want to know it more,’ he said.
‘Fine.’ Tonks filled his glass and shook the empty bottle. ‘But, since I already drank my drink to pass, you have to catch up or it’s not fair.’
Harry gulped it down and set the glass down with a little grimace. ‘That’s a lot of liquid, I’m feeling a bit sloshy already, but that’s what I get for eating nothing but soup for a week.’
‘We can get some food later,’ she promised. ‘Pizza or something.’
‘Okay, time to spill,’ he challenged.
‘Right.’ Tonks’s hair flashed pink. ‘I was about fourteen and Mum and Dad were clearing out the attic. I found a cardboard box of stuff up there, there was an old leather jacket, a couple of albums, and a small box with a padlock in it. Anyway, I quite liked the jacket, and they were going to throw stuff out, so I kept it all.’
‘I’m mildly confused,’ Harry admitted.
‘There’s context.’ Tonks flapped a hand at him. ‘So, I got the jacket, I tried the albums out, and, eventually, I got through that padlock. Whole bunch of photos in there, mostly of girls not wearing much, but a few of this rugged guy in just his underwear. I thought he was really fit.’
‘Who was he?’ Harry asked. ‘Please tell me it didn’t turn out to be your Dad.’
‘Not quite,’ Tonks muttered. ‘Mum kept a bunch of Sirius’s things and those photos… were of him.’
Harry howled with laughter. ‘Oh, if he’d’ve known!’
‘Nobody else knows about this,’ Tonks hissed, her climbing several shades brighter. ‘And if you tell anyone I will throttle you with my bare hands.’
‘My lips are sealed,’ he said.
‘Good thing too,’ she said. ‘Fourteen year old Dora thought about that photo while also thinking about things you should not do with family members.’
Harry snorted. ‘Could be worse, at least it was just a cousin.’ He grinned. ‘Does that mean Dora’s safe to use?’
‘Dora’s fine.’ Tonks pointed her finger at him. ‘But no Nymphadora. Definitely no Nymph. And Nym is what my Mum calls me, so that’s probably not a good choice either.’ She frowned. ‘What was I saying? Oh, right. You can actually legally marry your sister in wizarding law, stems from Roman law, according to Mum. We were actually talking about it earlier. Obviously nobody does, but distant cousins are fair game. Everyone’s pretty much a cousin of each other anyway.’
‘Should I be worried, Dora?’ Harry asked.
‘Is that your question?’ Tonks retorted.
‘It’s your turn. So it can’t be.’
‘Excellent.’ A great big grin spread across Tonks’s face. ‘In which case, who’s the first person you thought about while doing that?’
‘Doing…’ He sighed as Tonks’s eyebrows waggled themselves at him. ‘Fine.. Katie Bell.’
‘Quidditch chaser for Gryffindor. Cute. Saw a bit much of her in tight quidditch robes and never really did manage to get it out of my head.’ Harry contemplated his empty wine glass. ‘I really wish we’d had more wine so I could’ve passed that question.’
‘Whiskey!’ Tonks jumped up and rummaged through the top cupboard. ‘A full bottle.’ She waved it at him. ‘Plenty of chances for passing now, Harry.’
‘Great.’ He let out a little mock cheer. ‘And just ever so slightly too late to be useful.’
‘You can look her up now, you know, that Katie girl.’ Tonks sat down next to him and pulled the top off the bottle. ‘You’re a nice guy. You ought to find a nice girl.’
‘I think she’s dead.’
‘Yeah.’ Harry watched the whiskey swirl into the bottom of the wine glass as Tonks filled their glasses. ‘Don’t think it’s going to work out.’
Tonks snorted, then clapped a hand to her mouth. ‘I’m sorry. I couldn’t help it.’
‘It’s fine, Dora.’ Harry chuckled. ‘Really. This is probably the most cheerful I’ve felt in weeks.’
‘Well, if there’s no Katie, you can always see if you can snag Fleur…’ Tonks’s laugh burst into a cackle and her face shifted into Fleur’s elegant features then back. ‘Can you imagine Bill’s face?’
‘I think she’s probably done with English guys.’ Harry shrugged. ‘Haven’t heard from her since she left. Nobody has.’
‘Daphne Greengrass it is, then!’ Tonks frowned. ‘Shit. No bloody idea what she looks like.’ She scowled. ‘You really don’t know anything? Just a name?’
Harry shrugged. ‘I’m honestly not even sure she was there at all. I don’t remember her ever doing anything.’
‘Ah well, plenty of fish in the sea and all that.’ Tonks tapped the rim of his glass and beamed. ‘Your turn to ask. After a couple of glasses and not much to eat earlier, I’m pretty much game for any question. Feels like being back in the Shrieking Shack, only with less wind and better whiskey!’
A faint thrill trickled through his veins. ‘Right.’ He licked his lips and took a thin sip of whiskey, tasting the faint burn on his tongue. ‘First kiss?’
‘Urgh,’ Tonks moaned. ‘Gemma Farley.’
‘It was practice, okay. Girls do things like that.’
‘Do they, Dora?’ Harry narrowed his eyes at her in mock suspicion. ‘Really?’
‘Well, I did.’ Tonks crossed her arms. ‘Back at you. First kiss?’
‘It was terrible.’ Harry’s cheeks burnt. ‘Like, it was really bad. I don’t know what I was thinking, to be honest, she was an emotional wreck and I had no idea how to handle that.’
‘First kisses aren’t great anyway, nobody’s learnt what to do with their noses.’ Tonks winked. ‘Or their tongue…’
‘She was literally in tears at the time.’ He sighed. ‘Kissed any other girls?’
She laughed and shook her head. ‘Nope.’
‘Liked the image, did you?’
The heat on Harry’s face went up a few degrees. ‘I bet any guy would.’
‘Fair.’ Tonks jabbed a thumb at herself. ‘I was a hottie.’ She frowned. ‘Wait. I’m still a hottie. Aren’t I?’
‘Is that your question?’ Harry asked.
‘Yes.’ Tonks snickered. ‘Tread carefully, Harry.’
He averted his eyes and gulped the mouthful of whiskey. ‘Pass.’
‘You coward,’ Tonks jibed.
‘Am I a hottie, Dora?’ Harry countered.
‘If I was four years younger…’ Tonks winked. ‘You’ve got nice eyes, a decent body, you’re capable of expressing emotions in a mature fashion, and, the real killer, you’re rich.’
‘Huh,’ Harry muttered. ‘Never really thought of myself as much of a catch.’
‘You’re really rich.’ Tonks fluttered her eyelashes. ‘Want to give a girl a chance. I think you’d make a great stepdad for Teddy.’
He snorted. ‘I’m already tied down as godfather.’
‘Guess you’ll just have to stay for the sex, then,’ Tonks said. ‘Okay, next question. First person you had sex with.’
Harry refilled his whiskey glass. ‘I think I have to pass this one, too.’
‘It can’t be that bad.’ Tonks’s laugh rang through the room. ‘Wait… It’s not Hermione, is it?’
‘Hermione? No.’ Harry shuddered. ‘She’s like my sister. Or she was.’
‘Then how bad can it be?’ Tonks demanded. ‘Stop skipping questions, you chicken.’
‘I haven’t,’ he confessed, face flaming. ‘I was busy doing other things.’
‘Ouch.’ Tonks sniggered. ‘You’re all innocent.’
‘Who was your first then,’ Harry demanded.
‘Was it Gemma Farley again?’ Harry burst into laughter as she froze like a rabbit in the headlights.
‘We were very close friends, okay!’ Tonks glared at him. ‘What’s the furthest you’ve even gone, then?’
‘First base,’ Harry muttered. ‘But I had to kill Voldemort, so I have a good excuse!’
‘These are silly questions,’ Harry grumbled. ‘How about a change of theme. The whole metamorph thing. Do you have a real appearance that you change, or do you just, you know, freestyle?’
‘Freestyle.’ She mimed inverted commas with a laugh. ‘There’s no true form for a metamorph. I’m not a Greek God or something. Although, the number of boys that asked to see my true form thinking I’d be wowed by their sensitivity… Idiots.’
‘Guess that ruins my next question.’
‘Well, you’re not getting lucky like that,’ Tonks said. ‘Now, I could choose a nice safe question, like you, but… I’m not going to. Let’s change the game.’ She rummaged through her pockets and produced a sickle. ‘Heads you drink. Tails you strip.’
‘Er…’ Harry’s stomach knotted, despite the heat of the whiskey bathing him. ‘Seriously, Dora? That seems a bit…’
‘You can drink double if you don’t want to take anything off,’ Tonks promised. ‘But there’s no need to be shy…’
‘Call it,’ she challenged, tossing the coin in the air.
The coin slapped into Tonks’s hand. ‘Sucker. It’s tails. Take something off.’
Harry took off a sock.
‘No, socks count as one thing. Take off the other sock, you cheat.’
‘That hardly seems fair,’ Harry grumbled, pulling off the other sock.
‘Too bad.’ Tonks rested her heels on the table edge and wiggled her toes. ‘I don’t even have socks on.’
‘True.’ Harry picked the cool sickle out of her warm palm and flipped it off his thumb. ‘Wait, what’s the point of calling it? It doesn’t matter.’
Tonks blinked. ‘Oh, right. Forgot about that bit of the rules. If you get it right, I have to drink or strip. If you get it wrong, it’s you.’
‘That makes more sense.’ Harry eyed the bottle of whiskey. ‘Although, I can’t help but think this might be a bad idea.’
She laughed. ‘It’s definitely a bad idea, Harry, but, to be honest, I’m tired of being mature and grown up and looking after Teddy. Toss the coin.’
He flipped it. ‘Heads.’
The sickle landed on his hand. ‘Damn. I lose again.’
Tonks crowed. ‘Not going well for you, Harry.’ She swung her feet around and tucked them down between his leg and the back of the sofa.
Harry pulled off his shirt and handed the coin back. Heat tingled in his fingertips as the firewhiskey swept through him. ‘Tails.’
Tonks tossed it in the air and watched it spin. The sickle slipped through her fingers and thudded into the carpet. ‘Oops.’ She fumbled for it. ‘Oh, bugger.’
‘Tails.’ Tonks pulled her t-shirt up over her head and tossed it away. ‘I won’t blame you if you stare. These girls have been looking great since Teddy.’
Harry bent down and retrieved the coin, eyeing where Tonks’s cleavage curved beneath the fabric of her plain, dark bra from the corner of his eye.
She snickered. ‘Not that subtle, Harry.’
He shrugged. ‘Guess I’ll just stare, then.’
‘Gotta take your chances. I did say I wouldn’t blame you.’ Tonks winked. ‘Now it’s your turn to toss. I’m going tails.’
‘Not heads?’ Harry asked.
‘I’m feeling like you’re a little overdressed,’ she murmured. ‘Especially as I’m only a couple of coin tosses away from you finally making it most of the way to second base.’
Harry tossed the sickle, half-hoping for tails. That doesn’t even make sense. I’d be the one taking clothes off. He plucked the coin from the air. I think maybe I’ve drunk a bit much.
Tonks peered into his palm. ‘Ha,’ she cried. ‘Pick something to take off, Harry.’
He frowned. ‘It’s really trousers or trousers at this point.’ Harry unbuckled the belt. ‘Wait, the belt counts.’ He pulled it out and dropped it to the floor with a smug grin. ‘There.’
‘Cheat.’ She snatched the sickle back and bounced it on her palm. ‘Heads or tails?’
Heads would be smart. Heading home would probably be smarter. The warmth of the whiskey coursed through Harry’s veins and the thrill swirled in his stomach, fluttering and tickling.
‘Tails,’ he said.
She flipped it, fumbled it, and it bounced across the table. The symbol of Gringotts gleamed on the coffee table.
‘Tails.’ Tonks wriggled out of her jeans and gave him a wink. ‘Whatcha think, Harry? Still a hottie?’
‘Yes,’ he blurted, tearing his eyes away from Tonks’s legs as they rose up to a dark, lace hem.
‘Shame it’s not a matching underwear day, huh?’
‘Are we still playing questions?’ Harry chuckled, picking the sickle up and catching Tonks’s eye. ‘Heads or tails, Dora.’
She bit her lip. ‘Heads.’
He froze. ‘I thought you were trying to even things up.’
‘I think they’ll end up pretty even at the rate this is going,’ she murmured. ‘Don’t you?’
Harry swallowed a stomachful of butterflies and tossed the coin. They watched it turn in the air and drop back down onto his palm.
‘Tails,’ Harry said, his mouth dry.
‘So…’ Tonks fiddled with the clasp of her bra between her breasts and leant forward until her whiskey-scented breath brushed his lips. ‘It’s about now that we need to make a choice…’
Harry gulped. ‘Drink twice?’
Tonks unhooked the clasp and smiled as his gaze flicked down. ‘I could do that, or…’ She held the clasp together between her thumb and forefinger and stretched it to its limit. ‘I could just let go of this.’ Her lips brushed his cheek and she reached out with her hand, catching his fingers and tracing them down the line of the scar on her back. ‘We’re not so dissimilar and I’ve not felt like this in a long time. You can’t waste your chances to be happy, Harry. You don’t know when something might be snatched away.’ She caught his lips in a soft kiss and leant back. ‘But it’s your choice.’
Live my life, Gin said. Harry reached out and tugged Tonks’s fingers away, letting the bra tumble into her lap. Take your chances.
Her lips crashed back into his and her hands slipped to the button of his jeans, twisting it open. ‘I’ve got a better room for this, Harry.’ Tonks stood up, shot him a coy look, and shimmied out of the last of her clothing. ‘Come with me.’
The roar of a motorcycle ripped him from sleep and he rolled over, pressing his face into warm, soft skin.
Harry’s eyes snapped open and he found himself staring at red hair. Gin? A fist of ice clamped around his gut. No. Dora. He held his breath, closed his eyes, and reopened them.
The thin red scar stretched down to her hip and the smooth curves of her butt and thighs. A faint heat traced through his veins as he drew back to admire the shape of her. The memory of Dora’s warm hands and hot mouth on him, the feel of her legs wrapped tight around his waist, and the soft little gasps that slipped through her lips stoked the fire. His hands slid across to draw her back into his arms, then his eyes fell on the photo of Teddy over her shoulder.
Bloody hell. What have I done? Guilt coiled in his belly and his hand dropped to the mattress. What would Gin think? Or Remus? His heart began to pound. What will Dora think when she wakes up?
He eased back to the edge of the bed and stood up, collecting his clothes from the floor and slipping them on. Dora’s breath came and went in an even, deep rhythm. Harry crept out and gathered his socks and shirt, tidying the whiskey bottle, the wine bottle, and their glasses away.
He picked the sickle up from the sofa, then placed it on the coffee table and tip-toed back into the bedroom. ‘Sorry, Dora.’
‘What? Again, Harry?’ She rolled over and stretched, thrusting her nude breasts at him and cracking open an eye. ‘In a—’ She froze. ‘Tell me you’re not dressed, Harry…’
He grimaced. ‘I—’
‘Thought you’d hit and run!’ Dora sat upright and snatched the duvet up to cover her breasts. ‘Was there even a word of truth in what you told me last night?!’
‘That’s what I thought,’ Dora snapped. ‘You’re running and off and leaving me, aren’t you! I was lying here thinking of making us pancakes for breakfast, and you’re sneaking out!’
‘Get out,’ she hissed. ‘Get out of my flat and get out of my life! I never should’ve listened to Mum and written back to you.’
Harry reeled from the venom in her words. ‘I just—’
Dora dragged her wand out from under her pillow and slashed it at him. A bright glimmer of purple flashed past his face. ‘Out!’
He disapparated back into Grimmauld’s dark, silent hall. ‘Guess that’s that, then.’ Harry stared at the bare, scored stonework where Walburga’s portrait had hung. ‘All my bridges are burnt.’
Snatches of their whiskey-fuelled whispers rose up in the quiet. I could love you. Dora’s sleepy murmur twisted the knife deep in his chest. We could all love you. Stay. He closed his eyes at the pleading note in her voice and tried to smother the sharp, jagged ache beneath his ribs. Stay and you’ll love me. Let’s take our chance to be happy.
‘It really can’t get much worse.’ Harry sighed. ‘Although, I can’t imagine the Weasleys or Andromeda will hate me any less after this.’ A bitter laugh burst from his lips. ‘And there’s nobody else left to lose, because they’re all dead.’
Even Kreacher’s dead. He stumbled through into the sitting room and sagged into the chair beside a small stack of letters. I should probably stick his head on that wall. I said I would.
Familiar green ink caught his eye. ‘Surely not…’ He tugged the envelope out from the pile and ripped it open. ‘Oh bloody fucking hell, it is.’
What does Rita Skeeter want with me?
He sucked in a deep breath. ‘Dearest Harry, I hope you’ve at least resisted burning this long enough to read the start. I have, over the last week or so, been putting together a piece on the final days of the war against the Dark Lord. Those I’ve spoken to haven’t portrayed you in a very flattering way. This did come as a surprise to me, Harry, so I thought, in light of all you’ve done, I would give you the chance to help me write something a little different.’
Harry shook his head. Who’d she even find to talk about me? The only people with me were Ron and Hermione. He skimmed the rest of the letter and checked the clock. Ten already. She’ll be at the Streaming Teacup by now. Harry straightened his shirt and apparated to Diagon Alley.
People bustled back and forth, streaming in and out of the shops in the September sunshine.
He stuck to the shadows, slipping through Gringotts’ colonnade and through the door of the Steaming Teacup. A small bell chimed as he let the door swing shut and Rita Skeeter looked up from her table in the back corner with a broad smile beneath her black beret.
Like a cat in an ocean of cream.
Harry strode over and took the seat across from her, glowering over the teapot and cup. ‘I just found your letter, Rita.’
‘I’m glad you did, Harry.’ She slid a piece of paper across to him with a green, leather-gloved hand. ‘In my career, there’s rarely any room for pity, remorse, or mercy. I write what the public wants to read and a grief-stricken, sore nation now over the relief of victory is looking for a target for their bitterness and their pain.’
‘And?’ Harry shot her flat look and ignored the piece of paper. ‘If I pay you, it won’t be me?’
‘No.’ Rita Skeeter took her piece of paper back and tucked it in the pocket of her brown, crocodile skin jacket. ‘Let me be blunt, Harry. It will always be you. At no point, for the rest of your life, will you be left alone. Not unless your reputation has been dragged so low there’s not even a scrap of writing about you that will shock the public again.’
‘Fantastic,’ Harry jibed. ‘So what? You just want to gloat over my impending ruin.’
Rita Skeeter sighed. ‘No, actually. Like I said, there’s rarely any room.’ She poured herself a cup of tea and proffered the pot at him. ‘Peppermint tea?’
‘No, thank you.’
‘Fair enough.’ Rita smiled. ‘Guys don’t seem to go in for peppermint. Lucius loves it, but I’m fairly sure that’s because Narcissa has forced him to drink it for so long he gets jittery without it.’
‘You were about to make a point, or at least I hope you were,’ Harry growled.
‘I was quite hoping to write an article to soothe the pain of a nation rather than direct it at someone,’ Rita said. ‘I tracked down your friends and those who fought for or beside you hoping to build a picture of a young boy who risked everything and lost much to save us all. I spoke with Hermione Granger, with Ron Weasley, with Molly Weasley, with Bill Weasley—’
Rita smiled. ‘Smart boy. I did, actually, but the trouble is that the closer the person to the subject of the article is, the harder the quote hits.’ She dropped a cube of sugar into her tea and stirred it around with a small silver spoon. ‘I was shocked, actually. The way they talked it was as if you just wandered around in the Forest of Dean until Hermione and Ron solved some crucial task, at which point, you accomplished a small miracle at Hogwarts, by virtue of Dumbledore’s genius only, and walked away unscathed to riches while Bellatrix Lestrange took her vengeance on everyone else.’
His heart shrank into the pit of his stomach. ‘I’m supposed to believe that? I’m supposed to think you’ve not twisted their quotes to suit your agenda.’
She shrugged her slim shoulders. ‘You are caught, Harry, between people who envy and resent you, and who want live vicariously through you. You can choose to shut them out and let them hate you, or you can let them in a little, allow them to bask in your glow.’
‘My glow.’ Harry watched Rita sip her tea and tried to smother the image of Dora sipping wine. ‘There is no glow, Rita. No glory. I’m alive, that’s all.’
‘It’s a matter of perception, Harry,’ she replied. ‘It’s not about what’s really there, it’s about what they all think is there.’
‘And you’d like to what, then?’ he demanded.
‘What I’d like to do is tear up the article I’ve written based on what I’ve heard so far,’ Rita said. ‘The trouble is, if I don’t write it, someone else will. Someone will always write something about you. I would like to make sure it’s me and I’d like to make sure it’s the article I originally hoped to write. It is, quite frankly, the very least I can do for you.’
‘So this is another exclusive?’ Harry snorted. ‘At least it’s more comfortable than that broom cupboard in Fourth Year. Are my eyes still swimming with the ghosts of my past, Rita?’
Rita laughed. ‘Well, at least one line of that rubbish stuck with someone.’ She took another sip of tea, and pulled a notepad out from inside her jacket pocket. ‘I’m going to ask you questions, Harry, and I will use your quotes to paint the picture I think helps you the most.’
‘Out of the kindness of your heart?’ A short laugh tore from his throat. ‘I didn’t know you had one.’
‘Most of the people I interview chose fame for themselves. Like Gilderoy Lockhart, they clawed their way up a greasy pole at great cost to many others. I treat them as they treat others. They looked at the price and they knew what they’d paid, most even enjoyed paying it.’ Rita pulled her long, green-feathered quill from her back and set it upon her notepad. ‘You, though, you were never given a choice, so I thought it would be fairer to offer you at least the chance to hold the door opening into your life.’
‘I made a choice. Two choices, actually.’ Harry sighed. ‘I chose to walk down into that forest to die and then I chose to come back and fight. I could have gone on instead. Everyone was waiting for me, there was a train, of sorts, and it would’ve taken me on…’
Rita’s eyes widened. ‘You really died?’
‘I chose to come back and fight,’ he said. ‘The rest is… complicated.’
‘Readers don’t like complicated,’ Rita said. ‘They like black and white. Right and wrong.’
‘I’m not explaining how,’ Harry said. ‘If I did, others might attempt to do what Voldemort did.’
‘I don’t need to hear how,’ Rita replied. ‘It doesn’t matter. I have you choosing to die and a hundred witnesses to quote for it, and I have you choosing to come back and fight for us again. I have right. Now, I just need wrong.’
‘Invent it,’ he said. ‘You’re good at inventing wrongs.’
She grinned. ‘I’ll take that as a compliment, Harry.’
‘Give me the wrong.’ Rita rested her finger beneath the nib of her quill. ‘When I write this article, I will need the wrong, because, otherwise, someone else will write it. They’ll ask the Weasleys and Hermione Granger, who seem strangely determined to hate you.’
‘Bellatrix knew just how to hurt them,’ Harry said. ‘She took away things that can’t be given back and left me standing unharmed so they’d hate me.’
‘So she took your friends, the one thing that matters most to you.’
‘You walked into the forest to die for them, Harry, it’s no secret.’
‘Fine. Yes.’ He folded his arms. ‘She took away my family, present and future.’
‘Then we have our wrong, Bellatrix Lestrange, and we have the pain of her victims and how they lash out.’ Rita took her finger away and the quill bobbed, scratching away down the page. ‘But we’ll need a little more than that, Harry. They got personal. You’ll need to be personal, too. Everyone has flaws. They’ll hold yours up to tar your character and undermine your story, but if you strike first, their words will hold less weight.’
‘Strike… First…’ Harry repeated. ‘They’re grieving. They’re in pain. They’re just upset.’
‘And they’re lashing out. And in lashing out, they’re going to destroy your life forever.’ Rita held his gaze. ‘If it was you hurting, would you have lashed out like that, Harry?’
A little heat coiled on his tongue. ‘No,’ he whispered. ‘No, I wouldn’t have.’
‘See.’ Rita smiled and finished her tea. ‘So tell me something I can use. It doesn’t have to be anything terrible, either, just enough to inspire doubts in their virtue.’
Harry swallowed hard. ‘Ron abandoned us in the Forest of Dean. We were struggling, desperate, the Ministry was gone and all our allies hid while we went on alone, and he ran away. He came back, and he saved my life, but he ran first, and I’ll never know if he came back because he wanted to, or just because he’d nowhere else to go and was scared to be alone.’ He watched the green-feather sway back and forth as the silver nip traced along the page. ‘And Hermione… No.’ He shrugged and offered Rita a faint smile. ‘She’s always stuck by me. Every time. When Ron runs off, she always remains true. I don’t know why she hasn’t this time.’
And it hurts. He stifled a sigh. But I’ve burnt all my bridges. I might as well make sure everyone knows how it happened.
Rita nodded. ‘Well, Hermione’s surrounded herself with Weasleys. Ron, the abandoner, Bill, the soon-to-be-alleged adulterer, Arthur has a track record of misdemeanours a mile long, and so do both Percy and their twins in one form or another. That’ll be enough to colour her guilty by association if she doesn’t come to her senses.’ She waited for her quill to stop and tucked it back into her bag. ‘I hope this helps you, Harry. I really do. It’s very rare for me to look across this table and see someone I want to help.’ She tucked her teacup and spoon beside the teapot. ‘I’ll be in touch when you next need me.’ Rita rose to her feet and strode out.
Harry stirred the small pot of toothpicks with a finger and studied the menu. The dull, sore throb crept back in beneath his ribs and he released a long sigh.
‘Now what, Harry? Back to Grimmauld?’ He stood and drifted out, ignoring the glances and whispers following in his wake, and apparated back into his sitting room.
Maybe I should Floo Susan Bones. A brief flash of Dora’s warm touch and smile hovered just out of reach and a fierce craving surged within. He took one step toward the fireplace and the box of Floo powder, then his hand fell back to his side. No. It won’t feel the same and you know it.
We All Fall Down
Harry wrenched open the fridge and stared at empty shelves. ‘Right. I was going to go, but then Dora. And Rita.’ He sighed and slammed it shut, letting out a little mock cheer. ‘Hooray! Soup for lunch again.’
Tomato soup, too. He dug the can-opener out of the draw of wooden spoons and bottle-openers. The lunch of Chosen Ones. Harry pulled open the cupboard door and stared at empty shelves again. Or not.
‘Bollocks,’ he muttered, as the humour drained away. ‘I almost miss Walburga it’s so bloody quiet here. I could at least rip her off the wall again, that might cheer me up.’
The Elder Wand thrummed in his pocket.
‘Hush you,’ he chided. ‘You just want me to murder people.’
The humming heightened.
‘Wow, not even trying to pretend otherwise.’ Harry shook his head. ‘But you’re surprisingly good for cleaning charms, since it did only take us a week to sort this place back out, so I’ll forgive you.’
The Elder Wand shivered beneath his fingers.
‘My visitors would be very impressed, I reckon,’ Harry said. ‘Only, of course, nobody comes to visit me. I just get angry letters from the Weasleys and Kingsley about Rita’s article.’
Guess I’ll just eat later, I’m not all that hungry anyway. He drifted back into the sitting room and dropped back into his chair, lighting the fireplace with a jab of his wand.
The Elder Wand’s hum darkened and slowed.
Harry snorted and dropped his holly wand back on the table. ‘You’re worse than Ron. You’re a wand, it’s not like I’m cheating on you.’ He cocked his head. ‘You’re better conversation than him, though.’
The flames flared green.
Harry’s heart lurched. Dora?
‘Harry?’ Hermione’s voice rang through his sitting room. ‘Can you… Can you help me through?’ Her hand extended from the flames.
Harry stared at it and spun his wand on the table, contemplating extinguishing the fire. ‘Sure. Why not.’ He rose and took her fingers, pulling her through into his sitting room and leading her to a chair. ‘Why the unexpected visit?’
‘I managed to create a spell to get things magically read to me. I read Rita Skeeter’s article.’ She fiddled with the strip of dark cloth covering her eyes. ‘Did you really speak with her?’
‘I did.’ Harry frowned. ‘About three weeks ago.’
Hermione’s brow wrinkled. ‘But you know what she’s like. Look how she twisted your words!’
‘My quotes are word for word and the story’s all true,’ Harry replied. ‘If you think they’re twisted, you should’ve seen the article she was going to write if I hadn’t spoken to her.’
‘Oh.’ Hermione squirmed. ‘You saw that.’
‘I did.’ Harry felt a sour heat rise onto his tongue. ‘And you know, I understood that you were all hurting, I was hurting too, but that felt like a bit too much.’
‘Well, it’s not like it wasn’t true,’ Hermione said. ‘I did practically everything in the Forest of Dean, Ron saved your life and destroyed the horcrux, and I got us into the Lestrange vault afterward.’
Harry swallowed the heat as it flared up. ‘You remember it quite differently from me.’
‘That’s what happened.’
‘Why are you here?’ Harry demanded. ‘Clearly it isn’t to make sure I’m okay.’
‘Of course you’re okay,’ she snapped. ‘Ginny is dead, I’m blind, Ron’s lost his nose, and Fleur abandoned Bill. All that’s happened to you is that your scar’s faded and you’re rich.’
‘Oh, has Ron got the scar on his face instead?’ Harry snorted. ‘I thought that was what he wanted all this time. And you can just get a magical eye made, Hermione.’
‘He’s lost his nose for good!’ Hermione cried. ‘And those magical eyes cost hundreds of galleons! I don’t have that kind of money and I never will now I can’t have a proper career!’
‘Voldemort didn’t have a nose either,’ Harry retorted. ‘Didn’t stop him pursuing a proper career.’
Hermione gasped. ‘Harry!’
‘And you had a friend with more than enough money for a pair of new eyes.’ Harry reached out and took her wrist, stifling a stab of bitterness at her flinch. ‘In fact, I’ll still pay for your eyes. Consider it compensation for having to be my friend all this time.’
Hermione let him pull her to her feet. ‘You’ve changed.’
‘Gin died.’ His gaze dropped to the small, dark stone on the table. ‘Gin died. And you all seemed to think I’d be just fine by myself.’
‘We had our own things to deal with,’ she whispered.
‘But that’s the difference, see,’ he said. ‘You say we, because you all stuck together and helped each other through, and I have to say I.’ Harry led her to the fire and poured a pinch of Floo powder into her palm. ‘Goodbye, Hermione. Thank you for coming to see me.’
‘Wait,’ she murmured. ‘Thank you, Harry.’
A spark of hope welled up in his heart. ‘For what?’
‘For paying for my eyes.’
The hope guttered out and Harry’s heart plummeted. ‘Goodbye, Hermione.’
‘The Burrow,’ she said, shuffling into the green whirl of the Floo.
Harry slumped back into his chair and extinguished the flames with a swish of the Elder Wand. He balanced the slim, pale wand on his palm and twirled it ‘round with his fingertip. Black and silver sparks trailed and burst in its arc, the thrum heightened, drumming in time with his heart, loud as thunder in the silent room.
His gaze slipped to the small, dark stone. Maybe just one more time.
Harry flipped it over three times. ‘Gin,’ he whispered.
Grey fog curled over the floor, twisting and writhing through the legs of the furniture. Harry watched it churn over the polished mahogany floor, staring as threads of mist whirled round his feet, fell still, and faded away. A soft ache rose in his chest, sharpening with each quiet tick of the clock on the mantel and the sound of his breath.
‘You really meant it, huh, Gin.’ He dropped the stone back onto the table and dusted the worst of the mess off his clothes. ‘Fuck it. I might as well go food shopping, then.’ Harry tucked the Elder Wand into his pocket and stuffed his feet into his trainers. ‘Maybe I’ll buy some more soup.’ He paused by the door. ‘Probably not tomato soup, though.’
He stepped out the door and yawned into the bright sunlight. A sudden realisation struck him. ‘It’s Sunday. Damn. Shop’s closed.’
Bugger it. I’ll just eat tomorrow. Harry wandered back inside and kicked his shoes off, slamming the door shut.
‘Or…’ He diverted away from the sitting room down the marble stairs. ‘I could finally explore the wine cellar.’ Harry pulled the Elder Wand from his pocket. ‘It could probably use a few Cleaning Charms, too, so your moment of glory has come, Deathly Hallow.’
The Elder Wand hummed in his hand and little jolts of warmth washed up his arm.
He pushed open a battered wooden door with one finger and watched the rusted lock thud to the floor. It could also use a new door. Harry conjured a small glowing orb of light and sent it sailing through the dark.
Racks of dust-veiled bottles gleamed as the light drifted past them to hover against the back wall.
‘That’s a lot of wine.’ Harry tugged the nearest cold, smooth bottle out of the rack and huffed the dust off, squinting at the label. ‘French. And very expensive looking.’ He weighed it in his hand. ‘I could send it to Dora, I suppose. I said I’d give her a bottle.’
But she won’t want to hear from me. Harry slipped the bottle back onto the rack and wandered down until the bottles changed. Ogden’s Firewhiskey. He pulled one out and brushed the dust off the date. Old bottle. Harry swirled the amber liquid, recalling the warmth on his tongue and the sound of Dora’s laughter. Fuck it. He strode out and let the light fade, hooking the door closed with a foot.
‘Let’s go visit, Gin.’ He apparated into the damp grass and stared down at the black letters on the marble headstone. ‘I brought us whiskey.’ He snorted. ‘Probably should’ve brought gin, though, that would’ve made more sense. Although, fire whiskey isn’t a bad fit either, not with your hair.’
She’d’ve hit me for that. Harry sat down in the grass, letting the cold and damp seep through his jeans, and picked up a stray, red rose petal. I should’ve brought you flowers, not whiskey, but you never cared about flowers much. Maybe a quaffle. He snorted. Or my Firebolt, wherever I’ve left it.
He twisted the cap off the bottle and took a sip from the neck. Dust coated his lip.
‘Urgh.’ He vanished the dust with a swish of the Elder Wand and spat out the mouthful of whiskey. ‘I don’t even want to know what that dust was made of. Tastes like it was probably, Kreacher’s toenails.’
I miss you, Gin. Harry took another sip and stared up at the sky. And I miss Dora, too. I hope she’s doing okay with Teddy and her Mum.
He swigged a gulp from the bottle and let the whiskey burn its way across his tongue and down his throat. Tingling heat crept through him, swallowing up the numbness. A loud crack echoed across the headstones as he raised the bottle again.
‘Bugger.’ Harry spluttered on his next gulp and craned his neck.
A shock of pink hair drifted between the rows of pale stones.
Dora. Temptation fluttered in his stomach with the memory of her warm touch and soft kisses. He sighed and took a long drink. Double bugger. Harry twisted ‘round to face Gin’s headstone and set the bottle down. Best just to pretend I didn’t see her.
‘Although, I suppose I could just apparate off.’ He eyed the half-empty bottle. ‘But, perhaps that might not be wise. Imagine if I splinched myself and lost my nose, Gin. The irony might kill me. Rita Skeeter would probably write an entire front page on it.’
The breeze rustled through the grass, tugging at the edges of the red rose petals clinging to the puddles upon the cold marble.
Are you upset with me about Dora, Gin? He balanced the Elder Wand atop the whiskey bottle until it was perfectly centred. You said I should live my life. Take my chances.
‘Not that I’m doing much living or chance taking.’ He plucked the Elder Wand back off the bottle and took another drink. ‘I’m probably a few weeks away from dying in an attempt to single-handedly empty that wine cellar.’
Soft footsteps neared him through the grass. ‘This doesn’t seem very sensible.’ Dora’s voice echoed over his shoulder. ‘I can’t imagine Ginny would be any more impressed than I am.’
Harry snorted. ‘Well, I’m as good as dead to both of you, so that probably shouldn’t be a surprise.’
‘Haven’t you tried calling Susan Bones?’ Dora crouched down in the grass next to him and raised her eyebrows at the bottle, tilting it to read the label. ‘I see you’ve at least explored Grimmauld’s cellar. This bottle is probably worth half a hundred galleons.’
‘Not anymore,’ he replied. ‘But, if you don’t mind, Dora, I wasn’t really finished with it.’
She weighed it in her hand, then raised it to her lips and drained the rest. ‘Yes you are.’ Dora screwed the lid back on and tucked the bottle into the pocket of her leather jacket.
‘You know I have an entire cellar full of others…’
‘I’ve got a few bottles at my flat, too. Some actual glasses, as well.’ Tonks held his eye as she stood up and a touch of pink blossomed across her cheeks as she offered him her hand. ‘Was planning on pancakes for breakfast…’
Harry stared at Gin’s headstone. She twirled before his eye, a blur of cold, soft, grey mist and bright, loud colour. Live your life.
‘Take your chances,’ he murmured, mustering a grin and wobbling to his feet. ‘Well, pancakes are my favourite and I have absolutely no food at home. I’m even out of tomato soup.’
Dora took his hand and clutched it tight. ‘I’m sorry,’ she whispered. ‘For before. I’ve a thing for people leaving me.’
‘I didn’t want to leave,’ Harry promised. ‘It just felt like — like I shouldn’t have been where someone else was meant to be.’
She shook her head and her hair shimmered to soft pink. ‘You don’t get pancakes if you leave, Harry.’ Dora tipped him a wink. ‘Or anything else, either.’
He chuckled, treasuring the warmth of her hand in his. ‘I suppose I’d better stay, then.’
‘I suppose you had.’ Dora’s small smile was bright as the sun and tied his stomach into knots. ‘I’d certainly like it if you did stay with me.’
Stay. A bright little glow rose through beneath his ribs and a smile crept onto Harry’s lips. Stay and love you.