A/N: Terror became very real in the last couple of months. I wrote/edited this one during the Paris attacks and backslash. And today my own capital where a couple of friends and family work and live was literally shocked by explosions. They're all okay but this chapter is dedicated to those who're still waiting for news…
Chapter 7: Shocks and Other Novelties
May 16, 1999
There was a deep ageless, silence between James' shout and the ear-shattering blast as the spell exploded against a hastily Conjured wall. It erupted in the middle of the Alley; lasting merely for a second as the magical maelstrom tore it violently to bits. Harry barely had time to raise his arms to protect his face from the flying pieces of flint. They ripped through his sweater and a pained hiss escaped his lips, casting him back into the present with a force that made him stagger.
Before Harry had time to grasp what was happening, James had shoved him behind a pile of debris.
"Harry? Harry? Can you hear me?" The Auror asked urgently while skilfully dividing his attention between their little sanctuary and the growing chaos around them. James shot a couple of quick spells into the fray before seeking cover again.
"Are you all right?"
Harry found it hard to answer. His hands had caught his complete interest. Some of his fingers were missing covered by dark spots. He flexed them anxiously as he continued to ignore James, then almost laughed when he realized his hands were fine. His vision was just blurring.
"We went to Diagon Alley, remember? To buy a wand? Harry?" James' questions grew more frantic and the reason was quite clear. Harry heard several explosions close by and the screams hadn't stopped either. He looked up at his father and focused on the man's glasses. Dark brown eyes filled with worry looked down on him.
"I'm here." He managed to say, although his throat felt dry like sandpaper.
"Good, good…" Harry heard the man reply which seemed a bit redundant in this situation, "That's good."
However, James sounded anything but good, "There at least twenty Death Eaters here as far as I can tell, maybe more. My Aurors and the Order will arrive within a few minutes as soon as they can Apparate in. Until then you'll need to stay here with me. Can you do that, Harry?"
Harry nodded knowing fully well that James had meant here and now. He had trained for a year vowing to become faster, better and yet the first time he's confronted with a threat, he's experiencing another flashback. Harry felt pathetic and shamefully took out his new wand, avoiding his father's gaze. The older man's focus was thankfully elsewhere spying up and down the Alley.
His grip was weak and sweaty though and Harry hoped James didn't ask him to get up because his legs still felt like jelly, still felt like they belonged to someone else.
"Harry, we can't stay here and we can't Apparate either. These buildings look like they can collapse anytime." James said sounding strangely calm. Harry followed the other man's gaze and unconsciously edged back. The nearest wall was leaning dangerously in their direction.
"The right side seems the safest. Ready?"
It was a mystery to Harry how James came to that conclusion. All he could see in either direction was smoke, explosions, spells crisscrossing each other and more smoke. He wanted to say no but the young wizard found himself nodding already. James went to kneel beside him and gently grabbed his arm. The next moment they were both standing up and running.
Hobbling was the better word, actually, Harry thought as he skirted around a giant crater right behind James. Thick grey smoke made it harder to orientate and soon Harry found himself lost again. Dark blurs rushed by him and the air sparked with magic.
At some point James pulled him sharply to his left. There was a devastating crash close by, too close, and out of the smoke an explosion of dust erupted covering them both with a fine layer of red powder. He didn't know which building just collapsed or how far they had travelled since they started running. James was moving again and Harry hurried after him. The young wizard stumbled over something. The motion caused him to look down and something so out of place completely caught his attention.
Lying under a fallen pillar in all its ancient and ragged glory was the Sorting Hat. Harry's transfixed gaze glued him in place as he stood there; puzzled by this sudden appearance. Around him the smoke and shadows showed manlike figures but they seemed less real than the piece of headwear at his feet so Harry discarded their swift approach without a backward glance.
A second later three very real dark wizards burst out of the smoke, nearly barrelling Harry over. All four collapsed against each other and Harry was pushed across the pillar and lost his footing. He landed hard on the ground, feeling each individual cobblestone as they jutted into his back. He didn't have time to feel his bruises or to think, however, as one of the Death Eaters was already looming over him. Harry rolled to his side swiftly and crouched up as a spell cracked the stones where he had been a moment before. He raised his wand without thinking.
So what happened next came as a surprise to all. Harry watched how the Death Eater's wand spun away in a high arch. He followed its descent until it vanished out of sight. That moment of inattention cost him however. The young wizard had forgotten about the other two Death Eaters.
He fell flat on his back again as familiar fiery pain ransacked his body clawing at his bones. Harry screwed his eyes shut to blot out the pain when it left as sudden as it came. He opened his eyes to a most peculiar sight.
The three Death Eaters were clawing at their own limbs because some pale green substance was growing around them at an alarming speed. Only one still had a wand but every spell he cast to expel the greenish goo had no effect.
"And that's what you get by sticking your nose into other people's businesses!" Someone shouted triumphantly. It sounded vaguely familiar, but Harry couldn't place the owner of that voice yet. The man went on, "Sticking? Get it?"
As a last resort the only able Death Eater created a last-minute Portkey and by lunging for that rock vanished, taking his sticky comrades with him. As they were all connected by the green sludge, Harry wasn't sure if it had been intentional or not.
All around him he now heard the welcome sound of people Apparating into the Alley. For a moment Harry let his raised head fall back to the ground and he stared at the slowly clearing sky. It sounded like the Order had arrived.
"I think they got it, Fred." Another voice commented amused, "And sticking? That was pathetic."
Every time James faced Death Eaters, Dementors, werewolves or any other ally of Voldemort the dark wizard could Conjure, the Auror had felt fear. That was a good thing. It helped him to focus and made him less reckless. He still fought like a bizarre incarnation of Peeves and Minerva – Severus' words not his – but the resulting chaos actually served a purpose.
It had been a long time however since he felt true and mortifying panic. He had felt it briefly when Harry remained on his knees staring wide-eyed at a Bone Breaking Curse instead of drawing his wand. At least then the boy had been in his line of sight. He had no idea when Harry stopped following him.
James cursed the inattention and his damn leg as he hurriedly tried to retrace his steps ducking and blocking spells while peering into the thick smoke. The confusion of any Death Eater attack had caught him by surprise this time. As he ran he almost stumbled numerous times over somethings - or someone - but his feet had a will of his own now and urged him on without giving him the chance to pause.
A grinding crushing noise was the only warning he got before the façade of the Apothecary crashed down just in front of him. He stared at the rubble for a few seconds in blind panic. Harry hadn't been here anymore. He was sure of it. He had to believe it.
Soft sobs penetrated the brief silence after the crash and James swerved his head in the direction of that sound. A young girl crawled from underneath the rubble. For a brief moment, James was torn in two and hated himself for it.
Hoping this wasn't going to be another decision he would live to regret, the Auror rushed to the little girl's side and kneeled down in front of her. He offered her his hand but she was so busy hugging a toy dragon to even notice.
"Hush, little one, are you all right?" He spoke gently, although his tone remained urgent; keeping one eye on his surroundings. The girl didn't react to his question though and squeezed her toy dragon so hard that James was secretly glad she hadn't taken his hand.
"And is your unicorn all right?" He asked deliberately making a mistake.
"Is a dragon." The girl corrected him as she looked up, "Can't you see?"
"Silly me," James tried a smile, "Dragons like to explore caves. Shall we go and explore?" He asked picking her up relieved as she unfolded her arms. He hadn't asked her about her parents or why she was alone. No capable parent would leave their child unprotected at a time like this, so the question was moot. James pressed himself against a wall and kicked in some wooden planks. He hoped it led to a cellar hole.
"Watch it!" Someone hissed from below to his surprise. The Auror glanced down into apparently one of the underground shelters of the Alley. This one obviously had a weak point, he noted grimly while counting his luck. "Is there room for another?"
"Just come in quickly before they see." Another voice urged him on. James recognised its owner, it was the Apothecary's assistant.
"Ready to explore a cave, princess?" He asked. She nodded against his shoulder and he hurriedly lowered her into the cellar.
"Stay there until it's safe." James said as he closed the hatch again and reinforced it with a layer of spells. He hoped they would hold, since such enchantments were not his forte.
Before he had time to resume his search several witches and wizards Apparated nearby. He spotted Frank and Kingsley briefly before they were swallowed up by the smoke. And a far-off rallying cry told him Sverre Nass was in his element. The Durmstrang alumnus had a preference for fighting through chaos and after the man's appointment to the Auror Office five years prior, James had found a kindred soul in the northern born wizard.
James sighed in relief and leaned back against the wall for a moment. His left leg was throbbing again and he knew one Healer who would look at him in disappointment before this day was over. But for now this fight was theirs to win. His Aurors were here and so was the Order.
Mere minutes later Alastor, Frank and Kingsley were coordinating the aftermath with a skill that sadly spoke of their experience. When Frank had spotted him earlier he told James in no uncertain terms that he was still on sick leave until eight o' clock this evening and politely requested his boss to bugger off.
Under normal circumstances James might have used his position as Head Auror to very politely explain to Frank in turn that he should mind his own bloody business, but this wasn't an ordinary day. So he left his Aurors to do what they were good at and left to do the only thing he could: find Harry.
St. Mungo's triage team was already present, they cordoned off a section of the Alley to assess the wounded before moving them to the hospital. So James moved towards that area in the hope someone had seen the young wizard. He didn't want to think about the other option.
The section was less damaged than the rest of the street because it lay next to Gringrotts. Voldemort wasn't insane enough yet to completely aggravate the goblins. Yet being the key word, of course.
As he passed the rows of temporary stretchers he was reminded once more why he became an Auror instead of a Healer. It was both the crying and the frightening silence that got to him each time. Just as he was about to check the last row someone called out his name.
There were only a handful of people who called him that and only two of them had any business being here. He whirled around and saw Fred – or George – zigzagging through the debris and the wounded. The young wizard seemed completely unharmed but there was something in his posture that was hard to read. It instantly put James on edge.
"Good, I found you." The red-haired wizard said and looked around, "It's complete chaos out here."
"Is everything all right?" James asked worriedly.
"Shop's a mess, but we got around to test some of our more specialized items so it's a toss-up for us." He answered before he smiled mischievously. By now alarm bells were going off inside James' head after years of exposure and conditioning. The twin went on, "We found something that belonged to you however. Well, Fred guessed and send me running. He isn't saying much though."
"Fred?" James asked confused while concluding that this was George then.
"No, your evil twin, although he looks more shell-shocked than evil at the moment."
Harry felt a bit dazed to be honest. He supposed it was the shock. He wasn't sure it was because of the attack or the unexpected rescue. Fred and George, dear Merlin, he didn't know if he wanted to cry or hug them just to make sure they were real. So he did neither which didn't solve any of the tension he was feeling.
Once the attack had ceased the twins had taken one good look at him and before he had a chance to protest, ushered him safely back to their shop. The multi-coloured signs were charcoaled in many places and lights were all shattered, except for one. The word 'POO' still brightly flickered in the Alley in a hellish pink neon.
"Mind the glass." Fred said as they crossed the threshold. The shelves closest to the windows were all upturned, scattering merchandise all over the floor. As he took in the wreckage, the twins shared a hushed conversation before George hurried back out.
Now Harry was sitting in their back office nursing a cup of strong tea – laced with Calming Draught no doubt – and a self-knitted blanket lying across his shoulders. He wasn't shivering of the cold though. Fred was dividing his attention between glancing at him and the front of the shop. Harry noticed the other wizard hadn't put his wand away either.
Harry wasn't sure how much time had passed, but Fred had already giving him a second cup when James burst into the office. The sheer relief that showed on the man's face was staggering and Harry sincerely hoped he wasn't about to be hugged.
"Look Fred, I found our missing Marauder." The other twin announced and broke the moment.
"I see that, George." Fred stated and asked the older wizard, "Do you want a cup of tea, Uncle James?"
James shook his head, his focus completely on Harry and asked, "Hadrian, are you all right?"
"I'm fine, can I leave?" Harry stated without hesitation as he glanced uncomfortably at Fred and George. He was trying to convey his discomfort to the other wizard, but he wasn't sure that the other man got understood.
"Hold on there, mate. You can't leave yet." George interrupted, "You were put under the Cruciatus Curse."
"I'm fine." Harry repeated more forcefully this time. He placed the cup on the cluttered desk next to him and shrugged the blanket off to prove his point.
"Can you two give us a minute?" James asked without taking his eye of Harry. He too had noticed the shivering.
"Sure, we'll keep watch." Fred said as he stepped out of their office.
"And see if we can spot the vultures already." George added and joined his brother outside.
When James was sure they were out of earshot, detachable one's included, he rounded towards the younger man, "Be honest with me, are you all right?"
Harry opened his mouth to repeat his earlier declaration, but it proved rather hard now with James looking at him like that.
He shook his head, "I'm not fine, but I don't need to go and see a Healer either. My back hurts but it's just bruised and I have some small cuts everywhere and then the twins suddenly showed up and I wasn't ready for that." He blurted out, then inhaled sharply since he had forgotten to breathe. That started a coughing fit which just made everything hurt more. He felt miserable just like he deserved.
James waited patiently until the younger wizard stopped coughing before asking, "And what about the Cruciatus Curse?"
"It's fine, I wasn't under it for that long."
"Harry, you can't just shrug that off."
"The pain's already fading. I'll be fine."
"Merlin, you're almost as bad as Severus." James said, exasperated, while combing his sweaty hair back with his fingers. "So, definitely no Healer?"
"No Healer." Harry confirmed.
"Right, well I know you're eager to leave, but we need to at least say goodbye." James opened the door to the main part of the shop, silently urging him to go out first. Harry sighed knowing very well the older wizard was right. At least he felt a bit better now with all the Calming Draught in his system.
Fred and George were both leaning against the doorframe – one left, the other one right – and observing Diagon Alley. Seeing them both in profile, Harry couldn't help but notice that for a fleeting moment they looked much older than he remembered them to be.
"This was a bad one, Uncle James." Fred said without taking his eyes off the sight before him. When the twins had brought him here the smoke was still concealing almost everything. But now Harry could see the damage. It was hard to imagine what the Alley had looked like before the attack. Less than half an hour ago Harry had stepped out of Ollivander's shop. Now the whole street looked and smelt like a warzone.
"I know, boys." James sighed as he went to stand with them in the doorway.
George sighed as well and turned to look over his shoulder at Harry. His mouth twitched for a second, "You know, we saw our favourite Marauder in trouble." He narrated.
Fred caught on quickly, "So we thought, let's join him in creating chaos."
"As we got closer, though, we realised he wasn't you." George finished leaving a long pause for someone to start explaining.
"Right, you haven't met." James stated smoothly as he clasped Harry on the shoulder, "Well, there's time for a quick introduction before we need to head home. Boys, meet Hadrian Black, my…" The older man made a show of trying to recall something, "… cousin for lack of a better word. His grandfather was my uncle, I believe, although I'm rubbish at family history." He told everyone as an explanation and not even Harry, who knew James was lying, could spot anything but honesty.
"Hadrian, meet the Weasley twins. One's Fred, the other one's George but don't ask me who's who." He said as he pointed to the two, "Besides I suspect that they actually switched their names themselves in their even younger years."
"Mum always blushes when you bring up that theory." Fred grinned.
"Which is why we love it." His twin continued.
"Greetings, Hadrian or otherwise-" Fred said with a flourish.
"Known from now on as mini-James." George declared solemnly. The twins glanced at each other, thus missing the slightly panicked look James and Harry shared, and shook their heads simultaneously, "Nah, we'll work on that."
They stuck out their hands, filthy with sweat and grime just like Harry's who hoped they wouldn't notice his trembling fingers as his own hand crossed the distance.
"Nice to meet you, Fred and George." He managed to say with a level tone of voice, "And thanks for your help back there. What exactly was that thing that attacked the Death Eaters?" He added, hoping to distract them from asking to many questions themselves. Also, he was honestly curious.
"Yes, what did you do?" James pitched in. The twins shared a grin and Fred took a packet of gum out of his waistcoat pocket. "It's a variation on our Ever-growing Chewing gum." He explained handing it over to James for inspection.
"You chew this." He picked one flat rectangular piece out of the packet and unwrapped it. "Then stick it to something, your run-of-the-mill Death Eater for instance, and watch it grow."
"And it has a nice minty flavour." George went on.
"How do you get rid of it?" James questioned handing Fred the package back. There was a short pause before the twins' grins grew even more diabolical.
"We're still in the testing stage." George admitted happily, causing James to stifle a groan.
A small explosion outside disrupted the light heartedness for a moment; they all raised their wands in the direction of the noise. It was a false alarm; another camera flashed with an impressive bang and a familiar band of wizards and witches fanned out across the the Alley.
George immediately turned towards them, "Do you need to use our Floo? I'm assuming you don't want to show your clone to the press yet." The pace of their interaction quickened immediately and Harry felt himself struggling to catch up.
"It's always the same: first the attack, then the heroes sweep in and then the vultures appear for the clean-up." Fred commented already ushering James out of sight while Harry followed hurriedly.
"Speaking of vultures, it seems someone told Skeeter you're at the shop." George glanced through the broken window, "She's strutting over here looking quite determined. Too bad we can't stick her with gum."
"We could…" Fred raised tentatively as he opened the door to their back office.
"Remember the plausible deniability clause, boys. I didn't hear that, we're going, behave and have fun." James waved them off and quickly steered Harry one-handedly back into the office. He closed the door with a kick and grabbed a can of Floo powder.
"Got it, Uncle James!" Fred or George called back their voices already muffled by the distance.
"Harry, just call out Potter's Keep." James offered him the can. Harry briefly looked back at the closed door.
"Oi, Rita! Do you want to see what we did to those Death Eaters?" He heard one of the twins shout out, "We'll give you a sneak preview."
"Harry?" James asked, "You're still with me?"
Focusing again Harry grabbed a hand of powder and threw it in the fireplace before calling out, "Potter's Keep."
He really, really hated taking the Floo, but before he had time to fall down on the hard wooden floor James was there behind him in the library.
"Sure you're all right? You look a bit dizzy."
Harry coughed first before replying, "I'm fine. I just don't like ash."
For some reason that made James grin and the man sank down in one of the chair, not looking like he'd be getting up any time soon. The older wizard sighed and closed his eyes for a bit, "I'm not sure how you're feeling, but even after fighting for as long as I have, I still need some peace and quiet to process everything that happened. I'm feeling psyched and depressed at the same time."
James opened one eye, "You can get some rest of you want." He suggested when he saw that Harry hadn't really moved, "Or take a shower to get the grime of you. Remember the emergency kit in the kitchen? It has all you need, I think."
"I remember. What are you going to do?" The young man asked.
"I need to see a Healer before half of my Aurors and Severus drop by to drag me to St Mungo's." James admitted as he stretched his leg with a painful groan.
"Not really, but I aggravated my leg earlier and I'm due for a check-up anyway. I'll be gone for an hour at the most hopefully. Are you going to be fine here?"
"Yes," Harry stated yet again feeling a tad annoyed that James kept on inquiring about that, "Should I be worried about the twins?" The young wizard asked as an afterthought.
"Hard to give a straight answer to that." James quipped, "About them declaring you my clone and so on? I don't think so. In fact, if they joke about it others won't take it seriously." He said as he stretched his arms before getting up. His leg was getting awfully stiff, a sure sign that the adrenalin was wearing off. Harry was safe now.
"Certain you're all right?" James just needed to be sure.
"Yes, please go to St Mungo's." Harry insisted and sighed gratefully when James finally left. The rush of the Floo hadn't died down fully, so Harry tiredly sank down into the chair that his father had freshly vacated. Despite drinking a fair amount of Calming Draught his heart and thoughts were still racing. He sighed again and closed his eyes; feeling the bruises on his back protest as he took some calming breaths. He felt bone-weary.
Harry didn't know when merely replaying the attack consciously had blended into dreams, but when a recognisable tapping noise spooked him back to awareness he noticed that the shadows in the room were quite different. Briefly disoriented, he was surprised to note that James wasn't back yet.
He ran his hands through his hair and yawned before turning towards the long windows. A brownish owl sat on the window ledge and expectantly rapped the glass again with its beak. It was carrying a rolled-up paper.
The young wizard untied the newspaper after letting the owl in and watched the bird fly off until it was nothing more than a pinhead in the sky as he put off the inevitable. The Daily Prophet rarely had an evening edition, he discovered that during his perusing a couple of days ago, but every single one of them brought breaking news. With growing dread Harry unrolled the paper and read the expected headline.
DIAGON ALLEY HIT AGAIN
16 May 1999 – by Evy Cormack
Earlier today Diagon Alley set the stage for a fierce Death Eater attack. Around noon at least twenty followers of You-Know-Who Apparated into the Alley and immediately set up their feared shield, cutting the street off for anyone trying to flee. Once installed, this elaborate shield is notoriously difficult to break down leaving those inside to fend for themselves while Ministry workers rush to circumvent these invisible walls.
While the attack lasted only ten minutes the devastation left behind came straight out of a nightmare. Several shops like Quality Quidditch Supplies were completely destroyed by numerous explosions, resulting in the highest number of casualties since the massacre in Exeter now three months ago which cost the life of sixteen people. Now with the ongoing count already at nineteen dead and the many severely wounded still being treated in St Mungo's, this might even become the worst attack this year.
Minister Scrimgeour visited the scene earlier to pay tribute to the victims and offer his condolences to their families. His actions, while appreciated by many, are seen by others as too little too late. The Minister promised yet again to raise the security in the Alley giving the numerous Ministry sanctioned safe houses as a prime example of public private cooperation. The three safe houses located in Diagon Alley successfully sheltered more than thirty people during the attack.
A panorama like photograph underneath the article showed Diagon Alley in a one-point perspective. The cobblestones were nearly invisible beneath the mounds of debris and dust. Men and women hurriedly flitted across the street like characters in a film being played on fast-forward. In the bottom right corner however stood a little girl hugging a toy dragon. She was just standing there completely still not even crying.
The whole edition was dedicated to the attack but Harry felt no desire to read on. The paper slipped through his faint and sweaty fingers and before it hit to ground the young wizard was already out of the door. He needed something and he needed it now. Guilt, if ignored too long, comes back shouting expletives.
It took much more than an hour for James to head back home and he grew more impatient with every passing minute. It also didn't help that pacing caused his leg to hurt more so he was forced to lean against the wall instead as the chaos bustled around him. The hospital of course was packed with dozens of wounded, frantic family members and journalists making it very hard for him to even manoeuvre the corridors when he was finally called.
As he arrived at the familiar door, Healer Rosemary Dale had taken one good look at him through half-moon spectacles and sighed deeply in that awful annoying way, before ushering him inside her office. She was an elderly witch, although nobody ever suggested retirement within earshot, who wore her grey hair in a tight bun on top of her head. At times Healer Dale reminded James of his own mother. She too never put up with his excuses.
She motioned him to take one of the two chairs in front of her desk and asked as she took a seat herself, "Is there any reason why you're back here in less than a day?" Healer Dale sounded more exasperated than worried.
"I was due for a check-up."
"Your appointment was for seven o' clock."
James made a noise that showed his annoyance before answering, "There was an attack on Diagon Alley as you well know."
"Rest for 24 hours, James, is not the same as gallivanting through the Alley on a shopping spree." Healer Dale reprimanded him sternly, "Read a book for Merlin's sake and stay of that leg."
"Yeah, well, it happened so what's the damage?" He didn't look her in the eye as he said that. The witch had taken care of his wounds for years. He still blustered every time she admonished him for being careless. Honestly, he often wondered if Poppy Pomfrey had apprenticed under her. They sure had the same way of showing their concern.
As James leaned back Healer Dale made a couple of diagnostic spells curling her lip disapprovingly as she proceeded. The quill on her desk took some scratching notes and when it finished she studied the parchment closely. The elderly witch sighed again. James wasn't sure, so he wouldn't bet on it, but he might have heard some relief in there.
"Well, you'll be happy to learn that your recklessness didn't endanger your healing process again." Healer Dale said at long last, "However, you did aggravate muscles and nerves that weren't supposed to be aggravated yet, thus pushing back a full recovery for the moment."
"When?" James merely asked. He had feared this and with the sudden increase of Voldemort's attacks he chose a bad time for a sick leave. Thank Merlin that most of his Aurors were well experienced.
"Come back tomorrow and I'll evaluate you again." She said and continued in a softer tone, "You know magic can't work miracles. Sometimes rest is the best thing."
"So I'll schedule an appointment for you at two," Healer Dale snapped back to her usual business-like demeanour, "Do you still have enough Pain-Relief at home?" When James nodded Healer Dale rose up and went to peruse the bookshelves that lined the whole wall behind her desk. Before James had a chance to question her about it, she pulled out a book, "And yes, this will do."
James stared at the book she put on the table in front of him. It was a rather nice looking book titled Magical Blunders and Medical Wonders showing a wizard with antlers and a red shiny nose on the cover. The red nose lit up every five seconds.
"What do you want me to do with this?" He asked puzzled.
"Read it, James, it might amuse you." And with those parting words she ushered him out of her office.
The moment James stepped out of the Floo he felt that something was off. It was really vague; a sort of wrongness he couldn't pinpoint yet. He looked around the library, fully expecting to see some change here, but nothing stood out. The room actually looked and felt cosy as the sunrays had warmed the place up and an open window allowed a calming breeze in, blowing some loose papers against his legs.
Recognizing the newspaper, the wizard bend down to pick it up. The Daily Prophet sure works quickly, he thought as he flattened the creases. He cursed loudly when he read the headline. This was bad, not that he hadn't know it yet but he couldn't only imagine what Harry must have thought after reading it. With a sickening feeling he realized that he hadn't found Harry yet.
"Harry?" James called out tentatively as he walked into the hallway tossing the paper carelessly into the nearest chair. If he woke the boy up, he would apologize but he feared that wasn't going to be the case.
"Harry?" He tried again when there was no answer. He was halfway up the stairs and saw through the banisters that the door to his guestroom was open. It was however unoccupied. Reaching the doorway, he gazed around the small bedroom. Harry's few possessions were still there so he couldn't have just left, right? James tried to reason with himself.
Suddenly the whole house shook on its foundations. James gripped to doorpost to keep his balance. Dust fell from the ceiling through the wooden floor of the unused attic above him.
"Harry!" James shouted but his voice was drowned by the loud shattering noise as no doubt every bit of tableware fell to its destruction. Just as he was losing the fight to remain upright the earthquake stopped.
Carefully James released the doorpost flexing his white knuckled fists to get his blood circulating again. The house was quiet once more and, if it wasn't for the fine layer of dust covering everything from his hair to the stairwell, the wizard would have thought he had dreamed it. A quick glance outside the small room's window confirmed his suspicions: only the house had been affected.
A sound caught James' attention. It was a far rumbling noise like a thunderstorm still building up and up and it was nearing. It came from downstairs. Without even thinking about it James rushed to the ground floor stumbling as he went but never falling. The door to the Duelling Chamber was visible which could only mean one thing; Harry was in there.
"Bloody hell, Harry, what are you doing down there?" James mumbled as he reached for the handle. It felt warm; not unpleasantly so, but it shouldn't have been warm. The light in the stairwell was off as well. There was already a deep glow at the very bottom that had nothing to do with the torches that lit up as he raced down the stairs.
He abruptly stopped frozen, partly in fear partly in awe, with the sight before him. In the middle of the chamber a gigantic fiery dragon spewed fire at the line of dummies leaving nothing but ash behind. The roar of surging fire was so loud that he couldn't even hear himself as he called out for Harry.
His shout was heard by something else.. As James raised his hand to cover his eyes from the blazing heath the dragon's attention suddenly shifted and menacingly turned to him. It spread his wings threateningly so that embers crackled against the walls in small explosions.
The Auror unconsciously stepped back as he hastily drew his wand, not taking his eyes of the creature even when he tripped over the bottom step. A sharp electrical spark shot up his arm as his left elbow broke his fall, which he barely registered, and at the same time the dragon breathed fire.
A powerful Protego left his lips but James already knew that there was nothing, nothing he could do to stop this kind of fire.
Before the fireball reached him the flames shrunk all of a sudden, rewinding back towards the creature before the whole dragon vanished with an imploding plop. With the fire gone but the greenish blue and orange spots still dancing in his vision, James had a hard time to spot his wayward guest.
When he finally spotted Harry, he saw the boy leaning against the wall at the far side of the chamber and pointedly not looking in James' direction. Slowly the young wizard slid down the stones until he was sitting on the floor. Aware that he was still gaping like a fish the Auror closed his mouth and rushed towards Harry.
Merlin, I'm such an irresponsible idiot! Harry berated himself as James made his way towards him. He rested his forehead on his knees trying to come down from the rush. Honestly, a few seconds ago he briefly feared that he had lost control. That he would see the one person in this world who welcomed him, who showed him so much kindness, being devoured by his spell. He shuddered and felt like throwing up.
Meanwhile James had reached him. He had heard the man's hurried approach until he had been a couple of feet away. Now Harry could hear the hesitance in those steps. The young wizard burrowed his head deeper against his legs waiting to hear the man's disgust as James threw him out of the house.
"That, wow, I mean… Are you…? I didn't expect. Just, wow! Where did you learn that?" Harry's eyes shot up and he raised his eyebrows in question not really sure if he interpreted James' incoherent rambling correctly. The man hadn't sounded disgusted or fearful – which told a lot about James since he had been moments away from being burned to a crisp – he sounded surprised, amazed even.
It was too much. He didn't deserve the awe that James was directing at him.
"Harry, are you all right? You're not hurt, are you?" The older wizard asked and crouched down so he was on eye-level.
"No, I'm just useless." Harry mumbled.
"What are you talking about? You're not useless." James protested as he went to sit next to the exhausted young man.
"I froze completely during the attack." Harry stated and stared at James hard daring him to refute the truth.
"Yes, you froze." James agreed, "But you're not useless."
"You always manage to disarm me during duelling." Harry argued and stared back at his knees. He looked completely lost and James knew that simply correcting the young man that he hadn't disarmed him in every duel would cut it.
"Harry, look at me." James insisted and waited for the kid to meet his eyes. He looked like he was on the verge of crying now, "You're not useless. Yes, I won during a handful sparring sessions. I won't deny that, but don't forget that you weren't using your own wand. Secondly, you're still not completely healed. You need to eat and sleep more. And maybe it's hard to tell but honestly, I really have to put an effort into our duels. You're very fast and have even faster reflexes. You learn quickly. You don't hesitate."
"I did today." Harry mumbled again.
"You controlled Fiendfyre just now! I can't believe I have to spell out to you how rare that is." James nearly shouted out of near frustration.
"I'm okay during our mock duels." Harry reluctantly agreed as if saying the word 'okay' was already a tremendous effort.
"You're more than okay! You're…" James trailed off before sighing, "I can't convince you otherwise, can I?" James asked knowing very well that Harry's biggest obstacle was not his skill but his guilt. Merlin, this was so achingly familiar.
He might as well try something else and suggested. "I can ask Severus to duel with you if you want to improve your duelling. He's much better at the training aspect than I am."
"Really?" Harry asked sceptically remembering his lessons from Sixth Year. He was better at nonverbal casting now so maybe it wouldn't be a complete disaster. He was still undecided on the matter of this world's Snape. It was still too weird. However, nobody could deny that Snape was an excellent duellist.
"Really," James echoed, "He is a professor, remember? And honestly while I sometimes duel with my Auror trainees I never bothered with the actual teaching part of it all. I'm not that good at spotting where there's room for improvement and subsequently explaining it in a sound way." Usually he could only tell them to do it differently which was neither helpful nor constructive.
"Besides his manner of duelling lies eerily close to yours." James went on truthfully. While James himself relied more on trickery and chaos, Severus' technique could only be described with one word: intense. Harry was exactly the same although he was more emotional, even volatile, whereas Severus appeared to be a brick wall emotion-wise.
"Why are you so understanding? I don't get it." Harry stated gesticulating wildly, "Instead of lecturing me for nearly wrecking your house in search of a drink you brought me down here. I nearly kill you with Fiendfyre and you're strangely calm about that as well. And you're not even upset for the fact that I basically did nothing to stop the Death Eaters and just offer more training. I honestly don't get it."
"It isn't your job to stop the Death Eaters." James reasoned.
"It's everyone's job!" Harry growled in frustration, "If everyone just stood up to them they wouldn't have won."
"Exactly, so it wasn't your fault. No matter how skilled you are, you and your friends should never have had to fight Voldemort. And who am I to judge you about your skill to cast Fiendfyre? You were in a war back in your world and from what you told me," James said mentally adding, and especially from what you aren't telling me, "It was pretty bad. I have no doubt that you had a perfectly good reason for learning such a dark magic. And that's fine."
And honestly it was. James was not exactly awed by the fact that Harry could cast Fiendfyre. He knew many wizards and witches in the past who could cast it. It was Harry's ability to control it that had him awed. That spoke a lot of the young man's character.
"See? You're reasoning again!" Harry shot up and pushed himself away from James. The older man remained seated looking up at him with sympathy. Harry couldn't stand it and went on without a pause, "I just barge into your life looking like the son you lost and you're also perfectly fine with that. You can't expect me to fill his place. I can't live up to that expectation."
And finally they were there. James suspected that this was – one of the things – that truly bothered his houseguest. And Harry couldn't believe what he just blurted out.
James took a deep breath, "I'm not and I don't want you to. I'm not even comparing you both. My little boy died before he turned five. He was an innocent child unspoiled by bad experiences. He was a dreamer and a messy eater and loved to draw furry black dogs."
"The reason why I'm so understanding is because I'm comparing you to myself." As James said the words he knew himself that it was true. "I've been where you're standing right now. When young Harry was murdered my world came crashing down. Lily went away and I was left with nothing. I am understanding because I understand. Always balancing on the edge of the abyss. On the one hand hoping someone will pull you back and on the other hand you're so tired you just want to fall down."
"I understand the need for a drink, tiring yourself out in the hope than when you finally succumb you'll sleep without nightmares." James paused for a moment pleased to see that during his explanation Harry had sat down across of him, "I help you, not because I feel like I need to out of misplaced guilt. It's just as natural as breathing, I can't not try to help you."
During and immediately after James' rather passionate declaration Harry remained quiet; not knowing what to say to all that. He wasn't used to this sort of, he couldn't even name it, loyalty perhaps? Minerva and Kingsley had tried to help him but they also respected his privacy and need to be alone. Harry had the feeling that James wouldn't and for some reason that didn't enrage him. Frankly, he felt rather numb at the moment.
"So I hadn't planned on bringing this up so quickly giving you some time to acclimatize to your new situation but it can't wait any longer. Harry, you should speak to someone about your past experiences." James carefully suggested.
"A Mind Healer?" Harry grimaced at the thought and already shook his head, "No, I don't want to do that." He didn't need someone poking around.
"There's no shame in asking for help. Every single one of my Aurors has to see one every two months, more if the situation calls for it." James tried to persuade him, "There's one who could really help you. Her name's Clara Raswick and she's linked with our Department so she's very familiar with stuff like PTSD."
"I still talk to her occasionally and once upon a time I saw a different Healer twice a week during a six-month period." James admitted, "Alice and Molly practically had to drop me off the first few times but talking helped. It really, really did."
"I'm talking to you." Harry ventured, although he knew it would make a poor argument. Clearly James agreed with that if Harry read the older wizard's expression correctly.
"True and that's good. But do you really tell me what's bothering you?" James countered.
"I don't need to talk about it," The young wizard said avoiding answering directly. He also avoided looking at the other man. James sighed at that. Harry feeling the urge to explain at that sound mumbled, "I just need space."
"I don't think that's true which is good because you're stuck with me now." The older wizard promised, "I don't care if you do nothing else but kick and scream while I bodily drag you to her, but you need to talk about all that happened to you."
When Harry didn't answer, James went on, "I'm not going to let you fall."
Harry had been studying the stone patterns on the floor up until then. But at that last statement he looked up and saw the earnest promise in the other man's eyes. A sudden feeling of elation and nervousness coursed through him, a combination that left him feeling unbalanced but it was a different kind of unbalance than before. At least it was better than feeling numb.
"Besides, you'll want to meet Miss Raswick." The wizard added with a sudden smirk, "She and Severus have an undisclosed thing going on."
It took a moment for Harry to process what James had said before making a face and shivering, "Ugh, I didn't need to know that."
"Fine, I'll go speak with her. Happy?" Harry finally agreed silently cursing James rather underhanded method but, by Merlin his curiosity was piqued now.
"Exceedingly so." James grinned and stretched his arms above his head yawning.
"Shall I order some Indian again for dinner? You liked it right?" He asked.
"It was okay." Harry said as he got up. James remained seated however and. raising his hand, asked a tad dramatically, "If you could help an old man up?"
Harry did as he was asked while rolling his eyes with some amusement at James' rather grave exaggeration.
"But first I think a shower is in order. Your hair is positively dripping with sweat." James said. Without even thinking about it, he reached out and mussed it up as if it was the most normal thing to do. Harry ducked his head and took a step back with an indignant yell.
"Hey! Leave the hair!"
The young wizard was smiling. It was almost unnoticeable but it was there, and James gave himself a mental pat on the shoulder. He wasn't hopeless after all then, not when he managed to get to boy to smile after the day they had.
Harry ran his hand through his hair, untangling the knots, and tried to glare at the older man. He couldn't get it right though, the corners of his mouth kept betraying him. As he trudged upstairs towards the shower Harry wondered about the dust before vanishing it with a wave of his wand. Using magic again with a wand of his own felt amazing.
After the shower, which had taken longer than usual since the hot water worked wonders for his aching back, and putting on a fresh set of clothes he felt immensely better. His stomach grumbled when he smelled the faint wafts of curry and followed it down the stairs.
"Right on time." The older wizard praised as he opened the packages littering the table. Harry paused in the doorway. It seemed like James had the tendency to order like Molly had to cook: in abundance. Apparently his bewilderment at the quantity was rather obvious when James rushed to explain.
"It's a bit much, but I have a couple of fanatics at work who would do almost anything for a curry. So I shrink the leftovers and take it with me."
"I'm a nice boss." James grinned and gestured Harry to take a seat, "Dig in."
They ate in silence for several reasons. The food was utterly delicious and, even if it wasn't, Harry was so hungry that he would've eaten anything. Also it felt like most things had been said already. At the moment the young wizard felt content.
"So, tomorrow I'll need to go for another check-up in the afternoon." James said after wiping his mouth with a napkin, "Hopefully I can get back to work in the evening which leaves me with some time. I'll hop by Clara and ask if she has time. Maybe you can come with me to the Ministry one of these days? You can take your Apparition test and pass by the Auror Office if you want to."
"Sure, if that's all right with you." Harry agreed still a bit reluctantly.
"Of course it is. Can I ask you something?" James went on, not realizing he was studying Harry quite intently. The young wizard did notice, however, and actually knew what the man was about to ask.
"You want to know about the Fiendfyre." It wasn't a question. Harry put his fork down and tried to explain, "It was like you said earlier about the war. But I only started learning the spell after it was over." He admitted as an afterthought. "It was a spell that could have helped a lot at the time, so when I found a book in the Black Library I decided to master the spell."
Looking back at those weeks training it was a wonder that he hadn't burned down the house or even the whole neighbourhood. Only a crash course in Runes, specific ones that were sometimes used by Curse Breakers to contain any backlash from the magical protections they were trying to break down, had prevented a destruction like in the Room of Requirement.
"Your dragon was something though, very lifelike." James commented. There was still a trace of awe apparent in that statement. "It looked a bit like one of the dragons from the reserve where Charlie works."
Harry almost snorted at that. So, yeah he might have made the fire to look like one irate Hungarian Horntail.
Any thoughts? Suggestions?