When he went down the steepest hills, he liked to stick his legs out in front of him so it felt like he was flying, though the sensation was far from smooth. His mother was always annoyed at him for this, insisting that he keep his feet on the pedals and his hands on the handlebars at all times. But mum wasn't here.
The cold wind was strong on his face, the bicycle wheels whirring with monumental speed. The ground was coarse gritstone and lumpy tufts of reddish grass; it made him bounce uncomfortably in the saddle, but still he refused to put his feet on the pedals. The dark shadow of Pendle hill loomed in the distance, but his eyes remained fixed ahead – one hidden stone could send him flying, and his knees were scraped enough, though at this speed and in this light it was unlikely he would see anything anyway.
Soon his bike began to slow and he reached the stream that snaked through the fells. He leapt off the bike without coming to a stop, dumping it unceremoniously on its side, and hurried to his secret place, his excited breath cold in his lungs. The path here was too difficult for his bike – he had to dodge hidden pools of stagnant water and clamber up intimidating crags, and (this was the danger that really thrilled him) be careful that he didn't stumble into the vertical caves that plunged into the earth, near impossible to get out of. The caves always had brilliant names like Hell Hole and Devil's Drop, irresistible to nine year old boys, and part of him secretly hoped that he would blindly fall into one, only to heroically clamber back out.
It was not really a secret place, but children often believe that they are the first to discover these things. The stone was ancient and mystical in appearance, at the highest peak he knew of (apart from Pendle), and he had naughtily carved his initials into it. His fingers traced over where he knew the letters were. Panting, he sat against it, broadly grinning at his achievement. But now he was faced with the question of what to do now, because adventures were usually more fun when he planned them. He gradually began to realise how far he was from home, and how very alone he was. He had been here lots of times before, but this time it was different.
He heard a distant voice. Worried for his bike, but too afraid to reveal himself, he crawled along the limestone on his stomach and peered over the crag edge and watched the strange events below unfold.
The atrium of the Ministry was bustling, as usual, but one woman walked more slowly than the rest. She shuffled through, quite unaware that she was in the way of the irritated workers, and every now and then she looked up at the vast ceiling, smiling in a confused, unsure sort of way, her feet clumsily stumbling backwards, circling, staggering.
'Watch it,' snapped a moustached man as she backed into him.
She smiled at him vaguely. 'Can you help-?' But he was already gone. Her smile faltered slightly, one strand of her dark brown hair clinging slightly to the corner of her mouth. She blinked like an owl and continued to wander to the middle of the busy atrium.
'Are you all right, Miss?' The woman turned to see a boyish-looking young man gesturing hesitantly to the visitors badge pinned, upside down, to her chest. 'Are you here to see someone?'
She smiled widely at him. 'Yes. I would like to speak to a police officer.'
She frowned and looked down, as though thinking very hard. 'Sorry, an... An Auror. Yes.' Her eyes widened happily as she looked up at him. 'Can you help me? I think I have been the victim of a terrible crime.'
They ignored the commotion at first. Harry had just made the tea, and Theia was still trying to prise open the biscuit tin while frowning over a heap of paperwork. Dawlish's raised voice was of very little concern, certainly nothing that warranted abandoning their files. They had made the office their own - cluttered and strewn with parchment and files and old coffee mugs, Theia's cat lounging on the mantelpiece, a squashy sofa pushed against the wall.
'I don't think you've filled this in correctly,' Theia said through a mouthful of biscuit.
'Shut up, course I have.'
'Don't be a dick about it, look, here-'
'Oh, right, well I did that to test you.'
Judy knocked and entered the office just as Theia was pulling a face at him.
'Sorry Mr Potter, there's a crazy in the office and Mr Dawlish can't get rid of her.'
Harry looked hopefully at Theia, who shrugged and tapped her file. 'I'm busy correcting your mistakes,' she said, and he groaned.
'Don't know why I ever hired you.'
'Probably for all the peace and quiet I bring,' she joked. He rose reluctantly and followed Judy out to the main office, where the rest of his department seemed to be gathered in a nosy looking circle. The office was the same tired old cubicles in neat rows, except for the wide corridors and odd pockets of space, occasionally spruced up with a potted plant. In the centre of it, Dawlish, looking flustered and unkempt, and a woman. Bizarrely, she was sitting cross-legged on the floor.
'I'm not moving,' she said. 'Not until I can speak to a police officer. Or an Auror.'
'Madam, you need to leave,' Dawlish said loudly. His hands were folded as he leant back, sneering at her.
'What's going on?' asked Harry. Dawlish spun to face him.
'She's mad,' he said. 'She says she's the victim of a crime but she won't tell us what.'
'I can't tell you what,' said the woman. 'I told you, I've lost my memory.'
'Then how do you know there was a crime?' snapped Dawlish. He turned back to Harry. 'We've tried to interview her, she's not making any sense. She expects us to figure things out on gut feelings, but she's got no evidence to back anything up. I think she's just escaped from a looney bin somewhere.'
Harry looked at the woman. She was an odd creature. Her hair was cropped in a short bob, her large nose seemed even larger in comparison to her small eyes and thin lips, and her expression seemed oddly vacant. She was short and youthful looking in her face, but the lines around her eyes meant that Harry guessed she must have been in her thirties at least. 'What's your name?' he asked her.
'Marcy,' she said. 'I think.'
He nodded. 'Pleased to meet you, Marcy. My name is Harry. Would you like to come and talk to me?'
'Yes,' she said happily. Before Dawlish could say anything, Harry said lowly. 'Arrange for some tea and a healer, please.'
He guided Marcy through the curious crowd and into his office. Theia looked up, but did not seem surprised. 'Want me out?' she asked.
'No, no,' said Harry. 'Marcy, this is Theia. Please, have a seat, and tell me what happened.'
'Well I don't really know, to be honest,' said Marcy, sitting on the sofa. Her voice was soft and high; she seemed unable to resist looking around the office. 'I was hoping to talk to a policeman. Have you seen any?'
'Are you a Muggle, Marcy?' asked Harry gently, who crouched beside her. 'That is to say, do you know about witches and wizards?'
'Oh, yes, I know all about them,' she said. 'Diagon Alley, Hogwarts, and all that.'
'So why are you asking for a policeman?' he asked. 'Do you have magical relatives?' She frowned, her lips pursed together in upset. 'Have you been to Hogwarts yourself?'
'Bad memory charm?' asked Theia quietly. 'She wouldn't have got into the Ministry if she was a Muggle.'
'I suppose so,' said Harry, trying to get a good look at Marcy's eyes to see if her pupils were dilated. 'Marcy, why did you come here today? Why are you looking for a policeman?'
Her lip wobbled slightly, and now her cheerful voice was a distraught whisper. 'I think something terrible happened to me.'
'Why do you think that?' She shook her head, her lips trembling more than ever. Theia placed a hesitant hand over Marcy's knee.
'It's all right,' she said. 'We're here to help.'
'I'm not sure,' said Marcy, her eyes watering now. 'I just… I just know. I feel it inside me.'
'Sad. Scared. Angry.'
Harry breathed in and rubbed the end of his nose slightly as he leant slightly closer to Marcy. 'Take your time,' he said. 'A healer is on the way to look after you. But for now anything you can tell me about how your feeling and why your here can help me find out if there has been a crime. Because it might just be that you're confused. It might be that nothing happened at all.'
'It has,' she said adamantly. 'With dark magic. I remember.'
'What do you remember?'
'I don't know.'
Now he rubbed his jaw, his patience wearing slightly thin.
'What sort of things are you thinking about?' asked Theia brightly. 'I was listening to a new song on the radio this morning and it's been stuck in my head all day. How about you?'
'I keep seeing the tree,' said Marcy.
'Yes, where it happened.'
'Where what happened, Marcy?'
'I don't know, but it was awful.'
One of the admin assistants burst unceremoniously in with a cup of tea, plonking it clumsily on the side table. Marcy smiled and took it eagerly.
'Thank you,' she said, though she seemed to quite terrify the young man, who avoided looking at her.
'Healer's on her way,' he blurted out to Harry.
'Thanks,' Harry muttered. Marcy slurped loudly on her tea.
'I think she's probably just suffered a really badly done memory charm,' said Theia lowly. 'Powerful, but clumsy.'
'Hmm,' said Harry, nodding. 'Someone didn't want her to remember something then.'
Theia hesitated. 'Perhaps ask the Healer to… Conduct a full physical test. In case there's been an assault that's not visible at the moment.' He knew what she was implying, and was grateful that if that was the case it was the Law Enforcement department that would take over.
'Ta ra,' said Marcy loudly, as the assistant slipped uncomfortably out of the door.
Theia smiled. Harry suspected that she found the woman quite endearing. 'Where are you from, Marcy? That's a northern accent, isn't it?'
'I got the Knightbus here from Lancashire,' said Marcy.
'So you must have a wand, then,' said Harry. 'Would you mind if I saw your wand?'
She blinked at him. 'No, I don't think so. I've never had to use a wand to get the bus, just stick my arm out.'
'Ah, yes, that's right,' said Harry gently. 'But what I'm saying is, it only comes for witches and wizards. Would you mind if I saw your wand, Marcy?' Marcy suddenly burst into tears and gave Harry a short, sharp slap.
'Don't be cruel!' she cried. Bewildered, and clutching the side of his face, Harry stared at Theia, who looked just as taken aback.
Thankfully, the door opened once again, and Healer Abasi hurried in with a calming smile. 'What's all this then?' she asked lightly. 'Marcy, is it?'
'Yes,' she replied through sniffs. 'This man is being awfully cruel to me.'
'Is that so?' She threw a false scolding look at Harry. 'How's that then?'
'He knows I can't have a wand, and he's teasing me for it.'
'Why can't you have a wand, Marcy?' asked Theia. 'Are you a squib? Were you expelled from Hogwarts?'
'I don't know,' said Marcy helplessly.
'Enough questioning, you're upsetting her,' said Healer Abasi briskly. 'I'll take her to St Mungos and keep you updated.'
'I don't want to go to the hospital,' said Marcy. 'I need to speak to a policeman.'
Harry couldn't understand it. The strange leaping between the magical and Muggle worlds, the confusion yet also surety. There was something distinctly wrong here. 'Marcy,' he said gently. 'I would like you to go to the hospital, but before you go, I would like you to tell me why you came here today.'
'It's just a hunch, I suppose,' she said. 'That's all right,' he said reassuringly. 'Most of my career has been based on hunches, I don't think they need to be ignored. Why don't you tell me everything you're feeling? It doesn't have to make sense.'
'Well, there's the tree, of course, terrible it is, and I can't get it out of my head. And then I wonder whether I will ever get him back and why they would do that. And I'm not sure where I have been or what I have done or why I keep thinking of this tree, and why I am so afraid of it.'
There was a flutter of paper, and Theia was suddenly placing a piece of parchment and quill in front of Marcy. Without even questioning it, Marcy picked it up, and began to draw. 'At first it looks like this,' she said, drawing childish, wobbly lines. 'All dead and bare. And then it looks like this-' over the line branches she scribbled great, cloud-like circles, '-lots of leaves and thick bark. But I don't like it like that. It's terrible. It shouldn't be like that.' 'Why not?' asked Harry. She looked at him, her expression serious and intense. 'Because it's supposed to be dead.'
'That's it, she needs to go to the hospital,' said Healer Abasi. 'Come on, sweetheart.'
'I don't want to.' She was tugging at the hem of her cardigan. Harry looked at her carefully. The clothes were Muggle, but had to be over a decade out of date, crumbled and faded.
'Come on, we'll get you a cup of tea.'
'I could do with a brew,' Marcy said, though her hands were still holding onto her mug.
'That's right,' said Healer Abasi reassuringly. She looked at Harry and Theia as she helped Marcy up. 'I'll send you the full report, and we should be able to find out who she is-'
'Will you check for-'
'We always check for assaults in memory charm cases,' Healer Abasi replied. 'I'll send a message to Law Enforcement so they can pick this up for you.'
'No,' said Harry. 'Just send it directly to us please.'
She gave a short nod as a response, and gently led Marcy away. Harry sighed and flopped onto the sofa. There was a dull ache behind his eyes. Sometimes he wondered if he was too old for all of this. Certainly his wife thought so. 'Chuck us another file,' he said. 'Or a pile of them, I suppose.'
'What're you doing?' asked Theia warily. 'We're meant to be focusing on all this muggleborn extremist stuff, not picking up minor cases meant for the LE.'
'I'm not sure that's a minor case,' he mumbled.
'Why not?' she asked, lifting a hefty pile of manilla files. 'These things happen from time to time, and she seems pretty confused. I imagine she's a muggleborn, or a squib, that's why she was asking for the police.'
He gave a non committal hum, and was silent for a few moments. 'Did you ever hear of someone called Bertha Jorkins?' he asked suddenly.
'Who?' He wasn't surprised at her vague, uninterested response. Bertha had never been a famous case, she had been mostly forgotten about while missing and now, almost a decade later, she was nothing but a dusty cold case deep in the archives of the Ministry.
'She was someone who had a memory charm placed on her… It made her forgetful and vulnerable and ultimately Voldemort was able to break through using torture, before he ultimately killed her.'
Theia balked. 'I hope you're not suggesting torture?'
'Of course not.'
'Yes, I thought that was a bit out of character for you,' she replied, her voice clipped but her expression more interested than it was before.
'I'm just saying, I think the memories are still there, somewhere. For whatever reason, Marcy's mind is trying to recall them, and I think, given her determination…'
'And you think she's trying to remember a crime serious enough for Aurors, do you?' She sounded dubious, and Harry could hardly blame her.
'I don't know,' he admitted. 'Just…' He sighed, wringing his hands slightly. 'Just a feeling. I suppose we'll find out.'
'What will the Healers do?' Theia asked. 'Give her some Veritaserum?'
'Nah, that won't do anything, it's about the perception of the truth. If she can't remember, she can't remember. We'll need to piece things together and work it out, I suppose. We know she's probably called Marcy and she's probably from Lancashire, so it's a start… Where are you going?'
Theia had started pulling on her cloak with a resigned look on her face. 'Got an appointment, haven't I? In our favourite place with our favourite person.'
He winced. 'Don't know why you do that to yourself.'
'No, I don't either, really.' She gave a great sigh and stood by the door. 'Don't forget to feed the cat. Are we still on for dinner later?'
'Yeah, course. Go on then.'
She left, and Harry's smile dropped. The guilt was heavy. She wasn't the same, for all her jokes, and banter and forced chit chat, and there was nothing he could do about it. Their new project that proven just as emotionally straining on them both as he had expected, but despite his constant suggestions to abandon it, still she persisted.
Váli gave an odd little chirp and jumped down from the mantlepiece to rub against his leg. Harry, who wasn't particularly fond of cats, ignored him, and pulled the drawing Marcy had done closer to him. She had pressed hard on the parchment, and her hand had moved with urgency. The longer he looked at it, the more horrific it seemed to become - there was something deeply unsettling about it, something in the chaos. He hadn't told Theia, because he was ashamed, but he had felt afraid of Marcy. The way she had stared at him, and told him that the tree was supposed to be dead. Something Marcy had seen, or experienced had disrupted the natural order of things. He had been on the brink of death himself, and seen what it had done to those who tried to selfishly avoid it. He had seen some kind of hateful intensity in Marcy's eyes as she had said it. He wondered if, in her confused state, she had known who he was, and whether he disturbed her as much as she disturbed him.