Harry looked both ways to make sure there were no cars approaching, and then darted across the street and into the alleyway between two shops. His brother floated after him, having caught up not long after Harry had made it out of the cemetery. The boy almost wished it had taken longer for James to catch up- the ghost hadn't stopped ranting about the man at Jessie's grave since. And it had been nearly a whole hour.

"Enough!" Harry finally hissed, keeping a wary eye towards the entrance of the alley. "It wasn't that bad, honestly. Uncle Vernon grips harder than that to wake me up when I sleep in." Though not very much harder, he conceded to himself, rubbing the new set of fingerprint bruises beneath his sleeves. They overlapped the last set Uncle had given him just a bit, and the faded, yellowing bruises had begun stinging again.

James growled in response, looking perhaps even more murderous at the comparison. "If he tries to hurt you again, I swear I'll kill him."

His tone shocked Harry. The wizard had never heard his brother sound so… serious, so intent. James was a laughing prankster, not serious at all. Harry wetted his lips. "James… he's just a guy. A guy whose wife just died, and then he saw me messing with her grave. Of course he was angry." He could probably even press charges over it, if he was so inclined. Harry didn't bring that up, though. He didn't like how he suddenly couldn't predict what his brother was thinking, and he didn't want to set James off further.

"I don't care," James declared, wrapping his arms around his transparent chest. "If he comes after you again I'll kill him, and it'll be easy."

Harry stared at him with wide eyes until the ghost explained. "When I moved into his chest, I felt it- he couldn't move, he couldn't even breathe. If I stay there long enough, I think his heart'll stop." James looked proud of himself, even if there was a bit of discomfort mixed in with the determination in his expression.

For the briefest of moments, Harry felt afraid, both for and of his brother. Then, almost as soon as he'd felt it, he pushed the fear down, so far down that he thought he might someday forget he had ever felt it. He refused to be afraid of James, of the one person who had always been completely and irrevocably on Harry's side. But still...

"Please don't, James," he whispered, keeping their eyes locked. "I don't want you to have to do that, even for me." James's mulish expression faded just a touch, but didn't go away. Harry opened his mouth to try to convince him further.

The sound of footsteps at the entrance to the alley interrupted him before he could get a word out.

Simon had never quite realized just how much there was to that tiny slice of Little Whinging until he was driving up and down its streets, trying to find one scrawny boy. Yet, he still didn't want to just give up on the kid. His oft-ignored instincts were whispering that something wasn't right. A good part of it was probably just shame; Simon couldn't recall ever having hurt a child before in his life, and it was entirely possible that his subconscious just wanted to right the wrong that he himself had committed. But even taking that feeling into account, there was still… something more.

That elusive sense that he was lacking some part of understanding was irritating Simon almost as much as the memory of his actions did.

With a sigh, he pulled over to the side of the road and switched off the ignition. He wasn't giving up, just… taking a moment to think, he reasoned to himself. It wasn't like the kid was going to get run over by a lorry just because Simon was a few minutes later in finding him. Besides, he needed a plan. Randomly driving through the town obviously wasn't going to cut it if Simon wanted to find him within the century.

He leaned his head against the steering column. Maybe one of the shopkeepers would remember seeing the boy… but asking them presumed in the first place that they would tell him. Simon knew he had no ill intent, but to anyone else, a grown man asking after a random kid just couldn't be anything but bad news. He might be feeling guilty, but not guilty enough to risk being dragged down to the nearest police station for questioning.

Maybe Simon was going about this the wrong way. The kid had walked to the cemetery, hadn't he? That meant he had to live pretty close by. Heading back to the cemetery and circling might work…

His thoughts trailed off as in the rearview mirror, he caught sight of a tiny figure in too-baggy clothes darting across the road not ten meters behind his parked car. Hardly believing his eyes, Simon recognized it as the boy he'd been trying to find for the past hour and change.

If there was anything more unlikely to happen, Simon was having a hard time imagining it.

This was his chance to apologize. Almost before he knew it, he was out of the car and approaching the mouth of the alley. Hearing a voice, Simon hesitated. Was there someone with the kid? He hadn't seen anyone else go into the alley. They'd have had to already be waiting there.

Meeting up with a young boy in an alley sounded a lot like bad news. Simon peered around the corner of the wall, ready to pull back if needed, but blinked at the sight. There wasn't anyone there but the boy, just as scrawny and ill-clothed as he recalled. His hair was long and somewhat scraggly, and Simon had to frown at the way his arms stuck out like knobbly twigs. He was whispering frantic words to nothing, his gaze focused intently on a spot in mid-air, a few feet off the ground.

Simon searched for anything at all the kid might be talking to, and couldn't find a thing. 'Talking to people who weren't there', indeed. There was a medical disorder that made people hear voices, wasn't there? Schizo-… schizophrenia. There'd been a documentary about it on the telly a few months ago, that he'd half-heartedly watched while Jessie poured over wallpaper patterns for the nursery. But the kid should have been on medications for that, surely.

Either way, Simon really ought to get him back to whoever his minders were. There was no way he was going to leave a child so obviously ill running about the streets. If the boy was as well-known about the area as the cemetery watchman had implied, then surely if Simon escorted him into a shop and asked who his guardians were, someone would know.

Relieved at finally having an actual plan, Simon stepped into the alley, only to freeze as the boy jerked around to face him. Green eyes stared at him in surprise and fear behind a thick fringe and glasses that had acquired a thick coating of dust since the last time he'd seen the kid. "Hey, easy," the man said, holding his hands up. "I'm not here to hurt you, I promise."

The kid didn't seem at all reassured. He backed further into the alley, never taking his eyes off Simon. Taking the hint, Simon stopped moving forward. "I wanted to apologize," he continued. "I shouldn't have yelled at you or grabbed you like that. I just…" Some of the fear seemed to be fading from the kid's expression, though he was still as nervous as a cat. Simon supposed he deserved that. "It hurt, so much. I buried my wife yesterday, and I guess it's going to be a while before it stops."

And it hurt to say, like an iron hook caught beneath his breastbone. At the same time, though, he felt lighter, like saying the words had sent some of the pain drifting away into the air. No matter how this whole mess turned out, Simon was grateful for that. "Are… are you hurt? Did I hurt you?" he asked, worried. The boy was holding his arm very still and carefully; it had to be hurting him.

But the kid shook his head firmly, backing off another step. As though to contradict him, as he moved his sleeve rode up, revealing a set of darkening bruises around his scrawny bicep. "Oh, hell, I did." Dismay washed through him. "If we ask in the corner shop, I'm sure they'll have some ice to put on it…" His voice trailed off, as Simon noticed the second set of older bruises that his additions overlaid.

What the hell…?

"What… who put those-?" Focused as he was on the bruises, Simon didn't notice the look of panic that flashed over the boy's face as the man stepped forward, hand outstretched.

Cold. Dark. Still, so still, so cold. It hurt, oh how it hurt. It burned, and cold shouldn't burn, but he was on fire and the flames were ice and they tore and bit and seared. The ground was hard when he fell, and it hurt and he couldn't breathe and cold, cold coldcoldcold…

"James, no!"

A/N: Good news, bad news time. Good news, I have a new laptop and a new job and thus, the urge to write, given that the urge to write most often appears when I can't actually write because I'm, you know, working. Bad news, most of that urge to write has been consumed by BBC's Sherlock, which is shiny and pretty and doesn't have nearly enough fanfiction written about it, even if what is there is generally heads and more above the common fic.

There's something truly wrong when I have to force myself to write Harry Potter. This was the HP chapter closest to semi-completion (I cut out a scene that refused to be written right now), so it got focused on first. Attempts are continuing.

4 May 2011