A/N: I am so so sorry for how long it took me to update. I am terribly ashamed. I've had so much on my plate lately and I have been focusing on my other story a bit more than this one since it seems to get more of a response. Anyway. Thank you to those of you who have taken to pestering me to update. Who knows when this would have gone up if it were not for you. This chapter I found very frustrating. I just couldn't get it to go the way I wanted it to. But I've decided to give up and just post it. Hopefully it still makes sense, anyway. I'm off to Sweden to visit my brother for a bit in a couple weeks, so you might not get an update for a little while. I will try to put up another chapter of A Lonely Path before I leave though, for those of you who read that one too.
Chapter 5: Awkward Silences
The meeting passed much as it had the night before, though perhaps improved by the absence of Burgess's long-winded speeches. While no one was particularly sorry to see him go, Gawain couldn't help but to think that the process would be a great deal rockier if Burgess chose to resign. Building trust with the foreign governments was hard enough without constantly changing up the ambassador with whom they were dealing. Three Heads of the Department of Magical Cooperation in two years might be too much to handle with all the other things that had been happening.
For all the usual tediousness of the conference, it did at long last feel as though things had begun to advance. They had, at least, agreed on a plan of action for most of the areas they had been debating. Gawain felt that things seemed to resolve themselves much more quickly in Burgess's absence.
After several hours of discussion and planning, the committee was disbanded for a short time, each member with his or her own instructions and chores to complete. But a break was a break, and most of the company were more than glad of an excuse to get out of the dusty kitchen for a time. And so it was that upon Apparating back to the Ministry, the group ambled in their separate directions: Kingsley off to meet with the Wizengamot, followed by Ben who had the look of a puppy out for a walk with its master and Margaret who had her wand out, her one eye glaring at everything that moved; Brannagh Roslyn to the security desk in the Atrium to analyze what precautions were in place; Edward Bones up to his office where he was to receive a report about the goings on in Hogwarts. Gawain did not move from the Apparition Zone for a moment, merely choosing to watch them all go. He took a deep breath and mentally prepared himself for the chaos that he was sure to find in the Auror office after his long absence.
A quarter to seven o'clock that evening found Gawain standing once again on the stoop outside Number 12 Grimmauld Place. The allotted three hours to complete their work was nearly at an end. In that time, Gawain had met with the other Aurors, heard report after report of the chaos spreading across the country, prioritised their responses, issued orders, signed off on more than a dozen case files, and shouted at more people than he cared to admit to; he felt as though he had just crammed a normal week's worth of work into just a couple of hours. And so, after shovelling an early supper into his mouth while poring over another case file, he had made his way back to the Headquarters of the Order of the Phoenix, and was much surprised to find that he was actually relieved to be back.
The house was as dark as it had been the night before. He wondered if he was the first one back; he was a bit early, after all. When he reached the door to the kitchen, however, light was streaming out from the crack beneath and he heard rustling from the other side. He pushed the door open, expecting to see one of the other officials but instead he found Harry Potter standing at a cutting board slicing vegetables. At the creak of the door, Potter dropped the knife with a clank and his hand had drawn out his wand so quickly, Gawain thought he would have missed it if he'd blinked. The movement seemed much too well practiced for a boy his age.
Potter's eyes met his own and the boy's grip on his wand loosened. Very slowly and cautiously, Potter lowered his wand, but Gawain noted that he did not re-pocket it; instead he delicately set in on the table beside the cutting board where it was easily accessible and resumed the chopping of a carrot. Gawain found himself rather impressed by this.
"I didn't mean to disturb you," said Gawain in his low gruff voice.
Potter glanced up briefly, but the knife did not still in its rhythmic cutting. "You didn't." He picked up the cutting board, held it over a large pot and used the knife to scrape the pieces in before taking up a potato and resuming his slicing in a way that Gawain found rather menacing. "I had thought Kingsley had let you all go home for the evening. Working you lot a bit hard, isn't he?"
"Desperate times," Gawain responded. "We all knew what we were signing up for."
The boy's hands stilled for a moment and he looked at Gawain. Just looked, his face unreadable. Gawain found himself fighting the desire to squirm under the gaze like a boy who had just been caught by his mother after stealing biscuits. He abruptly realised how ridiculous he was being and wanted to kick himself in the shin. He's just a kid. A perfectly normal seventeen year old kid. Who cares what he's done. You're a grown wizard. Act like one. He forced himself to approach the table. He rested his hands on the back of a chair but did not sit down.
"You're Mr. Robards, aren't you? Head of the Auror office?" At Gawain's nod, "Interesting time to be an Auror. Stressful," he added with a humourless smile. "But interesting." For a moment, Gawain was surprised that Potter should have remembered his name after their brief introduction that morning. Then he remembered that Potter had reacted to the name as if he had heard it before.
"Yes, it is," Gawain replied to Potter's comment, his mind half on the conversation, half questioning Potter's response to his name that morning, internally debating with himself on whether he should simply ask. Perhaps he didn't want to know. Maybe Potter had heard about some kind of foul-up he had made in his past.
But the side of his brain which was in the conversation was failing him miserably. It could not for the life of him come up with something interesting to say to Potter. Gawain had never been much of a conversationalist, and he got the impression Potter wasn't particularly good at it either. Not the best combination. And so it was that as the silence began to stretch again, the part of his brain that wanted to confront Potter about his reaction teamed up with the part that simply wanted to fill the awkward silence.
"May I ask you a question?" Potter, who had gone back to his knife and potato, froze. He looked extremely apprehensive, and Gawain belatedly realised that was probably not the best way to open; Potter was probably expecting Gawain to start interrogating him about his defeat of He Who Must Not Be Named or some such. But when Potter looked at Gawain reluctantly inviting him to ask his question, Gawain barrelled on. "It's just. This morning, when Kings—when the Minister introduced us, you seemed to know my name, and I just...couldn't interpret your expression."
"Oh." Potter let out his breath looking immensely relieved. He visibly relaxed, and the knife resumed its repetitive strokes. "Nothing bad, I assure you," Potter said glancing at him with a slight smile. "It's a...complicated...story. I had just...heard your name from Scrimgeour. A while back."
Gawain frowned, trying to interpret this. While Rufus Scrimgeour had tried to keep it quiet to the general public in the interest of his political reputation, it was not exactly a secret in the Auror office that he and Potter had never exactly hit it off. Truth be told, when off the record, Gawain had heard Rufus flat out cursing the boy on more than one occasion. 'Pig-headed,' was his preferred adjective, though the nouns it described tended to be more...creative.
When Potter saw that Gawain clearly didn't understand and clearly had no intention of letting it go, Potter sighed and said, "On the first day we met, Scrimgeour...threatened...to introduce me to you."
'Threatened.' It was an odd choice of word and more than a little offensive. But then Gawain considered the double meaning in his comment. "He threatened to arrest you?" he asked, incredulously.
Potter laughed. "No, no. Though I don't doubt he considered that option a time or two. He just...well...he wanted to give me a job. Under you."
Now Gawain was completely lost. He supposed it must has shown on his face because Potter laughed again and said, not without some bitterness, "I did tell you it was complicated." Potter sighed as he added the potato to the stew. "Scrimgeour and I had a very...tense...relationship. Our objectives didn't mesh very well. And I don't exactly have a reputation for playing nicely with the Ministry." Gawain suppressed a snort at that. "I think he thought that if I were to work at the Ministry, it would help ensure trust in his administration. That I would be offering my endorsement publically. And I was...something less than cooperative. It proved to be the foundation of a lot of bad feeling between us, and I..." Abruptly he looked at Gawain and frowned. "...and I have absolutely no idea why I'm telling you all this," he finished shaking his head and smiling.
Silence fell and Gawain realised that the forthcoming mood he had found Potter in had now come to an end. He searched his brain for something more to say, something to ask that might get him talking again, but nothing came to mind. There were plenty of questions: whether Potter knew the circumstances behind Rufus's death, that he had been tortured for Potter's location; precisely why Rufus had thought that the Auror office would be a good fit for him; what more was there left unsaid behind Potter's reluctance to work for the Ministry. None of these questions seemed entirely appropriate to ask in their first proper meeting. And so, again, the pause stretched to the point of unease.
Just as the silence was beginning to get painfully long, the door opened behind Gawain and Edward Bones strolled in. Like Gawain, he paused when he saw Potter. He looked between
Gawain and the boy curiously for a moment before nodding at Potter with a soft, "Good evening." Potter replied with the same and Bones strolled over to the table, pulled out the chair he had occupied earlier that day, and seated himself to wait for the others, not looking at anything in particular. Gawain followed suit.
Edward Bones was a man of about forty. His thick auburn hair was just beginning to fleck with grey, his face just beginning to show the lines of decades of concern and weariness. He was one of those lucky few who seemed to grow more handsome with age. His was the kind face that seemed to tell a new story with each wrinkle. Now he sat silently, his hands intertwined and resting on the table top.
All that was heard in the room was the chopping of a stalk of celery. By the time Potter had added this to the pot and set it all on the stove to boil, the silence had long since passed the point where it could no longer be broken without awkwardness. Potter looked around for something else to occupy his hands while his dinner was cooking, but when nothing became apparent he glanced at his company, first at Gawain and then at Bones.
Clearing his throat uncomfortably in such a way as to remind Gawain that he was, after all, just a child and not at all at ease with polite conversation, Potter said to Bones "You're Susan's father, I believe?"
Bones looked at Potter with an expression that Gawain could not quite get a grasp of. It was almost accusatory. "Yes," he said after a pause.
"I saw you. At Hogwarts. At the battle," Potter said. This was news to Gawain. He had been under the impression that Kingsley had been the only one of their company to have actually been there.
"'After the battle' is more like," Bones corrected. "It would seem I missed the majority of it."
"Either way, I know I was not the only one who was relieved to see you arrive," Potter assured him. "Slughorn did a good thing. Going to collect all of you. It was more than I would have expected of him."
Bones did not reply to this. He was gazing at Potter with his jaw clenched, annoyed about something, though Gawain could not imagine what. Potter apparently understood however because he looked somewhat ashamed when he said, "Susan was well, I hope, when you left her? She wasn't injured?"
"Just a few cuts and bruises. Nothing life-threatening."
Potter flinched ever-so-slightly at Bones's curt voice and said, "I'm sorry she had to go through that. I never intended to have her fight...or anyone else."
"She should never have been there in the first place," Bones said softly. "Merlin knows enough people in my family have died for this cause.
There was another awkward pause before Potter said, just as softly, "I was very sorry to hear about your sister. I only met her once, but she was...good to me. At a time when very few people would have been."
Bones looked up at him, looking faintly taken aback. "Thank you," he said at last.
Gawain had never known Bones particularly well. He had always been a person of some interest in the magical community, but it was more because of the family he was connected to than for his own right. Not to say he was without merit. Like the rest of his family, he was a man of fierce intelligence, powerful magic, and strong morals. But unlike his two siblings, he had kept himself out of direct confrontation. He had watched his brother, Edgar, fight the good fight in the first war and he had seen where it had gotten him: murdered along with his wife and three sons. And Amelia had been one of the first casualties of the second war. Edward Bones may have known what was right and wrong, but that didn't mean that he was about to let the same happen to his wife and daughter. In that, Gawain saw a great deal of himself in the man.
After a lull, "May I ask, Mr. Potter: exactly how well do you know my daughter?" Bones asked contemplatively.
Potter looked grimly amused by this question. "Exactly as well as a Gryffindor and a Hufflepuff of the same year know each other after six years of classes. We didn't properly meet until fifth year. But I like to think that we are friends."
"Must be some friend. That she would risk her life for you."
Potter looked him straight in the eyes. "You can't honestly think...that she did any of that for me."
"What else would she have done it for?" Bones had a strange expression on his face as he said this. He seemed torn somewhere between anger and sorrow and guilt and a true desperation to understand. He did not intend this to be a rhetorical question.
Potter looked at him pityingly. "For her aunt?" he said shrugging. "For her uncle and cousins? For you? You'd have to ask her." Gawain was beginning to think they had forgotten his presence in the room. He wasn't so sure he was meant to hear all this. It was starting to feel all together too private.
Guilt was beginning to win out on Bones's face. "This wasn't her fight. She's going to remember what she saw that night for the rest of her life. She's just a little girl."
"To you." Potter said it firmly. "She's just a little girl to you. You wouldn't be her father if you didn't look at her that way." Bones was staring at his entwined fingers on the table, a crease between his eyebrows deepening. "Have you ever seen Susan do a Reductor Cham, Mr. Bones? She can reduce a solid wall to sawdust. What about a Stunning Spell? An Impediment Jinx? Because I have. And believe me, Mr. Bones. If you saw her do that, you wouldn't be able to call her 'just a little girl'. She knows how to take care of herself if she has to."
Bones looked at Potter meditatively. He stared at him for some time, but he never seemed to come up with a response to that. Finally he nodded and went back to staring at his hands.
"It all turned out well in the end, I suppose. And you saved her life, in a way. Saved everyone's life. Wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't seen it with my own eyes." Gawain perked up his ears at this. This was an interesting turn of the conversation, something he was much more curious about than Bones's musings about his teenage daughter. But then no one could help but be interested in a first-hand account of the defeat of He Who Must Not Be Named.
Potter, however, seemed determined to avoid sating anyone's curiosity. He grimaced at Bones's last comment and busied himself with stirring the pot simmering on the stove. Bones tried again. "Not sure I understood what was happening most of the time, mind," he prompted, pausing to give Potter an opportunity to answer. Potter didn't oblige.
The room fell again into awkward silence. Gawain looked at his watch. It was seven o'clock. The others should be here. No sooner had this thought crossed his mind than he heard the front door slam and Ben's voice floated down the hall toward them, chatting contentedly. Gawain sent a 'thank you' to the gods of bad conversationalists for saving him again.
Ben's voice grew louder as it approached and the kitchen door swung open to show Margaret, clearly scoping out the room for any imposters. Kingsley followed with Ben hard on his heels. Kingsley looked rather distracted, as though he were only listening to Ben with one ear. Ben however, didn't seem to mind. Gawain sometimes got the impression Ben just liked the sound of his own voice. Then again, Gawain was also rather jealous of Ben's complete lack reticence; he suspected these damned uncomfortable silences never happened to him.
Kingsley nodded in greeting to the room at large and, at a lull in Ben's banter, "Harry," he acknowledged. Harry nodded to him from his chair at the table and said in subtly mocking imitation, "Kingsley. You want to be a bit louder coming in? I'm sure Mrs. Black would love to have a chat with you if you wake her up."
"Blast. I forgot. Sorry," replied Kingsley, looking over his shoulder toward the hall.
"No harm done. It's just best if you all keep as quiet as possible when in the hall," Potter told the room at large.
"What? Is there someone else who lives here?" Ben asked curiously.
"Nah. Portrait of the former owner of this house. Not very fond of visitors." Potter offered no other explanation.
Kingsley smiled indulgently at Potter before glancing around the room. "Brannagh still not here?" he asked. Gawain and Bones both shook their heads.
Potter stood to stir his soup again as the new arrivals took seats at the table. Kingsley's eyes were on Potter's back as he spooned some to his mouth to taste. The boy grimaced and reached for the salt to season it. "I really do need to learn to cook better," he said more to himself. "It would have come in very useful the past few months."
As they waited for Roslyn's arrival, the members of the group began to converse quietly, some merely exchanging pleasantries and small talk, others business. Gawain did not take part. He rarely did in such situations like this. He preferred to simply sit back in his chair and watch and listen.
Just as Potter began ladling his stew into a bowl, Roslyn entered the room, out of breath and apologizing for her lateness.
"Excellent. We can get started then," Kingsley said.
"And that's my cue to leave," muttered Potter softly, tearing off a hunk from a loaf of bread and balancing it on his bowl.
He made toward the door, but Kingsley stopped him, saying "I'm hardly going to kick you out of your own kitchen, Harry. You are welcome to stay if you choose." Margaret and Gawain shot him sharp warning looks.
Potter raised his eyebrows. "As fun as that sounds..." he said, trailing off sardonically. He smiled at Kingsley and then continued to the door. "I'll be in the drawing room," he called over his shoulder at Kingsley before disappearing down the hall.
"Well," Kingsley continued "I know we would all much rather be at home having supper with our families right now, so let's try to move it along, shall we?"
The meetings were beginning to fall into routine. Kingsley would open, someone would give a report, notes would be taken, questions asked, plans made. At least this evening was relatively short. The next day they were to begin their own assignments and would not be meeting here. Gawain was filled with a mixture of relief at a break from this house and trepidation at which of the ten billion undesirable projects he would be assigned to.
Brannagh Roslyn had been dispatched to initiate the plans for the new security measures in the Ministry: there were to be a more intensive background checks for prospective employees as well as several current ones who were considered suspect; more severe screening for any visitors to the Ministry; more security personnel stationed on each floor. Also, as the only member of the committee already established in the Wizengamot, Roslyn was to begin setting up trials for known Death Eaters in custody and overseeing the collection of evidence against them. Suddenly, Gawain found that he really didn't envy her promotion to Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement.
There had been some questioning when she was first offered the position after the death of Amelia Bones. She had previously worked an administrative position in the Improper Use of Magic office, and many did not consider her qualified to take up one of the most high-ranking posts in the Ministry. The Head of Magical Law Enforcement also had a reputation for being something of a dirty job, and there were doubts that she would be able to cope. Traditionally, Heads in the department had arisen from the Auror office, the Wizengamot Administration staff, or, on occasion, high ranking officers in the Magical Law Enforcement Patrol. At first, people had expressed surprise that Scrimgeour had not taken up the post, but then, with his subsequent appointment as Minister of Magic, all was explained.
Perhaps it was Roslyn's manner as opposed to her background that caused doubts. She was quiet, soft-spoken, polite by all accounts. But she lacked the aggressiveness most considered necessary, the strength of spirit, the willingness to fight for what was in the interests of the department. She was, frankly, unextraordinary. But she got her job done; nothing more and nothing less. Somehow, she managed to fly under the radar. Gawain realised that over the nearly two years that she had been his boss, he knew next to nothing about her on a personal level.
Gawain sighed in gratitude that he wasn't given the workload Roslyn had just been handed. He rather doubted that she would be resurfacing in the next year. He soon discovered, however, that he had been overly optimistic to think that it was any more than what Kingsley would assign to him.
Not long after Roslyn had been given her assignment, had the topic of Hogwarts been breached. The wizarding school was, from the reports, in a state of some chaos. Minerva McGonagall had stepped in as the Head Mistress and was doing a remarkable job at supervising the repairs to the castle, caring for the wounded or transporting the worse off to St. Mungo's. Despite this, however, it is not easy to maintain control over so much and so many people, even in the best of times. They were in desperate need of supplies and manpower. The security wards around the castle had weakened dramatically since the attack of He Who Must Not Be Named and his followers; much of the castle was in ruins; most of the people injured; bodies of Death Eaters and school children were still being unearthed. For all Gawian's many years in the Auror office, it sounded like one of his terrible nightmares. And so naturally it was Gawain who had been chosen to go to Hogwarts to aid in repairing the magical wards and ensuring security.
It could have been worse, he supposed. At least he wasn't alone. Edward Bones was assigned to supervise the reconstruction of the building and Kingsley was scheduled to meet with McGonagall and the Heads of Houses. They could suffer in good company.
Margaret was to be sent back to the Auror office to take charge and deal with anything that might arise in their absence. This left Ben to protect the Minister alone, something Margaret wasn't too happy about.
When the meeting was called to an end, Roslyn packed up her notes quietly and took her leave for the night. Ben who had been getting increasingly fidgety, jumped to his feet and ran for the door saying something about the toilet. This gave Margaret more fodder for her objections. She fell into a debate about the Minister's private protection with Edward Bones who was arguing that both he and Gawain would be with Kingsley for most of the time and that there were already other Aurors posted at Hogwarts; Kingsley would be safe enough. They did not seem to notice that the subject of their debate was currently slipping quietly from the room without guard.
Gawain shadowed Kingsley down the hall, internally berating him for walking away without protection. Kingsley glanced back at him, sighed in exasperation, but nodded in acceptance at the same time. They followed the hall past the front door, past a set of heavy curtains Gawain suspected covered a doorway, and up a short flight of stairs before Kingsley turned right through a door on the first landing. Gawain followed and looked around what appeared to be a spacious drawing room.
It was Gawain's first time viewing any part of the house other than the kitchen and the hallway to it. He was unsurprised to find the rest of the house was just as, if not more, dingy and depressing. The room was dimly lit from a few candles and the orange glow from the street lamps streaming through the large mullioned window. Potter was seated on a rather uncomfortable looking green divan on the other side of the room. He was sitting motionlessly staring at the wall opposite him, seemingly lost in thought. The bowl of stew was sitting on a wooden end table half-eaten and looking cold and forgotten.
Kingsley joined him on the sofa, letting out his breath in a sigh. Potter did nothing to acknowledge him, and the pair of them stared at the wall together in silence. Gawain hung back, leaning against the wall near the door to give them some semblance of privacy.
"Do you think I could just light it on fire?" Potter finally said into the silence. Gawain was completely at a loss until he noticed that affixed to the wall they were staring at was a large tapestry with what appeared to be a family tree.
"I think Sirius would have tried that already, don't you?" Kingsley replied with a small smile. Sirius? Was it Sirius Black they were talking about? Gawain knew, of course, that Black's name had been posthumously cleared, but still...did this mean that Kingsley had been in contact with him while he had been on the run? Kingsley who had been in charge of conducting the search for the convict at the time?
"I expect he would have." Potter grinned in a way that seemed rather sad. There was quiet for a moment before he offered another suggestion. "Maybe I could just take out the whole wall? Combine this room with the one next to it? There must be some way to undo a Permanent Sticking Charm."
"I think that would rather defeat the object of making the spell permanent," Kingsley responded.
"Suppose so," Potter sighed.
They were silent for a time. Gawain was struck with envy for the fact that they seemed able to sit in silence without it feeling awkward.
After a bit, Kingsley spoke up. "Did you visit the Weasleys today?" At Potter's nod, he continued, "How are they fairing?"
Potter sighed. "In the way that a family who just lost a son fairs." Kingsley nodded at this.
"Much the same."
Now Gawain wondered if it was Andromeda Tonks they were speaking of. If that were the case, it would imply Potter was consoling her on Tonks's death. It had been enough of a shock to discover that Kingsley had had some kind of relationship with Potter over the years, but Tonks as well? How many more of his Aurors were chummy with Potter behind his back?
"I'm glad she has Teddy. I don't know what she would do if she didn't have someone to care for."
"You've met Teddy then?" Kingsley asked.
A soft smile came to Potter's lips. "He's beautiful, Kingsley. He's got the look of both his mum and dad. And bright green hair at the moment," he added with a snigger. Kingsley smiled sadly.
"I worry for him, though," he continued, sobering abruptly. "I know what it's like to grow up without parents."
"It's different," Kingsley countered firmly. "He'll be alright. He's got his grandmother. And his old godfather," he added as an afterthought, nudging Potter in the ribs. Potter snorted. Gawain wondered who this child's godfather was and what joke he seemed to be missing. "Besides," Kingsley continued. "You didn't turn out so bad." It was Potter's turn to elbow Kingsley, though he seemed somewhat less gentle in the act.
"What are you up to tomorrow?" Kingsley asked after a bit.
Potter looked at him for a moment before, "More of the same, I suppose. "Go help out at the Weasleys. Come back here and skulk. I'm becoming a world-class skulker, you know." After a short pause, "And I should head up to Hogwarts one of these days," he added as an afterthought. "They'll be needing help. And I have some...things...to take care off."
"That's what I was hoping you'd say," Kingsley said, finally, it seemed, getting to the reason he had come up here in the first place. "I'm heading to Hogwarts tomorrow with a few others. I thought you might join us."
Potter looked at him for a bit, staring through him much in the same way that he had with Gawain back in the kitchen. "Why?" he asked finally.
"Well, you said you wanted to go—"
"No. I mean why do you want me to go specifically with you?"
Kingsley was silent for a moment, looking at Harry as though trying to read behind his suddenly suspicious behaviour. "Listen Harry. There are still a lot of Death Eaters unaccounted for, possibly even still hiding out in the forest. I'd just feel more comfortable if you weren't always on your own. I just want someone around to watch your back."
Potter continued to look at him with eyes narrowed. "Wouldn't hurt your public image either, though, would it? Walking onto the battle sight with the Chosen One?"
Kingsley swore. "Damn it, Harry. Are you always this suspicious of everyone," he grumbled.
They were silent for a bit, this time it was not so comfortable as before.
Finally Potter sighed. "What time?" he asked.
Kingsley looked at him with a proud if rather surprised expression. "Ten o'clock?" he said it as a question and looked relieved when Potter nodded, returning to his contemplation of the tapestry opposite him.
They had been sitting in companionable silence for several minutes before Ben stumbled in, slightly out of breath and looking a little panicked. When he saw Kingsley was safe, he relaxed but then jumped when he caught a glimpse of Gawain against the wall beside him. Gawain gave him his best you're-in-trouble-but-we'll-talk-about-this-later look and Ben slumped against the door frame with a dejected sigh.
Ben glanced at Potter, followed his eyes to the tapestry, frowned, looked back at Potter, then to Kingsley, and finally to Gawain looking curious. When Gawain met his eyes with an authoritarian stare, he quickly dropped his gaze. Dropped it to a glass-fronted wooden cabinet against the wall which seemed to be filled with silver-framed old black and white photographs. He wandered nonchalantly over to it to analyze the pictures.
"Well, I suppose I should be getting out of here for the night," Kingsley finally said into the silence. "You," he enunciated the word by slapping Potter's knee, "should be getting some sleep. You look like you need it." Potter looked at him expressionlessly. "So we'll meet you here in the morning at—"
"Who are these people?" Ben's voice rang out into the room. All eyes turned to him. He was pointing at the photographs in the cabinet with some urgency, his eyes on Potter.
"The former owners of this house, I suppose. The Blacks," said Potter, getting to his feet and moving over to Ben. "Yes, that looks like Mrs. Black," Potter said picking up a picture of an imposing looking couple and two children. The older boy's face seemed to have been burned out. "That would be Sirius, I expect," said Potter gesturing toward the burn whole. "And that would make the younger boy Regulus."
"But this one," Ben asked urgently, holding out another picture. This one showed the same couple, somewhat older and a young man of about twenty. Gawain frowned, wondering what this was to Ben. He seemed exceedingly rattled.
Potter also had a crease between his brows as he studied Ben, but nonetheless he took up the picture and said, "I expect that's Regulus again," looking back at the former picture for comparison.
"Regulus?" Ben said, more to himself. Gawain really could not imagine why the man seemed to be fixating on this.
Potter seemed to share his thoughts. Frowning, he explained, "I inherited this house from Sirius Black who was my godfather. He received it after his mother died. Regulus was Sirius's younger brother. I don't know much about his family. Sirius had had a falling out with them when he was sixteen; he didn't talk about them much. They were big on the whole pure-blood mania." He nodded his head toward the family tree on the wall.
"So this Regulus, he's a Death Eater?" Ben asked taking back the picture and staring hard at it
Potter frowned as though unsure how to explain something. "He was...for a time..." he said slowly. "He died in the first war..."
"He's dead? Killed by Aurors?"Ben asked sharply.
"No. After a time, he decided to turn on the Death Eaters. I suppose, once he realised what they were really capable of, he thought better of it. He ended up giving his life in an attempt to help bring Voldemort down. He was...a good man...in the end."
"'A good man,'" Ben repeated in a whisper, staring hard at the photograph. He clutched it so tightly in his fists, Gawain thought the glass might break. What on earth was with him? His face was unreadable. Dozens of warring emotions seemed to be battling it out inside him.
"Was there a reason you're interested?" Potter asked, looking at Ben with some concern.
"No." Ben's voice was so soft, Gawain had to lean forward to hear him. "No reason." But he did not relinquish his grip or his gaze on the picture until the others had said their farewells and begun to trail out of the room to head home for the night.
Ben set the photograph down softly, almost reverently, and followed the others to the front door, lost in thought.
A/N: Okay. After writing this chapter, I got to thinking about the character of Ben Harrows, and I realised I very tragically had written myself into a corner with him. He is my favourite character in this story and one of the most complex characters I have ever written. His complexities, however, are such that it is impossible for Gawain to ever know them, and given that this story is written from Gawain's point of view, if he can't know them, neither can you. I have struggled with how I should introduce Ben to you (part of the reason I've been so slow to update), but I have found that all I can give you are tantalizing hints: his reaction to the photo of the Black family; the fact that he passes out when dementors are near him; that he stayed at the Ministry even after it fell. I want you to understand these things, not because it is particularly important to Gawain and the plot of Knowing Where to Look, but because it is important to me.
So…Here is the issue:
Ben, at first glance appears to be a highly open, out-going, fun-loving sort of individual who says what he thinks. He is all smiles and wit and charm and is loved by everyone who meets him. The truth of the matter is, however, in certain areas, Ben is quite the reverse from what people think. Early on, he discovered subconsciously or otherwise, that if he was loquacious and friendly, those around him received the impression that he had told them everything, and thus they did not bother to look deeper. If he talked about the insignificant enough, they forgot to ask about the significant. There are certain aspects of his life which he discusses with no one. He is, in reality, extremely private when it comes to these things.
For this reason, I realised that I was never going to find a way to fit his back-story into Knowing Where to Look, most particularly, because Gawain, his boss, is one of the last people Ben would ever open up to. However, my brain had invented such a detailed and, I think, beautiful story that explains why he is the way he is. I simply was not satisfied to leave it on the sidelines and let you guess; I wanted to share it all with you. For that reason, I have written out his story here. If you are not interested, you are not obligated to read it. It's rather long and not at all necessary for understanding Knowing Where to Look. Perhaps one day I will turn it into a short story of its own, but I think most would prefer I focused my energies on the two stories I've already been working on. I rather doubt that anyone would read it anyway.
And now, without further ado,
Ben Harrows's Back-Story:Ben is, in the technical definition of the word, Muggle-born. He was never, however, ignorant of magic. His mother, Fiona, was the younger sister of a Muggle-born wizard, Eamon O'Callaghan. Growing up, Fiona and Eamon were very close and Eamon was very protective of his little sister. Fiona, therefore, heard all about the magical world and everything that happened at Hogwarts whenever her brother came home for the holidays.
Fiona left her family home just outside of Cork, Ireland to study creative art at the University of the West of England in Bristol when she was eighteen. There she met Jonathan Harrows who was studying civil engineering. They fell in love, married, and had Ben a few years later. Ben began displaying signs of magic at a young age, and Fiona immediately recognised it for what it was. Eamon, who had no family of his own, had settled down in Bristol to be near his sister and her family. Fiona promoted a strong connection between her son and her brother; knowing Ben would eventually enter the wizarding world, she wanted him to have someone to go to with any problems that she knew she and Jonathan wouldn't be able to help him with.
Meanwhile, the first war against Voldemort was underway. Eamon, who was very idealistic and considered himself to have less to lose than most, had taken it upon himself to do everything in his power to waylay the Death Eaters. When Ben was six years old, Eamon snuck into a Death Eater gathering place and stole some parchments detailing meeting times, locations, and certain members. As he made his escape, however, he was seen, and someone he worked with recognised him.
The Death Eaters had recently acquired a new recruit, a young boy, no more than seventeen years old. They decided that it would be a good and relatively simple test to send the boy to steal back these documents. And so it was that the young Death Eater waited until Eamon left his home and then broke in and began ransacking the place, searching everywhere he could think of for the papers.
Fiona, who had been passing nearby Eamon's flat at the time with her son in tow, had decided to stop in and say hello to her brother and see if he might be available to watch Ben while she did some shopping. After going up the stairs to Eamon's apartment and letting herself in, she followed the sounds of rummaging coming from the study. When the door opened, the young Death Eater, on high nerves, whipped around and let loose a Killing Curse without even looking to see who it was.
When he saw what he had done, he was mortified. He stood there and stared at the young woman he had just murdered in cold blood and her six-year-old son who was kneeling on the floor looking confused and in shock, still holding her hand. It was the first person Regulus Black had ever killed and it was the first in a line of occurrences that would eventually turn him to search for and give his life to destroy a horcrux. Regulus ran from the house, determined to tell the Death Eaters that the parchment wasn't in there, and Eamon later came home to find his sister dead on the floor and Ben still beside her, still holding her hand.
Jonathan Harrows did his best to raise his son after that. He loved Ben very much, but he was well beyond depressed after the death of his wife. He was detached and no longer seemed to be able to muster the energy to show his son how much he cared, something he knew Ben needed to see. He soon took to drinking and the problems became worse. After a few months, Jonathan realised he couldn't give his son what he needed, and he sent Ben to live with his Uncle Eamon.
Eamon was also crushed by the death of the sister he had loved so much, most in particular because he was convinced it was his fault. He took his responsibilities toward Ben very seriously, however. He was determined to raise and love him like a son and to do everything in his power to make it up to his sister. He immediately cut off his risky, anti-Death Eater life style, but quickly realised it was too late; he had already made a name for himself as being outspoken against Voldemort. He decided, therefore, to take Ben and go into hiding.
A year later, Voldemort was defeated by the Boy Who Lived and the political climate began to calm. Eamon and Ben emerged from hiding to discover that Jonathan Harrows had committed suicide a few months previous.
The years passed and Eamon did as he had promised and raised Ben as a son, supporting him through his years at Hogwarts and later through his Auror training. He even fudged the paperwork to make it appear that Ben was his biological son, something which ended up protecting him when the Death Eaters started purging the Ministry of Muggle-borns. A year and a half after Ben qualified as an Auror, Eamon O'Callaghan passed away from a heart attack. Ben mourned him like he would a father, but was grateful that he had lived long enough to see what Ben had become.
At the time of this story, Ben is now twenty-six years old, only having qualified to be an Auror five years previous, not long before Tonks. He has no political aspirations and is present in the current proceedings merely as a body guard, chosen because Kingsley had worked with him in the past, trusts him, and quite simply, likes him.
Using his connections as an Auror after he first qualified, Ben discretely strove to discover the identity of the Death Eater who was responsible for the deaths of his parents. The trauma-clouded memories of a six-year old boy, however, were not enough, and he never found out anything about it. Until the evening in the Black family home. I want you to understand the turmoil in his mind at learning that the man he had spent the past twenty years hating had, in fact, reformed and given his life to help defeat Voldemort.
In anticipation of some questions as to why he stayed at the Ministry even after it fell, I will say this: While very idealistic, he is also practical. He has no family and, while many friends, none who would risk their lives for him if he were to get on the wrong side of the Death Eaters. That is not to say he didn't find his own ways to fight back. Remember Yaxley's raining office in "Magic is Might" DH? That was all him.