Disclaimer: Not mine.
This was written for a challenge on the forum The Sober Universe. The quote that determined the story was…"The past tempts us, the present confuses us, and the future frightens us. And our lives slip away, moment by moment, lost in that vast, terrible in-between."
The prompt was Heartache.
Given that information…and the characters of Harry and Lavender…this will not be a happy story. Hope you enjoy.
A Much Greater Hunger
Harry Potter would be glad when his training was over. He disliked Kingsley's new policy that all Aurors were to work at least a month in each department to better understand how their poor choices in the field affected the rest of the Ministry. He, and all the Aurors, laid the problem squarely at the feet of Chad Barkley.
Idiot, that's what he was and a stickler for rules. Chad had been so incensed over Borgin's stash of illegal spell books that he had blasted them out of existence before hauling in the culprit. With no evidence it became a he said I said fiasco that was exposed and paraded across the front page of The Daily Prophet by one Rita Skinner, who once again made the entire Ministry look foolish and corrupt. She had made a case, a very convincing one or so it seemed, that the Aurors' biased view of Borgin, the dear old man, had made him the continued target of their investigations.
Add in the fact that people were still uneasy over the possibility of rouge Death Eaters and the uncertainty that the Ministry had been successful in cleaning their own ranks and there was the making of civil unrest. Kingsley Shacklebolt, still new in his position of Minister of Magic, was furious that his prime suspect, in many more than contraband books, was let go and put his foot down, calling to reform the way things were done and promising to bring everyone up to speed with his new program.
Sighing, Harry started down four flights of stairs, only to walk to the end of a long corridor and climb back up to street level. Harry shook his head, hoping that the promised remodelling would be completed soon. He reported for his next assignment, Werewolf Registration, and was directed to a small windowless office. He walked in setting down his valise, with the full realization that this would be the longest week of his employment.
He hated this. He hated that the poor souls were forced to come into the back door and not allowed into the main body of the building. He could not put the memory of Remus from his mind and although he knew that Kingsley was slowly changing opinions, as of yet werewolves were still loathed and feared. It was surprising to him that vampires were more easily accepted when every night they put people in risk. Whereas werewolves, that took a potion to curb their instincts, were still poached by gangs of hunters that still held grudges against Greyback.
Flipping open the file of client number of the next person, number 5-98-F28-12/98, he looked up as his door opened.
"She's here," Miss Sullivan said nervously. "Should I send her in bound or unbound?"
"Unbound," he frowned. "I don't want anyone manacled before they come in here. Got that?"
"Yes, sir," she said stiffly, deferring to his rank. "Just don't go thinking they won't come after you. Just last week one…"
"After he was pushed to the point he…" he sighed deeply. "Listen, I read the report and I would have done the same. I have to put up with this a week, that doesn't mean I like it…or approve of it. Until then, don't restrain anyone…understand?"
Harry started to read the file, thinking it was the clerks and receptionists that needed training, flinching when he started to read the cover page.
Sex: Female of reproductive age. Anti-ovulation potion administered 6-98
Age at onset: 17
Distinguishing Features and scars: Bite wound to left shoulder. Deep scars down left arm form elbow to back of hand.
His head snapped as the door opened and a young woman stepped in. Naturally coming to his feet, he started to reach out his hand as the woman turned and looked at him.
"Lavender?" he whispered in shock, letting his hand drop numbly to his side.
"Potter," she said swallowing hard and putting her hand back on the door handle. "I was assured that our identities were secret…only our identification number…"
"Lavender…" Harry hurried around the desk and pulled her into a hug of genuine affection, feeling her involuntary shiver. "I didn't know. Truly, I don't think anyone does…they would have said something."
"Of course not." Harry helped her to the chair opposite his and squatted down in front of her, studying her face. "As far as I am concerned I only saw your number. Lav, It never crossed my mind it was you. "
Lavender pushed up her right sleeve and showed him the blue lettering of the tattoo that matched the number on her file. "It's okay, Harry. Go on, put down that you verified it is truly me."
"Lav, where have you been? No one knew…we could have helped."
"Parvati knew. She came to St. Mungo's to see me…once. McGonagall did a memory charm on her. It was horrible…just horrible. If my best friend could treat me that way …" She shrugged and leaned back in her chair as he slowly rose and made it back to his seat.
Harry wanted to lower his eyes to read the rest of the file at the same time knowing if he did so he would only be reinforcing everything the Ministry had done to her. "All I need to make a note of is if you have moved…or changed you safe place."
"Same and same. It's been a good year," she smirked. "Knockturn Alley and in the cellar. Stupid that…I take the potion. It's not like I need to be…sorry. Your secretary warned me not to talk unless it was to answer a question. She seemed rather put out with you."
"Hermione said she thought he just clawed you. If we had known…Lavender…you have to understand that. We would have helped you. I guess we all thought you moved…back with your parents or went out to the Muggle world. A lot did."
"It's not something I wanted to share," she said uncomfortably. "Anyway…it was a long time ago."
"Only nine years, Lav. You should have…"
"It's fine…can we just get on with this?"
"Sure, sure," Harry muttered, picking up his quill only to throw it down again. "I can't do this. How the fuck have you managed to hide for nine years? I know Hermione sent owls to you. Bloody hell…"
"It's okay, Harry. I understand."
"No it's not okay." He studied her face, not understanding how she stayed so calm. "I just…I keep thinking of…you know…school, how you…Lavender, I don't know where to start."
"I think the first question verifies my…"
"Not that." He closed the file and pushed it away from him. "You look…good. Tell me what you've been doing...since Hogwarts."
"Guess." She spat.
"Sorry…I meant…work…things like that…,"he muttered feeling more uncomfortable by the second. "Lav, I just can't forget how you were at school. I figured you moved away and had a dozen kids by now."
"Do you ever want things the way they were?" She asked only to start laughing. "No, I guess not…stupid question."
"Sometimes I wish I could redo certain things."
"Not just to redo..to have something again," she said sadly, looking down at her lap where she twisted her hands together. "Sometimes it's tempting to stay in a pensive…to relive the past. I have one you know. Took me a three bloody years to save enough money but now I can pretend that none of this happened and …you know…go back…whenever I want."
"You still have a lot in front of you. Shite, you make me feel old talking like that," Harry said trying to laugh.
"All I ever wanted to do was get married and… can't now. I can't have children." She lifted her head and smiled at him warmly. "I saw the announcement in the paper …congratulations on yours…he looked beautiful."
"He is," Harry grinned. "We are having another in the spring."
"It's strange, isn't it? The people that I would have thought would never want a family…take Hermione for example…I always saw her wanting career and not taking time for kids…and those that dreamed of it ….its confusing the way things worked out."
"Ron is going to be a Dad," Harry said with a lop-sided grin. "Never thought I would see him read without Hermione nagging him but he is reading all about babies and stuff."
Lavender's laugh filled the office, still the clear bell like tones that Harry remembered from Hogwarts. "That's just like him. A house full at the Burrow but he thinks he has to do better then his mum. He never did think he was good enough. Pity that."
"What about you? Never found that perfect person?" Harry asked, regretting it the moment the words spilled out of his mouth.
"No. Regulation 1624 prohibits my sort from…"
"Lav, it's me…not the bloody Ministry."
"And this is me. A bloody animal that can't even go out in public without submitting to this inspection once a year."
"I am looking at you and I can't understand why no man has…"
"Are we done here?" She asked flatly, standing up.
"Almost," he said watching her face. "Come to tea tomorrow. I know Ginny would like to see you and I want to show off the kids."
"I don't think that's a good idea and you know it's against the rules."
"Tell you what," he grinned at her, "you come for tea, tomorrow, say six, and I just close this file and say we are done. Say no and we go through it line by line."
"Will…will you tell Ginny? I won't go if she doesn't want me around her kids."
"I'll tell her, but only if you want me to. I'm serious, it's up to you."
"I'll..can I think about it?"
"No, not if you want to take me up on my deal. She's my wife. I know her and I know you will be welcomed. Lavender, you remember Professor Lupin, you know what he was. How can you think for a minute that we…or anyone that knew him would treat you badly?"
"He died in the war, on our side. All people remember is the other side," she said sadly. "Harry…Greyback did this to me. All people remember is his…appetite and that book some arse wrote about him didn't help. Now everyone thinks …animals like me eat kids. Who knows? Maybe it's true what they think. Maybe when a werewolf gets older…maybe they want the taste of human flesh even when it's not a full moon."
"Is it? I don't know. All I know is I don't eat meat anymore. It scares me to death to think of it. I've seen them, the first kids that Greyback turned, only they are grown now, and starting to…to change…grow more hair…their eyes…their eyes stay yellow. What happens twenty years from now when his victims from the first war are the age he was when he started eating people? What happens to me in thirty? What happens between then and now? Do I just sit and wait and miss my life?"
"Lav," he said softly and walked around his desk again meaning to give her hug, only stopping as she stepped back. "Let me talk to Kingsley. If anything is happening he'll know about it."
"Sure," she whispered. "Tell him to talk to Croaker. Not even the Minister knows everything the Unspeakables do. Ask him how many unregistered there are. Croaker knows…he knows them all. Ask him how old they would be now…then ask him how many children go missing each month. Then go home and lock up your kids."
He watched her leave, feeling a sudden cold. He quickly completed his written work, checking off answers that he had not asked, hoping that the witch in the outer office would keep her bloody comments to herself.
The next night at precisely six, Ginny opened the door and let Lavender in. She smiled warmly wanting to comfort her old friend, remembering Harry's caution to move slowly, that Lavender seemed reluctant to be close. She showed her what they had done to the house, including the new kitchen appliances and expanded sitting area in the kitchen.
"I remember how crowded it used to get in here." She had mused, not noticing Lavender stiffen to see four places set at the table. "Come upstairs with me they should be sleeping…we were up before the sun…but you can help me change the baby.'
Lavender climbed up behind her, listening to the continued chatter and grinned. "I don't think I've ever heard you say so much in one go."
"It's nice to have a real grown up to talk to," Ginny called back over her shoulder. "I am looking forward to having a meal that we don't have to offer a reward for some kid to eat. The Nursery is in here."
"Harry explained to you right?"
"I don't care about that, now get in here and see the baby."
"He explained it's even illegal for me to be here…with the children?"
"Who is going to tell them? Now, come on."
Lavender picked up the baby, laying it in the crook of her arm and knelt in front of the fireplace. Soon, Ginny heard Lavender singing a lullaby as she rocked on her knees. Feeling tears well in her eyes, Ginny turned back to the changing table and began to fold diapers listening to the haunting song and not wanting Lavender to see her cry.
"That was lovely," she said sincerely when Lavender was done. "We are having mutton for dinner. I've never fixed it without magic before so I hope it turns out."
"I have to run," Lavender whispered, laying the baby down in his crib and pulling up a yellow blanket.
"No, you're staying." Ginny turned back and pursed her lips.
"Tell Harry I don't appreciate being set up. Tell him…as I am telling you now…that I don't want to get involved with anyone."
"Lav, you can't mean that. I know you too well."
"Then you know I can't do this…I can't be reminded every day about what I am missing…what I can never have. It's easier this way, truly it is. I open the shop seven days a week too keep busy. I only close during the moon. It keeps me hopping with all the teenage girls wanting to hear their futures and have me tell them there is a dark handsome stranger out there. I tell everyone it's unsafe to be out at that time of month…isn't that funny?"
"Lavender, don't…this isn't funny."
"Yes…yes it is. Hysterically funny, truly…a werewolf warning them to stay in. I once thought that I should let them come…just once to let them come and I could forget my potion…it would be over then. I could be rid of this."
"Lavender Brown! How can you even think about such a thing?"
"It's not dying that scares me," she sighed and turned back to pat the baby's back. "It's all the time between then and now…all the missed times. I don't think I can bare that."
"There is still a lot you can do."
"Really? Ginny, I haven't gone out in nine years. The only person I have touched in those nine years other than your son was yesterday when Harry gave me a hug. I don't even touch people's hands when I read their palms." She spoke quietly, as if afraid to offend Ginny. "Can you imagine…nine years…sometimes I just want someone to hold me, even if…I'm sorry, that's my problem…it doesn't matter."
"But it does, Lavender. Let us tell people."
"No!" Lavender snapped her head up and glared at Ginny. "I don't want my whole family treated like outcasts because of me, and you know they would be."
"What did they say? You know, your mum and dad…"
"They told everyone that their daughter is dead," she said flatly. "Listen, Gin, I've had a nice visit, but I have to go now. My clients will be wondering why the shop is closed and if I don't need something it is people nosing around in my private business."
Two days later Harry decided to stop in and see Lavender between assignments. He thought a late lunch would be nice and headed down Knockturn alley seeing hags and dark hooded figures slip off the pavement as he walked. Nothing ever changes, he thought as he approached the hovel that Lavender had listed as her residence.
There was a small sign on the front door of the shop announcing that it was closed and walking around to the back, he found the door t the living accommodations standing open, the interior empty. He shook his head and slowly walked through the rooms, seeing the disrepair and condition of the place. Vaguely making a mental list of the things that should be reported to the housing and rent commission, at the same time knowing he never would because in doing so he would also be reporting that Lavender had moved without the permission or knowledge of the Ministry.
It was almost a year before he heard from her. Almost time for her yearly appointment that she always dreaded. Letting the owl in he shrugged his shoulders at Ginny's questioning look and opened the missive, frowning as he read.
I wanted to thank you for your attempts to help me. The knowledge that you and your wife were so very nice to me has helped these past few months.
Also, congratulations on you second son's birth. Please tell Ginny how gorgeous he is and that I remember my afternoon with her fondly.
"That's strange," Ginny muttered, reading over his shoulder.
Harry pulled out his wand and ran it over the cheap Muggle paper, then slid the window shut and turned to the owl, doing the same. Once he had determined the location that the note came from, he started to pull on his robes, an uncomfortable feeling beginning to creep up his back.
"Don't wait up," he said, kissing Ginny on the cheek. "She violated her registration. If I can get her to come down with me I think I can head off any repurcusions."
"Tonight? Harry, it is almost…"
He wasn't surprised to find the place once again in Knockturn Alley, what did surprise him was that she was further in, away for the corridor of shops and stalls, not even close enough to one of the dodgy side lanes. The lane was dark, but he knew even if it were daytime it would be dark. The buildings upper floors hung over the pavement, blocking the sun even at high noon. His nose wrinkled at the smell of raw sewage and the skittering of rats as he walked by made him instinctively reach for his wand.
"Lav?" He pushed the door that he knew was hers by the tracking spell he had used. "It's Harry. We need to talk."
Stepping into what he surmised must have once been a kitchen, he made his way to the next room and saw her silhouetted by the glow of embers still burning in the fireplace, sitting on the floor with her back to the wall.
"Lav?" He squatted down next to her, lighting his wand and holding it up to her face. "You're sick. I'll take you to…umm…"
"A vet?" She asked weakly, attempting a small smile. "You shouldn't be here."
"What's …" Harry started to ask then saw three vials laying on the floor. Picking them up, he read the contents and frowned. "What the fuck…"
"Shhh…" She put her finger to her lips and sighed, leaning her head back against the wall. "I couldn't afford the fast stuff."
"Good." He started to scoop her up into his arms when she fought against him, easily stopping him until he stood up to regain his balance and leaned down to try again.
"Harry, it's too late. Let me do this without anyone watching. Please."
"Why?" He squatted down again and tipped her chin up. "There are other things you can do. You don't have to do this."
"It's too late…understand? You used to…feel like this."
"The boy who lived in a cupboard? Yes, I think you did."
"Never bad enough to…"
"You were a kid…I'm not a kid, Harry," she said softly, her speech slurred.
"Tell me what you want me to do. I can't leave you like this."
"Hold me? Just a few minutes? I miss it so much."
Harry slid to the floor and gathered her up, sitting her sideways on his lap and turning her until her head lay on his shoulder, his arms wrapped around her tightly. He felt her sigh and relax into him and tipped up her chin to watch her face. Without thinking, he lowered his head to hers and slowly let his lips find hers. Knowing he would never admit that he did understand…and would do the same if he was ever forced to live so utterly alone again.
"You are beautiful," he breathed, running his finger down her nose, touching the place he had just kissed, watching her lean into his touch.
"Harry," she whispered as her eyes fluttered closed.
Again, his mouth was on hers. He tasted tears, and knew they were his own as he held her tightly, not wanting to let go and know she was gone.