A/N: First off, J.K. Rowling owns Harry Potter and everything related to the HP universe. And she rocks.
This will be a medium-sized, post-DH fic with roughly fifteen chapters. It's rated T for brief occasional violence, and a swear word every now and then. For any of the romance included, I stick to canon pairs, so we have Harry/Ginny and Hermione/Ron.
Last but not least, special thanks to Jenny, Merrill, Megs, and Jen who all took a look at this chapter for me. Any reviews and/or concrit are welcome and very much appreciated. Especially for a HP fandom newbie like me :)
The bloody trail of the Elder Wand is splattered across the pages of Wizarding history.
-Xenophilius Lovegood, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Copyright J.K. Rowling.
"Harry Potter Spotted with Holyhead Harpies Player Charlotte Perkins!" No.
"How much is too much? Insiders say Potter is tired of media." True, for once.
"Harry Potter Voted Top Wizard Under 20." Old news.
"Potter to Granger: I Just Want To Be Mates!" Huh?
"Harry Potter: Unveiled. The inside story on the 18-year-old behind the legend. PLUS: Experts analyze the controversial rumor about the Elder Wand."
This headline makes him stop. It's nothing new, nothing particularly original, and it graces the cover of Magical Men—a magazine hardly known for its accuracy. But it catches Harry's attention.
With a sigh, he opens the tabloid. Someone in line behind him clears his throat, and as much as Harry dislikes the idea of supporting companies that print garbage, he tosses a few sickles to the cashier at the store and moves to leave.
A voice behind him speaks as he nears the door. "It is true then, Don? What they say about the wand?"
Don's reply is gruff. "'Course not. I wouldn't waste a knut on rubbish like that."
"Yes, but this is Harry Potter. Potter! He defeated…well, you know. You think he could've done it with any old wand, then? He had the wand."
Harry takes a slow step forward, listening.
"And what if he did? What's it to you? You going to challenge him to a duel or somethin', Tom?"
Both men laugh, and Harry turns to watch as the shorter of the two puts the magazine back. He swallows, glancing down at his own copy. If only he could leave it on the shelf too.
It's only been a year. A year since Hogwarts was nearly destroyed, leaving Lupin, Tonks, Fred, and Colin dead.
Things are calm—an idea once as elusive as Voldemort had been. And still, the year is long; the tension hasn't left. Even as Harry hands the magazine to Hermione at the Burrow, taking a seat across from her at the kitchen table, his shoulders are tense, and his headache throbs.
Hermione leafs through the glossy pages until she settles on an article about him. "Is this story like the last one you brought home?"
"Dunno. Haven't read it yet." If Harry had his way, he wouldn't read any of the stories. They unsettle him, and he just wants to move on. Apparently the rest of the world disagrees.
"One source reports, 'I didn't see the wand until later, after everything was over,'" Hermione reads. "'But I heard him clear as day. Harry was standing there, telling You-Know-Who that he had the wand's allegiance. Must have got it not long before the duel, 'cause I had Defense Against the Dark Arts with him sixth year, and...'" She stops to look up at him. "This is bad, Harry."
"Yeah. I heard two—"
"What's bad?" Ron enters the kitchen and spots the magazine in Hermione's hands. A sly grin appears on his face as he reaches for it. "Wiz Daily print something about you and Harry again, 'Mione?"
She holds onto the tabloid tightly. "Last time I checked, you didn't always think those stories were funny." Ron scowls and takes a seat next to her, and Hermione glances back at Harry. "Heard two what?"
"Men talking about it. One said it was garbage, the other said it's got to be true. They started joking about dueling me. I dunno."
His friends watch him as he shifts again, and it's obvious they know this bothers him. It shouldn't, but Hermione's constant worry that he's the next target for the power-hungry has him on edge, especially when he remembers how often her predictions have been correct in the past.
Hermione frowns at his words, lying smoothly to cover it up. "You don't need to worry about people like that. This sort of thing will be over soon—out of the papers."
"And the World Cup's coming up," Ron adds with enthusiasm. He catches the look on Hermione's face and switches tactics. "The wand's back with Dumbledore anyway, mate."
Harry looks between the two of them, eventually letting his gaze settle on Hermione. A twinge of annoyance seeps into his voice. "Why does it matter if it's in the papers or not? Last time I checked, you've been going on for weeks about how people will keep wanting the wand till I'm dead."
"I didn't say anything about you being de—"
Harry sits up in his chair, grabbing the magazine. "Yeah? It's called the Deathstick, isn't it?"
"That doesn't mean I—" Hermione's indignant, and it's Ron who interrupts this time.
"Mione, no one's mental enough to try and beat Harry." He looks at Harry with a cautious smile. "You're s'posed to be one of the most powerful wizards of our time, right?"
If Ron's started reading the magazines too, Harry knows he's in trouble. He stands. "Yeah. Supposed to be." Holding the story in his hands, he leaves.
Back inside the kitchen, he hears hushed voices. The first to speak is Ron, clearly bewildered by his friend's sudden exit. "I thought I saw him on some 'Top 20 Under 20' list somewhere."
"Even if he wasn't, everyone's saying it." Hermione's response is short, and each word has a sharp edge. "That he's the most powerful wizard, I mean."
They're saying things Harry doesn't want to hear, and he nearly runs outside to avoid catching any more of the conversation. Too bad running has never been his strong suit.
Ron's speaks slowly as he asks, "You really think someone might…?"
This time, Hermione's response is harder to make out. It's almost as if she knows Harry's listening. "No one's ever been able to keep the wand. Not even Dumbledore, and none of us knew he had it. But this story is everywhere. What if Harry—" She breaks off, her voice catching in her throat.
Leaning against the wall, Harry listens as a chair scrapes against the floor as someone stands. Ron murmurs something he can't hear, but he assumes it's a comforting speech similar to the one Hermione had given for months after the battle at Hogwarts. The speech she occasionally continues to whisper in Ron's ear when the days get rough; even now, it's clear life without Fred has really hit Ron hard.
Ron sits back in his chair, and Harry manages to catch the last few words: "He knows what he's doing." He wonders if his friend actually believes a word he's saying.
Without waiting for more, Harry walks away.
Unfortunately, it's clear this isn't something that's going to disappear overnight. Maybe he's known this since the first Elder Wand story circulated around the world, but now, for the first time, a sick feeling takes root in the pit of his stomach. It remains long after he's tossed the magazine away.
The blood gives her location away. Normally, it might have taken days to dig through the rubble, but Richard Hepler spots a thin stream of blood, and he follows it like a trail until he finds the body. Up until a few minutes ago, possibly even seconds, she'd been alive. Maybe there's even a flicker of life left now, despite how pale she is.
Crouching down, he reaches forward with a steady hand to check his wife's pulse. He feels a faint flutter of a heartbeat there just beneath the skin. Ever so slightly, he cocks his head to the side, wipes the hair matted with blood away from her face, and looks at her. Just looks.
Hepler can help her. He can hunt up his wand, wave it around a few times, and pull her out in time to hurry her to a hospital. He can even repair the house if he tries hard enough, and life can continue on as if nothing ever happened. As if he hadn't blown their home to bits only moments ago, burying his wife beneath the broken pieces of debris that had been a functional, habitable home the day before. If he can fix the house and salvage everything that remains, maybe he can fix whatever's left of his mind, too. He can try, at least.
Why would he? He hates everything about this place. The house, the woman, the thick trees with branches that have grown much too long and prick his skin as he passes. Still, he knows he can rid himself of the hate if he tries. He can yank and pull until he finally wrenches it wholly from his soul.
But he won't.
Instead, he continues to watch his wife, unaware and unconcerned by the time passing. His gaze lowers to the ground, where he spots her wand lying uselessly beside her. His own sits safely in his pocket, hitting against his leg with each step he takes. He lifts her wand up to eyelevel, ignoring the blood along its handle, and he remembers its last spell. A stinging hex, cast by a woman as she called him arrogant, self-indulgent...
"Weak." He spits the word with venom, but his voice never rises.
Hepler plays with the wand absently. If he wants, he can pull her out and cast a memory charm—make her forget the recent years. Maybe forget everything and anything at all, and he can set her loose to find someone else to live off of. It's easy enough, as long as he can find a place for her in his heart.
So he stands, tossing her wand back to the ground, and he never looks back. He reaches the end of his property, ready to pass through those damn trees for the last time before he Apparates. But a rustling to his left catches his eye, and he turns. Resting on a branch is a gray owl, watching him with beady eyes.
He's never liked owls. Tempting as it is to hex the bird away, he pauses as he spots a brightly colored object clutched in its talons. His mind is crystal clear, and he remembers; it's the first of the month. A day his wife looked forward to because her favorite tabloid arrives.
He shoos the animal, swearing at it, but it remains stubbornly on the branch. Clearly, this one is well-trained. Annoyed, Hepler digs around in his pockets until he manages to scrounge up a few sickles. The owl swoops lower, and he shoves the money into the small pouch around the thing's neck. In a fluid motion, the owl drops the magazine on the ground and leaves.
Hepler steps on the tabloid, sure to crinkle its pages, and nearly heads on his way. But beneath his foot, on the cover of the magazine, he recognizes a wizard; even an isolated countryman like him can identify Harry Potter. Potter, who's so famous he made the front page of Brooms, Spells, and Wands because he'd gone out and bought himself a new robe.
He skims the headline, one eyebrow shooting up as he spots three words he's know since he was a kid: the Elder Wand. The Wand of Destiny.
Lifting the magazine from the ground, he rips through the it, ignoring the advertisements for the newest broom and the review for Gilderoy Lockhart's newest book, Who Am I: Part III. His eyes widen as he takes in the sketch of the Elder Wand, and he reads with a feverish intensity.
…Wand's allegiance…most powerful…friends Ronald Weasley and Hermione Granger… Potter gives no comment…unreachable by mail…last spotted in Ottery St. Catchpole...
Finally, after he's memorized every detail, he closes it. It's barely a lead at all, and the sources are certainly questionable. But this doesn't deter him. Nothing will. He has no money, house, job, or wife, but it doesn't matter. He feels a sense of excitement—of life—that he hasn't felt before.
Touching the handle of his wand, he murmurs a quiet spell he learned a long time ago, and then says it again just to be sure he's untraceable.
For the first time, Hepler notices that the blood from his hands has stained the pages, soiling Potter's name and picture. He can clean it with magic, but he doesn't bother. Instead, he rolls the magazine up and easily tosses it onto the dirty ground, gingerly stepping over it. It feels strange to leave something so influential in a place he hates, but this isn't a problem.
If he changes his mind, he can always pick up a new copy on his way to Ottery St. Catchpole.