Here you have it, the Return of Harry Holmes! Much of this chapter is taken from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's 'The Adventure of the Empty House,' but please, bear with me...
THE MINISTRY IS STILL BUMBLING AROUND!
The now thirty-five year old Neville Longbottom sighed as he folded the Daily Prophet, sitting at a table in the Leaky Cauldron. His old friend, Harry James Potter, would surely have been able to solve this case. Again and again these days, Neville found cases in the Daily Prophet that would have been right up Harry's alley.
Although Voldemort was gone, as was the secretive Moriarty, the Death Eaters were still at large, as were all of Moriarty's lieutenants. Harry had left the Ministry in an uproar, as there were just too many cases for them to handle now. Not even half of them were solved properly.
Neville knew that he would never repeat it, but he had even heard the now Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement Rufus Scrimgeour say that he missed having Potter around to solve the queerer cases. Rita Skeeter was particularly vicious in her articles regarding the Ministry, saying that Harry was the only reason anything had gotten solved back in the day.
Neville sighed to himself as he thought about it. Twenty-four years it had been since he met Harry Potter on the train to Hogwarts, two years since Harry died, and not a day went by where Neville didn't miss him.
As Neville stood up and pushed in his chair, he bumped into an elderly, deformed man, who had been behind him, and he knocked down several books which he was carrying. Neville picked them up, observing the title of one of them, The Origin of Gnome Worship, and it struck him that the fellow must be some poor bibliophile, who, either as a trade or as a hobby, was a collector of obscure volumes.
Neville started to apologize for the accident, but it was evident that these books were very precious objects in the eyes of their owner. With a snarl of contempt he turned upon his heel, and Neville saw his curved back and white side-whiskers disappear among the throng of people in the Leaky Cauldron.
Shaking his head, Neville gave his wife at the bar a kiss and made his way up the stairs to his office. The Leaky Cauldron was always full of strange people, but there was something rather more peculiar about that man than anyone else Neville had seen there.
That evening, there was a knock on his door. At Neville's urging, the door opened, and to his astonishment, it was none other than the strange book collector who came in, his sharp, wizened face peering out from a frame of white hair, and his precious volumes, a dozen of them at least, wedged under his right arm.
"You're surprised to see me, sir," he said in a strange, croaking voice.
"I am," Neville acknowledged, but some part of him told Neville that he should be glad the stranger was there.
"Well, I've a conscience, sir, and when I saw you move up those stairs, I thought to myself, I'll just step in an see that kind Healer, and tell him that if I was a bit gruff in my manner, there was no harm meant, and that I am much obliged to him for picking up my books."
"You make too much of a trifle," Neville said. "May I ask how you knew I was a Healer?"
"Well, sir, I am a neighbor of yours, and very happy to see you. I have heard that you collect books, and thought you might be interested," the man said, setting the pile of books down on Neville's desk. "Here's The Merlinean Age, and Advanced Arithmancy, oh, and here is a special one, the Book of Osiris. A bargain, every one of them. With five volumes, you could just fill that gap on that second shelf. It looks untidy, does it not, sir?"
Neville moved his head to look at the cabinet behind him. When he turned again, Sir Harry Potter was standing smiling at him across his study table.
"My dear Neville, do you mind if I smoke a cigarette in your consulting room?" he asked calmly.
Neville rose to his feet, stared at him for a few seconds in utter amazement, and then, for the first time in his life, he fainted. A gray mist swirled before his eyes, and when it cleared, he found his collar-ends undone, and the tingling after-taste of Firewhisky on his lips. Harry was bending over his chair, his flask in his hand.
"My dear Neville," that voice he had missed so much said, "I owe you a thousand apologies. I had no idea you would be so affected."
Neville gripped him by the arms.
"Harry!" he cried. "Is it really you? Can it indeed be that you are alive?"
"Well, you are not looking at a ghost, if that's what you're wondering," Harry said simply, gesturing for the fact that Neville was holding him.
"But... But how on earth did you survive that fall?"
"Wait a moment," Harry said seriously. "Are you sure that you are really fit to discuss things? I've given you a serious shock by my unnecessarily dramatic reappearance."
"I'm alright, I'm alright. Can hardly believe my eyes, but I'm alright, Harry," Neville said. "Merlin's beard! To think that you, you, of all men, would be standing in my consulting room!" Again, he gripped Harry by the sleeve, and felt the thin but fit arm underneath. "Well, you're not a spirit, that's for sure. Please, sit down, and tell me how you survived that awful fall!"
Harry sat down opposite Neville, and lit a cigarette in his old, nonchalant manner. He was dressed in the seedy frock coat of the book merchant, but the rest of that individual lay in a pile of white hair and old books on the table, next to his top hat.
Harry looked healthier than ever, a clear sign that he had been living and eating properly.
"I am glad to stretch myself, Neville," he said, stretching lazily. "It's no joke when a tall man has to take a foot off his stature for several hours on end. Now, my dear friend, in the matters of these explanations, we have, if I may ask for your cooperation, a hard and dangerous night's work in front of us. Perhaps it would be better if I gave you an account of the whole situation when that work is finished?"
"I'm full of curiosity," Neville said. "I wouldn't be able to concentrate. I'd prefer to hear it now."
"You'll come with me tonight?"
"When you like and where you like."
"This is, indeed, like the old days," Harry said, smiling softly. "We shall have time for a mouthful of dinner before we need to go. Well then, about that fall. I died down there, Neville," he said, his smile vanishing and his expression suddenly turning grim. "As you saw, and I am terribly sorry that you had to witness it, Neville, I really am, I tackled Voldemort off the cliff and fell. My mother's protection was unbearable for him. He was in too much pain to Apparate away, and I saw the rocks below coming closer and closer, and then... all I saw was white..."
–Five years ago–
I lay facedown, listening to the silence. I was perfectly alone. Nobody was watching. Nobody else was there. I wasn't perfectly sure that I was there myself.
A long time later, or maybe no time at all, it came to me that I had survived the fall. I was living, I existed, wasn't just some disembodied thought, because I was most definitely lying on some surface. I most certainly had a sense of touch, and the thing against which I lay existed, too. In opening them, I also discovered that I had eyes.
I lay in a bright mist, though it was not like mist I had ever experienced before. My surroundings were not hidden by cloudy vapor, but rather the cloudy vapor had not yet formed into surroundings.
I recognized what I lay upon right away. It was the rug in the sitting room of 221B Diagon Alley. The vapor around me formed into just that, and I found sitting there, in our armchairs, none other than Lily and James Potter. They were both smiling so proudly at me. Then a noise reached me, the small soft thumpings of something that flapped, flailed, and struggled. It was a pitiful noise, yet also slightly indecent. It gave me this distinct feeling that I was eavesdropping on something furtive, shameful.
I spotted the source right away, behind the chairs. It had the form of a small, naked child, curled on the ground, its skin raw and rough, flayed-looking... It had been left there, unwanted, struggling for breath.
"You cannot help it," my mother spoke to me suddenly as she rose from her chair, embracing me for the first time in my memory. My father approached as well and joined in the hug. "My boy," she whispered in my ear, and I don't think I have ever felt more comforted by anything before.
"So, I am dead, then," I said. It wasn't a question.
"Not yet," my mother said, shaking her head.
"You could be, if you want, but I don't think you do," my father said.
We talked for a moment, about things I have no wish of disclosing. Then, my mother gave me another hug and said, "We all know you don't want to leave this world. We will wait for you, but don't follow us. It's not your time."
With that, they walked off, leaving through the front door.
"I don't know what happened, exactly, but I woke up in the English Channel, being carried away by the current," Harry said with a sigh, lighting another cigarette. "I immediately Apparated away back to Diagon Alley, but I soon realized that Moriarty and Voldemort weren't the only ones after my head, and I would be able to operate better if everyone believed me to be dead."
"You sure fooled me," Neville muttered, and Harry smiled softly.
"Again, I owe you a thousand apologies, Neville. But it was very important that it should be though I was dead, and I'm quite sure that you couldn't have written so convincing an account of my unhappy end had you not yourself thought it was true. I had only one confidant, other than you, my father-in-law Jean-Luc Delacour, Head of the French Department of Magical Law Enforcement. I went there at once, and it wasn't until a year later that I finally informed Fleur of my being alive."
"So that's why she left two years ago," Neville said in sudden realization. "It wasn't because everything around her reminded her of you."
"Yes, under the guise of still grieving, two years after she received my letter, Fleur made her way back to France with our son, where I have been living ever since."
Harry sighed heavily.
"Several times during the last five years have I felt tempted to pick up a quill and send you an owl, but I feared that your affectionate regard for me would tempt you to some indiscretion which would betray my secret. For that reason, I turned away from you this morning, because I was in danger at the time, and any show of surprise and emotion on your part might have drawn attention to my identity, and led to the most deplorable and irreparable results."
"When did you come back?"
"About a week ago. I came over to London, called in my own person at Diagon Alley, threw Mrs. Marston into violent hysterics, and found that Fleur had preserved our rooms and my papers exactly as they had always been. And so it was, my dear Neville, that at two o'clock today, I found myself in my old armchair in my own old room, and only wishing that I could have seen my old friend Neville in the other chair which he has so often adorned."
That was the strange narrative to which Neville listened on that April evening, a narrative which would have been utterly incredible to him had it not been confirmed by the actual sight of the tall, spare figure and the keen, eager face, which he had never thought he'd see again.
"I have a piece of work for us both tonight which, if we can bring it to a successful conclusion, will in itself justify a man's life on this planet." In vain, Neville begged him to tell him more. "You will hear and see enough before morning," Harry answered. "We have five years of the past to discuss. Let that suffice until half-past nine, when we start upon the notable adventure of the empty house."
It was indeed like old times when, at that hour, Neville found himself walking alongside Harry, his wand in a position so that it was easy to draw, and the thrill of adventure in his heart. Harry was cold, stern and silent. As the gleam of the street-lamps flashed on his features, Neville saw that his brows were drawn down in thought, and his thin lips compressed. He didn't know what wild beast they were about to hunt down in the dark jungle of London, but he knew, from the bearing of this master huntsman, that the adventure was a grave one, and the sardonic smile which occasionally broke through his ascetic gloom boded little good for the object of their quests.
"Five people dead, anti-Apparition wards up, and doors and windows locked from the inside, you say?" Harry asked suddenly, remarking upon the subject they had discussed during dinner. "My, my, they really are slacking off without me, aren't they?" he asked, a look of amusement flashing across his face. "Now come, Neville. I want to see if these five years have robbed me of my power to surprise you."
Together, the two entered 221B Diagon Alley, and Harry closed the door behind them. The place was pitch dark, and it was obvious that the house was empty. Mrs. Marston never left the house pitch dark unless she was out. Harry's cold, thin fingers wrapped around Neville's wrist, and led him up the stairs and into their old flat, where Neville couldn't help but give a startled yelp when they entered.
Sitting in the armchairs in front of the fire, the only source of light in the room, were two very life-like figures, looking identical to Harry and Neville. Now and then, the figures fidgeted, obviously having been animated by Harry, who pulled Neville over to stand in the shadows by the front door, which he closed. He was shaking with silent laughter.
"Well?" he whispered.
"Good heavens," Neville whispered back. "It's marvellous."
"I trust that all this time hasn't staled my infinite variety?" Harry asked, and Neville recognized in his voice the joy and pride which the artist takes in his own creation. "They really are rather like us, aren't they?"
"If I wasn't certain that we were standing here, I would have been prepared to swear that it was us."
"They are entirely lifelike, with pig skin, flesh, and bone molded to look like us," Harry whispered.
"Because, Neville, someone will be trying to kill us tonight."
"How do you know?" Neville asked, "By who?"
"By my old enemies, Neville, in particular the man who, like you, witnessed the downfall of Lord Voldemort. He is the most dangerous criminal in London. That is the man who is after me tonight, Neville, and that is the man who is quite unaware that we are after him."
For about an hour, they waited. Then, Harry drew in his breath with a shrill, excited intake. In the dim light Neville saw his head thrown forward, his whole attitude rigid with attention. All was still and dark, save only that light coming from the fire. Again in the utter silence Neville heard that thin, sibilant note which spoke of intense suppressed excitement. An instant later Harry pulled Neville back into the blackest corner of the room, and Neville felt his warning hand over his mouth. The fingers which clutched Neville were quivering. Never had he seen his friend more moved, and yet the dark room was still lonely and motionless, save the movements coming from the fake bodies.
But suddenly Neville was aware of that which Harry's keener senses had already distinguished. A low, stealthy sound came to Neville's ears from the back of the house in which they stood concealed. A door opened and shut. An instant later steps crept up the stairs, steps which were meant to be silent, but which reverberated harshly through the empty house. Harry crouched back against the wall, and Neville did the same, his hand closing upon the handle of his wand.
Peering through the gloom, Neville saw the vague outline of a man, a shade blacker than the blackness of the open door. He stood for an instant, and then he crept forward, crouching, menacing, into the room. He was within three yards of them, this sinister figure, and Neville had braced himself to meet his spring, before he realized that he had no idea of their presence. He passed
close beside them, stole over to the armchairs, and swiftly reached down, snapping the neck of the Harry fake.
"Huh?" Neville heard, and in the light of the fire, he saw a large, vicious-looking man with matted gray hair and whiskers. He had pointed teeth and long yellowish nails, adding to his bestial appearance.
It was at that instant that Harry sprang like a tiger onto the would-be killer's back, and hurled him flat upon his face. He was up again in a second, and with convulsive strength he seized Harry by the throat, but Neville rushed over and struck the man in the back of his head with the steel head of his walking stick, and he dropped again. Neville threw himself upon the man, and as he held him down, Harry blew a shrill call upon a whistle.
There was a clatter of running feet on the pavement outside the open window, and two Aurors, along with a plain-robed wizard, rushed up the stairs and into the room.
"That you, Scrimgeour?" Harry asked.
"Yes it is, Potter," came Scrimgeour's voice, and Harry waved his wand. The lights came on, revealing that Neville was holding down none other than Fenrir Greyback, who was snarling savagely up at him. "I took this job myself. I can't believe I'm saying this, but it's good to see you back in London, Potter."
"I think you want a little unofficial help," Harry said, obviously amused as the two Aurors stunned Greyback and allowed Neville to get off him. "Three unsolved murders on top of Greyback's five won't do, Scrimgeour. But you handled the Edinburgh Murders with an unusual efficiency. You handled it very well."
Scrimgeour hummed and gestured for the dummies in the armchairs. "Nice touch, those."
"Indeed, probably the closest thing we shall ever get to creating life," Harry said proudly, reaching into his pocket and taking out his pipe. As he lit it, he finally looked just as he had in the old days, proudly puffing on it as the Aurors dragged Greyback away. "Now, Scrimgeour, if you would be so kind as to allow Mrs. Marston back into her house, or we'll never hear the end of it."
"Yes, a feisty woman, that one," Scrimgeour said with something akin to amusement in his voice. "Well, London will breathe a sigh of relief, now that that wolf is ending up behind bars."
"Indeed," Neville said, still panting slightly. It had felt, to him, like trying to hold down a bull. "Five murders and an attempted sixth."
"We will never tie him to the other five," Scrimgeour said, shaking his head.
"Hah!" Harry laughed, gesturing for the dummy with the broken neck. "If you were to look at the dummy, Scrimgeour, I am sure you will see bruising on the neck remarkably similar to the bruising on the necks of the other five victims."
Scrimgeour shrugged. "People have been convicted for less," he reasoned as he left the apartment, dragging the Harry dummy with him.
Now that all the commotion was over, Neville took a look around and notices that their old chambers had been left unchanged through the supervision of Jean-Luc Delacour and the immediate care of Mrs. Marston. There was the same chemical set in the corner, and the acid-stained, deal-topped table. There upon a shelf was the row of formidable scrap-books and books of reference which many of their fellow citizens would have been glad to burn. The diagrams, the Pensieve, the violin-case, and the pipe-rack, even the beautiful tobacco case, were all untouched, though it was obvious that the place had been cleaned thoroughly, as there was not a trace of dust anywhere.
Harry flicked his wand, and the Neville dummy disappeared. Then, he took off his seedy frock coat and dropped it to the floor, moving into his old room and soon coming out wearing a purple dressing-gown.
"Come, Neville, sit with me," Harry said calmly, as he, with a pleased "Aah," sat down in his old armchair. Neville did the same, and felt that now, now, everything was back to normal.
"I can't tell you just how amazing it feels to be back, Neville," Harry said pleasantly as he leaned back, his eyes drifting close. "Jean-Luc had the most uncomfortable armchair for me to use..."
"Meanwhile, Fenrir Greyback will trouble us no more, and you are free to once more devote your life to examining those interesting little problems which the complex life of London so plentifully presents," Neville said, lighting a cigar.
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Don't expect me to pump out updates very quick, if at all. I have hit a particularly nasty writer's block, which I hope to overcome.