A/N: Once again, thanks to BarneyXII for his help with this chapter. It's considerably more legible for his efforts.
Harry shifted on the bed, rolling to his right, and settling on his back. He yawned and lifted his arms, stretching. The sheets were cool and smooth against his skin. He sighed contentedly. Somewhere outside, a nightingale sang, its dulcet tones greeting the coming day. The radio had gone oddly silent.
A bright light that could come only from the early morning sun filtered through his eyelids.
That wasn't right.
A chill ran down his spine. Harry's room had one window, only one. It was small, with thin strips of wood separating the panes of glass, and covered with thick drapes.
It faced the west.
His eyes shot open. This window, opening to the east, overlooked a grove of trees. Though he could not see the ground from his bed, Harry knew there would be a picnic table nestled between a pair of oaks. In the corner sat a chest of drawers, its top covered with photographs and bottles of expensive perfumes, everything coated with a heavy layer of dust.
Harry focused on one picture in particular, of a man and a woman, their hands interwoven, matching bands of gold wrapped around their fingers. She wore a white dress, with a veil pulled back behind her head, her auburn hair spilling down past her cheeks. Her teeth shone white as she smiled. The man drew her hand to his mouth, and pressed his lips against her knuckles. The woman laughed and leaned into him.
The smell of jasmine, and something else, hit his nostrils.
The mattress moved beneath him, as something shifted to his left. He drew a short, shallow breath through his nose, and craned his neck.
"Ginny." It came out as a whisper. He shook his head, his eyes widening.
"Hello, darling," she purred. Her voice was sultry, seductive as she drew out the words.
Her skin was dark, almost black, and peeling, stretched thin over her frame. Through a gash in her throat, he could see the white of her spine. Hidden under the fragrant jasmine was the stench of decay.
Harry jumped from the bed, pulling a short wand from a holster on his ankle. His mouth opened and closed, no sound coming out. "But ... no-"
"Have you missed me?" Her red hair fanned out around her face, her teeth shining white against her skin. She sat up.
His hand shaking, Harry pointed the wand at her chest.
"Perhaps not?" She stood. A green night dress hung loosely from her frame. "I've seen you with her, Harry, your partner-the way she looks at you. Such a pretty little thing."
She licked her lips.
"Tell me, love-" She smiled. "Have you fucked her yet?"
Harry's breaths were short and ragged. Tears tracked down his cheeks. He slammed his eyes closed and swallowed, wand stretched out in front of him.
Something blared, and Harry's eyes shot open again.
He was lying in his bed, in his own room this time. A film of cold sweat covered his body. The room was dark, a nearly purple color, as the first hints of light sneaked through the window. He reached to his side and turned off the alarm clock.
Breathing heavily, Harry rested his head against the pillow, and stared up at the ceiling. The radio in the corner played a saxophone piece that he didn't recognize. For a moment, he just lay there, listening to the music as he caught his breath. He grabbed his wand from the nightstand and silenced the radio with a wave.
His knees cracked as he rose to his feet. He lifted his arms above his head, exhaling as he stretched out his muscles. He yawned.
He picked up his robes from the day before, and lifted them to his nose. Shaking his head, he threw them back on the pile, and retrieved a fresh pair from his dresser.
He walked across the hall, rotating his head, cracking his neck. The tile of the bathroom floor was cool beneath his feet. His shower lasted longer than was strictly necessary, as he allowed the water to run over his skin.
Hair still damp, he stepped back into the hallway, the steam following him through the open door. He made his way down the hall, walking quickly as he neared the other end. His eyes avoided the far door as he reached the stairs, and hurried to the ground floor.
He walked into the kitchen, and spotted the Prophet sitting on his table, where the new edition appeared every morning.
He sniffed, and turned toward the sink. A pile of dishes and cutlery stretched almost to its rim. Harry twirled his wand. The air became noticeably fresher, but the stench did not disappear completely. He scratched his chin.
The answering machine's flashing red light caught his eye. He pressed the play button.
There was a brief moment of silence as the tape started turning.
"Are you concerned about your credit?" The voice was almost mechanical, and Harry thought it belonged to a machine, rather than a man. He tuned it out, and started a pot of coffee.
He made toast, and found a jar of strawberry jam in the refrigerator.
Harry sat down at the kitchen table, sipping from his mug. He picked up the Prophet and unfolded it. On the front page, he saw a picture of a harried-looking Ministry official, leaning down and trying to hide his face. Harry scanned the headlines.
Long Week for Obliviators Finally Over.
Celestina Warbeck Announces Farewell Tour.
He turned the page. A story near the bottom of page three caught his eye.
Aurors to Investigate Malfoy Death.
Minister for Magic Elias Greengrass announced yesterday evening that the DMLE plans to launch a probe into Draco Malfoy's September 13th death. The proposed investigation may come as a surprise to many, after initial reports indicated that Mr. Malfoy died as a result of self-inflicted injuries. The investigation will be headed by none other than Auror Commander Harry Potter, whom many consider the most likely successor to Head Auror Gawain Robards.
Of Mr. Malfoy's death, Minister Greengrass said, "There's a lot more to this one than meets the eye, and we will not rest until we get to the bottom of it. We've got our very best Aurors on the case."
Minister Greengrass's connection to the deceased is well-known. His youngest daughter was engaged to be married to Mr. Malfoy, before his five-year stint in Azkaban for Willful Association with a Subversive Element (RS 516.360). The comparatively light sentence came largely as a result of the Minister exerting his influence on the Wizengamot.
Immediately after Mr. Malfoy's trial, Wizengamot member Wilfred North said, "I reckon he's guilty of a lot more'n just association. 'S why I voted for the life sentence. I don't rightly care what the Minister thinks; we ought not to let any Death Eater off so light. Guess ol' Greengrass was able to convince the rest of 'em, though."
Following his release from prison two weeks ago, Mr. Malfoy returned to his ancestral home in southern Wiltshire. The Prophet attempted on several occasions to reach him, but...
Harry skimmed the rest of the article, without really reading it; he was already familiar with the facts of the case. He dropped the first section of the paper to the floor and turned to the Quidditch scores.
Puddlemere (4-5): 170
Ballycastle (6-2): 280
Catch: Henderson (6)
"Damn," he muttered. "Baddeley couldn't catch the snitch if it was tied to his wrist."
Something on the answering machine caught his attention.
"Harry?" He recognized the voice immediately, though it was softer than normal, more hesitant. Beneath it, the machine whirred softly, the tape unwinding inside its case. "It's Hermione."
Harry sat the paper down, taking a sip from his mug. He focused his eyes on the machine, and stuffed the rest of the slice of toast into his mouth.
"We're throwing Molly a party next Friday for her sixtieth. She'd like for you to be there. Asks about you all the time... I know we haven't talked much since Ginny ... well-" Hermione exhaled. Harry could almost see her biting her lip. "We miss you, Harry. Rosie's getting so big, now. She turned three, just last month. It would mean a lot to her if you'd come and see her. She misses her godfather. We all miss you."
Her voice trailed off, and the line went dead. The room was silent, save for the soft buzz of the machine. Harry sighed.
He sat his mug on the table, and rose to his feet. With one last glance back at the pile of dishes, he walked through the front door, and pulled it closed behind him, touching his wand to the knob.
He spun, and disappeared with a crack, reappearing in Wiltshire, below a pair of iron gates, just down the lane from Malfoy Manor. The sun had just begun to peek over the horizon, casting an orange glow across the sky, mixed with the darkness of the retreating night. It created a mosaic of dark blues, along with the orange, climbing over the trees and approaching the Manor.
The walkway below the gates rounded out, and Harry's eyes scanned the area. Only one other person had arrived.
"All right, Lisa?" he asked.
"Yes, of course," she said. She tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. "Just didn't sleep well last night."
He might've guessed as much if he'd looked at her more closely. She appeared a little more haggard than usual, less put together. There was a bit of a frizz to her blonde hair, a hint of dark circles beginning to form under her eyes.
She was still beautiful, though, with her sharp, blue eyes, and high cheek bones. Her neck was slender and elegant. He could still remember the dress she'd worn to the Ministry ball last year-red, with a slit down the side that ran halfway up her thigh. The neckline had plunged downward, drawing his eye from here alabaster throat to her-
Have you fucked her yet?
He started, his eyes bulging, as the air was expelled from his lungs.
"Harry? Harry!" He felt Lisa's hand in his and looked down at her. Her eyes were wide with concern. "Are you okay? You look like you've seen a ghost."
He swallowed heavily. "Yeah, just-"
He spun, and his wand was in his hand, its tip glowing red.
"Woah." It was Harper, and he had one hand lifted up above his head. The other held a danish to his mouth. "Easy there, Top."
Harry lowered his wand, breathing heavily.
"Bit twitchy this morning, eh?" Harper asked.
Harry nodded tightly. "Didn't sleep well."
Harper let out a bark-like laugh. "Then maybe you should've had us come in at a decent hour. It's too damn early."
A series of pops indicated the arrival of Boot and the Unspeakables. Harry faced his team.
"All right, everyone," he said, "We've got a lot of ground to cover, so let's get started."
There was a popping sound, and the air in front of Harry was displaced and pushed outward, nearly knocking him over. And there was Astoria.
"You weren't planning on starting without me, were you?" She had a smile on her face. Her robes were heavier than the pair she'd worn the day before, more practical, but they didn't hug her form quite as nicely.
"Miss Greengrass," Harry said.
"Auror Potter." She smiled at him. "Daddy asked me to bring you this."
She held a wand. Hawthorn, ten inches, with a unicorn hair. Harry recognized that wand. He'd turned it over to the Aurors years ago, when he was still a student at the end of the Second War.
"I'm sure you've read the report, but he figured you'd like to cast all the spells for yourself."
"Is your father familiar with the chain of custody?" Harry asked. He conjured a clear, plastic bag, and levitated the wand into it. "If this ever goes to trial..."
"It wasn't in the evidence lockup," she said. "They released it for the burial. It's a ... ah, family tradition."
"All right, then." Harry pocketed the wand. "Will that be all, Miss Greengrass?"
"Daddy thought I should accompany you," she said. "Make sure you don't miss anything."
The implication was clear. The Minister would be watching him very closely.
"Naturally." Harry waved his wand, and the heavy, iron gates swung open. "We were just about to get started."
They made their way up the lane more quickly than they had the day before. Harry took longer strides, stepping more confidently on the broken stones. They stopped at the foot of the steps leading to the front doors.
"Boot, Harper, I want you to scan every possible point of entry. Make sure no one forced their way in."
Harper scanned the windows, counting them off on his fingers. He shook his head. "Merlin, Top, that'll take all day."
Harry shrugged. "Greengrass authorized the OT."
"And you heard what she said yesterday," Harper said, pointing at Astoria. "The wards don't work more often than not. Someone could have just apparated in."
Harry looked back at him. "Miss Greengrass, you go with Harper and Boot. Make sure they don't ... miss anything. Liggins, Collison, you're with Lisa and me. We'll see what we can find in the bedroom."
The front doors opened at a twirl of Harry's wand, and they stepped across the threshold, into the darkened Manor.
The chandeliers overhead sprang to life as they entered the front hall.
"That's ... odd," Boot said.
Harry eyed them suspiciously.
"Not really." It was Liggins who spoke. "A lot of these old enchantments feed on ambient magic. Just by being here, we're bringing them back to life."
The group split up, and Harry led Lisa and the Unspeakables up the second floor. They entered Malfoy's bedroom.
Harry snapped his wand at the light fixture on the ceiling. It bathed the room in fluorescent light.
The walls weren't quite as white as they'd looked in the dark. They were more of a light green.
Lisa walked to the window, and started with a series of charms, making sure that it hadn't been forced open. Harry's eyes immediately found the sheet hanging from the ceiling.
He withdrew Malfoy's wand, and ripped the tip free of the plastic bag.
A wisp of smoke poured from the wand's tip, shifting and taking shape. It narrowed and lengthened, one end rounding out, and the other flattening. A knot formed just above the bottom, as part of the smoke dissipated to form a noose. It was a bed sheet, the bottom swaying ever so slightly, while the top remained stock still.
He looked from it to the sheet dangling from the ceiling. They were nearly identical, except that the bottom of the real sheet had been cut away, probably by Astoria. Just above where the noose should have formed was a jagged, diagonal slice.
More smoke emerged from the wand, but this time, it was red. It swirled and coalesced, taking the form of a sphere, no bigger than a man's fist.
"Lisa," Harry called out for her, his eyes not leaving the ghost of the spell that hung in the air. "Lisa, come over here."
"What is it, Harry? Have you got something?" She stood beside him.
"Yeah," he said, his eyes still on the wisp of red smoke. "I've got something."
"What is it?" Lisa asked.
"Look at this," he said. He pointed at it. "The second to last spell on the wand."
"A blasting hex," she said. "It was in the report."
"What call would Malfoy have had for a blasting hex?" Harry asked.
She shrugged. "Jeffries figured it had been cast earlier. You know, in the war. There's a whole string of combat spells on there."
But that didn't work. Couldn't have worked. Malfoy hadn't had his wand at the end of the war. "Jeffries is an idiot. Look at that blasting hex, Lisa. See the edges? They're too distinct, too sharp."
She walked closer, eying the spell closely. She stared at it for more than a minute, then nodded her head. "Yeah, I see it. If this was five years old..."
"You'd barely be able to see anything," he finished.
"I don't know how Jeffries could have missed that," she said.
"Prior Incantato." Harry waved Malfoy's wand again.
An orange curse appeared.
Grey, a hex that he didn't recognize.
"They're all fresh," he said. "Probably cast just before he tied that noose."
"What do you think it means?" Lisa asked.
Harry said nothing for a long moment. He scratched his chin. "He was trying to defend himself."