Watching, Waiting Ch. 1

*Author's Note: Well here we go, my second multi-chapter HP/TMR story! I hope that some of you are readers of my previous story back for more. This story is a combination of a request from softdreamer and a request from slytherin's daughter. I hope this lives up to both of your expectations! This story takes place just after the war with Voldemort has ended and Voldemort has been defeated by Harry. Harry and the other students of his year have been given an additional year of schooling to make up for time lost during the war, so this is an 8th year fic. I hope you enjoy!*

"Pain on pain on play, repeating
With the backup makeshift life in waiting.
Everybody says that time heals everything.
But what of the wretched hollow?
The endless in-between?
Are we just going to wait it out?"

-Imogen Heap, Wait It Out

Harry's breaths come in ragged gasps as he rhythmically places one foot in front of the other. Endless stretches of grass coated ground slither by below Harry's feet as he runs. His entire body aches now. His legs are sore and there's a stitch in his side that stabs into his abdomen like a knife. He's been running for fifty-five minutes now, and it's that time when his limit is approaching. At this moment he has a choice: succumb to the pain or push on, press forward into each shallow breath, every pained footstep. Harry has to separate himself from his pain, tell himself that even though his muscles are screaming, it's nothing he can't handle. He has to tell himself that this is a pain he can take. And he can. He has before, and he will now.

Harry has been training himself to run long distance for about a month now. He doesn't know why he started. He just needed something to do with his body, something to keep his mind clear and his limbs occupied. He feels better when his body is spent, taut muscles aching and coated in sweat. It makes him feel like he has a purpose again. The war has been over for about four months now. Voldemort is dead, the Death Eaters disheartened and disbanded. Most of them are safely tucked away in Azkaban. A few of them died in that final battle, died alongside so many braver, better people. Harry has learned the hard way that wars don't really end when the fighting stops; people have died, memories have been tainted. The pieces have to be picked up and put back together again, only now some of the most vital pieces are missing. Stories lead us to believe that happily ever after is what follows after the bad guy falls and the world is saved. Unfortunately, real life doesn't work that way. Life goes on. The routine keeps spinning. Life hasn't been told that the story is over, that a happy ending is due. It's never so simple as those three little words would have one believe. If only.

The cramp in Harry's side is pulsating, stabbing into him with each inhalation. He keeps on breathing anyways. This is a pain he can handle. This is a pain he can take. His goal for today is to make it to a whole hour without pausing for a break. He only has to keep pushing for five more minutes. Just keep putting one foot in front of the other; that's all it takes. Right?

When Harry started running it was dark, but now streaks of colored light stain the sky, seeping in around the edges of the world like a piece of parchment dipped in water. The sunlight is still too high up to light Harry's path, but he doesn't need it. All he's been doing for the past several days is running around the Quidditch pitch in endless circles. By now the loop has been drilled into Harry's very muscles. Harry's feet carry him round and round now on their own, running miles and going nowhere all at once. Harry would've expected it to be boring, but he likes not having to think about his route or destination. It allows his mind to wander or go blank. It allows him to retreat inside himself, to really and truly appreciate the quiet solitude of the moment.

Harry runs past one of the goal posts. Another lap completed. One more to go: just one. He can do it. The goal post is leaning ever so slightly to the left, gravity tugging it inch by inch towards the ground. During Voldemort's brief reign, Quidditch had been cancelled at Hogwarts, and the pitch has grown rough around the edges from disuse. The grass beneath Harry's feet is shaggy, in need of a trim, but Harry likes the cushion of it beneath his strides. Many things about Hogwarts changed under Voldemort's regime: things that are slowly being repaired now in the aftermath. Some things can't be fixed, though, will be engrained on everyone's memories for the rest of their lives. Neville's back is coated with scars that neither time nor magic can heal. He has been marked forever. But those thin, white scars don't just mark the pain: they mark his own bravery. The scars slicing across Neville's pale flesh will forever remind the world that he's a hero. People need to be reminded of that sometimes. It can be so easy to forget. That's why Harry insisted on having a massive statue of Severus Snape built out in the school's gardens. Snape was never able to get that recognition of his deeds in life; he at least deserves them now in death, what little good it will do him there.

Harry runs quickly by the massive rows of stadium seats. He remembers the cheers at Quidditch games, the bright colors, the mostly good-natured animosity between the houses. He remembers the battle that took place here as well: the giants crushing the wooden benches like toothpicks, the multi-colored curses shooting through the air like fireworks, the people that died to keep their loved ones safe. It feels so surreal to be here in this silence after such brutal noise. It feels surreal to be here at all after the war. Hogwarts has always felt like Harry's home, more so than the Dursley's and even more so than the Burrow. This place was Harry's retreat, the place where he could escape his relative's abuse and be with the people he loves. It still is all those things. It just contains more bad memories now: memories of death and pain and loss. They mingle with the happy memories, not tainting them, but coexisting. Harry wishes they were gone.

By this age, Harry should have graduated by now and be out applying for jobs, but Voldemort's reign messed up a lot of people's schooling. Accordingly, everyone has been invited back, should they so desire, to finish out their schooling and take the NEWTs. Muggleborns who went into hiding, people whose families openly sided with the Order, even those who thought that last year's schooling was just a joke. A year was taken from people's lives by the war. Hogwarts is determined to give that time back, as far as education goes anyways. So here Harry is, taking his do-over. Honestly, it's good to be back.

Sweat drips down Harry's forehead, threatening to splash into his eyes. Harry quickly wipes the moisture away. The wind picks up, the cool breeze chilling Harry's exposed skin. Harry's muscles are on fire, burning, aching, warm beneath his flesh, but his skin is cold. The early morning air is brisk and icy. The tips of Harry's ears and nose are just on the border of numb. Harry wishes they would hurry up and get there. Numb is preferable to the painful tingles that precede it. The second set of goal posts is approaching, looming up out of the darkness. He's almost halfway done, now. Just a little farther, a few more footfalls. He can do it. He is above this pain. It's a simple recipe: one foot in front of the other and repeat. Easier than chocolate chip cookies. It doesn't feel easy right now, though. Right now, it feels like death.

Nothing shows off the malleability of the human body like running. You push yourself until your muscles ache and your limbs shake, and for the first week or so it will hurt and your legs will complain during every other little thing you do. But then your body gets the message: this is how hard we have to work right now, this is as strong as we need to be, and it adapts. Muscles stretch and strengthen, breathing comes easier, the stitch in your side takes longer to appear. Then you run even longer, even farther, and the whole process starts all over again. But the body learns, the body changes to suit your new needs. Harry finds this thought cheerful. If his body can adapt to its pain then so can he. There's hope for the future. He's just still stuck in stage one.

Harry sticks out his left hand, smacking the cold metal of the three goal posts with his open palm as he goes by. Thump, thump, thump. He's halfway there.

Harry had tried flying at first to get out his frustrations, to distract himself, but it hadn't been enough. No matter how fast Harry had flown, no matter how many insane dives and twists he performed, it wasn't enough to physicalize his emotions. The war had left a little hole deep down inside him. Sometimes that hole grew bigger, sucking the rest of Harry's innards into it like a black vortex. At times like those Harry needs to push himself, to feel his muscles stretch to their limits, to ground himself. Exercise allows Harry to connect himself to his body and reality in those moments when he feels them slipping away into despair. Running provides that safety net. It keeps him sane. It keeps the sadness at bay.

Harry wouldn't say that he's depressed. Depressed implies a prolonged sense of uselessness and despair. No, Harry isn't depressed. He's just sad, just missing those whom the war has taken. He's grieving. Every time he sees George standing alone amongst the other Weasleys without his other half Harry's heart breaks. He can't shake that little voice in the back of his head whispering bitterly that if he had just acted faster, figured out Dumbledore's clues sooner, that perhaps Fred could have been saved. He can outrun that voice, though. The logical part of Harry knows that the voice is wrong, that he did the best he could and that the people who fought in the final battle made their own choices. His emotional side just hasn't caught up with that logic yet. His emotional side still believes in heroes who can not only save the day, but also everyone else as well: the heroes of story books and movies. Fictional heroes. There's a reason those heroes are just confined to the pages of children's books, though. Reality is too unfair, too grey to be compatible with black and white heroes like that. The real world just has to make do with what it has, and what it had in this case was a young, rash and inexperienced seventeen-year-old. He'd done the best he could. He'd given up his own life to save the ones he loves, and he'd do it again if he had to. Usually, though, it's something you can only do just the once.

The sun has inched up even higher in the sky now, skimming over the tops of the trees that make up the Forbidden Forest and kissing the very tops of the goal posts Harry is running towards. The posts grow bigger and bigger in Harry's vision, bouncing slightly with each exhausted step. Almost there. Almost. Harry's palm smacks hard against curved metal once, then twice, then, finally, three times. He's done. Harry just stands there panting for a moment, hands on his hips to stabilize himself. He inhales deep gulps of chilly air through his mouth, then exhales wheezily through his slightly stuffed nose. Sweat trickles down his neck to stain his already unpleasantly damp t-shirt. He's never wanted a shower more, preferably a warm one. As quickly as Harry's shaky legs can carry him, Harry walks off across the pitch to the Gryffindor locker room where a shower and a clean set of clothes wait patiently.

Lights flicker wearily into existence as Harry pushes open the red and gold door of the Gryffindor locker room. At first, it had felt strange to be in here by himself so early in the morning. Usually Harry is in here with a horde of screaming and teasing boys, all elbows and knobby knees and towels that don't quite cover enough. It feels so quiet and still in here now in comparison. It always gives Harry the slight creeps, as though someone is just going to pop up from around a corner and take him by surprise. Harry suspects that he's just seen too many horror films. Harry heads over to the stark, white showers and starts the water running, swiveling the dial until the water is hot enough for steam to begin filling the room. Then Harry pulls his sweat soaked t-shirt off over his head. The wet fabric sticks unpleasantly to his skin, resisting Harry's tug. Harry's running shorts and sneakers join the t-shirt on the tiled floor.

The warm water feels like heaven on Harry's flushed skin. A fine spray splashes Harry's face, trickling over his chin to ooze down his neck and collar bone. The warmth feels good on Harry's taut muscles. His legs still ache pleasantly from the run, the cramp in his chest now a mere twinge with each breath. The warm water helps his muscles to relax, alerts them to the fact that their done working so hard. For now, at least. Slowly, tense limbs begin to unwind. The spring uncurls. Harry squirts shampoo into his palm, the blue fluid trying to make an escape attempt over the edges of his hand. Harry runs the liquid through his damp hair, massaging his scalp in small, circular motions. He remembers the one time Petunia had given in and actually gotten Harry a professional haircut, perhaps thinking that a real hairstylist would be able to do something about Harry's unruly locks. The woman had smiled at Harry and placed him in a reclining chair. She had wrapped a towel around his neck and tilted his head back beneath a pleasant stream of warm water. As she had washed his hair, she had pressed perfectly manicured fingers into Harry's scalp, rubbing in gentle circles. It had felt so good. It doesn't feel quite the same when Harry does it himself, but he tries anyway. That had been a small, nice moment amongst so many bad ones. He likes to try to relive it.

Once all of the suds have left Harry's head to swirl down the drain, Harry reaches for the bar of soap on a little shelf. The soap is slick with water, its top layer beginning to dissolve beneath the moisture. Consequently, it merely slides between Harry's fingers, refusing to be grasped. The bar of soap shoots off the shelf and onto the tiled floor by Harry's feet. Harry sighs. He remembers his uncle Vernon once making a joke about not dropping the soap in prison. At the time, Harry had been too young to understand. Now, though, he gets the darkness of that joke. It's amazing really, that people are capable of laughing about such violence, such a violation. Harry wonders if wizard prison is the same. So many of the Death Eaters were sent to Azkaban after the war: Bellatrix Lestrange, the Carrows, Nott, Yaxley, Rowle. Their names start to blur together after a while. Harry remembers the descriptions he's heard of Azkaban: cold, hopeless, where all pleasant memories are sucked away and only the dark ones remain. It's as close to hell as Harry can imagine. Somehow, Harry can't imagine anyone feeling at all sexual in a place like that. Such an act would only add to the bad memories. Despite his dislike of the Malfoy family, Harry is glad they managed to escape a fate like that. Well, glad for Draco at least. Beneath all of the pride and jealousness and bullying, there's a hint of a good person buried within the blonde boy. It's just buried quite deep.

Harry considers masturbating briefly, but he's too tired to feel particularly sexual at the moment. Better to just go straight to breakfast. Harry turns off the water and trudges through the remaining clouds of steam to his clothes. One by one he pulls them on. Bit by bit he becomes a Gryffindor student once more. After the war, that transition takes a little work, a little forgetting. Back in the Great Hall, breakfast food is beginning to materialize onto clean plates. One of those plates has Harry's name on it. He heads back out into the early morning air, and walks across the grounds towards food.

To Harry's surprise, Hermione is already sitting at the Gryffindor table. Not Ron, though. Ron would never get up this early, not even if Voldemort decided to rise back up from the dead and insult his family. Ron says that he gave up sleep for months wandering around the woods looking for Hocruxes and he's darn well going to get that sleep now. Harry sees no reason to argue.

"Good morning," says Harry, taking the seat opposite Hermione.

"Morning, Harry," says Hermione cheerfully between sips of pumpkin juice. "You have a good run?"

"Yeah," Harry replies, loading his plate up with eggs and sausages. Running always makes him so hungry. "The sunrise was especially nice today. Lots of orange and yellow. Anything good in the paper?" Harry nods at the sheets of parchment spread out before Hermione. Harry can see a picture of a young boy on the front page, looking rather bored and occasionally reaching up to scratch his arm. It really must be rather dull to be a photograph, moving or otherwise.

"Well," says Hermione with a worried frown, "if by good you mean bad, then yes. This poor boy here's gone missing. They think he's been kidnapped or something since he wasn't the type to run away from home. His parents say that he'd been acting quite oddly before he vanished, too. Apparently his mom had caught him trying to break out of his window a few days before wearing a black cloak and a mask, but when she confronted him about it the next morning, he didn't remember a thing."

"Can I see?" asks Harry, his interest piqued. Hermione nods, handing over one of the sections of the Daily Times. Harry quickly scans the article.

Young Elliot Fisher has gone missing late this Monday, September 7th. Elliot, age fifteen, was last seen at his residence on Murray lane that morning by his grandmother, Dorine. Mrs. Fisher describes Elliot as "a gentle soul" who "always behaved and did as he was told". However, according to his grandmother Dorine, Elliot had been acting rather strangely as of late. Dorine admitted: "He'd been acting so odd lately. I kept catching him wandering around going through our potion supplies and stuff. When I shook his shoulder, he'd just give me this perfectly blank look, like he couldn't see me. It was as if his brain had just, you know, checked out. So I'd give him a good shake and he'd just seem to snap out of it. His eyes would focus and he'd seem confused. He just had no idea what he'd been doing down there. We thought maybe he was just sleep walking or something, but he seemed wide awake. I mean, it was the middle of the day! No, something was definitely off." Sleep walking does indeed seem unlikely. But what else could have caused these trances. Not since the days of You-Know-Who have people behaved like this. But perhaps there is someone out there, even in this time of peace, willing to use the Imperius curse to achieve their ends. But why bother to Imperius this teenage boy? What could they possibly gain? Dorine's next words may provide a clue: "The morning he went missing I went up to his room to put his clean laundry away. Only when I opened the door, I saw Elliot half way out the window wearing this big, black cloak. He was wearing a mask, too. A black mask that covered his entire face, but I could still see that it was definitely my Elliot. I called out to him, asking what the heck he was doing, but it was like he couldn't hear me. He wasn't just ignoring me, I could tell. Elliot's a good boy and he always listens to me. He was just checked out again. His body was just acting on its own. Before I could stop him, out he went. By the time I got to the window to see where he was off to, he was just gone. Like he'd never been there. It wasn't natural, I tell you." Masked men wandering the streets, a boy acting not of his own free will. Could it be that dark forces are stirring once more? Or is this simply the case of a rebellious teenager running away from home? We shall just have to wait and see. The Auror Office has refused to comment on the matter aside from saying that they are on the case. What aren't they telling us? What do they know that they feel they need to hide? Perhaps they're just embarrassed that they don't have any leads yet, but maybe it's more. If you have any information on the whereabouts of Elliot Fisher or what has happened to him, please owl the Ministry of Magic Auror's Department immediately. We appreciate your cooperation on this matter.

By the time Harry's eyes reach the bottom of the page, a frown has taken over his face. This is just the kind of thing that he's been waiting for. It was all too easy, too good to be true. The end of a war does not mean that peace must follow; it just gives people a moment to breathe before the next leg of the race begins.

"Do you think-?" Harry begins. He doesn't even need to finish the sentence, though. Hermione immediately understands what he's getting at.

"No," she says, shaking her head. "The paper suggests the Imperius curse, but it doesn't really sound like that to me. Victims of the Imperius curse hide it better. They act pretty much like their normal selves except that their goals are being decided for them. This boy was acting completely out of it. Besides, you can't cure the Imperius curse by shaking someone hard enough. No, I think this is something different."

"Maybe we should look into this, go talk to the family or something," Harry suggests, staring down with newfound interest at the image of the teen. He looks so normal, so average. Why would someone want to control someone like him? It would make sense to control someone with connections, someone who works at the Ministry of Magic perhaps, but why a teen lounging around his house on summer vacation? It makes no sense. Hermione's expression darkens, worry filling her deep brown eyes.

"Harry, no," she says firmly. "This is none of our business. Leave it to the Aurors. They're smart people and highly trained. They'll figure this out." She must see through Harry's expression that he's unconvinced since she goes on to add: "Harry, Voldemort is gone. The war is over. There's nothing to worry about anymore. All of the Death Eaters are safely locked up in Azkaban. I'm sure this is just an isolated incident. Really, Harry, I know you've gotten used to playing the hero and all, but this is none of our business. Besides, we're at school now. You know we're not allowed off campus. The Aurors will deal with it. They will. Promise me, Harry that you'll leave this alone. I never should have shown that article to you." Harry looks up into Hermione's steely face, and then, with a sigh, he nods.

"Alright," he concedes. "You're right. I know you are. I'll leave it alone, alright?" Hermione looks relieved.

"Thank you, Harry!" she exclaims. "Now then, did you finish your essay for Transfiguration yet?"

Up at the teacher's table, seats are beginning to fill up. Some of those seats will never be filled, though. Not with the people who should sit there, anyways. More of the war's victims, yet another sign that things are irreversibly different now. Dumbledore gone, Snape gone. So many people dead, vanished forever. The world moves on, though. Dumbledore and Snape have been replaced. McGonagall sits in the large chair in the center now, having accepted the job as Headmistress. Off to her left sits the new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, Professor Isolde Hunter. Professor Hunter has chin length sandy blond hair, bright blue eyes and a smattering of freckles across his sharp nose. At twenty-two years old, he is by far the youngest teacher here at Hogwarts. Apparently it was a bit hard to find someone willing to teach in the school where the final battle had been fought. No one wanted to talk about defensive spells in the building where He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named was killed. So far, though, Harry likes Professor Hunter's class. The man is young, but he seems to know what he's talking about, and he's clearly passionate about the subject. When the man starts talking about dark magic his eyes light up and his voice gets deep and husky. This, combined with Professor Hunter's very good looks, has quickly made him the crush of most of the girls in his classes. Harry can understand why. There is something appealing about the young man, something almost dark, a slight edge to his easy charm and wit. It's definitely… attractive.

Careful to hide his thoughts from Hermione, Harry wonders what the best way to sneak off campus would be. By broom maybe? Or perhaps just go through the tunnels to Hogsmead and then apparate from there? Either way, there's no way he's going to let this whole Elliot Fisher issue drop. There's something going on there, something that leaves a bad taste in Harry's mouth and twists his stomach into painful knots. If there's one thing Harry's learned from the war, it's to trust his instincts. No, he definitely has to find out more, even if that does mean lying to Hermione. What she doesn't know won't hurt her.

From up at the staff table, blue eyes are fixed on Harry, languidly taking in his every move.

*Author's Note: I hope you enjoyed this first chapter! Please review with any feedback you may have! Also, if any of you have any requests for things you would like to see in this story, please just let me know and I will keep them in mind moving forward. I already have most of this story planned, but there is a little wiggle room. Thank you all so much for reading! :)*