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A(nother) Harry Potter Story
by Chyna Rose
Disclaimer: Harry Potter belongs to J.K. Rowling, Bloomsburry/Schoolastic Press, and Warner Brothers Pictures. My Hero Academia belongs to Hirokoshi Kohei, Weekly Shounen Jump, Viz Media, Studio Bones, and Funimation. This work was written for the fun of it and the challenge offered up by NaNoWriMo; no money has or will be made off of it.
It went without saying that out of all five of them, Harry had the worst bad days at work hands down. Even if you didn't count the fact that the risk of having someone die on him (which while thankfully not all too common, still was something that did on occasion happen), he was routinely bled, pissed, shit, and puked on. Not to mention getting yelled at, threatened, and actually attacked. That's not to say that the other four didn't have hellish days at work, or no grounds to complain about them simply because Harry objectively had it worse. Because even Percy - who had a purely bureaucratic non-client facing job - and Neville - who worked almost exclusively with plants - had had days like that (including one rather memorable incident that counted as a Bad Day for both Harry and Neville).
Today it seemed to be Draco's turn for a Bad Day as he collapsed on the couch and let his head fall back onto the back of the couch with none of his usual grace and poise. The decorative pillow he used then used to try and smother himself with was probably overkill and overdramatic, but given the events of the day, he felt that it was entirely justified. Besides, it wasn't like the others would let him actually suffocate - and even if he somehow did manage to pull that off, Harry could always save him.
"Do I even want to know?" Ron asked, offering up a can of Draco’s preferred beer with a careful shake - not enough to turn the beer into a very wet projectile if opened immediately, but enough for Draco to know that the beer was there even if he couldn’t see it thanks to the pillow he held over his face.
Draco just groaned in response, stopping his suffocation efforts. He lowered the pillow just enough to be able to glance at Ron; making gimmie gestures at the beer he saw Ron holding out. Ron tossed Draco the beer and let him take his time before elaborating - or not - on what had happened at work to put him into such a state.
"I wasn’t that bad back in school was I?" Draco asked dramatically apropos of nothing (at least as far as Ron could tell anyway) after he’d drunk a fair bit of his beer; the pillow now laying forgotten where it had fallen when Draco had sat up.
“Well...” Ron began, trying to see if he could apply any sort of context to Draco’s non-sequester through the judicious use of mental gymnastics (which was really par for the course when conversing with the former Slytherin. Privately Ron was convinced that Draco would spontaneously combust and die if he ever had to be straightforward in what he said - conveniently forgetting all the times that the blonde actually was, which admittedly mostly dealt with things like what to get for dinner or what movie to watch during their occasional ‘hey we managed to get all five of us together (until Harry had to bail due to an emergency) so why don’t we just do something together’ movie nights), “you were kinda a pratt when we were kids. But you did manage to grow out of it. Mostly.”
Draco glared at Ron; he was being more rhetorical than not when he’d asked the question, but relented after a bit. Ron was right. He’d been pretty bratty as a kid, what with trying to fit into the very narrow mould his father (and to a lesser extent his mother) had presented him with in the name of Fulfilling His Place in Society. And once he stopped parroting back everything his father said and did and actually started thinking for himself, he’d gotten a lot better on that front. Although to be fair, all of them (except Neville who was just too timid and insecure socially speaking) were right pratts in school - even if the prattishness manifested differently for them. Perhaps it was just the natural status of kids to be utter little shits in one way or another (and Neville was just scary good at suppressing that bit of him). God knew that they’d hardly been the only ones - between the Weasley Twins’ pranking and other mischief making, Ginny’s trigger temper, Hermione’s know it all teacher's pet tendencies (really. Her greatest fear back when she was thirteen had been failing a test), the den of intrigues and machinations that Slytherin had been for generations... It was, however, rather sad and pathetic the way that too many full grown adults never seemed to grow out of that phase.
"Anyway," Ron said trying to get the conversation if not back on track (whatever that was), then at least get it back onto a track, “why are you asking that in the first place?”
Draco nodded. And after finishing his beer he elaborated, “I had to deal with what I swear had to have been the most infuriating bint ever to grace the earth in the history of time. Think some unholy combination of Granger and Pansy at their absolute worst, my father at his most arrogant and snobbish, and ‘Professor’ Umbridge” he started, complete with air quotes around Umbridge’s title of Professor. Technically she had in fact been their teacher - thankfully for only a year back in their fifth year of schooling - and at the time Draco - being the little shit he had been back then - had cozied up to her (mostly to gain a bit of the power she’d been throwing around in her surprisingly successful bid to take over the school in the name of Minister Fudge and because her views and attitudes aligned closer to his father’s for the most part unlike the ones held by most of the rest of the faculty - a fact that had seemed very important at the time). But time and maturity had let Draco see through her traditionalist act to her squishy anti-educational governmental shill center. His godfather, Professor Snape, might’ve held a conservative traditionalist line (as befitted his role of Head of House and alumni statuses for Slytherin, the house best known for that kind of thinking) and been one of the stricter teachers at the school (and perhaps one of the ones with the most well known biases for and against), but at least he’d made an actually effort to not only teach his subject, but teach it to the best of his ability given his natural inability to stand children (not that the fact that his favored subject could be rather volatile and prone explosions and other nastily harmful reactions helped any in that department). It said something when the title of Most Hated Professor changed hands so quickly into a new school year and had been almost unanimously awarded.
Ron shuddered at that thought and motioned for Draco to continue.
“So there I was, evaluating this exquisite black opal and sapphire neck piece, when she just swanned in like she owned the place, dressed head to toe in what’s supposed to pass as designer haute fashion - you know the type; it’s meant to look like it’s a bespoke piece - or pieces in this case - straight off of the Milan or Paris runway but is clearly off the rack from some overpriced chain ‘boutique’ that’s ill fit and doesn’t even come close to flatering what passes as her body type and is so shoddily and cheaply constructed that she wouldn’t be able to wear it more than a handful of times even if she wanted to before it simply fell apart. And it was in the most god awful color you could imagine that completely clashed with her complexion. Not quite the sickening pink that ‘Professor’ Umbridge favored, but...”
Ron (discreetly) rolled his eyes as Draco tore down the woman’s appearance in the way that only he could. For all that Draco had grown and matured since they were in school, he was - and would probably always be - a bit of a snob. It wasn’t completely his fault. He had been raised in a position of wealth and privilege and while he’d managed to break free of his father’s bigoted ways, he never did manage to shake all of the elitist bullshit attitude that entailed. Working at one of the country's more premiere auction houses hadn’t really done anything to help with his snobbish tendencies (mostly it just shifted the focus of it).
“Of course she turns her nose up as soon as she sees Chloe, as if to ask what some poor peasant like her is doing here because clearly someone dressed like that (that is, in something that doesn’t simply scream ‘I’m rich and have money to burn’ but is instead tasteful and well made) can’t afford anything we’d ever have. Nevermind that Chloe is one of our regulars and spends thousands of pounds a year with us and that not only is she part of the peerage, but her husband is well placed in the House of Lords. Because god forbid someone who has money not flaunt it. Not that I think the bint had all that much money, given that she wanted to sell us what she claimed was an ‘authentic antique Native American’ dreamcatcher for a real pretty penny.”
“I know I don’t know all that much about dreamcatchers, but aren’t they made out of things like wood and leather that wouldn’t last that long?”
“Surprisingly they can last a long time - if properly cared for of course. And I didn’t need to use my quirk to see that while what she did have was a dreamcatcher, it wasn’t in any way authentic or antique. First off it was pure pink plastic. Pink tinted fishing line and pleather over a straight up pink plastic ring with a smattering of feathers plucked from some hapless costume boa and beads that wouldn’t look out of place in a seven year old girl’s crafting kit. And she wanted the starting bid to be fifteen thousand for this monstrosity. Of course that fifteen thousand was her being generous and seriously low balling it’s value. Like you can’t find that kind of thing (and of a better quality) for less than ten pounds at most stores. Not that she took our no without a fight. Noooo. She wasn’t suggesting we do this for her while passive aggressively implying that we’d be daft not to accept her ‘generous’ offer. I swear I haven’t known anyone as entitled as her - and you know what kind of circles I used to hang in. And she would. Just. Not. Leave. Until we gave her the deal she wanted. Nor would she stand aside to let us serve anyone else until she was satisfied. Didn’t matter who all told her no either. We had to call the police just to pry her out. The only good thing about all that is that she’s been completely banned so we’ll never have to deal with her again - beyond the supposed lawsuit she’s going to fling our way because we’ll be sorry when we go out of business because we turned down hers and don’t we know who her husband is.”
“Even at your worst, you were never that bad. Sure you kept threatening to have your father find out, but at least you knew how to pick your battles and when to take a loss." Ron pointed out.
Before Draco could reply (not that he had much further to say on the matter), the door slammed as Harry stepped in and made his way straight to the shower his shoes squelching wetly with every step. Because no matter what had happened to make one of the others have a Bad Day, Harry would always have it worse.
A(nother) Harry Potter Story
by Chyna Rose
Disclaimer: Harry Potter belongs to J.K. Rowling, Bloomsburry/Schoolastic Press, and Warner Brothers Pictures. My Hero Academia belongs to Hirokoshi Kohei, Weekly Shounen Jump, Viz Media, Studio Bones, and Funimation. This work was written for the fun of it and the challenge offered up by NaNoWriMo; no money has or will be made off of it.
“I FUCKIN SAID NOBODY FUKIN MOVE!” The shout was punctuated with the sharp crack of bone being shot out at high velocity followed by a crash as the organic projectile smashed into a glass jar and the wail of a frightened toddler, “SHUT THAT FUCKIN KID UP! AND WHAT DID I JUST FUKIN SAY ABOUT FUCKIN MOVIN?!”
If he’d known that this was going to happen, Neville probably wouldn’t have gotten out of bed that morning (even if that meant that he would’ve had to call out at work). Not that there was any way that he could have known; his was not a clairvoyant quirk after all.
The day had actually started out not all that badly, but not all that good either. You know, the kind of meh that was a series of small but certainly not terrible or insurmountable. He’d woken up before the alarm thanks to a bad dream - not a nightmare, although he’d had more than his fair share of those (as had all of them), but more of an unhappy one full of faded memories and could have beens if only this life wasn’t his life. Still it wasn’t the kind of thing that signaled that the day ahead was going to be a bad one so it’d be better to just call it quits and start again tomorrow. Hell, it was barely an inconvenience (at this point since this was far from the first time he’d had that kind of dream and certainly wouldn’t be the last). Burnt toast, broken shoe laces, hitting every bloody red light on the way to work... and a hundred of other little things that went wrong but were so low key in and of themselves that individually they were barely a blip on the radar in terms of things going wrong. Things that, while super annoying at the moment (especially the red light thing), were so inconsequential in the long run that they were easily forgotten almost as soon as they had happened.
He'd barely gotten out of his post work shower when he'd been approached by the others and 'ordered' to go out and pick up some butter. Which was fair enough; he had been the one to use up the last of it. Harry had volunteered to go with him because, well, why not.
They’d made it to the store in good time and companionable silence, picked up a basket (because even though they’d gone in to get just one thing, they knew from experience that they’d end up getting more than that. Grabbing the one thing would remind them that they were either low or out of something else which would remind them about something else and suddenly between that and impulse buys of things that they didn’t actually need but would be nice to have or were just too interesting to not try they’d end up with a basket or trolley full of stuff), and were slowly making their way to the dairy cooler when shit got real.
The sound of a gunshot followed by shouting from the disheveled looking guy who’d briskly brushed past them shortly after they went in took them by complete surprise. They hadn’t really been taking notice of the other people in the store; a quick hello here and there to some of the other regulars they knew, a warm smile for a harried young mother with a baby. Just the normal kind of things you do when you run down to the shops. Sure they saw the guy, but even as twitchy as the guy came off as it wasn’t like they lived in the best part of town. Their little slice of Birmingham had its share of homeless, mentally ill, drunks, and junkies and for the most part they were harmless; just regular people trying to stay afloat who’d fallen on hard times often for circumstances beyond their control. Obviously this guy was not one of them given he was robbing the local corner deli.
As the robber was demanding money from the hapless clerk at the register, both Harry and Neville ducked down and began to carefully make their way around the store out of sight to check on the other customers as best they could without drawing the robber’s attention to either them or the other innocents. Harry was (technically) a hero (in that he had the proper license for it at any rate but heroing was more a sideline for him; more of a way for him to do the more good on top of working full time as a paramedic), but he was a rescue specialist not a combat one. His priority was actually the health and safety of the staff and other customers. Sometimes that meant gathering everyone together and sneak them out through another door or when the attacking villain wasn’t looking, sometimes it meant administering first aid at the scene before evacuation, and sometimes it meant taking out the person responsible for whatever was endangering their lives in the first place. Neville, on the other hand, wasn’t a hero. He could fight if he had to and wasn’t afraid to stand up for what was right even in the face of thugs, bullies, and the like. He just didn’t have the temperament or the drive to go into the field of heroics, content instead to while away his time with his plants. He’d help Harry as best he could (he might not like fighting and was a lot more limited in what he was permitted to do during a villain attack due to his lack of a hero license, but he did know how to defend himself and others if it came to it. Plus this would be far from the first time that he’d worked alongside Harry like this - even if last time was what felt like a lifetime ago).
First things first though. Before they could effectively do anything, they had to get an accurate picture of what was going on. What little information they had was less than certain since they had only what they had heard to go by. As far as they could tell, all they knew (but couldn’t really confirm at the moment) was that the robber was most likely still at the front of the store by the registers and armed with some sort of gun. There was a decent if not likely chance that he was as high as a kite based on how jittery he’d looked in the less than a minute they’d seen him when their paths had first crossed but the jitters could just as easily be the result of nerves as drugs. There were five (six if you counted the baby and her mother separately) other customers elsewhere in the store along with one employee who’d been busy stocking shelves, one behind the deli counter and the aforementioned cashier. They desperately needed to know more. Where exactly was the robber. Where was everyone else in relation to him. Was there a back or side entrance in the employee only areas of the store. Did anyone (particularly the cashier) need medical attention.
Just as Neville and Harry eased themselves around the end of an aisle, they heard someone shout at the robber to freeze. Their new position afforded them a view of the front where a young costumed hero stood in the doorway facing the robber. Hero and robber squared off with the terrified cashier trapped nearby at the counter. Harry relaxed just a bit. The situation was still dicey as hell, but at least with the other hero there, he didn’t have to worry about taking down and restraining the robber and could put all his focus on the employees and other customers. Strangely enough, neither Harry or Neville could see a gun in the robber’s hand, but it wasn’t like they had a completely unobstructed view of the guy; it could’ve just been blocked by the shelves or the robber’s body.
Feeling that the hero had things in hand, Harry and Neville eased back to go find everyone else and see about getting them safely out of there. That wasn’t a mistake, exactly. They - well really Harry since he was the licensed hero and all, but Neville was not about to leave his friend in the proverbial lurch when he could actively be doing something to help - did need to make sure that the other people were safe and try to get them as far out of danger as possible. And to do that they needed to find everyone and make sure that they were accounted for. Which meant that they couldn’t just stand around and watch the hero take on the robber in the off chance that he’d need Harry’s help (assuming that the hero wouldn’t assume that Harry was just a civilian trying to be helpful since Harry wasn’t in costume and there wasn’t time for Harry to dig out his hero license and have the other hero check and verify it, and even then there was no guarantee that the hero would accept it or Harry’s offer of help). But in the space of time between when Harry and Neville backed up behind the end cap at the back of the shop and when they ran into the stock boy and the first two of the other customers just two end caps over, something went horribly wrong.
That there had been a fight between the hero and the robber was never in question. That had been distressingly easy to hear. More gunshots had sounded along with crashes as shelves were knocked into and various products fell to the floor. Then the sound of a woman screaming after which there was silence broken only by the robber’s quiet cursing. There was nothing from the hero which meant only one thing; he was either unconscious or dead - neither of which boded well for him.
With the robber panicking about what had happened and the police getting closer (not to mention any hero they might’ve had with them), things managed to get worse. It turned out that the robber didn’t have a gun. He had a quirk that allowed him to turn the bones of his fingertips into high speed projectiles that had the same effect as a bullet and he’d actually managed to kill the hero. The robber knew that he was in major trouble so he did the only thing he could think of and take everyone left in the store hostage.
By the time the police had got there and managed to cordon off the area, the robber had managed to shoot both the stocker and the cashier as well as one of the other customers - an elderly man Neville had been well acquainted with when he tried to reach out to his wife despite the robber’s demand that nobody move. Harry and Neville watched helplessly as he bled out despite Harry having the ability (and the legal permission thanks to his hero license) to help him.
The robber was focused on the mother and her kid when things came to an end.. The baby - who couldn’t be more than a year, maybe a year and half old - was crying her lungs out much to the robber’s annoyance as he kept demanding that someone do something to quiet her down but every time the baby’s mother even tried to reach out and console her, the robber demanded that the mother not move. He was clearly getting more and more frustrated with this and Neville feared that he would finally snap and shoot both of them.
While the robber was distracted the police managed to bring in a hero who was able to end the standoff. Silently a shadow spread across the floor until it surrounded the robber who was then somehow yanked down into the shadow and neutralized. That done, the police were able to swarm in with the paramedics and after that was a couple of hours of interviews mixed with medical exams as evidence was collected and people were sent where they needed to be sent.
It was only long after while he was taking a hot bath in hopes of maybe relaxing some time that century that Neville realized he’d never actually gotten the butter.
A(nother) Harry Potter Story
by Chyna Rose
Disclaimer: Harry Potter belongs to J.K. Rowling, Bloomsburry/Schoolastic Press, and Warner Brothers Pictures. My Hero Academia belongs to Hirokoshi Kohei, Weekly Shounen Jump, Viz Media, Studio Bones, and Funimation. This work was written for the fun of it and the challenge offered up by NaNoWriMo; no money has or will be made off of it.
“When did truth in advertising stop being a thing?” Draco asked out of the blue. He'd been idly flipping through channels looking for something - anything really - worth watching when a commercial had caught his attention (but not in a good way).
“Hmm?” Percy answered back, slightly distracted by the incident report he had been working on.
"You know. The thing where if you come out and explicitly say that your product does a thing in an ad, it better well do that thing? When did that stop?" Draco continued.
"I would have to check, but I don't believe that those laws were ever repealed or amended." Percy interjected thoughtfully as he walked into the room.
“Well you sure as hell wouldn’t know it.” Draco snorted in derision. He stopped his endless channel surfing to point with the remote to an exceedingly obnoxious long commercial, “Take this one for example.”
Percy merely raised an expectant eyebrow, waiting for Draco to continue. It was clear from Draco’s expression that he was gearing up to go into one of his epic rants, much to the entertainment of those around him.
“Effortless weight loss. No need to exercise or change your eating habits; just take our magic serum every day and watch the pounds melt away. Never you mind how that works, just revel in the fact that it does. Don’t believe us? Why not ask one of our satisfied ‘customers’ (who are in no way paid actors). See this woman (and we swear it’s the same woman in both photos despite the fact that they don’t really look anything alike beyond skin and hair color)? She lost thirty eight pounds over the course of only thirty days - that’s over a pound a day mind you - and went from somewhere clearly over three hundred and fifty pounds to just a bit over one hundred thanks to us. And what about things like colloidal silver? It’s been well established that silver has antibacterial properties, so why not drink a suspension of it to cure a host of ‘scary’ illnesses like cancer, AIDS, diabetes, and herpes as well as prevent your kid from quirklessness. Never mind that none of that’s actually been proven or that antibacterial products don’t work on viruses, autoimmune conditions, metabolic diseases, abnormal cell growth, genetic conditions... you know, anything that isn’t a bacterial infection. And why is it that parents who are sooo terrified of all those scary chemicals in vaccines to the point where they categorically refuse to vaccinate their kids are not only perfectly fine with this but actively endorse its use?” Draco ranted, getting all wound up.
“There’s always been commercials like that though.Even back in the pre-quirk days when the laws were first enacted” Percy pointed out.
“Yeah, but didn’t they used to be subtler about it. You know, implying but never coming out and saying that if you buy their car, or beer, or what have you all these good things that we’re showing you in our ads will happen to you.” Draco countered.
“Actually, not all of them. Just as you have commercials blatantly advertising outrageous claims about their products along with subtler ones selling a lifestyle that their products - and only their products - just oh so happen to fall neatly into now, you had the same promotional strategies back then. Often on the same sort of product come to think of it. I think I remember seeing something about a weight loss suit that allowed you to lose weight just by wearing it on a pre-quirk era commercial compilation video.” Percy said.
“You watch that sort of thing?” Draco asked, getting sidetracked from their conversation. While he knew that Percy wasn’t some fun hating automaton like his brother Ron often joked about (Percy actually had a number of interests and hobbies outside his work), Draco wouldn’t have pegged as being into pop culture like that.
“I see no reason not to.” Percy said with a shrug, “I actually found it to be an interesting look into the culture of that time, and the commentary that went with it was highly entertaining.”
“Ok. So the problem’s been going on longer than a thought. But that still doesn’t answer my question.” Draco said in an attempt to get the conversation on track. While Percy’s personal web video watching habits handed him a whole new subject to tease Percy about later - preferably by dropping a hint about them in front of Ron who would no doubt get onto his brother about them thus giving Draco days if not weeks of entertainment, Draco was still a bit peeved (and maybe a bit bored because there really wasn’t anything worth watching no matter how many times he cycled through the channels. You’d think with hundreds of channels catering to dozens of interests, there would be something worth watching), “You would think that if advertisers had to be truthful in what they claimed - or at the very least, subtle and indirect with their lies - that these people would actually get in trouble.”
“Who said they haven’t?” Percy shot back.
“I haven’t heard anything about it, and their stupid ads are still playing.” Draco replied.
“Just because you haven’t heard about it happening, it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t happen. All it means is that you simply haven’t been privy to that information.” Percy lectured lightly, “Most companies are heavily invested in their public image since that informs the opinions people have of them, and more importantly for the companies, how likely they will be to do business with them. The more negative attention a company gets - especially when it comes to the exposure of unethical business practices, which false advertising would fall under - the less trust the public will have in them and the more likely that lack of trust would manifest in people choosing one of their competitors over them.
“Therefore companies will invest heavily in suppressing things that would reflect badly on them like fines, lawsuits, or even negative reviews. This is not always as successful as the companies wish it would be. First of all, thanks to the advent of the internet and social media, it is nigh on impossible to completely suppress all traces of those kinds of things. Some things, such as lawsuits, are part of the public domain (even if the specific details of a given suit are covered by confidentiality agreements). Second, information no matter the form or the content posted on the internet is notoriously difficult to fully erase. No matter if it's a blog post, a video, a picture posted on a message board... someone somewhere has, for whatever reason, copied and cross posted it - even if only to a private archive. Third, just because a company has an internet presence it doesn't mean that they're internet savvy. It’s easy to overlook even a major site or platform simply because you were unaware it existed - and just because it feels like everyone and their mother knows that, for example, Herotube is a site that exists it doesn’t mean that everyone actually has. As hard as it is for us to imagine it given how central the technology is to our lives, some people are honestly unaware of just what’s available. After all, if all you use the internet for is e-mail and maybe reading the occasional news article why would you need to know about Herotube.
“Lastly, there’s the issue of the suppression attempt itself. It doesn’t actually matter what you’re trying to suppress; the moment that people find out that you're trying to suppress something they’re not only going to lose faith in you but do their best to find out what you’re trying to suppress. And if they find it - or even think that they’ve found it, then the natural thing is to share what they’ve found with everyone else. People in general have an oppositional reaction to being told that it’s forbidden to know something - which is essentially what information suppression does. So now you’re dealing with bad publicity not only from what you did but with the fact that you tried to hide it.”
“I guess that makes sense.” Draco conceded. He didn’t like it, but Percy was right in a way. While he was one of the first to publicly celebrate his successes, he considered each and everyone of his failures (and there were depressingly many of those - especially Before) as private little shames that wouldn’t be able to withstand being dragged out into the light of day (even if it was more him that wouldn’t be able to stand the exposure than what he’d done or not done as the case may be). It wasn’t much of a stretch to think that other people would feel the exact same way (and wasn’t that a sign of how far he’d grown over the years. Eleven year old him had had a hard time putting himself in other people’s positions. Oh, he knew and even on some level understood that other people had thought and felt differently than him at any given time but empathy - true empathy was a completely different thing altogether. It was, in retrospect, kind of sad when he thought of it).
The thought of what was happening still rankled though. Whether or not these deceptive companies were getting away with their lying ads, the fact that they were able to keep doing it over and over to the point where more and more of them were starting to do the same just rubbed the wrong way. And knowing that technically what they were doing was illegal - not to mention unethical, but was never addressed in any significant way... What was the point of even having a law if it wasn’t going to (consistantly) be enforced. Why not just take it off the books?
“Hey guys” Ron said poking his head in from the (suspiciously slightly smoking) kitchen, “Instead of cooking, what do you think about doing take out tonight?”
A(nother) Harry Potter Story
by Chyna Rose
"Holy hell! How did that happen?!" Ron blurted out, absolutely gobsmacked.
"Well, when an employee works for an employer for a very long time...” Draco started to say snarkily.
Harry rolled his eyes at Draco’s antics but looking at the table where their respective work schedules sat he could understand what had shocked Ron so much. It wasn’t so much that they’d all been granted time off from work, they had been due the time after all and May seemed to be a good time to take it, but the fact that through some miracle they’d all managed to snag the exact same week despite the fact that they hadn’t even thought to coordinate their time off beforehand.
Now the question was since they were all going to have off at the same time, what were they going to do about it. Sure they could stick to the ‘plan’ of each of them making individual holiday plans like they would’ve done if things hadn’t ended up lining up so well. Or they could take advantage of this rare opportunity that would likely never happen again (at least not for a few years anyway - or if they had an actual reason to all request the same days off; not that that would be a guarantee that they would get them) and go on holiday together.
The five of them fell into a comfortable silence as they considered the possibilities. Both holidaying together and separately (or at least in smaller groups) had their pros and cons. On one hand, if they each went off on their own, they were almost certainly guaranteed to be able to see exactly what they wanted. While they did all get on together for the most part (none of them were perfect after all. They’d had their fair share of arguments and every one of them had habits that the others found annoying), they did all have their own different preferences and interests. Percy gravitated towards museums, historical sites, and other places that offered educational possibilities. Nevillie liked quiet green spaces. Draco was all about luxury and culture; the theatre, the symphony, wandering the shops on high street and hitting up Every. Single. Antiques boutique, boot sale, estate sale, craft fair, and flea market... he could find. Ron was all for lazing around on a beach or hitting up an amusement park or three. And Harry didn’t really care what he did so long as he was allowed to relax with as little stress as possible. There weren’t all that many activities that all five of them unanimously agreed about (Draco, for example, loathed roughing it with every fiber of his being).
But on the other hand, it was so rare for all of them to be free at the same time that they felt that they couldn’t afford to pass up the opportunity to spend time together like this. As an actuary (Percy) and a tactical consultant (Ron) respectively, Percy and Ron had the most consistent schedules, being able to work the traditional Monday through Friday nine to five (plus overtime as needed and the occasional emergency for Ron). Neville and Draco were fairly consistent when it came to the number of hours a week they worked (again, eight hours a day plus some overtime every now and again; more for Draco than Neville) but which days (and in some cases for Draco, hours) those were were sometimes up for debate. Now Harry, as both a paramedic and a hero, had the craziest schedule out of all of them. Not only did he work longer hours than the other (twelve hour or longer shifts were, sadly, not all that uncommon for him) and have to be on call a couple of times a week, but which shift on which days he was scheduled for had a tendency to change every couple of weeks or so. Add in being called in during emergencies for his hero work...
“Road trip?” Neville tentatively offered. The other four carefully thought that over.
“That could work...” Percy mused as he began mentally chasing down the logistics of just how.
“But where would we go?” Ron asked.
“We could always head up country. Edinburgh’s roughly an eight hour drive. We could take our time and split that over a couple of days, maybe stop in Leeds or York. If we head west towards the coast on the way back we can stop in the Lake District - which I know would make Draco happy.” Percy offered.
“What about heading down towards Bristol? Take a quickish day trip to Bath before heading over to Devon and then looping along the coast and back up through either London or Oxford.” Draco countered, “It offers a lot of the same things as heading north, but the drive’s a lot more scenic thanks to the coast. We could also easily hit up Stonehenge if we wanted to.
“Just as long as we steer well clear of Surrey.” Harry interjected, “I know that the Surrey Hills are considered an area of outstanding beauty, but there’s just too many bad associations you know?”
“It might be better to bypass London altogether if we take Draco’s proposed route. While I do enjoy spending time there, I think that we’ve all been there enough times to want to see other places. We can always catch a train and head in the next time we all have a free weekend together if we wanted. In addition to that, you know that the traffic around there's going to be absolutely horrid. Not to mention how hard (and potentially expensive) it is going to be to try and find parking if we find something that we'd like to stop and see while there.” Percy pointed out.
“They both sound like good plans.” Neville said, considering the merits of each route.
"We don't have to decide right now do we?" Ron asked, "I mean we have a couple of days to decide since we're not going to be leaving until the sixteenth - which is about three weeks from now - right?"
"True. But it would be better to decide sooner rather than later since that would mean that we would have better chances making hotel reservations as well as giving us the opportunity to purchase any tickets we would need in advance." Percy said.
“Bristol and Bath are a lot closer than Edinburgh, so we’d be spending less time driving and more time exploring or relaxing if we went south. Plus I like the idea of having a good long hot soak. You know how things have been for me lately, and thanks to Billy being more of a god-damned idiot than usual, I doubt that that’s going to change anytime soon.” Harry said.
The others had to concede that Harry had a valid point. Draco’s route would mean that they would be spending less time on the road and more time at their various destinations. Plus things had been a bit crazier for Harry than usual. One of his coworkers on another shift had royally fucked up - as in he was likely going to lose his job over it fucked up. It was bad enough that he’d managed to crash one of the ambulances taking both him and his partner out of commission for at least three months while their various injuries healed, but he’d hit another car at speed and been very drunk at the time. Add to that the fact that his post accident blood test showed a number of illicit drugs that should in no way have been in his system (this was not the kind of thing that you could explain away with having a pothead neighbor or grabbing the poppy seed muffin instead of the chocolate chip one for breakfast that morning). Of course he was crying how it was not his fault in the least and that he was the victim here. And if that wasn’t enough, the investigation was turning up more and more things that didn’t look good. Like additional criminal charges not good. All this had the unfortunate result of Harry having to pull additional shifts as his supervisors scrambled to cover the loss of two people when they were already on the understaffed end of things.
“So I guess it’s decided then?” Neville asked, “We’ll head south to Bristol, Bath, and Devon before swinging east and back up to Birmingham?”
Before Harry or the others could voice his agreement, Harry’s pager went off. “Fuck my life.”
There was an art to road trips. While half the point of going on a road trip was the fun of doing things on the spur of the moment just because you were there and why not, you still needed to do some planning or you would find yourself not knowing where you were going and you ran the risk of having to sleep in your car because all the hotels were full up or having to make an emergency stop at the local Asda because you were totally out of clean underwear. Admittedly, exactly how much planning you needed to do varied from person to person. Some people were good with just knowing what direction they were going to be heading in and how long they planned to be gone while others needed an actual itinerary to avoid triggering an anxiety attack brought on by a total lack of structure and routine or getting stuck in an indecision loop. Flexibility was also vital since unexpected roadblocks would inevitably crop up forcing you to recalculate your plan of action on the fly. After all, you never know when a major accident on the motorway would stop traffic to slower than a crawl or you’d come back to your car after a lovely afternoon of browsing a local farmers market only to find out that your car wouldn’t start. Other things such as way to many snacks, music played perhaps a touch too loudly while you sang along (badly) to it, getting at least a bit lost at some point, and having at least one friend with you to share the adventure (and the quite late night philosophical conversation lit only by the moon, stars, and the occasional headlights of passing cars) were not obligated (you could, after all go on a road trip all by yourself) but certainly added to the overall experience.
The road trip started out well enough. They started out bright and early enough on the morning of the sixteenth with Percy driving and Neville manning the map (Harry promptly fell asleep in the back much to the annoyance of Draco - who’d drawn the proverbial short straw for this leg of the journey and was stuck in the middle seat - when he’d slumped over on him), and headed straight to Bath where they took full advantage of one of the many spas the town was known for. Everyone enjoyed a nice long soak, even if an exhausted Harry had to be saved from drowning more than once (not that the others could blame him.At one point during the past three weeks he’d simply stopped coming home, choosing instead to bunk down at the hospital in one of the rooms set aside for such purposes because he wouldn’t have had enough time to properly rest if he came home).
From Bath, they’d headed over to Bristol, where they were planning to spend one full day before heading out the next. The first night was fairly quiet with Harry practically passing out as soon as he hit a bed. The long sleep had apparently been exactly what he needed and he’d been right as rain once he’d finally gotten up and eaten a huge breakfast. There were a lot of things that they wanted to do in Bristol (part of why they’d booked two nights there instead of just one), but their first port of call had been the Bristol Zoo Gardens followed by a nice lunch and a leisurely afternoon in the Bristol Museum and Art Gallery. They did do some shopping (mostly at Draco’s insistence) before lucking into finding a pub offering some live folk music to go with their late dinner.
They hadn’t actually been able to come to an agreement when it came to visiting either Devon or Dartmoor, so they’d decided to split the difference as it were and grab a hotel over in Exeter, which was their next port of call. Not only did this let them visit both Devon and Dartmoor but they were also able to check out the Bill Douglas Cinema Museum, something that they could all easily agree on. While in Dartmoor they made a point to stop at Canonteign Falls (at Neville’s insistence; one of the few requests the shy guy had made regarding the trip). The falls were just as beautiful as promised. Even Draco, who had been grumbling about having to go on a nature hike practically the whole time, could agree that the hike had been worth it. As it turned out Devon, while certainly beautiful and worth its designation as an area of outstanding natural beauty, was a bit of a wash. Aside from a couple of shops that Draco was interested in (until he actually went into them; there hadn’t been anything that he hadn’t seen a hundred times before in other places) and a donkey sanctuary (not that they’d been super excited to see a bunch of donkeys, but it had looked like something mildly interesting to check out in lieu of anything else to see) that had been closed to the public when they’d gotten there. Exeter with its cinema museum had more than made up for the disappointment that Devon had turned out to be.
Things only started going not wrong precisely, but... odd... when they headed up to Salisbury from Exter for Stonehenge (because, how could they not. It was like doing a sightseeing trip to London and not visiting London Tower or Buckingham Palace). To be fair, the drive to Stonehenge hadn’t been all that bad. Sure the traffic was a bit slow and there had been a bit of a light drizzle, but that kind of thing was to be expected really. Hell, they’d actually been rather lucky as far as traffic had been concerned with as little as they’d encountered previously.
Stonehenge had been stunning with the mist curling around the stones, lending more of a mystic feel to the site than usual. Add to that the fact that there hadn’t been all too many other tourists around at the time (mostly because of the weather and the fact that mid May was considered off peak for the holiday business - unless it happened to coincide with Easter. And even then, people were primarily traveling to see family instead of going sightseeing), and it was easy for them to forget where - or perhaps when - they were (being there felt so achingly right and familiar. Like they’d stepped into a memory but one belonging to someone else. Which was ridiculous since this was kind of their first visit to Stonehenge. Well, their first one outside the obligatory field trip back when they were in school at any rate). At one point Harry thought he saw someone he recognized after catching a flash of blonde hair out of the corner of his eye, but when he’d turned around for a better look there hadn’t been anyone like that there.
One quick but largely disappointing fast food lunch later that shook the spookiness back out of their bones saw them back on the road. Visiting the Hawk Conservatory Trust had been a bit of an impulse stop, but it had been oh so very worth it. Sure it had been a bit more expensive than they (or rather Percy) would have liked, but they sure as hell weren’t about to pass up an opportunity to get up close and personal with a bird of prey (other than someone who either didn’t like birds or was afraid of them, who would in their position). Again they’d felt that not quite familiar someone else’s memory feeling, this time with how natural it felt to have an owl perched on their arm (especially Draco who had to fight off a wave of deja vu when a gorgeous eagle owl had been handed off to him). All too soon their three hours were up and off they went towards Oxford and dinner.
They hadn’t made it Oxford. They’d managed to make it maybe a third of the way there when they had to pull off the motorway and into the petrol station where Draco was miserably hunched over a toilet, puking up what felt like (for him) every bit of food he’d eaten for the past year. Harry was patiently waiting just outside of Draco’s stall, ready to check him over to see if it was something serious they should be worried about (and thus need to bring him into A&E for) or if it was something that just needed keeping an eye on but could otherwise be treated at home like food poisoning (which is what Harry heavily suspected was the case. It wouldn’t be the first time one of them had ended up eating the wrong thing and paid the price for it after all. In fact, Harry couldn’t remember a single holiday trip that all five had taken together where one of them hadn’t ended up sick as a dog so this should only have been expected).
Once Draco started getting sick, Harry jumped into gear and took charge of the situation. After a brief conversation, they agreed that since they were so close to home anyway they were just going to cut the trip short and skip the stops at Oxford, Stratford-upon-Avon, and Coventry they’d had planned. Percy volunteered to cancel their hotel rooms since he’d been the one to place them and top off their petrol since they were down to just under half a tank left and since they were stopped at a petrol station anyway what could it hurt. Neville and Ron had been asked to pick up some specific supplies to make the last leg of their trip a bit easier on Draco (on all of them really since Draco having a better time of it helped them).
“Are you in need of medical assistance?” a low and silky voice that Harry (and Draco although he was still too nauseous to fully register it) knew he knew despite having never heard it before (at least not in this life) asked. Harry slowly turned as if trapped in treacle to face the man behind the voice as and felt his jaw drop as who the man who had spoken was finally registered.
It had been a bit of a stressful week at work for Percy to say the least. His workload had been normal for this time of year and he hadn’t needed to put in any overtime, but there had been an underlying tension that had left everyone uneasy and anxious. No one knew what was going on other than it was Bad; not him, not his coworkers, not the people across the hall in claims, not any of their bosses, hell not even his boss’ boss. Rumors quietly flew thick and fast as people speculated; running the gamut from the company going under, to there’d been a hostile takeover, to there being pending criminal charges among the higher ups. This was not helped with humorless men (and women) in dark suits that no-one knew wandering about seemingly at random and refused to answer any questions no matter how innocuous.
But now it was Sunday and Percy had long ago decided that Sundays would be sacrosanct; set aside so that he could pursue his personal interests without any responsibilities or obligations interfering (or at least that had been the intent. Not all household chores and errands could be seen to ahead of time or delayed until the next day, and emergencies did occasionally crop up. Plus he did have to deal with both his family and his housemates who would sometimes invite him out to do something. At least they were pretty good accepting his turning down the invite - even if his mother did resort to guilt tripping him over it but that was Molly Weasley for you).
This Sunday was no different. He’d had his customary lie in and read over the Sunday paper while he leisurely ate his breakfast amidst the chaos that the other four seemed to generate just by being in the same room and breathing. Even with none of them having anywhere pressing to be (again having all lucked out with their schedule) - that he knew of, they rushed through eating.To be fair, both Harry and Neville were often starving in the morning. Both their quirks, Green Thumb and Stop-Gap, were energy intensive and drew off of their natural energy stores so both Neville and Harry required more calories than other men their age; Harry more so since he had issues with being chronically underweight (a sad side effect of the abuse and neglect he’d faced growing up). And Ron was, well... Ron, and never seemed to have learned any of the manners their mother had tried to hammer into him. Or grown out of his adolescent eating habits for that matter.
After breakfast was (finally) done and the dishes cleaned up, they’d all scattered off to do whatever it was they’d had planned. Neville and Ron had retreated back towards their respective rooms while Draco had dragged a half amused, half resigned Harry out the front door to do gods knew what. Percy grabbed an old empty mason jar and filled it with water before heading to his room.
Once in his room, he carefully put the jar of water on his desk and began to pull out his materials. First was a rather worn player’s handbook covered in sticky notes. He opened it to the page that held the character sheets and laid one hand on the book while the other was placed next to it on the desk. Both hands glowed white for a moment as he put all of his attention on the page and a duplicate page formed under the hand not on the book. He checked the page over carefully before smiling and doing it again until he had a total of seven blank character sheets. These character sheets were slid into a folder and put to the side as he put the book away. With that done, he proceeded to pull out a box of paint, brushes, and the miniatures he had planned to paint; Mara from accounting was starting a new campaign this Wednesday and there were still a few things he needed to do in preparation before then.
Neville sighed happily as he waited for his computer to boot up. Out of the five of them, he was the luckiest when it came to work stress. Not only did he have a job that he loved and was well suited for, but he didn’t have to deal directly with customers (much) and his boss wasn’t the kind of boss who was constantly breathing down her employee’s necks or asking the impossible for them. Plus the nature of his work didn’t lend itself to a high pressure environment; the plants would grow when they grew and not a moment before (unless he used Green Thumb and gave them a little nudge of encouragement. But that was exceedingly rare for a number of reasons - including the fact that public quirk use like that was... highly discouraged).
Still, it was nice to do something other than gardening; just for the change of pace if nothing else. With a stretch he opened his favorite music streaming site and settled in for a long gaming session.
“Must you?” Harry asked as Draco dragged him out the door.
Draco just rolled his eyes as if to say that yes, he must in response. Harry just sighed. He really should be used to this kind of thing by now; it was hardly the first time that Draco - or Ron - had dragged him off to go do something without even a by your leave on a mutual day off (Neville at least had the courtesy to ask him if he wanted to do the thing before hand). At least he could be sure that Draco wasn’t dragging him to do something he’d absolutely one hundred percent hate, and would respect Harry’s wishes if it turned out that he didn’t actually want to be part of whatever it was that Draco had planned (now if it had been Ron on the other hand, then Draco would be a bit more insistent just so that he could get a rise out of Ron).
It was times like these that Harry almost regretted agreeing to split a house with the others. He was just so... tired... in a way that had (almost) nothing to do with the physical fatigue he felt thanks to the long hours of his job. Sometimes he just wanted to stay home and do nothing. Literally nothing. All day. Of course, if he knew that all he had to do was let Draco that that was what he wanted to do (or at least that he wasn’t really feeling whatever it was that Draco wanted to do; the other man still hadn’t bothered to tell Harry where he was dragging him off to) and that would be that. They may not have been the closest of friends (that spot was reserved for Ron with Neville filling in as a close second), but they were still friends and had each other’s backs in a way (that hadn’t always been that way though. A lifetime ago they’d been bitter rivals).
After about a half hour drive where Draco drove and Harry fiddled around with the radio (much to Draco’s annoyance - which was half the reason Harry had been doing it. The other half was that Harry had been feeling a bit bored and petulant - which was never a good combination) they arrived at Draco’s destination: the mid range full service spa that Draco swore by. Which just went to show that Draco wouldn’t take Harry somewhere he’d absolutely hate (at least not on purpose. Neither of them could have known how much of a disaster that vineyard ended up being and both of them had ended up hating the place. Unsurprisingly they’d heard that it went out of business less than a year later).
Draco, it turned out, had booked them both for the full treatment. First they were led to a plush changing room where they changed out of their clothes and into the loose robe provided for them by the spa. From there they were eased into heated mud baths where they were treated to facials and left to soak. Once they were nice and loosened up, they were rinsed off and escorted to the pool room to soak some more in a succession of cooler and cooler pools. They’d stared out in a nice hot jacuzzi before transitioning into a warm mineral bath (which unfortunately stank of sulfur) followed by some time in a cool one and then finally they ended up with them sitting in a pool containing small fish which were supposed to pick off their dead skin or something (Harry was kind of weirded out by this but Draco, having done this before, was perfectly fine). Then it was off to the sauna to dry off before a light lunch. After lunch they were taken into the massage rooms for full body massages complete with oil and heated stone treatment. Once their hour there was up it was time for mani pedis.
“Feel better?” Draco asked while they waited for their nails to dry (sure it was just a clear coat since neither of them had been interested in using an actual color).
“Yeah.” Harry had to admit. And he was. While work hadn’t been quite as bad after the road trip as it had been before then (he was only pulling sixteen hour shifts instead of the doubles and triples he’d been doing) it was still fairly stressful (even if one discounted how stressful the job was even without having to put in long days), “Thanks.”
“Don’t mention it.” Draco said (carefully) waving away Harry’s thanks, “No really. Don’t.”
Harry laughed at this and settled back into the cushy chair, feeling rejuvenated.
Dazed, Harry blinked and then blinked again. And then he’d blinked once more just for good measure. Something wasn't right. Really not right. He couldn't quite put his finger on what was off, but...
"Hey mate, you alright?"
Harry opened his mouth to answer then closed it. Was he alright? He felt fine; it was just everything else that felt off. But did that mean that he was alright it was just everything else that wasn’t or that everything else was alright it was just him - or rather, his perception of the world around him - that wasn’t. He opened his mouth to answer then closed it. And blinked.
“I’ll take that as a no then.”
Harry opened his mouth to protest. He felt fine. He was fine. The kid had just been shaken up first from the crash and then from seeing a strange man hurting her mother. He wouldn’t go so far as to say that she hadn’t meant to hit him - clearly she had, and he understood why she felt that she had to. CPR could be violent to watch - especially when you didn’t know what CPR was - and he had to be touching a person’s chest just above the heart when he used Stop-Gap which was near enough to where they’d been when he was doing chest compressions.
Harry opened his mouth to protest. He was fine, or he’d be fine as soon as he could cast a counter curse to the confundus charm he’d so obviously been hit with - which he’d do as soon as he found his wand... That he could’ve sworn he was holding...
Before he could even once again blink (or did he blink and it was better to say in the space of a blink), Harry found himself reclined on the gurney in the back of his ambulance with an oxygen mask on his face and his partner Frank taking his pulse. He tried to sit up and pull the oxygen mask off with the hand that Frank wasn’t slipping the pulse oximeter on but he was gently pushed back down.
Before he could even once again blink (or did he blink and it was better to say in the space of a blink), Harry found one of his arms being slung across the shoulder of his partner Mark who was preparing to side along apparate him. He tried to twist out of Mark’s grip to find his wand but Mark held firm
“Don’t worry, we’ll get you back and fixed up right as rain soon enough.” Frank said as someone else started up the ambulance and sped them off towards the hospital.
“But...” Harry protested as he tried to sit up again.
“Don’t worry, we’ll get you back and fixed up right as rain soon enough.” Mark said as he began to apparate them to St. Mungo's.
“But...” Harry protested as he stared forlornly where he thought his wand was.
At the hospital, Harry was wheeled in still struggling to sit up while Frank filled in the doctor who’d met them at the doors about what had happened. They’d responded to the report of a vehicular accident involving three vehicles and, as it turned out, had been the second ambulance on the scene. The crew of the first on scene ambulance was busy tending to the driver of the most damaged car so they checked on the driver and passengers of the next one. The driver - an adult male - of that car had been mostly fine; no apparent broken bones and what looked like just some simple bruises and lacerations with a possible concussion from his head hitting the dashboard. But of the two passengers, one an adult woman the other a small child, the woman had been much worse off. She’d been having trouble breathing and had been barely conscious when they’d gotten to her and began to work on her. At one point her heart had stopped and that was when the trouble had started. Harry had had to use both CPR and Stop-Gap to restart her heart and the child, being too young to understand what was happening as well as being traumatized by the crash, had been convinced that Harry had been trying to hurt her mom and had used her quirk on Harry to get him to stop ‘hurting [her] mummy’. This was actually the first time that the girl had manifested her quirk, so no one knew what it actually did. Harry had been conscious but mentally slow to respond. His pulse had been a bit quick, but his eyes weren’t dilated and responded normally to the pen light.
At the hospital, Harry was brought in still struggling to get to where he believed his wand was while Mark explained what he knew of what happened to the charge witch. They’d been called out to a domestic dispute involving the casting of dark magic. While yes, the couple had been fighting and it had gotten nasty with both spells and accusations flying, there had been no real evidence of dark magic being cast. They managed to get the couple calmed down enough to stop cursing and separated so that they could take the couple’s individual statements when Harry had been shot in the back with an unknown curse by a third party that Mark hadn’t seen. While the effects had been similar to the confundus charm, the confusion didn’t lift after the proper countercurse had been cast.
Harry was admitted overnight for observation. There was no physical damage that they could find. No concussion, brain swelling, bruising of lesions and his blood panel had come back clean. His blood pressure was normal. He wasn’t dehydrated. He wasn’t running a fever or showing other signs of heat exhaustion or sunstroke. His blood sugar was a bit low, but that could easily be explained by him not having eaten anything since lunch six or so hours ago and him having to use Stop-Gap. And even without taking that into account, it still wasn’t low enough for them to be concerned about hypoglycemia. Which meant that it had to have been something to do with the distraught child’s quirk, and unfortunately all they could do at this point was to wait an see if the effect would wear off or until the full nature of the quirk could be discovered and perhaps with it, a way to end the effects (which could very well entail waiting a certain amount of time for the quirk’s effects to wear out).
Harry was admitted to the spell damage ward overnight for observation. The diagnostics spells had not been able to determine what the spell that had hit Harry had been. They hadn’t found any potions in his system or physical damage that could cause Harry’s symptoms. There was no trace of the Imperius curse. Finite Incantum hadn’t worked. None of the common counter curses - including the one that specifically countered the confundus charm (sure, Mark said that he’d already tried that one, but it didn’t hurt to try it again just in case it’d been miscast the first time) - worked. None of the more obscure counter curses worked. Which meant that the only thing they could do at this point was wait to see if the curse’s effects wore off in due time or if they could track down the guy who’d shot him and get him to tell them what spell he’d used.
Harry turned his head to look in the direction of the door to find Draco standing there holding a small potted plant that had clearly come from Neville. Draco took that as an invitation to come in, placing the plant down on the nightstand next to the bed.
“I heard what happened.” Draco stated.
“Obviously.” Harry snorted.
“I won’t bother asking if you’re ok since we both know the answer. So is there anything you need?” Draco asked.
Harry turned his head to look in the direction of the door to find Ron standing there holding a cheap get well soon bear that had clearly been hurriedly transfigured. Ron took that as an invitation to come in, placing the bear down on the nightstand next to the bed.
“I heard what happened.” Ron stated.
“Obviously.” Harry snorted.
“I won’t bother asking if you’re ok since we both know the answer. So is there anything you need?” Ron asked.
After two days of being stuck in the hospital and once the world started feeling ‘right’ (or at least as right as it ever did. There had always been a subtle almost unconscious wrongness that lingered like the dregs of a bad dream even hours after waking that they’d all felt; like there was something missing that they couldn’t put their finger on) Harry was released home to spend the next week or so off on medical leave and under orders to take it easy. They still knew next to nothing about the kid’s quirk (including what it actually did other than make Harry exhibit symptoms similar to someone under the influence of heavy drugs or who had a major concussion. Harry couldn’t even fully explain what he’d experienced under the effects of the quirk; only that it was hard to focus and that everything just felt wrong) and couldn’t be sure that there weren’t any side effects or long term effects since it had seemed to wear off naturally rather than be cancelled or reversed. While Harry was thrilled to get out of the hospital, he wasn’t so happy about the enforced time off or the orders to rest. He did understand why he’d been ordered to stay home and rest; you had to be careful with quirks that affected the brain even when dealing with a quirk who’s effects were well documented since the brain was very important and delicate. And they wanted to make sure that there wasn’t any actual damage to his brain that might affect his job since brain damage wasn’t always visible even with all the modern technology at their disposal. After all, it wouldn’t do to think that this was all over and then have him get into an accident because he had an episode and spaced out while driving the ambulance or mix up the medications he was administering to someone because he’d misread the label on the bottle. Harry just wasn’t looking forward to how boring taking it easy was bound to be or how clingy his roommates would be in their worry over his health (Harry conveniently forgot that he tended to be just as bad when it was one of the others out on sick leave).
Utterly spent, Harry sat listlessly on an old log completely ignoring the energy bar he really should've been eating as evening set in. He was... tired. So very tired. The kind of bone deep weariness that was felt more in the soul than the body (not that he wasn’t physically tired. He’d ended up having to use Stop-Gap too many times that day).
“When I was really young, my gran once told me that they” Ron said softly as he quietly sat down next to Harry, pointing vaguely at the soft blinking glow coming off of the fireflies that lazily flitted about, “were the souls of people who’d died and weren’t sinful enough to merit being sent to hell, but hadn’t been properly baptized and as a result couldn’t get into heaven. Mum kind of just awkwardly herded us kids somewhere else while my Aunt Cathy kinda just... broke down. It wasn’t until I was older that I learned that fireflies - or will o’ the wisps as my gran called them - were just a type of beetle. And that my gran was just being nasty to my Aunt Cathy who’d just had a miscarriage. Nasty piece of work my gran was.”
Harry glanced at Ron before looking back out at the glade they were sat in. It wasn’t that he was ungrateful for the company; at least Ron knew enough not to espouse empty platitudes about how he’d done his best and how he couldn’t save everyone (not even Japan’s legendary number one hero All Might could, and he had one of if not the highest record for number of people saved of any hero in the world - past and present) that pretty much everyone else he’d encountered after everything had given him. He knew that. Sometimes no one found the body until too much time had passed, or the damage was too bad to ever be healed. Or Stop-Gap just didn’t work no matter how much he tried to get it to. It... it wasn’t fair and it didn’t feel right. And it flew in the face of everything he’d sworn to do; to be. He had such a wondrous gift of a quirk that it would’ve been utterly selfish and a waste for him not to use it to help people. But...
Failure was supposed to hurt. If it didn’t, nobody would try to do better the next time. He could’ve done better. He should’ve done better. (It was his fault that his parents had died; he hadn’t even tried to save them).
(Guilt was a familiar, almost comfortable, companion for him; a dark voice whispering in his ear. All the what ifs and should have beens, and pointing out just how selfish he was because it was so obvious just how much more he could do if only he’d put in the effort. It was never enough. It could never be enough. Even if he spent every waking moment spamming Stop-Gap until there was nothing left of him beyond a withered empty husk, it still wouldn’t be enough.)
Harry blinked as Ron took the uneaten energy bar out of his hand and shoved a warm styrofoam cup into it, making sure to keep his hands wrapped around Harry’s so he wouldn’t drop it. “I should’ve seen it coming. I mean, it wouldn’t be the first time that a gang decided to get rid of the merchandise before it could be found and confiscated in a raid.”
“Ron, you couldn’t know. You thought they were trafficking drugs; not people.” Harry pointed out coming out of the funk that losing patients always put him in, “They told you it was just drugs.”
“Doesn’t make me feel any better though. I’m supposed to be the expert. I’m supposed to plan for everything no matter how low a probability it is. That’s how my quirk’s supposed to work right?” Ron countered, making sure that Harry took a drink from the mug (because Harry would never eat after helping with a disaster or villain attack where lives had been lost).
Harry blinked as he absentmindedly drank the hot-sweet-salty drink (some sort of enriched or fortified hot chocolate from the taste of it he idly noted in the back of his mind. Harry was fully aware of how bad at self care he was - especially at times like these. He knew how repeated uses of Stop-Gap ate at energy reserves he all too often didn’t have.To solve this, a number of carefully formulated nutritionally dense high calorie drinks had been devised) “But that’s not how your quirk works. Your projections only work with what information you have. Sure they can be updated if and when you get any new information, but you have to work with what you’re given. If you’re not given the right information, then...”
Harry was well aware of what Ron was trying to do by taking more than his fair share of blame for the cluster fuck the raid had been. Harry would never let Ron blame himself for something that he had no control over - such as not having enough or the wrong information. Therefore, he shouldn’t let himself feel too guilty for not pulling certified miracles out of his ass. He wasn’t god and sometimes people just died no matter what you did; their time was just up and that was that. No one lived forever after all. Harry knew all this; had had this lesson beaten into his head time after time.
But just because you knew something with your head didn’t mean that you knew it with your heart. You felt what you felt regardless of the facts or what reality was. And thanks to what he’d been through growing up, he was pretty fucked up emotionally speaking. Childhood was such a fundamental time in a person’s life and you couldn’t really say what the end effect would be until it was way too late and then suddenly you had a full grown adult trying to work around the lingering trauma and possibly having to fight PTSD to boot. For seventeen long years (more than half his life) he’d been put down by his aunt and uncle; constantly told how worthless he was. No matter how hard he’d tried to please them, to show that he wasn’t the complete fuck up they kept telling him he was, it was never enough. It never could be enough, but that wasn’t because of any inherent fault in him (as his aunt and uncle kept claiming); it was because that there was something wrong with them. It had been their choice to treat him like he was less than dirt. To deny him the basics of regular food and decent clothes that actually fit, push impossible standards and then punishing him when he fell short of their expectations. To poison their friends and neighbors to the point that not even the people who should’ve stepped in and called the proper authorities - such as his teachers - cared to step in and give him the care and protection he had been legally entitled to. The fact that he hadn’t not only turned his back on the society that had failed him (and had never developed the deep distrust of authority that would’ve been so easy to understand given the circumstances), but had sought out a way to help said a lot about how strong his moral fiber was (or it could just be the way his abysmal sense of self worth manifested as a martyr complex; less selflessness and more the abiding idea that everyone else was worth more than he was and therefore came before him).
He was getting better about it. Slowly. Mandatory counseling helped (no doubt he would have to attend at least one therapy session before he was cleared for more than lite duty after this). So did his friends and roommates, who had their own ways of helping (even Draco. Which was an odd thing to think about since one would be forgiven for thinking that Draco would’ve been entirely antagonistic; playing the part of the epic Rival stuck on the opposite side from Harry). Ron was the best at it though. Ron got it. Ron knew what it was like to fail when there were lives at stake. True he’d made a comment earlier about it being his fault that there’d been an accuracy when it came to what exactly the gang had been trafficking in, and someone who didn’t really know Ron might think that he was the one suffering from misplaced guilt (if only because Harry’s guilt complex had kept itself to a totally mental tirade instead of Harry blaming himself out loud). But Harry knew that that was just Ron’s way of saying that it was... not ok because there really wasn’t anything ok about a raid on a human trafficking location... but acceptable? perhaps even expected? to not have been able to save everyone involved. He couldn’t save everyone, no matter how much he wanted to. And that hurt. But that was ok.
He’d done his best. Saved who he could. And managed not to over do it (at least, not too badly) so that he’d be able to save more people once he was all rested up and restored back to what was his normal. After all, you can’t save anyone once you yourself are dead (maybe he could. Sometimes the side effects of his quirk were downright weird. He was in no hurry to test that theory out though).
Harry’s mood slowly shifted from morose at the (senseless) loss of life he’d been dealing with in the aftermath of the raid to contemplative as he sipped at his hot chocolate with extras. Ron sat right by him, handing the previously forgotten energy bar back to Harry at the point where Ron knew from experience Harry would have enough presence of mind to eat it; even if he wasn’t quite with it enough to actually register eating it.
“Souls or beetles, they’re fairly pretty aren’t they.” Harry mused as he absentmindedly munched on the energy bar.
"I don't get it." Neville said after a while.
“Don’t get what?” Harry asked, half his attention on the weird movie playing on the telly.
“Why snakes?” Neville elaborated.
“Well... A lot of people are afraid of snakes - I think it’s one of the most common phobias? And they can get into all sorts of places that wouldn’t seem obvious, which would make for good jump scares when you're suddenly face to face with an unexpected snake.” Harry said in answer.
“When wouldn’t a snake be unexpected?” mused Ron.
“When it’s on display at a zoo, a pet you own or are buying, when you actively go looking for one in the wild...” Harry listed, ticking a finger off with each instance.
“I guess that would make sense.” Ron conceded.
“Ouch!” The pretty young flight attendant (as if there were any other kind in movies like this) said as she drew her hand back from the overhead bin. A hand that was bleeding with two small but not tiny puncture wounds in it. Slowly the head of a black snake with slightly iridescent blue and purple scales lowered into view from the top lip of the overhead bin, casually flicking its tongue before disappearing back up into the dark of the bin.
“Have you noticed that while the snakes are biting people, they’re not actively going after them like I thought they would?” Ron asked.
“It’s not like real world snakes go out of their way to try and bite people.” Percy pointed out.
“That’s not what I meant. Any other movie, and the snakes would be the villains who’s whole purpose was to kill everyone they could.” Ron explained.
“I think I remember seeing mention somewhere about how the guys who made this movie said something about it being more realistic during an interview.” Draco added.
“More realistic my arse.” Harry snorted as he pointed to the screen where the handsome leading man was ‘sucking the poison’ out of the bitten breast of a heavily endowed blonde woman in a shirt cut so low it flirted heavily with the line between decency and indecency. “Sucking out venom like that’s a good way to get you both dead. It won’t remove any of the venom that's already hit the victim’s bloodstream and will envenomate you when you inevitably accidentally swallow some or if you have any open wounds in your mouth. And that’s not taking into account the risk of catching any blood borne diseases that the victim might have. How the hell did she manage to get bit there anyway?”
“Well... maybe it was just the whole snake thing that was supposed to be more realistic? I mean, it’s still a Sanatorium production after all. They’re not exactly known for the quality of their films.” Ron postulated.
“True. At least the acting’s on the decent side of things, and the CGI’s actually surprisingly good. At least I think it’s CGI and not real snakes.” Harry said, squinting a bit to see if he could see what was going on in the movie a bit better.
“I would certainly hope so.” Percy said, chiming in, “It would be highly inadvisable from a health and safety standpoint for both the snakes and the actors to use live snakes like that - especially when there are other avenues such as CGI available.”
“There was that one cannibal horror movie from back in the pre-quirk days...” Neville suggested with a shudder. He’d never actually seen it (very few in this day and age had; the film had been so controversial that it had been banned almost everywhere in the world within five years of it coming out), but he’d certainly heard about it.
“Despite what the persistent rumors would have you believe, no one was ever able to prove that anything illegal had actually happened during the production of that movie.” Percy pointed out, “Which is not to say that it hadn’t deserved the near global ban it received; it was still in very poor taste.”
“Would it still be if it was made today? Or even just later on in the pre-quirk days? I know that gory torture porn horror movies were a big hit for about ten or twenty years at one point. And even now, things like that keep cropping up every now and again.” Ron wondered.
The five of them lapsed into a contemplative silence as they pondered that. It wasn’t a pleasant thought, but Ron might just have a point about that. Overly violent and gory horror movies were nothing new and seemed to surge and recede in popularity on an almost regular scale.
“There were a number of violent slasher films coming out around the same time though.” Percy pointed out as he organized his thoughts.
“Anyway,” Draco said in a blatant attempt to get everyone back on track (that is to say, ripping the movie they were trying to watch apart for the fun of it), “Wait. Did that snake just eat one of the others?”
“Well it is a king cobra, and they are known to subsist almost exclusively on a diet of other snakes.” Percy said with a frown, “Although I don’t know why it would do so in those circumstances, or why the filmmakers would decide to include it in the first place.”
“You don’t think...” Neville started to say, going a bit pale as the implications of his line of thought hit him like a lorry.
“It couldn’t be. Right?” a horrified Ron said as his train of thought caught up to Neville’s and he began to think about what those thoughts implied.
“It wouldn’t be practical.” Harry began, shaking his head, “Venomous snake ownership is even more regulated than large cat or bear ownership. It has to be considering how even experienced venomous snake owners have been accidentally bit despite working with the snake for years. To work with even one on a set, you'd need to have at least one ambulance stocked with enough of the right antivenom on site - and that assumes that both an antivenom for that particular snake species even exists (you'd be surprised how many don't) and that the person who was bit isn’t allergic to either the venom or the antivenom - and a lot of the time you won't find that out until after they start having an allergic reaction. Not to mention that even if the person survives, there's a good chance that of them sustaining permanent injuries such as losing part of a limb if the venom was necrotic and you happened to be bit there. And all that’s on top of everything you need to have any live animal on the set. CGI’s a lot easier and cheaper to use in the long run, and you can get some really good and realistic looking CGI these days.”
“If it’s that hard, then why do it?” Neville asked, more in reference to the amount of regulation involved in owning venomous snakes in general than in reference to using them as part of a movie or tv show. That at least he could somewhat understand, at least a bit. Even with CGI and practical effects as good as they were, they still couldn’t always compare to using the real thing (even if CGI and the more traditional practical effects would’ve been safer for all involved).
“Lots of reasons. Education and conservation efforts since a lot of these snakes are considered endangered or vulnerable species. Developing new or better antivenoms as well as producing those that we already have in order to have a chance of helping those who’ve been bitten. Medical research into the ways that components of the various venoms might be able help people, much in the same way that foxglove was found to be able to help with certain heart conditions. Because you just fell in love with the species; some species - like eyelash vipers or variegated bush vipers which come in an almost literal rainbow of colors - can be downright beautiful and you really shouldn’t discount the thrill of owning something so potentially dangerous. Although I personally feel that that last reason is pretty bullshit.I think that the people who go for the power of it are likely the people most likely to end up getting bit - or getting someone else bit.” Harry listed off.
“I still don’t get the appeal at all.” Ron said with a bit of a shudder of disgust.
“That’s because you don’t like snakes.” Draco pointed out with a bit of a pout (and if he was talking metaphorically as well as literally, well none of them were going to say anything. They were all well aware of what Ron’s opinion of Snakes had been).
With that all said they went back to watching the rest of the movie, laughing at the cheesiness of it.
Percy looked up from the bit of artificial moss that he’d been busy shaping into a medium size in scale shrubbery at the sound of someone - his brother Ron as it turned out - knocked lightly on the doorframe to his room. Ron looked... pensive and quite unlike his usual boisterous self, which had Percy frowning in concern. He quickly put down what he’d been working on and gestured for Ron to come in.
Invitation received, Ron quietly shuffled in and sort of just carefully flopped down on Percy’s bed. Percy’s level of concern went up a notch or two at Ron’s frankly uncharacteristic behavior. Normally, Ron would just come in or ask his question as soon as he had Percy’s attention (and that was if he even bothered to knock in the first place. Sometimes he’d just play up the annoying little brother angle and barge in to say or do whatever fully knowing that in doing so he was going to annoy Percy. Which was kinda the point of it really). Percy got up and sat next to Ron, who kind of just flopped over to lean against his older brother. They sat that way in silence for a while before Ron broke that silence by speaking.
“I talked to Ginny earlier.” he commented in a low voice.
Percy just raised an eyebrow questioningly. On the surface that didn’t seem out of the ordinary or particularly significant; they both kept in contact with the rest of their family on a somewhat regular basis. Percy made a concerted effort to call home at least once a week to say hello and soothe some of his mother’s empty nest syndrome (which was still going strong even years after the youngest Ginny had moved out to give a stab at living on her own)
“Oh, everything’s alright with her. She mentioned something about picking up a new hobby; I think she said that she’s going to be learning to play the guitar...” Ron said in an effort to prevent Percy from thinking that their sister was in the kind of trouble that needed the help (or ‘help’) of somewhere between two and six brothers to sort out, “It’s just... she wasn’t Ginny, you know?”
Percy nodded. He knew exactly what Ron was talking about; how their sister could both be and not be herself.
It wasn’t something that any of them liked talking - or even really thinking - about. It... hurt... in a way that there really weren’t any words for (Plus the whole idea of it was down right crazy; more something that you’d see in a story than something that even could actually happen to people). The long and short of it was that they weren’t from this world; not really.
Oh, they’d been born and grew up here; they had all the proper documentation like birth certificates, school records, and baby photos, and all the proper memories were there (both their own and those of the people they’ve interacted with). But they also had a set of other memories lurking in the back of their heads. Memories of another world. One where heroes and villains only existed in movies, tv shows, and comic books. Where quirks were just funny little things you did like always cutting up your steak before starting to eat it or tapping your foot when you were deep in thought not a unique special ability that you and only you (to a certain extent anyway since there was enough similarity and overlap between the quirks of individuals) had.
Where not only was magic real, but they had the inborn ability to use it.
There was a surprising amount of overlap between their two sets of memories. Ron and Percy still came from a large family, being just two out of a total of seven kids that their parents had had. Draco had grown up in the lap of luxury, being spoon fed a superiority complex in the form of just being around his father’s arrogance without having to deal with the kind of diversity that would give him the first hand examples he would need to know how not to be an arse when out and about in regular society. Neville’s grandmother had gained custody of him after his parents had to be permanently hospitalized. And (poor, poor) Harry. He’d ended up orphaned at an early age and turned over to the (practically nonexistent) care of his maternal aunt and her husband.
But even with all the similarities of the two worlds, there were a number of (often subtle) differences. For one thing (and, ok, this wasn’t exactly a subtle difference), they hadn’t all met each other at school (Percy and Ron being the exception since they were brothers and therefore knew each other for as long as Ron could remember). For another, Ron and Percy hadn’t lost two of their uncles when they’d been younger thanks to terrorist action. Gidian and Fabian were very much alive and kicking despite being horribly injured during a villain attack when Ron was six and Percy was ten.
Everything was the same, but also completely different. Big things like how Ron and Harry had met (in one lifetime, it had been in a train compartment on their way to their first year of magic school. Ron had needed somewhere to sit that wasn’t full and didn’t include a pet tarantula. Harry had conveniently been sitting in an otherwise empty compartment. In other it had been a chance meeting in the hallway of a national hero agency. Ron had been heading off to lunch after a morning of running a bunch of simulations to show where the sidekicks of the top hero needed to better focus on during training. Harry had been brought in for a post action interview and to submit some paperwork pertaining to a villain attack from the week before), or how Neville never had to deal with his extended relatives putting him down and in some cases outright trying to kill him (all apparently with his grandmother's tact approval since she'd never admonished them for it or tried to stop them from doing it. Or at least she hadn't done so wherever Neville could see or hear it) in an effort to get him to perform accidental magic. And small things like what the color the living room rug had been back when they’d started secondary school (a boring but sensible beige in one life, cream in the other. Both had been a bit of a bitch to keep clean the way that Aunt Petunia felt was acceptable especially with the inevitable spills that were a result of Dudley eating and drinking in there while watching the telly despite the fact Aunt Petunia making it clear that one simply Did Not Do That precisely because of the risk of spilling something and staining the carpet. Harry had long since resigned himself to there being two different sets of rules; one for him and one for everybody else), or the way Great Aunt Myrtle's (in)famous ‘homemade’ fruit cake tasted (a bit too much cinnamon and apple brandy instead of too much ginger and dark rum. Either way, it always ended up being too dense and overpowering to really enjoy but since she just so loved making it, you just sucked it up and ate it anyways. Christmas had never been the same since she’d passed; even with following her recipe down to the branding of the ingredients, no one was ever really able to recreate it no matter how hard they tried. And oh they tried).
They’d all remembered it. Hogwarts. The magic. An entire society kept secret with all the wonder and the nastiness that society and the people in it brought with it. They’d remembered and for a long time, they’d all felt alone in their remembering; like they were out of place and didn’t - couldn’t - fit in to the world they’d suddenly found themselves in after fifteen years (nineteen in Percy’s case) of living somewhere else. And then, one by one, they managed to find each other. Someone else who also remembered. Who’d get it when you absentmindedly groped for a wand that wasn’t there because for a moment you forgot that you didn’t have one anymore or when the memories invaded your dreams to the point where you woke up with an terrible ache in your heart and tears you couldn’t shed in your eyes. Because they’d been there, done that, and burned the t-shirt. And they’d banded together in solidarity, deciding to pool their (meger at the time since they were all just getting settled in their respective careers and the pay at the time had somewhat sucked) money together and rent a house together. Because even if maybe you couldn’t always stand the other person but they got you and you got them, it was better than feeling alone and adrift in a world where you just didn’t fit.
“I miss them too.” Percy confessed as he looped a comforting arm around his brother’s shoulder.
A loud boom sounded, shaking the entire house followed shortly by every single light in the place winking out at once. This was followed by the sound of everyone cursing as they found themselves unexpectedly in the dark.
“Everyone okay?” Harry shouted out into the house, as he began to do his best to sort out what had happened with what little information he had (and maybe figure out where his boots had wandered off to since they had the unfortunate habit of doing just that during actual emergencies despite his putting them in the same place every time. If things were as bad as he feared they were - that is, that there was a major power outage rather than just something as simple as them somehow blowing a fuse - then there was a very good chance that he’d be called in to help deal with the increase in medical emergencies that there would no doubt be).
“I’m fi... OW!” Neville shouted back as he managed to bang into... something... he misjudged the location of.
One by one, they began to emerge from their various rooms and make their way - carefully - to the living room. Ron had the easiest time of it. He just ‘cheated’ and activated his quirk, using Tabletop to create a miniature chess board (his go to when he was using his quirk but wasn’t focusing on a specific game or scenario) on top of the first book he’d grabbed. As Tabletop manifested as something between a holographic and hard light projection (in that it was solid enough that it had a physical presence but was transparent enough to be seen through), it gave of a gentle glow that, while not enough to really see by, at least meant that he had a better chance of not walking into or tripping over something he hadn’t been able to see because of the darkness. Percy immediately went to get a torch so that they’d have some sort of light to see by while Draco made his way to the window to check on the rest of the neighborhood.
“Looks like it’s a proper blackout.” Draco commented as he looked out at the darkened street.
“We should still check the breaker box just in case.” Percy said, turning on his torch to do just that.
“I wonder what happened.” Neville asked as he helped Ron dig out their emergency supplies from the closet they kept it in.
“It could’ve been a lightning strike.” Ron pointed out as he tried to figure out where the bowling ball he was holding came from since none of them actually bowled (probably Draco’s. The blonde had a habit of bringing home the oddest things; like he was some strange oversized magpie. At least he was good about not bringing home so much stuff that they’d have to stage an intervention for his obvious - to them - hoarder problem), “We all felt and heard the thunderclap after all.”
“Was it though?” Draco questioned. “I mean we all heard and felt something. But was it a thunderclap or something else? Because I’m not seeing any rain.”
“Just because it’s not raining here, doesn’t mean that it isn’t raining somewhere else.” Ron pointed out.
“You would think that a thunderclap as close as that would’ve had to be given how loud it was and the fact that we were able to feel it would be close enough for the rain to hit us.” Draco countered.
“While it is rare, dry lightning storms do happen.” Percy interjected as he came back, “Luckily none of the fuses blew, so we should be fine once the power’s restored.”
Neville emerged from the depths of the closet triumphantly with the emergency supply bag. He carefully made his way over to the coffee table while Ron began to put back everything they’d ended up taking out while they were looking for their emergency supplies. Once Neville reached the coffee table, he began to methodically empty the bag. Harry grabbed the emergency radio as soon as Neville had taken it out and began to wind it up so that it would have enough power to work once they’d turned it on. Neville turned on their battery operated lantern for light.
“I’m still not convinced.” Harry confessed, “As weird as it is to say it, it just doesn’t feel like it was lightning.”
“It wouldn’t be the first time some drunk or high idiot’s managed to take out a substation.” Draco pointed out as he finally turned away from the window and began to make his way back to where everyone else was gathered, “And that’s not taking into account any idiot who’d do it stone cold sober just to make some stupid point or another.”
“You would need to have the right quirk for it though.” Ron said as he cancelled the chess game he’d created earlier for light once he’d found out that the power had been knocked out. He quickly set up a different board on the coffee table, this one a mockup of a street map with a square clearly designated as an electrical substation. Small dots of various colors lit up and began moving around the map, “Not that that would be too difficult if you really think about it. You would think that someone would either need to have an explosive quirk or one that allowed you to create and detonate explosives, but really any quirk that affected the physical world would work. The main issue is knowing how and where to apply the quirk in order to ensure that the substation was destroyed enough to cause a disruption of service.”
“You’ve sure thought about this enough. Is there something you’d like to tell us?” Draco snarked goodnaturedly.
“It’s kind of my job to think about these kinds of things.” Ron shot back, “I’d be pretty rubbish at it if I couldn’t come up with a bunch of possibilities for any one scenario.”
“It also assumes that the problem is that a substation went down. It could always be a downed line causing a cascade of outages as other lines try to take over the load and fail due to the power load ending up being higher than they can actually handle. Or there could be an issue with one of the power plants higher up the line.” Percy said, “The sad fact is that we just don’t have enough information about what happened to do more than speculate. And we won’t know more until the details are made public - which could be days from now. If such details are ever made public in the first place.”
“At least we won’t have to worry too much about food or water even if it takes a few days to restore power. We’re probably going to end up having to toss most of what’s in the fridge, but we have plenty of canned and dry goods to last us a while - plus there’s everything in the garden. A lot of the vegetables are coming in already so I wouldn’t even need to really encourage anything to ripen.” Neville said calmly.
“Do we even have enough food in the fridge to really worry about it going bad?” Draco asked, “I know that we needed to do a grocery run sooner rather than later...”
“I guess it depends; Things like the eggs, butter, and condiments should be fine even if it takes a few days for the power to come back. It’s more the things in the freezer that I’m worried about than anything in the fridge itself; it is fairly full right now since we recently put up a bunch of precooked ready meals for the days when we don’t really have that much time to cook.” Percy said, thinking it over.
“Be a bit of a waste to toss all that out - especially since we don’t know when we’ll be able to properly restock it. But needs must and all that rot. At least we’re not stuck with a useless electric cooker and we do know how to cook; that’d be a royal pain sure enough. Imagine having to eat a tin of soup cold or being stuck with nothing but peanut butter and jelly sandwiches because you had no way of heating food up. Not that there’s anything wrong with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches; I just don’t think I could eat that and only that for however long it takes to get the power back on.” Ron said.
“Like that would ever happen.” Draco snorted, referring to Ron’s mention of there only being peanut butter and jelly sandwiches being available, “Between your, Harry’s, and Percy’s insistence on disaster preparedness, we’ve got enough Emergency Food Rations stocked up to last a month stranded in a forest with nothing else but. And we still have that camp stove that we’ve never used.”
Ron shrugged, “As my mom liked to say, better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it. Me and Harry’ve seen what happens when someone’s not prepared for an emergency; it isn’t pretty. Hell, sometimes it’s even the difference between surviving an emergency and not. And Percy’s... Percy.”
“While I might not see the results of a lack of preparedness as directly as you and Harry, I still do have to deal with them at work. It doesn’t take that much extra effort to ensure that we are well prepared, and when you consider the alternative...” Percy pointed out. As far as he (and Harry and Ron) was concerned, it was only sensible to be properly paranoid and prepare for it.
A knock on the door interrupted them. Harry answered it to find one of his coworkers standing there. He’d kind of been expecting something like this to happen; nighttime conditions plus traffic lights being out meant that there were going to be a number of accidents because way too many people didn’t know how to drive in emergency conditions like this and had a sad tendency to just keep going on like everything was normal - which meant that they wouldn’t treat intersections with traffic lights like they had all way stop signs instead (although to be fair, way too many people simply just treated stop signs like they were suggestions - for other people).
“Thank you for agreeing to meet with me.” Severus Snape said as he sat down at the small table.
“It’s not a problem at all. I’m just sorry that it took me so long to do so.” Harry reassured him.
“I heard about what had happened. It shouldn't come as a surprise that someone in your profession would be more than a bit busy." Snape said as he took a sip of his tea.
"You'd be surprised." Harry snorted bitterly.
"Oh?" Snape queried, waiting for Harry to elaborate.
"Some of our more... colorful... patients were... less than forgiving... about the disruption to our usual workload." Harry said carefully. Talking about the patients he’d had to treat and transport was a tricky thing. On one hand one shouldn’t insult the people who were effectively their customer base and medical privacy was a thing, but on the other hand paramedics, doctors, and nurses were still human and no matter where you worked you needed a way to complain about the stupid, the entitled, the scammers, and the other bad faith actors so that all the stress they added didn’t overwhelm and cause an Inccident with the inevitable snap brought on by not being able to let off steam regarding a bad (or even just heavily annoying) day at work.
"More fools them." Snape said derisively.
Harry and Snape descended into an awkward silence as they drank their drinks. Neither was quite sure how to breach the subject at hand. It wasn’t really the kind of thing that would naturally come up in conversation. Plus neither of them were particularly good at making small talk; Snape didn’t have the patience or personality for it being the no nonsense somewhat cantankerous bastard he was and Harry just didn’t have the experience not really having anyone to develop the skills with back in his formative years when such typical social interactions were taught to children.
“So...” Harry began carefully, not wanting to piss Snape off by thinking that he was trying to waste Snape’s time by beating around the bush too much, “I know it’s kinda stating the obvious here, but you Remember.”
Snape nodded. It was obvious since if he hadn’t Remembered, then he would never have had the need to track down and look up some random bloke he ran into in a petrol station’s men's room a couple of months ago.
“I also won’t bother to ask you if you Remember exactly what happened to send us here. No matter how hard we try, none of us can despite the fact that it should’ve been the last thing any of us remembered.” Harry said, continuing on. He did have a point to all this rambling; he was just finding it increasingly hard to both know what he wanted to ask and to get around to actually asking it.
Again Snape nodded. And maybe living in this world had had an effect on him, or he was trying to be polite about it but he made no motion of asking Harry to ‘get on with it’; which is something that the old Professor Snape Harry knew would have done (and actually had on occasion). That or he too was struggling with the whole getting on with it thing, and as a result wasn’t about to call Harry out on it lest he then be called on to get the conversation going. Still, they would only be able to pussyfoot around the subject for so long before they either had to actually get to the meat of the subject or give it all up as a bad job that would likely have to be revisited sometime else (it was not like they could just sit in the cafe all day no matter how many pastries or cups of tea they bought to justify being there in the first place).
Harry took a fortifying breath, and... Come to think of it, what exactly did he want to ask Snape. None of the questions that came to mind seemed right, “Why is this so bloody hard” he ended up practically snarling in frustration.
“Was it difficult with Draco?” Snape asked. Given the circumstances in which he had met Harry, he knew that Harry knew Draco. Draco had been too miserable and ill at the time for Snape to confirm that he too Remembered, but he was confident that that had been the case.
Harry went to say that that was different, but stopped before he could do more than open his mouth a little. That was the point that Snape was trying to make (at least, that’s what Harry thought it was). The truth of the matter was that it hadn’t been this difficult with the others. He hadn’t really expected to run into the others (except maybe Percy, and that was only because Ron had invited him to come meet his brother), and they just kind of... clicked. And then it was the five of them, and they all knew that the other four knew, and then before any of them had known it they were all moving into the same house together. He couldn’t even really put his finger on why Draco and the others had been different. Sure Ron had been his best friend back Before, and after roughly five years of sharing a room he’d been close to Neville even if they hadn’t been as close as him and Ron. But he hadn’t considered himself to be that close to Draco, what with the whole being bitter adversaries thing that they’d had going on (although it kind of made sense if he actually took the time to think about it. Sure they were the furthest thing from friends, but just because they didn’t like each other all that much didn’t mean that they didn’t know one another). And he hadn’t been close to Percy (mostly because of the age gap between them), but Ron had been, so he hadn’t questioned it.
But with Snape... Maybe it was actually simple and he was just overcomplicating things because this was Professor Snape and somehow that put everything in a whole different category (but then, when had anything in his dealings with Professor Snape been simple and straightforward. Why would this be any different).
“I cannot help you figure out what you wish to ask, or make it any less awkward than it already is.” Snape said calmly, slipping slightly into the same cadence he had used back when he was teaching Harry potions, “What I can tell you is that I was unaware that there might be others who Remembered until I saw you and Draco.
“What now?” Harry asked, feeling a bit lost in a way he hadn’t in a long time.
“We return to our normal lives.” Snape casually stated. Harry went to protest; it just didn’t seem right for that to happen. He had Ron, Neville, Percy, and Draco to understand what it was like while Snape had no one to do that for him (at least, as far as he knew. Just because Snape hadn’t mentioned any of the others, it didn’t mean that he was unaware of anyone else who Remembered like they did) and Harry couldn’t just let that stand; not when he could actually do something about it (no one, not even Professor Snape, deserved to be isolated like that). Snape held up a hand to stop him before he said anything, “We each have our own lives and obligations, and I for one am not willing to drop everything and relocate to a new city simply for the convenience of being closer to you and the others. That does not mean that we can’t keep in contact or visit when it’s convenient. Burbage is only about a two hour drive from Birmingham depending on traffic, which is far from an insurmountable distance, and there is always phone calls and email for the times when visiting in person isn’t practical or desirable.”
“I guess.” Harry said, starting to fiddle with his cup. This visit was sure turning out to be an emotional rollercoaster, and he really wasn’t sure what to think; about anything. Maybe he’d been working too hard (but then again, when wasn’t he) and all the overtime thanks to the blackout a couple of weeks ago was melting his brain. Or maybe it was that meeting up with Professor Snape again was stirring up too many complicated emotions from back Before. They hadn’t been on the best of terms after all; even taking into account the whole teacher/student from notoriously rival Houses, theirs had been a contentious relationship with Harry reminding Snape of both of his parents (and the complications that brought about. Snape hated James Potter but had loved Lily and even fourteen years later still felt guilty for the part he’d played in their deaths) and Snape pushing a lot of the buttons that Harry hadn’t even known that he’d had by unknowingly embodying a lot of the more undesirable traits of Harry’s aunt and uncle (unequal treatment of students based on their House and his personal opinion of them, verbal abuse and other bullying tactics used on those who’d managed to get on his bad side; often for things that were beyond their control - such as being the son of someone he hated).
“Do you think that there’s others like us out there?” Harry asked as he finished his tea.
“I think that it is fairly likely. Whatever it was that happened had to have some sort of substantial area of effect to catch us, Draco, Mister Longbottom, and both Mister Weasleys. Unfortunately neither of us have any way of knowing how many other people got caught up in the effect, who they are, or even if they ended up in this world as opposed to some other world that we don’t know.”
“Draco?” Harry prompted, caught up a bit on the phrasing of that. It seemed a bit unusual that Snape would use Draco’s given name but refer to the others by their family ones.
“He is, or rather was, my godson.” Snape pointed out.
“Did you know my mother here?” Harry asked, getting a bit curious about other possible changes between the worlds. (It would be nice to get to know someone who had known his parents - and wasn’t his aunt and uncle since the only things that they’d had to say about the matter wasn’t complimentary; and possibly not true if Harry went by what they’d told him back when he was a wizard. There’d been no Padfoot or Mooney who’d gone to school with them, or teachers of theirs who remembered them fondly and could be persuaded to share a story or two if begged).
Snape shook his head, and looked at his watch. “I’m afraid that I hadn’t had that pleasure. Nor did I have the displeasure to attend school with your father. And on that note, I’m afraid that it is time for me to be going. It was not a burden to speak with you; perhaps we can arrange to do so again at another time.”
Harry glanced down at his empty cup before nodding goodbye at Snape. “Maybe next time I can ask Draco or one of the others to come as well.”
Neville simply wasn't getting paid enough for this shite. To be fair, he wasn't exactly sure how much would be enough (assuming of course that such an amount even existed). Whatever amount that was though, it was way more than he was currently making.
Normally Neville loved his job. Sure it wasn’t very prestigious and it was far from high paying, but it let him be around plants - really getting right down there in the dirt with them - which was something that he loved to do. And being more involved with the ‘production’ end of things rather than the sales end, he didn’t even have to deal with customers all that much (which was a plus as far as he was concerned because he was a bit on the timid and shy side of things. Not to mention that he tried to avoid confrontation like the plague. Which is not to say that he was a total doormat; at least, not anymore anyway).
Of course not having to deal with customers all that much didn’t mean that he never had to deal with customers. Sometimes everyone was busy (or had called off) and he was literally the only one available. Sometimes the customer had a bunch of complicated questions that he was the best to answer (if for no other reason than that he’d been the one responsible for growing the particular plants and thus knew the most about them). Every now and again a customer asked for him by name to help them (in this case, it was usually a regular who’d dealt with him before or someone such a regular knew and had recommended Neville to).
And then there were times like this when one of his coworkers decided that the best way to deal with a customer who they felt was being impossible was to pawn them off on him.
To be fair to his coworkers, Neville was kind of the best person to help the customer. She had very exacting specifications as to what she was looking for, and Green Thumb let Neville fulfill those specifications even if they didn’t have anything that fit in stock at that time (at least, to a certain point. For one thing, he couldn’t grow something that he didn’t have a seed or cutting for. And for another, he was limited to what was physically possible for any particular plant so the only way he could grow a blue rose was if someone had somehow managed to breed them in the first place and he got his hands on it). And it wasn’t like she was yelling and throwing insults and curses all over the place like some other difficult customers were. Hell, she seemed okay enough with the prospect of an additional charge if Neville had to physically manipulate plants (like it was looking more and more like he was going to have to) and wasn’t mentioning anything about how she’d better be getting a discount after all the trouble she was going through. But at the same time, she just wasn’t happy with any of the options Neville had come up with.
It was for her wedding you see, and everything had to be absolutely perfect or the day was going to be utterly ruined. Which was understandable, if a bit hyperbolic (because when you got right down to it, what bride didn’t feel that way when in the middle of planning her wedding). And on the surface what she was asking for (thirty plants to act as centerpieces for the tables during the reception) wasn’t anything out of the ordinary (in fact, it seemed to currently be in fashion right now). The problem came in the fact that she was completely unwilling to compromise in any way, and what she was asking for was basically impossible.
Neville could do lotuses (in fact, he had done lotuses before, although those all had been incorporated into ponds and other water features). They might not be the easiest thing for him to grow (that, by the way, would be grasses, mosses, and lichens), but they were well within his capabilities. He even thought that live lotuses would make absolutely beautiful centerpieces. The problem was that the customer needed the lotuses to be the right shade of pink and completely uniform in color. And all thirty plants had to be completely identical with no variations whatsoever.
Even just one of those factors made the bride-to-be’s request impossible. Unless they were pure white, lotus blossoms naturally had some degree of gradation to their petals; it was just the way the plant was. And to get exact copies of a particular flower like the customer wanted, you’d have to have someone use some sort of duplication quirk on the original one (and the only person with any sort of duplication quirk Neville actually knew was Percy - although Ron did come awfully close at times - and his quirk only worked on paperwork). If Neville was being honest, she really should have just gone with artificial flowers since that was actually the best way to get the effect she wanted. But that was simply Not An Option for her.
Neville was running out of lotus seeds. None of the pink lotuses were exactly right, although a few did come kind of close. His suggestion of going with white lotuses and dying them the correct shade of solid pink was shot down; she didn’t want the flowers to look fake after all (which was her main objection to going the artificial flower route). It was clear that the customer was getting more and more unhappy the longer this took, complaining about how easy this should be and starting to insinuate that it was Neville’s fault that this was taking so long and that he was being difficult on purpose (and possibly trying to ruin her wedding on purpose). Neville was also getting frustrated the longer this drew out (albeit about her refusal to bow to reality and accept something even if it was less than perfect since in the end it didn’t really matter if things didn’t match her ‘vision’ of how things were supposed to go; so long as she ended up legally married to the person she loved and the guests had a good time, it would be fine. Hell, chances were people wouldn’t even know that things had gone off plan since only the people involved in planning the wedding would even know what the plan was to begin with), and tired as he grew and ungrew plant after plant after plant while they looked for the perfect one.
Suddenly Neville had an armful of crying bride-to-be. “There, there. It’ll all be alright?” he said awkwardly patting her shoulder. He desperately looked around for someone - anyone - else willing to help him deal with this newest development, but of course there was no one around to come to his rescue (typical really). The bride-to-be just started crying harder and Neville began to panic more (so sue him; he was barely good enough with his own emotions, let alone anyone else’s).
“My wedding will be ruined!” she wailed, completely inconsolable.
“I’m sure it’ll be absolutely lovely and not at all ruined, even if the lotuses are slightly off color.” Neville placated as he tried to lead the bride-to-be over to a nearby bench, “Once the lotus centerpieces are in place, all your guests will see is their beauty and how well they fit in with the rest of the decorations.”
This, it turned out was the wrong thing to say as the bride-to-be broke into a fresh wave of tears. “You don’t understand!”
“Then help me understand.” Neville pleaded (cacti he decided. He was so going to ‘gift’ his coworkers with cacti for this).
“Everything has to be perfect. Absolutely perfect.” the bride-to-be hiccuped in between her tears, “If it’s not...”
“Your fiance’s not going to... hurt you... is he?” Neville asked carefully, going from panicked to enraged at the thought of potential spousal abuse in the space of a second.
The bride-to-be shook her head. “My Bryce would never do something like that. He wouldn’t even hurt so much as a fly.”
“You must love him very much.” Neville said softly.
The bride-to-be nodded. “Of course I do. Bryce is such a good and kind man. He’s always willing to stop and help someone in need, and he’s so gentle and patient with his nieces and nephews - he even volunteers to change their diapers if it’s needed, just to give their parents a break. To think that he’d give a plain Jane like me even a second look... That’s why this has to be absolutely perfect. I simply cannot let him down.”
Neville could understand where the bride-to-be was coming from. Clearly she had some self esteem issues and didn’t see herself in a good light (much like Neville himself did. Being the fat quiet kid at school had done nothing for his social life - as in he hadn’t really had one - and he’d always felt that he came off as lacking when compared to his father at home. Not that his family had actively been comparing them - mostly - but he could’ve just sort of... tell. If a pretty girl had come up to him and said that she liked him... Well suffice to say that he could see where the bride-to-be was coming from). Neville was happy that she’d found someone who loved her and she could love back. “If Bryce is as good and kind as you say he is - and I’m absolutely sure that that’s the case - then there’s no way that you can let him down; even if everything isn’t perfect.”
“I... But...” the bride-to-be sputtered, looking torn and utterly lost.
“I know I’m not married or anything, but I’ve worked with my fair share of brides and grooms. And if there’s one thing I’ve picked up from all that, it’s that this wedding is all about you and your fiance. Yes your guests are important, and you do want them to enjoy themselves - that’s just part of being a good host, BUT this is your’s and your fiance’s day. They are the ones coming to celebrate you two. No guest - not even your family or his - gets to dictate what your wedding’s going to be like. And if they don’t like what you two decide, then they can just not go; but that’s entirely on them if they do.” Neville gently pointed out. There were exceptions of course. Whoever was actually paying for everything had some say in things since it was their money and all. And it was in poor taste to not take medical issues such as allergies or disabilities into account. But even then there were limits on how much they could dictate since there was no law that said that a couple had to have a full on wedding ceremony and reception; as long as the marriage license was legally signed, it could be just them and a witness or two at the local courthouse.
“Thank you. You’ve given me a bit to think over. I think I need to think it over a bit before I make a decision.” the bride-to-be stammered, before girding her loins and beating a hasty but dignified retreat. As soon as she was out of sight, Neville sighed in relief and began putting away all the lotuses.
“Why are we here again?” Draco asked, whining slightly.
“Because we really don’t have any other choice.” Harry replied sourly.
‘Here’ was the overly plush and frankly more off putting than actually comforting waiting room of one Alexander Horowitz, professional head shrink and unofficial whiny pain in the butt. Not that Harry or any of the others had anything against those working in the field of mental health (in fact, they regularly gave them props since they fully understood how difficult and important a job it was) - in general. This very particular practitioner however...
Alexander Horowitz had a theory you see; one that he believed would completely revolutionize the entire field of mental health, turning him into the next Sigmund Frued or Carl Jung. The only thing holding back, he was thinking, was the closed mindedness of the rest of the professionals in the mental health field who clung stubbornly to the old ways of thinking. If he could just prove that his innovative new method worked - that is, he could show off a bunch of patients who were cured of all their psychological ills thanks to his method - why then he’d be set for life.
The main problem with this, is that his ‘revolutionary’ method was pure bullshite. It straight up didn’t work because he was in essence trying to cure the incurable. Most mental illnesses were chronic conditions that relied on a complex web of strategies woven together to help a patient reach a point where they could not only function in life, but perhaps even begin to thrive a little. Sometimes this meant talking things out with a trusted therapist to examine complicated thoughts and emotions before they could be properly processed. Sometimes it meant cognitive or behavioural therapy to help develop healthy coping mechanisms and redirect destructive behaviours into nondestructive ones. Sometimes it meant regularly taking prescribed medication to even out chemical balances. And, yes, sometimes it even meant exchanging freedom and complete autonomy for the safety and security of being institutionalized. Then there were the things that weren’t even mental illnesses and thus didn’t need to be cured on account of not being wrong in the first place. Such as a woman not simply not wanting to get married and have kids , or a grown man wanting to relax after a hard day of work by reading a comic book. (And let’s not mention his feelings about the whole LBGTQA+ community were)
He hadn’t been able to attract many clients, and had had difficulties when it came to retaining them. Most of his client base ended up being parents looking for someone to straighten (often quite literally) out their kids and since that wasn’t giving him the exposure he needed to get the rest of the mental health field to take him and his method seriously, he’d turned to other avenues to drum up clients. Namely he made such a nuisance of himself that a cousin of his in the hero oversight organization ‘greatly encouraged’ various heroes to start attending therapy sessions - specifically his (and by greatly encouraged, I mean that he heavily implied that they might just end up getting their hero licence revoked.) - just to get him to shut up about it. It was barely legal and in no way ethical, but what realistically speaking was Harry going to do. He felt that he couldn’t afford to lose his hero license; not if he wanted to keep his current clearance. So here they were (because apparently it wasn’t ‘normal’ for a bunch of guys to live together once they’ve all finished with their formal schooling).
Harry knew that he was messed up. They all were in one way or another (even if you don’t take the whole Remembering thing into account). Draco had spent his life being groomed into a miniature version of his father, complete with all the arrogance and bigoted attitude that the elder Malfoy held. Both Percy and Ron had felt unnoticed and underappreciated (Percy due to his quiet studious nature and Ron for being the youngest son but not the youngest child) thanks to growing up in a rather large family. Neville had had it almost as bad as Harry; orphaned at a young age (even if his parents were still technically alive) and constantly put down and dismissed by his family (and then there was the issue of the regular attempts on his life from one of his uncles who had been ‘only trying to help him discover his quirk’ that no one ever did anything to stop or speak out against). And then there was Harry and his abusive past (the less said - or thought - about that, the better). But they were managing to function quite well in polite society despite their issues.
“Well, we know that you and Ron don’t have a choice. But why the hell are the rest of us here?” Draco asked; it was a legitimate question. Yes the five of them shared a house, but it wasn’t like they didn’t all have their own lives and friends outside of their little circle. (Okay, so Harry didn’t have much in terms of outside friends but that was more a result of his having a very demanding job that didn’t leave him with much free time to begin with and usually too tired to do anything when he did).
“Look” Ron said shortly, “I want to do this just about as much as you do. We might have to be here, but he can’t make us tell him anything or listen to anything we’re saying.”
“Like he won’t slam us into some subpar funny farm so fast our heads’ll spin if he doesn’t like how we’re acting.” Draco snarked back.
“He can try.” Harry snorted, “Worst he can legally do is slap us with an psychiatric observation
hold; and that’s only for seventy two hours at most. Plus his reputation’s so far down the toilet that no reputable psychologist would honor that.”
“And a disreputable one?” Draco asked. It was a legitimate question since it wasn’t impossible for someone running a psychiatric institution to be corrupt enough to lock them up and throw away the key on only this quack’s say so. After all, if everyone (else) were such upstanding moral citizens they wouldn’t be here in the first place.
“Do you know how much of a ruckus would be raised if any of us – never mind all of us - just up and disappeared one day? It wouldn’t take long for someone to find out that the last place we’d been was here, and from there...” Harry pointed out, “I don’t think anyone involved would enjoy being exposed like that, or what the consequences of getting caught out will be.”
“I’m surprised he’s been allowed to get away with this for as long as he has.” Neville said mildly.
“First, seeing as he’s a therapist and not a psychiatrist or a psychologist, he’s fairly free to run his practice as he sees fit given that therapists are not held to the same licensing and oversight standards as psychiatrists or psychologists are. Second, as long as his clients are happy with his services there is no reason for anyone to intervene. So long as dissatisfied clients don’t complain or take legal action and simply seek treatment elsewhere instead, there’s nothing that can be done. Third, he’s not the one who’s actually going to get into trouble since there wouldn’t be any proof of wrongdoing and he isn’t actually doing anything illegal.” Percy pointed out with a frown. Perhaps it was a result of his law abiding nature, or having had to deal with smarmy fraudsters and scammers over the course of his work, but this kind of person really rubbed him the wrong way. (Although to be fair, this kind of thing rubbed all of them the wrong way. There was just something about slimy people who thought that ethics and morals were for other people that just... irked.)
“Harry Potter, Mr. Horowitz will see you now.” the receptionist called out blandly before Draco could point out that no one had actually answered his question. Harry took a fortifying breath and stood; ready to wage battle in this farce.
“So... What exactly happened again?” Ron asked his brother as they walked into the large home improvement store.
“Mum had Cathy and her kids over and Alice managed to get trapped in Ginny’s old room when the door got stuck. Mum might've panicked a bit and decided that the best way to get her out was to break down the door with a hammer, so now they need a new door since the original one now has a bunch of holes in it." Percy replied, glancing around to see if he could get enough of an idea about the layout of the store from the entranceway.
“What was Alice doing in Ginny’s room in the first place?” Ron asked. He quickly snagged one of the last carts available since he didn’t feel like toting a door all over the place and was pretty sure that his brother felt the same way.
“That was not something I was ever told.” Percy said with a frown. Technically, it hadn’t been Ginny’s room since their parents had converted all their old bedrooms into guest bedrooms after they had all moved out and into their own homes, so it wasn’t as if Alice had been invading Ginny’s privacy or anything. But old habits - or in this case, thought patterns - were hard to break. The fourth room on the right on the second floor, just above the pantry part of the kitchen would always be Ginny’s (and also Ron’s back when they both had been too little for their being different genders to actually matter with these kinds of things).
“So did dad say what kind of door they were looking for as a replacement? Or why they wanted us to pick it up?” Ron asked as he began to steer them towards the left hand end of the store.
“Because Ginny’s out of the country right now and it was either us or the twins?” Percy said, answering Ron’s second question as he looked up each aisle as they passed it, “He just said that they wanted a regular door.”
Ron just nodded at that. It might not narrow down the possibilities too much since there was such a wide range of styles available, but it did give them at least a little bit of an idea about what they were looking for (not that either of them actually knew the name of the type of door they were looking for; only what it wasn’t).
They had just reached the spot where the tool section transitioned into the lighting section when a frazzled looking older woman approached them. “Excuse me, I know you don’t work here, but would mind helping me? It’s just that I’ve been looking for an employee for so long and I can’t quite reach the bulb I need...” she asked with a note of desperation in her voice
“Of course.” Percy said agreeably. He honestly didn’t mind helping people like this (his mother had made sure to drum such courteousness into all of them - including Ginny since good manners were good manners no matter what your gender was). Besides it wasn’t like they were on so tight a schedule that taking a minute or two out of his day to help someone who needed it would be an onerous burden. (Not that grabbing a single pack of lightbulbs off a high shelf actually took a literal minute). The lady thanked both of them profusely before scurrying off in the direction of the cashier.
They’d barely made it to the next aisle when someone behind them cleared their throat and tapped Percy on his shoulder (or at least, they tried to since they were about a foot shorter and ended up just poking him in the back below his shoulder blade). Percy turned to face them, a politely neutral look on his face.
“Well, aren’t you going to help me.” the woman who’d poked Percy demanded.
“Why would he?” Ron asked in an honestly confused voice, as if the idea was a truly novel one (which it really wasn’t. While Ron couldn’t be one hundred percent certain what the rude woman was thinking seeing as he wasn’t a telepath, it was fairly obvious to him that she thought that Percy worked there despite that what he was wearing wasn’t anything close to the store’s uniform) before Percy could reply.
The woman looked taken aback for a moment before her face clouded over. For a moment, it looked like she was going to scream at Ron about how rude he was being (maybe she thought that Ron was also an employee? Weirder things have happened after all, and it wasn’t like the woman seemed all that concerned with little details such as who worked - or didn’t work - where) but seemed to get a (brief) attack of sense and instead decided to completely ignore him. “I want a large chandelier; one of the ones with real crystals. I know you have them; they were on the website.”
“I’m sorry, but I don’t work here.” Percy replied with a frown. This was apparently the wrong thing to say as the woman lost whatever pretense of composure and ‘politeness’ she had. She gasped loudly, like Percy had just verbally slapped by questioning her and her family’s romantic proclivities and ancestry in the crudest terms known to man (or even, that he had up and physically slapped her. You never really knew with people like this).
“How rude!” she proclaimed, “If you refuse to do your job, then get me your manager!”
“Lady, like he said, he doesn’t work here.” Ron said, all pretense of his earlier obfusticating naivety dropped as his short temper fizzed to life. He turned his attention to Percy in an attempt to rein in his temper before he did something foolishly impulsive, “Come on. I think the doors are in the back.”
Percy tuned out the woman’s ranting (which was not as easy as it should seem since she was being rather loud and starting to cause a bit of a scene as she berated Percy and threatened to have him fired for his insubordination) as they turned up the aisle they were at. Much to the brother’s annoyance, the woman turned out to be rather persistent. She followed them all the way through the lamps and past the plumbing fixtures in the next couple of aisles over, loudly berating them and demanding a manager the whole while. Ron saw an employee quickly disappear from sight out of the corner of his eye as their impromptu procession passed by (not that he could blame her. He wouldn’t want to have anything to do with the ranting woman if he could help it either. He did hope that she was going to get a manager or - better yet - security rather than just running away before she was picked out as the woman’s next target since seeing as she did work there, she’d have to put up with the woman’s attitude with a smile. Ron was under no illusions that what the woman wanted wasn’t something that was possible for her to get and she clearly wasn’t good at being told no).
They (and their unwanted hanger on) eventually found their way to where the doors were and were in luck. There were only five styles of ‘regular’ doors: a solid unembellished wooden panel, two with six evenly placed inset panels, and two with only two inset panels. The solid panel door and one each of the other styles didn’t come with a pre-cut hole for a doorknob or handle while the other two did.
“So which one do you think?” Ron asked Percy (a bit louder than he normally would since the woman hadn’t taken the hint and gone away. Ignoring her wasn’t the easiest thing to do since she was making such a spectacle of herself that it was hard not to, but both Ron and Percy had decided that it was likely the best course of action that they could take).
“I think the two panel with the pre-cut hole if they have it in oak. It’d be the best match to the rest of the doors in the house and the pre-cut hole will make installing it easier since we won’t have to worry about getting everything lined up properly to make the proper hole for a door knob.” Percy replied. He removed his glasses for a moment and began to massage his eyes and the bridge of his nose; the woman’s screeching was starting to give him a headache and make his temper flare (which anyone who knew him was not a good thing. It wasn’t that he was particularly loud when he finally lost his temper - growing up in a large family around siblings who seemed to think that shouting constituted normal volume and had no issues talking over anyone else meant that he did know how to be loud when the situation called for it - but rather how sharp his tongue got. He was practically an expert when it came to verbally flaying people who’d earned it; and this woman had more than earned to be on the receiving end of it).
“Speaking of door knobs...” Ron began as he started looking through the boxes of doors in the style they’d picked out. He figured that, even if he couldn’t find oak, so long as he got a light colored wood that looked close to oak it would be okay, “Should we stick with the standard round brass one? Aha!”
“It would probably be for the best.” Percy said as he helped Ron wrestle the door into their cart, “Mum and dad understand that they might not end up with a perfectly matched door, but they would like the new one to match as closely as possible - and that would include having a door knob that wouldn’t stick out too much from the others.”
Behind them store security had managed to catch up with the enraged woman.She made a futile move to yank Percy around to face her - if he wouldn’t pay attention to her, then she’d make him pay attention to her - as the beefier of the two security guards inserted himself between her and Percy. The guard warned her that she had one more chance to leave the store quietly or they would have no chance but to call the police and have them remove her (by force if necessary). Ron and Percy just made their way back to the tools and hardware section to pick out the door knob and hinges.
A hard and fast techno beat mixed with the piano and strings of classical Mozart and Beethoven roared out across the dimly lit dance floor to the appreciative crowd as they in the various states of drunkenness grooved to the beat the current DJ was laying down for them. More people crowded around the bar, buying drinks and chatting with friends or trying to chat up someone that they found hot with the help of liquid courage while the occasional waitress tried to navigate through the crowd and serve those seated at the handful of small tables scattered around the club and cleaned up any empty and abandoned glasses and bottles lying around.
“Remind me again why we decided to listen to the quak.” a mostly sober Harry groused.
“Because even a stopped clock is right twice a day?” Ron replied as he stared at a particularly eye catchingly (but not really in a good way) dressed woman.
“But what if the clock’s one of those new twenty four hour digital ones?” a slightly tipsy Neville asked.
“Then it’d still be right but only one time a day.” Ron concluded, “My point still stands.”
“You had a point?” Draco snarked.
“Look,” Ron said with a sigh, “He might be...”
“A fuckin idiot? A complete and utter hack? Madder than a factory full of hatters if he thinks his outdated black and white ideals have any merit in this modern society of ours? In possession of an ego bigger than my father’s and Lockheart’s; combined?” Draco supplied.
“I was going to say going about things in completely the wrong way.” Ron said sourly, not entirely happy with the way Draco had interrupted him but actually agreeing with Draco’s sentiment (they all did actually), “We kind of do need to get out a bit more.”
“It’s not like we never go out or see other people or anything.” Harry protested, “Percy has that long standing D&D game with a bunch of his coworkers, and Draco’s out somewhere or another pretty much any time he doesn’t have to worry about work.”
“And you?” Ron asked despite pretty much already knowing the answer.
“So sue me. I’m fairly knacked after working a long shift saving people’s lives.” Harry bit back.
“Can we not fight.” Neville pleaded before Harry and Ron could really get into it, “We’re here already, so why not enjoy what we can. I’m actually impressed by the music. Who knew you could do something like this with classical music?”
Harry quieted down and stared low key brooding over his half full bottle of beer. It wasn’t like he couldn’t see Ron’s point. He did have a tendency to keep to himself and stay close to home in his (precious) off time, and the club was actually pretty nice as far as clubs went; not too loud overall and everyone seemed to be having a good time without fights breaking out (although that might be more because of how relatively early it was; things might change the closer to closing it got and the drunker people got as a result). But Harry didn’t like giving the ‘therapist’ that they had been (unofficially) forced to see any credit and he’d been to many clubs over the course of his job as a paramedic (fights, alcohol poisoning, over doses, the occasional fall or heart attack or stroke - and even on two memorable occasions, a full on anaphylactic allergic reaction). After the fiftieth time you had to pull some bloke’s head out of the toilet before they drowned in their own vomit while the overly loud bass made the walls shake, clubbing kind of lost any luster it might’ve otherwise had.
“Everyone give it up for DJ Midas!” an overly excited voice crowed. The crowd cheered as the music that had had them hopping came to an end and the DJ that had been slinging the sick tunes threw up his arms and began to make his way down from the DJ booth and into the club proper to their cheers as another DJ took his place and playing some more conventional music for the liquored up dancers. Draco watched him (?) dance-walk his way towards the bar, eyes narrowing slightly as... something... began to worm its way across his slightly alcohol fogged mind. It could’ve just been the DJ was dressed; his clothes were nice and tight in all the right places while still managing not to give away their gender and shimmering as if it was made out of liquid gold or something similar.
“Excuse me.” Draco said politely as he got up and began to make his way to the bar in order to get a better look at this mysterious DJ Midas. He just couldn’t shake the niggling thought that maybe he knew this DJ Midas despite presumably never having met the person before (he was a bit - or even more than a bit - drunk, and with the way that people dressed up to go to the club it was easy for them to look totally different than they normally did. Ron and Neville just waved him off and went back to seeing if they could pry the disgruntled Harry out of his funk.
Draco had made it to the bar near and ordered another drink while slyly glancing at DJ Midas where he was lounging with something that could’ve been either a sex on the beach or a tequila sunrise going by the colors. While he was waiting for his drink to be served, his eyes caught DJ Midas’.
“Well I’ll be... Draco Malfoy is that you?” DJ Midas asked with surprise. Draco nodded as he was finally handed the drink he’d ordered as a pretense to get closer to DJ MIdas, “Shite. Didn’t expect to see you here. How you’ve been?”
“I’ve been good. Bit busy with work; you know what it’s like.” Draco said, trying to rack his brain over what DJ Midas’ real name was. He’d been right about knowing the guy (and at this point, Draco was close enough to be fairly certain that DJ Midas was a guy), but between the androgynus look and the artfully applied shiny makeup (and the couple of drinks he’d already had which had left him comfortably buzzed and muddy minded) he just couldn’t place a name to the face.
“True that.” DJ Midas agreed with a nod, “You here alone?”
“Nah. Me and my mates are having a proper boys night out tonight.” Draco said, “Want to meet them?”
“Don’t see why not. I’ve got some time before my next set.” DJ Midas replied with a shrug. It was pretty much all good to him so he didn’t mind.
“Zabini? What’re you doing here” Harry asked with what he refused to admit was a bit of a snarl as Draco got back to the table with DJ Midas. Draco began kicking himself for not recognizing Blaise earlier. After all, he’d only shared a room and classes with the guy for (almost) five years at school and known him for nearly ten outside of school thanks to their parents moving in mostly the same social circles.
“Good to see you too Potter.” Blaise replied, deciding to ignore the snarky question. He hadn’t exactly gotten along with Harry Before, but on the same note, he hadn’t exactly not gotten along with him either. The difference in upbringing, House affiliation, and (superficially as no one had actually bothered to ask him his views on the subject; they just assumed that they knew since it had been ‘obvious’ to them) ideology had been a bit of a roadblock when it came for them forming any kind of friendship (and the fact that Blaise had been on such good terms with Draco, who Harry and his friends had often clashed with didn’t help matters any). He nodded in greeting to Ron and Neville in turn, “Weasley. Longbottom.”
“Don’t mind him. He’s just a killjoy.” Ron apologized for Harry. This earned him a half-hearted glare.
“So long have you been here?” Neville asked, giving a pointed look at both Ron and Harry in hopes of killing off any impending argument they might get into. In a way he understood where Harry was coming from; clubbing was not exactly what came to his mind when it came to having a good time (he found the to be too loud and too crowded for his tastes). But just because Harry didn’t want to be there it didn’t mean that Harry could ruin it for everyone else the way he seemed intent on doing (not like Harry had to stick around if he wasn’t having a good time. He was free to call a cab and head home if that’s what he wanted; none of them would think less of him for doing so).
“Not very long I’d say,” Blaise replied slightly sarcastically “Pretty much my whole life really.”
“I’d say that it was odd that we haven’t run into you before, but it’s not like Birmingham’s that small a city.” Neville said pleasantly, “Have you run into anyone else who Remembers? Aside from us and Ron’s brother Percy who didn’t come with us tonight, the only other person we’ve met who does is Professor Snape. Well, Harry and Draco ran into him down near Oxford. By the time the rest of us got back to them, he’d buggered off somewhere and then we were too busy getting home to go looking (not that Harry said anything about running into him until after we’d gotten back home, but then again he had been a bit too busy at the time to really say anything).”
Blaise gave an amused snort at that. It seemed that the usually shy Neville was a chatty drunk (or, again, at least this Neville was one. Blaise had never had the opportunity to see the Neville from Before drunk. And given the fact that they’d all been underage at the time, it was likely that Before Neville had never actually gotten drunk in the first place, so there was no telling what kind of drunk he would’ve been), “Sadly, you’re the first people I’ve run into. Do you think there are any others of us out there?”
“It’s hard to say.” Ron said with a shrug, dragging his attention away from the silent conversation he was having with Harry solely through looks and eye gestures (which mostly amounted to him telling Harry to get over himself and maybe try seeing if he could have some fun - and if not, if he could at the very least stop trying to keep the rest of them from having fun thank you?), “Since none of us Remember anything that happened before we ended up here, we don’t rightly know how many people ended up getting caught up in... whatever it was. It could be just the seven of us, it could be practically the rest of the whole bloody school and we just haven’t run into anyone else yet. It’s not Ginny or the twins though. They’ve never even hinted that they might Remember. Although... maybe they do, but they haven’t said or done anything to show that they do because they think that me and Percy don’t...”
“I guess I’ll just have to keep an eye out for that then.” Blaise admitted before brightening up a bit as a thought hit him, “We should totally do something together sometime.”
“Like what?” Neville asked, slightly intrigued. Having not really known Blaise Before (and privately agreeing that Ron was right about Horowitz being right about expanding what passed as their social life being a good thing), he was not opposed to the idea of getting to know him in the here and now.
“I don’t know.” Blaise admitted with another shrug, “Maybe go see a movie or go clubbing sometime when I’m not busy with a DJing gig or something?”
“I could totally go for something like that.” Draco agreed, “It’d be nice to have someone to hit the club scene with; I swear sometimes it takes a bloody crowbar to pry these guys out of the house.”
“You mentioned Percy earlier.” Blaise said as something occurred to him, “But I don’t see him here. He in the loo or something?”
Ron shook his head, “He had a work thing he had to go to; or at least that’s what he said. So who really knows.”
A shrill scream from the direction of the loos had Harry jumping up and instinctively running towards them. Draco just nodded with a sigh to Blaise’s unasked question of if Harry was always like that.
“So tell me. Are you single?”
“Excuse me?” Percy asked, not quite believing either his ears or the nerve of the middle aged woman (stuffed into an outfit better suited for someone half her age - and likely half her size) who’d asked him that.
“Are you single?” the woman repeated again a bit slower this time; her voice taking on the edge of the kind of aggravated and patronizing tone that is usually reserved for someone thought to be a bit thick.
“I don’t believe that is an appropriate question to ask.” Percy replied. The hair on the back of his neck rose as he began to subtly look for an out for what was no doubt going to be an uncomfortable conversation. Intuition (or was it previous experiences) told him that it was unlikely that the woman would back off.
“Oh come now; don’t be such a stick in the mud.” the woman said with a dismissive wave of her hand, “If you’re worried about getting into trouble don’t be; I won’t be telling on you. This could be our little secret.”
“I really must insist.” Percy said, suppressing a shudder at just how wrong what the woman had said was.
“I just wanted to introduce you to my cousin. She’s such a brilliant and lovely young woman; I’m sure that the two of you would get on quite well.” the woman said with a sniff; as if mortally offended that Percy wasn’t willing to divulge all the juicy details of his personal life to someone who was virtually a stranger to him (how dare he not only have boundaries, but have the gall to actually enforce them).
Percy didn’t know what to say to that. It wasn’t that he doubted the nature or the character of the woman’s cousin (or her existence for that matter); he just wasn’t interested in being set up on a blind date with her - or anyone at all really - like it seemed that the woman was doing. He used the act of taking a sip of the drink in his hand as an excuse to look around to see if he could make a quick and clean exit, but discarded the idea almost as soon as he’d thought it. Given how bad she was at respecting boundaries, she’d probably follow him if he excused himself to take care of something else on the opposite side of the party hall (and while he was confident that she wouldn’t follow him into the men’s room if he used that as an excuse, he was also confident that she’d simply wait for him outside the loo and continue with her plan to set him and her cousin up after he was done in there. After all, he could only stay in there for so long).
“Ah. Percy! Just the man I was looking for. Have you met Bob?” Percy’s savior (his supervisor, Tony) called out jovially as he steered a nervous looking young man who Percy had never seen before over to where Percy was being cornered. Percy excused himself and made his way to meet Tony and Bob part way. He was grateful for the rescue even though he didn’t know why Tony wanted to introduce Bob to him.
“I don’t believe we met.” Percy said once he reached Tony and Bob, “It’s nice to meet you Bob.”
“See Bob here started a few weeks ago, and well he’s doing alright so far when it comes to the work itself, but he hasn’t really been doing so good making connections with his coworkers. And I thought to myself, Bob’s a good kid; I’d really like to see him succeed. What can I do to help him fit in better. And then I remembered him saying something about liking to play games in his free time. So I thought, Percy, now Percy’s a good man; always willing to help a person out. And he’s got that little board game - or was it card games; never could remember which it was - group going after hours. It’s even gone all interdepartmental so there’s people from all over the firm in there; not just the actuary department.” Tony said, clapping both Percy and Bob on the shoulder. Bob just kind of sunk into himself in embarrassment as Percy shot him an apologetic look. Tony meant well - he truly did - but he was one of those socially oblivious extroverts who tended to look at introverts (or really anyone who wasn’t cut from the same cloth as them) like a puppy who’d just been told to solve an advanced algebraic formula. (And yes, much like the woman who’d accosted Percy earlier - and from whom his timely rescue was appreciated, he had difficulty accepting and respecting other people’s boundaries. He at least tried his hardest not to do so, but in the end ended up doing so accidentally. It seemed to Percy that the woman had been doing it on purpose, which was way worse in his (and pretty much everyone else’s) opinion since she knew full well what she was doing and could just as easily choose not to), “Well I’ve got to see a man about a horse, so I’ll leave you two to it.”
“Sorry about that.” Percy apologized sheepishly as Tony wandered off in the vague direction of the bar (instead of the loo like his parting words would’ve indicated).
“It’s okay.” Bob said softly. He went to say something but then thought better of it and said nothing further.
Percy was not the kind of person to insult someone higher up in the hierarchy (particularly where said insult had a chance of getting back to the person being insulted), and Tony wasn’t a person he’d want to insult even if he was. For all his faults, Tony was one hell of a good manager. Yes he could be hard on those below him (he expected a lot from those working under him and had little patience for anyone who purposely did a shoddy job or tried to push off their work on others), but he worked just as hard as anyone else in the actuary; often jumping to give an active helping hand when and where it was needed - even meant that he ended up having to do some of the so called grunt work that other managers might think of as being beneath them. And god help anyone who went after one of his actuaries. It didn’t matter how high up in the firm you were or how big a client you were; he had his department’s back (provided it wasn’t a certified deliberate cock-up - in which case you wouldn’t exactly be one of his actuaries on account of being either transferred into a position more suited to your abilities (like junior mail room intern) or out right fired if the offense was bad enough) and that was that.
“He means well...” Percy offered feebly when he couldn’t really come up with a way to excuse Tony’s cluelessness without treading into insubordination territory (and feeling like he was kicking a somewhat dim puppy while he was at it).
“I get it.” Bob said.
The two of them lapsed into an awkward silence for a while before Bob seemed to gather up enough courage to say what he’d wanted to say earlier but hadn’t. “About your board game club...?” Bob began, just kind of trailing off as he wasn’t sure how to finish out that sentence (or was it a question).
“Err... It’s actually a tabletop role playing group; not a board game or card game club. Tony (because of course he was the type of boss who insisted that you use his given name despite it not being entirely appropriate. He wouldn’t get mad if you referred to him as Mr. Sitwell; he’d just be a bit disappointed in you and kind of look at you like a kicked puppy) isn’t very familiar with RPGs so he tends to equate them with the types of games he is familiar with.”
“What are you running?” Bob said, brightening up at the mention of RPGs.
“Right now we’re running a home brew out of the current Dungeons and Dragons edition, but we dabble in some of the other systems - like Vampire the Masquerade - from time to time.” Percy replied, starting to warm up both to Bob and the subject at hand. It wasn’t something he had much opportunity to talk about beyond his small circle of fellow gamers and occasionally his brother (Ron did have a bit of a vague interest in the hobby thanks to his quirk, but he’d found out after playing in a couple of games that it just really wasn’t his thing. At least as far as pastimes went).
“That sounds pretty cool. What’s the home brew about?” Bob asked.
“It’s kind of your typical seafaring adventure, searching out treasure and such, but there are a couple of twists. Instead of having to navigate the high seas you’re flying around on an airship of sorts between floating islands, and there’s this whole new class - or four classes depending on how you look at it - of elementally aligned magic that you can pick.” Percy said.
“That sounds amazing.” Bob admitted.
“It is.” Percy said, “Right now we’re trying to find this one sky island that has a special type of medicinal sake that would be able to heal the son of this corrupt governor who’s holding one of the NPCs of our crew hostage for it. There’s always room for new players, if you’re interested.”
“Fuck yeah I am.” Bob exclaimed (quietly), before catching himself and pulling back into himself over his faux pas.
“In that case, why don’t I introduce you to Susan and some of the others involved in the group. I’m sure they’d love to meet you, and we can go a bit more into detail about the campaign.” Percy said, choosing to ignore Bob’s excited outburst.
“Draco, what did you do?” a tired Harry (also known as a normal Harry because when you got down to it, when wasn’t Harry tired) said in that drawn out tone one used when trying to suss out just what kind of trouble a dog or a young child had gotten into.
“I didn’t do anything!” Draco shouted back at Harry from the kitchen where he had been in the process of making himself some lunch.
“Uh huh.” Harry said blandly as he stared at the sizable package sitting just outside their front door that had prompted his questioning of Draco. It was not unusual for Draco to get a package that he hadn’t remembered to tell anyone else that he was expecting. He by far bought the most things online out of the five of them and there had even been a couple of times when he’d gotten something delivered that not only hadn’t he been expecting but didn’t even know what it was that he’d gotten (and no, he didn’t have a shopping addiction).
A bit curious now (because he didn’t remember buying anything recently), Draco made his way out of the kitchen to see what all the fuss was about. He checked the package Harry was staring at; yep it was addressed to him. That was odd since he hadn't ordered anything recently and thus wasn't expecting anything to be delivered (or at least not that he could remember anyway). He shrugged at Harry and started to do the only sensible thing he could think of - carry the mystery package into the house.
“What the hell” Harry sputtered as he kind of shook himself out of whatever fugue he’d fallen into after finding the package and followed Draco and the package back into the house.
“If you want to open a parcel on our front stoop go ahead with your next one. I’m going to open mine inside like a normal person.” Draco snorted as he carefully put the package down on their coffee table. It had been a tad on the heavy side, but not so heavy that he’d had trouble lifting it (or at least not for very long; it’s not like he had a strength quirk after all and the weight of the package was kind of running up against the limits of what he could comfortably lift).
Harry just rolled his eyes and closed the door. “Well, what is it?” he asked (he might’ve been a wee bit crabby. He’d sort of been taking a nap on the couch when the delivery man had rung the bell, waking him up out of his light doze).
“I’ll let you know when I’ve opened it up.” Draco shot back with an eye roll of his own. He grabbed a pair of scissors out of the nearby desk and set about carefully opening the package. Naturally, inside the packing box was another box; tightly packed in so as to make removing it from the shipping box a right pain. Eventually he was able to carefully remove the box from its shipping box, allowing him to get a good look at what had been sent to him, "It's a freeze dryer?"
"Oh, I've heard of those. They let you make freeze dried food at home - like that astronaut ice cream you find in the natural science museum's gift shop. I’m not sure why someone would want one though.” Harry said, brightening up a little. He could admit that it was a pretty cool concept; certainly he’d enjoyed the astronaut ice cream when he’d had the opportunity to eat it (mostly for the novelty of it then for the actual flavor since it was a bit on the chalky side of things).
“A paranoid survivalist prepper who was also all about being one hundred percent certified organic, locally sourced, and a bunch of other buzzwords that fit that kind of hipsterish lifestyle.” Draco replied as he searched the shipping box for the packing slip. He knew he hadn’t ordered a freeze dryer or really anything similar to it like a food dehydrator (mostly because technically they already had one. Multi function kitchen gadgets for the win!), “Or someone who has to have every latest cutting edge kitchen gadget to come out no matter how far down the molecular gastronomy rabbit hole they have to go.”
“True. So I guess the question is why would you want one since we never really use the dehydrator setting on our toaster oven/air fryer. Unless your boss...” Harry agreed.
Draco shook his head. “It wasn’t me. Prepping’s more your or Ron’s style than mine. And my boss would’ve let me know about it ahead of time if he was going to send something.”
“If you didn’t get it, and your boss didn’t get it for you, then who did?” Harry asked.
“I don’t know. There wasn’t a packing slip included and the return address on the shipping label’s for the store not whoever sent it. It doesn’t feel like it’d be Severus or Blaise’s style to send something like this - or at least, not something they’d be doing at this stage. We only just met Blaise a few days ago and while Severus used to be my godfather back Before, only you’ve formally met him (seeing as I was too sick at the time to really meet him when we first ran into him). Plus, it’s not my birthday for a couple more months and I haven’t reached any sort of present getting milestone recently.” Draco said, scrutinizing the freeze dryer’s box.
“Maybe there’s a note from whoever sent it in the freeze dryer’s box itself?” Harry suggested.
“I think that that’d be a bit odd. Usually those kinds of notes only come with more personalized things like jewelry or hand made arts rather than factory made kitchen appliances; something about mass production versus custom made orders. But if you help me get it into the kitchen and find a good place to put it, we can see.” Draco said, thinking it over.
Draco managed to pick up the (rather heavy) freeze dryer and walk it into the kitchen while Harry simply (and unhelpfully) followed him in. Their kitchen was a good size for the five of them and modern enough not to need redoing to bring it up to the current fashionable standards for another few years yet. It had all the standard equipment: a microwave, a slow cooker that doubled as a rice cooker (well, that’s how they thought of it anyway. It actually was a rice cooker that also worked as a slow cooker but since they didn’t eat all that much rice but did make a fair amount of slow cooked meals thanks to their often hectic schedules and how easy it was to just toss a bunch of stuff into a slow cooker and press start before heading off to work that’s how they thought of it), two different coffee makers (one that could brew up to a full pot and took traditional coffee grounds and one that used self contained pods to brew by the cup on demand), a stand mixer with a bunch of seemingly random attachments (and just why did they have an attachment to make pasta when they just bought the premade stuff?), a waffle maker, a fondue set (that was a gift from one of Ron and Percy’s relatives who was well known for being a bit out of touch), a blender, a soda making machine, a food processor... For a bunch of people who didn’t think of themselves as cooks, their kitchen was pretty tricked out.
It took both Draco and Harry about ten minutes to actually unbox the freeze dryer and find a decent spot of counter space for it to live (for the moment anyway. Chances were that it’d end up getting moved around during one of their sporadic kitchen rearangings mostly depending on how much they’d end up using it, how much they needed the counter space for other things, and how much of a bitch it was to move in the first place. The fact that it was both large and heavy meant that it likely would stay there for a long time before the annoyance of having it there outweighed the hassle of actually moving it somewhere else). And as per usual for these things, the freeze dryer itself was as tightly packed in its box as its box had been in the shipping box.
“Now what?” Harry asked as he did his best to sweep the last of the bits of broken off styrofoam off the counter so it could be properly thrown out.
“We test it out.” Draco said as if it was the most obvious thing in the world (which it was, but also not).
“What should we make to test it out then?” Harry asked slightly snarkily (to be fair, while using it was the obvious answer it wasn’t the only answer. Just because you got a new bit of kitchen kit, it didn’t mean that you had to use it right away. Or, as in the case of their fondue pot, at all).
“There really aren’t all that many limits.” Draco replied as he began to flip through the freeze dryer’s owners manual looking to see if there were any suggested recipes included. Most modern kitchen appliances included those with the instructions so that the people who bought the appliance in question had some idea what the appliance was capable of (which made it a lot easier for a person to justify buying something like that on impulse instead of doing a ton of research on the subject beforehand that had the chance of dissuading someone from getting the appliance in the first place - or worse yet, buying it from the competitor), “Fruit, vegetables, and ice cream are kinda the obvious things but you can freeze dry practically anything. Of course it’ll take about a day for anything to be ready, but we have three shelves worth of space to work with so...”
“Experimentation time?” Harry gleefully asked.
“Experimentation time.” Draco agreed just as gleefully. He headed over to the fridge to look for something good to try while Harry began to drag out some pots and pans for them to work with. Sure they’d toss some cut up fruit or vegetables in there (because why not. Plus, freeze dried fruit or vegetables made for a nice healthy snack), but at the same time they wanted to see just what they could do when it came to cooked foods (and who knew. It might end up being cheaper in the long run to make their own emergency rations).
“What on earth are the two of you doing?!” Percy said with exasperation as he walked into the kitchen after yet another long day at the office. Harry and Draco stopped in the middle of their ‘experimentation’, took a look at the mess they’d managed to make out of the kitchen in their zeal to test out their new ‘toy’ (and finally realizing exactly just how long it would take to freeze dry anything, let alone the large collection of foodstuffs they thought it would be cool to try out), and smiled sheepishly at Percy before beginning to clean up their mess.
“Potter! Sanchez! You’re up!”
Harry put down the magazine he’d been leafing through and got up to head out to his assigned ambulance for the day, pausing only long enough to grab what details there were for this particular run. Sliding into the passenger seat he plugged in what was the closest thing they had to an address since the site of the emergency was actually in the middle of some woods.
“So what do we have?” Frank asked as he pulled out to the bay.
“Not much in terms of details.” Harry admitted as he read down what little there was in terms of actual information, “A group of local ‘kids’ were out playing or something in the woods and there was an accident of some kind.”
“Anything a bit more, you know, specific? Like how many kids got hurt, or their ages, or what kind of accident it was? So that we’d have at least some idea about what we’re about to walk into?” Frank groused, just as disgruntled as Harry was with the lack of information.
“We’ll be meeting up with a local rescue hero who’ll lead us out to where the kids are supposed to be?” Harry said with an answering snort. Because of course there wasn’t enough information to go on. That would be too easy. Particularly since it looked to Harry like it was a case of unsupervised teens fooling around and doing something that they knew very well they weren’t supposed to. Which meant that it likely involved illegal alcohol, drug and/or quirk use.
“Typical.” Frank snorted as they sped through the city proper and into the surrounding suburbs, “No, no. Don’t tell the people coming to help you anything they actually need to, you know, help. just be as vague as humanly possible; more points for the less said and all.”
Harry sighed as Frank began to rant. Frank wasn't wrong exactly. The truth of it was that most people didn’t know how to properly deal with a medical emergency. They simply didn’t know what they needed to tell emergency services when they called the emergency in. Half the time they couldn't tell the difference between what was and was not an actual emergency (and it wasn’t all blowing a non emergency all out of proportion. There were just as many people who would put off calling in for help because they underestimated how bad an illness or injury was since it didn’t seem like it was ‘that bad’ until it was almost too late), and when you added in the fact that the panic that inevitably came during an emergency situation exasperated people’s inability to figure out what information they did or didn’t need to give when they called in an emergency. Which was entirely understandable since most people didn’t deal with medical emergencies on anywhere near a regular basis. Not to mention that no one (especially kids and teens) wanted to admit to their wrong doings and get into trouble over them so would often leave out critical information in an effort to avoid having to face the consequences of the wrong they’d done.
It took them about a further ten to twenty minutes of driving before they reached the rondevu spot they’d been directed to. The rescue hero who was to be their guide was already there, waiting impatiently for them to park and grab the gear that they would need.
“About time you got here.” the hero groused, his bushy squirrel-like tail lashing about in his irritation from having to wait for them.
Harry bit back a frown at this. The hero’s attitude was grating to Harry; as if being asked to do what was in effect his job and be a hero in these circumstances was a big bother. Yes it had taken him and Frank some time to make it out to the site of the accident (or as close as the ambulance could get anyway) and there was always the chance that in the time it took them to get there the patient (or patients as the case might be given how little information they’d been given) could’ve succumbed to whatever injury or illness they’d had. But it wasn’t like they could’ve just teleported over from the hospital they started at (space warping quirks were very rare after all). All in all it left a sour taste in Harry’s mouth and he made a mental note to mention it to someone after the patient(s) was seen to and they’d gotten back to base.
“Just head north for about a kilometer or so then hang a right and go about two or three more kilometers; the old abandoned quarry where they all are should be somewhere on the left of that.” the hero said unhelpfully before jumping into his car and speeding off before either Harry or Frank could ask any questions (like if he could actually lead him to where they had to go instead of giving them vague directions that could so easily see them lost since they weren’t familiar with this particular forest).
“Well that was a thing that just happened.” Frank commented.
Harry merely sighed and pulled out the compass he carried around on his key ring for such occasions (mostly because he could never really remember how to find north without one). “Let’s just get going.”
Harry and Frank hiked for a while in relative silence. It really was a pretty little wood; full of oak, maple, and birch with the occasional pine or poplar thrown in the mix for diversity. Birds twittered and hopped about as they passed.
“You know what I don’t get.” Frank finally said as they reached (what they believed was) the point at which the hero had told them to ‘turn right’, breaking the quiet that they had fallen into.
“Hmm?” Harry asked.
“Why’d they call us in? I mean, there has to be someone closer right? Or maybe they could’ve gotten the rescue hero to bring the kids out of the woods instead of having us go in to them...” Frank continued.
“I don’t know.” Harry shrugged in answer, “It’s not like I’m familiar enough with this area to know what company covers it. And maybe the patient couldn’t be moved for one reason or another.”
Again they lapsed into a sort of silence punctuated by the occasional crack of a twig being snapped as they continued on. Half an hour or so of hiking later, they finally reached the spot the hero had indicated might’ve been where they were looking for. Or not because the hero had been vague and completely unhelpful as to where they were supposed to go (there was a reason he’d been asked to physically lead Harry and Frank to the spot where the kids were). Any qualms Harry might’ve had about reporting the hero’s behavior when they finally got back to civilization (not that Harry’d had very many in the first place) vanished as they began poking around ‘to the left’ in hopes of maybe finding some clue as to where they were meant to be.
A few meters to the north of their position was indeed an old quarry. Moss and lichen covered previously exposed stones where the rocks had been excavated from while hardy plants poked up from small patches of dirt, and every here and there they could see bits and pieces of broken down human made structures like rusty ladders and broken platforms leading to and from nowhere. It was, as Harry felt, hauntingly breathtaking. A not so subtle reminder about the impermanence of man and the sheer power and persistence of nature.
There were also signs of more recent human activity (as in, had happened sometime this year rather than being a relic from decades ago when the quarry had still been in active use). Broken bottles and bits of other trash were scattered around showing that the old quarry had found new life in the form of a secluded hangout spot for the locals (the kind that the youth liked to believe the adults in their life were completely unaware of despite the fact that same said adults had likely used the spot in their own youth). There were no signs of anyone having been there more recently than maybe a week or two ago that either Harry or Frank could tell (and they could easily be wrong about that. They were paramedics not forensic investigators and so were not able to accurately date any of the detritus they’d found) so either it’d been a false call or they had the wrong spot. They did make a good faith effort to look around, just in case their patient had managed to wedge themselves into a non obvious spot after being abandoned by the people they’d been with as those who could get out of there did in order to avoid getting into trouble that being found there would’ve led to, but in the end they decided to head back to their ambulance and call things in from there. Technically they could’ve searched further for their supposed patient, but that wouldn’t have been practical. They didn’t have enough time to waste getting lost on some wild goose chase looking for someone who may or may not exist.
“Caliburn is ready to see you now.” the young costumed sidekick manning the reception desk said, waving Harry and Ron into the hero’s office.
Harry and Ron nodded politely to her and went in. They hadn’t been waiting too long, having arrived just a little early for their appointment with the Stalwart Hero and she had been nothing but professionally pleasant to him. Which was pretty par for the course for this particular hero agency given Caliburn’s utter fascination with British folklore and Arthurian legend (as could be guessed from his deciding to go with the hero name Caliburn). Those employed at the Avalonus Heroics Agency were held to the strict chivalric standards that King Arthur and his knights stood for (taking into account how times had changed from when King Arthur was said to have lived).
“First of all, let me thank you for agreeing to assist me with this little project of mine.” Caliburn said with a warm smile as they entered his office, shook hands, took seats, exchanged pleasantries, offered and declined the obligatory refreshments, and finally got down to business, “I understand that it doesn’t seem like actual hero work at first glance, but I’m a firm believer that hero work is more than just stepping in during a villain attack or natural disaster. Educating today’s youth about the dangers of alcohol and drug abuse may seem like such an inconsequential thing - and yes, it is a fairly small step that would be easy to overlook if we didn’t pay attention - but it still is an important thing to do if we wish to give the youth the best chance possible to shine bright and succeed in this world.”
“It’s not a problem. And you’re right about the necessity of programs like this.” Harry replied cordially. While he hadn’t exactly volunteered to help Caliburn with his youth anti-drug PSA program, it was definitely something he could get behind (and something that he likely would have volunteered for if he’d actually been given a chance to, but what was done was done and all that rot). He’d lost count of how many calls he’d been on as a paramedic that involved either drugs or alcohol this year (and there were still about four months left); not all of them ending with a positive outcome for those involved. And there’d been that whole mess with his (former) coworker Billy back in the spring. If helping Caliburn spread the word kept even one kid from ending up coding on his gurney on the way to the hospital then it would’ve been worth it.
Caliburn nodded, pleased with Harry’s willingness to help. For someone who was only a part time rescue hero, Harry exemplified all the virtues that he strived for Avalonus to stand for. And should Harry ever wish it, all he would have to do is say the word and Caliburn would scoop him up right away. “Now then. I know that the start of the new school term is still a few weeks away and the program isn’t set to start until a few weeks after that to give the schools time to settle into the routine of things, but I feel that it’s better to start planning earlier rather than later and risk running out of time due to having to deal with the unexpected emergencies that will no doubt crop up.”
“Plus this gives me time to make sure that I’m able to actually get the days off I need in order to do this. I don’t think that my supervisor’ll have any issues, but the department head can get a little... funny... about these things and it’s easier to make sure that all the ‘i’s are dotted and the ‘t’s are crossed; just in case.“ Harry said. Theoretically everything should be fine but his department head had a reputation for being a real hard arse; very much a firm believer in his way or the highway and if you didn’t like it you could quit or transfer to a different company. And you never really knew when he was going to come down all unreasonably rigid about a topic. There were stories floating around that you shouldn’t make any actual plans - particularly the kind that were nonrefundable paid in advance and took you out of commuting distance - if and when you managed to snag some holiday time or a personal day because he was just as likely to retroactively cancel it and threaten to write you up when you didn’t show up for a shift you hadn’t known you were on (because you were on a holiday that he himself had approved). It’d never actually happened to Harry, or anyone on his crew (and if it had, he would’ve known because the others would’ve been bitching about it for days if not weeks) but there was a first time for everything. At least if he followed the proper procedure and went through the right official channels he’d have a better time fighting having his permission for taking the time off reversed as the paper trail being left would be able to clearly show that he had in fact been granted the time off.
“Currently I’ve gotten seven primary schools and four secondary schools to agree to have us come in and address their students. We should be looking at giving a one to two hour presentation during a school wide assembly, although one of the primary schools has requested that the assemblies be grade wide instead, and only for the upper years since they don’t deem the subject to be age appropriate for the younger children.” Caliburn said, laying out the proposed structure, “All of the schools are fairly open as to when during the year that these presentations occur, so long as they don’t interfere with the major exam periods.”
“With only eleven schools to contend with, we can easily knock it all out during October; maybe stack all the secondary schools towards the end so that the information’s fresh come Halloween and Bonfire Night. I remember those two nights being rather popular party nights back when I was still in school.” Ron pointed out.
“It might make making sure I can lock down the time off for the program a bit trickier if we do everything in October. I know, it shouldn’t be a problem since I’d be asking for the time off over a month ahead of time and it’s not like October’s a popular month for going on holiday, but you know how my work gets sometimes.” Harry said, thinking it over. Perhaps he was being a bit paranoid and in the end everything would work out scheduling wise the way it should but there was this niggling worry in the back of his head that he couldn’t get rid of suggesting that there was going to be a Problem despite all indications to the contrary.
“Perhaps if we schedule all the secondary schools for October and then split the primary schools between the winter and spring semesters.” Caliburn suggested as a possible compromise, “That way everything's fairly spread out in regards to when you'd need to request time off and we can address the issue of substance abuse closer to when the children are more likely to encounter it."
"That sounds reasonable.” Harry agreed. Sadly, all three of them knew that there would be some children for whom being around people with drug or alcohol issues was a normal part of their daily life (and that for some of those same children, it was them struggling with those issues. There really was no minimum age for addictions after all). But such was life and why running programs like this were so important. (If they could save even one person through this, be they a child or an adult and no matter how far in the future it was, then it would all be worth it).
“So we’re agreed then?” Caliburn asked.
“I think so. It sounds like a solid plan. I don’t anticipate it, but if anything comes up regarding my work schedule, I’ll let you know as soon as I can.” Harry replied as everyone stood up. Caliburn shook their hands again as they said their goodbyes, making sure to (once again) slip his business card into Harry’s hand in an unspoken statement that if Harry ever decided to rethink the whole paramedic thing (or simply found himself without a job for... Reasons... that might not be one hundred percent kosher) he’d have a place at Avalonus.
"So then I said 'oh no, honey child,' - and of course this is in the gayest, campiest voice I can manage - which wouldn't sound out of place at a drag queen convention. So I say that, and before I can even finish the sentence, she's halfway out the door and the poor waitstaff's trying to flag her down because she hadn't bothered even asking for the check before running like the hounds of hell were nipping at her heels. And let me tell you, she was not happy about having to come back and actually pay for her meal. I think that the restaurant had to call the cops in the end, but unfortunately by that time I was all done and paid up myself so I’m not sure what went down after I’d left.” Blaise said, bringing his story to an end.
Draco just shook his head with mirth and a slight hint of disbelief over that woman's antics. Sure he'd encountered his fair share of highly judgemental, entitled, easily offended by not getting their way people at his workplace (and sometimes while just out and about), but it there seemed to this kind of limit as to how low or brazen these kinds of people got that had you questioning the validity of a story when one of the people involved in the story crossed that behavioral line in the sand. Still as it has been said, make something idiot proof and nature would breed a more idiotic idiot and truth truely was stranger than fiction. “You know if I didn’t know any better, I’d swear that you made the whole story up just for attention.”
“Do you though? Sure we might’ve been something approaching friends Before but here and now we hardly know each other. Who’s to say I didn’t just make the whole story up just to get a reaction out of you.” Blaise pointed out. All of them were different people now than they had been Before; shaped by different circumstances and experiences. Yes, there was a surprising amount of overlap between their lives - Ron and Percy were still two brothers from a large family, Harry was still raised by his maternal aunt and uncle due to his parents’ deaths as a baby, Neville still grew up under his grandmother’s care while his parents languished in state care, and Draco himself still had a bigoted arse of a father who he hero worshiped for too long (which in a way was only natural. Bigoted arse or not, Lucius was still his father and Draco had looked up to the man when he had been younger and hadn’t really known any better; like so many other kids did). But there were also a large number of differences; for example, Draco’s birthday had gone from June fifth to September twelfth.
“You didn’t send me a food freeze dryer for my birthday did you?” Draco asked, slightly suspicious. He’d never managed to figure out who’d sent the damn thing (not that he was complaining about having gotten it because it was still a bit of a novelty to use) and Blaise would’ve Remembered that his birthday would’ve been back in June but not known that his birthday was now in September.
“God no! Do you have any idea about how expensive those things are? I know it might look it because of my quirk and DJ gig, but I’m not actually made of money.” Blaise replied with a bit of a laugh (almost - almost - affronted by the very idea). While they might’ve been friends (or about as close to friends as any two people in their positions could be) Before, they hadn’t been the kind of close that led to dropping massive amounts of money on birthday or Christmas presents (which is not to say that they didn’t pick out pricey presents when the occasions called for them; only that the cost of said presents was merely a few hundred as opposed to a few thousand. After all, they did have an image of wealth and privilege to maintain).
“I was just checking.” Draco muttered with a defensive shrug. He hadn’t honestly thought that Blaise had been the one behind the strange gift; it certainly didn’t seem like the kind of thing he would’ve done. But the question of who’d sent it remained and was actually very slowly driving the five of them crazy. It was not the kind of gift you’d just send a total stranger out of the blue, but anyone he actually knew would’ve sent a card, or a message, or something to let him know who it was from.
“Maybe it was from a secret admirer trying to impress you.” Blaise suggested. It was possible, if a bit on the creepier side of things (because it meant that the theoretical secret admirer knew where Draco lived and not only had the money to spare on an extravagant gift but the willingness to do so - even if they couldn’t quite work up the courage to admit that they existed and had a crush on Draco beyond sending the gift in question).
Draco shrugged again. “Kind of a lousy way to go about it if it is though.”
“Oh?” Blaise asked, cocking his head to the side in interest.
“Isn’t the whole point of doing the whole secret admirer thing letting your crush know that someone likes them - even if you’re too shy to let them know who you are? How does mailing someone something like this without so much as a ‘happy birthday’, ‘merry Christmas’, or ‘I really really really like you’ say anything other than ‘I have more money than I reasonably know what to do with’ and ‘I know where you live’?” Draco elaborated.
“True.” Blaise conceded. And when you really thought about it, it was rather a weird way to go about it. And a bit creepy with a side of stalkery since there was no telling how the person had gotten a hold of Draco’s address - or what stunt they’d pull next when it became clear that Draco was still basically clueless about them (never mind that was because Draco’d never been given any clue as to who they were or why they were doing things like this. Stalkers tended to be a bit divorced from reality and would often ignore things like logic since that would mean that they’d have to accept that their intended target might be just not that into them; and that would simply not do).
The two of them lapsed into an easy uneasy silence, thinking about the Mystery of the Freeze Dryer and perhaps some of the more... unsettling... implications surrounding its delivery. There was a subtle difference between a stalker and a secret admirer, with enough overlap between the two to really muddy the water about when the later crossed some invisible line and became the former. Not that the freeze dryer having been sent by a stalker/secret admirer was the only possible explanation (just that it kind of seemed like the most likely one).
“Maybe it’s part of a scam?” Blaise mused. Draco looked over at him quizzically, not quite sure where Blaise was going with this particular line of thought, “I can’t say that I’ve heard of something like this being done with a freeze dryer - although to be honest, until you told me about it, I hadn’t even known that freeze dryers were a thing - but there are plenty of stories of underhanded companies sending people or other companies things like printer ink, toner, and paper (for companies) or jewelry, stationary, and other trinkets (for individuals) and then billing them for the junk they got despite the fact that all that shit was unsolicited. I’m pretty sure that’s illegal, but we both know that just because something’s illegal it doesn’t mean that people won’t try to do it anyway.”
Draco thought that over. It did make some sort of sense, and would explain why he’d been sent the freeze dryer out of the blue like that. But it also didn’t make a lot of sense. At least the other stuff Blaise had mentioned were things that people or businesses regularly bought. Freeze dryers were not something most people knew about unless they were either somehow involved in the food industry or so obsessed with cooking tech that they might as well be. “I don’t know about that. It just seems so...”
“It kind of makes sense if you think about it. You told me how much a pain it was just to move it into the kitchen and unbox it. How many people are going to go through all the trouble - and expense given that they’d likely be on the hook for return shipping - to drag it to the nearest shipping service of their choice or arrange for a pick up and all the hassle involved with that. And sure, there’ll be some people who’ll do just that, but more will probably just keep the thing - or sell it to somebody else if they really just don’t want it. Then it’s just a case of sending off an invoice for the freeze dryer with the typical unspoken threats of what could happen if you don’t pay up for this thing you never ordered and probably don’t want or need (even if in the end you do end up using it because it does sound kinda fun? You could certainly make a game out of it; a ‘will it freeze dry’ thing where the answer is likely yes but the bigger question is does the resulting food taste good enough for you to freeze dry it again. Because while there are plenty of things that would taste good like that, I’m sure that there are a number of things that won’t). Bonus points for a freeze dryer being expensive enough - some of the ones I saw online (and yes, of course I checked. I was curious) go for between two and three thousand pounds; and they’re not even the top of the line models - to make being sued in small claims court a credible threat. Not that they’d be likely to actually win a case like that since it can be easily proven that they were the ones to send you the freeze dryer without you having ordered it, but not everyone can afford to deal a lawsuit or find the idea of being sued - because even if it’s pretty much a slam dunk win for them what if they lost - so they’d just pay up the bogus bill just to make it go away.” Blaise explained.
“I never thought about it like that.” Draco said. In all their theorizing, the idea that it had been part of some elaborate scam on the behalf of some unknown third party (because the freeze dryer worked, and when they looked up the company that both made and shipped the freeze dryer everything came up as them being legit) hadn’t even come close to crossing their minds, “I’ll have to remember to keep an eye out for any potential future bill or invoice then. Not that I’m worried about being sued over it; if they want to threaten me with their solicitors I can just as easily threaten them with mine. I’m sure that’ll get them to back down right quick.”
“Anyway changing the subject, who was the most outrageous client you had to deal with at work?” Blaise said, trying to drag the conversation back to swapping stories about the worst people they’ve encountered in the best tall tale contest tradition (despite the tales being completely true - more or less) because that was a rather fun way to spend the time.
Neville hadn’t been close to his late Great Aunt Agnes (in fact, he hadn’t been aware that he even had a Great Aunt Agnes), so it was a bit of surprise to find out that she had left him her house and all its contents when old age had finally caught up with her and she passed away after a long bout of illness. Great Aunt Agnes had never married or had children, and had been the last one alive out of all her siblings. Yes there were other cousins; grandchildren and great grandchildren from her brothers and sisters, but they were about as removed from her as Neville had been so they hadn’t had a better claim on the bits of Great Aunt Agnes’ estate beyond what had already been willed to them. Which is not to say that they hadn’t tried to grab more of the inheritance pie than they’d already been given. The contesting of the will by a small unhappy group of cousins - centering mostly on what money she had had - fighting among themselves over their respective shares had drug the probate of the estate out longer than it realistically should have. That drawn out probate period coupled with some bad luck with work and other responsibilities was why Neville was only now able to find the time to head over to the house to look it over and perhaps figure out what he was going to do with the place despite his Great Aunt Agnes having passed away months ago.
The house - more of a small cottage than anything else - looked to be in good repair at first glance upon driving up. The yard had gone a bit wild with no one coming by to tend to it in the months since Great Aunt Agnes’ passing and perhaps the whitewash on the walls was a bit faded, but the roof looked sound from where they were standing and the windows were all in one piece. Of course time - and a closer inspection - would tell just what kind of condition the cottage was in, but Neville took this first impression as a good sign for what to expect. There was, as could be expected given what little history Neville had been given about his great aunt’s house from the solicitor who’d told him about his small inheritance, no garage but there was enough of a driveway for Neville to park on. All of this was quickly and efficiently noted down by Percy who had, along with Draco, agreed to accompany Neville on this trip to check out the house he now found himself in possession of (and wasn’t that a bit of a trip. Sure he split the expenses on their shared accommodations, but there was that and then there was owning an entire house all by yourself; particularly one that you owned free and clear) as the three of them got out of the car.
“At least getting the yard back under control’s going to be easy enough for you.” Draco drawled as he made a quick scan over the house and grounds.
Neville just sort of gave a Draco a Look; he wasn’t wrong. Between his quirk and his honest love for gardening he wouldn’t need to hire anyone else to do the work. Not that the yard was that out of control for all of it having been pretty much ignored for most of the spring and summer. Sure the grass was a bit long, the shrubbery had gone out of whatever shape they’d been put in, and the ivy was in the beginning stages of its takeover, but it could’ve easily been much, much worse (as in Neville didn’t have to use his quirk to try and shrink anything down so that they could even reach the front door or else fear getting lost in the impromptu jungle. Of course that had been a bit of a special case involving him having to be called in to counter someone else’s plant based quirk).
The interior of the house was a bit... cluttered. Right at the door was a coat rack, umbrella stand, hall tree, end table, coat cupboard, and quite a few pictures hung on what available wall space there had been. Further in was more pictures and furniture, as well as various potted plants (Apparently Great Aunt Agnes had been as much of a fan of gardening as Neville was - or at the very least, had been as much a fan of greenery if one were to judge based on the amount of it she had scattered about). Again, much like the yard it wasn’t as bad as it could’ve been; cluttered as it was, there was still plenty of room to walk about without the fear of knocking over a pile of stuff and accidentally trapping or crushing yourself. Nothing that they’d seen so far had been in so bad a condition that it would qualify as unusable junk and it even somewhat matched - there just happened to be a lot of it.
Draco whistled as he ran a hand along the side of a worn grandmother clock made of dark wood. “If the rest of the stuff is anything like this beauty, I think you just hit the jackpot.”
“Hmmm?” Neville asked as he drew his attention away from a potted kumquat tree. He hadn’t really given much thought to the furniture, knick knacks, and other assorted items that had been left in the house; mostly figuring that he’d do a quick sell of whatever was left after he let his family go through and grab up whatever sentimental items they wanted and then just donate what was left after that (provided that it was in good enough condition for the charity shops to want to take them).
“Your Great Aunt Agnes had an excellent eye, and from what I’ve seen took very good care of what she did have. This clock for example, is a gorgeous art deco piece dating back to the early 1900s - and all it needs to start working again, is to be properly wound up. Do keep an eye out for its key.” Draco said, having gone from simply stroking the clock to practically molesting it, “A clock like this would easily start out at nearly two thousand pounds at auction and likely end up going for much, much more - especially once the antique dealers get into a bidding war over it.”
Neville rolled his eyes at Draco’s antics (because really). In a way he could kind of see where Draco was coming from - and where he was going to (can you say hello large commission). And it wasn’t like he couldn’t understand geeking out about your passion and area of expertise (friends quickly learned not to let him get going about plants unless they were willing to sit through a long, rambling lecture about the minutiae of any particular plant). It’s just...
“From what I’ve seen so far, the house shouldn’t need more than minor repairs.” Percy said as he finished poking about the main room of the house, “You still might want to call out some professionals to make sure that things like the plumbing, wires, and foundation are still good though. Oh for the love of!”
Eventually Draco left the poor grandmother clock alone and moved on to fondle pretty much everything else in the room much to Percy and Neville’s annoyance. Great Aunt Agnes it seemed, had been the kind of woman who bought stuff to last and took excellent care of what she had so that it would - without going so far as to turn her home into a museum where one could look but not touch (as too many seemed to do). Nothing was broken, but all the furniture showed signs of the kind of wear and tear that one would expect from such objects being used.
The kitchen was a bit more modern than the main room had been. The stove, sink, fridge, and counter tops had been updated at some point in the last twenty or so years, but were still a bit too dated to not need to be redone in order to bring it up to ‘standard’, while the faded wallpaper and linoleum likely hadn’t been touched since before their parents had been born. The kitchen table and its matching set of chairs stood out a bit, being more in line with the other furniture they’d seen in the main room (and presumably would be in the rest of the house).
“Have you thought about what you’re going to do with all this?” Percy asked as he closed the pantry door he’d opened long enough to stick his head through for a quick look around.
“As nice as it is, I think I’m going to sell the place. I just wouldn’t be coming out here often enough to justify keeping it, and it’d be a shame to just let it sit empty for so long.” Neville replied.
“You could always turn it into a rental property.” Draco pointed out.
Neville shook his head. “With the way I’ve seen some people treat the homes they rent... I’d really rather avoid that kind of a heartache; even if I don’t have an emotional attachment to the place, it still belonged to family and I’d hate to watch it be destroyed by people who didn’t care about it. I know, I know. There’s no telling what whoever buys the house is going to do to it. They could always end up demolishing the whole place and rebuilding a new house from the ground up if they wanted, but by that time it would no longer be a family house if you know what I mean”
“That makes sense. Sort of.” Draco said, cocking his head to the side for a moment before being distracted by an old porcelain pitcher.
“Oh hey Ron. Can I talk to you for a quick minute?”
“Of course.” Ron replied. He turned to face the young intern who’d come up to him in the hallway.
“I heard you’ve got a dinner meeting with King Crimson.” the intern said, carefully giving a quick look around to see if there was anyone near enough to them to possibly overhear what was said.
“Yeah. He said that he’s interested in maybe hiring me to see about how to optimize training regimes for the sidekicks and other heroes in his agency.” Ron admitted.
“Be careful.” the intern said quietly, as if he was imparting a dark and important secret. (Which in a way he kind of was. Speaking ill of your fellow heroes, even if they didn’t belong to the same hero agency as you, was highly frowned upon).
“I’m not sure I understand.” Ron said, confused.
“King Crimson, he... Look. You’ve worked with Avalonus and Caliburn before, right?” the intern continued.
“Yeah. In fact me and Harry are partnering up with him for one of his community outreach programs.” Ron replied, still not sure where the conversation was going.
“So you know how he’s got that whole King Arthur and the Round Table thing going.” the intern elaborated.
Ron nodded. It was kind of hard not to notice the whole chivalry thing that Caliburn had going (although there were probably people who would put in the extreme amount of effort to do so. People could be so strange sometimes).
“Well the way I’ve heard it is that Caliburn turned down King Crimson’s suggestion that he join Avalonus. Hard. And that’s kinda why King Crimson started his own hero agency - or at least that’s what the story I heard says. Anyway. King Crimson doesn’t exactly have the best reputation among hero circles; there’s a lot of turnover at his agency and a good number of the former heroes and sidekicks coming out of there just completely quit being heroes altogether. Some, I’d like to stress that this is just a rumor; no one I know’s ever found any actual evidence of this happening, even go so far as to kill themselves afterwards - or as a way to get away from him.” the intern continued to elaborate.
“Well,” Ron said as he thought it over. He’d heard some rather disturbing things regarding King Crimson and his hero agency, but - yet again - it was nothing concrete that couldn’t be explained away as pure baseless rumor and simply disgruntled individuals trying to tarnish King Crimson’s reputation as a way to get at (or get back at) the high ranking hero, “From what I’ve seen, high turnover seems to be an endemic issue for hero agencies. Between heroes deciding to branch off and start their own agencies once they feel that they’ve got enough experience to do so - or because some sort of (often ideological) rift happened, the high stress nature of being a hero finally gets to them, and being forced to retire due to career ending injuries there’s naturally a considerable amount of turnover in hero agencies.”
“It’s not just heroes, sidekicks, and heroing interns though.” the intern interjected, “There’s been a lot of turnover with the support staff. I’ve also heard that he’s having a lot of trouble getting people like tradies in more than once. No one wants to work with him if they can help it.”
Ron considered this. Of course he’d heard the rumors. It was hard for anyone who moved in hero industry circles not to (and in some cases, with some rumors, you didn’t even need to be connected to the hero industry to have heard them. Or connected to any of the conspiracy theory circles - where some of the rumors were said to have come from in the first place). King Crimson was well known to be rather difficult to deal with; a perfectionist who demanded the best from both himself and the people who worked with him or for him. Sure there were complaints; even Caliburn got complaints and he took his title as the Stalwart Hero dead seriously. But King Crimson had never once been sanctioned by the Hero Oversight Committee (whose job it was to make sure heroes kept on the right side of both the law and morals) for Behavior Unbecoming of a Hero (meaning that the hero in question had been acting in a way that was considered to be unheroic; mostly meaning that they’d been too much of an arse for any reasonable person to think of them as a hero. Heroes engaging in villainous activities was an entirely different charge that often had Behavior Unbecoming of a Hero tacked on as an added charge) which meant that he couldn’t be that bad, right? “I’ve already set up the meeting; it would be unprofessional to cancel on him without a damn good reason - and no one likes you is not a valid reason.”
The intern took another furtive look around. “You didn’t hear this from me, but well... I’ve got a cousin who used to work for this caterer. It was just a part time gig to raise a bit of spare cash while she was in uni. One of her last jobs for the caterer was for King Crimson. And while she was lucky enough to get stuck dealing with back of house issues, she had the misfortune to see how he runs one of his dinners. It was not pretty. First thing you have to understand is that King Crimson’s a stickler for ‘proper dining etiquette’.”
“That doesn’t seem too bad. I mean, I’ll have to look up the whole which utensil for which course thing but I don’t see what would be so wrong about being expected to use my best table manners.” Ron said, still a bit confused (and perhaps maybe just a bit alarmed).
The intern shook his head. “This isn’t like just holding to Emily Post or Miss Manners like they were the bible and only using the right fork for your fish. When King Crimson says proper dining etiquette, he means what he considers to be proper - and it isn’t pretty. You don’t eat or drink anything until he says to; and only what he says you can. And he’ll only give you the say so whenever he’s had his fill - from whatever he’s managed to leave after he’s eaten all he wants. If there’s even anything worth eating left. And you better eat it; doesn’t matter if most sane people would consider it edible or not, or if eating it would make you literally sick. And don’t think you can get away with having a sneakily little meal before you get there - it’s not going to go well for you.”
Ron frowned. Following the proper etiquette rules was one thing. This (provided it was true. The intern seemed to believe it was, and looked scared enough about it that you would be forgiven if you thought that he was an informant ratting out the mafia to the police about a deal that was about to go down. But it still was all second hand information and, as usual when it came to rumors concerning King Crimson’s less than stellar behavior, there was no evidence regarding the validity of it) as another. Still as Harry had a habit of saying better to have (or know in this case) something and not need it rather than need it and not have it.
“So remember my cousin once had to work one of King Crimson’s dinners? Well it didn’t seem like such a bad job at first. A smallish spread that was supposed to be good for about five or six people; butternut squash soup, caesar salad, clams oreganata and stuffed mushrooms for the appetizer, roast leg of lamb with mint sauce, roasted mixed vegg, mashed potatoes, yorkshire puddings, and steamed asparagus with a pecan pie for the pudding. Only there were easily twice that number at the table - and one of them was a diabetic. Now my cousin wasn’t entirely sure what happened at the table. She was busy in the back making sure the food got out at the right time at the right temperature and calming down the servers who were all kind of having little breakdowns on account of how demanding King Crimson was being. But this dinner had been going on for hours at this point - and only King Crimson had actually eaten anything at this point. His guests didn’t even have glasses of water to drink! Well not eating wasn’t doing the diabetic any good let me tell you. I might not know all that much when it comes to the ins and outs of handling diabetes, but I do know that you have to eat on a fairly regular schedule to keep your blood sugar at a good, stable, level. Apparently the diabetic hadn’t eaten anything since lunch - which at that point was over six hours ago, and naturally her blood sugar tanked hard. We’re talking confusion, slurred words, sleepiness, clumsiness... the whole nine yards really. And King Crimson, he refuses to let her eat anything or even leave altogether so she could go get something to eat somewhere else - apparently having an honest to god medical emergency’s rude now? Well someone ended up calling an ambulance so at least she didn’t slip into a diabetic coma and die right there, so that’s something right. But I guess that wasn’t the right thing to do according to ‘his lordship’ King Crimson ‘cause he threw an absolute fit, just began throwing the food on the table on the floor and smashing the plates so no one could eat anything and then kicked his guests out on their ears. Then he has the gall to blame the caterers for the whole thing - I think one of the servers or someone else in the back of the house with my cousin were the ones to call nine nine nine - and demand that the whole crew my cousin was on be fired for incompetency and unprofessionalism. I don’t know what King Crimson had on the caterers, ‘cause they did fire everyone involved. Oddly enough the catering company went out of business a few months later; not sure what the story was there, but my cousin did a happy dance while singing ‘ding dong the witch is dead’. She never did like that place, come to think of it, but money’s money...”
With the intern’s words of warning lurking in the back of his mind, Ron made his way to the King Crimson Agency for the dinner meeting with a bit of trepidation. He’d done a bit more digging after his talk with the intern, and what he’d heard was not good. No one liked working with King Crimson if they could help it. He was an absolute terror to his employees and service staff; often screaming at and berating them over even the slightest mistake. He had a bad habit of trying to rules lawyer any contract he entered into (contractual terms had to be held to the letter of the law unless not doing so would end up in his favor) and getting him to actually pay up the full agreed upon amount - especially in a timely manner - was like trying to get blood from a stone (although you’d probably have better luck with that than the former). He’d used his blood manipulation quirk on nonvillains to bully them into line and scare them out of making formal complaints (and, some said, just for his own sick enjoyment). Ron had even heard a few rumors that King Crimson had actually gone so far as to rape a couple of girls although there wasn’t any proof of this that Ron could find (whether this meant that rumors were just that, rumors, or if the girls who’d fallen to this had decided not to come forward for whatever reason was anybody’s guess).
A quaking sidekick dressed in a costume of the obligatory blood red color (which was sort of the uniform for the King Crimson Agency) showed Ron into the conference room where his meeting was to take place. As soon as he was free to do so, the sidekick fled the room leaving Ron alone with King Crimson, who was seated in an elaborately decorated office chair that was very reminiscent of a throne. King Crimson acknowledged Ron with a simple wave of his hand and wordlessly bade Ron to sit at the table. Once Ron was seated, a stream of workers - all dressed in King Crimson’s preferred blood red - filed in and began to set a decadent meal on the table down at the end where King Crimson sat. Ron mentally girded his loins and set about figuring out how to get out of this unharmed and without having to sign a contract with King Crimson or his agency. Sometimes rumors turned out to be nothing more than just that - rumors; whispered things that might’ve once held a grain of truth but had passed through so many people that everything about them twisted and distorted. Sometimes rumors turned out to be just the angry ramblings of those with an axe to grind against a person; poisoned words set out to destroy a person’s reputation and tear them down. And sometimes, though this was rare, the rumors turned out to be true. Ron might not be able to say anything about the validity of all the negative rumors surrounding King Crimson, but he could see the truth of some of it. And the picture this painted was of a man who Ron wanted nothing to do with (When someone’s so unpleasant they make Lucius bloody Malfoy from Before look downright altruistic and progressive, well that says some - not very nice - things).
All in all, it was a rather lovely garden. Deadly, in ways beyond what was normal perhaps, but still rather lovely for all the danger. Sprays of foxglove, wolfsbane, lupin, larkspur, hyacinth, and columbine stood in colorful rows while hydrangeas and azaleas hugged the walls of the house behind them. A couple of mature oleander dotted the yard along with a single golden chain that seemed to take center stage. Why, to the untrained eye (that is someone who knew little about plants or poisons) it seemed to be a quintessential decorative English garden; something your mum or gran were likely to have in the spaces that they weren’t interested in growing herbs or vegetables. It’s a really scary thought when you actually stopped to think about it.
The filled body bag being wheeled out of the house on a stretcher as a collection of uniformed police and forensic specialists buzzed about like the bees visiting the abundant flowers added to the unsettling factor. Neville and Professor Snape stood back out of the way alongside a local hero (who appeared to be badly shaken up) and someone who’d been - briefly - introduced to them as being a professional herpetologist with the proper certification for working with venomous reptiles. (That Professor Snape seemed to be at least familiar with the herpetologist was something that Neville wasn’t going to think much about if he could help it. In retrospect it did make sense; both men regularly worked with various venoms and other toxins and were apparently venomous themselves, although the details of that differed).
Neville had been surprised when he’d gotten a phone call from Avalonus Heroics Agency (mostly because it’d been directed at him and not either Harry or Ron, who he knew dealt with them relatively regularly and were currently involved in putting together a community outreach program with them) on what had otherwise been an idle Tuesday. A serial killer had been discovered in Coventry and his help would be greatly appreciated in helping the local authorities deal with the extensive collection of plants both inside and outside the residence; both in terms of identifying the plants involved and in handling the plants themselves as needed. Of course Neville had agreed. He might not have been a registered hero, but he still tried his best to do the right thing when he could - and in this case, the right thing meant helping the authorities with the house of a serial killer (no matter how bone chilling that was to him. It was one thing to know intellectually that serial killers were a thing that existed, and a whole other kettle of fish to have the evidence of such a person shoved in your face). He hadn’t expected to run into Professor Snape but once he’d explained his quirk, it did make sense to Neville for him to be there. After all, when dealing with large amounts of (mostly) unknown poisons and venom it paid to have someone on hand who could counteract them just in case there was an accidental poisoning (or they managed to find a victim who was somehow still alive, although the chances of that were slim to none from what Neville could tell. But, you never really knew).
After a few minutes of waiting as a disturbing number of bodies (but then, Neville considered even one body being removed to be a disturbing number of them; given the circumstances anyway) were removed from the premises and the forensic specialists began to descend on the house en masse, one of the policemen present gave a signal to the hero who caught the attention of Neville, Professor Snape, and the herpetologist (who’s name it turned out was Seth).
“It looks like we’re clear to go in. But before you do, I’d like to make sure that we’re all on the same page. Please put on a pair of the provided gloves, masks, and booties before you enter the house proper. I realize that since the suspect is now deceased they will not be brought to trial, but we still would like to preserve as much forensic evidence as possible on the off chance that it becomes relevant in a future investigation. On that note, while you have all been selected due to your expertise in your individual fields please make sure to listen to the instructions from the police or field techs. If one of them tells you not to touch something or not to step somewhere, don’t. This also goes for each of you respectively since you’ll be dealing with dangerous plants and animals and we do not want any (further) accidents or envenomations.”
“Do we know the extent of his venomous reptile collection?” Seth asked.
“Unfortunately not.” the hero said with a shake of her head, “As he was not licensed to own venomous reptiles and did not bother to house them in properly locked and labeled enclosures, it is impossible to say how many and of what species he had. The good news is that everything seems to be confined to the large greenhouse and conservatory attached to the house. The bad news - and why we cannot say how large the collection was - is that all of the reptiles are free roaming.”
Neville took all that in as he, Professor Snape, and Seth reached the door to the house and donned the protective gear they’d been handed. From the way the hero had described (or rather, failed to) the situation made it sound more nightmarish than being inside the house where so many people had apparently met a gruesome and untimely end already was. He... didn’t really mind snakes; at least not the way that some people did.
They were led carefully through the house by a young field tech to where the door to the conservatory and attached greenhouse were. At the door, Seth stepped up to take the lead. He checked the door and its frame for any potential snakes (it wasn’t unknown he explained, for snakes to climb up along the inner lip of their enclosures or other containers so anyone who regularly handled venomous snakes had to be extra careful of where their snakes were whenever they went to open up their enclosures; just in case their snake was hiding in the lip). With the door and the area immediately in front of the door cleared, he ushered Neville and Professor Snape inside quickly.
Inside the conservatory seemed like the perfect environment for reptiles to Neville. The air was just the right type of hot and humid to keep even the most delicate of tropical plants happy during a typical English winter. (although admittedly Neville knew very little about snakes and reptiles in general. He knew that many species - particularly venomous snakes - could be found in warmer climates with the one notable exception being Britain's own native adder. So it only made sense to him that the kind of environment that was perfect for tropical plants would also be perfect for heat loving reptiles).
“Wait!” Neville called out before Seth could push aside the fuzzy looking leaves of a medium sized plant on the way to approach a vividly colored yellow-orange snake that was hanging out on the branch of a nearby manchineel tree (and really, what was the guy’s deal with poisonous things. Every single plant that Neville had seen except for the grass out on the lawns was toxic to humans in one way or another). Seth stopped, his hand hovering just above the leaves of the plant, “That’s a Dendrocnide moroides.”
“And what’s that when it’s at home?” Seth asked. He kept his eyes on the snake (because you always wanted to know where the head of a venomous snake was and if it was gearing up to give you a bite or two to make you go away and leave it alone) but thankfully stopped where he stood and didn’t touch the plant Neville had warned him about.
Neville nearly smacked himself in the head at his little blunder. Knowing as little about snakes as he did, he had no idea what the snake that had practically all of Seth’s attention (as it should be) was and still wouldn’t know if Seth had told him what its scientific name was. So why would Seth, who Neville would guess didn’t know a lot about plants, know the scientific name of the plant he’d almost touched. Really; Neville should’ve known better, “Gympie stinger, moonlighter, mulberry-leaved stinger, stinging brush, suicide plant...” he listed off hoping that one of those names would ring a bell for Seth (but then again, it was a plant native to Australlia, not England so it was a toss up as to if calling it by its common name would help any).
Seth didn’t react to any of the names Neville listed off so Neville took that as a no as to if any of the plant’s common names would help explain why you wouldn’t want to touch it. “The leaves are covered in little stingers that deliver a nasty little neurotoxin. It won’t kill you exactly, but it’s very painful and can last for months.”
There was a rustle to his left, distracting Neville from Seth’s reply about the plant (mostly about how something like that had to be from Australia since pretty much everything else in Australia tried to kill you, so why not a tree). Neville turned to the left and carefully made his way over to where he’d heard the noise, mindful of any potential snakes that might be hanging around there. He had to blink a couple of times as his brain tried to reconcile the pair of too large eyes set in a wooden face that was peeking out from behind a tree.
“Neville?” the person(?) whispered. She(?) shot a look at the other two, her(?) eyes widening as she saw Professor Snape, “Professor Snape?”
Golden fields of oats and barley rolled past in an endless line as Harry listlessly stared out the window of the car. Field after field of ripened grain waving in the wind as the car sped past on an otherwise empty road. It was hypnotic almost; an endless sea of gold broken up only by the occasional dirt road turn off and the river of black asphalt dotted with yellow and white lane markings. Every now and again, there’d be a flash of dull silver or plain brown as the car cruised past a section of either fence or guardrail. But no matter how far they drove, Harry couldn’t see any sign of a road sign to tell them where they were, where they were going, or how much further it was to get anywhere (or even what would be there like gas, food, and overnight accommodations).
“Knut for your thoughts?” Luna asked, turning briefly to look at Harry.
Harry blinked, lethargy and apathy slowing down his thoughts. Everything was slow; each and every movement he tried to make was like trying to fight being drowned in molasses.
“It’s not your fault you know.” Luna said. The pale sunlight of late afternoon flooded the car, softening the details of her body and adding an ethereal glow to her that, to Harry’s fuzzy brain, made her look like she wasn’t all there. Yet there she sat, just as he had remembered her; loose blonde hair, cork necklace, radish earrings.
“I know I can’t save everyone.” Harry said with a scowl. Time and time again he’d done his best, but sometimes patients were in too bad a shape to survive, or they’d already been gone by the time help had finally arrived. Harry hadn’t been the one to hurt them - to kill them (sometimes it was no one’s fault; just fate and bad luck). But every life lost that passed through his hurt nevertheless.
Luna shook her head. “You weren’t the one who caused the accident. You were just there; like the rest of us.”
“There was an accident?” Harry asked, confused. “I need to go back and help.”
“You already are.” Luna softly pointed out.
Harry struggled to look around frantically. He and Luna were still in the car. Still driving through an endless sea of grain awaiting harvest. Still being bathed by the same late afternoon sun. Harry thought it strange, for a moment, that they hadn’t seen any traffic or passed any farmhouses.
How long had they been driving now anyway. It felt like years but couldn’t have been. Surely if they’d been going for hours and hours they would’ve seen signs of other people, or actually gotten wherever it was they were trying to go (and where were they going anyway?). And the sun. The sun should’ve set by now, right?
A flash of sun brighter than the rest pulsed through the car’s window; the sun suddenly peeking through trees that weren’t there. For a moment Harry closed his eyes to the blinding brightness of it. When they opened again nothing had changed. He and Luna were still driving through the empty countryside in the late afternoon. The sun was still low and yet not close to setting. Waves of wind still blew through the ocean of wheat and barley and oats and grass and more plants than Harry could name but all looking the same; tall, slender golden yellow stalks with heavy heads of seeds.
Luna had the window down now, her right arm stuck out it as if she could run her hand across the grain as they passed. She was humming now. A haunting melody that was completely familiar and foreign all at once. Harry squinted. Maybe it was the way the light was hitting it, but the golden grain looked almost whitish. No longer the color of wheat ready to harvest but of bone grown old with age. Harry blinked with a frown.
“It’s not time for the harvest.” Luna replied as if that was the most sensible explanation one could manage.
“But it looks ready...” Harry protested. While he might not know much when it came to gardening best practices - especially on an industrialized agricultural scale - he was fairly certain that Bad Things would happen if you left things linger unharvested for too long.
Luna shook her head again. “It’s not time for the harvest.” she simply said again.
“When will I know?” Harry asked. Somewhere in the back of his head, he wondered if he was asking about the harvest or... something else.
“You just will.” Luna replied unhelpfully with a shrug. As if the answer was as clear to everyone else as it was to her.
Harry turned away from Luna and pressed his head against the window. Moment after moment. Mile after mile. He sat in the car and watched the fields roll by in the late afternoon sun while Luna hummed. Quiet filled the car, stretching the moments out longer and longer. Little changed; Harry didn’t care. He was... tired. Long shifts dealing with ungrateful people who owed their lives to his care - or didn’t and he was at fault for not being God even if not even God could’ve helped. Some people were beyond saving. (A battle that never happened. His godfather falling through a veil that was never there. Madd laughter.). Some people shouldn’t be saved.
“Here.” Luna said, handing Harry a card. Harry took the card and looked at it. It was a tarot card based off of some cartoon-like show he’d never watched or even heard of depicting what he thought was the High Priestess (if he remembered things from Divination class correctly).
“You’re holding it upside down.” Luna said, turning it around for him.
Harry blinked down at the photo he was now holding the right way up. He smiled sadly as he looked at it; he, Ron, and Hermione appeared to be the center of focus as they sat by the cheery fire in the Gryffindor common room, surrounded by books (because of course they were revising - at Hermione’s insistence. OWLs were just around the corner - in a few months - after all) and their fellow Gryffindors (minus Collin since he was obviously the one taking the picture). In one slightly darkened corner, the twins and Lee Jordan sat off to one side, conspiring over one thing or another. Ginny sat off to the side with a couple of the other girls in her year while Neville, Dean, and Seamus were sat on one of the other couches caught up in their own schoolwork.
“I miss them.” Harry said plainly.
“I know.” Luna replied.
“Look at them.” she said, continuing on. Harry turned his head over to where Luna was vaguely gesturing. A small murder of crows perched on a sinister and somewhat decrepit looking scarecrow silently and eerily watched their car go past in what seemed like slow motion despite the car not feeling any slower to Harry; heads turning as the car went passed.
Harry frowned, his eyebrows furrowing in deep thought as he watched the crows watch him. Something about that had been important; he just couldn’t place his metaphorical finger on what it was though. He chanced a glance at the empty road stretched out ahead. When he looked back there were no crows or scarecrow; even when he twisted around so that he was looking out the back window.
“Eyes front.” Luna reminded him gently. He turned right back around and kept his eyes on the road ahead at the rebuke. The late afternoon sun shone brightly, unobstructed by trees or clouds. Just them, the sun, the road, and an endless sea of amber grain; Harry squinted out at it, trying to see if maybe he could see if there was anything coming up that he needed to know about.
The glass of the window felt cool against his face. Luna’s quiet humming a bit of a balm to his soul. He could. He could easily fall asleep like this. A thought hit him then evaporated like it’d never been, and he bolted upright in alarm at it. “Where...”
Luna shook her head. Again. “Don’t worry. There’s still room in the back for a few more people.”
Harry turned to look in the back of the van, a sense of urgency eating at him. Draco had fallen asleep and had slumped over onto Professor Snape, who was trying to read a periodical with moderate success in the very back row. Ron was using his quirk to play a game of chess with Neville while Daphne - still a bit timid and scared but ever so slowly getting better - looked over Neville’s shoulder from where she was on his other side. Blaise sprawled indulgently across his row of seats, head bobbing to whatever music was playing through his headphones. Every now and again, one of his hands would make a sharp gesture; as if he was conducting an invisible symphony. In the front row, Percy was dividing his attention between looking out the window and something on his phone. Harry felt his brief panic ebb. His friends were all fine (or, in Daphne’s case, as fine as they could be. Given what she’d been through when they found her, it would be a long time indeed before she was truly fine; if she ever even got to that point) and just like Luna had said, there was even room for a few more people without having to overcrowd things and have people squish together or sit in each other’s laps. Feeling better now, he turned round to watch the countryside scroll past.
If he closed his eyes, Harry imagined that he could hear the wind rustling the grain as it blew. Like the sound of waves lapping at a shore. An endless sea of gold bordering the black river of road that cut through it. Miles upon miles of unchanging not much-ness; just grain and road and sun and car. Forever stretched out ahead of them. Eternity was laid out behind. Harry felt the listless lethargy and apathy pull at him. The window glass was cool despite the strength of the late afternoon sun against the side of his face when he rested his head back against it. His eyes drifted halfway shut as he watched the fields of barley and oats drift by as the car drove ever on.
“Sleep; I’ll let you know when we’re there.” Luna quietly said. She started humming again, that same haunting familiar yet not tune. Slowly Harry felt his eyes slid closed as he watched the waving fields of grain fly past and the car ate up yet even more miles of road.
“Well, I never!” a well put together middle aged woman exclaimed in the midst of a fit of much indignation.
“Clearly.” a furious Percy agreed, glaring daggers at the woman.
The woman glared back, her face scrunched up as if she’d just made out with a lemon. Percy, backed with the deep seated courage to stick to his convictions that saw him sorted into Gryffindor and the certainty that he was in the right, refused to back down. A tense moment passed as the two were locked in a battle of wills, then the woman turned around with a huff and stormed out. Percy dispassionately watched her leave (mostly to make sure she was actually going to leave and not just turn right back around and spew yet even more bile) for a moment longer after the door swung closed and then turned back to the young shell shocked woman (who if she were a day over eighteen, Percy would eat his proverbial hat) who looked to be near tears. Immediately his rage dissipated (or at least repressed enough to no longer show) and all the hard lines of his body softened as the tension from his anger left him. “Are you alright?”
“I’ll take it from here.” the manager who’d come over to see just what the commotion had been said. She gently guided the poor sales associate away towards the more secluded back.
As soon as the manager and employee were safely tucked away, Percy pinched the bridge of his nose and made a mental note to be sure to swing by customer service in order to put in his compliment and make sure that the store had the ‘right’ story regarding the incident. Experience (and internet forums) told him that the offensive woman would be calling in a complaint about the poor associate that put her as the completely innocent victim and the associate as the super villain. Thus it was better for him to get his say in in hopes that the associate wouldn’t get written up - or worse fired - on the say so of a lying bitch. And to think, the day had started out so relatively well.
Still, one shouldn’t let one bad encounter sour one’s day. No matter how insistent some people were to ruin others’ days simply because they were miserable people who it seemed couldn’t abide anyone else having a better life than them (okay, so he was still a bit mad about the vial woman taking out her bad mood on someone who couldn’t fight back and had done nothing wrong (except perhaps, simply tell her no. In which case, it was an utter failure on the part of the woman’s parents for not teaching her how to accept being told no gracefully)).
Duty done, and his side of the story put in, Percy returned to what had brought him to the store in the first place. He consulted his list out of habit (and because it always paid to double and triple check things just in case you forgot something - as unlikely as that was to be). Socks would be easy enough to pick up; one multi pack could easily take care of about a week’s worth and sizing for socks - even women’s socks - was a bit more consistent. Shoes would be slightly more difficult since unlike socks, the fit of a shoe was a bit more fiddly and there were more aspects to finding the right fit for a shoe (size, width, heel, insole...). Luckily Ginny agreed to handle getting Daphne panties and bras (not that Percy was particularly... uncomfortable... when it came to the matter of women's undergarments or sanitary products - he did have a mother and a sister who’d fairly desensitized him to such things; mostly through his having to handle the laundry or buying tampons and pads when they ended up on the grocery list on trips he’d been sent on. It was actually something both his parents had insisted on in an effort to make each of their boys the best possible husband and father of potential daughters as they could. Romantic gestures were all well and good, as his father had said when he’d sat Percy down for The Talk, but what women actually appreciated was a dependable man who could see to their needs - no matter how not talked about they were - without a fuss, histrionics, or outright refusal to do so. It was simply the price of living full time with a woman; if you didn’t want to deal with it, then you should stay a celibate bachelor). The poor girl had been through enough, being held captive and tortured by a mad man for who knows how long. She didn’t need to worry about dealing with the social baggage and (somewhat) forced intimacy that having a guy buy her undergarments held.
“Excuse me?” a timid voice sounded behind Percy as he was browsing through a shelf of women's t-shirts.
“Yes?” Percy replied as he turned around, a bit confused (perhaps this had something to do with the earlier incident. Maybe the staff needed him to clarify something?”
“I’m afraid I’m going to need to ask you to leave?” the (again, young) sales associate said.
Even more confused, Percy frowned. He hadn’t thought that he’d done anything out of line enough for him to be asked to leave. But maybe the woman from earlier had complained about him as well as the sales associate she’d been berating and insulting. Yes, he’d been in the right (and yes, he had perhaps been a bit rude while dealing with her, but he hadn’t touched her, cursed her out - although the temptation to do so was there, or even raised his voice (much. She was after all, getting a bit loud and he’d had to talk over her a bit)) and he had made sure that management was well aware of what had actually happened (or at least, his side of things. He was not the type of person to embellish what had happened or outright lie, but he did know that he had his own biases despite his attempts not to let them interfere and that there was always one more side to a story than there were people in it - and in that extra side was the pure objective truth. He said/she said was always a tricky thing no matter how much evidence or witnesses there was; and his minor altercation counted as he said/she said when you got right down to it).
“Now?” the associate clarified.
“I’m sorry, but if this is about earlier,” Percy started to say.
The associate shook his head, interrupting Percy. “You need to leave now.” he reiterated.
“Why?” Percy asked. If it wasn’t because of something the woman from before had claimed, then Percy really had no idea why he was being asked to leave the store. All he’d done was defend an employee from what Ron would call a right bitch (a sentiment that Percy agreed with; he just didn’t like using that kind of language), pick up a six pack of white ankle socks, a pair of size seven keds, and try to decide between some t-shirts. He’d not yet gotten to the point of trying to find a pair of shorts or skirt (which were the next items on his list).
“This is the women’s section.” the associate replied as if that explained everything (hint: it didn’t).
Percy was well aware that he was looking through the women’s section. He needed to look through the women’s section; shopping for an outfit for Daphne in the men’s section would’ve been redundant since they could’ve just lent Daphne something of Harry’s since he was the closest to what they figured her size to be until she was in a place to go shopping herself (not alone of course. Aside from the fact that she was still skittish and didn’t like being too far from either Neville or the tree that had manifested when her quirk did, she didn’t have any money to buy the things she needed with). There was nothing wro... Ohhhhhhhhh.
“These are not for me. They’re a gift for a friend who’s fallen on hard times.” Percy calmly explained. (And it wasn’t even a lie. Well, not much of one. He really hadn’t known Daphne very well Before what with her being four years younger and in a different House than him, and hadn’t had much of a chance to get to know her now with how shy she was. So calling her a friend - as he hoped she would eventually be once she was comfortable with it - was a tiny bit of a stretch. But the rest of that statement was the absolute truth.)
“Sir, I’m going to have to ask you to leave now.” the associate said with a bit more confidence, “Or I’ll have to call security.”
Percy continued to frown. Really. He was doing nothing wrong. There was nothing wrong with a guy buying women’s clothes. Men did it all the time; buying presents for mothers, grandmothers, sisters, aunts, nieces, daughters, granddaughters, female cousins, wives, girlfriends, girl friends, female coworkers... One of the insurance salesmen at his workplace routinely bought brand new clothes for the express purpose of donating it to women’s shelters. And, again, he wasn’t even buying anything all that provocative (not that there was anything wrong with a guy picking up bras and panties for his wife or girlfriend).
The sales associate started to reach for his radio.
Right then. Percy had a choice. He could continue to stand his ground, justifying why he was in the women’s section and that he wasn’t doing anything wrong so there was no reason to throw him out, and cause a scene. Or he could just do as the associate demanded and leave - without buying anything of course.
The choice for Percy was pretty clear. He inspected the associate’s name tag, dropped the shoes and socks he was carrying onto the display right by where he was standing (it bothered him not to put them back where they belonged, but at this point he was mad enough that he didn’t rightly care that he was making more work for people who - in all honesty - likely didn’t deserve it since he suspected that the associate trying to get him to leave wasn’t going to be the same one who had to put everything back. Besides, with how insistent the associate was, Percy was pretty sure he wouldn’t be allowed to put his intended purchases away anyway), and angrily strode off. Right back to the customer service desk - this time to lodge a complaint. Because the sales associate was quite frankly being ridiculous and clearly needed more training.
“Yeah?” Ron asked as he evaluated the two sharply dressed men approaching him with a bare hint of disguised suspicion.
“We’d like to ask you a few questions. If you could just come with us...” the one of the men - an Inspector Dugen judging by the badge being shown - said.
“Is there a problem Inspector?” Ron asked carefully. It wasn’t that Ron didn’t trust that these two were legitimately policemen; while he’d worked with many fine and upstanding members of the police force, he hadn’t worked with every single one of them - or even every single local precinct so of course he didn’t know every single active policeman in the city and its surrounding suburbs. It was just that - as far as he knew - he hadn’t done anything that would require the police to question him at this time. (It wasn’t unheard of for any of them to be contacted by the police to answer a few questions; each of them were usually all too happy to help and had their own field of specialist knowledge. Usually it was Harry being asked; as a paramedic and sometime hero it was only natural that he’d be involved in more than an occasional criminal investigation. That said there was usually some sort of lead up to being asked if they could ask questions, the people doing the asking tended to be the same people time and time again so they eventually became familiar faces, and those officers were often fine with conducting the interview in whatever informal setting they happened to be at rather than dragging everyone down to the precinct. There were exceptions of course. Neville had been asked to come round to the precinct to be read in before being driven out to the crime scene where he’d subsequently and unexpectedly ran into Daphne).
Inspector Dugen and his partner (or at least Ron thought that they were partners; it was the only thing that reasonably made sense at any rate) just Looked at him with unimpressed expressions. Again, Ron found this strange. Either there was a problem and Ron needed to accompany them down to the precinct in order to figure it all out, or there wasn’t one and Ron didn’t need to go with them.
“If you like, you are welcome to use one of our conference rooms.” said Galliant as he came up behind Ron to stand there like a solid wall. It was comforting in a way, to have that kind of unspoken reassurance that someone had your back.
Inspector Dugen didn’t quite glare at Galliant, but the sour look on his face came damn close. Still, he still did manage to get the unspoken message (for someone who’s supposedly on the up and up, you sure are acting suspicious. Is there something you’d perhaps like to confess to?) and while he clearly wasn’t happy about it he did ultimately bow to the ‘threat’ and let Galliant lead them to a nearby empty conference room.
It took Ron and the two inspectors only a few minutes to get settled in and decline Galliant’s offer to send someone in with refreshments (well, the inspectors declined the offer. Ron would’ve been happy to accept if he’d actually been given the chance to, but apparently Ron wasn’t going to be having many choices in this manner. He was really not happy with Inspector Dugen or his partner - who still hadn’t presented his badge or introduced himself so Ron had no idea what his name even was. He’d worked with enough police to know that this was not how you treated someone who you didn’t consider a suspect in whatever crime it was that you were investigating. And on that note, Ron still wasn’t sure what it was that the inspectors suspected him of (because clearly they suspected him of something; unless they were fairly crap at their jobs and treated everybody they talked to as if they thought that they’d done whatever it was). If Ron were going to be honest with himself - which he did try to be since nothing good really came out of deluding yourself - he was really starting to wonder if the two inspectors actually were inspectors and if they were, how the hell they managed not only to not get fired but somehow manage to rise to that rank).
Inspector Dugen frowned. Clearly things were not going as he’d planned and that rankled him. Still there was little he could do about it unless he wanted Galliant and the rest of Avalonus to come down on him and his partner like a ton of bricks. And he really did need Ron to answer a bunch of questions; the sooner the better. “Does the name Sophia Bloch mean anything to you?” he asked. Normally at this point he’d be showing Ron a picture of Sophia, but all the photos and other physical evidence he’d planned on showing Ron were back at the precinct, and clearly going back to the precinct just wasn’t going to happen.
Ron shook his head. “I don’t think I’ve met someone by that name.” he answered honestly.
Inspector Dugen frowned, trying to see if he could feel out the truth of that statement or not. It didn’t feel like a lie to him, but since his quirk had nothing to do with telling truth from lies (and even there things got a bit murky because a person could be telling the truth and lie at the same time, or be telling a lie that they honestly one hundred percent believed to be the truth, or about a million other things that made it hard for a person - even one who had a quirk that dealt with such things - to tell truth from lie) he had to rely on just his fifteen years of experience in dealing with people. “What about Seigfried Scholz?”
Ron took a moment to think about that. The name was somewhat familiar, and Ron thought he remembered where he knew it from, but he wasn’t completely certain. “That’s King Crimson isn’t it?” he asked, mostly to himself. Seeing as most heroes preferred to keep their real names secret out of (the entirely reasonable) fear of villains finding out who they were and going after their friends and loved ones in an attempt to neutralize or hurt the hero in question, it shouldn’t be surprising that Ron couldn’t say with one hundred percent certainty what King Crimson’s real name actually was.
Inspector Dugen nodded. “You’ve dealt with King Crimson before, haven’t you.” he said rather than asked.
“I’ve had one meeting with him at his agency.” Ron replied, still not sure where this line of questioning was going. At least he was fairly certain that he wasn’t a suspect in whatever it was that’d brought the inspectors to question him. (he was also fairly certain that Inspector Dugen and his partner weren’t particularly good at this aspect of their jobs. It was never a good idea to treat potential witnesses as if they were suspects - even if you thought that they were rather questionable. That was a good way for a witness to clam up and not be willing to tell you what you needed to know if for no reason other than no one liked to cooperate with someone who got their back up like that, and then where would you be in your investigation).
Inspector Dugen waited for Ron to elaborate on that statement. “And?” he asked when Ron didn’t.
“We will not be working together anytime soon outside of muli hero agency emergencies.” Ron replied firmly. King Crimson had been just as horrible as he’d been warned and as the rumors had made him out to be (well, some of the milder ones anyway. Ron had counted as being in public after all, so seeing as King Crimson wasn’t stupid - the fact that he’d managed to keep his supposedly more questionable activities quite meant that he was in fact a rather smart man - ), “Look. I can’t help you if you won’t be straight with me. What is this all about?”
Inspector Dugen exchanged a look with his partner, then slumped down a bit with a sigh. “Sophia Bloch has been reported missing and we have reason to believe that she’s been murdered. About two weeks before her disappearance she was excitedly telling her family about a new job - her first job in fact - that she managed to get working for a Mr. Siegfried Scholz. Her family hasn’t heard from her since, and while it isn’t unusual for a young woman of her age to not be in touch with her family on a regular basis, Sophia made it a point to call home at least once a week if not more. Given what her family described of her personality this period of no contact is highly out of character.”
Well shit. Ron sat back and thought about that. On one hand, she could be fine; just caught up in living her life and maybe getting distracted by a new love interest in addition to being busy with a new job; it’d happened before to plenty of newly minted adults when they suddenly found themselves on their own for the first time in their lives (even boring by-the-books Percy had just kind of dropped off the face of the earth for a bit once he’d moved out). On the other, King Crimson did have all those dark rumors following him (and Ron now knew first hand that some of the tamer ones were actually based in truth), and there was a serial killer roaming the streets (although considering what had recently happened over in Coventry, that might be no longer a consideration) - not to mention that there were plenty of people who saw nothing wrong with just grabbing a young woman (or anyone really) off the streets and just killing them or selling them off as part of a human trafficking ring. This might be the day and age of heroes, but people were still people and there would always be scumbags running around ruining things for the rest of them. “Whatever you need to know, just ask.”
“Well excuse you too.” Hermione muttered as a businessman who was too focused on the conversation he was having on his cell phone to bother paying attention to anything else like say, where he was going and if there was anyone else in the way brusquely brushed past her.
It wasn’t even noon yet, and she was just... done. Put a fork in her and why can’t it be tomorrow already (although she was certain that tomorrow wouldn’t prove to be all that much of an improvement over today) done. Mostly with people; she’d had to deal with rudeness at her preferred coffee shop, rudeness at work (what else was new), and now rudeness in the streets. Such was her life it seemed; just one never ending parade of suck.
At least it wasn’t... No. Don’t even think the rest of that sentence. One did not simply tempt fate like that even if nothing was actually said out loud. The universe was actively listening and waiting to say hold my beer every time you even thought that things couldn’t somehow manage to get worse. So why would you even want to bring that down on yourself.
And it looked like she was in luck; the bus she needed (and lucky it was. This particular route had the unfortunate reputation of being horribly unreliable - some buses were so late that they arrived at the time the next one was due - and had a lengthy wait time between when the buses were scheduled to arrive) had just pulled into the stop. Her mood brightened as she slipped onto the end of the queue that had formed while passengers that had been on the bus disembarked. She idly watched the departing passengers leave as she waited (a smartly dressed blonde man who was walking in completely the opposite direction from her pinged her sense of ‘I know this person from somewhere’, but since she hadn’t gotten a good look at him she wasn’t sure if she’d ever met him before, and if she actually had, under what circumstances it had been. There were times she dearly loved her quirk, but more often than not she found it to be more of a hindrance than a help. Apparently there were limits to just how much information a human mind was equipped to handle; who knew), making sure to move up when the person in front of her did - and that she had her bus pass handy so as to make the business of getting on the bus less of a hassle for everyone involved.
She was just about to climb aboard when the doors to the bus shut as soon as the person in front of her cleared the last step and the bus pulled away from the curb. “Oh for the love of!” she practically screamed, ignoring the stares her (justifiable) outburst had garnered.
“No, I don’t... ... I understand. ... Yeah, ... Yeah, ... Look I get it, ... Uh-huh. ... But... ... But... ... Will you just let me speak for a moment?!” Draco rolled his eyes - aren’t people a pain? - and then shot a glare back at the older woman who was glaring at him. Yes, he was sitting on a bus and having a phone conversation, but he wasn’t being loud or anything. No really. Even if his last statement had been said with more than a hint of exasperation, he wasn’t shouting or even raising his voice above a low conversational tone. In fact there were plenty of other people on the bus having louder conversations (some even on their own phones). But for some reason, he’d been the one singled out as (what he gathered was) an example of What’s Wrong With The Youth These Days. (He might’ve just assumed that the woman just had a resting bitch face, but the way she seemed oddly focused on him and just him - as opposed to the window behind him or the adverts above - made that seem less and less likely the case). He pinched the bridge of his nose as the idiot on the other end of the conversation went on, and on, and on about why the entirely reasonable request Draco had made was just not possible with excuse after excuse that had absolutely nothing to do with what Draco had actually wanted (and everything to do with what scam the idiot thought Draco was trying to pull). Really though. All Draco wanted to do was find out some rather basic information (did the store have what he was looking for; yes they did, no they didn’t, or I’m not sure and I’ll have to check). He didn’t need a lecture on him having to do - exactly what he was trying to do if the idiot on the other line would just shut up and listen for one goddamn minute!
Biting back a scream of frustration, and not caring one single wit about how rude he was being, he hung up on the guy mid sentence (if the idiot was going to refuse to listen to anything he had to say, why on earth should he listen to anything the massively unhelpful idiot was saying). He spent the last minute or so of his bus ride trying to rein in his temper and continuing to be glared at by the old woman (so maybe it wasn’t his being on the phone in public that had put the bee in her bonnet. But if it wasn’t that then what was it? He wasn’t sitting in courtesy seating, and it wasn’t like there was a lack of seating in general (in fact, the courtesy seating was roughly half empty so there was plenty of room for someone who needed to sit there to sit there). He didn’t have any packages on him, so it wasn’t like he was taking up the otherwise empty seat next to him or any of the aisle. And it wasn’t like he was dressed outrageously by any stretch of the word; a plain dark green t-shirt paired with a pair of dark jeans no tattoos, piercings, unnaturally colored or styled hair. In fact, he looked down right respectable).
He was still a bit perplexed and a bit royally pissed off (for different reasons that should in hindsight be obvious) when his stop finally came and he joined the crowd getting off. Once he was off the bus, he was back on the phone - this time to his boss in order to find out what she wanted to do since the person he’d been trying to speak to about a particular antique end table she’d been looking for (that the shop the idiot worked for supposedly had). Personally, Draco would be fine just dropping the whole issue; if the shop didn’t want to do business with Draco - and by extension, his workplace - then Draco simply wouldn’t and hit up their competition (who would hopefully be a bit smarter about things and be willing to work with Draco in a professional manner. Even if a deal couldn’t be made at this time, so long as neither party did anything to totally turn off the other one - like say obstinately toss up roadblock after roadblock in an effort to be as unhelpful as humanly possible - there was always the possibility that a deal could be struck sometime in the future). However, Draco was trying to track down a very specific item of furniture which meant that he was stuck with that particular shop since they in effect had the upper hand. It would be up to his boss to decide if the gain from actually buying the end table would outweigh the cost of having to try and deal with people who clearly (at least to Draco) didn’t care about actually doing business.
Hermione glared at her coworkers (when they weren’t looking of course. Because god forbid Hermione not be all sweetness and light and puppies and rainbows where they could see. Never mind that they were free to treat her like utter garbage without fear of any sort of chastisement from the very same hr department they ran to whine about her being less than perfect. If she didn’t need this job - and suspect that they’d actively torpedo any attempt she’d make to find a different one; even if doing so was technically illegal - she’d quit right on the spot and walk right out (without bothering to train up a replacement or write anything down to help whoever ended up replacing her handle her job; petty as that would be. At this point Hermione just didn’t have enough fucks left to care) as she left for the day.
Once again she’d had to go without lunch or even a proper break. Because by the time she got back from running that absolutely ‘vital’ errand she’d been sent on (something that wasn’t even supposed to be part of her job by the way), she had to cover for her coworkers so that they could go to lunch. And as usual, their lunches had gone over, and then it was ‘too late’ for Hermione to go take hers (not that any of her coworkers would lower themselves to cover her while she was at lunch. Wasn’t it enough that they - begrudgingly - did so when she was out on official company business?) and why didn’t she just grab something while she was out despite the fact that if she had, she’d be yelled at for ‘stealing company time’. Never mind that she’d still lose an hour of pay for the lunch she hadn’t been able to take because that was the way her contract worked.
Well nothing to do about it beyond what she was already doing. Soon she’d be free of all of them (she hopped anyway), and she’d laugh while the whole company burned without her there to keep everything together (this was not as egotistical as it sounded. Despite being treated like she was lower than the ground that the worms dug through, she held a key role in the company; for reasons she didn’t quite understand (thanks to them being completely illogical), she was the only one who actually understood how to use the software that handled the invoices worked. Not that the program was particularly quirky or difficult - in fact it’d turned out to be rather easy and self explanatory; surely a person didn’t have to be a genius to figure it out. Without her there to work that program, they wouldn’t be able to generate invoices or really do much when it came to anything having to do with the money coming in or going out.
She was starving though. Breakfast was hours ago, and only a couple of pieces of buttered toast at that. And hey. She was almost at her favorite curry shop. She felt like she deserved some tasty butter chicken with a side of roti for having to put up with the shite she’d had to today (she really shouldn’t make a habit of it though. Sure the prices at the shop were more than reasonable, but it did quickly add up in the long run and she wasn’t exactly making bank). Now in a better mood, she automatically navigated around a small collection of window shoppers to buy herself a nice dinner as a reward for not committing homicide.
They hadn’t even had the bloody table. Or even a bad knock off of it. In fact, they hadn’t had much in the way of furniture (and none of it could really be described as an end table even if you were being very generous with the definition of what an end table even was), and what they did have was in such bad condition that it made even the worst off charity shop finds look like they’d been sitting in a high end furniture store’s showroom. So. Much. Time. Wasted. And for nothing.
At least if there was any sort of silver lining to this, it was that he was in no hurry to go back to the auction house (even if his shift hadn’t technically ended already. One of the perks of his job was that his bosses didn’t mind him taking his time on retrieval jobs like this to do a bit of his own shopping if he so chose. Of course, he always made sure not to abuse that trust too much and he did have a habit of returning with some hidden treasures he’d stumbled upon so it was really in their best interest to let him have that bit of freedom). There really wasn’t much to find; this area seemed to be mostly made up of chain shops, restaurants, and service end businesses. Still, even if there wasn’t anything that his workplace would want, there was no harm in doing a bit of casual window shopping or some browsing if something just so happened to catch his eye. Like what was being displayed in the window of a leather goods shop.
For a moment he thought he caught the sight of someone he knew in the reflection of the window but when he turned around to check, there was no one but strangers surrounding him. He brushed off the feeling and went back to debating the merits of leather pants. On one hand, they’d be kind of a pain to clean, and if he gained an ounce... But on the other hand, he’d probably look pretty hot in them, and it would definitely get a reaction from his housemates, which was always fun.
to me o67;
Proposal for a get together
So since there seems to be more of us than we’d originally thought, we thought that it might be nice for all of us to get together for a bit of a get together; maybe have a nice dinner out or something. If you’re interested, (or even if you aren’t) please let us know.
“Hey Blaise, it’s me. You know that get together dinner idea we had a while back? It’s on. Right now I’m not sure if Professor Snape’s gonna be there - he hasn’t replied to the email I sent him yet. But the rest of us are in. So now we just have to figure out when to do this and where to go. Give me a call when you can.” Draco says before ending the call.
Someone, Percy wasn’t sure who although he did have a few theories, had slapped a colorful magnet on the fridge that read: Refrigerator Message Center. Below that a virtual rainbow of messages on all sorts of types of paper - including an actual honest to god napkin - were (somewhat) randomly tacked on.
So it looks like we’re doing this. Ideas?
Date: soon. Food: ?
Soon works. Me & Harry are a bit busy at the end of Oct. with the anti-drug thing.
I might be able to swing Oct. 6. Re: food. Something easy & not threatening. You know, not too ‘exotic’ or ‘strange’. Italian?
As long as there’s water, Daphne says she’ll be fine wherever. And can we maybe schedule some time to FIGURE THIS OUT IN PERSON RATHER THAN THROUGH FRIDGE NOTES? Quite frankly, this is getting to be a bit ridiculous.
“Remember when I said that the sixth was good. Yeah, well it looks like Ken sniped that day and since he'll just call out sick if he's not given it off... so it looks like I'm going to be working that day. Sorry about that.” Harry said with a tired sigh. For a moment he’d been very tempted to just call out that day himself - he had plenty of sick time left after all, and it’s not like pretty much everyone else hasn’t done it at one time or another - but he quashed that thought right quick. As nice as it would be to do it, he knew that he wouldn’t be able to do it in the end. Sure the other guys did it what felt like all the time (to the point where Harry had to wonder how they had any holiday, personal and/or sick leave time left at all), but Harry knew deep down in his gut that if he tried it, he’d be written up for it (even though none of the others ever were). Sometimes it just didn’t pay to be the sensible person.
to me o67;
Re: Proposal for a get together
I have no objections to that plan. Please let me know when you were thinking of having this get together, and where you were planning to go. My schedule in the evenings is pretty open for any day at any time after 6:30 pm. If that time is too late, then I would only be available on either a Saturday or Sunday.
Severus Snape, PharmD, RPh
to me o67;
Proposal for a get together
So since there seems to be more of us than we’d originally thought, we thought that it might be nice for all of us to get together for a bit of a get together; maybe have a nice dinner out or something. If you’re interested, (or even if you aren’t) please let us know.
Ron frowned as he took in the note stuck to the fridge in his brother’s careful hand.
Casa Nostra just called. We got bumped cause another party came by and flashed more money. Blessing in disguise if you ask me; their food's really gone down hill and frankly isn't worth the high price they're charging.
Ron had to agree with Percy over it being a blessing in disguise. Even if the food had been worth the price, them pulling a stunt like this had to be automatic grounds for never going back to a place. The fact that they overcharged for the quality of the food was just the sprinkles on top as far as he was concerned.
PHOENIX_TEARS: maybe we should just scrap the whole italian idea cause we are having 0 luck w/italian restaurants
ROSE-OF-NINE-TAILS: could do. Could do.
ROSE-OF-NINE-TAILS: so where else **should** we be looking
PHOENIX_TEARS: pub food? a steak place? idk
ROSE-OF-NINE-TAILS: Idk either. Maybe ask the others at dinner?
PHOENIX_TEARS: i gotta work tonight. but if you wanna ask them go ahead
“So I talked to Ginny the other day, and let's just say that Franky's is a no go. Maybe if it was just us guys, but I don't think Daphne would feel comfortable. And I don't think they'd like having Blaise there from the rumors I've been hearing.”
Percy sighed and mentally scratched another restaurant off the list. Franky’s had seemed so promising too. They’d advertised themselves as the perfect little family restaurant serving up good old fashioned comfort foods; the kinds of things you’d find in your local Pub (minus the beers and the local old men drinking the beers) or what in would be considered classic Americana on the other side of the pond (shepherds pie, burgers, steaks, mac and cheese, mashed potatoes, hot wings, fried shrimp, fish and chips...). If they’ve managed to piss off Ginny bad enough that Ron decided that they were a no go, then clearly their family friendly image was a lie. (He’d get the full story from either Ginny or Ron later. Not because he was questioning the decision not to go with that particular restaurant, but because he’d like to know exactly how mad he should be about that place and if he should perhaps maybe drop a few words into some ears about how maybe there needed to be a boycott of a certain restaurant for reasons the public might find very interesting indeed).
“FOR FUCK'S SAKE, ANSWER YOUR BLOODY PHONE ALREADY!!!” Blaise screamed at Draco’s voice mail. He’d been trying to get a hold of his friend for the past couple of days but for some reason he’d only gotten voice mail when he called. He’d even done the reasonable thing and made sure to call when he was as certain as he could be that Draco wouldn’t be at work (and thus, not able to take the call).
“We’re sorry, but the number you have dialed has been disconnected or is no longer in service.”
Draco didn’t quite chuck his phone across the room in a frustrated rage, but he had been sorely tempted to. Instead he took a few deep breaths, counted to ten twice, hung up, and then called one of the others. So much for that new specialty burger and sandwich place.
Somewhat bleary (after all, he had just gotten up) Neville squinted at the cheery pink post-it note now stuck to the fridge under their ‘Sharks have feelings too’ magnet. It... certainly was a statement, that it was.
[Insert incoherent guttural screaming here]
After staring at the strange note for way longer than he should, Neville just shook his head and opened the fridge. It was just way too early for him to want to deal with nonsense like that, so fuck that shite.
Hermione wasn’t normally one to head to the pub for a pint (or something even stronger) after work - or so she liked to think anyway - but here she was, sitting at the bar staring down a beer after yet another hellish day at work. Again. She... She just didn’t know anymore.
It wasn’t like the work itself was bad or too hard, and the company had a good reputation when it came to how it treated its employees (well, all its other employees. Apparently she was some sort of exception to that rule). It was just... If only she didn’t have to actually interact with other people!
(It was all her fault after all. She was the one who could never manage to fit, to chip off the bits of herself that stuck out and got in the way of connecting to her peers. Too smart. Too curious. Too ugly. Cared too much about all the wrong things and not enough about the things that ‘really’ mattered - even if it seemed that the priority of importance should be the other way around from the way it was. Too slow to paste on an empty vapid smile and pretend that everything was okay even as the world around her burned to ask.)
A tap on her shoulder had her blinking out of the near hysterical daze before the dark spiral that her thoughts had descended in could rip painful laughter from her lips. She should’ve known better than to sit at the bar. Clearly she was sitting in one of the regular’s seats (although, how could you get a regular at a pub that’d barely been open a week she would never know. But then, she was always rubbish at knowing those kinds of vital things); at least he was willing to be polite in asking her to get the fuck out of his seat instead of just yelling at her because clearly everyone knew it was his seat and she was just trying to stir up trouble by sitting there.
The apology for the unintentional seat theft died on her lips as the sight of seven familiar people (maybe eight? It was hard to tell but it looked like there was someone hiding in the back and while their features were somewhat familiar, from what little she could see they had some sort of physical mutation - likely some sort of manifestation or side effect from their quirk - that made their skin look like the bark of a tree so Hermione couldn’t rightly say if she recognized them or not) that she’d thought she never in a million years see ever again (even if some of them weren’t exactly what she would’ve considered to be friendly faces).
“Hello Hermione.” Harry said with a tired and shy smile.
Hermione didn’t bother saying anything. She just launched herself at her friends and had a bit of a (long overdue) breakdown right there in public (such a disgrace she was). Harry and Ron proved that they were the friends she always wanted but never deserved, letting her ugly cry all over them and guided her over to the table they’d been heading to while Percy and Professor Snape squared things up with the bartender.
“I take it you Remember then.” Ron said once she’d been securely seated towards the center seat of the table and had calmed down to the point where she was still a bit sniffly but at least wasn’t sobbing in the arms of her friends anymore. Neville seated a timid looking Daphne (and now that Herimone was close enough, she could see that it was Daphne) next to her while he took the seat on the other side of Daphne. Blaise and Draco sat themselves next to Neville, leaving the last couple of seats for Percy and Professor Snape - who were still at the bar.
Hermione nodded, not trusting her voice to say anything quite yet. She normally wasn’t this weepy, she swears. She’d taken on the good old British advice of keeping a stiff upper lip no matter what adversity was slung her way to heart back when she’d been a little girl unable to understand why the other little girls refused to be her friend and kept saying so many hurtful words no matter what she’d tried (this is, of course, not a slight on her parents. They’d done their best to deal with their emotionally sensitive little girl who just couldn’t understand why people would be so horrible to others; indulging her curiosity and interests when and where they could and never actually tried to get her to suppress her emotions - even if they might’ve said something about not letting the bullies know that they hurt her in the moment once or twice. But when the cultural zeitgeist told you to hide your feelings and just soldier on and as a child who misconstrued what the actual message of that had been due to not having enough experience dealing with shades of meaning and how to figure out what the true inference was - as so many children her age did, well... People underestimate just how much toxic nonsense kids suck up and internalize; much to their detriment. And just what implications their otherwise innocent statements have to people who don’t have their lives and can’t read their minds for the true intentions behind what they said).
Draco rolled his eyes as Percy and Professor Snape walked back to the table carrying a round of drinks. “A server should be by shortly with a menu, but from what I’ve seen it looks like it’s standard fare so...” Percy said as he sat down next to his brother and began to pass out his half of the drinks.
“So...” Blaise declared as he eagerly rubbed his hands together.
“So.” Neville said flatly. This drew a quiet giggle from Daphne, who wasn’t quite huddled right up against him, but was close to it. (Considering Daphne and Neville hadn’t had much to do with each other beyond what was necessary during shared classes Before, Hermione figured that there had to be quite the story behind Daphne’s actions. But no matter how her curiosity ate at her, she wasn’t going to ask; it wasn’t her place after all).
“Normally we’d start with introductions and shite, but we already know who we all are.” Blaise continued on as if he’d never been interrupted, “Shall I propose a game then?”
“What kind of game?” Ron asked with a hint of reservation (you never could be too careful when it came to Blaise after all; he had a flare for the dramatic that could be overwhelming and wasn’t always appropriate).
“Why a drinking game of course! (And by drinking game, I mean one that we play while drinking and not one that dictates when we drink and how much)” Blaise stated, pointing at his pint, “Maybe two lies and a truth? I’ll go first.”
“Isn’t it supposed to be two truths and a lie?” Neville asked amicably.
“That’s just simply too boring.” Blaise said dismissively (not that reversing it made things any more exciting mind you), “Anyway...”
Hermione sat back and listened to Blaise try to tell his lies with the interference of the others (Even Professor Snape got into the fun, showing off the sardonic and sarcastic wit that Before, Hermione had only seen when he was insulting students - or on rare occasion (although it became a bit more common in their fifth year thanks to a certain professor she simply refused to think about) his fellow professor) For the first time in a long time (too long a time some would say), Hermione gave a real smile. She was certain now in a way that she rightly wouldn’t be able to explain that everything would be alright. She’d finally found her place.
(Now if only she could figure out a way to deal with her workplace once and for all)