A/N: Here we go again. This story has been rattling around in my head for literally years and, at long last, it has been written. I intend to post a chapter a week, and as I have the story completed in draft I shouldn't have too many issues sticking to it as, in theory at least, I only need to do a couple of edit passes for each chapter. Fingers crossed it works out!
This story should take the form of a mystery or detective novel, and should clock in at around 80k words by the time the final chapter is posted.
Romantic pairings will be largely ignored, except for a few background references here-and-there.
I hope you enjoy!
"I'm telling you that that's just not good enough!"
Harry slammed a fist down on his desk, accidentally sending a forgotten mug of coffee tumbling to the floor of his office. The room was sparsely decorated, with just his desk, a few filing cabinets and a large fireplace. It was the office of a man that tried to avoid it whenever he could. The flames in the fireplace flickered and danced in hues of blue and purple. In their depths, the head of a dark-haired man floated. He looked entirely unmoved by the outburst.
"Well, son, that's just how it is," said the man, his southern accent thick as molasses. "No use throwing temper tantrums about it. It's outside my jurisdiction."
"He was in America," said Harry tightly, as a negligent flick of his wrist cleaned the coffee from the floor and floated the mug back onto the desk. "Where, exactly, is your jurisdiction?"
"He was in no-maj America, son," said the man in the same disinterested drawl. "That makes it a no-maj problem, not ours. He's your wizard, not ours. There's no reason for anyone in the Congress to get involved, anyway."
"So that's it?" said Harry as he threw his arms up and paced across his office. "A wizard, a bloody hero, goes missing, and you're just going to sit on your goddamn thumbs?"
The man bristled. "Now see here. You might think you're hot shit, son, but you don't know dick about how the world really works," he said. "You want to wade through every goddamn no-maj in Gotham? Be my guest. I honestly couldn't give a damn. Your friend had it coming. Walking around, proud as you like, among the no-majes in Gotham of all places. You want to clean up his shit you do it yourself, y'hear? I'm not sending any of my boys out into the fucking boonies just to clean up after some celebrity prima-donna."
"Neville Longbottom is a war hero," said Harry, face-to-face with the head in the fire.
"Your hero. Not mine," said the man dismissively. "Now, if you don't mind, I have more important things to do than baby-sit some jumped-up kids."
Suddenly the man's face disappeared from the flames and they roared back into crackling oranges and reds. Harry hissed and jumped back to avoid getting his hair singed.
"Fucking yanks," he muttered. He raised his voice and shouted through the door of his office, "Padma! I'm taking a holiday."
He turned back to his desk and started packing a few extra items into his overnight bag. Mostly they were notes that he'd collected, letters Neville had sent from America, but after some thought he also opted for his foe-glass. A few distant shadows prowled back and forth across the glass, Harry hadn't risen to become the youngest Head-Auror in a century without making a few enemies.
Padma Patil walked into his office without knocking, and sporting an aggrieved look.
"What do you mean you're going on holiday?" she asked without preamble. "You've got the Brady hearing on Monday, then there's the security arrangements for—"
"I'm sure you can handle it better than I could," said Harry as he looked around the office for anything he might have forgotten. "We both know you're the one who actually does that work anyway."
"That's not the point," said Padma, brushing off his attempt at flattery and glaring at him, though Harry had known her long enough to know it lacked any real verve. "The point is you won't even be here."
"They're not going to do anything, Padma," said Harry simply as he quickly jotted down a brief note informing Minister Shacklebolt of his impromptu holiday plans.
"And you—" She stopped, she blinked. "What, nothing?"
"Nope," said Harry, as the note folded itself into the shape of a small bird and quickly winged its way out of the door. "Nothing. Apparently he's not their problem."
"What? But he's a wizard!"
"Ah, but you forget how much the yanks are scared of the Big Bad Muggles. And they're bloody terrified of going to Gotham," said Harry as he shook his head. "Apparently that's enough to have them hiding under their collective bed, even with a wizard missing."
"That can't possibly be the reason," said Padma doubtfully. "Their muggle policies are stupid, I'll give you that, but the whole reason they exist is that they're meant to protect wizards."
"Oh, and he's not a yank either. He's English. And my esteemed" —Harry added air-quotes for emphasis— " colleague, Mr. Carruthers, tells me that I am welcome to pursue the case myself."
"But… still," said Padma slowly. "It doesn't have to be you that goes to find him, does it? You've got half a department of witches and wizards who know Neville, and the other half would do it just to get on your good side"
At last, Harry smiled a sad smile. "Whoever it is that goes is going to be stepping on some fairly well heeled feet. Neville's my friend, Padma. Of course it has to be me. At least I might have the pull to be able to get them to piss off. Maybe I can wave Abraham Potter in their face if their Magical Law Enforcement Patrol come looking."
"And any—" Harry paused in what he was doing to fix his eyes on Padma's poorly concealed grin. She did enjoy it when she was able to trip him up. "Wait, what? What about squad?"
"It's Magical Law Enforcement Squad, boss. Not Patrol." She gave up trying to conceal the grin. "You should probably remember that, if you're planning on kicking over some ant-hills."
Harry sighed, and accepted that she'd won that round. He was never one to go down without a fight though. "You need to get out more. Maybe you should come too."
Padma shook her head, her smile faded into something a little like regret. "Unlike some people, I'm actually needed here." She paused a moment before adding, "What about Ron, it's not like he does much these days?"
"Ha!" Now that was an amusing thought. "Can you imagine Ron trying to blend in in the most muggle city in America?"
Padma gamely tried to make her suggestion sound workable. "It's not completely impossible," she said. "He got his muggle driving license, didn't he?"
"Yeah…" said Harry, completely unconvinced. "If you'd actually been in that car with him you'd know it didn't have anything to do with his ability to blend in. Or drive."
She reached into a pocket and withdrew an empty baked bean can. "Well, if I can't dissuade you, here." She held it out to Harry. "I already set up your international portkey. It'll take you to the Woolworth Building in New York. Obviously MACUSA don't maintain a secure Portkey destination in Gotham. Should be easy enough to get to Gotham from there, though. It's just a bit down the coast."
Harry laughed and shot her a grateful look as he sent the last of his messages winging its way through the labyrinthine halls of the Ministry. "You're an absolute champion. However did I manage without you?" He took the can and stuffed it into a pocket. "Could you do me a favour too, and ask around to see if anyone else heard from Neville what he was getting up to."
"Will do," said Padma, before turning to leave. "Oh, and Harry?"
"I know, Padma. 'Try not to get killed.'"
"I was going to say, 'I'm not telling Greengrass that you're standing her up again,' but sure, that too."
The portkey deposited him in a familiar room, richly decorated in marble and gold leaf. He'd been part of a few delegations to MACUSA, and while he knew it was probably just his national pride speaking, he'd always felt the MACUSA's decorators hadn't known when to stop.
The custom's witch at the door to the room eventually waved him through without even asking for a look into his travel pouch. Instead, he'd had to pay the price of a picture alongside the excitable young woman.
He'd very nearly made it out of the front doors when he heard the voice of one of the two people he'd really been hoping to avoid.
"Potter! What in the hell are you doing here?" It was Winston Carruthers, of course. In Harry's experience the man had a knack for being exactly where people didn't want him. Perhaps it was what had made him such an effective Magical Investigator in his day. "I told you your man wasn't our problem. You need your ears pumped, son?"
For a few strides, Harry contemplated simply ignoring the man and walking out the door but much though he didn't like the political games, he knew it would be best to avoid stepping on too many feet. At least until it was necessary, of course. With regret, he turned and gave Carruthers his least convincing smile. "Director Carruthers, it's a pleasure. I can assure you, that I heard you loud and clear, and that I have laid that particular horse to rest. I am, in fact, merely here for a little getaway. I've been told I should take more time off, and you did invite me to visit America again in our last conversation. I thought I'd take your advice!."
Obstinate arsehole he may be, but no-one could ever accuse the Winston Carruthers of being stupid. His sharp eyes narrowed. "And where, precisely, were you planning on 'getting away' to, son?" he growled.
"I fail to see why that should be any concern of yours, Director. I already informed immigration of my plans in your lovely nation. And I have my wand-permit, of course," Harry said lightly. He was well aware that their conversation, below the huge and unnecessary Exposeometer which dominated the foyer, was drawing a crowd of onlookers. "Surely you, as Director of Magical Security, aren't suggesting that your standing security measures are insufficient for the purpose of vetting even members of the ICW Security Council?"
There was a long moment of silence, marred only by the quiet sound of Director Carruthers grinding his teeth. Finally, his face split into a grimace that was probably meant to resemble a smile.
The reason for that grimace was revealed a moment later when Harry heard a voice behind him. It was high-pitched and held the kind of grating enthusiasm that usually gave him a headache. "Ahh, my word, yes, Mr Potter or should I say Head Auror Potter now, hmm? I am glad I caught you before you left."
The new arrival, a diminutive yet rotund man with thinning hair and a bushy moustache was the other person Harry had hoped to avoid, though for entirely different reasons. The ornate chain of office about his neck would have immediately identified him, had Harry not already known who he was.
"President Quahog, it is a pleasure of course." He made more of an effort to make his smile more convincing this time, to mixed success. His expression probably wasn't all that dissimilar to Carruthers'.
"Indeed, indeed," said Quahog happily as he quickly closed the between them shake Harry's hand enthusiastically and giving every indication that Harry did indeed look overjoyed to see him. He half-turned to Carruthers. "Thank you, Carruthers, for having Head Auror Potter wait for me. I'm sure you have much to be getting on with. Dark wizards rarely catch themselves, after-all!" he said with a jolly little titter at his own wit.
Despite all appearances, which might have led him to think that Quahog was little more than an Americanised Fudge: always chasing the snitch that was high approval ratings, the truth was entirely different. Harry had always felt uneasy around him. It was something in the eyes. Aurors learned to watch their foe's eyes rather than their wand, and Quahog's eyes were much sharper than Harry had grown to expect from a man such as him.
Then there was the fact that he had been in the position of MACUSA President for the past 25 years, and in that time had had no real challengers seeking to unseat him. When Quahog had first taken his position, Harry had been barely four years old. Through all the changes that had rocked Wizarding Britain in that time, Quahog had been America's constant. For the normally argumentative and fractious American Wizarding community to have such a long period of relative calm was nothing short of miraculous.
The only conclusion, then, was that Quahog's outward appearance was a carefully constructed smoke-screen, intended to conceal his true nature as a politician's politician. He knew exactly where all the skeletons were hidden, and so long as people stayed on his good side, they'd never have to find out just how many there really were.
He turned back to Harry, seemingly impervious to the glare levelled at him by Carruthers before he beat his retreat, and attempted to lay an arm on Harry's shoulders. He quickly realised that the height differential made them an unreasonably lofty target and settled instead for patting him on the small of his back companionably.
"It's good to see you again, my boy," he said as he began to lead a weakly resisting Harry into a less public part of the Foyer. A cheerful nod to the gathered watchers had them immediately return to their usual flurry of activity. "Heard about that to-do with Declan Brady, nasty business. I told Carruthers that he and his department could learn a thing or two about how you handled that situation."
That might explain why the man had been acting like Harry had personally taken a shit in his cheerios. "Ah." Harry cast about for the right thing to say. "Thank you? It would have been much easier if that idiot Constantine had kept his bloody nose out of things. Bloody occultists. When will they learn it's called 'Occult' for a reason?"
"Yes, well, I'm sure," Quahog said, and Harry detected just the smallest amount of unease in his usually ebullient tone. "It is a somewhat related matter that leads me to talk to you now."
Upon Harry's nod, indicating that he should continue, he said, "How much do you know of Giovanni Zatara?"
"Not much," Harry admitted after a little thought. "One of yours, right? I heard he disappeared a few years back? Bloody powerful, though, or so I'm told. Why do you ask?"
"One of mine is perhaps not how I'd put it," said Quahog, all trace of his usually jovial persona gone. "He always thumbed his nose at the MACUSA, and was powerful enough that no-one really wanted to press the issue. Dabbled in the occult, of course. Even married a No-Maj!"
Harry resisted the urge to roll his eyes. "Scandalous. What does this have to do with me?"
"Well, as you say, he disappeared nearly two years ago. We never really got to the bottom of it, but we know that that Constantine fellow was involved," said Quahog, having the good grace to look embarrassed about the sparseness of his knowledge in the matter. "Just two weeks ago, he reappeared. At least, it looked and sounded very much like him." He looked at Harry expectantly.
"You think it's an imposter?"
"As you can imagine, we have any number of monitoring charms active within this building at all times, and while I obviously can't give you details," he said, giving Harry a sympathetic look, "we know that his magic was wrong."
Harry frowned. "Polyjuice, self-transfiguration?"
"Definitely not self-transfiguration. We had enough trouble with that in the 30s!" Quahog shook his head as he fiddled with the heavy chain around his neck. "No, after Grindelwald we made sure that particular loophole was closed up tight. Even enchanted my chain of office to explode if anyone other than the President tries to wear it. We do take these things seriously, you see?"
In all honesty, it seemed unnecessarily messy to Harry's mind. Why not just freeze them, or put them to sleep? Americans.
"And Polyjuice would only work if he really had come back to life somehow," Harry mused.
"Indeed, so you see we're a little stumped."
"With all due respect, President Quahog, I'm not sure what it is you expect me to do about it?" said Harry. "This isn't exactly my jurisdiction, and as much as we might butt-heads, Carruthers does know what he's doing."
"Do? Oh my dear boy, you don't need to do anything," said Quahog, his familiar joviality returning. "I just thought you should know. Constantine is, after all, to use your words, 'your man'. If this Zatara is real, then Constantine may be in danger, if he blames him for whatever it was that happened between them."
Harry was tempted to leave Constantine to fend for himself if that was the case. "But you said that you believed it was an imposter? Why would an imposter want to go after Constantine?"
"I didn't get to where I am today without learning to cover my bases, Mr Potter," said Quahog with a wry smile. "While we have no details, word on the grape-vine is that Constantine was more than a mere witness to Zatara's death. They were searching for some kind of powerful dark magic artifact when whatever it was happened. Though she wasn't present, Giovanni's daughter, Zatanna, broke all contact with the man after the event, and they'd been seeing each-other for some time when it happened."
Covering bases, or covering arses? "So you think that Constantine might have been the cause of Zatara's death. And if someone is impersonating him, then they might be after whatever it was that the two of them were after. Do we know what they were looking for?"
"Sadly, no," said Quahog with a shake of his head dislodging a few of the sparse hairs of his comb-over. He quickly slicked them back into place. "Perhaps Zatanna would know though."
"You haven't questioned her already?"
"Only briefly, only briefly," said Quahog. "Remember that Zatara only ever kept one foot in our world, his daughter is much the same. All we know is that she's in Gotham…"
"... And MACUSA have never maintained a presence in Gotham," said Harry, finally understanding at last what it was Quahog wanted from him.
"No, well, what with the history of the place, we've always much preferred to keep our distance."
Harry was no expert in American magical history, but even he knew the basics. Ancient Indian burial grounds had never been happy places for wizards to visit, but combine that with some massacres and an ancient dark wizard being buried there in ages long lost to history and you got a city that no sensible witch or wizard would want to call home. It made him wonder just why Zatara's daughter would choose to live there.
"No argument from me," said Harry. He knew that the Gotham Curse wasn't mere MACUSA hysteria, but he still didn't give it the same credit the Americans did. "I fully intend to leave once I've found Neville."
"Then perhaps we can help each-other," said Quahog, his happy smile now firmly back in place. "Zatanna Zatara would surely prove helpful to you in your search for your friend, and if you could, in your time there, ask her about just what it was her father was searching for, well, I could probably use that to keep Winston off your back for as long as you need in your search."
And there was the hook, Harry thought to himself. Quahog was good though, he could barely see a glint of steel beneath the tasty bait. Zatara's daughter would almost certainly be able to provide useful local knowledge that Harry was sorely missing. Unspoken, was the fact that Quahog, or an unrestrained Carruthers, could make Harry's search much more difficult than it needed to be.
"I'll see what she knows," said Harry firmly. Hook though it may be, it seemed much more valuable to Quahog than to Harry himself. "And if she does know anything, I'll make sure it comes straight to you."
"Excellent Mr Potter, really excellent!" Quahog rubbed his hands together happily. "I'll have someone bring you what information we do have on Zatanna. Are you intending to travel on to Gotham today?"