Author's Note: Magic and magick are two spellings, with minor differences in meaning. Magick with a k is typically used when magic meant to fulfill one's True Will is used. So whereas magic is used to describe typical Harry Potter series magic, magick would imply something far more personal and deeply meaningful to the individual. The spelling differences in places are done with intent.

For those unfamiliar, Route 66 was a highway that ran through the United States from 1926 to 1985. A car could get on it in Chicago, Illinois and drive all the way to the West Coast (Santa Monica) without leaving the road. It covered 2,448 miles, and diners, restaurants, gas stations, etc. along it made a 'thing' of collecting license plates from people on road trips. (Frowned upon for legal reasons now since you kinda sorta need your license plate.) The route still exists today, but is no longer considered a part of the official U.S. Highway System. Regardless, it is still considered an 'essential' on the road tripper's 'to do' list. I personally find the road a little 'blah', but segments of it are a lot of fun and so are the little towns you go through.


Chapter 4 ~ Spilled Coffee

"If you injure your neighbor, better not do it by halves."

~ George Bernard Shaw


Dead Zones


Harry'd just known the locals were going to love him. One such demonstrated this red-carpet welcome by directing a concussive blast at the back of his skull, in an effort to stain the entire diner red with his blood and brain matter. Given the red, black and white color scheme of the 50's diner, it was awfully considerate of them to have tried to keep with the palette.

If you were going to make a mess of things, you might as well make it match.

Harry reacted before he consciously realized the danger.

"DOWN!" he bellowed, grabbing Luna and all but tackling her off the stool. They landed on the floor in a tumultuous heap. Had he been a chivalrous man he may have done something gallant, like try to cushion the blow for her, but Harry was still feeling the effects of that epic hangover and days of poor sleep, all rolled into one massive beating, so he wound up landing atop the far smaller witch and outright crushing the air right out of her.

Luna oofed and made a pained sort of sound. He'd apologize later.

"Luna, move!" he shouted into her face, no doubt giving her an excellent view of his teeth, just in case she'd taken up orthodontia in her spare time. Cavities were a bitch after all. Harry all but threw himself off her, rolling around on his back and bringing his wand to bear, and he felt more than saw the next blast of air hiss past.

It missed his left ear by a literal hair.

Harry couldn't help but think it was a good thing Fatty-Mac-Smiles-Proprietor had gone cheap with the décor and not opted for real tile – tile made great shrapnel - on account the floor exploded right alongside his head. It pelted Harry with hard pieces of sticky plastic, gouging his cheek, and it stung, but it didn't leave him with a hole in the side of his skull the size of a fist, and he counted that as a win.

Harry got out a blasting curse of his own, hearing Luna shout something that sounded suspiciously like a shielding dome around their excellent tactical position, exposed in the middle of the diner floor.

He'd thank her for the ass saving later.

Meanwhile that trench-coated fuck ducked the curse, the thing barreling into the far wall with all the subtlety of a battering ram and gouging a hole straight through the cheap drywall. Harry gaped, able to see clear out into the street. The structural stability of this place was obviously top notch, and Harry realized he'd have to reign it in just a tad if he wanted to avoid bringing the literal roof down on top of them.

An old-fashioned license plate, this one from Alaska, swung on a nail and broke loose, clattering to the floor in agreement.

Slowly his assailant rose back up from his crouch, and Harry forgot all about trivial things like holes in walls, structural stability, all-American-road-trips and ceiling collapses.

The man was no shorter than seven feet tall, cloaked from head to toe in black clothing. A dark trench coat flapped around his figure impressively, giving Harry a look at the toys and trinkets stored inside its many, many compartments, and oh boy did it look like a dark wizard's personal toy box. Lucius Malfoy would've been salivating.

The wizard had turned, peering through the hole Harry'd just punched through the literal fucking building, and seemed entirely unconcerned that Harry had just tried to kill him.

Heaving hard breaths, Harry watched in muted fascination as the man slowly turned his attention back on him.

Harry recoiled, his reaction instant.

The man's face wasn't a face.

Where a face ought to be was nothing, just a blank canvas of shifting, jerking shadows, an eidolon of pure black. But the way it looked at him…the man moved with all the calm of an apex predator toying with its food.

It – not him but fucking it because there was no way this was an actual, literal man - took a step forward.

Harry responded by firing a blasting curse straight at its face. He reached down and summoned all his pain and fear and frankly anger because god damn't he'd needed that fucking coffee and directed it all into the hex with pinpoint precision, and a roar of flames sizzled upon the air, sapping oxygen and Harry's strength all in one glorious, orange-red explosion. The temperature in the room increased three fold and the assailant threw himself to the ground with preternatural speed that quite frankly shouldn't be fucking possible, leaving Harry's rain of fire to splash against the wall.

It ignited in a furious woosh and a flare of flame, burning out just as quick. A stench of burnt plaster hung in the air, and the edges of the decorative license plates still strung on the wall crinkled and charred black at the edges. Until then, Harry hadn't even realized metal could burn.

Luna's shield took the brunt of the next hexes impact, and Harry responded by directing a spell at the floor that sent the linoleum rolling in one giant, undulating wave to unbalance the fuck.

The asshole might be tall and looming, but even sequoias fell.

Unfortunately this particular one moved fast. The assailant dove behind the counter, and Harry had a half second reprieve.

And then a flurry of forks and knives and spoons, cutlery that had clearly been prepped for the morning rush, lifted into the air. They hung there, like gleaming silver threats, and then they launched forward like homicidal missiles directly at his torso.

The first dozen pinged harmlessly off Luna's shield, the witch whimpering in concentration behind him.

The thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth got through.

Harry rolled on the ground, unable to counter-cast in his haste. Two of the projectiles missed, the third stabbing deep into his calf, cutting him like fresh veal. Harry cussed loud and deep as pain ricocheted up his entire body. Given the amount of blood pouring out of his leg and soaking his jeans, he didn't imagine it'd hit anything good, but there was nothing to be done for it now.

No.

Now Harry turned his gaze, blazing anger and a roadside café's caffeine fueling him, onto the plethora of glass objects and most importantly, the shelf of glasses, behind the counter.

His wand shot out in a whipping motion, sending all of it – literally all of it – crashing down atop that foul fuck's position. The bastard screamed an unnatural sounding shriek, but it was reassuring to know that it could bleed.

In the back he could hear the proprietor expressing his clear joy at the unscheduled redecoration of his restaurant, and Harry fervently hoped the unfriendly bastard would just stay the hell out of it.

He didn't.

Of course he fucking didn't.

Luna tried to shout warning, but the instant Rylan stormed out from the back room, fury and a concerningly red shade that just screamed heart disease blooming all over the man's otherwise tanned face, a hex from the breakfast-crasher lifted the man right off his feet, and threw him straight through the side window.

Given Rylan's considerable size, that was actually impressive.

Fuck.

There was scrambling movement behind the counter. The tinkling of a few dozen broken glasses gave their attacker's movements away, and Harry grinned. It was not a nice expression.

He blew a hole in the ceiling directly above where he presumed the attacker was, pieces of asphalt raining down.

The attacker responded by animating one of the counter-stools to fucking attack.

Harry'd think about how he done that without a direct line of sight later. Right now he was busy.

With a metallic screech the thing tore itself loose from the floor, the red-cushioned seat twisting and morphing into sharp rows of teeth, and it attempted to take off Harry's left foot.

Harry kicked it right in the mouth, blood from his freely bleeding calf slinging everywhere.

It didn't budge!

Blinding pain dotted his vision, and Harry realized he was well and truly fucked.

A spell from Luna saved his ass.

The real MVP, that one.

Her counter-spell struck it, tearing it away and launching through its own brand-new, stool-shaped hole in what had once been a wall.

But hey, now that they'd done Rylan a solid and punched a few holes in the drywall, maybe he could put in some more windows when the diner re-opened. Bring some more natural light in. Open concept, and all that.

Behind the counter arose a haunting laugh. The kind that sent blood instantly curdling and marrow chilling.

Arm extended out and shield charm half formed on his tongue, he did a three-limbed-crab-crawl, scrambling backwards to put distance between him and whatever the fuck had just made that noise. Like it was enjoying itself. Luna had wisely army crawled beneath one of the booths poorly balanced tables, and Harry collapsed alongside her, breathing hard. A trail of smeared blood had been left in his wake, staining the checkered linoleum.

"Luna," he wheezed, "you forgot to mention the townsfolk were so friendly."

She shot him one of those looks women reserved especially for men they were mentally trying to set on fire.

"Right, right," he muttered, "not the time."

"No," she hissed, "it's not."

He shrugged, thinking fast as he scanned the area, trying to think of a way to diffuse the situation without destroying the entire place. Remnants of coffee and pancakes were strewn all over the floor, tiny shards of glass and dusty drywall blowing about as icy wind gusted inside through the newly redecorated walls. Hopefully Rylan had good insurance.

"Sorry about your pancakes," he said, spotting a blueberry rolling across the ground.

Luna grabbed his leg just a bit harder than necessary, snapping a spell at it, presumably so he didn't bleed out there and then. It was nice to see she cared. "I don't care about my bloody pancakes!" she whisper-shouted.

"You don't?" he asked. "Pity. Smiley face was a nice touch."

"Well at least your sense of humor's still intact. I'll ask them to add that to your tombstone when it gets you killed."

She then proceeded to conjure and tie a blindingly yellow ribbon around his calf, tugging it taut to staunch the bleeding. Smiley faces glimmered across the surface, peering happily up at him as blood dribbled onto the caricatures, giving them a vampiric, grinning ambiance.

"Oh." She frowned, seeing what he did. "I wasn't going for that."

He chuckled at the absurdity, fairly certain he was feeling the first effects of blood loss. "If you wanted to tie me up, Luna, should'ov just said so."

An angry sound that was oddly adorable huffed alongside him. "If I was going to tie you up I'd use handcuffs, not ribbon."

He tried to not think of the flurry of visuals that conjured up, the wizard making a sound in the back of his throat. "Guess that's one way to put a smile on my face."

Luna responded by grabbing the cutlery sticking out of his leg and yanking it out just a bit violently. He groaned, realized he'd been impaled by a freaking spoon, and debated how sturdy the chintzy looking tables were. If he flipped one over, they could use it as a battering ram or shield. Maybe-

The chilling laughter stopped.

It got replaced with something far worse.

From behind the counter came a chanting, steady and low. It was in a language Harry did not consciously recognize, but a primitive part of his brain recoiled at the sound. It was unnatural, not of this world, and an animalistic, instinctual part of him reared up in fear. He immediately forgot all about naked Luna, sprawled on a bed with a pair of silvery cuffs, and a cold shiver swept across his skin.

Every hair he had stood instantly on edge.

Harry wanted to run. He wanted to run hard and fast.

But he didn't, because years of dumbassery had trained him to ignore survival instincts.

Luna was more affected, slamming both hands over her ears and whimpering as the dialect grew in volume, air in the diner shimmering, the words seeming to twist reality itself.

Something changed.

He felt it, and so did Luna judging by the way she shivered, closing her eyes. Icy winter air continued to whistle in, biting at exposed bits of flesh, and Harry found himself temporarily fucking frozen.

Behind the counter something growled.

The air temperature dropped faster than he'd thought possible, warm breath fogging in front of his face. It was so frosty it physically burned, like dry ice pressed to skin. It went beyond the physical cold, something deeper and darker than his senses could detect, and it sent the child in him screaming in abject fear.

This was dark magic, and he knew it.

On the far end of the diner, just beyond the counter, something moved.

With a crackle, like static charge, an overhead light blew out.

And then another.

And then another.

All the lights blew out in a straight line, as if a kid short his daily Ritalin dose had gotten ahold of a bat and run past, to smash them one-by-one in quick succession. The glass rained down, covering the floor in glittering shards, and Harry ducked his face to avoid the fallout.

When he lifted it, he found that the shadows within the diner had deepened. It was more than the absence of that falsely cheery lighting. It was as if something had reached inside and pulled hope and light from the literal air. Like a black hole, nothing escaped. Something wholly unnatural now coexisted there, occupying the same space they did, and it covered everything it touched with a veil thick enough to keep the sunlight out.

Behind the counter there was a pooling of shadows, like an illusion shifting in the piss poor daylight, leaping from dark spot to dark spot, and Harry just knew that couldn't be good.

It growled again, only this time it sounded hungry.

God he hated being right all the time.

Trinkets on the shelves behind the counter had survived, and in a particularly shiny replica of an old Corvette, Harry could make out the reflection of something dark and shaggy growing in size.

Something crunched, the sound of glass underfoot whatever that thing was.

"Luna," he hissed, not taking his eyes off the danger, "are you hurt? If I break that window can you get out it and run?"

She shot him an aghast look. "Can you?"

Right. Leave it to Luna, even when pissed at him, to worry about his neck staying intact. "What answer would make you the least shrill?"

The witch he absolutely fucking adored made an angry sound, and scrambled onto her knees, grabbing him and dragging him up. He wondered idly how many people had ever seen her like this: fully in touch with reality and kicking ass. He doubted many. Most just knew the surface version of her – nargle this and snorkack that - then passed on by. Idiots.

Luna had cajoled him and his basically useless leg into a standing position, using her as a prop, when they saw it.

A wolf.

Only it wasn't a wolf.

The deformed body moved, oversized paws with finger-like projections curling against the torn up floor. The joints didn't quite seem to line up, popping and snapping into place, the muscles beneath the patchy fur rippling in a wholly unnatural way. Behind it, shadows that Harry couldn't quite see shifted and moved, like a pack of wolves lying in wait.

It took a step towards them, its lips curling back in a threatening snarl, and deep in its black eyes Harry saw only madness.

"Oh we are so fucked," Harry muttered.

"That's not reassuring."

"Wasn't meant to be."

Luna sucked in a shaken breath.

It lunged.

Harry grabbed her around the waist, twisted, and threw her out of the way, placing himself between her and it in one swift move.

And then he got pummeled.

This may have been that 'flair for dramatics' that Neville'd mentioned years back, after that one wand fight, when his Auror partner had been so grateful for Harry saving his ass from those Somalian pirates that he'd been emotionally moved to punch him right in the face.

Harry got slammed to the ground by what he swore was a freight train, but in reality looked like an oversized and severely mutated hound. The impact tore his wand out of his hand, it clattering and rolling across the floor, well out of his reach.

Harry stared straight up into the bestial eyes of the monster. Its snout was shaped like a wolf, but there was something unnaturally human about the eyes. Frothing saliva dripped down and he slammed his forearm against the thing's throat, straining to keep it from tearing off his literal fucking face.

"HARRY!" Luna sounded panicked, oh-so-panicked.

He added scaring her to his long list of shit to apologize for later, assuming they got out of there alive. Right now, judging from the burning drool that had just dripped into his eye, that was looking less and less likely.

Fuck.

"Weren't you…" he wheezed up at it, "just a fucking…giant?"

The jaws snapped concerningly close to his throat.

Luna was casting spells, frantic, but they seemed to be splashing harmlessly off the mutant-freak's pelt. One even went through it, like it wasn't fully here, in the room with them, and unless Harry was hallucinating, he was fairly positive he could literally see the shadows in the room shifting.

Towards Luna.

Like they didn't want her to help him, and were prepared to stop her.

"Luna," he rasped, "shadows…run!"

He could practically hear her hesitation. In the periphery of his vision he could see her form hovering there, wand in hand, clothes torn to high hell from the scuffle. She was shaking, tears streaming down her face, and she looked terrified. Honestly fucking terrified. Like the last thing she wanted to do was turn around and run, to leave. Her stormy eyes darted from him, to the shadows, then back.

"Fucking GO!" he roared.

To his utter fucking shock, she did.

There was a tinkling of glass, Luna apparently leaping out the broken window. Well hell, at least Rylan had been good for something: his body had created a Luna-sized escape route.

Now he just had to deal with whatever this thing on top of him was. He suspected a demon, but hey, he'd been wrong before.

Harry's arm shook with borderline violence. That was the funny thing about muscles, the general public seemed to think that you could just 'power through' shit on sheer will or adrenaline alone, but that wasn't the case. Muscles were a biological construct, and as such they could and would fail if put under tension long enough.

Like his arm.

Shadows began to sweep in, looming like a shroud.

"Can't we…" he gasped, "talk about this?" Breathing hard, sweat and blood and drool dripping down his face, he croaked, "Know a great vet for mange."

The thing snarled, snapping, and its eyes swirled with furious black. One of its rear legs moved, slamming down on top of his wounded leg, claw sinking into his flesh, and Harry screamed. He nearly lost his hold, and the animal lurched just a bit closer while it did its ready best to go for his throat. The crushing weight on his chest made it hard to breathe, Harry rasping and wheezing.

Outside he could hear Luna shouting, but couldn't make out the words, and then something exploded.

That wasn't particularly reassuring, and he really hoped that mutant counter-stool hadn't sprung back to life. Somehow he doubted the locals would appreciate them setting that loose on Main Street.

The light in the diner grew dimmer. Whether it was from the shadows surging down, lack of oxygen, or the massive blood loss and subsequent loss of consciousness, he didn't know. Either way, he reckoned he'd be dead in about ten seconds.

He heard a squall, rising in pitch.

Then a frenzy of black feathers slammed into the thing with a furl, yellow claws and a sharp beak clawing and pecking, the creature's eyes gouged out before it could let out a boorish howl.

And just like that the weight on his chest lifted, the creature rearing back and screeching an inhuman wail.

Harry blinked up at it, stunned. The man-wolf-thing had recoiled. So had the shadows. The dark masses writhed with violence and swept around the creature, enveloping it like a cocoon, and with agonizing slowness the mental dominoes fell – the way his and Luna's spells hadn't worked, the way it took physical form and shape-shifted, the fact that a raven had been able to hurt it.

And all of a sudden Harry knew exactly what it was.

Fuck.

That furl of feathers burst out of the cocoon, and tentacle-like projections of the shadow leapt out of the central mass, taking stabs at it. The raven dodged with all the elegance of a rogue hornet.

The entire diner gave an unsteady spin, and Harry considered blacking out.

That asshole with wings had other ideas.

It jerked its beak and threw something at him.

The eyeball it'd torn out of the demon smacked Harry right in the face. It bounced bloodily off his cheek, then splatted to the ground, the sclera making a squelching sound on impact, a trail of red meat and optic nerves trailing behind as it rolled across the linoleum.

Harry sputtered.

The black mass where the man-wolf had just been roared.

The raven squalled something at him, and it sounded remarkably like move idiot. Uncertain if he'd just heard the fucking thing talk or if this was the final stage of blood loss, he rolled, snaring his wand back in hand.

And then he hissed a serpentine word he hadn't planned to use. Ever.

The entire thing was dangerous. Dangerous as fuck under the best of circumstances, let alone when his head was woozy, but needs must when a shadow demon strolls into a diner.

Behind him lay a trail, an elongated smear of blood covering the black and white tile in a macabre smear.

Syllables rolled from his tongue, serpentine and hostile, the sound venomous. His head pounded behind his eyes, vision tunneling a dangerous black, but Harry kept up the steady stream of words, because he was no novice, and he'd encountered demons before.

There were only two surefire ways to kill a demon, and he sure as fuck didn't have this one trapped in a circle.

That left him one option.

Harry chanted, matching that things shapeshifting chant right the fuck back, using a spell he'd learned from a serpent-worshipping Amazonia tribe, when their medicine man had been just a bit too liquored up to hold his tongue.

Fire.

The parseltongue words for fiendfyre rolled off his un-forked tongue, hissing like a venomous asp. The end of his wand flared a dull green, and instead of a rushing roar of uncontrollable fire, was the sedate slithering of a fanged snake. Its broad snout shot out, head flicking first in one direction, then another, forked tongue licking lazily out. Its top half hung from his wand like a half-burst party favor, and studied its new environment with rapt interest.

Fiendfyre was a demon in its own right, born from malicious magic, summoned forth with a singular purpose: to kill.

The rest of the snake's body followed, slithering out and pulling at Harry's magic. Its length rippled and flickered like burning flames, glowing a lethal green. The cast-burn penetrated the dark shadows that had enveloped the diner, and Harry felt its attention turn back towards him with barely restrained malevolence.

All fiendfyre tried to turn on its castor. All did.

Fire roiled through the serpent's eyes, and he watched as its mouth pried open, curved fangs glowing with toxin, the tail of flickering flame rattling with eagerness.

It wanted him dead. It wished for nothing more and nothing less than to be free of the iron hold his magic kept, and it fixated on him with deadly interest.

A lesser man would have died then and there, but Harry had never been good at lying down and dying.

He reckoned Voldemort was still pissed about that.

"Not…today…asshole," he growled, vision swimming, head painful and ready to burst. If he had any un-burst aneurysms in there – a viable possibility given all the head shots he'd taken over the years - he guaran-fucking-teed he'd be dead in mere minutes. He could feel the warm, wet mass that was his left leg, jeans soaked in his own blood and weighing him down. The fog in his mind was growing worse, magical exhaustion settling in, and the fiendfyre knew it.

There wasn't much time.

"Him!" he commanded.

With a surge of will Harry commanded it, sent it jerking towards the swirling black mass.

His attacker had been busy healing itself, the shadows unraveling around the now humanoid figure, now that the thing was done fixing the damage the raven had done.

Only ravens, or other creatures capable of acting as ferrymen of the dead, could ever harm a demon.

At the sight of the serpent the raven in question shot out one of the many holes in the drywall, letting out a caterwauling of calls.

Harry didn't have the attention span to see where it went, to see if Luna was out there and okay. It was taking every last bit of strength to control this thing he had conjured. The snake turned to stare upon its target, growing…growing in size until it was as large as him…a tendril of flame flicked out from its tail and reduced a stool to mere ash.

The fiendfyre begged for power, and Harry willing gave it.

The overly tall man dressed in black rose up, shadows casting around his back, flanking him like an army of shades, a growl not bound to mortal plains reverberating through the air.

The two malicious creatures faced off, staring one another down in what was left of that dilapidated diner, a tension building in the air like the electrical charge before a lighting strike.

The world spun, skull and leg and entire body throbbing. Harry didn't dare look away, didn't dare move. It took everything he had to maintain tight command of his magic. The fiery-green-serpent swayed back and forth, back and forth, scorching a black path across the linoleum, burning it down to its foundation of red dirt and rock.

"What," Harry rasped at the demon, "do you want with me?"

He wasn't stupid enough to think that this attack had been random. There'd been three people in the diner, and it'd only attacked Luna and Rylan when they'd gotten in the way. Otherwise, it'd been fixated solely on him.

The shadow demon hovered, and from Harry's current position, sprawled on the floor, he could see that its feet did not touch the ground. Neither the fiendfyre nor the demon had moved, but the shadow man's attention adjusted, and Harry knew it and its one remaining eye was looking right at him. And the way it looked at him, looked through him…

Chilled him to his very marrow.

Terror slid through him at the sight, but it was missing an eye, and if it was missing an eye he could hurt it.

It did not answer. It just looked.

"Fine," Harry bit, "have it your way."

And then he did something abysmally stupid.

He let the fiendfyre loose.

With a vicious command Harry sent it surging forward, its blistering power and slashing tail reducing two of the booths to dust, the shadow demon opening its black hole of a mouth unnaturally wide and unleashing an unearthly screech-

It vanished in a flare of blackened fire a second before the flaming serpent struck, burning a hole through the drywall. Its prey had escaped! Harry felt the fiendfyre's fury ricocheting down the magical leash that held it. It wanted to harm, consume, devour its prey, and in the absence of its prey it'd find someone else. The animal turned back towards him-

With a rattling gasp Harry summoned the last bit of energy he had left, bringing down all of his willpower, dragging the serpent brutally back towards himself, back towards his wand's end, back into oblivion, the thing screaming in hateful fury that promised malicious vengeance and death all the way.

It fought, but Harry fought harder.

It shrunk and shrunk, and went out with a spark.

He lay there, breathing heavily, staring at the spot where the demon and fiendfyre had just been. The entire wall was charred a gray-black, riddled with holes that steamed as the chilly, winter air blew in. Darkness danced in the corner of his vision, spreading, like the wet warmth weighing down his leg.

He felt nauseous.

The last thing Harry remembered was the scorching scent of brimstone and bitter almonds, and the tentative footsteps of a thin, wiry man cautiously pushing the door open, looking around with wide eyes. "Rylan, you remodeling?" he called, clearly not seeing the half-dead man on the floor. The man sniffed the air and frowned, clearly smelling the dark magic that had gotten thrown around like confetti, but misplaced what it was. "Think your pecan pie has gone bad."

Then the poor bastard looked down at the ground, finally registering the bloodied smears and hand prints clawed across the black and white linoleum, the gouged-out eyeball and dangling optic nerve smashed against the counter, and what was left of Harry and his mangled leg.

The man made a strangled sound, as if unable to breathe.

A piece of Harry's bloodied jeans fell off a stool, plopping wetly to the floor.

The man let out an ungodly, feminine scream.

Harry took that at his cue to pass out.

Needless to say, they were late for the autopsy.


Dead Zone


He woke up on a gurney.

It was a mark of how often this kind of thing happened, that he didn't bat an eye. Hell, he didn't even need to open them to know exactly where he was. The vaguely chemical stench of formalin and bleach, of mothballs and putrescine was unforgettable, as was the distinct iron taste in his mouth.

Blood. He was tasting his own blood.

He probably should have been more concerned about that, but instead just let out a low groan.

"When you're more healed," came an ethereal voice, "I hope you know that it is my intention to slap you, as hard as I possibly can."

Slowly his vision swam into focus, revealing a rather crumpled Luna. She was perched on a metal cart alongside him, clothing disheveled. That floppy hat of hers was back on her head and the ends of her hair looked concerningly singed, but she was okay. The blonde was alive and intact. Granted, Harry couldn't exactly see below the gurney he was sprawled out on like a two-day-old-corpse ready to be autopsied, so Luna could feasibly be missing a foot and he wouldn't know, but she was the best damn sight he could imagine.

"Lunes," he croaked, "you're alright."

Those deeply colored eyes of hers narrowed, the blue so dark they were nearly violet in the lighting. "Maybe I'll punch you instead."

Harry chuckled hoarsely.

"I floo-ed Ron."

His chuckle died. "Please no," he rasped, throat dry in the sort of crisp, chalky way that only comes with major blood loss.

Luna hrm-ed a sinful sounding sound. "I did." She paused and her lips twitched in that little, evil way common to the fae. "He wasn't happy."

"He's not happy?" Harry damn near laughed, but the stabbing pain in, well, everywhere made him rethink that. "He didn't get his ass handed to him by a demon."

Luna frowned, and looked like she wanted to pursue that, but for some reason didn't. Instead she just let out a breath, tightening her fingers, and all of a sudden Harry realized that she was holding his hand.

Luna Lovegood was holding his hand.

That warranted a full minute to process, Harry making a sound that loosely resembled a dying dog. After a full thirty seconds of negotiations with his own fingers, they came to an accord and decided to heed his commands. Slowly his grip tightened around hers, cuts and scrapes stinging fierce, but he ignored all of that. He ignored it because the feel of her warm fingers captured between his, her skin pressing to his willingly was damn near sending his heart beating out of his chest.

Shit.

Luna patiently studied him with that same, indecipherable look, as if torn between murder and worry. She made no move to pull her hand away.

She did, however, use her free one to lift up his glasses in silent question. The black, round wire frames looked no worse for the wear, and it was a marvel the lenses weren't cracked. Scratchily he managed a, "Thanks," lifting his free hand to take them. He dropped them onto his chest, finagling the temples open and nearly dropping them several times before Luna took pity and just did it for him.

The end result was they wound up back on his face, and his vision got a lot clearer.

The whites of Luna's eyes had been pinkened, the tip of her nose a bit red. Tears had trailed long lines down the dust on her cheeks, everything about her looking wilted, exhausted.

It was like being slapped.

"You've been crying," he rasped, stomach bottoming out. Immediately he tried to move, only for pain to dagger through his leg and the wizard to fall back, letting out a pained groan.

Luna made an unhappy sound, and shifted closer. She seemed to hesitate, and it was a shock Harry noticed given the soothing waves of black clouding his vision. Making the decision for her he clung to her hand like a lifeline, the witch responding immediately.

Luna clutched his hand between both of hers, and had he not seen it he'd have not believed it.

She seemed to be fretting.

"Lunes, m'sorry," he managed scratchily. "I-"

"Will you please," she quietly begged, "shut up?"

Despite the situation he snorted. "Can try. Not good at it…"

Luna made an upset sound, reminiscent of a puppy that hadn't been given a treat. "Course you're not. You're Harry Potter."

"Mmmhmm, slayer of basilisks and rider of nundus." Cracking an eye he lolled his head to the side to better look at her, lips twitching into a tired smirk. "Don't worry Lunes, demon can't take me down. 'sides, they try again, I'd just sick my favorite blonde on it. Send it running in no time."

Her lips parted, then closed, looking stunned. Overhead, a blindingly bright light over an examination table flickered, giving a loud buzz. It was the only one currently on in the room. The rest had been turned off by some merciful soul, cloaking the rest of the space in shadows.

Given the deep throb behind his eyes, Harry was grateful.

Rather like he was for Luna's presence.

She didn't seem quite so convinced, casting him a doubtful look. "I ran from that demon, Harry."

"See? Smart. Smart people run from demons. Smart people know that shadow demons can get hurt by ferriers of the dead. Smart people con black winged assholes into swooping in so demons don't eat their friends."

Surprise flashed through Luna's gaze, lips pressing into a thoughtful line.

"Didn't think I'd figure out that last bit, did ya?" His voice sounded like it'd been run through a grinder, and it hurt to talk, but he didn't care. It didn't take a genius to figure out Luna felt bad, guilty, but she shouldn't. Yeah, Luna had run, because he'd told her to, but he also knew damn well she'd sent that bastard raven back in after him, because she'd also figured out what had been attacking him, and what could hurt it. Her mind was incredible. "Told ya, Lunes, dig Ravenclaws. Intelligence is damn sexy."

Now her lips parted, look turning slightly scolding.

He ignored this, gruffly pressing, "Besides, got it on good authority that this blonde, she's a cuddler. And got a secret for ya…demons hate cuddlers."

And as if to emphasize this, he gave the arm attached to the hand that was attached to her a pointed jostle, thumping it on the metal table.

Obviously such a maneuver was a mistake.

Pain knifed up his arm and to his neck like wildfire, Harry thudding his head back with a groan.

To Luna's credit, her sympathy for him had run out. "You look terrible, Harry."

"Yeah, well, I feel it." The stench of cleaners and mingled death was making him lightheaded. Then again, maybe that was the blood loss. Cracking an eye in a misbegotten attempt to spot the source of his arm pain, he winced. He seemed to have a needle taped to his inner elbow, and he eyed the mark warily.

Luna being Luna, picked up on this.

"We had to give you a blood transfusion," she murmured in quiet explication, playing with the back of his hand. "On account you rather rudely tried to die."

"Ah," he croaked, "so that's why I feel like shit."

There was the slight hiss of breath, as if upset, then…

"Well, it was either that or shove a tube down your throat to dump blood replenishing potion in," she calmly informed. "But Dr. Xoxhimitil tells me you can't control your throat when unconscious, so you'd have drowned if we'd pried open your jaw and poured. So unless you had ambitions of drowning, arm pricks were her only option." She paused. "I suppose there always was the option of just letting you die, but really, it'd have made such a mess."

She wrinkled her nose in distaste.

He choked on a hoarse laugh. "Well fuck, guess I'll have to try to not bleed out on ya again. You know…'cuz of the mess."

"Obviously. Really, Harry, try not to be so selfish. Just think of the poor clean-up crew."

His entire body outright shook in a repressed laugh, the wizard closing his eyes as he let her welcome sarcasm wash over him. "Consider me abashed." Cracking an eye, he directed a mild look down at his mangled leg, which looked…surprisingly good, all things considered.

Below the knee his left leg was covered in bright yellow bandages, all with vampiric smiley faces, the fangs dripping with big, fat drops of blood, that had clearly been drawn in with a marker. But hey, at least it wasn't his own literal blood staining it this time, so he'd call that a win.

There was not a question in his mind that it was Luna's handy work, and a cursory glance towards her hands revealed fingertips stained with red marker. "You decorated me."

"I find medical supplies to be rather sterile, Harry."

He snorted. "Medical supplies are supposed to be sterile."

"You know perfectly well that's not what I mean." Quirking a pale eyebrow, she offendedly added, "Besides, I thought you liked my first aid job? You had a rough morning. I didn't think it'd be fair to leave you with something plain and boring, like hospital beige for your gauze after that. That'd be cruel."

"Happy face tourniquets," he laughed hoarsely. "You might be bleeding to death, but at least you'll go out seeing a smile."

Luna sent him a cautiously pleased smile, and then went quiet.

So did he.

The morgue was eerily quiet, the heater kicking on and sending a set of plastic sheets folded in the corner rustling. Neither said a word, but Harry could feel her fingers trembling, her palm pressing just a bit harder to his. Looking at her, not looking away, he let his thumb rub against the back of her hand, and if she shuddered beneath his touch he was gentleman enough not to mention it.

Luna interlaced her fingers between his, holding tight. Harry held on right back, his calluses scraping against her far smoother skin.

Those tourmaline eyes of hers never once looked away, and despite her uncombed hair, despite the dust on her face, clinging to her eyelashes, despite the reddened skin around her nose and the tired lines under her eyes, and despite that ridiculous wool hat on her head with colorful fringes sticking out in every direction, he couldn't help but think that she was unbearably beautiful.

Luna hesitantly moved, her eyes flickering questioningly over his, and he felt like he could go into cardiac arrest in anticipation.

And then she touched him, and he wasn't entirely certain he hadn't.

She touched his forearm, the brush of her fingertips over his skin driving a spasmodic shudder through his entire body. Lazily she began to trace incomprehensible patterns over his skin, the brush of her fingers leaving trails of liquid fire. Harry's flesh burned in a way he couldn't ignore.

"Fuck," he breathed, closing his eyes. "Luna, you're-"

"I know," she whispered, cutting him off, and her voice flat out trembled as it grew even quieter. "I-I know."

She sucked in a breath, and so did he, and for a minute he lay there and basked in the pain and sensations, content to do a dozen more rounds with a demon if it only got him back to this.

The witch was definitely a witch, because she read his mind. "Don't do that again, Harry," she chastised softly. "You…that scared me."

"Hell, it scared me." And he was being truthful. Shadow demons…fuck.

The tips of her fingernails dug against his forearm just a bit harder. "I didn't think Gryffindors got scared." Luna's eyes swirled with something he was ill-equipped to identify, but when he did his stomach dropped. Luna'd been truly, deeply frightened.

Harry instantly hated that he'd scared her. Hated it. "Sure we do," he managed, voice scratchier than he'd have liked, too rough with dehydration and blood loss to properly pull off flippant. "Just, you know, takes a lot. Dementors swarming a Quidditch pitch, homicidal megalomaniacs bent on world domination, Hermione…"

"You forgot," she whispered, "dragons."

"Nah, dragons were cake-walks. Like big puppies, just with bigger teeth. "

Hyacinth eyes strayed to his with a peculiar intensity. "That's not funny, Harry."

"Come on, it's a little funny."

"You didn't see yourself, Harry. You-" Luna made another one of those small sounds, shaking her head with clear upset. A lock of hair fell into her eyes with the motion, a tiny slip of blue hidden behind bright blonde. "I've never seen you like that before. I thought you might…"

She trailed off, words faltering.

That muscle deep in his chest leapt. "I'm alright."

"You almost weren't."

Despite himself, despite the situation, his lips twitched into a half-there grin. "You were worried," he said. "About me."

"There's no need to get a big head about it."

The green of his eyes darkened, the wizard tightening his hold on her hand, squeezing her fingers between his, and fuck if it didn't feel right. "Not dying is something I'm good at, alright? Promise."

Pale eyes swirled with confliction, and the way she looked at him practically broke him. "Promise?" she whispered.

"Promise."

That single word had gave her away, Harry watching her quietly, a new type of understanding swarming his mind. Luna had been scared. For him. She'd been scared something would happen, scared he'd die, and people who hated you…

They didn't get scared when a demon tried to kill you.

At some point he probably ought to ask her the extent of his injuries. Or what the hell had happened to that rogue stool. For now he was perfectly content to lay there and get doted on.

Though he did have some questions.

His tongue was heavy, throat dry, but he managed a thick swallow. "Asshole bird alright?"

"Be nice to Hassun, Harry." She reached up and gently flicked him on the nose. "He's a good bird."

He shot her a mock scowl, but a bit of relief he'd never damn well admit to swept through him. "Never said he wasn't," he denied.

A perfect, pale eyebrow lifted. "You called him an asshole."

"What?" This time he outright lied. "It's a pet name."

Luna scoffed, skeptical, and the single light overhead buzzed.

Her reaction, at least, told him what he'd needed to know. "Fine," he begrudged, "given he saved my ass, tell that asshole with wings thanks." That he'd thought he'd heard the thing speak to him though…

For now he kept that to himself.

There was a lot he was keeping to himself.

Harry let out a tired breath, voice rough with exhaustion. "How about that overly friendly diner-owner? Stool still rogue? That other guy ever get his pecan pie?"

Luna let out an exasperated breath. "Rylan is bruised, but fine. Huritt ran the stool over with his patrol car. And no," her voice dropped dramatically, "the pecan pie was burnt beyond saving." Her pale eyes narrowed onto him in silent accusation, as if that had been his fault.

To be fair, she wasn't exactly wrong.

Any bite to her words faded, her fingertips once again dancing over his forearm, Harry's body giving a traitorous shudder. But by mutual, unspoken agreement, neither of them mentioned it.

One thing did stick out. "He got thrown through a window. How the hell is he fine?" Harry'd taken a lot of hits over the years, been knocked from his broom more times than he could count, hexed into walls and decked by Neville and Ron, sometimes by both at the same damn time. He was no healer, but he reckoned that informally qualified him to say that there was no fucking way Rylan had escaped being thrown through a plate glass window without injury.

Luna hesitated.

He didn't miss it.

"His landing was softer than expected," she told, fingers going still on his arm and eyes not quite meeting his.

"Oh?" he rasped, skeptical as fuck. "Lucky, that."

She bit down on her lower lip, and when she spoke again Harry had a good idea she was lying. "A shrub. He landed in a shrub."

It was the desert. There hadn't been any shrubs. Not outside that diner. It hurt his stomach just thinking about it. "You don't have to lie to me, Luna."

There was no malice in his words, just honest damn hurt.

Luna had never, ever been someone who lied.

She was biting her lip again, and he squeezed her hand, hard. "Lunes…" he tried.

"I can't answer that," she whispered, conflicted. "I just can't."

"Okay."

Her face shot up, relief in her expression. Hell, his answer had surprised even himself.

This town was hiding something, and whatever it was he'd bet money that Luna knew about it. Whether it had anything to do with the murders, with the attack this morning, remained to be seen. But end of the day? He trusted her, with his damn life. Her sitting there with red rimmed eyes, like she'd been crying, over him? How the fuck could he not?

Neither of them spoke for some time.

The refrigeration units cooling the storage units hummed, the entire far wall a row of large, metal drawers, where the bodies were no doubt kept. Eventually he rubbed the pad of his thumb back over Luna's knuckles, the witch seeming to deflate in relief.

"So," he broached, "where exactly am I? Besides not in a body bag?"

Unrestrained, unabashed amusement flashed in her gaze. "What? Our morgue not good enough for the great Harry Potter?"

He flat out snorted, and the tension broke, just like that. "Just tell me I'm not dead and this isn't some twisted form of necrophilia you and Huritt are into."

She bit down on her lip, suppressing a smile. "If I was into necrophilia," she said simply, "you would have woken up to me on top of you, not next to you. Besides, wouldn't have worked. Your leg is trashed, and I like my men on top."

Harry choked on a laugh. "Fuck," he grated, "forgot how blunt you are."

And that…

That was what it took to get a real, genuine smile from her.

Finally.

It faded as fast as it'd come, and she looked away, studying a scar on his forearm he'd gotten from the 'apparently' infamous nundu. Her fingertips played along its length. "You're down here because we have only one physician in town today. She was doing the autopsies, and cannot get around very fast, so…it was easier to bring you to her, than her to you."

"Ah," he said, shuddering agreeably at her ministrations, "so no wizarding hospitals then."

She smiled faintly. "Afraid not. Didn't want to risk apparating with you that far. I'm not the best at side along when someone doesn't have their leg hanging halfway off, let alone when it is."

"Appreciate the courtesy."

"Anytime. Pull a stunt like that again and I might decide I don't care if your leg stays attached."

Harry's lips twitched into a tired smirk. "Lose my leg," he countered scratchily, "how do you expect me to be on top?"

Luna's dusty expression froze, her lips parting, only all that came out was a breathy laugh. "Misplaced confidence. You're lucky you have a concussion, Harry."

"You're the one who brought it up."

Luna huffed, but there was no malice in the sound.

Harry looked at her, and she looked at him, and he finally opened his mouth to tell her how god damn much he'd missed her-

Naturally that was when Huritt walked in.

The door swung in, and Harry made no attempt to hide how blatantly pissed he was about that, thudding the back of his head down on the gurney and letting out an angered growl. Luna simply made a shushing sound, patting his arm.

Huritt, that fucking asshole, just smiled.

"I see sleeping beauty has arisen from the dead," the man greeted. "Won't Rylan be disappointed."

Harry groaned.

Luna tilted her head with childlike innocence. "Sleeping beauty?"

"Yes, it's your friend over there and I's thing."

"No," Harry assured, "it's really not."

"Aren't you grumpy in the morning." Tribal Officer Hunter grinned, setting a cardboard to-go container on the counter. The four cups in it steamed merrily, ironically enough directly beneath the old-fashioned red fire alarm. "Take it he didn't receive a morning cuddle?"

"I hate you," he rasped, "so much."

Huritt turned around and leaned casually against the countertop, coffee in hand. "And here I mistook all those glowers as the start of a beautiful partnership. Could have been the next Joe Friday and Pep."

"Really?" Luna said benignly. "I would have thought Turner and Hooch. They were the most adorable cop and puppy duo."

"That case, you must be the pup, Harry," Huritt informed with deceptive banality. "It's nothing personal; you just growl more."

Harry lolled his head on the metal table and eyed a scalpel lovingly, debating if he could reach it in his current state. The needle in his arm stung, but he reckoned if he lunged…

Something thunked, followed by an indistinct metallic squeak. It sounded like something rolling.

Harry ceased his attempt to procure a murder weapon and lifted his head to blearily squint. He could see the tops of several metal examination tables and the drainage tubes leading off them. A sink with water was present at the heads of each one, but none of that explained the noise.

There was a shuffling.

Malachite eyes darted towards the sound. A rather modern-looking digital readout attached to what looked suspiciously like a body-sized scale hovered near a cabinet the size of the wall. Its door was thrown wide open, but Harry got the distinct and immediate impression that someone was behind it, rummaging around, searching for something inside.

Oh good. They had company.

"Coroner?" he asked Luna.

"Coroner," she confirmed.

"The Coroner can hear you," came a new, unrecognized voice from behind the cabinet door.

Something clanked, and Harry turned his attention back to more murderous endeavors. There were two rolling carts nearby. One Luna had turned into a perch, which explained how she was sitting so close to him, and the other had a blue polypropylene cover spread out on top, surgical supplies laid out in neat order all across. Most importantly, surgical supplies were sharp.

The scalpel glinted in the dim lighting, and damn was it tempting.

His hand twitched towards it…

"Welcome back to the land of the living, Auror Potter," came that crisp, feminine voice. "There will be no murders in my office, so do not even think about reaching for that."

"What about some light maiming?" Harry croaked, tone dry as the desert. "We okay for that?"

Luna patted his arm consolingly. "I'm sorry Maria," she offered, "but he always has been a little rabid when he wakes up in strange places."

Now Harry shot her a look. Luna gave him an unrepentant smile.

Huritt merely chuckled.

The ass.

"I told you not to leave your sharps lying around, Maria," the officer said. "Just think what the undead could do with them if they ever got around to their untimely awakenings." He paused. "Or unruly patients."

Harry directed his glower at him again.

Huritt winked.

This 'Maria', that he for some god forsaken reason still couldn't see, merely huffed. "Dear goddesses, you're not on about zombie apocalypses again, are you, Hunter?"

"Life favors the prepared, Maria."

Right. Harry really needed to get his hands on that scalpel. "Hey Huritt, come here," he croaked groggily, "want to do something to you."

"To me?" The bastard feigned mild surprise, leaning the full weight of his body on the pristine counter. "Didn't think men were your type."

It was amazing what homicidal urges could do to motivate a person.

Harry shoved himself the hell up, swinging his legs over the edge. Blinding pain racked literally every inch of his musculature – but especially his torn up leg. He temporarily ignored this. For now he waved Luna's attempts to help off, and contorted his body into what anatomists might call 'a modified sitting position'. The wizard protected the needle in his inner arm with his splinched hand and bit down the urge to vomit. He didn't have time for trivial things like illness. He had Huritts to kill.

Emphasis on the s, because he was seeing two of them.

He made another grab at the blade.

Luna snagged that hand with such casual speed that it was an outright wonder Kingsley had never tried to recruit her. He shot her a betrayed look.

She smiled, and the effect was quite pleasant. "Morning Huritt," she practically hummed behind her, "you brought coffee?"

Of all the things to fixate on, Harry fixated on that. "I thought you preferred tea?"

"Lightfoot has this wildly disconcerting habit of oscillating between the two, with no rhyme or reason," Huritt informed fondly. "There are also outlier days where she insists upon apple cider, or even worse…" his voice dropped dramatically, "hot chocolate."

Luna's head practically whipped over her shoulder to scowl at the man. "With marshmallows," she corrected firmly. "There absolutely has to be marshmallows, or hot chocolate is complete trash."

"Mmmhmm, how could I forget the great harvest incident of '07?"

"I stand by setting that fire, Huritt."

"Of course," Huritt conceded, as if pacifying a puppy. "Our volunteer fire department needed to run drills anyway."

Luna smacked the cart she was sitting on, triumphant, and a blade actually bounced. "So you admit they were bored!"

Huritt let out a rumbling chuckle, and Harry choked. Luna's attention shifted abruptly back, as if suddenly remembering he was there, and that she was holding his hand.

She rebounded quickly.

"I bet Harry would agree," she said slyly, a fiery sort of life in her eyes. It just dared him to disagree.

Naturally that was what he did.

"Depends," he muttered, eyes narrowed in brazen suspicion, "am I agreeing with your apparent acts of arson, that hot chocolate needs marshmallows, or that your volunteer firefighters were slacking?"

Luna let out an exasperated breath. "Well if you're not putting little floating life preservers in liquid cocoa then you're doing it wrong. Besides, they look pretty when they burn. Like Viking funeral pyres of molten sugar."

Harry bit back a smile. "Viking funeral pyres?"

"Of molten sugar," she reiterated with abject seriousness.

"So long as it's not a Roman pyre. Never did think they did it right."

Something warm and genuine lit up her face, the dust on her eyelashes flaking off as she widened her eyes. "Since when did Harry Potter start using non-magical historical references? That's two now."

His lips twitched, and a spot behind his left ear throbbed, but he managed a roughly amused sound as he ignored that. "So we're going to just pretend this casual pyromania of yours is normal then?"

"We suggested therapy," came that unrecognized voice again, "but it didn't take."

There'd be time to explore that horrifying statement later.

Right now Luna smiled, and so did he. The way she looked at him grabbed the full force of his attention, Harry oblivious to anything and everyone else. Harry hadn't missed that she hadn't let go of his hand; this entire time she hadn't let go even once. She'd just adjusted her grip as needed.

His leg gave a vicious throb, his vision swam, and Harry remembered that he'd just taken one hell of a beating, but he honestly didn't fucking care. He scrubbed the pad of his thumb over the backs of Luna's knuckles, the witch's eyes closing, her form giving an agreeable shiver.

Part of him wondered if Huritt ever made her shiver like that.

The other part just didn't care.

"As adorable as this is," came that voice again, that of the woman he'd yet to pay attention to in his partially concussed state, "I have important work to be getting on with, and I've been informed I needed you to proceed."

The large cabinet closed with a metallic thwang, someone rolling out from behind it.

He didn't notice.

Luna adjusted her hand in his, the gentle scrape of her nail rubbing circles on his palm igniting every nerve-ending he had. A delicious warmth swept through him, Harry nearly falling off the exam table there and then.

"He's looking a bit green," the newcomer informed, mistaking the cause. "Luna, you may want to-"

Luna hummed affirmation and hopped up from her perch – the instrument cart she'd turned into an improvised stool. It rolled away and bashed into the wall, the witch giving his hands one final squeeze before letting go. Harry felt the loss of her hands on him acutely. His brain was still swarming from her proximity, from the fact that she'd even touched him in the first place, from the fact that-

All logical thought left him.

Exercising zero subtlety Luna had dropped her hands to his thighs and shoved his knees apart, before squiggling in between them to get shockingly close. Her waist was stopped from getting any closer – thank fucking Merlin - by the exam table, the witch using her body as a physical barricade to quite literally prevent him from toppling face-first off and onto the floor.

Presumably. Preventing him from falling flat on his face was presumably her motivation for doing this.

Then again, it was equally possible she was doing this just to torture him.

Either way, the end result was Luna now stood directly in front of him, mere inches separating, and it brought her eyes to the approximate level of his nose. She graced him with a mildly scolding look, seemingly oblivious to how close she was standing.

Then again, she never had had a good concept of personal space.

"Okay Harry," she said calmly, "you can go ahead and pass out now. I won't mind."

Given that he was still seeing black spots, that wasn't altogether a terrible idea.

He also wanted to soak up every second of this.

It took him all of three seconds to realize that her sudden nearness in the otherwise cool room – the heating system was complete shit – was a terrible, bad, no good idea.

Luna's leg brushed against his inner thigh, and he let out a low groan.

If anyone asked he'd deny it. Or claim it'd been from sheer and unadulterated pain. His leg was mangled; it'd track in the believability department. Besides, it wouldn't be a complete lie. He didn't have to specify that his pain had shifted to a much more specific area beneath his jeans, where a certain favorite appendage of his was suddenly straining, courtesy of one miss Luna Lovegood, who even clothed head to toe in cold weather garments was the most alluring thing his imagination could construct.

Five years had done nothing, nothing to dull his attraction.

Concussions weren't much better. If anything, his current one rendered his inhibitions defunct.

He was screwed, plain and simple.

Fuck.

Something throbbed and pulsed deep inside him, and Harry clenched his gaze to avoid looking at her.

"Harry," Luna whispered, warm breath ghosting against his chin, "you're looking a little pal-"

"I'm good," he cut her off, throat like razors. "Just…" Grabbing her hand that had fallen to his thigh, presumably to help steady him, he rather pointedly moved it down to his knee. "Just don't, alright?"

From across the room Huritt chuckled, realizing his problem.

Even the newcomer tutted.

Thankfully Luna, for all her sensual appeal, didn't. Her hand practically leapt off his leg, her eyes widening. "I'm sorry, Harry. I hadn't realized you'd hurt that leg too."

"'S'alright," he managed through clenched teeth.

"But-"

He cracked one eye to send her an honest-to-god glare. "Promise," he forced, "I'm good."

Her eyes spun with concern. "Maria," her head whipped over her shoulder so fast that her hair hit him square in the face, "is there anything for the pain we could give him?"

"Not that sort of pain, I'm afraid," the woman replied somberly, dark eyes dancing with poorly concealed mirth. "But I wouldn't worry, I'm quite sure the problem will resolve itself."

Huritt muffled a laugh.

That settled it; this entire town was out to get him.

Luna had turned back around, her hands held awkwardly before her, as if debating where it was safe to put them without hurting him.

Huritt – that fuck – at least took pity. "Glad to see you're up and about, Harry." Maybe not.

Somewhere Sirius was laughing at him.

Luna, who was still oblivious, had settled on grabbing a hold of his shoulders, adopting an utter look of seriousness. He shot her a mild look of his own, Luna's bright-colored eyes narrowing.

Apparently, in her worry over him, she was taking none of his shit.

Harry wasn't clear on what that shit was, but knowing himself as well as he did, he reckoned he probably deserved it.

The doctor cleared her throat, and Harry's attention got diverted. He seized upon the distraction eagerly, because thinking about how close Luna was standing, right after she'd said she preferred her men on top, would only end poorly.

Harry peered over the top of Luna's blonde head, and it immediately became apparent why he'd hadn't seen the doctor properly before, when lying flat.

She was lower to the ground than one might have expected.

A darker-skinned woman, her skin somewhat paled from what were clearly long hours spent indoors, sat in a wheelchair fixing him with a stern look. It wasn't unwelcoming, but more clinical in nature, the way an animal control official might observe a particularly valuable and endangered rampaging animal that'd escaped from the zoo, while calculating the best way to tranquilize it safely.

Harry's leg throbbed, the wizard grimacing. The woman's eyes merely shifted down, as if intuiting the problem through facial expressions alone.

Straightaway she grabbed his attention.

It wasn't the wheelchair, or the leg braces attached to what were clearly small and underdeveloped legs, the woman clearly barely capable –if at all - of doing independent transfer from her wheelchair to other seats on her own.

No.

What struck him was that she was stunning. Jaw-dropping, breathtakingly stunning. Like this month's cover girl in the flesh.

Her cheekbones were high and angular, her eyes almond-shaped and dark as night, sweeping eyelashes long and, if even possible, darker than the irises they framed. She was young, much younger than a pathologist ought to be, and given what Harry knew about medical schools and residency programs he couldn't imaging her to be actually younger than him, yet she looked it.

Her hair was black - not brown but a black so dark its very color seemed to shift and reflect the light in a myriad of unnatural colors, reminding him strangely of that asshole raven's feathers – and it was thick and wavy and swept into a low, professional ponytail. The woman was native, clearly, but he'd have been hard-pressed to say what tribe she bore resemblance.

Which was fucked up, given he was usually good at that sort of thing.

Years of traveling, working with every culture and ethnicity imaginable had made Harry excellent at identifying a person's genetic background from facial features alone. Normally he could do it at a glance, but this woman?

He had honest-to-god no fucking idea.

To be fair, given his concussed state, Luna's proximity, and his last year of celibacy, this woman could have rolled in here with an AK-47 and a parade of club-swinging trolls and he wouldn't have noticed, all because Luna had touched him.

He was slipping.

He didn't have time for that.

He refocused his attention, and reviewed what he knew.

There were multiple women dead, their bodies found in an area that would have been hard-to-reach even for the most athletic, let alone for someone hauling a body. The desert landscape was best known to locals, so while it didn't rule out an outsider, it tipped the odds of in favor of the perpetrator being a local, so the more he knew about the players involved the better. And that included this woman.

Granted, he doubted she was capable of hauling bodies miles into the wilderness single handedly, but hey, he'd never been one to underestimate an underdog.

Besides, given her access to poisons and clear knowledge of forensics given she was the frickin' coroner, she was perfectly capable of murder without leaving a single mark on the person's body. And hell, she had the knowledge to cover it up.

She could be working with a partner. Hunter, perhaps? Or another player?

Then again there was the dark magic to consider. Dark magic had something to do with their deaths. He knew it. Harry had smelled it on the bodies. He'd smelled it, and there'd been no reason for Hunter to have called his ass in to help if he'd been involved. Absolutely fucking none.

As much as it goaded him, that meant the Tribal Officer was probably innocent.

Probably.

Damn't.

That still didn't clear the coroner.

The woman waited patiently, a smirk staining her full and pouty lips as if she knew exactly what he was thinking.

Harry took advantage. Bodily she didn't look particularly strong. She'd never be able to lift, let alone survive a physical altercation with anyone, but that didn't rule out magic. Given what he'd learned about this town, how even the Muggles seemed to possess some magical talents, he wasn't ruling her as a magical practitioner out. He hadn't forgotten how that townsman had walked into the diner and commented about the pecan pie going bad; clearly the man had smelled the dark magical taint on the air, just like Huritt could.

Not to mention Rylan was apparently 'fine' after being thrown through a plate glass window, and that…was impossible.

Part of him wondered just how much magic the people in this town actually possessed.

He decided to test that theory.

And he sure as fuck wasn't asking permission.

He took several deeper-than-usual breaths, closing his eyes. Luna made a worried sound. He ignored this, because this – something that was usually easy for him – was going to be hard as fuck right now. But hey, full body beatings did that to a person.

The next time he decided that a bar room and jailhouse brawl, drunken splinching, a trek into the desert, overnighting with a past one-night-stand, before wrestling with a demon sounded like a grand way to spend his weekend, he'd do himself a favor: Floo Ron and ask his best mate to just go ahead and punch him.

And Ron would, no questions asked. He was just that good a mate.

For now Harry's head screamed – his brain was well-versed in reminding him that he was a moron – and the wizard concentrated. The process was relatively slow, all things considered, but slowly…slowly he regulated his breathing. Magic, buried and primitive, rose up from deep within his bones, his blood, rising…

Years back on assignment in the rainforests of the Côte d'Ivoire he'd come across a lesser known magical tribe. He'd still been with the Aurors back then, out there with Neville, thrown into the hot and muggy tropics to prevent a Muggle militia from destroying what was left of the magical community there. A grueling five months had passed, sweat and blood and mud and too many insect bites to count – malaria was a real bitch - but against all odds an elder had taken a liking to them both during their long nights playing cards and imbibing a strange sort of palm liquor out of clay-made shot glasses.

That mage had taught him long forgotten magicks, things England and the rest of the world had long since dismissed as fantasy. And one of those would be infinitely valuable right now.

There were ways to detect the magical capability in others, to feel it running through their blood. But not everyone had the knack. He had; Neville hadn't.

Luna had loved hearing about it.

Maria and Huritt had begun talking in the background, not yet having noticed. They probably thought he was still sitting there, in silence, trying to get his raging libido under control.

Luna wasn't as oblivious. Her breathing had changed, fractionally, the witch having fallen eerily silent.

It took a full minute, maybe five, but slowly something began to crawl beneath his skin, a tingling slithering underneath that top layer of flesh, and Luna's hold on him tightened instinctively.

She clearly felt what he was doing.

Harry ignored this.

Instead Harry released a breath into the chilly air of the morgue, and having dredged up magic from deep in his veins, he reached. Luna sucked in a shaken breath, her fingertips digging against his shoulder blades just a bit deeper, Harry's heart thundering at the feel, and that…that was when hiding what he was doing no longer became possible.

A strange static began to build in the air. It probed the room gently.

And all of a sudden he could feel Luna.

The magic thrumming through her veins, her very essence, flooded him. It slapped him like a rogue wave from the ocean, and his entire world shifted abruptly on its axis.

It'd been years...

He'd nearly forgotten.

This wasn't the first time he'd felt her magic – he'd practiced upon her often enough when he and Neville'd returned from the jungles, long nights spent on her couch, lights lowered to block out visual distractions, muffling charms to block out audible ones, as she'd let him use her literal body for practice. That'd been when it'd started, when he'd realized how damn badly he'd wanted her, because the first time their magicks had touched they'd wrapped around one another like pythons and refused to let go. It'd been an intensity he'd never felt, never fathomed possible.

There'd always been a connection to Luna; she'd been his friend, a good one. But after that?

It'd taken everything he'd had, every bit of raw willpower he possessed to pull himself back, to tug his magick away from hers, collapsing back on her couch. Yet Luna had sat there, chest heaving and eyes slightly glazed, and offered to let him continue to use her, to practice magick-sensing on her, again and again and again, until he'd realized that she'd wanted it as badly as him.

Her magick had craved his, just as much as his did hers.

Even then he'd betrayed Neville, though he'd never lain a single hand on her.

Years later, in a morgue, it seemed nothing had changed.

For a tempestuous moment Harry foolishly lingered. Luna's magic had always been different. Matchless and irreplaceable, full of promise and an ability to stretch into realms unseen, somehow brilliant and beautiful and lighter, and Harry knew with utter confidence that he could pick her magic out, blindfolded in a roomful of people.

Luna was special; she always had been.

A sensation deep within his stomach rose up like an excited child on Christmas, and it was all he could do to not make a sound of raw, pure need. Harry's magick brushed testingly across hers, and for a wild, reckless moment Luna's magick flared to life. Her magick was like a faes, thrumming with promise, and it welcomed his, latching on and clinging tight as if mourning a long lost friend.

Luna made a small sound, and his jaw flexed tightly. Gods…

It'd been so, so long.

Some part of Harry had always wondered if that uniqueness to her magick, that special something he tasted within it, that ineffable something that the magic of others seemed to lack and he was ill-suited to define, allowed her to see things other could not. He figured it did. It'd explain her stark adherence to cryptids and the unknown. He loved that about her. Always had.

Every cell within him begged to remain, intermingling with hers, to pretend they were back there, on that couch in her flat, a lifetime ago, but for now…

Unconsciously his hand balled into a fist, breathing settling into something calmer, deeper as he regretfully forced his magic to leave, to move on, traveling past Luna's. She wasn't his, no matter how much he wanted her to be.

Harry wrenched his magick back, stretching his search outward into the room at large.

Luna whimpered, shivering against him, and unseen to both he and her, Huritt watched with the vestiges of a fond smile.

Harry never noticed. His attention, magic, was elsewhere. It swept towards the wheelchair-bound coroner. The doctor did not move, and Harry was glad for it. With his throbbing skull, aching body and the room spinning just a bit too fast to be natural, the woman holding still made this easier.

Touching the magic of another was usually unpleasant, a violation of their very being.

Strange how it had never felt that way with Luna.

Harry reached for the coroner,feeling for magic, feeling for any trace of it within her….

But there was nothing.

Absolutely fucking nothing.

The woman simply sat there, quirking an eyebrow.

Harry heaved a breath, satisfied with his findings, but when he went to withdraw, to pull away, something caught his magic's attention.

Something unnatural.

There was something else in the room with them, and when Harry allowed his magic free tether to explore, what it brushed against, what he found was something new.

Something different.

Something frightening.

It was magic, strong and thick and powerful, but restrained and untouched. Suppressed. He allowed his own a moment, just a moment to explore, to sense, to fucking investigate.

That foreign magic vibrated like a strummed guitar string, taut and real and ready to snap, to send sound waves out into the world. Though the magic had never been used, not the way it strained and begged to be, because it'd been suppressed. Like a dog that had never learned to bark, or a child who had never heard proper speech. It didn't know how to be.

He didn't know what to make of it.

It was pure and untainted, different in the way that Luna's was, but not in the same way.

The difference was that there was a restrained sense of power just waiting to explode, the kind he'd once felt in a religious community's repressed child, just before the child had turned into an obscurus.

A violent, deadly, dangerous obscurus.

Twisted and repressed and wrong.

Only what he felt now wasn't an obscurus.

No. This…was something else entirely, and for the life of him he didn't recognize it.

Harry's magic snapped back to him with an audible crack. His breathing came out hard and unsteady, as if he'd just sprinted uphill several miles. The trace of Luna's magick upon his own lingered, the wizard's hand rising up to wrap shakily around Luna's wrist. The need to feel her against him was strong, his magick practically screaming that it needed her, but he didn't have time to entertain it. He didn't. Harry had other matters to attend.

Harry opened his eyes, and they cut across the room like shards of sharp rock, settling firmly onto Tribal Officer Huritt Hunter.

The man met his gaze, and took a long, calm sip of his coffee, a knowing smile touching his lips.

Fuck.