Chapter 2: Onions and a Redhead
Author's note: If you haven't read the prologue Midnight
Musings by now, you should, or you won't understand the 'codenames'. Thanks.
Oh Harry, I’m afraid I have to rush home,” exclaimed Hermione,
shoving thick texts and parchment into a leather satchel. “If I’d known you
were coming to the lab this afternoon, I would have saved you the trouble of
going through Security.”
It was a Thursday afternoon in late May, and Harry had unexpectedly
dropped by The New Institute for Experimental Magic - where Hermione studied,
scribbled, and waved her wand with her brainy co-workers (almost exclusively
Ravenclaws), pushing the boundaries of magic to sublime and uncharted extremes.
Harry had said he wanted to speak to her about something personal (!) - a rare
statement from him.
“That’s okay,” he said distractedly,
as he stood at the spell-proof glass window, watching her colleagues move about
in the testing room.
“What exactly are they doing
in there?” he asked her slowly, his mouth twitching at the corners. They did
look rather silly: a group of otherwise distinguished men and women jumping
and waving their arms in the air while a levitating handbag moved rapidly just
out of their reach. One young woman weaved rapidly through the others, and the
handbag seemed to follow her.
“They are testing the rrresilency of the spell,” replied
an imperious voice, with a pretentious rolling of his ‘r’. Rrrrrreally,
thought Hermione wearily.
They turned to face Hermione’s colleague, Nigel Sidethorne,
and Hermione watched as his eyes raked disapprovingly over Harry’s combat fatigues
and dusty boots, but settling on the glowing “C” on Harry’s Visitor badge (indicating
‘clearance’ through Security) and then beadily checking the date.
Hermione opened her mouth to make introductions, but Nigel
was already speaking again. “The sequor responsae spell is my improvement
on the old sequor res, enabling the caster to transport an object
a few feet behind him or her, without the former difficulties. Similarly to
an Accio charm, the object will now dodge obstructions such as other
wizards, trees or lamposts."
“The old ‘puppy dog’ spell,” she explained to Harry. “Remember
Ron tried it once? You could make your bookbag follow you around, but it was
useless, because it bumped into everyone in the corridors.”
Harry nodded, grinning broadly. “He whacked Marcus Flint
on the back of the head and we had to run for it."
"AS I WAS SAYING," continued Nigel, "the
object will trail its caster for as long as four days. And, as a theft deterrent,
only the caster can access the object, by calling it to him - or her"
he bowed slightly at Hermione, acknowledging that yes, even a woman could execute
this spell, "with a simple whistle."
In the testing room, the six or so technicians were now puckered
up and whistling at the handbag. Finally, the young woman stopped her pacing,
turned to face the bag, and whistled. It flew dutifully into her arms.
“Brilliant,” murmured Harry, earning a self-satisfied smile
Hermione tapped her fingers discreetly on the leather buckle
of her satchel - we’ve got to go - she indicated to Harry with her eyes,
but he held up a finger: Just a minute.
He turned to Nigel, his face alight with interest. “Will
the object follow you at any speed? Say, you were doing seventy-five, eighty
miles an hour on your broomstick, and ... even going through a densely treed
forest, with a heavy rucksack following you. Would that be possible?”
Nigel’s smile faded slightly. “Well,” he said, bristling,
“we haven’t tested it under such extreme conditions. Why would anyone be foolish
enough to attempt such a feat anyway? Those sorts of speeds are illegal outside
a sporting pitch."
Hermione caught a flash of mischief in Harry's expression.
“Well,” he responded, copying Nigel’s tone exactly, “if
one were trying to escape from something or someone, say-- a Death Eater?--
one might endeavor to move one’s arse at eighty miles per hour.”
Hermione suppressed a smile. What was up with him today?
Nigel eyes moved sharply to Harry’s face, and then widened
in astonishment (and slight trepidation) as he comprehended, for the first time,
to whom he was speaking. However, he recovered impressively to his predictable
self. “The New Institute for Experimental Magic,” in the most patronizing voice
he could muster, “does not cater solely to the military or--” he scanned Harry’s
attire again “-- their imitators, the paramilitary. We are here to improve
the daily lives of witches and wizards the world over.”
Imitators! It was a direct swipe at the Underground
Auror League, and Hermione felt the urge to jump into the fray. I suppose
eliminating You-Know-Who from the earth doesn’t count toward improving the lives
of witches and wizards? I’d like to see you crawl down the abandoned shafts
of Nenthead Mine in hunt for the most evil being of our time, Nigel. But
she held her tongue; there was no time. “Please, Harry, we’ve got to go! I’m
expecting a delivery at the flat. Apparate home with me?”
Harry seemed entirely unruffled - indeed, he now had a dangerous
Ron-like twinkle in his eye, and his mouth twitched at the corners. Hermione
tugged at his arm before he could bait her colleague any further. Nigel stared
indignantly as Harry executed an exaggerated military salute and “Sir!” in Nigel’s
direction before Hermione pulled him through the door.
Harry stepped out of his invisibility cloak as soon the delivery
men had closed the door behind them. "So,” he said, “ we rushed over here because
you're having a mattress delivered?" Harry made no effort to hide his
grin. "A larger mattress," he noted pointedly, glancing into the bedroom. “Is
that a queen-sized? A king?” He looked over at Hermione, biting his lip to keep
"Well," began Hermione, feeling her face burn. It was king-sized. Her single
bed just hadn't sufficient room for 'a good romp', as Ron would say, nor room
for comfortable sleeping. Not that Ron had ever slept an entire night at the
flat - he would fall asleep though, afterwards, and she would usually
charm the alarm clock so he could be back at The Burrow by one or two a.m..
She regarded with satisfaction the antique wrought iron bedframe
that they had picked out together last week - a slightly distressed paint finish,
simple lines, not too Victorian or fussy. Perfect. It suited the decor of Hermione's
small Regency-era flat: a mix of old architecture, scrubbed wood floors, a few
well-chosen pieces of comfortable furniture, and very modern textiles of cream
and khaki linen, chenille and coir. And books, of course. Shelves and shelves
of Hermione's books, from prized ancient treatises on spell theory to modern
editions of wizard poetry.
"Well," she repeated, while Harry tortured her, waiting for
an explanation. She shook her head indignantly, and walked into the kitchen.
"Don't just stand there," she called finally. "Come and make yourself useful
while we talk."
Harry came into the kitchen, chuckling throatily, as Hermione got out the ingredients
for dinner. She passed Harry a bunch of cilantro. "De-stem these," she ordered.
"Is this a potion you're making?" Harry asked, bringing the distinctive-smelling
leaves to his nose.
"No, dinner. Chicken with a cilantro and cumin paste. It’s like a pesto."
"What the hell is pesto?"
"Oh, Harry. You have got to get out more often. Eat out a a decent restaurant."
She refrained from saying 'take a girl out once in a while',
although she wanted to. Besides, she was beginning to hope that there was a
girl. He had missed their past two weekly pub meals, citing 'other plans.' And
there was an unmistakable animation in him today that she hadn't seen in ages.
He didn't answer, but only smiled and set to his assignment. Hermione pulled
out her wand, and set a mortar and pestle grinding the cumin seeds.
She could contain her curiosity no longer. "So. Anything new in your life? What
exactly are you so chipper about today?"
Harry looked slightly startled. "Oh. Is that so unusual?"
"Yes and no. You' ve seemed rather down lately."
"Yeah, well," he sighed, "last month was a strange one. Katie wasn't the only
friend killed in that mass hex.. An Auror friend of mine was at the same restaurant.
He was in Polyjuice disguise at the time, and so we didn't find out until later."
He frowned. "An Auror wants to go down fighting, not twirling pasta on his fork."
They worked in silence for a few minutes, and Hermione's
mind wandered back to the awkward conversation about Katie Bell that night at
the Three Broomsticks. And what was in that letter? "Harry," she said
suddenly. "You said you wanted to talk to me about something personal."
"Yes," he said , clearing his throat, and pushing aside a pile of cilantro leaves.
Hermione held up a hand to interrupt. "Listen, if it's about Katie Bell, you
don't have to tell me. It's none of my business, really."
Harry stared at her, a sudden look of apprehension on his face. "No,
no. It's a personal question for you and Ron actually - regarding the War."
He cocked his head slightly to one side. "What makes you think this is about
Katie Bell? Have you... heard something further?"
"No," Hermione answered hurriedly. "I would not ask Ron to betray your confidence
- I thought I made that clear at The Three Broomsticks. But I realized he was
covering for you."
"Covering for me??" Harry snorted with amusement, the worried expression
disappearing. "Oh - ho, that's rich. Covering for himself would be more likely."
He picked up one of the peppers and a knife. "Shall I chop these up?"
Hermione nodded wordlessly, her mind digesting Harry's
response: Ron, covering for himself ? Wasn't it both boys that
had met up with Katie that night? Or just Ron?
“Hey, Hermione,” he said softly, reading her expression.
He placed a hand on her forearm. “Don't worry about the Katie Bell incident.
Ron and I were so young, and we thought you were, well... dead."
Was he implying that their immaturity and her death would
have made this undivulgable 'incident' more acceptable? "So this happened in
seventh year at Hogwarts," she cried, "when I was hostage to the Death Eaters!
But Katie had left school two years prior--"
"Hermione," he said with mild exasperation. "It’s no big
deal, really. Not now, anyway.” He waved the pepper dismissively at her.
Hermione turned to the sink to separate and wash lettuce
for the salad. A deep frown collected on her brow as she sorted these new comments
from Harry. Ron had grown into a totally gorgeous specimen of a male by their
seventh year: tall and broad-shouldered, with a Quidditch-honed body and a beautiful
smile. Any girl, any woman for that matter, would have been attracted
to him. Katie was no wilting flower herself - a professional Qudditch player
by then, a confident and athletic strawberry blonde.
Hermione dried her hands and reached up absently to touch
her own super-short, stylish brown hair. She had worn it that way ever since
the kidnapping. The Death Eaters had shaved off all her hair, and when it started
to grow back, she found she actually preferred the unencumbrance of short hair.
Ron liked it, or so he said. He had always made her feel attractive, even though
she liked to deny that it held any importance for her.
Surely, surely, Ron and Katie hadn’t... no. When she had
finally consented to let Ron into her bed last year, he had come to her as a
virgin. (Hadn’t he?) They had certainly fumbled about ignorantly the
first time. After all, one of his (many) nicknames for her was “my first and
only”. He wouldn't have lied to her; he wouldn't. She was overreacting.
Hermione washed her hands again and summoned mushrooms and cucumbers from the
larder. With a nauseous mix of burning curiosity and guilt at her doubts, she
wondered if she should coax more information out of Harry.
"You are staying for dinner, aren't you?" she asked him,
as casually as possible, handing him two massive onions, produce from the local
"Should I?" Harry was grinning at her again. "It looks like you and Ron have
a big evening ahead: first a fashion show"-- he waved the knife vaguely over
at the couch, which was draped out with neat piles of feminine Muggle clothing--
"and then you've got to christen the...ahem...new acquisition." He nodded
toward the bedroom, and she could see one eyebrow cocked mischievously behind
the rim of his glasses.
"Oh stop! Enough." Hermione rolled her eyes and pushed aside her anxiety with
great mental effort. Ron loves me. Whatever happened , it was over four
years ago now and therefore irrelevant. "Those Muggle clothes are out because
I am lending Ginny some outfits for their trip to the south of France next week."
The chopping slowed. "Their ...trip to...?"
"Ginny and Colin." Hermione patted the chicken dry and began rubbing a clove
of garlic all over the skin. "Colin is photographing the lavender fields in
bloom and the olive trees and whatever objects catch his eye. He's quite the
artist, you know; he creates these sepia-toned, vintage style prints.
"Ginny serves as a model sometimes, much to Ron's disapproval of course," she
chuckled. "Colin doesn't take nude photographs or anything; it's usually just
her hand or her hair, but Ron doesn't want any part of Ginny on some art gallery
Hermione paused; Harry had stopped chopping altogether and he was staring at
her, all color drained from his face, the knife poised above the chopping board.
"What's wrong?" she asked quickly. "Are you all right?"
Harry swallowed hard and started up his chopping again. "Nothing. Nothing."
She continued after a moment, watching Harry carefully, "Anyway, Ginny can hardly
afford this trip, much less a bunch of Muggle clothes, so I offered to lend
her some." She washed and dried her hands and then walked to the couch to pick
up a strappy turquoise dress. "Can't you just see this color on Ginny?"
He looked up. "Yes," he said, but his voice came out in a croaky sort of whisper.
Hermione stared at him with a piercing scrutiny. He colored then, a deep red,
and looked away. He picked up the other onion. Chop, chop, chop he went again.
Why should this news of Ginny and Colin unsettle Harry so much? Is it possible
- could it be - that Harry cared for Ginny again after all this time? Hmm,
she thought, tidying the pile of clothing; it should be an interesting evening.
"Harry," she said quietly. "You wanted to talk to me about the War."
"Yes...wait." He seemed to struggle. "I thought...I thought they were just friends."
Chop, chop, chop he continued. He wouldn't look
Hermione leaned forward, her elbows on the counter. "That is what Ginny has
said. Maybe that's what she tells Ron, because he doesn't particularly like
Colin." She smiled. "Not that he likes anyone that takes a fancy to Ginny."
Harry looked up. His face still burned red, and his eyes were starting to water.
"And what do you think?"
"Are you all right, Harry?" she asked again.
"Yes!" he said impatiently, "it's the damn onions making my eyes burn." He took
off his glasses and tried to wipe his eyes on his sleeve.
“Why aren’t you using magic to chop those?”
“Because!” he shot back irritably, “I can handle a knife
better with my hands. And WHAT DO YOU THINK, Hermione?" he repeated, almost
She handed him a tissue, answering gently. "I honestly don't know. Colin dotes
on Ginny, but that may not mean anything. Anyway, you can decide for yourself
when they get here."
"WHAT!" He leapt backwards off his stool. Sometimes, Hermione could almost swear
he could fly without a broomstick.
"They're coming here? TONIGHT?" His eyes were streaming now, and he felt blindly
for the board of onions and pushed them violently away. "WHEN?"
"Any moment now-- "
Harry swore. He looked really quite pitiful, his eyes screwed
up, and a look of panic on his face. Our invincible Harry, undone by onions
and a redhead. Hermione would have smiled at this thought, if she hadn’t
been still reeling from his reactions.
He opened one eye, and shoved his glasses back on. "I've got to go. Sorry, Hermione.
I've got to go."
"But Harry, you haven’t even seen Ron yet, much less had a chance to talk. You
wanted to discuss something about the war."
"Later, Hermione. I'll owl you later." He threw on his rucksack, grabbed his
broom and headed toward the door. He paused, the doorknob in his hand, and put
his ear to the door. Hermione watched in disbelief. He was truly desperate NOT
to see her. He turned briefly to Hermione, and blushed crimson again. All was
clear to her, and he knew it.
"Hermione..." He almost pleaded.
"I won't say a word to her. I promise." She wasn't for a second going to promise
not to speak to Ron about this. It was too startling. A long, detailed discussion
with Ron would be necessary - late tonight. After Ginny and Colin were gone,
and after Hermione and Ron tested out the mattress.
“Get me a martini, girl!” barked Draco from his leather chair.
This flat was just too big sometimes - had she heard him? Then: Blaise’s quick
footsteps on the marble floor in the hallway. That’s better.
“Really, Draco, you could ask the house elf,” she spoke huffily
as she sloshed the liquid into the crystal glass and handed it to him.
Draco ignored her.
He was in an exceedingly bad mood. His favorite spy had informed
him this afternoon that it was none other than Ronald Weasley(!)
who was the owner of the homegrown manufacturing company that Draco wanted to
buy. That ridiculous, red-headed idiot had become a successful entrepreneur,
following the steps of the twin idiots and their owl-order joke catalogue. Bloody
carrot-headed bastard - and Draco had offered him such generous terms. What
irked him most was the patronizing tone of the rejection letter - he could almost
hear Weasley’s pedestrian humor in it. Had Weasley discovered who had made the
offer? Draco had been very careful to conduct all communication through an anonymous
That little company had sold a Terrormeter to every wizard
household in Britain. An itty bitty gadget that had changed the war, really.
No longer could Death Eaters enjoy the slow and repeated torture of a Cruciatus
victim. The Terrormeter, worn around the neck, or placed in any home or building,
could detect traces of fear in its inhabitants. When it reached a certain threshold,
a level of terror that only Crucio could elicit, then it alerted the
authorities. No, actually, it alerted that rogue group of Aurors - Potter’s
group, thought Draco bitterly - and they Apparated immediately to the rescue.
The Aurors had arrested over twenty Death Eaters with the aid of that gadget
(Father was lucky not to have been one of them). Draco had read in Wizard’s
Small Business Weekly that it was supposed to be inspired by some Muggle
product: ‘help help, I’ve fallen and I can’t get up’, Draco recalled. Whatever
Weasley had signed the letter with a fake name of course, of course: Ikan
Makitrite. (Was that supposed to be funny?) The Dark Side
had recently listed the unknown creator of the Terrormeter as a high priority
target. Hah! Draco’s personal spy network was more informed than his father’s!
A fine bit of information, it was too. He could dangle it
in front of his father, perhaps, in exchange for some greater control of the
(dwindling) Malfoy fortune. Hmmm... dare he play such a dangerous game?
Draco could certainly outwit his father with words or schemes, but he wasn't
so confident that he could escape bodily injury.
He shuddered and smoothed his already flawless coif with
his hand. Disfigurement, maiming, painful hexes - these were the pleasures of
his father's companions. No, he would keep Weasley's secret for now.
Father had "dropped by" Draco's elegant London flat by just yesterday, accompanied
by his ever-present bodyguards: six terrifying Russian-trained wizards - they
glowered threateningly at Draco before being dismissed to the next room. Draco
had experienced his usual mix of thrilling fear and arrogant disdain during
their little father-son chat. Slowly, round the room they had circled each other
as they exchanged barbs: how nervous you must feel sometimes, Draco, having
refused to pledge your allegiance to the leader of the Dark Forces - your own
father after all; and what a shame, Father, that the Stone Circle scheme
did not come to fruition. Yes, I read all about it in the papers, Draco had
said with a condescending sympathy. It is fortunate the Daily Prophet
did not mention your presence there, Father. We must uphold the family name,
mustn't we? Score: Draco 1/ Father nil.
Father is a fool, thought Draco smugly. He longs for the Dark Lord's
power - yet he will never achieve it. He hasn't the...charisma. He hasn't
the intelligence! Draco conceded that Father had maintained an army
of violent Death Eaters, recruited from the four corners of the earth. But the
genuinely evil wizarding families of the original Death Eaters were
now dead or in jail, no thanks to Potter and his jailbird godfather. And sooner
or later, the authorities will shatter Father's respectable facade with convincing,
unbribeable proof of his dark deeds, and he will spend the rest of his days
in Azkaban. Hee! thought Draco, draining his martini.
No, he would never pledge his loyalty to such a fool. If only the true Dark
Lord were still alive, he thought wistfully. Anyway, Draco had his own illegal
and malicious projects to think about...
His thoughts returned to Weasley, and he smiled slowly into
his empty glass. He would contact his spy at Gringotts first. There must be
some piece of intelligence about Weasley that Draco could use to his benefit.
Truly, blackmail, fraud and manipulation were the only activities that gave
him any joy these days. (Since the crash of the wizard stock market, and the
loss of half the Malfoy fortune, Draco had actually had to restrain
his spending. Imagine! A budget really takes the fun out of life.) Among Draco’s
spies was his hideous half-human, half-goblin friend at Gringotts, who supplied
him with highly useful information: the personal records of deposits, withdrawals
and purchases of any wizard or witch that Draco wanted to squeeze for money.
Unfortunately, his ultimate target, Potter, led an
extremely boring financial life. He took out modest sums of cash to pay for
living expenses. No money came in - the Underground Auror League were a volunteer
group - and Potter hadn’t bothered to invest his fortune, so no money had been
lost in the stock market crash. The money grew, slowly, conservatively, on interest
in the vaults at Gringotts. There were no women, no illicit potions, no extravagances
of living. How annoyingly ascetic. Potter’s only splurges were broomsticks:
custom built, the very best, a new one each year. Not much to exploit there.
Well, Weasley was almost as good. Draco would devise something,
something, to ruin him and take over his little goldmine of a company.
Oh, what irony: Draco owning the manufacturing rights to the gadget despised
by Death Eaters. A thrillingly powerful bargaining chip with Father. He laughed.
He let loose an evil menacing laugh, just to hear the sound of it, prompting
Blaise to cower behind her magazine. Who needs Crucio for entertainment?
“Bludger next!” called out Padfoot, holding aloft a sheet of parchment.
Bludger stepped forward to take her assignment, and moved aside. “Rubbish,”
she muttered, scanning the paper. “Bloody rubbish.”
She turned back to Padfoot, now bending down to discuss an assignment with
a Goblin Auror.
“What is this?” she demanded, shaking the paper in front of Padfoot’s
face. “This is a job for those nancy-boys at the Dark Force Defense League!
I’m not wasting my time escorting a shipment of Boomslang skin--”
“Now hold on! This is an unusual case; read the intelligence repor...”
“I don’t give a flying fairy-- YOU’ve taken me off Malfoy Manor surveillance.”
She folded her arms and glared at his handsome face, her eyes shooting daggers.
“Why?” she demanded.
Padfoot black eyes glinted dangerously in return-- then he pointedly ignored
her, turning back to the Goblin.
Fine, she thought, tapping her foot loudly on the floor. I’ll
New laws had made Boomslang Skin a highly controlled substance, in an effort
to prevent Death Eaters from using it in Polyjuice Potions. (Indeed, Polyjuice
Potion itself was now illegal, and only the Underground Auror League and the
Dark Force Defense League had permission to brew it.) But I’ll be damned
if I’m going to spend my time defending Boomslang couriers from black marketeers
and pirates. She knew there was no way Lucius Malfoy would involve himself
in such a petty crime, and therefore she wanted nothing to do with it.
Padfoot finished with the Goblin, and Bludger could see, in the corner of her
vision, another Auror moving forward. She stepped assertively in front of him.
“WHY, Padfoot? I want to know why.”
Padfoot sighed wearily. “Bludger, Lucius Malfoy has been laying low, licking
his wounds, ever since you and Greenhorn screwed up his world domination plan
at Castlerigg Stone Circle. I need your skills elsewhere right now.”
“So who’s watching him?”
“Besides the usual Intelligence Aurors at his club, his favorite restaurant,
etcetera, I’ve got Huffle and Puff at the Manor this week. Now wait
a minute...” He silenced her next outburst with a raised hand. “They’re keen
observers. Hard working, patient--they’re Hogwart’s educated--”
“No, duh.” She dropped her jaw in mock stupidity. “They couldn’t curse
a loaf of bread. Such clever codenames, too.”
“Mind your insubordination, Auror,” he growled at her.
Bludger changed tack. “Please,” she pleaded, “let me stay on Malfoy. I’ve studied
the man; I’m getting a good feel for his habits, his schedule. If you’d just
let me requisition an I-cloak--” already Padfoot was shaking his head--” I could
sneak in the Manor and find out what he’s up to next.”
Padfoot lowered his voice, though probably not enough to exclude the ears of
the Auror behind her . “I know how you feel about Lucius Malfoy, Bludger. Your
need for vengeance makes you emotionally unsuitable for such an assignment.
You’ll lose your head and then your life.”
How dare he presume to know her feelings... she clenched her fists
in fury. “That’s a load of--”
“Furthermore,” his voice was deadly quiet, “we want to catch and convict
Malfoy. Not kill him.” He gripped her upper arm in his large hand. “Don’t forget,
we are the GOOD guys.”
He released her. “What are you doing here?” he exclaimed, addressing the man
Bludger turned on them in anger, not yet willing to be dismissed - and halted.
It was Greenhorn, clutching his sleek broomstick tightly, an agitated expression
on his face.
His emerald eyes caught hers briefly, and she thought she saw a momentary flicker
of understanding. Damn. He had been standing behind her the whole time,
witnessing Padfoot’s half-sympathetic, half-patronizing assertion of his authority
over her. She hadn’t seen Greenhorn since their last night at the Stone Circle,
when all hell had broken loose, and he had saved her butt from capture and probably
Padfoot repeated, “What are you doing here? Didn’t you just come off your shift
eight hours ago?”
“Yeah, well. I wanted to work tonight,” he answered grimly, running his hand
through his hair. It stuck up every which way--Bludger thought it was beautiful.
“No,” Padfoot returned firmly. “I’ve already jacked the schedule around to
accommodate your request for all weekends off,” he said perfunctorily, grimacing
at the levitating clipboard in front of him. “Rest up, and I’ll see you at 07:00
“Surely there is something I could do for a few hours,” he entreated. His feet
shifted restlessly. “I need to let off some steam. Please.”
Padfoot lowered his voice. “Everything all right, son?”
Greenhorn shrugged and looked away. “Yeah. Fine.”
Padfoot put his hand on Greenhorn’s shoulder, patting him in a fatherly way.
“Go home, Greenhorn.”
“Don’t call me that,” he scowled. “It’s Quickie. I'm not the youngest Auror
His godfather suppressed a smile. “Go home and have a shower, Quickie. You
smell strongly of raw onions or something. And YOU...” he pointed at Bludger,
“get your food rations and get going.”
“Hey,” said Greenhorn dully in greeting, and they trudged toward the Supply
and Rations storeroom. Yikes! He did smell of onions.
“Are you flying tonight?” he asked, indicating the parchment in her hand.
“Bloody yes, I bloody am.” she mumbled, scanning her assignment again. “Over
the North Sea, to Amsterdam and back.” Aurors always flew to the Continent,
thus preventing the Apparation-Immigration Department from making any record
of their visit. "One of the Boomslang couriers has been bribed by a Death Eater,
Intelligence says here, and they're expecting a staged robbery tonight."
“Would you mind if I came with you?”
Bludger put her shoulders back. "I can handle it by myself."
"I know you can. How about I come along just half the way?"
Thirty minutes later, Bludger Apparated into their agreed meeting place, a
desolate beach north of Robin Hood’s Bay. Greenhorn, now dressed in black waterproofs,
sat on a high rock formation, his feet planted apart with his elbows on his
knees, looking out to sea. Powerful waves crashed spectacularly just below him.
She had to stop and stare: the ceaseless wind blew his dark hair wildly about
and whipped his cloak behind his long and lean body. Ah well, she sighed.
Bludger once again suppressed a growing attraction to him. She approached
hesitantly on her broomstick- he no longer looked angry, but some private turmoil
seemed to play behind his eyes.
He turned his face slightly in her direction, his eyes still fixed on the sea.
“What is an Auror’s first line of defense?” he tested her identity.
“Her brain,” she responded. “Describe the sheep that ate our rations one morning
at the Stone Circle.”
“Big and black-faced, with curly horns.”
She put down her gear and sat down next to him, lifting her feet up and away
from the spray of the repeating tide. His onion smell was gone, thank goodness.
Bludger closed her eyes and breathed in the salty air. The cool May wind was
lovely and damp, the stormy sky was beautiful in its ferocity. She smiled and
turned to face him. Still, his brow was furrowed; he chewed on his lower lip.
"You alright, Greenhorn?"
He shrugged. "I'm okay."
“Do you want to talk about it?"
He sighed. "No. I can work it out myself."
Bludger picked up a small jagged stone and threw into the waves. "Sometimes
it helps to get another viewpoint, you know? An objective opinion."
He considered her for a moment. "Alright then, Bludger" he agreed quietly.
“Here's a question for you: have you ever wanted something so badly,
for so long, that you somehow convinced yourself that it was meant to
be? That it would happen eventually, no matter how insurmountable the obstacles?”
"What is the 'something' that you want?"
He gave a small smile. He wasn't going to tell her.
Instead he continued, “And then, out of the blue, a letter arrives, announcing
something that changes your life” -- he smacked his fist into the palm
of his hand and looked at her-- “something good and right, and
you begin to think that you’ve mistaken your destiny entirely.” His voice grew
hoarse, and she could barely hear him for the waves. “And you wonder if you
should...just...” He struggled as if he could not bear to speak the words. “...just
give up hope on the thing you wanted in the first place.”
“Hmm. Do you have to choose one thing over the other?” She hoped that neither
“thing” was a woman.
“Not really. It’s possible to have both, although I can’t imagine being so
They were silent for a while, watching the winds build enormous waves. “All
I know is,” she answered finally, “that I never give up hope on the thing I
want most. How could I get up each morning and face myself in the mirror? It’s
my...reason for being.” She punched him playfully in the arm, a little uncomfortable
with the gravity of her own words. “So hang in there, mate. Don’t ever give
He sat up, straightening his shoulders. “You’re right. You’re absolutely right.
Thanks.” He punched her right back. “That is exactly what I needed to hear.”
He stood up and grasped his broomstick; he would reveal no more, apparently.
He drew his wand and pointed at his rucksack: “Sequor responsae”. It
rose in the air, a few feet behind him.
“What’s that for?”
“A new ‘puppy-dog’ spell; just learned it today. My stuff should follow me
around now without running into things. Try it -- we can test it for speed.”
They set off into the darkening sky, their rucksacks flying behind them. Bludger
enjoyed the responsiveness of her unburdened broomstick, and they both picked
up their speed. But Greenhorn was clearly not content to fly in a straight line
as dictated by the compass. He dove down close to the waves and began swooping
up and down, leaning sideways to skim the crest of each frighteningly enormous
wave with the palm of his hand. His rucksack echoed his moves easily behind
him, but was getting soaked by the spray.
Bludger watched breathlessly from above, checking her compass every now and
then that the gale force winds were not blowing them off course. Greenhorn grew
more daring: waiting until the last possible second and then zipping out from
under the curl of the wave just before it broke over his head. Then he started
in on dives, corkscrews, loop the loops, roll-overs -- all timed with the troughs
and crests of the waves. Just watching him - and his copycat rucksack - made
Bludger laugh with exhiliration.
She was glad, however, when he joined her again, his hair dripping and his
face flushed but satisfied. He flew in close, his shoulder brushing hers as
he bowed forward toward her broomstick. "Wha-" her breath caught in her throat--was
he falling over? Passing out? Trying to kiss her? Suddenly, he shook his
head madly like a dog, sending cold water flying in her face.
“Aaaargh!” she shrieked, pushing him away and laughing. “You bastard.” He grinned
That was almost flirtatious, she thought. ‘Bout time.
They rose above the roiling clouds into the crystalline evening sky, checked
their course, and soon fell into a companionable airborne silence. He seemed
more at peace now, after his mad exertions. For almost an hour, she debated
whether the time was right to discuss her own personal quest. He had certainly
proven his metal at the Stone Circle- his power and skill were no journalist’s
invention - and now she wanted to bring him into her confidence. She covertly
watched his face, studied his arms and his hands held loosely around the handle
of his ebony broomstick, and soaked up his presence. There was something good
and right about Harry Potter. Surely he would help her.
“Greenhorn,” she took a deep breath.
“I’ve heard that when you snuffed You-Know-Who, you went after him on a completely
unauthorized mission. Padfoot had no idea you were going. Is that true?”
He stiffened slightly, not looking at her, and Bludger wondered if she had
overstepped the new boundary of their friendship. Bludger had heard that he
didn’t like to talk about the night of The Dark Lord’s defeat. Many a journalist
had tried to get the whole story, and he would only give them a brief and flat
version of the night’s events. Rumors of the details flew around the press and
even among the Aurors. Last year, in a Turkish bar, she finally gotten a more
complete story from SlimJim (a fellow Auror and good friend of Greenhorn’s)
but only after she had bought him numerous drinks.
“Well,” he said finally, clearing his throat. “That’s true, but only because
Padfoot wouldn’t let me put myself forward as bait. He can be overprotective
Bludger nodded in understanding.
“When Albus Dumbledore was murdered, I just couldn’t wait any longer.” The
muscles in his jaw twitched with anger. He turned to look at her, and held up
a finger of warning. “But I didn’t do it alone, and it was a well-planned and
prepared assault. I wouldn’t recommend a spontaneous or angry attack on a heavily-guarded
Bludger jerked her head indignantly. “I’m not stupid, Greenhorn.”
“No, but you are...passionate.” Did he blush slightly in the moonlight, probably
regretting his choice of words? “What I mean is...” He shook his head, faltering.
“I know what it feels like, to really hate someone - to want to remove them
from the face of the earth. I was a bit mad, I suppose. But clearheaded enough
to know I needed support and a good plan.”
“And so you got two friends to help you. Friends with no Auror training, I
He looked over sharply. “No, they were Aurors.”
“I don’t believe you, Greenhorn. No other Auror would defy Padfoot except you.”
“And you, it seems.”
“Anyway, SlimJim told me. Not your friends’ names, of cours--”
“That,” he interrupted her forcefully, “is a great secret, and you’d better
keep it that way. I don’t want them becoming retaliation targets after all this
time.” His green eyes blazed at her, and then softened into a sad smile. “SlimJim.
What a blabbermouth. God, I miss that bloke.”
Bludger missed him too. SlimJim was funny and charming and an amazing flier.
“A lousy way for an Auror to go - dying in a restaurant,” she sighed. "Of course
Padfoot refused to tell me if SlimJim had loved ones - you know, a wife or girlfriend,
a family. There's bound to be somebody left behind, and we Aurors can't
even give our condolences! Stupid secrecy protocol..."
“Yes, there is always somebody left behind," Greenhorn muttered angrily, "a
wife or husband, an elderly parent, an infant child." He shook his head and
let a string of vehement profanities under his breath. She easily recognized
the bitter gleam in his eye - he had once been left behind, as had she. “Sorry,”
“So,” she said. “I want you to help me -without Padfoot's approval. Help me
lock up that @#$% &*#@” --she repeated his obscenities-- “Lucius Malfoy.”
He grinned wryly at her then, but did not answer, tapping his fingers on his
broomstick in irresolution.
“Don’t you want to end this war?” she pressed.
“Oh, yes. Now more than ever.”
He slowed his broom to a stop and she followed suit. Hovering, he turned to
face her, and his sober green eyes searched hers unabashedly. “Give me your
word you won’t speak of this to anyone.”
“I swear it.” She held up her hand, courtroom style.
He nodded. “Alright. I've been racking my brains this last month to come up
with a new plan, something Padfoot hasn't tried. But I can't figure it all out
by myself. A set-up - an entrapment - is not easy. Of course you and
I could simply barge in the Manor, wands a-blazing..."
"That sounds good..."
"Sure, if you want to become a lifetime member of Azkaban, enjoying a ten-by
ten-foot cell on Homicide Row."
Bludger frowned. There was a profoundly angry and primitive part of her that
would like to use those forbidden words: Aveda kedavra. She could hear
them in her head at night: Lucius Malfoy's merciless curse, screeched at her
muggleborn fiancee'. The possibility of a lifetime in the wizard's prison did
not hamper her determination. She must succeed, and if she can't put
him in prison then she must kill him.
Greenhorn continued, "What we need is the brainpower of my friends - the same
friends who joined me in defeating Voldemort. In fact, I went to them this very
afternoon to request their help.”
“And what did they say?”
“Well,” he said, blushing for some inexplicable reason, “I had to leave before
I could talk to them about it. But,” he added hurriedly, “I will soon.
Then if they agree - and that’s a big if - they must be weigh their
own personal safety against the chances of success - then we’ll plan it out
in fine detail.”
She gave him a sharp nod of acceptance and a grim smile of satisfaction.
"So! Bludger!" he commanded in a drill-sargeant's voice. "Are you in?" He offered
"Wait a second, this is my quest! I'm supposed to ask you,
Greenhorn: Are you in?"
And they grasped each other's hand in a single firm shake.
Author's note: Sorry to leave you wondering about Katie's letter,
reader. All will soon be revealed...