Chapter 1 takes place immediately after Harry is met by his ‘welcoming committee’ at the end of Order of the Phoenix.
Chapter 1: King’s Cross, June 1996
I was in a bad mood. The train trip from the Yorkshire Dales was excruciatingly long, thanks to a coach full of happy football (that’s soccer to us Yanks) fans, intent on celebrating their team’s win. They had enough food and drink to stock a small pub. I spent several hours sitting with a snoring drunk slumped against my left shoulder and two alert drunks making crude sexual suggestions from the seat across from me. My feet hurt from my Dales hiking holiday, my head hurt from the noise level in the coach, and PMS was gnawing at me. The train couldn’t park itself at the station fast enough, as far as I was concerned.
My trip to Britain-my experience in Britain, I had taken to calling it - was half over. It had gone well enough; I’d rented a small furnished flat in London and used it as a home base for my travels. So far I’d seen more museums and historic sites than you could shake a stick at. I had accomplished my early goal of finding what was left of Marvy’s family in England, was politely received for a brief visit before it became clear that I was close to overstaying my welcome. I was footloose and fancy-free, doing everything I’d ever dreamed of, and still had plenty of money.
And I was tired and lonely.
It would have been so delightful to share this trip with Marvy. She would have been thrilled to accompany me on this adventure, having the time of her life. I told myself that if I ever had a wad of money to bestow on someone, I would be sure to do so before I died.
The train came to a final, shuddering halt at Kings’ Cross. I pushed the snoring drunk off my shoulder and collected my bag, not caring if I stepped on the toes of the still exuberant fans clogging the aisles. Only a taxi ride separated me from a hot bath, and I was determined to make the wait as short as possible. I pushed my way off the train and down the crowded platform, dodging other passengers when suddenly - without warning - things began spilling from my backpack.
The backpack had five separate sections, and unfortunately the one doing all the spilling was the one with my valuables. Coins, bills, credit cards, makeup, passport and even several tampons tumbled all over the platform. Aghast, I stopped in my tracks, not knowing what to grab first. One of the drunken football fans stumbled into me, knocking me flat onto the pavement and nearly landing on top of me. Several of his equally drunk friends helped him upright, then one of them turned and made a nasty comment about Americans in general and American women in particular.
I floundered around, trying to grab my belongings. A throbbing in my right knee told me I had probably torn my jeans and removed a decent amount of flesh when I fell. People were detouring around me, no one bothering to stop and give me a hand. Anger coursed through me. If only someone would stop and help, I seethed inwardly, I wouldn‘t be blocking traffic anymore. A glint of gold caught my eye and I looked up just as the tube with my favorite lipstick rolled off the platform and under the center of the train. It was ridiculous. I didn’t use lipstick that much, actually, but it was the last straw. I sat back on my heels in the middle of the platform, covered my face with my hands and burst into tears. Suddenly a male voice penetrated my misery.
“Miss? I saw what happened. Can I help?”
I hastily wiped at the tears with the back of one hand.
“Oh! Uh, thank you,” I stammered. A man was stooped down in front of me, picking up the things I hadn‘t managed to collect, piling them up at my knees. I fumbled with my backpack, trying to see what had caused the problem and looking for a new storage spot for the errant items. The zipper of the offending section, I determined after a few seconds, worked perfectly. Then what---?
“You go on,” I heard the man say to someone. “I’ll meet you back at the place later.”
I glanced up, just in time to see an odd-looking couple nod, then turn and fade into the crowd. The woman had bright pink hair, I was certain; it was hard to miss. But the man…. Were my eyes still so blurred with tears that his one, electric blue eye seemed enormous in comparison with the other? And moving independently?
Ridiculous. I turned my attention to my backpack. I still didn’t know what the problem was, but I had to empty out the problem pocket before it emptied itself of its own accord.
“Just put everything in here,” I muttered, sliding another zipper open so he could dump the items inside.
It took us another minute to determine that we’d collected everything except for the lipstick. I would have been desperate enough to crawl under a train to get my passport or credit card, but the lipstick would simply have to rot there, a souvenir of the miserable end to a miserable train trip.
“Are you sure?” the man asked, waving toward the lipstick tube. “I could try to reach it for you.”
“No, it’s quite all right. You’ve been very kind. I won’t have you crawling around under the coaches. You’ll ruin your clothes.”
The man stood, then helped me to my feet. He wore an amused smile, and as I got a better look at him, it occurred to me that ruining his clothes was probably the farthest thing from his mind. The sweater-jumper, I reminded myself-looked like it had been darned more than once, and the trousers seemed almost threadbare in places. Embarrassed, I wrenched my eyes from his apparel to his face.
Kind. That was my first impression. The second impression was that he was middle aged, or close to it. It was hard to guess an age, I decided. His brown hair was longish and tinged with gray, and there were creases in his face that looked as though they‘d arrived earlier than necessary. And there was a tiredness in the eyes that made my own fatigue seem amateurish in comparison. The third impression, as he smiled directly at me, was that he was quite attractive.
“I need to apologize,” I said. “I usually don’t burst into tears when I get off a train.”
“Oh, I don’t know.” He glanced toward the lobby of the station, the direction in which the drunks had disappeared. “If I had to travel with that lot, I’d burst into tears myself.”
I grimaced. “They were all over my coach. And my compartment. And me, as a matter of fact. One of them was in a stupor, and he was sprawled all over me. He absolutely reeked.”
“I’m sure,” he chuckled. “What happened with your knapsack? Broken zipper?”
“I don’t know,” I muttered, hoisting it up for a closer look. The crowd was thinning now, and I could easily swing the backpack into my arms without wiping out other passengers in the process. I probed at the zipper again, then at the pocket.
“Here,” he said, reaching out with a slender finger. “Look, the zipper itself has ripped away from the canvas.”
“Oh.” I wondered briefly if it could be repaired. I liked the backpack immensely: it was generally sturdy, had plenty of pigeonholes for storage, and had seen me all over Britain during the past three months. “So it has.”
“I’m Remus Lupin, by the way.”
The name was odd, but by now I was accustomed to some of the names the British gave their offspring. For every Thomas or James or William there were twice as many more Dougals, Ansons and Crispins. Not that I should talk; my own name was a British oddity.
“Pleased to meet you, Remus. I’m Kailin Curtis.” I held out my hand, and he took it.
“Kailin. That’s an unusual name. A family name?”
Not unless I was actually related to the promiscuous society maven. “No, but it was my grandmother’s favorite. And it doesn‘t shorten to anything, which is another reason I like it.”
“‘Remus’ is the same in that respect. You can’t make any silly nicknames out of it.”
Remus Lupin was smiling, and I decided I liked the look of his smile and the way it made the corners of his eyes crinkle. I couldn’t help smiling in return.
“I really can’t thank you enough,” I said earnestly.
“It was nothing. Any gentleman would have done the same.”
“Well, I truly appreciate it.” The time had come for me to start walking. After all, I had my lost articles and there was no reason to hang around on the platform. But for some reason, I was reluctant to budge.
“Not at all.”
Remus was still smiling and unless I missed my guess, he was every bit as reluctant to leave as I was. The thought filled me with a pleasant giddiness. Perhaps the drunken football fans were to be thanked after all.
“Would you---” I hesitated, praying I wasn’t overstepping my bounds. I hadn’t noticed a wedding ring, but with my luck, he probably had a loving wife and half a dozen darling sons and daughters. But then I remembered the strange man and woman that had been with him. “Would you like to - I mean, if you have the time, - could I buy you a cup of tea? I believe there’s a place just across from the station…”
Lupin’s face went through an amazing metamorphosis in the space of mere seconds: expressions of relief, happiness, and concern sped past and I was left staring at a very surprised man.
“That would be very nice, thank you.”
The crowds had thinned considerably now. We walked through the station to the entrance doors. Fortunately, my memory hadn’t failed me; there was a small restaurant down the street, and a respectable-looking one at that. In short order, we were seated at a table next to the window. Remus Lupin and I were face to face, and suddenly I felt overcome by shyness. I was spared the search for an opening line when he reached into his pocket, pulled out my tube of lipstick, and placed it in the middle of the table.
“I believe this is yours,” he said, smiling.
I stared at the lipstick. The last time I had seen it, it was probably four feet beyond the wheels of the train and well out of reach. “How did you get that?’ I asked.
“A lucky grab. Have you figured out what happened with your knapsack?”
I hadn’t. I had settled for being grateful to have most everything returned and safely within an intact pocket. “No. Snagged it on something, no doubt.”
A waitress appeared and looked curiously at each of us in turn. “Decided what you’ll be having yet?”
“Tea for me,” I said. “Remus? Tea or something else?”
“Tea is fine, thanks.”
“Would you like something to go with it? This is my treat. It’s not every day I get rescued.” By a handsome gentleman, I wanted to add, but it sounded distinctly like a come-on. I’ve never picked up a man in my life (still hadn’t, I reminded myself). I was merely repaying his kindness.
“Well…” He looked hesitant. “I’ll have a biscuit, perhaps.”
The waitress disappeared, leaving Remus and me to study each other. I broke the awkward silence by shedding my lightweight jacket. I’d intended to shrug out of it, then drape it over the back of my chair. In a flash Remus was on his feet, helping me out of my coat like the gentleman I’d already taken him for. I couldn’t remember the last time any man had been so chivalrous around me. Most seemed to think helping a lady with her coat had gone the way of walking with her curbside or standing when she entered the room.
“You’re American?” Remus asked when the jacket had been firmly ensconced on the chair next to me.
“Yes.” I told him the whole story, about Marvy, about my heritage, about the inheritance. Somewhere in the middle of my recitation, our tea and biscuits had arrived. So far I had monopolized the conversation. Now I was more than happy to munch while Remus did the talking. “What about you?” I asked. “What do you do?”
A faint expression of dismay appeared on his face. “I’ve done some teaching,” he said cautiously.
“Oh, really? Where?” Oxford, or Cambridge, I was thinking. That’s why Remus looked the way he did. It was that mussed, sort of casual academic look.
He hesitated. “A small private school, northern Scotland. Actually, I‘m not teaching right now.”
“What’s your subject?” Literature, no doubt.
Lupin shot me a measuring look, then: “Self-defense.”
“Self-defense?” I was frankly surprised. He didn’t seem the type. I was trying to picture him wearing the white judo-type garb, and it wasn’t working. “Like tae kwon-do, or karate or something?”
“No.“ A broad smile split Lupin’s face. “I’m working with a group of…citizens,” he said, feeling his way through the words. “We’re attempting to head off a criminal element that’s been making inroads lately.”
I was intrigued. “Like the mafia? Or gangs, or something?”
He nodded, but failed to clarify exactly what he meant. I thought I understood. “So the information is restricted, I assume,” I said.
What did that make him? Local police? National security? The thought ‘poor man’s James Bond’ crossed my mind, and I had a vivid mental image of Remus leaning against one of the King’s Cross platform pillars in debonair style, murmuring “The name’s Lupin. Remus Lupin.” I was so busy fighting off a giggle that I missed most of his response.
“ - true, in fact. I’m not at liberty to discuss it.”
“I understand,” I assured him. “Are you a Londoner?”
“I’ve lived all over. Work has…taken me a lot of different places over the years.”
“Me, too.” Something else we have in common, I thought excitedly. I told him about the traveling nurse jobs then, and he listened with a smile on his face.
The conversation eventually drifted on to other subjects, and we talked and talked. He was so easy to be with. At one point, I found myself thinking that I could listen to him all day. That’s why it came as a complete surprise when the waitress came over and asked if we’d be staying for supper. Supper? It was the middle of the afternoon. And then I glanced at my watch and discovered that we had been sitting for the better part of two hours. “I had no idea,” I told Remus. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have kept you this long. I’m sure you have other obligations.”
Remus studied me intently. “Ah…well, I don’t actually. Have any other obligations, that is.”
“Oh.” I realized then that we were regarding each other with the same reluctance to part that we’d shown back on the station platform. “Would you like to have supper with me?”
“Very much. If - I mean - if you would. If you‘re not tired of me yet.”
“I’m not tired of you,” I said, wanting to add, I don’t think I’ll ever be tired of you.
And so it was that we ate dinner together also. I kept wanting to pinch myself. Was Marvy looking down from heaven and clapping her hands together with glee? Had she arranged all of this somehow? I certainly wouldn’t have put it past her.
It was nearly eight by the time Remus and I finally left the restaurant. I offered to share my taxi with him, but he declined, saying that he was going in the opposite direction.
“I can’t tell you how much I‘ve enjoyed making your acquaintance,” I said honestly.
“The same here, Kailin. Would you like to get together again soon?” Remus stood with his hands in his pockets, his eyes on mine. He was looking anxious, almost as if he expected flat-out rejection.
“Very much,” I assured him. “When would be good for you?”
“Well,… I have a meeting tomorrow night, and then it’s the full - ” He broke off suddenly, his face flushing. “That is, my schedule’s rather full until Friday. Would Friday night be all right?”
“Friday night would be fine.” And even if it weren’t, I would move heaven and earth to make sure I had the night free. “Shall I give you my number, then?”
I dug around in one of the backpack compartments until I came up with a pen and a scrap of paper, then I hastily jotted down my phone number and gave it to him. Remus hailed a taxi for me, politely kissed me on the cheek, then made sure I was tucked in the back seat.
“See you Friday,” he said.
“Absolutely. Good night, then.” The taxi pulled away from the curb and I settled back, feeling utterly pleased with life.
I’d been back at the apartment for about an hour, humming and dancing around like an utter idiot, when I thought to check out the damage to the backpack. I found the compartment that had caused all the problems and inspected it upside down and inside out.
There was no tear. No defect. No hole. If I hadn’t seen Remus poke his finger into the rip at the station, I’d swear I had imagined the entire thing. How on earth could a backpack repair itself?