Chapter 2: Just Desserts
It took a concerted effort not to keep checking my watch. Of course the time would pass, just not as quickly as I wanted.
I wondered what Remus was doing. He was upstairs somewhere, sitting in one of the hospital waiting rooms, pretending to be a patient’s family member. As soon as he heard anything from Tonks or Shacklebolt, he‘d use my cell phone to call and let me know what happened.
In a sense, I dreaded the call. If the news was bad - if Malfoy failed to fall for our little scheme - I’d be heading straight from the London Heart Hospital to Heathrow to catch a plane to America. It was a flight I didn’t want to make; the mere thought of it made my stomach churn.
And it reminded me vividly of the food poisoning I’d endured three weeks ago.
* * *
I woke up in the middle of the night, feeling achy and feverish and nauseated. Evidently I’d been felled by a flu bug, and I lay in bed cursing the ability of microbes to render a human being completely unable to function. I spent the next day dragging around the house, alternating between throwing up and laying miserably in bed, the whole time assuring Remus that he‘d be next to catch it.
But Remus didn’t catch it, and the symptoms persisted. I ended up calling in sick once more, and when I was still ailing on the third day, I convinced myself to see a doctor. Before I could leave the flat for my appointment, however, Remus brought an article in The Times to my attention:
Dozens of Diners Struck by Flu-Like Illness
More than forty people, all of whom dined at a popular tea room on Saturday, have reported flu-like symptoms over the past two days. Preliminary tests indicate that a variation of the Streptococcus bacteria is responsible for the mystery illness. It has been determined that all of the victims had eaten at the Lally’s Corner Tea Room on Granleigh Road. All who dined at the establishment on Saturday are encouraged to contact their physicians. While the illness is not dangerous, complications from the bacterial infection can arise, such as….
I groaned aloud. Not the typical food poisoning, but bad enough that I’d need to go on an antibiotic.
“Do you suppose Tonks is ill as well?” Remus wondered.
“She didn’t eat anything,” I grumbled. “She only drank tea. I had to go and have the chocolate mousse.”
The doctor gave me a prescription for an antibiotic and told me to take the rest of the week off work. I didn’t mind having a few more days off, but my supervisor would doubtless be less than happy. In the ten months I’d worked at London Heart Hospital, this would be my second extended absence, the first being my recovery following the cottage fire in March. At this rate, they’d be more than happy to see me resign my position and go back to America.
Remus was pleased.
“That isn’t so bad, is it? We’ll have more time to spend together this week,” he told me when I returned from the clinic.
“I feel like death warmed over,” I said caustically. “Yeah, I’ll be great company.”
“I can take care of you,” Remus offered.
“Good. Would you like to start with a foot rub?”
By the end of the week, I was feeling much better, although it was definitely the hard way to lose those pesky Last Five Pounds. All in all, I would be happy to return to work the following Monday.
Then, on Saturday night, an owl arrived with a message from Albus Dumbledore. He wanted to discuss my offer, the message said. Could we meet with him here one evening during the coming week?
On Wednesday evening, Remus and I were just finishing supper when there was a knock at the door. It was Albus Dumbledore, looking completely incongruous in a Muggle apartment hallway, his richly bedecked robes shimmering as he stood there.
“Good evening, Remus. Sorry to be early for our appointment, but something has come up and I need to be back at Hogwarts rather soon.”
“Come in, Albus. It’s no problem at all.” Remus opened the door wider for the Hogwarts Headmaster to pass.
“Ah, Kailin! How are you, my dear? I heard you were under the weather.” Dumbledore spotted me at the kitchen table, his eyes taking in the remains of our dinner. “I’m terribly sorry to have interrupted your supper.”
“I’m doing quite well, and you’ve not interrupted at all,” I said, rising from my seat. “We were just about to have some dessert. Can I offer you some?”
“No, I don’t think -”
“I made a cheesecake last night,” I began, and the Headmaster brightened at once. I remembered then that the man had a rather vicious sweet tooth.
“Cheesecake, you say? Well, perhaps a sliver…”
Remus cleared away the dinner dishes while I pulled the cheesecake from the refrigerator and cut three slices. Dumbledore took a seat at the end of the table.
“Coffee?” I asked as I fished dessert forks out of a drawer.
“If you happen to have some. I don’t want to put you out at all.”
“It’s no trouble,” I promised him, smiling inwardly. The world’s most powerful wizard could be brought down by a slab of fat and sugar and a cup of caffeine.
Five minutes later, the three of us sat around the kitchen table with our cheesecake and coffee while Dumbledore praised my baking abilities. My face reddened at once; my culinary skills rarely deserve enthusiastic reviews, and even when I do manage to make a tasty dish, it hardly rates such accolades.
“Actually,” I said, “Remus is a far better cook than I am. He usually prepares the meals. I seldom make it into the kitchen until the weekends.”
“Cooking,” said Dumbledore solemnly, waving around a forkful of cheesecake as he spoke, “is a magical art in and of its own. I salute those of you who are proficient at it. I‘m afraid my talents in that area are sorely lacking.”
I smiled. The man always had such a way with words.
It was several minutes more before he pushed away the remnants of his second helping of cheesecake and came to the point of his visit.
“As you know, I’m here to discuss the message Nymphadora Tonks sent me the other day. She told me that you, Kailin, had an interesting idea, and then went on to elaborate.”
I blushed even more. I was suddenly very aware of the fact that I was an amateur playing at a game of high stakes - a game run by players who were quite unlike me, with skills I didn’t possess.
“I - uh - outlined my thoughts to Tonks, and she said she’d discuss it with Kingsley Shacklebolt, to see if the idea would fly.” When Dumbledore didn’t reply at once, I added, “That’s a Muggle term.”
“I’m aware of that,” Dumbledore said dryly. “They have, in fact, discussed it, and believe it would ‘fly’, as you say. I do want to bring it in front of the entire Order, however. I feel that everyone should approve it.”
I nodded. Albus continued, “The question I have for you, Kailin - and for you, Remus - is whether you truly wish to pursue this? While your idea does seem quite promising, it’s possible that we could find another way to provoke Malfoy into leaving the Ministry.”
Remus and I exchanged glances.
“Kailin and I have discussed the matter,” he said guardedly. “Personally, I don’t approve of her involvement at all. But I told her that I would agree to it, as long as you and Kingsley felt it was a workable plan.”
Dumbledore turned to me. “How do you feel about that, Kailin?”
I shifted uneasily in my seat. “I wish that Remus approved wholeheartedly. But I feel that it’s a contribution I can make to the Order. Voldemort’s declared war on Muggles, too, not just wizards.”
“Quite true. However, you have already paid a high price in dealing with Mr. Malfoy. If you want to withdraw your offer, we would understand.”
“No,” I said simply. “I want to go through with it.”
“We’ve reached a compromise of sorts, Albus,” Remus interjected. “If, for whatever reason, the plan doesn’t work, Kailin has agreed to return to the States for the duration of the war.”
Dumbledore regarded us gravely from beneath his bushy eyebrows. “That would be a great sacrifice for both of you.”
The comment fell into a pool of silence.
“We are fighting a war on two fronts these days,” he continued, sighing. “The obvious struggle against Voldemort, of course, but now against our very own Ministry. I wish this were not necessary. I confess I never saw Malfoy’s grab for power coming. So you see, the rumors that I am omniscient are just that.” Dumbledore’s smile was pained.
“If the Order approves, do you have any idea how soon this plan could take place?” I asked. Maybe Remus was right about me watching too many crime shows. I had to stop myself from asking when it would be ‘going down’.
“Probably in three or four weeks.”
Remus looked up at once. “If I could beg one small favor, Albus, could it be scheduled for a time other than the full moon?”
“Of course. Kailin, what do you need from us?”
I managed a smile. “I’d prefer a guarantee that this will go without a hitch, but I know that’s not possible. I suppose what I’d like is a chance to give my two weeks’ notice at work, if it comes down to that. I‘ve never left a job without adequate notice, and I don‘t want to ruin my work record.”
“You may not have two weeks. If Malfoy doesn‘t take the bait, you‘ll need to clear out immediately,” Remus reminded me. Dumbledore held up a hand at once.
“If you’re unable to complete your work assignment,” Albus said gently, “we’ll see to it that your work record - along with your supervisor’s memory - are altered to reflect that you left your job with adequate notice.”
Which I took to mean that my personnel file would be modified. I nodded agreement.
We sat in brief silence. “Well,” Dumbledore said finally, “that’s that, then. I’ll bring this up at the next meeting of the Order. If the plan’s approved, Nymphadora and Kingsley will personally come to discuss it with you, Kailin.”
And after a few pleasantries he was gone, leaving Remus and me with a stack of dirty dishes and the sense that our future together might be very much in doubt.
The Order met five days later. There was, Remus reported, a great deal of discussion back and forth about the merits of my idea, but it was basically agreed that the plan was worth trying. Everyone wanted to get Malfoy out of the way.
And then we waited.
The following week, Tonks and Shacklebolt came to discuss what I had christened the MGRP - the Malfoy Good-Riddance Plan.
“Here’s the timeframe,” Kingsley said, unrolling a long parchment on our kitchen table. “We want to set the encounter - that’s when Tonks, acting as you, confronts Malfoy - for noon on the first of September. That’s the day the students leave for Hogwarts, which means that a lot of people will be tied up that day with seeing their children off to school. Malfoy may go to the station himself to say goodbye to his son.”
“He was there to greet him in June,” Remus put in.
“Great Dad, isn’t he?” Tonks commented wryly. “Part of his image improvement plan, more like.”
“Anyway,” Shacklebolt went on, “the train departs at eleven, and if all goes well, Malfoy will meet you an hour later. We’re assuming he won’t be booking his calendar very heavily for that day, or at least will have nothing scheduled until afternoon.
“We’ve already begun brewing the Polyjuice Potion. What we would like you to do is to copy this note, -” he pointed to a paragraph further down the parchment, “- and we’ll owl it to Malfoy the morning of the first.”
I leaned forward to read the note ‘I’ would be sending:
Mr. Malfoy: I would like to congratulate you on your efforts to kill me this past March, and point out that you failed miserably. I guess the joke’s on you, isn’t it? I plan to inform the Daily Prophet that you’re a murderer. Of course, I could be reasonable about this - say to the tune of ten thousand Galleons? Meet me at the west entrance to King’s Cross Station at twelve o’clock noon on September first. - Kailin Lupin
I blinked. “I’m trying to get money from him? I don’t understand.”
“No,” Tonks said, “you wouldn’t. But he would. It’s the language he speaks. Remember, Kailin, your idea was to let him know that you’re still alive in an effort to get him to come after you. The trouble is, he’d do it as his leisure. He could toy with you for weeks or months. We don’t have the manpower to wait around until he’s ready to make a move. We want him to come to us on our terms, so we‘re sweetening the pot. We want to get him good and mad so he‘ll take the bait.”
I wanted Malfoy gone, but not at the expense of my innocence. “Couldn’t I be charged with attempted extortion?” I asked, aghast.
“Only if we deny having anything to do with you,” Shacklebolt said, with a grin so humorless that it made my blood run cold. “Not to worry. All we need is a confession that he tried to kill you, and it’s all over.”
Once more, the point was being driven home that I was an amateur at this cat and mouse business. “Do you think he’ll he reply to this note, or just show up?”
“We hope he answers. More incriminating, you know. But if he doesn’t, it’s no problem,” Tonks assured me.
“Oh.” I frowned.
“Is there a problem with that?”
“It’s just the timing that bothers me. When Malfoy saw my name badge at the Leaky Cauldron, he could also see that I work at London Heart Hospital. You don’t think he’ll show up there before the meeting time, do you?” It was a scenario I’d played out in my head as I contemplated the ramifications of my proposal over the past month.
Tonks glanced at Kingsley. He was frowning. “We weren’t aware that Malfoy knew where you worked,” he said, the tone in his voice implying that the plan was now in jeopardy.
“Well,” argued Tonks, “we can shadow him that morning, can’t we? Make sure he doesn’t decide to do something rash?”
Shacklebolt looked murderous. “This was supposed to be a quick op,” he muttered to her. “You know we can’t spend all day -”
“We’ll talk to Albus about it and work out all the bugs, Kailin,” Tonks assured me. “By the way, you need to let us send the message to Malfoy. You don’t want to take the chance that your owl could be traced back here to your flat. We don‘t need him finding out that Remus is back in Britain.”
“You’ve got that right,” Remus said grimly.
“What happens after I - Tonks, rather - waits at the entrance to King’s Cross?” I asked.
“The Polyjuice Potion works in increments of one hour, as you know,” Kingsley said. “She will take the first dose at eleven-forty five, then go to the west entrance at eleven-fifty. I’ll be waiting just inside. And I intend to take Polyjuice Potion as well, just to be on the safe side.”
I was sorely tempted to ask Shacklebolt who he was going as. It reminded me of some sort of bizarre costume party.
“You said ’first dose’,” I pointed out. “Do you really think it will take longer than an hour?”
“We just like to have a decent time cushion, that‘s all,” Tonks said. “If anything goes wrong, - if the encounter is prolonged, say - then I’ll have a little flask with me just in case I need to ’freshen up’ a bit.”
She winked at me, which was a good thing. I was beginning to get very cold feet over the whole thing.
“When Malfoy arrives,” Shacklebolt went on, “two things could happen: he could tell you - Tonks, that is - to take your bribe and bugger off. That’s the worst case scenario for you, Kailin, because it means Malfoy will still be after you.”
I nodded. “And I’ll need to catch the first plane out.”
“Exactly. Best case, Tonks accuses him of setting the cottage fire, he calls her a bunch of names his mother never taught him, and gives her a bag of Galleons to keep quiet. Tonks and I immediately arrest him for attempted murder.”
“Do you think there’s any chance he’ll attack you there at King’s Cross?” Remus put in.
“Not if he has half a brain in his head,” Tonks snorted. “Curse me right there in broad daylight in front of a million Muggles?”
“You need to write the note, Kailin,” Kingsley told me. “We’ll let you know when we plan to pass it on.”
“Do you want me to write it now?” I asked, already knowing the answer.
“Yes,” he said, nodding. “Use Muggle paper, not parchment. And a Muggle ink pen. He wouldn’t expect you to use a quill or parchment.”
Resolutely, I tore a page from a legal pad laying nearby and dug a pen out of the bottom of my purse. Shacklebolt pushed the parchment towards me and I began to copy the words they wanted me to say.
I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was writing my own death sentence.