The Sugar Quill
Author: Jedi Boadicea (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: Dreamwalkers  Chapter: Default
The distribution of this story is for personal use only. Any other form of distribution is prohibited without the consent of the author.

Disclaimer: I don’t own JK Rowling’s wonderful world, I only live in it

Sequel to “Job Hazards”

 

Disclaimer: I don’t own JK Rowling’s wonderful world, I only live in it.

 

 

                                                                                    DREAMWALKERS

                                                                                       By: Jedi Boadicea

           

            Bill Weasley’s first thought, when he walked into the smoky pub, was that no matter how eccentric British wizards might be, they couldn’t hold a candle to the American ones.

            Dumbledore had warned him that the wizards in the western United States had developed an odd kind of society, but Bill hadn’t really been prepared for this.

            At first, when he’d Apparated to the location Dumbledore had given him, it felt almost as though he hadn’t left Egypt at all. The air was still stiflingly hot, the wind dry with desert roughness, and the sunlight reflected brightly off baked earth. But there were subtle differences between this desert and the one he had just left. A slight difference in the color tones, for one thing. The tumbleweeds, for another. To say nothing of the very un-Egypt-like buildings which lined the main street of LomaVerde, one of the few wizarding towns to be found in the western States.

            The buildings were almost all made out of wood, most of them with wide porches and hitching posts out front. Dumbledore had said that the American wizards out here had become rather stuck in the nineteenth century, quite a popular time period in romantic retrospect. Bill remembered a few vague things about cowboys from his Muggle Studies classes years ago. Unfortunately, Muggle Studies dwelled more on Muggle devices than foreign Muggle history, except for those rare instances when Muggle foolishness managed to interfere significantly with the wizarding world.

            The Apparation point in LomaVerde happened to be right outside a large pub, though the sign hanging over the shaded porch called it a Saloon. There were several horses tied to the hitching post, as well as a Hippogriff, and a huge lizard-like creature with an extravagantly tasseled saddle, which eyed Bill with unblinking, rotating eyes as he passed. The porch boards creaked beneath him as he crossed it to push through the swinging screen doors of the Saloon.

            Bill looked around at the patrons, and thought that his mother would probably have a fit at sight of their clothing. One man was wearing brown robes, open down the front, over leather breeches and a leather vest, both heavily studded with flashy bits of metal, and he had what looked like a whip tied to his belt. The witch behind the bar sported a dress which seemed comprised entirely of snaky strings of feathers and lace. Several people wore different styles of wide-brimmed hats, very unlike the pointed hats favored by wizards in Britain. Bill took an immediate liking to them; these hats actually looked practical. What would his mother say if he came home with one of those, decorated with fangs to compliment the earring? He grinned.

            “New to town, ain’t ya?” a voice said to his left.

            Bill turned and saw a short man with a bushy mustache, wearing neat gray robes and a silver star pinned to his chest. He carried his wand in plain sight, in an odd sort of holster at his belt. But he gave Bill a friendly smile, and Bill returned it.

            “Yes. My name’s Bill. I just Apparated in.” He offered his hand, hoping he wouldn’t be asked for a surname; Dumbledore had impressed the need for secrecy on him.

But the short man seemed not to notice the omission. He smiled through his mustache and shook Bill’s hand. “Name’s Blake. Sheriff Blake. English, eh? That’s quite a long way to Apparate. Given the point, were ya?”

            “I was.”

            “This your first time in these parts, ain’t it?”

            Bill smiled. “Is it that obvious?”

            “Just a guess. Though most British wizards tend to come in lookin’ a bit more formal. You’ll blend in all right.” He clapped Bill genially on the back, then nodded toward the bar. “I recommend the Rancher’s Brew. Perfect for a hot day like this.” 

            “Thanks.” Bill made his way to the bar and took a seat, setting his traveling satchel by his feet. The witch clad in feathers and lace made her way over to him, smiling charmingly.

            “Hey there, handsome. What can I do for ya?”

            “Well, I’ve had one recommendation for the Rancher’s Brew. What do you think?”

            Her smile widened. “It ain’t for all men.” She eyed him admiringly. “But I think you can handle it.” She turned, causing an interesting ripple effect with all the pink feathers, and plunked a large pewter mug onto the mixing bar. She poured into it from several different glass bottles, then took a bright green crystal from a bowl and dropped it into the mixed drink. The mug instantly began to fizz with bright green bubbles, and foam dribbled over the rim as she placed it on the bar in front of him.

            Bill regarded the drink for a moment with a bit of trepidation; it didn’t make him any more comfortable that none of the bottles from which she had poured were labeled. He was supposed to be meeting someone here any moment now, one of Dumbledore’s contacts. It wouldn’t do to go through the meeting suffering the unknown after-effects of this strange Brew. Dumbledore had told him why he was here, and Bill had been very stunned by what he had learned about the mysterious Miss Night, and Dumbledore’s reasons for wanting to see her. This meeting was much too important to risk fouling it up for a drink.

            “Mighty wicked, Rancher’s Brew.” The witch gave a rather wicked smile to match, noting his hesitation. “I could get ya something weaker if you’d like.” 

            Bill raised one eyebrow.

            Well, what the hell? He could always perform a Sobering Charm on himself if it was that bad. He flashed a sudden grin, then picked up the mug and downed the whole thing in two swallows. All those times sharing butterbeers with Steve the Muggle in Datayrus had at least provided him some good practice for this kind of thing. Though he was by no means prepared for the explosions which seemed suddenly to be taking place inside his stomach.

            “Hooey!” the witch whooped, slapping her hand down on the bar. “Would ya look at that? The Englishman knows how to drink!”

            “That,” said Bill, placing the mug down with care, “was bloody foul.” But he grinned again, meeting the witch’s eyes.

            She smiled broadly in return. “Ain’t it, though? Most popular drink in the house. Can’t imagine why, but there you have it.”

            Bill tried to ignore the green stars suddenly dancing in his vision. “A butterbeer, please.”

            “Comin’ right up.”

            Once the witch had turned her back, he pulled his wand out of his pocket and cast a quick Sobering Charm under his breath. He’d experiment with the full effects of the Brew later, when he wasn’t expecting an important meeting. The rocketing explosions and the shooting stars vanished, leaving only a horrid lingering taste in his mouth, as though he’d swallowed the contents of one of Professor Snape’s pickling jars. Fortunately, the smooth butterbeer soon washed away the aftertaste.

            There weren’t many patrons at this hour of the day, so the serving witch occupied herself by chatting with Bill. Once she found out that he had attended the Quidditch World Cup, she grilled him with eager questions about the match, the teams, and about the rumors of the Dark Mark in the sky that night. Mention of the Dark Mark sobered him more effectively than the Charm had. It reminded him that no matter how eccentric the wizards might be out here, they were still part of the wizarding world. They feared Voldemort’s return as well, even if they hadn’t suffered as much from his attacks as those in Europe had.

            Bill was sparing in his descriptions of that night, and passed on few rumors. He was one of the few people in the entire wizarding world who knew what was really happening where Voldemort was concerned, and even he didn’t know as much as others. But he wasn’t about to go discussing these kinds of things with complete strangers, especially not when Dumbledore had told him how important it was to keep his purpose here secret.

            The witch seemed to notice his sudden lack of enthusiasm for the conversation, and eventually moved on, with a pout, to other business.

            Bill drank his butterbeer slowly and kept his eye on the door. He glanced at his watch, and the position of the miniature sun told him it was nearly time for his contact to arrive.

            Perfectly on schedule, the slatted doors swung open, and a tall man dressed in blue robes walked in. He had black hair even longer than Bill’s, and he wore it in a tight plait down his back. He met Bill’s eyes briefly across the room, then strolled casually up to the bar and ordered a drink from the serving witch, who brought it to him and then hurried away. The afternoon crowd was coming in now, and she was too busy to pay him any notice.

            The man took a seat on the stool next to Bill’s. “You must be Mr. Weasley.” He spoke with an accent Bill could not identify. 

            Bill nodded. “You must be Mr. Azun.”

            Azun regarded him with very stern dark eyes, and did not smile at all as he said, “Dumbledore told me what he wants you to do. I can’t say that I approve. It’s far too risky.”

            Bill frowned. “I give you my word, I will exercise the utmost caution. I know what this means.”

            Azun raised his eyebrows. “Do you really? How could you? You have no idea what they have -” he stopped himself, drew a deep breath, then continued more calmly. “I am told you are a capable wizard. This is good, for your sake. You will have to impress the Elders before you are allowed to meet with the person you seek. I can only direct you to the testing place. The rest is up to you.”

            Dumbledore had told him to expect something like this. Bill nodded, keeping his comments to himself. It was clear that Azun was unhappy with doing this as it was.

            “One day from now, on the evening of the full moon, you must go to a place called the Memory Plain. I cannot tell you where it is, that is something you must discover for yourself.”

            “Part of the test?” Bill guessed with a half smile.

            Azun did not return the smile. “Yes. Once you arrive there, the test will be made clear. If the Elders are satisfied, you may continue with your mission.” Azun stood then, leaving his butterbeer practically untouched on the bar.

            “Just a moment,” Bill said quietly, but his tone stopped Azun from leaving. He met the man’s cold gaze steadily. “That’s all you have to tell me?”

            “Yes,” Azun said, his voice very low now. “If you seek to find the Dreamwalkers, then words will not help guide you.” With that, he turned on his heel and left.

            Bill watched him go, then picked up his traveling satchel and swung it over his shoulder. He managed to catch the serving witch’s attention, and paid for his drinks.

            “Is Gringotts accessible through the Floo Network here?” he asked as he handed over the coins.

            “Sure is. You’d have to fly to it otherwise, and that’d be a mighty inconvenience wouldn’t it, from all the way out here.”

            Not many Gringotts branches were part of the Floo Networks in the countries where they were located, as most of the time the bank could be found in the country’s most prominent commercial area of the wizarding community, and such places had their own Floo grates. But Bill knew, from discussions at bank meetings, that this posed a bit of a difficulty in larger countries like the States, which had many wizarding towns out of necessity. The Floo Network was the best way to give wizards throughout the country quick access to their gold. And now it would help him too.

             

                                                                                                            *

 

            The following morning, Bill threw a handful of Floo powder into the fire of his room at LomaVerde’s local Inn. He ducked into the small fireplace, holding carefully still as hundreds of fireplaces zoomed by him on the journey, and finally made his stop. He stepped out of a huge hearth of carved stone, and into a long hall lined with dozens of fireplaces along both walls. There were doors at both ends of the hall, and posted at each was a goblin dressed in Gringotts livery.

            Bill absently brushed at his clothes as he moved away from the fireplace, but found no trace of soot. It was really no surprise that Gringotts would keep its fireplaces spotlessly clean. As he made his way down the hall toward the closest set of doors, a few wizards and witches popped out of other fireplaces, many of them holding pouches full of jingling coins.

            The goblin posted at the door watched everyone who approached with a beady eye. He said nothing, however, as he opened the door to allow them each to pass through individually. Bill knew from long experience that goblins had exceptional memories. Any goblin posted here would be able to recall days later exactly how many wizards had stepped through his door for the whole week.  People said you’d have to be mad to try and rob Gringotts. After working for the bank for five years, Bill heartily agreed with the saying.

            He passed through the doors at the end of the hallway and found himself in a huge, vaulted room, easily recognizable as the main foyer of the bank. The entire room was constructed of gleaming white marble, per the Gringotts norm. Bill threaded his way through the queues of wizards, past the long counters behind which the goblins waited to receive their customers. He walked up to a small desk set off to the side of the main counter and against a side wall, behind which sat a solitary goblin with a large ledger book open on the desk top before him. There was no line in front of this desk. The goblin looked up as Bill approached.

            “What can I do for you?” the goblin asked succinctly, blinking slowly up at him, one brown hand holding a quill over the pages of the book.

            Bill reached into his pocket and pulled out a small but thick piece of creamy parchment, folded over once. He unfolded it, and held it out for the goblin to inspect.

            “My name is Bill Weasley. I run the Acquisitions department of the Egypt branch. I need access to your Acquisitionary files and supplies here, please.”

            The goblin inspected the parchment, on which Bill’s name and the information of his position within Gringotts was written in elegant script. The official Gringotts seal was stamped at the bottom of the parchment.

            “This seems to be in order,” the goblin said, then looked up at Bill through narrowed eyes. “Verify the identification, please.”

            Bill took out his wand and moved it in a small, tight circle in front of him. “Personus Accredi.” A swirl of colored mist trailed from his wand tip, and resolved itself into a semi-transparent image which floated in mid-air for the goblin’s inspection. The image was of a yellow sun disk with a pyramid in the center, to represent the Egypt branch. Layered over the picture was his name and his title spelled in English, gobbledegook, and hieroglyphs. A tiny representation of the Gringotts seal shone bright silver at the tip of the pyramid.

            The goblin nodded, satisfied, and handed Bill back the parchment. “Very well. You are authorized for high clearance. We currently have no Acquisitions officer, so the files and equipment are in storage. Here is the key.” He handed him a large gold key on a gold ring, then pointed at a door just behind his desk. “Go through this door, take the second corridor on the right, and go down the stairs at the end. The last door on the left is storage. You may claim use of anything you find there, but please report your claims to the record keepers on your way out.”

            “Thanks.” Bill smiled, and was not at all surprised when the goblin did not smile back. Five years he’d worked for Gringotts, and not once had he been able to get so much as a chuckle out of them. One of these days, he kept telling himself. He had patience. Eventually Weasley charm would win out.

            He followed the goblin’s directions and found himself in front of a door labeled: Storage, Acquisitions.  He opened the door and the torches on the walls automatically lit themselves. There were tables stacked high with wooden boxes and scrolls of parchment. Glass cabinets were stuffed with piles of paper and various intriguing objects. The room had clearly not been organized for a very long time. It looked a lot like his office, he thought with a grin.

            It would take quite some time to find anything in here. He had the whole of today, at least. Tomorrow night was the full moon, and he needed to find out where the Memory Plain was before tomorrow, or he might not get there in time for this mysterious test. If there was any place where he would find information on hidden magical regions, it would be the Acquisitionary files of the nearest Gringotts branch; he knew that from extensive personal experience. He only hoped that whoever had last run the Acquisitions office here had kept as detailed records as he did in Egypt. Otherwise this boded to be a very long and tedious day.

 

 

                                                                                                            *

 

            The sky was rosy with encroaching dusk when Bill finally returned to LomaVerde. His neck felt stiff from leaning over papers all day, and he was sorely in need of a good meal and a drink. But all the hard work had paid off. He stepped out of the fireplace in his room at the Inn holding a rather vague map of the area where the Memory Plain was rumored to be. It wasn’t much to go on, but at least it was something. He counted himself lucky to have found anything at all. Without the resources of the Gringotts Acquisitions office, Bill doubted he would have learned even this much. As it was, he now knew the general area to explore come tomorrow. He’d also pulled a few strings to borrow a Gringotts broom. He had brought his own company broom from Egypt, but Dumbledore had told him that Miss Night would most probably not have a broom of her own, due to her unusual circumstances. Bill thought it best to have a spare one along for her, just in case.

            He stored the map and the broom with the rest of his belongings, then decided to head back to the Saloon and treat himself to the meal and the drink he was craving.

            LomaVerde seemed to come to life as evening approached. The hitching posts up and down the main street were crowded with magical animals of all kinds. He even spotted a Pegasus at one, rare to be seen this far from Greece. Wizards strolled down the streets, heading for various pubs or shops. Many of them were dressed eccentrically to match the theme of their town, but at least an equal number were dressed in common robes. Bill got no strange looks for his dragonhide boots or fang-decorated vest.

            “Hey, you!” a distinctly unfriendly voice called out, just as Bill was mounting the steps to the porch of the Saloon. He turned, and found himself face to face with a man wearing a sour expression and a long black coat.

            “Yes?” Bill asked as politely as he could manage. He didn’t like the look in the man’s eyes.

            “Just who do you think you are, bringin’ trouble round here?” the man demanded, inching his face closer in a threatening manner.

            Bill stepped down off the Saloon porch, hoping to move their little discussion out of the doorway. “I’m sorry, but I don’t believe we’ve met.” He tried to keep a polite tone of voice, but did not offer the man his hand.

            “I know who you are.” The man in the black coat scowled. “You’ve come here from England. I heard you talkin’ in the Saloon yesterday. Well, we don’t want none of your trouble here. All them problems you’ve got, don’t go bringin’ them round here.”

            Bill crossed his arms over his chest, and tried not to let his sudden apprehension show on his face. Had this man overheard his conversation with Azun? Did he know that he was here on a mission for Dumbledore?

            “I’m sorry if I’ve offended, sir, but I have no idea what you’re talking about. I’m just visiting. I have no intention of making trou-”

            “Don’t try to smooth talk your way out of this!” the man snarled. He was being unfortunately loud. A few heads were now peeking out of the open windows of the Saloon to see what the commotion was about, and several people on the street had paused to watch.

            The man went on, and he began shaking a fist threateningly. “I heard you talkin’ about You-Know-Who in there! Talkin’ about the Mark in the sky! Don’t go bringin’ your trouble round these parts!”

            Bill frowned, and met the man’s eyes with an unfriendly look of his own. “I was speaking of common rumor, which anyone might know. I think you need to calm down.”

            The man’s eyes narrowed and he leaned forward, pressing one finger against Bill’s chest. “I’m calling you out,” he hissed.

            Very slowly, Bill pushed the man’s hand away, never breaking eye contact. “I’m sorry. But I am going to go in now and have my dinner. Please don’t pursue this pointless argument.”

            The man drew a deep breath to retaliate, eyes glinting with anger. But another voice cut him off, from one of the spectators. “He’s callin’ you out! You can’t just walk away!”

            Bill ignored the speaker and kept his eyes warily on the man in the coat, who was now drawing himself up to full height.

            “I’m callin’ you out!” he practically shouted. “Come out and duel!”

            Bill crossed his arms again. “No,” he said very calmly. But his fingers were now pressed against the inside pocket of his waistcoat, in which his wand was tucked.

            The doors to the Saloon swung open and the serving witch, still clad in bright pink feathers, emerged. She cocked her hands on her hips. “What’s this nonsense? Jones! Someone told me you’re stirrin’ up trouble again!”

            The man in the black coat shot her a nasty glare. “I ain’t the one bringin’ trouble.” He turned back to Bill. “Draw your wand, then, and let’s see who’s the real wizard!”

            Bill shook his head. “No.”

            “Jones!” the witch barked. “That’s enough out of you! I’ll call the Sheriff!”

            But Jones wasn’t listening. He was glaring fiercely at Bill, clearly agitated by the fact that Bill did not look at all intimidated by his threats. His hand hovered near his belt, where he had his wand in a holster similar to the one Bill had seen Sheriff Blake wearing. “Draw!” Jones shouted.

            Bill shook his head again.

            Jones yelled something angry and incoherent, and his hand dropped toward his wand.

            At that moment, Bill was very thankful for all those years of idle wand twirling; that fidgeting habit had made his fingers very fast. He pulled his wand and with one quick twirl had it pointing the right direction. He started speaking just as Jones was lifting his own wand to take aim.

            Expelliarmus!

            Jones’s wand went flying out of his hand, and landed in the middle of the dusty street. And then another voice shouted, “Stupefy!

A bolt of red light hit Jones in the chest. He stiffened, then slowly toppled to the ground.

            Bill whirled around and saw Sheriff Blake running up the street toward him, his wand out. The reddish sunset glow shone on Blake’s silver badge, and his neat gray robes flapped around his ankles. Blake skidded to halt by Bill, and swept a stern gaze over the gathered crowd of spectators.

            “What’s going on here?” he shouted. “I don’t care what century you all like to think we’re livin’ in - there are laws here! Dueling is as illegal here as it is anywhere else! Get your minds out of the past, people! Now clear off! Get back to your own business!” He stomped over to Jones’s fallen wand and pocketed it. Then he pointed his own wand at Jones himself and with a bang produced long white cords which quickly tied the fallen man at wrists and ankles.

            “My apologies, Mr. Blake,” Bill said quietly, putting away his own wand. “I assume that you will need to take me in for questioning.”

            Much to Bill’s surprise, Blake looked at him and smiled. “Nah. I know what happened. Jones is a notorious trouble maker. Personally, I think he’s a little off his rocker. He’s always goin’ on about something or someone.  He likes pickin’ fights, does Jones. At least this time he didn’t have his gang of loonies around. Bunch of dirty scoundrels, the whole lot of them. Well, we don’t get many visitors round here, so I reckon he picked you out easy. It was mighty nice of you to go so easy on him. You had him beat on the draw, no question. Disarming was mild.”

            “I didn’t want to make the situation worse.” Bill shrugged, then flashed a grin. “Though I was sorely tempted.”

            Blake chuckled. “So was I. Many a time. This might be just the justification I needed to get him locked safely away. I’ve been trying to get him off the streets for ages.” His eyes lit up with an eager gleam. “Do you think they’d let me ship him off to Azkaban?”

            “Ah... probably not.”

            “Shame.”

            Jones began to stir as the stunning spell wore off. Blake crouched down next to him, smiling pleasantly. “Well, Jonesy, you really got yourself in it this time. It’s off to the Mesa with you, I’m afraid.”

            “Sheriff!” Jones hollered, struggling hopelessly against his bonds. “That madman is spreadin’ rumors of the Dark Lord, breedin’ trouble! Talkin’ bout the Dark Mark! I heard him! I heard -”

            “And I heard it all a year ago, Jones. Everyone did. Rumors are rumors are rumors. I’ve also heard you goin’ on like this before. Well, this is the last time. Up you get.” Blake stood, and with a flick of his wand levitated Jones into the air. Completely ignoring the man’s loud protests, the Sheriff glanced back at Bill. “Sorry about all this, sir. I’ll be in my office later if you’d like to file any sort of complaint.”

            Bill shook his head. “I’m fine. I’ll just nip in for my dinner now, thanks.”

            Blake smiled. “I recommend the Flamin’ Ribs.” Then he started walking off down the street, floating a shouting Jones ahead of him all the way.

            Bill turned back to the Saloon. Under no circumstances was he going to try anything the Sheriff recommended to him, not after the Rancher’s Brew. God only knew what kind of after affects something called ‘Flaming Ribs’ would have.

            He was relieved not to be called in for questioning on the incident. There were too many things he needed to keep quiet, and what if Jones had actually overheard some of his conversation with Azun? He only hoped that, if he had, the Sheriff would disregard whatever he had to say as more ranting and raving.

            As soon as Bill stepped through the Saloon doors he was accosted by a group of grinning wizards, all of whom began to pat him on the back and congratulate him on dealing with Jones. They commented admiringly on how well he had kept his cool, and were especially impressed by the speed of his draw. Bill gathered very quickly that this seemed to be a matter of some cultural importance to them.

            He was, evidently, the hero of the hour. There seemed to be very little hope that he would get out of this graciously. He soon found himself sitting at a large table with at least five different drinks in front him, two of which he recognized as foaming green Rancher’s Brews. The group of wizards had seated themselves around his table, and one of them had already pulled out a deck of cards, whose face values were continually changing as he shuffled them. A few witches pushed their way to seats at the table, and smiled widely at Bill every time he happened to glance their way.

 The serving witch suddenly appeared at his side and thunked down a huge silver platter heaped with what looked very much like something which could be called Flaming Ribs. They were, in point of fact, flaming, and almost the same color as his hair.

            It seemed pointless to fight it all. So Bill drew a deep breath, put on his most daring smile,  and decided to brave the evening. Thank goodness, indeed, for Sobering Charms.

 

 

             

                                                                                                            *

 

 

            It took Bill half the day to find the Memory Plain, flying with the aid of a magical compass and the sketchy map he’d taken from Gringotts. He loved flying, but by the time he made his landing he was glad for a chance to get off his broom and stretch his legs. He was also very glad that he’d bought a hat in town before leaving, one of the wide-brimmed hats he’d taken a liking to when he first arrived. It shaded his face from the glaring sun, and kept his long hair in check while flying, as strands of it often came loose from his ponytail in the wind. And he thought it looked rather rakish besides.

            He shrunk his broom and packed it away, then took a drink from his canteen and looked around. He was standing in a vast expanse of flat, reddish earth, checkered here and there with a few spindly trees, and quite a lot of rocks. A lizard skittered away at his approach, but other than that the place seemed lifeless. According to all his calculations, this was the Memory Plain, but he couldn’t see anything remotely memorable about it.

            He conjured himself a quick snack, then set to work searching the area, using the same techniques he always used when searching the Egyptian desert for buried tombs or palaces. He quartered the ground, walking each area, stopping occasionally to trace a few symbols of searching in the air with his wand. But hours passed and still he could find nothing except dirt, stubby trees, rocks, and sunbathing lizards who regarded his efforts with what his frustrated mind was telling him looked a lot like amusement.

            He tried to recall, word for word, what Azun had told him. He had said that on the day of the full moon he needed to be at the Memory Plain, where he would undergo his mysterious test. Perhaps he needed to wait until nightfall, or moonrise. Or perhaps finding the Plain was the test - though he doubted it could be that simple. There must be something he wasn’t seeing.

            He unshrunk his broom and took to the air again, flying over the entire Plain, thinking perhaps to see a pattern in the rocks and trees, or a shimmer that might indicate a magical barrier of some sort. But he saw nothing unusual. The sun was starting to sink toward the horizon by the time he landed. With a sigh of frustration he sat with his back against a large red rock. He tipped his hat low, shading his eyes, and thought carefully about the possibilities.

            A reddish-brown lizard inched slowly into his peripheral vision, clinging to the rock against which he was leaning, and fixing him with an unblinking stare. Bill turned to look at it, and it didn’t skitter away.

            “Find this amusing, do you?”  he asked idly.

            The lizard flicked its blue tongue out.

            Bill raised an eyebrow. “Is that so? I don’t suppose you’d care to let me in on the secret, hmm?”

            The lizard flicked its tongue out again, then started to climb its way up the side of the rock. Bill watched its slow progress, his mind elsewhere. What would happen if he failed to pass his test here? Would these mysterious Elders give him another chance? Could he find another way to contact Miss Night? He didn’t relish the idea of having to go back to Dumbledore empty handed.

            Then something odd caught his attention. The lizard, halfway up the large rock, had vanished. Bill tipped up his hat and inspected the rock more carefully. A moment passed, and then the lizard appeared again, inching its way along once more. Bill leaned forward, staring at it closely. The lizard’s skin seemed to be changing color, reddish-brown hide turning duskier, so that it matched the rock’s red surface perfectly.

            “Well you’re a regular little chameleon, aren’t you?” he murmured with a smile.

            The lizard flicked out its tongue.

            And Bill leapt to his feet, struck suddenly by revelation. “That’s it! Chameleon Charms!”

            How could he not have thought of it? He’d used a Chameleon charm just days ago, while hiding from the Sand Wraith! Of course! It was so simple!

            As always when he was being stupid, Professor McGonagall’s voice echoed in his head. Well done, Weasley, it said dryly. Try not to take all day at it next time, please.

            Chameleon Charms could make anything blend into its surroundings, as long as the object or person in question remained completely still. Cleverly altered, a Chameleon Charm could also mask an object under the illusion of something else in its surroundings. Perhaps that was what had been done here.

            Bill took out his wand and pointed it at the largest rock he could find.

            Finite Incantatem.

            The rock rippled in his vision, as though a heat distortion had passed over it, and then a small mud-brick building was standing where the rock had been. It was square and flat-roofed, with open windows and an open doorframe.

            Smiling with relief, Bill repeated the spell on every rock and tree in the area. Half of them remained rocks and trees, but the rest were revealed as more hidden buildings. Some of them were squat, domed structures, covered over in hardened red clay. When he was done, he looked over at the lizard, still perched atop one of the remaining rocks. He walked over to it and crouched down to be on eye level.

            “Thanks, little friend. Do I have you to thank for this? Or am I just crazy for sitting here and talking to a lizard?” He grinned. “Maybe all these years in the sun finally fried my brain.”

            The lizard flicked its blue tongue at him.

            “Or maybe not. Do you have any more hints for me?”

            The lizard began to inch its way down the rock. Bill stepped back, wondering if this was just wild coincidence, or if there was more to this little creature than there seemed to be. Feeling a bit foolish, but determined not to miss any chances, he waited while the lizard crept off the rock and then began to skitter over the dirt toward one of the newly appeared buildings.

            Bill followed it into one of the domed structures, ducking down till he was almost on hands and knees to get through the tiny round door opening. The interior was dark and musty, illuminated only by faint light coming in through a smoke hole in the top of the ceiling. He saw the lizard crawling across the floor, over odd shapes in the dirt, which turned out to be broken pieces of pottery. He gathered them all carefully, then followed the lizard out again.

            The lizard returned to its rock and proceeded to simply stare at him. But Bill now had an idea of what to do. He set the pottery shards on the ground in an open spot, then proceeded to search all of the buildings. He surmised they must have served as houses at some point, but it must have been very long ago. The walls were crumbling in some places, and nowhere did he find any signs of recent occupation. However, in every house and hut he did find something - more pottery shards, some brightly colored stone beads, a wooden bowl, and the remains of what might have been a leather shoe.

            By the time he had gathered everything in one spot and sat down to inspect it all carefully, the sun had slipped below the edge of the horizon. The full moon was already climbing up the sky, and would soon bathe the reddish landscape in its soft white glow.

            After looking all the artifacts over, however, he found nothing unusual about any of them. He tested them for Chameleon Charms and other enchantments, but found nothing. He really wished now that he’d brought along his curse box, but it was still back at home in Egypt, storing the statuette of the serpent-tailed woman. Yet another thing he couldn’t figure out.

            The light of the full moon was bright enough that he didn’t need to conjure another source of illumination as night fell. He took off his hat, drank again from his canteen, and stared thoughtfully at the pile of artifacts in front of him.

            “What now, little friend?” he asked casually of the lizard still perched on the rock, watching him. It flicked its tongue, but did not move. He hadn’t really expected it to. Somehow he was certain that he’d received all the help he was going to get.

            He tried to piece all the information together, absently piecing together the broken pottery shards as he did so. A design began to take shape on the painted pieces of clay, a circular pattern in brown and black.

            “Circles, hmm?” he murmured to himself. “Bringing the beginning to the end and back again, right? The eternal circle.”

            More riddles, he thought with a smile. Wouldn’t the Sphynx be proud of him.

            “So what’s the beginning, then? In the beginning, this was not a broken pot. I think we can assume that, can’t we?” He looked up at the lizard with a grin. The lizard flicked its tongue at him.

            “Right. So, in the beginning the pot was whole, and someone presumably used it. Just as someone used this bowl, these beads, and this shoe. At least, I think it’s a shoe.” He held up the rotted leather scraps, and shreds of it began to fall apart. “And someone lived in these houses. But this is all that’s left of them. Am I getting warm here?” He looked at the lizard. The lizard flicked its tongue at him. He chuckled.

            “So. This place is called the Memory Plain, right? Maybe these are the memories of the people who used to live here. Maybe I need to piece those memories together, just like this broken pot. Bring the end back to the beginning. Pretty damn lucky that I know a good Charm that might do the trick.”

            Bill privately wondered if luck had anything to do with it. He wondered if Dumbledore had somehow known that he’d have the knowledge to do this. He wouldn’t put anything past the old wizard.

            Bill got to his feet and took out his wand again. He glanced at the lizard. “So what do you think? Think this is going to work?”

            The lizard flicked its tongue at him.

            Bill shook his head with a smile. What would his mother say if she found out he’d been carrying on conversations with lizards in the middle of nowhere? Fred and George he could easily imagine: “He’s gone completely mad. Always knew it would happen.”

            “Here goes,” he murmured, then pointed his wand at the small pile of broken artifacts. “Priori Memoriam.

             The pottery shards began to glow with a faint blue luminescence, which slowly spread to the beads, the bowl and the shoe. But it didn’t stop there. The shimmering light flowed outwards along the ground, like ripples in a pool, until it touched the ruined houses. Soon everything around him was glowing faintly blue, and Bill felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand up.

            Then he started to hear voices. Faint, like echoes, and speaking a language he didn’t know. The voices were all around him, but he couldn’t see the people to whom they belonged. At least not at first. Fortunately, he had grown accustomed the presence of ghosts at Hogwarts, so he wasn’t too shocked when the glowing specter of a little boy materialized in front of him.

            The boy was dressed only in a pair of leather breeches, and he wore a beaded necklace around his neck. Unlike the ghosts at Hogwarts however, this image was not pearly white. The boy was mostly transparent, but also faintly tinted with color. He was, after all, a memory, not undead. The boy looked up at Bill through a mess of dark hair, and smiled shyly.

            Bill smiled in return. “Hello there.”

            The boy cocked his head curiously to one side, and shuffled one of his bare feet around. 

            “You don’t understand me, do you?” 

            The boy smiled at him again, then shrugged and squatted down beside the pile of broken artifacts, and began to pick up the stone beads. He seemed to possess a certain measure of tangibility, because the beads stayed in his hand once he picked up them up. He gathered them all, and regarded them with a sad expression.

            Bill crouched down beside him to watch what he was doing, and then realized that the scattered beads in the boy’s palm matched the ones which formed the transparent necklace he already wore.

            “Were these yours?” Bill asked, nodding at the beads in the boy’s hand. “Did the necklace break?”

            The boy merely looked up at him with sad eyes.

            Bill got a sudden idea. “Here, can I see them?” he asked gently, and held out his palm.

            The boy hesitated for a moment, then poured the beads into his upturned hand. Bill raised his wand and conjured up a thin white cord. He gestured with the wand again, and the beads began to string themselves onto the cord. Halfway through he paused, then on impulse reached up and removed his fang earring. He strung that onto the cord as well, in the center, then followed with the rest of the beads. Finally he tied the ends, and held up the newly made necklace for the boy to see.

            “There you go.” He smiled. “Good as new.”

            The boy was staring at him with wide eyes. Then a dazzling grin split his face, and he eagerly took the necklace and slipped it over his head. It seemed to melt into the faint blue shimmer which surrounded his body, to melt into the image of the necklace the boy was already wearing, until only one of them remained. The necklace the boy now wore had a fang on it.

            “We are pleased,” a reedy voice spoke clearly from behind him.

At the sound, the boy instantly vanished, and the blue glow which had permeated the entire area faded completely. Bill whirled around, wand raised, and saw an old woman, leaning on a wooden cane, sitting on a rock and watching him with eyes that glimmered in the moonlight. She was wearing a long skirt, and a brightly fringed shawl. Her fingers were adorned with thick silver rings, and she had beaded strings tied in her white hair.

            Bill lowered his wand cautiously. “You would be one of the Elders, I presume?”

            “Yes,” the woman croaked, a smile growing on her wizened face. She spoke with an accent he did not recognize, the same one Azun had had. “And I am well pleased. Don’t you agree, Blue Tongue?” She turned her gaze to the rock where the lizard still sat.

            There was a faint wooshing sound, and suddenly an old man was sitting on the rock in the lizard’s place. An Animagus. “I do agree. I am pleased.” He turned his unblinking stare back on Bill, and smiled. “And I was quite entertained.”

            Bill couldn’t help grinning. “I’m glad I amused you. I thought there must be mockery in all that tongue flicking.”

            The old woman gave a wheezy laugh. “His name is not really Blue Tongue, of course. His name is not for you to know.”

            Bill nodded, smile gone now. He understood why they would withhold such information; Dumbledore had explained the situation to him. “I assume, however, that you already know mine.”

            “We do.” The old man, Blue Tongue, nodded. “But I think we shall give you a new name, for tonight you gave of yourself to the memory of our people.”

            “To give of our possessions is nothing.” The old woman waved vaguely with one hand. “But to give with kindness in our hearts, that is something. You gave only a bauble to the boy. But you gave it to bring him joy, no other reason. It was kind, and selfless. That is a true gift.”

            “It was the gift which pleased us most,” Blue Tongue added. “The rest was a test of your abilities. The gift was unexpected, unnecessary, and it showed much about who you are.”

            “So we will name you.” The old woman tapped her cane against the ground. “You will be Fire Hair. For that is the color of it, and more important there is the warmth of fire inside your soul. It is simple. But in these dark days, simplicity survives.”

            Blue Tongue stood up now, and hobbled slowly over. His long dark hair was strung with feathers, and beads on the fringe of his pants clacked softly as he moved toward Bill. “You displayed many qualities of importance during your test. Dedication. Thoughtfulness. Calmness of mind, for never once did you grow angry. And you showed appreciation for the presence and the aid of a brother animal. All creatures have a place in the Sacred Hoop of life, and must be respected. You  did so.” He smiled again. “And you amused me.”

            “So we will grant you what Albus Dumbledore has requested.” The old woman said, and she too stood and began to hobble over. Bill moved instinctively to lend her his arm, and she gave him a gap-toothed smile.

            “I am a bit confused,” Bill admitted, as he allowed the woman to guide him to the spot where he had piled all of the broken artifacts. She began to gather them up into a pouch. Blue Tongue nodded at him to proceed with his question. “Dumbledore told me that Miss Night had already agreed to see him. Why was the test necessary?”

            “The test was our doing,” Blue Tongue replied calmly. “Night Song knows nothing of this. Leaving is her choice. But we would not allow her to be taken by a wizard who could not be trusted. It is our duty to hide and protect the Shamans. And over the years, she has become like family to us. Would you do any less for your family?”

            Bill shook his head. “No. I’m honored you deem me worthy.” 

            The old woman straightened up now, pouch full. “Dumbledore chose wisely to send you. Snow Beard is fortunate to have good men to trust. He will need them, now that the Dark Lord has returned.”

            “You know that?” he asked in surprise, then silently berated himself. Of course they knew. They were what they were, after all.

            The old woman patted him affectionately on the arm. “Be silent now, Fire Hair. Allow him to call for her.”

            Blue Tongue turned his face up to the sky, and pulled out of a pouch at his waist a short wand. He pointed it up at the moon, and spoke words in a strange language. They weren’t like any spell Bill had ever heard.

            Beams of moonlight flashed, and concentrated around Blue Tongue’s wand tip, swirling about and slowly congealing into a pale white mist. Then he pointed the wand at one of the mud houses, and the white mist shot forward, cutting a bright streak through the night, and disappeared into the dark interior of the building.

            “She will come soon,” Blue Tongue said, turning back to them.

            The old woman rolled her eyes at Bill. “He is always playing with lights. None of that was necessary, of course. He simply does it to taunt me, because I cannot do it myself.”

            Blue Tongue chuckled. “You will get no pity from me, Grandmother. Being a Muggle has never made you weak.” 

            Bill looked at the old woman in open surprise. “You’re a Muggle?”

            She poked at him sharply with her finger. “You say it as though it were a disease. I am a tribe Elder, and I am very old. I know everything that goes on among my people. Your magic is no secret to me.”

            A sound came from the mud house at which Blue Tongue had shot the white mist. A woman emerged, and moonlight shone on her long and pale hair. “What was that light show about?” she asked in an amused tone. “It nearly took my nose off.”

            “This is the wizard Dumbledore sent to escort you.” Blue Tongue said by way of reply, and he gestured at Bill.

            The woman walked over to them, and Bill saw her more clearly. She was dressed in clothing similar to the old woman’s, a long leather skirt and beaded leather shirt, with a dark cloak over her shoulders. Her hair was decorated with black feathers, which made sharp contrast to her pale skin. She smiled in greeting, and Bill thought she had a very pretty smile. He’d always had a weakness for feminine smiles.            

            “I’m Bill Weasley,” he said, and offered her his hand.

            She shook it with a firm grip. “Elizabeth Night.”

            “She,” the old woman said in a snappy tone, “is Night Song. And he,” she poked at Bill again, “is Fire Hair. These names have meaning.”

            Elizabeth Night smiled fondly at the old woman. “Yes, Grandmother.”

            The old woman sniffed.

            “You have a place to stay tonight?” Blue Tongue asked Bill.

            “Yes, I have a room in LomaVerde. I brought broomsticks for both of us.”

            “Ah, broomsticks,” Elizabeth said in a strangely dreamy voice. “It’s been a long time since I saw a broomstick. I hope I can remember how to do this.”

            Blue Tongue gazed pointedly at Bill.

            Bill smiled reassuringly. “I give you my word, I won’t let anything happen.”

            “Don’t worry, Grandfather,” Elizabeth said indulgently. “I’ll do my best not to fall.” She leant forward and kissed the old man on the cheek, then did the same with the old woman.

            Blue Tongue grabbed Elizabeth’s hand and held it tightly. “Be careful out there, little one. You have not lived in the outside world for many years. And you know the dark dangers that have returned.”

            “I know them well. But I cannot hide forever, not when my gifts may be of help to others. The time for hiding is over.”

            “Come, old lizard.” The old woman hobbled over to old man’s side. “We must go now. These two have far to travel. Let them get to their rest tonight.”

            Blue Tongue nodded, and he and the old woman walked toward the hut from which Elizabeth Night had emerged. He waited until the old woman had gone in, then turned back to look at Elizabeth. “We will expect to hear from you, Dreamwalker. I will ask the others what messages you have passed on to them.”

            “I promise, Grandfather.”

            Bill thought she sounded rather sad. Blue Tongue nodded, then he too entered the dark hut. Bill glanced at Elizabeth. “I’m guessing there’s a hidden passage in there,” he said.

            “In a manner of speaking. Grandfather lizard opened the portal that connects this place to our home, very far from here. It will close now. Even I don’t know how to open it again.” She smiled wanly. “For the safety of the others.”

            In the moonlight, he couldn’t quite make out the color of her eyes, but they shimmered brightly now, so he took that as his cue to get busy gathering his hat and canteen, and pulling out the shrunken brooms. By the time he had them returned to full size, Elizabeth looked perfectly composed again.

            “I’m afraid it’s going to be a rather long ride,” Bill apologized, handing her a broom. “But it’s a good broom. Once we’re on course you can let it handle the rest.”

             Elizabeth eyed him appraisingly. “You have experience with these kinds of tasks, I take it.”

            “Escorting beautiful mysterious women across the globe on missions of wizardly intrigue?” Bill raised his eyebrows and grinned. “No.”

            Elizabeth laughed.

            “But I do have experience finding hidden places and deciphering enchantments,” he continued. “That’s why Dumbledore sent me.”

            “Well, I’m glad he did. I’m guessing that the Elders made this difficult for you?”

            “They’re certainly creative.”

            “That’s what I thought.” She laid a hand on his arm then, staring up at him seriously. “Thank you. Thank you for doing this.”

            He smiled, wanting to take her hand, but not sure how wildly inappropriate it might be. “You’re welcome. My pleasure.”

            Soon they were in the air, and heading off towards LomaVerde. Bill could tell it was true that Elizabeth didn’t have much experience with flying on broomsticks, but she handled herself quite well regardless. He kept close, however, just in case. There was no way he was going to let this woman fall.

 

 

                                                                                                            *

 

            It took them three days to travel from LomaVerde to the east coast. They flew, or caught Portkeys when the opportunity presented itself. But in general they did their best to avoid wizarding towns. Dumbledore had emphasized how important it was that Miss Night not be recognized for what she was. Though Bill thought it unlikely that anyone would recognize her, he didn’t want to take chances. So they camped every evening in the remotest areas they could find. Bill couldn’t help being privately thrilled that Elizabeth Night seemed even better at picking out campsites than he was. She was obviously someone used to living out in the wild.

            They conversed quite a lot, though Elizabeth listened more often than she talked. Bill understood that she could not speak much of her past, in order to preserve the safety of her fellows still in hiding, so instead he told her stories about his adventures in Egypt since beginning his work for Gringotts, and she listened as avidly as any of the witches in the Thirsty Mummy had ever done. Only Bill suspected that Elizabeth would not be the type of person to spring Entombment Traps or fall to pieces at sight of a Sand Wraith. Or perhaps, he thought to himself one night as they laughed over the campfire at one of his escapades, he was just biased by her very pretty smile, and pale green eyes. Or maybe it was the beaded leather clothing she wore, or the bird claw earrings.

            The day after the Memory Plain, he had taken one of the fangs from his collection and made himself a new earring, which she complimented him on. He grinned inwardly, remembering his mothers words about all the ‘nice young witches’ waiting to be found. He was positive somehow that Elizabeth Night would not fall into Mrs Weasley’s definition of a normal, nice young witch. Ah, well. Now was not the time for such thoughts, anyway. 

            Once they reached the east coast, it became necessary to enter the wizarding towns if they hoped to make inquiries about a Portkey to England. Flying by broomstick over the ocean was too risky with an inexperienced flyer. So they stopped in Salem, and made arrangements to Portkey to London that very afternoon. Bill offered to get rooms at an Inn so that Elizabeth could rest, but she seemed eager to get to Dumbledore as soon as possible.

            They traveled the entire day, first by Portkey, then they caught a late train from London into Hogsmeade station. It was late evening by the time they walked down the road to Hogwarts. Bill had sent word to Dumbledore as soon as they arrived in Hogsmeade, so he wasn’t surprised to see someone waiting for them at the front gates. He was surprised that it happened to be Professor McGonagall.

            “Bill.” She greeted him with a brief smile. “It’s nice to see you again. You look exhausted.”

            “I am, Professor,” he admitted with a smile of his own.

            “You’re not a student anymore, Bill. You can call me Minerva.”

            Bill thought he most definitely could not call her Minerva. That somehow contradicted his view of the way things out to be in the world. Professor McGonagall was Professor McGonagall. That was just the way of it.

            “And you must be Elizabeth Night,” McGonagall said.

            “I am. It’s a pleasure to meet you,” Elizabeth said cordially, shaking McGonagall’s hand.

            “I would have expected to see Hagrid at the gate,” Bill commented as they began to walk across the grounds toward the castle.

            “He is still out on a mission for Dumbledore,” McGonagall said with a slight frown.

            Bill raised his eyebrows. “How many of us does he have running around?”

            “A few,” McGonagall said vaguely. “But I do hope Hagrid comes back soon. Term starts in just three days. It will be a hassle to find a replacement Care of Magical Creatures teacher on such short notice.”

            Elizabeth was very impressed by the size and grandeur of the castle. As they made their way through the hallways, McGonagall told her, “We have rooms prepared for your stay here, in the teacher’s wing. At the moment only myself and Professor Snape are here. You may not meet the others until the start of term.” They had come to the stone griffin which guarded the entrance to the Headmaster’s tower. “If you’ll wait here for just a moment, I’ll be sure he’s ready to receive you.”

            McGonagall spoke the password and disappeared up the moving stairs beyond. Elizabeth turned to Bill and smiled. “This place is quite amazing. You attended school here?”

            “For seven years,” Bill said, looking around with his hands in pockets, feeling a sense of home-coming. He really did miss this place sometimes.

            “Odd. Is the woman in that picture winking at you?”

            Bill followed her glance and saw Violet, the Fat Lady’s friend, in a frame clearly not her own, smiling at him and winking. She must have followed them all the way from the Entrance Hall. Bill chuckled and waved at her, then turned back to Elizabeth.

            “I’m afraid I won’t be able to stay. I ought to be getting back to Egypt as soon as possible. Dumbledore managed to pull some strings to get me time off, but work will be waiting for me.”

            “I understand. I’m very grateful for everything you’ve done for me. Hopefully I’ll see you again. I may be here for quite some time.”

            Bill smiled. “Then I’ll make a point of visiting. I’ve got four siblings here, I can use them as an excuse.”

            She laughed. “Don’t forget to keep me updated on that Ring of Tombs you’re so busy exploring. And if I can, I’ll try to show up in your dreams.”

            Bill grinned. “Oh there’s no question about that.”

            Elizabeth blushed. “It’s how my people communicate with each other.”

            “I know.” He continued to smile, completely unabashed. “I’ll be looking forward to it.”

           

 

                                                                                                            *

 

           

            Old habits were hard to break. When Bill arrived back in Datayrus, he stopped at home to get cleaned up, then headed straight for The Thirsty Mummy for a relaxing butterbeer and some good conversation with Steve the Muggle. Several regulars recognized him as he walked in, and waved cheerful greetings. He tipped his new hat at them with a smile - he really liked this hat - and took his usual seat at the bar.

            As soon as Steve saw him, the bald bartender burst into a fit of booming laughter, and couldn’t seem to stop.

            Bill lifted a brow. “Have you been drinking your own stock again, Steve?”

            Steve leaned against the bar, wiping at his eyes, and finally caught his breath. “Ah, Bill. You finally got yourself a fedora, did you? Now I can really call you Indiana!”

            Bill had long ago given up on trying to decipher all of Steve’s Muggle allusions, so he just let it slide. He spent a relatively quiet hour in the pub, as he couldn’t regale Steve with tales of his latest escapade this time. Gossip traveled fast in the wizarding community, and he didn’t want what he had been doing to get around.

            The very next morning, as he picked up the Daily Prophet which an owl had deposited on his dining room table, he was very glad that he’d made the choice to keep his stories to himself. A few pages into the paper, he saw a picture that made his blood run cold.

            Sprawled on a dirt floor, with a wizard in official robes bending over him, was Azun. He was very clearly dead. There was no trace of blood or injury on his body, but his eyes were frozen open in a death stare. The official-looking wizard in the picture was inspecting the body with his wand, and looking very grim. Bill tore his eyes from the picture and read the article.

           

                                    MYSTERIOUS DEATH IN OLD WEST TOWN

                       

                        The residents of LomaVerde, a small wizarding town in the western

                        United States, have long been known for their fixation on the colorful

                        history of the region. But in spite of the violent nature of their roman-

                        tically recreated past, LomaVerde has always been a relatively peace-

                        ful town. Not so today.

                              Last night, residents were shocked and appalled to find a dead body

                        in an alley behind the local Owlery. The body has been identified as one

                        Zores Azun, a citizen of the town for the last twelve years. Investigators

called in from the American Ministry and their MBI (Magical Bureau

                        of Investigations) have confirmed that Mr Azun was a victim of the Kill-

                        ing Curse, which has not been seen in this area of the country for

                        over a century.

                             Thoughts have naturally turned to the rumors of You-Know-Who’s

                        supposed return, put into circulation several months ago by Albus Dum-

bledore, Headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry;

                        rumors fed by the appearance of the Dark Mark at last year’s Quidditch

                        World Cup. Authorities in LomaVerde, however, assure us that no sign

                        of the Dark Mark was found anywhere near Mr Azun’s body.

                              Mr Azun was purportedly well-liked by the citizens of LomaVerde.                                    

Says one neighbor, “He was always such a quiet man. Polite. But he

                        never really got involved in the town life.”

     Some have begun to speculate that perhaps the reason Mr Azun

                        ‘never got involved with the town life’ is that he was busy living a hid-

                        den life involved with the Dark Arts. Ministry officer Angus Blake

                        (affectionately termed ‘Sheriff’ in the town’s jargon) denies these rumors.

                        “Mr Azun has always had a clean record in this town, and a respectable

                        job with the local Ministry office,” says Blake. “I’ve spoken with him

                        many times, and I don’t believe he had anything to do with the Dark

                        Arts.”

                             But the question of motive still remains. Who would want to kill

                        Zores Azun, and why? The kind of knowledge and power required to

                        enact the Killing Curse would seem to indicate that whatever wizard

                        murdered Azun was both powerful, and cold-blooded. One cannot help

                        but think back on the days of terror when bodies such as this were being

found almost daily. Are these signs and deaths the beginning of another

nightmare? Only time will tell.

 

           

             Bill set the paper down, awash with numbing apprehension. Surely this was no coincidence. He thought of Jones, and how the man had claimed to have overheard him at the bar. What if he had overheard his conversation with Azun? Sheriff Blake had claimed that Jones had companions, trouble-makers also. What if they had attacked Azun on similar suspicions?

            But even as he thought it, he couldn’t quite believe it. He doubted anyone as unstable as Jones would be able to perform the Avada Kedavra curse. The article was right. Whoever had done it must have been powerful.

            If it had been one of Voldemort’s supporters, why hadn’t they put up the Dark Mark? And if it was one of the Dark Lord’s followers, did that mean they knew that Dumbledore had sent someone to contact Azun?

            Bill got to his feet quickly and snatched up parchment and quill. He wrote down every last detail he could remember about his conversation with Azun at the bar, and even threw in a mention of his confrontation with Jones, just to cover all his bases. As soon as he was done, he sealed the letter, and practically ran all the way to the Datayrus Owlery, where he sent it off to Dumbledore with the fastest owl he could find.

            He thought of Blue Tongue, and the old woman, and hoped that whoever had killed Azun hadn’t found them. If they had, and the murderer did work for Voldemort, then they would know...

            He sat for a long time in his house, lost in unpleasant thoughts. He wasn’t worried that someone might trace information back to him, or possibly come to look for him - he was worried they’d trace it back to Elizabeth, and her current location. His brothers were at Hogwarts, and little Ginny.

            Finally, he shook himself and settled down at his desk to work. Work always helped clear his mind. Tomorrow, if he didn’t have a new field assignment for the bank, he’d continue his exploration of the Ring of Tombs. In his current mood, he’d almost welcome the chance to fight it out with a few Sand Wraiths. For now, though, he would have to settle for poking at the sandstone statuette.

            He summoned the curse box to him, and peered in through the glass lid. The beautiful sculpture still glowed blue, the sign of a harmless enchantment. And yet the Sphynx had been adamant about the taint of evil.

            There seemed to be the taint of evil everywhere these days, he thought darkly.

            That night, Bill’s dreams were not as pleasant as they’d been the last time he returned from an assignment. But toward the end, they began to improve. He decided later that it probably hadn’t actually been Elizabeth communicating with him through the dreamscape, not in that manner at least. But he didn’t really mind, because he woke up with a smile, and was in a chipper enough mood to tease the goblins at the bank when he went in for work the next day. 

            He passed by Graffalk, the guard goblin, on his way up the Gringotts steps, and made his usual greeting.

            “Hey, Graffalk. Hot day, isn’t it?”

            “Yes,” came the usual gruff reply.

            Bill grinned as he made his way to his office. One of these days, he swore to himself. One of these days he’d get a smile from these goblins. Weasley charm would win out. Weasley stubbornness would see to that.

 

                                                                                                *

 

Author’s Note: Events in this story serve as something of a prologue to the “Memories of Tomorrow” story arc, so if you want to know more about Elizabeth Night, or the statuette, or see more of Bill (and who doesn’t?), then go read “Memories of Tomorrow  - Part 1”

 

 

 

//
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