The Sugar Quill
Author: Lone Astronomer (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: No Such Place  Chapter: Chapter One: Mirror, Mirror
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Chapter One: Mirror, Mirror

Disclaimer: Harry Potter, names, locations, images, etc. belong to J. K. Rowling and Warner Bros., not to mention a few other people. No profit is being made and no infringement is intended.

A sequel of sorts to The Lion and the Unicorn, this time focusing almost entirely on Charlie Weasley. Make no mistake, the main point of this story is to drive Hallie mad. (Just kidding.) Anyway, it had to happen sometime. The plot and characters were all there, just waiting for me. What else could I do but bow to their command?

There isn't really a lot of action here, especially not when compared with its predecessor, but Charlie has an even cooler job and this one involves a broomstick…

Summary: Sequel to The Lion and the Unicorn. Charlie Weasley is made to face his worst fears… as well as the continuous wrath of his best friend.

*

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*

He wasn't exactly sure where he was. He wasn't quite sure that he was awake, either, for all of that, but it seemed irrelevant. Charlie was reminded somewhat of the affair at Stonehenge a little over two years ago- the desolate landscape was not unlike the moor at Avalon. The dark ground was damp under his boots and he realized that they were part of his old dragon-keeping wardrobe, caked with mud. A thick layer of very odd mist obscured most of his lower half from view; he was having trouble seeing more than a few feet in front of his face. Yet somehow he knew where he was going; he was drawn towards it inexorably, and soon it was before him on the plain.

A mirror stood not a foot away from him, its surface glittering in the pale moonlight, tempting him with the words scrawled in an elegant script around the edges of the frame. Charlie didn't know exactly how it could be classified a mirror, as it reflected nothing, but that was what it was and he didn't question it. It was still drawing him forwards...

Almost before he realized it, the mirror was closer than he was comfortable with. Charlie put a hand out to stop himself from falling into it, afraid that it would shatter, but his fingers passed through the surface of the glass as if it were water. He could just barely make out their outline on the other side. He wondered what was going on.

The mirror swallowed him whole, and there was blackness.

*

When he opened his eyes again, he was staring at a familiar ceiling. He hadn't seen it in years- it was Hogwarts, of that he was sure, but just which room it was he couldn't place. Charlie also aware that he was not alone- someone was drawing lazy circles on his chest. He closed his eyes again. He remembered well enough that only two women had ever done that to him. But this couldn't be... could it? You didn't just wake up and find yourself in the past. That sort of déja vu just didn't happen. It wasn't possible. It couldn't be.

"Charlie? Wake up, you're going to be late for breakfast."

Oh Merlin. It was.

Without thinking about it, he sat up, causing the oh-so-very-young Jennifer to do the same, and found with a start that he was not in any way in control of his actions as he covered her lips in a ravenous kiss. "I was actually considering skipping it entirely." Well, this was a new phenomenon. How he had gotten trapped in his romantic history was a complete mystery to Charlie.

Since his body didn't seem to be taking orders anyway, Charlie's mind was free to wander. He knew that he was dreaming. How else could he explain the complete lack of control over himself? Why was he dreaming this, exactly, in the first place? He certainly hadn't been thinking about Jennifer of late. The last he'd heard of her had been years ago- she'd run off and joined some Muggle band, if he remembered correctly. He wished he had read the words around the mirror; perhaps they would have given some sort of a clue.

The only reason Charlie could think of for this particular dream (besides some very bizarre curse) was sheer exhaustion. It seemed that people always dreamed crazy things when they were overworked and overstressed, and that definitely applied to Charlie. Feeling useless at Hogwarts, Charlie had left to begin Auror training when Hagrid had returned from his emissary mission to the Giants. Although it did not have the benefit of being able to work closely with magical creatures, at least Charlie could use his talent and contribute better to the war effort. It was a physically and mentally demanding job, but Charlie had fit in quite well there, even if he would rather that he hadn't had to see some of the things he'd seen.

A few months previously, he had been transferred to F.L.A.M.E.- Flight Law-enforcement Aurors for Mysterious Emergencies. This had several immediate consequences. First off, he was no longer allowed to talk about his work to anyone not directly affected- F.L.A.M.E. was controlled by the Unspeakable division. He was also a lot more involved in his profession, required to work more hours and sent on more difficult cases.

But there were also advantages to being a member of F.L.A.M.E. For one thing, it meant that he got to work closely with the squad's mascot species, pygmy dragons. They had a nose for Dark magic like no other trainable creatures, and the fact that they were their own transportation made them ideal for use in conjunction with flight squads. The only real downside as far as Charlie was concerned was that the green ones seemed to be particularly susceptible to infection (which could easily be avoided, if you knew enough about pygmy dragons. Unfortunately, many of Charlie's colleagues didn't.).

By the time Charlie could be bothered to pay attention to what was going on again, he was entering the Great Hall. He'd missed a rather long walk, considering how far it was from the Head Girl's quarters to the breakfast table, along with some other stuff that he would never repeat in anyone's company unless he was extremely drunk (or possibly concussed). With a start, he noticed the decorations hanging from the ceiling. Of all the days for him to have to relive, of course it would be this one. Charlie groaned inwardly, since he seemed incapable of manipulating his surroundings or his body.

Everything was just as he remembered it. That is, when he had to remember it. Generally Charlie liked to forget this particular morning as often as possible. It was perfectly understandable, of course. He didn't particularly enjoy discovering that his girlfriend had been cheating on him with the Head Boy; reliving it was something to be avoided.

He wasn’t paying much attention as he walked away from them, his body unsure if it wanted to punch something or find a dark hole to crawl into. In the end he did neither, but grabbed his broom from his dormitory and spent the rest of the dream flying above the Quidditch pitch in an effort to forget.

*

What an absurd dream, Charlie thought, opening one eye and staring blearily at his alarm clock. It was just after eight, and as it was his day off, there had been a promise of sleeping in. That promise was gone now, along with any good the sleep might have done him.

He got up and stretched, deciding that if he was awake he might as well get ready for the day. Wiping the sleep from his eyes, Charlie grabbed his towel from the rack and headed towards the shower.

Owing to the Law of Inconvenience, just after he had gotten the shampoo into his hair, there was a loud, urgent-sounding knock at the door. Charlie contemplated just leaving it and finishing his shower in peace. It was his day off, after all. Eventually, however, the gallant Gryffindor genes won out and he stepped out of the bathroom with a towel wrapped around his waist. "I'm coming!"

Muttering something that could feasibly have been a plea for the Unspeakables in charge to give him a break, Charlie entered his sitting room on the way to the door and was only slightly surprised to find that it was already occupied. "Kate!" He felt the blood drain from his face. "Good gods, what happened to you?" She was almost completely covered in blood and dirt. Her clothes- she was dressed as a Muggle, an auxiliary part of Charlie's brain noted- had been torn in several places, and her eyes were wide open. He decided that she was probably in shock- he'd certainly seen its effects before, but rarely on one of his best friends.

"What?" she said, glancing down at herself. Luckily she didn't seem in the mood to notice that he was only wearing a towel. "That's not mine," she stated blandly. Then she seemed to wake up. She went from slow, almost distracted speech to Chipmunk on Glue in less than three seconds. "Charlie, you've got to get the Aurors- there's been a Death Eater attack on the Muggle underground- they're torturing people- and Remus and Hallie were down there with me!"

Charlie swore. What a wonderful way to start the morning- three pieces of very bad news in one very short little sentence. Well, if the main purpose of his day off was already ruined… "Hold that thought." He left the sitting room and returned a moment later wearing an old pair of sweatpants- the first article of clothing he'd come across- and toweling off his hair. "Where are they?" he asked, retrieving his wand. Belatedly, he remembered his first aid training and Summoned his teakettle from the kitchen. "Drink this, it'll calm your nerves." He hoped she wouldn't notice that it wasn't exactly tea. On the other hand, it was probably a bad idea to give her tea, anyway; being rather more Australian than British at least where taste was concerned, Kate loathed the stuff.

"About three blocks south-west of here," Kate answered, hands shaking as she tried to hold the cup steady. "Don't remember the name of the line." She took a small sip grimaced. "Why are we wasting time? Just get the authorities already!"

Bugger that, thought Charlie, I am the authority! "No time," he said, grabbing his broomstick from the stand by the door.

"At least put a shirt on," Kate pleaded. "It's January, after all."

"Every second lost is another life wasted," he recited automatically, donning his Everyday Cloak. It wasn't hard to believe that the two months of intense training still took over in times of stress, no matter how hard he tried to override it. Sometimes it got him into situations he couldn't explain his way out of.

"Why can't you just Firetalk the Aurors?"

"It'll be too late," Charlie answered grimly, remembering the conversation he'd overheard. If Remus and Hallie were on the same subway…

"Oh really?" She was physically blocking his path to the door now.

He rolled his eyes, realizing he was going to have to tell her. "Hallie's pregnant. Now move!"

"She's what!?"

"I won't be gone long. Just stay here."

"Like hell I will! I'm bloody well coming with you!"

"Over my dead body!" Charlie exclaimed. "You're hurt and you are staying right here!"

"I will not!" Kate insisted. Charlie, however, had already locked the door with one of his almost-unbreakable Locking Spells and jumped out the south-west window on his broomstick. He knew that Kate knew better than to try to Apparate herself out- Charlie was paranoid and had more anti-Apparition wards set up around his apartment than some tight-security offices at the Ministry of Magic. Behind him, he heard, "Charles Weasley! You bloody Pom! Let me out of here this minute! Charlie!" But he never even looked back.

*

Charlie had probably never flown so recklessly in his life. Several times he had to swerve to avoid buildings, other broomsticks and the occasional flock of misguided geese. He reached the scene of the crime in moments, a rather obvious steaming crack in the ground underneath an even more obvious sign of trouble- the Dark Mark hung low in the sky just above him. Charlie descended quickly into the underground.

It was a complete disaster. Scarcely-moving bodies and bits of subway car were everywhere. Only the emergency lights inside were glowing (indeed, many of these appeared to be malfunctioning), giving the whole thing an even eerier feel to it. A huge rent was torn in the side of the car nearest Charlie; he lit his wand and stepped inside.

He was met with only chaos, although it was chaos of a quiet, unmoving type. Bodies were strewn across the seats and on the floor; some even hung by their wrists, having been holding on to the plastic overhead handgrips when the curse hit. Charlie strongly suspected Dormus Requiem, a powerful hex that petrified masses and forced them to suffer through nightmares. Had it been possible to use against wizards, the war would have already been lost, but it was as simple to block or remove as it was to cast. Even when unanticipated, all it caused was a sort of instant sleep. He decided to leave it for a moment longer, just until he found Remus and Hallie.

Two bright lights bobbed in the darkness that took over one car down from him and Charlie could just make out a voice and a cough. "Who's there?" it challenged.

"Remus?" he inquired, feeling relieved. "It's Charlie. What on earth happened? Why aren't you asleep like the rest of them?"

"It appears Severus' vaccine has some use after all," Remus replied, picking his way closer to Charlie, almost distractedly offering his hand to Hallie so she wouldn't trip. Charlie hid his grimace at the name. "A good thing, too, or Kate would never have gotten to you. I assume that she did get to you?"

Charlie nodded. "I never would have known this had happened otherwise. It's my day off," he explained. "Well. Should we take the curse off of them? Was there much damage?"

Remus sniffed, looking ill, and grimaced. "At least five Muggles are dead," he answered eventually. "No more than seven. About eight more were tortured. I'm also fairly sure there were some Memory Charms used."

"Wonderful," Charlie growled, pulling his wand. "Exsuscito Totalus." The one downside of the counter-curse was that, although it was simple, it took an amazing amount of energy to cast over so many people. It was extremely draining, especially when you had to cast it several times in one day. "I suppose we'd better-"

A voice from behind cut him off. "Charlie? Isn't it your day off?"

He turned around, recognizing the owner of the voice right off. "Too right. Hello, Riley." He frowned slightly, looking at the small, black dragon hovering a few meters above his team member. "What's Angel doing here? Has Aidan got another throat infection?"

Riley MacKenzie flushed slightly. "Actually, yes."

Charlie's usual partner set down on the dirty pavement beside him, snuffling around for the Pepper Imps he sometimes, against his better judgement, allowed her to have. He scratched her ruff affectionately. "Riley, how many times have I told you? Just get him to swallow a spot of honey. It's really not that difficult; I can help you if you need me to." He stopped when the other man looked properly chastised. Elves, Charlie thought ruefully. Really, if he was going to have a dragon he might as well learn how to take care of one. "The Muggles are just waking up. It was Dormus Requiem again." He sighed. "We'll have to go in to make a statement, I suppose. Coming, you two?"

Remus and Hallie nodded. "Right," Charlie said. "Well, I guess that leaves the cleaning up for you, Riley." He shrugged apologetically. "Bye, Angel." Angel. Honestly. That was what he got for asking Fred's opinion on what the little demon should be named. It had stuck, too. She refused to answer to anything else.

The three of them Disapparated, Charlie wondering if he would ever actually get a day off.

*

He knew he was in serious trouble the minute he walked in the door, Hallie and Remus in tow. The encounter at the Ministry had been brief, owing to the fact that he'd threatened to quit if they disrespected that it was his day off, but Katherine had still been locked up in his apartment in Muggle London for over an hour.

A single glance confirmed his suspicion. Kate was sitting on his sofa, a coffee mug in one hand, calmly leafing through The Daily Prophet. The Daily Telegraph and The Guardian, Muggle newspapers, laid beside each other on the end table. It was probable that they had already been looked through. When she spoke, there was a dangerous chill in her voice. "Hello, Charlie."

Uh-oh. Now he'd done it. Kate could put up with a lot of things (and indeed did, being his best friend), but being treated like an owlet was not one of them. Charlie wondered how badly he'd be punished for this particular offense. "Kate, I can explain…"

"Explain what, Charlie?" she asked lightly, setting down the newspaper. The photographed wizards on the front page were scrambling for cover. "Hello, Hallie, Remus. I didn't see you there."

Hallie and Remus, Charlie noted, were almost cowering in the corner, trying their best not to be seen. Thanks for the backup, friend, Charlie thought dryly. Then again… she didn't sound angry. A delinquent part of his brain made a smartass comment about that being because no one had ever pissed her off quite like this and lived to tell about it. "Explain, ah, running off and locking you up in here?" he offered.

"Oh, Charlie, that's not a problem." She flashed him a bright grin.

"It's not?" Charlie asked weakly, not trusting his good luck. It was just too good to possibly be true. A knot of dread formed in his stomach. All the times he'd made her angry… she was finally going to snap. She was going to kill him. His life was flashing before his eyes.

"Oh, no," Kate said. "No, I have nothing better to do this morning than hang around your apartment reading your six newspapers- which I still don't understand why you need, by the way- waiting for you to come and release me! It's not like I have any important appointments or anything! It's not like I was worried sick about you, thanks a lot for letting me know you were alright, by the way." Charlie flinched. "But oh no, you thought, Katherine can't possibly come along, she's far too fragile! Oh, her father was a Death Eater, she obviously knows no compassion! She couldn't possibly understand or share the need to help the helpless!" Kate was standing now, shaking with the force of her anger. "Let me tell you, Charles Weasley, this witch doesn't need to take that from you." Before he could react, she pushed angrily past him into the hallway.

Dumbstruck, Charlie could do nothing for several moments. Fairly sure his mouth was hanging open, he glanced at Remus for advice. Remus only shrugged, seeming to say, 'What are you asking me for? She's your friend.' Deciding that Remus was generally very little help when it came to dealing with volatile Australians, Charlie took off after her at a dead run. "Kate!"

*

When he caught up with her, which wasn't too long after as Charlie's wards made it impossible for her to Disapparate, it was in the small reception area on the ground floor. Her back was to him and she was almost out the door, still moving rather quickly. "Kate! Wait, I'm sorry, I shouldn't have-"

She turned around and Charlie's guilt level tripled. Apparently Kate was not only angry, but extremely upset. Charlie suddenly found time to be very glad that none of his neighbors- mostly old Muggle women who doted on Kate like she was their long-lost granddaughter- had chosen this particular day to take a swim in the pool off the lobby. Gods damn it, he thought with a sigh. He always managed to upset the people he cared most about. The previous month it had almost always been Anya, but that at least was understandable: she'd been in the last stages of pregnancy and somewhat fragile emotionally. "I promise I'll never lock you in my apartment again." Without good reason, he added mentally. "Huge lapse of judgement on my part." Even if I do have good reason to be concerned for you. There weren't six different types of wards on his lodgings for nothing- the Dark Forces would do almost anything to get at him, and lately it seemed that a lot of people he knew were in a lot more danger than they should have been. "How can I make it up to you?"

Kate wiped the last traces of tears from her eyes. In his experience, they had never gotten so far as to roll down her cheeks. "It's not me you have to make it up to," she explained. "You see, there was a reason that Hallie, Remus and I were on the subway this morning, and believe me, it wasn't to come and visit you."

"Oh?" Charlie asked curiously, extremely relieved that she wasn't going to tear into him again.

"Yes," Kate said, now sporting a mysterious smile. "Your first mistake was believing that Hallie was pregnant. You really ought to know better." His confusion must have been apparent, because she continued, "In case you'd forgotten, the main reason that this is not possible is that Remus is a werewolf. Now, I realize that, anatomically speaking, there is really nothing that would suggest that Hallie conceiving would be a problem, but unfortunately for the two of them, the cellular processes involved in pregnancy are rather closer to impossible for a werewolf and a human. Are you following all this, Charlie?"

He flushed slightly, unable to believe how blind he'd been. "I think so."

"Wonderful. Anyway, the conversation you probably misheard was likely something along the same lines. Do you know what institution you would find if you ventured just six blocks south-west of this very spot?"

Charlie was confused for a moment, but realization soon dawned on him. "Oohh…"

Kate snorted. "Yes, oh."

"The Muggle orphanage."

"The very same one where Sirius used to volunteer." She smiled somewhat wistfully. "You know, it's probably not too late. How many appointments do you think they actually have?"

"You can take my car if you still want to go," Charlie offered. "Hallie has her license, right?"

"Yeah, but you wouldn't catch me in the vehicle with her." Charlie smiled. Kate was slightly phobic when it came to transportation. She could handle the Floo network, Apparition, the Knight Bus and subways, but just try to get her to take a Portkey anywhere…

"I suppose you were going to coach them on their legalisms while Remus tried to sniff out a young witch or wizard?"

"Actually, it's more the Muggle-isms they were worried about," Kate corrected. "But, prior plans and such notwithstanding, if you wanted to make it up to me, there is something I've always wanted to learn how to do…"

"Yes?" Charlie prompted, hoping like heck it was something normal but knowing he was doomed.

"After all, it's January- 'tis the season and all that…"

Charlie's heart sank. She wouldn't- "Kate, just say it already."

She grinned insufferably at him. "Grab some Muggle clothes, Charlie. You're taking me ice-skating."

*

"Kate," Charlie begged one more time in a last-ditch effort to get out of what he'd gotten himself into. "Please don't make me do this."

She stuck her tongue out at him. "Come on, Charlie, how bad can it be? Muggles do it." She wobbled precariously on her rented skates. For some reason, he was suddenly very afraid of her.

"This goes far beyond any reasonable payback," Charlie growled, attempting to stand. He very nearly fell right back down again. "I hope you're prepared to be embarrassed."

The rink was unfairly crowded, Charlie thought. It wouldn't much have surprised him if Kate had called all of her Muggle friends and told them that today there would be comedy on ice. They stumbled out onto the smooth surface, holding on to each other for support. "Kate, has it occurred to you that this is a very bad idea?"

Laughing, she took a few clumsy strides in the same general direction as the masses. "Don't be such a spoilsport."

He made a face at her. "I'm going to be sore tomorrow, aren't I?" He decided that attempting to follow Kate would be a very bad idea. Unfortunately, Muggles were pushy beasts by nature and eventually he found that he had a choice: move with the crowd and make a fool of himself, or not move and make a fool of himself.

However, as Charlie soon discovered, ice-skating was not as easy as it looked. He only got a few paces before he slipped and landed painfully on his behind.

Kate, hearing his startled exclamation, glanced back over her shoulder and, upon seeing him, burst into peals of laughter. This apparently upset her already precarious balance and she, too, was soon feeling the cold ice against her backside. She kept laughing.

A pair of legs skated by him (Charlie couldn't help but notice that they were very nice legs), did a complicated-looking sort of spin stop, and were joined by the face of their owner in Charlie's field of vision. They belonged to a young woman of about twenty-five, rosy-cheeked and somehow all the more striking for her plain features. "You look like you could use some help," she offered, reaching out a hand to help him up. "This your first time?"

Grinning ruefully, he accepted her hand and managed to pull himself upright. "Thanks. Is it that obvious?" After a few more seconds of rather awkward gloved contact she reluctantly released him. He managed to skate over to Kate without falling again, and found that (almost to his dismay) he had picked up an admirer. "Come on, you; this was your idea." He hauled her to her feet.

Kate looked at the Muggle appraisingly. "Found a friend already, have you?" she smirked. "Is she one of us?"

Charlie shook his head, understanding immediately what she meant. "Nope. Ice-skating expert. Er, this is-"

"Elise," said the Muggle, extending her hand to Kate.

"Hello, Elise," Kate said, rather less politely than the Muggle had introduced herself. "I'm Kate. And ash-for-brains over here is Charlie." He gave her a look. Kate continued as they tried to skate around a long, slow curve in the rink, "He's the strong, silent type."

Charlie purposefully skated into her, causing her to shriek and fall backwards, grabbing onto his jacket to steady herself and taking him down with her. They both landed hard on the ice. "Ouch!" Charlie complained, purposefully choosing not to notice the excellent view he again had of Elise's legs.

"So how long have you two been together?" the Muggle asked once they were both back on their feet.

The question hung ominously in Charlie's mind and set off warning signals in his brain. Automatically and even guiltily he released Kate's hand, suddenly painfully aware that he had been holding it.

Kate seemed as abashed as he was. "We're not actually-" she began, blushing slightly. Charlie swore to himself and looked apprehensively over his shoulder. Nobody was watching them that he could discern, but he still had that feeling…

"I knew it!" she exclaimed triumphantly, grinning. Charlie was just about ready to wince when the Muggle waved a jaunty farewell and skated off to join a group of young women drinking hot chocolate. "I told you they weren't," he overheard her say as he and Kate stumbled by. "Come on, pay up."

He risked tripping over his rented skates and turned to regard Kate with a very dry expression. "Should we resent being bet upon?" Kate asked before he had a chance.

"I'm not sure. I don't know how I feel about being dismissed like that though," he said ruefully. "I must be starting to look my years."

Kate grinned at him and looked over her shoulder. "You weren't paying much attention, were you? I really don't think you need to worry about that being the reason Elise didn't find you interesting enough to proposition."

As they circled around again, Charlie saw what she meant. There was definitely something more than platonic between Elise and her lady friend. "Ah," said Charlie wisely, lifting his skate to avoid falling over a child's mislaid mitten. "Well, I have to say that I still can't fault her taste."

"Sycophant," Kate accused, gliding a few feet in front of him. "I'm not even sure you know who you're flattering."

"That makes two of us, then," Charlie admitted as she executed a slightly wobbly but reasonably tight spin on the ice. "Hey, how did you do that?"

"I'm not sure," she replied. "Oh, look at that, do you think I could skate backwards?"

He didn't give her time to answer. The insistent nagging in the back of his mind grew to a throbbing crescendo. Charlie grabbed her hand and pulled her off of the ice and behind a table, tipping it over just as the first curses rang out. "Ouch!" she began to complain. "Charlie, what the bloody- oh." Kate quieted when she realized that the flashes were not a sort of Muggle daytime firework. "Where the bloody devil is my wand? Charlie!"

Apparently she'd realized that he had confiscated it. At the time it had seemed the best way to keep her behind cover, but now he realized that he really didn't want her without it. How in blazes was she supposed to defend herself without her wand? Charlie passed it back to her and pulled out his own at the same time.

A quick Locator Spell pointed them in the general direction of trouble and, on the count of three, Charlie stood and aimed his wand.

Only Kate's lightning-quick reflexes saved him from a particularly nasty Dormius Curse. Swearing, Charlie brought his wand to bear. "Stupefy multica!" he shouted, blasting multiple Stun hexes back to where the curses had originated. Few wizards had the power to cast spells of that magnitude, but Charlie's experience with dragons marked him as one of the few. He wasn't sure he'd ever been quite this grateful for it.

The curses stopped altogether. Kate looked at him questioningly- he winced; she would probably want an explanation- and peered over the makeshift barricade.

Charlie stood and hopped over it, sliding a bit on the ice because of the skates. Four dark-skinned young men were sprawled on the surface of the ice, unconscious. With the Muggles in the area still under some version of the Dormius, Charlie decided to do some investigating.

All four were wearing cloaks with a crest that was unfamiliar to Charlie. None of them had any ID of any sort on them save the Dark Marks burned into their left forearms. Charlie was getting the unhappy impression that he might have to go into work again to interrogate these jokers when a voice came from behind him.

"South Darwin Secondary School for Wizards," Kate said quietly, startling him. He wished she would stay away from anything that had to do with Dark Activity, but sometimes it seemed that her father's past rather enjoyed catching up with her.

"You know these kids?" Charlie asked, gathering their wands. Under his breath, he muttered a spell to summon a Ministry Cleanup Crew.

Kate shook her head. "They go to the same school I went to in Australia- one specializing in the Dark Arts, but I've never seen them before." She grimaced. "I bet I could tell you what they're doing here."

He sighed. "Summer in Australia."

The Cleanup Wizards, ever prompt, began arriving. Charlie passed one of them the four wands and continued talking to Kate. "Do you think they could be responsible for the attack this morning?"

She sighed. "No. They didn't have enough experience- didn't sound right. It was definitely a group of British wizards earlier."

He nodded grimly; he'd suspected as much. The Death Eaters were not so foolhardy as to provide the Ministry with a set of partial descriptions that might match and give them full identities. The same group never struck twice within a week. "Let's go," Charlie said, feeling the adrenaline rush drain out of him. "Want to Floo back to your place? Or are you okay for Apparition?" It took a lot of restraint on his part not to offer her- or insist she take- a room at his apartment. He knew she would never accept anyway- Kate, unlike others, had absolutely no inclination whatsoever to submit to his overprotective tendencies. On that matter she refused to humor him at all. But sometimes if he neglected to make her feel like she was being big-brothered…

"Actually, can I kip on your sofa? I'm bushed."

Charlie fought the urge to sigh in relief. Two attacks in one day and Kate uncomfortably close to being a victim in both of them. He was getting extremely suspicious. He didn't know why, but someone was after his best friend almost the same way they were after him. "Sure," he answered. "I'll even let you teach me how to use a microwave."

She smiled. "Muggle-isms? You've been living in their world for too long, Charlie."

"Tell me about it," he replied, offering her his arm. "Come on, let's go." But he was still preoccupied with his friend's safety- or lack of it.

End part one.

//
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