Along with an inactive portkey, Harry held a hand-drawn map with such helpful directions as "left on the squabble toad" and "loo doors on the slurgan." Of all the things at which Auror-in-training Lafayette excelled, neither penmanship nor mapmaking made the list.
"I should take the train," Harry said as Hermione made another tiny adjustment.
"The train takes hours, and it's already nearly dark. Take the portkey."
Hermione tapped him on the ear with her wand and said, "Will be ecstatic to have you out of the house for a few hours. But she'll have both our heads if you miss tomorrow." She tapped again, this time between his eyes above his glasses, and hard. "There, that should do. And I'll have your head if you go rushing in doing something stupid, Harry. Get the snaps and get out."
"Fine," he agreed, more to keep her from tapping him again than out of any real conviction to abide by her edict.
So Harry traipsed out into the garden and activated the rusted kettle and whooshed off to a damp field somewhere in the wilds of Yorkshire. Or, he realized when he heard the sounds of traffic nearby, the not-so-wilds of Yorkshire.
In the end, the destination Harry sought was far easier to find than he feared. He'd grown too dependent on location spells and navigation charms in recent years. Luckily, once learned, it was hard to disremember how to make one's way as a good old-fashioned pedestrian through busy city streets, especially those that fairly bristled with road signs and maps for tourists. Blessed be a council with money to spare.
Tucked away in a narrow street at the edge of a heritage park, the café had large bright windows and a sign that managed to be cheerful despite its enormous blood-red stag pierced by silver arrows. Directly opposite the café was a squarish office building, and beyond that the high walls of an old factory which had been converted to blocks of student flats.
What looked like the entire population of the flats packed the small dining room. Dozens of students all looking impossibly young and sweet, cheeks rosy from drink as much as the dropping temperatures outside. Harry raised a hand to adjust his glasses. Halfway there, he remembered he wasn't wearing any and scratched the side of his nose instead. The gesture caught the attention of a frazzled-looking server, who shoved a sticky menu into his hands and bustled him toward a small table by the front door.
"Don't mind sharing, do ya? Good, great, back soon as I can, the stew's excellent today," the server said all in one breath before melting back into the crowd.
Harry scratched his nose again and dragged the chair back until its feet screeched on the floor. He regarded the menu on the other side of the table, and the blonde hair behind the menu, neither of which moved so much as an inch.
"I can wait for another table if you'd rather not share," he offered. Never mind that this one gave him a perfect view of the entrance of the building opposite. He could get around an obstructed view, of course. Especially now that he had the mobile fresh from Arthur Weasley's tinkering. Having to make awkward conversation with a stranger could make the whole affair monumentally more difficult.
"Oh, no, please! Sit, Harry."
"Thanks." He'd already plopped in the seat before the use of his name registered. It took a moment for him to flounder out a response. He hadn't been this sloppy in years. "Wait, erm, I mean, who?"
The menu dropped, revealing Luna Lovegood with a more pointed smile than she usually wore.
"But--" Harry looked at his own reflection in a spoon: short blue hair and a narrow face that looked a good decade younger than his own at the least. His hand went to his non-existent glasses again. "How did you--? Hermione set this charm herself!"
"It's your aura, of course. Oh, don't scoff. It's not as though Trelawney made them up entirely. And I'd recognize yours anywhere! It's a very unusual shade, you see, nearly the color of the noon cat's regurgitated mice. Very memorable!"
"You're welcome." Luna pushed her hair back and up and secured it with something that seemed to be shooting sparks out the end. "I'm sure no one else can see through it."
She leant in to peer at his forehead. "Hermione does such excellent work. Pity she went into politics."
Harry grinned. "She'd tell you the same, most days."
Luna smiled and put her menu up again. Harry took advantage of her inattention to prop his mobile against the salt shaker and survey the street outside. Darkness fell quickly this time of year, and warm light spilled onto the pavement from the dozens of windows in the office building. All except for two at the nearest end of the uppermost row.
Harry squinted. Were those rooms unoccupied or was there something blocking the light? Were the shadows deeper there? An unnatural blackness that didn't match those at the side of the building? He angled the mobile and tapped the screen. He was only supposed to be reconnoitering and taking photographs, of course, but something about those windows niggled at him. All the reports he had about activity in the area were rumors, nothing concrete. Certainly nothing he could act on in any official capacity without a clear indication of laws being broken or persons in danger. Normally, he might have gone ahead with exactly the opposite. But this being a personal favor to Hermione and wholly outside of official capacity meant he had to do everything as by the book as was physically possible. No room for the slightest misstep, not if her intuition were right.
Aside, of course, from sharing a meal with an old friend who had seen through his disguise immediately. Harry checked the reflection in the window. Still not his face.
Luna waved her menu in the air, and the server reappeared almost instantly. "We'll have the stew you recommended, Maryam. And my companion here would like a beer when you have a moment." She lowered her voice and laid a finger against her nose. "I can freshen my tea. No need to keep an eye on it."
Harry handed over his menu and watched intently as the server walked away, hoping to catch the moment when she slipped out of sight this time. She had paused a few tables away to collect empty plates when Luna asked, "Are you after someone especially dangerous?"
Startled, Harry blinked, and somehow missed Maryam crossing the last dozen feet of the room. He countered Luna with a question of his own. "What are you doing so far north? I thought you were off to the Azores."
Luna blushed--something he couldn't remember seeing her do at any point in the years he'd known her. Giving up the mystery of Maryam's speed, he remembered what Ginny had said in passing over breakfast a few days earlier.
"No, the Azores are this summer," he said slowly. "University café, a pile of books, and a satchel that looks like it went ten rounds with a cave troll. Luna, are you teaching?"
"It's only for a few days. Lecturer in Rolf's department, in well over their head. Bitten by a harkle bat, can you believe it? And they didn't realize until their neck swelled so much they couldn't turn their head."
Off Harry's blanch, Luna said, "Oh, don't worry, they'll be right as rain as soon as Rolf fetches the antidote back from Wellington. Too delicate for anything but Muggle travel, unfortunately, so it's taking a few days. Luckily, the swelling has already gone down. Somewhat."
She drained her tea and spun the cup round in its saucer. When it slowed, it was full to the rim again with dark, steaming liquid. "Shall I do yours?"
"No, that's all right," Harry started to say, reaching to cover his own cup but colliding with a full glass of beer along the way.
"Maryam's quite attentive tonight. It's probably that hair."
"I'd be surprised. The squad about laughed me out of the room first time we tried it, but it hardly gets a second glance out on the street. Whatever happened to knowing the strangest-looking person in sight was probably a witch? I couldn't tell the difference between a wizard and a pop star these days."
"That, I believe, is what happens when you get old."
Harry groaned. "We're practically the same age, Luna!"
She made no effort to hide her beatific smile. "But I have retained all my youthful enthusiasm and vigor, while you grump and groan about like an old man and--"
"Can hardly get out of bed on a cold morning, yes, thanks. Please remind my wife to stop speaking to you. Ever."
A light flicked on in one of the windows Harry was still eyeing. Through the thick glass he saw a white-haired man put a pile of folders down on a desk, then pluck a few leaves off a wilting plant on the sill.
"You have such a fascinating job," Luna said.
Harry looked up to find her also watching the pruner, absentmindedly stirring the stew which had appeared on the table. Maryam was nowhere in sight.
"I'm much more interested in what's happening here in this caf," he said. "Is Maryam--"
"Not quite what I was getting at."
"And yet, indeed."
The stew was delicious, hot and hearty. There was crusty bread to go with it, and Harry's beer never seemed to get any emptier than after his first drink. They made short work of their meals, and the desserts which arrived shortly thereafter. The white-haired man flipped through files and switched the light off again after half an hour. Harry kept the mobile trained on the building just in case.
The bill appeared beneath Harry's elbow not long after he scraped the last bits of caramel from his plate. He fumbled through his pockets for the Muggle money he carried, but Luna beat him to it with a wholly un-wizard-like piece of plastic.
She shrugged at the question he didn't ask. "It's much more convenient for travelling than carrying a sack of Galleons."
"So, the Azores in summer, is it? Did I hear something about an owl sanctuary?"
"Rolf's helping them set up for a new breeding program." Luna looked away and cleared her throat, and Harry remembered the other half of Ginny's breakfast announcement.
"Only them?" he teased. To his delight, Luna blushed again. He reached out to squeeze her hand. "It's brilliant news, Luna. We're all very happy for you and Rolf."
Luna smiled, wide but wistful, looking for a moment like she had a dozen years ago or more, standing next to the notice board and asking Harry about the veil. "It's funny how the world goes around, isn't it? One day piled on another until you hardly notice anymore."
Harry couldn't think of anything to say that wasn't a dreadful platitude so he settled for squeezing her hand again.
She laughed and squeezed back. "Better than the alternative, of course. Are you heading back yet tonight?"
"As soon as possible, if not sooner. James' party tomorrow, and all. You're coming, aren't you?"
"Unfortunately, nargles, in this case, could keep me away. Rolf's plane won't land until afternoon, so I have to cover his lectures. And with that, I will leave you to your very taxing investigation. It was good to see you, Harry. Next time perhaps we could do it by design instead of by chance." Luna stood and gathered her things. On her way out, she pecked Harry on the cheek and rumpled his hair.
"I still think you've made them up," Harry called after her.
She waved at him through the window once she made it outside, and disappeared into the night. Harry slid his wand out of his sleeve and cast a Disillusionment charm on the mobile so he could leave it behind for a few days, during which it would send whatever images it captured to a small computer in the office--amazing the leaps Muggle technology kept making. Even more amazing was the Ministry's willingness to put some of it to work.
Out on the street, he started back toward the field where he'd left the kettle, and wound up the watch he wore on his wrist. The big hand swept around the dial to land on a picture of his face. With a careful push, he sent the smaller around to the image of the house in Godric's Hollow, to let Ginny, Hermione, and Ron know he was on his way home.