Chapter 1: Only Cancer Folks Get Whiskey If They're Underage
Present day, Cleveland Clinic, Cleveland, OH; USA
I open the door to the hospital room, my arms full of coffee, bagels, other assorted snacks, a diaper-bag-sized purse, and today’s newspaper.
I say it with gusto, just on the off chance that the figure on the bed will rouse, lift his head despite all of the tubes and monitors, to raise an admonishing eyebrow and tell me that I look a disaster. And, that if I wish to raise my voice in that tone I should just unplug him now because the shrillness is torture.
But he doesn’t. His eyes stay closed, and the heart monitor gives a lone beep while the breathing machine wheezes.
I refuse to be dissuaded, and give my hair a toss as I stride purposefully into the room.
“That’s fine. Don’t get up.”
Ha, that’s funny, I’m funny.
I round the foot of his bed, manage not to trip over anything, and attempt to keep verbal momentum.
“You’re not going to believe this shit.”
I sit in the well-worn armchair, as close to the bed as possible, and register mild surprise that it is still warm from my brother who left minutes ago. It looks as though someone spilled soup on the arm of the ugly dusty orange-and-red 80's pattern. A quick sniff confirms it.
I dump the rest of my shit on the table nearby and snap open the newspaper smartly.
“Notre Dame lost to Navy last night… I know what you’re going to say, but I’m not telling you the score because I’m not interested in dealing with you herniating your groin or something on top of everything else. But, suffice it to say that you can probably wave the largest I-told-you-so flag in the universe and everyone would agree that Brian Kelly should have been fired last season.”
I pause for his response. None comes, but that’s fine.
I keep scanning the newspaper whilst talking, “I’m wearing the fighting leprechaun sweatshirt you got me because I know we’re not fair weather fans, but I’ll be honest some of the orderlies are judging me hard, I can tell...”
“Paper says it’s supposed to rain later… Sunset is at 6:38 tonight… Garfield sucks today.”
I finally lose a little steam and look up into his face. My dad looks like if Liam Neeson and Harrison Ford had an Irish baby. My brother Vince looks like that too, but if Liam and Harrison’s body double was only seventeen. Our youngest brother, Sam, who’s fifteen, has a much rounder, younger face.
He’s in a room two doors down the hall.
My cousin Genevieve, my father’s sister’s daughter, is in the room next to his. She’s 35.
They are all in equal states of fucked. My brother Vinny has probably joined our mother in Sammy’s room, while more of my extended family is with Gen. The three of them have multiple cancers that seem to be a particularly horrendous genetic lottery within our family; brain, lungs, and stomach are all diseased at once, and it’s so overwhelming that even the best facilities and best doctors have had minimal luck making progress against it. Gen’s mother, my aunt, died three weeks ago.
The door of my father’s room opens, and Vin comes in.
“Do you need anything?” He asks.
“I’m fucking solid. I brought snacks. You want snacks?” I gesture to my pile.
“Oh hells yes,” and he snags the flamin’ hot cheetos.
We go quiet for a moment. I look back to my dad’s face and I notice that he looks paler than yesterday beneath his freckles. I fiddle with the well-worn hem of my sweatshirt sleeve, which is a forest green.
I glance back at Vinny, “We should stop cussing. I think he can hear it from purgatory or wherever, and its pissing him off.”
He flinches, “I wish you wouldn’t say stuff like that. Or, at the very least don’t say it around mom.”
I look away and begin studying a hideous painting of a single rose lying in a puddle, located on the opposite wall to the windows, which are behind me, “You know they would be making the same jokes if they could. You guys aren’t doing them any favors by being too solemn.”
He shrugs. “I know,” he says, “you’ve always been better at that stuff though. We aren’t as strong.”
My eyebrows lower of their own accord, and I turn back to him and study his teenage face, trying to suss out whether he finds my cavalier attitude upsetting or not. His grey-brown eyes are honest, if shrewd. He must have grown another inch because his shirt sleeves are too-short, above his wrists. He too, I notice, chose to wear his fighting Irish gear in solidarity today.
“No one blames you, you know,” he says softly, holding my eyes, “for coping with this shit how you do. I mean, I don’t have a psych degree or anything but mom was saying how survivors guilt may be something that you-“
Nope nope nope nope nope nope nope.
My brain turns off, my face goes blank. My fists clench from the inside of my sweatshirt sleeves, forcing them into closed-off nubs. I don’t want to think about this.
Then don’t think about it.
Vin realizes my silent freakout and quickly changes the subject, much to my relief.
“Gen’s doctor was talking with the gastroenterologist, and they think she may need another donation of marrow soon. So, you know, be prepared for them to find you sometime today and ask.”
I was wrong, it wasn’t a complete change of subject. To date I am the only member of our family who has survived the trifecta of cancers.
Don’t want to think about that. Pain.
Suffice it to say, my body has become something of a tool for the doctors to prolong the lives of my family members. Marrow transplants and blood transfusions have been required with more and more frequency in order to use my immunity to their best advantage.
I wish I could say it has been making a difference, and it has, but just not enough of one.
I clear my head by clearing my throat, and reestablish eye-contact, “Yeah, ok, that should be cool. Thanks for the heads up.”
He continues to watch me carefully. I wonder what he sees – I definitely didn’t put on makeup today, so I probably look way older or younger than my 26 years depending on who you ask. My long hair is haphazardly swept up into a messy bun, indicating my rush to get here and my inherent laziness for stupid things.
Poor Vince has had to grow up so quickly in the last three years, and my heart breaks every time I see him looking more mature than he has any right to look. First dad got sick, then me, then everyone else, and even though I made it out cancer free, I was dealt a whole new set of challenges.
Shhhhhhhhhhhhut the fuck up. Stop thinking.
“You look tired,” I tell him, “Go flirt with some nurses or something. Perk the fuck up.”
He grins at me and looks younger again, “Would if I could, but they’ve all caught on that I’m a bit underage.”
I scoff, “Their loss. Do me a favor though, will you?” I start rummaging through my giant-ass bag. Rifling past an ancient inhaler, some wet wipes, and a broken pen, I finally find my goal.
“Bring this to mom. Say it’s from me and ‘you’re welcome.’”
I hold out to him a small, cheap bottle of whiskey I picked up from a gas station this morning. He reaches for it. “Wait, one sec,” I say, and I snatch it back and take off the top. I turn my back to my dad deliberately, and give Vince a don’t tell him that I did this if for some reason he magically wakes up in the next five seconds look, and proceed to down a solid gulp.
Eyes watering, I replace the cap and hand it to him.
“Can I have some?” he asks, eyes crinkled with entertainment at my struggle.
“No,” I reply, “Only cancer folks get whisky if they’re underage. Sammy can have some if he’s up. Don’t let the med techs see it.”
Vince snorts, turns on his heel, and exits the room.
It’s crazy quiet. I turn my eyes back to the horrible rose painting and begin to wish I had bought a second bottle of whiskey. Upon reflection I surmise that the walls of this room may be the same color as whiskey.
Probably meant to be warm and inviting, but the bottom line is shit.
My cellphone buzzes in my back pocket. I pull it out with a flourish and mumble to Dad, “You don’t mind, do you?”
It’s a text from my bestie Desdemona. I love this bitch but her name gets me – she even has a massive, intimidating boyfriend named Orlando. I may have only read Shakespeare once, but I’ve been assured on multiple occasions that the parallel is hilarious.
MOANINGMONA: COMIN 2 U 2DAY. ORLO IS BRINGING SAMMY SOME OF THOSE HALF DONUT HALF CROISSANT SONS OF BITCHES AND WE MAKIN A DAY OF IT. TASTE TESTS FROM SEVERAL DONUT JOINTS. SAW ABT THE NOTRE DAME GAME, HOWS UR DAD TAKIN IT
Oh thank Christ. I could use some of this lady today.
ME: HE’S PISSED WHEREVER HE IS. BRING WHISKEY FOR MY COFFEE, I’M DUMB AND GAVE MY LAST BOTTLE TO MY MOM.
I grin to myself. Mona always knows just what to do. She’s been a fixture in my life since I was nineteen, and has a way of emanating that everything is going to be alright, even when you know it won’t.
Come to think of it, she’s probably waded through more shit for my family than for her own. And her family is huge.
MOANINGMONA: 10/4. ETA 30 MINS.
I replace the phone in my pocket without responding since she knows where to find me. With a sigh I heave my elbows onto the bed spread and lean on them, my chin balanced on my sleeve-enclosed fists.
“I should get you a CD player in here,” I muse out loud, “Get some Bruce Springsteen up in this bitch.”
Heart monitor beeps. Breathing machine wheezes.
Fuck. OK, 30 minutes.
I smooth the edges of his blankets for a few until it looks like Rain Man made the bed. Then I look out the window onto the tops of the other buildings visible on this dreary day in Cleveland. When nothing interesting emerges, I turn back to my dad and pretend to pick his nose. Where before that would have gotten my arm twisted, he now does nothing.
More beeps. More wheezing.
For god’s sake, turn the tv on.
The first channel is Jerry Springer, the next is the news. My father, being a well-informed, mature, proper sort of man would appreciate the news being on in his hospital room. I congratulate myself.
“Local law enforcement has teamed up with the FBI to further investigate our top news story today, the massive vandalism at the Library of Congress. We now go to our News Team 6 correspondent on the ground - Trisha?”
“Thank you, Tom. Our sources have just released to us photographs of the inside of the Congressional Library, where as you can see, the damage is extensive. Employees have likened it to tornado damage in its scope, and have claimed to officials that the vandalism itself occurred over the course of less than a minute. Needless to say, Library employees are currently being detained for further questioning due to the lack of validity of these claims. Tom?”
The hairs on the back of my neck stand at attention, and not from the news story I’m barely listening to. My eyebrows furrow in confusion as I feel the air in my dad’s hospital room change gradually. I can feel it getting colder, but also, almost, sharper. I glance towards the corner nearest the door, close to the rose painting.
The air in that corner seems to shimmer, almost as though it’s made of translucent jell-o rather than oxygen. I open and close my eyes rapidly, but the color of the air changes to become brighter, and I suddenly instinctively know that I’m not seeing things. Placing my hands bracingly on either arm of my chair, I squelch down the tiny egg of panic that has made itself known in my chest.
The jell-o corner has begun pulsing with a very bright, ethereal light, shining on everything else in the room and casting a shadow against all it touches. Finally, my brain seems to turn back on and my instincts with it – I jump up out of the armchair, spilling my bag from my lap so that its contents scatter beneath my father’s bed. I stride quickly around it, placing myself squarely between the fucked up atmospheric corner and Dad.
Almost as if on cue, something jets out of the now light-filled corner. A giant, holy shit giant, bird, zooms towards me purposefully, and I only just manage to duck while lashing out my arm in self-defense. Golden talons secure themselves around my arm in less than a second and give a mighty tug, throwing off my balance and making me fall forward. The bird is hovering in front of me, beating strong, powerful red and gold feathered wings while watching with intelligent amber eyes as I struggle. I lift my other hand up to pry off the talons, even while they cut deep into my skin and make me bleed.
In another brief handful of seconds, I’ve been dragged to the corner from which the creature sprung, my feet scrambling for purchase on the tiles and my free hand grasping wildly at its feathers. As its great head and beak break through the surface of the bright light of the portal, I realize that I’m losing this battle and being effectively kidnapped. I additionally realize that I’ve made next to no noise during the entirety of this encounter, and open my mouth to scream bloody murder, or at least throw some choice words at this asshole bird.
Behind me, the door opens. I hear someone yelling.
But before I’ve even inhaled to yell back, I’m engulfed by light.
Chapter 2: Well Done, Casting
July 17, 1996; Number 12, Grimmauld Place, Islington, London, England
Approximately 0.034 seconds later, the talons release me with a quick burst of pain, (MY SWEATSHIRT. GODAMMIT.) and I fall most ungracefully forward onto my face. I catch myself just barely with my good arm. One of the knees of my jeans rips.
The sharp air behind me immediately dissipates with a sound like a trumpet player inhaling through their instrument, and the portal is gone.
Wherever I’ve landed is warm, warmer on my right side than my left indicating a heat source like a fire. I’m kneeling on what appears to be a worn-thin red and purple oriental carpet laid over a most unforgiving hardwood floor.
My combat-situational instincts begin to wash over me, and I calm. I’m no idiot, I trust my senses. Whatever just happened to me was no fever dream, and enough has gone down over the last two years for me to trust that I’m not crazy.
Granted, this is new. Space-bending portals is new. But if I don’t think too hard about it, I’ll be ok.
That’s good, don’t think. Just survive.
A few seconds has passed and I have not yet lifted my head or raised my eyes. There are other people in this room, I can feel them shifting around, almost nervously.
Good, they should fucking be nervous.
A quick glance up reveals I’m correct, there are four other people here with me. I begin to shift backwards until I’m kneeling, still on the floor. The people are in shadow, close to the walls, so I maintain a facial expression of pure terror in order to disguise my cataloguing. The room I’m in is paneled in dark wood to match the floors. All of the built-in bookshelves are empty, and there is no furniture. There are dusty brass sconces lit with candles on either side of the door, and lining the wall opposite of the fireplace. But overall the room is dim. Everything has a dingy, unused air, as though no one has been in here for ages. Cobwebs dominate literally every corner and every fixture.
“Albus, this must be a mistake. She’s so young! And she looks utterly terrified.”
The Scottish voice comes from a woman, the tall, thin figure standing next to the fireplace. She sounds incredibly uneasy.
Another of the figures walks towards me slowly from his position closest to the door. As he nears, I get a good look at him by the light of the fire. He is very tall, slender, and wears what appears to be a floor-length purple muumuu with green swirls embroidered in different sizes all over it. But my heart stops when I look up at his face: His long nose is bespectacled with half-moon eyeglasses, and his hair is long and grey, falling almost to his waist along with his beard.
My breathing begins to shorten as my heart races.
Al….Albus. ALBUS? What the FUCK.
He is, in fact, looking me over most critically. I can feel long-ass tendrils of hair have escaped my bun and are probably adding to the current dusty-football-fan-hobo mystique I’m sure I’m rocking. He speaks, with a voice that is kind, but firm, “Fawkes would not make a mistake with this. But it is most interesting that this muggle is the one destined to aid us with our cause.”
Oh fuck. Fuck this. Fuck whatever is happening here.
There is indistinct murmuring among the other occupants in the room. I begin to rethink what I said earlier about not being crazy. I could definitely be crazy, in all reality. Shit finally got to me. I finally broke.
Are these assholes…am I in fucking HARRY POTTER?
The bearded man interrupts my short circuiting reverie, and once again demands my attention, “It would appear she does recognize us,” He smiles, “Hello, miss. I’m very sorry that your trip to us was so violent. If we had other means, I assure you, we would have used them.” His gaze turns expectant.
I realize that this pisses me off, so I snap a little, “Yeah, I suppose it would be rude to suggest flying lessons to a fucking bird, but there you have it.”
The woman by the fireplace gasps. One of the others left against the far wall says, “Ugh, a muggle and a ruddy American as well.” He’s a real bear of a man, that one. Probably my height, but every inch of skin I can see in the, admittedly shadow-filled, room is covered in scar tissue. His ginger hair looks ruffled, as if he was shaken by my uncouth arrival method. But he otherwise sounds gruff and sure, and a moment’s pause on his facial features reveals that one of his sockets appears to be set outside his eye, almost like a really massive eyepatch. I can see an eyeball within that socket glowing and never leaving my profile. My stomach turns over.
Albus – ‘Baby steps’ I tell myself, firmly – smiles at me again but says, “I’m afraid I have no place to request you curb your language, even as your elder, but I will anyway for the sake of poor Professor McGonagall, who’s heart, I’m sure you agree, may not take the strain.”
His calm demeanor only continues to infuriate me. I feel my fists clench against my thighs and grind my teeth in an attempt to cool my reactions.
He seems to have read my mind however, “You do understand, do you not? You recognize who I am and what it means that you are here?”
The tension in the room ratchets up another notch. I seethe at my continued confusion and circumstances. All the other occupants have inched just slightly away from the wall, leaning in towards Dumbledore and me, as if to absorb this ridiculous conversation to the fullest.
He narrows his eyes a little at my failure to respond, and continues, “You have surmised, have you not, that the stories you read and enjoyed as a child are, in fact, based on real people, places, and events? That I am, in fact, Albus Dumbledore, Headmaster at Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry, and that I am a wizard who performs magic, and that Minerva here is a witch who also performs magic?”
Rather than respond in the affirmative, that I had sussed this information and was currently processing it despite my better judgement, I stayed silent.
Could it be true? I suppose the level of detail in the Harry Potter books has always left the most die-hard fans salivating for this exact possibility. Like a child who believes in Santa, there have always been people who hope and wish with all their plums and stars that J.K. Rowling was simply the messenger, or biographer of sorts, revealing a world that truly exists along with our own. The thought makes my heart race even faster, and a flush reaches my cheeks while my stomach warms at the thought.
Fuck, I had loved those books.
I had never really fantasized about this, though. I always thought that if there truly was a wizarding world, it wouldn’t really matter because I was most definitely a muggle. A university-attending, hopscotch-playing, microwave-cooking muggle. It always brought to mind a fabulous treehouse whose stepladder was pulled up out of reach so that a sign could be hung from the window reading, “No Mugglez Alowd.”
The reality though, looking at these flesh and blood people, the realness of their faces chased away the warmth I had been feeling just seconds before. With every wrinkle, pockmark, and bitten-down fingernail, the Christmas-morning feeling melted away as I inspected them.
With my newfound information I identified the other occupants as Mad-Eye Moody and Kingsley Shacklebolt. Kingsley reminded me of an incredibly somber Michael Clarke Duncan. He is dressed in robes of black, but the insides of his sleeves are a vibrant orange and red design that vaguely reminds me of the armchair in my father’s hospital room. I glance again at McGonagall and see that she does, in fact, look a lot like Maggie Smith.
Well done, casting.
It's then I realize that I have totally bought it. Call me shit-holed, blame my fandom, but I decide to believe in this moment that Harry Potter is real. And after that happened, I develop a ton of questions. The first and foremost is for Dumbledore, but I can't really figure out how to politely ask –'How are you not dead?'
Unbidden, my eyes end their scan of the space, and return to Dumbledore's. His shrewd baby blues have never left my face, and as though he can read my mind yet again, he spoke, "I'm very pleased that your acceptance of these circumstances was so painless." He does, really, seem pleased. Maybe they had prepared for a moderate to severe muggle tantrum. Before I can tell him 'you're welcome' he continues, "But I must confess to you, you were not chosen necessarily by me, but by fate itself – who worked through Fawkes here."
As his chin lifts in that direction, I glance behind me and notice that the lovely, arm-maiming phoenix was still in the room.
Dumbledore speaks again, this time more gently, "You were chosen most precisely from your time in the future to join us here in, to be specific, July of the year 1996, in order to assist us with our crucial mission of ending the reign of Lord Voldemort and his terrible ideals."
My hands grow clammy as I process yet another fucking doozy.
I’ve been dragged to the past? To help them? Wait, when in the books is this? 1996…Harry was born in 1980, so he’s 16? They never dragged any fucking muggles back in time in the 6th book. This is bullshit.
And while my knowledge of Harry Potter brings forth all of these questions, my personal self is beginning to panic about everything that has nothing to do with these witches and wizards and their goddamn genocidal problems.
I have a secret. It’s a pretty big secret, and it’s caused a lot of trouble in the last two years. I don’t enjoy reviewing it, even to myself, because it leads to confrontations. Situations where people and the entities they represent would like to use me. Their ever-important goals require my cooperation and compliance, occasionally with the threat of force. Their missions are expected to become my missions, all because I’m “special.”
Fucking special is putting it lightly.
I don’t want Dumbledore to figure this out, because I know he may treat me just as others have. His mission is critical to him and to his loved ones, but I have my own loved ones to worry about. He will want to use me just like every other special task force team has wanted to use me.
It’s not fair. Just fucking send me back to my family.
My mood has deteriorated. This is no longer a fairy tale, this is just another version of the hell I deal with back home, but in this version I can’t be with my family.
No. This isn’t going to work.
I realize that Moody and Shacklebolt have moved closer and are now flanking Dumbledore only a couple feet from where I still kneel on the floor. They’re murmuring urgently between one another, their faces masks that shift between indecision, disbelief, and determination. McGonagall is still by the fireplace, but she’s quiet. She’s watching with an inscrutable expression, and I wonder what her opinion of me is thus far.
I clear my throat, all eyes move to me.
Realizing that I feel rather vulnerable on the floor, I rise. As I stand fully, I make eye contact with each of them in turn, and begin saying what I need to say in the most polite voice I can manage.
“Right, so, you know I know your story, right? So I understand that what you’re dealing with is really big, and like, stressful. Voldemort is a huge deal, I definitely get it. But the bottom line is I’m not a part of your story. I have my own story, in my own time, which needs me there. I’m very sorry if that is not what you expected to hear, but it’s the truth. So, you know, I need you to magic me back.”
They’re all silent. Still looking at me.
Moody grunted after a moment, and his magical eye peruses me from top to bottom. After only a second, his regular eye moves to Dumbledore and he states softly, “She’s no ordinary muggle.”
“What do you mean?” McGonagall squeaks from her post, her eyes widening, “Does she have magic?”
Did they all go deaf a moment ago? I want to go HOME.
Moody takes a step closer to me and I resist the urge to step back. “S’ not magic,” he responds, “I donno what it is. Ain’t never seen the like.”
The tension in the room returns with a vengeance. I can feel my arm hairs standing underneath my sweatshirt sleeves. I’m not enjoying Mad-Eye Moody scanning my vibes or whatever the fuck he’s doing. I get he’s a valuable member of the Order, and smart and brave and shit, but he is also creepy.
Dumbledore joins Moody in invading my personal space. He stoops a little as he looks into my eyes, a gesture I’m sure he hopes will relax me, and says, “My dear, I understand you feel unease at being pulled from your time and responsibilities, but if the fates chose you, we must believe them.”
Oh, like hell.
Anger, hot and quick, floods my chest at his presumptuousness. Before I can think twice I blurt, “I don’t give two shits about ‘fate,’” using air quotes in an ultimate demonstration of my maturity, “You guys are acting like assholes.”
McGonagall gasps again. Dumbledore’s face crumples only slightly, but the effect is monumental. Where before he was attempting to calm me with kindness and reassurance, his demeanor has now shifted to a resolve that gives the clear impression that my feelings will no longer be considered. Almost scowling, he draws himself up to his full height, and I wonder if I have just fucked up.
I then decide I don’t care. These are supposed to be the good guys, the firm protagonists of the Harry Potter saga. They shouldn’t be holding me against my will, and I too, straighten my shoulders.
I try to keep my voice even as I share with them, “I have family who are really sick. I used to be sick, but I fought it and now I’m not so they use my blood and stuff to keep alive the ones who can’t fight it while they try different medicines.” McGonagall’s face becomes shocked. I suppose blood transfusions may seem barbaric if you’re not accustomed to the concept. Encouraged, I continue, “I cannot stay here. I have people who need me, and if you are who I thought you were when I read your stories when I was a kid, then you’ll take me back.”
They’re all silent. No one looks excessively sympathetic, and my stomach sinks. Mad Eye’s magical eye is still inspecting me way too closely. Kingsley is looking at the floor, his chin in his hand, and Dumbledore has not relaxed his expression even a little.
I try something else. “Please,” I whisper, letting my eyes fill with tears that weren’t too difficult to manage, given the turmoil of the morning, “Please don’t keep me here while my family dies decades away from me.”
Kingsley finally breaks, his eyes rising to Dumbledore, “Albus, this is senseless. She is a muggle, she cannot possibly help us. Let her go home to her family.”
My heart swells.
Thank god, thank god, thank GOD.
But Dumbledore’s hardened face has not moved an inch. “She’s lying,” he says softly, “She is more than she claims. She knows she can help us.”
My temper flares again, “This is fucking bullshit,” I hiss. Likely not the wisest course of action, but I’m so frustrated and I keep going, “This never went down in the books, you don’t need me! What the hell is the point?” I just barely resist the urge to stomp my foot like a child.
The air begins to crackle with what I now recognize as signs of magic. Moody has his wand out, but at his side. McGonagall looks shocked but saddened by my continued outbursts. Belatedly I realize that all four of these fuckers could probably kill me if they wanted.
But I’m not completely helpless. It would be a fight.
Despite my resolve, I’m completely unprepared for Dumbledore’s wand to be suddenly pointed between my eyes, held in his hand from beneath his purple sleeve.
His eyes have trapped mine and I’m rooted in place. I can feel the Headmaster enter my mind and begin searching ruthlessly for what he’s looking for.
I’m sitting in a hospital bed, the sheets are scratchy beneath my bare ass in this ridiculous gown. My throat hurts like a bitch from days of puking, and I can taste blood. My brothers are standing behind my mom. They all look stricken with fear, and I realize that there’s blood dripping from my lower lip, and from the tissue I just coughed into.
I’m outside my mother’s house, beating an aluminum bat against the trees in her yard. I’m weeping; Sam has just been confirmed with his diagnoses and I’m on an absolute fucking rampage.
My boss with the FBI approaches my desk, he looks especially solemn as he says, “Some guys from the 8th floor are here to see you. You don’t have to talk to them, I’ll send them away if you want.”
He’s a good boss, I’ve liked him, but he knows I volunteered for this. If it works – IF IT WORKS – it could work for the rest of my family. I smile serenely and wink at him, “Thanks for the offer Ralph, but I’ve got it from here.”
I rise from my desk and begin to walk towards the lobby where I’m sure the lab guys are waiting. From the corner of my eye I see Ralph shaking his head a little sadly.
So, so much pain.
I can’t move. I can’t breathe. I hope I die soon.
Oh my damn, this was such a bad idea. No wonder no one else has survived.
I should never have done this. I should have said goodbye to my family.
It’s in my bones, in my joints. I feel as though my flesh is trying to peel itself away layer by layer.
I scream and scream, but I’m restrained to a cot soaked with my own sweat and piss.
I’ve been here for days. No one is coming to help me. No one will just end it.
I try desperately to scratch my own skin and force myself to bleed. To bleed out. To die.
Nothing works and I scream.
I’m in a pitch black cell. The floor is freezing and damp, and I’m wearing what amounts to some underwear and a tank top. They haven’t given me new clothes since the injection, so I’m absolutely fucking filthy. This portion of the process wasn’t part of our agreement, it wasn’t discussed or detailed to me. I’m nothing short of a prisoner.
I hear a door open, and the light emitted is dim, but enough to make my poor, sensory-deprived eyes water. I’m feeling a fury that I’ve never experienced before in my life. I feel completely and utterly betrayed, by my country, by my office. Everything I thought I trusted has now turned the tables on me and I want to fuck them all up so badly.
Five massive men make their way into my cell. They’re wearing prison swag – matching jackets and sweatpants. They look like pretty not so fun guys. I realize they’re all leering at me and one of them has his hand in his pants and is stroking himself.
Ha, jokes on them. I’m disgusting.
From the doorway an unseen guard tosses a baton-bat into the cell and it rolls to my feet. They say in a voice I can’t discern as male or female, “Do what you gotta do, girl.”
I immediately grab the bat and hold it firm in my hand, but dangling at my side. One of the uninvited gentlemen removes his shirt and says softly, “Gonna use this to gag you, sweetheart. Don’t want your screaming to ruin the mood.”
Two of the others laugh softly and begin to compliment my body with phrases such as “really fuckable mouth” and “wonder if anyone’s been in that ass yet.”
Hand-in-his-pants guy finally gets impatient and makes the first move towards me. I allow my newfound instincts to take over, and unbeknownst to me at that time my eyes glaze over, turning black. An insane kind of power floods my senses, from the top of my head to the tips of my toes I feel energized and capable of anything. My heart rate begins to slow while my thoughts begin to speed up. Every muscle tightens with anticipation, and even my fingernails seem to lengthen slightly with excitement. By his second step I’ve moved lightning-fast towards him and cracked the baton upwards in a simple swing which snaps his neck. I then pirouette behind the next man and lift my baton against his neck while applying pressure and twisting until I hear his head detach from his spine.
I’m beginning to smile through my rage. My next victim tries in vain to grab my hair but I drop to the floor quickly and sweep his feet out from under him, and he falls hard. With a dainty turn, I target the man beside him’s nether regions, hammering them hard enough that he immediately blacks out.
The fifth assailant wasn’t smart enough to assess his brethren’s fates and back off, but instead runs screaming at me body and soul. Still crouched, I pivot so that he flails past me, but into fallen numb-nuts. I stand fully in time to bring my baton down once on the back of his neck, and hear the bones break.
My one fallen assailant begins to rouse, so I turn back toward him. Standing over his body I bring my bat down against his face with all my strength once, twice, thrice, and he’s unrecognizable.
The would-be guests have only been in my cell for about 20 seconds. Some of my anger has finally worked its way out, and I feel better.
Chapter 3: Powerful In Ability And Agility - But Not In Magic
Albus finally releases the young lady from his spell. As he is quite the accomplished Legilimens, Minerva McGonagall did not envy the girl one bit.
Unease continues to dominate her emotions. If what this woman says is true, they are doing her a great disservice by separating her from her timeline. ‘From her family,’ her conscience whispers to her, unbidden.
Mister Potter needs us to do all we can. Surely this girl will understand. We cannot allow the children to lose this war.
But her gut continues to churn while her moral code scrambles for secure footing.
The poor girl looks more disheveled than ever. Her long, wild, pale blonde locks hang in disarray from her coif, dust and grime coats her hands and knees from her time on the floor. She staggers backward, away from Alastor and Albus, her breathing more like gasping, and her head and gaze is pointed resolutely at the floor – so do avoid having her mind delved into once more.
But it’s her bright green eyes which capture Minerva’s attention. They dart up to Dumbledore with a fury that McGonagall had never before seen directed at Albus from anyone less than a Death Eater. Her unease triples as it becomes compounded with guilt and sadness at what this war has made of them.
Albus Dumbledore just performed magic on a muggle.
As if reaching the same conclusion, Kingsley found his voice and begins to splutter in his low baritone, “Albus, what on earth-!”
But the young muggle was not going to wait her turn. With fury radiating from her very being she shouts at Albus, “HOW DARE YOU? YOU…YOU…”
Albus holds his ground, and says in a firm tone which brooks no argument, “I did what needed to be done.” His gaze is piercing. It was a wonder the girl did not flinch away, “You were hiding your abilities from us, and as you have been chosen to turn the tide of the wizarding war, I cannot abide your childish sense of pride any longer.”
The muggle girl seems to find her second wind, “WHAT I DO AND DON’T SHARE IS NONE OF YOUR GODDAMN BUSINESS. YOU HAD NO FUCKING RIGHT-“
“I HAVE EVERY RIGHT,” Albus Dumbledore booms, shaking Minerva down to her core. She feels herself cower slightly closer to the edge of the fireplace while Kingsley and Moody take instinctive steps backward from the pair of furious figures. The air of the basement bedroom at the Order of Phoenix headquarters now feels thin and charged with animosity.
But Albus is not finished, “YOU HAVE A GIFT, AND YOU HAVE BEEN DELIVERED TO OUR DOORSTEP TO ASSIST IN THE WAR EFFORTS WHICH WILL SAVE MANKIND, WIZARD AND MUGGLE ALIKE. HOW DARE YOU SHY AWAY FROM YOUR RESPONSIBILITY?”
Minerva stifles a gasp. She had not realized just how desperate their side’s circumstances have become, if Albus was allowing his frustrations, fears, and temper to dominate his judgement in regards to this lone muggle girl. His resolve is fierce to behold, and while his methods are making her fearful in this moment, she is still yet thankful that he’s on their side. Minerva McGonagall will stand with Albus Dumbledore until her last breath, and if he truly believes that this is the tact to be taken in this moment, she will not interfere.
I will not interfere, but what has become of us?
She closes her eyes, for just a moment, sadly.
Kingsley Shacklebolt is not so quick to agree, however. He angrily rounds Moody to get close to Albus again, facing him while Dumbledore continues to square off with the girl.
His words are harsh, but almost pleading, “Albus, no. This is not us. We do not draft unwilling soldiers. To do so would make us no better than the Death Eaters, and if we are no better than they, what are we even fighting for?”
Moody looks pensive from his spot a few paces behind them, and with both eyes fixed on the girl, he asks, “What abilities, exactly?”
Albus’s eyes glaze over just slightly as he turns his mind back to what he had seen in the girl’s memories. With a deceivingly calm voice, he explains, “She is a product of her world’s science. Experimented on and tortured, she is the first surviving test subject for a military biological tool which not only cured her of her family’s fatal ailments, but turned her into something much more powerful than the average human – powerful in agility and ability, but not in magic.”
Silence falls. Minerva directs her gaze back to the girl, surprised that she has managed to stall her foul mouth for this long. Her heart breaks just a tad at the sight of her: eyes downcast, fists clenched in her jumper sleeves, her body held rigid in a defiant sort of defeat.
Moody continues to consider her as a general would a potential new recruit, “Tha’ is interesting. Could be a spot valuable as well. She’d be able to wander unnoticed as a muggle, all the while equipped with wha’ you describe…could be dead useful.”
The girl finally speaks. Her voice is soft, but numb-sounding, “You’re not the first to think so.”
It is as if ice were injected into Minerva’s veins, the girl’s eyes are dead as she lifts her head and regards them all in turn.
“They did everything they did to me without my permission save for the first injection. All the tests, all of the pain, it was to collect data on a subject that was no better than a prisoner. You’re asking me-,” she stops, and her face twists into a sneer, “No, I’m sorry, you’re fucking telling me, to help you save your families for the sake of my own, but I won’t do it. They are all I have left and if you think you can just tear me away from them you’ll have to fucking kill me before I’d help you.”
No words follow this pronouncement, and despite his earlier anger, even Albus keeps his silence. Even so, he is scrutinizing the young lady closely.
As though as an afterthought, the girl adds, “Assholes.”
Minerva barely holds back the sudden urge for the ends of her mouth to tip upward. This girl has got to be one of the most reckless, courageous people she has ever met. Wizard or not.
She would be in my house.
The thought comes almost proudly.
Kingsley looks ready to argue with Dumbledore again, but Albus beats him to it. Striding forward, he stands nose-to-nose with the dusty muggle girl (or, in this case, nose-to-chest). The young lady does not move back or flinch, but meets his eyes with a defiant fierceness which backs up her previous words.
Deliberately, Albus holds her gaze and gently takes her forearm in his long-fingered hand. Minerva had not before noticed that the sleeve of the girl’s green jumper was mangled, or that the skin of her arm beneath it was torn and bleeding from her acquaintance with Fawkes the phoenix.
Dumbledore raises his wand in his other hand and begins to quietly sing a healing spell, which at once knits the shredded skin back together. When it is clear that she isn’t going to lash out or run, he drops the newly healed arm, and slowly lifts his hand to grasp the girl’s chin softly between his thumb and forefinger.
“I believe we can come to an agreement, my dear.”
I look into the Headmaster’s oddly mesmerizing blue eyes for only one more millisecond before my brain’s question bubbles off my lips.
Dumbledore smirks. The suffocating tension of the room seems to dissipate slightly, and everyone relaxes their knickers just a smidge.
You’re so intelligent and intimidating. It’s no wonder they’re fucking ignoring every god damn thing you say.
But rather than immediately respond, Dumbledore simply removes himself a step or two from my personal bubble, then says in an almost businesslike tone, “Let us sit, shall we? Minerva, if you would please acquire a tea service? I’m afraid our hospitality has been severely lacking.” At this, he conjures two very plush, red and white striped armchairs, with blue and red paisley pillows stuffed into their corners. Between the chairs he draws up (literally, as in, with his wand draws) a basic, square cherry-wood table.
My brain blanks in blatant rejection at this demonstration of magic, but I take a deep breath to steel myself and get over it. Dumbledore has seated himself comfortably in one of the plush armchairs, and is gazing at me expectantly while gesturing to the second.
Does this mean he’s going to stop tearing me a new asshole?
Seeing no alternative course of action outside of continued combativeness – and I’ll be honest, that shit is getting old – I proceed to walk over and lower myself onto the holy-shit-comfy-chair.
My eyes have grown accustomed to the firelight-lit room at this point, and it occurs to me that there are no windows. Before I can ruminate on this much longer, McGonagall finally leaves her post against the wall and makes short work of arriving at my elbow. With several quick flicks of the wand in her hand, she transfigures a very basic white china tea set onto the cherry table, equipped with a steaming teapot, five cups and their saucers, and an assortment of cookies.
I fight through the brain-rejection of magic yet again, and sit quietly while she and Dumbledore begin making themselves each a cup of tea. As an afterthought, McGonagall conjures a small stool made of the same cherry wood as the table, so that she may perch and sit with us. As Dumbledore begins to load his small plate with several oatmeal cookies, she looks imploringly at me and asks, “How do you take it, dear?”
Un-fucking-real. Wanting to roll with the punches, I look at her squarely and say, “Uh, just plain, please.” She nods, pours a quick dose of hot tea into a cup, and hands it to me with an efficient nod.
She glances up briefly at Moody and Shacklebolt, but they both give almost imperceptible shakes of their heads and stay standing on either side of the back of Dumbledore’s chair. I suddenly feel grateful that she chose to sit close to me, for I feel just a touch less outnumbered, even if it’s an illusion.
Everyone stays quiet as we enjoy the break in festivities. I take one sip, then another.
“Would you care for a biscuit,” McGonagall asks me, gesturing to the tray. I don’t recognize a single fucking cookie on there, and there are definitely zero oreos. I shake my head, “No, thank you.”
I can feel the ants in my pants begin to make themselves known. Shacklebolt and Moody haven’t taken their eyes off of me, like I might flip the table and make a run for it.
Rather than allow this to go much further, I set my cup down on its saucer and look into Dumbledore’s face. I find that he, too, has been gazing at me. So with that in mind, I venture forth.
“What did you mean by an agreement?”
Dumbledore nods, as if I’ve made an excellent point. But explains himself after a quick swallow of tea, “I realize now, child, that in all this discussion of your supporting us, we have not at all allowed for the possibility of a quid pro quo – I believe it’s called.” His eyes narrow slightly, and I see the ghost of the bat shit angry wizard he was ten minutes ago, “Naturally, I did not anticipate receiving someone so reluctant to be of assistance.”
I do not find this to be a fair statement. They completely tore me away, did not fucking ask, and are not exactly offering to send me back to where I belong. I open my mouth haughtily to tell him so, but he anticipates this and interrupts.
“Of course, of course, I understand you feel that our method has been a rather grave injustice to you and the family we would be making you leave behind. We have been rather short-minded in that regard, you would be correct.”
Well. That ALMOST captures the level of fucked we’re at.
The rest of the room’s occupants seem just as anxious to understand where this is going, what the bottom line is. And not one to disappoint, Dumbledore continues, “I would like to, if I may, make a promise to you in exchange for your complete and total service to our cause.” My curiosity is piqued, and he leans forward to accent the gravity of his offer, “I would like to promise you that I will do everything in my considerable power to restore your ailing family members to full health, should you agree to stay here, and do everything in your power, to win the war against Voldemort and his Death Eaters.”
I barely notice that next to me, McGonagall has relaxed so much she’s practically slumped on her stool, and Kingsley has issued a great sigh behind Dumbledore – as though in relief.
Holy fuck. Holy shit.
Is what he saying even possible?
“Can you do that?” I blurt out, not even bothering to keep my tone relaxed or even. This is huge, “Can you really cure them?”
He regards me calmly still, his blue eyes focused and determined. Determined, I realize, to keep me here willingly. “Based on what I witnessed within your memories, yes I believe I can,” he says with a soft confidence, “It may take a moment to research the exact context of their diseases, but with that knowledge I am practically sure that I can make them healthy and whole.”
I feel weak, and I realize with a start that thank fuck I’m sitting. My eyes are round in my head as I stare at him. “Holy shit,” I say on a whisper.
Mad-Eye Moody takes this moment to clump around to my side of the table and stands facing me, looking down with a hard expression that I’m not getting. “Don’t misunderstand him, girl,” he growls, “This is no boon. You’re ours until we say otherwise if yeh agree.”
Kingsley makes a small noise of protest, but Dumbledore raises a hand before he can speak.
Lowering the hand, Dumbledore relaxes with his fingers steepled in front of his face, but there is a coldness, an inflexible threat, to the way he is regarding me now. “He’s quite right, child,” the Headmaster says quietly, “There will be no negotiating after this. If I agree to heal them, you will stay and fight. You will put your life on the line as every single other member of the Order does, and you will not rest until Voldemort is finished.”
The warmth that had before pooled in my chest begins to creep across my breastbone as icy fingers instead. I drop my gaze down to my hands hidden in their sleeves in order to consider what it is I’m hearing.
Still a fucking prisoner. Always a fucking prisoner. Used for the talented, murderous creature living in me, but never again to have a life of my own, of my choosing.
But wouldn’t it be worth it? For them?
My brothers, mother, father, and extended family emerge in my mind’s eye. A strange hodge-podge of mixed colors and faces, all-American mutts with their heritage, but loving and complete in each other. Unbidden, the hot sting of tears hit the backs of my eyes. Would they resent me for leaving them now? Would they hate these people for making me choose? But also, wouldn’t they understand? Wouldn’t they make the same choice if given the opportunity?
That is the answer. Yes they would. They would be so unbelievably pissed at me, at Dumbledore, but they would understand. They may resent me for leaving, but they’d know that they too wouldn’t have hesitated.
Bile surges up into my throat before I can stop it, and a horrible, selfish part of me screams, ‘If you say no, at least you’ll be there for them when they die. That’s more than what you’ll get, trapped in a world that manipulates you and hates you.’
I beat down the thought forcefully.
Nah, that’s fucked up. Do what’s right, Finnie.
Not realizing that the tears have actually fallen from my eyelashes and onto my cheeks, I look up at Dumbledore, and before I can think too much harder, I say, “Yes. Yes, of course. Please help them.”
The air around Dumbledore and I goes static yet again, and it feels as though a breeze flows around only the two of us, raising the tips of my disheveled hair, and the tips of his beard. I know then, that the bargain has been struck for real.
Chapter 4: Holy Shit It's Like A Beacon
You could cut the tension in this room with a knife.
I don’t regret shit. Not for a moment, but I can’t pretend a film of resentment hasn’t settled onto my shoulders as I continue to look at the witch and wizards surrounding me, their faces masks of caution illuminated by the firelight.
Try to be grateful.
I can’t. Fuck that. All I can feel right now as that these people are manipulative douchebags, and that I hope to god they realize that that’s how I feel and don’t try to be obnoxious and friendly now or anything.
As though reading my thoughts, Albus Dumbledore rises from his armchair and makes his way to the door, Kingsley Shacklebolt close behind him. The other two don’t move from their places, McGonagall in a stool next to my armchair, and Moody practically standing sentry two steps from me. They must have communicated silently, who would stay and who would go.
Dumbledore turns back to face me once he reaches the door. “I am going to summon the rest of the household,” he explains, “to introduce you to our cause and keep the Order of the Phoenix on the same page.” He hesitates a moment before adding, “I must ask that you keep the specifics of this arrangement between those of us in this room for the time being, I am not certain how to accurately portray this morning’s events just yet.”
Yeah, that’s understandable. Shit is pretty whacked. So I nod at him, and he turns once more and leaves the room with Shacklebolt to rally the troops. Almost as an afterthought, Fawkes the phoenix waddles out the door behind its master.
Once they’re gone, I willfully steel my shoulders, switch my brain to get-the-fuck-on-with-it mode, and attempt alternative conversation with my designated guard dogs.
“1996, huh?” I blindly snag a shortbread cookie and throw one of my legs haphazardly over the arm of the cushiony chair, “That means good ‘ole Billy Clinton is up for re-election in the States. How are you all feelin’ about that? Don’t worry, I won’t ruin it.”
The subject change has floored them, it appears. McGonagall is looking at me as though I’ve grown tentacles along my hairline.
Undeterred, I battle on, “Unfortunately, I’m pretty fucking unaware of UK music from this time period, unless…” a thought occurs to me, “The Spice Girls don’t count, do they?”
Moody suddenly bursts forth with a growl, “NO THE SPICE GIRLS DON’T BLOODY WELL COUNT.” He uses his great, scarred paw to scoop up several of the horrifying jam-centered cookies, turns on his heel, and stomps towards the door.
“Radiohead, then? Queen? The Kinks?” I gasp with sudden inspiration, “Oh my god! Is your favorite song ‘Lola’?”
His mouth full of shitty cookies, Moody only manages an unintelligible growl, and a hand gesture I vaguely recognize as being technically vulgar in the UK, before he slams the door behind him.
I sigh and stuff another shortbread into my mouth, my eyes losing focus as they settle on the fire. With a start, I remember McGonagall only because she rises from her stool in order to sit in Dumbledore’s freshly-vacated armchair.
I feel a new stab of unease as I study the severe-looking older woman. She looks every inch Maggie Smith from Harry Potter, down to the brooch at her throat. I can’t get a read on her. Does she like me? Does she think I’m a shit?
My question is answered when her eyes begin to sparkle with humor, at what I can only assume was my incredibly hilarious and skillful ribbing of Alastor fucking Moody. She rests her hands on the arms of the chair imperiously, and speaks to me in a soft, kind voice, “What is your name, dear?”
My brow furrows. Have we really gotten this far without them learning my name? Weird.
My mouth is full as I respond, “Finnie.”
She allows a small, quaky smile, “I don’t know that I have ever known a Finnie in my lifetime.”
I shift a bit in my seat, and hurriedly swallow the rest of the cookie, “It’s actually Sjofn. ‘Seo-fin.’ But, that’s so, you know….no thank you.”
She nods knowingly, “You are named after the Nordic goddess of love. That’s quite ambitious of your parents.”
“Tell me about it.”
We share another smile, and then go quiet. Without further conversation, she leans forward and pours us each a fresh cup of tea. We sit in companionable silence while we wait for whatever is supposed to come next, and I’m grateful. It seems for fucking ever that I’ve had a moment to collect myself. Flying by the proverbial seat of my pants might be decent life skill, but it is draining as fuck.
About forty minutes later, the door opens and Kingsley is there. He pauses briefly and assesses our demure and ladylike silence – complete with tea – before his low voice carries, “Ladies, we have as many Order members as we could reach waiting for you in the kitchen. If you would come with me.”
I place my tea back onto the table with nervous hands. Springing from my seat with an energy I don’t actually feel – swear to god I could sleep for a month – I lead the way out the door.
Kingsley slips past me in order to walk ahead, and despite his brisk pace I do my best to absorb my surroundings. The walls are similarly paneled as the room we just left, and cobwebby sconces are evenly distributed with flickering candles as we approach a set of stone steps leading upward. We pass another door on the opposite side of the hall, and begin ascending the stairs, which are carpeted with a rich, burgundy runner that looks much cleaner than anything else I’ve seen so far.
The steps are corkscrewed, and I fucking hate them. Very claustrophobic. But as we emerge onto what is clearly the first floor of the dwelling, I realize that the lack of light was not necessarily a product of being in a basement so much as it was simply the aesthetic choice of the Order’s headquarters. My memory returns to me, and I recognize that all the dark, grimy splendor I’m seeing is actually the Black Family Home. Turning a corner, we are in the foyer from which I can see the infamous portrait of Mrs. Black, her curtains drawn tight. Before I can absorb a crazy lot more, I’m ushered down a hallway and toward a three-step drop into what I’m sure is the kitchens, based on the amount of fucking noise.
I stop suddenly and grab Shacklebolt’s sleeve. He halts too, and turns to me in surprise, so I make it quick.
“Who all is in there, exactly? I’ve read your story, remember, so I’d like to know now to minimize how much of an asshole I look like.”
Understanding flits across his face, and he turns fully to face me. With no preamble he begins, “Tonks, Remus, The Weasley’s, the kids are out of school, so they’re here, plus a few of the Hogwarts professors, Mundungus, Hagrid can’t make it but a couple Aurors may have arrived by now, Aberforth-“
“Ok ok ok – shit, fuck. So, everyone?” I spit out, a little irritated.
Kingsley looks surprised that I’m surprised, “Well, yes.” And without attempting to make sure that I’m good to go, he proceeds into the kitchen space.
I follow only after McGonagall has prodded me in the spine with her thumb. As I descend the couple of steps and turn the corner, my eyes are assailed by the sudden bright cheerful fuckery that is the kitchen. I wince.
Shit, fuck. It’s like the high school lunchroom all over again.
The room goes dead silent. Not wishing to instigate full eye contact with 30 different people just yet, I do a mellow scan of the seats left in the room – I identify Dumbledore, sitting at the crux of the misshapen circle of people – and without focusing on any one face for too long, I see a seat next to Moody and make a beeline.
The kitchen space manages to be both spacious and cramped, likely due to the sheer number of folks in it at the moment. Mismatched chairs, benches, and stools are both occupied and unoccupied and the distinct smell of a massive roast dinner is easily identifiable from against the wall containing access to the ovens, stoves, counters and whatnot. I duck a couple of times to avoid hanging pots and pans, until I reach my goal. I realize once I’m there that Moody is glowering at me, so I smile cheerfully in response. McGonagall has followed me thus far, but at this point veers just slightly so that she ends up standing at the front of the room, on Dumbledore’s right.
Unfortunately, now that I’ve sat, there’s no way to avoid looking into the sea of faces. The first feature in the crowd that draws my eye is actually Fleur’s hair—holy shit it’s like beacon. I keep my face composed and try to give an unruffled air of slightly reckless swagger which, honestly, comes a bit too naturally. My gaze flicks over quite a few gingers, a black-haired boy with glasses, my smile brightens a tad when it reaches Hermione – she always was one of my favorites – but finally, I make myself turn my attention to Dumbledore. After which I raise an eyebrow as if to say, ‘Let’s get this goddamn show on the road.’
Dumbledore’s eyes twinkle at me for just a moment before he turns his face toward the rest of his audience. After which, I immediately allow my gaze to zone out on the foot of the chair directly in front of mine (which I think holds Tonks, as pink hair is a distinctive feature. Not all casting choices were perfect though, it would seem).
“Everyone, if I may have your attention,” he begins.
Hmm. People were likely still a little distracted by my ‘clearly does not belong here’ type of entrance.
He continues in a grave voice, getting right to the point, “At the end of the last school term, I shared with many of you my fears that the destiny of the Order and its members has been irrevocably tampered with.” He pauses for effect, and I resist the urge to lift my eyes just yet, but my brows lower and I listen hard.
“After some research and consultation with the centaurs, who, as many of you know, were most distressed by the events which plagued us last month-“
“Yes, what was the deal with all that, then?” I raised my eyes finally to see that it was the black-haired youth in glasses who could only be Harry Potter that had interrupted the Headmaster, “They didn’t used to give a rat’s arse about us or the war. Then suddenly, on the last day of exams, they storm the castle and make a huge fuss.”
Most of the younger student-age participants sit at an angle from my chair, so that I am seeing them in profile. Tonks’ vibrant hair blocks a significant amount of my view, but closest to us beyond her is Hermione, who keeps stealing glances at me.
A tall ginger sitting next to Harry – Ron? – leans toward him in order to murmur loud enough for most of us to hear, “Didn’t quite mind them taking the piss out of Umbridge though, right mate?” A slender redheaded girl beside him lifts the back of her hand up to her mouth to hide a smile. “Whatever they were on about led to that being bloody well handled, at the very least,” he finishes.
Dumbledore, with much more patience than he showed me an hour earlier, takes this interruption in stride. “Yes, it would seem that the Hogwarts High Inquisitor will not be returning to her post this coming term, as she is continuing treatment for phobia-related, post-traumatic stress disorder at St. Mungos.” He sighs, as though this is not necessarily a good thing, “To return to the issue at hand-“
But the redheaded girl pipes up, “Does this mean you’ll be returning to Hogwarts, Headmaster?”
An older woman seated a pace behind the schoolchildren lightly whispers a quick admonishment to Ginny for the interruption. With a start I recognize Molly Weasley, her worried and serious face at comical odds to the flour coating her hands and hair.
After a quiet moment, Ginny offers a small, “Sorry, sir.”
People around the room are fidgeting a lot, and murmuring can be heard breaking out in sporadic bursts. This lot has clearly not been on the same page for quite some time.
I move my gaze back to Dumbledore as he begins to speak again, this time louder, “Yes, my dear, I have been offered a full apology by the Ministry for the events which transpired this past year that led to the warrant for my arrest. And, if I may add, I intend to do my best here at this time to fully disclose all those unanswered questions which I know many of you have been dying to ask for several weeks. So if you would just bear with me, I assure you I have every intention of giving as complete a summary as possible.”
Ginny blushes to the roots of her hair. I nearly scoff.
Yeah, ok, he did not scream at you. Calm down.
Moody must have felt my shoulders jump with the inclination, because he glances at me with his magical eye. Reaching the same comparison that I did, his eye moves back to Dumbledore, but a grin breaks out on his face and he lets out a small, “Heh.”
My stomach warms unexpectedly. Something as simple as sharing this brief inside joke does wonders for my disposition – I suddenly feel more confident that everything is going to be alright, that I’m not going to feel like a worm ground by a boot heel all the time. I turn to face forward in time to see Tonks whipping her head around quickly, caught watching us.
Dumbledore continues his rather somber pronouncement, “This apology to me, and subsequently to Sirius Black, was inspired, in short by the very bloody event by which Lord Voldemort made his reentry into the wizarding world a few short weeks ago. During which, he personally assassinated eleven witches and wizards quite publicly on the steps of Gringotts. He and a select group of his Death Eaters, including Bellatrix Lestrange and Peter Pettigrew, stormed the bank with the intention of breaking into a high-security vault, and I’m afraid to say that, after torturing, killing, and imperiusing many of the goblins who had the misfortune of being at their posts that day, they were successful. And that the vault they entered and pilfered, was my own.”
An awed sort of silence follows, and it’s clear that Dumbledore is allowing those of us, for which this news is new, a moment to process.
Personally, my brain is blank. None of this makes any sense.
I mean, yeah the whole ‘magic is real’ thing will take time to sink in, but even OUTSIDE of that this shit does not make sense.
Whatever happened with the Department of Mysteries prophesy adventure? Centaurs storming the castle? THAT never fucking happened. What on earth could have changed Voldemort’s trajectory so completely? Or, is it possible that this all truly happened in the history of wizard kind, and that J.K. Rowling’s books were edited with fictionalizations? I’m going to need to figure that out.
Something Dumbledore said swam to the forefront of my turbulent thought process, and my head snaps up from its reverie.
Turning to Moody, his magical eye meets mine almost immediately and I can feel my face contort in confusion as I say, much louder than I intended, “Sirius Black?”
Moody’s eyebrows lower, and he opens his mouth to speak. But before he can, a voice somewhere in front of my chair, past Tonks and past the kids, drawls in a deep voice, “Present.”
Before I can slow down and think, I shoot up out of my chair. The source of the voice is a man sitting on Harry’s left, farthest away from me. His long legs are stretched out before him, crossed at the ankles, and he’s slouched down in his seat with his arms crossed – the perfect picture of carelessness. He’s looking at me – well, everyone is fucking looking at me – with a touch of confusion but a little bit of arrogance, like he’s used to his name being a talking point.
My mind turns off again.
He looks like fucking Johnny Depp.
Like an older version of the Gilbert Grape Johnny. But still, it’s uncanny. I can see the whisper of tattoos at the base of his throat, the edge of his wrists, and even at his knuckles.
Totally inappropriately, my stomach turns over and my lady parts clench just a tad.
Ok, Finnie, that was unnecessary.
My mind begins spinning once again, because that’s sure as shit Sirius Black. And once I accept this, the flirty endorphins I got a moment ago seeing his handsome ass disappear, and I can feel the blood drain from my face.
I thought they said it was 1996. As in, the beginning of the sixth book – right?
“I thought you said it was 1996,” I blurt unceremoniously to Dumbledore, McGonagall, whoever. I can’t tear my eyes off of Sirius.
Something is terribly, terribly wrong.
My hands are shaking in my sleeves, and I feel distinctly ill all of a sudden. The fidgeting and murmuring amongst the other members of the Order has resumed with a vengeance. Dumbledore must recognize my distress because he is quiet as he inquires, “What is it? What is wrong?”
No, they need to answer me. “I thought Harry was sixteen,” I say, a little louder, and my eyes flit to the boy for just a second.
The fear is slowly morphing into anger now.
Just how fucked up is this world I’m supposed to be fixing?
“He’ll be sixteen in two weeks,” Sirius says with an undercurrent of annoyance. His eyes are narrowed at me, and he’s sat up in his chair more securely.
Oh, oh no. Something really is wrong.
Why the fuck aren’t you dead?
I’m shaking with fear and anger now. They didn’t tell me, they didn’t divulge the full truth of whatever is going on here. They made me believe that I was agreeing to wartime servitude by the terms of the war in the story that I understood – not by whatever stage is set here after they’ve fucked with the timeline of history.
Oh god. OH GOD. Sirius never died. This means that the fight for the prophesy never happened – does Harry even know about the prophesy? Is it even possible for him to become the same person he had to be in order to defeat Voldemort in the books? What else haven’t they told me?
Dumbledore rises suddenly from his chair and captures my eyes with his. “Come with me, now,” he commands in a low tone.
Alastor Moody found himself standing as well, leaning heavily on his good leg like usual. The spunky, if reckless, muggle girl next to him looked fit to explode about something. He had a bad feeling about whatever has her in such a state – something to do with Sirius.
Dumbledore best get her away from the others before she says something we don’t want ‘em to know just yet.
Shaking with a rage that he recognizes from earlier, when they cornered her into helping them – ‘into doing the right thing’ he thinks furiously, correcting himself – Moody herds the ticking time bomb of a girl through the throng of onlookers, towards where Dumbledore is now moving. They meet the Headmaster in front of the open larder. A relatively roomy thing, it seems Albus has no interest in directing this bloody circus too far from the rest of the meeting.
Suppose he wants to handle this quick-like.
Minerva arrives a second later, close behind Albus, and he ushers her into the larder. The girl follows with no direction, Moody’s magical eye seeing the riotous black power roiling about in her gut and in her head, a sure sign that whatever has her so distressed, also has her angry and defensive enough to be pulling on that inner demon.
Dumbledore begins to enter the small space as well, and turns briefly back to Moody to shake his head that he should not follow them, before shutting the pantry door firmly behind the three participants. Odds are, the room is going to be mighty cramped as it is.
Moody turns his back to the closed door and stands guard, surveying the mass of faces which convey shock, confusion, annoyance, and fear in equal parts. Tonks in particular keeps trying to catch his eye and mouth ‘What is it? What’s goin on?’ but he pointedly ignores her. Arthur Weasley and Sirius have risen from their seats, looking as though they want to confront the situation. Arthur opens his mouth and begins, “Mad-Eye, really now – “
Instinctively, Moody rolls his magical eye backwards to the three behind the cupboard door when, apparently before anyone in there had thought to cast a muffliato, the muggle girl finally lets loose. Her words, though muffled, resonate throughout the kitchen.
“WHAT, IN THE ACTUAL FUCK, DID YOU PEOPLE DO?”
Kingsley, rounding the standing, shocked figures of Sirius and Arthur, points his wand immediately at the closed door behind Moody and says, “Silencio.”
Chapter 5: When Did You Know?
Minerva is now standing on what, to her, feels to be a metaphorical precipice of the epic showdown between David and Goliath. Except instead of David, it’s her wee Finnie.
With no preamble, the girl had exploded some profanity and begun to pace away her distressed energy in the small space of the kitchen pantry. The tendrils of her hair whip against cans of stewed tomatoes and pickled beets, and her trainers scuff up against bags upon bags of onions and potatoes.
Dumbledore keeps his eyes on her the whole time, his stance very tense, and he bites out harshly, “Out with it, girl. What is the problem?”
Finnie freezes, “The problem?” She looks at him incredulously, “The problem, you self-righteous son of a bitch, is you tricked me!”
Albus sneers, to Miranda’s shock, for she had expected him to be more apt to calm the girl than to incite her further, “Name-calling is evidence of a notoriously uncouth mind, my dear – why don’t you take a moment and rephrase your point?”
Finnie looks enraged, “You know what you did!” she shouts at the Headmaster, the two of them standing as far from one another as they can in the cupboard, Minerva balanced between them evenly, “You made me believe that I would understand how to help – that I already had the answers to winning this war. Why else would you have snatched my ass from the future if not to gain answers you didn’t already have?”
Minerva is confused. She glances at Albus, not wanting to let on her unease. What was it he had just shared with everyone, only moments ago?
The destiny of the Order and its members has been irrevocably tampered with.
“You were brought to us,” Albus corrects evenly, seeming to have composed himself, “I did not choose you, Sjofn.”
Red splotches appear high on Finnie’s cheekbones, but Minerva speaks up, wanting to regain their tenuous peace as soon as possible.
“Finnie,” she says quietly, trying to portray the honesty of her words with her eyes, “Professor Dumbledore had to tap into a relatively unknown area of magic in order to resurrect the powers which allowed Fawkes to know to bring you to us. We could not possibly fully understand the nature of your purpose, but it is higher than ourselves. It is as we said before – fate.”
But Finnie is already shaking her head.
“No,” she says, surprisingly firm, “You performed the magic, you opened a book and waved a wand and made it happen. Even if you didn’t know it would be me, you still brought me here. And you owe me a goddamn explanation.”
Minerva’s heart sinks at the truth in the girl’s words. It isn’t right, to try to alleviate some of their responsibility in having turned Finnie’s world upside down.
No, no, we will need to stop doing that.
“You are right,” Albus says quietly, his sudden bout of snark seeming to have dissipated, but the cold resolve is still there, unapologetic. “I felt we needed you – whoever Fawkes was to be directed to – because something has gone distinctly amiss in our reality.”
Finnie deflates just a little, her eyes closing with what looks like resignation. ‘Poor wee thing,’ Minerva thinks to herself, ‘Fighting all day long.’
Albus then continues, his ice-blue gaze scrutinizing Finnie’s body language while he tells her of their predicament, “It is my belief that Lord Voldemort acquired knowledge of certain items in my vault which would give him premonitions of the war and its outcome. Because of this, he directed his attentions away from the prophesy in the Department of Mysteries, leading instead to the event we witnessed at Gringotts.”
Finnie’s head snaps up, her green eyes wide as saucers, and an expression of utmost horror mars what is otherwise – Minerva realizes with a bit of a start – a rather pretty face.
“The books?” She breathes, as if she oughtn’t dare speak the words.
“The manuscripts, yes,” Dumbledore says gravely, “The original accounts of our history and the exploits of Harry Potter have been collectively written by several oracles located at different points in history, who pass along the manuscripts to one another for safekeeping and collaboration. Ours is not the only account they’ve written of course – Homer’s Odyssey was another, as was Romeo and Juliet, I believe. I have been on friendly terms with the oracles since my 20s, and my vault has been at their disposal for all this time without detection.”
The Headmaster’s voice dips low with intensity, and he continues to keep Finnie locked in his gaze as he finishes, “Voldemort was able to seize some of the manuscript before my vault’s security measures ignited the rest. I fear the knowledge borne to him from those pages may have turned the tide against us in a war that was already going to be difficult to win.”
Finnie looks absolutely devastated, and Minerva finds that the future-girl’s dark outlook strikes far more fear in her than any of the last month’s events had managed. The old woman resists the urge to wring her hands in trepidation.
At barely a whisper, arms hanging dejectedly at her sides, Finnie seems to force herself to ask, “Do you know what he got? I mean…which parts has he –?”
But Dumbledore interrupts with a sad shake of his head, his eyes have relaxed a bit on the girl’s form now that he senses she is appreciating the gravity of their predicament, “No, Sjofn. I have never read them, myself. I respected the wishes of my friends to keep their records private until they deemed the time was right,” he almost looks a little bitter as he adds, “I have no idea what portion of our story he has obtained.”
Silence falls in the dim cupboard.
Minerva McGonagall feels like putting her arm around the poor girl. In reality, she could use a little comfort herself.
Shifting from foot to foot, Finnie crosses her arms at her stomach and furrows her brow. Talking to the floor, she asks, “When did you know? I mean –,” she clears her throat, “How did you realize that what was happening wasn’t supposed to be happening?”
Minerva raises her eyebrows at Albus.
The Headmaster strokes his beard as if in deep in thought, and replies, “The centaurs attempted to report their suspicions to me on the last day of exams during last term, the day that I believe Voldemort acquired his knowledge and altered his goal. The break-in of Gringotts occurred within days following that one, and Severus Snape was killed even more shortly after.”
Finnie gasps suddenly, nearly giving herself whiplash in the abruptness with which her head snaps up in alarm.
“Snape is dead?” she demands.
“Indeed,” Dumbledore’s brows lower, “Is that very alarming to you? Did he play a significant role in the outcome of the war?” The Headmaster questions her in an almost clinical manner. The death of the Potions Master is not necessarily old news, but they had all known for some time that Severus’ role held significant risk.
Finnie abruptly begins pacing again, “Oh shit yes. He wasn’t supposed to die until the final battle. He did a ton of shit in the 6th and 7th books...” She stops in her tracks again, suddenly. “Oh my god, what the fuck is going to happen?” Finnie exclaims on a small wail.
Minerva flinches only slightly, already becoming used to the girl’s colorful vocabulary. Without Finnie’s foreknowledge, the Professor had difficulty becoming more anxious than she already was over the fate of the deceased Severus Snape. He had been a brave man, for certain, but there were many of them still left. And they would fight.
Albus is absentmindedly stroking his beard as he mulls this over, his gaze downcast and unfocused. “I suppose we can safely assume whatever knowledge Voldemort gleaned from the theft led to his discovery of Severus being a traitor to his cause,” he mumbles, almost to himself.
McGonagall had a sudden thought, and turns to the still-pacing muggle girl, who is now additionally biting her thumbnail in her anxiety. She clears her throat and asks quietly, “What did you notice was amiss, Finnie?” The girl stops pacing but looks sidelong at Minerva with her thumbnail still in her mouth, not understanding.
“You spoke of Sirius,” McGonagall continues, “just minutes ago, during the meeting, and became distressed.” Without too much sarcasm, she hoped, she gestures to the pantry and foodstuffs surrounding them.
“Oh,” Finnie exclaims, remembering, “Yeah, right. He’s supposed to be dead.”
Dumbledore emerges from his reverie, his gaze intense once more. Minerva feels a little sick. “Explain,” the Headmaster demands.
“Well,” she begins, seeming to struggle with how much depth to the information was absolutely necessary, “Basically, in Harry’s fifth year – before, I mean – Voldemort tricked him, using legilimancy, into going to the Department of Mysteries and retrieving the prophesy. Harry thought he was going to save Sirius, and a few other kids tagged along.” She takes a deep, fortifying breath, “But basically, they fought the Death Eaters once they got there, and a few Order members came really late to the party to try to save the situation. One thing led to another and Sirius was whacked by his cousin while dueling. You saved Harry, though,” she says to Dumbledore, as if this story had an upside, “You showed up and fought Voldemort and got the kids home safe or whatever.”
Silence follows the end of her tale, and her mouth twists uncomfortably. Minerva suddenly feels far more disquiet with the level of knowledge that this girl may possess – she knows right now of all the death and destruction to come, of which herself and the others had been merely speculating.
Does she know when I, too, will die?
But Professor Dumbledore interrupts these dark ruminations to address Finnie again, “I hope you realize now, my dear,” he begins, his voice grave and his eyes regarding the girl very seriously, “that you are to be most invaluable to us, regardless of this change in circumstance.”
Finnie hesitates a moment, but nods. “I get it, I do,” she says, looking between them, “but the lack of a forgone conclusion in terms of this storyline really amps up my risk.” A flash of wistful hopelessness is on her face for an instant. Minerva realizes that the girl is thinking of her family, of her life.
We’re asking her to give up everything. She may not survive, and now nothing is certain anymore.
Thoroughly depressed, Minerva stretches her hand out to place it on the wee girl’s shoulder, to illustrate to her that she will not be alone. That Minerva McGonagall understands the gravity of her sacrifice, and will stand by her and help her through this war as she stands by them.
But before her hand has reached its goal, however, Albus speaks.
“Nothing has changed, child. We still have our arrangement,” his eyes are distant, and his voice has a façade of reassurance. Minerva knew him better though, and it was clear that he is speaking up to remind the girl of her commitment, of the magic now binding her here. The girl stiffens and Minerva delays her hand before it can touch her, a fissure of alarm stalling her muscles.
“Rest assured, I will expend the magic necessary to open a portal to your family and heal them of their fatal conditions as soon as our task is complete.”
The air in the pantry chills considerably as the muggle girl regards the Headmaster with ill-disguised disbelief.
“What did you say?” She demands, quietly, “After the war is finished, you mean?”
Albus bows his head in confirmation and keeps his tone light, though Minerva saw him palm his wand casually in the sleeve of his robes.
Is he saying what I think he’s saying?
“I’m afraid the magic needed to call the powers of space and time to my – or in this case, Fawkes’ – disposal, requires such a significant amount of magic and energy, that it simply is not realistic to achieve while the threats we’ve just discussed are still so imminent.”
A stunned silence follows this statement, and while McGonagall knows what he said was perfectly true, she cannot honestly believe he does not intend to keep his end of the deal struck with the young lady before the end of the war.
Finnie inevitably feels the same. Her face contorts, and the younger woman barely manages to hiss between her teeth, “And if I die?”
“I will, of course, keep my word in the event of your death, Sjofn,” Dumbledore responds readily, having clearly anticipated this retort.
McGonagall begins to feel, then, a subtle change in the stuffy, condensed air that surrounds the three of them. It doesn’t feel like magic, but it feels sinister. Whatever it is puts Minerva immediately on guard, and she resists the urge to draw her wand. Her eyes on Finnie, she watches with horror as slowly, deliberately, the girl’s eyes sheen over as if with black ink. She looks positively demonic. Even her stance has shifted, now marginally crouched, every muscle down to her fingertips is flexed and at the ready. The fury that must have been marinating in her this whole time is clear, shaking her hands just slightly and baring her teeth. Minerva McGonagall understood suddenly, what it is that makes Finnie so devastatingly special.
We cannot to afford to allow a battle to erupt in the Order of Phoenix’s bloody kitchen pantry.
Purposefully, Minerva re-extends her hand to rest in on the girl’s quivering shoulder. “Finnie,” she whispers, leaning in.
“Minerva,” Dumbledore bites out, warningly. McGonagall can sense that he has fully withdrawn his wand, and is ready to interfere.
But Minerva McGonagall ignores him. Not for the first time, but perhaps most recently, Albus Dumbledore has really buggered up. “Please find peace,” she continues whispering, her eyes imploring the girl’s eerily blackened ones, “I’ll not let your promise go unanswered, no matter what happens. You have my word.”
Without warning, the girl’s muscles slump and she falls back onto the heels of her feet from where she had been poised, her eyes returning to normal. Breathing heavily, she does not look at McGonagall, but keeps her furious, watery stare fixed on Albus.
“But what will happen to them when you die?” She says in a cold monotone.
Fear chokes Minerva’s throat, and she gasps. Dumbledore has stiffened behind her, anger radiating off him in tangible waves. “My dear,” she wheezes out, flinching, “we are all in danger, and I understand you are upset, but to threaten the Headmaster with knowledge of his death –“
“ – we have already established that the timeline has been altered,” Dumbledore suddenly hisses, “So do not threaten me with what is now unfounded knowledge of a version of events – “
“I thought my participation and perspective was invaluable to you?” Finnie shoots back, eyes flashing. “I thought that’s why you needed to tear me away from my fucking life?” She speaks faster now, practically spitting out the words, “Would you like to know how it happens? You fucked up and cursed yourself, basically, then allowed yourself to be disarmed, cried like a baby, and got flung from the top of a Hogwarts tower – “
Minerva shrieks when suddenly the girl is thrown backwards into the shelves, her horrible words dying in her throat, drowned out by a yell of surprise. The cupboard door is blasted open then, Moody charging inside with a bellow. McGonagall caught a glimpse of Sirius, Arthur, and Kinglsey also pushing forward with alarm. The old woman turns to quickly scrabble on her hands and knees in an attempt to assist Finnie, who is sprawled uncomfortably on the floor.
The muggle girl has a trail of blood flowing freely from behind her ear, down her neck, likely from being clipped by the edge of a can. A bruise is already blossoming on one cheekbone from something she had struck once falling to the floor. Minerva balks at a massive tear in the back of her jumper, which fortunately doesn’t seem to contain further injury beneath it. Putting her hands on Finnie’s forearms in an attempt to help her sit up, she realizes that the girl is cradling her left wrist in her right hand, which she must have used in an attempt to catch herself, because it is definitely broken. Minerva is shaking with horror and shame at this second unprecedented use of magic on a muggle – especially a muggle whose entire welfare is nothing if not their responsibility.
McGonagall looks over her shoulder then, searching for the pain and shame that is inevitably, and rightfully, in her dear friend’s eyes for his behavior – but Albus Dumbledore is gone. Kingsley is as well, leading Minerva to believe that perhaps he has followed after the Headmaster wherever he has departed.
Perhaps it is for the best, for she needs to have private words with her friend, and now is clearly no longer the time.
Sirius and Arthur crowd in on either side of her, to get a better look at Finnie’s injuries. With a quavering voice which betrays his anger, Arthur asks, “Dumbledore did this?”
Minerva does not answer. Finnie is now in a sitting position and wincing.
“Motherfucking, cock sucking, son of a bitch,” she says weakly.
Sirius snorts. Arthur smiles weakly and says, “Let’s get you up love, have Molly take a look at that wrist. Where’s your wand?” He is looking around the floor, as if she must have dropped it.
Finnie smiles wanly, and Minerva’s heart leaps at the sight, “I traded it for a killer ass and some Rolling Stones tickets. Sue me.”
His forehead creases in confusion, but Arthur just shrugs and levers himself under her on one side, to help her walk.
“Let me, Arthur,” Sirius says suddenly, and he ducks down on Finnie’s opposite side and puts one hand almost painstakingly gently around her waist – she still winces – the other arm he weaves under her bent knees. With a graceful deadlift, he stands with the muggle girl in his arms. Finnie gasps at what Minerva supposes are a great many bruises, and curls up tightly, clutching her wrist.
She and Arthur stand as well, but before Sirius can maneuver them out of the cupboard, she raises her hand toward the girl, overcome. Minerva chokes, but forces out in an apologetic voice, “My wee Finnie, I am so– “
But Finnie darts her good hand out from her cradled pose and grabs onto Minerva’s firmly, halting her words. “S’ok Minnie,” she says firmly, looking exhausted. “S’not your fault. I shouldn’t’ve…well… I was a dick.”
The edge of Sirius’ mouth twitches upward just barely, and he is gazing down at the stranger he is holding like she is the most curious thing he has ever seen. Which, Minerva thought vaguely, could very well be the case.
So she holds the girls eyes and says haltingly, “He was, well… a dick, too.”
Finnie smiles wide, dazzling the old woman. And on that note, Sirius finally side-steps them through the door, and back into the kitchen, where they have a lot of questions to answer.
Chapter 6: Like A God Damned Ninja
A while later, my ass is perched on the kitchen counter next to the sink. Bent over my wrist is Molly “Mollywobbles” Weasley, who keeps making tutting noises while attempting to simultaneously examine me and listen in on the resumed meeting in the adjacent space.
McGonagall had managed to calm the uproar which had commenced after Dumbledore’s swift departure, post-pantry-confrontation, by promising to explain to all the remaining Order members exactly what she knew of their current situation.
Which, you know, turned out to be most of it.
I’ve been fairly spaced out since being assaulted amongst the potatoes, but she’s covered pretty much everything about their altered timeline, and about having “commandeered” my assistance from the future. She even told them about the fact that, in the future, their story was told via a “mildly popular muggle book series,” which most of the kids seemed to think was nothing short of ridiculous.
“Books, like stories?” Harry had blurted, face aghast, “What all goes into them?” He had glanced in my direction, “Has she read them?”
The only things which haven’t been brought up:
- Why Dumbledore straight-up bailed 20 minutes ago
- The fact that I was effectively drafted against my will (side note- I have no intention of keeping this a secret. Headmaster Shit-For-Brains can kiss my ass.)
- That I can kill a man with my pinkie, and why
- That I’m a muggle
I don’t think this last point was necessarily being left out on purpose, but I swear to god it just never seemed to come up. I am under no illusion that it will stay this way, but it’s at least mildly entertaining to picture the moment they figure it out.
I wonder how much they’ll care.
This thought plagues me quite a bit as I disinterestedly watch my wrist bones move back into place, conducted by Mrs. Weasley’s wand. I mean, this side is the one fighting for a cause which ultimately means the protection of muggles, but do they necessarily like them? I can’t remember if it ever really came up in the books, it was always a bit of a foregone conclusion.
The healing spell ends with a brief, searing heat which feels as though it’s welding the fractures closed with a hot iron.
“Holy shitsnacks,” I yelp, surprised out of my daze. I had jumped with the pain of it, and knocked over several spice bottles and odds-and-ends jars still littering the counter space from the prep of the roast. It is in the oven currently, likely meant for dinner later, and its smell is making my head spin. When was the last time I really ate?
Mrs. Weasley chuckles low in her throat, her fingers deftly massaging my hand and wrist to ensure a job well done. “You’ll have to do better than that, dear,” she looks up into my face with a smile, “Six boys, you know.”
I grin shyly back at her, but almost immediately her smile fades. A question/answer session has begun in the meeting, now that all of the crucial information has been distributed, and Remus Lupin was currently demanding, “Wait so, you didn’t find this girl, Fawkes did?”
Amid the persistent chatter of her friends and family, Mrs. Weasley raises trembling fingers to the facial owie on my left cheekbone. I had banged my face pretty solidly on a discarded cast-iron skillet which had been lying haphazardly on the floor of the pantry. If it’s looking shitty already, maybe I should put some frozen peas on it or something.
She looks stricken by wherever her thoughts have taken her at the sight of my injury. My heart sinks, and I want very badly to reassure her. “It wasn’t just out of nowhere,” I say softly, and her teary, brown gaze flits from my cheek to my eyes. “I was goading him. Really I was,” I hasten to add because her expression has turned disbelieving, “I’m not saying it was a mature way to respond to the shit I was saying, but a lot of what was going to come to pass would probably be considered fucking upsetting, and…well… I definitely used that as a way to piss him off.”
She looks curious, but to her credit she doesn’t ask for more details. “Be that as it may,” Molly says softly, “No self-respecting mother would take any excuses for the state of you. So forgive me, but as your own is not present to scold the man on your behalf, I’m afraid you’ll have to do with the likes of me.”
The thought makes me smile. As she points her wand at my cheek – I assume to heal the bruising – I muse out loud, “If my mother could see me right now, she’d probably burst in brandishing her shitty little handgun and demand to know what fucktard thought my face needed fixing.” I laugh softly.
Holy shit do I miss my mom.
I almost miss the total confusion which had settled onto Mrs. Weasley’s features at this comparison, but before she could question anything, Sirius speaks from about two feet away and I nearly jump out of my skin.
“McGonagall says you’ll be sleeping here, at Grimmauld Place.”
“Jesus fucking christ,” I gasp, “Do you skulk in corners for a fucking hobby?” I’d nearly peed my pants. Mrs. Weasley too, had jumped at his words, but was failing to verbalize as I was wont.
The handsome bastard smiles a slow, panty-dropping smile. He is leaning against a bannister separating the cooking space and dining space, his arms crossed and looking perfectly relaxed. I have no fucking idea how long he has been lounging there, he’s like a god damned ninja.
I take this opportunity to study him a bit better. I had been distracted by various aches and pains when he held me close and walked me out of the pantry – my face heats at the memory – but from here I can visually recognize the broad shoulders, muscular arms, and cut chest that I had been held against.
Damn, he is fine.
His face is classically handsome, with high cheekbones, a straight nose, glinting silvery eyes, and shoulder-length black locks. He’s muscular without being bulky, rather graceful and athletic-looking. My memory recalls him being described in the books as “gaunt,” and he may have been a year ago. But clearly, his time spent under house-arrest included eating and weights or some shit because this man is not fucking gaunt.
He’s wearing a long-sleeved black tee shirt and charcoal-black jeans, which are faded and snug in all the correct places. I briefly wrestle with the idea of asking him to turn around. My eyes flit once again around all the spots on his person that I can glimpse a preview of body art.
Tell him to take his shirt off, too.
Too late I realize he’s talking to me. Fuck. My eyes quit their perusal to instead meet his, and he’s looking a bit confused, but pleased. He raises an eyebrow and I clear my throat, “Sorry, zoned out. Please continue.”
He smirks, but doesn’t comment further. “I was merely pointing out,” he drawls in what is perhaps the sexiest voice of all time, “that we should soon attempt to make your room in the basement a more livable space for your continued habitation.”
The room in the basement? Oh, snap, he means my original kidnapping-room.
Unable to think of any real complaints, it is his house after all, I simply shrug, “Yeah, a bed eventually might be nice.”
Mollywobbles pipes up, “I was actually thinking dear, that the children and I would stay here tonight and take you out for a shopping trip after breakfast tomorrow.” She shrewdly appraises my fucked-up appearance, “You’ll be needing a wardrobe and some basic amenities, I think.” She looks over towards Sirius, “If that is alright with you, of course?”
Sirius shrugs good-naturedly, “Of course. Ron can stay in Harry’s room, and the others’ have been here often enough, they know where to sleep.”
I tune out their voices and turn my attention to the now mostly-disbanded meeting. The most dominant conversation in the adjacent room has shifted to an argument between Aberforth, Moody, Arthur and what I assume are several Ministry Aurors. They can’t seem to agree as to whether or not my being an American means they have to contact the American wizarding government, to inform them of my involvement. Ginny, Ron, Harry, and Hermione are talking amongst themselves, with occasional interjections by Fred and George, about the implications of Voldemort’s newfound knowledge. Bill and Fleur are whispering urgently to one another under their breaths, while stealing glances at the three of us in the kitchen. Meanwhile, a group including Remus, Tonks, McGonagall, and Kingsley appear to be having a hushed argument near the entrance to the kitchen, with Tonks glaring sideways at Lupin occasionally.
I’m suddenly feeling bone-tired.
What time is it?
It can’t be much later than mid-afternoon. Maybe close to dinnertime, but I’m suddenly very confident that that does not matter in the slightest. I’m fucking exhausted.
Molly and Sirius have continued discussing the logistics of all I’ll need during my – laughably – long-term stay. I spy with my little eye a bottle of red wine resting comfortably on the counter behind Mrs. Weasley, and I dart my hand out to pluck it up, lightning-quick. I look at Molly and ask innocently, “Is this terribly expensive?”
She halts her discussion of appropriate comforters for a lady and peers down at the label. “Not especially, dear,” she says with a sniff.
“Excellent,” I declare. I immediately push hard on the cork with my thumb until it falls into the bottle with a pop. Without assessing the room at large for any judgement, I lift the bottle to my lips and take a healthy swallow.
Mhmm. Sure does taste like wine.
Keeping the bottle in my grasp, but dropping it into my lap, I smack my lips a few times appreciatively. Finally, I raise my eyes to meet Mrs. Weasley’s and Sirius’. She looks as though she wants to have me committed, he looks as though he might just get where I’m coming from.
Yeah, time to get the hell away from here.
“Ya’ll have been wonderful, don’t get me wrong,” I begin, bracing the hand not holding the wine on the counter and scooting forward in preparation for takeoff, “but I’m, you know, done for the day. Clocking out.” At this I leap down with a dainty hop, which may have passed for graceful if I hadn’t winced upon landing and hissed a quick “Motherfucker.”
Sirius steps forward quickly, and raises a hand as though to steady me, but it ends up just falling casually on my waist. In my exhausted delirium, I actually say aloud while skirting around him in a panic, “Nope, nope, nope, don’t have brain cells to spare for that shit. So sorry.” I physically 360’d around him with my hands up in surrender, completely driven to be by myself as soon as possible.
I take two steps into the adjacent dining area where all the other bodies are, as I need to wade through the space to get to the exit. Another quick pull on the wine bottle and a thought occurs to me.
“Oi – Harry?” I shout to the youngin’ in question.
Subsequently, most conversation halts.
He is looking at me with wide, alarmed eyes. Ron next to him is blatantly appraising me with a smirk, likely because of the wine bottle I hold poised near my face. Hermione and Ginny look similarly struck dumb. Fred and George however, smile broadly at the sight of me, and even scoot their seats aside as though to make room for me to join them.
That’s kind of sweet, I guess.
Harry clears his throat, “Uh, yeah?”
Wanting to make this brief, I do not mince words, “Would you get me a pair of pajama pants?”
His face reddens alarmingly fast. Fred and George laugh outright, but everyone else stays relatively silent, and I just keep my face expectant with my eyes fixed on Harry.
“Uh,” he coughs and raises his hand to push his glasses up his nose, “Yeah, okay.”
He then clumsily begins to stand, but before he has even fully risen, Sirius is standing next to me, wand in hand. He has a smile on his face as he mutters, “Accio.” Within seconds a pair of red and black plaid pajama bottoms zooms into the room, and I catch them in my wine-less fist before they can reach their owner.
“Thanks very much,” I mutter. I then turn on my heel, lift the wine bottle to my lips once more, and get the hell out of there.
A short while later, I discover that the doorway I had passed earlier in the basement hallway is actually to a full bath. I slip inside and flick on a light switch (side note – the relationship between electricity and candles in this place is not one I have yet fully understood). Bathed in light, the en suite turns out to be rather neutral, if on the feminine side. Peachy-beige marble counter, with a singular sink. Likewise peachy-beige toilet and bath ceramics. The walls are papered in wide stripes of peachy-beige and white, and the shower curtain to the combined shower/bath is translucent from the top of the shower hooks to about halfway down. The rest of it is, you guessed it, a peachy-beige circular pattern. There are fluffy-looking white towels hanging from a rack which interfere with the door’s ability to open all of the way, and there’s a glass bowl of potpourri perched on the back of the toilet.
The whole room is about the same size as the pantry I just spent an obnoxious amount of time in.
Before I can judge too harshly on what appears to be evidence of Sirius holding tastes more appropriate in an old folks’ home, I glimpse an unopened square of soap resting next to the sink spout.
Oh, fuck yes.
I snatch it up and take a heady sniff from outside the paper. Reverently, I begin to peel the wrapping off until I uncover what is clearly top-notch soap.
Super classy stuff, like with the pieces of lavender and rosemary all baked in.
In record time, I’ve shed my clothing and flounced to the shower. I will not lie, it took an above-average amount of time to get the shower started. I credit this to not only being in a stranger’s house, but also due to being in a foreign country.
Once inside, however, all thoughts of how awkward and horrible my day has been simply melt away. It’s remarkably therapeutic. I use the badass soap to wash away all of the events of the day one by one: I wash off the residual blood on my arm from Fawkes’ talons; I wash the grime off of my hands and knee from falling through the wormhole; and I wash my hair clean of the sawdust which had been clinging to it since the altercation in the pantry. The soreness of my bruises reduce to barely a twinge. The riotous thoughts which had kept me going full steam ahead like The Little Engine That Could finally begin to calm. Before I know it, however, I’m crying.
I weep like a god damned infant. I cry for my mother and father, who may not see me again. I cry for the friends who had stood by me through everything else, who I had effectively lost. I cry for my brothers, who need me in their own right, but would have to shoulder the burdens of our family without me now. But most of all, I cry for myself. All of the self-pity which had been balled-up in an attempt to cope with my newfound situation suddenly spills forth in a tsunami of tears which would not be ignored.
Sniffling, I reach for the wine bottle and take another pull. Yes, I brought it into the shower.
At this point I’m even more exhausted than I was before the cleansing. This was probably cathartic, but damn.
I step out of the shower and towel off one-handed, my wine held in the other. Sans underwear, because no thank you, I pull on whoever’s pajama pants (Harry’s? Sirius’? No idea) and don my own black tank top that had been under my sweatshirt all day. Once clothed, I towel-dry my hair best I can, and re-secure it with my hair tie, still wet.
I go to leave, contemplating whether or not to leave the door open – in order to dissipate the humidity as there is no fan – but a figure descending the final steps into the hallway bumps into me from behind.
I whip around, expecting Dumbledore or Sirius or someone else I have absolutely no energy to deal with, but who I find instead is Hermione. She looks flustered, like she was just as surprised to bump into me in the deserted hallway – despite the fact that she likely came down here looking for me, as there are no other registered basement-dwellers that I’m aware of. She’s very petite, I’ve got a good three inches on her in height. She looks rather androgynous in her oversized sweater and slouchy jeans, but her eyes are bright with determination, and she seems to collect herself.
She attempts to push a stubborn lock of her riotous hair behind her ear as she clears her throat and says, “Um, hello.”
I don’t want her to be nervous. She’s fucking adorable. So I smile kindly and say, “Hi?”
She doesn’t waste any time, “I brought you some things,” she says, with an air of authority as though someone should have surely thought of it before she had, but hadn’t. She bends over and recovers some items she must have dropped upon our collision.
Upon rising, she holds out to me a bulbous black and brown comforter, and what appears to be a small, blue t-shirt. “I collected one of the spare blankets from upstairs,” she explains quickly, blushing slightly, “and that shirt is one of my old ones, so I don’t need it back. I just thought maybe you’d like to sleep in something…” she glances quickly at the annihilated sweatshirt in my hand, “…clean.”
Unexpectedly, my eyes fill with tears once more at this demonstration of thoughtfulness.
She looks horrified, “Oh no – I’m sorry! I didn’t mean –“
I shove my dirty clothes under one arm and wave her words away, “No, no, sweetheart, you’re fine.” I rub one eye hard with the palm of my hand, “I’m just still recovering from a therapeutic cry-fest, and my tear ducts haven’t gotten the fucking memo that it’s over.”
She bites her lip, and looks incredibly uncomfortable. I sigh, “Thank you, really. That was very thoughtful, and I appreciate the gesture.” I give her a small, self-deprecating smile, and continue, “I’ll get better at this, I swear.”
She glances at the open wine bottle still grasped in my fist and gives a small smile in return. On cue, I relieve her of the bundle in her arms so that she can get the fuck away from my crazy ass as soon as possible. But instead of fleeing, she halts and looks unsure, as though she means to say more. I wait, and sure enough she blurts out, “Thank you. I…I think –,” she pauses, “I think you’re going to be a big help to us all. I don’t know why, but I do.”
My face must convey a certain amount of shock, because I can’t think of anything to say. Without waiting for a response, she spins around and begins speeding back up the spiral staircase as fast as she can.
Stunned, I stand frozen on the spot for another handful of seconds before my brain clicks back on. After which my feet start walking me farther down the hallway, to my room.
No brain cells left to dissect that either, it would seem.
The plush red-and-white striped armchairs and their pillows are still in place. And the table even still holds a now-cold tea service complete with the leftover cookies. I make a beeline for the cookies, no longer concerned with the fact that they look ass-nasty, and upon reaching the small table I dump my armload of shit onto the floor.
An enormous WHUMP of something heavy hitting the floorboards stalls my hungry fingers. I raise an eyebrow in confusion, and – almost reverently – place my wine bottle on the table in order to investigate. Was I carrying anything that hard-sounding? I begin sifting through the pile carefully, dispatching first the comforter, then the t-shirt and sweatshirt. But as I pick up my jeans, I feel a weight to them that is disproportionate. I turn them over to reveal the pockets.
Holy shit. My cell phone.
My heart leaps into my throat, and I’m immediately scrabbling for it with clumsy hands. I pull it out, my breath gusting with a quick exhale at the sight of something so unexpectedly familiar. Hardly daring to believe it, I push the little circle at the bottom of the device and it immediately lights up.
“Oh, fuck. Oh my god,” I can’t help but breathe out loud, totally overcome.
The screen indicates that I have no service, and that it’s searching for data. Also that I have 83% battery left.
But to my shock, it also says I have one unread text.
With shaking fingers, I click on the envelope icon, and see that it’s a text from Desdemona timed at 09:37am – likely only minutes after I had been taken from my dad’s hospital room.
[MOANINGMONA: WTF HAPPENED??? WHERE THE FUCK R U??? R U SAFE?? R U OKAY?? PLEASE RESPOND...]
For the third time in the last half hour, tears fill my eyes. Hopelessly, I immediately type a response to my best friend:
[ME: HARRY POTTER IS REAL, DUMBLEDORE IS AN ASSWIPE. SEND THE 1996 NATIONAL GUARD.]
I refuse to tear my eyes off of the text after hitting SEND but, as I suspect, its ‘Pending’ delivery status doesn’t budge. I’m not certain exactly how long I spent staring at it before my eyes began to hurt with the effort, and I realize I had lost my wine-buzz.
Thoroughly miserable, I give up on the promise of cookies and strip the armchairs of their cushions and pillows. Making something of a hobo nest in front of the fire, I scoot my phone close to me, put it on power saving mode, but click on my music storage app. I dozed off hours later, to the sound of “Island in the Sun” by Weezer played on repeat, wine bottle in hand, leaning against the back of one of the chairs, my face coated in dried tears.
Finnie was still asleep when, at 12:05am, her text’s status changed suddenly from ‘Pending’ to ‘Sent.’
Chapter 7: No, But Your Mum Did
Sirius Black watches amusedly as Fred and George Weasley attempt to convince their younger brother that Azkaban has a bona-fide tattoo parlor in the bowels of the island.
Ron’s eyes keep shooting from his brothers’ deadpan faces to Sirius’ visible body art in apparent disbelief, but at Sirius’ failure to rebuke the twins, his expression slowly morphs into one of awe.
Hermione, sitting two seats down from him on Harry’s left, leans backwards, behind Harry, and says in an undertone to Sirius, “You really oughtn’t let them trick him.”
Harry, sitting to his immediate left, allows a small smile to break his usually troubled-looking face. “It’s his own fault,” Harry mumbles under his breath to them both, “for being so bloody gullible all the time.” Harry then slid a teasing sidelong glance to Hermione, “Go on, ‘Mione. Save him. You know you want to.”
Sirius had turned away to glance into the galley kitchen area where Molly was bustling away on breakfast, being rather unhelpfully assisted by his well-meaning cousin, Tonks. He knew the young girl had likely flushed at Harry’s suggestion.
And alas, unable to help herself, they had only a few seconds to wait before she burst out, “Ron! Don’t be stupid! Of course dementors don’t give people tattoos.”
Ron gaped at her from the other side of the table. Twisting his neck to face Fred and George, he stands abruptly, “YOU SONS OF-,” but ends suddenly on a yelp, as his tall frame had guided his head straight into one of the brass pans hanging from the ceiling.
Sirius and Harry snort in unison. Surprisingly, only Fred laughs openly, as George is busy twisting at the waist in order to look to the doorway of the dining room.
The chairs and stools from yesterday’s meeting had been transfigured back to their original objects, and all that remains is the long, knobby wooden table and matching benches which the residents of Number Twelve use for informal dining. Marching across the now spacious-looking area was Ginny Weasley, who appears to be leading his shuffling houseguest by the sweatshirt-sleeve.
Finnie. Her name is Finnie.
The young woman’s pale hair is wild, a voluminous mass of waves which frame and partially hide her extraordinarily pretty face. She is wearing his pajama bottoms, which are quite large on her, along with her mostly-destroyed forest green sweatshirt. Her bare toes are painted blue.
Ginny is grinning as she guides her to the table. “She was lost,” the young redhead says with a smirk.
Finnie halts just behind Fred and George, and Ginny lets her go. “Your house is fucking confusing,” she mumbles to Sirius with a croak, sleep obviously not too far behind her. He chooses not to respond, but quirks an eyebrow.
Finnie nudges George’s shoulder with her hip, “Scoot.” He scrambles to make room between him and his twin, and she begins levering herself into the spot even before there is enough space. Sirius realizes then that both of her arms are folded inside of the sweatshirt, the sleeves empty.
Ginny rounds to the other side of the table and sits on Sirius’ right.
Upon sitting, Finnie lets her head drop down to the table with a THUNK, and Sirius stares at her hair with open curiosity. He has to physically stop himself from burying a hand in the shining locks.
“Good morning!” Molly announces from her spot at the stove, chipper, “How are you feeling this morning, dear?” Finnie groans unintelligibly.
Tonks marches to the table, teapot in hand. “Tea’s on,” she sings, but then immediately turns back, “Whoops, forgot the mugs.”
As she returns, levitating several mugs in front of the waiting breakfasters, all of the other occupants keep an uncomfortable silence, eyes flitting from the head on the table and back to each other. The head suddenly mumbles, “Wait, so, where did you get your tattoos?”
Sirius smiles despite himself and answers, “Muggle parlors. Mostly in London.”
She raises her head at this. Pushing her arms back into her sleeves, she sticks them out straight in front of her on the table, hands raised palm-up in his direction. “Lemme see,” she croaks, her eyes on his arm.
Without a second thought, he extends the arm in question to her. She catches it in her surprisingly warm grasp, her first finger and thumb encircling his wrist while her other hand eases down his jumper sleeve. The kids even seem to lean in to take a look. Sirius realizes he has never really shown them his tattoos, and perhaps they have been too nervous to ask.
“Is…is that for my dad?” Harry asks on a whisper. The tattoo Finnie has mostly uncovered on the inside of his forearm is a silhouette of a stag, the inside of the silhouette was done up in navy and blues to look like the midnight sky.
“Yes,” Sirius grunts, for Finnie’s warm grasp is incredibly distracting. “I have one for each of them. Even Wormtail.” He pauses, and then shares, “His I actually scratched off while in Azkaban. Didn’t want to see it anymore, so now it’s just scarred skin.”
Harry nods understandingly. His face suddenly breaks into a grin and he looks up into Sirius’, “Did my dad have any? Tattoos, I mean.”
Sirius allows a wolfish smile, “No, but your mum did.”
On his right, Ginny shrieks, “Harry’s mum had tattoos?” Fred and George guffaw good-naturedly, and George elbows Finnie – who is still holding Sirius’ arm for the table’s inspection – then wiggles his eyebrows as if to ask, ‘and you?’ But, Finnie just smiles genially and holds Sirius’ arm out over to Harry, so that the boy might get a closer look.
Sirius suddenly feels a pang of self-resentment for not having before talked about something as bloody banal as Lily’s tattoo with her son. So, with everyone’s attention still on him, he turns his body more fully to Harry and begins, “It was very similar to this one here on my arm, actually.” Harry reaches his hand out as if to touch the ink, “But hers had only the head and shoulders of the stag, with colors like sunrise in the middle, unlike this one. It matched her hair better.” Harry swallows, but looks pleased, “Where was it? Was it on her arm like yours?”
Tonks settles onto the bench on Ginny’s far side, a mug of hot tea in her hand, listening.
Sirius shakes his head, “No, hers was on her left shoulder blade, behind her heart.” He can actually hear both Ginny and Hermione sigh at the romance of the gesture, but then drops the bomb, “James actually got to pick the spot because she lost the bet.”
Finnie snorts audibly. Sirius’ silver eyes swivel to meet her pale green ones. He finds himself just as taken aback by their color as he had been the night before, especially now as they sparkle with ill-disguised humor, “Wait, I’m sorry, she lost a bet and had to get the tat?”
Sirius shakes his head just a little, feeling a bit stupid for being muddled by this strange bird’s eyes.
Get a fucking grip.
He forces his smile to widen, “That’s right. That’s something we did every now and then. I got this one,” he nods towards the stag, “because I bet James that he couldn’t dye Remus’ hair blue without him noticing.”
The kids begin laughing, and Finnie gently releases his arm as she lets out a tinkling giggle which bizarrely makes his stomach grow warm.
Get. A fucking. Grip.
Sirius lowers the sleeve of his jumper once more as the giggling dies down. Tonks looks at him coyly over the top of her tea, “I can’t help but notice, cousin, that you have a great many of those tattoos.” The giggling begins again as Sirius winces.
“I’ll admit,” he says in a faux-remorseful tone, “that I may have been a bit reckless in my gambling at times. However-,” he is quick to mention, “Not all of these are the product of lost wagers. Many were inspired by my own charming, creative process.”
Molly began levitating family-style platters loaded with breakfast onto the table, effectively ending the conversation. Ron was already extending a fork into one before it had even landed.
Finnie pipes up quickly as everyone else follows suit, claiming food, “Molly darling, is there coffee?” Mrs. Weasley frowns as she lowers herself onto the bench across from Tonks, “Oh, I’m sorry dear. We only have instant, but there’s hot water still.” The older woman begins to rise up off the bench once more, but Finnie leaps out of her seat with a sudden burst of energy, “No, no, don’t get up. I can do it.”
As Finnie pads around the table, apparently excited by the prospect of coffee, Sirius chooses this moment to lean back slightly behind Ginny and murmur to Tonks, “You know, Remus lost a couple of wagers back in the day as well. I won’t tell you where, but he’s got a minimum of three…”
“Remus has got three what?” Lupin demands as he strides purposefully into the kitchen. Tonks’ hair turns a deeper shade of blush pink, but she doesn’t say a word. Before Sirius can make an excuse, Fred chimes in with, “Nipples – or so we heard.”
Remus allows a small smile, “Very amusing.” But, as his gaze sweeps the room and meets with Tonks’, they both hurriedly turn away. Lupin clears his throat, “Where is the girl… Finnie?” He asks the room at large.
“Yo,” mumbles Finnie, rounding the table back from the kitchen, her face level with the mug in her hands. Sirius can’t help but note the rather hypnotizing way his own pajama bottoms rest low on her swinging hips.
She begins lowering herself back into her seat, Fred helpfully piling pancakes onto her plate for her so that she can catch up. Remus looks a bit uncomfortable as he starts, “Actually, Finnie, if you wouldn’t mind coming with me? The Headmaster would like a meeting.”
All silverware clatter ceases, and silence reigns. No one seems to be able to decide if they should look to Finnie for her reaction, or glare at Lupin for the unwelcome summons. Sirius personally keeps his eyes on the woman. Her face and visible skin show no evidence of the confrontation the day before, but the memory of her blackened eye, bloodied ear, and broken wrist makes his blood start to boil anew. Unbidden, he feels himself grind his teeth while remembering how she had tried to make excuses for Dumbledore’s behavior to Molly. “I goaded him,” she had said.
Seemingly unruffled, Finnie commences pouring an ungodly amount of syrup onto her pancake mountain. Mid-pour, she raises her eyes to Remus and says simply, “After pancakes.”
Everyone relaxes a little. As breakfast slowly resumes, Molly says firmly, “I’m going with you.”
Oh, like hell.
“No,” Sirius rebukes, to his own surprise, but with equal seriousness, “I’ll go.”
He feels his godson’s eyes on him while he faces off with the Order matriarch. They had bonded, he and Molly had, over their inexplicable attachment to the strange future girl. Just last night, after everyone had left for bed, he and Molly had shared an unheard-of post-dinner brandy, taking turns berating the old wizard for what was clearly an unprecedented loss of control.
Before the standoff over who would play hero could commence, however, Finnie speaks up through a mouthful of pancakes, “I’m fine. Everything will be fine. You guys are sweet, but I can handle it.”
Remus had come fully into the kitchen, and was now seated next to Ron, nursing a cup of tea. His questioning gaze is on his best friend. “I will be taking her,” he assures Sirius, despite his curiosity, “and I’m told that Moody will also be sitting-in on the meeting.”
Tonks nods from her seat at the opposite end of the table. “Mad-eye won’t let anything shifty happen, Fin. You’re quite right, you’ll be in good hands.” But, less than a second later, Tonks gasps suddenly, her eyes on Finnie’s outstretched hand – the woman had been reaching yet again for more syrup. “What on earth is wrong with your nails?” Tonks practically screeches, “I thought Molly fixed you up last night! Doesn’t that hurt terribly?”
Finnie withdraws her hand back and holds it against her chest, hidden. Sirius leans across his plate as though to wrench it free and take a look, but George beats him to it. Holding her wrist firmly, George pulls her hand out and squints at the fingers. She snatches it back, but not before any interested party could have gotten a glimpse at the middle two fingernails, which were split down the middle – from tip to cuticle. They look angry and infected, and were surely caused by her tumble in the pantry. Sirius feels the hand clutching his fork tighten until the knuckles are white. Next to him, Harry has gone a bit pale.
“Of course they fucking hurt,” Finnie bites out, apparently peeved. “I hadn’t even noticed them last night, but I figured I’d just nab some superglue and Neosporin while we’re out shopping today.” She glances down the table at Mrs. Weasley in an apparent mood to change the subject, “We can still go shopping, can’t we? I need about 20 more pairs of underwear.”
Sirius stiffens in his seat suddenly, his mind fleeing all thought of her ravaged nails. Instead traveling along the lines of the fact that Finnie is sitting across from him, wearing his clothes, and not wearing knickers. Next to him, Harry chokes back a laugh at this, and at the sudden veracity with which his godfather had begun attacking his food.
Mrs. Weasley smiles kindly, “Of course, we’ll set off as soon as you’re back from your words with the Headmaster.” She then adds, “But I’ll be having a look at your nails before we leave. Tonks – will you be joining us?”
Tonks nods with enthusiasm, “I’d love to, actually. I’ve got quite a number of things to pick up in Diagon Alley-“
Finnie suddenly shrieks unintelligibly. Sirius nearly jumps out of his skin, and reflexively reaches for the wand in his back pocket. “DIAGON ALLEY?” she breathes, her face a luminous mask of delight – Sirius feels his heart stutter for some reason, “We’re going to go to Diagon Alley? Holy shit!”
“What?” Harry asks her with a chuckle, “Why are you so excited? Haven’t you been before?”
She shakes her head, her smile is still as wide as it can be.
“It’s because she’s a muggle,” Hermione explains, softly, her eyes on Finnie.
The air in the room seems to disappear. Everyone, even Ron, stopped eating abruptly and looks at Hermione in shock.
Finnie’s smile fades into a much softer one, her eyes dimming as well as she looks at Hermione. “Clever girl,” she whispers, kindly.
Everyone’s heads swivel to her in further shock, but Hermione beams. “I thought so, last night,” she breathes in a quick, excited voice, “when you didn’t seem to have a wand, and opened that bottle by hand.” She continues, her words spilling out even more rapidly, “Mr. Weasley said something about Rolling Stones tickets, and you never repaired your sweatshirt, and you make your coffee by hand, and use medicine instead of magic—”
“— and you’ve never been to Diagon Alley…” Mrs. Weasley murmurs, almost to herself.
Hermione looks stricken suddenly, “I’m – I’m terribly sorry. Was it meant to be a secret?”
Finnie snorts, “Of course not.” She looks around the table, at everyone who was treating her so normally just moments ago, and seems to deflate a little. “Sorry if that’s disappointing to anyone,” she says very matter of fact, “I’m not certain why McGonagall didn’t mention it with everything else last night, but yeah.” She raises one hand up, as though making an oath at an addiction meeting, “I’m Finnie, and I am a muggle.”
Fred and George grin but straighten in their seats and respond in somber unison, “Hullo, Finnie.”
She sighs and looks to the ceiling, continuing her speech, “I’ve been a muggle for about 26 years now. I’ve drank muggle beer, attended muggle school, enjoyed driving a car, and even flown in an airplane.”
Ginny laughs, breaking any residual tension. “Dad’s gonna go bananas for you, Finnie,” she says with a smile.
“Oh I hope so,” Finnie says with a serious nod, resuming the excavation of her pancakes. “I can’t think of another time in my life during which my ridiculous knowledge of how to light a lightbulb using a fucking potato will come across more brilliantly than here with you all.”
Next to Sirius, Harry lets out a chuckle. He glances down at his godson, the question in his eyes.
“It’s something we do,” Harry says in a low voice, still smiling, “in school, I mean. Learning how to conduct electricity through potatoes.”
But Sirius hasn’t yet cracked a smile. He wrestles with himself just slightly, feeling more than a little dense. How had he not surmised that Finnie was a muggle? And now that he knows this, why is it that he feels only more obsessively fascinated? Finnie is charming, he supposed. She’s very pretty, and she’s a laugh.
No, there’s something else.
Sirius can feel something in her, something that he recognizes when her eyes flash and she curses up a storm. It’s a strange feeling this muggle girl gives him, almost like he has the capacity to understand her very well.
Sirius Black has not felt very poignant connections between himself and the people around him since escaping from prison. He blames it on the dementors, on having lost an integral piece of himself in that place, and he is strangely at peace with this. Who wouldn’t lose themselves a little after 12 years in Azkaban? Most witches and wizards lost themselves completely in a far shorter amount of time. He still laughs, he still loves his godson and his friends, and he still feels strongly about fighting the war. But, he also feels like a different person, like a far more removed version of himself is now living his life.
Until yesterday, that is.
He glances up from his contemplation to find Finnie giving him a very determined look. Her nose twitches just a tad, and he sees for the first time that she’s got a smattering of freckles just across the bridge of her nose and her cheeks. Her green eyes are blazing, and she looks as though she is daring him to give a shit that she isn’t a witch.
He breaks free of his self-indulgent reverie and gives her a sarcastic smile, “Just don’t go giving me any of those damn chicken pox, or whatever the hell it’s called.”
Ron looks horrified, “Chicken pox? What in the blazes is chicken pox?” Hermione smiles indulgently at him and tries to explain.
Tonks, her mouth full of oatmeal, speaks to Finnie, “No offence babe, you’re a laugh and everything, but what exactly brought you to us instead of someone else?” She swallows then finishes, “What with how you were chosen by fate and all, I mean.”
Finnie shrugs, but keeps her eyes down. “I don’t know. Your guess is as good as mine, really.” George chimes in with, “Come now, Fin. You’ve got to have some extraordinary talents which will arm us against Voldy, eh?”
Fred nods in agreement and adds, “You’re just being modest. I’m sure that your excellent muggle-powers of potato experimentation will aid the Order and ‘The Chosen One’ in far superior ways than simply lighting a lightbulb under his arse.”
Harry flinches, but smiles. Finnie taps her finger against her chin as though in deep thought. “You know, now that you say it,” she muses, “I really do have a knack for making extremely tiny paper footballs. I’m also pretty damn great at hacky-sack, which I remember being quite the enviable skill here in the 90s.” She pauses but then continues with, “Oh! And I played the trumpet in high school.”
Lupin suddenly interjects, “It is my impression, Miss Sjofn, that your talent lies most with the information that only you at this table hold, regarding the future of the war and its participants.”
Finnie wrinkles her nose, but concedes, “That is true.”
Sirius raises an eyebrow at Remus for killing the mood. His friend shrugs.
With a slightly shaky voice, Hermione asks, “What all exactly do you know, Finnie?”
“Oh everything and nothing,” Finnie says airily, getting up off the bench, the pancake mountain conquered. But she continues, “Nothing I knew is necessarily true anymore, hence our conundrum. But –,” and she keeps her eyes down, “I once knew all about how to defeat him, who dies and who lives, who gets together, who gets married, and who is born.”
No one seems to dare to breathe at this. It feels incredible that she could know all of those things, that even some of those things could be known.
Finnie, seeming resigned to this response, lifts her chin to Remus and says, “Ready when you are, Mooney.” With a jolt, Lupin gets to his feet and leads the way to the fireplace at the far end of the room. With a flick of his wand, a fire roars in the grate, and he reaches into his pocket for floo powder to take them to the Headmaster’s office. Remus glances briefly at her over his shoulder and asks, “You don’t want to get your shoes first?”
She just shakes her head and mumbles, “I don’t give a fuck.” But before Lupin has managed to grasp a full handful of powder, Hermione calls out, “Are – are you allowed to tell us? About what happened before?”
Finnie hesitates from her position across the room, and says, “I wouldn’t want to upset anyone…but, if you really want me to, I don’t see why not.” She raises her bright eyes to Sirius, specifically, and lowers her voice, “First thing you should do is call Kreacher. Forbid him from leaving the premises without your permission, and I’ll explain the rest when I get back.” She then twists her neck to look at Tonks, then Remus, “And you two need to get the fuck over it. You’re supposed to end up together, and the longer you fuck around the longer you just delay what’s supposed to happen.”
Sirius is still reeling by what she may have meant about his house-elf. Tonks is gaping at the girl, her hair blushing into a deep fuchsia. Remus looks equally struck-dumb. Molly looks downright smug.
Taking the initiative, Finnie takes a pinch of powder from the sack still held in Lupin’s motionless hand. She dashes it into the fire, balking for only a moment, but steps in once it turns green. She gives everyone a rueful grin before clearly saying, “Dumbledore’s Office,” and whooshing out of sight.
Chapter 8: The Boogie-Man
Oh, god. I inhaled. Such a fucking mistake.
Mad-Eye is pounding me on the back while I effectively cough my lungs out. Hunched over, hands on my knees, I try very, very hard to not accidentally throw up my flapjacks.
My tongue tastes like soot. Gasping, I straighten and look at Moody with watery eyes. His mouth is set in a grim line, and he keeps his large, scarred hand at the nape of my neck – just in case I resume, I suppose. I notice then that his other hand is actually holding a glass of water under my nose. He must have conjured it at some point.
“Thanks,” I gasp, and I chug the whole thing. Moody moves away from me then, and stumps over to a window, mumbling, “God damn werewolf was supposed t’bring yeh. Bloody muggle, thinks she knows what from what…”
I concede this point, silently, and take a good gander at the rest of the room we’re in: a large, oval, many-windowed space. It’s full of trinkets and do-dads aplenty, resting on every surface, in every cabinet, and on every bookshelf. There are portraits covering the walls between the windows, and above them. This is my first encounter with the moving-portraits of Harry Potter, and I find them oddly creepy. They move between their frames, as though playing telephone, and every now and then I can see them whispering behind their hands or glancing at me surreptitiously. Ignoring their rather blatant regard, I carefully step around my drool marks on the rich, red carpet and walk to the desk and chairs on the far side of the space. Moody, I notice, is the only other occupant. Dumbledore is surprisingly absent.
“Take a seat,” Moody growls, his back to me, “he’ll be here soon.”
I do as he says and sit in one of the plush, high-backed chairs facing the headmaster’s desk. I pick up a quill pen and fiddle with it. Using the capped tip to sneakily pick up edges of the documents on the desk, I try peeking beneath them to see the writing on the ones underneath. “Mind your damn business,” Mad-Eye snaps suddenly. He must have been watching with his all-seeing-eye.
Other than that, he continues to ignore me. So, I hold up two fingers on my left hand, and hide them behind my crossed knees. “How many fingers am I holding up?” I ask the back of his head.
Moody starts to turn, but I say, “NO! Use the magic eye, duh.” He exhales a great, frustrated gust of air.
“Two, you cheeky twit,” He snaps. He then fully turns to glare at me, both eyes on my face, and he crosses his arms. “If yeh can’t hold your tongue for a mere five minutes, I’ll curse it to the roof of your mouth.” He spins back around to face the window, muttering “Blast, you’re an annoying chit.”
Moody is moody.
I snort. I’m hilarious.
Mad-Eye’s shoulders tighten just a hair. I rest my chin on my closed fist and begin jiggling my foot up and down. Still bored, I make a snake face with my fingers and pretend to have it hissing at his back. I turn the snake-face back to my own face and feign surprise when, suddenly, my finger puppet turns on me and begins mauling my cheeks and nose at my command. In my silent kabuki theater, I scream and fight, thrashing with no noise in my chair. In the throes of death, I reach a silent, begging hand out to Moody for help and compassion.
He ignores me.
I narrow my eyes and drum the tips of my fingers on the arm of the chair. I wince as I encounter my fucked-up fingernails, forgot about those. After about 90 seconds, with a façade of relaxed poise, I re-cross my legs and face forward, as though calmly awaiting Dumbledore. I wait 30 more seconds until I begin to hum a familiar tune.
Another 30 seconds passes, and I start singing softly under my breath.
“I met her in a club, down in old So-Ho
Where we drank champagne, and it tastes just like cherry co-la
Moody’s back is stiff. His paws are fisted at his sides, but he’s resolutely ignoring me, still.
“She walked up to me, and she asked me to dance
I asked her her name, and in a dark brown voice she said Lo-la
“THA’S ENOUGH,” Moody boomed, suddenly. Spinning to face me, he takes two long, stumping strides until he’s towering over my chair, wand in hand.
“What’s the matter?” I ask innocently, eyes wide, “I thought you liked that song?”
Mad-Eye looks fit to be tied, “YOU KNOW DAMN WELL-“
The fire across the room suddenly roars with the arrival of the Headmaster. Wearing royal blue robes of satin, trimmed with sky blue and a matching hat, Dumbledore straightens and takes in our current positions: Moody bearing down on my smug ass, wand raised. Dumbledore allows his eyebrows to inch up on his face, “I see you’ve continued honing your talent for angering volatile wizards, Sjofn.”
A small smile emerges on my lips against my will, “There’s that lack of personal-responsibility that I’ve come to know and…know.”
Moody backs up toward his favored window once more. Dumbledore walks deliberately to me, an inscrutable expression dominating his features. Once he arrives directly beside my chair, he very suddenly drops to his knees and grasps one of my hands in both of his long-fingered ones. Shocked, I dart my eyes all over his face, but still nothing.
“Dear girl,” he says in a somber tone, “There is no possible way for me to…” he pauses, seeming unsure, “to fully convey to you the gravity of my regret for my actions against you yesterday evening.” His blank expression flinches just enough for me to glimpse the shame he seems unable express. “You were quite right,” he grinds out, sounding pained, “For everything you’re doing for us, it was positively unforgiveable for me to insinuate that the health of your abandoned family members should be anything but a top priority.” My heart squeezes at the memory, and the fire in my belly churns at the hateful reminder. “I fully apologize, and would like to assure you that my promise to you will be upheld at the earliest opportunity,” he finishes, his eyes searching mine.
Call me cold, callous – ruthless, even – but I am unmoved.
However, no one is better fit to hold him to his promise than I am. I can do what he needs me to do well, or I can do it shitty, depending on my motivation. There is no way he does not realize this.
My heartbeat slows and I calm a little. I expected this confrontation to be harder. “Of course you will,” I say softly, but offering no kindness if I can help it, “because if you don’t, I can make sure that you lose.”
Dumbledore bows his head in recognition, even while Moody starts in surprise. The grizzled Order member apparently didn’t suss that out of my head with his magical eye.
Do not fuck with me, assholes.
But Dumbledore, it seems, did not need to be reminded. He appears to be genuinely contrite. “It will be done as I say,” he swears, his eyes imploring mine, “at the earliest opportunity.” He rises after this, and makes to move toward his personal chair on the other side of the desk. A knot I hadn’t even realized was living in my chest eases itself loose, allowing the sensation of relief to overwhelm me for just a moment.
Once seated, he steeples his fingers in the familiar habit of his. “If we may…” he asks with an almost exaggerated respect, “…move on, then?”
I nod once. Taking the initiative, I dive right in, “I’ve mentally compiled everything I consider crucially relevant to the outcome of the war. If I give you what is essentially a plot summary,” I pause, preparing him, “including events which occurred after your death, I think we can theorize how to best tackle the essentials and get the outcome we want.” I had prepared this speech last night, even practiced saying it to my wine bottle, I think.
Dumbledore takes a bracingly deep breath, “Yes, I imagine you would be right. It would be unrealistic of us to attempt to replicate the events as precisely as you know them, but perhaps if we can pinpoint the key pieces, they can be effectively accomplished, as you say.”
Moody takes this moment to come fully back to the desk, rounding behind my chair in order to fall ungracefully into the matching one. It appears he trusts that we are actually ready to get down to business, and will no longer be simpering or apologizing to one another.
“Time is of the essence,” Moody growls. “The sooner we can end this war, the less damage You-Know-Who can inflict with the knowledge he gained from Gringotts.”
I nod. The strategic war-center of my brain which had activated the minute I was bird-napped is now operating at full capacity. “Especially if we do what needs to be done in ways which he wouldn’t have read about,” I remind them.
I hold up my hand, three fingers raised, and drop each finger one at a time to illustrate the main points I wish to convey to them, “One: who can we save? Not everyone who was supposed to die has to die anymore, if anything we can save more lives.” Moody doesn’t look convinced, but I carry on, “Two: the horcruxes. I know what they are, and theoretically where they are. That may have changed depending on what he read, but it’s a better starting place than you would have had a year from now.”
Dumbledore’s eyes light up with questions already, but he lets me finish. I drop my final finger, “And lastly, three: Harry. Harry is six-fucking-teen years old.” Both of my audience members open their mouths as if to argue, but I don’t let them start, “Yes, he is ‘Chosen’ because of Voldemort’s own flawed self-preservation tactics, but ultimately you have an Order full of adults who are potentially just as capable of accomplishing some of the tasks which were put on Harry’s shoulders during the final two years of the war.” I take a deep breath, “Some of the tragedies which shaped him are no longer happening, I’m not certain he’s in as good a position as he would have been to be the sole war-hero anymore.”
“Such as Sirius’ death, and my death,” Dumbledore states calmly.
“Yes,” I confirm with a nod. I can feel my demeanor growing more serious, “I notice your hand is fine, which leads me to believe that you never retrieved the Gaunt ring at the beginning of this summer and cursed yourself like before.” Dumbledore balks and looks down at his hand. I continue, unflinching, “Yes, it is a horcrux. Yes, it is a Deathly Hallow. Do not fucking wear it, swear to god.”
A stunned silence follows. Moody turns to Dumbledore and growls, “What does she mean, a bloody horcrux? You-Know-Who has horcruxes?”
Dumbledore clears his throat and seems to shake off the remnants of his shock, “I think, my dear,” he says in a voice that is weaker than before, “that you had best start from the beginning. And leave out no detail.”
It takes over two hours. Ten minutes in, Mad-Eye withdrew a notepad from the inside of his overcoat and began feverishly scribbling my words. After the first half-hour they even stopped asking questions, intent simply on getting the information. Moody took the news of his own death without breaking stride, but he did briefly give pause twice: once when I described the death of Fred Weasley, and again when I told of Harry’s discovery of Tonks’ demise.
I finish my tale, and see that Moody has provided another glass of water. I thankfully begin to chug it, my throat dry. “Is that the end?” Dumbledore asks, “The final battle at Hogwarts is the end of what was published to your knowledge?”
“Oh no,” I wheeze out gracefully, “There’s an epilogue of sorts, detailing the Trio’s present-day situations. Plus the author of the series has released extra information about the plot and characters even after publication-”
“For fucks’ sake,” Moody interrupts, sounding exasperated. He’s begun flipping back through his now-full notebook, skimming over the mass of information, “This is bloody ridiculous. How on Earth are we to make of all of these events reoccur? It’s impossible.”
“I agree,” Dumbledore says solemnly, nodding. His fingers are steepled once more and he looks contemplative, “I know we discussed it just hours ago, but the full extent of deviation from our original timeline is incredible. We will need to accomplish all that was accomplished before, but with more skill and tact than was even managed then.”
“Good. Fucking. Luck,” I say cheerfully, now slouched in my chair. This entire meeting has made me pretty damn depressed. I just want to go buy new underwear. And maybe some speakers.
“The horcruxes are priority, surely,” Dumbledore continues, ignoring me, “and keeping Hogwarts secure for the continued education of our incoming generation. We will want them as clear-headed and skilled as possible depending on how the tide of this war turns, or occurs later in their lives…”
“We gotta keep ‘em from getting the Ministry,” Moody growls, “It sounds as though that was when things really went to hell. If we can get Scrimgeour in on this, we may be able to hold ‘em off longer than before.”
Dumbledore nods again, his gaze is distant, “Yes, yes, that does seem inevitable now.”
“You will need to tell Harry, Ron, and Hermione as much as you can as soon as possible,” I say firmly, looking directly at Dumbledore. “Fate,” I nearly spit out the word, “seems to have a rather fucking uncanny way of dragging them into the front lines even when everyone does everything in their power to keep that from happening.” Dumbledore and Moody look uneasy, but there’s no way they can deny this to be the case. “Arm them with as much knowledge as possible,” I say in a hard voice, “Do not allow them to stumble around blindly as they did before.”
Dumbledore and Moody exchange a glance. Clearly, it goes against the grain for them to not be grossly negligent with their secret-keeping, but they have to understand.
“Yes, my dear,” Dumbledore finally verbally agrees, “From the sound of it, you would be correct.”
I relax in my seat, my major take-home point finally acknowledged.
Moody shifts in his chair until he’s facing me. One of his arms is braced on the desk in front of us, and he’s twisted at the waist with his magical eye frozen still in its socket. “We ought to discuss now,” he begins, “How it is you will be helping us.”
I raise a sarcastic eyebrow at him and scoff, “Was that your way of saying ‘thank you so much for the info, Finnie, you’re a real stone-cold fox and a lifesaver’? Because that was fucking terrible.”
Moody cracks a rather ugly smile, extremely foreign-looking on his scarred face. “Don’t play dumb, girlie,” he says with unhidden amusement, “You’re a soldier in this war now, just like me. And we will need to discuss what that position holds for you.”
My heart sinks at the reminder.
Ah, yes. Of course.
If he sees my deflation he ignores it, and Moody shifts just slightly to include Dumbledore. “What do you think, Headmaster?” he asks.
Dumbledore’s face is still distant. He’s begun stroking his long-as-shit beard in his contemplative state. “I think, my friend,” he says softly, “That you and I are of the same mind regarding how best to implement young Sjofn’s…talents.”
Moody nods, and turns back to me with a scary excited gleam in his normal eye. I am thoroughly confused. Were they telepathically communicating or something? Assholes.
“We’ll need to get her a fake wand, I think..,” Moody pulls out another notebook from his jacket, and begins making a list, “An easily-donned disguise…protective charms which will blend…my Aurors usually use jewelry…” He pauses, and glances at my ears which hold about a half-dozen earrings between them, “…shouldn’t be too difficult.”
Dumbledore points to Moody’s list and adds, “Include any weaponry she needs, we will need to get what we can goblin-made so that it will deflect spells, but we will likely need to acquire and charm muggle weapons she prefers.” He then turns to me and keeps speaking, “We will connect the fireplace in your bedroom to the Floo Network, my dear, so that you may move about more freely and collect necessary information between us senior Order officials.” He pauses, then adds as an afterthought, “I’ll make sure Sirius provides you with a desk and study space in your living quarters, which we can charm for secrecy so that you have room to work.”
The two of them are on a roll now, but I’m so irritated I can’t help but blurt, “Wait just a damn minute, aren’t you forgetting something?”
This stops their chattering dead. They both look at me with confusion. “What exactly am I fucking doing?” I snap at them.
“Well,” Dumbledore stumbles, clearly off-guard, “I thought it was obvious…we will use your particular talents and training to… well…”
“Thin their ranks,” Moody growls, finishing.
We all take a pause while I absorb those three words.
Ah, it clicks for me then. “You want me to assassinate Death Eaters?” I ask, for clarity’s sake.
Moody nods, the excited gleam in his good eye shifting and shining even brighter than before, “We want you to go on the offensive,” he says, “in ways we haven’t been able to do since we’re so well-known. Our tactics and potential magical approaches are second-nature to them, unlike you. We want you to find them, infiltrate when necessary, or just monitor their activity and strike when there’s an opportunity.”
Dumbledore captures my eyes and adds, “His followers are his power, Sjofn. If we can lessen his numbers, dispatch his generals, or even frighten people away from joining his cause, we will be that much closer to stopping him and his whole movement.”
My mind is racing faster than I can keep up with it, it seems. But I force it to slow, and the vision that emerges to the forefront asks my question for me.
“You want me to become the Death Eaters’ version of the boogie-man?”
Dumbledore’s eyes are twinkling, not with kindness, when he breathes his reply, “Precisely.”
Despite my reservations, and the increased amount of risk to my person that they’re suggesting, my pulse quickens. Pure, undiluted power surges through my veins, my eyes glaze over with their trademark inky sheen, and I smile.
Alastor Moody watches disinterestedly from his seat as Finnie the muggle-girl-wonder practically skips to Dumbledore’s fireplace in order to floo back to headquarters. Her bare feet do a little dance as she waits for the Headmaster to join her.
Dumbledore lifts an ornate claw-footed china box from the mantelpiece and opens the lid for her to take a pinch of the powder inside. Suddenly though, he snaps the lid shut and her fingers leap back in surprise, as she was just an inch from complying. She narrows her green gaze up at him in silent question, but Dumbledore does not delay. Using the wizened hand not holding the floo powder, he digs into the pocket of his robes until he withdraws what looks like a shiny black rectangle.
“I nearly forgot, my dear,” Dumbledore holds the rectangle out to her by the tips of his fingers. The girl’s eyes have gone as wide as possible as she stares at it. “Are– are you sure…?” She stutters excitedly.
Moody furrows his brow in confusion. What are they on about?
“Yes, of course,” the Headmaster responds airily, “I think you’ll find it most difficult to push my account to its limits, but I trust you to do your best. This card has never before been used, so you will need to sign it and activate it appropriately.”
Finnie’s pale mass of waves and curls bounces as she nods almost violently. She snatches the card and begins chattering in that obnoxious way of hers, nearly nonstop. “I’ll have to bug Mr. Weasley about getting into his stash of electronics so I can MacGyver a new charger for my phone. If possible can you make sure that the 9mms I need have their own silencers? I know it’s atypical to use more than one, but if I’m double-fisting it wouldn’t technically be gratuitous. Plus I know we didn’t talk much about it but the sniper rifle really should be in the same league as the M14 Crazyhorse by SEI, because they definitely had detachable silencers in my day so if anything it’s likely that an earlier version would either have a prototype already or I would pretty easily be able to modify it to include that component. TOOLS! I need tools! Well, ok, I’ll get the tools since you gave me a credit card. I’ll also get the outfit I’d want to use as my quick-change whatchamacallit, have you thought about having me wear a mask? I don’t want to sound too full of myself when I say I think I would be particularly fucking intimidating if I had a mask, and–,”
“Everything in due time,” Dumbledore interrupts her ranting firmly, “For now, get your basic necessities with Molly and the kids. We will be in constant correspondence, Sjofn, nothing will be forgotten.”
The insane little sprite looks slightly abashed, but nods, “Yes. Right. Okey-dokey.” And she reaches into the delicate box of powder, tosses some into the fire, and is gone in seconds.
Moody stands then, in preparation to also depart. “She’s mad,” he grunts to Dumbledore, as though this hadn’t been overtly clear for the past three hours. Dumbledore is still looking into the fire as he responds. “It would seem,” he observes quietly, “that her rather…unique way of moving about in the world is only heightened by what I assume is experience with extremely high-stress situations, yes.”
“Mad,” Moody growls once more. “Eccentric,” Dumbledore corrects, softly, and he pivots from his position next to the fire in order to face the auror. “I must ask something of you though, my friend,” he says, quietly.
Moody only grunts in acknowledgement. They’ve both a lot to do, Mad-Eye needs to meet with Minerva and Kingsley to bring them up to speed, preferably with other Order members in attendance. But, they had decided amongst themselves that they would only disclose Finnie’s true purpose to Minerva and Kingsley for now. The less who know, the less opportunity the dark side has to find out.
Dumbledore takes a step or two closer as he begins, “I need you to keep an eye on her.” The Headmaster inclines his head just barely towards Moody’s magical eye, “I need you to pass along to the others to keep an eye on her, but in particular I need you to keep an eye on any magic or unusual power you see or sense around her person.”
As though on cue, the magical eye spins backwards; the Minister of Magic has just arrived at the edge of the Hogwarts property. They will need to be quick.
“Wha’ exactly am I looking for?” Moody growls, “I can see the demon power you described, when she calls on it, but other than tha’-“
“When I lost control yesterday, I used a spell that should have caused far more damage than was actually done,” Dumbledore speaks calmly, but his face looks pained. It’s clear that the incident has left its mark on his soul. “Our young muggle has extensive protective enchantments upon her being, placed there by someone from her time.”
Moody took pause at this information. If this is true, then…
“Sjofn is of an acquaintance with a witch or wizard in her time, but I don’t believe she knows it. And based on the magnitude of the protective enchantments my own considerable power met during our unfortunate confrontation yesterday evening, he or she is very powerful indeed-”
“And they must care a great deal for the lass if they placed all tha’ protection on her without her knowledge,” Moody growls, understanding.
Dumbledore nods solemnly, “So you see, my friend,” his voice lowers, for he hears the Minister ascend the staircase behind him, “we must be extremely careful with how we proceed. I imagine that by tearing her away from her time, we’ve made someone 20 years from now very, very angry.”
Chapter 9: G-Strings, Only
One Week Later
Hermione Granger rounds the tail end of the cab she has just exited, and pushes up the grimy blue boot in order to retrieve her bags, trunk, and Crookshanks in his carrier. The cabbie leans out his window and says to her in a rather affected accent, "Zis is where you want to go? You are sure? Zere is no-," he looks down at his notepad, "Numéro douze zat I can see-"
"Yes, I'm aware, I apologize. I misspoke," Hermione fumbles to secure her backpack on her shoulder while balancing everything else, "This is exactly the spot, thanks."
"You would like 'elp?" The man gestures to her hunch-backed form with an unlit cigarette. Hermione was beginning to regret taking the cab from her home, Professor McGonagall had certainly offered to ferry her after her task. But she had thought that having the ride alone would give her time-
Time to what? To grieve?
Taking a deep, shuddering breath, she forces a smile and turns to look at the driver over her stooped shoulder, "Thanks very much for the offer, but I'm fine."
He shrugs as if to say, 'Well I tried,' and drives off almost immediately. The over-laden girl waits until she sees him turn the corner before she begins laboriously ascending the stone steps which lead to the address that he couldn't see. Her hands full, she kicks the elegant door at its base instead of properly knocking. As the seconds pass, she begins to feel extremely small with all of her things draped about her, looking properly alone in the world.
Suddenly the front door is opened, and Harry immediately relieves her of her trunk and Crookshanks' carrier. "Hullo, 'Mione," he grunts in greeting as he swivels the luggage into the entryway.
"Hullo, Harry," she gives him a small smile in thanks, and steps inside.
The house is quiet, and as they move their way slowly up the stairs in order to deposit her things in a bedroom, Hermione asks Harry, "Is anyone else home?"
Without warning, the curtains to Mrs. Black's portrait swing wide and her shrieking, horrible words begin to echo throughout the house.
"FILTH! SCUM! PLAUGING THE HOUSE OF MY ANCESTORS! WOE IS ME THE DAY THAT I OPEN MY EYES TO SEE MUDBLOODS AND MUGGLES WANDERING MY HALLOWED HALLS! BURN THE PLACE, I SAY! BURN IT TO THE GROUND AND CLEANSE-"
"Oi!" Harry scrambles down the steps, Hermione's trunk left perched upon the stair. He reaches the nasty woman's portrait in record time and begins fighting the curtains shut while mumbling, "Foul-mouthed cow…" Holding the ends together in one hand, he bends down to retrieve something that had flown off when the curtains separated as violently as they had. Rising, he pinches the ends together with what appears to be a crisp-clip.
The job done, he wipes his hands on his trousers as he turns back to face Hermione on the staircase. She raises an eyebrow and inclines her head inquiringly at the clip.
"Ah, yeah," Harry makes his way back up the staircase to resume their climb, "Finnie's idea, actually. I think she thought Mrs. Black was rather funny at first. Kept having shouting matches with her when she was bored, but…"
"Got sick of it?" Hermione grinning at the thought, stumps up to the landing and follows Harry down the second story hallway to her usual room.
Harry swings open the door to the bedroom and leads the way inside. "She got rather disappointed, I think," he responds, "Says that Mrs. Black's comebacks are downright uninspired and ‘not worth the effort.’"
Hermione throws her backpack and duffel onto the coverlet of her four-poster bed. Her room at the Order of Phoenix headquarters is beautiful, with her own private bath. Ron or Harry must have shared with Sirius that her favorite color is purple, because sometime during their 5th year he had managed to charm most of the linens, comforters, and hangings into various designs and shades of purple.
Sirius has a soft spot for Crookshanks, as well. For in the room, beside a handsome armoire, he had placed a rather opulent cat-tree complete with toys and scratching posts. Crookshanks makes a beeline for this kitty-utopia immediately after Harry releases him from his carrier.
"But to answer your question," Harry strides over to the desk set across the room, and sits in the velvet-cushioned chair, "Finnie is in her room, I think, and Sirius is out for the moment."
Hermione kicks off her trainers before settling herself comfortably indian-style on the bed, facing him. "Professor McGonagall said Sirius has been kept busy, with the Ministry trying to make amends for his imprisonment," she acknowledges, softly.
"Yeah," Harry says ruefully, wincing, "They keep trying to crawl up his arse. Calling him in for meetings in order to get his perspective on Voldemort's movements, on how the dementors could be getting used against us, all sorts of stuff."
The young wizard begins picking at the roughened edge of his jeans’ seam as he continues, "Dumbledore has been using him a lot too." He glances up and out the gauze-curtained window, "In animagus form, I mean. He's doing a lot of surveillance in the cities where he can go pretty much unnoticed."
Hermione nods, seeing that Harry has probably been missing his godfather, not having access to him as much as before. But, she also knows that Harry would be happy that Sirius is no longer forced to be in hiding.
Harry pushes his glasses up on his nose in that nervous habit of his, "Er- Hermione?" He clears his throat, and turns back to face her, "Are… are you alright?"
Hermione feels herself go stiff, unsure if she really wants to discuss the heartbreak which had comprised her morning. "Um," she looks down at her hands, and thinks about how to answer. "No," she decides, "No, I don't think that I am."
Harry rises from the desk chair and moves so that he's standing in front of her. "We don't have to talk about it yet," he says firmly, understanding. "But, I wanted you to know that if you need to, I'm here. We're all here. Ron really- "
"Oh!" Hermione's eyes snap up to his in surprise, and to her horror she can feel a slight blush at her cheeks, "Please tell him I'm not ready to discuss it just yet. I will, I promise, I just- "
Harry nods quickly before she can finish, "I understand, don't worry, I'll tell him."
He begins to make his way to the door, sensing that she would like to be alone. But at the doorway he pauses, and looks at her over his shoulder, his hand on the knob behind him. "For what it's worth, 'Mione, what you did today was really brave. We're all really proud of you, and-," he takes a deep breath, "As soon as we can, I promise you we'll do everything to find your parents and bring them back. I mean it. I promise." Without another pause, he shuts the door behind him and leaves her be.
Hermione feels thankful that he left her alone. Without the façade to keep up, she finally allows her face to crumple under the weight of the loneliness which obliviating her parents for their safety had caused.
A couple of tears squeeze their way out of her eyes and roll down her cheeks. She knows, of course, that what she did was the right thing to do, but it doesn't make her feel any less alone now. The Weasleys, Sirius, and Harry would never let her feel like less than family, but even so…they weren't hers. She had just abandoned hers.
A sudden thought snaps her out of her pity-party.
Finnie will understand.
Compelled by the pressure in her chest which she's suddenly sure only the muggle stranger can relieve, Hermione leaps to her feet and swiftly exits her bedroom. Careful to be silent, for she doesn't want to run into Harry or reawaken Mrs. Black, Hermione quickly descends the main staircase and pads on her stockinged feet around a couple of corners until she finds the entranceway to the basement.
She pauses for only a moment, reflecting on the last time she saw the woman. Finnie had reemerged from Dumbledore's office almost comically at precisely the time they were about to sit for lunch. Hermione remembers how the woman had described to Sirius Kreacher's treachery, and how it had taken both herself and Finnie to subdue his anger and convince him not to kill the elf – Harry and most of the Weasleys had not at all been inclined to intervene. Ultimately, Sirius had forbidden Kreacher to have the ability to speak to anyone but Sirius or Harry, and to never again leave the confines of Number Twelve.
Hermione still feels a twinge of unease at this, but drastic measures need to occasionally be taken. This is war, after all.
Her heart sinks at the reminder of what troubles this war has wrought. And she decidedly descends the steps two at a time in order to reacquaint herself with the only other person who, in her opinion, might understand her loss.
Upon reaching the final few steps, Hermione can hear music resonating in the hallway. During their shopping trip a week ago, Finnie had splurged on some speakers, and it would appear she is making good use of them. The melody is oddly beautiful even though it's comprised of electric guitar and a pounding bass drum, and the voices singing the lyrics are both soft and compelling simultaneously.
Hermione slows her feet just a bit, feeling unsure again. She had had quite a lot of fun when they had taken their guest shopping with Mrs. Weasley, though to Finnie's chagrin they never did go to Diagon Alley. Finnie had forced Fred and George to model her potential undergarments over their clothes before she would commit to buying them. And, at one point, had hidden in a rack of coats in Harrods just so she could scare Tonks because she had bet Ron that Tonks' hair would turn white (she had been wrong – Tonks' hair just spikes out when she gets scared, apparently).
Everyone had become quite taken with her. By the end of the trip, Fred and George had begun to argue over who would get her hand in marriage, but she had interrupted them with a laugh and declared them both unsuitable partners as they are, in her words, "jailbait." A term which had reduced Tonks to a heap on the floor amid snorts of laughter.
Even Ron and Harry had argued about her once they had all returned to Grimmauld Place that evening.
"I donno, I just don't get how she's supposed to help us," Ron had pointed out grumpily. The three of them had been nursing butterbeers after dinner, and Finnie was across the room with Ginny, showing her how to fold a paper football.
But Harry was already defensive, "She's going to spy, that's what Dumbledore said." Dumbledore had met with the Trio as soon as they had returned from the shopping outing. He had explained a great deal to them about what he knew, especially about Voldemort's horcruxes. Hermione, at that moment, had open in front of her a book he had decided to give her of wizarding fairy-tales. She was working her way through it as they conferred.
"She's. A. Muggle." Ron hissed, lowering his voice to avoid attracting attention, "If anything she's in more danger than any of us. Not at all a suitable candidate for spying on Death Eaters in my bloody opinion."
Hermione had bitten her lip, for she didn't entirely disagree. She simply felt there was a piece of the puzzle regarding Finnie's involvement which they weren't given.
Harry had narrowed his eyes stubbornly at his friend, "If Dumbledore says she's got what it takes, I don't see how you think you know better than- "
"What if she gets killed?" Ron had bit out, harshly, "That's on us. We dragged her backwards, away from her friends and family, just so she can- "
"Her family?" Hermione had breathed, looking up at Ron. She couldn't believe that she hadn't thought of that. Trust Ron to be the perceptive one for once.
Ron looked uncomfortable, "Well, of course, 'Mione. What did you think?" Hermione just blinked at him, and Harry said nothing. Ron went on, "Mum said that she mentioned her mum last night. I'll be honest, I don't think she came here by choice."
Hermione had felt those words hit her in the pit of her stomach. She had looked back at the muggle woman, then, the firelight shining on her pale blonde hair which had been tamed into a plait. At that time, Hermione had already known what she was going to have to do, Dumbledore had said as much. But right then, seeing Finnie, understanding that she must have given up quite a lot in order to stay with them, it had given her strength.
"It doesn't matter," Harry had said stubbornly, "She's here now, and she's staying here, and I know she's going to do a good job."
Ron allowed a small smile as he gazed across the table at their friend, "I think you just like her because she makes Sirius act like-"
"Makes Sirius act like what?" Sirius had appeared at Ron's elbow, right at that moment.
A sudden bang behind the basement bedroom door breaks Hermione from her contemplative reverie. She hears Finnie mutter a string of curses, and suddenly there's an odd smell of burning plastic permeating the hallway. Deciding it's now or never, Hermione finally knocks on the door.
There's a scuffle. But within seconds, the door bursts open and Finnie is standing there. "Hello, darling!" the woman announces jovially, but then quickly adds, "Let me put on pants."
Sure enough, the muggle woman is wearing what appears to be pineapple-adorned knickers, paired only with the blue t-shirt which Hermione had originally given her. The t-shirt is incredibly snug, exposing Finnie's midriff but proudly exclaiming "J'adore Paris!" in white cursive across her chest. Her hair is messy, set in a sloppy bun on top of her head with wayward pale pieces poking in all directions. Also set high on her forehead, in her hair, is a pair of lab goggles.
"Sorry about the smell," Finnie calls from a standing wardrobe across the space, "I was soldering some pieces to some…things. I should probably find a way to do it outside. Or at the very least near a fucking window. Come in, come in!"
Perusing the room, Hermione notices a miniscule trail of smoke being emitted from a small, handheld tool resting upon what appears to be a workspace. Perpendicular to the work bench is a desk covered in notes and graphs, and even muggle mathematical tools like compasses and protractors of varying sizes. With a start Hermione realizes that she can't read any of the writing on the pages or completely discern any of the objects resting on the workbench.
Hermione is intrigued, but forces herself to turn her back to the desks. The rest of Finnie's space has been completely transformed. A cherry wood four-poster bed now rests against a far wall, the coverlet and linens a mixture of night-sky navies, blues, and purples with constellations embroidered upon them. A set of red-and-white striped armchairs sit near the fire, a cherry table between them. Two more cushy red and navy chairs flank a zebra-print ottoman placed at the foot of the bed. But the most pronounced feature of Finnie's space has got to be the tapestries. At least two dozen, varying in size and design, line the ceilings and the walls. Everything from mandalas to tree-of-life depictions to tie-dyes to embroidered maps make the room extremely inviting and cozy.
Finnie chuckles from the wardrobe, and Hermione realizes her mouth may have fallen open as she took it all in. "Nice, right?" Finnie says as she tosses aside the goggles and hoists on a simple pair of slouchy, black sweatpants. "I was trying to give the impression of living inside of Steven Tyler's womb. I think I pulled it off."
Hermione smiles and gestures to the speakers still playing music atop the mantelpiece. "Is that who is playing?" she asks, timidly.
"Oh, no," Finnie responds, walking swiftly over to the speakers in order to lower the volume. "That band is called the Arctic Monkeys. You've still got a couple years 'til they're a thing, I'm afraid."
Hermione remembers Finnie showing everyone the device she had accidentally brought with her from the future, containing all of her music preferences in one little box. Hermione lifts her chin again at the speakers, "Does this mean you found a way to keep your device from dying?"
Finnie looks a little pleased with herself as she shows Hermione by lifting a thin cable connected to the speakers, and illustrating how it leads to her cell phone. The cell phone is on the floor, with what looks like a small circuit board connected to it via copper wires. The circuit board, in turn, is connected to another box containing four AA batteries, which is connected to the wall outlet. "Arthur just had all this crap in his shed, can you believe it?" Finnie says with a smugness which outlines her pride, "I had to get Sirius to magic some outlets into this room, but yeah. That's one hurdle dealt with."
Hermione smiles, but secretly wonders what it was that Finnie did for a living which harbored such ingenuity. She pads shyly over to the mantelpiece, and crouches on the floor next to the older woman. Finnie holds the device out to her, "You pick the next one."
Hermione uses the tip of her finger to scroll through the options, as she had seen Finnie do. Her finger pauses as she recognizes a title and clicks on it.
The soft tones of Ella Fitzgerald's "Dream A Little Dream of Me" begin wafting through the room, and Finnie looks up and grins at her. "I love this song," the woman says softly.
To her horror, Hermione feels her lower lip start to quiver. Finnie's face abruptly falls, and her eyes widen with sudden understanding. "Oh god. Oh no, sweetheart-," she lowers her voice to a hushed sort of whisper, "that wasn't today, was it?"
Hermione's face crumples and a silent sob tears through her small body. With no preamble, Finnie winds one of her arms under the girl's bent knees, and wraps the other around her back to support her. Before Hermione knows it, she's in the air, being held in the muggle woman's arms with what appears to be no effort. Finnie walks them both to the closest armchair and folds herself gently into it, the now-weeping girl settled comfortably in her lap, resting her head against Finnie's collarbone.
As they listen to the song together, the sting of empathetic tears reach Finnie's nose. But she powers through them and rubs Hermione's back in slow circles, murmuring any words of comfort she can think of. She tells her how brave she is, how pretty she is, how proud of her her parents would be if they knew the sacrifice she had made today. Ella Fitzgerald morphs into Pearl Jam's "Black," and, gradually, Hermione's breathing begins to slow. Finnie lifts a hand to pet the girl's hair soothingly, but begins humming along with the song to give her a little space to collect her thoughts.
Sirius leaves Harry in the foyer of Number Twelve and makes for the basement stairs. The Weasleys will be arriving any minute in order to take the children to Diagon Alley for next year's schoolthings.
He springs down them two at a time, ruminating all the while on how he hasn't seen his sharp-tongued houseguest in nearly three days. They're in high demand, independently of one another. Ministry officials and strategists keep pulling him into consultations to "benefit from his expertise" regarding the dementors' abandonment of Azkaban, and the subsequent escape of its prisoners.
Meanwhile, the last time he saw Moody leading Finnie away by floo, he was pretty sure he had heard the cracked old man say, "Take a good grip on the handle, lass. Let me know how this one swings in yer tiny mitt-"
They really needed to catch up, he and Finnie.
Unbidden, Mooney's smirking face revolves to the forefront of his thoughts. The shabby bastard had been ribbing him endlessly about trying to accompany the muggle girl to Dumbledore's meeting a week ago.
"You didn't see the state of her, mate," Sirius had frowned, defending himself, "Her fucking wrist was broken."
"Yes," Mooney had grinned, "And I'm sure, to ease her ails, all she truly desired was to be curled up in bed with a great, shaggy dog-"
Sirius had cuffed him, then, nearly spilling his firewhiskey. He was one to talk, can't even look his bird in the eye.
Sirius pauses at the bottom of the circular stair; music is playing softly from Finnie's room, an almost melancholy tune. He raises one eyebrow in interest, but briefly considers returning upstairs and summoning her another way. An acrid smell lingers in the air as he contemplates his options.
But alas, his pull for her company was too strong – the vision of Mooney's head shakes sadly and says, 'You need to get out more, mate' – so he steps confidently to her door, knocks softly, and eases it open without a sound.
The vision which greets his eyes was not at all what he had expected. He had been expecting her to be at one of her work stations – "Two! I SAID I NEED TWO GODAMMIT," she had delicately requested – or even dozing in bed, catching up on a few hours' sleep.
Or, she might have been changing.
His subconscious grins, unabashed.
But no, what he sees instead is Finnie and Hermione sitting together in a single armchair, in front of the fire. Finnie's body curls around Hermione's petite form in a protective manner, their heads bent close together, whispering to one another quietly.
Sirius' heart squeezes at the sight. He remembers what Harry had detailed to him days ago, of Hermione's unfortunate task. She must have sought solace with the future-woman almost as soon as she had arrived here at Grimmauld Place. Sirius feels his insides grow heavy at the thought of that burden being effectively placed on the shoulders of a child, on Hermione.
Before he can grow too somber however, Finnie's sharp green eyes glance up from Hermione's warm brown ones and settle on him. Just as he is about to open his mouth and apologize for interrupting, her face breaks into a small smile, and she raises her hand from Hermione's shoulder blade to beckon him inside the room.
As he strides toward them, Hermione glances up at him as well. She visibly stiffens and blushes at his discovery of her incredibly vulnerable moment. Feeling the girl's discomfort, Finnie appears to give her a gentle squeeze in reassurance.
Once next to the armchair, Sirius drops to a crouch beside the tearstained face of his godson's best friend. "The Weasleys will be here soon, love," he murmurs to her, raising a hand to brush some of the frizzy locks which stuck to her cheek behind her ear. "Molly and Arthur are taking you kids to Diagon Alley to get your school supplies, and to see Fred and George's shop."
There is a great, sharp intake of air. Finnie's face has transformed from calm, matronly poise into pure unadulterated glee. Hermione looks up at the open-mouthed excitement hovering above her and gives a weak chuckle. "Would you like to come, Finnie?" the bushy-haired girl asks ironically. Hermione sits up in the chair, straightening her spine, but doesn't rise completely. Sirius registers mild surprise at her comfort of the closeness between herself and the other woman.
"I WOULD LOVE-"
"Actually," Sirius interrupts coolly, "Finnie and I will have to meet you there."
The woman actually pushes her lower lip out into a pout. Slowly, she constricts her arms until she's squeezing the girl in her lap like a python, "Hermione invited me, Sirius."
Hearing his name form on her lips prompts an almost visceral reaction within Sirius' body. With a burst of possessive lust, he feels a sudden animalistic impulse to wrench her from her seat and hold her tightly against him until she says it again. Forcibly, he squelches the urge and attempts to hide his reaction, though he's certain his eyes have dilated.
He forces a wolfish smile up at the beautiful blonde now struggling with the witch in her lap – "Finnie I'm SURE he's just-," "NO-TELL HIM YOU INVITED ME" – and interrupts the flailing pair.
"You won't be able to enter the Leaky Cauldron via floo, my dear." Finnie stops wrestling Hermione and snaps her head back to Sirius and pays attention. "It's magicked against muggles, I'm afraid," he continues. "The only way to get you in is if you walk in the front door, with me guiding you through the confundus charms."
"Oh," Finnie huffs at a hank of pale blonde hair which had settled in the middle of her face, "Why didn't you just say that. Hermione- get off of so I can put some jeans on." The small witch complies, smiling in amusement. "I'm going go to freshen up," Hermione mutters, still grinning, as she makes her way across the room to the door.
Sirius watches Finnie as she pads over to her armoire, "You may want to wear something nice," he drawls at her, freely observing her exposed skin at the midriff, "We'll likely be taking the twins out to dinner to celebrate their first month in business."
"Psh. I always look nice," she scoffs, still not facing him. But then suddenly shouts, "HERMIONE! SIRIUS SAYS WE HAVE TO WEAR SOMETHING SEXY FOR DINNER. G-STRINGS, ONLY."
"Bloody hell, woman," Sirius hisses, turning quickly to make a beeline for the stairs. If he's lucky he'll be able to catch Hermione in time to explain. "NICE," he calls ahead of him, "I SAID WEAR SOMETHING NICE."
Chapter 10: A Woman Who Isn't A Cousin
As Sirius hurries his sweet ass out of my room, I look to my magically-enlarged wardrobe with a sigh. Now I actually have to look sexy, because I had to open my big fat mouth and the expectation is there. Idiot.
I change quickly into a gauzy black spaghetti-strapped tank top, and some low-cut, dark-wash, good-butt jeans. Good butt jeans are essential. Mostly because Sirius definitely just saw me for the first time in days, and I was wearing fucking sweatpants. I toss on some low-heeled black booties, and ponder briefly upon a cardigan.
Hells no. If you get cold, he'll have to do something gentlemanly like engulf you under his t-shirt like a ghost or whatever it is that men do for women that they cherish.
I pause my own train of thought. Why am I letting myself get all jazzed about hanging out with Sirius Black? This really does not seem like a healthy, down-to-earth plan as it relates to my future girl/potential assassin problems.
But, I can't help it. He's. Fucking. Hot.
Fuck, I am in trouble. I should stop.
I ponder this further as I pick out some medium-sized stripe-y hoops for my lobes, followed by small silver studs in my other ear-holes. I slip on a delicate navy blue wristwatch and a ring for my thumb, along with a ring for the pointer finger of my opposite hand. All of my new jewelry has been charmed with so many protective spells, I can practically feel them hum against my skin.
Not wanting to be the reason anyone waits up, I dab a quick dose of lipgloss onto my lips, fluff out my hair, grab a black slouchy leather bag containing my wallet, and begin moving for the door. At the last second, however, I grab some mirrored aviator sunglasses that Tonks had declared to be "literally so god damned American," and proceed out into the hallway.
I can hear the chorus of several laughing voices as I trip up the stairs. As I emerge from the hallway, entering the foyer, I'm suddenly accosted by a tall, balding ginger man who's practically vibrating with excitement.
"Finnie!" Arthur Weasley wraps a fatherly arm about my shoulders and leads me through the entryway, towards the kitchen. "So glad I caught you before we depart, dear. I've brought a list! Just as you suggested."
I hold my hand out, palm up, "Let's see it, then."
We stumble down the three steps together, and turn the corner into the dining space. Mr. Weasley crams a well-worn piece of parchment into my waiting palm, and I see from the corner of my eye Harry, Ron, Ginny, and Hermione loudly comparing their school supply lists as they wait near the fireplace. The boys all wear collared shirts, and both Hermione and Ginny have donned a sundress for dinner later. I glance down at the list Arthur has plainly labored over:
1) What is the world-wide-web, and how do muggles access it without alerting the likes of Acromantula when they trespass upon it?
2) How long can a typical muggle unicycle before the balance-charm wears off?
3) In university, are all muggles required to attend classes pertaining to airplanes, or is the understanding of their properties simply innate from birth?
4) How does one breed a clock-radio?
"Okay, yes. This is great," I nod my head very seriously, and glance up at the man who is clearly on the edge of his seat. I fold up the parchment and carefully slip it into my back pocket, "Can I draft up my responses and get back to you, though? Because I hate to tell you this, but some of these are a bit involved..."
"Oh! Yes!" Arthur inclines his head politely, "Quite right." He snaps his fingers suddenly, "Alright kids! We best get on our way- Molly, leave the kitchen alone." He moves swiftly towards his wife, who has been scrubbing at the countertops and muttering under her breath.
Sirius materializes at my elbow, scowling. He’s wearing a black dress shirt, open at the collar (Oh, fuck yes. Tattoos.), with another pair of well-worn black jeans. Before I can begin drooling openly, I snap my head to Hermione and pretend to assess her lovely red dress thoroughly.
“You didn’t actually wear a g-string with that, did you baby girl? Because you’re going to freeze.”
Ron and Sirius begin spluttering with indignation almost simultaneously. Ron’s face is instantly at comical odds with his hair color, “A- A WHAT? A G-WHAT? ‘MIONE?” While Sirius hisses in my ear, “You’re just lucky your absolutely abominable sense of humor has become common knowledge- “
But while Ginny is doubled-over, gasping for air through her laughter, Hermione simply rolls her eyes and gives me an exasperated smile, “Of course I didn’t, Finnie.”
“You should be more careful, dear,” Molly has been successfully herded to the fireplace by her husband. “You’re going to give our boys a coronary one of these days. G-strings indeed,” she chuckles and shakes her head, but suddenly stops dead and takes a step back as she passes me. “And what is this?” She gestures to the back of my shirt, her voice disapproving, “Your top is open in the back!”
It’s true. The fabric in the back overlaps at the top of the shirt, where it’s secured, but essentially hangs open the rest of the way. You can’t see shit, though, unless you move the flaps.
I open my mouth in mock-indignation and point my thumb towards Sirius next to me. “I can practically see the outline of his nipples through his shirt! I don’t see him getting any shit for it.” Sirius grins wolfishly down at me, and my downstairs clenches just a little.
Mrs. Weasley just sighs. “Anyway… Everyone to the floo- Harry, Ron, quit whispering about knickers. We can hear you quite clearly.”
As the teenagers floo one by one to the Leaky Cauldron, Mr. Weasley turns to Sirius and me and says, “We’ll meet at the boys’ shop, yes? Be on your guard, both of you. Diagon Alley is not as safe as it once was.” I notice now, both he and Molly have small worry-lines etched into the edges of their mouths, “Bill and Lupin are going to be meeting us there, for added security and all. And we’ve got reservations at a new spot in Hogsmeade, which we’ll floo to as well.”
I frown at this, “Will I be able to get there? To Hogsmeade?” If I’m not able to waltz into the Leaky Cauldron, the wizarding-hamlet next to Hogwarts is practically guaranteed to be a no-muggle zone.
Arthur pauses at the grate, “Ah-,” he looks uncomfortable, he likely hadn’t thought of this. “We’ll ask, shall we?” he looks down at me, abashed. “I’m terribly sorry Finnie, I’m not certain.”
I give him a reassuring smile and a nod, “No – I understand. We’ll see you at Wheezes.” With a final rueful grin, he disappears in a dash of green flame.
I sigh deeply. Everyone rather continuously forgets I’m a muggle, and I can’t decide yet if it bothers me or not. I feel a bit like an alien.
It’s not like I’ve fit in perfectly with muggles these last few years either, though.
Before I can sink much deeper into these thoughts, my attention is diverted by an extremely warm, light brush of skin-on-skin beneath the gauzy fabric of my shirt. I freeze.
Sirius had run the tips of his fingers along my back, just on the inside of the shirt’s opening. Without looking up at him, I’m literally frozen in place, I hear him murmur, “I don’t know what Molly was on about…I quite like this top.”
To my horror, I feel a flush move across my breastbone as my stomach warms with pleasure at his attention. Before I can think much of it, I turn on the spot and look directly up into his face.
Oh fucksocks, he’s a lot closer than I thought.
Before I lose my nerve, I hold his rather intense gaze. His face is almost painfully handsome. He’s got the hint of a 5 o’clock shadow, and he smells absolutely heavenly – like sharp cinnamon and muted evergreen. He seems surprised at my response, he likely expected I would jump, twitch away from him, or even squeal. We are locked in place, and I’m scrutinizing his face for a clue as to what he’s thinking. Is he just flirting? Taking advantage of being around a woman who isn’t a cousin for the first time in a long-ass time? Or…
Does he actually like me?
Do I like him?
The spell is broken suddenly, when he smiles an almost mocking smile and drawls, “You’re a ballsy bird, I’ll give you that.”
I try to ignore the small jab of disappointment – he was just being a cheeky flirt, after all – and I prop one hand on my hip and say with as much arrogance as I can muster, “Oh absolutely.” I sniff, “I’ve got arguably the biggest balls in the room, most days.” Sirius throws his head back and issues a great, barking laugh.
My stomach seizes, and I realize it makes me absurdly happy to have made him laugh.
Such a fucking loser.
His toothy smile is still a little predatory when he responds, “Well we’re about to test that theory, aren’t we?” He begins to lead me out of the kitchen, his hand still at the small of my back, but above the fabric now. We continue down the immediate hallway, until we’re at the end. After which, he pulls out his wand and taps it twice against the last door on the right.
“How’s that?” I ask, “Are we getting there through the sewers or something?” The door swings open, and a light flicks on automatically, “Teenage mutant ninja turtle-style?” Sirius walks over to some extremely bulky object, covered in a tarp, which sits in the middle of the otherwise bare, concrete-floored room. “Is Master Splinter going to be my tour guide of the London Underground? Will there be safewords?”
“Shut up now,” he says, and he whips back the tarp with a flourish.
Beneath it, helmet resting on the seat, is a great, black, Harley Davidson motorcycle.
We zoom between the cars waiting at stoplights in the streets of London, weaving with ease and skirting the line of recklessness and practicality.
My heart feels lighter than air. Sirius’ helmet crammed on my head, I keep my aviator-clad eyes pointed up to the beautiful, ancient buildings dotted between their gorgeous modern counterparts. Every block there’s a statue, a high rise, and a tour of folks gabbing about the history of London. It’s absolutely intoxicating, and for the first time since I’ve arrived, I feel a bit like a cheesy tourist.
I feel free.
Wishing I could feel the wind in my hair – Sirius’ voice returns to me, “You don’t wear the helmet, you’re not getting on my bloody bike” – I content myself with watching Sirius’ long dark locks whip about his neck and shoulders with abandon. I can’t see his face, but I can feel the joy radiating from him in almost tangible waves. It’s as though they’re colliding and resonating with my own joy-waves, and the combined effect is making me feel downright giddy; I feel an extreme sort of camaraderie with him.
I smile in my mind. With the ex-con.
Before we had taken off, I had pointed out to him how he should really be the one wearing the helmet, since technically he’ll have an easier time saving me after my brains smush on the pavement being the one between us who can wield magic. But he wasn’t having it, and after a good five minutes of solid arguing he finally snapped, “My first time back on my baby isn’t going to include me wearing a helmet, Fin, so just give it up.”
So I gave it up.
However, as the trip progresses, I’ve been trying and failing with increasing obviousness not to thoroughly take advantage of the opportunity to have my hands on him. When we left Grimmauld Place, they had been demurely resting flat-palmed on the outside edge of his torso. As the minutes passed, I slowly allowed them to creep forward and encircled him more securely with my arms, my hands moving closer to his belly-button.
Now, though, I’m not even pretending. Every time we brake a little, I act startled so that I’m pressed up against his back, my boobs flattened, and I’ve got one hand angled up to his chest, with the other wrapped around his abdomen.
All details aside, I’m on a fucking motorcycle with a hot guy. Sue me.
Because I’m nothing if not an opportunist, while we wait at a red light I rest my chin between his broad shoulders, my breath fluttering the hairs at his nape, and murmur loud enough for him to hear over the rumble of the engine, “How much farther?”
He seems to spasm in his seat. I grin into his hair – holy shit he smells good – but my heart stops suddenly as he takes one hand off the handlebars and uses it to cover mine at his stomach. My blood’s rushing in my ears as he leans back in his seat that so we’re pressed even closer together. He turns his head, and his face is only two inches from mine when he says in a husky-ish voice, just loud enough for me to hear, “Only a couple more blocks, love.”
Oh, fuck. Well played.
What is wrong with me?
I, unfortunately, burst my own bubble from my cozy seat astride Sirius Black’s fucking motorcycle.
I barely know this man. He certainly does not know me. This is not someone I’m able to introduce to my mom; he doesn’t even know of my family, or of my life, or of who I really am 20 years from now. Am I really so displaced and lonely that I’m seeking comfort throwing my flirtatious affections at some dude – who can turn into a fucking dog, by the way – who would be 60 years old in my time?
With his warmth and scent permeating my bones, and his bike vibrating in a particularly – ahem – interesting fashion beneath me, I struggle to do this to myself. Why force myself away from something that is clearly making me happy? Especially when everything else is always so goddamn hard?
What the hell is the problem, again?
Suddenly feeling a little lost, I glide my hands back gently from their rather intimate placements on his person, to get a clearer headspace. Before they get far however, Sirius squeezes his hand which remains placed over mine. Still squeezing, he tugs it back across his abdomen, forcing my body to lean forward and press against his wide back. My arms basically encircling him, my head now turned so that my cheek is against his spine, he presses his large hand against the back of my fingertips, but then slides it up and down my arm, massaging it.
My stomach does a flip while I feel my face warm with a blush that reaches from my ears to my breastbone.
Aw, fuck. I’m in so much trouble.
We’re stopped, I realize with a jolt. Sirius has pulled us over and parked in what appears to be a particularly grimy alleyway, complete with overflowing dumpsters, a rusted fire escape, and a mangy cat I can hear, but not see. I sit up with alarm, breaking contact with him. The alley air cools the front of my torso which had just previously been pressed up against the motorcycling wizard, and I repress a shiver.
“You should get off first, Fin,” Sirius mumbles over his shoulder.
“Right, yep. Logic,” I swing a leg around the back of the bike and clamber off onto the dirty cobblestones. I’m pretty sure I’ve just immediately stepped in some gum.
Sirius coolly dismounts, and rounds the front end of his bike – reaching for me.
I don’t know what the hell I was thinking. Ok, that’s not true, I know what I was thinking, but I also know I’m a fucking idiot sometimes. As his hands come toward my face, I rock on the balls of my feet just slightly in preparation for takeoff.
As in, to takeoff in his direction – into his arms, preferably. Where I would then maul his face… with my face.
But quick as lightning, he deftly unsnaps the fastening of the helmet on my head, and turns away from me as he tosses it onto the seat of the bike.
I take an extremely deep, fortifying breath through my nose. I probably sound a bit demented, but ultimately I’m able to look up at him, hands on my hips, and ask, with only a faint wheeze of dejection, “So this is it? We’re at the Leaky Cauldron?”
Sirius takes his wand out of his dress-shirt sleeve and taps it upon his motorcycle. With a waterfall effect, the wordless spell cloaks the entire machine as though with invisible paint. “Yeah, it’s this one on the right,” he drawls, indicating the building with a lift of his chin.
I start stepping, clicking in my heeled boots, towards the entranceway to the alley, to get a better look. I kick aside some lidless McDonald’s cups in my path, secretly attempting to use them to scrape the gum off my shoe but probably only succeeding in looking like I’m trying to play World Cup with fucking trash. I hear Sirius move quickly to catch up; he grasps my arm suddenly, and his warmth and smell overwhelm me again for just a moment, “Hang on, love.”
I furrow my brow in confusion, and look down at my arm held in his firm, strong hand. I look up into the face of this man, his sultry features are amused, and I then finish my cataloguing by turning to face the street in front of me, still about twenty feet away. There aren’t many cars passing, but the three I see crawl by are on the wrong side of the street.
“You’ve got to stay with me, Fin. The confundus charms are bound to be close by; I’ll help you.”
The fucking what?
Where the hell is everyone?
I feel a small fissure of alarm, activating my muscles. I snap my head between the dark-haired man, to the street, and back to the man. I calmly start to extricate my arm from his grasp, playing it cool. If I don’t have to go full she-hulk on this guy, I don’t want to. He’s pretty damn fine.
I’m barely out of his hold when he moves to take my arm in hand again. His face is no longer amused, but veiled in confusion and a little concern. I pivot so that my back is now to the street, effectively putting a few feet of distance between us and avoiding his grasp. I stutter step quickly backwards, adding even more space, but I keep my tone light and my eyes on him as I let him know, “Not to be rude or anything, because you’re extremely good-looking and all, but don’t fucking touch me, maybe? It’s weird to touch people you don’t know.”
He immediately drops his hand. I frown. Fuck, I’m confused.
The dark-haired man clears his throat, “Fin, we came here together.”
What? “I don’t fucking know you,” I say, firmly. My head is starting to buzz a little, I should probably just go home. This is extremely strange.
“We came to meet your mum,” the wackjob says, taking a step toward me. “She’s right next door, Finnie.”
My mom? I take a few steps without thinking towards the building he indicated. At the corner of the alley and the sidewalk, it becomes clear that it’s an abandoned laundromat. “What?” My voice sounds shrill, “Why the hell is she in there?” My head really hurts now. I drop my chin and press the heel of my hand between my eyes, trying to alleviate some of the sharpness and buzzing.
“I…I just-,” I can’t seem to form a complete thought, “I want to just go home, I think.” As soon as this occurs to me, the pain eases. Yes, I think going home is the right call.
But the aggravating alley-man won’t shut the fuck up, “Everyone is in there waiting on you, Fin, you can’t just leave without at least telling them you’re going.” He makes a fair point. But wait-
“Everyone?” my head whirls around as I face him. His face is still extremely handsome, but he looks amused again which is irritating as hell. “Even Sam?” I ask, my heart lifting just a smidge at the thought. He’s been cooped up in the hospital so much, it must be a big deal for him to be out with Mom.
An expression flits across his face momentarily, and I think its shock but it was so brief I can’t be sure, before he says with a firmer tone, “Yes, even Sam. He’s in there, waiting for you. The shop isn’t what it looks like, obviously.”
I nod a little numbly, the buzzing has resumed full force. But, squaring my shoulders and wincing through the discomfort, I march right up the sidewalk to the dilapidated storefront. I don’t even take pause at the ‘Closed’ sign in the window before I swing the door open calling, “Sammy?”
“No luck here, gorgeous,” Tom the barman calls back to me from his post behind the clean but dingy mahogany bar. He’s cleaning a pint glass with a grey rag, but smiling a toothy grin that’s full of holes. The place is deserted, I observe while my faculties return to me. Empty mismatched chairs and red plastic-covered stools sit amongst pine and mahogany tables, their stain etched and scraped off from time and use.
Sirius crowds me from behind and places his warm hands on my shoulders in order to migrate my ass farther into the Leaky Cauldron.
I realize I have no idea how I got from the motorcycle to here. It must have been the anti-muggle charms, I gather…they must have gotten me good. It’s an incredibly disorienting feeling, actually. I’m not particularly enjoying it. I can feel the remnants of some adrenaline in my system, along with a buzzing in my ears which is beginning to fade.
I smile what I hope is a charmingly apologetic smile as Sirius moves around me to lead the way across the space. “Well, we made it, right?” I quip, “I wasn’t too bad, was I?”
Sirius barely glances back at me before continuing to move forward past Tom. “No,” he says in a distant, uninterested voice, “No trouble at all. Let’s get there quick, though.”
My smile fades a little. “Yeah,” I respond, “Yeah, of course.”
Chapter 11: A Horrifying Chorus
Sirius Black is feeling more than a little foolish. His mood has taken an extreme nosedive after what was practically a euphoric ride on his Harley. The warm London air had been whipping through his hair, the feel of pure speed and power was at his fingertips, and a beautiful girl had been holding him close…
Fuck, I am an idiot.
He’s leading the way past Tom, to the back of the bar where they can enter Diagon Alley through the usual entrance. He’s steadily avoiding the gaze of the young muggle woman behind him, his thoughts churning.
Sam. Fucking Sammy. Of course she has a Sam, he thinks. He can’t honestly believe he hadn’t once questioned how this beautiful, sexy, fun, funny woman would be available for him-
For him to what? Flirt with? Ride his motorcycle with? He’s never had another woman on his bike, he thinks angrily. No witch or muggle or otherwise has ever accompanied him on his Harley for a joyride. Before Azkaban, his motorcycle may have turned heads, but ultimately it was for him.
You never thought another woman would appreciate it like she does.
His memory flits back to just the last half-hour: Finnie gradually getting comfortable and holding him closer as they rode through the city. She clearly loved to ride; he could feel her smiling against his back, and she had practically shrieked with glee every time he sped up unnecessarily or weaved between obstacles with cavalier recklessness.
Sirius shoulders open the door at the back of the bar with a bit more force than was strictly necessary. He holds it open with his outstretched boot, one hand shoved deep in his jeans pocket. Finnie breezes past him with an eyebrow raised behind her ridiculous mirrored sunglasses, her heels clicking on the hardwood and then on the brick. His stomach, which had sunk to his feet as soon as she had uttered ‘Even Sam?’ gives another lurch as her scent wafts past – buttery vanilla and sharp cherries.
It isn’t her fault, he reminds himself, that she was forced to leave all of those loved ones behind and join them in this war. Sure, she had ultimately chosen to stay but he was behaving like a perverted old man. He winces internally.
Striding between two trash cans, Sirius lifts his wand and taps the appropriate bricks in the wall in front of them. His musings continue as the bricks spin and swirl apart, forming the archway to Diagon Alley. He barely registers Finnie’s small gasp.
Part of him feels a little stubborn. She really should have mentioned something about this Sam earlier, in his opinion. But, it occurs to him, perhaps it has been too painful. She’s been doing remarkably well getting on with everyone thus far, but she has definitely not divulged a lot of information regarding her personal life. It may have been completely intentional.
Sirius sighs to himself. He ought to thank her, at least a little, for waking his arse up the way she has. Her inability to not throw herself body and soul into every activity and every interaction with the people around her has forced him to remember how good it feels to do just that. Even now, she’s practically twittering with excitement, her head whipping in all directions as she tries to take in every detail of the quaint shops and kiosks that make up Diagon Alley.
Watching her try to keep her mouth from bubbling out commentary regarding everything she sees is downright adorable, and Sirius feels that disappointment finally settle around his heart. Finnie-the-muggle was reawakening Sirius to his own zest for life, and he wasn’t quite ready to back off completely and let that all go just yet.
His disappointment is tangible, and the vibe between them has significantly cooled. Sirius finds himself wishing he could just start over, take back all of the flirtatious bullshit and just get to know her a bit better.
If nothing else…I guess I can be – her friend?
Sirius’ body seems to almost physically reject the thought, and he feels nauseous.
Completely oblivious to the tumult of his emotions, her initial excitement having waned a little, the girl sidles up closer to him and says in an undertone, “I wish I could’ve been dragged back a couple extra years – before Voldemort got resurrected or whatever.” He raises an eyebrow as he looks down at her – he’s good six inches taller, even with her heels – and she glances up at him and sighs, “Sorry, I just mean this place was described as really vibrant and busy and shit. But now…”
She isn’t wrong. Any witches or wizards out doing some shopping are flitting between the stores without loitering in the street at all. Half of said stores are boarded up at the windows. There’s a tension in the air, a distinct sense of danger lurking.
“You know,” he says in a low voice, trying to ignore the smell of vanilla swinging from her hair as they walk side by side through the near-empty street, “I don’t know that I’ve seen it that way for several decades.”
Finnie has been keeping a very sharp eye on her surroundings, an almost auror-like vigilance that appears to be an auto-pilot of hers he hadn’t before noticed. But at his words she turns to face him and raises an eyebrow in question. “This-,” he hesitates, trying to find the word, “-climate you’re noticing was one that had been growing since even my final year at Hogwarts, over twenty years ago.”
“And,” he goes on, facing forward and narrowing his eyes on what appears to be a bright, colorful entity at the end of the block, “When it reformed, became safe again, I was unfortunately already in prison.”
He can feel Finnie’s gaze on his profile as they near what he is beginning to think is their destination. She studies him, and eventually mutters, “Well, fuck. I hadn’t ever thought of it that way.”
He grins down at her briefly, but changes the subject. With a chin lift in the direction they’re headed he asks her, “That isn’t what I think it is, is it?”
She whips her head forward, and, slowly, a brilliant smile begins to stretch across her face. Suddenly impatient, she grabs his sleeve and begins – there’s really no other word for it, the bird was frolicking – towards the shop with a quickened pace, squealing, “YesyesYES – let’s go let’s go let’s go LET’S GO-!”
Looming, four stories tall, is the most wild, colorful shop in the whole of Diagon Alley. Its walls are painted lavender, with splashes of every other color twinkling and whirring in the windows. Where the rest of the streets are anxious and sparsely populated, the cobblestones in front of Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes are packed with witches and wizards of all ages, clamoring for a look. Sirius’ attention is diverted by a particularly large purple poster on one wall as they approach, which exclaims:
“Why Are You Worrying About You-Know-Who?
You SHOULD Be Worrying About U-No-Poo!
The Constipation Sensation That’s Gripping The Nation!”
Sirius gives a great bark of laughter at this, and he begins searching the crowd in particular for Molly, whose reaction he has got to see.
Finnie has let go of his sleeve in order to physically toss aside some of the children jostling to get inside the shop. “Out of the way – Out of the way, youths!” She’s yelling shrilly at anyone daring to get between her and the shop entrance, “V-I-fuckin’-P, coming through! FRED! GEORGE!” She appears to have caught sight of the twins farther inside, “SAVE ME A NOSEBLEED NOUGAT, I’M SERIOUS!”
A freckled hand seems to appear out of nowhere from inside the doorway and grabs hold of Finnie’s outstretched forearm. As one of the twins hauls her bodily inside she shrieks with a face masked in pure delight, “Oh my god, you guys, THIS PLACE IS FUCKING AMAZING!”
Her excitement is mirrored on every other face he can see both in and out of the shop. It’s downright contagious, he can feel his muscles and blood thrum with it. Despite looking a bit daft, he can’t seem to wipe the grin off of his face.
That is, of course, until he spots Remus and Tonks about ten meters away, just on the outskirts of the crowd. They are having what appears to be an extremely tense conversation. Sirius briefly considers pretending he hadn’t noticed them. But with a resigned sigh, he shoves his other hand in his pocket and begins striding through the outer layer of the crowd towards where his best mate and cousin are having yet another lovers’ quarrel.
Tonks looks close to tears as he approaches, and he most definitely regrets walking over. “I’m so sick of this conversation, Remus,” she hisses at Mooney, whose back is stiff from where Sirius can see him. “You’ve got nothing but excuses, and I’m really starting to think the bottom line is that you regret--”
“Of course I regret it, ‘Dora!” Remus practically snaps back, “But not because of you! Because of me and my—”
She looks as though he’s slapped her. “Stop,” she wheezes out, sounding pained. “Just stop, I-,” she takes a deep shuddering breath, “I get it, okay? I’ll leave you alone.” Barely sparing Sirius a sideways glance, she makes a beeline for the shop and is almost immediately engulfed in the crowd.
Mooney shoves his hands into his greying hair, and seems frozen to the spot, vibrating with clear frustration. Sirius continues to approach him, but carefully, rounding the man until he’s standing were Tonks had just been seconds before.
Lupin looks downright haggard. His face is contorted with self-doubt and anger. Sirius does a quick count in his head, and calculates that the full moon is only two days away, which certainly doesn’t help. Sirius stands there quietly for a minute, just visually assessing his friend. When it becomes clear that Lupin doesn’t intend to be the first to speak, Sirius drawls at him, “If she was a lousy shag, mate, you should just say so.”
Mooney’s head whips up, and for a moment Sirius thinks the werewolf may hit him. His hair is sticking up from where his fingers had been pulling at it, and his lightly scarred face is full of so much hopeless rage it’s a wonder he didn’t transform right on the spot.
“You know damn well—,” Mooney spits out, seething.
“That you’re acting like a martyred prat?” Sirius interrupts casually, withdrawing a hand from his pockets to inspect his fingernails. “Yes. I’m aware.”
Lupin’s face seems to fall, and his rage disappears almost as quickly as it had evolved. Mooney was never the hot-tempered one; that had always been James. Sirius feels a small pang of regret, for his rather blunt words.
“I know your heart is in the right place, mate,” Sirius mutters softly, replacing his hand in his pocket and averting his eyes from his friend’s rather deflated form. “I just wish you thought yourself deserving, is all. The rest of us do.”
Lupin winces, but raises a hand to flatten his demented hair. “Yes, I know,” he shoves his own hands in his pockets, as well. “You’re a good friend, Sirius.” Sirius just shrugs, knowing the conversation has essentially ended.
Remus clears his throat, but then mutters under his breath, “Before that, er, rather unfortunate sidebar occurred, Tonks did let me know that she and Moody had managed to destroy the locket horcrux that Regulus had retrieved.”
Sirius raised an eyebrow. That had been one of the first tasks they had embarked on after Finnie’s extremely detailed meeting with Dumbledore. Sirius and Lupin had wrangled the locket from Kreacher’s hidey-hole, and turned it over to Moody and Dumbledore to destroy.
Sirius and Remus had drunk quite a bit of firewhiskey that evening at the Hog’s Head. Sirius, because he had needed to come to terms with the fact that his brother had died doing the right thing by the side of the Light, and Lupin because…well, because of Tonks.
“What took them so bloody long?” Sirius asks petulantly, “We gave them that awful thing a week ago.”
Lupin just shrugs, “They probably experimented on it a bit-- you know Dumbledore.”
Sirius grumbles under his breath some more as the two wizards move slowly towards the joke shop to regroup with everyone. After a brief silence, Sirius remembers something and elbows his friend to get his attention as they move forward, step-by-step, in the queue to get inside, “Can muggles floo to Hogsmeade?”
Lupin frowns as they take another step forward, and shakes his head, “I sincerely doubt it. Hogsmeade is the only wizarding hamlet in the country; I don’t think there’s any way for Finnie to get in with all of the charms and spells erected around it.”
Sirius just grunts, he’d thought as much. Mooney decides to go a bit on the offensive, “Still pining for some extra quality time with our wee Finnie, are you Padfoot?”
Lupin watches as his friend’s shoulders straighten a bit defensively, but his mouth thins. “She’s got someone,” Sirius mutters quickly, with obvious reluctance, “Someone from her time. Sam.”
It’s clear that this was a recent discovery. Lupin had been quite enjoying witnessing his friend reemerge from the half-life he had been living, thanks to the arrival of the precocious muggle who seemed to know how to push all of his buttons. Sirius was laughing more than ever, he was acting like the life of the party once more, and most of all he was confidently flirting with a woman who Lupin could see making him very happy.
“Well, so what?” Remus lifts a challenging brow at his irritatingly handsome best mate, “He’s there, she’s here. And you’re here.”
Sirius scoffs, and he almost looks sixteen again, “Mooney, I’m not going to waste energy on a bird who’s pining for some other bloke, alright?”
Remus snorts. And from the corner of his eye, he can see a trio of women just on the inside of the shop door, all smiling behind their hands, attempting to get Sirius’ attention with sideways looks and flips of their hair. They’re a bit young, but reasonably pretty. It’s obvious they’ve been keeping an eye on Sirius this whole time he and Remus have been in the queue. One of them loudly giggles which starts a domino effect of the other two joining in until it’s a horrifying chorus.
But Sirius, who before prison was the consummate ladies’ man, isn’t even seeing them. He’s busy standing on tiptoe, gazing out over the crowd at a pale-haired, pretty chit in heeled boots. Her sunglasses pushing her riotous hair off of her face, she’s calmly reading the back of a product box while Fred or George frantically waves their wand, trying with increasing desperation to staunch the stream of blood from her nose, which appears to be flowing at an alarming rate.
“Yes, alright,” Lupin mutters, grinning at an unhearing Sirius, “We shall see how long that lasts.”
Chapter 12: Courtney Cox
Hermione appears suddenly before me; she’s so teeny it must be simpler for her to squeeze through the crowds. “What have you gone and done?” she demands of me, swatting aside Fred’s less than helpful wand.
I struggle to shrug at her with all the nonchalance I can muster, in reality I’m getting a bit lightheaded. “I just wanted to see what it was like, that’s all,” I huff out, airily.
Hermione raises an extremely judgmental dark eyebrow first at me, then at Fred, who winces. “We’ve never had a muggle try one before,” he mutters, looking down at his feet, “George’s in the back, trying to see if we’ve got any clotting potion leftover from when it was still in its tester stage.”
“I’m sure it’ll be fine,” I sway on my feet as I flick my wrist in a show of support, as though brushing off their concerns, “I have a really excellent immune system. Truly. Top-notch.”
Fred looks even more alarmed than he did a second ago. Hermione just mutters, “Oh, bother,” and pulls her wand out of her charming satin red clutch purse. Glancing briefly around us to gauge who all might be watching, she points the end of it directly towards my nostril and snaps, “Sanguinis Prohibis – finite!”
She squints for only a moment at my nose before muttering, “Scourgify,” and I see the red river Styx which had previously been on my face get sucked into the end of her wand. As I twitch it back and forth Bewitched-style, testing its range of motion, Fred abruptly seizes Hermione’s wrist from between the three of us and shakes her roughly.
“Hermione!” he hisses, “What are you thinking? You could be expelled!” He’s vigilantly scanning the windows, as though expecting a Ministry owl to come swooping in at any second.
“Relax, Fred,” Hermione snatches her hand back, and drops her wand into its spot in her still-open clutch. “Kingsley had the trace removed from me,” she clears her throat and looks down, fiddling with the clasp, “Just for today, that is.”
A small silence falls as Fred registers what she’s referring to, and our quiet trio is at an extreme odds to the rest of the chaotic store. Just as Fred opens his mouth to say something, George bursts through a wall of people to my left, clutching a pair of tampons.
“Oi! So we haven’t any of the potion left, but Angelina left a box of these bad boys in the flat upstairs and I figure logistically they can probably…” He trails off, seeing my gorgeously clean face. “Ah-,” he swallows, glancing quickly down at the feminine products in his hand, “I see you’ve solved it. Well done, then.”
“If you’re quite done waving those buggers around, George,” Tonks chimes in, as she’s suddenly at my shoulder, “Your shop assistants look like they’re going to begin weeping soon.”
George gives me a sheepish smile before placing one of the tampons behind his ear, holding the other out for Fred to do the same. “Right,” Fred says, jauntily placing his tampon behind the opposite ear, “Duty calls.” The twins are lost almost immediately in the surrounding masses as they resume their responsibilities as Weezes’ owners.
Tonks is staring at me. Her eyes are bulging a bit, and I can tell she’s absolutely bursting to say something but doesn’t want to in front of Hermione. I turn to look at the young witch still standing in front of me, and I brush some of her wayward curls back behind her ear. Her eyes are a little unfocused, but at my touch she seems to come back to herself. “You alright?” I ask, softly.
She had seemed to feel better after our talk, by the time Sirius had interrupted, that is. I didn’t tell her necessarily about the illnesses of my family members, or of my deal with Dumbledore; but I did tell her about my brothers, and my mother and father. Hearing about them, and how much I miss them, seemed to prompt her to talk about a lot of the residual fear she’s feeling about the schism between herself and her parents.
She hadn’t been wrong, I definitely understand. I feel determined to let her know that we’re a club, a team of sorts.
A team of voluntary orphans.
My stomach feels tight with the heartache and guilt – I don’t usually dwell on the loss of my people for this long of a time.
It’s my turn to become unfocused. I must have zoned out because I come back to myself when Hermione places a dainty forefinger between my eyes, and presses on the worried crease that’s formed there.
“Yes, Finnie,” she sighs, but gives me a small smile, “I’m as alright as you are.” I smile back, but Hermione’s attention is diverted by Ron and Harry shouting her name from some place against the wall of the shop, maybe ten feet away. I can only see the top of Ron’s hair.
“’MIONE!” Harry shouts.
“Harry, stop-,” we can hear Ron hiss.
“RON HAS FOUND SOMETHING-“
“NO, NO I HAVENT. IT’S NOTHING-”
“-SOMETHING YOU’VE REALLY GOT TO SEE-”
“Harry put it back, I swear to-“
There’s a scuffle, and Hermione looks thoroughly intrigued. She starts to dip between the gaps in the crowd, soon lost from sight as she migrates to where her best friends are struggling.
“Fucking finally,” I hear Tonks snap from over my shoulder, and her hands – and extremely fucking cold fingers, what the hell – grasp me by the upper arms from behind and begin to propel me in the direction of a relatively vacant corner of the store. I catch the briefest glimpse of Sirius and Lupin chatting with Fleur and Bill as I’m ferried past, the two men following our swift progression with raised brows.
We slow as we round some shelves stacked with muggle magic tricks, costumes, and store-bought illusions. “Is this how women come on to each other in Britain?” I quip at her, fingering a plain white mask with holes for eyes as we pass an assortment on a small carousel, “Is this the designated make-out corner? Because I have to tell you, the whole approach has been a bit aggressive, but I’m finding that I don’t mind.”
“Hush now,” she circles my body, coming to face me, but with her back to the wall so that she can observe the rest of the room. Her cold as shit fingers are still on my shoulders.
“Three things,” she holds up three fingers in front of me, and drops them one by one in demonstration, “One: No, I’m not going to snog you. You’re a laugh, but you’re not my type. My type is apparently grizzled, ball-less, flesh-craving, furry men who aren’t taller than me-”
“I think his name is pronounced: Ree…Miss…Loo-”
“Yes, fine. Hush now,” she snaps back, not appreciative of my helpful suggestions, “Two: this-,” she drops her hand to her canvas messenger bag slung across her body. Lifting the buckled flap, she dips inside and emerges immediately with a red stick, “-is yours.” She thrusts it into my hand, and I take a good look at it.
It’s my ‘wand.’ Dumbledore and Moody intend for me to carry around a fake wand in order to be disguised as thoroughly as possible, which makes sense I guess. It’s a fairly simple thing, carved as a single, polished slab up until you reach the handle which is-
“Hey,” I flip it over in my hand to show her the handle, “They fucking forgot to finish it. What the hell is all this?”
Tonks grins just barely, but says, “What do you mean?”
“I mean,” I shake the stick up under her nose, “They didn’t whittle it all the way or whatever, there’s still bark all over the handle.”
At this, Tonks actually snorts. Her hazel eyes are twinkling, and I know she’s noticed that my stick is different from all of their sticks. And that it’s weird.
“That’s the style,” she says, her nose wrinkled mockingly, “in the States. We figured your wand should reflect the style of wand from where you’re from so…” she gestures helplessly to it.
I pout. The handle feels funny, like an especially tactical grip. I look down at it in my hand, and study it further.
“It’s redwood, naturally,” Tonks explains, “but its core is actually squid. They use colossal squid cores in some of the wands over there along the west coast, so we figured its distant cousin could fool anyone, preliminarily.”
“Stupid…weird…uncircumcised, sushi wand…” I mutter, darkly. But I’m already fiddling with it, so I turn to my side and drop it into my slouchy leather bag. “What was the third thing?” I ask Tonks, turning back to her.
“Oh,” she looks a bit surprised that she forgot, “Yes, number three-,” she resumes holding up three fingers and says very importantly, “You’ve got to be my best mate.”
“I KNEW IT!” I shriek at her delightedly, “You are coming on to me! I’m flattered, babe, really, but I don’t want to have to fight a werewolf for the number one spot in your bed-“
“HUSH,” She closes her eyes and pinches the bridge of her nose, and I’m thinking she may already be reconsidering her decision to be good friends with me. I can’t quelch the bubble of excitement, though. I need friends.
“Whatever, I mean,” Tonks puts her hands on her hips, “I don’t have to explain myself to you. But, that’s that. I need someone to talk to about all…this…shit. And you’re it. Congratulations.”
I feel surprisingly giddy. Tonks is incredibly funny, and while it’s been great having the support of the kids since I’ve arrived (yes, Fred and George are kids they’re fucking nineteen), it would be so fucking amazing to have someone to talk to who is my age. But I am curious…
“Why?” I blurt out, suddenly. She looks a little hurt, and I hurry to expand on my outburst, “Not that I’m not super into it – being friends, and all. Lord knows talking to sixteen year olds isn’t the same, but I was just wondering, why?”
Her face changes and she looks thoughtful. Her pink hair is a deep shade today, almost red, with matching eyebrows and eyelashes. She looks supremely cool, very punk. Plus she’s an auror, so even though she doesn’t know it, I held what is essentially the muggle-equivalent to her job twenty years from now. The more I think about it, the more excited I get.
Yay! I won’t have to be fucking alone, maybe.
“I guess it occurred to me when I saw how you are with Moody…and how you and Sirius have been getting on,” my heart sinks a little, and it must have shown on my face because she hurries to say, “It’s been really great, watching him with you. I don’t know if you realize, but he and I are cousins. And-”
“What do you mean, how we’ve been getting on?” My gut had spasmed the second she had uttered that phrase, and I can’t seem to stop the word vomit, “Because one second he’s fucking flirty and weird and nice, and the next he’s super cold and distant and does not seem to like me, and I don’t know if he’s said anything to you, but you’re MY friend now and you have to fucking tell me if he does because cousin or not, that’s what loyalty means-,”
She’s laughing. Stupid bitch hasn’t been my friend for two minutes and she’s fucking laughing at me.
“Oh sweet Circe,” she giggles, holding her stomach and wiping at one eye, “Is that what I’ve been sounding like this whole time? No wonder Mad-Eye and Molly look like they want to curse off my left tit-”
Immediately to the left of Tonks, there is a display of handheld muggle funhouse mirrors. In one of the mirrors, though terribly distorted, I see a figure approaching our corner which sends a fissure of recognition through my unconscious. I’ve never met him before, but I’m positive of who he is.
And I need to talk to him.
“Tonks,” I say in a low voice, but she’s still laughing. “Tonks,” I hiss, and she shuts up. I tear my eyes off the reflection in order to look up into her face, she’s like two inches taller than me, even with my heels. “If we’re friends now, that means that you trust me,” I continue fast and low, “And if you trust me, I need to you to disguise yourself. Like, now.”
With zero hesitation, the flesh of her face begins to reform like candle wax, and her short tufts of pink immediately shoot for her shoulders and darken. Within two seconds, she’s got bright blue eyes and black, flippy hair. Just before the man turns the corner, I have to suppress a laugh.
Tonks has turned herself into Courtney Cox.
I dart my arm out, intimately link it with hers, and face the shelves directly in front of us. As the tall, stately wizard emerges fully into view, leading the way cane-first, I glance up at him as though I was just reading the instructions on a pack of pinochle cards.
His piercing gaze finds mine, and I repress a shiver. However, I look back boldly. This is one of the opportunities that Moody would fully expect me to take advantage of. Beside me I feel Tonks stiffen imperceptivity, but in order to keep his attention on me, I offer a wide, dazzling smile.
“Why, Lucius Malfoy, this is the last place I would have thought to have run into a wizard such as yourself,” I practically quip at him. I’m attempting to give the impression of almost blinding cheerfulness, but, internally, my instincts have awoken and are beginning to swirl around my insides, looking for an opening.
If he’s taken aback by my forwardness, he doesn’t show it. The Death Eater gives no outward sign of acknowledgement but to flit his eyes just barely between the pair of us, perhaps attempting to recall our faces. He says in a low, aristocratic drawl that clearly gives the impression that I had better have had an extremely good reason for addressing him, “I don’t believe that I’ve had the pleasure.” He sneers just slightly, and I feel a little dirty when his gaze becomes appraising. His eyes move down my body with unabashed ease, “Miss…?”
I raise an eyebrow with a grin as though admonishing him, but I extend my hand, the one not intertwined in Tonks’ arm, “Sjofn…Sjofn Kent.”
Get it? Kent? As in, Clark Kent? Ha.
A flash of recognition at my name appears in his eyes, and he extends his large hand to grasp the tips of my fingers with the tips of his fingers. Very proper.
“Ah, yes…” he’s fully assessing me now, “Our American guest.” He straightens his stance, holding his cane directly in front on him, both hands on the handle, “My understanding is that you are to accompany Viktor Krum to my wife’s soiree later this week.” He says Krum’s name with a snappish tone, as though he’s still reserving judgement on the man. I keep my face calm and friendly as he goes on, “And your taciturn companion is…?” He transfers his piercing gaze to Tonks.
Similar to his portrayal in film, Lucius Malfoy is almost fox-like. His features are sharp and pointy, from his widow’s peak to his chin. Nothing about his demeanor is particularly friendly, but at this point I just have to do my best not to set off any of his alarm bells. The majority of my illusion is incomplete without Krum with me, but I can maybe set a couple of things in motion here ahead of time.
“This is my tour guide for the day-,” I rest my unoccupied hand on Tonks’ forearm and look at her, smiling, “-Amal Clooney. She attended Durmstrang with Viktor, you know.” Hope to fuck he would not, in fact, know, “She’s kindly agreed to entertain me while he attends to other appointments.” Tonks, to her eternal credit, doesn’t bat or flutter a single eyelash. Courtney Cox’s face is composed and cold, precisely how a dark-arts aficionado from Durmstrang should look.
“Eet ees vedy gud to meetyu’,” Tonks warbles out, in an oddly convincing Bulgarian accent.
Lucius smiles thinly at her, but turns his attention back to me. “I must warn you, my dear, you’ve already become quite the topic of discussion between my wife and her friends.” No shit. By her friends, he means his friends. And by his friends, he means other Death Eaters. “I worry they will have a great many… questions for you.”
Oh yeah, I’m sure you’ve got questions you creepy soulless bastard.
I smile, despite the veiled threat, and look at him meaningfully as I respond, “Oh, I’m certain she will, Mr. Malfoy. But I’m also certain I’m prepared to answer any questions she can think up.” I brighten my smile, just a tad, “Believe it or not, my colleagues from back in the States equipped me with a number of questions as well.”
At this moment, a great paper origami parrot swoops overhead. It opens its flimsy beak and lets forth a cackling cry that resonates throughout the store. “LAST CALL,” it screeches, “LAST CALL! TAKE YOUR PURCHASES TO THE REGISTER, EMPTY YOUR POCKETS,” another screech, “LAST CALL!”
Lucius Malfoy is staring at it with open disdain. With a regal inclination of his head, he mutters to me, “Until this Saturday, Miss Sjofn,” and withdraws behind the shelves with a swoosh of his cloak. Before he fully disappears however, I hear him snap, “Draco! We’re leaving.”
All the air in my body leaves me in a great huff. Breathing hard through my nose, I force Tonks to keep frozen with me using the firm grip I’ve got of her left arm. I count to thirty before I begin to move swiftly for the exit, Tonks in tow.
“What in the bloody hell-,” she begins to hiss at me.
“Shh,” I snap back. We’re not far enough away yet.
Down the street, amid the dispersing crowd, stands our squad. Sirius, Lupin, Bill, Fleur, Harry, Ginny, Ron, Hermione, and Mr. and Mrs. Weasley are all scanning the mass of people, looking for us. Tonks, still in disguise, halts me abruptly as I was preparing to swing pass them in an effort to maintain the secrecy of my identity and affiliations.
“Malfoy went the opposite direction,” she grunts, answering my unasked question, “towards Knockturn Alley. Now what in Neptune’s balls was that about?”
“Malfoy?” Harry starts looking over our shoulders, trying to catch a glimpse of his nemesis.
“Tonks?” Lupin asks a little weakly; he is staring at Courtney Cox with some alarm. Sirius says nothing, but watches us approach with a coolly distant expression.
Tonks slides a look of contempt at Lupin while she shifts back to normal, but as soon as she’s fully morphed she turns back to face me and demands, “Well?”
Well, shit. Dumbledore or Moody or someone should have told them about this.
“Krum was invited to the Malfoy’s thingy because they’re recruiting him to be a Death Eater,” I fold my arms in front of my chest a little defensively. I’m keeping my eyes on Tonks, but beside me I can hear Ron splutter and Hermione gasp at this new tidbit of information.
Tonks looks thoroughly peeved at me and doesn’t let up, “Yes, I’m aware of that. He’s supposed to try to use that connection to help the Order. What I want to know is what the fuck it has to do with you.”
Bill and Arthur are starting at me with hard expressions, and I’m thinking they already know the answer. Harry, Ginny, Ron, and Hermione, bless their hearts, just look confused.
I would really rather prefer we not have this conversation in the middle of the fucking street, but fine.
“Well,” I say as firmly as I can, “I’m going as his date. To help.”
Sirius inhales extremely sharply through his nose; Lupin turns to Tonks and demands, “Mad-Eye didn’t say anything about this?” Molly, Ron, Ginny, and Hermione look struck dumb. Bill is pinching the bridge of his nose with his thumb and his forefinger, and Arthur looks almost nauseous. Harry however, snaps at me, his green eyes flashing behind his glasses, “You’re going to get killed.”
I turn to the messy-haired wizard. High splotches of color have appeared on his cheeks, and he looks a little bit like he wants to shake me until my teeth rattle. Rather than getting angry back at him, I do my best to take his concern to heart and say as calmly as I can, “No, I won’t.”
“Yes, you will,” Harry raises his voice even more, “They’ll be able to tell. And when they find out you’re a muggle, they’re going to kill you.” His hands are fists at his sides, “Are you even trying to help? Because you’re basically just handing yourself over-”
“Harry,” Sirius suddenly growls, his teeth bared, “That’s enough.”
Harry seems ready to open his mouth to retort but I’ve had plenty of that. I may not be able to show them exactly why I’m not a fucking doormat, but they should have more faith.
Muggles aren’t just ants waiting to be crushed.
“I’m not going to tell you why,” I rumble at him, feeling extremely pissed off, “I’m not going to fucking explain myself, but you are going to have to trust…me,” I bite out these last words, wanting this fucking conversation to end. Everyone goes quiet.
Harry looks mildly surprised at my vehemence, but I can tell his anger hasn’t completely cooled.
But then, softly, Hermione chimes in, “I trust you, Finnie.”
Abruptly, Sirius spins on his heel and storms off, away from everyone in the direction of the Leaky Cauldron. After a moment’s hesitation, Harry jogs after him. The younger wizard aims a slightly apologetic look at me over his shoulder as he struggles to catch up with his godfather.
The irritation I had only begun to feel flares into all-out anger.
What an asshole.
“I theenk it eez good that she weel be weeth Viktor,” Fleur chooses this moment to give her two cents, Bill’s arm slung about her shoulders. “He weel need all the support he can get ‘aving to be weeth all those ‘orrible people.”
I sniff injuredly, “Thank you, Fleur.”
I hear Bill start whispering urgently into Fleur’s ear, and whatever he says makes her frown. However, I choose instead to look sidelong at the woman who had only just appointed me her best friend.
“Are you angry?” I ask her softly, “Do you want to storm off, too?”
Tonks is standing very stiff, with her arms crossed in front of her tightly, staring at the ground. At my words her hazel eyes flash up to meet mine, her mouth set in a grim line. Lupin looks conflicted, he keeps glancing behind him at Sirius and Harry’s retreating forms, as though he should follow, but stays close to Tonks instead.
Tonks, though, is holding my eyes. “Moody and Dumbledore approved this?” she clips out.
I hold her eyes, but then choose to look to everyone else in our small huddle in turn as well. Ginny’s jaw is set in an aggravated clench as she watches Harry’s shrinking silhouette. “It was their idea,” I tell them all, unable to keep a small note of exasperation out of my voice.
“I promise,” I turn fully back to Tonks, practically begging her to trust me, “I’m not going to fuck this up and die. I promise.”
Her hard expression has relaxed at my words, everyone’s has, really. Her eyes soften and she says, “Ok, Finnie. If you say so.”
Thank fuck no one else decides to chime in. Everyone is silent.
After a few seconds, Lupin clears his throat. “Finnie,” he says hesitantly, “Sirius mentioned it earlier-,” he winces at Sirius’ name, since he’s being such a flaming asshat right this moment, “-but I don’t think it’s possible for you to get near Hogsmeade for our dinner.” He looks downright apologetic as he explains, “I’ve just talked it over with Arthur and Bill as well, and we’re fairly certain there will be wards in place preventing you from apparating or flooing onto the premises.”
My heart sinks. Oh, damn.
It must have shown on my face because Molly is suddenly hurrying towards me, Ginny by her side, “Oh dear, I’m so terribly sorry! It’s just so late now to try to get another reservation, and we really should have been more careful.”
Ginny pushes herself into my side until I’m forced to lift my arm and place it about her shoulders, “You will come with us next time, Fin.” She holds out her hand, palm-up, and I take from her a paper football folded from a chocolate frog wrapper. “Fred and George will have loads of anniversaries to celebrate,” she looks up at me hopefully.
“…the ghost of his last laugh still etched upon his face.”
Will they, though?
Slightly disturbed by the trend of my darkened thoughts, I take a deep breath and smile at everyone. “Well that works out just fine, because I’m suddenly in the mood to get very, very drunk.”
“Excellent!” Tonks announces, “I’ll help you.” She extricates me from Ginny’s hold, “Give the boys our love, tell them we owe them a drink,” she says merrily to Molly and Arthur. “In fact, if you get back to Grimmauld Place before we’ve gone out, I shall be happy to suggest they accompany us to make up for our lapse in celebration.”
Lupin looks as though he wants to say something, but Tonks starts firmly guiding me away from the group. Molly and Arthur say some words of farewell, and the kids all give rueful smiles as they begin to march in the direction of the Leaky Cauldron, belatedly following the path of Sirius and Harry. A second later, however, I hear, “Weel zere be dancing?” Fleur has stayed rooted to the spot, not following Bill and the rest of the Weasleys, and appears to be addressing Tonks and me.
“Uh,” I say, sliding a glance to Tonks, “Yeah, there might be.”
She nods determinedly, causing her silver hair to ripple and catch the fading light. I see Bill watching it as she turns to him and says, “Bill, I weel be going dancing, I theenk.” Bill shakes his head a little to clear it, but stoops to kiss her forehead and murmurs, “Alright, darling.” Before he can say much else, however, Mrs. Weasley has doubled-back in order to take his arm, “That’s quite all right dear,” she says cheerfully to Fleur, “You go and have a good time. The boys will like for it to be a more intimate family affair, anyway.” Giving us one last wave, she trots after her husband with her eldest son frowning down at her.
Fleur gives him one last, lingering look before marching over to where Tonks and I have been standing, frozen. Her beautiful, flawless face is marred with irritation. “We weel go dancing,” she clips out, “But first, we weel ‘ave some drinks.”
Chapter 13: Slightly Lethal To People Like Myself
“Turn my hair purple,” I demand to Tonks, pointing at my own head with the hand not holding a glass of gin and tonic.
The three of us – Tonks, Fleur, and I – are in the first-floor den of Grimmauld Place. After spending the last hour mixing and matching all of my new clothes into suitable sexy-but-not-slutty bar attire, we’ve migrated upstairs due to the overwhelming stench of hairspray which had refused to be ventilated from my basement bedroom.
“Why?” Tonks sniffs from her seat in a vast, velvet, burgundy armchair. She’s reached over to the copper end table beside the chair in order to pour another two fingers of firewhiskey into her tumbler, “You’ve got very pretty hair.”
“Eet eez true,” Fleur mumbles from her seat on the floor next to the fireplace. She has been flipping through my phone’s playlist trying to find something suitable for the last ten minutes. “Eet of course does not ‘ave the strength and shine like the ‘air of a veela,” she sniffs, scrolling, “but eet eez a nice color, I suppose.” She had insisted once we moved upstairs that it was now her turn to pick the music. While getting dressed, she seemed to be struggling to get as hype as I was during Mistah F.A.B.’s “Still Feelin’ It,” which is my go-to get-sexy song.
The French bombshell has kept relatively quiet since we apparated back to the front stoop of Grimmauld Place. Her only verbal contributions have been to wrinkle her nose and sigh as she held my clothes up to her more petite form, and to declare herself the newly crowned dictator of music. My sincere hope is, now that she’s on her second glass of Riesling, she’ll start loosening the fuck up.
“That’s lovely of you to say,” I tell her. I’m standing near the open door to the den, in front of a handsome full-length, oak-trimmed mirror. I’ve chosen a simple ensemble of high-waisted black shorts, a hot pink spaghetti-strapped tank top, and a very sheer black, collared, long-sleeve blouse tucked into said shorts. The shorts make my average legs look long and cool, and I’ve chosen some open-toed black wedges which do not suck in the least. I’ve bedecked myself with a couple of bracelets in addition to my jewelry from earlier, also charmed for my protection. But I’d feel a lot better, I think, if I’m just a bit unrecognizable.
It wouldn’t matter as much if I hadn’t straight-up introduced myself to a Death Eater today. But, even though I fully intend to keep to muggle hang-out spots, having someone put two and two together by seeing me with Tonks, Fleur, and potentially other Weasleys, would be completely catastrophic to the agenda Krum and I will be attempting to accomplish in two nights. Some things are just too important to fuck up for a night of drinking and dancing.
“I gotta start going incognito when I hang out with you Order weirdos,” I elaborate. “I’m not sure how long I’m going to need to use whatever advantage Viktor and I gain, but I don’t want to fuck it up.”
Tonks stands from the chair and makes her way across the dark rug to stand behind me. She’s wearing some strategically-torn jean shorts along with my bedazzled, camouflage-colored, long-sleeved tee. She pulls out her wand and makes eye contact with me in the mirror. “You’re thinking ahead,” she mutters and grins ruefully, “I’m feeling better about it already.” With a wordless spell, she curls the tips of my hair along her wand like a curling iron, and lavender coloring begins creeping its way up to my roots.
“Zis eez ‘opeless!” Fleur suddenly exclaims, “I do not recognize any of zis musique!” With a petulant toss of her hair, she clicks the shuffle button and flops the phone back onto the floor. As she rises, wineglass in hand, Sean Paul’s “Get Busy” starts pumping through my speakers and she pauses, listening. Her eyes narrow and she lifts her glass to her lips as she considers the song. Her hips sway just slightly in my gauzy, light pink romper, her nude wedges locked in place on the floor. “Zis weel do,” I hear her sniff.
“There-,” Tonks reclaims my attention in the mirror, “-done.” I assess my appearance; I look a bit like a Rainbow Brite doll. Fleur folds herself delicately onto the thick rug beside a coffee table in the center of the room and begins expertly shuffling a deck of cards I had scrounged from atop the mantle.
I grin at Tonks in thanks. “I look a bit like that annoying preteen in Sailor Moon,” I tell her.
“Non,” Fleur snaps from her position a few feet away. Her glass clinks as she sets it back down on the table, her focus on the cards, “Chibiusa’s ‘air eez more peenk.”
Um, excuse me?
I pirouette slowly away from the mirror in order to face the French woman. Tonks is flopping back down into her previous chair, situated near a corner of the coffee table. I slowly step my way toward them both until I’m very close to Fleur.
Swiftly dropping to my knees beside her, bringing my face only inches from her face, I open my eyes wide and struggle to keep my voice even, “Do you perhaps watch anime, Fleur?”
Her eyes widen and a blush mars her cheeks. She glances over at me with a suspicious look, and I wiggle my eyebrows at her. “Tuxedo mask,” I fan my face, “Hoo boy.” Her eyes narrow, and I mutter out quickly, “If only Bill were into cosplay, amiright?”
“Eet eez none of your business!” she shoves at me, nearly spilling my drink. I can’t help it, I’m laughing in her damn face.
“What?” Tonks yells over my laughter and Fleur’s continued huffs of irritation, “What is anime? What’s so funny?’
“Eet eez an extremely sophisticated-,” Fleur begins, but I interrupt her with a wail, “It’s- it’s… it’s cartoons!” I have to wipe my eyes at this point, because Fleur looks as though I’ve insulted not only her, but each and every one of her extremely volatile veela ancestors.
Still giggling, I sit up more securely – still on the floor – but I grin at her good-naturedly. “Remind me to show you ‘Attack on Titan’ later,” my smile widens as her haughty face becomes interested despite herself, “I’ve got some episodes downloaded on my phone. I think you’ll really like it.”
“I’ve got to be more drunk than this,” Tonks suddenly announces. The woman must have an amazing tolerance for liquor; she’s definitely on her third class of firewhiskey. “If you lot are expecting me to walk into a muggle club and act like I intend to dance,” she points a finger between Fleur and I, warningly, “You better make certain that I’m good and sloshed.”
I rise up off of the floor and make my way to the copper rolling bar situated behind an elegant, burgundy, velvet couch, which matches Tonks’ chair. “We could watch zis show of Sjofn’s,” Fleur suggests coyly, “and continue drinking as we watch eet.” I grab the bottle of gin, the only truly recognizable liquor outside of the firewhiskey which Tonks has already commandeered. “What?” Tonks wrinkles her nose at Fleur, “And drink every time a couple of cartoon characters snog? I don’t think so.”
Fleur swings her stunning hair over her shoulder arrogantly, “Bill theenks eet eez a most romantic show.” She sniffs, “He would drink weeth me and watch eet.”
I snatch a spare tumbler from the top of the rolling bar and make my way back around the couch to the coffee table. “Bill-,” Tonks clips out in an authoritative tone, “-is what we in the British wizarding community would refer to as whipped-”
Before Fleur can retort, her mouth is already open in an angry ‘O’, I smack the empty tumbler hard in the middle of the coffee table. Folding myself back down onto the carpet indian-style, I place the gin beside it with more reverence.
In a rush, I inform them, “Unfortunately ‘Attack on Titan’ isn’t a very suitable drinking show unless you would like to have hallucinations of monsters with fucked up, tic-tac teeth. BUT-,” I continue more brightly, “We can still play games. What should we play?”
Tonks looks puzzled and snaps out, “Can we play the how-the-fuck-do-you-plan-to-stay-alive-in-Malfoy-Manor game? Because I have a feeling you won’t win.”
“No,” I smile sweetly at her, “I mean like a card game. Or a shitty, girly bonding game.”
“Oooh,” Fleur bounces excitedly and snatches back up the cards and begins to shuffle, “We could play ze game of ‘Unicorns and Trolls’.” Tonks is already nodding. “That’s a good one,” she mumbles.
I furrow my brow irritatedly and say, “So I don’t fucking know that game. What about ‘Kings’? Do witches and wizards play ‘Kings’?”
Both of them are already shaking their heads. Fuck.
“ ‘Fair or Foul’?” Tonks suggests. “It’s where you try to guess if the person telling a story about something they’ve done is lying or not.” I nod slowly, sipping my drink, but Fleur shakes her head in a negative.
“Well we have to play games,” I tell them, exasperatedly. “It’s the whole part of the pregaming process. The linguistics fairy will come and curse us with ugly men and bathroom faux-pas if we do not honor her with games.”
I squint my eyes at each of them, and reach forward with exaggerated slow motion. I pour a shot of gin into the empty tumbler, and say very seriously, “We’re going to play a game...” Tonks looks like she’s about to interrupt so I whip my new ‘wand’ out of my pocket and gesture at her threateningly. She raises a hand palm-up in surrender, and I continue, “…A VERY DANGEROUS GAME...”
Fleur’s silver eyebrows shoot up on her face while she sucks away at the remnants of her glass of wine.
As though performing a hand dance, I sashay my wrist and twirl each of my five fingers upwards until they’re standing at attention. “The loser-,” I hiss in a low voice, dropping each finger one by one to illustrate how one loses, “-takes the shot.” I incline my head to the tumbler of gin on the table.
Fleur wrinkles her nose at it, but a slow, mischievous smile creeps up on Tonks’ face.
“The game is called…,” I pause for effect, and take the tumbler of my remaining mixed drink and gulp it down in one go. Slamming my now empty-glass onto the table, I finish, “…Never. Have. I. Ever.”
Approximately one hour later, I’m face-down in the carpet, one of my hands is bandaged, and I’m screaming with laughter.
Yes, I am drunk.
“H-h-how…?” I can’t even manage the sentence. I’m clutching my side and gasping for air. My face hurts.
Beside me, Fleur is faring no better. Her ladylike tinkling laughter keeps getting punctuated with spectacularly unladylike snorts. “Eet eez-,” she breaks into guffaws again, “- so funny-”
“It is not,” Tonks snaps at us from her new position on the floor. She’s lying down, her arm covering her eyes in shame. She had taken the most recent shot as hers was the final finger to fall – we’re on like round 5, I believe. But unfortunately…
“How-,” I gasp, my eyes streaming, “-did you confuse the word threesome, for treehouse?”
“I’M FUCKING DRUNK, I DON’T KNOW,” Tonks wails from her prone position on the floor as Fleur deals with renewed hiccups of laughter.
It had been my turn, and my confession had been “Never have I ever had a threesome.” But then, to my and Fleur’s extreme shock, Tonks had suddenly dropped her finger (indicating for all intents and purposes, that she had, in fact, had a threesome) and taken the shot in the middle of the table.
“Does Remus know?” I gasp out, essentially crying, “Is he comfortable with your adventurous past?” I duck as Tonks’ wand suddenly whips into view, and a hole is blasted out of the wall next to the mantle a few feet behind me. I laugh harder.
“D-d-deedn’t you k-know?” Fleur begins saying to me. She is slumped, holding her stomach with her legs splayed wide in front of her. “Eet w-was his idea in zee first place,” She falls back shrieking, her hair like a tidal wave falling onto the carpet. She must have cast a wordless shield charm between herself and Tonks, because another blast ricochets and takes a chip out of one of the feet of the sofa.
I start massaging my aching cheeks. “Oh my god,” I moan, “I think I’m gonna pee my pants.”
“As much as I would love to have that visual seared into my brain-,” a chortling voice says from the doorway somewhere above me.
“-it would be a shame to ruin such a lovely ensemble,” a second voice finishes. I lift myself up onto my hands and knees and am met with the sobering vision of Fred, George, Bill, Lupin, Harry, and Hermione standing in the doorframe of the den. “Did you find them?” I hear Ron calling from somewhere in the hall.
Shit. Where’s Sirius?
I peer between the gaps in their legs, trying to spot his garish motorcycle boots.
They’re not garish, you liar. They’re hot.
“Hullo...,” Tonks sighs, as though resolved to her fate. “Bill,” Fleur shrieks, sitting up quickly and bounding onto her now-stockinged feet. She practically throws herself across the room at her fiancé, landing like a chimpanzee ballerina into his open arms.
“Bill-,” she starts very seriously, staring up into his handsome face, “-eef I said I want your body now, would you hold eet against me?” She snorts at her own joke and buries her face in his chest. Ignoring his extremely startled look, she lifts her head again suddenly to whip it around, and points a threatening finger in my direction. “Play him ze song!” she cries.
“No,” Tonks declares, sitting up onto her knees a little unsteadily. “You made us play that bloody song about five times in a damn row-”
“Fleur I swear to god-,” I mumble out from between several locks of my now-lavender hair, “-if you make me listen to more of my own god damn Britney Spears music, I’m going to scream.”
“Feeneeee…” she whines.
“What’s wrong with your hand, Fin?” Harry interrupts Fleur. His face is almost exaggeratedly concerned, and I get the distinct impression he may be feeling a bit guilty for shouting at me earlier in Diagon Alley. I feel my stomach warm at the sight of him, Hermione, and Ron (who has squeezed his way in to stand next to Hermione). They’re such good kids…
“Oh, fuck,” I exclaim, struggling to sit up onto my knees. I smile at everyone in the doorway. “It was so totally insane,” I start babbling, “I don’t even know how to explain it. We had no idea – I mean we never thought-”
“Just show them,” Tonks says, and she pushes the decanter of firewhiskey towards me. “Yeah, yeah,” I giggle to myself, it’s seriously so goddamn funny. But Fleur starts shrieking from her relative cocoon in Bill’s embrace. “Non!” she cries, her beautiful face contorted in horror, “Do not do zat again! I weel not ‘elp you zis time!”
Fred and George move closer to me out of curiosity, wide smiles on their matching faces. Lupin is frowning at Tonks, who’s pulled her wand out but is grinning at me encouragingly.
I pour a small helping of firewhiskey into the now-empty tumbler. “Ready?” I ask Tonks under my breath. “Yeah,” she says back, as she sits up and leans toward me, wand prepared.
I dip the tip of my finger into the tumbler. The second my skin touches the liquid, flames erupt from the point of contact. I whip my finger out of the glass, yelling my head off.
Fuck, this hurts.
Fleur is shrieking, Fred and George are yelling in alarm, Lupin is bellowing. Ron, Harry, and Hermione are screaming nearly in harmony, and Tonks, despite her preparation, is wordlessly yelling and staring at my hand.
Which is on fire.
“Aguamenti!” Tonks finally cries, and the pain disappears. The bandages on my hand are singed, and my one finger is a bit re-burnt, but god dammit if I can’t stop laughing. “It’s… it’s like-,” I hiccup through my giggles, tears of mirth and pain stinging my eyes. “It’s like everything-,” I hold my side, which is aching, “-everything in this fucking universe is trying to kill me.”
Tonks’ shoulders are shaking with unexpressed laughter, which I know she’s holding in because Lupin is straight-up glaring at her. Fred and George are huffing out reluctant soft chuckles of their own, but Harry, Ron, and Hermione look shell-shocked.
“I think you might be mad, Fin,” Ron mumbles to me. I look up at him – from my position on the floor it’s a long as shit way to look. “Don’t make me curse you, Weasel,” I whip my ‘wand’ out and brandish it at him. “Jesus you’re like a skyscraper,” I mutter.
Harry snorts, despite his better judgement. Even Hermione looks marginally less like she would like to have me committed.
“Zat was not as bad as last time,” Fleur disentangles herself from Bill and pads over towards me to put her shoes back on, “I thought you were going to ‘ave your ‘air set on fire last time.”
My attention has been diverted by George, who’s begun conjuring fresh, not-wet bandages onto my injured hand. Tonks sighs and says rather defensively to Remus, “It’s true. That went really rather well, considering.” He doesn’t do anything but continue to watch us disapprovingly, his mouth set in a grim line.
Tonks sighs again, she’s a pretty relaxed drunk. Turning to face my side of the table she addresses the twins, “Well, are you lot coming then? I told your mother we owe you a drink.”
George finishes the bandage with a flourish and grins at me. Fred gives a solemn nod of his head and responds, “Well at this point I feel we would be downright negligent to not act as chaperones to what promises to be a memorable evening.”
“You may want to leave that thing at home, though,” George nods to my shitty wand, “You’ll put someone’s eye out.”
This is once again, unreasonably funny to me. I genuinely am beginning to worry about not wetting myself, and it’s a problem. Grinning along with me, George extends a hand to help me up, and I take it gratefully. From the doorway I hear Bill clear his throat. “Fleur?” he calls over to his fiancé where she’s adjusting her left shoe, “Could I have a word? In the hallway?”
Fleur’s face becomes confused, but she straightens – swaying a bit – in order to follow Bill out into the hall. Everyone is quiet for a moment, Ron and Hermione are exchanging puzzled looks.
Before I can open my mouth to ask the million dollar question, Sirius suddenly strides into the room with a speed that has my heart in my throat immediately. He’s breathing heavily, like he had run to reach us, and his hair is windswept from his face.
Dear god. So fucking hot.
In my inebriated state I am unable to keep myself from justifiably scanning him top to toe. Why are the douchey ones always the most attractive?
“Why are the douchey ones always the most attractive?” I hear myself mutter. Goddammit.
Harry, somewhere behind me, gives an audible choke of laughter. Fred pats my arm sympathetically.
Sirius pauses a couple of steps into the room; he looks around surreptitiously and takes in the scene. I can only guess what he’s seeing: three rather tipsy young women, playing cards strewn all over the other side of the room (Fleur gets pissy when she loses), and a distinct depletion of his alcohol supply. I have no idea where his mood is at anymore. His opinion of me has only taken a downward turn since our motorcycle ride.
Ah, it clicks for me now. He had to ride his bike back, that’s why he’s late.
Deciding to play it cool, I hoist my black leather slouchy purse off of the floor and onto my shoulder. This must illustrate takeoff, because Tonks starts to struggle up onto her sandaled feet. Before she’s even fully risen, however, Sirius suddenly snaps, “What the fuck happened to her hand?”
I wince. Can we maybe just skip this part so I can go dance?
“Do you want us to show you?” Tonks quips, fully standing. I can’t help but grin at her – I think that’s a great idea. I go to reach for the tumbler of firewhiskey on the table, but to my chagrin all of the kids behind me yell, “NO,” in unison. I flinch and laugh as Lupin snatches the tumbler before I can get to it and downs it in one go.
“Your drink of choice-,” I turn back to Sirius, my smile cooling a little, “-appears to be slightly lethal to people like myself.”
One of his eyebrows quirks up and he says, “Muggles, you mean?”
I stiffen, feeling suddenly defensive. Hermione clears her throat uncomfortably behind me.
Sirius sighs, and deflates a little. His arms are crossed at his chest. “Fin,” he starts in a much softer tone, “Look, can we talk? Please?”
I almost comply from the tone of his voice alone. Him being sweet to me is my new kryptonite, and if he ever so chose to turn on the charm like he had earlier today, my panties would literally be on the floor. But through my tipsy, needy haze I consider what it is he would want to talk about. It will probably be any number of combinations of how a) I’m a muggle, b) How I’m going to end up dead or worse due to being a muggle, c) Why both (a) and (b) imply that I should not be accompanying Krum to a Death Eater Party in two days, or d) All of the above.
Before I’ve even completed my thought process I’m shaking my head vigorously in a negative. No bueno. No, thank you. No talking necessary.
I’m staring resolutely at the floor, away from the scary, sexy aura that encompasses Sirius Black, but I can hear his voice harden. “Finnie,” he practically growls, “Just listen to what I have to say.”
I continue to shake my head, my lavender mass of hair fluttering around me. I re-secure my already-secured purse and start to head towards the door, intending to skirt around him. “We’re actually just leaving,” I say firmly. Fred and George haven’t moved with me for some reason, but Tonks has. She’s rounding the table, stepping over Lupin who is now seated on the couch, following my cue.
Sirius takes a step directly into my prospective path, bringing him right into my personal bubble. His “let’s just talk” reasonable and calm approach has completely burned off, leaving him shaking with a fury that had clearly been just below the surface this whole time.
“You will listen-,” he thunders softly, “-because you wormed your way into our lives, and made us care about you. You owe us to listen to me.”
This makes me stop. For one thing, he’s in my damn way (and extremely close, and radiating heat, and still smelling so. Damn. Good. What. The. Fuck.). For another thing, his words are both slightly insulting – I didn’t worm my way anywhere, I was fucking birdnapped – and really, really sweet.
I try to sqelch down the anger I feel at him domineering over me like this. Normally, this would be extremely hot, but when it has to do with me being “lesser-than” for being a muggle, it’s difficult not to feel completely insulted. “Sirius,” I say in a calm voice, he stiffens just slightly for some reason, “I can appreciate that you’ve all welcomed me as you have, but I’m here to do a job-”
“I don’t give a fuck what you promised to Dumbledore,” he hisses. My eyes finally snap up to meet his silver ones. They’re flashing with anger and some riotous emotion I can’t identify, “None of us give a fuck what you had to promise him.” Everyone else in the room is shifting uncomfortably. Harry has begun to approach us slowly from behind, and I’m getting the feeling like this was definitely the topic of choice at their dinner.
I feel my teeth grit. This would be so much fucking easier if they just knew about all of it. They’d know I’m not a fucking pushover, that I’m powerful in my own right. And they’d know that I have every fucking reason to be here, that by being here I’m essentially saving the people who matter the most to me.
Assuming Dumbledore isn’t completely full of shit.
I wince in my head. I’m taking that chance. They are worth that chance.
“Finnie,” Sirius continues, seeming exasperated with my lack of response, “You cannot go to this Death Eater meeting. You. Will. Die.”
Modest Mouse’s “Education” starts blasting through my speakers, the phone still shuffling songs.
Exhaling a frustrated gust of air out my nose, I try hitting him with a dose of reason, “Did it ever occur to you-,” I know I sound clipped and irritated, “-that everyone in this fucking room is taking the same risk?” I look over my shoulder to give Harry a poignant look in particular. “I’m a fucking adult!” I announce to the room at large, “I get to decide what I think is worth risking my life.” Everyone is just staring with unreadable expressions. I catch Ron glancing sideways at Hermione with what appears to be an ‘I-told-you-so’ look.
“And you-,” I turn back to Sirius with a healthy glare, “-don’t have the right to tell me-,” I punctuate each word with a stab to one of his cushy pectorals,”-that. I’m. wrong.”
“What about Sam?” He suddenly bellows at me, his pissed-off face now holding a hint of desperation. My heart freezes mid-beat, and I feel like I’ve been punched in the gut. “Don’t you fucking want to see him again? Or your mom? Why the fuck do I have to even say this to you?” He takes a step back from me in a mixture of exasperation and disgust.
I feel like I’m choking on spit and fury, but I know in reality it’s tears. They’re in the backs of my eyes, illustrating my grief and resentment. I sway on the spot, dumbfounded.
He can’t possibly understand all that he just spat at me in his anger, but holy shit. What. A. Douche.
I genuinely consider slapping him, but ultimately I’m worried that the black smoky devil living in my chest will burst out and take over if given the opportunity. Instead, I carefully recompose my face into a cool mask. “We’re leaving now,” I tell him coldly, “Don’t wait up. I’ll be interviewing alternative places to sleep at the club tonight.” Sirius looks like I’ve struck him. Serves him right.
I shoulder past his frozen form and stride purposefully into the hallway. As I near the foyer, and the exit, I hear the raised voices of Bill and Fleur.
“I think it would be a better idea if you came back to The Burrow tonight, you’re clearly drunk,” Bill’s voice is more authoritative than I’ve ever heard it before.
“Zat eez ze point!” Fleur snaps back, clearly not having it, “I am ‘aving fun weeth my friends, Bill.”
To my surprise, Bill scoffs just slightly, “Darling, you barely know these women.” Fleur’s mouth snaps shut, and he adds unnecessarily, “I would hardly call them your friends.”
I sweep into the room, aiming a glare at Bill. They’ve both stopped their conversation suddenly upon seeing me, and I notice that Fleur looks close to tears. I aim my trajectory so that as I pass them, still determined to exit, I scoop her up into the crook of my arm. “That was shitty, Bill-,” I aim over my shoulder, Fleur stumbling to match my stride, “-real fuckin’ shitty.”
Next thing I know, the petite Frenchwoman and I are greeted with a blast of warm summer air, successfully out the front door. I don’t necessarily hear Tonks, Fred, or George behind us just yet.
But, fuck it, they’ll catch up.
Chapter 14: Olive?
Sirius is sitting in his first-floor den, on his mother’s least-favorite couch, drinking his father’s least-favorite brand of firewhiskey. For what feels like the fiftieth time in the last few hours, his grip on his tumbler tightens painfully, and he resists the urge to throw it across the room.
Also for the fiftieth time, his memory flashes back to the source of his misery which occurred only hours ago.
The room had been deathly silent upon Finnie’s swift departure. He remembers Tonks hissing something at Remus – he had been reaching for her – and the twins’ apologetic, but resolute, faces as they angled their way past him to follow his now lavender-haired houseguest out the door. Tonks had snapped, “Later, Remus, for Godric’s sake-,” and hustled her way after them, giving Sirius an extremely exasperated look as she passed.
Sirius had tried to hide the fury and hurt he knew was likely written on his face for everyone to read.
Interviewing alternative places to sleep tonight? I just told her I cared about her. Guess the fucking boyfriend wasn’t as crucial a component as I had thought. What a bitch.
Remus had inhaled through his nose then, awkwardly. He unceremoniously began pouring doses of firewhiskey into a tumbler for himself, and without pause began additionally pouring one for Sirius.
Sirius had realized then that his godson was still poised only a few feet from him. Harry had been approaching he and Finnie as the last few minutes unfolded, theoretically in order to support his godfather. “That didn’t go terribly according to plan, did it?” Harry joked weakly.
Ron had scoffed loudly at that. “I’d say not,” he exclaimed, moving a hand to rub the back of his neck ruefully, “I’m not entirely certain what you two thought confronting her like that was going to help-”
“Us two?” Harry shot back, turning to face his friend, “I remember at dinner you were quite keen to get to make some sort of point about how Hermione and Ginny would be crushed if she-”
The two of them began arguing in full. Sirius sighed, feeling heartsore but still pissed off, and began to trail a path to the couch to retrieve the tumbler Mooney had so thoughtfully filled. However, he wasn’t two steps in that direction, passing the kids, when Hermione had caught his eye. His throat seemed to close off as he noticed that hers were filmed with tears.
“W-w-why…,” she barely choked out on a whisper. Sirius couldn’t manage but to hold eye contact with her, confused at what had prompted this. Was it something he had done? Perhaps he should have tried harder to isolate Finnie, to spare the kids the argument.
Ron and Harry stopped snapping at each other abruptly, finally noticing the state of their friend. Ron in particular made a move to lift a hand towards her, looking just as confused as Sirius felt. “’Mione?” Harry had murmured.
Hermione took a bracingly deep breath in, and seemed to shift from inaudibly upset to steaming mad.
“Why-,” she hissed out, the stagnant tears now falling disorganizedly from her lids, “-did you say that to her?” Sirius felt himself lean away from her, his eyebrows raising of their own accord. “Hermione-,” he tried to begin in a placating tone.
But she interrupted, leaning towards him in equal measure, her brown eyes blazing, “Why would you throw Sam in her face?” He relaxed, understanding. Her voice grew louder, “How could that possibly have been necessary?”
He had the good grace to wince slightly. He walked away from her then, not completely wanting to admit that it had been a potentially poor tactic. But he had been desperate, unwilling to leave any stone unturned if it would keep her away from the Death Eater soiree.
He had fallen gracefully onto the sofa beside Mooney, taking the tumbler in hand for what would become the first of many drinks that evening. “I’m sorry if that seemed low to you, Hermione-,” he had muttered to the girl, lifting the glass to his lips, “-but I thought maybe if someone reminded her of her damned boyfriend-”
“Boyfriend?” she had exclaimed shrilly, “Her boyfriend? Sam is her brother, Sirius! Her fifteen-year-old, dying brother.”
The world had seemed to tilt forward at an extreme angle. Sirius barely registered Bill angrily striding back into the room, intent on the rolling bar behind where he and Mooney were seated. He felt frozen, helplessly scanning Hermione’s face for any sign that she might be mistaken. Beside him, Lupin was coughing, having just taken a sip of firewhiskey at this pronouncement.
A brother. Sam. Sammy.
His swirling, horrified thoughts halted suddenly and he heard himself ask weakly, “Dying?”
Hermione seemed to lose a little steam, blinking and flushing at the ferocity of the attention the room was now giving her. “I-I, well…” she cleared her throat, “I don’t think she meant to give that away, but earlier today while we were talking…,” her voice got a little smaller, “a lot of her stories had to do with her being in the hospital for Sam or her dad.”
Harry looked positively horrorstruck. Ron looked sad, but contemplative. Sirius’ stomach, which was now located permanently somewhere around his feet, was more inclined to agree with his godson’s interpretation of the situation.
Lupin had both hands wrapped around his tumbler, his arms resting on his knees. He was looking sideways at Sirius when he mumbled, “Mate.” Sirius grunted in response. Lupin took a quick sip of his drink, but mumbled again, “Sam was her brother, mate.”
“Yes,” Sirius had snapped, dropping his face onto one palm, the other still holding his drink. “Yes,” he moaned more quietly, “I just yelled at a young woman for unwillfully abandoning her incredibly ill fifteen-year-old brother…”
“I’m going to bed,” Harry had announced suddenly, turning on his heel. His face was positively crumpling with self-deprecation and regret. That was his godson, always taking the blame onto his slight shoulders. Ron winced theatrically at Hermione before following Harry out.
Once her best friends were out of the room, Hermione had sighed. “She’s got another brother, you know,” she said to Sirius, a bit archly. “Vince. He’s seventeen. So try not to go accusing her of having multiple-”
“I swear to Godric, Hermione,” Sirius said thickly between his fingers, “If I manage to somehow make amends for this massive bugger-up, I will never assume anything about any damn person ever again-”
“Because she misses them a lot, you know,” Hermione interrupted, needing to get the last word in. “She’s sacrificing her f-f-family…-,” she took another deep breath, and Sirius felt his heart sink even lower, “-to help us.”
She had left then, following the boys upstairs.
Now, nearly four hours later, Sirius is on his sixth glass of firewhiskey, and does not feel better in the slightest.
He had genuinely considered going after her and bringing her arse back to Grimmauld Place so he could explain this massive fuck-up. But, after about thirty minutes of silence, Bill had explained how he and Fleur had been arguing. Finnie had nabbed Fleur on her way out, calling Bill names, and when Bill tried to follow them down the street to reclaim his fiancé, the other party-goers had caught up and disapparated with the women.
“Bill,” Lupin mutters quietly, “For the love of all that is good, please change this song.”
Bill has pulled a chair beside the mantle, closest to the futuristic music-playing thing which no one has yet bothered to turn off. He sets the deck of cards down on one knee, he had been compulsively shuffling them for the last two hours, and glances down at the device. “You’re not quite fancying-,” he squints at the player, “-’All Time Low’ by Jon something-or-another?” Bill might be a bit tipsy.
“Call me buggered,” Lupin mumbles, he’s slumped on the far side of the sofa next to Sirius, “but it may be hitting just a tad too close to home this evening.”
Sirius snorts with unexpected amusement. Lupin turns his head limply to the side to regard his friend. “You know,” he says a bit cheekily, with a small grin, “I know you’ve got some serious work to do in order for her to not set your house afire while you sleep-”
Boy is that an understatement, thinks Sirius.
“-but despite all the fanfare, at least you know now that she’s unattached.”
Sirius considers this. Despite the continued churning of his stomach, he can feel his spirits lift.
Sam is her brother.
A small smile quirks one side of his mouth despite himself. “Thatta’ boy, Padfoot,” Lupin crows, pointing to Sirius’ upturned features. Remus may be tipsy as well. Sirius allows his smile to grow but softly asks, “How are you feeling?”
Lupin’s gaze turns self-reflective, he knows Sirius is referring to his ‘furry little problem.’ “You know,” he grunts out, “I’m feeling a bit wolfish, for certain, but not in a bad way.” He wiggles his eyebrows most uncharacteristically. Sirius and Bill are both chortling at this, when suddenly the front door slams.
Sirius feels his senses heighten, and he is immediately sitting up straight in his seat.
I swear to shite, if she went home with some other bloke…
But almost immediately, he hears the familiar timbre of her tinkling giggle, and his posture relaxes. “Feeneeee…,” the three wizards hear Fleur pathetically whine, and Bill shoots up to standing. Before he can make any headway, however, the three women traipse into the den from the hallway. Finnie is carrying Fleur across her shoulders, almost in a fireman’s hold, striding confidently even in her heels. Her hair is now back to pale blonde, the coloring charm having worn off.
“Oh balls,” she snaps out, clearly drunk, but her eyes are on Sirius, “You’re still up.”
“Hullo, everyone,” Tonks sighs, looking like she would like to curl up and sleep on the rug. “Bill, if you wouldn’t’ mind putting on some music?” Tonks addresses the flummoxed-looking ginger wizard, “Fleur is going to need it.”
Still glaring at Sirius, subtlety does not appear to be Finnie’s motive this evening, the muggle woman rather unceremoniously deposits her package in front of Bill. Fleur immediately begins to sway to the music, as though compelled against her will. “What’s wrong with her?” Bill chokes out, clearly concerned.
“She’s in shark mode,” Finnie mutters, checking her nails. Bill only looks more baffled. Finnie has turned her back and is blatantly ignoring the freckled wizard, who is now swaying on the spot with his fiancé leaning heavily on him. Tonks, however, takes pity on him and explains, “Apparently, in the future, this term is used to explain an inebriated state during which an individual would be better off staying in motion, lest they lose momentum and get ill.”
Finnie gesticulates a thumbs up, seemingly aimed at nothing. “Just keep swimming. You stop swimming, you die,” she announces, much to Bill’s horror.
Sirius is struck once more by how sexy Finnie looks. Her legs appear to go on for days, and half the buttons of her sheer blouse are gaping open, revealing her tank-top adorned chest. Her wild hair is doing what it always does to him. If anything the vision is aided by her flashing green eyes despite their anger, if the tightening in his pants is any indication.
“Fin-,” he manages to rumble out, but she puts a hand up in his direction. “NO THANK YOU, FIDO,” she exclaims, avoiding eye contact with him. Lupin and Tonks snort in unison, Tonks flopping herself on the couch between Sirius and Remus. Finnie raises an eyebrow at the werewolf, “Did you find him a muzzle?” she demands.
“Sjofn,” Lupin says through his smile, holding his glass up to his face, “You really ought to give him a chance to explain-”
“NOBODY ASKED YOU, WATSON,” she cries just as suddenly, tossing her hands up in irritation. She starts rummaging through the bag at her shoulder, muttering, “Motherfucking Bilbo Baggins, telling me how to live my goddamn life- AHA!” She whips out her fake wand and points it at Lupin, twirling it enthusiastically. “TELL ME- WHERE IS THE ONE RING TO RULE THEM ALL?” Sirius and Remus frown, confused. “TELL ME, OR ELSE ILL CURSE YOU WITH ORC-FACE,” she collapses into a crouch on the floor, laughing wildly to herself. Tonks is giggling as well, but vaguely.
“Watson,” Finnie snaps her face up to Lupin again, suddenly serious, “I’m hungry. Ring Mrs. Hudson for tea.” She stands despite her continued mad laughter, heading for the door.
“Fin-?” Sirius calls out, slightly concerned. But she shouts back at him from the hallway, “I’M GETTING FOOD, SIRIUS. YOU’RE NOT MY FUCKING SUPERVISOR.”
The three on the couch go quiet, watching the door where the insane little fairy had flounced out. Tonks turns her head to Remus, slurring a quick explanation. “She thinks you look like some actor,” Tonks smirks, “She wouldn’t shut up about it. Martin something.” Lupin says nothing, but nods understandingly. Sirius is considering getting up and going after her, for her own safety, but is still feeling a bit uneasy about the likely vehemence with which he would be received.
“How was your evening?” Lupin slurs politely to Tonks. Sirius rolls his eyes. The two of them are so unmanageably bipolar, it’s no wonder they can’t seem to remain on the same page. He rolls his eyes even harder as Tonks replies in equal politeness, “Quite good, quite good. We went to a club to dance, which was fine. A bit crowded for my taste…”
Lupin nods as though he knows perfectly well what she means. Sirius suppresses the urge to snort, Godric only knows when was the last time Mooney attempted to dance. “We went to a combination karaoke/hookah bar at around midnight,” Tonks continues, wrinkling her nose. “Finnie and Fleur were quite keen on it, and it smelled nice enough, but honestly I couldn’t stand to actually smoke out of the community tube.”
“Community tube?” Lupin smirks, gazing at her with a rather sickeningly contented smile. Sirius feels extremely jealous all of a sudden. He wants Finnie to look at him like that. He wants to go buy her a hookah of her own. Immediately.
Tonks giggles, sounding like silly girl rather than the proud auror she is, “Well there were about ten of us at that point, and we were all expected to share the same mouthpiece-”
“Feenee eez verra good at making friends,” Fleur suddenly announces from the middle of the room. She is slowly grinding on her fiancé to some song Finnie’s device declares to be called “Your Body” by Pretty Ricky. Bill looks bemused, but dazed, likely entranced a bit by her veela genes. Swiftly forgetting the conversation, and subsequently ignoring their audience, she begins muttering to Bill seductively in French.
The three on the couch decide to ignore them as well, and Tonks turns back to Remus. “That’s true, actually,” she tells him matter-of-factly. She flips her head towards Sirius and continues, “She had quite a lot of admirers. Gentlemen and ladies alike. You’d best-”
“Yes, yes, yes,” Sirius snaps at her, “I know I buggered up. I’m going to fix it.”
Tonks simply raises her eyebrows blearily. “Good sodding luck,” she grins, “She loathes you.”
Sirius’ stomach sinks, but Tonks quickly corrects herself, “No, no, forgive me, that’s not true.” She reaches blindly behind her for Remus’ drink, snags it, and brings it to her mouth. “She is immensely attracted to you, won’t shut up about it, really,” she takes a fortifying sip, and Sirius’ face breaks into a cocky grin. “But now she’s fairly certain you’re a selfish piece of shite,” Tonks finishes, glancing back up into his face with a wince. “You really oughtn’t have brought up her brother like that,” she adds unnecessarily.
Sirius takes a deep breath in through his nose and reaches over to her to snatch the firewhiskey out of her hand. Lifting it to his lips, he doesn’t respond to her but to raise an egotistical eyebrow. “Oh, lord,” Tonks mumbles to herself.
“How precisely did you get into the club?” Lupin questions confusedly. “You haven’t got muggle ID, and Finnie certainly doesn’t have suitable-” But before he can finish Tonks begins laughing. “Turns out,” she huffs between giggles, “the disguise I used today in the joke shop was actually a famous muggle actress-”
“Courtney Cox can get into any damn club she wants,” Finnie states proudly, striding back into the room. She’s now carrying what looks to be a serving tray of Sirius’ finest silver, covered in pieces of deli meat, cheese, olives, and pickles. The muggle woman rather unceremoniously drops to the floor on the opposite side of the coffee table, setting the platter down closest to her. “Cox is spelled C-O-X, Remus, no need to look so alarmed,” Finnie has begun spearing an olive onto each finger on one hand, continuing, “I wouldn’t have Tonks parading around as a damn porn star.”
Remus chuckles softly, and as he reaches for a piece of ham he mutters, “I wouldn’t mind it in certain contexts, per se…”
Tonks smacks him hard on the arm, but she’s smiling.
Systematically sucking the olives off her fingers one by one – Sirius’ pants tighten just a hair further – Finnie says, her mouth full, “I don’t get the sense that would be terribly difficult to arrange, Mooney.” She shoots a downright devilish look at Tonks, “Why just this evening, I discovered during a completely innocent drinking game that your lady over here-”
With a strangled cry, Tonks whips out her wand and points it directly at Finnie’s face, “Mimblewimble!”
Her mouth moving wordlessly, it takes Finnie about two seconds to realize there’s no sound. Mutely she seems to flail through a string of curses before huffing, stuffing a piece of salami into her mouth, and resolutely presenting Tonks with her middle finger. Lupin chuckles even harder, nudging Tonks playfully as he reaches across her to retrieve his drink from Sirius. “Come on now, love,” he tells her, smiling, “That’s not fair. I wanted to hear what she has to say.”
“Complete drivel,” Tonks sniffs, gazing at him from beneath her eyelashes, “Utter nonsense.”
While the two of them continue to flirt abstractly, Sirius eases his wand from inside his sleeve and wordlessly releases the tongue-tying curse. Despite their obvious camaraderie and jesting nature, he can’t help but feel a lot of disquiet at the muggle woman’s inability to defend herself from such a simple spell.
“THREESOME,” she suddenly exclaims, placing a hand to her throat and feigning looking around as though to find the source of the pronouncement. Tonks slaps a hand over her eyes in horror, and Lupin blushes, glancing quickly between the two women. Sirius, however, howls with laughter. After barking out a few chuckles, he sees Finnie gazing at him from the corner of his eye.
Is she watching me laugh?
Sobering suddenly, Sirius quickly springs off of the couch, swings round the table, and deposits himself on the floor next to her. She’s leaning away from him in alarm, her face hard with resolute dislike. But he powers through, lifting a hand to her face to push a lock of her pale golden hair behind one earring-filled ear. Her eyes flash with something dangerous; he’s definitely pushing his luck.
“I’m extremely fucking sorry,” he says low, in a rush, “I didn’t know who Sam was, I fucked up.” Her eyebrows lower, and her eyes harden just a bit more. All signs point to fuck off, but he can’t. “I’m worried about you and this Death Eater gathering, but you were right,” he continues speaking quickly, in a deep rumble, “We should let you do what you need to do.”
She looks conflicted, and Sirius feels stomach warm from its place at his feet. Finally, after a minute or two of contemplation, her face relaxes. It’s not inherently friendly, but it’s no longer venomous. She leans toward him, and he feels a thrill when he notices he can see white lace at the edge of her low-cut tank top. Her eyes are still a little bleary with drink, but he can see she’s dead serious when she bites out, “Don’t ever talk about my family ever again.” She leans back and relaxes even further, almost swaying towards him in what appears to be an unconscious motion.
Sirius resists the urge to gather her up close to him and tell her any promise she needs to hear, but what she says next is almost as satisfying. Her eyes pointed down at her hands in her lap, she mutters, “But, thank you.” He can’t keep one eyebrow from lifting in surprise, and she flits up her bright green gaze, meeting his eyes to finish, “For giving a shit, I mean. About me.” In that instant she looks so lost, Sirius nearly loses his battle with his self-control.
But just as quickly, the moment’s gone. She lifts her chin and gives him a mocking half-smile. She raises one of her hands out of her lap, holding it out to him, and offers, “Olive?”
Pursing his lips, Sirius considers her. With a cocky look, he leans forward and opens his mouth just slightly in an invitation for her to feed it to him.
He jolts backwards and laughs as the olive hits him in the eye. Finnie chuckles along softly, and they both turn their heads in time to be met with the sight of Lupin and Tonks openly snogging on the couch.
A silence falls. After a few seconds, Finnie sighs and says, “You need to buy a damn television.”
Chapter 15: Nicki Minaj Would Definitely Wear This
I'm staring at my reflection in the mirror which is mounted inside the open door of my magically-enlarged wardrobe. I'm applying a final layer of mascara and trying my hardest not to actually look at my dress.
This nineties thing is fucking ridiculous. What's more, is how positively literal all these witches and wizards take muggle fashion in the nineties. When Tonks and Moody had presented me with this dress last night, I had laughed in their faces. When they did not join me, I felt my features shift to pure, unadulterated horror. Tonks had scoffed. "It's not so bad," she had glanced down at it, draped over her arm, "You're supposed to be the saucy American. No one will think anything of it."
But I will. God help me, I will.
The Malfoy gathering has been described as 'formal,' so I'm pretty sure I'll fit the bill so long as Destiny's Child shows up in their matching kimonos or whatever. The dress itself isn't necessarily risqué, all my bits a pieces are covered, but it's made of acid-washed lavender denim, cutting perfectly along my figure down to around mid-calf. A band of extra material accents my waist, and a thin slit is cut from the hem to the knee in order to facilitate basic movement. Nicki Minaj would definitely wear this and consider herself formal.
To offset the fact that I'm wearing a goddamned jean dress, I'm bedecked with some wicked expensive jewelry. A diamond-encrusted collar necklace matches an equally priceless wrist cuff. My earrings are all single diamond studs, but they glitter ominously beneath my mass of hair. According to McGonagall, who presented these items to me an hour ago, each of these pieces are goblin-made. And, as such, are practically shield charms in their own right due to their innate protective qualities.
Where in the fuck is Kingsley?
As though by magic – ha – my fireplace suddenly roars to life with green flame. The dark-skinned, imposing wizard steps across my hearth, and wastes no time in striding to me. "I could have been naked you know," I tell him, half-kidding, "Ask Moody. You people need to learn to knock." He ignores me, which is normal. Kingsley Shacklebolt is an immensely serious man with a lot of diverse responsibilities. Jokes are not yet on his radar.
"Sjofn," he rumbles a quick greeting, "Minerva and Alastor are escorting Viktor to the front door as we speak. We will need to be fast."
From the inside of his cloak he withdraws a simple brown sack. I hold my hands out, and he plops the sack into my ready palms. Inside is a myriad of different pieces of jewelry and a couple of other accessories. I spy a red leather watch, a charm bracelet, a bulbous gem ring, a pair of earrings shaped like cherries, and a tortoiseshell hair clip – to name a few. I continue to inspect the seemingly-innocuous items with awe. "And they're all…?" I let my question trail off, looking up at him uncertainly.
"They're all transfigured and charmed with the same spells we had discussed, yes," he rumbles in his low baritone, explaining, "Each of them have the same button of sorts-" He takes the hair clip out of the bag and shows me what appears to be a small dangling charm or tag. It's smaller than my pinkie nail, silver in color, and adorned with what looks like a fancy, cursive 'S'. "-which you will twist," he mimes the motion, "and it will begin the spell transfiguring your current adornments into the preferred tactical gear you had chosen."
Basically a mobile telephone booth, for any necessary costume changes.
"Fabulous," I mumble, inspecting the clip closely, "And my weapons?" Kingsley clears his throat before answering, "The gear is ready-equipped, with the rest of the clothing." He suddenly gets even more serious, if it were possible, and narrows his eyes at me just a little, "Do not take this as carte blanche permission to perform executions on any and all affiliates of You-Know-Who." His voice rumbles dangerously, "Many of these people are not truly lost, they are redeemable. You are fully expected by us Ministry-affiliated Order members to proceed with discerning judgement."
I keep my tone light and unassuming as I drop the hair clip back into the bag, "That's not exactly what Dumbledore and Moody-"
With a swiftness which betrays his training, Kingsley is suddenly a step closer, bent at the waist to bring his face threateningly close to mine. "Moody does not expect to live through this confrontation," he hisses, "thanks to your intel." I keep my face impassive, struggling not to take this turn of events personally. He's stressed; we're all stressed about tonight. Kingsley straightens with a flickering wince, "I do not believe," he continues in a much calmer tone, "that enough of the Order is considering the long-term effects of the role you have been-" He sniffs, looking me up and down, but ultimately his gaze falls on the drab brown bag, "-invited to play."
I dip my hand inside the bag, scrounging until I find the large gem ring. Slipping it onto my ring finger, I give him a pointed look. "Trust me," I murmur to him, "when I tell you I would much rather be keeping my guns at home." His shoulders are still stiff, but his face is composed. I continue with a slight edge, feeling irritated at his judgement, "I'll do as you ask, Shacklebolt-." I stride around him and head for a dazzling, glittering clutch which contains my 'wand' and my lipstick. He follows me as I scoop it up, and we both turn and head towards the door. "And not that you cared to ask-," I bite out in a rush, overtaking him and spinning around so that he's forced to stop in the doorway, "-but I would have done it anyway. I'm not some mindless serial killer." He takes only a moment, scanning my eyes, but ultimately he inclines his shiny head in apology. I turn on my diamond-lined, spiky, sandaled heels, and we proceed to the staircase.
We traipse upstairs in silence. All of the past two weeks' preparations have led us to this evening, my first real trial-run as a potential asset. The atmosphere is tense. Everyone has been on edge these last 48 hours, but true to their word no one has dared contradict my involvement. Molly brought over a tray of tarts last night, seemingly as a gesture of confidence. But, the bottom line has been that most folks simply can't bring it up to my face.
Which is fine. They can be as skeptical as they want, just stay the fuck out of my way.
Sirius, especially, has been treating me very gently. It's been hard, really fucking hard, to not be able to share with him the full context of my newfound reality here in 1996. Ever since his, admittedly drunken but painfully sincere, apology to me the other night, I've realized my crush on him is a lot more than an above-average amount of sexual interest.
I can feel myself drawn to his person. I'm constantly wondering where he is in relation to myself - like a stalker satellite. It took a lot of balls for that cocky son of a bitch to put himself in my shoes and apologize, and, for some reason, finding out he has the capacity to be that self-aware regarding a complete rando like myself has catapulted my attraction to him to a totally new plane. I want him to know everything; I want him to always give a shit the way he gave a shit about me that night.
Goddamn I'm such, SUCH, a fucking loser.
Rationally, I know this isn't an amazing focus to have developed. I should probably keep my attention on not dying, staying charmingly verbose, and blending my foundation correctly into my neck. I can't explain it.
But, I think he might be different. I've never met anyone else in this life or my last who I genuinely thought would understand me in all of the ways I want to be understood. No one has ever really come close to truly empathizing in a well-rounded way with the shitshow that is my existence. And now I'm equal parts excited but wholly terrified that I'm wrong.
You're putting this man up on a pedestal; you haven't even known him a month. Is this really the right time to be taking chances like this?
So, I'm not. I'm hovering around him, but evading him simultaneously. I stalk him, because I'm compelled to be near him all the time (i.e. knowing where the fuck he is). I want his company and I crave his attention, BUT I avoid him because I look like a hyperactive psycho who zones out and stares at his chest, and because there is no way in hell his level of interest/fixation matches mine at this point. Also, because I need to focus on not dying.
Super fun. Well done, Finnie.
Kingsley and I arrive in the foyer of Number Twelve. We're greeted by the sight of McGonagall, Moody, Arthur, Bill, Mundungus, Professor Flitwick, Fred, and George. Standing next to McGonagall, his attention diverted by some dithering of Mundungus, is my date – Viktor Krum. I scrutinize him; his brow is extremely pronounced like a caveman's, with dark eyebrows and bottomless eyes. The bluntness is offset by other pronounced features, such as his cheekbones and shoulders, making him more balanced. Overall, not a bad looking dude. His dress robes are sleek, silver and black.
A figure lounging broodily against the banister of the main staircase catches my eye. Sirius' body is tense, but his carefully blank expression shows no outward disquiet. His lithe and muscled form towers over Fred and George, who are closest to him. I swallow, my mouth suddenly dry.
Not even comparable.
I forcibly switch my gaze to Arthur, who's smiling in greeting, albeit slightly strained. I stop to stand next to him and Bill, who simply nods impassively, while Kingsley begins a quick, hushed conversation with Flitwick, McGonagall, and Moody. "The children are all at the Burrow," Arthur murmurs to me, "as you requested. They'll stay there until we bring them back tomorrow, once this errand," he clears his throat and flits his eyes to Krum, "is complete."
I nod, but say nothing. Bill flicks a thumb over to the twins and grunts, "Almost all of the children, that is."
Fred catches this and lifts his chin defiantly, "Oi! We're adults now, alright?" George narrows his eyes at his oldest brother as he chimes in, "Business-owning adults, for certain." Fred nods once in agreement and finishes, "And as such, we are entitled to full-fledged Order of the Phoenix membership, and all that it entails. Secret meetings and all." Bill is resolutely staring at the ceiling, obviously having already lost this argument. Arthur just pinches the bridge of his nose between his thumb and forefinger and sighs. "Lupin is upstairs," Fred offers to me helpfully, "He's going to have the change tonight. We figured you could use the extra hands on deck." I say nothing to the darling nineteen-year-olds, but I smile ruefully.
"Sjofn?" A low, heavily accented voice says from my left. I turn to look up at Krum, who is standing next to me, hand outstretched.
"Hello, darling," I grin at him, placing my hand in his for the first time tonight. He seems to steel himself slightly at my extremely familiar greeting, but gets over it. "I haff been informed to the extent of our deception. I am confident we will emerge from this evening unscathed," he says heavily, squeezing my fingers once, then letting them go. His lips make an odd pouting shape while he talks, and it's a little distracting.
"Vicky, baby," I continue to smile up at him, radiating my surety, "not only will be unscathed-," I wink, "-we'll be unstoppable."
He starts to catch my vibe and gives me a very small smile. I'm glad; this will be a much easier time if we relax into our roles.
Our introductions are interrupted by Moody's sudden bellow, "Sweet Merlin, Shacklebolt, it's a bit late now for molly coddlin' the Death Eaters-"
"Alastor," McGonagall admonishes softly, her creased face looking more severe with stress this evening, "You know perfectly well that is not what he meant when he-"
"It don't matter," Moody growls at his contemporaries, eyes narrowed at Kingsley, who looks as though he's just sucked on a lemon. "She's trained. She knows what to do, an' how to do it. You lot just need to sit back and let. This. Work."
"I hope you don't mind if I get started," I hear a raspy, high-pitched voice aimed somewhere near my navel. With a start, I look down and see that Flitwick has extracted himself from his colleagues' heated conversation in order to stand in front of me. I must have looked suitably confused because he squeaks in explanation, "Concealment and protection charms, my dear. I've altered a couple of my favorites to perform for you in a way that I believe will fully disguise your…er… muggle genes from magical detection."
"Ah, yes," I nod smartly, as though fully educated on the subject. I raise my arms up in a 'T', like I'm being scanned at airport security, "Carry on."
With no further ado, the already tiny wizard stoops to a crouch at my feet and begins singing something that sounds like extremely complicated Spanglish mixed with Swahili. I stand very still, and it takes several minutes, as he traces his wand in waving patterns around my person. It's crazy, but I feel like my skin tightens as he furthers the spell. Almost like the pores close and refuse entry or exit to any data which could be interpreted by a magical TSA-muggle-detector. His eyes flutter as he finishes the last stanza, and I can tell it took a lot out of him. Fred and George catch him by the elbows immediately following his final syllable, and guide him to a chair nearby.
Before I can open my mouth to get this show on the road, the three senior Order members are still kind of fighting, my attention is diverted by Sirius. He stands abruptly from his slouch against the stairs, striding purposefully to me. Everyone's focus is thoroughly diverted either by the argument, or by Flitwick, and only I am able to hear as he mutters to me under his breath, "May I speak to you?" His silver eyes are boring into mine with a not-entirely-unwelcome intensity. "Just very quickly," he finishes.
Mute, I simply nod, my eyes caught by his. My stomach does a flip as he takes my hand, his large, calloused fingers warming mine. Silently, and without attracting the attention of the room at large, he navigates me only as far as one of the adjacent hallways.
I lean against the wallpapered wall, looking at his collar instead of his painfully handsome face. This is the first time I've been truly alone with him since the motorcycle ride to Wheezes. His pale throat in my line of sight convulses as he swallows, and I feel the electric current which seems to flutter over my skin when I'm near him spike in intensity. I ache, literally ache, to just run my hands along his body.
I'm not picky. Wherever he'd let me is fine.
"Fin-," he starts in his low, sexy voice, and my eyes flit up to meet his. He looks suddenly a little unsure, "I…Well-" He thrusts a hand into his jeans pocket, and I raise a teasing eyebrow at this rather bullshit communication method. Surprisingly, he doesn't meet my eyes as he pulls his hand out, clutching something in his fist. "I'd like you to do me a favor," he finally says, taking my hand by the wrist with his. He forces his closed fist into my waiting palm and drops something into it, "I'd like – No, I need – you to wear this for me."
It's a ring. My first reaction is to shriek with glee and confusion, then maybe throw it down the hall. Instead, I catch his eyes with my widened ones, inviting explanation.
"It's spelled," he explains in a rush, looking adorably flustered. His one hand still cradling mine, he fingers the ring resting in my palm as he continues, "To change the color of the gemstone upon request." The ring itself is a plain bronze band, but there is a strand of amethyst embedded within it along its length, making it rather stunning in a minimalist kind of way.
I'm trying hard to listen, but I'm incredibly distracted by his nearness. His scent – always the cinnamon and evergreen – is muddling my ability to focus, and the heat radiating off his body is acting like a beacon calling me to inch closer to him.
"Okay," I manage to mutter, gazing down at our interacting hands.
He decidedly takes the ring into his own grasp in order to slip it unerringly onto the thumb of the hand he still holds. "If you're ever in trouble-," I hear him say, though I continue to look at the ring,"-all you have to say is, 'Padfoot, I'm in trouble.'" I inhale sharply as the color of the gem shifts very quickly to black. I finally raise my eyes to meet his, which are gazing at me with an intensity I equally long to understand, but want to run from.
"But, how will you-?" I start, but before I can finish, his hand not holding mine reaches up to his neck, dips down into his collar and pulls out a chain. On that chain, dangling innocently, is a matching ring, but with a band of silver. Its embedded gemstone line is onyx, just like mine.
My eyes still captured in his, he bites out, "Now say, 'Padfoot, I need you.'" Held captive by the look on his face, and my own racing heartbeat, I barely manage to breathe, "Padfoot, I need you."
The gem along my ring brightens to a ruby red, as does Sirius'. Accompanying the color change is a searing heat which is too brief to be unpleasant.
The air between us is suffocating. I feel fear and exaltation in equal measure, not daring to really hope. He's leaning closer to me, my hand still caught by his and his ring dangled for me to see.
"Now say," he continues in a gentler tone, his eyes and face relaxing a little, "'Padfoot, I'm coming home.'"
My heart squeezes, but I grit out, "Padfoot, I'm coming home." Immediately, heat sears my thumb, and both of our rings turn a brilliant blue.
Unsure how to address the overbearing tension, I mutter halfheartedly, "Sapphire for home?"
Surprisingly, his mouth lifts in a half-grin. "Blue, to calm me," he answers, unabashed. I feel a blush suffuse my cheeks.
He feels anxious being away from me?
Abruptly, I blurt, "Does it work both ways?"
He's nearly pinning me to the wall with his sheer presence alone, but at my words he withdraws just barely. His mouth frowns a little, and his brow puckers with doubt. I feel the miniscule distance between us cooling my heated skin, so I push off from the wall and lean towards him, bringing us even closer than before. "I'm not certain," he rumbles, "I hadn't spelled it in reverse." His striking, silvery gaze flits all over my face, to my collar bone, to my décolletage, and back up to my mouth.
His one hand still holding mine poised between us, I lift my other to touch his ring as it floats on the chain. "It should," I hold his eyes, trying to convey how I'd want to know if he…needed me.
"After tonight," he mutters, still gazing directly at my mouth, "I'll make sure it does."
"Okay," I breathe back, leaning even closer. His muscled front just barely grazes my chest in my tight dress, and I feel electricity jolt down between my legs.
"You look stunning," he rumbles lowly, his eyelids drooped down to take in my person. Our faces are an inch apart, and I barely stall my stomach flipping long enough for my eyes to flutter shut and close the remaining gap between us, when I hear Krum just on the other side of the wall.
My eyes spring open of their own accord, in time to see Sirius' doing the same. He takes an immediate step back, making my body cry out in protest. With his scent still making me hazy, I sway a little on the spot, feeling abandoned. Sirius is breathing heavily, and upon reflection I realize I am as well. His bright gaze is still holding mine with an intensity which remains despite the distance now between us.
"Now say," Sirius continues, in a voice decidedly huskier than before, "'Padfoot, I'm safe.'"
I hear Krum come around the corner a few paces from where we stand, but I look down to the ring on my hand - breaking our eye contact at last - and murmur to it, "Padfoot, I'm safe." The color of the gemstone river on the ring returns back to amethyst, and I feel my heart rate struggle to return to normal.
"Are you ready to depart?" Krum asks from down the hall. He's polite, but he clearly means 'bitch, it's time to go'. I struggle to give him a weak smile, still trying to bounce back from the sensory overload of the last few minutes, but I answer, "Yes, of course."
I glance back up to Sirius as I begin angling away, but upon seeing his face, I freeze. He looks agonized, like he wants nothing more than to stop me from leaving using any means possible. "I'll tell you all about it when I get back," I whisper to him, and try for a small, reassuring smile. His mouth-watering chest expands with a deep breath, and he extends one hand to cup the side of my face. In an instant, my breath is gone, stolen from me. He uses his warm, calloused thumb to caress from my cheekbone to my jaw. With a somewhat strangled voice, he murmurs, "Just use it."
I search Sirius' silver eyes with my green ones, trying to suss out his innermost thoughts. "I will," I murmur back. His face is utterly unreadable as he drops his hand and I turn to rejoin Viktor. I feel colder with each step I take away from him, ending my progression with a shudder when I reach my date's side. To my surprise, Krum doesn't take my arm or acknowledge me; his eyes are glued to Sirius, intense.
"I veel make certain that she comes to no harm," the Bulgarian wizard announces. Whipping my head around, I see Sirius give him a nod of assent, his face looking rather thunderous despite the encouraging words. His arms are now crossed, his stance wide. I sigh, feeling more nervous than I did ten minutes ago.
Krum and I step back into the foyer, where a tense sort of quiet has fallen among the other Order members present. As we unceremoniously head for the front door, I catch Moody's eye. His magical one is pointed in the direction of the hall I just vacated – probably at where Sirius still stands. Despite this, he gives me a pointed look while Viktor opens the door, a warm breeze fluttering my hair off my shoulder.
"Give 'em hell, girlie," he growls.
Chapter 16: A Large, Bald Gremlin
So, Malfoy Manor is big.
Not quite Hearst Castle big or Versailles big, but definitely like Belton House big. I might have just switched from Harry Potter to Pride and Prejudice, but a quick glance at my Bulgarian wizard date confirms that that is not the case.
Upon apparating onto the edge of the grounds, my first impression has been that I truly cannot find another vestibule as far as the eye can see. The amount of privacy allotted here is troubling, but not entirely surprising. The Death Eater home-base would hardly be ideal if it had nosy neighbors.
The dewed lawn wets my toes and makes me shiver. Krum had wound my arm through his, which is fortuitous because we’ve run into at least four layers of magical wards before actually emerging onto the pebbled drive. While Flitwick’s ingenious spellwork got me through them relatively unscathed, it was not exactly smooth sailing. Krum had to physically put his arm around me and muscle me through some of them while we attempted to keep our stride steady and our faces straight. Needless to say, my hair needs a little fixing now that we’ve reached the arched entryway of the front guardhouse. The hairs of my arms spring to attention; I can feel eyes on us as we continue through the structure.
Krum secures my hand in the crook of his arm as we trudge onto the long-ass drive, heading towards the majestic front doors. There are sparse other couples in front of us and behind us, but for the most part we are definitely some of the last to arrive.
Despite its isolation, Malfoy Manor is still elegantly walled. Cast iron lampposts line our way through the tunneled entry and to the drive which cuts through the front lawns, leading to the main house. We begin the trek, no longer hindered by discernable magical barriers, and follow the now well-lit path until we are at the foot of some sweeping cultured stone stairs. A beautifully carved bannister slopes alongside the steps, which narrow as you near the front doors.
“Do your best not to be separated from me,” Krum speaks low as we ascend, “Say the vord ‘Hufflepuff’ if you think ve are in danger of discovery, and I vill do the same.” I squeeze the top of his arm with my free hand to let him know I understand. They could have secrecy charms or listening spells littered anywhere around the property; we should no longer speak freely.
The massive, polished, mahogany front doors swing open before we’ve even cleared the top step. Inside, about knee-height, is a wrinkly-faced, bat-eared creature which can be none other than a house elf. “Your names, if you please?” it squeaks as we approach the threshold, and I struggle not to stare. It looks like a large, bald gremlin. Viktor, who has definitely fucking seen a house elf before, responds for us, his voice resonating importantly, “Viktor Krum and Sjofn Kent.”
Its bulbous blue eyes widen only slightly, but the implication is clear. Our arrival has been anxiously awaited. The pointy-nosed being bows low, its striped pillowcase outfit swaying with the energy of the action. “Please follow,” it squeaks again, and it straightens and begins to bounce away, leading us into the manor. We can’t be more than two steps inside when the doors bang shut once more, despite another couple ascending the stairs imminently. To my left I see a line of similarly-dressed house elves waiting just inside the doors, presumably to act as guides to each guest as they enter. I turn back to our elf as we are quickly led through the marble-tiled foyer of the mansion. I glance around the entry just in time to catch sight of what is clearly a collection of wizard Renoir paintings adorning one massive wall before we enter a dim hallway.
All of the furnishings are rich – forest green, satin-embossed walls paired with gleaming silver sconces. The trim moldings along the ceiling and shiny mahogany floors are painfully intricate, screaming wealth. We stride past several handsome mahogany doors on our path to the back of the manor, all shut tight. I mentally try to assess each painting we pass, but although they watch us and move in their frames, none of them make a sound.
We turn a corner into a slightly larger hallway that is lined on one side with windows and French doors. Several sets of the doors are open, allowing for elves with serving trays to exit and enter freely. They’re servicing the party, which is now visible, sprawled in silvery splendor all about the gargantuan back patio, steps, and in the rear gardens. The set of open, diamond-paned doors nearest us is clearly the main entryway to the gathering.
As we step out, I take in the atmosphere as quickly as possible. Elegant witches in muggle evening gowns stand diligently either by the sides of their dates, or in groups chatting behind their hands. The wizards I can see are all in dress robes of varying shades, conversing amicably with one another or smirking knowingly at the witches beside them. Everyone is remarkably relaxed, they’re all in their element. Safe.
Fuck, there’s got to be over 150 people here.
The patio itself is huge, comfortably accommodating at least twenty-five impeccably decorated high-topped tables and their chairs. Twinkling fairly lights – actual fairies? Don’t look too closely – are strung in alternating hues of gold and silver, shedding shadowed light upon the festivities. Above the patio, on a balcony which juts from the third story, is a pianist. Upon further consideration, it could just be a spelled piano, but whatever it is, it’s currently playing Chopin’s Nocturne No. 2 in E-flat.
Honeysuckle grows riotously along the edges of the stone bannisters, hedging the area, punctuated occasionally by excessively thorny white rose bushes. The combined effect is a sickly sweet smell which makes me have to resist the urge to wrinkle my nose.
My eyes flicker as they scan –once –twice. I flinch in confusion, but as understanding dawns, my stomach drops. Nausea roils to the back of my throat.
Oh, god. Oh, shit.
My stride falters, and I feel Viktor stiffen next to me – he must have seen them as well. He recovers faster than I do and strengthens his grip on my arm, practically hauling me along behind our elf-guide.
What, at first glance, had appeared to be hyper-realistic statues in varying poses are not statues at all. Perched on intermittent stone pedestals, located on the outskirts of the main space, are actually naked people, frozen where they stand.
Muggles. In chains.
Outwardly, I struggle to regain my composure. Internally, I’m screaming. Our mission tonight was simply to get a foothold in the organization, violence was only supposed to be an afterthought. How are we going to save them? My heart rate refuses to slow as I take in each one of their terrified faces, eight of them in total. If I start shooting right now, there’s almost no way we’d make it out alive.
Their bodies are spelled to be still, but that doesn’t stop many of them from crying horrified, fearful tears. Many of the witches and wizards are assessing them from afar with ill-disguised revulsion and loathing. A red film assails my vision, and I’m reaching for my spelled ring to change into my ass-kicking uniform when Viktor squeezes my arm with his, stopping me.
Furious, I flit my gaze up to his. His jarringly dark eyes bore into mine, but they convey an unbearable sadness which he means for me to see. He must have known we might encounter something as horrible as this, and he’s trying to tell me he’s sorry.
My hand drifts away from my transformer-ring, my heart breaking. Our mission tonight is fucking critical, and it would be hugely irresponsible to jeopardize it. We may not be able to save them.
Steel bands encircle my heart as my stubborn soul digs its heels in. I refocus my gaze on one captive in particular, a girl. She can’t be more than eleven, the youngest one by a long shot, and I feel a resolute sort of determination.
If nothing else tonight, I will fucking save her.
My face is composed, my body calm, as our guide finally halts in front of a foursome standing comfortably along the patio edge. Our designated house elf bows low in front of its master and squeaks importantly, “Mister Krum and Missus Kent, if you please, sir.”
Lucius Malfoy simply flicks the wrist of one hand, sending the elf away. His cold gaze looks me up and down before flitting to Viktor. “Mister Krum,” he greets my date with an authoritative tone laced with some derision. Viktor simply nods in greeting, muttering, “A pleasure, Mister Malfoy.” His face is impassive, neither unimpressed nor simpering.
Lucius turns to look at me once more. He is wearing dress robes of a green so dark they’re nearly black. His signature cane rests lazily in his hand. “Miss Sjofn,” he sneers, “So pleased you could join us.”
I give him a wide, dazzling smile, despite my roaring insides. “Well aren’t we formal?” I tease, and his mouth tightens just a tad, “I tell you, I’ve been looking forward to this shindig since we bumped into each other at that tacky-ass joke shop. Sjofn Kent, so pleased to meet you, thank you for the invitation.” I’ve turned abruptly to face the blonde waif standing stiffly beside Lucius, my hand outstretched.
Narcissa Malfoy takes the tips of my fingers delicately in her small hand, sniffing. “Narcissa Malfoy,” she introduces herself, in a soft, cold voice. I wink and give her fingers a slight squeeze, answering conspiratorially, “Don’t I know it.”
As she withdraws her hand, Narcissa gives me a haughty once-over. Her modest satin gown, in the same dark green as her husband, sharply contrasts my loud, denim number. Beside the Malfoys are a witch and a wizard my Harry-Potter-educated mind cannot place.
“Rabastan Lestrange,” The lanky, brown-haired man in front of me introduces himself, as though reading my mind. He doesn’t offer a hand to shake, keeping his narrowed eyes on Viktor. “And while pleasantries are fine enough,” he continues, his voice low and dangerous, “I think I’m going to have to cut them short and get right to the point.”
Lucius and Narcissa look at Rabastan irritatedly, but say nothing else. Behind us, I can feel at least two figures have approached our backs. They crowd even closer, and I feel the prod of a wand on the exposed skin between my shoulder blades, giving me a small burn.
“Vot is the point, then?” Viktor snaps at Lucius, not addressing Lestrange, “If you have questions, ask them. But do so quickly before I decide to take offense vith McNair for pointing his vand at my guest.”
Lucius flicks his eyes up to the wizard standing behind me, giving a minute shake of his head. The wand withdraws from my skin, but I sense that it is still poised, not far away. I toss my hair over my shoulder and give Narcissa a small, sympathetic smile. “It’s quite alright,” I tell her, as though it’s just us girls, “Scars tell the best stories, I’m sure you agree.” Her cold mask flickers, and a small modicum of interest seems to light behind her eyes as she considers me.
“Lucius,” Rabastan spits out, having turned to the pale blonde Death Eater, “Just because he’s a famous quidditch player-”
“The Dark Lord,” Malfoy interrupts him with an impatient drawl, “Considers his loyalties worth investigating, Lestrange. Do you wish to contradict the Dark Lord?” His tone turns mocking as he continues to stare down his colleague, “Hmm? Shall I call him here for you to voice your concerns?”
Lestrange growls but says nothing more. The witch standing between him and Narcissa gives a low, rumbling chuckle. “Sweet Salazar, Rabastan,” she teases him coldly, “You’re beginning to sound like your sister-in-law.” Her catlike gaze returns to Viktor and I, specifically me. She’s positively stunning in an almost ethereal way. Her pixie-cut, black hair shines with natural gloss, and her almond-shaped blue eyes assess me with predatory ease. Her mocha-colored skin glows with sensual promise, and her full, painted lips are upturned with an inviting sneer. She’s curvaceous, like myself, but tall like a model. Her shimmering silver gown displays her assets with almost indecent clarity. “I am Gaia,” she purrs – yes, actually fucking purrs – to me, “Gaia Zabini.”
Recognition must have shown on my face, because she gives another low chuckle. “Yes, I’m afraid the rumors are true. The death of my late husband-,” Which one? Haven’t there been like, seven? “-has left me positively desperate for worthy company,” she widens her predatory smile, her tone almost a seductive whine. Her eyes appraise my chest and hips more daringly than almost any man I’ve encountered, and I feel my eyebrows rise towards my hairline in genuine surprise.
“You requested attendance this evening, Mister Krum,” Lucius interrupts Gaia lowly, his sinister grey eyes focused on Viktor. “I know you to be a skilled and clever man; I watched you play the World Cup two years ago, and followed your progression in the TriWizard Tournament.” Lestrange scoffs aloud, but Lucius continues, enunciating each word as though weighted with importance, “But we have a great many reasons to suspect you are not being entirely honest in your motivations to make our acquaintance.”
The air around our huddle is incredibly tense. I keep my face impassive as Viktor responds, impatiently, “I vos taught at the greatest school of the Dark Arts in the vorld. Vere I come from, ve know the difference between friend and foe.” Quickly, he turns his head and spits onto the stone next to his feet. “Karkaroff,” he practically growls the name, “vos too great a coward to stand for his beliefs. To stand for vot is right.” He’s practically vibrating with irritation now.
Absolutely fucking brilliant.
“May ve do this more privately?” he snaps, aiming the ire still at Lucius, “Avay from this show of filth you’ve insisted on making part of your decoration?” He lifts his chin at the closest captive, which happens to be a young man, maybe my age. Though his body cannot even twitch, I see the beads of sweat which dot his forehead and chest.
Lucius ignores him, but Narcissa leans just slightly towards Gaia in order to whisper into her ear. Both women’s eyes are alight with something akin to excitement. “You were correct in thinking I would need to ask you about Igor,” his lip curls as he speaks of Karkaroff, “His penchant for cowardice is one we fear may have been passed along to his students.”
But Krum is already vehemently shaking his head. “I can assure ve most certainly have not.” As an afterthought he adds, “He vos a good headmaster.” Lucius raises a pale eyebrow. “He restored Durmstrang to its former glory,” Viktor explains, as though it were obvious, “He refused entry to the mudbloods, and dismissed those currently attending. Not everything he did vos vorthless.” Lucius eyes are sharp on us, and I can’t discern his mood. Lestrange has turned his back on everyone, his arms crossed, pouting like a child.
“But,” Viktor’s tone changes, to an almost conspiratorial playfulness, and I see Lucius’ attention intensify, “I expected the mistrust. That is vhy I brought vith me a gift. To illustrate that my sympathies lie in the correct place.”
“Wot gift?” The rather massive, buzz-cut wizard rumbles out from behind Viktor, his wand still aimed at our backs.
I swing my arm quickly behind Krum, extending my hand as far as I can reach in the direction of the man who spoke. With a cheeky grin and a wink, I chirp out at him, “Sjofn Kent, bona-fide American witch, certified chaos expert. Nice to meet you.”
Chapter 17: Mud, Blood, and Tears
I’m leaning against the stone bannister edging the Malfoy’s back patio, swirling a small glass of brandy in one hand. Next to me is Antonin Dolohov – a rather robust, black-haired Death Eater with a zest for conversation regarding the comparison of curses I have never fucking heard of. On my other side is Narcissa Malfoy and Gaia Zabini. A few paces away, his conversation companions frequently flitting their eyes to me, stands Viktor – along with Lucius, McNair, and Rabastan Lestrange.
Dolohov was invited to join our interrogation once my affiliation with the American wizarding government was introduced. It’s been over an hour and a half since we were originally held at wand-point, but somehow it feels more like ten.
I’m not certain why we are being kept several feet from each other. Having eyes on my date is slightly less stressful, but not being able to hear what the wizards all murmur to one another worries me. My professed affiliation with the FBI, and anti-muggle sympathies, indeed garnered the kind of attention from these sons of bitches I had hoped, but they’re holding on to Viktor a little too tightly. Maybe to see if our stories match?
Well, they fucking will. Douchebags.
“So you came all the way out to Britain to see the Quidditch World Cup? It’s a pity we didn’t meet then,” Gaia interrupts Dolohov’s verbal thesis regarding the merits and drawbacks of something called the Fiddlyfungus Curse. Narcissa sips her champagne as she regards me with ice blue eyes set deep in her thin face. Where Gaia is fiery and seductive, Narcissa acts as her exact foil, distantly cool and collected.
I keep my expression slightly detached, almost bored, as I respond, “No offense,” I gesture halfheartedly, “because I’m extremely stoked to be meeting you now, but there’s no way we would have met back then. Your whole movement was-” I wince apologetically, “-a bit on the disorganized side, if you catch my drift.” Narcissa smiles thinly, clearly affronted, but Dolohov nods almost understandingly.
“It is where I met Viktor, though,” I add, trying to lighten the subject. “I originally met that awful teacher of his, Kakabreath, or whatever-,” Gaia snorts, looking evilly delighted. “-so I gave him my card, I knew that he would be an amazing asset to any organization he chose to be a part of. I honestly was hoping to recruit him myself-”
“Lucky for us, you didn’t,” Narcissa’s thin smile widens and turns a little gloating.
“Lucky for me,” I insist, widening my eyes. I take another hearty sip of brandy and then continue, “Viktor told me all about your reemergence once your Dark Lord was resurrected, and I just knew I had to liaise with you all. You’re on the verge of something truly world-altering. Absolutely brilliant stuff.”
“On the verge?” Narcissa hisses, no longer pretending to hide her affront. “The Dark Lord is the most powerful wizard this world has ever seen, and if he so chose to cross the ocean, he would-”
“THAT-,” I interrupt her, pointedly, “-is precisely my point, dear Cissa.” A muscle in her jaw twitches, but the other two continue to regard me with interest. “The question,” I continue lowly, “is not if. It is when.”
Dolohov inhales through his teeth with unconcealed excitement, but Gaia chooses this moment to point out, more than a little accusingly, “My impression has always been that the Federal Bureau of Investigation is a muggle-run organization, part of American muggle domestic affairs.” She raises a delicate black eyebrow, as though daring me to correct her. Instead, I smile sweetly, “You are intelligent as well as beautiful, Ms Zabini.”
Abruptly, I sharpen my consideration of them, as though to illustrate an important point. “But it has always been the opinion of we American witches and wizards of a particular – ahem – mindset – that the most efficient and satisfying way to truly illustrate our dominance over the no-majs is by doing so in plain sight.”
The three of them look intrigued, but confused. I ask innocently, “Your no-maj, pardon me – muggle Prime Minister – he is still a muggle, correct?” Dolohov’s brow furrows as he catches my drift. “Baby steps,” I whisper to him. He looks awed.
I take a dramatic pause before elaborating, “The most rewarding part of my job is recognizing that not only is the true master race holding nearly every position of power available within my country, but that the lesser beings actually elected us there.”
I take another sip of brandy, having made my point. “B-but, I’ve visited the States,” Gaia is regarding me with wide, disbelieving eyes, “I think I would have known-”
“I understand that subtlety isn’t necessarily the vibe you all are going with here in the UK,” I nod and shrug, “And I respect that, I really do. It must be loads more satisfying to just string them up or body-bind them at your parties for sport when they particularly annoy you.”
Somewhere far to my left, closer to the main house, a set of party guests has begun beating and torturing one of the statue captives. The sounds of jeers and sparks of light from the various spells have been assailing my periphery vision. My inner demon is clawing at the left side of my body, struggling to break free of my control and launch itself in that direction with every ounce of firepower it can reach.
I keep my face collected, if politely interested, as I continue, “But I must be honest, there’s something so delightfully fulfilling in exercising your power over them with not only their consent, but their cooperation.” I force out a chuckle, “It’s positively pathetic.”
Narcissa is looking thoughtfully over towards the dance floor, gazing unseeing at her own soiree as she thinks over my words. Gaia is looking like she wants to strip my dress off of me with her teeth, which is interesting. Not sure what to do with that just yet.
Dolohov, though, frowns. “I see the appeal,” he rumbles out, “I really do.” His dark gaze shifts to regard the captive nearest us, the boy who looks to be my age. His sandy blonde hair is greasy with his sweat, and the freckles on his face and shoulders stand out sharply even in the dim light due to his fearful sheen.
Before I can even blink, Dolohov plucks his wand from inside the sleeve of his dress robes and points it at the boy. “Avada Kedavra!” he bellows, and the pale muggle crumples off of the pedestal from which he stood for god knows how long. He lands in a graceless heap, eyes open and mouth agape, upon a particularly thorny rose bush.
I have no idea how I stayed silent. Yes, I have seen death. Yes, I have seen unjust acts committed in front of my eyes. But never in such a way that I felt so powerless to do anything. I choke back a keening, agonized wail which threatens to morph into a battle cry if I let it emerge from my chest.
“Well,” Dolohov turns back to us women, grinning, “That answers that question about which method is more satisfying.” Gaia giggles, and Narcissa grins into the rim of her champagne glass.
Fuck the plan. Fuck this stupid, inconsequential cover story. I’m gonna kill everything.
Before I can twitch, however, a salmon-puff hors d'oeuvre careens towards my mouth, stuffing its way between my lips. I chew it angrily, and a baked truffle mac n’ cheese ball follows it shortly after – banging against the edge of my mouth until I eat it, too. Fuming, I flick my eyes to Viktor, who is clearly behind this appetizer assault. He is already watching me, his dark gaze sympathetic but hard.
I sigh internally. Externally, I turn my quickly-composed face to my conversation huddle and manage a small smile. “Oh dear,” Gaia smirks at me knowingly, “I fear we’ve put our guest off her game. She may not be able to keep up with our play.” Dolohov looks triumphant, while Narcissa looks coldly boastful. “You may be right,” I tell them, as though admitting defeat, “It would seem my ideal for play fits a slightly different definition.”
Gaia’s pupils dilate visibly, and Dolohov smirks. “In fact,” I murmur conspiratorially, “I was previously afraid to ask, but is there any chance you’re selling some of these specimens?” My eyes flicker unbidden to the small girl captive, positioned across the patio.
Narcissa sighs, glancing around her immaculate gardens, “That was the original intention, but it would seem their purpose has devolved into no better than common party favors.” Her nose wrinkles with dislike at anything from her party being described as common.
She is not wrong. Of the eight muggle prisoners I had counted when I arrived, only three now remain untouched on their original pedestals. My stomach gives a heave of pure, unadulterated loathing. “That is a shame,” I answer carefully, “I was quite hoping to see if I could persuade Viktor to make an offer on that small one on the far side.” I daintily point to the child in chains, as though picking out a set of curtains. “She would go very well with…others in my collection,” I sip my brandy furtively.
Narcissa gives me a genuinely regretful smile, it would seem my mention of collecting human beings has finally softened her to me. “I’m afraid Misters McNair and Nott have thoroughly laid claim to that particular muggle,” she leans over and pats my arm sympathetically, “I wish I would have known sooner, but they are quite fond of the-,” she clears her throat delicately, “-young ones.”
I give her my warmest smile, “Well, I’ll just have to be quicker next time.”
Her pointed face darts towards the back entrance of the manor, and her cold eyes narrow. “If you would excuse me,” she murmurs, “it would seem my house elves are either blatantly incompetent, or willfully attempting to make a fool of me.” Without further explanation she strides away at a brisk clip, her shoulders stiff with irritation. Gaia starts to follow her at a more leisurely stroll, but, a pace or two away, she turns to me over her graceful shoulder and purrs, “My dear Sjofn, would you quite mind if I call on you some time?”
Oh, shit. Does that mean on a date? Like, is that wizard-speak for Netflix-and-chill? Fuck, I don’t know.
Deciding this bridge is best left unburnt, I smile a small, flattered smile. With an exaggerated sigh I joke, “If you must.” Undeterred, she gives me a slow wink and continues gliding after her friend.
I let the weak smile linger for another moment before a singular, ringing alarm bell of a thought wipes it off my face.
Where is Viktor?
I stiffen, scanning the immediate area in front of me. He and his huddle are gone.
Where the FUCK is Viktor?
Panic swells in my chest, choking me. Attempting a façade of unruffled curiosity, I turn in an almost complete 360, cataloguing each and every wizard I can see. None of them are my Bulgarian escort.
Ice chills my veins; something is wrong.
Deciding not to play dumb, I grit out between my teeth without looking at him, “Dolohov, where is my date?” The hulking wizard hasn’t left my side with any excuses yet, I’m guessing he’s meant to be my chaperone for the time being.
Dolohov likewise does not play dumb, “He’ll be back soon, Miss Sjofn.”
In less than a second, I’ve whipped my dumb-ass, redwood wand out of my glittering clutch and hold it poised in my fist. “Do not fuck with me,” I hiss, facing him as though ready to duel. How could I have misread this so badly? Fuck. FUCK.
He does not draw his wand in return, but looks at me sidelong from an almost secret-service-esque position. His stance is shoulder-width, his hands clasped in front of him. “We answered every question you could think to ask,” I remind him, bitingly, “Now you will answer mine. Where. Is. He?”
“He’s in no danger,” Dolohov begins, but abruptly stops on a chuckle, “No, I’m sorry, that’s not precisely true. If your intentions are really what you both say they are, then he will be in no danger. Quite a lot of discomfort, pain even, but no danger.”
My stomach drops to my feet. What in the hell is he talking about?
“Take me to him,” I say, my tone hard, “This is an extremely fucked up way to commence what promised to be a favorable friendship.” I allow the dark, oily cloud living inside of me access to my fingertips and arms, preventing it from fully changing me. My muscles vibrate with adrenaline and possibility, positively itching to launch themselves at the blundering Death Eater to break his neck. As I had hoped, the threatening power which now hovers just beneath my fingertips twinges his danger-instincts, making him take me more seriously.
“They should be about done,” he frowns, looking me up and down with ill-disguised intrigue. “Why don’t we meet them at the front door? You’ll want to be getting him home.”
I think about stabbing him in the eye with my useless fucking stick for one more millisecond before he begins his lumbering gait towards the back of the manor, where I had originally entered. Snarling under my breath – he better fucking be okay – I follow, my ‘wand’ still clutched in my fist at my side.
As we stride quickly down the length of the remaining festivities, the pedestal of the little girl catches my eye. It’s empty.
Dolohov doesn’t once glance to make sure I’m still behind him as he winds us back through the hallways leading to the front door. Upon reflection, I stash my useless stick back into my clutch and poise my hand above my ring’s tag instead. As we pass the silent paintings lining the shiny, green-embossed walls, Dolohov murmurs something into the tip of his wand under his breath, waves it once, and a large, inky black ram billows forth like a shadow. It doesn’t resemble a patronus in color, and I briefly wonder what kind of magic conjured it. It pays me no mind as it charges past, disappearing abruptly through the wall to my left, presumably to deliver Dolohov’s message to its intended recipient.
My hand with Sirius’ ring on the thumb spasms into a fist. My only method of communication; I’m woefully underprepared without Krum’s magic.
Shit. Fuck. Balls.
Still moving swiftly, we emerge into the grand foyer of the house. The lights have been dimmed, giving every ounce of décor an even more sinister air. The black and white marble tiles practically beg for splashes of red blood – or so my pissed-off, violent instincts tell me. Dolohov makes to walk all the way to the mahogany front doors, their ornate brass handles glittering invitingly, beseeching me to make a run for it.
But I stop short, rooting myself. I’ve just opened my mouth to spit more venom at my worthless chaperone when a hidden door opens. Disguised as a particularly tall painting, located in the farthest corner of the space, it swings forward to reveal several indistinct figures standing within.
Two of the figures are hooded, wearing sweeping cloaks which drag several inches as they make their way across the expanse of floor which separates us. They’re wearing what must be their Death Eater masks. One chalky white with grotesque red filigree, the other matching but graphite-colored, I nearly twist the tag on my ring right then and there.
A third figure, standing slightly separate from the other two, cloaked but unmasked, is Lucius Malfoy. His long blonde hair catches my attention, as does his smile. His smile is the only thing which gives me pause. It’s not threatening, or predatory – it’s excited. My confusion lasts only a millisecond before my mind finally registers that the two hooded Death Eaters are dragging a prone figure between them.
Seemingly unconscious, bruises beginning to blossom all along one side of his face and jaw, is Viktor. Alarm dominates my consciousness until I notice his eyes fluttering with signs of life.
Frozen to the spot, still extremely wary – not to mention face-meltingly furious – I pin Lucius with a glare. “This is how you treat your guests?” I spit at him, unable to rein in my fury, “Your Dark Lord receives pledges of support and abuses those sources of support in turn?” His smile falters only minutely, his eyes appraising me. I sneer, “What a fabulous discovery. I’ll be sure to pass that expectation along to my colleagues across the pond.”
“Calm yourself, dear Sjofn. We did nothing to Mister Krum that was not expressly permitted,” Lucius’ smile has calmed to self-satisfied sneer. My shock must show on my face, but as they come within spitting distance of where I stand, one of the masked Death Eaters pushes Krum towards me, propelling him the remaining three feet.
Instinctively, I open my arms to catch him and stumble backwards as his full weight crashes into my front. A pained groan is torn from his rapidly swelling lips, and I frantically amass all of my strength in order to keep us upright. Somehow, during my staggering, the front door was silently opened and we practically fall through it.
My balance slowly regained, my stance braced, I hold Viktor the best that I can in the awkward manner that he had fallen into me. I flit my wide, frightened eyes back through the front door to where Lucius is standing. If they attack us right now, we’re done for. Fuck, fuck, FUCK.
My heart is beating rapidly with fear and adrenaline, not at all comprehending what’s going on. Lucius takes a step closer to the threshold and looks down on us with a coolly distant expression, “Make certain to stay with him,” he tells me, lowly, “Our…inauguration method is not easily survived.”
Chilly fingers creep across my breastbone as understanding dawns. I glance down at the broken wizard in my arms.
“Y-y-you...you didn’t…,” I whisper, horrified.
But Lucius ignores me, his cold, dead eyes still on Krum. “It is my dearest wish that you do survive,” he states matter-of-factly, speaking to Viktor. “We will be in touch…brother.”
On that note, the mahogany double-doors swing slowly shut, occluding me and my half-conscious escort in relative darkness.
“Fuck,” I hiss.
I stand frozen for a handful of seconds, scared out of my brain. But a pathetic moan from the Bulgarian in my arms wakes me up. Shaking my head to clear the haze of fear and anger, I widen my stance in my unforgiving heels in order to rearrange Viktor’s body weight. Hopefully, if anyone is watching, they’ll think I was just too frightened to remember to use magic, because this is going to be rough.
Winding one arm around his tapered waist, I hold him firmly against my body as he struggles to help by holding any of his own weight. I wind his left arm around my shoulders, heaving my right shoulder beneath his armpit for more leverage. Leaning heavily into the bannister on my left, I stagger us down the stone steps one by one.
We stumble off of the final step, both gasping with exertion. Closing my eyes, I focus on the roiling power in my chest, allowing it access to my arms and legs. It helps a little, I feel steadier. But without transforming completely, the benefit is minimal.
We begin to shuffle along the pebbled drive, towards the guardhouse from which we entered. I’m breathing slowly through my nose to conserve my strength, and Viktor seems to be doing the same.
Still silent, we reach the cultured stone guardhouse. With a grunt, I push Victor to a leaning, slumped position against the tunnel wall. Hands on my knees, I try to stop the shivers of shock and rapid heartbeat betraying my previous terror.
“Sjofn…,” Krum mumbles weakly from his slumped position against the wall, “Sjofn, I am so very sorry...”
He coughs, and a dribble of blood drags sluggishly from the corner of his mouth. There are abrasions and emerging bruises covering almost every ounce of flesh I can see. “No, Viktor,” I sound choked, “No. I’m sorry. I never even saw…I never even noticed you had…” I squeeze my eyes shut, feeling overcome with guilt. I let my partner down, big time.
“It vos contrived so that you vouldn’t,” Krum spits out harshly, “They gave me no choice.” Unsurprisingly, this does not make me feel better. “Ve must continue, Sjofn,” Krum sounds exhausted, but his voice is hard with conviction, “Ve must get to the barrier, and attempt to apparate.”
I nod, knowing that while we’re still on the grounds we will be in danger. I start to straighten, and reach for him to resume our balancing act when his left sleeve catches my attention. It is completely soaked through with blood – dark blood, bad blood. I glance to my shoulder where I had had his arm slung previously and notice that I’m covered in it too. It’s stained my hair and dripped down my dress front.
Quickly, I snag the wrist of his left arm and slip the sleeve up past his elbow. Viktor hisses in pain, and gives a start, but I hold him firm. Stark against his skin, red and weeping his lifeblood, is the dark mark tattoo.
“F-f-fuck…,” my voice shakes, and becomes choked with tears, “V-viktor, oh g-god…”
“Ve. Must. Move, Sjofn.” Krum bites out, impatiently. “I do not know how much longer until the effects of this dark magic vill overvhelm-” His body suddenly heaves, and he vomits violently. His blood seems to be weeping out from every source I can see – his mouth, his eyes, even his ears. Alarm has me scrabbling to secure my hold on him, my arm behind his back and his over my shoulder. We need to get the fuck out of here. We need help.
Shuffling through his blood and sick on the concrete, I move us as quickly as I can. We clear the guardhouse and start loping gracelessly through the dewy grass – the forest from which we can apparate about 600 meters away. Despite my haste, we move slowly, laboriously. The wards which had hindered our progress on our path towards the house are barely noticeable as we leave the grounds.
I struggle to keep us both upright, for with every few feet Viktor’s command over his body lessens. He vomits twice more, and I notice more blood in each. He must have lost an extremely dangerous amount by now, and as though confirming my fear, about 200 meters from our goal, he collapses.
I stumble hard, breaking the heel of my shoe. Both of us sprawled on the ground, I struggle to stand back up, and I realize that the tears I’ve been holding at bay have finally broken through. I wipe my muddy hands on my muddy dress and stoop down to haul Viktor up to my chest from under his armpits.
I stagger, his weight overwhelming me. I gasp out tears of panic and despair, but resolve to drag him to the property line. Step by aching step, I torturously make progress, all the while silently begging the universe to keep Viktor alive long enough for help to come. With only a few feet left, I start crying out, “Padfoot, I need you. Padfoot, I’m in trouble. Padfoot, I need you. Padfoot, I’M IN FUCKING TROUBLE.” I feel heat sear the ring around my thumb, illustrating its strobe-like changes from red to black.
With an exclamation, highlighting the final vestiges of my strength, I heave Viktor’s body over the line of the forest floor, finally off the grounds.
“FINNIE!” I hear the sweet sound of Sirius’ low voice, husky with fear, as he crashes through the underbrush. I can’t respond, I can only pant, still holding Krum’s broken and bleeding form. Thank fuck I had been right about his ring being able to trace my location. Thank FUCK.
Sirius finally emerges in my line of sight, darting out from between the thick tree trunks. His muscled frame is tense with anxiety, his wand held tight in one hand. His handsome face stiffens with shock as he takes us in, still moving swiftly towards us. “Please,” I rasp out, so relieved to see him I barely process how I must look – covered in mud, blood, and tears. “Please get us back; he’s not strong enough.”
Sirius says nothing, but practically barrels into me. In less than a second he heaves Viktor up by the waist, throwing him over one shoulder. I hear Krum inhale sharply, then cry out in pain. So fast he’s a blur, Sirius darts a hand out and cups the back of my neck. Hauling me forward, I collide with his warm chest, and instinctively throw my arms around him. I clutch the back of his sweater as the air is sucked out of my lungs, and all three of our bodies bend and tighten, as though preparing to get stuffed into a tube. Just before my lungs start to ache with air deprivation, the world bounces back, righting itself.
I stumble, still clutching Sirius, who quickly maneuvers the three of us through the front door of Grimmauld Place.
“Oh, sweet Circe, what happened?”
“Someone floo Madam Pomfrey, immediately.”
A chorus of concerned voices shakes me from my relieved stupor. Cognitively, I detach myself from my long-haired, white knight, and turn to the room in time to see McGonagall and Kingsley have already relieved Sirius of Viktor’s body. They float his bleeding form onto a table which Moody has just conjured, and I glimpse Molly shuffling from the room while intonating shrilly about hot water.
Arthur and Bill are suddenly in front of me, looking me over. “I’m fine,” I tell them, “I’m not hurt.” Just as quickly, they round away from me to join McGonagall and Kingsley in assessing Viktor’s injuries.
As the wizards and witch twitter and raise their voices, chanting spells and binding wounds, Sirius lifts a wordless hand to my cheek. He’s still standing just behind me, and I keep my eyes glued to the scene in front of us as he strokes downward once, from cheekbone to throat. I shiver, and Sirius crowds behind me even more closely. He takes his hand off of my skin, showing me the blood that had been stained there.
“It’s not my blood,” I whisper hoarsely, gazing at his outstretched hand, “It’s his. It’s Viktor’s.”
I feel Sirius release a deep breath which ruffles my hair, making me want to lean backwards into his warm strength. Just before I’m about to give in to the indulgence, I hear Moody begin to question Krum, his voice gentle, but insistent, “Madam Pomfrey is on her way, boy, just hold on. Tell us what happened, while you still can.” Viktor’s eyes flutter open, and he mumbles out, “S-Sjofn…”
“She’s right here, lad. You did good, she’s safe,” Moody assures him, and I feel tears prick the backs of my eyes once more. “But tell us, what did they do? How did you get separated?” Moody fixes me with a sharp, accusatory glare with his non-magical eye.
“What’s going on? What’s happening? Remus just started getting very agitated-” Tonks has emerged at the top of the staircase, but her words halt at the sight of Krum covered in blood. Her eyes flick once to me, and upon seeing me safe, she switches straight to auror-mode. “FRED,” she bellows over her shoulder, “GEORGE! GET THE ESSENCE OF DITTANY AND BRING IT DOWNSTAIRS.” She begins descending the steps two at a time, her gaze fixed on the Bulgarian wizard fighting for his life.
McGonagall has her eyes closed, and is hovering her wand over his body while humming some spell, when suddenly the wand tip gravitates unerringly towards Krum’s left forearm. The sleeve of his dress robe has all but dissolved, and as she turns his wrist over she lets out a small shriek.
I close my eyes. It’s too much. How could I have let this happen?
I hear the rumble of more steps hit the top of the stairs – Fred and George hurrying to be of assistance.
“They vanted her,” I hear Viktor croak out weakly. The room goes silent as everyone stares transfixed at the Dark Mark staining his pale skin. “Ve vere too convincing, it vould seem. They vanted her to take the Mark, but I insisted it should be me.”
With effort, he turns his dark head to find my eyes from where I stand, still poised near the door. “You vould not have survived this, Sjofn. Do not blame yourself. Ve vould not have left that place vithout one of us being branded-” He coughs, more blood gurgling in his throat. Luckily, abruptly emerging from around the corner, trailed my Mrs. Weasley, is a matronly-looking witch with grey hair and a medi-bag.
“Poppy,” McGonagall greets briskly, “Viktor has been cursed with the Dark Mark. He is one of ours, we must make sure he survives.”
Madam Pomfrey wastes no time in hauling Viktor onto one side, to clear his mouth and lungs. The other occupants in the room attempt to assist her by collaborating via their collective knowledge regarding Death-Eater magic. As their voices rise and fall, I stand numbly by.
Stupid, brave, Bulgarian fuckhead...
“Sirius,” Tonks calls from the huddle, “Would you take Molly to your storeroom? Get the shit we need for blood-replenishing potion.”
Sirius glides his fingertips along my back as he steps around me to comply. He still hasn’t said a word. Based on how anti-Finnie-going-to-Malfoy-Manor he was, it may be just him holding his tongue.
As soon as Sirius is across the room, heading with Mrs. Weasley toward the kitchens, Moody appears at my side. Both of his eyes consider me, and his grizzled face betrays no emotion. “Well?” he growls softly.
The numbness in my core has begun to thaw, and is heating rapidly. I clench my fists and allow an intoxicating wave of fury wash over me, coating my mind and limbs until I’m practically vibrating with impatience. “Take me back,” I grind out, through clenched teeth.
“Back where?” Moody asks, muttering so that we’re not overheard.
“Back to Malfoy Manor,” I respond, already turning and preparing to make for the door. I flick my eyes up to meet his as I hiss, “I think I may have noticed an opportunity.”
Chapter 18: Take Off Your Cloak
Minerva McGonagall wrings her nervous hands continuously as she watches her dear friend pace back and forth behind his desk.
Neither of them speak, they simply wait for their colleagues to arrive. Dumbledore glances at the fireplace each time he turns on his heel, his half-moon spectacles glittering in the lamplight so that his expression is indiscernible.
Minerva is about to open her mouth to request an explanation – she had been hastily summoned from Mister Krum’s bedside here in the Hogwarts’ hospital wing, where she, Bill, and Poppy were dutifully fighting the symptoms of his Dark Mark as they arose. But before she can get a word out, the grate blazes with green flame, and Alastor Moody and Kingsley Shacklebolt emerge from the hearth one by one.
Both wizards’ faces are hard as stone. Dumbledore ceases his pacing, standing squarely behind his chair with his wizened hands braced on its handsome back. His intense gaze pierces the two men with what could almost be described as a rabid interest, and he bites out, “Well?”
Moody wastes no time, “The wee thing is back at Grimmauld Place. She got herself back about three hours ago.” McGonagall furrows her brow in confusion, only just now realizing that the muggle girl had left after she and Viktor’s less than ideal return from Malfoy Manor. “She’s sleepin’ now,” Moody continues, almost as an afterthought, “Sirius was the one who opened the door for her. He’s not happy, suspects somethin’. From what I can tell she told him she was with me.”
Dumbledore nods, but turns his sharp gaze to Kingsley. The midnight-skinned wizard’s eyes are round with shock, his hands limp at his sides. “Are you trying to tell me,” he says weakly, “that that girl is behind the rumors plaguing the Ministry this morning?” Minerva frowns. It’s only six o’clock. What possible dramatics could have already begun?
What exactly did Finnie do?
“I understand you cannot stay,” Dumbledore says to Kingsley in a businesslike tone, “for I imagine the Ministry is going to be bombarded with the lingering effects of Miss Sjofn’s late-night wanderings for some time-”
“If she is actually responsible for what they’re saying happened-,” Kingsley interrupts with an angrier tone.
“That,” Dumbledore interrupts right back, “is precisely what we are about to find out.”
He reaches a long-fingered hand into his lilac-colored sleeve and emerges with a small vial which swirls, filled with a silvery, near-translucent liquid. A memory.
Minerva’s frown deepens. “Why don’t we simply ask Finnie about what happened?” she says rather archly.
A small smile tips up the corners of Dumbledore’s mouth, hiding in his impressive mustache. He holds the vial up to a lamp and peers at it. “Call me overly-cautious,” he murmurs, “but I do quite prefer to see proof of events with my own eyes.”
“Well you were right about one thing,” Kingsley rumbles out, sounding exhausted, “I can’t stay. The Ministry is in absolute chaos over this.” He’s flicked some floo powder into the grate, not having strayed far from the hearth in the first place.
As the flames turn green he aims a sharp look over his shoulder at Moody and says, “Fill me in on what you discover. Regardless if she was behind it or not, I suspect we will likely see some form of retribution before we see them hanging up their masks in surrender.” And on that somber note, he steps into the fire, and whooshes from sight.
More alarmed than ever, Minerva turns her thin-lipped gaze back to the Headmaster, who is removing the stopper from the vial and preparing to pour it into his Pensieve. Alastor wordlessly approaches the desk, limping past the aged witch as she stubbornly stays rooted in the center of the carpet.
“Wait just a blast-ended minute!” she snaps out. Her companions’ faces turn to meet her frustrated gaze with wide-eyed innocence.
She huffs with impatience, “What, precisely, happened last night?”
Another moment of silence passes as the two men glance at each other. “Outside,” Minerva continues exasperatedly, “of the borderline disastrous reconnaissance mission.”
“The girl had me take her back to the Manor,” Mad-Eye growls out, his magical eye staring at the unstoppered vial of memory. “Said she noticed an opportunity to carry out her purpose.”
“And you just left her?” McGonagall is horrified. Finnie had been coated with mud and blood when she made it back, certainly in no state to continue her covert affairs.
“She’s a professional,” Moody snaps back, clearly tired of this re-hashed argument, “She’s not any use to us if we baby her all the bloody time.”
Before Minerva can open her mouth to retort, Dumbledore speaks over both of them. “I acquired this memory,” he says in a clear, relaxed voice, “from a very young, very small, Romanian girl who walked in the front doors of London Bridge Hospital approximately three and a half hours ago.”
He pours the memory into the Pensieve, the other two participants finally staying silent. “She spun a tale,” he continues quietly, “of unfortunate, traumatic captivity at the hands of evil men and women who could control her…as if by magic.” McGonagall’s mouth twists with unease, not certain if she wishes to delve into this poor girl’s memory. Dumbledore’s eyes stayed glued to the surface of the Pensieve, which is now swirling with agitation. “I think she was quite relieved to tell me her account,” he says softly, “for she perhaps could sense that I did not think her words untrue.”
He straightens suddenly, looking to his witch and wizard companions expectantly. “Shall we?” he clips out, looking particularly at McGonagall who still stands several paces away. With a sigh she steps forward. Without hesitating, once next to the desk, she closes her eyes and begins to lower her upper body towards the great, stone bowl.
She feels the tip of her nose break the surface, and, without pause, she’s falling through the memory. After a few seconds, she opens her eyes to look around. Beside her, having immediately followed, stand both Albus and Alastor.
They are standing at the edge of the Malfoy property. At their backs is the beginning of the woods, which Minerva recalls is the point which any wizard or witch would need to reach in order to apparate off-grounds. She feels a small fissure of unease, her senses telling her that someone is hidden in the forest nearby, waiting. She peers with narrowed eyes at the tree trunks and bracken, but no obvious shapes emerge. No shadows move. She turns back to her companions who are facing forward, watching several figures approach across the vast lawn.
A wave of disgust washes over McGonagall as she recognizes two of the Death Eaters approaching the property line. Walden McNair and Theo Nott Sr. stagger slightly, clearly having had enjoyed a bottle of something strong at the festivities. Behind them marches a thin young man with acne and greasy blonde hair, a Carrow cousin by the look of him. Distaste curls her lip further as she notices McNair holding a chain. Stumbling behind him, for his weaving strides must be difficult to mimic, walks the ill-fated young muggle captive, nude but for manacles wrapped around both her slight wrists.
Minerva struggles to study the scene with an impartial eye, intent on gathering the facts. However, at the sight of the young girl’s chaffed wrists, pale bruised body, and dead blue eyes, the old witch finds herself wishing she were not in a memory at all, but facing these brutes herself.
“I don’ see why we cannae just go to my house,” McNair grumbles as they trip along. “I’ve got a much better set up for-,” he turns and wiggles his eyebrows at the girl, giving her a sloppy leer, “-extended activities.”
Bile threatens to choke Minerva, but the young girl barely flinches – her long, dark hair sways about her waist and occludes her expression.
“I’m not going all the fucking way to Glasgow just to get my cock wet, surrounded by your collection of leather riding crops,” Nott Sr. snaps back, clearly irritated. “My place is right across from the Thames downtown. Much more convenient for dumping her later.”
The greasy-haired youth snickers will ill-disguised anticipation. McNair gives a disgruntled yank on the chain, making the small girl stagger with a cry. “Fine,” the executioner grunts, “You lead the way then.”
The three wizards reach out to grasp each other’s forearms for side-along apparation. However, as they step across the tree line and prepare to vanish, a dark shadow falls elegantly from a tree just overhead. The shadow lands neatly upon the shoulders of the youngest Death Eater, but before the disruption is noticed, the entire memory crumbles as the gathering apparates.
Minerva blinks rapidly, her heart pounding. The setting reforms; they’ve been transported to an extremely dark, horrifyingly grimy alleyway somewhere in central London. She can smell the stink of the polluted Thames nearby, adding to the unpleasant roll of her stomach.
It takes a of couple seconds for her thoughts to reorganize, and for her to be able to focus on the scene unfolding before her eyes.
The acne-faced Death Eater sways where he stands, and it takes a moment for Minerva to spy a dark, leather-clad arm wound around his slight waist, holding him up from behind. Far more alarming is his throat, sliced clean from ear to ear. Like a waterfall, his lifeblood pours out – staining his front and splashing onto the filthy cobblestones at his feet.
His wand falls useless from his limp hand, and is immediately snapped by a combat boot worn by the figure still crouched behind his thin form.
The remaining two Death Eaters howl with shock – belatedly comprehending. They back away from their colleague, almost on reflex. Nott Sr. has his wand up and screeches, “Avada Kedav-!” But before he can complete the curse, another glove-covered hand flits out from behind the dying Death Eater’s frame and flicks a small blade lightning-fast in the direction of his wand.
“NO STICKS,” a firm, achingly familiar voice trills from behind her first victim. Minerva’s hand flutters to her throat in astonishment, but beside her she hears small huffs of what can only be chuckles coming from Moody. McGonagall whips around to glance at him, but changes direction almost immediately as his magical and non-magical eyes are both glued to Nott Sr.
Her lined mouth falls open as she sees the blade, just a half-second ago thrown, has been embedded in Nott’s outstretched hand. It carved a path down his wand, which is now split in two lengthwise, and continued slicing through his middle two fingers before coming to a halt in the center of his palm. Blood and bone shine in an otherworldly way, illuminated only by the stars and by the dim glow of the far-away streetlamps. He trips backwards, clutching the wrist of his ruined hand. His mouth opens and closes – spittle flying in agony – but no sound emerges from his lips.
McNair, still holding the chain of the child, whips his wand like a matador, looking as enraged as a bull. But Finnie uses the dying Death Eater as a shield, crouching behind him as the silent curse opens his body from collar to nape. His entrails sluggishly emerge from the wound, drawn down to his hips by gravity before slipping onto the pavement. So fast she’s a blur, Finnie shifts the boy downwards and emerges above his falling form with a black handgun paired with a silencer. “Did-,” she shoots McNair’s wand hand, forcing him to drop it. “I-,” she shoots his opposite hand the one holding the chain, which he also drops with a wail. “Fucking-,” she shoots one of his knees, collapsing him as his blood explodes from the wound. “Stutter?” she finishes, stepping over the now-dead, acne-faced youth and striding forward.
Minerva’s eyes grow wide in their wrinkled sockets as she takes in all of their hard work. Finnie stands tall, clad in all black from her booted feet to her drawn-up hood. She wears the hooded sweatshirt beneath a black leather jacket, both of which hide her curves. Her black jeans slouch down her legs androgynously, tucked into the boots. Still poised in one gloved hand is her gun, but Minerva knows there is another one holstered at the small of her back. Several handles of other goblin-made blades sit strapped to her person, at her ankles, thighs, and waist. But the most sinister detail of her transformation, the piece Minerva knows these Death Eaters will never forget, is the mask.
Plain white, with a small, upturned mouth and delicate nose, the mask elevates Finnie from worthy foe…to the subject of nightmares. Her blank, dead, black eyes are all that can be seen through the appropriate holes, with additional small holes at the nostrils and a very small one at the mouth allowing her voice to carry.
Nott Sr. abruptly turns on his heel and prepares to run, still clutching his mutilated wand hand. A quick flick of her handgun incapacitates him as well, his knee bursting in a firework of red.
“Stay very, very still,” Finnie tells them as she approaches, her boots thudding ominously on the cobblestones. “If you move overly much, I’ll have to assume you’re trying to be threatening. And when I feel threatened, I overreact.” She taps the side of her firearm against her leg almost absentmindedly, but the clicking sound it makes echoes off of the alley walls. The air is punctuated by the sound of the wizards’ pained gasping, their fresh wounds tinging the air with the smell of copper and death.
Finnie strides purposefully up to Nott Sr., who sits in the grime. He’s shaking with pain but glares at her with gritted teeth. She drops to a swift crouch in front of him, tilting her masked head to the side inquiringly. But when she speaks there is no question. “Take off your cloak,” she instructs cheerfully, sounding positively demented. Nott Sr. begins to sneer, and open his mouth for what promises to be a scathing retort.
But before he can slip any words past his gnarled, stained teeth, Finnie whips her head to the side and lifts her gun so fast Minerva’s eyes simply cannot follow. POP – POP – POP – Finnie fires three times, all shots finding their mark in quick succession. McNair gasps in horror and anguish as each bullet penetrates his crotch-region, one bloodied hand frozen in midair as it was poised to touch his Dark Mark – to presumably call for aid. As his tortured cry echoes into the night, her smooth façade turns back to Nott Sr. “Why-,” she pleads to him, accenting each word with a wave of her gun, “-does nobody fucking listen to me?” She shakes her hooded head in exasperation. “I say I can outdrink an auror, nobody fucking believes me. I say I can handle a few Death Eaters, no problem, nobody believes me. And-” Her voice getting shriller as she continues, “-I say I over-fucking-react when I feel threatened, and nobody believes me! Do I look like someone who lies?”
She pauses, gazing expectantly at Nott Sr. with her soulless black eyes. The grizzled Death Eater does nothing, staying silent as his companion screams. After a moment, he pointedly turns his head to the side and spits on the stones next to Finnie’s booted foot.
“Alright,” the muggle woman stands quickly, “I can tell you’re just in the mood to be difficult.” Looming over Nott’s crumpled, prostrate form, she continues, “How about this,” she aims her firearm, “If you take your cloak off, I’ll let you keep your dick.”
The Death Eater’s mouth twists in pure hate. Grunting with the effort, as any movement jostles his shattered knee, he grudgingly begins to fumble for the clasp of his handsome, formal cloak with his good hand.
Finnie nods once it unclasps and falls in a heap around him. “Perfect,” she chimes as though praising a mentally-handicapped student, “Now toss it over there.” She inclines her head to the right.
With a sharp inhale of pain, Nott tosses the cloak. Almost immediately Finnie begins giggling wildly.
The cacophony of her giggles mixed with the pained sobs of McNair raises the hair of Minerva’s arms. Nott Sr. finally seems to lose some of his furious courage, and his lined face falters as he stares at the masked figure, doubled over with laughter above him.
“R-r-remember…,” she rasps out, straightening as her giggles subside, “Remember w-when I asked if I look l-like s-s-someone who lies?” Nott’s eyes widen with fright and horror, and he suddenly reaches for the sleeve of his left arm, despite his mangled hand.
Finnie continues to chuckle softly as she raises the gun to his crotch, unfortunately exposed due to his having landed in a splayed fashion. Before his ruined fingers can ease the sleeve up past his wrist, she begins systematically shooting him in the groin, mumbling through her smile, “God, you’re such a fucking bitch.”
POP – POP – POP
Finnie fires three more shots, easing them up his chest until the final shot lands in the center of his face, right between the eyes.
With a sigh, she turns to collect the cloak resting several meters away. Minerva feels herself shaking, and refuses to even spare a glance to her companions at the risk of missing the minutest detail.
Finnie shakes out the cloak, her weapon still held haphazardly in one gloved hand. With determined strides, her booted feet making very little noise, she holds it up out of the filth while making her way to the opposite side of the alley. Her steps slow as she nears, and with a start McGonagall realizes that she’s approaching the chained muggle child.
“Put this on,” Finnie says to the girl, softly. Some of the tension in Minerva’s muscles loosen at the sound of her kind, placating tone.
Here is the Finnie I thought I knew.
The muggle child’s manacles clink as her shaking hands rise to grasp the thick material. Her pale, shockingly blue, eyes gaze up at her masked protector with a heart-breaking mixture of fear, disbelief, and worship. No tears well up; no screams emerge. Silently, the dark-haired waif clutches the warmth to her small body, overwhelmed simply to be covered and unable to take the time to wrap it around herself properly.
Finnie holsters her firearm finally, and reaches impatient hands out to the girl, who doesn’t even flinch. With deft fingers, the shadow-woman peels back the child’s grasp in order to whisk the full garment across her slight shoulders, securing it tightly in the front.
“Okay now, sweet pea,” the muggle woman’s voice behind her mask sounds decidedly husky with emotion, “I need you to turn around now. Face the wall, and shut your eyes.”
With a small measure of defiance, the girl blinks her large, lamp-like orbs once, but slowly begins to turn and face the brick wall behind her. As the girl squeezes her eyes shut, Minerva, Dumbledore, and Moody experience the sensation as well. The scene grows fuzzy then darkens completely, but though they stand in what now appears to be a limbo-like abyss, the sounds of the alley still reach their ears.
“Alrighty Mister Executioner, what on Earth am I to do with you?”
Muffled wimpers can be heard, as though McNair has an arm braced across his mouth to keep from making further noise.
“You’re right, I’m sorry. I’ve already got a pretty good idea. I’m just being a dick.”
The sound of metal being unsheathed reaches McGonagall’s ears. A whistle through the alley air precedes a brief, agonized shout of surprise, before all goes silent.
“Did you pass out? What a fucking pussy.”
Unable to understand what that means in its entirety, Minerva hypothesizes that McNair must have finally fainted from the pain.
The sound of Finnie’s combat boots stomp over to where Nott Sr. lay dead. Another whistling swing of some blade is followed by a sickening thud of it meeting its mark. Without hesitating, Finnie walks farther away, to the alley entrance – the place to which they had originally apparated. Finding the young Death Eater’s body, another swing and thud is heard.
McGonagall, Dumbledore, and Mad-Eye hear the sounds of what must be a plastic bag being snapped open. Over the course of several seconds, Finnie loads a couple items into the bag. More scuffling bootsteps are heard before, “Okay, you can turn around. Time to go.”
Like a fuzzy oil painting evolving into a clear picture, the scenery once again materializes. Sure enough, Finnie stands with a black plastic bag filled with something undoubtedly macabre, and she’s securing one of her extendable goblin-blades back onto her thigh holster.
After only a brief hesitation, the child steps away from the wall in order to shuffle in Finnie’s direction. The masked woman does not rush her, but waits at the entrance of the alley patiently.
Once the girl is an arm-length away, Finnie inclines her head, indicating she should lead the way out of the alley. As she angles herself to follow the grimy little thing, she casually chirps out, “If the blood loss doesn’t kill you, McNair, I sure hope you live long enough to give someone a decent version of events.”
McGonagall glances back at the three strewn bodies, and sure enough McNair is still breathing, though barely. Finnie has managed to cleanly slice off each of their left arms – the one branded with the Mark – from just above the elbow. A quick glance at her retreating figure has Minerva squinting suspiciously at the plastic bag.
Moody and Dumbledore make to follow the two girls, Dumbledore eyeing McGonagall warily as she reluctantly trails behind. He gives the old witch a small, encouraging smile, but fiddles anxiously with the end of his beard. He likely hopes, as she does, that this particular adventure is close to over.
“There’s a little blood on that jacket, sorry about that,” Finnie mumbles to the girl as they walk along the completely deserted riverfront. The girl just shrugs. The plastic bag held in the woman’s gloved grasp swings sickeningly.
Quietly, they approach a telephone box which is alight beneath a lamppost. Surreptitiously, Finnie continues to glance around for signs of life, but somehow no one emerges.
Once at the entrance to the booth, Finnie sets the bag down outside, and opens the door. She leans inside and quickly dials 9-9-9.
“Yes, hello,” she mutters, lowering her voice unnecessarily. “There’s a youth standing along the Thames, right next to-,” Finnie narrows her inky eyes at the closest address, rattling it off but forgetting to do the voice. “She looks mega fucked up. Needs an escort to the hospital. I’d help but I’m a jackass. Please hurry.” She promptly hangs up the phone.
Squeezing back out the folding door, she leans against the side of the box. A moment of silence passes, her bottomless eyes gazing down at the cloak-enveloped figure. “Sorry about that,” she finally mutters, “You don’t really look that fucked-up. All things considering.” The girl just shrugs again.
Suddenly, keeping her wide eyes glued to Finnie, the dark-haired waif points a small, quivering finger to the black plastic bag sitting on the ground, as though in question.
“It’s their arms,” Finnie explains without hesitation, much to Minerva’s horror. “I’m gonna find that one’s house, maybe he’s got a new wife or a maid or something, and I’m gonna drop their arms down his chimney.”
Good Godric, what?
Muffled chuckles are once again being quietly emitted from Alastor’s direction. McGonagall refuses to turn to look, her arms resolutely crossed at her chest.
Silence descends once more as the two muggles wait quietly for London’s finest to arrive. After no more than a minute, having been fidgeting the whole while, Finnie reaches into the buttoned pocket of her leather jacket.
She emerges with her futuristic music player. Ignoring the child’s curious stare, Finnie turns it on with a click, pushing buttons on the bright screen until music begins playing from the invisible speakers.
Shoving it back in her pocket as opening electric guitar chords start to thrum, the masked woman asks, “So, what’s your name?”
The girl’s long, dark hair sways around her waist as she snaps her eyes back up to Finnie’s mask. Instead of answering, she simply wrinkles her nose in distaste.
Finnie nods her hooded head understandingly. “I get it,” she mumbles, “I’ve got a weird name too.”
A heartbeat passes, and the chorus of the song playing from the muggle woman’s pocket begs Roxanne to reconsider putting on the red light.
“This could be an opportunity, though,” Finnie suddenly sounds intense, and the girl’s hypnotic blue eyes haven’t left her black ones. “After tonight-,” sirens can be heard in the distance, fast approaching, “-you can choose to be anything you want. Be whoever you want.” Finnie seems to be trying to convey something important. “Start fresh,” she finishes on a whisper.
Quick as lightning, Finnie extends a gloved hand to lovingly cup the girl’s haunted face once. Before anyone can react, she’s snatched up the plastic bag, and darted across the street. The bobbies swing around the corner about a block away, but the agile shadow-woman is already gone.
The scene begins to melt as the memory ends, Minerva’s last glimpse being that of the shrouded muggle child looking wistfully at the shadows. “Mulţumesc,” the witch thinks she hears her croak, her poor abused voice weak, “Mulţumesc frumos.”
McGonagall sways upon landing, once again standing beside Dumbledore’s desk. She extends a hand to the tabletop to steady herself, her years weighing heavily on her. She glances up to Dumbledore and Moody through her spectacles.
Alastor looks pleased as punch. His weathered face is distorted with an uncharacteristic grin. Dumbledore, however, looks contemplative. She keeps her silence as she waits for him to emerge from his thoughts.
Once he does, beard in hand, he looks to her anxious face. A twinkle in his eye tells her all she needs to know of his opinion of these events. “Curious,” he murmurs to her, his face unfocused, still a bit in his own mind.
“What’s curious, Albus?” Minerva can barely contain her sarcasm.
“The child…” he mutters, and a smile graces his features before he can help himself, “The child introduced herself to me as Roxanne.”
Chapter 19: Bugger Off, Cousin
“Is she still sleeping?”
“I don’t know – you go check.”
My head is burrowed beneath my plushy comforter and pillows. The two young witches whispering from my doorway should probably fuck straight off.
I hear one of them padding across the room, making minimal noise on the rugs. When she reaches my bedside, she decidedly climbs onto my mattress and begins making her way up to the headboard where I’m curled up.
Which one is it?
Her slender form suddenly straddles my hip from outside my blankets, and small, deft fingers begin braiding some of my hair which is sticking out.
Ginny. It’s probably Ginny.
“Fin,” the ginger-haired whelp trills from atop my body. She’s lucky she’s so light. I’d be genuinely worried about how far she’d fly if I decided to catapult her off of me.
“Finnie. Fin-noo-noo. Finnula,” she continues in a sing-song voice. I hear Hermione approach more demurely, staying to one side of the bed. I grunt in response.
“You’ve been in bed for two days, Fin-cella,” Ginny sets aside a completed braid and begins a new one, “It’s Harry’s birthday. Come upstairs and help us set up his party.”
I allow a low growl to emerge. Two days? It’s seriously Wednesday now? Fuuuuuuuuuck.
Going into demon-mode tends to take a lot out of me, it’s true. It only took a couple of hours to fuck up those Death Eaters Sunday night (Monday morning? Damn), find the correct chimney, then dance myself home, but I’m not at all surprised it’s meant two days recovery. I’m no scientist, but I know correlation data when I see it. Once, after a recon mission I was bullied into accepting by InterPol, I kept Sauron in my soul for over a week and was practically catatonic for another week afterwards.
Ass-kicking makes me sleepy.
Snippets of memory return to my bleary brain. Moody checked in on me, told me Viktor was going to live, and wanted to know where my gear was so he could clean it. Tonks came in once, even got me out of bed and halfway dressed while bitching about how Remus is being cold again. Apparently, his mood swings link fairly well with his transformations. I’m sure I made an extremely hilarious period-joke before climbing back into bed.
Upon further reflection, her visit also explains the reason I’m wearing panda-bear pajama shorts, a bra, and a leather jacket.
Ginny is still dithering on about all that needs to get done for the party. Hermione has started inching a hand beneath the covers, as though to whip them off of me.
“-and Mum will be in the meeting with them as well, so she basically insinuated that we’re on our own, and since you’re a muggle you’ve probably got loads of experience putting up decorations using tape-”
“Wait,” I croak out, silencing her, “Where are the magic-wielding adults? Why do we have to do all this shit?”
“Well,” Hermione ceases trying to tug the covers away from my stalwart grip and eases her elbows onto the mattress confidentially. “Almost everyone is meeting with Dumbledore this morning. Something happened, we think,” she says in a hushed tone, “Everyone’s been quite a-twitter since the night you and Viktor infiltrated Malfoy Manor-” Ah, good. Someone has explained how that went to the kids without my help. This is good.
“-and a lot of the senior Order members have been behaving rather secretively. I think they know who it was who staged the attack on McNair and Nott. Mrs. Weasley has been getting extremely frustrated–”
Oh, fuck. The kids know about that already? That spread around faster than expected.
“Mum went ballistic on McGonagall last night,” Ginny interrupts, tugging on my braided strands like reins, “Said that she could tell they’re keeping something from the rest of the Order. That we have the right to know if we’ve contracted some mysterious, insane, magical mercenary…”
My stomach churns, but not unexpectedly. It was really unlikely that all of my new acquaintances were going to be as accepting of my murderous skill set as the hardened auror, Mad-Eye Moody. Regardless of this knowledge, I feel my spirits sink. Molly will be so disappointed when she finds out it was me.
Fuck, Sirius is going to be so pissed. He was already super pissed when I had knocked on the door at ass-o’clock in the morning, re-clothed in that ruined, mud-stained ball gown. He’s probably still pissed.
He already suspects you’re lying about who you are.
Yeah, fuck. Something tells me he may not feel so adorably protective or attracted to me once he knows I have the capacity to cut people’s arms off. Then put said dismembered arms in chimneys.
My racing heart hardens just a little in self-defense. I am who I am. This is why I was forced to stay here; this is what Dumbledore said he wanted. If someone is going to be interested in me – my hand tightens just a bit around the ring he gave me, still encircling my thumb – I deserve for it to include all of me, right? Doesn’t every girl deserve that?
Finnie, sweetheart, you shot a guy’s dick off.
Hmm. Maybe not.
An all-too-familiar wave of apathy threatens to overwhelm me, and I find myself tempted to welcome it. Who cares what anyone thinks? The vision of Ginny and Hermione’s young faces, though already war-tested, assail my hazy imagination. I imagine them in that alley with me, watching me toy with and torture those awful men. Despite how deserving my victims may have been, past and present, I know those young girls would have been terrified. Of me.
Buck the fuck up, lady. Go make a cake for Harry, and stop feeling sorry for yourself. Damn.
Determinedly, I sit up, unseating Ginny so that she nearly tumbles over the side of the bed. I flip onto my back and into a seated position. Blinking my bleary eyes, I stretch my arms out wide.
A choke of laughter from the doorway interrupts my awaking-process. I drop my arms and glare across the dim room to where Tonks is grinning behind her hand while clutching a pitcher or water.
Ginny scrabbles up to her feet, smiling down at me. Tonks approaches with exaggerated caution, so to not anger the waking beast. “Well,” she smiles, her hair a pale pink today, “Looks as though you won’t need this poured on you after all.” She sets the pitcher down upon my end table. Ginny and Hermione leave my bedside to go to my wardrobe and unceremoniously begin digging through it. As though reading my confusion, Tonks continues, “And while I’m nearly positive that your current outfit will cure Sirius of that mood he’s been in,” my stomach pitches, I knew he was pissed, “it might be best if we aim for something just a touch less scandalous.”
I glance down at my lacy black bra, starkly visible against my pale skin beneath the maroon leather. I purse my lips irritatedly and begin shucking off the jacket. “I need a shower first,” I grumble.
“Oh, good Godric,” Tonks sighs, waving her hands animatedly at the young witches who seem to be arguing over what to dress me in, “Run, girls, run! Before the uninhibited American decides to put on a show.”
“Whatever,” I mumble, unclasping my bra as the three of them jog back to the bedroom door to make a hasty exit.
Tonks hesitates at the doorway, but then withdraws her wand and gives it a silent flick. The pitcher of water levitates off of the table, gaining height until it hovers above my head. It drips a couple of ice-cold drops which make me flinch and hiss, “Fuck.”
“You have ten minutes,” she announces cheerily, “If you’re not upstairs by then, you’ll be doused like the grumpy, pervvy uncle that you are. Best of luck.”
I eye the icy sentinel with loathing as she disappears around the corner.
Thirty minutes later, I trudge up the stairs to the first floor, defiantly wearing some ridiculous furry boots that I had claimed were worth buying because they make me look part-wookie. Tonks’ piss-poor idea of motivation had triggered immediately after I had emerged from my shower, and my teeth are still chattering.
I shuffle desolately towards the kitchens, where I can hear a smattering of voices. Peering around the three-step drop into the dining space, I see Hermione, Ginny, and Tonks all gathered around what looks like a cake recipe. Their intense focus implies that none of them are particularly confident in their collective baking skills.
I frown upon entering, and their welcoming smiles lift from the page to greet me. “What’s wrong with this picture?” I demand, petulantly. “Why is it the women are left behind to throw a party? What manner of wizarding sexism is this?”
Hermione laughs. “We offered,” she tells me, “Ron and Harry will tell me about it when they get back. And Tonks,” she nods to the older witch who is still studying the recipe as though trying to translate it from ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics, “is hoping you’ll fill her in if Moody doesn’t.”
I grunt. Fat chance.
“Honestly, Fin,” Ginny gives me a mischievous smirk from her position, elbows propped on the table, “We drew the short straws. No one but us was brave enough to wake your arse up.”
I scoff, “I’m not that bad.” I wind my way across the paneled floorboards, arms crossed due to my chill.
“They tried an hour prior to your actually waking up,” Tonks informs me, her head still down, “Says you waved your buggered wand at them and threatened to shoot their cocks off.”
Her voice is deceptively light. Maybe she already suspects my role with the Order is more than it appears? Especially if she’s been informed of that first foray into frightening the bejesus out of the dark side.
I sniff good-naturedly and grab a bowl for cereal, “Yeah. Ok, fair enough.”
Hermione and Ginny begin gathering bowls and measuring tools from the various cupboards in the Grimmauld Place kitchen. I give Tonks a quick questioning look as I tuck into the cereal from my seat on the table bench, and without preamble she mutters, “You don’t want me trying to cook. Magic or no magic. Just trust me.” I smirk at her, milk dribbling attractively down my chin.
Hermione ventures into the pantry, where only two weeks ago I had been magically assaulted by the greatest wizard of the age. She reemerges with flour, sugar, and cocoa powder. She lifts the cocoa powder to the rest of us in the room and asks, “Does Harry like chocolate? For the cake, anyway?”
I lock eyes with Ginny, who is pouring milk into a measuring ladle, and mutter loudly, “I think Harry prefers carrot cake.”
Ginny splashes the milk largely onto the floor, and Hermione giggles with surprised laughter. Tonks smacks my arm holding my spoon so my cereal falls into my lap. “Be nice,” she admonishes, but she’s smiling.
I grin at the ginger-haired witch, who is now mopping up the spill with a rag and blushing to her hairline. “Sorry, Gin,” I manage. She glares at me.
Tonks sighs as she gets up, seemingly decided the cake is no longer her problem. She casts a discerning eye around the room and withdraws her wand. With careful, deliberate strokes, she begins conjuring red and gold fairy lights along the edges of the room. With a jolt, I realize they remind me alarmingly of the lights at Malfoy Manor.
“What did you mean by that?” Ginny’s huffy voice sounds from the kitchen, clearly directed at me. I turn to look at her, chewing the last bite of my breakfast, and try to keep my face innocent.
“Does Harry like me? As more than a sister?” Her voice vibrates with teenage anxiety, “Is that why you made that joke? Because I’m with Dean-”
I roll my eyes. Ginny nearly chokes, “WHAT DOES THAT MEAN? Am I not supposed to be with Dean? Because Harry has never shown even the slightest inclination-”
Hermione stifles a laugh. But immediately sobers with wide eyes as Ginny looks as though she’s about to implode. The red-haired witch darts a frenzied glare between me and Hermione, finally settling on me, and points a threatening finger. “Dumbledore said the future isn’t certain anymore, you might be wrong. Maybe I’m supposed to be with Dean.”
I push my bowl away, avoiding all their gazes while muttering, “Yeah, no, it’s fine, just ignore the future-woman’s point of view. Sounds super logical-”
Ginny gives a frustrated groan when suddenly the fireplace across the room blazes with green. Tonks, who had been hanging glittering red-and-gold streamers from the mantle, jumps back just in time for Arthur, Bill, Fleur, McGonagall, Remus, and Sirius to step through one by one.
“Good afternoon, girls,” Mr. Weasley says as he brushes soot from his robe sleeve. “How can we be of assistance? Molly and Ron will be along shortly, they stopped first at the Burrow to retrieve presents and supplies.”
I sit frozen in my seat, inexplicably terrified at his nonchalance. What did they discover in their meeting with Dumbledore? McGonagall seems to be trying to communicate something to me with her eyes, but I’m not at all certain of what it is.
Fleur announces “I weel help with the decorations,” and begins adding traces of silver between the gold and red lights, smiling at Tonks.
But Tonks is busy gazing impassively at Remus, who isn’t looking at her at all. “Er-Bill?” Lupin inquires to the wizard standing next to him, “Would you mind terribly accompanying me upstairs? I need a hand with brewing my next month’s potion.” Completely awkwardly, Bill glances behind him at Tonks, who is now scowling, before giving an uncomfortable nod and following the shabby wizard out the door.
Arthur has begun assisting Ginny and Hermione with the cake ingredients, and McGonagall is whispering with Tonks through thin lips. In my frozen state, I almost miss Sirius preparing to slip out the door behind the other two. With abrupt panic, I shoot out of my seat, nearly toppling the bench, and practically run after him. I ignore the eyes of the room on my back as I call after him, “Sirius!”
I clump on fuzzy booted feet through the kitchen door. His retreating form is already halfway down the hall, so I hiss at him again, “Sirius!” He halts, but doesn’t turn. Shit, fuck, he must hate me. “Sirius,” I whisper again, finally catching up to him. I can hear the small plea in my voice. Goddamn, I’m pathetic.
I couldn’t stand it if he hated me.
I snag his black sweater sleeve with my outstretched hand, the ring on my thumb glinting in the dim light of the hallway. “Wait,” I choke, “Please. Talk to me.” I have no idea what I’m going to say. Truthfully, I have no idea what he knows. All I know is that he seems mad at me, and it makes my stomach hurt to think he’s mad at me.
Sirius turns to face me, but doesn’t shake off my grip like I expect him to. His flawless features gaze down at me with zero friendliness, and dread fills my lungs. My heart races as I unwillingly study him. His hair, longer than it was even two weeks ago, is secured at the nape of his neck, wound into a simple bun away from his collar.
The hint of tattoos on his chest catch my eye, as his sweater dips into a slight V. I wet my lips with my tongue, suddenly hyperaware of the last time we were alone in this hallway, and the fact that I haven’t seen his handsome ass in two days. I keep my eyes off of his too-intense silver ones, instead staring resolutely at his collar as I mumble out, “Um, hi.”
So. Goddamn. Awkward.
Sirius’ dark, sculpted brows lift in surprise, and he bites back, his tone numbly disinterested, “Hi, Fin.” His deep voice sends shivers up my arms, dipping between my shoulders, then vibrates down my spine. It must be remnants of the ice-shower Tonks gave me, or so I tell myself.
I stand frozen once more, unable to decide what to say next. The air between us feels thick, tense. It can’t be just in my head.
When did I stop being able to function around this man? What the fuck is wrong with me?
“What did you want to talk about?” he clips out, sounding irritated. I don’t blame him, I’d be irritated too if some hormone-crazed muggle stalked me down a hallway then just stood there, mute.
“Um,” I mumble again, unable to ask him my real question, and still avoiding looking at his face, “Where’s Harry?”
I feel, rather than see, him roll his eyes. “Dumbledore kept him,” he explains in a bored voice, finally extricating his sleeve from my grip, “They’re going to go recruit Horace Slughorn to teach Potions for the next school term.” He shakes his head a little, as though he disagrees. “Dumbledore seemed to think Harry would be able to convince the old, fat bugger,” he murmurs offhandedly.
My attention is suddenly caught by a necklace tucked under Sirius’ sweater, the thin chain still visible around his throat. My gaze lowers, following the line of the chain, until I see the outline of my ring nestled between his pectorals. My ring, I think with a powerful surge of possessiveness, flitting my eyes up to finally meet his.
He’s still wearing it.
One sarcastic eyebrow still poised upwards, Sirius begins to turn away from me. Possessive energy still thrums in my veins, so when I snag the front of his sweater to steer him back to face me, I do so with a bit more force than is strictly necessary.
“Are you mad at me?” I whisper, finally getting to the point. My eyes search his face desperately. Sirius’ cool mask slips just a little, and I finally see the hard, angry glint in his eyes before he hides it again. “No,” he says lowly, clearly lying, “What reason could I have to be mad?” His tone is bordering on sarcastic now, despite his calm demeanor, “I told you before, you should do what you need to do. It isn’t any of my business.”
For some reason, I feel like he’s hit me. Isn’t he right, though? Isn’t that what I said?
Dread pools like acid in my stomach. Did he find out about what I did to those Death Eaters? Does he think I’m a monster?
Suddenly feeling a bit desolate, I retract my grip from his front. Distractedly, I smooth out the crinkles in his sweater that I made with my fist.
Quick like lightning, one of Sirius’ large, warm hands finds mine and holds it tightly, keeping it pressed against him. Surprised, I flit my gaze back up to his face, which is decidedly angry now, all pretense of calm gone.
“Heaven fucking forbid,” he grinds out, seemingly having changed his mind about holding his tongue, “I be able to say ‘I told you so’.” My brow furrows, confused. “Your little stunt,” he practically spits out the word, “at Malfoy Manor nearly got you killed. And I just had to fucking sit here-,” he’s crowding me against the wall now, apparently fully decided to express what’s on his mind, “-while you dis-a-fucking-ppear, only minutes after I rescued your reckless arse.”
My heart, which had previously been feeling a bit like a raisin, swells until it feels like its bursting from my chest. Sirius isn’t angry because I’m a monster; he’s angry because I’m a frail muggle who insisted on being in danger and didn’t tell him when I left.
Despite the fact that, as he too-well knows, only a few days ago I had been ready to spit nails regarding this very attitude, I could not be more relieved. He doesn’t hate me. If anything, he gives too much of a shit, and it drives him crazy.
I can’t contain the manic grin which spreads on my face as the feeling of relief threatens to overwhelm me. Sirius looks down at me like I’m insane, so I wipe it off quickly, trying to look serious. With swift motions, he backs away from me, letting my hand go abruptly and taking angry strides down the hall. “Wait,” I gasp out, caught off-guard. I shuffle my ridiculous booted feet after him, catching his wrist just before he tries to turn a corner. “Wait,” I repeat, clutching him and trying to pull him back. Sirius still moves as though he intends to break my grip and continue walking away, so I lunge at him. As quickly as I can, I wrap my arms securely around his waist. He teeters, off-balance by my sudden display of desperation, and pivots one heel so that he falls gracefully against the door jam.
Sirius’ handsome face is surprised, borderline shocked, as he considers me from his new position – trapped between me and the wall. I grip handfuls of the back of his sweater and peer up at him, my front molded to his front. “I’m sorry,” I murmur, struggling to hold his gaze, “for disappearing. I was overwhelmed.” I feel a twinge of guilt at the continued lie, but decide not to press my luck for the time being. “It doesn’t change much of what I will and won’t do,” I warn him, and his face sours a little despite our close proximity, “but I like that you...” I struggle, feeling awkward and vulnerable. “I really like that you give a shit.” Sirius’ eyes are softer now, the hardness of anger having dissolved into something new. I clear my throat, “About me, I mean.”
Sirius lifts one hand from his side and cups my face, looking down at me thoughtfully, “You said that before,” he reminds me, one side of his mouth tipping up. I frown, wondering what he’s getting at. Unexpectedly, his face breaks into a breath-stealing, predatory grin. “It means a lot more when you’re sober, though,” he finishes.
I blush suddenly, having decided to take this even a step further. His thumb distractingly traces my lower lip as I pull back one of my hands in order to rest it on his chest. I glance down at where his ring lies, and begin fingering it through his sweater. “And you should probably know-,” I murmur, practically blacking out from sheer vulnerability and stress, “-that I give a shit. About you.” His frame stiffens; he’s as rigid as a board. Alarmed, I flit my eyes up to his silver ones, and am immediately trapped.
The intensity there sends flames licking up my legs, making them feel like jelly. His jaw is clenched, and I feel a familiar heat pooling low in my abdomen, making me ache. Somehow I manage to rasp out, “You do know that, don’t you?” I give the ring beneath his sweater a small tug.
Needing no other hint, his head lowers toward mine. “I suspected,” he growls, giving me a cocky grin, his face only an inch from mine, “but it’s nice to know for sure-” He gives a low chuckle, and my eyes flutter closed of their own accord, “-that you give a shit.”
Finally, fucking FUCKING finally, he closes the distance and covers my mouth with his. His lips are extremely warm and firm, immediately domineering. After only a second they open once more, coaxing mine to open with them, sealing that connection even tighter, and the ache in my core throbs harder.
I press myself wantonly against his hard warmth, all shame out the window. My hand on his chest moves its way upward, the feel of his firm muscle causing a flush to mar my skin. My fingers keep traveling until I wind around his neck and secure them in his dark hair. My heart races with fearful excitement, and my legs finally succumb to the jelly-ing from moments ago.
Undeterred, Sirius wraps a strong arm around me, holding me to him and even lifting me slightly onto my toes. His other hand is still tracing – up my cheekbone, across my brow, and eventually cradling the back of my head, his fingers tangled in my hair, as he holds my face securely to his. Internally, I scoff. As if I’d want to escape.
His mouth opens again, his five-o’clock shadow scrapes my jaw and makes my stomach flip. My lips open with his, and I take a small nip at his lower lip, grazing it with my teeth gently. Sirius growls in the back of his throat, and the thrumming ache heating my blood intensifies. He uses his tongue then, licking just inside my lips before retreating. He repeats this a few more times, never letting my tongue catch his, teasing. After a minute, I give a small mew in protest.
Abruptly, Sirius spins us around, so that my back is to the wall instead. I gasp lightly, my eyes flying open to see his molten gaze already pinning mine. His stare is dark and unforgiving, his mouth swollen somewhat from the pressure of our kissing. He crouches slightly, letting the hand he had behind my head fall to my ass before suddenly lifting me. Instinctively, I hitch my legs around his waist, my breathing ragged and unsteady. He uses the wall to prop me up and leans me back, keeping one arm firmly wrapped around me, holding me to him. His other hand stays on my ass, apparently enjoying it there.
I hold myself to him still more firmly, my desperation mounting now that my aching core is pressed right against his hips. I moan softly as he dips his face down to the junction of my neck and shoulder. He nips, licks, and kisses his way back up towards my ear, and I nearly pass out. Needing his tongue in my mouth, I use one hand to grip his chin, and force him to face me. His breathing is just as fucked up as mine, and I take courage in that as I assault his mouth once more with my own.
Sirius groans as I slip my tongue past his lips and slide it along his. My hands shake in time to my racing heart as I frame his face, trying to communicate exactly how much of a shit I give – inexplicably a lot for someone who was dragged through time only two weeks ago. The tenor of our frantic kisses changes, they become more lengthy and poignant. With each melding and shifting of our mouths, the communication becomes more about fear and hope, though still tinged at the edges with lust.
Sirius drags his mouth down my jaw and I sigh. My eyes still at half-mast, I watch him as he dips his head low to kiss along my collar, my heart doing flips in my chest at the sight. His hand at my ass slips along the hem of my shorts before dipping up past the material in order to palm my ass cheek through my panties. At the same time I clutch his impossibly broad shoulders, using the fingers of one hand to wind into his long hair, and wrench his face back up to me.
Sirius’ eyes are dark with arousal. I lower my face to place fluttering kisses along his cheekbone before repositioning my lips to his chin and begin to kiss slowly up his jaw. His hand in my shorts grips my ass possessively, and low rumble echoes from inside his chest to vibrate against mine. I feel my nipples tighten through my sweater.
My mouth reaches his ear and I nip the lobe softly, pressing even more kisses against his cheek. My fingers tighten in his hair and I squeeze my legs, which are still wrapped around him. Squeezing him brings my thrumming core right up against a length of hardness I can feel straining against his jeans’ seam.
Abruptly, Sirius presses his hardness against my ache even more firmly, and I moan in surprise. He swallows my moan with another kiss, this one even wilder than before. His lips work tirelessly against mine, his tongue dipping and tasting as though he won’t ever have his fill. My hormones threaten to practically burst out of my skin, I’m so painfully turned on. He breaks the kiss with a low gasp, ducking immediately to continue kissing my neck and jaw. My nails grip his shoulders unrelentingly through his sweater. I catch his eyes and whisper, “Baby…”
“AHEM,” a voice from just down the hall announces the presence of a particularly annoying, pink-haired auror with a death wish. I freeze, embarrassment and irritation breaking through the haze of lust, then quickly duck behind Sirius’ broad shoulders in an attempt to disappear. With absolutely no compunction whatsoever at being caught, Sirius lifts a vexed brow as he faces the intruder. “Bugger off, cousin,” he snaps at her, then turns back to me and begins to kiss along my jaw once more.
I squeal and smack him lightly on the shoulder. He lifts his head to look at me, a cheeky grin alighting his breathtakingly attractive face. I giggle and start to push at his shoulders, illustrating he should set me down. He squeezes my ass again, in full view of Tonks, and simply shakes his stubborn head, still grinning. I sigh, and call down to our unwanted guest, “I apologize darling, was there something you needed?”
There’s a smile in her voice as she calls back, “As pretty as this picture is, McGonagall needs a word with you before she heads back to Hogwarts.” I sigh again, thoroughly cockblocked. “And Sirius,” she continues, sounding farther away, “Shouldn’t you be packing?” She turns the corner back towards the kitchen, and my head snaps up from its loll against the wall.
I narrow my eyes at Sirius’ now exasperated-looking face. “Blimey, Tonks,” he mutters angrily, still gazing after her. “HEY,” I poke him in the middle of the chest, and his attention transfers to me, “What the fuck is she talking about?” I raise my eyebrows.
His silver eyes soften, still molten from our make-out session, and he shifts my weight so that he’s simply holding me rather than balancing me against the wall in order to ravish me. “Dumbledore needs me to go East, love,” he scans my face for my reaction while he speaks softly, “He wants me to go to the forests of Albania, to make certain You-Know-Who didn’t hide the diadem Horcrux there once more.” My fingers feel colder as I continue to clutch his sweater, frowning. “It’s not in the Room of Requirement?” I whisper, confused.
Sirius shakes his head. “We think he had Draco retrieve it before the end of the last term,” he whispers back, “because it’s definitely not in there.”
I lift a hand to trace one of his eyebrows with my thumb. “Well that fucking sucks,” I sigh. I’m disappointed. “When are you leaving? How long will you be gone?” I try not to sound too pathetic, but my hand drops once more to poke at the ring beneath his sweater.
It’s his turn to sigh. “I need to leave right after Harry’s party,” he grimaces, my face must look shocked. He ducks and places a quick kiss on my collar, muttering defensively, “I won’t be gone more than a few weeks. I’ll try at worst to be back before they leave for King’s Cross Station.”
My temper spikes. “A month?” my voice sounds shrill. “What would you have done if I hadn’t cornered you just now? Would you have left without telling me?”
Sirius ignores my tone. “I can’t tell you how very, very glad I am that you did corner me,” his voice is unapologetically muffled, his lips still tracing the skin of my exposed shoulder.
“Well,” I huff, depression beginning to creep over me as I imagine a month without him around, “Did you at least fix your ring? So that you can talk back to me?”
Sirius lifts his head, his eyes twinkling despite his unruffled façade. He lowers me slowly to the ground, waiting until I swing my boots off of his hips to land them on the floor before fully releasing me. He stays close, one arm still around my back, but with the other hand he tugs the chain out from beneath his sweater.
He holds the ring securely between two fingers, his eyes still studying mine, when he murmurs, “Finnie, I’m safe.” The ring around my thumb sears with brief heat, and I glance down to it to see the amethyst gemstone river shimmering along its middle. I take a deep breath and look back up to see Sirius gazing at me with a small smile on his lips. “Finnie,” he says again, “I’m coming home.” I look down expectantly at my ring which reheats, but this time settles into a brilliant, sapphire blue.
I sigh again, slightly appeased. Sirius bends over so that he can place an achingly sweet kiss upon the tip of my nose. Withdrawing, he mutters, “Go talk to McGonagall. I’ll be back downstairs in a bit.”
I back away from him then, and the chill of the hallway air outside our tense little bubble makes me shiver. I give him a false smile – half of my insides are melted from the residual sexual tension while the other half is frozen solid from impending depression. “Okay,” I mutter, turning to walk to the kitchen.
Fuck, I am in so much trouble.
Chapter 20: Like A Chipmunk on a Cappuccino
** Note: There are times in our lives, times that span even months, where life seems to punch us rather unflinchingly in the face. I'm sorry to say that I have been experiencing some of those times since my last chapter post, but I'm also glad to report that I think that phase has passed. Thank you to everyone who continued reviewing, who messaged me privately, or even let this story pass through your thoughts in time that's passed. You've all been super cool, and it's been crazy helpful.
No, I haven't given up the story. No the muse hasn't left. This shit is the tits, and I dig it a lot. Without further ado...**
"Minnie?" I call, my fluffy boots making an inordinate amount of noise as I reenter the kitchen.
McGonagall glances up from her seat at the table, a steaming cup of tea poised in one hand. Her lined eyes behind her glasses are tired, and I grimace internally at the thought that I might be causing her any more stress than she already experiences on a daily basis.
I slide in across from her, thumping my bottom down on the bench. She lifts the cup to her lips but murmurs archly, "What have you gone and done to your hair?"
I must look like I've been making out in the hallway. "I was making out in the hallway," I tell her, casually thrumming my fingertips on the tabletop. She delicately chokes on her sip of tea. "With Sirius," I add hastily, so she doesn't think I'm throwing my cat at just anybody.
"Ah, bon!" I glance behind McGonagall's thin form to see Fleur lifting both hands in the air in victory, "Huzzah, Feenee!"
I give her a demure smile and regal wave, "Yes, thank you."
McGonagall decidedly leans forward in her seat, clinking her cup back onto its saucer. "Yes, yes," she mutters acidly, "How very exciting. Muffliato!" She flicks her wand once around our heads, stowing it almost as quickly as she had whipped it out. I glance surreptitiously around the kitchen and dining room where other Order members are still conferring, cooking, and decorating. It's as if a Plexiglas barrier sits between us and them. The sounds of the room are faint, and no one seems to have noticed Minnie's quick spellcasting.
I feel the first prickling of dread as I flick my eyes back to the older witch's face. McGonagall's outward appearance is impassive, but something sharp flickers behind her eyes as she scrutinizes me. "It is good to see you are…," her spectacles catch the light, and I get the sense she's being deliberately serene, "…relatively unhurt after your escapades the other evening."
I slide my face into something I hope mimics neutrality. The relative high of my once-crazed hormones have fled from me with the combination of Sirius' impending departure and McGonagall's stony regard. When had this woman's perception of me become something that gives me heart palpitations?
Probably the moment she dusted your ass off of the floor of a pantry.
When I don't answer her immediately, she leans forward just slightly, lowering her voice even further. "I saw the memory of the girl you saved, Finnie. Dumbledore tracked her down and retrieved it. We know everything."
Bile rises to my throat, further closing off my ability to speak. My hands have retracted into my shirtsleeves, fists closed into nubs. I won't look away from her eyes. Think what she may, think what any of them may, I did the right fucking thing that night.
But my defiant pride quails at the thought of their good opinion abandoning me.
"I am…," McGonagall sniffs and looks down her nose, "…regretful that you are the person best suited for such a role." My shoulders tighten, but I still refuse to look away.
"But," she continues, "I am thankful for that role. I want you to know that."
The weight in my stomach dissolves just a hair, and I feel my breathing start to stabilize. Her cold gaze continues to search me. "I must admit," she says more softly, "it has taken me these past two days to ascertain precisely the nature of my feelings regarding this newfound dimension to our cause."
She isn't wrong. The complete brutality with which I operate as a norm, when given the green light to do so, is definitely not standard procedure for the Order of the Phoenix.
Those fucking movies would not have been rated PG-13 had I been in them, that's for damn sure.
"Thank you," my voice sounds like a croak, and I feel a twinge of embarrassment for letting her see how affected I am. "I know I'm not what you expected," I continue, our eyes locked and intense, "or maybe what you ever thought you wanted-" A small ghost of a smile quirks one side of her lined lips. "-but it's…nice…that y-you don't hate me for…f-for-"
Shit. I'm faltering. Quicker than I'd have thought possible, Minerva McGonagall's hand wraps itself securely over my nubbed sleeve. The strength in her thin fingers surprises me, and I drop my eyes to look at our hands rather than her face as I struggle for composure.
"No one would dare hate you, Finnie," she whispers, almost harshly. "If any of these witches or wizards who now count you as one of their friends understood, to the full extent, the nature of your existence, how very little choice you have been given in regards to your own future, not a one of them would dare judge you." Her fierce tone softens, and she pats my covered fist once. "Not that it certainly won't give them pause," she says a little sadly, "As it certainly gave me pause…"
Their faces, shocked and horrified, flit past in my mind. Arthur, Molly, Lupin, Tonks, Harry, Hermione, Ginny, Ron, Sirius –
That moment, should it ever come, is definitely going to suck.
As though reading my mind, or maybe my expression, McGonagall clears her throat and slowly withdraws her hand from mine. "It is you I'm most concerned for, my dear," she informs me. Her voice is now soft but matter-of-fact.
"Me?" I feel my brows draw together in confusion. Shouldn't she be more concerned about the Death Eaters I'm likely going to be mutilating in the not-so-distant future? Isn't that where these compassion-driven characters' moral compasses are bound to lie?
She leans forward in her seat and lowers her voice even further, so that it's hardly a whisper. "Finnie," she hisses, "You can't be so naïve as to think that this path you've been set upon will suffer no consequences upon your soul?" Her eyes search mine beseechingly, almost desperately, "How do you fare? Do you truly feel nothing for this calling to war?" Her spectacles catch the light again, and I'm granted a short reprieve from the relentlessness of her sharp gaze.
I sigh. The soul of which she speaks feels very heavy in my heart, its edges frayed just as she fears.
But, it's there. I know it's there.
"It helps me," I begin slowly, weighing my words, for I can tell that the subject means a great deal to Minnie, "to think of the bigger picture when I'm called to action the way that I am."
Her lips dip down into a swift frown.
"And by the bigger picture," I hurriedly add, "I mean a lot of things. I mean my brothers, father, and family twenty years in the future who will have a better life because I'm here, doing what I'm good at doing. And I think of that little girl, who, without my being around, probably endured exactly what those men intended – in your original reality."
McGonagall gives a small but grave nod in understanding. She looks marginally consoled, but unfortunately I can't just leave it there. She deserves to know the full of it. "But you should know," I whisper, regaining her attention, "that that isn't all it is. I don't turn into a different person when I let that girl out – the girl you saw go full Jack-The-Ripper in the alley. That thing is in me all the time. I'm not afraid of it, and I'm not sorry it's there."
The older witch takes a deep, bracing breath, but nods once more. "I understand, dear," she murmurs.
We sit in silence for a few beats, each recovering from the unexpected intensity of this interaction. Through the Plexiglas, over Minnie's shoulder, I can see Fleur and Tonks talking heatedly – their heads close. A chorus of raucous, but muted, laughter echoes from behind me, but I resist the urge to turn.
I refocus my attention onto the severe features of the kind, open-minded woman across from me. I'm surprised to see that she's gazing over my shoulder, her eyes soft and unfocused with fondness. "I do fear," she murmurs mostly to herself, "the irony of your position, my wee Finnie."
I say nothing. She flits her softened eyes back to my face, and they're sad. "You kill for us to destroy a wizard who became difficult to destroy by his propensity for killing. I wonder just how many horcruxes you could have inadvertently made along the way, had you had the ability to do so."
This point of view is dark, to say the least. I struggle to think of something that would illustrate for her the difference. But nothing comes to mind.
I'm spared from answering by a sudden presence – specifically, a pink-haired, loud-mouthed witch who shatters the Plexiglas by plopping right down next to me. Her superficially daft, silver counterpart doing the same across the table.
"What eez thees you are dizcusssing?" Fleur snaps from Minerva's elbow, flipping her curtain of hair behind one shoulder. "You both appear to be een ze worst birthday spireet I 'ave ever seen."
I raise my eyebrows at Tonks who is flitting her gaze suspiciously between McGonagall and me, tapping one finger against the table top irritatedly. "Lord woman," I murmur at her, "You're like a chipmunk on a cappuccino."
"Quite," McGonagall mutters, demurely lifting her teacup back to her lips.
"I do not enjoy," Tonks hisses venomously, pinning the older witch with a glare, "being left out of the loop of things." She crosses her arms petulantly across her chest. "It's bloody unprofessional."
McGonagall looks annoyed, her mouth slightly twisted. Before she can snap anything back, I decide to intervene. Using my now-patented, fly-by-the-seat-of-my-flaming-liar's-pants method of pure word-vomit, I abruptly begin.
"We were just discussing," I keep my face straight and serious, chastising Tonks for her rudeness, "Minnie's rather diverse fantasies involving the numerous suits of armor at Hogwarts." Fleur's silver eyebrows shoot to her hairline. "Rather sordid stuff. But she's fairly confident she can solve the issues involving rusts stains mid-lovemaking with WD-40."
I continue, "I didn't want to interrupt your one-woman monologue of 'Why Remus is a Twat,' which I was told would be touring soon, anyway, so you're right - you were simply left out of the loop. Feel better?"
McGonagall's gaze attempts to skewer me to my bench, but by some miracle she refrains from cursing me across the room.
Fleur bursts into tinkling, beautiful, melodic laughter which dissolves swiftly into gales of snorting inelegant coughs. "You didn't see," Tonks hisses at me, spots of color appearing high on her cheekbones, "how he's been regarding me the past two days. It's nothing short of emotional whiplash. We can't all take bloody sleeping draughts and just fuck off, you know. Some of us have to work."
"I was conceptualizing," I say airily. "Dreaming up ways to make sure you have cool, bawdy, werewolf babies while also saving the free world from tyrannical, snake-faced loons. I was working extremely hard."
Tonks scoffs, but it's with warmth.
"Weerwolf…" Fleur gasps, wiping her eyes, "….bebiez…."
Tonks inhales deeply, looking as though she's about to launch into her aforementioned monologue. But before she can utter even a berating syllable, a whoosh of flame and a chorus of cheers and hellos echo from behind my back. I swivel sharply, looking over one shoulder to see Fred, George, Mrs. Weasley, and Ron make their way into the room. Mrs. Weasley and Ron are beleaguered with armfuls of colorfully-wrapped gifts. Mr. Weasley swiftly leaves his post, mixing frosting by hand with Hermione, to relieve his wife, who's arms are shaking despite her protests against his assistance.
"RONALD," Ginny shrilly attempts to get her brother's attention, but merely succeeds in alarming him to the point that several boxes stumble to the ground. He struggles to heave the rest over to the table where we sit, while glaring at her.
"Wotcher," he grumbles at our gathering. McGonagall flinches slightly at his informality. "Ron," Ginny hisses again, and I catch her eyes darting to me briefly, "Come here. I need to talk to you."
His eyes narrow suspiciously at his sister for several beats before his curiosity gets the best of him and he lopes over to her, grumbling. I continue to watch until I catch Hermione's eye, after which she ducks her head back to her task, attempting to hide a smirk.
"Interesting," Fred remarks, his joking gaze on his siblings as they begin a stilted, hushed conversation. He sits beside me, his back to the table, arching a single, jocular brow.
"Indeed," George grunts, still standing. His eyes are also on Ron and Ginny's huddle, but his eyes are narrowed. "Not at all suspicious," he announces, loudly.
"Shut up," I mumble at them, "It's my fault. I may have slipped to Ginny that Harry prefers carrot-headed witches..." Tonks snorts at the memory.
"As he well should," George grins at me, "and speaking of trysts and the people involved in them – Fred and I are happy to announce the imminent arrival of our dashing –, "
"- handsome, brave, artfully-scarred–," Fred interrupts.
" –tragically single brother, Charlie," George finishes, his eyebrows wiggling in perfect synchronization with Fred's.
I open my mouth to graciously decline their matchmaking services, when a low rumble from the left beats me to it.
"No," Sirius growls, glowering at the twins.
George's grin grows, and Fred somberly nods to the understated, leather duffel in Sirius' hand before noting, "Doesn't look as though you're going to have a whole lot of say in the matter, mate."
Again, I open my mouth to offer a response, and again, I am ignored when Fleur jumps in.
"Zey were kissing in zee 'allway, earlier!" she squeals with obvious delight.
An uncomfortable laugh bubbles from my lips before I can stop it. The rest of the room has gone suspiciously quiet, and I positively refuse to look at anything but the cuticles of my left hand. Which are seriously fucked, as it turns out.
I'm not looking at him, but I know Sirius is smirking. He's just classy that way.
Suddenly, my left hand is snatched away from my perusal as Tonks holds it up for George's inspection. He squints and peers at it with a scientist's critical eye, holding his chin in concentration.
"It would seem," he pushes imaginary glasses up the bridge of his nose, "that a hallway snog-fest does not, as someone's tone would suggest, inspire a wedding ring to fall from the heavens and onto this finger here." He gestures to my bare ring finger.
Sirius is unamused. He angrily opens his mouth to retort when Minnie suddenly gets to her feet with a mumbled, "And on that note…"
The twins continue to silently face-off with Sirius, their mocking, gloating stares at odds with his increasingly furious one. McGonagall begins to round the table when she catches my eyes and raises an eyebrow, "Miss Sjofn, if you would be so kind?"
Not looking anyone in the eye, I scramble gracelessly to my feet and accompany the aged witch to the fireplace. I try to come up with a suitable thanks to her for her acceptance…and her discretion. But as we approach, the flames in the grate blaze green and Victor Krum steps out, looking wan and stressed, but alive.
I knew this, of course. I knew that he had survived our ordeal. But that doesn't erase the fact that the last time I had seen my relative partner-in-crime, he had been rapidly losing blood and we had been limping for our lives.
Unbidden, my eyes dart down to his arm, where I know a Dark Mark stains his skin beneath the sleeve.
"Miss Sjofn," he looks surprised to have run into me as immediately has he has, but gives me a small, respectful bow.
"'Sup, Krum," I joke weakly.
"I 'ave been speaking vith Mad-Eye, I vos unfortunately unable to attend the meeting this afternoon," he informs Minnie and I. "I vos hoping to speak vith you very briefly, Sjofn, but…" His dark eyes sweep the room behind me and I finally register how quiet everyone else is.
Super sneaky listeners, wizards.
"…I suppose it is not a secret, of sorts," he finishes. I feel the approach of others at my back, and the ghost of someone's hand on my hip.
If the boiling of my blood is any indication, it's Sirius.
"The Death Eaters have been attempting to force someone from their ranks into Hogvarts as a professor," Krum minces no words, speaking to me but allowing everyone else to process the information.
"It is my hope, and the hope of Dumbledore, that they vill accept me as the most likely candidate for this goal. I'm going to the Malfoy Manor now to report that he has offered me the Defense Against the Dark Arts post."
Krum winces very suddenly, his left arm flexing and forming a fist. "Do you want me to come with you?" I ask him, completely seriously, "Will they be expecting me to make these appearances at your side?"
I hear Sirius inhale sharply through his nose, and one of the twins mutters, "Oh, bugger that."
Despite the strain on his face, Krum allows the ghost of a smile.
"Not at this time, Sjofn. These particular meetings are…exclusive…to Death Eaters."
I finally take in his robes, which are black velvet with intricate hemlines – designs which hint at their more sinister purpose. I wonder if he has a mask yet.
As though sensing the direction of my thoughts, Krum carries on. "Mad-Eye vill be here soon, and he vill tell you vhat…er…survellience targets ve have discussed for your specific attentions…" He looks nervously over my shoulder once again at our audience, and I search his face suspiciously.
My specific attentions?
Did fucking Mad-Eye tell Krum about the dismembered arms?
Krum avoids my narrowed, searching gaze and begins speaking with Tonks, McGonagall, and Sirius about his interactions with the Death Eaters since being involuntarily drafted. I try to hear what he says, but my mind is whirring.
Everyone disperses slightly and conversation turns to Harry's imminent arrival. Sirius' hand at my hip wraps itself a little more securely, and I lean minutely in his direction as my thoughts continue to wander.
More minutes pass, and Fred and George begin loudly discussing Ginny's potential birthday present for Harry.
I remain uncharacteristically quiet, thinking simultaneously of my secret, which only seems to be getting harder to keep, and of whatever upcoming surveillance the Order of the Phoenix has in mind. I flip through the faces of the individuals I met at the Malfoy party, secretly hoping it's Dolohov I get to kill next. That guy was such an asshole.
Against my will, I feel my eyes glaze over with black as I momentarily revel in that dark, exciting thought. I blink it back just as quickly, but as I glance back up to the room at large, I see Hermione's chocolate gaze riveted on my face.
Our eyes hold one another's for a beat.
"Hey Hermione," I call out to her, our eyes never breaking once.
I wait for a second, until it's clear that other occupants in the room are listening.
Her gaze is confused, but unflinching.
I smirk, "How's it feel to have your ex-boyfriend become your teacher?"