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One Day in Surrey

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The warm, wet autumn was finally beginning to shade into an only slightly cooler but considerably wetter winter. This was perfectly normal weather for Surrey, although a bit warmer than average for this time of year, because it was just a fact that the temperature usually didn't really begin to drop towards chill until sometime after Bonfire Night. At present, however, the damp, foggy entrance to the winter months was presenting something of a problem: it meant the inexorable spread of the zombie plague would not be slowing down any time soon.

Many people didn't know about this, of course; many hadn't even thought about it. But some few people either by trial and error (read: trapping their zombified boss in the walk-in) or by more deliberate experimentation (meaning the Army had duplicated the trial-and-error results on purpose) had discovered that cold slowed the infected down, and when the temperature dropped below freezing it stopped them in their tracks. Only until the temperature warmed back up, but still, it was something. One hard freeze was all they needed to start scooping up zombies like discarded toys in a yard. The problem here being, of course, that snows or hard freezes didn't usually make an appearance in Surrey until sometime around February, if they came at all. Areas farther north were counting themselves lucky, but only just; not all zombies were going to do everyone the courtesy of freezing into immobility right out in the open, and half-thawed zombies hidden by deep drifts or leaves or spring growth were an even bigger danger than the ones that were up and staggering around. Stories were already being passed around about people who had been caught unawares by hidden 'ground zombies', and not a one of those was a story with a happy ending.

Molly Weasley would have been horrified, as well as mortally offended, to know she'd become a cautionary tale for non-magical as well as magical folk all across Britain. Not that the non-magicals knew she'd been an actual person, of course, much less a witch. Molly's story had been woven into a little government-issued booklet of charmingly illustrated tales meant to zombie-proof children, in which she'd become Mother Weasel and had died because she simply had to have the peas she could see growing in her kitchen garden and had not expected to encounter a very dead rabbit lurking behind the spinach. And if the story of Mother Weasel and how she'd almost eaten her own daughter had been written by a muggleborn who just might have had a run-in with the wrong side of the Misuse of Muggle Artifacts department...well, nobody knew that, either.

To be fair, if said muggleborn's editor had known, he'd likely have had second and even third thoughts about using the story, because that's the sort of thing lawsuits are born from. But he had no idea.

Anyway, the traditionally large public spectacles of Bonfire Night were of necessity only going to happen in places where the zombies could be either magically or physically barred from entry. Places like the iron-gated grounds of Buckingham Palace...or the tiny little village of Ottershaw. Because the Gringotts agents had succeeded in moving all of their charges and their charges' families into the village, even some of the agents themselves had moved in, and as soon as the level of ambient magic in the area had risen high enough they'd deployed ward stones around the perimeter and sealed the area against the undead and a good many other things besides. Some people were still a little bit unsure about that—not like you could see the wards, after all—but that hadn't stopped many, many people in the area from coming out that evening to join their friends around the big, well-laid bonfire, and once the sun had gone down enough there were a good many children running about with sticky mouths and hands from toffee apples, waving sparklers like magic wands and having pretend wizard fights with invisible zombies or very real effigies of the man of the hour himself, Guy Fawkes.

Harry took it all in with wide eyes from his spot beside Roger, small hand clinging to his cousin's larger one. They'd spend most of Friday in school talking about the Gunpowder Plot, and about the reasons people celebrated its failure, and he'd come home from that with a small effigy they'd made for Arts and Crafts and quite excited about it all; Little Whinging, being a staid, upper middle class sort of neighborhood, hadn't had such goings-on, and even if they had Harry wouldn't have gotten to take part. Roger had assured him that they would absolutely go down to the bonfire so long as it wasn't raining too hard, and he'd even bought a pack of sparklers for Harry because apparently that was something every little boy was supposed to have on occasions like this. Julie had come too, and David and Jasper. The young woman who Harry remembered as the receptionist at the local school had found them at one point, and the milkman and his wife as well, and a lady had let him choose his very own toffee apple on a stick from a tray and he'd picked one with nuts and bits of chocolate all over it. He'd eaten his apple while Roger and the others sipped cider and chatted with other adults, and then Julie had used a damp towel from a little packet to clean his face and hands because they all knew that Harry didn't like to be dirty if he could help it. And then they all stood and watched the bonfire and fireworks and the flaming, disintegrating effigies of the man who'd once failed to blow up Parliament, and after a bit of that Roger got out the sparklers and showed Harry how to hold one. "Normally, people light these with a lighter, or a punk," he said. "But we won't need that. Do you want to light it, or shall I?"

"I want you to do it...but can I do one later?"

"Of course." Roger frowned at the sparkler, and after a few seconds the tip of it glowed and then burst into a spitting mass of sparks. "Now give it a swish and see what happens."

The results of the swish were entirely satisfactory to Harry, and he delightedly used his sparkler to draw pictures in the air until it all burned up. He lit the next one himself and drew more pictures, and he was just considering whether he wanted to do a third or save the rest for later when a very familiar laugh caught his attention. "Well someone looks like he's havin' a good time."

Harry turned around. One of the Gringotts agents was there, and standing next to him was... "Mr. George!"

George caught the little boy when he flung himself at him, sweeping him up into a hug. "None of you was at the house, so we came down here to find you. An' look at you! You grown since I last saw you."

"I get to eat all I want, every day," Harry told him. "And we always get pudding at school."

"Well dere you go," George said approvingly. He put Harry down and accepted the other three hugs that had been patiently waiting. "We'd have called ahead, but there's been trouble with the phones."

"Yeah, we'd noticed it too," Julie told him. "You couldn't send a ghost-animal message?"

That had been addressed to the young agent, who blushed and shook his head. "No, I...overdid it a bit a few weeks ago, the healer's still got me on restricted duty." He offered her a little bow. "Agent Ian Mason, I've been assigned to the Ottershaw Ward Zone. Agent Buchanan was tied up with something, so he asked me to escort Mr. Foster in and make sure he got settled all right."

George clapped him on the shoulder. "And he did, he even helped me unpack everyting at my new shop." A shop whose previous owner had gone into the city to pick up parts and never come back, but these days that was an all too common story. "It not far from the ward-end on the north side, so I got a magic bell I can ring if I see zombies out there and someone will come have a look."

"We've got bells in shops and houses all along the edges of the ward-line," Mason explained. "The zombies can't get past it, but we don't want them piling up on the other side of it either. And since you don't have to be magical to hear the bell ringing, people nearby will be warned not to cross the ward-line in that area."

Harry was wide-eyed. "You're going to stay, Mr. George? You don't have to go back?"

"I'm here to stay," George confirmed, which got him another desperately happy hug. He shared a meaningful look with the other adults over the boy's head, though. "There ain't no goin' back to Ashford now."


That night, after Harry had gone to bed, the four adults sat together in the living room of David's grandparents' house the way they'd once sat around in George's old garage. There was still an elephant in the room with them, but at least this time it was a smaller one that hadn't anything to do with people abusing children, and George finally addressed it with a sigh. "Ashford is overrun, the Army's gonna burn her. I never thought I'd see it, you know?"

"I don't think any of us did," Jasper said. "Your brother?"

"Dead. He didn't want to go to a camp, his wife didn't want to come to my shop, so in the interest of tryin' to be as much stupid as possible they tried to drive out of the city and got stuck in a big traffic jam. Supposedly they were fightin' and he had a heart attack, so she got to sit in the car with that until someone came ridin' to the rescue. She be in a camp now." George frowned into his cider. "I suppose I ought to feel sorry for her, but I don't. Bitch kept my brother from me and then killed him—she was always startin' fights with him, his doctor'd told them both it had to stop." He took a long drink. "From what I'd been hearin' from the people who stopped to stay a night at the old shop, London's a place you're lucky to get out of now. You heard what happened at the checkpoint?" A round of nods. "Well, they weren't just pushin' the zombies down this way, they'd been pushin' them every which way they could—they caught one idiot with a bunch of 'em in de back of a movin' van, turned out it was his third or fourth trip and every single one gone in a different direction."

Julie slumped. "So this is it? No more London, no more...anywhere?"

"The zombie plague has already spread into the rest of Europe, we know that even if the news isn't reporting it," David said. "The little cautionary booklets they sent out to the schools come in a dozen languages. There'd be no need for some of them if...well, there just wouldn't be any need."

"Trade is grinding nearly to a halt in some sectors," Roger put in quietly. "Not only because of the problems here with transport and the like, but because multiple countries have closed their non-magical borders to us. Gringotts has been opening up their trade network as much as they can on the magical side, but when it comes to places like America that won't work. Especially since the American magicals have clamped down on news coming out of Europe because they don't want anyone to know we've given up on secrecy and magic is out in the open now." He made a face. "The bank is making preparations in case they need shut down their American branch offices, in fact—they're concerned that the Magical Congress is likely going to refuse drop secrecy to help non-magical people if the infection shows up there, and the Goblin Nation refuses to be a party to that."

"If one falls, we all fall," George said, nodding. "If it spread to America, though, or someplace like Australia...it likely had some help."

David snorted. "Yeah, and not the kind that's involves some idiot with a moving van, either."