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Chapter 31: Newcomers
31 October, 1999
The enormous beak cracked open and seventeen crows emitted. The crow statue paused for breath before tolling again – sixteen sharp, echoing rings. The villagers were sleeping, all except for Anne Marie McKinnon.
Anne Marie was sitting at her kitchen table, a steaming mug of tea cupped between her hands. She turned towards the window, wondering. The town would never know why this always happened every single month, or who the two mysterious newcomers were, because they always seemed to melt into thin air before the sun rose. There was no documentation of them, either, because over a year ago, some sort of record-book theft had occurred in the depot, thus preventing the attendant’s knowledge of newcomers’ identities.
The attendant could no longer see who was coming, and had to take them at their word when they shared their names. It all went down into a new log book, which was sadly ordinary and with no magical abilities.
Mrs. McKinnon watched two shadows jog down the street, elongated by the moon’s luminous shadow. Who would be announced MISSING in bold headlines tomorrow morning? Who would the next victim be? It was so strange, these disappearances. Somehow – astonishingly – no one had connected these frequent midnight tolls to the disappearances of Cliodna’s Clock residents. They refused to believe that a town like this one could be infiltrated, that anyone could truly go missing.
‘They’re in the underground burrows’, Cliodna liked to say, brushing off the Daily Departed’s reporters. ‘They’ve changed their appearances. It happens all the time. They just want attention.’
But Remus Lupin had not been an attention-seeker, and he had vanished last August, along with his wife. A month later, Cedric Diggory and his parents were reported missing by Vesper Lovegood, a witch who ran the local boardinghouse. They were followed by Sirius and Regulus Black, Albus Dumbledore and Gellert Grindelwald, and Cassandra Trelawney. If Cassandra Vablatsky, the only Seer remaining in the Clock, knew anything of these mysterious disappearances, she was keeping her mouth shut.
The Potters had been expected to disappear soon, given that their closest friends were gone, but it appeared as though they would be staying put for now.
All of the vacancies left by those who had disappeared led to a controversial proposition made by Benjy Fenwick, asking for reduced sentences on Grotta residents who showed strong signs of repentance. It was because of this that Cliodna’s Clock had received an influx of new residents – about forty of them; they were stumbling, dazed, half-dead…most of them were murderers but there was no denying that they weren’t the same people they had been when they came to the Grotta. In a rare, cosmic turn of events, they had somehow lived to see the light of day again.
It was their second chance.
People had been disappearing with uncanny regularity since then. Every month, the clock crowed thirty-three times, always with a brief pause between seventeen and sixteen separate tolls. And in the morning, anywhere between one and four people had gone up in smoke, never to be seen or heard from again. Anne Marie found it lonely in recent months, especially after her own daughter Marlene had been one of their number to disappear.
It was a difficult thing to bear, losing your loved ones twice.
Fred Weasley had gone fairly recently. Everyone had expected him to go missing much earlier in the year, because everyone he was friends with had already disappeared, but he remained. He seemed quite unfazed about it, as well. He ignored all of the bizarre happenings in Cliodna’s Clock and entered the Devil’s Duel again when it came around in June, and remarkably won it again. When he returned after his twenty-four hour prize, neighbors buzzed that he seemed quite different upon his return. This wasn’t so very strange, though, because he’d acted very differently after sweeping his first Devil’s Duel win, as well. And then, three days after his return this past July, he vanished.
There was a knock at the door.
Anne Marie replaced her tea mug to the circular stain on the table, rising to her feet. She felt a strange stirring in her stomach even before she opened the door, wondering what she would see, if it was her turn.
Two teenagers stood on the doorstep. One was a boy, a very familiar boy – although he looked a bit older somehow, more filled out. His likeness had been painted in a portrait, hung up on the Wall of Lost Souls in the Town Hall. He’d lost the Devil’s Duel last year, and yet here he stood, whole and seemingly unscathed. “Hello, Mrs. McKinnon.”
Anne Marie clutched her chest, face paling. “Oh, my.”
“It’s all right,” the second teenager said in a soothing tone, reaching out to touch Anne Marie’s wrist. It was a girl. Her hair was pushed back under a black hood, enabling her to blend in with the night, and her large glasses reflected the silver light of Anne Marie’s table lamp. The older witch could feel the girl’s pulse – swift as a hummingbird’s – and only then did Mrs. McKinnon register the edge of panic that was slowly permeating her house. “If you don’t mind, though, this is a matter of urgency. You and your husband don’t have much time. If you wait too long to give us an answer, we’ll have no choice but to move on to the next house.”
“What – what are we doing?” Her voice trembled, the doorknob still rattling under her hand.
“Your daughter has invited you to join her,” Colin replied, eyes large and serious, “but we have to hurry.” He turned around, glancing down the street toward the depot. A lantern sitting on the depot's dock flickered to life, casting shimmering orange scales over the water.
“My daughter?” Anne Marie began to shake and sob. “Oh, God.” She leaned her weight against the door, threatening to collapse. Tears rolled down her cheeks. “Oh, God. I thought she was gone.”
“She is,” the girl told her matter-of-factly. “But whenever you leave one place, that means you have to go to another. That’s just logic. So, really, no one can ever truly be ‘gone’.”
Anne Marie’s eyes wandered up the stairs to the bedroom where her husband was peacefully sleeping. In a few hours’ time, he would be shuffling down the stairs to the kitchen, complaining about the weather, complaining about the late newspaper. But these complaints were halfhearted because he’d been a mess of a man ever since they’d woken one morning to find Marlene’s bed empty.
Sixteen newspapers stacked up on the front porch of the McKinnon house before Odessa Waffling decided to pop her head in. She found the home completely deserted, not just in presence but in atmosphere. She could feel that the air hadn’t been tasted recently – hadn’t been breathed or moved around in. A mug of old tea sat on the kitchen table next to a still-lit lamp, stone-cold.
Somewhere out at sea, there is a floating photograph.
The picture is bright – snapped with its patrons standing just in front of the sun – but if you peer just a little bit closer, your eyes might slowly adjust to the brightness of someone’s teeth.
Those teeth would be followed by grinning lips and eyes squinting against the luminous day. You might be able to discern pale flesh-colored pigment amidst all the white that wasn’t quite there before, molding into arms and legs. Familiar red and gold clothing would then seal itself over top, right next to a vision of blue and bronze. Their arms are connected, holding hands.
Behind them, fading into view one by one, all of their friends begin to smile and wave; beckoning for you to join them.
“You’re just in time,” they say.
So, just in case there’s any confusion: Fred switched places with George after he won the Devil’s Duel the first time around. This gave Fred another year on earth to be with his family – a gift from his brother – while George spent that year in Cliodna’s Clock. George then entered the races the following June and won, although I’ll leave it up to your imaginations to decide who lost. After George went back to earth for his 24 hour prize, the twins switched places again and when Fred came back, Colin and Orla retrieved him later for relocation to Witching.
Also, if you didn’t already connect the dots, the hatch that Colin lost his shoe in led to Earth circa the year 1970, and so the photograph Orla took and he placed in his shoe for safekeeping ended up in the sandbox in the park that Severus and Lily played in – which means that Orla snapped the picture that Severus kept all of his life.
I’d love to hear your feedback on what you thought of “Run” as a whole. Any favorite scenes? Favorite characters? Which round of the Devil’s Duel did you like the best? And of course, if you have any questions about the plot or characters that I haven’t answered, feel free to ask and I’ll do my best to clear it up! This story originated in my head as a four-chaptered short story about three boys sitting in a pub in the afterlife. That fluffy plot quickly snowballed into something I’m quite proud of and I’m so, so happy with the response Run has gotten. Thank you so much for reading! And I want to extend a special thanks to TenthWeasley/Rachel for being one of the most invaluable people in my life and for being my proverbial rock while I’m writing, unconditionally reading everything I write and providing feedback.
*Edited 11/28/12* If you'd like to see what the final round of the Devil's Duel would look like in two years from now, go read a story called "Don't Look Back" by TenthWeasley. It's an absolutely stellar Christmas present one-shot she wrote for me that takes place in the Run universe!
Also major thank you to WitnesstoitAll/Melissa, who is such a wonderful and supportive friend of mine and is just plain awesome in general, and of course thank you to each and every one of you who has stuck around long enough to read this sentence, and for nominating this story for Snitches and Dobbys.
On to the next grand adventure! ~