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Portmanteau by Arithmancy_Wiz
Format: Short story
Chapter 1: Prologue: Fire
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It was just after midnight when the three hooded men materialized on the small plateau overlooking the village. By day the vantage point provided an unobstructed view of the rolling valley below, dotted with thatched-roof farmhouses and makeshift fences loosely connected by a dirt road that wound its way into the center of town. The people who lived there worked long days, rising with the sun to force the land to provide enough to survive on, just as their families had done the generation before, and the generation before that.
Now the men looked down on total blackness. It was the kind of dark found only in those few regions of the world still without electricity. Even the light provided by the night sky was slowly being blanketed out by gathering clouds.
The men had scouted the area many times before, returning to this spot over and over again, committing to memory every detail of the terrain before them. Each had gone over his observations with military precision until he could imagine each step he would take across the darkened valley.
Their target lay at the center of town, approximately five kilometers due north of their present position. They didn’t dare Apparate in any closer. The darkness would provide adequate cover along the road, but once in town, the chances of being sighted increased. Strangers did not pass through this way unnoticed, particularly those who appeared suddenly out of thin air.
They walked single-file along the uneven dirt path, which rose and fell with the curves of the land. They were careful to avoid the deep ruts carved by the wheels of passing cars with rusty wagons hitched to their undersides. The wind picked up as they moved, whipping at the ends of their cloaks and rustling the tall grasses that grew along either side of road.
Just as they were nearing the half-way point, something leapt out of the darkness and onto the path. The three men stopped short, raising their arms and pointing their wands in unison.
“Lumos,” whispered the tall man in front.
A dull blue glow emanated from his wand, illuminating the ground in front of them. Two shimmering eyes came suddenly into focus.
“Pisica!” the second man grumbled, lowering his wand.
A large grey cat stood frozen in the center of the road, staring up at the men. The second man kicked a rock at it and the creature skirted off into the darkness.
With a flick of his wrist, the tall extinguished his wand and the three men continued their journey in silence.
Two cobblestone pillars that once held up a great iron gate marked the entrance into town. The houses here were smaller and closer together. Several darkened storefronts lined the road. As they passed, the men detected the first signs of life. In the distance, barely audible over the wind, they could hear the distant hum of music. As they drew nearer, the sounds of men shouting and laughing reached their ears.
Following the last bend in the road, the men found their path now bathed in a warm yellow glow - the source of the light a single-story structure built up on thick stone bricks. Six-paned windows looked in on a single room crowded with wooden tables and benches. The tables were littered with tall glasses of deep amber ale. In the far corner sat the source of the music: two men with violins, and a third man with a set of pipes half-visible beneath his thick beard.
The twisted metal sign above the door read Cel Leul Beat. The Drunken Lion. The only tavern to within a hundred kilometers. If a town this size could have a nightlife, it would be found here. The doors opened every day at four -- save Sunday, when all self-respecting townsfolk were at the Orthodox Church confessing their sins -- and didn’t close again until the last person stumbled back out sometime just before dawn.
Most of the patrons were men, their skin tan and wrinkled from the sun, their hair graying at the temples beneath their hats. There were a few women as well, looking just as weather-beaten as their husbands, and just as determined to enjoy the fun. In any other place, the crowd would have made for an odd sight, a throwback to a bygone era. But this tavern, this village, was theirs. They were as much a part of the land as the hills and the trees.
The three men stepped off the path, the wind concealing the sound of the dry grass crunching beneath their boots as they circled the rear of the building. There were two windows in back. One looked into a small kitchen, the counters stacked with unopened bottles and dirty rags, the sinks full of discarded glasses. The other window was partially obstructed by a pile of broken stools. Between the wooden legs, the men could see back into the main barroom.
Safely concealed in shadow, the first man pressed his face to the glass.
“Li vezi?” the third man whispered. “Do you see them?”
For a moment, the first man said nothing, concentrating as his eyes raked the room, examining each of the unsuspecting faces in turn.
“La coltul,” he said and pointed toward a spot near an empty fireplace at the far end of the room.
In the middle of a long table, four young men, their backs to the stone hearth, were talking animatedly to two women seated across from them. Right away, the group seemed to stand apart from the rest. Though their skin was also tanned, it was somehow lighter than the others, their arms and noses dotted with freckles. Their clothes, though modest and worn, were distinctly western. Even their hair was conspicuous. Bright red patches were clearly visible from beneath one man’s cap, while the woman on the right made no attempt to conceal her long mane of pale yellow curls.
While it was clear they were not native to the area, they were obviously not strangers to it. As the three men looked on, the party chatted amiably with those at their table, applauding and raising their glasses with the rest as the band ended one song and started another.
The first man turned from the window and led the others deeper into the shadows of a low-hanging tree.
“Only six tonight?” said the third man, tapping his wand against his leg in apparent agitation. “We were promised four a piece, at least. What did they need all three of us for then?”
“There’s at least two hundred in town,” said the second man. “Isn’t that enough for you? Besides, it made getting here easier than expected, didn’t it? Not even a lookout."
“Muggles?" replied the third man. "I could kill that many in my sleep. Where’s the fun in that?”
“Shut up, both of you!” hissed the tall man. “We’ll get the rest soon enough. For now, do as you’re told.” The third man ground his teeth beneath his hood but said nothing. “We go on the mark," the tall man continued. "Then straight back to your post. Understood?” The others nodded. “Then go.”
The two men departed, heading off in opposite directions, while the tall man stayed behind, falling completely still except for the shallow rise and fall of his chest. After several long moments, as if singled by some undetectable cue, he one again extracted his wand, extending his arm far above his head.
With a great boom and a flash of blinding light, three flame-red orbs shot into the night sky.
The music and chatter from the tavern immediately fell away, blanketing the town in a mystified silence. Even the howl of the gathering wind fell suddenly still. One by one, confused faces still thick with sleep began to appear in the darkened windows of the surrounding houses. The patrons of the tavern hurried to the open door, huddling close, eyes gazing upward. Together they watched as the village was bathed in an eerier orange glow, which stretched out toward the surrounding farmland. For several seconds, they stared in amazement as the orbs climbed higher and higher in the sky, their light dimming as they sped toward the horizon.
Then the orbs began to fall.
It was sublte at first, the pulsing lights seeming to stretch and grow. But soon they were gaining speed, spinning faster and faster as the hurtled toward the ground.
The three hooded men were long gone before the heat of the flames reached the earth.
The impact was like an earthquake. The ground shook as if a monster beneath it had suddenly roared to life. Light and heat engulfed the terrain, spreading with unnatural speed. The orbs were quickly swallowed up by the fire that multiplied around them. In seconds, everything was burning.
Deafening screams filled the air. Cries of confusion and pain poured out from every direction. The villagers began to flood the streets, desperate to get away from one wall of flames, only to be trapped by another. The roar grew louder and louder, mixing with the sound of splintering wood and shattering glass. Even the sky seemed to succumb to the fire, the heat and light of the blaze bouncing back to earth off the low-hanging clouds.
In the center of it all stood the tavern, its roof now alight with dancing flames. Great chunks of burned wood fell away from the sides as the fire punctured holes in the walls and windows. The structure began to sway as the roof started caving in. The patrons were fighting to get out before the whole thing came down on top of them. They tripped over one another, unable to see or breathe in the think smoke and ash.
A young man stumbled out of the tavern. In a rush of panic from those still trapped inside, he was pushed from behind. He plunged headfirst down the front steps, landing on his hands and knees, but not before his head smashed into one of the corner stones. His hat fell off and landed beside him, the hair beneath revealed to be as thick and red as the blood now pooling at his temple.
He dragged himself up, stumbling forward and away from the heat whipping at his back, his eyes and lungs burning in protest.
“Kate!” he tried to scream, but the cry died on his lips. His throat was too raw and the noise around him too great.
He plunged his hand deep into his pocket, extracting two thin pieces of wood. Though he couldn’t see it in the darkness, he knew right away what had happened. His once beautiful wand had been snapped in half, rendered useless by the fall.
All around him, people were running blind, crashing into one another in their desperation to escape. He struggled to stay on his feet, afraid of being trampled to death should he lose his footing. He shoved the broken pieces of his wand back into his pocket and with hands stretched out in front of him, he pushed onward in what he only hoped was a northerly direction. With each passing second, he was growing dizzier and more disoriented, but whether from the smoke or the fall, he couldn’t be sure.
At las , he bumped into something solid -- the trunk of a thick tree. Leaning against it, he wiped at the blood now dripping down his cheek.
The smoke was rising quicker now, lifted up and carried skyward by the wind, but the sight that replaced the darkness was no less terrifying. The young man watched in horror as people dragged one another through the flames, screaming as the fire licked at their faces, tripping over shapeless forms that had fallen helplessly to the ground. Animals ran untended through the streets and towards the surrounding woods. Everything was blanketed in a pulsing red haze, the fire growling and hissing as it continued to feed. It looked as if hell itself at been released upon the village.
Then he saw them -- two familiar faces moving in his direction. A man, tall and thin, leaning heavily on the shoulder of a much smaller woman, whose arm was wrapped tightly around the man's waist as she struggled to lead him onward.
“Kate! Oliver!” the man cried out, but the pair didn’t look up.
He started towards them, continuing to call their names without response. He was within ten feet of them when something reached out and grabbed him.
The old woman’s hands were like claws, her long nails digging into his wrist as she squeezed it between boney fingers. Her face was heavily lined, her grey hair half hidden under a dark scarf knotted below her chin. Dark, beady eyes stared out at him from beneath drooping lids.
“Ati facut aceasta!” she yelled. “Esti de vina!”
What little Romanian he had garnered over the years had abandoned him in his panic. He had never been very good at communicating with the villagers. That was Anica’s job. Still, though her words were unfamiliar, the accusation held within was unmistakable.
“I’m sorry,” he said, trying to twist out from under her grasp. “I don’t understand you. Please, I need to help my friends.”
With strength belying her size, she tightened her hold on his arm.
“Drac!” she screamed at him. “Drac! Drac! Drac!”
“Please,” he said again, shocked at the venom and anguish in her voice. “I don’t understand…I don’t know what you want.”
She lifted her free hand high above her head, and for a moment he thought the old woman meant to strike him. But instead, she pointed to the sky. High above them, fading in and out of focus between the towers of billowing smoke, the man could see hundreds of pulsing green dots. He watched in horror as the lights grew closer together, forming a shape in the sky. The shape of a skull...with a snake slithering through its open mouth.
“Devil,” she whispered in English. Then she released her grip on him and ran off into the dark.
The man spun around. It was Kate, still struggling to keep Oliver on his feet.
Her face was covered in soot and sweat, her long, dark hair clinging to her cheeks and neck. Her shirt was torn and hanging lopsided off one shoulder, but she looked otherwise unharmed. Oliver had not faired as well. A deep red stain was spreading out across the front of shirt. His face was a sickly grey, his eyes unfocused.
“Is he okay?" Charlie asked her, wrapping Oliver’s other arm around his shoulder and relieving Kate of some of the extra weight. "Where are the others?”
“The roof,” Kate said. “Came down right where we were standing. He pushed me out of the way."
“What about Belby? And Smith?” Charlie asked.Though they were only inches apart, Charlie found himself nearly shouting in order to be heard over all the commotion.
Kate shook her head. “Miles went after Anica. I haven’t seen Smith. The Dark Mark, did you—”
“Yeah, I saw."
“You’re hurt!” Kate cried, just now catching sight of the blood drying at his temple.
“What?” Charlie said, before remembering the cut on his face. “I’m fine. What about you?”
She waved the question away. “We’ve got to do something, Charlie. This was because of us. It has to be.”
The both looked up at the night sky, the outline of the Dark Mark already starting to fade. It was a brazen attack. And on a muggle village - the exact village frequented by a group of wizards, and all of them so far from home. This was no coincidence.
“I know,” Charlie said. “But my wand—it’s snapped.”
“Here,” Kate said, shifting the rest of Oliver’s weight onto Charlie’s shoulder. “Take him back to camp. You can tell the others what’s going on and bring them back.”
“What about you?”
"I’ll look for the others. We’ll meet up with the rest of you.”
“No! We should stay together. They could still be out there...whoever they are.”
But Kate was already shaking her head. “Someone’s got to stay behind and he needs help now. She glanced over at Oliver, who seemed to be growing paler by the second. “I’m no good at healing and I’m not strong enough to Apparate us both back. And you just said you’ve haven’t got your wand.”
“Here,” she said, removing Oliver’s wand from inside his coat pocket and handing it to Charlie. “It won’t be perfect, but it should work well enough for now.”
“Just go!” she screamed at him. And without waiting for a reply, she turned and headed back towards the center of town, her armed draped across her mouth to block out the heavy smoke.
Beside him, Oliver let out a low groan.
“Alright, we’ll do it her way,” Charlie said. “Hold on, Oliver. This might hurt a bit.”
Gripping the thin man tighter around the waist, Charlie lifted the unfamiliar wand, turned on the spot, and the two vanished into the night.
Author’s Note: My apologies for what I’m sure are many gross misrepresentations of the language and culture of Romania. I have never visited the country (though I spent a lot of time looking at pictures and it seems beautiful), and my only knowledge of the language is what I can deduce from a free online translator. I *hope* the below translations are correct in vocabulary if not in grammar. I am also fully aware that much of the country is very modern, but I’ve inferred from some readings that there are still some remote villages that might fit the one described above. If not, I apologize for that too.
Thanks for reading.
Pisica – cat
La coltul – in the corner
Ati facut aceasta/Esti de vina – you did it/it’s your fault
Drac - devil
All my thanks to silv3r_ic3 @ tda for the AMAZING banner
Chapter 2: Chapter One: Money
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Chapter One: Money
Three Years Later.
Henry Jones was a brilliant man. He was also desperately old-fashioned. Perhaps it was a sign of his age or an unintended byproduct of his profession. Or perhaps it was the result of spending far too much time with the stuffy intellectuals who claimed him as one of their own.
As fond of Henry as she was, Kate Wiggins was inclined to believe the latter. She had often complained to him about the time he wasted on outdated pleasantries like cooking from scratch or cleaning without the help of magic. But now – tripping and stumbling around the cluttered tent she’d been calling home for the past two years – she wished she’d held her tongue.
A folded piece of parchment no bigger than a one-pound note was buzzing and flapping around her low-hanging ceiling looking very much like an insect trapped in a jar. As no one else ever sent her post, Kate had no doubt who the letter was from. The only question was why Henry hadn’t delivered it himself – neatly pinning to the heavy canvas flap that served as her front door as was his usual practice. Enchanted mail was hardly Henry’s style.
Kate reached out for the letter again but missed. Twice more it slipped through her outstretched fingers. Just as she was about to pull her wand on the blasted thing it came to a sudden stop, completely entangled in the thin fabric that acted as make-shift divider between her bedroom and study.
She snatched the note and ripped it open.
Please call on me at your earliest convenience,
H. A. Jones
Kate flipped the note over, looking for more. It was blank.
If the scrawl hadn’t been so familiar – the large loop of the J nearly twice the size of the other letters – Kate wouldn’t have believed it from Henry. The only thing more affected than his refusal to keep up with the modern means of communication was his inability to get straight to the point. Everything about this note was not only unusual, it was alarming.
Kate sighed. Her curiosity and concern were outweighing (though only slightly) her desire for a cool bath and a long nap. She stepped in front of the small mirror propped up against an unused trunk. No surprises here. She was covered in sand from head to toe. The fine dust had settled over her tan skin, brown hair and well-worn clothes, leaving her looking as if she’d stepped out of a faded oil painting. She could take the time to change, wash her face, but what was the point? She was in the middle of the desert. Everything she owned – everything she touched – was covered in the same sandy film.
Brushing off the largest grains of sand still clinging to her kneecaps, Kate turned and exited the tent.
Their camp was small and inconspicuous, nestled away in a remote part of the Bahariya Oasis, which stood like a green beacon between the Mediterranean and the Black Desert. The locals hardly ever traveled in this far, choosing to stay nearer the main roads that had been completed a few decades before. There was always the possibility of lost tourists popping up unexpectedly but that was rare and well prepared for. As beautiful as the Oasis was, visitors to Egypt seemed much more interested in the great pyramids to the north or the sand dune oceans and volcanic hills to the south and east tha°n in an outcropping of overgrown palm trees inhabited by local farmers.
The seclusion suited their purposes well. It was an easy trip to Cairo for supplies when needed, but they were otherwise left alone to do their work in peace. Too many of them had learned the hard way that the less people who knew of their presence there, the safer it was for everyone.
It was a ten-minute walk from Kate’s tent to Henry’s – no apparating was permitted within the camp perimeters. The camp itself, sitting in a clearing and bordered on all sides by massive palms, was divided into three sections. The first was the living quarters, home to the twenty or so people who resided in the makeshift village year round. Five long rows of beige tents were staggered among the tall grasses. They were all identical on the outside, resembling common pitch tents, but like all magical tents, varied on the number of rooms within. More lavish accommodations were frowned upon and considered unnecessarily showy by most of the residents. This suited Kate just fine. She found the small space of her home to be comfortable and intimate, like living in a heated cave.
The second part of camp, just north of the last row of tents, was known as The Commons. The mess hall was located here, as was the main study – a round classroom-like building used for storing tools, books and other assorted items one could check out at will. There had been a half-hearted attempt to build a small quidditch pitch out behind the mess hall, but the effort had been abandoned the first time the temperate reached 43°C.
On the outskirts of camp, butting up against the overhanging trees sat The Lair. Out of all the structures in the camp, this was the only one that had already been standing when the first of the expedition arrived. It had been in poor shape, abandoned decades before, most likely by a farmer who had moved his family closer to town. It was low to the ground, the stone crumbling off the sides, most of the roof caved in. Long before Kate arrived in Egypt, Henry had taken the dilapidated structure under his wing, converting it into his own private residence as well as a guesthouse for those few people who visited the site. Aside from the work of his team, The Lair was his pride and joy. A sign of good fortune he said, to have found it so close to the work site.
Kate’s light knock on Henry’s office door was met with a muffled, “Come in!”
Stepping inside The Lair was a lot like walking into a poorly tended library. Despite the temperature outside, the room was always cool, dry and dimly lit. Every wall was lined with rickety bookshelves, overflowing with tattered leather books and rolls of yellowed parchment. Maps and diagrams hung three or four thick, curling up and away from the walls with age. Overstuffed armchairs seated around a square table were buried beneath notebooks, weeklies and whatever else didn’t fit on or near the bookcases.
“Henry?” Kate called, scanning the room, her eyes working hard to adjust to the sudden darkness.
At last she spotted him sitting behind his desk, his head barely clearing the large stack of books in front of him.
“You’re here. Wonderful,” he said, standing up to great her. He was smiling widely but the humor didn’t quite reach his eyes. “Just wonderful.”
Henry was a small, enthusiastic man, his kind face hidden behind large glasses and a lot of beard. His hair was pale silver, his skin tan and wrinkled, but his eyes were sharp and aware, and he moved with the agility of a man half his age – though exactly what age that was, no one was quite sure.
“I wasn’t sure you’d make it before...” he began, rounding his desk and hurriedly working to unbury one the nearby chairs. “But you have, so… That’s one hurdle down. “Sit,” he added, patting the now clear seat.
Kate did so and waited patiently as Henry began the ritual of making them each a strong cup of tea. No business was ever discussed with Henry until all parties had been served their tea.
By the time he returned, Kate had managed to carve out a small corner of room on Henry’s desk where he gently placed the mismatched teacups.
“Thanks,” Kate said politely as Henry resumed his position behind his desk.
“So,” he began, pushing the slightly nicer looking cup toward Kate, “tell me how things are progressing.”
Henry didn’t need Kate to tell him how anything in or around camp was going. Nothing having to do with the project was done without his knowledge or consent. But he seemed to enjoy asking nonetheless, preferring to hear Kate’s take on things in her own words.
“As expected,” she said. “And on schedule, which is always a surprise.”
He nodded but said nothing, so she continued.
“The tail took a lot less time to extract than we planned for. We were thinking at least a week on that. But Turner finished the last of it this morning. It looks like we’ve got about eighty percent of it. It we’re half as lucky with the wingspan…”
Kate didn’t need to finish the thought. Even a first year could tell that wing bones, even those of a thirty-foot dragon, were delicate. Finding them fully intact was a dream realized by few excavators.
“Have we any guesses on breed?” Henry asked.
“Not yet. Eleanor’s still working on the skull. She’s thinking an early Vipertooth maybe. But she won’t be sure until she sees the talons. Ridges on the tail are pretty suggestive though.”
“Vipertooth?” said Henry, perking up. “That would be a find. One this far east...That should catch some attention.”
Herny was right about one thing. Vipertooths were native to the mountains of Peru – a far cry from the Egyptian desert. But as to drawing anyone’s attention, Kate had her doubts. Dragons were her life. It was why she and Henry and all the others were here, hidden away at the edge of the map. It’s why they spent long days baking in the sun, painstakingly chipping away at the earth. But it wasn’t so easy convincing others their work was worth noticing. Digging in the dirt was a muggle pursuit, or so Kate was often told. Not hardly worthy of her time or efforts.
But Henry was not to be persuaded. As coveted as his brilliant mind was by the heads at St. Mungos or those at any number of Ministries around the world, Henry believed in his work and in the truths only the past could reveal. When truly needed, he could be lured away from his studies for brief periods of time – like the summer two years ago when he’d been called to head the committee handling an upsurge in Ramora poaching by wizards of the coast of India. But he always returned to fossils. To Dragons.
That was why he built this outpost five years ago. Once he realized that the small skeleton of an ancient dragon discovered deep beneath the Egyptian desert was just one of dozens of skeletons lying in what amounted to a mass dragon grave, he had set up shop and began inviting other talented and likeminded people to assist him.
Kate had been one of his last recruits, joining the team less than two years before. Henry had been reluctant to bring her on. She was trained to work with live specimens, not bones. But her persistence and passion had won him over in the end. And it hadn’t taken long for her to become one of his most favored protégés.
The pair prattled on about Vipertooths and wingspans for several more minutes before Henry finally set down his tea and seemed ready to get to the point of the meeting.
Clearing his throat, he began, “I don’t suppose I’m telling you anything you don’t already know when I say that funds are tight and growing tighter by the day it seems. Supply requests are going unfilled, you lot are overworked with no money to bring on more help...
“We’re all a team here so I try and share with the group as much as I can. I don’t keep our source of funding secret. But a Ministry Grant only goes so far. Frankly, I still have no idea why they picked my proposal. If they think it will change my mind about heading the Dragon Research and Restraint Bureau, they are sorely mistaken. But that’s neither here nor there,” he added quickly. “I took the money. And gladly.
“But that’s going on nearly six years ago now and times have changed. And not for the worse, I might add. Shacklebolt is the best thing that’s happened to the Ministry in a very long time. But change is change. He’s got different priorities than Fudge. Runs a tighter ship. Funds for non-essential –” he seemed to choke slightly on the word – “projects are being reigned in. I’ve tried to think of a way around it, but now…”
He paused then, reaching into his breast pocket and extracting an official looking letter.
“Well, just read it yourself,” he said, handing it over to her.
Kate took the letter and scanned quickly through the small, neat print:
Mr Henry A. Jones:
Since 18 November, 1994, you and/or those working under your direction, have been the recipient of funds allotted by Ministry Grant No. 7927A, provided under the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures. The Ministry would like to thank you for your work and contributions to our understanding of the magical world. We must, however, inform you and all other non-essential grant recipients that beginning 1 June, all outgoing payments will be suspended until such time as the newly appointed Budgetary Review Board can evaluate your continued request for funds.
A hearing on your research has been scheduled for 18 August at 2pm. At this time, you and/or a designated person representing your interests will have the opportunity to present to the committee your findings and anticipated monetary needs. Failure to appear on this date will result in automatic disqualification for future funding.
Secretary to the Budgetary Review Board
Kate stared at the letter for a long moment before finally handing it back to Henry.
“Can they really do this?” she asked. “Give you the money and then just take it back like that?”
“I’m afraid they can. And will.”
“But the first of June. That’s what…six days from now? How can they just cut the money off so suddenly? Without hardly a warning? We won’t even have half the wing uncovered by then.”
“It’s not so terribly sudden, really,” Henry admitted, sounding far too resigned to Kate. “It was only a matter of time before something like this came up. I’m frankly surprised they didn’t shut us down a long time ago. These sorts of things happen all the time.”
"So, what? That’s just the end of things? Pack up and go home?” Kate pressed, feeling a sudden flash of rising heat that had nothing to do with the temperature outside.
“Not hardly, if I can help it.”
Henry was on his feet now, pacing back and forth along the narrow alley between his desk and the stone wall.
“I’ve been considering for some time now what steps to take should something like this arise. I’m honestly not tickled by any of the alternatives. I’ve been running my own ship here for far too long, I suppose. It was naive of me to think it could continue on like this for much longer. Of course, there are hoops to jump through with the Ministry to be sure, but nothing like what’s to come…”
“Henry, you’ve lost me,” Kate said, gazing uneasily at her boss and friend. “I don’t understand.”
“It’s simply, really,” he said, halting behind his chair. “Privatization.”
“Henry, you can’t be serious. That would...”
“Believe you me,” he said, slumping back into his seat before removing his glasses and rubbing at his eyes, “if I can avoid it, I will. But I’m hard pressed to see an alternative. We’ll go to the Ministry, grovel for the money as best we can. But I can’t wait until they refuse us to start looking for new funding. By then it will be too late.”
“But who?” she asked. “I mean, who besides us and the Ministry care what we’re doing out here? What’s the benefit for a private investor? And what do you mean it will be too late? Too late for what?”
“You’re missing the point, Kate,” Henry said soberly.
Kate couldn’t agree more. She was totally and utterly confused.
“The earth here is full of more than bones. It’s rich in the kind of natural resources coveted by a lot of men – wizards and muggles alike. Work with those already here – us in other words – and they get one step closer to their treasure. If you own what’s on top of the land, it’s all that much easier to own what lies beneath it.”
Now it was Kate’s turn to rise. A sudden burst of nervous energy made her unable to sit still.
“Okay,” she said. “Say you’re right. What next? How exactly does one go about finding an investor?”
“Actually,” Henry started, “that’s the easy part. I’ve got a parchment a mile long of people who’ve been itching to get inside our camp and start poking around. All I have to do is open the doors and they’ll start swarming in – wanting to tour the facilities, meet the team, be given the full scope of what exactly their investment will buy. But here’s where the trouble is – where I’m going to need your help.”
“Anything,” Kate assured him.
Henry looked up at her, giving her the kind of knowing stare that made her suddenly leery about her hasty agreement.
“I can’t see the benefit in prolonging the inevitable. The sooner I get investors in here, the sooner we can be rid of the lot of them. Besides, once word gets around we’re in a financial pinch, we lose the upper hand and we’ll be lucky to get out with our skins, let alone a workable arrangement. No, I need to be here and I need to get this going today. That, however, leaves me with the problem of...London. As talented a wizard as I may be, I cannot yet be in two places at once. But you...”
“Not a chance,” Kate said, refusing to give the man a chance to finish his request.
“Now hear me out –”
“Henry, don’t be absurd. The hearing can’t be more than a few hours. Surely even I could hold off your investors for that long.”
“But that’s just it,” he said, coming around the desk to stand face to face with Kate, the two nearly identical in height. “It won’t only be for a few hours. Bloody Budgetary Review Board,” he griped, retrieving the letter he’d just shown her and shaking it in frustration. “I haven’t a clue what that even means. I’ve stayed out of that place as much as possible these past few years. Who knows what kind of changes they’ve made. I’ve got a strong feeling this is going to take serious time to prepare for. I’m going to need someone there for the long haul. To figure what we’re up against, if we’re to have any chance at winning them over.”
To Kate, this was feeling less and less like a request and a lot more like an ultimatum with each passing second. It wasn’t her single job in jeopardy if she refused - Henry would never be so vindictive. This was about whether or not there would be any job left to have.
“Henry, this is...crazy. I’m about the worst person for the job. I’m not the fossil expert. Why not send Beckett? He’d love the chance to rub shoulders with people in high places.”
“Precisely,” Henry replied, his eyes bulging slightly. “William has ambitions far beyond what we do here. I need someone there I can trust. Someone who won’t be distracted by…other things.”
“Oh, I don’t know,” Kate sighed, falling back into her chair, rustling a teetering stack of nearby papers. “Do you honestly think I’m the best person for this?”
Kate saw the sincerity written on his face and wished she possessed even a hint of his confidence in her.
“Well, can I at least have a few days to think about it?”
“That,” he said, suddenly turning his full attention to small scratch in his wooden desk, “is a bit more problematic. I told him to give me – us – a little more time before he came, but he insisted on arriving straight away. If you’d said no...”
“He was delighted to hear you’d be coming to London. Offered to assist in anyway possible.”
“Henry, what did you – ”
“…arrived just an hour ago. Eleanor is showing him around now…I’m surprised you didn’t run into them on your way over….”
“Henry, if you’re talking about who I think you’re talking about, I’m going to murder you in your sleep.”
Henry had the decency to blush a brilliant red.
A/N – As with Romania, I have sadly never been to Egypt. All my attempts to recreate the landscape here are brought to you via google images and one too many specials on the Discovery Channel. I hope I haven’t made any unforgivable blunders.
Chapter 3: Chapter Two: Holdovers
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Chapter Two: Holdovers
Augustus Bainbridge is the vilest, most despicable excuse for a man Kate ever had the misfortune of meeting. Everything about him disgusts her, from his piggy little eyes to the expensive leather loafers he insists on wearing everywhere, even into the middle of the desert. He's an arrogant, slimly toad who, in Kate’s opinion, should do the world a favor and fall off a very tall cliff.
After his last visit to the camp, Kate swore to Henry she would gladly splinch herself before spending another moment in his insufferable company. Now he was back, and far too soon, for another round of ostensible inspections.
“I need you on your best behavior,” Henry told her as they left his tent and headed toward the worksite.
“Me?” Kate said indignantly. “What about him? He’s the one who pops up whenever he likes, nosing around on so-called “Ministry Business.” He’s an incompetent arse who spends half his time here ogling anything remotely female.”
“I know, I know,” Henry said, using the back of his hand to wipe the sweat from this brow. It was nearing dinnertime but the sun was still blazing overhead. “But now more than ever we need a clean report. Damn if I’ll let him be the one standing in the way of us and a chance at funding.”
Augustus Bainbridge is the Senior Under-Secretary to the Committee on Overseas Operations, a small subset of the Department of International Magical Cooperation. It's a title he likes to repeat often, though he is always conveniently quiet on the details of just what exactly the position entails. Presumably it's his responsibility to ensure that all parties operating on behalf of the Ministry, or simple using Ministry funds, are abiding by the guidelines established by all involved governments.
In principle, Kate has no objection to this. Some level of oversight is to be expected. What is incomprehensible to her is how anyone in their right mind could put that oaf of a man in charge of anything.
The current dig site is thirty kilometers east of camp, an easy journey by apparation once outside the camp perimeter. The location is truly majestic, with the edge of the oasis still visible to the west, large rock formations shooting up out of the sea of sand to the south. And somewhere to the east, far past the dunes and beyond the horizon, lay the fertile land of the Nile.
As she and Henry drew closer to the figures standing beneath a white pitch-tent that provided much needed shade to the workers, the rotund silhouette of one of her least favorite people began to differentiate itself from the others like some sort of terrible desert mirage.
“Oh, ho!” Bainbridge called out, waving to Kate and Henry as they made their way toward the tent. She could already see the glint of white teeth revealed by his disingenuous grin. “And you’ve brought the lady of the hour, Henry. Very good. Very good indeed.”
Kate glared over at Henry, who kept his gaze suspiciously pointed forward.
The skeleton of the suspected Vipertooth had first been detected the month before. Since then, the full outline had been uncovered and carefully marked off with small wooden stakes. Thin rope had then been draped between each stake, creating a makeshift border, directing the workers where to stand and warning visitors to keep off. Three figures – Bainbridge in the middle, flanked on either side by a nervous-looking Eleanor and a very confused looking Michael Turner – stood near the edge of the rope that marked the prehistoric dragon’s hind-quarters, still hidden beneath layers of rock and sand.
“Miss Alrick here was just showing off your latest little discovery, Henry,” Bainbridge said, gesturing toward Eleanor, who gave Kate an uneasy grin. “Doesn’t look like much at the moment though, does it?” he chuckled. “When the lady mentioned an exciting find I was expecting something a bit more...well, complete. Just begun the work on this, I presume?”
He looked over at Michael now, who like Kate, was still covered in a day’s worth of dirt and filth.
“Nearly four weeks now, sir,” Michael replied.
Tall, slim and smart almost to a fault, Michael Turner is a few years older than Kate and second in command to Henry. He works exceptionally hard at his job, often at the neglect of sleep, leaving him with perpetual dark circles beneath his brown eyes. He's shy and awkward, like a young teenager still adjusting to his growing body. Though respected by everyone around camp, he always seems somehow removed from the group.
But despite his impressive brainpower, Michael is no match for a man like Bainbridge. His mind works in formulas and facts. He is simply unable to comprehend a man who makes decisions based on arrogance and seems to thrive despite his obvious ignorance.
“Hmm,” said Bainbridge, dabbing at his glistening brow with a white handkerchief. “Well, these things do take time, I suppose. But, what do I know?” he tittered. “I’m just a lowly Senior Under-Secretary. What is it they call you again, Henry?”
Henry opened his mouth but closed it again quickly, unable to think of a reply, or else unwilling to express his true thoughts in the presence of ladies.
Bainbridge waived away his own question, turning his attention to Kate. “And you. I hear you’ll be blessing us all with your company for the summer. How wonderful.”
Kate could feel Eleanor and Michael’s quizzical stares boring into her. She already felt like a traitor and she hadn’t even agreed to anything yet.
“Actually, I haven’t –” she began, but he cut her off.
“I can’t say I’m optimistic about the chances of your little operation, but it will be a pleasure to have you so near at hand, whatever the reason.”
He was staring intently at her now, his eyes focused about a foot shy of her face.
Kate could feel her eyes roll so far back in her head she was sure she saw her own brain.
“Now,” he said, peeling his eyes away from Kate’s chest, “when I was here last, you were all working…” he looked around the sandy landscape to the south. “Let me see here…”
He extracted a small notebook from inside his breast pocket and began flipping though the pages. “Over that way, I believe.” He was looking off at some unseen spot toward the horizon.
“Actually, it was that way, sir,” Michael said, pointing in the opposite direction.
“Yes, quite,” Bainbridge said, turning himself around. “Of course. And that was rather close to the border you agreed to stay within, was it not? I certainly hope this lies well within your territory, Mr James.”
“I can assure you, it does,” Henry said.
“Yes, well, we shall see.” Bainbridge closed his notebook and placed it back inside his pocket. “I’ve seen more than enough of…this.” He gestured dismissively at the bones before him. “Let us return to your…office, do you call it? We have a lot to review and I am melting like an icicle out here. How anyone works in these conditions...” he mumbled under his breath. “Come along, Henry. I could do with a cold drink.”
He marched off without so much as an acknowledgement to the others. Henry gave them a woeful look and trotted after him.
They watched as the men walk for several paces before turning and disappearing from sight. Eleanor instantly rounded on Kate.
“What was that about?” she asked, cocking one pale eyebrow and folding her hands across her chest.
“Did Henry mention Mr Bainbridge was coming?” Michael asked, clearly troubled by the thought that his powerful brain had failed him. “I’m sure I would have remembered him saying anything about an inspection. Maybe I…”
“Relax,” Kate told him. “It was a surprise to Henry too. At least as of a few hours ago.”
“And we’re not even due for another inspection until September,” said Eleanor. “What’s be back already for? And what’s this about you going to London? Are you really leaving?”
Kate sighed. “It’s sure starting to look that way.”
The sun had finally started to set. The blue sky was fading slowly into pale purple. With the approaching twilight came a steady, dry breeze that rustled the high palms – the first sign of the cooler temperatures that were a nightly ritual in the desert.
Kate had spent the last hour filling Eleanor and Michael in on everything Henry had told her. They had listened attentively as she explained Henry’s request for her to spend some time in London and his need to remain behind to entertain investors. When she was done, Michael’s demeanor was predictably quiet and impassive. Eleanor, however, seemed to share in Henry’s alarm.
“I think Henry’s right,” Eleanor said, tucking a short brown curl behind her ear. “We need someone there to look into all this.”
Eleanor was tall and incredibly thin, her build like that of a bird – a resemblance helped along by her long, pinched face. She was pretty enough but her large eyes looked perpetually alarmed as if expecting disaster around every corner. She and Kate had grown close over the years, two of only a handful of young women living at the camp. Still, Kate couldn’t help but find Eleanor’s propensity for overreaction tiresome at times.
“My brother’s still got that job with the Ministry,” Eleanor continued. “He said the whole place is being investigated. A real house cleaning, or so he says.”
The trio had wandered into the mess hall, selecting a small table in the corner furthest from the door. Despite being dinnertime, none of have them had bothered to fix a plate.
“Investigated by who?” Kate asked.
Eleanor didn’t seem to have an answer for this. Shrugging, she said, “It just seems to me like they’re intent on making sure there aren’t any Holdovers still lurking about.”
Holdovers. The latest buzzword, thanks to The Daily Prophet. Two years since You-Know-Who was defeated and the rumors about dark plots and supporters driven underground continued. They might be leaderless, The Prophet said, but that didn’t mean they weren’t still dangerous. But in the Ministry after all this time? Kate found that a bit hard to swallow.
After a few more minutes of debate, Kate took her leave, desperate to get back to her tent and a quiet moment alone to think. With the dirt of the day finally washed away, she felt her mood begin to improve. She was standing in front of her bathroom mirror, toweling her long wet hair, when she heard it.
A rustle of fabric followed by a muffled thud from somewhere inside her tent.
Kate set down her towel, reaching instinctively for her wand. It wasn’t there.
Damn. It was sitting on the nightstand beside her bed. She pressed her ear to the bathroom door but heard only silence. Slowly, she pushed open the door.
Stepping out, she felt a light hand touch her shoulder. She jumped around.
“Bloody hell!” she cried, pressing her hand to heart.
Leaning against the nearest bedpost – one arm outstretched, the other dangling at his side – was the very tall and very handsome William Becket.
“What were you planning to do,” he said, flashing her his infamous crooked smile, “Comb me to death?”
Kate looked down. She was pointing a brush straight at his chest. She hadn’t even remembered grabbing the thing.
“Ever hear of knocking?” she shot, dropping her hands to her hips.
"What, and miss that look of surprise? Not a chance. Besides,” he said, patting the canvas wall, “no door, remember? Nice look, by the way” he said, taking in her tangled hair and baggy nightshirt.
“What do you want, Will?”
“That’s not very friendly,” he said, smiling again.
“Well, I’m not in a very friendly mood.”
He put his hands up in mock surrender.
“Hey, I just came over to say congratulations,” he said, taking an uninvited seat on the edge of her bed.
“For what exactly?” Kate asked in spite of herself.
“The London trip, of course. There are worse places to spend a summer than the Ministry.”
Kate was taken aback. “How do you know about that?”
“So, it’s true?”
“You didn’t answer my question.” Kate was all too familiar with his skill at evasion. “Who told you about London?”
“A little birdie,” he said, wiggling his thick eyebrows at her. “What does it matter? So, when do you leave?”
“I don’t know yet,” she said flatly. “I don’t even know if I’m going.”
Will sat up straight. “You’re kidding, right? You have to go.”
“What does it matter to you?”
Will slid over, patting the bed beside him. Kate ignored the gesture and leaned instead on the corner of her desk.
Shrugging, Will said, “Despite what you think, I do still care about you, Kate. And this is a great opportunity.”
Things were quickly moving from strange to downright bizarre. Kate and Will had hardly exchanged more than forced pleasantries since their short-lived romance nearly six months ago. It had been a brief but intense affair, one Kate was all too happy to forget. But now he was suddenly back, sneaking into her tent, giving her sage advice? Something definitely didn’t add up.
“How exactly is a hearing before some budget committee a good opportunity?”
“Come on,” he said, giving her another lopsided smile. “You know what I mean.”
“Obviously I don’t.”
He sighed. “I just mean that with…Well, it’s no secret that Henry’s in over his head these days –”
Kate opened her mouth to protest, but Will put up his hand to stop her.
“Don’t get all offended,” he continued. “Henry’s great, but you know I’m right. He can’t keep up with the expenses. We’ve all known it for a long time. I don’t want this place to close down any more than the next guy. I’ve got a good thing going here.”
That, at least, Kate knew was the truth. Unlike the rest of them, Will wasn’t in the dragon business. He was a liaison, an expert in language and culture. He moved around from place to place, interpreting and negotiating for English wizards abroad. He’d been brought on by Henry a year ago to help settle a dispute with a local branch of the Egyptian Wizarding Council. Apparently he’d impressed the Egyptians so much they hired him stay near at hand in case any other problems arose. As far as Kate was concerned, the man got paid to sit on his arse and watch others work, ducking out of town whenever the mood struck and returning only if and when he pleased...or feared his absence might be noticed.
“But…” Will added, his voice now barely more than a whisper. “Let’s face it. That’s a real possibility. And then what are we all going to do? What would you do then, Kate?”
She didn’t answer him. She wanted to argue, tell him he was wrong, but she couldn’t...and he wasn’t.
“All I’m saying is that at least with this trip you’ll get a chance to meet some new people. The kind of people who might be good to know…down the road.”
“What, you mean your kind of people?” Kate shot.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” he said, narrowing his dark eyes.
Kate could see that subtle flash of anger that he was always so good at concealing from others, but never from her. He wasn’t a violent man but there always seemed to be something brewing just under the surface. He came off all handsome and demure, a product of good genes and rich pedigree, but Kate knew that in reality he was guarded and aloof, even secretive at times. There was something dark there, hidden behind his smile.
“I don’t know. Nothing,” Kate said, backing down. She was tired to argue.
His face relaxed and the traces of tension melted away.
“Well, it’s something to think about anyway,” he said, standing up. “I’ll be in London myself this summer. Maybe I’ll see you there.”
“Maybe,” she replied.
He headed toward the makeshift door. Kate stood up to follow, planning to seal the damn thing shut with a permanent sticking charm.
“It’s been a long time, hasn’t it?” he said, turning to face her.
Kate shrugged. She knew just what it was, but she didn’t really care to talk about it.
“Well,” he said, “here’s to hoping you can save all our jobs. ”
He leaned in slightly, his lips barely grazing her cheek. Kate cursed inwardly as she felt an all too familiar flutter deep in her stomach as she felt his warm breath on her skin.
And just as suddenly as he had arrived, he was gone, leaving Kate alone at last.
Chapter 4: Chapter Three: Portkey
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Chapter 3: Portkey
Kate still wasn’t sure when exactly she had agreed to go to London, but apparently her lack of outright refusal had been agreement enough for Henry. And now, less than forty-eight hours later, he was waiting outside her tent to see her off. Kate had tried to assure him she could handle things just fine on her own but Henry had insisted on escorting her at least part of the way. She wondered if the gesture was motivated more out of guilt for asking her to go or fear that she might change her mind.
Kate stuck her head through the canvas flap. It was barely six. The sun was just starting to break over the horizon, the heat of the day not yet engulfing the landscape. The morning sky was a vast sea of rosy gold, bathing the landscape in an unnatural glow.
“Good morning,” Henry offered, far too chipper for the hour.
Kate yawned in way of reply.
“Late night?” he asked.
Kate shrugged noncommittally, suppressing another yawn.
“Shall we get to it then?” Henry asked. He was bouncing nervously on the balls of his feet, his wand already in his hand.
Kate nodded reluctantly. “I guess we should.”
The nearest public portkey to London was in Giza, less than thirty kilometers southwest of the capitol. Kate had only been there once, back when she had first arrived in Egypt. But the fleeting glances of the city had left a lasting impression. She remembered being surprised by how contemporary the metropolis was. Instead of the barren dessert Kate had expected, she saw multi-story office buildings, wide paved roads and an assortment of restaurants and nightclubs. In many respects it was much like Cairo, the two cities blending and merging as they expanded toward each other, shaped by their proximity to the Nile.
But beyond all the neon and wires that marked modern life, the continued presence of history weighed heavily upon Cairo. Sitting in the distance, watching over this encroachment of urbanity was the Giza Necropolis, home of the Great Pyramids. And just to the east, guarding the rising of the same sun that shone over the ancients, sat The Great Sphinx. Battered for millennia by the elements, her face worn and scarred, she remained ever on guard, an ancient temple still buried deep within her belly.
Catching a glimpse of the great structures lit up by the morning sun, Kate was suddenly overcome by the urge to run straight toward the grand plateau. She could spend her summer hidden inside the cool stone tombs, exploring their secrets and discovering their long-forgotten tales. Best of all, she’d be hundreds of miles and a world away from the sterile halls of the Ministry. But Henry must have read her mind, for at that moment he placed a hand on her shoulder, directing her away from the center of town, her back now turned on that beckoning horizon.
Within minutes, the pair were pushing their way through a crowded market street. It was still early in the day but business was already in full swing. The two were quickly caught up in the swarm of warm bodies hustling past each other - many with large baskets and crates balanced high above them – as the sought out the morning necessities. Beyond the crowd, lined up along either side of the road, stretched out as far as they could see through the sea of people, were tented stands and wheeled carts, full to bursting with vegetables, fruits and meats. The produce was lush, a rainbow of colors and textures, piled several hands deep in woven baskets of every shape and size. Near the ground, large wooden buckets full of dried deans and course grains were set out in long rows. The whole street smelled like some unknown potage, the scent of freshly baked bread and exotic spices mixing with the fragrant tang of fish caught only hours before.
Henry took the lead, maneuvering his way forward, Kate working hard to stay close behind him. After several blocks, the crowds slowly began to thin. There were fewer tents on the outskirts of the market, many of them still being erected in anticipation of the day’s business. The vendors out here were not selling food, so there was no need to rush before it spoiled. The items for sale on this block were of a more delicate nature. Soft fabrics with muted patterns were being set up along one table. Another stand was full of small sparkling trinkets, jewelry perhaps, comprised of some unknown metal. Brightly colored rugs were being unrolled and hung up along thick rope lines. As Kate passed, one young woman looked up from her carefully arranged woven purses and beaded bags. Kate smiled at her, but the woman mearly nodded and returned to her work.
“Just up here,” Henry said, heading toward the nearest corner.
Kate turned and found they were now heading down a much narrower street. It was almost claustrophobic with the single-story attached storefronts encroaching in from both sides. Many of the shops looked like they would open directly onto the street, but for now were still locked up tight behind chipped metal gates. Cheap plastic chairs were set up outside many of the stores, but they did little to entice buyers in, covered in dirt and sand. Unlike the adjacent street, this stretch of road contained no vibrancy, no energy. It felt tired and neglected and gave Kate an uneasy feeling.
“Well, here we are,” Henry said, stopping abruptly in front of a particularly depressive looking shop. Its exterior was beige stone, the same color as sand, as if the owners were hoping to camouflage the place in the surrounding desert.
“This isn’t where I came in from,” Kate said, looking around. Her portkey into Egypt had delivered her directly to a small bus depot, designed to accommodate muggles traveling between Giza and Cairo proper. Well, technically the portkey had delivered her directly into a broom closet in a small bus depot, but that had apparently been the fault of ill-maintained equipment and not intentional design.
Henry nodded at Kate. “You arrived clear across town, as I remember it. Opened that location just before you got here. Something about wanting a separate spot for arriving visitors. Better screening and security, or some nonsense like that. Ridiculous, if you ask me, spreading portkeys out around the city. But they got their brains working again last year and put things back the way they were. Every portkey in and out of Egypt goes through here.” He made a grand gesture at the shop. “A lovely fellow…can’t recall his name now…was stationed here fifty years as he told it. He retired a month back. I haven’t met the new chap yet.”
Henry turned and reached for the door. Kate half expected it to be locked. There didn’t appear to be any sign of life inside the darkened shop. But the knob turned easily and the door creaked open.
The interior reminded Kate of some of the more seedy shops in Diagon Alley, like those that lined the boarders of Nocturne Alley. They stepped directly into a small, poorly lit room, with heavy wooden shelves leaning up against the walls and nearly touching the low-hanging ceiling. There was only one window, the one that looked out onto the road, and the tan fabric acting as a privacy screen blocked out any incoming sunlight. Despite the shade, the room was hot, the air heavy and humid; not at all what one would expect to find in the desert.
At first glance, they appeared to have entered some sort of tourist shop, and not a very good one at that. Everywhere Kate looked she saw the kinds of rubbish locals pawn off on unsuspecting tourists. There were plastic replicas of pyramids, sphinx-shaped paperweights, do-it-yourself excavation kits, hieroglyphic flashcards and “authentic” Egyptian charms guaranteed to ward off any mummy curse.
Kate gave Henry a quizzical glance but he just smiled at her.
“I am sorry but we are not open,” a heavily accented voice called out from somewhere behind one of the closed doors cut into the back wall. “You must return during the hours of business.”
This declaration didn’t seem to bother Henry, who gave Kate a reassuring nod. “We are just looking for a map, sir. A map of London. We were told you carry quite a supply.”
This was followed by a long moment of pronounced silence, in which Kate and Henry just stood there listening. Finally, the door nearest Henry swung open.
The man who emerged was very large, in all senses of the word. He was exceptionally tall, his head barely clearing the doorframe, and he had a protruding gut that sagged heavily over the top of his belt. His skin was tan and spotted and he had thick black hair on his head, face and arms. When he spoke, his mustache twitched comically above his thin lips.
“A map, you say?” he asked, eyeing them suspiciously.
“Yes, of London, if you please.”
The man stared down at them from beneath thick brows, his gaze cold as stone. He seemed to be memorizing every last detail of their appearance, should he wish to recall it later to some asyet unknown authority. Kate could practically feel her knees buckle under the weight of his scrutiny, small beads of sweat starting to form at her temples. At long last he broke his fix on them and his face relaxed slightly, apparently appeased by whatever he had gauged in their faces.
“Come,” he said, heading back through the open door, waving at them to follow.
Kate had expected to be led into a small supply room lined with more shelves full of worthless knick-knacks, but she instead found herself walking into a clean, brightly lit office, a stately desk positioned in the center.
“Sit,” the man said, indicating the two chairs facing the desk.
The pair sat and waited while the man did the same.
“London, you say?” the man asked them.
“Yes,” Kate and Henry said together.
"Hmmm…” the man replied, bending down and shuffling loudly through the papers in his bottom drawer. When he sat back up again, several sheets of long parchment in hand, Kate noticed something she was sure hadn’t been there the moment before. Just above the man’s left breast pocket was a small, rectangular badge. It was white with green block lettering and had an official-looking gold seal in the corner. It read:
Travel and Transport Operator
Egyptian Magical Relocation Department
“Name?” Amun asked, looking at Kate.
“Kate — ” she began out of habit, but then changed her mind. “Katherine. Katherine Wiggins.”
He scribbled this down and then looked expectantly at Henry.
“Oh, no,” Henry said. “Just her today, I’m afraid.”
Amun turned back to Kate. He continued on, asking her a long series of questions while scribbling down her answers, his voice never changing inflection.
“How long have you been in Egypt?”
“Two years,” she told him.
“Reason for the extended stay?”
Kate glanced over at Henry. “Business,” she said, unsure that would suffice, but apparently that was specific enough for Amun.
“Do you plan to return, and if so, when?”
“Sometime in August. Around the 18th, I hope.”
“What?” she asked confused.
“Wand,” Amun repeated. “I must see your wand.”
“Oh,” Kate said, removing her wand from its hiding spot – the inside of her sock – and handing it over to him.
He looked at it briefly, jotted something down on his parchment and handed it back.
“I must now read you this information from the Ministry’s pamphlet on international travel,” Amun said, setting down his quill and picking up a worn red pamphlet. “You will listen carefully to me.”
Kate nodded, suddenly feeling like she was back in school, about to be on the receiving end of a boring lecture that was sure to be followed by a pop quiz.
“Traveling by portkey is a privilege,” Amun began, his voice the same monotone it had been during the questioning. “Anyone caught tampering with or otherwise hindering the safe operation of the magical object will be subject to review by the legal bodies in either the country of origin and/or the country of destination. While traveling by portkey is both safe and reliable, the following items are not prohibited during transport: fire breathing plants, un-caged animals – magical or otherwise – doxy eggs, uncapped potion bottles, timeturnes, and any additional portkeys, working or inoperable. When in transit, please do not let go of the portkey until all body parts have arrived at the final destination. Please see your attendant for additional guidelines if traveling with children under the age of seven.”
Amun set down the pamphlet and looked at Kate.
“You understand these things I tell you?” he asked.
He slid a piece of parchment and quill across the desk. Kate signed it and passed it back.
“The next portkey for London leaves in twenty minutes.” When Kate and Henry remained seated, he added, “You will wait in the shop.”
“Right,” Henry said, standing up and holding the door open for Kate. “Well,” he said, once out of range of Amun, “shall I wait with you then?”
“Thanks but I’ll be fine,” Kate assured him. “Besides, gives me more time to chat up Amun.”
Henry gave her a sympathetic smile.
“You’re going to do great, Kate,” he said, placing a reassuring hand on her shoulder. “I’ve got no doubts about that. I may not have faith in the Ministry, but I have plenty of faith in you.”
“Thank you,” Kate said quietly, appreciative of the support but uncomfortable with the gesture of affection.
“Well, I guess that’s that,” he said at last, giving her arm a light squeeze before letting his hand fall back to his side. “I’m only an owl away if you need me.”
“I’ll be fine,” Kate said again. “Don’t worry about me.”
Henry chuckled. “I shall try, my dear. I shall try.”
A/N – This wasn’t the original ending spot for the chapter but I was once told by someone smart that you should always take the first exit. Hopefully that applies as much to writing as it does to radio.
Chapter 5: Chapter Four: Books
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Chapter Four: Books
It had been several years since Kate had given any serious thought to her living arrangements. As accustomed as she had become to her nomadic lifestyle and remote surroundings, the thought of spending time in a place with actual walls and no dirt on the floors had helped to take the sting out of leaving. Not to mention the fact that the majority of the preparations had been done for her. Henry had called in a few favors – something he absolutely detested and only proved to Kate how seriously he took her visit – and now here she was, lying in bed in her very own London flat.
She had woken only moments before, her internal clock still ticking several hours ahead. She hadn’t slept particularly well in the unfamiliar room, her body sinking uncomfortably into the soft mattress. The old box spring had creaked and groaned with each toss and turn and by four o’clock she’d given up all hope of drifting back off to sleep. For the moment she was content just lay there, staring up at the ceiling, watching the room grow brighter and brighter with the approaching dawn.
Though it didn’t exactly feel like home yet, the living arrangements were already growing on her. The space wasn’t that much larger than what she was used to back at camp, but the rooms here had a sense of purpose and sustainability, something her tent had very much lacked. Each room was decorated with carefully selected pieces, some of which had to be at least a hundred years old, defining each area and proving to whomever the current resident might be that someone had lived here before and someone was sure to live there after.
Finally dragging herself from bed, Kate moved from room to room, throwing open the small windows, trying to remove the musk of disuse that had settled in the house. Henry had warned her the place wasn’t very well tended of late. The air outside was warm and heavy with moisture, a faint breeze stirring up the smell of wet earth and grass. It had been awhile since she had lived under the constant threat of rain. That was going to take some getting used to again.
It was probably far too early to head to the Ministry, but with nothing better to distract her here, Kate figured she might as well try. She’d been attempting to formulate a plan of action for the past several days but still wasn’t at all clear on what she was going to do while in London. She didn’t want to draw a lot unnecessary attention to herself by asking too many questions. While she wasn’t doing anything wrong exactly, she didn’t think it wise to advertise what she was up to.
Unsure she would find any available floos at this hour of the morning, Kate decided to try her luck at the Visitor’s Entrance. She had used it once before – nearly three years ago during her first and only visit to the Ministry. Henry had assured her the flat was well located, but not really knowing the area, Kate thought it best not to try and apparate directly. She’d have to make the journey on foot.
As soon as she stepped outside, it began to rain.
Entering the Ministry of Magic was like stepping into a grand train station, the kind with cathedral ceilings, polished wood and marble floors, and that ever-present hustle of important business. No one seemed particularly happy to be there but everyone understood its necessity; one important step toward reaching some penultimate goal. Kate hated everything about the place, and not just because her last visit had been such a horrendous one. The whole atmosphere felt phony and contrived, designed to lure the masses into a false sense of trust in an institution that had failed them time and time again. Even the building itself was a lie. They were all standing several stories underground, yet everywhere Kate looked she saw windows framing a gloomy morning sky.
It was nearly seven o’clock now and a steady stream of workers were filing in through the surrounding grates, each arrival marked by a sudden flash of bright green, the hallmark of burning floo powder. Kate made her way across the atrium to the visitor’s center, the line up to the desk already several people deep. She took her place behind two older gentlemen wizards in deep burgundy robes and holding a rather heated debate.
“…your own fault, Bernard” said one of the men, his long white wishers dancing in agitation as he shook his finger in the other man’s face. “What did I tell you about her? Trouble. Nothing but trouble. And now you’ve gone and dragged me into this mess.”
“Now come on, Arty,” the other man pleaded. Unlike his friend, this man’s face was cleanly shaven, which only served to highlight his protruding jowls and lazy blue eyes. “I said I was sorry, didn’t I? And what was I supposed to do, eh? She seemed in need at the time. I couldn’t just turn her away, now could I?”
“Of course you could, you old bat,” the man called Arty shouted. “She sweet-talked you, you fool. And now we’ve got to go and explain why there are eighteen stolen crates of lacewing flies in your attic.”
“Aww, Arty,” the other man drawled. “She said she just needed a place to keep them for awhile. I was just being a good neighbor is all.”
“Hah,” Arty scoffed. “And I suppose if she hadn’t been half your age and wearing robes that barely covered her knees you still would have helped her, eh? A good neighbor indeed…” he grumbled under his breath. “More like a dirty old –”
“Next!” shouted the young woman behind the security desk shouted.
The two men fell silent and the line inched forward.
It was another thirty minutes before Kate was officially checked in. Her wand registered, a visitor’s badge pinned to her shirt, she headed off toward the lifts. The lady at the counter had directed Kate to the Ministry Archives. Kate hadn’t know there was such a place, but the woman assured her that there she would find detailed information on all Ministry Departments, past and present, as well as copies of declassified transcripts from a variety of Ministry trials and hearings. It seemed to Kate as good a place as any to start.
After a short pause, the lift stopped and a cool female voice announced they had arrived at Level One. Kate and another man stepped out and into a long hallway lined with heavy paneled doors and gleaming oaks floors. Portraits of various Ministry Officials hung in long rows along the wall, watching Kate as she made her way forward, stopping occasionally to read the signs tacked to the doors. Halfway down the corridor, she found a small door labeled Archives. Not sure whether to knock or just go in, Kate tapped lightly on the door and slowly inched it open.
Kate had expected to find a cramped, dusty room or something reminiscent of the library back at Hogwarts. Instead she found herself entering nothing short of a museum. The ceilings, domed and painted with an elaborate design in pale blue and tan, seemed three stories high. The floors – nearly the same colors as the ceiling – were so shiny they appeared to be made of glass. There were dozens of beautiful white columns perched atop thick marbled slabs and elegant reading tables with gilded legs and high-backed chairs. And, of course, there were books. Thousands, perhaps even millions, of books, all lined up in neat rows, set deep into the bookshelves, which were curved to match the shape of the room. In the center of it all was a crescent-moon desk. It was empty save for a single, leather bound ledger, which was being carefully guarded by an elderly woman with a kind face and watchful eyes.
Kate took several cautious steps toward the woman.
“May I help you?” the woman asked, her voice so low it was almost a whisper. The nameplate above her breast read:
Archives and Records
“I hope so,” Kate said quietly, trying to match the woman’s tone. “I’m to attend a hearing with the Budgetary Review Board. I was hoping to find some information to help me…prepare?”
“And just what type of information might you be you looking for?”
“Err,” Kate stuttered. “That’s just it. I’m not exactly sure. I don’t really know what I’m going to need.”
The woman gave her a patient smile but Kate got the distinct impression she wasn’t at all pleased by the vagueness of the request.
“Well,” she said breathily. “Let’s see what we can find to get you started.”
The woman opened the large leather bound book on the desk, riffling through to a page near the middle. Kate was intrigued to find that all the pages appeared to be blank. The woman then removed a large purple quill from inside one of the desk drawers and began scribbling something in large looping letters. Kate was trying to decipher it upside-down but before she could make any headway, the script vanished, seeming to melt right into the page. The woman promptly closed the book.
“This way,” she said, coming around the large desk and gesturing Kate to follow. As she walked, her thin heels clicked rhythmically along the polished floors, making Kate feel suddenly underdressed in denim and trainers.
The woman led her on a winding path through the bookshelves and back towards a set of stairs that led to the second floor. It really wasn’t a floor at all, more like a floating ring of bookcases that encircled the main level. There was a narrow walkway and low wooden railing but little else to keep a person from tumbling down onto the very unforgiving ground below. When they were about halfway around the ring, the woman stopped and turned to Kate.
“Here we are,” she said, looking at the rows of books and stacks of papers on her left.
“This is where we keep the court transcripts. They start here and end just past that wooden post.” She pointed several meters ahead where a tall banister marked the stairs to the third level. It looked to Kate as if there must be a million pages between that post and where she stood. “They’re in chronological order. The newest at the end. Geoffrey is in charge of the subject index but I’m afraid he hasn’t made it past the ninth century yet.
“The Budgetary Review Board,” she continued, “is a rather new committee. I don’t think they’ll be too many records from them yet. But they’re not the first of their kind. I’d try looking into the Council on Monetary Affairs, The Bureau of the Bursar, The Office of the Treasury – Well, you get the idea. These committees do come and go so often these days.”
She smiled to herself, as if it were some inside joke. Kate just nodded, feeling thoroughly overwhelmed.
“Just remember,” the woman said, her smile gone. “No records may leave this room. And no magic whatsoever may be performed on any of the books. There are reading tables on the main floor and private rooms in the back which you can use for as long as you like.”
Kate nodded again and managed a weak, “Thank you.”
The woman gave her a small nod in return. “Good luck,” she said before turning and heading back towards the stairs.
When she was gone, Kate let out a huge sigh, grabbed the nearest book, and began to read.
Several hours later, Kate was still reading. She had moved back down to the main floor, selecting one of the open tables near the stairs. Spread out all around her were books, most lying open, marking a page that had caught her attention. She had spent the day taking copious notes, thankful that she had thought to grab some parchment before she left the flat that morning.
She had lost all track of time, pausing only when her stomach gave a loud, hungry rumble. Kate looked up. The large clock on the wall said it was nearly one o’clock. She had been at this for more than five hours already. She wondered if there was a limit to how much information a brain could process in one morning. If such a limit existed, Kate was sure she was nearing the peak.
Afraid her growling stomach would start attracting the attention of the other people seated near by, Kate decided to break for lunch. She jotted down a few quick notes on the books she would want to review again later, grabbed up her paper and pen and headed back toward the atrium.
She was contemplating whether to return to her flat or try and find a restaurant near by when she thought she heard someone call her name. Kate turned around, but the atrium was too crowded to tell if anyone was looking at her. She continued forward when she heard it again, this time louder and in an oddly familiar voice.
She spun around. This time she saw him. Several meters away and jogging towards her was a face Kate had never expected to see again. It was the face of Charlie Weasley.
Chapter 6: Chapter Five: Reluctance
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Chapter Five: Reluctance
For a brief instant, Kate felt transported back in time. It was Romania, three years ago, and she was embracing her old friend after a prolonged separation – like a long trip home for the holidays perhaps, one of the many times he returned to England to see his family. Just as she had so many times before, Kate wrapped her arms around Charlie’s familiar frame and hugged him tightly. And he returned the gesture, just as he always had, with equal enthusiasm.
Then, just as quickly as it arose, the spell of familiarity broke. This was not Romania, and it was not three years ago. She was standing in the middle of the Atrium at the Ministry of Magic, grasping onto a man she hadn’t spoken to – hadn’t even heard from – since that horrible night that seemed both so long ago and so very fresh in her mind. This realization must have occurred suddenly to Charlie as well. Simultaneously, the pair released their hold on each other and quickly stepped apart.
“Wow,” Charlie said at last, exhaling loudly as if he had been holding his breath.
Kate tried to think of something – anything – to say but her mind came up blank. Charlie was apparently having the same problem.
“I’m…speechless,” Charlie admitted. “I mean…it’s you.”
Kate attempted to smile but feared it may have looked more like a grimace. It wasn’t as if she hadn’t thought of Charlie over the last three years. She’d thought of him more than she was comfortable admitting. But the feelings those thoughts conjured were painful and confusing and it was easier to leave them unexplored. Now, however, those feelings were rushing over her faster than she could process. Kate wanted to run. Fast.
“How are you?” Charlie asked, his expression apologetic at the inadequacy of the question.
“I’m fine,” Kate heard herself reply. “And you? You look well.”
This was true. Charlie always looked well. He was sturdy, thickly built, with wide shoulders and strong arms. His skin, fair and freckly by birth, was perpetually tanned and flushed, as if he had just stepped inside from a long run on the beach. Everything about him seemed to radiate assurance and security, from his capable hands and intelligent eyes, to his kind face and easy smile. Looking at him was like looking at an old stone house: not always beautiful but built to survive and protect, whatever the elements might throw at it.
“I’m good,” he said, relaxing a bit. “Aside from the fact that I thought I was seeing a ghost back there. I didn’t even know you were in the country.”
“I’m not,” Kate said. “I mean…I just got in yesterday. For work.”
“Oh, are you working here now?”
Kate wasn’t sure if he meant the Ministry itself or just in London, but either way, her answer was the same.
“Not exactly. It’s sort of a long story. But you,” she said, taking in the full sight of him dressed in long, dark blue robes and polished black shoes. “You look like…” But Kate wasn’t sure what he looked like. She had never seen him so dressed up before.
Charlie looked down at his clothes. “It’s awful, isn’t it? Normally it’s not this bad. I’ve just been in meetings all morning. Been in them all week, actually. You know how that is.”
Actually she didn’t. Kate couldn’t imagine working at a job that kept her cooped up in office meetings for an entire morning, let alone an entire week. Sitting in a library for a few hours was torture enough. And up until five minutes ago, she couldn’t have imagined Charlie in such a position either.
“I was just taking a break for lunch,” he continued “We’re on a recess until three.”
“Oh, right,” Kate nodded, seeing her chance at escape. “I won’t hold you –”
“No, it’s great. I mean, it’s fine.” Charlie glanced around suddenly, as if looking for someone. Seeming not to find them, he turned back slowly. “You wouldn’t want to join me, would you? For old time’s sake?”
“I don’t think—” she began, but he cut her off.
“It’s on me,” he offered, giving her an awkward smile.
Kate wanted to say no but found she just couldn’t form the words. She couldn’t bring herself to make up some excuse...to lie to him.
“Alright,” she agreed at last, reluctantly ignoring the feeling in the pit of her stomach that warned her this was a very bad idea.
Charlie led Kate to a small pub just a few blocks east of the Ministry. The outside was overrun with ivy that hung unchecked over the stain-glass windows while the inside consisted of a long, narrow room with dark wood floors and even darker wood paneling that stopped just short of the low-hanging ceiling. Most of the room was taken up by a curved bar built against the far wall and the long row of stools tucked up underneath the counter. In what little space was left, small tables with mismatched chairs had been haphazardly arranged.
Kate followed Charlie to a collection of tables near the back, about as far away from the bar as it was possible to get in such a cramped space. They had their fair pick of seats. The place was nearly deserted. Whatever lunch crowd there might have been was long gone, leaving behind empty – if not quite clean – tables.
“I’ve never been in here before,” Charlie said, breaking the long silence that had fallen between them. “Must have walked past it a dozen times though.”
“Hmmm,” was all Kate could think to offer in reply.
They fell into another awkward silence, busying themselves with the list of dishes written in chalk on a small blackboard tacked to the wall.
“So,” Charlie began again after they had placed their orders and the barman had taken his leave, “what exactly are you doing here?”
“Excuse me?” Kate asked, taken aback.
"No,” he said, backtracking quickly. “That’s not how I meant it. You just said at the Ministry it was a long story. I was curious what brought you here is all.”
“Oh,” she said and stopped. It wasn’t exactly a personal question but Kate felt uneasy about answering. She just wasn’t sure yet whether that was a reflection of the topic at hand or the person asking the question.
Kate did her best to come up with an answer without actually saying much of anything at all. She told him about being abroad in Egypt and the series of excavations her team was working on but stayed vague about her reason for returning to England.
“I’m just doing some research here for awhile,” Kate told him. “Combing through books and the like. What about you?” she asked, welcoming the opportunity to divert further questioning but also increasingly curious about what Charlie was doing at the Ministry dressed in formal robes, sitting in week-long meetings.
Now it was his turn to show his discomfort.
“A bit of this and that, really,” he said. “I’ve been on with the Ministry for a time now.”
“Doing...?” she pressed.
“For the moment…” He took an exaggerated pause. “I’ve been working with the Aurors.”
“As an Auror. I’m...one of those now. An Auror.”
“But…how?” Kate asked, stunned. “I mean, doesn’t that take years? And...why?”
“Because it's important,” he replied defensively. “And it’s good work. They needed help at the time. They still do. I agreed, is all. What?” he added, taking in her look of shock.
“Nothing. It’s just...a surprise. Not exactly the career I pictured you in.”
“Well, maybe it’s easy to forget all the way out there in Egypt but things got pretty bad here, Kate. And some of us are still trying to clean up the mess.”
Kate felt her checks grow hot and the unmistakably accusatory tone of his words.
“What’s that supposed to mean? I don’t remember you turning your nose down at my line of work back when we were in...”
But she didn’t say the name. She didn’t want to think anymore about the deafening screams. The heat of the blaze. The smell of burning flesh. Or how just when it was all over, when she thought she’d finally reached her breaking point, she found he was gone – leaving her alone. Leaving them to clean up all that death and destruction without him. Over and over she thought of his note, his final words to her: I’m going home. It’s urgent. I’m sorry.
Kate felt sick to her stomach. She had to get out of there. She couldn’t breathe.
“Fred died,” he said softly. “Did you know that?”
Kate froze. She starred across the table at Charlie, whose shoulders seemed to sag suddenly under the weight of his own words.
“I—” she started but stopped. “Yes, I read it in the paper. I’m sorry.”
He nodded. “Two years ago last month.” He rubbed his hand across his face. “Hard to believe it’s been that long already.”
Was it a really that long of a time? Kate wasn’t so sure. Three years since Romania. Two years since that horrible battle. So much had happened since then, and yet so much still seemed so fresh in her mind. The Wizarding World had already begun moving forward it had it really even begun to move on?
“Did you join...” she began slow. “Is that why you’re working –”
Charlie just shrugged. “We’ve all got to make amends somehow, right?”
Kate found that an odd thing to say, but a lot of things were sounding odd right about then.
“I’m sorry,” he said at last. “I shouldn’t have just blurted that out. I just...I don’t know.”
“No, it’s fine,” she assured him.
Charlie picked his hand up off the table, reaching out slightly before letting it fall back down again. “It really is good to see you again, Kate.”
Kate said nothing in return.
A/N – In case it isn’t clear, or I’ve contradicted myself, this scene is occurring two years after the battle of Hogwarts, which means the events in the prologue were occurring around the same time as Dumbledore’s death. On a totally unrelated note, thank you so, so much to those who’ve been reading and reviewing. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate it :)
Chapter 7: Chapter Six: Restricted
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Chapter Six: Restricted
Malachi Madrigal was an unremarkable-looking man. He was the kind of person that was easy to miss, disappearing into his surroundings like a piece of furniture. He was small, on the younger side of forty, with thinning blonde hair that seemed out of place on top of his very boyish face. He wasn’t fat but his middle seemed to be going soft and doughy, like a teddy bear with half the stuffing missing. With his misshapen wire-rim glasses and well-worn leather briefcase, Malachi Madrigal was totally and utterly ordinary.
Only he very much wasn’t.
Malachi had a very unordinary job with a very unordinary mission. And though she didn’t know it yet, Malachi would very soon turn Kate’s world upside-down.
It was Thursday. Kate had now been in London for two weeks with little to show for it. She hadn’t seen Charlie since they parted ways outside the pub, and though she had written to Henry several times, filling him in on her general lack of progress, she had yet to receive a reply. And now she was once again waiting in line at Ministry security, preparing to start another day of what was quickly proving to be fruitless research.
The now familiar woman behind the desk motioned for Kate to step forward. She dutifully furnished her wand for weighing, her hand remaining outstretched to receive it back, along with the small visitor’s badge she was required to keep pinned to the front of her shirt. But for the first time, the woman behind the desk hesitated.
“I’m sorry, Miss,” she said, her eyes bouncing between the small gold scale and Kate’s face. “I can’t let you in today.”
“What?” Kate asked. “Why not?”
The woman starred down at her hand, which clutched a small rectangular piece of paper that had been ejected like a ticket from the base of the scales.
“I’m afraid I don’t know that, Miss,” she said, her tone one of rehearsed placation. “I just do what the scales direct. Perhaps you can try again next week—”
“Next week?” Kate repeated back at her. “But I don’t understand. I’ve been in and out of here near a dozen times already. What’s the sudden problem?”
Kate’s voice must have gotten louder than she realized for the man seated against the far wall behind the counter set down his copy of the Daily Prophet and began eyeing her suspiciously.
“Like I said, Miss, they don’t tell me anything more than I need to know. Your wand has been flagged for restriction and I’m afraid that means I can’t let you in.”
“They who?” Kate demanded. “Who’s restricted my wand?”
“Is there a problem here?” The man with the newspaper was now standing beside the security woman, his arms folded across his chest.
The woman whispered something in the man’s ear and handed him the slip of paper. Kate leaned over the desk, trying to read it along with him.
Katherine Elizabeth Wiggins
Wand: holly, unicorn hair, 10 ½ inches, 12 yrs
Access: Denied, Pty 5 - DMLE
“DMLE? What does that mean?” Kate asked.
“Department of Magical Law Enforcement,” the man said. “Seems they’ve put you on a Priority Five. That’s a temporary access restriction. No unsupervised entry into the Ministry.”
“But for what? This is ridiculous. I haven’t done anything.”
“You’ll have to take it up with them, Ma’am,” the man said.
“And just how exactly do I do that?” Kate snapped. She was really loosing patience now. This was absolutely absurd.
“There’s a form,” the woman began. “You can file it with Records and Inquiries. It usually takes about two to three weeks—”
“Two to three weeks? That’s not good enough. I’ve got a hearing. Someone needs to correct this. Now.”
Again the security woman whispered something in the man’s ear. After a moment he nodded.
“Have it your way,” he said to Kate. “But the wand stays here.”
Kate followed the man to the lifts, stopping when they arrived on Level Two. He ushered her out and down a long corridor lined with heavy doors, each fitted with rather imposing locks. Near the very end of the hall he stopped, rapping a thick knuckle on the last door on the left. After a long pause – seemingly satisfied there was no one inside – the man reached into the pocket of his dark purple robes and extracted his wand, tapping twice on the door. It swung open and he gestured her inside.
“You’re to wait here,” he said. “You’re not to go off unsupervised. Understand?”
“Wonderful,” Kate replied, looking around. The room was completely empty save for a small table and two chairs set in the center. There were no windows, nothing hanging on the walls. Everything was painted a dull beige. It was like a prison cell, Kate thought ominously, but quickly realized that wasn’t quite right. It was an interrogation room.
“You’ve got to be kidding—” Kate began, spinning around to face the man.
But he was already gone, the door shut silently behind him.
When she reached out to open it again, Kate found there was no knob -no latch – any visible way to open the door from the inside. She was trapped.
“Hey,” she cried, but there was no one there to hear her. Using her fists, she pounded angrily on the door. The strange metal coating seemed to absorb rather than amplify the sound. After several more minutes of banging and shouting without reward, Kate took a reluctant seat in the chair facing the door. It didn’t take long for the claustrophobia to set it.
After what felt like an eternity, the heavy door finally rattled, opening just a crack. Just beyond the frame, Kate could hear the muffled conversation of two men.
“…was going to take care of it, but now he’s on assignment until next month. I’d do it myself, but the kids have both come down with dragon pox and Izzy will kill me if I’m not around to help this weekend.”
The other man said something in reply but Kate couldn’t make out the words.
“You’re a lifesaver,” the first man said, and Kate could hear the sound of retreating footsteps.
“Any time,” the second man called after him, his voice suddenly all too clear.
And with that, the door swung open and Charlie Weasley stepped inside.
“And I thought I was shocked the last time I ran into you,” Charlie said, closing the heavy door behind him. “This is quickly turning into a bad habit of ours.”
“I didn’t know you’d be here,” Kate said a little too emphatically. “Actually,” she corrected, “I’m not entirely sure where here is, or what I’m doing in it. Do your people make a habit of locking people up without explanation?”
“My people?” he asked but Kate just glared at him. “So what exactly is going on?”
“You’re the Auror. You tell me.”
Kate could hear the petulance in her voice but being locked away in some mysterious wing of the Ministry hadn’t left her feeling cooperative. Not to mention finding herself once again face to face with a man she wasn’t entirely sure she ever wanted to see again.
“The Auror Department is charged with the oversight of security for all Ministry Facilities and those persons working within them,” he recited, sounding like he was reading page one of an Auror training manual.
“So you’re saying someone thinks I’m a security risk?”
Kate couldn’t begin to imagine who or why someone would think she was a risk for anything.
“It sure seems that way.”
Charlie seemed content to let that hang in the air for a moment. Kate couldn’t help but shift uneasily in her seat.
“Or,” he continued last, joining her at the small table, “it could be one giant mix up. I guess that’s what I’m here to find out. Perhaps you’d like to start by telling me just what the hell you’re doing here –”
“I already told you, I don’t know,” Kate insisted. “One of your...that man down at security brought me up here. Something about a Priority Five –”
“No,” Charlie interrupted. “I mean, what are you doing in London? What’s your business at the Ministry?”
Kate said nothing. This was about more than staying on guard with an old acquaintance. Her plan from the beginning had been to keep as tightlipped about her visit as possible. And really, what could a meeting with the Review Board have to do with her being considered a security risk?
“Fine,” he said, standing up as if to leave. “You don’t have to tell me. There are some forms you can fill out –” He was reaching for the door.
“Wait!” Kate called.
Charlie stopped but didn’t turn around.
She swallowed loudly. “It’s just...I don’t see how any of that matters.”
“Maybe it does, maybe it doesn’t,” he said facing her again. “But I can’t exactly help figure that out if I don’t know what’s going on.”
Kate considered this for a moment, trying to determine her best course of action. She wasn’t coming up with many alternatives. She could keep quiet and risk missing days, if not weeks of research time, or she could come clean, fill Charlie in on what was happening in hopes of clearing this up as soon as possible. She knew exactly what Henry would say.
“Alright,” she said at last. “I guess I’m here for just a little more than research...”
Charlie listened quietly as she spoke, allowing Kate to finish her story without interruption. When she was done, he sat back, reclining slightly in his chair as he pondered what she had just told him.
“Well?” Kate asked, confused at his sudden silence.
“I’m not sure...Could be nothing, unrelated, like you said.”
His words were dismissive but the look on his face told Kate something she said had struck a nerve.
“But I’ll look into. Try and clear things up. Here.” He pulled a small notebook and pencil from his breast pocket and slid them across the table to her. “Write down where I can reach you, incase I run into any problems.”
Kate jotted down her address and slid the pad back to him.
“Do you think—”
“I’m sure it’s nothing,” he said, rising to his feet, looking suddenly in a hurry to leave.
“Just sit tight for now,” he said, extracting his wand and using it to unlatch some unseen lock on the door. “I’ll be in touch. Soon.”
“But—” Kate tried again.
“Soon,” he repeated. And he was gone.