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To Judge a Book By Its Cover by Weasley Freckles
Chapter 2 : A Foggy Road
 
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a/n: Hello again, everyone! For the first time in this story I get to tell you that…I LOVE YOU! Wow, I was so happy to see so many old faces…or—er—pennames rather, reviewing and a lot of new faces—pennames, sorry—reviewing as well! ^_^ Glad you all enjoyed the first chapter and I hope you enjoy this one as well! *shoos everyone onward down the page*

Disclaimer: I don’t own Harry Potter, but I do own this shirt that says “Voldemort Can’t Stop the Rock!” YAH HARRY AND THE POTTERS—THE BEST BAND EVER! My friends (a couple of which are amazing authors on this site! ^.~) and I went to go see them and we had the time of our young lives! YAY! *dances around, still giddy from the concert*

Chapter 2: A Foggy Road

“The one and only,” Robin replied, smiling in a satisfied sort of way. “Now, Woods, we have some things to do, so you really can’t leave me out here all day.”

“I—I can’t believe it!” Claire said, because it was the only thought in her head.

“Believe it,” Robin insisted.

Claire shook her head once again for good measure, looked up and saw Robin still standing there, and then stepped aside to let her pass. As she was shutting the door, she had another thought.

“Uh—my parents are out,” Claire explained, “and they don’t really like me letting people in while they’re gone. I mean, I know you, but they have no idea who you are and they weren’t going to be gone very long—”

“Don’t worry about it,” Robin said, looking down at her watch. “We’ll be long gone before they get back.”

Claire cocked an eyebrow at her old friend.

“Where exactly are we going?” she asked slowly.

Robin wasn’t really listening, she was looking around at the den, observing old school photographs of Claire and her brother and cheesy nick-knacks brought home from family vacations. She paused in her analyzing and looked up.

“I’ve got some things to explain to you,” Robin said, “and I’m certain you have some things to explain to me. Is there somewhere we can talk?”

“Uh—well, I guess my room—”

“AHEM!”

The girls spun around to see Claire’s brother, Dylan, standing there impatiently, a jar of chunky peanut butter in his hands.

“Mom said you were going to feed me lunch,” he said in a demanding tone.

Claire glared at him. He was being irritating on purpose because there was a guest in the house. Little brothers had a way of doing that.

“Not now, Dylan,” Claire said, trying to get rid of him quickly before he said something rude to Robin, which little brothers also had a way of doing. “You’re six years old, I think you’re perfectly capable of making yourself a sandwich. So just go back in the kitchen—”

It was too little too late, unfortunately. It turned out Dylan wasn’t really hungry at all, he just wanted to see who rang the doorbell. Side-stepping his sister, he stared inquisitively at Robin.

“Who’s that?” he asked, as if Robin was the most bizarre thing he’d ever seen.

Robin, however, didn’t mind.

“I’m a friend of your sister’s,” she said, stepping forward and shaking the little boy’s hand formally. “Pleasure to meet you.”

Dylan merely stared.

“You look funny,” he said.

Claire squirmed uncomfortably, trying to talk over him so he’d go away. “Okay, Dylan—that’s enough—c’mon, go away—”

Robin just laughed.

“Yes, I hear that a lot,” she replied with a smile.

Now it appeared Dylan thought she was insane. He took a couple steps back, clutching the peanut butter very tightly and said to his sister, “You’re not supposed to let strangers in the house.”

“She’s not a stranger, Dylan!” Claire insisted. Her ears felt hot, embarrassed of her questionable little brother. “Just go in the kitchen and make yourself some lunch, Robin and I are just going up to my room to hang out for a little while. Mom and Dad won’t care.”

The boy looked between the two of them, the twinkle in his eye of one who was thinking of nothing other than tattling, and then he retreated into the other room.

“I’m really sorry, Robin,” Claire said, feeling terrible. “It’s just—he’s only six, you know, he’s a real pain sometimes—”

Robin cut her off.

“Don’t worry about it, I get it all the time,” she insisted. “Just direct me to your room so we can exchange stories.”

Claire showed her up the stairs and into her room. Robin also looked around in here for a moment, noticing the pile of playing cards on the floor and the radio on in the corner. Claire, however, sank into her desk chair, feeling a bit light-headed.

“So, I’m guessing you made it out of the book all right?” Claire asked. She hadn’t been sure back when they were about to be blown to smithereens whether or not grabbing Robin’s arm would take her home as well.

“Perfectly fine,” Robin replied, taking a seat on Claire’s unmade bed and making herself comfortable. “Thanks to you, of course.”

Claire merely nodded, a thousand questions scrabbling around in her head. She decided to just pick a random one and start from there.

“How did you find me?” Claire asked. “I looked for you for ages, but I gave up—I tried every idea I could think of! I called every ‘Gregory’ in every phonebook we had but none of them were the right one. Then I tried using stuff on the internet but it just didn’t work—”

“Yeah, I started out that way, too,” Robin said. “I called every ‘Woods’ I found, tried some of those high school reunion things on the internet—you know, they give you addresses and stuff so you can track down old school friends—but I didn’t know your parents’ names, so that didn’t work so well. I started collecting phonebooks and calling all the ‘Woods’ in there but then my parents realized that I was the reason our phone bill was so high, so I was reduced to hoping I would just run into you somehow.”

Claire waited for her to go on, but she didn’t.

“And?” Claire urged her. “I’m assuming it worked?”

Robin nodded, smiling triumphantly.

“It did,” she said. “I’m guessing your parents have sent you to a lot of doctors recently?”

Claire blinked.

“How did you know that?” she asked.

“Because your dad just happened to call one of the ones my parents have been sending me to since I was ten,” she explained. “It was really lucky, actually. I was sitting in the waiting room when I heard the receptionist call over to the doctor, saying that a ‘Mr. David Woods’ was on line three, wanting to know if he could make an appointment for his daughter.”

Claire’s eyes widened.

“So wait a minute—that means you must live in this area, if you were in one of the doctor’s offices my parents took me to,” Claire said, trying to piece this together. “If that’s true, then why weren’t you in the phonebook?”

Robin shook her head.

“I live in New York,” she said. “Your parents must have been planning on taking you there.”

Claire gasped, realizing that the family vacation her parents had been planning for next month was all just another hoax in hopes that their daughter would finally explain to them what had happened to her, why she had changed. Her eyes fell to the floor and she could feel her blood pumping in her ears. Her temper was worse than a wild animal these days.

“I’m sorry, Claire,” Robin said sincerely. “I know that must be hard for you to hear, but that’s how I found out where you were.”

Claire just shook her head and asked, “It’s not your fault. They just think I’ve been acting weird ever since…well, ever since I got back. Not that they know I was even gone, but…” She sighed and waved her hand. “Anyway, that’s not the point. Just because you heard my last name in a doctor’s office you knew I lived several states away? And my exact address, for that matter?”

Robin grinned mischievously.

“It was actually very simple,” she explained, looking pleased with herself. “Let’s just say I got all the information by ‘causing a distraction.’ The rest is really unimportant.”

Claire couldn’t help but grin, too. It seemed like more of Claire had rubbed off on Robin than she thought.

“That still doesn’t explain how you got here,” Claire continued. “You didn’t hitch-hike, did you?”

“A little of that, a few busses, a taxi—bottom line, I got here,” Robin said with a shrug.

Claire looked wary. Robin didn’t notice.

“Anyway, I was hoping you would have the brains not to be here when I arrived,” Robin said, narrowing her eyes.

“Huh?” Claire said. “What are you talking about?”

“You have a Bestower in your family!” Robin said exasperatingly. “She could have sent you back, or at least told you how to get back another way! Have you at least asked your grandma about it? What did she say?”

Claire didn’t know how to respond. Robin sat there, looking so eager, having no idea what had happened when Claire had returned from the books. Forcing herself to meet Robin’s eyes, Claire jumped into the explanation.

“My great-grandmother is dead, Robin. She passed away in her sleep—I found out the morning I got back.”

Robin looked stunned.

“Oh my—wow, I’m sorry, Claire. I had no idea—but that makes sense, now. The physcologist your dad called specializes in helping kids deal with death. I suppose I should have figured…” Robin put a hand to her mouth and lowered her eyes to the floor, thinking.

“She was perfectly healthy when she came to visit that day,” Claire said, feeling the need to go on. “The only reason they said she died was that she was under a lot of stress or a lot of pressure, or something like that. If you’re putting two and two together, I think the reason she died is that it took a lot of extra—whatever—to send me back into the story the second time. It’s my fault she’s dead.”

Robin looked up and shook her head, saying, “Don’t be ridiculous, that can’t be how it happened. I mean, she was your great -grandma, right? So she wasn’t exactly young any more…”

“Still, don’t you think it’s a bit of a coincidence that she died the same night she sent me back into the book?” Claire said, as if defending the fact that she was definitely the reason the old woman had been dead for the past two years.

Robin shrugged and mumbled, “I don’t know…”

There was a moment’s lapse in the conversation before Robin spoke again, “So—I’m assuming you have no idea how to get back?”

“I’ve looked over the books a million times, but got nowhere,” Claire answered.

Robin narrowed her eyes.

“So you’ve basically given up, have you?” she snapped. “You’ve done nothing for two whole years? I understand you were mourning, but c’mon, Claire—”

“That’s not true!” Claire snapped right back, jumping to her feet. “I’ve been working my butt off! Here, I’ll show you if you don’t believe me—”

Claire turned around and began rummaging through one of the drawers in her desk. At the very bottom of it she found what she was looking for: a thick, black notebook. She threw it at Robin.

“If you call that nothing, I’ll eat the pages,” Claire snarled, shooting daggers through her eyes.

Looking skeptical, Robin opened the notebook that had been tossed at her. As she flipped through each page, however, her eyes darted back and forth faster and faster, and her expression grew less and less angry. In fact, if Claire didn’t know any better, she’d say that Robin looked rather impressed.

“Wow…” Robin said, studying a diagram Claire had sketched. “I never thought I’d say this, Woods, but you certainly have done your homework! This will be helpful—very helpful, actually—I think we may have a chance! They’ll definitely think more highly of you after they see this! I was hoping we wouldn’t have to see them at all …but, under the circumstances…”

Claire was nodding happily along to Robin’s compliments up until that last part.

“Who?” she asked, her face twisting into a quizzical expression once again.

Robin shut the notebook and jumped to her feet, looking around.

“You got a computer somewhere?” she asked randomly.

Claire blinked, bewildered.

“Uh—yeah. It’s downstairs in the living room—”

“Perfect. Lead the way,” Robin said, striding over the door and opening it for her.

Claire, however, wasn’t leaving the room until she had some more answers.

“Why do you need a computer?” she asked.

“I have to show you, it’s too hard to explain,” Robin said. “Do you still have your Hogwarts robes?”

Claire nodded.

“Get them,” Robin said. “Hurry up, we’re burning daylight.”

“Burning daylight?!” Claire said, pushing clothes out of the way in her closet to get to the back where she had hidden the robes. “It’s 11:30 in the morning! We’ve got plenty of daylight!”

“No we don’t,” Robin said as Claire walked out the door, her robes draped over her arm as she walked down the stairs. “I figured we could just go to your grandmother’s and she could send us back—you know, since she broke the rules once, I figured she wouldn’t mind doing it again—but that option’s out now. We’ve got a lot farther to go than I thought. Damn, I should have gotten here earlier—move faster, Claire—”

“Don’t shove me!”

Claire led the way into the living room, where the computer sat on a desk in the corner. She made her way over to it and punched in the password to turn it on. Robin automatically sat down in the chair in front of the monitor.

“Let’s see…Internet Explorer…” She double-clicked the large blue “e” on the desktop. “Now we just have to go to…”

Robin clicked on the address bar and typed an acronym: S.M.O.G.

S.M.O.G.? ” Claire asked.

“It stands for the ‘Strict Monitoring Of Gifts’,” Robin explained.

Claire was now even more confused than she had been before.

“What—?”

“Shh!”

Naturally, the computer had no record of any S.M.O.G. organization. On the screen instead was a list of websites similar to “S.M.O.G.,” most about air quality or the day’s whether. At the very top it said things like, “Did you mean smog?” or “Try the Advanced Search here.

“Scroll down…” Robin was muttering instructions to herself. “Aha! Bingo!”

Claire squinted to see what her curser was pointed to. At the very bottom right-hand corner of the screen, there was a minute word that Claire seriously doubted the average person ever noticed: S.M.O.G.I.S.H.

S.M.O.G.I.S.H.?” Claire asked.

“I think that’s supposed to stand for ‘Strict Monitoring Of Gifts IS Here’,” Robin answered, clicking on it.

Claire thought that one over for a minute and said, “But ‘is’ has—there’s still the ‘s’! That’s not a proper acronym at all!”

Robin shook her head and replied, “Don’t ask me. Whoever came up with that one must be a real idiot.”

Claire privately agreed as they waited for the screen to load. Finally, the little hourglass changed back into an arrow, and the loading status in the right-hand corner said “Done.” But the screen remained as blank white as ever.

“Did it freeze again?” Claire said, trying to reach for the mouse.

Robin slapped her hand away.

“Don’t touch it, it’s not frozen,” she said, standing up and running out of the room to the front door, which she pulled open and grabbed a bag she had left on the porch. Claire didn’t understand why she hadn’t just brought it in with her, but there were more pressing matters to deal with.

“It’s not frozen?” Claire asked confusedly. “Then what’s wrong with it?”

“Nothing, it’s supposed to look like that,” Robin answered impatiently, rummaging through her bag, “so people who don’t know what it is will just think it froze up and they’ll go back to the other page. Okay, I’ve got my robes, my books—okay, we’re set. Where’s your notebook?”

Claire pointed to where Robin had set it down on the computer desk.

“Don’t forget that, we’re going to need all the help we can get,” Robin said. “You might want to grab a jacket, too, I don’t know how cold it’s going to be or how long it’ll take us to get there.”

“Wait—what are you talking about?” Claire said. “Robin, I can’t go anywhere! I can’t just leave Dylan here by himself—”

“He won’t even know you’re gone,” Robin explained. “Besides, you said your parents would be back soon anyway—”

“—at which time they will freak out because I won’t be here! ” Claire said slowly and clearly. What was so hard for Robin to understand?

“Look, Claire, you’re wasting time here,” Robin said in the same tone, as if explaining to a three-year-old that one and one made two. “If you want to fix the books, now’s your chance. I’m going, and I’d prefer if you’d come with me, but the choice is yours.”

Claire sighed, but didn’t have to think any further. She ran to the hall closet and grabbed her jacket. She threw it on in a hurry and snatched up the notebook and robes from the desk.

“What do I have to do?” she asked, ready to go.

“Just follow me,” Robin said. “I’ll wait for you once I get in.”

Claire watched as Robin reached out a hand and knocked on the screen three times. She took a deep breath and made to knock a fourth time, but this time her hand disappeared inside the screen itself, the rest of her body flying in after it.

“Robin!” Claire shouted, startled by her sudden disappearance.

But there was no response. Claire knew what she had to do, and just prayed it would work smoothly.

“Okay…” she said, positioning herself in front of the screen as Robin had. “Here goes nothing.”

She raised a fist and knocked three times upon the glassy screen. As she raised her hand to knock a fourth time, she turned to look at her living room. What would her parents say when they saw she was gone? Would Dylan blow the house up in her absence? She wanted to go, needed to go, but what if it didn’t work? What if—?

“AHH!”

A black-finger nailed hand had reached out from the screen, grabbed hold of her T-shirt, and pulled her into its depths.

“What the—?”

When Claire opened her eyes, she was standing on a dirt road underneath an overcast sky. A low-hanging fog was before them, blocking whatever lie in the distance from view. Claire turned to see Robin standing beside her, dusting off her pants.

“What was that for?!” Claire demanded, also taking a moment to dust off her jeans.

“You were taking too long,” Robin answered, righting herself, “and I wasn’t going to let you stay behind even if you wanted to. I’ll be damned if I’m going to stand before the Council by myself.”

“What Council?” Claire asked, but Robin had already begun to walk forward into the fog. “You still haven’t explained—hey, wait up!”

“Talk and walk, Claire, we need to hurry,” Robin said over her shoulder as Claire ran to catch up.

“Okay, okay, fine,” Claire said. “But will you please explain what this—this S.M.O.G. is?”

Robin actually laughed.

“I can’t believe you never asked Aquinas where he came from, after all that time you guys were together in the book!” Robin said, smiling. “Didn’t you ever wonder how your grandma got her powers, where Aquinas came from, anything?

“Sure I did!” Claire snapped, feeling angry again. “But every time I asked Aquinas he’d never tell me! He said it was his own little secret and it was none of my business!”

Robin looked surprised.

“Wow, he really must have hated you,” Robin said, laughing again. Claire scowled. “Anyway, my Bestower explained it all to me before he sent me into the story.”

Claire was listening intently now. She’d never heard the story of how Robin had been sent into the Harry Potter books.

“S.M.O.G., or the Strict Monitoring Of Gifts society, does exactly what the name suggests,” Robin explained. “They keep track of who is in what story, where they came from, who Bestowed their Gift, and, if necessary, any changes made to the story they were in.”

Claire’s stomach churned uncomfortably.

“I bet they have a whole room of filing cabinets on stuff about us,” Claire said, holding the notebook in her arms tightly to her chest as they followed the road through the mist.

Robin nodded, looking a little greener than before.

“It’s kind of like—like a big business. I guess you could call it that,” Robin continued. “They have people that fill out paperwork, people to send into the stories if there’s a problem, and—if they should need it—a court.”

Claire swallowed.

“A court?”

“Yes,” Robin said dismally. “And according to my Bestower, we have an appointment with them today.”

“Today?!” Claire said, now seeing Robin’s urge to hurry.

“Well, my Bestower said we had to get there before today—it was kind of like our deadline—otherwise they were going to come track us down,” Robin said, quickening her steps a little bit. “I wasn’t sure what he meant by that, but it didn’t sound too good.”

“Not at all,” Claire agreed, also stepping up the pace.

“So—now I’m not sure about this, so don’t get mad at me if I’m wrong—but I think we’ve got to present our case to them,” Robin said. “You know, explain why we did what we did and they’re probably going to list all of—all of our offenses …”

Claire’s eyes widened.

“We could be there for days!” Claire said, unable to stop a chuckle.

Robin smirked as well.

“We very well could be,” Robin said. “But I think we might be able to somehow work out a deal with them—maybe we can somehow convince them to let us back into the story and fix things. After all, after they see your notebook they’ll know we’re dedicated to repairing our mistakes.”

Claire nodded, holding the notebook a little tighter in her arms.

“I don’t know if it’ll work,” Robin said, “but it’s certainly worth a shot.”

It was quiet for a minute before Claire asked another question.

“Do you know what happened to Aquinas, Robin?”

Robin shook her head, “I haven’t the faintest idea. As soon as you were gone—the first time—so was he. I couldn’t find him anywhere.”

“I hope he’s all right,” Claire said. “Even if he did, as you say, ‘hate me’.”

Robin laughed.

“So,” Claire said, feeling conversational because they had a long walk ahead of them, “do you know your Bestower really well? You must have, if he told you all this stuff.”

Robin shook her head, “No, not really.”

“Oh…” Claire tapped her fingers on the back of the notebook. “Well—then how did he give you the Gift?”

Robin rolled her eyes.

“You don’t give up, do you?” she said. Robin sighed and went on, “My brother died when he was seventeen in a freak accident. I was ten and my parents found it easier to go with anger rather than sorrow, so they spent most of their time shouting at each other—and me. It wasn’t much fun, if you can imagine. Anyway, there was this little bookstore a couple blocks away from my house; I used to hang around in there a lot. That’s where I found Harry Potter, actually. I spent a lot of time in there reading. My Bestower was the old man who owned the shop. He happened to be there when I finished reading Order of the Phoenix, saw I was pretty upset, and asked if I wanted the treat of a lifetime. You know the rest.”

Claire closed her mouth, which had dropped open in surprise at the beginning of Robin’s story.

“Wow,” Claire said. “Robin, I’m sorry about your brother. I had no idea. Is that why—why your parents have sent you to doctors and stuff?”

Robin nodded.

“It was pretty tragic, what happened,” she said. “They didn’t know how to deal with it themselves, let alone help me get through it.” She waved her hand impatiently. “But that wasn’t the point of the story. I went in there the day after we got out of the books and asked him—my Bestower—what I was supposed to do. He explained that you and I were to report to S.M.O.G.’s headquarters before the sixteenth of July, 2005 and how we were supposed to get there.”

“Through the computer?”

“Yes,” Robin answered. “Naturally, I asked if he could somehow help me find you. He said he had no idea and that I would probably look better to the court if I went without you. He seemed to think most of it was your fault.”

Claire gulped and watched her feet as they walked.

“And what did you tell him?” Claire asked in a small voice.

Robin looked at her.

“I told him you and I started this together, and that’s how we were going to finish it,” she answered, “and that I wasn’t going to let my friend stand up there and take the blame for something I had an equal share in.”

Claire looked up.

“Really?” she said, surprised. “That’s what you said?”

“Certainly,” Robin said with a grin. “You didn’t honestly think I’d let you take all the credit, did you?”

Claire laughed.

“I guess not,” she said. “Why do you think—I mean, why today? What’s so special about July sixteenth?”

Robin shrugged. “Beats me. Anyway, you can ask them in just a second. We’re here.”

Claire looked up and gasped. Before them was a very large grey building that seemed to have just popped out of nowhere. She couldn’t even see the top and there were no windows, only a single door with a symbol on the front: an open book surrounded by sparks.

She turned to look at her friend, who looked as nervous as she felt, but determined all the same.

“Are you ready?” Robin asked her.

Claire nodded.

“Let’s go.”


a/n: DUN DUN DAAAAAAAAAaaa!! What is awaiting Claire and Robin inside of S.M.O.G.’s headquarters?! Will their trial earn them another chance to save the world of Harry Potter?! And what exactly is written in the notebook that Claire has been filling the pages of these past two years?! It’s all in the next chapter, kiddies! ^.^ Sorry if this chapter bored you. As always, the chattiness was necessary for…stuff. *wink* See you in chapter three!


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