Chapter 1 : Pilot (1/3)
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A/N: This is a concept I’ve had rattling around for a while. The only way I can describe it is as a TV series – twenty-two episodes following several season arcs. That means that each episode is a whole story in its own right, building up to tell a larger, longer story. Thanks to my marvellous PI Beta- Dark Hamadryad, who successfully avoided all the wells, pits, and lion dens I could imagine to bring this fic to you.
Episode One: Pilot
Lester Prentice went through the day not killing all sorts of people.
A passing wizard, laden down with shopping, asked him the time. Prentice told him and even helped the man when he got his beard caught in a hungry cookbook snapping from the top of his bags. The wizard walked off impressed with the stranger’s kindness and most definitely alive.
The thing was, Ron Weasley seemed terribly obsessed with the people Prentice had killed. That was the thing about Hit-Wizards; they never listened to your side of the story.
Prentice knew all about Ron. Ron had become a Hit-Wizard because he hadn’t had the marks to be an Auror; Potter had because he hadn’t wanted to be an Auror by himself. They were famed for always getting their wizard, and for never having killed or injured one of their catches.
This suited Prentice fine; he had no morals about murder at all, but he appreciated someone trying not to kill him.
Currently, Prentice was waiting for Ron in the shadows of Diagon Alley. He had snapped Ron’s wand in their brief tussle outside The Leaky Cauldron, and now, Ron was inside the newly opened American wand shop, trying to find a replacement before Prentice hunted him down.
A little girl tripped as her mother rushed her down the street, dropping her toy broomstick. Prentice grinned and bent down to pick it up for her. The girl took it back, and the mother smiled in thanks before rushing her child into Flourish & Blotts.
And look- he hadn’t killed them either.
He prided himself on that if he had killed them, they wouldn’t have even known about it. He looked so unthreatening that often people didn’t realise they were about to die until he’d finished the curse.
Prentice looked innocent. At twenty-six, he was tall and slim, with (he fancied) a smile that made hearts flutter. His manners were smooth and polite; he was the perfect guest at any party.
If he had one failing, it was his simple belief that other people’s property belonged solely to him- including their lives. When there was something he liked, he would simply wait outside the shop for someone to buy it and then delicately pluck the wrapped parcel from their bag as they sank to the ground.
The lamps barely cut into the dark and the puddles were icing over. He had waited in this damp spot for much longer than politeness dictated, so he fixed a smile onto his face, ran his fingers through his hair, and sauntered towards Amer-I-Can Wands. He really respected these plucky wand shops that were trying to fill the niche left by the missing Ollivander’s. They carried on despite the fact that British wizards weren’t suited to foreign wands in the slightest.
He pressed his face up against the glass window, breathing against it like a little boy. Inside, a pretty blonde witch was sitting at a desk. She looked nervous; Weasley had already told her what to do, he imagined.
The bell jingled as he opened the door and stepped inside. A song that he didn’t recognise was playing on the tinny wireless. The floors and walls were beige, and every surface, carpet, and display had been scrubbed, polished, and shined. There were elegant displays of wand holsters and polishing kits, but there wasn’t a wand in sight.
He sat in the chair opposite the desk. “I’m Lester, what’s your name?” he asked.
The witch bit her pink bottom lip and looked deeply into his innocent face. “Tara…” she murmured.
American accent, too. She was probably the owner’s daughter.
He gave her his most charming look, and the girl smiled. He wondered whether she realised she’d done it.
“What a lovely name,” he said.
He leant in, as if to take her in to his confidence. “I was hoping you could help me…” he said in a low, sexy voice. The girl turned pink. “I’m looking for a tall, red-haired man. He’s looking for a replacement for this-”
He held up two pieces of Ron Weasley’s snapped wand.
“Why are you looking for him?” the girl asked.
Prentice flicked his wand out. He was on his feet, towering above the witch, and suddenly, he didn’t seem friendly at all.
If she’d just told him, then everything would have been lovely. Surely Weasley had mentioned how dangerous Prentice was?
He let his real voice- sharp and emotionless- appear for just a second. “Just tell me,” he hissed.
Tara swallowed against the wand, and her shining eyes flicked to her right, just for a second.
He treated her to another smile and pulled the wand away.
“Thank you,” he said. He sat down, adjusted his coat, and tucked the wand away. “I’m not usually like this,” he apologised.
The girl breathed out shakily. He was boyish and flirtatious once more. A few minutes of chit-chat later, and she’d practically forgotten about his little threat.
“Could you do me one more favour?” he asked huskily.
The girl nodded. To her credit, she looked slightly wary.
“Could you shut your eyes?”
Her eyes darted to his sleeve, but he tilted his head to the left, still smiling and friendly, and her face relaxed.
“Thank you,” he said smoothly. “Avada Kedavra.”
He was pleased to note that she wasn’t even shocked; she hadn’t had time to realise what he’d done. She toppled smoothly off of her chair and onto the carpet. He was pleased with that. A nice, polite, death.
“You can come out now, Ron,” he said.
Prentice waited for a few moments. He stepped over the girl and took the time to take a few Galleons out of the desk drawer. By the time he had browsed through the paperwork and examined a picture of Tara and her sweetheart in a heart shaped frame on the desk, Ron still hadn’t appeared.
He turned to where the Assistant had so briefly indicated. The shop boasted a firing range for wizards to practice spells on. It was essentially a long metal cage with three dummies lined up at the end.
The question was: which of them was dummy number four hiding behind?
“Now really, I can’t hang about here all night,” he insisted.
There was no answer.
Prentice did not find pleasure in hunting people down and killing them. Sometimes it was necessary, of course, but he would have much preferred for him and Ron to sit down, have a coffee, and to casually hex the man as he was reaching for another biscuit. No adrenalin, no running, and no hard feelings.
But these Ministry people seemed determined to do it their own way.
“I needed a little target practice anyway,” he said, just loud enough for it to carry down to Ron.
He swished his wrist. The dummy on the left disintegrated in a ball of roaring blue flames. Prentice watched the fire for a while, but no charred body of Ron Weasley appeared.
“Good show!” he said, clapping. “Don’t you agree, Ron?”
Before Ron could answer, Prentice’s wand shot out again. The dummy on the right ripped itself apart. Stuffing and limbs flew into the air, but no bloody limbs belonging to Ron Weasley splattered onto the carpet.
Prentice spoke to the third (and fourth) dummy now.
“Now, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, ‘Harry won’t let me die. He’ll be here any second…’ But Harry didn’t turn up for work this morning, did he?”
There was no answer. Really, Ron had no one to blame but himself.
Prentice picked his favourite hex, the one he’d been secretly hoping to use on Ron.
“One…” he began, “…two…”
A hand shot out from behind the dummy. It was holding a strange black object.
“Ice!” Ron yelled.
Prentice frowned. There was a pause as Ron readjusted his approach.
“Uh…Chill! I mean…,Freeze!”
Prentice was amused. He loved last ditch plans. They never worked- that’s why they were so much fun.
Ron stepped out slowly, pointing the strange object at him. “This is a gun. It’s a Muggle weapon. It can shoot a bit of metal at your forehead faster that you can say Stupefy.”
Prentice listened attentively. “Really? Muggles are interesting aren’t they?” he smiled.
“Put your wand down,” Ron ordered. He crept slowly out from the behind the middle dummy.
“I don’t think I will, actually,” said Prentice. He twirled his wand in his hands and absently practiced his best duelling swishes and flicks.
Ron was clearly annoyed; you could tell by the ears. “Okay. On three-” he sneered.
“I hear that you are quite famous among Hit-Wizards,” said Prentice conversationally. He was quite unconcerned by Ron’s weapon- he was far more interested in Ron’s shaking hands.
“Really?” said Ron disinterestedly.
“Oh yes,” said Prentice. “The Aurors sent you two out to catch me because they want me alive. They say you never hurt a criminal.”
“Yeah, we’re geniuses,” said Ron, still holding the gun up.
Prentice grinned. “So I don’t think you’d use that thing on me. Not really.”
Ron’s blank expression didn’t change. Prentice didn’t find that worrying. The first thing Hit-Wizards learned was to bluff, because nine times out of ten, they didn’t have a hope.
Then, Ron glanced to the gun, just for a second. Prentice was quick. His wand pressed into Ron’s throat and he snatched the gun out of Ron’s hand.
Ron’s face didn’t change again, but Prentice saw him swallow against the wand.
He held up the gun and shook it with some amusement. No metal pinged out.
Prentice lifted the gun up to Ron’s forehead. His finger tucked itself around the trigger. Ron’s eyes didn’t leave his.
He found himself quite excited. He’d never killed anyone the Muggle way before.
“Tell me,” he asked. “How many people have I killed again?”
“Four wizards, three witches, and a Muggle,” rasped Ron.
“Eight,?” said Prentice, raising his eyebrows in surprise. “My word, time flies eh?” He winked at Ron. “Well…I’ll make that nine now.”
He pulled the trigger.
The windmill was so far out in the country that Muggle lights didn’t even glow on the horizon. A walker would have to squint to see the sails in the blackness, and the lumps and pot-holes of the frozen meadow were indistinguishable from the shivering flowerbeds and herb gardens.
From the door of the windmill, any walker was invisible in the night. This was worrying Luna. She was waiting on a guest who had yet to arrive and, for all she knew, could still be stumbling about in the vegetable patch.
Still, the garden was littered with metal watering cans and wind-chimes; he was bound to trip over something noisy sooner or later.
Besides, it was nicer to think he was lost out there than to discover that he wasn’t. That he hadn’t turned up at all.
She went back inside, closed the white farm door, and went to check The Quibbler presses.
Harry wasn’t himself any more.
He was the controller. The Queen Bee. The carrier.
The damp slimy floor he was laying on didn’t bother him. The padlocked door didn’t matter. After all, enough power was pouring through him to rip the building apart if it needed to.
It was currently seizing anything of use inside its host’s body. Limbs and organs were worthless, but the memories were something special. The memories would be extremely useful.
Water splashed into Ron’s face. Prentice was looking at the gun with puzzlement that Ron shared.
Unlike Prentice, he wasn’t easily distracted.
The punch sent Prentice flying onto his back, and Ron grappled for the man’s wand.
Prentice scrambled to his feet and stepped away, holding his hands out in a peace-making gesture.
“Aw, come on! Hexing a man with his own wand? That’s simply…rude,” he said.
Getting Prentice talking was a mistake. Prentice could talk his way out of anything. “Stupefy,” snapped Ron, trying to remedy the situation.
The man was quick. He ducked. The spell hit a tower of wand polishing kits which scattered everywhere, causing black polish to ooze into the cream carpet.
He lunged for Ron’s middle, and Ron fell onto his back. Prentice didn’t know how to fight like a Muggle, but he was a damn quick learner.
They struggled. Ron kneed him and the bastard was forced to curl into a ball.
Ron held the wand out and focused on the familiar arresting spell; it would force Prentice to Apparate directly into a Ministry holding cell.
What the hell was wrong? He shook the wand.
Prentice scrambled up and smoothed his clothes. “You know Aurors gave you this case?” he said chirpily. “If I know my Ministry protocol, Hit-Wizards aren’t allowed to formally arrest criminals wanted by Aurors. So that little spell you’re trying won’t work, well, it looks like they forgot to switch your jurisdiction over, doesn’t it?”
He straightened his stolen coat and winked at Ron. “I’d better be off anyway, got a date. I do hate to be behind schedule. I’ll collect the wand later.”
And with that, the bastard sauntered out of the shop, leaving Ron lying on the floor and out of breath.
Ron was lying down again, this time on his sofa. Every limb hurt. His throat felt like a stoat had died inside of it. He had a bit of popped balloon stuck in his hair.
He was, as far as he could tell, in his living room. Streamers drooped from the ceiling, cake had been ground into the carpet, and the sofa had been stained even before the party.
His dad’s chirpy and totally un-hung-over voice bounced out of the fireplace. Ron attempted to lift his head.
His dad’s face was sitting in the hearth, grinning up at him. “Some party last night, wasn’t it, Ron?” he beamed.
“Not feeling too chipper myself this morning either…” said his dad, against all obvious evidence.
“Mm,” he managed.
“I bet you weren’t expecting us to throw you a surprise birthday party, eh?” he added, chortling into the grate.
“Nah. There’s nothing like running for your life from a dangerous criminal, g’tting home, and having f’fty people leap out yelling ‘surprise!’,” he croaked.
His dad was deaf to this facetiousness.
“I forgot to ask, Ron- did you get the gun I sent you? I thought it might help you at work…”
“Very handy,” said Ron sarcastically. He made an attempt to sit up and put his hand into a patch of spilt dip.
His dad frowned into the coals. “Personally, I couldn’t see what was so dangerous about filling it with water. I’d put some of Mrs. Scowers Mess Remover in as an extra precaution if I were you. I remember your mother threw a bottle at me once and it certainly stung...what was I Flooing about again? Oh yes, you said you’d broken your wand?”
Ron fumbled for Prentice’s wand, still in his pocket. It was sleek and vicious looking.
“This one will do,” he said, half to himself. He held up the wand show his dad.
His dad looked hurt. “Are you sure? That one doesn’t look too safe- I was going to lend you my old one…”
Ron forced himself to wake up properly.
“Yeah,” he said. He smiled a little at the thought. “I rather like the idea of Prentice never getting it back.
The doorbell rung, which caused Ron’s head to do so as well. It also caused Mr. Weasley to begin squeezing as much conversation in as possible – did Ron know about Fleur’s dinner party next week, his mum wanted to know whether he’d darned those socks, what had he done with that battery his dad had leant him-
Ron yawned. “Yeah, I’ve got to answer the door, yeah, bye.”
To his relief, his dad disappeared, and Ron stumbled out of the sitting room and into the hall. He managed to open it on the third go, and winced as the cold air and bright wintry sunshine hit him.
There was a voice he wouldn’t forget in a hurry. Luna Lovegood was standing in his doorway. She was conscientiously dressed in Muggle clothes, although he was sure that her straw hat, summer dress, and sandals must have attracted as many stares on this cold March morning than any robes could have managed.
She held a bag out towards him. It had glitter on it and a dancing snowman.
“Happy belated Birthday,” she said in her dreamy voice.
“Uh…thanks,” he managed, rather at a loss as to how she knew his address, how she’d known about his birthday, and why she’d bought him a gift. She was staring at him again, and although he had always quite liked her, he wasn’t up to dealing with weirdness at this time of day. “Um, do want to come inside?” he managed.
Luna beamed at him as though no one had invited her inside before.
He turned around and staggered through to the kitchen. She followed him in, and he had to turn back when he realised that she hadn’t shut the door after herself.
His kitchen had been warm, elegant, and spacious when he had bought it. Years of bachelor living had reduced it somewhat. The sink was piled high with dishes, and the sides were sticky from the Fireball cocktails Charlie had been making last night.
He tapped the kettle with his wand and winced as he put the two cups down loudly on the tacky surface.
Luna sat daintily on the edge of a chair that he was uncomfortably aware he’d never actually cleaned…
“How did you know about my birthday?” he asked, hoping she hadn’t touched it with her hands.
If she’d noticed anything off about the chair, she wasn’t giving it any attention. She was peering at his Chudley Cannons salt n’ pepper shakers.
“Harry told me,” she said.
Ron’s head swam as he stepped forward eagerly. “You’ve seen him?”
Luna shook her head. She didn’t look up as he put the cup down in front of her.
“That’s why I brought you your presents today,” she said, partly to the pepper pot. “Harry invited me to your party, but he never arrived.”
Ron sighed and ran a hand through his hair, dislodging the balloon and making himself uncomfortably aware that he hadn’t got a shirt on and that he needed a shave.
“Harry invited you to my party? He never told me!”
Luna looked up as though he’d said something very foolish. “Well, it was a surprise party.”
“I didn’t even know he was in contact with you,” explained Ron. As much as Ron could understand Harry wanting to get out of a date with Loony Lovegood, Harry hadn’t been at the party either. Ron hadn’t seen him in nearly two days.
Prentice had seemed to know about it. But then Prentice knew what Ron liked for lunch and what his favourite robes looked like. Still, the voice had been just a little bit too taunting…
Luna shrugged. “I interviewed Harry last year for a ten year anniversary of our first interview. After that, he started visiting me more often. Sometimes, he comes over in the middle of the night, and we talk.”
She looked distant for a second. More so than usual.
The information made Ron uncomfortable. Harry had never mentioned Luna, not even in passing. Now, she was sitting here in his kitchen talking as though she were Harry’s girlfriend. Okay, so Ginny lived in Romania, learning the dragon trade from Charlie. The time when she’d been Harry’s girlfriend was long gone, as distant as the childish hopes he’d had about Hermione and himself.
But Luna? She was the worst choice anyone could make when it came to dating. Hadn’t that one party been enough?
He sighed again. Weird as she was, maybe she knew something.
“I think Harry’s missing.”
To his surprise though, Luna nodded sagely. “That makes perfect sense.”
“Pardon?” said Ron, trying to catch up to a train of thought he didn’t think he’d have followed in a normal state of mind.
“Powerful witches and wizards are disappearing,” Luna explained breathlessly, “and when they are returned days later, their whole personality has changed! One wizard thought Muggles were scum, and now he’s writing his first book about how clever they really are!”
She didn’t have a clue, then. Just another weirdo conspiracy.
“And you have proof of this, do you?” he asked sceptically. He leant against the sink, one arm across his stomach, the other holding his mug.
Luna reached up, took her straw hat off, and pulled a piece of parchment and a notebook out from underneath it. She flipped it open and scanned it carefully before she spoke.
“Two hundred years ago, the Earl of Shrewsbury, Walter Morton was the richest wizard in England. He and his wife were returning to Morton Towers from a party, and as soon as their winged horses had touched their carriage down on the forest track up to the house, a crone appeared begging for money. Morton refused her and the crone cursed them so that -”
Ron shut his eyes and finished, “- every time a branch fell from the oak in the centre of Oak Morton town, a member of the Earl’s family would die. He became obsessed with ending the curse and people deserted Oak Morton because they were so scared. It’s a legend. Everyone knows about it. It’s the reason Oak Morton isn’t the largest wizarding town anymore.”
Luna opened her mouth to continue, but he cut across.
“Look, I know who took Harry. It’s just a matter of hunting him down and feeding him Bubotuber Pus until he tells me what he’s done to my friend.”
“Who do you suspect?” asked Luna.
Ron hesitated in telling her. The last thing he needed was Luna tracking a vicious murderer down for an interview. But her eyes fixed upon his, and for a second, she looked so desperate to know that he relented.
To buy himself some time to distract her, he turned and jabbed the washing up in the sink with his wand. A cup bounced off onto the tiles. He shook Prentice’s wand. It was too powerful really, but he’d have to get used to it.
When the scrubbing brush was sloshing away, he turned back. Luna was still staring questioningly at him.
“Lester Prentice,” he said finally.
Luna looked up at him seriously. “You believe he’s tied up in this Oak Morton conspiracy too?”
“What? No!” said Ron, waving his mug impatiently. He found himself adding, “What conspiracy?”
Luna’s face was alight as only a really insane theory could make it. “I believe that the last of the Earl’s family is obsessed with removing the curse from the tree too, and they are kidnapping the greatest of our wizards in order to do it. If they can’t help, they are returned with parts of their memory missing. Just like the thirty witches and wizards I’ve interviewed. I’m thinking of writing a book about it.”
If his pounding head wasn’t feeling so bad, he would have banged it against the table. “Look. This isn’t about conspiracies. Harry is in huge danger! Prentice kills people as casually as he changes his underwear. Harry won’t come back with bits of his memories missing- he’ll come back with bits of his head missing.”
Luna frowned and Ron admitted that maybe she was more worried about Harry than he thought. She looked at him beseechingly. “Why don’t we go to Harry’s house and look for clues? If your theory’s right, I’ll help you. And if mine is right, you’ll help me.”
Ron groaned. “It’s not safe for you-”
“I was in the DA too,” said Luna simply. Ron had to allow her that.
She stood up. Part of her dress had to be tugged out of a sticky patch of Golden Syrup. She didn’t comment, just turned to pick up her notebook and hat. The backs of her bare knees were sticky too.
He felt a little bit guilty about letting her into the kitchen. He supposed he at least owed her one lead.
“Fine,” he said gruffly, “but any trouble and you’re going straight home.”
Thank you for taking the time to read this. There’s another three chapters of ‘episode one’ to come.
If you have any opinion about this fic at all I would love to hear about it.