Chapter 1 : Bonfire of the Twins
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“Uncle Harry, I love you.”
Harry fought hard not to burst out laughing. But he did smile, not unhappy to be interrupted. The dark-haired wizard in his mid-thirties dropped his pen from the letter he was writing, and swept up into his arms the vivacious eight-year old girl by his elbow in a 'surprise' bear hug. Her twin sister lurked about the doorjamb at a distance watching them, peering occasionally back into the other open doorway linking Potter's business with the adjoining Weasley's Wizarding Wheezes joke shop.
If that wasn't a ready indication that something was up, twin #1's blatant statement of unconditional love was enough to tug even Harry's dimmest of brain cells. This was about the third time, just this year, that such 'urgent' protection was sought. From down the short hallway, to the small office room opposite his in the narrow building, Harry could see his wife Ginny smirk and shake her head. And go back to her own writing.
This was a much reenacted drama.
Harry could still not work out which niece was which. That was despite them growing up in front of him, their house right next door to his business office. And having seen them practically every day of their short lives. He still failed to be able to easily differentiate between Tina and Abby.
A short-lived enchantment - back when they were five - by an unnamed aunt (Harry suspected Fleur and-or Hermione!) had briefly decorated the first initial of each girl's name on their collars of whatever they were wearing, For a glorious half-year, it worked unfailingly, till the little witches countered by labeling the whole families' body parts in bright glowing letters.
All of them. Constantly. Like walking anatomy diagrams
The ingenuity of it all was staggering. Hermione was convinced the children had adult aid, but could prove nothing. Not surprisingly, all the labels disappeared within a week after the effects grew embarrassing. A magical cold war had been fought and two new actors had taken the stage triumphant.
From then on, the adults were back to guessing as to the girls' identities.
Point in fact, Harry'd been able to tell, when they were only newborns. Sweet and innocent. Not yet seduced to the darker side of chaos. But that identification involved diapering, which revealed a boomerang-shaped birth mark on the little rear end of Tina. And at this stage, Uncle Harry was certainly not going to ask his niece to bare her bottom for him to identify.
Well, in the meantime, he'd have to use his vast array of sleuthing techniques, instead of her bare butt.
“That's just wonderful, pumpkin! And I love you, too!” ('Pumpkin' was safe. Maybe he could just get her to say who she was) “What are you up to this morning?”
The one by the door peered back into her home, and looked back again at her sister. The exchange no doubt emphasized speed over stealth and long-winded obfuscation. “Not much,” said the one clinging to his arm, her head leaning against his shoulder. “We thought you'd want to take us somewhere.”
Batting 'doe eyes' and 'somewhere' translated to 'anywhere, quickly'. Harry wasn't so dim as to not get that right away. He pushed slightly away from the desk and set the girl on one knee. “Well, I am not really up to much. Guess I can take you some place. How about the zoo?”
“The Zoo is boring.” Asserted the red-head girl at the door. “None of the animals can spit fire or eat people.”
The one at his shoulder heartily agreed. “Since we went with Uncle Charlie and Auntie Veronica to the 'Dragon Show', that Muggle place is decidedly second-rate.”
Harry could see his wife shake with suppressed laughter, with her red-head buried on her folded arms on her desk. The 'last' time, it had been her turn to have the girls charm turned her way. Obviously, they found her less responsive. Or more probably, Uncle Harry was seen as a lot more gullible and pliable to their devious plans.
“Well, that's not entirely true.” Harry sat back, an elbow on the chair's arm and his chin in his hand. “The people-eating bit, I mean. There are definitely tigers, crocodiles and the odd lion that would really like you two for lunch.”
Twin #2 by the door considered that, briefly, but then shook her head. “No, not nearly so good. Pretty boring. The dragons were so much better and exciting.”
“Hmmm.” Harry was doubtful of that. Better wasn't a word he'd use. None of the dragons he had met were anything other than carnivorous. “Don't care much for them, myself,” Harry said.
“That's because you don't understand them.”
In the background, down the hall, Ginny Potter nodded forcefully, fully in agreement. Well, he thought, they were obviously not going to let him be without a convoluted story. And it obviously amused his wife, so why not play along. And he now curious as to why the girls were now here, seeking the Potters' protection. Harry made a surprised face, “No? Really?”
“They are nice. Just misunderstood,” insisted Twin #1.
He looked down at her cute face, the perfect little copy of her mother. “They can be the size of your house and breath fire. And one tried to eat me.”
“Uncle Charlie says that's just nature. Like waving a steak at a hungry dog. You probably annoyed it.”
Harry simply nodded, accepting the error of his ways. “True. I'm not very good with animals, period. Charlie obviously knows better than me.”
Twin #2 wholeheartedly agreed. “He says you are getting better. Daddy agrees, too?”
Endorsements from any of the Weasley brothers, especially George, were a two-edged thing. “Do they, now? And why do we need to leave, right this minute?”
There was a pregnant moment of expectation, but the twins were naturally adept at misdirection.
“You look bored. We are bored. Let's do something exciting together.” The niece at his shoulder purred. Both girls nodded vigorously.
Ginny shook her head, and returned to her letter writing. She would be no help. “We need you to get more outdoor experience,” Twin#1 said, putting Harry pen into the drawer and shutting it.
Her casual handling his desk should have raised alarm bells in Harry's mind, all by itself. The fearsomely battered object let no one but Harry and those he deemed safe – like the twins' mother - inside it.
The haunted desk didn't even flinch at the girl's hand pat!
“I have no interest in seeing dragons.” Harry grumbled.
Twin #2 raised a concerned eyebrow to her sister, but Twin #1 wasn't daunted. She was obviously the 'persuasive' one of the pair. “Oh, got enough of them. Thanks. We were thinking ….somewhere else.”
“Naturally,” Harry agreed.
“Got loads about dragons, from last time, anyway. And Auntie 'V' got to use that loose pipe to help us count the mama dragon's teeth …....”
Both Ginny and Harry simultaneously said “Huh?”
'Twin-by-the-door' made a tiny sound, and her eyes glared above her fiercely smiling teeth at her sister.
'Shoulder' twin looked like she had said too much. The young witch said defensively, “It was James' fault. He dared Albus to tell how many teeth the dragon had, and when Al refused to go in, somebody had to do it. Family honor.”
Ginny had almost floated off her chair to stand now by the 'door warden'. Ginny demanded, “Abby, when did this happen? We know nothing about this.”
Despite his incredulity, Harry wondered (again!) how his wife was so easily able to tell one girl from the other.
But the girls seemed to realize that they could no longer be carefree and breezy. Aunt Ginny was much more suspicious and authoritarian than soft-hearted Uncle Harry. Abby gave the other (Tina?) a startled look, realizing Ginny was now at her elbow and much more likely to 'read' her mind. Tina spoke up, to fill in the obvious sudden drop in conversation. “Oh, you know, last week. When they took all of us kids.”
Ginny wasn't fooled easily. And this solved a little domestic mystery she had wondered about from last week. “Explains the frazzled nerves when they came back. And the clipped sentences and the hurried exit.” Ginny sardonically said to Harry. “You remember? Charlie offering to take all the kids. Insanely thinking he could control all of them, at once.”
“I just remembered laughing.” It was a funny idea, Harry remembered.
Charlie Weasley is the uncle of the twins, after all. And his wife Veronica their longtime friend and vampire. If the Potters trusted anyone with their children, those two would have been high on the list. If the simple-minded childless couple thought they could wrestle with the lions, Harry figured they asked for it.
But wait …!
Harry demanded. “Teeth! What loose pipe? Start at the beginning.”
Abby mumbled reluctantly, now looking like this was NOT what she had wanted to talk about. “Well, James bet Albus how many teeth the mama dragon had. The one that was sleeping.”
“Purple. And very fat. And when he wouldn't do it, we had to.” Tina said matter-of-factly. “Not like we were going to send Hugo. Please, we aren't reckless.”
Sending in quiet, compliant Hugo was exactly what Harry would have expected of these little monsters. Harry bought time for his thoughts to catch up, by removing his glasses and rubbing the bridge of his nose.
“Why?” uttered Ginny.
Not, 'are you insane!'
Or, 'you could have been killed!'
“We couldn't see!” Tina sounded incredulous, if that wasn't the most obvious reason. “It was asleep. Dragons snore. Like Daddy or Uncle Harry. We couldn't see the teeth because of the tongue in the way.”
“So we lifted up the lip. Their teeth are very hot, and yellow.”
“Bad breath, too!” Said the other, fanning her face in disgust, just from the memory.
“Then Aunt 'V' put the pipe in, to force open the jaw. It was actually a big help, but the made the mama dragon burp.”
“Ugggh!” emphasized Tina.
“So we counted. I think Uncle Charlie was trying to help, but James kept messing up the count. Uncle was yelling, and making Hugo cry.”
“Stinky pig!” Tina commented.
“That wasn't nice,” Abby corrected her sister. “Hugo's sensitive.”
Mental images came to Harry of the scene. The crying boy, and his sons roaring with laughter and Charlie yelling uselessly as no one was listening to him. Of a frantic witch, actually an immensely old covert vampire grabbing anything possible at hand to prevent the beast engulfing one or both of the little girls. “Back to the story, you two.” Harry said with extra emphasis. “The Dragon! They eat animals larger than either of you.”
“Just the big ones.” Abby countered, edging slightly away from her aunt' frowning proximity.
Ginny pointed a finger at the girl's nose. “I believe the purple one is the size of the Leaky Cauldron.”
Tina grumpily said, “Auntie V was a prat. Yelled a lot ….
“Screamed...!” Abby clarified.
“Yeah …... and then couldn't get the pipe out of the mama's mouth. That was kind of sad. We left her there stuck with a bent pipe.”
Abby corrected, “The Dragon, she means. Ended the whole trip of us. We HAD to come home with Uncle and Auntie. Don't think they had as good time as we did.”
“Yeah. They argued when they thought we couldn't hear.” Tiny said, apologetically, but eavesdropping was the girls' second nature. “But we got to touch all of them, all the dragon's teeth. There are forty-seven.”
Abby made a vague motion with a slim little hand. “One was broken. Probably had been forty-eight.”
“Uncle Charlie was very proud. When he put us down, from carrying us all the way home, and we told him of the dare, he said James was a Fuck-face.”
Ginny reflexively spat out, “Tina!”
“No, that was Auntie V's words for him. She knows 'noise' words.”
Harry understood, saying in the young hellion's defense. “Veronica swears in Norwegian. So the kids don't understand.”
Abby shook her head. “No, Uncle Charlie definitely said 'noise'. What she said …... definitely sounded like that ….word.”
“Huh!” Ginny muttered, thinking her brother was probably often the justifiable target of that swearing. And that maybe it was not working. “I don't want to hear that again. Do you understand?”
Tina reflected, “Al said it first. He should have been yelled at, too. Think he chickened on purpose.”
“Definitely. James and Al are two of those ….words. But what matters is that James lost. He had to pay up to us all his candy. Especially when Auntie 'V' lost her temper.”
“Oh, well, it was about time.” Ginny said resignedly, and she and Harry just exchanged incredulous looks.
Returning to her main theme, the true reason to why they needed the Potters to take them 'anywhere', Abby insistently said, “And we haven't been anywhere, since. And we are sooooo bored.”
Harry sighed resignedly. Between George and Madelene's daughters, and his own two boys, boredom was a rare thing for the adults lately. All four of them more than made up for George and his deceased brother Fred, in their glory years.
Harry just stood up, putting his papers and writing things back in the top drawer. And shoving his wand back into his custom-made 'sleeve' holster under his left forearm shirt sleeve.
“And where are you going?” Ginny demanded.
“Going to ask George if I can take the girls with me? Then, get them out of the area for a little while. To cool off. I can feel the heat about to come down, and it was the boys' fault.” At Ginny's glare, Harry added, “ …...mostly!” He looked at her, her brown eyes blinking in thought. “What are you going to do?”
“My appointment was for noon. Talk to that woman. Then high tail it over to Charlie's or find Maddie. Find out why we didn't hear this sooner. She 'bill collecting', you remember.” Ginny chewed her lower lip, as she always did when worried or just distraught. “Then, straight to Dad's. And find those two. Can't believe …..is it all right I use the wooden spoon on them?”
Harry didn't have to answer that one. Yelling was more Ginny's prime weapon. Words for Ginny were all so much more fear inspiring.
There was no sense in wasting time. He asked, “Girls, where is your dad?”
Tina worriedly looked back into the still silent Wheezes, “Oh, doesn't matter. He said we could go anywhere he and Uncle Lee weren't. He is very busy.”
“The attentive father,” Ginny grumbled, with obvious skepticism. Tina and Abby showed great concern, now, and jointly turned their considerable charm on to full and beamed at Uncle Harry.
Potter just pointed them down the stairwell, saying, “I'll get them out of here. Find out if any of the others knows this. And we can jointly decide which prison island to send the boys to, instead of Hogwarts.”
“Oh, cool!” exclaimed one. Harry didn't know now which, because they were dressed alike, too. “Can we visit them in prison as well.”
Harry almost laughed at that. But Ginny wasn't joining in, and he cut the laugh off. “Move out, the both of you. You might be staying at Hotel Du'Lock-up, as well.”
That got them both hustling, and Ginny gave him a frown, but also a jaunty salute.
So too did the enchanted frosted-glass Quidditch players, in Harry old front door. In fact, an almost royal salute, to the two Weasley girls.
Even lined up and 'brooms right'.
They stepped out onto Diagon Alley and the girls relaxed in almost palpable relief. Whatever they were immediately 'running' from, it was apparently something George Weasley would be upset by.
Which made Harry wonder at how bad that could really be.
Fortunately, it was a nice summer day. Even more fortunately, Harry didn't have to stay and go with his wife in hunting down his sons. It wouldn't be pretty.
After a brisk walk, past neighboring store owners who gave Potter knowing looks of sympathy, they stood briefly, before the brick wall leading out of Diagon Alley. It led out into the Leaky Cauldron pub, which was the magical alley's exit out onto the rest of Muggle London. Before he tapped the usual pattern on the bricks for them to open, Harry clapped his hands together and bracingly said, “Girls, change of plans. No animals.” Before the two could start winding up about the wild safari park they both wanted, Harry quickly announced. “Instead we are going to Portsmouth.”
One of them said, “Huh?” This was a sudden wrench in their fine machinery for escape. And both stood quizzically, wondering what could be better than ferocious beasts in of all places. Portsmouth?
To head off mighty whinging, Harry bulled right on ahead with, “It's a surprise. Don't worry. You'll love it. I have a special friend, who owes me a favor. Besides, we need to go and Auntie Gin has heartburn.”
“Lot of that,” Twin #1 (again, Harry had no sure idea her name). “And she grinds her teeth.”
“We have to go.” said Twin #2, evidently the 'timer', in this get-away plan.
Before Harry could have to respond in some neutral way, the wall began opening up, and on the other side was ….
“Uncle Ron,” both girls happily shouted and poured through before the bricks were even done moving out of the way, to smother Ron Weasley in hugs.
“Where we going, luvs?” Ron beamed.
Of course he was happy. He was free of children, and playing 'hookie' from work.
“Lunch! You're coming with us.” One niece decided for him, and they both steered him by either arm in the opposite direction.
“Guess I am.” He sardonically grinned to Harry. “Any reason for the speed?”
“Don't really know. But if we stay longer, we will surely find out,” Harry said, with resignation in his voice.
“Right-oh!” Ron slide a finger past the side of his nose, in clowning conspiracy. And the no-doubt, guilty-as-sin little girls giggled fetchingly. “Special auror's travel option.” Ron wiggled his fingers, speculatively, glancing out either corner of his eyes at the girls, “Port key to excitement …..where exactly?”
“Uncle Harry is helping us escape.....” One began, before getting a toe stepped on by the other.
The other corrected the statement to “ ..travel ….we have the day free. Uncle Harry has something to do in Portsmouth ...”
“Portsmouth?” Ron mumbled, as mystified as the girls.
“ …..and Aunt Ginny isn't feeling well.”
“Been that way since she married your uncle,” Ron whispered in loud conspiracy. At Harry's wry sucking of teeth, Ron began. “Well, why have lunch there …?”
Harry quietly urged. “Unless you want to be dragooned into a hunting party, Ron. We'd better go!”
“Oh, one of those. Got cha'.”
“I'll explain as we travel. You are not going to believe this one.”
Ron waived a fair-skinned hand at Tom the Bartender, mixing it with a scowl at Mundungus Fletcher, skulking in a corner, and said, “I thought you'd might be heading for the zoo, on a nice day like this.”
One girl held open the pub's door to the outside, to usher the slowpoke adults onwards. “Oh, no. Not anymore. Only Fuck-faces go there.”
Harry just corrected in a bored monotone. “Tina! Language.”
That seemed to unsettle the girls, who'd long ago stumbled to the identical twins being able to throw off adults by ...well, being identical. Harry just guessed, to be frank. But that made him wonder now about his wife's seeming success at their identification.
Ron was no slouch at such 'language', himself. But he goggled at the girls. “Since when are you talking like that?”
“Auntie V taught us. She's fluent in 'Noise'.” One girl announced, stepping off the curb when the traffic signal turned green, towing the others behind her.
“Noise? Oh, ….Norse!” Ron, chuckling, was quicker on the uptake than Harry. “Yeah, Uncle Charlie has a thing for girls that talk like Vikings.”
“Cool. Well, we don't understand the language. Most we can't pronounce ...”
“Are we lucky for that one,” Harry dryly said.
“Mostly, she was yelling them at Uncle Charlie. After she used the pipe on the dragon ….”
“What? Whoa! Wait a minute......” Ron silently suspended his question for a few heartbeats, then continued, “I don't really want to know all that, do I?”
“No. Not until we have a beer in hand.”
[H.M.S. Centaur, middle gun deck, after lunch]
Ron was really coming close to having a seizure, laughing so hard, he had to lean back against the old ship's twenty-four pounder cannon. “Oh, my ….Merlin, that explains so much.”
“You know some of this, then?” Harry was keeping an eye on the girls, darting fascinated between the guns on either side of the deck, as they progressed aft towards the 'Admiral's cabin' in the great ship's stern.
“Not the why. But I stopped by their house. On the front door was a hand-written note. Saying …. 'Don't ever talk to us, again. We are going somewhere, deserted and tropical. Don't you dare leave any of your children here.' Some more emphatic words, beside a hex if one of us touches the doorknob.”
“That's interesting.” Harry sniffed. “It wasn't my idea to take the kids, in the first place. All theirs ...”
“They'll cool off. Just nerves. They are just soft. No children of their own. You and I have gone through worse.
Immediately, the trip - with all of the families children - through the 'Chunnel', in Uncle Ron's borrowed auror ice cream van slash 'stake-out' vehicle, came to mind. What a nightmare!
As if sharing Harry's memories, Ron laughed again, “Mine ….aren't the problem.”
Which was largely turning out to be true, Harry had to agree. “Your lucky day. It's James that is the prime mover. Things should calm down, when he and Rose start school this fall. She's a steadying influence.”
“Calm him down. Just like Hermione, eh?” Ron chuckled dubiously, at that thought. Grasping the great black iron breech end of the cannon to lever himself back to where the girls were going. “Either that, or you two will be spending some increased quality time at the castle, for the next seven years.”
“Ughhhhhhh!” Harry groaned. He hadn't really thought of that far ahead. It was almost certain he and Ginny would be summoned to appear in the headmaster's tower. “Can you imagine? All four – my boys and George's girls - in the same house, at the same time.”
Ron began to wheeze, laughing again. “Apocalyptic!”
“Only hope the Sorting Hat heads that off.”
Ron grasped the internal door, open to let out some tourists coming the other way, then said in half disbelief, “You don't really believe that!”
“No. I bleed Gryffindor, the same as you. But might be best if one or some others of the kids were spread about the four houses. Give those four less chance to conspire. Flitwick has a point, you know, about the House rivalry aggravating the tensions.”
“They are all dipping ponces. The other houses.” Ron and his family were pretty tolerant, as far as people of different origins and philosophies. But the artificial division of the students into four groups named after the original founders of Hogwarts School of Wizardry sometimes took on a inordinately permanent importance. Especially to Ron Weasley.
Harry didn't bother wasting breath. This was going to be long, continuous intra-familial argument, he felt surer and more certain as the summer months were drawing closer to the end of August. And it might just be that Hermione's look-alike daughter was going to be as brilliant as her mother, and, maybe, just maybe, she'd be wearing Ravenclaw colors come the end of the first day.
Nothing for sure. Just Harry had a certain feel for this kind of prediction.
Ron looked around the Ship's Great Cabin. In terms of the space, the room wasn't really much bigger than Harry's office. But the tremendous arc of the window behind the center desk, and the knowledge that only one man got to live in here.
Shared with no other of the 800 souls on board. All by himself! It really was great!
Then the two wizards realized that the two little witches were dressed in the Admiral's uniform coats, Tina(?) sitting with her feet up on the desk, and Abby(?) taking tentative whacks at the desk corner with edge of a dress sword.
“Merlin! What are you doing?” Ron whipped the sword out from the one's hand, trying to pass it to Harry, who was knocking the other's feet back to the wooden deck.
“Get those off, this instant!” Harry commanded. Normally, he was a pretty weak authoritarian. But occasionally, there were moments when his voice sounded profoundly stern, like the growl of an ancient and unhappy monster. He did his best to try to be like Arthur Weasley, the girls' grandfather, but he just didn't have the knack for being in charge, day-in day-out.
But this took the cake!
“I haven't been so disappointed in you two, despite what I heard earlier ….... until now. Put those back exactly where you found these.” That sounded so weak! Harry wanted to scream, say bad words, turn the old leaded glass in the ship's stern windows molten ….....he ran out of ideas at that point. Deep inside, he was so angry at himself. But it just didn't come out well, and he knew he was a failure as a disciplinarian.
He'd be surprised to learn the girl's thoughts on this subject. They timidly removed the coats and hung them askew and not nearly how they found them. And Ron didn't make matters worse, by handing Uncle Harry the sword.
From the twins point of view - once in great while - Uncle Harry's face looked like pure fury incarnate. It didn't happen often, but the girls were more afraid on occasions like this than anything their own father or mother said to them. They meekly moved to stand to one side, by the ship's door.
Harry got a hold of himself. While he was doing that, to the girls Ron ordered, “Stay right there! Touch nothing!” Then Ron unhelpfully struck the desk with the sharp blade as he turned back to see the damage, taking off the narrow leg and collapsing the desk toward the corner.
Ron's statement was followed by the small tray of crystal drinking glasses and the Admiral's decanter shattering on the deck.
“We knew you could fix it. I just wanted to see how sharp it really was.” said the little swordsmith.
“And his coats are really small. Fit us perfectly.”
The other thought about that. “One arm though. That's a bit odd.”
Ron had his own issues with not being good at the 'bad guy' routine. But he did his best. “Not for you to decide that. And those are for people to come and see and understand this man and the times. People to be venerated. How'd you like it if some stranger was playing with your grandpa's things, whacking bits off his furniture. Think that's hugely funny?”
“No, sir.” The twins jointly muttered in chorus. They really did sound sorry. Uncle Ron wasn't as soft as he thought he was.
“I should say not!” His red hair, touched with a little gray near the temples, shook as he swallowed the screaming auror-laced adjectives that wanted to leap out. He'd been around his brand-new auror just assigned him too long. Another reason Ron was playing truant from work.
Harry sighed heavily (he did a lot of that lately), bending over to pick up some of the bigger pieces of drinking glass and said in a weary voice, “Okay, let's get this back together. Before other people come in. Block the door, and I'll get the coats back on the dummies, best I can. You, Ron, get the desk back in order. We'll ….do something for the glass ware.” The two men went to work, hearing the magically locked door knob being tried.
They only had a minute of two before the tour guides came back or got through some other entrance into the cabin. The desk was a simple Reparo spell, so was the decanter, but Ron inadvertently put the top sideways. But the coats didn't seem to fit the manikins and both men sloppily put them on anyway they could and dodged out of the cabin, through another door.
That's when they noticed neither girl was with them.
“Dammit, that's the last straw!”
“Let's take them straight to the Burrow. Your dad is better at being scary and maybe that is what it is going to take. ...”
“Where the bloody hell …?”
“No clue, you head upstairs ...”
“Up to the top deck!”
“Whatever, I'll go down.”
The two wizard separated, Harry scanning about the other people on the gun deck, a tour group comprising the largest bunch, near midships. But not a sight of a single red-head.
“Are you missing something, sir?” A twenty-something woman in a mid-18th century sailor outfit, one of the ship's guides, came up to Harry. Despite the man's outfit obviously on a woman, she looked right and incredibly fit.
In short explanation, Harry said, “Missing my two nieces. Red-heads, both eight years old.” Potter was dying to use some magic, to send out his Patronus to corral the two truants, but could do nothing like it with all these Muggles around. “My brother-in-law went upstairs ...”
“Topside, sir.” The sailor corrected in a no-nonsense tone of voice.
[Fo'c'sle, ...the front of the boat]
Ron breathlessly ran up, searching the upper gun deck they'd left ten minutes before. He saw nothing, but not staying to really look, just a feeling he had to be up topside, immediately. Weasley came up a ladder, amidships, and immediately took in the great overhead forest of ropes and wood spars and the great tree-like trunk of the mainmast soaring upwards.
There were other people up here. A tour group about the ships massive steering wheels by the rear mast, milled in loose herd, many taking pictures of each other besides the helm.
And the little red-head girl, dancing across the pole sticking out front of the ship. Like a squirrel running on a tree branch.
Ron couldn't remember the trip to the front railing of the ship. He found he couldn't get onto the long pole from where he was and fruitless looked about for another way. Just as he thought he'd have to jump and/or use magic to haul her back onto deck, a young man, just older than Teddy Lupin, came swiftly to him. “Is she yours, sir.”
“My brother's. How the devil she get on that ...”
“No, idea sir. But it is not too hard, if you know what your doing. The ship's crew had to be able to get out on the spars, to work the rigging …....”
“Ahhhh, that's great. Get my niece off that pole!”
Ron knew the boy was trying to be helpful, but at this second, Weasley could really care less if he was nautically correct.
A little far-away voice called, delightedly, “Uncle Ron, up here.”
Ron shouted and pointed directly at the girl. “Don't move, Abby! Stay where you are.”
Ron gritted his teeth. “I'm coming to get you. …..Somehow. Don't be frightened.”
“I'm not. I can't fall off.”
Ron wasn't going to debate her complete lack of any fear of heights. It normally kicked in on him, immediately upon looking down out over the upstairs railing at home. But Ron Weasley didn't even hesitate, to leap out and down, to land falling astride the great tree-like mast/pole/bow-thingie.
The pain made his eyes water, but all he could think of was the sight of the little girl unconcernedly standing on stick not much wider than a broom handle!
Trying to re-balance himself, he promptly nearly pitched over the other side, which alarmingly looked very far down into the bottom of the concrete-drydock floor the ancient vessel rested in.
It looked very hard!
But he held on with superhuman effort to right himself back on the top edge of the mast's curve and inched himself forward, on his hands and knees.
Only to look up at the skinny knees of his niece, looking concernedly at him. Standing like she hadn't a care in the world.
“Tina! What in the blazes …?”
The girl frowned, stating in a puzzled voice, “ 'Sure-grip' spell, of course. On the bottoms of our shoes. From Wheezes'. I could walk straight up the side of the ship. Mommy made us, after that Awful Tower tour, when we went to Paris …..”
Ron profoundly was glad he hadn't been on that one. “Okay. Alright. Well, I'll just be going backwards then.”
“Why don't you just do a spell, or fly us back down ..”
“I'm an auror, sweetheart. And you might have noticed the crowd of Muggles on the edge of the dock and on the ship, looking at us.” Ron gestured to the small crowd on the dockside, looking up at the Weasley's and pointing at them. “Taking pictures? We have to look normal when we go out to their places. Those are the rules.”
“Yeah. Dad says that, too. Okay.”
“Just follow me. Don't dance or hop about. You just look incredibly …..well balanced.”
She meekly followed Ron's inching progress, back down, till he was back in the great ships foc'sle area, at the base of where the bowsprit came out from the heart of the ship. The girl did a sudden pirouette, flopping backwards with her arms extended. Ron hopped down, and she fell into his arms, just as smartly.
But causing an old woman in the crowd watching to faint.
And Ron just buried his face into to her hair in a great 'Weasley' hug. He loved his nieces, but they were making the rest of his hair gray.
There was a great cheer, from the watchers amongst the crowd on the dock's edge, with some smattering claps from other tourists watching from the ship's deck.
“Okay?” Ron asked with a tinge of exasperation edging his voice.
She said tentatively, “Yeah, suppose so. We were scared. Both you and Uncle Harry were pretty angry.”
“You did something bad, Tina. That's our job, as your uncles. You've got to learn to behave, in public.” Ron meant 'behave all of the time.' But he was too tired to get angry all over again. “Why did you put us through this? Your uncles love you and were worried to death.”
She wiggled her fingers about the fo’c’sle, “Wanted to see the gold man, up front here.”
“Wot Gold Man?” and following her pointed finger, Ron could see the figurehead's shoulder, and he realized it was a completely gold centaur, massively oversized compared to even a real one. It was pictured murderously angry -which looked completely accurate to Ron, from what he remembered- and as if furiously storming up and out of the very wood fabric of the ship itself.
The little witch said critically, “Not like the real ones. Isn't like Professor Fire-ends, at all. No naughty bits.”
Ron had to admit it wasn't entirely anatomically correct.
“Why are there all these holes in the floor?”
Her rapid change of subject threw him. But then he thought about it. Even Ron knew this. “This is the 'head' of the ship. Where the crew went to the bathroom, Tina.”
“Eeeeeeewww!” On that bit of broad understanding, she hopped back up into his arms.
"Well, it is all clean, now." Uncle Ron said dryly.
She sheepishly admitted. “Okay, I'm really Abby.” Abby sheepishly mumbled, “Sorry about that. It is safer, to change names. Sometimes. Confuses people ...”
Ron actually laughed, and hefted her in his arms, as he clambered back toward the hatchway that the helpful, nautically-correct young man was smilingly and gladly waiting for them. “You know. I remember your daddy and my brother Fred, doing the exact same thing.
“Really. Drove your Na-Nah and grandpa nuts.” Ron slyly said to her ear, “How do we tell you guys apart?”
“My one eye has a funny spot in the color part. And her nose is a little different.”
Ron laughed again. Inside information was the auror and Weasley way. “Okay. Just our little secret, okay? Let's find Uncle Harry and Tina, and get going home.” He stopped, having put her back down, and led the way inside. “Do you smell smoke?”
[The ship's hold]
“Abby! Tina?” Harry rushed from stair well to stair well, working his way gradually down deck by deck. He called hopefully, but so far had only elicited a response from an American woman, who improbably had both of those names
“Nothing sir!” The sailor-dressed woman -he now knew was named Lorraine- came up from the far end of the deck. “I've been asking others to keep a look out.” She had turned out to be pretty understanding, Harry thought, all things considered.
Though, he wasn't telling her they had undressed the Admiral's mannikin back in his cabin!
“Happens, surprisingly rarely, considering the number of school children we get.” She made a shrugging motion with her head and shoulders. “Can't wait till my duty on board is done. Sorry I volunteered for this.”
“Too many weekenders and kid's leaving their bubblegum? Not a great summer job, I don't imagine.”
“Royal Navy, sir. This looks good on my record. Supposed to be a plum job.” She didn't sound that 'honored.' “Really rather get back to my mates and kill terrorists.”
Harry nodded, as if he couldn't agree more. But this was not helping find either of the miscreants! “Don't think they could get past us, without us seeing. What's left below us? Is there a basement?”
“Hold and Orlop deck, sir.”
“Lorraine ….that's really great your teaching me the correct terms. But, I'm a bit torched by their behavior. You can understand my just wanting to find my girls,....”
“Sorry.” She grinned coyly. “You'll make a great dad, someday!”
“Hah!” Getting 'hit' on by a sailor! Harry smiled carefully and neutrally. He really needed to get out of this ship, fast.
Back to the main issue. “What's down there?”
“Stores and ammunition, when she was an active warship. Now, just the medical area is open to the public. The rest is closed off.” There seemed nothing else for it, so she lead the way down. 'Sailor Lorraine' needed her electric torch now, it was dark in the places between the lighting from the overhead beams. Harry could only guess what it had been like for the original crew. Under fire!
As if guessing his thoughts about the darkness, she said, “This was usually only for the badly wounded. You didn't want to see well down here.” She practically jumped down the near vertical ladder to the next lowest floor, despite the gloom. Harry followed at a more careful pace.
The bright red painted timbers and deck was completely different than the upper decks. Harry could only imagine what being wounded and brought down here must have entailed.
Lorraine and he split up. She talked to a family on their way back (upstairs! Harry stubbornly insisted on saying to himself). Naturally, the two searchers headed the opposite way from a little girl, peering around a dark hollow behind Harry, and she tip-toed out and around large crates and extra piles of rope. Away from the adults.
On her way, she noticed a curious mark, on the great ship's keel. But one she knew well. It was a centaur. She'd seen them before. Even talked to the teacher one at the castle. Mommy liked it's muscles.
She didn't notice centaur mark glowed redly, after she patted it and moved on.
Tina dodged farther into the bewildering maze of boxes museum detritis. She was mad. How dare Uncles yell at her for 'learning'! Her sister hadn't agreed, but gave her the usual time to escape. The Twins had long worked out 'escape and evasion' scenarios, in case they were separated or individually in trouble and needed to urgently disappear for awhile.
The reunion always nullified, or at least reduced, the punishment.
She tripped repeatedly, and there seemed no continuous desk, forcing her to clamber up and over the great ships beams as she moved farther aft. Tina was getting worried now. There seemed no 'basement door' as she had assumed.
What kind of museum was this, anyway? It all smelled icky and wet in here. But she knew for a fact they were on dry land. She wasn't dim, like her hapless cousin Hugo.
Where was the Merlin-be-damned exit?
It did have a perfectly serviceable extra-dimensional portal thru space and time! If she wanted to kill herself or get lost in some nightmare land.
The shimmering rectangle of gray hung off the side, near a tremendously thick vertical piece of wood. Tina looked at it, dismissed it, and continued looked for a decent door, window, something useful. She knew all about the portal thing. It wasn't going to take her anywhere Tina needed. Her aunt Hermione had detailed descriptions of it in her top secret notes, that she had foolishly left on her desk ......in her office ....open, for Tina and Abby to read while she dealt with some screaming fit that Hugo was having.
Honestly. Little boys.
Anyway, the gray thing was not what she needed right now. It would not take her home, nor get her off his colossally old and smelly wood hulk. She wasn't stupid. Elf magic wasn't a toy or for the whimsical, like James Potter. Tina had a photographic memory, and Aunt Hermione was incredibly diligent in describing her and the other aunts and uncles adventure across space to save the world ...or something.
She loved them, all, but they were an impossible act to follow.
Tina was going to have to back-track, get topside, find Abby and finagle a trip to the ice cream parlor out of this by making Uncles Ron and Harry the ogres feel guilty.
Her dismissal of the portal and her ducking back around a large stack of boxes caused her to miss the flash and arrival thru the gray door of a impossbly tall and muscular figure. The centaur, a real one, barely fitting even hunkered down between the overhead cross timbers. A long, flowing, red cape about his horse's half.
He looked incredulously about him, planting the haft of his lance on the partial deck at his hooves. Tina came around the box and gave an involuntary 8-year old squeak of fright, eyes wide as saucers as the blade end of the lance tracked her throat and backed her against the nearest wood pillar.
The centaur was flinching about like a cat, nerves on a hair trigger. He shoutingly ordered her name and her owner. Where was this? What was she doing here? She only cringed further at his shouting and began curling up onto the wooden deck, silently crying.
He regretted instantly loosing his temper. He'd never harm an innocent, especially a foolish human foal like this. But this was ..... too incredible to believe. And opening upon the heart of the Centaur's citadel! He demanded of the human girl her name and presence in this place, smelling alarmingly like salt water ......
Gods of the Centauri! It is the inside of a boat! The treachery!
Unthinking, his temper caused him to jab forward with the blade. It went no further, fortunately, because of the iron plate conjured in mid air out of nothing. Harry swept in, yanking the little girl to him and wrapping her in his arms, and stood with the outline of the weak ceiling light behind him, livid with anger and pointing his wand.
The standoff, witnessed only by the equally wide-eyed female sailor just behind Harry, should have been ridiculously one-sided. The centaur massed easily ten times the skinny man, and the razor sharp lance head gleamed icily lethal, more so when compared to the simple wood stick the human pointed back.
The centaur was no one he recognized. Harry could see nothing familiar about the items the creatures kept ina bandolier about his shoulders. And the red cloak was almost crimson and bore gold writing Harry could not read. Bending his neck slightly, careful to keep his eyes on the yelling centaur, Harry spoke to the sailor he could hear behind him. "Lorraine, take Abby here ...
The girl, tears of fright streaming, bawled in his ear, "I'm Tina, Uncle Harry, I soooooo sorrrryyyyy ...."
"Shhhhhhhhhh! Hush, now. I am going to stay talking to him.” Kissing her forehead and carefully passing the red-headed little girl to the woman, Harry said, “Lorraine, take her back upstairs. Find my brother-in-law. Don't talk to anyone else."
To the burly, human forward half of the creature, Harry tried to speak in a calm and disarming voice. "I am Potter. I don't know how you got in here but we have to calm things down. Lower the tensions a little ...."
The centaur shouted back at Potter, stamped his forward hooves, yelling angrily, causing impossible sparks to fly where the lance shaft pounded insistently on the deck between them. The centaur fully recognized the device the human had, and it was unequivocally forbidden and lethally powerful. No human was allowed such a thing!
But then again, the man and its squawling youngling were already subject to instant death, just by being on one of the machines of the enemy.
Neither Harry nor the centaur understood one another. The more Harry tried to used appeasing words and tones, the more furious the centaur became. And no matter how much centaur understood the human carried the capacity to disintigrate every atom of his being, the more unreasoningly furious he got.
A human with magic. Abomination!
And the centaur decided for his people that he must do something about it. Now!
The lance head whipped upwards and to the man's heart. Or it should have. But Harry was one of the greatest dueling wizards on Earth, and something even as deadly as the lance in a centaur's hands was child's play for him to knock aside with a blocking spell. But he did nothing more than block, even giving up some space as he backed away slightly from the big creature, pressing Lorraine and Tina to retreat slightly from the angry centaur and the portal.
Harry seemed unable to communicate with his opponent, hunkering low due to the overhang. And seriously trying to spit Potter through his chest with the lethal blade.
Several more attempts by the centaur were blocked, and then the centaur slammed his own head against a heavy overhead beam, and really lost his temper. He roared and thrust the lance at the spot Harry's head would have been, had he not ducked. It caught a fold of Potter's cloak, and it tore free, to be tossed aside into a dark corner.
The lance pierced a wood crate behind Harry and sending splinters and particles floating like a cloud in the space. The humans retreated a little more, but now were in a small cul-de-sac of boxes, not the passage they had come from.
“Lorraine. Leave with the girl!” Harry fingered a slight cut on his shoulder from the near miss.
“I can't get past him. There is only the one way out from the hold.”
To the centaur, all of this was baffling. His magic lance should have been as equivalent in potency and power to the human's simple splinter of wood. But in here, for some reason, it was like a stupid stick, not the human's magic wand. In fact, it almost seemed like their very statuses of magic power had entirely reversed. The wizard easily parryied the lance blows. Perhaps the vessel of the enemy foiled him.
But the centaur had the humans cornered.
Harry bumped into the sailor, who was shielding the girl behind her in a recess space between great oak ribs. “No more room, Mr. Potter!” she said.
Harry did not make the mistake of taking his eye off of the centaur. Barely turning his head slightly to one side, he said, “I'm going to catch hold of his blade. Run past us and don't look back!”
“You are going to do what?”
Harry mentally thanked that sailor Lorraine – for a Muggle - was made of sterner stuff, but just now he would have appreciated her running with all speed. Harry just cast a spell of entrapment and connected his want to the centaur's weapon with a jagged line of lightning. And lifted up both to the ceiling.
“Run!” he shouted.
The woman holding the child screamed something but ducked and ran under the lightning toward the hold's ladder.
Even more improbably, the interactions between his lance and the wand were causing impossible sparks to fly, and finally a continuous rippling stream of lightning to become connected between the two. They thrashed and whipped their respective weapons back and forth, trying to free them, and causing the boxes and even parts of the old ship's hull to smoke and ignite.
The centaur thought, The fool human! He had caused Fiend Fire to be summoned!
At the flames, the woman stopped, put the child to one side and grabbed with her free hand a red cylindrical thing, with a black serpent attached and shouted. She was obviously coming to the aid of her mate with even more devilish magic, the centaur thought. Given his seeming weakness, he couldn't fight both of them!
The centaur grasped a crate with one hand and hurled it at the woman. The sheer size and weight of the thing pummeled the woman backwards, off her feet, narrowly missing crushing the girl in the dubious shelter of a massive oak hull rib.
And shattering the hold's ladder leading upwards.
The centaur's diversion back-fired on him, as Harry freed his wand's electric attachment to the lance, and spell cast a disarming spell, flinging the lance back from the centaur's numb hand into the gray door. The spell picked up other oddments around them, Harry's cloak, gift souveniers, splinters of wood and tossed them too out through the magical door, out forever from the old wood battleship's hold.
The centaur roared, a truly stunning sound, being the lungs of a horse backing the angry bellow of a burly, muscular man. Harry almost staggered back off his feet, and stupidly blinked helplessly as the centaur pivoted on his fore hooves, making a violent kick with the rear legs. The almost certainly lethal blow just winded past Harry nose, but made him duck into a crouch.
Then the centaur leaped into the gray door, and it snapped to a little point and cracked an elvish sound of thunder. And was gone.
But the effects were long lasting. Potter didn't waste time looking for the centaur, just pulling Tina into his arms, tossing bits of crate and tourist information pamphlets off poor Lorraine and dragging her away from the now merrily burning fire.
She fruitlessly aimed her fire extinguisher at the flame as he pulled her forward. But something about the blaze defied the pathetic few blasts of the ship's fire extinguishers, or his Glacius charm spells.
If anything, that seemed to make the fire burn fiercer. And now, behind him more smaller fires had sprung up, forward in the orlop, consuming the shattered ship's ladder almost like a concious, living thing, sealing them off from escape.
They were trapped. And were going to die, unless Harry did magic now! They could only apparate out of here.
"Lorraine, sorry for this."
She blinked in bewilderment back at the dark-haired man. Who had just fenced with lightning with a horse! "Maybe we can get her to the deck above us. You lift me, and I'll push her out....
"No time, trust me." Harry shouted, and then cast Stupify, at her face and grasped her tottering body to him and Tina as well, and apparated out the hold of the ancient wooden battleship Centaur, just as 'Fiend-fire' flames advanced at their position.
The trio appeared on the dockside, amidst hundreds of milling people, too frantic to notice the three more bodies suddenly in their middle. They naturally assumed Harry was another rescuer, pulling a wounded sailor free from the conflagration that was now rising out from the center of the great ship's main deck. And even now leaping up along old tarred ropes, and the combustible network of the mainmast.
The venerable warship was doomed.
[Potter family home, Godric's Hollow, some hours later]
Ginny Potter -out of habit- held the door open longer than should have been necessary for one person to pass, and in under her arms streaked daughter Lily. Lily barely paused to say 'hi' to her daddy, as her sharp hearing immediately picked up the sound of her two cousins upstairs.
Through the ceiling of the kitchen, could be heard the bouncing once again on her mattress like mum and dad were always telling her not to.
Must be a pass to 'do-whatever-you-want' day!
Lily diverted immediately towards the stairs. Cousins were more fun than Dad, any old day!
Ginny listened, face up to the ceiling, waiting a moment deciding if she had to bellow up like a sergeant at them. Then decided not to. For a few minutes, mayhem could reign.
At Potter's still figure at the table, she said, “All done. Met the witch from Bristol. Should be a fairly normal case. Me and Veronica will take it. Since the hag hates you, for some reason. Slytherin! Go figure!” She set her cloak and purse and Lily's bag of Muggle library books down with less than careful aim at the table top in front of Harry.
His attention seemed glued to the little screen of the under-the-kitchen cabinet television he was watching. Ignoring his daughter, not paying attention to his wife who had yet again saved him an irritating hour with a hostile customer.
Okay, honestly, Lily had ignored him, but in a minute, Mr. Harry Potter was going to get an eyebrow removed if he didn't acknowledge Ginny's presence. Grunt! Something!
“Maddie will close up the office. Told her we had the girls, and we'd figure out something for dinner. Get them back afterwards. I have a headache, and can't take a mid-week sleepover. Not without strong drink. And I beat our sons to within inches of their lives, then staked their heads out in front of the Burrow for the crows to peck out their eyeballs. Dad is enjoying eating their spleens for supper, tonight.
“You are not listening. As usual. How did the trip down south go?”
Harry just looked at her numbly and resumed staring at the television.
That was out of the ordinary, even for Harry. Ginny pursed her lips, but held back the hot burst of anger. Then got a cold chill up her back and began worriedly paying more attention to the screaming and shrieking going on upstairs in Lily's room.
“Tell me they are whole and not pumped up full of sugar.” Ginny demanded.
Weakly, Harry mono-toned, “Ice cream sundaes, each. Double-chocolate.”
“God-dammit, Harry! How many times do I have to tell you?” Ginny pounded a small fist on the table, making Harry's half-drunk glass of beer jump slightly. “We will never get them to calm down. Like feeding little strips of marinated beef to the schools of sharks under our feet. Or, using a feather to tickle a tiger's ear. Or …
“Or using a fence post to pry open a dragon's mouth?”
“Yeah, …..oh, should tell you. Stopped by Charlie's place. You wouldn't believe what Veronica left written on the door ...”
“They've abandoned us, for a passionate island romp, because they couldn't take a little babysitting.”
Ginny blinked, “Yes, um, how did you …. ?”
“Ron was there before you. He tagged along with me and the girls to the ship museum.” Harry just faintly shook his head, saying vaguely, “Vampires!”
“Huh?” Ginny mumbled in confusion. Harry just pointed to the television. She gave him a disgruntled second glance, then reached over to turn up the volume to the tiny picture.
There in the middle of the screen was undoubtedly a helicopter image of a huge conflagration on the ground below. In some port area in an old downtown. Warehouses and shipyard cranes, loomed in the background, along with a crisply painted gray warship with a radar mast spinning smartly. With the union jack at it's fantail, jauntily wafting in the smoky breeze, matching a larger one nearer the fire. There was a tugboat, in the water at the nearest point of the harbor it could reach, with some huge pile of burning wood in the bottom of a deep man-made depression, aiming a pathetic tiny spray of water at the yellow-painted stern of an old sailing ship …
“Portsmouth? Where you went today? With the girls …..”
“H.M.S. Centaur, museum.” he said flatly.
Ginny just looked at him vacantly. As if in answer to her silent question, a resurgent pillar of flame sprang up out of the midships hatch. A television announcer was breathlessly importuning “..... only minor injuries so far reported ….A great ship is burning, tonight. All of Britain, indeed much of the world is in shock at this calamity before us. Generations of school boys who trod her decks, grown men and women, of all ages across the globe, are reeling in shock and sadness as her mighty wooden walls are succumbing to an impartial, but all consuming enemy ...”
Mrs. Potter also looked on in surprise, then began adding together the bits of evidence she had laid before her. Her eyes wide, Ginny uttered, “Tell me you didn't do this?”
Harry finally reacted to that. “Yes. Well, I mean I didn't cause it. Met a centaur on board ….
“A centaur. Unhappy with me, and somehow appearing through an elf's dimensional doorway.”
“Huh? Door ….......Harry, centaurs don't like boats, or water.”
“Didn't like me, or Tina. Almost spitted her on a spear – like an cocktail olive - before I interrupted it. Got Tina and a crew member out of the hold, before the fire took over. Nothing we could do. Just about everything on board is a explosion waiting to happen.”
“Wait, what about Ron and Abby?”
“Met them on the dock. I took the girls out of there, and Ron stayed behind to help. You know ….first auror on the scene! But nothing much we could do to help. Only some minor smoke inhalation injuries, when I left.”
“What about the centaur?”
“Jumped back into the doorway. It vanished with the usual 'crack.' You remember, Kreacher …..”
“Well, just like that. Same kind of gray doorway, too!” Harry seemed lost in the memory. “No elf, I could remember seeing. And I couldn't see inside it. But just like Kreacher's, otherwise. ...”
They resumed watching the TV. The center of the ship collapsed in on itself. The mighty bow, with its gilt centaur pointed up towards the sky, as the rest of the ship began to disappear into flames and black smoke.
“So, ice cream.”
“Yes. I had no energy left to fight them. I am weak.”
Ginny pulled his hand to her lips, kissing the black smudged knuckles and carelessly pressing them to her cheek. “No you're not. Just human. I would have done that, too. I understand …....I understand …....”
With a final rush, that rocked the helicopter high above slightly, the central fire sucked in the rest of the ship, taking in the masts and rigging, and leaving only the square stern and the golden figurehead last. The gold centaur almost seem to writhe, and Harry could almost swear it turned to look right at him,
And was gone into the flames and smoke.