“Bern-ie! Bern-ie!” The chant rose from sixteen throats as the tall, gawky young man struggled upside down in mid-air, his face approaching plum from all the blood collecting there. His dainty opponent's petite stature and pink apple cheeks belied the strength of the tickling jinxes she hurled at him one after another.
“Come on Lisa, finish him!” urged her handsome blond brother. He stood opposite Clio in the circle that had formed around the dueling pair. His velvet and silk smoking jacket looked better suited for the Playboy mansion than the wide grassy field where they had gathered.
“Finish him! Finish him!” The spectators crowded around him cheered.
Bernie entered the final round of the Salem Alumni Upside Down Dueling Tournament as the favorite. Now feisty Raven's Claw alumnus Lisa Ganderson was handily kicking his ass. Clio narrowed her eyes, pushing away her anger to concentrate on holding Bernie steady. Levicorpus, levicorpus, levicorpus. She chanted silently; her mind opened wide and her mouth clamped tight.
The eighteen alumni of the Mugblood and Enoch Banana houses were easily spotted among the crowd, because while the others failed miserably in their attempts to dress as muggles, they succeeded. The taunting voices of witches and wizards dressed in bathrobes with cowboy boots, tutus with parkas, and overalls with high heels spurred Bernie to renew his counter attack.
“Gahhhhh!” he shouted, wildly waving his arms. The Raven's Claw alumni all laughed, but those chanting Bernie's name (several of whom he'd beaten on his way to this match) had an inkling of what was coming. Sweat dripping from his black hair and veins popping out of his beet-colored neck, he stopped laughing and raised his wand. His opponent froze, wand arm outstretched in the midst of hurling another hex. The referee (an impartial Quill and Scroll alum who'd been eliminated during the third round) counted down from ten.
“3 … 2 … 1!” Lisa Ganderson was still immobile. “Our 1994 Upside Dueling Champion is Michael Bernstein!”
A collective, “Whoop!” startled owls from the trees fringing the field as seventeen wands hoisted Bernie upright, and set him on his feet. He bowed his head to receive his crown (a paper souvenir from Burger Mage) and trophy (a one-eyed, stuffed Kappa doll with pizza sauce stains on the tail) then exchanged a sweaty high five with Clio.
“Thanks for spotting me,” he said.
“Any time,” she said, glancing to the other side of the circle, where Ganderson had just now been revived. She scowled at Clio, and Clio scowled back. No doubt she remembered the many times that Clio had knocked her off of her broom playing quodpot; payback for nicknaming her “Hermaphrodite” during their first year.
Clio had thought these juveniles rivalries would have died, but after spending just two days with these people, she felt as if nothing had changed. The past five years could have just been a long break; after the Quidditch Cup they'd all head back to school instead of their real lives.
A pretty young woman with long chestnut hair ran up with Bernie's glasses. He perched them on the bridge of his prodigious nose, then lifted Krista off her feet and kissed her. Bernie had found himself a girlfriend! A few things had changed, after all.
Clio looked away to where the waxing moon was just rising into the sky. It was just a few days short of full, and she found herself wondering once again where Remus was, and whether he was all right. Her hand went reflexively to her left side, to the hole where a burning pain had moved in over the summer. Everything had changed.
Remus couldn't shake the feeling that someone was dogging his footsteps, and yet every casual glance over his shoulder proved that he was utterly alone. Even the tantalizing scent of pomegranate had faded. He took a long, winding route back to the hole that he'd called “home” for the past two months, sliding anonymously through thick crowds at a pace brisk enough to shake any human pursuer. His watched feeling persisted. With just over a block to go, he turned down a narrow alley that most sensible people would avoid. He felt safe here; this was his territory.
Something was in the alley, with him. The dusky shadows had drifted too deep for Remus to make much of anything out, but he smelled a presence that all the other familiar alley smells (rotting fish and bananas in the fly-infested dumpster, sun-baked urine, stale beer, the list went on) couldn't mask. Male dog. The hairs on the back of his neck bristled.
“I know you're there,” he said. “You may as well show yourself. We're alone”
The giant black dog, his shaggy fur matted and caked with dirt, materialized from the darkness on soft-padded feet. It regarded him with solemn blue-gray eyes, then stood up on its hind legs to embrace him. Remus was startled at how thin he was. Could he feel every rib in his chest?
“Padfoot, what are you doing here?” He didn't bother to ask how Sirius had tracked him down, he'd figured it was inevitable.
“Harry …” Sirius said hoarsely, then shook his head. “Something's about to happen, something sinister,” he growled, doglike even in his human form. “Have you felt it?”
Remus eyed him warily, then nodded. “Dumbledore has sensed it as well,” he whispered. “He spoke to me just yesterday. Moody's stepping in to teach Defense. You shouldn't be here”
Sirius' eyes flashed like steel. “I'm heading north as soon as school begins.”
“You truly have gone mad,” Remus said, the blood draining from his face.
Sirius smiled and, with sharp cheek bones threatening to push through his skin, looked every inch the raving lunatic.
“I'm touched that you're so worried for my well-being, but I hear that the dementors have relocated. In any case, they've never failed to fail to bring me down.”
Remus sighed. Arguing with Sirius was pointless. “Come on, let's get you something to eat. Maybe you'll think more clearly when you're not lightheaded from hunger.” He began walking toward home, such as it was, and Sirius followed, clapping one skeletal hand on his friend's shoulder.
“I've missed you, mate. You don't know how tempted I was to reveal myself whenever I spied you rambling around the school grounds last year.”
“I might have killed you, you know.”
“That's why I resisted.” He grinned again. “That little dark-haired witch I saw you with hasn't been around, has she?”
Remus abruptly looked away, clearly expressing his unwillingness to explore that topic.
“Oh Moony, Moony, Moony. What will we do with you?” Sirius patted his slumped shoulders as they walked. “Say, do you know somewhere close by where I could store a hippogriff? It'll only be for a few days, of course.”
Clio found that the best time to fetch water from the communal pump, carrying it through the maze of wizard tents to the Mugbloods' campsite, was early in the morning, while most people slept. The configuration of the tent village that she wound through now had changed dramatically since they'd arrived two days before, but the gigantic bleeding heart flag hanging above their tent made it easy to locate in the crowd.
She and Jenn had designed it together during their second year at Salem. A few improvements had been made since then, but the basic design remained the same. A red, anatomically correct heart pumped steadily against a black field. Rainbow-striped thunderbird wings sprouted from the heart, flapping in time to its beat.
The flag fluttered fitfully this morning. They weren't allowed to use magic to keep it unfurled, here. One campsite over, the Enoch Banana alumni had chosen to ignore the ban on magic in order to let their flag fly in all its juvenile glory. Their animated monkey held an upright banana in its lap. Every fifteen seconds, in an endless loop, it would peel the banana and lean forward to take a bite. Her mouth twitched; that monkey gag was so old that it had circled beyond played-out and back around to funny again. Some of the Bananas were up and about already, fooling around with a quodpot quaffle. They mumbled hello as she walked past.
Derrick was up, too, expertly building a cooking fire.
“Hey,” she said, setting the water a few feet from where he squatted, blowing life into the smoldering tinder. As far as anyone outside their small circle could tell, Derrick was just another American wizard, rather than an English muggle.
“If you ask me, trying to conceal this lot is an exercise in futility,” he said, feeding a few twigs into the infant flames that licked up the logs he'd stacked in a teepee.
“True,” she sighed. “It'd be easier for the Ministry to just pay the caretaker and his family extra to keep quiet.”
He frowned, brow furrowing, and Clio guessed that he was remembering the oblivation of the caretaker's wife that he'd witnessed when they arrived. “It shouldn't be legal, what they're doing,” he said.
“Agreed,” she murmured, rubbing at her left arm. It was still sore from the addition of the tattoo that Jenn had talked her into the previous afternoon. The winged heart on her shoulder, a miniature of their flag design, responded to her touch by beating faster.
Derrick blinked, his sleepy brown eyes catching the movement in the ink beneath her skin. It hadn't taken him long to begin noticing the wizards' moving pictures, and while they occasionally startled him, he found them fascinating.
“Is Charity up yet?” she asked.
“She was just waking up when I popped out five minutes ago. You want coffee, I assume?” he said, picking up the pot.
“Does a duck say 'quack?'” she answered, sitting down with the coffee grinder in one hand and a bag of freshly roasted beans in the other. “Does the sun rise in the east? Is Darth Vader Luke's father?”
“Does Spock bleed green?”
Clio chuckled. She had to admit that Charity could have done a lot worse, even if he was a muggle. She drank in the rich earthy aroma as she cranked the grinder. “If coffee tasted exactly like it smells, I would just pore this entire bag into my mouth and start chewing.”
Once the coffee was brewing, she returned to the tent for what Bernie had so charmingly dubbed a whore bath. Jenn and Wyatt's 2-year old daughter, Hanna, ran past her as she emerged from the ladies' room, chasing Bernie with a pillow. Bernie cackled maniacally, making Hanna giggle and run faster. He pretended to trip, then fall, rolling over onto his back. The toddler pounced on him, smashing the pillow down onto his considerable nose and then flopping on top of it, pinning him to the floor.
“Can't … breathe,” he gasped, kicking his legs and flailing his arms. Hanna giggled like mad until he stopped moving. She stood up, smiling triumphantly, and removed the pillow.
“Gahhhhhhhhhh!” Bernie yelled. She ran off squealing and the game began again. It was impossible to sleep with their racket, and even the hardcore night owls emerged from their beds, now.
Krista took Clio's place in the bathroom. Charity, who had fallen back asleep after Derrick left to tend the fire, began flipping pancakes. Wyatt grilled sausages while Jenn nursed a mug of coffee that Clio suspected had been Irished up a bit. Meanwhile, Emily sat on one end of the couch reading a Sandman comic while Sara sat at the opposite end reading Healing Severe Spell Damage. Their feet met in the middle, both totally oblivious to the commotion around them. Henry brooded over his lyre in the corner, checking each of the unicorn hair strings to make sure none were wearing thin.
Clio and Henry were the only two single parties in the tent: a fact that struck Clio at moments like this. Being single had never bothered her before. Now she imagined waking up with Remus, gazing into his silvery gray eyes, kissing him and feeling his stubbly cheek against hers ...
“Clio! Pancakes are ready!” Charity called.
She walked outside. That was all in the past. Still, there may be a chance, she thought. A slim chance, she reminded herself, trying not to feel hopeful.
Charity handed her a plate of pancakes and mug of black coffee.
“Thanks,” she said, as she sat down and mechanically began to eat. Remus had never responded either way, but she'd sent his ticket via owl post and it hadn't been returned. That was a good sign, wasn't it?
Charity exchanged a knowing glance with Henry and Jenn. They'd all seen Clio with the unfocused expression she wore now, and had an idea of where her mind was.
Bernie left immediately after scarfing down a plate of sausages to interview the quidditch players, his press pass swinging proudly from his neck. Once the fire was extinguished and the mess from breakfast was cleaned up, the rest of them began looking for ways to fill the hours before heading to the quidditch stadium. They all bounced the quaffle around for awhile, the friendly passing gradually morphing into game of dodgeball that ended abruptly when Krista took a hit directly to the eye.
Sara, about to begin her final year of healer training, took her aside to fix it. In the meantime, one of the Bananas had brought out a hookah packed with herbs that filled the air with a sickly green smell. After it had been passed around a few times, the lunch fires were stoked (with not a small amount of giggling).
They were all taking turns tossing Hanna into the air when Eddie Kowalski ran out from the Enoch Banana tent with his accordian and struck up a polka. Emily groaned and rolled her eyes at Henry who ducked into their tent and returned with his lyre, Jenn's banjo and Clio's guitar.
“Nine strings?” Clio said, noticing that the three treble strings had been doubled since the previous night. She gave them a strum, liking the jangly chorus effect.
“You're ready,” Henry said.
Just as Jenn complained that they needed drums, another Banana ran up with a pair of bongos, and now they had a proper band.
“Anyone remember the words to “Everyone in Pants?”
A dozen hands rose into the air, and that's how they ended up running through the entire songbook for How to Dress Like A Muggle Without Really Trying, a musical they'd created one year to mock the purebloods at Salem who celebrated the first Friday each May as Dress Like A Muggle Day. Their first attempt at retaliation had been to institute Dress Like A Pureblood Trying to Dress Like a Muggle Day on the first Saturday of May, but none of the purebloods had understood the joke.
Under the guise of an independent project that had garnered Jenn a score of 350% in her Muggle Studies class, the stated mission of the show was to educate Salem students on proper Muggle dress and etiquette. In reality, it was 45 minutes of song parodies such as “Tees, Glorious Tees,” sung to the tune of a 1980s-era cheese commercial:
Tees, glorious tees!
Look mighty inviting!
Tees, glorious tees!
In colors so tantalizing!
Whether you wear them
Tight or loose,
Mild or wild,
Cotton tees look good on you.
Try on tees!
“One Shoe, Two Shoe, Red Shoe, Blue Shoe,” preached the importance of choosing the right shoe for every occasion, and everybody's favorite, the Calypso-infused “Everybody in Pants! (Pants Go On Your Legs),” extolled the virtues of the titular garment while simultaneously providing helpful advice to distinguish pants from non-pants garments such as chaps.
A crowd gathered as they played, and when they ran out of parodies began to improvise. Clio followed Henry's lead at first, winding harmonies around whatever he played, until her guitar grew petulant and pushed her to take a turn at the melody herself. She'd immersed herself in the instrument during the weeks she'd spent helping Henry set up his guitar studio that summer.
He'd been preparing to compete directly against his former mentor, but fortuitously, the old bastard had decided to retire. Now the long, narrow shop in the Maxwell Street Market where he'd been taking apart and putting instruments together since he was nine was all his. She'd found that the blues suited both her and the guitar, and the skill that she'd lost during the past five years had gradually returned with the hours and hours of practice she'd put in.
Clio looked up and around, searching the crowd for the source of the familiar voice. Tall, lanky Bill Weasley, clapped a freckled hand on her shoulder.
“Hey, Bill,” Clio said as she stood up, her guitar plinking angrily as she stopped playing. He looked much the same as the last time she'd seen him in Egypt, though his ponytail had grown a bit longer and he was trailed by relatives now, rather than admirers. One she recognized immediately as his younger sister Ginny, and the other (built more like the twins, but older and in possession of many more scars) must be their brother Charlie, who she had never met.
“So you're rooting for the Irish, too, then?” he said gesturing to her jersey and the identical ones worn by her friends. “Mullet fans?”
“Yeah, sort of,” she murmured. “The Mullet jerseys are sort of an inside joke.”
“I don't get it,” he said.
“Mullet's brilliant,” Charlie added.
“Go Mullet!” Emily yelled.
“Business up front, party in the back!” Kowalski shouted in return.
Clio smiled sheepishly. “Hey, you must remember Charity Burbage?” she said, putting the buxom blond in the spotlight. Charity smiled and winked.
“Yes, I do remember,” Bill said, turning to her with a wide grin. Charlie quickly smoothed down his hair and stood up a little straighter as Charity walked up to shake hands. Ginny rolled her eyes at her brothers. Clio caught her eye and smiled. Ginny smiled briefly, then stuck her tongue out at Bill's back.
Charity introduced Derrick as her American friend, and Derrick did his best to imitate the Boston accent Emily had taught him.
“Have you seen Professor Lupin?” Ginny asked Clio.
“No,” she said, startled but making her face appear neutral. “Not since he left.”
“Oh,” Ginny said, her face flushing pink. “I thought maybe you stayed in touch...” Her voice trailed off.
“I did hear from him once,” Clio said, thinking of the money he'd returned to her when she'd tried to repay him for the guitar. The note he'd included had said simply:
It was a gift. -R
“I think he's doing okay,” she said softly, forcing her mind back to the present and plastering on a smile.
Ginny smiled hesitantly. “Do you know who's teaching DADA this year?”
Clio frowned. “I'm afraid I've been away all summer. An old friend of Dumbledore's, that much I know.” she said.
“Come on Ginny, dad's going to have a fit if we get you back late,” Bill said then, glancing at his watch. “Good seeing you again Callimachus, Charity,” he said. The trio moved off and was quickly swallowed by the crowd.
Clio's stomach dropped when the horns announcing the quidditch match called out in the distance. Where had the day gone? A raucous cheer rose up from the group surrounding her.
“It's time,” Charity said, squeezing her arm. Clio nodded and allowed herself to be swept along with the crowd walking through the woods to the stadium. He'd either meet her in the stands, or not. They walked forever it seemed: Hanna riding on Wyatt's shoulders, Derrick fearfully clutching Charity's hand, Sara and Krista skipping, Emily and Henry singing the Mullet fight song that they'd composed under the influence of the green herbs and Jenn stopping every few yards to take pictures.
Clio's own camera swung uselessly from the strap on her neck. She was too busy scanning the faces in the crowd to think about taking pictures. They entered the stadium much too quickly, and she didn't see him. They located their section, and she didn't see him; her eyes swept their rows of seats, and still she didn't see him. As she approached her seat she discovered that there was someone sitting in the seat next to hers.
“Wow, Clio. You said he was a few years older, but … wow,” Emily said of the very old man sitting in Remus's seat. He was pockmarked, slightly green-tinged and definitely not Remus, but her last desperate hope was that he'd taken polyjuice potion so as not to be recognized. And possibly to keep me at a distance, she thought.
“Hey,” she said to the ancient man, straining to keep her voice steady. “I was hoping to find a good friend of mine sitting here.”
“Ah, you must be Miss Callimachus,” he said, killing Clio's last shred of hope. “Lupin said I was to look for a vivacious, young woman with beautiful long brown hair, but I suppose two out of three isn't bad.”
Clio's hand went instinctively to her close-cropped hair. It had grown quite a bit over the summer, but unless she used magic it might be a year before she could describe it as long again.
“So you've seen him?” Clio asked, fighting back tears.
“Yes, he gave me this to give to you,” he said, handing her a plain envelope.
“How is he, these days?” she asked.
“Oh, not bad, I'd say,” he said, looking at her wet eyes with sympathy. “A little on the skinny side, maybe.”
She missed the leprechauns going by as she tore open the envelope and withdrew a single sheet of paper.
I'm sorry, but I can't see you now. I hope you will forgive me, but will understand if you don't. I think you will find that Elphias Doge is good company. He's an old friend of Dumbledore's and has done quite a bit of traveling – including to Greece and Egypt. He works in the Ministryand may have knowledge of the Department of Mysteries.
Even when he smashed her heart he did it in the kindest way he knew how. Her own efforts to research the Department of Mysteries had turned up zilch.
“So,” she said, sniffling, “You must be Elphias Doge?”
“Yes!” he said, brightening up, “That I am. I hear you've spent a few years in Egypt?”
“I was there a very long time ago, and I still remember my first carpet ride. Did you get a chance to fly one while you were there?”
“Yes,” she said, “They're lovely. I rode one this summer while visiting friends.”
“There's some who would like to import them here, for family transport. Unfortunately the Ministry won't allow it.”
“That is unfortunate,” she said, and in her mind she was lounging on a carpet high above the Aegean with Archie and Zain, watching Santorini unfold below. She'd been an absolute mess when she showed up on their doorstep in Alexandria. The entire story of her and Remus had spilled out over a couple bottles of wine, and they'd taken turns rocking her as she bawled, then holding her hair up as she vomited over and over again into the formerly pristine toilet in their newly renovated guest bathroom.
Sometime during the following day they'd been walking through the open air market when a toothless old woman hawking homemade dolls had offered to purchase her hair. She'd shrugged and sat down an empty orange crate, tipping her head over a canvas bag as the woman sheared it off, right down to the scalp. She'd been paid a galleon for it.
The cool sea air brushing against her naked skull had felt surprisingly wonderful, and not having to wash or brush it (or hold it up as she heaved over the toilet) had been liberating. After another night of drinking, her friends had informed her that it was time for her to sober up. They'd dangled a diving trip to the Cyclades before her, and two days later they'd flown the carpet to Santorini.
Doge smiled and said, “You know, you bear a striking resemblance to your grandfather.”
She caught her breath. “Did you know him?” she asked.
“A little, yes. A very congenial man he was; always quick with a joke. Terrible the way he was killed, and that the killer got away.” He paused to clear his throat, looking greener even than when she'd sat down. “Sorry, you don't need to be reminded of that, I expect.”
“It's all right.” Clio said, her mouth twitching. The circumstances of her grandfather's death were at the top of her list of things she wanted to talk about at the moment. “Did you know him through the Ministry, then?”
He nodded. “I'd been working there a long time already when he started. Croaker started about the same time he did. I actually saw him running about here earlier, I'll give a holler if I spy him again. What year was it, let me see...”
“Croaker?” she asked, making a mental note to look him up later.
A cheer went up around them as Mullet soared into the stadium.
“Goodness, you Americans certainly like Mullet, don't you?” Doge said.
“Yeah, there's even a hairstyle named after him,” she mumbled. “Did he ever talk about what he did there, my grandfather?” Clio asked, the match forgotten.
“Oh, goodness no. Terrible things would happen to any Unspeakable who violated protocol.”
“Oh,” Clio said, a bit deflated. More cheers and whistles floated up from the crowd as the veela sashayed by for Hungary.
“I do know he was always fascinated by time.”
“Time?” Clio raised an eyebrow. She secretly hoped that he'd studied time travel.
“He was reprimanded once for asking too many questions about the time turners.”
“Oh,” Clio said.
“Unspeakables from one area aren't even supposed to know what their counterparts in other areas are working on. All of your grandfather's work was kept locked up.”
“I see,” she said, disappointed.
“Here comes Krum!” Doge yelled, clapping. “He's really something!”
Clio turned back to the match. That's why she was here, wasn't it?