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Chapter 1 : Sunset Inn
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It was optimistic, perhaps, for the owners to translate the text. The so-called popular tourist attraction was run from a wooden hut, standing about thirty yards from the end of the forest path. Had any tourists bothered to trek through the untamed forests in the first place, the sight of the derelict building would probably have been enough to make them retrace their steps, back towards the man-made beaches or well-kept nature reserves.
Bertha encountered a surly, heavy-browed man in the hut. He spoke no English, and she spoke no Albanian, so their exchange consisted mainly of hand gestures and a great deal of grunting on his part, but eventually Bertha found herself entering the waiting cable car. She suspected that the owner had charged her a lot more than the set price, but she wouldn’t have known anyway, since they were dealing with Muggle money. It was all part of the experience of travelling abroad, she reasoned, although why different countries used different currencies was still beyond her. It made life much more complicated than necessary.
The cable car took ten minutes to creak into life, which Bertha passed awkwardly avoiding the glowering gaze of the proprietor and inspecting the vehicle she was to travel in. It wasn’t in a condition that filled her with confidence; the casing looked rickety at best, and she was fairly sure that as soon as they left the ground there would be some undesirable sights from the holes in the floor.
Swinging perilously, the carriage lifted into the air. Bertha found herself holding her breath as soon as the humming electricity began; she’d always enjoyed adventure and this journey fell into that category, but she thought it may currently be dancing down the thin line which separated excitement and stupidity. Once she had travelled far enough away from the platform, her wand was in her hand and she reminded herself of the cushioning charm, just in case. The Albanian Ministry of Magic might not be happy with her if they had to explain her miraculous survival, but her life was much more important than the International Statute of Secrecy.
Eventually it became apparent that the cable car wasn’t in any imminent danger of collapsing, and Bertha was able to take notice of her surroundings. Her apprehension and worry evaporated as she drank in the spectacular view she was afforded at this height.
The sky was a brilliant blue, crested by the soft white of fluffy cloud. The sun dominated the scene, undoubted ruler of the heavens, his rays reaching as far as the eye could see. A fresh breeze drifted through the air, offering some relief from the blistering heat. The weather alone was a welcome and refreshing change from the miserable May that Bertha had left behind in England, but the panorama below was even more picturesque. The landscape was a tapestry woven from countless shades of green, the silver thread of a river running alongside a shock of violet flowers. Each colour was brighter and more brilliant in the sunlight cast on it.
This was why Bertha loved travelling. The serene sense of calm mingled with the thrill of adventure that you could only find in some far-flung, undiscovered place. There was no better feeling in the world.
Pulling her camera from the depths of her bag, she began capturing the inexplicable beauty of the scene. Bertha was well known for regaling her Ministry colleagues with tales about her travels, but the majority of them refused to believe her unless she provided them with photographic evidence. They found it hard to accept the hidden gems she unearthed in the Muggle world really existed, so she had documented numerous countries, fed up of their blatant disbelief as she described an icy ski slope or snorkelling in exotic waters.
Pushing her dark hair out of her eyes with a tanned hand, Bertha paused for a moment to watch an eagle soaring even higher than the cable car was able to take her. That was another thing she loved about Muggle travel: in spite of their lack of magic, or perhaps because of it, Muggles had invented endless ingenious ways to see and do things that were taken for granted by wizards. There was a sense of wonder flying thousands of miles in comfort on an aeroplane that Bertha simply didn’t have when she rode a broomstick.
Maybe I should talk to Arthur Weasley, she thought dryly. He was one person who would definitely be interested in her Muggle holidays.
Bertha wasn’t quite sure when her passion for Muggle travel had first started; while her pureblood parents had never supported You-Know-Who in the war, they certainly had no interest in how the other half lived. The first time Bertha had told them that she was flying to Peru on a plane instead of taking a portkey, they had been horrified. Her persistence with her hobby had numbed them, over time, to the strangeness of it all, but neither of them could understand why spending days travelling just to get to your destination was more enjoyable than a few minutes of queasiness before arriving there.
It wasn’t exactly that Bertha disliked wizard travel; she had visited many countries on Ministry business, using a portkey or sometimes the Floo network. Nobody could deny that it was quicker and infinitely more practical, but it was something she always associated with work – there was no fun involved.
Snapping out of her reverie, Bertha realised that the ride had reached its most dangerous point yet. The carriage was swaying precariously as it turned at the highest point of the cable system, but the view from the mountain top was almost dreamlike. She wondered if this was what the first people to fly aeroplanes or ride brooms felt like, soaring high above the world, everything below them appearing so small and insignificant that it was like a toy world. Her finger pressed down feverishly on the shutter button, hoping to copy the magnificence of the view, though she knew that any picture would be but a weak imitation.
All too soon, the cable car returned to the station and the rush of adrenalin that the ride had given her faded simultaneously with the carriage’s descent. The owner seemed surprised to see her, although Bertha couldn’t fathom the reason; either he was so used to the cable cars being empty that the presence of a customer was astonishing, or he had expected – or perhaps hoped – that she would somehow fall out of the vehicle while it was in motion.
She waved him a hearty goodbye and returned to the forest path which would lead her down the mountain to the village she was staying in. Entering the cool shade of the trees was a relief to Bertha; even though the cable car journey had been amazing, she was happy to get out of the blazing sun. Her jeans and checked shirt, ever so practical for hiking, were not really clothes suited to the Albanian summer.
An hour later, when she finally reached the village at the forest’s edge, Bertha’s stomach was protesting its hunger loudly. A quick check of her watch told her it had been almost twelve hours since she’d last eaten, and she hurried between the scattered houses and shops that formed the village. In ten or fifteen years the settlement would probably have grown in size, tipped as it was to become a popular tourist destination, but at this point there was only one place to stay: the Sunset Inn.
Bertha had initially chosen her accommodation by its name – there was something romantic, almost poetic, about the image it conjured up. It was an old-fashioned establishment, something that wouldn’t have seemed out of place in Britain a few centuries ago, especially with the painted sign hanging outside, depicting the oranges and reds of a setting sun, with its Albanian name underneath. Arriving, she had been pleasantly surprised. Although it could hardly be described as busy, the inn was friendly, the rooms were clean and the food was tasty. One of the owners even spoke French, meaning that Bertha could actually communicate a little with another person. All in all, it was a vast improvement on the sort of place that she normally found herself staying in on holiday.
Inside, Elira, the francophone owner, greeted her warmly before leading her over to a small table in a quiet corner of the bar. At this time on a Friday evening, the tables were mostly filled with villagers relaxing with a drink after a long working week, but the owners were careful to take care of their paying guests; while Elira shouted a meal order to the kitchen, her husband Bekim slid an icy glass of water in front of her. Bertha had been staying here for a week now, since the Ministry business in Greece had finished, and the owners were very attentive to her.
She smiled at Bekim in thanks and he nodded before returning to the bar to talk with some of the locals he evidently considered friends. Waiting for her evening meal, Bertha turned her attention to the customers socialising over a bottle of beer or glass of wine. People-watching was another hobby of hers; she liked imagining that she could tell what a person was like from a fleeting glance, that she knew their story, when, in reality, she knew very little. Her mother always said that Bertha would have been better off going into journalism than the Ministry, and there had been people (although Bertha much preferred not to think about them) who suggested that with her talent for ferreting out secrets, she could give Rita Skeeter a run for her money.
Sat in the centre of the room was a woman who was cheating on her husband. He was next to her, eyes tightening jealously every time she laughed at something another man said, pretending not to notice that her gaze kept travelling to the bar.
Relaxing at a table with two of his workmates was a man who looked strikingly like Mr Crouch. Bertha did a double-take, wondering for a fleeting moment what on earth the Head of the Department of International Magical Cooperation was doing drinking in an Albanian inn. But after a second glance she noticed the differences; although the toothbrush moustache and stern expression were extremely similar, this man was more tanned, his hair was darker and missing the peppered streaks of grey, and he actually cracked a smile at something his companion had said.
Bertha felt a faint niggling at the back of her mind as she thought of Mr Crouch. Her own department had been working closely alongside his over the past year, coordinating the mammoth organisational nightmares of the Quidditch World Cup and the Triwizard Tournament, which Hogwarts would be hosting after the summer. In recent months, each encounter with him had resulted in her feeling slightly frustrated, the same feeling she got when she couldn’t think of the precise word she was searching for.
Elira arrived and placed a steaming plate of stew on the table, driving all thoughts of the strict Ministry official from Bertha’s mind.
“Bon appétit!” the dark-skinned owner sang, smiling widely at her before attending to an elderly couple, the only other people staying in the inn. Bertha wasn’t entirely sure what the meal consisted of, but her extensive travel had taught her that it was better not to ask. It was delicious, anyway, and she tucked in with enthusiasm, eager to satisfy the pangs of hunger that had been nagging at her for a couple of hours.
As she finished her meal, the door opened and there was another addition to the now busy bar. It seemed like most of the village had decided to grace the inn with their custom tonight, and the steady hum of voices in happy conversation sounded almost like music. The newcomer made his way to the bar and with his face illuminated by the electric lights, Bertha gasped loudly.
The man at the bar was a wizard. He was an English wizard that she recognised. More than that, he was a wizard who died thirteen years ago.
With almost animalistic senses, he turned his head in the direction of Bertha’s inhalation. His face registered shock, maybe even fear, for just a second, before he composed it into a carefully blank mask. It had been years since Bertha had last seen him, several years before he had supposedly been murdered. But there was no doubt at all that Peter Pettigrew had just walked into the Sunset Inn.
Age had taken its toll on Peter; his hair was limp and colourless, eyes watery, face dirty and with a distinct ratty look. It was a far cry from the reasonably handsome, laughing boy who she had seen so often in the company of his brilliant friends; one now dead and another condemned and imprisoned for the murder of the man now stood before her.
If she was able to recognise him in spite of all the changes, he would certainly recognise Bertha. Her hair was shorter now, and she’d lost some weight since her school days, but she definitely still looked like Bertha Jorkins, the Hufflepuff gossip now made good.
Before Bertha could decide what was best to do, completely bewildered by what Peter Pettigrew’s appearance could possibly mean, he had made his way over to the table, smiling serenely, and lowered his plump body into the seat opposite hers. Her voice, about to ask him how he was possibly still alive, died in her throat. What did one say when confronted by a dead man so real that there was no chance at all he was a ghost? Peter saved her from the task of finding something to say, opening his mouth to speak pleasantly.
“Hello, Bertha. It’s been a long time, hasn’t it?”
AN: Thank you for taking the time to read this! If you get the chance, I'd love to hear your thoughts in a review.
I also want to say a massive thank you to FredWeasleyIsMyKing/Laurenzo7321 for helping me with this!
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