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On Air by marauderfan
Chapter 1 : On Air
 
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I first met Mary Macdonald about a year after my best friend Sean died. Seven months after You-Know-Who vanished and the war ended. Mary had lost some of her best friends in the war too: three had died, one had disappeared, and one had gone to Azkaban. But she kept on, she endured, brightening the world with her smile and vivacity – she was a glow in the post-war gloom. I was drawn to her like a moth to flame.

Life was beautiful then. Mary and I would sit by the beach, wrapped up in our thick woollen cloaks because it wasn’t that warm outside, and watch the sunset together. Sometimes it would rain, and then she’d grab my hand and run, forcing me to skip around the puddles with her, and we’d go back to her house and drink hot tea. Occasionally we would talk about the war, because it was so fresh in our minds then, but over time that happened less and less, and we began to talk about the future rather than the past.

It wasn’t long before I asked her to marry me. We moved to London together; I got a dull job at the Ministry, and Mary found work in Gambol and Japes in Diagon Alley. She always came home with plenty of stories from work, like when someone tried to shoplift fireworks and ended up drawing attention to himself by catching his trousers and the wall behind him on fire. I never had that many interesting stories about my work, apart from when someone had sent dragon dung to the Minister’s junior secretary a few years ago. And I hadn’t even witnessed that – it was just something I heard secondhand from a coworker – so it didn’t really count.

Anyway, Mary and I settled into a happy life together. Every step of our journey was an adventure – from the trip to Venice, to starting a family, there was never a dull moment. Our first child, Maisie, had trouble sleeping when she was young; often she would wake up in the middle of the night and start crying loudly, and the only thing that returned her to calm slumber was the sound of Mary’s soft singing. Our other two kids became little mischief makers; Ellie had a bad habit of drawing on the walls, and Alfred spat food on everything. And Mary would sing to herself as she scrubbed the crayon scribblings and porridge away from the kitchen surfaces. She didn’t lose her patience as easily as I did, and I admired her for it – she took everything life threw at her, with a smile on her face. I hoped our kids would be like her in that respect.

As the days went by, the war faded into the dusty pages of the past. Newer, happier memories began to cover up the old wounds.

Of course, we didn’t know back then that there would be another war.

*

The second war was worse than the first because I was more afraid this time around. All the horrors came back, plus the additional fear that came along with being a father. I could take care of myself before, but now it wasn’t just me I had to look out for, now that I had a wife and kids, and I worried about them constantly. And it never escaped my mind that Mary was Muggle-born, like Sean had been. I started waking up to the recurring nightmare of watching Sean die. Sometimes after times like these I would sneak out of bed and down the hall to the kids’ bedrooms, making sure they were all still there, safe and sound.

Mary said we should just go about our business as normal, although she’d pretend to be a pureblood if anyone asked, obviously. She didn’t seem to be as worried as I was. But I wanted to leave, to fly away, far from the war. I knew it would only be a matter of time before they caught her.

One fateful day, Albert Runcorn told me at work that he had submitted Mary’s name for questioning by the Muggle-born Registration Commission. I spent the rest of the day quivering in my office. I sent her three owls that afternoon, but I doubt she could read the messages at all because my hands were shaking so badly and the handwriting was illegible.

Mary kept insisting we’d all be fine. But the date of her hearing drew closer, and I could tell she didn’t believe a single word that came from her mouth. Both of us had lost a lot in the first war. We’d built up our lives again, put it all behind us, only to be on the brink of losing everything again.

Neither of us slept the night before her hearing. All I could think about was the terrifying idea of losing Mary, of having to raise our three children alone. I could provide for them, certainly, but I’d never had the incredible zest for life Mary always had. And what would happen to her? I couldn’t bear to think about it, about having to live without her.

As it turned out, she didn’t go in for her hearing; she spent the morning trying to make a Portkey out of an old shoe, for us all to escape together. It didn’t work, and then she got a threatening letter by owl that afternoon telling her the date of her rescheduled hearing – in two days.

We didn’t know what to do anymore. It was too late to come up with a plan to run. So it was with a nervous and emotional goodbye that we dropped Maisie off at King’s Cross to catch the train for Hogwarts the following day. I felt terrible – our twelve-year-old daughter had to cope with her fear on her own at school where we couldn’t assure her it would be all right.

Mary went in early to the Ministry in the morning of the second of September, while I made breakfast for the kids and dropped three eggs on the floor in the process. Mary’s nervousness was now evident in her appearance; she wore plain robes, her hair pulled back into a bun. She held on to me as long as possible before she left, burying her head in my shoulder – and although she wasn’t crying, her eyes were red. She was almost unrecognisable, so much was the contrast to my Mary, who always wore bright colours and large jewellery. The sight of her looking so withdrawn and plain, so not herself, like a spent candle with sputtering wick, drained me of my last shred of hope. If even Mary couldn’t keep her head up, how could I?

I watched her step out the door to Apparate from the front porch. Her puffy eyes lingered on me as long as possible, and I could tell she was prepared for the worst. Unable to speak, I turned back to face little Alfred, who was smearing scrambled eggs on the tablecloth and on Ellie’s arm. He was too young to understand the gravity of the situation.

After I’d dropped Ellie and Alfred off at their grandparents’ place, I hurried to get to the Ministry and be there for Mary. But along the way, I ran into my coworker Mafalda and she gave me a sweet that poisoned me, so I missed Mary’s trial while I was sick in the street. My heart ached as I thought of my wife alone in that interrogation room with Dementors, but I couldn’t go into the Ministry as I was, because I would ruin Mary’s only hope of being let off. I cursed myself for trusting Mafalda. Time after time, experience had taught me that you could never trust anyone. She might have been working in league with You-Know-Who.

When at last I stopped vomiting, I rushed into the Ministry to absolute chaos. People were running about near the fireplaces. Albert Runcorn and some others were shepherding a group of people forward – and one of them was my wife! I ran towards her, calling her name desperately. What had happened? Where were they taking her?

The fireplaces came alight in rapid succession as people escaped into them amidst the utter confusion. Mary still had a chance to get out. I watched as Runcorn, Mafalda, Yaxley, and a man who looked to be my mirror image disappeared together in one fireplace. Several guards rushed towards them, and I could tell it would only be a matter of seconds before the fireplaces would be sealed and Mary trapped.

I called after her. She turned and saw me, but she stayed there, confused and stalling in the Ministry atrium, so I told her to go to the fireplaces like the others. I told her I loved her. And then she was gone. A guard reached for her as she spun around; the two of them disappeared together, their robes whirling as if in a hurricane, and then the fireplaces closed.

That was the last time I saw my wife for five months.

After her hearing, I Apparated back to our house, to her parents’ place, her friend Carol’s house, her shop in Diagon Alley, Ellie’s primary school, everywhere I could think of where she might meet me. I continued to flutter from place to place, feeling I had lost my way. And there was no trace of Mary.

I had to tell the children after that, and I absolutely dreaded it. How does one tell their children that they might never see their mother again? I even had to write it to Maisie in a letter by owl, because I had no way to get word to her at Hogwarts otherwise.

For weeks, little Alfred continued to ask when his Mum was coming back. I never had an answer. At night I’d sit by the window with a cigarette, just watching and thinking; I was trapped in a net, unable to move on without Mary. And during the days I’d go to work, back to the Ministry that had taken away my wife, so that I could get my measly paycheck from fixing pipes that had toads in them, or ceilings that were dumping rain. But I became careless. What was the point anymore?

Not long after that I didn’t even have the job – my performance at work had dwindled to an unacceptable point, so they replaced me with someone who wasn’t considered a blood-traitor. Eventually I couldn’t afford the mortgage on the house, so the kids and I moved to a flat a few streets away.

For a while, I tried watching our old house for a while to see if Mary showed up there, if she was trying to find us, until the new occupants of the house complained. I continued to search for her every day, taking second glances at every stranger I passed.

And then one day, I stopped. It wouldn’t do to keep hoping, to keep imagining she was alive, to keep waiting for her to come back and for it all to be right again. Mary was gone, and I had to face the truth. And I had to be there for my children.

*

It was a drippy day in mid-January, the ground blanketed by a thin layer of slush. Four and a half months earlier, my wife had vanished. But I didn’t know what had happened since then, whether she’d been caught, if she was in Azkaban… or worse.

Alfred had stopped asking about her by now, and Ellie had stopped leaning on the windows, misting up the glass with her breath as she watched the front garden for her mother returning home. Maisie had come home from school two weeks ago, her face bruised from standing up to her Dark Arts professor, and had been rather silent ever since.

On this particular day, Ellie was scribbling away at an outline of a bowtruckle in a colouring book while Alfred picked at the fraying sofa cushion. Maisie sat on the floor twisting the dials of the wireless, but the constant crackle and hiss and occasional blip of words about “Undesirable Number One” set me on edge, so I left the room to make a cup of tea and have a cigarette.

I watched the wispy smoke curl as I exhaled slowly. Mary would be irritated at me for smoking again. Mary… how much I longed to see her face again, to hold her, to hear her say it would be all right. I put out the cigarette and stared out the window until I heard excited voices from the other room, and then the volume on the wireless shot up.

“…for tuning in to Potterwatch today,” said a voice. I screwed my eyes shut and wished I could close my ears as well. If I heard one more word about Undesirable Number One, I would lose it. “This is your host River with the news. The real news, not the rubbish the Daily Prophet’s been spouting out!”

I heaved a sigh and strode back into the room. “Maisie, please turn that off.”

“But Dad, this is Potterwatch,” she said. “Sylvia told me about it just before we left for the holiday. This is real news, it’s from Harry Potter’s friends, not the Ministry or the Death Eaters!”

Ellie had set aside her colouring book and was staring at the wireless with interest.

“We’ll have a short moment of silence now for those individuals who have perished at the hands of the Death Eaters but gone unnoticed by the rest of the media,” said the wireless. My throat got tight again. What if Mary was one of those individuals? I didn’t want to think about the possibilities.

“Thank you. Now here’s our newest contributor, Runaway, with the second instalment of ‘Muggle-borns on the Run’ – a segment focusing on what You-Know-Who is up to.”

I turned to leave again, but a voice over the wireless stopped me. A voice like honey, sweet and comforting, the most welcome voice I had heard in a long time.

“Hello, my lovely listeners. I’m Runaway. And recently, as you know, I’ve been a fugitive…”

“It’s Mummy!” Ellie shrieked, her eyes wide, as she snatched the wireless from Maisie’s hands. “Daddy, listen!”

Mary was alive.

I sat on the floor with my daughters, and then Alfred set aside the sofa cushion to join us as we listened to Mary recount a story about escaping a Death Eater, then what had befallen her and where she’d had to hide since. She didn’t have a wand anymore, and lived by moving from place to place. She had even gone so far as hiding in a Death Eater’s basement in order to pick up information about You-Know-Who as she stayed inside, out of the snow, and then continued running the following morning. Over the months, she’d met up with other Muggle-borns. There were many others who were living the same life she was – hiding, fleeing, picking up information underground. And now Mary was sharing it with the world.

Maisie, Ellie, Alfred, and I listened to the entire broadcast, even after Mary’s segment had finished. One of the other contributors, nicknamed “Royal”, sounded like Kingsley Shacklebolt, a well-respected Auror in the Ministry. I couldn’t be sure it was him, because I didn’t know him personally, but he did have a very distinctive voice.

The programme was inspiring; despite all the talk about You-Know-Who’s new order of the wizarding world, here were people associated with the most wanted wizard in the world, holding on to hope and encouraging their listeners. They had even more reason to be worried than I did, perhaps, and they stayed strong and kept their spirits high. Now it was time for me to be strong as well.

For months now I’d been too scared to do anything, afraid to stand up for myself and for the life I’d built together with Mary. I had stood by helplessly as my wife had been tried simply for being Muggle-born, watched as I’d lost her, panicked as I hadn’t heard from her since. But now I was going to do something about all of it. I just didn’t know where to start.

In the meantime, I made pancakes for the kids. While they ate, I wrote a letter to “Runaway”, hoping our owl was intelligent enough to find Mary. Then I crumpled the letter, as I always did, because I didn’t want to draw attention to a woman who was trying her best not to be found. An owl wouldn’t help.

But if she was in a safe place now, broadcasting on the wireless, maybe she could receive a letter? I smoothed out the parchment again.

Then again, if she were safe enough, she would have contacted me. I tore the letter up and discarded it. There had to be a better way, now that I knew Mary had a wireless and therefore access to communication.

“Daddy, are you going to find Mummy now?” Alfred asked, holding a fork in midair with a bite of pancake on the end that slowly dripped syrup onto the tablecloth.

“Have your own broadcast on the wireless,” suggested Maisie. “You can do it in code, and tell her where we are, so that only she knows what it means!”

But then I knew what to do. It would mean going out on a limb a bit, but I would go back to the Ministry and find Kingsley, and hope that he was in fact the code-named Royal on Potterwatch. Then he would tell me where Mary was, and my finally reunited family would flee to France until the war ended.

So two days later, on Monday morning, I dropped off the kids at my parents’ house and Apparated to the Ministry for the first time in months, wearing my old Magical Maintenance uniform robes. I took the rattly lift to the second floor and strolled into the Auror Office, looking as confident as possible, and asked where Kingsley Shacklebolt was.

“He’s busy,” said a witch sitting at a desk by the door, lazily flicking paper memos at a man across the room from her.

“I’ve, er, been called in to fix the floor in his office,” I invented. “I’m in Magical Maintenance.” My heart was pounding against my rib cage; what if she found out I’d been fired four months ago? I really wasn’t good at thinking on my feet, and it was essential that I do so now.

“He’s never mentioned anything wrong with the floor.”

“He might not have done, it’s only a small problem, but it’s growing a very resilient type of moss that grows about three inches every hour. And it’s poisonous. And slimy. The only thing is, he didn’t mention which cubicle is his – could you direct me?”

The witch frowned. “Other end of the room,” she said, pointing. As I walked away I glanced at her out of the corner of my eye; she was craning her neck to watch me. I probably didn’t have much time, and I started to panic again.

I found his office, and he was sitting at a desk sorting through a pile of papers, conversing with another Auror. They both looked at me expectantly when I walked up. “Hello,” I stuttered. “I’m Reg Cattermole from Magical Maintenance, and I’ve been sent to fix the floor under your desk, with the poisonous moss. I think it’s called, er, Royal slime moss.”

A blip of recognition showed in Kingsley’s eyes, but he was otherwise nonchalant. “Very well,” he said, then turned back to face the other Auror. “Thank you, Robards, I’ll get back to you about this case shortly.” He put a file down on his desk.

Robards nodded, leaning a bit to look under the desk, but Kingsley stretched his legs out at that moment and blocked the view under the desk. So the other Auror walked away, leaving me with Kingsley.

“Cattermole, you said?” Kingsley asked me when we were alone. “I didn’t know you were still around. I thought you had… run away. I would have contacted you sooner about that plant if I’d known.”

So he was Royal. I wasn’t sure what else I could say – I needed to be able to talk freely with him, away from the ears of curious co-workers and possible spies for the other side, so I just nodded. I subtly took out my wand and conjured a plant on the floor, which I then picked up to keep up the appearance of removing poisonous slimy moss.

Kingsley picked up the folder from his desk again. “Thank you very much for removing that moss. You should be hearing from me shortly about its effects on the floor if I discover anything new.”

When I walked past the witch near the door on my way out, I saw her glancing suspiciously back and forth between me and a long sheet of parchment. Maybe she’d worked out that I no longer worked there. So then I went home to ponder that cryptic conversation with Kingsley. I really wasn’t any closer to Mary.

For the next week I was anxious to do something, but still had no further leads. So I passed the time by dismantling the wireless, trying to find a way that I could broadcast my own coded message to Mary. It didn’t yield many results other than small bits of metal and wood all over the floor. I put the wireless back together and tried various charms on it, and I was pretty sure I sent out a message, but I didn’t know if it had reached its target audience, much less worked at all.

But a week later, everything changed in rapid succession. First, the smoky white shape of a lynx rushed into my kitchen and spoke with Kingsley’s voice. “We’re broadcasting tomorrow at the Magical Menagerie at six.”

And not long after that, I even got an owl from the owner of the Magical Menagerie, one of Mary’s old friends from school. She’d written: “I remember you wanted to buy a cat. We’ve got some new cats at the shop, so tomorrow at six would be a great time for you to come and see them.”

Maisie was supposed to head back to Hogwarts tomorrow – and attendance was mandatory now – but I decided she wouldn’t go. By the time anyone found out, we’d be reunited with Mary and far away from England and from the war.

The following day, we Apparated into a deserted Diagon Alley. The doors of many the shops were coated in a layer of cobwebs, and the windows had planks crookedly nailed over them, or else had been smashed in. The few people in the street dashed into Twilfitt and Tattings rather quickly, and I did not hesitate to do the same in the direction of the Magical Menagerie, my hands firmly grasping those of Alfred and Ellie. Maisie opened the door, and a bell jingled weakly.

“Reginald?” asked the woman behind the counter. It was Mary’s friend Carol. “You wanted to buy a cat.”

“Hi, Carol,” I said, then worried it might not be her. After being poisoned by my co-worker a few months ago, I couldn’t be too careful. “It is you, right? What’s your dog’s name?”

“My dog’s name is Max. And honestly, I should be the one asking you, because apparently there was someone mucking about pretending to be you, a few months ago! What is your favourite colour?”

“That’s a trick question, I’m colour-blind,” I said urgently. “Why would someone pretend to be me?”

“I have no idea – that’s just what Mary told me. But it’s you! Come with me!”

I let go of the kids’ hands now that we were inside a safe place; the shop was empty apart from us and Carol. She led us to the back of the shop, behind a curtain into a windowless and dusty room full of boxes, cages, and various animal foods, then kicked up the corner of the threadbare rug to expose a trap door.

I peered down into a dusty crawl space where it looked like I wouldn’t be able to stand up. It was an ideal place for an underground wireless station to broadcast from, subverting the government and boosting the morale of everyone on our side of the war. So I hurried down the ladder, hunching over as I stepped into the dark basement. Four people were shuffling around there, setting up a microphone and gathered around a rectangular box of some kind. All of them looked up at me, and nearest to me, wearing a dark cloak, was Mary.

“Reg!” she cried, throwing herself into my arms and embracing me so tightly I never wanted to let go of her again. I banged my head on the ceiling in the process but I didn’t care at all. Mary let go of me to hug all three of the children together, as she told us, “I’ve been searching for you for ages! I had no way to get in touch with you, so I just decided to help out in the war effort and hoped that we’d find each other if I was out there getting my voice heard – oh, I’m so happy! I’ve been waiting for this day for ages – it’s been terrifying out there. I missed you so much!"

The other three surrounding the microphones were watching us happily, and Carol had tears in her eyes. One of Mary’s fellow Potterwatch broadcasters spoke up and said, “Mary, you’ve been saying since we first found you that you wanted to run away to safety with your family, and now you finally have the chance. So I would understand if you left, because you’re in the most danger as a known Muggle-born. But first, I think you should tell your story on air for your last broadcast – it will inspire people.”

“Thanks, Lee,” said Mary. She turned back to face me. “What do you say? Let’s raise people’s hopes about the war, and then get out. As much as I’ve liked helping others cope, I want to feel safe again.”

So Mary relayed her usual information about You-Know-Who, and then she and I told our story, although obviously omitting any details that would identify us. The kids sat in the circle with us, quietly listening, although Alfred kicked up a good deal of dust with his restless fidgeting on the floor.

And then we were off. Mary briefly hugged her broadcasting partners goodbye, and we ascended the ladder, out of the dark basement and into the light again.

“Hey, I’ll try to get Fred to join us, as a replacement for Mary,” one of the Potterwatch crew said to another as I headed back up the ladder. Their programme would go on without her, but Maisie, Ellie, Alfred, and I no longer had to.

All that reading I’d done months ago about long-distance Apparition would come in handy, after all. So we all held on to one another and I Apparated them to France. “It’ll be all right, Mary,” I said.



***

Author’s Note: Thanks for reading! Tell me what you thought - I would love to hear any comments you have about the story :)

Disclaimer: Harry Potter is owned by J. K. Rowling.





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