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Magpie by Lululuna
Chapter 6 : Secrets and Mysteries
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 2


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Magpie
Chapter Six

 



 Beautiful image by empyreal. at TDA.


The fact of the matter is that it takes me a few days to figure out where I heard the name Christian Haynes before. In the meantime, he and Judah are constantly about the shop: examining products, whispering in Borgin’s ear, and being generally inconsiderate. I drag Sebastian with me one morning to witness the carnage of the back room.

A spillage of pewter dishes and silverware are spread across the large wooden table, and the manuscripts and old newspaper articles which I had been examining the afternoon prior are cast to the side. I drop Sebastian’s hand to gesture around at the mess.

“See what I have to put up? This is incredibly unfair.”

Sebastian isn’t impressed with me. “Really, Ver, this place is a bit of a dump regardless. Sorry, but it’s the truth. Looks to me like the lads have just been trying to make room for the larger items.”

I take a deep breath, asking Merlin for patience. “Just wait until you meet Judah,” I retort, leading Sebastian back into the main part of the shop and tucking my keys inside my purse. Sebastian sits down in an antique rocking chair – against my advice, as the thing is supposedly the sort which would nip nannies if they sat down for a rest during their employment – and, rocking back and forth, tells me about his own work woes at Gringotts.

For the most part, I nod, glancing over a list of tasks for the week, when a name leaves Sebastian’s lips and catches my attention.

“Midas, eh? I met him at the pub the other evening when I was out with Gemma.”

Sebastian smirks. “Did you? He’s the one working with the Weasley boys I told you about – you remember, Percy’s brothers.”

“Yeah.” I smile, heart thudding a little. “I know them too – actually, George walked me home from the pub that night.”

“Lovely,” Sebastian says absently. He pulls a little box out of his pocket. “Can I smoke in here?”

“I suppose,” I grumble. Borgin smokes inside, and he still makes the rules. At least the smell can be quite easily vanquished with a few expert cleaning spells.

Sebastian tugs out a plain-wrapped cigarette and sets it jauntily between his lips. “Ligh-ee?” He mumbles, then plucks the cigarette from his mouth again. “Oh, wait, nevermind. I don’t want my whole face to go up in fire.” He pulls out his own wand and lights the cigarette with its tip, rocking back in the chair and inhaling deeply, then allowing the smoke to trickle through his mouth like a soul leaving a body.

“Thanks,” I grumble, though he has a point. Though I’ve slowly been recovering my ability to do small spells, Sebastian was witness yesterday to my attempt to use magic to put on some soup. He was the one who put out the fire with a well-aimed Aguamenti that Professor Flitwick would have been proud to see. “So, are you and Midas friends?” I fix my eyes on the shrunken head display. One of them has another’s straggy black hair stuck in his mouth.

Sebastian snorts. “Erm, no. Sorry to sound like a complete prick but he’s a bit of a loser, Ver. It’s like everything he touches turns to ash.”

“And everything you touch turns to gold, I suppose?” I say scathingly. “How ironic.”

“Witty,” Sebastian says, taking another inhale. I feel a little sorry for poor Midas, and think to myself that Sebastian himself should know better than to call another person a loser. Midas seemed perfectly nice when I met him with George.

At the thought of George, I feel my face growing a little pink and hasten to conceal it by turning back to my list and dipping my quill into the ink to add straighten back room to the list. We are interrupted by Judah and Haynes shouldering their way into the shop. From beyond the windows, I notice the face of Old Wendy, watching me. Cautiously, I wave at her.

“Hello,” I say politely to the boys. “This is my boyfriend, Sebastian – Seb, this is Judah Borgin and his mate Christian Haynes.”

Judah makes a joke about the rocking chair’s carnivorous ways, and Sebastian laughs. Before long the three boys are engaging in a conversation involving Hogwarts Quidditch and the new magical ale which is rumored to double the speed of intoxication. I roll my eyes, and am straight-out scowling when Sebastian comes to give me a quick embrace goodbye and whispers that “the lads aren’t all that bad, after all.”

I grit my teeth and decide it is going to be a very long day.

The realization comes later that night, when I’m home and going through the other items on my list, namely organize desk. I make a pile of all of the documents I took from Penelope’s and spend a moment gazing at the picture of her and Aaron Holden, the other boy who was friends with Penelope and mysteriously murdered. Murder – the reminder of the word sends a chill down my spine. The connection between her and Aaron remains a mystery.

I flip over the photograph (to the chirped protest of its tiny inhabitants) and look again at the words there. And then I recognize the name. Talk to Christian. Christian Haynes. The three little words of warning which appeared, only for me, in Penelope’s desperately familiar handwriting. The command meant only for me.

Startled, feeling a sudden silence descend around me, a silence of realization which blocks away the noises of the neighbors moving in their flats and the melody of a cavorting drunk outside in the street, I turn the photograph over again. Aaron and Penelope, photograph taken by Christian Haynes. As I watch, Aaron’s arm seems to tighten around Penelope’s waist. Their eyes are full of secrets. Their bodies are both underground.


**



The next morning, I arrive early at the shop, unable to delay any longer. I busy the extra time by fussing around and sweeping the old suits of armor and polishing the Vanishing cabinet. Finally, when the two boys barge in, as usual, I am ready.

“Haynes,” I say evenly, brushing a strand of blond hair away from my eyes. It promptly falls back into place. “Could I have a word? Perhaps outside?”

Judah’s piggy little eyes narrow suspiciously. Without waiting for an answer, I skirt around them and hold the door open for Haynes to follow. He’s cool, calm, his fists shoved into his pockets and his dark hair neatly slicked back, and he smiles politely down at me. A crocodile smile if I ever saw one.

I lean against the glass of the outside of the shop – painfully aware I’m most likely coating my shoulder in dust, and stare at him appraisingly. Over the past few days I’ve been certain that Judah is the enemy – but Christian knew Penelope and never mentioned it. He took a photograph of the two of them, the two dead young people, and Penelope saw the need to write his name on the back. Clever Penelope, who rarely did anything without nuance.

With Christian, I cut straight to the chase. I don’t linger on the idea he might be dangerous, and instead, thrust out the photograph of Penelope and Aaron.

“You took this,” I state, keeping my eyes fixed on his. For a moment I wish I knew Legilimency, then cast the idea aside as entirely absurd. “Tell me how you knew Penelope, Haynes.”

“You can call me Christian,” he says politely, taking the photograph and glancing down at it. His eyes betray no expression, no grief, but I notice his hand twitch and clench a little. Perhaps it is simply my paranoia. “Ah, Penelope. Lovely person. I didn’t know you two were friends.”

“Best friends, actually,” I say coldly. “We were both in Ravenclaw together. She was murdered a little over a month ago. Hadn’t you heard? How did you know her?”

Haynes pats my arm and returns the photograph. “We were in… a club together quite some time ago,” he says, controlled and pleasant. “I’m sure you’d have been quite interested in the club, actually – considering the line of work you’re in, Verity. We were good mates, and I took this photograph in Dublin. The three of us – Aaron and Penny and I – were on a trip for the society.”

I bite my lip. “Penelope never told me about any society. What was it for?”

Haynes smiles and shakes his head. “Foolish, dreamer stuff. We were full of grand old ideas, but then real life caught up. Penelope got quite busy and stopped coming round so much, and I moved away to travel for a bit and that’s where I reconnected with Judah. You know the rest. I was somewhere in Egypt when poor Penny died – it’s truly terrible, I cried when I heard the news. And Aaron… it’s a mad, mad world out there, Verity.”

I raise my eyebrows. “So you’re not concerned at all that two members of your… society, were murdered in a week of each other?”

He sighs. “Look, I got out a long time ago, but some of the other members were caught up in some pretty shady stuff. We were looking for something very precious, very rare, and doubtlessly there are others who were looking for it as well. It’s dangerous, but I already told that bumbling idiot Dawlish all I know.” He pats my arm again, and I can’t help but wish he wouldn’t touch me.

“What was it called?”

“I can’t tell you, I’m afraid. The information is protection via a sort of… Fidelius Charm for the mind, I’m not entirely sure how to explain. Only the senior members of the club could speak more about it.” He runs three thin fingers through his dark hair. “And, frankly, the two I knew the best are dead now.” He sighs. “I’m so sorry for your loss, Verity, and she was a wonderful person. I’m just afraid I can’t speak anything more.”

My head spins, and I settle it firmly. “Who can I talk to, then? Who else might know something about Penelope?” I try not to think of her face, of the warm brown eyes and the dark curtains of hair being wound up in a knot on her head. Now is not the time to miss her.

Haynes thinks for a moment, shifting side to side. Behind his shoulders, I see Old Wendy peeking out from the alleyway again, her tray of wares balanced upon her spindly hands. I resolve to bring her a pastry later when I go for lunch.

Finally: “I’m going to send an owl tonight and ask somebody who might be willing to talk to you,” he says. “I’m sorry, I wish I could help more. If there’s anything I could truly do to bring her back…” A moment of silence. “Look, Judah needs my help with the pewter and things. Are you alright?”

“Yer, thanks,” I mumble. “Thanks, Christian. And you had no clue I knew her when you came here with Judah?”

“Nah. But Merlin, it is bloody ironic,” he says, sounding the most casual and wondering as I have yet heard him, and causing me to think his surprise is the first truly honest thing he’s said all morning.

I do my best attempt at a trusting smile. Haynes inclines his head and walks back into the shop. He pauses, the door open.

“I am really sorry,” he says, quietly, and I stare at the cobblestones for a moment, at the dirt and the tiny weeds poking between them. The door closes behind him, and I clutch the photograph for a moment, staring down at Penelope’s smiling face.

“What were you involved in, Penny?” I whisper. “Who did you upset so dearly that they would punish us all by taking you away?”

The words sound foolish even to myself, so I tuck the photograph carefully away, brush off the dust from my jumper and rejoin Judah and Haynes. I can’t help but miss Borgin and wish we had the shop to ourselves again, hating the way things had to change. Change brought death and misery. Death kept answers out of my reach.

**



That morning, I sit in silence as Judah buys a stuffed phoenix – in my opinion, it’s an eagle with Transfigured feathers – for a very high price. He looks at me, as if to ask for a challenge, and I stare back at him. My project for the day is cleaning an old spinning wheel which has spindly legs like a newborn foal and a needle which the seller promised was drenched in the Draught of Living Death and so would cause the reckless one who touches it to fall into an enchanted slumber. It’s the same concept behind the legend of Sleeping Beauty, and indeed, there is an old wizarding tale which tells of a hag who enchanted a tricked witch to pricking her finger.

Judah comes by to casually taunt me about spending so much time on an old wives’ tale. I retort by encouraging him to prick his own finger and experiment for himself. Like the true Slytherin he is, Judah slithers out of the situation by pretending to attend to an old, wheezing and rather deaf wizard who leaves with several carnivorous books about cannibals. I scowl as Judah deposits the gold and struts about, very proud of himself.

Meanwhile, Christian Haynes stays out of my way.

By lunch, I have had enough of watching Judah fuss over the stuffed phoenix and Haynes avoiding me, so I excuse myself for the day and wander up into Diagon. The pub from a few nights ago looks quite different in the daylight, and as I step inside the faint glow from the windows casts the floating dust-mites into strips of light.

The pub is empty except for two old warlocks toasting one another over pints of dark ale which slosh over the sides of their glasses, and Drey, who is sitting at the bar with her long legs tucked up on the stool next to her and the Daily Prophet extended on the counter. She jumps when she sees me and grins, revealing her lage, perfectly shaped white teeth.

“Wotcher, darling! Come and sit – the place has been bloody dead all morning except for those old codgers.” She inclines her head in the direction of the old drinkers.

The less gnarled of the two shouts out “We ‘eard that!” then turns back to his friend, who is brandishing a large silver ear trumpet.

“How are you?” she asks. “I’m sorry I didn’t get to be more merry with you girls the other night – it was so busy! I guess word got out about the leprecauns and all the crooks and drunks were looking for a chance at the gold.”

“I didn’t even see the leprechauns!” I giggle. “Erm, it was fun. My mate walked me home and Gemma owled me and said she got a date with that Swedish bloke. So I suppose it was success all around.”

Drey eyes me carefully. She has the sort of honest face, with her light sprinkling of freckles and her smooth dark hair, which makes me want to spill all my secrets.

“We will discuss that,” she decides, “but first I need to know what’s wrong. You look like you’re fit to burst, as my mum would say.”

I bite my lip, and then find the entire story pouring out. Penelope and Sebastian, Aaron Holden and Christian Haynes, the photograph and the mysterious society. Drey listens carefully, tracing careful patterns in the wet circle left by the drink she fetches me with a lazy wave of her wand.

“…and I just don’t know where to go from here,” I finish. “I mean, the Ministry already questioned Haynes, there couldn’t be anything going on with that. But… Penelope… I just can’t think who would do something like that. I’m sorry, I’ve blabbered on.”

Drey puts a warm hand on my back and rubs a comforting circle beneath my neck. It’s such a maternal gesture that I can’t help but relax a little. “Never be sorry,” she tells me, her eyes bright. She wipes at them with her other hand. “Oh, dear, it’s just so unfair someone as lovely as you has gone through so much.”

“Th-thanks for listening,” I say, sniffling a little. Behind Drey’s back the old patrons are calling for dessert. Drey smiles apologetically and rubs my back gently and slides off the stool, lithe as a cat. I think how she’s the sort of warm, reassuring person who is both effortlessly confident yet exceedingly perceptive. If I didn’t like her so much, I’d be jealous of her.

Drey’s brief dip into the pub kitchens to fetch some ice cream for the wizards gives me the chance to collect my thoughts. When she returns, I’m ready, and ask her to tell me about herself.

She frowns. “Really, Verity, I’m a little concerned about you right now.”

“No, no, I like hearing other people’s stories. I’d usually prefer them to talking about myself, frankly,” I say, smiling at her. “Please. It will help distract me.”

So Drey Pickens launches into her story. I already knew she was a couple years older, but hadn’t figured out she dropped out of Hogwarts before sitting her N.E.W.Ts due to her mother being ill. Her mother recovered, slowly, but Drey, having spent so many desperate months seated by her mother’s bed in St. Mungo’s and scraping together the money to keep the house running and keep herself clothed and fed proved to be quite taxing. Feeling that she couldn’t simply return to Hogwarts as if the last year and a half had not happened, she got a job working as a clerk at Gringotts.

“Honestly, I couldn’t deal with the goblins. They’re so rude, and they hate humans,” she laughs. “There was this girl who came in the other day for a cocktail, and she was complaining about how rude they are – she was French and hilarious. And I told her it would only get worse and said ‘don’t say I didn’t warn you.’ But it’s not only that, a lot of the Ministry workers and the wizard bankers are quite rude and they looked down on me a lot for not having N.E.W.Ts. It’s sort of taboo these days, particularly in the Ministry, which is ridiculous. Just because people don’t slave over nasty exams and waste months of their lives – and then forget the whole lot anyway! – doesn’t mean they’re not intelligent.”

I agreed. Borgin and my father had both left school early to open the shop. George and Fred Weasley had cut and run, and they were brilliant from what I knew.

So Drey had quit at the bank, yelled at the Head Goblin and come to work at the pub. She was in that odd state of having enough gold to pay her bills but not enough to do something spectacular and unusual, and while she was quite happy for the moment she was quite sure that cleaning up after scurvy wizards with wandering eyes wouldn’t do forever.

“So that’s me,” Drey said with a grin and a flourish. She flicked a speck of fluff off her tights. “But oh, guess what happened after you left the other night? I was right angry.”

After I had run off with George to escape Percy’s fury over being saddled with the tab of his younger brothers and their friends – who had been drinking for the better part of the night – Drey had been forced to negotiate the entire situation. She had caught Fred by the scruff of the next as he and Lee and Midas were chuckling over their trickety in the men’s toilets and been extremely upset when he found a way to plunge the entire pub into darkness for a few minutes and make his escape.

So the bill had fallen to Percy, who, red-faced and filled with a sense of indignation and justice, had insisted Drey trace his brother’s tracks and finish the business.

“I told him I wasn’t an Auror, or a detective for that matter,” Drey snickers. “He’s the most awful prat, really, I don’t blame the boys at all for playing a joke though I am rather peeved that I was the one who had to settle the whole mess.”

“So what happened? Did you track down Fred?”

Drey snorts. “No chance! That Percy bloke paid up at the end of the night and grumbled about it, to me and to his Ministry mates. Regular Eeyore, that one. But guess what?”

I giggle at her. “What? I can’t stand the suspense.”

“He left me a huge tip and his owl information on a coaster.”

“No!” I clap a hand to my mouth. “Did you owl him? What did he say?”

“That he was sincerely sorry his brothers had made my night more arduous and would like to make it up to me,” Drey says. She waggles her eyebrows at me. “Smooth Ministry blokes, eh?”

I try very hard to hold in the laughter but can’t help it. The whole scene: Percy’s fury, Fred’s glee, Drey’s rising irritation… it’s too much. “I am truly sorry I missed all of this,” I inform her. “Are you going to go out with him, then, after all that?”

“No way, not in the name of Merlin’s florescent panties,” Drey scoffs. “I incinerated the note that night. He’s both too smooth and too clumsy for me. Boys like that are always trouble.” But I notice her cheeks have a faint, pink tinge.

“Perce. Who would have known?” I wonder aloud. “It took him ages to ask Penelope out at Hogwarts. I swear he nearly had an aneurism when he finally plucked up the courage to ask her to Hogsmeade in fourth year.”

Drey frowns. “You mean… your friend, Penelope? They dated? Whoa, now I’m really pleased I didn’t owl him now.”

“Oh, they dated a long time ago,” I reassure her. “Don’t feel bad, please. Besides, it’s not as if you did anything.”

Drey seems calmed by this, and the chatter moves to how I can persuade Judah to sit on the fanged milkmaid stool next time we’re both in the shop. I tell Drey about my plans with George for the following night, though I don’t explain just what he wants to prove to me – that the mythical You-Know-Who is indeed back as some mad people have been saying. I don’t want Drey to think I’m mad as well, but as I tell her about the “platonic plans” I can’t help but feel quite excited myself. In the fun of chattering, I nearly forget about Christian Haynes and his promise to owl somebody who might be able to tell me more.

Drey sends me off with some biscuits from the kitchens and a promise to meet later that week and discuss how things went with George. She accompanies this by a cheeky wink.

**



At seven o’clock sharp on Monday, I take a deep breath, smooth my hands over my leggings, and knock sharply on the door to the blooming entrance of Weasley’s Wizarding Wheezes. Three owls are perched on top of the shop, and while the windows are still boarded up the outside has received a fresh coat of bright purple paint, making it glow brightly in the dreary dusk against the other shops. Outside Fortescue’s Ice Cream Parlour, the owner turns the sign from opened to closed and flicks his wand at the windows, causing the blinds to fall down with a clatter. He waves cheerfully to me, and I call out for him to have a good night. His whistle travels on the breeze.

As I turn back to the door, it swings open, revealing both George and Fred beaming down at me in matching jumpers which look hand-knit.

“You two are a little frightening when you greet me with the exact same facial expression,” I inform them, grinning up at the one bearing the jumper with a large knit G on its front.

“I suppose we do look rather alike-” Fred begins.

“-though I am significantly better looking,” George finishes, grinning wickedly. “You alright, Verity? Not frightened about our plans or anything?”

“Frightened, me? I might not be a Gryffindor but I sure know better than to be spooked by a bluffing ginger,” I retort, giggling. “Where are we off to? You-Know-Who’s old lair where he’s been hiding out all these years? Possibly the CIA headquarters where they’ve been tracking him with a camera?” They both look confused at this, having not much contact with the Muggle world. I can’t help but chortle about it to myself regardless.

“The lady doth joke too much,” Fred says with mock solemnity. “Really, Verity, You-Know-Who especially loves to slay people while they’re laughing.” He waggles his eyebrows at me knowingly.

“I’m sure you’d know, you lot were only around two when he died,” I say. “But very well, let George have his fun.”

“I’m breaking several rules for you tonight,” George says. He smiles down at me, a little shyness spreading through his confident exterior. “You’d best appreciate them. We’re going on an adventure.”

“At great personal peril of the mother variety,” Fred cuts in. He claps his twin on the shoulder. “You’ve got the cloak?”

“Picked it up from Tonks’ place this morning, Freddie,” George affirms. “You going to be alright with the shop for the night?”

I take the chance to look behind them, and am impressed with the progress the interior of the shop has achieved since the last time I visited. It’s full of boxes and sheets and bright things which dangle from the ceiling and shine a little in the evening as the darkness of the spring night descends. I am struck with how brilliant the place will look when all is complete, and find myself hoping dearly for the twins that Sebastian is wrong and Midas has their finances well in hand. The air smells of fresh packing materials, like sawdust and Styrofoam, or whatever the wizarding equivalent is.

“-speak if something goes wrong, which it won’t,” George finishes. He dimples down at me. “You all set?”

“Bring it,” I retort. George slings a rucksack casually over one shoulder and then holds out his arm to me, as poised like a flamboyant courtier offering his arm to a lady at an exotic court. I take it, and feel the insides of my body clench and the skin contract as if being shoved through a tube, maintaining the pressure on George’s arm.

I recognize where we are immediately. A couple passing Muggles peek out from under their umbrellas at us, but most pass by without glancing up. George positions his rucksack so it’s over my head and protecting me from the rain as we scoot beneath an awning. We’re in Whitehall: I can see the top of Big Ben poking out against the gray sky.

“We’re going to the Ministry?” I say loudly. The last time I was here was when that useless oaf Dawlish was interrogating me about Penelope. It’s hardly a friendly place for a platonic date.

“Come on,” George says in my ear, and we move along towards the red, characteristically British telephone booths which border the entrance. George holds the door open for me and steps in behind me, our bodies pressed closely together as he maneuvers a phone off the handle. Not bothering to try and pretend that the situation isn’t rather intimate, I lean my head against his chest so he can see the dials.

George signs us in (George Weasley and Verity Burke, after-hours guard duty) and, as the booth plunges us down into darkness, I hear the zip of his rucksack and feel a soft material brush against my cheek. As we step out of the booth onto the Ministry floor, my boots clicking sharply, I realize George is holding a silvery cloak, large enough to cover both of us, over our heads.

“Come along, we’ve got to keep quiet,” he whispers in my ear, and puts an arm around my waist. “To ensure we both stay under the cloak,” he explains, the corner of his mouth twitching. I decide to say nothing and enjoy the feeling of his closeness as we move through the atrium and past the grand fountain with its golden statues. It is after-hours, though we pass a whistling, rather shabby-looking maintenance wizard with a mop and bucket dancing along behind him. He doesn’t look in our direction.

“Invisibility cloak, I suppose,” I tell George. “Very clever.” We step into a lift.

When the cool female voice of the lift announces we have reached Level Nine, Department of Mysteries, George extends his wand out in front of him, slipping out from beneath the cloak.

“You just need to stay hidden for a few minutes,” he whispers, lighting his wand with a quickly whispered spell. “Just keep behind me, yeah?” He winks at me, or where he must realize I am from beneath the Invisibility cloak.

We move down the hallway, turning left. There’s an entrenching air of stillness, and as we reach a round door set into the tiled walls George pauses and waits. After a moment, a man materializes from the darkness – a tiny, hunched man with sly eyes and crooked hands and a suspicious look like a cornered animal. I recognize him immediately; he’s a frequent peddler at Borgin & Burke’s and as devious as crooks come.

“Evenin,’ Dung,” George says cheerfully. He points his wand at Mundungus. “First sweet I ever gave to you?”

“Puking Pasty-whatever the bloody thing was,” Mundungus mutters, clearly still smarting. He points his wand at George. “The name of the man your great-aunt was meant ter marry.”

“Oh, I’m stumped, was it you?” George drawls. Mundungus’ eyes narrow suspiciously. “Nah, only having a go at you! Old Garrick Ollivander, wasn’t it – dodged a curse, if you ask me-”

“I really didn’, Mundungus mutters something to himself. “Last of ‘em left ‘bout an ‘our ago. Place is quiet as the grave.” He tosses something to George. “’ere ye go, boy, but don’ expect me ter cover fer ye when yer mum finds out what ye’ve done.”

“I appreciate the sentiment, Dung,” George chimes after him. Mundungus grunts and disappears down the hall, his footsteps those of a light-footed cat burglar. George waits until the sound of the lift closing and then throws out his arms wide. “Oh, Verity! Come out, come out, wherever you are.” He pauses. “Merlin, that sounded creepy. But the coast is clear now.” His eyes stare directly at me.

I slip the invisibility cloak off my head, so I look like a bodiless face in the air of the Department of Mysteries. “Oi, how did you know where to look? Some invisibility cloak this old rag is.”

George huffs, acting wounded. “I will have you know it’s a Weasley product. The Or-erm, Dung’s left me the one he was using, that one’s only being tried out.” He offers the other cloak up to me. “This belongs to Mad-Eye Moody himself.”

“The Auror?” I touch the silky folds, impressed. “Did you know, Borgin swears Moody got his artificial eye at our shop. Said there used to be quite a trade for that sort of thing, and Moody paid top Galleon for the best of the best. Said he could see through walls and the like.” I glance at him. “Did you have him as a professor last year?”

“Affirmative, but that wasn’t old Moody,” George says. He slides down the wall and sits, extending his lanky legs in front of him, and pats the tiles next to him. I shrug and sit down as well. “It was an imposter – a Death Eater, in fact, the one who helped get You-Know-Who…”

George pulls out a package of crackers from his rucksack and proceeds to tell me a grisly and rather unbelievable tale of the sons of highly placed Ministry officials being resurrected from Azkaban, impersonating Britain’s toughest Auror, and transporting the famous boy Harry Potter to a graveyard where You-Know-Who was resurrected and celebrated by killing a very good-looking boy from the year below named Cedric Diggory.

“The Prophet said Cedric was killed by a monster in the maze,” I retort, taking a bit of a cracker and hoping the crumbs won’t get stuck between my teeth. Hopefully, my tone makes it very clear I’m far more inclined to believe the paper than George’s fanciful tall-tales. “Besides, are you going to tell me what we’re doing, squatting on the Ministry floor and making it look like we have no knees?”

The two cloaks are draped over our legs, indeed giving the impression we are lacking certain body parts.

“Well, we’re on guard duty,” George says. “Though there hasn’t been a sighting or problem in months so I figured it would be pretty safe. Fred and I have been coming to cover for some mates.”

“What are we guarding, then?”

George gestures towards the door at the end of the hallway, snatching a cracker from my hand and stuffing it into his own mouth. “Wha’er that ish,” he mumbles through the cracker. I mock roll my eyes.

“Alright. And you’re hoping to prove to me that You-Know-Who is back by guarding a door which you don’t know anything about, and against… Him, I suppose?”

“Well, yeah,” George says a little uncertainly. “You’re a lot more interesting than Freddie boy.” He launches into a story about Fred sneaking off to try out products on the security trolls which the Aurors have allegedly been training during the graveyard shifts.

I giggle, and we launch into a cheerful discussion about Fred and the shop and Borgin. I rail against Judah for a bit, and casually drop the name Christian Haynes to see if George knows anything about the mysterious boy. George tells me about a trick he’s planning to try out on their friend Lee, which involves feeding him a potion in his sleep to make him think he’s wet the bed, and soon we’re both chuckling at the absurdity of the idea and how rather cruel it is. We wash the crackers down with some sips of pumpkin juice George has brought in a flask, and I tell him he would have made a jolly good Boy Scout.

“So is this where you bring all the girls on first dates?” I ask, the words slipping out before I can stop myself. My cheeks turn pink.

“Well, I don’t usually go on dates with girls who have boyfriends,” George says, smirking at me. “I mean, if this were a date, there would be chocolate… and, and fireworks which make the Muggles in London think there’s an alien invasion. And… well, what else do you girls like?”

“Well, I’m rather partial to wine,” I inform him, shifting a little as my bum has grown a little numb from sitting in the same position. “Wine and chocolate and fireworks… throw in a few antique objects to examine and perhaps a puppy or two to play with – sounds like a spectacular time.”

“Maybe next time, once you cave in and believe me about this whole You-Know-Who thing,” George says softly, turning his face towards me. I blush, and look down at my hands, which are coiling uselessly in my lap. My head is leaning against the wall, and if he were to reach out a little he could touch his lips to my cheek so easily, so softly.

Unable to stop myself, truly this time, I turn my head ever so gently towards him. The air is electrified and tense, and I feel my heart thudding in my throat. We sit there for a moment, lips an inch apart, eyes traversing the other’s face in a way that is both awkwardly intimate and intimately lovely.

He opens his mouth, as if to apologize, to pull away, but without thinking I tip forward and brush my lips against his softly, gently, feeling each crease and gentleness, and the rest of my body is frozen. And as he, George, wonderful, kind, funny George, starts to kiss me back, there is a clanging of the lift and three strange voices fill the corridor.

George and I leap apart as if burned, in a tangle of cracker package and rucksack and cloaks and legs. I help him toss the cloak over his shoulders and am turning to deal with mine, the one from the shop, when the voices round the corner.

A spell flies out and my wand flies from my hand. As a second spell hits me, I find my legs locking to the floor and my hands sticking to my side, frozen in my standing position.

I hear a whispered swear word and try to shoot a glare in its direction. “Stay hidden,” I assure him, chewing on my lip as the three figures come closer. My heart sinks as I recognize one: my very favorite Auror, in fact. “It’s fine.”

I try to clear my throat, but the breath freezes in my mouth.

 






AN: So, Christian is sketchy, George is reckless, and Verity is in a lot of trouble and not just with the Ministry. Thanks for reading! :D I don’t own the ancient Greek story of King Midas, or the story of Sleeping Beauty, which is credited to Charles Perrault.


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