Chapter 14 : Chapter 14: The Hunt Begins
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Over the next few weeks, Harry, Ron, Hermione, and Luna practiced constantly in their Animagus training. Over those long hours in the Room of Requirement, Harry had managed to change his arms into the much shorter ones of a black wolf, and Ron had succeeded in comically giving himself animal’s head.
Hermione, to much personal distress, had so far been unable to change any of her body at all, except for growing a light coat of fur all over her body, which left her hiding in a bathroom until Sarah put her right. Ron and Harry seemed to find this more significant and amusing than anyone else, but warned the other four not to laugh too openly for whatever reason.
Luna, however, had now completely transformed into a white-blond wolf twice, resulting in Ron nearly having a heart attack when she surprised him as he entered the Room of Requirement one day. Michael was surprised – he had pegged Harry as the quickest to reach total transformation first. But Luna seemed to find the abstract concepts of human-animal self Transfiguration easily graspable and as a result, could now prowl with Michael and the others at will.
“I'm still not getting it!” Hermione cried exasperatedly during a practice session in the Room. Luna had just morphed back to human form for the third time, after a race with Michael around the room, during which the others cheered loudly for one or the other.
“It takes time,” Michael said patiently. “It took me a while too, and you guys have only been at it for three weeks. Just keep working at it.”
“I have been working at it” she said resentfully. “It doesn’t work right for me, maybe I'm doing it wrong.” Michael had been warned by Ron after a particularly explosive evening with Hermione that she did not handle failure well in even this vaguely academic setting.
“Listen, what you’ve got to understand, is that this isn’t normal for an Animagus,” he told her. “Most Wizards just become the animal that fits closest to their personality, or one they like. You aren’t anything like a wolf, Hermione. Or you're at least less than the rest of us, so it’s going to be harder for you. It’s just something you'll have to get past, if you want. I mean, there’s no reason you have to become a wolf if you don't want to.”
“See, Hermione,” said Ron from the side of the room where he and Harry were working, “you just have to be more vicious, come on!” With that he reared back his head, which became elongated into that of a burgundy wolf, and let out an earsplitting howl.
“Maybe she should spend more time talking to you Ron,” Luna suggested mildly. “That always seems to make her mad.”
“No thank you, Luna,” Hermione said testily, “I'd rather throw myself at the mercy of the Death Eaters than spend more time talking to him!” she said, pointing a finger at Ron.
"What’s that supposed to mean?” Ron asked angrily.
Before Hermione could answer however, Michael held up one hand to quiet her and patted his pocket with his other hand. Looking surprised, he plunged his hand into his pocket and extracted the small stone disc. He looked at the side of the stone. The letters spelling out the name “Cassandra Sleigh” rotated around the side of the disc, illuminated in bright orange, almost fiery, writing. Michael tapped the disc with his wand.
A woman appeared in a small flickering form, but Michael turned away so no one could see and spoke quietly. He could hear the others speaking behind him even while he tried to pay attention to what
“What’s he doing?” Harry asked Jeff and Sarah, who had been dueling, but stopped to watch Michael curiously.
“It’s a Morgana Disc,” Jeff said, pulling out his own. “Or MD for short. Named for the creator of the spell, STRIKE agent back in the eighties. They work similarly to a Protean Charm,” he said to Hermione, who nodded, “but allow for face to face communication. I’d love to get you four some, but well…we’re kind of trying to stay as far away from STRIKE as possible at the moment.
“Because of me,” Luna said to the others quietly, so that the woman Michael spoke to couldn’t hear her. “Michael thinks STRIKE may try to kill him if they find out we’re friends. I hope they don't – I don't want to have to fight the people my mum worked with.”
Jeff and Sarah shared a serious look.
“STRIKE won't kill him,” Sarah said to Luna after a moment. “I…we have friends there. They wouldn’t try to kill us.”
“I hope not.”
“Are you sure?” Michael was saying sharply, “Completely sure? Well, which one is it?”
Everyone behind him shared a look of shock and anticipation. Ron looked like he might be sick, and he asked, “Is he saying what I think he’s saying? Have your people found one of the Slytherin Seven?”
“Not that I heard about,” Sarah said, checking her MD as well. “I guess they just tried to contact Michael, he is in charge….”
Michael spoke in a rush, almost finished with his call, “Okay, I’ll check it out… right, talk to you later.” He tapped the disc again, vanishing the woman, and turned back to his friends, looking grave despite his best attempt at casualness.
“What’s going on?” Harry asked immediately. “Have you found one of the Seven?”
“Yes, Cassandra from Intelligence certainly thinks so,” he said, “and her information is usually good, so this is probably the real deal.”
“Which one is it?” Ron asked, obviously trying to look calm. “And where?”
“It’s the Ring,” he said nodding at Ron. Ron let out a deep breath. “And as for the location, it’s believed to be on an island in the Caribbean, on the island of St. Lucia. It’s about two hundred and thirty miles, Cassandra says. And… I think about a hundred and sixty thousand people. I leave tomorrow.” He tried very hard to add in the last statement as if it was nothing, but all six of his friends were too sharp to be fooled.
Luna eyed him innocently, “Don’t you mean we leave tomorrow?”
“No, I'm going this alone…not because it’s dangerous!” he added quickly. “Because I can handle it alone, there’s no need for you all to leave school!”
“What about Jeff and Sarah?” Hermione asked, gesturing at the irritated faces of the other two STRIKE agents. “They can leave, why they aren’t going? You’re hiding something.”
“It’s easy to read you,” Luna said quietly. “What aren’t you telling us?”
He looked at them all steadily, into Harry and Hermione’s suspicious faces, Ron’s nervous one, into Jeff and Sarah’s looks of annoyance, and Luna’s plain curiosity.
“Fine, you deserve to know what’s really going on here. You all know that Voldemort’s after the Seven too?” They all nodded, having explained it all to Luna weeks ago. “Well, the word is he’s hired a new agent to hunt them for him.”
“A new Death Eater?” Harry asked.
“No, not from what I've heard. This Wizard is working for profit, and he hasn’t got a Dark Mark, as far as we know.”
“So he’s a mercenary,” Jeff said, pulling out his wand. “Voldemort’s already that desperate, huh? No problem, what can one idiot do against the seven of us?” he asked proudly.
“Too much” Michael said shortly. “No one’s seen his face or knows his a name, but he’s already personally responsible for the deaths of ten different STRIKE agents. So far.”
“Ten agents?” Sarah repeated, her face contorted with disgust. “That’s – that’s impossible. Only Voldemort could….”
Michael shook his head. “I don’t know how this guy is so powerful, but Cassandra thinks that there’s a good chance he’s gotten wind of the Ring’s location too…so I'm going myself, posing as a tourist.”
“Michael, if this was able to take ten of us down…” Jeff began, but he cut across him.
“Then it’s better he only has one more target, instead of seven. Don’t worry about me, I can handle this…” he finished bravely, with a blatantly fake smile. No one returned it, they were too busy staring at him coldly.
Finally, Ron spoke. “If we’re not going to help you find the Seven, what have we been training for?” he asked angrily.
“To be able to protect yourselves!” Michael said loudly, exploding so suddenly it surprised even himself. “I only wanted Jeff and Sarah to help find the Seven, and not with this! This is too much, even I'm in over my head!” He threw his hands up, both angry and a little scared. “But this has to be done, and I'm not going to let this maniac kill my friends! Luna, I just got you back, you think I'm going to risk losing you?” He shook his head and glared down at his feet. No one said anything for a moment.
Then Harry took a step towards him. “Who the hell do you think you are, anyway?” he demanded angrily. Michael raised his eyebrows and met Harry’s fierce look with a coldly surprised one. Neither Wizard made any move to back down. “Where do you get off, acting so superior?” Harry went on, taking another aggressive step towards Michael.
Michael's hand scratched at his right pant leg, brushing up against the wand in his pocket. “I'm trained for this, Harry,” Michael said, trying hard not to let too much anger take his voice. “I'm in charge of the main military branch of STRIKE. I've been an Auror. I'm a soldier Harry. You're not. None of you are, except Jeff and Sarah.”
“That's impressive,” Harry said, a Snape-like sneer curling across his face, “except it hasn’t helped you handle Voldemort any better than I have! So what if you're ‘trained’ to fight him? I'm not, and I've been just as successful as you! What does that say?”
“That we’ve both been lucky,” Michael muttered, shaking his head. “You should know, Harry, that fighting Voldemort and his Death Eaters isn’t just learning spells and tactics and plans. There's more to it.”
“I know –”
“You have to be ready to kill,” Michael said bluntly, looking anywhere except at Luna. “If any of you come with me, it means you're accepting the chance – however small – that you may have to take another person’s life. And you want me to be the one who drags you to that decision? That's what you all want to put on me? It’s not one you can just come back from.”
“You're not my boss and you're not my mother,” Ron said defiantly, moving to back Harry up with both speech and physical displays.
“No,” Michael snapped back. “But I don't want to have a hand in changing your life like this because I'm your friend!”
“Michael,” Luna said softly, walking over to him and placing a hand on his shoulder. She lifted his chin with a finger and looked directly into his eyes. “Michael, we all feel the same way about you. I feel the same way. We can't let you do this alone, you said that you didn’t want us to die, right? Well, I know the worry would kill me. Please, let us do this. I care about you very much, I don't want you to be hurt.”
“Luna…I just don't want you to have to hurt people,” Michael muttered to the side of her face. “It’s not in your nature.”
“There's a difference between looking to fight because you want to hurt people and doing it to protect yourself, or others, or an idea,” Luna said, much more seriously than Michael expected. “We all have to play a role in this war, there's no avoiding it. That’s not your fault – it’s his.”
He stared at her for a long time. Then he glanced around at all the others, who were watching them, looking slightly uncomfortable at Luna’s pronouncement. Harry and Ron had relaxed slightly and were no longer staring death at the pair of them.
“You all feel the same?” he asked his friends. “You really want to go with me to do this? Even knowing what could be waiting for us?”
“Come on, Michael!” Jeff said. “When have any of us, especially you, ever cared about what could happen? Let’s say in a worst case scenario, we do end up in a fight with this guy. So what? We’ve taken scum like this before!”
“Whatever it is we’re heading into, I've probably faced worse,” Harry said, unable to keep a little snark from his voice.
“And you need me” Ron reminded him. “You can't destroy it if I'm not there with you when we find it.”
“So it’s settled then,” Sarah said happily, “We’re all taking a vacation to the Caribbean! This is going to be great, I haven't been to the beach in too long!”
Michael couldn’t help but smile. “All right, we’ll do it together” he told them, “but Dumbledore’ll have to clear it for you four,” he said to Harry, Ron, Hermione, and Luna.
“Don’t worry about Dumbledore,” Harry said confidently, “leave him to me.”
“Harry’s his favorite,” Ron told Michael, “He wouldn’t tell him no to anything. Come to think of it, he probably wouldn’t say no to you either!”
“Speaking of you and Dumbledore,” Hermione said as they exited the Room, “What ever happened to Professor Snape?”
Michael growled angrily. Snape had still not been freed, though Dumbledore was putting his best efforts into it. His trial date was set for two months in the future, which meant that if Scrimgeour got his way, Snape would spend at least three months in Azkaban, even if he was found innocent.
“Dumbledore’s working on it,” he told them crossly. “And I'm not to interfere.”
“Interfere?” Ron repeated. “What do you mean?”
He explained to them how Scrimgeour had destroyed his statement, and how he had agreed not to do anything to anger the Minister. He finished his tale right as they slid into their usual places at the Gryffindor table: Hermione, Harry, and Sarah on one side with Ron, Jeff, Michael, and Luna on the other.
Following dinner, Harry set off for the Headmaster’s office to acquire Dumbledore’s permission. The five Gryffindors said goodbye to Luna and headed for their common room, finding it pleasantly quiet. Michael explained that they would take a Portkey directly onto a cruise ship which was bound for St. Lucia.
“A Muggle cruise boat, huh?” Ron had asked, looking at Hermione, clearly trying to decide whether or not he would like it.
“Nope,” Michael corrected him. “Wizarding. Only one in the world, actually, so enjoy full use of magic while we’re onboard.”
“I didn’t even know Wizards had ships like that,” Ron said.
“Sarah did,” Jeff said under his breath.
“I'm not that rich!” Sarah said defensively, crossing her arms.
“Oh no, you just take a trip on the only Wizarding cruise line once a year because you get discount coupons from Butterbeer bottles.”
“Anyway,” Michael said over his friends’ chatter, “yes, it’s the only one. There’s not that many Wizards in the world, but the one ship always fills up. It goes all around the world; lucky for us it’s making a stop in the Caribbean.”
Most of the tourists to the island came from a boat, and it would help their cover to appear as normal as possible, in case they were being watched. Much to Sarah’s displeasure, Michael informed them that as they had no idea how close the unknown mercenary was to finding the Ring, there was no time to actually take the boat from port to port.
Harry joined them about half an hour after dinner, looking grim and angry. He threw himself into one of the armchairs and addressed Ron and Hermione.
“We’ve got a problem,” he sighed. “Dumbledore said that the only way the three of us could go is if we got our parents’ permission. Luna doesn’t need to because she’s of age, but we have to get these signed,” he said, handing them each a sheet of paper.
Hermione read it quickly, then sat back, eyes closed, trying to decide how best to convince her parents to allow her to go. Ron however, looked miserable.
“There’s no way my parents will sign this,” he said dejectedly, “Mum would go crazy if she knew what we were doing! Dumbledore knows, he doesn’t want us to go.”
“Yeah, and this probably sounds like a vacation to the Durselys” Harry moaned. “They would never let me go if they think this is going to be fun. Maybe you can talk to him, Michael?”
Michael shook his head immediately. Dumbledore was friendly personally and professionally, but he knew the headmaster would have serious issue with taking his three favorite students – one of whom supposedly held the key to defeating Voldemort – off on a dangerous search in the Caribbean.
“Well, there is one thing…” Jeff said, glancing at Michael. “But it means lying to Dumbledore, and I suppose technically everyone else.”
“Doubles?” Michael asked, raising an eyebrow. He hadn’t thought of that, Dumbledore seemed too knowing. But he was pretty good at deception himself…. “Who would do it?”
“There are plenty of agents who would love a break from field work,” Jeff told him, glad he had caught on. “I bet we could get a couple of guys and a girl to do it.”
“Do what?” Ron asked suspiciously.
“I didn’t give you this idea,” Jeff said, looking at him sharply, “but it could be arranged for just me, Michael, Luna, and Sarah to leave…as far as Dumbledore would know, that is.”
“Go on,” Harry said eagerly.
“Well, we’d get a few hairs from each of you, and we’d, I don’t know, give them to three STRIKE agents, and maybe they come and stay at Hogwarts for a while,” Jeff said airily.
“Sounds great,” Harry said, grinning. “When can we do this?”
“I’ll contact them tonight,” Michael said, chuckling as Ron actually grabbed his own hair and yanked some out, eyes watering. “We’ll meet them somewhere and you can switch places. We can be on the ship by the afternoon,” he said, finally able to sound excited. “As long as everyone’s okay with that,” he added to Hermione.
“Well, I don’t like lying to Professor Dumbledore,” she said, to pleading looks on Harry and Ron’s faces. “But what would you do without me?”
“Lose a lot of fights?” Luna suggested.
“So you’re going?” Ron asked, ignoring Luna.
“Yes, I suppose so,” she said with a sigh.
“Don’t sound so excited, Hermione,” Sarah said sarcastically. “This is a mission we’re on, as Michael has been so kind as to point out eighty-three times in the last hour. No fun for us.”
The others went up to their dorms, but Michael stayed awake for another hour, calling contacts and favors. After finally arranging the details for their escape tomorrow, he went to bed too.
Michael slept surprisingly easily that night, and woke up feeling energized and a little nervous. They packed their trunks and magically sent them to the location Michael told them. They hurried down to the Great Hall, but not to breakfast. Instead, they turned down a deserted corridor, away from everyone else in the school. They met Luna outside their destination, the bathrooms. She like the others, was dressed in Muggle clothing: khaki shorts and a plain white tank top, along with a necklace of corks. Michael hadn’t seen her in anything but school robes. She looked nice.
She and Michael smiled at each other. Feeling his face get a little warm, Michael hastily looked around at Harry, Ron, and Hermione, but Luna didn’t waver. “You smell nice,” she said pleasantly. Jeff stifled a snort with his mouth closed.
“Thanks,” Michael said, punching Jeff in the upper arm. “I like your necklace.”
“Butterbeer corks,” she said, beaming.
“Ready to go?” Sarah asked.
“Almost,” Michael replied, “Just got to get these three into character.” With that he, Jeff, Ron, and Harry entered the boys’ bathroom, Hermione and Sarah the other. Luna put her hands behind her back and swayed back and forth, humming happily.
“You guys in here?” Michael called around the apparently vacant room.
“Here,” a voice answered gruffly.
With a flourish, two men pulled off the invisibility cloak they had been under and stopped forward to greet them. One of them shook hands with Michael and Jeff first, then with Harry and Ron. One man was bulky and powerfully built, looking interested at this newest assignment. The other man resembled Jeff, but with a more lanky frame, though a cleverer, slightly more arrogant, face.
“Lock the door,” the second man said sharply to Harry. Harry looked taken aback by the command, but drew out his wand and did what he was told. Jeff glared at him, but said nothing.
“Thanks for doing this,” Michael told them, holding out a strand of black and a strand of red hair. He put each in a different fist behind his back, then held his clenched fists out to them. “Pick one,” he said.
The larger man tapped his right hand, and Michael held out the black hair to him. “Well, Kevin, looks like you get to be Harry Potter for a while. This should be…different.” He laughed to himself and shook his head at the ground.
“So I'm Ron Weasley then,” the other man said indifferently, “Any major enemies to watch out for?” he added to Ron, who shook his head. “Too bad, I was looking forward to a fight.”
“You four can go ahead and go,” Kevin told them, “Me and Jace already have the potion mixed, we just need to add the hairs…oh, and here’s the Portkey,” he added, handing Michael a Muggle playing card.
“Alright, and thanks again,” Michael said, turning to leave.
“Good seeing you Kevin,” Jeff said pointedly. “Take care of yourself.” He too started to leave, but the other man called after him.
“What Jeff? Nothing to say to your own brother? Think you’re too cool now that you’ve got a secret mission?”
“Fuck off, Jace” Jeff said curtly. “I don’t have time for your shit right now.”
“Whatever you say, man,” Jace chuckled scornfully. “Have fun on your vacation, I’ll be here, like always, left to clean up your mess.”
Jeff made to shout back at him, but Michael pulled him out the door. “He’s not worth it,” he said quietly. “If you two end up fighting, it will draw all kinds of attention we don’t need!”
“You're one to talk –!” Jeff seethed as the door swung shut.
“Is something wrong?” Luna asked politely, “I could hear you yelling. Very loudly.”
“Just a little family reunion,” Jeff said shortly.
“Jeff never got along with his brother Jace,” Michael told her, still waiting for Hermione and Sarah to come out.
“Gee, what was your first clue?” Jeff snarled. Michael said nothing, he knew Jeff’s anger would dissolve once they got on the boat and he saw a few girls in their swimsuits. That always seemed to help.
Hermione and Sarah emerged a minute later, and they all checked the possessions they had on them. All fingered their wands, and Harry touched the Invisibility Cloak inside his robes. Satisfied they were not missing anything, they all touched a finger to their Portkey, glanced around one last time while Michael counted, “Three, two, one!”
At end of the count they were all jerked forward, spinning rapidly, trying to stop from yelling, though there was no one to hear them. A second later, the spinning stopped and Michael felt the warm sun on his face. All around them noises of splashing and yelling filled their ears.
He opened his eyes and looked around. They were standing on the deck of a colossal ship, surrounded by people enjoying themselves on their vacation. Not far from them was a long pool, where a group of kids were throwing Fanged Frisbee at each other, standing in the shallow end and trying to dodge the dangerous projectile. Michael couldn't help but smirk when Jeff nudged him, discreetly pointing at the chairs set up all around the pool, most of which were occupied by very pretty girls wearing very little clothing.
A man with a bushy mustache came striding over to them, and judging by his attire, he seemed to be the captain. He shook hands with them all and greeted them warmly.
“Ah, welcome, my friends,” he said grandly, “to the finest – and only – Wizarding cruise ship on the sea! The Merlin is not only largest ship on the water, but also the fastest. I am correct in assuming I am speaking to the Jacobs party, am I not?”
“Yes, you are” Michael said. “This is an amazing ship you’ve got, too bad we won't be able to take a full cruise.”
“Ah yes, most unfortunate!” he cried dramatically, as if being denied a trip on his boat was the most wretched thing he could imagine. “But urgent duty calls, sir! Duty calls! Do tell Captain Anya I said hello, won't you?” he added with a wink.
“Yes, of course,” Michael said obligingly, grinning.
“Well, I imagine you all want to take a look around, so I’ll leave you to it! If you’ll all place your thumbs on these,” he said, thrusting three pieces of plastic into each person’s hand. “These will learn your fingerprint and enchant your room to only open to your touch.” Each person did as they were told, and then handed back their cards to the captain. “Thank you very much, your bags will be in your rooms, which will open to you now. Good day to you all!” With that, he walked flamboyantly away, loudly addressing another group of teenagers, all of whom looked extremely annoyed by this.
“Do you, uh, know that guy, Michael?” Ron asked, still chuckling. “Cause he was kind of…strange.”
“Yeah, I know,” Michael muttered, gesturing for them to follow as he headed away from the pool, in the direction of the cabins. “But he owes STRIKE a favor, so we’re going with it.”
“A favor?” Luna inquired.
“Yeah. Go figure, but the world’s only Wizarding cruise ship attracted the attention of pirates early on in its maiden voyage,” Michael said distractedly. “They put out a call for help, of course, but being the Aurors international response time is pretty sluggish, even though the Merlin is a British vessel. STRIKE got there first and handled it. The company that owns the ship was thankful enough to authorize this not-quite-legal Portkey for us to get onboard.” He laughed. “One of our Captains, a woman named Anya, led the strike team. I think the sea captain ended up a little infatuated with his STRIKE counterpart.” They reached their set of cabins, situated comfortably on a low floor, near the ship’s railing. Michael reached out and grabbed the doorknob, which vibrated for a moment, then allowed itself to be turned. Michael opened the door and investigated the room.
It was rather small, with two cramped beds and a refrigerator. Other than that there was a bit of furniture, but Michael had the idea that the designer was trying to encourage his patrons to spend their time out and about the ship. He had to admit, it was a nice boat, and he didn’t need much persuading. He also noticed that his and Jeff’s bags were sitting on the middle of each bed.
“Okay, so Jeff and I will take this one,” Michael said. “And Harry and Ron can take the next one…and the girls will be in the farthest. Don’t worry,” he added as they glanced around the tiny room skeptically. “It’s enlarged to fit three.”
“Thank God,” Sarah said gratefully. “But who cares about that now? Let’s go do something!”
“We’re here all day, and about half of tomorrow” Michael told them. “So enjoy the relaxation while you can.” He felt weird giving his friends directions like this, especially as he planned on having plenty of fun himself. Now if he could just get her alone….
“What are you planning to do with your time?” Luna asked him.
Michael grinned. “For the next day and a half, Luna, I'm doing whatever the hell I want.”
“Well, we’re all going to the pool,” Luna said, indicating herself, Hermione, and Sarah. “Be sure not to fall off the boat, I hear there are Venomous Bitingrocks around here,” she added seriously. Sarah giggled.
“What exactly is a Venomous Bitingrock?” Ron asked warily.
“Oh, they’re living rocks on the seafloor” she told him patiently. “They have little beady eyes, and sharp teeth so that when you get near one they –”
“Come on, let’s go change,” Hermione said, grabbing Luna by the arm and steering her out of the room, Sarah following, still giggling.
Harry, Ron, and Jeff all rounded on Michael, wearing similar looks of hilarity.
“What?” Michael said defiantly.
“Good luck with that one,” Jeff said, throwing an arm around his shoulders. “I think you’re going to have your hands full with her.”
“What are you talking about?” he asked angrily, ducking out from under Jeff's arm.
Nobody answered him, but Ron and Harry looked at each other and seemed to decide it was time to leave. “We’re going to change too,” they called as they escaped the room. “We’ll figure out what to then.”
“Shut up about her,” Michael snapped at Jeff. “Don’t say shit like that around me.”
“What?” said Jeff, looking startled, “Nah, you’ve got it wrong, man. We weren't making fun of her…and she can stick up for herself anyway. I don't think she’s too worried about it.”
“Yeah, yeah, okay.” Michael said, taking a breath. “It’s just she told me about all the crap she used to get as a kid at Hogwarts, and it pissed me off…she doesn’t need that from her friends.”
“But that's what friends do,” Jeff persisted.
Michael sighed. “Yeah, we do, don't we? Luna…”
“Wouldn’t want us to treat her differently. However different she is.”
Michael couldn’t help but chuckle at that. “Yeah, I think you're right. Damn, I need to relax. Let’s go find the others.”
“Great, let’s go”
The left the cabin and headed for the pool. They found Harry and Ron, both wearing shorts now, standing frozen and staring openmouthed.
“What are you guys…?” Michael started to ask, but trailed off into similar stupid stuttering as he saw what they were looking at.
Hermione, Sarah, and Luna had chosen three chairs next to each other and were lying draped out across their chairs, basking in the early morning sun. While Hermione had chosen to retain some mystery in a loose shirt and shorts, Luna had settled on a very pretty one-piece swimsuit whose hourglass shape left much of the sides of her stomach exposed. Sarah meanwhile had simply stripped down to a pink bikini, one which lacked much fabric and showed off much more than either of the other two girls. She seemed both aware of and indifferent to this fact.
Michael looked at them, glanced at the other boys, then immediately back to them.
“Hi, come over here!” Luna called, sitting up as she become aware of them. She waved them over enthusiastically, while Sarah and Hermione looked at them suspiciously.
“How long have been standing there?” Sarah asked as they plopped down into seats next to them.
“Why do you ask?” Michael asked, pulling off his shirt. “Were you doing something you wouldn’t want us to see?”
“Not at all,” Sarah said smoothly. Michael was actually glad Sarah was lecturing him; Ron and Harry seemed a little shell shocked. Both boys seemed to have forgotten themselves and Michael hoped no one else would notice where their eyes were firmly fixed. “But you two,” she nodded to Michael and Jeff, “know how much women like to be ogled.”
“I prefer the term ‘intense observation’,” Jeff told her.
“So…are you a stalker then?” Luna asked, apparently genuinely wanting to know.
Everyone except Jeff laughed, while he muttered, “Only on weekends. I must be good if you haven't caught me yet.” At this Michael nodded to Harry and Ron, who stood up and looked menacingly down at Jeff.
“Where’re we going guys? Guys?”
Together they dragged him out of his chair, and Michael holding his upper body, the other two each a leg, flung him unceremoniously into the pool, to applause from all three girls. They wiped their hands together, as if they had touched something dirty, before Harry and Ron returned to their seats, and Michael dove into the pool after Jeff.
He surfaced a few feet away from where he had gone under, looking around for his best friend. He turned and looked at the others, who all shrugged their uncertainty. Then, silent as death, Jeff rose up out of the water behind him and grabbed Michael roughly around the neck, pulling him under.
Sarah and Luna continued to laugh as Harry and Ron jumped in to join them, creating a surprisingly large set of waves. The girls joined them later, and they spent the next hour playing chicken. Harry and Ron alternating pairing up with Hermione, against Jeff and Sarah, and Michael and Luna.
Michael and Luna lounged against the pool wall, having been the first pair knocked out, watching the others. Michael felt good about everything that was going on. Harry was a fun and pleasant person, he reflected as he watched Sarah growing steadily more competitive and angry, but he had gotten the feeling since the first time they met that Harry just needed to relax. From what Harry had told him, his life didn’t leave much room for fun relaxation and he was glad to see his friend unwinding. In her own way, Sarah was also unwinding.
“Sarah doesn’t like to lose, does she?” Luna observed casually to Michael.
“No, no she doesn’t,” Michael agreed. “I don't think there was any need to call Hermione a bitch…or do that,” he added as Sarah, apparently tired of struggling with the much meeker Hermione, fell forward off Jeff’s shoulders, taking Hermione with her into the water. Michael felt very proud of himself for not staring.
The rest of the day, they chose to unwind by working off their excess energy on a rock wall, the volleyball court, (Jeff complaining loudly) and back to the pool in turn. Michael loved every second of it. This was all very foreign to him. He had had plenty of fun in school and even some in STRIKE, but this carefree day with his friends was not something he was used to. Even as his best friend moaned and groaned about their choice of activities, Michael knew Jeff too was enjoying himself. It was nice to be a teenager, at least once in a while. Around six that evening an announcement called the guests to the dining hall for dinner.
As they entered they magnificent banquette hall, Michael glanced around, and was immediately impressed. There were a number of long tables, similar to the house tables at Hogwarts, and several smaller, circular ones scattered throughout the room. Expensive crystal chandeliers hung from the ceiling and they tinkled slightly as the ship was rocked by an occasional wave. They barely had time to take in the scene, however, as they were immediately hailed by the ship captain. “Mr. Jacobs!” he called to them, waving them over. “And his friends too! Please, there are some people I’d love you to meet!”
Michael reluctantly obeyed, the others following close behind, all horribly aware that they were still wearing the clothes they had worn all day, plus a shirt and shorts for the girls. As soon as they reached the captain and his group, he wrung Michael's hand enthusiastically and introduced him to what were evidently the elder members of an important pureblood family out on an anniversary trip. They spoke to each other politely, but before long Sarah had wiggled them out of the unwanted conversation, done with such polite finesse Michael barely noticed they were getting up to leave.
“You learn these things out of necessity,” she muttered to the rest of the obviously impressed group as they searched for a new place to sit. “I wasn’t so polite about it when I was a kid, but I've never been a fan of all the parties and dignitaries and people Dad brought me around. Too stuffy.”
They found a small, empty table at the far side of the dining room and sat down around it. Waiters in crisp suits soon descended on them, asking for their orders. Hermione was studying her menu, looking distressed.
“This is all so expensive!” she said to Michael. “We can't make you pay for this!”
“I can” said Jeff, looking up from his menu and saying to the waiter. “Let’s see…I’ll have the lobster, actually two…and some of those potatoes too…and let’s say, a nice steak?” The waiter nodded, looking slightly disgusted. Michael was nothing but impressed.
“How is that even possible?” Sarah asked, barely covering a snort with her napkin. “How do you even fit into human clothes?”
“Hey, words hurt,” Ron put in with a glance at Hermione.
“Don’t worry about it,” Michael said with a grin. “You didn’t really think I was about to pay for all this myself, did you? Nope, we’re on the company dollar. And in case you're forgetting, they're probably going to make a big thing about attacking me at some point. So….”
Ron grinned gleefully. “In that case…” He proceeded to order a meal as large as Jeff’s, to a similar look from Hermione.
“And what would you like, sir?” the waiter asked, coming to Michael. Michael considered himself somewhat well traveled, yet had minor difficulties understanding the English hidden beneath the heavy French accent.
“Can I get a hamburger?” Michael asked, thumbing through the menu. He felt strangely awkward about the order.
“A hamburger?” the waiter repeated incredulously. Michael wasn’t sure where the awkwardness was coming from – he certainly didn’t care about his order seeming strange to the waiter. He was paying them, after all.
“Yeah, with everything. How can that possibly be harder than making lobster?” he asked with a glance at Jeff. He suddenly realized why he was regretting the burger order – he would’ve liked to impress Luna with something fancy.
The waiter sighed importantly. “Yes I suppose that can be arranged. One hamburger then?”
“Two,” said Jeff immediately.
“No, three” Ron corrected him.
“Go ahead and make it four, please,” Luna told him. “It’s been a while since I've had a hamburger.” The waiter collected their menus and disappeared into the kitchen, shaking his head disbelievingly.
After dinner, they returned to their spot beside the pool, which was now illuminated by burning tiki-torches. The sky had turned from bright blue to a cool purple, mixed with streaks of orange from the fading sun. This time of day was always Michael's favorite. It was the time most fun things happened, in addition to being, frankly, beautiful. They lounged around for a while, before Sarah started complaining.
“I'm bored,” she said to the group at large, “Nothing’s happening.”
"Then make something happen," Jeff said indifferently.
"No, entertain me!" Sarah said defiantly.
"Oh, sure, Princess," Jeff rolled his eyes. "What, should I do a dance for you?"
"Please don't," Sarah sighed, but Jeff was already on his feet. Michael stood up too.
“Hey Luna, can I talk to you for a minute?” he asked, rubbing the back of his neck.
She looked slightly surprised, which was saying something, but stood up and allowed him to lead her away from the others, over to the edge of the ship, where they were almost totally alone, save for a few strangers moving here and there, on their way to another fun activity. Michael leaned out over the railing, not looking at her. Luna didn’t press him, instead she copied his stance. They simply stood, side by side, hanging over the railing and watching the sun sink lower and lower.
“This is lovely,” Luna said vaguely, as the silence became more pressing. “I've never been on a boat before at all. I always thought it would be fun – I'm glad I was right. I don't think it would be as much fun without you, though.”
“I was thinking…” Michael said, still gazing out at the sea and not following her train of conversation, “about what you said a few weeks ago, after I showed you all my wolf form.” Over the horizon, clouds were beginning to gather and the wind picked up slightly. A storm was soon coming.
“You mean after you said something about snakes,” she said, nodding. “But what did I say?”
“You said you remembered that…” he said quietly, his voice nearly inaudible over the wind that was now blowing about them. “That got me thinking. If you remembered something as stupid as the little things I said when we were kids, why would it be impossible for you to remember everything?”
“You think you can do it?” Luna asked hopefully. The wind was now blowing her hair so much her face was completely hidden behind it. “You’d have to undo the magic that your General did. Do you think you can?”
“Luna, you believe so many things, can't you believe this?” he asked, turning to look at her. “I've been in the library at Hogwarts, in the Restricted Section, and I think I might have found a way to bring back at least something. I was saving that little bit of information to surprise you with.”
Luna reached out and pulled her hair together with her right hand, holding it in a makeshift ponytail away from her face so she could look at him. “You think you could fix me?”
“Don’t ever say that again about yourself,” he said harshly, suddenly clenching the handrail much tighter. “There’s nothing wrong with you, nothing to fix. Your memories are screwed up, not you.”
“But I'm Looney Lovegood,” she said, smiling wryly. “Everyone else seems to think there’s something wrong with me.”
Michael looked terrifyingly angry now. Thunder crashed off in the distance as he spoke. “I don’t think that, and neither do any of those people waiting for us back at the pool. It’s your memories that need altering, not you!”
He continued to look furious and livid, then glimpsed her face, and his expression changed. She continued to smile gently at him.
“I know that,” she said, her eyes on his hands. “But it was nice to hear you say it.”
“I'm sorry,” he told her gently, “it’s not your fault…look, my research is almost done, but I still don’t feel comfortable trying it on you. So here’s what I’ll do: When we all get off this island, with the Ring, everyone alive, and get back to school, I’ll do a bit more studying, and then I’ll see what I can do. Okay? And any help you can provide would be a big boon.”
“What's giving you trouble?”
Michael shrugged. “This isn’t any simple Memory Charm,” he admitted. “If it was, Hermione would probably be able to fill in enough gaps to help me figure it out. But you had your mind – not your brain, your mind – damaged by a spell that generally only harms physically. After that your memories were basically stitched back together with a precise needle and steady hands, only to have one major thread suddenly torn back out. Your mind’s become an extremely complex thing because of it Luna. I expect it would be very difficult to use Legilmency on you effectively.”
“Hmmm.” Luna let her hair go free again, but caught a few strands and placed them in her mouth as she stared thoughtfully over the edge. “Michael,” she said after a moment.
“I don't think you're going to be able to bring out just one particular set of memories for me,” she said, turning to look him full in the face. “Not like this.”
Michael's heart dropped. “Luna, why not? We can make progress, we can figure this out –”
“Oh, I already have,” Luna said dreamily. She only now seemed to notice the hair in her mouth and brushed it away. “You're going to have to start from scratch to do this.”
“Start from scratch?” Michael repeated, trying to understand what she was getting at.
“Yes,” Luna said plainly. “You're going to have to wipe my memories and start over, restore them all at once. You need a blank sleight to work with. You need my mind completely uncluttered, which, admittedly, might be a little difficult. But it’s the only way you’ll be able to sift through the altercations and put everything right.”
Michael couldn’t believe what he was hearing. Luna had not only solved this riddle, but was now trusting him to basically destroy her mind a second time and put it back together? Michael was a skilled Wizard and had been preparing for something like this, but not this.
“Luna…that's incredibly dangerous,” Michael said as seriously as he ever had. She nodded agreement, but didn’t seem to share his level of concern. “How would I be able to process every memory you already have, plus the ones buried in you that we need to bring up?”
“Well, you already said it,” Luna smiled. “Use Legilmency on me. Go through my mind and learn everything you possibly can about me, so when you start to rebuilt it, you’ll know everything that needs to go there. We’ll make a backup of my mind within yours.”
Don't say crazy, don't say crazy, don't say crazy.
“Luna, this sounds crazy,” Michael blurted, unable to stop himself. It really did. He defended Luna from so much criticism – whether she needed it or not – but this was true madness. This was insane. This was the start of something neither of them would ever be able to come back from.
“I’ll give you all access,” Luna said, unfazed. “You said Legilmency would be hard, but if I let you flow freely in my thoughts, it should work. I suppose we could try a Pensieve, but I don't think that would work the same. It’s not just memories you need to understand, it’s me. Plus I don’t think my mind would fit inside a regular Pensieve,” she added fairly.
“Let me get this straight,” Michael said, rubbing the back of his neck. “You want me to take a stroll through your mind – through you – learn to understand said mind and person, wipe your memories clean, and then use that knowledge as well as some other very difficult and finesse intensive spells to bring back your memories up till now, but with the addition of our time together as kids?” Luna nodded again, apparently glad Michael was grasping her plan. “You'd take such a huge risk just to get time together back?”
“To get the truth,” Luna replied. But then she reached out and put a hand on top of his. “But I also want to get us back as well. It’s worth the risk and besides, I trust you.”
“Then we’ll do it,” Michael decided on the spot. Now wasn’t the time for worrying or waffling or weakness. Now was the time to do this thing, for Luna and for himself. “I won't let you down, Luna. We’ll work on this together, and soon, we’ll set everything right.”
“That sounds wonderful,” she said. “I just wish you could do it now.”
“Me too,” he assured her. “But look at it this way; it will give you something to look forward to when we get back.”
“That’s funny” she said softly, her expression suddenly changed, her eyes wider and brighter, slightly afraid but eager, her hand griping his much tighter. “I was going to say the same thing about doing this.”
And then she was kissing him, and he was kissing her back. At first Michael felt only the sensation of their lips touching, but then as he leaned into her, something more sparked into being. Michael almost felt as if his brain was tingling, as if he was light-headed and had a sinus problem all at once. His eyes were shut, but images began to materialize in the darkness before him. A pair of children running across an idyllic green field just outside a small park, the girl barely ahead of the boy, both being watched from a distance by a blonde woman, her face smiling, her hand holding a wand casually at her side.
He deepened the kiss, not wanting to ever let her go, and she responded in kind. After one more glorious moment, they broke apart, breathing deeply. Luna licked her lips uncharacteristically sensually, almost making Michael laugh. He was slightly too distracted to go through with it, however.
“That was nice,” she whispered. She smacked her lips a few times, finally making him chuckle.
“Thanks,” Michael panted. He had not expected that. He made a mental note to hope for a lot more things, if they were going to start coming true. “Where exactly did you learn to do that?”
“Do what?” she asked.
“That. The reason I have to stand facing away from everyone else now,” he replied, waggling his eyebrows.
“Oh that,” she said, glancing down at him extremely quickly. She raised her own eyebrows. “Well, how about when you help me remember us, I’ll tell you about that?”
“So that’s how it’s gonna be?” he asked coolly. “Fine, after you can tell me the name of the dog we used to play with, you’ll tell me who taught you to do that.”
“We used to play with a dog?” she asked. “Was it mine or yours?”
“I don’t know, I can't seem to remember,” he said, putting emphasis on the last word.
“All right, it’s a deal,” she said. “After you help me remember the name of the dog, I’ll tell you a little something.”
“So do we shake on it, or…?” he trailed off and she smiled, kissed him one last time, and skipped back to the pool, leaving him leaning against the railing, watching as lightning flashed in the distance, the thunderstorm rolling steadily towards them.
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