“J.K. ROWLING LIED!”

– Daughters of the Basilisk –

by J.D. Phillips

 

CHAPTER 1

“J.K. ROWLING LIED!”

 

“J.K. ROWLING LIED!” a woman’s voice shouted so loudly that finches seeking shelter outside her leaded glass windows, fled as one to the rose garden beyond.  A week of torrential rain in England’s Lake District had left the bushes drooping with the tatters of soggy blossoms.

Inside, the woman shivered, but it wasn’t from the cold beyond those windows.  No, standing as she was, before the flames of an enormous hearth, where wild boar might once have been roasted; cold could not have been the cause of her trembling.  Rage!  Rage lit her face as much as the flames that licked the grey in her auburn hair.

“How can you be so certain,” an older woman asked, her pale hand clutching a large emerald and silver broach, beneath her high-cheeked, almost sculptural face.

“I was there!  I saw!”

“But it was years ago, maybe you…“ The older woman started.

“What – forgot?  Do you think I could forget anything about that night?!”

“But you said you didn’t actually see him do it.  Perhaps he just came upon the scene…after she was…”  The older woman said, unable to name the act.  “These beliefs of yours are dangerous – a man of that power…  He’s a constant visitor to our home, and like a second father to Sienna.“

“Because he’s watching her; he’s waiting to see if she’ll remember!”

“But if what you say is true, then…then the other one mustn’t come.”

“NO!  She has to!”

“But think – if they found out who she is she’d have a target on her back.  It would be a veritable –“

“’Witch hunt’..?”  The younger woman laughed, mirthlessly.

“You’ve seen the changes that have come to pass since…  Well, you’ve seen, even you.”

“Yes, even me…”

“I only meant –“

“I know what you meant.  But she has to come.  She has to know it all, and her sister, too.”

“No!  On that I draw the line!  Not knowing has kept her safe,” the older woman said.   “As for the other one… Surely if all you wanted to do was inform her, you could go there.”

“No, it has to be here..?!”

The old woman paused, studying her.  “Are you sure that telling her is all you want,” she asked.

But before the younger woman could reply, both women turned their attention to the gravel drive beyond the windows.  Through the sheets of rain they could see a dark blue Land Rover approaching the carriage house.

“Would that be him, the -“

“My husband – yes, so you must leave.”

“But I should have some say in the matter.  After all, she is my granddaughter.”

“She’s your granddaughter as much as you’re my mother!”

The older woman’s face froze.  After a moment, she said:

“That’s a bit…harsh, I think.”

“Really..?  Are you referring to your treatment of me, or her?”

“You seem to have done all right by yourself,” the older woman said, looking around the manor’s kitchen.

“Yes, by myself..!” the younger woman said, glaring at her.  “Look at you – even now you can’t bring yourself to care what I went through to get here.”

The older woman opened her mouth as though to protest, but then said nothing.

“No, but this isn’t about me; this is about her.  You made no effort to protect her when you had the chance, so why start now..?  Or are you only thinking about what fallout bringing her here might have on you, on the hallowed family..?”

“And her sister, and even you.  If what you claim is true, it could mean the end of us all.  You have no idea the fear we live under.“

“My sister was murdered and a great lie was created to hide it.”

The door to the back vestibule could be heard creaking open, then shut, against the foul weather outside.

“Lovie..?” a man’s voice called out.

“Up here…” the younger woman called out.  Then she turned back to the other woman.

“It’s done – she’s coming.  Now you must go… It…it would be awkward explaining you…and why you’re here.”

“Yes, but…”  The older woman stopped.  Whatever her thought was, she left it unsaid, and pulled her cloak about her.

 

 

 


 

CHAPTER 2

 

“THE HARRY POTTER GEEKS CLUB”

 

The road leading into Cooperton, Massachusetts, a narrow suburb about forty minutes outside of Boston, was only two lanes wide.  Various propositions to double that were always met with determined opposition, for it could not be widened without cutting down the old growth forest that fronted it.   Those towering trees stood like ancient guardians, preserving the small town feel, while forcing commuters to crawl past their majesty.  Many of them wore the scars of reckless teens and careening drunks, like proud, battle-hardened warriors.

 

Cooperton itself (pop. 13,623) was as old, if not older than those trees, having been founded in 1687, by Jeremiah Cooper and his wife Abigail.  For almost three hundred years its economy had centered on textile mills, which took advantage of the nearby river to generate power and send the finished product downstream.

But by the end of the 20th century the manufacturing had been off-shored, the workers laid-off and the mills shut down.  The abandoned buildings became the sites of teenage drinking parties and various, soon-to-fail enterprises seeking cheap space.  The only driver of the local economy was now a prestigious boys’ prep school that sat on the hill over the river.  (‘The better to look down upon the locals,’ was the general feeling of both “preppies” and “townies” alike.)

 

Cooperton’s downtown was composed of only four main streets that bordered the old town square, in the center of which was a statue of a military man on a horse.  Most people referred to it as, “the statue of General Cooper,” though there was no plaque and no one could say which war it commemorated.

Some of the oldest buildings in Cooperton dated back to colonial times, but now that it was 2007, newer businesses had become established at the edges.  The oldest of these newer ventures was Ianello’s, a true pizza joint, with a wood-burning oven that charred each yeasty crust.  Since its founding in 1922, it had served as the after-school hangout of choice.

 

Now there are pizza-holics all across America, but there is little agreement on what makes a great “pie.”  Those who live in California often measure a pizza’s worth by the amount of cheese, or the range of exotic toppings.  People in the Mid-West frequently say it’s the depth of the crust.  And there is much to be said about the crust – the best of which achieve a tender balance between yielding and resistance.

But only those who’ve grown up on the East Coast know the heart of a great pie is its sauce – that blood-red, slow-cooked liquid that’s elevated by a perfectly orchestrated symphony of oregano, sage, thyme, parsley and rosemary.  But a sauce only becomes truly exalted when it has that acidic tang, a tang that was almost lost when Rutgers neutered the tomato.

Ianello’s pizzas were great, first and foremost because their sauce “sang” that tangy symphony.  A fact that was lost on its young patrons, who took its perfection – like their youth – for granted.

 

The dark, low-ceilinged interior of Ianello’s, replete with trellises of plastic grape vines and dusty chianti bottles, consisted of three sections:  The “A” tables, which were the four fronting the windows (the better to see and be seen); the “B” section, which was just about everything else; and, finally, “The Polar Region,” which was comprised of a single long booth at the very back, beneath the wheezing air conditioner.

The “A” tables were claimed by the cream of both schools, while the “B” tables accommodated most everyone else, including the occasional afternoon adult.         But, wedged as it was between the “Take-Out” counter and the restrooms, where the promise of sizzling pepperoni was relentlessly killed by the sickly bloom of chemical cleansers, the Polar Region was relegated to the lowest rung of the social scale.  At Cooperton High that would be “The Harry Potter Club,” or the “Harry Potter Geeks,” as their classmates called them.

 

Even though it was summer vacation, the HPG’s were pouring over notes stacked atop multiple copies of the six books published to date.  Kate Talbot, the president of the three-member club and oldest, at nearly seventeen, rummaged through the pile, searching for something, as she flipped an unruly lock of her russet-colored waves back from her pale face.  What she lacked in height (five-three), she more than compensated for in intensity.

“Josh, come on, we’re losing time!” she shouted.  Considering that there were only two other two members in the HPC, with one sitting next to her and the other no more than six feet away, she didn’t really need to be that loud.  Indeed, her shout had reached all the way to the “A” tables, where two pretty girls turned to a third – a sparkling blonde, who rolled her sky-blue eyes, while shaking her head.  The three laughed.

“What’s the rush?” Josh Yee, Kate’s complexion-challenged fellow member said, as he grabbed a slice of the steaming pie he was bringing over.

“Yeah, hurry up, we’re hungry,” DeWanda Jones, the third member of their admittedly pathetic little group said, as she deftly placed a napkin, just in the exact spot where a glob of Josh’s slice was about to land.  DeWanda eyed the pizza, while self-consciously running her tongue over her new braces, with their blue jewels and furtively unbuttoning the top of her stretch(ed) jeans.

“No, I wasn’t talking about the pizza.  We’ve got to hurry up and pool our research, so we can make our best guess about what’s going to happen in Jo’s final book – THE DEATHLY HALLOWS – and then post it on our blog before the other Potter Clubs do!”

“Becuzzz,” Josh asked, through a mouthful of pizza.

“Because then the other blogs won’t be able to claim that we stole their ideas.  Look – we may be the second to the smallest Potter Club in like the entire world, especially since Cody’s older brother shamed him into dropping out, but we’re still the eleventh highest read blog, so…” Kate leaned forward, “Now that we’ve re-read all six books, what have you found?  DeWanda..?”

“Well first let me say that, after re-reading book four – GOBLET – it really hit me – Harry’s just such an average wizard.  Voldemort was right – everyone keeps helping him.  That’s why he succeeds, and not because he’s any Dumbledore-in-training.  It’s kind of depressing, you know?  I mean, he’s supposed to be the hero of the books, but basically he’s just a brave kid who’s mastered two or three spells.”

“Expelliarmus,” Josh shouted, waving his soda straw.

“No, no, no – you’ve got the movement all wrong,” Kate corrected, rising to her full (petite) height.  She pulled out her wand (the “Hermione model”, her dad purchased from an “In-Flight” catalog.

“That’s how they did it in the third movie,” Josh said, defending his action.  Kate let out a theatrical sigh for DeWanda’s benefit.

“The movie..!?  Seriously, when have the movies ever gotten anything right?” Kate said, in her best English accent.  “Look – it’s in the ‘Standard Book of Spells – OWL Level.’  It says…” Kate paused, searching through her enormously stuffed backpack, finally pulling out an ornate book.

“Wow!” DeWanda said, pulling cheese from her braces, “Where do you find those books?  I checked Amazon – even English Amazon – and nobody has the Hogwarts course books!”

“I dunno, my aunt sends them to me every year, in late August.  Just like it was, you know, getting my required texts before my next year at Hogwarts.  And look – so cute – they even have a “Flourish & Blotts” label in them.”

“Oooh!” DeWanda cooed.

“And then she also sends me the new POTTER book – the English version, you know, with all the Brit slang – when it comes out, too.”

Fancy another slice?” Josh asked, attempting an English accent, while holding out a piece in DeWanda’s direction.

“I’m sooo jealous,” DeWanda added, ignoring Josh’s drooping, thin-crusted offering.

“Yeah, but even if Harry only does a couple spells, it’s not like it matters, does it?  If you do it with his gigunda force of will, one spell does it all, doesn’t it?” Josh pointed out.

And then he shoved the rest of his slice into his gaping mouth, but this time, DeWanda wasn’t as quick with the napkin and a hot blob of sauce splattered on the chest of his black T-shirt, emblazoned with the word “MUGGLE” in large yellow letters.  DeWanda rushed to blot it off.

“I agree with DeWanda,” Kate said.  “Hermione has so much more ‘game.’  If I was going to be any of the three, I’d want to be Hermione.”  Josh shrugged, as he started devouring another slice.  “And we can see who you’d be…”

“Wha—“ Josh asked, mouth full.

“Ron Weasley!” DeWanda and Kate said, laughing.  While swallowing, Josh turned his laptop around, showing a screen that read:

 

HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS

                                               Release Date Countdown

             Four days, eight hours and twenty-seven minutes

 

“Okay, so I did a scan of all character names from all six books and came up with the most likely character to have been ‘RAB’ – the initials inside the phony locket – is Regulus Black, Sirius’ brother,” he said.

“Oh, cool!  That makes sense – they said he was a Death Eater,” Kate said.

“Oh and here’s another character we never met, but who might be important…  I think it was either Mad-Eye or Dumbledore that told Harry that Voldemort only killed important people himself, and that he used those high profile kills to create his Horcruxes.”

“The repository of his evil soul..!” DeWanda said, dramatically.

“Then they mentioned someone old Voldy killed personally.  Her name was…”

Josh grabbed one of the books and started rifling through it.

“Uhm, hold on, I’ve got it right…  Here – it was Mad-Eye.  He shows Harry the pic of the original Order of the Phoenix and says:

 

            ‘That’s Dorcas Meadowes – she was killed by Voldemort himself.’ 

 

“But I scanned the rest of the books and she’s never mentioned again, so, maybe not so important; maybe Jo was just throwing us a red herring.”

“But still, it might be something, so enter that in our notes.”

“Oh, no!”

“What..?”

“My battery – it’s muerto.”

“So plug in your charger.”

“Uhmm…”

“You didn’t bring –“

“…bring my charger.”

“Josh!  Uhgh!  Hold on,” Kate said.

Turning, she rushed over to the “A” table, where the pretty blonde and her friends were deep in giggling conversation.  Kate cleared her throat.  The blonde shared a look with her friends, and then turned to Kate, eyebrows raised.

“What..?”

Her tone was cool, annoyed.  Kate felt the dismissive eyes of the other two, as they surveyed her outfit (one of her father’s oxford cloth, button-down shirts, jeans shorts and flip flops).

“Yes, sooo sorry to interrupt, I’m sure, but we need a charger for Josh’s laptop.  Did you bring yours?”

“Uh, no,” the blonde said.

Kate turned to one of the others.

“Don’t even think about it,” the girl said.

“Be gone,” the other said, with a flicking of her hand.

As Kate walked away, she heard the three laughing.

“Seriously, how is it possible you’re twins..?”

“You think I don’t ask myself that,” Kara said, though in a much more discreet voice.

 

“No luck.  I’ll just write it in my journal,” Kate said, as she reached the other HPG’s.

“So, anyway, are you ready for a really far out theory?  It’s about Lord Voldemort’s final Horcrux.”

“Yeah, we’ve already guessed that – it’s Harry,” Josh said.

“Yes and No – what if – think back to that scene where that old lady shows the young Voldemort Hufflepuff’s cup.  You know, she said there were all sorts of enchantments on it, right?”  The others nodded, in rapt attention.  “And Dumbledore said that he thought that Voldemort was on his way over to Harry’s, the night he murdered Harry’s parents, to create his final Horcrux – the seventh splitting of his soul?  Well, remember that Hermione said the ‘Killing Curse – the Avada Kedavra,’ NEVER fails, right?”  (More nods)  “So, okay, what if it didn’t?”

“What?” the other two said in unison, puzzled.

“What if the curse really did kill Harry, but instead of the piece of Voldemort’s soul going into that cup, some enchantment on the cup made it bounce back INTO Harry’s body, reanimating it with Voldemort’s soul?”

“So… “Josh said, pondering.  “So you’re saying that Harry really isn’t Harry, but instead is…”

“Right – VOLDEMORT!” Kate triumphantly cried.

“EEEUUWWWWe!” DeWanda screamed, which again was loud enough to draw attention from the three at the window.  Kate could just imagine the looks they were bestowing on her and her friends, but it didn’t bother her; she was used to them.

 

For Kate Talbot was a rather singular sixteen year old – “singular” being a nicer word than the ones used by the popular crowd at school.  But they never said those names in the presence of her (fraternal) twin, Kara.  Kara was a cheerleader and as popular as her sister was not.

Certainly looking at them no one would ever guess they were related.  Kate’s wavy, reddish hair, fair as milk skin and pewter grey eyes, were so unlike any of the other Talbots, who all had straight blond hair, bright blue eyes and an almost year-round tan, due to their love of sports and the outdoors.

 

And in this, like many other things, the twins’ personalities were not the least bit alike.  Whereas, Kara and the other Talbots would look on a week in the Berkshires as a dream vacation – hiking, climbing and camping – Kate would have been the Talbot that remained in the lodge, before a roaring fire, hoping for a High Tea, reading, or playing Listz at the piano.

It wasn’t that Kate didn’t try to fit in with the other Talbots.  She tried very hard – a lifetime of lobster-red sunburns, banged-up shins and the feeling that she’d served as a blood bank to every mosquito within two miles of their campsites were proof of that.  But try as she might, she was always left with the feeling that she was a tone-deaf fifth, in a barbershop quartet.

Looking inside the crowded awards cabinets that bookended the fireplace in the Talbot’s living room, one would be hard-pressed to see Kate’s DAR award for excellence in American History, among the numerous tennis (Mom), crew/kayaking (Dad), cheerleading/gymnastics (Kara), football (Jasper), or baseball (Jason) trophies and medals that glittered under the pin lights.

The reason Kate excelled at History was that she never saw it as a subject.  To her it was a set of glorious, intertwining stories.  One biography or event would lead her on to another.  Like the time she saw that book inside the window of 118 Lowell Street.

She’d taken over her brother’s paper route for a week (flu) and, because she had no faith in her throwing skills, she’d laid the papers at each door.  That’s when she saw THE HISTORY OF THE PLANTAGENETS.  Intrigued that she’d never heard the name, she looked it up, which led to her taking out a book on Henry VIII, then one on Anne Boleyn, Elizabeth I and, finally, Katherine of Aragon.

Her sister, Kara had no such inclinations, being too busy with after-school activities and friends, whereas, Kate’s only interaction with other students was her once-a-week HPG meetings.  Without that, all of her afterschool/pre-dinner hours would have been filled the same way – practicing piano, in the studio over their rickety garage, in preparation for a national scholarship contest in the fall.

After dinner, she would do her homework, maintaining her 5.0 average – all in Advanced Placement classes and reading.  All in all, yes, she was quite alone.        But this wasn’t all bad because, when she was quite certain she would not be seen, she practiced her “Hogwarts homework” – her charms, spells and jinxes.  She mentally reserved the latter for her tormentors at school, of which she had a number, as being “unique” was something that never went unpunished at Cooperton High.

For example, the year she discovered Harry Potter, she begged her parents to buy her one of those “Learn a Language” sets.  But, rather than asking for a foreign language, she’d asked for a British version of English, just so she could talk like the POTTER characters.  Unfortunately, when she took to practicing this new skill amongst her classmates, it only solidified her isolation as a weirdo.

Her discovery of the world of Harry Potter came on one of her darkest days.  They had just moved to Cooperton that summer, right before school began.  Packing and moving had been such a rush and school had started so soon afterwards, that here, six weeks later, many of their things still sat in boxes, in the corners of their new (to them) old house.  (It seems Victorians weren’t very big on things like closets.)

The boys had found friends close by, and, once school began, Kara got into gymnastics, which lead to cheerleading, which lead to popularity.  But Kate, easily being the smartest and smallest in her year had yet to find her “tribe,” which was painful, and not just socially.

In fact, the day before she was introduced to her first POTTER book had been “Kick a Ginger Day” and, as she was one of only two redheads in her year (the other being Willard Gustafson, who was rather huge and intimidating), she had taken the brunt of it.

The next morning, rather than showing her mother her bruises; she feigned a deep cough and Mrs. Talbot had let her stay home.  Kate didn’t like lying to her mom, but, if truth be told, she did feel way more than merely sad and rather under the weather in general.

Her mother, Natalie, had bundled her on the couch, with a tall set of pillows and her favorite “blankie.”  Kate asked for, and got a pot of tea, to tide her over.  As Natalie had taken a part-time job coaching tennis at the nearby club, and she had lessons scheduled, she gave her daughter a quick kiss on the cheek and was off.

Kate was now alone with her thoughts.  Taking stock of her situation at school, she saw only more dark days, possibly years ahead.  Grabbing the remote, she’d tried to distract herself with TV, but quickly become bored with the low-brow fodder that was daytime programming.

And then a knock came on the door.  Peeping through the sagging curtains that refused to close over the bay window, she saw the postal carrier.  Hopping up, she opened the door, but not before ditching the embarrassingly fluffy clouds and unicorns blankie.

“Hi,” Kate said.

“Morning,” the postwoman said, cheerfully.  “I was delivering mail to the Humphries’ up the street – you know they moved out two months ago..?”

“No, we just moved here…”

“Oh, that’s right.  Anyways, I didn’t remember they were gone, until I got to their door.  Too much on my mind, I guess.  My sister and her brood are coming tomorrow and…  Never mind… I found this, so it wasn’t all for a loss.”

She handed Kate a battered and weathered package.

“Looks like it’s been there a while – the delivery guy must’ve transposed the numbers.  Anyways…here you go.”

Kate looked at the package.  It was rather tidy in size, wrapped in brown paper and tied up with string.

‘Perhaps a book,’ Kate thought and then she noticed it was addressed to her, with a return address in England.

“Thanks,” Kate said, intrigued.

The postal lady nodded and walked off, then made an abrupt U-turn.

“Oops – almost forgot – here’s today’s mail.”

“Thanks again,” Kate said, taking the mail, before closing the door.

She retreated back to the couch, drawing the blanket up around her.  She knew she had an aunt and uncle in England, but she’d never talked to them, so why would they be sending her something.  She checked the postmark – August 1st – her birthday was the fourth, so maybe it had been intended as a birthday gift, but, if so, why didn’t Kara get one, too?  Maybe it was a gift for the two of them and her aunt didn’t remember Kara’s name..?

Shrugging, she tugged the strings aside and ripped the paper off.  The card said:

 

Happy Birthday, Kate!

I hope you enjoy this.

Love, your Aunt G.

 

Gently undoing the tape on the flowery wrapping paper, she found a hard copy of HARRY POTTER AND THE PHILOSOPHER’S STONE (the English version of the first POTTER book).  After only three pages, Kate had already fallen deeply and completely into the world Jo Rowling had created.  And because she read at the level of a college student (while only being nine), Kate finished the book before her mom returned.  And then she read it again, and then again.

‘When’s the next book coming out,’ she wondered, and what new adventures might Harry have..?  Already, the longing to live through, to escape through the fictional young wizard’s life had taken hold of her.

And when she turned eleven, along with the latest book came a set of First Year Hogwarts Spell books, which she virtually memorized within a month.  Of course, all her Potter fascination came with the caveat that her efforts would never produce any results, but, she reasoned; neither did all the war games her younger brothers played on their Xboxes.

This was her “me” time, her only real escape from the well of rote and isolation in which she lived.  The other Talbots, being quite satisfied by the circumstances of their everyday lives, had not the slightest interest in the Potter books, so this was yet another way in which Kate was not a bit like any of the other Talbots.

 

Outside the Pizza Shack, Tanner McLoud, a burly preppie had just screeched to a stop, in his Mercedes convertible.  His pals, in a Beemer and an SUV, pulled up next to him.  They were dressed identically in cut-off sweats, long-sleeved white pullovers with Edgehill crest and Top Siders – apparently the unofficial after-training uniform of Edgehill’s football camp.

The in-clique girls of Cooperton High, who were checking them out from the A-tables inside, turned as a businessman, in a rented Camry stopped, furiously honking at them.  The boys replied with a group “mooning” and the man drove off, with one last (futile) honk.  Tanner and his pals pulled their trou back up, but turning, he noticed he’d caught the eye of the pretty blonde seated within.  Smiling broadly, he gave her a quick flash.  She turned away, pretending not to be interested.

The three preppies entered Ianello’s and headed for the order counter, at the back.  But just short of it, Tanner stopped them.  Pointing to the HPGs, he said, in that loud, resonant bark that only testosterone-fueled young men have:

“Dudes – serious Nerd alert!”

Josh quivered, as Tanner pulled alongside the HPGs and bashed the bell sitting on the counter – “KLING! KLING! KLING!  An old man in a white t-shirt and splattered apron plodded forward.

“What’ll it be,” he asked, in a weary monotone, as he pulled a pencil from behind his ear.

“Three large pepperoni, old man!  And hey – extra sauce on mine, okay?”  The old man nodded, without expression.  “No, I tell you every time, you old fart – I want it with extra sauce, got it?”  Tanner smacked the bell – KLING! – “Got it?!”  KLING!  “Got it?!”  KLING!  “Got it?!”  The old man rolled his eyes and turned away.  Tanner glanced at the HPG Club’s stacks of notes.  He grabbed a handful of pages.

“What’s this – HARRY PORTER?   Guys – check it out – they’re doin’ homework on HARRY PORTER.”  Kate tried to snatch them back.

“What a buncha geeks!  Is this what you do at that crap public school of yours,” Tanner asked, dropping her notes on the floor.  Seeing her “wand,” Tanner grabbed it.

“Ooh, and what’s this – more kiddie crap.”  He gave it a Tinkerbell-like swish, for the amusement of his friends and then dropped it on the floor.

“It’s Potter, not Porter, idiot,” Kate said, dismissively, as she reached down for the wand.

“Whatever, ‘Nerd…’  Geeks reading kiddie books – pathetic…”

“Even if it was just a children’s book – which it’s not – it’d still be over your head,” Kate retorted, trying to jerk the notes free from beneath his Top Siders.  Josh gulped, as Tanner loomed large above them.

“Oh, funny…  Hey, you wanna see what’s over your head?”  Tanner grabbed the aluminum platter with their pizza and shuffled it hand to hand over Kate’s head, then Josh’s, then DeWanda’s.  “Who wants more?  Gotta say ‘please’ and hurry, cuz it’s awful hot.”

“Tanner!”  The pretty blonde from the front table said, coming over.  “Leave them alone.”

“What..? I was just having a little fun.”

But as soon as she turned away, Tanner flipped the platter and slammed it face down, like a football player scoring the winning TD.  Fragrant sauce and melty cheese painted themselves over the HPGs stacks of notes and books.

“Oops, musta slipped,” he said, with mock apology.

He turned to greet the applause of his buddies, who suddenly stopped clapping, their eyes wide as they looked behind him.

“Kate, no!” the blonde shouted.

Tanner turned just in time to get splashed head-to-toe with a gallon of pizza sauce, while Kate shouted:

“Extra sauce COMING UP..!”

“Freakin’ A!” Tanner cried, wiping his eyes.

“Oops – musta slipped!” Kate said, dripping with sarcasm, though not dripping as much as Tanner’s face.

“That’s it, you are dead!”

He lunged for her, but his sneakers slipped on her “Hermione” wand, lofting him in a swan dive right into the pool of sauce, splattering his two pals.

“Oh, man!  We are toast!” Josh whimpered, snatching up his laptop, while stuffing books in his backpack.

“Come on,” DeWanda shouted to Kate.  She and Josh ran for the door, as Tanner struggled to his feet.

“Not without –“ Kate tugged her wand from beneath Tanner foot, causing him to fly once more, this time landing heavily on his back – “this!”

 

Outside, as her cohorts hopped on their bikes, Kate paused long enough to clean her sauce-covered wand on Tanner’s convertible top.  And then the three pedaled as fast as their feet could go.

“Where’re we going,” DeWanda shouted, catching a glimpse of Tanner and his pals bursting out the door of Ianello’s.

“The 5K path,” Kate shouted, heading across a stretch of grass and down to a wooded jogging path, which lay between the road on one side and a coursing river on the other.

Afternoon joggers had to jump out of the way for them, with DeWanda offering apologies to each.

“Sorry; sorry; so sorry,” she called out.

The noise of high-revving engines, like hungry lions, pulled their attention to the road, where the cars of Tanner and his friends were pulling abreast of them.

“We’ll never out-run them,” Josh screamed.  “What’re we gonna do?!”

“The woods,” Kate said, pointing ahead, and down a steep embankment that ended just short of the river.

“No way,” shouted DaWanda, stopping her bike.

“But if we stay on the path it’ll lead us back up – to them,” Kate said, pointing to their pursuers, who had screeched to a halt on the bluff above.

Kate took the lead and flew down the embankment.  Josh followed, sliding and bumping, until he joined Kate at the bottom.  DaWanda gulped, crossed herself and did the same, shrieking the whole way.  The others had to catch her at the bottom, to keep her from plunging into the river.

Ahead was the entrance to the old-growth forest – like a slim crevice in a towering cliff of trees.  Kate looked back to the bluff, where Tanner prowled, like an enraged jungle cat, his white polo almost totally soaked in red.

“That’s it – run, you little pussies!  Just wait – I’m gonna make your lives hell,” he shouted, hurling a rock in frustration.

“Oh, like they’re not already,” Josh moaned, flinching, as the rock hit just short of him.  In a rage, Tanner shouted:

“Witch..!”

“If only…” Kate said with a heartfelt sigh.

“Are we really going in there,” DaWanda called out to her.  Kate and Josh looked back to the road.  Tanner and his gang were now sliding down the hill towards them on foot – big, pounding feet.

“Like we have a choice,” Kate asked, as she plunged into the woods; the others following tightly behind her.

For the first eighth of a mile, they found a relatively smooth path, but that all too swiftly morphed into a tangle of roots and rocks.

“I vooote thaaat weeee waaalk nooow,” DeWanda wailed, as they bucked over the dank ground.  Josh looked to Kate, who nodded and they all dismounted to guide their bikes deeper into the towering woods.

“Take my bike, quick,” Kate said to Josh, as she bent to grab a fallen branch.  “Go on…”  The other two pushed on, as Kate used the branch to erase their tracks.

“Look,” Josh whispered, “It that another trail over there,” he said, pointing about six feet to the right.

“Is or isn’t, we can’t stay on this one,” Kate said, so the three pulled their bikes over the bramble and hustled down that trail, which quickly turned very narrow and very dark.  Far above them, mere slivers of sunlight filtered through the treetops, as though from windows high in a gothic cathedral.  DeWanda started humming something tuneless.

“Does anyone know what poison ivy looks like,” Josh asked, as he stepped gingerly through the brush.

“Shh,” Kate said.

“I can’t help it,” DeWanda said, “I always hum when I’m scared,” she said.

“Seriously, shush..!” Kate hissed, cocking an ear, to listen.  She made a sudden, frantic motion for them to pull back behind a clump of saplings.  Peeking through some branches, they saw Tanner and his gang, only twenty or so feet away, pounding down the main trail.

“Oh, jeez,” Josh whimpered.  Both quickly turned to DeWanda, who was covering her mouth with both hands to stifle her tune.

 

After Tanner and his pals had passed, the three made their way deeper into the woods.  Ten minutes had gone by when Josh called out:

“Where are we?  I can’t even tell where the sun is.”  He pulled out his phone, flipped on an app.  “And I’ve got like zero bars – nada!”

“Are we lost?  I have a flute lesson at five,” DeWanda said, starting to hum again.

“Uhm… Well, yeah, I think we are,” Kate admitted, stopping.

“Great.  My mom is going to be so pissed that I missed my lesson – Mrs. Kazinsky charges for no-shows.”

“I’m sorry,” Kate said.  “But bullies like that – someone’s got to stand up to them!”

“Yeah, if you’re like Superman, or Harry with his phoenix core wand, but we’re just… We’re just…“ Josh couldn’t say it.

“Geeks, townie geeks,” DeWanda said, disgusted.

“Yeah, but now with an extra special helping of misery; I mean, before, we were just outcasts.  Now, we’re gonna be like ‘targets.’  So, like, thanks for that, fearless leader.”

“Okay, again – sorry,” Kate said, but then she saw it – “Wait – that’s Cooper’s Wall, isn’t it?”

Ahead of the group was a twelve-foot high, weathered stone wall, covered in vines so thick that it completely blended with the surrounding forest.

“Yeah, but which part – the Cooper estate’s like ginormous,” Josh said.

And it was true.  Nobody really knew how large the old Cooper place was.  Built centuries ago, even the most determined hikers gave up trying to circumnavigate it.

The estate was home to the Cooper sisters, direct descendants of the town’s founders.  And though they kept pretty much to themselves, they were occasionally spotted in town – occasions that were always noted in the society section of the COOPERTON DAILY PRESS.

Kate remembered Mr. Ianello telling her that his grandfather had said it was once a girls’ school, but no one in Cooperton could recall having seen any evidence of that.

“Well, we’ll just follow it around, until we reach the gates.  We’ll know where we are when we reach them,” Kate said, trying to reassure the rest, though sounding less than assured.

“But if that’s Cooper’s wall that means we’re trespassing on their estate,” Josh said, looking around.

“Great – first we piss off the preppies, now we’re gonna be like maybe arrested –“ DeWanda said, starting to hum again, until Kate cut her off.

“Stop – nobody’s going to get in trouble.  I mean, how many times have you actually seen one of the Coopers?”  The others shrugged in agreement.  “Okay, so let’s just –“

Kate stopped short.  There, just in front of the three, was an enormous rattle snake, coiled to spring, its tail shaking out the dreaded sound.

“It – it will just move away, if we back up, right..?” Josh said, his voice shaking almost as much as the snake’s tail.

DeWanda started humming at a very high pitch, as she ducked behind Josh.

“Ba-backing up sounds…” Kate started, but her voice disappeared.

Kate hated snakes.  She remembered the time a king snake had tried to climb their wren house pole, to get at the chicks.  Her mother had attacked it with the hoe she’d been using on the weeds, but the snake kept twisting out of the blade’s way.

Trying to escape Natalie’s vicious chops, the snake had slithered very fast towards Kate, who ran backwards, tripped on the ivy and fell in a seated position, legs in a wide “V”, facing the on-rushing snake.  She’d frozen then, as she was frozen now.

Her mother’s telling blow came just as the snake was but a foot from Kate’s feet.  It writhed under the cut that severed its tail and her mother continued in a “mother bear” frenzy, until the four foot snake had been hacked to bits.  That gory image and the visceral revulsion of it had never left her.

And then, from behind them, came Tanner’s booming voice:

“There they are!  We got ‘em!”  And he and his gang started thundering towards them.  The HPG’s were trapped.

But when their tormentors were nearly upon them, a door in the wall no one had noticed, opened and a slender woman, possibly in her early 70’s, wearing a long dark dress marched out.  Thick gardener’s gloves covered her arms almost up to her elbows and beekeeper netting hung from her large sun hat.  Hanging from her arm was a large, light-colored woven basket.

“Oh, hello, dears,” she said, cheerfully, oblivious to the impending collision of bullies, geeks and snake.  “Out for a walk?”  Before anyone could say anything, a large black dog bounded out behind her.  It ran to a position between the HPG’s and the snake.

“I see we have company,” the woman said, eyeing the snake.  She came forward, garden shears in hand.  She looked directly at the snake.

“Shoo..!” but the snake didn’t budge.

Fearlessly, she came even closer to it, well within striking distance.

“Don’t make me say it again..!” she said, shaking her shears at it.

The snake tried to look past her to Kate, but the woman changed her stance, until the snake lowered its head and slithered away into the scrub.

The big dog then approached the HPG’s and started licking Kate’s hand.

“Don’t worry, he’s very gentle,” the woman said.

“Yeah, but we’re not.  So why don’t you just move along, old lady,” Tanner said, threateningly, as he and his gang arrived just behind the HPG’s.

“Is there a problem here,” the woman asked, calmly.

“Nope – these geeks were asking for trouble and we’re gonna give it to ‘em.”

But as they closed in, another black dog, larger even than the first, and another just like it emerged through the wall, and these two did not look so gentle.  Their short, slathering snouts tilted upward, sniffing the air, and then their glistening black eyes locked on the three boys.  Their rather large, black-clawed paws started moving in slow, deliberate steps towards Tanner and his friends.

“Wha-what are they doing…” Tanner asked, his voice not so deep, loud, or resonant now.

“They must smell something they want.  You haven’t been to Ianello’s, have you – they adore his sauce,” the woman said, although this must have been a rhetorical question, as their white shirts and sweats were drenched with it.

The three, were immediately aware of just how much of the fragrant blood-red liquid covered them – and where it covered them.

“Wha-what..?  No, get down!  No!” Tanner cried, as one of the gigantic dogs leapt up on him, knocking him over.  The other two dogs moved toward Tanner’s friends.  The first started licking Tanner with a ferocious hunger, like a lion licks the fur off its fallen prey.

“Get him off me!  Help me,” he shouted, but his friends were too busy retreating, as the other two dogs zeroed in on their sauce-splattered targets.  Tanner managed to scramble to his feet, and the three bolted back into the forest, with the big dogs running after them, baying loudly.

“Watch out for the snake,” Josh said, but only half-heartedly.

 

“Will they be all right,” Kate asked of the woman, who seemed to be enjoying watching the boys flee.

“Oh, they wouldn’t hurt them.  But, knowing those three, I don’t imagine they’ll be satisfied until they’ve devoured every lick of sauce there’s to be had.  So,” she said, turning to Kate and her band, “Are you out for the harvest?”

“The…the harvest..?  No, uhmm…“ Kate started, “Actually, we’re lost,” she finished.

“Well, not to worry – the drive’s just a bit further.  You can follow that to the highway.”

“What harvest,” Kate asked.

“Why the Butcher’s Broom – it’s pupating, you know – best to get it now, before the full moon.”

“Pupating?” Josh said, turning to DaWanda, who shrugged.

“You’re Kate…uhm, Talbot, isn’t it?  I’m Agatha Cooper.”

“Ye-yes, how did you –“ Kate said, startled that one of the town’s celebrities had actually heard of her.

The woman stepped forward, pulling off her glove.  “You’re the piano prodigy Mr. Atwood’s been raving about.  I’m so glad to finally meet you,” she said, offering her hand, but in that way (palm down) that a member of the royal family might.

But after Kate took her hand, Agatha took hold of Kate’s with both of hers.

“Astonishing..!”

“Sorry,” Kate said, looking down at her palm, afraid that it might be covered in pizza sauce.

“Mr. Atwood says there isn’t a piece Liszt wrote that you can’t perform.”

“He did, well I…” Kate stuttered.

“But Liszt’ work is filled with tenths – how do these delicate hands stretch that wide?”

“Uhmm…”

“We adore Liszt – so full of untethered passion!”

“That’s…yes –“ Kate said, amazed that someone else shared her feeling about her favorite composer.

“You must come up to the house and play for us some night.  Will next Monday work?”

“Monday, I… Oh, Monday – no – we’re leaving on vacation the day before.”

“Ahh, yes – then you’ll still be here for your birthday, won’t you?”

“Er…Yes,” Kate said, amazed by the depth of Agatha’s knowledge of her – Kate – the Harry Potter Geek.

“Good, though I’m sure my sister and I will deeply regret that we didn’t get to hear you play, but…” she said, putting her glove back on, “Perhaps if you come back…”

“If..?” Kate said.

“Well England can be such an…entrancing place.”

Kate wasn’t sure, but she thought she saw the hint of a smile on the older woman’s face.

“Anyway, as I said – just a little further around…”  And, with that, Agatha Cooper began her harvest.

 

 

 


 

CHAPTER 3

 

“WANTS AND WISHES”

 

The Talbot house was a late 1800’s Victorian that had been built for one of the old mills’ senior managers, replete with the era’s gingerbread decoration, but it had definitely seen better days.  The front porch listed to the left and the wood rot, kindly, was mostly hidden by the overgrown vines and bushes.

It did have a grand drive though that encircled a crumbling, long-dead fountain, in which Kate’s mom made an annual attempt to plant perennials that never returned.  As to the areas beyond the drive, they’d yielded to the clutches of the forest wild.

Jasper and Jason Talbot, Kate & Kara’s junior high-aged brothers were currently circling that drive on skateboards, while throwing a Frisbee.  The family’s golden retrievers, Sadie and Mollie sprinted between them, trying to snatch it.  All four ignored the shouting coming through the upstairs dormer windows.

 

Inside the upstairs bedroom that the sisters shared, the twins were facing off:

“Why are you angry with me!?  He’s the one who started it, slamming the pizza down on our research,” Kate said, while trying to de-sauce and de-cheese her notes, with a nearly-spent roll of paper towels.

“Which he wouldn’t have done, if you hadn’t made him out to be a – a –“

“Moron?  Bully?  Demeaning Neanderthal?  He called us nerds!”

Behind her, Kate’s screen saver kicked in, and a dragon chasing a broom-flying Harry Potter roared, while belching fire.  Tilting her head towards the screen-saver, Kara said:

“Well…”

“Oh my god – he wreaks havoc like a roid-raging thug, but you side with him?!”

“I just…it just, well it just puts me in an awkward position.”

“How does anything I do – oh – no way!  You like him!  You actually like him!” Kate realized, amazed.

“Well, duh, he’s only the captain of Edgehill’s football team and the son of a senator.  Every townie girl wants him, well, everyone except you.  And, not that it’s any of your business, but we’re going out tonight, or were, if you haven’t spoiled that too.”

“You’re going out with him?  Seriously, K..?  He’s got like a room temperature IQ.”

“So what..?  He has a Mercedes.  Townie boys have what – bikes and beat-up pick-ups.  There’s zero social clout in dating a townie,” Kara said.  “Oh, and lucky for you – Mr. Ianello says he’s not going to charge you for the sauce.”

“That’s because he hates entitled bullies, too,” Kate said, as her sister turned to her mirror, to appraise her make-up.

Satisfied, Kara knelt at the side of her bed and pulled out two boxes.  From one, she pulled out a dress and wriggled into it.  It fit like a glove; a short, tight, PG-13 cleavage-baring, glittering glove.

“Wow!  When did you get that,” Kate asked.

“I picked it up in Boston this morning.  Like it?”

“Sure, but how did you pay for it?  Dad’ll blow a fuse if you charged it!”

“Dad’s not going to pay for it and neither am I,” Kara said, while admiring herself in the mirror.

“Genius – how’d you work that?”

“I told the store I was taking it on approval.  I said I was a bridesmaid and the bride had to sign off on it.  Then tomorrow, after my date, I’ll return it.”

“Where’s the wedding, Vegas?”

“Why, does it look too slutty,” Kara asked, turning back to the mirror.

“Do you honestly think someone like Tanner’d care if it did?”

“Maybe not, but I would.  I want it to say, ‘sexy,’ without saying ‘cheap,’ or ‘easy.’  My goal’s a second date – no other townie’s gotten a second date with him.  Look in the back, would you?  I can’t tell – does the tag show,” Kara asked.  Kate got up and tucked in the tag, after checking the price.

“Ouch – that’s gonna be irritating,” Kara said.

“It should be – it’ll remind you how broke you’ll be, if you trash it.”

Kara rummaged among the items in her meagerly provisioned jewel case.  She tried various earring and necklace combinations, but wasn’t satisfied with any of them, finally slamming the lid shut in frustration.

“Crap – everything I own is crap!  I bet every girl he dates back home has the perfect set of pearls, with matching earrings – pearls go with everything…”

“Like BMWs and country club memberships, which we don’t have.”

“Why aren’t you a sister that has something worth borrowing..?”

“Sorry…” Kate said, trying not to sound sincere.

Kara opened the second box and pulled out a very tall pair of heels.  Pulling them on, she tottered on the well-worn carpet.

“Those are on approval, too?”  Kara nodded.  “But you can’t even walk in them.  You’re like handicapping yourself.”

“That’s kind of the point, but you wouldn’t understand.  Oh, why do I bother?  You’re clueless.”

“No, enlighten me, please.”

“Well, for one – they make my calves look incredibly hot, and, two – every time I wobble, Tanner can come to my rescue.”

“Oh, right, cuz he’s sooo the chivalrous Galahad.”

“The what..?”

“Which part didn’t you get – ‘chivalrous,’ or -”

“Believe it or not, even though I’m apparently the ‘stupid twin,’ I actually got both.  What you don’t get is that maybe Tanner isn’t a knight, or a – a wizard, but at least he’s REAL!”

“Yeah, real mediocre,” Kate threw back.

“Like you’re dating anyone better, or even any-one…”

“Maybe that’s because what I’m looking for is… well, I’m not just looking for a fill-in-the-blank boyfriend.  I’m not planning my future – my college – just to find a husband.  I have bigger ambitions than settling for being ‘Mrs. Somebody.’  Oh…”  Kate stopped short, seeing her mom, paused at their door.  Natalie Talbot had a cute nose, clear blue eyes and a blonde, shoulder-length pony tail, and, like the rest of the Talbots, except for Kate, a deep tan.

“Like me,” Mrs. Talbot asked, entering with a load of clean laundry.  Kara quickly shoved the two boxes under the bed with her foot.

“Oh, mom…  Oh, no, I didn’t mean –“ Kate started.

“Nice,” Kara intoned, lowly, as she surreptitiously pulled her bedspread over the two boxes.

“No, I think I got what you meant and Honey and that’s okay.  Women should be able to choose what they want out of life.  That’s my generation’s gift to yours and I suspect your generation will take that a lot further.  But listen,” she said, taking a seat on Kate’s bed next to her.  “Don’t for a second think that I didn’t want all that marrying your dad and having you four has given me.  Maybe I didn’t discover a cure for something or run for President, but I’ve been very, very happy.  And no matter what you choose for your life, I couldn’t want anything more for you than that, okay?”  Kate nodded.  “Good.  And where did you get that dress, Kara?  I hope you didn’t charge it.”

“No.  It’s…I borrowed it,” Kara said.  Kate fake coughed.

“Okay, but don’t let your father see you in it – he’d have a fit.  Now what was the shouting about?”

“Nothing, really,” Kate said.

“Nothing, except she attacked the Edgehill guy I’m going out with tonight.”

“What,” Mrs. Talbot asked.

I attacked him?”

“And all because he teased her about her Harry Potter obsession…”

Teased me?!  Mom – he slammed a pizza down on our notes – everything we’ve been working on for like the last month!”

“Whatever,” Kara said, dismissively.

Whatever?!  Just why is it fair that idiots with muscles and/or money get to push the rest of us around?!”

“That’s life – deal with it, Kate,” Kara said.

She took a last appraisal of herself in the mirror before turning to face her sister.

“And did you stop to think what effect your stunt might have on mom..?  How it might jeopardize her job at Edgehill..?  NO!  You never think about anyone else first!  And you’re supposed to be the ‘smart’ one!”

A HONKING below, prompted Kara to look out the window, as Tanner’s Mercedes roared up the drive.  Mrs. Talbot rose and looked down through the window, as Tanner honked again.

“Is that him,” she asked Kara, who nodded.  “Well he seems to have survived, so… As you two say, let’s ‘hug it out,’ shall we?”

Kate hugged her mom, but Kara remained off to the side.

“Kara, come on.”  But Kara ignored her mother’s request.  “Kara..?”

“No.  Not this time, Mom.  You don’t know what it’s like having a sister like her.”

“I have a sister, I think I know something –“

“No, not one in the same year as you – this is different.  She’s different.  No, WAAYY beyond ‘different’ – she’s – she’s…her!  And I’m tired of having to defend her.  Tanner’s right – all that Harry Potter stuff is just stupid kiddie crap.”  Kara faced her sister directly:  “So why don’t you just grow up, get a real life and stop ruining mine!”

Kara slammed the lid of her jewelry box and headed for the door – the jam of which she hit, as her left ankle snapped sideways.

 

“Kara..?”  But the only reply was the clunking of Kara’s heels on the stairs.  Mrs. Talbot looked back to her other daughter and saw tears running down her face.      “Oh, honey, she’ll get over it.  She didn’t really mean -”

“No, she did.  Oh, Mom, my life just sucks – capital “S”!  Why is it all so easy for her?  She has everything – looks, popularity, confidence…  And me – the only ways I stand out are all the wrong ones!  It’s like ‘Life’ is spoken in her language, while I only speak Latin – you know – the ‘dead’ language.”

“You aren’t being fair to yourself, Kate.  You, my dear, are not just any girl.  It could be that it’s just easier for Kara, because her wants are so much less than yours.  What she desires can be found right here in our little corner of the world.  But you – you need bigger challenges.  You want to take on ‘dragons’.”

“I do!  Well, metaphorically.  Oh, Mom, I can’t wait to go to college and start doing something truly amazing.”

“And I’m sure you will when you get there, but meanwhile, Cooperton might just be a bit short on ‘amazing’.  So, until then, it’s like what my college tennis coach used to tell me.  He said, ‘Natalie, don’t get discouraged.  The game you’re assembling is much more complex.  It has so many more tools than your teammates, but when you get control of all you’re capable of, you will be’…”

Kate looked up, as her mother stopped, with a sad little smile of realization.

“Is that when you…?”  Her mom nodded.

“That’s just about when I met and married your dad….”  Mrs. Talbot sighed, but then perked up, “But I still won the amateur regionals six years in a row, didn’t I?  And you, little one…”

Mrs. Talbot took Kate’s face gently in her hands and looked directly at her.

“I know you sometimes feel like a Persian cat that’s been set down in the midst of our pack of golden retrievers – okay, bad analogy.”

“Yeah, Mom, seeing as I’m allergic to them…”

“But with your meds, you got over that.  Anyway, what I wanted to say was – you are as important a part of this family as anyone else – just as you are – and none of us would change you for anything, not even Kara.  Well, maybe today.  But, hey – just think – if you two were really identical do you know what that’d mean?”

“I’d be a lot more popular?  Scratch that – I’d have a shot at maybe being ‘popular-adjacent’.”

“And you’d also be competing against each other for the attention of the Tanner McLouds.”

“Yeuck!”

Mom and daughter laughed.

“Oh, oh – Mom, I almost forgot.  On the way home we – DeWanda, Josh and I – cut through the forest and ran into one of the Cooper sisters – Agatha.”

“She was just out in the woods?”

“No, this was on the Cooper estate, well, outside the Wall.  Anyway, she introduced herself and asked me to come and play for them.”

“Agatha Cooper’s heard of you?”

“From Mr. Atwood – she said he’d been raving about me.”

“Well you’ll have to take her up on it, when we get back,” Mrs. Talbot said, rising.

“Sure… Oh – but there’s the other funny part.  She knew I was going to England and said, I could play for her if I came back – she said, ‘if’, like…”

“Rest assured, Katie, we will be bringing you home with us, no matter what – even if Harry Potter himself asks you to stay.”  Natalie Talbot rose and grabbed her laundry basket.  “Here are your sweaters – you might want to block them out so they can finish drying.  Your uncle emailed me today and said the weather’s going to be cool-ish.“

The phone rang and Kate answered it.

“Hi, Dad…  What..?  Okay.”  She handed the phone to her mom.  “He wants to talk to you.”

“Hey, what’s up,” her mother said, after taking the phone.  “That sounds good.  Let me ask the boys.  Hold on.”  She went to the window and called down.

“Jasper, Jason!  YO!”  She waited until they stopped their skateboards.  “Are you up for doubles tonight?”

The brothers looked at each other and nodded.  Kate’s mom gave them a heads up sign and turned back to the phone.

“They’re in.  We’ll meet you there in an hour.”  Hanging up, she turned to Kate.  “It’ll be nine by the time we’re done, so we’ll probably grab something on the way home.  If you get hungry, there’s still some chicken and salad from last night, or you can order pizza.“

“Don’t worry, mom.  I’ll be fine,” Kate said.

“Of course you will.  I never worry about you,” her mother said, giving her a kiss on the forehead.  “And this will give you time to put in your two hours of practice.”

“Yeah…  Great,” Kate said, but she didn’t look like she meant it.

“And can you feed Sadie and Mollie?  I’ll get the boys to walk them, when we get back.”

“Yes, mom, no problem…”

 

Kate climbed up the shaky stairs leading to the studio over the garage, avoiding contact with the large flakes of paint that were peeling off the greyed railing.  When she got inside, she dropped down onto the bench before the old spinet piano.  But rather than lifting the lid over the keys, she sat there, chipping away at the cracked varnish with a fingernail.

Shrugging with a big sigh, she flipped the lid up and played a glissando.  PLUNK – one of the keys was stuck.  She hit it again and again, harder and harder, but it pushed back against her anger, refusing to un-stick.

She’d dreamed of a grand piano, but that would have been a small fortune, which on her dad’s salary, as the county Parks & Rec Manager would have been out of the question.  Besides which, with all the skis, kayaks, etc., there just wasn’t room, and the weight probably would have broken the floor.

She tried to practice the new piece, but her heart wasn’t in it.  It was the most difficult work she’d ever attempted – “The Mephisto Waltz,” by Liszt.  It was what she’d be playing in the scholarship contest that lay ahead of her.  Was it really something she could master in two months, or was that “Magical Thinking,” as her teacher had said, who had suggested something much simpler?

“You think these difficult pieces – pieces played by professionals on national stages – are within your grasp.  No, Katie, you are setting yourself up to fail.  Always, always you try to learn the hardest piece first.  You want to play with the big kids, but you are not one; not yet.”

‘Was that true,’ she wondered, ‘Was I setting myself up to fail..?  But why..?’

‘If I’d skipped two grades, like Mr. Leslie suggested, like I’d pleaded with mom and dad to let me do, would that have been just so I could fail..?  Or do I regret now that I deferred to mom, who said skipping two grades would hurt Kara’s feelings?’ Kate wondered.  ‘And anyway, staying where I was is kind of a fail, too – I’m top of my class, but everyone – including Kara – hates me because of it.’

 

It was getting dark, which made it hard to see the keys.  Feeling too lazy to turn the lights on, she forged on, but, after a slew of mistakes, she got up and hit the switch for the overhead (fluorescent) light.  Kate caught her reflection in the window, between the moth-eaten curtains – she looked as sad as she felt.  Dropping down on the bench, she thought:

‘Kara’s on a date.  Mom, Dad and the boys are playing tennis and I’m here – just me and ol’ Franz…who’s been dead for like a million years.’  Writing the night off as a lost cause, she got up, turned off the light and left.

 

When her brothers got back, they became too engrossed in their video games to walk the dogs, so Kate did it.  It was a short walk though, not because Mollie and Sadie wanted to return, but because Kate did.  The dogs had found every tree, every sound endlessly interesting, but the darkness, crickets and the whining, circling mosquitos had only added to the funk she was in.

Hanging up their leashes, she filled their water dishes and set them down on the ancient linoleum floor that curled at the edges.  Mollie, still in the mood to play, found their ball and dropped it at Kate’s feet, but Kate wasn’t in a playful mood.

The ball began to roll slowly, following the slope of the floor, through the dining room and on into the living room, where it caught in the heater grates.  Sadie got there first, snapping it up.  She offered it again to Kate as she neared, but Kate walked past and started to climb the stairs.  Being as old as the house, each step she took creaked.  By the third step, Kate’s mom, who’d fallen asleep on the couch, woke up.

“S’okay – I’m awake.  What?”

“Nothing, I was just going up,” Kate said.

“Okay, honey.”  At that moment, John Talbot, Kate’s dad – thinning blond hair and wire rims – came rushing down the stairs.

“Nope, nobody’s going to bed yet,” he said, with big energy.  “We’ve all gotta start packing.”

“Dad – we’ve got five days.”

“Uh-uh.  We leave tomorrow – early – really early!”

“What..?!”  Mrs. Talbot was now totally awake.

“I just checked those last minute deals and if we fly out tomorrow on the first flight we save almost three thousand dollars.”

“Three thousand..?  That’s – wow,” Mrs. Talbot said, sitting up.  “But we can’t be ready by…”

“Three ‘k’, Nat – that’s a new roof!  That’s no more buckets catching the drips, every time it rains!”

“Okay, we’re doing it!” Mrs. Talbot said.  “Kate – get packing, and text your sister.  Tell her to cut her date short.”

“Yes, Mom,” Kate said, her spirits suddenly lifting way up!

“But that means…  Oh my lord!  Your aunt and uncle!  They still think we’re coming Sunday,” Natalie said.    Checking her watch she added, “And it’s the middle of the night there.  I’ll have to email them now!”

“And that means I have to finish my blog and post it tonight,” Kate said.  As she turned to the stairs, her mother stopped her.

“And Kate..!”

“What mom?”

“You know what that also means..?  You and Kara will be celebrating your birthday over there instead of here.  Do you mind?”

“Mind..?!  Are you kidding?  Going to England is already the best present ever!”

The golden retrievers looked from one Talbot to another, wanting to share in the excitement.  Kate bent down and smooched them both.

“And I’ve got to call the dog sitter to come tomorrow.  I hope she’s not booked,” her mother added.

“And don’t forget your hiking boots, like last time,” Jasper said.

“I’m happy to say, I won’t need them,” Kate said.

“While we’re hiking through the Cotswolds, Kate’s going to stay behind with her Aunt,“ Mrs. Talbot said.

“Bummer,” Jason said.

“No way..!  She’s mapped out a whole bunch of the places where they film the Potter movies and she’s going to take me on a tour of them,” Kate said, eyes ablaze.

Jasper turned to Jason and asked, lowly:  “Hey – did you remember their birthday?”

“I did, if you did,” Jason replied.

“No way – you’re not pulling that ‘It’s from us,’ scam again.”

“Oh, like you remembered it either,” Jason countered.

 

That night, as she’d nearly finished packing, Kate picked up her Hermione model wand.  There was a little bit of pizza sauce left on it.  She washed it off in the bathroom she shared with Kara and her brothers, dried it and then headed for her suitcase.

‘But do I really want to take it,’ she thought.  ‘What if they open my bags at Customs and saw it?  What would they think?’  And then a voice she tried to silence, but couldn’t, said, ‘What has it ever brought me, but the contempt of my peers and possibly the loss of my only friends?’  But then another voice spoke to her:  ‘You’re going to England – home of Harry Potter, or at least, home of the Potter books’ author, J.K. Rowling.  (Or does she live in Scotland?)  And you’re going to be staying with your aunt, your beloved aunt, who has sent you all the books and encouraged all things Potter.  Of course you’re taking the wand!’

And, with a big grin, Kate lovingly tucked her Hermione model wand into her carry-on.

“Let the Customs people roll their eyes (Kara certainly will) – but who cares?!  I’m going to England,” Kate shouted aloud.

 

 

 


 

CHAPTER 3

 

“PINK FLAMINGOS – THEY’RE NOT JUST FOR GARDENS ANYMORE”

 

Early the next morning, as the sun was making dark giant fingers out of their cypress trees, John Talbot and his sons heaved luggage into the back of an idling shuttle van.  Kate came bursting out of the door, lugging one huge suitcase, while wearing a near-to-bursting backpack that knocked into the frame of the front door.

“Cheers, mates,” Kate said with exuberance.

“Where are your mom and Kara,” Mr. Talbot asked, checking his watch.

“We’re here!” Mrs. Talbot said, coming out.  A pause and then a sullen Kara exited also.  She came to the back of the van and dumped her luggage.

 

As the van took off, Kate and Kara were seated in the very rear.  All of a sudden Kate shouted:

“Wait!  I forgot my allergy meds!”  The driver pulled over to the side.

“Oh, never mind.  I don’t need them, do I,” she said.

“Not since we’re leaving the dogs home with the sitter, no,” Mrs. Talbot said.  Kate sighed with relief.  She turned, to smile at Kara, who was not sharing in her happiness.

“What’s up?  I thought you’d be basking in your post-date bliss.”

“Shut up,” Kara hissed.

“Uh, you should be saying, ‘thank you’,” Kate said, lowering her voice.

“For what..?”

“For covering for you, when you didn’t get back until like 3AM,” Kate said.

“Why, what did you tell them,” Kara asked.

“I said you’d already got home, but realized you’d left your phone in Tanner’s car and that you’d gone down to the road to meet him, rather than have him roar up to the house and wake them all up.”

“You think they bought it,” Kara asked.  Kate shrugged.

“Either way, if they didn’t wait up for you, you’re good.”

“Yeah right,” Kara said sarcastically.  “Remember the stuff I took out ‘on approval,’..?”

“Oooh, yeah…  Ouch.”

“A lot more than ‘ouch’,” Kara said.

“So, why didn’t you come back earlier and give it to one of your bff’s to return?  Were you too busy ‘cementing’ your position as Cooperton’s #1 Townie?”

“Hah!”

“Hah..?” Kate said, turning to her sister.

“Look – if I tell you, will you promise not to…”

“What – tell Mom?”

“No… Gloat,” Kara said.

“Gloat – about what?  Why what did he do? “

“Well… He was like all over me, acting like it was his privilege to… You know, like it was a done deal.”

“What..?!”  Kara nodded, rolling her eyes.  “So what did you do,” Kate asked.  Kara smiled.

“I told him to close his eyes and then…well, let’s just say I performed a little magic of my own,” she said.

“Magic..?  You..?”

“Uh-huh – with one swift upward thrust of my knee, I turned his cajones into a pair of crushed nuts.”  Kate burst out laughing and Kara joined in.

“But then why were you out so late,” Kate asked.

“Well after I did that, he told me I could walk home – four miles – in those shoes!”

“Why didn’t you just call me,” Kate asked.

“Because…”  Kara said through gritted teeth.  “…Because I hate it when you’re right.”

Kate made a great effort to hide her smile, pretending to notice something very special about the rising sun.

 

As the blue van moved down the country road, Mrs. Talbot turned to the twins.

“Wow, it seems like only yesterday that I was bringing the two of you home from England,” Mrs. Talbot said.

“You know, Mom, I always thought that was strange.  Didn’t you know back then that you weren’t supposed to travel when you’re, well, you know, just about ready to pop,” Kate asked.

“But I wasn’t – traveling.  We were living there, while your dad was finishing grad school.  Besides, we didn’t know at the time that your father would be offered his position here immediately after graduation.  What was inconvenient was your arrival a week early.  Your father and uncle had gone up to Oxford to see the rowing championships –“

“My school lost to his, but don’t remind your uncle, he’d just rub it in,” Kate’s dad added.

“I remember your Aunt had just returned from visiting a relative.  She made us a ‘nice cuppa’, when suddenly I went into labor.  And it progressed so quickly that we didn’t have time to get to the hospital.”

“I thought labor takes like days,” Kara said.

“It usually does – I was in labor a day and a half with Jasper.”

“Must have been his jug ears,” Jason teased.  Jasper punched him.

“The funny part was I slept through the whole thing,” Mrs. Talbot said.

“Slept – through labor?!”

“Boy – if I ever have kids, sign me up for that route,” Kara said.

“And it was a big surprise to find that I’d had twins, because –“ Mrs. Talbot started.

“Which airline are you taking,” the shuttle driver asked.

“British Airways,” Mrs. Talbot replied, searching her bag for the tickets.

 

Over the limitless expanse of grey carpet that was the North Atlantic, Kate leaned against a window, listening to Mozart on her iPod, using her fake wand to conduct.  At the front of the cabin, in the area bridging economy and first class, Kara stood surrounded by a cluster of really tall, nattily-dressed men.  Kate noted her sister was doing a lot of hair flipping and smiling.  Kate turned back to the window.

But, when someone called the men back into first class and shut the drapes on Kara, she returned to her seat next to Kate.  Pulling off her headphones, Kate asked:

“So who were those guys?”  At that, her brothers, sitting in the seats in front of them, popped up.

“Are you kidding?  Who were they?  Only the Boston Celtics,” Jason said, incredulous.

“You know who the Celtics are, right,” Jasper asked.

“Believe it or not, even though I’m apparently the sports-challenged twin, as we live only forty minutes outside of Boston, I’d have to be brain dead not to know who the Celtics are!”

“Okay, I just meant…whatever,” Jasper said, as he slid back down.

“They’re flying over for some exhibition games,” Kara added.

“That explains it,” Kate said.

“What?”

“Their height – kind of in the job description.”

“I like tall guys,” Kara said.

“I noticed,” Kate said, as Kara got up and reached up into the overhead compartment.  Pulling a small package out of her bag, she dropped it in her sister’s lap.

“What’s this,” Kate asked, taking off her earphones.

“Okay, like I know our usual birthday routine is to not give presents.”

“No, we always just take something we like that the other one’s got.  You’re not breaking our tradition,” Kate asked.  Kara shrugged.  “But I already took that sweater – the purple cashmere -”

“Then you owe me two of your things, because I saw this in that antique slash thrift shop slash whatever and –“

“What antique slash –“ Kate started.

“The one on Eastbourne…”

“The one that’s always closed..?”

“Yeah, strange, huh..?  But it was open Wednesday and…well, here,” Kara said.

With wonderment, Kate carefully peeled off the wrappings.  Beneath them was an old-fashioned case, covered in faded rose peau de soie.  It was about four inches square.  Prying it open, Kate gasped, as she saw – sitting on a bed of purple midnight velvet – a Victorian era, elaborately chased silver locket.

“It’s missing the chain, but I figure you could –“

“No, K., seriously, it’s…beyond beautiful.”

“You’re into that antique-y stuff, so I was pretty sure you’d like it, but the best part’s inside.  Open it up.”  But as she was about to, Mrs. Talbot approached.

“What’s this?  You’re not about to open a birthday present before your birthday, are you?”  Kate gave her mother a pleading look, but –

“Nope, you know the rules.  Go on – put it away.  You can open it Saturday at your Aunt and Uncle’s.”  Kate slid the locket into her pocket as Kara headed back forward.  Natalie took the seat next to her daughter.

“How’re you doing,” she asked.  Kate shrugged.

“I thought you’d be all excited – finally going to England – the home of Harry Potter.”

“And J.K. Rowling..!”

“And J.K. Rowling…”

“I am…no, I am, but…  Well, I was just thinking.  What if, you know, after Aunt G. and I visit all the sites where they film the POTTER movies and I see how real they’re, well, not… I mean…well what if takes all the magic out of it for me?”

“I guess that’s possible.”

“And…and also, now that I’m almost seventeen, well, maybe I really am getting a little too old for it all,” Kate said, self-consciously pocketing her “Hermione” wand.

“So you’re worried you’ll be like Wendy – all grown up and unable to return to Never Land?”

“Kind of…  But also, well, what if I do come back – disenchanted.  You know Josh and DeWanda – the other members of my Harry Potter Club – they’re the only real friends I have.  So what happens if I give it up?  Does that mean I’ll lose them, too?”

“Oh, honey, I wouldn’t worry about that,” Mrs. Talbot said.

“But you never see your old tennis partner now that she doesn’t play anymore, and she lives just a couple blocks away.”

“True, but…”  Kate looked out the jet’s window.  Somewhere ahead of them, below the sparkling white mattress of clouds, England was drawing nearer, and with it, perhaps, the potential demise of her favorite escape destination – the realm of Harry Potter.

“Maybe you’re just tired, honey.  Why don’t you take a nap until we’re ready to land?”  Kate nodded and put her headphones back on.  Leaning her head against the window, she drifted off to sleep.

 


 

CHAPTER 4

 

“MAY I HAVE YOUR ATTENTION, PLEASE”

 

Down a long hallway, a young man in black dress pants, grey shirt and a red tie was rushing.  The leather heels of his thin-soled shoes slapped the Italian marble floors.  He passed rows of portraits hung against dark wood-paneling, until he reached an elegantly appointed outer office.  An attractive woman seated at a large desk looked up.

“What is it, Donnelly?”

“It’s urgent, Pamela.”

“You know he doesn’t want to be disturbed.”

“He will for this, or it’ll be my head if I don’t.”

“On your head be it then.”  Donnelly moved towards the door and took a deep breath, then timidly knocked.  No answer.  He looked back to Pamela.

“Don’t look to me – it’s your funeral.”

Donnelly opened the door, but didn’t enter.

Inside, were four men, all meticulously dressed in Saville Row suits, seated in tufted club chairs.  The high-ceilinged room was candle-lit and a crackling fire bounced light over the hand-polished cherry wood paneling framing the tall windows.  An elegant man with prematurely grey hair turned.  The light hit the far side of his face and threw into bas-relief the deep scarring.  The man was not pleased.

“Donnelly – are you looking to be fired?  I said we weren’t to be disturbed.”

“Yes, Minister,” the aide replied, his legs trembling, “But…but you said, you said if ever -” he stopped.

“If ever..?  If ever what?! “

“If ever they spotted –“

“They who..?!  Spit it out, man.”

“If the Trace Trackers ever spotted the Trace – the one with a red dot” the aide whispered

“What..?!  What..?!”  The man leapt to his feet.  “The Red Dot..?!  Are you quite sure?!”  The aide nodded.

“Yes.  All the others are green, you see.”

“Of course, I see!  Where?!  Where did the Red Dot appear..?!”

“It’s just off the coast, sir,” the aide replied.”

“Show me at once,” the man said, leaping to his feet.

“Should I alert the Aurors and the Defenders..?”

“What..?  No – take me there now!”

And with that he hurried out of the room.  The other three men turned to each other.

“Red Dot..?  Is that some sort of code,” asked the man with a black beard.

“You don’t think…  No – he doesn’t think it could be her,” the oldest man said, shivering, “Not after all these years.”  The other men rose and headed for the door, followed by the oldest man, who paused in the doorway.

“Damn, where did Pamela go?  I wanted another cup of tea.”

 

The Minister and his aide entered a large, darkened room.  In the center was a very large, full relief map of the United Kingdom.  Coming closer one could see pockets of small green dots, which were being watched over by a troop of six men.

“You’ve spotted the Red Dot – where?!” the Minister demanded.

“There, sir,” the aide pointed.  The Minister watched it moving.

“It’s moving rather fast.  Not even the fastest broom could make that kind of speed, could it?”

One of the Trace Trackers stepped forward, pushing his wire rims onto the top of his bald head.

“We debated that, Minister, but from its trajectory and its speed…well, you made the calculations, Higgins –“

“We think the Red Dot may be inside a Muggle flying machine –“

“I know what a jet is, if that’s what you meant,” the Minister huffed.  “Where is it headed..?”

“It appears to be approaching the Muggle airport, sir,” Higgins said.

“The Muggle airport..?!  Heathridge..?“

“Row, sir…  It’s Heath…row,” the aide added, dropping his voice, as his superior glared.

“But it’s going in a circle.  Is that how those contraptions fly?”

The bald Trace Tracker stepped forward.  “Well, we don’t have much experience with them, Minister, but we believe that – WHOA!”

“What?!” the Minister said.

“Look – It’s gone,” the aide said, pointing.  “The Red Dot’s gone!”

“Gone?  Gone?!  Get it back!  NOW!” the Minister demanded.

 

Here was a situation that the well-trained crews at England’s busiest airport had never trained for.  Oh, they were thoroughly prepped for crash landings, terrorist threats, fuel-leaking aircraft, ice storms and even electrical black-outs, but they’d never seen this before (though it was quite a sight to behold).

It had started with just the one – a single, large, perfectly-pink flamingo, floating gracefully down onto a secondary runway.  But then, like a Pepto Bismal-colored blizzard, thousands joined it, until all the runways and areas in between were covered in a writhing lake of hot pink.  Wings and necks, punctuated with jet-black beaks swaying to and fro, like a Bosch painting of Hell come to life, but in Barbie-pink.

Of course those working in the control tower had no time to admire the tableaux, what with flight after flight lining up to land, but no runway on which to set down.  Colin, a forty-ish controller asked Tom, his chief.

“But what should I tell them?”

“Tell them to circle.  Tell all of them to circle,” Tom said, running his fingers through his graying hair.  “I don’t need this!  I don’t need this!  I’m five days away from a performance review!”

“Should I tell them why they have to circle?”

“Bloody well do not!  They’d think we were all pissed – African flamingos in the UK?!”  Tom turned and barked:

“Andy – start diverting flights.  Send them to Liverpool, Manchester, Dublin – anywhere but here!  Crikey!  And somebody call the zoo, or PETA, or that Aussie bloke that wrestles crocs!”

“He’s dead, actually,” Andy replied.

“Bloody lucky him!”

 

Mrs. Talbot shook Kate awake.  As she came to, her mother pointed out the plane window to the airport below.

“Look, little one,” pointing down below the plane.  “And you thought all the magic would be over.”

“What is it,” Kate asked, yawning as she straightened up and stretched.  Casually, she looked down.

“The pilot says he overheard someone in the control tower saying it’s a flock of flamingos.”

“But flamingos live in Africa, mom.  How could they be this far north?”  Natalie Talbot shrugged.  “It’s awesome though, isn’t it..?” Kate exclaimed, gazing downward.  “It’s like a humongous Christo installation.”

Mrs. Talbot called out to her husband.  “Do they know how soon we can land?”  Mr. Talbot approached:

“No.  Last I heard we were being shunted off to some smaller airport.”

“But Aunt G. – how will she find us?”

“We’ll have to call her when we land,” Mr. Talbot replied.

 

 

 


 

Carlisle was a regional airport and not really set up for International Customs duty, or Customs of any sort, but their crew was eager for the task, hearing that a famous sports team from America would be deplaning there.  Well, truthfully, they would have been happier if it had been a rugby team, or a soccer team, or a cricket team, or something that any of them had ever played, but still, how often could you stop off at the pub and say you’d been surrounded by famous giants, two meters plus, plus?  As none of them really knew what a customs clerk was supposed to do, the lead man had to call his cousin at Manchester International.

 

Being summer, it was still light as their plane started making its approach to Carlisle.  Kate could see glittering lakes and vivid green hills faceted with the darker green forests of the Lake District.

“Mom,” Kate said, turning to her.

“What, honey?”

“My hands and feet – they’re… tingling.  I mean, really tingling.  You know, like that time I had frostbite and they were starting to thaw.”

“I wonder if that’s your meds wearing off.  Remember – you’ve been on them since you were ten,”

“Oh, oh right.  That’s probably it.“

“Hey,” Jasper cried out.

“What?  Are you tingling, too?” Mrs. Talbot called over the seat.

“No.  Our video games have gone screwy,” Jason said.

“Well it’s time to put them away anyway,” Mr. Talbot said.  “The pilot says we’re making our final approach.”

 

After they landed, Kate searched for a pay phone, but there were none before you got through the processing, and, suffice it to say that the process moved slowly, what with a totally unprepared ground crew, trying to handle three jets worth of international passengers.  Kate found a payphone, only to realize she didn’t have any English money, but one of the workers kindly lent her her cell phone.

The problem was, she’d have to use it inside the large, concrete-floored room that the crew had hastily arranged for Customs processing.  As if the noise of three hundred people wasn’t enough, the Celtics, to pass the time had liberated a bag of basketballs and formed a circle, firing off sharp, quick bounce pass drills.  The stranded passengers, glad for the distraction gathered around the periphery.

Off to one side, Kate held the cell phone to her right ear, as her free hand covered her other one.

“Aunt G.  We’re here…  I said, ‘We’re here’,” Kate shouted, but wasn’t convinced she’d been heard.  Turning to the team she called out:

“Guys – can you please…”  But they didn’t hear her, so she came closer.

“Guys!  Can you please…”  But still they didn’t hear her.  Frustrated, she broke through their ranks and into the center of the circle.

“YO,” she shouted, but the team ramped up the speed of the passed balls, trapping her in the middle.  The noise, the frustration – Kate reached her boiling point.  Pocketing the phone, she shot her right hand out to snatch a ball, then her left to catch another (from behind her, no less!).  Then, while palming the first two, she whirled around to bump a third, sending it skyward.  As it came down, she slammed the first two into it with such force that all three exploded at once.  The room fell instantly silent and no one was more stunned than Kate, who sheepishly dropped the flaccid orange rubber lumps to the floor.  Retrieving the phone from her pocket, she mumbled:

“Sorry, couldn’t hear…”  As Kate moved to the edge of the circle, the players and crowd parted in awe.  The local crew, not really knowing the rules of basketball, cheered and clapped enthusiastically.

“Not bad that, eh,” one sturdy woman asked another.

“Well, it’s not footie, Annie, but if they’re lettin’ women play I’m all fer it,” she said.

 

Waiting for them after customs, was their Uncle Don.  He looked a lot like their father, except paler, with a bit less hair and a lot more stomach, which was easy to see, because he’d pulled on his old school rowing sweater and it was stretched like a compression stocking.  Mr. Talbot clapped him on the back, as they shook hands.

“Subtle that,” Kate’s father said, indicating the sweater.

“Oh, this old thing..?  Just something I threw on,” his brother retorted, his eyes twinkling.

“Threw on, or had to exhale all the way, grease yourself down and wriggle into it like a pig?”

The brothers laughed, and then Uncle Don hugged Mrs. Talbot heartily.

“Natalie, you haven’t aged a day!”

“Forgotten your glasses again, I see, Don,” she said.  “G. couldn’t make it?”

“Back at the cottage – wouldn’t have been room for all of us in the “Disco” if she’d come.  Besides which, she’s been all atwitter – thought she’d have the better part of a week to clean and polish before you came.  She and Mrs. Jenkins are in Def Con IV right now.  You’d think the Queen Mum was coming.”  Turning his gaze, he spotted the boys, “All right then, this must be Jason and Jasper, but which one’s which?”

“I’m Jasper, Uncle Don,” the taller of the boys said.

“I’m Jason,” Jason said.  The boys shook hands with their uncle.  A blast of horns from a train of limos turned all of their heads – the Celtics were taking off, some waving to Kara.

“I told you we flew over with the Celtics?  I mentioned that, didn’t I?”

“Really..?  They’re still a team then..?” his brother said, with a mischievous grin.

“You wouldn’t believe what held us up back at the airport…”  Mr. Talbot stopped, upon seeing the look of amazement on his brother’s face.  The girls had just come into view.

“Yes, they were just infants the last you saw them,” Mr. Talbot said.

“How astounding..!”

“They grow up fast, don’t they,” Mr. Talbot said, nodding.

“Yes, yes, but surely you see it.”

“This is Kara, Don,” Mr. Talbot said, introducing his blonde daughter.

“Hi, Uncle Don,” Kara said, pumping his hand.

“Hello and welcome,” he replied, but Uncle Don’s eyes were fixed on Kate.

“Hello,” Kate said, offering her hand.

“Oh my,” Uncle Don said, turning to his brother.  “I know it’s been a long time, Johnnie, but surely you see the resemblance.”

“Resemblance,” Hal Talbot asked, puzzled.

“To my wife, of course – the Talbot she’s not related to.”

 

Kate didn’t know how long they’d been driving.  It was hard to gauge things when you’re flying along with a pelting rain obscuring everything outside the Land Rover’s windshield.  Out her window, she caught shimmery glimpses of a twisting country lane lined with tall hedges and thick woods, but only the swath immediately following the frantic swiping of the windshield wipers’ gave an undistorted view.  Every so often, between clumps of trees, she’d see a slice of lake, or mountain peaks.  Uncle Don’s Land Rover felt half again too large as any vehicle should be on such a road.  Glancing at her mother, Kate noted her eyes were glued straight ahead, as though certain they were heading for disaster.  Her uncle though, seemed totally unconcerned.

“Here we go,” he said finally, turning into a gravel drive, just as the rain let up.  Up ahead, Kate could see a wall, with a small, two story house attached to it.

‘That must be a gatehouse,’ she thought.  ‘But if that’s the gatehouse, then what does Aunt G.’s house look like?’

“Still in the same place, I see,” Kate’s father said.

“Oh, no – Gwynnie turned the gatehouse into her lab.  We bought the manor about ten years ago,” Uncle Don said, as they climbed the hill, cresting before a fine manor house – diamond-paned windows, ivy-covered fieldstone and a slate roof.

“You didn’t tell me you’d won the lotto,” Natalie said.

“Oh, don’t pin that up to me – all the wife’s doing.  She’s quite the success story.”

“What does she do, Uncle Don,” Kara asked.

“She formulates things – natural extracts and the like, to put into expensive skin and hair products – very in demand by the “Sloan Ranger” crowd.  She’s been written up a number of times in the mags and papers.  I don’t know much about it, nor do I try.  It’s all ‘eye of newt’ and the like to me.  Ah, there she is now!”

 

Kate peered through the windshield.  There, standing under the portico, but starting forward with umbrellas, was a woman in her mid-forties – with wavy, silver and auburn hair, pushed up in a loose knot.  She looked refined, in a casual way – pearls, tan slacks and a heathered cashmere cardigan thrown about the shoulders of her white silk blouse.  Remaining on the portico, out of the rain, was Sherry, a large Irish setter.  Kate tugged at her mother’s coat.

“Uhm, Mom – did we know they had a dog?”

“Don’t worry – I’m sure Uncle Don can get us to a drug store after we’ve unpacked.”

“I understand you had a bit of excitement,” Kate’s aunt said, as she opened Natalie’s door and handed her an umbrella.

“Flamingos – all over Heathrow,” Kate exclaimed.

“Yes, it’s been all over the news.  But, as luck would have it, they diverted you to Carlisle, so you avoided having to take a shuttle – saved yourselves hours.”  Turning to Kara, she said, “And you must be Kara.  You look just like your mom.”

“But look at Kate, Gwynnie.”  He opened Kate’s door.  “Come on out, sweetheart, let your aunt see you in the light.”

Kate got out, grinning from ear to ear.

“Aunt G,” Kate shouted, overjoyed.  But rather than joy, her aunt looked away quickly.  Sherry, the dog, was jumping up and down, splashing in the puddles.

“Sherry, you silly dog..!  I just washed you so you’d be all nice and now look at you.”  Her aunt sighed.  “Well, why don’t we leave the bags to the boys?  Ladies,” she said, taking the arms of Natalie and Kara, leading them inside.

Kate watched her aunt, her favorite aunt, the one who had sent her all the Harry Potter books – walk off arm-in-arm with her sister and mother.  But they would have two whole weeks together, and anyway, she was here.  She was finally in England and her best vacation ever was about to begin.

 

Kara and Kate had been assigned a large room, with a broad window seat overlooking the rose garden.  The sun had just broken through and it danced on all the leaves and blooms of the rose bushes.  Kate sat there, mesmerized by the fountain, the statuary, the roses – the sheer authentic British-ness of the manor’s grounds.  Kate flung open the multi-paned windows and breathed in deeply.

“Can you smell that? Kate asked happily.  “It even smells like I imagined it.  Oh, K. – it’s so strange, but I feel like I’m home.”  Kate turned to her sister whose face contorted with horror as she looked out the window behind her sister.  Kate turned, just in time to have a large owl smash into her.  Both girls screamed, as the bird swooped from the armoire, to the dresser, to the desk.

Their aunt popped her head in the doorway just at that moment, spotted the owl and spread her arms, running at it.  The bird gathered itself and swooped out the window and away.  Crossing swiftly to the windows, she pulled them closed and locked them.

“What was that?” Kara exclaimed.

“Just an owl – I was going to warn you about leaving this window open.  I think a couple of them might have taken up residence while the roof repairs were going on.  All right, girls?”

“Yes, I’m fine,” Kate said, spotting a small envelope on the floor.  She stooped to pick it up.  Her aunt reached for it.

“Ah, I was wondering where I’d mislaid that.  Thanks so much.”

“For a second I thought…” Kate began.

“What – you thought the owl delivered it,” her aunt asked, laughing.  “But of course – all part of the grand Harry Potter tour.  After dinner, we’re all going for a ride on a hippogriff.”

“A what..?” Kara asked.

“I’ll have to remind myself this is still the real world, even though it’s England,” Kate said, grinning.

“Since when have you had a grip on reality…?” Kara asked.

Kate faced her aunt, while hiding a rude gesture aimed at her sister behind her back.

“Dinner should be ready in about fifteen minutes, so I’ll see you two downstairs,” her aunt said, leaving with the letter.

 

Dinner was going along very pleasantly, Kate thought, until her brothers brought up the basketball incident at the airport.

“Exploded a basketball,” her uncle asked, incredulous.

“Not just A basketball, Don – three of them,” said Kate’s father.

“At the same time,” cried Jasper.

“While palming them,” her father added.

“My dainty niece can palm a basketball?!  Are they making them smaller these days?”

“Nope, still the same.  Show him your hands, Kate.  I swear, if the Celtics were coed, the coach would have signed her up then and there,” Kate’s father said.

“And this was in front of everyone,” her aunt asked, her brows knitted.

“Couldn’t really escape that,” Mrs. Talbot said.  “They cooped us up in one big room.”

Kate saw her aunt’s face.  Was that a shudder of distaste?

“Who knew my little girl – this one – had it in her?  Now Kara’s always been a natural athlete, but her sister’s never shown a knack for any sport – just the piano,” her dad said.

“You’ve kept up with your practice, I hope,” her aunt asked.

“Yes, I –“ Kate started, but her aunt rose.

“Good.  Now who’s up for dessert,” she asked.  “If we hurry, we can make it to the Sedgewick Inn for slices of their famous strawberry pie – last of the season.”

Her parents complained of being quite full and tired, but the boys and Kara were up for it, as well as Kate, who yearned to go explore.  And, as it was just past nine, it was still light enough to look around at a real English village.

“Okay, then everyone who’s going grab sweaters.  Oh, Kate, dear, if you wouldn’t mind doing me a favor…”

“Yes, Aunt G.,” Kate said, lighting up at this direct address from her aunt.

“Up in your room I put a set of my latest concoctions – shampoo and conditioner.  I wonder if you’d be a love and stay behind to try them.”

“Now..?  I mean, I could do it tomorrow morning,” Kate offered, eager to join them.

“No, it would really help me out if you could get to it tonight.  I need to file a report.”

“Mom couldn’t try it instead.”

“No, love – I formulated them just for problem hair like yours.”

“’Problem hair’,” Kate repeated.

“Yes, but it’s hard to judge on my own head.  There’s a love.  Thanks so much.  I’ll check in on you when we get back.”

And there it was – almost like a dismissal.  So maybe she’d been right – maybe her aunt had found her behavior embarrassing.  Maybe she thought she might cause a scene, this time in her village, maybe…  No, she was making too big a deal out of it.  Her aunt was asking her for a favor, nothing more.

“Sure.  No problem,” Kate said, heading upstairs.

 

An hour and a half later, Kara popped back into the bedroom.  “K.?  We’re back.  So how’d the hair stuff go?  K..?”

Kara went into the bathroom and stopped short, as Kate turned to her, except it was not Kate as she normally looked.

“No way..!” Kara said.  “Wow!  Wow!”  She said, appraising her newly blonde, newly straight-haired sister.  “Oh… wow!  You think it was supposed to do that?”

Kate looked lost, as Kara, despite herself, couldn’t help running her fingers through her sister’s hair, as though needing proof that it wasn’t a wig.  “Well, at least now we actually could pass for, well, still not twins, but sisters definitely.”  There was a knock on the door.

“Come in,” Kara called out.  Their aunt stepped inside.

“Let me see,” she said, coming forward.  Kate turned to her apprehensively, wondering if this result – turning her into a copy of Kara – could have been what her aunt had really hoped for.

“Yes,” her aunt said, “Much better, yes.  Well I’m sure you two are all in but the shoe laces, so I’ll let you get to bed.  Bright and early tomorrow, Kara – I think your uncle wants to light off by six.”

“Yes, Aunt G.”

 

Even though she was starving, Kate waited until the last moment to come down to breakfast, hoping to avoid comments about her hair.  But her mom noticed immediately, turning to Gwynne, she said:

“Gwynnie – what have you done with my daughter?”  Her aunt said nothing, nursing her cup of coffee.

“What do you think, Mom,” Kate asked, tentatively.

“What do you think,” her mom countered.

“Uhm…” Kate started, as her father popped in.

“We’re all loaded and ready to go.  Natalie..?”

“Ready,” her mom said, rising.

“Kara – all set,” her dad asked.  Her mom smiled.

“John, Kara’s upstairs.”
“Then who’s…  Kate..?”  Kate turned around to face her father.

“What’s this,” he asked.

“Do you like it, dad?”

“Uhm… it’ll take some getting used to.”  A HONK, then another cut through the room.  “That’s your uncle – always chomping at the bit.  Used to drive us all crazy – ‘Let’s go! Let’s go!’  How do you put up with it, Gwynne?”

“I pretend I don’t hear him, though sometimes I’ve considered doping his tea,” she replied.

“Has he forgotten it’s only 3AM our time!”

“I’ll go tell him we’ll be out in five,” Kate’s mom said.

“Tell him if he punches that horn one more time, I’m gonna –“

“John – blood pressure – we’re on vacation.”  Mr. Talbot let out a big exhale and nodded.

“Now, give me your biggest hug,” Kate’s mom said to her, “And have the very best time with your aunt.”

“I promise, mom,” Kate said, hugging her mother tightly.

HONK!  At that, her mother rushed out.

“I’m going to rip out the wires,” Kate’s dad said, rising.  Then he took his turn hugging Kate.  “Now don’t go falling in love with any of these Brit lads, you hear?  You’re too young.”  Kate rolled her eyes.

“No problem there, dad,” Kate said.

“Just because they have an English accent is no reason to –“

“Dad, the problem would be getting them to fall in love with me,” Kate said, lowering her face in embarrassment.   Kate’s dad put his hand gently under her chin and raised her face to his.

“One day, ‘Pumpkin,’ you’re going to know your worth and then – watch out world!”  HONK!  “That’s it!  That’s it!”

And Kate’s dad stormed out of the room, just as her mom came back to the doorway.

“You two take care of each other,” her mother said.

“And you take care of my husband.  Sometimes I think he believes he’s half mountain goat and half his age,” her sister-in-law said.  And then they were off.  Her aunt set down her coffee cup.

“Everything’s on warmers.  The paper’s here.  I have to run into town and do some banking.”

“Can I come?  I could be ready to go in like ten minutes,” Kate said.

“Oh, no, dear, you just have a leisurely breakfast.  I won’t be long,” her aunt said, heading for the door.

“Sure.  Fine,” Kate said, feeling anything but, as she caught her reflection in the silver warmers.  Lifting a lid, Kate found a pile of toast, but she set the lid back down.  She just didn’t feel hungry now.

Kara popped in the doorway, dressed in full hiking regalia, leaning forward to balance a fully loaded backpack.  She lifted a couple of warmer lids, grabbed some toast, a muffin and an apricot.

“So, like have fun with your Potter stuff.”  Kate rolled her eyes.  “No, seriously, I mean it,” she said, “And, uhm, happy birthday, K.  Oh – P.S. – the whole blonde thing’s mine, so…  And hey – have you checked out my present yet?”

“Oh, right.  No, I forgot.  Thanks in advance.  Have an awesome –“  HONK! HONK!  HONK!  Kara nodded and trotted out the door.

Outside, the sky was the color of tarnished pewter – a bad omen for the start of what was supposed to be a magical vacation.

 

            Upstairs, as she headed into the shower, Kate stopped and looked at her reflection in the mirror.  She frowned.

‘I’m not Kara,’ she thought.  A small voice in her head muttered, ‘As much as I envy her.  I do envy her, don’t I?  Well, I never will be her, so what’s the point?’

With that, she set down her aunt’s shampoo set and picked up her own.       Fifteen minutes later, she came back into the bedroom.  Sherry, the Irish setter was waiting for her.  Kate bent down to pet him.

“Hey, Sherry; what do you think,” she asked, her hair back to its normal wavy, russet color.  Sherry wagged his tail.  “Yeah – now I look more like you, don’t I?”  Sherry licked her face.

 

Kate was on the portico steps, as her aunt got back.  The sun had finally decided to make an appearance and Kate was letting it dry her hair.  As her aunt got out of her car, she saw Kate’s wavy auburn locks ablaze in the light.

“Oh, Kate, what have you done?”

“Aunt G., I –“

“You haven’t gone outside the grounds looking like that, have you?!” her aunt demanded, taking hold of Kate’s shoulders.

“Why?  Do I have to look just like the rest of the Talbots to –“

“Answer my question!  Did you go outside the grounds?!”

“No, I didn’t go outside the grounds,” Kate said, defensively.

“Thank God for that.  Now get inside, quickly!”

“What..?”

“I’ll explain inside.”  But Kate stood her ground.  “Please,” her aunt pleaded.  Kate sighed and entered the house, as her aunt scanned the grounds, then came in and firmly shut the door.

“Okay, I’m inside.  No one can see me.  So will you please explain why – I mean… Are you embarrassed by the way I look?”

“Embarrassed?” Her aunt said, “No, of course not.”

“Then why –“

“Oh, my love, it’s not embarrassment – it’s…”  Her aunt sank down on the foyer steps.  “It’s… Well, it’s… fear, actually.”

“Fear – is it those owls – do they only attack redheads?”  Her aunt half-laughed,

“No, it’s not the owls…”  Then Kate’s aunt nodded, obviously coming to a decision.  “The truth then – I’m afraid for you, because…”  Kate’s aunt looked her straight in the face and said, lovingly, “I’m afraid for you because…because you look so very much like her.”

“Her?  Her who..?”

“My sister…  My late sister.”

“I didn’t even know you had a sister.”

“She died when you were just a baby.”

“But then, why would that make you…afraid.”

“Because…”  Her aunt paused again.  “Because she wasn’t just my sister; she was your mother.”

“My mother..?”

With a very serious tone, her aunt said, “Oh, my sweet girl, I’ve been trying to decide how to tell you this for the last year, knowing that you’d be coming…  Well, no way to ease into this…”  She fixed Kate with a very serious stare and said, “Hasn’t it struck you how much more similar you are in appearance to me – someone supposedly only related to you by marriage – than you are to any of the Talbots?”

“Well, kind of, I suppose.  Are you being serious?”  When her aunt nodded, Kate asked, “Then who was your sister?”  Her aunt sighed deeply.

“You won’t believe me.”

“What – Lady Di?  No, she was a blonde, too.  I give up, who?”

“Her name was Dorcas, Dorcas Meadowes; her married name was Meadowes.”

“Dorcas Meadowes..?  Wait, I’ve heard that name… Oh, now I know you’re joking – that’s a character in the Potter books! “

“She was hardly a character – she was barely mentioned in the Muggle books, but… Believe it or not, and right now I’m sure you don’t, you are the daughter of Dorcas Meadowes, one of two, actually,” she added, softly.

“Oh, I get it – this is the beginning of the ‘Harry Potter E-Ticket Vacation.’  But Aunt G. – you really, really don’t have to go this far.  This is like moving into scary territory.”

“I’m sorry if it scares you, but how do you tell someone that the life they’ve only read about in books is now going to… to what – to upend what they thought was reality – and do that gently?”

“Again, going with the idea that you’re not joking,” Aunt G. shook her head. “Then this is the point where you’re supposed to light a wardrobe on fire or something.”

“I’d love to, but I can’t; sadly, I’m just a Squib, love.  But from what I’ve gleaned, I strongly suspect you are not.  So,” she said, rising, “Only thing to do is to have you prove it to yourself.”

“You’re not going to toss me out a window and see if I bounce, like Neville Longbottom, are you?” Kate asked, more than a little nervously.       Her aunt just shook her head as she walked over to the ornate fireplace.

“Wait a minute.  If I was really a witch wouldn’t I have been doing magical stuff, like…like –“

“Like exploding basketballs,” her aunt asked pointedly.

“But that was just yesterday.  Wouldn’t it – magic – have been sparking out of me way before then?”

“Not if you were on meds to suppress it,” her aunt said, reaching the fireplace.”

“Meds?  What meds?”

“The ones you thought you were taking for your dogs.  Haven’t you asked yourself why Sherry doesn’t start you sneezing?”

“You knew about my allergy,” Kate asked, trying to process this new information.

“You never had an allergy.  Now…“  Her aunt’s hand found the center of a carved rose and pushed.  The antique cherry wood panel popped open.  Inside was a finely polished broom that looked like it had never seen a day’s worth of sweeping.  Grabbing it, she strode over to Kate’s side and dropped it.  “I believe you place your hand over it and say –“

“Up,” Kate said, disbelief rolling across her eyes.  SMACK – the broom hit her palm so hard that it wrenched her arm and the rest of her six feet into the air, where she clung on, shocked to her core.  Kate looked from the floor, to her aunt and then shrieked!  But it wasn’t from fear, no, she shrieked from joy – real, unsuppressed joy!

“Good, then that’s settled,” her aunt said.

“For you, maybe – how do I get down?”

“I think you would tilt it downward – gently.”  The ‘gently’ part came a little too late, as Kate and the broom plummeted downward.

“OH-OH-OH-MY-OH-MY – WOW!  OH WOW!  GET OUT OF FREAKIN’ TOWN!”  This couldn’t be happening!  Mounting the broom properly, Kate kicked off and managed to sail over the couch.

Hopping around, to face her aunt, with an ear-to-ear grin, she shouted, “NO FREAKING WAY!”  And this time she kicked off with such enthusiasm that she rocketed straight up to the ceiling, bonked her head, tumbled down, “t-boned” the table and somersaulted headfirst into the couch.

“Kate?  KATE?!  Are you all right?”

From her upside down position, Kate shouted: “All right?!  I AM INCREDIBLE!  Oh, I don’t believe this.  This is SOOO COOL!  I… AM… A… WITCH!”

“Yes, that you are, though I doubt they’ll ever recruit you for a Quidditch team.”


 

CHAPTER 5

 

“DORCAS MEADOWES”

 

Aunt G. finished pouring tea for them and then took a seat next to Kate at the table in the stone-walled kitchen, with its enormous hearth.

“So, where to begin..?  As the saying goes, it was dark times.  Your father, Colin, a Muggle, had been killed by Death Eaters, a month before you were born.  I visited your mother frequently, and helped her when she went into labor, as she – a member of the Order of the Phoenix and therefore, a target for every Death Eater – couldn’t risk going to St. Mungo’s.

She worried so much about all of us, because, like your father, I had no magic to protect me, and your sister wasn’t of wand age yet.  So she threw up all the protective spells she was capable of, and make no mistake, your mother was a formidable witch.  She cast a Fidelius Charm on her home, so that only those she had the greatest trust in could find it.”

“But if that’s true that means what – that one of her friends sold her out, like Wormtail gave up the Potters.”  Her aunt nodded.

“The books – Muggle and Magical – say she was murdered by Voldemort, but I was there and I will tell you this much – it wasn’t him.”

“You know who killed my mother..?  Who was it..?”

“…I think it’s best to wait on that.  You have so much on your plate to digest already.”

“Okay.  So I have a sister?”  Her aunt nodded.  “What happened to her?”

“Well, now that she’s out of Havenhurst –“

“Havenhurst..?  What’s Havenhurst?”

“Havenhurst is the real name for Hogwarts.  Hogwarts was the pejorative name Miss Rowling made up – jealousy, I imagine.  Look to the character of Petunia Evans and you’ll understand what she felt, not being able to go there.  It was a bitter pill I had to swallow, as well.

“So you’re saying J.K. Rowling is a Squib?!”

“Yes, a very clever, conniving one at that – married Charlie Weasley just to get the whole POTTER story first-hand, didn’t she?”  Kate’s face lit up as she realized:

“Oh, but that means she broke the Wizarding Statute of Secrecy,” Kate said with a gasp.  “How did she get away with that?”

“That’s a very interesting question, too.  But it was out there before anyone from our world knew about it and…that was that.  They said they couldn’t recall a million copies and Obliviate all those young Muggle minds, so…”  Kate nodded and then her face became serious:

“Aunt G., what did you do – when you found you couldn’t go to Hog – to Havenhurst?  Did your parents enroll you in a Muggle school?”

Her aunt’s shoulders curled downward as she turned away.  “My father – your grandfather – was so ashamed of having a Squib in his family that he dropped me on an orphanage doorstep, like the runt from a line of champions.”

“But that sounds like a family of Slytherins.“

“It sounds like Slytherins, because it is.  Your mother and I came from a long line of Slytherins – pure-bloods all of them.  When our parents sent me away, your mother was so furious that she ran away from home – twice – trying to find me.”

“What..?”

“When they put the Sorting Hat on her head at Havenhurst, she threatened to shred it if it placed her in Slytherin, so she became the first Ravenclaw in our family.  Caused quite a firestorm back home, she later told me, but she didn’t care – she never went home again.”

“Never..?”

“Never – as I said, your mother was a very determined woman.  And, after she graduated, she moved to a town near here, staying with a friend from school.  It was there that she met and fell in love with your father.  Shortly after they were wed, she found me and put me through college.  I spent every vacation with them.  Your father was a very kind and caring man.

“After I graduated, I found a position with a company that made personal care products.  I had an aptitude for chemistry and your mother took me on shopping trips to Diagon Alley, buying me all the books on potions and such.  From there, it was almost too easy to create all the things I’ve done.”

“Oh, Aunt G., I’m so sorry for you.  Here I’ve had the reverse life, haven’t I, and it’s been mostly wonderful, well, my family life, at least.  But tell me then about my real sister.”

“From what I hear, she’s very like your mother – headstrong – but, quite unlike your mother; she’s embraced all things Slytherin.”

“So why isn’t she in danger, too?”

“Her memory of that night was wiped.  She believes she was at her grandmother’s all week,” Kate’s aunt said.

“And this was just after Dorcas – my mother – was killed?”

“Yes, while Voldemort still roamed free.  But enough of this gloom – why don’t we go down into the village and have lunch?”

“At like a real pub,” Kate asked, excited to finally (and literally) taste English country life.

“First things first though – I’ll grab a scarf to cover your hair.  No need for anyone to recognize the basketball sensation of Carlyle Airport.”

 

Very early the next morning, a beaming Kate was drying her hair – straight and blonde – in front of the bedroom window.  Sherry was down in the gardens chasing birds.  It had rained during the night and everything seemed freshly scrubbed and glorious.  Choosing her clothes carefully, Kate dressed, while humming.

Downstairs, she found her aunt in the dining room, where the morning sun streaked the oak floors and the watermelon-colored silk walls, with their mahogany-edged mirrors.  Her aunt was lost in reading.  Kate stopped, as she took a closer look at her aunt’s paper – the picture on the front page was moving!

“Mrs. Jenkins didn’t know when you’d be up, so –“ Aunt G. started.

“Oh my god..!  Is that a real Daily Prophet?!” Kate squealed.  Her aunt flipped back to the front page and nodded.

“Yes.  I have it delivered to my lab – owl post.  Don’t want to scare poor Mrs. Jenkins.  She never goes up there; says it’s haunted – an opinion I encourage.  She’d only get into trouble anyway.

“The pictures do actually move.  Oh, can Squibs see that?”

“Yes, we can see that,” her aunt said, with a trace of umbrage.

“Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean –“

“No, it’s all right.  There are still so many things you don’t know,” Aunt Gwynne said.

“But what if Mrs. Jenkins came in right now and –“

“She’d only see a frozen picture, like a normal paper.”

“Coolness.  So what’s going on in the magical…I mean, in MY world?” Kate asked with obvious pleasure.

“Nothing much – it seems that there was a break-in at Flourish & Botts.  A store clerk said it seems that whoever it was was probably after the new Potter book.  Hmm…doesn’t say if they were successful or not…”

“That’s right!  The new Potter book will be out tomorrow!  I pre-ordered a copy, but…”  Kate’s shoulders sank.  “But it’s going to be delivered to my home, because I thought I’d still be there.”

“Not to worry – we can order another.  Besides which, you’ll find the magical version a lot juicier.  Now, I thought today would be a perfect day to go into London and shop.”

“Oh, shopping, well sure, if you’d like,” Kate said, unenthusiastically.  ‘How banal something like that seems now,’ Kate thought.

“On Diagon Alley, I meant.”

“Diagon Alley..?!  Oh, man!  Yes, please!”

“Can you be ready by ten?”

“I can be ready in ten minutes!” Kate shouted, grabbing a piece of toast and dashing for the door.  Just short of it she turned.  “So how’re we getting there – flu powder?”  Her aunt shook her head.

“Your mother broke the Flue Network connection, when she enacted the Fidelius Charm.

“Broom” (another shake of her aunt’s head).  Kate’s face lit up suddenly – “Oh my gosh – the Knight Bus?!”

“No, one of us would need a wand for that.”

“Oh, right…”

“If it’s not too disappointing, I was thinking ‘train’.”

“Train…  Train is wonderful!  Train is awesome!  I’ll be downstairs at 9:45!”

“You can do that, but I still won’t be ready before ten.”

“Wow – wait till I tell the Geeks!”

“Uhm, love, about that – what exactly could you tell them – that they’d believe, I mean?”

“Oh, I see your point,” Kate said, deflated.  “Wow, and this is like the ultimate share.  Oh well.  I’m going to Diagon Alley!”  And with that she almost literally flew out of the room.

 

At 9:55, Kate was drumming her fingers on the arm of the Chippendale chair in the foyer.  She checked her watch for the twentieth time.  Popping up, she wandered back into the dining room, where she searched for the paper – the Daily Prophet.  She found it, beneath a serving tray.

‘Strange place to leave the paper,’ Kate thought.  ‘Maybe she wanted to hide it from Mrs. Jenkins…’

Kate flipped back to the front page, where they showed a picture of a man in dark robes, addressing a large crowd.  The headline read:

 

“MINISTER OF MAGIC MAKES MAJOR ANNOUNCEMENT”

 

Kate skimmed down the page.  It seemed that a very significant event had happened the day before and the Minister felt he had to address the rumors. Kate looked back up to the picture.

‘That must be the Minister of Magic…’ she thought.

She scanned for his name – Fearghas MacAra – and then read:

 

Addressing the widespread rumors, the Minister confirmed that indeed the Red Dot had been spotted, by the Tracing Department. But, rather than cause general panic, for what might be shown to be merely an equipment glitch (the infamous indicator disappeared almost immediately), the Tracing Department is currently retesting all of its equipment.  

 

“The public will be kept up to date on all particulars and, just to

reassure everyone, both the Aurors and the Defenders are on

High Alert, until such time as this sighting has been disproved,”

Fearghas MacAra, Minister of Magic stated.  (See “Missing Horcrux, Pgs. 12-13)

           

When her aunt entered from the courtyard, Kate showed her the article.

“What is this ‘Red Dot’ and what’s the ‘Missing Horcrux’ that they’re talking about,” she asked.

“Nothing to be concerned about…  Have you been waiting long?  Sorry, had to make sure I’d written down everything I need – it’s quite a list, as you can see:  coltsfoot, horsetail -“ her aunt said, stopping as she saw Kate’s face.  “Oh, no, no, they’re herbs, Kate.  I’m not running a glue factory.  Ready?”  Kate jumped up, grinning.”  Right then, let’s nip off.”

 

Aunt G. eschewed an SUV in favor of a proper Jaguar sedan.  Once they had made it to the road, she turned to Kate and said, “Now, Kate – it’s most important that you follow my lead and, whatever you do, don’t draw any attention to yourself.”

“Yes, Aunt G. – no attention.  But you haven’t said why.”

“All in due time, just follow my lead.”

“Hey, do I have a vault at Gringotts,” Kate asked, her eyes lighting up.

“No, dear, your parents’ fortune was all in Muggle money, because it came from your father’s side of the family.  Which reminds me, we should meet with your father’s lawyer, before the Talbots return.”

 


 

CHAPTER 6

 

“THE REAL DIAGON ALLEY”

 

Once they got off the train at King’s Cross, Aunt G. hailed a cab, which Kate found very fascinating – an actual English cab.  Getting in, the cabbie asked,

“Where to, Madame..?”

“Diagon Alley,” Aunt G. said.  Kate was shocked.  She pulled her aunt close and whispered:

“Is he…a wizard cabbie or…”  Her aunt just shook her head and pressed her finger to her lips.

“You’ll see,” she whispered.

Outside the cab’s tall windows, London in all its bustling glory – the mix of ancient and modern – passed before them.  Kate didn’t want to miss a thing.

“Diagon Alley,” the cabbie announced, stopping in a narrow, cobble-stoned street.  A sign over a dark little building flashed, “LEAKY CAULDRON:  Entrance to DIAGON ALLEY!”  Kate’s face showed the million and one questions wanting to explode from her, but her aunt again shook her head and they joined the queue waiting to enter.

Many in line wore long cloaks and pointed witches hats, as well as the robes and ties of the four Hogwarts houses.  Finally, Kate could hold it in no longer, pulling her aunt near, and whispering in her ear:

“Are they all witches and wizards?”  Her aunt scanned the crowd, shook her head.

“No, probably none…  All Muggles, I think.”

“But –“ her aunt smiled, patting Kate’s arm, as though to say, ‘not here, later.’

 

Inside, The Leaky Cauldron was full to bursting, with tourists ordering Butterbeers and Firewhiskies.  There was a brisk business in treacle tarts and pumpkin pasties, being done, too, as small children waved fake wands they’d just purchased in the adjoining gift shop.  “REAL OFFICIAL HARRY POTTER EVERYTHING” its sign boasted.  One girl with pig tails pointed her wand at her little brother and said, “Aguamenti,” while pressing a button that made it squirt.

Aunt G. steered Kate to the back of the pub, where a sign announced “RESTROOMS.”  More lines greeted them before the rooms, marked “WITCHES” and “WIZARDS”.  Curiously, each one had a revolving (opaque) door as their entrance.

“Be sure to enter alone,” her aunt said, heading in.  A little girl ran ahead of Kate just as she was about to enter.  She smiled and let the child’s mother catch up and enter.  Then, making sure she was alone, she pushed into the door and followed it around.

After a complete circle that should have brought her back to the hallway, she found herself in a very old and very filthy restroom.  The child and her mother were nowhere to be seen.  What Kate could see were cracked, rusty sinks, de-silvered mirrors and overflowing trash cans that littered checkerboard floors so grimy their original colors couldn’t be determined.  The sound of gurgling, dripping pipes echoed off the tiled walls.

“Sorry about this,” her aunt said lowly.

“This is how you get into Diagon Alley,” Kate asked in disbelief.

This couldn’t be true, she thought – this wasn’t the world she’d read about.

“This is how you get in if you’re a Squib, or others of ‘non-favored’ status.”

“Non-favored status,” Kate repeated numbly.”

“Most witches and wizards enter using the Flu Network.  Or, if you’re really grand, there’s a new portal through a private club downtown off Vicar Square, but since my house isn’t connected to the Flu Network, this is our only way.

“You see, after the books started coming out, the Ministry realized that the Muggle public would eventually stumble upon the real Cauldron, just as they’d staked out Platform 9-3/4.  The flood of Potter fanatics at King’s Cross got so bad, the Ministry had to shift the Hogwarts Express to an abandoned “tube” station.

“But with the Leaky Cauldron they decided to create a tourist attraction for the Muggles – a sort of ‘hiding in plain sight’, if you will.  A piece of the proceeds goes to St. Mungo’s and the retired Healers’ Fund, but I’ve heard the lion’s share goes directly to Ms. Rowling.”

“So they make you enter through a restroom?!”  Her aunt nodded, with a sigh, as she made her way over to a condom and feminine hygiene machine.

“What are you doing,” Kate asked.

“This is how Squibs are forced to change Muggle money into galleons,” her aunt said, letting the wheezy machine gobble several pound notes.  She pulled the lever and opened her pocketbook, as several shiny gold galleons poured out and into it.

“Does it really sell the…uhm…other stuff?”

“No, it’s just someone at the Ministry’s bad attempt at humor.”

Just then, a troupe of young women flooded through the revolving doors, laughing, until they saw Kate and her aunt.  A palpable air of disdain came over them, as the young women checked them out.

“Squibs,” a tall, striking redhead said, dismissively.

A pretty Asian with long dark hair feigned sympathy:

“Ah, doth they offend her ladyship,” she said smiling.

“Your ladyship,” the rest said, dropping into deep curtsies.

“Piss off,” the redhead said, with a withering look, as the others laughed.

Kate noticed that their outfits were all in shades of green and silver

“So, wenches, let’s do it,” A  slinky black woman said.

“Hold your noses, loves,” said one of them.

She was very fair, very light-blonde and her voice wasn’t nearly as boisterous as the others.  She poked open a stall door daintily with her shoe.

“Come on, ladies – let’s parade our colors,” the redhead said.  Laughing, they headed into separate stalls.  Several flushes were heard and then silence.  Kate turned to her aunt:

“Where’d they go?”

“As I started to say, this is the entrance to Diagon Alley that Squibs and, as you’ve just seen, Slytherins are forced to use.”

“Slytherins..?”

“Yes.  I keep forgetting you haven’t read the final book.  All the Slytherins were kicked out of Havenhurst when they tried to give up Mr. Potter to Voldemort.  Following the Dark Lord’s demise, the new Minister of Magic pushed through a raft of laws, one being that all Slytherins had to wear green armbands as a mark of their shame.  It would seem that that group has none.  Anyway, I think you see the routine – just enter the stall, stand inside the bowl and –“

“Inside the bowl..?!” Kate asked with disgust.

“Yes,”her aunt said sadly.  “And then –“

“Flush,” her aunt nodded.  “Yeuch.”

 

So Kate did, popping out into another dark hallway, but instead of leading back into the Leaky Cauldron, this one – finally – led to the real Diagon Alley, except the books and films didn’t do it justice.  There were the shops in the books – Zonko’s, Florean Fortesque’s and Honeydukes – but much grander.

And Kate noticed something else.

“Uhm… How come no one’s wearing cloaks and robes..?”

“Another thing Ms. Rowling made up.  She probably thought it added to the ‘Merry Old England’ trope.  Can you imagine how hard it would be to try to blend in, if we went around looking like, well, like something out of a storybook?”

Kate lingered a long time in Honeydukes, where she bought just about every confection she remembered from the books (except for Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Bean), and then it was off to the ice cream shop, where she split a “Triple Deluxe, Death by Chocolate Sundae” with her aunt.

“If this keeps up, we’ll both be as round as pumpkins,” her aunt said.  “And Natalie will not forgive me if I return you with a mouth full of rotting teeth.”

“Isn’t there a potion to cure that?” Kate asked.

“There probably is, but I’ve never made it.  Now I still have a mountain of ingredients to buy and -”

“What’s that,” Kate asked, pointing to a crowd so thickly queued that neither could see what the line was for.

 

The Redhead from the band of Slytherin women had joined the queue, drawing rude stares from the rest of the crowd.  Pulling her aunt along with her, Kate moved to the back of the attraction, passing three men dressed in grey cloaks with what appeared to be triple red chevrons on their sleeves.

There, surrounded by velvet ropes, was a large stone.  But instead of Excalibur’s blade, five inches of a slim, knarly piece of wood protruded from it.

“Oh, Aunt G. – look!” Kate said, with excitement, reading the sign:  “’Mad-Eye Moody’s wand, which was imbedded in this stone the night he…’  Mad-Eye’s dead?!”

“They found it, did they?  I remember they’d found his eye.”

Kate turned back to the stone.  She watched as several men paid a galleon for the opportunity to try and pull wand from stone (all proceeds to go to “The Auror’s Retirement Home,” a sign proclaimed).  But, try as they might, no one could accomplish the task.

Finally, the Slytherin redhead reached the front of the line, but the ticket taker – a stolid, bewhiskered old man – blocked her access.

“Your lot’s not allowed,” he growled, spotting her green arm band.

“My galleon’s worth the same as everyone else’s,” the redhead said, standing up to him.

Someone in the crowd yelled, “But yer not!”  The crowd agreed with him.

One of the men in the grey cloaks, with a close-trimmed Van Dyke came forward until he was right in the redhead’s face.

“Even if you got it out, you know you couldn’t keep it, so why don’t you just move along, witch,” he sneered.

The redhead met his glare without flinching, in fact, she smiled.

“But I just want to show my support for our beloved Aurors, don’t I, ladies,” she asked of her group.  The women laughed, while the crowd jeered.

“All the nerve,” one witch cried.

“It’s not right,” a wizard snorted.  “It’s their kind what done it to ‘im.”

“Brazen baggage,” a round woman, with two small children cried.

“Tell you what – you want to show your support, fine!” the ticket taker said.           He snatched the golden coin out of the redhead’s hand.  “I’m sure their widows will be sending their thanks.  Now git..!”

“My cousin’s the Minister of Magic and don’t think he won’t hear of this,” she shouted.

“Yah, hear that – a nasty Slytherin related to our Minister?!  Hah!” the ticket taker shouted.

The crowd jeered, along with him.

The redhead wheeled around, making loud, snake-like HISSES at the children, who screamed, taking shelter behind their parents, as the black Slytherin mimicked them.

The grey-cloaked man with the Van Dyke barked:

“That’s enough of that.  Move out – off with you…and your mates!”

The redhead joined her group and they left the area.

Kate tugged at her aunt’s sleeve.

“Aunt G. I think I know how to do it.  Can I have a galleon?”

“No – remember what I said about not drawing attention,” her aunt said lowly.

“But -“

“Come,” she said, grabbing Kate by the wrist and leading her away.

 

Kate was only sad for a moment, until her eyes came to rest on the truly old London-looking windows of Flourish & Blotts bookstore.

“It really exists!  Oh, Aunt G. – a store filled with books of magic!  We have to go in.  Please – just for a few minutes…”

“Yes, well, I suppose we’ll have to.  You still need the last book, don’t you?”

“THE DEATHLY HALLOWS!  Yes!”

“I warn you though – the magical world’s HARRY POTTERS aren’t like your Muggle world’s.”  But her warnings were lost as her niece sprinted towards the entrance.

 

When her aunt caught up, Kate turned to her, pointing to a poster promoting THE DEATHLY HALLOWS.  Next to it was a large clock counting down the hours until the book’s release.

“Oh, no, Aunt G. look – the book won’t be on sale until after midnight.”

“Well, let’s see if we can get it delivered by owl post.”

“What’s that..?” the shopkeeper asked.

“We can still get a copy of the last Potter book delivered by owl post tonight, can’t we?”

“If you’re willing to pay a special delivery charge…”

“Special delivery..?  For an owl to fly at night..?!”

“This is an extra heavy book, over eight hundred pages, madam.  It’s not the timing, it’s the weight.“

“Yes, I’m sure,” Aunt G. said, shaking her head.

“Aunt G., I don’t care.  I have money,” Kate said.

“It’s not the money, it’s the principle,” but her aunt relented seeing how intent Kate was on completing the story.  “Fine, where do I settle up?”

“This way; I’m afraid all the midnight owls are taken, but we there might be some 3AM’s still available.”

Kate’s aunt followed him to the register, while Kate – wide-eyed – looked around.

“If you ask me, that Rowling woman should have been hauled before the Ministry and charged with high crimes the day she thought of writing those books.  No offense to the great man, I mean, but…” the shopkeeper said.

Kate’s eyes came to rest on a poster next to the register.  It showed a 20-something woman with bushy hair.  The poster announced:

 

“NEXT TUESDAY – HERMIONE GRANGER-WEASLEY in person

signing autographs and discussing her new book:

‘BEWITCHING DOMESTIC BLISS’!”

 

Kate studied the surrounding table, where a number of other books featuring Hermione’s face had titles like:  “MAXIMIZING THE JOY OF MAGICAL MOTHERING”, “HOW TO PLEASE YOUR HARD-TO-PLEASE WIZARD” and “THERE’S NO PLACE (For a Witch) LIKE HOME”.

“Oh, no..!  Hermione..?!” Kate exclaimed, looking at the cover of “Magical Mothering”, which featured a bushy-haired woman cradling a lapful of red-haired toddlers, while gazing upward at a pot-bellied, red-haired man, a simpering look of adoration on her face.

“Well, that’s done.  I suppose you’ll be awake all night waiting for it?”  Kate’s face confirmed her aunt’s suspicions.  “It’s your vacation, so…now, let’s see,” she said, scanning a list, “I still need to pick up some ingredients from Gottschalks and you, young lady, young witch are lacking something very essential.”

“I’m not sure I want a broom and I know my parents would frown on my bringing an owl home,” Kate said.

“No, I’m talking about a wand, of course.  How magical is a witch without a wand?”

“A wand..!  Oh, I’d almost – I mean, I never had one, so – oh, man!  My own wand..!”  Kate starts spinning around.  “But I don’t see it.”

“What?”

“Olivander’s, of course – what does it look like – in real life, I mean?”

“Oh, love, Olivander’s been retired for quite a while now.  We have a new wand maker and…well he’s been the subject of a lot of discussion, but I’ll let you make your own impression.”

 

They walked up the Alley, as shadows lengthened in the late afternoon light.  Gas lamps popped on here and there.  Store windows took on a “Merry Old England” look, as they, too, ignited gas lamps within.  Some of the establishments – mostly restaurants – had roaring fires.  But there, halfway up the Alley, was a store that looked woefully out of place – gleaming, chalk-white masonry, knee-to-ceiling windows and chrome, lots of chrome.

And the color of the light within was also wrong – no glimmering incandescence.  It was cold, bright and over abundant.  This was a venue that didn’t look magical at all.  It looked more like a pocket-sized Apple store – so coldly modern it was nearly sterile.  The sign above the door read:  STIX, in jagged letters made from several over-sized wrought iron wands.

They entered, passing through two frosted panes of glass.

‘They must be some sort of sensors,’ Kate thought, because they lit up as she and her aunt passed through them, and the sound of a synthesized harp strum rang out.

Kate looked around – instead of Olivander’s darkly-lit, dusty stacks of narrow boxes, set in mahogany shelving, STIX featured immaculate rows of glass display cases, like your typical cell phone store.  And dust wouldn’t have dared to alight on any of their surfaces.

A very precise-looking, thirty-ish man, in a lab coat and designer glasses greeted them.  He wore a purple cravat, punctuated with a gold stud that tucked into a paisley brocade vest.

“Velcome to ‘Shtix’, I am Dieter, Master Vandmaker.  I apologize – I vas vorking in ze baak, finishing an order.  Ve are about to close, so you came yoost in the neek of time.  How can Shtix be helping you?”

“Well, we – I – need a wand.”

“No kidding, liebeshen, I meant, how can the superiority of a Shtix vand improve your skills?  Old one vas lacking power, finesse, yah; did it embarrass you viss shloppy shpellwork?”

“It’s not a question of a better wand; she’s never had one,” Gwynne said, defensively.

“My vord – a vitch obviously of age, yet never to be having the… you are of age, yah?  Ve’re not talking aging potions, are ve?  I von’t sell to zees underage vitches.”

“I’m not underage, I just…   Why am I defending myself to you?  I want a wand.  If you’re not in the business of selling wands then we’ll go elsewhere!”

“Not on zis island, cookie!  I, Dieter, am it.”  Turning to Gwynne, he deadpanned “Feisty, this one, yah?  Now, shtep over here and haff a seat.”  With a flick of his wand, a shining chrome desk extruded itself from the wall, along with a bench seat.  “If you vill just fill out this form, I am matching you up.”

“Form..?!”

“Oh, I see, Americanisch.  You’ve been raised on all zose dreadful Potter books.  You szink you play like the ‘Goldilocks’ und try einz or drei vands and the perfect vun vill shoot red and gold shparks.”  He snorted derisively.

Kate scanned the page, and read:  “‘You learn that your special someone has cheated on you, do you:  a) Blast him/her with a Reductor Curse, b) Charm his/her lying lips together, c)…’ What is this?  I want a wand, not an e-Harmony date!”

“And, ‘Clueless,’ vat do you think the perfect vand is?  Choosing a vand isn’t like buying a set of robes; it’s the first shtep of a long journey togesser.  You seek the knowledge through it and it is your life-long hailper – that’s the matchmaking, yah?  Zo – settzenzie – zit.  Mark your answers clearly und don’t go micro viss ziss – just go viss the top-of-the-kupf picks.  Oh, and please don’t choose the answers because you think they make me LIKE you.”

“Oh, trust me, I vouldn’t dream of zat,” Kate said.  As Dieter turned away, she was pretty sure she heard him say, ‘shmart-mouse’.

 

When Kate finished, Dieter took the form and fed it into a slot in the wall, which started to glow from within.  Suddenly, Kate’s form appeared on the wall, enlarged 1000%.  Dieter touched the first answer and what had seemed like a solid wall of frosted glass covered cabinets, turned into a spinning set of individual boxes, churning about like a car timing belt, except that the boxes not only moved from left to right, but also shifted up and down.

This continued for a moment, and then the wall calmed down, with a certain number of boxes withdrawing.  Touching his wand to the second answer, it lit up and the process began again.  After the last question was sorted, all the boxes save one withdrew.

Dieter took off his glasses, polished them with a silk pocket pouf and then approached the box.  Lifting the lid, he pulled out an opalescent box and brought it over to Kate.

“Ah, yah-yah, I am just finishing zis one last veek.  Ze core ist a single strand uff hair from a Veela and ze vood – ah, ze vood ist Arbutus – hand-buffed you must know, by me, Dieter, himself, yah.  Feel – feel!  Zo Shmoooth..!”

He proffered the wand to Kate.  She took it and slid her fingers along its shaft – indeed, it was the smoothest piece of wood she’d ever touched.  It reminded her of when you split an almond and glide your tongue along the inside.

“Und ze color – a creamy pink.”

‘It is almost pink,’ Kate noted, ‘A salmon pink, but with little flecks of reddish brown.  I wonder if boys ever get Arbutus wands..?’

“And ze scent is yoost ze bonus.”

Kate sniffed it – it was almost edible, like some exotic forest fruit.

“Eleven inchaz – long for a young frau, yah, but I am zinking this vun vill be handling it – no joke here.”

“What qualities does Arbutus have – I’ve never heard of it before,” Aunt Gwynne said.

“Yah, ziss ist new.  I am importing ziss, from ze norden Vest Pacific states.  Arbutus heartvood ist very strong – ze spells from ziss vand will be very powerful.”

He took it back from Kate, who seemed delighted with it.

“Now, since you haff missed out on all seven years of ze schooling, for double ze price, I, Dieter can pre-load the learnings, the “software,” if you vill, of all zat your vand vould haff learned, at your Haffenhurst.”

“If you can do that –“ Gwynne started.

“If?!  Zis ist Shtix!  I am Dieter!  Of course ve can.”

“Then do it,” Kate demanded.

Dieter took the wand and pushed it, tip first, into a hole in the same wall that displayed the questionnaire.  He tapped his wand on a series of projected menus and then hit “GO.”  Lights, sounds – the wand started glowing – and then, suddenly, it all stopped.

Dieter pulled it out.  His face went wild as he yelped, tossing it from hand-to-hand, like a hot potato.  Finally, after blowing on it, he examined it.  Satisfied, he handed it to Kate.

“Yah.  Zat should do it,” he said.  “Oh, but wait, of course I am forgetting ze “ring.”

“The ring,” Kate asked.

“Yah, ze ‘Enhancement Ring,’ you know.”  Kate thought she saw a dark cloud pass over her aunt’s face.

“No, I don’t know.  What is it?”

“All ze women dey get ze Ring now.  It makes all ze domestic charms go lickety-shplit and for sure, it is making ze grooming spells a shnap – something zat perhaps you could be making de better using of, yah?”

Dieter pushed the wand into a new slot and a large glowing ring followed the wand after it left the slot.  Revolving with diamond-like facets, it slowly contracted onto the wand, about three-quarters of the way down the shaft, where it glowed once, then fused to the wood.

 

Outside the shop, the band of Slytherin women had paused to look inside the store window.

“You’re not still brooding about Mad-Eye’s wand, are you..?” the very-blonde asked the redhead.

“And why not..?  It’s just another slap in the face everywhere we go.  And would that not be the perfect wand to nick?  Deny me, will he.  I’ll…”

“Shh – look – there it is,” the very-blonde one said, pulling her hood a little closer around her face.

“Act casual,” said the long-haired Asian, drawing closer as though to check her appearance in the window’s reflection.

The redhead turned to watch as Kate, whose back was to her, took the wand from Dieter.

“What’s this?  We were wrong – Squibs don’t buy wands,” the redhead said, intrigued.

“But what were they doing using our entrance?  They’re not Slytherins,” the very-blonde said.

“Absolutely not, so let’s pause.  This has just become interesting,” the redhead said.

“Now be vatching zis,” Dieter was saying, “You are tweesting ze ring, yah, like zis, before ze mirror – come, liebeshen.”  Dieter led Kate before a mirror.  “Yes, and now viss the twisting…“

Kate twisted the wand’s ring.  Suddenly in the mirror there appeared a perfectly made-up woman, in a lab coat.

“And what would madam require today – a make-over, new robes, a new hairstyle..?”  She took a closer look at Kate and her eyebrows shot up over her gold-rimmed glasses.  “Or I might suggest all three.  We do have a special -”

“No!  Nothing!  Thank you.”  She turned to Dieter, “How do I turn this thing off?”

“If madam should think better of it, and I do hope she will…”  Kate twisted the ring in the other direction and the woman’s image disappeared.

“Is that ring thing an extra cost option, because –“

“That’s fine; we’ll take it,” Aunt Gwynne said, as she pulled several galleons out of her purse.  “What’s the total Herr Dieter..?”

As her aunt settled up, Kate waved the wand around.

“It feels weird.  Are you sure this is the one that’s right for me..?”

“Yah, I am certain.  You vill see – you vill luff it!  After all – it is a Dieter vand.  Come – I vill show you – ve cast the spells, yah.

Dieter turned to Gwynne and asked, soto voce:  “Does she know any shpells?”

“I’ve been sending her the course books for all seven years.  She’s studied them – without a wand though, of course.”  He nodded, as he pulled out his wand.  Turning to Kate, he said:

“Ve must test zees now.  You are knowing ze dueling, yes?”  Kate shrugged.  “Gut!  You vill be casting ze Shtupefy and I am doing ze Protego.  On DreiEinz, Fie, Drei!”  He leveled his wand at Kate and shouted:  “Protego!”

Kate shouted “Stupefy,” but other than the “enhancement ring” glowing brightly for a second, nothing happened – no sparks emanated from her wand, but the force of Dieter’s protective spell knocked her flat.

Kate pushed herself up to her feet.

“Hey – did I do the spell wrong, or isn’t this wand working?” Kate demanded.

“Not vorking?!  Zis is a Dieter vand.  It is vorking of course.”

“Then why didn’t it cast the spell?”

“Yah-yah, because of ze Ring – ze Ring, it is keeping ze vand from doing ze aggressif spells, yah, only ze defensif spells it is casting.

“Then I’ll be deleting this Ring option.”
“Zis is not ze option – zis is ze law of da Ministry of Magicke.”

“So everyone gets these rings..?”

“Nein, yoost ze frau.”

“Just the women..?  But why just -“

Kate’s aunt grabbed her arm and shook her head.  Kate fell silent, but the flush in her cheeks was building.

“But you vill see – a Dieter vand always vorks!  I am now to be casting ze ‘Shtupefy’ and you ze ‘Protego’.  Come, liebeschen.”

With that, he changed places with Kate, so that he was now in front of the window.

“On ze count of Drie –  Einz, Fie, DRIE!”

Kate, clearly pissed off, flung herself into the shield charm with such force that –

 

Outside the shop, the group of Slytherin women scurried backward, as a great crash of broken glass hit the pavement, along with Dieter’s rump.

“BraVA!” the black woman said.

The others laughed and clapped, but the redhead froze, as Kate rushed to the window – her aunt right behind her.  Both women were staring at Kate’s hair.  What had been straight and blonde had suddenly changed back to its natural wavy auburn, burning like fire, in a shard of late-summer sunlight.

The light-blonde Slytherin turned to the redhead.  “Do you see that?  Why, from a distance, she could be –“

“Me,” said the redhead, stunned, “Well, minus generations of breeding and style, but still…”  She looked to Gwynne and a puzzled look came over her.  The light-blonde gave her arm an urgent tug.

“Be quick now!  They’re coming – our ‘Defenders’,” she said.   And the Slytherin women moved back into the shadows.

 

Inside the shop, horrified, but somewhat pleased, Kate turned to her aunt, breathless in her excitement:

“Josh was right – it doesn’t matter what spell you cast, as long as you put real oomph behind it!”

Her foot crunched on the some broken glass.

“Oh –“ Kate cried.  “Reparo..!” she shouted and the glass flew back into place, just as Dieter was about to reenter through it.

The window shuddered as his face smacked into it.  Reeling, Dieter fell backward into the arms of the three Defenders.

“Kate – your hair..!  Quickly -” her aunt handed her a scarf.

“What?”  Kate said, as she a lock into the light.  “Yikes!”  Quickly, she tied the scarf about her head.  “Who are they?” she asked her aunt.

“Trouble, best let me handle this.”

 

As two of the Defender’s steadied Herr Dieter, the one with the Van Dyke beard addressed him:

“And what’s all this?”

“Wha –“ was all a very dazed Dieter could manage.

“Get him inside.  We’ll sort this out there.”  He turned to some onlookers:  “Nothing to see here; move along.”

 

Back up the Alley, the redheaded woman stopped the others, pulling back into the doorway of a shuttered shop.

“What are you doing?  We shouldn’t be anywhere near there now,” the Asian said.

“I’ve got to hear,” the redhead said, pulling out her wand.

She touched a beehive-shaped silver broach on her cloak, with it.  The hive emitted a tiny silver bee that took wing and flew to the entrance of Stix.  The redhead gathered the others close, while touching her finger to her lips.  Suddenly, they could hear Kate’s aunt saying:

“…and it’s a new wand, so she wasn’t used to its capabilities.  I think it’s a tribute to the wand-making skills of Herr Dieter that a simple shield charm could produce such a result.”

The Van Dyke’d Defender’s voice countered:

“Understandable, but still, Mr. Dieter has stated that your ward was resisting the application of the ‘ring’ and so we will have to record the incident and take her name and address.”

Kate could feel the tension in the air, but the geek in her was intrigued by the red chevrons on the Defenders’ sleeve.  Looking closer, she saw that they weren’t just stripes, but criss-crossing, slightly curved…

“Teeth..?”

“What..?” the lead Defender barked.

“On your sleeve – are those –“ but Kate stopped, seeing her aunt’s head slightly shaking ‘no.’

 

“I wonder what he’d say if we put a ring on his –“ the black Slytherin said.
“Don’t say it,” the very-blonde warned.

“What,” the black woman asked, trying to seem innocent.

“I know what you were going to say,” the very-blonde said.

“We ALL know what she was about to say,” the Asian added.

The black woman laughed and threw an arm around the shoulder of the very-blonde:

“You know me too well, Ems.”

 

“But I was only resisting because I’m just visiting.  I’m staying with my aunt in Sedgewick, but I’m from America,” Kate said, back inside STIX.

Kate saw her aunt’s face fall.  Why was she giving her that look?

“From America, you say..?  And when did you arrive..?”

“Two days ago,” Kate said, confused.

The lead Defender looked to his lieutenant.

“When was it that they spotted the Red Dot..?”

“Got the report two nights ago,” he replied.

The bearded Defender gave Kate a closer scrutiny that made her shiver.

“My niece is confused – jet lag.  She actually arrived three days ago.”

“Aunt G., I’m not…” but Kate stopped, seeing her aunt’s glare.

 

“Uhg – American.  We should have guessed from her tacky clothes.”

The others laughed, all except the light-blonde.

“Shh – didn’t you hear him – he thinks she might be the Red Dot!“

“HER?!” the redhead scoffed.

“They’re going to take her in, I think.  We should -”

“What..?  Risk our necks to help her..?  Emma – we’re Slytherins!”

The redhead gave a covert snap of her wand and the silver bee flew back into her broach.

 

Back in the shop, the bearded Defender said:

“You and your aunt will have to come with us back to headquarters.”

“Headquarters..?  Is that really necessary for a simple –“

“Madam – our Minister has put us on High Alert.  We can’t take any chances.  If there’s any possibility that she’s the Red Dot and we let her walk away -“

He pulled up a whistle and gave it a sharp blast.

Kate didn’t know what any of this “Red Dot” thing was about, but from the tension on her aunt’s face, she knew it was serious.  How quickly her dream excursion had turned to a nightmare.

But then, as the men in grey came towards them, they froze, as did Herr Dieter.  Their faces took on a curious blankness.  Aunt Gwynne turned just in time to see the troupe of Slytherins scurrying away.

“Come, Kate,” her aunt shouted, grabbing her arm and fleeing towards the door.  Kate, bewildered, did as she was told.

Outside, her aunt looked both ways – no one seemed to have witnessed what just took place.  Ignoring Kate’s questioning face, she led her swiftly back to The Leaky Cauldron.

 

Once they were back on the street, Kate stopped her aunt:

“What was that all about?”  Her aunt pulled Kate around to face her.

“Oh, my child, you have no idea what trouble we’re in.  Now the Ministry knows!”

“Knows what..?  And what is this Red Dot stuff..?”

“No time to explain.  Come, we must flee!”

 

 

                                                                       


 

 

CHAPTER 7

 

“THE MISSING HORCRUX”

 

Her aunt hailed a waiting cab.

“King’s Cross and an extra ten-pound note if you can get us there in five minutes,” Aunt G. called out, as she checked her watch.

“Yes, ma’am,” the Pakistani cabbie said and floored it.  Kate rocketed backward.

“So – tell me why –“ she started, but her aunt just shook her head and pressed her finger to her lips.

 

And, as the five o’clock train was packed, her aunt maintained her silence all the way back to the Sedgewick station, where they dashed through the parking lot, dumped their purchases in the trunk and took off.  If Kate thought her uncle had driven swiftly that was nothing compared to the way her aunt was now driving.

“But I still don’t see why you’re so worried,” Kate said.  “Is there something you haven’t told me?”

“Yes,” her aunt replied, while racing to overtake a small Peugeot in their way, while avoiding a gardener’s pick-up.  (And this was right before a blind turn.)

“Okay, you said the person or people who killed my mom might still be alive, but what’s that got to do with me?  Why would anyone care about me?”

“You’ll understand tonight, after you’ve read the last book.”

“I’m in the DEATHLY HALLOWS?!”  Kate was shocked, though thoroughly intrigued.  “But I never even met Harry Potter.  Did I?”

“No.  Now let me drive,” was all her aunt said, while narrowly avoiding a large lorry that lay in the path of her overtaking sightseers in an old Opel.  “Soon as we get back, pack all your things.  We’ll leave right away.”

“Leave?!  But the owl with the book –“

“Kate, any decent post owl will find you, no matter where you are,” her aunt said, turning for just a second Kate’s way.

“TRUCK!”

Aunt G. swerved just in time as the truck driver punched his horn in protest.

 

When they got back, Kate ran up the stairs to her room and started packing.  Cleaning out the top drawer, she found Kara’s present – the silver locket.  She started to open it, but stopped, as her aunt shouted:

“Just pack what you need – we have to leave now!  And don’t forget the blonde shampoo!”

Kate threw the locket into her bag and two minutes later – breathless – she met her aunt downstairs, suitcases in hand.  Kate’s heart was beating out of her chest, beating faster than it ever had – even faster than when she’d played her first recital.  And then it hit her – her heart was racing because now she wasn’t just reading about an adventure – she was living one!

Running out to the drive, she was passed by an equally excited Sherry.

“Yes, yes, you’re coming – but do your business first,” Gwynne told the dog.

He set about sniffing the outside world, as Gwynne kept sweeping the grounds with her eyes.  Kate knew she should be doing the same (two pairs of eyes), should be taking this more seriously, but the giant smile on her face would not leave.

Finished with his “business,” Sherry leapt into the car, followed by Kate.  And when Aunt Gwynne floored the Jaguar’s gas pedal, spitting gravel behind them, Kate couldn’t help throwing her arms up through the open sunroof and letting out a whoop of excitement.

 

About five miles down the road, Kate had calmed down enough to think about their flight from home base:

“What happens if everyone comes back and we’re not there?”

“I left a message on your uncle’s cell, saying we’d gone up-country – on our Harry Potter tour – and that we’d be in touch once we got settled.”

“And Mrs. Jenkins –“

“I texted her and said not to come for three weeks.”

“Okay, good.  So where are we really going,” Kate asked.

“Morrellayne…”

“Moral Lane?”

“Yes – it’s not that far; less than an hour,” her aunt said.

“So Moral Lane is what – a street?”

“No, love, you’ll see.

 

Even in the twilight, Kate saw the wonderment of the Lake District’s countryside – the lush hills flowing down in broad, rolling waves of deep blue-greens to silvery lakes.

“We’re almost… ah, here we are,” Aunt Gwynne said.

“Where..?  All I see is a hedge.”

“Oh, yes, quite right…”  Her aunt turned on the car’s interior lights, searched her purse, pulled out a sheet of paper and wrote, “The home of the Meadowes family can be found at Morrellayne” on it.

“The Meadowes family..?!  You mean like MY family?!”

“Yes, yes, just read it,” her aunt said, a little sharply.

“Oh,” Kate said, reading it, “The home of the Meadowes family can be found at Morrellayne – oh, that’s how you spell –“
Kate stopped short.  The hedge was parting horizontally.  Her aunt hit the gas and the Jag tore up a long drive, lined on either side with matched oak trees.   Kate twisted around just in time to see the hedge seemingly “mend” itself into a solid wall of greenery.

“So that’s how a Fidelius Charm works, but you said –“

“Yes, but still it will be safer than sitting around at my house, waiting like Christmas geese,” she said.

Kate watched as they neared the top of the hill and the rows of trees ended.  There, on the crest of the hill, was Morrellayne, silhouetted against the last glow of twilight, reflected in a large, dark pond before it.

Morrellayne was not the typical grand English manor house, those weathered mish-mashes of Greek Revival and Georgian.  No, Kate thought it looked more like a modern Monticello – inviting rather than imposing.  Built from a light, golden-colored stone that framed a generous amount of tall windows, the central part was about forty feet long and thirty feet high.  As night had finally swept the day aside, it was hard to see all the way up, but there appeared to be a domed room at the very top.

Long wings canted forward, from the main core, like welcoming arms and a broad terrace, extended out, with wide, curving steps descending to the drive.

“Wow!  And this was my parents’ home?!” Kate asked, as she strained to take it all in.

“Yes, and now it’s yours,” her aunt said, moving to the rear of the car.

“My home…  But it can’t be.  It’s…beautiful.” Kate repeated, shaking her head, unable to take that in.

“Your father would be so happy you like it.  He designed it.”

“My ‘father’…”  The appellation sounded strange being applied to someone other than John Talbot.

“He was an architect, among other things.  Do you think I could get a little help,” her aunt asked, as she popped the trunk lid.

“Uhm… Sure, what can I do?”

“If you could give us some light, we could start unloading.”

“Is there a flashlight in the glovebox,” Kate asked.

“I meant, with your wand, love – you’re a witch now, remember.”

“Oh, right,” Kate said, giggling with excitement.  “My first time uhm…what – is it a spell / charm – I know it can’t be a jinx…uhm…whatever. “  Kate wracked her brain trying to think of the words to say, then:

Lumos Maxima!” she shouted, with such enthusiasm that her wand lit up like a high beam.  The night sky to the right of them suddenly erupted, seemingly in a sympathetic blaze of lightning-like bursts of red and green.

Nox,” her aunt shouted to her.  Kate looked at her puzzled.  “Put it out.”

“Oh, NOX” she shouted and the wand went dark.  “What is it,” she asked.

“Nothing good and it’s coming this way,” her aunt said, pulling her back.

“But how could they get in?  I thought you said -”

“No time to play Sherlock,” her aunt warned.

Whoever was battling was doing so fiercely.  But determining exactly where they were and where they were headed was next to impossible, as the blinding flashes alternated with total darkness.  Kate thought it was like trying to track evil fireflies, but it appeared to her that only two people were dueling.  Drawing her wand, she moved toward it.

“Kate,” her aunt hissed, but she was now too far away.

Kate searched the darkness, but could see nothing, until a swirling cone of brilliant blue fire erupted, from a single point, and then grew alarmingly fast, shattering the darkness.  Kate heard a man shout, as the fire became a giant, blinding tornado.  She saw the man get swept up into it, as she would have been, too, if her aunt hadn’t grabbed her, and pulled her back to the mansion’s steps.

The tornado swirled to within feet of them, and then stopped abruptly. The man plummeted, landing at their feet.

Lumos,” Kate whispered and her wand tip lit up.

Though hurt, and the breath knocked out of him, the young man managed to raise his wand and hoarsely shout:

“Expelliarmus!”  Kate’s wand flew into the air, losing its glow on the way.

“Hey!” Kate hissed.

Lumos,” the young man said, pointing his wand at Kate, then her aunt.  “Which one of you did it,” he demanded, gasping for breath, obviously in pain.

“Did what?” Aunt Gwynne asked, coming forward, while also checking the dark grounds.

“Stole Mad-Eye’s wand.”

“Did what?!  Get out!  The one in Diagon Alley..?”

“Which one, I said!?” the young man barked, with effort.

“Neither of us did any such thing.” Aunt Gwynne answered.  The young man sank onto his elbow, oblivious to his smoldering clothes.

“Then…then explain this,” he said, holding up a large object resembling a pocket watch, but with a face that was pulsing colorfully.

“You explain it; I don’t even know what it is,” Kate said, adding matter-of-factly.  “And you’re smoking, by the way.”

“It’s a ‘Locatracker’.  It’s been set to follow anyone who tried to steal the wand.  And it led me here, so which one of you did it?!”

“Dude,” Kate said, indicating their full day’s worth of shopping, “Seriously!  How many thieves go shopping while they’re pulling a heist?”

“Pulling a – you – you’re American.”

“Yeah…  And that’s my new wand you took.”  She snatched it back – the man too weak to stop her.  “Aguamenti,” Kate said, pointing the spray from her wand at the young man’s smoldering clothing.

“But then who…who…” the young man started, but could finish.

“Besides which, there’s no way I could have done anything using this.  Not with this “Ring’ thing on it.”

The young man shone his lighted wand at Kate’s.

“But then…then…  Uhhh…”  The young man passed out.

“Quickly..!  Before his opponent finds us, we’d best get him inside.  I’ll take his legs and you -”

“No, wait – I’ll do a…a Hover charm,“ Kate said.   “Levicorpus,” Kate cried and the young man’s body shot up into the air, by his ankle.  “Ooops, that’s not right.”

“Well whatever you do, don’t do the counter-jinx or he’ll have a nasty lump on his head, too.”  The two women grabbed the young man’s hands and pulled him to the front door.

Alohomora,” Kate said, but nothing happened.  “Unlocking doors is an ‘aggressive spell’?!  Seriously..?!” Kate said with frustration.

“They were never locked – because of the Fidelius.  Now – inside!  And lock the door behind us,” her aunt said.

 

Pulling the young man down, so his feet cleared the top of the door’s frame, they got him inside and then Kate bolted the door.

Re-lighting her wand, she took her first look at Morrellayne’s interior, which was strangely unsullied – no cobwebs, no ghostly sheets draping the furniture.  Casting the light of her wand before them, they entered a great room – the ceiling of which was too far up to be seen by wandlight.  The wall opposite the entrance was mostly glass, divided in two by a large fireplace.  Spotting long couches flanking it, she led the floating young man’s upside down, still-unconscious body to it.

“Do light the candles, will you, love,” her aunt said, pointing to the table between the couches.

But Kate found lighting them was literally a “trial by fire,” as she nearly torched the first few.  By the sixth one she calmed down enough to find a mere touch was all that was needed.

“Now, gently, let’s lower him to the couch,” her aunt said.

But Kate’s Liberacorpus, being without practice, simply dropped the young man like a stone.  He hit the couch and bounced onto the floor.

“YIKES,” Kate squealed.

It took both women to heave him back up.  Kate flicked her wand at the fireplace and amazingly, it roared to life, casting a warm glow against the light golden stone walls.  Rather pleased with herself, Kate turned her attention back to the young man.

“Should we call a doctor,” she asked.

“No, besides which, how would a doctor find his or her way in,” her aunt said.

“Then can we take him to a hospital?”

“No, too many questions.”

“Oh, he’s bleeding.  Did I do that?”

“I doubt it, though I’m sure bouncing him didn’t help.  Look after him while I go back to the car.  I think your uncle put an emergency kit in it, and I have some dittany in my bag.  Your mother was a whiz at patching people up.  Well, anyone who fought the Death Eaters had to be.  There’s a small bathroom opposite the coat room.  Check and see if there are any dressings there,” her aunt said, heading out the door.

Lighting her wand, Kate made her way to the foyer.

 

Back in the great room, the Locatracker, which hung limply from the young man’s unconscious fingers, started pulsing wildly.  French doors at the back of the room blew open and a hooded figure entered.  Sherry started barking.

“Aunt Gwynne, is that you,” Kate asked, as she re-entered the room.

“Is that me, what,” Gwynne replied, coming through the foyer with a leather bag.

They both spotted the hooded figure in the robes at the same time and froze.  Sherry continued barking at the intruder, who pointed her wand and said:

Silencio!”

Sherry immediately went silent.  The woman looked around the room and then suddenly turned to Kate and her aunt:

“Where is this place?  Who are you,” she demanded.

Her voice was youthful, but forceful.  She pointed her wandlight at Gwynne, then Kate.

“You two – I’ve seen you before,” she said.  “Why do I know this place,” she asked, seemingly of herself.

Behind Kate, the young man groaned.  The hooded woman’s wand rose and pointed at him, as she came forward.  Instinctively, Kate raised her wand and jumped in front of him.  Surprisingly, the hooded woman laughed.

“And what do you think you can do with that neutered chopstick, little girl – curl my hair?  Expelliarmus,” she shouted and Kate’s wand flew out of her hand.

Stupefy!” the young man choked out, behind Kate, but the woman was too quick for him and deflected his blast.

Expelliarmus!” the woman shouted and his wand went flying, too.  “Now get out of the way,” she demanded of Kate, but Kate didn’t move.

“Brave, I’ll give you that, little one – Levicorpus!” the woman shouted and Kate, hoisted by her right leg, turned upside down, and rose five feet above the floor.

Reducto!” the woman shouted.  A jet of red light flew out of her wand and shattered the Locatracker.  She came forward, wand now pointed at the young man.  “Now…what to do with you..?”

“He sent a Patronus – Aurors are coming,” Kate shouted.  The woman considered this.

“…Good to know – well it’s been lovely, ladies, truly, but – ta.“  And turning, she rushed out the door, into the darkness.

Kate fell to the ground in a heap.  Aunt Gwynne ran to her.

“Kate – are you all right?”  Kate groaned.

“Fine, I’m fine.  Just…humiliated – ‘Little girl..?!’  Did you hear that?!  OOOooo..!”  Kate shuddered with resentment.

“You are not that.  You are brave indeed,” the young man said.

Kate crossed the room and retrieved her wand and his.  She handed his back to him, as he fell back against the pillows.

“Sorry – about…” he said.

“Quite understandable,” Aunt Gwynne said.

“Is he seriously wounded, Aunt Gwynne,” Kate asked, as her aunt applied a hissing liquid to his wounds.

“Not too bad, I think, but a trip to Saint Mungo’s would be in order.”

The young man looked down at the shattered Locatracker.

“It led me one place then another.  Each place… mates lying in wait, three against one – me.  Couldn’t see her face – did you?” he asked.  Kate looked to her aunt, standing behind him.

“No,” her aunt said.

“I have to…have to get back.”

“I think you really should rest for a bit – at least until I can apply some dittany and start the healing,” Gwynne said, kneeling down before him with a small bottle.

“Can’t you just…” he started, pointing at his wounds with his wand.

“No, I’m a Squib, love,” Gwynne replied.

“Then you,” he said, looking to Kate.

“Witch, but without any training, I’m afraid,” Gwynne said, applying drops of the liquid on his wounds.

“Without…?”

“It’s a long story,” Gwynne added.  “I’ll let her tell you herself.  I’m going back to the kitchen to see if I can find some tea and I think I have the makings for a restorative potion in my bag.  Rest,” she added, firmly, heading out of the room.

Kate came and sat on the table next to the couch.  Sherry came up to her side and started sniffing Phin.

“So you’re what – like a… a security guard, or something?”

“I’m an Auror, thank you,” the young man said, indignantly.

“Oh, is that why she believed me?  I was just making that up – about the Patronus, I mean,” Kate said.

“Yes, quick thinking that, especially upside down.”

Kate took a closer look at him in the firelight.

“You’re awfully young for an Auror, aren’t you?”

“I’m twenty-two,” he protested.

“Oh – ‘ancient’ – I bet you’re shaving now and everything,” Kate said, glibly, perhaps a little nervously, because she couldn’t help noticing that he was rather handsome in an exotic way.  His skin was the color of toasted cashews, with a thick head of blue-black hair, tied back like Orlando Bloom’s in THE LORD OF THE RINGS.

“As for my tender age, most of the older aurors were killed at the Battle of Havenhurst.”

“Were you there?!” Kate asked, leaning forward, excitedly.

“Yes.  I was only a 3rd year student, but I snuck back in to fight.”

“What house were you in?  Gryffindor, I bet!”

“Hufflepuff,” the young man replied, somewhat defensively.

“Hufflepuff,” Kate scoffed.

“And what’s wrong with Hufflepuff,” the young man demanded.

“Well, I only know what the books say – books 1-6,” Kate started.

“The books..?  But the books tell it straight,” he said.

“The Muggle books – I was raised a Muggle.”

“Raised a Muggle..?  Interesting, but that explains it.  Then let’s see, you think Hufflepuffs are loyal, hardworking and kind – the working class dogs of Havenhurst, or ‘HOGwarts’,” he said, smiling thinly.

“Well…” Kate said, shrugging.

“Then let me fill you in on what everyone in the Wizarding world knows – Hufflepuffs are the leaders, the…the organizers –“

“Oooo, ‘Organizers’,” Kate said, smiling.

“I’ll have you know more Ministers of Magic have come from Hufflepuff than any other house.  In fact, our current Minister was in Hufflepuff house!

So let me guess – you think Gryffindors are all super-heroes, like Mr. Potter.”  Kate nodded.  “Yes, try Ronald Weasley – there’s a typical Gryffindor for you.  Let’s see, when he was at Havenhurst he was scared to death of spiders, a merely passable Quidditch player and a third-rate student.  The only thing he was good at was stuffing his face – there’s your typical Gryffindor.”

“He helped Gryffindor win the Quidditch Cup,” Kate said, defending her storybook hero’s name.

“Fine, so they’re – what do you Yanks call them…ah, yes – the ‘jocks’.  Take away what Voldemort imbued him with and the famous Mr. Potter would have been at most, a professional Quidditch player.  Mind you, I’m not belittling the man, but –“

“Actually, it does sound like that, a bit.  What about Hermione Granger – she wasn’t a jock.  She was the most outstanding student at Hogwar – Havenhurst!”

“Ah yes, Madame Granger-Weasley.  The prolific author of domesticity…  I suppose you fancy yourself a Gryffindor, too?”

“Nope, I’m hardly the hero – heroine – type and definitely not a ‘jock.’  I’ve always seen myself as a Ravenclaw, or are you going to tell me they’re actually stupid and dull,” Kate asked.

“Not at all; they’re our scientists, philosophers and teachers.”

“My aunt says my mother…”  Kate stopped, realizing she might be saying too much.  “… So what are Slytherins really like,” Kate asked, changing the subject quickly.

“Uhm… Well they’re pretty much just like they’re described in the books – Muggle or magical – mostly purebloods, or else pretending to be; generally pompous, scheming and self-serving.“

“You read both sets?” Kate asked.

“In ‘Muggle Studies’ – it was required.  Now how is it you were raised a Muggle?”

“Uhm… Long story,” Kate said, evasively.

“My father was a Muggle, but my mother was a witch, so I always knew about our world,” he said.

“’Our world’,“ Kate repeated.  “It’s so strange – to think I had no clue any of it was real just a day or so ago.”

“So…how does the real thing compare to what you’ve read..?”

“Well I haven’t really experienced much of it, besides Diagon Alley.  Your battle tonight was the first full-blown magic I’ve seen,” Kate said.  “And that was…freaking awesome – scary sure, but awesome!”

The young man puffed up a bit at that description and smiled up at her.  Kate smiled, too and it was then that she noticed his eyes, which were a light, smoky green.  She cleared her throat and stared at her wand, playing with its ring.

“We did put on a brilliant show.  You don’t see dueling like that every day.  If it had been a fair fight, I might have won, though that whirling blue fire – that was -”

“Extraordinary!” Kate said, wide-eyed, as she looked back up at him.

“I was going to say it was ‘Azkaban worthy.’  No witch’s wand could be capable of such a spell.  She must have stolen it from a very powerful wizard.”

Something inside Kate twisted, as she looked down at her wand.

“For sure it didn’t come from anything like this worthless piece of kindling and its stupid ‘ring’.”

With a serious face, the young man said:

“That ring is placed on all women’s wands for a very good reason.”

“Which is..?”

“…Because of the Missing Horcrux, of course.”

“The Missing Horcrux..?!” Kate asked, astonished – this was not in her wildest guesses for her blog.  “There was something in the paper today about it.  What is it..?“

“Oh, that’s right – the Muggle books don’t tell of it, though I haven’t seen the last one and don’t know if Rowling sets them straight.  There were actually eight Horcruxes.”

“But Dumbledore said Voldemort had only split his soul into seven parts.“

“Yes, that’s what Dumbledore believed, but new information was discovered that proved Voldemort had already created what he thought would be his seventh and last Horcrux, before he found out where the Potters were hiding.”

“Really..?!  Don’t tell me.  Was it Hufflepuff’s Cup?”

“Not for the seventh.  That was the fourth, I think.”

“The locket..?”  Phin shook his head.

“Third…”

“It wasn’t Gryffindor’s sword,” Kate said, uncertainly.  Phin shook his head again.  “Okay, I give up.”

“Some good guesses though, so high marks for that.  No, he was trying to make one out of Merlin’s helmet, the night he killed… Damn, what was her name – she was in the Order of the Phoenix.  Oh, I should know this…very unusual name…“

“Dorcas,” Kate blurted out, in horror.  ‘Oh, no, please say no,’ she thought.

“That’s it, yes – Dorcas Meadowes.  How did you know?”  Kate just shook her head, too numb to think.  “Well, anyway, he hadn’t foreseen that the helmet had Merlin’s powerful protections on it, so his Horcrux simply bounced off.”

“So where did this…uhm…seventh Horcrux…land / infest / whatever…” she asked, dreading the answer.

“Well, just like with Mr. Potter – it surged into Madame Meadowes’ new-born – a baby girl.  That’s why -”

At that moment, Kate’s aunt came back into the room, carrying a large goblet.

“Here, this is the best I could whip up on short notice.  Drink it while it’s still hot.  It’ll tide you over till you get to St. Mungos.”  Seeing the look on her niece’s face, she asked:  “So what have you two been talking about?”

“Mr….uhm…” Kate started, but then stopped, realizing she had no idea what the young man’s name was.

“Poole, Phineas Rajnish Poole – my mother’s from India, it was her father’s name.  And you are..?“

“Talbot, Kate Talbot,” Kate said, emphasizing her Muggle last name.  “Aunt Gwynne – Mr. Poole –“

“Phin – please – call me Phin,” he said, smiling up at her, with his incredibly white teeth.

“Phin –“ Kate said, “Phin is an Auror, and he’s been telling me all about the ‘Missing Horcrux.’  Can you believe it – there were actually eight!?  I – the complete Harry Potter geek – had absolutely no idea that there’s one still on the loose!  And guess what, Aunt Gwynne – guess who the missing one is..?” Kate asked, archly.

“An Auror – are you really?” her aunt said, ignoring Kate’s look.  Phin nodded, as he finished the potion.

“Speaking of that – do you have any idea why a dark witch would be drawn here?”

“None,” Gwynne said quickly.

“By the way – where exactly is ‘here’?”

“It’s called –“ Kate started, but her aunt rushed to complete her sentence:

“Robin Hill, in Ulswater,” Gwynne said, hoping this young man had never read Galsworthy.

“Robin Hill, Ulswater – I’ll remember that, in case I need to check back with you, but now,” he said, sitting up, “Now I really must get back.  Madame, you are an excellent potioner.  I can feel it working already.  And you’re really not a witch,” he asked.

“No,” Kate’s aunt sighed.  “Are you sure you feel up to traveling?”

“I’ll manage,” he said.  “Do you think you could help me out though,” he asked Kate, as he stood up.

“No problem,” she said, rising.  Phin put his arm over her shoulder and the two headed for the door.

 

Outside, in the light of the freshly-risen moon, he pulled what looked like a business card from his pocket.

“Here,” he said.  “If that witch returns, or if you should discover any more information, you can get in touch with me using this.  Or, if you’d like to just…whatever, you know…get in touch.  Uhm…simply tap it with your wand, while thinking what you want to say.  Your message will appear on your card.  Then, tap it again and it’ll appear on its mate, which I carry at all times,” he said.

“Like texting,” Kate said.

“Yes,” Phin said, “So much faster than owls and a lot more discreet than a Patronus, right?  Here, I’ll show you,” he said, pulling out an identical card and tapped it, then tapped it again.  Kate’s card lit up, as it went Ding.  It said:

 

It was very nice to meet you, Kate Talbot.’ 

 

“So, you know – any reason – just go ahead and tap and you’ve…got me,” he said, with a little awkwardness.

“I…well, yes, that would…I will,” Kate stammered, glad that the darkness hid the color that was flushing her cheeks.

The mixture of emotions inside her was swirling just as hot as the blue fire that dumped this young Auror at her feet.  His arm left her shoulder, but she could still feel its warmth.  As he turned to her, Kate could see his broad smile cutting through the darkness and, despite herself, she smiled back.  Then, with a tip of his head, he twisted – nothing.  A puzzled look came over his face.  He twisted again, and again, nothing happened.

“I can’t seem to apparate,” Phin said.  “I must be weaker than I thought.”

“Uhm, you’d better let me drive you down to the entrance.  My aunt said that…that there were a number of protective charms set up – back in the Voldemort days….”

“Ah, yes of course,” Phin said.

“Wait here and I’ll grab my aunt’s keys,” Kate said, as she dashed back inside.

From his pocket, Phin pulled out a small, slim box.  He opened it and peeled back a foil wrapper.

A moment later, Kate came running back.  Phin offered what was in his hand to her.

“Chocolate Frog..?”

“Is it really?  I’ve only read about them.”

“I’m kind of addicted to them, actually.”

Kate broke off a piece and tried it.  It was even better than she would have imagined.

“It is good.  I thought…nevermind,” she said, heading for the Jaguar.

“You thought kids just bought them for the trading cards..?”

Kate nodded.  And then they were in the Jaguar, with its lush smell of oil-tanned leather.  Kate was flushing with heat and Phin must have read her mind:

“How do you lower the windows,” he asked.

Kate felt all around and stumbled on the buttons – the windows all went down and the night rushed in, with a heavy, flowery scent she couldn’t identify, but would never forget.  Then her brain suddenly snapped into gear, remembering that the Fidelius Charm would be apparent, if Phin saw the bushes part.

“Say – can you help..?  I dropped one of my packages – from my shopping – on the floor.”

And she actually pushed the injured Phin’s head down, towards the passenger footwell, wincing as he let out an audible groan.

When the hedges had parted properly, Kate released her hand from Phin’s neck.  He rose, with just a small gasp of pain.

“Did you find it..?”

“No, perhaps under the seat…” Phin suggested.

“Yes, well don’t worry, I can look again in the morning,” Kate said.

As Phin got out, Kate asked sincerely:

“Are you sure you’re okay?”  He leaned in the passenger window.

“Actually, I feel really cracking.  And you – no ill effects of your fall?”

“My fall..?  Oh – that – no.  I’m…uhm…’lovely,’ she said, as a bit of question, not knowing if she’d used the word in the right context.

“Indeed,” Phin said.

Kate saw his wide smile, as he straightened up.  Tapping the roof of the car twice, he took a deep breath, twisted and CRACK he disapparated.

 

In front of the fire, Kate and her aunt were polishing off a meal of take-out fish and chips.

“Okay then, but it doesn’t make any sense.  Harry Potter has to be like a bunch of years older than I am, right?  So how could Voldemort have attacked the new-born me before he attacked a one-year-old Harry?”

“I’ve already told you that it wasn’t Voldemort who –“

“Then whoever,” Kate said.

“If you’d read the magical version of the Potter books, you’d know that Harry wasn’t a baby when he was attacked.  He was almost eleven,” Kate’s aunt said.

“Then why would the books…”
“Just makes a better story, doesn’t it – orphaned infant left on horrible relatives’ doorstep.  You know, I’ve actually met Dudley Dursley and he’s a very pleasant man – bit of a dullard, but…”

“Oh, okay.  So – question number two – who was that woman?  No – wait a minute – first I want to know how is it this house is so seriously clean?  Does somebody else live here?  Did my parents have a house elf?”

“Oh no – they would have shuddered at the thought.”

“Then –“ Kate started.

“Your mother did it, when she was pregnant with you.  After she put the Fidelius Charm on the house and grounds, she knew no maid could find it, so she created a spell that made Morrellayne self-cleaning.  When you go up to bed, there will be clean sheets on it and fresh linens in the bathroom, which will be spotless.  Amazing what magic can do,” her aunt said with a trace of envy.

“Whoa!  Would Mom ever like to –“ Kate said.  “Oh…” Kate stopped.  Looking to her aunt, she said:  “Now it feels funny calling her that.  But then, what..?  I mean, I can’t start calling her ‘Natalie’.  And ‘Mrs. Talbot’ would be like totally weird.”

“Love, she raised you – Natalie will always be your ‘mom’.”

“Right, you’re right.  Good.  Okay, so second thing – that woman tonight – she was the one outside the wand store; the one who looks like me.  And she said she knew this place, so –“

“She has to be your sister – otherwise she never could have entered the grounds,” her aunt nodded.

“But she didn’t know you or me.  Was that because her memory was wiped?”  Her aunt nodded.  “Was that to ease the pain of seeing her – our – mother dying,” Kate asked.

“That and to protect us.”

“So as far as she knows – she’s never met the ‘Missing Horcrux’?”

Her aunt sighed.

“I’d hoped to keep back that piece of nasty business for a while.”

“But it’s out and now I should know.  You’re certain I’m not a Horcrux, right?  I mean, you’re absolutely sure it wasn’t Voldemort who killed my mother?”

“Absolutely..!  If you were, you would have a curse scar somewhere on you.”  Kate looked relieved.  “So, from the look on your face, I can assume you don’t.”

“No.”

“Then we can only assume it was someone your mother had known as a friend.”

“Then why would the books say –“ Kate started.

“The man who murdered your mother is that powerful that he could manipulate Ms. Rowling into crafting a great lie; in effect – to change history.”

“And you know for certain who that man was/is..?”

“Yes, but that can wait.  You’ve had a lot to process for one day.  Why don’t you go up and try to get some sleep before your book arrives?”

“That’s right!” Kate said, suddenly lightening up.  “THE DEATHLY HALLOWS is still coming!”

“Yes, yes.  Well don’t try to finish it all in one night, or you’ll be shot for tomorrow and we have lots to do.”

“I won’t.  I promise,” Kate said, though she doubted she really meant to keep that promise.  “Oh, but one thing…”

“Yes..?”

“On the sleeve of those Defender guys – were those stripes supposed to be teeth?“

“Basilisk fangs…”

“Basilisk fangs..?  Why would they..?  You mean, to kill a –“

Her aunt nodded.

“A Horcrux – like the Missing kind..?”

Her aunt nodded again.

“When a Defender wins his ‘stripes,’ he gets a Basilisk fang.”

“To kill…me..?”

Her aunt nodded, sadly.

“I’d wish you sweet dreams, but now that seems a bit out of reach.  So I’ll just say good night.  If you need me, I’ll be right across the hall.”

“Uhm, Aunt G. – which hall?  It’s kind of big place,” Kate said.

“Ah, yes.  Take the stairs to the top.  You’ll find a bedroom on the right.  You’ll find it has a splendid view of the lake, when it gets light.  Oh – but be sure to leave a window open, so your owl can get in – wouldn’t want him bumping into the glass and getting us all excited.  I think we’ve had enough excitement for one night, yes?”

“You think,” Kate asked.

“So get some rest.  Who knows what tomorrow will bring,” her aunt said, heading upstairs.

But Kate was not tired, no, if she was being totally honest, she was exhilarated.  ‘This was an exciting day, in fact, the most exciting day of my whole life; well, my old life, for sure.’  And then she thought, ‘But now I have a new life – my real life.  OMG – magic is now part of my real life!’  And a swirl of thoughts and emotions churned within her, trying to process that thought.

Looking down, she saw Phin’s card in the palm of her hand.  A swooping sensation flew through her stomach.

‘What would he do – this young Auror – if he knew that the girl he’d just met, had given his card to, while smiling that smile, was the “Missing Horcrux” – alleged Horcrux,’ she wondered.  Too lost in thought to notice, Kate’s finger rubbed against the faceted ring on her new wand – her real, albeit, limited wand.

 

 

 


 

CHAPTER 8

 

“MORRELLAYNE”

 

Kate was dreaming, when the post owl dropped off THE DEATHLY HALLOWS.  She jerked awake because, well, for one thing, the owl had literally dropped the book on her.  And for another, her dreams had been fretful.

She was already forgetting most of them, but she could remember being chased.  First it was by Tanner, in his Jeep and then Phin on a broom, while jets of blue fire blasted out of the darkness at her.  She kept trying to shoot spells back at them, but her fake Hermione wand did nothing more than spit squirts of water.  So yes, she was glad to have been awakened, although she had a gut feeling that waking life wasn’t going to be all unicorns and rainbows.

 

As the pre-dawn light began to give definition to her bedroom walls, Kate was already wide awake.  It wasn’t due to THE DEATHLY HALLOWS – she hadn’t opened it yet, which said volumes about her current state of mind.  For although she had a true curiosity about when and how she supposedly became the “missing Horcrux, reading about Harry’s adventures could no longer compare to actually living one – hers.  In essence, like it or not, Kate could no longer be a passive observer.  She had become a character, perhaps even the heroine of a living, breathing, fantastic story.

 

But even that thought hadn’t been what had disturbed her sleep.  No, as she looked at it, there were three worrisome things that had kept her staring into the unfamiliar darkness, each with their upsides and downs:  One – She was a witch, daughter of a famous witch, but she was also on the run because of it.  Two, she had a big sister, also a witch, but also a snooty, hood-wearing outlaw (perhaps).  Kate added the “perhaps,” because she hadn’t made up her mind yet, if it should be a crime to have a man’s wand, when you weren’t allowed one, because of a lie.  Though what her sister had wanted to do with that wand – (possibly) kill an Auror – would definitely have been a crime.

Which led to her third worry – Phin – here she had finally met someone amazing, who maybe even liked her, but if this same guy, this Auror found out her real identity, he might arrest her and ship her off to Azkaban, the wizard’s prison!

 

Unable to resolve any of the three, she got out of bed, pulled on her robe and headed out into the hallway.  But, rather than being dark, like her room, it was filled with a light green glow.  Looking up, she discovered that the peak of the roof – along the whole length of the wing – was a continuous, light-green-tinted skylight.

Reaching the great room, she paused at the railing.  The core of the house – due to its rear wall of glass – was already filling with pale light.  Turning to the left, she saw another staircase, leading upward.  Feeling certain that it must lead to the domed room at the top, she started up.

When she reached the top, she found herself in a circular room, perhaps twenty feet in diameter, with floor-to-ceiling glass.  Outside the room was a balcony that encircled it.  Above it was a domed roof lined with polished wood, but pierced with six-inch, round glass inserts every couple feet.  Apparently, since they were starting to glow, Kate thought they must continue through to the roof.  The effect was something like being inside a planetarium.

The room’s floor consisted of a set of concentric rings.  The outer three feet was solid and thickly carpeted, from which one could access the doors to the balcony.  Then, curiously, there was a six foot ring that was open to the great room below, save for wooden beams that radiated out like bicycle spokes.  Polished wood railings fenced off the open areas and a single walkway led to the center.

As the first rays of dawn penetrated the room they embraced the side of the room’s centerpiece – a “Bosendorfer” – the grandest of all grand pianos.

‘This was a music studio,’ Kate thought, gasping with wonder.  ‘One of my parents loved what I love.’

And a smile spread across her face, as she approached the Bosendorfer.  Like a violinist being handed a priceless “Strad,” she lovingly caressed the exquisite curves of the deeply polished lid.

Raising it, she slid down onto the bench.   Propped up on the stand were a few pages of hand-written sheet music.  Curious, Kate began to parse her way through it.  And then, after a couple run-throughs, she started adding feeling, finding her inflections, until she achieved that state where artist, music and instrument meld and the piece flowed out of her and through her.  When she reached the end, she kept her foot down on the loud pedal, so that the last reverberations continued.

It was then that Kate realized why this room was open to the hall below, and why it was covered in a dome.  Her father had designed it knowing the dome would reflect the sound down to the great room beneath it.  And the great room itself would act like a natural amplifier, just as a guitar’s strings gain resonance from the open body beneath them.

Looking back at the first page, she searched for the music’s composer and found the initials “C.M.”

“Colin Meadowes,” Kate whispered and something inside her twinged bittersweetly.  Turning, she saw the dawn had painted the sky apricot.  Opening a door to the balcony, she went out to the railing.

The views justified the claims that the “Lake District” was England’s most beautiful.  She nodded in awe, seeing how her father had placed Morrellayne perfectly to yield the best views of its gardens and woods and down the hills, to Ulswater Lake and its picturesque town.  She ran her hand along the smooth railing and thought:

‘He may not have been a wizard, but he, my dad was…amazing.’   Hot tears ran down her cheeks for the father she’d never know, but always miss.

 

“That was the last piece your father wrote,” her aunt said, from the doorway.  “He wrote it to celebrate…you.”  Kate crossed to her aunt, who gathered her in.

“How lucky you are, having two families who have loved and who love you dearly.”  Kate nodded, sniffing.

“Yeah, well, ignoring the whole, ‘The wizarding world is after me, because I’m the repository of an evil wizard’s soul,’ thing – yep, super lucky.”

“Details, details…”  Her aunt said, smiling.  “So did you like your father’s piece?”

“Oh, so much, Aunt G…”

“Good.  Do you think you can memorize it by Friday?”

“Yes.  Why, do you want me to perform it for someone?”

“Yes,” her aunt replied, “Your mother.”

 


 

CHAPTER 9

 

“LOST AND FOUND”

 

Kate was flabbergasted:

“My what..?  But she’s – you said she’s –“

“Dead, yes, but there’s a portrait of hers –“ her aunt started, but was cut off by an excited Kate.

“There is?!  Where,” Kate said, thrilled.  “What room?”

“It’s not here, love, or I would have shown you right off.  But I’ll tell you all about it at breakfast.  So go get ready, and be sure to use the blonde shampoo.”

“We have to go out?”

“Yes – Morrellayne may be self-cleaning, but it can’t lay in provisions, so…  Ulswater’s a very pretty town.  I think you’ll like it.”  Looking up, her aunt said, “Ah, well it’s about time.”

Kate looked up just as an owl dropped a newspaper on them, pivoted and swept away.

“The Daily Prophet,” Kate said.

“Yes,” her aunt said, opening the paper.  “Oh – oh, no…”

“What..?”

The first thing Kate saw was the picture of the stone that had held Mad-Eye’s wand.  It now clearly showed that a two foot by two foot chunk, including the wand was missing from it.

 

MAD EYE’S WAND STOLEN!”

 

The headline read.  And then Kate’s eye saw the other headline:

 

“DISTURBANCE AT STIX”

                                            “Missing Horcrux Sighted..?”

 

“They think I’m..?!”

“You and your sister – quite the pair – you both made the front page,” her aunt said, shaking her head.

Her aunt read aloud:  “Second Diagon Alley incident in two days committed by person or persons unknown… Aurors investigating…”

“Can I see it..?”

“Did you want to see if it mentioned Phin..?”

Kate smiled.  Her aunt flipped a couple pages further into the paper.

“No.  Though it does go on about…”  Her aunt lowered the paper.

Kate took the paper and read, then, reading aloud:

 

The Minister confirmed the theft of Alistair (“Mad-Eye”) Moody’s wand, from Diagon Alley. 

                                                     

“This, by itself, would be cause for alarm, but it came on the heels of an incident earlier in the day at STIX.  A young, red-haired female balked at having the ‘Enhancement Ring’ applied to her purchase, to the point where she blew the owner through his front window.”

 

“This female is of the approximate age of the Missing Horcrux and though no conclusions have been drawn at this time, our Defenders remain on ‘High Alert.’  Rest assured,” the Minister said, “The full might of the Ministry is at work to keep the Magical and Muggle populations safe.”

 

“Well, the fat’s in the fire now,” her aunt said, with a sigh.  “Still hungry..?”

 

Her aunt was right – Kate did love the town of Ulswater.  She imagined her parents strolling through it, stopping in the shops, maybe having lunch by the lake.  But never having seen them – either of them – she could only imagine a generic couple, like in vacation destination ads.

After they got back from breakfast, there were groceries to unload.  Kate found the bag with peaches and washed one off.

“Would you like some of this,” she asked her aunt.

“If you don’t mind, “Aunt G. said.  Kate raised her wand and tried to think of the charm that would cut it up.

“I can’t remember a spell that slices things.  Hey – aren’t household spells the specialty of this ring thing,” Kate asked, sliding her finger down to the ring.

“NO!” her aunt shouted.

“What…” Kate said.

“NEVER twist that ring!”

“Uhm… Okay.  Why?”

“It’s like… oh you know – on those crime shows on the telly – how they can track people by their cell phones..?”

“They could find me through this?” Kate asked, stunned that her “neutered chopstick” could be capable of something as clever as a GPS app.  Her aunt nodded.  “That’s just super-evil,” Kate said, putting down her wand and picking up a knife.

“Now, I brought all seven years of course books, just in case we need them.  But look here – I’ve marked the pages of three spells you’ll have to learn before Friday, and another I want you to start working on, but it can wait.”  Kate spun to the pages that were marked.

Undetectable Extention..?”

“Yes, and the other one – Gemino – those you have to learn by Friday.”  Kate turned to her aunt.

“What does that have to do with my mom’s portrait and why does it have to be Friday?”

“You’ll see.  Can you hand me the perishables, love..?”

 

Out on the terrace behind Morrellayne, Kate practiced the spells in the books.  But the ring-bound wand was not cooperating.  It could do “Gemino,” which Kate performed on flowers and spiders.  The latter she regretted, as there was no “undo” function on the wand and she couldn’t bring herself to kill the spider or its clone, but the two spells that created “Undectable Extention” – to shrink things and diminish their weight – it would not, or could not do.

“What progress,” her aunt asked, coming out onto the terrace, with lemonades.  Kate explained their dilemma.

“Well that’s going to be a real setback,” her aunt said.  “Are you sure you’re just not doing them correctly?”

“I’m doing them exactly like it shows in the books, but…”

“Hmm… Then give it a rest for a while.  Have you started your book?  It’s a lovely day to sit outside and read.”

 

Kate sat on the back terrace, on a chaise, her knees bent so that her copy of HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS could block the dazzling reflections from the silvery lake.  Kate found herself falling as deeply as ever into the world of HARRY POTTER.

She reached the part about the flight from Bill and Fleur’s wedding and realized that she was learning two of the spells that Hermione had used to hide their things in her little beaded purse.

“OH MY GOD..!” Kate cried out.  For suddenly it came home to her that she was no longer reading a magical work of fiction, but rather a (mostly) true biography.

‘Hermione – a real person – performed these spells and did these things at the same age I am now,’ Kate thought.

Too excited to continue lounging, she set the book down next to her wand.  Reaching in her pocket, she pulled out her smart phone.  When it had “awakened,” she tried to raise any of its apps, but none came up.

‘The Fidelius Charm,’ she thought.  Sighing, she decided to explore the grounds.  She found a path leading away from the terrace and down into the gardens.  On the far side of them was a tall hedge.

Suddenly, from the other side of that hedge, Sherry began barking fiercely.  Kate stopped and reached for her wand, only to remember that she’d left it back next to her book.

‘It’s rubbish anyway,’ she thought.’

Edging slowly to an opening in the shrubbery, she dared a peek through.  And there it was – the cause of Sherry’s agitation –

“Squirrels,” she said, with a mixture of relief and irritation.  “Sherry!  Quiet!” she shouted.  A command he completely ignored.  A pair of squirrels matched his barks with loud chuttering.

DIIINGGG… Kate reached into her pocket, thinking automatically that it was her phone, but then remembering that she’d left that next to her wand, back up on the terrace.  On the second DIIINNNGGG, she pulled out the only other thing in her pocket – Phin’s card.  A message was starting to fade.  It read:

 

            ‘Hello, K. – wondering if you’d like a tour of MOM.’

 

‘Now what did he say,’ Kate asked herself, trying to remember his words from last night.  ‘Oh, right – just tap it with my wand… Which is on the terrace…’  She turned and rushed back up the hill.  DIIIINNGGG”

 

‘Sorry, you do know that stands for Ministry of Magic?’ 

 

“Duh,” Kate said, while cutting around the corner of another hedge, where – BAM!  She hit and flipped over a large, square chunk of rock.  As she sat up, she found herself face to face with:

“Mad-Eye Moody’s Wand,” she whispered, incredulous.  Then, “NO FREAKIN’ WAY,” burst out of her, for indeed – there it was – sticking out of the side of the very same rock she’d seen the day before in Diagon Alley.

“Kate..?”  Aunt G. was calling for her.  “Are you all right?”

“Aunt G..!  Come see this!  You are not going to believe what I just stumbled on – literally.”

When her aunt had joined her, she handed Kate her wand.

“I know it’s not very -” her aunt stopped dead, upon seeing the stone.  “Oh, my..!”

“Yes – Mad-Eye’s wand!  How cool is that?!  She must have left it here while she was battling Phin.  By the way, what is her name – my sister?”

“Sienna…”

“Sienna..?  Sienna… Huh – suits her – sounds like a snooty name.”

“Now, now…”

“Whatever… Remember I thought I had a way to get it – the wand – out,” Kate asked.

“But what do you think you can do that all those skilled magicians couldn’t – and with that wand of yours?”

“Oh, I won’t need this useless – what did she call it – ‘neutered chopstick.’  Not if my theory’s right.”

“And you can do this without breaking it..?”

“Yes.  I mean, okay, it’s only an idea, but whether it works or not, I’m pretty sure it won’t hurt the wand… Well, ninety percent sure.  You see, everyone was trying to pull it out of the stone, like it was King Arthur’s sword,“ Kate said.  “But I don’t think it’s really about being worthy or unworthy, and it’s not about strength.”

“Then what is it about,” her aunt asked.

“It’s about creating a little more room.”

“More ‘room’..?”

“Exactly…”  Kate stepped up to the stone.  Taking a firm grip on Mad-Eye’s wand, she said:

Engorgio.”   But the stone simply shivered.

“More enthusiasm, perhaps,” her aunt suggested.

“Yes.  Good.”  Kate took a large breath and then shouted, “ENGORGIO!

And the stone suddenly expanded by a quarter.  Kate turned to her aunt with a huge grin, and then, with just the slightest tug, Mad-Eye’s wand slid out.  Kate jumped like she’d won the lottery!

“You did it,” her aunt cried.  “You’re a blooming genius!”  Sherry leapt up on both of them, barking.  “You did what all those wizards couldn’t!“

“AND ‘Sienna’,” Kate said, saying her sister’s name with an affected pronunciation.

“Indeed.  Well done,” her aunt said.

“Oh, Aunt G. – it’s tingling – just holding it.  It’s like you can almost feel all the amazing things it’s done.  Here…”

Her aunt took it in her hand and practiced a swish and flick, while pointing the wand at a planter and saying, “Wingardium Leviosa!”  But nothing happened.  All the excitement drained from her aunt’s face, as she handed Mad-Eye’s wand back to Kate.

“You know the spells,” Kate said, with a bit of amazement.

“Yes, all seven years…all the good it does me.  I’m afraid in my hands – the hands of any Squib – Mad-Eye’s wand is nothing more than a wooden stick,” she said quietly.

“Right…  I’m sorry, I…” Kate said.

“Not your fault, is it?  But…now you can properly practice those ‘Undetectable Extension’ charms.”

“Yes,” Kate said.

“Why don’t you see if you can master them, while I knock up some dinner,” her aunt said, heading back to the house.

 

Kate stared reverently at the knurled wand in her hands.  A smile broke over her face.  Taking a heroic stance, she did an exaggerated “swish and flick” of the wand, pointing it at a nearby planter:

Wingardium Leviosa!” and the marble planter, filled with red geraniums lifted off the ground.  Kate was so startled that the planter fell back to the ground and cracked.  And then another smile lit her face:

Reparo!” she shouted, and the planter mended itself well enough, but it didn’t clean up all the spilled dirt, plus the geraniums were more than a little askew.

Scourgify,” Kate shouted, while pointing at the dirt and some of it vanished.

“So freakin’ cool,” she said, chortling with delight, until another “DING…” made her stomach churn.

Phin – what would he do if he knew what she was holding?  He was an Auror, an Auror who believed that a woman having a man’s unfettered wand was illegal.

‘For sure he’d want to take it away.  That’s a given,’ she thought.  What she was not so certain about was would she tell him she had it?

‘And…can I answer him now,’ she wondered.  ‘He said, “Just think of what you want to say.”  What if I’m thinking too much at once, like, “Yes, I’d love to see MOM with you,” while I’m also thinking, “I’ve got Mad-Eye Moody’s wand!”  I’ve never studied Occlumency – what if I can’t control my thoughts?’

So she was undecided as to whether she should answer him just yet, but of one thing Kate was certain:

‘No matter what, I won’t make any decision about what to do with Mad-Eye’s wand until after I get my mom’s portrait.  If I can’t do that without this wand then I’m not giving it up!’

And with that vow, she headed for the terrace to practice the new charms, which turned out to be quite easy, now that she had a proper wand.

 

 

 


 

CHAPTER 10

 

“LADY MEADOWES MEET LADY MEADOWES”

 

At dinner, Kate discussed her dilemma with her aunt.

“So you haven’t answered him yet?”

“No,” Kate said.

“You’ll have to though.  Wouldn’t want him to think something had happened to you.  He might try to find his way back here and then… Well, it just wouldn’t do, would it?”

“But what should I say?  He wants me to tour the Ministry with him.”             Her aunt pondered this.

“I suppose it wouldn’t hurt for you to go, since he only knows you as a Talbot.”

“It would be a lot of fun, you know – to see the real Ministry of Magic,” Kate said, her eyes wide.

“But you have to promise not to give him any more information.”  Kate mimed locking her lips.     “Then tell him Saturday.  Tomorrow we’re busy,” her aunt said.

“We are?  What’s tomorrow,” Kate asked.

“Why we’re stealing your mother, remember,” her aunt said.

“Stealing my mother – that sounds soo cool!”

“You’ve memorized your father’s piece,” her aunt asked.

“Yes and I’ve got the three charms down,” Kate replied.  Her aunt broke into a conspiratorial grin.

“It will be cool, won’t it?”  They giggled, as her aunt brought over two dishes of strawberries and cream.

 

By ten the next morning, Kate’s aunt was ready to go, but Kate kept running back upstairs to change.  This was the first time her mom would see her and she wanted to look her very best.  Finally, after giving Sherry a good long walk, they were on their way.

“How far is it, to where we’re going,” Kate asked.

“Rawcliffe Park is about two hours from here.  I thought we could catch lunch in town – there’s a place called the Spotted Toad.  And then we can take the 2PM tour.”

“The tour,” Kate repeated.

“Yes, Rawcliffe was actually used in the Potter movies, so – ‘Two birds, one stone,’ as they say.”

“Whoa – doubly cool,” Kate said, smiling in anticipation.

 

After a lunch of “bangers & mash,” which Kate had tried to eat English style (i.e., squishing it all against the back of her fork – a style she quickly abandoned), they drove to the edge of the village and down a thickly forested road.  After a ten-minute drive, they nearly passed a discreet sign that read:

 

RAWCLIFFE PARK – Open for Tours Today

 

Driving through the tall iron gates that, like the high walls they joined, were tipped with pointed, rusty spikes, they were instructed to park off to the side, by an older gentleman.

“Remember to wear your scarf,” her aunt said, holding onto her wrist, as she was about to open her door.

“Here?  But nobody knows me here.”
“And that’s the way we must keep it,” her aunt said.

“Then I should have done the blonde thing.”

“No, we need your mother to realize who you are and quickly,” her aunt said.  Kate found the scarf and tried it various ways.

“What do you think,” she asked.  “Turban, or… Nun’s wimple, or… No, ‘chemo patient’ would be in bad taste, don’t you think?”

“How about simply ‘bad hair day’..?”  Her aunt arranged it about Kate’s head.  “There, that will do,” her aunt said, pulling back to look at Kate’s be-scarfed head.

Kate checked it out in the mirror.  When they got out of the Jag, the old man pointed them up the drive, as though waving away a swarm of flies.

“They can’t seriously expect us to climb that hill,” she said to Kate.       Looking up, Kate caught her first sight of Rawcliffe and its name became suddenly clear.  Perched on a jagged precipice, it was large and menacing, in a medieval kind of way – a castle, yes, but in no way the kind young women dream of.

“Rawcliffe Park..?  Only a ‘Dungeons & Dragons freak would call that a ‘park’,” Kate said.

“Indeed,” her aunt said.  Turning to the old man, she asked:

“There’s no jitney?”

“No, your highness, and there’s no gift shop neither, so get on with yah.”  Aunt Gwynne sighed.

“Maybe if we’d gone with ‘chemo patient’ they’d have given us a ride,” her aunt said.

“Don’t you wish I’d brought the broom,” Kate asked.

“Definitely not – the last thing we need is to have you perform magic in front of the Muggles.  The Aurors would rain down on us like bees on a bear,” she said.

 

After a ten-minute hike up the gravel road, they reached a mesa, surrounding the castle.  Up ahead there was a sign:  “TOUR LINE FORMS HERE,” where twelve or so tourists had gathered.

“My mother’s portrait is here,” Kate asked, in a low voice.

“Your parents’ portrait is here.”

“My dad’s in the portrait?!  You mean I’ll get to see my dad, too,” Kate asked, excited.

“That might be all you get to see.”

“I don’t understand,” Kate said.  Her aunt patted her arm, as the tour guide came out and clapped her hands for their attention.

“Ladies and gentlemen, if you could all line up,” she said, smiling.  “And please have your tickets out.”

Her aunt pulled two tickets from her purse.  After they were collected, the docent – a frightfully slender woman, with stringy gray hair, who kept clutching the sides of her scratchy cardigan together, called them closer.

“First off, welcome to Rawcliffe.  I thank you all for coming. If I could see a show of hands, I’d like to take a quick survey.  Can you hear me in the back?”  Those in the back nodded.  “Good, then how many of you came because of Rawcliffe’s HARRY POTTER connection?”

She checked for hands.  Kate was conflicted – yes, it was nice to see if she could recognize the scenes that were shot there, but compared to bringing her mother home, well…

“And then how many of you came because of Rawcliffe’s historical significance?”  A few hands rose.

“And lastly, how many of you came because of the ‘Missing Bride’,” she asked.

Three hands went up, some of them from the other two groups.  Kate turned to her aunt, with a questioning look, but she only shook her head.

“Right then, so we’ll be starting with the ‘historical.’  As you can see, parts of Rawcliffe date back to the thirteen hundreds, when it served as a fortress and was known as ‘The Citadel at Rawcliffe’,” she said, gesturing to a round, crenellated tower, with slit-like windows.

“With a commanding view to the West, the Citadel served as a garrison, from which invasions of Ireland could be launched and Irish invaders could be repulsed.  But sometime after the sixteen hundreds, the name was changed to ‘Rawcliffe Park,’ when additions were made to change it from a fortress to the family seat.  Indoor ‘facilities’ were added to please the ladies, who were now permanent residents.

“But the Citadel’s great hall is our first stop – it dates back to the days just following the Crusades.  As you move inside, pay particular attention to the walkway, which takes the place of what was originally a drawbridge.  Yes, that shallow depression that runs around the outer wall was once a moat,” she said, pointing.  “Please come in, please.  Come in, come in.”

They entered through a dark, dank room paneled in oak so old it had taken on the color of French roast.   They proceeded on into a lofty great hall, with stone floors, stone walls and a stone fireplace so large their whole tour could have taken a group photo in it.  Enormous faded tapestries did little to add warmth to the room, much less the chiseled coats of arms and stone carvings of people with tortured faces, stuffed between the heavy ceiling beams and buttresses.

“It looks like something out of an old horror movie,” Kate said, shivering.

“This is the original great hall.  It’s where feasts of pheasant and venison would be served to liege lords and guests.  Rawcliffe has played host to several royals in its time and this is the room where they would have been received.  Now, if you’ll follow me, we’ll move away from the medieval and into a section added in the early 1600’s.”

 

After an hour, Kate was zoning out, wearying of the guide’s fawning remarks about marble busts, Persian carpets and vases brought back from China.  Even the gothic courtyard that had been used for a number of scenes in the POTTER movies failed to rouse her.  But she perked up when the docent said:

“I know you must all be overwhelmed by now, but there is one last thing I want to show you.  As you may have read in the brochure, Rawcliffe is supposed to be home to several ghosts, but the most renowned is one who’s famous for her absence.  If you’ll come this way, we’ll see one last room – this is a real treat, because it’s actually part of the family’s private quarters…“

The docent opened a door into an elegant room with carpeting and silk-covered walls.

“As you can see by the grand piano, this is the family’s music room, where there’s a portrait I know some of you are dying to see,” she said, pivoting so that their attention was directed to the wall next to the door.  The painting showed a man seated in a chair Kate recognized from the great hall at Morrellayne.

“A handsome man, certainly, but the portrait doesn’t look very remarkable, does it, unless you know that it was actually a portrait of two people – the young groom and his bride.  Yes – ‘Where’s the bride,’ you’re asking?  If she had been in the painting, she would most assuredly have been standing directly behind him.”

Kate came up for a closer look.  The man was handsome, yes, but it was his smile that would have endeared him to her.  His tousled, wavy, dark brown hair was in contrast to his light grey eyes – the same color as Kate’s.  She turned to her Aunt, who nodded, smiling.

‘So that’s my father,’ Kate thought.

In the portrait, his right hand was raised to his left shoulder, as though holding the hand of someone behind him, but no one was there.

“The artist swears his painting included a bride, on the insistence of the groom, though adding her to it went against the wishes of her ladyship, who’d commissioned the work.”  The docent leaned forward and said lowly:  “It seems her ladyship didn’t approve of the woman he’d married.  And when the artist presented the finished work to her, the wife’s presence in the painting so offended her that she hung it in this room – a room she seldom visits.

“But, after the young man’s untimely death – POOF – his bride disappeared from the painting.  Where did she go?  Art experts, including the artist himself, have been unable to detect any overpainting, yet…”

The docent smiled as the crowd moved in for a closer look – her story had achieved the desired effect, as it always did.

“Now if you’ll follow me, we’ll head back to the great hall…”

Kate pulled her aunt aside and whispered in her ear:

“That’s the painting you want me to steal?”

“Yes, but your mother must be in the portrait when you take it.  So when you’re sure we’re out of earshot, play your father’s music.  If that won’t lure her back, I don’t –“

“Ladies, we’re waiting…” the docent said.

“Yes, yes, coming,” Kate’s aunt said.  Then to Kate, she whispered, “Follow behind for a bit, then double back.  I’ll make an excuse.  And Kate – make sure there are no ‘Locatrackers’ on it!”  Kate’s eyes grew large.

“You don’t think…” Kate said, her heart starting the now familiar thumping.

“Just make sure,” her aunt said as they both left the room.

 

A few moments later, Kate re-entered the music room.  Shaking out her hands as much to loosen them up, as to release some tension, she approached the piano and raised the lid.  Taking a seat, she took a deep breath, and then began playing her father’s composition.

Nerves led her to make a couple mistakes, but she forged through to the end and then dared to sneak a look at the painting.  No – her father was still the only figure in it.  Turning back, she started again, this time playing with more feeling and determination – this was something she was going to do!  She was going to get her mother back.  But before she had finished, a woman’s voice called out:

            “Who are you?”

Kate jumped.  Rising off the bench, she snuck a peak past the lid to the door at the far side of the room, but no one had entered.

“I asked who you are,” the woman’s voice demanded more forcefully.

Then, as Kate realized where the voice was coming from, she felt a sweet ache rush through her joints.  Slowly she stood and turned to the painting.

Standing behind the seated man was a woman with long russet-colored hair and light blue eyes.  Flushed with overwhelming emotions, Kate realized she was looking at Dorcas Meadowes, her mother – no longer a faceless character in a HARRY POTTER book.  And the man in the painting’s hand could now be seen to be clasping hers.

“And how do you know that piece,” the woman asked.  As tears ran down her cheeks, Kate pulled the scarf off, letting her also-russet-colored hair fall down past her shoulders.  Her mother’s eyes widened.

“My aunt, aunt Gwynne, she said my father –“ Kate started, but couldn’t continue, as she choked up.

The woman in the painting paused and then said:

“…Sienna,” her voice cracking.  Kate shook her head.  The woman shivered as she realized:

“Katharine,” the woman whispered, not believing it could be true.  Nodding, Kate rushed to the painting.

“Oh.  Look at you – all grown up.  Oh, my sweet baby.  How old..?”

“Seventeen – just.”

“But why did it take you so long?  And your sister – where is she?”

“I’ll explain everything, but we don’t have time.”

“Time for what,” her mother asked.

“I’m stealing you!  I’m going to bring you home!”

“To Morrellayne..?”  Kate nodded.  “You know the charms?  She’ll notice if it’s gone.”

“Yes, Aunt Gwynne’s been helping me,” Kate said, raising her wand.  She pointed it at the portrait and said: “Gemino.”

The painting duplicated itself, and then dropped, bonking the sideboard beneath it.  Kate caught it before it crashed to the floor.

“Yikes!  Reparo,” Kate said twice, pointing at the sideboard and the frame of the painting, which had been nicked in its fall.  Awkwardly, she picked the copy up, staggering under the weight of its heavy, gilt frame.

“Now I think a Wingardium should lift me off this wall.”

“Right…  Wingardium Leviosa,” Kate said, and the original rose off its hook.

Kate grabbed it and set it down on the piano bench.  Remembering her aunt’s warning, Kate checked the back of the painting and inside the frame for a ‘Locatracker.’  Satisfied, she repeated the charm and hoisted the replica into its place, only now it was no longer an exact copy, because the missing bride once again was standing behind her loving husband.

“Oh,” said Kate.  “Was it supposed to do that?”

“My little joke…  I would SO love to stay around and see her ladyship’s face when she sees me in it!”

“That’d be awesome, but…”

“Yes, of course.  So how are you going to get me out – I think they’d notice, if you tried to walk off with me.”

Undetectable Extension” charm – I worked it on my purse,” Kate said, rather pleased with herself.

“Is that an American accent,” Dorcas asked.

Kate nodded, as she picked up a corner of the real portrait and started pushing it into her purse, which was about the size of an average book.

“Sorry, mom, I’ll explain it all very soon, I promise,” Kate said.  And then a big grin burst out across her face, as it hit her – this was the first time she’d said, “Mom” – and to a HARRY POTTER character, no less!

“It sounds exciting,” Dorcas said.

“We’ve had a lot of excitement, but right now…”

Just as most of the portrait was in, a door on the far side of the room opened and a very polished older woman – all pearls and silk – entered.  Kate froze, as did the guilty look of horror on her face.  The woman saw her and flew into a rage.

“What are you doing in here,” she demanded.  “And what is that you’re doing?  Are you stealing?  THIEF!  THIEF!  OUT!  GET OUT!”

The hallway door opened and the docent peeked in.

“Your ladyship, is everything…”  Seeing Kate she said, “Ah, there you are.  Your ladyship, I’m so sorry.  She wandered away from the –“

“I caught her stealing, Millicent!  Call the police at once and…”

It was then that she saw the portrait and its (no longer) missing bride.  Her ladyship let out a most un-lady-like shriek, as she pointed to the painting.  The docent turned to look at it, saw Dorcas smiling out from it.  Outraged, she pivoted to Kate.

“YOU!” she said, her face boiling, “You have defaced a piece of history!”

“No, I –“ Kate started.

“Horrid Americans – think you’re entitled to do anything,” the docent said, indignation ripping through her.

“The police, Millicent, get the police,” her ladyship shouted.

“Yes, I’m calling them now,” the docent said, reaching for a phone on a side table.  But as she lifted the receiver, Kate drew out Mad-Eye’s wand, and without thinking, she shouted.

Stupefy,” and the docent’s arms and legs snapped together.

For a brief moment, she swayed this way, then the other, her ladyship’s head swayed in kind, with horrified fascination, until finally, like a giant domino, the docent toppled.  Her ladyship gasped, then screamed and ran for the far doorway.

Stupefy,” Kate shouted, but missed.  A vase next to her ladyship exploded, bringing another shriek of terror from her.  Kate aimed and again shouted, “Stupefy!” 

            This time the jet of green light hit the woman squarely in the back.  And, like the docent, her limbs snapped together.  Then she, too toppled to the carpet, just as Kate’s aunt entered the room.

“Kate,” her aunt exploded, in a low, but agitated voice.  “What the devil is…  Oh, what have you done?!”

“They started screaming!  They were going to call the police,” she said.

“Police – Bah!  The Aurors will be descending on us any moment!  Do you have your mother?”  Dorcas called out from Kate’s purse.

“Here, Gwynnie.  May be a bad time to ask, but who’s Kate..? Dorcas started.

“What should we do,” Kate asked, panicking.

Obliviate them – that’s what I’d do.  Do you know how,” Dorcas called out.

“No – that’s like level 7!”

Her mother quickly talked Kate through the spell and it seemed to work, as both women’s eyes took on a dazed, vacant look.

“Now what,” Kate asked.

“You need to ask?!  Run!” her mother shouted, from within Kate’s tiny purse.

“No,” her aunt said firmly.  “First – put Mad-Eye’s wand in your purse and get out your other one.”

“Mad-Eye’s wand..?” Dorcas said.

“Hush, Dorrie,” Gwynne said.

“But it’s useless,” Kate protested.

“Exactly!  Now put on your scarf – quickly!”  Kate gulped and nodded, wrapping the scarf about her head.

 

Before they’d even reached the Great Hall, Kate saw them – Aurors dressed in travelling cloaks.  She gasped as she saw Phin among them.

“Phin’s here!”

“Good,” her aunt said, pasting a smile on her face.

“Good?  How is that ‘good’,” Kate asked.

“Is he your boyfriend,” Dorcas called out.  Gwynne ignored her sister and said to Kate:

“He thinks he knows you – remember – the girl who saved him from the evil witch.  Now run to him and tell him…tell him… Ah – tell him that evil witch was here.  Do whatever it takes, but don’t let him in that room.  If he sees how much the woman in the painting looks like you…”

“But how will I do that,” Kate said, as Phin looked up, saw her and smiled.

“Use your charms,” her aunt said.

“Which charms – what’s the spell,” Kate asked, her voice quavering, as Phin talked briefly with another Auror and then started for her.

“YOUR charms, love.”  Her aunt took hold of Kate’s shoulders and looked her straight in the eye, “This isn’t about being a witch now, Kate, this about simply being a pretty girl!”

“Uhm… I have a lot more experience with the witch thing, actually,” Kate said, panicking.

Her breathing became very rapid, but she managed a wave.  As he approached, she saw Phin grinning that big smile, and, despite her nerves, a matching smile broke out on her face, as well as a deep blush.  Her aunt glanced over at her.

“Very good – yes, that will do nicely.”

 

When Phin reached their side, Kate’s knees started to shake.

“Why you’re shaking.  What happened,” he asked.

Kate looked up.  Light through a nearby window illuminated the light smoky green of his.  Her knees gave way, and she nearly collapsed against him.  Phin led her to a chair, lowered her to it, and then crouched beside her.  Not able to look at him, afraid of giving herself away, she hoarsely said:

“It…it was that witch – the one from the night we met.”

“She was here?”  Kate nodded.

“Did you get a better look at her this time?”  Kate shook her head.  “Still had the hood on..?”  Kate nodded.  “Do you have any idea why she came here?”

“Nnn-no,” Kate stumbled.  I’d just left the tour to find my…to find your card.  I thought I’d taken it out to look for my wallet and…and there she was, skulking across the hallway over there,” Kate said, purposely pointing in the direction opposite the music room.

An older Auror approached.  He had a thick mane of red-blond hair, a prominent brow and a large, rugged jaw.  A deep scar cut diagonally across his left cheek.  He looked to Phin, and with an accent that sounded Scottish to Kate, he said:

“We’ve cleared the others – Muggles all.  So there’s only her,” he said, turning to Kate.

She looked blankly at the man, who loomed over her, her brain thick as pudding.

“Uhm… I’m sorry to do this, Kate, but we need to check your wand,” Phin said.

“My-my wand,” Kate asked.

“Present your wand, witch,” the older Auror said, brusquely.  Kate pulled the ring-limited wand out of her pocket and handed it to Phin.

“Sorry about this,” he said, as he placed the tip of his wand to hers.  “Priori Incantatum,” he said, and ghost-like images of a spider and a flower emerged from it, and then duplicated themselves.

“I’d just read the part in the last book –“

“The Potter book..?” Phin asked.  Kate nodded.

“The part where Hermione duplicates Slytherin’s locket.“

Gemino,” Phin prompted.

“That’s it…”

The images of the spider and rose had faded, replaced by an image of her wand’s tip lighting up.  Phin looked up to his supervisor, who was scowling.

“Sir, Miss Talbot says she saw the witch I was following – the thief who stole Mad-Eye’s wand – here, just a bit ago.”

The supervisor’s piercing blue eyes fixed on Kate.

“She was here, you say?”

“Yes,” said Kate, “Over there.  I couldn’t see her face – she was wearing that cloak with the hood.  What is this all about?”

“What were you doing here then, witch,” the supervisor asked.  Kate couldn’t imagine an English Bobby talking to someone like that – it was almost like he had wanted to refer to her with a different word, a courser word.

“I can answer that,” Phin said.  “Miss Talbot is a huge fan of the POTTER movies –“

“I-I was raised a Muggle,” Kate said, thinking that would add substance to that idea.

“The sign says a number of scenes for the movies were filmed here at Rawcliffe,” Phin pointed out.

“Really nothing major, though…something of a disappointment actually, but my aunt – that’s her over there –“

“A Squib, sir,” Phin added, “I can verify that.”  His supervisor, clearly frustrated that he didn’t have a suspect to bring in, looked from Kate to Phin, glaring.

“Very well,” he said, “See them out and then report back to the Ministry.”

A female Auror approached – the only female among them, Kate noticed.  She had a long braid on one side of her head, but the other side was shaved and she was at least ten years older than Phin.

“I’m putting Tavvie in charge of working with the Muggles who were attacked.”

Tavvie, the female Auror looked closely at Kate.  Kate couldn’t read that look.  Was it disapproval?

“That’s all,” Phin’s boss said.  “We’ll clean up here.  The Minister’s on his way,” he said and then stalked away.

Phin looked to Tavvie as Aunt Gwynne came over.

“The Minister – coming here..?” Phin asked Tavvie.

“Maybe her ladyship’s someone big in the Muggle world,” she said, shrugging.

As Tavvie walked away, Kate looked at the docent and “her ladyship,” who were still looking like they’d been swacked with 2×4’s.

“What-what do you think is wrong with them,” Kate asked, hoping her voice sounded innocent.

“They were Stupefied and we think their memories were modified.”

“Mo-modified..?  Can they fix that..?”

“Sometimes – it depends.  Tavvie’s the most trained among us, except for Mac, my boss, that is.”

“On what – does it depend,” Kate’s aunt asked.

“On finding out which memories were tampered with.”

Kate started to shake.  Strangely, this made Phin laugh.

“What’s so funny,” she asked.

“Well a few nights ago, I thought you were probably the bravest young woman I’d ever met, and now here you are – quaking away, and all you did was catch sight of a witch!”

Kate managed a wan grin.

“Come, I’ll walk you to your car,” Phin said, helping her up.  “This time our roles are reversed – you’re leaning on me now.”  Kate nodded.  “So do you think you’ll have recovered by tomorrow?”

“To-tomorrow,” Kate said, her heart starting to race again.

“Yes, so I can take you on that tour of the Ministry.  Oh, but one thing,” Phin said, looking down at Kate’s jeans, “The Ministry has a dress code for women – strictly dresses or skirts, plus heels.  You have those, yes, Talbot?”

“Oh,” Kate said, flushing again, “Umm, yes.”

“Good…”

“Just a quick question – it there a dress code for men..?”

“Depends on your rank – the swells wear black, three-piece suits.  The lesser types wear black pants and grey shirts.  As an Auror, you’re allowed to wear pretty much anything, you know, so we can blend in.  So – the Ministry tomorrow then..?”

Kate looked to her aunt, who very slightly shook her head.

“Uhm, that would be  – oh, uhm…no.”

“No, you can’t go,” Phin asked, his face falling.

“No, I mean, yes, I can go, but… Well, I’d really like to see Hog – I mean…”

“Havenhurst,” Phin said, smiling again.  Kate nodded.  “Of course, I actually have some business to conduct at there, so that would be perfect.  And we could do lunch in Havens Hollow ahead of time, if you’d like – that’s ‘Hogsmeade’s’ real name, you know.”

“No, I – yes, I’d like that,” Kate said, leaning on him as they headed out, Phin asked:

“So what’s with the scarf?”

“Erm…bad hair day,” Kate replied, letting out a long breath, as she exchanged looks with her aunt.

 

When they reached the Jaguar, Phin pulled Kate to the side.

“So how should we do this..?”

“What do you mean,” Kate asked – thumpa-thumpa-thumpa – her heart was pumping so loudly it was hard to hear him.  ‘Oh, god – I hope HE can’t hear that,’ Kate thought.

“I mean, do you know how to apparate yet?”

“Oh, uhm…no,” Kate said.

Her brain saw the problem that was coming, but it wasn’t working fast enough to solve it.  And the churning in her stomach wasn’t helping.    ‘He can’t come to Morrellayne,’ Kate thought – that much she knew.  ‘THINK!’ she screamed, inwardly, but her brain refused.

“Then why don’t I just pick you up,” Phin said.

“At – at my place?”

“Yes, of course.  Robin Hill, Ulswater,” he said.  Aunt Gwynne cut in:

“Kate, didn’t you say you wanted to do some sketching, down in Hillcroft Park tomorrow?”

“Sketching – oh, yes!  I’ll be sketching in…”

“Hillcroft Park,” her aunt said.  Kate nodded, letting Aunt Gwynne do the thinking.

“Perfect,” Phin said, “I’ll see you there – Hillcroft Park, Ulswater – tomorrow, say 11AM?”

“Yes, eleven…” Kate said.
Phin smiled at her, said goodbye to her aunt, and then, after checking to see the coast was clear, disapparated.  Kate collapsed against the hood of the car.

“Frack!” she shouted.

“Frack..?” her aunt asked.

“It’s ‘Battlestar’ speak for – well, you know…”

“I think I do,” her aunt said.

“And why did you pick sketching – I can’t draw a straight line with a ruler,” Kate moaned.

“Because I can’t very well say you’ll be in the park playing a grand piano, can I, and besides which I don’t think he’ll notice,” her aunt replied, smiling, as she shook her head.

“What,” Kate asked.

“‘What charms’?!”  Her aunt said, mimicking Kate’s words.  She looked over to her niece, “You, young lady, young witch, have cast a spell on that lad.”

“I have?”  Her aunt nodded.  “But I didn’t do anything.”

“Well, whatever you didn’t’ do, keep not doing it.  But – and this is very important, Kate – never forget that he is an Auror, so you must never trust that he won’t choose his duty over any feelings he might have for you.”

Kate nodded, sighing.  As her aunt backed out of their parking spot, Kate called into her purse.

“Are you okay?”

“Better than I’ve been in years,” her mother called out, cheerily.  Suddenly a thought occurred to Kate:

“Hey!” she said, turning to her aunt, “One of you –“

“What,” her aunt and mother asked.

“Please tell me why your painting was hanging in that snotty old woman’s castle.”  Her aunt and mother laughed:

“Darling, that snotty old woman was my mother-in-law,” Dorcas called out.

“Your mother-in-law..?!  Her ladyship was your mother-in-law?!  No way..!” Kate exclaimed.

“Which means you, Katharine Meadowes, Lady Katharine Meadowes, are her granddaughter,” her mother said.

“Get out!” Kate shouted, her eyes wide in shock.

Her gaze was fixed beyond the windshield of the Jaguar, but she wasn’t registering any of the scenery.  She was lost in the noise of her thoughts, which were crunching like a blender set on “Ice Crush”, trying to process Phin, the “Missing Horcrux,” her possession of Mad-Eye’s (illegal) wand and now this.


 

CHAPTER 11

 

“THE DEATH OF MAGIC”

 

That evening, Kate sat with her aunt and her mother’s portrait, in the great hall, in front of a roaring fire.  It had taken Sherry some time to get used to this talking painting, but, finally, he simply curled up on the couch next to it.

Kate glowed nearly as much as the fire, looking on her mother, who beamed back at her youngest daughter.

“…How brilliant was today?  Oh, I wish I could have seen her face, when she saw me staring out at her from the copy,” Dorcas said.

“I wish I could forget it,” Kate said.  “I don’t ever want to see anyone look at me that like that – indignant and outraged at the same time – great intro to your grandma.  Wow – even thinking of her as my ‘grandma’…”  Kate shivered as the other two women laughed. “So then where did you go, when you weren’t in your portrait with…”

“Your father..?”  Kate nodded.  “There are other portraits of me – one with you, too, Gwynnie.  Oh, maybe you’re too young to remember, but we were in our Sunday best, outside, playing in the garden, with Freddie and some other children.  You must have been about seven…”

“Wait – who’s ‘Freddie’?”

“He was our younger brother – Ulfred,” Kate’s aunt said.

“’Was’..?” Dorcas asked.

“He died at the Battle of Havenhurst.  He wasn’t a Death Eater, but he fought with them…  I saw his name among those killed in battle.”

“Poor little Freddie.  He always did love playing soldier.”

“In any case, I can’t say I remember any painting of us, Dorrie, or maybe I’ve just tried to block out that part of my life.”

“There were some happy times…  But – there you are.”

“Yes,” Gwynne agreed, “There you are.”

“And now here I am with the two of you – Hallelujah!  Now tell me, Gwynnie, how did my precious Katharine come to have an American accent?”

“I let Natalie – Talbot, my sister-in-law – take her.“

“They raised me in America.  You’d like them, mom…  They’re not…well, they’re not ‘grand,’ – they don’t have an estate, or…”

“I would never care about that, as long as they gave you a loving home.”

“Oh, they did, mom…  Wow – I don’t think I’ll get tired of saying that – ‘Mom’.“

“Nor will I tire of hearing it.”

“But…” Kate started and then stopped, with a sigh.

“But it makes you feel guilty…” Kate nodded.  “But now you have two families and one of them can hug you for me.  But Gwynnie, I still don’t understand why she was raised in America.”

“So you have no idea what’s transpired since your murder, since the books came out,” Gwynne asked.

“Books – what books?”

“A Squib by the name of J.K. Rowling wrote six –“ Gwynne started.

“Seven –“ Kate interjected.

“Seven books about Harry Potter, published in both the magical and Muggle worlds.”

“Both worlds..?  Good Lord – she broke the Act of Secrecy?!”

“That’s the least of it.  She says you were murdered by Voldemort himself,” Gwynne said.

“By Voldemort..?!  That’s complete rubbish!”

“Oh thank god, mom – you don’t know what a relief that is.”

“A relief..?  I’m still dead, love.”
“Yes, but you see the books – the magical ones – say Voldemort created a Horcrux out of me.”

“Horcrux..?  What’s a Horcrux..?”

So Kate explained.

“But then who did kill you..?”

“Yes, Dorrie, who did kill you..?”

“Well, it was the strangest thing, I mean of all people…”

At that point, Dorcas and the rest of her portrait faded out, covered by a thick mist.  Kate and her aunt called out to her, but it wasn’t until a minute or so later that Dorcas returned.

“Where did I go..?”

“Yes, where did you go..? Kate asked.  “You were about to tell us who murdered you and then you fogged out.”

“Did I..?”  Gwynne nodded.  “That happened to me back at Rawcliffe.  Every time someone from the magical community came to view the portrait, I tried to scream about my murder, but I just faded out.  There must have been some spell cast on my portrait that keeps me from revealing my killer.  But I can tell you it certainly wasn’t Voldemort.”

“Then that means I’m not carrying a piece of the world’s most evil wizard’s soul!”

“The problem is, Kate, according to the books, Sibyll Trelawney made a prediction to the effect that you are the Missing Horcrux.”

“Sibyll Trelawney..?  That old fraud..?” Dorcas said.

“No way..!  Sibyll made a prediction about me..?!” Kate shouted.

“They say there’s a globe with its record in the Department of Mysteries.”

“So, since the prediction is about me, I should be able to retrieve it from the Ministry, right..?”

“Well, normally, but since you’d have to reveal yourself as –“
“Katharine Meadowes, ‘Missing Horcrux’… I see what you mean.  Wait a minute..!”

“What..?” both aunt and mother asked.

“So does the whole world – magical world, I mean – know that my name is Katharine..?”

“No, Kate…  Since your mother didn’t go to St. Mungo’s to have you, there was never a recording of your birth.”

“No one outside of your aunt an myself know what I named you.”

“What about Sienna..?”
“Her memory of you was wiped,” Aunt Gwynne said.

“So tell me about your family.  Which magic school did they send you to..?” Dorcas asked.

“Uhm… The Talbots are Muggles, mom.  And they raised me as a Muggle.”

“I thought it best, Dorrie.  I didn’t know if anyone knew about me – about my relation to you – so I didn’t want to take any risks.”

Dorcas studied her daughter.

“I can see what a wonderful job they’ve done in raising you.  I am so grateful to them for giving you the home your father and I could not.  Do you have siblings?”

“I have two younger brothers and a twin, except we’re not anything alike of course – she’s blond and really pretty and very popular, so, in other words – nothing like me, but, you know, we’re there for each other, in the crunch times,” Kate said.

“That’s all you can ask of a sister.  Speaking of which, where is Sienna?  Why isn’t she here, too?”

“We’ll get back to that, Dorrie.  First – do you have any idea why someone would want to kill you..?

“Yes, mom – it had to be someone you knew, someone inside your Fidelius charm..?”

“Well, most likely whoever it was, was after my wand.”

“But what’s so special about your wand?”

“It’s the only one that can cast the ‘Magicae Mortem’ spell – a spell of my own creation.”

“The Magic Death,” Kate said, questioningly.

“The Death of Magic,” her mother said.

“Sounds wicked,” Kate said, “What’s it do?”

“Quite simply, it connects with any spell coming from another’s wand and consumes it.”

“It eats spells,” Kate said, confused.

“No, not just the spell – the magic that created it, and unless I say Finite, it continues drawing the magic from my opponent’s wand, and the witch or wizard holding it, until, finally, they’re rendered little more than a Squib.  Oh – sorry, Gwynnie, no offense…”

“Of course not, Dorrie,” Gwynne said.

“And it’s permanent,” Kate asked.  “It sucks the magic out of them permanently?”

“Permanently…  It was such a lovely thing – made of Rowan wood, with a Sphinx hair core.  Rowan wood is prized among wand makers, because defensive spells cast from them are hard to break – like my Fidelius on Morrellayne.  It’s said, they’re best matched to the pure of heart and purpose.”
“With a Sphinx hair core – I’ve never read of any wand with that.”

“No, practically none exist, because a Sphinx won’t give up one willingly – you have to solve their riddle first, and the consequences for failure is, well it’s death, isn’t it?

But I’d read that they were the best core for creating spells and that’s what I wanted to do above all else – create my own magic.  And, as I seemed most determined on this point, my parent took me on a safari to find one.”
“Did you and your brother go, too, Aunt G..?”

“No, Freddie and I stayed home with the nanny, just in case things went sideways.”

“What was the riddle, mom..?  Do you remember..?”

“I think I do, but the wording – how does it start again… Oh –

 

“I never was, am always to be,
No one ever saw me, nor ever will
And yet I am the confidence of all
To live and breathe on this terrestrial ball.”

 

Kate sat back, thinking, as her mother smiled from daughter to sister.

“This is hard!  How long did the Sphinx give you..?”

“She said, as long as I gave her an answer, I could take my time, but without an answer, I would never leave.”

“Wow, nothing like adding a little pressure…”

Then Kate jumped up and shouted.

“It’s ‘Tomorrow!’  Am I right..?”

“You live!  A fine Ravenclaw you would have made, wouldn’t she, Gwynnie..?”

“Haven’t a clue – you’re the only one I know.  But back to the spell, Dorrie – I’ve never heard of anything like that,” Kate’s aunt said.

“Well, I’d been thinking about the Sword of Gryffindor – you know it was Goblin-made.”

“Okay…” Kate said, confused.

“You explained this to me once, but that was so many years ago,” Aunt Gwynne said.

“Goblin-made armor never needs cleaning.  It – “

“…It only imbibes that which makes it stronger,” Kate said, finishing her mother’s sentence.

”Yes, precisely, so that’s where I got my idea.  The problem was…it was just an idea.  I had no clue how Goblins imbued their creations with that property and my solitary attempts were disastrous, until…”

Kate and her aunt leaned in, waiting for Dorcas to continue.  The figure in the portrait sighed, looking down on the non-moving image of her late husband.  She patted his shoulder.

“Before I married your father, I worked at Gringotts, which meant I knew a number of Goblins, and one, Filgur – he was nearly at retirement age – had a son named Jamrack, who was a smithy.  That meant nothing to me at the time and a year or so later, I left Gringotts, got married and started raising a family.

It wasn’t until your father was murdered that creating something that could protect my family – better than a passive charm, like Fidelius – became all-consuming.  Consuming to the point where I broke a cardinal rule of Wizards, which is:  Never reveal the secrets of wand crafting to magical non-humans.”

“That part of the story you never told me,” Gwynne said.

“I never shared it with anyone.  I didn’t dare.  Imagine what would have happened to all of you if I’d been shipped off to Azkaban, while Voldemort ran wild,” Dorcas shivered.  “It was a hard decision, but… I delivered critical wand-making knowledge to Jamrack.  In exchange, he imbued my wand with the properties of Goblin armor.  From there, creating Magicae Mortem was fairly straight-forward.”

“And did you ever test it out,” Kate asked.

“Just once; your aunt’s heard this story before.  I’d gone to a meeting of the Order, but, as I was only a week away from giving birth to you and dead-tired, I’d begged off and left early.

“Then, just as I came out, three Death Eaters ambushed me, firing spells from every direction.  I was surrounded and not very spry, in my condition.  If ever there was a time for the spell – that was it.  So I cast it and walked into their midst.”

“That was so brave, Mom,” Kate said.

“It wasn’t bravery, at all – it was a matter of simple survival.”

“So then..?”

“Then the lot of them fired their most horrible curses, hitting the umbrella, if you will, of the Magicae Mortem, and every last one of them – how did you put it – had the magic ‘sucked’ out of them.  By that time, Mad-Eye, and my two cousins had come out.”

“And what did the Death Eaters do?” Kate asked.

“Well it seems that none of them realized what had happened.  They continued waving their wands and shouting curses, but when none of that produced anything – no blasts of red or green, no magic, they fled.  Mad-Eye said to let them go, that when they told their mates, they’d think twice about ambushing us again.”

“But wouldn’t that put a target on your back..?”

“Indeed!  When I got home I fortified my Fidelius immediately.”

“I bet all of the Order wanted to learn your spell.”

“They did, and I taught them the incantation, but without my wand…”

“What happened..?”

“Well, without the use of my wand, the Magicae spell is nothing more than a glorified shield charm.  So you see my dilemma – I couldn’t reveal why the spell wouldn’t work for them, or…”

“Or you’d be shipped off to Azkaban,” Kate said.  Her mother nodded.

“By the way – where is my wand,” she asked.

“Yes,” Kate asked, turning to her aunt, “Where is mom’s wand?  Is that the one Sienna’s using?”

“No,” Gwynne said, “Your wand was lost, Dorrie.”

“Lost?  How?  When,” Dorcas asked.

“The day you were murdered – the same day Kate became a Talbot…”

 

“Your parents were living about an hour’s distance from us at the time.  Your father – your Talbot father – had just finished his graduate work and he and Natalie had come for a visit.

Don was going to take John to the rowing finals at Henley – an all-day event.  They’d left early in the morning, while Natalie stayed behind with me.  But, like the rest of the Talbots, Kate, your mother – Natalie, I mean – who was quite pregnant with Kara, had no desire to lie about.  She asked if I’d like to join her on a walk down into the village, but I demurred, saying I had to go into work and would be gone for hours, so she took off, which gave me the chance to pop in and see you all, here at Morrellayne.”

“And after you arrived, I remember you’d offered to take them to the park, so I could rest,” Dorcas said, from her painting.

“But wouldn’t that be dangerous, taking us outside the Fidelius charm,” Kate asked.

“Oh, not the park here, love, the park back in Sedgewick,” her aunt said.  Off Kate’s confused look, Dorcas said:

“Gwynnie – didn’t you tell her about the mirrors?  By the way, is my mirror missing, too..?”

“I’ll tell you all about it – both of you.  Each of you knows a part, but neither of you knows it all.”

 

“After Natalie left, I popped into the mirror, which your mother had given me and came here.”

“Oooh – like ‘THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE’..!”

“But cross that with the Vanishing Cabinets from the POTTER books.  There was one mirror at this end – it used to hang over there,” Gwynne said, pointing to a blank piece of wall near the fireplace, “While the other was back in the gatehouse – that’s where Don and I used to live before we bought the manor.”

“The mirrors were a wedding present, from the nice side of my family,” Dorcas explained.

“There was a nice side..?” Aunt Gwynne asked.

“Dad’s Uncle…what was his name…  Anyway, irreplaceable…  I’m so glad you bought the manor, Gwynnie, I always thought it a very handsome place.”

“Thank you, Dorrie.  Anyway, after coming through the mirrors, I found your mother resting, or trying to, here, on the couch.  Sienna was acting the brat and you were fussing, too…

 

Seventeen Years Ago…

 

“Has she been like this the whole time,” Gwynne asked her sister, who was curled up under a light coverlet.  A fire burned in the hearth, more for its cheery company, than for warmth, as it was a fine July day.

“Which one,” an exasperated Dorcas asked, “Sienna or Katharine?”

“Sienna..?” her aunt asked.

But the eight-year-old merely continued playing with her toy wand, pointing it at things and shouting nonsense commands, like:

Barkus Humungous!

“That’s not a spell,” Gwynne said.

“How would you know?  You’re just a Squib,” Sienna said.

“Sienna!” her mother scolded, “Apologize to your aunt this instant!”

“It’s okay, Dorrie.  It’s the truth, isn’t it?”

“Sienna – you apologize now, or I’ll take your wand away,” Dorcas said.

“I don’t care; it’s not real anyway,” Sienna said.

“Your aunt has kindly offered to take you and your sister to the park, but unless you apologize right now, you can spend the rest of the afternoon in your room, young lady!  Well…?”

Sienna kept swishing her toy wand.

“Sienna…”

“Fine..!  I’m sorry.  There!” she said, glaring at her mother.

“I’m afraid that’s the best you’ll get out of her these days, Gwynnie.  I think it’s a heavy case of cabin fever, being cooped up here week after week.”

“It’s okay, Dorrie.  I understand.  Now are you going to stay down here, or…”

“Yes, but I’m going to slip down the hall for a second.  If you can get Kate ready, she’s up in her crib,” Dorcas said.

After her mother and aunt had left the room, Sienna started bouncing up and down on the couch, making mimicking faces of her aunt and mother lecturing her.  She made some thrusts with her toy wand and then, turning, she saw her mother’s wand lying on the table at the end of the couch.

Checking to see that she was alone, she picked up her mother’s wand and replaced it with her toy wand.  Hearing someone approaching, she pocketed her mother’s wand and acted completely innocent when her aunt came in, holding the new-born Kate.

“All ready to go,” her aunt asked.  Sienna nodded, with a grin.

“Then off we go,” her aunt said, crossing the room to a full-length mirror, set in an ornately carved rosewood frame.  Her aunt squeezed the side of the frame and the mirror opened like a door.

“Oooooh, it’s all creepy dark in there,” Sienna said, reaching for her aunt’s hand.  Her aunt took it, while cradling the infant Kate against her breast.

“But not to worry – see that light at the other end?  That’s my house and I’ll be holding your hand the whole way there, so nothing to be scared about.”

“I’m not scared,” Sienna said, though she clutched her aunt’s hand tightly.

“Dorrie,” Gwynne called out, “We’re leaving now.”  Dorcas entered the room and nodded.

“Have a fun time with your aunt.  And behave yourself!”                         Sienna just stuck out her tongue.  Her mother shook her head and sank onto the couch, pulling the coverlet up, as she settled in.

 

“See,” her aunt said to Sienna, as they shortly exited the other mirror into her office, “Not so scary, was it?”

“Auntie Gwynne, I told you – I wasn’t scared,” Sienna declared.”

“No, of course you weren’t,” her aunt said, smiling a knowing smile.  “Now let me check to see if the coast is clear, Gwynne said, leaning out the window.

Convinced that her sister-in-law wasn’t back, she turned to her niece and said, “Good, then let’s nip off for the park.  You must be dying to get outside and play, yes?”

Sienna nodded and took the lead down the stairs.

“To the right – that’s it – through the back garden,” her aunt said.  And then it was on through a brief patch of woods and out into the small nearby park.

Other children could be seen up ahead, swinging, sliding and simply running, while shrieking at the top of their little lungs.

“They’re just Muggles, aren’t they,” Sienna asked.

“Yes, love, just Muggles,” her aunt replied.  Her niece looked disappointed.  “At your age, Sienna, neither of you can do magic, so what does it matter?  Go play.”

This seemed to change Sienna’s mood and she took off to join a cluster of children near the swings, while her aunt sat down on a bench, with little Kate.  A young mother with an infant took a seat next to her.

“How old,” she asked.

“Less than a week,” Gwynne replied.  The mother leaned over.

“My, what amazing eyes – so very light, they’re almost the color of fog.”  The woman looked up at Gwynne’s face.

“Oh, she doesn’t get them from me.  I’m just giving my sister a rest.”

The mother nodded and cooed into her bundle of baby and blankets.  The afternoon was very pleasant, with just the right amount of sunlight tempering the gusting breeze.  There was a delicious lushness to the greenery and summer seemed very pleased with itself.

The infant in Gwynne’s arms slept soundly, apparently also very contented, but her older sister was not.  It seems a sturdily-built lad had declared himself the king of the slide, and was shoving or punching anyone who tried to climb his ladder.

When Sienna ignored his royal decree and started up the rungs, he grabbed her about the waist and tossed her into the sandbox.                                      Her aunt looked up just in time to see a furious Sienna swishing what she thought was her niece’s play wand at the boy.  But when it shot a fusillade of red sparks that blasted the boy off the ladder, she jumped to her feet.

“No!  No!  NO!” she shouted, running, as too many thoughts coursed through her head.

Illegal under-aged use of magic was sure to bring the wrong attention, and, even worse, if Sienna wasn’t using her play wand, then her mother was resting back at Morrellayne defenseless!

Gwynne cut through the thicket of children and mothers and snatched Sienna’s hand.  Without looking back, or answering the angry uproar, she made a bee-line back to her office.

“Are you going to tell Mummy,” Sienna said.  “Please don’t tell, Auntie Gwynne, please.”

Rushing through the back garden and up the office stairs, Gwynne yanked open the mirror and rushed towards its mate.  But as she was about to open it, she stopped.

She could see through the glass that her sister was not alone – there were one or two others in the room – men, by the sound of it.  But if her sister was in danger, she wasn’t showing it.

What she thought was her wand lay on the table next to her, so these must be friends.  Sienna was bursting to push through the mirror and get out of the darkness, but her aunt shushed her, while holding a restraining arm around her.

“Your mother is talking to guests.  It would be rude of us to walk in on them just now.”

“But I want to get out of here,” Sienna pleaded.  Gwynne lowered her head close to Sienna’s and whispered:

“Yes, I know, love, but this tunnel is our little family secret.  If we popped out now, it would spoil it.  I’m sure it will only be a minute and then…”

But Gwynne stopped, as suddenly the tenor in the room changed; the voices grew louder.  Someone shouted and a flash of red light nearly hit Dorcas, who lunged for what she thought was her wand, and then a second flash of light – green – and this time Dorcas was struck.

For a moment she was frozen, halfway off the couch, but then, to Gwynne’s horror, her sister dropped to the floor, lifeless.  Gwynne shoved her fist into her mouth to stop from screaming out.  A man in a cloak, his back to the mirror rushed forward.  He snatched up the wand.

“What’s this?!  A toy..!  Accio wand,” he started shouting, again and again, pointing his wand in every direction.

When no wand came zooming his way, he turned to someone out of sight and shouted, “Search the house!  Find her wand!  Did you hear me, man?”

“What did you do?!” another man’s voice could be heard crying out in disbelief.  “You…you killed her?!”

“She was going for the wand… I thought.  It doesn’t matter now – just find that wand!”

Inside the tunnel, Sienna tried to rush to her fallen mother, knocking into her aunt.  And then it all happened at once – Sienna pushed the mirror open, the baby started crying.  And as the man started to turn to the mirror, Gwynne made a sudden decision.  She yanked Sienna back and smashed the mirror with her hand, shattering it.

As the glass fell to the floor, the wall turned solid.  Gwynne grabbed Sienna’s hand in the darkness and rushed her back towards the light of her office.  The man’s fists could be heard pounding the now-solid wall.  Somewhere along the way, Sienna, shivering with shock, dropped her mother’s wand.

 

Present Day…

 

“So you’re sure whoever that was – that he wasn’t Voldemort?”

“I’m certain.”

“Aunt Gwynne, do you know who it was then.”

Her aunt, paused, again with that reluctance – was it in fear?  And, if so, in fear of what – endangering Kate with the knowledge or..?  Seeming to have come to a conclusion, her aunt nodded.

“You’ve seen him, too, Kate – in the papers.  He’s our Minister of Magic.”

“Fearghas MacAra – the Minister of..?”

As if waking from a spell, Dorcas suddenly blurted out:  “YES!  That’s who killed me – cousin Fearghas!  And the man – the man with him was his brother!  Oh my!  I can’t tell you how good that feels – to finally be free to say it!”

’Cousin Fearghas..?!  The Minister of Magic is your -” Kate stopped, stunned.

“Well, he wasn’t Minister back then…”

“You were killed by your own cousin..?” Kate asked, looking to her aunt.

“I must say, I’m not too surprised, I always knew he was  ambitious – eye on the prize and everything.”

“But how can he be a cousin..?  Phin said the Minister was a Hufflepuff.”

“Ah, but he wasn’t born one, love.  Fearghas, like your aunt and me, came from a long line of pure-blood Slytherins, and what are Slytherins, if not shrewd?

“I remember a party back during my Havenhurst days.  It was after a particularly intense Quidditch match.  Fearghas and I had both had a couple Butterbeers, which turned into a few too many Firewhiskeys…

Anyway, I recall him telling me that when they put the Sorting Hat on his head, he told it he wanted to be in Hufflepuff – just like I chose to be in Ravenclaw.          ‘I chose Hufflepuff,’ he said, ‘Because more Ministers have come from Hufflepuff than any other house, while no one from Slytherin has been Minister in generations’!”

“But this is huge, mom!”

“Indeed… But the short and simple truth is my wand is still lost in the space between the mirrors and without a pair of them, the space inside is limitless.”

“Much worse than limitless,” her aunt said, shivering.

“Oh no, are you saying the rumors are true..?”

“What rumors..?” Kate asked.

“Rumors no one ever told me,” her aunt said, with an archness directed towards her sister.

“It seems that, like many Slytherin heirlooms that are passed down from one generation to the next, there’s an awful aspect to them.  Tell me if I’m describing what you experienced correctly, Gwynnie, but the story goes that if you stray off the path, which you couldn’t help but do, if one of the mirrors has been broken, visions of…”

“Horrible visions..!” her aunt interjected.

“Visions that you might have if…well if you crossed the effects of a Dementor and a Boggart – that’s the way I heard it.  You’re forced to experience the most frightening things from your subconscious.”

“But still – anyone could get in there and snatch your wand..?” Kate asked.

“No, that part I managed.  I put a spell on them so that only your aunt or a Meadowes could get inside.”

“Yes, well…when I got back,” Aunt Gwynne continued, “I concocted a sedative for Sienna and then wracked my brains – what was I to do.  And then, suddenly, there she was – your mother.”

“My mother,” Kate asked.

“No, my mother – our mother,” Dorcas said, looking at her sister.  “After I’d been killed, I alerted my mother, saying she needed to go help the three of you.”

“Your grandmother was probably the last person I ever wanted to see, but maybe the only one I could trust at that moment.  She knew what was at stake and agreed that Sienna must not remember anything about what had just happened, or her life would be in jeopardy.  So she Obliviated Sienna’s memory there, in my office and took her back to Thornefield,” Gwynne said.

“You gave Sienna to her?”

“Desperate times make for desperate choices, Dorrie, what was I to do?  I could hardly spring two nieces on my husband, when he never knew I had a sister.”

“And I suppose Sienna became a Slytherin,” Dorcas said.  Gwynne nodded.  “But why didn’t she take Katharine as well?”

“She said she wasn’t up to raising an infant,” Gwynne said.

“Mom, Aunt Gwynne, I don’t understand.  Why did you keep us a secret from Uncle Don,” Kate asked.

“We thought it would be best, what with Death Eaters killing Muggles right and left and your aunt not being a witch…” Dorcas said.

“Then how did I come to be Kara’s twin, and why did you…” Kate asked.

“My thought was that your mother’s killer knew that someone else had been present and had witnessed her murder.  With the trace still on the both of you, I had to be sure they wouldn’t be able to find you, which meant getting you out of the country.

After your grandmother left with Sienna, I mixed up a potion for Natalie.  When she returned, I made her tea, into which I slipped the potion,” Gwynne said.  “It worked almost immediately, putting her into a deep sleep, while inducing labor.”

“I bet there was Clary Sage in it,” Dorcas said.

“Potions Level 5,” Gwynne said, smiling.  “From there, it was simply a matter of smearing some of the placenta all over you, Kate, while I called for an ambulance.  There were some bothersome questions from the nurse on call – what with your cord already being tied, but I said my neighbor was a doctor, who’d helped before he’d passed out from the excitement.  It was the best I could do with so little time to work it out.”

“You did splendidly, love,” Dorcas said.

“Thank, you, Dorrie.”

“But then I have to ask, if they came after me, did they also…”

“Your Goblin friend..?”  Dorcas nodded, fearful of the answer.  “Thinking back on those times, I recall the Daily Prophet reporting a big explosion at some Goblin event – several were killed.  It was blamed on Death Eaters, but…  Within a day, all the Goblins went into hiding, even those working Gringotts.  Even today, none can be found.”

“Look what I did…  I never meant… I was only trying to save good people from harm, not…” Dorcas stopped, overwhelmed.  The three women sat in silence until:

DING!  Aunt and mother turned to Kate, who dug into her pocket and pulled out Phin’s card:

 

Just checking that we’re on for tomorrow…”

 

“It’s from Phin,” Kate said.

“So they’ve invented some new form of communication.”  Kate nodded.  “Is he your boyfriend,” Dorcas asked, with a sly grin that only mothers have when their daughters are starting to date.

“No, he’s… I only met him a couple days ago,” Kate said, blushing despite herself.

“Well he definitely asked you out,” Dorcas said.

“He wants to take me on a tour of Hog – of Havens Hollow and Havenhurst,” Kate said.

“I don’t know, that sounds like a risk,” Dorcas said.

“But it’s not like anyone knows me as ‘The Second Daughter of Dorcas Meadowes, Missing Horcrux.’  I’ll just be Kate Talbot, American tourist.”

“Yes, but the Ministry knows the ‘Missing Horcrux’ is in the country,” Dorcas said.

“How did you know that..?” Kate’s aunt asked, shocked.

“I overheard our mother talking to another woman.  She said the Ministry had spotted the Red Dot.  ‘Red Dot,’ the woman asked.  ‘The trace on the Missing Horcrux..?!’

“And the other woman seemed incredulous, saying, ‘But I thought you said she wouldn’t enter the country until she was seventeen!”  And our mother said, ‘Yes – catastrophic, I know – our person at the Ministry sent me an owl as soon as she heard’.”

“’Our person’ – wonder what that’s about,” Gwynne said.

“I thought it strange, too, but, since I had no idea what any of it referred to, I let it go,” Dorcas said.

“Wait a minute – if you’re in a portrait at your mother’s, you can see Sienna all the time, can’t you,” Kate asked.

“No, she keeps it in this tiny room, filled with a million things and the drapes are usually drawn, except when she wants to look at us.”

“She looks at us..?  You mean, ‘she looks at you’.”

“No, Gwynnie – us, all of us.”

“That’s curious – that she keeps it locked away – don’t you think?  I wonder why..?” Kate said.

“It is curious.  But now I must caution you about telling Sienna:  Under no circumstances are you to tell her who killed me.”

“But why..?”

“Fearghas and his family were frequent visitors to Thornefield.  And even as a student, he was a master at the Legilimens charm – he could perform that on her and all would be lost.”

 

The rest of the evening was spent with Kate interrogating her mother for all the details she could remember of her time at Havenhurst.  Finally, when it was almost midnight, Kate wished her mother goodnight and climbed the stairs up to her bedroom.

But, twenty minutes after turning out the lights, she was still unable to sleep, so it seemed like only an hour before the sun was already rising and her aunt was peeping in to ask what she wanted for breakfast.

 


 

CHAPTER 12

 

“THE REAL HOGWARTS/HAVENHURST”

 

Kate took extra time getting ready.  If there was ever a time when using the ringed wand would have come in handy, this would have been it.

‘I wish I’d paid more attention to what Kara does, when she gets ready for a date,’ Kate thought.

Sighing and writing it off as a lost cause, she went down to breakfast, which was over swiftly for her, as she was only able to finish half a piece of toast.

“Are you through with the Prophet,” Kate asked.

Her aunt handed it over.

“OMG – we made the front page, mom!”  Kate read:

 

“Minister of Magic, Fearghas MacAra joined the Auror investigation at the Muggle Estate of Rawcliffe, the ancestral home of the Meadowes family, where the infamous ‘Missing Bride’ portrait of Dorcas Meadowes, the mother of the Missing Horcrux, was stolen. 

            The painting that now sits in place of the one that hung in the music room of the estate for many years was certified to be a copy, which means the thief is now in possession of the original.  The Minister said that the only person for whom the original would hold any significance could be no other than the Missing Horcrux herself. 

            Again, he cautioned the public to be on full alert, and anyone having any information pertaining to the Missing Horcrux’s whereabouts should report it immediately to the Office of the Defenders, Ministry of Magic.”

 

Kate put down the paper.

“This Minister, this murderer can really amp up the drama.”

“That’s how he gained power and how he’s held onto it – through fear…  In any case, we still have a couple hours before you have to take your place at the park.  Perhaps you could make good use of them,” her aunt said.

“Good – like teaching me how to sketch,” Kate suggested, feeling her nerves rising.

“No need, I think there are some sketch books of your mother’s around here somewhere.  She was a dab hand at it – private lessons and all.  Dorrie…”

“They should be under the lid of the window seat, though they’re probably termite fodder by now.”

“Kate, while I’m looking for them, why don’t you go out in the back yard and see if you can figure out how to get rid of that rock.  We wouldn’t want your young man to find a way back here and stumble upon it,” her aunt said.

“Mom, any suggestions,” Kate asked, as she passed back into the great hall, a piece of buttered toast in hand.

“Try a Reducto, followed by an Evanesco, or Scourgify, to clean up the shards.

 

Out in the garden, Kate was actually having squealing fun, using Mad-Eye’s wand to blast the rock into ever smaller pieces, which she vanished.  She got to the point where she could make the fragments vanish before they even hit the ground (or her).

 

“All done,” Kate said, coming in, while giving her clothes a brush-off.  “Though I think it left a big depression in the grass.”

“Are you going to go on your date dressed like that,” Dorcas asked.

“You think I should change,” Kate asked.

“Definitely,” her aunt and mother said.

So Kate went back upstairs and finally found an outfit that mother and aunt agreed upon.  Her aunt performed an understated application of make-up and hair product, with input from her mom.

“The products I’ve created are so much better than anything Diagon Alley offers.  Doxy blood, Dorrie – can you believe it?

“No!”

“Yes!  And the prices!  There,” her aunt said, stepping back to admire her handiwork.

“Oh, Kate, look at you,” her mother said.

But Kate didn’t want to look at herself.  For some reason everything was now starting to make her feel very self-conscious, which made her very uncomfortable.  As a Potter nerd, an honors student, a piano prodigy, she was totally at ease and comfortable in her skin.  But as someone’s ‘date’ – this made-up thing – she was totally at sea, and the waves were choppy.

“Do you want to see,” her aunt asked, reaching for a mirror.

“No!” Kate said.  She checked her watch.  “I should go,” she said, taking the keys to the Jag.

“Your sketch pad and pencil case,” her aunt said, jumping up.

“Oh, right,” Kate said.  She stopped at the doorway, riffing through her mother’s sketch pad.  “Mom, these are really good – too good – what if he asks me to draw something?”

“You’ll figure something out, I’m sure,” Dorcas said.

But Kate wasn’t sure.  She remembered her brain freeze, back at the castle; how her stomach and heart churned and thudded when she was around Phin.

‘You’re going to Hogwarts – HAVENHURST!’ she thought, correcting herself – that would get her through this.

Like when she did that recital in Boston – she had looked past her nerves to the reward – a promised ride in the Swan Boats.  And with that “carrot” she was off.

So many thoughts were jumbling through her brain that it was only the angry horn of an approaching car that reminded her she was driving on the wrong side of the road.

“LEFT SIDE, K. – LEFT SIDE!” she screamed at herself.

 

Kate parked the Jag and entered the park, trying to find a place where Phin could easily find her, yet which offered something worthy of sketching.

‘What can I draw,’ she wondered, looking about the lush park, with its grand lake views and groups of families strolling.  ‘What does it matter – I can’t draw anyway!’

She thumbed through her mother’s pad, looking for anything she could pass off as Hillcroft Park, but there was nothing that remotely resembled what she saw around the park.

‘Well, nothing to do but start one of my own,’ she thought.  After a few minutes and many erasures, she jumped, as a man’s voice said:

“Hopefully you have other accomplishments to recommend you, Talbot…”  Kate turned to see Phin grinning down at her.  She quickly closed the sketch book.  “Oh, no, I think I should get to see some others,” he said.

“Do you..?” Kate asked, looking up.

“I’d hate to make a judgment based on such a small sampling.”

“Maybe you shouldn’t judge at all,” Kate said.

“Look who’s talking.  Now what was it you said about Hufflepuffs..?” Phin asked, arching an eyebrow.  Kate nodded, conceding his point.  “Okay.  Fine, don’t show me.  Shall we go?”

But as Kate rose, Phin reached inside his pocket and pointed his wand at her pad, which flew into his hands.

“Hey!” Kate cried, as he turned some pages.

“But these are brilliant, Talbot.  I believe you were having a go with me!”

“You think so,” Kate asked, relieved.

“I do,” he said, handing her back her (mother’s) sketch pad.

“Let me just pop this in the car,” Kate said, as she headed to the Jag.

When she returned, Phin led her into a more secluded part of the park.

“Ready,” Phin asked.  Kate nodded.  “Have you ever disapparated before,” he asked.

“That would be a ‘no’,” Kate said nervously.  “Uhm, in book six Dumbledore told Harry most people feel like – like throwing up the first time,” Kate said, gulping.

“I think that was a bit of an exaggeration.  Do you trust me,” Phin asked, extending his open hand.  If her answer was truly ‘yes’ why was Kate’s stomach roiling, as she reached out to his hand.

He entwined their fingers and, after giving her an encouraging smile, with the slightest twist, everything went black and Kate felt pressure squeezing all the air out of her lungs.

Just about when she thought she might die from lack of oxygen, she found herself standing next to Phin on a country lane, with a storybook town just ahead of them.  To Kate’s eyes, it looked like a “Merry Old England” version of Munchkinland.

There were red geraniums hanging from flower boxes beneath the windows of nearly every thatched roof home.  Blooming vines clung to every trellis and fence that led into a village of high-pitched rooves and ivy-covered store fronts.

Everything screamed “Dickens” – leaded glass, diamond-paned windows, cobblestone streets, old-fashioned gas lamps.  Even Disney couldn’t have created something so picturesque.

“A real tourist trap, eh,” Phin said.

Kate couldn’t answer – she was too busy taking it all in.

“It wasn’t this over the top until after the books came out, but now look at it – every nook and cranny is infested with ‘quaint’.”

“Please – don’t – let me just…” Kate said, trying to hold onto her beloved fictional Harry Potter world; a world she had once prayed to be real, but now felt as though it was evaporating in the light of reality.

“That’s right, I forgot for a second you were raised a Muggle – now that’s a story you must tell me,” Phin said.

“Uhm… It would be…really boring, really,” she said, trying to think what she’d say when the subject came up.

“Uh-huh, as boring as your sketching is bad..?” Phin asked, raising an eyebrow.

“So where’re we going for lunch.  I’m starving,” Kate said, with forced enthusiasm, because, if truth be told, she didn’t think she could eat a thing.

 

Phin chose Madame Puddifoot’s for lunch.  And, just like in the books (or perhaps more so) it was decorated as a spot for couples.  Just about all the tables were tables for two and flowered patterns covered the cushions, walls, carpet and curtains.

If this had been France, the music would have been “La Vie en Rose,” but instead, a recording of an Englishwoman warbling love songs played in the background.  There was even a fresh bouquet of Forget-me-nots and Sweetheart Roses on every pink tablecloth.

Phin had chosen a table that pushed into a bay window’s swell, overlooking the main street.  Somewhere, in the back of her mind, Kate realized that she was now sitting at one of the “A” tables, like her sister always did in Ianello’s – the “see and be seen tables”.  It made her a bit uncomfortable, but not as much as their conversation.

Her lunch with Phin was not so much a cooing date, as it was a fencing match – each time Phin tried to get Kate to tell about her past, Kate parried it.

“No, too boring – I’d rather hear about your life growing up,” she’d ask.  “Did you live full-time in England?  How did your parents meet?”      Phin’s answers were short and ended with another question.  If this was their chance to get to know each other, both were left a bit frustrated.

“Talbot, seriously – I really want to hear your story.  How did you come to be raised as a Muggle?  I know the colonies are a bit provincial, but still, they must have decent schools of magic…”

Kate looked away, hoping Phin wouldn’t see the panic in her face.  But as she turned her gaze out the window, she saw Sienna and her friends striding up the street, in full-on green and silver finery.

As they were about to pass, the Asian stopped Sienna and pointed to Kate.  Sienna looked from Kate to Phin and a sly smile slid onto her face.  Kate didn’t know why, but she felt Phin shouldn’t be aware of their presence in Havens Hollow, and said:

“Lean forward a bit.”

“What?”

“Just lean this way,” she said, gently taking the side of his face in her hand and lifting it so that the light hit his eyes.

“What, do I have something on me,” Phin asked, color rising into his face.

“No, it’s your eyes – I’m trying to decide what color I’d say they were.  Hmmm…”

Checking to make sure that Sienna and her gang had moved on, she let go of his face and sat back.

“Well..?”

“Undecided,” she said.

“Undecided,” he repeated.  She nodded.  “I don’t need special light for yours.”

“No..?”

“No…  They’re most unusual you know, and yet I swear I’ve seen them before somewhere.”

“Really..?” Kate said, knowing exactly where he’d seen them and how bad it might be if he remembered.

“I’ve been telling people they’re the color of morning fog.”

“You’ve been telling people – about me?  Which people?”

“Oh, just…you know…people,” he said, turning red.  “Uhm… If you’re finished…”  Kate nodded, pushing away the plate of food she’d barely touched.  “Would you like to check out some of the shops – they’re mostly full of tourist bait, but..?”

Kate looked out the window to make sure the street was free of her sister and her friends.

“But I am one, so, yes, please,” Kate said.

 

The afternoon moved on into evening, without Kate noticing.  All of her senses were heightened, but none of them were focused on time or place.  She picked up Sugar Quills, PepperImps and other items of Potter paraphernalia that DeWanda and Josh would never know were authentic.  And after a quick stop at the Three Broomsticks (so Kate could try a real butter beer), she asked:

“Now what..?”

“Something I think you’ll enjoy, if you’re up for a bit of walking,” he said, arching an eyebrow.

“I am,” she said.  He tilted his head towards a lane leading out to of town and they began walking.  Everything about this day – especially since she was sharing it with Phin – made Kate not care what their destination was.

 

Leaving the village behind, they headed up a dirt path that twisted and turned, growing ever more knurled and narrow, as it rose.  After they’d been walking for about twenty minutes, the path ended abruptly, before a weathered fence.  Kate looked to Phin, as if to say, ‘You brought me here – for what?’  But then Phin pointed out across the scrub to a barren hillock, on top of which sat a sorrowfully derelict, two-story building.  The recognition of a place she’d only read about came slowly to her face.

“Is that… No!”  Phin nodded.

“The Shrieking Shack – it’s supposed to be off-limits, but, as I am an Auror…  I think I can find some excuse to check it out – that is, if you’re not going to go all quakey on me again.  But that’s okay,” he rushed to add, “I’ll let you…uhm…hold my hand, if it gets scary, I mean.”

He stepped over a broken slat of the fence and extended his hand.

“Maybe holding hands is the scary part,” Kate said, hesitating to take his.

“No, never with you…” he said, his voice going hoarse.  “Oh, crikey – did I just say that..?”  Clearing his throat, he said:  “So…uhm…” but he couldn’t continue.

Kate’s hesitation had broken his confidence.  He looked down at the ground, until he felt her hand slip into his.

“Right then, let’s…”

“Let’s,” she said, and she climbed over the broken slat and started up the brambly path, strewn with rough stones.

The sun was now turning into an oval along the rim of a far hill, just about to disappear behind it.  For some reason, Kate thought of Kara – what if she’d had to climb this trail in those towering heels, and just the split second of inattention, caused her to lurch over a smallish rock.  Immediately, Phin reached out and grabbed her about the waist, steadying her.  But after she’d regained her footing, he didn’t let go.

 

When they reached the shack, Kate saw that the door was boarded up.

“Oh,” she said, reading the Ministry of Magic’s poster on one of the boards:

 

                              NO ENTRY – ORDER OF THE MINISTRY OF MAGIC

 

Phin explained, “After the 3rd Potter book came out, all the Havenhurst students thought it would be a cool place to hang out, maybe get away with things the school forbids, so…this.  But, as I said, being an Auror and all…

Phin pulled out his wand and waved it in a complicated pattern.  All the planks over the boarded-up entrance rearranged themselves, enough so that they could slip inside.  Phin pocketed his wand.

“Ready,” he asked, holding out his hand.  Kate was about to take it, when a horrifying scream – a woman’s scream – shredded the silence, followed by another and another.

“They don’t still lock up werewolves here, do they,” Kate asked, anxiously.

“No,” Phin said, pulling his wand back out.    “Stay here,” he said.

“No problem,” Kate said, though right then she didn’t feel much like letting go of his hand.

Phin popped inside and was quickly out of her line of sight.  Kate tucked back against the outside wall, while straining to hear.

After another blood-chilling scream, there was a series of explosive blasts, then multiple sounds, like the cracking of whips.  Then there was silence.  After a moment, Phin came back out.

“What…who was it?” Kate asked.  Phin shook his head:

“Whoever it was, they got away,” he said, bitterly.

“They,” Kate asked, as Phin rubbed something dark red between his fingers.  “Is that..?”

“Blood – all over the floor up there,” he said, making Kate shiver.

“What were they doing,” Kate asked.

“No idea.  But a better question would be – how did they get in?  Those were some of the Ministry’s toughest protections, known only to Aurors.”  Phin raised his wand and shouted, “Expecto Patronum!” 

            Kate saw a large, silvery tiger leap out of the tip of his wand and go charging away.

“Wow – so that’s what they look like.  They’re beautiful,” Kate said, but Phin kept looking in the direction the tiger went.

A moment later there was a loud crack, and one of the aurors Kate had seen at Rawcliffe appeared.  He was approximately Phin’s age and had wavy blond hair, light pink skin and a very scruffy beard, or so Kate thought.  He saw Phin, then Kate.  A dimpled smile came to his face, as he stroked his beard.

“The boss says, ‘Yes.’  You and your guest,” he tipped his head to Kate, winking, “Are cleared to approach.  I’m to stay here and stand guard.”

“Right,” Phin said, as he reached out his hand to Kate.  But as she took it, the blond Auror said:

“Hang on – I think I’m owed an intro.”

Phin paused, looked to Kate then back to him.

“Fine, Kate, Gareth, Gareth, Kate.”  Turning to her, he said:  “Feel free to ignore him, we all do.”

“Nice to –“ Kate started, but before she could finish, Phin apparated them to an island in the middle of a large lake.

Kate saw they were in the midst of a number of Aurors – all men, save for Tavvie, the Auror she’d seen back at Rawcliffe.  She was dueling with one of the younger Aurors, easily besting him time and again.  Clearly she was not using a limited wand.

Among the men, Kate saw Phin’s boss – the brusque older one, from Rawcliffe.  She dropped Phin’s hand, maybe because of the way he looked at her, like McGonagall, when she asked Hermione, Ron and Harry why, when there was trouble, they were always around.  Phin turned to her and said lowly.

“Uhm… I have to report on what just happened, so could you…”  Kate nodded and moved away from the group.

And in so doing, she caught her first glimpse of Havenhurst, through a gap in the trees (although she immediately thought, ‘Hogwarts’).  It froze her where she stood and chills ran through her body.

“Wow,” she said aloud.  ‘It’s even more amazing than in the books,’ she thought.

Then the idea that such an imposing structure could be kept secret boggled her mind.  Here in the age of Google Earth, all of this went unknown.

‘They must have struck a deal with the Prime Minister,’ she thought, nodding to herself.

Trying to get a better view, she looked for a higher vantage point and there, on the crest of the island, she saw it – a large, white mausoleum, gleaming gold in the afternoon sun.

‘Dumbledore’s tomb,’ she thought, as more chills ran through her.      Looking back to Phin, she saw he was still busy, talking with his boss, who suddenly looked up in her direction.  Phin turned, too.  Kate looked back, waiting to see if she was supposed to join them, but then they both turned away.

‘Were they talking about me,’ she wondered.  She wasn’t wearing her scarf.  What if Mac had noticed her russet-colored hair, so like her mother’s?  Her heart started to beat faster.  ‘Well, I can’t run, because I don’t know how to apparate.  And my wand’s useless.’

Did she now regret leaving Mad-Eye’s wand at home, as her aunt had suggested?  But even if she’d brought it, what chance did she stand against a cadre of battle-trained Aurors?

‘There’s nothing I can do,’ Kate realized.  ‘It’s like the parable of the Tiger or the Strawberries – what was the point of that parable..?’  Her brain was not functioning with her heart racing like this.

‘Ah,’ she remembered, it was something like, ‘Enjoy the moment.’       And so, with a big exhale, she started the steep climb to the crest, which didn’t help the racing of her heart.

The tomb was long and broad; its lines simple, yet elegant.  Chasings of runes, just below the roof, ran around it, like a decorative Greek border.  She leaned back against it and could feel her heart thumping, where tomb and spine met.

She let her hands rest against its deliciously smooth coolness.  Looking up, she got her first unobstructed sight of Havenhurst.  The thought that she was actually here, actually seeing something she’d read about for years, made her head swim, or maybe it was the racing of her heart.

‘Which of those towers was Gryffindor’s, which was Ravenclaw’s, and which had been Dumbledore’s office,’ she wondered.

To the right of the castle, the hillside fell away.  Two thirds of the way down, at the end of a meadow was a cottage – was it Hagrid’s, sitting there like a gatehouse before the imposing wall of deep forest behind it?  Soaring in the sky above those woods – was that a Hippogriff..?’

A huge smile spread across her face, as joy and adrenaline pulsed through her.

‘This is alchemy,’ she thought, ‘It’s the transformation of fantasy into reality.’  Her eyes darted over the landscape before her:

‘Is that the Great Hall?  Are there really a thousand candles floating over the dining room tables?  And the ceiling – would it be brilliant blue, with puffs of blindingly white clouds gliding across it, just like the ones above me now?  Even if I’m about to be arrested, this would still be the best day of my life – magical or Muggle,’ she thought.

And then, with all the fearful adrenaline pumping through her, a realization came to her that made her burst out laughing.

“A little respect, Talbot – you’re standing next to the tomb of the greatest wizard of our time,” Phin said, making her jump.

“You’ve gotta stop doing that,” Kate said, punching his shoulder.

“What?”

“Sneaking up behind me…  And anyway, I wasn’t…it didn’t have anything to do with Dumbledore.”
“No..?  Then what would make you burst out laughing…” he asked.

“I was just thinking…well, you’d have to know my family, but…I mean, I could be showing them all of this – the castle, the floating candles, the Whomping Willow…and they’d still prefer to be hiking in the Cotswolds.  They couldn’t care less about Harry Potter, or anything magical.”

“They must be very happy people,” Phin said.  Off Kate’s look, he continued:  “Happy people don’t go looking for escapes, do they?”

“No, I suppose not,” Kate said, wistfully.

“Were you…unhappy,” Phin asked.

“Not unhappy, really, just…”

“Alone,” Phin said, in a way that made Kate think he could see right into her.  She nodded.  “Well, now you’re not,” he said, with such a comforting note of certainty.

Kate turned away from him, because, not until this moment had she realized how much Phin had become part of everything that was magical in her new life.  And, for some reason, she didn’t want him to see that in her face.

“Which…which tower is – was – Dumbledore’s,” she asked, turning towards the castle.

She felt the warmth of Phin, as he came up behind her, rested his hands on her shoulders and turned her slightly, so that a spire she hadn’t seen, on the far side of the castle, came into view.  His cheek grazed hers, as he softly whispered:

“There,” he said.  Kate shivered.  She couldn’t help herself.  Phin laughed.

“What’s so funny now,” Kate asked.

“There you go, getting all trembly on me again.”

Kate pulled away, just as Phin’s boss came around the end of the tomb.

“Poole,” he said.  Phin’s smile vanished.

“Yes, sir…”
“I thought you said you had business up at the castle.”

“Yes, sir…”

“Well I just got clearance from them, so do it now.  And take your guest.  There’s no place for her here.”

“Yes, sir…”  The older Auror scowled at Kate again, which made his scar crease further.

“And did you ask her..?”

“Oh, right.  No, sir, not yet,” Phin said.

“Then I suggest you get to it,” his boss said.  “Now..!”

And then he strode away.  Kate could feel her heart start to pound furiously again.

“Ask – ask me what..?” she asked, dreading the answer.   ‘Does he know who I am,’ she wondered.  ‘No, then they’d have arrested me already, but…’

“He wanted me to ask you if you’ve checked your grounds – in the daylight, I mean.”

“Checked them..?”

“For Mad-Eye’s wand,” Phin explained.

Kate could feel her heart calm down, but just a bit.

“Oh.  Oh, no.  I mean, I haven’t gone looking for it, though I was out in the gardens just before I left for the park.  Then again, a wand’s a very hide-able thing, isn’t it..?”

If Kate could have inwardly kicked herself for that comment, she would have.  Hadn’t she hidden Mad-Eye’s wand from him back at Rawcliffe?

“But a boulder’s not,” Phin said.

“You mean she didn’t take it out of the stone..?” Kate asked, innocently.

“No, proving our wards were solid – only a very advanced wizard could remove that wand,” Phin said.

“Really..?  Oh, and so the whole side-show thing in Diagon Alley was really a trap..?“ Kate asked.

“Spot on,” Phin said.  “We felt sure it was too irresistible for them to pass up.”

“Them..?” Kate asked.

“She wasn’t acting alone.  We’ve been on the trail of this group for a while now.  We’re fairly certain they were responsible for the break-in at Flourish & Botts the night before,” Phin said.

Kate looked around to make sure they were alone.

“Can I ask you something – not about them – it’s about your boss…”

“Sure, ask away,” Phin said.

“Does he…does he have something against me?”

“Against you..?  You mean that gruff way he has,” Phin asked.  Kate nodded.  “No, trust me – he’s like that with everybody.  You have to understand, most of his family – his wife, his children, even his parents – were murdered by Death Eaters, on Voldemort’s command.  Something like that either breaks you, or makes you, well, makes Mac, Mac.  As far as I know, only he and his brother survived.  And thank god for that – his brother is the Minister of Magic, Fearghas MacAra.”

Kate choked.  “His brother is..?!”  Kate wobbled.

“All right there, Talbot..?”

Kate managed to contain her thoughts and nodded.

“We all lost someone during Voldemort’s reign; he lost more than most.  And his brother…well, I don’t know if you’ve seen his face.  He usually tries to hide it in the photos.”

“His face..?  Why..?”

“He’s badly scarred – Voldemort tortured him, trying to get him to give up his mates in the Order, but he refused.”

Kate sorted that away, thinking she’d have to ask her aunt about that.  Then, trying to change the subject, she asked:

“I saw there’s a…a female Auror.  The way she was dueling, her wand can’t have –“

“A limiter ring..?” Phin said.  Kate nodded.  “No, Tavvie was an Auror well before the Battle of Havenhurst.  She has more experience than any of us, except Mac.  The rest of us are so green, the powers that be gave her a special dispensation, so we can come up to scratch.”

“And how come there are so many of you here today?  Are they guarding Dumbledore’s tomb, or is this some kind of office picnic?”

“We’ve started a detail on the tomb because of the Elder Wand.”

“The what,” Kate asked.

“Ahh, you haven’t reached that part of the book.”  Kate shook her head.  “Well, we had the author plant the idea that the Elder Wand – the most notoriously powerful wand of them all – the one Voldemort coveted – is buried with Dumbledore.”

“But it’s not?”

“No.  Mr. Potter snapped it in half, after he killed Voldemort.  Can’t let something like that sit around, ripe for the taking, but, luckily, only the people who were with Mr. Potter at the time know what happened to it.”

“But why would you plant such a thing…Oh!”  Phin nodded.  “To catch that witch..?”

“And her gang – there’ve been many historic wands – men’s wands – that have been stolen in the past year or so.”

“Do you think she – they would come after this one,” Kate asked, anxiously.  Phin shrugged.

“It would be quite the prize, wouldn’t it,” he said.

“But if it’s really been destroyed… That – that could mean that everything in the books – even the magical ones – isn’t always true.”

“In this case, no,” Phin said.

“But if someone could get Jo to put that lie in the books, well…maybe the whole ‘Missing Horcrux’ thing could be a lie, too?”  She stopped and looked to him.

“Oh, they wouldn’t go that far – I mean, passing all those laws and restrictions – if they were making that up…  Well, what purpose would it serve?”

It was Kate’s turn to shrug.

“So, uhm, do you know who got Jo to write that – about the wand, I mean,” Kate asked, trying to sound as casual as she could.

“No idea – way above my pay grade,” Phin said.  “Now, to the rest of your question, we’re also here to plan for two weeks from now.”

“What’s happening then,” Kate asked.

“They’re dedicating a new school…”  Kate looked back to Havenhurst.

“A new school – where,” she asked Phin.

“No new buildings, it’s just a new, hmmm, I guess you could say it’s a new curriculum – for the female students.  Now they’ll have their own set of courses – ones in ‘Human Ecology’, ‘Domestic Engineering’ and the like.  And they won’t have to waste their time taking classes like Defense Against the Dark Arts and other things that would be useless.”

“Useless..?”

“Definitely – for one thing, their wands wouldn’t be able to cast any of the spells they’d learn, so why bother?”

“I see…” Kate said.  It seemed the more she learned about this new world, the less she liked it.

“Look – I’ve got to dash, or I’ll be late for my meeting,” Phin said, extending his hand.

But Kate did not reach for his, yet a second later Phin had grabbed hers and they were almost immediately standing before the great oaken doors of the castle’s entrance.  Kate dropped Phin’s hand.

“I just have some personal business to talk over with the headmaster,” Phin said.

“It’s not Dolores Umbridge, is it,” Kate asked, only half-joking.

“Oh, good one, no…  And not her real name, by the way – changed to protect the guilty.”

“She doesn’t still work at the Ministry, does she,” Kate asked, incredulous.

“Uhm…” Phin said, wincing.

“What..?!”

“I know – everyone who was here when she was feels the same way, but, what is it you Yanks say, ‘You can’t fight…something?”

“City Hall,” Kate supplied.

“Right,” Phin said.  “Sorry about this, but I won’t be more than fifteen minutes, so feel free to explore,” Phin said, heading in.

Looking down the hill, Kate saw Hagrid’s hut.  For a split second she actually considered asking him for an autograph, but who would believe her, even if she took it home, wrapped around one of his rock cakes.

But now another hard thought hit home – one she’d been turning away from.  Did she still think of Cooperton as “home.”  “If you come back,” Agatha had said…”If…”  Then again, did she really want to stay here under these circumstances?  Wasn’t the appeal of a magical world that everyone would be equal by virtue of their wands?  She pulled out her ring-“enhanced” wand.

‘Hah,’ she thought, ‘More like, “ring-limited”.’  Shaking her head, she pocketed it.  The sun had finally dropped behind the mountains pitching one continuous shadow over the castle and its grounds.  All seemed very still and not the least bit welcoming.

Kate stepped into the castle, but the reception area was empty.  The doors across from, what she guessed must be the Great Hall, were open, but it was dark and totally absent of students, ghosts and floating candles.  Going back outside, she wracked her brain for points of interest, like the “Whomping Willow,” or the Quidditch Pitch, but a cursory look around didn’t reveal them to her.  She needed a guide, or someone who could give her directions.  If only there was someone, anyone, who –

And then she saw someone, far below, where the castle grounds met the water.  The person was entering what appeared to be a boathouse.  Whoever it was could point her in the right direction, she thought, so she started off.

 

As she neared the boat house though, she slowed, hearing a sound coming from inside it.  It wasn’t voices, nor was it screaming.  It was more like whimpering – a woman’s whimpering.

Trying to be as stealthy as possible, she slid along the rough-hewn wall of the building, until she could peek inside.  There, barely propped up against the far wall, illuminated by a single guttering candle, was the blonde from Sienna’s Slytherin gang.

But far from a haughty fashionista, she looked disheveled and in great pain.  She was cradling her right hand, which was wrapped in a piece of cloth – a very bloody piece of cloth.

Was this the woman who’d been screaming at the Shrieking Shack, she wondered?  Should she use Phin’s card and alert him, or should she offer to help her?  But of what help could she be; she didn’t know any of the healing charms?

The blonde let out a stronger moan of pain and began to rock back and forth in agony.  ‘That settles it,’ Kate thought.  She entered the boat house.  The blonde looked up through bleary eyes.

“Wha-who…” she started, but was too exhausted to finish her question.  Kate moved forward and knelt down before her.

“Uhm…is there anything I can do?  I mean… Oh my god, you’re seriously hurt.  Do you want me to -”

Just then, Sienna came in from a side room.

“No luck..!  Oh,” she said, upon seeing Kate.  “You again..!”  She shook her head slowly.  “You are becoming quite the pest, little girl,” she said with a sneer.  Kate’s hackles rose instantly.

From another room, the tall, sleek black woman who was part of Sienna’s gang entered.

“What’d you say, Si..?”  Seeing Kate, she said, “And who’s this..?”

“That little girl from the Alley, remember..?”

“Oh, yes – brill work there on Herr Dieter, luv.”

“Oh, lose the admiration and just check outside – if she’s here the baby Auror can’t be far.”

Sienna’s friend slipped out the door.  Sienna approached, pointing her wand, “Accio wand,” she said lazily, and Kate’s wand flew out of her pocket.

“Again..?!”  Kate said, rolling her eyes.

“I know, it’s worthless, but you might – oh, I don’t know – shoot pudding at me or try to change my nappies.”

“Oh, funny…” Kate said, dryly.

“No, sad – I have your worthless stick and now you’re totally defenseless.”

“Am I…Sienna,” Kate said.

The blonde’s head shot up in alarm.  Sienna held up her hand to silence her.

“So you found out my name.  So what – a simple Obliviate can fix that.”

“Go ahead.  And erase the part that remembers we’re sisters, too, will you..?”

Again, the blonde’s head shot up.  Again, Sienna held up her hand to silence her.

“Tosh!”

“Ask our mom.”

“My mother’s dead, twit.”

“Yeah, but her portrait – Dorcas Meadowes, ‘Missing Bride’ – is in my living room.”

“Rubbish – her portrait’s hanging at…”

“Rawcliffe..?  Not anymore.  I stole it yesterday – didn’t you read today’s Prophet..?”  Kate couldn’t help smiling recalling that larcenous adventure.

“Sienna…” the blonde said, looking worried.  “If your mum was her mum…”

“That makes me Katharine Meadowes, ‘Missing Horcrux’.  Funny – ’Missing’ seems to be a family theme.  Yours would be what – Missing charm..?”

“You can’t be my sister – you’re a ruddy American!”  Sienna said with disgust.

“And you’re a snot rag, but those are the breaks.”

Sienna studied her.

“Didn’t I tell you, that day in Diagon Alley,” the blonde said.

“And I can prove it, or I should say you already proved it.”

“Really..?  And how did I do that?”

“When you apparated into the manor, while fleeing Phin –“

“Your boyfriend,” Sienna sneered.

“He’s not my…  Nevermind.  The point is – there’s a Fidelius Charm on Morrellayne.  If you weren’t Sienna Meadowes…”  Sienna cut her off:

“Morrellayne…Morrellayne – I knew I knew that place!”  The sleek black woman slipped back in the door.

“That Auror – the dishy one – is coming out of the castle,” she said.

“He’ll be looking for me,” Kate said.  “I should go.”

“Not so fast.  You think I’m going to just let you go scampering to the boy and tell him about us,” Sienna said, leveling her wand at Kate.

Kate considered this for a moment and then said:

“The way I see it, we’re equal – I know it was you who stole Mad-Eye’s wand and you know I’m the ‘Missing Horcrux’ – so…”

Kate made a motion with her hands simulating balancing scales.  The black woman gasped:

“Si – is that true..?”  Sienna held up her hand to silence her friend, as Kate continued:

“Either of us tells on the other and we both get shipped off to Azkaban – hopefully in non-adjoining cells.”

Now it was Sienna’s turn to ponder the situation.  DING!  All of the women jumped.

“What was that?”  Sienna demanded, as Kate reached into her pocketbook and pulled out Phin’s card:

 

Where are you?”

 

“It’s Phin.  I’ve gotta run – so, unless you’re gonna Avada Kedavra me, or whatever…”

“Fine…we’re equal – but only in leverage, little girl.”  Kate retrieved her wand.

“Maybe…”  Kate headed for the door, but stopped at the entrance, “Oh, and by the way, if you were thinking of breaking into Dumbledore’s tomb for the Elder Wand – it’s a set-up.”

“As if you’d care,” Sienna said.

“I wouldn’t, but Mom would.”

“Well, it’s not why we’re here.  So, on your way, mustn’t keep your little man waiting.”

Kate tapped Phin’s card:

 

On my way back to you now”

 

            And, as she was on her way out, she heard the black woman say:

“Blimey – she’s like your ‘mini-me’,” Sienna glared at her.  “What..?  She’s got your attitude…”

“Shut it,” Kate heard Sienna say.  That brought a smile to Kate’s face.

 

Heading back up to the castle, Kate tried to think of things she could tell Phin she’d been doing, if he asked.  But when she reached him, he didn’t ask her anything.  And he wasn’t smiling.  What had changed?

“How did your business go,” she asked, but he just shook his head.

“Have you seen enough,” he asked, but in no way did he seem inclined to show her anything more, if she hadn’t.

            “Are you all right?  Is there something wrong,” she asked, suddenly feeling the loss of the closeness they’d had up to this point.

“I’m fine.  It’s just…  I need to go.”

“Is it – is it something I’ve done,” she asked.

“What..?  No…no.  I…I just need to get back,” he said, as he extended his hand.

“Okay,” Kate said, taking his hand.  They disapparated and a couple moments later, they were back in the park, which was now dark and vacant.

“Do you want me to walk you to your car,” Phin asked, but it sounded more like something manners dictated him to say.

“No need,” Kate said, letting go of his hand.  “It’s just right there.”  Phin nodded, not looking at her.  As she pulled out the keys, she said, “Good night; thanks for lunch and…and everything.”

“Yeah, no problem,” he said, and then he disapparated.

‘No problem,’ the words reverberated through Kate’s head.  How was she supposed to take that?  But Kate didn’t stop to ask; she just walked straight to the car, got in, slammed the door and took off.  It wasn’t as grand an exit as rocketing off on a broom, but she did kick up gravel when she hit the gas – hard.

 

Reaching the stretch of the road before Morrellayne, she drummed her fingers on the steering wheel, almost wanting to honk at the hedge to make it part faster, to let her enter her Phin-free domain.

When it finally had separated almost enough, Kate punched the accelerator and flew up the drive.  She might have heard some scraping on the way through.  Maybe a Reparo charm the next morning would erase the traces of her impatience.

Unseen by her, Phin was sitting on a high branch, in a tree across the road from Morrellayne’s entrance.  He remained until the hedge mended itself.  Then he climbed higher, disappearing from sight.

 

 

 


 

CHAPTER 13

 

“THE PRODIGAL DAUGHTER”

 

“I don’t want to talk about it!” was all Kate said, when her mother and aunt first asked about her date.

She wanted nothing more than to hide, while simultaneously needing their comforting.

The thoughts within her were already swirling – thoughts of her “magical thinking” – that she could have a boyfriend like Phin; that she was entitled to the admiration from boys that her sister got; that once again, she’d set herself up to lose; that she was simply a loser…

But, after the ache got to be too much, she gave in and told them everything.

 

“Not a problem..?!  That’s all he said..?” Dorcas said, amazed.  Kate nodded, pulling another tissue from the box that rested on a cushion on her lap.

“Can you believe it?  And the worst part was…”  Kate stopped to blow her nose.

“What, love?”

“Up to that point, it’d been the best day of my life.  I really thought… Oh, never mind…”

“You thought he really liked you,” Dorcas supplied.  Kate nodded.

“But he must have, or he wouldn’t have been so eager to have you go with him,” her aunt said, as she entered with a platter of scones and tea.

“Any chocolate ones,” Kate asked, as she reached for the platter.

“Oh, honey, if you need chocolate, you must have really liked him,” Dorcas said.

Kate didn’t nod; she didn’t want to admit how deeply she’d slid into wanting something with Phin to happen.

“You know, Kate, maybe Phin acting like that had absolutely nothing to do with you,” Aunt Gwynne said.

“Yes!  Thank you, Gwynnie.  You never know what goes on inside young men’s heads,” Dorcas declared.

“Plus…”  Aunt and mother waited, as Kate sighed, “This is really embarrassing, but…well it was my first date – my first real one.”

“Ever..?” her mother asked.  Kate nodded, sadly.

“That’s just pathetic,” a woman’s voice said, from the far side of the room, behind Dorcas’ portrait.

Kate and her aunt looked up and saw Sienna.  Sherry started barking at her, as Kate pounded her pillow.

“Oh, give me a break..!  Could this day get any worse,” she shouted.

“Who is it,” Dorcas said, disadvantaged by the position of her portrait.

“Sherry..!  Sherry..!  Stop, you silly dog..!” Aunt Gwynne commanded.

Sienna walked slowly forward, wand drawn, arcing around until she could see the painting head-on.  And then her wand dropped to her side.

“Mummy – is that really you,” Sienna asked, her voice becoming soft, almost child-like.

“Yes, Sienna,’ it’s really me,” Dorcas said, her face lighting up.

“I thought she was lying,” Sienna said.  Kate had to sit on her hand to not make a rude gesture.  “I’ve gone to Rawcliffe at least a dozen times, hoping you’d be there, that you wouldn’t still be ‘Missing’…”

“Well now I’m not.  I’m home, and my two daughters are with me,” Dorcas said.

“You mean it’s true – I really am related to her?” Sienna said, almost horrified.

“Like I’m jumping for joy,” Kate said.

“Told you, Dorrie,” Gwynne said to her sister.

“And you…I know you.  Why..?” Sienna said, looking quizzically at Gwynne.

“That’s your aunt Gwynne.  You don’t remember her because your grandmother erased her from your memory.”

“I used to take you to the park, and bring you lollies,” Gwynne said.  “The purple ones were –“

“My favorite…” Sienna said.  “But why would Gran do that..?”

“To protect you and your aunt,” Dorcas said.

“Protect us..?  From what..?”

Dorcas looked to Kate’s aunt.

“We just thought it best, with your mother being murdered and all.”

“And this – this girl,” Sienna pointed to Kate, “She stole you from Rawcliffe using just that – that -”

“Neutered chopstick?  Oh, no, I did it with this,” Kate said, pulling out Mad-Eye’s wand, with the first grin she’d cracked since her date – an evil grin.

“Why that’s mine, you little thief,” Sienna said, indignantly.

“Finders Keepers, thief,” Kate said, defiantly, holding it out of Sienna’s reach.

“I’m the one who stole it,” Sienna said.

“Yeah – with a boulder stuck to it,” Kate shouted.  “Kind of hard to flick a spell with forty pounds of stone attached!  I’m the one that got it out.”

“Why you little –“ Sienna said, pulling out her wand, but Kate was ready for her:

Expelliarmus,” Kate shouted, and Sienna’s wand flew out of her sister’s hand.  “There how do you like it?”

“Girls..!” Gwynne and Dorcas said, but there was no stopping them.  Sienna marched off to retrieve her wand.

Accio wand,” Kate shouted and Sienna’s wand flew into Kate’s hand.

“Give that back, or I’ll…” Sienna threatened.

“What..?”

“You insufferable little git..!” Sienna said, coming at Kate, who shouted:

Levicorpus!”  Sienna flew upside down, held aloft by her ankle.  She let out a furious scream of rage.

“When I get down from here, I’m going to tear you limb from limb, brat,” Sienna shouted.

Kate strode over until she was face to upside-down face with her sister, as Sherry started barking again.

“Well, seeing as I’m the only one holding a wand that might not be any time soon, so you’d better get comfy up there, ‘witch’!”  And Kate really did mean to use another word, but what with her mother being there and all…

Dorcas looked to Gwynne, and said:

“If this was one of the joys of motherhood I missed…  GIRLS..!”

It took a moment, but the two sisters calmed down, well, as much as Sienna could, with her veins throbbing in her face.

“First – Kate – let your sister down, before her head explodes.”

Kate flicked her wand, while saying:

Liberacorpus.

Sienna dropped to the floor with a FLUMP and another scream of rage, followed by more barking from Sherry.

“SECOND!  Sienna – you are forbidden to seek retaliation against your sister.  Do you understand?”

A fuming Sienna pushed her hair back into a reasonable semblance of order, smoothed her outfit and got to her feet.

“Yes, mummy,” she said, through gritted teeth, while glaring at a grinning Kate.

“Kate, give your sister back her wand,” Dorcas said.

“WANDS,” Sienna said with emphasis.

“Wand,” Dorcas said.  “You have a useful wand; your sister needs one too, and I’m certain she’s very appreciative of the gift you’ve provided her with, aren’t you…Kate?”

“Oh, very – thank you ever so,” Kate said, tossing Sienna her wand.

“That’s about as good as you’ll get, I think, Dorrie,” Gwynne said.  Dorcas sighed.

“Were we ever like this,” Dorcas asked Gwynne.

“If we ever were, we got past it.  And these two will have to, also.”

“Indeed.  Girls – sit!  There is much work to be done and we can only get it done together.  So let’s get to work.”  Each daughter remained standing, arms crossed, wand at the ready.

“I said, SIT,” Dorcas said with a parental authority.  The girls did, though at separate ends of the couch.  Kate twirled Mad-Eye’s wand, with glee.  Sienna leaned forward and addressed her:

“Well, now I have extra leverage, because your wand’s illegal!”

“BFD – so’s yours,” Kate spat back.  Sienna repeated ‘BFD,’ not getting the slang.

“Girls..!  Focus..!” Dorcas said.  “There’s no time for this squabbling.  You must realize the danger you’re all in.  My killer is still inside my Fidelius charm, which means he can still get in and murder us!  Well, as I’m already dead, it would only be you three, but still…”  That caught their attention.

“So – first order of business, Sienna:  I’ll walk you through casting a new Fidelius that will include only the four…”  Dorcas paused and laughed, “…Only the three of you.  Second – we need to retrieve my wand, because only that wand can ultimately save you.”

“Why only your wand, mummy,” Sienna asked, looking confused, so her mother filled her in about her Goblin-enabled wand and spell.

 

“Blinding, mum, really brilliant!” was Sienna’s judgment.

“Now to get my wand, you’ll have to enter the magical passage that the mirrors created between your aunt’s home and here.  Inside, you’ll be faced with limitless space and total darkness.  The former we can’t change, but the latter we can.”

Lumos,” Kate said, as quickly as Hermione.

“No, darling, wands won’t work in there.  There’s only one thing I know of that can shine light in impenetrable darkness,” Dorcas said.

“Oh, no,” Sienna said, with a moan, “Please don’t say, ‘The Hand of Glory’.”

“So you’ve heard of it?”

Sienna nodded, sighing.

“Is it for sale,” Gwynne asked.

“No, it’s…in a private collection.”

“Draco Malfoy’s,” Kate cried.

All three women looked to Sienna, who nodded, rolling her eyes.

“He keeps it in a hidden room at Malfoy Manor, along with his other Dark Magic trophies.”

“How would you know that?” Kate asked.    Sienna looked like Kara, when she didn’t want Kate to gloat.

“Yes, darling – how do you know that,” Dorcas asked.

“Because…well, because Draco and I…we…”

“Oh my god – you hooked up with Draco Malfoy?!” Kate shouted, disgusted.

Dorcas turned to her sister and mouthed:  “Hooked up?”  Gwynne gave Dorcas a knowing look.  Dorcas’ eyebrows shot up.

“Oh, like you haven’t made any embarrassing choices – that horrid sweater, for one,” Sienna said.  “Besides, I don’t have to defend myself to you!  I had good reasons,” Sienna said, anger rising.

“What – you wanted to barf your way into a size two?”

“Now listen, shortstack,” Sienna said, jumping up.  Dorcas let out an ear-piercing shriek.  Her daughters fell silent.

“Thank you,” Dorcas said, then, looking to her sister she said:  “I used that every so often on tour groups – really added to the whole ‘haunted painting’ lore.”  She looked back to her daughters.

“Now you must stop this.  It will not serve us to be a house divided.  I don’t care who started it – I’m finishing it, as of NOW!”  The girls settled down.

“Sienna – that was a hurtful thing to say.  You had the good fortune to be raised in a privileged household, but you seem exceedingly impoverished when it comes to humility and sensitivity.  So, apologize and then let’s get to it…”

 

 

 


 

CHAPTER 14

 

“HEIGHTENED MOTIVATION”

 

The rest of the night was spent laying out the challenges of a raid on Malfoy Manor, which were considerable, as Sienna remembered few crucial details.

“Well, it was all a tad hazy, wasn’t it?  The Manor has quite the excellent wine cellar you see…  Hang on – that part I do remember.”

“Oh great – so if we want to get buzzed while we’re breaking and entering –“

“No, prat – the wine cellar is where they also store all their dark magic swag.  So all we have to do is get into the manor,” Sienna said, with more than a bit of self-satisfaction.

“But that’s the trick, isn’t it, darling – getting in.  All the old manors – Slytherin manors especially – are tricked out like arcane bank vaults,” Dorcas said.  “And that’s not counting if you run into Draco.”

“Or worse – ‘Mummy’.”

“Narcissa…”

Sienna nodded glumly, but then brightened.

“But their wands will have limiter rings on them.”

“Unless…” Kate said.  The other three women turned to her, “They’re like us and stole real ones, which means we’d be marching into the lair of a former Death Eater and his evil mom – great!”

“Unless…”

“Unless what, darling?”

“Well you know, well, no, you don’t – there’s an annual Day of Contrition.”
“Which is what..?”

“Any Slytherin family that had a Death Eater in it is pretty much forced to attend.  They sit for hours, atoning for all those who died under Voldemort, which means, Draco and mummy will be away practically all day, so – piece of cake!”

“Splendid!  There, Gwynnie – we now have a target date.”

“A date, yes, but again, with only the sketch of a plan to get in.”

Kate agreed with her aunt, as she couldn’t see how any assault on a den of vipers like the Malfoys should be compared to a sweet dessert.

“Until then, I think the first thing on our list should be for you, Sienna to teach your sister how to apparate.”

 

The next morning, in the woods just beyond Morrellayne, Sienna conjured a chair and set Dorcas’ portrait up in it.  Walking in a large circle around it, she made complicated motions with her wand, while murmuring incantations.

“What’s that for,” Kate asked.

“Muggle repellant charms – don’t want anyone, including your little Auror friend, walking in on us.”

Waving her wand again, two rings, about the size of hula hoops appeared.  They were spinning quickly, but slowed as they lowered to the ground, about three feet apart.

“Now, you stand in this one,” she said to Kate.  “Your goal is to apparate into that one,” she said.

“So is it just like in the books, then – I just twist,” Kate asked.

“I never read them – I lived them,” Sienna said with attitude.

“So aren’t there three D’s I’m supposed to concentrate on,” Kate prodded.

“Yes – the three D’s!”

“Which are..?”

“Haven’t the foggiest,” Sienna said, shrugging.

“Mom..?” Kate asked, turning to Dorcas’ portrait.

“Oh, darling, it’s been decades,” Dorcas replied.

“Determination / Destination / Deliberation,” Aunt Gwynne interjected.  The other three women turned to her in mild surprise.

“I just re-read book six,” Kate’s aunt explained.

“Brilliant, Aunt Gwynne.  So just concentrate on them and…CRACK – there you are!”

“Uhm…  And that ‘splinching’ thing, where only like 90% of me makes the jump – you do know how to fix that, right..?” Kate said, nervously.

“It’s seldom fatal,” Sienna said, breezily.

But after two hours of tries, Kate was unable to apparate, perhaps because the possibility of leaving a body part behind kept her from being fully “determined.”  Plus, more than a small part of her attention was listening for a DING, from Phin’s card – a DING that hadn’t rung since their date.

“You’re hopeless,” Sienna decreed, after two hours of failed attempts.

“Like I’m sure you got it the first day,” Kate said, brushing her hair out of her flushed face.

“Girls..!  Moving on,” their mother said.  “Sienna – you cast a Petrificus Totalus, while Kate – you cast a Protego, to block it.

Now this was an arrangement that Kate felt totally comfortable with, as her episode back at Stix had shown her that she could block spells effectively.  But what she hadn’t counted on was Sienna’s disapparating and apparating from a spot in front of her, to one behind her, so that she could fire off another round.

Petrificus Totalus,” Sienna shouted, and, like in the books, Kate’s arms and legs snapped together and she fell like a tree, well, a sapling.  As this pattern repeated, Kate’s level of anger increased exponentially, though her older sister seemed to be enjoying herself immensely.  Sensing a coming explosion, Dorcas shouted:

“Stop.  Let’s all take a rest.  Sienna, be a dear and go get the three of you a pitcher of your aunt’s lemonade.”

“Oh, mummy, I’m not the least bit tired.  I could go on and on, really,” Sienna said, smirking.

“Go,” Dorcas said.  And Sienna walked away.  “Kate,” she called to her younger daughter.  Kate approached.  “I think you could use an edge.”

“You think..?” Kate said, pulling some leaves out of her hair.

“It’s a little variation I devised on the Protego charm.  Instead of creating a flat wall in front of you, it creates more of an umbrella shape.  It was one of the building blocks I needed to create the Magicae Mortem.”

Aunt Gwynne leaned forward for this, too, and Dorcas filled them both in.

When Sienna returned, Dorcas said:

“One more time then, shall we..?”

And her daughters counted down from three.  On “Three,” Kate straightened up, as she murmured Protego Doma, so Sienna couldn’t hear.  Sienna’s first shot, as usual was blocked by Kate’s protection spell, but when she attempted to fire one off from behind her, that one was blocked, too.

Her shock allowed Kate the fraction of a second she needed to hit Sienna with a Stupefy that hit her directly in the solar plexus.  Sienna collapsed to the ground.  Kate screamed in delight.

The two dueled through the morning, on fairly equal terms, before breaking for lunch.  Overall, Kate was fairly pleased with her efforts; Mad-Eye’s wand felt comfortable, almost welcoming in her hand.

 

After Kate finished her second helping of strawberries and cream, Dorcas said they should return to apparition practice.  But after another futile hour of attempts, Sienna suggested a change in venue, as Kate checked Phin’s (blank) card.

“Why..?” Dorcas asked.

“I just think I can intensify little sister’s concentration if we’re somewhere else, somewhere without this –“ she said, as she snatched Phin’s card and tossed it to her aunt.

“No..!” Kate shouted.  But as she reached out to retrieve it, Sienna grabbed her hand and darkness closed over her, with a constricting grip.

 

POP!  Sienna and Kate had disapparated to a remote highway.  Although, calling it a “highway” was generous – it was really more of a deeply rutted two-lane cutting through endless, barren moors.

Sienna reached inside her purse and pulled out a small compact, as Kate looked around.

At the edge of the road, was a peeling sign announcing, “Rose’s Cake & Cuppa Cafe,” which sat like a faithful old wife next to an abandoned petrol station.  Both looked like they’d been empty for years.  The petrol station’s sign announced that it had been the “Last Petrol for the next 75 Kilometers.”  Its prices for diesel, etc., had long since fallen to the ground, where they were covered with welcoming weeds and gorse.

Rose’s had once touted its specialties with two pedestals – 16’ & 20’ high at the road’s edge.  One was topped with an ornately, though quite faded three-tiered cake, while the other was topped by an enormous tea cup, the handle of which lay at its pedestal’s base.

The only sound was a gusting, lonely wind, which whistled through a hole in the petrol station’s sign.

CRACK – Emma, Sienna’s blonde cohort apparated in, almost on top of Kate.

“Oh, great – you brought a friend to witness my humiliation,” Kate said.

“No, twit, I brought Emma, because she’s two years younger.”

“So..?”

“So she did the training more recently than I, didn’t she?”

“Though I wasn’t any great shakes at it, really, took me ages,” Emma said.

“So what is this place,” Kate asked.

“It’s one of the sites we use for training, where Aurors and Muggles aren’t likely to intrude.”  She turned to Emma and said, “The usual charms.”            Emma nodded, creating a large circle around Rose’s, using the same complicated wand motions Sienna had used in the woods.

“And this place is supposed to help me concentrate,” Kate asked.

“Let’s just say it will give you ‘heightened motivation’,” Sienna said, trying to suppress a smile.

“Heightened what..? Kate asked.

Sienna pointed her wand at the cake sitting atop the shorter pedestal.

Sectum Sempra!” she shouted and a beam of intense light, like a laser blasted out of her wand, slicing off the cake at its base.

Wingardium Leviosa,” she shouted and the cake rose a foot or so into the air.  “Evanesco,” she shouted and the entire cake vanished.

“Brilliant, ‘Si’!” Emma cried.  “Have you ever vanished anything that big before?”  Sienna shook her head, smiling broadly.

            “Sectum Sempra,” Sienna cried again, and another blast sliced the tea cup off its pedestal.  Sienna vanished that, too.  “Now…” she said, turning to Kate.

“Oh no, I don’t like where this is going,” Kate said, looking above her to the two newly vacated perches.

Wingardium Leviosa,” Sienna shouted, as she pointed her wand at Kate, who rose up between the two pedestals.

A slight dip from Sienna’s wand lowered Kate atop the taller (20’) pedestal.  Kate was too frightened to even try to compute how many meters that was.

“You can’t be serious,” she shouted down to her sister.

“Remember your three ‘D’s’, darling,” Sienna shouted, as she laughed with glee.  Emma came up beside her.

“What are you doing?  She’s not ready,” Emma said.

“Tosh,” Sienna replied.  She called up to Kate, “We’re waiting…”

“Okay, okay, give me a minute,” Kate said, looking at the seemingly tiny platform ten feet away and four feet lower. “Determination, Destination, Deliberation,” Kate repeated to herself.  ‘Oh, no – what if I have them in the wrong order,’ she thought with fright, as she braced against the wind.

“Need some encouragement,” Sienna called up, clearly enjoying herself.

“NO!” Kate shouted, with fury.  Sienna turned to Emma:

“I think I heard her say, ‘yes’.”

“Sienna, stop – the poor thing’s scared,” Emma said.

“Tough – time to grow up.”  She pointed her wand at the base of Kate’s pedestal and shouted, “Reducto!”  The pedestal’s shaft exploded.

As it swiftly gave way beneath her, and Kate started falling, she twisted, and amazingly, apparated onto the lower platform.  Adrenaline rushed through her.

“YES,” she shouted, arms thrust to the sky, but then she wobbled.       Looking down with horror, she saw her right foot was missing.  Her wobble turned into a fall, as she passed out.  Emma snapped out her wand, pointed it at Kate and suddenly her fall became a slow drifting downward.

“You’re horrid, really horrid, you know,” Emma hissed at Sienna.

“What – I think it’s an improvement – her feet are way too big for someone her size anyway.”

“Get it!  Get her foot, NOW,” Emma barked through clenched teeth, as she rushed to Kate.  “And did you learn the charm?”

“The charm..?”

“The healing charm, git..!  The one you didn’t know, when you butchered my hand!”

“Oh, that’s what I forgot to remember,” Sienna said.

Emma raised her wand and shouted, “Expecto Patronum,” and a large, silvery hawk flew out of it and soared away.

“Who was that for,” Sienna asked.

“Who do you think – the one who knows how to fix things like this.”

“Idiot – what if she’s in their midst..?”

“She isn’t, she’s at her dad’s,” Emma said, “Now go look for your sister’s foot!  Go on!”

“In that pile of rubbish,” Sienna asked, with disgust.

“Get it, or I’ll turn you into a pile of rubbish,” Emma said.

CRACK!  The female Auror, Tavvie, with the shaved side of her head popped in.  But rather than being shocked, Sienna just went back to pawing through the rubble.

“Sorry,” Emma said, “I didn’t know who else to call.  We had a bit of a splinching cock-up,” she said, pointing to Kate’s missing foot.  Sienna came over, holding the foot as far away from her body as she could.

“Have you seen her shoes?!  I mean really – they’re ghastly!”

Tavvie took Kate’s foot from Sienna and started murmuring incantations over it, cleaning the wound, as Emma cradled Kate’s head.  Then Tavvie knelt beside the still-unconscious Kate and further murmurings melded foot to ankle.

“Who is she,” Tavvie asked, taking a closer look.  She drew back in shock, and, with an accusatory look.  “Have you lost your mind..?  I’ve seen this girl before – she’s dating one of the baby Aurors!”

“Calm down, she’s Si’s little sister.”

Kate came to, her eyes slowly focusing; she looked from one face to another and then, with a gasp, sat up really fast and looked down to her feet.  She wiggled the left, then the right, with a sigh of relief.

“Did I..?” she asked.  Emma nodded:

“But it’s all fixed, love.”  Kate focused on the middle finger of Emma’s right hand – the one she remembered had been wrapped in that bloody cloth – it was stiff and extended.

Emma looked down at her hand and quickly put it behind her.

“Well – thanks so much,” Kate said.

“Not me – thank her,” she said, indicating Tavvie.  “This is Tavvie.”  Kate looked at Tavvie and her eyes grew wide.

“But she’s an Auror!  She was with them at Dumbledore’s tomb,” Kate said with alarm.

“Yes, we know.  She’s also one of us,” Emma said.

“Is she going to be a problem,” Tavvie asked the others.

“No, as I told you, this is Si’s little sister, Tavvie, as in – you know – the second daughter of Dorcas Meadowes…“

“She’s…  She’s…” Tavvie said, jumping up.

“Yes, yes – ‘Missing Horcrux’, repository of the Dark Lord’s soul – whatever…” Sienna said, with a yawn.

Tavvie pointed her wand at Kate’s chest.

“Octavia – stop,” Emma said, “The whole thing was a lie.  Her mother was not killed by Voldemort and she’s not a Horcrux.”

“A lie..?!  You’re telling me that all that’s gone down in the last few years has been based on a lie,” Tavvie asked, not sounding convinced.  Emma nodded.

“All of it,” Kate said.

“But that can’t be!” Tavvie said, her brain racing.

“They made up the bit about the Elder Wand being in Dumbledore’s tomb, didn’t they,” Kate said.  “If they could make Jo plant that, why couldn’t someone make her write those lies about me?”

“No, no, no.  They passed all those laws…  They forced all the women – Emma’s mum – out of all senior Ministry posts.”

“And every Slytherin has to wear green arm bands, and I’m sooo over green,” Sienna said wearily.

“But you’re still an Auror,” Kate said.

“Hah – only until I’ve finished training the tadpoles,” Tavvie said.  “Then they’re chaining me to a desk.”

“What – when did that come about,” Emma asked.

“Found out yesterday – that’s why I took the day off.  I couldn’t go in and face all of them.  Tavvie assumed a gruff voice – Mac’s voice – as she said:

‘Since you are a woman, and this is a position of law enforcement, and taking into consideration that you were a Slytherin…’ Bollocks!”

“Wow, I didn’t know,” Kate said.

“Well welcome to our nightmare,” Tavvie said.

“Okay, but if you believe the book – how would she – Rowling – know?  My mom –“
MY Mom –“ Sienna interjected.

Our Mom never met her, and she definitely wasn’t at Morrellayne the night of her murder.”

“How do you know your mom never met her?“
“The little thief stole the ‘Missing Bride’ portrait from Rawcliffe.” Sienna said.

“So that was you!” Tavvie cried.

“But our aunt Gwynne was there that night!  She saw, and she swears it wasn’t Voldemort.”

“But witnesses said they saw the Dark Mark – his mark.  If it wasn’t Voldemort, who was it..?”

Kate looked away, not sure she should say, not sure if she could trust any of them with this secret.

“She – she didn’t recognize the two men…”

“Okay, maybe I believe you, but then there’s something I’ve got to tell you,” Tavvie said, turning to Kate.

“What,” Kate asked.

“Mac – my boss – he’s been suspicious of you ever since that attack on the Muggles at Rawcliffe.”

“I knew it!  I asked Phin if he had something against me, but Phin said no, that he was just –“

“Yeah, well forget whatever Phin said, because I heard Mac tell him to keep tabs on you.”

“What..?!”  Kate jumped to her feet.  “What..?!”  She looked blazing mad, as she looked right and left.

“What are you looking for,” Emma asked.

Kate whipped Mad-Eye’s wand out of her tiny purse.

“Something to destroy,” she said

“Hang on – you…you – how could that come out of there,” Emma asked, amazed.

“Undetectable Extension charm,” Kate replied, her eyes locking onto the 2nd pedestal.  “EXPULSO!” she shouted and the 2nd pedestal shattered into a thousand pieces.

“You mean I didn’t have to have my wand savagely inserted into my beautiful hand – I could have just…”  Emma turned on Sienna in anger, her right hand’s middle finger pointed at her, as she rose to her feet.

“Emma, calm down,” Tavvie said, while Sienna ducked for cover behind Tavvie.  Emma let out a cry of fury.

Needing to release her anger, too, she joined Kate in blasting everything they laid their eyes on, starting with the windows in Rose’s Cuppa, then the petrol station, its sign, and finally, the sagging portico over the gas tanks, failing to notice the approach of two hot air balloons drifting into their space, from behind them.

“Leave some of the fun for me,” Tavvie shouted, her eyes blazing, as she started blasting the only things left standing – the gas pumps.

BLAM!  BLAM!  BLAM!  Three fireballs shot more than a hundred feet into the air, singeing the nearest of the hot air balloons.

“Oh, damn – clear out – quick!” Tavvie shouted.

“Where..” Emma cried.

“School,” Tavvie shouted, as Aurors started popping into positions around the perimeter of their space.  Sienna disapparated at once.

“Need your wand,” Tavvie said, snatching Mad-Eye’s from Kate.

She pointed it at the falling balloon and a blast of green shot out, so that the balloon’s plummet turned into a gentle downward drift.  Satisfied, she grabbed Kate’s hand and they disapparated, just as Kate caught a glimpse of Phin.  Then darkness closed in and that feeling of being compressed into a tiny tube overwhelmed her.

 

POP!  Kate and Tavvie had apparated onto the front lawn of a large, decaying brick building.  Many of its windows were broken; its lawn had gone to seed and its shrubs had returned to the wild.  Tavvie handed Mad-Eye’s wand back to Kate.

“Thanks.  Couldn’t use mine, in case they did a –“

Priori..?” Kate said.  Tavvie nodded.  Kate looked around at the school.

“I suppose all the fun spots were taken,” Kate said.

“We do have a place in the south – an old amusement park,” Emma said.

“Enough chat!  Best take cover.”

All of them scouted the skies and the grounds as they hurried inside.  Kate found herself torn between wanting to hide and wanting to see Phin again.  Then her brow knitted remembering Tavvie’s warning about him.  She followed the others inside.

 

Tavvie led their silent way down a dark, central hallway that was strewn with overturned trash bins, desks and cobwebs.  Tavvie moved, wand at the ready, pausing before every doorway to peek inside.  Perhaps to make sure that they were all empty, and that their group was indeed alone.  It was all very “Cop Show” dramatic.

The very last set of doors opened into a very large room that might once have been a dining hall, or assembly hall.  It was hard to tell, as the only light came through the tears in the shredded curtains at the far end.

Tavvie made a motion that they all hang back.  Wand drawn, she stepped smartly into the room, dropping into a semi-crouched position, pivoting in all directions.  Satisfied that they were alone, she rose and pocketed her wand.

“All clear,” she said.

But just as they’d entered, they were blinded by red and green curses, flying out of the very darkness.

Kate whipped out Mad-Eye’s wand and shouted:

PROTEGO DOMA!

Squinting, she was able to make out at least three attackers, all dressed in black.  As curses continued to rain down on them, Kate saw Sienna, Tavvie and Emma, fall, but though they fired at Kate from several angles, their curses all bounced off the protective charm Dorcas had taught her.

Finally their assault stopped.  One of the black-hooded figures fired a shot that lit all the lamps in the room.  She pulled off her hood and Kate recognized her as the black woman from the boat house.  She was wearing black leather pants and a black silk blouse, set off with flashes of gold jewelry.

“Catch that – ladies – smashing new tech from this one!”

One of the others pulled off her hood and started clapping.

“Hold on, she’s not one of us,” said the elegant Asian that Kate recognized from Diagon Alley.

She didn’t lower her wand.  All of the others encircled Kate warily, except the black woman.

“Relax, girls – she’s Si’s little sister.”

“Si’s little… She’s..!”

Kate nodded.

“Knock me down with a feather…” the Asian said, lowering her wand.

I’m Miranda, but everyone calls me Randi,” the black woman said, extending her hand.  Kate shook it.

“Illiana,” the Asian woman said, but you can call me Leigh.”

Kate went to shake her hand, but Leigh held it tightly.

“BUT – never call me ‘Ill’, or -“

“Illy,” Randi called out.  The others all called out, too (except for Sienna, who was still dancing madly.

Never ‘Illy,’ unless you want me to curse your lips together…”

“Got it,” Kate said.

Kate looked around and saw that Tavvie was still frozen in a full-body bind curse; Emma had collapsed from a Jelly Legs jinx and Sienna’s legs were dancing madly from a Tarantallegra jinx.  Kate turned Mad-Eye’s wand on Tavvie and said:

Enervate” and Tavvie un-froze.  Moving to Emma, she said:

Finite Incantatum,” and Emma was able to stand up, with Kate’s help.

“Hey – what about me,” Sienna asked indignantly, as her feet tapped faster than Fred Astaire on crack.

“What about you,” Kate asked coldly.  Sienna turned to the others.

“A little help..!  Anyone..?!”  But the others seemed to be enjoying her plight.

“You stonking pile of dodgy cobblers,” she cried, as her legs continued frantically dancing.

Finally, surrendering, she turned back to Kate (even as her legs thrummed away in a different direction), and said, with great pain and a totally insincere attempt at sweetness:

“Kate..?  Sister, dear…?”  The last word seemed added, like sprinkles on a soured dessert.

“What’s the ‘magic’ word…” Kate asked, also enjoying herself, in fact, vigorously enjoying herself.

“Please…” Sienna said, as though it had cost her her last shred of pride.

“Nope, the magic word was, ‘SORRY, as in:  I’M SORRY I STRANDED YOU ON A POLE AND SPLINCHED YOUR FOOT OFF!”

“Whatever…” Sienna said, but, as she continued to dance madly around the room, she finally cried out:

“Okay, I’m sorry; I am bleeding sorry, all right?!”

“Thank you,” Kate said, followed by, “Finite Incantatum.”  But Sienna continued to dance.

“What..?” Kate said, examining her wand.

“Don’t worry, love – I put a diversion cap on the spell,” Leigh said.

“Illy..?!” Sienna cried out.  Leigh ignored her.

“Are you sure you’re not the ‘Missing Horcrux’ – you are deliciously wicked,” the black woman said, coming forward.

“This is Katharine – or would you prefer, Kate..?” Emma asked.

“Uhm…maybe we should go with ‘K.’ – that’s what my sister, my other… It’s just simpler, right,” Kate said.

“Right – anonymity – no need to announce, ‘Here comes the Missing Horcrux’!”

“Leigh..!  Somebody!  Please..!”

Without looking at Sienna, Leigh gave her wand a snap Sienna collapsed to the floor, panting.

“So what’s the ‘dealio’,” asked Leigh.

She had her dark hair pulled back into a loose bun, with tendrils that emphasized her wide cheekbones.

“Sienna was giving K. Apparition lessons, when the Auror men sky-ed in,” Tavvie said.

“We torched a Muggle balloon thingie,” Emma said.

“Balloon ‘thingie’..?” Randi asked.

“Explain later,” Tavvie said, “Right now – I want to learn that wicked riff on the Protego charm, you laid down,” Tavvie said, turning her attention to Kate, as did all the others.

“Only if you teach me that ‘diversion cap,’ did you call it..?  Was that what the Weasley twins used, so Umbridge couldn’t vanquish their fireworks..?”

“Right – that was Char’s doing – she’s the one who got all chummy with George Weasley, right, Charlotte..?” Leigh asked the last of the new arrivals.

The young woman she indicated was more than a little rounder than the others, which immediately made Kate feel more comfortable around her, as she thought all the others looked like fashion models.  Char said nothing, but she smiled warmly and gave a little wave.

“Char’s our resident…well we haven’t really decided if she’s a ‘swot,’ or a ‘boffin – a bit of both, I think.”

“A what, or a what..?” Kate said, looking lost.

“Oh, right – a ‘swot’ is someone who does all their homework, because they actually like homework.”  Char nodded, with a ‘go figure’ sort of apologetic look.

“A ‘boffin’ is a genius, you know – a Dumbledore – always trying to invent new spells,” Emma explained.  “For instance, Char isn’t saying hi right now, because she came up with a spell to help her trim up, but something went sideways and it just made it too painful to eat, swallow, or even talk.”  Char nodded and sighed.

Kate went over to Char and shook her hand.

“Inventing spells is so cool.  My mom did that, too and I’d love to learn how.  At home, they call me a ‘geek,’ which is kind of a swot combined with a boffin, so…”

She turned back to the group.

“So the thing I did with the Protego,” Kate said, pulling out Mad-Eye’s wand, “Is I just added –“

“Hang on,” Tavvie said, incredulous, as she stepped closer.  “That’s not…it is!  That’s Mad-Eye’s wand!”

“Which I stole, I’d like to point out,” Sienna said, from her position on the floor, but the others ignored her.

“Yes, but were too daft to pluck from the stone,” Emma said, “It seems Kate sorted that out.”

Sienna rolled her eyes in disgust, as the others moved in to gawk at Mad-Eye’s wand.

“You’ve got to tell us how you did that,” Tavvie asked.  “We put some of our strongest charms on that stone.”

Kate explained and got another round of applause.

“Now you have to show us that Protego variation,” Tavvie said.

“Why didn’t mum teach that to me – I am her first born,” Sienna said, more than a little miffed.

“Maybe because you weren’t getting your ass kicked by your older sister,” Kate said.

“I was rather getting the better of you, wasn’t I..?” Sienna said, salvaging some satisfaction.

 

After everyone had pretty much learned how to cast the Protego variation, they broke into little groups.  Emma was explaining about the “Balloon thingies” and their narrow escape from the Aurors.  Tavvie was getting sympathy from two of the others regarding her demotion, and Sienna was getting none from her complaint that digging through the rubble had ruined her nails.

After spending time with Char, Kate wandered off in search of a bathroom.  Way down the hall she found one, though it required more than one Scourgify, followed by an Evanesco to make it bearable.

On her way back, she peeped in one of the rooms and saw a piano.  It wasn’t a grand, but she was in an exceptional mood and wanted to play.

‘Why..?  Well, for one – instead of being ostracized for my brains, I’m like liked for them.  And also, for the first time, I no longer feel like an outcast – I’m accepted, and by an “A-Table” group of women – Kara’s sort of crowd,’ Kate realized.

She searched around for a chair, but the room was empty, except for more trash and a blackboard that had crashed to the floor.  Seeing a door next to the piano, she opened it – a broom closet.  The broom was missing, but there was a three-rung, step-ladder.  Kate shrugged – it would do.

Setting it before the piano, she ran her finger across the keys, from left to right.  It was seriously out of tune, and some of the strings seemed to have given up the ghost.  Raising the lid, she pointed Mad-Eye’s wand inside and said:

Reparo.”  Then she sat down, tried it again and was astonished by the transformation.

“Now, what to play,” she asked herself.  A smile came over her and, with a nod of agreement; she played the theme music from the POTTER movies, in its slightly creepy minor key.

 

Back in the hall, as the women continued to chat, rocks and BB shots started pelting through the windows.  Tavvie shouted:

“Hold your fire,” as she extinguished the lamps.  Sneaking over to the window, she peered out.

“A gang of Muggles – best to leave – can’t be doing any magic in front of them, unless we want to surrender this place to the Aurors, too.  Who was supposed to set the charms?”

In the dim light, all eyes turned to Sienna.

“Well it’s not like I didn’t have my distractions – fleeing from Rose’s; getting ambushed here; and then dancing my bleeding feet off, I mean, literally BLEEDING!”

“Whatever – let’s just ‘disapp’ to Emma’s,” Tavvie said.  And with a series of POPS, they were gone, unaware in their haste that they were leaving Kate behind.

 

Back in the piano room, Kate had just finished an enthusiastic, improvised overture of the movies’ themes.  As the music died, she heard people approaching, but they weren’t her new companions – the voices she heard were all male.  Were they Aurors who’d discovered their location?  She jumped up and dashed to the closet, but just as she reached it, a leering voice said:

“Well, lookit ‘ere, lads.”

Kate turned to see a group of eight boys her age piling up at the doorway.

“A lit’le bird ‘as ‘slipped’ inta ar ‘drum’, finkin’ she could play wit our stuff, but now she’s all like trapped ‘ere,” said a beefy boy, in a sleeveless T-shirt, with tattoo “sleeves.”

‘No wands,’ Kate thought, ‘So they’re Muggles, not Wizards; but that means if I use my wand to defend myself the Aurors will descend on me.  Then again, which would be worse – facing the Aurors I’ve just fled, or facing what these “lads” might want to do?’

“So,” she said, turning around to face them, “This is your ‘crib’, is it..?  Not so great with the upkeep, are you.”

Kate tried hard to keep any note of terror out of her voice.  She also tried to affect a casual pose, while pulling herself up to her full (5’3”) height.

“’Crib?’  We ain’t no ‘sprogs’.”

“Crib – American for, place where your homies hang,” Kate said, as her heart thudded away.  She raised her hand over her throat to hide a big gulp – her sure “tell” of fear.

“Oh-ho, lads – we caught us a Yank!  Eggsie – what do we fink a’ Yanks?”

“We ‘ates ‘em,” grunted the one called Eggsie, who had multiple eyebrow rings.

“Because..?” Kate asked.

“…Cuz we do.  Cuz they’re stupet an’ their telly shows are stupet,” Eggsie said.

“Yeah, but our movies are better,” Kate said.

“Says ‘oo..?” Tattoo guy asked.

“We’ve got SPIDERMAN and BATMAN,” Kate said.

“Coo – dat new BATMAN wuzza dogs bollocks,” one of the others, a shorter lad with bangs that hid one eye said.

A couple of the others agreed with him, but the tattooed guy hit him on the back of the head.

“Yeah, well we’s got BOND and ‘ARRY,” Eggsie said.

“Oo’s ‘airy’,” the kid with the long bangs asked.

“POT-ER, ‘ARRY POT-ER, yah duff git,” Tattoo guy said.  Kate sat up – she’d heard her cue:

“Are you into HARRY POTTER..?”

“’Arry’s ‘brill’,” the kid with the long bangs said.

“Belt it, you..!” Tattoo guy said, cuffing him on the back of the head again.  “‘Arry Pot-er’s rubbish.”

“So you don’t believe in magic,” Kate asked, with a narrow smile.

“On’y fing I believes is that you made a big cock-up comin’ ‘ere.”

“Did I..?” Kate asked.

“Yeah, cuz I ‘appen to fancy gingers.  And you don’ wanna know wha’ I do wit birds I fancy, right, lads..?”

“‘E plucks ‘em!” Eggsie shouted, as the gang laughed.

Tattoo guy did a slow lick of his lips, while his eyes roved over Kate.

“You should believe in magic,” Kate said, while desperately trying to remember what it was Harry did, when Uncle Vernon was choking him, beneath the living room window, in Book Five.  He hadn’t used his wand, yet somehow he’d delivered a high voltage shock.  Did it require an incantation?  She felt a brick sink through her stomach – what if it was just another J.K. lie?!

“Oh yeah, whyzat,” Tattoo boy said, drawing every closer.

“Because… I’m a witch,” Kate said.  The gang laughed and jeered.

“Izzat righ’.  Well, witch, I gotta a broom you can ride, eh lads..?”  More cheers from his peanut gallery.

As he started to swagger towards her, Kate tried to garner all of her fear, all of her panic, all of her belief in magic, and channel it into her skin.  And, just as Tattoo guy snatched her wrist, a tremendous surge of electricity pulsed through her.

ZAAAPP!  Tattoo guy yelped, as he fell to the floor, cradling his smoking hand.

“You..!  You..!  Witch!” he yelled.

“Told you,” Kate said hoarsely, as she whipped past him and scurried into the broom closet, shutting the door quickly behind her.

“Get ‘er, lads!” Tattoo guy yelled, though he made no move effort to join them.

From inside the closet, there was a loud POP.  Eggsie and the others jumped back.

“Go on!” Tattoo guy shouted, kicking out at the nearest of them.  Gingerly they approached, with Eggsie slowly opening the closet door.

Empty!  Tattoo guy saw their astonished faces and pushed past them to look for himself.

“Bloody ‘ell…!”  And he began pounding the walls and ceiling, trying to find a trap door that didn’t exist.

“Maybe she really wuzza witch,” the kid with the bangs said.

Tattoo guy cuffed him once more, but since he’d used his singed hand, it hurt him more than the lad.

 

Kate had apparated onto the lawn of the school, as she didn’t know how far her meager skills could take her.  Immediately, she made a quick assessment of her body parts, to see if they’d all made the jump with her.

As she was shivering violently with fright, it wasn’t an easy task, but finally, reassured, she fled into the cover of nearby bushes, her heart still pounding like a rabbit pursued.  Parting some branches, she scanned the school, to see if the “lads” were coming for her.  A moment passed, but none had emerged.  She took a deep breath and let it go slowly, as the cold sweat of relief coursed down her body.

But just as she started to think about her next move, someone behind her latched onto her arm, and she felt the darkness and compression of apparating once more.


 

CHAPTER 15

 

”THE DAUGHTERS OF THE BASILISK”

 

POP!  Kate and her abductor had apparated onto a flagstone terrace that sat in the midst of a posh English garden.  Slightly above it stood a stately manor house, in the midst of what appeared to be an estate as large as the Coopers.  Sienna’s friends were seated on the terrace.  Emma jumped up.

“K.!” she shouted.  “We were so worried!  As soon as we realized we’d left you behind, we sent Tavvie back for you.”  Kate looked around and saw Tavvie standing at her side.  Kate fell back against a hedge.

“Are you okay,” Leigh asked.  “Did you run into that gang of bully boys?”  Kate nodded.

“Here,” Emma said, handing her a tall glass, “Oh, do you drink yet..?”             Kate shook her head but snatched the glass and downed it anyway.  The burning in her throat combined with the heat pouring off of her.  Then her knees gave way and she sank to the ground, surrendering to safety’s sweet comfort.  Tavvie and Leigh helped her to a chair.

“Tell us all about it,” Randi said.  Kate held out her glass for a refill before she started.

 

“Brilliant,” Leigh proclaimed.  “I’ve never been able to generate one of those electro-pulse things.  I thought it was fiction, too.”

“Well, one thing’s for certain – he won’t be using that hand to ‘ride his broom’ for a while, will he,” Randi said.

They all laughed, as Kate looked puzzled.  Then she got it and blushed deeply.  They were all accepting her – Kate, in her grubby T-shirt and ripped jeans.  They were all so elegant, so upper-crusty, but none of them seemed to care that she was, well, the geek from Cooperton.

 

“It’s a right shame that we can’t go back to the Cuppa.  It was the perfect training ‘loc’,” Tavvie said, wistfully.

“You think it might be watched now,” Kate asked.

“No question.  Then again, we did kind of level it.”

“Level..?  We demolished it,” Kate said.  “You know, I never got why guys love to blow things up, but now I get it.  I really get it.  It felt –“

“Awesome / Smashing / Blinding!” Kate, Tavvie and Randi said, reveling in the memory of the conflagration.

“It was…cathartic,” Emma said.  Char tilted her head in question.

“Come again..?” Leigh asked.

“Yes, truly cathartic… Well, it was, if you knew what I’ve been holding in,” Emma said.

“What,” Randi asked.

“…I haven’t told any of you, but…Reggie broke it off,” she said.

“No,” Leigh said.  Emma nodded.

“Almost three weeks ago – soon after he got the new position at the Ministry…”

“I was wondering how that would play,” Leigh said.

“Not well,” Emma said.  “Not well at all.  I did love him, really.  And…well, it was shortly thereafter, that I developed this…desire,” Emma said, but then stopped, as though it was too great a confession.

“’Desire?’  Oh, do go on, love,” Randi said, with a sly tone.

“No, I…” Emma stopped, shaking her head.

“Come on, Ems – tell,” Tavvie said, resting her hand lightly on her friend’s shoulder.  Emma took a deep breath.

“Well it involves those bridal shops…”

“Did not see that coming,” Randi said.

Char choked on her piece of cake.

“Yes, you know, the ones you pass, thinking, ‘Some Day’ – the ones with all the pretty crystal and china, set up on those multi-tiered displays, like confectioner flowers on a wedding cake.”

The women looked at each other, as if to say, ‘Where is this going..?’  Emma explained:

“Reggie – Reginald Ford-Penry, a Hufflepuff,” Emma said, explaining to Kate.  “He took me to dinner – a very posh Muggle place.  And we were just short of dessert, when he said…”

Emma sat bolt upright, as she assumed a stuffy man’s voice:

‘So sorry, Ems, but really, it just won’t do, old girl.  You know – bit of a jam, your being a Slytherin and all, and my wanting to make something of myself at the Ministry.  As the new Undersecretary to the Head of The Flu Network, I really must break it off.  Surely you see my predicament…  Oh, and be a love – the ring – grannie’s ring – been in the family for ages – really must ask for it back – Mum and Dad insisting…  There’s a sport.’

“And then he rose and stood there, hand extended, while the whole restaurant watched me pull it off and hand it back to him.”  Emma stopped to sigh.

“Call me suspicious,” Leigh said, “But I bet he chose a Muggle restaurant because he knew –“

“- You couldn’t curse his prat arse in front of Muggles,” Randi said.                  “Anyhoo…there I was, a week or so later, trying to drown my sorrows in a bit of shopping, when it started.  I passed this bridal store, and out of nowhere there arose in me the strongest desire to run inside with a cricket bat and smash every last damn glass, platter and bone china teacup!”  Emma gasped and clapped her petite hands over her mouth.

“Emma – I didn’t know you had it in you,” Randi said, approvingly.

“Well, it is – in me, I mean.  I’ve always just kept it…”

“Bottled up,” Kate suggested.  Emma nodded.

“Then what was that, back at Rose’s Cuppa,” Tavvie asked.

“I only felt…what would be the word – empowered – yes, empowered because Kate –“

“Oh, but that was so unlike me.  No, really I’m the good daughter – in my other family, I mean.  That was the first time I ever lost it…  Oh…” Kate stopped, remembering.  “Uhm…no, actually, it was the second time,” she said smiling.

“This looks good, fess up,” Randi said, pulling her chair closer.

“Okay, it was just before I came here, in fact, the afternoon before we flew out.  There was this preppie – you know that term, ‘preppie’..?”  (The others nodded.)  “And he was bullying my friends and me – really throwing his muscles around, to the point where he took our pizza –“

“What kind..?” Char asked, in a croaky kind of voice.  Everyone looked at her in shock that she’d spoken.

“Pepperoni and black olive,” Kate said.  Char let out an envious sigh.

“Anyway, he flipped it upside down and slammed it onto our books and notes!”

“What a waste,” Char said.

“I know..!  And something in me just snapped, and I suddenly found myself grabbing this vat of pizza sauce and hurling it in his face!”

“You did?!  Oh, K. – you’re my hero,” Emma said.”

“Nuh-uh, I ran for it,” Kate said.

“But of course, you did, love – without a wand…” Randi said.

“Yes, without a wand… You don’t know my story, but I didn’t grow up like all of you.  I was raised as a Muggle, without any idea that magic was real.  But jerks like that – they’re what made me love the idea of magic.  I thought, if only magic was real and you had a wand…”  Kate stopped, frowning.

“You thought it would make you anyone’s equal,” Leigh said.

“And then I got here, and learned, ‘I’m a witch!  It’s real!’  …But then I got my first wand – with the ‘ring’ and –“

“You found out you’re still not equal,” Leigh said.  Kate nodded.

Tavvie looked at the wand in her hand:

“I’m really going to miss my wand,” she said.  “When you’ve done so much together, it just feels like your best mate, your right hand.  And now it’s going to be like…like your gran when she no longer recognizes you.”

“Oh, Tav – they’re not –“ Emma said.

“No, they’re not taking it away.  But Mac said the day they move me to a desk, they’re going to…”

“Ring it,” Kate asked.  Tavvie nodded.  “You must be pissed,” Kate said, sympathetically.

“Every night,” Tavvie said.

“Just at night,” Kate asked, confused.

“Well, I can’t drink at work, can I – oh, hang on, you meant…”

“Cheesed off?!  Did I use that right..?” Kate asked.  The others nodded, smiling.

“But…what can I do..?  They hold all the power.  They make all the laws,” Tavvie lamented.

“Then we’ll just break some and…and ‘nick’ you another,” Emma said.

“Yes,” Leigh seconded, “A real wand!”

“A man’s wand…”Tavvie said.  They all nodded, with recognition of that sad truth.

“Well count me in,” Kate said.

“Thanks, but I don’t want to get you in trouble, K,” Tavvie said.

“No…” Emma added.

Surprisingly, Kate burst out laughing.

“Uhm…in case you’ve forgotten – I am the ‘Missing Horcrux,’ so ‘trouble’ is kind of…”  Kate made a meshing motion with her fingers.  The others laughed.

“Then it’s a deal – you’re on,” Tavvie said.

“And if they catch me, well so much the better,” Kate declared.

“What…” Emma said, shocked.

“No, check it out – if they catch the ‘Missing Horcrux,’ the reason for all this rubbish, is over.  You could go back to holding positions of authority in the Ministry.  You could all get wands without limiter rings – it would end.”

“Yes, but love, they’d ship you off to Azkaban,” Randi pointed out.

“Oh well, yeah, there’s that…” Kate said.

“And we’re not going to let that happen, are we, ladies..?” Emma said.  Char shook her head fervently.

“We jolly well will not,” Randi said.

“So, first thing, Tavvie, we’re getting you a real wand,” Emma said, patting Tavvie on the back.

“But then what..? Kate asked.

“What do you mean,” Leigh asked.

“I’m asking if that’s the only thing you want to do as a group – steal men’s wands,” Kate asked.

“And we train with them,” Leigh said, “Tavvie’s the best instructor – she trains all the Aurors.”

“But train you for what..?” Kate said.

“Not following,” Leigh said.

“Well it’s like with that Muggle gang that cornered me.  There’s supposed to be ‘strength in numbers,’ right, but all they do together is threaten girls and trash stuff.  So where does that get them?”

“Then what’re you suggesting, K.,” Leigh asked.

“Well why don’t you all do something…more..?” Kate said.

“We did pinch a copy of the new POTTER book, a day before its release,” Randi said.  “Hmm…looking back that didn’t exactly take the biscuit, did it?”

“More what..?” Tavvie asked.

Kate took a moment to think about it.

“Something that makes a statement; something that would take it to them – the men in charge, the men making these laws,” she said.  “It would have to be something so big that it made the front page of the DAILY PROPHET!  And not just one day, but day after day, so every witch could see that meek acceptance isn’t their only option; that they shouldn’t have to put up with second class lives and neutered wands!”  A lightning bolt hit Kate.  She jumped up and shouted, “THAT’S IT!”

“That’s what…” Randi asked.

“The first target..!”  Kate shouted.

“What..?” Tavvie asked.

“STIX,” Kate cried.

“Yes!” Emma shouted, as she jumped up to stand beside Kate.

“Bob’s your uncle!  That’s a cracking idea,” Randi said, as she, too jumped up.

“Brava, K,” Leigh cheered.

“I said she was wicked!  Was I right, or what?!” Randi asked.

“Geeks rule!” Char croaked, as she nodded assiduously.

None of them noticed Sienna at the edge of the light, mimicking Char’s bobbing head.

“Only thing is,” Tavvie said, her smile fading, “STIX is now one of the highest protected sites, outside of the Ministry and Havenhurst, what with it being the only commercial source of wands in the country.  Two Aurors escort Herr Dieter to the store every morning and Defenders are never more than a block away.”

“And just who are these ‘Defender’ guys?  I never read about them in any of the books,” Kate said.

“They came about after MacAra became Minister.  Supposedly, they keep us safe, but really they just exist to enforce his new laws,” Leigh said.

“Safe..?  From what..?”

“Awkward…” Randi said.

“Well that would be you, K.” Emma said.

“Oh…right.”

“So back to the store…should Dieter sound the alarm, or, should anyone attempt to nick a wand, without it going through Herr Dieter’s registration process – WHAM – the exit and windows slam shut.  Plus, Dieter has his own security charms.  I’ve done the escort detail a fair number of times, but I don’t speak German, so I couldn’t tell you what he’s saying.”

Kate’s face fell – all of the righteous charge she’d felt just a moment ago seemed to be draining from her, like quicksilver through spread fingers.  But then she jumped up again.

“So how hard is it to get some Polyjuice Potion?”

“Polyjuice..?  No, you’re not thinking – “ Leigh started.

“Why not..?  One of us could impersonate him and -”

“If someone impersonated him, K., it could only be you,” Tavvie said.

“M-me..?  Why only me..?”

“It’s the Slytherin ban, luv,” Leigh said.  “None of us would be allowed in until an hour after the Alley opens, and then, we could only get in through the loo – a dead giveaway.  You’re the only one who’s never been sorted – into a house – so that would allow you and you alone to get in the same way Herr Dieter does – through the official portal.”

“Oh, uhm…”

“Second thoughts, ‘K’,” Sienna sneered.

All of the others looked to Kate, who rose to her sister’s challenge.

“No!  I’ll do it, if we can get the Polyjuice.”

Kate quickly looked within herself – was she crazy?  This wasn’t like reading a book – this was now very, very real.  Was she hoping more than just a bit that someone would say, ‘no?’

“Sure, I can filch some from the Auror’s storehouse,” Tavvie said.

Kate’s heart began to beat faster.

“But what about Dieter’s charms..?” Leigh asked.

“Love, leave those to me – I have charms of my own and I shall put them all to work on Herr Dieter,” Randi said, smoothing down the hips of her leather pants.

They all laughed.

An elegant older witch, with salt and pepper hair and a flowing, silvery dress approached from the house.

“Emma, will your friends be staying for dinner?”

Emma’s mother surveyed the crowd, her eyes coming to rest on Kate.

“Emma, darling, I don’t believe I know everyone here.”

“Uhm, this is…K., mum.  She’s a…a cousin of Si’s, visiting from the States.”

Emma’s mother’s eyes lingered on Kate, making her feel very self-conscious, very aware that she was the only one in (ripped) jeans and T-shirt.

“A cousin..?”

“Mum…”

“Ahh, is this another thing I don’t want to know about..?”

“Uhm, I’m afraid it rather is.”

“I see…”

“Mum – do you think you could have Tootie set up our dinner out here..?”

Emma’s mother took a moment before answering, her face unreadable.

“Yes, of course.  I’m sure Tootie can accommodate that,” and then, with a last look at Kate, she retreated inside.

 

Everyone, except Sienna gave input on what should happen.

“Emma,” Leigh said.

“Yes..?”

“You should be the one who creates the fuss, as you’re the one with the undetectable wand.  They’ll check all of ours, no question.”

“Okay, I will.  But I think it’s important that that morning we each perform little things with our ringed wands, just in case they go checking.”

Just then, Kate felt a small brush against her leg, and as she looked down she gasped.  For there was a two-foot tall creature, tugging at Emma’s dress.  It was dressed in a baby doll’s outfit, replete with ruffles and petticoats, and her head was covered in a mop of blonde curls.  Kate thought it must be a wig.

“Mistress Emma – I’ve set up your dinner,” she squeaked.

“Thank you, Tootie; we’ll be up straight away.”

“There’s a hot stew and a chilled soup, and neither will improve with waiting, so please don’t dawdle.”

“We won’t, Tootie, I promise.  Thank you.”

The elf gave a little curtsy and then disappeared amongst the legs of the women.

“Was that a – an…”
“Elf – yes,” Emma said.  “Tootie’s been with us all my life.  The Ministry tried to take her away from us –“

“Like they did with every other Slytherin family – mine, for one,” Leigh said.

“But Tootie refused to leave and we were allowed to keep her, what with Mum being a Ministry official, or she was, until…”  Emma turned to Kate, “We do pay her wages, K., so please don’t judge.”

“Oh no, I wouldn’t, I was just wondering…who chose –“

“Her outfit..?  Kate nodded.  “She did, always does – something different every day,” Emma sighed.  “Now let’s be polite to Tootie and eat.  Then we can get to the task before us.”

Emma led the way up to a feast of finger sandwiches, crab salad, fruit salad, juices, cold soups, pommes Anna, boeuf bourguignon and a dizzying array of tempting desserts.

Char circled the table, her eyes longingly caressing each item.  It was then that Kate suddenly realized how ravenous she was, so it was with a mouth stuffed as full as Ron Weasley when she blurted out:

“Oh – we should giff arrshelfs a nam!”

“What..?”

Kate swallowed.

“We should give ourselves a name.  You know, like ‘Dumbledore’s Army’.”

“How about the Medusas..?” Leigh said.  I mean, we are mean witches.

“The Circes..?” Randi offered.

“No!  Wait,” Char croaked.  They all turned to her to try to catch her next words, but they were too garbled.  With great effort, she growled, “The Daughters of the Basilisk!”

“That’s brill, Char!” Randi cried.  “What say you, ladies – The Daughters of the Basilisk?”

“The DOB,” Kate suggested.

“Here, here / cheers!” the rest shouted.

“Yes – the DOB..!” Leigh said, clapping Char on the back.

“Hard work,” Char said, in a very scratchy voice, as she reached for a flaky croissant, stuffed with curried chicken.

“But instead of a giant snake, let’s use Leigh’s idea and make our symbol Medusa’s head – you know – with those writhing snakes for hair,” Kate said.

“What are you saying – that we should cast that in the sky over Diagon Alley, like the Dark Mark,” Leigh asked, slightly shocked.

“It would definitely land us on the Prophet’s front page,” Kate said.

“Yes, why let good taste temper our proceedings,” Sienna sneered, as she spread melting brie onto French bread.

“Exactly, which is why you should be the one to cast it, Sienna,” Emma said.

“Yes, your ladyship,” Randi agreed.

“Your ladyship,” Leigh echoed.

“Oh, bugger off the lot of you.  I wouldn’t have the foggiest on how to cast that.  Unlike the lot of you, I didn’t have any Death Eater relatives.”

“Yes, but you’re the one who’s just sitting in the bleachers making snide jibes, besides – who’s the one with the ultimate Death Eater’s wand?  You!

So, ladies, if we’re determined to do this…” Leigh looked around and all of them nodded, “Fine – I can show her then,” Leigh said.  “I know the theory behind it.”

Leigh saw the look of shock on the faces of her friends.

What..?  You might recall my stupid ex-boyfriend was a Death Eater.”

“He was,” Kate gasped.

“Thought it would impress me – seriously, are all men idiots?”

As Kate reached for another sandwich, she saw something move in an upper window of the mansion.  Looking upward, she caught a quick glimpse of Emma’s mother and another woman.  But, just as quickly, the curtain slid back over the window and they were gone.

 

After spending hours sorting out their various responsibilities, including a major, mind-blowing stunt Char thought up, Kate realized her mom and aunt had no idea where she was and would be worried.

“Uhm, hey – I really should go.  I know we still have so much to plan, but my mom and aunt have no idea where I am.  They probably think I’ve been kidnapped or something.”

Kate was about to leave, when Leigh stopped her.

“K., this place of yours – is it somewhat roomy..?”  Kate gave her a quizzical look.  “You see, it’s just that Char has been living with me, poor thing, literally poor I mean and has no place of her own anymore.  I have a flat in London, but, well, I’m seeing someone now, and we can hardly be alone, because she’s just about always there.  I love her madly, I do, it’s just that…”

“You’d like more alone time..?”

Leigh nodded.  “So if you could take her in for a while…”

“Are you kidding – another geek?!  I’d love it.  I’m sure my aunt and mom wouldn’t mind.”

“There’s a love.  I knew you weren’t anything like ‘her ladyship’.”

As Leigh was about to move off, Kate stopped her.

“Uhm…can I ask you a question..?”

“Yes, of course.”

“What did you mean about Sienna having the ‘ultimate’ Death Eater wand?”

“Oh, right – well she’s rather tight-lipped about that.”  Leigh thought it over a moment, then:  “It’s Voldemort’s.”

“WHAT..?!”

“Scandalous, isn’t it..?  She had to go through quite the dance to get it, too – sneaking into the dead body room, after the battle at Havenhurst.  She had to rummage through his robes.  You should know your sister’s something of a klepto when it comes to wands…  That’s why she wanted Mad-Eye’s, too.  I’d keep a tight hold on it, if I were you.”

Kate gave this info a moment to sink in, before she went over to talk with Char; then she apparated back to Morrellayne, which she found easy.

 

 


 

CHAPTER 16

 

“WITCHES THREE”

 

When she entered the great hall, her aunt jumped up.

“Where have you been..?  We were worried to death.”

“I know, I’m sorry, I should have – “

“You certainly should have,” her mother said from her portrait, sitting once again on the couch.  “No telling what that sister of yours might have done.”

“I’m fine, Mom, Aunt Gwynne – really.”

“Then…”

“Gosh – where do I start?  You wouldn’t believe all that’s happened since – wow – since just this afternoon.”

“Well, if there’s a story here, don’t start until I’ve made more tea,” Aunt Gwynne said, heading off.

Kate collapsed on the couch opposite her mother’s portrait.  Sherry hopped up and curled up next to her.

“From the glow on your face, it’s either a boy, or…” her mother started.

Kate jumped up.

“Speaking of – where’s Phin’s card..?”

“Your aunt has it.”

“Has it…has it ‘dinged’?” Kate asked, trying to keep her tone casual.

“I don’t know, she put it in her pocket after you two disappeared.”

Her aunt called in from down the hall.

“Don’t start until I’m there…”

Kate fidgeted until her aunt finally arrived with a tray of tea and biscuits.  Kate shot up, but said nothing.

“What,” Aunt Gwynne said.

“The card..?”

Her aunt stared at her and then nodded.  From her sweater pocket, she pulled out Phin’s card.

“I don’t think it’s rung, love, or whatever it’s supposed to do.”

“It ‘DINGS’,” Kate said, as she checked it, just in case her aunt had failed to hear it in her pocket.

But there was no message from Phin.  And on this, Kate was conflicted.  She probably never wanted to see him again, but still…

“So tell us – what was ‘wow’,” Dorcas said.

“There was a ‘wow’..?” Aunt Gwynne asked.

And so, after pocketing Phin’s card, Kate filled them in, her excitement over their plans, slowly, but surely replacing the disappointment of the DING-free card.

 

“No!  I absolutely forbid it,” Kate’s aunt said, standing up.

“What..?!” Kate shouted, also rising.  “Mom..?” she said, turning to Dorcas’ portrait.

“I think it sounds brilliant, Gwynnie” Dorcas said.

“Dorrie – you’re supposed to be acting like her mother.”

“I don’t have to act, I am her mother,” Dorcas said, indignantly.

“Really..?  You sound more like…like Sirius Black, egging on Harry Potter.”

“Granted, there will be risks, but nothing will be gained Gwynne, if every woman just sits back and lets this continue.”

“Oh, easy for you to say, love, as you’re already dead.  But think about your daughters!”

“I am – repression like this is intolerable.  Perhaps you might be more favorably disposed to Kate’s plan, if it affected your world, as much as ours.”

“Ouch,” Kate said, wincing.

“What..?”
“Mom, that’s kinda insensitive.  But Aunt Gwynne – this is something I really want to do.”

“But does it have to be you, Kate – two more weeks and I’m supposed to return you to the Talbots.  That would be bloody hard to do if you’re locked up in Azkaban!”

“It has to be me,” Kate said, and then she explained why.

“Then we’ll just have to make sure she’s fully prepared,” Dorcas declared.

“In three days..?!”

Kate gulped – that was true – it would be with only three days of preparation and there was still so much she needed to know how to do.

“I have faith in my daughter.”

“Which is all well and dandy, but have you forgotten that she’s an untrained witch, who only acquired a wand – an illegal wand, mind you – a handful of days ago?  Besides which, this reckless lark of an outing diverts her from our main target.”

“Which is..?”
“Which is retrieving your wand – the one that got us all into this mess, yet still, possibly has the power to save us all from it.”

“But Aunt G., it won’t be only me doing it – all of Sienna’s friends will be helping me,” Kate said, trying to reassure her aunt.

“Oh – a troupe of entitled Slytherins – yes, they’re quite the ‘one-for-all’ types, aren’t they,” Gwynne said sarcastically.

“Hmm… Your aunt has a point there,” Dorcas said.

“Finally – some support, thank you, Dorrie.”

“You haven’t said what part your sister will be playing in this assault on the wand maker’s,” Dorcas said.

“Uhm….well…”

“See – her own sister – there’s your typical Slytherin.”

“No, actually she will be doing one thing…but you’re probably not going to like it…”

Kate told them the name they’d chosen for their group and their symbol, which Sienna was to launch into the sky over the Alley, after STIX was hit.

“Like the ‘Dark Mark’?!” her aunt cried.

“Sienna said it would be in poor taste.”

“She was absolutely right,” her mother said.

“But only something that dramatic will make sure it nails the front page of the Prophet,” Kate said, “Only that will gain other witches’ attention.”

“And seeking ‘attention’ is the goal of your…gang,” her aunt asked, scoffingly.

“Not to us – to their oppression.  To show the women of the magical world that someone is willing to stand up for them.”

“Hopefully they won’t have to carve their thanks on your tombstone.”

“Yes, aunt Gwynne.”

Kate hesitated.

“Is there something else..?  There’s something else..?”

“Actually… So one of Sienna’s friends has lost everything – her mother died when she was young; her dad was a Death Eater who was killed, and all her property has been taken from her.  She’s been traveling around, from friend to friend, not wanting to be a bother, but I started thinking – I mean, we have all this room, and…”

“You’d like her to move in with us,” her aunt asked, with a tone of shock, “The child of a Death Eater?!”

“She’s really very sweet – she dated George Weasley!  And mom – she’s a lot like me – she’s a total nerd, I mean, she loves inventing spells, like you do / did…”

Dorcas looked to Gwynne.  “It’s your call, Gwynnie; you’re Secret Keeper.”

Kate’s aunt waited a long moment before answering.  “Well…fine then.”

“Oh, Aunt Gwynne, I know you’ll love her.  I’ll let her know tomorrow morning.  They’re taking me somewhere as a surprise – have no clue what it is. “

 

Kate was normally not an early riser and, as this was her vacation, she’d normally be grouchy about getting up that early, but nothing was normal about her life now.  And she’d decided that was a good thing – a tremendous thing – an “I can’t wait for tomorrow, because it’s going to be one amazing thing after another” thing!

Promptly at six A.M., she was down outside the front gate.  Char POP-ed in grabbed her hand and POP – they were out.

 

POP – Kate gasped for breath, as she tried to look around.  They’d arrived inside some dark, almost dungeon-like closet.  The walls were made of centuries old stone and it smelled it.  Char cautiously opened the door a crack and peered out.

“Guess we’re the first ones.  Stay here, until I say it’s clear.”

She fired a couple spells – at what, Kate had no idea.  Then she moved slowly out into the hallway.  Kate could only see carpeting and a display case of some sort.  A few more spells and Char motioned for her to come out.

After the darkness of the closet, Kate had to blink several times, before her eyes adjusted, but then she still couldn’t believe what she was seeing.     They appeared to be in a long medieval hallway, lined with display cases, suits of armor and gilt-framed paintings.

“Are we in a castle..?”

“Kind of…” Char said, as she fired off another spell.  Kate looked in the direction of the red-colored beam, but couldn’t see its target.

“Are we breaking in..?”

Char looked at her with conspiratorial joy.

“Absolutely!  Come on…”

As they traveled down the hallway, Char murmured incantations and fired off more spells.

“I got that one – Repello Muggletum,” Kate said.  “So this isn’t a –“

Char silenced her and pulled her back behind a suit of armor.

Kate looked down the hallway and saw a guard in a very fancy sixteenth century royal uniform approach, but then suddenly stop.  He removed his tall, plumed helmet and scratched his head.  Then he shrugged, replaced his helmet, turned and walked away.

“Good.  Now – cover your eyes.”

“Close my eyes..?”
“Or you’ll spoil it.”
“It what..?“
Char let out a sound of frustration.

“Okay, they’re closed, they’re closed.”

Char lead her further down the hallway.  Then she heard a door open and voices, women’s voices – from inside – that suddenly fell silent.

They entered and then she heard Char close the door behind them.

Muffliato!” Char said.  “Okay – open your eyes!”

Kate looked around.

“SURPRISE..!”

Emma, Leigh and Randi shouted with delight.  Sienna was there, too, but said nothing.

“NO WAY!  NO WAY!”

Kate couldn’t believe her eyes, and yet, here she was, in the Crown Jewels Room of the Tower of London!

“Wow..!  I mean, ___!” Kate let out an expletive she was glad her mother hadn’t heard her say.  But if there ever was a time for such a word, this was it.

“Quick – what do you want to try on,” said Leigh, who was already bedecked in layers of rubies the size of raspberries.

“We can..?”

“Yes, yes – now what do you want first – emeralds, diamonds..?” Leigh asked.

“Don’t be silly – everyone wants a crown first,” Emma said.

Randi pointed her wand at the central display case – the “Opening of Parliament” crown, with its red velvet and huge blue stone, surmounted by a diamond-paved cross.  The glass disappeared, but as she reached in for it, Leigh stopped her.

“No, no – it’s too much, Randi – Kate’s too petite.”

Randi shrugged and put it on her own head.  Leigh moved to a case further down the row.

“This is my favorite and I think it will be just the thing…”

Inside the case was a tiara all of diamonds in fleur de lys patterns, probably from the gilded age.  She set it on Kate’s head, adjusting her hair to fit beneath it.

“There!  Yes – that’s it.”

Kate looked around for a mirror.

“Oh,” Emma said.  “Hold on…”

She waved her wand and a full-length mirror appeared.

“At least let her have a cape, too,” Randi said.

Leigh relented and Randi brought over a cloth-of-gold brocaded cape, with ermine trim.  She placed it over Kate’s shoulders.  Kate went to the mirror to check herself out.

It was like playing dress-up in your mom’s clothes, though it did occur to her dazzled brain that, if caught, she’d be spending the rest of her life in prison for this romp.

But, as the others were having so much fun, Kate really got into the spirit, ladling on bracelets and earrings and necklaces.  Char came over.

“Anything you’d like to keep..?” she asked.

“Keep..?!” Kate squeaked.  “As in, ‘steal’..?!  From the Royal family..?!”

“No, no, Kate, just a copy.  We leave the real things here,” Emma said.

“We’re not common criminals,” Leigh added.

“No, we’re uncommon criminals,” Sienna said, as she laid a swath of large, blue-green stones across her forehead.  “Has anyone read if emeralds take hangovers away?”

Before they left, Emma picked out a strand of perfectly matched pearls and earrings for Kate.  After performing a Gemino to create the copies, she conjured a velvet sack for them and handed them to Kate.  Kate packed them away in her Undetectable Extension pocket, before they snuck out.  She tried to suppress her joy, as somehow she felt it might be taken from her, if she let anyone know how wonderful it all felt.

 

Returning with Char to Morrellayne, Kate handed her the Fidelius invitation her aunt had written.  Char read it and the hedges parted.  Kate walked her in.

As they reached the top of the hill, Char stopped, in awe.

“Kate – it’s beyond lovely, it’s truly brilliant!”

“You really think so – my dad designed it,” Kate said with pride.  “Come on, I’ll introduce you.”

“…Can’t wait to meet your mum, ‘The Missing Bride!’  Wow..!”

 

After Kate made introductions and they’d had a late breakfast, Kate took Char out to the studio in back, with Sherry in their wake.

“I thought this would be perfect for your lab.”

“This is for me..?  Kate..!”

Char started to tear up.  Kate felt a bit inappropriate, so she backed towards the door.

“When you’re settled in, come back inside, because we have lots to plan and mom’s all excited to be helping us.”

“A member of the Order of the Phoenix helping us – think of that..!”

 

When Char finished unpacking, she and Kate took seats on the couch opposite Dorcas’s portrait and the three spent the rest of the day and into the wee hours spit-balling theories and mapping out strategies, not even leaving to take meals.

“Thanks, Aunt Gwynne,” Kate said, as she dove into the sandwiches her aunt kept bringing them.

 

While the three were laying out strategies, Leigh had taken Sienna to a windswept mountain, where, inside the ruins of an old abbey, she was trying to teach her how to cast their “Medusa” mark.  But it wasn’t going well, mainly because Sienna wasn’t putting forth her best effort.

“Try it again,” Leigh said, losing her patience.

“Again..?” Sienna said, wearily.

“Again…”

Sienna raised her wand and a gold beam shot out, but the image that appeared in no way resembled the head of Medusa.  In fact, it looked more like Mrs. Potato’s Head.

“You’re really not trying, Si,” Leigh said with exasperation.

“Then you do it.”

“Fine – give me your wand and I will,” Leigh said, reaching for it.

Sienna withdrew her hand and wand swiftly.

“Never..!”

“Then try it again.  Come on – the way to cast the Dark Mark is something your wand already knows, so modifying it to our purposes should be easy.”

 

The next morning, as the three women sat at breakfast, Char shouted:

“Awesome!”

“What is..?” Kate asked, after nearly jumping out of her seat.

Char moved over and showed her that morning’s Daily Prophet.  There was an ad for Everard’s “Amazing Non-Stick Goo,” which promised to make any surface invulnerable to permanent sticking charms.  And Fortesque’s was having an End-Of-Summer special – Two No-Drip, Triple-Decker Cones for the price of one.

“What..?” Kate asked.

“Look – Flourish & Blotts is having a DEATHLY HALLOWS book signing, featuring people mentioned in the book.”

“Really..?!  Who..?!  Is J.K. going to be there?”

Char scanned the small print.

“No, but look who is..!”

Kate skimmed the ad:

“Dean Thomas, Parvati Patel, Mrs. Figg – sounds kind of ‘D-list’.  At least they could have thrown in one of the Weasleys – Percy, even,” Kate said, looking up to Char.

“Oh, none of the Weasleys will have anything to do with her, not since she divorced Charlie.  After she’d finished using them for first-hand background, she packed her bags in the middle of the night and left him flat.  She didn’t even settle a Knut on him, and she’s worth half of Gringotts in Muggle money, from what I hear…  But keep reading, K.”

“…And Sibyll Trelawney..?!”

“She made the prediction about you, didn’t she..?”

Allegedly…  But I could ask her, couldn’t I..?  That is awesome!”

“Plus, it’s great for our plans, because it means crowds, banners, photogs – easy for us all to disappear into.”

“But no J.K. Rowling,” Kate asked.

“Why are you fixated on her – do you want an autograph?”

“No!  Well…”  For a second, Kate was seriously conflicted.  “What am I saying..?  NO!  I want her to admit she lied about me.  And then I want her to tell me who made her do it,” Kate said angrily “

 

Later, as the two young women and Dorcas in her portrait were gathered in the great hall, they had come to the hardest part of the mission:

“But how am I supposed to make his machine stop doing what it does, and start doing what I want it to do?  I mean, there must be all sorts of enchantments upon it, right; and most likely all of them are in German!”

“Calm down, darling, I think I know of a way around that,” her mother said.  “You two aren’t the only ‘geeks’ in the room.”

 

Before their afternoon session started, Kate helped Char set up her lab in Morrellayne’s pool house.  Kate was amazed by all the equipment – part Hogwarts Potions room and part high-tech Muggle lab.

“So what is this stuff..?” Kate asked, holding up jar of green dust.

“Oh, it was an idea I had to make money.  Have you traveled by Flu Powder yet?”

“No – the house isn’t hooked up to the Network.”

“Ahh, well the problem with Flu is that when you arrive you’ve picked up some ash from just about every fireplace you’ve passed through.  My idea was to create a powder that does like an Impervius to your clothes, so that you get wherever you’re going ash-free.”

“Genius..!  Does it work..?”

“Yes, but…”

“But…”

“Well, my plan was to use Emma’s connection to Reggie – who’s the Under-secretary to the Flu Network…”

“But they broke up…”

“Yes, so…”

Kate picked up another jar.  Its dull contents were in constant motion, like a lava lamp on steroids.  But as soon as Kate touched it, the globs glowed a brilliant blue and zoomed over to the parts of the jar where it connected with her hand.

“And this..?”

“Still haven’t figured out what I wanted to do with that.”

 

Later that day, as torrential rain continued to deny the sun, Char and Kate were in the garden performing whatever spells came to mind.  The first of course was an Impervius, to which they’d added a Totalus, so that a large, yet invisible umbrella was created above them, diverting the downpour, and effectively creating an outdoor room of safe, dry space.

“Oh – Mom said we should also do some with our ringed wands, just in case.”

“Just in case we get searched..?”  Kate nodded.  “But what can they do, other than give us grooming tips.”

“Oh, have you tried it..?”

“No, well, okay, twice.  And it was always the same tip – lose weight – so I told the image to piss off.”  The two laughed.

“I’d love to know how this all came down.”

“All what,” Char asked, as she flicked her wand at a pot and made it change from pewter to bronze.

“All these laws – see, I’m a history geek – I want to know why things happened and in what order – to follow the story line.  Hey – is there a history library, or where would I go to find out all the stuff about J.K. Rowling and how she got away without being brought up on the Act of Secrecy stuff?”

Char pondered it for a bit, while her wand made errant circles, causing a mini-cyclone to form above them, which sucked their Impervious spell into it, which caused them to get drenched.

“Char..!”

“Ooops.”

Char shot another Impervious up. And then did a hot air spell that dried them both off.

“You know, I do think there is someone who might have all that information.  But I’d have to ask, uhm, around.  So, changing the subject, Randi told me you’re dating Phin,” Char said, as she made the flowers bloom and enlarge, with happy faces in their centers.

“I wouldn’t say ‘dating’ – we had one date and it was really great…until it wasn’t.  Don’t ask me, I have no idea what happened.  He said, ‘I’ll be right back,’ and then, fifteen minutes later he’d totally changed.”

“I used to have a crush on him back at school – he was a couple years behind me.”

“…Did you date him?” Kate asked, trying to sound non-chalant.

“Oooh, no – I wouldn’t have had the courage to let him know.”

That made Kate feel better somehow, as though Phin was still hers alone, even though she probably never wanted to see him again.

She flicked her wand at a squirrel, which morphed halfway into a toy poodle, which thoroughly annoyed the squirrel.

“I can’t seem to get the hang of transfiguration.”

“It’s just something that clicks in, the more you do it.  And you’re trying it non-verbally, when you don’t even have it down verbally – that’s really a big step.  But when you get it, you’ll see that it doesn’t come from thought, but from feeling – like when you’re in love.”

“Then I can write off transfiguration.”

“But back to Phin…can you imagine how the girls would have bounced me, if he…if he didn’t want to go out with me?”

“Your friends are kind of intimidating.  No, they’re really intimidating.  I mean, they’re like fashion models.  I feel like…like…  Well, I feel pretty much like I did around my Muggle sister and her friends.  They were all cheerleaders.”

“What’s a cheerleader..?”

“They’re the girls that get the guys that everyone wants – they cheer on the sports teams…  But you did date George Weasley, for real?”

“Erm…can you keep a secret, K..?”  Kate nodded.

“We’re actually…still dating,” Char said, as she made the chaise lounge do cartwheels.

“Why would you want to keep that from the others?”

“They don’t exactly see him as ‘dating material’.”
“Why?”

“Well he’s from a rather poor family, even though his joke shop’s getting along very nicely.  But that’s another thing they don’t approve of – that he’s a shop keeper.  They think it’s better to date someone like a Draco Malfoy, who does nothing all day but sit around his mansion and sneer at people.”
“No – Emma wouldn’t, would she..?”

“No, Emma’s been very sweet, but…”  Char made a row of hedges bow to each other and dance.  “I really think you’d like George, Kate, he’s a geek, too.”

Kate smiled, as she coaxed all the roses to form a wreath and spin.

“He invents most of the goods in the store – the really amazing things.  Although, the romantic daydreams that they sell – I created those.  You know boys – they don’t have a clue what makes a romantic daydream for a girl.”

Char froze the squirrel/poodle, which was furiously trying to rip out its newly frizzy fur.

“Okay, now try again.  And try to feel the spell, as you direct your wand towards it.  Hold onto the thought until it’s done, too.”

Kate tried again, but now the squirrel had turned into something of a miniature sheep, yet still with a long bushy tail.

“Do it once more, but conjure up your feeling with your whole body.”

Kate flashed back to that moment on the island, looking out at Hogwarts, as Phin came up behind her and grazed her cheek with his lips.  She pointed her wand at the squirrel and – POP – he turned into a very fine toy poodle, with a pink bow around his neck.

“You did it!”

Kate went to high five Char, but Char didn’t understand the move.

“So, Char – if you dated / are dating George Weasley, did you know any of the others – like Hermione, or..?”

“I’ve met her at the Burrow.  I was a couple years behind her.”

“I bet you were also ‘the best in your year’.”

“Uhm, I never really wanted that title.”

“What..?  Why..?  I mean, I think you’re brilliant – the things you can do have to be as good as anything Hermione did.”

“Different parents, I guess.  My mum would say things like, ‘No lad wants a girl who’s smarter than he is.  You don’t want to be like that Muggle-born, Granger girl, do you..?  I promise you, Charlotte – she’ll end up a spinster’.”

“It’s internalized subterfuge.”

“I suppose, but that’s why I like George – he encourages me to shine.”

 

Back in Diagon Alley, and very near closing time, a thoroughly ravishing Randi showed up at STIX, just as Herr Dieter was about to close shop.

“Oh, Herr Dieter, if you would allow me just a moment…bitte,” she purred.

“Ziss cannot vait until tomorrow, meine fraulein?” he asked.

“Oh, no, Herr Dieter, it really can’t.  If you would be so kind, I’d be every so grateful,” Randi said, her hand lightly sliding down his shoulder, as she took his arm.  “You see my wand is – well it’s ‘fitzing’,” she said.

“Fitzink..?  Vas ist das ‘fitzink’?  Ziss ist ein Dieter vand, yah?”

“No – Olivander.”

“Ahh.  Come, fraulein, bring it here…”  Dieter headed back to his work bench.

Unseen by him, Randi pointed her wand at the blinds, which slid shut against any pair of eyes that might be passing by.  As Herr Dieter tapped lanterns next to his bench, Randi handed him her ringed wand, while throwing him a look of devoted admiration.

 

At the far end of Morrellayne’s great hall, a clock struck two AM.  Kate could barely keep her eyes open, but her mother’s advice kept flowing:

“Even if he cast the primary spell in his native tongue, the theory is still the same and can be reversed by simply…”

Kate only hoped she could absorb all this knowledge by osmosis, because her brain had definitely stopped processing.  By the time they called it a day, it was already the next day.

Kate collapsed into bed, with a feeling that was equal parts excitement and panic, with one feeding the other.  But it had been great, better than any HPG meeting, to sit with two other minds that, like hers, had always seemed to have too many gears and not enough challenging roads.

 

 


 

CHAPTER 17

 

“THE STIX-ING POINT”

 

Morning hadn’t arrived, but Kate was already awake.  Her dreams had not been the slightest bit restful.  Every one ended with her being chased down alleys that were dead ends.  In the last, she’d been wearing a phony mustache that had slid off her face.  Men in grey cloaks were shouting ‘Imposter!’  And they fired cannons at her, the blasts ringing like –

GONG..!  GONG..!  GOOONNNGGG..!!!.

Kate opened her eyes and jumped – someone else was in her dark room.  She snatched her wand.

LUMOS!” she shouted.

Standing at her side, holding a tiny gong that was way out of proportion to the resounding noise it made, was Sienna.  Sherry rushed into the room and started barking on top of it.

“What are you doing..?!”

“I’m trying to wake you up.“

“Okay, and what was the gong for..?”

“Isn’t that what Muggle clocks do..?  No..?  Oh well, whatever.  We have fifteen minutes before we meet up with the others and I’m the only one who knows how to get you there.”
“Fifteen minutes..?!”

“That should be more than enough for you – I mean, you don’t actually make any attempt to look smart, do you..?”

Kate hopped out of bed, glaring at her sister as she ran for the shower.  Kate stopped long enough to pet Sherry.

“Good boy..!  Yes, you know evil when you see it, don’t you?”

 

Twenty minutes later, Kate shouted out goodbye to her aunt, her mother and Char, after grabbing a piece of toast, and running out to meet her sister at the edge of Morrellayne’s gardens, which were still in darkness.

“Come on then, we’re late,” Sienna said, grabbing Kate’s wrist and twisting.  With her free hand, Kate was able to shove more toast into her mouth before the compression of apparition overwhelmed her.

 

POP!  As Kate looked around – and down – her stomach flipped.  They were now standing on a roughly three-foot-wide ledge that was at the top of a dizzyingly-high skyscraper in downtown London.

From this perch – if she dared – she could look down on the nearby cone or rocket ship-shaped, green and blue glass building that was almost as photographed as Big Ben.  But this skyscraper, which appeared to be half-finished, featured a thick band that spiraled downward around it, like a diamond-level ski trail.

Her left-over toast dropped out of her gaping mouth, cartwheeled down the ledge and then launched into the open sky, like a fearless base jumper.  Across the Thames, the sun was making a feeble effort to announce its imminent arrival.

“Wha-what is this?”

“Bishopsgate Tower – never finished, so it’s perfect for our get-togethers.  We don’t even need Muggle-repelling charms.

Kate leaned back against the wall, as heavily gusting breezes played havoc with her balance.  On top of that, sooty fog was wafting past making the stone beneath her feet sickeningly slick.  She began to shake.

“Wh-why are we meeting outside the tower?”

“Oh, are you frightened?  You – Kate the Hero..?”

Sienna pointed her wand and a window wall melted away.  Kate inched her way inside and collapsed on some dusty scaffolding.  Sienna waved her wand and a deep cozy chair appeared.  She plumped the cushions and sank into it, examining her nails.

Two more POPS brought Leigh and Emma.

“Sorry we’re late, but I wanted to –“

But then several POPS brought a dozen young men into their midst.

“Whoa – what’s this?” barked the one who was built like a rugby player.

He, like the others was holding something that looked like a skateboard, but without wheels.

“Come for the show, ladies..?” a tall, leering youth asked.  His longish, dark hair was parted on the side.  The imbalance caused the heavier side to keep falling across his face, causing him to do an affected reflex flipback.

“No,” said Leigh.  “We’re meeting here.”

“Oh – a ‘meeting’ – hear that, lads – the ladies are taking a meeting.   Well big f’ing deal.  Take your tea and crumpets and bugger off.”

“We were here first,” Kate said.

“So you can be the first to leave!” the lad said, flipping his hair back.

Kate went to draw her wand, but Leigh steadied her.

“What..?”

“Remember, K – we only have ‘ringed’ wands, which are no match for theirs.”

“Right that, but you could always use those twigs to bake us some biscuits.”

The other lads laughed.

“I bet the ginger knows how to bake, eh, lads,” the sturdy lad said, looking at Sienna.

Sienna rolled her eyes and made a rude gesture with her hand.

“Hang on, blokes – check it – they’re bleedin’ Slytherins.”

“Only thing a Slytherin’s good for is giving attitude,” the long-locked lad said.

And then he laid his board down on the spiral and pushed off.  Kate watched him as he raced down the ridge and then shot off the end, managing a triple flip, before disapparating and reapparating beside her.

“Come on – we’ll go to the Eye,” Emma said.  She turned to the rugby type and asked, “We’re leaving.  Just do us a favor – we’re expecting a friend.  Could you tell her we’ve moved on to the Eye..?”

“Fine, whatever,” he said, then launched himself down the spiral, ending with a 720 degree spin.

“The Eye,” Kate asked.  Emma nodded and took Kate’s wrist, twisted and they were gone.

 

POP – they’d apparated inside the gondola that sat on top of London’s gigantic ferris wheel – the Millenium Eye.

“Tootie..?”  POP – Emma’s elf appeared.  Today she was wearing a tiara in her blonde wig and had dressed in a miniature Disney princess gown.

“Yes, Mistress Emma.”

“We’re going to set up here.”

“Very well, Miss…“  Tootie snapped her fingers and the gondola gave a shiver, as it expanded.  Plush couches with silky pillows appeared along with a full banquet covered in a mouth-watering variety of brunch foods bookended by chilled silver pitchers of fruit juices.  The latter rocked precariously in the strong winds that had the whole gondola swaying like swings in a playground.

“Thank you, Tootie.”

“Yes, Mistress Emma.” and with that, Tootie POP-ed out.

Kate walked all around the gondola, steadying herself by keeping a firm grasp on the railing.  The view was breathtaking.  It was London from quite a different angle than the cab she’d ridden in.  She wondered if it was the swaying gondola that was making her nauseous, or was it what lay ahead..?

“Kate – would you like anything,” Emma asked.

“Uhm…”

“Feeling a little queasy,” Leigh asked.  Kate nodded.

“I feel like Harry Potter felt before his first Quidditch match.”

“Ah – at least some juice then.”

POP – Sienna apparated in.

“Where have you been,” Emma demanded.

“Just having a little go at the lads.”

“Define ‘go’..?” Leigh asked.

“I applied a little semi-permanent sticking charm to the bottoms and tops of their boards.  You should see Bishopsgate now – all decorated with a set of post-modern gargoyles.”

“Idiot..!” Emma snapped.

“Idiot..?”

“Yes – obviously now they’re not going to tell Randi that we came here, which would explain why she’s so late.  K. – best take the Polyjuice now, so you’ll be ready the instant she arrives.  Char…”

Char popped the top on the vial and wove through the banquet table and couches towards Kate, but a sudden violent gust rocked the gondola nearly on its side.  Kate watched as half the vial’s contents sloshed out, splashing onto the floor.

“Oh, no..!”

“Sorry,” Char said, as she handed what was left to Kate.

POP!  Randi appeared.

“Change of venue I see.  Thanks for the update,” Randi said.

“That would be ‘her ladyship’s’ fault,” Leigh intoned.

“Ahh…  Lovely brunch and I am famished!  Feigning adoration is seriously hard work.”

“Nice outfit,” Sienna taunted, “Doing the ‘Cat-walk of shame’?”

“You didn’t – not with Herr Dieter..?” Emma asked.

“Please,” Randi said, shuddering.  “But I did have to spend the night to nail the details.  It took all my charms and the Veritaserum Tavvie stole.”

“So where is our little wand maker now..?” Leigh asked.

“At home, sleeping off the mickey I slipped him.”

“And he’ll remember nothing..?”

“I hit him with an Obliviate and a Confundus just for good measure.”  She turned to Kate.  “Here,” she said, pulling clothes out of her small purse, including an emerald green cravat, a silver stick pin, a gold and purple brocade vest, plus shoes and glasses.  “Gotta say, K. – I love that you taught us how to do those ‘Undetectable Extension’ charms.  Oh, and, finally – his wand…”

“You took his wand?!” Emma exclaimed.

“Had to, didn’t I – in case the Aurors know what it looks like.  Besides, his wand knows the spells, so I thought that will help K.  Plus, without a wand, his normal modes of transport will be nixed, won’t they?  So he’s not likely to be popping in on her while she’s working her voodoo.”

“I’m impressed.  Well, done, love,” Leigh exclaimed.

“Every now and then…”  She turned to Kate, “Now dress quickly, you have to meet the Aurors in – blimey – five minutes.”

“Five minutes..?!” Kate felt her stomach simultaneously flip and twist.

“Is that the Polyjuice,” Randi asked, eyeing the vial.

“What’s left of it,” Kate said.

“What’s left of it..?”

“Spilt milk, love..!  Did you bring hairs from Herr Dieter,” Leigh asked.

“Yes.  But I do hope pomade doesn’t muck things up,” she said, handing the vial and the hairs to Kate.  “Now, before you take this, here’s what you have to know…”

What Kate had to know took about two minutes – two minutes they no longer had to spare…

 

“And I just do a simple Alohomora, making those motions with his wand –“

“No, you make those motions as you say the Alohomora equivalent in German.  Didn’t I tell you that?”

“No, you did not!”

“Ah, well now I did.”

“And that equivalent is..?”

“Right.  It’s…uhm…oh…  Ah yes – Aufmachen!  And then you just count to five – in German – you know how to do that, yes?”

“Uhm…  I know how to get to three.”

“No worries, I wrote them down.  Here…”

Kate read the last two.

Vier is four, and…how do you pronounce this one…”

Randi looked.

“’Funf’..?”

“But what do those two dots do – dots mean something.”

“Well, don’t look to me, I’m gormless at languages.  Now drink!  We have to be there in – lord luv a duck – NOW!  Drink!  Drink..!”  Randi said, springing up.

Kate drank, shuddered, resisted the urge to purge and then felt her body ooze and contract in very uncomfortable places, as she morphed into an exact copy of the Dieter, the wand maker.  When it was done, Randi gave her a once-over.

“Good.  Now hold on,” she said, as she grabbed Kate/Dieter’s wrist.

“WAIT – WAIT!”

“What..?”

“After it’s done – how do I get out of there – do I just disapparate?”

“No, goose – you can’t apparate in or out of the Alley!  They eliminated all of that for ‘Security Reasons’.”

“Everything’s always for ‘Security Reasons’,” Leigh added.

“So leg it down to Knockturn Alley, find Borgin & Burkes – can’t miss it – big gold and green sign.  Ask for Amanda – she’ll show you to the secret tunnel leading out,” Emma said.

“Borgin & Burkes – Amanda – secret tunnel,” Kate said, memorizing it.

“Come!” Randi said, as she grabbed Kate’s wrist and POP!

 

POP – they arrived at the entrance to Diagon Alley.

“But it’s not open,” Kate/Dieter said, looking at the “CLOSED” sign.

“We’re not going in the Muggle entrance – here,” Randi said, pointing to a door that would be easy to miss, off to the side.  “Just tap the knocker with his wand, go in, throw some powder into the fireplace and say, ‘Auror Office, Diagon Alley’.  GO!  And remember – you only have an hour, minus forty, minus ten…”

“I have ten minutes to do everything..?!” Kate asked, in a panicking voice.

“Yes, goose, so tick-tock!  And don’t panic!”

“Oh, right…”

“Cheers!”

POP – Randi disapparated, as Kate tapped the side door.  It opened.  Rushing inside, she flew up the narrow carpeted steps to a smallish living room, dominated by a large fireplace, tall enough to stand upright in.  She snatched some power from the bowl on the mantel, threw it into the grating.  Green flames leapt up.

“Du-Diagon Alley Auror’s Office..?” Kate shouted, almost as a question, but she’d already begun to whir, spinning faster and faster, making her wish she’d avoided that croissant.

‘Why does every form of magical transportation have to make you sick?!’ she wondered.

Almost immediately, she stumbled out of the fire, into a spartan room, furnished only with two hard-backed chairs and a makeshift table.  Two young men, who were playing a board game jumped up, and one of them made Kate gulp – Phin!  Vaguely, she was aware that the other young man was Phin’s pal from the Shrieking Shack – Greg, Gary – GARETH!

“There you are.  We were getting worried.  You’re always Mr. Punctual,” Gareth said.              “Got your clothes brush all ready for you, sir – know how neat you like to look.”

Kate stood there, frozen.

“Right, well I can help you out with it.”

Gareth started brushing all the ash off Kate’s Dieter-wear.

“When oh when are they going to invent something to tidy up flu travel..?  Hundreds of years we’ve had it and still can’t cut the ash out of it…surprised those entitled prats at the Ministry – ones who get to pop in by Flu – haven’t put their big brains to work on it.”  Gareth finished and stepped back.  “There you are, Herr Dieter.  Good to go.”

Kate cleared her throat, and, after a long pause, raised her head, assuming Dieter’s smug self-confidence.

“Zank you wary much, now come – ve go.”

 

Across town, a very groggy Dieter was waking up.  He rolled over towards his nightstand and picked up his watch.  Seeing the time, he sprang out of bed, but then fell back, obviously dizzy from Randi’s mickey.

 

With Kate/Dieter leading the way, the three headed out onto Diagon Alley, with Gareth and Phin a few steps behind.

“So you never told me what happened on your date, with the tasty Miss Talbot,” Gareth said.

“No, I didn’t,” was Phin’s terse reply.

“But I tell you everything, mate.”

“That’s because you have nothing to tell.”

“Ah-hah!  So something did happen!”

“No.  We said good night – that was it.”

“No kiss?”

Kate slowed in her steps; her ears straining to her Phin’s response.

“Just shut it, all right?”

“Oh-ho..!  So no kiss…  She wasn’t into you, eh?”

“I don’t know, maybe.”

“But you fancied her – the way you’d been going on…”

“I did…I do, but…”

‘He did…he does..?  But – but what..?’ Kate wondered.
“But what..?” Gareth asked, almost as though he’d read her mind.

“Look – I’ve got other things on my mind, all right, so bugger off!”

“Tetchy…”

They’d reached STIX.

‘What do we do now,’ Kate thought, scrambling to remember all the last-minute instructions Randi had given her, while simultaneously trying to process Phin’s conversation with Gareth.  She looked up the street – it was filled with banners proclaiming the book signing fair at Flourish & Blotts.

“Vat iz zat?” she said, pointing.

“Book signing,” Gareth said.  “No one big though – big surprise guest – Winky, the house elf.  Hope they’ve dried her out.  Last time she was a mess – hiccupping, falling off her chair.”

Tables were being laid out on a raised platform and assistants were bringing out cases of new books.

‘For just THE DEATHLY HALLOWS, or for all seven books,’ Kate wondered.  ‘Focus, Kate!’ she shouted inwardly.

Phin coughed to get her attention and stepped around her to the doorway.  In the center of the large glass door, was a diamond-shaped pane of opalescent glass, as large as a hand.  Phin tapped it once with his wand and the pane came to life, sparkling like a diamond in sunlight.  He made a complicated series of motions in front of it and the pendant spun clockwise seven times.

Then Gareth stepped forward and did a different, but no less complicated action with his wand and the diamond rotated seven times counter-clockwise.  Then they stepped back and turned to watch Dieter (Kate).

Kate took a deep breath, stepped up to the door and made a careful motion with her wand, while saying, Eins, Zvie, Drei, Vier, Funf, Aufmachen.   But nothing happened.

Kate’s heart started thudding.  She hoped Phin, who was standing just off her right shoulder, couldn’t hear that.  She faked a little laugh and then repeated the motion and the words, with a bit more oomph.

Off to the right, she saw a squad of Defenders heading her way.  She noticed her wand hand had started to shake.  The head Defender stepped up.

“What’s this..?!  Why are you late opening?  All the shops should be open by now.  You boys weren’t goofing off, were you?” he asked.

“No, we weren’t goofing off, thank you,” Gareth said, affronted.

“I’d have to report you if you kept Herr Dieter from opening in a timely fashion.”

“We’ve got it handled, mate,” Phin said coolly.

“You’d better – we’ve got a lot on our plate today, without having to do your job, too.”

“Right,” Phin said, through gritted teeth.

The Defender held Phin’s gaze for a moment and then lead his troupe away.

“Git,” Gareth said lowly.  Turning to Kate/Dieter, he asked:

Vas ist, Herr Dieter.”

Phin looked to his pal in surprise.

“What – me mum’s German, didn’t I tell you that.”

“No, you did not.  So much for your, ‘I tell you everything’.”

Gareth turned to Kate.

“I think you’ve been in the UK too long, Herr Dieter – it’s ‘Fear’, not ‘Vier’.”

“Ach!  Yah, yah,” Kate said, flushing.  With a deep breath, she repeated the words and this time the diamond spun in a horizontal plane, until it was a dazzling blur, throwing off jewel-colored flashes of intense light.  Kate tried to steady herself, but it was no good – she was now trembling.

“You’re shaking,” Phin said, steadying her.  “Are you all right?”

“Oh…uh…nein – I am not making ze trembles; I am just haffink too much schnapps last night, yah?” she said, putting her hand to her head as she feigned wooziness.

Tentatively, she reached for the handle and turned it.  It opened!  Kate exhaled in relief.

The young men smiled, though Phin’s faded, as his head tilted for a second.

Gut..!  Zat vill be all.  Bye-bye.  Bye-bye now…”

Gareth and Phin departed, with Phin taking one last backward look.

 

Back at Dieter’s townhouse, he was searching frantically for his wand, while checking his watch.  In frustration he gave up.  Going to his closet, he opened an antique chest.  Inside, lying in saphhire blue velvet-lined grooves were half a dozen highly-polished wands.  Holding the various colored woods against his navy suit, he finally chose one and dashed out.

 

Kate entered the shop, shut the door and fell back against it.  She felt like she couldn’t catch her breath.  What was she doing?  She wasn’t Harry Potter.  This wasn’t an adventure book!  Why did she ever think she could do this?!

‘But I’m here.  Nothing to do now, but move forward, right..?’ she thought, but her stomach’s twisting said she wasn’t so certain.

With another big exhale, she moved through the two vertical planes of frosted glass.  They lit up and that synthetic harp STRUM rang out.  With the light inside them, Kate noticed the glass panes were etched with runes.  If she was Hermione, she’d have been able to read them.

“They probably say, ‘Idiot – give up all hope’.”  Kate shook it off, “FOCUS!”

Going through her list of tasks, she tried to ignore the fact that she now had mere minutes until the Polyjuice wore off, there was no room for mistakes!    ‘Meet the aurors; perform the entry charms; keep the blinds shut…’

“Don’t panic, don’t panic, don’t panic,” she instructed herself.  “Oh, turn on the lights – duh,” she said, but there was something else…  She felt like she was holding a “remembral” that wouldn’t say what she was supposed to remember.

She shook her head and got to the task at hand.  Making sure that no one from the street could see in, she pocketed Dieter’s wand and pulled Mad-Eye’s out from its hiding place.  Approaching the “Ring Enhancement device” she took a deep breath and pointed the wand at it.

Gemino,” she said, with gusto.

And suddenly a second device squeezed itself into the space right beside the original.  Kate let out a sigh of relief.  It must be the power of Mad-Eye’s wand that made it seem so easy.  Now for the hard part…  Pointing her wand at the original machine she said:

Fidelio!”

            And immediately the original started contracting until it had disappeared, just as, she thought, #12 Grimmauld Place did every time Harry left it.

“Hidden in plain sight..!  My mom, Dorcas Meadowes, everybody – total genius,” Kate exhorted.

She then set to work performing spells on the copy of the Ring device, including the diversion charm that Char had learned from George Weasley, insuring her work against half a dozen common magical remedies.

Knowing that this last spell would echo one of her favorite bits from Book Five – the Weasley fireworks extravaganza – brought the first smile of the day to her face.  She even giggled with glee.

Checking her watch, she saw that she now had less than two minutes left.  Already, she could feel a bubbling in her fingers – the Polyjuice was evaporating from her system.

STRUMMMM!  The chord resounded through her, as she turned with fear to the front door.  She slapped the counter as the realization of what she’d forgotten to do hit her – perform a Coloportus on the door; the charm that seals!

A well-dressed portly man strutted in, with his equally rotund young son.

“Sticks – SHTIX ist not open yet,” she said, trying to be brusque.

The portly man made a show of checking his large, very shiny watch.

“Tosh – one minute shy – I didn’t become the successful titan of industry I am today without seizing every workday at the onset.  You’re the wand maker then?”

Kate felt her wavy hair pushing against Dieter’s pomade, trying to pop out.

“Well, man, speak up – are you or are you not..?”

“Uhm…  Yah, das ist…me.  I mean, yah – I am Dieter, vand maaker extraordinaire.”

The man turned to his son and in not too subtle a voice said:

“Foreign – everywhere you go nowadays.  Not like when I was a boy, when England was English.”  He turned back to Kate.  “Be that as it may, my son needs his first wand.  And don’t try selling us any of the shoddy off-shore stuff.  No, sir, top drawer quality for us only, eh, Gittard?”

“Yes, Papa, and I want one with a phoenix feather core!”

“There you are – a phoenix feather core and none of those bendy shafts – no girly wands for us – we want sturdy English hardwoods!”

The man pointed his wand at the blinds and they flew open.

“Dark as a tomb in here – is that how you pass off the cheap stuff, or are you hiding a girl back there..?” the man asked, winking at his son.

Kate looked down at the front of her vest – it was starting to fill out.

“Fine – now ve be shtarting .  Zit, little man – zit, zit,” she said, indicating the desk where Dieter had had her fill out her questionnaire.

(Kate could have said the German words, setzen zie, but “zit” seemed mischievously more appropriate for the little snot.)

The portly lad squeezed himself into the seat.  “Gut – I vill be right baack,” she said and then scurried into the back.

Looking at her reflection in a glass cabinet, she saw that she was rapidly turning back into herself.  Panic set in.  What if more people came in – it was already – 9:02!  No time to change, and what about a wand for the kid?

‘Aha!’ Kiera thought, as though her prayers had been answered, for there on Dieter’s work bench were a number of works in progress.

“I say, we’re waiting out here!” the portly man called out.

Kate snatched up the most finished-looking of the wands.

“Yah, yah – I vill…”  Kate realized her voice was now the one coming from her throat.  She downshifted, “Comink,” she barked.

Then she shed the ascot, changed her shoes and turned the vest inside out.  She laid Dieter’s discarded clothes on the floor.

Evanesco,” she whispered and they disappeared.  Out of her tiny purse she pulled out a scarf and used it to give herself a ponytail.

“Really now – this is intolerable,” the portly man said, coming Kate’s way.

Kate, now fully herself again, reentered the showroom, nearly running into the man.

“Wha – who are you?  Where’s the wand maker,” the man asked.

“I want my wand; my phoenix feather wand!” the boy said, pounding the desk.

“I am Herr Dieter’s assistant,” Kate said, using the English accent that had earned her so much grief back in junior high.  “He’s searching for a phoenix core – very rare, you know?  But first, he wants you to try this one – just to see if it’s…uhm…’non-bendy’ enough,” she said, proffering the wand she’d just snatched.

The boy waved it around, making jabbing motions with it, like a pirate’s sword.

“That’s the lad.  Give it a go.  How does it feel?” Kate asked the boy, as though she was fitting him for athletic shoes.

“It’s okay,” the boy said, a little disappointed that it hadn’t geysered sparks.

Kate nodded, but then her head froze on a point outside the window, where she saw her worst nightmare.  Battered by a flood of people coming through the Leaky Cauldron’s main entrance, was Herr Dieter himself, making a groggy way towards STIX.

But something – she couldn’t say what – suddenly came over Kate.  The panic disappeared and she simply saw exactly what she had to do.

“Come along then,” she said, firmly yanking the boy out of his seat.  “You can’t appreciate how unyielding, how sturdy a wand’s shaft is just by waving it around.  It’s like buying sunglasses – you can’t tell if they really work, if you’re not out in the sunlight, right..?”

“Sunglasses – what are sunglasses..?” the portly man stuttered.

“Just…come – you can take a go at one of those banners.”

That made the boy light up – destroying something sounded like great fun.

Kate rushed towards the front door and saw, to her great relief, that Leigh had inserted herself in Herr Dieter’s face, pulling him around, so that he was no longer facing the store.  Kate pushed open the door and backed out.

The boy stooped to tie his shoe, and his father had waited for him.  Then, tied and ready, they made to follow Kate out, but as they passed through the security panels all hell broke loose.  Just as Tavvie had warned – alarms rang out!  Metal bars slammed shut over door and windows.  Multi-colored lights blazed across the shiny masonry, spelling out in yard-high, flashing letters – ROBBERY!  ROBBERY!  ROBBERY!

The man and his son were trapped inside – spotlights glaring in their terrified faces – but Kate was free.  She saw Leigh making frantic ‘get away’ motions, as Dieter plowed forward to his besieged store.

Pivoting, Kate ran smack into Phin!

“Oh, sorry, I –“

Kate froze, as did Phin.

“Kate..!”

But before Kate could think of anything to say, whistles blew loudly and a squad of Defenders came running up the Alley, wands drawn.  As the crowd parted for them, Kate and Phin were pushed apart.

Kate had only a moment to see Phin’s face – questions written all over it – before he became lost in the tumult.

Grateful for the separation, Kate backed quickly into the oncoming crowd, to make her way up the Alley, all the while realizing that this was the opposite direction from her best chance of escape.

Looking in desperation to the Leaky Cauldron exit, she saw that it was now sealed, with beefy Defenders creating a human barrier before it.

As the crowd nearby thinned, she sought to lose herself in the throng still packed in front of Flourish & Blotts.  Across the tables, she spotted Emma.

Emma nodded and, turning away from the crowd, pointed her wand/finger upward.  Taking aim at the banners along the Alley, the posters that had proclaimed the DEATHLY HALLOWS book signing, were now transformed into posters with Medusa faces that screamed:

            “J.K. Rowling LIED!  The Missing Horcrux is a Lie!”

The gusting wind blew stacks of flyers into the crowd’s faces – flyers that shouted the author’s lies.  The crowd was in full terror mode; chaos reigned.

From her position amongst the autograph seekers, Kate saw the portly boy’s father, with defenders on either side of him, searching the crowds.  Kate tried to maneuver behind a tall man, but she’d been spotted.  Emma slid next to Kate and whispered:

“When Char creates her diversion – get down to Knockturn Alley as fast as you can!”

Kate looked down the Alley, only to see squads of Defenders heading up!

But then the back wall of the Leaky Cauldron burst open and floods of Chinese tourists surged into the Alley – Muggle tourists were now entering into the real (Magical) Diagon Alley!  Kate saw Char at their back, strolling in; a huge smile lighting up her round face.

“There..!” Emma hissed.  “Now go!”

But as Kate turned, she saw the panel of book signers – one in particular, with enormously thick, large round glasses.

“Sibyll Trelawney,” she whispered.

Throwing caution and possibly her freedom to the wind, she took advantage of the crowd’s fascination with the explosion of events unfolding behind them and pushed up to the table in front of Sibyll.

“Ms. Trelawney,” Kate said.  “Big fan – loved every passage you were in.”

“Thank you, my child.  One tries.  One tries.”

“…Especially the part where you made the prediction about the Missing Horcrux – that must have felt as huge as the one you made about Harry.”

“Couldn’t tell you my dear; the Minister said I was in trance, and the Inner Eye seldom shares with the outer ear, you know.  Do you have your copy for me to sign..?”

“The Minister..?”

“Yes, dear girl – he was the one who heard my prediction.”

Kate glanced back – the Defenders were fighting the crowds to get to her.  Reflexively, she picked up the nearest book – THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN.  Sibyll reached out to take it.

“Well, could you tell me – is there somewhere – other than the Department of Mysteries – where they list all the predictions you’ve made?”

“The Hall of Records details such things,” Sibyll said, as she again tried to take the book from Kate.

“Hall of Records..?  And that’s where again..?”
“Why the Ministry, of course – it’s all there.  If there’s a prophecy in the Department of Mysteries, there’s a record of it in the -”

But Sibyll was cut off by a horrified shriek that cut through the white noise of the panicked crowd.

 

Everyone turned to look down to STIX, as Herr Dieter, followed closely by two Defenders burst out of the store, all being chased by hot pink enhancement rings.  Glowing, hungry rings – rings seeking to latch onto anything on a man that was longer than it was wide; not just wands, but fingers, noses – anything!  The portly man tried to shield his son, while burying his sausage-fingered hands in the arm pits of his tweed jacket.

Nearby Defenders shot off all the usual spells, but they only served to multiply and enlarge the zooming rings, enlarge them enough to cinch the waist of any man, and only men.  Kate could have shot to the moon with all the glee surging through her, but it quickly turned to dread.

Defenders were closing in from a perimeter of less than thirty feet.  In complete panic mode, she totally forgot Tavvie’s warning, that you couldn’t apparate in or out of the Alley, and twisted with her fondest destination in her head – HOGWARTS!  Yet… POP!  She had gone somewhere.

Kate opened her eyes.  But this wasn’t Hogwarts, or Havenhurst.  She was looking up at blue sky, like the one over Diagon Alley, but with bars.  And the compressed feeling of apparition hadn’t subsided.  She could barely breathe.  Ahead of her was a dark blurry, oddly shaped cloud.  But what she saw next made her scream – a giant was towering above her – a giant she realized that was approximately twelve years old.

“Mum, can I get this one..?” the giant asked.

“Darling, you have that one already.”

“No, I don’t – this is the Muggle book.”

“And why would you want the Muggle version?”

“I’m taking Muggle studies this year, I told you that.”

The young girl’s gigantic hand slapped down over part of Kate’s view.  Where could she be?  Looking to her right, she saw a cut-out of a man.  And then she focused on the dark cloud – it wasn’t a cloud, it was – a hippogriff with two people on its back – one with glasses and the girl behind him had very bushy hair!

“OMG – I’m trapped in a book cover for THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN!”

But then something much more worrisome crossed into her sightline – a flash of grey cloth with a triple red chevron, told Kate the Defenders had reached the autograph table.  She tried to move behind the cutout that she realized must be Sirius Black, imprisoned in a tower at Hogwarts – but she was frozen just like he was.

More grey above her and then a face, peering down intently.  Kate gulped, as fear coursed through her flattened body.

“Hang on..!” the Defender’s face said.

“What..?” another man asked.

“Something’s off with this book.” he said.

But before he could say just what – FOOMF!  It was like the sound of a nearby firework shooting off.  Kate looked up, past the Defender’s face, as BOOM – the enormous head of a Medusa with writhing snakes for hair, burst dazzlingly into the sky above her.

This drew two very different reactions from the mixed crowd:  The magical population screamed in terror, while the Muggle tourists, thinking it was part of the show, clapped and cheered.  The Defender straightened up.

“What the blazes..?  Did anyone see who shot that off..?”

“I think I saw someone in an upper window in the Cauldron, sir.  But I can’t be sure if it was a magical window or Muggle.”

“Does it matter..?!  Get on it, man.”

“Yes, sir, right away, sir.”

The Defender turned back to the book, but whatever he thought he’d seen on the cover was gone.

 

The view in front of Kate had swung violently up and away a moment before.  She heard a woman’s voice say:

“I’ll take this one, please.”

“Just the one, Madam,” a salesperson’s voice said.

“Yes, thank you,” the woman said.  And then the book descended into total blackness.


 

CHAPTER 18

 

“BERTIE’S REQUEST”

 

Kate wasn’t sure how long she’d spent in the dark.  Not only could she not see anything, she also couldn’t hear anything.  And, being a drawing, she couldn’t feel anything other than…flat.

But then – light!  Her view panned wildly, until it stopped, leaving her looking on a scene of brightly hued, rather plump naked women, surrounded by cherubic cupids.  Where was she..?

A woman’s voice whispered some words and suddenly she felt a hard surface beneath her with a pronounced lump under her lower left side.  The compression was gone, as were the bars and the hippogriff.

Turning her head to the right, she saw that she was in a very elegant dining room.  Judging by the golden candelabra next to her head, she was apparently lying on its table.  Feeling beneath her, she located the lump – it was THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN book, but – thankfully – she was no longer trapped in its cover.  Turning her to the left, she saw Emma’s mother.

“All right..?”

“Uhm…sure, I guess,” Kate said, as she sat up.  “Are we at Emma’s – I mean, your house..?”

Emma’s mother nodded.

“Quite the little stunt you girls pulled today.”
“Erm…thanks, I think.  And thanks so much for rescuing me.  I didn’t see how I’d –“

“No, despite the three-ring circus you created, you still didn’t have a solid plan of escape, did you..?”

“…No, I guess we didn’t.”

“That was very foolish, wasn’t it..?”  Kate squirmed.  “It must have sounded like quite the lark when you were planning it, but the lot of you could have wound up in Azkaban – the real one.  I’m not quite sure what all happened at the wand maker’s, but you seem to have been at the center of it.  Would you like to fill me in before your ‘gang’ gets here..?”

Kate didn’t know if she should trust this woman, but she was, after all, Emma’s mom, and she had just rescued her, so Kate told her.

“That’s very impressive magic.  Way beyond what someone – you’re what – seventeen..?”  Kate nodded.  “Yes, that’s what I thought.  Neither Emma, nor any of her friends could have planned something so complicated – your mother had a hand in this, I suspect…”
“My –“

“Please – what do you call yourself – ‘K.’..?”  Kate nodded.  “No, you look too much like Dorcas for me to buy this ‘cousin of Sienna’s’ story.”  Emma’s mother extended her hand.  “I’m Berthilda Wakefield, but Em’s friends call me Bertie.  I didn’t know your mother very well, but everyone said she was a brilliant witch.  And what you enacted at the wand makers was quite the exceptional piece of magic.  Well done.”

“Erm…thanks.”

“You know, my daughter and her friends never really had any lofty goals – all they wanted were real wands, without restrictions, not that they ever did anything with them – at least anything that they told me about.  That is, not until you lit a fire beneath them.  I haven’t seen Emma so excited since her engagement to Reggie…  But…”

Bertie leaned forward, not in a threatening way, but so as to underscore her words.

“Make no mistake, young lady – you don’t know what you’re up against.”

Kate sat up.

“I think I do – my mother was murdered.”

“Yes.”

“Murdered because someone found her threatening – threatening enough to kill her.  And it wasn’t Voldemort – you can check me – no curse scars anywhere!”

“No, I believe you on that.”

“And yet that crime was used to create a lie that reduced all witches to second class citizens.”

“Too true, but have you any idea what it’s been like for us since the Battle of Havenhurst; how much Slytherin families have lost?  Did you know that Charlotte’s family was stripped of all of its gold, their estates – everything?”  Kate nodded, sheepishly.  “If it was known that she’d had a part in today’s event, she, like the rest of her family, would be in Azkaban.

“And all our families have to submit to regular searches of our homes.  On top of that, monthly ‘reparation’ payments must be made to the Ministry; all because we’re Slytherins – no matter if we had a Death Eater in the family or not…  In addition, because of the new laws, if any of us came to trial, the jury would be devoid of Slytherins.”  She sat back.  “So tell me, K., do you look on Emma and her group, as your friends..?”

“They’ve all been very kind, well, all except for Sienna, that is.”

“And would seeing them imprisoned be a good way to repay that kindness..?”

“Erm…no…”

“No indeed.  Unlike them, you have the option of just packing up any time you wish and flying home to the States.”

“But this would have been my home, if…”

Laughter rang out across the lawn.  Kate and Bertie looked out and saw Emma, Char, Leigh and Randi heading their way.  Bertie stood up.

“I hope you don’t think harshly of me, it’s just that Emma is all I have left.  So please, think on what I’ve said.”

“I…I will…” Kate said, hopping down off the table.

 

Emma came in, followed by the others.  They were all in very high spirits.

“There she is – our wicked, wicked girl!  You were totally brill,” Randi cried.

“Glorious leader..!” Leigh said, while making an ‘I’m not worthy’ bow.

“I’ve never had so much fun in my life,” Char declared, hugging Kate.

“Charlotte!” Kate exclaimed, quickly forgetting Bertie’s words, “How did you do that thing with the Leaky Cauldron – I mean, breaking the barrier between Muggle and Magical worlds – that must have blown their minds!”

“It blew mine,” Randi said.

“She’s a modest little genius, isn’t she,” Leigh said.

“We always said she should have been a Ravenclaw,” Emma added.

“Actually…the sorting hat started to say that, but I knew mum and dad would murder me if I stepped out,” Char said, softly.

“Well, god bless your mum and dad, or we’d all be doing porridge right now,” Leigh pointed out, and the others agreed, except Kate, who looked confused.

“It means, ‘in jail,’ love,” Emma explained.

“So where’s her ladyship?” Randi asked, looking around.

“Yes.  Where is Lady Sienna..?” Leigh asked.

“Oh, you know Si – deathly afraid of tunnels; always has been.  Remember back at the Shrieking Shack – refused to exit through the tunnel.  She must have taken the long way out of the Alley,” Emma said.

Kate knew why, but said nothing.

“For a moment there, I thought she was going to chicken out on her part,” Leigh said, “And after I trained her for four hours!  Probably waffling, all about if ‘Uncle Fearghas’ would approve or not.”

“Uncle Fearghas.  Oh, Uncle Fearghas said this.  Uncle Fearghas said that,” Randi said, in an affected Sienna-like voice.

“Uncle Fearghas..?” Kate said, with an edge of panic.

“She has this ‘special relationship’ to our Minister of Magic,” Leigh said, with a weary tone.

“Which she points out all the time,” Randi added.

“She – she does,” Kate asked.

“It’s just her superiority/inferiority complex,” Randi said, laughing, “Personally, I think she’s just trying to compensate for being a half-blood.”

“Her Ladyship,” Leigh started, then, seeing Kate’s face she added.

“Oh, Kate, no, please, don’t think – no -”

“Oh, no, love, we’re not – we’re not like our parents,” Emma said, “We really don’t care about any of that.”

“It kind of sounds like…”

“We only say that because she keeps throwing it in our faces.”

“I never knew my father, but he was an architect, and he wrote beautiful music…”

“I’m sure he was wonderful, K.,” Emma rushed to say.

No one noticed that Sienna had arrived, until they heard her say:

“He was a Muggle who died.  End of story,” Sienna said.

Kate glared at her, while Tootie, dressed in an evening gown with a beehive hairdo, bustled around them, laying out another feast.

There were stuffed pastries, foie gras, salmon mousses, paella and champagne on ice.

Kate didn’t attack the food, though the excitement had made her ravenous.  Instead, she pulled Emma to the side.

“Emma, do you have an owl I could borrow..?”

“You’d like your aunt to know you’re okay..?  Kate nodded.  “Sure, come this way.  Quincy’s a bit old, but he never fails to deliver.”

 

After the feast had ended, while Charlotte was grabbing one last slice of pumpkin pie, topped with whipped cream, they all turned to Kate.

“So what’s next, K.,” Emma asked.

“Yes – what’s our next target..?” Leigh asked.

“Oh, yes, do tell, K…” Sienna said, as though she could care less.

“Uhm… About that…” Kate said, exhaling, while she snuck a glance up to the upper windows of the house.  “I was thinking that maybe we should just…”

“What’s this..?  Are you backing away..?” Randi asked.  “After we just pulled off the event of the decade..?”

“You said we should hit them, ‘day after day’,” Leigh said.

“I know, but…”

Kate looked up nervously at the windows of the manor again.

“Bertie!” Emma exclaimed.

“Oh, no, did Bertie have one of her private little chats with you,” Leigh asked.

Randi assumed a very dignified, motherly tone:       “Dear, think of what the damage could be from doing something like this.”

“How precarious our position is – as Slytherins,” Leigh added.

“As women,” Char added, causing Randi to burst out laughing.

“She’s right,” Sienna said flatly.

“Figured you’d agree with her,” Randi said, with a snicker.

“Her Ladyship feels Uncle Fearghas might not approve,” Leigh said, mimicking Sienna.

“Bugger off,” Sienna said, and with that she POP-ed out.

 

Later that evening, Tavvie arrived and reassured them that neither the Defenders, nor anyone in the Auror office had any leads, so, for the moment, they were safe.

“And the Ring machine..?” Kate asked.

“They haven’t discovered there are now two of them – at least not before I left, so kudos to our blinding team..!  What’re we drinking?  I need something strong and lots of it.”

“Why so glum, Tav..?” Randi asked, as she poured herself another glass of champagne.

Tavvie pulled out her wand and held it up in the candlelight, which gleamed on the “enhancement Ring.”

“That kind of puts a damper on the day, doesn’t it..?” Randi said, handing Tavvie a glass.

“But we put on a jolly good show, didn’t we..?” Tavvie said, trying to put a bright face on it.

“And we’ll make the front page of the Prophet – that’s guaranteed,” Char added.

“Sorry, Tavvie,” Leigh said.  “Well, no worries, right..?  We promised to get you another one, so…”

“OH!  I almost forgot!”  Kate said, her face lighting up, as she reached into her secret pocket, from which she pulled out Dieter’s wand and handed it to Tavvie.

“You didn’t?!  You stole a wand from Dieter’s shop?  Didn’t I warn you about that?” Tavvie admonished.

“One:  It’s not from Dieter’s shop, it’s Dieter’s, and two:  I didn’t steal it, Randi did.  I just…forgot to return it.”

“Dieter’s himself..?  I’m gobsmacked…”

Tavvie examined her new wand, flourishing it and shooting off a fountain of gold sparks.

“OH!” she exclaimed, delighted with the instant way the wand responded to her, “I forgot to tell you the best part!  When some of the Defenders tried to pry the rings off their wands – boom!”

“Boom what..?” Emma asked.

“Char created this part,” Kate said with a huge grin.

“Basically, it’s like twisting the ring on your wand, except the beauty consultant won’t take ‘no’ for an answer,” Char explained.

“Those blokes were chased up and down the Alley, by hot wax strips, makeup puffs and – what was the goopy stuff, Char..?”

“Seaweed wraps,” Char said.

“Seaweed..!?”   Randi choked on her champagne.

 

This led to many a retelling of the various parts each had played, but then Emma brought the meeting to order.

“I think we should start planning our next event.”

“Yes,” they all agreed.

“Where and what..?” Leigh asked.

“It has to be bigger,” Char said.

“Bigger than today..?  How’s that possible,” Randi asked, “What’s bigger than Diagon Alley?”

“The Ministry..?” Kate suggested.

“You must be joking, K. – the Ministry of Magic..?” Leigh was incredulous.

“Well, if we did…” Tavvie started.

“What..?”

“The Minister is going to make some announcement to the press in a couple days, in the Grand Atrium.  And from what Mac said, it involves new restrictions, including the searching of every woman and her belongings before she enters Diagon Alley, or the Ministry.”

“Then if we do it, we should do it on the day of the speech,” Kate said.

“I don’t know,” Emma said, “If any of us entered the Ministry, we’d have to sign in, so they’d have a record of who was there.”

“And they’d be at our doors before anyone else’s,” Leigh said.

“Then again, it would make one helluva statement,” Emma added.

“Wait – did that just come from our dear little Emma..?”  Emma winced, but nodded.  “Here, here!” Randi cried, raising her glass.

“Calm down,” Emma asked, in a very embarrassed little voice, but a very big smile.

“If we hit the Ministry, what would that look like..?” Leigh asked.

“Yes, what could we do that would say something?” Emma asked.

“We could paint it pink,” Randi suggested.

“One wave of a good wand and it’d all be back to black, though,” Tavvie pointed out.

“Well, what is it the Ministry’s doing that we object to,” Kate asked.

“The way they treat women in general, like we’re second class citizens,” Leigh said.

“They treat us like ____” Randi started, but Emma clapped her hand over her mouth, before she finished.   “But they do!” Randi protested.

“She’s right,” Tavvie agreed, “All the top jobs are held by blokes – they even have their own special entrance.  I mean, women aren’t allowed to use the Flu Network to get in, are they, only the senior level men.”

“That’s right…  I heard Phin’s friend talk about that.” Kate said.

“No.  So let’s bang around some ideas and see what’s possible.”

“And we should start making plans about the dedication of the new school at Hog- Havenhurst,” Kate said.

“Second that,” Char said.  “That’s really prepping future generations as second class… No pun intended.”

Randi thought about it for a second and then got it.

“But first…” Leigh said, as she rose, glass in hand.

The others quieted down, as Leigh CLINKED her glass.  From her purse, she pulled a small, rectangular silver compact.  The top was decorated with a series of narrow green stones, in the shape of a serpent.  She held it out to Kate.

Kate suddenly became aware that the others were watching her with smiles on their faces.

“What is this..?  Is this a suggestion I need to start wearing…  You know, I really don’t wear any…“
Leigh took out an identical compact.

“Watch…”

Leigh whispered into her compact.  Suddenly Kate’s gave a slight vibration, a short BUZZ and the green stones lit up.

“Open it…” Char said, nudging her.

Kate opened it.  Inside, in glowing green letters, were the words:

 

Welcome to the Group, Kate!

 

Which glowed briefly, then faded away.

“It’s like Phin’s card.”

“But it’s just for us – just for the people in our group.  And if you want to send a message to just one of us, you say their name first, then your message.”

“That’s great.  Thanks…  Oh, but…can you make it…”

“What..?”

“Uhm, can you make it go to everybody, but someone..?”

“You mean like, everyone but her ‘ladyship’..?” Randi suggested.

Kate shrugged and half-smiled.

“Yes.  Just say, ‘To the group, minus Si.”

Kate’s face showed the relief that brought to her.   All of the others then came up and gave Kate a hug.

 

Later that night, Tavvie pulled her aside.

“Just to let you know…  The Defenders gave Gareth and Phin a hard grilling, as they were the ones who escorted you in…”

Kate’s stomach dropped.

“And..?”

“Gareth said that you’d forgotten how to say one of the words, but he’d thought nothing of it at the time.”

“And Phin..?  He saw me – coming out of STIX…  Did he..?”

“Apparently Phin said nothing, as well.”

Kate was left to wonder why.  What did this mean about his feelings for her, if indeed he’d ever had any..?

“And were there any consequences – for them..?”

“Not too bad, considering the world-class chaos we unleashed.  They’ll have to pull double shifts for the next couple months.”

As Kate pocketed the compact, she looked up.  Again she saw Bertie at the window, plus the other woman, but this time they didn’t pull away.

What Kate didn’t see is her sister, Sienna, off behind a thick set of boxwood, listening in on her beehive broach.

 

Climbing the stairs to the music room, she was undecided on what to play.  Part of her yearned to pound out Liszt’s “Mephisto Waltz,” but, in an effort not to disturb her Aunt’s sleep, she decided to play her father’s composition.

Lighting the lamps, she sat down and placed the sheets on the stand.  Playing from her heart, she finished the piece with reluctance.

“It was one of his, wasn’t it..?”

Kate turned and saw Sienna had entered from the balcony.  The sounds of a suddenly heavy rain entered with her.

“He used to let me sit on his knee, while he played – always the left one, so he could work the pedals.”

She came further into the room, her hand gliding along the piano’s glossy lid.

“He tried to teach me, but I’m duff at anything mechanical.  Suppose that means he would have liked you better.”

“What was he like?”

“I don’t know.  I suppose he was like any other Muggle dad.”

“And how are Muggle dads different..?” Kate asked, hackles rising.

“They tend to be fragile, like soap bubbles – pop – they’re gone.”

“But you had years with him, memories of him.”

“Oh, good – you’re jealous.”

Kate slammed the lid over the keys.

“Is there a reason you’re here?”

“You mean – in my house..?  It’s my house, too, you know.”

“I never said it wasn’t.  Now if you don’t have anything further; I was enjoying myself until you showed up.”

“Right – after your great triumph…”  (Mimicking Emma) “Oh, K., you’re my hero…”

Sienna started towards the balcony, but then stopped.  Without turning around she said:

“Forgetting one thing – oh, right – she wants to meet you.”

“Who..?”

“Gran – she’ll send word when.  Ta…”

Sienna went to the balcony and the POP told Kate she’d left.


 

CHAPTER 19

 

“BASIC TRAINING”

 

After Sienna had left, Kate no longer felt like playing.  She rose, closed the lid and headed for her room.  But she couldn’t sleep and went downstairs to look for something to eat.

As she passed the dark great hall, she heard her mother call out.

“Kate – is that you..?”

“Yes, mom…”

“Why did you stop playing – it was so beautiful.  Your father would have been so happy to see one of his daughters take after him.”

Kate entered the great hall and lit the lamps, taking a seat opposite her mother’s portrait.

“Sienna popped in while I was playing…”

“Uh-oh…”

“She’s just so…!”

“Kate, darling, sisters can be like that – even your aunt and I had our moments.  Just let it pass.”

“But you should hear the way she talks about him – our father.  I mean, I think he had to be awesome – this house; his music…”

“He was very much that and so much more.”

“And she got to have all that time with him that I never did.  And yet, every time she talks about him, she’s so…awful!“

“You misread your sister there, love.”

“Misread..?  How..?”

“Your sister was devoted to your father; she was totally ‘daddy’s girl’.”  Dorcas chuckled.  “I remember how she used to cling to his leg to ‘ride’ along wherever he went.  I’m surprised he ever got anything done.  But then, when he died, something in your sister died, too.  I think, in a way, she blamed him for being mortal, for letting himself be taken from her.”

Kate thought about this.

“The woman you know now is very different from the little girl I knew.  But perhaps someday…”

“Don’t hold your breath, mom.”

“Couldn’t if I tried, could I..?” Dorcas sighed.

“Oh, no, I suppose not.”

“I have to admit, I’m jealous, too – of the Talbots.  They’ve had seventeen years with you, watching you grow into the amazing young woman I’ve only just met.  I’d have traded a year of my short life, just to be able to hug you now…”

The door had blown open and the Kate heard the thundering rain outside.  She hopped up to close it, not noticing a tiny silver bee zooming out the door, just before she reached it.

 

By the next morning, the rain had stopped and the world Kate saw out her window had been repainted in a more saturated palette – the sky was a deeper blue; the foliage a lusher variety of greens.  And the vanishing mist sparkled on its way out.

By the time she’d showered and was heading down to breakfast, Kate was in a wonderful mood, totally forgetting the scene with her sister.

 

“Are you hungry, I could make some eggs.” her aunt said.

“I could eat a horse!”

“Would you settle for kippers..?”

“Yes, even kippers.”

“You should read the PROPHET,” Char said, getting up.  “But you won’t like it.”

Kate snatched the paper and scanned the headlines.  Yes, they’d made the front page, but…

 

STIX ATTACKED!

                                               Muggles in Diagon Alley!

                                               Several injuries reported!

                            Aurors following up lead on red-haired girl…

                                            Missing Horcrux implicated!

                                Minister to make major announcement…

 

“Injuries..?  Hah!” Char snorted.”

“Red-haired girl..?!  Kate – you were seen..?!” her aunt asked.

“Yes, Aunt G., I was seen, but…”  Kate rifled through the Prophet, “They don’t have a picture of me, and I used my British accent, so…”

“You can do a Brit accent,” Char asked.

Kate did her best Hermione impression:

            “And next time, ask me first, and naught as a last resort!”

Char’s face scrunched up.

“Well they bought it…” Kate said, defensively.

She flipped back to the front page, which had a very large picture of STIX and Dieter with several enchanted rings encircling his body, looking like a large pink caterpillar.

            “Still…” her aunt said.

“I know, I know…”

“If you won’t think about you, at least think about the Talbots…”

“Yes, all right..!”

Feeling the tension, Char rose and collected her plate and tea and mumbled an excuse about more things to unpack.  When she was gone, Gwynne addressed her niece:

“Right then, shifting gears, I was wondering, Kate, if you could help me out with something…”

“Hmm..?”

Kate was still engrossed in the Prophet.  Her aunt’s silence was deafening, so Kate set down the paper and looked at her.

“Thank you.  I’ve been working on two new formulations and I was rushing.  One was supposed to be a clear shampoo and one was supposed to be a blue dishwashing liquid.  But I put the blue in the shampoos, and…”

“I’m not sure I’ve got the skills for that.  Maybe Char..?”

“No, I’m sure you could handle it.  I found spells in your mother’s books that should do the trick.  They’re over on the counter.”

“And where are the bottles?”

“Back at my office – you could side-along me, unless you feel you aren’t up to that yet.”

“What if you splinch..?  I haven’t learned how to patch anyone up, though I should definitely put that at the top of my list…”

“I’ll trust in your ‘determination’ not to slice off a piece of your favorite aunt, no matter how cross you are with her at the moment.”

Kate went to reply, but her aunt held up her hand.

‘There’s the hand thing.  Is that a family trait?’ Kate wondered.

“Say in a half hour..?  Meanwhile, I think you should start your training with your mother.”

“My training…”

“Yes – on how to work her spell.”

“The Magicae Mortem…

“That’s the whole reason for retrieving her wand, isn’t it?”

“Yes.  Yes, I’ll go talk to her.”

Kate went back to reading.  But her aunt didn’t leave.

“The paper will still be there.”

“I’ll go talk to her now then.”

“Thank you.”

 

Kate took her breakfast into the great hall and sat facing her mother’s portrait.

“Oh good – company,” Dorcas said.  “I remember your aunt’s cooking.  No wonder she turned out to be such a fine potioner.”

“She wants you to train me on your spell – the Magic Killer.”

“Yes, great.”

“I’d rather hear more about dad, though.”

“We’ll have time for that, little one.  Do you have your wand..?”

“Which one – I have both with me..?”

“It doesn’t matter for the training, as only mine can cast it.”

“Oh right…  So where do we start..?”

 

Thirty minutes later, Kate had received thorough instruction on her mother’s signature spell – pronunciation and wrist movement.  She saw the ways in which her modified Protego shield charm had been a building block for the Magic Killer spell.  She also realized that a simple Switching Spell was at the core of it, too, except that you didn’t complete the second half; you didn’t put what you took out of the first thing and put it into something else.

“I think you’ve got it down.  When you recover my wand, I have every confidence you’ll know how to produce it.”

Kate was lost in thought, as she rolled Mad-Eye’s wand in her fingers.

“What is it, darling..?”

“I can’t help thinking, if…”

“If..?”

“If Sienna hadn’t taken your wand that day –“

“No, you mustn’t blame her; she was just a child.”

“But still…  I can’t stop wondering what my life might have been like…”

“You still wouldn’t have known your father.”

“No…true.  Would you tell me about him, mom..?”

“What would you like to know..?”

“Well, like, how did you meet?”

“We met at a pub, actually.  I’d been staying with a friend from school, Arabella, though everyone called her Belle.  And I’d just been sacked from my first job.”

“You – why would anyone sack you..?”

“I’m guessing it was because I blew up the place.”

“Blew up the place..?”

“I was trying out a new spell, you see – one that would simplify the way things had been done since the company started two hundred or so years earlier, but, well, it backfired – literally – so they sacked me.

“And there I was, broke and depressed, so Belle, dear, sweet Belle…”

“What..?”

“Oh, your aunt said she died at Havenhurst – she and her husband…  Anyway, she said she was kidnapping me and took me into the village to drink away my sorrows.  And I must tell you I was feeling no pain, when your father and his mates entered.

“They’d been playing rugby somewhere nearby, and oh – he looked so dashing, covered as he was in mud and scrapes, his hair all tousled.  I knew he had to be a Muggle, because, well, for one – wizards don’t play rugby and two, wizards are rather circumspect in Muggle pubs.”

“Had you ever considered dating Muggles before..?”

“I’d never thought about it.  I guess it just seemed easier to date within your purview, you know.  But then we caught eyes.  Well, how could anyone resist those eyes – so light and sparkling – they just drew you in.  Every time he smiled, they seemed to flash.

“They’re your eyes, Kate, exactly that color, but imagine them set in a lantern-jawed, unshaven face with these wooly-bear eyebrows and a swoop of dark waves that fell across his forehead.  I was quite smitten, but very determined not to let him see it.

“So we started talking and suddenly, it was like moving from a one-room studio into large house.  I was no longer alone in my head.  We had this instant back and forth.  I’d found another person who was as full of curiosity, as was I.  He knew so much about so many things – a lot of them Muggle things, that I admit I knew nothing about.  But he looked at the world in ways I’d never even thought of.  And I said right then, after only what – twenty minutes..?  I said to myself, ‘I’m going to marry this man!’  And six months later, I did.”

“But his mom –“

“Oh, his mother was horrified – ‘Who are her parents..!?’ she said.  ‘We know nothing about her!’  She was sure I was a fortune hunter and refused to come to the wedding.  Belle took over the hosting duties, as I certainly wasn’t going to have my parents do it.  But it turned out quite lovely – small, but lovely – and we were very happy for all too brief a time.  But at least, we had those years…”

“Can I ask you how did he..?”
“Die..?”  Kate nodded.  “Yes, well, he was on his way into town.  Your sister, well she was always in such a hurry – had to go play NOW, had to have her lolly NOW, and, had to be a witch NOW!  And, as I told you, she idolized your father and I think maybe wanted to impress him, to do the things I did that your father was constantly in awe of.  Which lead to her repeated demands for a wand.

“Of course, she wasn’t of age, but your father had asked his finish carpenter to make her one – cherry wood, with some chasings – runes, I think.  And, as I said, he was on his way into town, to pick it up, when…”

“The Death Eaters found him..?”

“I never knew for certain, but yes, I suppose it was Death Eaters – they’d been stalking the neighborhood, looking for me.”

Her mother stopped.

“Mom..?”

“He was very brave, your father – they used the Cruciatus curse on him, but he must have refused to give us up.”

Kate tried to bury it, but the thought was still there – her father’s death was at least somewhat Sienna’s fault.

 

A few minutes later, Kate managed to apparate with her aunt to the old gatehouse, which was now her aunt’s office/lab.  Kate followed her up the creaky stairs.

The office was piled high with books, bottles, scales and other paraphernalia of a potioner/formulator.  Kate made a quick scan of the entire room.

“Hey – isn’t this where the other end of the tunnel is?”  Her aunt nodded.  “So where’s the mirror..?”

“Over there, behind that pile of things I haven’t sorted in months and months,” her aunt said, as she laid down her purse.

“Do I have to push anything,” Kate asked, remembering the panel in her Aunt’s living room.

“No – just pull on the right side and it will open for us.”

Moving a number of file boxes, Kate saw a full-length mirror, with an ornately carved and gilded frame.

“You won’t see much.  As your mother said, it’s limitless space and total darkness, at least until you retrieve the Hand of Glory.”  Her aunt gave her a very serious look.           “Kate – you know that the Slytherin Day of Atonement is coming up very soon.  Have you made any progress in learning how to get into Malfoy Manor..?”

“I…no.  I thought Sienna –“

“How can I impress upon you how vital retrieving your mother’s wand is..?”

“But Sienna’s the one who’s actually been there.  How would I –“

“You’re the ringleader of her little band.  They’re all Slytherins, aren’t they..?  Surely one of them must have a connection…”

“Yes, Aunt Gwynne, you’re right.  I’ll ask around.”

“But you mustn’t let any of them know why!”

“No, of course not…”

“They’re Slytherins, after all.”

“I know, but… Well they don’t seem so bad to me.  In fact –“
“In fact..?!  The only fact you should remember about Slytherins, Kate is that they’re masters at disguising their motives, and their motives are always self-serving.  Regardless, you and your sister need to make obtaining that information your top priority.”

“Yes, Aunt Gwynne.”

Kate felt like Harry, when he’d let Dumbledore down, by failing to get Slughorn’s missing memory.  As her aunt busied herself, listening to messages on her machine,             Kate pulled on the side of the mirror and it swung forward.

She dared a quick look inside.  The totality of the darkness made her shiver.  It felt like she could shout into its void and the void would swallow it.  She shut the mirror – ‘Another time, but not now,’ she thought, returning to her aunt’s side.

“Now – here – I brought the books from Morrellayne, which have the applicable spells.”

After studying her mother’s books, Kate took out Mad-Eye’s wand and attempted the switching spells, pulling the blue out of the shampoos went off like a, well, like a charm, which it was.

Putting that blue into the dishwashing liquid proved to be more of a chore.  Kate had to go back to her mother’s transfiguration books a number of times before she got it to work, though she had to revert to saying the charm, instead of working it non-verbally.

“There – that’s done it,” her aunt said.

“It’s sort of similar to the Magicae Mortem spell.”

“Is it..?”

Her aunt packaged up the bottles.

“Now if you could load them up into your secret, expandable purse, we can be off.”

Kate started pushing the two boxes into the opening of her little purse, which swallowed them like a huge shopping bag.

“That’s one charm you’ve really -” her aunt stopped.

“I’ve really –“

Kate’s aunt slapped a hand over Kate’s mouth – dread in her face.

Kate listened – men’s voices – and they were coming nearer.  In fact, their heavy steps below the office could be heard pounding upward.

Her aunt pointed to the mirror and they rushed over.  Pulling it open, they ducked in and closed it behind them.

“Door’s unlocked,” a gruff man’s voice said.

Kate and her aunt watched two Defenders enter the lab.

“Look at this – lacewings – whoever lives here’s not a Muggle.  Do we have any record of a wizard or witch living at this address..?”

Kate heard a ruffling of pages and then another man spoke.

“No – nothing at this address…”

“Note that down and have Edwards check the main house and grounds – whoever it is might still be at home.  And Perkins – wand at the ready…”

“Yes, sir…”

Peering through the mirror, Kate saw the one man – Perkins – leave, but the other remained behind, rifling through her aunt’s notes.  Then he made a slow trip around the room, inspecting the lab equipment and bottles.

Finally, he stopped before the mirror.  Kate had to hold her hand over her mouth to keep from crying out, yet her aunt remained calm.  The man grabbed one edge and gave it a tug and then he tried the other edge.  When that didn’t pull away, he tried pushing against all the moldings.  Kate was sure he was about to expose them, but nothing happened and her aunt was actually smiling.  The man gave up and left the lab, closing the door behind him.

Even though the day wasn’t cold, Kate was shivering uncontrollably.

Her aunt noticed.

“We’ll have to thank your mother for thinking of charming the mirror, so that only those sharing her blood could enter.”

For that Kate was ever so grateful!

After waiting a moment to be certain no one was coming back up, Aunt Gwynne popped the mirror open.  Kate went to the window.  Down below, she saw a squad of four Defenders standing at the base of the stairs.

“Do you think they knew we were here somehow..?”

“Possibly…  But I think it’s more likely they’ve been checking the neighborhood.”

“That was my fault, for naming the town where you live, wasn’t it..?”

“What’s done is done.  It was my fault as well, for not telling you more.  I just worried that…”

“That I’d be freaked out…”  Her aunt nodded.  “Do you think they’ll keep tabs on this place, now that they’ve seen your lab..?”

“Most likely – we’ll have to find a way to meet up with the Talbots away from here.”

“But would you be safe, still living here, I mean..?”

“Oh, I think so – I’m not the Missing Horcrux, am I..?”

“Good point…”

Her aunt took another look below.  It appeared as though one Defender was being left behind.

“It doesn’t look like they’ll be leaving soon, so we should disapparate from up here.”

“But they’ll hear the POP, won’t they?” Kate asked.

“No, I don’t think they’ll be hearing anything,” her aunt said, crossing to the door, with a smile.

Next to the door was an alarm system.

“Get ready.”

Her aunt pushed a red button and it blasted out a repeated bleating.  Down below, the Defender covered his ears in terror, turning this way and that.  Kate smiled, as she took her Aunt’s hand and they POP-ed out.

 

Arriving in one piece back at the bottom of Morrellayne’s entrance, Kate made a sign to her aunt to stay silent.  After they’d entered the estate and the hedge had reformed, she explained.

“Phin might be up in the trees, listening.”

“Good thinking that.”

“So…if they did – install something that tipped them off we were there – how are we going to –“

“Retrieve the wand..?”  Kate nodded.  “Yes, we’ll have to work that out, but first things first:  We should go into town and call your family straight away, to tell them not to meet us there.”

“Right – so where then..?”

“Well, here, at Morrellayne, since it has the Fidelius.”

“Right… Wait – wouldn’t they have to have a written thing from –“

“We’ll go into town I can send a facsimile to their hotel.”

“Good, but –“

“What..?”

“How will we explain Morrellayne to them..?”

“Right…  We’ll have to sort that out – we have a week – remind me to remind you…”

Kate nodded and they climbed the hill to home.

 

After Kate had unpacked her aunt’s shampoos, she went out to the studio.  Char was busy creating tiny squirrels that Sherry chased.

On the lab table were packages of her flu powder, in attractive tins, tied with ribbon and topped with a bow.  She looked up, as Kate came in.

“You looked flushed.”

“Just got back from my aunt’s – there were Defenders there looking for me.  We just barely escaped.”

“Defenders..?!  But how would they know where to look?”

Kate told her about her loose lips, the day she’s bought her wand.

            “I have no idea how we got away – I mean, one second they were just about to take us away, and the next they were just standing there –“

Confunded,” Char said.

“Well yes, now that I know what that looks like, but…”

“It was Emma – she saw what was happening through the window of Stix.  Sienna said we were Slytherins and therefore shouldn’t get involved, but Emma stepped up and shot Confunding spells at each of them.”

“Oh, and I never knew.  She really is so…”

“Un-Slytherin..?”

“And you, too.”

“I take that as a compliment, but don’t mention it to Emma; I don’t think she’d want you to make a fuss.  Now, about your aunt’s place – there must be lots of witches in Sedgewick, perhaps they don’t know it’s hers.”

“Let’s hope.”

 

Half an hour later, Kate and her aunt were riding in the Jag, heading down into Ulswater.  They parked on a street a couple blocks up from the lake.

Kate imagined her parents walking beside her, the lake dancing ahead of them, as they headed to a late lunch on the water.  Her reverie ended as her aunt stopped in front of the mail house.

“I should only be a few minutes.  There’s a tourist shop over there, if you’d like to buy some souvenirs.  It’s too bad we didn’t think of that when we were in Diagon Alley, as the Talbots still believe you’ve been doing the Harry Potter grand tour.  Do you need money..?”

Kate nodded and her aunt doled out some pound notes.

“That’s right – the money..!  We’ve been so busy, we haven’t gotten in to see your father’s lawyer, to settle your part of the estate.  After I finish sending the facsimile, we can stop in and see if she has some time.”  Kate nodded.  “Oh buck up – you’re a peer of the realm and about to come into a fortune, and you’re acting like…like –“

“A teenager being hunted by fang-wielding goons..?”

“Yes, there’s that…”

 

“Ulswater Landing” was indeed the place to buy everything “Ulswater” – clothing, posters, blankets…  Kate half expected them to sell those, “My sister went to Ulswater and all I got was this lousy T-shirt” shirts.

But knowing that nothing she picked out here would suit Kara, she decided to shop for her brothers.  In the clothing section, she picked up a green T-shirt, but wasn’t sure if was Men’s or Women’s.  As she was checking to see, a passing clerk said:

“Now that would be a lovely color on you, dear, what with your red hair…  Green’s always a good choice for gingers.  Go on – check it out for yourself.  There’s a mirror over there.”

Kate obediently went to the mirror.  Out of the corner of her eye, she saw a young girl wearing a baseball cap, probably no older than six watching her.

Standing before a tri-fold mirror, Kate’s eyes wouldn’t focus.  So lost in thought was she that she wasn’t aware the little girl had come to stand beside her, until she felt a tugging on her jeans.  Kate looked down.

“Are you a witch, too..?” the little girl whispered.

Kate pulled back, nervously.  The little girl pointed to the inch and a half of Kate’s ringed wand sticking out from her pocket.

“Are you..?” Kate asked, making her best attempt at a smile.

Kate wondered if the little girl was magical, or simply a Muggle playing Harry Potter.  The idea that she’d been that Muggle, just a week before, seemed impossible.  The little girl looked around, as though to make sure they were alone and then nodded.

“My mommy’s one, too actually,” she said, pointing to a woman, who also wore a hat – a big straw sunhat that covered her hair.  “We’re here to hide, ‘cause it t’isn’t safe for us.”

“Not safe..?  I don’t understand.”

“Because we’re gingers like you…”

That told Kate this wasn’t a Muggle at play.

“But you’re safe here, aren’t you?  It’s a Muggle town,” Kate said.

The girl looked around again and then pulled Kate down to her.

“Can I ask you a something?”  Kate nodded.  “Are you the Missing Corcrush..?”

“Am I the…?”  The girl nodded.  “Why – do I look scary..?”

“My mommy said the Missing Corcrush has red hair like us and we’re not ever going to be safe, because of her.”

Kate sank to the girl’s level and looked in her face, searching.

“Sweetheart, if the Missing Horcrux was real, I’m sure she would never do anything to hurt you, or your mummy.”

“You promise..?”

Kate nodded and the girl drew close and hugged her.  Kate’s eyes teared up, as she rocked her gently in her arms.  At that moment, she truly wished either of her mothers were there to rock her, too.

 

Aunt Gwynne was waiting outside the store for Kate.

“You didn’t find anything..?”  Her aunt took a closer look at her niece.  “Kate – what’s wrong..?”

Kate just shook her head.

“You said something about a lawyer..?”

“Oh, yes.  Ms. Dunham is just up the street…  Are you sure, you’re okay..?”

“Just…this morning…”

“Perfectly understandable…  This way…  I hope she’s available.  I should have set up an appointment, but the morning’s been…”

“It sure has..!  I’m just glad we had each other,” Kate said.

And for the first time, Aunt Gwynne put her arm around Kate and Kate put hers around her aunt, and they walked like that down the street.

 

At the offices of Dunham & Kirk, an assistant ushered them into a small, book-lined office.  Behind the desk, a thin, dark-haired woman, wearing a tweed suit, despite the summer warmth, rose and strode out to shake their hands.

“Edwina Dunham, and you’re Mrs…”

“Talbot…”

“Yes, yes – Mrs. Talbot.  You’re the executor of the Meadowes estate, if I remember correctly.”  Aunt Gwynne nodded.  “It’s been a while, hasn’t it..?”

“It has…”

“You’re lucky you caught me in.  I had an appointment, but they just cancelled – summer cold – seems to be going around.  So how can I help..?  Is your niece looking for another extension on her trust..?”

Ms. Dunham looked to Kate, as though she’d been naughty with her spending habits.

“No, if you remember, there were two daughters in the trust.  This is Colin’s second daughter, Katharine Meadowes…”

“Katharine Meadowes..?” Ms. Dunham repeated.

And then Ms. Dunham’s face went blank for a moment.  Kate noticed immediately.  She looked to her aunt.

“Yes, that’s what I said,” her aunt prompted.

But then the blank look left Ms. Dunham’s face and she smiled.

“Silly me,” she said, looking at her watch, “I totally forgot I booked a hair appointment for – golly – ten minutes from now!  Uhm, tell you what though, I could stop by your place on my way home.”

“At our house..?” Aunt Gwynne asked.

“Yes, if you could just write down the address for me…”

Ms. Dunham grabbed pen and paper and set it in front of Aunt Gwynne.       Kate stood up.  Something was not right, couldn’t her aunt see it?  Her aunt did.

“Perhaps we should just make an appointment and come back at some more convenient time,” Aunt Gwynne said, rising.

“Are you sure – it really wouldn’t be a bother at’all.”

“Quite sure,” Aunt Gwynne said and she and Kate withdrew quickly.

 

On the way home, Kate noticed her aunt kept glancing in the rear view mirror.

“You don’t think –“ Kate started.

“Better safe than very sorry,” her aunt said.

“Her face going blank like that…  You don’t think she was Imperius-ed, do you..?  That’d be scary.”

“Scary, but all too possible…”

“It’s been a day of scary things,” Kate said shivering.

Despite the warmth of the late afternoon sun, she rolled up the window, as her aunt hit the gas and the Jag leapt forward.

 

 


 

CHAPTER 20

 

“THE MINI-PROPHET”

 

“Remember you said you wanted to go to a library to research things..?” Char asked, when Kate and her aunt returned.  “Kate..?”

Kate was standing in the doorway to the studio, scanning the sky above, for what, she wasn’t sure.

“Sorry – what..?”

“You said you wanted to do research…”

“Yes…”

“Well while you were out, I popped in to see George and he reminded me his cousin, Alphie is related to the editor of the Prophet.”

“…The Prophet..?”

“Yes, well a newspaper keeps files on everything, doesn’t it..?”

“But the Prophet’s on their side.  Do you really think they’d open their files to us?”

“No… Besides which, Regina had all their files that weren’t in ‘compliance’ expunged.”

“Regina..?”

“Regina Quackenbush – she’s the Under-Secretary of Compliance.”

Char used “air quotes” around the word, “compliance.”

“I thought women were barred from senior level positions in the Ministry.”

“Regina is the only exception.”

“Okay, so what good would meeting with this whoever do us..?”

“Eldric, Eldric Wordsworth –“

“Eldric Wordsworth..?  ‘Wordsworth’ – really..?”

“Yes – Wordsworth – why..?”

A wry smile came to Kate’s face.

“I, well I just thought Jo was making up all those names, you know, like…like ‘Libatious Borage,’ Potions author.”

“No, that was actually his name.  Anyway, according to Alphie, Mr. Wordsworth made secret copies of the Prophet’s files before Quackenbush destroyed the originals.”

“And you could get me in to see him?”

“I think, but I have to warn you, Aphie says he’s beyond a recluse, a complete hermit with a paranoid fear of strangers, which is totally understandable.”

“It is..?  Why..?”

“The Ministry raids his home every time he writes a letter to the Prophet, criticizing them.”

“But they’re already leaning on the Prophet, why wouldn’t they just tell them not to run his letters..?”

“That’s the part you’ll like – he’s figured out a way to insert his letters, despite their censorship.  So that’s worth a visit, isn’t it..?”

“It is..!”

“Good!  Then I’ll get in touch with George and ask him to set it up.”

“Please!”

 

Another day came and Kate greeted it with mixed emotions.  On the one hand, the magical world was starting to feel seriously overwhelming.  On the other hand, she was about to do something she loved.  She was going to research history, and magical history at that!

After breakfast (and this time she remembered to help her aunt with the dishes, a task she had to do by hand), she met Char in the great hall.

“Good – we should be off to meet Alphie,” Char said.

“Running off again?” her mother asked.
“We’re going to Eldric Wordsworth’s –“

“The editor of The Prophet..?”

“Former editor mom – they forced him out.”

“Worse and worse…  I hate to sound morbid, but I’m almost glad I’m dead.”

 

Kate and Char apparated to a bucolic country lane, where they met Alphie Weasley, George’s first cousin.

‘Definitely a Weasley,’ Kate thought, as Alphie was tall with bright red hair.

Off to the side, down at the edge of a stream, was a picturesque cottage, complete with thatched roof and geraniums in the window boxes.

‘Richard Kincaid,’ was Kate’s thought, but then she remembered Phin’s quote about Havens Hollow – “Infested with quaint.”  ‘How could this be the house of a paranoid hermit – it was so inviting?’

Kate started to move to the whitewashed gate.

“Stop..!” Alphie called out.

“Oh, is there some bell or..?”

“No – anti-intruder charms.”

“Really..?  Why didn’t he just throw a Fidelius on it?”

“I think he enjoys springing his traps on intruders.”

Alphie stepped forward and yanked on a large lily growing next to the gate.  It extended up until it neared his mouth.  He spoke loudly into it.

“Cousin Eldric..?  Cousin Eldric..?  It’s me – Alphie Weasley…”

Alphie turned to Char and Kate.

“He takes long naps twice a day and he’s a little deaf, so –“

“DEAF am I..?!” a voice shouted through the lily, which actually expanded, like a cartoon megaphone.  Alphie jumped back.

“What do you want..!?”

“It’s Alphie Weasley – remember – I sent an owl…“

“Remember..?  Of course, I remember.  I’m not senile you…you… Whatever…  Come in, but mind you stay on the path!  And you’d better be quick about plucking the apples.”

“Apples..?”

“For the lads – one for each – they won’t share!”

“Okay…”

Kate mouthed the words, “The Lads” to Char, who shrugged.  They had no problem letting Alphie enter first.  He made a quick dash to the nearby apple tree and plucked one, then leaped for another, as a ferocious howling erupted from behind a hedge on the far side of the yard.

Kate’s eyes grew wide in shock, as she saw two animals plunge through the brush, furiously pounding their way towards Alphie.  They were like nothing Kate had ever seen before, nor read about in the Potter books.  They had hard-shelled bellies like a lobster’s back, but backs as furry as an unsheared llama.  Their faces seemed to be all wild pink eyes and double rows of jagged teeth.  And their paws looked like the blades of a combine.

And yet, as soon as Alphie tossed them their apples, their claws receded, their teeth withdrew and they looked like nothing more than a pair of squat-faced sheep dogs, sitting there, munching their apples.  Well, all except for the neon pink eyes.

“Latvian Arkabarks,” Alphie explained.  “Now watch yourself – he’s serious – do not stray from the path.  Those shrubs along the border – Tasmanian ‘Quiverbushes’…”

“’Quiverbushes’..?” Kate asked, seeing what looked like nicely trimmed bushes, maybe something in the juniper family.

“One touch and they shoot two-inch thorns into you.  Oh, and the pond’s filled with Grindylows.”

Kate held her breath, with arms tucked in, as she and Char made their way gingerly towards the front door.  The cheery “WELCOME” sign seemed rather hypocritical.

“Tongue in cheek, no doubt,” Char said.

They were met by a tall, very thin man, with wavy gray hair worn in a long ponytail.  He had “mutton chop” sideburns and octagonal wire-rims.

He stood in the doorway, but didn’t step aside to let them in.  Instead, he fixed one after the other with a hard, appraising stare.  Looking at Alphie, he said:

“You’re a Weasley all right,” and let him pass.  Then he looked at Char.  “And this – this is George’s girl..?”

“No, I’m his girl friend, Mr. Wordsworth.”

“I didn’t think you were his daughter.”  And then he looked at Kate.  “And who’s this – red hair – another Weasley..?”

“No, Mr. Wordsworth, I’m…Kate, Kate Talbot.”
“Talbot..?  I don’t know of any Talbots.  Who are you related to..?”

“She’s –“ Char started.

“Dorcas Meadowes…” Kate said, bravely, or maybe brashly.

The old man adjusted his spectacles and took a closer look at Kate.  He nodded.

“Ah, and you’d be her youngest daughter, I’ll bet, alleged ‘Missing Horcrux’ and all that nonsense.”

“So you don’t believe it..?” Kate asked, excited.

“Course not – knew it was cobblers right off – WHO? WHAT? WHEN? WHERE? HOW?  And WHO STANDS THE MOST TO GAIN..?, is what I always told my reporters.  None of the particulars fit that tale.  Well come in then, don’t just stand there, slack-jawed and arms akimbo!”

They entered, but Kate saw him throw a cautionary glance in all directions outside, before closing the door.

Looking around the room, Kate got her first look at a real “Sneakoscope,” in fact, many Sneakoscopes.  A smallish dog came trotting in, its untrimmed fur and generous feedings made it resemble a furry donut.

“That’s Frida – least menacing thing here, the fat lump.  Duffest excuse for a guard dog ever.”

Frida stood on her hind legs, her front paws leaning against his thigh.  He stroked her affectionately.

“So… I understand this one,” he said, referring to Kate, “Wants to do some research.”

“Yes,” Kate said.

“Fine – then you other two be gone; crowded enough in here as it is.”

Char looked to Alphie and they made their way back to the door.  Char turned back.

“Uhm, if you need me…”

“Bah – go.  And if you see George’s mum, tell her I want my book back!”

“I – I will, Mr. –“

But Eldric just waved her out the door.  A DING made Kate think that maybe Phin had send her a message, but as she started for her secret pocket, Eldric opened the lid to his stove and pulled out a pan of cookies.  He brought them over to Kate.

“I warn you, they’re hot.  So let them cool a bit, but not too much.  They’re best eaten while the chocolate’s still melty.  Now, young Horcrux, what is it you want to know?”

“I brought a list, actually – I hope it’s not too much…” Kate said, pulling out a piece of paper.  She handed it to Eldric.

“Do I look like a man whose time is at a premium..?”

“Uhm…”

“The sad answer would be ‘no’.”

He perused the list, with a non-committal expression.  Then he looked up to her and nodded.

“Should all be in there…  Come…” he said, as he pushed on the chair arms to help himself up, with a groan.

Kate looked around – where were they going?

Eldric took a few steps over to a shelf.  Among various awards and photos, was a miniature of a building.

“Here we are.”  Frida trotted along after him.  “No, you’re not coming – go take a nap.  And keep out of the cookies – they’re not for you!”

Frida looked up to him, and, under his continued glare, retreated to her bed, curled up in it, but her eyes remained on Eldric.

“We’ll be back, don’t worry.”

“Uh, where are we going?” Kate asked, looking around.

“In here,” Eldric said, pulling open the tiny door at the front of the miniature building.

Before Kate could say anything, Eldric had taken her hand, while pushing his little finger inside the doorway.  WHOOSH!  Eldric and then Kate swiftly shrunk to the size of a pea and were sucked inside the building.

Looking around, Kate saw they were now inside a working newsroom, minus the staff.

“Are we..?”

“Yes…  I didn’t want to leave the Prophet – they forced me out.  So on my last day, I simply made a copy of it and took it with me – Compression charm.”

“You made a copy of the whole building..?!”

“I did,” Eldric said, proudly.

“Mr. Wordsworth,” Kate exclaimed, in awe, “That is ginormous magic!”

“Yes,” he replied proudly, “And it works, too.”

He flicked his wand and all the lights came up.

“Now, let’s start with the first item on your list…what was it..?  Oh, right – Prophecies – over here, I think.”  He led Kate past the presses and various copy desks, over to a wall of file cabinets.  “Here we go – they’re alphabetical, but simpler to use a wand.”

Kate looked to him – a question on her face.

“How do I work it – should I ask for Prophecies made by Sibyll; or ones made about me, or..?”

“Try Sibyll Trelawney first; she’s only made a few, well, a few that weren’t rubbish.”

Kate nodded, a large smile spreading across her face.  This was historical research!  This is what she loved!

“Files on Sibyll Trelawney Prophecies…”

Indeed, it was a very slim file that flew out of the cabinet.  Kate caught it.

“I’ll leave you to it, then.  If you need me, I’ll be up in my office,” he said, pointing to an eagle’s nest above the main floor.  “Nice to see someone still has a curious nature; too many sleeping sheep out there.  Anyway, my latest letter to the editor is waiting to be written.”

“Really..?  Will I be able to read it in tomorrow’s Prophet.”  Eldric nodded, with a sly smile.  “Char said you know how to insert things into the Prophet – things they wouldn’t want included.”

“And she’d be right.  You come up with something newsworthy and I’ll show you how I do it.”

“You would..?”

“That’s a promise and I don’t make promises lightly.  Now get to work, young lady; time’s flying.”

He made for the stairs, groaning with each step he took upward.

Kate flipped through the file – there were just four listings:

 

          H.Potter & Voldemort – (Retrieved and verified)

          Barrett Winyard – (Retrieved / Unrevealed)

          Mulgretha Caerick & Heirs – (Retrieved / Revealed & Reported)

          2nd Daughter of Dorcas Meadowes & Fearghas MacAra – (Unretrieved)

 

            Kate noted that someone had scribbled underneath her listing:

 

“No corroborating witnesses / Medium not conscious at time of prediction.”

 

‘Unretrieved,’ Kate read it again.  To say she was disappointed would be an understatement.  Going back to the cabinet, she refiled the volume, making sure not to put it in the wrong order.

‘It doesn’t even say what the prediction said,’ Kate thought, but she noted down the date of the prediction, to create a time-line.  ‘Maybe the papers after that date mention the “what”.’

Then Kate started noting down when the Missing Horcrux was first mentioned; when the law restricting women’s wands passed; how was Jo’s breaking of the Statute of Secrecy dealt with..?  It was exhausting and also very frustrating.

“If only all of this was on a computer..!”

Kate wondered how long she’d been at this..?  Checking her watch she saw that she that it was getting late – she should be getting back soon.

Kate looked up to Eldric’s office.  Should she let him work..?  Should she slip out..?  Was there a process for doing that..?  What if she goofed and splinched, or whatever happens when you decompress improperly..?

But before she could resolve any of her questions, she heard (with relief) Eldric calling out from the railing outside his office:

“All done for the day..?”

“Yes.”

“Did you find what you want..?”

“No – I found the date of the prediction Sibyll supposedly made about me, but there wasn’t anything about what was said.”

“Yes, convenient that, eh..?  No witnesses, just him…  Not a full hamper of dirty laundry, is it..?”

“Actually, I thought it would be really interesting to see when that happened, then match it against when J.K.’s books first mentioned me, and then log the whole chronology of the laws that were passed based on that lie, plus…”

“Plus..?”

“What I want to know is, why didn’t any of the women – women in the Ministry, women responsible for governing stand up against those laws.”

“They did – powerful group they were, too.  Called themselves… Well now what was it they called themselves – been so long…  They’d formed a society – named after some middle ages witch.  I think she was famous for killing all of her husbands.  But I’ll be Stupefied if I can remember her name…”

“If it comes to you, I’d like to research it.”

“Young lady – if only I’d had a handful of reporters like you, I could have…  Well, could have, should have… What’s important is now.  Come back tomorrow and I’ll help you sort all of that out, plus more,” he said with a twinkle that implied there were angles or events Kate hadn’t even thought of.

This was exhilarating!  Kate had never kissed anyone other than her dad, but she stood on her tiptoes and gave Eldric a quick peck on his cheek and she was pretty sure Eldric blushed, though he turned quickly away.

“How do we get out..?”

“Really simple, if you know the trick – you just open the door and then leap through it.  Mind you don’t dawdle – you don’t want to start expanding before you’re completely out.  Did that once and had a crease in my forehead that didn’t go away for weeks.”

 

Kate apparated back to Morrellayne, as the sun was winking on the water below.  A dancing breeze thrilled around her, filling her hair and caressing her arms.  She was home!  Even the grass beneath her feet seemed to reassure her of this, cushioning all of her burdens.

She paused to take in the view.  If she was to return to Cooperton in less than a week, she wanted to remember every tree, every hillock in this glorious setting that her father had picked out and arranged just so.

On her way back in, she stopped in the studio, where she told Char all about what had happened at Eldric’s.

Just about to leave, Kate saw one of Char’s Flu Powder packages and picked it up.

“Beautiful packaging, Char…”
“Leigh’s doing…”

“Leigh..?  Really..?”

“She was going to be an interior designer, but…”

“But she’s a Slytherin, so nobody would hire her…“

Char nodded, as Kate turned the little box around in her palm, it hit her.

“WHOA!” Kate exclaimed.

“What..?”

“I have got a freakin’ awesome idea!  Come on – we’ve gotta go see Emma and the others!”

Emma pulled out her “compact.”

“Should I call all of the DOB’s..?”

“But not Sienna,” Kate said.

“We’re leaving her out..?”
“Definitely..!  This is about our raid on the Ministry and if she’s that tight with –“

“Uncle Fergie – right that!  Minus Sienna it is.”

 

“So you wanted to show us something..?” Emma asked.

She, Leigh and Randi were waiting for them on the terrace at Emma’s.

“Show them your flu powder, Char.”

Char got out the little box and passed it to Emma.

“Yes, the packaging’s very nice,” Emma said, as she passed it on to Randi.

“Thank you, Ems,” Leigh said.

“For what..?” Emma asked.

“Leigh designed it, Emma,” Char said.

“But what does that have to do with our plans for the Ministry..?”

Tootie was serving them scones and tea, dressed in a Hawaiian grass skirt, with a long black wig hanging over the places a bikini top would cover.

“Well, it has to do with your Reggie,” Kate said.

“He’s hardly ‘my Reggie’ anymore, is he..?”

“You said he works in the Flu Network..?”

Emma nodded, confused.

“Well Char invented this flu powder, which keeps you from getting mucked up with ash when you use the Network.  She was hoping to pitch it to Reggie, but…”

“But we’re not exactly on speaking terms anymore.”

“No, but it got me to thinking…”

“I can tell this is going to be juicy,” Randi said, pulling her chair closer.

“Okay, so remember Tavvie telling us that only senior level men can use the Flu Network to get into the Ministry..?”  Emma nodded.

“Twits…” Randi noted.

“Right, so what if – what if that powder was doped with a spell that affected every man who used the Flue Network to enter the Ministry, while leaving all the underlings unaffected..?”

“Affect them how..?” Leigh asked.

“In a way that would totally embarrass Reggie, the – what is he, Ems..?”

“The Under-Secretary of the…”  Emma’s eyes lit up, “Of the Flu Network!  Oh, but K., darling, you do mean just ‘embarrass,’ don’t you.  I would hate to see Reggie get sacked.”

“What..?!” Randi cried.  “After the way he treated you..?!”

“Yes, I know, but…”

“Emma, you can’t still love him..?” Leigh asked.

Emma looked around at them all, afraid to deny it, but…

“Emma..!” Tavvie said, “Tell me you wouldn’t want to see him get his comeuppance, just a little bit..?”

“All right, yes – just a bit,” then Emma realized, “Oh, but we’d need a way to connect you with him, and that couldn’t be me anymore.”

“Doesn’t he always hit Splosh before work..?” Leigh asked.

“Splosh..?” Kate asked, bewildered.

“I call it the ‘Sleazy Susan’,” Randi confided.

“He’s religious about it,” Emma said, “They have his Earl Grey with sweet limes waiting, each day at eight.”

“Then that’s settled – K. will seduce him at Splosh,” Leigh said.

“Excuse me..?” Kate said, choking on her tea.

“Well it couldn’t be any of us – he knows all of us,” Randi explained.

Leigh gave Kate a very critical once-over.

“You’d have to be blonde – he – he does very like blondes,” Emma noted, quietly.

“And we’ll definitely have to take you shopping – those clothes will never do,” Leigh said, as though affronted.
“Not just the clothes!  She needs a head-to-toe makeover,” Randi added.

“Head to toe..?” Kate asked, fearfully.

“Definitely,” the others agreed.

“Uhm…okay, but first – can we revisit the ‘seduction’ part…“

 

 

 


 

CHAPTER 21

 

“PLAYING DRESS-UP”

 

Kate rushed through breakfast and was drumming her fingers on the dining room table when her compact BUZZed.  Kate rushed to open it.

 

Big day ahead.  Be ready in ½ hr.

                                                        – Leigh & Randi –

 

“Is that from Phin..?” her aunt asked, as she passed through.

“No – it’s the gang.  They want to take me shopping.  They think my wardrobe – and me in general – needs a transformation.”

“I think Randi actually said your wardrobe needs incinerating,” Char said, as she entered, her plate loaded.

“Where are they taking you..?  Do you need money?”

“Yeah – didn’t think of that.”

“Are you going to Muggle shops or Magical..?”

“I don’t know – it’s some place called Bond Street.”

“Muggle,” Char said.

“Yes, Muggle and quite tony, so I’ll give you my charge card…”

“But I don’t want to run up your charge.”

“You’re good for it, ‘Lady Meadowes’.  Which reminds me – Imperius or not, we should find a way for you to access your trust…while you’re still a free woman, instead of a prisoner in Azkaban,” she added, lowly.

 

Kate met Leigh at Emma’s, as she had no idea how to apparate into a Muggle street without popping right into a bunch of Muggles.

Emma met them at the door, but was still in a dressing robe.

“Aren’t you coming with..?” Kate asked.

“No, but you’re in good hands with Leigh and Randi,” she said.

Leigh checked her watch.

“Ooops – I told Randi we’d meet her ten-ish, so we should just make it, though she’s usually late.”

 

POP – Leigh had apparated Kate into an alley, just steps back from the street.  Randi popped in almost right on top of them.  The three of them moved from the dark alley onto the street.

Looking around, Kate felt immediately intimidated.  Bond Street was more than a “Fifth Avenue,” or “Rodeo Drive,” as the edifices of the centuries old buildings, weren’t just elegant facades.  They reeked of authenticity and pedigree; Kate half-expected men in gilded livery and white gloves to be opening the doors.

“My aunt said these are all Muggle shops.”  Leigh nodded.  “Don’t they have clothing shops in –“

“A few, but these are better,” Leigh said.

“Besides,” Randi added, “The bitches in the witchy places pretend they don’t see us.”

“What..?  Why..?”
“As soon as they spot the green arm bands they ignore us,” Leigh said.

“Or worse…”

“Worse..?”

“One actually spit on me,” Randi said.

 

All this and more swirled through Kate’s head, as she wriggled into the first outfit.

“Come on out, let’s see,” Randi shouted through the door.

Kate was inside a dressing room (which was an actual, poshly-decorated room), in a Bond Street store.  There were mirrors everywhere, but she was too embarrassed to look.

“Let me get the shoes on,” she called out.

But that proved to be a bit of a task.

‘Well, I’m no worse than Kara,’ Kate thought, as she tried to master 4-inch heels on plush carpeting.  Opening the door, she tried to pull down the hem of the tight, shiny dress Randi had picked out.

Kate came out to the viewing room, wishing that it didn’t face the street, especially with such a large picture window.

“No!” Leigh proclaimed immediately.

“What..?  I think it’s ace,” Randi said.

“Yes, if she was trying to bag a bloke in a club.  This is scones and Earl Grey.  They’d think her a strumpet dragging in from a hit-n-run.” Randi shrugged.  “K. – go try on the knit one I picked out.”

Relieved, Kate retreated quickly to the dressing room.

Leigh’s cream-colored pick was short, like Randi’s choice, and form-fitting, but she didn’t feel like she was about to pop out of it.  Plus, the collar was high and the sleeves long.  Trading the high-high heels for lower ones, she looked in the mirror.

The dress reminded her of someone, but she couldn’t think who.  ‘Certainly no one I know, or could even pretend to be,’ she thought.

She opened the door and went to show the others.

“Yes, that’s the one,” Leigh said.  “But…you’ll need a coat…”

Leigh searched the racks and picked out a long, button-less, seal-colored coat that shimmered with bronze highlights that contrasted with its platinum-colored lining.

“If she wears her hair up…” Leigh said, while twisting Kate’s waves upward.

“A little too Grace Kelley,” Randi said.

“But that’s just Reggie’s type.”

Seeing her hair up in the mirror, Kate blurted out:

“BASIC INSTINCT..!”

“Well it is, for him,” Leigh said.

“No – the movie, BASIC INSTINCT – this is what Sharon… Oh, you don’t watch movies, do you..?“

Randi looked to Leigh.  They both shook their heads.

“She was a psychopathic killer…”

“Well you are the Seed of He Who must not be named,“ Randi teased.

Kate checked her appearance again and frowned.

“You’re not happy, K.  What is it..?” Leigh asked.

“It’s just…well it’s just that I feel like a baby gazelle, except, instead of hiding in the grass, I’m sort of standing up – on wobbly legs, no less – and saying, ‘Here I am lion, come get me’!”

“Exactly, except the poor git doesn’t realize you’re actually bagging him.” Randi said.

“But wouldn’t it just be easier to, you know, approach him on a technical level and tell him why Char’s flu powder is so right for him.”

“Oh yes, guys like Reggie are just hot for ‘tech’ – especially when they’re beating off a couple dozen glam birds all vying for his fancy,” Randi scoffed.

“Maybe you’d like us to help you pick out a lab coat and some thick glasses..?” Leigh added.

“Well…”

“K., you’ve got to face reality.  Men in our world hold all the power – they hold all the Ministry posts; they have the big-boy wands.”

The end of this last remark quickly fell to a whisper in Leigh’s mouth, as a saleswoman entered the room.

“Did Miss find anything -“

“OUT!” Leigh and Randi shouted in unison, and the woman fled.

Leigh took hold of Kate’s shoulders and looked directly into her eyes.

“The only power we, as women hold over them is their desire for us.  Yes, it feels demeaning, but it’s immediate and reliable, and you’ve got to exploit it.”

“Find your inner lioness, K.” Randi said, goading her.

“…More like country mouse,” Kate mumbled.

“Well, come, mouse – it’s time to turn you into a killer.”

Leigh turned to Randi.

“What time does that thing start..?”
“Seven-ish…”

“Good – then we’ve got time to put together a few more outfits and still attend to hair and make-up, before the party.”

“Party – what party?” Kate asked.

“The one we’re all going to,” Randi said.

“Oh, I don’t know.  I think I just want to rest up and…”

“No, you absolutely have to go,” Leigh said, flatly.

“Why..?”
“You have to test out your new skills.”
“Yes, luv – you’re like a kid who’s just been given her first broom – you can’t play Quidditch, if you can’t maneuver the broom,” Randi said.

“There’ll be lots of men for you to test your new…’equipment’ on.”

“No, I’m terrible at parties.  I’m the girl who stands in front of the table with all the snacks, feeding my face, so I don’t have to talk to anyone.”

“But you’ll want to go to this one,” Randi said, smiling.

“I will..?  Why..?”

“Because – you’re the big Potter freak, aren’t you..?”

“Harry Potter’s going to be there..?!”

“No, it’s just for Slytherins.”

“Then..?”

“It’s being held at Malfoy Manor – that was in the books, wasn’t it..?”

Kate’s face lit up – could this be her entree, or at least a foot in the door to getting the Hand of Glory?

“I think that sold her,” Randi said.  Leigh nodded in agreement.

“Now the three of us have to work on Emma.”

“Why, doesn’t she want to go..?”

Leigh looked to Randi, who just shook her head.

 

POP – Kate suddenly appeared before the wall of hedge, masking Morrellayne’s gate.  A jostle in the trees on the far side of the road made her spin around, as she whipped out her wand.

Narrowing her gaze, she searched the dense baskets of foliage, but could see nothing.  Just about to write it off as an overactive squirrel, she caught sight of a square of paper floating downward.

Accio,” she said, and the paper flew to her hand – a Chocolate Frog wrapper.  ‘Not a squirrel,’ Kate thought, ‘…but possibly a “weasel” – a weasel named Phin.’

She pocketed the wrapper and entered the opening in the hedge.  Waiting until it was again sealed, she started up the drive.

Before she went in, Kate went out back to show Char her purchases.

“Very posh,” was Char’s judgement.

Kate pulled all of their purchases out of her secret pocket and held up one of them.

“I’m wearing this one this evening, for some party Leigh, Randi, and I think Emma are going to.

“Oh, I know – it’s the annual fundraiser.”

“Are you going..?”

“No, uhm, actually, I have a date with George, and he wouldn’t want to go, and the Slytherins wouldn’t really like him being there, so you’ll have to let me know all about it, when you get back…”

“You don’t have any quick spells for making heels comfortable, do you, or at least make it so I don’t wobble in them..?”

“No, I avoid them as much as possible.”

“Then what good is having a boffin in residence..?”


Chapter 22

 

“THE OTHER MALFOY”

 

Later that day, Kate was all glammed up in one of her new outfits, as she POP-ed over to Emma’s.  She joined Leigh and Randi up in Emma’s room.  Emma was laying back against her pillows, definitely not dressed for a party.

“Em’s – please, come,” Leigh cajoled.

“No, thank you.  I’m perfectly fine staying home tonight.”

“Alone.  Emma – you’ve been alone for too long now.  It’s time to get back out there,” Randi said.  “If for no other reason than to help our little bird here spread her wings,” she said, referring to Kate.

“Please Emma, I hate parties and it would be a lot easier if you were there, too,” Kate pleaded.

“I’m sure you’ll do fine, but I just don’t have it in me.”

“Not since you broke up with Reggie..?”

Emma nodded.

“I hate it, but I still miss him.  Yes, he was a prat, but he was my prat, and I did love him so.”

“Well if that’s your final answer…” Leigh said, rising.

Emma nodded.

“You all go and have fun and then tell me all about it tomorrow.”

“We will dear,” Leigh said, leaning in to kiss her forehead.

“Kate, come here.  You need a little something…”

Emma opened her jewelry box and sorted through the various levels.

“Ah…  Here we go – just the thing to bring out your eyes.”

Emma draped a double strand of matched pearls around Kate’s neck.

“And wait – I have earrings to match somewhere – yes!”

She handed them to Kate, who was overwhelmed by the loan.

 

POP – the three of them apparated to a country lane, on either side of which were hedges so tall and thick that the late afternoon’s sun was denied exit.  Overhead, interweaving arms of dense foliage dappled the lane, as well as the summery splendor of a dozen young men and women queued up ahead of them.

Leigh waved to a handsome young man with black curls.  He smiled and trotted over, sliding an arm around her.

“K., this is Tony.  Tony, this is our new best friend, K.”

Tony nodded, but his eyes were all for Leigh.

“Down, boy,” she said, leading him forward to the gates.  When they reached them, Kate gasped.  The ornate ironwork, which was twice as high as a Boston Celtic, was entirely made up of snakes that coiled and writhed.  Imagining that one of them might actually leap out of its vertical plane and bite, made her shiver.

She pulled her smoke-grey satin shawl up over her bare shoulders – all the way to the double strand of Emma’s pearls.  Kate wondered if they were also Crown Jewels copies.

Behind her, Randi yanked Kate’s shawl back down, as she leaned in and whispered:

“Remember, you’re here to inspire sin, not to look like a penitent on her way to confession.”

Leigh pulled tight to Kate’s other side.

“You look awesome, K., so relax.  Randi, the pale lavender of K.’s new frock works beautifully with her coloring – good choice.”

“Got one right,” Randi said.  Pulling close to Kate, she said: “Just remember, you’re fresh meat, so you can pretty much pick your target.”

Kate might have looked awesome, but inside, she felt like she was  playing dress-up in her mommy’s clothes – and worse – without her permission.

And then, as they reached the check-in table, Kate spotted Gareth, who’d briefly turned away to sneak a gulp of his drink.

“What’s he doing here,” she whispered to Leigh, turning away from him.  “He’s Phin’s best mate.”

“Probably working security – ignore him.”  Leigh leaned forward and said to the natty young man at the desk:

“Illiana Taylor-Jones, party of four.”
The man smiled at her, but as he checked his list, he frowned.

“Hmm…I have party of three.”

“Mate – look at us!” Randi chided, as she smoothed down her slinky short dress, “Would you seriously turn one of us away?”

The young man blushed, and shook his head.

“Smart boy,” Randi cooed, as she caressed his freshly-shaved cheek.

But as Kate made to enter, Gareth spotted her.  His eyes shot wide, taking in her transformation.  Choking on his drink, he sprayed the young man at the table.

“Bloody hell..!”

“Sorry, mate, I –“

“What sort of cut-rate stringers did the Ministry send us..?”

Kate used the outburst to slip inside.

“Remind me again why we’re here..?” she asked, checking to make sure that Gareth hadn’t entered behind them.

“You’re going to try out your claws,” Randi said.

“My what..?”

“It’s a fund-raiser put on by Slytherins and there will be plenty of young males present,” Leigh said.

“A fundraiser for what..?”

“The families of the people our relatives murdered in the Voldy days, but best not to mention that – people here seem to find it a real buzz kill,” Randi added, while she snatched drinks from a nearby tray.

“Drink,” Leigh said to Kate, perhaps sensing her unease.  Kate sipped the cherry red concoction and felt her throat seize up.

“It’s like pure alcohol!” she croaked out, hoarsely.

“Right, so down it quickly and I’ll get you another.”

 

As the others took off on their individual “hunts,” Kate avoided the task at hand – meeting men – by exploring the grounds.  The gardens were like out of a magazine – arranged in masterful compositions of color, shapes and volumes.

Entering the manor, through Palladian arched doors off the terrace, she found walls paneled in a pale silver-green silk.  The paintings and furnishings spoke of quiet refinement – no marble columns, or bronze busts – and in the far corner, to Kate’s delight – a baby grand.

Just as she was about to sit down on its bench, Randi burst in, with a young man in tow.

“What are you doing in here, mouse?  Get out there and meet someone!”

“Uhm, I was on my way…”

“Oh, you are a hopeless liar.  Here –“ Randi said, as she pushed Kate’s drink at her, “Finish this off – it’ll give you courage.”

Kate drained it, choking on the sting.

“Good.  Oh, K. – Val – Val – K.”  Randi turned to her lad, “Come, Val, we need to find a secluded corner or two…”

They left.  Kate sighed and sat down at the piano.  Checking to see that she was alone, she found Debussy on the stand and started to play.  When she finished, it was to the sound of one pair of hands clapping.  Kate jumped.

“Did I scare you..?  Sorry,” a very tall, very blond man said, in a honeyed baritone that had the resonance of an Italian cello.

“No, I just – I didn’t know I had an audience.”

“Are you part of the evening’s entertainment?”

Kate smiled, as she shook her head.

“I’m Thurlow, Thurlow Malfoy.”

Kate shuddered involuntarily.

“Yes, I get that a lot.  Maybe I should lead with just ‘Thurlow..?

“No, sorry, I…” she lost her train of thought, dazzled by the man before her.  He was probably in his late twenties, with one of those movie star chins – a bold knob with a deep cleft and dimples that framed his large white teeth.

“Anyway, I saw you in here alone and wondered if you were trying to avoid the host of the party you’re crashing..?” he asked.

“Oh, uhm…” Kate said, wincing.  “Are you..?”  When he nodded, Kate rushed to add, “But I did come with friends – people you invited.  Honest.”

“You’re a Yank…”

Again, he smiled – it was a really confident smile Kate thought.

“Guilty.”

“Forgiven – anyone who can play like that is welcome.”

“Is he – Draco – here..?” she asked, looking around anxiously.

“Do you know him..?”

“Only through the books…”

“Oh – that explains the shudder,” he said, nodding.

Kate couldn’t look at him; he was too handsome, but as she turned away, she spotted Phin, standing guard just outside the room.  He was watching them.

“No, luckily – he’s away, but this is his place.  He and Aunt Cissy are in France for the weekend, so I offered to take over the hosting duties.”

“Luckily..?”

“For me, at least…  Draco’s a complete fool for gingers – his favorite spice, especially ‘fresh ginger,’ which in our small circle is hard to come by.”

‘So that’s the engine behind the Sienna/Draco hook-up,’ Kate thought.  She didn’t know if it was the drink, or the presence of Phin, or both, but she smiled up at Thurlow and in a very warm voice asked:

“And yours…favorite spice..?”

The man leaned in and whispered with a smile:

“Variety…”

The surprise of his answer made her laugh, perhaps a bit more than called for, but Phin was approaching…

“You’re tapped out – can I get you another..?” he asked, reaching for her glass.

“Yes, please,” she said, handing it to him.  As he left, she turned, so that she could pretend not to notice Phin’s approach.  She thought of playing something else, but her brain was whirring too fast to think of what.

“Kate,” Phin hissed in a low voice, while glancing both ways.

Apparently security was not supposed to fraternize with the guests..?

“Oh – Phin,” she said, though her attempt at surprise was less than credible.

“What are you doing here?”

“I came with friends.”
“Gareth told me.  Since when did you fall in with the Slytherins?”

“And why would I owe you an explanation..?”

“What are you playing at, Kate..?”

“What am I playing at..?”

“Yes, you..!”

“What are you playing at,” Kate asked, eyes flashing.

“Me..?”

“You – hiding in the trees, stalking me..!”

“What..?“

“Don’t deny it!  Your Chocolate Frog addiction gave you away.”
“I’m not – I’m not stalking you, I’m –“

“What..?  You’re what..?”

At that point, Thurlow had returned with fresh drinks.  He looked at the glares shooting between the two of them.

“Am I interrupting..?”

“No!” they both said.

“So you know each other…”

“Barely,” Kate said.  “Mr. Poole was dropped – literally – onto my doorstep one night, all battered up and my aunt was kind enough to patch him up.”
“And I thank her greatly for the efforts she made – you both made.”

“No thanks are needed.  Really – it was ‘No problem’!”  She’d said the last bit with a high degree of “arch”.

Thurlow smiled.  “Uhm, look bloke, shouldn’t you be making a perimeter check or something.”

Phin looked at Thurlow like he wanted to tell him to butt out, but then nodded.

“Yes, sir,” he said and walked out, but not without a glance back at Kate.

Kate took the glass from Thurlow’s hand.

“Why are they here – the Aurors?” Kate asked, still piqued.

“Why are they here… It seems there are those from the other houses who think it’s in bad taste for we Slytherins to be making jolly on such an occasion.  There’ve been ‘incidents’ in the recent past.”

An idea came to Kate.  It felt like things were falling magically into place, but, sadly, instead of the clarity of Felix Felicis – the “Liquid Luck” potion, she found her brain swimming in the deep-end of a pool of alcohol.

“But surely there are protective charms on the manor…”

“Oh, yes – an extensive list,” he said, tapping the breast pocket of his madras jacket.  A large gold ring, on his middle finger flashed with each pat.

Kate struggled to make her eyes focus on the flashing ring.

Thurlow then tapped the other pocket, looking confused.

“Well, I have it tucked away on me somewhere.  After the festivities are over, I have to reset them.  But let’s talk about you,” he said, his voice lowering.  “Other than your ardent young Auror, do you have a lot of protective charms in place?”

He flexed his dimples, as one eyebrow arched over his light blue eye.  Kate was sober enough to know she couldn’t trust this man as far as…well, as far as someone much bigger than she could throw him, but despite herself, she was enjoying his attention.

‘So this is what it feels like to be Kara,’ she thought.

“I’m not sure, but you’re giving me the feeling that I should double down on whatever charms I do have.”

“Not possible – you’re too charming already.”

“I meant… Boy, these drinks are strong,” Kate said, as he laughed again.

‘Damn him,’ she thought, ‘He even has a great laugh!  Katherine Talbot / Meadowes / whatever – you are out of your depth, not that you ever had any…’

Thurlow extended his manicured hand to her.  She accepted it – it felt warm and enveloping.  Rising, she suddenly felt a little unsteady.  As if sensing this, his other hand came to the small of her back.  She noticed that, even with her tall heels, she was still only at the level of his shoulder.

“Come – it’s almost time for the auction.”

“The auction..?”

“What – your friends didn’t warn you..?”
“Uhm, no, no they did not…”

“I suppose since you’re a Yank, and therefore, not a Slytherin, you don’t have to take part.  But, then again, you are a party-crasher…”

There was that arched eyebrow again, but he added a wink to it.  Kate gulped.

‘This can’t be good,’ she thought, as Thurlow led her onward, snatching up her empty glass.

“Tapped out again..?  Not to worry, refill coming up,” he said, backing away.

 

As she neared the stage, she came upon Leigh and Randi.

“You bagged a trophy right out of the gate – blinding learning curve, K.!” Randi cried.

“Sienna would be green with envy,” Leigh said, “She’s been trying to dig her claws into Thurlow for ages.”

“Speaking of which – where is she..?  Why isn’t she here..?”

“Hiding from Draco, I expect,” Leigh suggested.

“I guess no one told her he was out of town.”

“Just as well; you wouldn’t want him coming at you.  Now cousin Thurlow – that’s another story,” Randi said.

“Now, now – let’s not be encouraging her.  Remember, she’s just seventeen.  And he has quite the reputation, K.,” Leigh added, in a motherly fashion.

“Well-earned, from what I’ve heard,” Randi said, with a wink.

Kate was blushing deeply and tried changing the subject.

“So about this auction…”

“Part of the fundraiser,” Leigh said.  “The women get up on stage and the host auctions off dates with us.”

“Oh, great…  As if I didn’t already feel like a piece of meat sitting in the butcher’s case…”

But even as she said that, a small part of her worried – ‘What if nobody bids on me..?’  The thought rankled some part of her, but, as she was feeling rather numb at the moment, she let it pass.

 

Leigh went first.  She said her date would be treated to a dinner for two, served on top of the Arc de Triomphe.  The high bid reached forty galleons.  It would have been only thirty, but that bid was put in by someone other than Tony, who was busy chatting it up with some pals, that is until Leigh asked someone to smack him.

When Randi got up, there were whoops from some of the men.  She was obviously a crowd favorite.

“I guess I don’t have to do any intros – you all know me, so you know I’m no great shakes in the kitchen.  I can barely heat water for a cuppa, but I promise you lads, I can bring you to a boil, in every room!”

Laughter erupted from the crowd and the bidding rose quickly – won by Val, after he’d borrowed galleons from a friend.

Taking their cue from Randi, the women who followed didn’t seem to offer anything other than some variation on “a good time.”  One woman, in a very short skirt, demonstrated how flexible she was, until she passed out doing a split.  The bidding didn’t ignite.

When it was Kate’s turn, she took the stage, stumbling onto it, as Randi tugged her shawl down.  There were some sniggers from the audience, as well as some buzzing about who this unknown was.

“Hell–hello…  I’m K. – Talbot.  And no, you don’t have to rifle through your Slytherin yearbook to try to…  I’m just visiting – from America, so I -”

“Just tell us what we’re getting, love!” one young man called out, and the others laughed.

Kate spotted Phin and Gareth on the edge of the crowd.  Phin’s arms were crossed in front of him – ‘Defensive posture,’ she thought.

“But that’s… See, I didn’t know this was going to happen, so I didn’t plan any sort of, ‘This is what you’ll get if you win me, event’…  So…I guess if I had anything to offer, it would be…Honesty.”

“From a woman..?” another man yelled.  “Right that!”  A lot of men roared.

“You don’t believe it.  I guess I don’t blame you.  But then…wouldn’t that be…refreshing?”

“Do I have an opening bid,” Thurlow called out.

Silence…  The crowd had lost its buzz.  Randi was down in of the stage trying to get Kate to strut her stuff, but Kate didn’t look at her.  That thought surfaced in her brain again – ‘What if no one bids on me..?’  She hated the thought of being auctioned off, like cattle, yet still… ‘What if no one bids on me..?’

She didn’t know if it was the drinks, or her nerves, but she suddenly felt like she’d topple, if she didn’t take off her towering heels.  Reaching down, she popped off one, then another.

The second man shouted:  “All right – that’s a start, luv – keep going!”

Gareth got in his face, as Kate expanded on her idea:

“I mean, we both – men and women – lie, don’t we..?  We want the other to like us, so we…  Well I heard someone say that men are attracted to women because of the way we look; and we – women – are attracted to men because of what they say; which…which is why women wear makeup and men…lie.” Kate finished, her voice trailing away.

“Thanks for the lecture, Professor, but how about we make this a ‘silent auction’?” the first man shouted, to some male applause.

Unseen by Kate, Phin pulled up alongside the man.

“Why don’t you shut it and we’ll start with you..?!” he hissed.  The man withered.

As silence fell on the crowd, it soon became awkward.

Kate spotted Phin.  Wouldn’t he bid on her?  Phin turned away.  Then suddenly:

“Hey, you prats..!” Randi called out.  “I happen to adore this girl –she’s absolutely brill!  Hanging out with her has been a complete blast!  I’m opening the bidding at forty galleons!”

“Fifty galleons,” Leigh shouted.

Kate felt close to bursting into tears and smiled at them.

And then, from the podium, she heard Thurlow’s deep voice.

“Do we have a bid of sixty galleons… Sixty galleons..?”

He looked around the crowd.

“Then, if there are no other bidders, I’d like to place one of my own – Sixty galleons.”

Some of the women in the audience actually gasped in shock..?  Protest..?  The DOB’s got together and then Randi shouted,

“We’re going to pool our bid, for a total of ninety galleons!”

Thurlow searched through the crowd and spotted Phin.

“We can allow non-Slytherin bids, if the Aurors present would like to join in…”

Kate couldn’t look, but out of the corner of her eye, she saw Gareth go chasing after someone leaving the crowd.  She was pretty sure it was Phin.

“Right… So then I’d like to place a pre-emptive bid of one hundred galleons for an evening with the Yank, and since she’s not a native, I’ll create the date, too.  Going once…going twice…SOLD – to, uhm, me.”

 

As the evening wore down to the wee hours, people started to leave.  Leigh and Randi pulled Kate aside.

“K., are you ready to go..?” Leigh asked.

“Uhm…”

“K., you’re not seriously thinking of staying, are you..?  I don’t know if I told you, but –“

“Yes, yes – he has quite the reputation,” Randi interjected.

“And K. doesn’t need to burnish it.”  She looked at Kate, “It’s your decision, but first – tell me – are you sober, girl..?”

Kate nodded.  She realized that this was probably her one and only chance to find out how to get into Malfoy Manor, and she couldn’t tell them that that was why she needed to stay.

She also knew that staying on, after everyone else had left would bring a whole different set of challenges – ones Kara would have found much less daunting.

“Well then I think, as friends, we should make sure she’s got protection,” Leigh said.

“What..?!” Kate burst out.

“Do you know how to do an Imperio curse..?”

“An Imperio..?!  But that’s illegal, isn’t it..?”

“K., love, you’re in possession of a stolen wand; you wreaked havoc on Diagon Alley –“ Leigh said.

“Not to mention, you’re a bleedin’ Horcrux…” Randi whispered.

“I see your point.”

“Leigh…” Randi prompted.

“What..?”

“Show her how, and don’t protest that you’ve never used it – remember – I was there.”

“And you’ve never let me forget it.  Okay, K., it goes like this…”

 

When the last guest asked Thurlow to walk her down to the gate, Kate sat down at the piano, to take her mind off her nerves, which were crackling like the wires of a transformer.

‘What to play..?  What..?  What..?’

She looked through the bench – no Listz, but then she laughed.

‘A Chopin Nocturne..?  Well, it is time for…bed,’ she thought, unable to keep herself from gulping.

After studying it for a bit, she began to play, appreciating its tonal shifts and layers.

‘And I was so dismissive of them,’ she thought.  ‘It’s been an evening of surprises.’

She held the loud pedal down, extending the final notes.

“Uhm…Chopin…Nocturne…but don’t make me guess which one,” Thurlow said, as he entered.  He’d taken off his jacket and was unbuttoning his shirt – all the way down, which made Kate quite nervous.

“Seventeen,” Kate said, her voice going hoarse.

“Is that your age, or –“

“The Nocturne, it’s number seventeen…”

“Are you a fan of his..?” he asked, as he took a seat next to her.

“Not usually…  Liszt is –“

“A god, among wizards, isn’t he?” Thurlow asked, as he took off his watch and undid the buttons on his sleeves.
“Liszt was –“

“A Wizard – of course, can you imagine any Muggle hitting all those tenths..?”

“My teacher was always amazed that I could.”

“And with hands as delicate as yours,” Thurlow said, as he took one of hers and gave it a gentle kiss, “So – let’s hear something then.”

“Do – do you have a request..?”

She was starting to tremble.

“Something less than five minutes – that’s all I have before I have to set all the charms and lock the manor down for the night.”

“It’s on a schedule..?”

“What..?  Oh, no – I’m on a schedule.”

Kate must have looked confused (hopefully not flustered), because Thurlow rushed to explain.

“I, uhm, well this is a tad awkward…  I have a, uhm, ‘tryst’ in about ten minutes.”

“You have a… Oh…  Oh, I –“

“Oh, no – you thought.  Oh, no, no – yes, I want to take you on a date – I do – but I’d already made plans for tonight.”

Kate looked around.

“So…there’s someone else still here..?”

“If you mean the guests, no…  Uhm, kind of embarrassing…  I hope you’re the type who can keep a secret, because Aunt Cissy would not approve.  In fact, she’d be horrified, and Draco would never let me forget it, but…I’ve been having, well, a sort of flirtation with the help.”

“The help..?”

“Are you scandalized..?”  Kate shook her head.  “Your friends would be.”

“When…when you say, ‘the help,’ is that singular or –“

“Oh, no – not this time – just the one.”

Kate nodded.  Was she shocked, or relieved, or both?  Rising, her brain rushed to think of how to remain long enough to get the information she needed.

“Why don’t I hold the Liszt for a time…when we…have the time..?”

“I look forward to it.  Very soon, hopefully…”

“If you walk me to the gate, you could start locking things down…”

“Right…  Now where did I put that..?”

“In your jacket..?”

“Right…  Right, my jacket… Bedroom!  Be right back.”

Thurlow jumped up.  Kate saw her opportunity.

“Oh, could I come with – I’d love to see more of the place.”

“Yes, of course, this way…”

Thurlow helped her up.  Kate scooped up her shoes and again, Thurlow laid his hand on the small of her back.

‘Does he think I’m going to bump into one of the walls..?’ she wondered, with a smile, but it did feel sort of comforting.

 

Up the grand staircase and down a wide hallway, was a very posh bedroom suite, with a glorious view down to the nearest village.  Brocaded hangings over a large, four-poster bed that even had a canopy, replete with an “M” crest, sat opposite that view.

As Thurlow leaned over the bed to grab his jacket, Kate decided it was now or never.  She pulled out Mad-Eye’s wand, from its hiding place and pointed it at Thurlow, just as he turned around.

His expression was one of amused surprise, the one eyebrow arching upward.

“Sorry about this,” Kate said, “Imperio!”

And, just at Jo had described it in the books, a warm tingling rushed through Kate’s body, as Thurlow’s eyebrow – in fact, his entire face went calmly slack.  But it wasn’t just that tingling that Kate was feeling.  There was something more.  She realized this large, intimidating man was now completely under her control and it was undeniably, well…thrilling.

Kate took the jacket from his willing hands and searched all of the pockets – no list.  She came forward and searched his shirt pocket – nothing.  Kate scrunched up her face and once again, pointing the wand at him, said:
Imperio..!”

This time Thurlow loosened his belt and dropped his trousers, as Kate peeked from behind her hand.

‘Whew – so happy he doesn’t go commando,’ she thought,’ as he handed his pants to her.

With great relief at not having to go further, she found a folded scrap of paper in his back pocket.  Unfolding it, she saw a list of charms, which she quickly duplicated.

‘But that doesn’t show me where he does all of them,’ she thought.

Once again, she hit Thurlow with an “Imperio” and, after picking up his wand, he led her out the bedroom and down the front stairs.

They continued outside the manor, where Thurlow, still in his boxers, used his wand to perform the first security charm.  Kate conjured a pen and started noting down what charm was performed where.

Finally, they’d reached the last entry on the list – to be performed at the front gate.

Kate slipped outside the gate, making sure not to get near any of the snakes, which seemed to be slumbering.  She watched as Thurlow made the motions to put the last charm in place.

With one more Imperio, Kate sent him back to the manor, with the belief that she had left an hour ago, and he was now all ready for his date with “the help.”

‘What would someone think, if they’d witnessed all of this,’ she wondered, grinning widely.  Cooperton and her fellow Geeks felt so far away in more than just geographical ways.

As Thurlow walked back to the manor, Kate pocketed her copy of the list and disapparated.

After she’d left, one “someone” dropped down from the nearby tree and put the last bit of his Chocolate Frog into his mouth.  Very carefully, he folded the wrapper and put it in his pocket.  Then – POP – he disapparated.

Almost immediately there were two POPs and a middle-aged woman and a younger man with very blond hair appeared.  The young man waved his wand and the gates opened.  The two entered and the gates shut behind them.

 

When Kate got back, she went into the great hall to tell her aunt, mom and Char about the night’s events.

“K…!  You look splendiferous!  I wouldn’t even know it’s you,” Char said.

“Because it’s not…  I feel like I’m playing dress up.”

“Well you dress up well, I must say,” her aunt said.

“So who went that we know..?” Char asked.

Kate listed the other DOB’s and their dates and then remembered:

“Oh – Phin was there, too.”

“No!  At a Slytherin party..?” her aunt asked.

“Guard duty.”

“Any sparks..?” her mother asked.

“No, just…friction,” Kate said, shaking her head

“Did they hold the auction..?” Char asked.  Kate nodded.  “So who won..?”

“Uhmn…” Kate looked sheepish, but then grinned broadly.

“You..?!  Oh, K!  See – I’m right.  And who placed the bid..?”

“Thurlow Malfoy,” Sienna said, descending the stairs.

Sherry started barking.

“Sherry..!” Aunt Gwynne shouted.

“Thurlow Malfoy..?!” Char asked, amazed.

“I know – I was shocked, too – every woman there was, from what I hear” Sienna sneered.

“Sienna..!” Dorcas hissed.

Kate looked around with fire in her eyes.

“Jealous..?”

“Of you..?”

“I heard you’ve been throwing yourself at him for years.”

“Girls..!” her aunt warned.

“I heard he only bid on you out of pity, because no one besides my friends would.”

Kate rose to face her sister.  The lamps in the room started a furious flickering; the doors behind Sienna banged open and a sharp, cold breeze blasted in.  Sherry started barking again.  Aunt Gwynne grabbed him and held his snout.

“Sienna, perhaps you should let this go,” Gwynne said.

But Sienna paused, enjoying the drama.  Strolling over to the table, she picked up a box of Char’s flu powder.

“Oh, cute packaging…”  She read the box:  “Ash-less Flu Powder…  Invention of yours, Char..?”  Char nodded.  “Well, someone should let Uncle Fearghas know about it…  Should I..?”

Sienna smiled sinisterly.  Then she dropped it.

“I wonder where men take girls on pity dates..?  Somewhere discreet, so he won’t be embarrassed if someone recognizes him..?”

Kate whipped out her wand.

Protego!” Char shouted, just as Sienna followed suit.

“That’s enough!” Dorcas shouted.  “Sienna – either apologize or leave..!  Now..!”

Sienna smiled again and left, without closing the doors behind her.  The wind continued to blow in, until Kate shot a blast at them and they slammed shut.

“Don’t let her get to you.  I think she really is jealous, I mean, Thurlow Malfoy is dreamy,” Char said, trying to mollify a still-fuming Kate.

But then Kate’s shoulders sagged, as she plopped down onto a couch.

“She’s probably right though.  I mean, who am I kidding?  I’m completely intimidated by Thurlow and if I can’t imagine myself on a date with someone like him, how could I possibly have what it takes to seduce Reggie.  I don’t have the guts to seduce anyone.”

“Seduce..?  Who is this you’re –“ her aunt started.

“Not a physical seduction, Aunt Gwynne…”

Char rose and stood in front of Kate.

“Hey – who had the guts to throw sauce in that bloke’s face..?” Char asked.

“…Me… But throwing sauce at a guy seems way easier than reeling one in.”

“Like Phin..?” her aunt asked.
“Yeah, well that went nowhere, didn’t it..?”

“Look, K., the rest of us have already done too much for you to pull out now.”

“But –“

“Emma’s already been to the Ministry to set up the talking head thing.  And your mum and I spent the whole day concocting the charms for the flu powder.”

“That was a tall order you asked for, Kate,” her mother said.  “Thank goodness Char is such a genius.”

“Oh – and we’ve already doctored the letter.”

“What letter..?”

“The one we’re sending to Reggie’s boss – to get him out of the way.”

“That’s all great, but…”

“Kate…” her mother said, and the rest fell silent.  “I know you grew up as a Muggle, but in our world – your world now – a seventeen year old is an adult.  And you, my love, are acting like a child – no, worse – a little girl!

“What..?”
“Your mum’s right – guys who aren’t half as good looking as Thurlow Malfoy think they can approach any woman, no matter how good looking she is.”

“So you’re saying I’m only half as –“

“No!  She’s saying that you thinking you’re not capable of this cedes that power to men.  It’s like saying they’re allowed, but women aren’t.”

“I get that, but…”

“But nothing..!  Kate, you’ve got to ‘man up’!“ Char said.

Dorcas mouthed the words to her sister, who shrugged.

“Don’t you care about us – our condition here?” Char asked.

“I do!  I just… Well, when it comes to guys I have like zero experience, and therefore, zero confidence.  I need…‘Liquid Luck!’  Do you have any of that..?”  Char shook her head.  “Aunt G..?”

“No – beastly difficult formula,” her aunt said, “And besides, you know how I feel about all this.”

Char’s face lit up.

“Hang on!  I do have something else though…  Be right back!”

Char raced out of the hall towards her studio and a moment later came running back, carrying a small wooden box.  Undoing the catch, she removed a tiny vial.  “I picked this up from George – he keeps it in his secret storeroom.”

“What is it?  Wait – it gleams like mother-of… This isn’t..?”

Char nodded.

“No..!” her aunt said.

“Amortensia, ‘The Love Potion’!”

“Use only a drop, and only when you’re going to be very close to Reggie, or every guy in the place will be hounding you.”

“Now, you’re not kidding me – this isn’t like when Harry faked putting Liquid Luck in Ron’s pumpkin juice – this really is Amortensia?”

“It really is Amortensia, so if that doesn’t give you the help you think you need…”

Kate hugged Char.

Dorcas looked to her sister and said:

“In my day, we would have just padded her bra…”

 


 

CHAPTER 23

“BLAZING NEWS”

 

After breakfast, Kate POP-ed back to Eldric’s, but when she arrived in the lane that lead to his cottage, she froze.  There ahead of her was a tall woman, with square shoulders and icy blonde hair.  On either side of her were Defenders.

Kate pulled back behind some nearby bushes, deciding caution was the best way to proceed.  Whoever this was, if she was in the company of Defenders, caution was called for.

The woman marched forward and shoved Eldric’s gate, which snapped back smartly against her knees.  Furious, she fired her wand at it and the gate ripped off its hinges, awaiting her command, in mid-air.  She jerked her wand to the right and the gate flew into the trees, which disrupted a nest of hornets.

They flew out as one and made a bee-line for her.  The witch reared back and froze them in mid-air, but doing so took her off the path, which unleashed fusillades of thorns from the Quiverbushes, while Tentacula vines reached swiftly out and started entwining themselves around her thick ankles.

Kate watched as the woman shrieked and fired general carnage that demolished all the shrubbery, flowers and trees surrounding the cottage.  With fury, she yanked out the long thorns that had peppered her arms and legs.  Blood-soaked, they fell to the path’s flagstones.

As she marched once again ahead, the Arkabarks came howling around the side of the cottage.  Two more blasts from this determined witch’s wand sent them fleeing, their (three) tails between their legs.  The woman’s face was now as livid as the drops of blood that appeared where every thorn had come out.

“I’ve changed my mind,” she shouted to the Defenders, “Searching his place has never turned up anything.  There’s only one thing left to do.”

Retreating a few paces, she lifted her wand and shouted:

Incendio!”

A ravenous blaze erupted that quickly engulfed the house.

Kate gasped, incredulous – this was monstrous!  But the woman seemed eminently satisfied with her work.  Turning to one of the men, she said:

“You – make sure no one gets out.  No one..!”

“Yes, ma’am..!”

Turning to the other, she said:

“You – come with me!”

“Yes, ma’am…”

After the two had POP-ed out, Kate came running up.

Stupefy!” she shouted at the man’s back.

And before he could turn to face her, he fell flat on his face.  Kate jumped over him and ran to the cottage.

Aguamente!” she shouted, but the spout of water that shot out of her wand was no match for the flames.

She rushed to the front door and blew it open.  Inside, she found Eldric napping in his chair.              She shook him until he awoke, but by now, flames were all around the room.

“What..?!” was all he said, before a thick, choking cloud of smoke filled the room.  As Kate and Eldric started coughing, Frida leapt into Eldric’s lap.  They were trapped.  What to do..?

Kate’s eyes fell upon the mini-Prophet.  Dashing over, she grabbed it and set it on the floor.  Opening its door, she grabbed his Eldric’s hand and stuck her finger inside.

WHOOMP!  The three of them were sucked into the little building.  Pointing her wand at the ceiling she cast her umbrella-shaped shield charm and they remained inside, as the fire raged away.

 

An hour or so later, Kate looked out the little windows.  She could see only blue sky.  The entire house had burned to the ground around them and the Defender had gone.

 

Her aunt was sitting in the great hall with her feet up, chatting with her sister, when Kate walked in with Eldric and Frida.  Sherry came bounding over to make friends, very pleased that he no longer was the only one of his kind on the Morrellayne grounds.  Frida peered down cautiously, from the safety of Eldric’s arms.

“And who’s this?!” her aunt said, sitting up abruptly.

“Aunt Gwynne, mom, this is Eldric Wordsworth.”

“I thought you went to visit him,” her aunt said.  “You didn’t say anything about him coming to visit us.”

“Well, I hadn’t planned on that, but his house was just torched – burned to the ground – and by people from the Ministry!”

Her aunt’s face was still not a happy one.

“Yes, I can smell the smoke, but…”

“How do you do, Mr. Wordsworth,” Dorcas said.  “Welcome to Morrellayne.”

“Dorcas Meadowes..?”

“In the flesh…well, in the paint.”

Kate’s aunt had a very cross look on her face, as she asked:

“I suppose he’s to be staying here, as well…”

“Uhm… He is without a house.  And he’s really good company, Aunt Gwynne…and look – a playmate for Sherry.”

Kate turned to Sherry, whose tail was wagging in overdrive.

Her aunt said nothing, but got up and walked back to the kitchen.

“That went about as good as it might,” Dorcas said.

 

After a long, hot shower, Kate put on jeans and a T-shirt and went out to see Char, a towel still wrapped about her head.

“Do you know who that woman could be..?”

“From your description, I’d say it had to be –“

Char stopped short, looking past Kate to the doorway.

“What..?”

Kate turned around.  Sienna was in the doorway.

“What do you want?”

“You’ve been summoned for High Tea.”

“By whom..?”
“Gran…”

“Crikey..!” Char said, pulling Kate nearer, whispered:  “Vulpine Thorne – even my mum was afraid of her.”

“I’d say put on something better, but I’ve seen your wardrobe.”

“I have other things –“

“No time.  You’ll have to go as is.”

“But my T-shirt’s ripped!”

“Really..?  Can’t tell the difference.”

“You’re doing this on purpose.”

“Am I..?”

On the one hand, Kate was angered by the demand, and the choice of messenger, but on the other hand, the Anglophile in her was yearning to try her first “high tea” and the history geek in her was curious to find out more about her family, especially the “Cousin Fearghas” relationship.

“Then let me do something with my hair.”

“Why bother – it’ll still be a mess,” Sienna said.

“Not helping, Si,” Char said.

“Not trying, Char.  Come, you don’t want to make Gran wait.”

“Tell mom and Aunt Gwynne, where I’m –“

But Sienna was already jerking her out the door.  With a “what am I getting myself into” look, Kate followed her sister out to the edge of the garden, while simultaneously trying to improvise something with her hair.  Sienna snatched her wrist and POP – they disapparated.

 


 

CHAPTER 24

“HIGH TEA WITH GRAN”

 

POP – they had traveled to a remote country area, where the sky was still threatening.  Before them was a tall, rusted iron gate, adjoined by even taller stone walls, covered in the hoary remnants of a thick coat of ivy that had long since died.  Inside the gates, a gloomy, dilapidated Victorian mansion clung to the crest of a barren hill, like an ornate barnacle on the inverted hull of a rusting ship.  The sign read:

 

THORNEFIELD SANITARIUM

 

“What..?!”

“Keeps the Muggles away,” Sienna said, as large, fierce dogs came lunging up to the bars of the gate, barking ferociously.  Sienna pointed her wand at the lock and said, “Super Omnia.

The gate creaked open, but as it opened, it revealed a much different scene.  What had been barren was now quite lush.  Formal landscaping embraced the hillside, which was surmounted by an imposing Georgian manor house.  The fiercely barking dogs, however, had remained fiercely barking dogs.

Silencio!” Sienna shouted, as she pointed her wand, and they fell immediately silent.  Their eyes though continued to follow Kate, as the bigger one sniffed her suspiciously– its lips curled back, over slathering teeth.

“Hurry along,” Sienna said, “And don’t pet the dogs.”

“No problem…”

 

The front door opened as Sienna approached.  Kate almost thought it was like in the horror films, where doors open in ghostly fashion, but then she saw a slender young woman, hanging back in the shadows.

“Gran..?” Sienna asked the young woman.

“Madame will join you shortly in the pavilion,” the girl said in a voice barely audible.

Sienna proceeded toward a glass pavilion at the back of the house.  Kate took a closer look at the girl.  She couldn’t be more than fifteen and ws what the books would call an “English rose” – lush, dark brown hair, large blue eyes and a perfect complexion.  But she had the look of a dog that’s had its spirit broken.  Around her swan-like neck she wore a thick metallic band.

‘Definitely not a necklace,’ Kate thought.

“A little young to be a maid, isn’t she..?” she whispered to Sienna.

“She’s not – she’s a Wart.”

“A what..?”

“A Wart – it’s a Havenhurst student who did something beastly.  They’re lent out to families that make generous donations to the Ministry – basically elf-replacements.”

“That’s horrible!  Why doesn’t she just run away..?  I would.”

“No, you wouldn’t.  If you try to leave the collar ZAPs you!”

“That’s barbaric – they use those on dogs back home.”  Sienna shrugged.  “But what could she have done..?”
“Who cares..?  Now stop with the questions.  They make me weary.”

 

Sienna led Kate through the majestic hallway, lined with paintings and Louis XIV furniture, into the all-glass pavilion.  The room was filled with exotic, flowering plants, including orchids, gardenias and flowers Kate never knew existed.

In particular, she became fascinated by one that, as she drew near, seemed to sense that it had an audience, and began to produce buds that bloomed in various shades of pink – from coral to lavender.

Each blossom appeared to beg for her attention, like puppies in a pound.  And as each bud opened, it emitted a faint tone that blended into a harmonious whole, as more joined it.

Kate smiled, as she watched the golden pistils and stamens swaying to the music.  Mesmerized, she reached out to touch them.

BLAP!  Sienna’s wand shot a bolt into the center of the plant and it instantly withered to its original state.

“What did you do that for..?”

“It bites, and Gran would hate it if you bled on her linens.”

Kate withdrew her hand and took a seat at the table.

“Not there – that’s where I sit – you can sit there…“ Sienna said, pointing to the far side of the table.

“I hope you haven’t been waiting long…” an older woman’s voice called out.

Kate turned to see an elegant woman, possibly in her early seventies.  She wore a long gown of dark grey silk, which set off a large green and silver broach that held her cloud grey scarf in place.  Her salt and pepper hair was raised in a bun above her almost architectural face.  The sculptural nature of it didn’t exactly lend a sense of “motherly warmth.”

‘That’s the woman who was at the window next to Bertie,’ Kate realized.

The woman opened her palm and gave an upward motion, indicating that Kate should rise.  Awkwardly, Kate did, while hoping desperately that the woman didn’t want to hug her.  She didn’t.  Instead, she appeared to be appraising Kate.  After a moment, she turned to Sienna.

“You’re right, her wardrobe reflects her family’s mean fortune, but perhaps that could prove advantageous.  At least she is slender, unlike so many Americans…”

“Now wait a minute – I didn’t come here to be -“

Vulpine held up her hand, as Sienna had done to shut Emma up, back at the boat house.

“My intent was not to insult you, or the people who raised you.  I’m merely…  Sit, please,” she said, while taking her own seat.

“So you’re…what shall I call you..?” the woman asked.

“K.,” Sienna said, dismissively.

“K..?”

“That’s what my family calls me.  I thought it more low profile than ‘Katharine, Missing Horcrux’.”

“Quite… And this family – they’re Muggles, I understand.”

“Yes,” Kate said with an air of defiance, sensing disdain.

“Sienna tells me they’re employed.”

“Her father’s a gardener!” Sienna interjected with joy.

“He is not – he’s head of the county’s Parks & Rec.”

“Parks and Wreck..?”

“Recreation…  And my mother works part-time as a tennis instructor at a nearby club.”

Vulpine looked quizzically to Sienna.

“It’s a sport, Gran…”

“Ahh… Well.  It was not up to me.  Though I am your grandmother, I think it best if you call me Madame for the time being.”

Kate was fine with that, because she was very certain she’d never warm up enough to this woman to ever call her “Grannie.”

“Shall we start..?  Wart..!”

The young woman with the neck collar entered quickly, head down.

“You may serve us now.”

“Yes, Madame,” the girl said, scurrying from the room.

 

When the tea and cakes had been cleared away, Vulpine spoke to Sienna.

“Darling, why don’t you leave us for a bit?  I need to have a private chat with your sister.”

It was not a request.  Sienna rose and started to leave the room.

“And Sienna…”  Sienna stopped.  “If you try to use your broach to listen in, you will find it damaged beyond repair.  Do you understand..?”

“Yes, Gran,” Sienna said, dutifully, though with a touch of sullenness.

Sienna shot Kate a withering look.  When she was gone, Vulpine pulled out her wand and gave it a flick.  Nothing seemed to happen.

“Cocoon of privacy, just in case; I’m afraid your appearance has brought out a most unpleasant side of Sienna.”

“I wasn’t aware she had any others,” Kate said, jaw firmly set.

Her eyes met Vulpine’s light blue eyes.  Kate now knew how Harry had felt every time Dumbledore had peered over his half-moon spectacles – like she was being x-rayed.

“I understand that you have become something of a ringleader for Sienna’s little troupe of friends.  A position she resents, of course, being the spoiled child she is.”

“Well, I…”

“And that you have other ‘adventures’ planned beyond the chaos you created in Diagon Alley.”

Kate couldn’t read in her grandmother’s statement approval or disapproval.

“Uhm…”  Kate squirmed.

“Two things, child… One, as your antics will almost certainly take you into the crosshairs of the Ministry, you should take care to keep your sister out of the loop.”

“Why – do you think she’d actually tell anyone there about us..?”

“I don’t think intentionally, but the Minister is very skilled at ‘Legilimency,‘ and he would not hesitate to use it on Sienna to find out information.”
“Why Sienna..?”

“The Minister is a frequent visitor here, and always wants to spend time with her, so, word to the wise, yes..?”  Kate nodded.  “Now, two, as you seem intent on traveling down this dangerous path, I must know – what is your end-game..?”

“Excuse me..?”

“Your ultimate goal..?  Are these just reckless stunts, or do you have a specific purpose behind them..?”

“No, I do – we do!”

“Which is..?!”

“Well…one – we want to make all the witches here wake up to their oppression, by showing them that there are those among them who are willing to stand up to it.

“And…and two – I want to expose J.K. Rowling for having written lies about me – lies that helped create all the oppressive laws; and three – to bring to justice the man who killed my mother!”

Vulpine said nothing, but sat back, again surveying Kate with those piercing blue eyes.  Then she leaned forward, inches away from Kate’s face and asked:

“And what are you willing to do to extract that justice..?”

“Ex-excuse me..?”

“If you know who the killer is, then how far are you willing to go..?  If justice is impossible to obtain, which I can assure you it almost certainly will be, would you be willing to settle for vengeance?  Would you avenge your mother’s death with his?”

“You…you mean…would I kill him..?”

“Of course, that’s what I mean, because I can tell you – no one is going to take the word of a girl, an outsider, against the man you believe murdered your mother!  If you’re not willing to kill him, then you’re just playing games and might as well finish your vacation and go home.  So again, I ask you – how far are you willing to go..?”

But before Kate could answer, Wart came to the doorway.

“Yes..?”

“Your guest has arrived, Madame.”

“Serve refreshments in the red drawing room.  We’ll be in presently.”

“Yes, Madame,” Wart said and then receded.

“Come,” Vulpine said.  “There’s someone I’d like you to meet.”

 

Vulpine led Kate down a grand hallway, filled with statuary.  The walls were covered in a royal blue silk with gilded moldings that rose from the grey-veined marble floors, to the frescoed ceiling.

At the far end, was an elaborately carved set of oak doors with coiled serpent handles.  Vulpine turned so that her back was against the doors.  She gave Kate another of those looks and then opened the doors.

Inside was a grandly proportioned room, with tall ceilings and several sets of arched French doors.  Kate could see a man, from a rear three-quarter angle, sitting in a high-backed antique chair.

Vulpine took Kate’s hand and led her to a position in front of the man.

“K., dear, we have a very honored guest…  I’d like to introduce you to our dear cousin, Fearghas MacAra, the Minister of Magic.”


 

CHAPTER 25

 

“IN THE BELLY OF THE SNAKE”

 

Kate turned with a horrified look of betrayal at her Grandmother.  But her grandmother continued to have an impenetrable smile.

Behind the man – this Minister – were two Defenders, dressed in their grey cloaks, standing at attention.  He seemed to be ending a conversation with one of them – his head half-turned away.

Despite her pounding heart – a pounding that almost obliterated her thinking – Kate could sense something very powerful about him.  He had spread his slim frame across a priceless antique chair, as though entitled to annex more than one’s normal share of space.  It expressed a bold arrogance.

And that he could be so at ease, while Kate seethed made her want to whip out her wand and…

‘And what..?’ she thought.  Even if she had Mad-Eye’s wand in hand, he had two guards at the ready.

Like his brother, Mac, he had the same red-gold hair, but it was pulled severely back into an abbreviated ponytail.

His conversation at an end, he turned to face her, and Kate had to suppress a gasp – one side of his face was deeply scarred, and when he smiled at her, it only increased the disfigurement.

Fearghas studied Kate.

“And who is this, Cousin Vulpine.”

“This is ‘K’.”

“She has to be a relative – with that hair.  No,” he said, with a laugh, “Don’t tell me this is our long-lost ‘Missing Horcrux’..?”

Kate’s heart leapt to her throat, but Vulpine’s laugh rang out.  If she was half as petrified as Kate she showed nothing.

“No, Cousin Fearghas, K. is Freddy’s daughter, visiting us from America.”

“Freddy’s daughter..?  I never knew Freddy to be married.”

Kate felt a vein on her temple start to pulse spasmodically.  Her hand rose to cover it, pretending to brush back a lock of hair.

“Then you know the truth of it.  The woman – K’s mother – is a Muggle…an American Muggle,” she added, as though this had added insult to injury.

“An American Mud – Muggle,” Fearghas asked, catching himself.  “How embarrassing, Cousin Vulpine.  My, my – that, plus your Squib daughter…”

For the first time, Vulpine’s serene smile slipped, but she tilted her head, as though conceding his point.

“It happens, even in the best of the pure-blood families, doesn’t it..?”

Now it was Fearghas’s smile that faded.  Vulpine continued:  “Isn’t it fortunate then that your dear, departed mother and I didn’t have to parade our embarrassments..?”

After a moment, Fearghas gave a single nod, conceding her point.

‘What was being implied here,’ Kate wondered, her brain suddenly focused.

“So, with Freddy dying so soon after K.’s birth, we persuaded her mother to take her back to the States.”

“But now she’s here, so I assume she is a witch…”

“Yes, and we thought it time she learned of her heritage.  There are various estate issues to be resolved – tedious, but necessary…”

“Then I do hope your stay proves enjoyable…K.”

He said the initial as though savoring its very banality.  Then he turned away.

“I’ll have my secretary set up a tour of the Ministry for her – yes, and she can come hear my speech.  I’m going to address the issue of the Missing Horcrux.  You might find that of interest…K.”

Kate found herself unable to say anything, so she just nodded.

Wart entered, carrying a tray of tea and biscuits.  Moving to an ornate, inlaid table, she laid them out in front of the Minister, whose eyes caressed her, as she leaned over and then he turned to Vulpine.

“Come, Cousin – we have things to discuss.”

Vulpine waved Wart out of the room, as she turned to Kate:

“Why don’t you have Sienna show you the grounds?  But don’t leave, dear, before I get a chance to say goodbye.”

And Kate, gratefully, took her leave, but as she did, she overheard Fearghas say:

“Your Wart…”

“Yes, Fearghas…”

“Is she a…’compliant’ girl..?” he asked, with a greasy caressing of the word.

“She’s never failed to do anything we’ve asked.”

“Rather pretty thing, isn’t she..?  Do you suppose you could have her…take a stroll with me..?”

“Yes, I’m sure I can manage that.”

And then Kate was beyond earshot, but the conversation echoed inside of her, making her sick to her stomach.

 

Out in the gardens, Kate could not wait to flee this place.  Even her seat on an ornately-carved marble bench made her uncomfortable.  Sienna meanwhile was totally ignoring her, as she made birds dance along the rim of a fountain.

Off at the southern edge of the gardens, on a small rise, was one of those decorative structures Kate had seen in Jane Austen movies.  This one was twelve-sided and made out of white marble, with a green domed roof and many pillars, but there didn’t appear to be any windows.

‘Why would anyone build something and not put windows on it..?’ she wondered.  ‘What purpose could it have..?  Maybe it’s some sort of ornate tool shed for estates this grand..?’

But before she could ask Sienna, which she would have hated doing, Vulpine approached with the Minister and the Wart.  Upon seeing the Minister, Sienna jumped up and ran to hug him.

“Uncle Fergie!  When did you get here..?  Gran – why didn’t you tell me he was coming..?  You’re staying for dinner, aren’t you..?”

Fearghas gave her a three pats and done hug.

“No, Si-Si, I’m just here for a brief visit with your grandmother.  But I will come back soon.  I promise.”

Kate stood there, speechless, and somewhat horrified.  ‘Mom was right,’ she thought, ‘Sienna must not know the truth about this man; she could never keep our secrets from him.’

“Sienna – I’d like you to pick out a few things that K. can wear while she’s here.”  Sienna sighed, rolling her eyes.  “Now, please…“

Sienna stood, rather sulkily.

“You want me to give her things of mine..?  But nothing will fit her.”

“Perhaps something you’ve grown out of then…”

Her grandmother gave her a hard stare.  Sienna made for the house.

After she’d left, Vulpine turned to Fearghas.

“Cousin Fearghas – let me know if you need anything else before you go, won’t you..?”

“I’m sure your Wart can take care of my needs, Cousin Vulpine,” he said, as he took Wart by the back of the arm and lead her off through the garden.

Vulpine waited until Fearghas and Wart were out of earshot.

“Come.”

Kate rose, numbly and joined her grandmother, while finding herself unable in her horror, to look away from the two walking off through the garden, while the two Defenders followed in their wake.

 

Vulpine led Kate upstairs, to a large bedroom that overlooked the gardens.  The walls were covered in a heliotrope silk that matched the hangings above the four-poster bed, the posts of which, Kate noticed were entwined bodies of snakes.

“Sit,” she said to Kate.

Kate, defiant, chose not to, but rather stood with arms crossed.  Her grandmother’s thin smile did not slip, but her head tilted.

“You never told me how you liked my birthday gift.”

“Gift..?”

“The silver locket…”

“The silver…  No – that was from my sister.”

“Who bought it at a store that’s never open..?  Am I right..?”

“Well, I never opened it…”  And Kate was now glad she hadn’t.

“I see…  Well, regardless, I’m going to give you something else.”

“No!  …Thank you.  I’m good.  I just want to go.”

Vulpine studied her again.

“So like your mother…”

“I hope I am,” Kate said, proudly.

“A mother who can no longer protect you, so for her sake, accept this gift.”

Vulpine touched her wand to a full-length painting of a regal, haughty woman, most likely from the early 1800’s.  It pivoted open, revealing a small room.  The only light came from a slit in the thick velvet curtains, making the interior difficult to see, but it seemed to hold quite a lot of things for such a small space.

Vulpine moved aside a display case, so as to open the top drawer of an antique chest, from which she pulled out a tiny case.

Coming to Kate, she took a seat next to her.

“Sit…please…”

Kate did, but the closeness of this woman, who perfectly fit Kate’s idea of a Slytherin – a cold blooded reptile –  made her want to shiver (or “get all trembly,” as Phin would have put it).

Vulpine opened the ancient silver box.  Inside, tucked into the faded green velvet lining, was a pair of cabochon-shaped tiger’s eye earrings, slightly smaller than dimes.

“These have been in the Thorne family for centuries.  I want you to have them.”

“No…thank you.  I don’t want –“

“It’s not a matter of want; it’s a matter of need.  Your wants are scattered, but your needs are specific.  If you want to take down the most powerful man in our world you need to protect yourself.”

Kate pulled them out – they were for pierced ears.  As if that was reason enough not to accept them, Kate said:

“Thank you, but I don’t have pierced ears, so –“

Vulpine pulled out her wand.

‘No limiter ring,’ Kate noted.

Vulpine whispered something and Kate’s body froze.  Short, pin-point bursts of light emitted from Vulpine’s wand, striking both of Kate’s earlobes.  If she could have, she would have screamed from the pain.

“Now you do.”

Vulpine pushed the earrings into Kate’s ears and secured them.

“You are never to take them off.  Not as long as you remain in this country.  Do you understand?”

Kate was still frozen.  Vulpine reversed the spell.

“Oww!” Kate said in anger.

If she wasn’t disgusted with her whole afternoon at Thornefield, now she was also furious.              She reached defiantly for the right earring determined to yank it out and throw it away, but her grandmother’s surprisingly strong hand clamped onto hers.

Kate wrested it away and yanked out the earrings.  The pain of her defiant act was intense, but she refused to let it show.

“Thanks, but I don’t want anything from you, or anything to do with you!  Now I understand why my mother ran away!”

“And look where it landed her.  She married a Muggle and got both of them killed.”

“And you – you offer hospitality and…and disgusting ‘benefits’ to the very man who murdered her!”

“As they say, my child – ’Keep your enemies closer.’  But, make no mistake – I will not let him take another member of my family.  So put your revulsion aside, sit down and listen to me.”

Kate let out a disgusted breath, but, after a moment, she sat.

“Good.  Now as I see it, you have three choices.  One:  If you’ve inherited any of our family’s Slytherin shrewdness, you’ll enjoy what you have left of your vacation and then go home.

“Two:  If you take after your mother and use her Ravenclaw’s reasoning, you’ll realize that your goal has absolutely no chance of succeeding, and again, you’ll enjoy your vacation and go home.

“But three:  If, as I suspect, you are at heart a Gryffindor – brave to the point of foolhardiness – well then, you’ll need more than luck on your side.  So please – be at least smart and shrewd enough to accept my gift.”

“…So what’s so special about a pair of earrings..?”

“They’re called, ‘The Eyes of the Basilisk.’  My great-great grandmother gave them that name.  They’ve been passed down, mother to daughter for generations – even our husbands never knew of their secret.”

“What do they do..?” Kate asked – the geek in her making her curious enough to stay, while the defiant teenager within her was shouting – LEAVE!

“They can neutralize an opponent.”

“When you say ‘neutralize’…”

“If an enemy is bearing down on you, you look straight into their eyes – have you learned to cast non-verbally..?”

“Kind of…”

“Well then, you look in their eyes and say, Forum Draconis.

Forum Draconis  That’s it – no wand wave..?”

“No wand is required.  The ‘eyes’ of the stones will flash, projecting a powerful Stupefy-like spell that lasts long enough for you to flee.”

Kate cupped her hand loosely around the earrings, as though they might bite.

Vulpine locked her gaze onto her granddaughter.

“I share your fury, my child.  If you believe nothing I say, believe that, but you must bury it, as I have.  Anger won’t help you make the best choices, and you’ll need a clear mind, if you’re to accomplish what lies ahead of you.”

Vulpine rose.  With the faintest of smiles, she said:

“I’ve already given you an important part of the puzzle.”

“The puzzle..?”

“You didn’t notice..?  Perhaps you’re not as bright as I thought.”

Kate looked at her grandmother, her hard, sculpted features.  She might hate this woman, even find her repulsive, but her gift could prove useful.  Or did that mean she was now thinking like a Slytherin..?

A sudden cry – a woman’s cry – rang out from the gardens.  Vulpine rose and crossed to the window.  Whatever she saw below made her head for the door, where she paused long enough to say:

“Now, find Sienna.  She will see you out.”

 

As Vulpine left the room, Kate massaged her earlobes, which still stung fiercely.  Rising, she looked out through the window, across the gardens, where the two defenders stood guard at the entrance to a small outer building.  And then he – Fearghas, Minister of Magic, her mother’s murderer – exited…alone.

Turning away, she crossed to her grandmother’s vanity table.  She looked in the mirror.  What had looked back at her as recently as that morning had been the face of an innocent, teenaged geek, but that bubble had been painfully punctured, like her virgin ear lobes.

In its place she saw a new face – the face of a woman filled with angry determination.  Kate jammed the Basilisk earrings back through her rudely punctured flesh.  The gems’ darker, viper-like slits aligned vertically within their amber surroundings.  Dancing light from the garden pond below flashed within them.

Now to escape this mad house…  But as she made for the door, something inside the secret room caught her eye – a painting sitting on an easel, turned away from the entrance.

After making certain she was alone, Kate slid into the room, carefully stepping around the piles of objects.  They reminded her of the curio cabinet at Grimmauld Place – horrible things imprisoned in glass cases and bell jars.

She faced the easel, but the light in the room was too dim, so she pulled back the curtain.  Below, she saw her grandmother striding across the garden toward the little building.

Angling the painting, so that a shaft of light fell upon it, she saw the scene her mother had described – a red-haired girl and a boy.  The little boy ran around, teasing the girl, but, as Kate looked closer, she noticed that no matter what the little boy did, the girl did not move.

‘That must be Aunt Gwynne.  But she’s not moving – is that because she’s a Squib,’ she wondered.  ‘And Mom isn’t there, because she’s in her portrait at Morrellayne.  So that must be my uncle.’

A noise from somewhere in the house made her jump, and she was about to let the curtain fall, but something in the background of the painting caught her eye and made her pause.  Peering closer, she noticed three more children – two boys, with cherubic mops of red-gold curls and a younger girl with long blonde hair.

She guessed who the boys were, ‘But who’s the girl with the oval face..?’ she wondered.  And upon further inspection she realized:

“The girl isn’t moving!  Just like Aunt Gwynne!  She’s a –“

Kate fell instantly silent – noise from the garden below.  She let the drape fall shut.  Peeking through a slit, she saw Vulpine coming out of the little building, guiding a disheveled Wart, who was walking as though in a trance.

Confunded and what – Obliviated..?’ Kate wondered.  The thought of why that had been necessary made her shake.  Was it fear or anger, or both..?  Kate turned the painting back around and quickly left the room.

 

Rushing down the stairs, she searched for Sienna.  Moving down the far hallway, she passed a room where the door lay open.  It was almost completely dark, except for a shaft of light, coming from a skylight, though how that could be, when it was on the ground floor, with at least three floors above it, Kate didn’t know.

Inside, she saw an elderly man, dressed smartly in a suit from an earlier era.  He was smiling up at an ornately-colored songbird that sat on his outstretched finger.  The man cooed to the bird and the bird sang back to him.  Other birds, in a large Victorian style birdcage next to the man, trilled their own songs.  Entranced, Kate paused to watch.

The man became aware of her presence and turned to her.  His eyes grew wide and his face trembled in wonder.  Tears that sparkled in the unexplained shaft of light began to flow down his cheeks.  He tried to speak, but his voice was hoarse with the rime of faded memories.

“…Dorrie..?” he rasped.

Kate was unsure what to do.  She looked up and down the hallway.  Was this her grandfather..?  Had she stumbled upon the one sane, kind person in this house of horrors..?

“Dorrie..?  Have you come back to us..?”

The birds sang cheerily.

“Come in, come in, let me look at you.  Oh, my long-lost angel..!”

Kate took a couple steps towards him.  The man pulled out his wand and flicked it about the room – candles came on, but Kate’s eyes were only on the man and his tears.  A bit shaky, he rose to his feet, waving her closer.

Aware the bird was still on his finger and he couldn’t hug her being so encumbered, he turned his wand on the bird.

Stupefy,” he whispered, and the bird froze.

Hopping slightly around on his arthritic legs, he tossed the bird into an enormous terrarium Kate hadn’t noticed.  What seemed like a dark bog suddenly erupted into a surging throng of snakes, vying to devour this gift.

Kate suppressed a scream and ran from the room, bumping into Sienna, knocking an armful of clothes to the floor.

“Those were your hand-me-downs.”

“Keep them!  I don’t want them!  All I want is to get the hell out of here!”

Kate pushed past her to the doorway, as the man called out after her.

 

Rushing down the front lawn, the dogs were suddenly upon her, barking and snapping.  Kate wheeled around, fury in her voice and face.

“You wanna a piece of me..?” she shouted at them.

The dogs stopped.  Under Kate’s glare, the smaller one turned and trotted away, tail between its legs, but the larger one did not.  Its lips curled back from its rather large fangs.         But Kate was not to be tested, in fact, she’d welcome it, after the visit she’d had.

‘What better way to try out these bloody earrings,’ she thought.

Stepping closer, she leered into the dog’s slavering mug, but, after a moment, it, too, slunk away.

Reaching the gate, she yanked it open, stepped outside, slammed it shut and then, with a loud – POP – she disapparated.

 

 

CHAPTER 26

 

“FIRE IN THE BELLY”

 

“You survived – that’s a hopeful sign,” Dorcas called out, from her portrait.

Looking closer at her daughter, she sensed there was more to it.

“What is it, darling..?”

Kate’s aunt came in and took a seat next to Dorcas.  Kate sat on the table between them so as to keep it between the three of them.  And then she told them all about her visit with Vulpine, how she’d sprung Fearghas on her, and her grandmother’s question:

“Am I prepared to kill him,” she asked me.

“Really – will it come to that..?” her aunt asked.

“Wait a minute – how did she introduce you..?”

“She said I was your brother, Freddie’s illegitimate daughter.”

Then she told them about Fearghas’s despicable act with the Wart.

“My mother being so chummy with Fearghas is troubling, but then she always did have that Slytherin knack for playing shrewd politics.”

Then Kate remembered Vulpine’s response to his remark about Squibs and told them.

“…Like implying there’d been one in his family – is that true?”

“I seem to remember there being another child – a girl – yes, a girl,” her mother said.  Is that important, Kate?”

“It might be very important.  That painting, Mom – the one you described.  She keeps it in a secret room off her bedroom.  Aunt Gwynne – you and your brother were in it, but in the portrait, you, Aunt Gwynne weren’t moving.  Is that because you’re a Squib..?”  Her aunt nodded.  “Then maybe that explains her comment, because in the background were three other kids.”

“Three others..?”

“Yes – two boys and a girl – the boys had red-gold, curly hair and were chasing each other, but the blonde girl was just like Aunt Gwynne – not moving.“

Her aunt rose, drying her hands on a towel.

“Perhaps you might want to consider letting sleeping dogs lie,” she suggested.

“But if she is who I think she might be…”

“You might be poking a stick into a viper’s den, the size of which you can’t comprehend.”

“Maybe…”

Her aunt shook her head and went into the kitchen.  Kate rose, too.

“Are you going to tell Char..?”

“No, I’m going to do some research.”

Kate went to the shelf, where she’d placed the Mini-Prophet and Kate stuck her finger into the open Prophet’s door. WHOOMP –  she disappeared.

“Amazing..!” her mother said, as Sherry barked.

 

Kate flicked her wand at the lights and the place lit up.  She dashed around the area of the file cabinets, searching…

“Marriage announcements / Court cases / AH!” she exclaimed.

She stopped before a cabinet marked:  BIRTHS & DEATHS.

“MacAra Births!” she shouted and one cabinet started shooting volumes out at her.

She flicked his wand and they stopped mid-air.

“No, no – more specific…”

Pointing her wand again, she said:  “Files on MacAra births, last sixty years.”

Several volumes suddenly reversed course and reinserted themselves into the cabinet, while one file came soaring over to her.

Kate took the volume to a nearby desk and spread it out.  She found it all in chronological order, but what was not so easy was finding the right MacAra’s – there seemed to be at least five branches.

Finally she found the name Fearghas, and then she found his brother, Hamish.  Five years after his birth, there was a listing for a sister – “Seonag, born July 31st, 1965.”  The date tickled something in the back of her mind, but she didn’t stop to bring it forward.

She searched past that date, but there was no “Jo,” or “Joanne,” or anything beginning with a “J.”, and the next listings were all for (Mac) Hamish’s children, which Kate sadly saw were all “deceased,” and at very young ages.

‘Voldemort,’ she said, nodding, remembering what Phin had told her.

Returning the file, she shut off the lights and stuck a foot out the door, while leaning backward.  WHOOMP – she was back in the great hall.  Eldric had joined her mother.

“More research..?” he asked.  Kate nodded.  “How’d it go..?”

“Not as well as I’d liked…  I was looking into the possibility that J.K. Rowling might be the Squib sister of the Minister.”

“That’s a cracking good tack!”

“But it only listed a ‘Seonag’ MacAra.”

“Seonag… Definitely ancient Scottish – worth further pursuit…”

“Yes,” was all Kate said, as she headed towards the terrace doors.

“Are you going out again?” her mother asked.

“Yes.  I’ll be back late.”

 

Outside, in the rain that was now pelting dark splatters on the flagstone, Kate opened her silver compact and whispered:  “Tavvie, Emma, can you meet me on Bishopsgate tower as soon as you can..?”

The compact glowed and vibrated.  Both women had said ‘yes,’ though Emma added:

 

More like 10 minutes

 

Kate apparated atop Bishopsgate tower, and stood there, unafraid of the height, or the weather.  She welcomed the rain and the wind, facing them head-on.  They purified her rage, while whipping her hair into writhing, dark tendrils.

After a moment, she glanced down at the building beneath her.  A wry smile came to her face.  Here was an imposing skyscraper, audacious in design, started with no lack of hubris, but which now lay abandoned and unfinished – an empty dream.  She understood the feeling.

POP – Tavvie appeared, dressed in a traveling cloak with her hood up.

“What’re you doing out here..?”

Tavvie pointed her wand and the window wall melted.  They entered.

“What’s the rush..?  You heard we’re meeting later at Emma’s.”

“I know,” Kate said, “But I needed to ask you something that could impact our planning.”

“All right…”

“Is there a new magical historian, who replaced Bathilda..?”

“You ripped me out of dinner for a library request..?”

“Is there..?”
“Yes, but you won’t like the answer.”

“Why..?”

“It’s Regina Quackenbush.”

“Regina Quackenbush… The Undersecretary of Compliance..?”

“Yes, but you’d be more familiar with her from the books, where she was called, ‘Dolores Umbridge’ –“
“DOLORES UMBRIDGE..?!  ‘I must not tell lies’ Umbridge is in charge of recording our history..?!”

“I told you you wouldn’t like it…“

“But with her in charge, the Ministry can literally fabricate history!”

Kate paused, thinking, then her face lit up.

“What about records – is there some place where they keep files on Squibs – specifically parentage, or place of birth..?”

“Yes – the Hall of Records and those they can’t change.”

“Why..?”
“Because they’re literally written in stone…”

“Is this the same place where they keep the records on prophecies..?”  Tavvie nodded.

“Yes, all records.”

“So two birds, one stone…”

Tavvie looked confused.

“Could you look up someone for me?”

“I could have last week, but they yanked my clearance.  Why..?  What Squib could be so important..?”

“J.K. Rowling..?”  Tavvie tilted her head, intrigued.  “…What if – what if she was actually born Joanne MacAra..?”

“As in Fearghas MacAra..?!”

Kate nodded.

“Do you think the record would be there, if she was..?”

“It would be bloody worthwhile trying to find out, wouldn’t it..?  I mean, it was her books that allowed him to… Wow!”

“But if you can’t get in…”

“I could, maybe – if there was a diversion big enough to pull the guard.  Then a big Confundus would do it, but I’d need someone to keep lookout for me, while I’m in there.”

“That could be me.”

“How’s that..?”

POP – Emma arrived, also cloaked, with her hood up against the rain.

“What did I miss..?” she asked.

“Kate thinks J.K. Rowling might be Minister MacAra’s sister.”
“No..!”

Kate nodded.

“So I’m going to check the Hall of Records when Kate releases our mayhem upstairs.  But Kate, that means we still have to find a way to get you into the Ministry.”

“Got that solved,” Kate said.

“What..?  How..?” Emma and Tavvie asked.

“I’ve been invited to go watch ‘Cousin Fearghas’ speech.”

“’Cousin’ Fearghas..?!” Tavvie exclaimed.

“By whom..?” Emma asked.

“Uhm, Fearghas.”

“What..?!”

“Sienna dragged me off to tea with my grandmother, who sprung him on me.”

“But then he knows you’re the -”

“No, she introduced me as my dead uncle’s illegitimate daughter.”

“Bloody hell..!” Tavvie said.

“Indeed!” Emma added.  “The Minister himself..!’

Kate shuddered.

“That man is a vile, loathsome –“

But just then there was a loud POP and a 20-ish lad appeared.

“Eh – what’re you birds doin’ ‘ere.  We’re ‘ere now.”

“We were here first, so bugger off,” Tavvie said.

“An’ who are you ta tell me tha’..?  Witches,” he said with derision,
“Why you’re barely a bug’s ass above Squibs, aren’ yah?”

Kate didn’t say “Forum Draconis,” she didn’t even remember thinking it, but when she spun to face him, hair flying wildly, her earrings fired a laser-like burst of harsh yellow that dimmed all other light around it.

The boy froze, eyes widened in fear, as he was blasted off his precarious perch.

If it wasn’t for Tavvie’s quick action, he might have dropped to his death.  When Tavvie’s wand raised him back up to the floor of the tower room, she and Emma turned to Kate.  Their questions (even Emma’s!) were laced with the same expletive.

“What the _______..?!”

But before Kate had time to say anything – POP!  POP!  POP!  POP!  Four more lads arrived, and immediately spotted their friend on the floor.  Tavvie and Emma, hoods still up, POP-ed out.

“Bleedin’ ‘ell..!  ‘Whadja do with arr mate..?”

Kate fixed them with the same look she’d used on her grandmother’s dogs.

“Listen up, blokes – there’s a new witch in town and you don’t wanna mess with me!” she shouted in her best English accent, and then, POP – she disapparated.

 

“Well there’s another place we can’t go back to,” Tavvie said.

“Really – I didn’t mean for them to go off.  They just –“

“Blasted..!” Emma said.

“Blasted..?” the others (minus Sienna) asked.

Emma had thought it wise not to invite her, since it was an attack on ‘Uncle Fearghas’s’ place of business they were planning.  The others, a bit stunned fell silent.

“I think they’re rather perfect for our Medusa theme,” Char said, breaking the tension.

“Maybe a little too…” Emma said.  “Come here, K.”

Kate moved closer to Emma as she pulled out her wand and waved it over the earrings, which transformed into large pearls.

“There – what do you think, Leigh?”

“Beautiful – they bring out her eyes.”

Kate felt them.

“Will they still work..?”

“Oh, yes.  So… shall we get to work..?”

Tavvie spread out a floorplan of the Ministry and the five (minus Sienna) starting their planning.  They worked late into the night.  It was decided that since any Slytherin would immediately be under suspicion if they were there on the day of the raid, it would be up to Kate to put the plan in play.

“But Emma is the only one who could enact the spell on the statue of the witch,” Kate said.

“Why Ems..?” Randi asked.

“Because of her hidden wand,” Kate explained.  “And she can do that a day or so before, so…”

“Oh,” Emma said with relief, “I can think of some excuse, I’m sure.  Brilliant, Kate..!”

 


 

CHAPTER 27

“SPLOSH & SPLAT!”

 

When she finally came down to the dining room, Char was clearing her plate.  She handed Kate the morning’s Prophet.

“You made the front page,” Char said.

 

                             MISSING HORCRUX STRIKES INNOCENT LAD

 

Using a power even Voldemort never employed, the Seed

of He Who Must Not Be Named blasted Eggie Mortenson of Flatley-on-Capon off of London’s Bishopsgate tower.  Were it not for the quick-witted actions of his mates, young Eggie might have perished. 

 

“It’s a bleeding bunch of floors up,” the lad said, “Me and the lads like to skate off the tower and I was the one what got there first…  But she shows up with two mates and was all like, ‘bugger off!’

“And then without even a bleeding wand – she blasts me off the f’ing tower.”

When asked how she did that, the lad replied:

“It were her eyes – blazin’ yellow, like that there Baskalisk [sic]! what Harry Potter fought.”

 

            “The actions of his mates..?!  Tavvie’s the one who saved him, and we were there first!  Oh – and ‘quick-witted’ – that’s rich,” Kate said, furiously, throwing the paper down.

“But you did blast the poor boy off Bishopsgate..?“ her aunt asked.

“I didn’t do it intentionally.  The earrings just went off.  And he wasn’t some ‘poor boy,’ Aunt Gwynne, he was a jerk.  He said witches are just a bug’s ass above a…”

Kate stopped, realizing that finishing the quote would insult her aunt.

“What – did he say you were just above a Squib..?”

“Uhm…”

Aunt Gwynne just picked up her plate, without saying a word and went into the kitchen.

 

Kate looked to Char, as if to say, ‘What could I say..?’  Char shrugged.

“Oh, if you want to get really upset, check out page four,” Char said.

Kate didn’t know if she did want to get really upset, but she turned to page four.

 

          DEAN OF NEW SCHOOL FOR GIRLS SELECTED

                                                                       

The Ministry of Magic is pleased to announce that a Dean for the New School for Women at Havenhurst has been selected.  Regina Quackenbush will be returning to…

 

Kate’s response was to crumble the paper up in frustration.

“Hmm, I was expecting something more explosive,” Char said, repressing a smile.  And then she checked her watch.

“What time did you say you were meeting the girls?”

Kate looked at Char’s watch.

“NOW..!”  Kate shoved a last bite of toast in her mouth and ran for the stairs.

 

Emma, Leigh and Char were sitting in Emma’s bedroom, as the dawn made her curtains glow.  The only clouds were distant, slender and creamy, barely defined against a pale tangerine sky that was slowly turning aquamarine.

The door to Emma’s dressing room opened, and Kate ran out, in the cream-colored dress Leigh had picked out, the shimmery seal-colored coat flying off one shoulder.  Her hair was light blonde and up in a French twist.

“Kate – you look wonderful.  Leigh picked it out..?”

Kate nodded.

“I picked out one, too,” Randi protested.

“Yes, but there won’t be a stripper pole at Splosh, will there..?” Leigh asked, winking at Emma.

Randi rapped Leigh on the arm.

“Oww..!” Leigh said, rapping her back.

This was a different Kate than the one they’d seen the day before.  And it wasn’t only her hair and clothing, no this Kate walked with confidence, with authority.

“Blimey..!  Is this our little K.?” Randi asked.  “Look at her – she bags Thurlow Malfoy and boom – she’s a bloomin’ femme fatale!”

Kate just smiled, not letting them know that:  1) Nothing had happened with Thurlow, and, 2) Her new-found confidence came from the little vial she was palming in her right hand.

Emma came up behind her, as Kate checked herself out in the mirror.

“You two could pass for sisters,” Leigh said.

“That would be lovely.  I always wanted a sister,“ Emma said.

Kate held onto Emma’s hands.

“I’d trade either of mine – for you,” Kate said, just for Emma.

“I think our work is done here, ladies,” Leigh added.

“Reggie is going down!” Emma said.  But then, she added: “Although, gently, I hope…”

 

Splosh was set in downtown London’s financial district, so the early morning crowd that hustled past was all suits and dress shoes.  Leigh and Kate POP-ed into a nearby alley.

“It’s somewhere around here..?”

“There –“ Leigh said, pointing to London’s most eye-catching building.

Kate looked over.

“Wow – no ‘downlow’ for you guys, huh..?”
“What..?”

“Nothing…”

Kate was so in awe of the building they were approaching, she stumbled off the sidewalk.  Ahead of them was The Gherkin, a cone-shaped skyscraper sheathed in alternating spirals of green and blue

Leigh led Kate inside and waded through the crowd milling before the elevators, to the last one.  After pressing its button seven times, magically, all the other lifts descended rapidly to the lobby and opened before theirs – even ones that had been several floors up, Kate noticed.  The people inside got out, some looking like they were suffering sudden-onset motion sickness.

Those elevators swallowed the lobby’s crowd, all except for one young man, who’d been zoning out, earbuds in.  When the doors in front of Leigh and Kate opened and they entered, he made a dash for it.  Leigh hit a button on the inside of the elevator, and the young man’s legs went into slow motion, like in those dreams where you’re trying to run away from your pursuers.  As he was just about there, Leigh gave him an almost sincere, “I’m so sorry,” look, and the doors closed.

“What happens if a Muggle makes it in?”

“They ride the lift to the floor they want.”

Leigh pushed the button clearly marked “SPLOSH.”

“But –“

“Oh, they don’t see that – only we can – and even if they bumped into it, if you’re not a witch or wizard, it wouldn’t take them there.”

“Just like the memorial for Harry and his parents in Godrick’s Hollow?”

“Yes, I suppose.  I’ve never – ah…here we are.”

As they got out, Kate realized why Randi had nicknamed the place “The Sleazy Susan.”  Splosh was two floors high and divided into two concentric rings, one four feet below the other, sort of like those revolving hotel restaurants, except that the upper ring rotated clockwise, while the lower one went in the opposite direction.  And, Kate noted, the levels seemed to be segregated, with men on the upper and women on the lower.

Beyond the outer ring, there was a clear wall of glass, separating the restaurant from the exterior walls.

‘It that to muffle sound,’ Kate wondered.

“Okay, I’ll quickly scan the crowd for – oh – there he is…”

“Reggie..?”

Leigh nodded discreetly, pulling Kate towards the stairs leading to the lower level.

“Which one..?”

“Behind me – three piece black suit and white pocket poof.”

Kate looked over Leigh’s shoulder, which was hard, as Leigh was at least five inches taller, but she saw a young man fitting that description.  He was chatting with two other young men, also dressed in three-piece black suits.  Reggie pulled back his coat to reveal his tailored vest, from which he pulled a gold pocket watch.  After checking the time, he returned to his conversation.

“Wavy hair and tortoise shell glasses..?”
“That’s him.  Come – stake out a good position.  I’ll be off to the side.  Only talk to me if you’re desperate.  He knows Emma and I are close.  Oh, and I have to leave soon – appointment for some design work – wish me luck.”

“Luck – to me, too.”
“Yes, of course, but I have every confidence.”

‘I wish I did,’ Kate thought, but then her hand squeezed her little vial of Amortensia and she relaxed.

‘You’ve got this, Kate, you’ve got this.’

They made their way down to the lower level, using a small set of steps.  At the side was some sort of control panel.

As they took up their positions, Kate noticed that all the women were standing so that they faced the upper ring – even the women who were with friends.  A very weary-looking, middle-aged witch, in server’s attire came up to Kate.

“What’ll it be, dear..?”

“Oh, uhm…I don’t know – tea.”

“Of course, luv, but which one,” she asked, pointing up to a revolving banner, something like a neon ticker tape.  There were so many choices, Kate jumped at the next one.

“Dragon’s Tears, I guess.”

The waitress’s face scrunched for a second.
“Right – you want that with lemon, or cream.”

“Uhm, cream..?” Kate said, seeing Reggie and his group passing by.  Kate tried to hold herself up to catch his attention, but he wasn’t looking.

“I feel I must tell you, the cream curdles in it.  Some like tha’, but…”

“Lemon then…”

“Comin’ up, luv…”

The server moved on, walking like her swollen feet were killing her.

‘How’m I supposed to get his attention, if he doesn’t look around,’ Kate wondered.

More women entered, also taller than Kate, with two of them positioning themselves in front of her.  She’d need a pogo stick to be seen behind them now.

‘Wake up, Katie – why are you letting yourself be relegated to the lower row..?!  The only way he’s going to see you, is if you move up to his level,’ she decided.

So she made for the stairs, but just as she reached them, who should be getting off the elevator but Thurlow.  He looked up at her and his head tilted, with a questioning look.

“K…?” he called out.

Ducking down, Kate retreated, trying to lose herself in the forest of taller women.

“What are you doing,” Leigh hissed.  “He’ll never see you back here!”

“Thurlow just arrived and he spotted me.”

“Crikey!  Talk about bad timing.”

They both peeked out, only to see Thurlow searching the lower level.

“Now what..?” Kate asked.

“One ‘Dragon’s Tears’ with lemon, dear,” the waitress said.  “That’ll be three sickles…”

“Here, keep the change,” Leigh said, handing the waitress some silver coins.

“Thanks, luv,” she replied, shuffling off.

“You ordered Dragon’s Tears..?!” Leigh asked disgusted.

“I shouldn’t have..?”

“Randi calls it ‘Dragon’s…’ Well, you don’t want to know what she calls it.  Anyway, I have to dash.  Do what you must, but make it happen.  We’re all counting on you, K.”

Kate looked closer at the warm yellow liquid and set it down on the nearest table.  She snuck another peek at the upper row.  There was Thurlow, passing by in the opposite direction, followed by Reggie, his back still turned.  And there, coming off the elevator, was Sienna, dressed to kill.  All the men in the vicinity suddenly forgot what they were talking about and turned to watch her pass.

But rather than descending the stairs to join the other women, she stayed on the upper level, walking counter to its action, so that she was suddenly upon Thurlow.

“Thurlow Malfoy, what a surprise..!” Kate heard her say, as she brushed his cheek with her very red lips.  Thurlow smiled, but his eyes continued to search the crowd below.

Kate repositioned herself so that, if Reggie ever looked down, he’d see her, but Thurlow wouldn’t, the triangulation of which was tricky, as the counter-rotating platforms seemed to be speeding up.

‘Or am I just getting nervous,’ Kate asked herself.

One fruitless rotation followed another.

‘It’s hopeless here.  I have to go up,’ she told herself.

Reaching the stairs, she got shoved sideways, as more “glamazons” pushed past her, causing her arm to bump a lever on the control panel.  The two levels juddered and then started moving faster.  Lurching onto the upper platform, she made her way towards Reggie, but just as she neared him, a waiter handed him a note; he said something to his friends and left.

Kate started to panic.  This had been her one and only chance.  What could she do now?  And worse – out of the corner of her eye she saw Thurlow moving along the rim, with Sienna dogging his every step.  Watching her sister’s desperate attempt to get his attention gave Kate a second’s satisfaction, but getting away from them was more important.

Staying low, she slipped past waitresses and men and made her way back to the steps, where –

BOOM – a waitress with a very heavy tray, knocked into her and Kate fell against the control panel.  ZIP – the two levels started spinning faster and faster, until they approached warp speed.  Women near the upper level clung to the railing above them, the rotational velocity making their bodies go horizontal.  Those less lucky flew through the air and were plastered against the glass wall.

Men on the upper level soon lost their footings and blew out to the perimeter, where they were squashed against the layer of women already there.  It was like that ride at the county fair, but no one was going to stand in line to do it again.

The counter-revolutions, the whirring blue-green stripes and the searing sun upended Kate’s stomach.  She closed her eyes and forced herself to maintain her grip on the control panel, but it was slipping.  Desperate for a better handhold, she grabbed the nearest object, which turned out to be the emergency brake.

With a tremendous CHUNK the two levels came to a screeching halt.  There was a second of motionlessness and then layers of people started peeling off the windows, like meat from a spiral-cut ham.

Opening her eyes, Kate looked around.  People were slowly picking themselves up, but swaying unsteadily.  Several grabbed their stomachs and wobbled towards the exit.

Kate stood up and checked her dress – unblemished.  She smoothed her hair back into place.  She’d made it through unscathed – at least there was that…  And the old waitress, she noticed, being the pro that she was, still held a full tray of beverages.

But it seemed that Sienna, who had maintained her position by clinging to Thurlow, had repaid him by decorating his suit with her breakfast.  He staggered towards the exit, like someone pushing through high surf, with Sienna still clinging to him.

Yet all was not lost, because there, coming back into the room was Reggie.  Confusion spread across his face, as he looked across the sea of wilting people.  But then, his eyes fell upon Kate – not sick, not staggering, and very much his type.  His face lit up.  He smiled and Kate, feeling like sunshine had just broken through a week of rain, smiled back.

‘This is it, Katie – don’t muck it up,’ she thought, as he picked his way over the sick and unsteady towards her.  It was like in those rom-coms – Kate could almost hear that Mozart trope playing in the background.

Turning quickly, she popped the top on her little vial.

‘A drop, just a drop,’ she reminded herself.

But, as she pried off the cork – BAM – an unsteady customer fell against the older waitress, who in turn launched into Kate, splattering her with tea, coffee, and hot chocolate.  And, even worse, the Amortensia went spraying across the waitress.

The customers who were nearby froze, and then, in slow motion, turned to the careworn waitress, with goofy adoration on their faces – adoration that quickly turned to obsession.  The waitress started shuffling in reverse, and then all out sprinted for the exit.  All those she passed joined in the chase, until nearly the whole café had left, leaving pretty much just Kate and Reggie.

Kate looked at her lovely cream dress, which was now a wet blanket decorated in various shades of brown.

“I’d sue, I would.  Marring such loveliness should be a crime,” Reggie said, as he reached her.

“Oh no, it –“

Kate stopped.  One:  She’d forgotten that she and Leigh agreed the smart thing to do was to adopt a French accent; and two:  She was about to say some self-deprecating remark about her lack of coordination.

‘That was the old Kate, not the conqueror of Thurlow Malfoy,’ she thought.

“Oh, la.  But look – my dress – eet ees ruined.  And I have ze beeg meeting today.”

Reggie held out his hand and helped her up.

“You are too kind, Monsieur,” Kate said.

“Not at all, here, allow me,” Reggie said, pulling out his wand.  And with a simple movement he siphoned off all that the waitress had spilled on her.

Formidable!” Kate cried, “But you are a great weezard!” she added, remembering Leigh’s tip to lightly touch his arm.

“My pleasure, Ma’amselle,” Reggie said.

And then Reggie stopped.  He was staring at her face, as he tenderly brushed a loose lock of Kate’s blonde hair back behind her ear.

Monsieur..?”

“Oh – oh, nothing, you just remind me of someone.”

Kate looked at his face, and for a second regretted her mission.

“I…I zink zees ees someone you loaved very much, oui?”

“…Oui.  But…there you go, eh..?”

Oui.  Oh – Pardon – Quelle heur – excuse me, I mean to say, ‘What hour ees eet’..?”

Reggie checked his watch.

“Eight-fifteen; how far is your meeting..?”

“Eet ees at ze Ministry of Mageek…”

“But I work there.  Who are you meeting with, perhaps I know him.”

“I am taking ze meeting weeze ze Senior Secretary of ze Flu Netwairk.”

“Say that’s a jolly coincidence, because I’m his Under Secretary.”

Mais non!”

            “Oh, bad luck,” Reggie said, slapping his forehead, “I just got word he’ll be out for the day – some sort of stomach folderol… But hang on – that means I’m the acting Secretary!  Fan-TAH-stic!  So your trip isn’t ruined – you can meet with me!”

Reggie leaned in, with a wink.

“And just between us – I’m much better looking.”

Reggie flashed his biggest smile at Kate.

‘Oh, wait till I tell Emma that,’ Kate thought, smiling back at him.

“Now,” Reggie said, adjusting his glasses and assuming a business-like manner, “Why don’t we find a table and take that meeting.  There seem to be a lot available.”

 

A mere ten minutes later, Kate had convinced Reggie that she was giving him the best thing since the internet, except he probably had no idea what that was.

“And you’re sure that flu travel will be absolutely ash-free?  It’s the historical bugaboo of the blessed thing.”

“But yes, you must try eet.  You weel see.”

“Blinding!  Sorry, English for formidablah.  There’s a fireplace right over there, at the entrance.  It’s reserved just for senior level Ministry men like myself, or otherwise, I’d whisk you there with me.”

“Please – you must try eet now zen.”

Kate pulled one of Leigh’s beautifully-designed packages of Char’s powder out of her purse and handed it to Reggie.  Together they walked to the entrance.

“Be back in a jiff,” he said, as he tossed a pinch into the grating.  Emerald green flames with blue highlights rose up.  “Oooh – liking the color…”

Reggie hopped in.

“Ministry of Magic,” he said, with an authoritative air, and started revolving.

He disappeared and then a moment later reappeared.  Getting out of the fireplace, he went over to the nearest window to find the best light.  With an OCD-like examination of his jacket, slacks and even his pocket poof, he searched for any trace of ash, but there was none.

“Ace!  Simply fan-TAH-stic – not a fleck of ash anywhere – sheer genius, we must talk price, so I can have it all set for the Senior Secretary when he returns.”

“I zink bettair yet – I weel geev you ze first sheepment free.  You can stock all ze fireplaces at ze Ministry weeze ze powdaire and soopreese heem, yes?”

“I could kiss you – that’s absolutely -”

“Fan-TAH-steek..?”

“Fan-TAH-stic, indeed…”

“I szink you can kees me tomorrow, after ze beeg soopreese, yes?”

“Yes, indeed!” Reggie said, with another wink.


 

CHAPTER 28

 

“TAKING A STAND”

 

As Kate got back, she found Mr. Wordsworth chatting with her mother in the great hall.  Her mother called out:

“Kate – is that you..?”

“Yes, mom,” Kate replied.

“You got a letter.”

“From whom..?”
“It’s rather hard to tell from here, darling…”

“Oh, right.  Sorry, mom…”

Kate came over to the table and picked up the elegant envelope, stamped with an ornate MOM seal, set in gold metallic wax.

“The owl dropped it off while you were… Stop the presses – Mr. Wordsworth – do you recognize this splendid young woman?”

“Ah, if I was only fifty years younger,” he said, “I’d find a reason to put you on the cover of The Prophet – it would sell out like iced pumpkin juice on a hot day!”

Kate’s aunt came in and gave Kate a close once-over.

“Well it’s good to see that gang of yours has some sort of useful influence on you.”

Kate smiled tolerantly, as she kicked off her heels.  She picked up the letter with dread.

‘What could it say,’ her inner voice asked, ‘We know who you are and we’re coming to arrest you?’

Instead, the letter said:

 

“To:  2nd Cousin Kay [sic]

 

          Per your conversation yesterday, the Minister asked me to extend an invitation for you to attend his address at the Ministry tomorrow morning, at ten o’clock.

 

          If you would like a tour of the Ministry before or after that, it would be my great pleasure to arrange that for you.

 

          In either case, if you would please be at the Ministry entrance, at 14 Vicar Square West, at precisely nine-forty-five tomorrow, I will escort you in.

 

          With Best Regards,

          Pamela Wintercrisp

          Asst. to the Minister of Magic

 

          P.S.  The Minister wanted me to remind you that appropriate dress is required.  For ladies, that would be skirt and heels.

                       

Kate passed it to Char…

“What’s it say..?” her mother asked, impatiently.

“It’s an invitation to go watch the Minister’s speech tomorrow,” Char said.

“But Kate – that’s perfect!” Dorcas said, “This is your way in!”

“So…it’s on,” Char said, excitedly.

“Not if Kate comes to her senses,” her aunt said.

Char looked to Kate.  Kate nodded to her.

“No, it’s on,” Kate said firmly.

“Good, because I already picked this up from Archie…”

Char pulled a small wrapped packed out of her pocket.

“You were able to get one..?” Dorcas asked.

“Yes, from their secret store…” Char said.

“One what..?”

“Well, you see, to make everything happen in the right order, it had to be synched to something.  We – your mom and I – thought a sound would be the easiest device, since we couldn’t use time, as we didn’t know exactly when the speech would be made.  Soo…”

Char unwrapped the package.  It was a toy duck about the size of Kate’s palm.

“A duck..?”

“Yes, a decoy duck…” Char said.

“Like when Harry and the others broke into the Ministry.”

“Poetic resonance, isn’t it..?” Char asked with glee.

“I thought so,” Dorcas said.

“But there comes the snag.”

“The snag..?” Kate asked, seeing worry on their faces.

“Someone – and I’m so sorry, but that would have to be you – has to be there, on the floor, to release it.”

Kate gulped.

“Just release it..?”  Char nodded.  “And then what..?“

“You walk away.”

It sounded too easy, but Kate very much liked the ‘walk away’ part.

 

After washing the blonde out of her hair and changing her clothes, they (minus Dorcas, of course) sat down to a delicious feast of fish and chips, with malt vinegar and a dessert of sticky toffee pudding, piled high in parfait cups.

Dorcas called in from the living room.

“Oh, how I wish I could still smell the chips…”

“Sorry, mom would you like me to say how wonderful they are, or would that make it worse..?”

“Worse…”

“Okay.”

“They’re really awful, Mrs. Meadowes,” Char said, with her mouth full, while reaching for seconds.

 

After lunch, Kate followed Char out to the studio.

“I have to go into Haven’s Hollow, if you’d like to come.  I have some new daydreams to drop off to Weasley’s.”

“Weasley’s..?  Yes please!  Will George be there..?”

“No, George runs the one in Diagon Alley.  Alphie runs this one.  Can you be ready in fifteen minutes?”

“I can be ready in five.  Let me grab a sweater.”

 

Kate and Char arrived at the top of the lane, almost exactly where she POP-ed in, when she came with Phin.  They had decided it best if Kate wore her scarf over her hair, rather than take the chance that someone might be there who was also at Diagon Alley the day of their escapade.

Somehow, Havens Hollow didn’t seem as charming to Kate, as it did the first time.  Maybe it was because she no longer had stardust in her eyes.  They entered Weasley’s, through the legs of an enormous dancing spider.

‘Why didn’t I go into Weasley’s in Diagon Alley,’ Kate wondered, as her eyes were filled with wonder everywhere she looked inside the store.

“I’ll be back in a bit,” Char said.

Kate watched as she headed to the rear of the store, where she joined Alphie and the two disappeared behind a curtain.

At the front of the store, was a display that had attracted a small crowd of teenagers – Weasley’s Daydreams, which, like in the books, promised at least half an hour of delight.

To the one end, there were boxes with glorious covers depicting epic adventures – young men battling evil wizards, escaping fire-breathing dragons, or winning at Quidditch.

And on the other end, the covers featured various romantic scenarios – young women being rescued by a dashing prince (from a fire-breathing dragon), or being saved from an evil wizard, by a dashing Auror.  And then, in between, there was a mish-mash, one of which made Kate laugh out loud, the title of which was:  “A Day in the Life of a Muggle”.

 

Ever wondered what it would be like to

                               spend a day as a Muggle – without Magic?

                               Go Skiing (a Muggle sport played on snow)

                                Ride a “bicycle” and play electronic games

                            (NOTE:  This entry is only twenty minutes long)

 

‘Too boring for a full-length..?’ Kate wondered.  She noticed it had been reduced in price.

Looking up, Kate saw that some of the girls were picking up boxes from the first side, until a tall woman crossed in front of Kate.  She saw mothers call to their youngest children, telling them to drop their boxes and come close.

Kate looked at the back of the woman who had instilled such fear.  Kate froze, having seen that back before, and that frozen crown of icy blonde hair, above those squared shoulders.

‘That’s the woman who torched Eldric’s home!’ she realized.

At the woman’s side, but a few paces behind, was a mousy young man carrying a clipboard.

A salesgirl in flaming red came running up.

“Gooday, Miss Quackenbush; is it inspection time again already?”

“It’s inspection time when I feel a venue needs to be inspected.  As Under-Secretary of Compliance, it is my duty to see that all stores are following the letter of the law.”

“Yes, Miss Quackenbush.”

‘So that’s Regina Quackenbush – the real “Dolores Umbridge”!’ Kate thought.

“Carney – note down that the Boy’s Daydreams are not sufficiently separated from the Girl’s.  Suggestion:  Separate the access to each side by gender.  And add two demerits to the store’s tally.”

“Yes, Miss Quackenbush.”

“They were thoroughly separated this morning, when we opened; it’s just that, over the course of the day…”

“Yes, yes, unfortunate… Let’s move on.  I wish to inspect the back of the store.  We’ve had reports…”

Kate felt panic set it.  The back of the store was where Char was with Archie.  She pulled out her compact and whispered into it:

 

                                  “Char – Regina headed your way now!”

 

Regina brushed by Kate and marched to the rear, where Char was exiting with Archie, just in time.  She nodded to Kate, with a small smile.

“Thanks for the warning!  That was far too close!” Char said when she reached Kate.

But Kate’s attention had been pulled to the street.  Out in the square a crowd had gathered.  Whoops and jeers could be heard, and several upraised fists could be seen.

“What’s going on out there..?” Char asked.

 

As they reached the rim of the crowd, Kate could see a young, red-haired woman, approximately her own age, trapped in the center of a circle of jeering people.

Their wands pointed at her, they fired sharp zaps that made her jump, delighting her tormentors.  Kate noticed that two Defenders in their gray uniforms, stood by, taking no action.

Tugging on the sleeve of a woman next to her, she asked:

“What did she do..?  Why are they doing this to her..?”

The woman didn’t turn around, but said:

“She’s a ginger – could be the bleedin’ Horcrux, couldn’t she?”

“Just because she has red hair..?”

“K…” Char whispered, her voice full of warning.

But Kate ignored her.  The girl ran back and forth, trying to avoid the blasts from the crowd’s wands.  Tears ran down her face, and she cried out, but no one took any pity and the zaps continued.  Even some of the women joined in, shooting geysers of whipped cream at her.

A particularly vicious shot tore part of the girl’s blouse, causing her to cry out in pain.  She tried to run, only to slip on the whipped cream and fall to the cobblestones, bringing laughter from the crowd.

That was enough for Kate.  She pushed through the throng and made her slippery way to the girl.  Reaching out her hand, she helped her back up.  Once the girl was on her feet again, Kate looped her arm through hers and faced the crowd defiantly.

The girl was confused by her action, until Kate made a decision and ripped off her scarf, revealing her red hair, which glowed in the sunlight.

But rather than pausing, because their target had been diluted (two Missing Horcruxes?), the crowd’s abuse continued – indeed, Kate’s action seemed to up the intensity.  Blasts hit the ground before them, tearing up bits of stone, which tore through Kate’s jeans and bit at her shins.

She debated pulling out Mad-Eye’s wand and throwing up her special Protego, but she realized she might as well purchase a ticket to Azkaban, if she did that.

Out of the corner of her eye, Kate saw Char leave the edge of the circle.  Despair started to set in, but she refused to show it.

Then, on the outside of the ring, a sturdy, black-haired woman tried to push into the circle, but her husband latched onto her arm.

“Hang on..!  What do you think yer doin’?” he shouted.

“The right thing,” she shouted, wresting her arm free.

She made her way towards Kate and the girl.

“Get back here, woman!”

“No..!”

“I said, get back here!”

And the man fired a warning zap that hit the ground at the woman’s feet.  She jumped out of the way, but was defiant in her glare.  She linked arms with Kate and the bewildered girl.

And then another woman with long, brown braids joined them.

“Teach ‘em all a lesson,” another man shouted out.

“Wouldn’t take that from my woman,” another man added.

“That’s why you’re single,” a nearby grey-haired woman barked, as she joined Kate and the others..

Some of the women nearby laughed, but cautiously.

A few men continued to fire away, but, Kate noticed, most of the women had stopped.

And then a man’s voice boomed out:

“Oi!” he said, busting through the perimeter.  It was the Weasley cousin, Alphie.  He made his way to the center and took a shielding stance in front of the women.

“Outta the way, Weasley,” one man shouted.

Archie pulled out his wand.

“Or what..?  You want to take me on?  Think you’re a big man, firing your big-boy wand on these women..?  And the rest of you..!  What the bloody hell are you thinking..?!”

“They’re redheads – least two of ‘em!  They could be the Horcrux!”

“Voldemort’s seed!” one woman shouted and then clapped her hand over her mouth, realizing she’d said the Dark Lord’s name.

“Just because of their hair..?  Then so could my daughters, or my cousin’s – you going to fire on them, too..?”

The man didn’t answer, and neither did the others, who seemed to rethink the “sport” of what they were doing.

“Most of you know me – I’m a Weasley, which means you all should know of my cousin, Ginny, and my aunt, Molly.  They fought Voldemort and his lot at Havenhurst, saving your arse – all your arses.  If they were here right now, would you be firing at them, too..?  Would you..?!”

The crowd looked a little sheepish; there was some grumbling.

“You all should be ashamed of yourselves!  Go home!”  Then he turned to the Defenders, “And you two, standing there like useless lumps – thought you were supposed to be ‘Defenders’!”

“Here now, we know what we’re supposed to be on about,” one of the Defenders said.

“Well if it isn’t protecting your citizens, then you don’t really, do you..?!”

The Defenders shuffled off.

Alphie turned to Kate and the others.

“Are you all right?”

“I’m fine,” Kate said.

She turned to the girl, who was too shaken up to say anything.  She then looked to the others.  A triumphant smile came to their faces and they hugged.

“Thank you so much,” Kate whispered to them.

“T’weren’t nothing – we girls gotta stick together,” the black-haired woman said.

“Only right,” the woman with the brown braids said, as the woman with grey hair nodded in agreement.

Then they walked back through the dispersing crowd.  Kate thought she heard the black-haired woman say something about, ‘sleeping on the couch’ to her husband.

The girl, still unable to speak, gave Kate a strange, almost fearful look and then quickly made her way across the slippery cobblestones and up the road, as though all she wanted was to disappear.

Alphie appraised Kate’s clothes.  Pointing his wand, he made the whipped cream disappear.

“I’d have Char take a look at your legs – you might have some nasty cuts.”

“Thank you, thank you so much,” was all Kate could say, as tears welled up in her eyes.

“That was real pluck that was – jumping in like that.  Imagine them thinking either of you could be the Missing Horcrux.”

“Yeah, imagine…”

As Alphie returned to his shop, most of the crowd had dispersed, but Kate noticed Miss Quackenbush and her assistant standing nearby.  Miss Quackenbush was looking at her, as she said something to her assistant, who jotted it down on the clipboard.

Kate pulled Char in close.

“That’s Regina Quackenbush..?”  Char nodded discreetly.

“That’s the woman who burned down Eldric’s cottage!”

“No..!”

“Yes…  She’s evil…”

“That’s a generally held opinion,” Char whispered.

Kate took a final glance at Regina, who was still staring at her.

 

This time, when Kate got back, her aunt took one look at her shredded jeans and just shook her head, continuing on her way.  Kate felt like calling out to her, to let her know that she actually needed remedies for the bitter cuts on her shins, but she let her go, knowing her aunt’s words would cut deeper than her wounds.

Later that evening, Kate was alone with her mother.

“You’re having doubts..?” her mother asked.

“It’s just that…well, in the past I’ve kind of been guilty of – you know, of…uhm trying for too much.”

“Trying for too much..?”

“Like when I did that first recital – the one in Boston.  I played Liszt – a piece way more difficult than anything I’d ever played.  My teacher tried to talk me out of it, but I dug in my heels – ‘I’m playing this one,’ I said.

“So I gave it all I had, but I came in tenth.”

“So you tried for something big, but only came close.  Still, Kate, you tried.  Fear holds us all back, especially women.”

“But mom – if I do this thing at the Ministry, coming in tenth is the equivalent of what – being caught and sent to Azkaban..?!”

“Then we’ll just have to have all of our ducks in a row, won’t we..?  Oh, I made a pun.” Dorcas laughed.  “Sorry, you were saying..?”

“The most irritating part of the whole thing was what the head judge said.  He was this crusty old Pilgrim descendant, with Russian dictator eyebrows and a tux that smelled like Grandma Talbot’s attic.  He said:

“Liszt – a surprising choice for a little girl…  No, Liszt takes fire and force – something few, if any grown women can muster, much less a little girl…  Perhaps a Chopin Nocturne next time…  Yes, a nocturne would have been more appropriate for you.”

“Rather patronizing…”

“That’s what I thought, and without thinking, I said:  ‘Nocturnes are for wimps’!”

Dorcas laughed.

“But see – I might regret that if he’s on a future panel!”

“But you stood up for yourself.”

“But my point was, I just think sometimes I bite off more than I can chew, because…”

“Because..?”

“I don’t know, maybe because I want to fail, maybe I want someone to say, ‘Life’s too big for you; so go home, little girl,’ and then I’d be free to stop trying.”

“What’s that line about ‘Cowards die a thousand deaths, but –‘…”

“Yes, but mom, we’re talking real death here!”

Kate grabbed a pillow and squeezed it against her face, as if to ward off the future.

“Perhaps, Kate, what you should do is think ahead.”

“But that’s just it – I never think ahead, I just plunge!”

“No, I meant – think of what you’d like to do after this.  You’re so caught up with what’s going to happen in the very near future, that you’ve stopped thinking about the bigger picture.  For instance…when I was learning to fly a broom; I had such a complex seeing things whiz past me, especially in advanced flying, when we were zipping through the Forbidden Forest.”

“The Forbidden Forest..?!”

“Yes – how could I ever do it..?  And my instructor, Miss Hooch –“

“Miss Hooch – she taught you..?  Wow!”

“Yes, anyway, she said, ‘Just look way up ahead of you; then everything else slows down and the path grows wider.”

“Extreme ‘Yoda,’ that is…”

“Extreme what..?”
“Sorry – different, uhm, genre, or whatever…  So you’re saying..?”

“Plan an adventure after this one; then this one won’t be so all-consuming.”

“Well we did have kind of vague plans to do something at Havenhurst.”

“Havenhurst – why..?”

“I didn’t tell you..?  They’re opening a new school for girls.”

“Just for girls..?”

“Yes, but with classes that only teach them ring-limited magic – you know – nothing but household-ie spells and ones to make you pretty.”

“NO!  What a waste of an education, not to mention all those young minds..!”

“I know, right..?  And that’s not the worst part!  Guess who they picked to be the Dean..?  Regina Quackenbush..!”

“Regina –“

“Quackenbush…”

“Should I know her..?”

“Not if you can avoid it, she’s horrible!”

“I’ll take your word for it.  So what did you want to do..?”

“It’s only a thought, but I was thinking we could do a variation on something from the books.  I don’t know if it happened for real, because I forgot to ask Char.”

“Go on…”

“It involved Albus Dumbledore – did you know him..?”

“Kate – I was in the Order of the Phoenix.  Of course I knew Albus.”

“Oh, right!  How could I have been so stupid?”

“Not stupid, just…preoccupied, and rightly so…”

“That must have been so awesome, mom, knowing someone like Dumbledore.  It would be like knowing Leonardo Da Vinci.”

“If Da Vinci had a wicked sense of humor…”

“Really..?”

“Most of it unrepeatable – I hope they cleaned it up for the books.”

“Totally PG…”

“PG..?”

“They scrubbed it.  Anyway, here was my thought…  What if we found some way to inoculate the castle against her – like if when she approached the doors to enter, they slammed shut against her and this stentorian voice boomed out, ‘NEVER..!’”

“Oh that’s rather nice, but it’s quite a tall order – the entire castle..?”

“It would have to be, wouldn’t it..?”

Kate could see her mother was thinking.

“But if it’s too big…”

“No, no, I think it’s possible, maybe, but it would take a very powerful talisman.”

“Talisman..?”

Her mother nodded.

“Blood – yes, it would have to be blood.  You’re looking to create an immune reaction, and that would require blood, specifically Regina’s.  Why don’t you talk it over with Charlotte and see what she thinks.”

 

Out in the studio, Char asked:

“What form do you want this in..?”

“Form..?”

“Well, I could give it to you in an aerosol.”

“Then it would have to be ginormous.  I want to treat the entire castle.”

“The whole castle..?!  Hmmm…”

Kate went to the doorway of the studio, lost in thought.  The day had suddenly turned chilly.  A fog was rolling up from the lake and it was just about to swallow the pale sun.

As it climbed the hill to Morrellayne, trees in its path became less distinct, then ghost-like, then gone.  Soon it would cover the grounds.

Kate spun around.

“I’ve got it!”  Kate looked back to Char, while pointing out the door.  “A fog bank..!  How hard would that be..?  We’d have it roll over Havenhurst just before the end of the ceremony, and the spell would be contained within it!”

“Never the small requests with you…” Char said, shaking her head.

“Think about it.  If it’s possible, let me know if you need me to do anything.  Oh, right – getting the main ingredient!  Speaking of, never the small requests…”

 

 

 


 

CHAPTER 29

 

“THE MINISTRY OF MAGIC”

 

The lake below Morrellayne sparkled in the morning sunlight.  Kate had been up before the dawn, but it wasn’t because she was exhilarated – more like enervated, like when you know something is going to be a disaster and you can’t move.

 

She went down to the breakfast table, but again, she didn’t really feel like eating.

“Read the Prophet,” Char instructed.

“Why, it’s only filled with lies.”

“Yes, but one of them is about you.”

Kate searched through to nearly the back of the paper.  There, on page sixteen, next to the announcement of the arrival of noted author, Hermione Grainger-Weasley’s fourth child, was a three sentence piece regarding the incident at Haven’s Hollow.  Kate read it aloud:

 

…as related by Ministry Official, Regina Quackenbush, (Under-Secretary of Compliance).  “Two women made spectacles of themselves in the town square, in what can only be described as a desperate cry for attention.  These women locked arms, while flaunting their red hair, apparently mocking the threat posed by the Missing Horcrux.  The good towns-people though would have none of it and passed them by…”

 

“Passed them by..?!”

“Yes – and by ‘the good townspeople’!” Char noted.  “Now look at the second piece.”

“Where is it..?”
“I think it’s…”  Char turned the page, “There –“ she said, pointing to a small article near the last page.

Kate read it.  It said that twenty-two girls at Havenhurst had been disciplined for dyeing their hair red.

“It doesn’t say what their punishment was.”

“Having to keep their hair red – I would think that’s punishment enough,” Char said with an evil grin.

Kate threw the paper at her.

 

After a futile attempt to eat, Kate dragged herself upstairs, to dress in one of her new outfits, replete with skirt and heels.

Char made a quick addition – a concealed pocket that Kate could work her Undetectable Extention charm upon, to hide the decoy duck.

“Now remember,” Char said, “You have to set it on the Atrium floor, somewhere near its center, before you let it go.  That way the ‘Quack’ will affect all the men there for the speech.  And then, once you release it -”

“I know – I have only ten seconds to get away.”

Char nodded, with a significant look that made Kate’s chest constrict.

Kate hope the Ministry didn’t have some sort of detection set-up that would spot it, like the x-ray booth at the airports.

 

Aunt Gwynne had advised her to leave Mad-Eye’s wand at home, in case she was searched.  Her ringed wand was to reside in one of the large front pockets of her skirt, along with a couple of Char’s stash of Chocolate Frogs – in case she regretted later not being able to eat any breakfast.

 

Reaching the back of the property, Kate twisted, while concentrating on “14 Vicar Square West.”  The darkness and compression pressed into her and she was gone.

POP!  Kate had arrived in a small, elegant square, fenced in by a row of very neatly trimmed boxwood and flowering rose bushes.  The square was fronted by imposing, four-story, Georgian style rowhouses.

Curiously, the square was totally enclosed – no roads had entrance or exit to it.  It was the “no exit” part that worried Kate the most.

Another deep breath and then she looked ahead to #14, where a fifty-ish woman, in black skirt and blazer, grey blouse and a red silk scarf, stood at the top of the broad, limestone steps.  She was flipping pages on a clipboard, when she looked up and saw her.  She gave a short wave, and Kate crossed to her.

“Hello, I’m Pamela, the Minister’s assistant.  Are you Kay..?” she asked.

“Yes,” Kate replied.

Pamela looked into Kate’s face with such intensity that it made Kate feel like she’d missed some toothpaste, or something.  She quickly checked her reflection in the window glass.  But then Pamela changed her gaze to Kate’s outfit.

“Oh good, you saw my P.S. – the Minister was worried…”

“Yes, no, I mean, I saw it.”

“Right this way then.  You should know, it’s something of an honor to enter the Ministry this way.”

“Oh really, why is that..?”

“It’s normally reserved for visiting dignitaries, who don’t have Flu access.  The Minister didn’t know whether you were staying at a home that was connected.  Over here.”

Pamela led her to a large painting of an arched opening that led into a palatial reception hall.

“Please, after you…”

Kate looked at her questioningly.

“Oh, right – you just step into the painting – you know, like Platform Nine & three-quarters.”

“Oh,” Kate said, stepping through the painted doorway.

It felt like stepping through a curtain of cool water, but with the added swoop of an elevator in free-fall.  She was going down at a very rapid pace.  And then, abruptly, she touched lightly down.

Looking up, Kate got her first sight of the Ministry’s atrium.  It was impressive indeed.  The shiny black marble floor stretched out before her like a lake on a calm, moonlit night.  And the ceiling was so high you couldn’t make it out.  People were bustling in every direction and over to the left – there it was – the fountain!

In its center was a golden wizard, at least twenty feet tall.  And next to him an adoring witch – the one Emma had enchanted for their raid.  Kate searched for the elf and goblin, but couldn’t find them.

“Impressive, isn’t it..?” Pamela asked.

And for a moment, Kate couldn’t answer; she just took it all in, like the Potter Geek she was.

“The books don’t…”

But as Kate looked around, there was Phin, crossing the hall.  He stopped and stared at her, and she at him.  Pamela saw the exchange.

“Do you know him..?”

“We’ve met,” Kate said.

“I believe he’s an Auror.”

“Yes…”

“Well, if you’ll come this way – you’ll be up in the Green Room,”

“What..?  I won’t be down on the floor..?”

“No, the Minister said you were rather diminutive, so the Green Room will give you a better view.”

Pamela pointed to a glass room – sort of like a stadium VIP suite – three floors above the Atrium.  “This way…”

Knowing she had to be on the floor, to set their plans in motion, she said:

“But I don’t need any fuss –“

“No fuss at all, I’ve already set it up.”

She led Kate to the wall beneath the Green Room and pushed the button.

“Yes, much better view from up there and I’ve provisioned it with scones, croissants, tea.  You do drink tea, don’t you?  The Minister said you were Muggle-raised – they drink ‘softened’ drinks, or something, don’t they, but I didn’t know where to get them on such short notice.”

Kate saw an all-glass gondola descending from above.

“No, tea will be great.  Uhm, actually I was curious about the Square.  I noticed it’s –“

“More of a very large courtyard..?”

Kate nodded, as the gondola arrived.  Pamela held the door open for her to enter first.  Kate gave a quick glance out to the floor – Phin was still standing there, watching.  Pamela continued, as she pushed the button “UP.”

The gondola rose, offering a better view of the Atrium floor – the floor where she needed to be, but needed to be without Phin knowing!

“Yes, it gives visitors a large target when they’re apparating in.  All the homes that front it belong to Ministry officials, or former ones.  It’s also a layer of protection for the Ministry.”

“Really..?  How so..?”

“You can’t enter Number 14 without one of these badges,” she said, pointing to her Basilisk fanged shield.  “Or, if the occasion should arise, no one can get out of the square, if there’s a lock-down.”

“A lockdown..?” Kate asked, her stomach starting to clench.

“We’ve had the random barmy bloke attempt something and then leg it.  But, not to worry, we’ve got a full complement of Defenders on hand today.”

Kate nodded again, while she gulped.  DING!  The doors opened almost immediately into a large room, the forward edge of which belled out over the atrium, with a one-piece, floor-to-ceiling window.

“After you…”

Kate got out, followed by Pamela.  The room was empty save for one other person.  Kate’s breath caught in her throat – Regina Quackenbush!

“Ah, Miss Quackenbush – I didn’t know that there’d be anyone else up here.”

“The Minister asked me to keep his young cousin company.”

“Did he..?  Strange that he didn’t tell me…”

“But then, you’re just an assistant, aren’t you..?”

Kate looked at Pamela, who paused only a second and then smiled.  Pamela was obviously a professional who knew how to brush off such slights.

“Right – Kay, this is Regina Quackenbush, the Under-Secretary for the Department of Compliance.”

“I’m sure we’ll become fast friends,” Regina said, leveling a hard, appraising look at Kate, while her voice remained soft, almost girlish, if it hadn’t been so husky.

Pamela held the door to the elevator open, as she said to Kate:

“And again, Kay, if you do decide to have a tour afterwards, please don’t hesitate to ask.”

“Tha-thanks… I will.”

Kate’s brain was racing now – not only was she not down on the floor, where she had to be, she had company – company her mother’s killer had assigned to her; the real life version of the person from the books that she’d hated more than the character of the evil wizard, Voldemort.

AND she’s the person who ordered Eldric’s house torched!’ Kate thought, fuming.

She actually had to resist the urge to step up and strike this woman.

“Yes, well then, must dash,” Pamela said.

With that, she hopped back in the elevator; the doors swooshed closed and she was gone.

Up close, Regina was even more intimidating.  She was easily eight inches taller than Kate and her shoulders were broad for a woman, despite the frilly collared, silky blouse she wore, over her flouncy black skirt.  Perhaps it was the mannish black blazer she was wearing.

If Regina could read Kate’s thoughts, she didn’t let on.

“So you’re a cousin to the Minister..?” Regina said, breezily, while pouring herself some tea.

“Umm-hmm…”

Kate said, while pretending to choose a croissant.  (Truth be told, her stomach was churning so much that the thought of food made her nauseous.)

“And which side would that be on – your grandmother’s or your grandfather’s?”

Kate thought about it.  She actually didn’t know, but even saying that much was more than she wanted to give up to this woman.

“My grandmother didn’t say.”

“I see.  And where are you staying, while you’re here..?”

Other than hitting Regina with a Stupefy, Kate couldn’t think of any way to avoid answering her interrogator.

“Perhaps you didn’t hear me, dear; I asked you where you were staying.”

Upset stomach or no, Kate shoved almost an entire croissant into her mouth.  She pointed to her stuffed cheeks, in explanation for her non-reply.

“I’ll wait,” Regina said, with a smile that Kate thought was as phony as her hair color.  “Why don’t you bring a plate over and sit by me.  Would you like some tea..?”

Kate nodded, pretending to remember to chew her mouthful the dentist-recommended twenty-four times.  And then, as she watched Regina from behind, pouring their tea, she remembered when “Dolores Umbridge” had offered potables to Harry, using her feigned hospitality to slip “Veritaserum” – the truth-telling drug – into his tea.

Kate was in total panic now.  How was she to avoid answering too many questions, while also avoiding the tea that Regina was bringing her?  She definitely couldn’t tell Regina she was staying at Morrellayne – the home of Dorcas Meadowes – that was for sure!

Regina took a seat next to her and handed her the tea.

“There are so many questions I’d love to ask you.”

Kate, despite herself, nervously blurted out:

“So many questions – they should have made you Under-Secretary of Inquisition,” she said, trying not to sound snarky (Regina/Dolores had once pronounced herself Hogwarts “High Inquisitor”).

Regina immediately stiffened and turned towards the stage.

“Drink up, dear, before it gets cold.  Tea should be drunk hot.”

Her insistence made Kate certain that Regina had slipped something in her drink.  Was there any way to switch cups..?

‘No,’ Kate thought, ‘Not the way she’s got her paw wrapped around hers.’

Kate lifted the cup to her lips, while keeping her mouth firmly shut.

“Ouch!”

Regina looked at her.

“Are you all right, dear..?”

“A bit too hot for me,” Kate said, getting out her (ringed) wand.  “I think just a bit of cooling…”

Kate pointed her ring-limited wand at her cup and used the switching spell she’d just learned to extract the Veritaserum, if indeed there was any in it.  But had it worked?  Was the limited wand able to perform that charm..?  That was the question!

“Did that help..?” Regina asked, as she hoisted her cup.

For a moment, Kate didn’t answer.  She was watching Regina’s hands.  They were abnormally large for a woman, with long, spade-like fingers, which she’d attempted to disguise with extra-long nails.  It was like watching snakes – you were repelled, but couldn’t look away.

‘They could be the hands of a strangler,’ Kate thought.

Regina pointed her (large) pinky, while taking another sip.

“I asked you if that helped, Kay, dear,” she said.

“Oh, uhm…  Miss Quackenbush, could you tell me who those men are..?”

“Which men..?  There are several men in attendance today.”

“The ones…well, I don’t know if you can see from your angle.”

“My angle is the same as yours.”
“Almost, but if you just look a bit more to your right…”

Regina shifted just long enough for Kate to aim her wand at Regina’s cup and perform the second half of her switching spell.

Again though, Kate couldn’t be certain it had worked.  Kate’s heart pounded, as a trickle of sweat ran down her temple.

“I mean all the men in the black suits – is there a funeral after the speech,” Kate asked innocently, at least she hoped it sounded innocent.

Regina gave a dismissive snort.

“No.  All men who’ve reached a senior position within the Ministry wear black suits.”

“Every day..?”

“Every day…”

“I think I’d find that kind of oppressive.”

Regina’s veneer of pleasantry had slipped just a bit.

“But then you’re American, so…  How’s your tea..?  You haven’t tried it.  It’s a very premium variety.  You shouldn’t miss out.”

Kate thought it was now or never, so she lifted her cup and took a sip, as did Regina.

“Now, you were going to tell me about your grandmother,” Regina said smoothly.

“Was I..?  Well, what can I say..?  Gran is…what… She’s…hmmm.  You understand.  Your grandmother’s still alive, I take it..?”

“Oh, no – died years ago and good riddance!”

Regina stopped abruptly, a bit unnerved.

“Do you always watch the Minister’s speeches from up here..?” Kate asked, emboldened by Regina’s candid answer.

“No, I’m usually down on the floor, sitting just behind him, scouting the crowd for naysayers.”

Regina stopped, again disconcerted, but then she resumed control.

“Back to your grandmother…”

“So then you’re sitting up here just to be with me..?”

“Ye–yes,” Regina said, as though fighting to keep herself from admitting it.

“That’s so kind – just to keep me company…and ask me questions.”

Now Regina’s face was starting to contort, like a cartoon kettle about to pop.  She looked like she’d taken too much “You-No-Poo” and was suffering the constipated consequences.

“Yes,” she answered, through gritted teeth.

So the switching spell had worked!  Kate shivered with glee, but realized that to take it further would reveal what she’d done.

Down below, Pamela could be seen discreetly walking across the stage, to leave notes on the podium.  Obviously the Minister would not be far behind her and not knowing how long the speech would run, Kate knew she had to act, and soon.  She rose.

“Where are you going…dear..?”

Adding the “dear” to her question seemed to really tax Regina.

“I have to use the ‘loo’,” Kate said, heading for the elevator.

“No need to leave – there’s one right back there,” Regina said, smiling, as she pointed to a door at the back of the room.

Kate realized that if she used that one, she’d still be trapped here with Regina.  Not seeing a way out, Kate went to the bathroom wondering if she could disapparate from within it and get down to the main floor, or..?

But, as she opened the door, she saw her salvation.

“Ugh!” Kate cried.

“What, dear..?”

“I can’t use this one.”

“What..?  Why..?”

“It has one of those…”

Kate held open the door, so that Regina could see the tall, porcelain urinal.

“There is a stall,” Regina said.

“No.  I can’t use any bathroom that has one of those.”

Kate made for the elevator.

“Really, dear, I think just this once…  The Minister’s speech is about to start.”

“No.  It totally grosses me out.  Seriously – would you use it..?”

“Not on your life!” Regina slapped a hand over her mouth.

“There – you see,” Kate said hit the button for the elevator.

The doors opened, she hopped in, punched the “Ground Level” button, the doors shut and the elevator swiftly descended.

When the doors opened, Kate felt her forehead – it was covered in cold sweat.       Making her way along the back of the crowd, she gave a glance back up to the Green Room.  She spotted Regina at the window searching the crowd for her, Kate pulled back out of her line of sight.

Reaching into her hidden pocket, she felt for the little decoy duck.  Her nervous fingers closed around its smooth body.

BUZZZ!  Kate jumped.  For an explosive second, she thought it was the duck.

‘KATE!’ she screamed inwardly, ‘Get a grip – ducks QUACK!’

She reached inside her purse and pulled out her compact.  It was a message from Tavvie.

 

                                                       Has it happened?

 

            Kate pulled away and whispered into the compact:

 

No.  Soon.

 

A man in a black suit nearby looked at Kate.  She pretended to be primping and he smiled at her.  She tried to smile back, but it wasn’t very convincing.

‘What I need right now is a distraction,’ Kate thought.  ‘Something that will give me cover when I release the decoy,’

But there was nothing – everyone was so intent on watching the stage.  All except for one young man, who was being glad-handed by those around him.  As he turned her way,     Kate suddenly realized who the man with the white pocket pouf was – Reggie!  She reversed direction.  Maybe he hadn’t seen her, or, if he had, maybe he hadn’t recognized her, without her blonde hair.

She chanced a look back and saw that Reggie was leaving his friends and searching for her.

And then the Atrium lights went out, as spotlights lit up the podium.

She was (maybe) safe…for now.

Fearghas MacAra, Minister of Magic, her mother’s murderer was taking the stage.  The assembled crowd applauded.  He smiled, acknowledging their welcome, his face less horrifying with all the spotlights on it.  Several flashbulbs went off.

‘The press is here.  That’s good,’ Kate thought.

The Minister pressed his wand to his throat and said:

Sonorus..!” and his voice boomed across the enormous room.

“Welcome.  Before I start today, I think we should all give a round of applause to our Under-Secretary of the Flu Network, Mr….uh…” he checked his notes, “Reginald Ford-Perry – uhm, sorry – Penry.

“For those of you who came to work today by the Flu Network, you probably noticed that your clothes were free of ash.  And that is entirely due to this young man’s hard work, devising a powder that finally makes that possible.  Yes, yes, well done, Mr. Ford-Penry.”

Kate saw Reggie’s buddies pull him to the front of the crowd, to receive his acknowledgment.  Fearghas led the applause and everyone joined in.  The ones nearest Reggie were clapping him on the back and he was basking in it.  Kate wanted to kick him, but then, looking up, she saw that Regina was entering the Green Room’s elevator.  She was coming down!

Kate had to act and now!  As the applause continued, Kate did a quick dip and released the toy duck.  Standing back up, she moved quickly to the back of the atrium, where the lifts to lower floors were.  She punched a “Down” button.

One arrived almost immediately, but Kate paused it. This was an event too good to miss.  Keeping one eye out for Regina, she waited as the Minister cleared his throat.  The crowd fell silent.

“Now, on to a matter much more serious and threatening…  I’m speaking of course about the rash of recent events, which can leave no doubt as to the reincarnation of ‘He Who Must Not Be Named.’  Yes, his final Horcrux, sad to say is no longer ‘Missing’.”  The Minister paused for dramatic effect.

And then, as the crowd fell completely silent, there it was – a single

 

QUACK!

 

As quacks go, it wasn’t really that loud, but as it had no other sounds to compete with, for that particular moment, it could not be missed.

“I beg your pardon…” Fearghas said, as he looked around.  All the men in black suits felt compelled to also look around – with oh-so-judgmental faces.

The crowd backed away, revealing the toy duck, which had begun to shoot sparks.  The crowd lurched back, knocking into each other.  A phalanx of Defenders swooped in to shield the Minister, as what was left of the duck exploded in a bright show of sparks, like Tinkerbell’s fairy dust.

The crowd was stunned into silence, but then, suddenly, out of nowhere, but also from everywhere, a toy music box – a rather loud one – began to play “The March of the Wooden Soldiers.”

Someone on the far side from Kate – a man – let out an anguished cry, and then another and another – all of the men in black suits, including Reggie – emitted similar sounds.

And the reason for this was soon apparent, as one-by-one their suits disappeared and were replaced with pink tutus, pink tights and pink toe shoes.  Kate turned to the man nearest her and even in the dark she could see he had suddenly gained heavily-rouged cheeks and above them, a mountain of bee-hived pink hair, replete with a pink satin bow.

From the midst of the fountain behind them, the head of the golden witch statue started shouting:

 

J.K. ROWLING LIED!

                                     THE MISSING HORCRUX NEVER WAS!

                                       DON’T ACCEPT YOUR OPPRESSION!

 

Alarms rang out and that meant Kate had to go – now!  Tavvie would soon be alone at her post and would need her to play lookout.  So she hopped in the waiting lift and hit the button for Floor 8.

As it zoomed backwards, she saw Phin approaching, but then the lift plummeted, along with her stomach.

 

When it reached Floor Eight – “Auror Office and Hall of Records” – Tavvie was waiting for her, finger pressed to her lips.  She jerked her head to the left and the two quickly hid behind a tall row of cabinets, just as two Aurors ran up to the lift.

After they’d left, Tavvie said:

“That’s the last of them.  I take it it’s going on..?”

“And it’s glorious!” Kate cried, grinning deliriously.

“Oh, damn, I wish I could see it, but…don’t know how much time it’ll buy us, so let’s get to it.”

“But what will I say if someone comes..?”

“Already sorted that out – just tell them you’re here to see Phin.”

“Phin – right…”

Tavvie looked both ways and led her down a hallway.

“My desk’s right over there, in front of the entrance.  One of my more ‘exciting’ jobs is keeping the ledger – who enters and for how long.”

Tavvie showed Kate to a single lonely desk that looked rather drab and small – really more of a table than a desk.  It sat before a pair of soaring bronze doors set into marble walls.

The twelve-foot-high doors had heavy bas-relief that depicted dragons, hippogriffs and other magical creatures.  Each door had a carving of an armor-clad guard, facing the other, their crossed swords barring the opening.  High above them, a gold leaf sign in foot-high letters proclaimed:

 

 HALL OF RECORDS

 

Tavvie pulled Dieter’s wand out of her concealed pocket.

Confundus!” she shouted, and the carved knights reeled, their swords falling to their sides.  The heavy doors parted slightly.  Nodding to Kate, Tavvie slipped inside, closing the doors behind her.  Kate watched the carvings of the guards as they wobbled about, dazed and confused.

She took a seat at Tavvie’s desk, trying to imagine what a letdown sitting there day after day must be, after a career hunting evil wizards, when – DING! – the elevator bell rang out!

“Tavvie..?” a voice called out.

It was Phin!  Kate jumped up, looking for a place to hide.  The desk wouldn’t do, and, as there was nothing else nearby, she gave a tug on one of the doors.  Kate flung herself inside the Hall, closing the door as fast, yet as quietly as she could.

“What’re you doing in here..?”

Kate nearly jumped out of her skin.  Tavvie was right next to her.

“You were supposed to be keeping lookout,” Tavvie hissed.

“I was, but someone’s coming,” Kate hissed back.

“So..?  You were supposed to say you were waiting for Phin.”
“It IS Phin!”

“Oh…”

“Yeah, oh…”

Kate looked around the hall.  It was so big she couldn’t see the end of it, which might have been because Tavvie hadn’t lit any lamps.  But just as Kate was about to ignite the tip of her wand:

CONFUNDUS..!” Phin shouted.

And both women dashed behind the nearest row of files.  Tavvie waved Kate further away, as one of the doors opened and Phin entered.

From their hiding places, the two watched as he made his way to the far left side of the hall.  Kate sidled back up to Tavvie.

“What’s over there..?” Kate whispered.

“Mostly stuff pertaining to the new laws…  What we’re looking for, luckily, is over here.”

Tavvie led Kate back and to the right.  Kate had to take off her shoes to keep her heels from clacking on the marble floor.

“Okay, you wanted to check out prophecies, right..?”  Kate nodded.  “They’re over there,” Tavvie said, pointing to a sign.  “I’ll go to the Squib section and look up ‘J.K. Rowling’ and ‘Joanne MacAra.’

Kate nodded again and made her way to the cabinets beneath the “PROPHECIES” sign.

‘Where to start..?’ Kate wondered.

She shrugged and started with the name her mother had given her – Katharine Meadowes – nothing.  Then she took a wild shot and looked for Katherine Talbot, but that was also fruitless.  So she switched gears and looked under “Sibyll Trelawney.”

But there was only a note card that read, “RECORDS REMOVED BY ORDER OF THE MOM.”

‘By Order of the MOM..?  What does that mean..?  A dead end,’ was the simple answer.  If there was one, it wasn’t here, so she made her way silently to find Tavvie.

Turning the corner, they ran into each other.  Kate couldn’t help it – she yelped.  Tavvie and Kate’s eyes shot wide open in fright.  Kate pressed both hands to her mouth.

“Who’s there..?” Phin called out.

They heard his footsteps approaching.  Tavvie signaled for Kate to get out.  Kate understood and nodded.

“Who’s there, I said…”

“Just me,” Tavvie replied, stepping out from behind a row, positioning herself so that Phin had to turn away from the entrance.

“Oh – you…  Hang on – I thought your clearance was yanked.”

“Hang on yourself, mate – you haven’t been granted clearance yet.”

“Uhm…”

“Yeah…”

“So let’s just…”

“Yes, let’s…”

 

Outside, Kate didn’t know what to do – sit at Tavvie’s desk / flee..?  She was slipping her shoes back on, when – DING! – the elevator’s bell!  Someone else had just arrived on the floor!

A slight whoosh and Phin and Tavvie exited the doors of the Hall.  Phin’s eyes lit up as he saw Kate.

“Kate..!”

But as she stood up, footsteps announced the elevator’s occupant.  It was Mac!

“You!” he said, seeing Kate.

“Me..?”

“What are you doing down here?” he demanded.

“Uhm…” Kate’s rehearsed excuse had momentarily left her.

“This woman said she was here to see Phin, sir,” Tavvie said.

“Phin..?” Mac asked.

“Yes, I…I wanted to bring him something,” Kate managed to get out.

“Did you..?”

“Yes, you see I was very rude to him a couple days ago and I –“

Kate remembered what was in her (non-) secret pocket!

“I wanted to bring him a present.”

She pulled out the Chocolate Frogs.

“I know he’s very – er – sweet on them.”

Mac considered this and then softened a bit.

“Still, you had no place coming down here.  This level is for Ministry personnel only.”

“I’m so sorry, I didn’t know.”

“Well give them and git.  We have serious work ahead – a man’s been killed and all hell’s broken loose!”

“Killed..?!  No..!” Kate shouted, incredulous.

“Aye, and several more wounded.  The Minister’s put the building on lockdown, until we find the bloody perpetrator.”

Kate’s insides clenched – she was the perpetrator.

“So it’s no place for you to be!” he said fiercely to Kate.  Then he turned to Phin.

“Poole…“

“Yes, sir..!”

“Get your guest out of here, then report back!”

“Yes, sir..!”

Phin took a bewildered Kate by the back of the arm and headed for the lift.  Kate was at a loss for what to say, or what to think.  What had gone wrong..?

DING – the elevator arrived and they got in.  Phin started in on her immediately.

“Chocolate Frogs..!  How dim do you think I am..?  You didn’t come down here to bring me any Chocolate Frogs..!”

“And yet – there they were.”

“You don’t even like me!”

“I certainly don’t like you like this!”

DING – the elevator had arrived on the Atrium floor.  Phin grabbed Kate’s arm and rushed her out.

Both stopped short, shocked by what they saw – clouds of shifting dust, revealed what looked like the aftermath of a terrorist attack.  Men, in ragged pink tutus lumbered about aimlessly, duck footed, in their pink toe shoes.  Beneath them, others too wounded to walk, cried out for help.  The sight of the bloody tears in their pink tights seared itself into Kate’s memory.

The fractured head of the fountain’s gigantic witch statue lay on the ground.  The snakes that had replaced its hair still writhed, but no sound came forth through its gagged mouth.

A nearby Auror shouted, “Wingardium Leviosa!” and as the statue’s Medusa head rose, medics rushed in to retrieve the body crushed beneath it.  Kate couldn’t see whose, but she saw that the man was wearing all pink.  Photographers’ flashbulbs popped, until another Auror shooed them away.

Phin kept a tight grip on Kate’s arm, steering her past the wreckage, and swiftly away until, out of nowhere, their path was blocked.

“YOU!” a hoarse voice shouted.

Kate looked up and there was Regina towering over her, eyes blazing above highly-rouged cheeks.  Gone was the severe black suit and in its place was a pink tutu, tights and toe shoes!  And now their height difference was amplified by the towering pink “do” that rose above her glowering face.

“You had something to do with this!” she shouted at Kate.

“You must be mistaken, Miss Quackenbush, Miss Talbot has been downstairs with me,” Phin said calmly.

“You..?!  Why on earth would she be with you..?!”

“That is between us.  Now if you’ll please move aside…”

Regina thrust out her arm, to stop their passage.

“Neither of you is going anywhere – the Ministry is on lockdown,” Regina said, with righteous glee.

She saw an aide passing by with bandages and used her wand to snag a long strip of cloth from it.

“Yes, by order of the Aurors office, whose chief has just ordered me to see Miss Talbot to safety, so if you’d please -”

Regina used her wand to bind the cloth about the small cut on her arm.  Then she quickly turned back to Phin and Kate, leering into their faces.

“Either you’re lying, or she’s lying, or you’re both lying!  And until this is sorted out, neither of you are going anywhere!” Regina said, refusing to budge.

Kate’s eyes narrowed as she stepped in close to Regina.  She locked eyes with her much taller accuser.

“Tell me, Regina, do you ever lie..?”

“Oh hell yes – every bloody day…” she blurted out; unable to resist the Veritaserum still coursing through her veins.

She clapped her huge hand over her mouth, fearful of what other truths might escape.              Phin deftly pulled Kate around her and onward.  Behind them, they could hear Regina’s howl of fury.

“Where are we going..?” Kate asked.

But Phin didn’t answer; he just pulled her down a corridor and around a corner.  Abruptly he stopped and took hold of her shoulders.

“If you had any part in this, Kate, I have no way of protecting you.  They’ll be searching everyone, do you understand..?  If you have anything on you that’s incriminating, dump it down there!”

He indicated a garbage chute.  Kate made a quick mental check.

“Well I don’t have anything.  And if you hate me so much, why would you help me..?”

“Hate you..?  I don’t… Look – whatever you’re playing at is no longer a game!   End it – now!”  He softened, pleading, “Please…”  He looked behind him.  “I have to get back, so just stay low and stay out of Regina’s way.”

No problem,” Kate said, again mimicking Phin.

Phin gave her a look, but then moved swiftly away.

‘What do I do now,’ Kate wondered.  ‘If they searched me, what could they find?  Would my secret pocket be enough to…’

The whirring inside of Kate’s brain had jogged a thought loose.

‘REGINA..!’ it screamed to her.

Kate flew back into the Atrium and searched for her target.  She saw her, not thirty feet away.  Regina was searching the crowd, quite possibly for her.  Kate ducked and used debris as cover to sneak up on her.  From as near as she dared, she aimed her wand at Regina’s arm.

Accio bandage!” she said.

And the cloth Regina had bound about her wound ripped itself off and zipped through the dust clouds to Kate’s outstretched hand.  As Regina reared around, Kate fled, while stuffing the bandage in her hidden pocket.

Going back to the hallway where Phin had left her, she paused to catch her breath.  But almost immediately, someone grabbed her arm and Kate shrieked in fright.

“Shhh..!” a woman’s voice hissed.

Kate turned and saw it was Pamela.  Pamela gave a quick glance behind them and then jerked on Kate’s arm.

“Come with me…” she said.

‘Seriously,’ Kate thought, ‘this is not the time for a tour!’

And she resisted Pamela’s tugging.

“Quickly..!  We must go..!”

‘Okay, so not a tour..!’ Kate realized.

She hurried to follow in Pamela’s wake, as they went down a flight of steps and down a narrow hallway.  At the end was an elaborate tapestry of a Middle Ages battle scene.  Pamela lifted it and Kate saw a dark, narrow passage behind it.

Pamela entered it and Kate followed, as it sloped downward, twisting first to the right, then to the left.  Finally, they emerged from behind another tapestry, into another hallway – this one was a lot less elegant than those above.

At the end of it was the portrait of a starkly staring, witch, with steely grey eyes.  Judging from her dress, Kate figured she was from the Dark Ages, maybe the late twelfth century.  She held a large, dark purplish-blue flower, but not like one holds a bouquet.  No, this was held more like the neck of a dead pheasant.

Pamela touched her wand to the flower’s pistil and the painting slid to the side.  Behind it was a small closet.  Pamela pushed Kate inside and crowded in beside her.  She hit the upper button of two and the door closed quickly.  The closet became an elevator and shot upward.

A second later, it stopped so abruptly, that Kate’s feet left the floor.  She wasn’t aware the wall behind her had vanished, until she felt the fresh air hit the cold sweat on her neck.

Turning, she saw they were facing a deserted alley, but crucially, an alley outside the boundaries of Vicar Square!”  Kate had escaped the lockdown!

She stepped out, but Pamela stayed at the doorway.  Kate looked to her, her eyes so full of questions, but Pamela only made a sign for her to go.  Kate put both her hands over her heart and wordlessly said, “Thank You.”  Pamela nodded and then hit the button, closing the door.  The exterior wall sealed itself back up and Kate was alone.

Too dazed and too frightened to sort things out, she checked both ways for unwanted onlookers, then disapparated.

 

CHAPTER 30

 

“THE AFTERMATH”

 

“What..?!” was all Char could say, when Kate started telling her about the fiasco at the Ministry.

“…There’s more and it’s horrible.”

“Horrible..?” Char asked, quenching the fire beneath her cauldron.

“Someone died.”

“What..?!”

“The head of the witch – the one Emma bewitched to say everything we wanted to say..?  Well, it fell on someone…”

“But that wasn’t supposed to happen!  Nothing like that was supposed to happen.”

“I know..!”

“How..?“

“I don’t know… I don’t know…  I set the duck; it quacked; the music started playing and the transformations started, so I took the lift down to the Auror’s office to help Tavvie.  And then Phin arrived –“
“Phin..?  What was he doing in there..?”

“Haven’t a clue.  He used his own Confundus to get past the Hall’s enchantments.  And then I slipped out, while Tavvie confronted him, and then they both came out, and then Phin’s boss arrived and said the Ministry was on ‘lockdown’ and that Phin was to get me out of there.

“So Phin rushed me to the lift.  But then when we got back up to the Atrium, it was like terrorists had bombed the place – the place was destroyed – people in shock, were stumbling about with torn, bloody clothes.  Oh – and…and the witch’s head had – had crushed some guy.”

“Crushed..?”

“Killed him..!” Kate said, her voice barely a whisper.

Suddenly she started shivering, the enormity of the act overwhelming her.  Char got her to a chair and conjured a blanket and wrapped it around Kate.

“So what did Phin say..?  Did he say anything..?”

“What..?  Oh, I don’t remember.  All I remember is Mac said someone had been killed and the Ministry was on lockdown.”

“Which means what..?”

“It means no one can leave!”

“But you did.”

“I know, that’s the strange part – Pamela, Fearghas’ assistant, grabbed me and got me out through this secret exit – oh, but that was after Phin and I got past Regina Quackenbush!”

“Her..?!”

“And that was after I had to get away from her!”

And then Kate explained all about Regina and the switching spell she used on her tea to avoid the Veritaserum.

“She must have been furious!”
Kate nodded and then explained about Regina’s appearance transforming into pink tutu et al.

“Serves her right for playing on the men’s team..!” Char said.

“But what does it matter – it was all a dead end – OH! – bad, bad, horrible choice of words…”

Kate’s shivering became worse.

“Okay, don’t…  Let’s wait to hear how all of that happened when Tavvie gets off work.  At least you got into the Hall of Records, right..?”  Kate’s face said it all.  “What..?  That was a nowt, too..?”

“If that means – for naught..?” Kate nodded, wearily.  “The record on Trelawney’s prophecy – all it said was:  Removed by Order of the MOM.  Same thing when Tavvie searched for siblings of Fearghas.”

“But that’s something, isn’t it?  That means there’s something he wants to keep hidden.”

“Maybe…  All I know is a man’s dead and it’s my fault.  Look at me – I’m only seventeen..?  I’ve never even been sent to the principal’s office and now..!  Now I’ve killed someone..!”

Kate’s shivering became pronounced.  Char pointed her wand at her.

“Warming spell… That should help.”

“Th-thanks,” Kate said through chattering teeth.  “Maybe – maybe Vulpine was right.  I should just go home.”

“And give up..?”

Kate nodded, pulling the blanket closer about her.

“Before I hurt anyone else.”

 

After a steadying cup of tea, Kate went to face the music in the great hall.  Her aunt called out from the kitchen:

“Kate – is that you..?”

“Yes, Aunt Gwynne,” Kate replied, unable to meet her aunt’s eyes.

“We were so worried.”

“You look terrible, darling, what happened..?” her mother asked.

“Where’s Mr. Wordsworth..?”

“Sleeping in his room, why, do you want him here..?”

“No, not yet, at least, not till I know more…”

Then Kate told them as much as she knew.

“And someone died..?” was all her aunt asked, as if that was enough.

“But it wasn’t from anything we planned.  I won’t know the rest until Tavvie joins us tonight.”

“You’re seeing those girls again?” her aunt asked, horrified.

“Yes, Aunt G.”

“Gwynne…” was all her mother said.

And her aunt shook her head.  With a big sigh, she changed subjects.

“…If you’re hungry, I kept something warm for you…”

“Oh, uhm…thanks, Aunt G, but I couldn’t, really.”

 

The mood of the DOB’s that night was completely different from the one after their first action.  A death has a way of doing that, but it wasn’t until Tavvie arrived that the loss really hit home.

“You’re sure it was him..?” Kate asked, her voice disappearing.

All eyes turned to Emma, who would have hit the floor, if Tootie hadn’t conjured a fainting couch for her to land on.

“Yes, it was Reggie,” Tavvie confirmed.

Emma’s sobs could not be contained.  Randi was at her side, gently stroking her hair.

“You really did still love him, didn’t you, Ems?” Randi asked.

“She shouldn’t – he gave her up, didn’t he..?” Leigh said.

“But he did still love her,” Kate said.  Leigh scoffed.  “No, no it’s true.  The day I met him at Splosh, he – he said I reminded him of someone – someone he’d loved very much.”

Emma cried as though her tear ducts would never empty.

Kate came and knelt beside her.

“Emma, I’m so sorry…I…”

Emma shook her head.

“No – I cast the spell,” she said.  “If anyone’s to blame…”

“Mac said that Fearghas was the one who blasted the head off the statue,” Tavvie said,             “Probably wanted to shut it up; to keep it from saying any more…”

“There, Ems – see – it wasn’t you, it was that git of a Minister,” Randi said.

But her words did nothing to console Emma.

Bertie came in and swooped down beside her daughter, rocking her gently in her arms.  She shot a glance at Kate that seemed to say, ‘There, I told you.’  To Kate, it felt like a hit to her gut.  The other DOB’s withdrew.

 

Out on the terrace, Kate looked at each of the others.

“Maybe…” she said, “Maybe we should just stop, you know..?”

“I was going to say that,” Randi said.

“It does seem to have rather gotten away from us, hasn’t it..?” Leigh added.

“Stop..?  But nothing’s changed,” Char said.

“Reggie’s dead, Charlotte,” Leigh said.

“I know that.  I just meant nothing’s changed for us.”

“True, but why don’t we just sleep on it, give it a day,” Randi said.

“Yes, a day or two,” Leigh said.  “I was actually thinking of getting away to my place in Nice for a bit.”

After brief goodbyes, with none of their usual hugs, Leigh, Char and Randi left.

When they were gone, Tavvie pulled Kate aside.

“After you left today, the Minister and Mac had quite the tiff.  The Minister was furious that you got out of the building…”

“That was the weird part – it was his assistant’s doing.”

“Pamela..?”  Kate nodded.  “Well if it was, Mac shouldered the blame; said something like – ‘She’s our cousin – I thought you’d want to see to her safety’.”

“He did..?  Mac said that..?”

“Yes…”  She checked her watch.  “Blimey!  Look at the time!  I have to get back.  It’s all ‘High Alert’ now – all hands on deck and all that rot…”

Kate nodded and Tavvie left.  Now Kate was alone with her thoughts and they were all troubling.

 


 

CHAPTER 31

 

“THE HAND OF GLORY”

 

The next morning Kate couldn’t get out of bed, even after Sherry leapt up on it and barked at her.  The world that had seemed so wondrous just days ago was now constricting her like a giant snake.

 

Kate didn’t go directly down to breakfast, but to Char’s studio instead.  But what she found there was even more upsetting.  All of Char’s equipment was gone.

Kate rushed inside and found Char sitting at the table, bags packed.

“Char..?”

“I know, I was waiting for you so I could explain.  Bertie sent an owl and asked if I could move in with them, to keep Emma company.  She really needs someone right now, so I felt I couldn’t refuse, you understand…”

“No, sure, I…  You’ll give her my best, won’t you..?”

“Of course, Kate…”

“It’s just – it’ll be weird not having you here.”
“Well I’d be gone later today anyway.”

“Why..?”

“It’s the Day of Contrition.”

“Already..?”

Kate’s stomach clenched upon hearing those words.  It meant too many things.  It meant she’d have to compartmentalize all of the anguish over their failed raid on the Ministry, to focus on her raid on Malfoy Manor.  It also meant having to work with Sienna.

Char came close and gave Kate a quick hug,

“I should be going.  Bertie said she had to go out today, and so…”

Kate nodded and walked Char to the door.  Char looked back once she’d reached the edge of the property and then – POP – she was gone.

 

Kate stood there in the doorway.  She wasn’t really waiting for anything, like Char changing her mind, and she certainly wasn’t hoping Sienna would show up early.  She just didn’t want to go back in.

Sighing, she thrust her hands in her pockets and that’s when she came across…

“The bandage – Regina’s bloody bandage..!”

Kate shoved it back in her pocket and ran down the drive, waiting for the hedge to open.  As it did, she bolted through and ran headlong into Phin.  Both tumbled to the roadway.

“Crikey!” Phin said, examining his torn shirt.

“A simple Reparo will fix it,” Kate said.

“Yes, it would, thank you very much.  Reparo!” he said, mending it.

Phin picked himself up.

“Thanks,” he said, sarcastically.

“You ran into me!”

“I ran into you..?”

“Well it wouldn’t have happened if you hadn’t been stalking me!”

“For the last time – I’m not stalking you.”

“No..?  But you’ve never said what you are doing out here.”

“No, I haven’t and I won’t.”

While they glared at each other, two large owls swooped in and dropped an enormous flower arrangement, into Kate’s arms.  The card opened of its own accord and spoke in Thurlow’s resonant baritone:

 

Kate:

Please tell me what night you’re free

so I can plan our date.

Looking forward to seeing you again and

to hearing the Liszt.

Thurlow

 

Phin nodded his head, as if catching on.  He twisted, and – POP -disapparated.

 

Kate entered the great hall with the flowers.

“And what’s this..?” her aunt asked.

“Flowers…”

“Yes, that much I was able to deduce.  From whom..?”

“Thurlow Malfoy – I didn’t even think he was serious.”

“As in those Malfoys..?” her mother asked.

“He’s their cousin, mom.  Remember – I met him at the party..?”

“Oh, do you like him..!”

“Thurlow..?  Actually, he makes me nervous – very nervous.”

“Is that good..?”

“No; I have enough upsetting me already.”

“Yes, perhaps, though a date might be just what you need.  Isn’t he the one you and your sister fought over?”

“Yep – she’ll probably be so green with envy she won’t need her armband.”

“Now, Kate, you really shouldn’t stir that up, not when you two have such an important mission to accomplish tonight,” her aunt warned.

“Don’t remind me…”

But Kate left the card propped up on the table as she followed her aunt into the kitchen.

 

Later that day, the great hall was bathed in slanting sunlight, as Rachmaninoff shimmered down from the music room above it.  Sherry was down near the border of the property, investigating a hole between the roots of a tree.  Dorcas had fallen asleep in her portrait and Aunt Gwynne was cooking, as the French doors at the back of the great hall blew open and Sienna walked in, all dressed in black – like the DOB’s the day Kate had met them.

Sienna walked up to her mother’s portrait, but saw that she was asleep.  Then she saw the flowers and bent down to read the card.  She was about to shred it, when her aunt called out from the kitchen.

“Kate – is that you..?”

“No, it’s Sienna, your other niece.”

“Oh,” Gwynne said, coming in, as she wiped her hands on her apron.  “Have you had dinner yet..?  I was just making some corned beef…”

“Not really hungry, ‘Aunt G’,” she said, mimicking Kate.

“And when are you two going to Malfoy Manor?”

“She didn’t tell me.  There seem to be a number of things people aren’t telling me these days…”

Kate entered from the great hall.

“Aunt G., I –“ Kate stopped, upon seeing Sienna.

“Oh, did you want me to leave the room..?  If you have any more secrets you’d like to keep from me…”

Kate ignored her.

“Are you ready for dinner, Kate..?”

“Uhm…”

“Careful – I heard Thurlow doesn’t like fat girls.”

Kate snatched Thurlow’s card from Sienna’s hand.

“And I heard he doesn’t like agro girls who barf on him!”

“Girls..!  Try to keep it civil, at least until you’ve retrieved the Hand from the Malfoy’s.  Then…well…” Aunt Gwynne stopped, not wanting to encourage ill behavior between the two.

“Fine…”

“Whatever,” Kate said, heading into the kitchen.

 

Dorcas advised the two to set out after the summer twilight had turned to a deep purple, which, in the English summer was pretty late.  The amount of time between sunset and midnight was quite short.

Kate wondered if they had enough time to accomplish their task, but as this was their only chance, they’d have to make it work.  Kate wore her darkest jeans, which she paired with a navy sweatshirt.

At quarter after ten, the two disapparated separately to Malfoy Manor, as neither wanted to take the hand of the other.  They arrived in nearly the same spot, just in front of the gates with their writhing snakes.  Kate performed the first charm that unlocked them and the two entered.

“Where are the white peacocks the books said patrolled the grounds?” Kate asked, looking around.

“Nagini ate them,” her sister said, chillingly.

Sienna strode up the hill, making no effort to conceal herself.

Kate was much more circumspect, checking side-to-side and behind them, as she undid each protective charm, ahead of them.

Finally they reached the front door.  Sienna went to grab the knob.

“NO!” Kate hissed.

“What..?!” Sienna asked, annoyed.

“There’s another charm, just wait…”

Sienna gave a sigh of exasperation, as Kate checked the list she’d made the night of the party.  Nodding, she pointed Mad-Eye’s wand at the door knob and made the incantation.  The door opened on its own.

“I can take it from here,” Sienna said, dismissively.

She crossed the entry hall to a tall niche beside the grand staircase.  Within the niche was a Greek statue of Aphrodite – its white marble aged to a deep cream.  Sienna tickled the statue’s exposed breast and the entire niche – statue included – pivoted ninety degrees, revealing a flight of roughly-cut stone stairs.  Sienna started down.

Kate wondered if these were the same steps that Harry and Ron were taken down, when they were the Malfoy’s prisoners, as she slowly crept down them, while bracing herself against the mossy walls.  A draft of air from below hit her.  It smelled old, musty and almost palpably evil.

Sienna flicked her wand and torches ignited.  Passing down the hall, Kate saw thick, crude doors with slits and heavy bolts.  At the end was a solid wall of old stones, two-foot square, from which a pair of black iron manacles protruded.  Maybe it was the cold, or maybe it was the sight of those restraints, but a full-body shiver came over Kate.

“Now let’s see…” Sienna said, “Is it, ‘Twist the right one to the right and the left one…’?”

“You’re not certain..?!”

“Shut it – I’m trying to remember.”

After a moment, she nodded to herself and twisted the right one counterclockwise, and the left one clockwise.  The wall popped open.

“Ta-da!”

Sienna sauntered in, lighting more torches.  Kate was amazed – they had entered a room at least as large as a basketball court and filled with more racks of wine than in the “Big Barn Liquor” store.

“So where’s the ‘trophy room’?“
“There at the back, behind the curtain.”

“That’s it – there’s just a curtain..?”

Sienna pulled a bottle out of its rack.

“Oh – I remember you!  Hello, my lovely one…”

She opened her bag and slid it in.

“Seriously..?”

“Just doing a little light-fingered shopping…  Go on then – get the bloody Hand.”

Kate made her way to the back, taking care not to bump into anything, like Tonks might have done in cramped quarters like these.  Reaching the flimsy curtain, she saw it billowed, like the veil in the Department of Mysteries.  Could this be it – just a flimsy curtain guarding all of the Malfoy’s dark magic trophies?  She put out her hand to swipe it aside.

Suddenly the curtain tore itself into five menacing, vines-like shreds that launched out and entwined themselves around her limbs.  Kate just managed to shout before the fifth piece covered her neck and mouth.

Sienna gave a mere glance over, before finding another bottle to pop into her purse.

The pull on Kate’s limbs increased to the point where she was sure they would draw and quarter her.  Tears poured from her eyes, as Sienna strolled slowly up.

“Oh – did I forget that one last little charm..?”

If Kate’s looks could kill, Sienna would be dead – painfully dead.

“I suppose mummy would hate me if I let you rot here…what do you think..?”  Kate mumbled words she wouldn’t want either of her mothers to hear.  “What..?  Sorry – didn’t catch that…”

Kate was turning blue, when Sienna worked the charm that turned her bonds back into curtains.  Kate fell gasping to the floor.  With a look of pure hatred, she looked up at her sister and croaked:

“I hate you!”  Sienna just leered at her.  “Why..?!  Why are you so freaking mean..?!”

Sienna bent down over her.

“Oh let me think..!  Maybe it’s because you’ve taken everything from me!”

“What..?!”

“My friends..!  My wand..!  My home..!  My mother..!  And now Thurlow..!”

“Take him – I don’t want him!”

“Like he’d ever want you..!”

“Oh yeah..?  He asked me out!”

“It will never happen!”

“Whadda you wanna bet!?”

“More than you have, you provincial midget..!  EXPELLIARMUS..!” Sienna shouted and Kate’s wand went flying.

As Kate scrambled to retrieve it, Sienna pushed into the trophy room, grabbed the Hand of Glory and came back out.  Kate spotted Mad-Eye’s wand just as Sienna flicked hers, extinguishing all the torches, leaving Kate in total darkness.

With the Hand of Glory, Sienna saw her way to the stairs, while Kate was left to work blind, patting the filthy floor with both hands, searching for her wand.  After a minute of knocking into racks and running her palms over dead bugs and possibly a dead mouse, she found it.

Lumos!” Kate said, with fury in her voice.

Her wand flared and she found her way to and up the stairs.  But at the top, she encountered a solid wall – Sienna had closed the niche.  It took Kate almost a minute to find the trick release to spring it back open.

Stepping out into the entry hall, she saw that Sienna had left.  Kate headed for the front door, only to have it fly open, knocking her to the floor, as Sienna ran back in, panic on her face.

Kate looked out the windows and saw two men approaching – and one of them had white blond hair!

‘Draco!’ she thought, fear shooting through her.

She was about to follow Sienna, when all the lights in the house came up.  If she tried to cross to the back hall now, she’d be seen.  The only place to hide was behind the statue.  Kate ran to it and wedged herself in.

The front door opened and Draco entered; a disgusted look on his face.  But then another man came in behind him.  The door closed of its own accord.  When the man turned around, Kate’s brain screamed:

‘FEARGHAS..!’

Without thinking, she raised her wand.

‘Yeah, right – I’m going to take on those two?’ she asked herself, as Draco said:

“It won’t do you any good; you can’t squeeze me for any more.”

Fearghas smiled patiently, looking around the room.  He picked up a gilded objet d’art, and then looked to Draco.

“I’d say you’re being a bit disingenuous.”

“We’re tapped out, I tell you!”

“Really..?  Word has it that you and Narcissa recently returned from a trip to France.”

“We were visiting a sick relative…”

“How sympathetic, and how unlike you.  No, accuse me of a suspicious mind, but I think it more likely an attempt to hide gold offshore.”

“What..?!”

“Ah, I see this will be an extended conversation.  Perhaps you could offer some refreshment, maybe something from your private collection..?  As I recall, you had a number of bottles of a delightful Bordeaux…”

Kate’s heart leapt into DefCon IV – she was standing right in front of the entrance to that private collection!

“Am I to ply you with wine, while you bleed me for gold?!”

“Why, yes…”

“And what if I refuse..?  What if we all refused, all the Slytherins..?”

“Remember, Draco, you and the others only avoided prison, because of my intercession.  I could always find some reason to reverse that.”

“Well we have memories, too.  We remember when you were one of us.  What if we told the public their Minister had been a mole in the Order of the Phoenix, working for Voldemort?”

Kate’s eyes grew very wide.  Fearghas merely smiled; the ravaged side of his face seeming even more sinister.

“Speaking of your compatriots, you remember your old chum, Rookwood, and how he and his whole family went missing?  The paper laid it on angry mobs…”

“You wouldn’t dare!”

Fearghas merely smiled calmly.

It was a stand-off and a very pale Draco relented.  He walked into the music room, where he flicked his wand at a painting and it pivoted open.  Fearghas moved with him, remaining at its entrance.

That was all the opening Kate needed.  She removed her shoes and made a quick dash for the back hallway.  But the hallway ended with one door ahead of her, and one on either side of it.  Kate chose the one in the middle and found herself in a butler’s pantry.

She rushed through it, into an enormous kitchen, where she ran smack into a young man.  They both jumped back.

“Don’t hurt me!” he cried, holding his arms up.

In one of his upraised hands, Kate saw that he was holding a ring-limited wand.  Looking down to his neck, she also saw that he was wearing the collar of a Wart.

“Put your arms down.  I won’t hurt you.”

“She did!” he said, rubbing a nasty red blotch on his arm.

“She would, but I’m not her.  I just need to get out of here!”

“Why – is Draco home?”

“Yes!”

“And I haven’t finished my work – he’ll kill me!”

“Yeah, well he’ll do worse than that if he finds me here!”

Looking closer at him, Kate thought he looked somehow familiar.  He was slender, with long dark hair, pulled back into a ponytail and handsome, in a slightly androgynous, “boy band” kind of way.

“WART!” a man’s voice rang out, as through emanating from the walls themselves.

Kate and the young man jumped.  Kate started backing towards the door, her finger to her lips, pleading.  The youth’s eyes widened, fixed on something, or someone behind her.  As she froze, someone said:

Expelliarmus..!”

Mad-Eye’s wand flew out of her hand.

Accio wand…”

And her wand zoomed behind her.

“Now turn around – slowly and keep your hands up.”

Kate did.  Beneath the hood she thought she recognized the man who’d disarmed her.

“Phin..?”

“You came!” Ajay shouted.

“What are you doing here?” he asked Kate.

“What am I..?  What are you doing here..?!”

“Rescuing me, I hope!” the young man said, as he rushed past Kate and flew into Phin’s arms.

“Kate – this is my brother – half-brother – Ajay.”

“WART!” reverberated through the walls.

“Yeah – intros later – Draco’s here and he brought Fearghas with him and all hell will break loose, if we don’t get out of here now!”

“WART!” reverberated through the walls.

“Come on!” Phin said.

And the three fled out the door into the gardens.

But it seems Draco had reinstated the manor’s wards.  An alarm started bleating, joined by another and another, as they ran to a copse of trees, Kate’s hood falling, her red hair flying.  Kate looked back and saw light bouncing off Draco’s flaxen hair, as burst through the door.

Accio broom!” she heard him shout.

“If you have a way out,” Kate said, “This would be the time…”

Descendentes..!” Phin shouted, his wand pointing up into the trees.

A rope ladder dropped.  As, Kate looked back, she saw Draco mount his broom and push off.

“Grab on!” Phin shouted, as Draco zoomed towards them.

Ascenscio…!” Phin shouted and the three of them rocketed upward.

But Draco was on them, shooting up alongside of them.   The ladder reached the tree top, where it launched them up and over the side of a boat; from the looks of it, a schooner from the 1920’s.

But, as they landed on its deck, Ajay started screaming, his collar shooting ZAPS of high voltage into him.  Draco leveled off alongside of them.

“He can’t leave – not with the collar.  You’re trapped,” he leered.

Phin fired a shot at Draco, which Draco parried, firing one of his own back at Phin.  A duel ensued, while Ajay fell to the floor, clawing at his neck, writhing in pain.

Phin pushed Kate down and out of the line of fire.

“You can’t win – the Minister’s Defenders will be here any moment.”

Kate tried to take back Mad-Eye’s wand from Phin’s free hand.

“Give me my wand,”

“What..?” Phin asked.

“Just give me my wand.”

Their eyes met.  Kate felt that familiar shiver zing through her, as she snatched Mad-Eye’s wand from his hand.  Draco used that brief pause to fire off a spell that knocked Phin to the floor.

Kate knew she’d never attempted anything like this, but, she reasoned, that was okay – Mad-Eye’s wand knew how to do it – it had done it already.  And flowing through her was that feeling Char had described – the one that comes through your body, not your head.

She leapt to her feet, red hair flying, and fired a spell at Draco – PUFFT – he turned into the white ferret he’d become when Barty Crouch Jr. had used Mad-Eye’s wand on him.  The Draco/ferret clung desperately upside down to his broom.

Turning to Ajay, Kate fired again – PUFFT – he turned into a dark ferret that slipped through his collar, to the floor of the boat.  Then Kate reversed the spell, and Ajay was left human and free at last.

Below, Fearghas was calmly approaching, buoyed by the arrival of six Defenders who had apparated in.  Pulling out her list, she undid the protective charm they needed to leave, but which also allowed the grey-cloaked men to rush onto the grounds.

“Do you know how to fly this thing?” Kate asked.

Ajay, scared to death, nodded.

“Then do it..!  NOW!”

Ajay threw off the line, jumped to the wheel.

Below them, the red blasts from the Defenders’ wands shot up at them, just as the boat leaned, as though its sails were filled with a fierce wind and flew swiftly away.

“Where’re we going..?” Ajay shouted, trembling.

“You’re asking me..?”

“The Trace – its’ still on me..!  They’ll be tracking me!”

“Can they track you inside a Fidelius..?”

“Yes, I don’t know – maybe..?”

“Morrellayne…” Kate said, without thinking.

“Morrellayne..?” Ajay asked.

Kate nodded.

“Morrellayne,” Ajay said and the boat came swiftly about and then shot away, like a rocket.

Kate heard Phin groan.  She knelt down beside him.

“Are you all right..?”

“What happened..?

“We got away.”

“But they’ll track him.”

“No – we’re going to my place.”

“Your place…”

Kate nodded.

“Which is not ‘Robin Hill’…”

“No, but I’ll explain later.”

Phin snatched Mad-Eye’s wand out of her hand.

“You can also explain how it is you have Mad-Eye’s wand, too!”

Kate snatched it back, defiantly.

The boat had come to a stop, floating lazily on the tops of the trees opposite the entrance to Morrellayne.

“Is this it..?” Ajay asked.

Kate looked over the side and, with relief, sighed – she was home.  Quickly, she ransacked her secret pocket and pulled out her wallet.  From the inner fold, she pulled out a scrap of paper, on which her aunt had written her entrance into Morrellayne’s Fidelius.

“Read this,” she said, handing it to Ajay.

He took it and started to read:

“The home of the Meadowes family can be found at Morrellayne…”  The Meadowes family…  THE MEADOWES FAMILY..?!”

Kate saw the hedges across from them parting.  Phin finished tying off the boat and then threw the ladder over the side.  Kate could almost feel the heat of his glare as she took her place next to Ajay on the ladder.  Phin remained on deck.

“You’re not coming..?” Ajay asked.

Phin didn’t answer, but let Kate and Ajay descend.

From below, Kate could only make out Phin’s head above the railing.  She paused for a moment, then took Ajay’s hand and walked him through the opening in the hedges.

POP – Phin appeared at their side and the three entered the grounds, just as the hedges reformed.

A small voice within Kate tried to make its point that she’d just invited an Auror, someone who worked for the Ministry (and therefore, for Fearghas) into her home – the home of the Missing Horcrux, who’d just wielded Mad-Eye’s stolen wand.

Sherry came loping down the drive, barking at the new guests.

‘What was that line batty old Mrs. Figg said, “The cat’s amongst the pixies now.”?’

 

Coming into the great hall with her guests, she found her aunt sitting across from her mother’s portrait.  Her aunt was immediately on her feet.

“Kate!” she said, shocked at the sight of Ajay and Phin.

“I’m sorry, Aunt G., but they were on the run from Draco, too, and he’s still got the Trace on him,” she said, indicating Ajay.  “And there was nowhere else to hide him, so…”

“You brought a young man home,” was all her mother heard.

“Two…” Gwynne said, her lips very thin in disapproval.

“Introduce me, please.” Dorcas called out.

“Uhm…”

Phin came around to look upon her mother’s portrait.  Kate could see a cloud come over his face.

Her mother meanwhile had taken her position standing behind her husband, like typical parents, meeting their daughter’s beau.

“Erm… Mom, this is Phin and his brother, Ajay.  And this is –“

“Dorcas Meadowes,” Phin said, as he glared at Kate.

“Is this your young man..?”

“Not the time, mom…”

“…As in, Dorcas Meadowes, ‘Missing Bride’?” Ajay asked, amazed.

“Not so much missing anymore,” Kate mumbled, her eyes on Phin.

What was he thinking?  She couldn’t tell.

“Then you’re – bloody hell – you’re the Missing Horcrux!  No wonder you whipped Draco Malfoy!” Ajay said, in awe.

“You did, Kate..?  Brilliant!” her mother said.
“But I’m not, not really..!”

Phin started heading for the door.

“Phin..?”

He stopped, as Kate ran up, turning to face her.

“So it’s all been you; it’s always been you – the wand thief, portrait thief, Dieter imposter, the very eye of the storm at the Ministry… I suppose you’re the witch who blasted the kid off Bishopsgate, too..?”

“Uhm…well…“

“So you are the Missing Horcrux.  Just admit it!”

“But I’m not!  I mean, yes, I am the second daughter of Dorcas Meadowes, but I’m not a Horcrux!  If you’d just hear me out…”

“Why would I believe anything you said..?” he asked, his color rising.

But Kate was equally furious.

“Because you’re not stupid..!” she spat at him.

“Oh, so if I believe the Ministry I must be stupid..?”

“The Ministry based all of this on what was written in a book – a book you’ve already admitted included lies!  If you can’t conceive of the idea that the ‘Missing Horcrux’ might be one, too, then – yes – you are stupid!”

“Kate..!” her mother cautioned.

“I’ve heard enough!  I’m out of here!” Phin shouted.

“What – don’t you want to arrest me..?”

“If it was up to me, I would!”

“But..?”

“But Mac…”

“Mac what..?”

“Mac ordered me to look out for you, to protect you!  Isn’t that rubbish, like you need protecting?”

“But that doesn’t make sense – Mac is Fearghas’s brother.”

“No, it sure as hell does not!”

“But not for the reason you think.  Oh, if you’d just sit down, shut up and let me explain…”

Phin turned away from Kate, to her aunt and mother.

“Mrs. Talbot, Mrs. Meadowes.  Thank you for taking my brother in.”

Then he turned his back on Kate and headed for the door.

“Phin..!  Phin, please…”

But Phin didn’t reply, he just walked out the door.  His brother seemed indifferent to the drama.

“Smashing place you have here,” Ajay said, looking around.

“Thank you,” Dorcas answered, “My husband designed it.”

Kate watched Phin disapparate.  Her aunt joined her, putting a comforting arm around her.

Just then, Eldric came down the stairs, in dragon-decorated pajamas, Frida in his arms.

“What’s all the shouting about..?  Sounds like a full-tilt wobbler!”

“It’s nothing, Mr. Wordsworth.  It’s – it’s over,” Kate said sadly.

Eldric looked around the room and saw that everyone was indeed calm.

“Well, then, if there’s nothing else…”

As Eldric climbed back up, Kate’s aunt leaned in, and asked:

“Did you get it – the Hand..?“

“Sienna got it – snatched it and left me there to fight my way out,” Kate said, bitterly.

“But at the very least one of you has it.”

“…The very least, yes.”

 

Kate was too wound up to sleep, so she climbed the stairs to the music room.  She sat down at the piano and lifted the lid.  Ajay came in.

“A Bosendorfer..?!” he exclaimed.

“You know them?”

“I had a picture of one on my wall at school.”

“I’m guessing that didn’t gain you any popularity with the lads.”

“Right that.”

“Do you play..?”

“Yes – do you..?”

Kate nodded, getting up and indicating Ajay could have at it.  He sat at the bench and flexed his fingers, as he decided what to play.  A big smile came to his face, as he started Chopin’s “Polonaise in A Major.”

‘At least one of us is in a good mood,’ Kate thought.  But then she realized that he’d just gained his freedom from the Malfoys, ‘Yes, it’s perfect,’ she thought, remembering how the Polish had played it over and over, as an act of resistance, during the German invasion.

When he finished, Eldric was clapping.

“Mr. Wordsworth – I’m so sorry – did we keep you up..?” Kate asked.

“Well worth it, I’d say.”

Ajay got up.

“Is that a balcony,” he asked.  Kate nodded.  “I really need a smoke.”

He got up and went out into the night.

“Would I be right in suspecting that you had some sort of adventure this evening..?” Eldric asked.

Kate didn’t know what to say, or how much to say.

“Uhm…”

“Any of it worth a late edition – maybe a letter to the Editor..?”

Kate considered it for a moment.

“If I said I overheard the Minister admitting he was a mole for Voldemort, betraying people in the Order of the Phoenix – oh – and that he kept Slytherins out of prison, in exchange for gold..?  Oh – Oh!  And that the Ministry is selling Hogwar–, I mean, Havenhurst students – one’s that’ve acted out -”

“Acted out..?”

“Did something punishable…”

“Right…  You said, ‘selling them’..?”

“Yes – selling their services as, well, like house elves.  And they put this collar on them that zaps them if they try to escape.  Ajay – he’s the boy out on the balcony – we just rescued him from Malfoy Manor!  They call them ‘Warts’, you know, like in -”

“Hogwarts… Yes…”

“Perhaps we should consider something for the Front Page.  Too bad we don’t have photos…, ah well…” he said, conjuring parchment and quill.

Later, much later in fact, that night, as Kate shook her head to keep awake, she handed Mr. Wordsworth’s copy back to him.

“That’s great (yawn),” she said.  “But aren’t you worried how angry it will make them..?” she asked, as she stretched.

“That’s sort of the fun of it, isn’t it..?  Besides, young lady, newspaper people should never let the outcome of exposing the truth stop them from publishing it!” he declared.

Kate nodded, her eyes glazing over.

“Now, how would you like to come with me and make it happen?”

“Make it happen..?  You mean, transform their front page?”  Eldric nodded.  “But we have to go somewhere..?”

“Yes, you see the charm that transfigures all of the Daily Prophets to mimic mine requires a certain proximity, precisely, I have to be no less than a stone’s throw from the Prophet’s owlery.”

Kate was going to question how the words “precisely” and “stone’s thrown” meshed, but she was too tired.  All she could do was yawn.

“Yes, I can see it’s very late and you’ve had a much longer day than have I.  Next time, yes..?”

Kate nodded, while trying to smile.  Her soft bed, with its fresh linens was calling to her, with such a sweetly seductive voice.

“Next time, for sure…” she said, yawning again.

 


 

CHAPTER 32

 

“THE DELUXE HARRY POTTER TOUR”

 

“Kate..?” Aunt Gwynne called out.

Kate heard her, but pretended to be asleep.  Her dreams had all been nightmares, but she now feared waking life could only be worse.  Was it just three weeks ago that she hadn’t been able to sleep because of the joy coursing through her..?  Now that seemed as distant as her days as a Harry Potter geek.

“Kate..?” her aunt said rather loudly, from the doorway.

Kate could no longer pretend she was asleep, not unless she was going to feign coma.

“Yes, Aunt G.,” she said, without moving.

Her aunt crossed to the windows and threw open the curtains.  It was a bright – too bright – morning.  Kate threw back the covers, but she didn’t have the will to get up.  She spent a whole minute just staring at the ceiling above her.

 

When Kate came down to the table, she was alone.  After she’d finished breakfast, she cleared her plate and took the Daily Prophet up to her room to savor Eldric’s revised front page.  Except there was no revised front page, there was only a story on the upcoming opening of the Girls School at Havenhurst.

She did find an apology from the editor for the paper being so short and late.

‘They must have caught it before it went out!’ Kate thought.

Jumping up, she ran down the hall to find Mr. Wordsworth, but he wasn’t in his room.

‘He must have gone out,’ Kate decided.  ‘I’ll have to find out what happened later.’

She sighed and flopped down onto her bed, but she was too restless to rest.  Sitting back up, something on the nightstand caught her eye.  It was a glossy pamphlet for THE DELUXE HARRY POTTER TOUR.  To think that only a couple weeks ago seeing these sites would have been the best vacation ever.  But now, after all she’d been through, the idea was like three-day-old pizza – dried, lifeless and completely unappetizing.  Still…

Looking through it, Kate saw props and sets for Dumbledore’s office, the Sorting Hat and the Hogwarts Express and allowed herself to slide back into the sweet, drug-like fantasy of all things POTTER.  She was lost and desperately in need of escape, wasn’t she?

 

A half hour later – POP!  Kate, who had mastered the seemingly inexplicable ability to apparate into a place where no one would see her, arrived in a deserted, gothic-era hallway.

‘But how does that work,’ she wondered.  ‘Is there some sort of guiding mega-spell in place – one of Gampalot’s Laws, of which the books had only detailed the one about food?’

Kate thought there really should be a magical version of Google.

“Then again, Regina Quackenbush would probably subvert it into rubbish and lies…”

With a big sigh, Kate looked around.  The hallway looked very familiar, especially to someone like her, who had seen every movie at least four times.

‘Dialog scenes between classes,’ she decided, but she couldn’t place the movie(s?), and trying felt pointless and wearying.

 

POP – Now she was at an abbey that had been used for exteriors of Hogwarts.  There were signs at various points, but she found no interest in reading the explanations.

 

POP – she arrived on a movie soundstage, facing the backside of a set – all canvas and rough wood framing.  At a random angle, someone had spray painted:

 

DBO – HP2

 

She heard a tour being lectured on the other side, so she waited until they had moved on, before venturing around the corner, where she found herself in Dumbledore’s office.  His desk was there, but sadly there was no benevolent mentor sitting behind it, waiting to give her sage advice.

At the bottom of the steps was the perch for Fawkes, the Phoenix – on top of which sat a brilliant red-plumed prop.

‘At least they could have animated him.’

She raised her wand and made the prop “come to life” – tilt its head and cry pearly tears.  In front of the desk, on a pedestal was the “pensieve,” the magical bowl that accepted your memories, so you could go back and revisit them.  But the bowl was empty of swirling, silvery thoughts.

‘If you put your bad memories in there, does it mean you don’t have to have them anymore..?’ Kate wondered.

She looked around, but took no comfort in what she saw, so she disapparated.

 

POP – another soundstage, crammed with all the items that had been in the “Room of Requirement,” as well as various other bits from the earlier films.  There was “The Mirror of Erised,” which, if you stood in front of it, would show you your heart’s desire.  Kate stepped before it.

The mirror showed only a sad young woman.  But memories from the past three weeks flooded in:

 

– Kate surrounded by the DOB’s, laughing in the Tower of London, as

she tried on a cape and crown

– Kate in the store, hugging the frightened little redheaded girl

– Kate looking at herself, squeezed into Randi’s risqué dress

– Kate, with sweet Emma leaning in to lend her a set of pearls

– Kate’s determined face, thrusting the Basilisk Eyes back into her

bleeding ears

 

If the Mirror had actually shown her heart’s desire, what would she have seen – an innocent version of herself, still believing in the promise magic..?

 

POP!  She was now in the Oxford dining hall.  It too was empty.  Pulling the pamphlet from her pocket she checked –

“Used for HARRY POTTER AND THE PHILOSOPHER’S STONE.  This was the original Hogwarts Dining Hall, until a full-scale set was built for the rest of the movies.”

 

Kate looked to the ceiling, but without the charm that made it duplicate the sky outside, it was rather gloomy.

‘And no floating candles…’

She conjured a number of slim tapers.  A flick of her wand lit them.  And a Wingardium Leviosa sent them rising over the tables, but without the smiling faces of the students…

She felt like a solitary fan at a rock concert, holding up a cigarette lighter, but – no band, no music, no friends and definitely no magical Hogwarts…  Hearing the approach of a tour, she flicked her wand and the candles disappeared, but not before dumping small piles of wax on the fine old tables.

“At least something will show that I was here…briefly,” she said before disapparating.

 

POP! – she was sitting on the small hill, above the lake that had been used for many scenes from the movies.  At least this was fitting, as it was usually a place Harry retreated to, when he wanted to be alone, and alone Kate was, so very alone.

A plane passed over and it brought back the question she’d posed to her mother, on their flight over:

“What if, you know, after Aunt G. and I visit all the sites where they film the POTTER movies and I see how real they’re, well, not… I mean…well what if takes all the magic out of it for me?”

But now, after all Kate had experienced, she knew her question would be different:

‘What if I learned that magic is real, but it only made me long to be a Muggle again..?’

 

POP – Kate returned to Morrellayne and headed up the drive, stopping only to pet Sherry, who’d run down to greet her.  But just as she reached the great hall she stopped.

‘I’m really not up for company,’ she thought.

Instead, she climbed the stairs to the music room and sat down on the piano bench.  But she couldn’t raise the lid, because she couldn’t think what to play – what would suit the emotional abyss she’d fallen down.

Standing back up, she went out on the balcony.  The weather suited her mood.  The sky was thickly grey and the lake a sheet of dark iron.

The door opened behind her and Ajay popped his head out.

“Oh..!  Did you want to be alone?” he asked.  Kate shrugged.  “Your aunt forbade me to light up in the house.  ‘Sides, I need a place to hide – she’s got me working like an elf.”

“She is..?”

“I’ve been chopping and pureeing for the past two hours.  It’s like I’m still doing the drudge for the Malfoys.”

“That must have been awful.”

“School wasn’t a lot of fun, either.”

“Really..?  Havenhurst..?  I’d’ve killed to have gone there – not literally, I mean I’m not the -”

“Relax – had a long talk with your mum – told me all about it.  Phin’s an idiot, if he can’t see that you’re not Voldy incarnate.”

“Yes, well…”

“Uh-huh…”

“Uh-huh what..?”
“There’s something there – you and Phin.  I’m right, don’t deny it.”

“Maybe, maybe there was, but… Well now, now that he knows everything…“

“Always was too straight-laced.  He was the ‘good son,’ lots of mates, regular bloke, whereas I…”

Ajay reached into his pocket for his pipe.  A piece of paper came out with it and was caught on the light breeze, wafting it slowly down below them.

Kate tried a summoning charm, but kept missing.  Ajay joined in, but neither was able to hit their target, as the paper kept dancing on the chilling breeze.

“I never was very coordinated,” Kate said, “The only one in my family that didn’t excel at some sport.”

“Phin was the Quidditch hero, whereas I was always the last one picked for the team…any team,” Ajay said.

“My sister’s very popular at school.  I was/am the too-smart-for-my-own-good nerd.”

“Nerd..?”

“Boffin…”

“Got it…”

The two continued to shoot futile summoning charms at the paper until it finally blew out to the boundaries of the manor.

“Back when we lived in New Jersey, there was this group of mean kids – they always gave me a hard time.  Oh, they’d play with my sister, but not me.

One day, one of them was telling everyone how he’d been to the Empire State Building.  He said his father told him it was so high, that if you dropped a dollar bill off the top, by the time it reached the ground it’d be going so fast it would kill anyone it landed on.”

“A dollar bill – like a pound note..?”  Kate nodded.  “Twits…”

“I said, ‘He must have meant a silver dollar – a coin – because a dollar bill would just float away.’  But no, he insisted, his father had said a dollar bill.  I told him that was just silly and I’d prove it to him.  So I climbed up the tree in our front yard – you had to use a ladder to get up to the lowest branches.

It was so high, from the top, you could see all the way to New York City.  So when I got like halfway up, I dropped a dollar bill, which was my entire week’s allowance.  Sure enough, it just floated down.  ‘See..!’ I said, thinking I’d proved how stupid they were.

“So they nicked the bill and ran off.”

“AND – took away the ladder – I was stuck up there until my mom came home from shopping.”

“Proving my thought – most kids are just animals in clothes.”

“Yes… So what did you mean about school?”

“People who only know it from the books, don’t really know it.   Figures that Rowling never went there – pretty much made it all up, didn’t she..?  Singing suits of armor – bollocks.”  He lit up his pipe.  “They don’t tolerate people there who are different.”

“Different – you mean because you’re half-Indian..?”

“No, other ways…”

“Muggle schools are just as bad.”

“I remember…”

“Can I ask you something..?”

Ajay took a drag on his pipe and nodded.

“What did you do that –“

“That made me a Wart..?”

Kate nodded.

“Couple things:  One, I got even with some of the bully boys – found one or two spells in the restricted section and let’s just say they won’t be sitting on their bums for a while.  That got me a month of detentions, while they got off scot-free, the buggers.  Oh and I snuck out to a local Muggle town to watch movies – had to confound the ticket bloke, because I didn’t have any Muggle money.”

“You what..?”

“Your mum said you’d grown up a Muggle, right?”  Kate nodded.  “Tell me you don’t miss what we had – video games, the telly, the internet, 3D movies.”

“But with magic you have –“

“What..?!  All your electrics go hay-wire.  And wizard games are total rubbish -‘Exploding Snap’ and ‘Gobstones’..?!  Seriously – they only sound fun in the books.”

“So they caught you..?”

“Right, and were going to bring me up on charges of breaking the Statute of Secrecy and whatever, but the warden –“

“Warden..?!”

“Headmaster – he suggested leniency.  Hah – like being packed off as Wart to the Malfoys is lenient…” Ajay snorted.

“And the others there – at the Malfoys – how were they..?”
“Mrs. Malfoy..?”

“No, not the Malfoys, I mean the ‘help’,” Kate asked.

Yes, she was curious about Thurlow’s flirtation.

“What others – I was the help,” Ajay said simply.

And Kate said nothing, but now she understood as she looked at Ajay’s lovely face.  She also felt a sudden kinship to this rebel, this outsider; she knew of bullies and ostracism.

“You know, when I found out – about magic, I mean – I thought maybe it would be…” he started.

“That it would be an equalizer..?”

Ajay nodded.

“Muggle or Magical – nothing’s really different, is it..?”

Ajay finished his pipe and tamped it out on the railing.

“Ready for lunch..?”

“Might as well,” Kate said and both headed in.

Neither saw the little scrap of paper had made it all the way to just outside the boundary of the Fidelius charm, where it landed, face up on a pod of moss.  The handwriting on it said:

 

The home of the Meadowes family can be found at Morrellayne

 

 


CHAPTER 33

 

“FROM BAD TO MUCH WORSE”

 

After lunch, Eldric had not returned, so Kate had not been able to quiz him about the change-free edition of the day’s Prophet.  This only added to her discontent, to the point where her aunt had ordered her to go sit in the garden, thinking maybe fresh air and sunlight would cheer her up.  But Kate sat glumly on the edge of a chaise, making the flower vases pump up and down, like horses on a carousel.

 

BUZZ

 

For a second, Kate was confused, and thought it was Phin’s card.

‘But that’s a DING, Kate,’ she reminded herself.

Reaching into her pocket, she pulled out her compact and opened it.  It was from Char:

 

Can’t find Emma.  B. said she went shopping.

                           Checked D.Alley – not there.  Has she contacted

                            you?  P.S.  Saw S. having lunch with the MOM.

                                            Thought you’d be interested.

                                                         Hope all is well.

 

            ‘No, Char, nothing is well,’ Kate thought, but she wrote:

 

Haven’t seen E.; will let U know if I hear from her.

 

            CRACK!  A sudden shot of lightning was quickly followed by a BOOM of thunder.  Kate greeted both with relief – rain would soon be there and she would be allowed to go in and be gloomy again.

 

Coming back inside, she found her mother and aunt in the great hall.  Kate told them about Sienna having lunch with Fearghas.

“That can’t be good,” her mother said.

“Plus, I forgot to tell you what else I overheard last night.”

At that point, Ajay came into the room, wearing a frilly apron.

“Oh – what..?” he asked.

“Did you finish peeling the potatoes for this evening,” Kate’s aunt asked.

“No…” he said.

“They won’t peel themselves, will they?  Not unless you’ve learned the charm.”

“What do I look like, Molly Weasley..?”

Aunt Gwynne waved him away and he retreated to the kitchen, but Kate could see his head mimicking her aunt.

“What..?” her aunt and mother said.

“Last night, at Draco’s, I overheard him talking with Fearghas.  From what I could gather, our cousin has been squeezing the Slytherins who stayed out of prison…”

“Squeezing..?”

“He’s making them trade gold for their freedom.”

“No..!”

“Not only that, when Draco inferred that he might let it slip that Fearghas had been a mole, working for Voldemort –“

“What..?!” Dorcas cried.

“Yes, and he – Fearghas – didn’t deny it.”

“Now it all makes sense,” Dorcas said, looking to her sister.

“Anyway, after Draco said that, Fearghas pointed out that Rookwood and his family had suddenly disappeared, implying that if Draco didn’t want to suffer the same fate…”

“You know, Gwynnie, even as a child, I never did like him – Fearghas.  Mac was much more pleasant, but I can’t imagine why I’d ever have brought Fearghas inside my Fidelius.  Do you remember..?”

Kate’s aunt just shook her head and went back into the kitchen.

 

‘How many days am I going to be stuck here,’ Gordy, a sturdy young Defender asked himself.

His hand unconsciously slid along the smooth arc of the Basilisk fang that protruded from the black sheath slung across his chest.  It had taken months of training to earn that fang and his greatest wish was that someday he would be the one to slay the Missing Horcrux with it.

Gordy had wanted to be an Auror, but lacked the grades, especially in the “softer” subjects, like Transfiguration and Potions.

“Bah!” he said.  “Better to be a Defender and get to use my ‘E’s’ in Defense Against the Dark Arts.”

The sky was quickly going dark and cold, causing him to pull his heavy grey cloak around him.  The sounds of birds and bugs had been replaced with the rush of wind through the trees.

“Aw, bugger – stuck out here without a brolly!” he complained as a large drop pelted his great prow of a chin, and then another on his unfurrowed brow.

He looked out from the base of the gatehouse, where he stood guard, across the plantings on the hill.  He had no idea what all those strange trees and herby stuffs growing in the gardens were, nor did he care.  His was not a curious mind.

“Day after day, just sitting here, no mate to chat with, nor to bring me a nice cuppa,” Gordy lamented, kicking a bloom off a nearby bush.  The bloom shot sticky sap on him.

“Bloody hell!” he shouted in disgust and fired a rapid series of blasts from his wand, severing every bloom from the offending bush.  Turning the wand on himself, he siphoned the sap off.

So engrossed was he in his task that he never heard the POP behind him, and never saw the beautiful redhead who stunned him from behind.  As he fell headfirst into the bush he’d just deflowered, his grey cloak flew up over his head.

Sienna Meadowes swept forward, purple lolly in her mouth, but she paused when she drew abreast of him.

“Ooo, I say, nice bum..!  What does the rest of you look like..?”  She flicked her wand, “AaaatenTION!” she said and the unconscious Gordy rose to a standing position.

She walked around him, making an appraisal.

“Not bad, not bad at all.  Lovely chin, and that hair,” she said, running her fingers through his clean-cut black waves, “I could get lost in that.”

She gave his butt a smack, then waved her wand again.  The young man fell to his knees, before her.

“Oh, please, Lady Sienna,” Sienna said, putting the words in his mouth, “You are the most beautiful girl in the land.  Please accept my humble gift.”

Sienna snatched his wand from his hand.

“Why thank you, how thoughtful of you – my favorite present!  And look – I have something for you!’

She pulled the purple lolly from her mouth and stuck it into his empty fingers.

“No, on second thought…”

She took the lolly back and snapped off a nearby lily.  She shoved that into his hands.

“Yes, that will do…”

She flicked her wand again, and the young Defender fell with a thud, back into the bush.  As she danced up the stairs, the bush proceeded to cover him with another shower of sap.  Reaching the gatehouse door, Sienna shouted:

Alohomora!” and the door swung open.

She rushed in and shut the door behind her, peering out from behind the curtains to see if the guard had any compatriots.  Assured that she was at least temporarily alone, she crossed to the mirror.

Taking a deep breath, she pulled the Hand of Glory from her bag and tugged at the mirror’s frame.  It opened to reveal the darkness within.

‘Leave the mirror open, or let it close..?’ she wondered.  She tried closing it three-quarters of the way, just to test how much light it allowed.  More light was what she desperately wanted, but it didn’t seem to matter.

‘And leaving it open would be a risk, if that Defender has mates,’ she reasoned.

Sienna closed the mirror, but continued to look out into the lab through it.

‘You won’t find the wand standing here,’ she told herself.  ‘And I’ll be damned if I’ll let Shortstack claim it!’

Steeling herself with that vow, she faced the enveloping blackness and held the Hand aloft.  The light it provided illuminated a mere twelve feet in either direction.  She knew that the mirrors had created an artificially short tunnel between two points that were in reality a great distance apart.

‘What if the destruction of the one mirror returned this space to its actual distance..?’ she wondered.  ‘I could be in here for days!’

Sienna felt her heart within her silk blouse – it was pounding in fear.  Fear – every time she was in a tunnel, a dark place – fear!  She hated that part of her, that little-girl-afraid-of-the-dark that she couldn’t conquer.

She glanced back to the light coming through the mirror, just for reassurance.  She pulled out her wand – Voldemort’s wand, which surely had to be the most powerful wand now that the Elder Wand was destroyed.  That was at least partially reassuring to her.

‘Maybe I should create a trail..?’ she wondered, and then she remembered, her heart sinking – ‘No, mum said magic doesn’t work in here.’

With one more glance back to the mirror, she started ahead, making a sweep of twenty feet this way and that, before moving further into the darkness.

And then she heard something, or rather sensed something ahead of her – moving.

‘What..?’ she asked herself, her heart thudding, her fear not even letting herself form the question.

Pointing the Hand towards it, she sighed with relief.

‘But how can that be,’ she asked herself, for there was the other mirror.

She glanced behind her, just to make sure she hadn’t gotten turned around.  No, there was the one she came in through.  Sienna turned back to the 2nd mirror and moved to it.  On the other side was a man – it was Thurlow!  He was smiling at her, his arms filled with flowers.  He did like her!

But as she reached for the mirror, he pivoted and handed them to – Kate!

“No!” Sienna shouted, “No, you can’t prefer her to me!”

The mirror suddenly turned reflective and she was forced to see herself close up.  Major flaws and wrinkles that she’d never seen before were now quite appallingly evident.  She let out a shriek and fell back.

But then, another man appeared, as Thurlow moved out of view.  He was tall, with dark brown hair and light grey eyes.

“Daddy..?” Sienna cried out, incredulous.

He was holding out a wand for her.

“I bought this just for you, Pumpkin.”

But as she reached out for it, a green jet of light hit him from behind and he fell, as though his bones had instantly dissolved.  Sienna screamed.  She couldn’t look anymore.

‘What tricks are these..?  Is this a protective charm, or..?’

She looked back.  Her father had disappeared, but behind where he had stood, there, on the couch in the great hall, was her mother, but not stuck in the portrait – she was lying on the couch, under a blanket.  Sienna drew closer, mesmerized.  Something wet and hot rolled down her cheeks.  She was crying.

“Mummy..?”

She drew up close to the mirror.

Her mother sat up – she was talking to someone, but then her mother’s face changed – fear!  She made an attempt to snatch the wand laying on the end table, when a jet of green light struck her.  Sienna screamed as her mother fell from the couch, lifeless.

Someone else now came before the mirror and was looking right through it.  It was Uncle Fergie.

“Si-si..” he said, spotting her.

Sienna stopped.  He opened the mirror and stepped inside with her.  She looked to his hand.  He was holding a wand.  He was pointing it at her.

Avada Kedavra..!” he shouted, and a blast of brilliant green light shot right at Sienna.

“NO!” Sienna shouted, covering her face.

But nothing happened.  She opened her eyes.  Fearghas was gone.

She fled, not looking back until she had reached the other mirror in the gatehouse, her mission to retrieve her mother’s wand abandoned.

Bursting out of the mirror, she shut it against the horror within, leaning back on it as if to keep it sealed.  Now all the memories of the day her mother was murdered came flooding back.  Now she remembered who killed her mother.

“Fearghas..!” Sienna said, shuddering violently.

 

If the day had been nice, it would still have been light at this hour.  Couples would have been having an early dinner on the patios of the fashionable restaurants.  But the sky was so thick with pregnant clouds that the streetlamps on Bond Street had already flickered on.  And then, although not unexpected, the rain came – sudden and remorseless – and the strollers unlucky enough to have forgotten their brollies, fled.

But Emma did not seek shelter; she walked aimlessly, oblivious to the downpour.  Tears streamed down her delicate face, mixing with the raindrops, but she wiped neither away.  Someone scurrying by knocked into her and she fell against a store’s signage heavily.

“Sorry, love,” a man called out, as he rushed on.

But as she picked herself up, it was as though she was coming out of a thick fog.  For there, just ahead, was a golden, beckoning shop, like the promise of a warming fire on a cold winter afternoon, when the sun has just set, and the snow has turned blue.  Here was balm for her sorrow.

Emma brushed back the light blonde tendrils that had fallen limp and heavy against the pale pink of her cheeks and smiled.  Pushing the door of Hamilton & Cie., Bridal Registry open, she stood in the doorway, taking it all in, as a Muggle shopgirl rushed up.

“Caught in the rain, Miss..?  Please, do come in, come in.”

The shopgirl shivered and rushed to close the door behind Emma.

“Are you just seeking respite, or did you want to put your name down on our registry..?”  Emma didn’t answer.  “Or are you here to pick out a gift for someone..?  I could look up their name…”

Emma still didn’t answer.  She looked at the girl as though she was speaking a foreign tongue.

“Are you all right, love..?  Can I get you something, a towel perhaps..?” she asked, noticing the puddle that was forming beneath Emma.

Emma smiled sweetly, which the shopgirl took to mean, ‘yes’ and she hurried from the room.  Emma looked slowly around, her eyes falling lovingly on each item, so perfectly displayed.

She saw the light twinkling within the facets of a large leaded glass punchbowl that sat atop an electrified pedestal.  She reached out and let her fingers caress its sharp points, as it rotated.  And then she saw rows of Wedgewood plates, leaning against their racks and, like a blind person, she “read” the delicate ribbing that ran just inside their gold-leafed rims.

And everywhere were spoons and knives and all manner of forks fanning out like peacock tails in front of her – gleaming, begging her to touch them, to hold them, to imagine that she was the hostess of a large and very grand party.  And there, next to her, his arm around her waist was an adoring Reggie.

But then that image faded, like the light from a firework and she found herself standing before a multi-tiered wedding cake made of porcelain.  Looking up, she saw it was crowned with a very flossy bride and groom.  And the bride was blonde, just like Emma and the groom brunet, just like…

Emma sighed.  Looking down to the base, she saw an intricately chased silver cake knife.  The heavy handle was tied with white silk ribbons that dangled beneath it, as Emma lifted it in her petite hand.

The shopgirl came back into the room.

“I – I brought you a towel, Miss,” she said, hesitating because of the sadness that came through Emma’s wistful smile.  Were those tears, or was that rain?  She offered the towel to Emma, but she didn’t take it.  Instead, she turned to the cake and lightly tapped it with the knife.  It made a hollow tone.  Emma tapped it again, a bit harder and the same tone rang out, a bit louder.

“Miss, please – that’s not –“

Emma looked at the shopgirl.  Tears were now pouring down her face.  She pointed her wand/finger at the knife and a small spark shot out and transformed the knife into a large, very solid cricket bat, the handle of which trailed the same long, silk ribbons.

The Muggle shopgirl cried out in disbelief, but Emma didn’t notice.  Wiping away her tears, she reared back and took a mighty swing, like A-Rod going for a homer.  The pottery cake shattered and the shopgirl fled, as more and more tinkling, clanging crashes rang out.

 

The rain ended as suddenly as it had started.  The lowering sun painted the departing clouds a delicate pink, as a deepening blue seeped into the twilight sky.  Aunt Gwynne opened the French doors to the gardens, to let the cleansed air in.

Kate was talking with her mother’s portrait, when, for the first time in many days, Phin’s card DING-ed.  She heard it immediately, because it sat where she’d tossed it the night before – on the coffee table in front of her.  With mixed feelings, she picked it up.

 

Wondering if I could stop by

 

‘What does that mean,’ Kate wondered.

“Is that your Phin..?” her mother asked.

“My Phin..?  He wants to know if he can stop by.”

“Would he be staying for dinner – we have enough,” her aunt said.

“Seriously, Aunt G., after last night..?”

“I see your point.  Yes, it could be a bit strained.”

Kate tapped the card, as her aunt went back to the kitchen.

 

Your brother will be happy to see you

 

            Kate couldn’t say how she’d feel, but her stomach was clenching.

 

Will be there soon

 

            Kate felt like writing back a snarky, “Can hardly wait…” but she refrained.

“He’s coming.”

“Who is..?” Ajay asked, coming in from the kitchen.

“Phin…”

“Uh-oh – should I keep a strong Protego at the ready..?”

Kate gave him a cool glare.

“I’ll take that as a ‘yes’.”

Kate was irritated to find a part of her had a strong urge to run upstairs and make herself more attractive, but she resisted it.

 

A few moments later, Phin walked in through the rear of the gardens.  How should she arrange herself so that she looked like she didn’t care..?  Kate turned away from the doors and grabbed the nearest book – “SERIOUS POTIONS – WAND-FREE,” and pretended to be deeply into it.

Phin knocked and Ajay let him in.

“I brought you some clothes, thought you’d be needing them.”

“News..?” Ajay asked.

“Got a letter from mum…  She says she’s secured a house in Provence.  Your dad’s still not pleased with the whole situation, but he’ll take you in.”

“You must have worded it just right.  Future ambassador, for sure..!” Ajay backed away, “Uhm…so you probably want to say hi to Kate, right, so I’ll just…”

Phin turned towards Kate, but she remained facing away.

“You don’t have to go on my account, Ajay,” Kate said.

“No, he doesn’t,” Phin added.

“Yeah, but I think I it’s time to take my cake out, so…”

Ajay left.  Kate turned a page in the book, even though she hadn’t read a word of it.  Phin just stood there.

“If you’re looking for the words to get it ‘just right,’ Mr. Ambassador, you could start with, ‘I’m sorry –“

I’M SORRY..?!  I’M SORRY..?!”

Ajay ran back in, as Kate sat up and spun around.

“You need that Protego now?” Ajay asked, wand drawn.

“NO..!” both of them shouted.

Ajay waited a moment, then returned to the kitchen.

“Look, what you did – everything you did – was illegal.  How am I, as an arm of the law, supposed to ignore that..?” Phin asked.

“Because all of those laws were passed based on a lie..!  My mother wasn’t killed by Voldemort!  So that makes what I did – well most of what I did – legal, or at least ‘legal-adjacent’.”  Kate turned to her mother’s portrait, “Mom..?”

“It’s true, Phin, it wasn’t Voldemort who killed me, so Kate can’t be his Horcrux, and, by extension, shouldn’t be punished for wielding a man’s wand.”

“Really..?  It wasn’t Voldemort..?”

Dorcas nodded.

“You know who did it..?”

“I do…”

“And…”

Dorcas looked to Kate.

“Sure, why not – tell him the truth – not that he ever believes it.”

“Or that you ever tell it!”

“It was my cousin, Fearghas MacAra who killed me.”

“The Minister..?!”

“Yes..!  So, as mom said, using Mad-Eye’s wand shouldn’t be illegal.”

“No, but stealing it was!”

“I didn’t steal it.”

“You have it!”

“I merely…‘liberated’ it.”

“And what about the Missing Bride – that was private property!”

“Of my grandmother’s and I could hardly ask ‘Grannie’ Meadowes to lend it to me, not unless I wanted to reveal who I was / am…  Besides, how would you like it, if you’d never met your mother – your real mother – but you knew she was still alive, well, kinda-sorta, somewhere..?”

“And the attack on STIX..?!”

“Justified..!  Totally justified..!  Limiting all women’s wands because of a lie..?  Seriously…  Why is it so hard for you to put yourself in my place – or any woman’s place in this country?  How would you like it if all men’s wands had been reduced to doing household spells, or – or making yourself ‘pretty’..?!  Why is it so easy for you to judge a woman, but so hard for you to see the world through her eyes…?”

“Look, all I’m saying is – is you should have been honest with me.”

“Oh, like I should have said, ‘Hey, I’m the myth you’ve been hunting.  It’s a lie, but I don’t mind if you arrest me for it..!”

“All right… I just – I just wish things had been different, but now a man’s been killed, so it’s not just…it’s not…”

Kate sighed – she’d almost gotten past that, but…

“No, it’s not, but we didn’t plan that.  We never planned anything that would harm anyone.”

“We..?  Your Slytherin pals..?”

“Can you leave them out of this?”

“I wish you had.  Things might have been different.  I thought…well I maybe we…”

“I thought the same thing, until you dumped me in that parking lot, and after what had been the best day.”

“I had things on my mind.”

“Oh really – like I didn’t?”

“Right..!  Look – Ajay turns seventeen tomorrow and then we’ll be gone and I won’t bother you again!”

“Fine – my family – the Talbots will return in two days and then we’ll be going home.”

“You will..?” Dorcas asked.

“You’re leaving England?” Phin asked.

Just then, an owl flew in through the open door and dropped a letter on Kate’s lap.  She opened it and it began to play Liszt, as Thurlow’s baritone spoke:

                             Kate – you haven’t answered my invitation!

                               Please say you don’t have plans for dinner

                              tonight, you’ll devastate me, if you say no!

 

            “So – you’re still in touch with him..?  And here I thought you were just using him to get into Malfoy manor.   Speaking of which – what were you doing at Malfoy manor anyway..?”

But before Kate could tell him to mind his own business, two more owls flew in.  They dropped a bundle of flowers in Kate’s lap.  As the music continued, the owls (obviously bewitched) started dancing to it, while chirping, “PLEEEAAASE, KATE… PLEEEAAASE, KATE.”

“Still waiting…” Phin said, clearly annoyed.

But then another owl flew in.  Kate could only laugh, partly from the embarrassment of anyone paying her this much attention.  But this owl only dropped a letter in her lap.

Upon opening it, she saw it was from Sienna:

 

                               Kate – whatever you do, don’t accept any

                           invitation from Thurlow!  Do you understand?

                                                           You can’t go!

 

            “What – more entreaties from the snake charmer?”

Kate shredded Sienna’s letter.

“Are you upset because he’s a Slytherin, or because he asked me out?”

“I’m not upset!” Phin said, as he spun and strode towards the door.  “Go out with whoever you want!  Miss Meadowes..!”

As a furious Phin marched towards the door, Kate shouted:

“That’s Lady Meadowes to you!”

After he’d left, Kate stewed.

“Darling, what are you going to do..?” her mother asked.

“I don’t know.”

She held up the shredded note from Sienna.

“It’s from your other daughter, telling me I can’t go out with Thurlow.”

“But do you want to..?”

“I really wasn’t decided, but now…”

“Now you’re ready to tell both of them to bugger off!”

“Damn straight!”

Kate grabbed a pen and wrote “yes” on the back of the letter from Thurlow – “Send details”.  She handed it to the first owl and the other two followed it out into the evening sky.

Then she headed for her room, to “pretty herself up.”  She’d resisted doing it for Phin, because, to be honest with herself, she was trying to resist Phin.  But with Thurlow, well, “handsome” was practically his profession, so she had to raise her game, though, again to be honest – she didn’t exactly know what the game was…

CHAPTER 34

 

“A DATE WITH MR. WRONG”

 

Kate came back down the stairs, wearing one of the chic outfits Leigh had picked out for her, a grey silk.

“What do you think, mom.”

“You look very lovely, but I’d change your earrings.”

“But they’re the only ones I have.”

“No, I meant grey pearls would go better with your dress.”

Kate gave each ear a tap with Mad-Eye’s wand and the pearls changed to the same shade of grey as her dress.

“Oh, darling, before you go – an owl left you a note while you were upstairs.”

Kate read the note and then checked her watch.

“He says he’ll be waiting for me at eight.  I’ll just make it.”

“What is it, Kate..?  You don’t seem very excited.”

“Maybe ‘cuz I’m not… I think I’m going for all the wrong reasons.  I mean I’m mad at Phin because, well because he doesn’t approve – like he has the right not to!  And I’m mad at Sienna for thinking she can tell me I can’t go out with Thurlow, because she wants him for herself.  But is that reason enough to go..?”

“Do you even like him..?”

“I don’t know.  What’s not to like – I mean, he’s handsome – like, intimidatingly handsome.  He’s just intimidating everything – smooth, sophisticated and he has this dreamy voice, and dimples and… And he knows classical music.”

“Oh, yes, I’d totally be on the fence, too…” Dorcas said, smiling.

“So you think I should go..?”

“You already said you would.”

“I know, I know…it’s just –“
“Phin…”

“Phin…” Kate said, agreeing.  “He says all the wrong things and Thurlow says all the right ones…”

“But Phin doesn’t intimidate you…”

“Irritate, yes.  Intimidate, no…  And in any case, it’s not going anywhere, because I know he’s…”

Kate stopped, as Ajay walked in the room.

“Wow, you look smashing!”

“Doesn’t she..?” Dorcas asked.

“Tell Aunt G. I won’t be home for dinner, would you..?”

Ajay nodded and returned to the kitchen.

“Mom, could you do something for me..?”

“Of course, darling, what..?”

Kate’s aunt entered the room.

“Are you going out, Kate..?”

“Yes, Aunt G., sorry…  I – I have a date.”

“Just a date, no blowing up anything..?”

“Just a date…”

Her aunt seemed rather pleased, as Kate turned to her mom.

“So mom, could you go back to your other portrait and find out who that blonde girl is..?”

“Consider it done,” her mother said, as she slipped out the side of her frame.

“Don’t stay out too late, Kate,” her aunt admonished.

 

Kate arrived at the address on the letter – Villa Fiore.  She read the invitation once more:

 

                                             Villa Fiore, The Lake District

                                                   The gate will be open

                                     Follow the candles up to the terrace

 

‘Fiore – isn’t that Italian for flower..?’ Kate wondered.

Candles were strewn along the sides of the twisting path that lead upwards.  The air was perfumed with flowering shrubs and vines.  Kate recognized Orange Blossom (from their one trip to Florida) and Jasmine, neither of which she realized could grow in England, without the help of magic.

Finally, she reached a landing.  Ahead, bobbing in the warm breeze, just above the level of the tall hedge, were candle-lit globes, floating without support.  She heard a fountain and violins.  Taking a deep breath, Kate rounded the corner – and froze – that breath catching in her chest.

“Do come in, cousin…  Please…” Fearghas said, smiling.

Two Defenders appeared on either side of her and there were another two flanking Fearghas.  Kate tried twisting, but she was unable to disapparate.

“You can stop with that – I put an anti-disapparation spell on the grounds.  Turning to the Defenders, he said:  “You can leave us.  Wait – I forgot…  The wand…”

Fearghas held out his hand.  Kate played dumb, pulling out her ringed wand and held it up, questioningly.  Fearghas smiled and shook his head.

“The other two – the ones you keep in your little hidden pocket…”

‘What two..?’ Kate wondered, ‘I only have Mad-Eye’s hidden.’

The Defenders pointed their wands at Kate.  Even though her head was spinning, trying to figure out how he knew; who told him, she relented and pulled out Mad-Eye’s wand.  The nearest Defender snatched it and gave it to Fearghas.  With a brush of his hand the four men left.

“And the other..?”

“What other..?” Kate asked.

Fearghas nodded to the Defenders who ransacked her hidden pocket – nothing.

“Bring me the wand,” Fearghas said.

The one Defender brought it to Fearghas.

“Now leave us.”

After they saluted and departed, Fearghas rolled Mad-Eye’s wand in his fingers.

“You’ve done very well with this; Mad-Eye would be proud.”

And with a sudden movement, he snapped it in half.

Fearghas dropped the halves, as though disgusted by the feel of them.  Whereas, Kate felt like one of her hands had just been amputated, but she was determined not to let it show.

“Where’s -“

“Thurlow Malfoy..?  Well I seem to have convinced him that it was your sister he really wanted to have dinner with tonight.”

“My sister..?”

“Oh, please, Kay, or should I say, Katharine – I saw through your grandmother’s ruse immediately.  Anyone who’d ever met your Muggle father couldn’t forget his one redeeming feature – those amazing grey eyes – the same lovely eyes that are glaring at me with such hatred right now.”

He smiled, as his roved over her.

“I must say, you do clean up well.  My first impression was…well, it will certainly be Thurlow’s loss.”

The jig was up, so Kate rose to the challenge.

“And what now..?  Did you bring me here to k-kill me..?”

“Kill you..?!”  Fearghas laughed.  “No, no, no – why would I want to kill you?  My dear cousin, you’ve given me all I could ask for.”

“I’ve given you – what have I..?”

“Every one of your little acts of terrorism has proven a boon to my cause.  They’ve ramped up the public’s fears – ‘Voldemort returned in she-demon guise!’  You’ve strengthened my hold on power and I’m indebted to you.”

“It wasn’t terrorism – you just had the Prophet slant it that way!”

“As they say, ‘History is written by the victors.’  Now the people will beg me to keep them safe and they’ll accept any law I put forth, no matter how draconian.  Yes, I can never thank you enough for your efforts.”

“You’re not welcome…” Kate muttered.

“And quite the effort it’s been, I must say.  Not to diminish your skills, which must be prodigious, considering you were raised a Muggle, but a seventeen-year-old witch..?  No, no – I detect your mother’s hand in all this.  I always was in awe of her magic.  But then, it proved to be her undoing, didn’t it..?  That wand – what it was capable of…  Imagine – the ability to turn wizards into Squibs..!”

“And you killed her for it.”

“Regrettable, but what choice did I have?  I was given a mission – get that wand, or he’d kill me.”

“Voldemort – you chose him over the Order; him over my mother, your own cousin..!“
“His side was winning and no one believed the boy would actually vanquish him, so you see, it was the smart move.  Hah – I guess I really am a Slytherin.  Regardless, when I didn’t get it I paid a great price, as you can see.”

Fearghas lightly stroked the ravaged side of his face.

“But, that, too turned to my advantage.  People readily believed that he’d tortured me.  I merely misrepresented the reason and – boom – there I was, on the short list for Minister, something Voldy never would have been given.

“And in my opinion, that was his big mistake – going the wizard ‘moste’ evil route.  He had scores of people killed to maintain his grip on power.  I killed only one – well, only one that counts, I mean your father was just a –“

Kate lurched at Fearghas.  With a flick, her ringed wand went sailing. “Touched a nerve, did I..?  And you never even knew him…curious.  Anyway, just for the record – I didn’t actually mean to kill your mother.  She was just too skilled for me to trust that she’d give up that wand without a fight.  So when she went for it…”

“Besides, she was just a woman – a subspecies to you.”

“Katharine – you wound me – no, no, I totally respect women.  Ah, but you won’t believe me, unless I explain.  You see, before and immediately after Voldemort’s demise, women in the Wizengamot wielded great power.  At least three were seriously being considered for the next Minister, including my assistant.  I believe you’ve met Pamela…

“But by creating the ‘Missing Horcrux’ myth and the laws that it generated, I was able to eliminate – how should I put this – half of the predators at the ‘watering hole of power’.  Add to that the ejection of all the Slytherins and I was practically handed the position.”

“Then why add the lie about the prophecy..?“

“Oh, but you see that’s the best part.  Sibyll did make a prophecy about us, you and me.”

“And it said..?”

Fearghas paused and smiled.

“I’m afraid that will remain a secret, unless, of course, you want to reveal yourself and enter the Department of Mysteries…”

Kate turned away, one hand lightly touching one of her pearl earrings.

“So what now..?”

“It’s very simple; if you act like a good little girl and play nice for the rest of your visit, I will let you and your family leave the county.

Kate’s mind tried to process all of this.  Who could have given them up?  ‘Sienna..!’ her mind screamed.  ‘That’s right – Char said she’d had lunch with him..!’

“And you’re not afraid that I’ll go public, that I’ll show everyone I have no curse scar – that the myth is a lie..?”

She was trying to buy time to think.  She could hit him with the Basilisk earrings, but then what – kill him..?!

“Oh – good point, thank you.”

Fearghas flicked his wand at her, freezing her where she stood.  Another flick unleashed a thin, whip-like band of fire that sliced one shoulder of her sleeve-less dress.  The material fell forward.  Another flick and the flame singed an angry lightning bolt like Harry Potter’s, into the pink flesh inches below her collarbone.

Frozen as she was, Kate was unable to scream, but the pain was searing.

Reparo!” Fearghas shouted, and Kate’s dress mended itself.  “There – problem solved.”

He released her from his spell and she fell to her knees, shuddering.

“I heard you were a Potter freak; now you two have something in common – consider it a unique souvenir of your trip.”

Kate looked up with pure hatred in her eyes.  She seriously considered hitting him with the beams from her earrings, even if escape was impossible.  To inflict pain on this man would be worth it.

“That’s it then – I think we’re finished here.”

But as Kate pushed herself to her feet…

“Oh but I’m forgetting – your mother’s wand – I’ll still be wanting that.  As it’s not on you, I assume that you’ve hidden it somewhere.”

“It was lost.”

“Yes, but you stormed your aunt’s gatehouse today for it, snatching my guard’s wand along the way.”

‘Sienna again..!’ Kate’s brain screamed, and she added her sister’s name to the list of people she’d like to see in great pain.

“Don’t deny it, just deliver it to me by say, lunchtime tomorrow..?   Then you and your Muggle relations are free to leave.  Oh, and please don’t make me spell out what will happen to them should you fail to do as I say.  I hate making arch threats like ‘You Know Who’ – really overplayed the whole super villain role, Voldy did!”

“And what do you expect me to do without a wand..?”

“Right…”

Fearghas flicked his and Kate’s ringed wand flew into his hands.

“But what is this strange wood, all pink and creamy..?  I like it – it reminds me of the skin of your grandmother’s Wart.”

Kate said nothing, but her anger was reaching a crescendo; the flames inside the floating lanterns fritzed and torched.

“In any case, such a pity to hobble it…  What it might have done in talented hands such as yours…  But – it is as it is, isn’t it?  Guards..!”

Two Defenders appeared, taking a position on either side of Kate.  Fearghas flung her wand at her and waved her out.

 

 


 

CHAPTER 35

 

“THE ALICE KYTELER SOCIETY”

 

Arriving at the bottom of the drive, Kate was about to go in, but stopped.  Turning back to the trees across the road, she called out:

“Phin..?”

Silence…  Crossing to beneath the tree, she tilted her head up and a bit more loudly said:

“Phin..?”  Silence…  “If you’re there, I…”

‘But I what..?’ Kate wondered.  ‘I miss you / I want to see you / I hate you / I regret…’  She tried to bury her most urgent thought – “hold me..!”

But still there was no sound.  Kate gave up and entered the hole in the hedge.  It reformed itself behind her.

 

Once inside she waited, listening for his voice, but there was nothing, but the sound of Sherry’s paws coming rapidly towards her.

 

Outside, Phin dropped from the trees and came forward.  He stopped before the hedge.

“Kate..?”

 

Inside, Kate turned, wondering if she’d heard him call her name, but when she only found silence, she turned back towards the house.

WHOOMP!  Kate ran directly into someone and they both shouted, as they fell.  Kate whipped out her wand, as did the other person.

Lumos!” they both cried.

Kate’s wandlight fell on Ajay, and his on her.

“Ajay..!”

“Crikey..!” he said, picking himself up.

Kate turned her wand’s light onto the ground.  Ajay was gathering a large armful of –

“Your clothes..?  You’re leaving..?”

“Today was my birthday,” he said.

“Today..?  But Phin said it was tomorrow.”
“Yeah, well Phin’s wrong about a number of things, isn’t he..?  I’m seventeen now and the trace is off, so…”

“So you’re going..?”  Ajay nodded.  “And I wasn’t here.  I’m so sorry… I was –”

“No worries, your aunt and I made a cake.  We left a slice for you.”

“Is – is Phin here..?”

“He’s waiting up in the boat.”

“So he didn’t want to come in.”

“Well…”

“Got it…”

“I guess this is goodbye then,” Ajay said, “I can never thank you enough for freeing me, really.  And thanks for taking me in.  Phin may be on the fence about you, but I think you’re brill.”

He gave her a one-armed hug and a light kiss on her cheek.

“Cheers..!”

“Cheers…” Kate echoed.

Ajay headed off into the darkness and though it didn’t seem possible, now she felt even more alone.

 

Kate trudged up to the house and entered the great hall.  Her aunt, who had apparently been sleeping on the couch, sat up suddenly.  She rubbed her eyes.  She saw Kate’s face.

“I take it the date didn’t go well…”

Kate’s sadness at losing the company of Ajay (and Phin), disappeared immediately, changing into bitter anger.

“There wasn’t any date – it was an ambush!”

“Ambush..?”

“By Fearghas..!”

“Fearghas..!?”  Her aunt sat up.

“And I know just who put him on to it!”

“Not –“
“Sienna..!  I’ll kill her!”

“Kate –“

“What’s the word for killing a sister – there’s ‘fratricide,’ ‘patricide’ – am I first woman to ever kill her sister..?!”

Her aunt got up.

“I’ll make some tea…”

“To hell with tea..!  Why is it the English think tea fixes everything?!  Poison – now that you can bring me!”

“I’ll start with tea…” her aunt said, turning towards the kitchen.  Kate looked for her mother’s portrait, but it wasn’t on the couch.

“Aunt G -” Her aunt paused.  “Where’s Mom..?”

“Oh, I – I took her out to the kitchen to keep me company.”

At that instant, an owl flew in through the doors and dropped a fine linen envelope on the table next to Kate.  Picking it up, she saw that it was addressed to her in gold leaf.  Flipping it over, she saw a purple wax seal, stamped with the letters:  AKS

“Now what..?”

Kate debated on whether to open it, as the last invitation she’d received had been disastrous.  But, she reasoned, how could anything be worse that what she’d just gone through?  And she didn’t have to show up for whatever it was, if it sounded dodgy, so she opened the envelope.

The inside was lined in a deep blue-purple metallic.  Kate pulled out the card and read it aloud, as her aunt entered the room:

 

Your presence is requested before

The Alice Kyteler Society

 

Kate only had time to ask her aunt, “What’s the Alice Kyteler Society..?” before the card started to glow with a pulsing blue light.

“NO..!” Kate shouted, realizing the invitation was a Portkey.

She tried to pry her fingers off it, but it was too late.  She felt a tug – exactly like Jo had described in the books – just behind her navel, and she began to spin horizontally around it.  And then, a second later, she vanished.

 

Kate landed in a lump, on the cold marble floor of a room roughly twenty feet in diameter.  It appeared to be windowless and was lit only by torches.  Instinctively, she pulled out her wand.

Looking around, she saw that the walls were covered with the same purple flowers that were in the painting at the Ministry.  She also saw that the room was not truly round, but twelve-sided.  In the center was a raised dais, on top of which was a round table.  And at the dais sat a small group of hooded women.

“She’s here,” a familiar voice said.  Kate couldn’t place it immediately, but the feel of it on her ears wasn’t warm and fuzzy.  The woman rose from the table.  Her hooded cloak, like the others, was made of fabric that at first seemed black, but as she approached Kate saw that it was an intense bluish-purple that gave off glints of bright violet.

‘Like a Tanzanite,’ she thought.  And then she saw the woman’s face.

“Vulpine..!” Kate said, getting up.

Her grandmother offered her hand in help, but Kate didn’t take it.

“I thought we’d decided you should call me Madame.”

Kate looked her grandmother in the eye.

“No, you decided; I merely allowed it.”

Vulpine registered this new-found strength in her granddaughter.

“Where am I and why have you brought me here..?” Kate asked.

“You are in the chamber of the Alice Kyteler Society.”

“Which is what..?”

“It’s a group of women dedicated to the advancement of women,” another woman said.  Her voice was also somewhat familiar.

“Really..!?  And how’s that going for you..?”            Kate scoffed.

“That’s a rather bitter tone,” the woman said, rising.

Kate suddenly realized who it was.

“And you think I’m not entitled, Pamela..?” Kate asked, fiercely.

“In one so young, who hasn’t had to live through what we have..?”

Kate faced her.

“What you’ve lived through..?!  What you’ve live through..!  I’ve been here less than three weeks, yet I’ve been pierced, ambushed and now abducted.  Plus my mom was murdered; I have a nation-wide target on my back, and…oh yes – I was just branded by your boss, the Minister, so yeah, I think I am entitled!”

Vulpine raised her hand to interrupt.

“Go back – you say you were branded by Fearghas..?”

“A lightning scar to ‘prove’ I’m Voldemort’s Horcrux.”

“But where did this happen..?”

“On what was supposed to be a date with Thurlow Malfoy, but your other granddaughter sold me out!”

Vulpine sighed.

“Is she here..?  I’d like to show the witch my ‘appreciation’.”

“Yes, yes – but first, tell us what else he knows.”

“Everything – he knows who I really am and that you lied to him…”

Vulpine drew back.  Kate was surprised to feel enjoyment seeing fear upon her grandmother’s face.

“But if that’s true, why would he let you go..?”

“He said everything I’ve done – we’ve done – has only helped him.  The people’s fear of me has made his hold on power more secure, so if I play nice, like a good little girl, and leave, all is well.”

“But that can’t be all he asked for.”

“No, not all…”

“Your mother’s wand – he still wants that..!”

“Sienna told you about that, too?”

Another woman rose from the table.

“Nay, lassie, we know about tit, because me husband was a Death Eater yer mam gelded with it!”

She had light eyes and a heavy brogue.

“And I suppose you hold that against me..?”

“No, fer that, I’m beholden to yeh,” the woman said, laughing.

“Siobhan, my granddaughter, Katharine…”  Looking back to Kate, she asked:  “So you didn’t get Sienna’s owl, warning you not to go..?”

“I got it…”

“But you still went..?!”

“I went because of it – she worded it like she wouldn’t allow me to date Thurlow.  She never said it was because Fearghas would be there!”

“Yes, that was a mistake that I’m sure she’ll regret.”

“I bet…”

“You should know that Sienna attempted to retrieve your mother’s wand today.”

“Did she get it?”

“No.  What she got were the memories I’d Obliviated, including that of Fearghas killing your mother.  She realized then the danger she’d put you in and that’s why she sent the letter; the one you unfortunately ignored.”

“Yeah, well if she knows what’s good for her, she’d better steer clear of me ‘til I’m gone, or I’m going to see just how much damage one can wreak with this stupid thing,” Kate said, waving her ringed wand.

“But that’s just it – your sister no longer knows what’s good for her.  She’s lost all sense of reason.  I had to restrain her with several charms to keep her from avenging your mother’s murder – something you could not bring yourself to do.”

“And you brought me here to what – to stop her..?  Or did you think I’d do it for her..?”

“Possibly – we have a number of plans.”

“Plans – you have plans..?  All of this evil’s been going down for years and you’re still planning..?”

“We needed a catalyst.”

“You – you’re talking about me..?”

“You’re the Missing Horcrux, are you not..?” the Scottish woman asked.

“Missing – was / Horcrux – not…”

“But everything that’s happened has happened because of the Horcrux myth.  If that was eliminated…” Pamela started.

“Eliminated – as in, if I were to die..?”

“As I said, we have a number of plans.  We brought you here, because we thought we saw in you a shared desire to help the cause of women,” Vulpine said.

“Help the cause of women..?!”

“Yes…”

“What a crock of hypocrisy!” Kate cried.

“Nay..!” the Scottish woman cried.

Kate started shouting:

“WART..!  WART..!  WART..!”

Vulpine’s eyes narrowed.  She tapped her wand, as she shouted:

“Wart..!”

The young woman with the neck collar appeared.

“Yes, Madame…” the miserable girl answered, head bowed.

“So, do you really want to help all women, or just certain entitled ones, such as yourselves..?!” Kate asked, with fire in her eyes.

Vulpine stared intensely at her granddaughter and then tilted her head in concession.

“You’ve made your point.”

She went to wave her wand again, but Kate latched onto her wrist.

“No..!”

Vulpine lowered her wand.  Kate moved to the girl and stood before her.  The girl looked up, but only for a second.  Kate lifted her head with the gentlest of touch.

“What is your name, love..?”

The Wart looked to Vulpine, who nodded.

“It – it’s Rosalind, but my friends…they called me Rosy,” she said, as her voice disappeared.

“Rosy, that’s nice.  I’ve never had a friend named Rosy.”  The girl blushed.  “Would you do me a favor, Rosy..?  Would you tell me what you did that was so awful that they made you a Wart..?”

Again the girl looked to Vulpine for permission.

Vulpine looked like this was an insult and a major irritation, but she nodded.

“I – I… It was in History of Magic class…”

“History of Magic..?”

The girl nodded.

“The teacher, Professor Davenport – he was lecturing us on what he called, ‘the Engines of History.’  And he said that men have always been the engines; that the greatest events – evil and good – have all been caused by men.  He…he used the example of Harry Potter…”

Kate gave an encouraging nod and Rosy started speaking with a professorial, patriarchal tone:

“He said, ‘Mr. Potter, a protégé of Albus Dumbledore, conquered the Dark Lord – Man, Man and Man!’  And I raised my hand.  When he called on me, I said, ‘But Harry –‘ ‘MR. Potter..!’ he said, ‘Mr. Potter wouldn’t have been able to conquer the Dark Lord without the help of Hermione Grainger, or the protection given him by his mother, who gave up her life for his.’  ‘Supporting roles, merely supporting – helpmates and handmaidens,’ he said, dismissively.”

Rosy started to stand up straighter and color came to her cheeks.

“Then he said I was being disruptive, that women should know their place.  And I said, ‘Their place is as equals!  We only have a lower status because men have limited our wands!’  And then the other girls in the class jumped up and started shouting, and…and then I was sent to the Headmaster’s office…and…”

Her head sank back down.

Kate looked at each of the women at the table.

“Give me your wand,” she said calmly, but quite firmly, to Vulpine.

“My wand..?”

“Your wand..!”

Vulpine didn’t budge.

“Why did you bring me here..?”  Vulpine started to answer, but Kate held up her hand (the family trait).  “I’ll give that answer – it’ll be more honest than yours.  You need my help.  Fine – you want my help – give me your wand!”

It was a stand-off, with grandmother and granddaughter refusing to budge, but, finally, Vulpine handed her wand to Kate.

Kate waved it around, getting the feel of it.  It didn’t have that warm, comforting feeling that Mad-Eye’s had given her, no; there was something sinewy about it, a soft purr of tingly power.

She then turned it on a very frightened Rosy and felt that surge flow through her, even without the presence of Phin.

Phoomph!  Rosy turned into a ferret and the Wart collar fell off.  Phoomph!  She turned Rosy back into herself.  Kate helped her up.  Rosy massaged the circle of her neck where the collar had been.

Kate picked up the collar and held it out to the women.

“You talk about advancement, while you accept the subjugation of one of your own?!”  Kate glared at them.  “Fearghas had it right!  You’re all just ‘predators at the watering hole of power’.”

With that, Kate flung the collar like a Frisbee, as she shouted:

“Expulso..!”

The women around the table ducked for cover, as the collar exploded into fragments.  Kate looked rather pleased with herself.

“I guess anger improves my aim,” she said, just for her benefit.

Addressing her grandmother, she said:

“Now – you’ll send her home, and with appropriate wages for services provided – all services!” Kate said, with a meaningful glare.

Vulpine drew herself up, the light playing on her architectural features; then once again, the head tilt of concession.

“Very well…”  Vulpine turned to Rosy, “That will be all…Rosy.”

Rosy looked uncertain – was she actually free..?  Not wanting to offend, she curtsied and hurried away.

Vulpine reached for her wand, but Kate didn’t offer it up.

She wasn’t sure she could trust any of them, but still, what were her choices?  The DOB’s had for all intents and purposes disbanded.  Char and Ajay had moved out.  Eldric hadn’t returned and Phin wouldn’t talk to her.  Still, there was one thing she could do…

“Now – where is she..?”

Vulpine paused, then relented under Kate’s glare.

“You’ll find her in her room at the top of the landing.”

“Good…  So who’s going to show me how I get out of here, or do I have to blast a hole in the wall..?!”

The women at the table looked to Vulpine, who nodded.  The Scottish woman moved to one of the twelve sides and pressed the center of the purple flower on it.  The wall dissolved.  Kate stopped next to her.

“Siobhan – that’s Scottish..?”

“Aye…”

“So are you familiar with ancient Scottish names..?”

“A wee bit more than most…”

“Seonag…” Kate said.

“Seonag,” the woman repeated, quizzically.

“S-E-O-N-A-G…” Kate said.

“Ah – Seonag…” the woman said, pronouncing it ‘JAH-nag.’  “Today we’d call her…Joan or –“

“Joanne..?” Kate asked.

“Aye, Joanne as well…”

Kate turned to Vulpine with a look of triumph.  Vulpine gave her a thin smile.  Kate laid Vulpine’s wand on the table and walked out into what she now realized was Thornefield’s garden.

The night felt heavy on her shoulders.  Turning back, she saw the wall turn solid.  Looking up, she saw that only one window of the second story was lit.  It was time to confront her betrayer.

 

Kate entered Sienna’s room (a festival of silks and frills), wand drawn, just in case it was another set-up – she’d faced a number of those already.  This time, she’d be ready.

Sienna sat in a chair facing the doorway.  Great ropes trapped her in a high-backed, Chippendale chair.  A silken gag covered her mouth.  Sienna’s eyes grew wide.

Kate approached, wand pointing at Sienna’s chest.  Yes, she was furious with her for giving her up to Fearghas, but she was also furious that women like Sienna tended to get away with treating other women meanly.  Kara and her gang were “mean girls,” too, but there had never been the animosity between the two Talbot sisters, as there was now between the two Meadowes…

As Kate’s anger flowed through her ring-limited wand, sparks fitzed out the tip.  Sienna twitched.

But would a simple torturing of this woman, who felt like no kin to her, satisfy Kate..?

‘And what would it gain me, except pleasure?  “…What would it gain me…”  Am I thinking like a Slytherin now?’

Kate smiled and took a seat on the bed across from the chair.  Sienna’s eyes watched her every move.

Kate flicked her wand and Sienna’s eyes shuttered in anticipation of something horrible, but Kate’s action only removed the gag over her mouth.  When Sienna realized she hadn’t been attacked, she relaxed, shaking her long hair out, as pretty girls are wont to do.

“If you did that expecting me to plead for mercy…”

Sienna might be acting brave, but Kate knew the anticipation of what she might do was twisting inside of her and Kate rather enjoyed that.

“Go ahead then, do your worst.”

Kate tried to imagine what her “worst” would be – maybe shave Sienna’s head, or attach the word “GIT” to her brow with a permanent sticking charm..?

“I should, because you deserve it.  You’re a superficial, self-absorbed, narcissistic, back-stabbing -”

“All right – I was horrible to you.  There..!  Is that what you want..?”

Kate rose and slowly came forward, like a jungle cat about to lunge.  Sienna cringed.  Kate’s wand shot out short bursts of sparks, some of which landed on Sienna’s chair.  The porcelain figurines on Sienna’s shelves juddered around, threatening to fall, and the lamps fluttered, as though caught in a desert wind.

“You know what I want..?  I want my life back!  I want to stop being jerked around by people in power!  I want my family safe and I want to take them and leave this insane asylum!  But now, because of you, I can’t, because your dear ‘Uncle Fergie’ – the man who killed our mother – has threatened to kill them, unless I give him mom’s wand, which you failed to retrieve!”

Sienna was examining her nails throughout Kate’s speech.  When Kate finished, she slowly looked up at her, with insouciance.

“Oh good – is it my turn now..?”  Then her face grew steely, “I WANT HIM DEAD!”


 

CHAPTER 36

 

“THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS”

 

“Yeah, doesn’t help me…” Kate said grimly.

She flicked her wand and the gag went back over Sienna’s protesting mouth.  Kate headed for the door, but then stopped short.

“Wait..!  The Hand – where is it..?”

She flicked her wand and the gag came off.

“Why should I tell you..?”

Kate produced a thin smile through tight lips.

“Because remember when you said, ‘Do your worst,’..?  Well I’ve thought of a couple things and you won’t like either of them!”

Sienna steamed, but then, there it was – the tilt of her head in concession.

‘Another family trait,’ Kate thought.

“There,” Sienna said, indicating a shelf opposite her bed.

Kate went to it.  A large jewelry case lay on it.

“I suppose they told you about Emma…”

Kate stopped, her stomach filling with dread.

“Emma..?”

“Oh yes,” Sienna said, almost gleefully, “She was arrested for using magic in front of a Muggle.  Seems they also found the wand embedded in her hand…and what it had done…all thanks to you!  Leigh and Randi are furious!”

Kate was struck – Emma and Char had become her closest friends.  But the heavy burden of what she needed to accomplish tomorrow pushed her forward, helped her push past this new knot in her gut.

She opened the case and saw the Hand of Glory cradled in its velvet lining.  Kate picked it up with revulsion and dropped it into her hidden pocket.

“So you’re just going to leave me like this..?” Sienna asked.

Kate turned.

“No…”

She flicked her wand and the gag returned to her sister’s mouth.

 

When she returned to Morrellayne it felt weird.  It was almost as if she could feel the lack of Phin’s above her.  Certainly the thought that he’d never be there again, acknowledged or not, added to her angst.  Now she understood the expression, “It’s always good to have a man around…”

 

Opening the door, Kate’s immediate thought was, ‘Mom!’

But when she went into the kitchen, her mother’s portrait wasn’t there.

‘Must be back out in the great hall,’ she thought.

Entering the great hall, she saw the back of the painting leaning against one of the couches.  Rushing to the front of it, Kate froze.  The paint upon the portrait was convulsing – the colors raging as though in torment.  The frozen image of her father was being torn to shreds, divided into its disparate pigments.

“Aunt Gwynne..!  AUNT GWYNNE..!”

Her aunt appeared.

“Help..!”

Her aunt rushed up and joined Kate in horror before it.

“Mom..!” Kate called out to it.  “MOM..!”

Kate went to pick it up, but her aunt’s hands caught hers and pulled her away.

“Kate – no..!  Don’t touch it.”

“But –“

“It’s been cursed!”

“Cursed..?  But how..?  By whom..?”

Kate looked back in disbelief, as the various colors started spinning, like a dying sun entering a black hole.  And then they were gone and the canvas itself began disintegrating, until there was nothing left but the frame.

“NO..!” Kate shouted.

She turned to her aunt and buried her head against her shoulder.  Her aunt’s arms loosely enfolded her.
Later, after two cups of tea and after Kate had told her aunt all about her confrontation with the Alice Kyteler Society, Kate was able to ask:

“Did she – did mom come back before…”

Her aunt nodded.

“Yes…”

“And did she say anything..?”

“Yes, but only that she hadn’t found out anything about the little girl in the painting.”

“…Fearghas..!”

“What..?”

“He must have done this..!”

“…It’s possible, quite possible,” her aunt said, grimly.

“And now, if I don’t deliver mom’s wand to him, he…”

“What..?”

“He said he’d kill the Talbots!”

“He said that..?”

Her aunt lowered her cup to its saucer and placed it on the table.

“I suppose you have no choice then…  It will be calamitous for our world, but…it is what it is…”    Her aunt got up wearily.  “I think I will go up.  Would you mind..?” she said, indicating the dishes.

“Of course not, Aunt G…”

Her aunt nodded and started climbing the stairs, using the railing to help pull her upward.

 

Kate took the dishes into the kitchen.

‘No mom, no DOB’s… And no Eldric..!’

Now Kate was worried, in addition to feeling hopeless.

She was on her way for the stairs, when she realized sleep would be impossible.  Instead, she went out through the doors and flopped onto a chaise.        Above, the oblivious stars, in the moonless night put on a sparkling show, in defiance of the darkness within Kate.

What did she have left..?  With Mad-Eye’s wand gone, she had only her earrings – defense.  What she needed now was greater magic.

“Stop winking..!” she whispered fiercely to the flashing stars.

At this moment, she wanted to command a horde of Dementors to suck the happiness out of Fearghas, just as he had done to her.

She reached into her pocket and found only her ringed wand, Phin’s card and…her little silver compact.

Opening it, she saw what she already knew – none of the DOB’s had tried to contact her.  Maybe Aunt Gwynne was right – they were Slytherins – they took care of themselves.

‘Leigh and Randi are furious,’ – that’s what Sienna had said.  ‘Furious with me..!’ Kate thought.  ‘But she hadn’t mentioned Char…’

Taking a deep breath, Kate opened the compact and spoke into it:

 

                                 Char – it’s Kate.  I really need your help!

 

Kate looked at her watch and hoped, desperately hoped that:  a) Char was still awake, and b) Char, unlike the other DOB’s was still talking to her.

 

The next morning arrived long after Kate was already up.  A heavy fog lay across the grounds, obscuring the village and the lake.  Nearby shrubs and trees were half-revealed in hazy forms like misshapen creatures.  Kate shivered just looking at them.

Downstairs, all she could stomach was a strong cup of coffee, and she hated coffee, but that was what everyone drank to fortify themselves, when they faced situations like this, wasn’t it..?  Did she feel stronger..?

“No..!” was her honest and immediate answer.

Her stomach was already roiling from the coffee’s bitterness, but she didn’t have time to find a remedy.  Her aunt could have fixed something up for her easily, but she hadn’t wakened her, as she didn’t want her to worry.  Kate was worried enough for both of them.

Up in her room, she dressed quickly, in the semi-darkness.  Pulling out a sweater from the cedar-lined drawer, something that had been wrapped inside it fell to the floor with a soft CLUNK.  She knelt down and searched the carpet.  There – her fingers wrapped around it and a small, wistful smile came to her face.

It was her Hermione model toy wand, the one that had been so integral to her POTTER fantasies, the one that had brought her so much sweet escape, but now it felt strange, inert.  Now she regarded it with something close to contempt.

Standing up, she was about to toss it back in the drawer, but something within her couldn’t do it, couldn’t give it up.  Useless, as it was, she tucked it inside her secret pocket, next to Phin’s card.  She checked her watch.  The time to go was near, which started the coffee tossing anew.

Quietly, yet quickly, she crept up to the music room and out onto the balcony.  If Char had received her message, her reply had to come now…  Maybe if she went to the edge of the property, it would come by then.  If not, then what..?

Reaching the edge, she waited for a minute, and then another, as she tried to block all the acidic thoughts that were surging in her stomach.  Kate searched through the fog, but it was impossible to see more than a few yards.  And then an owl pierced the mist and dropped –

“The Daily Prophet,” Kate said, with disappointment.

She looked back up to the sky, but was unable to see anything more than a few yards away.  Opening the paper was just a stall for time, to give herself a few more moments.  Page one, page two – nothing of interest, nothing to show that Eldric had been successful…

And then she turned to page four.

 

Former Editor arrested!

 

Read the headline, and Kate’s heart sank.  She skimmed the article.  Eldric had been arrested for attempting to tamper with “the truth,” according to:

“REGINA..!” Kate screamed, as she tore up the paper.

But her righteous anger quickly became laced with guilt.

‘If I’d only gone with him, maybe I could have…’

Her recriminations were cut short as a huge dark shadow loomed.  A giant Eagle owl, with a yard-wide wingspan – ridiculously large for what it was carrying – swooped in and dropped a tiny package into her hands.

With an elegant, athletic pirouette, it came to rest on a branch next to her.  The bird’s head tilted and its startlingly orange eyes locked on Kate, the V-shaped tufts above them seeming to pose a vexing question:

‘Do you know what you’re doing..?’

Kate shook her head – she did not.  The bird’s head bobbed once, as though to say, “Right…” and then its strong legs pushed off, launching it into a swift climb that led back into the impenetrable fog.

There was a note from Char attached.

 

Kate:  You didn’t say what you need this for, so I won’t ask.

You should know though that it’s now strictly illegal, so if

you should be caught with it, please don’t reveal where you

got it.

Best of luck!

Charlotte

 

Kate decided, for the sake of her friend, she should burn the note.  At least her ringed wand was good for that.  And as the note caught fire, the thoughts she had fended off – hard thoughts – dug into her.

‘Without Mom’s advice, without Char’s inventiveness… How can I do this..?  Isn’t this just me – just me – setting myself up to fail..?’  The rejoinder, “again” was the only part of that thought that she could hold off, yet that was the part that made the rest of them dig in so deeply.

“OUCH!” Kate said, dropping the flaming note.  She used her ringed wand to send a cooling spray onto her singed fingers.

And then Kate realized – if not her, then who..?  If she didn’t save the Talbots…and Emma, and Eldric…  She nodded her head, just like the owl – “right!”

Tucking the little package into her pocket, she crushed the ashes with her foot and disapparated.

 

POP!  Kate arrived a bit up the road from the gatehouse.  She wanted to see if anyone might be lying in wait for her.  Stealthily, using the cover of the fog, she made her way along the hedgerow, wishing for all the world that she had Harry’s Cloak of Invisibility.

‘At least I still have my earrings,’ she thought.  And her hand went to them, finding a small measure of comfort in their presence.  But then she remembered who had transfigured them from the Eyes of the Basilisk into these smooth lustrous pearls – Emma.  The coffee painted a coat of acid far up her stomach walls, as a boulder of guilt splashed into it.

 

Kate decided it would be best to approach the gatehouse from the road, so she apparated to a spot at the back of her aunt’s garden, behind the manor house.

The smell of roses, intensified by the fog, told her she’d hit her mark.  Ducking behind a hedge, she peeked around.  The coast seemed clear.  She made her way to the front of the house, and then carefully picked her way down through the trees with their knobbly roots, pausing every so often to peer through the mist.  She was avoiding the drive, avoiding what might be waiting for her there.

Finally she was able to make out her goal – the gatehouse – but there, sitting on the steps, was a Defender, huddling under his grey cloak, almost blending in with the fog.  If it hadn’t been for his superhero chin and the tousled locks of his Clark Kent hair peeping out beneath his hood, she might have missed him.

‘Is he alone,’ she wondered, surveying the area as best she could.  ‘No…maybe…’  She realized she was stalling.  ‘What was that line, “The brave only die once..?”  ‘Bad quote, Kate!’

She took a moment to consider her options.  If she tried to apparate directly inside the gatehouse, he would hear the “POP,” so that was out.  No, she had to get past him, but how..?

‘I could stun him, but that might alert others, if there are others, or I could blast him with my earrings.  But even in this fog their light would be seen and yellow’s the color that can be seen the farthest, isn’t it..?’ she asked herself, the geek within her still functioning, when all her other faculties seemed to be shutting down.

‘Ah..!’ she thought, as the solution came to her, I’ll ‘Imperio him!  NO – it’s one of the three illegal curses!  I could go to Azkaban for it!’

And then the ridiculous nature of her worry hit her – she could have been sent to the wizard’s prison for so many of the things she’d already done, what was one more..?  Despite the tension of the situation, or perhaps because of it, she had to stifle a laugh.

Kate pulled out her wand, and only when she saw the ring on it, did she realize –

‘I can’t perform any aggressive spells with this stupid thing!’

She looked back to the Defender shivering on the steps, his wand held firmly in his meaty hand.  The beefy lad looked both ways (Kate drew back) and then reached into his pocket, to extract a sticky bun.  Tongue clenched between his teeth in concentration, he set to unwrapping it.  But the more wrapping he took off, the gooier his hands became.

“Good one, Gordy,” he said, sarcastically.

Holding the bun and his wand in one hand, he licked the other clean, only to find he had to lick the second as well.  After a few moments of this, he was finally satisfied that both hands were now sticky-free, but his wand had become sweetly encumbered, too!  Gordy growled in frustration.

Again, he looked both ways.  Reassured that he was alone, he inserted his wand in his mouth, wrapped his tongue around it, and, like a very skinny ear of corn, started sliding it back and forth, until he was certain he’d freed it of his treat’s tenacious topping.  Now, finally, he was free to tuck in, but how, without having to repeat any of this?  An idea came to him.

Sliding his wand behind his ear, he set about nibbling the pastry, lips pulled back, while using only one index finger and thumb.

Kate saw her chance!  To diminish the possibility that she’d miss her target, due to nerves and lack of coordination, she crept closer.  But just as she neared him, the fog shifted and Gordy saw her.  He jumped to his feet, but in the second it took him to shift the sticky bun to his non-wand hand, Kate pointed her wand and shouted:

Accio wand..!

The young Defender’s wand zipped out from behind his ear and flew to Kate’s open hand.  She turned it on him and shouted:

Stupefy..!”

            But she missed.  Two tries later, she nailed him and he froze in place.  Kate sighed with relief.  Now it was her turn to look both ways.  No one had come running, but she waited a moment, just in case.  Finally, satisfied that, for the moment at least, they were alone, she approached.

“Now what to do with you,” she wondered aloud.

Oh yes – Imperio…” she whispered and the tension instantly fell from the young Defender’s broad shoulders.

‘Not exactly a Harry Potter, this one,’ Kate thought, remembering how Harry had fought off the Imperio curse and its opiate-like bliss.

Kate flicked his wand, and Gordy sleep-walked past her and up towards the house.  She giggled.  She had just sent him up to the rose garden to count every bloom, on every bush.  She should be quite gone by the time he’d finished.

She climbed the stairs, trying not to make a sound, while her heart betrayed her, thudding loudly in her ears.

Alohomora,” she whispered, and the door unlocked.

 

She took a breath and pushed it open.  Waiting a second, to see if anyone was going to spring out at her, she entered, wand in the lead.

The room was empty; she was alone and could proceed with her task.  Her heartrate, already faster than the dance music Kara listened to, increased.  Fighting a real person might prove easier than fighting your demons, and besides, she’d be doing it without magic!

And what if she found her mother’s wand – what then..?  How could she avoid not giving it to Fearghas, without endangering the Talbots?  The thought of Fearghas made the acid in her gut surge, but it also did what the coffee had not – it fortified her.  “Hate” was a much better source of strength and resolve than coffee, she decided!

Not knowing how long she might have, she made for the mirror.  Taking another deep breath, she pulled it open.  Total, impenetrable darkness lay in the space inside it, welcoming her in a cold, terrifying way.  Even the light from the gatehouse windows seemed to die at its entrance.

Kate thrust her hand into her secret pocket and found the creepy, crepe-y Hand of Glory.  She pulled it out, shivering with revulsion at its feel.  Yet still, the light it cast brought a modicum of comfort.

She was reluctant to close the mirror behind her, but it had to be done.  If that Defender “came to,” or if he had mates, at least she knew that no one outside her family could enter after her.  She might have to face this limitless expanse of the unknown, but what lay before her was all she’d have to worry about…for now.

‘Are there any rules that could apply to making a strategic search,’ Kate wondered.  ‘Do I just wander in ever greater loops panning out from the entrance, or..?  I mean, if it’s limitless space…’

Kate wasn’t really thinking so much to form a plan, as to fill in the void, the silence in which her mind might wander to the dreadful things the mirrors’ curse might manifest.

‘If whatever Sienna saw in here was enough to force her memories to return…’  Another unfinished sentence; her breathing was becoming shallower, or was that to enable her to hear the slightest noise that might alert her to…

‘There..!’ she heard something – something awful.  Her mind raced back to book One – HARRY POTTER AND THE PHILOSOPHER’S STONE (the English Title).  In that book, Harry and his friends had to enter the Forbidden Forest, where Harry had heard a sound akin to something slithering across leaves – the same sound Kate heard now.  Except that it wasn’t just one “something,” no, it was a number of somethings.

‘Get a grip, K. – it will only show you images.  Images can’t do anything that could physically hurt you,’ she told herself, though there was a part of her that was unsure if that was true.  She tried to remember exactly what her mom had said, but her brain was too agitated to –

 

Kate stopped, as light, high up in the darkness and very faint, was growing stronger, but slowly.  Was it perhaps just a trick of the dark, or..?  No – it was daylight, the palest, color-less hint of daylight and it was coming through a slit of a window, above where she stood.  The slit was too small for anyone to get in or out of and as the light increased, Kate saw it fall on bars, dark, thick iron bars.  She was in a cell.

Some part of her knew that this was an image created by the curse, yet it felt like the deep, hyper-real immersion one experiences inside a sensory deprivation chamber – visceral, fluid and inescapable.

Across from hers was another cell, where people – women, elegantly dressed – were visiting another prisoner.  She could hear them murmuring words of comfort, followed by words of farewell.

As they turned, Kate gasped – it was Leigh, Randi, Char and Sienna.  As they passed by, she called out to them.

“Char..?  Randi..!  Leigh…  It’s me..!”

But none of them said anything.  Looks of deep disdain were all they gave her, except for Sienna.  She paused only long enough to feign the wiping away of a tear, and then went back to licking her purple lolly.  And as they passed, the long trains of their dresses slithered behind them, like fat snakes.

Kate looked across the hallway to the other cell.  And now she saw its prisoner – Emma, but a very bedraggled Emma it was.  Her hair was matted and her clothes were torn and filthy.

“Emma..!” Kate called out to her, but her treasured friend, only retreated to her cot, sinking onto it with palpable despair, as she drew up her knees.

Suddenly the thin light from the narrow window grew dimmer and the room grew colder, horribly colder.  And something inside of Kate – her very spirit – seemed to wither.  Something was approaching out of the darkness.

Emma’s cell door swung open and Emma looked up.  Abject terror invaded her sweet face.  She jumped off her cot, but saw no path of escape.

“No..!  NO..!” she cried.

And then it entered – a Dementor, huge and horrible.  As dark as darkness itself, you sensed it more than saw it, as it seemed to consume the light around it.  Emma ran to the far corner, but tripped, falling hard to the straw-strewn stone floor.

The Dementor glided over to her, its long, skeletal hands gently pulling her over.  Emma screamed only once and then clamped her hands over her mouth, shaking her head side to side.  The Dementor’s breath, ragged and engaged, became louder and faster – it was excited – prey.

As it moved up above her, descending to within inches of her face, its’ horrible, rotting mouth lowered over hers.  Emma’s body arched upward in a spasm of pure fear.

And then Kate saw it – a glowing bead of light, which rose out of Emma’s mouth and entered that of the Dementor’s.  Emma’s soul had just been removed!  Removed for a crime she’d committed at Kate’s request.  Kate couldn’t look anymore.  She shut her eyes tightly and turned away, shaking uncontrollably.

“It’s just a illusion, just a illusion!” she told herself, ‘But a very possible outcome,’ her instinct told her.

 

Now there was light, strong light, warm light coming through her eyelids.  She opened her eyes and saw a courtroom, a round, cavernous, torch-lit, amphitheater of a courtroom.  And she, Kate was chained to a chair in the middle of it.

“Katharine Avery Meadowes, you are brought here today for the crimes you committed as the living Horcrux of the Dark Lord.  How do you plead?”

Kate looked out and saw row upon row of men in dark hooded robes.

“How do you plead..?” he reiterated.

But as Kate attempted to protest, she found her mouth had been gagged, just like Sienna’s.

“Let it be known that the accused does not contest these charges, nor does she contest the fact that she is indeed the living Horcrux.”

“Has she not hired counsel..?” another man asked.

Kate knew this voice, knew its mellifluous timber.

“She claims that her family is without sufficient funds and that she will represent herself.”

“I see…”

And then Kate saw who the second man was, as he turned to her with a leering grin – Fearghas!

Kate struggled to break the seal, but her hands were firmly bound to the arms of the chair.

“We will hear from the aggrieved mother of one of those people, who suffered a loss, because of the actions of the accused.  I call Berthilda Wakefield.”

Kate looked up to the stands and saw Bertie coming forward.  She was dressed all in black and had a handkerchief to dab her tears.

Kate grew dizzy for a moment.  When it stopped, it was to Bertie’s final words:

“…And I begged her to stop.  I begged her not to endanger my girl, my Emma, but…”

And then the scene dissolved.

Kate’s interrogator came closer.  He was older, with eyebrows like a Russian dictator.

“…And then what did you say to her, Minister, when you recounted all of these crimes that the accused had committed..?”

“I said she would be forgiven…  Yes, forgiven if she stopped there.  Up to the point of the Ministry break-in, all of these crimes were merely the caprices of a young girl, of someone raised by Muggles.

“Her crimes were rude and uncouth, but she is, after all, American… Frankly, it seemed to be the case of a sad little girl, who had rather bitten off more than she could chew…  So I said, if she stopped these actions, she would be free to return home to America, on the condition that she never returned.”

“You offered amnesty to the Living Horcrux of the Dark Lord..?!”

“No, no, not at all – I had no idea at the time that she was anything other than the bastard child of my cousin and his Muggle lover.  If I had known…sadly, things might have been different.”

“Yes, sadly, for not only was she responsible for the deaths of two magical persons, but most treacherously, the deaths of her own adoptive family as well!”

He splayed his hand to a back corner of the hall, where the lights had come up on a cluster of bodies on catafalques – Natalie, John, Kara, her brothers and even Uncle Don!  All of them were frozen, eyes open and staring blindly, victims of the “Avada Kedavra” curse.

Kate lurched against her restraints, her scream trapped within her.

The prosecutor turned to the assembled body.

“What say you..?”

 

As Kate looked down, she saw she was standing alone on a stage, dressed in the revealing outfit Randi had picked out for her, trying to balance on impossibly tall heels.  She wobbled like a baby gazelle making its first attempt to stand.

“What am I bid..?” the prosecutor’s voice boomed.

Silence was the only reply.

“Nobody..?  Nobody..?”

Grasping hands from either side of the stage, thrust out of the darkness to rip strips of fabric from her dress.

“She’s not much to look at.  What can she do..?” a man’s voice shouted.

“Do something..!” another shouted.

More strips of fabric were torn off her dress.  Kate clutched what was left to cover herself, her knees knocking, her ankles wobbling.

“Sing for us,” a third man demanded.

Kate gladly would have, but for the gag.  She clawed at it, but it wouldn’t come off, while more of her dress did.

“Sing, or we’ll to toss you to the snakes!”

And Kate suddenly saw that the entire audience consisted of snakes – huge, hungry and pressing forward, jaws open.

“No bids..?  Going once…going twice… GONE..!”

The stage lurched upward and Kate was hurtled forward towards the gaping mouths of the surging snakes.

 

She landed with a heavy thud.  Silence…  The snakes had disappeared and she was splayed on the ground, drenched in cold sweat.  Real or not..?  Maybe if she just lay there, nothing more would happen.

Then the legs of a man approached.  Was he really there, and if so, friend or foe..?  Looking up – miraculously – there was Phin beaming his biggest smile.  He reached out his hand to her.

“Is it too late to place my bid..?”

Kate shook her head, so, so gratefully.  But as she accepted his help up, someone edged him aside.

“Not so fast, mate – I think I won the bid.  She’s mine, right, Mam’selle..?” he asked.

And there was Reggie, his smile icy, his hand wrapping around and around hers like a Tentacula vine.  Kate looked to Phin for help, but he had disappeared.

“I wanted to pay you back for all you did for me, or should I say to me..?” Reggie said.

His black suit quickly developed small tears, from which blood began to flow.  And, as it did, he began to wither from within, until, desiccated, he fell to the ground, pulling Kate down on top of him.

Despite what she might see, she could not keep herself from looking up to his head.  It was crushed beyond recognition.  Brains and blood and a dislocated eyeball were oozing out of it.  She screamed and tried to pull away, but black threads that grew quickly into thick ropes entwined about her, pulling her ever downward into a grave of consuming blackness.

“NO..!” Kate shouted.

And with all of the will she had left she wrenched free and lurched backwards.  Turning, she made to run, but her foot slipped on something and she went flying.  She landed heavily, knocking the wind knocked out of her and the Hand of Glory from her hand.  Frantically, she palmed the ground for it, keeping her head down and her eyes closed, for fear of what horrifying image might appear next.

There – she found the Hand and despite her revulsion, grabbed it tightly.  As its light shone forth once again, she rotated it across the nearby ground, seeking the object she’d tripped on.

‘Wait – go back..!’ her brain screamed.  She’d seen something.  Panning slowly back, she stopped and fell to her knees.  A WAND!  Maybe THE wand!  Had she found it..?

‘Oh please let it be mom’s wand!’ she prayed, “And if it is, PLEASE let this be real!” she shouted.

And then light fell upon her, but it wasn’t from the Hand of Glory, no, it was from the mirror!  Was that real..?  Kate was so exhausted she didn’t care.  With all she had left, she pulled herself up and moved towards it, though each step felt like she was trudging through ankle-deep mud.

Suddenly a gauntlet of attackers appeared on either side of her – women in purple hoods, their long-nailed hands clawing at her, and gray-cloaked Defenders, with large bloody fangs thrusting at her.  Yet, Kate pushed on, wearily dodging the onslaught, with only one thought – escape!  Finally, she reached the mirror and with a hard shove, pushed it open and leapt out.

 

Expelliarmous..!” a voice cried, and the wand – Dorcas Meadowes’ wand – went flying from her hand and into that of a Defender, standing by the door.  He opened it to shout down:

“Gordy – tell them we’ve got her!” and then he shut it and blocked the exit with his massive frame.

“Search her!” he commanded another Defender who’d come up behind Kate.  He jabbed his wand against the lightning bolt Fearghas had seared into her chest, as he started a rough search.  Kate’s heart pounded so hard, she was sure it would seize.

He found her secret pocket and thrust his hand inside, finding Gordy’s wand and Kate’s ringed wand, which he tossed to his buddy.  Then he found the small package that Kate had waited and waited for, just a short while ago.

His hand withdrew it and tossed it to his mate, but in so doing, it came open and the Peruvian Darkness Powder within sprayed across the room.

BLACKOUT, for the Defenders, but for Kate, who still held the Hand of Glory, it was not.              She threw herself against the one Defender next to her, deflecting his spell, which shattered the glassware on the shelf behind them.

Her two opponents lurched about like Frankenstein monsters, as Kate ducked beneath their grasping arms.  Using the light from the Hand, she crossed to the one holding her wands, just as Gordy entered.

The suction of the opened door started to disperse the Darkness powder.  Quickly, Kate grabbed for her wands, but her sturdy opponent resisted.  Frantic, she reached into her pocket and found her Hermione wand, for which there was only one use – she poked him in the eye.  Screaming in pain, his hand yielded.  Yet as it did, Gordy saw her and leveled his wand at her, but before he could speak, Kate shouted:

Forum Draconis!” and the laser-like blasts from her earrings blew him out the door and over the railing.  Twisting on the spot, she disapparated.

 

For a moment, Kate could do nothing except catch her breath.  She had never appreciated how sweet the very air surrounding Morrellayne was.  She looked up, no, no sign of Phin, but she didn’t really expect him to be there.  Her heart had hoped, but her head knew better…

The hedge was already opening for her and she didn’t want to take any chances, in case she’d been followed.  She hurried inside and paused to make sure no one had slipped in behind her.  The hedge resealed itself.  She was safe, at least for the moment.  Letting out a big exhale, she started the climb up the long drive.

‘Where is Sherry,’ Kate wondered, ‘I could really use his energy to pull me up.’

But then, when she reached the top, there was a sight that brought a surge of joy to her overworked heart – Uncle Don’s Land Rover.  That meant the Talbots had found their way in!  Her family was safe and they’d be going home!

She smoothed her hair into place and then remembered to hide all three wands – real or fake – in her secret pocket.  Soon she’d be returning to her old life and to a place where no one had ever threatened her or her family’s lives; where no one had ever singed, branded or abducted her; a place that offered her the same comfort as a ginormous bowl of mac-n-cheese – the comfort of the known.

 

Ah, but Phin…  And the ache of a lost opportunity, of what might have been sliced through her heart.     She pulled out his card, but after holding it, looking at it, she couldn’t think of what she would say to him.  She would probably never see him again, and she had never got to say…  She stopped.  What would she have said?

The thought of him sat uneasily inside of her like a sandy grain in an oyster.  Would time wrap layers of nacre around it, smoothing it over to finally render a pearl?  A pearl – Emma..!  ‘How can I live with myself if I go home, while Emma and Eldric remain in prison..?

‘And mom..?’  With the painting destroyed, her mother was lost to her as well – a mother she had known for such a cruelly short time!  Kate looked up from Phin’s card and all the joy she’d felt upon seeing Uncle Don’s SUV drained from her.

From the house, came a shout – her brothers rough-housing..?  No – it had been a woman’s voice.  Kate shoved Phin’s card back into her pocket with one hand, as she grasped for her mother’s wand with the other.  Pulling it out, she ran to the door.

Slowly, quietly, she entered.  Silence…  Kate tiptoed to the great hall.  Peering around the corner, she saw her family sitting upright on the couches, deadly still.  Something was wrong, very wrong!

STUPEFY..!” a man shouted, and Kate dropped.

 


 

CHAPTER 37

 

“THE ACQUISITION OF POWER”

 

A Defender with a Van Dyke beard came to stand over her.

“Send word to the Minister – we have her!” he said.

“Yes, sir,” a blond Defender said, as he ran from the room.

 

When Kate was released from the spell, she found herself in the great room, seated next to the Talbots.  All of them, except for her aunt and Kara, remained frozen.  Kara was being held by a dark-haired Defender.  The four wands in his hand – his, Dorcas’s, Kate’s ringed wand and even her Hermione wand were all pointed at her sister’s head.  The lead Defender, the one with the beard, was standing by the door, his wand trained on Kate.

“Kate..?” Kara asked, her voice shaking, “WTF..?”

Kate just shook her head, as she tried to think, but her skull felt like someone had pumped it full of slush.

The blond Defender came back in and whispered in his boss’ ear.

“Whose cousin..?”  The blond Defender whispered again.  “What the devil does she want..?”  The blond Defender whispered once more.  ”Right then, take me to her.”

And the two left.  The dark-haired Defender snorted and spat.

Something warm was running down Kate’s neck.  She put a hand to her ear and felt pain.  She looked at her fingers – blood!

“Missin’ some jewelry..?” the dark-haired Defender asked, patting his chest pocket.  “Gordy warned us about ‘em.  Tricky lit’le Muggle lover, you are!”

Kate looked up to him.  An idea came to her.

“How do you know my sister’s a Muggle,” she asked.

“Wizards ‘ave wands and she di’n’t.  I searched ‘er meself…”

“A wand only amplifies a witch’s power,” Kate said.  “Real wizards don’t need them,” she added, tauntingly.

She looked to Kara, who was trembling.

“My sister can perform magic without a wand.”

“Right – you think I’m daft?” the Defender asked.

“Don’t believe me..?  I’ll wager you.” Kate said.

Kara just looked confused and terrified.

“You’re having a go with me.”

“Are you afraid a girl can do more magic without a wand than you can with one..?”

“And what’s it what she can do..?” he asked.

“Three things, and that’s three things at once, too!”

“Yeah, and what’s the first..?”

“First – she can transform rocks.”  Turning to Kara, Kate said, “Remember, K., that magic you performed for Tanner.”

A light came on in Kara’s frightened eyes, and some of the fear left her.

“Ye-yes…  That’s right, I trans-transformed his rocks for him.”

“His rocks..?  Bollocks..!”

“And with no hands,” Kate said.

Kate nodded to Kara to put her hands up.  Kara put hers behind her head.

“And the other two..?” he asked.

“You’ll see – show him, K.”  He seemed reluctant, so Kate added, “You aren’t scared, are you..?  I mean, you still hold all those big-boy wands…”

“Scared..?  Of ‘er..?”

He released his hold on Kara, who cleared her throat.  She looked to Kate as if to ask, ‘What do I do now,’ but Kate only glowed with confidence.  So Kara, obviously at a loss of what to say, never having read the POTTER books, fell back on:

“Uhm… Let’s see…  Oh, yeah – Abracadabra, Hocus Pocus, HIKE!”

And on “Hike,” she rammed her knee up hard between the Defender’s legs.  As he doubled over, Kate shouted:

“The wands..!”

Kara grabbed them, did a somersault and landed at Kate’s feet.  Kate took them and, before the Defender could catch his breath, fired.

“Stupefy..!”

The force of the combined wands rocketed him against the back of the fireplace, where he dropped like a stone.  Kate came over and grabbed her earrings out of his pocket.  Standing up, she said:

“Number two is she can make you look like a fool, and number three – oh, screw number three!”

Kate quickly peeked outside.  Sienna was talking with the bearded Defender, while the blond Defender was heading back in.

“Sienna!”  Kate fumed.

“Kate..!” her aunt hissed.

“What..?”

“Use your mother’s wand!”

“I will…”

“No, I mean, use your mother’s wand on me!”

“For what..?”

“To put magic into me..!”

“Put it into..?”

“Just like the switching spell, when you put the blue in the dish soap!”

“Just like the…  YES!”

Kate grabbed her mother’s wand and fired the switching spell at her aunt.  A fierce green light burst out of her mother’s wand and rushed towards her aunt, surrounding her, coating her.  Gwynne’s feet lifted briefly off the ground, as a triumphant smile came to her face and a joyful shout burst from her lips.

Then the light ended and Kate’s aunt, fell to her knees, overwhelmed.  Then she sprang to her feet.

“A wand!  Quickly – before they come back!”

Kate tossed her aunt her ringed wand, which she was able to hide up her sleeve, just before the blond Defender walked in.

As he looked for Kate, she shouted:

STUPEFY..!” and he dropped.  She levitated him and dumped him on top of the other one.

Success!  But stunning the blond Defender had released the spell on the other Talbots.  They came to, slowly and were bewildered by what they saw, as Kate’s aunt ran to the Defender and snatched his wand.  She tossed Kate’s back to her.

“Kate..?!” Natalie Talbot cried out.

The plaintive tone in her mother’s voice – her other mother, her only mother now – was so bittersweet.

What to say..?  Before Kate could say anything, she heard the sounds of pounding feet above and men approaching from outside.  She spun around and hid all three wands in her secret pocket.  In that brief instant, Defenders poured in from all sides, wands drawn, surrounding them.  Kate raised her hands.

Fearghas strolled in with Sienna.  His eyes took in the scene, including the Stupefy-ed Defenders.

“Kate..?” John Talbot asked, bewildered.

Fearghas flicked his wand and all the Talbots, including Gwynne, refroze.

“Muggles…” he sniffed.  “I see you’ve been busy, cousin.  Well done.”

“Her –“ he said, indicating Kate, “Find all of her wands!”

“Wands, Minister..?”

“Yes, yes – wands – she must have a number of them,” he said, kicking his foot hard into the unconscious men with anger.

“We’ll talk about the quality of your hires later…”

The Bearded Defender searched Kate, but found only the wand in her hand.

Sienna whispered something to Fearghas.  He smiled.

“Yes, of course – her secret pocket.  Why don’t you access that, Si-Si.”

He looked at the pile of men at his feet and stopped the Bearded Defender from undoing the spell on them.

“Take them outside.  If this girl can best them, they’re worthless.”

“But she’s the Missing Horcrux, isn’t she..?”

“Yes, yes, the Missing Horcrux…  Still, outside with them; they offend me with their incompetence.”

The Defender nodded and performed a levitation charm to move their bodies outside.  When Sienna reached Kate, she smiled.  Kate returned her look with one of unadulterated hatred.  Sienna quickly found Kate’s hidden pocket and pulled out the three wands.

“She has three,” she said to ‘Uncle Fergie.’

“Bring them here, Si-Si.”

Sienna turned, but tripped on the table and fell to the floor.  It took her a moment to get up.  Finally, she stood up and brought them back to Fearghas.

“I’ll take them,” he said, reaching for the three.

He stopped to admire her mother’s wand.

“Rowan wood – so very rare and so perfectly matched to a witch of such talent.  Pity…  And now yours, too, Si-Si.”

“Mine..?  But Uncle Fergie..!”

“You’ll get it back, but only after we’re finished here.  You see, I have no doubt you’re a true Slytherin, my dear, which means you’ll throw in with the winning side, but still, I can’t take the chance that there might be a bit of your mother left in you…”

Very reluctantly, Sienna handed over her ringed wand.

“And the other one…” Fearghas added.

“Other one..?  What other one..?“ she asked.

“Si-Si…my dear little Si-Si, did you really think I didn’t know who led your little band on their adventures, or that I didn’t know it would take more than this –“  He twirled her ringed wand, “to obtain all those heavily guarded prizes you stole..?”

Sienna didn’t move.

“Come now, you don’t want me to have my men man-handle you, do you..?”

Sienna reached into an unseen pocket and drew out Voldemort’s wand.  She handed it to Fearghas.  He pocketed it without looking at it and then waved her away.  Pivoting to Kate, her mother’s wand in his hand, he smiled.

“I’ve waited seventeen years for this, but I must say it was worth the wait, because now I won’t have to give it away.  Now it’s mine, and I couldn’t have done it without you.  So, yes, once again, I find myself indebted to you, my dear, dear cousin.”

As he bowed to Kate, shouting arose from the grounds outside.  Fearghas turned to look outside the glass wall.

“What’s this..?”

The lead Defender ran back in.

“Aurors!” he said.  “And they’re engaging us!”

“Aurors..?  What the devil are they doing here?  And on whose orders would they engage my men..?”

“Your brother – he’s among them!  What should we do..?”

“What should you do..?!  Take them down, you idiot!”

“Sir..?”

The Defender looked to Fearghas for the limits of his command.

“No matter what it takes…”

“But Minister – your brother -”

“Do as I say!  All of you – out..!”

The Defender nodded to his troops and they all ran out, wands drawn.  Fearghas turned back to Kate.

“Could you tell my brother was a Gryffindor..?  Idiot – the lot of them – idiots, and you as well, little K…  A Slytherin, even a Ravenclaw would have known when the game was played out, but you persisted.  So like your mother…       “But, not to worry, I’ll still send your Muggle relations back to wherever they crawled out of.”

He turned to look at Kara, his eyes roving over her.

“Except perhaps for this one…  Yes, I think she’d make a lovely Wart, what..?”

Furious, Kate lunged, but Fearghas flicked his wand and she froze in place.  Kate couldn’t move, but she glared at him, as he came very close.

“So now it’s come down to this – you and me.  If you had taken my suggestion, I really would have let you go too, you know, being a relative and all, but now…”

Outside of the great hall’s wall of glass, a fierce battle was raging between the Aurors – Phin and Tavvie included – and the Defenders.

Fearghas shook his head, smiling.  He looked at Kate and with a quick flick of his wand, he shouted:

“Imperio..!”

And instantly, all of Kate’s cares and fears fell from her, like a wooden yoke from an ox.

‘So this is what it feels like,’ Kate thought, ‘to be a Lotus eater.’

“Now we’re going to put this to the test.  I’ve been waiting so very long!  And you’re the perfect subject, too!  Yes, so let’s see…hmmm.  How to do this..?  You have to cast a spell, but which one..?”

Phin came running in, followed by two Defenders shooting curses at him.

“Kate..!” he said, seeing her frozen, before Fearghas froze him as well.

“Another admirer..?  My, my, little cousin, you shame your sister, eh, Si-Si..?”

And then, like the soundtrack from a movie, from somewhere, music came filtering down, stirring music, forcefully played.  Kate let it carry her away.  If she was going to die, this was a lovely send-off.

Her mind was floating on a river of such sweet oblivion that she didn’t even consider who might be playing it, but Fearghas did.

“You two,” he shouted at the Defenders, “Check that noise out!”

They ran to the stairs and up towards the music room, as Fearghas pondered the questions that would render Kate – the thorn in his side – magic-less.  He did not notice her twitch.  In his defense, it was just a little twitch, yet still…

‘What is that music..?’ Kate wondered, ‘Not Liszt, but it’s familiar… The Polonaise..?  Why was it they kept playing the Polonaise over and over?  I’m the history geek; why can’t I remember..?’

It was irritating to her that her questions were thinning the cloud she was laying on.          But as the music continued – there it was – another small, but definite twitch.

From above – the sound of a piano exploding, crashing made Sienna look up.  The legs of the two Defenders could be seen dangling between the radial spokes, spokes that were now squeezing those legs tightly.

But Kate was not aware of them.  Something in the back of her mind had come to the fore, something that was puncturing her bubble of bliss.  She tried to pull it back to her, like Harry trying to gather the bubbles in the Prefect’s bath.  It had been such sweet relief.

“Si-Si – take this wand to your sister.  Place it in her hand.  She must have a wand to cast a spell, after all.”

‘Resistance..!  The people playing The Polonaise were resisting..!  That’s it..!  Should I resist, too..?  If I don’t, then isn’t that letting him – letting my mother’s killer – control me?  Isn’t that like saying Jo was right – that only Harry – only a boy – can be a hero; that no girl…’

And Kate’s heartrate began to increase.  It was only then that she was vaguely aware of Sienna pulling another wand out of her pocket and putting the one Fearghas had given her away.  And now she was shoving this second wand into Kate’s hand.  Slowly she looked at her sister.  She was mouthing something.  What was it..?

It looked like, ‘”It’s” something.  “It’s”…what..?  “It’s…Mom’s..!”  ‘What does that mean – “It’s Mom’s”..?’ Kate wondered.  Sienna’s look was so significant.  ‘What was it she was..?’

“Step aside, Si-Si, step aside!”  He had an idea, “Ah, the Tarantallegra – no wait – that’s an ‘aggressive’ spell, isn’t it..?  Her wand can’t do that.  Hmm…  Protego – a simple shield charm – yes!  That will do!”

He turned to face Kate, whose eyes had grown wide.

“How sad you must feel, little cousin, to lose what you so briefly had, only to return to your miserable, Muggle life, just a powerless little girl…  Oh well, it is as it is…  Right – ready then..?”

He grinned coldly and then pointed his wand at her.

Imperio..!” he said, with the implied instruction that she cast a shield charm.

Obediently, Kate raised her wand to point at him.

But when he followed with her mother’s spell, “Magicae Mortem..!” Kate did not cast a Protego!

Magicae Mortem..!” she also shouted, and with all the force her five foot three frame could muster.

And just like Harry’s battle in the graveyard with Voldemort, Kate’s anger amplified her spell, pulling the green light from Fearghas’s wand towards hers, pulling it to the shield-shaped field her wand projected.  It was a field only a yard across at first, but which swiftly grew into a glowing dome that covered her.

His spell spread over the surface of that dome, sticking to it like Char’s jar of glowing globs.  Horror came over Fearghas’s face and he instantly tried to break it off, to stop the flow of magic out of his wand, the flow of magic out of him, but his hand could not, would not let go.

“NOOOOOO..!” he cried, shaking violently.

And then, after only moments, it was over.  The last gasp of green light from Fearghas’s wand rushed to the dome of Kate’s spell – her mother’s spell – and then both light and dome quickly were consumed by the tip of her mother’s wand.

Fearghas, decimated, collapsed to his knees and Kate lowered her wand.  It was done!

The bearded Defender ran into the room.  He took one look at his Minister on his knees and spun around to fire at Kate, but Kate was faster.

Forum Draconis..!” she shouted and he was blasted into the wall, dropping to the floor, unconscious.

With his magic gone, the Talbots and Phin were released from Fearghas’s  spell.  Kate had no time to explain, so she refroze them, all except for Kara and her aunt.  Only then did she look outside, to the battle that still raged on.  She crossed quickly to Fearghas, who quivered, as he looked up at her in fear.  Snatching all of the wands from his hands, she kicked him onto his back, where he remained, frozen with fright.

Only then did she realize that one of the wands she was now holding was Voldemort’s!  For a second, the geek in her surged – here was the twin core of Harry Potter’s wand.  She savored its heft in her hand, but she didn’t like what she felt.  Besides, what was it good for..?  The Cruciatus curse – the curse that inflicted searing pain – it was definitely good for that!

And in her gut there was a strong, throbbing part of her that wanted to curse this man, to make him writhe in pain, to make him pay for killing her parents, but…  What was she – a Gryffindor, or a Slytherin..?  If she was truly a Gryffindor, or truly herself for that matter, would she do that..?

Looking around, she saw Sienna, whose look was as fearful as the Minister’s.  Would Kate take revenge on her, like she had taken on Kate..?

‘No,’ Kate sighed, ‘I am not that,’ and with that realization, she tossed Voldemort’s wand back to Sienna.

Fearghas looked at Sienna, imploringly.

“Si-Si..?” he said.

Sienna walked slowly up to him.

“Help me,” he said, pitifully.

A terrible look came over Sienna’s face.

“Help you..?!”  She laughed.  “You’ve must be joking!”

“But – but I was like a father to you.”

“You..?  Never!  I had a father..!”

“A Muggle…”

Sienna didn’t reply, but looked down at her wand – Voldemort’s wand.  She smiled again – a cruel, cold smile.

“Do you remember the part from the books that said Potter’s wand recognized Voldemort, that it ‘knew’ him..?”

Fearghas’s eyes grew wide with fear.

“Do you recognize this wand,” she asked him, holding up Voldemort’s wand.

“No, no, that’s not – that’s not his.  It can’t –“

“Oh, but it is…  And I’m wondering if it recognizes you, specifically your face, your hideous, despicable face!”

“No..!” he cried.

CRUCIO..!” Sienna shouted.

And as the green bolt of light hit him, the force of it lifted his flailing body off the ground, as his screams rent the air.

A Defender near the doorway came running in.  Kate raised her mother’s wand, but her aunt stepped forward.

“Expelliarmus..!” she shouted and the man’s wand flew out of his hand.        “Stupefy..!” Gwynne added, dropping the Defender at the entrance.

“Aunt Gwynne..?  Sienna asked in amazement.  She released her curse on Fearghas, who fell to the floor.

Now it was Gwynne who approached Fearghas, yet, even from his cowering position, he still had enough ego to lash out at her.

“So the Squib finally got what she wanted.”

Kate looked to her aunt, her eyes questioning.

“Yes…” was all her aunt said.

“Did you ever tell them it was you – you who invited me in; you who traded their mother’s life for the chance to be one of us..?”

“No..!  That was never the deal – the deal was for her wand only, never her life!”

“Aunt Gwynne..?” Kate said, incredulous.

“Oh, spare me,” her aunt said, derisively, “You of all people should understand – to be so close to magic, to want it to be real for you so badly you’d do anything for it!”  She looked back at Fearghas.  “You weren’t the only one who waited seventeen long years!  I did, too – and without magic and all just for this..!”   She jabbed the Defender’s wand at him and shouted.  “Avada Kedavra..!

A blinding blast of brilliant green light struck Fearghas in the center of his chest.  His body twisted briefly, like a bass on a line, then fell to the floor, his eyes pale and still.  In that instant, several things happened:

“Stupefy..!”  Sienna shouted twice, and Kate and Phin froze.  “I’ll take that, thanks!” she said, ripping their mother’s wand out of Kate’s hand.

A smile of large, almost childish delight came over her face.  Drawing close to Phin, she shot her sister an evil grin just before she kissed him.  Then she and Aunt Gwynne beat separate paths out of Morrellayne, which released Kate and Phin from her sister’s spells.

CRASH!  The window wall at the back of the great hall shattered and the battle outside became the battle inside.  Kate threw up a Protego in front of the Talbots, as           Phin started battling a Defender, who’d entered the great hall.  Kate joined his side, as did Tavvie and Gareth.

CRASH!  Pieces of wood and glass rained down from the music room above, where another battle had started.  The door to the music room opened and Ajay popped out backwards, parrying curses with an opponent of his own.

 

In the end, not a single Defender stood.  The superior skills of the Aurors – all trained by Tavvie – had overcome them.  Besides, once they saw their leader was dead, they quickly lost the reason to fight.  And then, when it was already over, Gordy showed up, but he was quickly subdued.

 

Mac was the one to sort it all out.  He made the decision that it was best to revise this piece of ignominious history.  He said that this way, all the repressive laws that had been enacted could be quickly repealed.

It was to be known (and written in stone, for the Hall of Records) that the Missing Horcrux had been vanquished.  Though tragically, not before she had killed the Minister.  She had been pierced through the heart with a Basilisk fang (“anointed” with the blood from Kate’s earlobes).

Obliviate’s were performed to modify the memories of all the Defenders and most of the Aurors as well.

All of the Talbots were to be moved to the house in Sedgewick, imbedded with the memory that Aunt Gwynne had fallen suddenly ill and died while they were away.

Before that was done though, Kate asked Mac if she could have a moment with Kara and Mac agreed.

Kara was still somewhat in shock, but she brightened upon seeing her Kate, who was talking with Phin.

When Phin left to help Mac, Kara sidled up to Kate.

“So – so is that like your boyfriend..?” Kara asked, indicating Phin.

“Uhm, it’s complicated,” Kate said.

“He’s kind of awesome, no, he’s like really awesome.  And you..!  OMG, K. – you were…WOW!”

Kate looked at the wonder in her sister’s eyes.

“What..?”

Kate just shook her head.  She realized that her sister had never looked at her that way – with awed admiration – and probably never would again.  She couldn’t think of anything to say, except to hug her sister – something she hadn’t felt inclined to do in a long time.

And, finally, after many Reparo’s, most of Morrellayne was put right.

“The manor is self-cleaning, so…” Kate said, but was too weary to finish.

 

When it was all done, and Kara’s memory had been modified and she’d been sent to Sedgewick, Mac approached her.  He asked the others to leave.  When they were alone, he explained the missing parts.

“When I came in the room that afternoon, seventeen years ago, and saw what my brother had done…  You must understand, we had lost so much, so many family members.  And he said it was a mistake, something done in the heat of the moment.  I should have brought him in, but forgive me, I made a choice, a terrible one.  I…I just couldn’t lose him, too.

“And so, cowardly, ashamedly, I went along with his story that Voldemort had done it, had killed Dorcas.”

Perhaps it was the toil of all she’d been through that day, but Kate was too weary for recriminations.  She just nodded and patted his hand.

“You are too good perhaps, too kind,” he said, “Too much like your mother.  Every time I saw you, the guilt of what I’d done hurt so badly, because you look so much like her!  If there’s anything I can ever do to atone for it –“

“Emma..!  And Eldric – Mr. Wordsworth..!” Kate shouted, without having to think.

And Kate told Mac what he could do for her, to atone for her mother.

“I think we can make that happen.  Yes – the fiancé of the brilliant young inventor, who died so unexpectedly – totally understandable.  And the former editor…I’ll find some excuse.  Yes, I’ll see to as soon as I return to the Ministry.”

Kate looked at him with gratitude.

“And now, just two more memory charms to perform.”

Kate jumped up.

“Not me!”

“No, not you…”

“Oh, you mean Phin..?”

“He’s seen what your mother’s wand can do.  There will be an investigation and they’ll use every potion available to parse the truth out for their report.  He must forget everything and remember only the new story line that we created.”

“Yes, but…can we have a moment first,” Kate asked.

Mac nodded.

 

Kate made one detour.  She went out to the studio.  There she laid the bloody bandage – Regina’s bloody bandage – down on the desk.  Reaching into her pocket, she pulled out the little compact and whispered:

 

Char – the thing we needed – the bloody thing –

                                           is waiting for you in the studio.

 

Kate wanted to add how much she’d miss her, her fellow geek / boffin, but…

 

Kate found Phin up on the balcony with Ajay.  They were tossing loose piano keys out into the air above the gardens, and then firing summoning charms to retrieve them.  The Bosendorfer was, sadly, damaged beyond repair.

“Talbot..!  Come join us,” Ajay called out cheerfully.

Kate just shook her head.  Phin let Ajay carry on, as he turned to Kate.

“There’s something that still bugs me,” Kate said.

“Which is..?”

“How did you know to come – what brought all of you here..?”

“But you sent me a message!” Phin said.

“I sent you a message..?”

“Rather incoherent, but still – full of panic and what not – ‘Shouting up at the house – family in danger maybe – help’!”

            Kate realized that when she’d thrust his card back into her pocket and pulled out her mother’s wand, the two must have collided – “Just tap my card if you want me,” Phin had told her the night they’d met.

“Uhm, Ajay – Mac wants to see you, for a moment,” Kate said, wistfully, knowing that he soon would lose all memory of her.

He shrugged and, as he passed, she pulled him close and kissed his cheek.

“Thank you for – for coming to my rescue,” she said.

“Tosh, just returning the favor, right..?”

After he’d headed down, a look came over Phin’s face.

“Mac’s going to erase his memory, isn’t he..?”  Phin asked, though he already knew the answer.

Kate just nodded.

“Mine, too, I imagine.”

Kate couldn’t look at him; her eyes filled with tears.

“But you see, Talbot, the thing is – I don’t want to…to forget you,” he said.

She slipped her hand in his and in one swift motion, he pulled her into his arms and their lips met.  And even though it was their first kiss, Kate kissed him like it was their last…because in truth, it was.  Yet, in this all too brief moment, Kate felt more bliss than any charm could conjure.

‘Why would anyone find need for magic, when you can feel this happy?’ she wondered.

When they finally parted, she gently cupped his cheek and studied his smoky green eyes, the eyes that were now catching the final rays of the evening sun.  She wanted to imprint them into her memory, so she’d never forget them, forget him…

 

 

CHAPTER 38

 

“LIES AND LIARS”

 

Uncle Don came in with the morning paper and set it down lightly on the table.  He didn’t look at Kate, or the others.  Obviously uncomfortable, he mumbled something about “petrol” and left the room, but not before Kate saw the grief etched on his normally jovial face.

‘It was too bad we couldn’t have found a way to make him believe she’d died years ago…’ she thought, feeling pain for the man who so closely resembled his brother, her dad.

She tried to avoid thinking thoughts like, ‘What if Aunt Gwynne returned..?’  Or, ‘Did she actually ever care about him..?’  And, ‘Was I somehow responsible for all of this..?’

That was the hardest thought she had to face.  Trying to distract herself, she glanced at the front page.  The static pictures of the Times were jarring compared to the moving photos in the Daily Prophet.  It felt akin to seeing black-and-white, after having discovered color.  Kate leafed through it listlessly, until she saw a rather largish ad:

 

J.K. Rowling BOOKSIGNING

                                            11AM

                               – today  at  Foyles –

 

Kate noted that the bookstore was on Charring Cross – a street that had been mentioned in the POTTER books – and that old thrill returned to her, but this time – this time she wasn’t being led into his world, no this time she was part of it!  And plans started whirring in her brain.

Natalie Talbot, tan and trim, came into the dining room.  She hadn’t brought any black clothes with her, but she’d pulled her hair back and wore the suit she’d flown over in.  She came up behind Kate and lightly placed her hands on her shoulders.

Just that light touch, that motherly gesture of comfort, was enough to send Kate into a torrent of tears.  All that Kate had gone through; all that she had lost came pouring out of her.

“Honey…oh, honey…” Natalie said, swooping down and hugging her.  “I know, I know, you two were so close…”

Kate reached back and held onto her mother’s hands.  It took Kate a few moments before she could speak, but the reference to her aunt had steeled her.

“You know, Mom… I – I just couldn’t go to the funeral.  Could I just stay here..?”

“Are you sure..?  It would be nice for all of us to show our support…”

Kate said nothing, but continued to look at Natalie, at the woman she’d thought was her mother for so many years, the only mother she still had and tears started flowing again.  Her mother nodded.

“I think Uncle Don will understand,” Natalie said, as she gave Kate a peck on the cheek.  “I’ll go explain to him that you need some time alone.”

“Thanks…mom,” Kate said, and the word, “mom” didn’t sound the least bit strange in her mouth, though it did feel like a bit of a betrayal.

 

At ten-thirty, the Talbots departed for the funeral home.  That meant Kate had an hour or more to complete her mission.  She dressed quickly, in one of the chic outfits Leigh had picked out for her.  The knowledge that Leigh would most likely never speak to her again, took some of the specialness out of wearing it, but, and this was weird, Kate wanted to look her best to meet Jo Rowling, and that felt very conflicting.

 

POP! – Kate apparated to a hallway at the back of the bookstore.  Foyles was a flagship store, so Kate felt good at having dressed the part.  The reading from the book had already taken place, but how to get to Jo, now that there were hundreds of fans in line in front of her..?

She couldn’t use magic – not with all these Muggles present – that law was still in play.  And the law regarding women carrying men’s wands was still, for the moment, also in play, so all Mac let her keep was her ringed wand.

She would have to come up with a plan, but she had time, as the line was very long.  She was all the way back, near the checkout stands, where racks of tabloids boasted scoops on Movie Star divorces, Alien sightings…  As her eyes rolled over the exploitative front pages, an idea formed.  She jerked on the sleeve of the girl in front of her.

“Oi..!” the girl said, turning.

“Hey -” Kate whispered, again attempting an English accent, “Did you hear..?”

“’ear wot..?’” the girl said.

“Crikey!  You didn’t hear..?  I couldn’t make up my mind – Harry or Justin…”

“’Arry or Justin ‘oo..?”

“Harry Potter or Justin Bieber..!”

“Justin – the ‘Beebs’..!?  Cor!  You’re puttin’ me on!”  Kate shook her head.  “But I luv the Beebs..!  Where is ‘e..?”

“Right across the across the bloomin’ street..!”

“Get out..!” the girl shouted, and several people in line, looked around.  “Justin Bieber’s across the street..!?”

Kate nodded.  It had its desired effect.  Almost every girl in line bolted for the door, leaving just Kate and some seriously nerdy guys left, although some of them also ran out.

In no time, it was Kate’s turn to have her book signed.  Her heart was thrumming, but Kate was used to that by now, it was like a V8 engine purring inside her.  An aide to Jo passed a fresh cup of coffee to her, just as Kate got her turn.

J.K. looked up to her and smiled, though it was obvious that she’d been on this tour for a while and was wearing down.

“Who should I make it out to..?”

“Katharine,” Kate said, “Meadowes…”

“Did you say –“

“Meadowes, like in that song, ‘There’s a bright golden haze on the…’”

The author relaxed.

“Ah, but with an ‘S’ at the end…”

“No, with an ‘ES’…” Kate said.

Her correction made Jo stiffen, but she signed the book and handed it to Kate, while giving her a hard appraisal.  Kate returned the look, trying to see what lay behind the author’s perfectly coifed surface.

She couldn’t.  How could she get her questions answered?  The aide was already escorting the next person in line up.  It was now or never!

Accidently on purpose, Kate knocked the Grande coffee into Jo’s lap, dousing her dress.

“Oh, I’m so sorry!” Kate said, attempting to help Jo stave the flow.

The author jumped up, dripping.  The aide rushed forward.

“Ms. Rowling needs to take a moment.  She’ll be right back,” he announced to the rest of the line, and then hustled her to the restroom at the back.

 

Kate slipped in behind Jo, who was blotting the hot liquid from the silk with wet towels.

“Is it ruined..?” Kate asked.  “I really am sorry…for that.”

Jo Rowling looked around at her.  Kate felt torn between her animosity towards this woman who had ruined her magical life and the fervent fan within that she couldn’t quell.

Outside in the hallway, Kate heard people approaching.  She pulled out her wand and aimed it at the door.

Colloportus..!” she said, sealing it, with a glowing “X”.

“You – you can’t  – you can’t do that..!”

“Can’t do magic..?  But I just did…”

Kate saw that Jo realized she wasn’t in the presence of a Muggle, saw that Jo was about to scream for help.

Muffliato..!” Kate added, to ensure that no one could hear them.

“Doing magic in front of Muggles is –“

“Illegal yes, but you’re not a Muggle, are you, Seonag MacAra,” Kate said, pronouncing like the Scottish.  “You’re a Squib.”

She saw Jo’s face blanch.

“Funny, for someone who just lost a brother, you don’t seem all that broken up.  At least you could have worn black.”

“Who are you..?”

“You don’t know me..?  But Jo – you created me.”

“But you’re not..!“ Jo’s voice caught in her throat.

“The second daughter of Dorcas Meadowes, yes, I am.”

“The – the – no, but you’re – she’s dead.  I read it – she’s dead!”

“Surely you, a noted author, can tell when a story’s been fabricated, like your Missing Horcrux, for instance.  Truth / Lies – what’s the difference – it’s just another story to someone like yourself.”

Rowling edged backward until she was up against the counter.

“What do you want..?”

“An apology would be a great start…”

“I never meant to –“

“To what – to hurt me..?”

“I never wanted to hurt anyone.”

“That was my goal, too, but that didn’t work out so well for me, either.  So why – why did you do it..?  Why did you write lies..?”

Rowling turned to the mirror to check the success of her blotting, and to avoid looking at Kate.

“It’s all about Power, isn’t it..?  He had it and I had nothing – literally nothing.  I was living on the dole.  But then the book came out, and…”

“And you were caught.  You’d broken the Statute of Secrecy.”

“And wasn’t that rich?  I’m a Squib, yet here I was – still shackled by the Wizarding world’s laws!”

“So it was, go to Azkaban, or…”

“Or do his bidding… I’m not proud of it, but there you go..!  What could I do..?”  She faced Kate.  “And what would you have done, if you were without magic, without power?”

“Good question…”

“So what do you want from me – money..?”

“Money..?!  I don’t want your money!”

“That’s because you’re not a Squib.  For us – money is Power!  It’s the equivalent of magic in the Muggle world, isn’t it?”

Kate considered this and tilted her head, conceding her point (the family trait!).  Then she smiled.

“Right,” she said.  “I’ll tell you what I want…”

Kate took out her copy of HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS.  Then she pointed her wand at it.

Gemino…” she said, twice.

And the one book became three.

“Here – three autographed copies, please!”

“That’s – that’s it..?” Rowling asked, incredulous, as Kate conjured a pen for her.

“Make the first one out to me, Kate – that’s my…just make it out to Kate – and the second to Josh and the third to DeWanda – I’ll spell that one for you.  And – and add, ‘To my favorite Harry Potter Geeks’!”

“Really..?”

“We do have the eleventh most-read blog,” Kate said, justifying her request.

Jo quickly finished the autographs.

“There,” Jo said, “Is that all..?”

“That will do nicely, yes.”

Kate’s hidden pocket swallowed all three very large books.  Wistfully, she looked at her idol.  It was awkward not knowing how to end this storybook meeting.  Finally she just shrugged and headed for the door.  But just as she reached it, she stopped and turned.

“Oh, and one last thing..!” Kate cried.

J.K. Rowling shuddered just a bit.

“Next time you write a book – make the hero a girl!”

“Next time, yes, yes of course…  Brilliant..!”

“If you only knew what I’ve been through…”

“Really..?  Well, love, if you’d like to give me your story, I could…”

“No way – it’s mine…”

And then Kate unsealed the door and left the author alone.

 

 

 


 

CHAPTER 39

 

“THE FLIGHT HOME”

 

With her brothers asleep in the row in front of her and Kara chatting with Natalie and John, Kate pulled out her last DAILY PROPHET she’d probably ever see – today’s.  The post owl had delivered it, just as she was closing her suitcase, in the room overlooking the rose garden.

The front page was filled with the story about the death of the Minister and the demise of the Missing Horcrux, as well as the bravery of one Defender, a Gordon (“Gordy”) Saunders who’d “slayed” the last piece of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named with his Basilisk fang.

Kate smiled – “Slayed” made it seem like she was a dragon or something!  The Prophet noted that Gordy’s bravery was somewhat ironic, in that the Defenders as an entity were being disbanded.  Kate flipped the page.

Here was a story about proposed changes to the Wizengamot that would allow women back in.  And there was another story about the rescinding of the law that imposed rings on all women’s wands.  On the opposite page were two stories.

The first concerned a strange bloody fog that had rolled over not only the Ministry, but all of Vicar Square.  And the second announced the retirement of Regina Quackenbush, as it seemed she could no longer gain access to the Ministry by any means.

‘Way to go, Char!’ Kate thought, as her fist punched the air.  She was in the mood for some music!  Reaching into her carry-on, she pulled out her headphones.  Staring out the window at the endless blue above and below, she started the music – Barenboim’s collection of Chopin Nocturnes, which she’d purchased at the airport store.

Yes, it brought back memories – good and bad – but still, it was something to hold onto, something of a time when anything seemed possible – heading a gang of “A-Table” friends, winning an auction of female pulchritude…Thurlow…Phin.  Kate pulled out her ringed wand to “conduct” the music.  As her finger played over its ring, she smiled.

‘I wonder, when I’m home in Cooperton, and I twist it, will it still conjure a raft of beauty assistants..?’

She glanced down at her attire, which was back to her usual jeans and T-shirt and laughed.  No, some things hadn’t changed.  All of her new clothes, the ones Leigh and Randi had picked out for her would probably remain in her closet, or be loaned out to her sister.

So what had changed?  She was an heiress, but, as she was presumed dead, her fortunes would not change.  Life in Cooperton / school wouldn’t change, as the Talbots didn’t know she was a witch, nor couldn’t use it against the Tanners in her life, or even reveal it to her friends.  Her friends – would she still feel that bond with them, or had she grown out of them, along with the fantasy they’d shared?  That remained to be seen.

But certainly she had changed, and in just three short weeks.  Gone was the teenaged nerd, and in her place was…what..?  Was she still the girl who set herself up to fail; the one who bit off more than she could chew?  Maybe…  But look at what she’d accomplished!

She’d brought down not only her parents’ killer, but his evil laws and the hatchet woman who’d enforced them!  Sure, like Harry, she’d had help.  The DOB’s, Phin, of course, plus her mother (her wand and spell), her father, whose music room had trapped Ajay’s attackers, and even Vulpine and Sienna in their own, slithery ways.  Oh – and Kara, too!

But none of it would have happened without her leading the way.  Kate sat back and smiled a smile of deep content.

“What’re you smiling about,” Kara asked, as she slipped into the seat next to her.

Kate just shook her head – it was just the beginning of so many things she wouldn’t be able to explain.

“What’s that..?” she asked, pointing to the PROPHET.

“Oh, uhm,” Kate said, stowing it in her carry-on, “Just some Potter stuff.”

“Will you never get over that..?” Kara asked, exasperated.

“Actually, I believe I will…” Kate said, smiling wistfully.

She took off her headphones and looked at her sister with such love – a sister she’d almost lost.

“What..?” Kara asked, unaccustomed to seeing such a look from her.

“Nothing…” Kate said, shaking her head.  “What’s up..?”

Kara looked at Kate’s ringed wand.

“Don’t tell me you spent money on another one?  What is it, like the ‘Super Duper Nerd’ model..?”

“No, it’s…it’s a new one, actually.”  Kate smiled, pondering how to explain it.  “It’s the ‘Katharine Meadowes’ model.”

“Katharine Meadowes..?”

“You’d have to read the books…”

“No thanks… So did you two have fun doing your Potter stuff – I mean, like before Aunt Gwynne died and everything..?”

“Did we have fun..?  Well…”

“No – please – don’t bore me.  So hey – you never said how you liked my birthday present.”

“Oh, no…”

“No, you didn’t like it, or no, you haven’t opened it yet.”

“Never got around to it…  I was kinda busy, like egregiously busy…“

“Well open it, dummy!  Did you pack it in your luggage, or –“

“No, I’ve got it here, hold on…”

Kara squeezed past her sister and stood up, having to rise onto her tippy-toes to open the overhead compartment.  Yanking, she pulled down her carry-on.  As she rummaged through it, she came across the case with Kara’s gift, which she now knew was actually from Vulpine.

And then she found the small velvet pouch that Emma had conjured for her.  It brought back so many memories.  Kate put it back.

“Come on, come on…” Kara said, impatiently.

Kate slid back into her seat and opened the satin covered box.  She hesitated on removing the locket nestled inside.

“Well go on – I told you, you’ve gotta open it – the best part’s inside,” her sister said, barely able to contain herself.

Kate was almost afraid to open anything from Vulpine, a Slytherin.

‘I mean, if my earrings can drop a 200 lb. Defender…’ she thought.

But when she opened it, there was a miniature portrait of her mother – Dorcas Meadowes – who cried out to her:

“Oh, Darling!  You found me..!”

“See – I mean, look at her – she could be like your sister, or something!” Kara said, seeing only a frozen image of a teenaged, red-haired girl.

Kate burst into tears that seemed like they would never stop.

“Well don’t go all weird on me.  What’s up with the –“

Kara never got to finish her sentence as Kate hugged her so fiercely; her sister thought she would crack a rib.  When Kate finally gained control, she looked at her sister, again with such an intense look of gratitude.

“Now you’re scaring me – what’s with these looks..?”

Kate could only shake her head.  She wiped away some tears and it came to her – what to give her sister in return.  Reaching into her carry-on, she retrieved the velvet sack Emma had conjured.  Smiling, she handed it to her sister.

“Sorry,” Kate said hoarsely, “I didn’t have time to wrap it, but…”

Kara took the pouch.  Reaching her hand inside, she touched the round, smooth perfection.  Her eyes widened, as she pulled out the strand of matched pearls and earrings that Kate had copied from the Crown Jewels.

“Wow – they look real.  And they feel real!”

“Well they are, kinda…”

“Oh – cultured..?”  Kate nodded – close enough.  “These are real pearls?!  You’re giving me real pearls?!  Get out!!!  But K., they must have cost a fortune!”

“I didn’t pay for them.”

“Genius – how’d you work that..?  Oh, were they from Aunt Gwynne..?”

Kate hesitated – it was a lie, but then again, Kara would never believe the truth, would she?

“Yes,” Kate said.

“But K., I couldn’t take them – she gave them to you.”

Kara handed them back to Kate, but Kate pushed them back to her sister.

“Seriously, K., what would I wear them with?  I’m not exactly a fashion plate,” Kate said, indicating her T-shirt and ripped jeans.

“No, but at least you started wearing earrings…  Are those a gift from her, too..?”

Kate was caught unawares.  She’d quite forgotten she was wearing them – the Eyes of the Basilisk, disguised as grey pearls.  She’d forgotten about them, because she never took them off – never.  Kate felt it was better not to explain, so she just nodded.

“And now you have that perfect set – you’re the equal of any girl Tanner’d date,” Kate said.

“Screw Tanner..!”

“No thanks..!”

“I know, right..?”

The sisters laughed and the rest of the ride home went very quickly, with them talking like they’d always been closer than their birthdays.  It must be said though that Kara was a little weirded out by how often Kate burst into tears every time she looked at her new locket.

And she also found it strange that her sister preferred to wear it open.  But she was rather proud that Kate felt compelled to show it to all of the Talbots (while in reality, Kate was showing all of the Talbots to her mother, Dorcas Meadowes).

 


SIBYLL’S PROPHECY

 

And when the Missing is found, the second daughter will arise, and she shall take the power from the man who killed for it, shall take his power and more, when the Missing is found…