Chapter 20 : Missing Muggle
Publish Date: 30 December 2006
Disclaimer: I do not own Harry Potter, its characters, or anything associated with it. I'm not making any money from this story, and I don't intend to. I'm writing it purely for the satisfaction of it, and because several people warned me that there would be dire consequences if I didn't finish it. The resemblance of any character to an actual person is completely accidental. Please don't sue -- I don't own enough to make it worth your while.
Note: This is a Harry / Severus slash story -- and while their relationship is also accompanied by plot, action, and drama, if you seriously object to the slash element -- or to the particular pairing -- then don't read the story!
THE MIRROR OF MAYBE: Chapter 20
-- Missing Muggle --
"Where are we now?" Remus asked tiredly.
"The University of Cambridge," Sirius told him with a straight face.
"Ha, ha," came the sarcastic response. "Which bit of the University of Cambridge?"
"Uh... it's called..." and Sirius fumbled with the map for a moment. "It's called 'University Centre'. Huh. Not the most creative name is it? Anyway, it's supposed to be some sort of community building -- a place to get together and socialise. The lady back at the Registry Office said this was the place to go if we wanted to meet people from all over the university, so I thought this'd be a good starting point to see if we can find someone from Physics or Engineering who might know 'Robert Thomas'."
Remus stared at him. After a few moments of silence Sirius began to fiddle nervously with the map. Finally, Remus raised one disbelieving eyebrow and calmly asked: "A good starting point, Padfoot?"
Sirius turned red and looked vaguely embarrassed. "Erhm... yes, well --"
"Are you saying the last 'University of Cambridge' you dragged us to wasn't a good starting point? Or did you mean the 'University of Cambridge' before that? Or perhaps you were referring to the first 'University of Cambridge' we visited this morning?"
"Hey, that one wasn't my fault! I just asked where the university was...!"
"And the muggle you asked thought you meant whichever bit of the university was closest -- which turned out to be the Department of Plant Sciences! Plant Sciences, Padfoot!"
"Well, how was I supposed to know the muggles built bits of the university all over Cambridge? I thought this place would be like the Auror Academy -- all in one spot with maybe a couple of hundred people in it. Why in Merlin's name would anybody build a university in bits!?"
"Because they're muggles," Remus replied patiently. "They can't just expand the interior of a building whenever they need more room. They actually have to have more land to build on. And since they can't knock over somebody's house whenever they want, they had to put up new buildings wherever they could find a place to put them."
"Oh," Sirius blinked. "I hadn't thought of it like that. You know, that actually makes sense -- in a weirdly muggle sort of way."
"Glad to be of service," Remus replied dryly. "Though I'd be more impressed if you'd been listening when I told you we should ask for the Registry Office."
"I did ask for the Registry Office!"
"Yes you did -- after you dragged us all the way out to the Department of Physics."
"And Engineering," Sirius reminded him. "The Department of Engineering was there too."
"That was Chemical Engineering!"
Sirius looked stubborn. "Well, I still say we were in the right place! We'll probably just have to go back there you know."
"Quite possibly," Remus agreed, "but even if we were in the right building, how were we supposed to find him? You said Harry wants us to be discreet. That means we can't just walk up to random strangers and say 'Hi, we're looking for some chap named Robert Thomas. No, we don't know him -- in fact, we've never met him, and oh, by the way we're not even sure he's a student here'."
"Is that why we went to the Registry Office?"
"Yes," Remus said firmly. "They have the university enrolment records there. I thought we could just ask them to look up 'Robert Thomas' and tell us what Department he's in and where he lives."
Sirius snorted. "I could've told you that wasn't going to work. There are laws against handing out that sort of information -- even in the muggle world."
"I know, I know..."
Although..." Sirius added thoughtfully, "it's still a pretty good idea. We could go back tonight..."
"And what?" Remus interrupted. "Figure out how to use their computers in a few hours? Guess the passwords? Because you know... that might take a while."
"Passwords?" Sirius blinked. "Kom-pewters?"
"You took muggle studies, Padfoot. And you damn near lived in the muggle world these last few years. I know you know what I'm talking about."
Sirius grinned. "Damn. Why can't I ever put one over on you? It's not fair."
Remus snorted, but the werewolf's amusement was obviously muted by his tiredness -- and what were probably some very sore feet.
"Well, never mind," Sirius hastily consoled. "It was still a good idea. If you hadn't insisted on going there, we'd probably still be wandering all over Cambridge without a map."
"Sod the Registry Office," came the surprising reply. "We should've asked for the map back at Plant Sciences."
"We didn't know we needed a map back then."
Remus muttered something unintelligible.
"Hey!" Sirius protested. "No insulting the map! Okay, it's not as good as our map, but--"
"Padfoot," Remus cut in tiredly, "first of all -- you have a very weird attachment to that map. And second -- things would probably be worse if that thing worked like our map."
"What?! How can you say that? The Marauder's Map was one of our finest--"
"Yes, yes," Remus agreed with a roll of his eyes. "It was great -- it was amazing -- it worked beautifully. At Hogwarts. Here it would be a disaster."
Sirius looked at him like he'd lost his mind.
Remus sighed. "The University of Cambridge," he explained, "has existed in one form or another for nearly eight hundred years -- and while it's true that Hogwarts is older, it's also true that Cambridge is a hell of a lot bigger." Then he paused before adding: "And just to put that into perspective for you... last year the university took in over 3,000 students -- and that was just the undergraduates. In addition to that there were also the postgraduates, the teachers, guest lecturers, admin' staff, the cleaners, cooks and groundskeepers, probably a few dozen security officers, visitors, --"
"Sweet Merlin!" Sirius looked shocked. "We'd never even see him on the map!" And then: "Hey! Wait a minute. How do you know how many--?"
"I asked," Remus told him. "Back at the Registry Office."
"Which you could've done if you hadn't been trying to get that lady's floo address."
"Was not," Sirius protested indignantly.
"Phone number then," Remus replied blandly, and Sirius laughed.
"All right," he chuckled, "I admit to being temporarily distracted. But don't worry -- this time we're in the right place. Back when I was an Auror we used to do this sort of thing all the time. It's amazing how easily you can track someone down through friends-of-friends and word-of-mouth."
"So you dragged me all over Cambridge... why?" Remus asked plaintively.
"Well... I might have been a bit impatient," Sirius admitted. "The other way is a lot quicker... when it works, which I guess it didn't. But never mind -- this'll get the job done too! It just might take a bit longer." And then the animagus grabbed his friend by the arm and urged him towards the building in front of them.
Remus allowed himself to be pulled along. His feet hurt. His empty stomach rumbled. There was an ache behind his eyes that was probably caused by dehydration. The full moon was only two nights away. He was not a happy werewolf. And all because Sirius had been 'a bit impatient'! Almost of their own volition, Remus' feet stopped moving. "Padfoot," he said calmly. "I'm going to kill you."
Sirius turned back towards him and grinned. "No you're not."
Remus stared at him. "I'm not?" he asked sceptically.
"Of course not. How could I buy you a big steak lunch if I'm dead?"
"Lunch?" If he'd been in wolf form, both Remus' ears would've stood straight up and swivelled attentively towards the sound of that one word.
"Didn't I say?" Sirius teased. "This place serves food -- good food, or so I'm told."
Remus mulled that over as Sirius once more grabbed his arm and pulled him along. "Okay," Remus finally decided, "as long as it's a big steak, I'll let you live."
Some time later Remus realised he was sitting in front of a half-eaten plate of very nice steak, and he now felt 110% better. Even the headache was gone. He looked around. Sirius was sitting across from him, working on his own lunch and inconspicuously using a listening charm to sample the surrounding conversations.
Remus looked back down at his half-eaten lunch. He remembered being dragged in here. He remembered Sirius ordering lunch. He remembered ordering his own lunch, and Sirius paying for it. He unfortunately remembered -- in excruciating detail -- every building Sirius had dragged him into before this one. But there was something that, for the life of him, he absolutely could not recall...
"Sirius?" he asked tentatively.
"Mmm?" came the distracted reply.
"Where are we again?"
By the time Remus finished his meal more diners had arrived, and he quickly joined Sirius in a bit of discreet eavesdropping. His friend was currently listening to discussions from around the edge of the room, which allowed Remus to focus his enhanced werewolf hearing on the people sitting nearby. That way only one of them had to use a wand, which was slightly less conspicuous than both of them trying to pretend they weren't pointing a stick of wood at complete strangers.
In the back of his mind Remus was half-contemplating desert when he realised there was a very strange conversation taking place just two tables away...
"...never did find out what happened," said a young man, "Really bizarre stuff, what with that kid disappearing and all."
"Rubbish," came the scornful reply by a slightly older man. "There was nothing to it at all. The guy wrecked some expensive equipment, got found out, and did a runner when the police got involved."
"He was hardly a 'kid', Maurie," said a young lady sitting beside the first speaker. "He was at least 18 -- maybe 19. And they still haven't figured out what he did to wreck all that equipment. It's as though he lifted it all two feet in the air and then dropped it. Some of that stuff must've weighed tonnes! How did he do that?"
By this point, Sirius had noticed his friend's concentration and tapped the table in front of Remus to get his attention. "Two tables over," Remus said quietly, "the two men with the brunette." Sirius followed Remus' eyes over to the table, and he quickly cast a listening spell in their direction.
"--think his story might've been be true do you?"
"Well, the evidence backs it up."
"Suzie," the older man said with some exasperation, "the guy claimed all the lab equipment spontaneously levitated and only fell down when something caught fire and the power cut out. But nobody heard a fire alarm, did they? And okay, I'll give you the fact that there actually was a power outage in that lab, but 'levitation'!? Come on!"
"Well then, how do you explain all the damage?" she argued. "Everyone in the building heard the crash -- and the fire alarm wouldn't go off if it was just a couple of wires shorting out. But an electrical short would cause a minor burning smell, which might've made the guy think there was a fire -- and it would trip a circuit breaker somewhere, which would've caused the power outage." Suzie paused for a moment as she considered her next argument. "Okay," she finally admitted, "the levitation thing is pretty far-fetched -- but it's been four-and-a-half months and I still haven't heard a better explanation!"
"Which doesn't make it true. It was probably just a hoax. He could've used a crane or something to lift some of the heavy stuff."
The younger man sitting beside 'Suzie' decided to add his opinion: "So you're saying this 'Thomas' guy managed to sneak a crane past everyone in the building -- and then hide it when people came running in to see what happened?" He shook his head in disbelief. "No way. And why would he wreck thousands of pounds worth of equipment anyway? I said it then, and I'll say it again now: if it was a hoax, what was the point?"
"Some people thought he was trying to steal the lab equipment," Suzie commented, "but I think they pretty much ruled that out months ago. After all, who's going to buy an electron microscope from an undergrad?"
"Did he break one of those?" the younger man asked.
"No idea," Suzie replied. "I was just pointing out that most people wouldn't know what half the stuff out at Cavendish Labs is. And the people who would know aren't going to buy it from a student unless he's got rock solid proof of ownership."
Maurie snorted. "Plus, you don't break things you're planning to sell."
"Exactly," Suzie stated.
"So did anybody believe the guy's story?" the younger man asked. "Beside you that is," he teased the brunette beside him.
Across the table Maurie looked thoughtful. "Not reeeally..." he dragged out.
"But I heard from Morgan that a couple of the professors were going to let him 're-create' whatever happened once the equipment was fixed. Apparently the kid had a pretty good reputation. Morgan said the guy's friends liked him well enough, and there wasn't anything bad in his academic record. I don't think he even had a police record. I never saw anything scandalous about him in the papers -- and I'm sure they would've found something if there'd been anything to find."
Suzie sighed. "I feel bad for his family," she said.
Maurie shrugged. "It was what -- two weeks after the lab disaster that he disappeared? As I recall they didn't even know whether to list him as missing or kidnapped. They eventually settled on kidnapped, but if that's true... well, it's been an awfully long time..."
"...and he's probably been dead for most of it," the younger man finished grimly.
"So where are we going now?" Remus asked as they exited University Centre. He and Sirius had listened attentively to the rest of the conversation, but talking about a potential murder had pretty much killed 'Suzie's' interest in the subject. She'd done her best to shift the discussion back onto something less depressing, and since two wizards had no interest in the academic lives of three strangers, they'd quickly finished their lunch and left.
"Somewhere we can find old newspapers," Sirius replied as he pulled out the map.
"So you think the 'Thomas' they were talking about is the 'Robert Thomas' we're looking for?"
Sirius looked surprised. "You don't?"
"Are you kidding? Your godson asks us to check up on a muggle student named 'Robert Thomas' -- at this university -- and now we find out that a student named 'Thomas' disappeared four months ago -- after witnessing something that sounds suspiciously like a levitation spell. Of course it's him. I was just asking whether you agreed with me."
Sirius' reply was an amused snort. "Well, if there was any doubt," he said, "have a look at where 'Cavendish Laboratory' is."
Remus leaned over to see where Sirius was pointing on the map. He recognised that cluster of buildings... They'd already been there once today --
-- when they'd been out at the Department of Physics.
"We need to find out what happened at that laboratory four-and-a-half months ago," Remus said thoughtfully, "and regardless of what we think we know, we still need to confirm that Robert Thomas was the student involved. I'm pretty sure muggle universities and colleges keep a record of old newspapers, and since we're here anyway, I think we should try one of the university libraries first."
Sirius looked startled. "They have more than one?"
A bit of research confirmed that the 'Thomas' they were looking for was named 'Robert', and had most definitely gone missing almost four months ago under mysterious circumstances. Pictures of the young man had been circulated after his disappearance, and Sirius magically duplicated one from the newspaper so they could send a copy to Harry for confirmation of his identity. Remus also copied a couple of articles to send with the photo', and made notes about the timeline of events. By mid-afternoon they had a neat little package ready to send off to 'Professor Ash'.
"Do you know where the nearest owl office is?" Remus asked as they walked out of the library.
"Not sure," Sirius replied absently. "But I don't want to leave just yet anyway."
Remus looked at him curiously. "Why not? There doesn't seem to be much more we can do here. The muggle investigation looks like it's come to a standstill, and we can't exactly start interviewing Thomas' family and friends. So what's left?"
"I want to get a look at that lab," Sirius replied.
"What on earth for?" Remus asked. "It's all been repaired now -- and even if magic was used, there wouldn't be any residue left after all this time."
"Maybe -- maybe not," Sirius told him. "But I'm curious, and well... we're here aren't we? Harry asked us to look into this almost a week ago, but we didn't finish up our last assignment 'til yesterday. If we don't do this now... Well, the full moon is tomorrow night, which means you'll be pretty out of it for most of Friday -- and after that the Headmaster wants us in Liverpool. So I thought -- while we've got the time..."
"All right then," Remus agreed. "I suppose it can't hurt."
By late afternoon Sirius and Remus were once more back at the Department of Physics on the western campus of the university. Cavendish Laboratory was not -- as its name might suggest -- a single laboratory, or even a single building. But thanks to the map and a couple of newspaper photo's the two men knew exactly where they wanted to go.
Now they just had to figure out how to get into the particular lab' they were interested in without attracting attention.
"We're not setting off the fire alarm," Remus stated in response to one of Sirius' suggestions. "I don't care if it would empty the building -- that's not the way to keep a low profile!"
"Fine," Sirius groused. "Let's go find an owl office then. We still have to send Harry that package. But I'm coming back tonight after they've all gone home. That way I can cast a few spells without worrying about some muggle seeing things they're not supposed to."
"We're coming back tonight -- and they might not all go home," Remus told him. "There'll probably be security guards too."
"At 2:00am in the morning -- they'll be at home," Sirius assured him. "And maybe there will be a few guards -- but not hundreds of them. And I'm sure they only come by every once in a while. A few disillusionment charms and they won't even notice us!"
"Does that go for any security cameras too?" Remus asked innocently.
Sirius scowled at him.
"Don't look at me like that. I was just pointing out that you're going to a lot of trouble here, and I still don't understand why. I mean, what's the lab' going to tell us? Why are you so insistent about seeing it?"
Sirius paused and actually thought about the question. Why was he so adamant? "I suppose it's because I don't understand why this 'Robert Thomas' kid is so important. I mean, Harry told me he was a muggle. But if that's true, then what's a muggle doing mixed up in a levitation spell -- and don't tell me it wasn't a levitation spell, because Harry only mentioned 'Robert Thomas' when I told him about that vague rumour we heard a couple of months ago -- you know: the one involving Death Eaters at a muggle university somewhere."
"He sent us here because of that!?"
"He did. And to be honest, I don't really expect the lab' to tell us that much. But if there's anything... anything the muggles might have missed, but that a wizard might find..."
Remus was quiet for a few moments. "Well," he said finally, "now I'm curious too."
Much later, Remus wasn't all that curious anymore.
It was dark -- and it was cold. It was also quarter-to-two in the morning -- in October -- and warming charms were being used liberally.
All was quiet when Sirius suddenly asked: "So who do you think Harry's sweet on?"
"What?" Remus asked in surprise. "Where did that come from? You're supposed to be watching for security guards!"
"I am," Sirius replied. "Haven't seen any. But I know you -- you're going to make me stand here until exactly 2:00am, so I've got some time to kill." There was a moment's pause. "D'you think it might be one of the Weasleys? He's good friends with their youngest son -- though Harry did say the bloke was older than he was, didn't he? Well -- physically older. That's a bit confusing now, I suppose."
"You know," Remus commented dryly, "I'd blame this conversation on Azkaban if I hadn't known you at Hogwarts."
Sirius ignored him. "Come to think of it," he continued, "Harry also mentioned something about Dragonfire -- and Charlie Weasley works with dragons doesn't he? D'you reckon it's him?"
Standing in the shadows, Remus rolled his eyes heavenwards.
Fifteen minutes later, and both carefully disillusioned, the two men walked stealthily towards the building's entrance. A soft-spoken "Alohomora" got them inside, and since most of the building still had a few lights turned on for security reasons, it was easy to navigate their way through the corridors.
Not long after gaining entry, Sirius was the first to slip silently into the lab itself. As he went through the doors, the animagus caught a momentary flash of light in his peripheral vision. He instinctively dived for cover.
Crash! A blasting curse blew open the doors behind him.
"What in Circe's name are you doing, you idiot?!" someone hissed.
Still disillusioned, Sirius peered cautiously over a tabletop. //Merlin,// he thought, //the doors are half way off their bloody hinges!// He hoped Remus was okay.
"The door opened!" a second voice hissed. "Someone's here!"
"Shit!" said the first voice, and Sirius barely had time to register the presence of two Death Eaters in full mask and robes before the security lighting went out and the dimly-lit room was plunged into darkness.
//Bugger, bugger, bugger...// Sirius thought to himself. He now had two choices. If the Death Eaters were using night-vision spells, he could blind them with a burst of bright light -- which would also blind Remus if he was still conscious. But if he used a night-vision spell on himself, he would have to hope the Death Eaters weren't waiting to blind him with a similar trick.
Something growled outside.
"Morgana's tits -- what's that!?"
"Shut up you moron!"
//On the other hand...// Sirius grinned in the dark, //Remus appears to be okay -- and he doesn't need spells to see in the dark -- especially this close to the full moon!// By unspoken agreement, he knew that Remus would take care of their attackers as long as it was too dark for Sirius to see what was going on. It would be Sirius' job to take over if the enemy blinded Remus with a burst of light. This way, they had both options covered.
Sirius growled back to let Remus know he was fine. The animagus also scuttled sideways to avoid the curse that was thrown in his general direction. //Either they aren't using night-vision spells,// he mused, //or one of them has lousy aim.// Thinking grimly that James Potter had been the only other person he'd trusted this much, Sirius deliberately covered his eyes and waited -- heart hammering in his ears -- for a flash of bright light. //I'm under a table,// he told himself. //I'm still disillusioned. I'm not out in the open. Remus can see what's going on. He'll protect me.//
And Remus did.
With a few well-placed curses the werewolf managed to take out the idiot who'd blasted the doors open. Sirius heard the man yell, which was followed by the 'thump' of a body. The second Death Eater -- who seemed to have more common sense -- immediately realised that his attacker could see them. Seconds later there was a blinding flash of light.
That was Sirius' cue.
He leaped up, scanned the room, and quickly spotted the remaining Death Eater. The bastard was crouched behind a table with one hand over his eyes and his wand-arm still up in the air after the flash spell.
Sirius promptly blasted him into the wall.
The animagus then looked around for any more threats, and his temporarily blind partner.
He didn't see anyone -- literally. Even the Death Eater Remus had taken down seemed to be missing.
"Moony?" he called out in a bit of a panic.
"Up here," came the werewolf's voice. Sirius looked up, and there was Remus -- on the ceiling.
"Neat trick," Sirius commented with relief. "Modified sticking charm?"
"Yes, and I still can't see a blasted thing. Fix the door -- and for Merlin's sake get a muggle-repelling charm up before half the security guards on campus arrive."
"Love you too, mate," Sirius chuckled as he hastened to do his friend's bidding.
They eventually got Remus down from the ceiling and applied a bit of magical first aid to his eyes. His vision was still somewhat blurry, but from past experience they knew he'd be fine in a day or so.
A number of muggles passed by the newly repaired doors, but the anti-muggle charm took care of them. Sirius had used the one that Aurors commonly put up at a crime scene in muggle areas. It worked by convincing every muggle who came near that everything was fine and they didn't need to go any further. Eventually, once all the other labs were checked, the security guards would believe they'd searched the whole building and found nothing amiss.
Sirius also put a silencing charm on the doors, just to be on the safe side.
Once Remus could mostly see what he was doing, Sirius went over to check on the Death Eater he'd blasted.
"He's dead," Sirius announced with some surprise when Remus came over to join him. "Looks like he broke his neck when I blasted him."
"The other one portkeyed out just before I was blinded."
"Damn," Sirius muttered. Then he looked around at the spell damage in the lab' and sighed. "Guess we gotta fix this mess, huh?"
"'Statute of Secrecy' and all that," Remus agreed.
They got to work.
It didn't take long, since the fight had been fairly quick and the damage wasn't extensive.
When they were finished, Remus noticed something. "Does it seem like there are things missing to you?"
"Yeah, it does," Sirius nodded. "See there?" He pointed to a dark outline on the floor. "Something was in that spot for years, but it's not there now."
"The repairs for this lab were supposed to be finished," Remus mused. "Surely they replaced all the equipment."
"Hey," Sirius suddenly called out, "come and look at this."
Remus walked over to find Sirius poking his boot at a power cable that was still plugged into the wall. However, the cable itself had been chopped off and was lying uselessly across another dark shape on the floor.
"This is just a hunch," said Remus, "but let's have a look at what our dead Death Eater has in his pockets."
Mindful of a possible portkey they would not want to activate, the two men thoroughly searched their dead assailant. They eventually turned up several items that were obviously of muggle origin -- and had just as obviously been shrunk down and lightened for convenient transportation.
When Sirius and Remus removed the spells, they were able to match some of the restored equipment with a few of the outlines on the floor. There was also a selection of items that had probably been sitting on the tables. A few repair charms were all that was needed to re-connect the larger pieces with their severed power plugs, and Remus went around collecting the left-over plugs in order to make the theft look a little less bizarre. By the end of it all, there were still several things missing, but there wasn't much they could do about it. The lab was -- to the best of their ability -- back to normal.
"Well," Remus mused once they'd finished, "There's certainly a lot of spell residue in here now."
"But what in Merlin's name did they want with all this... stuff?" Sirius asked. "And what is all of it, anyway?"
"No idea," Remus replied, "but I'm exhausted -- and we still have to do something about the body."
"Actually," Sirius said with an odd glint in his eye, "I may have an idea about that."
It was Thursday lunchtime at University Centre, and the hot topic of conversation was the dead guy who'd been found on the roof of Plant Sciences -- naked, except for a fig leaf over his privates, a pair of sunglasses on his face, and the words 'Life's not worth living without a map' scrawled upside down on his belly. The police were treating it as murder, but since the writing would've been the right-way up if the man had been looking down when he wrote it, there was some debate as to whether it was actually a bizarre form of suicide.
"You worry me, Padfoot -- you really do," Remus murmured as the gossip flew thick and fast around them.
"Maybe so," Sirius replied, "but it's taken all the focus off the missing lab' equipment, hasn't it? That hardly got a mention in the paper this morning."
"Yes, all right -- I admit it was useful. But you don't really think that other Death Eater's going to come back, do you? He'd have to be mad."
"Hey, would you want to tell old Voldie you failed an assignment? And whatever they were doing with that stuff - well, they're still missing half of it aren't they? He'll be back -- just you watch."
"I'm sure he will," grumbled Remus, "-- and probably with reinforcements."
"Maybe," Sirius acknowledged. "But I think the real problem's not going to be how many turn up, but when they turn up. If it wasn't a full moon tonight, I'd be tempted to go back and keep watch -- and no, it is not your fault that we can't go back tonight. Have another steak -- you always look a bit peaky around this time of the month." Remus glared at him, but Sirius continued blithely on: "Frankly, I think the guy's probably holed up somewhere trying to get a story together so he doesn't wind up dead when he only turns up with half the goods."
"So what do we do if he doesn't show?" Remus asked. "Do you think we should we tell Dumbledore?"
Sirius considered that. "No," he eventually decided. "This is Harry's show. If the Headmaster needs to know, then Harry will tell him. At the moment Dumbledore doesn't even know 'Robert Thomas' exists."
"Okay," Remus nodded slowly. "I can go along with that. But let's put up some magical activity detectors at the lab' too. That way, at least we'll know if they do turn up."
"Good idea," Sirius agreed. "I vote we also get an address for the Thomas family. We should put up a few detection spells around their home -- and hope like hell we don't need to evacuate them in a hurry. They should be all right since the Death Eaters haven't bothered them so far, but you never know..."
"I think we might also need to send Harry another owl," Remus suggested. "A lot's happened since yesterday afternoon."
"I don't know..." Sirius mused. "Maybe a short owl to let him know about the Death Eaters... But I think I'm more inclined to get the Headmaster's next job done as quickly as possible and then go see Harry in person. Magic and muggles aren't supposed to mix. I think we need to know more than I'd trust to an owl."
It was Thursday morning, well before breakfast, when Harry walked out of his bathroom to find an owl sitting patiently on the kitchen table. Sirius and Remus had sent him a package. Unfortunately, when he opened it... well, the news wasn't good. He wrote back immediately to confirm that the young man in the photo' was definitely Robert, but other than that, there didn't seem to be much more he could do. It had been months since Robert disappeared and any clues would be long gone by now.
Harry thought about the information his godfather and Remus had sent him, debating whether he should go to Cambridge himself. But his godfather and honorary uncle knew what they were doing, and at this point his presence was unlikely to make much difference.
Pushing his concerns aside, Harry finished getting ready for the day and concentrated on his teaching duties.
He managed to get through his morning classes without any mishaps, but was still thankful he had a free period just before lunch. He used that free time to fly out beyond the school wards and make a short trip into the muggle world. He wanted a second look at the two properties he liked best from the day before. Hopefully this would confirm his impression that the warehouse in Glasgow was the one he wanted to buy. He also stopped off on the way back and bought himself a mobile 'phone. The whole trip didn't take long, but even so he arrived only just in time for his first class of the afternoon.
The rest of the day progressed normally until late evening when a second owl arrived. Once again the message was from Sirius and Remus -- this time confirming the involvement of Death Eaters.
Harry knew that by now there were detection spells up at both the Cambridge lab' and the Thomas home, but the chance of catching a Death Eater alive -- much less tracing him back to their base of operations -- was slim at best. Once again, there didn't seem to be anything Harry could do about the situation, and although he was grateful for Sirius and Remus' efforts, he was also very worried about Robert. He knew Voldemort wouldn't kill the young man, but his Death Eaters weren't the brightest torches on the wall, and if Voldie didn't keep a firm grip on them...
Harry shuddered. He needed to find out where Robert was being held. Even if the missing student wasn't being physically tortured, the mental and emotional damage Voldemort could inflict was... Harry didn't want to find him like that. Not a second time. And although Robert wasn't all that important to the war effort, Harry firmly believed he was crucial to any future the wizarding world might have afterwards.
Friday passed without any word from Sirius or Remus -- but since it had been a full moon the night before, Harry hadn't really been expecting anything.
This morning he'd decided to buy the Glasgow warehouse, and at lunch he made another trip outside the wards before apparating far enough away so that his mobile phone' would actually work. In the magical world it was widely believed that magic and muggle technology were fundamentally incompatible. Harry, however, had actually seen technomagical devices in the Mirror and knew that this was a complete lie. Unfortunately, since he had no idea how Robert and Hermione had managed to blend the two together, he still had to make this little trip in order to call the Glasgow property broker and make arrangements to sign a contract and finalise the sale.
Now it was Friday evening and Harry was currently getting ready for a night out at the pub -- and not just any pub, but a muggle pub where he was hoping to find an old friend. Well, an old friend from Harry's perspective anyway. Without Harry's Mirror-induced memories the man wouldn't have a clue who Harry was.
After doing up the last shirt button, Harry proceeded to check his weapons -- both magical and mundane -- to make sure the muggle ones would be noticeable to a trained observer while the magical ones remained hidden. His reflection in the mirror showed a muggle who was carrying concealed weapons and knew how to use them. Good enough.
//Time to focus on the present,// Harry told himself. //At the moment, I can best help Robert by ensuring Voldemort doesn't win.// He threw on a cloak to hide his muggle clothes, and grabbed his broom. Then he headed out to a pub where he hoped he would find a man named Jack.
The sidewalk gleamed wetly under the street lights as Harry made his way down a relatively quiet laneway. The rain had stopped some time ago, but the damp air was still a bit cooler than it ought to be. Up ahead Harry could see traffic passing on the busy main street, but he was more interested in the sound of happy conversation and laughter coming from the open doorway just ahead.
Harry stepped into the little pub, glad to see it hadn't changed much from what he remembered in the Mirror. The main room was set lower than the road, and from the doorway he had to step down onto the old wooden floorboards. The ceiling was also a bit lower than he was used to, but that just made the exposed ceiling beams easier to see -- and they were well worth a look since there were a lot of odd and interesting things sitting on them.
The age-darkened wood above the patrons' heads played host to a variety of knickknacks -- including old brass pitchers, tankards, various cooking implements, small bits of statuary, an old leather harness, rusting farm tools, and a strange collection of dusty old books. It was as though people from all walks of life had decided to leave something of themselves behind to remind future patrons of their passing.
//On the other hand,// Harry mused, //the owners might've just bought the stuff and stuck it up there to add to the atmosphere.//
But either way Harry still liked it, and he confidently moved further into the room, past the happily-chatting locals who paid him no mind. Strangers were welcome here, and the barman smiled as Harry approached.
He ordered a pint and then explained that he was looking for a man named Graham Jackson who'd recently left the army.
The barman frowned. "Can't recall any 'Graham Jacksons' I'm afraid. He a friend of yours?"
"No," Harry replied easily. "Never met him. I'm here to offer him a job -- or to ask his advice about who else might be interested if he doesn't want it."
"You're doing a job interview in a pub with a complete stranger?" The barman looked both sceptical and suspicious. He was obviously beginning to wonder whether something illegal was going on.
Harry laughed. "Yes, I suppose I am -- but don't worry, I'm not recruiting for any underhanded conspiracies. It's all above board, I promise. And if that doesn't reassure you, then I can honestly say that 'Jack' Jackson would toss me out on my ear if he thought something fishy was going on."
Harry watched as the barman visibly relaxed. "Jack?" the man asked in surprise. "I thought you said his name was Graham."
"I did, but apparently he doesn't like his first name."
"Ah. Well that explains why I didn't recognise it," the barman nodded. Suddenly he gave a short laugh. "So, his name's Graham, is it? Don't know why he wouldn't tell me -- it's a perfectly respectable name. And yes, I think I know the chap you're looking for. There aren't too many 'Jacks' who left the army about a month back and like to drink in my pub. He's a bit of a regular these days, though it's a bit early for him yet. If you want to wait, I can let him know you're here when he comes in."
Harry had no problem with waiting. He ordered dinner for himself and then settled into a quiet corner with a book he'd pulled down from one of the ceiling beams.
About forty minutes later, while the remains of Harry's dinner were being cleared away, he noticed Jack standing at the bar. The barman was pointing towards Harry, and Jack -- drink in hand --- turned to look at him.
Harry's first impression was one of youth. His second was one of bitterness. After being around his teenaged friends for nearly two months Harry had been expecting this younger version of Jack -- but the bitterness was a surprise. //Although, it probably shouldn't be,// Harry told himself. He vaguely recalled something about a nasty power squabble that had spilled over onto some of the lower ranks -- most noticeably Jack, who'd eventually left the army because of it. But in the Mirror, Harry hadn't been introduced to Jack until several years later, and by then the man had moved on and put it behind him -- which was why Harry had only a vague idea about what actually happened. To the Jack he remembered, it simply wasn't important, and he only mentioned it occasionally in passing.
While Harry was watching, Jack turned and said something to the barman who replied with a laugh and a shake of his head. Jack then swung back towards Harry and started making his way over to Harry's table.
Harry slid out of his chair and stood to welcome the man. He also allowed himself to relax into the casual readiness of his War Mage training, and smiled as he watched Jack mentally catalogue his stance and posture, along with his concealed muggle weapons. In turn, Harry noted Jack's easy stride and the way he held himself alert and ready. They were both soldiers, and Harry met the other man's eyes with a steady gaze. By the time Jack reached him, they had both recognised and acknowledged that they shared a certain amount of professional training.
"You're not army," Jack told him with a speculative look, "but you are military. Special forces?"
"Sort of," Harry acknowledged. "But not any military you'd know about."
"If you know about them, then I'm not one of them."
Jack looked surprised and somewhat curious. But he was resolute when he said: "I just got out of the army. I'm not looking to go back to that -- or anything like it."
"I'm not asking you to," Harry replied seriously. "I just need someone to train a small number of specialists. And trust me when I say that what these men and women are going to 'specialise' in will blow your mind."
Jack still looked curious, but also rather doubtful. "You claim the job's above board," he said bluntly. "Is it?"
Harry pursed his lips. "That depends on your definition," he replied in an equally blunt manner. "Just telling you what the job is will break at least one major law -- but it's a law most people, including most judges, don't even know exists -- and I'll be the one breaking it, not you."
"A law the lawyers don't know about?" Jack had never heard of such a thing, but the man in front of him didn't look like he was joking. Jack thought very carefully about what that implied. If it was true, then there was something very serious -- and possibly quite dangerous -- behind this job offer. But it might also be something different enough -- and remarkable enough -- to hold his interest. He was tired of being unemployed, and he wasn't particularly interested in any of the civilian jobs he was qualified for.
"I just want you to listen," the stranger told him. "That's all I'm asking."
//And how much could it hurt just to listen?// Jack thought. So he sat down at the table, put his drink down on the polished wood, and watched as the other man slid into the opposite chair.
Some time later...
"Why isn't anyone staring at us? Or at least staring at the floating glassware?"
"A spell. It... discourages... people from noticing us. I guess you could say it makes us seem kind of boring... like we're not worth paying attention to."
"So these people -- these... squibs. They'll all be civilians? No physical training, no strategy, no weapons... nothing?"
"Nothing," the War Mage confirmed. "That's why I need you. You're a crack shot and a specialist marksman. You're also good at training others. I don't want anyone shooting themselves in the foot."
"If you're serious about this, then they're also going to need hand-to-hand. And in light of what you've told me, I think some kind of knife throwing might be wise too." Jack thought about it a bit more. "You're going to need at least two more people -- and they'll have to be good at keeping secrets -- especially from family and friends."
"Yes," Ash agreed. "The last thing I need is somebody's mum asking nosy questions."
"But anyone who'd like a chance at something a bit different would be a good bet," Jack mused.
The War Mage smirked at him. "Got anyone in mind?"
Half an hour later, and in spite of the fact that he'd skilfully side-stepped the answer, that question still lingered in the back of Jack's mind. Was he interested in the job? Hell yes. Magic was real. Who wouldn't be interested? But Jack wasn't stupid. He knew he needed more information before he committed himself to anything. The fact that magic was real didn't change the fundamentals. People were still people, and Jack was under no illusion about the magical world being some sort of utopia -- especially not with the sort of thing this 'War Mage' was describing. But still... the job 'Ash' wanted him to do didn't seem to be outside his capabilities, and wasn't even a front line position...
"So," Jack began thoughtfully, "this Voldemort character... He isn't actually human anymore?"
Ash snorted. "Not physically. Mentally? I wish I could say no, but there are fully human people out there who share his beliefs and agree with what he's doing."
"Shades of Hitler," Jack replied with a grimace.
The War Mage smirked a little. "And wouldn't he just go ballistic at being compared to a muggle?"
"'Muggle'," Jack said experimentally. "So I'm a 'muggle', am I? You know, that sounds vaguely insulting."
"And a lot of wizards and witches use it that way too -- even the ones who don't agree with Voldemort. It's almost... patronising. You're a 'muggle' -- you poor thing! How do you get by?"
"Well, of course as a 'muggle' I don't know what I'm missing," Jack added wryly. "So really, I'm a poor ignorant muggle."
"Not quite so ignorant now," Ash reminded him. "And squibs have it worse than you. If you're a muggle, then you're a muggle and that's that. But if you're a squib, then you were supposed to be a wizard. That implies there's something wrong with you. The wizarding world treats their squib children like lepers."
"Which gives them common ground," Jack said. "If you're building a team, that's a pretty powerful base on which to build it. Whoever you pick for this job will work damn hard to prove themselves." Then, after a sober pause, he added: "But if they've been treated as badly as you say, there are bound be one or two of them who let their training go to their heads. In the army we always got the occasional idiot who thought his training meant he could lord it over civilians. We'll have to watch for that."
"We?" Ash grinned.
Jack felt himself grin back.
Very much later...
"Did you have to tell him my bloody name? Now he's going to call me 'Ham' every time I go in. I hate being called 'Ham'! And how the hell did you find out my name in the first place? More spells?"
Harry laughed as the pair of them walked side-by-side along down the laneway. The barman had called 'time' a few minutes ago, and the pub was closing up behind them. "Maybe you could get him to call you 'Grae'," Harry suggested.
Jack glared at him. "Like that's any better," he growled.
Harry snickered. "Keep that up," he advised, "and you'll make Filch feel right at home. You growl just like his bloody cat."
"Who names their cat 'Mrs Norris' anyway? And what happened to 'Mr Norris'?"
"Don't know. Don't care." Harry laughed again. "But for Merlin's sake, if you ever run into the furball don't insult her. Put her offside and Filch will never talk to you again."
"He hasn't even met me -- and from what you've said he hasn't really talked to you either. Are you sure this guy's the right one to put in charge?"
"Trust me. He's going to be good. Very good."
"He sounds pretty bitter," Jack said dubiously. "Nobody needs a commander with a chip on his shoulder."
"He has no sense of self-worth," Harry replied. "Sort that out, and he'll be a man to be reckoned with."
"But will he be able to command?" Jack pressed. "That's not the same as just ordering people around. From the sound of it you want to set this guy up as the equivalent of a captain with his own specialist platoon. He'll be directly responsible for the safety and deployment of twenty or thirty other people. Does he have what it takes? Will they want to follow him? From what you've told me he isn't well liked, and we aren't going to have a lot of time. If he doesn't have at least some natural ability the whole thing will fall apart."
Harry stopped walking. "Jack," he said seriously. "I know we've only just met, but please -- trust me on this. I know Argus Filch very well. For the last week he's been following me around, giving me the evil eye. I'm a War Mage. He's a squib. By rights he should be cowering away from me every time he sees me. These last few days he's also been worse than ever to the students -- the magical students who could curse him into next week on a whim! But they're the ones scurrying to get away from him! That man can intimidate grown witches and wizards by sheer force of personality -- and he's close to cracking. I can feel it. He wants what I'm offering, and he wants it bad."
"I'm not sure that's such a good thing," Jack warned. "He sounds ripe for a bit of revenge once he realises what his training will let him do."
"Oh, it's worse than that," Harry said. "He's also been living in one of the most magical places in the world. He's literally soaked himself in power his entire adult life. He is, quite frankly, the most powerful squib on the face of the planet."
"Bloody hell. And you want to make him captain? Are you out of your mind?"
Harry laughed. "You're not the first person to ask." Then, more seriously, he added: "I can't really explain why... but I can honestly say I have good reason to believe that Filch is -- deep down -- a decent human being." Then he paused for a moment. "That said, I hear what you're telling me. I'm not stupid enough to ignore the possibility that things might go wrong." Grimly, he continued. "If worst comes to worst... Well, I know more about what he can and can't do than he does -- and if I have to, I'll take him down."
Jack nodded. "I wish I knew why you're so confident about this guy, but as long as you're not over-confident I can live with it."
They walked on together until they reached the end of the laneway.
Looking back at his new/old friend, Harry said: "At some point in the coming week I'll arrange an account with funding for the platoon and its expenses. That includes your pay. I know you've got my number, but mobile 'phones don't work at the school, so we probably won't get a chance to talk before next Friday."
"Don't worry about it," Jack assured him. "I've got a few calls to make, but I've already got two people in mind for the hand-to-hand and knifework. One's ex-army like me, and getting by as a private security trainer. The other one works just hard enough to buy food and then spends the rest of her time in the dojo honing her skills for the fun of it. Neither of them is firmly attached to their jobs. Once you explain everything -- and prove that magic is real -- I think they're more likely to jump at the chance than say 'no'. Especially since I can guarantee you're offering better money than they're getting now."
"Sounds good. But I was more worried about training infrastructure. You know better than I do what you'll need in terms of armament, ammunition, targets, and training equipment. And I haven't even started looking at basic things like tables and chairs. All that will cost money -- and while I'm on the topic, are we going to need an accountant?"
"A bookkeeper's probably good enough," Jack replied with a shrug. "But we might get lucky and pick one up from the platoon. I'll handle it until we know for sure we haven't got anyone in-house."
"Good enough. Tomorrow I expect to sign the contract on a place we can outfit. I'm offering enough money to fast-track the settlement and let us move in the weekend after."
"Y'know, I'm pretty sure I'm going to like working for a rich bloke," Jack mused. "It makes everything so much easier."
"I see one gold-plated toilet seat and you're a dead man," Harry joked.
"No gold bogs," Jack agreed. "Got it."
Harry stuck out his hand. "I'll see you next Friday, then."
Jack's handshake was warm and firm. "See you then, boss." And with that, Harry moved back into the laneway's shadow and apparated away.