Disclaimer: I don't own Harry and friends. I can't even lay claim to the chapter title. It's a line from a lovely Beatles song.
A/N: Amazingly there are still people who want to see this story concluded. Admittedly, I'm a little bemused. I thought everyone would have forgotten about it by now. Here's the next chapter thanks to you guys. With your continued support, I hope to finish the story in three or four chapters.
Special thanks to blackknight03 and Happy Birthday, Meike! I hope you enjoy your (very late) present.
"Harry, can I ask you a question?"
Alicia poked him in the back. "It's only a small question."
"It's too early for any questions."
"It's almost ten," she informed him lightly.
"Ten?" Harry rolled over to verify this with the alarm clock. "What have you done to me, woman? I'm usually up before eight."
"Waking up early is a filthy habit and you should be glad that I've broken you out of it. As for the question…"
"Go ahead then." Harry rolled out of bed and stumbled over to where he'd left his clothes.
"How powerful are you?" Alicia asked conversationally.
Harry almost dropped his trousers. "What kind of question is that?"
"I'm curious," she said, sitting up and drawing her knees to her chest.
He turned his back on her to hide the slightly panicked look on his face. "Didn't you ever hear what happened to the cat?"
"Yes, but luckily I'm not a cat. Don't you want to answer?"
"It's just an odd question, is all. Why'd you want to know all of a sudden?"
Alicia crawled out of bed "I've seen you do things and I've heard the stories. They say you're the most powerful wizard of the age."
"Everyone says it. You've kind of been it ever since Dumbledore died. People naturally turn to you when there's a problem."
Harry ran his fingers through his hair. "But have you seen me go off on any heroic crusades lately? My days of saving the world are over."
"I'm kind of glad," Alicia admitted, lowering her eyes sheepishly. "I'd be terrified if you still had to do that sort of thing."
"Well, you've got nothing to worry about on that front. So are you planning to stay here whilst I'm at my meeting?" Harry asked, swiftly changing the subject.
"You trust me to be here by myself?"
"Prone to bouts of kleptomania?"
"Planning a house party?"
Alicia shook her head.
"Going to do any cleaning?"
Harry smiled and threw a pile of clothes in her direction. "It was worth a try. I shouldn't be gone for much more than an hour. Make yourself at home and feel free to eat any food you can scrounge up. Just check the expiry date before you put it in your mouth."
"It'll be just like being at home," Alicia said reassuringly.
Harry retrieved his glasses from the bedside table and put them on. "You'll be fine by yourself?"
"Oh, I think I can stand to be away from you for an hour."
"See you soon." Harry leant across to give her a quick kiss. The quick kiss turned into a long one and he found himself joining her back on the bed. Before things got too out of hand, he retreated. "I'll be late if I don't leave now. I'll hurry back."
"I'll be waiting," Alicia replied softly.
Harry gritted his teeth. Stupid Quidditch meetings. It wasn't Quidditch season anymore. The World Cup team wasn't even announced for another two weeks. The semi-final loss to the Bats was obviously still being felt at the club. Everyone had been called in for a meeting to discuss off-season training schedules. For once, Harry was the player who didn't want to leave his house because he had a pretty woman in his bed. Normally, it was one of the playboys who complained.
Throwing Alicia one last fleeting look, he slipped his wand into his pocket and left the room.
For most of the hour that Harry was absent, Alicia was more than happy to just lie in bed. Her plan was to still be there when he returned, but her rumbling stomach forced her to get up. She swung out of bed and got dressed. It was odd to have to wear the same clothes she'd worn the day before. It made her feel a little naughty. If anyone saw her yesterday and today, they'd know she hadn't been home.
Not that there was any chance of someone seeing her. Since being accosted at the Ministry, she had avoided going out in public. She wouldn't even read the newspaper anymore. According to her friends, however, the flurry of interest had begun to die down. The media had finally exhausted its stash of dirt on her. The whole world now knew about Kieran cheating on her, the brief liaison with Lee, her childhood romance with George, and everything in between.
Alicia looked around Harry's house appreciatively as she went out to the kitchen. It was a lovely place despite the general messiness. Someone could easily get used to living in such a pleasant house. She grinned as she thought of herself being that someone.
"I'm losing my mind," she muttered to herself. Normally she was pretty good at not becoming besotted with a guy she had just started dating. At least, that hadn't been the case since Kieran had blind-sided her with his cheating.
Harry, in all his cute earnestness, was starting to make her starry-eyed and floaty. At the same time as she acknowledged this, Alicia promised herself that she wasn't going to let herself get carried away. Yes, Harry was important to her, but so was her career. Not to mention her friends and family, who had been around long before Harry.
On her way to the kettle, Alicia happened to glance at the kitchen table. The Daily Prophet was spread open. Hermione or Ron had probably been reading it earlier. Just before Alicia could turn away from the paper haughtily, she recognised who was in the feature picture. It was one of the twins.
Alicia immediately forgot about her morning coffee and went to take a closer look. It was a picture of George standing outside Weasley Wizard Wheezes. Beneath the article was an interview with him. They'd got to George. Oh, the embarrassing stories he could tell the world about her. He knew things that even Angelina and Katie didn't know.
It would have been a good idea just to walk away and ignore the paper. Instead, Alicia sat down to read what George had to say about her.
Mr Weasley, would you mind giving us a moment of your time to answer a few questions?
I guess that would be fine. Can't do any harm, right?
Is it true that you dated Alicia Spinnet at Hogwarts?
Of course. I wouldn't lie. Ask anyone who was there. I'm an honourable businessman. I run my own joke shop. Weasley Wizard Wheezes, shop 93, Diagon Alley.
Ex-Hogwarts students we've spoken with said you two fought a lot. Is that the case?
It sounds like you spoke to Slytherins. They never liked me. It could have been because I enjoyed testing joke products on them. Some of those very products are now sold in my store at very reasonable prices.
Yes. Ok. Would you say you were in love with Alicia? Do you think Alicia was in love with you?
I just started going out with Alicia because my brother was infatuated with her best friend. You know my brother, right? Fred Weasley, co-owner of Weasley Wizard Wheezes, your one stop shop for all your prank pulling needs. We sell everything from love potions to fake wands. Our canary creams are one of our most popular products and they only cost-
Mr Weasley, could we please get back to the subject of Alicia Spinnet?
Yes, sure. She's a lovely girl. Very friendly and all of that. She comes into Weasley Wizard Wheezes a lot. You should drop by some time and you might run into her. Shop 93, Diagon Alley. We're open every day from nine and we close-Thank you, Mr Weasley. That'll be all. You were very helpful.
Alicia smiled to herself as she closed the newspaper. Bless him. Trust George to turn an interview about her into a free advertisement for the joke shop. There was no chance of her getting big headed with her friends around to remind her that she was still the same girl who once chewed the ends of her hair, dotted her i's with love hearts and knew all the words to Celestina Warbeck's song 'You Charmed The Heart Right Out Of Me'.
Speaking of friends. Alicia pressed her hand to her forehead. She had to meet Lee for lunch in an hour. He was leaving the next day, right after Jordy's birthday party. He'd thought it might be nice for them to go out for a quiet meal alone. Alone being the operative word. She had tried to invite Harry and been thoroughly denounced, by Lee and Harry.
Alicia got up and went in search of coffee and sugar. She was looking through a cupboard when a loud bang startled her. She hit her head, stumbled back and ran into the table.
"Christ Almighty," she groaned, clutching her head and blinking to clear her vision. She jumped at the slightest thing these days. It was as if she was expecting a reporter/photographer/fangirl to appear out of nowhere all the time.
There was more banging from the front of the house. Someone was at the door, she realised belatedly. A visitor was no reason to go cracking your head on things. She needed to stop being so on edge.
For a second, Alicia stood in the middle of the kitchen as Harry's visitor kept banging on the door. Was she supposed to go and answer it? Technically, it wasn't her house and it was very unlikely to be someone looking for her. It couldn't be a reporter because Harry had once mentioned something about his house being protected against unwelcome visitors. It had to be someone he knew.
Someone who was damn persistent, by the sound of it. Alicia gave her sore head one last rub and made for the front door. She wasn't going to just open it, of course. Protection or not, Harry still had enemies after all these years.
"Who is it?" she called, making herself sound as stern as possible.
"Who are you?" a male voice called back.
"I asked you first."
"Never mind that. Who are you and where is Harry?" demanded a female voice.
There were two of them! Alicia began to search her pockets for her wand. It wasn't there. It was somewhere in Harry's room, probably under the bed or tangled up in the sheets. Caught without her wand yet again. She was the worst witch in the history of magic.
"Er, Harry's not here at the moment. Come back some other time," Alicia said loudly, then added, "Please."
The only reply was some low murmuring from the other side of the door. The murmuring stopped after a few seconds and Alicia crept back a couple of steps. They were quiet, but that didn't necessarily mean they had gone away. She was about to go look out the front window, when the door suddenly exploded.
Splinters of wood flew everywhere and Alicia screamed. She instinctively dropped to her knees and threw her arms over her head. Thudding footsteps came towards her and she began to shake uncontrollably. She had read somewhere that possums would play dead to fool a predator. That seemed like a good strategy right about now, so Alicia stayed as still as possible.
"Don't move a muscle," the woman said.
A wand was pressed to the back of Alicia's neck and she couldn't suppress a small squeak of alarm.
"Wait," the man barked.
Alicia could only whimper uselessly in reply. Even if she had been capable of speech, she wouldn't have told them where he was. There was absolutely no way she would give him up. They could bribe, blackmail, torture – Oh God, they weren't going to torture her, were they?
"I said wait!" the man shouted. "I think it's…oh no, it is. It's Harry's girlfriend."
"Put your wand away. It's Alicia Spinnet."
Alicia almost sobbed in relief. "That's right. I'm her. It's Alicia Spinnet. That's me."
"Uh oh. Harry won't like this," the woman said. The wand was removed from her neck, and a hand was placed on her shoulder.
"We're awfully sorry," the man said gently. The gentleness was vaguely familiar.
Alicia lifted her head slowly, like a turtle poking its head out of its shell. No wonder the male voice had sounded familiar.
"Don't just stand there, help her up, Remus."
Alicia looked up into the forest green eyes of Nymphadora Tonks. Alicia had heard enough stories about the Metamorphmagus to be slightly star-struck. Remus Lupin had become a legend in his own right, but Alicia couldn't seem to shake the feeling that he was still her teacher. That was a little ridiculous considering that he'd been her teacher for one year a long time ago.
"Are you all right?" Tonks asked.
Alicia nodded mutely as Remus grabbed her by the elbow. She peered around at the remnants of Harry's front door as she got to her feet shakily. "The door exploded," she said tonelessly.
"Sorry. We thought Harry might have been in some sort of trouble."
Tonks nodded quickly. "Easy enough mistake to make. Anyone would have done the same thing in our situation."
Alicia frowned and brushed splinters from her clothes. "I'm not really sure I would have blown up the door."
"Do you mind me asking where Harry is?"
"Quidditch thing. He'll be back soon. Why are you both here?" Alicia asked, looking expectantly from one to the other.
It was Tonks who answered – a little too cheerfully. "We just dropped around to catch up with Harry. It's a shame we missed him."
"I may not be Hermione Granger, but I'm not stupid. You don't come blasting through the door when you want to ask Harry how his week's been. What's going on? Is Harry in trouble?" Alicia asked.
"Tonks, why don't you take her into the house so I can fix the door," Remus suggested.
Feeling like a dismissed schoolgirl, Alicia allowed herself to be dragged away by Tonks. She ought to have demanded an explanation, but Remus's voice was calmly authoritative and Tonks had a surprisingly strong grip. She had little choice but to be led away.
Back in the kitchen, Alicia was pushed into a chair. Tonks clapped her hands together. "Right. Would you like a cup of tea? That always helps in these situations."
"You've been in this situation before? You regularly blow the front doors off houses?" Alicia regretted it as soon as she said it. It didn't seem prudent to go around baiting battle-hardened Aurors.
Tonks just smiled brightly. "Actually, that was a first for me. I've broken many things in my life, but never have I had to bust down a door. I wanted to kick it down, but Remus pointed out that it was a solid wooden door. He promised to let me kick down the next plywood door we come across."
Alicia could only stare. There were a dozen questions buzzing through her mind, but she couldn't bring herself to voice them as she watched Tonks bustle around the kitchen.
"What about that cup of tea then? I think I only suggested it because it was my mother's answer for everything. Your rabbit died? Have a cup of tea. Your boyfriend dumped you? Have a cup of tea. You broke a nail? Have a cup of tea. My mother was a funny lady."
When Tonks dropped a teabag into a mug, Alicia thought it was time to speak up. "I was going to have a coffee before you guys…arrived."
"Coffee's bad for you. Can't remember where I heard that, but I think it's true. Then again, there are people who think sex is bad for you. Can you believe that?"
"No," Alicia said, frowning as she tried to keep up.
"I think I can. Bad sex can be mentally scarring. One crap experience can turn you off for life. Know what I mean?"
"I don't…know, um–"
"S'all right. I expect a pretty girl like you hasn't had any bad shags. I, on the other hand, have had some spectacularly bad ones. Take my first time for example. What a mess that was!"
Tonks seemed to be on a roll and Alicia wasn't particularly in the mood to swap sex stories. She was on the verge of interrupting when Remus came in and saved her the trouble. "There. It's as good as new. What were you ladies talking about?" he asked, dusting off his hands in a satisfied manner.
"Alicia was asking me about sex," Tonks answered casually.
"I wasn't," Alicia said, half jumping out of her seat. "Tonks brought it up. I just sat here."
Remus chuckled and went to help Tonks make the tea that Alicia didn't even want. Either this was one big diversion tactic or Tonks really was a little mad. Alicia couldn't work out which one it was. If it turned out she was being distracted, it was working extremely well – she couldn't remember anything that she had been desperate to ask seconds ago.
"Was Harry going to his coach's house?" Remus asked, as he stirred sugar into Alicia's tea.
"I don't know. Why? He – he isn't missing, is he?"
"Not at all," Tonks answered quickly. "Poor girl," she added, turning beseechingly to her husband.
"We'll wait till Harry returns. It's up to him, after all."
"What's up to Harry? Is anyone going to tell me what's going on?" Alicia asked. Her voice was beginning to waver, which wasn't a good sign.
"Here you go," Tonks said, cheerfully placing the cup of tea on the table. She sat down across from Alicia. "So, how's work, Alicia? You're a coach for the Harpies, right? Must be an exciting job. Not that being an Auror isn't exciting, of course. I suspect you get less hexes thrown at you when you're a coach, huh?"
Alicia looked down into the pale depths of her tea. Apparently, no one was going to tell her anything. Sighing, she picked up the mug and took a sip.
Harry was ten minutes late. In the twenty minutes that Alicia had to sit in the kitchen, Tonks told story after story about cute things her kids did. Alicia's only contribution to the conversation was a rather weak retelling of the time her cat, Jasper, got his head stuck in a large jar because he had been trying to lick mayonnaise from the bottom of it.
When Harry finally returned, he came into the kitchen and stopped dead in his tracks. "What's going on?"
Alicia looked up and gave a tired smile. "You have visitors."
Harry narrowed his eyes and didn't return the greeting. He crossed the room and came to stand behind Alicia. She winced as he gripped her shoulder tightly.
"Ow. You're digging your fingers into me, Harry," Alicia complained, trying to shrug away.
Harry only tightened his grip on her. "Have you heard of Polyjuice Potion, Alicia?"
"Of course I know what Polyjuice is."
"Then you're aware that this might not actually be Tonks and Lupin."
"Oh. I didn't consider that," Alicia admitted quietly.
"It's all right," Tonks said. Or fake-Tonks. Whoever it was.
"You shouldn't have let them in the house. Do you know how much danger you put yourself in? Not to mention me."
"Harry, it's really us," the man-who-might-not-be-Remus said.
Harry was too busy lecturing to pay much attention. "How could you be so stupid, Alicia? You can't just let anyone come into my house."
"I didn't," Alicia said through gritted teeth. Her chest was heaving as she said, "The door exploded. What was I supposed to do? There were threats and wands pointed. I didn't know what to do. I was frightened and they seemed genuine."
"An explosion?" Harry repeated, looking around for any sign of damage.
"That was a misunderstanding. It's really us, Harry. I solemnly swear that I am up to no good."
"Mischief managed, Moony," Harry replied. His grip on Alicia's shoulder slowly loosened. "You're meant to be holidaying in Spain."
"We decided to come back early. We were just in Newcastle."
Harry's grip tightened again. "Oh, how was it?"
"Mmm. Always is this time of year."
"We ran into some mutual acquaintances and had a very interesting conversation."
"Yes, it seems an old friend is back in the country and he's hoping to meet up with you."
"Do I have to go and see him?"
"No, he'll find you."
"Great. It'll be nice to catch up."
Alicia was tired, confused and cranky, but she still knew when she was being talked around. She pushed Harry's hand off her shoulder and stood up. "Since it appears no one is going to tell me what's really going on, I'm leaving."
Harry grabbed hold of her. "Nothing's going on," he said rather unconvincingly.
"Newcastle is a nice enough place, but no sane person's going to cut short a holiday in Spain to go there," Alicia snapped.
"Maybe she ought to hear this as well," Remus interrupted.
Harry turned to him, still not letting go of Alicia's arm. "You think she's in danger?"
Tonks shrugged. "We don't know anything for certain yet. She's unlikely to be a target, but it's better to be safe in this situation. She ought to know the basics."
"She's not an Auror, Tonks. Knowing isn't likely to do any more than frighten her."
"She's standing right here!" Alicia said loudly. "She's also getting mighty pissed off. If I don't start getting some answers in the next ten seconds, I'm going home."
"You don't know what you're talking about so just let us handle it," Harry said firmly.
Alicia raised her eyebrows. "Ten. Nine. Eight."
Harry made a low growling noise in the back of his throat. "You're not going anywhere till I find out exactly what's happening. I'll lock you in my bedroom if I have to."
"Five. Four. Three."
"Alicia! Stop it for Christ's sake!"
"Time's up. Goodbye." Alicia tried to twist away from Harry. He held on tight. "Let me go. I have a lunch date with Lee."
"Can't you do as you're told for once in your life? Would it kill you?"
"Don't talk to me like a child. I'm older than you."
Harry rolled her eyes. "Oh, here we go. The age thing again."
"And I thought Ron and Hermione were bad," Tonks interjected.
Alicia and Harry turned to see her and Remus looking on with interest. Alicia had momentarily forgotten they were even in the room. She looked back at Harry and didn't say anything. He looked into her eyes for a second then sighed.
"Sit down. We'll tell you what you need to know and that's it. No prying into stuff that doesn't concern you. All right?"
Alicia ignored Harry's tone of voice and sat back down. He gave her a warning look and sat beside her.
"Do you want to explain, Harry?" Remus asked.
"No. You had better do it. She obviously doesn't listen to me."
Remus cleared his throat. "It began in the 1940's, when Dumbledore killed Grindewald. For many years after there was relative peace and everyone grew complacent. There was a lot-"
"The short version, darling. We do have to meet Kingsley in fifteen minutes."
"But she needs to understand the history of the situation," Remus protested.
Tonks gave her husband an affectionate pat on the arm "The simple fact is, Alicia, there's a Death Eater in the country and he's after Harry. That's the long and short of it, I'm afraid."
A Death Eater? Riiight. Alicia closed her eyes briefly and took a deep breath. "Look, don't insult my intelligence. I don't have to sit here and listen to ridiculous lies."
"She's telling the truth," Harry said softly.
Alicia turned to him, her heart set to pound out of her chest. "What do you mean?"
"There's a Death Eater after me. Not just any Death Eater either, he's a particularly dangerous one."
"But I – no. No way. There aren't any Death Eaters left. They're all dead or in Azkaban." Alicia shook her head. "All the Death Eaters are gone," she insisted.
"That's just what we want everybody to think. We can't cause a panic," Tonks said.
"But I don't understand." A sudden, horrifying thought struck Alicia. She almost burst straight into tears. "Is Voldemort really dead? He isn't, is he? He's hiding again. He'll be back like before."
Harry put his hand over Alicia's shaking one. "Voldemort's dead. Trust me, he's long gone."
"As I was trying to explain before Nymphadora interrupted me, there are still a number of small Death Eater cells spread around the world."
Alicia was beginning to wish she had gone to Harry's bedroom. She wasn't sure she wanted to hear any of this. Still, if she wanted to be treated like an intelligent adult, she had to act like one. "But if Voldemort's dead, how does that work?"
"Well, did Nazism die out with Hitler?" Remus asked.
"I suppose not," Alicia admitted slowly. "So you're saying Death Eaters outlived Voldemort?"
"They were around before Voldemort surfaced. They were around even before Grindewald used them as his own personal army. Death Eaters aren't an organisation so much as an ideology. There will always be people who want to destroy Muggles, just as there will always be racists and sexists. Death Eaters attach themselves to the most powerful dissident they can find. When their figurehead dies out, they move onto the next one."
The panic induced fog was beginning to disappear. Alicia's mind was clear enough to catch on. "So it's just like those little fish that cling to a larger one and go along for the ride. If their host fish is attacked, they always managed to slip away unharmed to find another fish to attach themselves to."
"Exactly," Tonks said. "Your parents obviously made you watch nature documentaries as well. You gotta love Muggles. They could go out and see nature, but they'd rather watch it on their televisions."
Remus continued, "Death Eaters are a bigger problem than anyone ever thought. They were overlooked for years as being just a group of radicals. They were more likely to do harm to each other than the general public. Recently, we realised how significant they are. Without followers, Grindewald and Voldemort would have got nowhere. Without someone to follow, Death Eaters are disarrayed and ineffective. We need to keep the two entities separated."
"We? You mean Aurors? Or do you mean…" Alicia lowered her voice conspiratorially, "the Order of the Phoenix?"
Harry shifted in his chair and spoke for the first time in a while. "That's enough. She knows what she needs to know."
"I just asked about the Order-"
"You're asking too much as it is. Remember, you're only being told what you need to know."
"The Order of the Phoenix can't still exist, can it?" Alicia asked Remus and Tonks.
"I think Harry's right. You know enough to be getting on with," Remus said, giving Harry a flicker of a glance.
Alicia nodded dazedly. The Order of Phoenix! News of the secret organisation had surfaced not long after Voldemort died. A small group of highly efficient and dedicated agents. Illustrious members such as James and Lily Potter, Sirius Black, Arthur and Molly Weasley, Remus Lupin, Kingsley Shacklebolt, Tonks. A thrilling shiver ran the length of Alicia's spine. The Order of the Phoenix still existed. It had to.
Tonks was talking. Something about Spain. Alicia dragged her mind back to the matter at hand. "It was sunny and the kids were behaving themselves for once," Tonks was saying. "It was by accident that we happened to hear some underground chatter. Moriarty's on the move. Last intel had him holed up in Ireland waiting to stowaway on a boat to England."
Alicia couldn't help but lean across the table. Underground chatter, intel, stowaways. It was like being in the middle of a James Bond film. "Moriarty's the Death Eater, right?"
"Yes," Remus replied. "He's notoriously violent. He's been setting himself up as some sort of folk hero for the other Death Eaters to revere."
Tonks added, "Knocking off Harry would be the ultimate act. Death Eaters would see it as a victory and the rest of the wizarding world would be thrown into panic. Without Harry around to be all heroic and valiant, everyone will lose their minds. Imagine the chaos."
Alicia put her hand to her mouth. She turned to Harry. He was looking at the tabletop fastidiously. Someone really wanted to kill him. She didn't feel like she was in a movie anymore. It was too real, too close to home.
"If Moriarty isn't already in the country, he will be soon. It's only a matter of time before he shows himself."
"Then what?" Alicia asked, dreading the answer.
"Then I kill him or he kills me. Same deal as usual," Harry replied tonelessly.
"But what are you going to do? You have to have some sort of plan." Alicia turned to him, her eyes pleading. "Please tell me you have a plan. What is it?"
Harry feigned deep thought. "A plan? Well, not getting killed seems like a good idea. Beyond that, I don't know what I'm going to do. Any suggestions?"
Alicia resisted the urge to slap him. "How can you be so flippant? You've just been told someone's trying to kill you!"
"It's not the first time someone's told me that. If Moriarty doesn't succeed, it won't be the last time," he said darkly
"All right, who wants a cup of tea?" Tonks broke in cheerfully.
By the time Alicia returned home, she had completely lost her appetite. Being told your boyfriend could die will tend to do that to you. When she flounced through the back door, she was half an hour late and angry and upset. Lee didn't make things any easier.
He was sitting in the living room throwing balled up pieces of paper at Jasper, who just gave him dirty looks in between licking his paws. "It's about time. Where have you been? You could have told me you were going to be late."
"We lost our reservation so we'll have to find somewhere else to go."
Alicia threw her handbag in the general direction of an armchair. "Doesn't matter. I can't go out anyway."
"We might be able to make dinner reservations."
"I can't go out to dinner either. I can't leave the house at all."
"What are you talking about? Has Harry forbidden you to be with me?" Lee asked, his voice triumphant, as if he had been waiting for that to happen all along.
Alicia sat beside him and snatched the paper away. "Don't be stupid. Harry knows better than to feel threatened by you."
"Is that some sort of insult?"
"I love you, too. So why can't you go to lunch or dinner with me then?" he asked.
Alicia looked at her hands. Remus and Tonks and had been very specific about her not telling anyone. They said that the fewer people who knew, the safer Harry would be. Alicia wasn't planning on making an announcement to the world, but surely telling Lee wouldn't do any harm. Except that he had a notoriously big mouth…
"I'll tell you if you make me a promise. Swear that what I'm about to tell you will go no further. Swear on something that you care about and love."
Lee's eyes widened. He was clearly intrigued. "Righto then. I swear on my dreadlocks."
Alicia's pursed her lips. "Dammit, Lee. You can't make an important promise using your hair as collateral. Choose something else."
"But I care about and love my hair."
"All right, be difficult then." Lee threw his arm around her shoulders. "I swear by you. Is that good enough? If you don't want me telling anyone, my lips shall be sealed."
"I swear by you and my dreadlocks and my collection of dirty magazines."
Alicia elbowed him lightly in the ribs. "Don't, Lee. This is one of those moments when you need to be serious. It's a matter of life and death."
That sobered Lee up a great deal. "Whose life? Yours? What's going on?"
"This is going to sound ridiculous and impossible, but there's a Death Eater after Harry."
"A Death Eater? A real live all-hail-Voldie-kill-the-Muggles Death Eater?"
"Is there any other kind of Death Eater?" Alicia asked rhetorically.
"Surely, they were all taken care of a long time ago. I mean, a lot of them died and there were so many arrests made."
"Apparently some slipped through the net in the chaos that followed Voldemort's death. Since then there have been new recruits."
"New recruits?" Lee echoed in disbelief. Alicia had never seen him look so attentive. He had even turned sideways so he could face her properly. "But they don't have Voldemort to follow anymore. Why join a group that doesn't have a leader?"
"Well, the Death Eater who's after Harry is trying to set himself up as some sort of leader."
"Aren't they all after Harry?"
"Yes, but none of them are brave or stupid enough to come to England. This aspiring leader is brazen. He's willing to do anything."
Lee bit his lip thoughtfully. "That means you, right? He might go after you."
Alicia shrugged and tried not to think about it too much. "I'm a soft target, I suppose. It doesn't matter because I think there's a group keeping an eye on the Death Eaters."
"Yes, my sweet, I believe they're called Aurors," Lee said slowly, speaking as if he was trying to explain something complex to a child.
"Not just Aurors. A special group of people who're experienced with these sorts of things. You remember hearing about the Order of the Phoenix?"
"Yeah, the group Dumbledore created to help bring Voldemort down. It disbanded after the war, Leesh."
"That's the official story, but what if the Order's still around? What if Harry's leading it? What then, huh?"
Lee frowned, clearly not following. "Then you'll be protected?"
"That's not what I meant." Alicia leant towards him and lowered her voice. "What if I were to join the Order?"
Lee stared at her as if she'd just announced her intention to run for Minister for Magic. A few seconds later, he burst into laughter and asked, "You? Are you serious?"
"Why are you laughing?" she demanded. "Stop it. It's not funny."
"You're either delusional or you have a perverse death wish. You sucked at Defence Against the Dark Arts and you have no duelling skills whatsoever."
Alicia folded her arms resolutely. "I could learn. How hard can it be?"
Lee shook his head. "What have you gone and got yourself mixed up in now? How am I supposed to leave the country knowing that you're back here prancing around thinking you can take on Death Eaters? You'll get yourself killed."
"I will not. I'll have Harry here with me. We'll be a crime-fighting team, just like Batman and Robin. Or Superman and…and Spiderman."
"You're talking gibberish. Do you have a fever? Would you like to go have a nice lie down?"
"I'm fine! You're just not getting it!"
"There's no way I can leave tomorrow with you acting like this. I'm gonna have to talk to Harry." Lee stood up and Alicia lunged at him.
"Talk to him about what?" she asked, tugging on his arm.
"About having you committed to some sort of asylum. You get these stupid ideas in your head and you completely lose your mind. Fighting Death Eaters, Leesh? Come on."
"I can do anything I put my mind to," Alicia said firmly. It was something her mother had always told her, but she had never believed it till that moment.
"Did you not hear me? You've lost your mind. Aurors go through years of intense training for a reason."
"I'm not talking about becoming an Auror. Many of the old members of the Order weren't Aurors. Harry's not an Auror."
"He's The Boy Who Lived! That's more than enough of a qualification. What have you got? A few months in the DA?" he scoffed.
"I can build from there. I remember most of the stuff we did," she said, telling a bold-faced lie that Lee saw straight through.
"Why are you doing this? Don't you get enough glory being Harry's girlfriend and a Harpies' coach?
Alicia's eyes flashed and she let go of Lee in disgust. "This has nothing to do with glory. I don't want to be a liability, all right. I don't want Harry to be so busy looking after me that he forgets to protect himself. Don't say he won't be like that! He's famous for being like that. If he knows I can take care of myself, he'll be able to concentrate on keeping himself safe."
Lee smirked and pinched her nose affectionately. "You fancy yourself quite a bit, don't you? Many have tried and failed, but you'll be the one to bring about Harry's downfall. You really think you'll be responsible for bringing about his death? Sorry to tell you this, but you aren't that important, honey."
Alicia didn't know what to say to that. Her mouth hung open in an unattractive manner. What if she was overestimating her importance to Harry? Maybe he wouldn't go to any length to keep her alive. Maybe this Death Eater wouldn't find her to be a good enough target in the first place. Her death certainly wouldn't affect him as much as Ron's or Hermione's. That scenario would shatter him.
If Harry wasn't going to protect her, she was pretty much screwed then. She'd been kidding herself with this whole Order thing. Even if she spent years learning to duel, she'd be likely to misplace her wand anyway.
"I don't know what to do," she said, slumping sideways and burying her face in a cushion.
"That's more like the Alicia I know." Lee patted her on the head a little too roughly. "Want me to talk to Harry about it?"
Alicia turned her head so she could breath and speak. "You're not allowed to. You promised, remember? Do you want something ill to befall your pervy magazines?"
"God, no. How would I survive without them? I'd actually have to get a social life." He sat back down beside her head. "I won't mention it to anyone. You have my word."
Lee stroked her hair. "Poor little lamb. I'll never understand how you manage to get yourself mixed up in these crazy situations. How's Harry taking the news that someone wants him dead?"
"He's acting like it's such a common occurrence that he doesn't even care anymore. I don't understand it. It's like he doesn't care if he dies."
"I doubt that. He was probably being nonchalant to keep you from getting too worried about the whole thing."
"Sure. He does noble crap like that all the time."
Alicia sat up slowly. The knot in her stomach was beginning to loosen. Talking to Lee had actually been a helpful experience for once. "Now that I come to think of it, he was rather worried about me. He gave me this list of rules. I'm not allowed to leave the house till he gets back from Newcastle tonight; if I really need to leave, I can't go alone; I'm not to let anyone into my house; I have to keep my wand on me at all times."
Lee snorted derisively. "Like having your wand around will help. Your speciality is hair-straightening spells, not hexes."
Alicia ignored that comment. "I doubt I'll remember to take my wand everywhere. Can you teach me how to Summon it?"
Lee made a dismissive noise. "Teach you? You're the worst pupil ever. Have you forgotten the time I tried to teach you Spanish? We ended up having a fight and you bit me on the ear."
"Shut up. I did not."
"Look, it took me a few weeks to learn how to Summon my wand."
Alicia slapped him on the arm enthusiastically. "I've only got a day so I suppose we better get started."
Lee groaned and got back to his feet. "You're just lucky I happen to prefer you alive."
"I prefer being alive too, funnily enough."
It may have taken Lee a few weeks to learn how to Summon his wand, but Alicia could tell it would take her months. They worked well into the night, but there was little actual progress. For starters, Lee's explanations weren't very helpful. Secondly, Alicia really was a bad pupil.
"Draw all the residual magic in your body together. Got it? Now mash it all together into a ball."
Alicia opened one of her eyes. "Do I have to mash it into a ball? My magic feels more star shaped."
"Mash it into a pyramid for all I care. Have you got it all together? Now throw it in the direction of your wand."
Alicia didn't do anything. She stood there with her eyes closed and a look of intense concentration on her face. Her wand didn't budge.
"What are you doing?" Lee demanded. "You can't throw your magic properly with your eyes closed."
"Shh. I'm trying to work my magic into a ball. If I'm going to throw it, I think it should be a ball. That seems more appropriate."
"Merlin help me," Lee muttered, turning away and burying his face in his hands.
Alicia finally decided to call it a night after an embarrassing incident. She was elated to discover her wand was rolling towards her as she attempted to Summon it from across the table. Her elation died when Lee pointed out that the table was on a slight angle. Simple gravity, not magic, had been at work.
"We'll try again in the morning," Lee said as Alicia slumped dejectedly towards her bedroom.
"Don't bother. I've faced up to the fact that I'm doomed to always be the damsel in disaster. I'll have more luck working on my dramatic fainting and high-pitched screaming."
"That's the spirit. See you in the morning, sugar."
After shoving Jasper off her pillow, Alicia crawled into bed with a sigh. So much for her life being simple. For all of two days, it had been. Harry actually liked her and she was sure she liked him back. All the worries from earlier on had dissipated. For a total of two days she had been residing in that blissful state of mind you reach when everything in your life clicks. In Alicia's experience that rarely happened.
If your job is great, your love life tends to suck. If your love life is going smoothly, your job isn't likely to be going anywhere. If you're just happy with the rhythm and pace of your life, someone in your family will die, throwing you into a tail-spin. When your job is great, your boyfriend is wonderful and your life is tripping along nicely, you'll be told that a Death Eater might want to kill you.
That was how the world worked as far as Alicia was concerned. What she didn't consider was that it could get any worse. Having your life threatened was quite harrowing enough, but the events of the following day would further test Alicia's sanity and optimism and self-belief.
Misery really does love company.
"It's too early for baking," Alicia groaned.
"You said you would come around earlier to help out, so get off your arse and help out," Angelina snapped, throwing a box of cake mix at her.
"Wouldn't it be safer if Lee did the cooking?"
"We don't have time. It'll take him and the twins ages to put together Jordy's swing-set. Fred refuses to use magic."
"You're engaged to an idiot," Alicia said.
"He's been on a ridiculous handyman stint ever since my dad dropped by and pointed out everything that was wrong with the house. Fixing it all without magic makes him more of a man somehow. He almost fell off the roof yesterday. He'll kill himself before Jordy's two."
Alicia shook her head as she tossed the cake mix from hand to hand. "I wouldn't let Jordy on that swing-set at all. It's likely to collapse on his head."
Katie came ambling into the kitchen with a report from the backyard. "Well, they're still just standing around and grunting and scratching their heads. There are pieces of swing-set strewn all over the lawn, but nothing's been put together yet. They clearly have no idea what they're doing."
"Are they enjoying themselves?" Angelina asked.
"Oh, immensely," Katie answered. "They have more Muggle tools than they know what to do with. They'll probably take their shirts off soon just to make it look as if they're working really hard."
Alicia dropped the cake-mix. "I should probably go supervise. Wouldn't want any of them to lose a limb."
Angelina whirled around and pointed her wooden spoon at Alicia. "No shirtless men till you've made the cupcakes."
"I'll help," Katie offered.
"No way. You sit down and be pregnant, fat lady. Alicia, get over to that oven and make a batch of warm, fluffy chocolate cupcakes."
"More like rock-hard and burnt," Alicia muttered as she got up.
"Molly's going to be here soon and I don't want her to think I can't handle this myself."
"Oh, poor Angelina. I guess you do have a lot to live up to," Katie said.
"She's going to be your mother-in-law as well," Alicia pointed out. "Molly's like a super-mum. You two have virtually no chance of living up to her."
"Thanks for the support. You can make two batches of cupcakes now."
"Hey, I said virtually no chance!" Alicia protested.
Angelina gave one of her looks. It was one that she had perfected during her year as Quidditch captain. Everyone called it the 'do as you're told or you're dropped to reserves' look. Alicia took her wand out of her pocket immediately and began to read the instructions on the back of the cake-mix. Perhaps Angelina was more like Molly than she thought.
Before Alicia had a chance to do more than combine the ingredients in a bowl, the kitchen door flew open. The women turned simultaneously to see Molly come bustling into the room with Arthur trailing her.
"Oh, my dear. Don't worry, I'm here now. How are you coping?" Molly asked.
Angelina "Everything's under control, Molly. You go and relax outside."
"Relax, Angelina? How can anyone relax at the moment? You poor girl. How are you feeling?"
Alicia's stomach was slowly sinking. "Molly, are you talking to me?"
"What?" Angelina asked, looking from one to the other.
"It's awful. I can't believe you're all so calm."
"Molly, what's going on?" Katie asked gently.
"They don't know," Arthur muttered under his breath.
Molly turned bright red. "Oh, you haven't read – oh dear. Oh no."
Everyone stared at everyone else. Alicia had no idea what had happened, but it definitely wasn't good. Molly wouldn't make eye contact with her anymore. In fact, no one would look at her anymore. There was a loud bang from the direction of the backyard and Lee swore loudly, breaking the tension in the kitchen.
"You look like you need help, Angelina," Molly said, clapping her hands together.
Angelina jumped slightly, startled by the sudden change in subject. "But, if something's-"
"Is it Harry?" Alicia interrupted, crossing the room to stand right in front of Molly.
"I think you'd best hear it from him," Arthur answered.
The Death Eater. Harry was going to fight him. It had to be something like that, Alicia thought. What else would get Molly so freaked out?
"Just tell me if he's in danger. I need to know that at least."
Molly reached out to clutch Alicia's hand. "Danger? No, no, he's not in danger…well, not really."
"Not really? What is that supposed to mean?"
"It's not our place. No. None of our business," Arthur said, giving Molly a sharp look.
"You're a very sweet girl, Alicia." Molly squeezed her hand. "Just remember that no matter what happens."
"Should I go to Harry's place?" Alicia asked, turning to survey her friends.
"Are you kidding? If you don't get over there, I'll go myself. Move it, Spinnet," Angelina said.
Alicia snapped to attention. "Right. I need my wand. Where'd I put my bag?"
Alicia ducked between Molly and Arthur and raced off down the hall to Angelina's bedroom. Her handbag had been buried under a pile of party decorations. She was frantically digging around and throwing streamers across the room when someone grabbed her shoulder from behind. She squeaked in fright and almost slid off the edge of the bed.
"Harry!" Alicia turned and threw her arms around his neck. "What are you doing here so early? I was going to come and see you. Don't fight that Death Eater! I'll come with you to help. Oh, please let me help you. I can almost Summon my wand!"
"One thing at a time," Harry said, prying her arms apart with some difficulty.
"Molly said all this stuff, but she didn't really say anything. Why can't the Order of the Phoenix just take care of that Moriarty guy? That's their job!"
"Stop talking about the Order. Who said anything about Moriarty anyway?"
"It's not about him?" Alicia asked, perplexed for a moment.
Harry sighed. "I wish it were that simple. Death Eaters I can handle. This is much worse."
Worse? Was there anything in the world more evil than a Death Eater?
Harry pulled a copy of the Daily Prophet out of the back pocket of his trousers. It was folded in half and he held it out so that Alicia could read the headline.
Harry Potter, I'm having your love child.
"I know. This time it's true."
Harry unfolded the paper to reveal a picture of Danni McFarland. A heavily pregnant Danni McFarland. Harry. Love child. Pregnant. Alicia's knees began to wobble.
There was something in the world more evil than a Death Eater.