Author's Notes and Disclaimer: This whole thing was built on the very last paragraph. I was hoping writing it would clear my current bout of writer's block; I didn't intend for it to be as long as it is, but like so many things I write, it pretty much took on a mind of its own. Just about everything belongs to JK Rowling, except for the things I've made up. I'm confident that you'll be able to tell the differences and know that no copyright infringement is intended.London Fog
I went for a walk the other day. The weather was not pleasant; the cool humidity left me feeling clammy and drained. But I was tired of hearing Molly saying how ill I seemed lately (full moon is in four days), tired seeing Harry so lost and withdrawn (a reflection of myself if I ever saw one), tired of attending Order meetings and discussing business as though nothing life-shattering has happened (you may have been prepared, but I never was). Tired of being in that house and everyone looking at me with so much damn sympathy. I needed out. I took one of your cloaks and left. I didn't tell anyone.
Most of the city was engulfed in early morning fog so heavy it filled the lungs with every breath and made something as simple as a walk feel wholly surreal. I could hardly see three steps ahead of me, and I was pleased. The fog was isolating and suffocating in its density. I pulled the hood lower over my face, tucked my hands in the cloak's deep pockets, and strode aimlessly around the square. When was the last time you wore this cloak? There was a moneybag in one of the pockets. I Disapparated to Diagon Alley when I discovered it, feeling deserving of a trip to Flourish and Blotts and remembering the times you used to try to coerce me into shopping on your gold.
Diagon Alley was bustling with morning activity. Merchants were still busy receiving the day's new shipments, wiping shop windows clean, and setting up displays on the pavement outside. The fog was rather thick even on this side of town, and I bumped into more than my fair share of people en route to the bookshop. With the cloak's hood covering so much of my face, I didn't even feel compelled to apologize as I would have otherwise. Being discourteous was strange behavior for me; I much prefer being polite.
Flourish and Blotts had hardly been open ten minutes, and it was nearly empty. The girl behind the counter smiled when I entered, and I greeted her with forced cheer. She looked familiar and I wondered if perhaps I hadn't had her for a class during my year as a Hogwarts professor. I weaved my way to the narrow staircase and to the back of the first floor, to the dustiest corner of the store where a small selection of Muggle literature is stored on a single bookcase. These books are only kept in stock for students in N.E.W.T.-level Muggle Studies; the authors are considered basic for well-read Muggles, yet I could ask any wizard to name five of them, and I doubt they could. I skimmed the titles, recognizing the usual Shakespeare, Chaucer, Blake, and Keats. All dead Englishmen, and I knew them by heart. But a new title caught my eye, and it stirred a memory in the far recesses of my mind, and I could hear my mother's voice echoing "The Divine Comedy" as I scanned the title with my own eyes. Beside this volume was wedged another new title, a compilation of Greek and Roman mythology. I was familiar with both these additions, but thinking perhaps today's scholars had new light to shed on these old texts, I pulled them reverently from the shelf.
I made my way back to the counter at the front of the shop, stopping twice more to grab the Ministry's much-promoted Official Guide to Daily Defense for the Common Wizard, which should be good for a laugh if nothing else, and a copy of The Daily Prophet. I'm still waiting to read an announcement of your official pardon. When the girl had tallied the total, I reached for the moneybag and laughed out loud when I'd opened it. You're the only person I know who would leave fifty Galleons in your cloak pocket. When I paid her, she smiled again, and I heard her call, "Have a good day, Professor!" as I closed the door behind me. I waved genially despite the sudden drop in the pit of my stomach. So she had been a student of mine, after all.
The fog caught me off-guard as I stepped onto the pavement. I felt for a moment like I was drowning in its heaviness, but I pulled your cloak more tightly around me and forced myself to act like every other witch and wizard hurrying back and forth in the street. The fog wasn't choking them; they weren't standing purposelessly outside bookshops, looking like they'd just lost their best friend. Then I laughed at the irony of my own clichéd thoughts.
I'd spent nearly three Galleons at Flourish and Blotts. This is a considerable enough sum for me, but the bag in my pocket felt no different. I began walking again, passing the Magical Menagerie, Ollivanders, and Quality Quidditch Supplies. Madam Malkin's had set out signs advertising discounted robes, and I considered going in and at least perusing the selection. My own frayed and patched robes never bother me, even when the more uncouth among us feel obligated to make disparaging comments about my appearance. It doesn't bother me nearly as much as it did you. My hand rested on the moneybag as I fought the urge to swallow my pride and make you happy by treating myself to a set of new robes. The proprietor of the shop came out to adjust a sign, saw me standing there, staring at her storefront, and offered her assistance, as she "wasn't at all busy at this hour!" The cold fog was numbing my face, so I followed her into the shop.
One hour, many "this color is wonderful on you" and "oh dears," and fourteen Galleons, two Sickles later, I emerged with four sets of robes and a durable traveling cloak. I felt like such a witch with my bulging shopping bags, but I knew you would be pleased to see me with them. Actually, you would probably be making many jokes at my expense by now. But you would have been pleased.
It was equal parts self-loathing and guilt at my shopping spree that drove me into Quality Quidditch Supplies. The shop smelled familiar from all the time you and James used to drag me in there, but I still felt strangely out of place among all the sporting equipment. I had no idea what I was doing in there. Harry already had the best broom on the market, practice robes courtesy of the Gryffindor team, and I'd seen a broomstick servicing kit laying around once or twice. Ron was mad about the Cannons, but I don't think Harry shares his enthusiasm, and I realized I didn't even know which team he supported. I picked up a copy of Quidditch Through the Ages, feeling wholly predictable, knowing that if I told the boy that I had something for him, he would immediately know that a book was coming his way. I wandered around the shop a bit more, noticing that there were Bludgers and Quaffles on display in one corner. Then I knew what he did not have. But there were no Snitches alongside the other balls. I asked the lad behind the counter about their absence, and he went into the store room to fetch one for me. Did you or James ever try to buy a Snitch? At twenty-five Galleons apiece, they're never put on display and available only upon request. I bought the book, too. The cashier gave me a "preferred customer" card for discounts on future purchases. I bet even Prongs never got one of those.
I shouldn't have spent as much gold as I had. I meandered once more down Diagon Alley, allowing myself to be shunted along with the crowd, which had grown considerably despite the dismally gray morning and fog, which had turned into a drizzle since I'd entered the Quidditch shop. I chastised myself for my frivolity, told myself should have left the money alone, deposited it into Harry's vault, or done something similarly responsible with it. But every time the guilt would creep into my thoughts, I would imagine your reaction. And then I would smile and feel like I'd done something right, even if it felt so wrong.
Before I Apparated back to Grimmauld Place, I knew there was one item left to buy on this impromptu shopping spree. A wicked little voice in the back of my head told me that a gift-sized bottle of Ogden's Old Firewhisky was in order, and I knew of course that the voice was absolutely right. Firewhisky has a soothing presence. I don't even have to drink it; just having a bottle handy somehow calms my nerves. I was careless and left my last bottle in the kitchen, and I've noticed more of it missing as this summer progresses, though I don't care enough to ask who's been drinking it. Who doesn't need their senses dulled lately? Firewhisky in mind, I set off for The Witch's Brew in Knockturn Alley, thinking of maybe picking up a pack of Butterbeer Extras for Harry and imagining Molly's outrage at buying alcohol for him. That was something you would have done, and I resolved to buy them for him, the residual teenage rebellion in my motive tugging at the corners of my mouth until I felt myself grinning for the first time all morning.
As I rounded the corner into Knockturn Alley, a body brushed past me so quickly that their loose black hair whipped across my face. It reminded me of you, and I turned without thinking to ascertain to whom the hair belonged. I could not see the person for all the fog, just barely catching sight of their dark robes as they vanished into the mist. I even called your name out of old habit, maybe hoping for some kind of miracle. But the stranger didn't turn around, and I knew it couldn't have been. You would have come back.