Rating: PG for action, adventure and romance
Spoilers: All five books and both textbooks
Shipping: Strictly Canon
Disclaimer: The characters, situations, environment, spells, creatures and plot belong to JKR, not me. Which really makes you wonder what I had to do with it at all.
Acknowledgements: Huge thanks to my beautiful and talented beta-reader, Geisbrecht, and my "cowriter" Tahm the Lame, who is also beautiful and talented, but in a totally different way.
Chapter One: The Man in the Scarlet Mask
The back alleys of London flowed thick with a pearly-gray mist. Its sister fog dripped from the rooftops, a ghostly canopy above the knobby cobbled streets. It was into this sinister jungle that Jane Morris ventured.
She wouldn't be out this late, usually, and certainly not in this part of town. But her aunt was ailing, too weak to even get to the chemist, and Jane was the only remaining family member who would venture up to her flat with drugs and canned soup. It was a generous act and a good thing to do -- the problem was, it left her walking through an abandoned part of London in the dead of night, with nothing to protect her but the empty wicker basket on her arm.
Jane's feet rose and fell, lifting the fog like reluctant fleece on a briar patch. She walked quickly, and held her head high to reassure herself. There was nothing out here. Nothing in the alleys. Nothing beneath the shadows. Nothing ...
Something small and white dashed across her path. Jane leapt back with a cry, her heart beating fast. She stared around the cold streets. There ... a long-haired cat sat purring on a doormat, licking its paw and eyeing her carelessly.
She forced a shaky laugh. She shouldn't be out here at night, when a silly thing like a cat could put her in such a state ...
Jane's eyes widened. Her basket clattered to the ground.
The cat was growing.
Pink eyes fixed on its quarry, the white Angora stretched and posed, expanding to fill the door frame. It stepped onto the street and purred thunderously.
Jane backed away -- a timid step.
The cat lowered its massive head until they were nose-on-nose.
Jane tore her eyes away and sprinted down the street.
Too late. The monster leapt and landed in her path, baring its vicious teeth. The silky white fur was growing tawny -- a thick mane sprouted, encircling a noble, remorseless face. It padded down the street toward her. Shaking now, Jane backed away with her arms crossed tight against her chest. The lion circled her lazily, licked its chops and gave a yawn of terrifying disinterest.
"Ah -- aaaai!"
Jane's ankle caught on the curb and she tripped backward, thudding to the hard asphalt. She saw stars. Stars that whirled around the great lion's head, lighting like silver embers in the thatches of its mane ...
Praying that she wouldn't faint, and sort of hoping that she would, she scrabbled backwards along the ground. The big cat followed lazily. Jane had seen her own Mouser do the same thing with rats and cockroaches. And then -- when he grew bored --
Jane closed her eyes tightly and waited for the end.
Jane hadn't heard anyone speak Latin since grammar school. Quite without meaning to, she opened her eyes.
The lion shimmered before her eyes and shattered into a thousand specks of light that burnt out in the dark of the street. A slender figure stood in its place. He lowered his arm -- what was he holding? -- and looked straight at her.
The figure was masked, with high boots and a scarlet cape that billowed behind him as he strode toward her. Jane stared helplessly at the sight. He put her in mind of the Three Musketeers. She tried to get to her feet, but the person got to his haunches before her and held her down.
"Are you hurt?"
The voice was strong and self-assured. Jane shook her head dumbly.
"Excellent. I'll ask you to stay here, madam, for just a moment --"
The figure stood up and vanished into thin air.
Noise from a back alley caused Jane to twist around. The figure of a man, squat, hairy and bound from head to toe, came hurtling out from between two buildings and crashed into a trash can, where he lay wriggling feebly. A second man came stumbling out behind him, cased the street like an escaped felon, and made a break for the main street. Not a few feet behind him, the masked figure darted after him. "Ligare!" he bellowed, and Jane gasped -- a harness of rope seemed to fly from his outstretched hand and wrap itself around the running man, who tripped and went thudding into the side of a brick wall. He slid to the sidewalk, limp.
The masked man worked efficiently, going from one to the other and taking something from each -- guns, Jane thought, with a sudden new thrill of fear. She didn't know what was going on, didn't understand any of this. She didn't want to stay here any longer. Jane slowly got to her feet.
Her motion attracted the masked figure's attention again. He hurried back to her side. "Please, madam. Just one moment, then I promise you may go ..."
He drew a short stick from his belt and waved it at the two bound men. Instantly they vanished. Then he turned back to Jane.
"I'm sorry about this. Please hold still ..."
Jane awoke from her daydream with a jolt. The buildings that loomed over her, the dead grainy sidewalks, and the nighttime sky were all absolutely still. She couldn't believe herself. What was she doing, standing on a dark street, with her head in the clouds?
"You've dropped your basket, Janey-o," she chided herself, fetching the overturned basket from the ground a few feet away. "Losing your head ..."
She never noticed the shadow that followed, guardian-like, until she reached her own home. Jane stepped into the warmth of her flat, and the masked man vanished into the night.
A noise from downstairs woke Kingsley Shacklebolt, Auror, from deep and enjoyable sleep. He came instantly alert; lifting his wand from the bedside table, he took his arm from around his wife and crept out of the bedroom.
The downstairs was empty; the noise came from the front porch. Readying himself for battle, Kingsley gripped his wand and threw open the door.
A pair of wizards, trussed from head to toe, stared dolefully up at him from the doormat. Stuffed into the ropes was a carefully folded parchment bearing the silhouette of a bird in flight. Kingsley bent down to take it, quite ignoring the whimpering captives, and opened the letter.
Kingsley gazed down at the struggling criminals and sighed. "Not again."