Disclaimer-Main characters and background owned by J.K. Rowling

A/N: This chapter sets the stage for the next set of events in the Here Be Monsters saga.  It is a hodgepodge of scenes, but each has its purpose.  For background pertinent to the scene at The Burrow club, see Chapter 13 (Percy Weasley's Chapter), of "Daddy's Favorite."

In the world I have defined, there is some difference in usage between American and British Wizards.  Where British Wizards "apparate," American Wizards "teleport."  American Wizards also speak of "transformation" rather than "transfiguration."


Interlude: Observations and Conversations

The Ministry of Magic of the Commonwealth of Australia (located in a dimensionally enlarged office building in the City of Sydney), the evening of Friday, 5 July 1996 (local time):

            The Ministry was not usually fully staffed late on Friday evenings, even on a Friday evening in the middle of winter.  Under normal circumstances, the Minister, a widower named Thaddeus Thackery, would have already portkeyed to Perth for a weekend with his daughter's family and two grandsons of whom he was inordinately fond.  However, alarms had sounded throughout the building just as he was preparing to leave.  For several hours he had been seated at his coral-inlaid desk, receiving phone calls and letters detailing the unfolding situations in London and Darwin.  From time to time his personal assistant, a bunyip who had been with his family since his babyhood, appeared bearing food.  Although it was hard to tell when a bunyip was frowning, the Minister knew very well that the sense of worry the reptilian creature was projecting was altogether deliberate.

            By the time the Head of the Office of Defense and Law Enforcement arrived for the fifth meeting of the evening, the Minister was tired, out of sorts, and suffering from severe heartburn and headache.  "What do you have for me now, Typhon?"  He rose wearily and walked over to a large perch where a Rainbird sat silently, watching the proceedings with storm-gray eyes.  Absently petting the bird's bluish feathers, he waited from for the Head to speak.

            Typhon Sharp sighed and shook his head.  "Nothing good, sir.  Nothing good."

            "Never mind the sir, Typhon," Thackery said heavily, "it's too late.  Just say what you came to say."

            "The battle in London is over, but the reports about bombardment were true."


            "Exactly."  Typhon grimaced and went on, "We don't have firm reports on the casualties yet, but early reports are pretty bad."

            "And now the bad news."  The Minister did not turn around, but his voice was soft.

            "We've finally managed to get a clear picture of what's happening in the Northern Territory."

            "And?" The Minister's voice was even softer, if possible.

            "It began when a group of Death Eaters attempted to attack a muggle family named O'Rourke in Darwin.  They came in force and weren't afraid to leave casualties.  Lucky for us they underestimated the power of the Dreaming."

            "Arrogance usually favors the defenders," Thackery said. 

            "And a good thing, too.  At least good for the O'Rourkes.  We had enough warning to get them out before the Death Eaters arrived.  But we didn't expect them to be so tenacious, or to have so many reinforcements."

            "I know, I know."  Thackery rubbed his forehead tiredly.  "How do things stand?"

            "Not good.  They came pouring over from New Guinea before we could erect the coastal interdiction fields.  We're still not sure that we are stopping all of them.  They managed to establish footholds in Darwin and east of Larrimah.  Presently they are pushing hard to break through west of Katherine and toward Tennant Creek, respectively."


            "And we aren't holding well.  The Death Eaters had a lot more planning and preparation than we ever dreamed."

            Thackery rubbed his nose and groaned.  "There go the election prospects."  His flat tone indicated that elections were not very prominent in his mind at the moment.

            "It isn't your fault, Thaddeus.  Cornelius Fudge..."

            "Cornelius Fudge isn't the one who's responsible for Darwin."  Another groan.  "Any communication from Area 51?"


            "I thought as much.  Route it all in here.  And set up a call to Canberra."

            Typhon nodded soberly.  He had been afraid that was coming.  "Very well."

            Suddenly the Rainbird stirred and let out a plaintive cry, "Bougoodoogahdah! Bougoodoogahdah!"

            "I guess we're in for some rain," Thackery said, almost inaudibly.

            Typhon nodded silently, hoping it wasn't a rain of blood.

Area 51, 0400 local time, 7 July 1996:

            The governing complex of the Wizarding State went by many names, but it was most commonly referred to as The Emerald City.  Whether that was due to the green crystal that was its main structural component, or to the unreal nature of the politics that took place within its elegant chambers, no one saw fit to argue.  What was generally acknowledged was that it was a spectacular sight, hovering as it did in a hard blue sky above the trackless desert.  Of course, not everyone could see the City.  Cloaking charms made it invisible to casual observation by both wizards and non-magicals (the word "Muggle" was currently considered highly incorrect) and subtle manipulation of everything from weather patterns to radar fields to magical auras insured that sky-going craft of all kinds tended to steer well clear.

            The Governor's Residence comprised the upper floors of one particularly tall tower near the eastern edge of the City.  From his windows, at least during the day, James R. Torracco had a miles-long view over the desert floor.  At night the stars were like a glittering blanket wrapped over the slumbering complex.

            But no one was asleep in the tower tonight.  Torracco stood at one of his enormous picture windows which wrapped up overhead to form a skylight.  He craned his long neck to pick out constellations.  Astronomy had long been one of his favorite studies.  With a soft sigh, he finally turned to look at the inhabitants of his office, a spacious chamber with vaulted ceilings, soaring columns, and multi-level parquet floors, all of green, gold, and gray marble.  The Governor did not fit the space.  He was a short man with silvery hair and the sharp facial bones of his Sicilian heritage.  His elegant robes lay draped casually over a nearby chair, and he stood now in tailored gray slacks and a white shirt with sleeves rolled to the elbows.  He twirled his mahogany wand absently in his long, thin fingers.

            "Well, we're in the poop now," he announced, sitting in a leather padded chair and crossing his legs at the knee.

            "Please," one of his visitors said languidly, "such language from the Governor!  We depend on you to set an example, sir!"

            Torracco grinned at the elderly, copper-skinned man sitting in a throne-like, rather tasteless chair near one of the room's large fireplaces.  "A lesson in manners from Mr. Justice Begay?  You can take me now, God.  I've heard everything!"

            Everyone in the room got a laugh out of that.  Jeff Begay was renowned throughout the Wizarding World for his colorful expressions.  All who knew the ill-tempered Navajo personally realized that his foul language was a component of a deliberately constructed social personality.  Like most such constructs, Begay's act tended to slip in times of true stress.  It was a measure of the gravity of the current situation that Begay had gone three entire hours without cursing.

            "You do intend to help them, don't you?" Begay suddenly asked, softly.

            Torracco sighed heavily.  "I would love to, Jeff, you know that.  But I'm afraid that it's in the Legislature's court right now.  I'll speak with Senator Ash before he leaves.  But I'm afraid that the crisis in Australia won't make it any easier."

            "The two are one and the same," Begay observed sternly.

            "You know that, and I know that," Torracco said patiently, "and the Legislature knows it, too.  But they aren't ready to admit it yet."  He snorted.  "I guess I can understand.  There's going to be a banquet of crow soon enough."

            "It may not be soon enough to do any good," one of his other guests said.

            "I know, Jane, I know."  Torracco smiled at Jane Leung, the formidable Commander of the Grays, the Wizarding State's military force.  Despite the early hour, Commander Leung was impeccably attired in gorgeous silk robes of traditional Chinese design, replete with scarlet and gold dragons writhing on the sleeves and skirts. 

            "Let's move on to the Australian Crisis," Torracco said.  "Are we sure of our knowledge there?"

            "We aren't sure of anything," Leung observed calmly.  "But it does seem that the O'Rourke family immigrated to Australia from County Cavan.  If our analysis is correct..."

            "We're in even deeper poop," Torracco finished for her.  "Christ, we have one crazy asshole trying to wake up ancient gods, now Tom Riddle has to get religion!"  Up until tonight the main problem facing the Wizarding State in terms of security was Ahuatec, a crazed dark wizard of the Yucatan determined to open a dimensional portal and summon the old Mayan gods.  Intelligence sources indicated that something similar was afoot in Ireland.

            "He may well believe that some of the information he needs is in Australia, yes."  Leung folded her hands smoothly.  "We can't afford not to take action."

            "Luckily we don't have to wait," Torracco answered.  "We have an aid and defense treaty with the Australians, and that means I can act without Legislative approval.  What can we get there, and how fast?"

            "We have two full legions ready to deploy at once," Leung announced crisply.  "The VII Legion Arcanum and the III Legion Mysterion can begin moving as soon as you give the word."

            "And what about Star Chariots?"

            "Well, we have Blackstone..."

            "Oz class!" Torracco interjected forcefully.

            "Oz class?" Leung blinked in surprise.  "Well, other than Oz herself, we can send Mombi and Ozma.  There is also Dorothy Gale, of course, but that is detailed to Senator Ash."

            "Very well.  Leave Dorothy Gale at Aurelius' disposal.  Give the word for the deployment of legions to Australia to begin.  And dispatch Ozma and Mombi.  Jeff," he turned to the Justice, "contact your friends in Britain.  Tell them what the situation is, unofficially, and ask what we can do, unofficially, until such time as we get the Legislature in line.  Tell them it shouldn't be long."

            "Very well.  I'll do so at once."  Begay rose and, making his apologies, teleported away.

            Torracco remained silent for a moment, then turned to the final occupant of the room.  "Mr. Whitlock, what is the attitude of Sixteen Hundred?"

            Richard Whitlock, liaison from the White House to Area 51, cocked his head and regarded the Governor squarely.  Although non-magical, Whitlock had dealt with wizards long enough to have no special fear of them.  With his thick white hair, blunt features, and hazel eyes he resembled an aging lion, which also matched his personality.  "Why would you think we have any particular interest in this mess, Governor?"

            "It directly threatens all of us."

            "We are always directly threatened," Whitlock answered.  "Whether by terrorists or environmental change or nuclear war or economic collapse or some other goddamn thing, we are all always on the knife edge of doom.  Or don't you read the papers?  Anyway, this particular threat is supposed to be in your bailiwick."

            "I'm not saying it isn't," Torracco answered testily, "but Voldemort is a special case!"

            "Is he?  How many has he killed?"

            Torracco looked over at Jane Leung.  "About a dozen in the past year," she said quickly.  "Give or take a couple."

            "Not impressive," Whitlock said calmly.  "That wouldn't even qualify him for the front ranks of the New Jersey mob."

            "Over two hundred all told," Leung continued, "perhaps close to three.  That's taking in his entire career."

            "Which spans about fifty years, you say."  Whitlock shook his head.  "Once again, not impressive.  Any mediocre terrorist could do better over that length of time.  Or worse, depending on how you look at it."

            "Forgive us if our wars aren't up to your scale," Torracco observed acidly.  "We find them rather important."

            "I'm sure you do.  And I don't blame you.  But the White House sees no reason for great concern at the moment."

            "Has Sixteen Hundred considered the RUMPELSTILSKIN Option?"

            "I'm not at liberty to make official comment on that."

            Torracco closed his eyes and visibly bit back a retort.  Opening them again, he met the liaison's gaze.  "Look, Richard, we are in the middle of a bad crisis here.  Can you speak off the record."

            "All of our conversations are off the record, Governor, considering the officially you don't even exist."

            "You know what I mean."

            Suddenly Whitlock looked much older, and very weary.  "OK, Jim.  I owe you that much."  He looked at the floor for a moment, then raised his head and continued.  "As I said, the White House isn't impressed.  The consensus in Washington is that you and the British and the Australians and frankly the whole damn bunch of wizards and witches need to learn that the world doesn't revolve around you.  As far as RUMPELSTILSKIN, I have spoken personally with the President.  He has said that under no condition will he agree to giving any British combatants shelter in the country."

            Torracco closed his eyes again.  "We are talking about a fifteen-year-old boy."

            "I told him that.  He expressed his sympathy but is adamant.  It is none of our concern."

            "Even if the boy is the key to this whole mess?"

            "I told him that, too.  Once again, I'm afraid the answer is that the world does not revolve around you or your problems."  Whitlock shifted uncomfortably.  "Unfortunately, he was not in the best frame of mind.  It seems your British cousins inserted a spy into a very sensitive area at Bolling Air Force Base.  He was apprehended trying to break into some Liaison files."

            Torracco cursed with an eloquence that would have done Jeff Begay proud.  He also did not miss that Whitlock had said "your" rather than "our" British cousins.  "What is going to happen to him?  Is it a him?"

            "Yes, it is.  I don't know, but I don't have a good feeling, Jeff.  A lot of people think an extreme example is in order."  Whitlock shifted and looked deeply unhappy.  "He isn't much more than a boy, really.  A Gryffindor, judging by the necktie they found on him."

            "Surely he would have the benefit of the law?" Jane asked quietly.

            "No, I'm sorry he doesn't."  Whitlock shook his shaggy head.  "You have to remember that, unlike most of your people, British wizards don't maintain non-magical identities.  Officially, and according to all legal and governmental records, the boy doesn't exist."

            "A pureblood?" Torracco asked.

            "Evidently.  Anyway, the Constitution doesn't apply to people who don't exist, and neither do any laws."

            Torracco put his head on his hand and thought.  He thought very hard.  "Would a personal appeal from me make a difference?"

            "It might, Jim.  I just don't know."

            "Would you set it up?"

            "Yes.  I'm very sorry, Jim."

            "I think we all are, Richard.  I think we all are."

From The Sunday Times, 8 July, 1996:

            Citizens of Central London were treated yesterday to a spectacular display of light in the lower atmosphere above the city.  Observers described the scene as "like the Northern Lights, only brighter and quickly changing."  Many Saturday shoppers also reported hearing loud sounds like thunder very close to the ground.  The display began in mid-morning and persisted for approximately thirty minutes before ceasing as abruptly as it had begun.

            Inquiries to government sources were at first met with no comment, but scientists from the University of London theorized that an unlikely convergence of precise temperature, humidity, and pressure conditions resulted in a "pocket inversion," essentially a miniature thunderstorm minus the actual rain.

            Late in the day the Weather Section of the Royal Air Force confirmed this explanation.  Captain Richard Emory of the Section told reporters in a rare departure from the usually routine weather briefings that, "Londoners should feel privileged.  Although such sudden inversions have been known to occur in the Middle East, sometimes resulting in snow and freezing rain the middle of the desert, this is the first time in almost a century that such a phenomenon has been reported over the British Isles."  When reminded of the strange weather conditions reported in 1980 and 1981, Captain Emory replied that, "It is true that a twenty month period in the early 1980s saw many unusual electrical disturbances in the atmosphere of the Midlands.  However, this was conclusively shown to be the result of natural fluctuation in aerial ions.  The kind of pressure abnormalities of which we are speaking were not involved."

            No injuries were reported as a result of Saturday morning's display.  Property damage was limited to severe cracking of a plate glass window fronting Aberworth and Sons' Fine Clothiers on Pemberly Lane.

From The Washington Post Sunday Edition, July 8, 1996:

            It may be that "birds of a feather flock together," but this was certainly not the case over the Mall yesterday as large numbers birds from diverse species put on an aerial show for tourists and residents of the District.  In a phone interview with staffers of the Washington Post, Dr. Jane Sewalsky of the Museum of Natural History at the Smithsonian Institution said that "localized migrations of birds are common, but we rarely see so many different varieties together, many of which are not native to the mid-Atlantic area.  The presence of many different kinds of owl was particularly unusual, especially as this migration took place in the daytime.  We also saw a large number of Mid-Western and Southern crows, and even quite a few Boat Tailed Grackels from East Texas.  There are also confirmed reports of two Golden Eagles, and an unconfirmed report of a Bald Eagle – on the White House lawn, appropriately enough!"

            In fact many of the birds found their way to the White House, where groundskeepers could be seen tolerantly escorting them to the fence, aided by Secret Service personnel.  Administration spokespeople joked that this was part of a new cost-cutting initiative aimed at reducing White House communications expenses.

            Spokesmen for the Department of Defense, asked about a similar flock of birds in the vicinity of the Pentagon, took the same line.  "Troops have used Pigeons for centuries," Assistant Defense Department Press Secretary Philip McTavish said, "maybe it is time to bring back the practice."  Asked what obstacles might stand in the way of this "new program," Mr. McTavish joked that, "I'm told we are having trouble finding pooper scoopers to fit specifications."

From The New York Times Arts Supplement, the week of July 8, 1996

Submitted by John Edward Clayton:

            The Metropolitan Museum of Art is capitalizing on recent strange migrations of birds in the District of Columbia to do some impromptu advertising for their new show featuring the "Avian Portraits" of little-known early American portrait artist Caleb Nott.  Nott painted many of the Founding Fathers, and his portraits hang in the White House and the Smithsonian, as well as the Virginia State Capitol and Biltmore Mansion in North Carolina.  Nott's hallmark was the inclusion of birds in his portraits.  His most famous painting is The Warning, showing George Washington holding a letter purportedly detailing the treason of Benedict Arnold.  A large barn owl is sitting on a tree branch above Washington's head.  Another well-known work is News from Afar, depicting Benjamin Franklin at his desk in Paris with a sea gull sitting on the sill of an open window.  Nott was known for imparting incredible lifelike detail to his paintings, as well as idiosyncratic signature touches, most famously including a small twist of green and silver ribbon around the necks of the birds in his portraits.

            Nott is also mildly famous among American art historians for the mystery surrounding his life.  He told his contemporaries of the Revolutionary Generation that he had left England because of family controversy over his marriage.  John Adams, one of his portrait subjects, recorded in his diary that Nott mentioned having been wed in Trinity Church of Glasgow.  The church records from the eighteenth century are intact, and do indeed record the marriage of one Caleb Salazar Nott to Alice Caroline Bothman, evidently the daughter of the clergyman performing the ceremony.  However, the date of wedding is listed as June 21, 1708.  Unfortunately for historians, Adams mentions the portrait painting Caleb Nott as being at most fifty in 1784.  Mr. Raymond Denby, owner of the largest collection of Nott's work in private hands and a direct descendant of the painter through Nott's granddaughter, observes that "Although Caleb Nott told John Adams he was a widower, a widower of one hundred and thirty is a bit hard to imagine."

            Another mystery surrounding Caleb Nott concerns the site of his grave.  The resting place of Nott and his wife was long believed to be a small private cemetery in Northern Virginia owned by the Denby family.  The cemetery contains a pair of graves with headstones for a Caleb Nott and his "Beloved Wife," Alice.  Neither stone bears dates, but Caleb's tombstone exhibits the Latin inscription, "Hic cubat gratiosum serpentum," which translates with delicious mystery as "Here lies the beloved serpent."  An infant's grave next to the adults' has a headstone reading "George Bothman Nott, Serpentigeniam."  In this case the Latin means "Born of the serpent."  Once again, however, the historian is confounded by records.  In 1973 records surfaced showing that Caleb Nott's tombstone was commissioned in 1872.  The records clearly indicate that the tombstone was for a new grave.  As Mr. Denby observes, "If this Caleb is indeed the portrait painter, he would have been around one hundred – twenty even if John Adams was off by ten years guessing his age.  And if we add that to the date of the marriage of Caleb and Alice Nott is Glasgow, then he would have been over two hundred at the time of his death."

            How then to address this mystery?  Raymond Denby admits there is no really satisfactory answer.  "We can only assume there were multiple Caleb Notts, and that two of them married women named Alice."  And what about the strange inscriptions on the Virginia tombstones?  "People at that time loved to make literary illusions on headstones," Denby observes, "but I'm afraid we've lost the knowledge of what they were trying to say.  Fortunately, Caleb left his paintings to speak for him."

            Fortunately indeed.  The exhibition opens.....

Conversation between John Clayton and Raymond Denby at the latter's home in Northern Virginia, July 8, 1996:

            "Thanks for letting me do this piece on Caleb, Ray," John Clayton said, putting away his tape recorder and stifling a sneeze.

            "Anything for an old college buddy," Ray Denby chuckled.  "Besides, maybe it'll help stir up interest in the paintings."

            "I hope so.  But you didn't have to give up a Sunday afternoon!" Clayton sneezed softly.

            "Don't mention it.  Think of it as payback for the time you helped me get out of that jam in the Tri-Delt house."

            "The what, Dad?"  The speaker, a lanky, dark-haired version of Ray Denby, slouched into his father's study with hands firmly in the pockets of his jeans.  He looked to be about thirteen.

            "Never you mind.  John, I think you know my son, Peter?"

            "Of course!  Last time I saw you, young man, you were still waving bye-bye from your play pen!" 

            The teenager blushed and both men laughed heartily.  They were still chuckling when an elderly woman in an expensive-looking brown dress came into the room.  "Aunt Rose!"  Ray motioned the woman forward.  "You remember John Clayton, my friend from Cornell?"

            "Of course!"  The woman came forward smiling.  "Ray said you would be coming to talk about Caleb!  Our family's only claim to fame!  I hope you'll stay for supper?"

            "I'm afraid not," John said, "I've got to catch a plane back to New York."  He sneezed.

            "I'll walk you out," Ray said.

            "Is that a summertime cold?" Rose asked.  "Those are the worst.  Give him some of my tea, Ray!"

            "Sure, Aunt Rose!" 

Denby escorted his old friend downstairs, taking a small detour into the kitchen and returning a moment later with a small thermos.  They continued on to the driveway, where Clayton's rental car waited.  "Here you go," Ray said, handing Clayton the thermos.  "Drink this on the way to the airport.  I guarantee you'll be right as rain by the time you touch down in New York!"

"I will.  I remember Rose's tea!"  John frowned.  "I don't mean to pry, Ray, but – how old is she, anyway?  She had white hair when we were in college!"

"I know what you mean!" Ray winked broadly.  "Family secret.  I mean, if Caleb could live to be two hundred, why not Aunt Rose?"

"True!"  With one last chuckle, John bade his friend goodbye and drove away.

Ray watched the car disappear, smiling happily.  His son came up to stand beside him.

"Tri-Delts, Dad?" Peter asked, his eyebrows raised.

"I'll tell you after your mother and Aunt Rose go to bed," Ray replied, draping his arm over his son's skinny shoulders.  "Let's go have a pumpkin juice!"

"Sure!  And will you give me some pointers on the broom, later?  I want to be ready for Quodpot tryouts!"

Ray hid a frown.  He was not at all comfortable with his slightly built son engaging in that rough and exceptionally violent sport  "Are you sure you wouldn't rather try out for the Quidditch team?"

"Quidditch is for pansies," Peter replied mildly.  "By the way, have you heard about London?"

"Yes, I have," Ray replied firmly.  "And you don't let things like that bother you!  Or your brother!"

"DAD!" Peter cried in outrage.

"You know how nervous Sam is," Ray said.  "After that ghoul..."

"Dad it was a joke," Peter protested.  "We never thought Sam would wander in!"

"I know," Ray said quietly.  "Go on and get your pumpkin juice.  And call your brother in for some, too.  I'll fly with both of you later."

The teenager scampered away obediently.  His father followed him slowly.  Rose met him in the front hallway, her face disfigured by a frown.

"Is it true, Ray?" Rose asked.  "Is he really back?"

"You know it is, Aunt Rose," Ray answered firmly.

"And what about the sympathizers?" She was calm, but her eyes were troubled.

"What sympathizers?  We rounded up what few spies there were years ago."

"It's not like in Europe, I know, but, well..."

"I understand.  There isn't anything to worry about, I promise!  Now why don't you go get Marie and we'll all have a pumpkin juice."

"That's a good idea." Rose smiled.  "I think Marie wants you to talk with Peter about Potions.  He didn't get a very good grade."

"All Potions teachers are ass holes," Ray said, "it's required for a union card, I think."


"Well, it's true.  Old man Cassius was suckled on a lemon and weaned on a lime.  Besides," he spoke sternly, "I won't have the kids bothered with school work in the summer.  Everybody deserves a vacation."

Still tutting, Rose hurried off to find Ray's wife.  Denby watched her go fondly, then turned to join his progeny in the kitchen.  He reminded himself to make sure Caleb and Alice's graves were in shape.  John had said he would be sending a photographer over to shoot some pictures for his story.

And he reminded himself that after everyone was asleep, it would be a good idea to check the wards on the house.

RAF Lakenheath, 7 July, 1996

            The message arrived in three layers of code.  The USAF Intelligence officer who ran it through the regular process stopped as soon as the tell-tale symbol for Room 232 appeared.  Walking down the hall of one of the buildings the USAF used on the British air field, he dropped the message off with the balding, taciturn man who spent his days doing God knew what in the tiny, yellow-painted room.

            As soon as the door closed, the man, a civilian, quickly finished the translation.  It read, "The Shire is breached."

            Most people would have found the message at least somewhat amusing.  The man was not most people.  In a business not known for its humor, he was somewhat legendary for his stern demeanor.

            Picking up the secure line on his desk, he quickly dialed the appropriate number.  When the opposite end picked up, he spoke quickly and succinctly.  "This is Minas Morgul.  Send out the Nine."

            Hanging up the phone, he allowed himself a brief moment of dour speculation on who's death sentence he had just signed.  But he did not think on it long.  It wasn't good for his digestion.

The Burrow (a seedy club in London approximately a kilometer from the Ministry of Magic), 7 July, 1996

            The man known as Mr. Jones walked into the club and made straight for the back offices.  It was practically deserted, even though it was Saturday.  The late crowd had not yet begun to arrive, and The Burrow did not cater to an early crowd.  Reaching the non-descript door near the rear of the building, he wrapped politely but entered without waiting for an answer.

            The club's current operator, and titulary owner, sat behind a battered desk.  "Mr. Jones," he said as the dumpy little man entered.

            "Mr. Asmodeus," Jones answered.

            The man called Asmodeus smiled and waved his visitor to a seat.  Like Jones, he was non-descript, albeit in a different way.  With an open shirt, braided ponytail, and receding, graying hair, he looked like an aging flower child. 

            "How is the information business?"  Jones inquired.

            "Pretty good," Asmodeus answered. 

            "And Mr. Weasleton?"  Jones' lip twisted in contempt.

            "A gusher of info.  Wizards don't handle their booze and drugs very well."  The man snorted.  "Or their sex, either, in his case.  Strange, considering the size of his family you'd think that wouldn't have such an effect."

            "Not everything's genetic, Mr. Asmodeus," Jones observed calmly.  "Besides, there's one in every crowd.  Or every family, as the case may be."

            "Thank God for that!" Asmodeus observed fervently.  After all, that was the cornerstone of his trade.  His code name was chosen deliberately.  Asmodeus, Lord of Corruption, Prince of Lechery.  His specialty lay in finding the sensual weaknesses of a "client," and using said weaknesses to lure the hapless prey into a web of compromise, intrigue, blackmail, and treachery.  He liked to brag that given time he could break the asceticism of the Dalai Lama.  His current assignment was rather boring.  Wizards were pathetically easy to ensnare.  They were so dependent on magic to guide them that they almost always failed to properly appreciate the dangers of non-magical people and situations.  Percy Weasley, for instance, had fallen into a trap that most "Muggles" would have spotted from halfway across the city.

            "Well, as long as he is producing, all is well," Jones said.  "But be prepared to up the pressure.  After recent events we will need more, much more."

            "He's ready," Asmodeus said calmly.  "The poor sap is so torn up and confused that we could get him to throttle his own mother, with a little coaching."

            "No need for that," Jones replied, smiling.  "Just be ready to do what's necessary."

            "We want to go whole hog?"

            "Not yet.  But be prepared to break young Mr. Weasley with minimal time to work.  I hope it won't come to that, but you never know."

            "I hope it doesn't, too.  It always upsets me, when you have to be sloppy."

            Jones nodded his understanding.  He and Asmodeus were kindred spirits, professionals and artists.  Both of them deeply regretted having to settle for less than their elegant best.

            "Are you hunting today?" Asmodeus asked.

            "Not right now.  But I expect I will be called on shortly."

            "Well, good luck, man!"  Asmodeus leaned over and shook his guest's hand. 

            Jones departed the way he had come.  Reaching the street, he blended effortlessly into the moving crowd, wondering if he would indeed get a call soon.  He certainly hoped so.  He did not want to get rusty.  He was a specialty hunter, and his skills needed constant honing.

            But he had to be patient.  His was a very well-defined niche.  After all, it was not every day that somebody needed a man who hunted wizards.