Disclaimer: All the recognizable characters and settings in this story belong to J. K. Rowling. I'm just playing around with them for the fun of it; no monetary gain is sought.
A Merry Chase
Remus Lupin stood at the window in the front parlor at 12 Grimmauld Place and watched the clouds scud swiftly across the sky. It wasn't sunny, and it wasn't raining. The clouds came and went, then returned once more. The day obviously couldn't make up its mind just what it wanted to do with itself, which suited his mood perfectly since he wasn't doing any better himself. It was his birthday, but as with most birthdays over the last decade or so, he was alone.
Originally, he'd had plans to meet Alastor and Kingsley for dinner, but he'd just received a message from Kingsley that something important had come up at the Ministry. In fact, whatever was up was important enough to have to drag the retired Moody in to consult with, and, as a result, they'd both have to work until far too late. So that was off and once more he was at loose ends. The prospect of hanging around this mausoleum all day, listening to old Mrs. Black complain and feeling sorry for himself, didn't really appeal to him, but damn it, there didn't seem to be anything else worth doing. So with a sigh, he turned away from the window and threw himself into a chair next to the fire to brood. Something he'd gotten far too good at over the years.
All of a sudden, the flames in the fireplace rose up a bright emerald and Albus Dumbledore's head appeared in their center. The older man adjusted his glasses and peered up out of the flames questioningly. "Remus, are you there?"
Surprised, but by no means annoyed, to be so abruptly addressed, Remus leaned down next to the crackling flames and answered, "I'm here, Albus. What can I do for you?"
"Excellent. I haven't much time so I'll get right to the point. I need you to do a little job for me."
"Okay." Remus nodded willingly. Anything had to be better than hanging around here all day. "What do you want me to do?"
"Some rather worrisome information has just come my way, and I need you to check it out. The information, if true, shouldn't be ignored."
Remus nodded again. Naturally, everything should be checked out.
Albus continued, "Apparently a suspicious meeting is being arranged for this evening somewhere around Diagon Alley. From the information I received, it seemed as if the gathering could be rather important. While the man who's arranging the meeting isn't a known Death Eater, he does have some highly suspicious contacts. So I thought it best to check it out. You can't be too careful in these parlous times, after all."
"No. You can't. It definitely sounds worth checking into. Did this information come from Severus?" Remus wondered why Albus seemed so unsure of the importance. Surely anything that Severus had ever told them had turned out to be important, so maybe this came from somewhere else.
Dumbledore shook his head. "No. I obtained this information from an entirely different source. In fact, Severus seemed quite skeptical about the whole thing. He refused to have anything to do with it, though he did say that the meeting sounded highly questionable. At any rate, I think it's worth checking into, unless you're busy, of course…"
Remus snorted to himself. Perhaps he should check his appointment calendar. "No. I'm not busy at all. It's just another day around here."
"Excellent!" Dumbledore beamed. "The messenger is having lunch in a small café on the edge of Knockturn Alley as we speak. I wasn't given the name, but it has black drapes in the windows and rather surly waiters."
Remus sighed. If there was an eating establishment in Knockturn Alley that didn't have surly waiters and waitresses, he wasn't aware of it.
"I'm sure that I can find it," he offered confidently. "What does the messenger look like?"
"Ah, well, he's short and thin with bushy black hair and a large mustache. He walks with a limp. When you find him, follow him. See where he goes, who he talks to, what he does. If you can discover where this meeting is being held, try to get a look inside and see who might be in attendance. Then report back to me. I wish I had someone to send with you, but with school in session and things being busy at the Ministry, I couldn't find anyone else who had the free time."
Remus nodded grimly. Well, he was certainly overloaded with free time, that was for sure. "What about Mundungus?" The old reprobate wouldn't be much good at tailing someone, but at least he'd be a contact in case of trouble.
"I did try to locate him, but he seems to have vanished at the moment," said Dumbledore apologetically.
"With good reason, no doubt. Okay, Albus, I'll do my best."
"Thank you, Remus. Do be careful now. Oh, and by the way…happy birthday."
Then with a smile and a nod, Dumbledore's head vanished in a flourish of emerald, and the fire reverted to its normal reddish glow forcing Remus to pull back abruptly or be rather badly singed.
"Thanks," he murmured softly as he brushed soot off of his robes. Then with a sigh, he got to his feet and headed for the door. At least it would give him something to do. Happy birthday, indeed.
The café turned out to be ridiculously easy to spot. It was just inside the bounds of Knockturn Alley, and the man he was looking for was seated right in the middle of the front window dawdling over a bowl of soup. Though why he was dawdling was in question; every time he took a sip from his spoon he made the most disgusted face, obviously this was a café to avoid.
Remus had just found a convenient corner behind the shop across the street and settled himself to wait, when the man in the window abruptly bounded to his feet as if bitten. Unfortunately, his napkin had been caught under his bowl of soup, so when he got up quickly, the remains of his meal went flying. This brought two of those surly waiters, large ones, running over to the table in a hurry, but the small man simply tossed some money their way and ran hastily out of the shop, heading for the steps that led up into the square in front of Gringotts. One waiter began to give chase, but the other one, the one who'd paused to count the money, held him back, and they both returned to their work letting their careless patron go on his way.
For a small man with a limp, the messenger could move pretty quickly when he wanted to, and Remus had to hurry along in order not to lose sight of his quarry in the noontime crowd around Gringotts. Once he realized that the men from the café weren't following him though, the dark haired man slowed down and began to make his way down Diagon Alley a bit more stealthily.
He began to weave himself in and out amongst the throng of shoppers, pausing every now and then to look at his watch and carefully scrutinize his surroundings. Remus had to be very careful because he couldn't be sure when the man might suddenly turn to look over his shoulder in suspicion. This forced the werewolf to follow at a much greater distance than he'd really like to.
As they slowly made their way up Diagon Alley, the small man suddenly sidled up to a tall, thin man with a dark cloak who was staring into a shop window. The small man whispered something to the taller man, who looked surprised to be spoken to. The two of them huddled together for a moment, then the smaller man moved on again leaving his companion to his window gazing. Remus followed, slightly annoyed that he hadn't been able to get close enough to hear what they'd discussed. He did notice that the taller man had checked his watch though. Perhaps they'd been discussing the time for the meeting.
This particular maneuver was repeated all over Diagon Alley over the next few hours. The small man made a wide circuit, going in and out of shops, and pausing every now and then to speak furtively with a wide assortment of rather dodgy looking characters. None of whom were the least bit familiar to Remus.
By now, Remus was beginning to get rather bored and frustrated. Wandering all over Diagon Alley was getting tiring, and suddenly sitting back at Grimmauld Place with a nice book and a hot cup of tea was beginning to seem very appealing. Who knew that there'd have been an even more tedious way to spend his birthday than the one he'd been facing a few hours ago?
Then, just as Remus was musing on the vagaries of fate, without warning, the small man ducked into a doorway that was a bit more familiar. Remus peered up the rather rickety staircase that lead to Weasley's Wizarding Wheezes after his quarry and wondered if he dared to follow him inside. Hoping for the best, he climbed the stairs and slipped into the cramped shop, hiding as best he could behind a very large display of Skiving Snackboxes. Unfortunately, once again, he was too far away to hear just what the man said to whichever twin stood behind the counter.
As he watched, the second twin, George, Remus belatedly realized when we could see them together, came out from behind a curtain and handed a bag to the black-haired man. The man handed over some money, clutched the bag against his chest, and scurried off down the stairs.
Now Remus was torn, should he take a moment to ask the twins what the man bought? He thought he ought to risk it. So he came out from behind the display case and crossed the room quickly to the counter.
Both boys smiled as he came up to them.
"Hey, Remus. Good to see you. Interested in some of the finest merchandise that Diagon Alley has to offer?" asked Fred amiably.
Remus smiled. "I don't have much time. What I'm really looking for is information."
The twins exchanged puzzled glances and identical shrugs before turning back. "Sure. What do you want to know?" asked George.
Before Remus could tell him, though, Fred cut in. "Say, Mum didn't send you, did she? She's always trying to be sure that we aren't starving or something now that we're on our own."
"Yeah," agreed George with a grin. "You'd think she didn't have any faith in our entrepreneurial expertise."
Remus smiled and shook his head. "No. This has nothing to do with your mother. I wanted to ask you about your last customer. That small man with the limp and the dark moustache."
"Did he have a limp?" asked George. "I didn't notice."
Fred rolled his eyes. "How could you miss it? He favored his left leg something fierce."
"Actually, it's his right leg he's been favoring," said Remus.
"Really? 'Cause I'd have sworn it was his left."
With an impatient sigh, Remus shook his head. "I've been following him all afternoon, and it's definitely his right, but that's not important," he hastened to add as Fred looked as if he might continue the argument. "All I need to know is what you sold him."
Their faces lit up like stars. "Quite the discriminating customer, that one," George stated pleasantly.
"Yes, indeed. Only wanted the best," chimed in his brother helpfully.
"I'm sure he did," asserted Remus testily as he could feel time and his quarry slipping away from him the longer this conversation went on. "What did he buy?"
"He bought the deluxe assortment of our finest Wild-Fire Whiz-Bangs, specifically the indoor variety pack. They really pack a punch."
"I'll bet, but what the heck are Wild-Fire Whiz-Bangs?" Remus practically shouted. Obviously stopping to speak to the Weasley brothers had been a mistake.
"Wizarding Fireworks, of course," exclaimed George, a trifle miffed that Remus didn't know that already.
"These were the ones designed for indoor displays," added Fred helpfully.
"Thanks," shouted Remus as he turned and headed for the door as quickly as he could.
"Can we interest you in something, while you're here? We've got a sale on Canary Creams at the moment, two for ten Sickles," Fred called after the fleeing werewolf, but Remus was halfway down the stairs by then.
"Forget it, Fred. He probably doesn't know what those are either," grumbled George.
Fred grinned widely at his twin. "You think?" And was answered with an identical mischievous smirk.
When Remus came out onto the crowded sidewalk, he looked in vain for the man with the wild black hair. Damn! Any conversation with the Weasley twins was never a short affair; you'd think he'd know that by now. What would Albus say when he had to go back and confess that he'd lost the messenger, before discovering where the meeting was? Nothing complimentary, that's for sure, thought Remus gloomily, and rightly so.
Well, he couldn't give up that quickly. He turned down towards Knockturn Alley. The man had been heading back down that way when he'd taken that fatal detour into the Weasley's shop. So carefully peering at the passing crowds and into each available window he passed, Remus made his way back down Diagon Alley, thinking that he'd probably covered this same ground about four times today. The man's path hadn't been efficiently laid out in the slightest, but then who knew what his instructions were. Remus was having enough difficulty following his own orders without trying to make sense of those he hadn't been privy to.
Then, just as he came out into the square once more, he caught sight of a familiar tousled head disappearing down the steps back into Knockturn Alley. Hurrying across the square, Remus peering down into the narrower street and spotted his man in conversation with a very disreputable looking witch outside one of the seedier looking pubs.
By the time he'd made his way down to the pub, the man had ended his conversation and wandered inside. Remus didn't hesitate here. He'd been in this pub before, and knew that the atmosphere was so thick inside that the smoke alone would make a dandy cover to hide behind. Slipping inside, he paused to allow his eyes to adjust to the murk. Once he could see something again, he scanned the room and noticed the man just leaving the bar and heading for the back door of the pub.
Before Remus could follow though, he was suddenly confronted by a very large, very drunk man who squinted at him and said, "'Bout time you came back, Herc. You owe me money, and this time, you ain't getting away without payin'!" The man's breath made Remus' eyes water even worse than the smoke. He really didn't need this now.
Stepping back from his accuser, he raised his hands and shook his head.
"Sorry, you must have me confused with someone else. My name isn't Herc, and I don't owe you any money. Now, if you'll excuse me. I need to be on my way."
Hopefully, he tried to edge around the swaying drunk, but instead, he found himself face to face with two of his pals, both equally large, equally surly, and equally drunk.
The larger of the two poked him in the chest with a dirty finger and stated loudly, "If my friend says you owe him money, then I think you should pay up…Herc." A menacing glare was directed his way from the man's good eye, the other one residing out of sight behind a ratty looking patch.
Remus sighed internally, and resigned himself to having to fight his way out of this, when suddenly there was a very loud explosion, and a bright flash of chartreuse filled the smoky air. As every patron in the place screamed and dived for the floor, Remus turned on his heel and bolted back out through the door he'd come in.
Once outside, he blinked to restore his sight and then ran around the side of the building to try to pick up the trail again, wondering what the heck had happened inside, but deciding that looking that particular gift hippogriff in the mouth would be damned ungrateful.
He slowed down as he came to the corner and peered around it just in time to see the short man limping off back down behind the next building. As Remus watched, the man turned another corner and headed back towards the main street. So with a sigh, Remus turned around and ran back to the front end of the alley reaching Knockturn Alley proper just in time to see the man limping back towards Diagon Alley.
For the first time, Remus began to wonder if he wasn't being led on a merry chase. He was pretty sure that he'd been careful enough to avoid being spotted by this guy, but all this running back and forth seemed highly suspicious to him, not to mention exhausting. Perhaps Albus should have listened to Severus. Whatever this guy was up to, it seemed designed primarily to waste time. Still, Albus had given him this assignment, and he'd never steered him wrong yet. Okay, there was that one time in Romania, but he never could have known that that woman wasn't really a vampire; she'd certainly acted like one.
Suddenly, it occurred to Remus that they seemed to be moving along at a faster rate of speed than before. There was no more poking about and peering into shop windows. Perhaps all the contacting had finally been accomplished, and they were moving on to the main event. It was about bloody time. He should have had dinner an hour ago, and all this running around was making him ravenous.
Instinctively, Remus threw himself against the nearest wall as the man stopped dead in his tracks at the end of the Alley and turned to look furtively over his shoulder. Apparently seeing nothing amiss, the man pulled out his wand, used the correct sequence of taps and then moved through the resultant archway into the courtyard of the Leaky Cauldron.
By the time Remus got up to the wall, it had closed up again, but it was only the work of a moment to open it once more and go inside. The pub wasn't terribly crowded when he entered, but the small man wasn't anywhere to be seen. So Remus crossed to the bar and spoke to the bartender.
"Hi there, Tom. How's business?"
Tom smiled his toothless grin and shrugged. "It's a bit slow at the moment, but I'm sure that it'll pick up later. What can I get you, Remus?"
"Actually, I'm looking for information. Did you happen to see a small dark man with a limp and a moustache come in here a few moments ago?"
Tom nodded. "Yes, as a matter of fact, I did." He grinned once more and deliberately picked up a glass from behind the bar and added it to a tray he was fixing up.
Remus refrained from rolling his eyes, though it wasn't easy. "Well, can you tell me where he went?"
"Oh, sure," Tom said, as if it was a big surprise to him that Remus wanted to know. "He'd rented out the large room that I have up on the second floor for some meeting tonight. He came in, asked if everyone had arrived, I said, how the hell do I know, since I don't know who was invited, but that a lot of folks were up there. He accepted that, nodded and asked me to send up some drinks, then he headed up to the room himself."
Perfect. Remus gestured towards the tray that Tom was filling with drinks. "Is that the tray for them?"
"Yup," stated Tom pithily.
"Listen, could I do you a favor and deliver that tray to the room? Albus asked me to check up on this meeting, you see." He added the last hoping that Dumbledore's magic name would forestall any awkward questions.
Tom grinned. "It's okay with me, but you'll need to split any tips you get with Marge. The party room is her responsibility, and she takes it very seriously."
Remus nodded. "No problem, she can have it all. I'm not in it for the tips."
"Well, that's good, because I need my tips. I'm working my way through hairdresser school on the side and money's important," came a voice from behind him.
Remus turned around and looked up…and up...and…up again. Marge was the tallest woman he'd ever seen, and one of the lumpiest. She had to be part troll…the least attractive part.
Currently, she was frowning down at him with both of her massive hands jammed onto her broad hips, and she didn't look particularly happy.
He attempted a reassuring smile. "If I get any tips, I'll be sure to leave them with you, Marge," he asserted firmly. Clearly, this wasn't a woman he wanted to cross.
"You'd better," she cautioned in a low rumbly voice. Then her gaze seemed to soften a bit as she looked him up and down, and she removed one of her hands from her hip and ran it through her stiff, bright fuchsia hair. Her lips spread across her face like a pair of worms forming a parody of a smile. "You know, you're kind of cute. If you want to keep the tip…maybe we could work something else out?"
Remus went very pale. A date on his birthday would have been very nice, but Marge was definitely not his type. In fact, he hoped that he never ran into the man who was Marge's type.
Quickly, he grabbed the tray of drinks off of the bar and headed for the stairs. "I really don't need the tip, Marge, honest. I'll leave it for you when I come down. Which room is it, Tom?" he called back from the stairwell.
"The one at the very top of the stairs. Number 18. You can't miss it," Tom called to Remus' hastily retreating back.
When Remus reached the top of the stairs and found the room in question, he set the tray of drinks down on a nearby table and pressed his ear to the door. There were definitely a lot of voices inside, but the door was too thick to allow him to understand anything that was being said. So there was really no choice. He'd have to go in. He certainly hadn't recognized any of the people whom he'd seen that afternoon, so none of them were likely to recognize him either, but there was no guarantee that he'd seen everyone who was invited, so, just in case, he pulled the hood of his cloak up over his head and as far down over his face as he could manage. Then he knocked firmly and waited.
"Come in," a muffled voice called out.
Remus turned the knob, picked up the tray and shouldered the door open. Once inside, he headed across the room to where a table was piled high with delicious smelling food that made his stomach growl. He was careful not to raise his eyes until he'd set down his burden. Then he risked a quick glance, and his mouth fell open in astonishment.
"Surprise!" shrieked everyone as they stood there and beamed happily at him. "Happy Birthday, Remus," cried Molly Weasley as she gave him a big hug, followed by hugs from half of the rest of her family.
In fact, all the Weasleys, except for Percy, were there, along with virtually every person he knew in the world…except for Severus, but then, hadn't Albus told him that he'd refused to have anything to do with this "highly questionable" meeting? Well, now he knew why.
Remus nodded to himself…yes, indeed, he'd been had…quite effectively, too. Kingsley and Alastor were there chuckling along with the rest, so much for having to work late. Minerva, Filius, Hagrid, Poppy and Pomona were there from the school along with Harry and Hermione, and standing in the front of them all smiling happily was Albus Dumbledore.
Remus smiled and nodded as he could feel his face getting more and more flushed by the second while everyone crowded around and wished him well and asked if he'd been fooled. What could he say? He certainly had been.
When he could finally pull himself out of the throng, he faced the Headmaster and asked, "So, do you want my report now or should I write it up first?"
Dumbledore chuckled warmly. "Ah, my boy, you're a good sport. We all just wanted your party to be a surprise. You were surprised, weren't you?"
"Oh, yes, I was very surprised. Tell me one thing, though; who was that person that I was following up and down Diagon Alley all afternoon?"
"You mean you didn't recognize me, Remus? I'm crushed." A familiar voice laughed merrily in his ear.
He turned around to face the mysterious mustachioed stranger, who immediately morphed into a broadly grinning Tonks. "Surprise!" she exclaimed with a shake of her emerald green hair, as she threw her arms around him and gave him a big hug.
He returned the hug happily. "You led me on quite a wild goose chase, you know," he told her.
"Well, those were my orders." She winked companionably up at him.
"So who were all those people you were talking to? And if you weren't arranging this meeting, what were you talking to them about?" Remus asked curiously.
Tonks laughed. "Actually, they were all complete strangers. I just picked the most questionable people I passed and asked them if they had the time."
Remus smiled back. "Well, that explained why everyone was always checking their watches."
Fred and George came up to them just then, and Fred handed Remus a plate of food.
"Here, Remus, you're probably hungry. Listen, I hope you didn't mind our playing around with you in the shop. It was all in good fun, after all," Fred said. George nodded earnestly.
"Not at all," Remus replied as he munched on a cookie. The twins seemed to have made all their selections from amongst the desserts. "Say that reminds me, was that explosion in the pub caused by the fireworks?" He turned to Tonks once more.
She nodded. "Yeah. It looked as if you needed some help there, so I figured a little diversion was in order. Besides, the boys gave me plenty…along with the special ones."
"Special ones?" he asked.
Just then, there came the sound of a crackling explosion behind him, and Remus turned around to see colorful words burning in the air, spelling out his name and wishing him a happy birthday.
Fred nudged him in the side. "We do good work, don't we?"
Touched, Remus nodded in agreement, picked up a delicious looking candy from the assortment on the plate in front of him and bit into it. "Yes, you do," he said. Then he sighed as he suddenly burst out in bright yellow feathers to everyone's delight.
Albus handed the huge canary a drink and Tonks kissed him on the cheek. You look really cute in yellow, Remus, you know? Happy birthday."
As he stood there covered in feathers with everyone smiling at him, he suddenly realized that it had been, and he smiled happily in return.