Don't own Harry Potter or any characters therein. Credit goes to one wealthy woman in England somewhere, Ms. Rowling.
Just a little oneshot from the perspective of the plump witch who pushed the lunch trolley on the Hogwarts Express. Post HBP.
Running out of the Usual Suspects
"It wasn't the best paying sort of job nor was it consistent, only when the Hogwarts Express was required, but then again, I never really had to work in the first place and it got me out of the house. And the children, of course the children. My own, long since grown up and forgetful of their dear mum, had traveled on this very train some many years ago now. Still, the smiles on those young faces was enough to brighten my day on so many levels. Here I could witness the great witches and wizards of tomorrow and get a glimpse of their lives as they grew into fine young men and women. Of course, there will always be the other side, those rambunctious youths that would nick a thing or two every now and again.
"All the same, I push my cart down the narrow hallway from compartment to compartment and take a peek at the potential just starting out.
"I remember the day Harry Potter came to the Hogwarts Express. Of course the station manager had relayed the gossip eagerly, the lad having such an ear for any story. I remember glancing in at the fabled Boy who Lived, ill-fitting clothes and lonely expression, obviously confused and isolated. When I stopped by, he was forming a new acquaintance and I was quite happy for the child; a boy his age ought to have friends, not stand on his own. He proved to have a healthy appetite and I had to restock my cart a little earlier than I had expected. I did my best not to stare and to treat him as any normal kid that I had happened to meet in my duties, certain that he didn't want too much attention drawn to himself, judging by how he unconsciously pawed down his hair over the tell-tale scar.
"The second time I saw the boy, he was much more sure of himself and again my heart smiled to see that he was no longer alone. There was a buzz of gossip again saturating the conversation on the train and I heard quite a bit of it, moving from each tiny room to the next. I could scarcely believe it but I heard small bits of confirmation from the boy's very mouth, just before I knocked on the doorframe of the closed compartment door. He took another generous portion from the cart but I was ready for him this time. He held with him a small photo album by the looks of it and was considerably more healthy from the first time I'd seen him, all in all resembling the boy he ought to be.
"As the next group of students came in at the start of the new school year, I stood readying my cart for the stomachs (and I daresay the money) of the students and peered out the window of the train, wondering vaguely if I would catch a glimpse of the child celebrity again. Assuming that I had somehow missed him, I went about my duties and had to wag a mockingly-stern finger at the charming Weasley twins (I never could tell one from the other) yet again. Oh the rumors that flew about the station that night, talk of a flying car and what Harry Potter had done.
"After all the worry suffocating the wizarding world, it was a wonder that the Hogwarts Express was not sent ahead of schedule. The students were in the usual end of the year high spirits with the light mixture of "I shall miss you over break" sort of outlook every now and again. More rumors flooded the station before we departed and I found it very hard to eavesdrop while trying to see to the wants of all the young customers.
"Oh and the trip when Sirius Black had just escaped, that trip was forever etched into my memory. After making their own selections, the Weasley boy (by the looks of him), Harry, and the other girl they were constantly paired with showed a concern that did them credit for the new professor, though I assured them all that he would be able to find me, should he wake. Some time later, I was with the driver (Clive was a dear friend after so many years) and he was forced to stop the train, blocked by a sight I wish I could erase from my memory. Those black hooded creatures blocked the train and slowly slipped their rotting carcasses through the doors of the train, floating in that unnerving fashion. Never did care for those dementors. What seemed an eternity, the ice that had coated the train melted into a strange warmth as though we'd come back inside after a frosty afternoon. I made another trek down the narrow hallway, giving out chocolate to whom I could; profits be damned they needed something to boost their spirits.
"The voyage back that year had been uneventful and with all the gossip about Sirius Black's latest sighting, I could scarcely think of little else.
"The next time I saw him, everyone was still a buzz about the incident at the World Cup and Harry reassured me that his appetite was still intact by ordering another batch of Cauldron Cakes that he most likely could not have polished off on his own. The great Harry Potter was more withdrawn the next time I saw him. I brought my wares and left quickly with the definite impression that I had interrupted some important conversation.
"It all came out in the papers later, of course. The Daily Prophet labeled Harry with little credibility and I must confess that I bought into it. His little clique had changed a bit from the last year though these were obviously good friends all the same. I left quickly though I tried to appear as lighthearted as usual; actually, I didn't know how to treat him so I thought it best to return to my rounds moving my trolley. I felt positively wretched for believing the lies and was possibly overly nice in my guilt, delivering Pumpkin Pasties and Cauldron Cakes to the group. The poor dear was positively subdued.
"More hype followed the poor lad next year and I confess, running late with my cart, I happened to miss him somewhere. The end of the year train was rather empty and somber, not that I had expected much less. The death of Albus Dumbledore was a shock.
"I didn't see Harry Potter again after that but kept up with his actions through a more open depiction of his doings in the Daily Prophet. The school was still running (clinging to any shreds of normalcy), the train was still needed, and I was still there to bring lunch to what nervous students remained. It was during this time when I would stop and talk with the distressed students. Every once in a while I would offer an ear to a suffering student, no matter what had provoked their tears but I was stopped at nearly every compartment…well those that had students…just for a hug and a few words of encouragement if nothing else. I do so much hope that I was some small help in this trying world."
The plump witch concluded her narrative and turned to the group before her. "So I don't see entirely what this is all about. I do so love children, more so than I can express."
"Well it is a heart-warming story," Remus Lupin deadpanned.
"Surely you don't think she's part of this?" Minerva McGonagall interrupted.
"Perhaps you're familiar with Sherlock Holmes? Something along the lines of when you have eliminated all the possible, what remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth?"
The plump witch made to move from her chair but several wands directed toward her made her think otherwise. "Really, what is the meaning of all this? I've been running the lunch trolley on the Hogwarts Express for years so my presence on the train cannot be why you've treated me so rudely."
"All the same, Madam," Remus continued in an unaffected tone, "there are other things that cannot be explained. Can you account for where you were when the attempt on Harry Potter's life and the lives of his companions occurred?"
"Bless me, I didn't even know he was aboard. I was certain he didn't even make it to Hogwarts this year and was surprised as anyone else to see him on the train that afternoon. I was continuing my duties as usual."
Remus sighed and nodded to Alastor Moody who had stood in the corner and limped awkwardly forward. He pulled a clear vial from his tattered green jacket, Veritaserum.
The witch apparently recognized the transparent liquid, betrayed by her slightly widening eyes. "Now is something that drastic really necessary?" she stammered after a moment or so.
"I'm afraid it is," Remus sighed again. Kingsley Shacklebolt held the woman's head in place while Remus took the proffered crystal bottle and dropped a meager amount down her throat. She hissed slightly when her skull was released.
"You shouldn't have done that," she muttered in a tone that had lost all maternal sweetness. "He won't be pleased with you, not that he favors any of your kind."
"Enlighten us: who is 'he'?"
"The Dark Lord, of course." Professor McGonagall gasped and Lupin closed his eyes and nodded sadly before continuing his interrogation.
"How long have you been in his service?"
"Some many years now."
"And what have your duties been?"
"Oh, some of the usual stuff but I mostly keep tabs on the new talent entering Hogwarts then more specifically what I could of Harry Potter, even before I was given a direct order to do so. There were ways to keep track of him out of the Express; Mr. Filch being a distant cousin left me an excuse or two."
"I see. So why now? Why strike at a group of teenagers that you proclaim to care about?"
"I do so love children. My own have long since been incarcerated in Azkaban and I daresay have forgotten their dear Mum, like I said. But those things in that compartment of the train…I do have a spot for children just not for the likes of them," she spat. "I don't see what I did as wrong nor why you're holding me."
"Get her out of my sight," Remus ordered, perfectly disgusted. The Aurors marched their captive down the hallway, including one last swiveling and somehow twistedly sympathetic look from Moody, leaving McGonagall and Remus alone in the room.
"I'll finish with her later. It was just too much for now."
Minerva nodded, lost in her own contemplation on what bit of a confession they had witnessed. "He must be getting desperate indeed to attempt something so base. Poisoned chocolate on a lunch trolley."
"At least they discovered it before the whole compartment got a taste."
"At the expense of young Miss Weasley, I'm afraid."
"There was nothing you could do for her?"
"She was too far gone. There was nothing anyone could have done."
Remus sighed again. These past few months had been rather trying…actually his life had never really been considered calm though these last few years had been stressful. Why couldn't Voldemort just die gracefully and be done with it?
"This isn't going to set well with Harry," he whispered after a moment.
"No, I don't image in would. Poor Mr. Potter, I believe they were quite close and she was such a sweet, clever girl."
"Hermione said Ginny was teasing him with the chocolate…probably unknowingly saved his life."
Minerva said nothing for a moment but hastily wiped the tears that had begun to trail down her cheeks.
"Who can we trust?"
"I really don't know anymore, Minerva. Perhaps we should all take a page out of Moody's book and don't take anything offered to us and drink from a flask."
"Unfortunately, those fears seem now to be reasonably grounded."
The room grew quiet but for the sound of the cracking fire in the grate as they both watched the flames lick and devour the kindling and logs in one unprejudiced hunger.
"Let's go see what we can do," McGonagall mentioned resignedly.
"I suppose we should," he replied, not taking his eyes from the fire.
Neither made a move for the door.
Remus closed his eyes before refocusing on the flames, "I remember her from when I was in school. I never would have thought the pleasant woman who pushed the lunch trolley was involved in vague muggle reports, you know, when he was starting up."
"It all seems so hopeless, sometimes."
Remus shook his head at her tone: "No. There is still hope. Otherwise we wouldn't be here."
Well that was fun. Hope you liked it!