A/N: Thank you for the reviews! I'm really quite surprised that people are reading this one lol! XD Sorry you've had to wait a while, but seeing as I'm posting this in conjunction with "Twin Vice Paranormal Detectives", I don't want to give too much away in this story. But I'm finally at a point in TVPD where I can release a bit more info. Still, be warned: if you don't want to know who Caithion Sidhe is, do not read this chapter! You've been warned, mwaha!
The second brother, Cadmus, came forwards to face Death, though he did not raise his eyes to him, and whispered, "All I want is my love returned."
The figure of Death smiled. "That is a heavy wish indeed, with a heavier price. To bring back the dead, an equal price must be paid, for there is nothing heavier than the weight of a life. Will you accept all consequences?"
"Anything for my love."
"Noble gesture, or selfish deed. All things are told in time." And he plucked a fruit from the World Tree and placed it in the second brother's hand and said, "You shall see your love again."
– From 'The World Tree's Plunderer' (translated from the Scrolls of Merlin, first edition, by Sir Hector Archimedes Oddness)
Death stood in the neat little kitchen, looking down at the bloody mess on the floor. His thin lips twitched in distaste. Humans really were a most inventive species when it came to killing one another. They had turned maiming, disfiguring and rendering innocents limb from limb into something of an art form. Vaguely, he wondered what this little old couple had done to deserve their gruesome deaths. Their country was of course in a state of open warfare – it had been going approximately…. Death checked his wristwatch… two hours, fifteen minutes and twenty-two seconds – and the scorch marks around the wrists and ankles certainly looked to be the work of Dark Wizards. Death remembered how fond they had been of such recreational sports twenty years ago.
He reached inside his robe and pulled out a small role of parchment, ticking off the names of the two bodies lying recumbent at his feet, (David and Mavis Dunbridge, 70 and 78, Stoke-on-Trent, UK, The World, The Universe), and frowned despondently. There was a third name: Champ, golden retriever, 5. Now then, where'd he got to?
A drop of blood hit the blade of his scythe with a plop. A second landed on his nose. He glanced up.
He ticked off the name then rolled the piece of parchment up, tucking it somewhere amongst the dark folds of his cloak. All three had passed on without any nuisance. Death really couldn't be bothered entering into another conversation like the one he'd had an hour ago in Manchester with a young waitress who had been struck in the face with a killing curse.
'But I CAN'T be dead!'
'Yes. I'm afraid you are. So if you would just drop the spirit of your cheesecake (for all things have some sort of soul, even cheesecake) and follow me through-'
'But I was on my break! An' right in the middle of watching Coronation Street, I'll add, cheers. How can you expect me to just up and DIE without knowing whether or not Alfred's affair with his brother's wife's niece will come to a head? That's just bad taste, that is!'
Death had coolly attempted to explain the country's current state of war, to which the girl had replied, 'Wha'-? We been invaded by France again or sum'in'?'
No, the old couple in Stoke-on-Trent and their dog had not needed Death's help. They had moved on peacefully. Everything was as it should be…
Only it wasn't.
Death had first picked up on the imbalance twenty years ago, during the Dark Lord Voldemort's first war. The shift in the scales had been minute, but Death had picked it up almost immediately, like the avid music fan who can catch even the tiniest blip on his favourite record. Unfortunately, the blip Death had caught twenty years ago had developed into a series of loud, intrusive hiccups that could no longer be ignored.
He took hold of his scythe in both hands. With one quick flick of the blade, a tiny tear in the mortal world appeared, outlined in front of the kitchen sink as though someone had drawn a door in the air with a blue sparkler. Death gave one last glance at the dog nailed to the ceiling, then stepped through the door and was gone.
Few people knew where Fred and George disappeared to when they needed to make themselves scarce, for years of practise had made them exceptionally good at doing so. The branches of the old oak, standing two fields from the Burrow by a peat-water burn had always made for a perfect hiding place. Unfortunately there was one other Weasley who was always clued up on the whereabouts of the twins.
Charlie made it his business to know.
Picking up two smooth pebbles from the burn, he tossed them gently in the air, feeling the weight in his palm. Then, taking careful aim, he launched them into the tree.
"Morning," said Charlie, all pleasantries. "Sleep well?"
The reply was a string of expletives and several pained groans.
"Well, serves you right for sleeping in a tree," said Charlie, shrugging his broad shoulders unsympathetically. "'urry up and get your lazy twin arses down here."
A crate of empty Firewhiskey bottles was unceremoniously shunted out of the tree, followed by Fred who swung into view, hanging upside-down from a branch by his legs and looking a bit worse for wear.
"Good aim as ever, I see," he grumbled at his elder brother, rubbing the lump on the back of his head where the pebble had hit him. He swung back up and jumped onto the ground, George close on his heels.
"Blimey, seven a.m.? Bit earlier ain't it, Charlie?" George grumbled, tapping the face of his little gold wristwatch in disbelief. "Bleedin' mad as a spoon, you are."
"Yeah, well Mum's going spare," said Charlie as they began trudging back across the fields towards The Burrow. "I've gotta get you back home before she vents her spleen or something. Then I'm leaving soon as I can-"
"What?" Fred spluttered angrily. "You're just up and leaving like this? Now?With bloody masquerade nutters running around, smiting everyone?"
Charlie shrugged his broad shoulders, helplessly. "Got no choice in the matter. If the country's at war, we need to spread word as fast as possible. Recruiting foreign witches and wizards and warning them of the danger is more important now than ever. We'll need the help."
"Can't you stick around a little longer?" George asked, but Charlie shook his head firmly.
"Can't risk it. If Voldemort really is in control of the Ministry, then he's sure to clamp down on witches and wizards travelling abroad, 'specially ones under suspicion, like us."
Fred grunted. "There's a lot of Death Eaters out there that wouldn't owl us up for a second date, but they can't suspect too much, can they?"
"Why'd you say that?" said George.
Fred tossed him a careless grin. "We're still alive, aren't we?"
When they reached The Burrow, familiar raised voices met their ears.
"Well he's GONE isn't he? And Merlin knows where!"
Fred paused at the door, gesturing to his brothers with one hand to stop behind him.
"I knew it," they heard their mother wail from the kitchen side, "I knew it all along, I knew they were up to something, all three of them. Oh, how could they. How could Harry? They're only children! What do they expect they can do against him that the Order can't?"
"Harry would never purposefully put them in any danger, Molly. Not unless he was sure it was the only way," Lupin's voice was saying, gently. "And Ron and Hermione are loyal friends. You know they could never let him set off on his ow-" He paused.
There were footsteps, then the door was swung open and Fred stumbled into Lupin's chest. "Is there something I can do for you or would rather continue eavesdropping in a more comfortable location with these?" said Lupin, pulling a string of Extendable Ears from his pocket.
Charlie coughed embarrassedly and walked inside, but Fred and George only grinned, for people like the twins never really got embarrassed. People got embarrassed on their behalf.
"Don't stop on our account," Fred waved, shamelessly.
"Really, the suspense is terrible. I was hoping it'd last a bit longer." George stopped beside his mother, placing an arm over her shoulders. "So where's Ron gone, then?"
"Don't tell us the Golden Trio are off on another mission for glory again. Really, would it have hurt to have asked us along? I mean, two daft buggers and one egghead isn't much to go on, is it?" said Fred, a bit sulkily.
"Don't be so clever, Fred," Mrs Weasley snapped waspishly.
"I can't help it. Born that way." Fred glanced around the room at the ashen faces of Lupin, Tonks, Bill and his father. He frowned. "They really have buggered off, then. Blimey."
"Fred…" Mrs Weasley hiccupped.
"We think it might have something to do with old Albus, but I'll be buggered if I know what," said Tonks gloomily. "Must've disappeared around about the time the Death Eaters started crashing the party."
"We have to trust that they know what they're doing," Mr Weasley said, firmly. "Harry's a very capable young wizard; he won the Triwizard cup for Merlin's sake! Hermione's likely the greatest young witch of her time, and Ron – er… well Ron is…"
"A plonker," Fred supplied.
Mrs Weasley dropped into a chair and moaned. "They're children."
"Who have amassed greater knowledge and more experience than most fully-educated witches and wizards," said Lupin.
"That doesn't excuse the fact that they are still – Fred, George! Where do you think you're going?" Mrs Weasley shouted, jumping to her feet at once.
"Work, Mum," said Fred.
"What? Now?" Bill asked, looking slightly concerned. "You think that's a good idea?"
"No, we just bought the premises and stocked the shelves for a laugh, see." Fred took a pinch of Floo powder from the flower pot, tossed it into the fire then stepped into the rising emerald flames, shouting, "Diagon Alley!"
George gave a reassuring wink back at his mother, who looked sick at the thought of yet more of her family leaving the safety of The Burrow. "We'll be fine, Mum. Give us a shout if you need us. We'll be back by six." Then he stepped into the flames and vanished.
Diagon Alley felt unusually still and sombre. Normally there were shop vendors and early morning dealers out for a quick bargain, but most of the windows and doors were shuttered and locked, and there was hardly a witch or wizard to be seen along the cobbled lane.
"So," George clapped his hands together, "what's our plan then?"
Fred smirked wickedly. "If you can't beat 'em with brawn, beat 'em with cunning. The way I figure it, the best way to break fear is to mock it relentlessly."
"Mock the Dark Lord? The very idea's preposterous."
"Ludicrous," Fred agreed.
"Not to mention dangerous."
George nodded sagely. "Life-threateningly so."
Fred beamed. "Right up our alley."
"Let's get to work."
It was 7:30 in the morning when Xenophilius Lovegood at last decided it was safe to return home.
Luna plodded around the little Glasgow flat, peering around at the collection of strange knick-knacks and maps. They were by no means any stranger than the collection her own house hoarded. Indeed, after browsing a few minutes, Luna recognised quite a number of artefacts, a pile of old Quibblers and one of her very favourite books: Treaties of Tyr Na Nog by Edward Balthazar McRozen, the very man – or Squib – whose flat she had woken in.
A long bandage had been wrapped several times around Luna's head, the sunflower she had earlier worn in her long hair having been removed. Her yellow dress was also looking a bit worse for wear, so Edward ushered her into his daughter's room and told her to pick out some old clothes from the wardrobe, assuring her that his daughter would not mind.
Luna cast a curious glance at the girl lying in the bed who had cracked one sleepy grey eye open. She did not look much like her portly, moustached father; quite the opposite, in fact. But Luna decided she had a very kind face, even if it was not smiling.
She beamed, warmly and said, "Good morning."
The girl nodded, sleepily. "Murphffle mur…"
"My name is Luna Lovegood. I'm very pleased to meet you."
"Nish to meet shyoo," she slurred and rolled over so that her face was now firmly implanted in her pillow.
"Would you mind if I borrowed some clothes?" asked Luna. The reply she received was garbled nonsense, but it had a positive ring to it, so Luna picked a plain shirt and trousers from the wardrobe and wandered through to the sitting room where her father was deep in conversation with the Squib. Both men looked uncharacteristically serious, heads bent together in low conversation. They were quick to pull away from each other when she re-entered the room.
"Oh – Luna!" Edward beamed. "You look charming, an absolute vision! I was just discussing with your father your current living arrangements. Perhaps it would be safer for the both of you if you were to stay here for a time, ay?"
Luna shook her head, kindly. "No thank you, but that is very kind of you to offer. Daddy has some work to do on The Quibbler now that You-Know-Who has returned."
Xenophilius nodded glumly. "No doubt The Prophet will be churning out more anti-Potter garbage and trying to convince us all that these dreadful Death Eaters have merely been employed to do a spot of redecorating."
"No doubt, dear cracker, no doubt." Edward fixed him with a very serious look. "As long as you are aware that while you write the truth in your paper, Philius, you're bound to catch his attention."
"Fools and cowards all," said Xenophilius, echoing Edward's words the night before.
Luna watched them share a long look, sad yet full of pride, and grimly shake hands. Then she took up her place beside her father and with a turn and a crack, they Disapparated home.
A loud CRACK reverberated around the little flat on Victoria Road. Gertrude Nox shot up in bed with a start, smacking her head off a shelf, which in turn triggered an avalanche of books that came raining down on top of her. Releasing a train of expletives, which would have made a Death Eater blush, Nox clawed her way out of the small mountain of books and grabbed her alarm clock. Quarter to eight. The alarm wasn't due to go off for another ten minutes.
"What's that old coot up to now?" she mumbled to herself, rubbing the tender lumps on her skull. "I hope you're not demolishing the telly again!" she shouted.
There was a pause. Then, "Demolish? Dear me, perish the thought!"
Nox took this to mean, "There was a curious blue wire protruding out the back of the television, so I deemed it necessary to do some investigating, only it could be argued that my investigations landed me with rather more blue wires than I started out with, hence the unfortunate explosion which awoke you ten minutes earlier than you had intended to wake. Would you like a spot of tea?"
She sighed. "Tea's great, thanks."
She groped around for her glasses then stumbled into the sitting room at the forefront of their shared two bedroomed flat. The TV set looked remarkably un-fiddled with and the grey morning light coming in through the window was reflecting off the single malt sitting beside two empty shot glasses on the table in front of her. Nox frowned at the glasses, then at the TV, then back to the glasses again, as if they had both caused her the most grievous insult.
She scratched her chin, then called through to the adjoining kitchen, "Did you have visitors in here last night, Ed?"
Nox never addressed her father by anything but his name. That would suggest that Edward executed his job faultlessly and while he was very good at bringing her cups of tea in the morning and grotesque monkey paws and other strange severed animal limbs from far abroad, most of which claimed to boost fertility odds dramatically (she found these particular gifts and the subtle hinting behind them quite insulting), but the truth of the matter was that the only person in the flat who fulfilled parental duties – such as shopping, cooking, cleaning, paying bills and working yourself into an early grave – was her.
Edward's voice was distinctively flustered when he answered her. "Er – no, no one, not a soul, only 'Philius and Luna, but other than that, the flat has not seen a single being." He trotted into the sitting room, holding a tray of chipped teacups and a pot missing half its spout.
Nox counted the cups and quirked one eyebrow. "Three?"
"Well you can hardly expect Caithion to sit there dry mouthed."
A second eyebrow rose up to join the other. "Caith– ?"
She turned around in her chair and found herself face to face with her father's work colleague. The Irishman often arrived in this way – seemingly out of nowhere and always with a lit cigarette glowing at his lips. Caithion Sidhe was another of her father's friends, the only one that Nox knew personally – probably because, even though he claimed to have a flat somewhere else, he never actually left. He had to be one of the oddest people Nox knew. First and foremost, she didn't know his real age, because although he looked much younger than Edward, he FELT older. Then there was his physical presence. Standing at a good six foot two, he towered over most people. His grammar and diction were near perfect, although he never talked about his education; he had no high social standing and yet she had seen men with money coming out their ears cower in his presence. Black was his colour, with few exceptions and every once in a while she would catch him wearing the strangest glasses - bright saffron yellow rectangular lenses, connected to wiggly-wire ear-hooks. Caithion held a general disdain for people and he smoked a lot, which explained the cloud of smoke he breathed delicately over her head.
"Good morning, my dear. You look…" His narrowed eyes ranged over her scruffy dark hair, baggy pyjamas and squint glasses. "Awake."
She smiled. "Thanks. And you're more disdainful and sarcastic than ever, I see."
"One does try."
"The usual black, Caith?" Edward was asking, pouring the tea into the three chipped and leaking cups. Nox noticed with a start that her father's hands were trembling slightly.
Caithion nodded and if he did notice the boiling hot liquid spilling over the brim of his teacup and onto his lap, he certainly did not show it. "Black's fine, Ed."
They sat and sipped their tea in subdued silence, except Edward who only sat and stared at his teacup as though its depths were as deep as the ocean's. Nox watched him over the brim of her own cup. Something felt particularly grey about this Monday morning. Mondays, by unwritten law, are always grey and miserable, sun or no sun, but this Monday felt more driech than usual. Perhaps it was the change of mood in her father that brought the grey in. Perhaps all Mondays were like this, only Edward chased the worst of them away with his perpetually sunny disposition.
Nox felt her heart drop into her stomach as she studied his profile. He was definitely thinking about something and that something had to be quite terrible if he was not ranting her ears off about the latest speculation on the location of Merlin's tomb, or the differing habits of Shetland werewolves, or the Phantom Dogs of Arasaig (Edward held a certain bizarre fondness for the topic of demonic hounds; Nox knew better than to ask why).
Monday's issue of The Times was sitting neatly on the table. As no one seemed interested in sharing a conversation, she picked it up and began to read. Apparently the sour mood wasn't just inside their apartment; it had infiltrated the news too – not that the news was ever exceedingly positive, but Nox found herself shaking her head in disbelief over every second article printed. One black and white photo showed the remains of an old bungalow where an entire family had been blown up (something about a gas leak) and another article further down the page detailed the ruthless murder of an elderly couple and their dog in Stoke-on-Trent. After ten more equally depressing articles, Nox folded the paper over and left the table.
She promptly changed into her work clothes, which were just as baggy on her skinny, featureless body as her pyjamas were, and roped her straggly mess of hair together in an elastic band, deciding on leaving the flat ten minutes earlier than she needed to. Maybe the air outside was a little less heavy (but considering this was Glasgow, that seemed as unlikely as Caithion turning up for work in a floral dress). Besides, she was a quarter way through her probationary year as a detective-in-training, and arriving a bit early wasn't going to harm her final write-up. She pulled on her boots and returned to the kitchen.
"I'll grab the shopping on the way home," she said, plopping a quick kiss on Edward's head, adding, "Be good," for safe measure. Edward shot her a smile that she knew was supposed to appear innocent, but instead looked like the smile of a 10-year-old boy who knew he had the house to his self for the whole day.
Nox cast the slim, smoky figure of Caithion a 'take care of him' look, and left the flat.
The moment Edward heard the door click, his blue eyes rose to meet the Irishman's.
"Why did you keep your blasted mouth shut, Caith?" He ran his hands over his face and through his thinning, fluffing hair.
Caithion sighed deeply. He knew what was coming.
"People could have been killed! Killed! I realise you deal with that every measly second of every blasted day, but Hell's Bells, it was a wedding! Bill's wedding, confound it all, and HIM back! Really back – the Ministry under his control; saw it with my own eyes, Rufus Scrimgeour DEAD, though you'll already know that of course, you Grim Bungler. Merlin, what a muckle! And Harry Potter disappeared to who knows where, poor lad; same age as my Nox that boy is and to imagine her in the same place as Potter, running and hiding from Him, HIM, damnation, and Death Eaters! Masks and all, just like before! How could you keep your dear, bony trap shut? What precious, blasted, blithering rule would you have broken with one measly word of warning?"
"The most important rule of all." Caithion had kept very still throughout Edward's ranting, neither smoking nor draining the last of his ice-cold tea. "I cannot interfere, Ed. You know that. I thought you understood that." For the briefest of moments something akin to regret flashed across his face then he pulled a packet of Marlboro Reds from his shirt pocket, pulled a stick out and lit it between his lips. "Besides, the future's always changing, especially at these sorts of times – prophecies do tend to toss things about as you well know." He leaned back into his chair, blowing a ring of smoke into the air, which transformed into a butterfly and flitted out the open window. One eye slid towards Edward. His friend was leaning his head in one hand.
Finally, Edward said a little hoarsely, "And the Weasleys?"
Caithion smiled. "Not their time yet."
"Good… Good…" He lifted the bottle of Glen Moray and gazed at its empty contents with an expression of amusement. "And here I was saving this for a jollier occasion."
"There's blood on the couch."
"Hmm, Luna's I'm afraid – 'Philius's daughter." He smiled wryly and added, "My Goddaughter. She's fine, she's fine. Just a bump on the head. Gave 'Philius one heck of a scare. I don't blame him." Edward got to his feet and walked to the windows overlooking Victoria Road and the dome of the Botanical Gardens. "I had expected something. Every dear fool with any sense did. Alas, as it was, He still managed to catch us off-guard. Just like last time."
"Did you speak to him?"
Edward avoided his gaze, mumbling a hasty, "Who?"
Caithion shot him a cautionary look. "Ed, I've warned you – don't get too close to that boy. Knowing what you know, and knowing what he doesn't know, you might very well land the both of you in more trouble than what it's worth."
"Good grief, could Fred be in any more trouble than he is already? What harm is there in giving the wretch one word of warning?"
"Because that isn't the way the world works. Besides, the future is always in motion. I couldn't tell you how it will happen, even if I wanted to." He tapped some ash into his tea-cup, looking grim. "I'm only the collector. I'm never the cause."
Down a narrow cobblestone lane, in a shop numbered 93 Diagon Alley, a young man with flame red hair and nut-brown freckles shivered abruptly and sneezed.
His twin grinned, bemused. "Blimey, you done? Nearly blew me out the bleeding shop there."
"Sorry," Fred laughed, rubbing his nose along the back of his hand. "Someone must be dancing on my grave."
A/N: Thank you for reading! Hope you enjoyed the chapter. Please let me know what you think! Cheersxx