Title: Blister Plagues

Author: grayglube

Beta: Maria

Chapter: 2: The Fossegrim

Rating: T/PG-13

Characters (in chapter): Regulus Black, Neville Longbottom, Mab MacDougal, Morag MacDougal, Poppy Pomfrey, Harry Potter, Charlie Weasley

Era: New Generation

Spoilers: N/A

Summary: Witches and Wizards are disappearing. Debts are being paid in full. A question is asked on whether the cost of a favor is worth what comes next.

Chapter Summary: Morag and Mab MacDougal's arrival at Grimmauld place, a sarcastic door, a no nonsense herbology professor, an outspoken redhead, a take no prisoners medi-witch, and an at a loss war hero.

Author's Notes: Just something I've been toying around with for awhile, it centers around the 7th year students of Hogwarts in 2015, the MacDougal family, Regulus Black, and the whispers of disappearances happening to prominent and eccentric members of the wizarding community.

One very long chapter, I must admit. Comments and concrit are welcome.


De Omnibus Dubitandum…

and nothing should be answered


Her unprepared stomach lurched when the pull stopped and the pop of apparition rang out shrilly against damp, muggy air in the garbage laden and smelling of piss rear alley of a dive joint in the back streets of a clammy, sodden London.

The teen's cough was loud and rough and raw; the hack of it seized her lungs and made her chest flutter in rapid winged quivers.

She spit white froth on the ground at the heels of the older witch.

With a look cast over her shoulder the older witch's nose wrinkled into her forehead.

"That's extremely attractive."

Casting a glance to the boy, half held up by the older witch and half by the alley wall, the teen quirked a bit of lip.

"I live to entice." She grinned with her mouth and not her eyes.

The teen fingered the mess of her hair limply and twisted the frayed, scorched strands into tiny balls flicking them into the shallow puddles.

"You're going to have to chop it all off, you know that." The older witch hefted the boy's arm farther up on her shoulder.

Still making more muddle of her hair the younger witch's face became painted over with a doleful type of an expression.

"Small loss." She moved to help with their unresponsive cargo.

The older witch held up a hand, waved it glibly and shook her head.

"I'll levitate him."

"Alright." The teen turned with a splash lapping up from the pitted puddle she stood in.

Outside of the alley the air decompressed, the light fogged out and brightened, the wind rattled iron front-step railings, water misted off the watered down flagstones, and the stink of piss and vomit faded out of her nostrils quick as it pleased.

'London. You old, soggy cunt.'

The teen thought it, if she'd said it she'd have been clotted in the mouth.

She would have said it, if her face didn't hurt enough already.

She looked around.

She disdained over Rosemarkie but she loathed London.

She loathed the weather.

She loathed its smushed together houses.

She loathed the ugly flagstones.

She loathed it intensely, passionately.

She loathed everything, except perhaps the bagger ladies with their carts and cans that smelled funny.

She liked the bagger ladies, and maybe, perhaps, the rugby team but that was all…

…and possibly the venders that made tottie scones, but that was it.

Everything else about London could bugger itself sideways from Boxing Day.

Something slammed into her between the shoulders and sent her stumbling forward, interrupting her long and rambling, off the tracks and over the bridge, train of thought.

Behind her the older witch had an amused look glued to her features.

"Well walk, gawking will get you nowhere."

Sweeping her arms forward the younger witch stepped aside.

Brushing past with her boots slapping wetly the older of the pair cast a well timed concealment charm.

A group of men in suits with dripping, somber looking black umbrellas rushed past prowling for a quick, late lunch and the view of gaggling, soaking schoolgirls that danced in the puddles with outstretched arms and now see through, formerly crisp, white blouses, waiting for the afternoon trolley home.

To them the two witches and the limp pile of dull flesh floating behind, trailing them, seemed to be little more than fog and faded lampposts.

A scream smacked off the flagstone.

The teen's head snapped up, her fingers twitching for a wand but it was only one of the uniformed tarts squealing as water sloshed her stockinged legs and filled her shoes as the arriving trolley slowed to a stop.

Her reaction wasn't out of fear of something attacking but rather a compulsion brought about by having nearly all blokes for friends, blokes who liked to jumped out and scream and pull nasty pranks if one wasn't constantly on guard for their mischief.

"Mab, come on now."

The older witch grew impatient as she strolled without the teen at her side.

She went along without another compulsive glance back at the younger witch who jogged to catch up, the hood of the borrowed cloak slipping off her matted hair.

The repetitive white-noise of the drizzle became a stillicide when it pattered into the puddles coating the flagstones, it annoyed the teen and set her teeth into a painful clenching crunch.

Her temporal pulse boomed in her brain and she fell into a low stupor of hot chills and aches she knew she wouldn't be able to sleep off in one bout.

There was a persistent itch on her eyelid that she couldn't rub away and a prickling ache high on the inner aspect of her thigh that she resisted pressing at and rubbing through her denims for propriety's sake.

Her bottom lip stung and instinctively she knew an itchy strip of wand was embedded there.

The discomfort of the splinters in her skin and the scratches set her on a thin edge.

Her companion had paused.

"Hold this." The older witch held out the wand that kept the boy floating with an annoyed tick of the wrist.

The way the older woman's head swiveled to take in all the buildings in the despotic panorama told the teen that her aunt was hopelessly lost and hadn't the foggiest of clues where they were supposed to cross a street or where they were supposed to take a right.

The teen reached out and grasped the wand firmly, the older witch looked thoughtful.

"Wait here."

She walked away and then set off in a jog down the paved walk slowing when a stray puddle made the mistake of crossing her path and sending water up her shins, it earned a glare from the older women who then, shortly, disappeared from view by turning a corner.

A tight-nerved, frustrated, and damp teenager waited at a waterlogged gap in the paved sidewalk kicking water into the street.

She was sore, tired, and desperately in need of a cigarette or a nap and so she waited with growing agitation, crossed arms, and a pout better suited for a five year old.

Casting a glance over her shoulder she watched Regulus Black bob weightless in the air, she huffed and snapped her head forward in aggravation.

Splashing water and skidding boots signaled the return of the older witch.

The welcome she received was bitter.

"Ten years with the Order and you don't even remember how to get there. What a shoddy piece of an old sh…-"

"Mab!"

"Sorry."

"As you should be. Let's go."

The older woman snatched her wand from younger fingers, her long nails scrapping over a skinned knuckle. The younger witch grimaced.

With a turn of a heel and a twist of soggy garments the older witch left with the cloaked pile of bones and loose skin at her back like a forlorn and tattered pet.

Trying to catch up with long strides to her guide a dizzy nostalgia seized the younger witch.

An utterance of déjà vu only half-finished left her before she stumbled with a staggered sway and uneven gait, nausea seized her lungs and raged war in her belly, fighting for a way up her throat.

She gagged and coughed up a mouth's worth of breakfast into a puddle.

"Alright?"

Sincere concern was surprising for the younger half of the duo to hear and to herself she thought of mean and nasty things to say but it was the muted 'fine' that left the acrid cave of her mouth.

She shivered and visions of warm beds danced through her head.

She coughed again, shallowly. She brought her knee to her chest and bent her spine to deepen the tremor hacking caused in her lungs.

She groped for an iron railing when she tipped forward.

She missed and crashed pell-mell onto the wet, coarse ground.

The left of her face burned with the searing pain of crushed nerves and now abraded, burned skin.

"Mab?"

The older witch stopped to turn and stare at the wet lump of witch who had moved from a vision of a hapless clumsy coughing git who had bad aim to a vision of a forlorn indolent child sitting on the edge of the walk.

"Mab?" The woman tapped a foot in the rhythm of impatience.

The teen hung her head between her knees and stared at the rivulets of water making a path around the toes of her boots.

She put weight on the outside of each foot lifting the soles off the street and cracked her ankles.

"Ma…?-"

"I'm just cold, and tired, and hungry, and dirty, and sod o…-"

She cut off and spewed between her legs, the opaque liquid coated the sides of her boots.

The older witch turned her head and inclined it towards the sky with worry and something akin to giving the girl the privacy to empty her stomach in the street without someone gaping at her.

She felt useless, but there was no time for soothing a sick child.

There were things that needed to get done but she made a silent offering to the overcast sky to let the younger witch sleep as much as she pleased and to buy her a carton of her favorite piece of muggle disease and cook whatever she could dream up once things were tidied up with the current quandary.

The older witch took in the sight.

The teen sat there, with a scorched hairdo of ruined curls and dirty water, her face a mess of muck, spell-burn, and bloodied lips, her clothes ripped and soot smeared.

For the sake of moving things along the only thing she said was a chastising remark about how her niece should learn to eat a much daintier breakfast when she knew they were going to apparating from place to place throughout the day.

The younger witch removed herself from the side of the street soon enough and felt much better then by having nothing else in her stomach to emit from her body by way of her mouth.

The trio continued on their lost little way.

The following silent stroll through a fogged up, drizzly, and brisk London amounted to nothing much more than a dismal moving view, familiar sights that sent one's stomach into hiding and leaving a nasty space behind that felt like a room without furniture with a whistle haunting the space between four badly plastered, drafty walls.

Water draining down into half-clogged with garbage reservoir cisterns.

Rainbow, oil slicked asphalt.

Curtains dampening and ballooning out from forgotten, unclosed windows.

Guttering in need of repair sending a torrent of dirty water down to slap even dirtier alleys.

Brooms angled against vender stands with a brown river spilling out from under their manes of dull yellow, muck-caked spines.

The subdued shades of spitted gum with shoe treads in them, left no less stuck in the pavement by the rain.

A ripped plastic grocery bag caught in broken bush twigs, sending up shrieks with the wind.

It was all the sort of thing the teen would imagine when she sat up listening to the old LP's the older witch kept in a plain brown card box, London had the same echo to it as old muggle jazz.

Why anyone would live there was the question ghosting her thoughts.

The duo's detail through the wind-ravaged, courtyard-esque, shrub-shrouded commons across from what was the center of operations for a now semi-dormant Order of the Phoenix, was dull.

Building's separated, grout and iron and rotting stone filled in an alley's width.

Grimmauld Place sandwiched itself between numbers eleven and thirteen, looking rather akin to a skinny, oddly sorted, volume of obscure origin with no meat in its written word on a book-shelf otherwise filled with crammed tomes of massive and dusty importance.

Across a deserted street.

Up rain-splattered steps.

A peeping look in on warm, dry, families watching glowing tellies.

Knuckles wrapping themselves around a heavy handle.

A crack in the door forming an inhuman, wooden grin asking who was to be announced upon entrance…

…an entrance yet to be granted.

"Morag MacDougal."

Wheezing laughter sounded from the broken slat with timber for teeth.

"I count three, not one."

One strained, vicious smile from a gnarled middle-aged witch.

"Morag MacDougal and company."

The creak of wood frowning.

"Names requested Dame MacDougal."

Names not given.

"I'll make you into kindling."

Threat issued.

"Hmph."

Threat received and not understood in the correct manner nor given the proper attention.

"Dah isch nuf ooh loddy oar. Ow, Macohgal hey ey."

Muffled voices and heavy footsteps and a heavy handed throwing of the door open.

"MacDougal, there's a cognomen not heard in a long while around these sorry parts. Hello Morag."

A tired smile from a tired woman.

"Hello Neville."

"Hello Professor." The begrimed and boisterous teen nodded up the steps.

"Hello 'Company.'"

"Off with you Longbottom, owl to Potter and Poppy and Andromeda Black."

With a sudden serious expression of urgency the older man in casual dress and flopping hair glanced down towards to the female duo's guest.

"Was there an attack?"

The teen rolled her eyes, the older witch slapped an open palm against the half-open charmed with sarcasm door.

She smiled weakly and retorted with half-hearted teasing.

The teen smirked.

"Not the type you war-rats are waiting for. Off with you. We will wait in the hall."

"Who is that, MacDougal?"

"That is Regulus Black."

"Regulus Black? Morag tha…-"

"Yes, I know exactly what it is, impossible because he's dead. I know what it sounds like, crazy because I'm a mean-spirited Scot. But budge up will you because I am most certainly not intoxicated or gone barmy and it is pissing rain out here."

"Mora..-"

"I will relate recent events to you as soon as one can."

"That might be best."

"Yes and I suppose sending off owls may wait."

"Well, will you come in?"

"Yes, we will. Thank you. Oh and I hate the new argot that insipid piece of plywood gives as lip, the old door was much better."

The older witch swept past the threshold with a floating skin-bag of banging bones touting behind.

The teen followed.

The largely confused professor with a hand curled around the edge of the door gave her a look that was more a question than anything else.

She shrugged.

"So…, Ma…-"

The teen interrupted, uninterested in obvious and unimaginative questions.

"Got any fags on you professor? I'm hangin' for a boog."

"Ah, no I, ah, don…-"

"Well that wasn't unexpected."

Her head swiveled to watch her aunt disappear swiftly down the long hall and up the stairs.

"Do you know what your Aunt is up to? Has she told you anything?"

The young witch responded with a raised brow and a quirk of her bottom lip.

"Professor, Aunt Morag wouldn't tell me the bloody sky was grey."

The teen then followed the older witch to the drawing room into which she had disappeared, leaving the Head of House Gryffindor with a furrowed brow and still standing, holding open the sarcastic piece of plywood that served as a door.

"Well don't just stand there with me open! Hooooonestly, impeccable manners, no really you great lug."

The door threw out into the silence.

A strong gale of angry wind that sent water misting off the steps followed, it shook the man more bulk than height out of stunned speechlessness and propelled him into letting the door close with a hollow, bored click, and sent him into where Morag and Mab MacDougal waited to be received.

* * * * * * * * * *

She had never been to Grimmauld place before, and after seeing it she was inclined never to come back.

Through the diagonal crosshatch of glass came murky light filtered by leaves and dirt; that had become caked and sludged to the windowpanes.

There was a constant mute thrum that made the floor hum. She assumed it was from a rattling boiler, that or there was an army of a small something crawling under the thin, worn carpeting.

It wouldn't have surprised her.

There was that and then a routine; badly played; tin whistle and murmuring coming from behind the walls.

There was a smell too; an organic rot, different from the organic rot of the cave they'd been in, that she was weary of identifying.

It was perfect for a dead boy who hadn't died properly.

The whole bloody place was gloomy, from the house-elf heads gracing the walk up the stairs, their leathery faces serving as morbid acknowledgement of their servitude, to the once exquisite and tasteful furniture that was half rotted and half covered in the water marks of old age.

The entablature around the ceiling edge was about as white as a fish pond that had never been cleaned.

The cornice sweat rain down the spotted and sagging wallpaper and the hooks it hid for the sake of people thinking the portraits hung on their own accord were crooked and set the paintings hanging at odd angles framing the room in a shoddy tableau of aged decadence.

Curios hid away, dusty and sticky, behind the glass of cupboard windows.

Metal things with legs like spiders, tarnished time pieces, putrefied bottled blood, a 'hello' written in a child's hand on a dusty bud vase, a velvet settee with puckered, ashy cigar burns on the arm, broken statuettes with sharp edges and molded over glass eyes made the room all too antediluvian for her to take.

Her fingers ran the length of bottles on the bottom shelf of the tea service, now servicing nothing but old booze and poisons suiting a debutante's taste.

Green, brown, blue, red, clouded glass bottles in curved shapes, round shapes, square shapes filled with potent ingredients necessary for some of the darker potions detailed in her 'The Cauldron Calls' tome.

Arrowroot; used for making things heavy.

Bog Beacon Cap; makes a person smell unbearable.

Cairn Bolete Cap; gave a person the shakes for hours.

Clannfear Claws; immobilized a person for days.

Dreugh Wax; water-breathing.

Elf Cup Cap; lowered inhibitions.

Harruda; pure painful poison.

Imp Gall; gave severe burns.

Motherwort Sprig; quick energy boost.

Somnalius Frond; made things float.

Spiddal Stick; made things explode.

Cognac, Whiskey, Absinthe, Illegal Wizarding Spirits; made you forget things and vomit them back up later.

Her padded fingertips found something soft and square.

Red velvet, damp and warm.

A ring box.

She lowered herself down from an ankle tiring crouch and dropped her bum to the floor with a soft 'oomph.'

Close to her curious face she opened it.

A beyond foolish thing to do with all she'd learned from both professors and her aunt but all the same youthful curiosity and arrogance overweighed the warnings she'd been given about letting unknown things alone.

The resounding 'whoosh' and following dusting of cold covered her wondering features.

Frost coated her eyelashes with crystals and left snowy parts on her eyebrows.

It felt nice, it numbed her face thoroughly and left her jaw slack and falling open.

"Dryaaadz sudel pollyfour capa, hurmless rally." She slurred over to the older witch with her tongue twitching pleasantly.

The response she got was angry rebuke.

"Stop touching everything; sit down, before you break something! I don't want to ge…-"

The teen rolled her eyes.

"Aye hurd you alwedy." She slurred rising up on her knees and sliding across the carpeting, it bunched up in small hills.

"No you did not, you aren't listening."

"I arm wisning."

"Stop touching everything; sit down, before you break something! I don't want to get poisoned because you're bopping arou…-"

"Aye hurd you!"

"Shut up before I clout you! Stop touching everything; sit down, before you break something! I don't want to get poisoned because you're bopping around like a half-wit!"

The teen was effectively silenced. She got up and flopped onto the cigar burned settee far across the room and pulled her cloak hood down over her face, a small ring of open clothe left only her nose and mouth visible.

"Would you both hush up!"

The older witch's taut but satisfied smile ghosted away.

"Neville I apologize, we argue, it's our way. Let's get on…,"

She waved a hand in the younger witch's direction.

"…unless Mab has more to slur at us."

The shape on the settee remained passive and unresponsive, more

"I do think she's finished Morag, if you would plea…-"

"I need a drink."

The younger witch watched the two from under the shroud of her smelly hood.

Morag MacDougal was in a mood.

Professor Longbottom was at a loss.

Her aunt poured herself a drink and swirled it around to the rim.

Her professor scrapped his short, dirt caked nails across the arm of his chair leaving rivets of uneven ripples in the fabric.

The older witch sagged deeply and deflated when the whiskey touched the back of her throat.

The older wizard played with his shirt cuffs lacking none of the boyish curiosity and reluctance to speak out of turn he oozed in the greenhouses at Hogwarts.

"So…" He started.

"…yes?" The older witch's raised her brow up a number of centimeters into her hairline and set her warm mid-afternoon-cap down on the tea service with a sharp clink that made the bottles rattle against each other dangerously.

He ran his damp palms across his trouser legs and then decided whilst putting them in his pockets instead to rest them on the chair arms and then while crossing his ankles to finally rest one on his knee.

"That's really Regulus Black then?"

"Oh yes, that's him."

A sharp exhalation of breath came out of him.

"You're sure then?"

"Oh yes, quite."

An adjusting of how the bulk of her cloak bunched in her lap preoccupied the older witch.

"You know then…-"

"Oh yes, I do know Neville."

They both locked eyes and grinned conspiratorial smiles.

"Oh yes, that is him, quite then." The younger witch mimicked whimsically.

"Mab, leave."

Her aunt was not amused.

"Gladly." The teen intoned rising and snatching the older witch's drink from the tea service on the way out.

"Yes, leave us adults alone you bothersome girl." Replied the woman crossly.

"Last words are for fools who haven't said enough." The teen countered.

"Then hush up." The woman waved her away.

"Hah!" The teen snorted after she had closed the door on her way out.

When left alone Morag MacDougal and Neville Longbottom shared the same toss of the head in the direction of the body lying prone across the room on a pile of lumpy, soiled cushions that had once been a chaise longue.

Looking back at each other they relaxed without any poise to their languid wilting against their respective chairs.

"How did this happen? How is he still…well…how's he sti-…"

"Alive?" The woman offered.

"Yes, that. Alive."

Before she could answer he tacked on a 'barely' to the end of his previous statement.

With a sharp snort she nodded her assent to the additive.

"Didn't have his wand. They were feeding him."

He paled to a sickly pallor and looked rather aghast but said nothing.

"I know, it is…it's unsavory. At best it's unsavory and at worst it's…" She waved a hand at a loss for the right word.

"Unsavory and worse is to be expected from the situation…and those things' natures." He stared at the mottled wallpaper.

"Yes." She nodded.

"But Morag, feeding him? Feeding him what?"

She caught his eyes and gave a grim, deathly smile with little humor.

"Do you have that little an imagination, Neville? Feeding him themselves, don't know who the more fortunate ones are, the Inferi they feed him or the ones feeding him the ones to be eaten. Dead isn't always dead enough, you know. Or maybe it was just their…their…I'm at a loss for what to call it, their 'energies,' perhaps, keeping him alive. Whatever the ministrations they applied to him it kept him 'alive' for this long and the damage it's caused I couldn't tell you."

"How did you find him?"

"In the lake, obviously." She gave the older wizard a look to suggest he was an idiot.

"I meant in what condition, not where."

She ignored his pointed way of explaining himself.

"Mab said she saw them wrapped around him."

"Mab?"

"The wand got tipped into the lake, someone had to get it and Mab's doesn't take much time to think twice about how to go about things with any semblance of subtlety or thought and without jumping into a bloody lake full of things that want to eat her while she's whipping her wand around. I barely had time to cast a buffer around her."

"So she's fine then?"

"She's tired and looks a bit green around all that spell-burn but it's nothing I can't handle myself later."

"Spell-burn?"

"Oh yes, smart one she is. Casted to close and got herself knocked about a bit. She's fine, really."

To herself the witch was more hopeful than sure that her words were right.

"Morag?"

Her thoughts trailed off without her.

"Hmmmm?"

"It's just that…hmmm well, yeah…,it, this, well it's a damn fine thing you've done. An admirable thing, really. I do mean that."

His compliment was laced with a question of 'why' slipped in and permeating his thanks.

Morag MacDougal felt no need to explain herself, it was a family matter, but still she settled for saying something that was less information than the man facing her was waiting for.

"I didn't do this for the Order. I just came across some information and had a spare thought, a bloody spare thought I'll admit, and felt the need to put it to rest by taking a look into it for myself."

It was a lie, of course, but he could guess well enough not to pry further into her reasons.

At least for the moment anyway.

Neville Longbottom didn't want to pry. He didn't want or need the confrontation when the story given seemed plausible enough.

But he still wondered to himself and came to the slow realization that later on he might just contradict his thoughts with his actions.

"I just, well Morag it's just…this whole thing is going to be a mess."

She sighed heavily.

"I know, I really do Neville."

They contemplated and mused in silence.

"So she's still like that then?" He broke the long and tedious silence.

"Who?"

"Mab, her…"

"Her attitude?"

"Yes, that. Her attitude."

"If by 'like that' you mean…, yes, Neville she is still 'like that.' But you'll be happy to know that the only holiday assignments she's done yet are yours, and…well yours and Weezies, but she fancies him."

"She's quite bright, Morag. You'd be proud with the way she works, she's pants at transfiguration but well…so are you and it's Weasley not Weezie. He's here too."

"Merlin, I feel for the man. Weasley…how could I get that one wrong? Old age, maybe? But I am quite proud of her, never tell her though, her head has a tendency to swell. By the by, what are all you boys doing here, I figured you but not much of anyone else, especially not any Weasleys."

"The full moon starts in two days Morag."

"Hmmm?"

"Teddy Lupin, he and Mab run together. He visited you and her at the end of the term I believe and I'm sure Mab's mentioned his…condition."

"Oh yes, yes. The boy with the blue hair. Oh! Full moon, he stays here during that?"

"Oh no, goes off with Professor Weasley, off to Hogwarts then comes back. Keeps him out of trouble, gives him a chance to run around. Not too much room in Andromeda's flat for that."

"I would imagine not."

They sat in comfortable silence.

"So, Neville how long do you think it'll be?"

"Before they show up?"

"Yes."

"Before it's chiefly Britished a day, two at most. The Ministry not far behind. You should be well prepared before they slather your name all over the headlines, get a story…"

She gave him a thinly veiled look of impatience.

"…a story that doesn't paint you up as a loon I mean, or rather for the situation a story that's you not saying anything really."

"Yes, yes I know. I work something up. I've got to leave and tie some things up; Mab will stay here of course."

"Of course."

"How bad will it be?"

"Quite, I would imagine, a summons for sure, maybe Wizengamot, it depends on who's sitting. But, yes it's possible they'll set you up for a 'talk' with the Wizengamot it was, after all, a place with Ministry wards that you broke into."

"Oh please Neville! Those poorly erected wards were falling apart on their own, there was no breaking of them needed. Really! One would expect more. As for the stacking of the courts I know of Odgen, Hopkirk, Marchbanks, Grey, etcetera, I'm not sure about whom else; I haven't had time to look into it, with all the…things going on."

"Understandable. How is your mother, I am assuming that is what you meant of course."

"Yes it was what I meant, the medi-witches have said about a month but that of course is a gross overestimate, they don't know the details, they think she's my grandmother."

"How long?"

"By the end of the week, at most. The bets are set, so to speak."

"Does she know?"

"Who? Mab? She has an idea."

He looked pensive, unsure to pry.

She raised her brow into her hairline.

"Morag why did you go out and do this? I mean really why, and please do not lie again but if you do I'll forget I asked. You do have your reasons after all."

She cursed herself and the wizard sitting across for his uncanny ability to see through anyone and every shrouded attempt at secrecy.

She felt tired and old and much like being frank at that moment, she told him more for the fact that Neville Longbottom was more confidant than idle gossiper like most of everyone else in the Order tended to be now that risks to the wizarding world were minimal at best.

"I went out and did this because she asked me to. I don't know why she wanted it done, I don't know how she knew him, I don't know when they knew each other, and I didn't ask because she's dying and it's the last thing she gets to ask for."

"It doesn't much matter Morag."

"No, it doesn't Neville."

They sat listening to the rain.

"So Mab has a blush on for Professor Weasley does she?"

She chuckled deep in her chest.

"Oh yes, talks about him all the time. If I were half as much bite as you think I am I'd drag her by her hair home. Honestly a man like that, all tatted up and playing with dragons. Hmph. Really, Neville! What was his name, Chester or Cary something like that?"

"Charlie."

"He's not married is he?"

"No."

"Even more reason to get her home before she catches a glimpse of him."

"She's not that bad Morag."

"Of course she's not, I raised her right."

"You did. The only boy she goes around with is Ted, and they strive to be hairy hag-warts on the back of their otherwise unblemished house record of notable alliances, not…well they're certaintly no-…."

"Not lovers, or whatever those who are still children but think they're adults call those who shag others."

"Yes, her and Ted are certaintly not that, whatever the term for 'that' may be, or lovers or 'shagbuddies' or whatever the expression may be."

"It's quite understandable, she ogles every man, or boy, with a nice arse and a mind for naughty jokes but she prefers to be by herself, it's her way, really. But I swear the moment she's done with her final tests she'll ask him out for a drink, Weasley I mean. That's also her way."

"What's that?"

"She waits for things she likes, as long as it takes."

She reached for her stolen drink and then stopped mid motion, remembering where it had gone.

"She's silly really; she'd better not end up pissed."

The witch shrugged.

"Hopefully she'll find somewhere to sleep off her mood with it."

The wizard leaned back.

"One can only hope."

The witch looked wistful.

They both smiled.

* * * * * * * * * *

The younger witch was curious.

She had learned nothing of value from pressing her ear up against the door of the room she had been previously expelled from, it seemed the old door's age did nothing to it's voice obscuring properties and so she set off on another search and while it was her deeply intoned sense of propriety or, rather, her sense of not wanting to get caught snooping that kept her from ascending the stairs further to explore where people were most likely to be it did nothing to dissuade her from descending two flights into the kitchen.

The table was meant for a feast, the floor gleamed back the reflection of glassy light that filled the corners, the counter and pans bright beacons of shine and shimmer.

The dust that might have once lorded over the place was now completely deracinated by a careful and constant hand at work.

She danced around the stove, one hand perched on the oven rail and the other with fingers curled around her aunt's glass.

Twirling lightly and swirling the drink she leaned against the corner of the counter, finally after a moment of thought swinging herself up and perching with dangling legs on top of the aged, but still surprisingly tasteful marble ledge.

A door opened somewhere in the space above her head and ceiling, light steps and taciturn voices sent her gaze upwards towards the cracked ceiling.

She held her breathe and listened, waiting for a word or snippet of secret wisdom from the unresponsive ceiling.

Searching for faces in the grey on black cloud-like smoke stains gracing the ceiling she exhaled loudly into her stolen drink.

The outcry of air sent a wet wrinkle across the liquid surface.

With bent knees she dismounted from her granite roost.

She bumbled through the pantry and when coming up empty handed for her efforts she relished in walking upright across the right row of chairs pushed out from the table and back down on the left row. On the final chair she mounted the table with flourish and a spin.

Her boots left damp, gritty marks on the unlinened wood top; she tossed a look at them with a dismissive air over her shoulder.

Strolling across her tabletop floor she wafted her cloak out with her free hand, making circles and spirals that wafted weakly outward and then fell limply before a flippant hand cast them out again.

The sound of an angry behemoth with boots above her head spooked her into alighting off the table and catching a wayward right knee against an over pulled out chair, sending it to the ground with a shaky rattle.

Resetting the chair she schooled her features into cherubic nonchalance in the event someone descended the stairs, when no one came her face melted into a look of both disappointment and inquisitiveness.

Rubbing her battered knee she set the glass glued to her fingertips down on the table with a clicking thud.

Bending her spine she tore her aunt's cloak off her weary frame, catching her smelly hair in a button barrette.

She left behind a wad of frayed and frazzled auburn strands around the rod-shaped cloak fastener.

Leaving the black bundle atop the seat of the once overturned chair and snatching her stolen glass of hooch she turned her direction to a door close to the pantry.

The narrow set of stairs leading down from a distant corner inside a shelved second food cupboard blackened out at the bottom from rot and old age.

Filtered red light shadowed the corners, illuminating moldy dust and piles of peeled paint chips probably still fuming with lead and asbestos.

When close to the bottom, settled on the forth stair up, the caterwauling of the boiler made every organ settled in her thoracic cavity hike up a foot into her throat and her hands scrambling for a hold on the unbalanced banister like a 'bloody poltroon' as her elder would have said.

As the cranky boiler appeased itself and retreated back to creating a low hum and screechy hiss she continued on the downward path set and accentuated like a stairway into a darker aspect of Hell than the rest of the house so valiantly displayed on its upper levels.

With her feet settled on the second stair up and her free, right, hand curled around the ornate wooden ball serving as a banister stop she leaned at an angle, peering across the red boiler light lit room out towards an opening in the wall, more an unusually shaped hole than door.

It was small. Smaller than a person of average height to walk unstooped through.

A microcosm of a normal person's chosen habitat.

A house-elf's hovel.

She wanted to snoop and to pry and to crawl through but a working and cautious part of her mind reasoned that a provoked and cruel elf could very well cause her great harm if she was caught in its private escape.

Like Babayaga, she ate children and spoiled milk and stole babes from their mothers' wombs.

Finally she decided to go off and take a peek, reasoning that Babayaga was a hag not a house-elf and that aside from getting tossed out on her ass if anyone was home in the tiny room or thrown into the boiler as kindling by a bit of brownie magic there was little risk.

Something stayed her feet nonetheless, a complacent feeling of willing one's body to do something but being stuck by a much better working part of one's brain, the part of one's brain that kept people out of trouble, or from having any sort of fun in her opinion.

She swayed on the stair, balanced at her angle of choice, defying the pull of gravity with a sweaty hand and quickly tiring arm. Pumping herself back and forth from acute to obtuse angles she listened for signs of life, murmuring or shallow, quick steps.

Still when hearing none she stayed frozen in what was quickly becoming a routine of silly movement atop her single stair.

Something opened and shut doors much further up than the sounds she had heard before, people moving room to room, she was too far away to hear voices but she heard timbres of rhythmatic hums that stopped and started like human speech.

Taking a swig she looked behind her and forward and back again. With tosses of her hair and nervous swallowing she took the two final steps down.

She glided in a crouched form of contorted jerky movements over to the hovel hole.

Peeking in and squinting she saw that no one was at "home."

Bending at the waist with a flat palm on the portion of sweating wall above the hole she cocked her head inside.

It was a dismal view, a mass of soiled, foul smelling linen serving as a bed, a square of unframed glass hung on a metal cord above a basin, a dented, melted looking metal mixing bowl really, filled less than halfway with stagnant water, a pile of stems and small foliage with an odd three or four petaled blossom of violet strewn about, torn and smeared curtains earning their keep as tattered wall-hangings to quell the dripping of the dirty walls underneath.

Certainly not the adventure she was looking for, no baby bones or flesh left out to tan in the swelteringly damp heat of the room or grisly trophies of past curious girls gone looking for some semblance of entertainment.

Pathetic and boring and a waste of time at best.

At most the sad stank of squalor permeating everything in the tiny niche could be considered haunting and more than slightly nauseating, but adventure worthy it was not.

She decided to go back, hoping with a swig of pilfered and stale booze on her way up the stairs that there were greater things awaiting to be worthy of her lackluster attention.

But first she had to piss and finding a loo quickly became her paramount concern.

She snatched the bundle of her borrowed cloak off the table and went off on a new search.

None off the kitchen, none off the dining room on the ground floor, none off the room she had been kicked out of that her aunt and professor had now evacuated from and gone off to parts unknown.

She started to think to herself where in the nine hells a person was supposed to relieve themselves in the maze of a house and half-thought it a good idea to drop her drawers and aim for the nearest wall.

Across the hall from the empty sitting room were two doors.

The first locked, in a spurt of rage she gave it a kick that left a hairline cleft in the indented bottom square of the wood, the sound was a sagging wet one derived from the state of the door; it was all but waterlogged from the humid fog that encased the hallways of the manse.

Sounds of a tired giant groaning and throwing something back at the door from the inside sent her into fleeing the scene into the sanctuary of what was behind the second door.

The loo.

She bumbled around the walls searching for a switch.

Lights clicked on with an electric buzz and spilled greasy light onto every inch of the aged but clean lavatory.

Surprising, yes. Unwelcome, no.

At least her arse would have a clean place to be put was her sentiment on the room.

Reaching behind her she spun the lock into place for privacy and then she proceeded to 'cop a squat.'

Her swelled bladder thanked her but her burned leg did not.

The pain made by her denims scrapping against her skin made her nails curl into her palms and her eyes glass over.

She focused on the slap of urine against porcelain and how hopelessly ruined the toes of her boots were to distract herself.

Finishing with a wipe and a flush she flat-palmed the wall and rose with creaking joints.

Trying to slowly work her tattered, ashy trousers left her face flushed and wearied her to the point of desperate tears.

With a 'sod it all' thought and a hop and a yank and a silent scream she had herself once again suitable to walk out of the tiny room.

Someone else thought it suitable to walk in from the adjoining second door into the room that she hadn't thought to twist the lock on.

It opened a smidge.

Her heart had itself a private jump. So did her foot when it smacked the door shut, her body slamming into the wall and her leg twisting with a knee pointed outwards.

"In here!"

A sleepy 'sorry' from a man's mouth made it through the wood of the door.

Whoever it was retreated back further into the room and the whoosh and squelch of something hitting feather-down pillows and mattress made itself known.

Toeing the lid of the toilet closed she tossed the wad of cloak in her hand in the direction of the tank, it slipped and slithered to the floor with a fabric swoosh.

Her hands grabbed the counter she looked up at the mirror with a form that was all hunched shoulders, downcast eyes, and a low hung head.

She look like shite.

Her hair a frizzed, burned ball of mess that she'd have to cut off, she thought of what would happen when she returned home and it was along the lines of being shorn like a sheep in the middle of the kitchen with an old towel around her shoulders and her arse falling asleep against an uncomfortable wooden stool.

Her left arm blistered and welted with bubbles of raised skin and cooked enough to smell like overdone pork. An odd coloring of lemon melted in with the pink and red and black.

Her right arm pink where strips of flesh were long since gone.

Whatever stasis or stanching spell her aunt had cast had done a bloody good job to keep her from carrying on like a child with a bad and bloody booboo.

The left side of her neck and face little more than raw skin outlined with black scorch marks and ringed with the same canary lemon yellow as the blisters on her arm, an aureate gold if one wanted to be a doctrinaire for detail.

Visible splinters left brown lines under skin that was uncooked.

Her eyelid hung low, swollen and bruised and as itchy as 'Merlin's asshole' as her aunt would have said.

Her left eye half red, and just red from vessels popped and squeezed leaving blood floating and squirming restlessly in the vitreous fluid.

Her lips stripped, chafed, and oddly striped with vertical lines the color of cigarette ash, the skin around her mouth puckered and prune-like.

There was a rather dashing plum colored bump on her temple.

It looked like she would survive albeit with a few winces and groans in the next few days.

A bit banged up and burned but not a bad way to waste a summer day.

The bill from Mungo's would be exorbitant though, enough for her aunt to drag her niece home and take care of the healing process herself, a process characterized by half a day in bed a spoonful of fish oil and hard labor to 'sweat all the sickness out.'

Pulling her scrounged cloak from the floor she put it back on and pulled the hood over her head tightly then unlocking the door and turning out the lights.

She took the stairs two at a time hearing the sound of a heavy footed someone taking her place in the vacated bathroom with the slam of a door.

* * * * * * * * * *

The older witch had escaped from the fusillade of questions thrown at her from one old medi-witch of the angry caliber; after seeing so many 'unnecessary' wounds inflicted on the boy, one aged; but still full of irritating auror based ire; Potter, and one damn demanding house-elf that she was near to strangling until Longbottom succeeded in extricating the overly joyful creature from her leg.

She found her niece at the bottom of the stairs, her breath leaving fog against the glass she had wrapped her fingers so carelessly around.

"Mab."

The younger witch turned her head a fraction.

"Auntie."

The older witch dug her fist into her pocket and withdrew with a slightly damp and mostly soggy bill.

"Go buy yourself a pack. Potter or Poppy might want to talk to you, be civil and just try as best you can to answer their questions. Avoid the house-elf, he's a bit amorous."

The teen stood and reached out for the fiver in her extended hand.

"How is he?"

"Well 'moribund' is one thing I've heard, but Poppy always has been a bit of a sensationalist and by now I'm sure she's near lachrymose. You're in for an ear-pulling from her for you're part in his condition. For now he's out, as he will stay for awhile. He's weak and thin, both of which are being taking care of slowly by that muggle drippy thing Poppy had stowed in her bag and improvised with a wire hanger to make."

"That's…well good, I guess. It is good right?"

"Yes, it is."

"That's good. Do you think she'll need any help?"

"Who?"

"Madame Pomfrey."

The older witch was surprised at the question but hid it well enough, it didn't look like it phased the younger witch.

"I don't know, you could ask later but I don't think there's much you could do to help. She seems to be handling it well."

The younger witch frowned and chewed on the inside of her cheek.

"I could help you know, I'm not completely useless."

An angry flint flashed across the younger witch's eyes

"I didn't say you were. Don't get saucy with me."

"I'm not getting saucy!"

The younger witch looked away realizing that her volume contradicted her assertion.

The older witch said nothing but stood waiting for clarification that was short coming.

"I just…I…I'd know what I was doing alright?"

She was still upset over something.

"Why are you yelling?"

The suspicious gleam in the older witch's eyes was strong and noticeable.

"I'm not incompetent. I know a lot about things like this."

"Things like what?"

"This! Taking care of people."

"Don't know why'd you know that, can't even take care of yourself."

The older witch smiled when she said it and meant it as a lighthearted teasing bit of humor.

It had the opposite effect.

"Listen, alright…-"

"I am."

"No you're not!"

"Honestly Mab! You're being a child!"

"I know how to take care of people, okay!"

"Alright, you already told me that."

"I trying to be house medic this year, okay! So don't act like I'm useless, I know stuff."

The silence stretched thin and taut between the two.

The older witch was stunned more from the angry reaction she'd gotten than from the confession made.

The teen toed the loose edge of the rug covering the stair, flipping it back and forth, sending up the distinct smell of dust and strong wood rot.

The woman watched her and felt the tug on one's connection to another person when one realizes a gap had appeared and grown over time that they had carelessly overlooked and even worse, let grow.

"You forgot to mention this until now, Mab?"

The younger witch looked up and a pallor of surprising shame swam behind her eyes.

"I was waiting to get it before I told you, makes for a grander type of reaction, you know? I mean, you know, not one like this but I really didn't want to tell you yet. Sorry, I'm just being…I'm just tired. Sorry, I shouldn't get upset."

They stood on their parallel stairs watching each other with parallel stares of a more evocative type.

"I know, Mab. But now that you've told me I'm going to hold it to you."

"What?"

"That you better make medic."

"Or what?"

"I'll think of something."

A shake of the head and a contented sigh left the women.

"When you get back I want Poppy to take a look at you…"

Her fingers trailed over the burns hidden beneath an obscuring black hood atop her niece's head with cool fingertips and hard nails.

"It's fine, really. It looks bad but nothing you and King can't fix when we get back."

At the mention of 'King' the older woman rolled her eyes and placed a hand on her hips, her fingers tapped a tone against the fabric.

"King probably went back to his own hovel after first leaving soiled shite in the milk carton and filling the mattresses with woodchips."

"That's a pleasant thought but he's still there. If he'd wanted to leave it'd be when I leave for Hogwarts, he adores me it's you he hates, you're just mean. It's me who rescued him."

The older woman snorted, loudly.

"You didn't rescue him, he tricked you and now we're stuck with him."

"Semantics." The teen intoned with a wry grin.

She went on.

"But it's okay, I forgive you. And it's fine, really, I mean I'm fine besides the missing bits of skin and really flattering spell-burn all over my face and I can get Professor Neville to cast another stanching spell when this one wears off while you're gone and when you come back we can go and then you can bake me something to make me feel better."

The younger witch was sarcastically amused.

The older witch's heart turned leaden.

It was the 'and when you come back we can go' that got her and stuck her voice down her throat.

It wasn't going to be that simple, or that fast, or that easy and as things stood the younger witch would not be exempt from the following days' worth of ministry drama she herself as the older of the pair would have to run a gauntlet to rid herself of it.

Still the woman gave a facsimile of a smile.

"Still, I'd feel better if she looked at you." Her tone was final and absolute and happily the teen didn't question it, and if she did she kept it buried under a small frown of dutiful compliance.

The older witch touched the girl's face reverently, careful not to irritate the scorch marks. She held up the limp thing in her hand and offered it up.

"And when you go out wear this, can't have you wandering about in a cloak, even if we are in London people aren't that strange."

She handed the younger witch a large, heavy and hooded zip jumper. Swamp green and smelling of dirt and the sun.

It was not a hard bit of deduction to figure whose it was.

The older women reached out and grasped the back of her niece's head; her dry lips brushed the younger witch's forehead and mumbled against the skin.

"I'll see you later."

The teen pulled back and smiled.

"I'll be back in time to watch you get frotted by the house-elf."

The older witch watched her niece fix herself into the jumper, set her glass down on the corner of the bottom stair with her cloak and disappear out the front door, the static sound of rain fading in and out in it's movements of opening and closing.

A throat cleared at the top of the stairs.

"You're leaving too then?"

She turned to see Neville Longbottom leaning casually against the banister pillar.

"I'll be back once things are handled. When whoever the Ministry sends gets here owl me."

"That I will do."

"Thank you."

"It does no one well to lie about things, Morag."

"I did not lie, Neville."

"Neither does it do one good to ignore what another is asking even if they don't say it aloud, Morag. Namely what you didn't tell Mab."

It angered her deeply that he persisted on her telling the truth about every little insignificant thing.

It annoyed her that he thought he could pick at her like one does a scab more than once in a long while and get away unscathed and unbloodied.

She planned to tell him as much.

"I appreciate the effort you put into dissecting other's lives as you do so well with cross-sections of roots and bulbs and whatever else you bide your time by but I do not and am not about to appreciate the assumptions of your own sort to matters that concern no one but us MacDougal's, Professor Longbottom."

Her glare was shrouded in nothing short of a frosty glaze and she treaded quickly out of the room and down the hall and over to the door and disappeared out it into the street and into an alley and apparating to somewhere that Neville Longbottom would not be familiar with.

"Yes, well that was not unexpected from a Scot." Speaking to no one in a near venomous tone he was left quickly with a fleeting sense of aggravation and a newly born sagacity that he used to calm himself.

Things were at work and nothing was going to be easy, and he made a note to walk a line of caution when he found himself in the sights of Morag MacDougal's temper.

* * * * * * * * * *

She would keep her eyes on the ground when people got close enough to her to make out the burnt and bruised lines of her face, and when they'd passed she'd raise her eyes to stare out and up.

The rain and the clouds hung at the perihelia in the sky, gently trying to blot away the dull shine of a hazy sepia sun.

People passed in droves and it was pleasant in the same sense that camaraderie was, but it didn't do much to fill the sense of a lazy Sunday morning that gnawed and clenched on her entrails, the sense that one was bored but with a different sort of boredom that was devoid of aggravation, a sense of exposure like the time she had tried to fall asleep naked but felt too uncomfortable, the sort of uncomfortable that could drive a person to anxious tears.

It was the same sense of a thing she felt now.

Knowing that she was penultimate on everyone's list of things to do filled her head with thoughts of spending the day on the streets just so she would kill all the time everyone was doing other things and then they'd be left to wait for her with tempers flaring and joints tightening and teeth clenching.

But she only had a fiver and she'd smoke all her cigarettes long before the time when they got around to waiting for her, so the idea flopped sadly; like two stuck together news rags; glooping through the gutters on the coattails of the wind.

Besides, Grimmauld place had an ambience to it, a deliberate manipulation of gravity, the type that came from old families and happy children and criminals that brought a person back to it.

Passing cars upset the tiny worlds of the sound of gunfire under their wheels.

The wind murmured over the tin roofs, telling her tales of bad people, and bad deeds, and bad days.

She had to wait behind a man with a navy umbrella and heavy jowls, a boy with boots whose brand ran something like club-ya-wallies-out-shite-kickers and a shaved purple fuzz of a hair-do, and an old bag that had an all too familiar on a rainy day, shiny and plasticy shower cap hood thing covering her perm; tight and sticky with the weight of rain drops.

Assorted items bought included the daily muggle news rag not fit for wiping ones own arse with, obviously unreal crocodile jerky that was more novelty than food item, a pack of Porter's more mint than real menthol and with filters made of one-third fiberglass, a tin of cat food whose commercial advertised gourmet style eating for a creature that licked it's own bunghole, and a box of Earl Grey.

The man paid with an overly excessive amount of poundage and strolled high and haughty out down the walk, dropping coins as he shoved bills into his trouser pocket.

The street urchin of a boy whose only hobby of substance was running away from home and hanging out under graffiti tagged bridges gave a fiver of his own and got on his way, but not before making lewd gestures at the old lady behind him with his tongue.

He gave the younger witch a look and a blink and walked backwards down the pavement blowing her a mock kiss.

The bag directly in front all but hissed and shouted aged profanities after her 'admirer' and paid in jingling spare change drudged up from the deep dark depths of her overly large and overly phoney 'designer' sack.

When it came to the younger witch she tightened the string on her hood making her face disappear a bit more effectively.

She asked for Silk Cuts because they tasted like bacon and that was what the main bloke in the Hellblazer comic smoked, it made her feel like she was out tailing demons and cult worshippers and criminals and being quite film noir in her efforts of doing so when she smoked them.

The nondescript shanty-shack owner fumbled to open a fresh ten count carton to scrounge out a pack for her. Probably knowing she was a few years short of being allowed to poison herself with them, but with no Bobbies around the risk wasn't really a risk and business was still business.

She stared at the change dish on the corner of the edge of the counter it was one of those "Take-One-Give-One" things she never really got the meaning of. It had grime and wet dust on the rims of the letters spelling out its purpose; she reached and cleaned the grooves with her broken and dirty nails.

"'Ere ya gah lil' mess."

He was some sort of Irish, as told by his accent and the fact that he was quite rosy in the beard.

She slid her fiver across the counter, smearing dribbles of rain into thin rivers with its path.

He gave her the change and he leaned in towards her, staring in a way that niggled her insides because it was the type of stare that only counted if she met it and she did forgetting that she wasn't at all in the best condition to be look at.

He gave her a crooked old bloke sort of smile and in his mind he must have categorized her under the tab that marked her as a without a home and without a cause, a rebel, a hobo, a gremlin, an in-a-decade-or-so future bagger-lady.

It was alright, really it was. She understood.

"Ye tack gud ker o' yoserf misssay, ain't let none o' those boyos give ye ainy shite, gerls really ain't suppose'ta be out by ter oneses, not ta sey tis ain't a nis place ta lev but ye know ow dem boyos get when a gurlie go by. Keep dose ayes o' yers peeled and perkay. Ya ear meh?"

"That I'll do. Take it easy, you hear me?" She gave him a quizzical and comical eyebrow quirk.

He chortled loudly.

The teen smiled and took her change then stopped and dropped it with a jingle into the tray.

She walked on, her soles slapping in a wet, happy rhythm.

Unwrapping the cellophane from around her choice of disease she tossed it in a choked rubbish bin, she crumpled the silver slip of paper inside and took aim. It bounced energetically off the rim and got itself carried away on the tides of dirty, greasy, gutter water.

The teen found refuge under a shop awning and hug a fresh fag between her lips. Her hands dove into her tight pocket to yank out her small silver case. It only fit sixteen fags and she'd rather smoke the remaining three that would be left out than have to shove her flip-top box in her other pocket.

Some passing strangers gave her disapproving looks and other's dismissed her like so much scenery. Street rascals were a blight on the city but nonetheless an accepted one all the same by the whole of a city's denizens.

She had found her lighter in the pocket covering the left side of her bum.

Soon enough her thumb was sore from flicking the ridged wheel without being rewarded with a spark and whoosh of tiny fire.

"Bloody fu-…"

Someone lit a match by her ear, the scent not the sound told her.

The boy with shaved purple hair held the wall up by his shoulders a few respectable feet away.

He grinned at her in a way that made her take a closer look at him thinking it was Ted trying on a new look. She decided it wasn't him. Ted always smelled good, where as this soggy stranger wafted garbage and unwashed body stench in all directions.

"Nice mouth luv."

"Heh. Buttfuck?"

He snorted and passed her his nasty menthol fag. She lit her bacon-ish, smoky flavored snack off it and passed it back.

"So luv…ya got yerself a name?"

She grinned around her cigarette and tilted her head against the glass of the shop window behind her, she looked dangerously amused.

"So guv…ya got enuf sense ta mind yer own bisnus?"

She mocked his horrible cockney.

"What a lady."

He smiled.

He wasn't ugly.

He was just dirty, bruised, and homeless.

And British.

She didn't go for the British boys.

They weren't ginger enough for her.

She pushed off from the wall shaking her head and pressing her tongue against the end of her filter.

"Thanks, guv."

"Where ya going luv?"

He called after her at her unresponsive back; she thrust her hands deep into her borrowed jacket.

She rolled her eyes at the sounds of the twit jogging to catch up to her.

Tossing her hood shrouded head with a flippant gesture she look back at him and his gap toothed smile.

He was blathering on about something but she was too entranced by thinking he ought to brush his teeth more to pay his seduction attempts any serious mind.

A foul cloud of a noxious, smelly cough spun her thoughts around enough to jar her into standing at attention in a polite attempt to escape his bad breathe by way of unsubtle, sharp movement.

He regained his ability for speech.

"-…so you wanna get a bite?"

'A charmer.' She thought it with a hint of malicious intent.

"Of what, yer mum?"

He giggled like a nervous school girl.

"Whateva ya want luv."

"You payin' guv?"

He shrugged shaking rain off his cobalt jumper.

She yanked him over to the vender with the yellow and green stripped umbrella atop his cart that spilled greasy, waved steam into the air.

She was in the mood for a tootie scone and having a sucker pay for her.

He did.

They walked, smoked, and spoke around the dry crumbs in the corners of their mouths.

Mostly he spoke of his many feats over silly Bobbies and smokin' up and boozin' it and shaggin' out and taggin' away.

Mostly she nodded and rolled her eyes and gave noncommittal one-word answers.

Then she found when her patience for the boy had run dry and her last delicious bite of artery clogging sustenance had been washed up on the shore of her stomach he wasn't as accommodating as one would hope to let her walk off and go about her own business, he backed her up into a damp and sinking space between buildings.

It wasn't at all charming.

It took a lie about how she already had a chap to wrap her legs around, a threat about bag-tagging until the pissing of blood occurred, and a sharp elbow under the ribs into the kidneys when nothing else worked to get rid of him.

Also she thought she might have bit him because the inside of her mouth tasted like old sweaty jumper.

She left him on the back door garbage stoop of a closed bar with his bollocks intact but his wallet significantly ravaged and a box of matches poorer.

Well, ravaged in terms of his wallet if one could consider a whole of twenty pounders ravage worthy.

Leaving behind the tight alley she'd been all but shoved into she looked up and tried to find the sky but the buildings sagged so close they blotted out the rainy day in a sad, strange way.

She smiled and kicked a puddle.

A moan permeated the air deeper in the alley.

"Ahhh, shaddup I barely touched ya." She called back.

"Ya bloody cunt-bag! I'll set yer bloody fucking face on fire and put it out with a golf iron, you bloody cow!"

She frowned and thought about walking back and kicking him in his big dumb head. That wasn't what she did though.

"I'm peachy keen as is, thanks."

It was a comment she kept under her breath so as not to fire things up any further.

She poked at her flip-top box and pulled out a cigarette that was slanted against its cardboard jail cell and sucked it between her lips with an intake of breath.

'Brits, pssst bloomin' gomerils. ' She thought sparking up.

* * * * * * * * * *

Professor Weasley nee Charlie Weasley left wet splatter across the steamy bathroom mirror as he tousled his hair and swept his head back with a wicked shake.

Pushing the metal tab into a pre-made hole he buckled his belt loosely, letting his denims sag on slim, well-defined hipbones.

Draping his shirt carelessly over his shoulder he unlocked the door and let steam billow out into the lighted rectangular space the open door left across the dark wall opposite.

First he had been knocked awake by a banging on his door that had been Neville telling him to rouse his lazy arse from a well-deserved nap to come and help within the next few hours with a 'situation of remarkable notability.'

Needless to say he'd fallen back asleep atop rumpled bed sheets and crookedly smushed musty pillows damp with early morning drool.

Then he'd been violently scared by a bang and a boom on his door.

Getting up to investigate the matter further he winced at the crack on the bottom half of it thinking Neville was in an angry and womanly mood.

After that the urge to have a private piss seized his bits and upon trying the door adjacent to his bathroom someone slammed it shut with a feminine squeal and a woman chastised him with an angry 'In here!'

He wasn't sure who it was since the whole house had been commandeered for a 'boys holiday' that included Neville, Bill, Ted, and Harry; if he ever got a moment away from work and his Harpy as he so liked to call his wife and Charlie's sister.

The thought of that made him shudder.

The 'boys holiday' had been severely stunted by Bill's little accident involving an opportunity at a dusty tomb somewhere in an equally dusty part of Egypt and his getting stuck behind a rather intricate set of sliding doors, he'd be fine but the process of reversing spells instead of blasting the damn thing open was long and complicated and made Charlie sulk like a child at the missed opportunity of saying new git-like and humorous things about his brother's girlish frame and earring and long hair and newfound love of french music.

Then came the hindrance of Ted only being allowed to come for four days instead of the planned ten because of him trying out some of new naughty Scottish his little flower had taught him when he went up to the highlands and then Dromeda upon hearing his foul new style of articulation made the decision to keep his cheeky arse planted at home for the remainder of his summer except during his 'time of the month' where he took on more than Charlie's brother's wolfish habits but less of his father Remus'.

Also the problem with Little Potter and his overabundance of assignments and not to mention his livid-on-the-best-of-days wife had kept him from any sort of fun and frivolity thus far.

And Neville had his own 'trouble-and-strife' to nag him.

Charlie felt both happy and fortunate to have survived thus far by baching it.

'Women.' He thought wistfully about how they ruined all the fun, unless they were starkers; then they were the fun.

That thought lead him back to speculating about the mystery woman in his bathroom, normally an event that was good but in this case unexpected and bad because it had ruined his nap.

Neville had probably snuck Hannah in to ruin the 'boys holiday.'

He'd have to have a word with the man later about the rules of the 'boys holiday.'

His mind sparked with something important that Neville had mentioned while nagging him to roll out of bed.

Something about the MacDougal's showing up.

Mab and Morag.

Scottish lasses.

Bad language and mean spirits.

Sharp tongues and short tempers.

Mab was a good student, and according to Ted she could fly more than moderately well. She was a bit much if one were to tell the truth.

Her predecessor though, Morag, wasn't a fan of most Brits but she duelled well enough and had seen a bit of violent action in her time. A good woman but she was a bit scary if one were to tell the truth about her.

He felt saddened Ted had gotten himself boiled, if he hadn't he could be taking drags off Mab MacDougal's ciggys when Dromeda wasn't looking and making eyes at the girl all he wanted when she wasn't looking.

He felt saddened that he wouldn't get to take the Mickey out of the poor boy everytime he looked at the girl with those dopey eyes of his.

That was even sadder.

His pace was deliberately slow and sleepy as he shuffled towards the stairs. His fingers massaged his damp scalp with languid, lazy strokes.

His stance straightened at the scent of acrid, soiled air ripe with wisps of grey smoke twirling as they dissipated in ever increasing patterns that moved ceiling bound and outward.

The drifting procession of cigarette smoke from the bottom of the stairs wafted into the concaved space of his lungs.

He breathed long and deep with a blunt shiver, it made him rock on his feet.

He grinned.

For one to smoke in the ruin of the old Black house took bollocks, if Harry or Neville saw anyone with a fag hanging off their lip that someone's head would get knocked severely to the side.

He himself smoked casually around the house, pressing his luck but never enough to warrant a smack, normally he stuck to doing it in whatever room they gave him though.

He liked to think it was his bigger frame that kept either of the two other men from carrying out with any form of physical retribution.

There were, however, to his knowledge no people in the house who would be at the bottom of the stairs languishing around in such a libertine like fashion.

The MacDougal's were most likely with Neville wherever he was, dealing with whatever the 'situation of remarkable notability' was.

Morag MacDougal was not the type to make house-calls for tea-parties and Mab MacDougal was not the type to roll out of bed when no one was around to turn the mattress over on her.

The situation suggested it was important enough for Morag MacDougal to even show up and for Mab MacDougal to get dragged along with her.

There were other people in the house of course, he'd heard doors slam below and above his room.

If it was important Harry might already be there.

And if Harry was there Ginny might be too.

It could have been his sister at the bottom of the stairs but the stance they, whoever it was down there, had adopted was undeniably one that could belong only to a kid; the slumped shoulders and bent knee coupled with the other leg extended, the way they held their cigarette and the jacket; wet and dirty, a haphazard shield to defend against chill and damp outside, the air of arrogant nonchalance was cocky and careless.

Ah, youth, he thought wistfully to himself.

His sister was taller, Harry didn't smoke, Neville didn't either, the shape and stance was one he'd seen before on the lawn of Hogwarts sheltered behind some natural barrier so as not to get caught polluting the air.

Charlie Weasley looked down over the banister, with it digging into the space below his pectorals he pressed his tongue on a chapped bit of his bottom lip.

"Ted!"

He shouted loud enough for a shift of stance to happen in the shape seated on the bottom stair but not loud enough to grab more attention than necessary.

Charlie was bemused and flicked his hand out at the wrist, a gesture of flippancy and humor.

"No, no, no Ted. Don't go slapping your ivories about your…-" He paused searching for some witty bit of speech.

"-…your…nasty habits and how you get the jitters if you don't 'succumb.' I know, really I do. Buuuuuut…"

He let out a heavy huff that made his chest press further into the wood of the balustrade.

"…I'm guessing your grams isn't anywhere close enough to smell that or else you wouldn't be doing it. Isn't that right?"

The shape let out a small, husky, smoker's hack as a laugh.

"You probably cased the joint too, just to make sure you could be so blatant about it. Ya bloody brat."

He pressed his palms against the railing and pushed back, leaning with a slight sway.

The shirt swathed across his shoulder slipped to the floor with a shivering, liquid-like sound. He inclined his neck to stare at it in thinly veiled aggravation and disgust.

Keeping one hand on the banister, spinning his shoulder in its socket, and accidentally pressing his bum up against the rods holding the banister to the floor he grasped the offending garment between stretched fingers.

On the way up blood rushed through his head back down to his toes with a slopping swoosh taking place internally.

He caught the flick of a head turning back to face forward violently as his own eyes turned their gaze downward.

"Good to see you got let out and here I was thinking I'd be all by my oneses and your chances of showing up were as rare as rocking horse shite but you're quite the little blag artist these days aren't you so I really shouldn't be so astounded. Though, I'm not about to believe she gave you your fags back that quick but…ah…damn, what the 'ell were we talking about before? Oh! Yeah! Allow all that because you won't Adam and Eve whose here, but don't guess because I'll tell you, you cheeky chappy."

The shape 'hmmmed' in agreement.

"Your Scottish lass is here. That ought to get you to chin up."

The shape snorted.

Charlie rolled his eyes and guffawed loudly while tapping his fingers to a made up beat on the banister.

"Ted it's pathetic really, you're practically blue every time you see her. But not to worry, Uncle Charlie can steal her away for you so you don't have to get yourself all done over by her Auntie Morag when you and her go off. Just swear me a fealty that I won't catch the two of you in the pantry playing slap and tickle with no trousers on you and no baffies on her, alright?"

The shape shook and small sounds of chortling escape from it.

"Ted? Don't be a barmcake ya hairy axe wound."

He didn't get an answer.

"Ted? Arghhhh, make me come down there." He grumbled and bumbled down the stairs that creaked and moaned as his weight dipped the warped boards.

When he got close enough the shape held out a half-finished cigarette for him to take.

"Cheers," He answered in response to the offered olive branch.

The shape scooted over to the left end of the stair to accommodate the mass of the bigger man about to seat himself to their right.

"Don't Bogart it, Professor."

Charlie Weasley's heart fell, it felt like his entire chest had been emptied and his stomach had evaporated into a ditch somewhere far away.

That hadn't been Ted's voice replying.

Mab MacDougal grinned at him with a expression wide enough for him to see almost all of her teeth.

She turned her face forward a bit self-righteously with a smile spreading into something much more mocking.

In his horror he neglected the cigarette long enough for it to burn his knuckle. He dropped it, it left a mark on the rotting rug. He retrieved it gingerly and blew the bright traces of carpet away from the glowing cherry.

It figured her and Ted smoked with the same posture, though he was positive she never held her fags that way before, at least she hadn't the last time he'd seen the two teens together.

He opened his mouth to say something, anything, to excuse himself or apologize or to anything away the awkwardness and embarrassment of having cut his throat with his own tongue.

"Ah, Ma-…"

"Professor?"

He chocked on spittle collected in the back of his throat and delivered his response with a cough.

"Yes?"

"Baffies are slippers, not knickers."

If possible he felt even more like a arse and a git. He'd opened his bum and inserted his head.

"Ugh."

"Yeah, 'ugh.'"

"There's no chance you're really Ted, is there?"

"…"

Her silence confirmed his worst fears.

"Thought so."

She kicked him harshly in the calf.

"I deserved that."

"You really did."

"Retribution?"

"No, that would be Auntie Morag's job."

"I'd deserve that."

"You would but I figure me and Ted can just leave your sheets a mess instead."

"…"

He looked completely frightened with an edge of disgust etched into his fine features. She kicked her brain, that was much to forward to say. It was too dirty a thing to say to one's professor even if not about one's said professor.

Professors after all were people that saw youth as…well youth and youth to most meant not dirty little urchins with filthy guttershite minds, which is what it, youth that is, was really about, to her in any sense really with anyone past 4th year at Hogwarts anyway.

But professors were older and liked to think their young wards were pure minded otherwise they'd have to admit they were thinking about the same things they did and that type of parallel scared most people shiteless.

It would be odd trying to teach students that were probably more worried about shagging than the 3 foot parchment due on flibbergibblets, which was exactly what most of the professors under middle-age were thinking about towards the end of the week.

That and getting completely smashed and pissed at the Hogshead, which was also something most everyone over 4th year at Hogwarts was also thinking.

Knowing things like that made things uncomfortable and decidedly odd.

It was easier to ignore the prickly icky things that lurked in everyone's head than pay attention to them.

The teen tried to redeem herself.

"I'm not entirely serious."

"You and Ted aren't…-"

She interrupted.

"He's blue over Spinks. Course, she's fond of brushing him off and watching him crawl back, I mean I enjoy that as well, but more for the fact that he doesn't learn and it's gut-splittingly funny."

"She's in my house. Smart girl, respectable girl."

She smiled a bit at how he called it 'his' house, ever the Gryffindor was Professor Weasley.

It would be quite dashing and admirable if she'd been a Gryffindor but since she wasn't it made her green with envy that her own head of house was quite lackluster compared to the scion of male perfection seated next to her.

"I know."

She continued.

"And me…well Gellert Vortigon looks rather dashing bloodied up and Cyryl Youdle is a nice bit of something to look at and Basil Basher is a right bastard but he backs it up and Petri Scamander tugs on my heartstrings."

"Vortigon; lovely, Youdle; ehh, Basher; psst, Scamander; hah!"

"Nice to see house rivalry is out of place when it comes to romance."

She tsked sourly.

"Gryffindor boys are just better. Vortigon is…well no complaints. Youdle is lackluster, nice boy but you'd be mean and set him alight or quarter him. Basher is…he's him and you're…you're you and us professors wouldn't know how to handle that bad ingredient combination. Scamander is good, but he can't even handle a little Graphorn and what does that say about the boy?"

"That he's not a twit, that's what it says about him. And I wouldn't touch a Graphorn. Ted would, but he's a twit of the highest and most remarkable caliber. Don't know what that says about you though, since you're a bigger twit than Ted."

"I am sorry."

"I know, that's why I'm not going to tell anyone but Ted and maybe Thessaly, because she'll have something to say about it that I'll think is pure hilarity."

"Oh, my reputation."

"Heh, your reputation is stupendous Professor."

"I wouldn't want to know what for, I'm sure."

"I don't doubt it."

They sat together in silence listening to the wind rage against the windows, shaking them noisily.

"You were holding your fag like Ted does. That's why I thought, that…you know…it was Ted and not…you."

She looked at her burnt, chafed fingers.

"Yeah, he holds his like a blint. Blokes do that, I guess, there's no real reason to do it though, if you ask me, unless it rains and then you have to hold it down like that, but you could still do that holding it the normal way. I'm holding it like that because my hand hurts."

"Good a tale as any I suppose."

"I thought so."

"I feel like an arse…-"

"That's nice." She interrupted.

"So, I'll let you chuck a sickie with Ted and say you two toiled in the pumpkin patch all day long as recompense. Just don't blather this to your aunt."

"Really?"

"Yes, since I was bei…-"

"Since you're a solecism of the human race?"

"If I knew what that meant, I'd be muchly offended, I'm sure. But yes since I'm a…this or that of the human race as you said."

"That's ace Professor. I called you a gaffe, so you know."

"You're quite charming."

"I'm your favorite student for a reason."

He snorted.

She scowled.

"Now…,"

He paused to push the forgotten cigarette into an accioed crystal, confectionary dish.

"…Tell me, what have you and that Aunt of yours been up to that made Neville knock me up from a rather pleasant dream about dry weather?"

* * * * * * * * * *

A middle-aged Harry Potter reclined inside the sanctuary of a stale, wing back chair with the mud caked soles of his boots propped up on the accompanying tuffet.

He brought one knee up higher, hefting his heel onto the edge of the upholstered leather square.

His chin rested on a half-open fist.

He watched the older witch plump the pillows behind the head of one Regulus Black who looked less like one of his family's namesake and more like the company he'd been keeping with for the last few decades.

Poppy Pomfrey hummed a popular ditty off key and unconfined to its original tempo. It should have been comforting but instead it soured in his ears.

She fingered the tube running into the boy's arm and traced the bandages that husked him like a grotesque and gauzy second skin.

The older man's eyes danced across the walls and the tacked up pages with headlines proclaiming rising death tolls, Voldemort, Death Eaters, and an old war. He felt his lips tug up in empty amusement.

"Poppy?"

The old woman turned with an audible 'hush' rising from her shifting skirts.

"Mr. Potter?"

He frowned at the mocking formality, he felt like a boy again when her voice held that specific inflection of speech.

"How did I miss this?"

She turned her head away and set her potion bottles with their labels facing front so as to stand at attention properly when and if needed on the frontlines again. They clinked merrily together as her fingers propelled them into their proper, battle ready positions.

"We can't all do everything Mr. Potter."

He brought his heel down off the tuffet and set it on the floor, he stared at the dirty toe of his boot.

"I didn't even know. How could I not know? I didn't even guess, not even a musing of the idea of him being stuck there, Poppy. Not even after I'd been there, and the war was through, and the ministry set the restriction on the place, or after I learned what Inferi can do to people. Not even an bloody inkling of a misgiving about it. How could I not know?"

Madame Pomfrey picked at a spare bit of lint that had accumulated on the fresh sheets she had spread over the inert shape on the bed.

"It was not your responsibility."

He tsked.

The old woman turned to him with a fire smoldering slowing behind her watery rheumatic eyes.

"Mr. Potter, your pity party shall cease immediately, lest you wish to leave and carry it on elsewhere. You're behaving much to girlishly for a man of your age."

He was effectively offended and silenced in the same space of a single moment with but a few terse words.

She, however, continued on in stride.

"Now, I will say this one thing and then you will either hush up or remove yourself from my presence and stop stating silly things in question form while you expect no answer from either myself or anyone else. I know of no one who could have predicted or foreseen this, how Morag MacDougal did, I do not know and I doubt it was of her doing altogether that she found Mr. Black."

She paused to smooth a wrinkle out of the linens encasing the boy. With her old hands it seemed as though magic had taken place to pull the creases out of the sheets and add them to the ones on her hands. She went on.

"What I do know is that the MacDougal's rarely do favors for anyone but themselves and those who have saved their sorry skins. I have no doubt, Mr. Potter, that Mr. Black has done either something very worthy of a favor like that or something very loathsome to deserve to be brought back and dealt with by someone in the MacDougal clan."

She perched her palms against the bed and for a moment was silent. He could see the outline of her scapulas under her apron, they pressed hard and bony against the starched crispness of her uniform.

She was old, but no less formidable than she was when he had first met her in his childhood.

Turning she crossed her arms in front of her chest, puffing herself out in a birdlike fashion.

"I do hope that Mr. Black has done the former because as it stands the MacDougals' style of retribution for a past crime upon their family is not lightened by how many generations have been born since and it would be a pity to have cleaned the boy up such just to have him slaughtered thusly."

He nodded and reflected on the revelation come to light.

"Who told her, Poppy?"

"You know Mr. Potter if you hadn't been so concerned about looking a fool and humanly curious in front of Morag MacDougal you could have asked her. She would have told you, she detests liars and wouldn't make one out of herself."

The now older Harry Potter slumped in his chair, unafraid to do so openly in front of the older witch.

He was tired.

Much too tired.

"I should have asked. I could have been more pleasant to her."

Turning back to her work the old witch made a toe fold in the bottom of the blanket so as to keep the boy's heels from digging into the mattress hard enough to cause unpleasant looking bed sores.

"Yes, you should have. And yes, you could have, been more amiable, I mean. Though she might not have told you the truth and instead would have left without answering at all. That is what she did after all, and I did ask her, so it might not have helped for you to do the same, anyway."

The middle-aged wizard narrowed his eyes at the medi-witch.

"Oh, don't give me those mean little eyes. You're neither too old nor too big and I'm neither too weak nor too ladylike to box your ears young man. Now come here and I will show you how to make a mitered corner on these sheets. Might as well learn something valuable if you're going to insist on doing nothing better than sit around and sulk."


A/N: Thanks for reading, it was a pretty long chapter so I appreciate it. Comments and concrit are welcome.