6. Conjunction

Ed was dreaming. He was lost in a nightmare of cackling witches and bubbling cauldrons and werewolves … and the vision of a naked woman. Then a man pointed a stick at him and everything went black. He awoke panting and gasping.

In his waking confusion he was unable to determine whether his racing pulse was caused by gut-wrenching fear or arousal. He was certain of only one thing; he was lying prone on something uncomfortable. Cautiously opening one eye he saw worn brown carpet; he was lying on a hard, cold floor. When he tried to move, he realised that his cheek was actually sticking to the carpet. His nose told him why, and his floor level view confirmed it.

The place stank of stale booze. Just in front of his face a green bottle of Carlsberg Export lay on its side. The bottle was not quite empty. He groaned, slowly prised his face from the sticky carpet, and lifted himself onto his hands and knees. Blinking in the morning light, he looked around.

There were dozens of bottles and cans scattered around the room. Harve was sprawled across the sofa, his head bent and his neck cricked at an almost impossible angle. Ed might have worried, but Harve's mouth was open and he was drooling and grunting. Josh, however, wasn't in the room.

Ed's mind was suddenly filled with memories of his nightmare; images of darkness and sharp claws, a bloody and dying Josh, and, even more bizarrely, a tall Scotsman with a pet Alsatian flashed in front of his eyes. Unable to make sense of it, he shook his friend awake.

'Where's Josh?' he asked urgently.

Harve gave a grunting snore, groaned, and swore.

'Wake up, Harve,' Ed ordered.

Harve slid slowly sideways, moved his neck and grimaced in pain. He stretched, arched his back and complained about feeling stiff and sore. Ed simply left him complaining and walked over to the living room door.

Ed examined the door carefully before he tried to open it. It was a cheap and ordinary internal door, so the ease with which it opened should not have come as a surprise to him, but it did.

As he walked quietly along the corridor, Ed cautiously peered into the other rooms. To his left was the kitchen, which smelled of mould and alcohol. It was almost empty of furniture; there was sink, a table (which held yet more empty cans and bottles), and a single chair, but there was neither a cooker nor a fridge.

The door opposite the kitchen led into the bathroom, which contained a grimy bath, a filthy sink, and a toilet which was so nasty that it looked like it might fight back if you attempted to flush it.

The final door was partly closed. Ed cautiously poked his head into the room. It was a bedroom of sorts, although it qualified for the category only by the loosest definition of the word. There was a mattress on the floor in the centre of the room, otherwise the room was empty. There were no sheets, and no other furniture. A shirtless Josh lay alone and unmoving on the mattress. There was no sign of the woman, Anna, whose flat it was.

'Josh?' Ed hissed cautiously.

Josh sighed and moaned.

'Time is it?' Josh asked.

Ed looked at his phone, and then remembered. 'No idea,' he said. 'My phone's dead; battery's gone flat.'

Josh groaned, reached into his pocket, and pulled out his own phone. 'Mine too,' he announced. He shivered. 'Where's my t-shirt?' He asked.

'Don't ask me,' said Ed. 'Where's that woman, Anna, gone? And what the hell happened last night?'

Josh sat up. He looked curiously down at his chest and then around the room. 'I can't really remember much after we got here, I think that me and Anna ended up in here,' he said uncertainly. 'And I thought she'd scratched me.' He looked down at his chest where there were the faint traces of a few red marks. 'I thought it was worse than that.' He shrugged.

Harve appeared in the doorway. 'Don't you remember? Anna's friends turned up, but they were a couple, not two girls, like you promised!' Harve glared at Josh, sounding hurt. 'They left soon afterwards, so we got drunk and watched some crappy horror film. Then you went off with Anna, and we went to sleep.' He looked eagerly at Josh. 'So what happened in here?' he asked.

'Can't remember, sorry,' said Josh. 'Some of it is beginning to come back to me. This film we watched, did it have an ugly witch and a werewolf who was a girl, and she had no clothes on?'

'Yeah, something like that,' Harve said. 'I was really pissed, so I don't remember very much.'

'I remember that film, too,' said Ed. 'But, I don't know how, because there's no telly in this place.'

'She must've taken it with her,' said Josh. Harve eagerly nodded his agreement, as if that was a perfectly reasonable thing to do.

'Why would she do something like that?' asked Ed.

'Because this is a squat, don't you remember? A security guard turned up, late last night. He gave us until this morning to get out,' Harve reminded them.

Josh swore and struggled to his feet. 'Tall bloke? Scottish accent? Had an Alsatian with him?' he asked.

'Yeah, that's him,' said Harve.

'I'd forgotten about him, said Josh anxiously. 'Let's get out of here before the police arrive. Mum would kill me if I got arrested.'

Despite his misgivings about the story, Ed found that he, too, was filled with an uneasy fear, a need to flee the flat and forget all about it. He followed his friends to the front door.

Josh shivered again. 'You've got a t-shirt on under that shirt, haven't you, Harve?' he asked. 'Lend me your shirt, please, mate. I think Anna ripped mine last night.'

'Night to remember!' Harve leered, unbuttoning his shirt.

'Apparently! So why can't we remember it?' Ed asked them as they stepped outside and closed the door.

'Too much booze,' Josh suggested. They hurried along the passage and up onto the main street. As they reached the road they passed two men and a woman. All three wore long black coats. One of the men was tall, burly, and shaven-headed, the other was small and lean. The woman was a slender blonde with her hair in a bun. The black-clad trio nodded politely, stepped aside, and let the youths pass.

After his third attempt to clean and repair the boy's torn and bloody t-shirt failed, Mark gave up and simply Vanished it. He picked up the plastic bag containing the beer the boys had bought only an hour earlier, and poured most of it down the sink. Leaving one bottle and one can in the kitchen, he scattered the rest all around the lounge. He then picked the one remaining full bottle from the boy's carrier bag. Opening it, he placed it on the floor and kicked it onto its side. As he worked, Lavender padded silently at his side, somehow managing to radiate lupine disdain for her surroundings.

Walking back into the kitchen, he pointed his wand at the bottle and can he'd left there, and said 'Geminio,' He repeated the spell several times, until the table was full of empty cans and bottles. Finally, he walked back through the flat, checking on the now sleeping boys. He'd Stunned them, and then Obliviated them. By the time they awoke, their memories would have shifted into something more ordinary.

Finally, Mark carried the boy with the straggly beard into the room with the mattress, placed him on the bed and re-examined his chest. His healing spell, combined with some Essence of Dittany from Lavender's Auror wallet, had almost erased the boy's injuries. He'd done everything he could. All he could do now was hope that Lavender would be able to sort this mess out in the morning.

'I think that's everything. Time to go home,' he announced. Lavender nodded in agreement. Gently lifting the wolf into his arms, he Disapparated.

Lavender woke at the first spasm, a little after sunrise. She was lying on the floor at the side of their bed. Moonset was only minutes away. The transformation was a painful process, and its first bone-twisting twinges always woke her. She pushed herself up into a sitting position. Wolf-eyes looked around the room, wolf-ears pricked up and swivelled, and wolf-nose sniffed the early morning air. It was about half past five in the morning and her husband was sound asleep in their bed. They were alive, and all was well, or at least it soon would be. She stood on all fours and stretched.

Mark had been really frightened last night. She'd been able to smell his fear. But despite his panic, he'd taunted the hag, giving her time to transform. She'd never thought of Mark as a hero before. He was nice, obviously, but heroic? Nevertheless, last night he really had been prepared to sacrifice himself for her, just like the noble hero in one of the romantic novels she read.

Lavender padded across to their bedroom door. They had forgotten to lock it last night; they hadn't even closed it properly, another crime to add to the list. Lavender loped from their bedroom and along the landing. She scratched at the handle with her paw and managed to open the bathroom door. Walking inside, she pushed the door closed before stopping the fight and allowing the transformation to begin. Hopefully, in here, her groans wouldn't disturb Mark. He needed his rest.

After transforming, Lavender opened the door and listened carefully. She could still hear Mark's steady breathing. She'd succeeded, he was still asleep. She began her regular post-moon rituals.

Covering her legs, arms, armpits and groin with Glam-witch depilatory cream was the first stage. It was essential because, annoyingly, the change returned her to what was laughingly called her "natural state" and not to the well-manicured person she invariably was. The change was a monthly reminder that women, like men had hair on their arms, legs, and elsewhere.

Mark had once claimed that it didn't matter to him, but he didn't prevent her preparations, because he knew that it mattered to her. Once she was satisfied that the only hair remaining on her person was on her head, Lavender took a shower, cleaned her teeth, and began the final, most important, part of her transformation.

It was strange the way that the transformation worked. Lavender mused once again about why it affected different werewolves in different ways. Dacia Skoll, the Auror Office Healer's transformation was calm and assured, and when she turned back, her clothes reappeared, too. Lavender's transformation was completely different, it was loud, dramatic and clothes tearing, which was why she always tried to get naked before she transformed.

Lavender had once asked Padma about the differences. She was told that the theory prevalent in the Department of Mysteries was that the change was, in part, personality based.

While she mused, Lavender carefully trimmed her nails. She'd allowed them to grow once, but had discovered the hard way that she could inflict curse scars with them. Mark's shoulders and backside still bore testament to that. Thankfully, Dacia had managed to minimise the damage Lavender had inflicted on her husband on their wedding night.

Make-up, a soupçon of mascara, lipstick, paint for her toenails, and the careful application of false fingernails were the final touches. Lavender carefully examined herself in the mirror and decided that she was, at last, presentable. The transformation back into Lavender Moon was finally complete.

Lavender wrapped herself in a towel, tiptoed downstairs, and used her mirror to contact the Auror Office. She checked with the receptionist, and discovered that Dennis Creevey was on duty. She gave him a brief, but comprehensive, verbal report and he promised to call Terry and Susan to take care of the remains of the hag. By being out after Moonset, she'd broken the law, but even after fifteen years, Dumbledore's Army would still take care of its own. It was a stupid law anyway, she told him, and Dennis agreed.

She'd saved the lives of three Muggles, but Dennis would take credit for the capture of the Hag, and Anna's disembodied spirit would be locked away in the Dark and Dangerous vaults at Azkaban.

Happy that she could leave Dennis to clear things up, she scampered back upstairs and into her bedroom. When she entered, Mark grunted and rolled onto his back, flinging an arm across onto her side of the bed. She checked the clock. It was not much after half-past six, it was still very early, but they'd had an early night. Mark, as usual on full moon nights, had gone to bed the moment she was settled.

Lavender allowed her towel to fall to the floor and carefully and quietly opened the second of her three lingerie drawers. She pulled out the almost transparent black baby-doll nightdress she'd worn, briefly, on their wedding night and wriggled in to it. After applying some final drops of perfume to her wrists, neck and cleavage, she slipped into bed alongside her husband. She slid sideways until her shoulder was in his armpit and her breasts were pressed against his ribs. After kissing his cheek, she dropped her head onto his shoulder and slid her arm over his chest.

'Hmmm,' he said lazily. 'Morning, Lavender, happy anniversary.'

'Happy anniversary, Mark,' she said. She kissed his cheek.

'Have you sorted…' he began.

'Dennis Creevey is sorting things out for me,' she said.

'What about the staff?' he asked.

'Naughty Mark, you only ever think of one thing,' she said, sliding a hand down his abdomen. 'But I suppose it's our anniversary, after all.'

'The hag's staff, it's still downstairs in…' he began.

'It can wait,' she interrupted.