A/N: Sorry that you have all waited so long for this update. I don't have an excuse, but I do have a reason: I deal with chronic illness as part of my day-to-day life. It flares and gets better, and it flared rather badly from the beginning of March until recently. Between feeling like crap, working full-time, parenting, being too sick to work for about a month, and then a small bout of creative block, I wasn't feeling very "writey". I didn't want to just write something – anything – and throw it out there. To do so would be a disservice, both to the work itself, and to you lovely people who take the time to read it. So I worked at it, chewed on it, tweaked it, and let it simmer in my mind. Here are the results, finally. Enjoy.
Also, I must give a massive thanks and shout-out to Ranmyaku Kiritsu , who left the following gem in my PM inbox:
"Oh Quirksnquills-! Where hast thou gone? Hast thine soul fled from thine body, or be'est thine inspiration-?! Let it not be'est so~!"
Now, I think this is the loveliest way to say, "Hey Quirks, where my bitches at? Are you dead? Please don't tell me you've got writer's block again!" This gave me the kick in the ass I needed to get this done and out there. Thank you for your sweet inquiry, love. - QnQ
Chapter 14 – Walk of Shame (Or, the Heir on the Back of Your Neck)
"Hey, where are we? I do hope we're at your house, gorgeous," Verity told Blaise, pressing a kiss to his neck. She was riding piggy-back on the coffee-skinned man, with Theo walking behind them. The dark, rain-slicked streets were nearly deserted, but Theo still thought he might die of embarrassment.
"You're in luck," Blaise growled. "Fuck, Theo, why didn't we just Apparate?"
"I didn't think of it until now." Theo's baritone was cracked and weary from yelling over music (and yelling at Blaise). "Is there an antidote for Amortentia?"
"I thought you would know," Blaise groaned. He un-warded his front door and let them all inside. "If there is one, I don't know how to brew it."
Verity seemed to be completely oblivious to the men's conversation. "Show me to the bedroom, lover," she purred in Blaise's ear, giggling. She dismounted and gave his arse a hearty pinch, eliciting a startled, pained yelp.
Theo shrugged. "Your bedroom is as good a place as any," he remarked.
Blaise glared, but did not protest. "Come with me, erm, lover," he told the short, dark-haired witch, taking her hand to avoid having it roam anywhere else on his body. He led them all up the stairs to his room, which boasted a king-sized bed and oak furnishings, all dressed in Slytherin green. When they got there, Verity immediately started removing her clothing. Blaise and Theo shared a startled glance that said, Oh, Merlin, now what?
"Get her closer to the bed," Theo muttered to Blaise.
"How?" Blaise whispered back.
Theo glared in response, as if to say, How the fuck do you think? Get in there!
Blaise closed his eyes momentarily and sighed through his nose, screwing up his resolve. "Erm. Hey, lover, wait for me!"
As Theo watched, his friend took a half-naked Verity in his arms and started snogging her, which she returned with vigour. With one eye cracked open, Blaise started backing her closer and closer to the bed. Theo waited until they were almost sitting on it, then pulled his wand and took aim. "Petrificus Totalus!"
Verity fell across the bed, stiff and unmoving. "Oh, thanks for that," Blaise gasped, wiping his mouth with his sleeve. "She kisses like a Dementor."
"Okay, we have to think. How the hell are we going to get our hands on an antidote?" Theo moaned, shoving his wand back into its pocket. "There's only one person I can think of."
Blaise narrowed his almond-shaped eyes. "Who, then?"
Theo collapsed into a cross-legged heap on the floor and buried his face in his hands. "Astoria. She's brilliant at potions."
"Are you mad? There's no fucking way she'll help you. There is, however, an excellent chance she'll rip off both our heads and cram them up our arses for us." Blaise shook his head as he contemplated their dire situation, glancing up with a hopeful look on his face as an idea occurred. "Wait, what about Lovegood? She's a Ravenclaw. This sort of shit is her bag, innit?"
"Luna?" Theo glanced up, too. "Yeah, she's probably good at potions. She might know."
"Anything's better than asking Astoria." Blaise opened a desk drawer and handed a quill and parchment to Theo. "Here. Draft up your most eloquent correspondence; we'll send my owl."
"Oh, my goodness," Luna wheezed. She, Harry, and Penny had returned to the table from the dance floor, out of breath and laughing. "I don't think I'm allowed to have this much fun on weeknights."
"I don't think I've ever had this much fun," Penny said. "Next time you plan one of these nights out, I'm in." She glanced down at her watch. "It's late, though. We've got to work tomorrow."
"True." Luna glanced around. "I wonder where Astoria and George got to."
Harry grinned. "Now that you mention it, I haven't seen either of them since Verity's little scene," he remarked.
"Uh-oh." Penny smiled sweetly. "I do hope George survives."
Lee, Daphne, Hermione, and Ron joined them at the table soon afterward, and everyone had one last drink before leaving for the night. When Luna and Harry finally exited the bar, they were immediately greeted by a grumpy-looking, rain-sodden eagle owl with a scroll tied to his leg, which he held out to Luna with an evil expression. Once relieved of his burden, the owl wasted no time in fleeing the scene. "I wonder what this is about," Luna remarked as she unrolled the parchment. "Oh," she giggled. "Oh dear."
"What?" Harry held out a hand for the parchment, which she handed over without further comment.
Theo here. I'm in a really bad spot, and I don't have anyone else to call on. Can you bring the antidote for Amortentia to Blaise's house right away? I'll explain when you get here.
A posh address followed the hastily-scribbled message.
"What in hell?" Harry handed the note back with a snigger. "Do you know where this is?"
Luna shook her head. "Not exactly, but I think it's close to Astoria's. We can Apparate and try Point Me from there. Something tells me this is a get-Daphne-back plan gone wrong. Theo's not one to ask for help unless he really needs it, which he probably does, if he's been listening to Blaise. Might explain what's gotten into him lately." She waved a hand at her own half-drunk babbling. "In any case, Theo's in for some bad news. The antidote for Amortentia takes three weeks to brew. Too bad George's shop isn't open. They sell love potions, I'm sure he'd have an antidote handy."
"I'd hate to disturb him just now," Harry demurred with a wicked grin. "He's busy. Would a bezoar work instead?"
"Only if they brewed the Amortentia wrong enough to also be poisonous."
"Gods, I hope not." He frowned briefly, but then a calculating look came over Harry's clear-drawn features, igniting a mischievous light behind his green eyes. "Gives me an idea, though. St. Mungo's. They likely have the antidotes for most love potions. But if we take them there, they'll have to explain themselves. Dosing people is illegal, you know - it just rarely gets reported."
"So you're going to arrest them, then." Luna's silver-blue eyes sparkled at him knowingly.
"Oh, no," he replied lightly, tucking her tiny dove of a hand into the crook of his elbow for Side-Along Apparition. "I just want to threaten it." They grinned at each other broadly before they disappeared.
Luna and Harry arrived at Blaise's front door after less than ten minutes of searching. Luna had barely knocked twice before the door swung open. Theo and Blaise were clustered behind it, looking anxious. "Luna, thank Merlin you're...oh. Potter." Theo looked unimpressed to see his saviour's fiancé in tow. "Why are you here?"
"Package deal, Nott," Harry informed him. "I don't let my future wife visit strange men alone, and you definitely qualify."
"Do you have the antidote?" Blaise demanded. "Please tell me you have it!"
"You both seem to be fine." Harry crossed his arms over his chest and leaned back against the wall, making an ostentatious show of glaring suspiciously. Blaise and Theo shot twin scowls his way, ignoring the question.
"Who's it for, Blaise?" Luna asked gently.
"Some chick," he admitted reluctantly, still bristling at Harry's presence. "I can't remember her name. She's upstairs." He jerked his head once in the direction of the stairs.
Luna and Harry shared a glance, unable to smother the laughter that bubbled up between them. "Bad news, Blaise," Luna informed him. "It looks like you're going to have a houseguest for a while."
"What the hell do you mean?" Blaise choked, horrified.
"The antidote for Amortentia isn't something I keep in my medicine chest," Luna replied. "I'll be happy to brew it for you, but it takes three weeks. If that doesn't suit you, you could always take her to St. Mungo's and explain yourself to the Mediwitches. I'm sure they've got the antidote."
Blaise and Theo shared a brief, panicked glance before the voluble curses and recriminations started flying.
"You're a complete fuckup, you know that? Why did I listen to you?"
"I'm a fuckup? You're the one who–"
"Oi, let me see the woman," Harry demanded, yelling to be heard. "I want to make sure she's all right."
"What's it to you, Potter?" Blaise snarled. "Got a craving to be a hero again?"
"Got a job to do as an Auror," Harry corrected. "So far, you've confessed to dosing and kidnapping this woman. The proper place for her is St. Mungo's, and I plan to make sure she gets there. I will arrest you if you don't show me where she is and prove that she is otherwise okay, right now."
Blaise was tempted to argue, but thought the better of it; he was watched carefully by the Aurors as a result of his former associations, so St. Mungo's was definitely not an option if he wanted to remain free and relatively un-harassed. He spun on his heel without a word and led Harry and Luna upstairs, Theo following along behind. When Harry and Luna saw just who was lying across Blaise's bed, they both laughed uproariously.
"Should I tell him?" Luna struggled to speak between peals of laughter. Harry nodded, so she continued. "I may have a quicker solution to your problem, Blaise."
"What?" Blaise could hardly contain himself. "What is it?"
"George Weasley sells love potions in his shop. If anyone would have an antidote handy, he would. But the shop's closed 'til tomorrow."
"I fail to see how that's helpful, Loveg -"
"You're saying you could get it tonight, though, aren't you?" Theo interrupted, looking hopeful. "Weasley's a friend of yours."
"Verity is his employee, so I'm sure he'd help her at any hour," Luna remarked, gesturing at the supine woman on the bed.
"Problem is, we haven't seen George since he left the bar with Astoria," Harry finished. He darted a wicked grin at Theo, who looked as though he might throw up.
"Do what you have to do, Lovegood," Blaise directed, taking over for his quaking friend. "I'm not keeping this broad in my bedroom overnight. She'll suck my soul out through my mouth."
Luna complied, pulling out her wand to send an ethereal Thestral in the direction of Diagon Alley. "We'll give them five minutes' warning," she explained to no one in particular. Theo groaned.
"I don't suppose you'd care to share how this all happened." Harry wiped tears of mirth from his eyes, turning to the tall, blue-eyed man. "I might even be convinced that you've been punished enough, and overlook the illegal dosing..."
When Luna's Patronus arrived in George's bedroom, he and Astoria were so focused on the task at hand (that is, foreplay), they did not notice its presence until it spoke. "This is your five minute warning Thestral," Luna's voice announced, startling Astoria so badly that she leapt of off George with a shriek, reflexively pulling the sheet up to cover herself. "We need to come over to get an emergency remedy for Amortentia," the Thestral continued. "It really can't wait. I'll explain when I get there."
"For fuck's sake," Astoria fumed, slightly embarrassed at her reaction to the unexpected interruption.
George scowled. "Luna's lucky she's...well, Luna. If it were anybody else..."
"If it had been anybody else, they probably wouldn't have bothered with the courtesy of a Patronus," Astoria finished for him. "Pass me my bra?"
Luna and Harry Apparated from Blaise's place to the doors of George's shop. Luna made sure to bang extra loudly on the locked doors; a few moments later, George came down the stairs, wearing his plaid terrycloth robe and holding his lit wand aloft. "Luna, this had better be good," he warned, adding, "I'm entertaining at the moment," under his breath.
"I know, I'm sorry," Luna whispered back. "I wouldn't ask, except that it's for Verity."
George's expression changed from one of disgruntlement to one of wary disapprobation. "Verity? What's going on?"
"Theo and Blaise were at the bar tonight. They cooked up a plan to slip Daphne some Amortentia, but it didn't go very well," Harry related with a grin. "Verity somehow got the drink that was intended for Daphne, and the Amortentia was brewed wrong, so she started crawling all over Blaise instead of Theo. They had to Petrify her to get her off of him."
George stared at them, completely expressionless, for five full seconds before he cracked. He threw his head back and whooped with laughter. "I'll be right back." He disappeared into the stockroom, returning with a small bottle containing an evil-looking brown liquid. "Here. This should do the trick. Now leave, will you?"
"We're going," Luna sang, depositing the bottle in her purse with a charming grin. "Sorry. Thanks. 'Bye!" She grabbed Harry by the arm and beat a hasty retreat.
George locked the doors behind them and vaulted back up the stairs to his room. "Now, where did we leave off?" he called. To his chagrin, there was no sign of Astoria. Her clothes were missing from his floor, and she wasn't in the bathroom. A quick check of every corner of the loft proved that she wasn't there. By the time he found the note on his pillow, George was more pissed off than he could remember being in a long time. He heaped abuse on the absent Theodore Nott as he unfolded the note.
I heard you three talking downstairs. I have something I need to do on my sister's behalf. It can't wait. I'll come back as soon as I possibly can.
He crumpled the note angrily, letting it drop to the floor. "What, no 'thanks for a great evening'? Or, 'enjoyed the almost-shag, owl me sometime'?" He kicked the wadded-up parchment into a corner. I can't believe I fell for it again.
Luna was so startled by the loud banging from Blaise's front door that she almost dropped the bottle of antidote. She quirked an eyebrow at Blaise, who got up with an annoyed expression and disappeared down the stairs. "Okay, Verity," she murmured soothingly to the restrained woman, sitting on the edge of the bed. "Harry's going to release the spell, and then we're going to have a little drink before you and Blaise have some private time, all right?"
"Finite incantatem," Harry said, pointing his wand at Verity. She sat up, looking vaguely confused.
"Luna, Harry, what are you doing here? Where did Blaise go?" Her wild eyes settled on Theo.
"He's coming right back. Drink that bottle, it's an aphrodisiac," Theo invented, fixing her with a shaky, unconvincing smile.
"Ooh, really? Give it here!" Verity tipped the foul-looking liquid down her throat eagerly. In an instant, the dreamily vacant expression in her eyes vanished, and she reached for a pillow to cover herself, blinking rapidly. At the same moment, raised, angry voices rang out suddenly from the front hallway, startling them all. "Merlin, what the fuck is going on? Why am I mostly naked?"
"You accidentally drank some Firewhiskey that was spiked with Amortentia," Luna explained quickly. She gestured at the lanky brunet leaning in the corner. "This is Theo – he and Blaise got you out of the bar and called me for help. I managed to get the antidote for you from George."
"George. Oh, no. Oh, fuck, this is embarrassing." Verity bent her head, hiding her flaming cheeks behind a curtain of straight mahogany hair.
"Don't worry about it, Verity," Harry soothed.
"Erm, do you mind if I get dressed now?" She reached for her blouse.
"Oh, yeah. We'll give you some privacy." Luna stood up and took Harry's hand, leading him toward the sound of conflict in the front hall. Theo followed in Luna and Harry's wake, pausing to glance back once at the bedraggled, dazed witch sitting on Blaise's bed. She really was kind of cute.
"You sick son of a bitch." Astoria was nose-to-nose with Blaise in the entryway, not able to contain herself any longer. "I heard all about the little plan you cooked up with Theo. I want you to listen to me very carefully, because this is the last fucking time I am going to warn y-"
"Don't threaten me, little Greengrass," Blaise interrupted scornfully, the left side of his upper lip curling with contempt.
Another witch probably would have slapped Blaise across the face, or pulled out her wand and hexed him; being Astoria, she punched him twice instead. One lily-white fist socked him in the stomach, making him double over breathlessly. The other fist took advantage of the downward motion of his face by driving upward into his nose. Blaise collapsed to his knees, pressing both hands against his bleeding face. "Ever wonder what I do for a living?" Astoria asked conversationally. As Blaise could only wheeze in response, she continued on without waiting for an answer. "I teach people hand-to-hand combat! Worked out shitty for you, didn't it?"
At that moment, Theo and the others reached the scene. "Merlin, Greengrass, what the fuck?" Theo hollered. He rushed to his best friend's aid, attempting to pick up the wounded wizard from the floor.
"You're next, arsehole," Astoria roared, grabbing Theo by his shirtfront and slamming him against the nearest wall. "I warned you both to stay away from my sister. You are a useless twat and a stalker, you know that? " Her knee drove into his crotch. He crumpled in a whinging ball on the floor, writhing next to his bleeding friend.
"Holy hell," Harry whispered in Luna's ear. They were watching from a safe distance, standing at the foot of the stairs. "Should I step in?"
She shook her head at him. "I wouldn't," she whispered serenely.
"Stay. Away. From my sister." Each bitten-off sentence fragment was punctuated with a kick to an arse – one for Blaise, two for Theo. Having beaten her point into the two men at last, Astoria stalked over to where Luna and Harry were standing. Harry burst into applause. "Thank you, thank you," she said, sketching a little curtsey.
"Bravo," Harry cheered.
Astoria grinned and turned to walk out the front door, stepping over Theo and Blaise, who were still writhing on the floor. "I'm done here. I'll see you later, yeah?"
"See you later," Luna and Harry echoed in unison. Neither Blaise nor Theo protested as Astoria made her exit.
Verity came out from her hiding place in the shadows at the top of the stairs. "Wow," she commented, fingering the top button of her blouse. "That girl is scary."
Astoria Apparated just outside the doors of George's shop. There were no lights burning that she could see, so she knocked loudly on the door. A light flickered to life in an upper window, but no shadowy figure came down the stairs to let her in. After a moment, she knocked again, but there was still no response. She looked up in time to see a bright head dart out of view in the window; frustrated, she used her wand to send a shower of green sparks ricocheting off the windowpane, to no avail. "Dammit, George," she muttered under her breath. He was obviously angry with her, and she found to her surprise that the realization made her heart pound unpleasantly. She tightened her grip on her ebony wand and screwed her eyes shut, searching for her best memory.
The ephemeral robin redbreast fluttered silently through George's window, landing weightlessly on his knee. "I've never cast a talkie before, so I hope it works," Astoria's voice said. "I'm not going away, so please open the door?"
George debated, ambivalent. Angry as he was with Astoria for leaving so abruptly, he had to admit that he was elated she had come back. He'd thought she was blowing him off – he hadn't thought as soon as possible meant later tonight. Tired as he was of games, he also liked to win; he had the upper hand at the moment, and he was reluctant to let it go. Eventually, he decided on a compromise. He rose from his seat on the bed and threw open the window, sticking his head out. "Why should I?" he called to the street below.
Astoria's head cocked back, her dark eyes lifting up to his hazel-brown ones. "Let me in and I'll show you," she called back.
George made an obvious show of his reticence as he came down the stairs, clad only in his bathrobe and boxer shorts. "I'm surprised you came back," he told her, swinging the door inward to admit her. She did not reply, so he just turned and climbed the stairs again, leaving her to follow. When they reached the loft, she grabbed his hand and pulled him to face her.
"You really thought I was making an excuse to ditch you." Her tone was incredulous, but gentle.
George pulled away and moved to the kitchen, where he began making tea manually. He could have let the tea make itself with a simple spell, but he needed something to do with his hands (and something other than Astoria to look at). She hopped up next to him on the counter, and he inwardly cursed her physical proximity. He didn't have to be looking at her to want to shag her; to him, she was one of those women who unconsciously radiated sex at all times.
"I'm sorry. I left for a good reason. "
"I went to beat the shit out of Blaise and Theo for trying to dose Daphne."
"That is a good reason." He smiled in spite of himself, but still did not turn to face her.
She pulled out her wand and muttered an incantation over the tea, which began preparing itself, neatly depriving George of his distraction. "Look at me," she invited, her tone gentle, yet compelling.
He found himself hypnotized by Astoria's voice; it was not quite as deep as her sister's, but still rich and musical. He looked up at her and instantly regretted it – her brown eyes had gone soft and doe-like again. Before he knew what was happening, he found himself standing between her open legs as she sat on the counter. His palms slid up her thighs, pushing the silver-grey dress higher and higher. "I like tough girls," he confessed.
"Want me to beat you up?" she breathed, arms entwined around his neck. George nodded, so she wrapped her legs around his waist, letting him hoist her off the counter and carry her to the bed.
"Tell me where she is, Xeno," Jacob Nott encouraged.
"I don't know." The blond man's voice was dreamy and distant, his tone flat.
Nott was surprised by the blond man's mental discipline – he was fighting hard against the Imperius curse, even after a year of imprisonment designed to break him. "Yes, you do."
"Pandora knew. Pandora is dead." Xeno's face crumpled, but he could not cry. His silver-blue eyes were eerily empty, miserable and lost. "She died a long time ago."
"Yes, I know, poor thing, but..." Nott circled him, still holding Cunningham's wand loosely in his right hand. His sharp blue eyes narrowed as he intensified the spell; he probed along the seams of Xeno's resolve, lifting and peeling away the man's defenses like old wallpaper. "I know you know where Miranda is."
"That was a long time ago," Xeno demurred. "Maybe she moved."
"Don't speculate, Xeno. Articulate." Nott stopped in front of the crumpled wizard once more, toes pointed forward and wand cocked threateningly. All of his magical ability was focused on the prisoner in front of him. The greyish lump of man on the floor began to quiver and keen with dismay. Within moments, he broke.
"Swansea," Xeno revealed at last, choking on the word like a swallowed feather. He stared at the ground; his hair hung in a dirty curtain around his face, obscuring his shame from view. "She moved to Swansea."
Nott chuckled slightly and relaxed, crouching. "Never fear, Xeno. This isn't about Miranda, you know. She was just a woman, after all, no matter how prestigious her last name. Lovely – they all are, from that family – but foolish and arrogant. I did much better, really, with your wife's sister. No, this is about finding the daughter Miranda stole from me. This is about claiming what is rightfully mine." He walked over to the burly guard who had waited so patiently, leaning against the wall, picking his cuticles. "Speaking of which – thank you for the use of your wand, Cunningham."
Nott and Cunningham left Xeno where he lay, now crumpled all the way to the floor with one cheek resting against the filthy flagstones. Tears tracked clean rivulets through the dirt on his face. "I'm sorry, Miranda," he whispered to the empty air. "I tried."
George rolled over and blinked, trying to place the sound that had woken him. There was watery light coming in through the window, and the shop below was silent, so he knew it was early. He held perfectly still, listening and waiting. There it was again, coming from the bathroom: Astoria's voice, lifted in song, slightly muffled by the sound of running water. George started to laugh, but he found himself captivated instead. In spite of the depth of her speaking voice, her singing voice was a clear, sweet soprano, the notes bright and warm as they echoed off the tiles. He did not recognize the song; it had a complicated cadence that drew the listener in, and the words didn't seem to be English. Without thinking about it, he slid out of bed – still nude – and snuck over to the bathroom door, opening it silently with a deft twist of the wrist. The voice from the shower hit him full force, continuing its haunting, lilting melody. No, the language was definitely not English; Italian, or possibly Spanish, George thought. When it reached a note that seemed both impossibly high and infused with bittersweet longing, he felt his skin prickle into gooseflesh. Just then, the shower turned off suddenly, and before he had a chance to make a discreet exit, the curtain jerked back to reveal Astoria: naked, dripping wet, and still singing. She snapped her mouth shut mid-note and reached for the towel waiting for her on the edge of the sink, throwing him a dirty look for embarrassing her.
"Good morning," George said, trying to act casual in spite of being caught red-handed and bare-arsed, creeping his lover in the shower. "I heard you singing," he explained lamely. "I didn't know you could sing." She refused to meet his eye, and he got the sense that she did not like to sing in front of people. "Are you part Veela?"
"Because, this." He showed her the gooseflesh on his arms.
Astoria's wintry eyes softened, and one hand reached out to rub his skin lightly. "I did that? Flitwick would be proud," she remarked.
"How do you think I learned to sing? He taught me and Daphne both." She towel-dried her hair vigorously, making it stand up all over her head in tongues of mahogany-black flame.
"Really? I didn't know Flitwick could sing."
"You don't know much, do you?" The words were exasperated, the tone affectionate. She met his eyes in the mirror as he moved to stand behind her. "He was the resident choirmaster at Hogwarts, remember? Not that we got many chances to perform."
"All I know is, I wish I had two ears to hear you sing with," George replied softly. Her reflection melted slightly at his words. I am so smooth, George thought. "What were you singing?"
"Isn't it pretty? It's Muggle music, actually, from an Italian opera."
"What's it about?"
"It's a woman begging her lover to stop playing games and treat her kindly."
"How ironic." He reached out and laid his broad, warm hands on her shoulders, pressing a soft kiss to the nape of her neck.
"Isn't it, though?" Astoria purred.
"I guess you have to leave to go to work now?" His lips and tongue settled where her neck met her shoulder, tracing little patterns on the freshly-washed skin.
"Not 'til next week." Seeing George's confused look, Astoria remembered that she had not ever told him what she did for a living. She filled him in quickly as she began to get dressed. "I'm self-employed. I run physical fitness and combat skills seminars for various businesses and Quidditch teams. I get the lion's share from Gringott's, though. I'm running a two-week seminar for their new Artefact Recovery team starting next Monday, actually. They're going to some old castle in Armenia, or something." She pulled her grey dress back over her head. "I don't really pay attention to their missions, I just get them back into tip-top shape and teach them to kick arse."
A sudden gleam entered George's eye. "You know what?"
"I'm taking a sick day."
Harry woke up earlier than usual that morning, in spite of the extremely late night he'd had. The first thing he saw when he opened his eyes was the object on the nightstand, which he'd begun thinking of as "that fecking thing". He'd not been thrilled with Luna's plan to transcribe it, but she'd convinced him with a combination of reason and feminine wiles. Now he had to read it, a thought that filled him with intense dread. He'd learned – rather the hard way – that mysterious, apparently sentient books were better left unopened. But this was work, not Hogwarts, and it was a mysterious book from the Planet Room, not Voldemort's diary. Luna stirred and murmured next to him, reminding Harry that he was doing all this for the woman he loved. He smiled at her sleeping form and grudgingly reached for the book, wondering what he was in for.
To his surprise, the random page he opened contained not lines of text, but a family tree. It was very unlike the one on the wall at Grimmauld Place, which depicted many generations of the Most Noble (and Mostly Extinct) House of Black. This was much smaller; each side showed only three generations of names, laid out neatly instead of branching like a river delta. There were no dates, and no portraits. As his eyes followed the chronology down the left-hand side of the page, a shiver crawled up Harry's spine.
Gordon Vance – M – Isobel Davis
Xenophilius Lovegood – M –Pandora Vance Belinda Vance –M – Jacob Nott
Luna Lovegood Theodore Nott
Harry dropped the book in shock, his mind reeling as he tried to make sense of what he'd just seen. According to the chart, Gordon and Isobel Vance had produced two daughters, Pandora and Belinda; Pandora had married and become Pandora Lovegood, and her sister had married and become Belinda Nott. Merlin...Luna and Theo are cousins. Does she know? Does either of them know? Gods, who else is on this family tree? Am I going to find a Malfoy in here somewhere?
Harry re-opened the fallen book to a random section near the beginning, intending to flip forward until he found his page again. He expected a different family tree, or some text; to his surprise, the Vance family tree appeared on the page before him, as though he had not closed the book at all. He turned the page several more times, and it was always there – the same family tree.
"Right then," he muttered. Reluctantly, Harry swept his eyes toward the connection between the left and right-hand sides of the tree: a broken marriage link between Jacob Nott and a woman named Miranda Greengrass.
Circe Flint – M – Edward Greengrass
Jacob Nott –X – Miranda Greengrass Alexander Greengrass – M – Erica Warrington
Penelope Nott Daphne Greengrass Astoria Greengrass
Harry's thoughts chased each other like dust devils. Circe and Edward Greengrass had two children, Miranda and Alexander. Miranda married Jacob Nott and had a daughter named Penelope before she divorced him. Alexander married Erica and had two children, Daphne and Astoria. They have a cousin Penelope somewhere who is Theo's half-sister. He figured Penelope Nott was probably somewhere between Bill Weasley's age and the same age as George; but to Harry's recollection, other than Theo, there hadn't been anyone named Nott around Hogwarts since Jacob himself. But there had been a Penelope in Percy's year...
"Fuck," Harry said loudly.
"Harry?" Luna slurred sleepily from her pillow. "Whasswrong?"
"Luna, wake up. I've got something to tell you."
She sat up quickly and peered at him in alarm, taking in his pale face and wide-eyed stare. "Harry, what is it?"
"We're taking a sick day."