Author's Notes: Essay, Exam, and Holiday Season is finally over, so we can now go back to our regularly-scheduled fanfiction.
Chapter Fifteen: Not So Subtle
"Did you see that?" PC Travis asked, peering through the binoculars into the sky.
"See what?" Fiona asked distractedly, focussing her attention on the Dursley's front porch.
"An owl," Travis said. "Don't often see them places with this many people, and in broad daylight no less."
"Would you focus?" Fiona asked. "We're only posing as birdwatchers."
"Speak for yourself," Travis said defensively. "I've been a member of the BBC for five years."
Fiona couldn't help herself. She lowered her binoculars and stared at him in the face.
"The BBC? Next you'll say you voice the Daleks." She raised her binoculars again. "What does that even mean, anyway?" she added, mostly to herself. "Being a member of the BBC. They're not a club, you know."
"Still, make sure you put in a good word for me with Tom Baker next time you see him." Fiona couldn't see Travis's face because she was staring through her binoculars, but she was fairly certain he was rolling his eyes.
"It stands for the British Birdwatching Community," Travis said through clenched teeth. "And Tom Baker hasn't been the Doctor since 1981."
Fiona grinned. "He'll always be my Doctor."
They'd been doing this for the better part of a month, now. Sometimes they were birdwatchers, sometimes they were a young couple looking to buy or rent a home, sometimes (when they were on duty) they just drove past in their patrol car trying to look casual. Well, as casual as you can look driving a police car in a neighbourhood like Little Whinging. They had to work this around their regular duty schedule, which made things even more difficult. And then there was the nagging fear that they had found what they were looking for, but had been made to forget...
"Hold up," Travis said slowly, peering through his binoculars. "I don't believe it!"
"What?" Fiona asked. Had they finally made their breakthrough? "What do you see?"
"That's a Guatemalan Pygmy Owl!" he said. "They're terribly rare—even in Guatemala! I wonder how it got to Little Whinging?"
"Hey. Focus," Fiona urged. "We're looking for clues, not owls."
"Clues as in articles and goings on of a suspicious nature?" Travis asked in a strange voice. He still hadn't moved his binoculars from above the house across from the Dursleys'. "Possibly related to undertakings criminal and, in our case, potentially arcane?"
"Yes, which you bloody well know," Fiona said irritably.
"Then maybe you'll be interested to hear that this particular owl has a newspaper tied to its leg."
Travis and Fiona lowered their binoculars and looked at each other for a moment, then were in their car—a beat-up, lime green loaner from PC Harris—and gone in seconds.
A few minutes, a change of outfit, and a phone call later, they pulled up in front of Mrs. Figg's house in their patrol car.
Fiona knocked on the door.
"She won't answer," Travis said. "She's not home. We saw her leave not half an hour ago."
"I know that," Fiona said. "And you know that. And all the nosey neighbours of Little Whinging know that," she said with a pointed glance at Petunia Dursley, who was peering at them from over her just-painted white fence (some dastardly individual, it appeared, had defaced it with cryptic writing in the dead of night), "but they don't know that we know that. So we knock, first."
After waiting what Fiona judged an appropriate amount of time, they opened the door and walked in.
"Aren't we breaking the law?" Travis whispered. "I feel like, maybe, we aren't supposed to do that. We're sort of supposed to do the opposite of that."
"Nope," Fiona said. "Because not five minutes ago the police received an anonymous tip-off of that a suspicious person had illegally trespassed into this residence intent on committing criminal acts. As the closest available officers of the peace, it's our duty to investigate. Make sure we search thoroughly; he could be hiding anywhere."
"We did?" Travis asked. "That's rather convenient, wouldn't you say? Did we get a description?"
"Suspect has a black waxed moustache, a black domino mask, a black top hat and a bag with a green pound sign stitched on it."
"Ah," Travis said. "One of those anonymous tip-offs. Just goes to show that you should always lock your door when you leave."
Fiona grinned. "If you don't, anyone might wander in."
The first thing Fiona noticed—as well as the second, third, fourth, and fifth thing—was the cats. There was a tabby on the dresser, a calico on the table, a pair of white ones on the rug, and an enormously fat grey one on the mantle.
Every single one was staring at them silently with large, unblinking eyes.
"Well thank God that's not too creepy or anything," Fiona muttered.
"Maybe we shouldn't be here," Travis said, eyeing the cats nervously.
Fiona shook her head. "We have a job to do, Constable. If this is the house of our perp—or someone who can lead us to him or her—we need to risk it. Besides, Hannigan knows we're here. In case anything... well, just in case." In case anything happens to us, she'd been about to say. They both had a pretty good idea of what 'anything' that would be.
Fiona had expected, going in, that they'd have to search the house top to bottom to find something suspicious. She'd expected it to be well hidden, innocuous at first glance but sinister on closer inspection. In all honesty, she'd secretly expected a bookcase to open a secret door. Something, you know, magic-y.
She hadn't expected it to be sitting on the top of the morning mail.
"Bloody hell!" She exclaimed when she saw it, recoiling.
"What?" Travis asked, then followed her eyes. He stared at it silently for a moment, then shrieked.
"Stand back," Fiona said, then drew her billy club and poked it gently. Nothing happened. With a nervous swallow, she drew her white latex gloves from her belt (she'd never tell any of her co-workers, but she always thought of it as her utility belt) and picked it up. She half expected it to explode or speak or hex her or something.
"What..." Travis stammered. "What do we do with it?"
"It's evidence," Fiona said. "Hard evidence." With this, they'd have little trouble convincing anyone of what was really going on.
In her hands was a broadsheet, printed on stiff, slightly yellowed paper. The lettering was ever-so-slightly uneven and blotchy, but otherwise, it looked remarkably normal, if old-fashioned. It reminded her a little of the commemorative Armistice Day edition of The Times that her great-grandfather had framed in his little flat up north.
But this paper wasn't The Times. The large-print header declared itself The Daily Prophet. The front-page headline read: HOGWARTS' CHILDREN MISSING, with the subtitle, LOCKHART ON THE CASE. Tucked away in one corner was an article saying DUMBLEDORE SACKED, subtitled, HEADMASTER DENIES ACCUSATIONS OF GROSS INCOMPETENCE.
All of that was a little bit odd, but the weird bit—the really weird bit—were the pictures. There were large headshots of the eight missing children on the front page staring up at her. Literally staring. The pictures actually moved to follow her, as if someone had managed to turn the paper into a tiny television set. All except for the one captioned Luna Lovegood, that is, which was running around in her—its—little picture with a net, as if chasing something no-one else could see. They looked almost alive.
A frightening thought struck Fiona.
"H—hello?" she said to the paper hesitantly. Blessedly, none of them reacted to her voice. The implications of that would be significant, to say the least.
It wasn't long after the shock wore off that the anger crept in.
"Fiona—Sergeant—are you feeling quite all right?" She dimly heard Travis ask.
Loki wasn't a wizard. Loki wasn't a family of wizards.
Loki was a community of wizards.
Wizards that had children.
And they'd lost them.
"They have magic," she whispered. "Magic, Constable. And what do they do with it? Do they solve world hunger? Do they cure AIDS? Cancer?"
"To be fair, we don't really know if they can do those things," Travis countered in a reasonable voice. But Fiona didn't want reasonable. She wanted justice.
"But we sure as Hell know they can erase memories. How many wars could you solve just by making some warlords forget their reasons for fighting? By making people forget their hatred?"
"But didn't you say just last week that tampering with memories was akin to murder?" Travis pointed out quietly. Fiona chose to ignore him.
"They could just wave their hands and, poof, solve the world's problems. Some, at least. But what do they do? They break into houses and mess with our heads to cover their tracks and they lose children." Fiona took a deep breath, trying to calm down. Her gloved hands were clenched to fists. She tossed Travis the paper before she wrinkled or tore it in anger.
It was all so stupid. The paper said the children had already been missing for over a day, now. Most missing persons, if they weren't found in the first forty-eight hours, were never seen again.
"They could have come to us," she muttered to herself. Finding lost children was, in part, what the force was for. And, over the years, they'd gotten very, very good at it.
"We'll catch them, Fiona," Travis said.
Fiona's mind was already racing.
"Yes," she said. "Yes, we will. Get in touch with your friends at the BBC. We have work to do."
As it turned out, if you knew what you were looking for and had several hundred local birdwatching wackos (Fiona called them 'enthusiasts' on the rare occasion she found herself within earshot of them) at your disposal, witch hunts were surprisingly easy. Fiona shuddered to think what the Spanish Inquisition, expected or no, could have gotten up to if they'd been given a pair of binoculars and a floppy tan hat.
The Daily Prophet was, as its name suggested, delivered by owl (Owl!) every day to at least several dozen homes in the Surrey area, but probably several more. After asking around, Travis found that they were not the first to discover these messenger owls, who had first been seen in numbers in 1981. There was that year again. 1981. Between the wizards and the Doctor, it was a bad year all around. Something significant had happened then, but Fiona was at a loss as to what.
The owls weren't just used to deliver the paper, either. Owls had been spotted all across Britain carrying perfectly normal-looking postage. This, like most things surrounding these wizards, irritated Fiona. Regular, non-magical people had gone through great efforts to set up a perfectly functional national postal system, but apparently that just wasn't good enough for wizards. No, they disdained the delivery network of the common masses and used their own private owl-based system. In any case, how the Hell did the owls know where to go? It made no sense.
Confusing as it was, it was also an enormous weakness. You don't have to be a hardened outlaw or covert operative to know that, when trying to maintain a low profile, daily avian post drops could be something of a hindrance.
"If they have papers," Inspector Hannigan said upon seeing the Daily Prophet, "they have a society. And if they have a society, they have morons. And if they have morons, then we have a way in."
"By finding those morons and getting answers out of them, sir?" Fiona asked.
"No, Sergeant. Not by finding the morons."
It was then that Hannigan told Fiona his plan.
She liked it immediately.
The Daily Prophet, like most newspapers, had a letters-to-the-editor page where readers could send short letters, mostly to complain about being referred to as 'wackos' instead of 'enthusiasts.' In small print at bottom of the page was an address to send those letters to:
777 DIAGON ALLEY
That wasn't the only place 'Diagon Alley' was mentioned in the newspaper. There were ads for shops, which sold everything from ice cream to cauldrons to 'magical' pets. Magical. Pets.
She loved Sprocket well enough, but if she could replace him with a magical talking version that could open tins for himself, she'd do so in a heartbeat.
There was no record, and never had been, of a street named 'Diagon Alley' in London—or anywhere else in the country, for that matter. The alley was invisible, unknown. A ghost.
The only way to find it would be to ask someone who knew.
It took them three days to put together everything they needed, and another two weeks for their wackos to find them a satisfactory mark. They didn't tell the birdwatchers why they were looking for owls in the middle of the largest metropolitan area in the country, of course, but that didn't stop them from helping. They just subtly encouraged the idea, which was already floating about, that they were the descendents of secret messenger owls used carry secure information in WW2. People will sometimes resort to the most desperate of excuses to avoid facing the truth in front of them: that magic is real.
And it is weird.
From there, it was simply a matter of going door-to-door. Nobody answered until the fifth one—not terribly unusual, considering it was the middle of the working day.
"Hello?" came a quiet, sleepy sort of voice, followed by a loud sneeze. The door opened a crack.
"Mister... Fortescue?" Fiona asked. If they were right in their theory, this man had the information they needed. However, he would also have access to mysterious and largely unknown powers. Fiona couldn't help but hope, just a little bit, that they were wrong.
"Aye," he said, then sniffed. "Who wants to know?"
"We three seem to be, ah, lost," she said. "Could you perhaps point us in the direction of," she swallowed, "Diagon Alley?"
An immediate change came over Fortescue. He opened the door the whole way and smiled. He was a middle-aged man with a large black beard, dressed in a housecoat and fuzzy slippers.
He looked the three of them—Fiona, Travis, and Hannigan—up and down for a moment.
"A bit foreign, are you?" he said. "I'd be there myself, if not for this nasty cold. Just head right a few blocks—careful crossing the street, the Muggle drivers are madmen, all of them— and turn left on Charing Cross, then keep walking until you see the Leaky Cauldron. If you're a squib—are you a squib?"
"I beg your pardon?" Hannigan asked.
Fiona hesitated. What on God's green earth was a squib? She doubted he was referring to the explosive.
"No matter, terribly rude of me even to ask. Anyway, if you're a squib, you might not be able to see it at first, but its right between a Muggle book shop and a record place. You can ask Tom how to get in from there."
They thanked him and said their goodbyes, all but running back down to the street.
"Well, that was easy," Travis said after they were well out of earshot.
"Too easy," Fiona grumbled.
"When you have as much experience as I have in the force and in life, Sergeant," Hannigan said, "you'll learn that it is impossible for something to be too easy."
They followed his directions—earning more than a few peculiar glances from passersby—and immediately encountered a problem.
Quinto Bookshop and the record shop shared a wall. It was quite impossible for there to be a pub between them.
"Do you think it was a trick?" Travis asked. "Maybe to get rid of us while he calls for reinforcements?"
"If so, he's a very good liar," Hannigan said. "My gut says he's on the level."
"He said we might not be able to see it," Fiona said. "Guess he was right."
"Maybe we have to do a spell to get through?" Travis said.
"He would have told us," Hannigan said.
"Not if he thought it was obvious."
Fiona scratched her chin, thinking. There didn't seem to be anything unusual about where the buildings joined, but on the other hand, there wouldn't be, would there? Whatever had bewitched the Leaky Cauldron had kept the ordinary citizens of London out this long.
"We could stake the place out until someone else goes through," Hannigan suggested. "And see how that person does it, then follow."
"Maybe there's a door, but it's just hidden?" Fiona suggested. They were so close. She didn't want to wait for another lengthy stakeout. She wanted in now.
"Wouldn't help if it was bloody invisible," Travis said. "There's no room for it. It's impossible."
"Says the man who's trying to find a magic door," Fiona said. "Right. So let's just assume for a moment that nothing is impossible, and that there really is a door here. We just can't see it. So how about we just..." Fiona closed her eyes and took a step forward, into what her brain said should be a solid wall. She collided with something—but it wasn't a wall. It felt like heavy, solid wood. She reached around at waist level until her hands grasped a heavy brass knob, and turned it. Then she took a step forwards and opened her eyes.
The place was old. Like, really old. Fiona had been to actual ruins that looked newer than the Leaky Cauldron. The walls were crumbling old plaster, a heavy chandelier hung from the ceiling, its candles giving off dim light. There wasn't even a hint of anything electrical to be seen. Mismatched wooden tables were scattered throughout the room seemingly at random, with chairs all of different heights, styles, and centuries of origin set around them. The pub was largely empty, save for the tall, pale, hunched man with pointy ears behind the counter and a grimy, robed figure hunched over a mug, which, upon close inspection, had actual mist pouring out of it.
Hannigan and Travis followed her after a short delay.
"...makes no geometrical sense!" Travis said, before opening his eyes and looking around. "Oh," was all he managed to say.
"Shall we go talk to Nosferatu over there, then?" Fiona asked quietly.
"Count Orlock," Hannigan muttered. "Nosferatu was the name of the film."
"Good morning!" the barkeeper said in a surprisingly cheerful tone of voice.
Fiona and Travis had spent days on their disguises. They only had a few scant pictures from the Daily Prophet to go by, and had to make up the rest largely with guesswork based on the theory that the folklore about wizards and witches was a distant reflection of the actual, real-life wizards and witches—which seemed plausible, but by no means certain. Fiona had gone full Granny Weatherwax: heavy black boots and pants, long black, tattered dress and a pointy black hat, with large brass buckles strewn about more or less at random. In one hand she held her broomstick—well, almost a broomstick. Sprocket had coughed up a hairball on her actual broom just that morning, but what she had was probably close enough. She hoped.
Travis, on the other hand, had gone for a more Merlin-inspired look: long purple robes and a purple hat, all with golden stars and moons poorly stitched on. He was carrying a magicky-sort of book in one hand, which was really an Encyclopedia Britannica with the cover filed off.
Fiona and Travis had had to take time off of work sewing, stitching, and hunting down costume supplies. But Hannigan... well. Hannigan had thrown his together quite quickly. Suspiciously quickly, in fact.
It was almost as if he already had his costume, and had been just waiting for an excuse to wear it.
"What do you mean?" he asked from behind a bushy, fake white beard. "Do you wish me a good morning, or mean that it is a good morning whether I want it or not; or that you feel good this morning; or that it is a morning to be good on?"
The Count Orlock-lookalike blinked his huge, dark eyes and stared at Hannigan for a moment, taking in his worn grey robes, his wide-brimmed grey hat, and his gnarled wooden staff.
"I meant, did you want a bloody coffee, a brandy, or a beer?" Orlock said irritably.
"Er," Fiona interjected. "None for us, thank you. We were actually just on our way to, ah, Diagon Alley."
"Oh, why didn't you say so? It's just out the back." He pointed at a crooked, worn back door.
The three cops said their thanks and left through the door.
"Oh, bloody hell. Not another one of these," Hannigan muttered.
Behind the door was a solid brick wall.
"Pft," Travis said dismissively. "We know how to deal with these now." He closed his eyes and confidently strode into the wall, purple robes flowing billowing behind him dramatically. He then promptly bashed his forehead into the wall and reeled backwards, clutching his head. "Uh," he said. "Does anyone have a plan-B?"
Hannigan shrugged. "Same way crooks get into apartment buildings. Everyone tie their shoes."
Sure enough, after only a few minutes, another patron of the Leaky Cauldron walked through, gave them a passing glance, and stood before the wall. He tapped the bricks a few times in several places, and the wall vanished.
"Excuse me!" Hannigan said, leaping up and sticking his hand through the open space. "Yes, thank you. Sorry." The stranger walked through the doorway and left them.
The three of them looked at each other for a moment.
"I half expected you to look at the wall and say mellon, Gandalf," Fiona grinned.
"Do not meddle in the affairs of wizards," Hannigan said in a booming voice. "For they are subtle, and quick to anger."
"Half right ain't bad," Fiona countered.
And just like that, they were in.