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HP after Hogwarts >> Perturbation by Northumbrian

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2. Perturbation

‘A hag?’ asked Mark in astonishment. He spoke so loudly that Lavender heard the three young men behind her fall silent and shuffle their chairs. Lavender rolled her eyes and smiled resignedly at her husband.

‘You really aren’t much good at the undercover stuff, are you Mark?’ she told him in a whisper.

‘They’re just three young Muggle kids, Lavender,’ replied Mark quietly.

‘Three excited young Muggles, and the smell of a hag!’ Lavender corrected him. She looked at her husband thoughtfully. ‘I wonder what they are doing?’

‘Why should they be doing anything?’ asked Mark.

‘Because they are, Mark!’ said Lavender softly. She was beginning to get exasperated. ‘I can smell excitement on them, and arousal too. They have met a hag, and at least one of them is aroused; that’s just wrong. Even you know how wrong that is. Hags might look like ugly old crones, but they aren’t! They aren’t even human, they’re dark creatures! And they are not supposed to interact with Muggles, because some of them still believe that it’s perfectly acceptable to eat people.’

‘Are you certain it’s a hag you can smell?’ Mark murmured, concernedly.

‘Positive. I have the nose of a wolf, remember.’ Lavender tensed, bared her teeth, and looked ready to spring at him. Mark’s worried expression forced her to rein herself in.

She took a deep breath. ‘I’m sorry, Mark; sometimes I forget that you can’t smell everything I can. You know that this close to moonrise I can almost see the things I smell. Fifteen minutes ago, I could have told you that the guy two tables across had just farted, and that the barmaid who cleared our plates was—never mind—I smell everything! But, since those three kids arrived, I can’t smell anything except cheap cloying perfume and hag. The stench of a hag clings to everything she touches. But hags always hide from Muggles, unless they are up to something, and this one is! She’s using an indecent amount of perfume.’

‘Using too much perfume isn’t a crime, Lavender.’

‘It should be!’ Lavender spoke with absolute certainty. ‘Especially the stuff she’s been using, nasty, inferior and very smelly; it is almost masking everything else. I can hardly smell your aftershave because of it, and you’re wearing my favourite one. Do you mind if we have another drink? I’ll go to the bar. I want to walk past the Muggles and take a good look at them.’

‘This isn’t the sort of excitement I had in mind,’ Mark told her, smiling ruefully. ‘But as it’s almost our anniversary, I’ll let you do whatever you want.’

Lavender caught the edge in his voice when he spoke the last sentence and felt a pang of guilt. She almost always got her own way with Mark; he was so easy to persuade.

‘This could be important, Emm-Mmm,’ she murmured his initials in a low, throaty purr, using a pet-name she usually only used during their more passionate moments. Her attempt to wheedle a smile from him succeeded. ‘It’s the thrill of the chase; you know how I like that. And it’s turning you on, I can smell that too. Emmsy Lavs his vender-ful girl; he Lavs it when she’s naughty, and exciting!’ Mark rolled his eyes in resignation, silently reached across the table, and gently caressed her cheek. Under the table, Lavender rubbed her foot up his calf.

‘You win, La-vender-ful girl. You always do. But if you are going to the bar, I’ll just have an orange juice,’ he said.

‘Good idea; no more booze for me, either,’ she agreed. With that, Lavender stood. She swayed slinkily away from her husband and through into the bar.

While she waited to be served, she checked her watch. The moon would rise in a little over two hours. She could feel its pull growing stronger by the minute. She still had time, she assured herself.

The new Wolfsbane Potion she used had no significant side effects. Unlike the one Professor Lupin had used, the new potion did not cause tiredness or lethargy. Unfortunately, it did not prevent the physical change at all. Indoors or out, if she concentrated, she could ignore the pull of the moon and hold her human form after moonrise, but only until sunset. Unfortunately, tonight that only gave her an additional fifteen minutes.

The potion allowed her to retain her mind and control the beast. Despite that, the law said that she should be indoors and in a locked cage once the moon was full. Some werewolves thought that it was unjust, but Lavender had resigned herself to the restriction. It was a short-term quarantine, a sensible precaution to prevent infection, to stop the disease from being spread. When she transformed, one bite was all it would take to infect someone, and infection was a crime.

She could cope with twelve or thirteen nights of isolation in the year. Besides, she wasn’t isolated, not any more. For more than five years now, Mark had stayed with her. Every full moon night, he was there for her, sitting outside her cage, watching, waiting and talking. He joked that it was the only time he could talk to her without being interrupted. It was a joke, but it was also true. Those nights were when he really opened up to her, at those times when she couldn’t reply.

Lavender looked back from the bar. Mark sat alone, occasionally glancing across at the three young men. She watched her husband affectionately. His dark brown hair was long and side-parted. It fell over his face and he absently swept it back across his forehead. As she waited at the busy bar to be served, she remembered this same night, two years ago, the night before their wedding. At about this time, she’d been sitting on her bed with her two bridesmaids.

‘One out of three,’ Parvati had said. And Susan had nodded in agreement, that smug smirk on her face.

‘What are you two talking about?’ Lavender had asked.

‘That’s what Mark scores,’ Susan had said, her lips were straight and serious, but her eyes creased in mirth. ‘According to you, Lavender, you were going to marry a man who was tall, handsome and extremely rich.’

‘Mark is tall,’ Parvati giggled. ‘So, that’s one out of three.’

‘Money…’ Lavender began.

‘Money isn’t everything,’ Susan interrupted. ‘That’s my line; yours is “money is the least important, of the three, but he must be tall and good-looking, and I will immediately fall madly in love with him.” Which you didn’t, remember.’

‘So maybe money is worth only two points, and the others, four, so we’ll be generous and give him four out of ten,’ teased Parvati.

He is good-looking, very good-looking,’ Lavender protested.

‘Really? When did you decide that?’ Susan asked.

‘When you first started going out with him, you told me that “he isn’t much to look at and I don’t really fancy him, but he’s polite, and he’ll do until someone better comes along”, Lavender,’ said Parvati.

‘And I was there when you first met him,’ added Susan. ‘I seem to remember you saying that, even though he was ordinary looking to the point of being a nonentity, he still managed to look weird.’

‘Sod off, both of you,’ she’d said. ‘I was wrong, okay? Anyway, that wasn’t the first time I met him, Susan, you know that. And he’s…’

‘The only bloke stupid enough to ask you to marry him,’ supplied Parvati.

And then they’d had a stupid, giggly-girly-pillow-fight until she’d cried. Her friends, her bridesmaids had stopped and tried to comfort her. She had not been crying because she was worried about her wedding, but because she had finally come to the sad realisation that, impossibly, everything that Susan and Parvati had said was true.

As she walked back with two glasses of orange juice, Lavender observed the three young men from the corner of her eye. All were dressed for the warm summer weather. They wore t-shirts, flat-soled shoes, and long shorts which were so low slung that they revealed baggy boxer shorts. That last was a recent Muggle fashion which Lavender found incomprehensible. One boy also wore a woolly hat, a beanie, Muggles called it. It was ridiculous and completely unnecessary on a warm July evening.

The three were, Lavender realised, even younger than Mark’s estimate. She suspected that at least one of them, beanie-boy, was underage. Certainly, none were out of their teens.

They were all young, slim, active-looking teenagers, and they didn’t realise that it wouldn’t last. Beanie-boy was the smallest; he was snub-nosed and had a bad case of acne. The oldest-looking of the three was a shaggy-haired young man who had entirely failed in his attempt to grow a beard, though none of his friends had bothered to tell him. The third, a tall, curly-haired redhead, was quite good looking.

Lavender swung her hips and deliberately sashayed as she passed them. They paid her absolutely no attention. She was annoyed by this; her summer dress was low-cut and short, and she was still attractive and curvy; they should at least look at her.

Lavender inhaled. The smell of perfume and hag, her nose told her, was restricted to the unsuccessfully-bearded boy. He was excited and aroused, and he seemed to be doing most of the talking. Lavender caught the merest snippet of his conversation as she slowly strolled past.

‘…she’s gorgeous. She’s invited me to her party, and when I asked if I could bring a couple of friends, she said yes…’

Lavender sat back down in front of her husband, even more puzzled. When Mark began to ask questions she silenced him with a kiss and then placed her forefinger gently on his lips.

‘Wait,’ she ordered. Mark did as he was told.

She opened her handbag, pulled out her Auror wallet and opened it. Fortunately, the item she wanted was in one of the top compartments. The wallet, standard Auror issue, was enchanted with an Undetectable Extension Charm and contained almost everything an Auror might need. However, reaching impossibly deeply into it was never a good idea in a location where Muggles might see.

Lavender knew where everything was and she quickly pulled out a small packet containing an invisible Extendable Ear. Feeling for the receiver, she pushed it into her ear and flicked the Ear itself over her shoulder. The boy’s conversation was immediately clear.

‘How old is she, Josh?’ one of the boys asked.

‘If it’s who I think it is, then she’s ancient! She’s easily ten years older than Josh, twenty-eight at least!’ another boy said.

Lavender, who’d celebrated her thirtieth birthday less than three months earlier, growled angrily and frowned. Mark looked at her in concern, but she prevented his unspoken question with a glance. Thirty is definitely not old she reminded herself.

‘Oh, get knotted, Ed! She’s hot and you’re jealous,’ the third boy said. Lavender identified the voice as that of attempted-beard, who must be Josh.

‘She’s up to something, Josh,’ Ed said loudly. Lavender risked a glance over her shoulder and identified Ed as the good-looking redhead. ‘You reckon you’re on a promise, and you’re thinking with your bollocks.’

‘She got friends?’ beanie-boy asked.

‘That’s what she told me, Harve,’ Josh told him. ‘You comin’?’

‘Yeah,’ hat-wearing Harve said. ‘Wot ‘bout you, Ed?’

‘Somebody had better keep an eye on you two,’ said Ed the redhead.

‘So, what time’s this party?’ Harve asked eagerly. ‘We got time for another pint?’

The conversation then turned to beer and Josh went to the bar. Still eavesdropping with one ear, Lavender leaned forwards and told her husband what she’d overheard.

The boys’ conversation moved on to trucks, tricks, bearings and boards. It took several confused minutes before Lavender finally worked out that they were talking about skateboards.

‘So, what do you want to do, Lavender?’ Mark asked.

‘I’m going to follow them, Mark. I need to track down this hag. You’d better go home and wait for me. This is Auror Office business,’ she said.

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