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HP after Hogwarts >> Penumbra by Northumbrian

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3. Penumbra

Mark stared at his wife in disbelief.

‘You’re still on maternity leave, Lavender,’ he whispered through clenched teeth. ‘Why don’t you contact the Auror Office? They’ll send someone to investigate.’

Lavender curled her lips dismissively and reached into her handbag. Mark noticed the subtle change in background noise. She’d wordlessly used a Muffliato spell to keep their conversation private.

‘Investigate what? There is something going on, Mark,’ she replied. ‘But what? Do you know? Because I don’t! I can’t simply tell the office that I smell hag. I don’t know enough about those three kids to report anything, not yet.’

‘Do you really think that this is worth investigating?’ Mark asked.

‘Yes.’ Lavender nodded so vigorously that her dark brown curls tumbled across her shoulders. Her violet eyes burned with a brightness he had not seen for some time, and Mark suddenly realised that “Auror Moon” had been missing, and until her sudden reappearance, he had not missed her.

Mrs Lavender Moon, Violet’s mother, was kind, doting, funny and loving. But the woman he’d fallen in love with, the restless, passionate, committed Auror, Lavender Brown, had been in hiding since Violet was born. Suddenly, for the first time in almost a year, the Auror was sitting in front of him. He knew that Lavender loved a mystery, and this particular problem had obviously captured her imagination.

‘In that case, I’m coming with you,’ Mark said forcefully. ‘It’s full moon night, Lavender. I am not going to allow you to go off by yourself.’

‘You’re not going to allow me?’ Lavender rolled her eyes disdainfully. Mark recognised the signs. Lavender was going to argue. She obviously expected that, as usual, he would back down. ‘Don’t be ridiculous, Mark, I’m an Auror; you aren’t. How on earth do you think you can stop me?’

‘You’ve been off work for over a year, Lavender. You were in St Mungo’s for three weeks after Violet was born, and you’ve been on maternity leave ever since. Yes, you are an Auror, and a good one. But you’re out of practice. And you’re also a werewolf, and it’s full moon night!’ Mark stared into her bright, excited eyes, watching carefully for her reaction. He could see arguments beginning to form. The wolf was preparing to pounce.

‘And more importantly than any of that, you’re my wife and the mother of our daughter,’ Mark reminded her with finality. ‘Either you let me come with you, or I simply step outside the Muffliato field and let those three kids know what you’re planning.’

Mark stared determinedly at her, and the wolf hesitated. With a degree of amusement, he watched his wife weigh up her options. He was careful not to show any emotion. Lavender could usually persuade him to do anything. Persuading her to change her mind would be difficult, because she hated to lose an argument. He watched her eyes narrow and her forehead crease. Suddenly, the creases vanished and she smiled.

There really were only two universal forms of persuasion: the carrot and the stick. In Lavender’s case, they manifested as “the promise of the girl” or “the threat of the wolf”. Recognising which way the wind was blowing, Lavender quickly changed tack. Her threat would fail, and she knew it. She quickly caged the wolf and turned on the charm.

Mark prepared himself for an even more dangerous onslaught.

Lavender folded her arms under her breasts and leaned forward, resting her elbows on the table. It was subtly done, but Mark had watched Lavender in action for years. When they’d first got together, as “just friends”, she hadn’t even thought of him as a bloke. With a slowly breaking heart, he’d watched her use her manipulative tricks and subtleties on other men. His wife was good, very good. With one simple move, she managed to pull her neckline lower, get close enough for him to be able to smell her perfume and give him a much better view of her cleavage.

‘Oh, masterful Mark, I love masterful Mark,’ she began softly. ‘But, I think that it would be safer if…’

‘No, Lavender, you’re no’ going to win this one!’ said Mark sternly. ‘I’m going with you, or else.’ He glanced meaningfully towards the three youths.

Lavender simply lifted herself up and forwards slightly further. She’d managed to lower her décolletage even more and he could now see the lace of her bra. ‘But, Mark…’ she began breathily.

He looked down at her chest, and then up into her pretty, heart-shaped face. Her remarkable eyes were sorrowful and she was pouting. She batted her eyelashes at him.

‘Put those away, please; they’re dangerous weapons,’ Mark told her.

‘I thought that you liked them,’ said Lavender, pulling up the front of her dress a fraction.

‘I was talking about your eyelashes, Lavender,’ he said smiling. The flicker of amusement on her face was enough to break her attempt at entrancement. ‘I know what you’re trying to do. But I’m not going to change my mind.’

Lavender continued to pout, so he reached across the table and stroked her cheek.

‘It could be dangerous, Mark,’ she began earnestly.

He sighed and played his final card. He lowered his hand, gently grasped her left hand and pulled it towards him. As he did so, he slid his hand down and held her ring finger between his forefinger and thumb. Lifting her hand, he kissed her finger, and the rings she wore.

‘I am coming with you,’ he told her. ‘All that I am, I give to you, and all that I have, I share with you.’ He reminded her of their vows, of the words engraved on the inside of their wedding rings.

Lavender looked contemplatively down at her hand. She examined her rings, the purple amethyst of her engagement ring, and her wedding ring with its ornate pattern of finely engraved lavenders. Her eyes then flicked to her fingertips, to the immaculate but false nails she wore, and the moment she examined her nails, he knew that he’d won.

‘Thanks, Mark,’ said Lavender. She stood, leaned across the table, grabbed his head in her hands and kissed him softly on the lips.

‘Hey, look at the arse on that!’ they heard Harvey mutter while they were in mid-kiss. Lavender was rather pleased, so she slipped round the table, sat next to Mark and kissed him again.

‘Really, thanks, Mark,’ she said again. ‘Thank you, thank you, thank you. I need to know that I will still be able to do my job when I go back to work.’

They nursed their drinks, cuddled, kissed and waited.

‘What do you know about hags, Mark?’ she asked.

‘Not much, they’re dark creatures and if we encounter one, we’re supposed to contact the Auror Office,’ said Mark. ‘I get the impression that they’re a bit like the witches in Muggle fairytales.’

‘Ugly, warty crones who eat little children,’ suggested Lavender.

‘Yes, but you forgot the gingerbread house,’ added Mark.

‘Gingerbread house?’

‘To lure little children to their doom,’ Mark told her, grinning. Lavender shivered and the smile fell from Mark’s face. He’d been joking.

‘I can believe that! Muggles know a lot more than they think they do,’ said Lavender. ‘It’s a good thing that most of them don’t believe it. No one is sure exactly what they are, and the hags won’t tell us. The Department of Mysteries files are full of conjecture, but the most popular theory is that they are the remains of evil old witches who use ancient Dark Earth-Magic to prolong their lives. They can be very dangerous, but most of them aren’t. Most of them abide by the law, just like the vampires. There are rumours that they need to eat human flesh, like vampires and blood. They certainly like their meat raw. I know that Hannah keeps a stock of raw liver for one of her regulars. We haven’t had any reports of a killer hag since I joined the Auror Office, but we know that at least one vampire has gone on a killing spree. They’re moving!’ Lavender hissed the last sentence urgently.

The three young men finally finished their drinks and left, Lavender and Mark followed. They walked hand in hand through the streets of London, keeping well back from their quarry. They followed the trio up to St Botolph’s Church and on past Aldgate Station. On Middlesex Street, Josh went into a corner shop while the other two hovered nervously outside.

Lavender and Mark stopped. Ed looked down the street towards them. Lavender pulled Mark to a halt, turned and threw her arms around his neck.

‘Keep an eye on them. And let them move off before we follow,’ Lavender whispered. Then she pulled him down and kissed him passionately. Mark’s hands slid down to her buttocks; he grabbed them firmly and pulled her into him. For a few moments, Mark forgot what he was supposed to be doing. He closed his eyes, kissed her, and straightened up, lifting her off her feet. He considered Disapparating, simply taking her home with him. They had time before sunset, if they left now. Lavender had curled a leg behind his and was rubbing his calf with her heel. Perhaps she felt the same way.

Mark had almost decided to do just that when he remembered her instructions. He opened an eye and looked through her curls. Josh stepped out from the shop; he was carrying a bag which was obviously full of bottles and cans. The three young men looked towards them, turned and hurried off down the street. Mark reluctantly lowered Lavender to the ground.

‘He’s been buying some booze, I reckon. He’s out and they’re moving again,’ Mark told her.

Lavender slipped her arm around his waist and they set off after them. The three youths continued up Middlesex Street and then turned into a side road. Mark and Lavender, well behind them, walked quickly to the corner. By the time they reached it, there was no sign of the trio. Lavender cursed, looked around and sniffed the air.

‘Look at this,’ Mark said, pointing to a poster fixed to a lamp post. Lavender moved to his side and looked up at the plastic-covered printed plea.

“Missing boy,” the poster announced. The photograph was of a chubby teenager, and underneath it were the details of a sixteen-year-old who had simply vanished.

Lavender sniffed the air again. ‘The hag is close,’ she announced.

‘So is moonrise, Lavender,’ Mark reminded her. He was becoming more nervous as sunset approached. ‘There is a boy missing in this area, and there is a hag here too. You should call your office, get some reinforcements. “Aurors operate in teams of three for their own safety”; that’s what you always tell me.’

‘You’re a Law Officer, Mark, a Senior Bailiff. You’re my partner on this mission, and in life. I won’t need anyone else for one hag. I’ll be able to sniff her out in minutes,’ said Lavender, her eyes glinting.

‘You miss the action, Lavender; I know that you do. You like your work and you enjoy the hunt, but are you certain that you know what you’re doing?’ asked Mark.

Lavender simply pointed at the poster.

‘I can smell death, Mark. That boy is dead, I’m sure of it. I think we’ve got a man-eating hag in the middle of London, and three young kids have just gone to visit her,’ she said.

She sniffed again. ‘They can’t be far away, and my nose gets better the closer we get to moonrise. We’ll capture the hag and still have time to Apparate home before sunset. But you’ll have to wait until tomorrow morning, after moonset, for your wild and unpredictable. Sorry, Mark.’

‘Isn’t this wild and unpredictable?’ asked Mark, raising a sardonic eyebrow.

Lavender giggled and playfully smacked his bottom. ‘I suppose that it is, yes.’

She led Mark along the side street and towards a long, three storey block of flats. The bland box of a building was no more than a line of weathered bricks and dirty windows, interspersed by grey concrete pillars. As they approached, Mark saw an open flight of concrete stairs leading both up and down to long landings at the rear of the building. Some enterprising Muggles had decorated the bleak, featureless stairwell with ornate patterns and names in colourful spray-paint. Again, Lavender sniffed.

‘Eugh! People have been using this place as a toilet.’ She wrinkled her nose in distaste and shuddered.

‘I know; even I can smell it,’ Mark told her sympathetically.

‘This way,’ she said. She clattered down the first flight of stairs to a landing which opened out into a squalid and rubbish-strewn car park. A few cars, none of them new, were parked in the yard. The stairs doubled back, leading down to a concrete path, much lower than the parking area and separated from it by a concrete wall topped with metal railings. The path led to six doors. Looking up from the landing, Mark saw that the upper floors were accessed by similar means.

‘It had to be the basement; most British hags live in caves,’ announced Lavender. ‘They never went for those chicken-legged huts that the Eastern European hags seem to like.’

Lavender sniffed the first door, shook her head and moved on to the next. They passed the first three doors, but when she reached the fourth, she sneezed.

‘This is it,’ she said.

Before Mark could protest, she rang the doorbell.


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