Please note that I ended up changing the title of the previous chapter to Mild Peril, and have used the previous title here.
By Marcus L. Rowland
III - Stakes on a Plane
Harry looked around the atrium that held the departure lounge and an assortment of shops and bars, and tried to work out what the girls were up to. After passing through security they’d split into twos and threes and seemed to be drifting through the crowd aimlessly. At least one girl in each group was using a mobile phone, and Harry had a feeling that their movements were anything but random. He went to the upper gallery and watched, to see if he could work out a pattern. Eventually he realised that sooner or later each group came close to a woman in her early twenties, an attractive but somehow dangerous-looking brunette wearing dark denims. He was reasonably sure that something changed hands as they passed; the stakes again? Had she been waiting inside to catch them when they were thrown? He wasn’t a hundred percent sure that he was right, when it came down to it; whatever was going on was subtle enough that Muggle airport security didn’t seem to have noticed. Or maybe they didn’t want to notice, Muggles sometimes seemed to have a curious reluctance to see what was in front of their eyes.
Harry could only think of one use for stakes – to kill vampires. But the idea of a Muggle girl killing a vampire was absurd. The aurors who took down the last of Voldemort’s vampire followers had been specially trained experts; they’d suffered something like fifty percent casualties. It took two or three wizards to immobilize a vampire long enough for someone to stake it.
As he watched the girl with the juggling balls… no, it was another girl… began to juggle again on one side of the lower hall, and two others nearby began a loud argument. Across the hall the rest of the girls were slowly converging in a rough semicircle. Harry tried to estimate where they were headed, and finally spotted an anomaly at the focus of the semicircle; the only person he could see without any hand-luggage, a pale thin worried-looking man in an old-fashioned looking suit and bowler hat, who was moving away from them through the crowd. That was another anomaly; nobody wore hats these days. The red-headed woman was ahead of him, and the man turned away, almost running, towards the escalator leading to the upper gallery. At that moment Harry recognized him; Sanguini, Eldred Worple’s vampire friend. He’d dropped out of sight a couple of months after Harry left Hogwarts, leaving Worple’s drained corpse behind him, and was rumoured to have fought for Voldemort. Enough sunlight penetrated the departure lounge that he must be using a sun-repelling charm (and who would have cast it for him?), unless the windows had necro-tempered glass. Harry let his wand slide down his sleeve to his wrist, hoping to take Sanguini down, obliviate any witnesses and apparate out for help when he came a little closer.
A few yards from the escalator, as the arguing girls reached a crescendo of noise and the juggling girl lost control of her balls, which began to bounce around the hall, the dark-haired woman suddenly appeared in Sanguini’s path, apparently taking him by surprise. Before Sanguini – or Harry – could react the woman seemed to blur into incredibly fast motion. A fraction of a second later Sanguini was crumbling to dust, and the woman stepped through the cloud and went back towards the arguing girls. Incredibly, nobody seemed to have noticed. All that was left was his bowler hat, which fell to the floor and rolled under a seat, and some grey dust on the floor.
Moments later the argument ended, apparently amicably, the juggling girl and a couple of her friends recovered the balls, and most of the girls descended on one of the airport concessions, a shop selling music and DVDs. The dark-haired woman and her red-headed friend met near the middle of the hall and talked for a moment, and both of them turned to look up at the gallery. For a moment, although nobody knew it, the clock in Harry’s living room read “Extreme Danger.” He looked out over the crowd, trying to disguise his interest. After a few seconds they seemed to dismiss him as harmless, and went off towards one of the coffee counters.
Harry tried to understand what he’d seen, but he was out of ideas. Nobody was that fast or strong, no wizards or witches and certainly no Muggles, and he was sure that he would have felt the magic if the woman had used spells to enhance her strength or speed. Of course she might not be human; there were creatures that fast out there, some of them capable of taking human form; a full-blooded Veela, for example, but although the brunette was attractive she didn’t have a Veela’s hypnotic beauty. Another vampire, perhaps; they had their factions and not all of them had supported Voldemort, maybe a rival group wanted revenge.
He rarely used telephones these days, but he did have a few numbers memorised. Needless to say the Ministry wasn’t one of them, the concentration of magic there made phones impossible. But he did know someone who might be able to help, and had an office set up for contact with Muggles. He looked around, found a public phone, dialled, and waited for an answer.
”Hello, you’re through to Hermione Granger’s office. Please leave a message after the beep.”
Damn. Oh well, nothing else for it. “Hello, this is Harry. Pick up if you’re there. I’ve run into something odd at the airport. I’ve just seen a woman kill a vampire with her bare hands and a stake, no magic as far as I could tell. Can you research it for me? I’m not sure how it’s possible. I’ll try to call again in a couple of hours and... um... pick up if you’re there.” He waited until the phone beeped for more coins, but Hermione didn’t pick up.
Harry found his way to his window seat, and strapped himself in. He hated flying in a plane, hated that he wasn’t in control, hated all those weird slots and lumps that appeared in the wings as it took off and landed. He understood how magic worked, but aircraft just baffled him. And on a small airliner like this there was no place to sit where he couldn’t see outside, and just how unnatural it all was.
As he was trying to find the Muggle detective novel he’d packed for the journey, the dark-haired woman from the airport sat down beside him, her arm only an inch or so from his wand, said “Hi,” with an American accent, and dug into her own bag and pulled out a magazine. Harry glanced over, and was a little surprised to see that it was Guns and Ammo.
The redhead appeared in the aisle and said “Okay, Kennedy, all of the girls are aboard.”
“Thanks, Vi. I’ve called Andrew, let him known we’re on time, the bus ought to be at the airport by the time we’re through the terminal. Better go strap in.” The redhead moved towards the front of the plane, and the brunette turned back to her magazine. Out of the corner of his eye Harry noticed her flip through the pages to an article on hunting crossbows. He decided to risk a little conversation.
“Going to Edinburgh for the festival?”
Without looking away from the magazine the brunette said “I’m gay, so you might as well skip the pickup lines.”
“I’m happily married, and it wasn’t a pickup line. But suit yourself.”
Kennedy, if that was really her name, looked at him appraisingly then said “Sorry. Usually it saves a lot of time.”
“No problem. As I was saying, are you going to the Edinburgh festival? I’ve heard that the Fringe is quite good this year.”
“No, we’re escorting a bunch of students for a summer athletics course. Might catch some shows at the weekend if my girlfriend’s free. What about you?”
“I’m afraid I’m on my way to a funeral.”
“I’m sorry… anyone close?”
“Not really. It’s the grand-niece…” He skipped a few greats “… of my old headmaster. I never actually met her; I’m just helping with the arrangements.”
“Oh. How old was she?”
“Haven’t the foggiest. Like I said, I never met her, don’t really know much about her, I’m just doing a favour for the family.”
“Oh.” That seemed to kill the conversation, and somehow he doubted that it would be a good idea to turn the topic round to vampires.
The speakers clicked and the stewardess began the usual “so this is it, we’re all going to die” safety lecture. Harry listened carefully, mentally reviewed the sequence of spells that would get him out of the plane and down to the ground safely if there seemed to be no other way out, and tightened his seat belt.
As the plane accelerated down the runway and lifted into the sky Ginny’s clock switched back to ‘Mild Peril.’ In London Hermione was in her office listening to her calls, and trying to remember why the idea of Muggles killing vampires rang a very faint bell. By the time the plane turned towards Edinburgh she was headed out to Diagon Alley. She had an idea that there was a book in Flourish and Blotts that might contain some clues.
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