Chapter 3. The Sheep and Teddy Bear Affair
Shaun opened his eyes to the densest darkness he'd ever seen. Or not seen, as it were.
He stretched his legs, rustling them against the soft straw he seemed to be lying on. All was quiet, warm, but not too warm. Shaun let his eyes drift shut again, content in his comfort to doze a while longer.
As he faded in and out, life began to whinge and nag at the back of his mind, and Shaun started to tense up as he reflected on... yesterday.
Yesterday, he'd been whisked away from the farm at a time when his flock likely still needed him. He'd spent the dark half of that interminable morning cold and wet in some unknown woodland. Then he'd been captured by one of the most annoyingly cloying humans imaginable.
Fortunately, his outlook was improving. Those friendly children had helped him to escape. That short Large-Eared, Nearly-Hairless creature had brought him to this perfectly restful place. Now, thanks to a brilliant snooze, things no longer seemed hopeless.
Shaun yawned and stretched a bit more, and was about to...
"MeeEEHHH... oh." Having leapt to his feet in terror... Shaun nickered sheepishly. The frightful noise in the dark, of course, had been nothing more awful than his own stomach.
After having been trapped in Mad Bug-Eyed Woman's lair for so long with nothing to eat but smelly lumps of sodden meat (which he had refused to touch), Shaun was in sore need of a good breakfast.
Oh my; what he wouldn't do for a field of fresh... clover??!
He blinked wildly as he suddenly found himself in a sunny morning pasture! The dark night and straw bedding had vanished, replaced by cheery rolling meadow, utterly lush with ripe, fresh greens! He briefly thought to pinch himself but, lacking an opposable thumb, resorted to his next instinct, which was setting his teeth right down to the lush vegetation at his feet.
He bit off a good mouthful. He chewed for a moment. Tasted...
Shaun shook his head in confusion. The clover looked like food. It had even felt like food in his mouth, but it had tasted like... Hmmm, well, it tasted like nothing.
He was still debating whether he should try to eat the nothing-grass, when he chanced to look over at a nearby hillside just in time to see...
Seeming to float in mid-air, a door had appeared, opening back out to that stony corridor which Shaun vaguely recalled from the previous night. Through the doorway, held wide by that Large-Eared Nearly-Hairless creature, walked several of those nice children from yesterday. At the fore, was the yellow-headed girl (a rare human who seemed to have a passing grasp of 'Sheepish' ). She was followed by the black-mopped boy (the one whose unassuming face reminded Shaun vaguely of a sheep). Entering last was the short girl whose hair was the deep russet colour of a pretty Campine hen, and she seemed to be carrying...
Oh oh oh!
All thoughts of 'who' and 'what' flew straight out of Shaun's mind because... red-hen girl was carrying a great big bowl of SALAD!
Bringing a bowl of fresh turnip greens from the kitchens had clearly been a great idea. Hanging back a ways from the animal's grateful feasting, Harry watched with a small grin.
The morning had gotten off to a fine start. At breakfast, he and Ginny had strolled right past the staff table without attracting any of the wayward glances that would hint at trouble brewing from last night's misadventure in the North Tower. And now they'd been able to give the little woolly munchkin some proper food.
Pleasant progress indeed, but not all was perfect. Harry's smile faded as his thoughts returned to some of the many unresolved questions...
Where had the sheep had come from, and why had it been transported to Hogwarts?
How would they be able to arrange the sheep's safe return? Would Malfoy interfere?
And what had turned Malfoy into a sheep rustler, anyway?
Sadly, Monday morning was a poor time to be saddled with such curiosity. A busy new week of classes, homework and Quidditch practices was getting underway, and Harry knew that this would cut into his and Ginny's chances for sniffing out Malfoy's mischief, and figuring out how to help Shaun.
Harry's thoughts turned back to someone who might well have some very useful insight into this mess. However, glancing in the direction from which they'd entered, he confirmed, unsurprisingly, that Dobby had already discreetly left the room.
A pattern seemed to be forming. The elf had assisted without complaint, dutifully showing them where to find Shaun, only to depart immediately thereafter without leaving any suggestions or instructions, or dropping any obvious clues.
Not for the first time, Harry struggled with the temptation to call his friend back and pry for answers. But yet again, Harry held back, reluctant to ask anything of Dobby that might set a servant against his own master — a terrible position for any House Elf to be placed in.
Although Dobby had demonstrated past willingness (and sometimes eagerness) to skirt the rules and customs of his race, he likely would not have managed to survive so long in a cut-throat Malfoy household without knowing the limits of what he could get away with. Or how best to play those limits...?
Hmmm... Was Dobby saying more than was apparent?
Harry frowned to himself.
Phrases like 'evil master-master ghosty thing' certainly spoke volumes, didn't they? It was far from clear what, exactly, they spoke, but they did seem to confirm Luna's equally vague insinuations about a dark plot. Dobby's deliberate use of the ridiculous term 'doggie' sounded like an elvish way of preserving plausible deniability — of being able to tell his master that he hadn't knowingly seen a sheep, or spoken to anyone about one. And the elf had certainly not denied that bad people might be coming after Shaun. What all this added up to, however, remained very much a...
"Hello Harry Potter!" Luna waved at him from about two feet away, whisking his hair and cutting off his train of thought. "If you're still hungry, you can have these buttered crumpets, as Shaun seems not to be interested in them."
"Thanks Luna." Harry smiled and accepted one from her plate. "These may not be ideal food for a sheep."
Luna shrugged. "Perhaps, but I think Shaun's dietary caution is more because he doesn't want to end up like Shirley."
"Oh, I can imag..." Harry blinked. He gulped down a half-chewed bite and wiped his mouth. "Uhh, sorry but... who is Shirley?"
Luna tapped her lips. "I'm not completely certain, but I believe she's likely the very heavy sheep who fell on the old wizard with the scraggly beard."
"Huh?" Ginny stiffened. Rather mechanically, she placed the remainder of the greens down for Shaun and rose from her crouch to look intensely at Luna. "What old wizard with the scraggly beard?"
"The one that Shirley fell on." Luna smiled obligingly.
"But...?" Ginny frowned and scrounged for another line of inquiry.
"Er, can you tell us a bit more about this wizard?" Harry asked. "Did he have any distinguishing features other than the beard? What he was doing when, uh, the big sheep fell on him?"
Luna briefly assessed Harry, before she turned her attention to scratching Shaun's ears. "Your second question is easy, Harry Potter. The wizard was preparing a potion. The other is more difficult, though. Few people besides myself have sensible notions about what features should be considered 'distinguishing'."
"Yes, I suppose so." Ginny shrugged. "Perhaps you could instead tell us when and where you saw this old wizard?"
"When? Well, that would have been the night before last, during the storm. And, where...?" Luna's gaze seemed to draw inward for a moment. She smiled vaguely. "As yes. It was in the orchard near Mossy Bottom Farm."
"Oh!" The farm name meant nothing to Harry, but her mention of the storm had struck a chord. "So this was all from that dream you mentioned yesterday!"
Luna nodded, and began humming quietly to herself.
Harry began pacing. "A black magic dream. You dreamt of an old wizard with a scraggly beard performing black magic. Magic of interest to Malfoy, maybe. And this all relates to Shaun's arrival at Hogwarts."
Luna stopped humming and looked at him in surprise. "Why Ginevra, your friend is rather sharp. Is this what you meant when you said that Harry Potter is positively fit? "
"Luna..." Ginny's cheeks suddenly felt rather warm. "I hadn't actually meant for you to, er, well... repeat any of that..."
Luna beamed. "Of course not, but was the other thing you told me? That he totally smolders when he..."
"That's it!" Harry whipped around; his finger slashing the air.
Ginny flinched, wishing she knew a nonverbal spell to disguise her spreading blush. "Er, what's...?"
"Scraggly bearded wizard doing dark magic. The diary thief! Gin'!" Harry seized her shoulders. "This has to be the same git who stole the diary and lured Cho into the Chamber, don't you reckon?"
"Uh...?" Ginny blinked, forcing herself to focus in the spotlight of green eyes that (for lack of a better phrase) positively smoldered. "Are you sure, Harry? There are scads of crusty old wizards in Britain."
"True, but how many grizzled dark wizards are constantly dogging our path the way that old goat does?" Harry stepped back and began tracking a circular path through the imaginary meadow. "Let's say he was working on something really evil. Suppose a very heavy sheep fell on him at just the right moment, then perhaps..."
"His plan was disrupted?" Ginny found herself drawn along behind Harry's brisk stride. "Maybe everything fell apart for him when... errr, Shirley? When Shirley fell on him?"
"If Luna's dream is accurate."
"Oh, no doubt Luna's dream is accurate." Ginny flashed her blonde friend a smile, but Luna's head was busily bobbing back and forth, trying to follow the dizzying dynamic of her pacing, conversing companions.
"I'll take your word for it." Harry nodded. "Unfortunately without more details on what the gaffer was doing, it's difficult to guess his real intentions."
"To make a potion, obviously, but to what end?" Ginny chewed her lip. "I don't think potions would be useful for transporting anyone or anything from that farm to Hogwarts."
"True — little point in slaving over a potion when a Portkey was already available." Harry paused to detour around an imaginary thistle. "So, we can probably assume that the potion was for something else. He needed to complete it and then Portkey to Hogwarts."
"Portkey himself? Portkey the potion? Something else?" Ginny glanced at Shaun who, just then, nodded his head. "Okay, let's assume he planned to transport something here, but presumably not a sheep."
"Presumably." Harry pursed his lips. "So what else would he want to deliver?"
"A duck?!" Harry and Ginny both rounded on Luna, who was smiling at them.
"Yes." Luna nodded serenely. "Or perhaps a snake. Things got somewhat confusing near the end."
"Trelawney was blathering about a duck last night." Harry chewed his lip.
"So let's assume a quacker then, yeah?" Ginny resumed pacing, kicking a small stone out of her way. "Why would that plonker want to Portkey a duck to Hogwarts?"
"I wouldn't know." Luna turned to the sheep. "Do you have any idea, Shaun?"
"But Shaun is here..." Ginny examined the sheep shrewdly for a moment. "That may well mean that the duck, or whatever, is... still at the farm?"
"Quite possibly." Luna chewed thoughtfully on a blade of grass. "After all of those sheep fell on the wizard, there was a scuffle and I got the impression that his wand snapped, so he wouldn't have been able to easily Apparate or create a new Portkey."
Harry frowned. "So the key to our mystery may be back at this Mossy... umm..."
Luna nodded. "Mossy Bottom Farm."
"Right." Ginny slammed a fist into her palm. "We've got to find a way to get to that farm."
"Errr..." Harry shifted awkwardly. "The Hermione in me says it's against school regulations to leave the grounds without faculty permission."
"The Hermione in you?!" Ginny turned to Harry, lifting a thick lock of his hair. "Hey Granger! If you're hiding in there, then get out — Harry and I are having a private conversation!"
"Sorry." Harry chuckled.
Ginny smirked, then turned and scuffed her shoe in the soil. "Okay, if we can't visit the farm, then at the very least we need to learn more about the place. And I imagine that Shaun's eager to get back home, right?"
"I agree. But right now we don't even know where the farm is, unless..." Harry turned to the blonde girl. "Luna, do you know?"
Luna's shoulders wobbled equivocally. "It's a ways up the country lane, but below the rolling hills."
"That could describe most of the Borders, half of England and a chunk of Wales." Ginny crinkled her nose. "Plenty of Ireland, for that matter."
Luna stood up and brushed herself off. "Might it help if you examined the Portkey they used?"
"Why, yes." Harry blinked. "Somebody around here should know a spell to trace where it came from. Do you know what became of the Portkey?"
"Of course. That's was what Shaun was trying to tell us last night." Luna placed her hand on Shaun's neck. "The Divination fraud stole it from him."
"Trelawney? She stole... what?" Ginny frowned.
"That toy, of course." Luna rolled her eyes. "Don't you recall Shaun explaining that, Ginevra? It was the stuffed toy that transported Shaun here, and the potty palmist took it from him."
"Bloody brilliant." Harry massaged his aching forehead. "So, let's just march back up North Tower and say, 'Hi Professor, we're back! Sad that your doggie escaped, but hey... don't suppose we can borrow the teddy bear?' "
The Portkey continued to weigh on Ginny's mind as she went about her classes. The mystery was beginning to sound less fluffy and innocent all the time but, for the time being, she needed to put it aside and focus on her studies. Fortunately, there was a fine reason to tune in this morning. She, like most of the rest of the school, was so very anxious to meet the new Defence Against the Dark Arts professor.
Ever since Gilderoy Lockhart had been found a couple of weeks ago (utterly obliviated, doddering about a basement beneath the Three Broomsticks) the school had been anxiously awaiting his replacement, hoping that DADA might actually cease to be a complete waste of time.
So far so good! Having consigned her old DADA scrolls to the rubbish bin (containing no notes, they were filled with silly drawings of a Pompous Purple Ponce drooling on himself, tripping over everything, and sprouting the occasional lump or horn in place of various body parts), she had brought along brand new stationery for today's class and found herself racing through it, trying to capture every hint or preview that the new instructor offered on each of the many items in his ambitious first-year syllabus.
Over the final twenty minutes, the lively (if somewhat gaunt and threadbare) new professor demonstrated nearly half of the spells and tactics on his lesson plan, performing the magic with simple, crisp confidence. It was so compelling that, when the bell sounded, several students even groaned in disappointment.
Ginny, however, was practically bouncing in place as she packed her things, eager to catch Harry between classes so she could tell him about the class.
However, as soon as she turned to make for the door, she found it blocked.
"A word, Miss Weasley?"
Ginny blinked. The DADA professor was standing in front of her, his hand extended in greeting.
"Er, hello." Puzzled, Ginny accepted the proffered hand. "May I help you, Professor Lupin?"
Shaking her hand, Lupin smiled, almost shyly at first. "I wanted to tell you how pleased I am to be your instructor. You might say that your reputation precedes you." His eyes twinkled.
Ginny felt another blush coming on. "I, uh, hope that's a good thing?"
Lupin chuckled. "Of course, Miss Weasley. Or should I call you Ginevra?"
"I prefer 'Ginny', please."
"I'll remember that, thank you." Lupin nodded. "In any case, it's quite rare for the exploits of a first year Hogwarts student to send rippling rumours through society the way yours have. Or should I say, you and a certain young Mr. Potter?"
Ginny ducked her head awkwardly, but Lupin continued heedlessly. "As it happens, Ginny, the Headmaster and a friend of mine in the Auror Office have both shared some interesting accounts of your... adventures."
This wasn't helping Ginny's blush reflex, but fortunately Lupin finally sensed her discomfort. "Ah, my apologies — I didn't mean to be so forward. I ought merely have said that I look forward to working with you and Mr. Potter in class. And perhaps I could offer a bit more? Should the two of you be motivated to acquire more challenging magical skills, I would be willing to offer some after hours tutoring."
Ginny blinked in surprise at the open-ended offer. "Why thank you, sir. That does sound useful!"
"I was hoping you might say that. I plan to extend the same offer to your friend this afternoon. But now..." Lupin consulted his watch. "Ah yes. Now I must run to see if my diverted luggage has finally caught up with me. And you, I suspect, should be off to your next class."
"Oh dear, I should!" Ginny flashed him a genuine grin, then raced off toward the History of Magic classroom, waving over her shoulder. "Welcome to Hogwarts, sir!"
Harry had entered the DADA classroom (his last period of the day) filled with excitement and curiosity. Although he and Ginny had not managed to cross paths between morning classes, they had compensated for that with a quiet lunch together. After shelving a stalemated debate on how they might retrieve the teddy bear Portkey, they had spent the rest of their break in a much more animated discussion of Ginny's first impressions on Professor Lupin and the new Defence syllabus.
By the end of the day, enthusiasm about Dark Arts Defence had spread widely among the students who had met Lupin earlier in the day. Thus, as the impressive series of spell demonstrations came to a close, Harry was torn. A part of him wanted to stay after class (knowing from Ginny that Lupin likely hoped to speak with him), but Harry had been growing edgier all day, anxious to focus back on the 'sheep and teddy bear' affair.
Ultimately, Harry's quandary resolved itself painlessly. The instant the final bell sounded, nearly a third of the class dared to brave Hermione's elbows in swarming the popular new instructor. With the professor seemingly a bit flustered, and trying to excuse himself in order to pick up a delayed delivery of some sort, Harry's choice was clear. Not wishing to wait, or to deprive other students of their chance with Lupin, he faded quickly and quietly out the door — a skill he had honed to near perfection under Lockhart's tenure.
Moments later, Harry was zipping down a side stairwell to catch Ginny as soon as her Potions class let out. Slowing down at the base of the stairs, he eased open a heavy metal door and made his way into the dim dungeons corridor just as the muffled scrapes and thuds of moving benches signaled that Snape had finally (six minutes late, as usual) dismissed his class.
When the classroom door opened, Harry reflexively covered his eyes, lest Colin Creevey blind him with another magnesium flash from his camera, but this time the younger Gryffindor was in a hurry. "Hi Harry! Hey Harry, cool pose! Is that an Illuminati sign? No, don't tell me! I have to rush away anyway, to get my camera and film ready for supper. I got an anonymous tip about a surprise of some sort in the Great Hall tonight. Sorry, I don't know details — it's a secret, but I heard it might be really funny. But you probably already know all about it already, right? Haha! Anyway, I'll catch you later, yeah? Oh, and just let me know if you'd ever like to..."
Swept along by the crowd, Colin's voice was lost to the clatter and chatter of other students hurrying past. Harry had just judged it safe to uncover his eyes when...
"Well, hello there stranger."
Harry blinked, and looked into the twinkling gaze of precisely the person he was awaiting. "Hey Gin'!" He grinned and and fell in step with her as she headed for the stairs.
By prior arrangement, they had resolved to head straight up to North Tower after class. They still had no plan for how to face Trelawney, other than hoping that either inspiration or plain old good luck might strike along the way. Unfortunately there was little chance of brainstorming en route — the stairwell and adjoining corridors were too busy to risk sensitive conversations. So once again, they let it slide, and instead chatted about the day, with Ginny cataloging the latest aggravations caused by some little Slytherin slug named Thaddeus Flint who kept trying to torment the Gryffindor first years.
It was only after a few minutes, when the conversation had dwindled along the final flight of steps up to seventh floor, that Harry realised something about his friend.
"I'd have thought you'd be annoyed about that bully, but..." Harry studied her closely. "An evil little grin keeps sneaking onto your face."
"Grin?" Ginny's expression became instantly quite angelic. "What grin? I'm merely pleased to see you, that's all."
"Nuh uh." Harry shook his head. "I know your 'pleased to see you' look, and that wasn't it."
"I have no idea what you're talking about." Ginny's eyelids fluttered.
Harry raised an eyebrow. "The last time I saw a quirk like that in your cheek, Lavender Brown was about to have that spectacular bout of, er, gastric distress."
"What are you tal-? Oh, you mean the time she set fire to the chesterfield?"
"Right." Harry nodded, wide-eyed at the memory. "Blimey, even the twins were speechless after that. Or nearly speechless, anyway. Fred recovered enough to declare that he'd never seen a human spew flames like that... and George was grumbling about someone having pilfered a vial of his Zonko's Ultra Strength Belch Paste and some alum powder."
"Harry Potter!" Ginny clasped her mouth in shock. "You don't seriously think I had anything to do with that, do you??"
"Of course not. I don't think seriously about anything when you have that 'mischief' look in your eye." Harry winked. "All I know is that anyone leaving a 'Double Potions with Slytherin' class looking this cheery — or cheeky — is certifiably dangerous. Now tell me what the prank is!"
"Prank?" Ginny blinked.
"Prank." Harry nodded, grabbing her hand and pulling her toward a corner of the quiet seventh floor landing; his eyes alive with amused determination. "Do you, or do you not, have something wicked planned for supper tonight? You've got to tell me, Gin' — I'm dying of curiosity."
"Oh very well, but you'll have to promise to..." Ginny stopped, mid-sentence.
She stared down at the hand that had grasped hers. Then her gaze crept slowly up the features of a boy who was standing quite close to her.
"Uh Harry..?" Her eyes stopped at his chin.
Ginny's gaze swept about the deserted landing. "Have you noticed how quiet it is up here?"
"Huh?" Harry paused to listen, and was surprised to confirm that indeed, in this remote nook of the castle, the ubiquitous end-of-class bustle did sound very distant. They seemed quite alone. "Er, I guess it is, yeah?"
"You know..." Ginny angled her face a tiny bit higher; her eyes alighting on his lips. "It seems like this never happens. Everything peaceful? Us alone? Just the two of us?"
"Er..." Harry's throat tensed up a bit. He too glanced around, checking again for any signs of life that might be lurking up the corridor, then chanced a quick look down.
Harry could not help but notice that his friend's lips were slightly parted. Glistening. A shiver of anticipation raced up and down his spine. Was this finally the...? Their long-awaited chance to... ?
Harry's brain seemed unable to even complete his own questions, let alone answer them. Caught in a spell more ancient and mysterious than any magic, he felt himself being drawn downwards; blindly absorbed in the most primal senses — a gentle exhalation of human breath; soft cotton beneath his hand; a comforting warmth as he leaned in to...
"Aghh!" Jolted by Ginny's shout, Harry spun around, ready to fight or flee. His wide eyes followed her outthrust finger, settling on...
Harry and Ginny stared blankly at the rat.
The rat gaped back at them; a look of horror creeping onto his small pointy face.
It took the pair a precious quarter second to get past their confusion to see that the rat had been dragging...
"Teddy bear!" Ginny scrabbled for her wand just as Harry pounced, his outstretched fingers just grazing the panicked vermin's hind legs as it fled for the steps.
Oh, for bloody #$&@*'s sake!
There were times when Peter Pettigrew truly loathed being a rat. What the hell good was a crass, foul, acerbic, hateful oath when it came out sounding like some sodding pathetic little 'please don't hurt me kind sir' squeak??
Why the %^##@ couldn't his Animagus have been a German Shepherd? Or even a smelly old badger? Just about anything would be preferable to some runty little clod, always one wayward boot away from being trodden on, sat upon, or otherwise squashed. As that maniacal Potter kid had nearly managed.
After scrabbling and tumbling down a flight of stairs, bonking head first into a wall, Pettigrew staggered to his feet. Taking a half step toward the steps, he stopped himself and turned, full of piss and vinegar.
After eighteen hair-tearing hours waiting for that dotty old wench in the tower to finally stop cooing over (educating, snuggling with, pretending to feed) a threadbare, whiffy, spittle-ridden toy, Peter was in no mood to take guff from some dorky twelve-year-old kid in glasses. Dropping the teddy bear, he bared his claws and half-millimetre fangs, and unleashed the most terrifying... "Squeeeek!"
#$&@*ing useless vocal cords!
Despite his oral futility, Pettigrew still took a tentative step toward the children, but...
His rat-heart nearly seized as Ginny's stunner and Harry's summoning spell roasted the air above his ears. Both hexes seemed to miraculously miss, but still struck the wall behind him with a powerful retort that tossed rat and teddy bear several feet to the lip of the landing. They teetered on the edge. Pettigrew clawed desperately for the railing, but...
The rat plummeted eighteen feet to splat, belly-first onto the fifth floor landing. Prepared to be dead or paralysed, Pettigrew was surprised to find himself opening his eyes. He reached carefully to grasp the teddy bear that had landed nearby. He wiggled his tail, and it flicked without hesitation.
If it meant surviving falls like that, maybe it wasn't so bad to be a rat, after all? Now all he had to do was-
Pettigrew leapt in the air as yet another near-miss scorched his feet. Seizing the stuffed toy, he scarpered between the spindles of the platform's railing and plunged (terrifyingly yet painlessly) another full flight of steps.
Racing over the lower landing, he could still hear his wretched pursuers clattering down the steps, but Pettigrew's filthy pea-sized heart knew he was onto something. A few more gut-wrenching plunges to go, followed by one mad dash through the Entrance Hall, and he'd be free!
The rat took leaped between the balustres again and again and again, plummeting level after level until he tumbled onto the polished surface of the first floor balcony. Buoyed by a big lead over the children, and his first glimpse of the front door, he put on an adrenaline-fueled burst... and did a face plant, driving a viciously sharp little rat tooth straight into his own tongue.
With feet dusty, dry and lacking rubber-soled trainers, it's a bit of a challenge to drag a toy larger and heavier than oneself over a smooth stone. Wasting precious seconds tugging, wrenching and tripping over his tail, Pettigrew finally tried positioning himself behind the bear and flailed like mad.
It worked. Finally regaining some momentum, he found himself nearing the edge of the balcony, well before those the two rotten kids were yet anywhere in sight. Relieved, he charged headlong past one of the large newels, diving blindly out into the open air of the Entrance Hall...
... only to find himself looking straight down at the heads of five gossiping Hufflepuff witches, one of whom chose that precise moment to glance up, and...
Deafened by the apocalyptic screech, Pettigrew writhed and twisted trying to veer clear, but it was too late. A heart-splitting second later, he plunged straight into a cheap-floral-scented thicket of wildly flailing limbs, airborne wads of half-masticated chewing gum, slashing fingernails, and stomping trainers.
One particularly vicious young minx handbagged him broadside, knocking the wind out of him as he and the teddy bear rocketed across the hall.
Stunned by the blow, Pettigrew didn't even notice the fresh cacophony of brain-vapourising skrieks. Rather, the rat's blurry, concussed senses knew only one thing — that the witch's prodigious beater-like whack had thrown him almost to the door!
Driven by raw mindless instinct, the rat mustered the strength for one last wild break for freedom. Ten more feet. Six more feet. Two more feet?! Blimey! He was really going to esc-
"Oi oi! Stop that rat!!"
"Huhh?? What was... ?" Remus Lupin paused along the front walkway to set down his (finally delivered) trunk. Scratching his head, he swore that he had just now heard the voice of James Potter?? Yelling about stopping... something?
Preposterous. Lupin knew perfectly well that James was long gone, yet something in that voice has seemed so very fam...
"Stop him! Stop the rat!"
Lupin gaped. A furry, greyish-brown lump was tumbling down the grand stone steps of the entrance way.
Whipping out his wand, Lupin cried "Stupefy!" just as the thing veered sharply left, toward the gorse bushes.
Obliquely grazing the tiny target, Lupin's stunner failed to subdue it, but the magic was powerful enough to toss the 'whatever' back several feet. A panicked grey blur fur ball raced, shrieking, into the bushes, while a larger brownish lump bounced to a halt beneath a tree beside the path.
Bewildered, Lupin looked up in time to see Harry Potter and Ginny Weasley burst through the doorway with their wands out. Harry plunged into the gorse patch, shouting, "Accio rat!" while Ginny raced ahead to retrieve the... stuffed bear?
Walking over to the tree, beneath which the boy and girl were now converging, Lupin scratched his thinning pate in confusion. "Harry, Ginny, may I be of assistance?"
A bit winded, Ginny looked up, beaming a smile. "You already have been. Thank you so much!"
"Oh hello sir. Thank you for jolting the little bastard." Harry's gratitude couldn't quite supplant a perplexed frown on the boy's face. "What's wrong with my Accio spell, Gin'? Three times I tried summoning the rat — twice on the stairs, and once again just now. Each time... nothing!"
"The answer is simple, Harry Potter. The rat that you're trying to summon must not be a rat."
Whipping around, everyone blinked at a blindingly vibrant lime-green shawl draped over the shoulders of a blonde girl descending the front steps. She seemed to be leading a young sheep.
"M'ehhh'h'hh," Shaun stated, by way of greeting.
"Hi Luna!" Ginny waved amicably to her friend, then knelt on one knee to greet the sheep. "Hello little fellow."
"Not a rat?" Harry scratched his chin. "If that wasn't a rat, then what was it?"
Luna shrugged. "That I don't know. But if it was a rat, I'm certain you would have captured it."
Lupin gazed in confusion at a sheep, a young girl whose attire reminded him of a Muggle emergency responder, a seemingly sane Ginny Weasley holding a grotty old teddy bear, and Harry Potter (spitting image of a young James) still fretting over not being able to catch a rat who had apparently tried to nick the teddy bear.
The new professor gazed up into the sky for a moment, took a slow breath, then slowly lowered his eyes to see if everything might suddenly begin to make sense.
Lupin sighed. "Er, okay. Would any of you mind if I asked what's going on here?"
Harry and Ginny exchanged glances, quietly negotiating what or how to explain. Their debate was moot, however, as Luna had already chosen to take the initiative.
"Hello Professor Lupin. Harry and Ginny have most helpfully retrieved the stuffed toy Quintaped, which belongs to Shaun's nephew Timmy, but was turned into a Portkey by an evil sorcerer who was partly squashed by Shirley and five other sheep who fell out of a tree in the apple orchard near Mossy Bottom Farm before the sorcerer could administer the potion to the snake."
Lupin stared at her, somehow forgetting to nod.
Smiling, Luna grasped Lupin's limp hand. "You are Professor Lupin and I am called Luna Lovegood. 'Luna' means that I was born in a field beneath a full moon. 'Lovegood' is because..." She frowned. "Well, people have always called me that. I'm not sure why, exactly, but you may as well too."
"Errrr..." Lupin's flummoxed gaze left the strange girl who was still shaking his hand, and darted instead toward the odd sheep who was examining him with wide, wary eyes. Lupin knew that some form of common pleasantry was called for in this situation, but he could still get no further than, "Errrr..."
Unperturbed, Luna released Lupin's hand and turned to face Ginny and Harry. "As you likely guessed, Shaun and I have compared our observations from the orchard. We've concluded that not only was that snake chasing a duck when the sheep fell out of the tree, but it was also the snake who stole the toy Quintaped."
"Quintaped?" Harry's frown deepened. "Uh Luna, are you referring to that, er, teddy bear?"
"Teddy bear?" Luna stared at him for a moment with her deep, voluminous eyes, then looked away, tittering into her hand. "Harry Potter, you're so delightfully dotty! Ginevra warned me you had a rare sense of humour."
"I, uh, okay. Quintaped then." Harry shrugged as Ginny smirked and Shaun rolled his eyes.
"Hmm." Spotting the sheep's surprisingly human expression, Harry turned to face the animal. "You're a bright little mate, aren't you? I suppose you're hoping we'll help you find your way home, yeah?"
"M'ehhh!" Shaun nodded.
"That's why Shaun and I came down here." Luna scratched the sheep's neck. "After hearing the commotion in the stairway, we guessed that you might have located the Portkey."
"Oh yes — the Portkey." Ginny grimaced at the stuffed animal. She shook it to loosen the glue-like adhesion to her fingers. "Professor Lupin, would you happen to know how to determine where a used Portkey originated from?"
"Huh?" Lupin startled at the sound of his name. "Forgive me, but could you repeat that please? I haven't slept well this past week, and have gotten a little befuddled. You said a Portkey?"
"Yes sir." Ginny held up the stuffed bear. "On Saturday night, this toy transported that sheep to Hogwarts from parts unknown. We feel an obligation to try to return the little fellow to his home."
"M'ehhhh!" Shaun agreed.
"I see." Lupin nodded, and reached for the bear. Cringing a bit as he touched its filthy fur, he examined it for a moment. "Hmmm..."
"Yes?" Harry looked at the professor hopefully.
"It's not completely obvious to me which of the several common Portkey configurations was used for this," Lupin explained, turning the scruffy object over in his hands. "In most simple cases, the Portkey is specific only to the outgoing destination. For such instances, the used Portkey would show very clear magical residue telling us what destination it was chosen to transport someone to. That, of course, is of little use to us since we already know the transport terminus."
"Right." Ginny frowned. "But is it possible to determine where it came from?"
Lupin chewed his lip. "In a way, perhaps. With a bit of detective work."
"We don't mind a bit of work." Harry nodded seriously. "What do we do?"
Meeting Harry's gaze, Lupin noticed a serious glint that seemed far more 'Lily' than "James'. He smiled at the boy. "The concept is quite straightforward, Harry. Using a spell similar to 'Prior Incantatem', one can determine the strength of magic needed to carry out the transportation. This tells you roughly how far the sheep would have traveled."
"Oh!" Ginny straightened in recognition. "If you know the distance, then you can look at a map and plot locations the right distance away?"
Lupin beamed at the girl. "O for Outstanding, Ginny. However there is also a second scenario that would be easier to crack. That's if this happens to be a bi-directional Portkey."
"I see..." Harry nodded. "You mean a Portkey that could be used to return straight back to the starting point?"
"Exactly. Such a Portkey would be a wise precaution for anyone planning a foray into..." Lupin paused; a frown spreading across his face.
Ginny studied him. "Into what, sir?"
Lupin pursed his lips thoughtfully for a moment. "Into a place with strong anti-Apparition wards."
"A place like Hogwarts, then." Harry blew out a breath, stirring the unruly hair about his forehead.
"That makes sense." Ginny pursed her lips. "In that case, we could figure out where the Portkey came from by activating it?"
"Sounds risky — Portkeying off to an unknown destination?" Harry frowned, glancing up as a tree branch above them rustled slightly. Moving away from the tree, he began pacing. "Setting aside that concern, how would one activate it? The only Portkeys I've seen have been preset to transport at specific times."
"That's the simplest type," Lupin agreed. "There are also touch-activated and voice activated Portkeys. The most sophisticated types have triggers which one could activate silently."
"A trigger?" Ginny glanced at the teddy bear.
"Sure. Something to press or pull." Lupin held the toy up where others could see it more easily. "For example, it could be as simple as twisting this button nose, and..."
The instant he twisted that button, Professor Lupin wished he hadn't. So did Harry and Ginny.
Peter Pettigrew, on the other hand, was elated! From where he lurked on a branch about six feet above them, the rat saw a golden opportunity. He'd not yet had a proper chance to figure out precisely whose unsuspecting back he was aiming for, but he saw no choice but to leap. This was his last, best, chance to salvage an otherwise disastrously foundering mission.
As space began to swirl sickeningly about them, Lupin leapt in surprise to feel sharp little claws digging into his shoulder. Twisting his head around, he found himself staring far too closely into a bristly rodent face.
And the rat was staring at Lupin.
Both gawked, as though trying to talk themselves out of believing what they thought they were seeing.
An instant later, the students and Shaun were left gaping at the suddenly empty ground upon which their new Dark Arts Defence professor no longer stood.
Luna raised a quiet, shocked hand to her mouth.
Shaun rolled his eyes, then closed them slowly, dejectedly.
Remus Lupin had Portkeyed and Apparated many times in his life. The warping discomfort rarely fazed him and, even now when taken by complete surprise, he didn't gag or go dizzy with disorientation. It may have helped, though, that his mind was so utterly distracted.
Lupin didn't know if it was physically possible to speak during that bizarre fraction of a second when one is spinning through the nothingness of a Portkey transfer. He didn't know if anyone would even hear what he might say, yet he couldn't stop his mouth.
For a sliver of an instant, Lupin thought he felt those rodent eyes connecting with his in precisely the same way he recalled from those wild Marauder nights, long ago. He wondered if he mightn't even have seen a familiar twitch of the bristles; sensed a recognition; glimpsed the vestiges of a long-lost friendship.
Then his legs thudded hard to the ground.
The wild feeling of cyclonic rotation stopped abruptly but, for a crucial moment, Lupin's distracted head kept spinning. He staggered to catch his balance... and that half second of disarray was all the rat needed, leaping from Lupin's arms.
Whether there had ever been any recognition or connection, real or imagined, it was gone now. Armed with exceptional alpha predator instincts, Lupin reacted to the rat's flight with blind reflexes — his wand lashing out; the perfect spell on the tip of his tongue... but something stopped him.
After staring into the dry wavy grass for several heartbeats, he put his wand away. A deep, troubled frown set upon his forehead and he shook his head.
Peter would not have run away.
A trickle of cold logic settled in Lupin's heart.
Peter is dead...
Just like James.
Lupin shivered, dashing away the painful memories, and replacing them with sensible rationalisations.
That strange feeling of connection — surely nothing more than a byproduct of exhaustion and a melancholic longing after having mistaken Harry's voice for the boy's deceased father.
Having a rat leap onto his shoulders at the very moment of Portkey initiation — a rat who happened to bear a resemblance to what he remembered of Wormtail — was odd. But it was a coincidence; no more and no less.
Besides, it surely wasn't Lupin that the rat had sought. It had obviously wanted the teddy bear, especially after having expended all that effort tugging it out of the castle. Seeking fluff to feather its winter nest, perhaps?
Lupin shrugged. A part of him still wanted to look around to see if he could find the rodent and cast a confirmatory spell it, but his most pressing responsibility was to hurry back to Hogwarts before the children grew too worried by his unexpected disappearance. Besides, he still had the Portkey in his hand, and should probably use it as they had intended — to transport the sheep back here to its home.
Supecting that he, too, might wish to return to this spot (perhaps tonight after supper, before it got too dark), Lupin turned away from the thicket and spent a moment studying the surroundings, committing enough detail to memory to satisfy the 'destination' requirement of Apparition.
Then he blinked in surprise.
Everything seemed extraordinarily familiar. It appeared, for all the world, like he was in Yorkshire. It looked even more like...
Could it truly be West Witton??
Lupin grinned in started recognition — he was practically home!
The Portkey had indeed delivered him to within three miles of the humble hovel, set within a magically secluded glade in the Dales, where he had spent most of the past decade since the end of the First Wizarding War. Living the modest lonely life of a werewolf, Lupin had wandered the countryside quite a bit and knew these hills like the back of his hand. In fact he'd strolled past this very orchard countless times!
Shaking his head at the bizarre turn of events (the unexpected trip home; the sad trips down Marauder memory lane), Lupin took one final look around — the hills, stone walls, a farm here, a farm there. He saw no further sign of the odd rat, and nor did his cursory glance catch anything particularly awry about the place, so he twisted to Disapparate.
"Blimey!" Harry ran his hand through his hair. "Now that was unexpected."
"Which?" Ginny was still staring at the recently vacated ground in front of them. "The Portkey going off, or Scabbers dropping out of the tree?"
"Yeah basically," Harry agreed.
"There there, dear." Luna had her arms around the neck of the melancholy Shaun. "Professor Lupin will be back soon to take you home."
"Er yes." Ginny glanced uncertainly at the sheep. "At least we hope he'll be back soon."
Harry chewed his lip. "Uh, right. We have no idea where that Portkey might have taken him, and if he ended up at Mossy Bottom Farm, we're not certain he'll find everything quite as it should be."
She didn't know why, exactly, but Ginny shivered slightly. She edged a couple inches closer to Harry, gently brushing up against him. Semi-consciously, his hand felt for hers and squeezed it.
"Oh, look!" Luna stood up and pointed toward Hogsmeade. "There he is over there."
The three students waved to their new Professor, but Lupin failed to notice. Seemingly lost in thought, he didn't actually spot them at all until he had cleared the main gate and was within a hundred feet.
"Professor Lupin! Hello!" Ginny waved again. "Are you all right?"
The wizard blinked. "Oh. Yes. I'm fine, thank you. I still have the Portkey for us to transport your sheep back to his farm."
"Great." Harry reached for the stuffed toy. "So where did you end up? You didn't encounter any problems? Nothing unusual?"
"I, errr..." Lupin raised an eyebrow at Harry's questions. He couldn't deny that the rat encounter was unusual, but he didn't yet feel comfortable speaking of old Marauder hardships, not with James's son anyway, so he opted to answer selectively. "Er, well, the Portkey took me to an orchard in Yorkshire. Just east of the Dales."
Ginny examined him carefully, then repeated Harry's main question. "No problems, sir? Nothing unusual?"
"Unusual?" Lupin chewed his lip for a moment. "Er, in what sense?"
"You didn't see anything suspicious at the farm?" Ginny frowned. "Nothing out of the ordinary? Signs of magic not expected for a Muggle area?"
Lupin opened his mouth, then closed it, vaguely wondering if the adult in him should be asking what these two students were worried about it. However, in his state of exhaustion, he wasn't sure he wanted to know, so he shook his head. "No, not really. I didn't look closely, but everything seemed to be fine."
Ready to change the subject, Lupin glanced at Shaun. "I do expect the farm will be glad to have its sheep back though. How should we affix the Portkey to your little friend?"
Harry angled his head thoughtfully. "Say Shaun... Perhaps you could hold onto this toy so that it can bring you home?" He lowered the bear down toward the sheep's mouth.
"Meh." Shaun accepted it unquestioningly.
Lupin blinked. "Why Harry! You rather have a way with animals!"
"Ha! I wouldn't say that, sir." Harry chuckled. "However, this fellow does seem to have a way with humans."
Luna and Ginny both smiled.
"Yes, well he does seem a bright chap, doesn't he?" Lupin reached for the bear's button nose. "Are you set for your trip, little fellow?"
Lupin gave a soft laugh. "Very well then." He twisted the button and stepped quickly back.
Shaun seemed to vibrate and blur for a instant, then whisked away in a gust of November wind.
"Well..." The Defence professor stood up, and smiled vaguely. "I'd say that wraps up our little adventure."
Ginny and Harry assembled smiles of gratitude for their new professor. As soon as Lupin was out of earshot (levitating his trunk up the front steps), however, Harry gave Ginny a dubious look.
Ginny quirked her mouth. "You're not so sure about that, yeah?"