The wind tossed the seas until they frothed and beat against the cliffed shore passionately, chipping away at the land with the patience of the ages. The sky cracked apart with a bolt of lightning and the ground rumbled with the thunder that followed it. A lone figure made his way across the treacherous terrain, cloaked from head to toe in a thick black coat. A brimmed hat cast off most of the rain, and his thick boots squelched through the mud.
"Bloody inconvenient, this," he muttered, hopping down onto a rock and nearly losing his balance. "It's because I've got no spine. No spine at all, that's what Mum used to say."
A flash of lightning made his path visible, which was a blessing because the torch he'd brought was nearly useless in the torrential downfall. He was making his way down the cliffs by sheer luck and the familiarity of the journey.
"Here I am, middle of a bloody monsoon," he continued, "tramping across bloody Scotland because some tosser with a hat says to me 'Watch the treasure, Smit'. I've got to get a spine."
The wind picked up, tossing Smit's coat about him, and he cursed, pushing it down and glaring at the ground, not daring to lift his head for fear the wind would take his hat, as well.
"Awk!" the bird on his shoulder squawked. "Bloody eejit! Awk!"
"Stuff a bloody sock in it, Brie. You're a bloody nuisance, is what you are," Smit said sullenly, but there was a faint smile on his face until he came to the spot marked on his map. Whistling cheerily, he stuck his head in the cave first and called out brightly, "Oi, anyone here?"
"Rum! Rum for a Sickle!" the parrot chimed in helpfully.
"Someday, I'm going to stuff you. See if I don't," Smit said, turning to the parrot and glaring as menacingly as he could manage. Jumping down into the tepid water that was at the base of the cave, he took a few steps into the entrance before his torch extinguished. "Dammit," he muttered.
The water sloshed over the top of his boots and Brie let out an indignant squawk, flapping his feathers as ice-cold water dripped from the ceiling.
"One of these days, I'm going to get a job working for a bloke who plans better," Smit said wistfully. "Someone with an eye towards retirement."
Brie whistled. "Neither a borrower nor a lender be," he advised.
"Right. That's helpful," Smit said, shaking his head. "Right useless. I've said it before, and I'll say it again."
Feeling his way along the cave wall with nearly frozen fingers, poor Smit was upon it before he realized what happened to him, for the cave opened into a cavernous room with a pool of water in the center of it. He nearly fell in, cursing and pushing against the wall until he found his balance.
An eerie sound, like bones grinding together, rumbled from the bottom of the basin. Brie's claws dug into Smit's shoulders, but the bird, it seemed, was too terrified to make a noise.
"This is not good," Smit said. "This is not good at all."
From the water, a hand with stringy skin broke the surface, followed by a forearm, and then an elbow....
Smit screamed, and took off running.
London, February 2000
Harry Potter woke that morning to the pleasant sight of Ginny Weasley, wrapped around his pillow. Her mouth open slightly, she snored and drooled and hogged the covers, but for the moment, she was the most perfect bed partner he'd ever had.
The sun was barely up, but he reached for his glasses and wiped them against the material of his pillowcase before the world came into focus. With a sigh, he laid back in bed, his hands folded on his chest. His feet stuck out from the end of the blanket, mostly because Ginny had twisted it around her body and there wasn't enough material to cover him, too.
There was a scratch at the window, and so he swung his frozen feet off the bed onto the floor and padded over to the window. Opening the window, he saw an official-looking owl, which hooted impatiently as it landed on the dresser, extending its leg so that Harry could unwrap the message.
"Shush," he said quickly. "No need for Ginny to wake up. Be quiet, and I'll grab you a treat, yeah?"
This seemed to placate the beast, which rolled its neck and settled with dignity on the perch Harry kept in the bedroom for just this purpose. He was rising up the ranks in the Auror Department quickly, and it wasn't unusual for several owls a night to interrupt his sleep.
"Harry?" Ginny's voice was groggy, interrupting his frantic search for an owl treat among his things.
"Yeah, Gin. It's me. It's nothing, go back to sleep."
"It's nothing?" She sat up and glared at the owl. "Harry."
"You're on holiday." Ginny threw the blanket off her body and, wrapped in one of Harry's old Gryffindor t-shirts, tromped across the bedroom and pointed her finger at the offending creature. "Harry Potter is on holiday," she said firmly. "And so am I. You go tell your superiors that they can stuff a bloody sock in it because I've had it up to here with this shi..."
"Ginny?" Harry held out a hand, reading through the message. "This one might be different."
"Different how?" Ginny put a hand on her hip.
"Do you want to go to Scotland?" Harry wriggled his eyebrows at her.
"Scotland? Harry, we went to school in Scotland."
Harry raised his eyebrows. "Why, so we did."
"And, if you don't recall, it was bloody miserable this time of year. Cold, windy, rainy..."
Harry pointed out the window. "It's cold, windy and rainy right now, Ginny."
"Yes, but it's cold, windy and rainy in London. Why would I want to go to Scotland?"
"They've had a bit of a local flair-up. Neville thinks I might want to poke my nose into it."
Ginny bit her lip and took a deep breath. "What kind of local flair-up?"
"The fun kind." Harry beamed at her. "No Dark wizards, Ginny. No Dark creatures. Just a local Muggle legend about the ghost of a pirate haunting a cave."
"So we'd be going to..."
"Poke around a bit," Harry said, crossing his fingers behind his back. "See if there's any truth to the rumor, get the poor bloke registered if he's there, see what's what... and, you know. Be a tourist."
"In Scotland?" Ginny chewed on her nail. "Well, I suppose... that'd be cliff-climbing and such, right?"
"Absolutely." He wriggled the piece of paper at her. "Want to come with?"
"Well... what could be a better holiday than cliff-climbing, and looking for the ghost of a pirate?"
"And I'll be there," Harry said, his voice deepening, wrapping his arms around her and kissing the back of her neck. "We could rent, you know. A cottage or something."
Ginny couldn't help it, she laughed. "Or we could get a hotel room, so they'll do our laundry."
Harry's attention had turned to a particular spot on her neck that turned her knees weak. "There you go, always thinking of things that I'd forget about... that's why you've got to come with me."
"You just want to shag me in Scotland."
"I want to shag you everywhere."
The owl hooted impatiently, startling Harry and Ginny, who jumped apart like guilty children. It ruffled its feathers and tapped at the window.
"Right. Treat, and then off you go," Harry said, tossing the bird a brown nugget and letting it fly out the window. "Where was I?"
"Convincing me to go to Scotland," Ginny said, pulling him close to her again. "Convincing me to use my very valuable holiday time to traipse about the country with you, probably getting bruised and bloody and..."
"You'd love every single minute of it," Harry said with a grin. "But if you require persuasion..."
"Oh, I do." Ginny kissed him deeply, walking him back towards the bed. "The kind you're so very good at..."
The wind beat against the glass walls of the greenhouses at Lombart's Nursery School for Young Witches and Wizards, but the lone figure inside of them appeared to take no notice of it. Neville Longbottom tapped one of the lights, concentrated on his blooming snapdragons, mumbling under his breath when it flickered on and then off.
Something worried at the back of his mind, but unlike in his youth, when he'd had trouble understanding the causes of his anxiety, this he could name and put a face to – a threat against the very school he'd come to love. In lieu of a posting at Hogwarts, he'd come here just a few years ago and fallen in love with the town and the people.
And then he'd learned their secret. A secret he could no more stand than he could stand to see the Carrows abusing Ginny their seventh year. He'd researched in vain, written Hermione Granger and come up with nothing. There was only one person left he felt he could safely ask for help.
"Professor Longbottom?" One of his most gifted students, Lonnie, a young girl of nine, stood in the doorway, holding a piece of paper. "This just came for you. It's from Mr. Potter, sir."
He grinned. "Really?"
"Do you think he'll agree to help?" Lonnie worried at the hem of her skirt. "You said he'd help, if you asked him to..."
"Harry's as good a man as you've heard," Neville said quickly, opening the envelope and scanning the message quickly. "And he's as good a man as I thought."
"Yes," Neville said quickly. "I can't say with certainty that he'll know what to do, Lonnie. But I can say that he'll certainly give it his best shot, which is better than most people do their entire lives."
"Do you think I can meet him?"
"I'll certainly take him 'round to say hello," Neville said, dropping the envelope on his desk and going for his cloak. When he turned, it was almost as though he were a different person. "Now, Lonnie, run home; tell your mum there's hope that it'll be over soon. I've got to get a message to Ginny about the state of the hotel in this town. It's very likely they'll want to stay with me."
Lonnie nodded, and watched with wide eyes as her quiet, reserved professor morphed before her eyes into someone with broader shoulders and world-weary eyes. Her classmates whispered that Professor Longbottom had been a great war hero, but until she'd seen him just now, she hadn't believed it.
She sneaked over to the desk and took a peek at the magic-gram that had exercised such an influence over Professor Longbottom.
Got your message stop Understand urgency stop Will bring Ginny and meet you at Apparition point outside Aberdeen stop No worries stop Potter's on the case stop
Lonnie smiled slowly as she began her journey home, feeling for the first time in a while that the weight of the world was lifting off her very small shoulders.