The tall white-haired man stood silently looking at the run down two-story tenement row house, which had seen its best days a good century before, located in a poor section of East Londonderry.
“Well…” he thought, “…if you wanted to hide from the Wizarding world, then this was as good a way as any. But I’ll be damned if you’re staying here much longer after today.”
A voice spoke up from behind him.
“Sgt-Major? Are you sure this is the right place?”
John Clarke sighed slightly as he gave a last look at the piece of paper in his hand and the address upon it.
“Yeah, Gomez, this is it.”
Corporal Gomez shook his head in bewilderment.
“And I thought I had it bad in the barrio growing up.”
Clarke shot the younger man a look of annoyance.
“She’s got her reasons for this.”
Gomez looked around at the dilapidated building, one of dozens lining both sides of the narrow street and shook his head again.
“Si, she’s loco.”
Clarke raised an eyebrow and then snorted as the rest of the group climbed out of the lorry they’d rented the day before and began to unload its contents.
The six men, Clarke and five Marines from the Belfast Embassy detachment, whom he’d asked to help him with his task, had come on a mission to keep a promise Clarke had made to a friend.
He only hoped that she’d accept the chance.
Inside the run-down building a woman held a small framed picture as she sat crying at the battered table in the living room which looked rather proper in the decrepit old structure she now called home to her and her three-year-old daughter.
It wasn’t much, but it was all she could afford on her meager salary as a stenographer for a local business, after leaving the Wizarding world in order to raise her child away from the stigma of her illegitimacy.
Muggles, as she’d learned, for all their faults, were far less judgmental about the issue than most Wizarding folk.
This Christmas would be the first where her daughter really was aware of what it all meant, and her mother had no idea how she would explain to her soon-to-be heartbroken child that Santa had not come in the night to leave a pretty tree and lots of presents as the little girl kept claiming he would, certain of this because she’d seen the trees and holiday trappings in other houses and shops.
And the worst part was that she couldn’t risk using magic to make it better.
The Irish Ministry, unlike the English one, didn’t keep as tight an oversight of the use of magic among its wizards but it did heavily frown upon what it considered excessive use of magic by wizards living among Muggles.
Lifting her head, the woman glanced around her, took in the state of their present accommodations and knew immediately that the amount of magic it would take to make their home merely more livable, let alone ready for the holidays, would certainly meet the Ministry’s definition of the word excessive.
And the whole point of hiding among Muggles, as she reminded herself yet again, was to avoid attention from the magical world.
Through the tears she looked again the picture in her hands and whispered to the man, her daughter’s father, who smiled back at her, “I wish you were here. You shouldn’t have been the one to die that day, never knowing about our daughter, our little star. Corona misses you, and so do…”
A gentle knock at the front door interrupted her thoughts and sent her reaching for her wand in terror. She was expecting no one tonight, so why was someone at her door?
The knock came again, followed by a polite, and in a clearly American accent, “Hello? Is anyone home?”
Curious, the woman made her way to the door and peered through the security peephole to find an older man dressed in civilian clothes, and wearing, of all things, a Santa hat, waiting expectantly outside.
Puzzled at the sight, and sensing no danger, she slipped her wand into her back pocket and opened the door slowly to see the man and several companions, men in green military uniforms and wearing elf hats, standing on her stoop. All were laden with boxes while one held up a rather large Christmas tree in the back.
Stunned, the woman opened the door wider and looked out cautiously.
“Yes? What do you want?”
The older man in civilian clothes juggled his load with one hand as he doffed his hat with the other and smiled.
“Ma’am, my name is Sgt-Major John Clarke, USMC retired. You may remember me from the warehouse in Diagon Alley four years ago.”
The woman nodded slowly as memories flittered up to the surface of a man in uniform being introduced to her, a man who had strode through the death and confusion of the massacre that day giving hope to all who saw him, a man who…
She shook herself to return to the present and replied very softly, “Yes, I remember meeting you.”
Clarke smiled again.
“In that case, may we come in? I have some personal and business matters to discuss with you. Also, my men and I are here to deliver some Christmas items, courtesy of the United States Marine Corps.”
Stunned at this statement, the woman hesitated for a second and stepped aside and stared in amazement as the men filed in, arms laden with boxes and only Merlin knew what else, and began to set up the tree and unpack.
Suddenly realizing that all the activity would rouse her daughter, the woman reached behind her, slipped her wand from her back pocket and rapidly cast a series of Silencing Charms so as to prevent her from being awakened.
In amazement, she watched as two men quickly began to set up the nearly seven-foot tree and then add decorations and lights. Looking around, she realized that the other three were carrying in boxes of tinned goods, various household items and appliances such as a telly, complete with some kind of antenna.
One of the men began setting up the telly and antenna, then glanced her way and said with a grin, “My instructor at Communications School showed us how to make a homemade satellite dish that’s also untraceable. I thought your daughter might like to watch Teletubbies or something.”
Absolutely stunned at the sudden turn of events, the woman turned to Clarke, an unspoken request for an explanation upon her face.
Clarke motioned towards the corridor that led to the kitchen area.
“Perhaps we can talk there while the men take care of things out here?”
She nodded and led the way back.
Once through the door, Clarke said with a disarming smile, “My compliments on your going to ground. You, Miss Cassiopeia Maguire, are a hard person to find.”
Miss Maguire didn’t smile back as she whispered, “No one was supposed to be able to find us.”
“True enough and, no, from the Wizarding world probably no one ever would have. However, I made a promise and I intended to keep it.”
“A promise? To whom?”
Clarke took a deep breath to steady his nerves before speaking.
Clarke watched as the blood seemed to vanish from the woman’s face and she dropped into the old wooden chair next to the kitchen table, which he noted in quiet anger was nothing if not more battered that the one in the other room, even though it was covered with a pretty blue table cloth.
Her voice was barely audible as she whispered softly, “Bill? My Bill?”
Clarke knelt in front of her, ignoring the pop of cartilage in his knee as he did so and gently took her small hand in his.
“Yes, dear, your Bill. Bill Weasley.”
The silence hung heavy in the room for a second and Clarke could hear, through the thin kitchen door, the voices of his men as they worked to set up the tree and other goodies they’d brought.
Looking down at Cassiopeia’s pale face, Clarke continued.
“Following the Massacre, I tried to find you, but you had fled England and no one knew where you were. It took some doing, but once I figured out that you had most likely gone into hiding among Muggles, I hired an American wizard who does private investigations to search for you.”
He shook his head slightly and smiled.
“Granted, it took him nearly three years but Hill finally found you after a wild hunch check of the magical birth registry revealed the birth of one Corona Maguire on November 28th, 1998, daughter of Cassiopeia Maguire, location East Londonderry, Ireland.”
Clarke paused and shot her a sly look.
“By the way, that was a nice bit of work getting your friend from the Department of Mysteries to change the records so that Cora appeared to have been born a year earlier. Tied in very well with that seven-month stint you spent on assignment with the Irish Ministry.”
He watched as Cassiopeia eyes narrowed slightly as she simply replied, with just a hint of frost in her tone, “You’re remarkably well informed, Mr. Clarke.”
Clarke could feel his own expression hardened slightly as he replied quietly, “In my line of work, I learned a long time ago to be thorough when it comes to intelligence work, and you’ve seen what happens when someone doesn’t.”
Cassiopeia said nothing, for she knew he was right. Bill, like so many others, had died that day because somebody had failed to verify Hewitt’s story. It was a small thing, but the failure had cost them all so much.
Clarke then added gently,”…and please, call me John.”
She nodded and relaxed a bit.
“All right, John, my friends call me Cassie.”
Clarke nodded in agreement and then reached into his pocket and pulled out a letter addressed to her.
Handing it to her, he said, “In the event of his death, Bill had asked me to give this to you. You’d gone into hiding before I could do so. I believe it may help explain some things.”
She took the letter with trembling hands and opened it slowly, as if afraid of what she might find inside.
Clarke, knowing the contents as he’d read it in his search for any clues to her whereabouts, watched silently as she read the words, tears gently steaming down her cheeks, as she took in the final thoughts of Bill Weasley.
My darling Cassie,
I sit here tonight, watching you sleep, knowing that tonight you’ve given me the greatest gift that I could ever ask for, a family.
Even though it’s only been seven weeks since I first met you, I have come to realize that you are the one I want in my life, the one I want to be with and to grow old with.
You, Cassiopeia Maguire, are the one I want to be my wife.