FIC: "Safe as Houses" for teshara Recipient: teshara Author/Artist: ??? Title: Safe As Houses Rating: PG-13 Pairings: Mundungus Fletcher/Hestia Jones, one-sided Dudley Dursley/Dedalus Diggle, background Vernon Dursley/Petunia Dursley Word Count: 7,000 Warnings/Content Information (Highlight to View): * Swearing, moderate violence, prejudice, inappropriate touching*. Summary: As if it wasn't bad enough babysitting ill-tempered Muggles, now Diggle's turned up with someone Hestia finds most unpleasant. Author's/Artist's Notes: Many thanks to E, my very busy beta, for making time for me.
Hestia climbed the stairs to get away from the noise and looked out of the landing window. She was relieved to see Dedalus' purple top hat jogging up and down at the bottom of the hill, his equally colourful suit hidden by the field of bright yellow oil-seed rape. The man was infuriatingly positive, the colour combination was vile, and the pastoral view depressed her to no end because she knew she was the only witch for many miles; but at least she wouldn't have to deal with these obnoxious Muggles on her own for much longer.
Tomorrow she was going to be the one who got to go out shopping. And then she was bloody well going to be Apparating to Hogsmeade and she would feed the bigoted Dursleys proper Wizard food and make them thank her for it, too. If Hogsmeade was still there by tomorrow.
The post owl bringing their copy of the Prophet soared in over the copse and swooped for the house. Hestia watched it with a grin and waited. The news would be mostly bad, but at least she wouldn't feel so isolated once she'd read it. And there was another advantage to the daily visit of the owl.
Sure enough, within seconds of her losing sight of the owl as it headed round to the kitchen window, came the shrieks.
"Bloody bird in the bloody house again! Disgrace!" boomed the horrible purple man downstairs.
The bony, supercilious wife was screaming again.
She saw Dedalus step out of the crop and look behind him before starting to stride up the hill. Satisfied that she wouldn't be alone with the Dursleys for much longer, she turned away from the window and went down to the sitting room of the safe cottage.
Petunia Dursley was making a noise like a Howler and flapping her hands about with her eyes closed, while her husband yelled and swiped at the owl with the rolled-up Muggle newspaper he'd ordered Dedalus to pick up for him the day before. Hestia simply could not understand how that sweet, brave – if far too naïve– boy Harry Potter could possibly be related to these terrible people. The poor owl was flying round and round the lightshade trying to keep away from them.
"Bloody shut up the both of you," muttered their son. "It's only a fricking bird. Do we have to go through this every day?"
Maybe there was hope for that one. Hestia grinned and winked at him, and he rolled his eyes back at her. She extended her wand arm and the owl alighted on the wand. She could have just used her arm, but the Muggles did hate the wand so much. The parents – Harry Potter's aunt and uncle, unbelievably – tried to hide behind each other. This was more successful for the woman, because the man was too fat to ever hide behind anything smaller than an elephant. Hestia did feel a bit bad for the lad, Dudley, as he backed towards the wall holding his bottom.
Calmly – apparently oblivious to Mrs Dursley's whimpers but secretly revelling in them – Hestia took the newspaper from the owl, gave it a treat, and sent it on its way. Now she was for it. Hopefully it wouldn't take too much longer for Dedalus to walk up the hill.
"Now, look here young lady," Vernon began, bravely stepping forward now that the owl was gone and the wand was back in her sleeve. "It's not too much to ask you to keep your unnatural tools and animals to yourself. We're normal people. It's inhumane to expose us to your strangenesses."
"Dad!" protested Dudley.
"They are abnormals, Dudley! Freaks! I wish to God I could have protected you from them, but your bloody cousin—"
"Don't Dad," Dudley pleaded. He turned to Hestia, "Where's the chocolate cake?"
Hestia hesitated. Should she let him know that Dedalus was just about to appear with a clutch of full shopping bags full of the manufactured, over-packaged Muggle food the boy was so keen on? Knowledge was power after all.
"Oh no, Diddikins. You've been doing so well with your diet. Don't make this intolerable situation even worse by undoing all your good work. It's probably just what they want." Petunia screwed up her face and cast a sharp-eyed look at Hestia.
Well, that settled that then. "Dedalus is on his way up the hill with all the treats you asked him for," Hestia told Dudley in her most soothing voice.
Petunia looked horrified, and serve her right: the ungrateful, spiteful bitch.
"Are you sure he's got everything?" Dudley asked with the desperation of a potion junkie awaiting his fix.
Hestia hadn't actually seen any shopping bags, but they usually shrunk them and carried them in their pockets. She made a noncommittal noise.
"I don't know what your sort do with children," thundered Vernon Dursley surreally, "but if you ever find yourself being a parent then you'll understand how foul it is to undermine a loving mother like that!"
"Lucky for you, she doesn't give a shit how unhealthy you get, so you can eat all the fatty crap you want to when the food arrives!" Hestia snapped back.
Dursley raised his fist and his whole body shook with rage. "How dare you? How dare you? You–" he hissed, but he was prevented from proclaiming his usual list of disgusting names for Hestia, by the sound of the front door opening.
"Mr Diggle!" Dudley called out enthusiastically and skipped heavily into the hallway, chased by his mother.
Hestia threw Vernon a look of abhorrence before spinning round to follow them.
Dedalus looked a bit edgy. Dedalus never looked edgy; he was never anything but benignly, obliviously optimistic and excited about everything. During the first war against Voldemort he had even been heard to remark to his one companion what a lovely night it was to be outside, mere seconds before launching into a deadly battle against almost a dozen Death Eaters.
He managed an indulgent smile as Dudley grabbed a shopping bag off him and positively danced with excitement upon seeing the lurid colours of its contents, but it wasn't the beam he usually had for the lad. Dudley looked into his face with damp eyes and a contented smile, to say, "Thank you so much, Mr Diggle, sir. Thank you so much."
Hestia never got that level of politeness out of any of Harry Potter's relatives.
"Call me Dedalus, son," he said yet again, while reaching up to pat Dudley's head.
The way Dudley pressed his head into the hand made Hestia wonder whether it really was just the food he was devoted to. Very interesting. That would certainly put the cat among the pigeons.
"You most certainly will not call him Dedalus!" Vernon stormed as he appeared in the doorway. Hestia suspected uncharacteristic perceptiveness, until he added, "It's a blooming stupid foreign-sounding name. My son's not going to be made to wrap his tongue round it! He can call you something normal and British like Dave."
Dedalus clapped his hands together. "Oh, a nickname! How lovely! I knew we were all going to be best of friends." He looked quite relaxed and obliviously happy again.
Hestia charmed the rest of the shopping back to its normal size with discretion before handing it over to the Dursleys to carry into the kitchen, deciding it would be quicker than enduring the usual hullaballoo which occurred every time they saw magic.
Dedalus looked her in the eye when they'd gone. His smile was slightly uncertain. "Well, now, my dear. I was lucky enough to find something else while I was out doing the shopping."
Hestia folded her arms. "Yes?"
"Or rather someone. Which will be lovely. All friends together. The more the merrier." He was talking too fast.
Hestia cocked her eyebrow at him.
Dedalus sighed and opened the front door. A familiar head popped up from the bush outside. It wore a face she hadn't thought to see again, and had hoped not to.
"Mundungus bloody Fletcher! You've got a nerve!"
Fletcher raised his hands placatingly. "Of course, you've every right to be angry, my dear–"
"Don't you 'my dear' me," Hestia said as she drew her wand. "You sneaky coward! You might as well be a Death Eater; you're useless to the Order."
"Now, now, Hestia. Mundungus is a friend," Dedalus tried. "A friend in need–"
"Where was he when Alastor needed him?" Hestia yelled at Dedalus. "If it wasn't for him Apparating away then Alastor would be alive."
Mundungus gave one of his furtive glances about the cottage's environs. "Are you sure you should be shouting about things like that, my d-d-d…?" he remembered not to call her his dear and stuttered to a halt.
Hestia swallowed. He was right, damn him.
"You never can tell where He Who Must Not Be Named or his followers might be. There might even be," Dung wrinkled his nose in distaste, "Muggles around."
Hestia barked a dry laugh. "Oh there's Muggles alright. The most Muggled Muggles imaginable." She stepped back to usher the wizard inside so she could shut the door. "And say Voldemort's name for Merlin's sake! Albus always did. It's an insult to his memory, pussy footing around like that. Not that I'd expect any better from a pussy like you."
"It's not wise to take risks," said Mundungus. "Not in these dangerous times."
"Spoken like a true coward!"
"Please can you stop calling our friend nasty names, Hestia. Mundungus is a fellow Order member," Dedalus begged.
"So was Alastor," Hestia snapped back.
When they walked into the kitchen, the two Dursley men were still intent upon examining the food Dedalus had bought. Dudley made excited snorting noises; Vernon harrumphed in mock dismay. Petunia, however, had her eyes on the door, and her face was pinched with curiosity. "Who's that?" she snapped. The look of disgust she cast upon Fletcher would have been unforgivable had it not mirrored the way Hestia felt about him.
Mundungus made the mistake of putting on his ingratiating face and extending his grimy hand towards Petunia. "Lovely to meet you, my dear," he said. "The name's Mundungus Fletcher. I have a few trinkets about my person which might interest you. Of course, there would be a discount for a lady as beautiful as yourself. Jewels like these deserve a pretty setting such as your face."
Mrs Dursley twisted her whole body in order to avoid touching the proffered hand. "Is he one of your lot?" she hissed at Hestia.
"Mundungus?" her husband bellowed from the other side of the room. "Dunfungus?" He waved a packet of frozen sausages at the assembled company. "More damn fool names! I refuse to converse with anyone whose name ends in U.S.!"
"We had a Marcus at Smeltings," Dudley said confidentially to Dedalus. "I think it's a lovely way to end a name. I wish I was a Dudlus."
"Would you like me to call you Dudlus? And you can call me Dave. What fun! We can have special nicknames for each other." Dedalus patted Dudley's forearm excitedly.
The look of overwhelming gratitude on Dudley's face left Hestia in no doubt as to how the lad felt about Dedalus. She wished she had more spare time to gloat about just how devastated the Dursley parents were going to be when they discovered their son's crush, the narrow-minded pair of judgemental shits. She would have to revisit that glee later, however, because just now she was too busy being angry with Mundungus Fletcher.
"Why are you here?" she demanded. "And don't try to sell your knock-off crap to the Muggles."
"Muggles?" It was Fletcher who shrank back now. "Not that I've got anything against them of course." He pulled back his hand. "Some of me own relatives are actual Muggles." Then he muttered, "Not that I 'ave anything to do with them," as he backed away.
Hestia cut across Vernon's spluttered reaction to try to get a straight answer out of Dedalus instead. "Why have you brought this heap of shit excuse for a wizard here?"
"I do wish you wouldn't be so rude to our guest," Dedalus said. "And try not to swear in front of the child."
"Too fucking right," Fletcher agreed.
"He's not our guest; he's not staying." Hestia decided to ignore all distractions, including Dudley's obvious hurt at being called a child. "Why is he even here?"
"Well, my love, you see it's like this," Mundungus began in his most reasonable, and therefore most dangerous, voice. "There are some certain individuals whom it might be politic for me to avoid. When Dedalus here heard about my situation, he was kind enough to offer me a safe shelter."
"I am not your love! And the people you should be avoiding right now, Mundungus Fletcher, are the Order of the Phoenix, who you betrayed so badly by Apparating out on Alastor. He's dead, Dung! Dead!"
"I know. I know." Mundungus held up his appeasing hands again. "Nobody, believe me, nobody is more sorry about that than I am. But if I'd stayed then both of us would of been dead. And that wasn't going to do nobody no good, was it?"
"Dead?" Petunia asked sharply. "Who's dead?"
They should have had this conversation out of earshot of the Dursleys; Hestia wasn't about to start explaining anything to them.
"If it's her wretched nephew, then does that mean it'll take less time or more time for us to get out of here?" Vernon demanded.
"Who's her nephew?" asked Mundungus. "What's a nice witch like you doing hanging out with a nest of Muggles anyway? Not to be trusted, Muggles. Only out for themselves."
Vernon clenched his fists. "Can't trust us? That's rich, coming from a conniving bunch of freaks who—"
He was cut off in his tirade by a roaring noise outside. They all rushed to windows. By the time Hestia made out the masked figures the cottage was already filling with smoke. Death Eaters had set fire to the field of rape. But how had they found them? Minerva McGonagall herself had warded the safe house and made it unplottable. There was no time to link their discovery to Fletcher's sudden appearance. Half a dozen Death Eaters were striding up the hill. Petunia was screaming again; the woman had no idea just how scared she ought to be. With only a brief hesitation, Hestia took down the Anti-Apparition protection with a wave of her wand, knowing the Death Eaters could take advantage of that as easily as they could. They had no choice.
Dedalus grabbed Dudley's arm, and they vanished. Hestia tried desperately to remember their plan B as she grabbed for Vernon's fat arm, while he tried to push her off. There was no way she was going to have time to get a firm hold on his wife as well. Mundungus looked scared, but he hadn't scarpered yet and he had his wand out.
"Grab her!" she yelled at him. "Shrieking Shack!"
Fletcher nodded grimly before tackling the hysterical woman; they both disappeared with a pop.
"I demand you tell me where they've taken my—" Dursley began, waving his arms around unhelpfully in his indignation.
Hestia ducked down to wrap an arm round his knee and Side-Alonged them both to the Shack.
After the familiar lurch, she found herself kneeling on dusty, splintered wood. Vernon wasn't ranting anymore; he was holding his head in both hands and retching. Dedalus staggered into the room, over-balanced by Dudley clinging to him, looking terrified. Petunia's scream rang out from the floor above, letting them know that the others had made it too.
"What was that?" Dudley asked tremulously.
Dedalus embarked upon a soothingly long explanation of Apparition in a soft voice. By the time he had finished, all six of them were gathered together, sitting on the dirty floor, and they were all considerably calmer.
"You're so clever, Mr Diggle," Dudley gushed, gazing into Dedalus' eyes again. "You saved my life."
"It's not clever!" his father replied, but with less energy than usual, "it's unnatural. If it wasn't for all this weirdo magic then those other weirdo magicians wouldn't have been attacking us in the first place." He lowered his head and put his hands over his eyes. His voice cracked and Hestia wondered whether she was witnessing the phenomenon of Vernon Dursley weeping. "All I ever wanted was a normal life. Is that too much to ask for? Ever since that freak baby was dumped on our doorstep we've suffered nothing but abnormality."
The blood had returned to Mrs Dursley's face and she was taking in the dilapidated state of their surroundings. "Are we going to have to sleep in this sty?" she asked quietly. "What will we eat?"
"Now that, my dear woman, is not going to be a problem, because your resourceful son managed to take hold of the shopping bags just as we were leaving. I have them shrunk in my top pocket. Unfortunately, I seem to have mislaid my hat, but no matter. There will be other hats. As for the idea of sleeping here, I'm sure that appeals to no-one. Better than being eviscerated by Death Eaters, however. Not to worry, there are other safe houses." He set to thinking.
They watched him.
"The one in Godric's Hollow was gutted last month," Hestia reminded him.
"Yes. Yes. Luckily it was empty. Unlike the one in Goathland." He shuddered. "It is all getting a little nasty, isn't it? I wonder whether the place in Byker has been fixed up yet."
"I happen to have a little hide-out. A storage facility. On the North York Moors, it is. That any use to you?" Mundungus offered. "It's already unplottable and untraceable, for perfectly legitimate reasons." He gave Hestia a sideways glance. "And between us we could ward it nice and proper."
Dedalus clapped his hands. "Splendid! Oh, Mundungus, that's awfully kind of you. What a fortunate day. A stroke of luck that I came across you asleep in that shop doorway this morning."
"Why aren't you there yourself if it's safe?" Hestia asked.
Mundungus dipped his head. "I didn't like it," he muttered. "All on me lonesome. Be alright with you lot there."
"How are we going to get there?" Vernon asked, rubbing at his face. "Because if you think I'm undergoing that bizarre and nauseating teleport thing again, then you've—"
Hestia nodded at Mundungus. Dudley was still wrapped round Dedalus, so she snatched up Petunia's chilled, bony hand, and gripped onto Dedalus' boot. Mundungus got the idea almost immediately, taking hold of Dedalus' other boot, and Vernon's sleeve, before closing his eyes. Hestia relaxed into the Side-Along. She avoided thinking about how much she hated to be a passenger, and her doubts that Mundungus' mind was strong enough to carry them all.
It had been a cowshed, and something of that odour lingered. Half of it was filled with a tottering pile which included furniture and other objects, which Mundungus covered with a swiftly conjured tarpaulin before she could identify them. The other half was almost homely, though. It had been carpeted and whitewashed, and shelves and a sink had been installed. While the Dursleys recovered on the large sofa, Mundungus set about lighting candles and casting lumos, then set the kettle to boil.
"Welcome to my 'umble abode!" he announced, with a dramatic flourish which barely covered his nervousness.
Hestia surprised herself by saying a reassuring, "It's lovely" before Dedalus did.
She and Dedalus worked their way round the inside walls, casting warding spells, while the Muggles recovered enough to start complaining. Then the two of them cast a protective perimeter around the outside of the barn, before protecting the outsides of the walls. Hestia liked working with Dedalus. When something needed to get done, he just quietly did it until it was completed. By the time they got back inside, Dung had conjured some dividing walls to create little bedrooms, and he was transfiguring beds out of some wooden drawers which must have come from somewhere under the tarpaulin. The Dursley parents, of course, were cowering in a corner while all those spells were being performed. Hestia was impressed to see that Dudley, however, was busy creating a lunch out of the food they'd brought with them and the contents of Mundungus' shelves, though it wasn't her he was hoping to impress, of course.
"All sorted and safe are we?" Mundungus asked.
"I wonder why the wards failed at the last safe house?" she asked. She looked pointedly at Mundungus. None of them had any reason to trust him.
He caught the look. "Now, now, Princess. Don't. Nothing to do with me."
"Coincidence?" she asked.
"Oh, come on. We're all friends –" Dedalus started.
"I know you don't think much of me, but I'm not actually that stupid. I turn up one morning, and within minutes the place is surrounded by His goons? If I'd turned traitor I'd be less obvious than that." Mundungus paused. "Not that I ever would. Couldn't do that to Albus' memory, not after everything he done for me."
They allowed themselves a quiet moment to remember Albus Dumbledore and everything he'd meant to the three of them, and to the whole Wizarding world. Hestia watched Mundungus' face. She had nothing to go on but her instinct, but – Merlin save her – she believed him.
After lunch, Mr and Mrs Dursley took some time out from registering their complaints for a nap, and Dudley invested some minutes in his favourite pastime of gazing at Dedalus and soaking up every word which fell from his lips.
Hestia took her cup of coffee out to the yard to get a better look at the surrounding area. Earlier she had been too focussed on the spells and the building; now she wanted to know where she was. Mundungus followed her out.
"Where's the farmhouse?" she asked without looking at him.
She followed where he was pointing, to a dilapidated pile of bricks with a rotting window frame balanced on top of it.
"Not much. They lost some subsidies and the supermarkets squeezed their prices, so they gave up farming. They sold the fields to a local developer, but he hasn't had the funds to build on it yet, and there's some Muggle council paperwork which hasn't worked. I bought this barn off him and he was grateful. He's in Spain now. It's safe."
"The farmhouse fell down because nobody looked after it?" Hestia asked.
"There was a flood then a couple of heavy winters. Cowshed would of gone too if I hadn't of took it. Look, these Muggles of yours, they're not like my relatives. My lot wanted whatever they could get out of what me and me old mum could do. These ones don't want nothing to do with magic, do they?"
Hestia sighed. "No. They're pretty anti magic."
"They're scared shitless!" Mundungus laughed.
"Yeah. They're ignorant."
"No, they're terrified, Hestia. Why are you watching out for them when they want nothing to do with wizards? Why don't you just Obliviate them and send them home? Who are they?"
Hestia sighed. Mundungus was in the Order and if he hung around here then he was likely to find out anyway. Nonetheless, she didn't want to tell him anything, so she didn't. She finished her coffee and started walking round. They were on a flat, high area, with a good view for many miles. There was a stream, and meadows which had been left to run wild. In the distance were roads, along which the occasional Muggle car ran. A few hundred yards behind the ruined house, the land sloped upwards, eventually reaching the steeper incline of a hill.
"What they need," said Mundungus, coming up behind her, "is some reason to be grateful to magic. They need to have some use for it." He paused. They both thought. "Not too much, mind. Don't want them taking advantage."
"What do you suggest?"
"Let's ask them."
So they did. At first, Vernon and Petunia were adamant that they wanted nothing from "your type" and Dudley clearly couldn't voice just what it was that he wanted from one wizard in particular. Eventually, though, Petunia admitted that she missed the television. History documentaries, she claimed. Then Dudley muttered something about 'Emmerdale'.
"I've missed too much," she said with a sniff. "I'll never get back into the storylines now."
"I might just have one of them teeveeboxes," Mundungus said pensively, staring into the tarpaulined heap as though he could see what was in it.
Vernon looked disbelievingly up at the ceiling. "And how will you get a signal out here?" he scoffed.
Mundungus tapped his nose. "Ways and means."
"Have you got electricity?" Dudley asked.
"Well, now." Mundungus cast a shifty look at Dedalus and Hestia. "There might just be a type of converter."
"That's illegal, Mundungus!" Dedalus said, shocked. "Misuse of Muggle artefacts. You can't power their machines on magic."
"There's no other way of getting them to work. Maybe we could turn a blind eye just this once, so that Petunia can watch her soap opera," Hestia suggested.
"There's no point," Petunia repeated. "I've missed too many episodes. I'll never know what happened with Linda Fowler's baby now."
"Well, now. There might just be a little spell…" Mundungus started.
"Don't want any of that sort of strangeness, thank you very much." Petunia drew her arms tight around herself; her lips pinched together.
"I could imprint the old episodes into your tellybox. Every single one that you've missed," Mundungus tempted. "Give you something to do while you wait, or whatever it is that you're doing."
"I don't believe you!" Petunia snapped.
"There've been a few rugby games I've missed, actually," Vernon interrupted with.
"This converter, the electrical one, would it work with a video games console? Could you get me an N 64?" Dudley asked. "With Killer Instinct Gold? You'd like that." He looked at Dedalus with seriousness and sincerity. "You're a man of action, you must miss the heroic battles. This is no job for you, sitting around nursemaiding us. At least this way you could play at fighting."
"That sounds like great fun!" Dedalus responded. "Some games to play. We do have a lovely time, don't we?"
"I'm glad you're looking after us. Are you glad, too, or would you rather be somewhere else?" Dudley asked.
"Oh, I'm very happy to be here with you." Dedalus patted Dudley's knee. "We are great friends, aren't we? Dudlus?"
"That's settled then." Mundungus rubbed his hands together. "I'll just have a bit of a hunt through this lot." He clambered under the tarpaulin.
It took at least two days to convince everyone that the converted cowshed was a reasonable place to be staying. They all settled back into their routine, only now Hestia's shopping trips included quests for video games as well as Monster Munch and Chicken Nuggets. She also presented the Dursleys with some real food, which Petunia busied herself with cooking on Mundungus' hotplates. It turned out that the Muggle harridan wasn't too shoddy in the kitchen.
When crisp morning sun fell in through the barn doors, it prompted Hestia to ask Mundungus what the walks were like around there. He looked embarrassed when he said that he wouldn't be knowing about anything like that. He just came and he went, he did his business, and he stored the proceeds. He wasn't much of a one for the walking. Hestia asked who else wanted to come out for a walk with her.
Petunia sniffed. "Out there in the mud and ice? There aren't even any proper pavements out there. I've only got my good shoes with me. And there's still plenty of cleaning to be getting on with here."
"Looks a bit slopey. Not keen on hills, generally speaking. And there's a match I've been meaning to watch if Petunia doesn't want the telly," Vernon said.
Dudley was clearly waiting to see what Dedalus was going to do.
"Looks like I'd better stay here and keep an eye on the Muggles, then, if they're staying," he said. "Now, Dudlus, what's this Turok: Dinosaur Hunter all about? Looks like it's got dragons in it. What fun!"
"Ok, Dave, let's stick it in the N 64 and have a go at it!" Dudley went over on all-fours to change the plastic things over in the game box.
Just for one fleeting moment, Hestia caught Dedalus' look of warmth as he watched the young man. Then he bit it back. Dedalus was far too honourable to take advantage of an innocent youngster with a crush, of course. Hestia couldn't help herself from hoping, for both of their sakes, that Dudley was going to be able to wear him down and, eventually, convince him to be a little less honourable.
"Just me, then?" Hestia looked at Dung.
"No. I'll come with you. Give it a go, this country walk business," he said.
It started as a stroll in silence across the meadow, past the ruined farmhouse and on towards the hills. Her knees ached and her lungs froze as climbed the slope; she felt the indoor dust fly from her eyeballs. Mundungus kept pace, although his breathing was more audible than hers was.
"I've worked out who they are," he said eventually.
"Thought you would."
He sighed as they paused to negotiate a stile. She went over it first and he said, "So, the boy we're all relying on to save us was raised by that mess."
"He's all we've got," was all Hestia could reply with. She shrugged.
"I'm surprised the Order chose you two for this job. Bit static for a couple of heroes like you and Dedalus. Would of thought you'd've preferred a bit more action."
"I expect we'll get called up if they need fighters. Maybe then they'll get someone else in to babysit the Muggles. Someone with less of a taste for battles?" She looked at Mundungus.
"Coward like me you mean? Nah, I'd be rubbish. If the other lot turned up to attack them I'd just scarper."
Hestia made sure she had her back to him on the narrow path before she said, "It was Alastor who tasked us with watching the Dursleys."
For a few moments all she heard behind her were hard footsteps and deep breathing. Then, in a soft, serious voice, Mundungus said. "They just appeared. I'd like to say that if it had been a question of his life or mine that I'd've stayed and died for him, but who knows? I never wanted to be there in the first place. Truth is, though, that it wouldn't of made no difference to him. We was outnumbered. I saved a life. Only it was me own and that don't count."
They walked a little further without talking, until the ground evened out and the path widened. There were some bramble bushes growing by the path; Hestia picked a handful and offered some to Mundungus.
He grinned as he popped them into his mouth. "Free food. Now that really is a bargain. Make up for being stuck out here?"
"It's a job, Dung. I won't pretend those Muggles don't wind me up; of course they do. But it's up to me to protect them. They're a darn sight less trouble since you sorted them out with that tellybox."
"Easy enough. Ain't you got some young man waiting for you at home, though? Ain't you missing him? Lovely looking girl like you, you must have."
"I'm not a girl, Dung!"
"I know. I know. You're a strong, independent woman."
"Right. So, no. No complications. No partner. Not a good time to be worrying about anybody else. I've got enough to do just looking after myself."
"Ah, I see." Mundungus headed for a flat stone a little further up the hill. "So you're giving your stick arm a break from beating off the suitors." He sat down.
She pulled a face at him before sitting next to him. It was time to make him feel uncomfortable! "So, Mr Fletcher. Who is it exactly that you're hiding out from?"
He laughed. "Well, it'd be a bit awkward to run into another fellow Order member just at the moment, as you proved when I first turned up. Also, there are a good few too many of You Know Who's drones about London for comfort."
"How difficult is it to say 'Voldemort'?" Hestia muttered.
"And I'm pretty wary of bumping into the MLE. Always. I was in Azkaban before His lot took over. Bad enough then." Mundungus shuddered. "Never again. Just at the moment, though, I've got a little issue with some Goblins."
"Mundungus! Goblins! I'd have thought you'd have had more sense than to go messing Goblins around!"
"Oh, I have, love. Learnt that lesson a long time ago. But there's…" he trailed off and bit his lip, staring off into the middle distance. He took a deep breath, as though deciding that he could trust her after all. "There's a couple of young lads, just set up a shop, they have. They're new to business, but they do a bit of wheeling and dealing, you know, dodging and weaving. Remind me of my early days they do." He smiled fondly. "Well, they hadn't learnt their lesson about Goblins yet. Made a bit of a silly bargain, didn't check over the terms and conditions. They could do with a break those two. They don't know that I got myself involved. And it's something I'll be able to sort out eventually. But just at the moment it's a good idea if I lay low while I'm working out—"
There was a loud pop. Three masked, cloaked figures appeared on the slope below them, with their wands out. Hestia and Mundungus both swore and scrambled to their feet. Hestia pulled her wand from her sleeve, throwing up a shield charm just in time. She managed to catch one with a hex, but they were gaining on her, firing off hexes, and she was hard put to defend herself against all three of them. She looked briefly to her side where Mundungus had been, only to find that he'd vanished. Bloody typical! Just when she'd been about to concede that he wasn't a complete waste of space.
She advanced on the Death Eaters, trying to use the extra height to her advantage, but it was no good. It was only a matter of luck that she'd managed to duck all their hexes so far. She was casting an Immobulus when suddenly the Death Eater on the far left collapsed sideways, knocking into the man next to him, so that they both fell onto the third man. A large chunk of flint bounced off the first man's head and bounced its way down the hill. Hestia was still staring in shock when her arm was grabbed and the world sunk away from her in Apparition.
Her surroundings reformed into a dark, scratchy space full of the heavy scent of hay. Mundungus still held her arm tight.
"Thanks," she panted.
"Saw that rock behind the bramble bush earlier. Thought it might come in handy. They never expect straightforward violence, do they? Too busy concentrating on casting spells."
"Right." She'd been kind of focussed on the spells herself. "Thanks," she said again. There was a pause.
"We're in the hay barn of a farmer down the road from my place. Nearly full now, but I was hoping there'd be a little space between bales. Otherwise we'd both of been splinched full of dried grass. Shouldn't have to hold out here too long before the bad guys run away home. Don't want to go leading them to the Muggles, though, do we?"
"Good thinking." Hestia sat back on the prickly hay bale and let her eyes adjust to the dark. "How the hell did they find us?"
"I couldn't tell you," Mundungus replied, letting go of her arm and settling down beside her. "But I will say that that's the second time you've said His name and had some of that lot turn up a couple of minutes later. I know what Albus said about it, but you can't be too careful these days."
Hestia thought about that for a bit. It couldn't actually hurt to avoid using Voldemort's name, could it? Her heartbeat was slowing now, her breath was evening out. As the adrenaline left her system, she felt a familiar reaction.
"So," she said in a husky voice, "any ideas how we should kill time? 'Cos I can think of something."
She found Mundungus' hand in the near-dark and took hold of it. She pressed it between her legs where she was starting to heat up.
It surprised her that he pulled it away sharply.
"Oh, come on!" she wheedled, "I always feel horny after a battle. Help a friend out, won't you?"
"Hestia. I don't think you mean that."
"Of course I do. Come on, you know you want to."
"You're not being fair. I'll see you back at the cowshed."
There was an Apparition pop, and then the warmth beside her was gone. She sat still and silent for quite a while, thinking things through, before she went back.
Mundungus was already there, helping Dudley to set the table. After they'd eaten, he disappeared under his tarpaulin for a good few hours, emerging with a full sack and a grimly determined expression. He took it into his bedroom, where he stayed until supper time. In the evening, once the Muggles were settled with their programmes and games, Hestia knocked on the door of Mundungus' bedroom.
"Who is it?"
"Give me a minute. All right, then, come in."
Mundungus was sitting on his bed in his travelling cloak, with a closed sack beside him. "I've worked out a chain of events what might lead me to settling things with them Goblins."
"You're going now?"
"Be out of your hair in no time." He shrunk the sack. "Thanks for letting me stay with you; gave me time to think this out."
"It's fine. It's your place." Hestia shrugged. "Will you be back?"
"Should think so. It's full of me stuff, ain't it?" Mundungus grinned but his eyes were sad.
"And to see us. We'll miss you."
Mundungus looked sceptical.
"Thanks for the electricky Muggle boxes and for sorting all that out. Look, Dung, the reason I knocked on your door was…" She took a deep breath. This was not her field of expertise. "To apologise. About earlier. I shouldn't have done that."
Mundungus shrugged. "Didn't want you regretting anything. Heat of the moment, I know it gets some people like that. I know full well if there'd been another straight wizard in a hundred miles you'd never have thought of me, though. You deserve better."
"No, Dung, you deserve better! I was being selfish and stupid!"
"It's fine. I know you're too good for me. It's just… it's hurtful, you know, to be reminded like that. Especially by a girl like you. A woman. Not that there's another witch who can hold a candle to—" he stopped himself. "I'll be off. Save embarrassment."
"Mundungus. Mate. Don't leave like this." She stretched out to him, but when he flinched, she withdrew her hand. "When will I see you again?"
"I'll be back. See where these plans lead me. Once I've sorted things out with a certain somebody, so that I can do a deal for a thing that'll get them Goblins off me back, then there'll be other deals, and I'll be back for me stuff." He snorted. "Knowing me, I'll be looking to lie low again before you know it. Don't know if you'll still be here by then, but if you are…"
Some part of Hestia had assumed that Mundungus would have been grateful for an offer of sex from a witch as pretty as she knew she was. It had been inconsiderate arrogance. The more she'd realised that, sitting there in that hay loft, the more she'd realised something else. She sighed. She was just going to have to ask the question.
"I can see that you're not that kind of boy," she started with, so that she could put off the awkward moment. "I was wrong to treat you like that. You deserve to be wooed and appreciated."
"I shouldn't have rushed in like that. It wasn't just because of the fight. I like you, Dung. I'd like to know you better. So, would you…? Will you consider…? I know there's not a lot to do these days and we're both busy, but I could leave Dedalus to watch the Muggles for an evening or an afternoon. We could maybe go on dates. I was wrong to rush you. I mean, if you're interested at all?"
Mundungus looked her in the eye. "You taking the piss?"
Hestia willed her sincerity to shine through her face. "Not at all. I'm starting to suspect that you're a good wizard at heart. That matters so much. Especially these days. I'm serious."
There was a pause, then Mundungus asked, "You know that little theatre opposite St Mungo's? Well, they're a bit restricted in what they can put on these days, the Ministry's keeping a close eye. But they're doing a version of The Hairy Heart. I try to support them, like. Because it's not easy these days. Would you be interested?"
Hestia nodded, her eyes shining. "Sounds brilliant. When's it on?"
"Not for another three weeks."
"In the meantime, then, do you know if Puddifoot's is still open?"
Mundungus sighed. "Afternoon tea at Madame Puddifoot's. I never could get anyone to go with me when I was at Hogwarts."
"Next Wednesday. Three o'clock. Unless something – you know – comes up. In which case I'll send a Patronus. You're worth more than a cheap pass. I mean to court you, Mundungus Fletcher, to make up for the mistake I made. “