There was no warning; only an all out, no-holds-barred attack, and Sirius, surrounded on three sides by the Magnificent Amboli and Sons, wasn’t prepared. The four of them had barely come out of the station and suddenly, the air thickened. Sirius felt like she was choking, but before she could grapple with this feeling, the cacophony of a battleground was all around her. Defying rules, making mockery of order, they came and it seemed to Sirius that every one of them had trained their targets upon her. There were roars, there were screeches, the dust-laden air was thick with tension and terrible noise. The last thing Sirius remembered was a deafening war cry – partly a hideous wail and partly a chilling, rattling growl – and the paralysing certainty that she was going to die. There would be no reunion with the Order of Phoenix, there would be no glory, no victory songs. Only death.
And then, there was darkness.
The voice was familiar but it came from far away. Light and the low hum of jumbled words began to filter into the blackness she felt around her.
“What on earth happened? Where did you find her?”
It was that voice again. It sounded warm, reassuring and Sirius’s mind was filled with the vision of a long, soft, well-tended, carefully-conditioned beard. She tried opening her eyes, but her eyelids felt like lead.
“She was in the train. I thought I was seeing things.” Sirius knew that voice. The Magnificent Amboli, that was her.
“How on earth did she get out of Andheri? I didn’t think it was possible to escape that place, not with a Bollywood event happening. How did she get past security? Who put her on a train?”
“I don’t know, but something is terribly strange about her, o great one. She didn’t know about You Know Who and his You Know What.”
“My dear, magnificent Amboli, it is nothing short of a miracle that Sirius is here with us after all.” The voice felt like a bear hug, if it was given by a very stern and kind bear. With a long beard. Still unable to properly open her eyes, Sirius reached her arm out and clutched blindly. Sure enough, her fingers came around a hank of long, thick, beard hair.
“Ouch!” said the beard.
Sirius’s eyes flew open. The first thing she saw was a naked bulb, dangling on top of her. Pulling the beard, Sirius levered herself to sit and then finally managed to open her eyes. Relief coursed through her as the blur sharpened into the features of a face she knew well. “Albus!” she cried out. Sirius thought it would come out as a yell, but it was barely a mew. Somewhere in the distance, Sirius heard shocked gasps, but they didn’t really register. All she knew was that she hadn’t been so happy to see anyone for as long as she could remember. She pulled the old wizard by the beard again, bringing him closer, and gave him a big hug.
“Well, I think we can say with some certainty that you’re feeling better,” the old man declared with a fond smile as he untangled himself and his beard from Sirius’s clutches. “Welcome, Sirius,” he said. “It is very good to see you again.”
“It’s good to see you too, Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore.” Sirius laughed. “All’s well with the world when I can remember your full name, Professor. But what happened? I thought I’d died,” said Sirius.
“You fainted,” said one of the Magnificent Amboli’s sons before the Professor could say anything, ”while we were trying to cross the signal outside Mahalaxmi Station.”
Sirius blinked. “I what?”
“You fainted,” he repeated. “While we were trying to cross.”
“No, that’s not possible. I remember a battle. There were terrible noises. Unearthly screeches –”
“Yeah, some of the older taxis’ tyres do that when they brake,” said the same son.
“There was also this rattling noise, like a million metallic bones were –”
“Tempos,” supplied the other son. “All their parts aren’t always, well, tightly attached.”
“Also the two wheelers,” added his brother. “Scooters are the worst.”
“And the roar?” Sirius asked. “There was a roar that literally shook the ground, I felt it coming towards me, it was red –”
“Yeah, that was one of BEST’s finest in action,” said Son Number One. “Bus no. 63.”
“And the bus managed to not run you over even though you fainted right in front of it,” reported Son Number Two.
Sirius’s ears started feeling distinctly warm.
“Here,” Dumbledore said kindly, holding out a glass. “Drink some of this. You’ll feel yourself again.”
Thinking it was water, Sirius took a large glug. It wasn’t water. It was firewhisky. Sirius’s ears started ringing. “Damn and blast, Albus! Are you trying to kill me?”
“Actually I’m trying to wake you up,” said the wizard. “We have a lot to do and even more to discuss. You wilting in face of incoming traffic is not precisely heartening.”
Sirius took another sip of the firewhisky, feeling a bit foolish. Dumbledore was right. She should be ashamed of herself. She took another sip and took comfort in the warm trail that the drink blazed through her throat and her intestines.
“While you gather your, er, wits, let me make a few introductions,” said Dumbledore. “Even though we are waiting for a few members, let us declare this meeting of the Order of Phoenix –”
“Where is this place, Albus?” Sirius asked, looking around at the dingy, dungeon like cavern they were in. Bulbs dangled in different places. Occasionally, the chitter of disturbed bats could be heard. The walls were dirty, exposed brick, and the air was stale. “What’s happened to the old mill?”
“I’m sorry, o great one, but I cannot stand this impertinence any longer,” sputtered one man with big, bulging eyes and a thick moustache. He’d been standing in the semi-darkness, some distance away from Sirius, but now he came closer. “How dare you interrupt the Diviner of Dhobitalao?”
“Excuse me?” Sirius stared blankly for a moment and then turned to Dumbledore. “Dho-what?”
“Dhobitalao. Charming neighbourhood,” said Dumbledore before lowering his voice and saying to Sirius, “Humour them, Sirius. Dumbledore is a bit of a mouthful and it really doesn’t help me blend in, if you know what I mean.”
Sirius had no idea what Dumbledore or Dhobitalao meant, but she decided she needed more whisky in her system to make sense of what was going on.
Meanwhile, Dumbledore had put an arm around the furious man who had admonished Sirius and was guiding him away from Sirius. “She needs to find her bearings. You understand, don’t you?” Having sat the man down — he was still grumbling angrily — Dumbledore pulled his wand out of his sleeve and flicked it. A hundred bulbs appeared out of nowhere, flooding the room with light. Sirius could now see there were quite a few people in this room and most of them were sitting on an odd assortment of chairs. Sirius had an entire charpoy to herself.
“We should have some nibbles, shouldn’t we?” Dumbledore murmured and made quick deft little movement with his wand. Many little tables clip-clopped up to position themselves near the chairs and out of nowhere, plates of garlic rusk toast, lush cucumbers dusted with chilli powder, and double-egg omelettes appeared out of nowhere. “If anyone wants tea, do tell Dabbu,” said Dumbledore, gesturing towards a beaming young man who, wearing what looked like a pillowcase for a shirt, was manning a tea stall. There were teapots of all sizes, arranged like an elaborate drum kit. Wisps of white smoke rose out of most of the spouts.
“Any tea, honest tea, guaranteed,” said Dabbu, his grin becoming even wider than before. “If anyone asks for a chai tea latte though, Dhobitalao sir has said I am allowed to burn your tongue.”
A titter of laughter came from the gathering.
“We should definitely defend ourselves against such abominations, young Chhotu. Could I have an Earl Grey, please?” asked Dumbledore, settling himself next to Sirius on the charpoy.
“Red Label, with just a splash of milk.”
These were just the first that Sirius caught. There were so many requests that all the words became a jumble came inher head, but the speed didn’t faze Dabbu. The boy expertly managed his collection of teapots and sent out what seemed like a platoon of cups, glasses and mugs of tea.
“Now, there’s one face here that some of you may not recognise and Sirius, there are many faces here that you won’t, so perhaps we should make a few introductions.” Dumbledore took a sip of his Earl Grey, served in a beautiful porcelain cup. “Perfect, Dabbu, as always. As I was saying, Sirius here needs some introductions. You all, of course, know of Sirius as one of the Order of the Phoenix Mills’ valiant members and are familiar with, er, her exploits.”
Nods and murmurs could be heard, along with slurping sounds.
“And what you see here is the Order of the Phoenix Mills, the Mumbai Chapter,” said Dumbledore to Sirius. “From left to right we have the Interpreter of Malad, the Enchantress of Flora Fountain, The Thane Birds, The Kala Ghoda Whisperer, The Harvey Road Boys, The Count of Mankhurd, The Brothers Kanjurmarg, the Immortals of Malabar Hill. And of course, you’ve already met the Magnificent Amboli and Sons.”
Sirius tipped her head uncertainly when the Magnificent Amboli and her sons bowed.
“We’re missing The Doge of Dahisar because he’s got some paperwork to sort out,” continued Dumbledore. “But we also have joining us on Skype some of our most trusted international members.” He waved his wand and four screens shimmered to life in mid-air. “The All Seeing Eye from Scotland,” said Dumbledore as a pirate hat with a spyglass under it appeared on the first screen. “The Protector of Chocolate from Switzerland,” he said, blowing a kiss to a curly-haired person that Sirius was certain was a hobbit. “The Oracle in Oregon,” said Dumbledore, tipping his hat to what looked like a patchwork quilt with someone under it. “It’s late, so she’s sleeping,” whispered Dumbledore to Sirius. “Terrible thing, this business of time difference. And finally, the Guardian of Back-ups in Hamburg.” The last screen was empty. Dumbledore peered. Shuffling and panting sounds could be heard and then the words “hechel hechel hechel” appeared on the screen. More words appeared: “I’m just backing up the back up of the back up. Don’t mind me. I’m listening. Hello ducky!”
“She’s talking to you,” Dumbledore said to Sirius.
“Hello,” said Sirius. It shouldn’t be so comforting to see words appear on a screen, but somehow, seeing the words from Hamburg made Sirius feel warmer than the firewhisky.
Just then, there was a scuffling noise. A door slammed shut and the walls shuddered for a second. Everyone in the room except Sirius pulled out their wands. The screens went black. The bulbs dimmed. Without thinking, Sirius reached for her bag and curled her fingers around a sanitary napkin. Dabbu behind his teapots put on a helmet. There was deathly silence. Everyone turned towards the darkened corridor that was the only way in or out of this room (as far as Sirius could tell). The sound of footsteps grew louder and louder. Sirius tried to figure out how many people were headed their way. It sounded like four, maybe even five.
Then, two men and two women stumbled into the room and fell to their knees. They were panting heavily, drenched in sweat and their clothes were dishevelled. Dabbu rushed four glasses of water to them and asked if they’d like some tea. One of them, a woman, looked straight at Dumbledore and said, “Bhau, horcrux ikhre aahey.” (“Brother, the horcrux are here.”)
There was a moment of absolute stillness. Then Dumbledore spoke. He said, “Oh dear.”