Cho Chang/Harry Potter Original Female Witch/Ron Weasley
Harry Potter Original Female Witch Original Male Wizard
Action Suspense
Children of Characters in the HP novels
Published: 04/12/2003
Updated: 05/05/2003
Words: 178,786
Chapters: 22
Hits: 20,126

Presents from the Past

Horst Pollmann

Story Summary:
Thirteen years after Hogwarts. Eight years have passed since the last time we saw our heroes. The number of children walking or crawling through the scene has grown from three to more than a dozen. And some of them are in the focus of attention - this way or the other ... Harry and Cho moved from California to Ireland. One of the reasons was to have the same time zone as Paris, where some other people are found, and some other children. However, it's their old place where the first dark clouds appear ...``A fic most of the characters known from the previous one - well, except for all these shorties somewhere between ten months and eleven years ...

Chapter 03 - Unpleasant Visits

Chapter Summary:
Sandra is late to fetch her friend Héloise. Coming into Beauxbatons, they find all breakfast seats occupied - until someone offers seats nonetheless.

03 - Unpleasant Visits

Héloise Weasley watched her mother chewing absent-mindedly while she read the morning newspaper. Héloise felt hungry herself and cursed inwardly at her friend Sandra, who was late for fetching her.

They used to have breakfast in school. Beauxbatons presented a mix between a boarding school - what it solely had been in the past - and a daily school for students who preferred living at home. Breakfast and other meals of the day, however, were offered to all students interested. The only drawback was that something like reserved seats didn't exist.

As if Sandra had sensed the impulse, the moment Héloise was about to grab the croissant that looked so inviting, her friend appeared in the kitchen doorframe. Héloise rose quickly. "At last! Au revoir, maman."

"'voir." Fleur hardly raised her eyes from the newspaper.

"What's been holding you so long?"

Knowing the reason perfectly well - sleepiness, what else - Héloise didn't really expect an answer. As predicted, she got none while first Sandra disappeared and, still before Héloise could feel the air move, her own body was sucked through the void and came out in front of the school building.

Of course, entering the breakfast hall, they found all seats occupied. Héloise turned to her friend. "Look what you did! And now? Am I supposed to eat my breakfast standing up?"

Sandra lacked all signs of guilt. "Use your power to make us room somewhere."

It was an intriguing idea, only that Fleur's reaction would be worse than anything Sandra had to face when playing her own kind of games here at Beauxbatons.

"Very clever," snarled Héloise. "And what about a nice little smile on your face, for a change? This, together with my looks, should be enough - "

"Need a seat?"

Looking up, Héloise registered the face that belonged to the voice. A boy, black hair, might have been a first-year too, except she was sure he was none of their own course. However, Beauxbatons ran two parallel courses with first-years, due to the large number of students joining this famous school.

Héloise showed the smile Sandra wouldn't offer. "Two, actually."

"No issue. Frédy, c'mon, shift a bit on your side, will you?"

The head opposite, dark blonde, jerked up to turn around and look at them. If this was an inspection comparable to what Héloise just had done on the black-haired boy, it was the fastest she'd ever seen. The head turned back, then the entire body put some pressure against muttering neighbours, and the boy at the other side did the same.

Héloise waited until the two of them, sitting at the end of the table, had pushed enough to offer two seats. It might have worked somewhat quicker if they hadn't made sure the offered seats would be outside, placing them as the only neighbors to the two girls. Seemed hardly by accident, that.

"Thank you." Héloise sat down at the side of the one who'd asked and watched as Sandra muttered something short and inaudible to the other boy, then she went for her first bite on this morning.

Apparently, Héloise's neighbour had already completed his own task of nourishing, because he started asking questions with a mouth that was empty otherwise.

"You're in the parallel course, right?"

It confirmed Héloise's assumption. She managed a "Mhm" between chewing.

"By the way, I'm Benoît." The boy's head nodded toward the other side of the table. "And this is my friend Frédéric. We're both sleepers."

Which meant, they used Beauxbatons for boarding too.

Héloise gulped. "Hi. I'm Héloise, and this is my friend Sandra. Like me, she only comes for the day, which doesn't prevent her from being sleepy, quite the opposite, actually."

Benoît was about to reward her remark with some chuckling when his friend, after a short glance to a sour-looking girl at his side, opened his mouth for the first time.

"Really? We heard differently."

The sullen eyes shot around and sent him a very short flash, then turned back to hide behind a large cup.

Benoît had watched the exchange. "Uh-oh, that wasn't sleepy at all. So it's true, eh?"

True what? Oh, of course ... had this been the reason for the invitation? Héloise could have imagined a better topic, herself, for example. But for starters, it was okay.

"If you think what I think you think, yes, it's true."

Frédéric looked at her. "You sound as if we'd be discussing something naughty here." He turned to Sandra. "What we heard is, you had a dispute with Thionnite, and - "

"Thionnite?" Sandra looked astonished.

Benoît answered. "Yes, Thionnite - you know, sounds almost like cyanide. Everybody's waiting for the day someone's using that name into his face."

A smile, small and grim, appeared in Sandra's face.

Héloise said, "That'd be the day - although, I could imagine, it's not that far away any longer, if you get my bearing."

Frédéric, apparently used to interruptions from his friend, had waited patiently. "Well, to finish my sentence, then something with wands took place, and quite obviously you know the details much better than we do."

Héloise decided to play to her strengths, and one of them was her friend. "Yes, it's true. He tried to expel her wand, and he failed. You should have seen the face he made - hey, Dra, c'mon, show us your wand."

Sandra glared at her. "Why? Am I a show-piece?"

"Yes." That was Benoît.

"No." That was Frédéric, blushing slightly, maybe because his voice had sounded so imploringly.

Héloise raised her hands, holding them together. For the boys, her gesture had to look as though she was begging Sandra, with her friend being the only one who could follow this insider joke, that Héloise was showing the Potter equivalent of a wand.

Her manoeuver scored success. After a second's hesitation, flushing probably from a suppressed grin, Sandra extracted her wand and put it on the table. "Here - don't touch the handle, it'd burn you."

"Yeah, sure." Benoît reached for the wand and took it. He'd hardly pulled it before his eyes when he gasped, "Ouch - dammit," and threw the wand on the table.

Frédéric's hand shot forward to stop the wand from falling to the floor, his fingers keeping to the wood. He looked at his friend and said calmly, "Stupid fool." Then, after examining the wand more closely, the turned to Sandra.

"It's the handle that does it, right?"

When she nodded, he asked, "What is it?"

Héloise saw the moment right for her own contributing to this conversation. About to open her mouth, she closed it again because an unmistakable warning sign in her mind, something like a very short and very cold wave, had taught her better.

Next moment, to Héloise's astonishment, Sandra said, "Mane hairs from a Centaur ... From a certain Centaur."

The slight fury Héloise had mustered an instant before, if only to compensate for this cold wave, faded. Listen there, young missy had seen reason to answer, and had seen it probably right at her side.

"A Centaur?" Frédéric turned the wand between his fingers. "And a light one." He laid the piece down in front its owner, then, for a change, looked at Héloise across the table.

"Héloise? Please, what's your family name?"

Héloise smiled. "Delacour ... No, it's not true, that's my mother's maiden name. It's Weasley."

Frédéric turned to Sandra. "And yours?"

Sandra hesitated for a moment. "Chang. Sandra Chang."

Frédéric still looked attentive, as though expecting some continuation, when Benoît smiled at Héloise. "Before we wait forever for my friend's politeness - mine is Malavin, Benoît Malavin, and this nosy buddy here is Frédéric Pouilly."

Héloise, in contrast to her friend, was unable to suppress a short jerking of her head. Pouilly - this had been the family name of Gérard, the student who was killed by Harry, right in this room, about fourteen years ago. And how many families with this name could be found in France?

Glancing over to the boy, Héloise saw a thoughtful face, lacking any surprise, on a head which, for an instant, had looked as if nodding.

* * *

Harry watched how the teacher sat down behind his large desk. Then, after a polite movement from Monsieur Thionnay, he seated himself in front of the desk, in a chair as precious as uncomfortable. Harry knew that such outdated conversation arrangements still were French style, most of all here at Beauxbatons, only it was also a perfect fit of what he'd felt in the man - a deep dislike, bordering on hate.

The feeling had started at exactly the same moment when Monsieur Thionnay had recognized him from his double scar at the forehead, an instant before Harry had introduced himself.

"Monsieur Pottère," began the teacher, "I'm surprised to meet you here in the issue of Mademoiselle Chang. I had intended to talk with one of her parents."

"Certainly so, Monsieur Thionnay. Sandra told me, and that's why I'm here."

The teacher, with perfect manners to the outside, looked questioningly. "You are ..."

"Her father, yes."

"I see." The intonation, as well as the slight pause that followed, formed a very French insult, maybe except that in France such seemingly criss-crossed parentages could hardly be rated as insulting. "And the name of Mademoiselle Chang ..."

"Is that of her mother."

The teacher showed a polite smile, not revealing any of the satisfaction Harry could feel. "In this case, Monsieur Pottère, I'm supposed to ask whether you are entitled to speak for your daughter in educational matters."

Harry's eyes widened for an instant. This was heavy artillery, by all means - there seemed little doubt that this man knew exactly his and Cho's whereabouts. "Yes I am."

"Can you prove it?"

No matter what the Beauxbatons book of rules said, this was definitely an insult. Harry knew it, this man knew it, and also knew that he knew. He stared into this hint of a polite smile. "Yes."

"Then, would you please - "

"You may ask your Headmistress for that - Monsieur Thionnay." The addressing, after the slight pause, sent Harry's first signal that he could play French politeness equally well, and that the time of pleasantries was over.

"Very well. May I ask why your daughter isn't recorded here under her regular name, Monsieur Pottère? It's Sandra Catherine Potter, isn't it?"

The man had fun, as Harry could recognize. The teacher had dropped the ridiculous issue of Harry's qualification instantly, only to prove that he knew perfectly well about the Potter family, and obviously also about the reasons he was asking for. Harry felt growing rage, tempered only by the thought that he would do his daugther no favour when losing his manners in this situation. However, it was time for striking back.

"For several reasons, Monsieur Thionnay."

Just when the man was about to ask for one of them, Harry continued, "For example, to avoid obvious problems that would occur with this name here in France."

Again he waited an instant, and when the teacher's lips started to move, he finished, "Such as the pronounciation. Her name is Potter, not Pottère."

Monsieur Thionnay, whose own name was easily suited to reveal any accent less than perfect - less than Harry's, for example - closed his lips to a thin line, then opened them again. "Yes, of course. Alors, Monsieur Pottère, the reason for this invitation is your daughter's wand."

Harry waited, looking expectant.

"I take it she told you about this scene yesterday in class. As it turns out, her wand has some special feature which prevents it to be handled like those of the other students. Unfortunately, this is not acceptable from a Beauxbatons student - for several reasons."

"Such as?"

"Security, for example." The teacher managed an apologetic look, quite different from what Harry could feel. "To protect the students from accidents, it is mandatory that the teachers can supervise them in all magical regards."

Harry suppressed the sneering remark that was trying to force its way on his tongue - that'd be the day, he himself blowing Sandra's diminishing cover completely. "I take it, this is a Beauxbatons rule, Monsieur Thionnay?"

"Oh yes, of course."

"Fine. Would you please prove it."

The teacher smiled triumphantly. "You may ask our Headmistress for that."

With unmoving face, Harry pressed a button on his phony, which was clipped to his belt and still outside the teacher's view. A second later, the unmistakable voice of Madame Maxime filled the room. "Yes? 'arry, is that you?"

"Yes, Madame Maxime - sorry to bother you, but there's a certain question about - "

"But 'arry, I told you already, please call me Olympe." The woman's voice was flirtatious.

Smiling into the teacher's growing uneasiness, Harry said, "I know, Olympe - sorry, it was just because I'm sitting here with a colleague of yours. There was a question about wands with special features. Is there some Beauxbatons rule about what a wand is supposed to be, or not to be?"

A growling laughter, stressing the phony's speaker to its limits. "What nonsense is this, 'arry? That question from you, of all people? After - is this a joke?"

"Yes, probably so - and I fell for it. Sorry, Olympe, won't happen again. Bye."

Harry stored the phony, then looked into the teacher's face. He kept his voice light, nearly intimate.

"Monsieur Thionnay, now that this misunderstanding is out of the way, you are one of three people here at Beauxbatons who knows Sandra's full name. This, as you'll certainly agree, will make perfectly sure that the knowledge won't spread any further."

He waited, his glance suddenly piercing, until a small nod confirmed this particular kind of agreement.

"Aside from that, I told Sandra in advance that rules and manners are somewhat different from what she's used to, after her previous time in American or British schools."

Harry paused again, waiting until the teacher eventually noticed the double meaning in these words.

"If this adapting to new standards takes a day or two longer, I apologize in the name of my daugther, Monsieur Thionnay, feeling sure you won't bother too much about a little impoliteness from a ten-year-old ..."

This nod took a moment longer, however it came.

"... who basically is ready to play along, and to keep her temper." Harry smiled sweetly. "You must know, she inherited that temper from her mother - actually another reason why we selected that name for classes here. Sandra can manage quite well ..."

Harry waited an instant, then finished with his voice suddenly vibrating like steel, "... unless she's provoked."

After a moment, in which the teacher didn't respond, he added, "Sandra is an eidetic. When being asked after a course, or later at home, she could report every word that was spoken. I think she gave a little example, right?"

When it was clear this nod wouldn't come, Harry continued, "Using this ability of hers, I will follow up my daughter's progress here at Beauxbatons and will help her to reach full approval - according to the standards of this magnificent school."

Rising from the uncomfortable chair, he finished, "Sandra took this as a warning, and I did too. Thank you for the invitation, Monsieur Thionnay, and let's hope there won't be another reason for such a meeting, from Sandra's reports - er, I mean, behaviour."

The bluntness of Harry's last remark showed a breach of style, enough to count as the reason for the teacher's face. However, Harry knew his daughter's weak spot too well - she simply wasn't built for tolerating the French version of what, for himself in Hogwarts, had been a Professor Snape at his worst.

Leaving, he wondered about the origin of the teacher's feelings against Sandra. For a simple prejudice, it seemed a bit too much. Had the man recognized her instantly - maybe from some pictures published somewhere?

In this case, why did Monsieur Thionnay hold a grudge against anyone listening to the name Potter?

* * *

Janine Weasley saw herself confronted with a riddle. Until two days ago, she had been busy with three children from which school, and school business, did not suck up some energy yet. And now that Bernard could be found in school every day, now that only Carole and Diane were left to be watched and guided and treated and endured, it seemed more difficult than ever.

Maybe the answer was pretty obvious. Maybe she simply had ignored certain things before, while the released capacity of time and attention, invested instantly in the girl twins, intensified the subjective pressure.

Except the pressure wasn't subjective, no sir, everybody would have confirmed so. The girls, right at this moment busy with paper and finger paint, and probably also with wallpaper a second after Janine would turn her eyes, had earned the temper from the Weasley side and the swiftness from the Baillard side.

To multiply them, twice, for sharing equally.

As bad as the thought seemed, sometimes Janine wished they would waste some energy in a row against each other. Then she would be able to watch, listen to the arguments, and have a little break before cutting in to prevent serious trouble. But no such luck.

Of course, she could have asked her mother for help. But Janine's parents and Ron, her husband, this wasn't the most joyful relationship. If Ron had been a farmer, like the Baillards ... If he'd been ready to steer a more conventional course in his public appearances as a politician and representative of the Education Committee ... But for the last eight years, Ron was beating the drums in favour of a union between Muggle schools and wizarding schools, putting himself cross with both sides. In her parent's eyes, he was a maniac and a loser.

This was a laugh, if Janine ever found the time and mood for laughing about it. Ron was among the hardest workers in the Great Plot, a kind of undercover agent in full public. He got even paid for his work: when Ron himself refused to accept a secret salary for his sailing under this crazy flag, Harry had asked Janine, and she had agreed to an account in the name of Alain, an account that grew steadily while remaining well hidden from all grandparents.

And when Bernard arrived, suddenly another account appeared, growing with the same speed.

Janine had argued with Harry, saying this hadn't been her agreement. "Sorry, Janine," he'd answered, "but you know, this money comes from Groucho, it isn't mine. So why don't you discuss the matter with Cho?"

Clever trick, that. Janine knew better than following his advice. And when the twins arrived - yes, you guessed it, two more acounts started providing balance sheets in regular intervals, discernible from the others only by the names and the totals.

The pressure on herself, from this slight coolness between her husband and her parents, was bearable, though a pressure nonetheless. Ron knew it, feeling grateful Janine wasn't raising the topic ever. This burden had been taken over by Harry, who encouraged her to complain and to whine a bit during his visits to herself and the children.

Molly, her mother-in-law, wasn't a better choice for help either. The problem here wasn't coolness, not at all, more the other way around, a kind of - well, stickyness. However, now that Fred and George had sons to offer, this was mostly a question for their wifes Katie and Bonnie, not for herself.

The doorbell rang.

Lost in her thoughts, Janine also lost the race against her daughters. They were off at once, racing to the door, their fingers of course still smeared with all colours of the rainbow. Sighing, she followed, saving the fruitless effort to stop them; a little charm would clean the walls.

Two piercing shouts.

Janine started to smile, suddenly feeling joyful. When she reached the scene with the visitor, she met a grin that was already spotted by several colours, framed by her daughters, one to each side. Grinning herself, she said, "Salut, 'arry. You're the sunshine of my day."

"Hi, Janine. Then why didn't you tell them to use yellow instead?"

A few moments later, Harry was sitting in lotus position on the floor, his shirt stripped off, while the girls were working on him, the beaming in their faces as brilliant as the colours they applied.

He smiled at her. "Could you do me a favour, Janine?"

"Hopefully so." With him, simply saying Yes felt a bit dangerous.

Harry had to wait an instant until Diane was done with his red moustache. "If you ever tell Cho about this visit, please don't quote yourself by adding, 'And then he stripped off his shirt'."

Janine grinned. "Under one condition, 'arry."

Seeing the sparkling in her eyes, he said, "No way, Juanita. I don't feel the need for these colours there."

"And no other need either?" Too late, Janine realized that this had been an invitation to one of these jokes she could do without - about Ron and herself losing interest.

Except that Harry just grinned. And when it was clear he'd registered her glitch, when Janine knew for sure this joke wasn't coming, he said, "I'd never believe it."

"Thanks, 'arry, for your unwavering trust" - they laughed both - "and your support. Is this your social day? Visiting neglected housewifes, to hear their complaints about family stress?"

"Yeah, kind of ..."

Janine became aware that there was really something on his agenda. But before she could ask, Harry asked his own question. "How's Bernard doing?"

"But, 'arry, it's the second day. At least, he's warmed up a bit to that school, so we can hope the issue will be settled soon."

The issue - Janine's remark referred to the choice of elementary school for the sons of her own Weasley branch. Both of them would have preferred the Goblins school visited by Michel and Gabriel, with Bernard torn a bit more apart than Alain two years ago, but Ron's verdict was ironclad. With him shouting Union twice a day, his children had just one choice - a Muggle school, in particular one that supported his ideas.

Ron was right, no denying that, only that this consequence put another little burden on Janine's shoulders. And Harry knew of course, and that's why he'd asked.

"It's really your social day, eh? But if I got that right, a moment ago, there's some other issue to be settled, isn't it?"

"Well, yes, although a transient one, I hope." Harry's voice changed to a quizmaster's style. "Just the second day, you said? Now, Janine, could you imagine someone for whom just one day's enough to find the - "


"Bingo!" Then Harry told his sister-in-law about this teacher, about Sandra's response, and what he himself had done this morning. "Maybe he's just a genuine asshole, Janine, but I remember too well how it's been with Snape. This Thionnay better believes he's under tight surveillance."

Harry's tone had been growling for an instant, raising astonished glances from the girls, who never would think he meant them.

Janine searched for the proper words. "Uhm, are you sure? I mean, a bit of unfairness every now and then ..." His look made her falter for a second, but then she finished, "Isn't that a preparation for later?"

"Up to a point, yes." It didn't sound too convincing. "But such a scene on the very first day, and calling for the parents because he made a fool of himself? That's an egomaniac, if I ever saw one. And besides, what's fair in Sandy's situation? She has to hide so much - " Harry stopped and started to grin. "Whom am I telling that? You've tricked me, Janine, switching roles."

It was flatright flattery, still not failing to make her feel pleased. "We all have to hide, so she isn't alone with this burden. By the way, while on the subject, how's Gabriel doing?"

"What subject is this? What does Gabby need to hide?"

Janine chuckled. "Oh, c'mon, you know exactly what I mean. Isn't he the hidden power par excellence? Well, okay, he does it voluntarily, but otherwise ..."

Seeing Harry's face, Janine changed to a teasing tone. "Poor 'arry, is there someone challenging your precious girl?"

His expression was still fierce.

"... even your own son, of all people?"

She was rewarded with a laugh which carried a slight trace of guilt. "All right, Janine, you've made your point. Yes, just between you and me, I too suspect him to be at least as powerful as Sandy, except that he uses his power differently. Anyway, right now he's busy with something new ..."

Janine listened to the story of the new instruments, then asked, "And what's Héloise's comment?"

"She doesn't know yet ... maybe in the meantime. Anyway, the xylophone isn't the tricky part. Only when it starts to look as though a certain harp is no longer a mandatory part, we have to watch out. So it's mostly Michel's problem, I think."

Janine nodded. "Which you can't wait to solve for him, right?"

Harry glanced at her. "Hey - somehow I feel like being in parents' school, here."

"Purely coincidence, 'Harry." Janine tilted her head from side to side. "Parents' school ... uncles' school ..."

Harry nodded, earning an angry remark from Carole, who was greening his ear. "Got the message, Janine. I'm not deaf, you know - although I might, in a moment, if my sweet little nieces start painting my inner ear. Say, what about some colours you'd suffer less from itching?"

Janine grinned mischievously. "You have a problem with some itching, 'arry?"

* * *

Sandra Catherine Potter, locally known as Sandra Chang, found herself caught in a heavy learning process. Although right now Sandra was sitting in class, the teacher's contribution to this process could only be called little. Still, Madame Galladier, Beauxbatons' Biologie teacher for first-years, was not to be blamed for that, aside from the fact that she had a nice style and an interesting topic: cell structures, protoplasm, that stuff.

No, Sandra just had discovered the uncertainty. It struck her as a breathtaking experience. She was used to people like Harry and Aram'chee. What they did, as well as the stories they told, always had occurred to Sandra as the logical consequence of some conditions, or events, a straight line from cause to effect to measures. Same with her mother, actually.

While now ... there was this Frédéric Pouilly, and Sandra just couldn't come to terms about what to think of him. Was he a risk, an enemy? His name said yes, her natural reflexes said of course, only that her senses said something else. The same senses - in addition - told her that the boy knew something. The mental uproar in him had been unmistakable.

What was she to do? Keeping on guard, yes ... and otherwise? Telling her father? Maybe so, but then what? Harry couldn't tell her more than she already knew. He couldn't examine the boy's mind closer than Sandra already did by herself. Her father could - no, he would talk with her mother, and with Aram'chee, and the most likely outcome was that Sandra would be taken off Beauxbatons.

This result was unacceptable - despite the other problem Sandra was facing, teaching her new lessons every break this morning: Héloise.

Her friend, who was to blame for the unhappy encounter in first place, had found a quick method for shaking off her own concerns. "So he's a Pouilly. Okay, so what? Are you sure he knows about that old story?"

Well, not quite, but almost.

"Even so, he doesn't know who you are ..."

Sandra had her doubts. Hell, that was a bloody uncool feeling, not being sure.

"... and besides, what can he do? Do you think he'll attack you?" Héloise had laughed, quite teasingly so. "That's ridiculous, my dear Sandrine." And then, in the breaks, Héloise had been busy to look around where this Benoît might be found.

If Sandra could come with Nagini ... Her snake would tell her more, maybe not about Frédéric's emotions, but certainly whether the boy was honest. This would require that she talked with him, asked him questions ...

The thought was nonsense. The moment she appeared with the snake on her shoulders - supported by some levitation charm; Sandra wasn't an athlete like her father - the moment she talked with Nagini, she might as well place herself on a table in the great hall, shouting, "Look here, it's me - Harry Potter's daughter."

Another thought struck her. Not telling Harry, was this a breach of trust and confidence? But on the other hand, was she supposed to tell him everything that kept her mind busy? Her father could keep things to himself quite well, his ability of hiding emotions had upset Sandra often enough. More than once, only her mother's uncontrolled feelings had revealed a hint, so Sandra could start pestering her father ... successfully so, eventually.

She would talk with Aram'chee first. The High Priestess never told her what to do or not to do. Sure, she had her own way with questions and remarks, but still there was a difference to what she would expect from her parents. Talking with her was mandatory anyway, Aram'chee would sense her nagging concerns instantly. Only that the next visit wasn't due till the end of the week.

Madame Galladier finished her lesson just in time before the bell chimed. This had been the last course of the morning, now it was lunch break. Sandra followed Héloise, who moved in a hurry to reach some seats in the hall - the advantage gained from a teacher finishing in time was not to be wasted here at Beauxbatons with its shortness of seats.

They sat down side by side. About to grab for her dish, Sandra noticed how her friend was waving at someone. Next moment, a panting Benoît sat down opposite, putting his arms to both sides, thereby holding another seat reserved against the competition, and a few seconds later, a more composed Frédéric filled the space, shifting Benoît to the seat opposite Héloise and releasing his arms to the task of gathering food.

Damn Héloise looked joyful. "That was tight. But you made it - very good."

Benoît interrupted his work long enough to assure yes, they'd go to extremes in favour of reasonable company, then started to eat, thank God for this kind of favour.

Although - Sandra would have found a remark or two about his eating manners: bit greedy for her taste. Still, she seemed alone with her opinion. Benoît's friend, in contrast, took his time.

He stopped even, to ask her, "How was it with Thionnay?"

Still chewing, Sandra thought she had a second for phrasing her answer when Héloise, smiling at Benoît, said, "She gave him a pager. He just had to press a button, and a minute later his visitor would be there - like a jack-out-of-the-box." And these two were laughing like crazy.

Sandra couldn't even swallow, just barely suppressed the murderous impulse to send her friend a hard one. Mentally, of course. And then she realized: Héloise knew exactly that she was safe, here in public, which somehow felt even worse.

"Is she your spokesperson?" Frédéric's eyes were resting on Sandra.

It helped her to recover. "Sometimes ... more by self-appointment, that is."

"And - does she get paid?" Frédéric's tone was casual. "Later, I mean?"

Sandra felt herself smile. "Most unlikely - have you ever tried being mad at a Veela? It just doesn't work; she'll use her power, and that's it."

Benoît found this idea great and asked Héloise what they could do so he'd be mad at her, and she'd use her power on him. This raised an open grin in Frédéric's face, followed by a chuckling.

"You think that's funny?" Héloise glared at him. "Do you want me making you look really ridiculous? Just say please!"

Frédéric smiled apologetically. "I'm sorry - that's a misunderstanding, Héloise. I wasn't sneering about Veela - no, I was just trying to figure something that would turn Benoît mad at you. Well, and - er, try as I might, I couldn't." Frédéric looked to the boy at his side. "Mad yes, but ..."

Benoît, his cheeks flushed, busied himself with his food, while Héloise lacked any embarrassment.

To her astonishment, Sandra felt a slight sting of something totally unfamiliar to her, at any rate good enough to ask Frédéric, "Are you his spokesperson?"

Frédéric shook his head. "Not generally. Only when it speaks for itself."

For a fleeting instant, Sandra didn't know how to continue - repeating the same sequence seemed just too stupid, while not responding anything wasn't her real choice either. Then, driven by a devil that had to be of Chinese origin, she said, "You mean, it's nothing personal, just her Veela nature?"

Two heads snapped up. One of them, across the table, was about to protest, even with a full mouth, while the other at her side hissed, "Why don't you mind your own business? Isn't that enough to keep your mouth shut?"

Sandra saw Héloise's eyes widen, apparently realizing too late that her remark fell a bit close to this particular business. Tempering herself, she answered, "Maybe we should drop this habit with the spokesperson."

Frédéric kept his tone neutral. "Probably - this would clear the issue of the payment." It earned him a sharp glance from Héloise.

Benoît saw it, gulped, and looked at the table. "Well, I for my part had no complaints, in a way. Er - maybe it's not the best time for addressing this issue, but - er, well, I was considering the idea of a change - er, from one parallel course to the other."

Still furious, Héloise said, "I might think about the same - for myself, that is, right now that seems a great idea." Looking at Frédéric, she added, "And if this requires a swap partner, I might know whom to ask."

Sandra froze somewhere inwardly. What sounded like a little row between girls, about boys, what else, and also a natural remark with Frédéric's ostensible interest in herself, had a hidden quality of threatening - with Héloise no doubt aware of it, doing it on purpose.

Frédéric held Héloise's stare. "Let's see if this is still on the agenda tomorrow. At any rate, if this offer ever comes, I certainly know someone else to ask first."

Benoît, of course - Sandra thought it most unlikely that some other student in the parallel course would like to change after just two days. They almost had finished lunch when she became aware that there was still another possibility.

He could have meant herself.

* * *

Tony Chee kept sitting at the breakfast table while his wife Ireen prepared herself with hand bag and suitcase to leave for her business meeting. The little suitcase contained the traditional clothes of a geisha, and this was exactly Ireen's role in that meeting - welcoming some business partners from Japan, serving tea, and soon afterwards disappearing before the money talk would start.

She liked these jobs a great deal, enough to leave him alone with Tanitha. She also held evening courses, which wasn't a problem either as long as Tony could be found at home, rather than on the set.

For him as a movie director and producer without a current project, nine o'clock in the morning was an early time of the day. Only that he'd grown used to it, for the last one and a half years. The reason was sitting in a high chair, playing with the remainder of a roll - their daughter Tanitha.

For years, after his marriage with Ireen, who was so much younger, Tony pushed off the idea of a child, just couldn't imagine himself as a father. Ireen - well, she had mentioned the topic several times, but she never pressed.

Someone else had started pressing. To be precise, as Tony learned later, it had been a chain reaction. First, Ireen had confessed to Cho how deeply she longed for a child. Cho hadn't lost time telling Harry and ordering him to make his friend Tony see reason. And of course, Harry had obeyed.

So, eventually, Tony had obeyed too.

Because Harry had used convincing arguments. He'd talked about duty and obligation. He'd hinted that it would be dishonest, keeping to an aikido partner who showed so little loyalty to his wife. And he'd promised to accept another movie contract the moment Ireen would be pregnant.

The latter promise was supposed to be kept a secret. As if they'd been able to hide this obvious coincidence from their wifes: when Cho heard about this movie project, she said, "I always thought there's just one way to make women pregnant, but I guess Harry has found a new method - well, with a little help from his friend."

And he, Tony, had jumped for his chance. "This is such a deep insult, Cho - there's just one way to keep you alive, and me afterwards: you have to be the godmother."

Cho had looked trapped. She'd glanced to her husband, but everybody knew, Harry insisted on being one child's godfather only, and that was Michel. So he'd responded to his wife's search for help by keeping silent and motionless. However, when Cho had said, "But only if you accept being my deputy - you know, for daily business," Harry had agreed instantly.

Ireen delivered a kiss to Tony and another one to Tanitha. Tony accompanied her to the door, to exchange another kiss and shut the locks again after Ireen had stepped out. Since Tanitha was around, still more so since the recent news, they kept much tighter to security standards than before.

Ireen would use the opportunity for some shopping afterwards. That was fine with Tony - in a while, he expected Harry for a training session, and Tanitha would spend the time in her playpen down in the training hall.

She was a jewel in this regard, almost never complained. And of course she was a witch, even if it didn't show yet, like almost every other child her age here in Santa Monica.

Tony himself was still a Muggle who felt little temptation to become a wizard. It would be no problem, not with the help of that High Priestess, only what should he do with this ability? Waving a wand on the set?

Ireen, on the other hand ... Tony had asked her whether she was interested. No, she'd said, not without him. But sometimes Ireen was just too Japanese; Tony suspected her long for witchcraft more than she would admit. Maybe once Tanitha was a bit older, so they could learn together ... Could well turn out his job, this time, to start a chain reaction.

The sound of Ireen's car hadn't faded long when Tony heard another engine, that of the lawn mower. Glancing through the window, he saw the bulky figure with the unmistakable baseball cap: Sammy, a kid from the neighbourhood who'd taken this job a while ago.

Tony started to clean the kitchen, his thoughts lost in some planning. He would like to win Harry for another movie, only this was a difficult task. Sure, the last one had been a success, still more so than the Eagle sequels from years ago, but you just couldn't attract Harry with money ... even less with fame, come to think of it.

Tony pondered the idea of playing a trick with a questionable morale - questionable to the outside, that was. What he had in mind seemed almost the same as the last time, only with changed roles - well, not changing that much, he he. But a new movie and another child, wouldn't that be a very nice combination?

The doorbell chimed.

Only now, Tony registered that the sound from the lawn mower had stopped moments earlier. Sammy could impossibly be done already. Had that damn vehicle had another breakdown?

He went to the door. Seeing the fire engine-red cap in the viewer, Tony shut the bolts back and opened. "Hi, Sammy, please don't tell me that piece of - "

The face coming up wasn't Sammy's. It wasn't a face at all, it was a Halloween mask. But the gun was real, and the silencer mounted in front of the muzzle too.

Shit! Ten years earlier, Tony would have used this first second already for his attack, while now it was too late, this guy had caught him totally off balance, pushing him inside and stepping back immediately, after closing the door.

So this shithead knew about him and his skill in combat without weapons. And the mask meant, Tony's life wasn't at risk, as long as he played along. But even so, a very cold feeling crept up his spine ... because of the recent news. But then, he felt confident to find another chance.

"Okay, Mister, what - " Tony stopped, interrupted by the doorbell.

The figure said, "Don't move. I'm not going to warn you again."

Calm voice, businesslike, slightly muffled under the mask. Tony obeyed while the figure, without ever turning, opened the door for another masked figure. The newcomer stepped forward and passed him, then stopped somewhere behind and to the side.

They had him in crossfire, would he try something.

"All right. Listen." The figure at the door was speaking again. "This is money business, as far as we're concerned. Play it cool, then we can keep it that way, and nobody gets hurt."

"What do you - "

A soft pop, the muzzle in front of Tony twisting upward, and a splintering noise from behind.

"Don't talk, unless you're asked. This was really the last warning."

Tony gave a small nod, not revealing any of his feelings, any of the thoughts tbat were racing through his mind. This situation was exactly what he'd dreaded in his worst dreams, this was what had made headlines several times in the last months, and why they had increased security that much - only that he himself had blown it.

"We're going to take your daughter for a ride. You reading newspapers?"

Tony nodded again, fighting the sickness in his stomach. He'd known since this mask had moved into his view.

"Then you know - she'll return safely and unhurt. Would be bad for our business otherwise. This guarantee doesn't include yourself, if you're going to try something clever."

Which was true, for all Tony knew. In the published kidnapping cases of the past months, all children had come back. There had been killings nonetheless - for example in one case where the parents had involved the police, which had tried building a trap when passing over the money. The kidnappers had offered one last chance.

"So you know the rules. When we're gone, you might get prepared by gathering the fee - two millions, actually. And now, where's your daughter?"

"In ... in the kitchen." Tony wasn't losing a second's thought about the money, that was meaningless right now, even if they'd be broke afterwards, which wasn't the case. Tanitha in the hands of these bastards - he wasn't ready to let that happen, he'd prepared for this day, in more than one sense, and the slightest chance would find him ready.

"Okay. You'll dress her for a journey, and pack some more clothes. There's a nurse waiting for her. If you can fetch the money quickly enough, she might be back within three days. What do you think?"

"Er - yes, I think I can manage."

"No police, no press, nothing, or else ... Is she allergic somehow? Does she need some medication?"

Again, Tony was caught off balance from this quick change between threatening and something which, for him, sounded like the most pervert kind of care he'd ever heard.

"Er - no, nothing. She's healthy."

"Then let's keep it that way. Get moving."

Tony nodded, swallowed, then turned. Walking to the kitchen, he had a few seconds for thinking his decision over. He'd dropped any thought of attacking these figures - one of them would always be out of reach. But he still had a defense, installed after the second case had been published.

Was it the right thing to do? On one side - the loss of two millions, forget it, and a nightmare of a few days they'd never forget. And what about Tanitha during these days?

Tony wasn't going to let it happen. His decision was taken.

He reached the kitchen and saw her sitting in the high chair, her smiling face, looking expectantly at the figure closely behind him. He bent over her head and murmured, "I love you, my angel."

As if reaching for her arms, Tony's fingers found the bracelet around her left wrist, found the button, and pressed it.

An almost inaudible pop. The high chair was empty.

"Hey! What's ... Where is she?"

Tony came up, feeling better than ever in his life - and most likely better than he would ever feel again.

"Somewhere safe, you piece of shit."

The silencer hit him at the temple, sending sparks in his view and nausea in his throat. He broke to his knees.

"You're a real wise-ass. You have ten seconds to tell us where she is ... and pray she's within reach."

Tony glanced up, clenched his teeth. "Go fuck your nurse."

Pop. The pain in his left shoulder told him where the bullet had hit.

"Time's running short, buddy. It's your choice."

"Burn in hell."

Tony saw the muzzle move, and at the same moment, he heard the wailing of the first siren outside. This very personal portkey around Tanitha's wrist had done a bit more than sending her into the playpen down in the training hall - it had locked the doors of the hall, and it had rung an alarm in the next precinct.

The muzzle twisted. A hammer hit Tony in the chest, too hard to be painful at all. He felt numb, not registering the second hit nor his falling to the floor. I'm sorry, Ireen, I hope I did right.

Something touched his head, blackening his vision. He thought of his daughter in the hall behind heavy doors, and that Harry would arrive within a few minutes, and how it would have been if ... Then he stopped thinking.