- 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: 04/12/2003Updated: 05/05/2003Words: 178,786Chapters: 22Hits: 20,126
Presents from the Past
- 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 04 - Traces
- Chapter Summary:
- Harry arrives at his friend Tony's house - only to learn that he comes forever too late. A while later, when Harry returns home with the rest of Tony's family as guests for the next time, his son and his wife have the opportunity to respond to these events, each of them in their individual style.
04 - Traces
Harry was a bit late for his training session with Tony. He had a perfect excuse, at least it would have been perfect for Cho, because the reason could be found in Groucho business. In his own opinion, there was no excuse for being late, much less a perfect one.
Ray had held him back with that old issue - how safe was safe, how protective was a protector? Harry wished they had a deadline to hold; in periods of aimless basic research as currently, Ray could be annoying with his endless quest for perfection. The engineering principle, as he called it. Sometimes, Harry found it hard not to shout, Get laid by something soft and voluptuous, that'll teach you engineering!
But then, who knew? Maybe Ray got his tireless energy from just that source.
At any rate, Tony would come with a triple-encoded remark about people mixing bushido with business. He had honed this skill over the years with Ireen, who always felt pleased telling her husband about Japanese ethics. And Harry would take the remark, and bow.
For an instant, he felt tempted to jump directly into the training hall, then walk upstairs and ask innocently what was taking Tony that long. Maybe he would have done it when arriving in time. While now, being late, it seemed cheap, spoiling Tony's fun when he would search for something subtle.
So Harry came out in the garden.
He saw police cruisers in the driveway, one of them with the lights still flickering. Cops were walking around, with the habit of people belonging to this place. Harry felt a choking in his throat, a pressure that grew worse with every step he made to reach the building.
One figure looked up and froze, then regained movement - a hand flew to a holster and came up again, aiming a gun at him. "Stop! ... Don't move, buddy."
"Grab the air - and slowly, if ..."
Harry had heard his share of police slang before, probably most of it on the set with Tony, so he knew what he was supposed to do. Carefully, he spread his arms and raised them, his hands coming together over his head.
Three other figures had noticed the scene and had followed the example of their colleague, except that they were using some cover behind a car or a tree. Now four guns were aiming at him.
"Get on your knees, then kiss the grass."
That was a bad sign - not even letting him reach a car where he would stand off balance, his legs spread apart, to be checked, the way it was done in those movies. Harry knelt down and flung himself forward, not even using his arms to temper the low fall.
"You're used to that, huh? Know the drill ..." A muzzle was pressed in his neck while hands scanned his belt and armpits.
"Move around - slowly."
Harry turned around, looking into two faces a bit less strained than a moment ago. Sensing, he felt some relief and a lot of burning rage, together with the frustration from being forever too late ... for what?
He was scanned in front. The man felt his wand, stiffened, pulled it out and examined it, then looked at him. "You're a magic?"
"Now you're as magic as a flat tire." The cop stepped back. "You can sit up. Who are you? What's your business here?"
Harry came up, resting his arms on his knees. Now he was armed better than this cop could even dream of, only it didn't feel like an improvement.
"My name is Harry Potter, I'm a friend of the family. What happened here?"
"Leave the questions to me. Some ID card with you?"
"No, none. Please - what about Tony? Ireen? Tanitha?"
"That the family? There's ..." Into the cop's still pending suspicion, Harry could feel something new growing - uneasiness, a desperation of a new quality.
"The lieutenant'll be there any moment, he may answer you. In the meantime - "
"Please, officer, I need to know! What did ... what's in there?"
Something like pity, or sympathy, rose in the policeman; Harry had touched a spot.
"A body, and two more outside, except - "
"Three? All three?" Harry felt his claws tightening.
"No - the two outside were ours."
"And - the one inside?"
Harry's face turned to the house. "Tony ..." Next instant, he became aware that there was no time yet. "And what about Ireen? And Tanitha?" Sensing the officer's hesitation, he added, "Ireen's his wife, and Tanitha is their daughter. Can you tell me something?"
A door closed in the man's head. "Sorry, no. The lieutenant will ask you more, but - how did you come to that place? Where have you been a moment before?"
"I jumped - apparated, I mean. From Ireland. Now, can I move?"
"Ireland?" The cop's suspicion was rising again. "So you haven't been around when - when this took place?"
"No, officer. Please - I'm ready to play along, but I'm not going to sit here in the grass while Ireen and Tanitha might be at risk."
The cop's hand had moved to his holster. "Keep cool - we've found two cops dead, that makes for itching fingers, so for your own - "
Harry saw a figure in civil clothes walk toward the entrance. "Is this the lieutenant? Please tell him about the woman and the child, now!"
"I guess he ..."
The cop didn't continue, and something Harry felt in the man made him lose patience.
"I'm in the house."
"No you - "
The rest couldn't be heard from the entrance hall to which Harry had apparated. Hearing noises from the kitchen, he stepped forward and reached the doorframe. From there, he saw the scene.
The lieutenant was bending low over the crumpled figure of Harry's former friend Tony, now a corpse lying still, blood on his chest, another trickle at the side of his head, his sightless eyes staring ahead, his face showing something surprisingly close to satisfaction.
And there stood another cop who just now turned to stare at Harry. "What the hell ..." His hand moved to his holster - had these cops just one reflex in their two brain cells?
The lieutenant registered the movement and turned around. Seeing Harry, he turned back to the cop. "Who's that clown?" Not getting an answer, he looked at Harry again. "This is a crime scene. Wait outside."
"I won't touch anything. The woman and the child, that's my concern."
Staring at the corpse again, Harry registered the particular arrangement - Tony at the feet of an empty high chair, a small piece of bread, wet, probably from munching and nuzzling.
The lieutenant had followed Harry's glance. "You know the family?"
"Yes. That's Tony Chee, Ireen is his wife and Tanitha is their daugter - " Harry's reply, given almost mechanically, stopped. "How did your people - I mean, why did they come?"
The lieutenant seemed to recognize something in Harry's face. "We got an alarm in the precinct."
"Then ..." Suddenly Harry felt a lack of breath, and swallowed. "There's a chance that the girl's still here - I'll be back in a moment; don't shoot at me when I reappear, okay?" Not waiting for confirmation, feeling sure this lieutenant would take the obvious conclusion, Harry apparated into the training hall.
And there - in her playpen, a tiny light above, illuminating a face which right now was turning from miserable to smiling - he found Tanitha.
Harry reached her and took her in his arms. For an instant, he felt like crying, then steadied. "C'mon, my angel, I'm with you."
A trembling sigh in her throat signaled deep relief.
Harry decided to use the entrance hall again; that cop had felt a bit twitchy. Coming out, he made a step toward the kitchen and stopped. "Lieutenant? I'm here."
There were quick steps, then the lieutenant's figure appeared, to stop cold - then, for a brief moment, the man looked as Harry had felt a few seconds earlier, down in the basement.
"Sweet Jesus - oh, whew! She isn't ... and I thought ... Where have you been?"
"In the training hall." Harry pointed at Tanitha's bracelet. "See this piece? That's why ... and Tony died for it."
A moment later, they were sitting in the family room, and Harry explained to the detective, who introduced himself as Lieutenant Seeger, how the bracelet had come around Tanitha's wrist, and what it did.
"Tony must have activated it with the kidnappers at his back - that's why he looks so satisfied. And that's why they killed him."
The lieutenant examined the bracelet. "Never heard about models like that."
"They aren't offered in public. That's the only one so far." Seeing the detective's look, Harry added, "I'm a member of the development team."
"You're an engineer?"
"Not really - the engineer is Ray, Ray Purcell. I was the one for the magical part."
The lieutenant examined him. "That explains a bit, but still, you were pretty quick there in the kitchen. You've seen corpses before, huh?"
"Yes. Of friends and of others. But I still wonder - " Harry stopped, remembering a more urgent question. "We still don't know about Ireen."
"Maybe our luck hasn't run out yet." Lieutenant Seeger looked hopeful. "What car does she drive?"
"Wait a minute." The detective stood up and headed out, came back shortly afterwards. "An empty slot in the garage, and no Lexus. Seems we are ..." He didn't finish, instead kept looking at Tanitha.
Harry grabbed his phony and pressed a button, then checked the display when there was no answer. Finally he looked up.
"If she has a business appointment, she locks down her device. I'll try again in fifteen minutes."
"What's her profession?"
"She's a geisha."
"A geisha?" Harry saw an expression of surprise and barely hidden disgust in the lieutenant's face.
He tempered himself - some minutes ago, he had cursed inwardly at some cops and their attempts of finding a target for their frustration, and now he felt dangerously close to the same idea.
"Lieutenant Seeger, I think you haven't the faintest idea what a geisha is."
"No? What's she doing?"
"Pouring tea." The rage shot up in Harry. "And if she's fucking, then only ..." His head, having turned toward the kitchen an instant ago, tilted forward.
"Sorry, Mr Potter. And where might she be doing that? Er, I mean - "
"Anywhere in the valley, in some company that has high-rank visitors from Japan." Harry swallowed. "I'm sorry, Lieutenant, I shouldn't have said that."
"That's okay, so we have that in common. How long did you know Mr Chee?"
"How long?" Harry counted in his mind. "Fourteen years - first as a movie director, then as a friend and now ..." He looked at the lieutenant. "What I don't understand, how did they manage to come inside? That close to him? And even so - he's ... He was my aikido partner, he was good, a man with a gun wouldn't have impressed him that much - at close range, I mean."
"Mr Potter - " The lieutenant hesitated. "This is the first case of a failed kidnapping we know about, and I dearly hope our luck strikes for the second time today - I mean, we might learn something new. We'll have to talk a lot more, but first I want to make sure there's no evidence destroyed at this crime scene, or ignored. Would you mind staying a while?"
"Mind?" Harry stared at him. "I'm not going to leave before Ireen is found." Then another thought struck him. "And I want to be the one who's going to tell her."
"Then you're one in a million ... Please stick to this place till the forensic guys are done, okay?" Lieutenant Seeger left to supervise his uniformed colleagues, if that was the term he would have used.
Harry waited five more minutes before trying the phony again. No response.
Then some other people entered the house, apparently the forensics, and maybe also a pathologist. One of them asked him whether his fingerprints could be found in the house. When Harry said yes, they asked him for samples, and he filled a page with prints of his fingers.
Tanitha found this interesting and wanted to contribute her own, only they weren't required.
Harry walked outside. He intended to be visible and with the girl on his arm, should the Lexus appear. He was in the garden when, some minutes later, Lieutenant Seeger met him again.
"Inside, you said something about you wondering how the kidnappers could come into the house, right?"
"Yes, and why Tony found no chance for more defense. Maybe because ..." Harry fell silent.
"You know, I was thinking about magic. You can spell someone so he'll do what you want. Only, such a spell doesn't pass a closed door, and besides, if Tony had been spelled, he'd never been able to press the button. Still, for me, something here smells of magic."
The lieutenant waited another moment, then said, "Mr Potter, let me tell you that much - from the known cases, we've learned that there are always several people. I think that's why your friend found no chance, even if some of them came close to him. These are professionals."
Harry looked wondering. "Of course, what else? But - "
"No - there's no of course, Mr Potter. Kidnapping, as we knew it until recently, has been an amateur crime. But these cases here are a different style."
"What do you mean, amateur crime?"
Lieutenant Seeger made a pacifying gesture. "Can we delay that, please? There's something else - if I'm not much mistaken, I guess I know how they managed to come inside. We've found a young man, has been anaesthesized with ether or whatever, he's still pretty dizzy, but he said something about lawn mowing - well, and we found the lawn mower standing in the grass. So it looks as if one of the kidnappers pretended to be him and made his way inside."
"Wait a sec - Tony was very careful when opening his door." Harry looked around. "Where is this young man?"
"He's still too dazed - we have to wait some more time before we can interrogate him."
"No, we don't. We can speed up things - where is he?"
The lieutenant eyed him somewhat suspiciously. "It won't help to strangle him, Mr Potter."
"Certainly not, but I can do a bit more than jumping around - and can we now - "
Harry followed, but stopped again. "Can someone watch for that Lexus? I want to be seen by her and talk with her before she has time to figure out what happened."
"Sure, Mr Potter, except ..." The lieutenant examined him once more.
Feeling impatience, Harry was about to urge again when he sensed another wave of suspicion rise in the detective. For an instant, he was at a loss to interpret this, then he knew what it meant and exhaled deeply.
"Lieutenant Seeger, do you remember an ex-colleague of yours by the name of Ramon Garcia?"
"No, not at the moment - why?"
"Well, I'm trying to find a way to raise my credentials, so we can stop losing time on that, and Ramon could have - "
"Ah - wait a sec ..." The detective snapped his fingers. "Garcia, huh? And Potter - yes, that rings a bell somewhere - er, wasn't it a kidnapping case too? And he was, er - "
"Yes, he's a wizard. And for Ireen - remember what I shouted at you inside? It still holds true. You can suspect me if you find a dead kidnapper, and rightfully so - and can we now ask that young man?"
Without another word, the lieutenant spoke with a uniformed figure, then waved at Harry to follow him to an ambulance car.
The young man stood at the open backside, his arms put on the platform to support him, giving the view of someone trying - or desperately avoiding - to throw up. Registering the scene, Harry offered Tanitha to the lieutenant. "Can you hold her for a second?"
"What - " A flash from dark eyes stopped the question in mid-sentence.
Harry touched the shoulders of the young man. He started his mind wave gently, increased a bit, then more, raising a gasp and a deep inhaling. Then he let go.
The figure turned. "Whoa! How - "
Harry showed his teeth, the closest thing to a smile he could manage. "Kind of acupuncturing without needles, you know."
No, the young man didn't, seemed grateful nevertheless, and felt ready to answer Seeger's questions - about his name, and whether he still was wearing all his clothes.
"Yeah, sure, why - "
The young man scanned himself, then looked around. "No - er, wait - my cap! Maybe it's where I fell down."
Harry asked, "How does it look?"
"Just a cap." The young man shrugged. "A red one, from the Cardinals."
The lieutenant, visible only for Harry, pointed down the street and shook his head. Following a suspicion, Harry asked, "Say, er, Sammy, how did it feel when they stunned you?"
"Dunno ... not at all, somehow. Can't remember well."
"How did it smell?"
"Smell? There was no smell. I was walking, and next thing I remember, I was lying in the underbrush."
Examining the bulky figure, a solid layer of fat over an equally unmistakable layer of muscles, Harry felt sure to know what had happened. "That's all, thank you."
Walking back, he was quickly caught by the lieutenant. "What do you make of it?"
"He's been stunned."
"Yes, sure, that's why we had - "
"No - I mean, in the literal sense. Sorry, that's wizardese - he's been anaesthesized only as the second measure." Harry explained the stunning spell. "They didn't want to take any chances of noise, or a shout - they stunned him with this spell, and then they made him breathe some of that chloroform or what it was."
"Why? In addition to that spell?"
"Stunning isn't time-limited. Either someone had to come back for destunning him, or he'd been found still stunned, and every wizard would have recognized that state instantly. These are wizards."
"Bastards." Lieutenant Seeger twitched. "Sorry, that wasn't meant, er - "
"I know. Is this the first proof of magic involved?"
"Who checked it?"
The lieutenant stared at Harry. "You asking for some homework, Mr Potter? Might be an idea - only it's gruesome, and there might be a problem with clearance and whatnot."
Harry felt something like a déjà-vu. "I'm pretty sure we'll find a way, Lieutenant Seeger. I can offer some credentials."
"Such as? Aside from ..."
"The FBI - aside from."
The lieutenant's face showed a mix of enthusiasm and sourness. "I might prefer the aside more."
"Whatever." Harry didn't care much about these local authority conflicts, only that they were badly suited to improve his mood. "What's bothering me - why did they only stun him? I mean, why's he still alive? They killed Tony, they killed your men, so why not this Sammy?"
"Their modus operandi." The lieutenant examined Harry's face to see whether he was following. "They don't kill as a rule. The kidnapping went as planned until Mr Chee managed to send the girl off. Then ... there's a gunshot in his shoulder, I can't help thinking that's been a last warning. Does that copy with your knowledge of him?"
"Tony was a fighter. And for Tanitha, they could have ..." Harry swallowed. "When we installed this portkey, we were discussing alternatives." He looked at the lieutenant. "Tony knew what was coming."
The detective nodded. "That's what I thought. Well, the cruiser team that got killed - they were pretty close when the alarm came, my guess is they found them still there and blocked the exit. Although it's strange they couldn't fire a single shot - the only traces of a gunfight are the shots in their bodies."
"Not strange at all - they were stunned first, and shot then. They must have seen something."
"Damn ..." The lieutenant's face flushed. "Then I have to apologize once more."
"Because - well, you know, these cruiser teams aren't always the cleverest, particularly not in a quarter as quiet as this one. And what I saw made me think - "
"They messed up - yes, I see."
The lieutenant had a desperate look in his face. "Mr Potter, how can you fight magic criminals with just a gun?"
"Not at all - you can fight fire only with fire, you need wizards in your - "
Harry stopped and froze for an instant, then he steadied himself for the next moments. There was a Lexus coming up the street.
* * *
Gabriel Uriah Potter sat at his desk and tried coming to terms with this math stuff. Unfortunately, he had trouble with it.
Part of his problem was the temptation to drop the books and apparate down to the beach in the bay, where he would sit down and play his flute. Here in his room, found in the north tower just below Sandra's suite, a look through the window was enough to lose all interest in homework. However, Gabriel felt fiercely determined to solve this stupid riddle, so mastering the temptation was easy play.
Another part of the trouble was the choice of media. He could use his computer, only that typing on the keyboard still caused some problems. He felt slow, a pretty ridiculous state, considering his fluency on musical keyboards. Or he could use the dictapen, with the unfortunate effect that his wrong calculations would be inked into the paper, afterwards staring at him accusingly. Undoing a line on the computer screen worked much faster - why couldn't he type with the pen and undo with the keyboard?
The major problem, however, was the topic - math. Such an unimaginative collection of numbers ... They didn't live, they couldn't be felt like people or instruments. When the class was dealing with sets, unions, and disjunctions, Gabriel could follow easily; then he caught the idea from the teacher's drawing instantly. But as soon as it came to operations as weird as division, he felt nearly helpless.
Maybe it was a question of terminology. Division - Gabriel could divide any set into its subsets at a flick of an eye, only the teacher said this was a split, not a division, and a subset was totally different from a fraction.
Gabriel could handle fractions, quite expertly so. One fraction of his mind listened to the sound from the sea, waves lapping up the beach and dying. Another fraction was constantly registering the presence of the other people in the castle - his mother, his sister, Dobby and Winky, Nagini ... Though not his father.
Harry absent, this state always gave Gabriel a special feeling of freedom. This seemed strange, somehow, because he didn't feel trapped when his father was at home. Maybe it was because Harry could be found in or around the castle most of the time, at least after school hours - in contrast to Gabriels mother, whose presence always felt like an enrichment, even if she kept working in her office like now.
Had there been no time difference, Harry's training sessions with Tony would have taken place in the morning. But with seven hours between Ireland and California, Harry left before suppertime and returned - well, sometimes just after the training, sometimes later, depending on what Tony and Ireen had cooked up to hold him there. And Tanitha, of course, except she wasn't cooking up anything by herself - not counting her sheer presence, that was.
This would come in the future, Gabriel felt sure. Harry the deputy godfather, he he. The boy had learned not to use this term with his mother around - she felt embarrassed instantly, and Gabriel had no intention of making her feel that way. Grinning inwardly was okay, but otherwise ...
Was this a joke? He would have liked to ask, but whom? Not his mother, for obvious reasons. Not his father, because Harry's answer might not be completely objective. Not Sandra - an older sister was a tricky knowledge base, something to be used with care.
Actually, in this direction lurked another temptation to master. Recently, Gabriel had sensed something new and disturbing in his sister. He would have liked to spy a bit more, just to give this sensation some kind of outline. The problem was, this would be dishonest.
He knew she wouldn't catch him. Long ago, Gabriel had evaluated the level above which Sandra could register his attention, and kept just below since then. Still, he wouldn't call it honourable. Listening to the stray effects was okay; it wasn't him to blame if people couldn't hide their emotions.
He froze for an instant. His father was back, much earlier than expected. And he'd brought guests - two, actually, Ireen and Tanitha. Normally, this would have been reason to get excited, only today there was something dark and heavy in these emanations ... in Ireen's, to be precise, while the baby nearly felt as always.
And Gabriel's father felt like a white wall, which meant his guard was up to maximum.
This news was enough to let Gabriel drop the books and go downstairs. He walked, using the time it took for gathering more information. To Gabriel's surprise, Sandra did not follow; maybe her own concerns were keeping her so busy that she hadn't noticed.
He found the two guests in the family room, his father apparently on his way to tell Cho. Ireen looked like stunned, her face almost blank, only the girl was smiling at Gabriel.
Scanning stronger, he felt shock, emptiness, loss, still beyond grasp, and ... Tony! It had to do with her husband, and that left little choice in what the reason for her stupor might be. Gabriel sat down at her side.
"Ireen? What happened to Tony?"
Her head turned, then she registered him, but maybe not fully, although her face showed no surprise.
That was exactly what Gabriel had thought. Death ... What did it mean, to be dead? What did it mean for the survivors? This was the first time he faced such a situation, and he was determined to use the opportunity. "How?"
A flicker crossed in Ireen's eyes; obviously she felt uncertain whether she should tell this boy, young as he was, but then dropped the concern as meaningless.
"They shot him. He saved her from them, and they shot him."
Her, that was Tanitha. So Tony saved the girl ... from what? From them, yes, only what had they planned to do?
Harry came in. Looking at Gabriel, he wasn't smiling, didnt show surprise either.
"Hi, son. Where's Sandy?"
"Can you fetch her, please?"
Maybe his father had intended to make him leave the room for a moment, but then, maybe not. At any rate, Gabriel sent the mind equivalent of a whistle blow, without moving, watching as his mother entered the room.
She showed consternation, still more so when Ireen responded to her entrance no more than she had responded to Gabriel's own, a moment ago. Then Cho said, "C'mon, Ireen, leave the girl here, and come with me."
Ireen seemed to understand, except that she held Tanitha still tighter.
Harry made a step, but for once Gabriel was faster than his father. He touched Ireen with one hand, the girl with the other.
"We'll look after her. She'll be here when you come back." At the same time, he sent the same message with his mind, feeling Ireen listen to him, understand, finally believe. He took the girl from her arms and put Tanitha into his lap.
Looking up, Gabriel saw his father's eyes rest on him, and for an instant he felt a door open, to send him a message of approval and satisfaction, enough so he would have beamed, if not for the other feelings he'd sensed in the background: sorrow, rage, white-hot fury.
Sandra stood in the room. "What's up? What happened to Ireen?"
Harry sat down and told them what Tony had done, paying with his own life.
Gabriel asked, "What is kidnapping, Dad?"
His father's lips went thin. "Stealing a child from the parents, and returning it only for a lot of money."
"So they pick rich parents, right?"
"Could they pick us?"
His father's eyes closed for an instant, then opened again in a face like stone. "They might come up with the idea."
Sandra said, "Then they'd be in for a surprise."
Gabriel thought it over. "No - two of them."
Harry nodded. "Yes, definitely so, but still, they might not know, and that's what makes it dangerous. Anyway - those people operate in the States, not here."
Sandra asked, "Are you going to find them?"
"I talked with the police detective. We'll talk again, and ..." Harry fell silent.
Gabriel glanced at his sister, then back at his father. "How did it happen? I mean, with Tony, and ..."
"I wonder if this is really a good idea, telling the details to both of you."
There was a look in his sister's face as though she was going to say something like, Maybe not him, he's too young for that, only she wouldn't, while Gabriel would.
"Sandy thinks I'm not old enough for that, but she's wrong ... unless it's true for both of us."
"Okay," sighed Harry, "knowing the facts can't be worse than what you might imagine otherwise." Then he explained how Tony had been tricked. Coming to the end, he looked at Tanitha. "He died to save her, and it worked. I wish she'd be a bit older, so we could ask her."
Gabriel, his mind suddenly in fast forward, looked at his sister. "Shall we try?"
Sandra glanced at the girl, then back at him, her eyes widening. "I wouldn't see enough."
"Maybe I wouldn't, either, but ... Only, how to recall the memory?"
Sandra examined the girl again. "I have an idea. Let's go into the kitchen."
Following her thought, Gabriel nodded appreciatingly. In practical matters, his sister was clearly ahead, no doubt about that. He looked at his father. "Can you guard the door? For Ireen, I mean."
A fleeting shadow of a smile ran across Harry's face. "You meant someone else too, son ... All right."
Gabriel walked into the kitchen, already feeling the weight of the girl. When he arrived, Sandra had the high chair present.
He placed Tanitha in the seat, thought for a second, then grabbed another chair to place it behind and sit down there, his hands lightly at Tanitha's neck. He exhaled deeply. About to nod to Sandra, he saw her reach Harry, who was hidden behind the door. A moment later, she went to a cabinet and opened it, then came back with a small piece of bread, offering it to Tanitha.
It took Gabriel a second to put it together - Sandra had asked their father for an exact description of what he'd seen there, because this detail had been missing in Harry's report a minute ago.
Sandra waited for Gabriel's nod, then looked at the girl. "Where's Tony?"
Gabriel was somewhere deep inside her mind. He felt uncertain with the girl, hearing the question, then heard Sandra ask, "What happened, Tanitha? What happened with Tony?"
Still - no, here it came, a mix of déjà-vu and curiosity, lack of understanding, surprise, suddenly a change of the scene, and after a moment, the feeling of being alone, unpleasantly so.
Gabriel stopped his trance-like concentration. "Okay."
In a rush, his father was there to grab Tanitha and soothe the girl, who had started whimpering a bit, while Sandra made the high chair disappear. Gabriel followed his father back into the family room and waited until Sandra had joined them.
"She remembered how he came to her, and how she suddenly was somewhere else - in the hall, that is. And there were two other people, one close to Tony and the other farther off."
"Probably at the door," said his father, whose eyes were fixed on him.
"The closer figure - there was a moment of pleasant feeling, as if she'd welcomed him ... as if she'd known him, and then, something like a surprise, as if he wasn't what she thought he was."
Harry's voice showed suppressed excitement. "This could have been the red cap - she thought she saw this Sammy, because that was the one wearing the cap." He looked forcifully neutral. "Was it clear enough for colours?"
"No, not that much. But there was - when she realized it wasn't what she'd thought, the change was stronger. Somehow, it didn't feel as if this was someone else, instead, it felt like something totally foreign, a tiny bit frightening - "
"A black one?" asked Sandra.
"Dunno ..." Gabriel looked at his father. "Do you know whether she's seen blacks?" Next instant, he shook his head. "No, that doesn't fit somehow - a normal stranger, that would have felt like curiosity, but it was something else - something that made her a bit frightful."
Sandra said, "Maybe his expression."
"No," replied his father, "such people look horrible only in bad movies, while in real life - " He stopped, his face lighting up. "I guess I know."
"What?" From two sides.
"Masks." Harry looked at Tanitha. "It's what we all learn first, to distinguish between a face and something else. Everybody knows the difference between a face and a mask. And these masks - of course!" He looked triumphant. "Over there, they sell masks for halloween - the more gruesome, the better."
Then he beamed. "You were great, you two. But please, no word as long as Ireen's around."
Gabriel felt like bursting of pride, couldn't imagine anything that might feel better, despite the situation.
A moment later, however, he could. That was when his sister said, "Well, okay, but - you know, that's been Gabe's work. Because me - er, I'd been chanceless."
* * *
For a while, Cho had to treat Ireen like a child. No, worse - like a zombie, walking when pulled, sitting down when pushed, doing nothing from her own impulse. And as if that wasn't enough, Cho had to deal with her own feelings.
Shock, the moment Harry had entered her office to tell her. Rage, thinking about faceless figures in a house far away yet well known. Something dark and unbearable in the short moment when she tried to imagine herself in this situation, the thought dropped quickly and replaced by a kind of thankfulness she wasn't, followed by guilt about this relief, seeing Ireen.
And, somewhere in her mind, a growing uneasiness at the thought of what Harry might be thinking right now, more importantly, might be planning. His friend killed ... the father of Cho's goddaughter, raising another sting of guilt.
She guided Ireen to one of the guest rooms. She had to carry the bag Ireen had come with by herself and had to unpack also by herself while Ireen was sitting in a chair, staring ahead mindlessly. What Cho found in the bag had been gathered in a haste, seemed halfway sufficient for Tanitha's needs while not for Ireen's.
Didn't matter. Those cabinets were an apparition jump away - although, come to think of it, Cho would go shopping for Ireen before she would ask Harry to fetch something from that house.
As if this would prevent him from doing so - only, Cho wasn't going to be the one who sent him.
Finished with the bag, she stepped to Ireen, put her hands on the woman's shoulders. Had she been Harry, she would have sent a wave. But she wasn't, and maybe the thought was wrong - he'd passed Ireen over to her, for these first minutes that started to feel like a bad eternity.
Bending closer, Cho noticed that although Ireen was still in some kind of stupor, the events had left their traces outwardly - a sour smell, for instance, cold sweat dried on a skin lacking life.
"What about a shower, Ireen?"
Had this been a nod? Maybe so, but the fresh widow didn't move.
Cho became aware that the shower would not work. Ireen would be standing there, getting a cold or a skin burn before mustering any reaction. "I've got a better idea. C'mon, up with you."
She guided Ireen to the next bathroom, one of many in this castle. It offered a luxurious bathtub as well as other installations, and room enough to enjoy a cleansing ritual, and maybe more.
But now it was about cleansing only. Cho undressed Ireen, then ordered her to sit down and to pee before she let her climb into the water she had scented with a bit of bathing oil.
Sitting there, waiting for Ireen to taw from her shock in the hot water, Cho thought, wasn't it a kind of joke, this bathing in the midst of summer while down at the bay the most refreshening waves would welcome them? Except that Ireen would drown instantly, while here she was fully under control.
Cho took a sponge and started to wipe Ireen's skin from the shoulders to the legs, trying to remember where, according to the rules of acupuncturing, the nerve nodes might be located that were worth stimulating. The soles of the feet, that was all she felt sure about, so she took one of Ireen's legs, stroking the soles, the feet, the calves upward, then the other.
And all the time, she could examine a fine body, slender, very different from others she'd seen. Slim legs, narrow hips, small breasts - under different circumstances, these administrations might have been more entertaining. Even so, Cho felt a slight tingling in her groin.
Realizing where her thoughts were drifting off, she chided herself inwardly, with the only effect that this tingling increased in strength. This body, not showing any impulse of its own, not resisting any of her ministrations, was intriguing.
Feeling like a naughty girl, Cho moved the sponge from Ireen's throat downward, between her breasts, over her belly, into the black triangle, and still a bit further down, pressing gently.
The response from that body was faintly more than zero - an intaking of breath, while Cho's own reaction came much stronger, a quivering as though her own body had been touched there, and a sudden need for more air.
High time to stop, before ... She took Ireen's hand. "Get up." When the body was standing upright, Cho grabbed the shower nozzle, shifted the handle to cold water, and pulled the tap. "Turn ... round, and round."
And finally, a reaction - Ireen gasping, raising her arms, uttering a word. "Enough."
Cho helped her climb out, trying to unlock her glance from the sight of two large nipples, fully erect after the sharp treatment from the cold water. She grabbed a towel and began to rub her dry.
"Okay - give me ... let me ... thanks." Ireen, sufficiently awake, took the towel to finish the task by herself. However, moments later, the towel was hanging from her hands, forgotten, her eyes staring at the wall.
"C'mon - take that bathrobe, then let's get dressed."
"Er - yes."
Back in the guest room, for an instant it looked as though Ireen had lost track again. Then she focused at Cho, nodded, dropped the bathrobe, looked around, found the way to the cabinet.
Cho watched Ireen dress in panties and a kimono, perfectly suited for the season while not for the thoughts still crossing Cho's mind. Then she walked ahead, just in time having the good sense to steer toward the dining room, rather than the kitchen.
At first, Ireen was just sitting there, sipping her tea. Only when Harry joined them with Tanitha on his arm, when the girl started munching a piece of toast, she grabbed some food and started chewing, slowly, mechanically.
Then she looked at Harry. "Did he suffer?"
"No. He was shot in the shoulder first, probably after he made Tanitha disappear, and as an attempt to make him follow orders ..."
For a second, Cho wasn't trusting her ears, hearing Harry's report of the cruel details. His next words told her, he knew exactly what he was doing.
"... without hurting him so much that he'd be unable to obey. Only he didn't. It has been only seconds before the first police cruiser came along, with sirens and all. The other shots were deadly - at an instant."
"If he ..." Ireen looked at her daughter, back into Harry's face. "If he'd obeyed, he'd be alive, right?"
"In the physical sense, yes." Harry held her stare. "Only he'd be dying every minute that's passing now, and he never would have regained that loss."
Ireen nodded. "Me neither. He" - a dry sob - "he didn't expect to come through, did he?"
"No." Harry shook his head. "He knew. He had performed the task of saving her, you could see it in his face - and nothing else mattered for him at this moment."
Another nod. "Would that they'd waited still a bit."
"Huh?" Cho couldn't imagine this being a joke, couldn't find another interpretation either.
Ireen turned to her. "He felt ready for another child ... Some remarks he made. Only we didn't come that far. That's why."
Cho didn't know what to reply, felt sure there was none. Ireen's voice had been flat, matter-of-fact, a total lack of the longing that might come in time.
After a moment's silence, Ireen started to speak. Telling scenes, of yesterday, of a month ago, or a year - what Tony had done, what he'd said, how he used to be, and to behave in certain situations. She spoke to no one in particular, mostly to herself, as it seemed.
Cho knew most of it, while some habits were new to her. Listening to Ireen, she wondered if she could describe her own husband as precisely as that, in such minute details. Probably not - but then, maybe because Harry was so much younger, still changing ... Or because he was predictable only in his motivations, while not his doings.
At some point, Ireen looked up and fixed her stare at Harry. "You were his only friend, did you know that?"
"Still, there is no obligation. Do you hear me?"
"I know, Ireen ..."
Cho saw his eyes darken when he finished, ".... not from Tony's side."
Then she saw Ireen suppress a reply, looking under herself, ostensibly also avoiding a glance in Cho's direction. So Cho said, "And not from your side, Ireen, and certainly not from mine. And all this just doesn't matter, am I right?"
Harry's voice was calm. "Ireen's here for many reasons, but mostly for Tanitha's security, and for her own. As much as she's welcome - right now, this is a matter of necessity, while I want to make it a matter of choice."
Yeah, what else.
Cho rose. "What about a matter of sleep?"
Ireen glanced up, surprise in her face. "You - oh, yes of course." Next moment, she looked worried. "Can I sit here still a while? I'm not sleepy at all."
Little surprise - for her, it had to be late afternoon. Only that Cho didn't feel too happy with the idea of Ireen sitting alone, and meeting her husband's eyes, she knew he felt the same.
Holding his look for another second, she felt sure he agreed about something else, and whether it was his own idea or him reading her emotions wasn't really important. She took Ireens's arm. "Not here - come with me."
In the guestroom, feeling Ireen's look of wondering and worry, Cho asked, "Is there some night dress in the stuff you came with?"
"Because we're not going to let you hang around alone - not today, and tomorrow we'll see. So why don't you change into that dress now?"
Something like relief, and embarrassment. "But ... And Tanitha?"
"For all I know, she's already in the small bed in the adjacent room - and most likely, she's already fast asleep." Cho showed a faint smile. "You know, Harry's quite good in making little girls sleepy."
Maybe she should have saved that, because the effect toward Ireen wasn't calming. At any rate, Ireen went to the cabinet, and Cho left to prepare herself.
Some minutes later, they were lying in the large bed - Ireen in the middle, Cho at one side, Harry at the other. Cho's own day had been long enough; still, she felt as wide awake as Ireen had claimed. And maybe as expectant, if not more, only less tense.
There was a way to ease the tension. Her hand came forward under the light bedcover and found Ireen's arm.
The first reaction was more stiffening, pretty much as expected. Cho started to stroke her - arm, shoulder, hair, flanks, registering that Harry was a bit more reluctant, but maybe only with his movement, not with his mind wave, because Ireen relaxed.
Cho took this as a good sign. She found the silken belt of this thin night kimono and unfastened it, shifting the fabric aside, her hand resting on Ireen's belly. A slight trembling - looking up, Cho found Ireen's eyes closed.
Soft skin, not as smooth as the thin garment she was slowly moving off, still the better choice for her own taste. She let her hand trail up, cupping a small breast, feeling a nipple respond to her caressing, which in turn made her own buds follow this example.
For some minutes, she continued that way, restricting her hand to a throat in which she could feel some pulsing, to a belly that had lost all tension, and to two breasts which seemed eager to take this burden. At the same time, she had to temper her own greed, barely mustering enough patience to play it slowly.
Then she took Ireen's arm, inched a bit closer, and put this arm between her legs, the hand right where she felt more impatient than anywhere else. It was heightening her arousal considerably, while it also accelerated Ireen's breathing - just the proper moment to part her legs, fondling the tender flesh of her inner thighs.
Cho could only guess which of them was awaiting it more urgently - the moment when her fingers finally reached the soft swelling below the tuft of hair, parting the outer lips, dipping inside, finding a wet opening, simultaneously raising a moan from Ireen's mouth and a gasping from her own. Cho could only guess which of them was awaiting it more urgently - the moment when her fingers finally reached the soft swelling she had avoided all the while, to play around and along now, simultaneously raising a moan from Ireen's mouth and a gasping from her own.
She captured Ireen's leg under her own. Harry did the same at the other side. Cho felt pleasure at seeing that he kept his hand to these delicately shaped breasts, leaving this wonderful playfield to her alone.
And playing she did. Circling, moving inside, out again, generously distributing Ireen's rich fluids up and down her furrow. A short tap onto a tiny bud was rewarded with a sharp intake of breath, avoiding the playground for a few seconds altogether raised a twisting and an impatient groan. And playing she did. Circling, exploring, testing for reactions. A short tap onto a tiny bud was rewarded with a sharp intake of breath, avoiding the playground for a few seconds altogether raised a twisting and an impatient groan.
At the same time, savouring her own growing excitement, Cho was playing in her mind with alternatives how to finish the game. After all, there was no hurry, save from her own desire.
Ever so slowly, she moved her middle finger into this lovely channel, let her thumb rest on Ireen's clitoris, and issued a short, sharp pressure. At the same instant, she became aware of two misjudgements. Ever so slowly, she let her finger intensify the exploration, let her thumb rest on a sensible spot, and issued a short, sharp pressure. At the same instant, she became aware of two misjudgements.
The first had to do with Harry. Almost too late, in a way, Cho remembered that he, too, had suffered a traumatic experience, finding his friend shot down at the kitchen floor, while this short period of not knowing, before Tanitha was found in the training hall, could only have been an agonizing experience. And this meant, he deserved better than his passive role so far in this game.
A sharp sting of guilt shot through her entire body, miraculously concentrating just where Ireen's hand was tensing, releasing, and both effects together were pushing her almost beyond control.
Only - and this was the second misjudgement - the hand between her legs failed to relax once more, while the silken embrace around her middle finger took over the task of contracting, releasing, contracting sharper ...
Too late for withdrawing - Cho wasn't going to be cruel, quite the opposite, so she kept her grip, only that her thumb was wriggling from side to side while Ireen's body turned rigid and started to tremble, arching up the short span that was allowed with her legs imprisoned under two others, to fall down again with a ragged moaning. Only - and this was the second misjudgement - this hand between her legs failed to relax once more, while her own hand could feel that her playing had sent Ireen already beyond the point of no return.
Too late for stopping now - Cho wasn't going to be cruel, quite the opposite, so she kept playing, concentrating a bit more while Ireen's body turned rigid, started to tremble, arching up the short span allowed with her legs imprisoned under two others, to fall down again with a ragged moaning.
Her face flushed from arousal and shame, Cho released Ireen's leg and pulled at Harry's arm. "Get moving - now!"
For an instant, she felt unsure whether her command had been clear enough - after all, there were two possibilities. But he'd caught her right, quickly took position between these trembling legs which currently seemed unable to resist, or to help in his efforts.
Even so, he found his way, was covering Ireen, his upper torso resting on his elbows, was moving slowly, taking his time ...
These legs had lost their slackness, were coming up, closing around Harry's thighs, apparently in an attempt to push him into a sharper pace.
Only this appeal seemed lost. What Cho could feel and see was a leisurely canter, rather than the feverish gallopping down the last lane. And every thrust was accompanied by Ireen's groaning, which sounded a bit desperate from overstimulation, otherwise quite passionate.
Cho knelt up, seized Ireen's slim ankles with thumbs and index fingers, to shift them farther upward, her other fingers resting on Harry's buttocks. And suddenly it felt as though the sensations of these two entwined bodies were duplicated in herself - her pussy rippling like from his cock moving inside her own tunnel. Only this appeal seemed lost. What Cho could feel and see was a leisurely canter, rather than the feverish gallopping down the last lane. And every movement was accompanied by Ireen's groaning, which sounded a bit desperate from overstimulation, otherwise quite passionate.
Cho knelt up, seized Ireen's slim ankles with thumbs and index fingers, to shift them farther upward, her other fingers resting on Harry's skin. And suddenly it felt as though the sensations of these two entwined bodies were duplicated in herself - a rippling inside her, a sensoric hallucination indiscernible from reality.
Her husband and his tricks ... He was sending his own waves of ecstasy into herself, or most of them - that much she noticed before drowning in a fire that was burning her to ashes, unaware of her nails digging into the flesh of ankles and buttocks, when the flames roared up to peak level, to shrink in size and heat before another breeze started blowing into them, sending sparks everywhere.
She held tight, having lost the knowledge how to let go.