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 05 - Profiles

Chapter Summary:
Breakfast at Beauxbatons gives Sandra an opportunity to watch how a Veela can handle boys. Her own efforts in finding out more about a member of the Pouilly family yield more data while no conclusions yet.

05 - Profiles

Sandra was a bit earlier up this morning. She would be in time when fetching Héloise and just right for finding breakfast seats in Beauxbatons. In addition to the seats, they'd find certain neighbors, Sandra felt sure about that. Being early enough to avoid Héloise's complaints was just a spin-off, though. The main reasons for waking early were yesterday's events in the Potter castle.

To some degree, it was simple curiosity. Death, what was this? Not death coming to old people, after a lifespan one could be content with, no, sudden death. It held some fascination.

It would be a major topic in Sandra's next discussion with the High Priestess, if possible. Or would this mean asking the blind for colours? After all, Aram'chee's state implied that death wasn't an issue, not for her.

It wasn't true. The topic would be sudden death, something the High Priestess was fully aware of and had caused by herself at occasions. The sub-topic would be not reaching an expected age, to which Aram'chee could be considered an expert from the opposite angle, being older than any living person - in one sense, while still waiting for her own time of growing old in freedom.

In a way, Tony had been old, from Sandra's perspective. Older than her parents, at least. Only he hadn't behaved old, quite the opposite. He'd been able to behave more boyish than her own father, so much for sure.

For a moment, Sandra tried to imagine Harry being boyish. She couldn't. He was young, compared to parents of other children her age, she was fully aware of that, but ... there was something in his usual manner which placed him closer to Aram'chee than to anyone else.

She didn't mean adult, that would be something different. Sandra's mother appeared more adult, often enough, particularly so when worrying about things, while Harry didn't mind when Sandra and Gabe stormed forward in a way that seemed careless, at least according to Cho's remarks. So maybe her father was childlike, while not boyish. And definitely not childish, although Sandra's own experience with infantile behaviour was extremely limited.

Maybe with the exception of Héloise, lately.

Not seeing Tony again - Sandra didn't know what it meant. An unclear feeling of a loss still to be encountered, that was the most accurate description of what she felt. More than anything else, Tony had been her father's aikido partner, and she had watched them umpteen times. He had treated her with friendliness and also with respect, fully aware of her power and her destiny, but sometimes - sometimes he would have said, "Know what? Let's do as if you were just an ordinary six-year-old." Or eight, or nine. And then he would have treated her with ice cones, or a cart ride, something like that.

One day, she had confessed to her father, "It's funny with him. He really can play it, like I'm really that girl, and then he goes, like, 'What are you going to do when you're big and have titties,' and then he laughs so much, the other people are looking at us, and then I have to laugh too."

Harry had said, "Of course he can. He's a movie director; he can make people do all things that are inside them. And somewhere inside yourself, there is just that little girl, and he tickles it and makes her show."

Sandra remembered her father's face at this occasion. Pleased, yes, but something else too - as if he was yearning to be treated the same way, that someone would tickle the small boy in him and make him show.

And now Tony would tickle no one ever again, a thought still quite unfathomable.

Coming into the kitchen, Sandra found her mother - and Gabriel, who'd been awake still earlier than herself, who right at this moment was declaring he'd be back as quickly as possible, to play his flute for Ireen, and for Tanitha.

"That's a very good idea," said Cho, "maybe down at the beach - and you know, you can play as sadly as you like, because if she starts crying, that's just good for her."

Gabriel digested this. "Did she cry yesterday?"

"Not at first," was the answer, "but after a while, yes." A faint smile was playing in her mother's face.

There was another concern on Sandra's mind. "Mummy, can we tell the Weasleys?"

"Why, yes, sure - but maybe not with other people around. When the newspapers are going to report the story, I'm pretty sure the name Potter will be mentioned if they list Tony's most successful movies, which they'll do. So, connecting yourself with his widow in public isn't the best idea."

She'd never guessed. Only this wasn't a wise reply to her mother, not in the morning and, at closer inspection, not in the evening either. But Sandra knew already that Héloise would make trouble in this regard.

Not appearing under her own name had been a stupid idea. But this remark wasn't suitable either, because most likely her mother would retort something about Beauxbatons altogether being a stupid idea, and Sandra could do without that, quite well actually, thank you very much.

She looked at Gabriel. "That's not your problem, but let's wait with the news till we're in school."

"Then Fleur will ask us why we didn't tell her instantly."

Now that was the least of Sandra's worries, and besides, Fleur would ask all right but only her brother, which meant for him this prospect had some weight. Still, there was a solution.

"Okay - you wait till Hély and I are gone, then you can tell."

Gabriel nodded, looking satisfied that his sister had solved this problem so quickly and efficiently.

While their mother - there was a look in her face, like after hearing something worth to be examined further. Although Sandra had tried to sound as casual as possible. But Cho's ears were really sharp - astonishingly so for someone with such a limited sensoric system.

It only confirmed the old wisdom both her father and Aram'chee were telling her often enough - powerful magic was just one way, other people got along with alternative techniques.

Under different circumstances, Sandra would have felt pride of her mother's sharp senses, but with the current state of things, it was a bit bothering. Because now seemed a bad time to come with the news about some member of the Pouilly family.

They apparated to the Weasley house. Héloise looked pleased, even managed to avoid a remark whether Sandra had fallen out of bed, and moments later they could sit down in the Beauxbatons hall.

And guess what? They'd hardly started eating when the opposite seats filled with two other figures, known as Benoît and Frédéric.

Héloise greeted them with a smile, giving Sandra a lesson in the fine art of letting boys dangling low. First, because her smile - if there was any difference at all - seemed friendlier toward Frédéric. Second, because she continued the conversation she'd started, coming in short sentences between bites.

Although it was more of a monologue. Although, somehow, it hadn't started at all, at least not before the boys' arrival.

Then it dawned on Sandra. Héloise was talking about music, and how Michel had told her about xylophones and vibraphones, and what she thought about it, that this was a great idea - and while this might have been a perfectly natural topic, of course her main goal was to show off.

And Benoît caught it, with sinker and all. "You're a musician?"

"I play music, if that's what you mean."

Héloise's voice sounded somewhat dismissive, quite as though there was little sense in discussing such superior matters with him. Sandra had a moment to muse about how much this might be closer to the truth than her friend would be willing to agree.

At any rate, Benoît took it as an invitation. "What do you play? Guitar?"

He was hit by a very contemptuous glance. At the same time, Sandra felt something like a plea in her mind, taking her a bit by surprise, maybe because her own thoughts had lingered on something else, on a picture of Gabriel waiting to come home again, to play a lone flute at a beach. But then she caught the idea, gladly accepting the role of a herold for her friend's shine and glory.

"She plays a harp. A Goblin harp."

"Goblin, huh?"

Benoît seemed desperate to find a sensible remark, while suddenly Frédéric looked very attentive.

"It's a Felison," continued Sandra. "Know what that means? There are just six of them, and you can't own such an instrument, you can only have it for playing, and when you're old, you have to find another player to receive your harp. Héloise got her own when she was three - from her godfather, who is a Goblin pretty high in the ranks."

Her friend's beaming kept mostly hidden - to the outside, that was, while not to Sandra's senses.

Frédéric asked, "And the other guy you mentioned, what's his instrument?"

"You mean Gabriel?" Héloise had taken over quickly. "Flute, mostly. By the way, he's Sandra's brother, so it's of course a Chinese bamboo flute."

"This must sound great," said Frédéric. "A harp and a flute ..."

Benoît glanced at him, then back at Héloise. "Sounds pretty weird to me. Why don't you try something serious? To play in a band, you'd be better off with more modern stuff - guitar, keyboard, drums, that's what you'd need to hit the charts."

"You're the expert, eh?" Héloise's voice showed more teasing than detest. "And besides - Gabriel can play keyboards too, and for drums, Michel, that's my own brother, he has Goblin war drums - and who said we'd be interested in playing for an audience?"

Benoît looked flabbergasted. "Not? But then, what's the sense in playing music at all?"

Héloise shot a glance of mock desperation to her friend, which made Sandra suppress a grin, and a considerably more appreciating look to Frédéric, which seemed astonishingly helpful to lose that grin instantly.

Looking at Benoît again, Héloise said, "There is - but what's the sense in telling you?"

Frédéric laughed. "There is, Héloise - he's an open mind, even though it doesn't look that way, sometimes." He pushed his friend's shoulder. "Benoît didn't have the same advantages as some other people" - Frédéric looked at Héloise, then at Sandra - "like you two, or your younger brothers - "

Sandra tensed instantly. "What makes you think they're younger?"

"But - " Frédéric stopped, flushed, then hurried on after a second, "Well, if they'd been older, they'd be here at Beauxbatons, wouldn't they? But they're not, so they must be younger."

Seeing two thoughtful faces stare at him, he added, "Yeah, maybe it sounds crazy, normally you'd expect music players to be older, but ..." He looked at Sandra. "Mozart played the piano at the age of four, right? And you said Héloise got that harp when she was three."

His arguments seemed flawless, well concluded, in a way - just what you'd expect from a Pouilly, famous for their minds nothing short of brilliant. But then, it might as well have been sure knowledge, to be hidden behind convincing arguments that were found in a fraction of a second.

* * *

Ramon Garcia, chief executive officer of Groucho Biochemicals, sat down at the breakfast table and reached for his cup with steaming coffee. Basically, he was still half asleep, waiting for the moment when the better half of this cup would burn him awake, so he could have a look into the morning newspaper.

Then he would grab a piece of this French bread, and while topping it with butter and confiture, he would ask his wife Marie-Christine why she was looking so tense.

Oh yes, he'd noticed her face - only they had learned to do things in order, at these first serious minutes of a new day. It had been her own advice, after several less successful exchanges of remarks and complaints.

Actually, having breakfast altogether had been her advice, if this was the proper term, because it had come with quite some pressure before Ramon finally agreed to spending these minutes in an orderly fashion and treating his body with some food, that early in the morning.

When Marie-Christine came with this suggestion for the first time, shortly after she had started playing housewife rather than on some movie set, Ramon had just laughed. "Forget it, honey - I've been a cop for too long. Cops have breakfast around eleven, with a doughnut and a styrofoam in the car - except these days it's my desk or a conference room."

"Maybe you've been a cop for too long, but that's past." Marie-Christine looked very determined. "And now you're going to face your fifties, and I have to keep my men in shape."

At that time, she had been breastfeeding Carlos, which was good for a remark at that occasion and several times later, but Ramon had settled to watching the spectacle - and eat, because he wasn't allowed to do what he would have liked better.

It had stuck, even after her blouse kept closed at the breakfast table, and of course Marie-Christine was right, Ramon had noticed the difference in his morning hours' mood already by himself, although scoring only second place - Laila, his assistant, had been first.

After a while, he had started enjoying it. Marie-Christine would have preferred him eat cheese or sausage instead of this jelly, but Ramon just had a sweet tooth, hadn't he, and - well, her own croissants weren't exactly the best arguments to work with in this matter.

Carlos, now at the age of five, shared his father's preference, and Ramon couldn't help thinking the boy's taste was the true reason why these sweets weren't banned from the breakfast table. Although - blackberry jam, or cherry, wasn't as sweet as what he'd found in these jars some time ago ... Still, the taste was delicious.

Esmeralda, in contrast, was a sausage freak. Well, little surprise that, considering her past. Esmeralda's past had taken place somewhere in Mexico, in some village with the poorest of the poor, with meat of any kind almost unknown as food, be it breakfast or supper.

When Esmeralda was three, her parents joined a group of other desperate people who planned an illegal immigration at night. They came past the border but not much further. The truck which carried them contained more than people - drugs, for example. A shooting started, and at the end, both her parents were dead.

Ramon had read about the accident in the newspaper. A drug shooting and a few Mexicans didn't make headlines, while an orphan girl of three made a good picture. Seeing that photo, eyes too big in a thin face, had touched a spot in him.

Three years ... As old as their own son, who was likely to remain a single child, after a difficult birth and what the doctor had told them afterwards. Ramon had placed the paper in front of Marie-Christine. "Seen that?"

"Yes." Her eyes, widening, had locked with his own.

"So what do you think?"

It had taken no efforts at all to convince Marie-Christine, little more to get things going - after all, who would be interested in a dirty three-year-old not speaking a word of English?

They had been interested. They had fetched her from the orphanage, and Carlos himself had became the one for breaking the barriers of mistrust. Halfway bilingual before - English and French - their son had traded language with his adopted sister, Spanish for English. By now, Esmeralda was truly bilingual while Carlos could balance her skill with one language fully mastered and two others halfway through. And the challenge was still up: Esmeralda didn't like being put out when Carlos and Marie-Christine would exchange remarks in French, and did what she could in closing the gap.

Today's headlines had to do with another kidnapping - a failed one, although with some casualties. For a moment, Ramon had a very unpleasant thought. Were they famous or well-known enough to count as a possible target? Not he himself, for all he knew, while Marie-Christine - although, her last movie dated years back, and now her family name was Garcia rather than Théroux ...

Then the thought was pushed aside because Ramon's eyes fell onto some names in the underlines. He inhaled sharply and let the newspaper fall down. Looking at his wife, he knew the reason for the strained expression in her face.

"So you read it already, didn't you?"


"And ..." Ramon studied the article again. "He managed to send the girl off, and that's why they killed him." His lips thinned. "A movie director, at his age - my God, why didn't he - "

"You know why!" Marie-Christine flared at him.

"Yeah, sure - only, he still could be alive, the girl would be back in a day or two ... And the two cops still had their life."

"That's what you'd do?" Marie-Christine's glance was almost hostile.

Ramon kept silent for a moment. "Dunno ... What you can hear is a cop talking, not a father - play along, don't take chances, 'specially not if there isn't a chance at all. Their pattern is known by now ..."

After another moment's silence, he asked, "You didn't call him already, did you?"

"You mean 'arry? No, it'd feel so - so pushy, somehow, like people who can't get their eyes off an accident. Maybe tomorrow."

"And Ireen?"

"Neither, and for the same reason, or still more so. Although" - Marie-Christine's face looked softer now - "I think I know where to find her, and I guess she won't be back for a while - not before they're caught."

Ramon knew what she meant. An underemployed super wizard's friend had been killed, while it just so happened this wizard's wife was the godmother of the girl they'd failed to kidnap. Cho would be in a hell of a mood, and for good reason.

Ramon kept his voice neutral. "That might take time."

"Doesn't matter." Marie-Christine shrugged. "Last time it took him - how long? Three years? Seven? Seventeen, depending on how you'd count." She looked at her husband. "It's not that he feels in charge of every crime in the world - it's a matter of friendship and obligation. He and Cho - they value that pretty high, almost incredibly so - "

Ramon flushed. "Who are you telling that?"

Yourself, said her eyes, yourself who had been caught by Cho, probably a few weeks before blowing his head off with his own service revolver, to be hired as the Biochemicals CEO, and for what? For himself too, yes, but mostly for the benefit of Marie-Christine.

Ramon looked into the newspaper once more. "A Lieutenant Seeger's in charge - I wonder whether I should call him."

"What for?" Marie-Christine looked alarmed.

"Just to give him a fair warning who's he dealing with - at his friendly side, I mean." Ramon grinned thinly. "Did you think I'd feel called to arms? Well, I've got my own kind of delicate operation."

If this wasn't an understatement, then he wouldn't know. Two years from now, the world was in for a real surprise - when people would become aware how many of their children had magical power. There was already some rumour every now and then, some six-year-old or another showing strange capabilities. Sooner or later, someone would do a bit of research and would come up with astounding results.

Although - statistics and extrapolation were just another kind of magical art, untrustworthy in the eyes of everyone recoiling from the necessary consequences, when assuming these numbers were true. It had been like that for decades with ecological statistics - even now, with every country's face hit squarely by the weather, from spring to autumn, the facts were denied vigorously, and most of all from this country, supposedly God's own.

"I'm going to call Cho anyway," Ramon said. "If you want - I can ask Laila to check around, whether in Tony's place ..."

He faltered for an instant - it was no longer Tony's place, was Ireen's now.

"... or in the headquarters, or maybe nearby."

Today, the remark didn't raise a smile. Laila's feelings for the people in the Carron Lough castle were a public secret, maybe excluding just the snake, Nagini, but even that wasn't sure. Only this occasion was too sorrowful.

Marie-Christine watched her husband's face. "Aren't you tempted at all to check the place by yourself? Or have a word with the investigation team?"

"Oh no, no thanks - been there, seen that. I'm done with it, honey, believe me - and besides, for them, I'd be as useful as another hole in the head."

Marie-Christine made a face of disgust, and only then Ramon realized how distasteful this particular remark had been. Well, yes, except cop's language died harder than cop's habit.

And maybe cop's instincts died hardest. Sitting and chewing, Ramon had a bad feeling about this case - the last bullet hadn't flown yet, and everybody close to the scene could become a target - without even realizing, which was the nasty part of such a position.

* * *

Harry came out from his apparation in the garden, a bit farther off the house than the previous day. It was a kind of precaution, should the police still be around. But as expected, the place looked empty.

Walking to the house, his glance fell on the magnificent pool. This had been the place of many joyful meetings, with children splashing through the water - and Nagini too, serving as a water scooter first for Sandra and later for Gabriel. And Tony ... he hadn't been in swimming much, had used the pool mostly as an open air stage for watching bikini figures, having fun in playing the role of the moviemaker for whom casting was an issue to be discussed on a large bed.

Which he wasn't, without being too narrow-minded to discuss some things in a large bed, even with starlets.

Until Ireen appeared, that was. Afterwards, the pool had been used mostly by Tony's numerous guests, with Potters and Weasleys contributing to their number considerably. Some starlet or other could still be found there, in a way for the same reason as before, only that now well-formed legs weren't enough to get an invitation.

Because Ireen wasn't narrow-minded either and had a strong sense for nice decorations.

She hadn't been narrow-minded yesterday. In the afterglow of their lovemaking, Ireen had found the mood for some tenderness, and finally had been relaxed enough to weep heartbreakingly - which was a relief, because now they could leave her alone.

Harry reached the entrance and found it sealed by the police. Well, he'd checked it only for the sake of completeness, not really expecting anything new.

He apparated inside. There was fingerprint powder everywhere, nothing remarkable else. He got his phony out and called Ireen, to be directed by her to some drawers and cabinets until he had collected all items she wanted at hand in the castle and had missed to gather yesterday.

Then Harry became aware that there was still room for new developments of Groucho Transport & Security, because what he'd liked to use now was a transporter key to send this bag home. He intended to visit the detective lieutenant, but didn't want to appear with a bag; on the other hand, as short a time his jumping back home would have taken, there was a psychological barrier. Evolution hadn't foreseen magic, as it seemed, or the human mind still lacked a bit of adjustment.

But then, as an ex-Muggle by the name of Laila used to quote, evolution hadn't foreseen jet pilots flying turns of six g. Only this argument seemed proof that magic was something artificial ... in contrast to a mind evil enough for kidnapping two-year-olds, kill their parents, and cops too.

Harry dropped the bag in the entrance hall, then apparated downtown, and walked the few steps to the building in which the detective would be found - hopefully.

Yes, Lieutenant Seeger was there, however in a meeting, and if the visitor could leave his phone number ...

Harry decided to leave himself. This wasn't exactly to the satisfaction of the desk lady. Worse, wherever he tried to fade into the furniture, he was sitting in someone's way. So he solved the problem by sitting down in Seeger's office - after having enough common sense not to ask for permit.

Through the glass walls, Harry could watch how the desk lady was glancing over every two minutes.

He could also watch how the detective entered the hall, how he was stopped by her, listening, looking up, then coming over and through the door.

"Mr Potter." The man seemed to fight for some politeness in his voice. "You've picked a bad time for your visit - I'd rather we'd fix another time for our conversation - maybe this evening, although ..."

What Harry felt was a slight anger about finding himself here in this office, little interest in talking with him now, then exhaustion, frustration - and something in addition which he considered promising.

"Lieutenant Seeger, sorry to bother you so unannounced. I'd like to balance that, and in order not to waste time - can I treat you with a late lunch?"

"Lunch?" To Harry's small surprise, the thought seemed to find appeal, then the detective checked the large clock at the wall. "Fat chance at this time of the day, and besides, it just takes too long till we've found a place, and a parking lot - "

"Then let's speed up things a bit." Harry touched the triangular wood on the desk, which showed the lieutenant's rank and name, and murmured something. "Okay - would you please put your hand here?"

"And then?"

"Then you'll find yourself at the entrance of a restaurant, and myself too."

The look from the widening eyes didn't express belief, more a response to some challenge. The man's arm stretched, and his hand came down onto the wood. Into the soft pop, Harry followed.

He came out in front of Luiz Pereira's restaurant, a gasping detective at his side. Harry said, "Is this fine with you? Then let's find a seat."

About to enter the restaurant, he was stopped by Seeger's voice. "Wait a sec - what if someone else touches that sign? I mean, I never saw it happen, but you know, things always pick the worst moment - "

"It was a one-timer - your touch neutralized the power."

"A one-timer!" The lieutenant clapped his forehead. "Foolish me - why didn't I notice?"

They were welcomed by a middle-aged woman who presented first a very polite smile, then a real one when she recognized Harry. "Oh - Mr Potter, what a pleasent surprise!" Next moment, her face turned solemn. "I was so sorry to hear the news about Mr Chee. It's a real loss."

Harry made a small bow. "Yes it is, Senora Pereira - thank you for your sympathy; I'll tell Ireen. By the way, this is Lieutenant Seeger, he's the investigating officer in this case."

The woman showed another smile. "Nice to meet you, Lieutenant." Then she guided them to a table in a corner.

The detective glanced around. "Pereira, huh?"

"Our usual place," said Harry. "This is truly neutral territory, as you'll certainly agree ..."

Luiz Pereira's career as a successful restaurant owner had started after his less successful time in circles for which members of the LAPD were most unwelcome. Ramon Garcia had played a role in the transit; he was also the one who introduced Harry and his friends. During the past years, Luiz had established a reputation as someone offering excellent food, quiet tables for some negotiations, and strict neutrality to the various groups - counting the police as just another group in his clientele. All this was combined with prices high enough to keep off the lower ranks.

"... but I have to admit, Luiz isn't entirely neutral to myself."

"How's that?"

Before Harry could answer, a man approached them with a tablet of drinks. He deposited two glasses at the table, then looked at Harry. "Mr Potter, my condolences for the loss of your friend, and please express them also toward Mrs Chee."

Harry stood up and shook the man's hand. "Thank you, Senor Pereira, and I certainly will." He introduced the host with his new guest.

Then Luiz asked, "As always, Mr Potter?"

"Yes, please."

When they were alone again, Harry turned to the lieutenant. "It means, we leave it to Luiz which courses to select. It's kind of a game - he's supposed to go for the most expensive ones. But these drinks are on the house." Harry raised his glass. "To a good teamwork, lieutenant."

"Teamwork ..." For a moment, the detective seemed reluctant, then he followed Harry's example. "Why not, that's still subject to interpretation - cheers, Mr Potter."

Setting down his glass, he said, "Let me put it straight - for this invitation, you get my time and my comments. Anything else is an open issue."

"That's agreed, Lieutenant Seeger. And to keep it straight from my side too - I'd really like to team up, because otherwise, I'd have to work alone."

"Then ..." The detective tempered himself. "I haven't found the time yet to complete my picture of your person, Mr Potter. So, if you don't mind - what's your relation with our host? I had the feeling you're a bit more to him than just a regular."

"That's right. One reason is Ramon Garcia - he's a friend of mine and also a friend of Luiz. They helped each other to keep at the dry side of the street, so to speak."

The lieutenant nodded. "Garcia, yes - I looked that name up this morning, so I can follow your drift. But he dried himself; quitting the service came afterwards - or so I heard."

"That's correct. It was something like, ex-cop sees ex-gangster every once in a while, to remind each other. Anyway, some time after Luiz had started his business here and was working hard to establish his reputation as neutral ground, clean to all sides, he ran into a problem. And he asked Ramon for advice."

They were interrupted by a waitress who served plates with salad and seafood.

The lieutenant examined his plate. "That looks just what the doctor had in mind. So he had a problem, huh? What kind?"

"Let's say, his neutrality was at risk. Some people had started coming with business cases, leaving without, and some people were telling Luiz his list of insurance policies was a bit incomplete."

The detective grinned between bites. "That's unavoidable in this business, isn't it?"

"Well, yes and no." Harry smiled back. "Ramon came to me, and we asked Luiz to arrange a meeting, here in his restaurant. Well, to make it short, so we can come to our own topic - we could convince the other side that Luiz' protection was very complete, and we agreed that, from then on, this place would be restricted to table conversations."

"Just so, huh?" The lieutenant's glance seemed more expectant than incredulous.

"Almost. I was a bit late that evening. I had checked the protection of another building and came just in time to realize it wasn't as good as expected, and to witness a limited but otherwise impressive damage." Harry showed a light smile. "I reported my findings, and - well, that was that."

Lieutenant Seeger had some fun for a moment, then grew serious again. "Nice story, Mr Potter, only it's not particularly helpful in the matter at hand." He made a gesture as if to stop a protest. "Don't get me wrong - I'm not objecting your qualities as an - er, witness, but there's little hope to come any further by renewing your old contacts."

Harry remembered the lieutenant's remarks from the day before. "Yesterday, you said something in that direction, something about amateurs. Only - the way this crime was committed doesn't strike me as amateurs' work."

"What do you know about kidnapping, Mr Potter?"

The question was asked in a neutral tone, not dismissive at all. Maybe it was Seeger's method to prepare for a little monologue, or maybe it was just to gain a bit more time for emptying his dish - but then, wasn't this a preparation as well? At any rate, Harry took a moment before answering - his own experiences were limited, in a way, otherwise quite detailed.

"It's a technique to make someone doing something, and basically it's as simple as efficient."

"Really?" The detective examined Harry's face. "This isn't your first kidnapping, right?"

Harry counted with his fingers while scanning his memory. "I saw five. This one's the sixth."

A short widening of the detective's eyes gave the only sign of his surprise. "And how often did the kidnappers achieve their goal?"


"And still you call it an efficient technique?"

Harry thought for a moment. "Yes, provided the kidnappers can keep anonymous. The cases I mentioned were different because they were known. Their common mistake was always the same: they saw themselves in a strong position, like in the story about this restaurant."

A sigh. "Mr Potter, you seem the wrong person to be outmanoeuvered by statistics. Your own numbers don't fit any pattern, which doesn't mean I'd doubt them. But let me make a last try. How often have there been casualties?"

"Not counting the kidnapper himself?"

Lieutenant Seeger rolled his eyes. "I should have known. No."

"Then this is the first time."

"Well ... Now let me forget what I just heard, for my own peace of mind and because this food here's just too good, and come to my own view of things, from a professional - er, I mean, from a cop's perspective." The detective stopped because the waitress arrived with the next course, and also because of Harry's short grin.

Harry said, "I can bring you in touch with a wizard police chief in England, who knows about all these cases - and maybe we should devote our next minutes to our lunch, before Luiz takes us for barbarians."

They both concentrated on their steaks. Between bites, the detective asked, "This police chief, I take it he's as neutral to you as Mr Pereira here, isn't he?"

"Well" - Harry smiled - "he's been the victim in one of these cases."

"Yeah, of course." Then the lieutenant saved his breath for eating, managing considerably faster than Harry.

With his dish empty, he started, "Okay, so why's kidnapping an amateur crime? I want to discuss only the cases where money's the goal, first because that's the motive in the current case, and also because if it's done for other reasons, all that I'm going to say might be wrong. Now let's look at it from the perspective of the organized crime - and for them, kidnapping's a nightmare."

Seeing Harry's attention, the detective continued, "To see what I mean, look at their standard sources of income. The protection racket" - he grinned - "with some notable exception, okay, but otherwise it works. Then drugs, and finally gambling in all variations, including sports with all kinds of animals - dogs, horses, humans. That's the standard business."

Harry asked, "And the rest - are the others all unorganized?"

"Mostly, yes. Weapons - either it's the state itself, or some international dealers - that's a different league - or a small street dealer. Prostitution - small entrepreneurs, and they have to pay hefty protection fees. And robbery, or theft - even if it's big style, usually these are independents, going for an occasion. The ideal racket works like a tax system, Mr Potter - smoothly, noiselessly, nobody getting hurt, nobody bleeding so much he'd start some trouble, that's how they like it."

The detective leaned back and lit a cigarette, now that Harry had finished his own dish.

"Kidnapping is too much trouble. Everybody hates a kidnapper. Almost always, a reward is offered which turns every lowlife into a spy. You can get away with murder, but a case of kidnapping is never closed. The money transfer is always the riskiest part, and letting the victim alive is even riskier, somehow, maybe except for babies. That's why in most kidnappings, the victim is killed instantly."

Harry said, "So this is the standard profile, except it doesn't fit in the recent cases, right?"

"Exactly. But still, it's not the work of our usual clientele."

"What makes you so sure?"

The lieutenant grimaced. "Cops don't fight crime in general. They fight the ugly crime, the extraordinary crime, and - every now and then - the cases that are upsetting our righteous citizens. But when there's a serial crime, like now, without the cops getting results, the press starts giving them pressure. They don't like it, and they start passing the pressure further. And that's bad for the business."

Harry nodded. "Then what's your profile of these kidnappers?"

"They - " The detective stopped himself and glanced over. "What are you going to do with this information, Mr Potter?"

"Exactly what I told you, Lieutenant Seeger - I'll use it as a member in a team or I'll use it for myself, if that's all I can do." Harry returned the detective's stare calmly, waiting while the other man was apparently fighting for a decision.

"Well, Mr Potter, I wasn't entirely honest when I said my picture of you is still incomplete. I mean - it's totally correct, only I omitted to confess that I milked all sources I could find this morning. There weren't that many, and the result was strangely incomplete." The detective's stare was humourless now. "I dropped you from my list of suspects, that's all I could manage. So I thought, why not accept your cooperation, and maybe let you read all the case files for starters. But going that way, it might not be helpful to present my own conclusions first - wouldn't it spoil the chance of you finding something I overlooked?"

"You think so?" Harry pondered the idea, then shook his head. "I'm no criminal expert, I'm not used to see the relevance of facts and details. What I have in mind is looking for signs of wizard work. I think I can find some - at least that's my hope. Otherwise, my contribution should be the magical side, and approaches that are beyond the scope of a police machinery."

"Such as?"

"I don't know yet." Harry shrugged. "Maybe I meant, beyond the scope of Muggle police."

The detective kept silent for a moment, then inhaled deeply. "All right, then. It's a gang of three people at the minimum, eight at the most. They select public figures with children, mostly in the show business, and this is the right place for that. Their modus operandi shows a strong sense of - well, marketing's the only term that fits, because they present themselves as a kind of reliable contract partner - the children are returned unhurt, unmolested, apparently treated well, while on the other hand, they respond to every attempt of catching them with extreme brutality. Until yesterday, they almost had reached something like a good press - the tenor was, be a good parent, keep the police out, pay your million or two, and nobody's getting hurt."

"And now?"

"Your friend has blown their reputation." Lieutenant Seeger looked grim. "A father saves his daughter from kidnapping and is killed for that - they failed for the first time, and suddenly they're no longer the Robin Hoods of California, just a bunch of bloody killers and child thieves."

"Then who are they?"

The detective raised his arms in a helpless gesture. "Just a gang, outside the established circles. They found a niche market. They're careful not step on bigger feet, and they're careful not to stir attention." His voice turned growling. "As if that'd be difficult here."

Here - that was the valley, probably the largest congregation of millionaires, excentric people, citizens used to mind their own business. Even so, Harry had more questions.

"What about the money? Where do they keep it, bank accounts? And something else - do you think they live here? Because in this case, we have a limited number of suspects."

"Limited?" The lieutenant looked uncomprehending.

"Yes - the wizards with a residence somewhere between Ventura and Santa Ana."

The answer was a harsh laugh. "Just twenty-five million people, maybe thirty ... How many of them are wizards, Mr Potter?"

"Maybe twenty-five thousand, or thirty, or fifteen - whatever, it's a limited number."

"That'd be promising - if we had a list, but we haven't." Lieutenant Seeger rose. "I have to use the men's, and afterwards I need to go back into my office. Thank you for this invitation, Mr Potter - all I can offer in exchange is an invitation to a quiet room with a large pile of files, because they're not supposed to leave the building."

Harry nodded. "Now's a good time for that. And please wait for me there - you know, a restroom's a good place for a portkey jump, with all these handles and bars."