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 07 - Setting the Goal

Chapter Summary:
Harry gathers the information as well as the forces to do the investigation in the kidnapping cases. And the centre force is Paul Sillitoe - the same reseracher who once tracked down Voldemort.

07 - Setting the Goal

When Harry returned from Santa Monica, after having escorting Carl back into an early afternoon, Cho was still in her office. Taking into account the recent days, during which she had finished early, this was nothing unusual. Even so, Harry had to suppress an impulse to call her, or to make a one-minute jump visit to check whether everything was fine.

Probably this impulse was an effect from studying kidnapper crimes for hours. Cho would have been furious - or worse, she might look at him mockingly, and every day in weeks to come, she would drop remarks stating the obvious - in the morning, that she was about to enter the wild, dangerous plains of the Groucho headquarters, and in the evening, how glad she felt being back home in their cosy nest.

Harry could do without that. And besides, he had work of his own, the first part of which had to be done here in the castle.

He found Ireen in the family room. She was zapping idly through the TV channels. Flat TV, that was - spector TV still ran as a tiny plant, prospering only among sport freaks who considered the three-dimensional perspective superior for football, basketball, and other games. For news and talk shows, though, everybody seemed satisfied with the limited angle of a 2D camera zooming into some face.

He sat down. "Are you watching anything in particular?"

"No, we can talk." Ireen switched off the TV.

"Yes, you're right, I came to talk with you." Harry examined her, then realized there was a very simple way to find out more.

"How do you feel?"

"Well ..." Ireen closed her eyes. "It varies from one minute to the next." She opened them again, looked at him. "At least well enough to sleep alone."

"Will you find sleep?"

Ireen inspected her nails. "You mean - if not, I can come for a lullaby?"

"Kind of ..." Harry bent forward. "It's no use yet, Ireen - to lie awake and think how it was with him. And long walks, to get tired, aren't the best alternative either, for the same reason."

A fleeting smile ran over her face. "I've made more progress than you might expect in such a short time, mostly due to the day shift of the Potter intensive care unit." For a moment, Ireen showed a real smile. "It's incredible what your son can do with this small flute. He says it's not his music - he says he's just listening and turning into tunes what he gets from me."

"Yeah, that's of course totally different from our method."

About to nod, Ireen stopped and examined Harry's face. "You're making fun of me," she said, "but I guess you're right. Anyway, one thing at least's different - Gabriel gives me jobs to do. I got an interesting one, a while ago."

"Something about music?"

Now she looked more joyful. "Let's trade. You came for a specific reason, so first you tell me about what's on your mind, and then I tell you about this job."

Harry hesitated. "Mine isn't very pleasant. Are you sure this is the proper order?"

"Absolutely, because mine is."

"Well, then ..." He told Ireen what he needed, files and lists with all of Tony's contracts and contacts, and why. "I guess we can restrict the scope to the last two years, at least for the beginning."

"That means three movies, Harry. Your own's the oldest of them. Then there was The Sign in the Circle, about a year ago, and something quick and dirty for the video market - I don't even remember the title, that was a few months ago."

"The Sign in the Circle?" Harry remembered the title only vaguely. "What was it about?"

"Some mix of magic and myths and martial arts, 'Going with the fashion,' Tony called it. Remember Chinese Ghost Story? This movie established a trend, and Tony followed it. With demons and ghosts, and a woman that turns into a snake and back." Ireen smiled a bit. "Pretty boring, from your perspective, I'd say."

"Was it a success?"

"It paid off." Ireen sighed. "That reminds me - when Tony sold the rights for TV channels and the video market, he always made contracts so he'd participate in the revenue. That means, sooner or later I'll have to get in touch with what's going on there."

"What I'm going to do might be helpful in that regard - well, of course only for these three movies, but I'd assume the channels are the same as for the older ones." Harry looked at her expectantly. "Is there some kind of archive?"

Ireen nodded. "Actually, yes - and probably quite up-to-date, because some time ago, Tony became aware that the collection of his own movies was a mess, and he hired someone to put it in shape, with new recording media, DVD rather than these old tapes ..."

She swallowed. "He said, maybe she gives a damn, but if Tanitha ever wants to find out what her father did, then this archive should contain everything." Now Ireen steadied herself. "But these are just the recordings, Harry, and the scriptbooks, as far as he still had them - for contract files, you'll have to look in his office."

Harry became aware how little he knew about his late friend's daily work. "Where's this archive? And where's the office?"

The archive, as it turned out, was a small windowless room in the house which could be reached from the library. The office was somewhere downtown and represented the official residence of CHEE Inc., which had been Tony's business company, his own name artfully used as the acronym for Chee & Huang, Entertainment Enterprises.

Harry had seen this title more than once during his own excourses into the movie business. But only now he realized that it meant something more than Tony's family name.

"Who's Huang?"

"A ghost." Ireen made a wry face. "When Tony started his business, he used to meet investors under this title, and Huang supposedly was a sleeping partnership with some Hongkong big guy. You know, it simply meant that anyone who was interested in Tony's project wouldn't feel as if being the first to risk his money."

It was new for Harry; Tony never had bothered to tell him about these days. Strange how you learned surprising things about someone no longer alive. Dead people had nothing to hide.

Between movie projects, the office was run by a single secretary, a Mrs Carmino. It was a part-time job, four hours a day, and maybe not even that woman herself knew for sure where she would place these four hours tomorrow.

"All right then," said Harry. "I'm going to ask Paul to do the research part - Paul Sillitoe, he's the one who located Voldemort. I don't know anyone better in finding the real hints in a pile of names and numbers." Thoughtfully, he added, "Of course, the people from the other cases have to cooperate - with Tony's data alone, there's nothing we can learn."

"You think they will?"

"Why should they refuse?"

But Harry knew well that the question could also be asked the other way around - why should they agree? More to himself, he added, "With the actors alone, just using the information from the final credits of these movies, we can do a lot. And for specific questions, we'll have a detective as the third person in the team."

Ireen kept silent.

Harry had a fair idea why. "You don't really want to know who they are, right? Giving them names and faces somehow makes it still worse than it's now, isn't that so?"

Ireen looked surprised. "Yes, you're right - only I thought I was alone with this feeling."

"Well, not quite. You know, I'm not doing it for revenge - not any longer, I should say. Sure, yes, in the first minutes ... But with every hour passing, it's more obvious that revenge would make us suffer again."

Harry could see it in Ireen's face - she agreed with him, only she hadn't expected him to look at it this way.

"No, my main concern is to stop them. To make sure this particular threat is cleared, so you can return to California without fearing all the time they might try again." Harry smiled. "I didn't say you have to go, then, but you should have the option."

"I know, Harry. Your son told me already, and he felt sure to speak for the entire family in that matter."

Harry chuckled. "Took all his gifts to realize that, no doubt. Was this part of his negotiating?"

"What?" Ireen looked indignant. "Are you serious with that question?"

"Yes and no - " Harry searched for his words. "You should think Gabriel's a perfect mix of Potter and Chang, shouldn't you, except that so far he presents himself in a way almost unprecedented from both sides. Well, and sometimes it might be helpful to watch how he's acting toward other people - even at the risk of looking like a spy."

Ireen showed some amusement. "I'm not going into details, but let me tell you, I've heard enough in that negotiation to know I was talking with Cho's son. Aren't you interested to hear what kind of job I got?"

"Definitely so."

"You think you know already, but you don't know half of it." And then Ireen told him about Gabriel's planning. She finished, "I'm supposed to ask you and make it happen - is this enough Chang inheritance for your taste?"

Harry grinned broadly. "Japan, of all places. Well, Ireen, that's fine with me, only that talking with me has been the easy part; all that's left is to get a nod from Cho, and I think there's no one better suited than you for reaching this goal."

"Why? What's so special about Japan?"

"That's an old story, but as you know, there's nothing as precious as a well-used prejudice." Harry tried to imagine the map of Japan in his mind. "Osaka, huh? That's somewhere - well, far enough from that island." Seeing Ireen's blank look, he said, "You know that I had a seminar in Japan, as a student? Well, as it turned out, I came back with lessons taught by two teachers, and the other one was a woman. Is this background enough?"

"But ... then how ..." Ireen looked still more confused, and a bit flushed.

"You mean, how does that fit with us three together, and your Japanese roots?"

Ireen nodded, obviously grateful for Harry putting this particular thought into words.

"It would be wrong to call Cho a racist." He chuckled again. "You know how it works with these prejudices - present people always excluded." This half joke didn't help Ireen much, so Harry added, "If Cho has a saying, which means a saying in advance, everything's possible, if you know what I mean ..."

Yes, she knew, from personal experience.

"... while otherwise - the island where the seminar took place is covered with cedar trees, which is nothing unusual there, only it gives this place a very characteristic look, and smell. And now imagine what was Cho's comment when Sandy came back with her wand and it turned out to be cedarwood?"

Ireen looked incredulous. "And what if, by accident, Gabriel picks a xylophone that's made of cedarwood too?"

"What should be?" Harry shrugged. "She welcomes opportunities, as you might have noticed at some time or other ..."

He kept his expression casual, was more successful in that than Ireen.

"... and this would be just good for a remark or two, only that I'd be deeply surprised if she'd give them in Gabriel's presence."

Ireen nodded. "Certainly. Mothers and sons, that's just another level of harmony, compared to mothers and daughters."

"Maybe so." Harry grinned again. "Maybe another reason is - of course Sandy wanted to know what's so special about cedarwood. I don't think she found out yet, and maybe she's not asking that question herself any longer, but imagine the issue would be raised again - and this time, both children would start pressing."

"Say, Harry ..." Ireen's face was expressionless. "When I'm going to ask Cho, should I emphasize the distance between Osaka and that island?"

Harry's answer came as a reflex. "Only if she says no in first place - and only if nobody else is around."

But at least one person had to be around for that, Cho herself of course, and she did so quite late in the evening, done for the day, not in the best mood for educational matters worth more than a nod, which was why the question still was pending the next morning.

* * *

Paul Sillitoe, for the last two and a half years a regular editor of Magiscope, a weekly magazine with its offices in London, pressed the Off button on his desk-o-mate. Lost in his thoughts, he didn't notice how his call partner's data faded from the display.

He knew them by heart anyway.

As far as they went, that was - which didn't include the slightest hint why Harry Potter just had asked for a meeting, yesterday if possible, a request upon which Paul had responded by saying, "Give me half an hour, okay?"

Just time enough to rearrange today's agenda, as Paul had planned it before receiving this call. What to the outside might have looked like an act of courtesy was in fact simple journalistic greed. Harry with something urgent, that smelled of headlines. Heavily so. Probably not for the next issue, but headlines nonetheless, sooner or later.

As solid as this motive already felt, it was crowned with - or built upon - another concern of the long-running kind, except that recently it appeared more like running out, fading to a meaningless shadow of the past. This concern was Paul's relationship with Ginny.

Ginny Weasley, Harry's sister through adoption, Paul's girlfriend according to public knowledge, was keeping Paul on a leash too long to see the other end, be it fog or fine weather. Well, the picture was somehow inappropriate, the leash seemed there only from his perspective - for all Paul knew, Ginny might have dropped the handle weeks ago.

But she hadn't said so.

Over the years, Paul had learned to be careful with his calls. Ginny didn't take well to the slightest trace of pushiness and had hinted occasionally that she could do without being tracked down twice a week, had even stated it unmistakably once.

As if he didn't know where to find her. Shortly after Paul had signed with Magiscope, Ginny had started her own model agency also in London, with herself as her most important horse in the stable, at least in the beginning. A hard-working career woman and a writer and researcher devoted to his profession - they would meet as often as the moon hid the sun, if not for soul's sake, or simple need of the libidinous kind.

And these needs seemed grossly unbalanced between them, these days. Unless ...

Against knowing better, Paul hoped Harry might have more information. But if there was anyone Ginny would tell less - or later - than Paul himself, then her brother. Because - well, their own version of unbalanced feelings was even older.

Paul made another call and sent an email memo to delay his appointments until later in the day, then leaned back to prepare himself for the coming conversation. The first step in this process was figuring out Harry's reason for coming.

Or trying so. Paul wasn't aware of anything new in the Great Plot - the story waiting to throw its headlines for the last eight years, and the most likely candidate at first guess. But then, working at his own story, something about big-style corruption in the health and welfare business, Paul had paid little attention to the tickers from the news agencies.

Ticker was still the term, while for years already, these news arrived as electronic memos similar to mail. Paul fired his viewer up and started to scan backward.

Political meetings ... peace mission failed ... alarming weather statistics ... hurricane hits the Golf of Mexico ... sports news ... military aircraft crashed in Zimbabwe ... spectacular divorce filed in Nevada ... three casualties after shooting in - Paul stopped, his attention caught by the name Santa Monica, started reading, and found another name that ringed a bell - Tony Chee, movie director known for eastern movies western style.

Had to be that. His eyes in fast-forward, Paul scanned further backward one more day, not striking another hit. This done, he started his reader account for Magiscope's knowledge base and ran a search for Chee, Tony. After getting his results, his eyes were flying over movie titles when there was a knock at the door.

"Come in."

His visitor was Harry all right, presenting a face which revealed about as much as a fortune cookie, only less to the point.

"Hello, Harry, long no see." Paul shook hands. "I felt sorry to hear about your late friend, Tony Chee."

No reaction, aside from a little smile and a "Thank you." Damn Potter had scanned him already with more than eyes, one of the reasons why Paul would never meet him across a poker table.

Well, so what - Harry didn't play poker. Although he would do just fine, considering his opening right now.

"How are you doing, Paul? Don't you miss the daring freedom of the freelancer?"

For himself, Paul found a taste in poker evenings, that's why he kept his face steady - Harry wasn't wasting time at all, already preparing the ground for something that had to be a job offer. From somebody else, Paul might have expected to be asked for a favour, but Harry was a strong believer in a solid financial base for deals, leaving it to the other side to accept or to protest and say, no, it's for free.

"Not really," he said. "You know, earning a regular salary is a thrilling experience - you can concentrate on your real work. I'm still not tired of reading my pay slip at the end of the month, and feeling awe."

To some degree, it was the truth. But even so - Harry's face lacked the slight amusement you'd expect after such a half joke, and Paul felt as though having just figured out that his opponent was hiding a straight flush in front of an innocent face.

Just then, said opponent asked, "And how's Ginny?"

A minute before, the thought still had seemed embarrassing, to confess that Harry himself might know better. While now, with this exciting agenda, after he'd seen this small glitch in Harry's mimikry, Paul only cared for a visible reaction. "I wish I knew."

"Oh ..." Harry's look was sympathetic. "I wasn't aware, Paul - haven't seen her in a while either. That bad?"

"I hate to quote myself again, and maybe it wouldn't be entirely true. But to express it in simple words, I just don't know."

"Yeah, that's ..." Harry sighed. "I'd like to say, let me talk with her, only that's as helpful as curing a cold with a sunburn."

Paul could grin about that. "Yes, it is, isn't it? So then, tell me something new, Harry - or let me guess and show you what a journalist can do at short notice."

"I shouldn't cut your punch line" - Harry smiled apologetically - "not right after such a sad confession, but I can give you my answer already - what do you think why I'm here? I don't know anyone who's that quick in catching the essential details out of an insignificant mass of data."

Paul nodded. "Maybe except toward my own life, but that's quite a common habit. So it's about Tony Chee, right?"

"Yes. Are you aware of the other cases?"

"Not in detail."

"If you had them, you probably knew already. Two actors, a singer, an entertainer, and a director - Tony. I just found out that the kidnappers must be wizards. Let's take that as a given, while what comes now is guesswork. The kidnappers are insiders, some people in the show business, and they're somehow related to the parents in these five cases. I need someone going through the data of their movies, their events, their recordings - to find common factors, so a detective and I can check them out. That's the short version."

Yes, certainly so - and the long version would start with Paul's own first question, which at the same time would signal his agreement. For a task that didn't afford any delay, in contrast to his last serious research for Harry, in which he had located Voldemort. At that time, Paul had finished a short-term project first, since a few days more didn't mean anything after months and years of waiting. While now - he was a fix-contract employee of Magiscope, who had lost his taste in the business of a freelance facts digger.

But then, Paul's last project in Harry's order had brought him a small fortune and a first-class reputation, as well as the unwavering support of this wizard, who would give you nightmares, should you ever find yourself at the wrong side of the table ... despite the fact that they met hardly once a year. The same wizard, actually, who was to blame in first place for the terms between Ginny and Paul himself. To blame, mind, not to hold guilty. Or maybe in second place. Or in third ...

This wizard was sitting there, neutral face, after telling him he was the best and after making clear what the job was about. Not pleading, not in words nor with his eyes. Just laying out the facts, just waiting since then. The pressure felt almost unbearable.

I'm not a show business expert, Paul wanted to say. What he said instead was, "I'd need a show business expert."


Paul had expected to hear a name, of someone already waiting somewhere, pencil in one hand, phony in the other. Or maybe five of them. But next instant he realized that not hearing a name didn't mean this someone wasn't found yet.

"And a place where to work, and probably ..." Paul stopped, feeling sure he was checking off a list Harry knew already by heart, and recognizing that he was playing for time before nailing himself - while, somehow, at some moment in the recent seconds, he seemed to have taken his decision.

So he exhaled deeply. "All right, Harry. I'm your man."

Rather than looking pleased or thankful, Harry said, "From our side, there's nothing that'd conflict with this being the investigations for an ordinary report, to be published as soon as it suits you, and the magazine. Based on that - when can you start?"

Paul grinned wryly. "Give me another half hour - and a pair of ear protectors, for the talk with my editor-in-chief."

"Thank you, Paul, I appreciate that a lot." Harry wasn't smiling when he added, "I could be back in a minute with the protectors, so you might delay that conversation till then - at any rate, I thought I'd wait till you're done here."

"You would, won't you?" Paul looked wondering. "Where would you get them so quickly?"

"Sandy's earphones. Her taste of music and volume is such that even the walls of our castle aren't protection enough, that's why."

Paul chuckled. "Prepared for everything, no doubt. So please tell me, what are the next steps?"

"Your apartment, to pack a suitcase. From there to Tony's house, that's probably the best place to stay, provided it's no longer sealed - and if, I'll talk with Seeger - that's the detective lieutenant in charge. Then getting in touch with a Mrs. Carmino, Tony's secretary. Talking with her whether she feels competent enough to be your first-hand expert - and if not, asking her who else to contact ... Somewhere along the road, I'd like to introduce you with the lieutenant."

Very much as expected - Harry had the schedule ready, down to the last detail. The only topic not yet mentioned was the - well, the financial aspect. Paul still was searching for the proper words when Harry saved him the effort.

"Your salary, Paul - in euro or dollars, which is the same ... For the task itself, hundred grand - and another hundred, should your employer turn sour about this change and fire you."

Paul raised his hand to protest, to say this was highly unlikely, once his boss had thrown the inevitable tantrum.

"If you're successful, if we find them based on this approach and your results, you'll get a premium of a quarter of a million - from our side, that is - "

"That's too much, Harry."

"Let me finish - from our side, as I said, and then there's the offical reward from the police which is another quarter. At least, these were the numbers before they killed Tony - and if it's raised again, we'll raise equally." Harry looked piercing. "You know that I don't weigh my gratefulness in money, Paul, and I know you don't do the opposite - but I'm not going to be outnumbered by some slow-moving authorities, so don't tell me about too much."

Paul grinned. "Won't happen again. And since I've learned to trust your gut feelings, I might get prepared to feel rich."

"This you can do in Tony's house - it's a good place for that." Harry stood up. "I'll be back in half an hour - I don't think it would improve things with me hanging around here."

This was true. Even now, Paul felt the familiar greed, the temptation to ask questions no end, while he better got his things settled first.

At the door, Harry turned once more. "Besides, Paul - I think I'll do a small research project of my own - a very short one, I'd guess."

"Which one?" Although he knew already.

"Talking with Ginny. If it's hopeless, you deserve to know. Preferably from herself, but whichever way, it shouldn't be her style to let it hang like that."

Paul felt a fluttering in his stomach. "She'll be awfully happy about you mixing in this particular business of hers."

"She herself wasn't treated that way." Harry's face hinted no expression. "Which is to say - we shouldn't discuss how much mixing in is the proper term, should we?"

* * *

This day would bring something special. The class knew it already a few minutes into the first course, French, had registered this fact the way students in school learn about news since centuries - by noticing slight alterations in the teachers' behaviour. Nobody knew what it was, they only felt sure the day would not pass as expected.

They had to wait almost to the end of the second course, Math, before Madame Clairvaux told them they should wait after the break, because they'd be guided to a different room. When they asked what this was about, Madame Clairvaux just smiled and said, "If I'd tell you, I'd only spoil the fun. Use the break for some guesswork, if you want - afterwards, you'll wise up quickly enough."

Leaving the classroom, Sandra and Héloise looked at each other. When they realized that neither of them knew more, they shrugged almost simultaneously. They'd wait the few minutes, wouldn't they - and if they were dying of curiosity, they'd bite their tongues before admitting so. It was seriously uncool to say anything much different from, "Who cares - not me."

Outside, however, they were joined by two other students who didn't give a damn for cool. The first of them, known as Benoît, said, "Hi - do you know what's up?"

"What do you mean, what's up?" Héloise tried to look casual rather than surprised, which was difficult because apparently these boys knew more, which could only mean they were told more, which was a shame ...

"Didn't they tell you? After the break, the two parallel courses will work together - but first somebody will hold a speech."

And the second of them - Frédéric - said, "We're pretty sure about where this'll be ... There was some construction work in a side floor; they made one classroom out of two. But when we tried to have a look, they chased us off."

"So what?" said Héloise, as if their own course had purposefully refused to gain more information.

It didn't help. The two boys insisted on hearing what exactly Madame Clairvaux had told them. When Sandra, tired of this pretentious game, confessed, "Nothing - not even that our courses will be put together," they wasted no time in savouring their superior knowledge. This was a bit surprising, except that a moment later, it became obvious why - they had a more important issue to discuss.

Benoît said, "It's something new, Fresnel said. And not only today - the two courses will keep together in that for the next time, maybe all year long. So - er, we thought, er, we should sit together - if that's okay with you."

His glance hung at Héloise. Looking up, Sandra saw Frédéric's eyes rest on herself, and what she felt was anxiousness, hope, uncertainty, hope ...

Héloise seemed in her element. "Hmm ... well, I don't know. What's so good at sitting near you?"

Benoît had no answer ready.

Frédéric had. "We don't smell. That's more than some other boys can claim, believe me."

"That's an argument?" Héloise looked incredulous.

"Yes it is," replied Benoît, "if you ever were sitting close to them. But that's - er, I mean, that's not the only reason ..." His voice trailed off, came back an instant later. "Whatever it'll be - having Frédéric near you'sn't bad at all, he knows a lot."

And Benoît's face had gained confidence, totally ignoring the question how this could be an argument in his own favour, because for him the answer seemed obvious.

Sandra said, "It can't be anything new. We already know all our courses."

Frédéric nodded. "True. And if I'm not much mistaken - "

Héloise interrupted him. "Whatever - who said we want to sit with boys?"

Benoît looked flabbergasted. Frédéric's expression didn't change, although Sandra could feel that he wasn't buying Héloise's remark. So she decided to take the initiative.

"Save it, Hély - maybe Benoît doesn't know what to say, but he's not going to believe you were serious." Sandra turned to Frédéric. "I'm still not sure what to think of it, but there's just one method of finding out, right? So let's do it and see what happens."

"Yeah!" beamed Benoît. "That's the spirit." For an instant, waiting for Héloise's reaction, his face grew anxious again, but when the Veela girl didn't protest, his beaming returned.

Frédéric stared admiringly. "You two work together pretty well. But with Benoît and me it's similar, only we aren't up to your level yet. Anyway, I can imagine us four outperforming all the others."

"So, can you?" replied Héloise, but she looked quite pleased.

Then the break was over, and when the students of the two parallel courses were guided right to the room Frédéric had predicted, Benoît showed some of his qualities he had omitted to emphasize - like a bulldozer, he ploughed through the crowd, helped by his friend, the two girls in their slipstream, with the effect that they caught excellent places instantly.

Because this new room had tables for four students each, apparently structured to work in teams of that size, and Benoît had aimed for a table pretty close to a small stage in front, with good sight to what was happening there, however more to the side, out of the teacher's immediate attention.

The room filled with the boys and girls, pretty slowly because this sitting order came as a surprise to them, and naturally there were discussions and hesitating and last-moment changes. Negotiations from one table to another were still in full process when three adults entered the room.

Monsieur Thionnay was the first, shutting down the noise with his appearance only.

Madame Maxime, the Beauxbatons Headmistress, came next, big as ever, looking considerably more joyful than the teacher, wearing a shining-blue dress that would have choked the last remarks, had there still been some.

And finally, giving Sandra a jolt in her heartbeat - Ron Weasley.

The three of them sat down, then the Headmistress looked over the tables, smiling.

"My dear students, when talking to you, I should stand up - but then, you know, I shouldn't."

A giggling went through the double class. Ron was smiling, Thionnay with a face of stone.

"Anyway - today we'll start something new in our school, that's why we are here, and the young man to my right, with this hair that shouldn't come close to paper ..."

More giggling, students staring at Ron's red hair, unsure whether it was appropriate to laugh. Ron grinned at Madame Maxime, while Thionnay's face still didn't move a muscle.

"... he'll explain it to you. I want to introduce my dear friend, Ron Weasley from the European Education Council. It was his work - the idea and the setup, so he's qualified best to tell you what's this all about." The Headmistress made a gesture to the guest.

Ron stood up. "Thank you, Madame Maxime, Monsieur Thionnay." He turned to the class.

"To come right to the point, my dear students, it's about the way how to train your magic skills, the way how Magique Générale courses will be run, and how you will work as of today. In the short version - you will do it here in this room. You will do it in teams and groups, typically just the teams sitting around the same table - and for that, you'll organize yourselves, as far as it's not yet done already."

At these words, Ron was looking right at their own table. Sandra felt his greeting in her mind, while Ron's face wasn't hinting anything special.

"Basically, that's it already. But I want to show you a bit of the background, and in addition, I want to make you aware of some changes in style that go with this new organization. So why do we change it like that, and what are the consequences?"

Ron wasn't keeping at the small stage any longer. He walked between the tables while speaking. "The essential question is, what are you in first place, students or magicals?" He stopped for an instant, went on. "The answer - you are neither, not in first place, that is. You are magical students, and any attempt of emphasizing one more than the other is wrong. Bound to fail."

He had reached almost the far end of the room. Walking to the front, Ron kept silent until he'd reached the stage again. Sandra, who had watched him as a speaker before, took the opportunity to study the faces at her table, those of the boys enraptured, that of Héloise showing pleased attention.

"The magical world has met the Muggle world some years ago, and since then, we are fighting to find our mutual balance. The Muggles have learned to recognize a wand ..."

Ron presented his own, this way clearing the doubts in some faces, after the Headmistress hadn't bothered to explain his state, with him coming from a Muggle institution.

"... and we, we've learned to use computers. Among other things, sometimes in a combination of magic and technology. And looking around, we see that the Muggles have quite some experience with students showing special abilities, or gifts. There are all kinds of special schools - specializing in sports, in music ..."

Ron's eyes, all the time going from table to table, from face to face, met those of Héloise for an instant, just long enough so Benoît and Frédéric became aware of it and Héloise herself could start beaming.

"... in ballet, in sciences - whatever. And in all these schools, you find organization structures that are suited best to their special topic. No matter how different they are, there's one thing they all have in common. In their own specialty, standard teaching is replaced by something you might call a constant training seminar."

Again Ron walked a few steps, this time to the far end, then turned.

"What is it, learning spells? You watch how it's made, you watch once more, and then all you have to do is try, try, try again until finally you manage. It's not any different from a dancer learning a jump. Some are quicker, some need more time - and most of the help you need can be given by your teammates. This is why the team organization is the basis of our training seminar, and that's how one teacher can supervise a large number of students at once."

Ron looked around. "All of you can learn and teach at the same time - within your team, from one team to another. The moment someone has mastered a spell, he turns into an assistant teacher - for his own team first, but why not for others? After a while, something else is due, and then, for a short period, the class is back to one teacher, until the first students have mastered it, and so forth."

Checking the people at the stage, Sandra saw - Thionnay's face no longer was stony, it showed barely suppressed pain and disgust. With beaming satisfaction in her own, she turned back to Ron.

Who grinned right now. "Of course, this could easily end up in a mess - if you were going to behave like an ordinary student, taking the first opportunity for starting some nonsense ..."

It earned him some laughter, more so when Madame Maxime supported Ron's words by rolling her eyes.

"... and here we come to the second essential point. In all these schools, the students understand themselves as self-responsible in their special ability. This is your obligation. A musician doesn't mess up in music, a dancer doesn't mess up in sports and exercises - and a wizard, a witch, doesn't mess up in Magique Générale ... It's that simple."

Ron walked back to the stage, turned once more. "I would think this arrangement is much nicer than the previous one, so you already get paid for this heavy burden of self-responsibility." He waited through the laughter. "But there's still another benefit - like in all these special schools, students can specialize pretty quickly, can intensify certain aspects. If you're quick enough in mastering the official program, you can pick a non-standard spell and practice it while the others are catching up."

He turned to the teacher. "Monsieur Thionnay will probably be pleased to show a bit more than the average student can master, and if - some years from now - this raises new challenges, then it's just the same effect that can be watched on all these special schools."

Monsieur Thionnay seemed to have serious doubts about his pleasure, and Sandra - for once - shared his opinion.

"So that's the story in the longer version. Thank you for your attention, and enjoy the new age in magical learning." Ron made a slight bow toward the class and another one toward Madame Maxime, then he sat down.

The applause from the class was reluctant - maybe from the stunning news, maybe with respect to the teacher's face, or from simple lack of habit. Sandra, in contrast, was hammering her nuckles on this shiny table, followed by Héloise and, after a moment, by the two boys.

Madame Maxime thanked Ron for his "speech from someone who knows what he's talking about," as she said. Toward the students, she announced a five minutes break in which they might settle their seating order - as a first good example of self-responsibility, because nobody else would tell them, only at the end of the break, they'd be fixed to what they had. Then the Headmistress and the two men left the room.

The noise level swell instantly, students shouting, pleading, arguing - with the notable exception of a few tables, among them their own, so they could watch the turmoil with quiet amusement.

Realizing whose work this was, Sandra said, "Look at them! We owe it to Benoît that we've settled that already."

Héloise stared at her, caught by surprise, her mouth almost falling open.

Benoît himself just shrugged. "Wasn't it obvious, after we were d'accord?" He looked at Héloise. "Weasley, huh? He's a relative of you?"

"My uncle."

"That hair's really something." Benoît seemed to balance names and family structures. "So he's your father's brother, right?"

Héloise's head fell back in a gesture auf exhausted patience. "Yes, indeed."

"Does your father have the same hair?"

Héloise closed her eyes, as though this was more than what you could look at. "Yes."

"Really? Then how come your own's so much different?"

Before Héloise found the time for losing her faith in this particular team, Frédéric said, "Hey, Ben - do me the favour and switch on your brain, would you? She's a Veela, remember?"

He was rewarded with a grateful look from Héloise, something Sandra found no time to feel bothered about because she was busy sensing the two boys after this short exchange - it might have turned out as an invitation to a fistfight.

Benoît, however, looked neither upset nor embarrassed. "You mean that's Veela hair, and it pushes through? Well, we don't have that many books at home, and, you know, the other day when I asked the Librarian here for something about Veela, she looked at me as if I'd asked for some - er, well, you know what I mean."

They were still laughing when Thionnay came back into the room. He shot a sharp glance at them, however without saying a word. Instead, he walked to his seat and looked around.

"Well, after this splendid suada, it can only grow better."

And while Sandra was fighting a murderous impulse to send him a good one, or to make his legs dance on their own, while the students waited for their first opportunity to do the promised teamwork, the teacher presented his own speech - as if to prove that only a pen-pusher from the Education Council could cook up an idea as crazy as self-responsible students.

He did so eloquently, spoke about different magical courses, how they had been separated in the past, how the merging of Magicals and Muggles had destroyed this traditional order, and what a shame it was, being stripped down to Magique Générale in favour of some stupid world-wide education program.

With every minute passing, the speaker and his audience became more aware of diverging trends - the audience, that their teacher could do without Muggles and their technology, that he gave a damn for computers, phonies, porties, that in his opinion portable music players were devilish devices - and the teacher, that his audience was disappointed, bored, getting openly hostile.

Thionnay, noticing the scowling faces, stopped in his droning and sneered, "Do you have trouble with your self-responsibility? Well, might that our red-haired guest didn't outline the full truth? That magic is more than swishing a wand through the air? I'm talking about magic, nothing else."

One student raised his arm. "Yes, Monsieur le Professeur, but we thought first we'd train a bit in our teams, before coming to all these things."

Some murmur in the class made clear - the others were thinking the same, while not quite as unafraid as this student.

"All right then, since I can assume this lesson has rounded up the scarce picture you were given from our councillor ..."

Thionnay said the word with such contempt, Sandra had to bite her lips and, at the same time, send a soothing wave to Héloise, who seemed at the verge of shouting back insults of her own choice.

"... but, after this excourse in magical ethics, let me give you a little demonstration what magic can do toward this sacred self-responsibility. I'm talking about the Imperius curse - can someone tell us what this is?"

Sandra, who felt sure to know more about this curse than the teacher himself, used this announcement to relax, ready to watch what was coming, without any inclination to prove her knowledge. However - right next to her, an arm was up.

Thionnay nodded to Frédéric, who said, "It is one of the Unforgivable Curses. It breaks the will of the cursed person."

"Breaking isn't quite correct - it just disables the free will as long as the spell is held. But otherwise you were right, Monsieur Pouilly - this is one of the curses that are forbidden under normal circumstances. But just for demonstration, and for the benefit of the class" - the teacher smiled at Frédéric - "would you allow me to spell you?"

Don't do it, Sandra thought, and she almost sent this impulse into Frédéric's mind. But he was already up and walked forward to the stage, a bit pale, otherwise quite determined.

"Don't worry," said Thionnay, "I'm not going to harm you." He raised his wand. "Imperio!"

The boy stood calm, arms slack, and only Sandra could feel how an energetic mind turned into a docile stupor.

Thionnay made him walk, stop, fall, get up, roll over. While each command was carried out without hesitation, the class showed little enthusiasm - maybe because of these unimpressive actions, or because their patience had worn out.

Thionnay, noticing his limited success, reacted instantly. He stopped Frédéric and said, "Tell me, Monsieur Pouilly, what is my nickname here?"


Satisfied with the sharp intaking of breath among the students, Thionnay eyed them. "You thought I didn't know, am I right?"


The answer had of course been given by Frédéric, raising some nervous laughter in the class.

"Well, to good last ..." Thionnay moved his wand and conjured up a single flower, a splendid rose. He passed it to Frédéric. "Take this flower and be a chevalier - give it to the lady of your heart."

Suddenly, the teacher had the full attention and approval of his audience - well, with a certain exception, because Sandra wasn't approving at all that Frédéric came walking straight in her direction.

He stood in front of her, opened his mouth ...

Without even thinking, purely from instinct, she raised her arms as if to accept the flower, touched him, and sent the counter spell right into his mind.

Frédéric staggered, then regained balance, his eyes clear again, although a bit confused. "What ... Oh, what flower is this?" He looked around at the teacher, a questioning expression in his face.

Thionnay was baffled for an instant, then he came hurrying and examined Frédéric. "Are you okay?"

"Er - yes." Frédéric sat down.

The teacher quickly regained his composure. Toward the class, he said, "That's quite interesting - you know, normally the spell would be broken by itself only if the order was the most terrible that person could imagine, and even then only by few people."

Thionnay turned to Sandra, showing a thin smile. "I wonder whether this has really been a compliment."

Her own smile wasn't the least bit more convincing. "I think it was the flower."

"Oh, do you?" When some laughter could be heard, two flushed spots appeared in Thionnay's paled face. "Let me show you how wrong you are." His wand came forward like a snake. "Imperio!"

For a moment, Sandra felt stunned - from surprise, that Thionnay really had cursed her, without even asking for permission, which nominally would have counted as reason enough to be sentenced to prison. Except, of course, that he would excuse himself with the confusion of the moment.

At least, the teacher's own confusion was good enough to take her stunned look for the real thing - not aware at all that Sandra, reflexively, had shaked off the fleeting rush of dizziness.

"Go to the blackboard and write your full name."

She had to grin - clever move, that, giving a perfect excuse for breaking her incognito, only that years ago, another teacher, female, had made sure she'd never fall to such attacks even for a second.

Still grinning, Sandra held up the rose. "Doesn't work ... I really think it's the flower."