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 08 - Research

Chapter Summary:
Harry visits Amanda Waylon, the baby's mother in the first kidnapping case. His request is about information, and as predicted, the negotiations are quite interesting while not simple.

08 - Research

Harry stood in the entrance of the Waylon villa, a building with a white facade in the neo-classic style which could be found more often here along the Sunset Boulevard. The doorbell button was placed in the centre of an affair that could have served as a holy water basin in a baptism, save for the hole in the middle. He pressed it.

He had announced his visit the day before. He had announced his coming a few minutes ago, and now he was aware of the camera a few feet above and to the side, a faint noise telling him that the lens was shifting from wide-angle to close-up.

Harry could understand these precautions. After what had happened, Amanda Waylon took no chances. Although - how often would a lightning strike the same place twice?

Hearing the buzz, he pushed the handle and opened the door. Looking up, he saw a man who stood about twenty feet away, his arms crossed in front of his chest. The man inspected him calmly. "Mr Potter?"

"That's me."

"Please come in."

When the man dropped his arms and started to move, Harry saw confirmed what he already had expected - the man wore a shoulder holster, and his stance a moment earlier was just his way of being ready, short of aiming the gun at every guest who entered the house.

Harry was guided into a large room, almost a hall with its huge ceiling. The man turned to a woman sitting on a sofa, a baby in her arm. "Mr Potter, Madam."

So this was Amanda Waylon, the shooting star on Hollywood's sky, hell on legs in contracts and lawsuits, as Harry had been informed by Mrs Carmino. Blonde she was, had wide shoulders for a woman, light-coloured eyes examining him openly, a sensual mouth not bothering with a smile yet.

He examined back. She wore jeans, certainly from some designer he was at a loss to identify, and a white T-shirt that showed some spots, had to be the baby's slobbering, just above two breasts for which a push-up bra seemed a waste of engineering efforts.

Well, for all Harry could see and sense, she was likely to be a hell with legs somewhere else too.

"I'm done, Mr Potter. When you are too, have a seat."

Amanda Waylon spoke these words without her expression supporting the joke. But then, maybe she hadn't intended to sound funny.

Harry could remember a time when he'd have turned dark red from such a remark - only then, he would have made his own examination less openly. Here and today, he just sat down.

The woman said, "Would you please identify yourself?"

"Yes, of course." Harry reached for his GALA - his Gringott's Account Liquidity Affirmation, for him the most reliable ID card he could think of, and passed it over.

The actress inspected the thing. "Very cute. What's this, a gameboy?"

"No, Miss Waylon. An ID card from the Goblins bank. Basically it's a credit card, but it's the only false-proof ID card on earth. You can ask it about me."

"You kidding? No, apparently not." Amanda Waylon looked up to the man who had guided Harry inside. "Hey, Warren, look at this - ever seen something like that?" To Harry, she added, "By the way, this is Warren, my bodyguard."

Harry exchanged a nod with the man, who walked over to the woman's place, all the time holding some distance to Harry's own position. Watching Warren's steps, Harry felt sure - as graceful as they were, this was no aikido adept.

The actress held the card with Harry's moving picture up. "Funny, isn't it?" She turned to Harry. "And how do I use it?"

"For a billing, you would ask whether the bank guarantees the payment. But you can just ask it whether I am the real Harry Potter."

The woman glanced at the picture again, then, with a cunning look in Harry's direction, she said, "Hey, tell me - what's Mr Potter's account good for?"

Her eyes widened a bit when, as Harry knew, the picture of a Goblin appeared on the card. Next moment, a Goblin voice said, "Gringotts will accept every bill in the name of Mr Potter."

"Cool, isn't it? Nice toy, that."

Amanda Waylon threw the card in Harry's direction, so quickly that only his trained reflexes allowed him to catch it. His sharp movement made the bodyguard go tense for an instant, right hand already halfway to the holster, before he relaxed again.

The woman came up with a phony. "And now let's be sure." She pressed a button.

The voice of Lieutenant Seeger said, "Yes?"

"Hello, lieutenant, Amanda Waylon calling. I've got a visitor, says he's Mr Potter, except it could as well be Santa Claus. Would you please describe him?"

The voice said, "Well - er, about five eight, twelve stones, I'd guess - "

"Lieutenant." The woman's voice was like acid, resolved in sugar. "Would you please describe him in terms I can follow?"

A second's hesitation. "Medium-sized, slim but muscular, has a scar on - Miss Waylon, please let me talk with him, it's simpler."

She held the phony up. "For you."

Harry came forward, bent closer, and took the phony - then retreated to his chair, if only for Warren's peace of mind. "Hi, Carl."

"Harry - it's you, no doubt, but just tell me - how did I return from that lunch into my office?"

Harry grinned. "You touched the towel bar in the men's of Luiz' restaurant."

"Okay, passed. Put me back to her."

Harry handed the phony over, and while Miss Waylon was telling the detective the acid had been just by accident and only the sugar was the genuine stuff, he started his own way of communication with the girl that had been dropped on the sofa. When the short exchange was finished, the girl was beaming at him, giggling audibly.

The girl's mother showed the first smile. "All right, Mr Potter - may I call you Harry? My name's Amanda. What are you doing with my daughter?"

"Playing with her, what do you think?" Harry sent a stronger tickling, which caused a joyful gurgling from the girl. He looked at the woman. "What's her name?"

"You're so full of tricks, I wonder why she didn't tell you. That's Ginger ... Say, how do you manage from that chair?"

Harry smiled. "Wizard tricks, as you said - I was a bit reluctant to come close, er, I mean with respect to Warren, less from her salivating - that's something I'm used to all the time."

The woman watched her daughter's beaming. "Sometimes I think she really's a little short on a father ... She can't wait coming near you." A smile flashed up. "Or maybe she's just an early starter."

"Fine with me - now, please don't get afraid, it's just another trick I use." Harry summoned the girl, who came floating through the air into his arms, almost bursting of pleasure.

Despite his warning, the mother had gasped; now just stared. "I'm not sure whether I'd get used to that, Harry. I prepared for this conversation by reading about your own roles as an actor, so I might say I was forewarned, but seeing this right in front of my eyes ..."

Harry settled the girl in his lap. "With Cho, my wife, it's the same - she never got used to it, and she's a witch herself. But you know, especially in Ginger's age, they just love it, and that's always a good excuse for showing off a bit."

Amanda gave him a look that acknowledged this hint of a compliment, then grew serious, suddenly looking very businesslike.

"You didn't come here as a children welfare institution, Harry" - the smile flashed up again - "and not for mother's welfare either, even though it looks that way right now, so what do you want from me?"


Harry explained what he had found out, and what he and Paul were looking for. "I guess we can restrict it to your movies after the baby break - two, if my counting's right. This would be Desperate Measures and An Unremarkable Event."

"Yeah, that's correct. But I was just an actor - " Amanda saw his expression. "Yes, okay, I was the star, but so what - why are you coming to me, not to the producer, or the director?" A flicker crossed her face. "By the way, I'm sorry about your friend. I never met him."

Harry produced a slight bow. "Thank you. Coming to you was the natural next step, for several reasons. Asking the director might be the step afterwards, or the producer - or both, I'm not sure yet."

The woman's face showed disgust. "If you think it'd be helpful me talking with the director, forget it. You'd be better off coming on your own, or with that lieutenant."

"Really?" Harry looked wondering. "But wasn't it the same in both projects?"

"Sure it was. So? It's money that held us together, nothing else. As far as I'm concerned, Scotty's an asshole, and what he thinks about me" - Amanda grinned - "he might tell you himself."

Harry said, "You know, one reason coming to you first was, at the current state of things, only the victims themselves are out of the question. True, I'm looking for wizards, only they hide their nature well, that's why everybody else's on our list in first place, needs some clearing before we'd be ready to trust him."

"Scotty? Never." The woman shook her head. "I wouldn't go as far as saying he isn't up to that kind of scheming, but didn't you say this must be a team? Well, in that case, his teammates would've shot him already some time ago."

After a moment's thinking, she added, "No, I'm pretty sure he's clean. Scotty's a pro, If he'd call me for a promising script, I'd agree right on the spot. He knows how to make a star shine, only that doesn't make him a pleasent guy. How was it with your friend?"

Amanda's question hit Harry by surprise. Why did she ask? Maybe just professional curiosity, or out of interest for himself, or simply as part of a polite conversation, after her unladylike remarks about another director?

"On the set, Tony was merciless. Or so it felt - you know, I'm just an amateur actor. With the cameras off, he was nice - but then, he was my friend, so I'm prejudiced in my own way."

"How did you meet him?"

Harry didn't feel prepared for telling the story of his life, particularly not with Warren, the bodyguard, still lingering in the background. But he wanted help, and this woman seemed to trade information for information, if only by a built-in reflex.

"It was on a party," he answered. "I came together with my wife who's in the spector business and at that time was trying to get started. Well, there was a scene with a kung fu actor, and just when I was about to kick him, it was Tony who warned me, said this actor was only waiting to file a lawsuit. Then we talked about martial arts - anyway, he was the only nice person I met this day."

"And how did it go with this kung fu type?"

"I didn't touch him." Seeing Amanda's disappointed look, Harry added, "I scored nonetheless - and besides, I guess Tony was right. That reminds me - how's your own lawsuit going?"

"No comment." The woman smiled apologetically. "It's a pending issue, I shouldn't discuss it in public. By the way, this is another reason why I'm not ready to start any action in this regard. It's a tricky business, I'm not going to jeopardize my position."

Harry had been forewarned. Negotiating with Amanda Waylon was something you did on your own risk. He asked, "Are you blaming them?"

"As I said, Harry - no comment. But I can give you the facts. At that time, I had a bungalow in Pinewood Crescent, one of these places with fences around, guards at the entrance, and so forth. They let the car pass without making sure they came on order. I sold the bungalow and moved into this house here, partly because they said they couldn't serve a lawsuit opponent. As if they did before!"

For the first time, Harry sensed genuine rage in the woman.

"Anyway, I changed my security system, and that's why Warren's around me all the time."

The rage was gone, and there was a sparkling in her eyes that seemed to indicate these words could be interpreted literally.

"Of course," said Harry, his expression casual. "A bodyguard stays with the body, that's what he's supposed to do."

The sparkling intensified, otherwise Amanda kept silent.

Harry held his eyes at the girl's head in front of him when he said, "There's a girl, about Ginger's age. Her name's Tanitha. Her hair's black, and there are other differences, too - for example, she wasn't kidnapped. And so far, she hasn't been short on a father. Although, that might change."

Now he looked up. "Paul is a journalist. Usually he works for a weekly magazine in England, but he's been a freelancer before. Assume he'd be working on an article about you, collecting background material. Assume he'd come to this director, and the producer, in that business. Could he speak in your name?"

Amanda's eyes watched Harry with her daughter in his lap. "Make it a biography, otherwise it would look strange, going for the details you want to know. Come to think of it, that might be an idea. Is he good?"

So Harry got what he wanted, and Amanda was pressing the most of it for her own benefit. Wasn't this exactly what Mrs Carmino had predicted?

"It depends on what you want. Paul specializes in research, especially in stories where people have reason to keep their mouths shut - scandals of any kind. Anyway, for some time, he'll be busy."

"You take me for a cold-hearted bitch, aren't you?"

Without a second's hesitation, Harry answered, "I take you for a mother who went through her own ordeal, and managed quite well. And whose daughter's quite charming, which doesn't strike me as if she's inherited all that from this father being so short."

Amanda's lips were twisting.

"I was told I'd meet a woman that's hard to negotiate with, but once it's settled, she would hold to the deal. The first part's true, so I have no reason to doubt the other."

"No, you don't."

"There's something else," he said. "Yours was the first kidnapping. I can hardly believe that was by accident. It makes me wonder if there was something that put you in the focus."

"The press campaign," came Amanda's immediate answer. "I'm a fucking star, in case you didn't notice, and those people did what they could in marketing for my first movie after the break. Pictures of me and Ginger all over the papers, stuff like that."

"You figured that out by yourself, didn't you?"

"I'm not stupid. Just blonde."

Harry smiled. "You still blame yourself, and I bet there hasn't been a picture of Ginger in the papers since then, only they had those from before, hadn't they? And your lawsuit against the security company, you want to punish them in place of yourself."

Her voice was angry. "Don't you listen? I'm not commenting, I said."

"I didn't expect an answer. I only thought you should know that someone else knows, someone who - well, the device Tony used to hide Tanitha, it was me who built it. And when I haven't anything better to do, I think, he shouldn't have asked for it, I shouldn't have made it for him, then he'd still be alive, and Tanitha would be back long since ... That's what I wanted to say."

Amanda's stare softened. "It needs one to know one, huh?"

"That might be the reason." Harry stood up and came to the sofa. "Thanks to you, I'll be too busy for such useless thoughts, so - here's your little angel, it was a pleasure to hold her for a while."

"You two were looking great - and I appreciate to have her returned the usual way."

Harry grinned. "To be honest - I can do it only in my own direction, not the other way around."

Amanda took the girl from him. "Would you answer me a question, Harry?"

"Maybe so. Ask."

"Erm - that funny thing you showed us, is it real?"

"The GALA? Yes, absolutely. Why?"

For the first time, Harry saw something like embarrassment in Amanda's face when she said, "But then ... your account must be beyond any measure, according to what this figure said."

"The Goblin," corrected Harry reflexively, then flushed a bit. "No, it's not - I'm not exactly broke, but I'm sure it's way below your own. Only ..." He hesitated.

"Only what?"

"Well, for some reason I'd like to keep out, the Goblins refuse to charge my account, no matter what bills are coming. It makes you very reluctant to spend some money. I already thought of a double bookkeeping, but if the Goblins found out, they'd be deeply insulted."

"You're kidding."

Harry snorted. "I wish I were."

Amanda stared at him. "I wish I had your problems - er, financially, I mean. Because then, I hadn't, if you can follow me."

* * *

Sandra felt very pleased. Pleased with Mr Thacker, their English teacher, and equally pleased against Héloise. Because Mr Thacker had offered her to leave, after seeing her bored glance, at the cost of a very small essay, just one page. And Sandra had gladly accepted.

Héloise had looked stunned. Her ghostspeaker leaving her in this critical moment? Only that, considering Hély's recent attitude, Sandra felt it justified to do what her mother called cutting her wings just a little.

Actually it was about the first time Sandra did that, and also the first time she understood exactly what Cho meant.

Sandra was on her way to the students' workroom. There she would take her dictapen and make it fly through a few lines, to work on her own things afterwards. Mr Thacker hadn't even specified a topic; she was totally free in her choice, and she knew already what to write about : her first impressions here at Beauxbatons, polite but objective, he he, this English gentleman would no doubt appreciate it.

Entering the room, Sandra saw someone sit a few tables away. Then this someone raised his head, and for an instant, Sandra felt like fleeing - only that, even if not naturally so, a Potter didn't flee.

"Hi, Sandra." Frédéric showed a smile.

"Hi." She skipped the smile and took the next-best seat to sit down. Pulling out her dictapen, she felt trapped. Dictating to the pen audibly, fully in Frédéric's view, seemed awfully embarrassing, while doing what she had planned - letting the pen run with mind waves only - was downright forbidden, simply because dictapens weren't famous for being controlled silently, not the least bit.

Keeping her eyes on the paper, Sandra sent a low murmur, suddenly feeling an unexpected writer's block. A moment ago, she had known exactly what to write, while now the words had somehow evaporated from her mind.

Before she had time to think about another place she felt a presence approaching, a quite determined one. The presence stopped in front of her.

"Mind me coming over?"

"Actually ..." Yes. "No."

"You're not banned from class, are you?"

Sandra had to grin on that. "No. It's English; I was freed for a single page."

Frédéric nodded. "Yes of course - he's really a nice guy, Thacker."

Heaven forbid curiosity, while politeness demanded her asking back, "And you?"

"Religion. I'm released full term."

"Religion?" Sandra's face showed surprise - for herself, religion was a fascinating matter, like a mix of history, fairytales, plus a dash of jokes, even if she was the only one who felt like laughing out loudly.

"Yes - it's a family tradition. You're a strong believer?"

"Me? No - er, I mean, not in this sense."

Frédéric looked relieved. "Good - so you don't feel offended." He hesitated. "Er - speaking about family, say, did my family name tell you something?"

Of course it did! "No - why?"

"Well ..." Frédéric stared at the table, then looked up. "It seemed to tell Héloise a lot. Didn't she talk with you about the name Pouilly?"

Sandra wasn't used to lying at all, and had the distinct feeling she was as bad a liar as her father. "Ohh - you mean that it's an old French family and so? Yes, I know."

"But it's no better nor worse than Delacour - that's similar, as far as I know. Maybe that's why ..."

Sandra shrugged, leaving his questioning tone hang in the air.

"There was ..." Frédéric swallowed. "Sandra, I have to tell you something."

"A confession?"

She had tried to use Héloise's style of conversation. But the word was hardly out when Sandra felt her own cheeks starting to glow, with the effect that Frédéric blushed even deeper.

"No, not ... It's just - I know something, and I think I should tell you about it. Sandra, I know the first name of your mother."

"My mother?" Sandra's mouth fell open.

"Er - yes. It's Cho, right?"

"How - "

Not looking up, Frédéric hurried on. "And I know the name of that Centaur, and I - I know who you really are." His face came up. "I thought you should know that I know."

Sandra stared at him.

When Frédéric kept silent, waiting for her reaction, she said, "I had the feeling you knew something. Where did you get it from?"

"There is ..." Frédéric swallowed again. "By the way, I thought you'd guessed already, about me knowing, and that's one of the reasons why ... It's so embarrassing, now that we're together in the same team."

"What made you think I knew that ..."

Sandra realized how complicated a conversation could grow when talking about the knowledge of the knowledge of one's own knowledge. However, Frédéric had caught her question, as his answer confirmed.

"When you blocked Thionnite's Imperius - to me it felt as if you'd said, yes, you're right."

"Not at all, and why - " Sandra stopped, becoming fully aware that there was little sense in denying. "You seem to know a lot - the others all thought it really was the flower, or Thionnite had messed up. Why not you?"

Frédéric looked pleased. "I know a bit about the Imperius, and besides, he'd spelled me a moment before, and then I came out again, and - " Frédéric's eyes widened. "Yes of course - it was you who took me out, wasn't it? Because next moment, I would have said your name."

"Each time I ask you how do you know, you switch to something else." Sandra stared angrily at Frédéric. "And what's worse, it looks as if I'm the one myself who's dropping the question and changing the topic. So - "

"I'm sorry, I didn't do it on purpose, it was just because of the misunderstanding, and me realizing only now ... Okay, about the Imperius, well, there's just one person who's known to be totally immune to the Imperius, and that's - er, your father, Harry Potter."

"Oh, is it? And everybody knows it, something as common as the capital of France, huh?" When Frédéric chuckled about her remark, Sandra didn't join him, registering again how bad her interrogation technique was.

"All right, let's come back to the first question ..."

Frédéric's face alone told her, he wouldn't have objected skipping this detail.

"... how come you know so much about our family?"

Once more, Frédéric kept his eyes on the table. "There's an old story; it took place here at Beauxbatons. Since a few days already I've been wondering if you know about it, because - if not, if your father didn't talk about, er, I didn't want to be the one who told you. But then I thought, why else does she call herself by a different name? But maybe you weren't told ..." He looked up, a pleading in his face. "I can't - please, Sandra, tell me if you know what I'm talking about!"

Suddenly she understood his problem. "Er - yes, I know about that. I ... I didn't tell the truth. Sorry."

Frédéric exhaled deeply. "Good. You didn't even twist, hearing this name." He gave her a brief smile. "I shouldn't wonder, what with a ..." Then he blushed again. "What do you know?"

"As much as you, I think. Ha - my father once killed a Pouilly, Gérard was his name, in the great hall, and he did it because this Gérard was about to kill Marie-Christine."

"You know her?" Frédéric seemed a bit surprised, and relieved.

"Yes of course! She's like an aunt - " Sandra stopped herself before drifting off again. "Go ahead."

Now that the first barrier was mastered, Frédéric seemed more than ready. "This Gérard, he was a brother of my father, so he would have been an uncle. Because this story is mentioned every now and then in the family, my father once told me. And then ..." Frédéric blushed once more, then hurried on, "I was - er, for a while, I was imagining myself how I'd come, one day, and take revenge - er, you know, what you'd think, like, er, once you're big and strong and know how to make things happen."

Sandra wasn't too familiar with such daydreaming; on the other hand, she wouldn't call it totally foreign to her. "Yes, I know what you mean."

"Yes, er, and one day, I think I said something in that direction, and my father made a remark like, I should think twice, and I asked why, and he said, because it mightn't be the best idea, and I asked more, and he said, this story had two sides, and none of them would be very inviting for revenge, and then he said that would be all he would tell me."

Frédéric paused a moment. This time, however, Sandra had wised up, so she kept silent.

"So I thought it over and, after a while, I understood what he meant. The one side, that meant this - er, your father, he had to be very dangerous to mess with, er ..."

Sandra felt no reason for being angry about that, quite the opposite. "Yes, that's true."

Frédéric glanced at her, then went on, "And the other side, that is this Gérard, it could only mean he shouldn't be used as a subject for revenge. Well, in a way it was just a game of imagination, you know, I'm not really the action type, so ... But I'm good with books and so, and I started to gather information about this story, and about him - er, your father, I mean, and people around him, and what they do."

"Really?" Sandra felt extremely pleased. "And that's how you know?"

"Er - yes, in a way. But then, one day, I found something at home. I don't think I was supposed to read it, but I read it anyway."

"What was it?"

Frédéric hesitated again. "It's ... a protocol, from when he was interrogated by the police."


"You call him that way?" Frédéric looked surprised.

"Sometimes, or daddy, or ... just how it seems appropriate." Sandra felt no need for revealing other names she used to address her father.

"So you can talk with him, huh?"

"Yes, of course. We can talk about everything."

"Well, maybe so." Frédéric flushed again, this time seriously. "This protocol, it's very detailed. He told everything - I mean, your father."

Sandra felt like bursting of pride. "Yeah, he never lies, to nobody."

"Which doesn't mean he tells everything."

"No, of course not." Then she realized what Frédéric had inclined. "You mean, there's more in this protocol than what he told me?"

"Yes, I'm pretty sure. It ..." Frédéric's dark red face was kept low. "It's not that ... only, when I met you and became aware who you are, all of a sudden it felt so dishonest, me knowing about the story. Because, you know, it ... it has to do ..."

Sandra wasn't a Veela; still, she was a girl, used to talk with many different people, none of them famous for shying off much. "It has to do with sex."

Frédéric could only nod.

Girl or not, Sandra felt glad he wasn't looking at her. "Well, erm, I'm not going to tell you exactly who told me what, er, but about Marie-Christine and - er, Harry and - er, Cho ..." Sandra's voice trailed off, because she wouldn't know how to finish that sentence. Even so, it seemed to be answer enough for Frédéric.

Then she remembered something else. "Does Benoît ..."

"Are you mad?" Frédéric's face came up. "Sorry - I didn't mean it, but no, definitely not. You know, he's okay - he's more, actually, but, well, sometimes he's a bigmouth, that's why." After a moment, Frédéric added, "I'm not going to tell him about you - nor anyone else, for that matter."

"Thank you. Although" - Sandra grinned ruefully - "you know who's the most likely candidate for blowing my cover? Me myself."

"You?" Frédéric shook his head. "No, I don't think so - not after I saw how you took the news about my name."

"Oh, that?" Sandra waved dismissively. "That was pretty simple, because - " Stopping just in time, she barely avoided to prove her own words toward another matter badly suited for public knowledge and instead hurried on, "... because I wasn't provoked."

Frédéric looked blank. "Not provoked? What do you mean? Isn't this name reason enough?"

Certainly - only Sandra had sensed enough in the seconds before to be prepared. "Well, it was - Benoît just told us your names, it was exactly what you'd expect in this situation." Then Sandra found the rescuing argument. "And besides, Harry - er, my father, he isn't particularly proud of what he did."


"Yes. He said - well, it's a bit private, but I know he always regretted not having found another solution. While for Marie-Christine and Cho, they think differently."

Frédéric kept silent, relishing this information for a moment. Then he said, "It's funny that we met because of your wand, in a way, because ..."

Sandra knew what he was about to say.

And here it came. "... well, in that protocol, he describes exactly what he did. And he did it without a wand - just with his hands, actually the way Héloise held her hands, just before you showed your wand."

Sandra suppressed a twitch, her mind racing for some path off this topic. "Is this another family tradition?"


"To have a brain that's working like that. Because you know, there's one thing in which Harry and Marie-Christine agree: this Gérard was really brilliant."

Frédéric looked embarrassed. "I'm doing fine - it's just that when sitting there and looking at your wand, I realized that all this stuff I'd been collecting all the time, all of a sudden it was reality, with you sitting there."

Sandra flushed again.

And she'd failed - Frédéric wasn't brought off track. "Er - Sandra, I wonder whether you could do it?"

"Do what?" As if she didn't know.

Frédéric swallowed. "Doing spells without a wand."

How reliable was he? How much could she trust him? But then, with this Potter historian, what was the sense in hiding? Would she reveal anything about the High Priestess when confirming something she might have inherited from her father, besides her immunity? Or learned?

But Sandra had learned also from her mother. "I want to offer you a deal."

"A deal?"

"Yes - I'll answer your question if you come to show me that protocol."

Frédéric grinned. "Hey, it's not that detailed." He flushed, while even in his embarrassment not losing another Pouilly quality. "Sorry, I shouldn't have said that. But you know, this deal's a bit unbalanced."

"Is it? Why?"

His grin returned. "Ah, c'mon, you know why, your brain isn't any worse. Well, if you can add something, we're in business."

"Add what?"

"If it's an adding at all, because after this scene in class, I guess I already know the answer. In exchange for me showing the protocol to you, you show me something else."

Sandra stared at him, not trusting her ears.

Apparently becoming aware of the possible misunderstanding, Frédéric hastened to explain. "I mean that Centaur - the one who gave you the mane hairs. His name is Firenze, isn't it?"

* * *

Ireen looked at the time table again. Now that the journey was due within the next hour, she felt a bit tense. There seemed no reason, basically, it should be a piece of cake - only, the parents had made quite a fuss, it had been a hard fight, ending only when Ireen said, "Okay, then let's call Urion. He'll send a Goblin patrol of six, if not more, and that'll do."

The parents had looked at each other, sighing simultaneously, and had finally nodded.

These parents were of course Harry and Cho, being extremely reluctant about Gabriel's idea of visiting an exposition hall for musical instruments in far east Akashi. It wasn't the idea itself what made them hesitate - no, they just couldn't warm up to the details of that journey.

Harry's initial plan had been to program a portkey right to that building, and another one back home. The plan was simple and straightforward, and bound to fail. Because Gabriel didn't like it at all.

At least toward the end, the boy's own plan looked quite similar. Yes, apparating right to the building. Yes, apparating back home without any detour. Only there was no portkey in play - instead, Gabriel would summon his co-travellers on both ways, meaning Ireen herself and Michel.

This plan left just one problem - Gabriel never had been there. But he had a solution ready, and that was where the discussion started.

In Gabriel's eyes, his solution was not much different from what some of his classmates had to do every day, using metro, buses, and whatnot, only that Gabriel would use linkports. After roaming the Internet for linkport timetables, he had come with what he called "the shortest route, from the time needed."

It started in Dublin Linkport. From there to London Linkport. From there to Hongkong Linkport. From there to Tokyo, then Osaka, and finally Akashi. Little more than an hour.

Gabriel was quite proud of his route, and Ireen had told his parents they could be proud too, because wasn't this a masterpiece of research, in a very mathematical area, otherwise known as the Travelling Salesman Problem?

Yes, maybe, except it looked more like an odyssee.

Gabriel hadn't expressed it in words, but even so, it was obvious to everybody that he wanted to manage without his father's help, using Ireen for this purpose.

So Ireen had argued that they'd be back in an instant, should something go wrong, because wherever they'd be, Gabriel could summon both of them in a second. Which was true, only that maybe Gabriel might be more interested in watching the spectacle.

Then Ireen had hinted how much she would welcome doing something useful here, other than tending Tanitha. And that said Tanitha would be in good hands during that time, in those of Beverly actually. The first argument scored well but not enough, the second one was classified as off the matter because Tanitha would be safe here anyway; they were concerned more about the other places.

And so Ireen had made this suggestion to call Urion, finally reaching the breakthrough, mostly because Harry and Cho knew - she was right, and while nobody seemed ready to believe Ireen would call the Goblin, Gabriel's beaming face at her words had told them he would do it without hesitation, should this last resort become necessary.

Now it was a quarter past three. Ireen expected Gabriel at close to four, which would leave only a few minutes for reaching the Dublin Linkport. Also through the Internet, Gabriel had made reservations - the printouts from the answer mails made a thin pile of sheets in Ireen's hand, with the time table on top.

She could only hope the reservations worked okay. Because otherwise she felt sure there'd be a small boy losing all gentleness - while on the other side Ireen wasn't sure at all whether she wanted to be around when Gabriel would turn mad, really mad.

The doorbell chimed. This had to be Beverly, Tanitha's babysitter for today, since this was the time they had agreed upon. Ireen went to the intercom receiver. "Yes?"

"It's me - Beverly."

Pressing the opener button, Ireen thought, had this been her own castle, she would have installed a camera system. But next instant she realized that the inhabitants had their own way of examining people outside the door.

However, the voice had sounded right. And here she came, a bit breathless and flushed, probably from climbing stairs, when she said, "Good afternoon, Mrs Chee."

"Hello, Beverly - please call me Ireen, otherwise it sounds so formal."

The girl blushed deeper, almost twitched, then she murmured something barely audible, and just in time Ireen realized that these had been some words of condolence. Beverly simply didn't know how to behave toward a widow of just a few days.

"Thank you," replied Ireen. "You met Tony once, didn't you, at the pool? But that was before Tanitha was born, so you haven't seen my daughter yet. Then let's go see whether she's awake already."

Tanitha was only half awake, but opened her eyes to a full stare when she sensed someone new. Beverly, in turn, had lost all awkwardness at once; she was eager to take the girl and show that she could handle it, wet diapers and all.

She could, although Ireen had a moment of gasping when Beverly user her wand and a spell for cleaning and drying Tanitha's skin. But obviously her daughter had no objections, because she smiled with pleasure.

Beverly wasn't the talkative type, however answered readily to Ireen's questions. No, these spells weren't part of the standard schedule, but she had specialized a bit in this direction, maybe for a medical career, she wasn't sure yet, while in the meantime they came in just handy, "especially when the diaper's a bit more than wet," to which Ireen could only agree.

Beverly attended Hogwarts and was in her last term there. She had finished classes earlier today; babysitting in the Potter castle would be an excuse good enough with more teachers than the Lupins, and for more than the last half hour she'd skipped. Travelling was easy play since Beverly had her porty, only she had noticed that having this device made her a bit lazy in her efforts of mastering apparition.

Ireen asked, "How is it, then, for a witch daughter, with a Muggle mother?"

"Where's my mother a Muggle?" Beverly laughed. "True, she can't do a single spell, but she's so used to them, each time there is some little problem or another, she says, can't you spell it? And when I say no, I can't, she goes, see, this magic's just overrated."

Seeing her own daughter in good hands, Ireen checked the time on her wristwatch. If Gabriel wouldn't appear soon, they'd be late.

Beverly's movement saved her from jumping when the boy's voice came from behind. "I'm ready. Hi, Beverly."

Turning, Ireen saw Gabriel standing in the doorframe, a small rucksack already shouldered. He stepped aside when she hurried to fetch her handbag and her light jacket. Coming back, examining him again, she said, "You'll be cold over there - arriving in Japan, it'll be past midnight."

"No, I won't; there's a sweater in there." Gabriel's thumb pointed over his shoulder, and his face showed something Ireen wasn't used from this boy - barely suppressed impatience.

A quick kiss on her daughter's cheek, and she was ready herself. Glancing to Gabriel, she saw him disappear - and an instant later, after a fleeting sensation she had no words for, Ireen saw him again in front of her, this time in the hall of Dublin Linkport.

They walked toward the desk. Ireen said, "Some people think a fair warning might be helpful, too."

"Warning?" Gabriel looked astonished. "But wasn't it clear? I mean, what should I've said?"

"What about Happy Christmas?" When, after a second of utter disbelief, the grin was spreading on Gabriel's face, Ireen added, "You know, just to make it different from that countdown Sandra does each time you apparate together."

"Oh, that ..." The dismissive gesture of Gabriel's hand looked a bit like the second lesson in the young men's course for cool manners. "It's just an old habit, as if we couldn't do it otherwise. And besides, then, each of us jumps on his own, while just now I summoned you."

"That reminds me - I've been told a Muggle would feel sick when summoned, only I feel fine."

Gabriel nodded. "I paid attention to that."

"Oh." As if he'd said, I looked to both sides before crossing the street, maybe except that moving through city traffic was probably more of a challenge for this boy of seven, going eight. Ireen felt pretty sure that this particular skill was one of the differences between son and father, otherwise Harry wouldn't have used portkeys whenever sending people around.

Like the one for Tanitha ... Ireen pushed the unpleasent thought quickly away and concentrated on the things around while standing in line. She was supported in this by Gabriel's excitement: the boy kept glancing around, taking in every detail of this ordinary linkport scene.

Ireen said, "Someone looking at you must think this is your first linkport travel - which is quite funny, considering how often you jumped around the world with your father."

"But it is my first," protested Gabriel. "At least the first bigger one, and that's quite different. You can watch people, and things ... Harry told me how they used to travel with a train, when he was in school. I'd like to do that - travelling with a train, sitting there, walking around in the train ..."

So much for the last developments in technomagic, thought Ireen.

They came out in London Linkport. They had twenty minutes until the connection link to Hongkong was due, the longest period of waiting on their route. Gabriel pointed to the line of shops.

"Can we have a look?"

"We haven't even time to buy a single item," replied Ireen, but then, seeing Gabriel's face, she said, "Okay, but only five minutes, no more."

They walked over. From Ireen's own perspective, the shops were just the kind you'd expect in such a travel station - sweets, tobacco, books, music, bags and suitcases, but Gabriel pressed his nose at the glass pane, drinking in the sight of the overpriced items in exhibit.

Ireen said, "Tell you what, Gabriel - one of these days, we should make another journey, maybe just London, Paris, and back, with lots of time we can spend, then we'll stroll through all these shops here, with enough pocket money so we can - "

Gabriel wheeled around and stared at something across the hall. Next moment, he craned his neck, his glance sweeping from side to side.

"What is it?"

Gabriel relaxed a bit. "There was a man, but he's gone."

Ireen examined the scene across without seeing anything out of the ordinary, but felt her neck hair rise even so.

"What did he do?"

"He ..." Gabriel turned to her, probably recognizing her alarmed look. "He was watching us - anyway, he's gone, let's go to our gate before we're too late." He took her hand and pulled her forward, as if suddenly their roles had changed.

Standing in line again, Ireen had calmed down enough to start another attempt. "What was so special about him, Gabriel? You were peeking into the shop window, and next moment you shot around as if kicked from behind."

"Because of the way he felt," came the boy's answer. "Like ..." He stopped, shot her a quick glance, looked away. "Doesn't matter - he isn't here any longer."

Gabriel wasn't telling her what really had happened, that was all Ireen felt certain about. And why not? Stepping forward, her mind came up with two possible explanations, both of them equally disquieting: either because he didn't want to worry her, maybe with respect to the recent events, or Gabriel thought she would cancel the journey instantly ... Or for both reasons together.

Standing in line, slowly moving toward a linkport gate, seemed an awful place for a discussion about that. And worse - there was no longer a boy at Ireen's side, excited about his first long journey. Instead, she saw a wizard with an unreadable expression in his face, watching the scene, quite casually, as it seemed, only she wasn't buying it. And small as that wizard looked, this was just a deception, tricking the eye, if not the mind.

They jumped and were in Hongkong. Suddenly it was a few minutes past midnight, while the linkport hall still looked as crowded as early in the evening. They checked around for their connection gate to Tokyo, found it, and walked over.

Ireen had a very bad conscience. She should have done something more, should have asked Gabriel again, should have started the trip home instantly - only he wasn't going to tell her more, and following their planned route seemed as fast a way home as any other.

Somehow, that made it even worse. This - and the fact that Gabriel's excited mood didn't return. He was watchful, yes, extremely so, but in a totally different way than before.

They were already a few steps from their Tokyo port when Ireen realized what Gabriel was doing - scanning the crowd for a particular picture, or sensation in his mind. Coming out in Tokyo, she said, "You're looking all the time for that man, right?"


"All right, Gabriel - we'll follow our route as planned, probably we're sufficiently far away, but once back in the castle, we'll talk with Harry, okay?"

"Yeah, sure."

His astonishment had sounded genuine enough - so Gabriel had decided to talk with his father probably a second after this scene at the shop. Ireen suppressed a sigh - she wasn't playing in the same league as her travelling companion, not at all.

They reached Osaka, gaining another hour local time, for the first time finding a hall as quiet as suitable to this night time. And in the gate to Akashi, the two of them counted as one half of all travellers together.

The line of cabs outside the building didn't stretch long either, however one cab was all they needed. When Ireen told the cab driver their destination, the Japanase said that would be fine with him, only there'd be everything closed, and the drive was about half an hour. Ireen told him they knew, and that it was okay.

Looking to her side, she met Gabriel's eyes. The boy smiled. "That's my first longer cab ride, too." Then he looked out again, watching how the streetlights came closing in, whooshing past the car, on streets nearly deserted.

They reached the Miyikura complex. The driver stopped the car next to the exposition building, on which only the large company sign was illuminated. He pointed and said something Ireen didn't fully understand.

"Okay. We'll leave here." She looked at the taxameter, then opened her bag.

A sound of utter disbelief came from the driver. Only now, Ireen became aware of the misunderstanding - the driver had been sure about to be paid on his way back, might not have agreed to this route otherwise.

He rattled something Ireen couldn't follow either, and maybe it was better this way - the average cab driver's language in such a situation, especially to a woman in Japan, that was probably something she didn't need urgently.

Gabriel said, "He thought we'd come back with him, didn't he?"

"Yes, apparently. But he's wrong, and while it's true that I didn't tell him, he didn't ask either."

The wizard with the watchful glance was gone. The gentle boy at Ireen's side said, "I wouldn't mind driving back. Let me just have a look, and then - it doesn't matter where we jump from, we can do it from Akashi as well."

Was it just the night ride? Or a cab driver looking very upset? Or maybe the discussion lying ahead? At any rate, Ireen told the driver they had changed their mind and would drive back with him, after this young man had had a closer look at the building.

The driver, still looking sour, murmured something almost inaudible - to stop in a sudden gasp that was followed by a pained groan.

Gabriel's head turned to Ireen, showing eyes gone dark. "Tell him to apologize, otherwise he'd get another one. And then pay him."

Ireen gasped herself. "That was you?"

"Yes." It came fierce.

Before she had time to ask, or to do what Gabriel wanted, the driver bowed quickly several times and explained he felt very ashamed, this way giving proof that he could follow English as well as minds that were changing twice in such a short time.

Ireen paid him, with a tip matching Californian standards. They climbed out, then watched how the cab took off into the night, with tires almost squealing.

Ireen looked at Gabriel. "Why did you do that?"

"He insulted you." Seeing her expression, Gabriel added, "I don't know what he said, but it must have been something very insulting, I could sense it clearly."

Ireen almost laughed, now that the tension was fading. "You're some knight ... All right then, let's have our look."