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 09 - Trails

Chapter Summary:
Harry and Lieutenant Seeger visit some suspects, more exactly a small-scale company which might be suspect. As it turns out, the suspicion is more the other way around.

09 - Trails

Sitting in the passenger seat of Seeger's Pontiac, Harry felt uncomfortable. Maybe he wasn't quite as uncomfortable as Nagini, curled over his feet because a Pontiac wasn't designed for people with snakes round their chest, but this didn't make him feel better.

It had to do with the car's inappropriate air condition, with some overstressed shock absorbers, and also with Carl's style of driving, which might stand in a cause-and-effect relationship to their state. Or maybe Harry's uneasiness could be explained much simpler: the average service car of a Los Angeles police officer belonged to a different category than the German or Japanese luxury cars Harry had grown used to, when driving was unavoidable.

It didn't improve Harry's mind either that right now, his son would jump around the globe. Gabriel wouldn't be doing it alone; Ireen was with him, but even at the best of times Ireen had never struck Harry as the most determined person, should something go wrong.

His own task at hand, on the other side, gave him no worries. Paul had found a small company with the name Letterals Inc., listed in Tony's files as well as in those of Amanda Waylon's last movie, and now Harry and Carl were on their way to the company's office.

These people had been in charge of the final credits in the movies. Just that, not even the lead-in titles because, as Harry had learned from Mrs Carmino, these titles, their size, shape, and colour were integral parts of the complete intro and nothing for which a director in his right mind would hire such a no-name company.

Carl slowed down and turned right. "Cullinan Drive," he said, "that's the street. Number seventeen, that must - there it is."

He had parked double. Now he bent down and came up with a laminated sheet that showed the LAPD emblem, then placed it in front of the steering wheel, visible from the outside. To Harry, the detective said, "Sometimes it saves us from a ticket, sometimes not. There was a time when we could place the red light on top, that worked better."

"And today?" asked Harry. "Would it be gone, coming down again?"

"Maybe not from the car," replied the lieutenant. "But the car would be missing altogether. As bad as it looks, stealing a police car is kid's sport nowadays, and the red light would be like an invitation. Okay, let's see what we've got here."

Draping Nagini around himself, Harry saw Carl's hand go under his jacket, apparently a trained reflex - checking his gun before walking into a scene where he might need it.

They exchanged a look, their eyes silently commenting on each other's preparation, then walked inside.

The building had no receptionist, not in this quarter which was the local realm of small enterprises, to put it politely. They saw lots of signs, some of them even handwritten - agencies for this and that, lawyers, loan sharks, a private eye. And Letterals Inc., in an adventurous type font on a paper sheet, in Harry's mind raising the picture of some kids playing with a computer and a laser printer.

The elevator worked and took them up to the third floor. Following another one of those sheets, this time with an arrow pointing into a narrow corridor, they reached a door at which the by now familiar sheet told them that the prosperous Letterals Inc. could be found inside. Seeger knocked at the door.

"It's open," came a male voice from inside.

Harry followed Carl through the door and stood in a room with office furniture, the desks covered with computer equipment. A young man and a girl, sitting back to back, were staring at the detective.

The young man said, "You aren't the delivery guy, are you?" Then his gaze fell on Harry, and a second later on Nagini. Slowly, he said, "No, you're not."

The girl was staring at the snake in fascination. After a moment, she lifted her eyes to Harry's face and said admiringly, "Pretty cool - what are you, Greenpeace?"

"No," said Seeger and presented his badge, raising almost as much attention as Harry with his snake. The detective started to explain.

Still outside in the corridor, Harry had already been pretty sure they wouldn't find magicals here. A short exchange with Nagini confirmed this - the two young people were Muggles, no doubt representing the complete staff of Letterals Inc.

Looking up, Harry saw that Carl had lost his audience as well as his own speech - three faces were staring at himself, at Nagini, but mostly at him. He said, "That was snake language."

The young man started to grin. "Hey, I met the dog Squad before, in my drug days - but a snake, that's something new." Toward Seeger, he added, "You two are really good, but don't let them catch you with that badge - they don't think it's funny, not the least bit."

"What?" Carl's face showed disbelief.

"The cops, man - 'specially not about this story. You should pick another one, before going on stage, something you can laugh about, like, er ..."

The young man was still trying to find a better example when the lieutenant handed him a business card and said, "We'll think it over - in the meantime, here's my card, in case you hear something you'd like to tell me." Then he turned, gave Harry a very short nod to follow, and walked out.

Standing at the elevator, Carl stared at the snake, then shook his head. "Harry, our routine needs some improvement. I felt so ridiculous in there - for a moment, I was seriously tempted to arrest the guy, just to make sure he'll never again confuse me with one of those showbiz clowns."

The cabin arrived. They stepped in, and when the door had closed and they started to move downward, Harry said, "Sorry, Carl - next time, I'll instruct Nagini beforehand, so it's only her talking snake language - but you know, that's the minimum."

"Yeah, I think it's okay if a snake talks snake language." Next moment, Carl looked at Harry as if not trusting his ears, hearing his own words. Then he started to chuckle, and finally he said, "Oh Jesus - picking another one, before going on stage ... Harry, this is your opportunity to win a friend for life, it's quite simple, actually - "

"No," interrupted Harry, "but I promise you I'll tell it only to my family."

Down at the street, he told Carl he wouldn't come back with him because he had some family business, but he'd join him again later - it might take less time than the car ride, so maybe he'd wait for him already in the office.

"This is a damned time machine, your apparition stuff." Carl climbed into the car and drove off.

Harry apparated home to Carron Lough, into the dining room, good husband that he was. His first sensing-around told him that his son was still on that journey, his daughter somewhere in Paris, and his wife, for all he knew, in her headquarters twenty miles south.

Reaching the kitchen, he found a scene worth staring at - Beverly, Tanitha in her lap but sideways and supported by one arm while the other was spoon-feeding the girl, with every mouthful announced and classified in the old custom, "... this one's for Sandy, here we go, yes, lovely, and the next one's for ..."

It had been Tanitha's reaction which made Beverly look up, registering Harry with Nagini still around his chest. She faltered in her sermon, her face darkening, then she continued, "... so this one's for Nagini, that's why it should go down extra smoothly ..."

Tanitha, not showing any objections toward this dedication, swallowed obediently.

Harry sat down. "I haven't heard this kind of incantation for quite some time - and even for Nagini, which is quite funny after what we had to listen to a few minutes ago."

A quick glance was Beverly's only comment.

Knowing only too well that this was her equivalent to something like, "Tell me, I'm dying to hear," Harry described the encounter with the two young people. "Carl didn't know how to look, he isn't used at all to be made fun of - "

Harry faltered for an instant because talking about Carl had reminded him of his promise to tell the story only within the family. Telling Beverly didn't really feel like a breach of promise, only he better wouldn't mention this part because declaring her as part of the family had all ingredients to kill any further remark from Beverly's side for the next two months.

But right now she said, "Nagini's still the hero of Slytherin."

"Really?" Harry grinned at the memory of that year, when Nagini had been awarded fifty points in Hogwarts' House Cup. Dumbledore, the cunning Headmaster, had counted them for the House of Slytherin with its snake in the banner, rather than for Harry's own, Gryffindor. The effect was that Gryffindor lost the House Cup to Ravenclaw.

And Beverly was Ravenclaw, to the deep satisfaction of Cho, who had been a Ravenclaw herself.

Harry asked, "Do they still run this competition like they did when we were students?"

"Sharper than ever," replied Beverly. "That's what Mrs Lupin says, because I wouldn't know. It's all quite friendly - very British, I think," Beverly smiled, "but they fight for every point."

"Like we did."

Harry felt pleased, seeing the pictures coming up in his memory. "Nagini scoring for Slytherin, somehow that improved terms between the houses quite a bit - although, the real breakthrough had been before, with Bob and Angelina falling in love ..."

Bob Daunty from Slytherin had been Harry's first teammate in the Flying Squad. And his next teammate had been Cho, and then Viktor had arrived to announce that the twin teams should form themselves as permanent ones, following their own preferences. Harry still could see himself, sitting frozen, before he finally managed to walk over to Cho.

Looking up, he could read in Beverly's face that she knew about Bob, while not from him, which only left an information channel that had to be formed with Cho at the beginning and Chrissy at the end.

Seeing his look, Beverly blushed again.

Trying to find a less sensitive topic, Harry said, "Imagine they'd know that you're in touch with Nagini ..."

"But they know!" After this outburst, Beverly's face darkened more, and probably not because she had interrupted him.

"From whom?" Harry felt at a loss to imagine who'd leaked this information, felt sure it hadn't been Beverly herself.

"Mrs Snape."

"Samantha? Yes, of course, who else." Harry chuckled. "That's her - never afraid of spilling a secret or two, if she thinks it's for good reason." And he could even see why - no doubt it had to do with Beverly's shy attitude, encouraging Samantha to give her a push toward public attention.

"And?" he asked. "What's the effect?"

"They come to me. Talk to me. Asking me things."

Harry said, "Must be horrible," then waited a second, and when he saw the girl nod eagerly, he continued, "all these boys ..."

The nodding stopped because Beverly froze, looking at him wide-eyed.

"... and you never know, is it you they're attracted by or just a damned snake."

Beverly's face was blood red. Had she been able to move a muscle, she would have looked away.

Harry glanced down at Nagini, made a hissing sound, and looked up again. "I just apologized to Nagini that I called her a damned snake. She said it's okay with her. Maybe I should also apologize to you ..."

A choked sound from Beverly, most likely a denial.

"... to be so blunt. But you know, I feel obliged to Samantha, and when she saw reason to push you right into the middle of this merciless crowd ..."

A tentative grin appeared somewhere in the embarrassed face opposite him.

"... then it can't be that wrong to support her a bit, in particular since I'm pretty sure about what's attracting them, and that has little resemblance with a snake."

The half-formed grin disappeared and was replaced by an alarmed look.

Harry turned to the dish with a forgotten rest of something of which he only knew, it wasn't rice-pudding, Sandy's one-and-only food at Tanitha's age. "All right - for compensation after this conversation, let me show you a trick that's at least as good as this spoon parade."

Putting his fingertips together, pointing them at the dish, Harry formed a tiny ball of pudding, then he made it rise a few inches and move toward a small mouth. Arriving there, the ball made a short jump upward, was back again, then eased forward.

Tanitha opened her mouth, and the ball went inside.

"It started in Hogwarts," explained Harry, "as a project about poison balls. Then it turned to water balls, for practising purposes - well, and later it came in quite handy, when Sandra was about that age."

Beverly had found her speech again and said, "But she did it by herself, didn't she?"

"Yes, but only after she saw me doing it. She grasped the idea, and probably she copied what she felt of the spell. I mean, it's not complicated, needs just a bit practice - it's really much simpler without a spoon."

"Yes, I think you're right ..."

The moment the conversation turned about babies, Beverly's shyness seemed to disappear, raising a thought in Harry's mind he would never speak out aloud in her presence: that babies were the end product in a sequence of cause and effect, a sequence in which the other steps were also worth considering.

"... but you know, I'm not playing in Sandra's league."

Harry shrugged. "So you'll have to practise a bit longer. You know how long it took me then? Weeks. And besides, nobody's playing in Sandy's league, maybe with the exception of Gabriel - " He stopped, having sensed something, and started to smile. "Talking about the devil - here they come."

And seconds later, Gabriel and Ireen came in, saying hello to all sides. Gabriel sat down and seemed ready to eat something, while Ireen fussed with Tanitha, shooting admiring glances to daughter and babysitter that the feeding had gone so well.

"So then," said Harry, "how was your trip? Did you find the exposition hall?"

Ireen looked at Gabriel, and Gabriel's answer was a short, "Yes."

It told Harry two things. First, he'd made the common mistake of asking two questions where one would have been enough. And there was something else to report.

He looked from one traveller to the other. "Who's going to tell?"

A hesitant silence, broken first by Beverly who rose from her chair and said, "I think I should go."

Next instant, everybody was talking at the same time. Harry won the competition by coming up, putting his hands on Beverly's shoulders, and saying, "Sit down. Hearing some family gossip won't hurt too much." Then he sat himself again, looking expectant.

Ireen glanced at Gabriel. "I'll tell about the taxi driver, and you about the man in the station, okay?"

The boy nodded.

After another second's silence, Harry said, "Ladies first."

Ireen described the drive from Akashi Linkport to the Miyikura hall, and what had happened there, emphasizing her own failure in making clear what type of travel this would be. She finished, "... and he looked very guilty when he drove off."

About the same was true for Gabriel, right now.

While Beverly's face seemed full of admiration, and Harry himself was almost losing control of his face still looking serious, and of his mind guard, desperately trying not to burst out laughing.

A quick glance from his son told him that he'd already lost the battle.

"Well, son," he started - not coming further because the chuckling rose in his throat, and of course everybody joined him with relief.

Calming down, Harry said, "Listen, Gabriel, it's not quite that funny - in a free society, people have the right to be impolite. To some degree, you were right - if a man insults the lady in your company, you're supposed to take measures, and, well, I hope your blow was decent."

"Er - yes, reasonably so."

Nagini kept silent, which meant Gabriel was telling the truth - however a truth measured by his own perspective, leaving still some room to imagine what this taxi driver might have felt.

"On the other side," said Harry, "did you know that, for Japanese, women often count as people second class?"

"I've heard about that," said Gabriel, "but that's wrong, isn't it?"

Trying to ignore twisting lips, his own included, Harry said, "Yes, of course it's wrong - only that's their culture, and if you're a guest in a culture, you behave as a guest, rather than as a missionaire of western ethics ... When a Japanese comes to visit here or in America, he sees many things he considers wrong, without starting to teach his hosts."

Gabriel looked at Ireen, who had more experience with Japanese visitors than anyone else in this room.

Answering the unspoken question, Ireen said, "That's true - and if they're polite and civilized, they don't even draw a face."

Making do with this half-hearted support, Harry said, "So you see, Gabriel, these things always have two sides."

"Yes, Dad." Gabriel looked unhappy. "It was also because ... the way this man felt, it reminded me of the other man, the one in the station in London, and - er, I guess I was angry at him for the other."

"What was in London?" Sensing his son's emotions, Harry lost all amusement in an instant.

"There was a man - we had a few minutes, and were looking into the shops, when I felt someone staring at us - it was more than staring, it was as if he'd been aiming at us, like with - "

Gabriels voice faltered, his quick glance toward Ireen told Harry the words he'd swallowed - like with a gun.

"... and then I turned around as quickly as I could, and saw him at the other side, but it wasn't ... It was a camera. He was making pictures of us."

"A camera?" Ireen stared at the boy.

"Yes, and it felt so - I wanted to take the camera away, but I wasn't ... I mean, it wasn't forbidden what he did, only ... But next second, he was gone, and then it was too late anyway."

Into the silence, Harry said, "Go ahead, son."

"Uhm, yes - in the other stations, I looked for him all the time, but he wasn't around ... That's all."

Harry's mind was racing. "You didn't think it was a press journalist, did you?"

"No, Dad. They feel different."

"When he disappeared, did he fade into the crowd or did he apparate?"

"He apparated." Gabriel looked at his father. "I wanted to pursue him, to fetch the camera. But ..."

Seeing almost a mirror of his younger self, Harry said, "You were angry because you had hesitated a second too long, right? And this hesitation, it was because you were on this particular journey, and in public, and an eight-year-old is not supposed to pull a camera out of the hands of a grown man, isn't that so?"

"Yes, Dad, that's just why."

"Don't blame yourself, Gabriel." Harry sent a smile, but only with his eyes. "You have excellent instincts, and all I can say is, trust your instincts - next time, just do it, and face the consequences afterwards."

"I will, Dad," said a beaming Gabriel.

Harry didn't feel like beaming at all. "Say, what do you think - was he shooting pictures of you, or Ireen, or both of you?"

The boy shrugged. "He felt as if he'd called, them two ... As if he'd been waiting for us."

"Waiting?" Ireen looked baffled. "How could he? Nobody knew that we were going to travel at that time."

"No," said Gabriel, "I booked our slots through the Internet, all along the way. You can hack into such connections easily - the Internet isn't safe at all, but for a linkport reservation, I mean, what's confidential about that?"

Harry would have liked to give a remark that maybe it was some yellow press journalist, despite what Gabriel had felt - except he didn't believe it, and with Nagini still around him, he wasn't ready to say it aloud.

Instead, he said, "It's a weird story, but you find all kinds of people in linkports. Anyway, now that Gabriel knows the place, we don't need them any longer."

Gabriel saw his chance. "That's right, Dad - what do you think, can we do it this evening?"

Seeing the glances in his direction, Gabriel added, "I mean, Beverly's here, and that's the best opportunity, isn't it?"

Harry never had felt less like buying a xylophone, but then again, had he ever felt like that? And maybe this was the best method of hiding his worries, following the boy's suggestion - and to settle it before Cho was around to spread panic.

He looked at Beverly, then at his son. "All right - if you don't mind me coming with you."

Checking the faces told him - he had fooled nobody, they all knew he was worried.

* * *

Paul Sillitoe dropped the computer printout on the desk and sighed. Then he started doing something a researcher wasn't supposed to do, at least not in this state of things: think about the data, rather than evaluating them.

After swearing a bit first.

He had a good excuse for his sinful work. At least, he had an excuse that would count for the journalist in himself, while not for the researcher: his data was spent, with no result.

Paul had collected all data from Tony Chee. He had gathered all data he could get about Amanda Waylon and her last movies, feeling pretty sure that would do. Then he had cross-checked them, and had sent the lieutenant, together with Harry and his snake, to the few places that couldn't be cleared out by phone and paperwork. Nothing.

As a true researcher, now Paul would have been obliged to collect data from the other cases, from King's widow, for example, and start over again. Only this was nonsense.

His chain of conclusions was thin, extremely single-threaded, in a way, but Paul felt fine with it. First, because he wasn't a researcher. This was a myth held precious by Harry, after something which, to the outside, had looked like research turned out to be the base for the successful tracking-down of Voldemort. And Paul himself hadn't seen reason to clarify.

He was a journalist, that's what he was and would ever be. And as such, his metaphorical nose kept itching here.

Because what Harry had said sounded reasonable; the kidnappers had to be insiders of some kind. And the key factor, the reason why Paul felt no inclination going for King's files now, was Tony. More exactly, Tony's slender footprint in the press. The lack of articles about Tony and his child told Paul, if there was anything to find, he'd find it in Tony's files. With data from another case for cross-checking, and for that, the Waylon data did the job.

Trusting this approach, Paul was supposed to find a group of people who had done some work in Tony's movie projects, especially in the last two of them. He had looked for companies, small to medium scale, not striking gold. Which meant, he had to look closer, dig deeper.

Which meant, subcontractors.

Paul also trusted the idea that these people were working together, which excluded freelancers and single-head enterprises. Three people were the minimum, and in this business, it meant the first thing they'd have done at some time in the past was to invent a name, a company logo, and print business cards.

Subcontractors, then. And where to look, short of everywhere?

Very simple - where you'd expect wizards. And that was the point where Paul finally had left the holy path of tedious research, in favour of daring speculations. Or well-founded ones, if you were ready to trust this itching, and he was.

The first keyword that came to mind was stuntmen. But funny as it seemed, Tony never had used stuntmen to a degree that would involve more than a few specialists, working alone. Yes, some stuntwomen were listed, while otherwise the actors had done their jumps and falls themselves. This had been Tony's trademark - real fighters, for whom falling down a staircase was part of their regular business.

Then, of course, special effects.

"Special effects are made on computers nowadays," Mrs Carmino had said. "Except for fireworks and car crashes, because in such scenes, everybody can spot a fake instantly, and that'd be the killing mistake."

Still, for Paul this felt like the most promising trail. Tony had worked with small firms. Mrs Carmino's statement was certainly true for Tony's movies, in which car explosions didn't play much of a role, while ghosts, ghouls, and glibberworms, supposedly Chinese though not for the soup, had a short but violent cyber life - except of course that all of them were eons old, before the movie started and the hero came along.

In contrast, the Waylon movie Desperate Measures showed lots of the common action, with explosions, firestorms, the usual car hunt, everything you'd expect in an action movie, and the company in charge of all this demolition had been F/X Entertainment Effects.

Paul intended to start with them. The only question was - should he appear as a journalist and ghostwriter in the services of Amanda Waylon, or as a representative of the LAPD?

One was a lie as much as the other, but maybe appearing as a cop counted as the smaller lie, and Paul certainly liked the idea of asking questions with some borrowed authority.

He pressed the Call button of the desk-o-mate and specified the name of that company when the voice without picture asked for his request. The device hadn't been Tony's and wasn't Paul's own either; it had come from Harry soon after they had started this investigation.

"Effix Entertainment Effects, may I help you, sir?"

The desk-o-mate display presented the picture of a woman around thirty, dark-haired, showing a polite smile. It told Paul there was a desk-o-mate at the other end as well, a bit unusual for a reception desk, although much more reasonable than for anyone else. The display didn't tell him the name of that woman, simply because she had told her own device not to reveal it automatically. This was a common habit; Paul had instructed his own the same way.

"Hello," he said, "this is Paul Sillitoe, calling in the name of the Los Angeles Police Department - who am I talking with?"

"This is Kathleen Miller, Mr Sillitoe ..."

Paul's display updated itself by presenting the name.

"... and you'd be the first detective who uses a desk-o-mate. So would you please tell me what it means exactly, calling in the name of the LAPD?"

So much for borrowed authority. Stupid desk-o-mates, revealing everything.

"Well, Mrs Miller, I run an investigation together with detectives from the LAPD. It has to do with the recent kidnapping cases, with the Chee case as the last of them - actually I'm sitting in Mr Chee's office, and - "

"Mr Sillitoe." The voice was friendly but very determined. "It's still unclear to me whether this is an official call or something else."

Paul grinned into the microphone. "Let me put it this way, Mrs Miller, you can answer my questions or not, and if not, you'll be asked the questions again by a Lieutenant Seeger, who'll be excited to make your acquaintance - although you're right, he won't see your picture. Would you like to check this with him?"

"Yes, that's what I had in mind now."

"He uses a phony, so you can ask your own device for his number. Of course I could give it to you, only it might be part of this big hoax, so - "

There was amusement in the woman's voice when she said, "I'll call you back in a minute, Mr Sillitoe."

It took even less time until her picture appeared on Paul's display again. He pressed the Answer button.

"I'm still here, Mrs Miller."

A chuckling. "It's Miss, by the way - or just Kathleen. Sorry to let you wait, Mr Sillitoe - "

"Or just Paul," he threw in.

"... Paul, but now you're certified. So how can I help you?"

He had used the time to think it over how much he should explain of his true interest and had decided to play openly - well, to some degree.

"I'm looking for common factors in these cases, Kathleen. F/X Entertainment Effects has been a contractor in the movie Desperate Measures, in which Amanda Waylon had a role - hers was the first case. Now, what I'd like to know for starters, does F/X Entertainment Effects hire subcontractors in such projects?"

"Yes, of course."

That sounded promising. "Why of course?"

"You must know, F/X Entertainment is in first place a global contractor for film projects. Our own resources cover the tasks that can be made with computer animation - although, sometimes, even for that we'd hire a computer studio. While for all kinds of real effects, we'd make contracts with specialized teams, or single persons."

Paul was scribbling feverishly. "Would they be listed in the film - at the end, I mean?"

"In the final credits? It depends - stuntmen for sure, and of course the more famous artists of their profession - fireworkers, for example."

A printout of the credits list in Desperate Measures was lying before Paul's eyes, and he scanned it while listening to Kathleen's explanations. "Ahh ... yes, I see. But they're mentioned alone, isn't it, even if they work with a team."

"That's right." Kathleen laughed. "Only for the mega stars, these lists show every name, down to the last asswiper ... And for the director, of course."

"All right then." Paul inhaled deeply. "Can you tell me your subcontractors for Desperate Measures?"

"What? All of them - over the phone?" There was a gasp in her voice.

"Well, hm, I didn't think there were that many ..." Paul wasn't in the mood to wait for a detailed list. He said, "I'll need the complete list eventually, but for now - I'm interested mostly in teams of more than two people, and I'd really appreciate if you could give me a few names now."

A short hesitation at the other end. "Listen, Paul, I have to look it up in the files - I guess I'm going to find the names of the same people we always work with, but for such an official inquiry - "

"Please!" Paul's voice became imploring. "Just give me the names that come to your mind, and once the list is ready, I'll verify them - besides, Desperate Measures is my starting point, I'm not even sure - I mean, it's a likely candidate, not more."

"Just one more question - when do you expect the complete list, and how?"

Paul recognized the message between the lines instantly. "Give me something to work at, then it's okay till day after tomorrow - an e-mail will do, in whatever format you like."

"Are you a journalist, Paul? You are no cop, that's for sure."

He almost gritted his teeth. "Yes I am, but it's still true that I work with the police in this business. Why?"

"Accepting any format - no cop would do that." Kathleen's voice became a bit teasing. "I didn't doubt your honesty, that wasn't the reason for my question."

In all his greed for information, Paul suddenly realized that there was a woman at the other end, quite good-looking, for what his display told him, and this woman seemed to try a pass on him. He said, "Might be I sound a bit narrow-minded, right now, and my only excuse is, I am a bit narrow-minded right now. But if you have a few bones for me to gnaw on, I could imagine myself inviting you to a dinner. What about that?"

"Sounds great. Okay then, you ready?"


The first name Kathleen gave him belonged to a computer studio for animations. The next was an agency for stuntmen, not telling Paul more. The third name also had to do with stunts, only this time specialized in car stunts and car races on public streets. The fourth name accelerated his heartbeat - Pyromaniacs Inc., a team for fireworks, blow-ups, and demolition, the same team which appeared under its own name in one of Tony's movies.

In his excitement, Paul almost missed to register the second hit, Gilbert Masks & Costumes, a make-up studio for special make-ups, from a walking zombie to a cyclop with a single eye above the nose. This studio had worked for Tony at least once; Paul remembered the name, while not the movie -

"You still there, Paul?"

"Er - yes, I'm here ..." With some effort, Paul mustered a bit more enthusiasm in his voice. "Thanks, Kathleen, you might've given me something. So what about tomorrow evening?"

"That's fine with me. If you come with flowers, I'll come with the list, isn't this an offer?"

Paul laughed. "Yes it is, but you shouldn't have the list with you because, you know, I'd be tempted all the time to look into it."

"You mean, I should leave it at home, and we can fetch it there afterwards?" Now her voice was openly flirtatious.

"A very interesting idea," he replied, "only that the distracting effect might still be the same."

"I take the challenge." Kathleen's voice left little doubt whom she expected to win. "Any suggestions which place to go?"

"Since I'm not from here, I know just one - Luiz Pereira. But if you have some other idea ..."

"You kidding? I'm not going to spoil my one and only chance to have dinner in that restaurant - although, I wouldn't wonder if they're booked out already, one day is short notice for them, as I've been told."

Paul grinned. "Let me manage, and be prepared to find a table waiting for us there. Bye."

He felt in high spirit after this conversation. However, when calling Seeger, Paul was told that checking out these teams had to wait - Harry had given notice that he was dealing with some family business, only that Seeger couldn't imagine which, because it took place in Japan.

* * *

Gabriel came awake and opened his eyes an instant before Fleur's hands reached his shoulders. He murmured, "Time?"

"No, not at all - I just wanted to check whether I can catch you in sleep."

Gabriel could sense that Fleur's grumpiness wasn't completely faked, and he had a fair guess why: in contrast to his parents, Fleur wasn't used to people who opened their eyes already before the other person had touched them. But when he smiled at her, the moment of uneasiness was gone. Next moment, though, when checking his wristwatch, Gabriel saw reason to feel grumpy himself.

"Why so early? It's only half past eleven!"

Fleur made a show of checking the time by herself. She lifted Gabriel's arm and stared at his watch. "My, really ..." Then she grinned. "Come on, midnight lunch's due."

"I'm not hungry, I'm too much - " Gabriel stopped; like his father, he saw little sense in arguing with a doorframe that had emptied a second before. And shouting remarks across several rooms wasn't his habit either.

So he rose from the chaiselongue on which he'd been dozing, after Fleur had tranced him a bit two hours ago, all this in preparation for the journey to Japan - the second for him, the first for Michel.

Coming into the kitchen, the smell of garbled eggs with ham, potatoes, and cheese was enough for Gabriel to change his mind at once. He sat down and grabbed the fork in anticipation. "Hmmmm ...."

Without turning, Fleur asked, "Has Michel fallen asleep again?"

"No, must be here any second."

For Fleur, practical as ever, the question was perfectly normal - Gabriel could sense it, so why walking to check? And indeed, seconds later, a sleepy-looking Michel came into the kitchen, still yawning.

Fleur filled their dishes, then sat down and took a small piece from the baguette for herself. "So 'arry's coming with you, huh?"

"Yes." Chewing with a full mouth, Gabriel was saved from commenting further on his father's change of mind, and the reasons for that.

"That's even better, then I can negotiate with him afterwards who's covering what." Fleur glanced at her son. "And you, my little drummer boy, what are you going to come back with?"

Michel shrugged. "Naphing, I fink." His pronounciation suffered from his own mouthful of food.

"Never." Fleur turned to Gabriel. "I checked their home page myself, and scanned a bit deeper, rather than staring at this one picture all the time." Her eyes were shining. "They offer a bit more than just xylophones."

"What elph?" Gabriel's interest in Miyikura's other program was somehow limited, while he really enjoyed this mode of conversation - talking with egg between the syllables and ham for punctuation was a welcome change from the standards in Carron Lough.

"You'll see by yourself." Fleur turned to Michel. "All I'm saying is, use the opportunity. Sometimes it's nice to be rich, and today's one of these occasions." She checked her own watch. "Or tomorrow - except that for me, tomorrow will be when it's tomorrow here."

Which would be a few minutes from now, but Gabriel agreed with Fleur that a new day should start in the morning - six o'clock would be about right. At any rate, the question of the prices was occupying his mind much stronger, because Gabriel had seen some of them in the Miyikura web pages, and they looked expensive, although he had difficulties to correlate them with something else.

So he asked, "How expensive are they, Fleur?"

His aunt smiled. "They don't come cheap, but don't bother with that - just go by the sound they offer, otherwise you could have bought them right in the next shop. And don't forget - they offer flutes, too."

Yes, Gabriel knew, only he already had a flute, but no xylophone yet. But maybe Fleur was right ... Suddenly he felt glad Harry would be around, because his father would help him to find the balance between missing an occasion and grabbing too much at once, and his father would do so with a few decent hints heard by nobody, because most of them would be given mentally.

The dishes were empty. Some more gulps of cafe au lait which by people less polite might have been called coffee-coloured milk, then they were ready. Fleur kissed her son, then her nephew. She said, "Bonne chance," and stood waiting to see the boys disappear.

Gabriel grabbed Michel's hand. "Au 'voir." He concentrated, because this was the first time he would do what he had planned for a while, apparating and summoning simultaneously, for a spectator almost indiscernible from the normal sequence but still a world of difference.

And it worked! They came out in the dining room, with nobody there to watch the spectacle. Nonetheless, Gabriel beamed at Michel, who nodded approvingly, fully aware of this premiere while not overly excited, maybe because the journey to follow was more interesting, or maybe because this male half quarter-Veela had the deepest insight into what his friend could muster.

Storming ahead, Gabriel found four grown-ups in the family room, one of them just barely passing as such - Beverly, sitting with Ireen and his parents, even looking relaxed, which was probably thanks to Ireen right at her side.

"Hi," said Gabriel. "Ready?"

His mother examined him. "Don't stay all night long. You need your sleep." Cho wasn't even trying to give her admonishings to her husband, thereby showing an accurate response to the status quo, at least on this journey.

Harry came up, then Ireen.

Gabriel took Michel's hand, apparated and summoned like moments before. Still before fully registering the scene in front of him, he summoned first Ireen and then his father.

Harry looked around, then at him. "That's been synchronous, with Michel, wasn't it?"

"Yes." Gabriel beamed, as proud of his own doing as of his father recognizing it instantly.

"Well, well, well - that's something, son, really. I'd like to watch it again, but not now. Let's go."

It was shortly after nine in the morning local time. The hall could have opened only a few minutes ago, but even so, Gabriel noticed with surprise the number of people already there. It looked as if one or two courses from some school had used the same day to make a journey to this exposition. But next moment, he forgot about the other visitors, even his travelmates, when all his senses started focusing on the instruments that ware presented here.

Xylophones ... At the entrance, there had been tables presenting small instruments, the tiniest of them with just one octave - no toys at all, anyway more show-pieces of craftmanship than serious items. Then came the real ones, those built on their own racks. Single-layer pieces first, which meant three octaves, then the two-layer instruments which still had three octaves but with the full scale, meaning the second layer held the bars for the halftones.

Next came an instrument somewhat isolated from the others, as if building a bridge between two parts of the exposition. Three layers, shorter than the others - glancing up, seeing what the other part would offer, Gabriel instantly recognized this piece as some kind of experimental instrument, because there were just two octaves per layer, with the halftones integrated between the other bars.

He dismissed it at once - just looking at it didn't feel right.

And then he was in the last part: four-layer xylophones, the first and third layers bearing three octaves each, the other two providing the halftones and therefore with gaps in-between. He saw all shades of colour wood could offer, with the help of some furnishing, from nearly white to almost black.

The lighter ones were larger; they seemed a bit too wide for his size. Gabriel passed them, then stopped at an instrument with bars shining in a soft, dark red. His eyes were drinking in the sight, his mind getting in touch with the obvious musical nature of this arrangement, his imagination going through the movements. His upper torso would swing a bit, which meant his feet had to be placed firmly, giving his body a solid base when his arms would move along the bars, when he'd run a warble with the sticks shuffling across -

Someone chirped something at his side.

Coming out of his trance and looking up, Gabriel saw a man standing there - a Japanese, dark suit, pretty small, Gabriel had to tilt his head only slightly when he said, "I'm sorry?"

"Eeh ... do you speak English, sir?"

"Yes, I do - ou francais, quand c'est plus facile pour vous." Next second, Gabriel realized that this had been some kind of overkill, because the man hadn't understood, and besides - hadn't he offered English already? But nobody had called him sir before, and one politeness deserved the other.

"Yes, I speak English."

"Very good. May I be of assistance, sir? My name is Tanzani."

A quick look around told Gabriel that he was standing there alone with this man. He could feel the others in some distance, admiring something together with Michel, as it seemed. About to answer, Gabriel remembered just in time the few bits he'd learned about Japanese manners, from his father more than from Ireen. So he bowed.

"My name is Potter, Tanzani-san."

The bow was returned instantly. "Very pleased to meet you, Potter-san."

Gabriel felt pleased too, and very important, having an escort of his own. But he also felt wondering about this fact, as any other seven-year-old would do, and asked, "Do you help all visitors that way, Tanzani-san?"

A beaming smile. "There are visitors and visitors, Potter-san. When I saw how you looked at this instrument, I felt it mandatory to assist you. Would you like to give it a try?"

"Oh yes."

"May I?" Mr Tanzani touched Gabriel's shoulders, his biceps, lifted his arm a bit, taking measure. "I'll be back with some sticks in a second, Potter-san."

Gabriel used the opportunity to take the folded cardboard sheet from the top of the xylophone, to have the instrument free of all distractions as well as to examine the sheet. However, the writing was Japanese, except for some digits - and these digits looked as if they'd specify a price.

Fifty and some zeroes ... Fifty millions?

Couldn't possibly be. Gabriel wasn't fluent in prices, but fifty millions - that was impossible. Only, he knew how prices looked, with dots and commas and a hyphen at the end, totally different from a model number, except that these digits had a funny sign ...

"Here we are, Potter-san. I've brought a small selection, with different heads, so you - "

"Er - sorry, er, Tanzani-san - say, is this the price?" Gabriel pointed at the digits, anxiously waiting for the answer.

"Yes, indeed, but of course that's the price in yen."


"Yes, our local currency." Mr Tanzani waved dismissively. "You must know, Potter-san, you'd need a thousand yen for a single dollar."

"Oh ..." Gabriel was shamefully aware that he hadn't mastered yet the art of dividing fifty million by thousand, both of these numbers quite large, so whatever the result was, it had to be reasonably small, hadn't it?

Quite relieved, he examined the sticks. All of them were pretty much the same size - balancing one, the size felt just right, giving proof that this beaming Japanese knew what he was doing. The differences were in the head that would hit the wooden bars.

"This here's simple felt, Potter-san - quite a hard one, still, they'd create the softest sound and - if you'll pardon me saying so, they are a bit more forgiving than the others."

Forgiving? Oh, yes of course, had to be the hitting angle, coming wrong with them would be heard less clearly than with the others.

"Then we have these, ivory, which makes the smallest head, also the purest sound, crystal-clear, though with the shortest resonance, so they aren't everybody's case ..."

To Gabriel, these sticks looked almost like drumsticks, the heads only slightly thicker than the handles, giving him the impression he should try them only after having gained some experience.

"... and then there are our top models - wood core both of them, these here covered by fine leather, very sound, the ones I'd recommend, if you allow me so ..."

Yes, Gabriel did, particularly so as they looked quite inviting, only that the last pair looked almost identical.

"And those - what's the difference?"

"Ah - our latest development, Potter-san. The cover - see here, that's shark skin. Please feel it - the surface is rougher than leather, as you'll notice, which makes for a feathery sound, lighter than usual."

"I'll try them first." Gabriel held the leather-covered ones still in his hands.

"Yes, absolutely, Potter-san."

Gabriel's first beats came tentatively. He was listening to the sound, to the differences when hitting the bars harder, lighter, what was happening when he muted the bar with the stick not lifting off, testing his stance. Similarities to a keyboard, yes, from the technique, still totally different. This sound ... bells made of wood; it was wonderful.

Then he started real playing. A few chords establishing a theme, repeating it, circling around, improvising, still testing the ground, hesitantly first to switch between the layers, after a moment gaining confidence. The wooden bars were talking with him, inviting him, and he met them joyfully with these magnificent sticks.

And now his first warble ... Erm, yes, that would need some more training, maybe a shorter one, for the time being - better, still not up to Gabriel's own standard, so he kept to single beats, now playing slower, using the short moments of silence between his beats, giving each bar time to fade out - and, finally, a small furioso in which his stick-armed hands were flying across the layers, at last stopping abruptly.

He nearly jumped when the applause rose around him. Looking up, Gabriel saw quite some people, among them a group of Japanese schoolgirls, staring at him in awe. And his father, Ireen, and Michel.

Mr Tanzani bowed twice rapidly. "Excellent, Potter-san - you are made for each other, you and this instrument."

A gentle wave in Gabriel's mind told him that this had to be a mix of honest approval and the flattery of a salesman, reminding him that Mr Tanzani was a member of Miyikura, after all.

Gabriel looked at his father, the origin of this wave. "What do you think?"

Harry bowed toward Mr Tanzani. "Does it make sense to let my son test other instruments?"

The Japanese bowed back. "Certainly, for the different kinds of wood - while otherwise, for the size, and the level - I'd think there is no use in trying a simpler instrument, sir."

Gabriel had the vague feeling he should introduce them to each other, only he didn't know how.

Ireen came forward. "What kind of wood is this?"

"This is cedarwood, madam. The softest in the scale that suits Potter-san's size, giving the warmest sound. The same model is offered in oak, which is the other end of the scale, and in mahogany, which is somewhere in the middle." Mr Tanzani was pointing at two other instruments nearby, one of them showing nearly the same colour, just slightly more brownish, while the other instrument had bars that looked lighter, almost grey.

Gabriel registered some amusement in both his father and Ireen. He didn't know why; it had nothing to do with him - maybe about Mr Tanzani, who had dismissed less expensive instruments so categorically.

Harry said, "Let's try the other end - the oak model."

They walked over to the xylophone with the greyish bars. Just from looking at them, Gabriel liked it less than the one he had played. However, when his sticks hit the first bars, he changed his mind at once - the sound was finer, more brilliant, with a different pitch, the effects were more audible.

When he stopped, his father asked, "So what's your impression? Cedarwood or oak?"

Gabriel pondered the question, looked up, feeling helpless. "I don't know. They're both so ... so unique." He glanced at Michel. "What do you think?"

And his friend, totally unafraid, replied, "I think we came for two, didn't we?"

Harry grinned. "That's what I thought too - and who said they had to be the same model?" He turned to Gabriel. "Then all you have to figure out is, which of them to place where. Is this okay with you?"

"That'd be great - super." Gabriel felt thrilled enough to send mind waves to all three of his travelmates, raising two smiles and a gasping twist, the latter from Ireen.

While Harry turned to Mr Tanzani, Ireen said, "We've found something else, Gabriel - for Michel. Come on, we want to show you."

After a glance to Harry, who nodded and said he'd join them there, Gabriel followed Ireen and Michel to another part of the hall, all the time feeling like floating a few inches above the floor. They left the xylophones behind, and then Gabriel saw what they meant. There were instruments he had never seen before, with two common factors - all of them were made of wood, and all of them offered alternatives to a normal drum with drumskin.

They stopped at something which took Gabriel a moment to recognize. Four pieces that looked like tubes, open at both ends. Different sizes, in length as well as in diameter. They were resting on padded frames.

Michel said, "Now watch."

He pressed a button, and all four tubes made a tiny jump, probably less than an inch. Michel explained, "It's a levitation charm built in, so the drum bodies hang entirely free - there's nothing that would dampen the resonance."

"Cool." Gabriel looked admiring. "Did you try them already?"

"No, not yet. Pity you haven't brought your flute with you - drums alone, that's ... I'd like to know how it sounds together."

"Oh." Gabriel glanced at Ireen. "I could be back in a minute."

"Yes, you could, but I have a better idea." Ireen looked quite pleased. "Come with me, you two."

They followed her around a corner. Ireen stopped and pointed. "Look here, that's something I'd like to contribute."

Flutes ... Small ones, large ones, hanging at a wall, of course all of them made of wood. Most of them were fixed vertically, while others hung there horizontally. Only when stepping closer, Gabriel saw why, the horizontal ones had the mouthpiece at the side, to be played transversely.

Ireen was pointing again. "This one looks like the wood version of your bamboo flute ... And this one," she indicated a larger piece, "that seems to be the upper end of your finger range. Unless you see one that looks more promising, I'd say we take them."

While Michel found this a great idea, and now, so they could test the drums, Gabriel felt a bit overwhelmed. "Well, I don't know. Why not fetch my flute at home?"

"Because I want to have a present for my piper," said Ireen. "And where's the problem? Michel gets four drum bodies, and you get two xylophones and two flutes - isn't that perfectly balanced?"

Not really, Gabriel was fully aware of that, but Ireen's face made clear this was meant as a joke, while about the two flutes she seemed quite serious, so he nodded, and someone came along to hook them off, Ireen took the bigger one, Gabriel took the small one which felt familiar at once, and they could follow Michel, who was storming back to his drums.

Harry had arrived, Mr Tanzani in his trail. The Japanese had one look at their target, then he said, "Just a moment, please." Shortly afterwards, he was back with drumsticks.

To Gabriel's surprise, though not to Michel's, they were made of metal - steel, actually, quite thin, no head at all, the same diameter from one end to the other.

Michel looked at his flutist. "Ready?"

Gabriel nodded, the new flute already at his lips.

Its sound was a bit darker than that of the bamboo flute, softer too, otherwise offering the same characteristics. Gabriel played a kind of opening, until he felt that his friend had warmed up sufficiently to these unfamiliar drums with their throbbing sound, then he made his life easy by just hanging on Michel's sensations, very much the same what he'd done at the beach for Ireen, only that Michel's feelings were considerably more joyful, and the music too.

In his playing, Gabriel registered how Michel recognized what he did, how his friend took the lead in the rhythm, and that was exactly what drums were made for, while Gabriel himself provided the tune, only it was from Michel too, just filtered through his sensing.

After some moments, he sat down on the rug, just opposite Michel and his four drum tubes, without stopping in his play. He closed his eyes, and now only this pulsing, throbbing beat was left in a world that had to be filled with flute sounds flying over them, accentuating them, or connecting them to a perfect harmony.

Some time passed. Eventually, when Gabriel felt Michel getting tired, he slowed down. Opening his eyes, he faded out and let Michel finish with a last staccato on the thinnest tube.

They beamed at each other. There was applause around, yes, and that was probably something you could get used to, pretty quickly maybe, only today they had played for themselves, transforming joy and excitement from some new instruments into music.