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 11 - Monday

Chapter Summary:
Harry and Lieutenant Seeger prepare for visiting the two companies Paul has found. Arriving at the first of them, they find something they hadn't expected in this way.

11 - Monday

Even from the entrance to the precinct's Squad room, Lieutenant Seeger could see him. The wizard was sitting in the lieutenant's own office, looking almost like the first time they'd met, except for the bulge at his shoulder.

That had to be this snake, what's her name, Nagano? No, Nagini, the other name was something in Japan, as if he'd think all year long about Japan, only in this context you could track it down quite easily.

Checking his own office from that distance was none of Seeger's common habits, normally he'd have looked around to register the scene at the beginning of another week in which they'd try to come any further in their old cases, while each new day would offer some new ones. But he had expected him, that early in the morning - small wonder, with eight hours advantage from his own local time over there in Ireland.

Feeling his guest's calm stare rest on him, Seeger crossed the distance and entered the small room, which offered little more space than a cubicle but at least had its own glass walls. His guest had found the decency not to occupy the only comfortable chair, which was the one behind the desk.

Seeger closed the door. "Morning, Harry. How was Japan?"

"Hi, Carl. All I saw was a large hall with music instruments, and some of them were to our taste. Did anything happen since Paul called you?"

"You mean, could I hold my temper and stay off these people while you weren't around?" Seeger sat down. "Yes, I could - that means no, nothing happened."

The eyes opposite Seeger's desk sent him an ironic smile. "I wasn't concerned about that, but I was asking myself whether I would hear about a new case, coming here this morning."

"Jesus, no - that'd be just what we need, won't it?" Seeger did his Monday-morning equivalent of a smile. "You're awake for a while already, that's why you're politer than me; I wouldn't know any other reason. Want some coffee?"

"No, thanks."

Harry's grin gave this washed-out joke more credit than it deserved, but then maybe he hadn't heard it before, which only confirmed what Seeger knew all too well: Harry was no cop, and a minute from now, they'd discuss a visit to some people who could easily be the kidnappers. And in this case, he, Seeger, had brought a civilian into a situation of high personal risk.

He went to the coffee machine and came back with the styrofoam in his hand, not feeling any wiser. Sitting down again, he said, "You think one of the two are the ones we're looking for, right?"

"Yes. And you think the same."

"Hmm ..." The lieutenant sipped from the hot, bitter brew and made a face. "You don't want me answering that, Harry, because if you were right, I had to call the SWAT, twelve at the minimum, and the last thing I'd dream of would be going inside with you, a civilian."

Harry examined him silently. Then he said, "What exactly's your worry, Carl? My safety? Your safety? Or the official rules?"

"To be as precise as I can" - Seeger snorted - "all of them, plus the thought they could escape because I messed up."

"If I was a cop, would you make the visit with me, or would you call the SWAT?"

Harry was up to some argumentation he wouldn't like, Seeger felt sure about that, only the question had been asked in a way he could answer only with the truth.

"You call the SWAT if you know for sure there's someone armed and dangerous; otherwise you'd make a fool of yourself. Two detectives, used to work together, that's more than it sounds."

"Take your gun, Carl."


Harry's face was expressionless when he said, "You got me right. Take your gun."

Seeger drew it and held it up - a short-barrelled Smith & Wesson .38, nothing to score on the range, yet quick and handy.

"Okay, and now take out the cartridges, so you can pull the trigger."

Pretty much what Seeger had thought, Harry was going to show him how tough he was. Well, there was no lesson like a lesson, the lieutenant thought while he emptied all six chambers and dropped the cartridges on the desk.

"Now you could pull the trigger, right? Okay, Carl - arrest me."

"Not from behind the desk."

Seeger came up, went to the door, and walked outside. For an instant he was concerned someone might watch them, then the imaginary scene had caught him. He turned and stood in the doorframe, his right hand flying to the holster, coming out with the thirty-eight, left hand catching his right wrist, combat stance.

"Freeze, buddy."

Still before Harry had time to react, Seeger's right thumb came forward, about to cock the gun ...

Except it never reached its destination, because something was pulling the Smith & Wesson out of his hand, like a painful blow, his right hand numb for a moment, while his eyes followed the weapon fly through the air and land in Harry's hands which had come up, already being together as if waiting for the same twin-handed shooting position. But Harry didn't bother to turn the weapon around. He just held it between his palms ... and suddenly a fine red beam was in the air; it stretched from Harry's hands into Seeger's face and looked like the beam from a laser gun, only it felt like tickling.

The beam faded. Harry said, "This spell could have been anything, from stunning, over disabling your willpower, to the killing curse." He held up the .38. "Here's your gun."

Not for the first time, Lieutenant Seeger became aware that the reassuring impact of such a lesson would come later, while right at the moment, at his current level of adrenaline, it simply hurt. He felt a burning in his stomach and a sour taste in his mouth while stepping forward.

"Very instructive, only that's been the half distance, while in direct - "

His left hand, which had seized for the gun, felt the desired object suddenly close in. The gun hit his fingers and pushed the entire arm upward to his shoulder, while his right hand, flat, spadelike aimed at Harry's solarplexus, if only for a sufferable demo, met something very hard. The obstacle made it come off its path and strike empty air, and the body in front of him, an instant before still sitting calmly on the chair, pressed against his own.

A gentle touch at his own solarplexus, a slight but nevertheless unpleasant pressure at his crotch, and the mouth before his eyes said, "While in direct contact, protecting your privates is an essential part of any strategy."

Next moment, Harry was a step away, the gun still in his hand. Without turning, he put it onto the desk.

Seeger went around the desk and sat down. He opened the lowest drawer, and only when he didn't find what his hand was searching for, he finally took his eyes off his opponent to look into the drawer.

"Damn it - my desk bottle's gone."

He banged the drawer shut and looked up again. "Wasn't the best idea anyway, that early in the morning, only that I'm still a bit in the high gear." He reached for his coffee. "So what ... Cheers, Harry."

"If you promise not to kick and bite, I have something better for you."

"Dope? No thanks."

A grin split Harry's face. "I wouldn't even know how it looks. Remember how I cured that lawn mower boy?"

Still feeling tense, Seeger watched as Harry dropped his snake and came around. Then he felt two hands lightly touch his throat, and next moment, something rushed through his mind - something he'd describe later as "a full-body injection of peppermint on ice."

The burning in his stomach was gone. His heartbeat was down to normal, his breathing came light. He stared at the wizard who had found his way back to the chair at the other side, and to his snake.

"That's been the best trick you showed me, and there were quite some, a minute ago. Thanks, partner."

* * *

Harry sat listening, while Carl outlined their strategy and which roles each of them would play when visiting the two firms, a few minutes from now. Since the small encounter a little while ago, the atmosphere had improved rapidly, particularly so after Harry had confessed that his experience in closed room combat was limited.

Carl would be the front man, doing all the talking, with Harry as some figure in the background, just another guy, as unimportant and unremarkable as someone could be with a snake around his chest.

"Isn't there any way to hide her?" Carl had asked, after agreeing hesitantly that Nagini was she rather than it.

"I could put her in a bag," Harry had replied, "only her head would be out anyway - I must be able to understand her, after all, and that wouldn't look any better. And besides, Carl - Nagini's more than a wizard detector, she can fight too."

The snake knew what was expected from her. She would sense around and inform her old master by herself, not waiting to be asked.

So Harry would be standing there, not doing anything - until Nagini would tell him there was magic. Seeger might register the hissing, or maybe not because he was distracted, at any rate, Harry would say something, maybe, "Don't forget the cross-check, Carl."

Which meant - there were some wizards, among other people. Then Carl would ask him what he meant, and Harry would, somehow, tell him which people to ask a few more questions.

From that point on, they'd play it by ear, however most likely Harry would then be the one to ask some questions, and if he'd say, "Well, that leaves some details open," Carl would know that it was time for heavier measures.

There was still another possibility. Every person in the room might be a wizard, or a witch, and Harry, or Nagini, or both of them saw reason to be very careful. Then Harry would say, "Carl - time's running."

It was the signal to leave, and to come back with the SWAT.

Now Carl looked at him and said, "If something goes wrong, Harry, if they come on strong, with guns and so, you'd do me the greatest favour by just pushing off, alerting the precinct."

Harry's answer were two raised eyebrows.

"If one of us manages to get out, the other's pretty safe - then they know that minutes later, the troops will come swarming."

Could even be true, at least Nagini kept silent, only that these people had given examples before how quick they were in killing, and besides, Harry found little taste in this role. He thought back of other times when he, as part of some team, had prepared for a hairy situation. Then he knew what was missing.

"We need an anchorman, Carl."

The lieutenant understood him instantly. "Even so, you have to find the time for making the call. If you fetch your phony in front of an aimed gun, you're dead."

Harry grinned. "So I won't fetch it then, I'm going to fetch it now. Find your anchorman, Carl. I'll be back in five minutes."

He apparated to Groucho Communications, which wasn't far away. There he said hello to the chief engineer, a Mr Wigan, and got what he wanted. After expressing his thanks and calling goodbye, he apparated back into the precinct's large room - Carl's office was really a bit small to come out there.

He'd been right - a young woman was sitting in the chair Harry had left a moment ago. Not only was she black, she owned about the darkest skin Harry had ever seen, and she owned lots of it. More exactly, she was fat.

Carl said, "Harry, that's Sheila. Sheila, that's Harry Potter, my partner in this business."

Harry shook hands, registering a firm handshake and a calm mind.

Carl grinned. "Sheila found out early in her life that she has to think fast because she can't run fast. Well, and she has honed that a bit, and today, she's the best desk sergeant I know."

The young woman just nodded, then said to Harry, "It's mandatory because, you know, I fail the physical any way you can think of, and two more, so the lieutenant has to pull some strings once a year."

Carl glanced at the devices in Harry's hand. "What have you got there?"

Harry held them up and offered one to Sheila. "Know what this is?"

The fat desk sergeant examined the piece for a second. "A phony, so much's for sure ... Has two more buttons." Her face came up. "What for?"

"Baby watch, and babysitter link." Harry didn't need to explain much because Sheila grasped the idea instantly - one button activated a connection between the two phonies that was muted at one end, and the other button activated a normal connection to the sibling phony, however using an LED signal and a vibrating rather than noise.

"Before we enter the building," said Harry, "I'll call you, and before we enter their office, I'll tell you about that and then switch mine to mute. You'll hear what the phony hears, until we're out again."

The woman's eyes were beaming. "Cool, man. And how's the signal inside a large building, with steel-armed concrete?"

"Unlimited," replied Harry. "That's one of the differences to a normal cellular phone."

"Well, then." Sheila turned to the lieutenant. "Put the baby to sleep, I'll guard the crib."

Carl looked at Harry. "I showed her the addresses on the map and said we'd visit the Gilbert people first. Okay?"

The mask and costumes company first - Harry didn't like the idea too much; he would have preferred going right to Pyromaniacs, because these were the people he suspected most, and Carl thought the same, so why not -

"They're closest from here, on the way to Pyromaniacs." Seeger had registered Harry's hesitation and added, "Besides, if we're right with our assumption, at least we have a rehearsal before."

The woman had followed this little conflict of opinions. Her head cranking toward Harry, she said to the lieutenant, "He's a real hotspot, huh? Just what you like having in your back."

A diabolically grinning Carl said, "Never mind, Harry. As a desk sergeant, Sheila sees them come and go."

Said sergeant looked at Harry. "What he means is, I see them go out, and sometimes I see them coming back."

Harry knew what she was trying to tell him, but still didn't feel like taking the lesson unrewarded.

"You forget something," he said to her, "and this is - sometimes you see me, and sometimes ..."

He apparated - just to the spot in Sheila's back, from there finishing his sentence, "... you don't."

She was quick on her heels, considering all that fat, and wheeled around to focus him again. "Yeah, I see what you mean."

Harry followed a chuckling lieutenant outside, still feeling Sheila's stare in his back.

In the car, they sobered up quickly and kept almost silent during the fifteen minutes drive to the Gilbert estate. The company residence looked like a derelict factory building - smudgy brick walls, rusty window frames, a door large enough for a truck, presenting a rectangle of light orange on the remnants of the old paint in industry grey. However, none of the many windows showed a broken pane, and a large sign at the wall, to the left of the large door, told them they had reached Gilbert Masks & Costumes.

Carl stopped the car just in front of the truck entry and killed the engine. After having climbed out, he looked around and said, "This place looks more promising than anything we've seen so far - sufficiently far away from the next peeping eyes, and room enough for everything. All right, let's go."

Harry followed him through a man-sized door beneath the large one.

They stood in a spacious factory hall. A delivery car with the company emblem looked almost forlorn on the wide floor. There was a gallery across, with a few metal doors leading to rooms behind, all of them closed. Heavy iron bars under the huge ceiling reminded them of some industrial past. And nowhere a living soul in sight.

"I hate buildings like that," muttered the lieutenant. "A maze of rooms and corridors, only the residents know where to go - you can hide an army without ever - "

Nagini hissed something.

Harry turned to Carl. "There's someone's somewhere, and this someone's a wizard."

"Then - "

Nagini hissed again.

Harry answered Carl's unspoken question. "She can sense two wizards."


"Somewhere upstairs - she's no compass, you know."

"Pity." Carl drew his gun. "You follow when you see me wave, Harry - and keep your eyes open, and whatever you've got else."

Carl moved forward, his gun pointing upward. He had made three steps toward the car when an alarm bell started ringing. An instant later, the hall was flooded in the harsh light of neon tubes.

Harry watched as the lieutenant froze for moment, turned on his heels, checking around, then quickly reached the car. Apparently, Carl had stepped into the field of a movement sensor.

The sensor could have been a natural precaution, only the scene looked just too weird for some people with make-up and fancy dresses. Harry's wand was already in his hand, almost the same position as Carl's gun, while he stood motionless, his eyes not focusing anything in particular, his haragei sensing around in wide-angle mode.

And here it came ... In the deafening noise of the alarm bell, other sounds were lost - for example that of a door opening on the gallery across and above, only Harry had expected it already before the metal door swung open.

A man appeared. He held something with both hands - a short rifle, no, a pump action gun. The man's eyes scanned the floor downstairs, his attention on the area that had to be the field of the movement sensor.

Harry pointed his wand. "Expelliarmus!"

The gun came flying through the air, away from a stunned-looking man. With his eyes at the weapon which was closing in on him, Harry called, "Carl - on the gallery, left side!"

About to catch the pump action gun, Harry remembered what he'd forgotten: his phony wasn't switched on! A precious moment passed until he had caught the gun, had put it down, afraid it would fire when dropped, and had decided to do first things first. Just when he looked up again, his wand aiming at the spot on the gallery, the metal door banged shut.

Carl stood in the cover of the delivery truck, looking around, and the way he did it told Harry that the lieutenant had registered him catching the gun while apparently not his warning shout.

This damned alarm bell! Its nerve-racking noise was just good to prevent everyone from clear thinking. Harry rushed over to the car and shouted, "We have to stop that bell."

"Where did the gun come from?"

"A man, up on the gallery - wait, he's gone, we're alone again, so let's get rid of this alarm first."

"You can't ..." Carl stopped himself, looked up and around, apparently trying to locate the source of this hellish sound, something Harry had attempted moments before, with no success.

"There!" Carl pointed. "See the blue sparks? That thing must date back to the Civil War." He rose his gun, aiming at the spot. "Don't blame me if I'm not scoring a hit with the first shot."

"Wait - I've got something better."

"That gun? Forget it, not at this distance, and I'm not going to - "

"No, not the gun." Harry raised his wand and aimed carefully, concentrating more on the planned spell - that would be it, after this mess, him blowing half of the building because his nitro ball was sized too big.

A tiny ball shot up, probably not bigger than one of the bullets Carl had planned. It hit the wall about a foot left from the spark-emitting torture instrument and exploded with an impressive bang, sending a small cloud of debris around.

There was a scratching noise and a tiny flash, looking familiar for everyone used to short circuits in electrical devices. The noise stopped.

The deep silence felt just wonderful, quite in contrast to the sudden darkness, which otherwise was equally deep.

Carl's whisper seemed unnaturally loud. "Just great. What was that?"


"Nitro ..." There was disbelief in the lieutenant's voice. "Harry, please, forget what I said about the Civil War, okay? This is the twenty-first century, so do me a favour and - no, give me that phony, I'm going to send for the cavalry myself."

The embarrassing moment had come. "Erm - I forgot to switch it on before coming in."

It wasn't really dark, had looked like that only in the first moments after the neon tubes going out. Now that his eyes had adapted to the dim light, Harry could see Carl's face, in which a laughter was fighting to erupt.

"I'm sorry," he said. "I remembered it just when the gun was coming through the air, and both things together - that's why I wasn't fast enough to stun that guy."

A chuckle. "Save it, Harry, was my own mistake too, why didn't I ask you? Anyway - now let's call Sheila to send a few patrols, this here's no task for a detective and a wizard, not in this rat trap of a building."

Carl was probably right, only that, in the short encounter with the man on the gallery, Harry had sensed something which gave him an idea. He said, "Carl, whatever we've found here, I don't think we've found our kidnappers. This man, the way he felt, I'd like to try something first before calling for support."

The lieutenant eyed him suspiciously. "But no more nitroglycerine?"

"No." Harry had to suppress a nervous giggle.

"Give me that phony."

Harry would have preferred to make his attempt without the desk sergeant listening, only Carl was right, and better late than too late. He took the phony out and held it up. "Here - that button."

Carl took it and pressed the button. "Sheila? Listen, we're inside a factory building ... Yes, but we forgot outside ... Yeah, but now shut up and listen. There was a figure upstairs, had a gun but lost it, and ... Yes, lost it, Harry took care of that, and Harry has another idea what to try first. If this works, fine, otherwise we'll need the SWAT to scan this building. Over and stand-by."

The detective looked at Harry. "What now?"

"I'm going to play a loudspeaker, actually a very loud loudspeaker, so don't jump when you hear me calling. But first, I'll go upstairs to open that door, so they can hear us right in their ears."

"Which one?"

Harry showed Carl the door through which the man had appeared and escaped again.

"Loudspeaker, huh?" Carl grinned. "I think I know what's on your mind - but it'll be me opening the door. You watch and be ready."

Harry had no objections. He retreated to his previous spot, from where he had a better view on the entiry gallery. Then he watched as the lieutenant went upstairs, moving slowly between doors while passing them with quick movements. Reaching the door, Carl grabbed the handle, turned it, and pulled the door open while simultaneously making a step into the doorframe, his gun aiming inside.

After a moment, the lieutenant rose and moved to the side, his body holding the metal door from swinging shut again. He waved at Harry to start.

Harry pointed his wand at his own throat to send the Sonorus charm - however in a degree never used before. He inhaled deeply.


His head was resonating - a nasty feeling, which saved him from laughing at the sight of Carl, who had twisted at the first words. Although, a good laugh might scare them even more ... Maybe after his speech.


Harry had to speak slowly; otherwise, hall and echo would garble each other to an unintelligible noise.


Something else? Oh yes, something better than laughing. "FIVE SECONDS ... TEN SECONDS ... FIFTEEN SECONDS ..."

Harry was at forty-five when a door moved on the gallery - slowly, timidly. After a second, in which the booming in his ears was fading, he could her a young voice calling, "Don't shoot ... We're coming out."

The door opened wider, a young man appeared, hands over his head, tightly followed by another one.

They slowly came down the stairs, frightfully looking around, in desperate search for the crowd of blue-uniformed troops they were supposed to expect, to be awaited by them.

By the time they had reached the floor, Harry knew from Nagini that these were the two wizards - boys barely above twenty, if ever, white coats with spots in various colours, scared shitless by a Sonorus charm.

Well, to be honest, of the extreme kind.

While Harry settled his voice back to normal, Carl made the two young men turn, lean toward the wand with arms outstretched, to check them for weapons. Of course, they hadn't any.

After checking around once more, not feeling any other presence, Harry reached the group in time to hear one of them say, "... just one besides us, Billy - he's the one that came out with the gun, he's also the one who made the deal, I think he tried to escape from the backside, maybe your people - "

"What deal?" interrupted Carl.

"But - " The young man looked astonished. "The dope! Isn't that the reason why you're here?"

"Oh, shit!" Carl pulled the phony out to talk with Sheila.

The other young wizard, apparently determined to contribute his own share to the confessions before everything was spilled out, said, "No, no shit - it's cocaine. Two pound bags, finest Columbian."

* * *

Magique Générale was running toward the end of this double course like a Mississippi steamer toward its destination port - slowly, methodically, and with lots of noise. A smaller part of that noise was caused by the people aboard themselves; the rest came from their doing, through which the captain felt tempted to hide in his cabin, far away from the clumsy efforts of his crew.

Only he hadn't any, this captain, commonly known as Monsieur Thionnay.

His crew, the first-year students of Beauxbatons, were practising levitation charms. Mostly they did so with limited success, and the crashing of items which were coming down, no longer supported by unexperienced magic, was the major source of the noise.

By the objective eye, the scene could easily have been confused with a combined attempt of destroying the new furniture as fast as possible, under the pretense of doing reasonable work. However, most of the items were books and other things the hard-lacquered desk surfaces could stand.

One table, not far from the exit, looked as if occupied by passengers, rather than crew members. The four students, two girls and two boys, were sitting relaxed, exchanging remarks in low murmur, and every now and then one of them made a spheric something rise up in the air, and come down again - sometimes softly like a feather, sometimes with a bump.

And, somehow, when the sphere was in the air, it changed its colour almost regularly.

Sandra had conjured it up. The sphere was a simple matter which felt like modelling clay, so it had some weight but wouldn't hurt the table, and wouldn't roll away either when coming down faster than planned. She was also the one who made the thing change colour each time it became airbound.

At the moment, Frédéric was trying to master the colouring spell, while Héloise and Benoît were still working on the reliability of their levitations.

When it was Sandra's turn, she used the wand like all the other students, to the hidden pleasure of Frédéric, whose face looked as if watching a joke no one else could follow.

Maybe it was this expression, although it might as well have been the eye-insulting magenta with which the sphere came down - at any rate, suddenly Thionnay stood at their table. He looked from one to the other, then pointed at the sphere.

"What's this?"

By intuitive agreement, it was Frédéric's job to speak for their table, as long as none of them were asked specifically. Using a Pouilly as the spokesperson served as a simple precaution against unnecessary trouble. This time, however, the agreement backfired because Frédéric seemed to have trouble not bursting out laughing.

"A sphe-here," he managed with some effort, then added, "It's some clay."

A teacher's most natural next question would have been, Where did you get it from, and Frédéric was prepared to answer, We found it outside. But Thionnay had developed his own style of management with this table.

"You'll have to use something clean, not this dirtball out of the gutter."

His hand moved forward to grab it - confiscation would have been the proper term. But the instant Thionnay's fingers - apparently quite unafraid by this particular dirt - reached the sphere, the reddish-blue clod went flat, spreading over the tabletop in an almost circular puddle, suddenly shining like a fluid.

Into the moment of stunned silence, Sandra said, "It's touch-sensitive."

"Is it, eh?"

For an instant, Thionnay seemed to ponder the idea of just leaving it like that and donate his attention to teams with more conventional problems. In fact, this might have been the best solution. But next moment he touched the border of the puddle with the tip of his wand, and murmured something.

The shining surface of the puddle seemed to tremble. Then, as if sucked up by a pipette, the fluid started to stream into the wand tip - for just a second, because at once the rest of the puddle moved up like a flying pancake and flapped itself around Thionnay's wand. There it froze, the shiny surface changing to a dull roughness.

Thionnay stared at his wand, which suddenly was much heavier than before, and uglier too.

Then, without another word, he turned and walked to his own desk, all the time holding his pancaked wand in front of him as if carrying a dead rat. Reaching the table, he put it down, not making any attempt to restore the cleanliness of this normally spotless piece of cherry wood.

Instead, the teacher walked down another row of tables, although not with his full concentration toward the teams he passed. At some point, he turned - and froze for a short instant.

His wand was clean again. While Thionnay's back had been toward his table, the pancake had melted once more, forming a puddle first and a sphere then - a sphere which floated back to the table where it had been moments before.

To be honest, it was more a zooming rather than floating; the sphere had seemed quite in a hurry.

Benoît stared at the lump, now in an unremarkable light brown, by some accident almost the same colour as the tabletop, quite difficult to detect from a few steps away. Benoît's eyes came up, wandering from one face to the next at this table. He stopped at Sandra's face.

"Okay, I'll admit, some people need a bit longer than others, but what just happened was impossible to miss even for myself. What are you, that you can do things like that?"

According to the rule, Sandra's playing with a detestable teacher had been a small sin, because God punished only small sins instantly. Either she would answer the question to some satisfying degree, or the least that would happen was a severe break in the team structure, delicate as it still appeared.

Sandra looked in the faces around the table, found them fully in sync with what she could feel in her teammates. Benoît's was a big wondering question mark, with wide eyes and open mouth. Frédéric's was a mix of concern and expectancy, and Héloise - well, Héloise was the flesh and blood version of all these self-righteous remarks we love so well.

Like, "Don't blame anyone but yourself."

Like, "Didn't I tell you? Yes I did."

Like, "Don't come to me for helping you out of this mess."

Only that was exactly what Sandra did, asking, "H‚ly, could you invite them two to your house, right after class?"

For a second, her friend looked baffled. Then, not for the first time, she gave proof that a Veela's mind could work awfully fast, as long as the issue was more human and less scientific. Héloise beamed, "Yes, Mademoiselle Chang, with pleasure." Then she turned to the two boys and murmured graciously, "That's fine with you?"

Benoît glanced at Sandra. "Not here, you mean? Yeah, sure, of course not."

Frédéric seemed more pleased than the other three together, and Sandra could understand why. Her father had told her how it had been for him, hiding a secret from his friends, and how awful a job he'd done again and again. She smiled, feeling relief herself - and a kind of expectancy for something this Pouilly offspring hadn't the slightest idea about.

Because Frédéric was in for an involuntary test of the careful kind. In spite of what the High Priestess had said, or maybe just from what she'd said, Sandra was looking forward to see some people's reaction to Frédéric. That of Fleur, for example, but most of all, that of her brother Gabriel.

They would meet, no question about that. Harry was in the States, Cho in her office, Ireen somewhere on tour - the Weasley residence in the Goblin quarter was Sandra's and her brother's home for the late afternoon hours, recently.

And this done, she would find a moment with Fleur, to ask her how to handle the delicate issue of Pouilly vs. Potter parents, something Sandra would gladly bring to a satisfying end.

At this moment, the sphere rose from the table, although none of the four students around had his wand up. Having gained some height, the sphere shot to the teacher's desk - where Thionnay stood with a pointing wand and an expressionless face.

He examined the thing without touching it, with the sphere floating in the air. Then, just when his head came up again, the motionless floating changed to a shooting forward, aiming straight into Sandra's face.

Only inches away from her nose and forehead, the sphere disappeared.

A few students had watched the teacher's doing, now looked at him admiringly.

Sandra felt no intention to clarify the misunderstanding, to tell them where Thionnay's spell had ended and her own had kicked in. After a short glance at the teacher, registering his thoughtful face and his obvious lack of interest to press the issue further, Sandra turned back to her teammates, satisfied to see that neither of them shared the other students' belief.

For the few minutes left, they used a book. One of them had to levitate it, opened somewhere in the middle, and another one should turn a page - of course also with levitation.

When the bell signaled the end of this double Magique Générale, Frédéric had managed to turn a chunk of about ten pages. Benoît had been able to make some pages twist, and Héloise had felt challenged enough by holding the book in the air.

Outside, while the boys went upstairs to drop their books, Héloise said, "So your fooling around ends this bothering situation, because I had thought about an invitation already before, only that would have raised a problem. What are you going to tell them?"

"Only about the family. Nothing about - you know."

Héloise nodded. "That's what I thought. 'arry's more than enough as explanation, for sure."

Once more, Sandra could register how her friend viewed her father, and his daughter too, as a kind of twin entity. As a human, Harry was Héloise's uncle and Sandra's father, period. As a wizard with special abilities, however, he seemed to be an integral part of Héloise's own family, or even property, to be mentioned or used with the greatest casualness. And the same approach worked toward Sandra - Héloise would start a row with the girl any time, should it seem necessary, while Sandra the witch was never challenged, or mocked.

Now Héloise said, "I wonder what Frédéric will say, hearing the news."

"Not much," replied Sandra, "because for him, this isn't news."

"You told him already?" Héloise looked with disbelief.

Sandra shook her head. "He figured out by himself. And because it felt so embarrassing for him, he told me."

A grin appeared in Héloise's face. "And now he isn't embarrassed any longer, huh?"

The arrival of the two boys saved Sandra from finding a reply, which no doubt would have presented three more hooks for the rhetorical claws of her half-quarter Veela friend. While the four of them were walking toward the exit, to the point from which they could apparate, Benoît asked, "Say - er, how long will we ... I mean ..."

Héloise interrupted him. "We'll get something to eat - wasn't that your question?"

"Yes, exactly." Benoît grinned apologetically.

"Maman's not going to let anyone starve in our house," explained Héloise with determination, "and we can eat when we're hungry - which, for me, is right now."

Like for the other three, as could be read in their faces which suddenly showed a pleased greediness.

Frédéric asked, "How do we travel?"

"Just watch," replied Héloise, then turned to her friend and travelling carrier. "Let's go."

Too late, Sandra realized that her planning had left some holes. Jumping right into the house and summoning the two boys would place them in an environment she had intended to prepare, except she didn't know how. But any further hesitation would look awfully stupid, especially after Héloise had hinted so clearly that she expected her to show off as much as she could.

She apparated into the street, summoned Héloise first and, not giving any time for a complaint, Benoît then and Frédéric last.

But there came no complaint. Héloise was all pointing and explaining, once the boys had recovered from the surprise - at the house, the garden, then Héloise made a show of walking over to the Goblin guards, saying hello to them and introducing the boys.

Finally walking to the entrance, Benoît said, "They called you little princess - what does it mean?"

"That's my title among the Goblins." Héloise's voice sounded almost dismissive - after all, true superiority was supposed to show by itself, wasn't it?

A seemingly less impressed Frédéric asked Sandra, "And how do they call you?"

"By my name," replied Sandra, equally casual although for different reasons - first because Benoît didn't know her real name yet, still more because this name had become a title by itself for the Goblins, and this issue was something outside the scope of explanations Sandra had planned.

Even so, Frédéric nodded as if confirming something for himself.

What did he know about the Goblins? Sandra found no time for pondering the question any longer since Héloise was storming ahead, up the stairs, the boys following, Sandra still on her way when she heard her friend's voice.

"Maman? Hello-oh, we've got some gue-ests."

Reaching the kitchen, Sandra came just in time to hear Héloise make the honneurs. "... is Benoît, and this is Frédéric, our teammates in Magique - and this is my mother, and this is Michel, my brother, and this one's Gabriel, Sandra's brother."

For the next moments, Sandra was communicating feverishly with Gabriel, although not using words, then the boys had found a seat, Sandra herself too, and a pleased-looking Fleur was busy with dishes and cups and more food.

This done, Fleur went out and came back with a chair for herself, causing some shuffling and moving until she could join the round. Examining the boys again, she asked what probably was the most natural question for a Veela of any grade. "So then, who belongs to whom?"

Maybe it had to do with mouths full and chewing - at any rate, for a short but lasting moment, there was no answer. Then Michel looked at Benoît and said, "You're more interested in Hély." Turning to Frédéric, he added, "And you more in Sandy, so it fits."

A slightly blushed Benoît stared at a male half-quarter Veela. "Am I, huh? And what if I say I'm here because of Sandra?"

Michel shrugged. "Then nothing, but it's true this way or the other."

Benoît looked baffled. "Yeah, yes, okay, but it wasn't a lie - Sandra did something in class, and I asked her, and she said, she would tell us here, and that's why we're here."

Fleur smiled at him. "First things first, Benoît, hm? You're a very determined young man, as it seems."

Said young man twitched a bit. "I'm sorry, Madame, I didn't want to be impolite - er, yes, he's right" - a quick glance to Michel - "but you know, Sandra can spell rings around our teacher, and for Héloise it seems quite normal, but for me it isn't."

Gabriel asked, "What did she do?"

Benoît eyed him with something like expectant suspicion. "She made us a sphere for levitation and then played with it. She changed its colour each time it went up, and when the teacher came to take it away, she made it melt and then - " He stopped at seeing a grin spread in Gabriel's face. "You know what I'm talking about, don't you?"

"Something like that?" Gabriel leaned back. Next instant, a piece of baguette rose from the basket. For a second, it floated over the table. Then it zoomed to the butter tray, touched down to scrap across the golden-yellow surface, came up again with its prey, and shot toward Gabriel, holding just in front of his face.

Gabriel opened his mouth, and the buttered piece went inside.

Benoît had watched, apparently had used the time for some thinking. He turned to Sandra.

"It goes with the family, huh?"

"Yes, that'r right. My true name's Sandra Catherine Potter. Chang - that's our mother's name, our father is Harry Potter."

"I've heard about him, but not much." Benoît turned back to Gabriel. "Did you get all that from him? Then how did your father learn these tricks?"

"You know that he fought Voldemort?"

When Benoît nodded, Gabriel continued, "Each time they fought, our father won some more magic. And somehow, some of this power was given to us, Sandy and me. Well, if you don't need a wand, you can do things even as a baby, and ..." He shrugged. "We're used doing spells as long as we live, that's a lot of time to learn tricks."

"You sound as if ten years from now, I could do the same." Benoît shook his head. "Never."

Gabriel tore a piece from the baguette and put it on his dish. "It's only levitation, just what you learned today. Give it a try, see if you can move it to your own dish."

Benoît took his wand out and pointed at the dish. His charm lifted the piece up and held it in the air. Just when the audience realized that this was all he could manage, an arm snatched forward and grabbed the piece, to put in the same person's mouth - Héloise.

Fleur laughed. "That's been a Veela's contribution in teamwork, to solve a dilemma." To Benoît, she added, "Even so, my dear, that's been quite a lot for the first day of levitation, no reason for being angry."

"And besides," said Gabriel, "for Sandy and me, there's an advantage - you know, with a wand you're always a bit clumsier than without, so for us it's simpler."

Benoît laughed wonderingly. "Simpler, yeah." He turned to Sandra. "I think I know what you did. You didn't want to frustrate other people who just start to learn magic, so you called yourself after your mother. Only that Thionnite is such an a - er, awful guy, he always crushes your best intentions, right?"

Sandra grinned, hearing this description which wasn't quite off the point, in some sense. She felt tempted to just agree. Except that at this moment, Frédéric said, "There's still another reason, and that's why we'll keep that name to ourselves."

Benoît stared at him. "Oh, is it? And you know and I don't, but today's the day for wising me up, huh?"

Frédéric blushed. "No, Beny, it's not. I couldn't tell you before because, er - "

He was interrupted - or saved - by Sandra, who turned to Benoît. "What he means is, with this name in Beauxbatons, you would remind people of an old story. Because when my father was a student, he killed another student of Beauxbatons, and it was during a gala ball, in front of all people."

"Really?" Benoît looked impressed. "And why? And what happened then?"

"There was a police investigation. But he did it because the other one was about to kill a girl, so he had a good reason."

"So he saved her." Benoît looked uncomprehending. "Then what's so bad about this story that you don't want to be called by your real name?"

The answer was given by Frédéric. "The other guy's family made a scandal of it. His name was Gérard ... Gérard Pouilly."

"Wha ..." Benoît, suddenly speechless, stared at his friend.

Frédéric held the stare for a moment, then looked at Sandra as if to figure out which of them would complete the explanation, only at this moment, Gabriel asked, "Are you a Pouilly?"

With an expression of relief in a dark-red face, Frédéric said, "Yes I am. This Gérard was a brother of my father."

"Oh-la-la!" Fleur had recovered quickly from the first moment of gasping surprise. "And your family doesn't know about Sandra" - she turned to the girl - "and 'arry and Cho don't know about him. Isn't that so?"

Two nods confirmed her assumption.

"And now you've made me a part of this plot, and I can feel flattered for so much trust and confidence, am I right?"

While Frédéric looked considerably alarmed, Sandra just nodded. "Yes. I thought this would be a good idea, to hear you first."

Fleur smiled. "The funny thing is, I really feel flattered. And somehow, it's so - you know, a long time ago, 'arry came to me with his own problem, to ask me how to handle things with Cho, and today ..." She looked at Frédéric. "Your father won't be particularly happy, hearing about your - er, teammate, would he?"

"No, probably not, although ..." Frédéric hesitated a moment, then, red as before, confessed, "When I heard about this story, I was imagining myself as the one who'd - er, restore the family honour, something like that. And after some time, I must have made a remark about that, because my father said, I shouldn't, not for the one side and not for the other."

"And then?" The question came from Gabriel.

Frédéric looked up. "My father didn't tell me more. So I started to look for information elsewhere."

Toward her brother, Sandra added, "He's an expert in stories about Harry. The day after the trouble with my wand, when I showed them the wand and said the handle is centaur hair, he took the conclusion at once."

She watched how Gabriel kept his glance at Frédéric, for a long moment in which this Pouilly member just was sitting there, holding the stare, totally unaware of the extent to which he was examined. Then Gabriel turned to his own classmate. "What do you think?"

Michel said, "He's okay. It's not his mistake that he's a Pouilly."

Into the laughter, Gabriel said, "And Harry's been a Dursley, that wasn't his mistake either."

The only one to appreciate this joke to the full extent was Fleur, almost rolling over, to the deep pleasure of Gabriel, for whom this success came somewhat unexpected.

Seeing the uncertain glances of the two guests, Fleur explained, "He means the relatives where 'arry grew up. I never met them, thank God, but I've heard stories." And she laughed again.

Benoît said, "I always thought my own family is kind of boring. But hearing all these stories - er, I mean, sometimes boring isn't that bad." He blushed, having barely avoided a blunt impoliteness.

"You're quite right," said Fleur, "and what is your family?"

"It's Malavin." Benoît explained that the Malavins were mountain farmers, deeply rooted in a valley of the Pyrenees, and the most exciting stories told within the family were about poaching and smuggling goods across the Spanish border, from a time when this still had been a crime.

"That fits," said Fleur. "Opposites attract, don't they?" Her light smile left it to everybody's guess whether she was referring to Benoît and his friend Frédéric or to something else.

With some open questions out of the way, Sandra felt more appetite than a few minutes ago, and therefore was the last one still chewing. She listened to a conversation between Benoît at one side and Gabriel and Michel at the other, asking each other questions - Benoît about the Goblins school, the other two about the life of a mountain farmer. And she watched how Frédéric was listening too, at least he kept silent, studying the two younger boys.

He did it quite casually, or so he thought, not registering how he himself was watched by Sandra.

Then Héloise, with growing impatience toward her slow-eating friend, muttered, "Can you come to an end? We've got more things to do." To Michel and Gabriel, she said, "Benoît thinks a guitar is the only suitable instrument for making music - and I thought we would teach him better. Ready?"

Of course they were ready, in particular since at this moment Benoît showed some flushed cheeks, and aside from anything else, Michel and Gabriel were boys seeing another boy two years older but deeply embarrassed.

In contrast to Frédéric, who beamed. "Super - I was hoping for that, only I didn't know how to ask."

Héloise, already up from her chair, couldn't resist. "Today you get it for free, but generally speaking, there's a magic word that does the trick."

"You wouldn't mean - please?"

Frédéric was rewarded with a gracious smile. "We have to get prepared, for such an exquisite audience, so Sandy can finish in time. We'll call you." Then Héloise and the other two musicians left the room.

Benoît looked at Fleur. "Madame, I'd like - er, when I saw the house, I expected totally different people, somehow, but - er, it's great here, almost like at home" - he blushed - "which doesn't mean we play music at home."

"That's a very nice compliment, Benoît." Fleur smiled. "Maybe it's because I know farm life - anyway, you're welcome any time, which is to say, if you don't get an invitation, it's not me to blame." She turned to Frédéric. "That goes for both of you."

Apparently, it was a new experience for Frédéric to be left behind by his friend regarding table manners of a guest. But then, this afternoon counted as a special occasion in more than one sense. So it took Frédéric a second, then he said, "Thank you, Madame - and I'm really glad that you trust someone with my name."

"Frankly," replied Fleur, "I might have been a bit more reluctant, but you've passed a very thorough exam - splendidly so, in case you didn't notice."

"Oh, I did - I mean, I was aware of what was going on." Frédéric turned to Sandra. "But only of your brother - when he asked, and Michel answered, it was a total surprise for me."

Sandra beamed at him. "They complete each other even more than Hély and I do."

The remark raised a quick grin in Frédéric's face, however he seemed not inclined to comment on that.

And a moment later, Sandra stood up. "Gabriel says we can come."

The two boys followed her at once, not even wondering that they hadn't heard a sound of this call.