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 12 - Messengers

Chapter Summary:
Harry waits in the precinct for his partner, Lieutenant Seeger, to finish some business Harry couldn't care less about. Then, finally, the two of them can make the visit at Pyromaniacs Inc., the company in which Harry expects to find some wizards who know more about the kidnappings.

12 - Messengers

It was amazing how long it took to interrogate two young wizards who couldn't blurt out their statements fast enough. Had the lieutenant arrested them, the procedure would have been over within less than an hour, because then, all these things could have come later.

Later would have translated to 'after the visit to the Pyromaniacs,' at least in Harry's mind.

But Seeger found no sense in putting these young men into prison, not for such a petty crime - after all, they hadn't been actively involved in the business. And this business wasn't even a regular, just an occasion, as the fugitive Billy had explained to them.

And so Harry was bound to wait.

As much as his legal state seemed different from that of the two wizards, in practical terms, Harry found little benefit. He had to wait while the other two were informed about their rights, asked whether they wanted a lawyer - no they didn't - and finally squeezed for details about Billy and his deal.

Billy himself was still on the run, although Seeger felt sure they'd catch him within the next two days. The lieutenant had offered the two wizards his own deal: no prison, a role as an attorney witness, and since then they were singing any chapter and verse they could remember.

Harry couldn't have cared less. Cocaine - why didn't they legalize it? Sniffing a line was a crime - but owning that pump-action gun was legal, not even an issue in the accusation because this Billy hadn't aimed it knowingly against a police officer. Where could anyone see logic in that?

Actually, the fugitive hadn't aimed the gun at all, and somehow this seemed to be quite an embarrassing fact. Seeger had passed Harry over to Sheila, so Harry could give his own statement, and this took quite a while, because Sheila saw trouble no end in what Harry had done in that building.

First, he told her what had happened. This, as it turned out, marked the funny part. Then Sheila explained to him what kind of headache this version would cause in the official report, and suddenly the events weren't looking funny any longer.

Harry, a civilian, had disarmed a citizin in his own home, after intruding unannounced and without being allowed to do so. Then he had illegally used explosives, of unknown origin, to destroy parts of the property, in particular parts that were installed to protect against intruders. Finally, he had performed massive psychological terror against two other inhabitants of that house, causing them stress shocks, fright attacks, and a traumatic audio sensation.

"If we presented it as it was, that Billy's lawyer would laugh in our faces," Sheila told Harry. "Gaining evidence by unlawful action, that's a cop's nightmare."

Harry stared at her in disbelief.

Then she explained to him what it meant, that they had to catch Billy with his two pound bags of finest Columbian, otherwise they'd have a fat frog's fart but no case. And finally, Sheila showed Harry why Seeger had such a high opinion of her abilities, because she transformed Harry's story into a recordable statement.

According to that, Harry accompanied Lieutenant Seeger by acting as a technical expert for magic and magical devices. Coming into the factory building, Harry waited at the entrance, in case the lieutenant would need him. When the alarm started and the - since then fugitive - man who was later identified as Billy Carlisle appeared on the gallery, Harry watched how this man aimed a gun toward the place where the lieutenant was waiting and unaware of the danger.

So Harry used his expert knowledge to disarm the man. To the effect that said man disappeared.

Doing nothing again, Harry watched as the lieutenant did this and that, apparently trying to find that man, or maybe someone else in this building. From his position, Harry could watch how the alarm bell developed more and more sparks and finally stopped, after showing a flash as it is typical for a short circuit - not surprisingly so for such an old device, after having done its duty for so many minutes.

Yes, and finally, after the lieutenant had shouted through the building, two other men came down - to support the lieutenant in his efforts, for all Harry could see from his distant position.

He signed what Sheila had typed with a sigh. "The last time I worked with cops, it was simpler."

Sheila, busy with filing the sheets, asked, "When was this? And where?"

"In England. And I was still a student. And those were Goblin cops." It wasn't quite correct - they had been warriors, however the Goblins made little difference between one and the other.

"Goblins, huh?" Sheila looked up. "Maybe that's why; they don't fuss. Or maybe because you didn't damage private property. What was it about?"

"A group of - er, criminal wizards tried to storm the wizard prison and free some of their fellows. The prison was run by Goblins - still is, actually."

"And they let you take part in that? A student?"

"The Goblins don't tell other people what to do or not to do. We were six humans to support them - four adults and two students, my friend and I."

Sheila had stopped shuffling paper. "And what happened?"

"It was in an old mine - I never figured out where. The Goblins were hidden. They let them come along, then came up, weapons ready. About six of the assailants were too slow or too quick - anyway, they didn't freeze at once. That was their last mistake. The others were arrested by the Goblins."

Sheila's eyes had narrowed. "You mean - "

Harry nodded. "Yes, they were dead. Goblins don't order you twice, and they have just one definition for out of combat. They had crossbows, by the way."

"Crossbows ..." For an instant, it looked as if Sheila would start laughing, then she remembered to which effect these crossbows had been used. Slowly, she shook her head. "Well, I'm not sure whether I could warm up to this style - although, they certainly save paperwork, that's for sure. Anyway, your role was a passive one, so they just let you go, right?"

"Yeah, kind of ..."

With Nagini at him, Harry didn't want to lie on purpose. On the other hand, he felt no need to reveal his true role in this encounter - that he had followed one of the assailants into the maze of tunnels, after this man could escape by using Sirius Black as a living shield, and that this man, stunned by Harry just when trying to attack, had fallen into a shaft, to die from a broken neck.

His short hesitation had caused Sheila's attention. About to ask more, she was distracted from a phone call, and Harry took the opportunity to organize his own escape.

It took him just to the water fountain. He wanted to be around when Carl was done with this cocaine bullshit, and Carl wanted him within reach - probably just because this would make sure that Harry wasn't trying a more private approach on Pyromaniacs.

For someone used to Carron Lough water, this fluorated, refrigerated fluid tasted simply awful, and the styrofoam cup came as no improvement either.

Then Harry tried to melt into the wall. From the perspective of the other people in the room, it seemed to work fine, but then, they considered everything not screaming for a lawyer as part of the furniture. Only Harry's mind refused to calm down, his impatience even less.

He called Paul, more to kill the time than for any other reason. He told him what had happened at Gilbert and, in return, was informed that Paul had nothing new - except that he was in some hurry, about to go to lunch.

And apparently not alone, so Harry hung up.

Something to eat ... He went to Sheila and asked her about the local habits. From what she told him, survival of the strongest would be the most appropriate term, because something like a regular lunch break was unknown in the precinct. So Harry asked her for a proper method to save himself - and the other people there - from starving, if only for just one more day.

"Pizza," she said. "If you come with a pile of pizza, you'll be welcomed by anyone. Any size, colour, and filling, we aren't picky."

No, probably not. When Harry asked where to get it, he learned the shop was pretty close, just half a mile down the street.

Close? Maybe for someone with a car, which he hadn't.

When he asked if this shop offered any additional advantage not to be missed, Sheila said no, it was just close, although pretty crowded at this time of the day. The taste, according to her judgement, had to be rated somewhere between forgettable and regrettable.

Scanning his memory for alternative places, Harry suddenly knew where he'd get something for himself and the other people. It would be pizza all right - only apart from the name, it would bear little resemblance with the local junk. For compensation, it would be tasty and nourishing.

"I'll be back in a few minutes," he said. Then he apparated to the Turkish shop in the Diagon Alley, London, where he had come in touch with this kind of food years ago, still as a student.

Turkish pizza, ten, please - these people didn't blink an eye, and they were fast. Asked for details, Harry ordered five spicy, five average, otherwise all of them with everything, which stood for meat, salad, and white crumbs of sheep cheese.

Little more than ten minutes later, he had a bag full of cylindric shapes - each pizza rolled and wrapped in aluminium foil. Just in time, Harry remembered the water and ordered ten cans of soda in a reasonable mix, which made for another bag.

He paid, left a generous tip for quick work and good measure, and apparated back. Reaching Sheila's desk, he dropped the two bags. "Spicy or average?"


Sheila eyed Harry's prey and peeked into the bag he held open, but all she could see were aluminium cylinders.

"What's that? Looks like a major delivery of cocaine, except we're looking just for two."

"That's pizza, so - spicy or average?"

Sheila hadn't gained her fat for nothing, appeared quite open-minded toward something new. "Spicy, then."

Harry took one of the colour-marked cylinders out. He showed her how to uncover the upper end and warned her about the drops which soon would spill from the lower end.

After another suspicious look, Sheila took the first bite. Chewed. Got shining eyes. "Thagh's greag, Harry, where dig you geg if from?"


"Lon ..." Sheila's shoulder sagged. She swallowed the bite. "I knew it - some people just aren't made for a decent life. Anyway - thank you." Toward the piece in her hands, however, her enthusiasm was undiminished.

Registering that, and her size, Harry dropped a second roll at Sheila's desk, this time an average one, earning an admiring glance. Then he went to the interrogation room where he knew Carl and his two wizards.

Carl looked baffled for an instant, seeing the aluminium-wrapped shapes Harry announced as pizza, however the lieutenant had learned to trust his partner's taste in food, so he took a spicy one without further hesitation, plus a soda.

He looked perplexed for another moment when Harry asked the two wizards for their choice. They sent a quick glance to the lieutenant. Then Harry had to assure he wasn't asking for money, just for their choice, and only then, he could leave the room, lighter by two average and two sodas - although feeling sure they just hadn't dared to ask for anything out of the ordinary, like a spicy one.

Coming out, Harry's plan was to sit near Sheila, in favour of something like company during lunch. Company he got, instantly - five detectives closing in on him, known as the guy with the weird stuff Sheila was eating with such great pleasure, already diminishing her second roll.

Seeing their expectant faces, Harry had to laugh. "Okay, folks - just tell me, how many more, so I'll get something for myself?"

The numbers they told him varied, probably because Harry hadn't made clear whether he was asking for detectives around or for Turkish pizza.

At least, he had an impression. Apparating into Diagon Alley once more, he was looking into apologetic faces, because they could offer only four more pizza. So he took them, plus a dozen of what they called meat bags, and thanks to his tip from minutes ago, the three people were working like crazy.

Harry deepened the mutual trust with another tip, then apparated back. Wiser than before, he took a pizza for himself and asked Sheila to let the word go round that a modern equivalent of the biblical meat pans was here, if not from Egypt then from Turkey. And finally, Harry started to eat.

He got even company. When Sheila realized there was a variation of the theme, somewhat smaller, she had a look that caused Harry to declare he wasn't her weight watcher, and if nobody else ...

Sheila took the bag to make her round, apparently in favour of a good conscience. She came back with a beaming face, which meant something was left, and joined Harry in his second half with one of the three surviving meat bags. They finished almost simultaneously.

* * *

Lieutenant Seeger was in a comfortable mood, better than usual on a Monday, early afternoon. It had to do with an entertaining morning, which had provided a nice mix of action and success - catching Billy Carlisle seemed only a matter of time, and the two shit-scared whitecoats had given Seeger some information to nail a local dealer of the medium range. Sure, someone else would fill the opening gap instantly, but so was the business.

It also had to do with the lieutenant's weird partner, sitting silently now in the passenger seat, together with the partner's snake-shaped own partner. This team seemed to work quite well, better than expected, and providing a lunch of the delicious kind wasn't the least of his benefits, no sir.

And right now, Lieutenant Seeger was benefitting from an interactive navigation system, saving him from the hassle of alternating his attention between the traffic and a street map. This system consisted of him at one end, reading street names aloud, Sheila at the other end, giving him directions as well as side remarks, and that phony in-between. This would also make sure Sheila was listening when they were about to enter Pyromaniacs.

When she told him the road they were on would be right for a while, and he mightn't fall asleep, Seeger felt the time right for a little rehearsal. A quick glance to the right informed him that his partner wasn't asleep either, which would have been a surprise anyway.

"Okay, Harry, we're inside, and your snake tells you there's a wizard or two, only she can't locate them. What's your reaction?"

"Erm ... Lieutenant, can we do a cross-check?"

"Yep. And now - there are five people in the room, two of them are wizards. What then?"

Harry thought a few seconds. "If possible, I'll just tell you who of them to ask. If not - I mean, if there's some reason they shouldn't be forewarned, in contrast to you, then ... Do you know how pilots indicate directions?"

"I'm not sure."

"They use the hours on a clock. Twelve is straight ahead. So if I say, Carl, we've got something at three o'clock and then at ten o'clock, where are these guys?"

"Ahh - the first's to my right, and the other's to my left, slightly more to the front." Seeger grinned appreciatingly. "That's cool, Harry. But where exactly is straight ahead?"

"Your body - mind, your shoulders, not your head. Twelve is where you'd look without your head turned." Harry grinned. "Don't turn just because I'm talking to you. We could say, twelve is the window front, only it takes too long to re-orient yourself."

"Not turning, okay." Seeger thought a second. "So I'll ask back, was it code red and stripes - know what it means?"

Harry's answer came quickly. "Their clothes, right?"

"You got it."

"So if I say, wasn't it red and yellow, it's the other guy in a group of two or so."

Seeger laughed. "It's like in a spy movie, but on the other hand, every football team uses something similar. Okay then, let's check the other case. There are wizards all around, and you get nothing but bad vibrations, what was that?"

"That - er, time's running." Harry's hand moved under his jacket and came up with a piece of wood. "And if you see me using that, or if you see something flash or sparkle, don't wait for further comments from my side."

At this moment, Sheila's voice, somewhat amused, came through the phony, advising Seeger he should stop playing James Bond and instead tell her the name of the next side street.

A few minutes later, they reached the estate that had to be Pyromaniacs, while only a closer inspection of a small plate at the entrance told them they were right. The plate showed a cartoon bomb - a black ball with a glowing fuse on top, and the company name underneath was cut into an upper and a lower half by a a small rocket zooming through.

The building looked a century younger than the other one they had visited this morning. L-shaped, in bungalow style with just one floor, large windows along the front, causing Harry to ask, "Say, is real estate less expensive than piling up storeys? Or is it because people with fire and explosives prefer a flat roof above their heads, and nothing else?"

Seeger shrugged. "This is California. Can you spell earthquake?"

The company seemed prosperous, and a bit larger than the make-up studio. About a dozen cars stood in a yard that was formed by a wire fence around. Along the building ran a stripe of grass that would need a sprinkler treatment at least once a day in this climate.

Harry's glance had swept the place. Now, with a light undertone of disappointment, he said, "Bigger than expected, huh?"

Apparently he was referring to their initial guess, that the kidnappers were a group of three at the minimum, eight at the most - and seeing these many cars parking here felt wrong for him. It was another proof of Harry not being a cop - cops learned soon that reality never packaged things as expected, always found a twist to confuse those with their minds set too narrow.

And cops learned something else - how awfully wrong they could be in their expectations. But the essence of all detective work was simple patience, and Harry wasn't used to strike twelve misses before the first hit.

Seeger found a shortcut to all this wisdom. "We can be wrong this way or the other. And maybe we're just right." Then he opened the car door and marched ahead, closely followed by Harry and his snake.

Reaching the entrance, Harry murmured, apparently to no one in particular, "We enter the building."

The desk lady was all smile, which froze for an instant when Seeger presented his badge and introduced himself as a detective lieutenant. Next moment, she recovered. "Then you should talk with Mr Costello."

"That's the boss man?"

"Himself." A light ironic smile commented the detective's choice of words, while the lady bent toward a device on her desk, and a finger reached for the button she probably knew best.

Even so, the finger froze in midair. The woman had detected Harry, as her stare made clear. More exactly, his snake, who was hissing right at this moment.

Adjusting to the habit, Seeger kept his own friendly expression, which suddenly seemed to freeze by itself - he wouldn't have known what to explain anyway. From behind came Harry's voice. "I'm his cross-check partner, madam."

As senseless as the remark sounded, the finger lost its trance and found the button. A male voice growled something.

Mr Costello, there are two gentlemen from the police department. They have some questions."

"Police? About wha - okay, send them in."

Mr Costello reminded the lieutenant more of a sailor, or maybe a carpenter, than a manager. Jeans, red-striped work shirt, sun-burned skin, a questioning look at Seeger and an open stare of disbelief to Harry and snake. Then the man's gaze turned back to the lieutenant.

"What's that supposed to mean?"

Why did his voice sound so familiar? An instant later, Seeger knew why - it was like the scene in a western movie, when the guy with the wrong colour tried to order a whisky at the bar - a nigger in Texas, a native American anywhere in the States, or a Mexican here in California. And he, Seeger, was the wrong man's friend, and next moment he would be accused of being colour-blind.

He shook off the sensation of unreality and put some steel into his own voice.

"This is Mr Potter, my partner in this investigation. Mr Costello, how many people are at work here?"

"Eleven. What kind of investigation is this, detective?"

"Please call me Lieutenant Seeger, Mr Costello." The temperature was cooling rapidly. "We are investigating in the cases of the recent kidnappings, you may have heard about them. I have to ask some questions to all of your employees, sir. Might not take long - is there a room where we can do it?"

"You can do it here."

Seeger showed a thin-lipped smile. "It would be grossly impolite to send you out of your own office, wouldn't it, Mr Costello? Any other place?"

"Why don't you just arrest all of them and do it at the police station?"

"Is this a serious offer, Mr Costello?" Seeger reminded himself to behave like a good lieutenant. "There's no reason for such drastic measures, not for just a few questions. We could be gone in half an hour - "

"We've got nothing to do with these kidnappings, so what do you want to ask them? And this - this snake there, what does it mean? I don't think I have to tolerate a snake in my building, police or not."

Seeger felt afraid the man was right.

"Mr Costello," came Harry's voice, "do you know which of your people are Magicals?"

"What? ... Yes, sure, why?"

"There are four of them, right?"

"Er - yes." Bafflement had replaced the hostility. "How did you know?"

"This snake can sense magic, that's her purpose. Probably we'd have to ask only those four, except it might look less conspicious when interviewing all of them - you know, to prevent complaints of magical harassment." Harry's voice was conciliatory.

"Oh - yeah, maybe that's ... All right then." Mr Costello, who seemed to know a song or two about complaints filed, came up, looking calmer than a moment earlier. "There's a work room, if you can keep your fingers off the things there ..."

This half-insult improved his mood even more, and he walked ahead, out of the office, Seeger and Harry following.

Passing the reception, Seeger saw a man in a light-brown overall looking up. Until a second ago, he seemed to have talked with the desk lady, apparently gossip, and no doubt the lieutenant and Harry and his snake had been the topic, their faces - looking like caught - told Seeger that much.

Well, he was used to it, and it didn't mean anything, because there were two categories of people gossiping about police visits as much as they could - the criminals and the innocent.

But just then, the snake hissed again, taking everybody's attention.

For just a second. Then another hissing was heard, and without turning, Seeger knew, this had been Harry. The woman was staring, and the man in the overall too - with widening eyes, he looked quite frightened, almost pale.

Snakes had this effect on some people, here in California, not exactly rattlesnake's paradise, like New Mexico maybe, but at least you could find them.

Seeger's thoughts were interrupted by Harry, who passed him and grabbed the man who walked before them, murmuring urgently, "Mr Costello, who's that man at the desk?"

The crafty manager stopped. "Huh?" He turned. "That - someone from the messenger service. Why?"

"What service is this?"

Mr Costello's eyes followed the man in the overall, right now leaving in some kind of hurry. "It's called The Delivery Boys. They're on the road all day long, from companies to sets and back, between the studios. They do all kinds of errands, just what you need during a movie project."

Harry looked at Seeger. "That's been a wizard, and when he heard me talk with Nagini, he almost panicked. Come on - now."

Hearing Harry's voice, Seeger felt a prickle in his neck. He turned to Mr Costello and said, "We'll come back later - sorry." Then he followed Harry, who was storming to the car.

Outside, Seeger looked around and saw a dark-brown van reach the main road, with a bit of dust still hanging over the short distance from the fenced yard to that spot. Now the van turned right, toward the city.

Harry stood already at the car with the phony in his hand. Reaching the car, Seeger heard him talk with Sheila, telling her to look up a company called 'The Delivery Boys.'

About to enter the car, Seeger glanced over to the van again, and if he could trust his eyes, he saw the driver watch the scene here in the yard, rather than the street ahead.

The lieutenant climbed inside and started the engine, then moved the car out of the parking lot. "So he's a wizard, what else, why - " Harry's raised hand stopped him.

"... and then call a Paul Sillitoe, tell him about that, and ask him to check this company. I don't want to cut this line for calling myself ... Just ask the phony - and, Sheila, Paul knows what's going on, he's the one who found the other company names."

Harry glanced over. "When he heard me talk with Nagini, he startled so terribly, he was nearly shocked. I think he knows who I am, may even have seen me on the set, but whatever, just hearing Parseltongue, that wasn't explanation enough."

Seeger, his eyes at the van in some distance, said, "A messenger service ... Didn't appear anywhere in the lists, huh?"

"Probably not."

Seeger nodded. "That fits so well - always the same story, the people nobody registers because they're so used to them. Know all places, all people ... Hear the latest gossip - just when we came out, you could see how it works."

"Wizards in a messenger service!" Harry's voice sounded a bit furious. "It looks like overkill, but only at first thought, and besides, maybe they had additional ideas from the beginning." He examined the road scene. "Why don't you move a bit closer?"

"He's seen us coming out," replied Seeger. "Right now he's probably suspecting us to follow him, only he mightn't be sure, but if I close in, he can see us all the time in the rearview mirror."

"Then what are you going to do?"

"Follow him - see where he leads us to."

"Carl - he has a phone in the car, if not something better. He's going to call his accomplices right now."


"Send people to their place, so they won't escape - and then reach that car in front of us and let us stop him."

Seeger shot a glance to his crazy partner. "Harry, all we have is a feeling you had - wait, let me finish. A feeling - okay, a special one, and I trust your feelings, but it just means I'm not going to lose that car in front of us - that's all."

Just then, Sheila came over the phony to tell them she had found the address of the Delivery Boys - a place almost at the other side of the city.

Seeger's arm went sidewards. "Let me talk with her."

He took the phony and said, "Sheila? Listen, send a civil car to their place for observation. Just watching - nothing else, and whatever's going to happen, the car's going to stay and watch. Tell them they should try to hide, if possible. All I want to know is what's going on there ... Right. And then call their office, pretend to be a secretary who's ordered to find a cheap offer for moving, office furniture, something like that - ask them questions, you know what I mean."

"Will do, lieutenant," came the reply. "I'm going to send Jake and his rookie, and tell them to report to me. Over."

Seeger passed the phony back to Harry.

Harry said, "Carl, please, let's stop that car."

Seeger thought it over. "All right, Harry." He reached for the microphone of the regular broadcasting receiver.

"Hey, wait a sec - who do you want to call?"

Seeger suppressed a sigh. "Two police cruisers, to stop the car - wasn't that what you wanted?"

"Not at all!" Harry pointed in the direction of the van somewhere ahead. "I bet this guy's listening to the police channel, so he'd know what's coming. What I had in mind was something quick and clean and as surprising as possible, and we can do it alone."

"No we can't." Seeger kept his voice calm, although with some effort. "Assume you're right, and that's what I assume, Harry, don't forget - so if you're right, then you know what will happen? First possibility, the guy's not going to stop at all, and contrary to what you see all the time in the movies, a limousine like this one can't stop a van - maybe short of crashing into it. But if I were the guy, I'd just stop."

He looked over, met Harry's eyes. "And you know why? Because I'd sit calmly until this stupid detective lieutenant has reached my car. Then I'd shoot him down and drive off. Harry, stopping a car was the last action of quite a lot of police officers, but I for myself can't stop thinking there's a pension in my future."


"Now you take me for a coward, ain't'cha, but that's - "

"Definitely not!" After a second, with a calmer voice, Harry continued, "I'm sorry - you're totally right, Carl, so stop that crap about cowardice, and please don't guess about what I think, I'm somewhat allergic to people guessing my motives."

Seeger reached again for the microphone.

Harry's hand stopped him once more. "No - no cruisers. Just speed up and pass over, and when you're at his side, keep the pace for a moment."

"Are you going to ..." Just in time, Seeger remembered Harry's last remark. "What for, Harry? What's your goddamn motive I'm not supposed to guess?"

Harry's voice was amused, almost playful. "I want to make sure this guy's going to stop - alive and unhurt, because we need him alive more than anything else."

"And how?"

"I'll use the magic word, Carl. And now, please, floor that engine."

The magic word, my ass, crossed it Seeger's mind while he pressed the accelerator down. He had halved the distance when he noticed that the van was accelerating too.

"Look at this," muttered Seeger. "The guy knew all the time that we're behind, and he prefers to keep it that way. And what's worse, this bloody van is awfully fast." He glanced over to Harry. "Can I call the blue ones now?"

"Not yet. Can you go behind? All I need is a look into that car."

"Watch yourself." Seeger checked the speedometer, then the road ahead, and the distance to the van, which wasn't getting any closer.

"Maybe on a highway, but not here - and he's not going to slow down for red lights - oh shit, I can't drive a car hunt through city traffic, Harry, that's no movie here. If you don't want to lose him, let me call for reinforcement."

"Do you have binoculars here?" Harry's voice came a bit tighter than before.

"In the glove compartment - hopefully."

Seeger watched as Harry pulled the handle, reached inside, and came up with heavy binoculars suited for observation tasks. He took a second to adjust them, then examined the van ahead.

"Okay. We're lucky it's a van, not a delivery truck." Harry dropped the glasses, then was moving more and did something with his snake.

"What's so different with a van?" Seeger tried to watch Harry's movements, only the high speed was taking all his attention.

"It has windows at the back, so I could have a look inside." Harry leaned back, as if relaxing, took the phony and laid it into the cigarette box between the seats. "Don't twist now, Carl - we'll meet again soon."

Seeger shot a quick glance to the side - just in time to see a passenger seat suddenly empty, a snake at the floor, and then he had to concentrate again, through this short instant while it felt as if someone was sucking the air out of his lungs - to fill the empty space, before the air pressure normalized again.

* * *

Harry came out exactly at the spot he had seen through the binoculars - between the back seats of the racing van, third row. Next instant, he almost fell on his back, as if the van had accelerated.

His left hand grabbed the back rest of a seat. The movement pushed him onto the seat behind, while his right hand already seized for his wand.

He hadn't known whether it would work, and how it would be. He wished he had time to exhale and regain his mental balance after this moment of expecting the worst, knew he hadn't any.

His appearance had sent a wave of air pressure through the car. Harry saw the head above the driver's seat jerk up to the rearview mirror. He had no chance to see the eyes because all his attention was caught by the body and its movements.

This body twisted, for an instant almost losing control of the car, which had followed the involuntary pull at the steering wheel. Then the car stabilized again, apparently from one hand's work because the man's right arm grabbed for something.

Harry's wand was pointing. "Stop it! You can't hit me anyway from that position. And slow down."

"And what if not? Goin' to stun me? That'd kill both of us."

Could well be - at least the car would be out of control, at this speed and with a bend rapidly coming closer, something Harry had no intention to experience. Still worse - what he felt was nothing of the desperate suicidal mood of a cornered rat. There was a determined mind in front of him, having a clear perception of what to do.

"Now what, big wizard?" The voice was sneering. "That's a Mexican draw, if there's ever been any. You better let me drive that car - see the bend over there?"

That was nonsense - all Harry had to do was move to the driver's seat and be ready to take over the steering wheel when taking the man out of combat. But all his senses were sending alarm signs - this guy was up to something, he didn't believe his own words either, thought himself still in the better position, and this was a nasty feeling because Harry couldn't see why, as much as his mind was racing.

The bend was there. Like a race driver, the man approached it from the outer lane, aiming at the inner point, a firm movement of the steering wheel - which suddenly ended in a sharp pull, sending the car in a tire-shrieking slide toward the embankment, much too sharp for this speed, the car's superstructure already tilting.

Harry's eyes flew to a spot ahead, sand and a bit of grass, as his target for an apparition jump out of this dead trap. About to apparate to the planned destination, he felt something familiar but totally unexpected, taking him almost off balance.

At this instant, the car completely lost its own balance and fell to its side, ready to do a final roll-over, or two, before it would crash into the tree that stood waiting in its path.

* * *

Lieutenant Seeger swore to himself - he would teach his partner giving clear information in teamwork before this day met darkness. Maybe for Harry it had been obvious, and Seeger had a distinct idea, only he wasn't sure.

His eyes at the road, he bent to the side, cursing the national car industry which hadn't anything better to do than building cars in which the driver couldn't reach the glove compartment without causing an accident. Then Seeger had the binoculars in his hand.

A check at the road - straight for a few seconds. His knee fixing the steering wheel, he peeped through the binoculars, grateful that the focus was already set.

There was a movement in the van, on the back seats!

All right, then - Harry was in the car. Would be interesting to hear how he had handled the driver, without causing an accident.

Seeing the van lose track, going broadside, Seeger started murmuring obscenities, totally unaware of his own comments while the shrieking of rubber on tarmac reached his ear.

It was like slow motion - not really, only it would feel like that, later, because Seeger knew what was coming, could only watch, his foot already on the brakes.

The van cartwheeled to the side, bowed, and made a little jump - lifting off the road, after a sliding tire had found a pothole to bite into, unwilling to be scraped any further.

Seeger watched the first roll ... then the second, hearing the pained sound of metal and glass on tarmac, then the shape with its tires skyward had reached the tree. Contrary to what the movies used to do in sensurround, there was a very short chunk, then the car had lost all speed and most of its shape, as well as some parts which were still flying through the air.

"Oh, shit, shit, what a motherfucking shit ..." Seeger came to a stop, swung the door open and was out, running toward the wreck, his right hand going to his holster. Unlikely as it seemed - if the wrong man was still alive and could move, he wanted to be ready.

He smelled burned rubber, scraped metal, and a second later, he smelled the pungent odor of petrol.

Of course - this piece of shit was manufactured by the local industry, and everybody knew what a damn they gave for passive security - why couldn't it be a Japanese model? This was a game of luck - maybe nothing would happen, but the petrol was vaporizing in the hot air, and if a drop reached something hot enough, there would be a soft bump, and a very large cloud of fire would stand in the air for a few seconds ... with Seeger there to have it in his face.

He stepped forward, gun aiming, in desperate search for a view inside - if there was any inside left, which so far didn't look that way.

There ... driver's seat, empty. Where ... Checking his memory, Seeger knew there hadn't been bodies flying through the air. He inched closer, and went down on his knees to peep in the wreck.

Tight metal in the middle, front part empty, no traces of blood either. Seeger went round the tree, to check the other side.

The sound of drops falling down ... Just one more look, only what would he look stupid if the next drop were the one to blow.

Nothing. No human body inside that car, no shattered remnants either.

Seeger retreated, his face kept toward the wreck. He had made a dozen steps when a sound like a flapping sail erupted from the car. His eyes registered a large ball of orange and yellow, out of nowhere, already fading to smoke when the rush of hot air reached his skin.

Moments later, the vaporized petrol was consumed in this short firework, and the wreck burned in small, slow flames where the paint had caught fire, with a single steady source toward the heck. Had to be the tank, and again contrary to what the movies suggested, Seeger knew that it would burn steadily to the end.

He stared into the flames, frozen in the old fascination of humankind facing fire and destruction. So it took him an instant to register the shout from behind.

* * *

At the last instant, Harry had sensed the driver's intention, the unmistakable aura of a wizard about to apparate, and he followed in pursuit, expecting to come out in some building, most likely the office of the Delivery Boys.

No building - open air, and he was flying through it, although pretty low, a large dune under him, and the ocean ahead. Now the dune hit him astonishingly hard before he was flying again, unfortunately without his wand which had hooked into something, released before it would break. And some feet in front of him, the driver was flying, now rolling.

That was the reason why ... Harry realized at once what was happening, and that this wizard was far from a seventh-year's level.

His own movement, as a passenger in the van driving at high speed, wasn't absorbed in the apparition jump! Not at all, and the other wizard had known in advance, selecting a place where this impulse could be lost without the risk of breaking your bones.

It answered Harry's old question, whether it was possible to apparate into an airplane in the sky. Definitely not, because a milliscond later he would have been a bloody smear at some cabin wall.

The thought crossed his mind shortly, while he responded to the immediate need of coming to a halt, preferably before the other wizard had accomplished the same task for himself.

Falling, rolling - the soft dune sand was perfectly suited to suck up the body's energy. Using his aikido skill, Harry was busy to win some sideward distance to the other man, something still more urgent than reaching a stand.

A bang. Glancing sideways, Harry saw that the other wizard was already in a balanced slide down the dune, lying on his back, and aiming a gun at him. Another bang, the hand with the gun jerked up, and this time Harry felt the bullet's air movement as a gentle push in his face.

He rolled around and onto his stomach, hands together. No chance to point precisely, no time to waste either - any second now, this wizard might apparate again. Harry sent a nitro ball, the size of a child's fist, somewhere near the other man's position, while his feet were hacking into the sand underneath to stop the slide.

A deafening bang. An eruption of sand blocked his view.

That was part of what he had intended, because it blocked the other man's view equally. Until the cloud had settled sufficiently, Harry was lying motionless, his hands ready to send the stunning spell.

Where was the wizard?

Couldn't possibly have apparated, Harry would have sensed it, he felt sure about that.

Coming onto his knees, he saw that the explosion had dug a crater into the dune's flank, larger than planned, and from above sand was rushing in. The wizard had to be in that crater ... Shit, had he killed him?

Even if not, in a few moments, the man would be buried under sand, this way or the other.

Harry made two steps and realized that he was way too slow, would never cross the distance in time. He apparated to the border of the crater.

Glancing down, he saw a shapeless bundle. About to curse himself for that stupid nitro ball, he saw the bundle move, and next instant, a human leg appeared from under the driftsand that had already gathered down there.

Harry sighed of relief. Then he sent the stunning spell first, and the levitation charm for injured bodies afterwards.

When the stunned wizard was lying at his feet, Harry squinted his eyes to scan the path his body had taken across the dune. Pointing the approximate direction with his hands, he shouted, "Accio wand!"

And here it came zooming through the air into his hand - the precious piece of holly with a blackthorn tip. He was complete again.

As many questions as he had for this wizard - asking him had to wait until Harry had secured him in a protector sphere that prevented apparition. And fetching one of these devices had to wait also, because he had to find Seeger quickly, before the lieutenant started some action against the building with the other wizards. Because for all Harry knew, they were similarly skilled, and attacking the building without a precaution first would leave them with an empty nest, and probably some casualties of their own.

Could a stunned wizard be summoned? Harry made a test to the top of the dune.

Yes he could.

The next apparition jump brought him to the spot he had selected as his exit destination from the falling car. An instant later, the unconscious wizard was lying at his feet again.

And fifty yards ahead, Harry saw a remarkable picture - the remnants of a van wrapped around a tree, some flames across the hulk, pretty small ones, except for one spot, the acid smell of burning paint in the air, and a figure a few feet away from the wreck, watching the spectacle in fascination.

Harry inhaled deeply for his shout. "Carl! ... Carl, wake up and come over."

He watched how the lieutenant turned, started to move closer, taking his time and apparently without signs of surprise.

And when Carl had reached him, Harry listened to a short lesson about clear announcements of the planned action in teamwork, and their advantages over wisecracks of the magic macho kind.

As short as it was, the lesson left nothing to the imagination.