- 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: 04/12/2003Updated: 05/05/2003Words: 178,786Chapters: 22Hits: 20,126
Presents from the Past
- 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 17 - Journey
- Chapter Summary:
- Ramon begins his journey - a drive southward, in his car's trunk two suitcases full with money and explosives ...
17 - Journey
Originally, Ramon hadn't planned to travel in his office suit. Jeans, boots, leather jacket, these clothes should be the dress in which he imagined himself driving along, fighting the fight of his life.
Wrong he'd been. The present from Ray Purcell demanded a tie, and Ramon didn't think a tie would look natural with these clothes, at least not the ones in his own collection.
He trotted upstairs to change from casual to formal. White shirt, dark trousers, black shoes. The tie he had in mind turned out too slim, he was forced to pick an older one, offering room enough for the thin plate.
Maybe he should think of it as a symbol. On this journey, he was no undercover cop, instead he was a business man, going to meet some people for the meanest negotiations ever.
Jacket, a last look into the mirror - perfect, the clip fitting well, adding a decent touch of vanity.
Some minutes ago, the kidnappers had called again. This time it was a man's voice, telling Ramon he might saddle his horse and leave town - not into the setting sun, this was no western, was it? Generally southward, along the coast, he'd get more detailed instructions while on the road.
The choice of words had felt a bit artificial, and totally different from the woman's style. But these thoughts were running in a distant corner of Ramon's mind, which otherwise emptied rapidly from everything beyond the task ahead.
"Testing, testing ... Mirror, mirror on the wall, who's the one that gets it all? Over."
Ramon went down and into the kitchen, where Harry and Laila were sitting, several phonies and a longplay tape recorder before them on the table.
"How was it?"
"Loud and clear."
"Don't wait for comments all the time. You just don't know who's watching, might see me talking alone in the car. I'll try to forget you're listening, except somewhere deep, deep inside."
Harry nodded. "I know what you mean."
"See you later." Ramon turned quickly and went out.
The two suitcases were already stored in the trunk of his Mercedes. He climbed into the car. Phony within reach on the console between the front seats, safety belt, remote control for the garage door, which opened with a slight squeak.
The V8 engine came awake, its noise almost inaudible after the first second. Ramon drove off.
Southward ... He reached the main road and turned left toward Inglewood. Traffic was still heavy, though not jammed. He kept the common pace, kept distance to other cars, kept to the rules. The best driver ever - the challenge wasn't here on the road, a ticket the last thing Ramon could use now. Not to mention a crash.
He reached Inglewood and drove on toward Manhattan Beach. Signs at the roadside marked invisible borderlines between cities which had given up any individualism long ago, melting into the big human pool of the valley. As a cop, these city limits had held some meaning for him, while now they were just reminders of the distance passed. His phony beeped.
"Here I am."
The same voice as before. "Where's here?"
"Passing Inglewood, driving toward Manhattan Beach."
"The lonesome rider, huh? Are you as lonesome as you should?"
This jerk seemed to enjoy his role. Somehow it felt strange, like a streak of incompetence in an otherwise flawless crew. Ramon didn't like it, couldn't change it either.
"Lots of traffic around," he replied, "but I'm alone in the car, and nobody's tracking me, if that's what you mean."
"Great, mate, that's just what we wanted to hear, although I have to tell you, we're going to check that by ourselves. But there's still way to drive, so - "
"Wait a second - before you tell me anything specific, there's something we have to handle first."
"Really?" Some amusement in the voice. "I wonder what that might be, buddy, 'cause in my scriptbook there isn't anything other than me telling you what to do."
"You haven't got the updated version, but never mind, wasn't your mistake. I did the first move - I'm on the road, the money with me. Now it's your turn to show some goodwill."
"Goodwill, huh? Listen, mister, there's so much goodwill here around, it's almost spilling over. Just come to us, then - "
"I will - but first you have to release my children."
"You heard me right. Release them, give me proof they're safe, then we can proceed with your scriptbook."
Some bafflement in the voice. "You're mad, mister, if you think we'd do something like that. First you come - "
"First I'll hear it's done. Call me when you know how." Ramon pressed the Off button.
All right, so much for the simple part. Within the next minutes, he would be forced to steel himself, to refuse agreeing to any threat, any pressure that could be sent through a phony line ... Like screams, for instance.
It took a minute until the phony beeped again. He pressed the button. "Now?"
"Just forget it, buddy, and if not - "
The voice was cut off by Ramon himself, pressing the button.
This time, it took only seconds. "If you wanna hear your children, just keep listening, you sonofabitch, only you won't like what you're going to - "
Two minutes later, it was the woman. "Mr Garcia, I'm going to pass you over to your wife now. She'll tell you - "
Definitely not. Click.
Ramon's hands cramped around the steering wheel. When the phony would beep again any second now, what was he going to hear? Whatever - if it was what he expected, he'd switch off at once. But it was the woman's voice, making him almost sob of relief.
"Mr Garcia, I'm afraid we have to take more drastic measures if you don't show reason quickly."
"Lady, for all I know, my family's dead. If not now, then pretty soon. That's my premise, and I told you already what's the only way to change that. Release my children."
A pause. "And then?"
"Then I'll follow orders, until the money and myself are within your reach. Plus my wife, not to forget."
"It wasn't planned to get in direct contact with you, Mr Garcia."
"Maybe so, lady, and maybe pigs can fly. If you want to see five millions, release my children."
"And what if your wife doesn't agree?"
"DID SHE AGREE AT ALL, YOU STUPID BITCH?"
When the line was still open, to his slight surprise, Ramon added in a calmer voice, "I don't ask her, and I don't ask you. That's all I have to say."
Another pause. Then, with a forced nonchalance, the woman said, "Well, contrary to your remarks, Mr Garcia, this is just a minor change in the proceedings. How did you think it should be done? Delivering them at the entrance to your home?"
If the question was supposed to come as a sarcasm, it failed miserably. The woman didn't strike Ramon as someone used to this kind of negotiations.
"You can take them to any public place where my assistant or my employer can fetch them - maybe a railway station with a Salvation Army post, whatever. When my assistant or my employer call to tell me they're safe, we can proceed further."
"When you talk with them - "
"I made sure I didn't get any specific information before, lady, remember? They're in my house, and they know what I know - that I'm driving southward. So what else could I tell them?"
Then, with the previous determination, the woman's voice again. "It will take a while, Mr Garcia. Keep driving southward."
* * *
Harry sat at the kitchen table, arms on the tabletop, hands folded, chin on his hands, eyes closed. His ears were listening, his mind in a car somewhere south, connected to his body through a babysitter phony line.
Motionless to the outside, except for his fingertips which went white, relaxed after some time, went white again ... in the unsteady rhythm of another phony conversation.
When Ramon shouted his insult, the fingertips changed to claws, refused to stretch again. When, after the woman's last words, the other conversation ended, Harry's mind and body connected again, and his eyes came open.
"We need a map! Shit, why haven't I thought of coming with my magic map?"
Laila said, "There's one of those things in the office - let me fetch it, takes just a few minutes - "
"I'm faster than you." The seat was empty.
Harry was back within twenty seconds, most likely world record for the distance from a certain room in Santa Monica to a certain castle in Ireland and back, only nobody cared. He put his magic map on the table and activated it, touched the same spot twice to have the map zoomed in on the valley.
His eyes scanning the image, he touched once more. Now the Pacific coastline, from Ventura in the north to San Clemente in the south, spanned the display from top to bottom. He turned the map around, to let Laila have a look.
When her head came up again, Harry asked, "Is he right? Or can we learn anything from where he's driving, or where the children are delivered?"
"What should that be? They could send them to the gas station next door, with a sheet says, call that number, and we'd look anywhere but in the close neighborhood."
"We would, take my word for it."
"Yes, Harry." Laila glared at him. "But so far it's still Ramon's game, right?"
Registering the glitter in her eyes, he took her hand, which seemed unwilling to follow. "Yes it is, and he's playing it splendidly."
"Really? He just signed his own ..." The hand under Harry's was pulled out to cover a face, together with the other.
Harry rose and went behind Laila's chair to put his hands onto her shoulders. "Steady on."
A small gasp, followed by a sniffing.
He sat down again. "Ramon hasn't given up any advantage he had, quite the opposite. Did you believe for a second what the woman said?"
Laila leaned back, slowly, like tired. "No ... not really, maybe, except it was just ..."
Harry waited a moment, then finished for her, "... what you wanted to hear. That's exactly why she said it, to spread disagreement."
"Disagreement?" Laila looked astonished. "Among whom?"
"Among us. She might not be sure, but I think she takes into account some connection between Ramon and his home base - which means us."
Laila seemed to reconsider what they'd heard. Then she asked, "What makes you think so?"
"Maybe just a gut feeling. In her place, I'd simply expect something like that. She didn't even ask him in this direction - that man, I mean."
"So you think she's the boss woman?"
"For all we know." Harry snorted. "That western hero isn't the one, that much's for sure."
Then they waited, and Harry reminded himself to switch off the babysitter connection when the other call would come.
It came, quite unexpectedly, on the conventional phone, ringing in the family room. Harry won the race by simply apparating. "Yes?"
A female voice. "Good evening, this is the Los Angeles Central Linkport, Customer Services. I'd like to speak to Mr or Mrs Potter."
"Mr Potter, here are two childen, a boy and a girl. They - "
"Where can I find you?"
"Central Information Desk, that's where I'm now. My name's Shulman, Hedy Shulman, you may ask the clerk here if - "
Harry knew that linkport and remembered the main hall. He put the receiver in Laila's hand and apparated, scaring this Hedy Shulman a bit when he appeared in front of her while she hadn't even finished talking.
And over there, sitting on chairs too big for them, were Carlos and Esmeralda.
The boy felt distraught. He was sitting in apathy, not registering Harry. The girl, who had witnessed turmoil and terror before, looked at him with eyes like black marbles.
Harry lifted both of them into his arms, using magic as much as muscles. "Hello, my little ones - come on, let's go home."
The customer agent, a young woman in the uniform of the linkport agency, had managed to put back the receiver. "Mr Potter, just a moment, sir, would you please - "
Certainly not. "Later, madam - I'll come back." Or maybe not. Harry apparated.
Into the Garcia home - not exactly what he'd planned a few minutes earlier; he would have preferred to take them into the castle and pass them to Ireen or whomever, only what he could sense told him these two were at their limits and beyond, a familiar environment such as their own rooms seemed the only acceptable option.
Harry came out in the hall and walked into the kitchen, this way giving Laila a second of adjustment. "All right, Laila, here we are. You can call Ramon."
Would it make sense to let the children listen? No. Would Ramon want to talk with them? Yes, but he wouldn't, afraid to break his momentum. Harry turned and headed for the children' rooms.
Just then, Carlos asked, "Is Laila calling Daddy?"
"Yes, to tell him you're home again."
"What's he doing?"
"He's on his way to fetch your Mum."
"With the money?"
"Yes, Carlos, he has it, two suitcases full." Not counting what else could be found inside them.
Every fibre in him was pulling Harry toward the kitchen, only this was out of reach now, with Carlos apparently under shock and Esmeralda clinging tighter to him with every step. And, compared to Laila, Harry was the better choice for sure to tend the children.
With a careful treatment of mind waves, for example, soothing as much as tiring.
He asked, "Are you hungry?"
No, they weren't. In some house they'd been, didn't know where, sleeping all together in a double bed. They'd been shopping with Mum, fallen asleep in the car, somehow, and when they came awake, they'd been in that house, always the same room.
Most of this information came from Esmeralda, with Carlos changing from his shock state into an absent-minded sleepiness.
"Have you seen other people?" Harry held his breath. If they'd seen faces ...
"Just a house-elf."
A house-elf? Harry's mind was whirling, only this had to wait until later. He undressed the boy, forcing himself to spend the time and do it properly, putting Carlos into his pyjamas - the girl was watching Harry's every movement and would register anything out of the ordinary.
Skipping the cleaning ritual might be less conspicious. Hopefully.
Esmeralda refused to go to bed.
Sensing, Harry knew why. She felt close to a panic at the thought of being alone. When he asked whether she would sleep in the same bed together with Carlos, he earned a shaking of her head.
"All right, then ..." He took her up and returned back into the kitchen.
Laila's eyes widened, seeing Harry with the girl.
He said, "She isn't sleepy," and winked at Laila - since the moment he had accepted Esmeralda's refusal, deep relief from the girl and mind waves from his own side were driving her rapidly toward sleep.
Harry sat down and arranged Esmeralda in his arms. "What happened?"
"I called him. He said, good, and hung off. They called him - hardly more than a minute after my own call."
With some consternation, Harry realized that there must have been someone in the linkport, to check how the children would be passed over, and when.
But then, what? The person could have been painted red, without giving him any chance to do anything differently. This was Ramon's game, not his own, there were the children, and Marie-Christine a prisoner as before.
"... passed Redondo Beach, was already close to Torrace, and now he's driving through Long Beach." Laila sent a glance to the girl, hesitated, and continued when Harry gave a nod.
"They told him to keep the connection all the time, speaking or not. They have him fully under control, they can hear the engine's noise all the time - even another phony wouldn't help him."
In their own connection, they heard sounds similar to static noise. Probably the hissing of the tires on the tarmac, or the traffic outside - the engine of Ramon's Mercedes was nearly below audible level when driving at city speed.
Ramon's voice. "There are crossings ahead. Which way now?"
"Santa Ana?" Ramon sounded almost cheerful. "Are you sending me down to Mexico? Hopefully not, the luggage I've got with me mightn't make it past the border."
A grumpy voice said, "Shut up."
Harry told the muscles in his arms to do the same - the girl in his lap had fallen asleep, yes, only just barely so, felt still quite tense. The arm around his neck wasn't likely to let go, would he take her into her bed now.
"Stupid asshole," came Ramon's voice as a sharp hissing. Harry and Laila exchanged a glance, then relaxed when realizing that Ramon had been addressing some other driver.
The man at the other side had obviously taken the same conclusion; at any rate, there was no comment from him.
Some time later, Ramon said in a normal voice, "I'm in Santa Ana. What now?"
"Still south. Laguna Beach."
A minute later, Ramon said, "You listening?"
"Thought you would. Sooner or later, I'll have to refill. My gas is pretty low."
An angry sound. "You better stay in the car, buddy."
"Well, do you know a station with clerks? All I can see is self-service, and I don't think it's any help to roll out on the curb."
"Why didn't you fill up beforehand?"
"Was still more than half. I didn't expect to join a three-state rallye."
A short silence, in which Harry could imagine some discussion at the other end. Then, "How much is it still?"
"Display says, ninety miles. Make it eighty, that thing's always too optimistic."
"That's enough." After a moment, the voice added with some haste, "That should leave you with ten miles or so left - enough to reach a station."
"And if not, I can walk, huh?"
They could hear Ramon snorting, had the same thought, as one could read in the other's face - this remark about the way back had sounded awfully thin.
Ramon's voice came again, in the tone of a light conversation. "By the way, ladies and gents, you have to be careful when opening the suitcases - actually, it's a lot better you let me do it."
"Oh, is it? And why?"
"It's a bit complicated. I'll tell you when I'm there." A grim joy resonated in Ramon's voice. "I mentioned that just in case you had some funny ideas."
"And what is it that makes it so complicated?"
"The lock," replied Ramon laconically. "It's a bit jumpy ... And I'm in Laguna Beach now. Let me guess - drive through and keep southward?"
"Not quite. Keep telling me what you're passing, so I know when to say left or right."
Ramon started to list signs, describe buildings, read street names. Harry, still handicapped from the girl in his arms, motioned to Laila to zoom in more on the map and follow Ramon's course.
Just when Laila nodded to tell him she was on track, the man's voice instructed Ramon to leave the main road at the next exit.
Ramon continued to comment his own driving, and Laila's finger kept floating over the map, pointing the position where she expected him to be.
"Mark it," whispered Harry.
"The red button on top, and touching the spot."
Next instant, Laila had zoomed out, and the map showed most of California.
"Fuck," she muttered, giving Harry a bad moment because he couldn't do it by himself, not with Esmeralda in his lap, while Laila fumbled in a frenzy to find the street map of Laguna Beach again, had it, but in the meantime Ramon had turned right and right again.
For some seconds, they could only wait - Harry clenching his teeth to suppress the remark that wouldn't help for sure, and Laila avoiding his eyes, feverishly scanning the map and the street names in the suspected area.
Then Ramon gave another street name as a confirmation to his guide, and Laila's finger hit down, setting a red mark - this time, the button she pressed was the right one.
From what they could see, watching his course at the map, Ramon was most likely directed to the waterline. Would there be a boat waiting somewhere? Could be - certainly a good method to shake off any follower.
Ramon's voice said, "I can see the water."
"Okay. Follow the street until you see a pub."
A minute later, Ramon said, "There's the pub."
"Good. Now slow down; about half a mile from where you are, there's a road going to the right, little more than a track, anyway it's the first after the pub."
Another minute, then Ramon reported he'd found a track, no sign and nothing.
They could hear the tires rolling over pebble and dirt, until Ramon said, "Looks as if the track ends here. There's a hut - might be a boat house, and something behind that could be a small pier."
"You've found it. Stop at the boat house and stay in the car. Keep the lights on. A boat's comin', should be there any moment now. Watch the water - can you see position lights?"
"With my headlights on, I can't see anything else."
"Okay, switch them off for a moment. Can you see now?"
"Just a moment ..."
A clicking - the sound of a car door opening. Almost at the same instant, a new voice said, "Imperio!"
Silence - except for the gasp from Laila, while Harry's mind was racing, desperately trying to imagine something he could do. Ramon under the Imperius curse ...
"Is there someone following you?"
"Is there a bug in the car?"
"Where's the money?"
"In the trunk."
"How much is it?"
"Now isn't that great?" The new voice changed to a sneering sympathy. "You did everything right, huh, kept to the rules? Pity we can't return the favour, but at least you're going to see your wife, isn't that kind?"
Obviously after a step back, the man shouted, "Hey, Matty, everything's cool here. Have a look in the trunk, there's something nice for us."
This team - it had waited at the boat house, they had no idea, didn't even suspect the suitcases being dangerous.
"Where's ..." The voice had risen again, and from the sounds and the next words, Harry realized that the man had fetched Ramon's phony.
"Hank? Simon here. We got him. He's alone, no tracking, all lights green ..."
Harry snatched his own phony, pressed the button for Ramon.
"... tell the lady we'll be there within the next thirty minutes, so she can start preparing for her talk show, if it's not too late and her beauty sleep isn't more imp - oh, look there, someone's trying to reach us. I wonder - hold on, Hank, I'll be back after the commercials."
Harry's phony was active, the voice the same. "Yes?"
"Don't open the suitcases. There's a bomb inside."
"What? ... Who are you?"
"Later. Stop your partner - now."
"Hey ..." A precious second's silence, then, "Matty? ... Hey, Matty, are there suit - wait! Noo, for God's sake - "
A scratching, then the phony in Harry's hand was as dead as the babysitter phony on the table.
After some silence, a trembling hand reached out to stop the longplay recorder. There was no need to have the sounds documented which could be heard in the Garcia kitchen.
* * *
Lieutenant Seeger watched as the pathologist pulled the handle of a box in this wall which, internally, was called the corpses cabinet. The large drawer moved out noiselessly and came to a stop with a clank.
The pathologist removed the covering fabric from head and shoulders, then stepped back.
Harry moved closer and had a short look at the corpse. "Yes. That's her."
Lieutenant McIlroy's voice sounded a bit more formal, otherwise as expressionless as Harry's. "Mr Potter, is this the woman you knew under the name Marie-Christine Garcia?"
Two dark eyes fixed on him. "This is the corpse of Marie-Christine Garcia, born Théroux. She died from a Killing Curse."
"You are no pathologist, Mr Potter - "
"And you're no wizard, Lieutenant McIlroy." The black eyes were flaring for an instant, then the mask over Harry's face closed again.
Seeger's own face had kept his own mask for a while already, and would keep it still longer. He wasn't looking forward to the interrogation lying ahead, although he had volunteered himself to take part. For Harry's sake as much as for that of his colleague, who hadn't found the right touch toward Harry in the beginning, and wasn't likely to find it in the near future.
Understandably so, maybe. Calling Harry cooperative was the overstatement of the year.
They drove in silence to McIlroy's office, with the two lieutenants sitting in front and Harry on the back seats. His agreement to this interrogation - this conversation, according to McIlroy's words - was already the result of Seeger's mediation, only McIlroy didn't know, and it better stayed that way.
Because Seeger had told Harry that they had found something in the woman's car, together with her dead body, and Harry's only chance to have a look at it was to play along with the lieutenant in charge.
McIlroy guided them to a room with a table, chairs, and nothing else - except of course the large mirror which, from the other side, offered a slightly tinted view of the room. Maybe McIlroy's office offered as little space as his own, Seeger thought, only he could hardly believe this was the true reason.
"Mr Potter," started McIlroy after sitting down, "do you mind if this conversation is recorded?"
Apparently to no one in particular, which meant toward the hidden recorder, McIlroy specified the date, the purpose, and the participants in this meeting, then said, "Well, Mr Potter, would you please tell us the story from your perspective?"
In a flat, monotonous voice, Harry explained how he came into Mr Garcia's house, after being called by his assistant, how he talked with Mr Garcia, then with the bank, then with Mr Garcia again, and how he'd been sitting in the kitchen to listen, interrupted only to fetch the children, until the abrupt ending.
To Seeger, the story felt as complete as a waiter's tip of twenty cents. Too much for calling it a refusal, however lacking any goodwill.
McIlroy seemed to think the same. "I said story, Mr Potter, I didn't say short story. Could you provide a bit more detail?"
"The preparations, for example, the exact nature of these suitcases."
"They contained the money, the explosives, and a magical lock that would blow them up unless deactivated with a charm. Mr Garcia didn't know the charms, I had them. This should protect him against being forced to open them. As I said - the plan was to open them only after they had released his wife, with him and the money in their hands ... Didn't work."
"No, definitely not - the crater from the explosion's even impossible to measure because it has filled with water, and nobody can remember how the scene looked when there was still a boat house and a jetty."
"Another detail, Mr Potter - have you been the only one to help Mr Garcia - if that's the right term?"
Seeger saw Harry's nose tremble, otherwise there was no reaction.
"I asked you a question, Mr Potter."
"I'm not here to repeat my words, Lieutenant McIlroy. If you can't remember, check your recording or find someone to translate it for you."
Look there - McIlroy could do the same with his nose.
"Where did you get the explosives, Mr Potter?"
"From somewhere outside your territory, Lieutenant McIlroy."
Only Seeger himself registered the distinct joke in this answer. For McIlroy, Harry's words pointed toward Ireland where - as everybody knew, most of all people with names like McIlroy - this stuff could be bought around the next corner, although not in a shop.
"Mr Potter, obstructing an investigation counts as a break of the law and - "
"Oh, really? Seems a petty crime, for all I can see."
McIlroy's nose went white. After a few seconds, however, he had himself under control again. "I'm no Magical, Mr Potter, as you stated yourself. But even so, let me try to muster the only bit of magic I know, the magical word - "
"Lieutenant," Harry interrupted him, "you can save your breath and your pride. If I'd think this crime could be solved here in the States, you'd get my full support - the fact that both of us can do pretty well without each other doesn't matter, Carl and I had the same trouble in the beginning ..."
Which was a flatright lie, only Seeger felt it wise not to comment on it.
"... but I can assure you, all traces point toward England, toward wizardry, and toward some story from the past. Yes, there were some local helpers, awfully competent, but they're as dead as Ramon."
"So the money wasn't the goal?"
The money - the cruiser crews, arriving at the scene after Harry had alarmed them, had even found some bills still intact. Something around thirty grand altogether, and Seeger had his own thoughts how much they'd found really - another item better not mentioned.
"No. It was a trick, and also the payment for the local people, or part of it. The goal was to get Ramon, or Ramon and Marie-Christine together."
"Is this wishful thinking, Mr Potter ..."
Harry's face went white.
Feeling probably the same as Seeger, for whom the air suddenly felt crackling, McIlroy continued quickly, "... or is there any hard evidence?"
Harry waited a few seconds, then said with an almost normal voice, "There's a recording of the transmission from Ramon's car. You'll get a copy, lieutenant. The interesting part's what the wizard at the water said, when Ramon was under the Imperius curse." Harry swallowed, then added, "It's evidence enough."
"Then what was the purpose of getting Mr and Mrs Garcia? Or Mr Garcia alone?"
"If I knew that, I wouldn't sit here."
Somewhere in this statement had been a lie, Seeger felt sure about that. He just didn't know in which part.
Again, his colleague was on track with him, as McIlroy's words hinted. "I wonder if I should feel regret or gratefulness about that, Mr Potter. Maybe we can put more light onto the case if you tell me what you make of this here - we found it on Mrs Garcia's corpse." McIlroy extracted something from his jacket.
To Seeger, the thing looked like a requisite from the movie The Ten Commandments - a roll, yellow-white. A parchment, he learned next moment, the traditional type of documents in the magical world:
Harry said, "That confirms what I said. Marie-Christine played a role in the fight against the so-called Dark Forces, and even Ramon was involved at the end, at that time still a police lieutenant."
For Seeger's trained ear, this explanation came just a tiny bit too quickly, too fluently. Not that he felt inclined to object, only his colleague had given proof already earlier in this conversation that he wasn't stupid himself.
"So it's just an old feud between Magicals, Mr Potter?"
"That's my guess."
"Nothing that would concern the present?"
"What could that be?"
McIlroy sighed. "Yes, what indeed? ... And it's outside my own jurisdiction anyway, isn't it?" The lieutenant stared at Harry. "Mr Potter, if it's of any help, I apologize in advance for my words, only what you're telling me is a lot of bullshit."
"And should I find you doing police work in my own territory ..."
For a second, Seeger felt McIlroy's eyes fixing at himself.
"... then you'll need a bit more than a buddy cop to come out roses - a good lawyer, for instance."
"That won't happen."
McIlroy pursed his lips. "I'll save us the embarrassment of asking which of the two won't happen, you doing police work or me catching you at that. Something else, Mr Potter - what about the children?"
"They're well - considering the circumstances."
"That's not what I meant - they have to be brought into court's custody, and aside from that - " Seeing Harry's face, McIlroy's voice faltered for a moment. Then the lieutenant mustered new courage. "They're witnesses of a crime."
"Mr Potter, I'm waiting for your answer."
After some seconds, Harry said, "The children are under medical treatment. A first diagnosis indicated that, for medical reasons, they won't be available for a long period of time."
"The court will appoint a psychologist to confirm that diagnosis, or deny it."
"Lieutenant McIlroy." Harry's voice made Seeger's neck hair rise. "I'm done here. You might be interested in a private comment - when the recorder is switched off."
McIlroy thought it over, then said, "Thank you for your coming, Mr Potter. I'll guide you downstairs."
Which, for Seeger, meant as much as, McIlroy didn't trust his own people behind the mirror. Careful guy, that.
On the staircase, Harry said, "Lieutenant, I should be thankful that you've alerted me - I wasn't fully aware of the cruelty this country's law can apply to children. I am, although it might not show in what I have to tell you."
"That I won't see them soon?"
A thin smile crossed Harry's lips. "Worse - that recording I mentioned, I wonder if we did it properly, right now I have the bad feeling we messed up with that thing."
Lieutenant McIlroy's eyes narrowed. "Blackmailing, huh? And who's we? ... All right, what do you want?"
"I'll hire a lawyer to calm down the legal waves." Harry's finger pointed at McIlroy. "And I want your support in that lawyer's job."
"Only if you tell me what they saw and heard."
"A house-elf, Lieutenant - just a house-elf, nothing else. They were always kept in the same room, together with their mother." About to turn, Harry stopped. "And that we - you aren't half as stupid as you present yourself, sometimes. I'm sure you'll figure out even before you get the recording - our voices are on it."
"Does that mean I get it first? I haven't agreed yet, Mr Potter."
Harry's smile was short, however real. "You, an Irish cop, wouldn't help settle the children in Ireland?" He walked off, leaving Lieutenant McIlroy with the view of Harry's shaking head.
Outside, Seeger asked, "How's Laila?"
"A mess. She blames herself for the idea with the explosives."
He had asked, he'd gotten an answer. Seeger didn't know what to say.
Harry stopped again. "Before I forget, Carl - in the other case, look for a key to a luggage deposit box, most likely Los Angeles Central Station. And I'd look under every floorboard in the apartment of a certain Frankie. With that key, you should find about half a million, enough to mark the case as solved ... Thank you for your escort."
Seeger stared at the empty spot. This damn Harry had caught him at the wrong foot - at any other time, he'd moved heaven and hell to squeeze him more while now, with the recent events, he just couldn't find the mood.
* * *
Sandra heard her father arrive at home. She heard her mother ask him how it was, and him answer so la la, they'd talk later. Then her father asked how it was here in the castle, and her mother said, so la la, lots of people but no company.
Then her mother said, "It was her, wasn't it?"
Sandra couldn't hear her father's answer, probably a nod, while she could hear her mother's weeping, and this totally unfamiliar sound frightened her almost as much as the terrible thought that kept torturing her since she'd been told that Ramon and Marie-Christine were dead.
Now her father asked, "How's Laila?"
Sandra could have answered that. Laila was asleep, after being found drunk beyond all limits by Harry, after being summoned into the castle and into the custody of various people, among them Sandra herself.
Suddenly, into her mother's sobbing, she felt another presence and then heard her brother's voice, a bit anxious, but otherwise quite determined - Cho should come with him, he would play the flute for her, as he'd done for Ireen.
Her father said, "Yes, absolutely."
Mother and son disappeared. For a short moment, Sandra wondered if it was the beach or his own room Gabriel had selected. For another moment, she tried to find an opening how to ask her father about the thought that was pressing her heart, then he stood already there.
"Hello, my angel. Is it just mourning what I can feel?"
A shaking head was Sandra's only answer.
Harry sat down, pulled her at his side, and his own opening was as simple as efficient - taking her in his arms, just holding her. His mouth close to her ear, he murmured, "I've neglected you during the last days, and your brother too. I'm sorry, my little one."
Her head was shaking again. "No, Daddy, that's not ... only ..." She felt herself close to tears.
"Shall I help a bit?" Which meant, was he allowed to send a mind wave, something he was quite careful about since Sandra had made it clear that she preferred to be master of her own senses, or mistress, whatever, she had used other words anyway.
Probably more shame than pride made her talk. "I've got - I met Firenze, and he ... He asked me to tell you something, and - but I almost forgot, and when ... When I heard ..." Sandra didn't come any further, because there was another unfamiliar sound: her own sobbing.
Harry rocked her. "Tell me what he said."
"He said - he said, please tell him the times have changed less than he might think."
The rocking stopped. "What were you talking about?"
"He asked how we're doing. I told him about Gabe, and Mum, and that you - that you were hunting kidnappers." Before losing speech again, Sandra added, "Then he said, er, I wonder if that's an improvement over dark wizards, but then - er, then perhaps the difference is smaller than expected. And then ... and then ..."
Her father rocked her for some more seconds, suddenly stopped. "And now you think I should have known in advance, and with that knowledge, it would have turned out differently with Ramon and Marie-Christine?"
The sobbing changed to a serious outburst.
"Oh my God!" He hugged her harder. In her misery, Sandra could feel his head shaking. "No, Sandy, no! That's not true!"
"Why ... why not?"
"Because - it wouldn't have changed the outcome."
"What ..." She sniffed, almost choked, but she had to ask. "What would have been if you'd heard it before?" Despite her tear-smeared face, she glanced up. Her father wouldn't lie to her, but for this answer, she had to look him in the eye.
"Let's assume I'd made the connection between Firenze's remark and this kidnapping. I'm not sure, but it's more likely than not. Then - I couldn't have stopped Ramon, wouldn't have - probably the only difference would have been that I'd known from start that he'd die ... And nothing, Sandy - nothing would have changed for Marie-Christine."
"But you could have helped Ramon."
Her father thought again. "Not by taking over his task - he wouldn't have allowed me. Not in the car either - they'd have detected me for sure ..."
He pulled her toward his chest. "Probably I'd have followed on my Steel Wing in the air. Then, at that boat house, I'd have stopped that fool from opening the suitcase. In this case, they'd have killed Marie-Christine just the same, and if Ramon really had survived, he'd never forgiven me for intercepting."
"So there is a difference."
"Yes, my little priestess, there is a difference, except it's none to the better, or to the worse. There's always a difference from what we do or not do. Now stop blaming yourself - bad enough that Laila does it, I can't tolerate seeing you drunk too."
The joke was so bad, Sandra had to smile.
Next moment, a thought struck her, and although she wasn't aware, her reaction exactly matched the pattern of her mother's technique. "Daddy?"
"What did you and Mum owe to Marie-Christine?"
She could feel her father's shock, although to the outside, it was hardly more than a short tensing in his body.
After some seconds, he said, "She found out that Voldemort wanted our first child. He thought he could control it enough to take over the body with his own mind."
For a fleeting instant, it seemed funny, imagining Voldemort as a girl. Then Sandra fully registered what her father had said, and felt a mix of nameless fear and burning rage. "Could he?"
"We didn't leave him a chance to try. But for all I know, you'd have knocked him down still quicker than I did, as a baby."
A blessed feeling went through Sandra's mind, soul, and body. So she was totally unprepared when her father, perfectly copying her own tactic, said, "And now, Sandra Catherine, I want to hear the full story."
Shit - he'd used his damned yaho, the art of hiding his intentions, about the only mental skill in which he stayed beyond calling distance to her own mastering.
Sandra blushed, inhaled - and then, gaining speed, like freed from a heavy burden, she told her father about two boys in the Beauxbatons school, one in particular, and a wand and a hair and a scene in class and a conversation and a deal and the Lupins and ... erm, a protocol, although about this particular detail, her voice sounded more in a haste than genuinely fluent.
Having finished, she shot a tentative glance at her father, who kept silent, understandably so after this news. Still, somehow, she had expected at least a slight trace of amusement. There was none.
"What ... What do you think, Daddy?"
"I just thought about these times, and - I guess it's only now that I realize, Marie-Christine's dead."
If not for her own concern and worry, Sandra could have registered his mood already before - sorrow, pain, a feeling of loss without hope of compensation. It was hard to bear. With a miserable voice, she said, "And I can't even play flute for you."
"No, of course not - how would that look, a little dragon playing flute?"
At any other time, the joke would have raised a wave of joy inside her. Right now, it only told her how desperately her father was trying to regain his balance. And this, in spite of all her sympathy, was the right moment to ask.
"Did - did you love her?"
Sandra could feel it - Harry had sensed her merciless thought, and this was all he needed to succeed in his efforts. "You're a nosy little witch, and for my taste, you've read one protocol too much ..."
Somehow he was right, at any other time, this conversation would have been impossible, for both of them.
"... but we can't stop the river of fate, least of all with you." He moved her up to look in her face. "We loved her both, Cho and I. Not the way we love each other, not the way we're bound to Almyra, for example. And this was in addition to what she did for you."
Sandra nodded. This was undeniably true, pretty much what she'd known, or expected, and it was good to hear it confirmed.
Her father tried a smile. "In a few years, we can discuss this a bit longer, if you're still interested by then ..."
Oh yes, she would remember this promise.
"... while in the meantime, let's talk about a French boy, rather than a girl, or a woman."
The offer looked inviting - on the other hand, Sandra shied off from herself being the one who'd create a first picture of Frédéric in her father's mind. She said, "This idea of inviting him, maybe it doesn't fit right now, huh?"
"Not too well," replied her father, "but then, maybe it's the best thing we can do, coming to terms with ourselves ... and with him, of course." He shook her gently. "Give me a day or two, this is too important to meet him with a mind that's totally preoccupied with something else."
"But - but you think he's okay?"
"Hey - you're not going to tell me details, which I can understand perfectly well, and then you're trying to nail me in advance?" Seeing her glance, Harry added, "Don't you worry, my sweetheart, I'm sure it will work. At least, he didn't make Gérard's mistake."
"Er, what do you mean?"
Harry's teasing grin was almost genuine. "It seems the Pouillys always fall for the sportive type, huh? Well, and this Frédéric, I'd say, did it right from the beginning."