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 19 - Hunter's Moon

Chapter Summary:
Hunting Lady Malfoy, and confirming her role in the recent events - this is the task driving various people, with some unexpected side effects.

19 - Hunter's Moon

Paul Sillitoe chewed, swallowed, dropped his knife, sipped from his glass, took his knife again, and aimed for the next bite. He presented the perfect picture of a man savouring his supper. Except it wasn't true, his thoughts were somewhere else. That was why he didn't notice the glances from the cook, who was sitting opposite him.

"Today we got a new contract," the cook said. "Quite a project, about half of all scenes will be computerized. It's kind of a space opera."


"... Yes, and to the outside, first it looks a bit like Alien because there's this monster they catch, only the real conflict is within the crew - not the real crew, but there are lots of scientists on board, and they don't like each other."

"I see."

"Each faculty looks down at the others, most of all at the hero who's something new, a kind of integrated scientest, it's called nexialism, but of course the established sciences despise them. There was the question whether he should be a wizard too."

"Of course."

"It's not decided yet - you know, a matter of identification, nobody wants another superman, but it's still pending."

"That's understandable."

"If it turns that way, we'll need some more people, in particular Magicals. I'll be the one to do the interviews. It's almost like casting - all those young men, anxious to make a good impression. It's intriguing, isn't it?"

"Yes, absolutely."

The sudden stop in Kathleen's tale made Paul come fully awake. Seeing her expression, he desperately tried to remember where his comments had gone wrong.

She was quicker. "You met her, huh?"

"Met who?"

Wrong answer, definitely so. For a short moment, it looked as if Kathleen would start throwing things in his direction, which would be a shame, after all, there was nothing to complain about this meal, actually it was even delicious, or would be -

Her hands were flat on the table. "Don't ask me for her name. Not me!"

"Kathleen ..."

"Yes I'm here, with body and soul, and that's more than what I can say about you. Or do I share that name with her too?"

He couldn't look her in the eye. "No."

"Who is she?"

The one that ... Paul looked up. "Does it really matter?"

"Why do you ask me? Why don't you ask yourself? Why can't you figure out what you want, and keep to it?"

This he could answer easily. "Because I don't know."

"Then maybe I should ask something simpler. How's the food?"

"Good ... Excellent."

"Better than hers?"

Paul had to grin on that. "I can't remember any meal she cooked for me."

"Is she better in bed?"

How to judge that? "No."

Kathleen snorted. "Then it's obvious, isn't it? Because I'm too young and too good-looking to be outscored in these regards."

"Maybe it's obvious, but ..." After a second, Paul continued, "It's more complicated, and what's worse, right now the situation's getting totally out of control - of my control, that is."

"Has it ever been?"

Yes, indeed, at least from his perspective. Always working at the same place, not counting short travels. Always loving the same woman, not a single step aside as long as ... And then he'd accepted this job, and since then, the events were playing roller-coaster with him.

Paul shook his head. "You don't understand, Kathleen, this isn't a simple question of you or the other one ..."

"Give her a name, dammit! And then tell me what else is there - yes, you're right, I don't understand, and this might well be an accidental side-effect from you not telling me anything!"

"Okay ... okay." Paul pointed at his dish. "Give me a minute to get done with my food, because - er, it's really good."

Kathleen still was glaring at him, only when his glance switched between his meal and her face several times in rapid succession, she couldn't hold her rage any longer, almost grinned.

"Eat, you - you British blockhead."

Chewing, he had time to find his words, a task that seemed strangely complicated for him, the journalist. "Some weeks ago," he started eventually, "my life looked simple enough - "

"Stop playing Tolstoi. Get to the facts."

How much he would like to get upset by himself, only in doing so now he would pick a bad time for sure.

But he could growl. "Her name's Ginny. Runs a model agency. Is a model herself. Loves someone else. Had me dangling in the wind. That's been the state some weeks ago. You with me?"


"Not the one she's been - er, doesn't matter, but he's out of reach. No way. Never. That's when I take on that job. Come over. Meet you. New perspectives. First job done, get an enhancement. Working on it. That's been the state some days ago. You still copying?"

Leaning back, moving her hand as graciously as a queen, Kathleen replied, "Yep."

"And now he tells me to drop the Bahamas, leave it to the Goblins, they'll manage, probably quicker" - Paul's voice gained genuine rage - "as if he couldn't ask them in the beginning, he's sooo tight with them - and instead, I have to hunt that woman, tracking her down wherever she went - "

"What woman?"

"Some old bitch, I mean, witch, probably both, he thinks she's the one behind the Garcia killing. And for that, I have to jump back and forth across the Atlantic, she's English but probably here, or back again - and all this just when I'd come to the point of thinking seriously about what's going on between the two of us. One day I'm close to you, next day I'm in her playground, except it doesn't matter since I have no time anyway." Paul looked up. "That's been the state when I missed the punch line in your gossip."

"You could say no to that job."

He had a harsh laugh. "You don't know what you're talking about."

"Did you sell your soul?"

"You mean the money?" Paul stood up and made a step to sit down again next to her, then he took her hand. "Kathleen, I could give it back, I could reject the reward - or better still, I could pass it over to you, it wouldn't change anything."

"Oh, it would, take my word for it - for me, that is."

Paul hesitated. "To be honest, the thought crossed my mind - I mean, to share it with you, except I didn't know how to address the issue, because in this situation, it would look so - so ..."

"Second prize? Is that what you've been searching for?"

"Not quite. Maybe compensation was the word I didn't want to say."

"British gentleman, huh?" Kathleen's voice made it hardly sound like a compliment.

When he didn't reply, she asked, "What's the reason you can't say no, if not the money?"

"The money has nothing to do with that, believe me. Sure, it would increase my bad conscience, but ... I could say no, technically it's no problem - Harry would nod and be gone. It's just me who couldn't live with that."

"Just you?" Kathleen came forward with a jolt. "And this Ginny's being his sister, that's totally besides the point?"

Paul's eyes narrowed. "His adopted sister," he said with a voice suddenly cool.

"So what - " Kathleen stopped, stared at him wide-eyed. "It's him, isn't it?"


Seeing Kathleen nod in this didn't-I-know style, Paul barked, "You don't know a wet fart! It's been me who found the place where Voldemort was hiding, after he had kidnapped Cho. Not alone, Francesco was the other, but since then I'm Harry's good-luck charm in cases like that, and the near miss with Tony's killers didn't exactly cool it down."

With calmer voice, he added, "That's why I can't say no."

There was silence.

Then Kathleen stood up and busied herself cleaning the table.

Halfway finished, she stopped. "You're going to make a mistake. But I can't stop you from doing this mistake again and again, obviously not." She gave a bitter laugh. "Perhaps I could fight her, but how can I fight him? That family's too much for a simple woman, and I'm not even a witch."

A dry sob. "I'm not going to make the same mistake as you. Not me."

"Kathleen ..."

"Save it, Paul. I'm okay. I will, in a while. I'm not blaming you, it's just - well, I was getting used to it." Another sob. "You'd have done okay with me, I'd never have let you dangle in the wind." And now the tears were running freely.

Trusting his short experience that she wasn't the fistful type, Paul took her in his arms, and found his judgement right. "I'm sorry," he murmured.

"I'm sorry too, Paul."

After a moment, she freed herself and resumed her work.

"If the Goblins are successful," he started, then corrected himself, "No - when the Goblins have found the bank, because they will, would you share with me?"

"First bed, then breakfast, then bounty?" Kathleen blushed. "Sorry, that wasn't fair."

"What's fair?" muttered Paul.

"Don't ask me, but at least I know what's unjustified ... No."

"Why not?"

"I didn't earn it."

"Did I?" He thought a moment. "It's just money, Kathleen, it doesn't mean anything. You know the old saying - it balances for nothing, except for debts and loans."

She smiled. "Funny catchwords you know; I never heard that one before."

"Because I just invented it." When her head was shaking again, Paul sighed. "Did it cross your mind that you paid even taxes for it?"

"You're right," she said, wondering in her voice. She glanced at him, to see if this had been meant as a joke. Seeing his expression, Kathleen hesitated still another moment, finally said, "Well, that changes the matter dramatically, I guess ... In this case, I should wait till tomorrow morning before throwing you out."

Not even her voice was convincing enough to rate her last remark as a joke, because it sounded more like a question, while her face begged him to accept this last bed and breakfast.

* * *

Sitting at the Beauxbatons breakfast table, Frédéric ate mechanically, his eyes fixed at the entrance to the hall. Students were still arriving, less by the minute - in a short while, classes would start, and the number of empty seats was already outnumbering those with students on them.

This would be the second day, and somewhere Frédéric already felt sure they would not come, only hope died last, someone had said, he couldn't remember who, anyway this someone had been right.

The day before, he and Benoît had barely avoided a fistfight with other students. Reserving two seats, in a hall more than full, for people who didn't come? Fortunately, the pecking order was established at Beauxbatons since a while, this table hosted only first-years, and among them, Benoît's reputation was good enough to earn not more than angry shouts. But they hadn't made friends that way.

Big loss, really. Frédéric had all the friends he needed, except they didn't come, apparently kept missing today as well.

"They're sick," Benoît said, not very convincingly. "It'll take a few days."

"No," replied Frédéric, not taking his eyes off the spot he was watching, "not both of them at the same time. It's something else."

"And what?"

Yes, what? The last time Frédéric saw Sandra, she had been standing just outside the Forbidden Forest, the copy of a protocol in her hand. Had some tree monster caught her?

No, because Héloise had been far away then. Could the reason be something with the protocol? If so, how?

Frédéric had finished eating, sipped his café au lait, somewhat awkwardly because even now, his eyes would not stop scanning. As a little boy, he had played the common game of closing his eyes, convinced his wish would be fulfilled when opening them again. It never worked, so he had given up on that, and staring into a cup wasn't any better.

Putting the cup down, he was forced to look at the table for an instant. When he glanced up again, the two figures had already crossed half the distance.

Frédéric started to beam, but stopped again when he saw that the faces didn't smile in return. Benoît was less scrupulous. "Finally!" he called. "Where have you been yesterday?"

"At home, where else?" Héloise's flippancy lacked the usual spirit. "Come on, let's go before we're too late. I can do without Thionnite's comment on that."

In the classroom, when Thionnay looked around and saw their table complete again, he sneered, "Ah, the demoiselles are back, how wonderful! Are you that close to catch the same virus at the same time, and even recover in sync?"

"No," replied Sandra. And when the last student had become aware the Monsieur le Professeur wouldn't follow, she added, "But at least we're close enough to catch the same bereavement at the same time."

Feeling consternation, Frédéric had little opportunity to relish Thinnolip's expression. After some seconds, the teacher said, "I'm sorry to hear that. Nonetheless, the rules demand a certification."

"Yes, Monsieur le Professeur." Sandra seemed the personified politeness again. "I'll tell my father to pass by."

"Oh, a written form will be fine."

This answer, given with some haste, and Sandra's face at that moment were similarly lost on Frédéric. His deep worry faded only when, shortly afterwards, the girls made clear that no, it wasn't a direct family member, promising more information during the lunch break.

All the harder was Frédéric's shock when hearing who had died. The name Ramon didn't tell him anything, while that of Marie-Christine, just when digging out the old story ... Frédéric couldn't help thinking there was a coincidence, only that would mean his own family was involved, a thought still more horrible because he felt ready to dismiss his father while no one else.

Which didn't fit, somehow. Only his father could have found out that the protocol had been removed for a while - and for all Frédéric knew, his father didn't even remember the paper.

Frédéric kept silent through the meal, excused himself a soon as possible to walk out, to find a place where he could hang on to his thoughts alone.

Coming into the small park, he was stopped short at the sight of some Goblins. They looked pretty much like those he'd seen near the Weasley house, only there were more of them around here, Frédéric counted six Goblins just in his view.

Some of them looked to the other side, while two of them were watching the park and what was happening there. Unmoving faces, leathery rather than stony, disquieting all the same. Frédéric felt eyes rest on him while he searched for a place to sit.

Then these eyes found another subject to watch, except that seconds later, Frédéric found himself in their focus again because the subject had reached him and sat down at his side.

A moment of silence, in which Frédéric waited that these eyes would find some other people to stare at. But they didn't. Eventually, he said, "We're watched all the time."

"Yes, of course." Sandra showed a short smile. "These are my bodyguards - mine and Héloise's, the moment she comes out."


Into his question, Frédéric had the bad feeling he knew the reason quite well, and what he heard from Sandra confirmed his assumption. Some old feud from the past, she said, leaving it unclear enough so his initial thought was fed again, crazy as it seemed.

Then Sandra asked, "Have you ever heard about something that's called The True Wizards?"

"True wizards?" Frédéric looked confused. "Often enough, and you too - in every third sentence, Thionnite's telling us what a true wizard's supposed to do, and still more, what not. Why?"

"There was a message found with Marie-Christine. Some threatenings - it was signed with that name."

Had he heard it at some family meeting or another? Frédéric wasn't sure, couldn't exclude it either, only that bloody title was hardly discernible from the Traditionalese he had learned to ignore in the conservative circles of his family and their friends.

Sandra said, "I know what you think. But I don't believe it."

Before he could answer, she continued, "And I - I thought, because I didn't tell my father in time what Firenze had said, I had to blame myself. It was so terrible, and then I talked with him, and he said, it hadn't changed anything."

Frédéric didn't know what to reply.

Glancing at him, Sandra said, "And then he asked me to tell him everything, and I did."

"About ..."

"About you, and Firenze, and the protocol." While Frédéric was sharply intaking his breath, she hurried on, "And I asked him what they owed Marie-Christine, he and - and Cho. It was something that had to do with Voldemort, and what he planned to do ... with me."

"With you?" Considering his usual standard, it took Frédéric quite a moment to become aware of the discrepancy. "But - but you weren't even born then."

"Not with me personally. With my parent's child."


Frédéric felt some reluctance to ask more, didn't hear more, didn't care either because another question was predominant in his mind. "And - what did he say? About ..."

"You? Erm - we didn't talk much about you - I mean, he had questions, only I thought it better you'd answer them by yourself, and ... And then we said, maybe right now is a bad time for an invitation, except just that might be the best thing to do, so ..."

Frédéric cleared his throath. "Yeah, sure. And in a way, it's - having a few days for getting used to this idea, that might ..."

"Scared?" She smiled at him.

"Not exactly. Honestly, it's not fright, it's ... my knees might go jelly, and could be I'm going to tremble a bit, but ..." Frédéric thought for a moment. "There's something - I hope it doesn't take that long because, you know, I think he's the only one to whom I can talk about this thought - that my family's somehow involved in these events."

Sandra beamed. "You'll see, it'll work. You trust him without having seen him once, and for what I heard, it's the same the other way around."

"Is it? What did he say?"

"He ..." Sandra blushed. "He said you didn't do Gérard's mistake." Next moment, she was up, about to leave.

"Hey, wait! What's that supposed to mean?"

"Figure it out. You aren't going to tell me you didn't make your own copy of that protocol, are you?" Sandra had stopped only because these words weren't intended for a larger audience, now she turned and hurried away.

Gérard's mistake ... His would-have-been-uncle's greatest mistake had been to go insane, and so far, Frédéric fully agreed with Sandra's father - this wouldn't happen to him. However, most likely her father had meant something else. Then what?

Yes, Frédéric had his own copy, naturally so. He had to read it again, because there was nothing in his memory which gave him a clue ... It was maddening - he had to wait till the evening, and at this very moment, the concept of madness was offering totally new insights to him.

* * *

Harry sat down, looked at the other three. "All right. What did you find?"

"I'm pleased too," said Deborah, "seeing you. How's Cho?"

It earned her a short smile, somewhat tired, while not apologetic at all. "Working day shift in Ireland and night shift in California. With me it's the other way around. Want to hear my report first?"

"Hold on a minute," said Sirius soothingly, "you haven't even arrived yet, Harry."

"I have, I'm here, and time's running. So?"

Sirius stood up. "Just a second - I have something for you."

When he returned with a glass and a bottle of brandy, Harry felt tempted to send that bottle through the closed window. For a short instant - then, realizing what a bad example he would give in this critical phase, he relaxed.

Just a bit, to raise his glass. "I'm sorry. Deborah, Sirius, Paul - cheers."

Putting the glass down, Harry started without waiting for another invitation.

"McIlroy - that's the lieutenant in charge of the Garcia case - he thinks he has identified one of the two figures at the water. They found a deserted car close by, and from that they evaluated the owner, tracked down a girlfriend, and played the scene from the tape. She said it wasn't him, but she thought she'd heard that voice some time before. Now McIlroy's trying some DNA tests, after they got a hair from that guy's comb."

"DNA tests?" asked Deborah. "Against what?"

"They think some of the pieces they found belonged to the rear of Ramon's car. And if they're right, then the spots at the inside stem from that guy, because that's where he was when the suitcase came open."

Unimpressed from the faces around him, Harry continued, "These tests are just for confirmation. In the meantime, McIlroy and his men are trying to trace back the last days of this guy - Matty was his name, assuming they're right."

Sirius asked, "Any results?"

"Well, he was a hired hand, so much for sure. The other names - Simon, Hank - didn't raise an echo so far. But just from the names, this Simon might have been from England." Harry looked at Sirius. "Someone with that name claimed missing?"

"Eight or so, but none of them fits the description. Would have surprised me anyway - if this Simon was kind of an assistant for dirty work, he certainly made sure nobody's calling after him."

"No, probably not." Harry was more interested in the woman anyway, and for some irrational reason, he couldn't help feeling she would leave more traces.

However, Sirius' report was badly suited to support his theory. "Lucinda Narcissa Malfoy ..." His godfather fetched a notepad out of his pocket. "Widow, witch ... Encountered a deep fall from social grace about fifteen years ago. Lived a secluded life in her villa in London. Left about two months ago, destination unknown. Vacation in the Caribbean, that's what she told her waitress."


"No youthful lover, if that's what you mean."

About to give an angry reply, Harry stopped just in time, forewarned by something like triumph inside his godfather. "But?"

Sirius showed a disappointed grin. "It's just no fun trying to hide something from you - okay, okay, here's what the waitress said - she travelled with her servant, who's totally disqualified for the lover's role, because he's a house-elf."

Harry had felt little doubt before, if any, and this information nailed it, as far as he was concerned. Wouldn't mean anything in front of a jury, but then, this woman wasn't going to appear in some court.

"The name wouldn't help us much," said Harry, "because according to Carlos and Esmeralda, the house-elf in that house never said his own name. Which is a bit unusual, I'd say."

Nobody commented on that - neither Sirius and Deborah nor Paul would claim any expertise of house-elves' speaking habits, quite in contrast to the Potters.

Harry asked, "What else?"

"Background material," replied Sirius, "and in that, Paul's been more successful with his society contacts."

It was Paul's turn to seize for his notepad. In contrast to that of Sirius, his was an electronic one, a pocket computer - had Cho been sitting here, Harry thought, she'd have started making plans for a new Groucho branch. But maybe not today.

"It's quite interesting," began Paul, "what you can learn once you've found the right contacts - in this case, the Goblins, until recently quieter than a Swiss bank."

He sent a grin to Harry, the one responsible for this particular source of information. Seeing the echo, Paul quickly hurried on.

"Immediately after the Battle of Hogwarts, Lady Malfoy was forced to pay a hefty fee. She had to sell the family residence, an estate somewhere in Berkshire, and could keep only that villa in London. However, normally it would have been impossible for her to hold it, and to keep her life style. The only possible conclusion is, some sponsors helped her to get along."

Again Paul looked at Harry, this time businesslike. "The Goblins' openness doesn't extend farther than to this woman, that's why I have no names. But even so, we can deduct a bit. As much as Lady Malfoy was cut socially, she always had a few faithful friends, and we can expect them in the same circles that were notorious for their beliefs in Voldemort's time. Nothing public, the lady didn't run dinner parties for them, and nobody could remember having seen her on some invitation. But she wasn't isolated, so much for sure."

That reminded Harry. "What about pictures of her?"

Sirius said, "The newest picture we found dates back about thirty years. That woman's either pretty vain or a natural as an undercover agent."

Deborah said, "Aren't there graphic programs on computers to let someone in a picture age?"

"Sure, honey." Sirius grinned at her. "Only how to do that with a magic picture? We didn't even manage to get a hardcopy."

Paul nodded. "Yes, she's an ultra-traditionalist. No phone, no TV, no car - nothing that smells of Muggle technology."

Harry asked, "So where do we stand?"

"Hear Deborah first," replied Paul.

Deborah didn't use a notepad. "I checked the media," she said, "which in this case just means newspapers or magazines. There's a weekly newspaper, pretty obscure, called The Magic Guardian - they didn't tell me their circulation, actually they didn't tell me anything, but from what I could judge, I'd say it's less than thousand copies. Then there's a monthly magazine, Social Observer, which tries to balance between the right-wings in the wizarding world and those in the Muggle world. Something like, we're different, we respect each other, as long as everybody keeps to his place, and to hell with the undiscriminating rest."

She sighed. "It's a pity - with the Muggle neo-nazis, you can track them down quite easily, all you have to do is roam the Internet. With them - I'm sure there are similar publications in other countries, only they're hard to find."

"Do they matter?" asked Harry.

"They might." Deborah grimaced. "I got a few issues of the Magic Guardian - bad stuff, by all means - and every now and then, you read something about friends in the territorial Europe, or friends overseas, but never names." She looked wondering. "Say, can an owl cross the Atlantic?"

"No idea." Harry felt baffled. "Ask Almyra."

"Yeah - anyway, I found articles about what they call bastard wizards, or witches, and that they're the worst of all, and that something must happen to stop them."

Feeling grim in his heart, Harry said, "Too late - and Voldemort's been the one to break the dams. How do they manage to cope with this fact?"

"Using the same techniques as the neonazis when denying the genocide of the Jews and the concentration camps. I can show you, but be warned - that's sick stuff."

"Does she appear in articles?"

"As a kind of icon, you mean? Or spiritual leader?" Deborah shook her head. "Not directly, at least - on the other hand, I couldn't lay hands on more than a few issues." Professional disgust was in her voice, "Imagine - a newspaper without a public archive! They have one, I'm sure, but they didn't let me use it."

"With a bit more evidence," said Sirius, "I could confiscate it. But as it stands, they'd get it back within an hour even with the most stupid lawyer in the Kingdom."

Paul made a dismissive gesture. "Would we really learn anything new? I'd say, we know there's an international conspiracy, small groups, only they're rather militant - "

"And we are the target," interrupted Harry, today apparently not immune to this deadly sin, "and some days ago, they struck for the first time. It failed for them as much as for us, which makes me think they're in the same frenzy to strike again as we are to strike back."

"Amen," said Sirius.

Deborah stared at him. "I never noticed you being religious."

"Normally I pray in the office," replied Sirius.

Deborah sent a quick glance to Harry, whether he'd help her figure out if Sirius was putting her on, but no such luck. So she asked, "And what caused you making an exception today?"

Sirius made big eyes. "Isn't that quite obvious? Got home work to do."

Even Harry's lips were twisting a bit. "A propos homework - Cho did some more checks on security leaks, however she couldn't find anything significant. On the other hand - when shipping the potion, there's always a quota of loss, for whatever reasons, and of course those containers are not particularly protected. So far, we always ran the principle of hiding in public. The only remarkable event was this shipment of four apparition locks to a customer which doesn't exist, and in this regard, she couldn't find anything new. That track's cooled out."

"So we know they're there," said Sirius, "and we can safely assume this woman plays a leading role. Only we haven't got the foggiest where they are, and who are the others."

Deborah asked, "What's a cop supposed to do in this situation?"

"Infiltration," was the answer. "Undercover agents, only this takes something we don't have - time. And what's worse, Severus is retired, so to speak, too old anyway."

"Is he?" Deborah examined her de-facto husband. "He's as old as you are. And he didn't ..." The sentence hung in the air, unfinished.

Even so, the others knew what she had suppressed in the last instant, the mentioning of Sirius' twelve years in Azkaban. And the chief of the Law Enforcement Squad confirmed by replying, "But he did undercover years, they count the same, and he's with Samantha, she counts twice - "

Harry saw Deborah intake her breath and said quickly, "But aside from that, we're totally off the topic, I'd say. There's no time for undercover agents ... But infiltration - that's something to think about."

* * *

Entering the classroom, Sandra was stopped by the students in front of her, who blocked the doorframe. They were pushed forward with slaps at their shoulders, accompanied by remarks to give way, they weren't transparent, except for their brains.

Two steps farther, she didn't score much better herself - the stuff on the teacher's table was surprising enough to stop her short, and to earn her own share of blows and shouts. Sandra obeyed - from their table so close, she could examine them equally well.

Cauldrons, undeniably, only not enough for all tables. And books, apparently quite old, at least some of them. And some rubbish Sandra couldn't identify, however it looked like the raw material for the ingredients of some potions. And some knives too.

That was strange. First because potions, even the simplest of them, were a topic not planned before the end of the year. Or so she'd heard.

And then because Magique Générale wasn't supposed to include potions. Sandra could remember the announcement of the Biology teacher, Madame Galladier, that the basic techniques and a limited set of recipes would be regular stuff while more advanced potions were restricted to the enhanced level of Biology, one of the alternatives that would come in a few years.

But Monsieur Thionnay behind his table seemed quite confident to be the right teacher with the right topic. A moment later, it became obvious why.

"Messieurs, mesdemoiselles, please don't wait for a confrontation between Madame Galladier and myself, because I'm not challenging her. What you can see here are magical tools of different centuries, and my intention is to give you an introduction into the art of potions brewing through the ages ... In particular, I want to show you how recipes for the same purpose have been refined from one generation to the next ..."

Sandra and her three team members looked at each other. What was that supposed to be, out of the blue?

"... especially the improvements in terms of efficiency, safety, and care of the patient's health are quite impressive, and - I want to emphasize that - without any influence from modernistic, non-magical trends and techniques."

Yeah, of course, his old suada, but still - what devil was riding him to come with that crap?

Thionnay recited from old books. Still worse - these book gave off a rancid smell that reached their table. Thionnay was cutting, cooking, stirring in cauldrons, creating other smells not suited to calm down their stomachs either. Maybe his presentation had to be called brilliant, only there wasn't a single student in the room who could muster the slightest interest. And this torturing patience test was taking place in the last two classes of the day.

It felt like a long, boring joke whose punch line didn't come. Or had it come already, except nobody registered? Heads were lolling, eyes closing, coming open again with a twist, in faces looking guilty for a moment, before dozing off again.

It didn't matter, Thionnay had caught fire in his own story, completely ignoring such scenes although it seemed nearly impossible not to register them. Which only added to the sense of weirdness Sandra felt.

She wasn't dozing off. Rather, she felt grossly irritated and annoyed. Thionnay had lost his initial nervousness quickly, since then moved and operated with elegance and firmness, only it was totally out of place, inappropriate, felt somehow wrong from start to end.

The end - if it only would come.

Coming awake, the students glanced at their watches more and more frequently, no longer hiding this movement.

Perfectly in time, seconds before the bell would ring, Thionnay finished his presentation. "That's all for today." Looking at their table, he said, "Mademoiselle Weasley, Mademoiselle Chang, would you please help me to take these things back into my office?"

Just then, the bell started to ring. It had barely finished when the room was empty, after a stampede of desperate students. Except for the teacher, and one less fortunate table.

Because the boys had stayed too, and right now Frédéric said, "We'll do it for them."

"True cavaliers, huh?" Thionnay showed a smile which struck Sandra worse than all the droning before. "Then you can take these books back to the library, they're much heavier than the rest. And please make sure Madame Balmier checks them off, she was quite worried when I lent them."

Frédéric and Benoît looked at each other, suppressed a sigh for the last time, and started to pile the large tomes into their arms.

Watching them, Sandra became aware the books were almost too much for carrying them at once, only the boys' clenched teeth left no doubt - they wouldn't walk more often than once, and they wouldn't say "Enough" to Thionnay, who put the last books on top of the piles in their arms.

The cauldrons, in comparison, seemed light, just a bit unwieldy. Taking the knives and a bag with the unused ingredients, Thionnay walked ahead.

He unlocked his office and held the door open for Héloise and Sandra. "Please deposit them on the floor," he said, "over there in the corner, please."

Waiting for Héloise to get rid of her load, Sandra heard the door closing. This noise, so ordinary by itself, sounded terribly wrong.

She turned around.

Thionnay leaned toward the door, his wand ready, his face tense. His voice hissed, "Imperio!"

He's gone insane. This was Sandra's first thought, together with a sense of astonishment - hadn't he recognized the last time that the spell didn't work to her?

She bent down to deposit the cauldrons, and to get her arms free. Coming up again, the second surprise was waiting for her.

Thionnay's wand again, and his almost joyful smile, and his few quick words. "Was a joke. Stupefy!"

This asshole had stunned her, and her stupid hands hadn't released the damned pots just where ... The blackness surrounded her before Sandra could finish the thought.

* * *

Frédéric's arms felt weaker with every step. He wasn't carrying more weight than Benoît, maybe even less, only his friend was stronger - country life provided more muscles than sitting in salons with old furniture.

So Benoît was walking and aching ahead of him, while not much, which seemed a mistake because of that pungent odor rising from the books, only poor Benoît had them just under his nose, and Frédéric felt determined to suffer his share.

They reached the library. Benoît crashed the door open, raising an angry remark from Madame Balmier, and there was a table Frédéric was there dropped the books ... a second before his numb hands would have given up, letting the precious tomes crash down right before the Librarian's eyes.

Madame Balmier came over. "Couldn't walk twice, huh? And a little levitation charm's still beyond reach, you poor boys."

Benoît suddenly looked astonished, said, "I'm ...", pressed both hands against his mouth and raced toward the exit.

The Librarian witch watched him leave, then shook her head. "Tsk, tsk - bit sensitive, isn't he?"

No, Frédéric wanted to say, saved his breath because right now he had to fight his own wave of nausea, inhaling deeply, concentrating, not believing how his stomach was betraying him.

"It's okay, they're all back," said Madame Balmier. "Now hurry to get a sip of water, before you have an unpleasant accident here." Her emphasis on the last word made clear, such an accident outside the room was none of her concern.

Frédéric didn't run, instead moved cautiously, not shaking his stomach more than necessary. He'd seen, or heard, his share of drunken guests throwing up, the thought of his friend having less luck - or experience - would not send him over the edge.

Another deep intake of breath, already outside the library, then he'd managed, had stabilized, and could walk faster.

Crazy that - not particularly funny, nothing to tell the girls, except what else could he say to explain Benoît not coming along with him?

Frédéric waited a moment. No Benoît.

Maybe he should look after him, only now it seemed more important to check whether the girls had completed their own task without trouble, and to say goodbye to them. So he walked to the floor where Thionnay's office could be found as the first around the corner.

No girls.

Getting close to the door, Frédéric stressed his ears, not hearing any sound. He walked the floor they had to take, coming from the classroom - it hadn't looked that way, but maybe they had to go twice, not suffering from the stupid ambition that had driven himself and Benoît.

No Sandra in sight, no Héloise either.

The classroom was empty, which so far seemed perfectly normal, with one tiny exception - Frédéric could check it because the door opened, hadn't been locked again by the teacher.

Irregularities come in clusters, he thought, and this is one of these days, only these particular clusters didn't mind mixing serious things with meaningless events. One thing, however, didn't fit the pattern - Sandra leaving without a word. Frédéric flatly refused to believe that.

He started walking toward the exit, wanted to look whether the girls were waiting at the point just outside the locking field, the spot from which they used to jump. He hadn't reached the staircase yet when he was already running.

No, they didn't wait there. However, from this position, Frédéric could see some other people waiting - provided people was the right term for Goblin guards. Which meant, the girls hadn't left. Which in turn meant, they were still somewhere inside. And this meant - what?

They'd gone sick too, were in the girls' toilets, busy to - er, to do what Benoît was about to do when he left in such a hurry.

Unlikely as it seemed, Frédéric couldn't imagine anything else. He went upstairs again, reached the toilets that seemed the most likely place, after walking with some cauldrons from the classroom to Thionnay's office.

He listened outside, meanwhile not even caring if someone might watch him. Not hearing a sound, he checked around, slipped inside, feeling more worried than weirdo.

Nobody here, no cabin locked.

He went out, reached Thionnay's office, knocked at the door. Getting no answer, he knocked again. Still hearing no response, he tried the door handle - locked, what else.

Well, at least he could dismiss the crazy thought that girls and teacher together had gone unconscious from some spilled potion. At this thought, Frédéric remembered Benoît - had his friend gone unconscious?

No. He was in their dormitory, lying on his bed, fully dressed, even with his shoes, however with an empty stomach, as Frédéric learned. "I feel so sick," Benoît whispered. "Retched already, and still it doesn't stop. Please excuse me to the girls, I don't want to be seen that way."

"I wish I could, but I can't find them."

"They're gone, I'd say."

"Never. The Goblins are still downstairs." Examining his friend again, Frédéric said, "There's something fishy here. We helped Thionnite, and all of a sudden, you're sick and the girls are nowhere to find."

"Don't talk about fish," groaned Benoît. "And besides, if you're right, how come you're okay?"

"I had a fit myself, only it wasn't that bad."

Benoît gave no answer. He seemed too sick to agree, too weak for disagreement, at this moment no help altogether. Frédéric asked, "Can I do something for you? Do you need anything?"

"No - just leave me here."

Frédéric tiptoed outside. Having closed the door, he walked faster, once more scanning the same paths he'd checked minutes ago. Still no result, except that there were more students around than before, suppertime was near, and his imagination was playing tricks with him - any two heads together with halfway the right hair colour made Frédéric's heart beat faster for a second.

Outside the building, he sat down at a bench. He had to think, and fast.

Thionnay had tricked them. Had separated them - the entire class today had been a setup for that. And he had tricked those Goblins too, which meant - Frédéric suddenly felt very cold.

And helpless, while not powerless. Scared but not shitless, and definitely not out of his mind. He reached for his phony. "Mr Potter, please."

"This connection is not available for public purposes, sir."

"But I must talk with him."

"I'm sorry, sir, this is not acceptable."

Not acceptable was right, except the other way around. "I ... tell him, I'm calling in the name of Sandra - that's his daughter."

A moment silence, then, "You know, sir, that any false claim of this kind will cause your life-long lockout from this service, and in addition ..."

"Yes I know but it's true - call him, dammit!"

Silence. One second, two, three, four, five, dear God ...

"Harry Potter."

"Oh - yes, er, my name is Frédéric Pouilly - "

"I know, Frédéric, your name tells me something. What is with Sandra?"

Hearing that voice, soothing him at one side and urging him at the other, Frédéric felt instantly better. "She's - I can't find her, and Héloise either. But the Goblins are still there, so I don't think they left without saying goodbye, because ..."

"Where did you see them last?"

"We were helping Thionnay to take back some stuff, and the girls into his office, and Benoît and I into the library, and - "

"Frédéric. Listen. Where are you?"

"Outside, in the park, just the place where they usually jump from - "

Frédéric stopped because his line was dead. He still stared at the display when a shadow fell over him. Looking up, he saw a face he'd seen only in pictures, older ones, however the double scar was unmistakable.

A feeling words couldn't describe. Very short, except time wasn't a concept here, then Frédéric stood in a room - large table, perfectly round, chairs ...

And the face again, just before him. "Frédéric, this is our home, Carron Lough. Thank you for calling me, that was great. Now please sit down and tell me exactly what happened."

A hand was pushing him gently onto a chair, and with the touch of this hand, Frédéric felt like in a dream, only it was real, his mind seemed clearer than ever, Sandra's father had asked him in French, and he started to talk without wasting any more second.