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 20 - Prey and Predator

Chapter Summary:
The kidnappers have caught Sandra and her brother Gabriel, Héloise and her brother Michel. Fully aware of the incredible magical power in the Potter children, the kidnappers took all precautions. However, they made one mistake ...

20 - Prey and Predator

Somewhere, somebody was calling her. Not with words, although the voice seemed extremely familiar. Too familiar for being a voice, and too intimate for the scope of words; such calls could only be heard at mind level.

Sandra changed from totally out to a dim awareness, just enough to realize whose call this had been - Gabriel's, and her brother's call expressed some urgency, however strangely muffled.

How could a mind call be muffled?

Very simple - because her own mind felt muffled too, pretty much so, and this was a bloody shame, really not appropriate for the coming High Priestess, who'd been taught to use that lazy mind of hers to its full power.

She came awake with a jolt.

Her eyes were open - yes, a rapid blinking confirmed it - but still Sandra couldn't see anything. For a short instant, the question crossed her mind whether she was suffering from a blinding spell, then a simpler explanation grew to certainty: it was totally dark here.

And cold and damp and awfully hard, most of all under her back. So she sat up.

Touching around, she felt something like a thin blanket, spread on a floor that seemed pure rock. Was this a cavern?

Maybe that, maybe a dungeon; it didn't matter right now because she could sense a presence, apparently only feet away, the same presence who had caused her breaking the stunning spell - her brother Gabriel.

Getting on her knees, crawling a few feet, Sandra reached him and touched with fingertips into the darkness. She could feel his body lying on its own blanket, thus completing the picture in her mind, where she could sense his unconscious self.

A gentle mind push, and she had contact. Another one, harder this time, and Gabriel's stunning was broken.

"Sandy?" His fingers touched around, then found her. "Am I glad you're here."

"Yeah, same for me. Pretty spooky place that, isn't it?"

"Then let's go."

Easier said than done. Their attempts of apparating home failed. It came as no surprise, not really, just a frightening fact. More frightening than their missing wands.

Gabriel sat up, his hand not letting go of hers, which was exactly what Sandra preferred herself. With audible control in his voice, he asked, "What is this? Where are we?"

"No idea. First I thought it's a cavern, only what I can sense is too regular." Sandra pressed the hand in her own. "I wish I'd copied a bit more of Dad's getsumai no michi, mine is hardly enough for some outlines. What about yours?"

Getsumai no michi - the moonlit path - was a Japanese technique for seeing in the dark, except it wasn't really seeing, at least not with the eyes. Harry's skill in this technique ranked quite high, but Sandra had always treated it as some exotic art not really important.

"Mine's even less," replied Gabriel, "but I know something simpler. You keep here at this spot, so I have a bearing, and I crawl around. If it's a room, then I just have to follow the walls to draw a circle around you."

He was right, but letting him go seemed a task harder than expected. However, after a deep intaking of breath, Sandra said, "All right, I'm here - be careful, watch for holes and pits."

"I'm not going to walk."

Gabriel crawled forward. Sandra could hear the patting of his hands, obviously testing every foot on his path. Then his voice said, "Here's a wall ... I guess I'll try walking though, that crawling hurts the knees quite a bit."

And now he was counting steps, each of them set carefully, after a foot shuffled forward for testing the ground, while his hands could be heard at the walls, probably holding his balance.

At twenty-nine, Gabriel called, "Here's a corner. So it's a room, after all. Okay, next side."

This wall spanned seventeen steps from corner to corner. The next one was good for thirty-three, and the one afterwards counted eighteen, which probably was the same as the opposite wall, only that Gabriel's steps weren't equally measured.

"That's enough," called Sandra, but corrected herself at once. "No, wait - did you notice a door?"

"Er - no." There was astonishment in Gabriel's voice, then he added quickly, "but I've been so busy counting and checking, maybe I didn't realize ... Wait, let me walk again; this time I know there's no traphole."

Sandra listened to his footsteps, until Gabriel had passed four walls. "Okay," she called, "come back."

Gabriel returned to her spot, guided by her voice, and when he touched her to sit down at his sister's side, it seemed a bit tighter than necessary for his orientation. "I could feel just stone," he said, "nothing else. No wood for sure, or metal. If there's a door, it fits tightly - you know, the stones are pretty rough, you wouldn't feel the difference."

"Maybe it's above us," said Sandra.

"Yeah, maybe ... It's like a prison, isn't it?"

That reminded Sandra of another question. "Say, how did they catch you?"

"Mosley, the new English teacher." The former anxiousness in Gabriel's voice made room for wondering and irritation. "Called us into his office, me and Michel, to discuss how to handle my participation in his course, and then suddenly he - " Gabriel stopped himself. "Michel! What happened to him?"

"I'd say, he's been caught too." Sandra told her brother how she and Héloise had been tricked. "I guess they put them somewhere else."

"Why not together? They put us together, then why not all four of us?"

"I don't know."

Searching for a more encouraging answer, Sandra had a sudden enlightenment. "Know what? It wasn't planned that we're awake already. They probably know that we can do a bit more than the other two, and maybe Héloise and Michel are in a better place, while with us, they didn't want to take any risk." With triumph, she added, "But then I felt you, and that was the first step, and what Aram'chee taught me was enough to come awake."

She pressed the hand in her own again. "Gabe, they don't know we're awake! That's something we have to use."


It sounded almost absent-minded, and Sandra was about to say more when Gabriel hissed, "Ssssht ..."

Had he heard something? She strained her ears, not registering any noise other than their own breathing.

After a moment, he said, "I'd say, they're here. I'm not entirely sure, but I think I could sense Michel."

Sandra knew, trying that by herself was hopeless; in this regard, Gabriel scored better. But she had another idea. "Listen, I'm going to increase your strength, and you try again. Okay?"

At first, Gabriel was at a loss to coordinate his sister's mental support with his own scanning. "Shit," he murmured, "that feels like filling a teapot in a waterfall. Sandy, can you build it up a bit slower?"

Yes, she could, this time noticing herself how the two minds connected to a united force, gaining size and power, until a moment later, Gabriel said, "Okay ... yes, they're somewhere close."

Sandra sighed, "I wish we could summon them."

"Yes, definitely - except, if we could do that, we could jump out." Gabriel's voice showed rage. "That bloody apparition lock - imagine, we're held by something that's been built in our own factories."

"Not necessarily," replied Sandra. "The locks at Beauxbatons or Hogwarts aren't Groucho products either."

"Sure, but this one is. Can't you feel it?" Gabriel sounded a bit surprised.

Just enough to make Sandra feel challenged. Concentrating, she let her mental fingers fumble around, and a moment later, she had a better image. "Yes, you're right."

More than once, she had wondered if these locks were really as unbreakable as Ray claimed. Simpler than the united efforts of several experienced wizards in the two schools, but good enough anyway. At that time, it had been idle musing, a nice intellectual challenge, while now it seemed the only chance to escape from this dungeon. Sandra asked, "Did you ever think about breaking such a lock?"

"Not really." Gabriel sounded a bit embarrassed. "You know, it feels like a mix of magic and math, so I thought, me and math, what's the sense in trying?"

"I always thought it's possible," said Sandra. "I never tried seriously, because it's awfully stressing. But I guess now's the right time for giving it a real try."

"Then ..." Gabriel was moving, and a moment later, she felt him kneeling behind her, his hands at her shoulders. "I'm going to do what you did with me," he said, "and that's how Dad's doing it when he supports someone with his power ... Ready?"

Sandra didn't really think the actual position had any meaning, or influence, in particular not between herself and her brother, only if that was the psychological inspiration to make it work, maybe he was right.


Here it came, his support, a gentle stream first, growing in size and determination, pushing her forward ... She dropped the thought of this incredible power, concentrated on the barrier, probing, testing its structure, scanning for a weak spot - and here was something, whatever, felt like the right point to press, press, press harder, with all her force and Gabriel's too ...


Before she even had time to yell in triumph, Sandra could feel how the barrier closed again.

"Whew." She was trembling from the effort. "Almost ... But I knew it's possible."

"Come on - once more."

Sandra found no time to protest, or ask for a small break, because Gabriel was already sending his power, and she couldn't do anything other than use it.

Snap ... And shut again.

The good news - this time it had seemed much simpler. For compensation, there was nothing that felt like a means to unlock the barrier permanently.

"And now?" Sandra refused to lose her spirit, while it seemed only fair to recover for a short time, preferably a time in which Gabriel would come up with a good idea.

"Try it alone," he said.

"What?" If this was his version of a good idea, she felt little inclination to hear his bad ones.

Her brother chuckled. "It's great to feel you going upset - no, I'm serious, and I know what I'm doing. Come on, Sandy."

Yes, he was serious, no denying. She concentrated again, and oh wonder, it worked, except that she could swear he'd been cheating, by helping her.

"No, I didn't," Gabriel said. "I just kept in touch, to sense the exact moment when it snaps open. You know I can jump and summon simultaneously - and this short moment, that's all I need."

"And if it doesn't work, I'm alone here."

After a moment of silence, Gabriel said, "I won't fail at summoning you, Sandy, that's not the problem, but ... Michel and Héloise are still here, and we can't return after the lock has closed again."

This was a conflict of conscience to which Sandra felt not yet confronted, first because she was a bit reluctant in trusting her brother's skill - and second because she saw a way to test it. "Summon them."

To her astonishment, Gabriel seemed to grin, after thinking about her suggestion. "I know what you mean, but okay - although, then we'll have another problem, because - "

"Whatever, but I'll have a problem less, and we'll be together."

"That's what - okay, okay! Which one first?"

"What does it matter? Eeny, meeny - "

"No, listen. What's more scaring, to come out here in the dark or to be alone all of a sudden? Because I can't summon both of them simultaneously."

"Oh." Now Sandra knew what Gabriel meant with another problem, still felt sure they were better off together. "Hély first."

"Yeah, that's what I thought. Okay, ready."

Inhaling deeply. Concentrating. Seizing with her mind, holding, pressing - snap and Sandra just thought there had been something slightly different this time when she heard a sobbing gasp and then Gabriel's voice.

"It's us, Hély, we've summoned you - hold on a second, will you, we've got to fetch Michel too."

"Don't let go of me."

"Here, hold to my back, I need my hands on Sandy's shoulders, okay? ... Let's go, Sandy."

And once more, almost routine now, then a bump, an "Ouch", and seconds later, the four of them were hugging each other, assuring how glad they were, even if the service here around rated still worse than what Héloise and Michel had left so involuntarily.

The enthusiasm of the two Weasleys encountered a severe blow when they learned that home sweet home was bit farther away than just an apparition jump. Then Héloise said, "Gabriel, can't we do it the same way you fetched us a moment ago?"

"Well, um, I can't do more than one summon at once."

"But ..." Then Héloise saw the dilemma - Gabriel's first jump would also be his last one, simply because there was no chance of synchronizing with Sandra again. She asked, "Can't you send us, rather than summon?"

Michel answered her. "Nobody can do that. Doesn't work that way."

"Oh, does it?" Héloise's mood seemed hardly improved from her brother's stating the apparently obvious. "Well, Sandy, old dragon, please do me a favour and break that stupid lock."

"Yeah, sure, just gimme a second - I mean, I hope it's not that urgent ..."

Michel said quickly, "Hold on. Sandy, what exactly's the problem?"

"It's ..." The rage in Sandra's voice was gone when she started again. "It feels slimy as an eel, you just can't hold it open."

Héloise said, "Nobody asked you to hold it open. Break it!"

Sandra barely managed to keep quiet. Yes, it had been her own idea to fetch them, only the improvement seemed very limited, short of calling it a downright mistake.

At this moment, Gabriel said, "San, she's right. And now we're four people, that's more power."

Was it?

"Okay then," said Sandra, "Gabriel behind me, for sheer power. Michel in front of me, for accuracy. And you, Hély, pull my hair to make me furious."

Her friend moved nearer and whispered, "There's something better. If you manage, I'll play for you - once my fingers have stopped trembling."

Deeply touched, Sandra replied, "It's a deal - and now keep to my side."

Héloise counted, "Ready ... set ... go!"

Mounting power, swelling, sharply focused. Sandra drove her mental nails into this nasty barrier, pulled, pulled, had it open, refused to let go, pulled more, could hold no longer only she wouldn't let go, and just when the united forces were about to implode a shout in her mind cried, "Do it!"

And she did. Felt how the barrier cracked, splintered, broke apart.

Breathing heavily, feeling sick of adrenaline, Sandra knew for certain - this lock would never work again.

* * *

Frédéric finished his report of what had happened in Magique Génèrale, and especially at the end of this course. All the time, Sandra's father was sitting there, chin on folded hands, looking ahead, his face seemingly calm.

Now the face looked directly at Frédéric. "Where's your friend now?"

"In the dormitory. Mr Potter - is it what I think it is? Have the girls been ..."

"Kidnapped?" completed Sandra's father for him. "Yes, most likely, and it's surprising what risks they took. They must be desperate."

"Desperate?" Frédéric gave a damn for the feelings of the other side, what with his own desperation growing by the second, and how could this man be so calm when his own daughter was one of the victims?

A hand grabbed his shoulder. "Relax, Frédéric. Right now we can't do much for them, while there's something else we have to do, for your friend."

"Benoît will be okay in a while, but Sandra! And Héloise - "

Frédéric stopped because Mr Potter wasn't listening to him. He had fetched his phony and was keying in a number. After waiting for a moment without success, the man looked up. "And Gabriel, and probably Michel."

"What about them?"

"My son doesn't answer his phony, and there's no denial of reception either. So we can assume they caught them as well."

"Mon dieu ..."

Two burning eyes were piercing into Frédéric's own. "It's better this way than Sandra alone! With a little luck, Frédéric, they've taken a bite that'll stick in their throat ... And now let's go."

Before Frédéric could say more, he found himself at the spot in the Beauxbatons park from where they had reached the Potter castle. Mr Potter asked him to lead the way to Benoît, which wasn't that simple because the man kept walking awfully fast.

Panting, Frédéric asked, "Why do we have to look after Benoît?"

"After him and after yourself - you two have witnessed the disappearance, in a way, and I have a feeling the others would like to deal with you as soon as they find the time. And maybe his poisoning is more serious than it seemed."

Passing the hall, in which students were gathering for supper, Frédéric checked their table, seeing no Benoît, very much as expected. Reaching the dormitory, he didn't see his friend either, to his deep consternation after what Mr Potter had said downstairs.

"Please check the toilets," the man said. "That's more likely than anything else."

Right he was. Benoît stood there, leaning over a washbasin, just wiping his mouth when Frédéric reached him. "Here you are," exhaled Frédéric. "For I moment I thought ..."

"I'd washed down myself? No, although this might be a good idea."

Too shaky for a laugh, Frédéric said, "Sandra's father is here. He says we should come with him, and he'll help you."

"Sandra's father?" Despite his misery, Benoît looked bewildered. "What's he got to do with my sickness?"

"He thinks ..."

Frédéric became aware that Benoît didn't know yet about the girls being kidnapped, and felt little inclination to explain it here. Actually, he didn't feel like telling it at all by himself, and besides, Mr Potter had said they should hurry.

"I'll explain later, now come on, we have no time."

"Just a second." Benoît opened the tap for another cleaning.

Frédéric went out, saw Mr Potter, and walked over. "He's coming. Er - he doesn't know yet."

Mr Potter nodded. "You were right, in the castle there's time enough to tell him what's going on."

Coming out, Benoît looked slightly better, apparently felt better too, because his first question after greeting Mr Potter was, "What about the girls?"

"We didn't find them yet," answered Sandra's father, "and that's why I'm here. I'll take you home with me before you get lost too."

"Why should - " Benoît stopped and looked at Frédéric. When he saw his suspicion confirmed in his friend's face, he turned to Mr Potter.

"Sir, that's been Thionnite - er, I mean Thionnay, he probably knows where they are - "

"Certainly not," replied Mr Potter, "or if so, he's no longer around. We can discuss this later."

"But - "

Pulled from two sides, Benoît saved his protest, only muttered, "Yes, okay, I can walk alone, but when I see him again, he'll find out that's been a mistake he did, he will."

"Not when, Benoît," said Mr Potter. "It's if in this case, and don't hold your breath while waiting for him."

The two friends exchanged a glance of anticipation and glee - just a moment, until they realized that this hidden promise wasn't solving a more urgent question.

They went out into the park. Mr Potter said, "Please wait a second," then he walked over to the Goblin guards and talked with two of them.

Coming back, he said, "Off we go," and an instant later, all three of them had reached that room with the large table again. Mr Potter turned to Benoît.

"Do you want to lie down?"

"No thanks, sir, but if you could show me the way to - er, just in case, you know."

"It's the second door at the left."

While Benoît left the room to become familiar with his emergency exit, Mr Potter took his phony again, and next moment, Frédéric watched and listened how the man spoke with someone he called Hermione, and this could only be the woman Frédéric had seen in Hogwarts - right, because Mr Potter asked her to do a home visit for a mildly poisoned boy, except it might be not as mild as it looked.

"No, I can't send him over," Mr Potter said, "and if you want to know why, you must come here ... Yes, right into the dining room."

Registering Frédéric's attention, Mr Potter asked, "Did you meet her at Hogwarts?"

"Er - yes, I saw her, but we didn't talk."

Mr Potter showed something close to a grin. "Then you must have escaped before she had a chance, eh?"

Frédéric wasn't sure how to answer that, especially after he had listened to the phony conversation so openly, but then, what else could he have done, being in the same room?

And a second later, the question was forgotten, his embarrassment too, because several things happened as if orchestrated for a stage.

First, Benoît returned from his control walk.

Then, the air popped, popped again, and again, and a fourth time, and some steps away from a gaping Frédéric, the figures of Gabriel, Sandra, Michel, and Héloise appeared.

Before any of them had a chance to move, the air popped a last time, and a woman with a white apron and a black case in hand stood there.

She looked around and said, "Hi everybody. Is this an audience or a welcome comittee?"

* * *

Laila knew - she wasn't up to her job as the temporary CEO of Groucho Biochemicals. Not today, not yet tomorrow, maybe never, and so it was only good to have Cho hanging around. Except Cho was a pain in the ass, as a direct mentor, tutor, counsel, and boss.

But it wasn't Cho's mistake, truth to be told. Maybe not even Laila's own. The blame was on the situation. No - on the killer kidnappers.

Only - Cho didn't accept such excuses. She was giving her hell. While Laila herself - well, she might be ready to see purpose again, in a while, after she had recovered a bit.

Cho said she should recover in her work. Laila had a slightly different opinion - no, not the bottle, not sleep either, or sex. Something more purgatory, like emptying a full magazine into a body, moving from left to right and back, the clip empty before the first holes were turning red.

Not that Cho would disagree much, only she kept her too busy to find a likely candidate.

At this moment, Laila's phony buzzed - the private one, not that on her desk. Checking the display, she saw Harry's name, and this meant a shimmer of hope in such a miserable day. She pressed the button as fast as she could. "Yes, Harry?"

"Hi. You alone?"


"Can you steal home without Cho noticing?"

Laila's heartbeat was accelerating, from Harry's words and still more from his voice. "Yes."

"Do it. Fetch your Uzi, and enough ammunition. Come into the castle. Now."

Dreams come true, thought Laila, which was only fair, wasn't it, because nightmares did the same. Four minutes later - she had decided to change from a business suit into her combat dress, and she had collected two more items in addition to her gun - she stood in the dining room of Carron Lough. Had a look around, and wondered whether she should turn red because of her appearance.

Apparently not, since Sandra shrieked with delight, seeing her, the other kids stared admiringly, and there was Harry, his face grim but appreciating.

"Just right," he said. "Laila, we've got a track to follow. More, we have a place - a little while ago, they kidnapped these young people here, except for the boys I'll introduce in a moment, and that's the mistake we've been waiting for."

Harry went out to prepare himself. By the time he came back, Laila had heard the breathtaking news, mostly from Sandra, had said hello to these two boys who could be assigned so easily to the two girls. And she had said hello also to Hermione, who apparently had finished her task already before, however without showing any signs of leaving.

Whatever Harry had done, he didn't look much different. He said, "Listen, everybody. We're going to jump into this dungeon. More exactly, Gabriel's jumping and summoning myself, and Sandy's jumping and summoning Laila - all this at the same time."

He looked at his daughter and his son. "The moment Laila and I have reached that room, you two jump back. Is this understood?"

Sandra and Gabriel didn't even look at each other. It was like two bodies, two faces doing the same. "Please, Daddy."

"No please. You jump back, and all six of you keep together, here. Can I rely on that?"

His daughter didn't give in yet. "Why can't we come with you? Our spells are as good as yours, you know they are."

"Yes I know." After a second's hesitation, Harry said, "But we're going to kill some people, and for that you're too young. That's my belief, and that of your mother too, so end of discussion. Okay?"

A sigh, and unison as before the answer from two mouths. "Okay."

Harry turned to Laila. "Ready?"

How long had it been since the last time? In a fluid motion, she swung the sub-machine gun from her back into her hands, felt some glances in the corner of her view while she unlocked the security, cocked the gun, both hands in position. "Ready."

Harry, wand in hand, looked at his daughter. "Count us down, Sandy."

"Three ... two ... one ... go."

Laila felt the fleeting moment of travelling through the void, felt hard ground under her feet in a total blackness, then Harry hissed something, a brilliant light illuminated a large room with stone walls, and Laila wheeled around, checking with eyes and gun in sync, a half glimpse at two children disappearing before she had finished her turn.

The room was empty, save Harry and herself.

A short inspection showed stone all around, two blankets at the floor, and nothing else. A huge ceiling, vaulted, raised the impression this cavern-like room had been cut into solid ground.

A closer inspection revealed two more details. Laila saw a pipe in a corner, probably for fresh air, although it wasn't beyond imagination that, quite to the contrary, this pipe could be used to flood the room with water and drown the prisoners in it.

The other discovery was the door.

Stone, as it looked, probably wood coated with stone, fitting seamlessly into the surrounding wall. A peeping hole, about a foot in height and width, was secured with two strong iron bars.

Laila said, "Shouldn't be a problem to open that door - provided we can keep out, that is, when the blast goes off."

Harry glanced at her. "And then?"

"Then it's open, and we can storm the building."

"Maybe we should prepare with a loudspeaker first, in case they failed to notice the explosion." Harry's face was almost hidden, because he kept his illuminating wand over his head, but his voice left no doubt how much he appreciated this idea.

"Well," said Laila, "that's always the problem with explosives, they're so awfully noisy ... A quieter approach would be to sit and wait until somebody comes to open the door."

"This somebody will check through that hole first. And either we have to make Sandy and Gabe lie down, which is out of the question, or they notice at once that something's wrong."

"Yeah, well, inhouse combat is a nasty business." Laila could be flippant by herself. "What about a suggestion from your side? I'm leading by two."

"We open that door noiselessly, or almost silently."

She stared at Harry. "That's a goal, not a suggestion."

The reply sounded almost like a giggling.

Laila stepped closer to the wall to examine the door again. "Could you light here a bit more?"

"What about your own wand? I'm leading by ten minutes."

Uhm, yes, he was right, she always slipped back to her Muggle self when carrying an Uzi. Laila's own light seemed dim, compared to Harry's, however, for an examination it was good enough.

She came up. "Can you turn that light to a welding torch?"

"Not really. I can heat it up, probably enough to make that iron glow, only it'll take forever - and with our luck, somebody will come just at the worst moment."

There was nothing wrong with their own luck, Laila thought, only Ramon had scored badly in that matter. Yes, and Marie-Christine. But maybe that was off the point, and maybe for Harry all this counted as one.

"If it was a lock, I'd score better," said Harry at this moment.

But it wasn't, his tricks wouldn't help. The image of a lock, which in such an environment could only be a padlock, reminded Laila of a more conventional technique to open them, and this gave her the idea. "Say, do you know a freezing spell?"

"Freezing? No, why?"

She explained how a padlock was broken that way. After spraying it with a highly volatile fluid, the metal turned so cold and thus so brittle that a single blow with something hard was enough to break it.

"A highly volatile fluid ..." Harry glanced at her. "Such as?"

"Lighter gas, for instance. Give me ten zip lighters and something to engorge their valve, then we'd be in business."

"What is lighter gas?"

"Dunno ... butane?" Seeing Harry's blank face, Laila added, "It's one of the simplest carbon compounds - ethane, methane, propane, butane ... the fourth."

"This wasn't a spell, was it?"

After making sure they still agreed in that this was a combat, rather than a scientific discourse, Laila told Harry what she dimly remembered from her Chemistry classes - ethane was one carbon atom, having four values, with four hydrogene atoms of one each. Methane was something with two carbon atoms, and so forth.

"Okay," said Harry eventually, "now give a minute - no, I can think it over while going to fetch a hammer."

"And a chisel and a rope. And if the chisel could be rubber-capped, that would be great."

Five lonely minutes later, Harry was back. The rubber cap looked pretty much like hexed in a hurry, seemed sufficient nonetheless to dampen the sound of hammer on chisel.

Harry killed the light on his wand, and suddenly it was much darker in the room. Then he started shooting drops of some fluid toward the iron bars - or liquid bullets, at any rate, they came out of his wand.

"What you're doing there?"

"My party trick," explained Harry. "Usually it's nitroglycerine, while now I'm trying to conjure up butane."

Laila would have liked to see the original trick, but not necessarily here, with the two of them that close. "Try ethane," she said. "For sucking the heat out of the metal, it should do the job, and it's simpler."

"Ethane, then." After a moment of concentration, Harry shot again, and this time they could watch how the liquid at the metal vaporized with an almost inaudible hissing.

"Here we go." Laila tied the rope around one of the bars.

Harry kept shooting droplets until the process of vaporizing had slowed down to something of five seconds. With Laila holding rope and lighting wand, he grabbed hammer and chisel, aimed at the point where the bar disappeared in the stone, and let the hammer swing.

The bar broke with a sharp ping - in two pieces, one of them caught by the rope, while the other fell outward, raising a more muffled sound.

They waited three minutes in total darkness for any sign of an alarm.

No sound, no movement.

For the second bar, they didn't bother with the rope, and finally, the peeping hole was free - wide enough for an arm, while not for a head, not with the sharp ends of the broken iron.

Harry looked at her. "Do you have a mirror with you?"

"Sorry, forgot my party bag."

He grinned. "That's strange, since I'd have sworn this's your party dress."

Before Laila could answer to that, Harry was gone, and back a minute later with a hand mirror.

One hand could hold the mirror, and another one a lighting wand. Unfortunately, the two arms didn't fit through the hole at the same time.

"A signal rocket," said Laila, and Harry sent a spark-emitting something through the hole. It bounced off the opposite wall, dropped down, hissing and fuming while Harry examined the outside of the door through the mirror.

"A heavy bolt," he said finally. "No lock."

Then he took his wand, held it outside, dangling from his fingers like a pendulum, and into his fourth murmur, Laila heard a clank.

With their backs to the door, they pushed, felt the weight give way, a metallic squeak, and the door was open.

Outside, a narrow floor stretched to both sides, much lower than the room, at one side ending in a staircase of stone.

Harry looked at her. "Ready?"

"Just a second." Laila reached into her leg pocket and came up with someething that looked like an exhaust pipe from a motorbike, only thinner. Then she mounted it at the muzzle of her Uzi. When she was done, the gun looked mean and nasty.

"A silencer?" asked Harry.

"Exactly." She showed a grim smile. "This party's supposed to be quiet, isn't it? Well, who am I to stand out?"

"But it's not totally silent, huh?"

"Your spells aren't totally silent either," she replied, "but here's the truly noiseless weapon." Laila's hand came up to show him a combat knife, glittering in the light from Harry's wand.

* * *

Harry set his wand to a dim light that emitted from the tip, just enough for recognizing contours within a range of several feet. Using his haragei, he had scanned their immediate environment, reporting that he couldn't sense anyone somewhere close. He and Laila felt sure there was nobody below ground floor level, except that even Harry's sixth sense wouldn't offer any guarantee.

They climbed a first staircase and reached something that looked like a normal cellar. It extended to both sides into unknown darkness.

Sensing again, Harry felt his first guess confirmed; nobody else was down here. To find out a bit more of the local topology, he tried to use his skill in getsumai no michi, the sense of the moonlit path. The result was a disappointing null.

Well, he hadn't used it for quite a while. And the small sphere of light around him and Laila was distracting anyway. He whispered, "I need a moment of darkness, so don't jump if - "

Laila stopped him. "What for?"

"I want to have a better look, that's why."

"Yes, of course."

Concentrating again, Harry felt a bit of his mental ability return - enough to realize that this had to be a large building, and if he wasn't much mistaken, the next staircase would be found to their right. Switching his wand on again, he informed Laila.

"Pretty cool," she said, keeping her voice low. "While something else isn't cool at all. Harry, in a raid like this one, don't bother telling me your innermost thoughts. Just tell me what you're going to do, so I know. Okay?"

Hadn't he ... No, he hadn't, and next instant, Harry remembered similar remarks from his companion in daylight, Lieutenant Seeger. "Sorry," he whispered, "you're right - won't happen again."

Laila's hand was on his shoulder. "Wait a second," she said. "Upstairs is the ground floor, and that's where we'll meet the first people. And there's a door - Harry, do you know how a team of two's storming a door?"

He had to admit, the answer was no.

"One of them is first - that's the one who's busy with the handle, or with a kick to push the door open. That's also the one who must be down at the floor as fast as possible - first to avoid some answer from inside, then to catch the attention, and most of all to be out of the second person's firing range. And you, Harry, you're so much better at jumping and rolling and coming up, you're the right candidate for that role. While I, I can hold my gun ready and come in and say hello. That okay for you?"

It made perfect sense for Harry. He whispered, "Yes, sergeant. Let's go upstairs - this way, sergeant."

Lacking any amusement in her voice, Laila said, "And don't forget - if we just walk along and someone appears from ahead, find a way to give me free aim."

He said, "And if it's someone from behind, it's the other way around, right?"

"Got it, private. All right - get moving."

They found the staircase where Harry had seen it - or predicted, whatever. Stone as the other one, only the steps more spacious, and a handrail. At the second landing, a door marked the beginning of what they expected to be the ground floor.

Harry took position at the handle, then whispered, "Ready?"

"Ready." Laila's voice lacked any expression.

As long as nobody knew about them, keeping quiet was the best strategy, so there was little sense in crahing the door open. On the other side, moving it inch after inch was no option either - if someone had the door in his view, this method would give him all the time of the world to wonder, watch, and weigh his answer.

All this was probably obvious to Laila while somewhat new to Harry. The surprising conclusion, opening the door like the one to his own kitchen seemed the best approach. And so he did.

The door turned out unlocked. It came open like any other, almost no noise, until Harry had a first glance into something like an entrance hall. Then the hinges squeaked in a single protest.

Harry finished his movement, registering how the squeak ended as soon as the door had come another foot apart. At the same time, he ducked down, his wand ready.

Somewhere ahead was a noise, then a movement. The figure of a man appeared, but only the upper half of his torso was leaning out of a door in an attempt to see what was going on there.

Harry saw the man's eyes widen. Then he heard a soft Pop from above and behind. Then Laila jumped over him and stormed along the wall to the place where the man had crashed against the other edge of the door frame, not yet slumped down, speechless surprise in his face.

On the tiled floor, Laila's rubber soles made almost no sound. Harry followed her, somewhat slower, sensing to all sides.

When he reached her, Laila stood in the entrance, watching the scene behind him. Glancing into the room, Harry saw no one else, only the tools and devices of something like a house keeper.

Next moment, Laila came in - backward, pulling the body inside. She let it drop - softly, if just for the noise, then looked at Harry. "Do we need him later?"

"No - why?" His voice was as low as hers, only more questioning.

"Because the hit wasn't fatal yet."

The knife Harry had seen downstairs appeared in Laila's hand again. Harry saw the blade for a very short moment, then it disappeared in the man's chest, pushed upward into the heart at a flat angle. The blade came out again, covered by a surprisingly small amount of reddish smear.

"He was too close to phones and stuff," explained Laila, before wiping both sides of the blade at the dead man's shirt, and storing the knife away. She came up. "Okay - carry on."

Harry pushed the scene off his mind, and instead concentrated on his haragei. He could sense presences some rooms away, only they felt somehow strange, not at all like people. Looking around, fully registering the environment for the first time since he'd opened the door, he suddenly knew. This was the ground floor of a large building, maybe some castle, they'd find only servants here, and what he could sense were house-elves.

"No humans here at this level - only house-elves." He pointed. "Somewhere over there - no sense in disturbing them. Let's go upstairs."

"You're the expert," murmured Laila, her face making clear she didn't trust his judgement entirely, suspected him of some foolish softness, only she wasn't an expert at all, so she had no good argument to protest.

Harry wasn't entirely sure by himself, but he knew - this raid's target was human, if only by size and shape. He reached the staircase, this time rug-covered, and climbed it at quickly as possible without getting out of breath, followed by Laila.

The hall upstairs showed more luxury, and they had passed quite some pictures in the staircase, giving the impression of wealth and tradition. Only this was something to examine later, the task at hand filling Harry's mind, in particular since he could feel some presences easily.

After some more steps, even Laila could locate them without trouble - voices, laughter coming through a closed door.

They reached the door and stopped - Harry at one side, Laila at the other. Having listened to his senses again, Harry held three fingers up, signaling Laila what he'd found. She nodded.

Dropping one finger, leaving two, Harry made a cutting gesture. Raising this finger again, he pointed toward himself, then at his wand.

Laila responded by raising two fingers, then touching her gun with them, a questioning look in her face. When Harry nodded in confirmation, she pointed at him, then toward the door.

Which meant, he should open and drop to the ground so she could shoot two of them, leaving the third to Harry's wand. This lucky one would have to answer some questions, and maybe his luck would hold.

Harry pressed the handle and pushed the door hard. He flung himself forward in a jump, then rolled around and got on his knees in one fluid motion, to watch the scene with his wand ready, his mind recalling the popping sounds he'd heard from behind.

Had been four. Laila took no chances.

And there was no doubt who'd been left for him. It was the man who'd been sitting with his back to the door, who had turned by now, his face frozen in horror, his hand still holding the cards of some card game. More cards on the table, glasses, bottles, a cigarette still smouldering in an ashtray. The other two figures, in the middle and to the right, hung there, motionless.

Harry stepped toward the frozen face, his wand pointing all the time. He reached the man and asked, "You want to live?"

A blank face, first signs of naked fear. "Er - comment?"

French - of course. Harry changed to French and repeated his question, this time earning a nod. With the tip of his wand, almost gently, he touched the man's forehead. "Where's the woman?"

"Er ... upstairs, in her boudoir."

"How many people else - except you three and the one downstairs?"

"None ... not today - er, except for the house-elves." The last words were accompanied by a face close to panic, after having almost forgotten to mention them.

"Did you help catching my daughter?"

"I ..." A swallow, another, sweat where the tip of Harry's wand was marking a possible target. "I've been waiting here when ... for her and ..." The man's eyes went cross in an attempt to stare at the wand, from which he expected a green flash any moment.

"And my son," finished Harry for him. "If you told me the truth, you'll survive this day, or if not, then I'm not the one to blame - provided you told me everything. So, do you want to add something?"

"Er - yes, er, the English lady, she's expected back in an hour or so, she's on a walk with her dog."

The English lady? This could only mean Lady Malfoy, then who was the woman upstairs? Had to be the owner of this castle, had to be found and put under control as quickly as possible - other questions might be answered by her - for example where the wands of Sandra and Gabriel had been stored.

Harry nodded. "Good. ;;~Stupefy!"

The man's head fell forward on the table, while the cards from his powerless hand dropped to the carpet underneath.

Harry reached Laila, who had been guarding the door during his short interrogation. He asked, "Did you hear everything?"

"Yes. The lady of the house is upstairs, her dwarfs down in the kitchen, and we mightn't be surprised if it's not Sleeping Beauty." Laila showed a grim smile. "Okay, my prince, you've got a very nice sniffing skill there - go ahead."

They climbed the last staircase. Harry identified the room without trouble. He turned and gestured to make sure Laila wouldn't shoot, and was rewarded with a look that said, Just how stupid do you take me for? He sent her a short, apologetic smile, then opened the door and stepped in.

A room, more a salon than a boudoir. A woman in an armchair, reading ... Past her fifties, maybe sixty, still in good shape. A book in her hand, which now dropped to her lap.

She stared at him, sent a quick glance to Laila at the door, then focused on him again. Surprise made room for something like hateful resignation. "'arry Pottère, isn't it?"

"Yes, that's me. And with whom do I have the honour?"

When the woman didn't answer immediately, looked almost astonished at this apparently natural question, Harry sent a quick glance around. And there, at the wall, he saw something that caught his eye. He stared, recognizing the face, then looked at the woman again.

She had followed his glance and now nodded. "Yes, Monsieur Pottère, it's him. My name is Marie-Thérèse Pouilly. Gérard was my son, and you killed him."