- 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 21 - Castle Ladies
- Chapter Summary:
- Harry has a conversation with Madame Pouilly, the mother of Gérard, the student he killed fourteen years ago. Then Harry summons some other people to continue this conversation, while he himself guards the door with Laila and Rahewa, waiting for Lady Malfoy ...
21 - Castle Ladies
After all these years, the contours of Gérard's face had faded a bit from Harry's memory. Yes, he could remember the last seconds, the scene in the Beauxbatons Hall - this moment was burned in his memory with small risk of getting lost. Or chance, for that matter ... But Gérard with a pleasant smile in a calm face, this was something Harry remembered only as an event, or an emotion, not as a picture painted in all details.
However, staring into the face of Madame Pouilly, he recognized features which looked familiar, somehow. And he only had to glance to the picture at the wall to refresh the memory of Gérard.
The woman watched him with an expression as if to say, Yes, have a close look, it's him! Then, aloud, she said, "Alors, Monsieur Pottère, go ahead! What are you waiting for?"
"Ahead with what?"
Madame Pouilly snorted, quite decently and very French-style. "What a question! Of course I knew who's been held prisoner down there in this dungeon! Or did you expect me denying that? ... No, I won't."
Somehow, the woman seemed ahead of him, although by now Harry had a fair guess what she was talking about.
"I had my objections," explained Madame Pouilly when Harry didn't reply, "because from what I heard, or guessed, it seemed quite unlikely that we could put them under something you might call control."
"So, had you?" managed Harry, about his first contribution to this weird conversation.
"Yes indeed, and your presence here tells me I was right, wasn't I? They escaped, called you, and you found your way up here, together with this amazon girl." At these words, the woman glanced to Laila, who guarded the outside with her back to the room - a back which seemed to straighten at this remark.
"Yes," said Harry, "that's exactly what happened."
"It's not really a surprise for me," assured Madame Pouilly, "only this whining about past times and gone children had really lost its charm, so I agreed to the plan when - er ..." The woman stopped, looking slightly startled.
Harry said, "Lady Malfoy is the name you were - looking for. Or is it Lucinda for you?"
For a slight moment, there was something almost like appreciation in Madame Pouilly's face, then she continued, "Yes, we became friends, we had enough in common, Monsieur Pottère, as you should know well by yourself ... Anyway, my objections were mainly for technical reasons, don't think I'm looking for an apology, because I don't. So finish your task."
"In doing what? Lady Malfoy isn't here yet."
"But - "
Madame Pouilly was interrupted by Laila, who had taken Harry's words as a reminder and now announced that she was going to guard the entrance, to be ready when the English lady and her dog would return from their walk.
This reminded Harry of another precaution. He stepped forward and stopped in front of Madame Pouilly.
"May I have your wand, please?"
"But why so complicated, young man?" The woman's eyebrows arched up. "Why don't you just say to me what you told Gérard?"
Without answering, Harry held his hand outstretched.
After a moment, Madame Pouilly sighed, as if accepting some inevitable nuisance. She reached for her wand and put it in Harry's hand.
"Voilà - in contrast to you, I'm really helpless without. But again, don't be afraid because of that."
Harry stored the wand in his own pocket. Then he marched to another chair and sat down to look at the woman. "No, I'm not, it's just simpler if I don't have to watch your every movement. Because - at least for the time being, I have no intention to kill you."
"Oh, really?" Genuine curiosity appeared in Madame Pouilly's face. "And why not, if I may be so bold?"
"Because you're Gérard's mother."
"And? Is there a rule that says you're allowed to kill only one from a family? Certainly not - or do you make exceptions, like this privateer captain?"
Now she really had lost him. "Madame," said Harry, "would you please explain to me what you're talking about?"
"You mean the story with the privateer captain?" There was something like amusement in the woman's face. "Why not? I'm not exactly Scheherezade, but if it helps to keep me alive ..."
This name rang a dim bell in Harry's memory, some woman who'd told fairytales day after day in order to avoid being - what? Killed? Raped? At any rate, with every moment passing, the memory of Gérard's sparkling spirit grew stronger in his mind.
"It was during the Napoleonic Wars," began Madame Pouilly. "Confronted with the superior British Navy, the French could only send privateers, fast ships with courageous captains ..." She smiled. "Any resemblance to the situation at hand is just by coincidence, Monsieur Pottère."
Yeah, only she had used this metaphor by herself, and Harry had heard enough from various Pouilly members to know it hadn't slipped her mind by accident.
"This captain in the story had bad luck," continued Madame Pouilly. "His ship was seized by a British frigate - maybe through better navigation skill, whatever, and bonmots about parallels to our own situation wear out quickly, don't they?"
Not expecting an answer, not receiving any, the woman continued, "At that time, officers treated their prisoner with some style, and the British frigate captain invited his French opponent to the dinner table as something totally natural. Well, after dinner, the table host raised his glass and said, 'I drink to French navy officers - they're all rogues and thieves - without any exception!"
Seeing the punch line bubble up in Harry's face, Madame Pouilly finished quickly, "And then the French captain took his glass and said, 'To the British navy and its officers, who are all gentlemen - well, except that I do make exceptions."
"I see," said Harry, for whom the joke indeed felt a bit spoiled from too many parallels. "And what did you mean when saying 'Certainlot not' about my own style of exceptions?"
"Oh, isn't that obvious?" Madame Pouilly showed mock astonishment. "With the Malfoy men, you kept to no such rule. Lucius Malfoy, Draco Malfoy - "
"Now wait a second!" Harry became aware that his manners lacked politeness, wasn't overly embarrassed from that. "Who told you it was me who killed them?"
"Lucinda - Madame Malfoy, of course."
"Ah, yes, that's why." His eyes staring in those of the host lady, Harry said, "Lucius Malfoy was killed by my wife, Cho Chang. It's true I would have done it by myself, only at that moment, I was busy with Voldemort. And Draco - at the time he was killed in broomstick combat by Robert, another Slytherin, I was some miles away, fighting Dementors. I missed the air attack on Hogwarts completely."
Madame Pouilly's face showed something close to consternation. For a moment, she examined Harry's face, obviously in search for truth or lie. Then she said, "I didn't know. Monsieur Pottère, might be I had to take back a remark or two; on the other hand, you're still the one who killed Gérard. So please forget what I said about two out of the same family, and tell me why the former state of being Gérard's mother seems to keep me alive."
Harry took a moment to prepare his words. "I didn't know better then," he said eventually, "and I just don't know whether I could find a better solution today. Maybe the question isn't futile, only I stopped asking myself quickly after - after this evening, because death is so final." He looked up. "At any rate, I never felt pride or satisfaction."
Madame Pouilly nodded the fraction of an inch.
"And while there was never a question for me that my doing was justified, and that I felt myself free of guilt toward Gérard, the same freedom didn't extend any further ..." Staring into Madame Pouilly's face, Harry added, "It was my intention to finish off all kidnappers of my children, and still is - only, in your case, it just doesn't work that way."
No longer as calmly as before, Madame Pouilly said, "You could find someone else for that, maybe this young - " She stopped, her face blushing. "I'm sorry, Monsieur Pottère, that was way below my own self-esteem."
"It didn't finish," replied Harry. "But there's a bit more, Madame Pouilly, and I'd like to know how much you're aware of it. Did you know that your friend Lady Malfoy is the one who killed Marie-Christine? Gérard's old love?"
The woman's pale face, staring at Harry in stunned silence, was answer enough.
"Don't ask me whether she knew, but for sure Marie-Christine Garcia was born Théroux. Ramon and Marie-Christine leave two children, one of them adopted."
"I heard ..." Madame Pouilly shook her head. "Maybe I should claim this old proverb, Il faut écraser des oeufs pour faire une omelette, and to some degree that's what I told myself, only ... No, Monsieur Pottère, I didn't know."
"They're gone," said Harry, "and may all of them rest in peace. But there are two other people, very much alive, and that's where your own involvement is almost as strong as mine, Madame Pouilly."
Despite her quick mind, the host lady had no clue what he was talking about.
"The difference," said Harry, "is exactly in the amount of just one generation. Now - does the nickel drop?"
"Pardon, Monsieur Pottère, but you find me in some emotional shock right now, that's why I seem to be at a loss ..." Madame Pouilly stopped, her eyes widening, then she stared at him in growing astonishment. "You mean ... are you talking about ..."
It was neither pleasure nor triumph, definitely no amusement; still, Harry felt an emotion close to a smile. "Madame, if you could do me the favour and keep right in that chair - it just doesn't feel appropriate to find you stunned when returning with these two, and with - "
"But yes, of course." Suddenly, Madame Pouilly looked as worried and trembling as might have been natural some minutes ago, seeing a wand with a deadly power pointing at her.
* * *
Apparating back into the dining room of Carron Lough, Sandra found the same people as before, of course except her father and Laila, and still in the same positions. Naturally so - the jumping, summoning, and jumping back had taken no more than two seconds.
Seeing the expectant faces around, she said, "That dungeons's just how we left it - nobody around."
Well, this seemed pretty much what everybody had thought, while the more interesting questions could not be answered - what would be found outside this dungeon, which people, and where had they been?
A tiny temptation crept into Sandra's mind. Why not have a look? A quick jump, still quicker back ... Glancing over to Gabriel, she saw her brother in a conversation with Michel, only at this moment, Gabriel looked up, his eyes meeting hers, and an impulse in her mind said, We promised.
Yes, unfortunately so, and this promise belonged to the kind you'd never forgive yourself when broken, even if the other side could forgive you.
A gentle air wave, and said other side stood there. Harry said, "We found a door, and now we're going to open it. There's nobody around down there." Before anyone could react, he disappeared with a soft pop.
This five-second appearance raised a discussion how Harry and Laila would do it, ending shortly afterwards with the common agreement that Harry had his way with locks, and that the events outside this dungeon would be more interesting.
Then Frédéric said, "I wonder if Thionnite is there."
"Even if not," replied Benoît, "we'll need a new teacher for Magique, so much's for sure." Into the fierce nods around, he turned to Sandra. "Say, does that woman wear that gun all the time?"
Sandra stared at him in some disbelief, hearing a question which could, at best, be explained with a childish fascination at the sight of a real sub-machine gun, maybe also with this impressive sound when Laila cocked it.
Before she could answer, Hermione, who had been sitting silently until now, said with some chuckling, "No, Benoît, she doesn't. Laila is an ex-sergeant from the Israeli army, and whenever she's with Harry, she falls back to her old habits of an ..."
Sandra was about the only one not wondering why the sentence never finished. Next moment, Hermione would have said something about an ex-Muggle, invariably raising the question how a Muggle woman could become a witch - if not from Benoît, then from Frédéric for sure. And to prevent this, Sandra had told Hermione to shut up - although not in words.
Even so, apparently Hermione felt little doubt where this cold blow had come from. She looked at Sandra with a slight trace of guilt, while otherwise quite challenged. Maybe this was the reason why she said, "By the way, Sandra, don't you think it's time to call your mother?"
Sandra didn't think so, not at all, actually. Aloud, she said, "Not yet - better to wait until Harry's back, otherwise, she's going to have a fit when she hears about him and Laila down there."
A quick glance to Gabriel told her that her brother thought the same, and from Sandra's perspective, this meant that all people with a saying in this matter had the same opinion. Well, except that Hermione still seemed chewing a bit at this sting moments ago.
Now Gabriel turned to Héloise and said, "We should call our godfathers, you Wynton and me Urion - they have to know about what Mosley did, so they can do something."
Héloise nodded. "You're right, that's much better than talking with someone from the school. And I'm going to tell Wynton about Thionnite too." She stood up, followed by Gabriel, to find a quieter spot for these phony calls, which seemed a bit difficult in this room without corners.
Hearing about godfathers, Sandra had a splendid idea. Fully aware that the competition of host versus guest and child versus adult wasn't cleared yet between herself and Hermione, she grabbed her phony and pressed a button. Hearing the questioning "Yes," she said with her eyes toward Hermione, "Hi, Rahewa. I'm in the castle - say, can you come over?"
Eye in eye with Hermione and her look of grudging approval, Sandra said, "It's about kidnapping. We might need your help."
A minute later, Rahewa stood in the room. Then she sat down. Then she looked murderous, hearing about the childrens' kidnapping. And finally, she looked furious at hearing about Harry and Laila somewhere fighting, not having bothered to call her to arms as well.
Still in this leisurely mood, Rahewa turned to Hermione and asked, "What about you? Are you waiting for some patient to cure?"
"No," replied Hermione, "I had my patient already," nodding toward Benoît. "And then, well - I didn't quite feel like returning to Hogwarts. While now, I wouldn't mind something to eat." At these words, she shot a glance toward the hosts' oldest representative in this room.
Sandra blushed a bit - not much, just enough to make Hermione feel satisfied with her return, then she used her phony to send the signal to Dobby and Winky, the house-elves.
Apparently, Hermione had spoken for a vast majority. Suddenly, everybody was sitting there quite expectantly - even Benoît seemed ready to give it a try. But then, thought Sandra, maybe he just didn't dare showing Hermione that her treatment had cured only the immediate symptoms.
Gabriel stood up, as if to leave the room. This was actually what he did, except without moving. When he returned a minute later, he really walked, entering the room through the door - in his trail Carlos, Esmeralda, and Ireen.
The newcomers had found seats, and Gabriel was in full swing to break the news toward them, his choice of words obviously with the focus on the two five-year-olds, when the air trembled again. Then Cho stood there and looked around.
"Hey! How come I wasn't invited?"
Hermione saw her chance. "I did my best, only - " She stopped, starting a serious fit of coughing, at the same time trying to send a glare to Sandra.
Who felt totally innocent, gloating nonetheless, in particular since she knew the real culprit, actually a very close relative of hers, despite the fact of his attention hanging at his mother.
Cho said, "Doctor, cure yourself, huh?" Then she looked around again and asked, "Where's Harry? And where's that mad Muggle called Laila?"
Sandra twisted inwardly. After all her efforts to hide this secret from two guests, it was blown by her own mother. Well, maybe Frédéric hadn't noticed, except that all his senses were running overtime watching an upset-looking witch with remarkable features, somewhat Chinese.
Gabriel said, "Sit down, Mum, then we'll explain to you."
Cho looked at her son, inhaling, probably about to tell him that her own choice of sequence might be somewhat different. At this moment, she registered something which made her stop, and following her mother's glance, Sandra saw it too - Carlos and Esmeralda, staring at Cho wide-eyed.
Much calmer, Cho said, "Hello, my little ones. Did I scare you?"
Two heads went from left to right in unison. Then Carlos said, "No - er, only, we thought you were dead."
"Why should I - " Cho stopped and looked at her son, then at her daughter, worry growing in her face.
Gabriel reached her and took her hand. "We've been kidnapped, San and Hély and Michel and I. But we could free ourselves, and Dad and Laila are where we've been." He spoke fast, although quite measured. "I guess that's why they thought - they saw us back, and Dad gone, and you nowhere around." Gabriel turned to the two Garcia children. "But he didn't go to deliver money, so that's something totally different."
A pale Cho, guided by her son, found a seat of her own, let her eyes wander from one face to the other, to rest a moment longer at Frédéric and Benoît. Then she asked, "Since when?"
Various people hurried to tell her what they considered the best answer, with versions ranking from just a few minutes to quite a while already.
Cho turned to Héloise. "Does your mother know you're here?"
"No, not yet."
"Then why don't you call her, to tell her you're back save?"
Quite impressed from Cho's shrill voice, Héloise replied, "Because - er, she doesn't even know about the kidnapping."
Cho gasped. Then she shook her head, maybe toward herself, managed the smaller half of a smile. "Sorry, Hély. I'm ... Anyway, call her and tell her to come over."
Héloise took her phony out. Watched by everybody, she said, "Maman? ... Yes, we're here in the castle, and Cho says you should come over ... Because - er, um, can't you just come over and we tell you here?"
Fleur could. She appeared in the dining room, said hello, and when she saw a sick-looking Cho, she hurried over. "What's with you, my dear?"
"Our children have been kidnapped."
Fleur's head snapped up. After another look around, seeing two Weasleys alive and unharmed, in a round looking very much complete while not quite, she asked, "And now 'arry is 'unting them, am I right?" Not waiting for an answer, she sat down at Cho's side, an arm around the smaller woman, and turned to Sandra. "Who's with 'im?"
Fleur remembered something she'd seen in the round, glanced in that direction. "And why not you, Ra'ewa?"
"Because they didn't let me!" came the glaring reply.
* * *
Frédéric's senses were indeed working overtime. He felt almost at a loss to decide where to look, where to listen, and what to await more anxiously. The only constant factor - he kept eating, slowly so, which for him, a veteran of upper-class French dinners, took no effort at all.
There was Sandra's mother. Just counting this woman, Frédéric would have had enough to watch. Also to wait for - some minute soon, the uproar here would be settled sufficiently to address another interesting point - Frédéric's family name.
Then there was Sandra's godmother. Toward her as well, Frédéric wished the moment of his proper introduction was already past, and in some sense, he wished this was another day. He had no intention whatsoever to miss a second of what was happening here - only then, he might find an opportunity to ask this woman - the same who once had held a knife at his late uncle's throat.
And then of course Sandra's father and this woman with the gun. They couldn't be watched, they could only be awaited, and with every minute passing, the tension grew in the dining room.
Currently, the united forces of Potter and Weasley children finished their reports to two mothers, who had listened together although with quite different expressions in their faces. Héloise's mother stood up, marched straight to Frédéric's place, and said, "You were magnificent, Frédéric - you lost no time striking alarm." Then she bent down and planted a kiss at his right cheek, and another at his left.
Which wasn't unusual in general, while from a quarter-Veela, under the eyes of Sandra and her mother ... Frédéric blushed. "That was nothing - all that counts is that they could free themselves."
Madame Weasley smiled. "Now this answer's totally out of bounds for someone with your origin. Come on, let me introduce you." She grabbed his hand and steered him to Madame Potter's place.
"Cho, this young man with the amazingly quick mind comes from a family not totally unknown to yourself. Please meet - Frédéric Pouilly."
Frédéric watched the rapid sequence of emotions passing through this beautiful face in front of him. Somehow it felt impolite, just staring, speechless, except it was true. Then these green eyes pierced into his own, and Madame Potter said, "Good evening, Frédéric. You didn't come for revenge, did you?"
"Er - no, Madame."
A sparkling grew in her eyes. "Then tell me, who picked whom?"
A truthful answer would have been, Frédéric picked the Potters in general, Benoît picked a seat at a table, Sandra picked a late arrival, and then one thing gave the other - only, somehow this answer struck Frédéric as quite lame and entirely inappropriate.
Madame Potter smiled. "So it must be fate, huh?" Not waiting for an answer, she added, "And Harry knows of course, doesn't he?"
Frédéric was still trying to figure out if this had been a question to be answered, fully aware that somehow this would be like ratting out on Sandra, when he felt a wave in the air and saw Madame Potter look up, heard her saying, "Talking of the devil ..."
He just found the time for turning his head, then Sandra's father was already coming over to his wife, and again Frédéric felt like an impolite spectator, because Monsieur Potter kissed his wife, whereupon Madame Potter glared at her husband and said, "Wait till we're alone." Then Monsieur Potter smiled, nodded, and straightened to address the full circle.
"Laila is well," were his first words. "She's guarding a door and waits for a lady with a dog. There's little time - I came here to fetch two people ..."
Frédéric felt the man's eyes turn to himself.
"... you, Frédéric" - Monsieur Potter turned a bit - "and you, Sandy."
A moment before, Frédéric would have confirmed any time that Madame Potter's look could be rated as glaring. However, what he could watch now degraded the former attempt to a pleasant remark.
Monsieur Potter held his wife's stare. "For a little conversation with a French lady, in order to avoid some unnecessary fighting."
French lady? Frédéric had a dim feeling, which lost its dimness by the second. Only now Sandra was at his side and grabbed his hand.
Contrary to Frédéric's expectation, this shout hadn't come from Sandra's mother. A figure hurried around the table, reached their group, and said, "A dog? Then you need a dog too, fighting fire with fire."
However, all Frédéric could see was Sandra's godmother. Yes, and a beaming in Sandra's face.
Saving breath as well as time, Monsieur Potter said, "I'm going to summon all of you into a hall - no need to climb all these stairs." He disappeared, then Sandra's godmother disappeared ...
... and next moment, Frédéric stood in a hall he recognized at once, still more so as it matched perfectly with his expectation since a few seconds.
Sandra appeared at his side. Her father turned to him and said, "Frédéric - Rahewa and I will be downstairs. I guess you know the way." Then he and Sandra's godmother lost no time to disappear down the staircase.
Frédéric looked at Sandra, then took her hand. "My grandma ... Come on." Walking forward, he felt his own hand pressed gently.
He reached the door and knocked. Having heard an "Entrez" from inside, he opened and stepped into the room, then stopped.
"Salut, Grand-Maman. I want to introduce my friend to you. Grand-Maman, this is Sandra Potter ..." With growing reproach, he added, "... and this is the second time she's in this castle."
Madame Pouilly twisted like under a blow. Then, with some trembling in her voice, she said, "I know, Frédéric, although only for a few minutes, about you and ..." She tried to steady, with limited success, then said pleadingly, "Could you forgive me enough to deliver a proper welcome?"
Frédéric stepped forward and grabbed her shoulders to plant kisses on both cheeks. Straightening again, he asked, "How could you?"
Looking considerably better than a second before, his grandmother grimaced. "Well, maybe that's what I'm asking myself right now. On the other hand, you didn't tell me a word, did you?"
Before Frédéric could overcome his bafflement, the woman stood up and came to Sandra. "I don't know how to apologize," she said. "At any rate, ma chère - trés enchanté, and I can only hope your friendship with my grandson will help you to forgive me."
Sandra asked, "So you're Gérard's mother?"
"Yes, Sandra. The picture over there, that's him."
Sandra looked at the picture for a moment, then at Frédéric, maybe to compare features, then back to Madame Pouilly.
"Would you forgive my father?"
"We had a conversation. As short as it was, I already think we should have met years ago." Frédéric's grandmother nodded, "Yes, ma jeune, probably it will take some more conversations to break old patterns, while at the same time, I'm already looking forward to them ... And I'm sure, getting visits from you two will speed up the process considerably."
Watching Sandra, Frédéric couldn't help thinking his own forgiving might score second in sequence after hers. And now Sandra said, "Well, then there's just one thing left ..."
Frédéric couldn't think of anything by himself. He felt his grandmother's questioning look and raised his eyebrows to tell her he didn't know more.
"Where are our wands? Mine, Gabriel's, Héloise's, and Michel's. Having them ready would improve matters, Madame, because I could imagine I should fetch them now, so it's one wash-up."
Frédéric started to grin. Seeing his grandmother's blank look, he said, "Sandra can apparate and summon. Say, how did you ever think this - "
He stopped, and grinned broader. "Forget it, Grand-Maman." Turning to Sandra, he said, "And bring Benoît with you, too."
* * *
Coming downstairs, Rahewa in his trail, Harry saw how Laila readjusted the gun in her hands. No doubt - until a second before, when she recognized him, the gun had been pointing in his direction.
When they reached her, Laila grinned at Rahewa. "Am I glad to find you here."
"Why? Did something happen while - "
"No, no," interrupted Laila quickly, "everything's been quiet. It's just - imagine, each time we three would meet, those endless complaints about keeping you out of the fun."
Rahewa couldn't really laugh about this joke and looked a bit self-conscious, however saw no reason to deny the accuracy of Laila's remark. Then she asked for some more details about how funny it had really been, and Laila did her the favour by summarizing the fatal facts. Only then, Laila asked how things stood some levels higher in this castle.
"Pretty calm," replied Harry, "maybe except for some emotions. I summoned Frédéric, because he's her grandson, and Sandra, because she's Frédéric's - er, classmate, and left them to sort things out."
Laila stared at him. "Preparing for family relations, Harry?"
"Listen, I killed her son fourteen years ago. And today she gave some support in kidnapping my own children. Well - I'm ready to say we're quids. She doesn't belong to the same category as the lady we're waiting for. Any sign from her?"
"No." After a moment, Laila said, "In your own and unspectacular way, Harry, you're somewhat breathtaking, which doesn't mean I won't agree. Anyway, how do you want it played here?"
The first answer came from Rahewa. "It's played with me outside and as a dog."
Seeing the questioning faces, not offering much agreement so far, she explained, "That woman has a dog with her, and for all I know, this dog's a weapon by itself, and can be kept at bay with another dog best. And in addition, I'll sense them earlier than you here inside - "
Harry interrupted her. "If Lady Malfoy sees a dog she never saw before at this castle, she'll be extremely suspicious."
Rahewa looked at him as if this had been a deadly insult, normally requiring something drastic, and only their good relationship, taking into account Sandra and whatnot, had saved Harry from an unpleasant experience.
After a moment, they agreed - Rahewa would be outside, would give them a warning signal in time, and would appear on the scene to keep the dog busy when Lady Malfoy came into full view from inside.
"I hope it's a male one," said Rahewa, "then it's simpler."
A grinning Laila agreed to that, while she showed no intention to let Rahewa out at this door - despite her obvious interest in seeing Rahewa shrink to a dog. So Rahewa marched down the hall to find another exit, smaller and out of view from some distance.
Two minutes later, Harry and Laila could hear a sniffing outside, some scraping, and a short whining like from a welp. Then it was quiet again; Rahewa as dog hadn't appeared once in their view, which meant it hadn't appeared in anyone else's view either.
"That's some girl," said Laila when it was sure they would not see Rahewa before she found reason to strike alarm.
"Well," replied Harry, "she thinks of herself as a woman - but of course, I have to admit, from your perspective, with that significant difference in age ..." He let the sentence hang in the air, not gaining an answer.
A few minutes later, though, Laila said, "It's a matter of spirit. I never felt as young and free as Rahewa. Maybe I was too young when joining the army."
Thinking about a corpse not lying far away, Harry said, "Maybe it has to do with some memories, and that's why I didn't call her in first place."
"Yeah ..." Laila showed a smile while glancing through the small window that was found in the wall next to the door. "You have to pay for everything, and sometimes you get a reward." Barely having finished the sentence, she said with a totally different voice, "There she is!" Seeing Harry's expression, she added quckly, "I mean Rahewa, but then it's probably a matter of seconds."
Harry stood at the door. "Keep watching. If Lady Malfoy comes into view, come over - for this door, our roles are switched."
Apparently, Laila had already come to the same conclusion. Moments later, her voice flat and monotonous like that of an observation post, she said, "Woman with dog ... fifty yards away." Laila came to the door and grabbed the handle. "I'd say at zero it's the right time." Then she started to count from twenty-five backward"
Harry stood with his wand ready.
Laila had come down to nine when a single, sharp barking could be heard from outside. Before Harry could issue a word, Laila had caught the message herself and pulled the door open.
There was a black dog, standing in front of a black-yellow dog - German shepherd, by the look of it. A woman was staring at the two dogs. Before Harry could say anything, the woman, not even turning to the door, disappeared.
But Harry had been prepared. Remembering another game in this style, he followed ...
... and came out at a spot that seemed not far away, maybe hundred yards, under some trees, probably with the castle entrance in view, a good place to watch - provided they turned.
Which the woman did, right now. Feeling anticipation in her, small wonder at such closeness, feeling also a kind of resignation, Harry let her come around and have a look at him.
"Lady Malfoy," he said, "we have to talk, but not here." His wand already pointing, he added, "Stupefy!"
* * *
Aram'chee, High Priestess of the Wizarding World, looked around. The room resembled a court room very much, with herself sitting on a large chair, higher than the others, almost a throne, with two other chairs below, for the plaintiff and the defendant, and with some wooden benches for the spectators. Probably the room had been used for exactly the same purpose at a time when Carron Lough had hosted a lord, rather than the Potter family.
The man sitting in the chair to Aram'chee's right was Harry Potter. Calling him the head of the family might count as a faux-pas, and calling him the oldest was wrong for sure, however he was the oldest male and also the one who had awakened her a while ago, claiming her help.
In the left chair sat a women. Her name, as Aram'chee had been told, was Lucinda Narcissa Malfoy. The woman showed her age more than necessary, in a way. Somewhere around sixty, with a face reminding of past beauty, less than it could be with this expression showing a mix of contempt and sullenness.
The benches were filled with about two dozen people. Not all of them were adults - Aram'chee counted eight children, half of them unknown to her, while the other four included Sandra, her planned successor, and Sandra's brother Gabriel.
Shaking off thoughts of personal relationships with a routine she hadn't used in quite a while, the High Priestess said, "The High Court of the Wizarding World is ready to listen. Plaintiff, express your complaint."
Harry Potter stood up. Before he could issue a word, the woman in the other chair called, "What charade is this? High Court? That's ridiculous."
"Lucinda Narcissa Malfoy," said the High Priestess, "I will excuse this remark with your ignorance. Note, though, that any further violation of this court's honour will be punished instantly."
"So, will it?" The woman stared at her with a kind of uncertain defiance. "Who are you, to claim such an authority?"
"I am the High Priestess of the Wizarding World. This title is equivalent to the High Court."
"Ah, yes, of course." The woman looked sneering. "And I'm the Queen of Saba, so - "
From a strictly objective perspective, this hadn't really been an insult to the court, while Aram'chee couldn't help noticing that for sure it had been an insult to the real queen, from that woman, and besides, it would shorten the procedure considerably to clarify a few things now.
The woman's eyes widened. For a short moment, her face showed agony, then she issued a gasp, an finally leaned back in her chair, next moment presenting sweat in an otherwise chalk-white face.
The High Priestess asked, "Do you accept this small punishment as my credentials, Lucinda Narcissa Malfoy?"
The face staring at her still looked scared to death, then recovered a bit. "If you are the judge, then where's my lawyer?"
"You confuse the High Court with the pest-ridden institutions of the outside world," said the High Priestess, "be it Magical or Muggle. There is no need for such a person, as I am your advocate as much as your judge. Note, though, that this claim would count as another insult to the court - however, with respect to your lack of knowledge, and to show you how I take care of your rights, you shall be excused."
Another short wave of fright flickered through the woman's face. The High Priestess turned to Harry Potter, who had kept standing during the short interruption, and nodded. "Speak, plaintiff."
Harry Potter turned to the other chair. "I accuse this woman of murder in one case and kidnapping in seven cases. I blame her for another death in the course of these kidnappings. In addition, I charge her with motives behind her doing that are dictated by racism, a belief of superiority over other humans, and a treatment of contemptuous inferiority toward them. Finally, I ask the High Court to confirm or deny that these motives stand in total conflict to the goals accepted, supported, and pursued by yourself, High Priestess." He sat down.
The High Priestess turned to the woman. "What is your reply, defendant?"
"Maybe it would be interesting to see some evidence, Your Honour, or hear about. As long as this man is just telling stories, I don't see any reason to comment on them."
From one word to the next, the woman's voice had gained security. Now she looked as if to say, If you want to waste our time, fine with me.
The High Priestess said, "Lucinda Narcissa Malfoy, you still do not understand the purpose of this court. If you agree to the facts, we don't need to bother with details of when and where. Let me remind you again, this is no playground for over-subtlety and no audience for meaningless formalism. On the other hand, if you contradict the claimed motives, then we might reach the point that is more essential here."
The woman shot a furtive glance. "And what if I had my own list of complaints against him? What if I'm plaintiff myself?"
"You are entitled to that. You are free in your reply. Speak, Lucinda Narcissa Malfoy."
The woman inhaled deeply. With a hateful look toward the other chair, she said, "Well, then ... I charge this man with murder in - er, three significant cases at the minimum. He's the one to blame for the corruption of the wizarding world, its opening to Muggles and their despisable tools. He's guilty of - " The woman stopped and gasped, then looked with refreshed horror to the High Priestess.
"Lucinda Narcissa Malfoy, I am the only judge and the only one with the authority to call anyone guilty. You might watch your words - while otherwise, you might continue."
"Er - yes, Your Honour ... High Priestess. This man, and other people with him, have poisoned millions of Muggle children, or drugged them, to let them sneak into the wizarding world, under the pretense of having magical power. Even if they have, this can only be a borrowed quality, not worth to deserve the true reputation of wizards and witches who inherited their magic by blood. And these kidnappings - yes, they were done as a desperate attempt to stop this man and his cronies, because they are - "
This time, the woman stopped by herself, after a quick glance toward the High Priestess. Calmer, she added, "Seen in this light, my doing is fully just - " Stopping again, barely in time, she corrected herself and said, "I did what I did to preserve the magical world from these bad influences, in favour of a value that counts higher than common law."
The High Priestess turned to the other side. "Harry Potter, plaintiff and defendant at the same time, what is your reply?"
"Before answering in full, High Priestess, I want to hear of which three significant murders I'm accused by Lady Malfoy."
Not waiting for allowance to speak, the woman shrieked, "Which three? As if you didn't know! My husband Lucius, my son Draco, and Gérard Pouilly, the son of my dear friend, Madame Pouilly!"
Another elderly woman in the background stood up and called, "High Court, I protest against this charge! I am Madame Pouilly, and I claim my own right to represent my son's case - if and when I feel the need."
The woman in the defendant's chair had turned to stare at the other woman, for a short moment showing utter disbelief in her face. Then, as though having found an explanation, she turned to the man in the plaintiff's chair, borderless hate in her face. Apparently, only the memory of the punishment minutes ago kept her from spitting insults.
Harry Potter said, "Lucius Malfoy was killed by Cho Chang, today my wife. I would have done it myself, only I was busy fighting Voldemort at that moment. Draco Malfoy was killed by a student in the Flying Squad. I know his name, but since this isn't relevant here, suffice it to say it wasn't me. Both members of the Malfoy family came to attack the school of Hogwarts and their people, and both died in this battle - "
He paused because the woman had turned again to look around and stare at the raised arm and the teeth-baring smile of Cho Chang-Potter.
"As for the opening between the wizarding and the Muggle world, the one to blame is Voldemort. It's his work, and it is irreversible. In order to avoid the war between these two worlds, a war that would have come invariably, we started efforts to unite both worlds by making as many children as possible magical. We - this includes wizards, witches, this includes in particular the entire Goblin community, and we did it with the permission and the support of you, High Priestess."
Following his look, the woman stared to the raised chair.
"As for the arguments regarding pure blood and which magical power is true or not, I'm not the one to be asked. For all my knowledge, magic is magic is magic, and any such person is under a higher law of which you, High Priestess, are the representative."
The woman stared in disbelief. "You supported this - this conspiracy? And you claim to be a representative of some higher law? Then you're worse than all the others!"
The High Priestess had found her decision already before - in some sense, this exchange had only been a final confirmation for herself. She said, "Lucinda Narcissa Malfoy, as you cannot accept my judgement, I will release you from what puts you under this particular law."
She raised her hand. "From now on, you are no longer bound by the rules of the magical world."
"What ... what does it mean?" The woman looked at her, a new worry in her face.
"You have lost your magic. You are a Muggle woman now."
"Me? Ha! Never! If I had my wand, I could show you ..." The woman stopped, staring at a wand that floated through the air into her hands. She took it and said, "Look here!" Then she whooshed it through the air.
The woman tried again, murmured, tried once more, in growing desperation. She looked up, her face distorted in a grimace. "You took my magic? You really did?"
"I did," said the High Priestess.
With an inarticulate outcry, the woman shot forward. She reached the High Priestess, her wand gesticulating, pointing. "You ... you dare ... you bloody bitch ..."
The High Priestess snatched the wand from her and turned it.
"I warned you," she said. "You didn't listen as a witch, still less as a Muggle. So I'll send you to a higher authority than I am."
"Oh, really, is there any?" snarled the woman. "So you're not the highest judge?"
"No," replied the High Priestess, "of course I'm not." She pointed with the woman's wand right into the face distorted by hate.
* * *
Christophe Thionnay, Magique Générale teacher at the Beauxbatons school and member of a less public circle, stood in the classroom behind his table - about to perform his official job, though all the time thinking about his secret one.
Because at this moment, the students were entering the classroom, and for all Thionnay knew - and dearly hoped - one table would remain empty.
For half of this table's occupants, he felt sure. He had delivered them personally, and the method for catching them, as cleverly as it had been plotted, still was topped by the trick used to take them out of the school buildings. Not a spectacular one, because nobody had been given a chance to watch, or to recognize afterwards, however complicated and a masterpiece of magical skill.
And simple, in a way, like all excellent tricks. The apparition lock in Beauxbatons was the work of several experienced wizards and witches - with him as one of them. With this knowledge, he had found a way to disable his own part for a few minutes, and to repair the damage quickly afterwards.
Of course - in these few minutes, anyone trying by accident would have detected the malfunction. Only who would do that? And for all Thionnay knew, nobody had made this mistake, so to speak.
Other things had worked less well. Returning to Beauxbatons, he had found no trace of the two boys, so far not quite as agreed beforehand, however less disquieting than the other way around. And a visit at Madame Balmier, the Librarian, had confirmed that the little poisoning spell had put them out of combat. But since then, nobody had contacted him, and this was the disquieting part.
Thionnay knew, contacting them at the wrong time could have disastrous effects, so he didn't try. He paid with the nerve-racking uncertainty and loneliness of the undercover agent who had been forced to compromise himself, and now was waiting to be taken out of the cold.
This cold existed only in the metaphorical sense, because here in the classroom, it seemed quite hot, at least Thionnay felt that way. An instant later, however, the heat on his sweaty temples contrasted with a very unpleasant coldness that crept up his spine, so much so that a moment later, the fine drops on his forehead felt like ice: just when Thionnay thought the last student would close the door behind himself, the door was held by someone outside, and this someone entered the classroom, followed by three more students.
Benoît Malavin. Frédéric Pouilly. Héloise Weasley. Sandra - er, Chang.
The four of them looked at him before reaching their table, and Thionnay desperately wished he could ask a neutral observer whether this particular expression in their eyes had been only in his own imagination.
What did this mean?
He glanced over again, back to the rest of the class, let his glance go round with some effort - they were sitting quietly, looking at him expectantly. Well, so did the rest of the class.
It could only mean that the negotiations had been settled much quicker than expected, because otherwise these four wouldn't sit that quietly, just doing nothing. Or would they?
No, it made no sense otherwise. The Potter daughter alone - hadn't there been some agreement, some clause that protected him as well as others, that girl would give him hell right now. Thionnay could muster a lot of professional pride and ranked himself quite high with his magical skill, but he wasn't going to believe he could stand a competition by sheer force with her. Experience, yes, and cleverness ...
He exhaled. "Messieurs'dames, please let us repeat the last exercise, so we can - "
No - couldn't be, somehow. No matter how quickly the agreement could have been reached - the planning had been different; without at least one of them as hostage, the risk was too high ... And how they were looking at him - expectantly, yes, only Thionnay couldn't help thinking the event they were waiting for would be started by someone else, rather than himself.
And now, while the noise level grew from other students taking out books and papers and wands, these four kept sitting in the chairs, arms folded, staring at him, motionless ...
They were waiting for someone!
"... erm, please excuse me for a moment - I forgot the thing we'll need today, just try the spell we've been working at again until I'm back from my office." Thionnay made a first step, reaching into his pocket as if feeling around for his office key, in the corner of his vision this table ...
No, they didn't try to stop him, were still sitting calmly, although maybe more expectant than a second before.
He reached the door with the wand in his hand.
Where to go? He didn't know yet, all he knew, this place here was dangerous ground, to be left as quickly as possible. Thionnay opened the door and stepped out.
The door closed behind him without his own doing. A hand with astonishingly long fingers, and incredibly strong ones, pressed his own hand painfully - the one that was holding his wand, except no longer because another of these hands pulled the wand out.
A Goblin - large for a Goblin, almost a rectangular shape, so broad-shouldered was this figure in what Thionnay now recognized as a battle dress. And a second Goblin stood his side, in a more elegant suit ...
... and a young woman, who made a step, staring into Thionnay's face, a hard stare for such a face, now splitting into a thin smile.
"I'm Sandra's godmother," said the woman, "and for some reason you might be glad of, Monsieur Thionnay, I lost the race."
Race? What race?
"That's why my only role here is to replace you in class." The woman's smile went broader, although not friendlier. "But only for today's class, Monsieur Thionnay - which you might not confuse with the idea the next one would be yours again."
The woman opened the door and went inside. Thionnay could hear her first "Salut" before his attention returned to the two Goblins in front of him.
The one in the battle dress pushed him forward while not leaving from his side, not letting go of his hand feeling numb, so Thionnay couldn't even decide whether the Goblin's grip was as hard as before. The other Goblin took step at his other side.
"What - "
The Goblins stopped, and Thionnay followed the example, without contributing much of his own will. The slender Goblin in the elegant suit turned to him.
"And I'm Héloise's godfather, Monsieur Thionnay. I didn't win the race either, I only scored second."
The broad-shouldered Goblin said, "The race who'll be first, Monsieur Thionnay, what else? By the way, I'm Gabriel Potter's godfather, and let me tell you, your colleague Monsieur Mosley at the Goblins school and I, we together won the race."
Thionnay had recovered enough to say, "Well, congratulations, and if you could - "
"No, we couldn't," interrupted the slender Goblin, "because we need you, Monsieur Thionnay. You and I, we'll watch."
"And listen - yes, we'll listen also, you will listen, Monsieur Thionnay. To what? Well, to what can be heard when Gabriel's godfather will have his conversation with Monsieur Mosley."
Thionnay felt numbness climb his mind - a merciful reaction, because the cold horror at the thought of being in the hands of these two was unbearable.
"While watching," interrupted the broad-shouldered Goblin his thoughts, "you will wish you were dead, because the same is waiting for you, once we're finished with Monsieur Mosley. Then it will be your turn, and at that time, you'll be too preoccupied with other emotions to express something as clear as a wish."
Thionnay had a clear wish already - that the numbness in his mind would grow stronger, and that he could be sure his body functions wouldn't betray him here in this corridor.
"But this wish will return," said the slender Goblin now, "and because your treachery wasn't committed at a Goblin school, we don't see any reason to object that."
The Goblin showed a smile that made Thionnay feel like screaming.
"So rest assured, Monsieur l'Ex-Professeur Thionnay - your wish will be fulfilled ... eventually."