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Harry Potter and the Years of Rebellion
The Typhoon Tycoon
By Mike [FP]
Fics begun in 2003 (post-OOTP)
THE TYPHOON TYCOON
“Tun-de-ray,” Harry said. The tip of his wand gave a sickly flicker. A small clay figure set atop his small dining table trembled and then went still. He went back to the faded book that Flitwick had loaned him. “No, that's not it,” he murmured.
Tundere / tutudi
Two companion spells used by apothecaries to separate and reduce various raw ingredients to granules (tundere) or pulp (tutudi). The wand movement for both spells requires a slight variation on the Bachman Waggle, whereby the right rotation is reversed. Neither spell will act upon a living animal or conjured ingredient.
Harry gave his wand the designated waggle and pronounced, “Too-too-dee.” A sharp yellow beam lanced out and reduced the figure to dust. He scratched his head and wondered aloud, “Wrong rotation?” Sometimes it's all in the pronunciation, he reminded himself as he set a second figure into place. Let's try Tundere again.
“Tun-DAY-ray,” he called out, and the figure fell into a pile of several hundred equally sized pieces. Satisfied with the result, he cast Reparo. The pieces stayed in place without so much as a shudder. He set his wand on the table in disgust and quickly paged through the book.
“Strange... but if that's what it says... Finite incantatum. Reparo,” he said. The second clay figure quickly reformed.
Harry stood before his sofa with some trepidation, and said to himself, “All right, Filius, you thought I might be able to do this, so... Tundere!” The sofa vibrated rapidly and then fell into six good-sized piles of small pieces. He fell to his knees from the effort. His sofa had been neatly sorted into three different fabrics, two sorts of wood and a pile of metal bits.
“Finite incantatum. Reparo,” he said, and the pieces whirled about until they took the rough shape of a sofa. Rather than joining together, they simply hung there and wobbled. Harry happened to open his hand. Two loose granules flew free, and his sofa regained its form in an instant. That's a twitchy spell, he thought; you need every single bit in order to reverse it. He supposed that an apothecary didn't have much call to restore an ingredient already reduced to small pieces or pulp.
Flitwick had opened Harry's eyes to the idea of using spells for wholly unintended purposes. Tundere could clear a fallen boulder. Tutudi could turn the ground beneath an opponent's feet into something resembling quicksand – at least when the Charms professor cast it. Remembering one's options in the heat of the moment was another matter entirely. In a dozen practice duels, he had yet to last more than two minutes against Flitwick.
Harry dragged himself off the floor and fell heavily onto the sofa, which promptly fell into a thousand pieces. He landed on one shoulder against the granular remains of the sofa's metal frame and let out a loud “Oof!” His wand buzzed as someone passed through the simple perimeter ward he had cast in the stairwell. With a wince, he pulled himself up from the floor once again. Someone pounded roughly on the door and he made ready.
“You all right in there? I thought the roof was caving in!” Detheridge called out.
“What kind of wand do you have?” Harry returned.
“I'm not the only one who could tell you that, but I'll play along. Six inches, redwood and horned owl feather,” Detheridge said, and then added with a grumble, “and you'd better not be setting me up for a wand joke. I've heard enough about my six-inch horny owl to last a lifetime.”
Harry had no doubt it was Detheridge. “I'm all right; no worries,” he laughed through the door.
After a few silent moments, Detheridge asked, “So can I come in or are you busy? Just because there's no tie on the door doesn't mean there's no bra on the floor, you know?” Harry spluttered something unintelligible and flung open the door.
The Defence professor loped inside and said with a shake of his head, “You're too easy to wind up. When I was your age -”
“I really don't want to know,” Harry cut him off.
Detheridge's eyes widened. “Why did you kill your couch?” he asked.
“Couch? Oh, the sofa! I was practicing spells for Filius,” Harry said sheepishly.
Detheridge sifted a handful of granules. “It sure wasn't a Reductor curse – not a mark on them... what on Earth did you cast?”
“Tundere – it's an apothecary spell,” explained Harry.
Detheridge let the granules scatter and laughed, “Leave it to Flitwick; I'll bet he'd duel you with a Hedge Trimming charm just to mix things up!” Harry's hand automatically went to his hair and Detheridge laughed even more loudly.
“You don't have to duel him every other day,” Harry complained.
“I thought I'd catch a late breakfast downstairs,” Detheridge said. “Join me. We need to talk.”
Harry checked his watch. “I have Croaker in an hour and he's firm about time.”
Detheridge muttered something about a sharp stick that Harry couldn't quite make out, and then said, “I'd say we could go up to the castle for a bite, but Rosie would skin me alive if I didn't stop for at least one meal a day.”
“Rosie?” Harry asked.
“Sorry... Madam Rosmerta to you,” Detheridge said.
“Er... never knew she was called Rosie...” Harry mumbled.
“Enough of that – there's a lot to cover,” said Detheridge. “You're meeting Keith MacLeish tomorrow, is that right?”
“What of it?” Harry asked as he set his wards and descended the stairs. “Do you know him?”
“I've worked for him a time or two... wouldn't say I know him, exactly,” Detheridge said.
Harry perked up immediately. “What's he like?” he asked. Detheridge motioned for Harry to hold his question. He gave Madam Rosmerta a roguish smirk; to Harry's shock, her cheeks reddened before she waved them to an open table.
“All right,” Detheridge said as they took seats, “you want to know about MacLeish. I'll tell you what I can.”
Harry stammered, “Wha... but... you... she...?” and leant his head toward Rosmerta, who was making for them with a large plate and a bowl.
“I thought you didn't want to know,” Detheridge said. “Besides, I'm a gentleman -”
“The hell you are,” Rosmerta purred as she set the plate before Detheridge. She looked to Harry and asked, “What would you care to eat, dear? Nothing as odd as this one, I'll wager.”
“I like my Wheaties, thank you, and I have shown my appreciation for your efforts,” Detheridge pouted. Rosmerta gave a very unladylike snort in reply.
“I'll have whatever is easiest for you,” Harry said.
“So like your mother, you are,” said Rosmerta with a smile. “That would be tea and scones... unless you fancy some of that tree bark Marcus favours?”
Harry peered past Detheridge's eggs and rasher of bacon and into the bowl. “Erm... do I have to?” he asked.
“It's good for you,” Detheridge protested. “Fine, but you're drinking orange juice at least. I don't know how you people drink anything that comes from a pumpkin – blech!”
“I figured that pumpkin juice was just a wizarding thing, you know? You don't drink it in America, then?” Harry asked.
“No one with taste buds does!” Detheridge answered immediately. “It's definitely an English thing... like marmite.” He shuddered and his mouth wrinkled up.
“I'll grant you that one,” admitted Harry.
Rosmerta shuffled off to fetch Harry tea, scones and orange juice, and Detheridge returned to the matter at hand. “So... MacLeish. Let me see... he's about McGonagall's age, but looks a bit younger. He went to Hogwarts, but he's had one foot and half the other in the ordinary world for as long as I've heard tell. His magical family is on his mother's side -”
“So his dad was a Muggle?” Harry cut in.
Detheridge explained, “His father was a newspaperman in Australia, and that's where MacLeish made his money at first. He bought up ordinary newspapers all over the world, and moved into TV after that – you know, the 'telly'?” When Harry nodded, he went on, “MacLeish owns satellites – they're the things up in space that bounce the TV shows around the world. He does something or another with telephones, too. Anyway, he started buying up the wizarding papers a few years ago, and wizarding radio – wireless, you folks call it.”
“Right, then – so he's rich. Why does everyone hate him so – is it over the money? What's his interest in me, do you think?” asked Harry.
Detheridge rubbed his chin. “I don't rightly understand why he's interested in you... never have... but the rest? It comes down to two things. First and most important, he thinks we should reveal ourselves to the rest of the world.”
“What? That's bloody mad!” Harry squawked.
“A lot of wizards agree with you,” Detheridge said with a shrug. “MacLeish's point is that we won't be able to hide much longer, not without a lot more effort. Wizards in America understand that. The kind of secrecy you'd need would turn everything on its head – we're just too integrated there. The second reason is more of an English thing... a European thing, I guess. We just don't care all that much about bloodlines. See, MacLeish... he goes out of his way to lift up new wizards, poor wizards, creatures, even squibs; he's well known for it. I figure that's why I didn't last. You'd call me a pureblood here – I go back a good ten generations.”
“Well, I can't fathom revealing the wizarding world, but the rest... look, I'd probably do the same in his place,” Harry admitted.
“Then you might want to think about living somewhere else,” Detheridge returned. “Now if you really want the skinny on MacLeish, then you sit yourself down with Lucia.”
Harry's jaw instantly tightened. “I don't want to talk with that woman about anything,” he snapped.
Detheridge snorted and said, “Oh, grow up.”
“Marcus -” Harry started to complain.
Detheridge shook his head. “Don't 'Marcus' me,” he said. “Lucia's smart, she's savvy, she's rich, she knows MacLeish inside and out, she knows some awfully sophisticated magic, and your friend Granger leans on her. Now she isn't perfect, and neither are you. Do you want to burn the next year butting heads with her? I figure she can be your ally or your enemy, and there won't be a lot of middle ground. You're a couple of stubborn mules.”
“You don't know what she -” Harry started.
Detheridge set his spoon down hard. “No, I don't know – don't need to know,” he said. “You don't have to forgive her – you don't even need to like her – but you have to work with her. You need to work with me, with Flitwick, with Shacklebolt, with Albus, with Albus's friends... damn it, Harry, you need to work!”
Harry sat back in his seat. “I... uh...”
Detheridge did the same. “Look, I know you take a lot of grief from people. I don't want to pile on, but right now you don't need sunshine from me – you need the truth. You ready for my take on our first three weeks together?”
Harry swallowed audibly. “Er... am I?”
“Unimpressive, Harry! You can do better,” Detheridge snapped. “I know Granger was hurt – hurt badly – but I've had the same talk with her. I'm giving her two weeks to pull it together, and I think she's going to have to stay in private lessons for a while. As for you, you've had a month and a half to jerk around and it stops here. There's a Dueling Club you haven't started yet, lessons to do, spells to master, and a pack of lunatics out there who'd kill you just as soon as look at you. Albus doesn't have the stones to say it, so it falls to me. Snap out of it!” He shoved a spoonful of the awful looking flakes into his mouth, chewed roughly, and went on, “All this running around the country puts you and everyone else on your tail at risk, and you damn well know it. Maybe I don't have all the facts, but if this is just about getting laid -”
“Wha...? That's... that's... you've absolutely no idea about it!” Harry shouted.
Detheridge let out a long sigh. His speech had never been formal and the ebb-and-flow of his cadence was always noticeable, but now it became even stronger. Harry had never heard its like, but there was something inescapably rural about it. “Back in the day, I used to hunt,” Detheridge said. “You ever hunt, Harry? I suppose not. My uncle, he taught me to do it like an ordinary – none of this crappin' around with a wand. There's a sport to it, see... ah, forget it. Point is, I used to have this hound that went by the name of Buck. Now he was supposed to follow the scent trail until we treed whatever we were after, or at least cornered it. Buck, though, he never could get it right. He was always jumpin' from one trail to the next to the next, confused as the devil. He'd find two good trails, and the useless sack o' bones liked one as much as the other. He'd sniff at this one and sniff at that one and go around in circles for a while, and then he'd plop down on the ground, scratch himself and howl away... scared off the quarry, 'course. So we'd head on to the cabin, he'd plant his snout in a bowl of dog food and I'd take whatever was in the cupboard. Buck was a stupid damn dog – worthless for huntin', but he's what I had.”
Harry was utterly lost. “Uh-huh...” he said blankly.
“Missing the point?” Detheridge asked.
“Completely,” Harry said honestly.
Detheridge reached toward him blinding fast and swatted him atop the head. “Stop sniffin' around and pick a trail!” he barked. “Settle up with MacLeish, get back here and get to work! All right... that's all I have.”
Harry sat there, shocked and angry and unmoving, as Detheridge polished off the remainder of his breakfast. The professor at last pushed back from the table and said, “Let's go.”
“I still don't want to talk to Covelli,” Harry said.
“Boo-hoo, m'boy. You can use our time slot for it – I know she's free,” Detheridge shot back.
Harry scowled at him. “Fine, then. We'd best pick up the pace. It takes about twenty minutes to walk up -”
“Walk? Who said anything about walking?” Detheridge said. “You've got your bike, don't you?”
Harry felt for the Bonnie in his pocket. “You could ride pillion, I suppose...?” he said.
“Pillion... you mean on the back?” Detheridge snorted. “I won't fit on the back of that thing. Now if I still had my Hog...”
Harry gaped at him. “You rode around on a hog? Right... I'd have to see that to believe it.”
“No, not on a pig!” Detheridge groaned. “I'll explain it on the way. Now then... you plan to tell me how this thing works without a clutch?”
“Come in,” Covelli called out.
Harry didn't want to come in, not at all, but neither did he want to be on Detheridge's bad side. The professor had managed to hound Harry for the balance of the day. They had passed in the corridors half a dozen times by the noon hour, though it was rare that they would see one other in the castle at all outside of scheduled tuition. Hastily scrawled platitudes about responsibility, duty, pride in one's work and picking a trail had turned up in the pockets of his robe, in the books packed inside his rucksack, and even inside his trainers. It had been quite enough, and so it was that Harry came to Covelli's study. He pushed open the door with a loud squeak.
“And so Mr. Detheridge's motives become clear,” Covelli said.
Harry frowned. “I'll come back another time -”
Covelli quickly rose from behind her desk. “No! No, please – sit.”
A long sigh escaped Harry's lips and he sat heavily on the armchair opposite her. “Right, then...” he started, but he really didn't know what else to say or even what needed to be said.
Covelli wouldn't meet his eyes. “It seems that Marcus believes me so weak, prideful or self-absorbed that I would not seek you out of my own accord,” she said. “He decided that I would not apologise without first being confronted by you. He should not have made this assumption on my behalf; it was not his place.” She returned a sigh of her own and added, “Now we shall never know if he was correct.”
Harry shifted uncomfortably in his chair. Covelli's tone, her behaviour, even her posture was different than in all their previous encounters. He wasn't merely uncertain; he was bewildered. “Erm...” he began.
Covelli held up a hand. “Please, let me speak my peace,” she said. “When I have finished, you may, ehh... 'let me have it', as they say.” Harry folded his hands in his lap and waited.
She steepled her fingers, closed her eyes and began, “When August began, I was preparing for classes. I was a professor of psychiatry, you see? I was seeing patients in hospital and my regular clients as time allowed. I was editing manuscripts for colleagues and preparing to begin a paper of my own. Since that time, I have retired from my post, given up my practice, and returned to a world that I chose to leave behind. I have lost my professional identity and for the next several months I have lost my freedom.”
“Why are you here, then?” Harry asked.
“I returned to this place because I was needed,” she said. “It is the same for you, is it not?”
“But you hate Dumbledore – that much is obvious...?” said Harry.
Covelli sagged in her chair. “I do not hate Albus... that is far too strong... but I did not return for his sake,” she said. “What is the worst loss you can imagine, Harry?”
“My friends,” he said immediately; “I can't imagine losing any of them, and I know I probably will.”
“I have lost friends and family, and it is excruciating,” she said, “but there is something worse for a person of my profession and inclinations. I have lost my objectivity, my professional distance, you see?”
“Sorry, I don't see,” Harry admitted.
“One must sit at arm's length when dealing with matters of the mind. The relationship between a client and myself is meant to be outgrown,” Covelli tried to explain. “Personal issues that affect the professional are not supposed to intrude...”
“So you're here for Hermione, then,” said Harry.
“I am here because I grew too close to the situation and too close to the client,” Covelli corrected him. “That was my folly - one that I did not expect after so many years. I allowed myself to be a witch rather than a physician. From there, it was a short journey to becoming mentor rather than healer, friend rather than advisor.”
“When I saw you with her in the Library, that first time we met, you seemed like a second mum,” Harry observed.
“The relationship between Miss Granger and myself is complicated and, for the moment, remains privileged,” Covelli said in a measured way. “I have treated you poorly as a result of it, however, and for this I do apologise. Now is the time when you let me have it.”
Harry wasn't quite ready to accept the apology, but he told Covelli honestly, “I'm glad you're here for her.”
“I hope it will be enough. I hope it will help more than harm,” said Covelli. “Do you know I was furious with Albus for allowing her to attend the goblin hunt? He was wrong to allow it. I was wrong to blame you for it, however.”
“Is that why you stuck me with that assignment?” Harry asked.
“The purpose of the assignment was to lead you to logical conclusions,” Covelli insisted. “I understand that Marcus took a different approach this morning?”
Harry laughed despite himself. “He slapped me on the head and said I was a hound.”
“He said you were a dog...? The man is bewildering,” Covelli said. She paused, crossed her arms and added, “And so, it comes to this: can we work together, you and I?”
“We have to work together,” Harry answered. “It must be strange for you, being a student again. I don't want you to treat me like a little boy, but I honestly don't expect to be treated as an equal.”
Covelli sat straight in her chair. “We are peers in academic rank,” she said. “As a witch, I have yet to earn a mastery and have not practiced my craft in a good many years. I vastly outrank you in life experience and scholarly training, but there is much in the way of magic that I must re-learn. As an example, you could easily best me in a duel were we to face each other today. Perhaps we shall learn from each other, yes?”
“That's... an interesting idea,” Harry decided.
“In that spirit, we should speak of Keith MacLeish,” Covelli offered.
Harry nodded. “Marcus said you know him rather well?”
“I know Keith very well indeed,” said Covelli. “We were married, he and I.”
“Married?” Harry goggled.
“Yes, married – from 1967 until 1977,” Covelli confirmed.
Harry was caught completely flat-footed. “I... I had no idea...” he managed.
“It is not something that I publicise,” she said.
Harry thought back to the invitation from MacLeish. “He married again, then? I know that he has a daughter and I had the impression that she still lives with him.”
Covelli's expression blanked. After a time, she said quietly, “Nicola was born in 1975... I would rather not discuss her just now.”
“Sorry, I was curious because his note said she would be there for the weekend,” Harry said.
Her eyes widened noticeably before she regained control. “This would not be wise. Nicola is, ehh... fragile,” she said. “I must contact Keith and convince him otherwise. If he will not listen to reason, then we will speak of this – I promise you.”
“I didn't mean to pry,” Harry said.
Covelli took a long deep breath before she said, “That was not your intention, I know this.” She folded her hands and asked, “What do you need to know about Keith? What is his interest in you?” Harry did his best to explain the business relationship that Diggle had set up: the sale of the castle, the share in the Daily Prophet and the license for Harry's name and face. He figured that he did a fair job, because she seemed to understand.
When he was finished, she nodded and paused in thought. “That is not enough,” she concluded. “His interest is greater than this. Keith would not go to these lengths for this agreement. In his world, this was a very small transaction. Perhaps it would help to read his note?”
“I've read it and re-read it, actually... could practically recite it by now. Nothing stands out for me,” Harry said. He fished in his rucksack and found the dog-eared invitation.
Covelli read the invitation and muttered all the while. “Pevensey... I take it this refers to the Black property... but the performance is in Edinburgh... he's putting his wealth on display for the purebloods... oh, dear, Catriona's been charged with the Daily Prophet?”
“The note's on the back side,” Harry told her.
“Yes, I see this... 'anxious to met you', he writes... it is true that he has few partners, and interesting that he describes you as such... very interesting... 'my daughter and I'?” Covelli set the invitation down on her desk and wondered aloud, “What game is afoot, Keith?”
“I suppose I'm glad you're confused,” said Harry. “I kept wondering if there was something about this that I was supposed to understand, something I was missing?”
“He does not want your money or your lands or the right to place your image on chocolates,” Covelli said. “He wants you, Mr. Potter. The important question to answer is why he wants you.”
Harry hesitated before he said, “Er... Harry; you can call me Harry, if you like?”
For the first time since he had met her, Covelli gave a genuine smile. “I would like that,” she said. “You may call me Lucia if you wish.”
“I'll work on that,” Harry said.
Covelli picked up the invitation again. “It is written that you may bring a guest of your choosing,” she said. “Who will be your guest?”
“I had thought about asking Hermione, but I don't think that's for the best,” Harry admitted.
“I should say not,” said Covelli. “The other young lady who inhabits your thoughts will be the centre of attention.” When Harry's eyes narrowed, she added, “We both know that there are other reasons for Miss Granger to refrain from travelling.”
“This is my chance to tell Heather that we're just friends,” Harry said.
“You think this will be so simple?” Covelli asked.
Harry nodded and said, “I don't see why not?”
Covelli shook her head and smiled. “I am sorry for this, but... Harry, you are so young,” she said.
“I need her to be my friend,” Harry insisted. “I think she understands me, you know? Heather could be like... like family.”
Covelli pursed her lips, then allowed, “This is a more effective message; I hope that she will hear it. And so, returning to the matter at hand... what guest will you choose? It would be the Weasley boy, perhaps, or Mr. Longbottom? It is without saying that Albus would prefer you select one of his flock – the older Weasley or this Tonks, perhaps?”
Harry thought on it for a while, and then he took on a mischievous smirk. “How would you like to go to a party?” he asked. Covelli's face went bone-white and her mouth opened and closed without a sound.
“I'm serious,” Harry said. “It would put him back on his heels, wouldn't it? Besides, you're worried about your daughter, right? If you're there, I'd think that would keep him in line.”
“I... I...” was all Covelli managed to say.
“I could ask Filius – he gives good advice,” Harry mused. “You can forget Tonks – she has a big mouth. I'd probably ask Mr. Weasley before I'd ask Bill.”
“You would not prefer to take a date or a friend?” Covelli asked.
“Everyone seems to think that MacLeish will eat me alive,” Harry said. “I figure good advice is more important than a good time.”
Covelli looked down for a long moment, and then met Harry's smirk with one of her own. “I would treasure a photograph of the expression on Keith's face when I am introduced,” she said. “Understand this, Harry: my presence may create a stir amongst some of the old families, if they choose to attend. I was rather famously cast out of my own family.”
Harry shrugged. “So was Sirius Black,” he said. “I figure it's a point in your favour.”
At the conclusion of the day's classes, Harry met Covelli at Dumbledore's office and they Flooed to the Leaky Cauldron. From there, Covelli hailed a taxi. After a stomach-churning run through traffic that rivalled the Knight Bus, they were deposited at a dingy car-park not far from Heathrow.
Harry tried to ask Covelli, “What is this place?” but she merely held up her hand and allowed the driver to deposit their luggage at the kerb.
As soon as the driver was properly tipped and sent on his way, she said, “People in the know call this the Nexus. It is the designated apparation point for Heathrow, the collection point for the Strait Line, a regular stop for the Knight Bus, a wizard-friendly place for cars-for-hire... if you have a mind to travel in and out of England, you will come here at some point.”
“Heathrow has an apparation point? Why?” Harry asked.
Covelli gave him an odd look. “Heathrow has an apparation point because it is the largest airport in the country,” she said, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world.
Harry's brow furrowed. “Why wouldn't you just pick up an international portkey?”
“You make that sound as if it were an easy thing,” said Covelli.
“They mustn't be too hard to come by. How else did everyone get here for the World Cup?” Harry concluded.
Covelli shrugged. “There are exceptions to everything, of course. An event like the World Cup allows a wizarding government to shower gifts upon the favoured. All that is required is to place the proper coins in the proper cauldron, yes?” As she collected her luggage, she went on, “I had forgotten the last Cup was held here. You do realise that it was in the Ministry's best interests to ease transportation in and out of the country at that time? It is quite another matter if a citizen wishes to come and go. The Strait Line is expensive, but nothing compared to the license fee for an international portkey.”
Harry asked, “And the Strait Line is...?”
“Oh, dear... you truly have been isolated, haven't you?” Covelli said. “We shall have to address that.” With that, she led him to what appeared to be a gatehouse for the car-park – it was no more than ten feet across. She casually let her wand slip from her sleeve into the palm of her hand and tapped the door to the gatehouse. There were several odd clicks and a groan, and then the door opened inward.
The room inside was easily twenty times the size of the exterior and filled with a dizzying array of witches and wizards, more than Harry had ever seen inside any single building excepting the Ministry or Hogwarts. He saw robes and cloaks and coats in styles he'd never before seen or imagined; people of all sizes and colours; baggage-toting creatures that made house-elves seem quite ordinary. A number of vendors were milling about with trays and cases, hawking everything from Seasickness Elixir (“Why would anyone want to be seasick?” Harry heard one wizard say) to Muggle gazetteers of England. There were at least two clothiers who had set up shop, both of whom were overburdened by wizards and witches attempting to dress as proper Muggles. A booth to one side was a perfect miniature replica of Gringotts, complete with a goblin guard; through the open doors, Harry could see two tellers doing a brisk business in currency exchange.
A tall man in what looked to be an ancient naval uniform strode into the crowd and called out, “For those with passage on the M.V. Hermes from Southampton to New York, we will begin collecting luggage at Counter Four in exactly ten minutes... ticketed passengers only, please!” With that, the man retreated to a large red counter shaped rather like the number four.
A witch nearly bumped into him as she shouted, “The Muggle autobus heading to Heathrow departs from behind the car-park in five minutes! If you've not acquired an authorised ticket, make your way to Counter One immediately!” The tall, white Counter One looked even more like a number one than Counter Four looked like a number four. Covelli took up station in a queue that led to Counter Two, which looked remarkably like the aforementioned number in blue.
“I've reserved a car,” she told Harry. He nodded, too overwhelmed to say anything. They had advanced about halfway through the queue when Covelli abruptly stepped out and into the paths of a finely dressed witch and wizard.
“Will wonders never cease? Hello, Giancarlo,” she said grandly.
The wizard looked up and stopped dead. “I... er... how unexpected...” he burbled. “I didn't know you were in England...”
“Greetings to you, Mrs. Covelli - or MacLeish - or is there yet another Mr. Lucia these days?” the witch said coldly.
Covelli let forth a tinkling and undeniably false laugh. “Ah, Echidna... smashing to see you as always,” she said. “Which half are you today, I wonder: nymph or snake?”
The wizard grimaced at Covelli and said, “That was uncalled for,” in a perfunctory way, then added, “What brings you to England?”
“I've taken up a post at Hogwarts,” Covelli said. Harry was quite certain that the unpleasant witch hissed at that.
Covelli went on, “This is my colleague...” She stopped and it was obvious to Harry that she hadn't intended to introduce him. For that matter, he hadn't considered the risk of being seen as himself amidst the wizarding public. Too late for worries now, he decided.
With his wand concealed in his left hand, he reached out with his right toward the wizard; “Harry Potter,” he said casually. The man's mouth fell open. The witch managed to capture surprise and horror in a single expression.
“Carl Greengrass,” the wizard said quickly. “This is truly unexpected!”
The witch manoeuvred past and presented her hand as though it was to be kissed. Harry grasped her hand by the fingertips and bowed slightly, uncertain what else to do. She raised an eyebrow, leant her head back in a superior fashion and announced, “I am Echidna Yaxley Greengrass.”
Harry promptly returned his attention to Mr. Greengrass. “Ted Tonks mentioned your name,” he said. “It was in connection with one of my family's properties; he told me we would have been far better served if you'd been involved.”
“Is that so? Ted and I have done a good bit of business over the years,” Mr. Greengrass said. “Is he handling your affairs?”
“Some of them,” said Harry. “Would Daphne Greengrass be your daughter?”
“She would,” Mrs. Greengrass said stiffly.
“She's a year mate of mine – a fine witch,” Harry said.
“I am surprised that one of your... station... would speak well of a daughter of Slytherin House,” Mrs. Greengrass sniffed.
“What station is that?” Harry asked. “I'm the Headmaster's apprentice, that's all. As for Slytherin...? I make my opinion of a person based on what he's done, not his house.”
“Did you receive my Christmas gift last year, Echidna?” Covelli asked Mrs. Greengrass. “You failed to send a recognition of any sort.”
Mrs. Greengrass rolled her eyes. “Who would be caught dead in a short-sleeved robe?”
“Someone with nothing to hide, of course,” Covelli said in a voice cold as ice.
“Lucia!” Mr. Greengrass snapped. “Considering the choices you've made -”
“- which anyone with a sense of decorum would hide...” Mrs. Greengrass added.
“I know what you are, woman,” Covelli said. “Don't let her poison Daphne with it, Carlo.”
“You would do well to take young Mr. Potter's advice,” Mrs. Greengrass said. “I am a Slytherin, but I am not my brother.”
“Ahh, you are not one of the minions; you throw teas for them instead,” Covelli spat.
“We will never be able to reconcile, Lucia, not as long as you hold this bitterness,” Mr. Greengrass said sadly.
“I will never reconcile as long as my family stands in league with darkness,” Covelli returned with equal sadness.
“It's not like that, Luci, not at all. I don't want anything to do with any of it, and I certainly don't want that for Daphne,” Mr. Greengrass said.
“Daphne has to concern herself with the future of the House of Greengrass, as well as the Nascosto family,” Mrs. Greengrass added; “Family comes before the rest of this nasty business, or have you forgotten the meaning of family after so many years?”
“Er... we're next in line,” Harry said. “Would you like me to pass along your greetings to Daphne? I imagine I'll see her in passing next week?”
Mr. Greengrass said heartily, “Yes, that would be splendid! In fact, I'd like to take lunch with you and Ted at some point – in Hogsmeade, perhaps? Would you accept my owl post?”
“Sure, that would be great,” Harry said. He shook Mr. Greengrass's hand again. Mrs. Greengrass looked Harry up and down with an appraising eye.
With that, Harry found himself standing before Counter Two. A wild-haired witch barely taller than the blue counter peered over at him. “May I help you?” she asked.
Covelli cut in, “I have a car reserved for -”
The tiny witch's eyes bugged. “Blimey, you're him! There's a car waiting for you! Up now, mustn't keep Mr. MacLeish waiting!” She clapped her hands sharply and a hulking creature scuttled into view. “Grok, take their luggage to the third floor – third floor!” The creature sidled along and swept up their luggage into its extremely large hands.
Harry said in a sharp whisper, “Bloody hell – that's a troll!”
The witch winced. “Shhhhh! Do you know how hard it is to find a good luggage troll? He's quite sensitive, you know?”
The troll – which was really quite small as trolls went – made a face that was arguably a pout, let forth what might have been a sigh, and said in a voice that could have been sad were it not so guttural, “You follow Grok.”
They followed the troll into what seemed to be an elevator, and found themselves exiting onto the third floor of the car-park a moment later. Several cars-for-hire and limousines waited there. A long lean man in a dark blue suit came forward with a sign in his hands that said “POTTER”. He took one look at Harry's forehead, said, “This way, sir... madam...” and led them to the largest limousine present.
The drive to Pevensey seemed to take a very long time. Harry couldn't tell if the limousine was magically enhanced or simply of the Muggle variety; it wasn't larger inside than it had appeared, but it did move very quickly. He tried for a time to make conversation with Covelli, but she only commented that Harry had handled himself well with Mr. and Mrs. Greengrass. She became visibly more tense as the drive went on. He tried to take a short kip, but couldn't find a comfortable spot.
Eventually they left the main motorway and followed a series of ever smaller roads until they could see a hill in the distance that overlooked the sea, capped by a very old and battered-looking manor. They were ushered through two sets of gates and directed for quite a long while through trees, across a grassy plain and then up a steep curve that deposited them on the far side of the manor. It was a much larger building than he had guessed at first sight: four ivy-draped floors arranged in two massive wings. The entry was surrounded by a series of enormous tents and pallets of blocks and tiles and whatnot were stacked seemingly everywhere. The drive in front of the main entry appeared freshly laid, but the macadam was liberally strewn with mud.
The door of the limousine opened and they were assaulted by the whirs and bangs and pounding of construction. Workers hustled in and out of the tents and supplies whizzed to and fro – some by forklift and some by magic. There were perfectly ordinary-looking men in coveralls, dark-robed wizards, goblins... Harry had no idea what to think.
An older man in coveralls with a tool-laden work belt greeted them with a wave. “I'm to take you inside,” he said.
“Er... quite a sight,” Harry said.
“Not the usual work site, eh?” the man said with a lopsided grin. They made their way through the small city of tents and through the massive front doors.
Harry couldn't help but gape at the entry hall. The manor certainly wasn't Hogwarts, but it made the Black tower seem as if it were a cottage. He had felt magic throughout the grounds, especially around the tents – it was a sort of tingling awareness – but there was no sense of it here. The portraits didn't move. There was no immediate sign of ghosts or any of the wonderful strangeness he associated with wizarding buildings. There was in fact something that brought Privet Drive to mind: a sound, the only sound to be heard save the rap-tapping of their shoes on the marble floor and a hint of dripping water. It gnawed at him.
“What is that sound?” he whispered forcefully.
Covelli stopped, which brought their escort to a halt as well, and craned her head. “Do you speak of the low-pitched sound?” she asked. “Is it something of a hum and a grinding all at once?”
Harry placed the sound just then and gave an involuntary shudder. “Yeah, that's the one,” he said. It was the sound of the cupboard beneath the stairs.
Their escort harrumphed, “It's the air handling... 's been a week or better and we still can't mend the rattle.”
“Right...” Harry said. He rolled his shoulders to loosen them. Covelli shot him a curious look. He wasn't about to say anything.
The escort aimed them toward a set of wide and ornate stairs at the far end of the hall. Covelli seemed to take note of the artwork here and there. Harry noticed that both the stairwell and the hall were wide and open; there were few pillars or statues or other places to hide from view. He wondered who had planned it that way: the Blacks or MacLeish.
“This is ostentatious, even by Keith's standard,” Covelli said. “He has brought most of his collection. I wonder who he wishes to impress?” She gestured toward a small painting perched amidst larger ones; Harry wouldn't have paid it any mind. “See how this one is unlit? It almost hides, does it not?” she said. “It is by far the most expensive work in this hall. This is the way that Keith thinks, you see; this is the way that he displays his things. The brightest light is cast on that which matters least. That which he values is kept in shadows. Keep this to the fore, Harry.”
“Mr. Royston's on his way. I'll be takin' my leave,” their escort said. He tipped his hardhat and trudged away.
The man who appeared at the top of the stairs was nearly as wide as he was tall, and wore a sport coat made up in the most garish colours that Harry had ever seen. He was tanned and the only hair on his head was a bushy grey moustache. He stopped dead in his tracks. “Merlin's ghost... they said it was you, Luci, but I wouldn't have believed it,” the man called out.
“Hello, Curly. It's been a long time, no?” Covelli said with a quaver in her voice. “Harry, this is Curly Royston, Keith's right hand. Curly, this is -”
Royston cut her off. “This is Harry Potter, of course,” he said, and he started down the stairs in a slow and deliberate way. “Luci's overstating things, Mr. Potter. The Vox Corporation has 22 vice presidents, and I'm one of them.”
“Arthur Pendragon had many knights and Lancelot was merely one of them,” Covelli said.
Royston let out a great snort and returned, “...and I've better judgment than that poor sod! Better to be Galahad than Lancelot, what? Best to be Sir Bors, actually.” He reached them and took Covelli's hand. “Ah, just look at you! Ninety-times out of a hundred, it's shite to say someone hasn't changed in years. You, however... I'm jealous, you know?” He rubbed his head and gave a rueful smile.
“Please! You've not had hair in all the time I have known you,” Covelli tut-tutted.
Royston moved off and gave Harry a very firm handshake. “Keith's been looking forward to this. He'd been hoping to do it earlier, but you know how it is?” He turned and led them back up the stairs. “He's using one of the dining rooms as an office during the renovations. Mind the puddles – you should switch to trainers for the weekend, Luci.”
Covelli broke into her tinkling laugh. “My heels are charmed; as you say, 'no worries'?”
Royston and Covelli fell into an easy conversation. Harry thought they seemed familiar but not close, more like his status with Seamus and Dean than his friendship with Ron or even Neville. He quickly lost interest and took in his surroundings. It seemed as though there was a camera in every nook and at every corner. They turned and made their way down a long stone corridor with no windows. The ceiling was dripping in a few spots and there was no avoiding the water on the floor.
The only feature in the entire corridor was a single large door on the left side about halfway down. Harry felt a very strong tingling as he passed it. He let his hand trace along the stone wall as they continued on. The sensation was like static shock from metal on a cold winter's day. It faded away as they left that corridor and moved into a smaller one. The larger glass doors to either side were very modern-looking and seemed quite out of place. The doors to the left led to a north-facing balcony. He could see a dining room through the doors to the right. Large windows on the opposite wall overlooked the sea. Royston held up a hand and went inside.
A man stood at the windows, hands behind his back. He had thick steely-grey hair and strong features. He wore a Saville row suit and trainers. “Thirty-six million pounds and I have to listen to drip, drip, drip,” Harry heard him say.
“You don't care for clouds nor rain, Keith, and here you sit in a dreary old manor,” Royston said. “It's your money, though.”
“G'day, you old bastard,” Keith MacLeish snorted.
“Your guests have come,” said Royston.
MacLeish turned to face the doors. He went still for a moment, but then smiled, straightened his suit jacket and made his way across the dining room. Harry quickly found his hand enveloped. MacLeish was quite tall; Harry had to raise his head to meet the man's eyes. Just as quickly, he was released.
“You're the last person I expected to see,” MacLeish said to Covelli.
“I should hope so,” Covelli said.
There was a long uncomfortable pause before MacLeish waved at chairs around the cluttered dining table. “Welcome to the manor, Mr. Potter,” he said. “You know, I thought I was getting a rare deal from your man Diggle, but I'm beginning to wonder if I wasn't had. It'll be a minor miracle if we're ready for the reception tomorrow. The family quarters are in good shape, though, so it's not a bad place to stay the night.”
A house-elf abruptly popped into the room. It was clad in an impeccable suit coat and trousers complete with pocket watch, and Harry goggled at it. “Master MacLeish, sir -” the house-elf began.
“G'day, Bluey,” MacLeish said, “and if you keep on with that 'Master' business, I'll ask you to call me Keith for a week.”
Bluey shuddered. “Yes, Mister MacLeish, sir,” the elf said. “Mr. Yoshi has sent the day's Yomiuri Shimbun, sir.”
MacLeish looked at his watch. “Is that so...?”
“Mr. Yoshi sent make-ready sheets, Mr. MacLeish, sir,” Bluey said, and he produced a stack of newsprint from thin air.
MacLeish strode back to the dining table. “Let me have at them,” he said.
Bluey looked to Royston and then saw Covelli. “Madam MacLeish! B-Bluey is... is Madam really here?”
“Good day to you, Bluey,” Covelli said, “and I am Dr. Covelli now – surely you recall that?”
“Madam will always be Madam MacLeish,” Bluey said with certainty.
Covelli began, “And this is -”
Bluey bowed low to Harry. “Bluey knows of Harry Potter, sir,” he said. “We know of Harry Potter, sir, house elves and goblins all. Bluey knows that the Manor comes from Harry Potter, sir... Bluey is not sure whether to thank Harry Potter, sir.” Royston chuckled at that.
“This is the first time I've even seen the place,” Harry said.
Bluey looked out the windows. “Bluey senses a storm coming – more rain and more clouds.”
“It's not the most cheerful place, what?” Royston said.
Bluey looked left and right nervously and said in what was more or less a stage whisper, “Bluey did not think we would move to Woop Woop.” MacLeish choked and Royston couldn't hold back laughter. Bluey tugged lightly on his ears and moaned, “Bluey was just saying...”
“Speak your mind, always speak your mind,” MacLeish coughed. The house-elf nodded furiously and popped away.
“So why did Nakamura send this early?” Royston asked.
MacLeish ran his finger down one of the pages. “He's making a point, and not for the first time. Summers and his crowd keep pushing the Nikkei in the weekly calls. Yoshi says it's time to get out. High operating costs, tight labor, trade restrictions, and a tight-arsed central bank... my gut says he's in the right. Thoughts?”
Royston shrugged. “Nakamura knows Japan. You know how I feel about Summers – he's useful as an ashtray on a motorbike. 'Sides, I'd take your gut in nine out of ten matches.”
MacLeish looked to Covelli. “What do you think, Lucia?”
“What do I think about Japan? I found it a lovely place to visit,” she said.
“I know you still read the papers,” MacLeish scolded.
“The confidence of the people is diminished – it shows between the lines,” said Covelli. “There is a bluster in the business pages and all the while the usual sources are quiet. These are ill omens.”
MacLeish nodded. “We start selling on Monday, then,” he said; “I'll call Yoshi myself.”
Royston made for the door. “I need to check on today's tally of fines from the Ministry,” he said.
MacLeish shook his head. “Do you suppose they'd bring their dogs home if we dropped a thousand galleons per day into Fudge's coffers?”
“You know my opinion: don't bother to bribe someone you can put out of office in a fortnight,” Royston said. “Splendid to see you, Luci... cheers, Mr. Potter.” Harry waited until Covelli chose to take a seat and then joined her opposite MacLeish.
The silence became uncomfortable, before Covelli motioned to MacLeish and said, “Begin your presentation when you wish, Keith.”
MacLeish ran a hand through his hair and laughed. “You've made an unexpected choice as an advisor, Mr. Potter. I've had several hours to think on it, and you still have me at a disadvantage. You see, if Luci weren't here, this is the spot when I would impress with everything I know about the Boy-Who-Lived... family betrayed by a friend, but not the one everyone suspected... no one left, not even a grandparent, so you were placed with your mother's sister, about whom the best I've heard is that she's the worst sort of Muggle – not that I believe it, as I rather doubt your relations are axe-murdering pedophiles, but they certainly didn't care to raise a wizard. If I didn't know better, I'd suspect old man Dumbledore actually set out to make sure your childhood mirrored that of Tom Riddle – oh, yes, I know exactly who Lord Voldemort is. I imagine there would have been an outcry over the whole matter if the old man hadn't been so free with confounding charms, obliviations and the like.
“Now I'll play the devil's advocate: Dumbledore didn't want you hounded, because you would have become an arrogant bastard otherwise – not that you haven't, because I suppose you might be one beneath it all, but it would have been a sure thing if the whole wizarding world had been within reach of you. So the old man gets you to Hogwarts, keeps you on ice every summer, and puts you through one test after the next in between, and somehow you come out kind, generous, self-effacing and otherwise worthy of hero status. All you have to do is win, and you'll be the perfect person to help Dumbledore keep the status quo in England.”
“Keith...” Covelli warned.
“Mr. Potter,” MacLeish went on, “tell me that you haven't been handed scraps of information here and there? Tell me that you know a tenth as much about the wizarding world as you should, or anything at all of the wizarding world outside of Britain. You're being set up - that much is clear. Either you will kill Lord Voldemort and die in the attempt, or you'll be victorious and become the face on Dumbledore's master plan for the future.”
“Dumbledore is many things, but he is not so callous as that,” Covelli objected.
“What do you mean, I kill Voldemort? Where did you get that idea?” Harry asked dangerously.
“Information is power, Mr. Potter, and it never ceases to amaze me that it can be bought so easily,” MacLeish said. “You were born as the seventh month died and you're quite clearly marked. I'm told there's more to it, but the rest has been elusive.”
Harry drew his wand but Covelli stilled him. “This is a dangerous game, Keith,” she said.
“Put that away, would you?” MacLeish said. “If you were to use it, you'd never make it out that door alive, and I've no wish to see you harmed. To the contrary, I have a very strong interest in seeing you do away with Riddle and his toadies – that doesn't stop with the ones with the snake on their arms, either. I'm not the only one playing dangerous games, by the way. What on Earth made you return to Hogwarts, Luci?”
“That is a professional matter and none of your concern,” Covelli said archly.
“I don't like threats. You'd better get on with this unless you want me to walk out of here,” Harry snapped.
“Fair enough, Mr. Potter,” said MacLeish. “I assume you've done some of your own homework, so you have some idea of where I stand. Europe is the last bastion of blood purity in the wizarding world, and Britain is its crown jewel. My goal is simple: to end pureblood hegemony. I want a first-generation witch or wizard as the Hogwarts headmaster within forty years. I want a first-generation Minister in twenty years. There are two ways that can happen, as I see it. If you kill Riddle, then almost anything you desire will become reality. If you want to see change, it will happen. Absent that, should Riddle win, the rest of the world will eventually rise up and eliminate him. Anyone who supports him will be purged – ergo, the purebloods will eliminate themselves.”
“You want a puppet who does what you want, or a dictator who hates what you want and is so evil that everyone will oppose him,” Harry simplified.
“I think we want the same thing, or we wouldn't be having this conversation,” MacLeish insisted. “I know you're no fan of the Ministry, especially after the last year. Fudge is still in power for two reasons: because Dumbledore wants him there, and because I haven't decided to bother having him removed. Each time I meet the man, my resolve on that slips a bit more. Should I remove him? Would that demonstrate my intentions to you? Should I set bounty hunters after Riddle, perhaps?”
“Don't do that!” Harry said.
MacLeish's brow furrowed. “Why not?”
“You'll only get them killed,” said Harry.
MacLeish eased back in his chair, and said with a predatory smirk, “You seem sure of yourself... quite sure. I shan't need to purchase the rest of the prophecy – I have my answer.”
Harry's fists clenched and unclenched. “I don't care for you, not one bit,” he said.
“Yet you would still stop a wizard from beating a house-elf, wouldn't you? You'd still treat a goblin respectfully? You'd still ally yourself with an impoverished wizarding family of good will rather than a wealthy one of bad intent? If your child was a squib, you'd still raise that child as if it were your own? You don't care for me, but you wouldn't eliminate me as a result... you won't even shut me out before I have my say. Oh, we really do want the same thing,” MacLeish concluded.
“If you don't want me to like you, then what do you want?” Harry demanded.
“A full and fair hearing,” MacLeish returned. “I want you to hear my reasons for upsetting the apple cart, and I will take your full measure. If that comes out as I expect, then I intend to make a proposition – a business proposition, if you like. I would also appreciate it if you would meet my daughter, Nicola.”
“Is that why you brought Nicola here?” Covelli asked. “Is that why you have endangered her, why you have brought her to a place that could become a war zone at any moment?”
“You give Voldemort and his men too much credit,” MacLeish dismissed her. “They're terrorists, Luci – effective ones, but terrorists all the same.”
“If they are such a simple obstacle, then why did you not take action during the last conflict? Looking backward, this smacks of cowardice,” Covelli said angrily.
“He was so successful last time because the Ministry had done such a brilliant job of dividing the people, and because most of the natural opposition had been virtually run out of the country in the '50s and '60s, - and you know all of that perfectly well,” MacLeish fired back. “The Ministry was doing his job for him; all he and his Death Eaters had to do was pick off the dangerous opponents one by one. Dumbledore did a terrible job of prosecuting a resistance - the man needed a PR professional in the worst way, still does really. Who would I have helped? Where was the groundwork for making any sort of difference? Look at the last fifteen years, Luci: Voldemort went away and nothing happened. Nothing. This time, there's someone to rally around, and he's sitting here with us. Only Dumbledore can muck that up, and he'll manage it if given half a chance.” He looked to Harry. “If you could do one thing right now to trip up the Death Eaters, what would you do?”
“I'd round them up – arrest all of them,” Harry said.
“Arrest them for what?” MacLeish asked. “For wearing a Dark Mark? The ones not in prison already used the Imperius Curse as their excuse, and the Ministry bought into it. The ones on the run are being shielded by someone – either someone wealthy or someone inside the Ministry.”
“Cut off their money, then,” Harry offered.
“Have it confiscated,” Harry said.
“How? Forfeiture laws? The Ministry will never pass them,” MacLeish laughed.
“The goblins, then,” offered Harry.
“Ah, the goblins,” MacLeish said. “You don't know them, obviously - they're too factionalized. Only one thing will bring them all together, and that's a rebellion... now there's an interesting possibility.”
Covelli's brows shot up. “Are you proposing to set off a goblin rebellion?”
MacLeish smiled. “If that's what it takes, why not? The British Ministry has earned a rebellion or two.”
“You... you can't just come into England like a... like a typhoon and expect everything to fall before you!” Covelli spluttered.
“Britain is ready to fall, Luci – a stiff wind will do the job – and it's going to fall hard, in one direction or the other. In the end, the good lads will win. That's precisely why you're here, Mr. Potter,” MacLeish said. “I've no intention of meeting with the baddies. Riddle and I were schoolmates; at one time, I thought we were friends. I didn't know what he was, not then. Luci, she knew exactly what he was. I wish I'd known you then, Luci... I really do.”
He stood and went to the windows; without looking at them, he went on, “There are more than two sides in play, however. Even now, there are dissident groups preparing to kill Voldemort's sympathisers... there are pro-Voldemort groups plotting to prop up the Ministry, and other pro-Voldemort groups plotting to take it down... there are mild-mannered wizards of good intention who would love nothing more than to kill for revenge... there are wizards who by any right should be pro-Voldemort that would love nothing more than to survive and be left alone. It's a very large, very complicated game of chess, and the pawns are already in play. Are you a pawn, Mr. Potter, or are you a knight? Or perhaps, are you the queen?”
MacLeish turned and faced them with a smile. “How are you faring with my little songbird, by the way?”
Harry leapt from his chair. “You... you set that up! You made it happen, didn't you?”
“I set the conditions, nothing more,” MacLeish countered. “I gave the young lady her month of holiday, which I expected would take place very near to your tower house... arranged for her management to flush her out... used my new properties for her rehearsals and for photography and what-not... ensured that you would be able to communicate after the fact... just a few helpful conditions, Mr. Potter. You're the one who wandered into that restaurant, you're the one who found yourself attracted to someone whose story is a parallel of your own, and you discovered on your own that she's a squib with an interesting ability. It's hard to manage a human lie detector, I must say.”
“Why?” Harry demanded.
“Why is it hard to manage a human lie detector? Well, that should be rather -”
“You know what I meant – WHY?” Harry said much more forcefully.
“To broaden your horizons,” MacLeish answered. “Dumbledore has been far more manipulative than I. There are perfectly good families on the right side of this conflict – Bones and Abbott come to mind – but you've been thrown at one family from the start because that family was in Dumbledore's pocket. Why not the young Bones heir as a sister figure or a prospective spouse? I'll tell you why: because Amelia Bones is too far from the old man's reach. Perhaps the Abbott girl? Donald Abbott has been on the wrong side of Dumbledore in the Wizengamot too many times. I doubt Dumbledore planned on a first-generation witch becoming close to you and the Weasleys – Granger, isn't it? - but I'll wager that the girl looks up to him as a grandfather or something of the like. You've never had opportunity to meet anyone of interest who falls outside of Dumbledore's sphere of influence, let alone an ordinary person or a squib. The fact that Magruder's father was Sirius Black... I admit that's icing on the cake.” Before Harry could cut in, he added, “You needed breathing space – not the sort that Dumbledore was willing to give, but genuine breathing space... time with someone who didn't see you as a saviour or a hero-in-the-making or something breakable. I made that happen, and I don't regret it.”
“You put her in danger!” Harry growled, even as he was pleased inside that MacLeish hadn't sussed out Heather's actual parentage.
“Life's a chance,” MacLeish said. “She's in no more danger now than she was at the age of seven, forced out onto the streets of Edinburgh in the dead of winter.”
“You honestly believe that, don't you?” Harry said in disbelief.
“Not with one-hundred-percent certainty,” admitted MacLeish. “That's why the two of you haven't appeared together on the pages of the Prophet – or one of my ordinary papers, for that matter. If you're serious about her, of course, then that will change. You're both public figures, after all.”
“I'm not serious about her, then,” insisted Harry. “She's a friend – she could have been family!”
“That's true, I suppose, if things had played differently,” MacLeish said. “You'd have grown up together... hadn't considered that angle... What do you want of me? I could arrange for Obliviation, if you like: the girl, her mother, others in the know?”
Harry gave that serious consideration for a moment, but shook his head. “No... I want her away from here, as far away as you can manage,” he said.
MacLeish stroked his chin thoughtfully. “My people could arrange a tour of the Far East and America, I reckon... for how long?”
“As long as it takes,” Harry returned, “and I want Shona to go with her.”
“How do you expect me to manage that?” MacLeish asked.
“Buy the restaurant, offer her a job... whatever you have to do,” said Harry. MacLeish looked Harry in the eyes for a long time; Harry didn't flinch.
“Done,” MacLeish said.
Covelli broke in, “What do you truly want of Harry, Keith, other than to antagonise him?”
“As I said, I wanted to take his measure. I've taken it, and I like what I see,” MacLeish answered. “I must seem like a loose cannon to you, Mr. Potter -”
“This is because you are a loose cannon, Keith,” Covelli cut him off. “What has happened to you? You are reckless now, when you were not reckless before.”
“There's no time for caution – time is running out,” MacLeish snapped. “Everything is converging now, Luci – can't you see it? With a few decisive events, everything I seek can come to pass. Twenty years of work...”
Covelli raised an eyebrow. “You've not had an influence in England until just now, Keith. You avoided England, in fact; I could see the pincer strategy at work.”
“You've not been in England for a very long time, nor have you been active in wizarding affairs,” said MacLeish. “I have been involved here, Luci – very involved. When you return to Hogwarts, see if you can't access the register of births. Look forward a few years. I think you'll be quite surprised.”
“The register of births...? I do not understand...” Covelli said.
“You've been getting squibs to marry,” Harry blurted out.
MacLeish gave a small smile. “Continue your thought, if you would?”
“You're interested in squibs,” Harry said.
“True,” admitted MacLeish.
“And you know a lot about families here – bloodlines and the like,” said Harry.
“I won't deny that,” MacLeish said.
“You're hoping for more Muggle-borns, aren't you?” Harry concluded.
MacLeish clapped politely. “You're rather quick, aren't you?” he said. “The pureblood families in power are breeding themselves into extinction. They're already vastly outnumbered by half-blooded and full-blooded wizards... but what would happen if there were a sudden infusion of first-generation wizards, all of them bringing a contemporary sense of the rest of the world?”
“Chaos,” Covelli said flatly.
MacLeish's smile grew. “Not chaos, per se – merely an irresistible force applied to an object too small to remain immovable. There will be a revolution in Britain, Luci, whether it's borne of a victorious hero or the defeat of a vile dictator or a goblin uprising or a wave of new wizards. Mr. Potter, it's best for all of Britain that it be borne of a victorious hero – peaceful change really is for the best. I can't tell you what to do; if you defeat Lord Voldemort, no one will be able to tell you what to do. What I can do is to give you something to ponder, other than Dumbledore's line.”
“Dumbledore is not an evil man,” said Covelli.
MacLeish shook his head in disbelief. “No, I don't think he's evil... but I can't believe you, of all people, are defending the man! He let Riddle live – you said that yourself. Where are your first-generation English friends, Luci – your Muggle-born friends? London? Edinburgh? No, they're in New York or San Francisco or Sydney.” he turned to Harry and added, “Twenty years from now, where will your Muggle-born friends be, Mr. Potter? The answer to that is in your hands, isn't it?”
Harry thought of Hermione – of what Mrs. Weasley had told the Grangers about marriage proposals and job prospects and her chances with the Ministry, of how he'd offered to spend whatever it took to change that for her. What of Dean, or Justin Finch-Fletchley, or the Creevey brothers? Even Dumbledore had said that Harry could have the power to change things for the better, once Voldemort was vanquished. Was Dumbledore really pointing Harry toward keeping the British wizarding world more or less the same? Why hadn't he directed Harry toward someone like Susan Bones? Her aunt was head of the DMLE, so surely the Bones home was quite safe. His reason might have been as simple as seeking people from Harry's own house; it was more difficult to socialise across house lines, in truth. Were the Weasleys intended to run across Harry at the entry to Platform 9 ¾? How much was fate versus accident versus careful planning by the Headmaster? There was a lot MacLeish said that Harry didn't agree with, but some of it made too much sense to ignore.
“I still can't decide if you're a madman,” Harry said; “I'll listen for now - I won't be your puppet, but I'll listen.”
“Splendid!” MacLeish boomed.
“Will you listen to me, I wonder?” Covelli asked MacLeish.
MacLeish's face softened. “I always listen to you, Luci,” he said.
“This reception you have planned, it is dangerous,” Covelli said. “I ask you not to proceed... or at the very least, to send Nicola away from it.”
“Nicola won't be a part of it, of course,” MacLeish said; “it's well understood that she's ill. I've worked at that image, and you have as well.”
“My concern is for the safety of all present,” Covelli clarified.
“People from both sides will be attending and there'll be more security than you've ever seen in any one place. Voldemort won't be taking any free shots, not unless he wants to lose all of his financial backing,” MacLeish assured her.
“If he can be rid of me, he might not worry about his supporters,” said Harry.
“I've already eliminated the transition from here to Edinburgh,” MacLeish said. “That's why the work around here is at such a pitch. If they can't finish in time, then we'll have it in tents on the grounds. Luci, we've had weeks to think this through. If you honestly want me to move Nicola, I'll do it, but you know how she takes a move...”
“I have no right to tell you what to do in her case,” Covelli said.
“You're right, you haven't,” MacLeish said immediately. “She still loves her mum, though, and I won't be the one to spoil that.”
“Why, Keith – why do you so badly want Harry to see Nicola?” Covelli asked; her distress was palpable to Harry.
“So he'll understand,” MacLeish said. “There's no time left for games, no time at all. I need to know he understands what I'm doing and why, and I need to know if he's the right man to back. Once he meets Nicola, I'll have my answer.”
Covelli looked to Harry. She said gravely, “If you intend to do as Keith asks and be introduced to our daughter, then I must exact a promise from you – an oath, one that cannot be broken. If you will not do this, then I will do everything in my power to prevent you from ever meeting her.”
“Dr. Covelli... I don't understand what's going on here. You... you're not afraid I'll hurt her, are you? That's absurd,” Harry scoffed.
“No, that is not my fear. Only a handful of people know the truth of this matter,” Covelli said. “I assume that all of those people are oath-bound, Keith?”
“Under pain of their own magic,” MacLeish confirmed. “Mr. Potter, I had hoped to dispense with this in your case, as a measure of trust... Luci, are you certain...?”
“I wish to trust you, Harry, but I must insist,” said Covelli.
Harry couldn't resist his own curiosity, but was still suspicious. “What sort of oath?” he asked.
“I would have you swear never to speak of what you observe while meeting with Nicola or the truth of her circumstances except to myself or Keith, or with our permission, or with the permission of our estates,” Covelli returned.
“If there's to be an oath, it would be with my permission or the permission of my estate,” MacLeish corrected her. “Nicola is in my sole care.”
“Yes, of course,” Covelli said quietly.
“I can't see what the problem would be,” said Harry. “This is your business, really.”
“You may see some rather odd things,” MacLeish said. “There are certain... legalities to consider, as well.”
“You're not doing a smashing job of talking me into this,” Harry said nervously. “Is someone trying to hurt your daughter? Is that it?”
Covelli looked Harry straight in the eyes, let down her Occlumency shields and said, “She could be in mortal danger if the wrong persons knew the truth.”
“Can I help?” Harry asked her.
“I don't know,” she said. “I don't believe anyone can help, not now.”
“I'm not so sure that's true,” MacLeish countered.
“I swear it,” Harry decided. “I shan't tell a soul what I see, not unless you say so.”
“I'm satisfied,” MacLeish said. “Luci?” Covelli gave the slightest of nods, and MacLeish led them from the dining room and back in the direction of the entry hall. They stopped halfway down the long stone corridor, before the door that had made Harry's hand tingle so strongly.
MacLeish withdrew an unassuming wand from within his suit coat and began a long incantation. A bluish glow encompassed the wand and the door for a moment, followed by a loud click. Behind the door was a second door, made of dark and roughened metal. Harry could feel the pulsing of what he knew to be a ward, one as strong as anything he had felt at Hogwarts. After a second incantation and a flick-and-swish, the metal door slid to one side.
Beyond the door was an enormous space, far too large to be contained inside the manor. It was like a wizarding tent gone mad. The ground – or floor, or whatever it might have been – was covered with ankle-length grass and actually rose and fell like natural terrain. There was a blue sky with light clouds overhead. To one side there was a structure, a bothy similar in size to his own. Beside the structure was the largest mushroom Harry had ever seen, surrounded by equally spaced and smaller mushrooms; the top was draped with a cloth and set with tea service for six. There were trees, and the largest had a swing hung from it. There was even a small pond.
A woman emerged from the bothy. Harry recognised her immediately: she was the mysterious woman from Cabaret Moliere, the one with the magical coat and the odd accent. She'd had the misfortune of snogging Snape in the wake of the connection with Heather, as he remembered it. She recognised Harry as quickly, and said, “We meet again, Mr. Potter.”
MacLeish stepped forward. “Harry Potter, Bret McCrary,” he said; “Obviously you remember Mr. Potter, Bret.”
“McCrary... oi, I tried to hire you as a tutor!” Harry said.
“I hope you didn't waste too many owls,” McCrary returned. “I'm employed, as you can see. I'd rather you didn't spread that around, by the way; technically, I'm not supposed to be in England.”
Harry nodded. “Dumbledore said that; he expected you might kill Snape. ”
“Severus Snape? Old Dumbledore told you that, did he?” McCrary laughed. “It's an ancient family conflict between McCrary and Prince. I don't care much about the whole business. If it'll make you feel better, Potter, I'll only behead the man if he gives me cause to do it.”
“Don't hold back on my account,” said Harry. McCrary cocked her head for a moment and then broke into laughter.
“Who'sit, Miss Bret?” someone called out from the bothy. “Is Daddy here?” The curtains on one of the windows opened for a moment and closed as quickly, and then the door flung open. A woman bounded toward them, past Harry and nearly tackled MacLeish.
“Daddy!” she shouted. The sky abruptly cleared of clouds and Harry thought he heard birds chirping.
“Hello, Nick-Nick!” MacLeish said brightly. “Look who's here to see you...”
The woman turned in a flash and looked beyond Harry. “M-Mummy?”
“Hello, moppet,” Covelli managed to say.
“Mummy's here! Mummy's here!” she exclaimed and rushed at Covelli, who hesitantly put out her arms. The woman – obviously she was Nicola MacLeish – clutched at Covelli and jumped up and down in excitement. She was taller than her mother and Harry thought that they might both topple over.
“Oh, oh, oh – Mummy, Mummy! I... I got pictures for you – you wanna see 'em, Mummy!” Nicola asked happily.
“Of course I do,” Covelli said without expression. Harry knew the look on her face: she was trying to use Occlumency in order to stay in control.
Nicola abruptly turned to MacLeish. “Daddy...? W-will you still like me if I did something bad?”
“I'll always love you, Nicola, you know that,” MacLeish said.
She lowered her head and squeezed her eyes tightly closed. “I... I... I broked-ed a wand. I didn't mean to – honest!”
“It was the one Weitzmann made for her,” McCrary said quietly to MacLeish.
Nicola didn't raise her head. “It got so hot, an'... an' my hand, it burned, so I... you still like me, Daddy?”
MacLeish walked over and pulled her into a one-armed hug. “It's all right, everything's all right,” he said.
“Itsinthepond,” Nicola blurted out.
MacLeish quirked his lips. “What's this?” he asked.
Nicola ducked her head, pointed quickly and said, “Pond.”
“Oh, Nick-Nick...” MacLeish laughed.
“It burned so I put it in water,” she said matter-of-factly.
“You did the right thing,” said MacLeish.
“An'... an' Miss Bret, she got me 'nother wand – look! Look!” Nicola said. She held up an ornate white-coloured wand that looked to be about a foot long.
MacLeish's brow furrowed. “That's... that's very nice of Miss Bret...” he said.
“An' she teached me to do things, too!” Nicola went on.
Harry was at a complete loss. Nicola MacLeish had to be about the same age as Tonks, he figured, but she was like a little girl inside a big body. Her hair was cut short and round and the fringe hung in strands down her forehead. Her eyes were large and showed everything she was thinking: wide with excitement, scrunched shut when scared. Her emotions projected so strongly that he had to join Covelli in Occlumency exercises, even though he had already reached the point where crowded Hogwarts corridors merely resulted in a faint cluttering of his mind. Nicola had Covelli's nose and cheeks and MacLeish's eyes, and her hair was a rusty reddish colour; Harry thought she might have been pretty if she didn't have a child's haircut and a child's expression on her face. That was when she noticed Harry watching her, and her eyebrows disappeared into her fringe.
“H... Har... Daddy, that's... Daddy! Oh, oh! It's Harry Potter!” she shouted, and then she clapped her hands together and her feet stomped up and down, and she sang over and over, “It's Harry Potter! It's Harry Potter!”
She stopped and ran up to him until her face was only about a foot from his. “Daddy says don't hug the boys so I have to shake your hand,” she said. Her expression turned into a parody of seriousness and she pumped his hand up and down.
“Erm... hi... Nicola,” Harry said.
Her face went blank for a moment as if she was trying to recall something, and then she lit up again. “I was playing Harry Potter... come see! Come see!” she bubbled, and pulled him by the hand hard enough to shift his feet. He shrugged and let her take him to the bothy.
Most of the interior was an enormous bedroom filled with dolls and stuffed animals and picture books. “Do you like my room?” she asked, even as she still tugged at his arm.
The walls were of rough-hewn light-coloured wood and the space was open and bright. He wasn't entirely certain whether to address her as a child or an adult. “It's a nice room,” he offered.
She took out the white wand and looked around the room for something. “Oh, there he is!” she said, and picked up a rather well-worn teddy bear. “This is Harry.”
“Er... pleased to meet you, Harry...?” Harry said.
Nicola grinned at him. “Harry needs a broom... Oh! Miss Bret said I hadda use a wand,” she said. He nearly ducked as she waved the wand in a random pattern. A miniature Firebolt appeared and hovered beside her.
“On you go!” she said to Harry the Bear, who clambered aboard the broom. With that, the raggedy bear began to circle the room.
“Harry has to be the Triwizard,” Nicola said very seriously.
“Does he really?” said Harry.
Nicola nodded. “Oh, yes – Harry always wins!” She waggled and weaved with the wand – Harry took two steps backward – and a disturbingly realistic three-foot-long dragon appeared at the centre of the room. “That's Dragon,” she said.
“Uh... hello, Dragon,” said Harry. Dragon greeted Harry with a burst of fire that littered the floor with sulphurous sparks. “It actually breathes fire! That's... that's quite a dragon you have there...”
“This is the part where Dragon chases Harry,” Nicola announced. Dragon engaged Harry the Bear in a dizzying aerial ballet that set three books afire and left the Firebolt singed and a quilt on her bed torn. Before Harry could extinguish the books, Nicola wiggled the white wand and the flames disappeared. Dragon crumpled into an exhausted heap beside the bed while Harry the Bear took a victory lap and then dismounted the Firebolt into Nicola's arms.
“Good show! See? Harry always wins!” Nicola said with delight. Dragon let out a super-heated snort of disgust and then appeared to go to sleep.
Harry wondered if the entire place might be a sort of Room of Requirement, but wasn't certain how to ask. He settled on asking, “Does this room make Dragon for you?”
Nicola shook her head wildly and said, “No, silly! Dragon comes when I want. Harry flies when I want.” She found a battered golden cup on the floor, handed it to Harry and told him, “You can give Harry the Cup now.”
The bear reached up to take the Cup and Harry decided to give a small bow. “Congratulations, Sir Bear,” he said.
“Say 'thank you', Harry,” Nicola scolded. Before Harry could speak, Harry the Bear set down the cup and bowed grandly.
“You're welcome,” said Harry, because he didn't know what else to do.
Nicola proceeded to show Harry every inch of her room. He was positive that she introduced him to a hundred stuffed animals, most of whom greeted him warmly. One of the picture books she showed him was about the Triwizard Tournament; he nearly pitched over in shock. It only depicted the first two tasks and it did so in a rather heroic way, but the source for her Harry and the Dragon game was clear enough. She did nearly all the talking and Harry was happy to observe because he was less likely to say or do something wrong. She was nearly as excitable as Dobby, he decided. As time went on, he noticed that she seemed to lean slightly to one side and that her face drooped just a bit on that same side, but it didn't keep her from smiling almost continuously. By the time MacLeish came and suggested that Nicola go to her mother, Harry was exhausted. He let himself be led out to the mushroom-table and the mushroom-chairs. McCrary joined them there.
Harry took a seat and immediately jumped to his feet. “Bloody hell – these are real!” he shouted.
“They're comfortable as well,” MacLeish said. “Sit. You're knackered.”
Harry asked MacLeish straight out, “Is this a Room of Requirement?”
“A what?” MacLeish returned. Harry explained the Room to MacLeish, who hadn't encountered it during his Hogwarts days and clearly wished that he had.
“Everything here is real,” McCrary said, and she admitted, “The first time she decided her room should be a castle for the day, it scared the hell out of me.”
Harry looked around the room in awe. “I don't understand... look, I don't want to be rude, but what happened to her?”
MacLeish's face went stony and when he spoke, his voice was flat and tight. “Nicola was oxygen-deprived at the end of Luci's pregnancy and severely so during the birth. She had a stroke shortly after she was born, as well. An ordinary child would likely have died within a few hours. Magical children are different, of course. It was several hours before she was responsive. The doctors were shocked by it all. We didn't know the extent of what happened until we took her to a healer. She wasn't growing as she should, you see...”
Harry cut in, “Er... if you'd rather not -”
“I have to tell it,” MacLeish said; “You need to hear this.” He took a long breath and his jaw tightened. “The healer informed us that Nicola's brain was damaged and that she would never develop properly. He proceeded to inform us that under the Enfeeblement Clause of the International Statute of Secrecy, we were required to give her up to the local Ministry. I asked what would become of her, and he said... he said that in Switzerland – that's where we were at the time – she would be placed in a locked ward. He warned us not to return to Australia or Britain, because they would... they would...”
McCrary patted MacLeish's forearm and said to Harry, “If she'd been born at St. Mungo's, they would have administered a lethal potion on the spot.”
“A lethal... they would have killed her?” Harry gasped.
“They're afraid of the unintentional magic,” McCrary explained. “A witch like Nicola doesn't necessarily grow out of it, right? In America, she would have been raised as a Muggle, hoping that it would go away eventually – like it does for an untrained Muggle-born.”
“Couldn't they obliviate her or something?” Harry asked. “What about something to suppress her magic?”
“What would you obliviate?” McCrary asked. “Magic wasn't a conscious thing for her -”
“She didn't understand that she was doing it until she was thirteen or fourteen -,” MacLeish said.
“And the idea of potions or artifacts that suppress magic is a myth, nothing more,” McCrary finished.
“If they existed, I would have found them,” said MacLeish. “Obviously, I had the healer obliviated to within an inch of his life. As far as the wizarding world is concerned, Nicola suffered a severe case of dragon pox as a young child and is too frail to appear in public. Dragon pox can leave children as squibs, and a lot of people assume that's what happened to her.” His face reddened and he added, “A pureblood who I won't name once asked me why I didn't 'cause her to go away', since a squib daughter wasn't good for anything other than a kidnapping target.”
“I don't... I don't know what to say,” Harry managed.
“Bret, I need to speak with Mr. Potter alone,” MacLeish said. McCrary nodded and walked away.
MacLeish pounded his fist on the mushroom-table, hard enough to scatter the tea service. His eyes were wild. “That's the world you live in, Harry! It's a world where innocent children are poisoned to death because they don't measure up. Here in England, they probably would have sought out your Muggle-born friends and poisoned them if they could have gotten away with it. It's all right for a Slytherin to raise his children in hopes that they get a fucking Dark Mark when they grow up, though... that's fine in people's eyes, as long as there are galleons to be had under the table. I've done what I can in the rest of the world. Australia's become a model for the integration of Muggle-borns and squibs. Europe's the toughest nut to crack, and I'll damn well crack it. When that's done, the Statute for Secrecy is next.”
“Someone told me that you want to bring us all out into the open,” Harry ventured.
“Not tomorrow or next year, but yes, that's my eventual goal,” MacLeish said.
Harry immediately objected, “The world's not ready for that – it would be a disaster!”
MacLeish smiled. “As I said, not tomorrow. The world's unprepared for it because no one's ever attempted to prepare it. If people can accept the idea of aliens, they can accept magic if given time and opportunity.” He turned and looked toward Nicola. “I want to take my daughter for a simple walk in a park; that's not too much to ask of the world. It's unlikely to happen in my lifetime, and I know that. I'm nearly seventy, Harry, and I have health issues. My father was sixty-six when he died and my mother's family were short-lived as wizards go. Someone else will have to look after Nicola ten years from now, and she may live another hundred. She'll be able to walk free someday if I have to spend every last cent, if I have to call in every favour I'm owed, and if I have to personally pressure every leader in the world - wizarding or ordinary.”
“You want my support, then,” Harry said.
“I wanted a fair hearing,” MacLeish corrected him, “and I've gotten it. Of course I'd like your support, but you have to survive Lord Voldemort and his men first. You'll need to tell me how I can help you in that. If I can't have your support, I hope you'll consider staying clear of the whole issue...”
Harry's eyes narrowed. “There's something else,” he said.
“A favour,” MacLeish said. “Would you be willing to look in on Nicola from time to time? She's wanted to meet you for quite a long time, you see? She's not always this happy, Harry. A simple visit from time to time... I'd appreciate it. It's not tit-for-tat, either; I'll take care of Magruder and her mother whether or not you agree.”
“Look at what I can do, Daddy!” Nicola called out. “Come quick! Come here, Harry Potter!” Harry eased himself off the mushroom-chair – he didn't want to brace against the mushroom-table to do it – and followed MacLeish toward the pond.
Nicola held out her white wand, pointed it at the bothy and said, “Akko Harry the Bear!”
McCrary said gently, “It's Accio, Nicola – Accio. Go on, give it another try.”
Nicola took an exaggerated breath, screwed up her face in concentration and shouted, “Accia Harry the Bear!”
“You're almost there,” McCrary said. “Accio.”
Nicola nodded furiously and mouthed the word over and over. “Acci... Acci... Accio Harry the Bear!” The bear flew out the door of the bothy and sailed into her arms.
McCrary smiled and told her, “Well done, Nicola – very well done.”
Nicola clutched the bear tightly and said brightly, “See, Daddy? I used-ed a wand!”
Covelli's eyes were wide. MacLeish said approvingly, “I see that, sweetheart.”
“Did you see, Harry Potter?” Nicola asked.
“I did see,” said Harry. “I'm glad you brought Harry instead of Dragon.”
“Dragon don't like water. 'Sides, Dragon went home,” Nicola said.
MacLeish said, “It's almost time for supper. We'll see you later?”
“Is Mummy coming back?” Nicola asked desperately.
Covelli nodded. “I'll see you again,” she said.
“Why aren't we having supper here?” Harry asked. “Are there other guests?”
MacLeish stopped cold for a moment. “No, not tonight... I can't think of any reason... shall we have supper with you tonight, Nick-Nick?”
Harry thought Nicola's face might split from her smile. “Oh, Daddy!”
McCrary said, “I'll arrange it,” and headed toward the warded door. Harry followed her closely.
“That's not a wand, is it?” he asked when they were a fair distance from Nicola and her parents.
“She's burned or blown up a hundred wands or more,” McCrary said. “It's just a pretty stick. I'm trying to make her think she's using a wand, understand?”
Harry did understand. “If she believes she needs it, you think her magic might settle down?”
McCrary shrugged. “I'm hoping the idea that magic uses spells and words might sink in. I had to try something to help her.”
“I thought you were a Defence teacher,” Harry said. “Why are you doing this?”
“A teacher? No, I wasn't a teacher. This was just another job – a good-paying one. I wasn't hired for this, but Keith ran short of staff and I took a rotation. I've never looked back,” McCrary returned. “She needs people who won't quit on her. Some of the minders she's had... I'll tell you this much: if anyone even considers hurting her, I'll kill them on the spot.” As she unsealed the door, she added, “That includes you, Potter.”
It was a simple supper, the sort Harry might have found in any ordinary home on a typical evening. Nicola looked as if Christmas had come early. Covelli was a blur of emotions thinly concealed. When the supper was finished and the talking died down, they bade Nicola goodbye – she tried to be brave about it but her distress nearly put Harry to his knees for a moment. Harry told Nicola that he would see her again and he swore that MacLeish's eyes twinkled, though under the circumstances it wasn't irritating. When they left and the doors were sealed, MacLeish had he and Covelli shown to the guest quarters.
Covelli waited in the corridor as their escort left. When he was gone, she said to Harry, “Now you have seen her. Keith explained the circumstances, yes?”
Harry nodded. “All of it,” he said.
“What are your thoughts on her?” Covelli asked.
“She's... sweet,” Harry decided. “I'll visit her again when I'm able.”
Covelli arched an eyebrow. “That is all?”
“Why did you and MacLeish split up?” Harry asked boldly. “Was it over her?”
“You have seen one side of the matter,” Covelli insisted. “I have seen her level a room when a toy was taken away. She would never set out to attack anyone or anything. Would you not say this of your friend Lupin as well? I believe her magic has become innate, Harry – it is possible that she could kill with a thought. Nicola is no safer than a werewolf at the full moon. Even Keith understands the danger; she has spent her life in the most pleasant prisons that could be purchased.”
“But you still love him, don't you? I could feel it. I don't understand...” Harry said.
“I was broadcasting my emotions? Ah, it is of no matter,” Covelli said; her voice shook. “If Keith told you of everything, then he told you of the healer in Switzerland. I felt that we should bring Nicola to England for the potion. Keith knew this, and there was no going back from it.”
Harry was dumbfounded. “You... you... but the potion...?”
Covelli said fervently, “Nicola lives in her own locked ward. She is without friends. When she is an old woman, she will still be a child – a terribly dangerous child. She can Apparate. Did Keith tell you this? This is why she lives behind six inches of cold iron, and why she is allowed neither globe nor maps. Her power continues to grow, just as it does in a young child. I have no idea if it will ever stop. She is innocent and without guile. What if someone of ill intent was able to secure her trust? There is a reason for the law, Harry – it did not come to pass in a vacuum, even if Keith believes it to be otherwise.”
Harry asked, “Do you still think that? If you had it to do over, would you still...?”
Covelli's eyes went wild and for a moment Harry thought she might slap him. Her hand came down and she closed her eyes; they were rimmed with tears.
“Yes,” she said. “Good night, Harry.”
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