Suitcase Burrower by 0902FRIENDs
Summary: It was the first Tuesday in September, 2016, time to go back to school. So when Auror Potter found his office utterly incapable of handling this - creature - thing, they call an expert, or experts... Oh and who can answer Al's increasingly challenging questions?
Categories: SIYE Challenges, Magical Creatures Challenge (2017-3)
Chapter 1: 1 Escape
Chapter 2: 2 Sighting
Chapter 3: 3 Wait
Chapter 4: 4 Encounter
Chapter 5: 5 Agreement
Chapter 6: 6 Solution
Chapter 1: 1 Escape
Author's Notes: My first time really putting a cross-cultural piece together... I hope I'll explain most of the names/concepts as the story goes along. If not, well, just let me know and I'll figure out a way.
For some reason, this story idea sounded much grander in my head... And I've actually attempted to rework it a few times with little success... Working on an original project simultaneously is not helping, either.. So I'm putting this up and opening it up for critiques. Feel free to contact me via review or messages, as long as it doesn't demand much change of the plots, especially the ending.
Warning: strong language, implication of unsuccessful attempt of child rape
“Al, have you brushed?”
The day had a hectic start for the Potters. It was the first day of school, and with James gone, the kids didn’t seem enthusiastic at all.
“Why do I have to go to school, Daddy?” asked Lily as she stood at the bottom of the stairs, her hair flying everywhere.
“Because,” said Ginny as she hurried over to fuss over her daughter’s hair, “you can learn new things and make friends.”
“But we can do that at Hogwarts, too,” said Al as he ran down the stairs, “And we can learn magic.”
Harry heard her son’s deliberate emphasis, and decided to intervene.
“You need to learn enough skills before Hogwarts, don’t you? And school can help you with that. You’ve got some toothpaste on your lips Al, by the corner. No, the other one. Don’t lick it, please. Use your hanky.”
Harry sighed as his son insisted on licking the smear, and decided not to make a fuss. He gathered his things while waiting for Ginny.
“Got everything? Ready to go?” said Ginny just as Harry zipped up his briefcase. He looked up in time to see Al and Lily pick up their school bags grudgingly. He went and opened the front door.
“James said not everyone goes to school before Hogwarts,” Al whined as he walked past his father.
“Yeah,” Lily agreed, “And Mummy didn’t go to school, too!”
“But we all learn to read and write somewhere,” said Ginny as she magically locked the door, thereby securing the property, “Some people get tutored, Gran taught me and your uncles, or they went to school. Most kids go to school nowadays, don’t they?”
“They do,” said Harry, cottoning on, “The Ministry encourages everyone to send their kids to school. And you do have fun there, don’t you?”
They were walking on the pavement now. Stretton Sugwas Academy was merely half a mile away. There was no need to drive.
“Not as much fun as Hogwarts!” said Lily.
“You haven’t been there yet,” Al reasoned, “you can’t be sure.”
“But James said it’s more fun! And Teddy!”
Sensing an argument he did not want to endure, Harry stepped in, “But you don’t see Sally and Ruth at Hogwarts, do you?”
The question successfully diverted the kids into talking about their friends, and their anticipation to tell them “all about their summer”. Harry met Ginny’s eyes, and smiled.
“Well done,” Ginny whispered in his ears.
The rest of the journey went by much faster now that Al and Lily were looking forward to school. They reached the school gate in no time. Ginny quickly engaged in some gossip with some of the mums, while Harry pulled the kids aside.
“Remember the Statue -” he started.
“We know, Dad,” Al waved a hand, “We won’t talk about magic!”
“And control?” Harry raised an eyebrow.
“And control,” Lily promised.
“Well, then, have fun at school!” said Harry as he walked them towards the gate. Ginny, on spotting him again, joined him.
“The Mitchisons moved to Birmingham,” said Ginny, relieved, “So here’s hope that Al can actually fit in with the boys.”
“Doubt it,” winced Harry as they started climbing the hill back to Wye Cottage, “He’ll likely have a happier time without that emperor of a boy. But I don’t think Al wants to be one of the boys.”
“We’ll see,” was all Ginny said.
Despite his hopeful, yet realistic tone, Harry couldn’t help but worry about his youngest son. Al had always been quiet, and was easily satisfied. He didn’t seem to be bothered by the boys’ provoking chants. But sometimes, Harry was convinced that there was more than Al let on. The school, on the other hand, confirmed everything Al had said and nothing more. So Harry dropped it every time there was an issue.
“He’ll be all right,” said Ginny, squeezing his hand, “He’ll go to Hogwarts and he’ll find his group of close friends. Less drama than Eva and Craig, for sure.”
Harry chuckled. Both of Al’s school friends had declared him a fiancι just before the summer holidays.
They had reached the front door again, and Ginny had her hands on his shoulders.
“Don’t work too hard,” she breathed.
She was so close that Harry could smell her shampoo.
“I’ll try,” said Harry, staring right into her soft, chocolate eyes, “as long as work’s not too hard.”
“That’s my boy,” said Ginny as she pulled him into a long kiss. It was part of their morning routine.
“Five minutes!” squealed a faint, sharp voice. They separated.
“I gotta go,” said Harry. He could still feel the lingering touch of Ginny’s lips.
“You be safe,” said Ginny, winking.
“And you enjoy your writing,” Harry spoke his line, and Apparated.
It was a quiet, starless night at Rugby School in Warwickshire. Nothing could be heard from the occasional brushing of the trees and the faint breathing of the boys. Surely they were all asleep?
Xiaohu stood up slowly, and peaked from the edge of the suitcase. The boys in this room were both sound asleep, so she hopped out of her confinement, and studied the room. It looked a lot like her owner’s dormitory, with beds and desks and drawers and wardrobes. It was strangely decorated, with sturdy wooden furnitures rather than finely carved ones. There was no ink painting, nor calligraphy hung on the walls. What a strange place she was!
But where was her owner, Zijie? She had promised that they were travelling together. That was the only reason she would go into the hidden layer of the suitcase in the first place! Xiaohu had been here for four days, yet she still couldn’t feel Zijie. She tried calling her again. There was no response.
She was hungry. She could go without eating for days, but hunger was slowly driving her mad. It didn’t help that she could smell the meat cooked in the kitchen. It was just her luck that she hadn’t drooled all over the suitcase yet. Xiaohu needed to eat, to hunt.
She looked around, and spotted the open windows. Miraculously, there was no screen, nor bars. Xiaohu ran to the bottom of it, Transformed, and hopped onto the edge. She was only on the second floor.
But she didn’t want to accidentally hurt herself either. It was her nature to be cautious, so she reversed some of her Transformation, and jumped. Her big, fluffy tails cushioned her as she landed. Xiaohu stood up, and took a long breath. She smelled prey.
Being a human child never put her into a prime position to hunt, so she Transformed back to herself, and hurried into the bushes surrounding the school. She was small and swift, and her joints were flexible - a characteristic she shared with her owner. No fences or gates posed a barrier to her. Xiaohu quickly ran across the field, climbed over the fence, and hopped into the bushes. She smelled again.
It was one of those man-made habitats, she recognized immediately, and thus had limited food resources. Fortunately for Xiaohu, she wasn’t picky. She stood still under the disguise of low branches, and Willed the slithering creature to come close. Xiaohu waited patiently, listening, smelling. She knew her prey would come voluntarily - she had never failed to Will a single creature, save her owner.
Then she saw it, a fat, juicy adder snake, its tongue dancing in the midnight air. Without a second of hesitation, Xiaohu slammed its head onto the damp ground. The adder started twisting and digging in an attempt to make use of the soft soil and break free. Xiaohu then pinched her back claws onto its slimy body, crushing its spine. She lifted its head, and, restraining its teeth, bit hard around its heart. As the adder twitched and slumbered into lifelessness, Xiaohu was aroused by the smell of blood and food. She quickly quenched her hunger, and looked for her next prey.
By dawn, she had caught two more mice, and, with much difficulty, a fierce rabbit. Xiaohu scourged them down greedily, before looking for water. That last need was easily satisfied, as it was a damp place. She could find a puddle at virtually every single corner. She was just drinking from a puddle on the pavement when she heard a voice.
“What are you doing here? Get out!”
Xiaohu looked back, and saw a man - by heck he looked strange - shooing her. She didn’t need a second scolding, and retreated back into the bushes.
She was shaking as she sat down in a well hidden spot. The man was like no one she had seen before. He was big, burly, and had soft, blonde hair. He also spoke oddly. Xiaohu couldn’t really explain why, but she surprised herself by understanding the man’s words. It was a strange place, and she didn’t have her owner. She needed to get help.
But how? She didn’t know anyone here, except the boy at the boarding school. She knew for a fact that her appearance would shock that boy to death, and she didn’t want to harm anyone. She also knew that she’d better stay hidden. She didn’t understand it very well, but her owner told her that her appearance would scare people. That left her with two options: transform into a human child and ask for help, or carry on as her usual form and migrate through the strange land.
After some careful consideration, Xiaohu decided she’d move around as herself first. From what she had gathered since coming out of the suitcase, this was a small town, and folks were unlikely to be of help. She’d walk along a human road till she met a bigger town, and Transform there. She moved faster as herself anyway.
The decision made, Xiaohu went along the road she was on. It was a fairly big road, and it was straight. As long as she didn’t turn into one of the smaller roads, she knew she’d reach somewhere eventually. Crossing all those smaller roads without being seen wasn’t easy, and she had to wait at a junction for a group of workmen. Still, she managed to reach the outskirt of the town in no time. Miles and miles of rural pasture welcomed her presence, providing ideal disguise and perfect underfoot conditions. Occasionally, folks passed her in their cars. But they’d likely take her as a dog or something.
She soon met a three-way junction, and turned right as the road looked bigger. The next one was just a few minutes away, and she turned left here to her original direction. Despite the strangeness of the landscape and people, Xiaohu liked her journey. She was blessed with harvesting farms and boundless freedom. She could run as fast as she wanted, and never worry about a thing. There were plenty of streams and waterholes, too, in case she got too hot or too thirsty - but then, she didn’t even need that much water as it was a cloudy, breezy day. It was, even in her lost state, a perfect outing.
Then she reached a bigger town, or a city. She felt it before she even entered it - the vibration of the air, the bustle, and a sense of bouncing energy. Xiaohu followed the road into its centre, careful not to draw any attention to herself, and turned into a deserted backstreet to Transform.
“Speaking of girls... Look at that one over here! Right up your alley, boss?”
Xiaohu turned. She didn’t understand whatever the voice was saying, but its tone startled her. In front of her stood three boys, her owner’s age.
“She’s Oriental,” said the biggest of the three, his tone dismissive, “I don’t care about her. You lot can have her if you want.”
Xiaohu stared at them as the three discussed. She couldn’t understand a thing, but she had a sense that they were talking about her. She hesitated - would these people help her?
“妈妈，” she said finally, “我找妈妈。 (Mama, I find Mama.)”
The boys looked at her, stunned. Then, the one whose arms were covered by dark ink smiled, “Mama, what’s Mama?”
Xiaohu nodded. She didn’t like the way the boys looked at her, but they seemed to understand her. She repeated her line.
“We don’t give a fuck what Mama is,” said the same boy, grabbing her arm, “but you… We know what you are.”
“你们干什么？(What are you doing?)” Xiaohu slapped his hand as hard as she could, and tried to wiggle free. The boy was much stronger than her human form, and she couldn’t fight him off.
“Ziyi, Ziyi!” she called, desperate to reconnect with her owner. Like all the other times, there was no response. The boys had already pressed her onto the ground, and she was mortified. She didn’t know what to do - her owner always kept her safe!
Xiaohu heard herself scream as she Transformed back to herself, her big, fluffly tails slapping the boys in their faces, hurting them like a million whips. She needed to get out of here. Get out of the the back alley, and out of this town. No one - not a single soul - could see her or her human form.
In her haste to leave the town, Xiaohu failed to see her Illusion breaking from her. It grew bigger and bigger as it rose into the air, thrashing and rolling in agony.
Back to index
Chapter 2: 2 Sighting
Author's Notes: Tried my best to post this at 11:00am on Sept 1st. Happy 19 Years Later everyone :) PS I'll deal with the randome signs later... Back to bed I go!
Warning: mild to strong language
It was one of those days where work just couldn't get a grip of itself, Harry decided by lunch. Since he arrived at the office, he'd already received three surprises: an urgent meeting with Percy and Kingsley about a British Unforgivable user captured in Spain, Umbridge's barrister barging into his office for the fifteenth time of the year demanding a retrial, and, just as he directed the man to Hermione, a heated argument broke out between a third-year trainee and her mentor.
"Eat," said Stacy, his PA. "You can review the trainee profiles afterwards."
There were 12 trainees in the Auror office, and two conventional vacancies. As the head, Harry needed to review the progress of each of them, and recommend them for one of the four options: "Progress into Next Training Scheme", "Remain in Current Training Scheme", "Progress into Conventional Employment", and "Progress into Specialized Training". The decisions were due by the end of the week as a new cycle of training were scheduled to start on the third Monday of September.
Harry scowled, and opened his lunch pack reluctantly. He was more inclined to read through the profiles while eating, but Stacy was having none of it, claiming he needed some time away from work. It was then Hermione walked into his office, her lunch in hand.
"Thanks for sending Ferguson," said Hermione as Stacy closed the office door. "He gave me another earful for half an hour."
"That's an improvement from last time, isn't it?" Harry asked. Umbridge's newly appointed barrister seemed to believe that if he harassed DMLE heads frequently enough, he'd get what he wanted.
"Only because I threatened to hex him," Hermione let out a sly smile, "and suggested that my statement, truthful or not, would have more influence than his."
"What an idiot," Harry mumbled, "At least he'll leave us alone now?"
"I hope so," Hermione pursed her lips. "So, dreadful morning?"
Harry swallowed a mouthful of his sandwich, "Just behind schedule, that's it. Guess I should get used to it after ten years as Head."
"Nobody likes surprises," Hermione picked up a chunk of salad on her fork, "That's why I didn't join the Aurors in the first place. I'd like some routine in my life."
"You remind me of Kopp," said Harry, smiling, "'There's only one routine in the Auror Office: nothing has a routine.'"
His imitation of his ex-mentor won a chuckle from Hermione.
"That's your office motto now, isn't it?" teased Hermione, "Did you drill that into Teddy's head, too?"
"He doesn't need me," said Harry, "Kopp does it in lectures frequently enough."
"Let's hope he doesn't become obsessed with work like you do, then."
"Who are you? What have you done with my Hermione?" Harry looked around, pretending to look for the "real" Hermione.
"Honestly, Harry," Hermione put down her salad and slapped his arm with a folder. "You need to spend less time with Ron and George!"
"All right, all right," said Harry, finishing his sandwich, "Not my fault that we were best mates since Hogwarts Express, is it?"
"Suppose not," said Hermione, "Have you got anything planned for Thursday, aside from the lecture?"
"No," said Harry, "Ginny's got a match in the morning, but she should finish her report before school's off. Lily's gymnastics class doesn't start till next week. Why?"
"Hagrid invites us for tea, after the lecture," said Hermione, "Kids are invited, too."
"Is it wise?" Harry couldn't help but question Hagrid's judgement.
"They go to the school grounds and the castle on Memorials anyways," said Hermione, "It's not like they've never been there."
"And Minerva doesn't have a problem with it?"
"Not according to Hagrid," said Hermione.
"Alarm: Breach of Statue. Offender Category Unknown. Alarm: Breach of Statue. Offender Category Unknown..."
A cold, apathetic voice lacerated the Auro Office. Automatically, Harry stood up, entered the main office, and directed his gaze to the Map. A hundred orange pins glowed somewhere around Birmingham. Everyone else in the office stood and held their breaths.
"There's some mad squirrel and it attacked me and my mates..." The transcriptions of relevant Muggle emergency calls began filing in.
"There's this shadow thing flying round and I just heard screaming, like a child being hurt..."
"...Strange screeching noise coming from the corner between Lamb Street and Well street..."
The Map on the wall zoomed as more calls - mostly about strange, horrifying noises and shadows - were magically transcribed, and eventually focused on Coventry. Most of the glowing pins were scattered around the city centre, while the most distant call came from a pin some three miles away. It was certainly some unusual situation. Harry looked at his men, who were staring at him expectantly.
"Offender Category Unknown," Dean frowned, recalling the alarm, "That's unheard of."
"Not since you joined, sonny!" Kopp growled from his lecture room, shooting Harry a glance, "It screamed the same thing when that damn dragon was released from Gringotts."
"Another dragon?" Harry thought out loud, "There shouldn't be one in Coventry, should there?"
"Not likely," said Geraint Ostrovski, their magical beasts specialist, "If one escapes Cardigan Island, it should be seen in Wales first."
"Unless it's a dragon we didn't know existed," said Susan Bones, her tight bun of hair jumped as she raised her eyebrow at their specialist.
"I'm more inclined to believe it's something else," said Geraint grimly, "but I'll contact experts immediately."
"We won't know until we see it," waved Harry, "Susan, Geraint, can I trust you to check this out? I'm just a Patronus away if you need anything."
Two of his team leaders nodded and called their colleagues.
"Obliviator Request Forms are on your desk, Harry," said Stacy as the office returned to its fast-paced, ready-for-anything order, "So is the Extraordinary Operation Request, just in case."
"Thank you, Stacy," said Harry as he retreated into his office.
"I'll leave you to work," said Hermione, making Harry jump, "Just remember - Thursday, after the lecture."
"You'll have to remind me after the lecture then," he called after his friend, who shook her head and left the office.
Harry filled the forms and sent them to Hermione, who would sign her approval before delivering them to Justin, Head of Department of Muggleborn and Non-Magical Affairs, and Kingsley. Hoping for a simple incident that Susan and Geraint could handle themselves, Harry opened the trainee files, and started reading.
He had just started reading the reference letters of the first profile when a silver highland cow hopped onto his desk.
"Harry, we're not in danger, but you'll want to take a look at this," said Susan's voice, "We're at Floyd's Field Sports Ground on Tanner Road, five miles west of Coventry."
"Stacy," said Harry as he stormed out of the room, "Susan just called me to take a look at the scene. Would you clear my afternoon just in case?"
"Yes, Harry," said Stacy, already pulling out the office agenda, "Team C and G are available; B and L are on-call."
"Thank you," said Harry appreciatively, "Florence, get dressed, we're taking your monkey out for a walk."
He then headed straight to the Auror changing room, pulled out his Muggle-friendly uniform from his standard-issue suitcase, and got changed. His mind drifted to his first encounter with Florence Byre.
It was the September after the war, and they were still rounding up Riddle's supporters. The Auror office had just lost most of its end-of-war recruits due to the new school year, and everyone who stayed were overworked. Tensions were especially high when Harry, along with his mentor Kopp, finished their Azkaban shift and returned to the office for some paperwork. Florence, a third-year trainee then, chose that moment to call him a "useless coward hidden behind fame and favour" while entertaining his trainee friends friends. Harry, having just stepped into the office after hours of Death Eater guarding, thought he was being attacked, and sent a merciless Stunner his way. Neither Kopp nor Gwen Ostrovski, the Head of Office back then, was impressed, and eventually the two were forced to make up and work as a pair, until Harry became the Head of Office.
He was just smiling faintly at their first encounter when Florence entered the change room with his trainee, Alex. These days, Aurors worked in a combination of pairs and teams, with each team consisting of two pairs: one Auror-Auror pair, and one Auror-Trainee pair. Florence's team was still finishing off their vampire case, but the other pair could deal with the leftover paperwork themselves. Harry needed at least one partner before going into the field.
"Ready?" he asked as the other two men walked out of their cubicles.
"Aye," said Alex. He was a fine young man from Cumbria, and was never too shy to display his heritage.
The three of them walked through the change room and entered the Emergency Portkey room. The receptionist today, Mr Hancock, was a cheerful chap.
"Harry," he called in his usual, breathy voice, "Urgent departure?"
"Yes, Timmy. Could you send us to Floyd's Field Sports Ground on Tanner Road, five miles west of Coventry, please?" Harry repeated the address.
"Not a problem," Mr Hancock searched through his detailed Map of Britain for Portkey Office Personnel book, before pointing his wand at an empty crisp tube. The tube glowed blue as the man silently enchanted their destination.
"Here you go," Mr Hancock handed the tube to Harry, "It leaves in thirty seconds. Good luck with whatever you're doing!"
"Thanks," said Harry, holding the tube out so that the others could put their fingers on it. A few seconds later, following a familiar, hook-like sensation at his navel, they arrived in the middle of the an empty football pitch. Susan and Teddy were waiting for them.
"Took you long enough," said Susan, though her voice was free of accusation.
"Came here as soon as I got your message," said Harry, "What's going on?"
He needn't have asked, as the next moment, his attention was caught by a giant creature moving in the air above the entrance of the field. It looked like an enlarged badger, standing at least 20 feet tall. Its head looked like it belonged to a fox, with a wide, white stripe running from its forehead down the middle of its chest, disappearing right inbetween its two front legs. It was baring its sharp teeth at the Aurors down below; its nine tails, covered in shiny, ink-black fur, floated around its body as if protecting itself from offenders. The rest of Susan's team and Geraint's team were beneath the creature, trying to figure out a way to either capture it, or demolish it.
"Muggles only see it as a shadow, thank Merlin," Susan filled them with the most up-to-date information, "But we still don't know anything about it. It doesn't seem to be able to make a single noise, nor does it look like a squirrel. So we're not even sure if it's related to the calls."
"Are we even sure it's a magical creature?" said Florence, "I mean, none of their spells are going through -"
"Of course it's a magical creature," a familiar, dreamy, voice spoke, "It's just not the creature. That's all."
"Hello Luna, Charlie," said Susan, undisturbed by their unannounced arrival, "Geraint wanted to call experts," she added in way of explanation.
"Er - Miss -"
"Luna Lovegood," said Luna, "And you are Alex Taylor, third-year Trainee. It's dangling from your lanyard."
"Er - yes," Alex smothered his identification card, "Nice to meet you."
"Nice to meet you, Alex," said Luna, "But I think it's time we drop the small talk. Charlie and I are called to help with a creature."
"You're lucky the European Magical Creature Conservation Summit is happening at Hogwarts this year," Charlie cracked a rough smile, the scratches on his cheeks made his face even more startling, "Or else you'd have loads of trouble finding the best hands!"
"So you think it is a creature?" Harry asked.
"It's Luna's theory, not mine," said Charlie, "But let's say it is a magical creature. I don't think it's native to Europe. We'd better consult someone who's done extensive studies outside Europe and northern Africa."
"But Mr Scamander is in the Amazons these days, there's no way we could find him before this thing destroys half the country," Florence's brows knotted into a deep frown.
"Rolf's granddad hasn't seen this, either," said Luna, "It's likely something from the Far East, thought to be long extinct."
"Then we need to call Kathy Walters," said Charlie, "She'll have a better idea."
"Kathy's back?" asked Harry.
"No," said Charlie, "But she's staying at the Dome, the Chinese magical school, you know. We can contact her via the school."
Back to index
Chapter 3: 3 Wait
Author's Notes: I seem to be incapable of life right now... So here we go with another chapter... Someone needs to give me a really hard kick in the butt to actually do my readings (and stay away from writing more fanfictions)!
On the side note, there are a few cultural things in this chapter. I'll try to explain them in the notes below, but let me know if things are still too confusing!
Warning: strong language
Ginny sat at the table and watched the September rain hit the window. It had just started to drizzle when she got to the school gate. It was that type of rain where you’d never think you’ll need an umbrella for, but then got you proper wet before you could reach your destination.
They’d got home, dried themselves, and changed, and now Ginny was in the living room, supervising homework time. A delicious smelling pot of beef and ale stew was simmering on the cooker. Ginny pulled her gaze back, and continued to read The Hippogriff at Hogwarts. It was a newly released book about migrant children’s experiences, and Ginny didn’t know what to take from it. She liked the writing though. The author possessed enough skills to keep her engaged, but never too attached to think. He had a poetic voice.
“Done,” Lily snapped shut her organizer smugly, “I’m faster than you!”
“That’s not fair,” Al protested, “You’ve only got maths, and I’ve got readings too! I’ve done maths faster than you!”
“I still finished before you did!” Lily was not a girl to back down, “Admit defeat, Albus!”
Al sighed, and shook his head, “Fine, I’m reading ahead anyways.”
Lily looked like she wanted to carry the argument further. Not wanting to play the peacemaker between the two, Ginny shot both kids a warning glare, and Lily dropped the thought.
“I’ll go work on my flexibility,” she excused herself, “Or Anna’s gonna jump on my neck next week.”
“Don’t overdo it,” Ginny called after her 8-year-old, “I’d rather not deal with a torn muscle again.”
“I know my limit,” Lily’s voice echoed from the stairs.
It was almost an hour later when Al decided he’d read enough. By then, Ginny was in the kitchen, mashing the potatoes.
“All right?” Ginny asked, adding more milk into the pot.
“Yeah,” said Al, “Can I ask a question?”
“Were there lots of refugees during the War against Riddle?” Al licked his lips.
“There was,” said Ginny simply, “Why?”
Al shrugged, “Just wondering. We’re learning about World War II this term.”
“Ah,” said Ginny, recalling a number of difficult conversations with James when he learned about the same topic, “Many muggleborns fled the country, more were forced into hiding.”
“And then what?” asked Al, “Did they come back?”
“Some of them did,” said Ginny, reaching for the salt jar, “Some of them decided not to come back.”
“But why?” Al frowned, “Why didn’t they want to come home?”
“I don’t know, Al,” said Ginny sadly, “Why do you think?”
“Because they were afraid?”
“Possibly so,” agreed Ginny, “or the Post-War Reform Committee never reached them.”
There was a shuffle from the living room. A few moments later, Harry and Teddy poked their heads inside the kitchen.
“Smells good in here,” said Harry, pretending to be fully immersed by the smell, “I know my missus has been working hard.”
Al made a face and ran away. He still avoided his parents’ “disgusting” interactions like a plague. Teddy, chuckling, hurried out with Al after a brief hello.
“Dinner’ll be ready in 10!” Ginny yelled after the boys. Harry pinned a soft kiss on her cheeks.
“Mmm… How was your day?” asked Ginny.
“Eventful,” Harry grimaced, “They found Islington in Seville, and refused to hand him over. Then Ferguson the lawyer came for the usual ‘It’s time for a reconsideration’ rubbish. A fight, and then a suspected sighting of an unknown creature.”
“Eventful indeed,” said Ginny. She sent the knife to cut the lettuce with a wave of her wand, “Strange creature?”
“Or something related to a creature,” said Harry as he ordered the plates to set themselves on the table, “Luna never really explained it. I’m starting to suspect she doesn’t even know for sure.”
“Luna doesn’t know the beast?” asked Ginny incredulously, “Merlin, that must be one hell of a beast!”
“It’s not really a creature, as far as we know,” sighed Harry, “But Luna insists it’s creature-related, and we’re calling in Kathy Walters.”
“I remember that girl,” Ginny smiled fondly, “one of the first Muggleborns to attend Hogwarts after the war. As passionate as Hermione, that Kathy.”
“True, we wouldn’t have the VAO if not for the Walters,” said Harry, “Enough of me. How was your day?”
“Me?” Ginny shook her head, “Just the old so-and-so. Finished the report for yesterday’s match, then used the rest of the day to read that new book I’m supposed to review. Then Al came and asked questions about refugees. He’s learning about that Muggle war now.”
“That’s productive,” Harry praised, “As for Al, we’ll just have to wait and see, I suppose. He’ll be more difficult than James, but he’s no Rosie, or Molly.”
“True,” Ginny chuckled. Molly was only in her third year, and she had already driven Percy up the wall by demanding all kinds of facts about the War, some of her questions more embarrassing than the others. Audrey had to step in before she decided her father was a coward. Rosie was the same age as Al. She asked for “a book about that magic that made Uncle Harry famous” for her upcoming birthday. Hermione was more than exasperated.
“Speaking of the kids,” said Harry, remembering her lunchtime conversation with Hermione, “Hagrid invites us for tea on Thursday.”
“We can go, as long as he clears it with the Headmistress,” said Ginny, “You mind making the salad while I go up and call the kids? We’re out of dressing, I think. So salt and vinegar for now.”
Harry gave her a thumb-up and redirected his attention to the bowl of fresh garden veg before him.
Dinner was a quiet, dull affair, with Al in his own thoughts and James’ absence. Lily and Teddy tried their best to jabber on throughout the meal, and managed to maintain the conversation till the main course was over.
“What’s for pudding, Mummy?” asked Lily.
“We’ve still got those ice cream sandwiches we made the other day, would you like some?” asked Ginny.
Lily nodded enthusiastically.
“Me too, Mum,” said Al.
Harry put on the kettle as Ginny pulled out the sandwiches for the kids. He and Teddy then worked on the dishes. It was an unspoken rule at the Potters: if one cooked, the others must help with the dishes.
When the kitchen was once again presentable, and the tea was ready, the men loaded the pot and a few cups onto a tray and carried it outside, where the kids and Ginny passed a Quaffle around. Al seemed to have convinced the others that their current rule was to never pass forward.
“We’re playing a game of magical rugby,” said Ginny in way of explanation, “Care to join us?”
It took a lot of confusion to explain the rules and boundaries, but the group had fun nonetheless. It was soon on the darkening, and the ball and the bodies were getting harder to see.
“Touch!” squealed Al, “Knock over!”
“You got me, Al,” said Teddy, panting.
“Next try wins!” screamed Lily, “Cuz I’m knackered!”
“All right,” said Al, slipping past Teddy before the older boy could react, and sprinted past the goal line, “We won!”
“Good job, Al,” praised Harry, also catching his breaths, “You’re a very clever Captain! Let’s go back inside now.”
The next set of routines were in play as the grownups set to get the kids ready to bed. Finally, at half past nine, Harry and Teddy settled in the living room sofa.
“Never have kids, Teddy,” grumbled Ginny as she laid down their second brew of tea and a box of shortbread on the table, “You’ll be forced to abandon all day-time social activities, and everything that does not happen at home.”
“Duly noted,” said Teddy, smiling, “I hope I wasn’t a little devil like these two.”
“You were worse,” teased Harry, “We were terrified of losing you. We’d never know what you’d look like the next second!”
“My favourite trick,” Teddy teased back, “good to know it worked.”
Harry took a sip of tea.
“So, how are you settling in?” Ginny asked, “You and Susan getting along?”
“Yeah, she’s a very capable mentor,” said Teddy, “she doesn’t yell at you like Kopp always does,” he spared a cautious glance at Harry, “but she makes her points clear, and she cares about teaching.”
“Good old Susan,” said Harry, “Glad to see she’s treating you as Teddy, not Harry’s godson.”
“Yeah. Thanks, Harry,” said Teddy, “I know a lot of the lecturers couldn’t do that. Susan’s amazing, really.”
“What about the other trainees? You’re getting along just fine?” Ginny sounded a little concerned, “Harry hexed Florence when he first joined the force. They weren’t giving you a hard time for being related to Harry?”
“No,” Teddy cracked a wicked grin, “But I bet they’ll be jealous now that I’ve become the first one to go on a mission.”
“Susan took you to the scene today?” asked Ginny.
“She called me after the rest of the team deemed the scene safe,” explained Teddy, “Don’t worry, Harry won’t get me killed before I could even finish my training.”
“What happens now? You’re calling in the Obliviators?”
“They’ll be on standby, in case some Muggle sees more than they should,” Harry explained, “Fortunately they couldn’t see what was really there, or we’d have a nationwide crisis. But we can’t really do anything till Kathy gets back.”
“At least twenty-four hours of waiting,” moaned Teddy, “with a rotation between three teams to keep an eye on the Big Balloon.”
“Alex named it,” said Teddy, “It looks like one of those giant balloons Muggles use for festivals, or so he said. Except it looked like a real animal with real furs and stuff.”
“At least you don’t have the Magical Creature folks breathing into your neck,” said Ginny.
“I had to file a request to look over recent custom records though,” Harry stretched his back, “in hopes that we could find more clues on who brought it in.”
“Great,” muttered Teddy, “More work for the inexperienced.”
“Better than going into the field and getting killed on your first day” Harry reminded him, “A few of us were scarily close to that on our first days.”
“True,” said Teddy, “That would be especially sad for you lot, considering...”
“Yeah, anyways,” Ginny refilled her cup, “How’s Andromeda, Teddy?”
The question successfully spinned them off the trajectory of more war talk, and the rest of the evening flew by with general banter and gossip. Harry was amused when Teddy turned pink at Ginny’s innocent question,
“Victoire? You fancy her?”
Teddy nodded as if it was the hardest decision of his life.
“Congratulations, young man,” said Ginny, “Just don’t let your Auror friends know about your girl yet. They can give you hell if they know you’re dating a schoolgirl.”
“Thanks, Ginny,” Teddy smiled shyly.
The grandfather clock chimed eleven. Teddy stood up,
“I’d better get going,” he said, scooping his briefcase from the sofa, “Gran’ll be livid if I don’t show up soon.”
“Here, take these,” Ginny dashed to the kitchen and returned with another box of shortbread, “We made loads with the kids the other day, take this to Andromeda and say hi to us.”
“Thanks, Ginny,” said Teddy, not even attempting to refuse, “I’ll make sure there’s a grand Victorian cake waiting for you next time you visit.”
“Thank you, Teddy,” said Harry, “You have a good night.”
“You too,” Teddy searched his pockets, and pulled out a sealed bag. He reached in, grabbed a handful of Floo powder, and walked to the fireplace, “Tonks’ Residence.”
Harry watched as his godson disappear spinning in the flames.
“Well, that’s another child dealt with,” said Ginny, inching closer, “What do you say about some real grownup time, Mr Potter?”
“Certainly, Mrs Potter,” said Harry in his poshest voice. He took Ginny’s hand, held her by the waist, and together, they marched to the master bedroom.
Katherine Walters had just finished her last cycle of meditation. Growing up in the west, she wasn’t particularly fond of the idea of sitting around doing nothing. Unfortunately for her, she chose to study in the Wood domain, and a heightened sense of the surrounding and herself while maintaining what her master called “the inner peace” was the basic requirement for the specialization. Over the past few years, she did her cycles earnestly, without gaining a taste of the practice itself.
In her meta-alert state, she sensed a movement from the hallway. It was light, but a powerful sort of light, just like how in Wood aspire their footsteps to be. Kathy waited till the movement halted in front of her room. The person knocked.
Kathy opened the door. Tianya, the Domain Director, stared at her grimly.
“Gu Xiaoqian,” he used her legal name, “The British Ministry Aurors request your assistance.”
“Is everything okay?” she asked. It wasn’t usual for anyone in Britain to call her via the Doom, let alone the Auror Office requesting her expertise.
“The Collaborator only suggested that your immediate presence is preferred,” he said, “We waited till you finished your meditation cycle. Here’s the official request document.”
“Thank you very much,” Kathy took the parchment envelope from the small, wrinkly man, tore it up, and skimmed through the letter.
“They suspect a sighting of a rare magical creature from the Far East,” said Kathy, frowning, “That’s strange… Sir, would this be all right -”
“It’s a Ministry request on their expert abroad, the school has no say in this. It’s your decision.” said Tianya. Kathy couldn’t tell any emotion from the man.
“I’ll go then,” said Kathy, genuinely worried, “It’s an Auror Office case, so I’m not sure how long it’ll take. Would you put a word for me if I don’t come back in time for the next Lecture Cycle?”
“That won’t be a problem. You’re an apprentice, not a student. The usual discipline doesn’t apply,” the man finally let out a reassuring smile, “Take a few days to visit your family, eh?”
“Thank you, sir,” said Kathy, warmed by the Director’s concern, “I’ll try my best to come back before the lectures.”
“I’ll go and tell the Ministry to arrange your Portkeys, then,” said Tianya, “You take care, lass.”
The man walked away, leaving Kathy to stare at the empty yard. It was the start of the Eighth lunar month, and the day before White Dew. Most students were enjoying their end-of-summer holiday with their parents, or using the holiday to further their studies. Of course, those who were studying were either in their final year of their education, or aspired to become a healer or a lawyer.
A cool, summer’s breeze caressed the yard, shaking the date trees on either end of the rectangular space, and carrying the smell of fruits from the back hills. The Dome was a peaceful place, if not a little repressive at times, and she was glad she sought out her roots after graduating from Hogwarts.
Kathy closed the door and pulled out her travel pack. The students here had never seen a Standard Magizoology Travel Pack before, and frequently asked about her “foreign hiking bag” during her first year as an apprentice. They eventually saw its usefulness after their last End-of-Cycle Trial, which required students to form groups and survive in the back hills for five days. Now they just looked at her pack with awe.
Kathy opened the pack and checked for her supplies. She was the type of person who never truly unpacked, so that packing would never be too difficult. After a quick count, she decided she only needed appropriate clothes, her book box on East Asian, South African, and Australian magical creatures (because Charlie and the Ministry cared to mention the inadequacy of the legendary Newt Scamander, so the creature couldn’t be from Europe, North America, or northern Africa), and her equipment kit for all sorts of Chinese magic. Hoping for a creature that she knew well, Kathy decided she’d take a nap first. Her midnight to noon meditation session wasn’t tiring, but her upcoming Portkey travel would be.
It was a few hours later when the Silhouette knocked on the door, delivering the details of her Portkey. Kathy just had time to change into her jeans and shirt before she was due in the Central Hall, where she would start her journey home. She found the broken comb with ease, and held it in her hand. At 3:30pm sharp, the comb glowed blue. She felt a familiar tugging sensation at her navel before embracing a whirlwind of potential destinations.
Mongolia Bilgee Hunting Ground… Kazakhstan Ministry Reception Room… Mascow Academy of Transportation Magic…
As Kathy was directed to the Portkeys and waited for each one of them, she realized that she was taking the short route. Her family had been Portkeying between Britain and China since she got her Hogwarts letter, and every other time they were directed towards a route that would either skirt Southern Europe or India. The Ministries must have pulled several strings to put her through via Russia.
The Leeuwalden All-Welcome Magical Tourist Centre took care of her final connection with kindness and warm food. Finally, after finishing her portion of sausage and mash, she was directed to an old ball pen. It would take her straight to the Ministry Entrance.
It was a rainy day in London. Dampness seeped through her battered runners as Kathy marched towards the guest entrance on Northumberland Street, just off the Strand. She cursed silently when she checked her watch, convinced that the Ministry was closed, before coming back to her senses: her watch, although magic-proof, did not sync time zones. She arrived at 14:41 in London, not 21:41.
“Please state your name and the purpose of your visit,” the dull, female voice boomed as she closed the door of the telephone box.
“Katherine Walters,” she said, “For a consultation.”
The lift descended into the ground, and soon transported her to the Atrium.
“Please proceed to the security desk at the end of the hall to receive your Visitor’s Badge. Have a good day.”
Despite the number of times she walked through the Atrium to visit her parents, Kathy never got used to the shiny, marble floors. It always felt like they were out to make her slip and break her arm.
Kathy paused briefly at the Monument - a tall obelisk with all participants and victims from the First and Second Wizarding War, on both sides, in alphabetical order of their surnames. She smiled fondly at a particular memory, one that involved Professor Underwood, Harry the Deputy Head Auror, and Kingsley the Minister.
“Name?” the burly wizard at the security desk called her impatiently.
“Katherine Walters,” said Kathy, “I’m here as per request of the Aurors.”
She handed the wizard her wand, accepted a number of pokes from the new Deception Detector - one that was said to detect a range of Muggle disguises - and was relieved to finally receive her Visitor’s Badge. She pinned it firmly on the left collar of her shirt.
“What on earth is going on?” she ranted as soon as she entered Harry’s semi-private office, “You’ve pulled me out of a transformative year of studies, it had better be something worthwhile!”
She was glad to see Harry sigh. It meant he didn’t want to call her either.
“Believe me, Kathy,” he said, throwing his hands above his head, “We wouldn’t have called you if we have a single clue. In fact, we wouldn’t have known to call you if not for Luna’s insistence.”
The mention of Kathy’s eccentric ex-mentor signalled the gravity of Harry’s problem. The Auror Office had their own team of Magical Creature experts, and to involve borth Charlie and Luna, and by extension Kathy, they must have zero clue of their current Big Case.
“You’re that desperate?” Kathy asked, settling herself into a chair.
“Giant, badger-like thing in the air, nine black tales, fox’s head,” recited Harry, his eyes half closed, “Sounds familiar?”
Kathy felt her hair stand on the back of her neck. She had heard plenty about the creature, few of the rumours positive. She’d never met one alive, thank Merline, as her master’s stories were horrifying enough. She didn’t know if she’d be able to handle it with his master, let alone doing it alone.
“Blimey,” she said, “Don’t tell me it’s a Fox Spirit! That foul thing has never been seen for almost 200 years, and last time it was seen, it lead the whole of China into chaos and war.”
“Great,” muttered Harry, clearly displeased at her hypothesis, “Another war. Just what we need not even two decades after last one.”
“Or - ” Kathy thought about the recent rumours circulating the Dome, “It could be an Illusion of a Nine-Tailed Fox. It’s harmless, but it’s as unlikely as the Fox Spirit for it’s a very rare Hatched Pet. I can’t really tell between the two unless I go there and see it myself.”
“A pet. At the Dome, students grow Pet Eggs and Hatch them instead of buying pets. Whatever they Hatch says something about their power and personalities, and as they grow up together, they become one unit. A Nine-Tailed Fox is extremely rare, though. I think there’s only been one Fox over the past decade or so.”
Harry nodded, “Let’s get ready. We’re going to the scene.”
 Tianya: 天涯, a common name for both males and females in Mainland China, literally means "edge of the heaven/sky"
 Gu Xiaoqian: 顾晓倩, Kathy's "other" name. Gu (顾) is a surname in China, and Xiaoqian (晓倩) is her first name. It has two parts. Xiao (晓) means early (or knowing/understanding), and Qian (倩) means beautiful, handsome, or a beautiful female smile, though its meaning is largely lost and this character is almost only used in names these days... It's a surprisingly common character for female names these days, starting with Kathy's generation. Xiao (晓) is less common in names but its meaning still stays in the lexicon of the common folks.
 White Dew: 白露, or Bailu. One of the 24 solar terms in East Asia. It usually falls around September 8th and represents the day where dew would be forming in early mornings, merely a month after the First Day of Autumn (which is usually around August 8th).
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Chapter 4: 4 Encounter4. Encounter
“It’s most definitely a Fox,” said Kathy after performing a number of entrapment chants, “And not the Fox itself.”
“The Pet, right? Not the Spirit.” asked Harry.
“Feels like a Pet in distress,” said Kathy, “But I’ve never seen the Spirit before, so I can’t be sure. There’s also the saying that the Pets are sent to earth by the Spirit, so maybe they have the same feels.”
Harry blanched. The giant Fox turned again in midair, its face in agony.
“That’s just supersitstion, I doubt it’s true,” said Kathy, taking pity on the Auror, “I’m just being a responsible researcher, Big Bad-Bloke Buster.”
It was Kathy’s brother’s nickname for Harry when he first heard of the man. Ever since, the name became her favourite salutation when Harry appeared to be too wrapped up in his cases.
“But you’re confident about this - whatever it is?”
“I know it’s a Fox behind it,” said Kathy, “and if we find the Fox, I know how to do away of this Illusion.”
Harry was no mediocre investigator. Kathy sighed, and gave away her concerns, “but Foxes can’t move too far away from their owners. So if there’s a Fox, there’s a person behind it. I don’t know what that person wants.”
“Thank you, Kathy,” said Harry, “At least the person part is something we’re good at. You can go take a rest now, visit your folks if you want. I’ll send my men to look for this Fox and whoever’s behind it.”
“You’ve really got no idea of creatures from the Far East, have you?” Kathy pointed out, “Let’s organize a lecture for all Aurors involved in this case, back at the Ministry. This illusion here is safe as it is, and a couple of hit-wizards can handle the safeguarding. You’ll never find the Fox, let alone the person, without the basics.”
The afternoon was dry and gloomy after a morning full of rain. Ginny stood by the school gate, listening to the Mums talking about their back-to-school adjustments.
“Jonny just wouldn’t do his homework,” said Hannah, complaining about her kids as usual, “Ruth, of course, wouldn’t do it either, as her big brother kept distracting her.”
“Craig’s okay,” said Polly, “I suppose he wants to have a good impression on their new teacher this year. That helped with Sally.”
“Eva’s not having it, too,” said Simon, the only dad in their group, “We let her get away with it as long as she’s honest, and can convince us she didn’t need it.”
The school gate opened, and a swarm of kids streamed out, spotting and running towards their parents. Ginny failed to spot neither of her children at the first glance.
“Mummy, Mummy!” Lily called, already by her side, “Miss Henman said my story was ingenious today!”
“Yes?” said Ginny, “What did you write about?”
“I invented a chocolate bird that can sing and fly away if people eat too much. Miss said it was a brilliant idea!”
Ginny smiled at her daughter’s excitement. Ever since her children found out that their slip-ups would almost always be interpreted as being imaginative, they started to use it to their own advantage, which frequently resulted in them getting praised in English class.
“That is a very good idea,” said Ginny, looking around, “Have you seen Al?”
“His class was off late,” said Lily, nonchalant, “I didn’t wait for him today. I wanted to find you first.”
“Al’s talking to Mr Robson,” Craig arrived just in time, “He’ll be out in a little while.”
“Thank you, Craig,” said Ginny. The boy nodded before leaving with his mother.
Soon, Ginny and Lily were the only people waiting, aside from a girl about Lily’s age. She was lean, muscular, and well-tanned. Her hair was black and soft, and despite its shortness, Ginny could tell she was a girl. She had a sorrowful, uncertain look on her.
“Do you know that girl?” Ginny whispered to her daughter. She had suddenly had an urge to check if the girl was all right.
“She’s not in my class,” said Lily truthfully, “But she might be in Year 3.”
“Shall we ask if she needs any help?” asked Ginny, trying to shake off the pressing feeling in her throat.
Al chose that moment to come out of the school, diverting their attention.
“Al!” Lily waved, “You’ve taken your time!”
Al sprinted towards them, “Yeah, I asked Mr Robson a few questions. Sorry, Mum. It took a bit longer than expected.”
Ginny had a fair idea about what those questions were, but she said nothing. If the boy wanted to search for answers, Ginny wasn’t going to interfere unless he asked for her help.
“Are we ready to go home, then?” she asked.
They turned. The girl, who had been sitting by the school gate, was just steps away, and she looked truly in distress. Ginny felt a twinge of guilt in her heart for forgetting about her.
“Sorry, dear,” she said, “Is your Mummy late?”
“Mama. Gone. Find,” was all she got for answer.
“Sorry?” Ginny frowned.
“Mama,” the girl said again, “Find Mama.”
“You’ve lost your Mummy?”
Another repeat of the same words. But this time, Ginny saw tears welling up in the girl’s eyes, and crouched down.
“Come, now,” she said, wiping away the tears with her handkerchief, “We’ll go home, you and I and Lily and Al,” she drew a big circle with her arm, including all four of them, “We’ll go to my home,” she patted her heart, and then pointed to the direction of Wye Cottage, “And we’ll see what we can do to help, okay?”
Perhaps it was her softened tone, perhaps it was her gestures, or perhaps it was the word “help”. The girl stopped sobbing almost right away, and nodded.
“What’s your name?” Ginny asked as she led the way home.
“Xiaohu,” said the girl.
“Yeo-oo,” Ginny repeated back with difficulty, “Sorry.”
Xiaohu shrugged. She glanced at Ginny with her big, brown eyes. Her eyelashes were long, and looked like a set of brushes when she blinked. Ginny suddenly felt a surge of pride rising inside her. For helping out a stranger, maybe?
“So, do you not speak English at all?” Lily asked.
“She does speak English,” Al observed, “Just a few words, but it’s English.”
“I’m not asking you, Albus,” Lily rolled her eyes.
Ginny let the kids sort themselves out.
Harry glanced across the room. Team A and C were all present, and Special Unit MC, Geraint’s team, was waiting for their specialist trainee. Alex the third-year trainee was their notetaker for the meeting. The Aurors, save Susan, Geraint, and Teddy, studied Kathy politely, as if they weren’t sure whether to trust her with their case. Amelia Murphy and Evan McGill, on the other hand, were engaged in a hushed conversation with their long-term friend.
The door opened. Dylan MacDonald, Geraint’s newest man, barged in.
“Sorry, sir -” he said, halting at the door, “I was on my break and didn’t get the message -”
“Sit down, please,” said Harry mildly, “And please, it’s Harry.”
“Sorry, sir - Harry.” Dylan walked along the table and sat down between Teddy and Geraint.
Harry nodded towards the Dylan, and addressed to everyone in the room.
“Yesterday at 13:18, our Breach of Statue Monitor picked up 156 signals, and a dozen Muggle emergency calls corresponding to an incident in Coventry. Muggle witness statements consisted mainly of hearing cries and screams, seeing shadows, with one person reported being attacked by a squirrel. Two teams of Aurors, Team A and Specialist Unit MC were dispatched to investigate.”
“We have, upon arrival at the scene, identified the source of the shadow,” Susan read off her report, “It was an unknown creature - or a creature-like entity - in the air, drifting west at approximately 3 miles per hour. The creature was about 20 feet tall, and kept growing in size to this hour, reaching approximately 25 feet. Aurors at scene attempted a few spells to identify the nature of the creature. Their efforts were in vain. The spells agitated the entity, who subsequently took defensive positions.”
“Not that we could have harmed it,” Geraint took over, “Shortly after, we observed that none of the spells seemed to have an effect on the creature-like entity, and none seemed to go through either. It was hypothesized that the magic simply disappeared upon reaching the entity. The Magical Creature Specialist Unit contacted two experts in Europe immediately, who recommended the help of another scholar, Kathy Walters.”
Kathy nodded to the room, unfazed by the skeptical glares sent by the wary men and women. Harry concluded the briefing, “Upon arrival at the scene, Miss Walters was able to identify the creature, and called this meeting to aid us in capturing the culprit. Kathy.”
“Thank you, Harry,” said Kathy, “Your briefing further confirmed my suspicion of the creature being a Nine-Tailed Fox.”
“So that is a creature?” asked Dylan.
“Yes, and no,” Kathy didn’t seem to mind the interruption, “It’s an Illusion created by a Nine-Tailed Fox, likely in distress.
“The Nine-Tailed Fox is a rare Pet found exclusively in China,” she went on to explain, “It is different from the East Asian Fox Spirit, a highly powerful, immensely destructive creature thought to be immortal but hidden. Most available sources agree that Fox Spirit, or Spirits, only comes out when they smell trouble, and their presence would aggravate conflicts, eventually sending a society into warfare. It was most certainly true with the last sighting of the Fox Spirit.
“The Nine-Tailed Fox, or simply the Fox, is a smaller, less powerful creature with highly similar physical features, and it can only be Hatched by people who wish to have pets. Hatching of the Fox is extremely rare, with an incident of about one in every twelve to fourteen years. The Fox has the ability to make its screams heard by all living creatures within nine Chinese miles, to manipulate humans by planting and modifying emotions, and to breath fire and water, depending on the need. It creates an Illusion of itself whenever it experiences overwhelming emotions, which is, I believe, what we are looking at.”
“But you don’t know for sure?” asked Leah, Geraint’s partner.
“We can never know till we find the Fox itself, which should not roam further than 99 Chinese miles away,” Kathy remained calm and patient, “The creature itself is not a danger to anyone. However, our priority is to reach the creature before its owner does. Mr Potter and I agree that anyone who would smuggle a Fox and let it loose in Britain would be of questionable motives.”
“How can we find the Fox, then?”
“Harry has agreed to figure out that part once you are all familiarized with the creature. I can only provide information,” Kathy tucked a flock of hair behind her ear, “but I expect it’ll be some hard work. The Fox can be anywhere within 99 Chinese miles - 35 English miles - from the Illusion, and it’s a limited Shapeshifter.”
“That means we have no hope till we hear it scream again, then?”
“Not entirely,” Kathy’s eyes swept across the room again, “the Shapeshifting ability of the Fox is very limited, and it can only Transform into humans. If it is younger than two years of age, it has only one original form, which is a human child corresponding to its age. Once the Fox reaches adulthood, it can explore more disguise personalities.”
There was some collective chuckles as Teddy’s nose suddenly became wide and flat, while his hair changed into a very dark shade of brown.
“Sorry,” Teddy’s cheeks grew pink, “I - I don’t really know what happened -”
“That’s fine,” said Kathy, waving away the young man’s concern, “But Foxes are not Metamorphmagi. They can only Shapeshift from their Fox form to one human form at a time. If they’re not satisfied with their human form, they need to Transform back to a Fox and try again. Besides, a Fox can only take on human appearances of those it has seen before. The more familiar the human is to the Fox, the better chances of the Fox’s Transformation.”
“So if that fox grew up in China,” Evan reasoned slowly, “We’re most likely looking at an Oriental witch or wizard whom we do not know existed before.”
“Or the Fox itself,” said Kathy, “Or, if it is still a cub, we’re mostly definitely looking at a Chinese-looking child. I also happen to know a ritual to attract nearest magical creatures. It’s never been tried on Pet Foxes before, and I can’t guarantee to not attract any native species, but it is worth a try.”
“If you don’t mind, Kathy,” said Harry, “I think we’ll take your offer -”
He stopped at three solid knocks on the door. Stacy poked her head, and called him.
“Ginny called, she’s suspecting a compromise of security at Wye Cottage, and you’d better Floo call her right away.”
Harry nodded numbly, and stood up. It wasn’t like Ginny to ask for him straight out of the office. It was close to the end of his shift anyway, so she must have something really urgent to tell him. Concerned about his kids, Harry hurried back to his office, where he had a personal call-only fireplace.
“Ginny, what’s wrong?” Harry called as soon as he could see his living room.
“We found an Oriental girl at the school gate looking for her Mummy,” said Ginny, her eyes cloudy but full of unmistakable panic, “She’s got a magical photo in her pocket but when she came in the Stranger Alert didn’t pick up. She doesn’t speak English and she keeps crying for her Mama and I just don’t know what to do… Sorry, it’s really not a big deal, I could’ve waited -”
“It’s alright,” said Harry, his mind churning, “You found an Oriental girl, you say?”
“Yes,” Ginny confirmed, the clouds in her eyes clearing up, “I thought I’d ask if you know who her mum might be… It really shouldn’t matter. I should’ve waited till you get home.”
“Wait for me, Ginny,” said Harry, “and try to comfort her. I’ll need to tidy up a few things and we’ll be there as soon as we can.”
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Chapter 5: 5 Agreement5. Agreement
The meeting room echoed silence as Harry closed the door behind him. It was the type of silence that made Kathy shudder. She was a friendly acquaintance of the Potters, and was even invited to Wye Cottage last time she returned to Britain. Ginny didn’t appear to be an overly anxious wife. When she called, it must be an emergency - and emergencies for the Potters tended to be ten times graver than sudden illness or burglars.
“What was that about?” whispered one of the Aurors. She was a tall, lean blonde, with a plaid bowtie tucking up one side of her short hair and an asymmetrical smile. No name came to mind, though. Kathy was never the person to remember names, or to match them with the correct faces.
“No idea,” said the metamorphmagus, “But it’s Harry. Must be something serious.”
“More serious than this case?”
“Apparently,” Geraint Ostrovski, the specialist a few years ahead of her, tapped his fingers impatiently. It was then Kathy noticed that his right hand was missing its middle finger. Kathy wondered what deformities she would bear if she didn’t listen to the calls of the mysteries of her other home.
“Hem, hem,” Susan cleared her throat. To Kathy’s amazement, that gesture alone was enough to send shudders to the Aurors around her age. Evan even blanched. Even after all those years, she wondered if she’ll truly understand her peers’ world. On the other hand, she hoped she’d never understand.
“What? It got your attention!” Susan snapped at her gaping peers, “Shouldn’t we work out a plan to find that Fox?”
“Do not ever do that again,” Evan breathed weakly, “My poor heart...”
“You have no idea how terrifying that sounds,” added Florence, patting his chest, “Brings us right back… Anyways, the Fox. Are you confident about this - trapping method, Miss Walters?”
“Kathy,” said Kathy, “I cannot guarantee anything, as it’s an unprecedented case.”
“But you think it’s worth a try,” said Geraint.
“I think it’s your best bet,” said Kathy, “Or we can wait till I call the Chinese Ministry and experts, and let them deal with it.”
“That’ll be at least five days of processing, as it can’t be categorized as an international emergency until dark magic is detected and confirmed to be related to the Fox,” said Susan grimly, “I say we try this before anything else can happen.”
“Agreed,” said Amelia, “I’d rather solve the case before anything dark is involved, and chuck the diplomacy part of work to International Cooperation and Magical Creature Control.”
“Amelia,” Susan pursed her lip in exasperation.
The door opened, a dishevelled Harry walked in and sat down.
“All right, Harry?” Teddy asked despite Susan’s annoyance.
“Ginny said she found a magical, Oriental-looking girl and brought her home,” said Harry, shooting an almost desperate glare at Kathy, “She was in a strange state when I talked to her. If I didn’t know better, I’d almost say she’s fighting an Imperius curse.”
“Who could break into your house and cast an Unforgivable in your house?” asked one of Aurors, “You think it’s the same bloke who brought the Fox? For what? Distraction?”
“That’d be a heck of an unnecessary trouble for one display,” said Evan, “Surely no one’s that stupid?”
Kathy shut off the voices as the Aurors started a discussion on their theories behind this person who “broke into” the Potters’ residence and Imperiused Ginny. It made no sense for them to think it was one case, thought Kathy, but if Harry didn’t feel a connection, he would most likely assign Susan’s team to investigate in private. What was going on?
Then she saw it, the connection. Everyone jumped onto the Imperius part assuming their boss confirmed signs of an Unforgivable Curse - only Harry almost admitted otherwise. Strange state… Imperius Curse… That could mean some sort of spell, or… Where was that last piece of the puzzle…?
“Got it!” yelped Kathy, slamming her hand on the table and making everyone jump.
“What in Merlin’s name...” Florence’s trainee gaped at her. He looked like he was ready to hex her.
“Oriental girl. Magical.” said Kathy. Her brain was turning too fast for her to find words, one of the problems she attributed to being a bilingual. “E - Ah. Regulation. No, not that word - urgh!”
She put her face in her palms, and took a long breath. It helped, but only just.
“Sorry,” she said, “I just can’t - urgh - my brain is giving me a blank in the Vocabulary Department right now.”
“Slow down, Kathy, and think in Chinese if you must” said Harry. He was no stranger to such episodes. It happened almost every single time the two worked together, ever since her first year.
“Chinese is coming up with nothing, either,” said Kathy, “That - ah - Mood Regulation, not quite but close enough. Not Imperius. Oriental, girl! The puzzle - the piece.”
She stared at Harry hopefully. The latter’s eyes flickered. Kathy knew the connection was made.
“You’re saying that Ginny did find a girl, and that girl is the Pet Fox you were talking about?”
“Thank you,” said Kathy, pressing her fingers against her eyes. Bits and pieces of information, concepts, and images were still flying around way too fast for her to process, but now that Harry understood her haywiring mind, her job was done.
The moment that thought slipped into her mind, the tempestuous storm halted. The term was Emotional Manipulation, Kathy sighed inwardly.
“I’ll go home and see if I can bring her back to the office,” said Harry, back to his Big Bad-Bloke Buster pose, “Amelia, if you don’t mind coming… And...”
Kathy felt Harry’s hesitating glance. She knew what was expected.
“I’ll go with you,” she said, “In case something happens.”
Kathy stifled a sigh at the child before her. She looked about 8 years of age, and wrapped herself tightly into a blanket - the only comfort the Auror Office was allowed to give an unaccompanied child. Her eyes were red-rimmed and wet, her cheeks stained with tears and smears of mud. Despite her pitiful looks, Kathy was told to remain on the other side of the desk until the end of the interrogation, or statement taking. Her personal Transcribing Brush stood straight on the desk, trying to retain that drop of ink ballooning from its tip. Below it was a stack of Xuan paper, each piece had one side sealed by grease to prevent staining. Harry sat beside her, an European standard translation parchment laid in front of him. He was to decipher whatever the parchment could regurgitate from their conversation, and advise her on what to ask.
“Are we ready to start? 可以开始了吗” asked Kathy in English, then in Mandarin. Her brush started scribbling fervently, taking in not only the conversation, but also any noticeable details of its participants.
The girl nodded, squeezing more tears from her eyes. The sound of her language seemed to have opened a crevice on her dyke that held back overwhelming emotions.
“Let’s begin,” said Harry, also nodding.
“Okay,” said Kathy, turning her attention to the girl in front of her, “Do you have a name?”
“I’m called Xiaohu,” said the girl, trying her best to hold back the sobbing.
“Are you human?”
“Nine-Tailed Fox,” said Xiaohu.
“Xiao for Little, Hu for Fox, right?” Kathy clarified her name, and the girl nodded. It wasn’t a very inventive name for a pet, Kathy thought.
“How old are you?”
“Six months,” said Xiaohu truthfully, “A year of Hatching before that, and another year of growing before my owner harvested the Egg.”
“And you know that because -”
“My owner told me. We all ask about these things when we’re little,” Xiaohu was now studying Kathy’s face curiously, “How come you don’t know that?”
“I’ve never Hatched a Pet before,” said Kathy, “Who’s your owner?”
“Li Zijie,” said Xiaohu.
“Li for the common surname, Zi for boy, and Jie for clean?”
“Zi for wood-spicy Zi,” Xiaohu corrected.
Kathy was grateful that Xiaohu talked about the character itself, rather than making a word containing the character. It was one of those rarer characters that she wasn’t confident writing, even though it was a plant name that she was to learn in the near future.
“Thank you,” she said, “Do you know where your owner is?”
Xiaohu shook her head. She had just calmed down a little, but the new question sent her back into her misery.
“Can’t find - Can’t find owner -” she howled, wiping her tears and boogers on the blanket, “Can’t feel her - can’t call her - the bad ones - there were bad men but I can’t call owner -”
“Bad men?” Kathy was exerting all of her self control to not dash over and hold Xiaohu in her arms. She could feel Harry clench his fists, too. She wasn’t alone in wanting to comfort the girl.
“In the city,” Xiaohu snivelled loudly, “They saw my human form, and they dragged me and pinned me on the ground and I Transformed and fled.”
“When did that happen?” Harry dropped the question.
“When did that happen?” Kathy translated.
“Yesterday… Afternoon, I think?” said Xiaohu, “I could hear things miles away.”
“You can hear through your Illusion?” asked Kathy. The Nine-Tailed Fox wasn’t a well-studied species, and she was finding the magical powers of the Pet incredible.
“I could hear things from miles away,” said Xiaohu, “People shouting strange words and talking about how to deal with the beast. I split an Illusion?”
“A very impressive one,” said Kathy sadly. Xiaohu must have been completely overwhelmed to create an Illusion almost 30 feet tall, “You can understand the language here?”
“My original form can.”
“How did she find Ginny?” Harry whispered beside her ear.
“How did you end up in the red-hair woman’s house?” Kathy translated the question, and directed it towards the girl.
“I heard people talking about a family, and how close my Illusion was to their house. Another one mentioned a city in a general direction. I heard a man going to the same city and followed him on the train. Then someone else said something about the family living in a small town outside of the city so I walked around and felt the magic at the school.”
“Then you forced Ginny to help,” said Kathy, connecting the dots.
Xiaohu shook her head, “Not Force. I Willed her. I didn’t want to, but I was terrified of the bad men.”
“And your owner hasn’t contacted you yet? She didn’t feel you’re in danger?”
Xiaohu shook her head again, blinking, “Owner’s not here. I know it. I can’t feel her, she’s far, far away.”
“How did you come here then?”
“She said we were going to travel together,” said Xiaohu, more tears streamed down her cheeks, “So I went into a box and slept there. I woke up and found myself inside a suitcase of that Squib.”
“Zijie’s cousin,” said Xiaohu, “we played together over the break.”
“Thank you,” said Kathy softly, “Do you have anything else to ask?”
She put her face in her hand again as Xiaohu gaped at her. She’d just spoken Mandarin to Harry.
“Sorry,” she said to Xiaohu. To her exasperation, the line came out in English. “Harry, anything else you wish me to ask?”
“I think I’ve got enough here, at least for now,” said Harry, “You can do your job now.”
“Xiaohu,” said Kathy, seeking the girl’s eyes, “Would you mind Transforming for me?”
The fear in Xiaohu’s eyes almost convinced her to give up the idea.
“It’s okay,” said Kathy, trying her best to not let her own emotions run wild, “I won’t let anyone other than Harry’s family to come near you.”
“But - but - they said they’ll deal with me -”
“Not when I’m here,” Kathy was furious at the Aurors for their casual choice of topics now. How else would Xiaohu know what the Ministry planned for her?
“Harry and his men are going to try and find your owner now,” said Kathy, “and I’ll stay here with you. You can take a rest first, and if you want, I can take you home till we find your owner. You’ll be safe.”
“No cages?” Xiaohu asked, “No Containment?”
“As long as you behave,” said Kathy.
Xiaohu didn’t seem convinced, but a second later, she closed her eyes, turned her torso and became a cyclone of blurry colours. Her Transformation was quiet and instant. A second later, the child was replaced by a Nine-Tailed Fox. She looked exactly like her Illusion.
Kathy walked around the desk, untangled the blanket, and scooped the small creature into her arms. Xiaohu clinged onto her shirt with her sharp, strong claws. She was slightly shaking.
“There, there,” she whispered, letting her instinct take over, “You’re safe here, Xiaohu. I’m with you. I can protect you.”
At first, it only made Xiaohu to curl up into a ball, her tails covering every single bit of her body as if she was still trying to keep offenders away. Then, as Kathy sat down and scratched the back of her ears, Xiaohu relaxed, rubbed her face against her chest, and buried herself deeper into Kathy’s arms.
Someone knocked on the door. Harry stood up and went out for a brief talk.
“The Illusion is shrinking,” he said upon his return, “Amelie just sent a Patronus to Susan.”
“Good,” said Kathy, “She’s calming down now. I can handle it here. You go work on your Big Bad-Bloke Buster stuff”
“Are you sure you want to take her home?” asked Harry, still eyeing Xiaohu warily.
“She’ll do no harm,” said Kathy, “she’s not the Spirit. Besides, Mum and Dad would love to meet her, I’m sure. You go find the owner now.”
Harry nodded, and grimaced, “I go explain to Kingsley why I investigated a magical creature case with no apparent link to Dark Magic. I’m supposed to let Magical Creatures carry their own investigation.”
“But you’re obliged to investigate every potential breach of the Statue. I did the trial training upon graduation, you know, and you lot drilled it into my head.” said Kathy, “Tell them exactly that. I’m sure Ginny will say the same thing.”
“You’re right, Kathy,” said Harry, standing up, “Say hi to your Mum and Dad for me.”
“I will,” said Kathy. She watched as Harry walked out of the room and closed the door without making a noise. She looked down and focused on the Fox in her arms.
Upon a closer inspection, Kathy noticed that Xiaohu hadn’t entirely rid her baby form yet. Her mouth and ears were slightly rounder than an average adult Fox, and her eyelids were grey, rather than white. She was about half a metre long, Kathy estimated, and was as heavy as a newborn child. Kathy admired her smooth, white and black fur, and recalled her favourite tune as a child.
“How beautiful the jasmine is (好一朵美丽的茉莉花),” she hummed, rubbing Xiaohu’s back as the Fox fell into a peaceful slumber.
 here I call Chinese pictographs characters... Every syllable has many characters meaning different things, and most people understand which character is used by context (ie which other characters/sounds goes with it and stuff like that). For example, if I was only given a sound shν, it could mean at least a dozen things like "ten/十", "time/时", "real/实", etc, but if someone says shν yΰn, a two-syllable, two-character word, I'll know the word is written as 实验, and means "experiment". When people aren't sure how one's name is written, making a word out of it is the most common way to clarify, but occasionally, people also dissect parts of the character, so basically telling people how to write, instead of what to write... Like the name "Lily" - I can either say "Lily-the-flower" or I can say "L-I-L-Y". Here Xiaohu uses latter.
PS the song at the end of this chapter is an acclaimed traditional Chinese ballad :)
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Chapter 6: 6 Solution
Author's Notes: Apologies as I'd completely forgot about this chapter... Hope this ends the story on a better note!
Warning: strong language
“Tea?” Ginny asked as Harry stepped out of the fireplace. She had been trying to finish the book since she put the kids to bed. Her effort had been in vain as her mind insisted on drifting to the little girl, and the potential loopholes in their security spells.
“Yes, please,” said Harry, leaning his briefcase against the coat rack and hanging his cloak. Ginny hurried into the kitchen and fussed over the kettle.
As she laid down the tray that contained a pot of boiling tea, two cups, and a jar of milk, Harry was already leaning back in the sofa, his hands covering his face.
“You want me to get something stronger?” said Ginny, sitting down beside him.
“It’s fine,” said Harry, his voice tired, “How was your day, aside from the little episode?”
“Okay,” said Ginny, pouring tea for both of them, “I’m three chapters away from finishing the book, so the review will wait till Friday morning… Lily tried to do cartwheels on the kitchen table, and Al wanted to know if there was something like Anne Frank’s Diary from the War - what even is that?”
Harry sat straight, and sighed.
“A Muggle book, from the Second World War, documenting a girl’s life back then. As for the equivalent from Riddle’s reign... Suppose there would be one if Dudley wrote,” he said, “D’you think taking them to Worthing would help?”
“We don’t have to if you don’t want to,” said Ginny, “You want me to add milk for you?”
“Thanks, I’ll do it,” Harry took over the milk jar, poured a splash of milk, and put it down.
“Is the girl - whoever she is - safe?” asked Ginny.
Harry waved a hand, “She’s the Fox.”
“Sorry, it’s been a long day. I’ll start from the beginning,” said Harry, stretching his arms, “Kathy was a big help today. She took a look and told us it was a Nine-Tailed Fox behind the thing. She was just talking about the Fox being a Shapeshifter when you called. She solved the case, and now she’s taken the Fox home till we find her owner.”
“That explains the Stranger Alert thing,” said Ginny, taking a sip of her tea, “It only picks up humans.”
Harry gaped at her, guilt clearly written on his face, “Is that what you’ve been thinking about all night? I should’ve updated you before reporting to Kingsley.”
“You’re fine,” she said, pulling herself into Harry’s arms, “I know you’d put out the fire first. I was simply wondering. Honest. I don’t even know why I thought it urgent enough to call you.”
“It was unexpected,” Harry massaged Ginny’s lap, “Besides, Kathy said the Fox manipulated your emotions to get help.”
“Oh, bugger,” Ginny leaned on her husband, and enjoyed his gentle rubs. They cherished the silence for the next minute or so. Harry was lost in his own mind, and Ginny listened to the fire logs crackle and waited.
“Amos wasn’t happy with me,” said Harry, putting down his cup.
“Because you didn’t hand over the case?”
“Because I called Kathy instead of him,” he sounded slightly disturbed, “I think Amos wants to lock her up, if not to kill her right away.”
Ginny sat up. She gazed into Harry’s bright, green eyes.
“But she’s sentient, shouldn’t she be protected by Hermione’s latest legislation?” she couldn’t help but let her own disgust seep into her voice.
“Amos spent the better half of tonight trying to convince Kingsley that the Fox is dangerous,” said Harry, “I even wished Hermione was still in Magical Creature. She’d be the head now.”
“Kathy seems capable to be the head,” observed Ginny, “Maybe you should encourage her to join the department.”
“She’s not coming back until she finishes her apprenticeship,” said Harry, “Even then, she’s more interested in academia than politics.”
“How about Luna?” Ginny suggested, feeling a tug at the corner of her lips.
“Brilliant idea,” said Harry, grinning, “Kingsley would be amused when he sees a Ministry full of Nargles.”
Ginny pinned a soft kiss on Harry’s cheek. “What happens now?”
“We’ve transferred the case to Percy, who’s contacting the Chinese Ministry to find the owner. They’ll question her in Beijing and send two copies of their report over.”
“At least that’s not for you to worry about, then,” said Ginny, seeking Harry’s other kiss.
“Bedroom later?” Harry jumped up and pinned her onto the sofa, breathing fast.
“Bedroom later,” said Ginny, pulling her man onto herself.
Katherine Walters was not one to get angry, but when she did, she had the power to send chills around the whole room.
Harry watched as she stormed into his office stony faced, set down the Fox, ran her shape with her hands about an inch above her fur, and explode.
“What do you mean her owner does not wish to reclaim her pet, nor is the Chinese Ministry willing to launch an enquiry? Can’t you or Kingsley order her to accept her or something?”
Harry dared one glance at her furious face.
“No Ministry is above another,” he said, “If the Chinese Ministry deem it unworthy of further investigation, we can’t force her owner to come and take her back.”
“But you can’t just listen to a Ministry that’s covering for a politician’s niece!” Kathy vented, “I did my research today. Pulled some strings and pieced a few things together. Li Ziyi is a tenth year student at the Dome and the only child of their late Minister. She’s only seventeen, and she’d abandoned her pet like it was some sort of disposable trash! She needs to learn and take responsibility!”
“You read the transcript, right?” asked Harry, stealing a glance at the Fox. She seemed to be unaware of their heated conversation, and was engrossed in a game with her tails.
“I damn well did,” said Kathy, “and I read original, along with the translation. It doesn’t matter whether she thinks it’s evil or not. She should know better. I’ve spent the past few years de-mystifying rare creatures, and she knows bloody well that being in Water and having a Fox as her pet doesn’t make her a whore!”
“Is that what the Miss line is about?” asked Harry.
“The ‘I don’t want to be a Miss’?” Kathy looked slightly surprised by the question, “Yes, you idiot. She knows it’s nothing more than a superstition. Her aunt doesn’t really care what she has. It’s she who doesn’t want Xiaohu, for whatever reason. Having an aunt working in Law Enforcement shouldn’t exempt her from facing the consequences of her behaviour. She caused a potential breach of the Statue in another country, for Merlin’s sake. She was just fortunate that Xiaohu hasn’t attacked anyone yet!”
“Kathy, calm down,” said Harry.
“I’m calm enough to talk to you,” Kathy put her hands on Harry’s desk and leaned forward, “I’m not giving Xiaohu to Magical Creature. That Diggory bloke wants to do her in.”
Harry glanced at Xiaohu again. The female Fox lay on his desk and breathed heat out of her tongue. Her big, fluffy tails served as fans to their owner.
“She can’t hear us,” said Kathy stiffly, “I’ve set up a conversation filter around her.”
“You can keep her for research purposes,” said Harry, “I’ll make sure to see it through if you submit a request.”
“That’s the problem, Harry!” said Kathy, bouncing herself against the desk in exasperation, “I can’t take her back to China! Foxes only recognizes one owner in their lifetime. They have an unbreakable bond with their owners as soon as they were Hatched. If I bring her back to China, they’d both know each other’s close. Xiaohu’ll be desperate to get back to Li Ziyi. And who knows what else that wicked girl is capable of doing? Her next attempts may rival Diggory’s proposals!”
Harry cursed. He had not thought about that when he assumed Kathy would take the Fox.
“And you’re the only one who knows how to handle her,” said Harry.
“Glad to see it finally sink into your dense skull,” said Kathy, sitting down, “She cannot go back with me, and Diggory cannot have her.”
“Here’s a thought,” said Harry. The fox chose that moment to crawl into Kathy’s arms, distracting them both.
“What were you saying?” asked Kathy, scratching Xiaohu’s ears.
“Er - I forgot,” said Harry. He took a moment to probe his brain, but the perfect solution had already fled the grips of his mind, and didn’t seem to be coming back anytime soon.
“Is there a sanctuary or something?” asked Harry, “Where they have trained staff to take care of abandoned Hatched Pets?”
“Children usually Hatch their Pets around 9 or 10 years of age,” explained Kathy, “by the time they’re capable to launch a successful abandonment scheme like this, they’ll have grown up with their Pets and developed a deep sense of affection towards them. Ziyi’s Pet died, or rather ceased to exist, three years ago when her parents were murdered. She’s the first person to abandon a Pet in at least a decade - and abandoning a Fox, of all things. There’s no sanctuary that could handle Xiaohu. Besides, if our information for all other Pets is anything to go by, we’ll need to keep her at least ten thousand Chinese miles away from that girl. That’s three thousand English miles. The distance between London and Beijing is some fifty hundred miles.”
“Basically, she must stay in Western Europe, or the Americas,” said Harry, trying his best to estimate.
“Or south of the equator,” said Kathy, “though I’d hate to relocate Xiaohu for a second time. She needs some stability until she’s fully grown.”
“Well, that rules out Luna and Charlie,” said Harry, “Luna’s constantly on the go, and Charlie’s moved to Romania. You know, the dragons...”
Harry trailed off. Something about the dragons managed to jog his memory.
“Do you think Mr Scamander would build her a home in his suitcase?” asked Kathy.
“What about Hagrid?” Harry spoke at the same time.
“Hogwarts?” Kathy frowned, “Would she be allowed on the grounds, being sentient and all that? She can’t live alone in the Forest. It’s too dangerous for a Pet.”
“As long as it’s for teaching purposes, Hogwarts has the right to keep her,” Harry was having trouble suppressing his grin, “As for safety, I’m sure Hagrid will build her a den upon seeing her.”
“That’s solved, then,” said Kathy, standing up, “I’ve got a lecture for Hagrid now.”
“Clear it with Professor McGonagall first,” advised Harry.
“Harry, Hermione! Come in,” said Hagrid, stepping aside to let them squeeze into his hut, “I was just showin’ the kids my Nine-Tailed Fox. She came just this morning.”
“We know, Hagrid,” said Harry, “Kathy helped us rescue her. It’s a long story.”
“Long story, eh?” Hagrid was in a cheerful mood, “She’s such a friendly lass. Agreed to come back and visit, she did. I oughta introduce her to my classes.”
They’d just squeezed past the narrow front door and entered the bigger, inner space. Ginny and Ron appeared to be in another Quidditch-related argument, while the four kids - all but James - sat on the floor, playing with Xiaohu. Upon seeing them, Ginny waved.
“‘Lo, Hermione. Harry!”
“Busy week, mate,” Ron stood up and greeted him, “Good lecture, Hermione?”
“Yes, Ron,” said Hermione,giving Ron a not-in-front-of-the-kids glare, “As it should be.”
“Mum?” Al stood from the floor, “Can Rosie and I go for a walk on the grounds?”
“Where are you going?” asked Hermione.
“Just around,” said Al, “It’s getting hot in here.”
The parents exchanged a look.
“Don’t go too far away,” said Harry, “and don’t go into the castle. We’ll need to be able to see you from the hut.”
“Yes, Mum,” said Al.
“We’ll behave,” Rosie promised.
“What was that about?” asked Hagrid.
“They’re probably going to the Tomb,” said Ron, “these two have been asking questions.”
“They’ll eventually find out,” said Hagrid, setting new cups on the table, “Like you lot did.”
“We know,” said Hermione sadly, “Especially now it’s included in the Hogwarts curriculum.”
“We tell them what is necessary, and they when find stuff out on their own, we answer their questions,” said Harry, “I’m beginning to understand Dumbledore now.”
“Dumbledore, good man. Dumbledore,” said Hagrid as he poured tea for Harry and Hermione. Thanking him, Harry gazed out of the window. Al and Rosie were already at Dumbledore’s Tomb, and appeared to be examining the white marble grave carefully.
Maybe Al was just a philosophical child who preferred to read than to play, Harry thought. While James and Lily spent most of their time being as vocal as they could, Al was the observer, the thinker. Although he never confirmed, Harry was sure Al had been the mastermind behind a few of James and Lily’s more impressive stunts, so he did have fun with his siblings, and that might be enough socialization for him.
And the teachers, Ginny’s voice reminded him at the back of his mind. For a ten-year-old boy, Al was exceptionally good at holding conversations with adults. He was polite, inquisitive, and always articulated his own thoughts - something Harry had only seen in Kathy Walters, when she insisted to shape the post-War reform by setting up the VAO and employing her parents’ expertise. Harry smiled as he thought back of his first encounter with Kathy 18 years ago, and the progress she’d pushed through ever since entering the magical world.
“A knut for your thought?” Ginny whispered beside him.
“Maybe we can invite Kathy for dinner on Saturday,” said Harry, “and she can talk to Al about the War.”
Xiaohu yipped. It sounded like a mix between dog barks and cat yowls, and Harry could understand why so many Muggles took it as a child in distress. Strangely, the sound he heard tonight didn’t make his hair stand on its end. It sounded more like a request, an expression of a need trusted to be fulfilled.
“Hungry, eh?” Hagrid asked. Xiaohu opened her eyes wide, and let out another yip. Hagrid stood up, pulled out a dead chicken, and dropped it onto the ground. Xiaohu’s eyes glowed as she charged at her prey, clenched her jaws, and tore off its head mercilessly.
“Can’t let you out to hunt yet,” Hagrid apologized amidst Lily and Hugo’s ‘ew’s, “You’ll have your go when you know the grounds better.”
Xiaohu seemed happy enough with the promise.
 Water: one of the Dome's Specialization Areas
 Miss: when taken as an unmarried female, the translation of "miss" is also an euphemism of "prostitute".
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