AChapter 15. Teeming (April 4-10, 1998)
The bluish haze encircling the meadow’s horizon looked more like July than early April. Leafless deciduous groves still stood smoky-bare against a firm backdrop of dark pines, but one could now find several furiously happy splashes of pink and white blossoms marking a south-facing hill where the plum and pear trees of Dolwyddelan's ancient orchard had begun their vernal celebration.
High above it all, Harry felt the glory of the wind as it streamed through his hair. After a long moment basking in the fresh tingling air, he flattened out his dive, and wheeled around to locate his young competitor.
The girl, too, was plunging downward. Teri's fine dark hair fanned out behind a face rigid with concentration — eyes paying equal time to Harry (whom she had been following warily) and her continued search for an unseen Snitch that had artfully avoided them both now for the better part of forty minutes.
Harry watched her for a moment before instinctively shutting his eyes. In an instant, her normal image was replaced in his mind with the glow of her magic — a visual vaguely resembling a retinal afterimage, but more vibrant; a deep blue comet, streaming flame-like toward him.
Concentrating on the girl’s aura, Harry could clearly discern what Bill had first alerted him to a couple of weeks prior — a faint quavering; a subliminal palsy. The buoyant thrill of flying through the fresh spring air wilted, and Harry’s heart sank.
The danger was surely still far away, but he couldn’t help feeling dismay to be reminded that the traces of strange dark spells were still there; still seeking to grapple onto the girl; still plainly visible to the trained magical eye. The message was clear that even now, beneath the facade of a beautiful sunny morning that seemed to radiate youth and innocence, darkness still crouched with all its watchful, persistent malevolence.
Re-opening his eyes to the approaching girl he found, unsurprisingly, that Teri had now turned her attention completely away from the Snitch search and was instead watching him curiously.
Forcing a smile onto his face, Harry waved beckoningly. Teri nodded her acknowledgment, decelerated and began coasting in. At a distance of a hundred feet, she cupped a hand to her mouth and called out, "Are we giving up, Mister Harry?"
He nodded. "Afraid so, Sugar Plum. I have to be back to the castle in fifteen minutes."
She smiled sheepishly. "I guess the Snitch was too balky, then?"
"That's fine." He shrugged. "I’ve had plenty of matches where more than an hour passed with no sign of the little devil. It's a good lesson in patience."
"Could you have found it if you'd tried looking for its aura?"
"Perhaps." Harry shrugged. "That does amplify the signal — maybe to the point where I can match the extraordinary vision of someone like Lennox Campbell, but there’s plenty of evidence that a truly balky snitch can still stymie the most eagle-eyed Seeker if that's how it's set to play."
Teri nodded as the pair landed on the northern edge of the meadow. Her feet on the ground, she stared back over the makeshift pitch for a long moment, frowning. "Mister Harry, about twenty minutes ago, you started flying an unusual pattern that I'd never seen before. What were you doing?"
"You've been watching my patterns? I'm impressed!" Harry grinned broadly as they began to walk back to the manor. "So let’s think about it then. What conclusion do you figure we both had reached by then? About twenty minutes ago?"
Teri frowned at him for a moment. "Well, that the Snitch was playing tough, right?"
"Exactly!" Harry paused and gazed back toward the meadow. "If I was in a match, after that much futility, perhaps I’d have dropped low to see if I could spot the Snitch aura against the bare sky, but recalling how sketchy that plan got in Caerphilly, I decided to try something different today. My plan was to out-think the Snitch."
"Huh?" Teri blinked. How would you out-think something that doesn't think?"
"I’ve been mapping out a strategy for that — simple, but it’s kind of time consuming." Harry laid his broom against a post for a moment to free up his hands. "So yes, the Snitch doesn't truly think, but they often act like they do. I'm pretty sure that many Snitches are charmed to modify their patterns based on the way Seekers are seeking them. Sometimes the Snitch flies free — it'll go wherever it wants, regardless of the action around it. In this case, the Snitch flits about randomly, and the only way a Seeker can catch it is by being very watchful and a bit lucky.”
Teri nodded her understanding, letting Harry continue.
“Other times, the Snitch is a tease — it spends a lot of time flying randomly, but if one of us got close enough, it would respond by crossing straight in front of the Seeker — intentionally revealing itself before equally deliberately rushing away as fast as possible. That Snitch favours the fastest fliers with the quickest reflexes.”
Teri nodded again. “But today’s Snitch was neither of those, right?”
“Exactly!” Harry smiled. “The third Snitch behaviour I've noticed is where it spends all it's time deliberately avoiding both Seekers, as our fluttery friend did this morning. If I know that both Seekers have gone twenty or more minutes without even the slightest glimpse of it, then I assume the Snitch is flying a deliberate pattern of avoidance."
"That makes sense.” Teri frowned. “So why were you working those odd patterns?"
"You haven't guessed?"
Teri shook her head.
Having reached the boulder on the edge of the manor's back lawn where Teri had set down her borrowed Weasley jumper, Harry handed her the garment and took a seat on the smooth stone. "Have you ever played Wizard Chess, Teri?"
Teri nodded. "We play it quite often at the manor. Erik is the best chess player, although now Amelie has beaten him at least twice." She sighed in consternation. "I rarely win, except against the little children."
"Don't feel bad — I'm cobblers at it." Harry smiled kindly. "However, I’ve learned some interesting things about the game from watching my friend Ron. I’ve noticed that when he’s wiped out all his opponent's pieces except the king, he has definite strategies for pushing the opposing king into a trap. One of the easiest cases is when he still has two rooks left; in that case he can always force a checkmate by driving the king to one end of the board. Can you see what I'm getting at?"
"Maybe. " Teri chewed her lip. "But I wasn’t really helping you, was I? Won’t that plan fail if the two rooks aren’t working together?"
"Not necessarily." Harry shook his head. "The tactic is most efficient if both pieces work together, but one rook alone is powerful enough to do most of the work and the second rook, even if it doesn’t intend to, can help things along by moving around and occasionally cutting off the king’s escape route. It may take a while, but the two pieces can usually pin the opposing king, even if one rook isn’t aware of the plan."
"That's brilliant!" Teri's face lit up. "So you decided that the Snitch must be running away from us, so you were gradually forcing it it to one side? That's why you were slowly working from east to west!" Smiling, she thrust her arms into the thick wool, preparing to put the jumper on.
"Exactly!” Harry grinned. “Another ten minutes and we'd have pinned the little..."
Words suddenly failed Harry. He'd felt something.
More accurately, his magic had sensed something. It was faint, like a subtle change in the breeze. His eyes turned toward the girl, catching her in the process of pulling the heavy garment over her head...
Harry closed his eyes and saw...
Harry opened his eyes to see the girl, her head just now clear of the thick jumper's neck, staring at him with an intense, quizzical expression. He blinked his eyes shut again for a moment to confirm the subtle change, then re-opened them.
“What is it, Mr. Harry?”
"Teri, your aura just changed."
Teri's eyes went wide; she shook her head. "It can't have changed, Mister Harry. I wasn't doing any magic."
"It did change — just a little bit..." Harry looked her up and down. "Do you remember how I told you that my mind interprets auras as colours? Well, the tint of yours shifted the moment you... put on that jumper?"
Still frozen, jumper half-way pulled down, Teri raised an eyebrow... then slowly reversed her progress. Her head disappeared once again within the thick folds of green wool.
Harry closed his eyes... and watched the indigo flame turn blue again.
"Huh? The jumper truly does cause it. How odd." Harry opened his eyes and studied the girl. "You don't find it uncomfortable? Wearing the jumper?"
Frowning in bafflement, she shook her head. "No. I-I actually feel... better... wearing it."
“Better?” Harry gave her a curious look.
“Better. Yes. Wearing it now sort of reminds of me of...” She gazed off into the distance toward the southern end of the estate. “It reminds me how, when I was little, I had an old woolen throw that used to comfort me when I was frightened. I clung to it for quite a while, but after a while, someone took it from me, and I learned to live without it. I guess I never forgot what it felt like to be secure in that way though, and over the last few months… well, I assumed it was just childish imagination, but...”
“This jumper makes you feel the same way? Sort of?”
“Yes.” She nodded, fingering the rough knit pearls. "It makes me feel safe."
Harry nodded, frowning. "Could you put it on again, please?"
Without question Teri once again went through the motions, pulling her head through and tugging the lower hem down to her waist.
"Can you move around a bit, please, Teri?" Harry closed his eyes.
Puzzled, the girl tentatively began windmilling her arms, then took several steps in a semi-circle.
Harry watched as the now-indigo aura bobbed about — a solid, strong, continuously unwavering glow. He opened his eyes and met a pair of wide, intrigued eyes.
"Well I'll be." Harry unthinkingly extended his hand to the girl and began to make his confounded way back toward the manor. "I'm kind of baffled at this, but maybe — just maybe — we might be onto something."
Teri spent a moment in silent thought, then nodded to herself. Although she had no formal knowledge of the complex post-NEWT magical that Harry was contemplating as an explanation, a look of comprehension crossed her face. A self-satisfied smile flickered for a moment, then subsided as she began to ponder questions weightier than most adults expect of children. She tugged on Harry’s hand. “Mister Harry?”
“Yes?” He smiled.
“Is the jumper protecting me in ways that Occlumency is not?”
Harry’s smile fell away as he nodded. “Er, I guess so, yes. Your Occlumency has progressed brilliantly, and I’m sure it will prove useful to you, but I’ve not found any proof that it helps much against the strange magic we’re worried about. That jumper, on the other hand, seems to...” He trailed off.
The pair fell silent for a long moment. Teri kicked absently at a small stone, then looked to her mentor. “You’ll figure it out, right? You’ll find a way that I can protect myself, with or without this jumper?”
Teri smiled broadly enough to infect Harry. He grinned at the implied vote of confidence. “Why yes Sugar Plum. I believe I will.”
“Er, okay.” Hermione’s wand extended toward the fetish by the office window. She turned toward Harry with an inquiring face. "So you'd like us to replicate the fetish casting experiment we performed a few weeks ago."
"Yes, but I was hoping you could try something just a little bit different." Harry stepped around Ryan to retrieve an old garment from its peg on the wall. He draped it around his student's shoulders.
Ryan raised an eyebrow. "You want me to wear... your old cloak?"
"Yes please." Harry nodded. "It's likely a bit small, but if you could pull it tight, and try to close the front?"
Giving his mentor a quizzical look, Ryan complied as Harry turned his attention back to Hermione. "Go ahead 'Mione, and use the stronger fetish."
Puzzled but bemused by the strange perturbation to their experiment, Hermione shrugged subtly and took aim at the fetish. "Nuntius Capillos! "
The fetish seemed to shiver slightly... but other than that, nothing happened. Ryan's hair did not fly into disarray, but rather remained very distinctly Ryan — neat, straight and nondescript.
"Bangin'!" Tonks surged forward; her adrenalised glance darting between Ryan's and Hermione's puzzlement before settling on Harry, who was nodding thoughtfully. "Not a whisker out of place, Harry! So what's cooking with the cloak? Did you put a charm on it?"
“No, not even a whisper!” Harry laughed. "The only thing blocking the fetish is the fabric itself. If I’m understanding things correctly, I believe that the cloak picked up a lot of my residual magic over the two or three years when I wore it a lot, and wearing it sort of, er, changes Ryan’s aura."
"Oh? So you've confused the fetish?" Ryan touched the old garment clinging tightly to his arms. “Kind of like...”
“Like a gaol-bird wearing the warden’s boots!” Hermione grinned. “You’ve thrown off the hounds.”
Ginny laughed. "Oh, how brilliantly simple!"
Harry chuckled. "I think I'd have preferred 'simply brilliant', but yes, it occurred to me earlier this morning that the magical residues in old clothing might distort the magical field enough just enough to divert a fetish."
"What a fascinating breakthrough." Lupin frowned analytically. "What gave you the idea?"
After helping Ryan out of the tight cloak, Harry took a seat. "A few weeks ago, Bill made some observations about Teri's aura that helped me to detect the effect of what I assume is a Bocio fetish trying to lock onto her. Just this morning, I happened to notice that the effect vanished when Teri put on one of Ginny's old jumpers that she's sort of adopted."
"Oh really?" Ginny's eyebrow raised. "I’d forgotten that she still has that. She actually wears it??"
"Er yes." Harry smiled sheepishly. "She says it's comfortable... reassuring even, and now I'm beginning to understand why. Uh, I don’t suppose you wanted it back?"
"No, of course not.” Ginny laughed. “It's from my third year and barely fits; probably has a few holes." She smiled. "To be honest, I'm a little surprised that she would touch anything that belonged to a Weasley. But if it has a protective magical residue that comforts her, I can understand the attraction."
Harry opened his mouth to say something, then glanced around at the assembled group and instead pivoted the conversation. "Ryan and Hermione, do you suppose you could test the clothing shield concept to see if it can be made to work as effectively as the twins' amulets? Those charms are rather unpleasant to wear; I gather people don’t like their indiscriminate magical suppression."
Ryan rolled his eyes. "This wouldn't have anything to do with Tracey Davis having been caught six times leaving her amulet lying around?"
Harry grimaced. "We're up to six already?"
"What's wrong with that nitwit?" Hermione scowled. "Isn't she aware of the risks?"
"She's been made aware, certainly. But as far as what's wrong with her...?" Ginny shrugged.
"I don't know,” Harry replied. “Pansy says she's just careless, although at a certain point one has to wonder if there's a certain willful ambivalence. But yes Ryan, Tracey’s situation certainly does factor in. I’d really like to find a new type of protection for her, and everyone else we’re protecting."
Hand in his cloak pocket, Lupin fingered his own amulet absently and nodded. "Well, let's try to get contingencies in place, please. I'd be very uncomfortable if Tracey, or any of the other targets, got too willfully ambivalent, especially consider you're all skipping the country soon. I'll wager that Bellatrix has read the papers, and I can't persuade myself that she's not scheming for ways to exploit the opportunity."
Harry bit his tongue to prevent himself from grousing out loud about how many times in the past several weeks he'd heard Lupin complain about the planned Haiti trip. Harry knew that it wasn't easy to justify the excursion as anything better than a frivolous or impetuous whim, but he could neither explain (to Lupin) nor deny (to himself) the strange hunch that visiting the most celebrated and active Vodoun and O Bò culture in the modern world was an opportunity he couldn't pass up. He didn't have any faith in his own divination powers, and he understood exactly why Lupin decried the trip as a pointless risk, but something about the strange coincidence of the Haiti invitation seemed to beckon him.
"Oi there. Harry luv!" Tonks grinned at him as he snapped out of his thoughts. "Anyone in there? Your brain of to sunny southern seas a bit early?"
"All right, all right." Harry rolled his eyes at Tonks, then turned to face Lupin. "I understand the risks, Remus, and I'll be on call with the bracelets. Kingsley also arranged emergency international Portkey priority for me if I need it. Should anything urgent arise here, I'll drop anything I'm doing there and rush back. As it stands, I ought to be home within less than thirty minutes of any summons."
Not particularly appeased, Lupin gave a half nod. "It’s reassuring that Kingsley is so supportive. To be honest, though, it’s not just domestic security that concerns me. I'm more than a bit worried about your own safety, what with the group of you barreling off into a complete unknown. Haiti is such a very different society than ours, Harry. You don’t know the customs, regulations or risks, and our Ministry has been receiving problematic reports of civil tensions there. I can think of so many unexpected ways you could get into a world of trouble."
“Listen old friend.” Harry steepled his fingers, then met Lupin's eyes. "You've done well enough trusting me in the past. I appreciate your caution and vigilance, but I’d also appreciate your placing a bit of faith in my instincts on this decision too."
His eyebrows bristling slightly, Lupin spent a long moment studying the son of his dear friends — a young man whom for whom he cared deeply, yet in an oddly conflicted way. To him, Harry was somewhere between a son of his own, a younger brother, an equal partner, and a benevolent authourity. Lupin could see a quiet conviction in the youth's face; a measured look that nobody would mistake for recklessness. He sighed. "Very well, Harry. You have my trust — just please take care of yourself."
A small smile formed on Harry's face. "I will, Remus. Thank you."
Ginny also met Lupin's gaze; her hand reached over to cover one of Harry's. "We do value your concern, Professor. We'll take care."
Sunday afternoon was bone-chillingly wet. The wind had a late November feel, and conspired with the moisture to make everything seem all the more disheartening by contrast with the pleasant weather of previous weeks. Nonetheless, for their last full squad practice before Thursday's Haiti departure, The Flying Circus slogged their way through more than three hours of strenuous drills in the rain.
For Blaise Zabini, who doubled as star Chaser on the Slytherin House squad, this hard practice landed just one day after a brutally long match that had finally ended in a demoralising loss to Ravenclaw. Yet, as Flying Circus captain, he couldn't afford to appear tired or dejected. A victory next weekend in the Caribbean would more than assuage any regrets over the near certainty that he would graduate from Hogwarts without ever winning a House Quidditch Cup.
Indeed, as he settled into the last remaining chair around the big oak table in the Interhouse Commons, he stolidly flashed a semi-convincing smile (in truth, more of a mask — a Slytherin-quality attempt to disguise the pain throbbing through his worn, weary back) and resolved that he would tap every resource at his disposal to get the edge on the next competition. He turned his gaze to that big shock of red hair that was (as always) angled obliquely away from him.
Knowing that Ron would never expect to be called upon so soon, Zabini practically shouted, "Hey Rooster!"
Zabini grinned to see Ron jump, but his ensuing tone was all business. "So let’s hear it. You were out in the cold for hours today taking notes on us. What do we need in order to win on Saturday?"
“Eh?” Ron blinked and swallowed. "You want my opinion?"
"Sure!" Zabini smirked. "Either that, or a quart of Felix Felicis. What do you have, mate?"
"Uh, okay." A bit haltingly, Ron withdrew a long scroll from his pocket. He began unfurling it, then stopped and scowled in dismay. "Bloody hell."
Puzzled, Ginny leaned over and examined the parchment. She laughed, and cast a quick nonverbal spell.
Ron sighed in relief. "Thanks Ginny. Reckon I'm going to have to find some water-proof ink for next time."
"Either that, or learn a basic Corrigo spell." Ginny smiled and leaned in to scan her brother’s notes. "So let’s see your thoughts on today's practice..."
"One sec please..." Ron skimmed quickly down the scroll with his finger. He stared for a moment then nodded. "Offence first?"
"Sure." Zabini nodded as he and Summerby leaned forward.
Ron frowned. "You're going to need to pass more in front of the goals. Emmanuella Doubye is probably going to be one of the smaller Keepers you'll ever face — only 5'7", but she's amazing at reading offences and maximising her position to cut down angles. The only squad at least year's World Juniors to score more than seven goals on her was Luxembourg. According to Roger Davies, they just kept passing so much that even their Chasers themselves didn't know what they were about to do."
“Passing, eh?” Zabini nodded wide-eyed at Summerby. "That actually sounds like a decent plan, don’t you think, Summs?"
Summerby squinted thoughtfully, tapping the table. Ginny merely smiled; quietly proud of her brother.
Her brother, however, was not done. "Chaser defensive assignments — last week you settled Ginny on defending Jean-Laurent Linto, and that makes sense because he's bloody fast, but I disagree with your other two matchups."
Zabini frowned. "Go on."
Ron turned to face him. "I think you'd be wasted on Gaby Caristil — she took barely ten percent of Haiti's shots last year. Instead we'd be best served with you sticking your long arms in front of Christelle Loraj's passes. Captain on captain, huh?"
Scratching his chin, Zabini glanced at Summerby who was sitting pensively.
"As far as Summerby," Ron continued, "I think he'd work best improvising — getting himself into the passing lanes, occasionally double-teaming Linto, and only working Caristil if she really looks like she's actually going to take a close shot on goal."
"Yeah okay." Summerby nodded slowly. "That makes sense."
"So, brother Ron..." Fred smirked. "You're now about to tell us what we've been doing wrong?"
"Sure." Ron turned. If he sensed any familial irreverence from the twins, he was on too much of a roll to worry. Instead, he offered a blunt, straight-faced verdict. "You're both too overconfident."
"Oh ho?" George's twinkling eyes widened. "Do tell?"
Ron nodded seriously. "Listen, I know that you've run up against bigger, stronger Beaters with more experience, and you've come out smelling like roses every time, but Josué and Wilky Marasse are brilliant. They're each about seven inches taller than you, they're smart and — here's the kicker — just like you, they're identical twins and play like it."
"Ah? And what does our esteemed brother propose we do about it?"
"Focus!" A flash of red pulsed through Ron’s cheeks and forehead as he shot them a glare of smoldering intensity. "Focus focus focus! You’ve got the experience to get the better of them, but you'll need to keep your heads about you and bloody concentrate! If you don't, we’ll have Bludgers raining down on everyone like a Muggle battlefield."
Wide-eyed the twins glanced at each other. Fred turned back to Ron with a look of bemused surprise. "Aye aye, Sergeant Ronniekins!"
"Your command is our humble pleasure," George added.
Page leaned forward. "Okay, this is sounding pretty good, yeah? And what are my marching orders then?"
Ron frowned. "Keeper; let's see." He scanned down his scroll before nodding. "Ah right. Page will have to cheat."
Numerous surprised blinks circulated the table, and puzzled smirks began to form. A curious look on her face, Daphne opened her mouth to offer an innocent protest, but Ron had scrolled a bit further down his notes and chuckled. "Sorry mates, that didn't come out straight, did it?"
"Oh, I don't know, Ron." Ginny snickered at Page. "Just telling it like it is, yeah?"
Ron rolled his eyes. "No, no — the rest of the note was cut off. What I meant to say was that Page will need to cheat off Caristil. Loraj is a solid pass-first Chaser like Summerby, and Linto will shoot the lights out like Ginny, but the only reason Caristil is on the squad is because of her defence. She doesn't shoot often because she doesn't shoot well. Period. If Page blocks her out of his mind, he'll have a better chance against Linto and Loraj."
"Hmmm..." Page pushed back in his chair, stared up at the ceiling, then leveled his gaze at Ron. "Okay Rooster. You'll buy me a pint for every goal Caristil scores on me?"
"I, uh...?" Ron scratched his jaw perplexedly. "I suppose I... If it'll make you feel better."
"Oi, beautiful! I can't lose then, eh?" Page burst out laughing. "All right then. It's Potter's turn to be skewered."
"Uh right. Seeker." Ron scrunched his face and pushed aside the scroll. "Okay, well, Jovenel Timalice sounds like a good Seeker, but nobody seems to have figured out how he catches so many Snitches.”
Everyone nodded expectantly.
Ron nodded back. After a moment he realised that everyone was staring at him. “Er. Sorry. That's all I have."
"Seriously? That’s it??" George stared at his younger brother. "You cock us up for causing some bleeding Muggle Bludger bombardment, then you turn Page into a dodgy cheater, but you're going to let Harry off with… nothing?”
“Yeah!” Fred nodded vigourously. “Out with it Ron! Shouldn’t you be badgering him to focus focus focus, or command him to pass off and switch assignments?!"
"Eh well, not really..." Ron shrugged. "Seems the only person who tells Harry how to play Quidditch is that little sprog in Wales."
Fred snorted loudly, and within seconds the room had flooded with a lively round of miscellaneous ribbing about Harry’s ten year old mentor. Rolling his eyes, Harry was about to protest this (arguably accurate) characterization, but in the midst of the levity he stopped, tapped his chin thoughtfully and pushed back in his chair, the smirk on his face fading.
As Daphne reined in the meeting to begin discussing arrangements she’d made for their trip to Haiti, Harry’s mind wandered instead back to Dolwyddelan and his latest session with Teri. It was then that he confirmed something slightly curious.
For all her reputation as a precocious Quidditch savant; for all she had rarely missed an opportunity to exhort or cajole him; to challenge him with unconventional scouting reports of an impending opponent, Teri had not said a word to Harry about his upcoming match.
Harry frowned — half puzzled, half bemused. He gazed out the window for a moment… then shrugged, turning his attention to Daphne’s lecture on Haitian border security protocols.
Daphne Greengrass rarely betrayed nerves, but having just surrendered her wand plus those of twelve of her friends to a grim-looking security wizard in beaded dreadlocks, she was finding it a bit challenging to maintain equanimity. Firmly gripping her quill and clipboard, she paced beneath the large white sign whose bold red and blue lettering read:
Bienvenue sur le Portail International Dutty Boukman
Contrôle de la Frontière Haïtienne DdV
Her eyes swept the row of Portkey stalls, still waiting for...
Zabini and Summerby emerged, both clutching the same threadbare oven mitt. They stumbled together slightly onto the rubberised carpet, then Zabini raised his gaze to Daphne and gave her a slightly wobbly grin.
Over the next few minutes (spread across thirty second intervals) the others arrived — first Page and Ryan, then the twins, followed by Ron and Hermione, then Neville and Terry Boot, and finally by Harry and Ginny who had held off until last to make certain that the torch back in London at the Ministry of Magic International Portkey Chamber had flashed green to indicate everyone else's safe transit.
As the group picked through the Portkeyed luggage shipment to identify their bags, they were approached by a tall wizard in a dark formal cape. His eyes swept the group then spotted Daphne; he extended his hand to shake hers.
"Miss Greengrass." His voice was a sonorous baritone; his syllables had the subtle but distinctly French inversions that Ginny and Harry both recognised from Fleur Delacour. The wizard's smile gleamed. "I am a representative from the Ministry assigned to facilitate your stay. Welcome to the Haitian DdV."
"DdV?" Ginny tapped her lip thoughtfully.
"Domaine des Vaudouisants." His teeth gleaming in a broad grin, the government wizard turned to Ginny. "This is what you would consider the magical principality of Haiti — a governing body that operates in parallel with the non-magical Republic. Now you, mademoiselle, I would recognise as Ginevra Weasley, non? And you are accompanied of course by..." His glance darted to the side and met Harry eyes. "Ah yes — the redoubtable Sir Potter."
"Just Harry, please." Harry shook his hand. "Your name is...?"
"Pierre Langlois, attaché to the Junior Secretary for International Cultural Exchange." The man turned to gesture toward a nearby checkpoint within the spacious hall. "Let us all walk together through border security and customs. As invited guests of the Minister, your paperwork has been approved and your wands should be awaiting you on the far side of the gate."
Leading the way to the port of entry, Langlois conferred briefly in French with the dreadlocked officer then walked calmly through the high curved archway, out to a skylight, glowing with the filtered hues of a hazy mid-afternoon. The others followed, in states of varying degrees of nervousness. The last to pass beneath the white stone, Harry felt the prickle of wards and magical probes, subtly different than those he’d experienced before, but not particularly unexpected.
As Harry and Ginny made their way toward the rest of their group, congregating in a breezy mountaintop foyer and gazing out high glass windows toward an expansive sweep of distant ocean, Langlois beckoned them aside.
The government attaché’s smile contained a tinge of harried bemusement. “Harry, Miss Weasley? Could you please step into this office for a moment?”
In response to Harry’s quizzical look, Langlois rolled his eyes, his heavy baritone suggesting a bit of a quandary. “It would appear that our newly acquired magical scanners, which I am assured are of the finest European fabrication, do not work properly on the two of you — an eventuality that in your case I perhaps...” He breathed deeply. “… Should have anticipated?”
Harry gave him a sheepish smile. He caught Ginny’s hand and, a bit uneasily, the two followed the tall wizard into a small office.
With a sweep of his wand, Langlois sent several piles of scrolls scurrying off onto a corner to reveal two wooden stools in front of a rickety desk that seemed rather incongruous given all the polished stone and glass they’d seen throughout the Portkey terminal. Langlois settled himself into a chair on the far side of the desk, setting off an awkward squawk as the old seat accommodated him. He gestured for his two guests to sit. “My apologies for the deplorable decor. Do you smoke?” He picked up a small ceramic vase containing hand-rolled cigarillos and held it out to them.
Harry shook his head politely; Ginny stifled a reflexive cough.
The wizard pushed the tobacco to the side, cast a privacy spell on the office door and paused for a moment, scratching his chin contemplatively. “So it would seem that even our intelligence services may have underestimated your Occlumency skills. The detectors were not able to penetrate your minds in the slightest. Per the DdV’s strict entry regulations, that poses a problem.”
“A problem? Surely we’re not the first people to have confused the scanners.” Ginny stiffened a bit. “Isn’t there some workaround? An alternate way to satisfy your regulations?”
“Well...” Langlois did not look optimistic. “Would you agree to surrender blood samples at entry and exit?”
“Absolutely not.” Harry shook his head vigourously.
The attaché nodded. “I suspected as much.”
“Could you share what, in particular, you’d be scanning for?” Harry regarded him analytically.
“Yes. Somewhat confidentially, I suppose I could share that.” Langlois fingered a cigarillo, but didn’t light it. “The Haitian DdV has most of the same entry and customs concerns one would expect from any magical nation. We restrict the comings and goings of detectably dark sorcerers. We bar the import of dark objects and carefully control many potions and their ingredients. In recent years, we have also...” He tapped the cigarillo for a long moment, trailing off.
Ginny frowned. “Well, it’s obviously not dark objects or potion substances, right? Your detectors should have found those, regardless of any Occlumency shields.”
“True.” Langlois nodded. “We have no reason to believe you or any of your party have smuggled anything in, and we will do a thorough sweep of everyone on Sunday morning to ensure that you do not… accidentally… carry away any sensitive materials or objects with you. Furthermore, your reputation largely precludes any suspicion of either of you having any dark intent. However, it is not widely known, but in recent years we have also been careful to restrict the export of magical knowledge.”
“Knowledge?” It was Harry's turn to frown. “What are you worried about? That we might be here to learn something interesting about your culture?”
“About our magic, Mr. Potter.” Langlois’s deep, dark eyes pinned Harry. “Magic is our wealth and our treasure. You may see the occasional marble and crystal facade around you. You may see over my shoulders what appears to be a fine Italian cape, but the truth is that we are a forgotten people; a deeply impoverished nation.”
Langlois pointed to a faded map on the wall that depicted the entire Caribbean island, divided into two distinct regions. He gestured to the upper right. “The neighbouring Principado Mágico Dominicano has all the good soil, more favourable weather… and Les Dominicaines possess more than 90% of the magical Larimar stone — our prized Hispaniolan currency.” His hand drifted down and to the left. “We Haitians, by contrast, were left with almost nothing. Nothing but our magic.”
Harry and Ginny nodded slowly, not quite following the logic.
Langlois eyed the pair, then continued. “Such worldly souls as yourselves may have difficulty grasping this, but we Haitians have good reason to believe that our magical prowess is superior. Superior not only to the Dominicans; not only to the Egyptians and Nubians and Indians and Tibetans, but also to your European culture. We believe that our Houngans and Mambos — our great sorcerers and sorceresses — see more than your best witches and wizards. Our spells are more subtle, more powerful, deeper and more ecstatic. Le grand Vaudou is our true currency, Mr. Potter and Miss Weasley. It is our national treasure and we offer it neither as purchase nor gift, lest the Haitian DdV surrender its only unique blessing. Thus, charms set upon our entry arch tend to temporarily diminish the ability to learn new magic, and our exit tends to dull any newly acquired skills.”
Harry leaned forward on his stool. “So you have reason to believe that our innate Occumency shields defy those charms?”
“That is correct.”
“Interesting.” Harry pursed his lips. “But rather inconvenient. It’s a shame Daphne didn’t warn us of this before we agreed to the trip.”
“It is not Miss Greengrass’s omission.” Langlois picked at the tobacco with his fingernail. “This is a matter that we do not widely advertise and is rarely an issue.”
“Er...” Ginny shifted awkwardly. “We’re here for a very brief stay, Mr. Langlois, and we’ve only come to play Quidditch. You and Daphne are in control of our itinerary — surely you can prevent us from, well, learning anything, uh, sensitive?”
Langlois gazed at her, then slowly nodded. “Perhaps yes. But...” He bit his lip hard for a moment, then finally surrendered to the urge and lit a cigarillo with his wand. He took a long pull on the acrid vapours then settled wearily into his chair. “If you agree to limit your activities to those I approve, then perhaps I can file waiver paperwork for you, and clear your entry.” He sighed. “But the forms are tortuous, and time consuming, and for this I will not be paid overtime due to DdV salary cuts that have forced me to undertake a second job as a street cleaner in old Gonaïves to pay for the Essence of Dittany I must import to treat the spell damage to my sweet Lorraine who ran afoul of the Red Bokor of Ti Perisse during...”
“Ahem.” Harry gestured slightly with his hand to bring the man’s monologue to a halt. “Red Bokor?”
“Bokor...” The Haitian wizard shifted uneasily. “Powerful magician, though not the same as a Houngan. A Bokor is… Is… Well, as they always say, a Bokor serves the loa with both hands...”
“Both hands?” Ginny frowned. “You mean, a practitioner of both light and dark magic?”
“Exactly.” Langlois nodded. “Whereas the Houngan creates and heals, the Bokor may also destroy and harm. They may even kill and, ehhhm, revive.”
“And so a Bokor...” Harry regarded his host carefully. “A Bokor hurt your wife?”
“Wife?” Langlois blinked at him, then shook his head. “No, no, my daughter. The Red Bokor maimed my sweet little daughter Lorraine.” He pushed aside a few scrolls and retrieved a wrinkled black and white photo from his desk — a small girl in cornrows, waving cheerily with a raw, deformed hand. “She was only tiny when she wandered from us in the Market in Gonaïves. Her little hand wandered where it was not welcome and, by misfortune, she upset a basket of the Red Bokor’s herbs, and he…” The man bit his lip, trembled for a moment, then shook his head. “A Bokor must always be feared. That is their way.”
Harry turned away for a moment, breathed deeply, then reached into his cloak, withdrawing a small white sack that he placed on the desk. “I’m sorry to hear of your struggles, Mr. Langlois. Perhaps you can accept a token from us? Something that should cover the cost of your daughter’s Dittany?” He offered a small smile. “Perhaps you could also consider this your overdue overtime salary. Or an expression of our gratitude for your... services?”
Langlois slowly lowered the photo and stared at the bag. Carefully inserting a pair of fingers over the cloth lip, he registered the cooling sensation of the numerous Galleons within. He abruptly cleared his throat. “Well then.” Whisking the sack into an inner pocket of his cape, he stood and gestured toward the door. “Onwards to your hotel, shall we? I believe your friends are waiting.”
“Where WERE you?!”
“W-w-w-w-w-...” Lurching to and fro, Harry’s articulations were largely garbled by Daphne’s two small fists, which seemed driven to tear the lapels from his cloak. When she finally stopped and released him, Harry glanced over her shoulder toward Langlois who was haggling with a hotel clerk. “Uhh...” Harry coughed and straightened himself. “Er, we were just having a cordial chat with Pierre about Haitian society and bureaucracy.”
“You were WHAT…?” Daphne’s fingers twitched, obviously tempted to resume their throttling routine, but luckily she caught sight of a familiar face across the room. Her scowl vanished and she waved. “Oh hello there, Mr. Aurrera! Mr. Auclair!”
Already strolling toward her across the hotel lobby, The thin, greying Spaniard extended his hand to Daphne. “Miss Greengrass! Pardon me for interrupting your conversation, but Richard and I thought we might say hello and take this opportunity to finally introduce ourselves to Mr. Potter and Miss Weasley in person!”
“Welcome to Haiti, Mr. Potter, Miss Weasley!” The short, round, balding figure of Richard Auclair stepped forward to take Ginny’s unsuspecting hand, clutching it fiercely. “Ginevra, you may count me as one of your greatest fans!” He grinned, apparently forgetting to release her.
“Uh, thank you.” Ginny smiled, uneasily failing to free herself. “I’m pleased to meet you too. I, uh, grew up listening to your broadcasts.”
“Oh, did you? How sweet of you to say so! I should really tell you about the time… Oh, but that can wait. You must be famished from all your travels. Did you know that there’s a brilliant little Taíno restaurant a few hundred meters from here that Septimo and I were...”
“Excuse me Mr. Auclair.” Harry somehow managed to pry Ginny’s hand away from Auclair’s pudgy fingers, then gestured toward the hotel desk where Langlois was now signing paperwork. “Our government minder has requested that Ginny and I maintain a low profile during our visit, so we’ll be dining in house tonight.” Harry offered a no-nonsense smile. “Perhaps you may find some others in our party who are willing to join you in experiencing a bit of local flavour.”
“Oh.” Auclair cast a quick bereft glance at Ginny’s hand, now firmly clasped to Harry’s, then nodded quickly. “Er right, I understand. And yes, I’ll be sure to invite Mr. Zabini and… Oh! Miss Greengrass, who is your friend over there with the big hair?”
With that, Auclair surged off across the lobby, waving toward some of the rest of the Flying Circus contingent.
Aurrera rolled his eyes. “I would stop to apologize for my colleague’s overzealous nature, but I fear my services may be better put to rescuing some of your friends.” He winked and tipped his hat as he strode toward the corner toward Daphne and Hermione who, to varying degrees of discomfort, had suddenly found their arms captured by the ebullient announcer.
Ginny began to laugh, but then blinked, suddenly finding her mirth cut short by a wave of odd disorientation. A reddish wash of early evening sun had broken through the clouds beyond the lobby’s bank of rear windows. Bathed in the red glow, she wobbled slightly, then felt the reassuring pressure in Harry’s grip stabilize her. She leaned into him. “Oi Potter. I feel a bit out of sorts. What time is it?”
“It’s...” Harry did a quick calculation. “Nearly seven p.m. locally, but our own confused clocks are probably still set at around midnight Greenwich time.”
Ginny scowled. “Barmy sun doesn’t know its proper bedtime in these parts?”
Harry opened his mouth to explain something about axial rotation and longitude, but Ginny’s gently bemused elbow in the ribs let him know she was jesting. Consequently, he turned his attention instead to Langlois who was approaching them; a slight frown on his face. “Were those two blans bothering you?” he asked, gesturing toward Auclair and Aurrera.
“Not really.” Ginny shrugged. “I must admit a little disappointment to learn that a voice I revered as a little girl turns out to come from the jowls of that sweaty little prat, but those blokes are certainly nothing we can’t handle.”
“Agreed.” Harry nodded. “Aurrera seems a reasonable chap, and I’m sure Auclair can be dealt with easily enough.”
“Perhaps...” Langlois glanced over to where Auclair (still clutching Daphne’s arm) seemed to be making merry with Zabini and the twins. He scrunched his face slightly, then turned back to Harry and Ginny. “However, that may depend on what you mean by ‘dealt with’. Mr. Auclair was implicated in an unpleasant incident here last year during the preliminaries for the World Juniors. There was a lot of alcohol involved, perhaps a Banshee or two, and the inside of a gaol cell for himself and a pair of Barbadian Chasers.”
“Ew.” Harry ran a hand though his hair. “So, you'd call him a bad influence?”
“That’s my assessment.” Langlois shrugged. “In the end, however, no charges were laid. The tales got a bit konfonn, and the magistrate let them go.”
“Konfonn…” Ginny wrinkled her brow. “Confused?”
Langlois grinned his reply, but then the mirth faded. “Confused, yes. That can happen here rather easily, I fear. There is no shortage of Spirit Rum in Gonaïves — especially for the Easter festival. Foreigners seem to like our drink, but you’d all best be aware that Spirit Rum is not necessarily kind to foreigners.”
The attaché’s eyes narrowed as he watched Auclair, Aurrera, Zabini, Daphne and the twins cross the threshold from the lobby to the hotel bar; his voice fell to a rasp like the winter wind over dry reeds. “They’ll be safe drinking imported Firewhisky or frilly coconut drinks here in the hotel, but I would advise them to exercise great caution even in crossing the street. Local establishments such as L’Ancienne Chevre are clouded with bad juju when the blans get mixed up in them. Our Vaudou festive celebrations get lively in ways your people are unlikely to fully comprehend.”
Ginny shivered slightly, though she didn’t know why. Given how weary she was from such a very long day near the end of an extraordinarily busy week her sense of adventure had dwindled to spare fumes, and she began to wonder just how misguided a plan it was to visit a place like this in the company of… other Weasleys. What would she do if the twins got drunk and rowdy, and got swarmed by a crowd of revelers? What if Ron got tetchy and rubbed one of the locals the wrong way? And heaven forbid any of them should encounter one of those dastardly Bokors…
Ginny briefly considered storming into the bar to offer her best Molly-esque preemptive scolding, but, in her deepening state of exhaustion, her heart just wasn’t in it. Groaning under her breath, she leaned in a bit closer to Harry, and resolved to pretend that her siblings were mature and reasonable enough to handle themselves. Finally she also convinced herself that she could rely on Langlois to issue to their more boisterous friends a few choicely phrased cautions about the risks of Haitian nightlife. Thus comforted, she relaxed into the warm nook between Harry’s arm and chest, tuned out the sounds of a Konpa-Dirék band warming up on the patio, and drifted off into a standing doze.
Harry, however, had sustained his alertness, and was continuing to converse with Langlois. He shook his head at his host’s last statement and eyed the tall wizard curiously. “I have to admit, Pierre, that I’m puzzled with all these admonitions about not understanding the culture or mixing with the natives. I realise that it’s risky for foreigners to carouse with partying locals, but if your government is so serious about ensuring a safe visit, why did they invite us here at such a, uh, busy and festive time?”
“It seemed like a fine occasion for a Quidditch match.” The attaché offered a faintly wry part-smile. “We rather enjoy our Quidditch, you understand. And besides, it was your own Miss Greengrass who proposed the date.”
Harry frowned. “Your government could nonetheless have given us more advance warning of the risks of playing here during the Easter festival, rather than waiting for our arrival to fill us in. We might have agreed to a later date, you know.”
“That is true.” Langlois met Harry’s intense eyes, and held them for a moment. He pursed his lips. “I don’t have a real answer for you, but the decision was very likely deliberate. Although the DdV is nominally governed by democratic assembly, much consideration is always given to the wishes of our Vaudou elders. The Houngans see much in the stars, and the prospect of your Easter visit apparently pleased them.”
Harry stared for a moment longer, then broke off the contact, retreating into his own private thoughts, unsettled by the quasi-contradictory notions of the Haitian magical elite seeming to regard their frivolous sporting trip with great anticipation, at the same time as local bureaucrats were apparently steeling themselves for trouble. These perplexing thoughts, however, were interrupted by the feel of something cool and polished sliding into his grip.
“The keys to your room.” Langlois gesture to the small, ivory-colored wand-like sticks that he had just placed in Harry's and Ginny's hands. “You will find your quarters up that stairway, and all the way to the end of the corridor on your left. Your luggage awaits you there, as does a small private meal.” He glanced at Ginny’s closed eyes. “I suspect that a quiet evening may suit you better than our customary entertainment.”
Ginny roused herself from near sleep to smile in thanks. Still vaguely troubled, Harry nodded, seeing no value in interrogating their smiling host any more that evening. After briefly negotiating an early wakeup call to prepare for The Flying Circus’s scheduled morning practice, Harry and Ginny soon found themselves alone, on the balcony of their rustic, colonial bedroom, gazing across as the final rays of sun disappeared over the rugged Cerro Bienac Oeste.
The seafood meal (colourful vegetables arrayed about thin fillets that looked delicately crisped in ways one would never find at Land’s End) beckoned, but it could wait another couple of minutes while the couple first savoured a bit of fresh evening breeze. Still feeling languid and listless, Ginny settled herself into her fiancé’s embrace. Then she stirred, and pulled back to gazed inquiringly into his eyes.
“Why are are here? I mean, Quidditch aside, why are we really here?”
“I, uh well...” Harry chewed his lip for a moment in thought. “I haven’t quite figured that out yet.”
Ginny nodded. They she let her eyes drift away, downward this time to distant foothills where a couple of faint flame-like flickers had sprung up. ‘Celebratory bonfires,’ she assured herself. ‘Easter revelers out to enjoy a beautiful evening.’
The next morning brought a bit of clarity, in the sense of rested minds (for some of The Flying Circus, at least) and the tangible goal of a three hour practice at the Stade National de Quiddiche du Haiti.
Security was tight, and attendance was light. A dozen or more uniformed watch-wizards patrolled the pitch, stands and surrounding hillside, ensuring that only a small contingent of well-credentialed visitors were admitted to the Stadium. Scanning the stands one could find only a handful of scouts (several from the UK, a few locals, and a few others from parts unknown) and a small contingent of eight to ten reporters, including Septimo Aurrera (taking careful notes and chatting with his counterparts from Europe and the Americas) and Richard Auclair (looking on from a shady corner, mopping his face from the morning humidity, and frequently ducking in and out of the loo).
Through the morning, feeling much better than the previous evening, Harry cycled through a number of activities. Most critically, he flew numerous seeking sets, hunting for a tricky Snitch he’d charmed (as inspired by Teri’s improvisations) to sharpen his reflexes and challenge his senses. He also attempted varius aerial maneuvers, hoping to adjust himself to the heavy, moist air that was undeniably warm — a sensation foreign to him given the fresh (and sometimes outright cold) conditions he’d grown accustomed to over six months of Highland autumn, winter and spring.
In this climate, flying high was not too difficult, but Harry’s experiences with the lower altitudes were distinctly unpleasant. Not only would the broomstick take on an unsettlingly greasy feel after mere minutes, but he was often surrounded by... insects!
The bugs were biters, but Harry didn’t notice much of that because he was moving too fast for them to sink their jaws into. The only person on the squad remaining stationary enough to experience the torture of endless exposure to little venom-tipped welts was Page, whose patience and prowess in goal was severely tested by the distraction of periodic swarms of the unwanted attackers. The Chasers and Beaters escaped with relatively few bites, but the vile creatures nonetheless had an unfortunate habit of getting in the way, and seemed to constantly find ways to wedge themselves between teeth, get clogged in ears and (most horribly) fly straight into eyes.
After less than an hour, Harry had resorted to sustaining an invisible magical shield around his face and he could tell that Ginny had arrived at the same strategy, but Summerby, Zabini, and the twins were in a constant state of agitation; their eyes swollen and teary.
Shortly after ten thirty, Page let out a miserable howl. Lurching haphazardly away from a swarm that was plaguing the goals, he didn’t even try to stop the Quaffle that Summerby had hurriedly shoveled toward the lowest hoop. Zabini made a brief movement toward the falling Quaffle, then paused and began to wave his arms wildly. With an unintelligible yell, he turned tail and plunged down, away from the speckled cloud, steering instead to the edge of the pitch where Ron and Daphne were standing. The rest of The Flying Circus squad reined in their drills and descended to join him, as did Terry and Neville, how had been watchfully circling high above the periphery all morning.
“Well...” Ron tapped his clipboard impatiently. “This has been a ruddy pathetic practice.”
Zabini, who had been facing pointedly away from Ron, emitted a long, dangerous growl. He fell silent for a moment, the suddenly spun around, gesturing wildly at his face. “You want pathetic, Rooster? Then look me in the face and tell me what you bloody see?”
“Gah!” Ron took a step back from the speckled, swollen-faced Captain. “What are those things??”
“Dead bugs, Ron.” Ginny landed nearby; she was flushed and perspiring, but at least she didn’t look like a festering case of black-spotted Dragon Pox. “This is cobblers, Blaise! We’d better finding some way to deal with these things by tomorrow, or we may have to forfeit. At this rate, somebody’s going to go blind.”
“Pfehh!” George pulled up, clawing at his mouth. “I figured they’d let up as morning wore on, but they’re still teeming!”
Fred shook his head gravely. “Match starts at 9:00 a.m. tomorrow. We’ll be competing in the thick of it.”
“Hey!” Ryan's enthusiastic shout rang across from the tunnel through which he and Hermione were emerging. “We may have a partial solution. We just walked down to the village; Granger thought of checking the local shops to try to find some, uh, bug spray?” He held up a couple of bottles.
“Bless you two!” Page veered off his landing approach and headed straight for Ryan. Grabbing a bottle, he squinted and nodded. “Looks like the real stuff. Surely this’ll help a bit with the bloody little pests!”
“Muggle insect potion?” Zabini paused his bug-wiping efforts for a moment and scrunched his face. “Is that legal by international rules, Rooster?”
Ron thought for a moment, then nodded. “I reckon so. Most of the rules deal with magical advantage — no wands allowed; no alterations to the broom, bat or other Quidditch equipment. No charms on your actual body; various protective charms permitted, but only on a player’s clothing. I’ve never seen prohibitions on Muggle potions.”
“Okay then.” Zabini flashed Ryan a thumbs up. “We’ll use your insect repelling potion.”
“Errr...” Summerby scrunched his forehead. “This might help for Page hanging out by the goals, but I doubt it’ll do much for the rest of us.”
“Yes, that’s true.” Fred frowned. “We’re going faster than the bugs are, so we’ll keep smacking into them even if they’re trying to clear away. I have no qualms about stopping the little buggers from eating us, but it’s no consolation if we end up eating them.”
“Agh.” George shook his head in frustration. “Every time the Bludger dives into a cloud of the bastards, I wind up swallowing more protein than I got in all last night’s supper.”
“Ho.” Page smirked. “Yeah, perhaps that’s because you drank most of last night’s sup-”
“Bonjou gen!” An old fellow in the stadium maintenance uniform was strolling across the pitch, waving to them. “Vous avez un problème avec lè ensèks?
The group stared at him uncertainly, then everyone slowly angled toward Hermione. She frowned for a moment. “Ensèks? Vous souhaitez dire ‘insectes’?” She turned to whisper to Harry, “I think he may have a suggestion about the insects.”
“Wi, fi Ewopeyen.” The old man grinned, and held up a pair of swimming goggles. “L'équipe ici les utilise lorsque lè ensèks yo rive move.”
Hermione struggled for a moment to interpret the odd blend of French and Creole, the her face pread into a broad smile. “Merci monsieur! Nous sommes tres reconnaissants pour la suggestion!”
“Merite.” The maintenance man smiled bashfully. Turning to leave, he gestured toward their lockers. “Je vais vous laisser quelques-unes dans les casiers.”
“Merci encore!” Excitedly, Hermione turned toward the others. “I think he’s going to leave some of those goggles for us in the lockers. I can charm them to keep the insects away from your faces. And perhaps you can fly with kerchiefs over your mouths.”
“Great!” Ginny smiled, attempting levity. “Now we can change our name to The Great Zabini’s Flying Banditos!”
A few people smiled back, but nobody laughed. The twins’ gaze remained fixed on the retreating maintenance man; goggles still dangling from his hand. Zabini wrinkled his nose. “Those eye-thingies look like a bloody pain to wear.”
Summerby chewed his lip. “They could reduce vision.”
“Well...” Hermione sniffed sharply. “It’s either those, or weep your way through the match, savouring another bug breakfast.”
Ron nodded. “Shite mates, we’re not going to find a better plan, so buck up. Those goggles can’t make you play any worse than you did this morning — you might as well fly with Clabberts on your heads as face those bug herds unprotected.”
Hermione blinked in surprise. She gazed at Ron for a moment, then slowly turned away to hide a smug smile. Compliments were rare, and her boyfriend was not particularly skilled with them… but she’d take this one.
The Friday evening practice, a one hour tune-up before supper, went substantially better than the morning’s debacle. The air was hot, but the humidity was lower, and the bugs were minimal. Zabini, Summerby and the twins began practice with the charmed goggles on, and kept them in place for about fifteen minutes before shunting them aside — long enough to convince themselves that they could tolerate the constriction, but not so long as to let the experience get too trying.
Later, as they stood on the pitch listening to Ron’s comments and suggestions, they heard boisterous shouts and laughter coming from the opposite end, where seven young people (all older than Ginny; all younger than Page) strode from the locker building — their sharp black and violet uniforms whipping in the breeze.
Aha! The Competition!
Ron’s monologue fell away as he and the seven Flying Circus athletes turned to watch their foes take to the air with an easy, carefree grace that seemed almost as much of a joy to observe as it probably was to experience. As the Haitians warmed up, a mesmerising rhythm played out in the sky — four Quaffles being tossed and caught; leaping and zipping from hand to hand with dizzying precision, all while the fliers artfully dodged several soft-Bludgers.
“Ahem.” Harry waved his hand to his mates. “Our opponents had the courtesy to not gawk while we were practising. We owe them the same.”
Zabini laughed and turned to join Harry on the way back to the lockers. The others tarried a moment longer, then reluctantly broke away from the spectacle.
Daphne emerged from the Stade National, out through the private executive entrance and down to the hot dusty lot in which The Flying Circus had gathered, fresh from their showers. She smiled. “Mr. Langlois needs a moment to confirm tomorrow morning’s arrival protocol, then he’ll Portkey us all back to the hotel for supper.”
“Supper at the hotel?” Zabini scratched his chin. “Some of us had lined up alternate plans. Auclair said he’d get us free drink vouchers for L’Ancienne Chevre.”
“Whoa Blaise.” Harry frowned. “Didn’t Langlois warn you about that place?”
“L’Ancienne Chevre.” Ginny gave a corroborating nod. “He mentioned it to us. Didn’t really give details, but something about his tone made my skin prickle.”
Fred shrugged. “C’mon Gin-Gin. If a poof like Auclair can handle the place, surely your rugged, manly big brothers can hold their own.”
George laughed as Fred ducked behind him, preemptively fleeing a hex that never actually came.
“Listen, ponce.” Ginny glared. “We didn’t travel thousands of miles to get rat-arsed the night before a big match. We have a perfect record on the line, yeah?”
“Who brought old marm Weasley?” Zabini rolled his eyes. “Don’t sweat it, Red. This isn’t about carousing — it’s education. We’d merely be going out to get some exposure to a vibrant new culture.”
“Vibrant exposure, Zabs?” Page sniggered. “As in the vibrantly exposed legs of those dancing Voodoo witches?”
Daphne and Ginny both glared.
“Okay, okay.” Zabini sighed. “We promise to behave ourselves. We’re here to play Quidditch, not to party.”
Fred nodded seriously. “We’ll only go out for one drink.”
“Per hour,” George added.
“Until midnight.” Fred smirked. “At which point, we’ll start to-”
Fred didn’t finish his statement, as he and George were frantically hitting the dirt to avoid the inevitable hex. Yet still none came. Surprised, George looked up at his sister. “You okay, Snap? We would have expected triple bat bogeys by now.”
Her initial flush fading, Ginny glanced at him then looked away. “Yeah whatever. I’m fine.” With that, her fingers found Harry’s and she guided him silently away from the others.
Neither of them spoke as they ambled away on the dusty ground, eyes closed to the reddish glow of a bright, late sun. Harry knew that something was not particularly ‘fine’, that something was weighing heavily on his girlfriend’s heart, but he also knew that this was neither the best time nor the right place to ask about it.
Supper itself had been a calm, subdued affair, but Harry had remained edgy throughout, still wondering what was weighing down Ginny’s normally lively spark. Even though the rowdier Flying Circus members had all pledged to conduct themselves responsibly on this crucial pre-match night, Ginny seemed to be dreading the falling dusk. As they waved goodnight to the others and left the hotel’s restaurant, Ginny had quietly confided to Harry a bit about her non-descript fears, saying that from the moment they had crossed security at the Portkey Terminal, she had felt a vague foreboding. She had never put stock in her capacity for Divination, but she couldn’t shake the sense that some unknown presence or power in this strange and utterly foreign land was waiting for them, laying some sort of cunning trap. And somehow she worried that no amount of strictures by Langlois or caution of their own could prevent the inevitable pin from springing.
Harry knew himself well enough to be sure that he hadn’t been sensing the same subliminal dread that Ginny professed. On the other hand, never in his life had he ever doubted Ginny, and this time was no exception.
And it was for this reason that, long after Ginny herself had drifted off in his arms, Harry remained awake in their bed. Trying not to think of anything in particular, he watched the occasional flicker of night creep around the heavy woolen curtain shrouding their patio. He listened to the ward-muffled sounds of music and merriment from the Easter celebrations. Subconsciously, he felt like he was steeling himself for something. Whatever that ‘something’ was, it seemed to him that it was just about to...
Tap tap tap tap RAAAP!
Ginny burst from the bed, wide-eyed. Harry took a deep, fortifying breath. “Yes? What is it?”
“Harry! Quick — we need your help! Can you get dressed and come with us?”
“Give us a minute, Hermione.” Harry felt ice in the depths of his stomach. “What’s the matter?”
There was a pause as Harry and Ginny quickly found their feet, their clothes, and Ginny’s miniaturised trunk. They heard the nondistinct rumble of Ron’s voice, then Hermione spoke again. “We’re not exactly certain, but Ron says that some of the boys are in trouble. Daphne’s gone to wake Ryan, Neville and Terry.”
With that, Harry and Ginny were out the door, racing past Hermione and Ron down to the lobby where they encountered a frantically hopping Daphne, somewhat rumpled versions of Terry and Neville, and Ryan who looked rather… like Ryan — intense and ready for whatever.
Harry did a rapid scan of the assembled faces. “Who’s in trouble, where are they, and what’s the crisis?”
“Uh uh uh...” Daphne struggled to pull the answer together. “Blasé, Thing One, Thing Two, and Auclair all got piss-eyed. Somebody touched the sacred dancer. And-and-and I think Page and Summey are back at the Mapou Tree, trying to talk sense to the Houngan.”
A string of random expletives hissed from Harry’s teeth, conveying roughly how little sense any of that made to him, but he shook his head clear. Facing Daphne, he jabbed a finger toward the front door. “Lead. Now!”
Wide-eyed, Daphne nodded. She raced out of the hotel, leading them into a street filled with music, sweat, and a flood of live humans pulsing like a throbbing vein, bearing along the raw stench of sacrificial animal parts.
Wading into the steamy mass of humanity, flanked by Harry and Ryan, Ginny fought a momentary sense of raw, panicked disorientation, and replaced it with her infamously fiery temper.
“Pathetic plonkers!” Her eyes flared. “When I catch those gits, they’re going to bloody pay!”